Hello blog (and any readers patient enough to stick with me!)
2012 is a quarter of the way through (how did that happen??) and it's been a busy year already. Our wedding is no longer creeping up, but is instead rapidly gaining on us. Also I've changed jobs since the last post (and rather suddenly, which might explain where most of March went...)
The change is a welcome one in terms of the interesting work I'm doing, although enough cannot be said for the kindness, well wishes and understanding of my former colleagues when I left. Working with a whole new team (joyful, thoughtful and scary smart people) has stretched and pushed me in all sorts of new directions in the past month and while tiring, it feels great. In getting used to the new dynamic, I've had lots of support and am planning on dedicating this weekend to stepping out of a 'me' focused time to fully acknowledge that support. I also wanted to rediscover last year's discipline to keep writing and reflecting on the meaningful, funny and just plain quirky.
Here are a few of those random thoughts for today:
Meangingful - having finished the corsages for our wedding 'participants' (in lieu of a formal wedding party for our casual camp affair), I'm working on goodie bags for the kids and turning my mind towards favours. I'd rather invest time and thought in something than do it for the sake of it and I really like the charity favour ideas from the very practical blog Marry This.
Funny - my partner was coming home from the gym today and walked by a restaurant whose very enthusiastic signage was announcing their grand opening for Friday the 13th. No superstition in that organisational structure then! It was twice as amusing coming from someone born on Friday the 13th...
Ok, I'm sure this isn't a quirky or funny thing for the people who live or work at this house and have to repel people seeking prostitutes from their front door. However, from a distance this looks like any other 'No Free Newspapers' or 'Beware of the Dog' sign. The quirky comes from the seeming innocuousness of the sign and the reaction to what it actually says. I wonder if this is a custom job or if this was actually sourced from somewhere...
... and to finish, this is just plain cute! We occasionally wonder what he's looking at, but then we also wonder if we really want to know what's going through that diabolical little head.
It's been a long time since I've posted on this blog and it's for a few different reasons. First, the run up to Christmas was really busy on all fronts (work, renovations, last-minute decorating and kitten re-homing
). Following Christmas, I've been spending less time with my computer (unless it has to do with my wedding Masterplan Excel workbook
) in order to actually 'do' wedding tasks and not only plan. The furry addition to our household is also too cute to resist and so plenty of time is devoted to feeding and cuddling. I do really appreciate everyone who takes some of their very busy schedule to have a gander and a bit of a read - my apologies for such inconsistency!
This lack of posting isn't to say I haven't been thinking about the blog and about communication. As the year has started to pick up on the work front, I've had some really positive and interesting meetings and also run into some post-Christmas Grinch-iness. To combat the latter, I've been really reminding myself to value the former and let the people who have made my day special know just that. Replacing my generic Windows background on my work computer with a sweet picture of Ossie also brightens the day.
I've also joined Pinterest - I have to admit that at first I was a bit dubious. After all, I've previously trashed Twitter for it's transient nature and tendency towards poor grammar (to each their own though, that's just my point of view!) Pinterest caught my interest because:
1 ) I enjoy the idea of taking a concrete object like a bulletin board and making its virtual equivalent attractive and well-organised. Also, it's a great way of keeping track of load of recipes and wedding inspirations without consigning them to my rarely reviewed Drafts folder
2) Rule #1 is to 'Be Nice'. Wouldn't it be nice if this was the number one rule that carries us through most of our day?
3) The spirit of sharing and crediting others - again, it's nice to be reminded that while social media can be so often a tool for self-promotion, this one tends to look outwards and remind us to open eyes and minds.
For now I'm off to open my sewing kit and crack on with some corsages. Hope to share in your inspirations and ideas soon!
It seems like at the beginning of every new month, I say in a semi-daze "But where did (*previous month here*) go??" I know that this means to be that I am fortunate to have many interesting people and situations to fill my days, and I am very thankful for that. Somehow the end of 2011 has gone into hyper speed and I'm realising that overseas posting dates are creeping up at the end of the week (!) I did set aside some time this past month to make Christmas cards and I'm going to enjoy curling up with a pot of tea and writing them all this evening.
Despite my late realisation of Christmas approaching, my lack of blogging last week (and why I didn't catch up over this past week), was not related a lot of last minute Christmas shopping. This year, I went the online route with Christmas shopping and am happy to say that because of the wonderful creativity of people and accessibility of the internet, I was still able to find some interesting and handmade gifts. I'll still pop into some of my favourite shops on the high street to support locals shops and pick out some bits and pieces, but I really couldn't face the high street for the bulk of my list. This was reinforced today when a story appeared on the BBC about traffic being suspended in Central London for fear of shoppers crushing each other on the narrowed pedestrian walkways. No thanks!
I've come across some interesting gifts in my wanders around the nooks and crannies of our neighbourhood. The local bookshop is a temptation at any time of year and especially with some excellent books being published in time to be enjoyed with a glass of mulled wine on cosy winter day. Another winter favourite was a hot water bottle hanging in the window of a nearby family-owned hardware store that simply asked for "Tea & Sympathy, Please". Brilliant! Having spent a good bit of the week rather pathetically curled up with a seasonal cold (and accompanied by an unabridged Pride & Prejudice podcast), it was especially amusing.
For me, the holiday season always brings around a lot of thoughts of communication & connecting with people. The parties and gift-giving traditions are always fun, but this year I'm mostly looking forward to setting aside time, in person, on Skype or in cards and letters, to make up for the rush of day to day communication.
We're also hoping that we'll soon be spending lots of time with the latest addition to our household, Ossie the tabby cat. We've seen very little of Ossie since we visited him at the cattery last weekend and brought him home Tuesday (the underside of the couch is his preferred lair). The process has really made us practice patience and think about what's happening in his little head (no doubt he's weighing the virtues of smelly soft food and the litterbox against the presence of big scary human beasties!) He briefly emerged the late the other night and his little nose and ears were twitching at a million miles an hour. How strange our big and scent-filled world must be for him!
Before I tackle Christmas cards, a quick mention of an interesting intervention in the big wide-world of London. Away from the chaos of Oxford Street and the Christmas shopping rush, there's a big green wall constructed on the most polluted road in London. It's exciting to see such interesting initiatives take place - I wonder if the greenery will get any Christmas decorating later this month??
I would like to say that I was a blogging delinquent last weekend for a particularly exciting reason, but in truth it has mostly work that kept me from the blog - it’s that crazy busy season. That said, last Sunday was an unusually gorgeous day and perhaps the nicest day we’ll see before spring and summer roll around again so we took advantage and went out for a mid-morning break. In the spirit of the sort of day it was, we went for a proper meander around some of the nice streets in the area and up to a nearby high street. The high street was busier than we have seen it in a while, especially the cafés. It is pretty rare to be able to sit outside for a Sunday brunch in November and it was so nice to soak in the friendly and relaxing Sunday feeling.
Each high street around London varies and reflects the nature of the area and we are very fortunate to live between two streets that have worked very hard to retain local shops and a village feeling. This type of community-building speaks to a need for people to create small communities within large cities, and here I find that instead of being an isolating force, the internet (intrepid bloggers in particular) can really enhance the feeling of community. Nothing beats learning a neighbourhood like going for a walk with no particular destination, but there are some really good blogs and groups out there that look for great small businesses tucked away in side streets that might otherwise be easily overlooked. Two of my favourites are Handpicked London (via Facebook) and This is Naïve.
It was a busy week again and most of everyday was spent firmly glued to my computer screen. Emerging on Friday, it seemed a good weekend to a) restore the house to some semblance of order and b) spend some time being creative and enjoying the neighbourhood (the air has turned- it’s definitely more of crisp edge to this weekend’s wanderings!) These are just a few views of our little corner of London.
The nave window of St Martins in the Fields during a lunchtime choral concert
Great little veg cart at a nearby market. I wanted to take it home and make a neat kitchen trolley out of it - don't think the stall holder would appreciate it!
Christmas lights are on all over town - South Molton Street
More Christmas decorations - St Christopher's Place
I have to admit that sometimes I'm not as organised as I would like to be and when Sunday evening rolls around, I'm left searching for a topic to write about. There were some thought provoking encounters at work (good, bad and downright ugly), meditations on the coming Christmas season (although from one lunchtime shopping experience, one could be forgiven for thinking it's next week), and some downright odd news (such as a debate about the merits of the beaver as a national symbol... Is that really a necessary and crucial parliamentary topic at present?)
From the title of this week's blog, you might think that the blog was hijacked by the sporting blogger of the household. However, I found myself at a Premier League football match this Sunday afternoon and found quite a bit to write about. Having gone prepared for cold weather (winter jackets, flask of tea, brolly), I was pleasantly surprised to be warm and surrounded by an interesting crowd. Getting to a match can be a bit intimidating - you start by walking along in a crowd of brightly dressed supporters who are already singing, jeering and winding up the other side's supporters. Add to this rows of police officers (including those on horseback) flanking the walkways and you get an idea of what it is like. Given this type of atmosphere, I found these moments a bit unexpected in a very nice way or just plain funny:
A moment of silence for Remembrance Day... While I have a few bones to pick with the Premier League (inflated salaries, huge debt, etc), I do admire how the game can be used to bring people together. As divided and loud as the fans were up until the game began, I was really heartened to see both sides take a full minute of silence to show some respect and gratitude towards war veterans and active service personnel. It also makes me wonder what sort of wider social responsibilities big organisations that tap into a nation's passion have in terms of teaching (especially their young fans) about respect, cooperation and dedication. Now if only the practice of feigning injury on the field just until the ref notices could be stamped out...
Grammar in the stands... Try though I might, I do have to admit that I got a bit distracted from the game at times. At one point I overhead a boy comment to his father that "...he did that really good". Without putting any damper on his son's enthusiasm for the game, the father calmly corrected his grammar. The boy repeated what he had said correctly and went on enthusiastically about the game. Well done Dad for not missing an opportunity for a quick lesson and for proving that not all language in the stands has to be of the foul sort!
Braaaaaiiiiiiins, Foooootballlll... My other half, the sporting blogger, enjoys a good horror film almost as much as sport (slashers, creepy crawlies, zombies - the gorier and cheesier the better...). It happened that this morning he was catching up on an episode of Walking Dead and I couldn't help but think back on it as we were leaving the football grounds. It was a very good-natured crowd and there were still cheers and songs as we were walking through the nearby park. The sheer number of people shuffling along did make me think that with a bit more make-up, we could all have been looking for jobs as extras!
Zombie fans leaving the grounds
I spent a good part of the game playing with the action setting on my camera (most shots came out a little blurred though!) At one point another support tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I had any pictures of the goal that happened right after this - he wanted to check who had scored it!
By about halfway through the game I was finally starting to get the hang of the action setting...
I really wasn't sure to write about this week - earlier in the week I had come across some no doubt well-intentioned, but rather misleading signage and thought it could be interesting to think about how meaning can change based on location and over the course of many years. For example, there is a charming pharmacy shop (originally 19th century) on my way to work that has a sign cheerfully proclaiming that they have been 'Dispensing Chemists since 1814'. How handy one might think to have your very own chemist issued to you. An amusing distraction for me on the way to work, but perhaps not so much for everyone.
As the weekend came and went, I had more opportunities to think about the ways that we communicate. Friday evening turned into an interested and fairly polarised debate centring around the 'Occupy' movement. As things have been particularly busy as of late, I admit to not being entirely informed about the movement. However I can see and appreciate that it aims to bring around awareness and discussion. What concerns me is that the movement's popularity might attract people who are looking for scapegoats only, and become a way to only place blame and not lead to solutions. I do recognise that it's important to attract attention to a protest - this is the point after all - but I have to wonder if using Twitter to spread the Occupy word is really doing the big issues at stake any justice...
Saturday's dinner was a family affair and allowed us the opportunity not only to reconnect with people we hadn't seen recently (and our lovely visiting cousin), but a mild night also meant we could savour a leisurely walk to the restaurant and one of our local pubs and really soak in the character of the neighbourhood (something I don't usually leave myself enough time for in the mornings!) As much as I love cooking for a crowd, it was nice to have the opportunity to sit back with good company and a glass of wine (when we popped into the Beehive for a drink later on, we were so pleasantly surprised to find a memory of our trip to Brugge on tap- Zot!) One of the things I love about coming together for a meal is that it always generates discussion- sometimes challenging, sometime easy and carefree. Our table last night represented four nationalities, everyone with different accents and points of view, which adds to the richness of the memories (and thank goodness for the vividness of memory- my camera was exactly where I had left it in the living room so I wouldn't forget it!)
Perhaps somewhat inspired by the conversations held over meals this weekend, we wrapped up the weekend with a day of cooking (the cottage pie was in the oven spreading an autumn smell while we chatted away across the ocean via Skype- I do love video chat!) The last of the apples & pears went into jars today (I have jam jar tongs!) while potato & leek soup simmered away. It's feeling like autumn and I'm all ready for Bonfire Night on Saturday!
The light jars are pears and the dark ones are fruit chutney (apple, rhubarb, cranberries)
It's been a while since the last post - said late post was followed by a lovely long weekend in Dublin and so I thought I would get back on track this week. However, this post will be a little short as a result of a bandaged finger on my right hand reducing my typing mainly to my two index fingers and a strange combination of other fingers! Typos aplenty- my apologies if I don't catch them all!
Well, as it turns out, the post will be much shorter than planned... I've gone to split up the text with a couple of pictures and instead deleted most of the post! I had written about how much I enjoyed having time over the long weekend to enjoy sea air, some interesting characters in Dublin and ample time to sit around the kitchen table and share a pot of tea or bottle of wine with family and friends (not that we didn't enjoy a wee bit of Guinness too!)
The shortened week in between was a busy one (and catching up on 4 days of i patient e-mails likely made it feel longer!), so when this weekend rolled around, I was happy to find myself this afternoon catching up on Skype with family and friends - even though I often rail about how so much readily available technology can take away from our day to day encounters, there are programs like Google + and Skype that bring those close at heart into the home, despite an ocean in between. When I wasn't having a good chat, I was thoroughly enjoying writing a couple of notes while appreciating the beauty of formal communication coupled with technology (Pride & Prejudice by podcast!). Not too shabby for a Sunday afternoon (especially with a dose of Downton Abbey to come).
If you didn't see that the restaurant to the left of this image was called 'The Bloody Stream', would you think that you needed wellies to go to the market?
It's hard to tell, but it was blowing an absolute gale. I stopped for this photo even though we were being buffeted by the wind along the bridge!
This weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving and although we didn't celebrate with pumpkin pie (pumpkin cheesecake will be on the menu later this month), the weekend had a holiday feel. The was plenty of time to relax and reflect on the things to be thankful for. So much of this month (already!) albeit very interesting has been packed (I'd say jam-packed, but that would be a bad pun and I've actually taken a week off of preserving), so it was good to take time this weekend to really savour some great experiences.
This blog can sometimes digress a bit from the original aim of thinking about communication (101 uses for the autumn apple harvest, anyone?). However, in thinking about the weekend, I've realised that the highlights all have to do with communicating in a meaningful way.
Making a great contact... I had a morning coffee (tea) meeting that had the potential to not be so brilliant. The morning had started out with a run in my tights, total computer collapse at work and no time for morning tea. However, the person I was meeting was enthusiastic, honest in his opinions and really knew how to ask questions and get a conversation rolling. We both left with a new professional contact and some shared knowledge... and it also got me rolling on a second blogging project (more to come!)
Opera... My French skills are fairly rusty (a lack of discipline towards my Rosetta Sone software), but I didn't need perfect French to fully understand Faust at the Royal Opera House on Friday. The words might have been sung in French, but the story was conveyed in the music, acting and ballet. While enjoying a glass of wine at the interval, it was clear that the audience was widely varied in age, profession and interests. There is a reason why opera can attract a young audience- the themes are universal and run deeper than the words that are sung.
Road trips and postcards... Coming from quite a vast place, a road trip is often a multi-day trip that involves tenting somewhere along the way. Our Sunday day-trip wasn't quite as involved a venture, but 6 hours in the car, a good picnic packed in the backseat and a day's rambling around a country estate ahead of us was all we needed to feel like it was a proper break (complete with postcards, which I send from everywhere I go. So far Ireland's postcards win as far as silly goes). I don't mean to make it sounds melodramatic - the trip wasn't filled with deep discussion (unless one counts 'Mind that sheep!' and debating the merits of various types of clotted cream). Instead it involved a lot of fun light-hearted chat away from the pressures and distractions of the day to day in the city.
A few quick snaps from our wee break:
Eye test? Road Sign? This one took us some time to work out! Also, we really liked how silly the word 'hoot' is.
Joy in garden form - and there was a maze! (We were hopeless and hit every dead end...)
On the flip side of the spirit of Thanksgiving, I also wanted to round-up a couple of e-mail pet peeves I've been seeing more and more of this increasingly busy season.
E-mails with a blank subject heading... Type a word or two in the subject line, otherwise I'll probably delete it as another spam e-mail from Nigeria offering me $1M dollars
E-mails with the entire message in the subject line... The opposite of above, but equally annoying. That big box there? It's meant for typing.
I've noticed that as the last vestiges of a warm summer has disappeared, so have the communications skills and patience of a number of people (guilty as charged - I have to admit to a bit of Oscar the Grouchiness in the office as the workload has piled up). When I catch myself criticising the habits of others, it reminds me a) practice what I preach and b) reflect on why bad etiquette rears it's head in busy times. 99% of the time it comes down to remembering that even the stranger you're writing to is a person and deserves to be addressed nicely.
The lesson that catching more flies with vinegar than honey wins out every time. That lesson came back today when a polite exchange with a local authority resulted in a bit of extra consideration and a phone number I wouldn't have otherwise found out about (the roof terrace battle continues...). So please, remember to be universally kind and grammatically correct- it doesn't take long and makes picky people like me happy bunnies.
Well, it's not a title that will be appearing as a new release on bookshelves any time soon. An e-mail came this week that delivered an electronic slap on the wrist and left me a little bemused. It appeared that the book club I belong was comprised of reading delinquents and had been found wanting by two members who were by far intellectually gifted than the rest of us. Now I'm used to being on the library's most wanted list for fines (my face will be 'Wanted' posters around the borough soon...) Often this is because I have more than one book on the go and either the renewal reminder goes to junk mail or I renew it and neglect to write down the next due date. To my dismay, the most recent fine was due to August's book club choice, which was also the cause of discord in the group. I had a gut feeling this book would be trouble...
The book for August was We Need to Talk About Kevin. Even from the title, this doesn't seem like a summer reading choice (or anytime of year, personally). A title can say a lot about a book- many are catching and interesting (for book nerds like me, Gary Dexter's Why Not Catch-22 and Title Deeds are interesting reads). This book seemed like it would be good for discussion though- after all, there were even reading group notes at the back. It turned out to be a lemon and I couldn't bring myself to even finish it. I flat out don't believe in persevering with a book if I'm genuinely not enjoying. Judge away book snobs, but I read for enjoyment. This doesn't mean that I always read happy books, but I read expecting to learn something and have a feeling of fulfilment. Kevin was flat out depressing.
The e-mail that came (with a great sense of brevity) from two members of group was sent between meetings to the overall group administrator with the rest of us cc'd in. This is a pet peeve to begin with - when there's an issue to be brought up, have the backbone to say it directly. It was made very clear that they were disappointed that quite a few members didn't finish the book, which made for a poor discussion (even though it was made clear that those of us who didn't finish didn't mind the ending being 'spoiled'). As a book club, we were apparently not vigourous enough readers! My sympathies to the next group that they join...
To balance this out, I read a fantastic book last week and can safely recommend it many times over: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. It is the author's first book and I can see myself reading her work for a long time if it keeps up this same quality. The story is relevant, funny and realistic, and the characters have both faults and redeeming qualities. There is just as much to discuss here as with Kevin, and no need for a strong pick-me up after each chapter!
Speaking of pick-me ups, the descent into grey and damp winter has been held off this week with high summer temperatures and lots of sun. There are still apples and pears in the fridge to remind me that it's autumn, but today's walk up to Hampstead Heath was all sun, shorts, pub lunch and ice cream. A great weekend to be out in the sun with the camera. The nature of preserving is to make things last, and surely the last bit of summer can wait just one more week, right?
PS- So often the generosity of creative people and bloggers continues to amaze me (especially in the face of petty behaviour and poor communication els. I came across some lovely DIY mini bunting templates that are a great party/baking decoration. See the links section!
Out at the pub yesterday and there had been an afternoon wedding reception just before us. This cup really struck me - it looks so much like mugs at my Gran's apartment!
Unusually beautiful October in London
A piece of Narnia
Autumn always seems to be a good time to start projects and so it probably isn't too surprising that weekends lately have involved the continuation of various activities. One is the apples and pears- today some of our beautiful autumn bounty had ripened enough to indulge in a pear and frangipane tart. Another half dozen jars of applesauce are also cooling their heels (bottoms?) on the kitchen counter. A certain little kitchen elf was helping the process along (from the office... a rather safe distance, I might add, so as to avoid peeling and chopping duty) by sending me links for page upon page of apple recipes. I think someone was hinting...
Another ongoing project has been a) keeping my computer alive until it could be repaired and b) cramming it full of data when said fix took place. A very kind colleague of mine took pity on my somewhat lacking computer skills this week (I thought I saw a faint look of panic when I called the hard drive a 'thingy) and installed a new hard drive. This meant the weekend was destined for finding data and making the computer 'mine' again. It's not exactly a thrilling task, but I was grateful that there wasn't an whopping big entry on my credit card statement from Apple, and I also took some time to go through my photos and enjoy some old pictures I had forgotten about.
Having a chance to look at them all again made me think of the people in the photos and remember the actual moment of taking it. It's also reminded me to did out my postcards and care packages in the next few weeks. I've included a few of my favourites below- most of them are true snapshots, taken in a moment because something caught my eye.
It was a weekend to be really grateful not only for memories, but for the here and now, and especially the people who make it great.
Apologies for the delayed post, and thank you as always for reading!
I don't really even like roses, but they are beautiful in detail, especially with macro shoot settings
This was just a spur of the moment shot on a fabulous trip to Istanbul - there was something about the angle and the look down at the napping cat
A little touch of whimsy in an otherwise very grand house
Would you argue with this face? Pet pictures invariably are charming or cute, and I just couldn't resist the attitude here.