Under the hood changes

January 12th, 2011 by matt

So this isn’t going to be the most exciting post, but I always like keeping my 2 readers informed. I started this blog four years ago and, while it’s not always been completely thrilling, it’s been fun writing. Moving back to the US means a lot of changes and they are oddly overwhelming in many ways, so the blog has been a bit neglected. I just did the first update to wordpress I’d made since I started it. It went smoothly, but if anyone sees something that isn’t quite right, please tell me so I can work to fix it.

In the meantime, our glamorous life in London is behind us and we’re curious what kind of things the people who read this might like to know about. If anyone have suggestions (mom, I know you want pictures of us and the cat! 🙂 ), please comment below.

Time for Some Big Changes

July 10th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’ve not made mention of it on the blog, so I thought it was time. I started writing here in January 2007, a few months before I moved to London. Now, in the next 2-3 months, our time in London will come to an end. I’m going to transfer back to Chicago, same company, back to the same apartment. And yet, in the last 3+ years, nothing is really the same. It’s been a time of so many change for Carolyn and I, that this is just another one of those. Weddings, deaths, new friends, a million new experiences. But now it’s time to move back. We’ll keep updating here. Originally, it was mostly just for a few people (particularly Carolyn while and I were apart). It’s remained that way, but it’s also become a chance for us to make a semi-permanent (we’ll download all the entries and print them) record of what we’ve done here.

Anyway, that’s some big news! More fun to come. 🙂

As London Burns

March 12th, 2010 by matt

There was a small bit of excitment in my neck of the woods yesterday. I was about to head out the door for work when my boss calling me to say that the roads around the office had been closed because of a major fire. Eventually, we determined that we could still get to the office, but at lunchtime, I had to be a gawker and go and see the scene that had unfolded as the street in front of my office was completely deserted as it was shut for over 12 hours. I had to walk to work since all the buses into the City were totally messed up due to the detours, so I was curious to see what had happened. Here’s what I saw:

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It was interesting, we were basically able to walk right to the spot of the fire without smelling smoke. Until we walked south of the fire as the wind had blow all the smoke that way and it suddenly smelled like a campfire. Tons of smoke, it was quite unpleasant.

Anyway, the fire was still going 8 hours after it started and the London Fire Department was out in full force. Added a little excitment to an ordinary weekday. 🙂

The Great Lambing of 2010

March 8th, 2010 by matt

So there are a lot of lamb in the UK. In particular, lambs are quite prevelant in Wales (which ends up with the stereotype involving the Welsh and sheep-love). Half of my trips to the countryside involve some sort of lamb sightings. Last Easter, we went down to Rye and, during one walk, we noticed that it was the time of year for new born sheep. So there were tons of cute, skittish sheep trying out the whole walking thing. Very cute.

This year, the whole lambing season seems to have come up quite a bit. Dina and Adrian actually went out and took part in assisting in birthing them some lambs (Dina – feel free to provide some insight if you want!). OK, so this doesn’t sound particularly exciting. And it’s not, since i had nothing to do with lambing. But then, while looking for some interesting British television to show Carolyn’s friend Mehreen who was visiting, we found something rather odd. On BBC2, there was a show called Lambing Live (the “Live” bit is most important) on. Well, we had to check this one out. And lo and behold, the name of the show was exactly right. An entire hour long show about birthing lambs. On primetime. On the second biggest BBC TV Station. They tried to add a little excitment to it, with a profile on the family whose farm they were showing. And I’m sure, if we’d watched the whole thing, it might have included drama like death and financial fun. But the best we saw is that the lamb stands there and the baby just suddenly slides right out.

Anyway, just an odd observation about an odd show that someone felt aided in “Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence”. 🙂

Happy Winter

December 21st, 2009 by matt

So on this, the shortest day of the year, Mother Nature has decided to mess with us fine Londoners by snowing a bit. I know you folks in the US have seen a bit of snow, so I’m not complaining, just observing. Just like earlier this year, the city doesn’t quite handle things when it snows. This morning, there was some remnants of ice and at lunch, we had some rain. Just another nasty winter day in London, with the darkness coming before 3pm since it was overcast. Then, in the course of an hour, the big flakes started coming down and we got a whopping 2 inches of snow. A sense of panic came over the office, with the head of the UK office saying we should all leave early to beat the misery. I hung around and the snow ended. But then the fun began. The buses, which normally show up every minute or two, were taking 10 minutes to appear and were packed. The bus stop was full and people had been waiting for 30 minutes for a bus.

After waiting 15 minutes for the first bus to show up full and pass us all by, I decided it might be a good idea to walk. So I start trekking through the icy pavement. And, lo and behold, it was a good idea. I suspect I beat the bus by 30 minutes because every main road was moving at glacier pace. The Brits do *not* know what to do with a little snow. I passed a virtual graveyard of buses that seemed to just have given up and gone out of service. I made a smart choice walking home, the city is in chaos of sorts. Here’s hoping the wet stuff melts and doesn’t freeze. 🙂
Anyway, I’ve been writing on this thing for almost 3 years now, so consider this an attempt to break the silence that’s been on here for a few months. Let’s start by filling in the gaps of the autumn that are here and not just post links to pictures.

Snow Day!!

February 2nd, 2009 by matt

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We went to bed last night with snow falling and about 1/2 inch of snow on the ground. That was cool. What we woke up to was even cooler. It seemed unusually quiet outside and when I opened my windows, what did I find? There is maybe 4 inches of snow!!! Even more amazing is that the city is basically shut. Hell, a huge chunk of the entire country of England is shut! Trains coming into the city are not running. All buses are suspended and the tube (yes, the London “Underground”) has severe delays or complete closures. This is absolutely amazing.

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The Victoria line is the only line which is almost entirely underground, hence the “Good Service”. They have zero idea what to do with snow. No plows, no shovels. Nothing. It just doesn’t snow enough here to be worth it. The bad news? I can walk to work. So I guess, I’ll at least try to go in. Bummer. But it’ll be a pretty walk! 🙂

A Very Merry Holidays

December 22nd, 2008 by matt

We hope everyone has had a wonderous 2008. Ours has been event filled, mostly full of happiness but with the occasional sad moment. We’ve been making the most of our life abroad. We hope all the dedicated readers here (all 5 of you!) have an excellent and fun 2009!

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From our honeymoon in Scotland. 🙂

Happy Election Day!

November 4th, 2008 by matt

Well, consider this a political neutral election day entry. I really truly don’t care who you vote for, as long as you vote. What about us ex-pats? Well, we (Carolyn and I) voted absentee in the last state we resided in. Carolyn had a chance to vote for this guy. I won’t say if she did or not since that’s not ethical. Alas, Illinois only has boring choices.

Since this is a blog about my life abroad, it has been interesting to view the whole thing from afar. There has been intense interest in the outcome of this years election. It makes you realize how much power and influence the US has and how important things like this are to a lot of people who have no choice in the outcome. It’s also a little weird being able to vote for positions in government 5000 miles away while I can’t even choose the mayor of the city I live in.

Anyhoo, just wanted to post a quick message to tell all 4 people who read this to take the time today and vote. If you have to, write in Mickey Mouse if you think the US should be run by an animated mouse. I’m planning on drinking a shitload of coffee today and trying to stay up through as much of the election returns as possible (keep in mind the first polls close at midnight in my neck of the woods). And if ever there were a reason to vote, it’s because your neighbours are probably lunatics and your lunatic vote will cancel them out. See here:

Update: From the UK, the BBC is giving a generally good overview. It’s fun to watch where the Electoral College needs to be explained. But, holy shit, they have John Fucking Bolton for their commentary. It’s soooo soooo painful. He is a complete asshole. I know it’s 315am here and I’m probably tired, but this man is a disgrace to all Americans. Anyway, things look good for partisan Democrats and Liberals in the US. Keep your fingers crossed.

Friday Cat Blogging

September 5th, 2008 by matt

Out in the blog world that I roam in, there’s a time-honored tradition of Friday Cat Blogging. This is exactly what it sounds like: pictures of cats. Since I’m a silly cat owner, I thought I would add this to my currently infrequent blogging. Let’s give it a try:

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We bought Chewy a cat tree a couple of weeks ago. He’d started gaining weight when Anna wasn’t eating (I guess he decided all the food was for him since she wasn’t interested). We figured this might give him some new perspectives on the flat and make him excercise a little more. So far, with a special diet of food as well, it seems to be working. He likes to hop up and lounge on it.

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OMG!!! He’s got frickin’ laser beams in his eyes! That’s just a nice full on view of his cat tree.

Coming up, I have tons of trips to fill you in on. Ludlow, the Lake District, Dublin, Cambridge and a parental visit!

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Over the Thames

August 12th, 2008 by matt

It was a dreary, lazy Sunday in London. We’d been sitting around generally relaxing but we needed to get out of the house. Carolyn had recently been to an outdoor show in a scooped out section near City Hall called, appropriately, The Scoop. Over the course of the summer, they show movies, music and plays. Well, on this night, there was a Spanish play which we were interested to see. However, we were also quite hungry and headed towards City Hall in hopes of finding a place to eat beforehand.

Alas, one of the big drawbacks of England is Sunday evenings. Basically, many things shut down on Sundays and it gets even worse after about 3pm. In particular, along the south bank of the Thames, it almost seems like nothing is open that isn’t a crap chain. Add to the fact that it was raining and the Scoop is outdoors and our plans were kind of shot, since we didn’t want to watch fine theatre in a downpour. This left us a little crabby and feeling out of sorts. We decided to turn up onto Tower Bridge and make our way back north to just get some sort of food. Well, what did we see as we stepped up to make our way across the Thames:

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(click on the image to see a much larger image. Or this much much larger one)

The rainbow was literally from one side of the river to the other. There we are standing in London on one of the icons of the city and there’s a rainbow. Needless to say, we just sat in awe, and all our irritability just melted away. Take another look:

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By the way, that’s two complete rainbows, not one (it’s not a reflection). 🙂

We almost didn’t get it on film. Carolyn had her camera, but when she hit the power button, nothing happened, no batteries. Luckily for us, every mobile phone nowadays has a camera too. These were taken with my crackberry. Not too shabby!

Random Biking Fun

July 14th, 2008 by matt

So, my lovely bike, the wonderful Apollo Jalapeno, has been called a disgrace to all other bikes by my coworker with the obscenely expensive carbon fiber road bike. I think that means it’s pretty good then! 🙂 And I’ve getting to be a pro with navigating the streets of London. I have pretty much all the routes around North London down pat. They’re basically the back routes that the cab drivers with “The Knowledge” use. That means that there are few traffic lights or buses. I’ve also noticed the pains the English goverment goes through to keep cars on specific roads. They will randomly make a road shrink down so the largest thing that car fit through it is a smallish SUV. Roads suddenly have barriers across them. And best of all, roads that would be an alley way in the US get cut in half with dedicated bike rights-of-way. That is very cool. A bike road. Oh yeah, there are also one-way roads that have bike lanes for going against the traffic.

Anyway, two fun things I’ve found. First, at least for now, if you search for “Apollo Jalapeno” on google, one of my pages is the top choice! Second, I figured that my bike, not being the finest in all the land, was probably not that popular. However, two weekends ago, we were down in Brighton for the weekend (more on that later), and we stumbled upon its doppelganger:

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If you look closely, you’ll notice the back tire (or tyre, if you will) is totally flat and the chain is rusted up, so mine is sooo much cooler. But it was funny to just walk into one sitting on the street. I also saw someone up north selling a smaller, childs version of it on eBay. So clearly, I have a pretty hip bike! Long live bright yellow!

What’s going on

March 11th, 2008 by matt

Just a little quick update on things. Carolyn moves here in 4 days (yeah!), my place needs work to get ready for a second tenant (boo!). I’m cat-sitting for my coworker who’s on holiday and they’re both very cute (yeah!), Anna hasn’t been the healthiest I’ve ever seen her since she moved here and I’m giving her medicine to settle her stomach which she just loooooves taking (boo!). With that in mind, my life this week will pretty much be cats, work and cleaning. But I enjoyed seeing some spirited debate about these bags. I’m excited to see these snazzy new ones they seem to be selling in the US. All we have here are canvas bags which aren’t exciting, they just work. 🙂

Plastic Shopping Bags?

March 2nd, 2008 by matt

So I’m not always the most environmentally friendly person in the world. Carolyn does a much better job of it than I do. But, I’ve always been confused about how plastic shopping bags suddenly appeared at some point in my youth and became the standard for buying things. I know there’s always some study out there claiming paper bags are worse for the environment overall, but that seems a little suspicious. Anyway, lately, I’ve noticed people have slowly been picking up on a newish trend which is going towards reusable cloth bags. This seems like a nice idea.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, aside from my more environmentally conscious friends, I hadn’t noticed a whole lot of increased use of these bags in the US. In the UK, there’s definitely a nation-wide trend towards cloth bags. The government is sabre-rattling about getting stores to charge for people using plastic bags. I’ve got a cloth bag I try to bring with me all the time so I can use it for shopping. If I don’t always have it, I never seem to have it when I need to go shopping.

Today, I had an interesting experience. I went to a bakery to get something tasty baked goods (there are seemingly tons of them around me) and, instead of just handing me my roll and baguette, the woman behind the counter put them in a free cloth bag. I looked on the bag and the local borough council seems to be sponsoring this giveaway.  That’s a really nice idea. And all the major grocery stores either sell reusable bags or give them away.
On a related note, back in 2002 (yes, 6 years ago) Ireland imposed a €0.15 (later increased to €0.22) tax on any plastic bags which decreased its usage by 90%. That’s impressive. Seems like a smart idea. People aren’t necessarily going to do this on their own initiative and if you leave it to the grocery stores, people bitch to them and they give in. Countries like China and Taiwan and Singapore are apparently putting bans on them outright.
So, my question to my US friends and family: Is this something that is becoming more of an issue in the US? Or is it confined to the damn dirty hippies in the cities and university towns? 🙂

Earthquake? Zzzzzzz…

February 27th, 2008 by matt

I see this is making some news. There was an earthquake about 200 miles north of me. Did I notice it? Well, no. I was sound asleep 🙂 Ooops!