Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

From all of us on this side of the pond.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Well, the run up to Christmas is in full swing around here. The girls have a week plus a bit of school left, then the grandparents arrive(for three weeks) and the uncled arrives (for a long weekend), and then there's more things going on then can possibly be listed or elaborated on in one post.

The girls love the idea of advent calendars, so much so that when Himself goes away on a business trip, he makes them advent calendars for the time he's gone. It's very cute. And since it's December, it is full on advent all the time. First there's the standard Advent Calendar that Nana sent. It lives on the fridge. Then there's the computer-based Advent Calendar that Mermaid sent (second year in a row, and they spent hours last year with the first one). This year it's set in London, which is quite appropriate, and it's already providing much entertainment.

Then there's the activity Advent Calendar that I put together, shameless swiping the idea from earthchick.

Day 1: painting of the toenails

Day 2 and Day 3: writing letters to Santa and sorting out of old toys for the charity shop (no pictures, just two big bags full o' crap).

Day 4: making fairy tiaras to wear to dinner.

So far, the girls seem to be having a good time, and it's giving us some good crafty time together, which is always nice. Let's hope it continues to go smoothly!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Turkey Day!

From our family to yours.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alien pod baby update

Well, I finally plucked up my courage and managed to eviscerate/butcher the alien in my fridge. Approximately 10 minutes in the steamer and we had this:


The taste was somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower. The girls refused to have anything to do with it, but Himself and I thought it was tasty.

If a bit odd...

Thursday, November 10, 2011


We get a fruit and veggie box every Thursday, and have a good time unpacking the box and seeing what goodies we've gotten that week. This afternoon, I came home early from work and unpacked the box on my own. Which was good, because I came face to face with something very strange...

Ooooo...bananas, yellow peppers (yum!), leeks, and...

What is that?
No, those are carrots. And that's a parsnip. No, I mean that thing, there...
I'll be perfectly honest with you: this thing looks like the bastard love child of a Mandelbrot set and a turnip. Or a bizarre alien egg pod thing. And I may or may not have given a little shriek when I realized it was there hiding underneath the apples.

Apparently it's a Romanesco Cauliflower. I'm sticking with Alien Pod Baby. And it is currently stuck in the refridgerator, in the hopes that cold temperatures will slow gestation. Bob only know what I'm going to do with it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

School chaos

Well, it's September, which means we are full on into the new school year. That's about as chaotic as you might imagine (with the getting up early and having homework to do again), but that's not the chaos I'm really experiencing right now.

Here's the "problem": the school that the girls currently attend is a pre-prep school, which means (for those of you watching from the States) it only runs from Reception through Year 2. Devil has just started Year 2. And since it now seems kind of likely that we may be here a bit longer then originally anticipated, it's come to my attention that perhaps I'd better start thinking about where she might go for school next year.

In my experience, the British are a bit tightly wound when it comes to where they send their children to school. And by a bit tightly wound, I point you to a timeless quote from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" referencing coal and diamonds as an accurate description. This may be more prevalent amongst parents whose children attend private schools, but as early as last fall, I was hearing discussion about what schools people were considering for Year 3.

Now, as the product of the American public school system, I am completely out of the loop when it comes to "appropriate" schools for the girls. Most of the names of the super high powered ones I hear tossed around are boys-only, which makes me both relieved and irritated at the same time. Relived in that we don't need to even both considering them and irritated that there don't seem to be any comparable schools for girls that get talked up. Anyway...

We have only a few requirements for the next school: coed, accessible by public transportation (or school bus service), not an academic pressure cooker. Devil is a bright kid, but she's also a bit of an orchid in that she hates hates hates being wrong. She does not need to be in a situation where she is going to struggle or be at the bottom of her class. She also doesn't need to be put in a situation where she has to undergo a serious, intense testing process to get in to a school - my prediciton is that she would completely lose her shit in that sort of a scenario, and that wouldn't be good at all. So we're looking for a school that is good academically but not at the expense of everything else.

I've been to visit two so far: one that was ok, and one that I really liked alot. But it is a bit like stepping into Hogwarts - there are school houses, and house points and prefects! I was used to the uniform idea already, but the idea of prefects has taken the culture shock to a whole new level. I had to keep myself from giggling out loud everytime I glimpsed my (lovely, polite, personable, 12-year old boy!) tour guide's prefect badge yesterday. The giggle factor was further enhanced by his being American...

Two or three more school visits in the next few weeks, then the preregistering and assessments and other stuff can begin. That plus the amount of work that Year 2 is getting piled on them is going to make for a crazy autumn term! But hopefully we'll come out on the other side with a kid ready to go off to Year 3 in a place she loves. Ideally with a mother who has not gone completely around the bend as well. But that might be too much to ask!

Monday, September 5, 2011

An end

Today was the official Last Day of Summer in our household, at least as far as the girls and I are concerned. Devil starts school tomorrow, Boo starts on Thursday, and I go back to work next week.

We had a lovely trip back to the States, despite the intrusion of hurricanes and the like. The whole time we were driving from Vermont to Maine, I was thinking "We're heading towards the coast when there's a hurricane heading north?" But it turned out to be quite a good idea - we got some wind and some rain in southeastern Maine, but southern Vermont got absolutely hammered. I can't say I'm sorry that we missed out on that, although the pictures I've seen of the area are unbelievable.

But after two plus weeks of New England humidity, we arrived back in Great Britain to discover that in that short period of time, autumn has made it's initial appearance. The back garden was covered with dead, brown leaves from the chestnut tree, and there's a definite nip in the air. And there are conkers.

First conkers

Today is also the last day of my third decade - my 39th birthday is tomorrow, and my fourtieth year is starting. Turning 30 was something of a landmark for me, but 40 is coming on full speed ahead and it doesn't seem like such a big deal, at least not numerically speaking. I have big plans for my fortieth year: I'm hopefully going to run my second marathon, maybe head over to Europe for some cycling with my other half next summer. I'm also taking a flyer on an obsession a hobby and starting my own business, which I plan to have up and running in the next month or so. There's a lot ahead, and I'm looking forward to it.

Even if this summer is over...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Come on Irene

We fled London, complete with an arrival at Heathrow only to find firetrucks lined up and everyone standing outside, and have spent the last week enjoying a lovely, sunny week in Vermont. Then, on Friday, we packed up and headed to the Maine coast, just in time for a hurricane. Oh joy!

So far today it's been windy and grey, with some rain coming down, but nothing too exciting yet. Himself and I went down to the water to see what was going on. It was high tide, and the pier for the dock was almost under water. The harbor was quiet, with lots of boats moored to hunker down for the storm, and the wind was rippling the surface of the sea into incredible interference patterns and ruffles.


I hope everyone else on the East Coast is staying warm and dry and safe. I'm going to hunker down and watch movies with the girls. See you on the other side!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shades of things to come

The fun bit:

London-Surrey Cycle Classic
London-Surrey Cycle Classic
London-Surrey Cycle Classic
London-Surrey Cycle Classic

The not-so-fun bit:


I guess the Olympics really are coming, hunh? Yikes...

In other news, we have survived eight days of just us Girls while Himself was in China on a business trip, and are now gearing up for a nice long stint on our original side of the pond. By the time we get back, it will be time for school again - hard to believe how quickly the summer has gone by. But it always does!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tour de France Stage 19: an overview

Last week, Himself went off to the French Alpes to do a little riding/Tour de France groupie-ing with a friend from Texas. What follows is a transcript of our text message interchange on Friday afternoon while I watched the stage on TV and he watched it from the hillside of Alpe d'Huez:

Himself: Rode up alpe d'huez. Way more fun than last time! Today it is already a 9 mile party. Incredible to be here!
Porpoise: I'm jealous!
H: It's ok, I got you a present.
P: Andy Schlek?
H: Guido*, he was going backwards anyway. Might as well bring him home.
P: Frank? Ivan? Please, anyone but Guido!
H: Cav?
P: Ummmm...too high maintenance. How about Thor?
H: He's busy. How about Levi? He's not doing anything (oh snap!)
P: LOL. Maybe that new young rider? Or maybe Tyler? Cadel? we could bbq for him...
H: If Cadel doesn't get himself bbq'd today. Imagine Andy will be turning up the heat.

You get the idea. He sat on the side of the Alpe in the midst of a pile of people who had been drinking all day, watching the best cyclists in the world speed their way up a truly legendary climb. Not a bad way to spend a Friday afternoon in July!

* Guido = Alberto Contador, so nicknamed because of a series of Sidi cycling shoe ads on TV here in the UK showing him wearing a white tuxedo, barefoot, carrying a pair of cycling shoes. Ewwwww!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

Sadly, the Brits do not view today as a good excuse to stay home from work/school and each carbonized meat with lots of beer and watermelon. So we had to do it yesterday. We headed off to the home of some fellow expat-Americans (or rather, one expat-American, one expat-Ukranian and their two lovely children). I was charged with bringing graham crackers, for that special American summer sugar infusion, S'mores.

No problem! I thought. However, the British are unaware (or perhaps just resistant to) Nabisco's total graham cracker monopoly. And the digestive biscuit, while extremely tasty (and occasionally already chocolate coated!), was not going to fly. So I channeled my inner Martha and made graham crackers.

Molasses substitute
Molasses substitute
Very sticky dough
Homemade graham crackers

They weren't like the store-bought kind, that's for sure, but they were very, very, very good. And judging by the amount of gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate that was flying around yesterday, no one noticed the difference.

My inner Martha was feeling particularly rambunctious (and American food-deprived) this weekend, because I also made bagels.

Boiling bread dough
Look Ma, no hands!
Homemade bagels

Way easier then I'd expected (although I'm not sure I ever really thought about how you made bagels before Saturday...), and pretty good. Next time I will make sure to have actual bread flour in the pantry instead of using a bread mix.


Yum! And also very good with cream cheese and orange marmalade.

I hope everyone has a fabulous Fourth, with lots of fireworks and lovely summer weather. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

RAB roundup

Well, it's now ten days after the end of the ride, and "real life" is back in force. I've managed to spend several days in Cornwall more or less comatose, but thankful to have finished on Sunday in the overcast-but-mostly-dry rather then Monday's fog-and-pouring-down-rain or this past weekend's 30+-degrees-oh-my-god-I-think-I'm-going-to-melt. I've managed retrieve my bike and clean it up, including changing the rear tube that had a slow leak on the last day (discovered a mere three miles from the finish, I opted to pump it up and leave it rather then change it out). I've slept a lot, gone back to work, and had to answer "How was it?" numerous times - my generic answer has shifted from "Wet. Very wet" to "Good. Very good" which I take as a sign of progress. I've even ridden again. That is to say, I commuted to work on my single speed today, and I noticed a few things.

1) Nine miles is not long enough for me to warm up anymore. Perhaps more ridiculous heat will help with this problem.
2) People who commute by bike in London are insane. Or stupid. Or some combination of both plus a sense of invincibility (oblivion?) which I find disturbing.
3) I kept looking for C's blue raincoat, and A's red jersey, and was very sad when I didn't see either of them out there. I miss my cycling gang.
4) Not riding 100+ miles every day is not enough to fix my ankle. At least not in ten days. Given that my next athletic endeavor is coming up in less then three months, this means: get thee to a physio ASAP girl.

The last day was, as I expected from last year, fairly anticlimactic. We crossed the line together, with big smiles on our faces. I was somewhat surprised that, after going 8 days with nary a competitive quiver in sight, I spent much of the last 15 miles thinking "I do not want that guy to finish ahead of me!" I was not the only one, but we managed to refrain from macho self-flagellation and finish together. The girls and Himself were waiting at the finish with the Wee Ridiculous Dog, and their greetings were most gratifying, if a bit slobbery in one instance. And after swearing up and down that I was never going to set foot in Okehampton again, I found myself back there on our drive back to London, watching the girls romp around the ruins of a castle. Never say never, I guess.

I'm not able at the moment to come up with a pithy phrase to sum up the entirety of the ten days that were RAB (beyond "Wet. Very wet" that is). I am very glad to have been able to do it at all, grateful that my commitments and family support and general physical health were such that I was able to do the training and travel the length of this amazing place. I'm disappointed that I didn't get to descend Cheddar Gorge in the sun. I'm thrilled to have actually made it to John O'Groats. I feel tremendous admiration for those who completed the ride with various and sundry massive challenges (one arm, on a handcycle, on an Elliptigo aiming for a world record). I don't think I need to do it again, but I do know that I don't need to be afraid to climb hills anymore. Or ride in the rain. Or spend hours and hours on my bike. Or to hurt.

86:28:53 final time.

Thanks to everyone who read along, cheered me on, and donated money to ParalympicsGB. My fundraising page will stay active until 19 September 2011, so if you come across this after the fact and feel inspired to donate, please do so.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 9: Okehampton to Land's End

There were a few tears as I rode out of Okehampton this morning. Partly because it was the last day, partly because I was really tired from the day before, and partly because I didn't want to go up anymore hills.

It was a rough start - we went off and were almost immediately climbing. As foretold, the climbs weren't long, but they were very, very steep.

From the start, we wound our way south to Launceston and then towards Bodmin Moor. I discovered that the climbing went better when I focused on the road just ahead of my front wheel as opposed to looking up the road and worrying about how steep it was. After about 20 miles, I started feeling pretty good, although my thigh muscles were beginning to consider absconding to the Caribbean before they were completely ripped to shreds. Thankfully the last few miles into the first pit stop were mostly downhill, and we made the first 38 miles in about three hours.

From there we headed up, down, up, down, and one long last up into Truro. We were riding along tiny little back roads, some with grass growing down the middle. I started to get worried with every downhill, because I knew that meant another sharp, steep hill to climb. On any other day, it would have been totally demoralizing, but these were the last miles on the last day - every hill climbed was one hill closer to the finish.

We had one fairly flat section at 98 miles, running along the shore in Penzance. At 100 miles, we hit the steepest climb of the entire ride, and I discovered that my ankle actually could handle standing to climb, once my quads were screaming loudly enough that is. All five of us made it to the top, where we paused to catch our breath and curse Mr. Cook roundly. From there, it was continued up, down, up until we finally hit the main road and the straight shot to the finish line.

And just like that, it was done.

Day 9: 111/965/~953

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 8: Bath to Okehampton

Today's post is going to very brief, because I was out on the road for almost 12 hours today. Here are some of the details.

Lots of rain, a bit of sun, and 20+ mph winds from the west.

I bet Cheddar Gorge is really spectacular when its not chucking down rain.

The Quantock Hills are easier to get up from the north side the from the south, but are also about three times as long.

When you are pedaling down a hill and still only going about 10 miles an hour, the wind is too strong.

The women here doing a relay with a big sign painted on the side of their van that says "only idiots cycle in Devon" are 100% correct.

But we've made it to Okehampton, I've manages to stuff down some dinner, and tomorrow is the last day. Hard to believe that we've come so far in what feels simultaneously like forever and no time at all.

Tomorrow's report is likely to be quite delayed, just FYI. I expect the finish and reunion with the family to go on for a while, so don't look for the final report too soon. Thanks to everyone who's been reading along and commenting. I couldn't have done it without you all.

Day 8: 113/854/~953

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 7: Ludlow to Bath

Today's stage report will be series of unconnected fragments, because all available energy has to go to my legs, leaving no extra for my brain.

Bullet point #1: when Mr. Cook spends a lot of time talking about nice downhills, he's hiding something. And that something is ridiculous hills that pop up put of nowhere at 15% or more. He did vaguely mumbled something about grippy sections on the line this morning. I will take this under advisement for future briefings.

2: my ankle took quite a while to warm up, but then was pretty good, with the assistance of ibuprofen and some good blue gel stuff that made it all tingly at the pit stops. Treatment regimen will continue.

3: I was prepared for rain today, and I was not disappointed. That is all I will say about the weather.

4: we rode through some gorgeous countryside today, and climbed some pretty serious hills. We also managed to duck into Wales for a brief stretch, just to cover all the Great Britain bases.

5: apparently, Bath is built on seven hills, including the one which holds the race course.  This led me to make snide comments to myself along the lines of "who do they think they are, Rome?". It took until lunchtime for me to remember the Roman origins of the city. Again, energy going to legs, not brain.

6: today was my first time wondering if I could make it up something. And the answer to that, so far, is yes. I'm so glad I changed the cassette on my bike however. The biggest concern I have now is that my ankle makes it really painful to climb out of the saddle. I'm hoping the 28 tooth cog on the back means I won't have to.

7: as we get farther south, there are more and more day trippers (people doing just the day's stage). You can tell who they are every morning because they are very clean, and very energetic. R and I entertain ourselves with snark about them, but I find myself quite seriously scornful. Particularly when they talk about how they're "doing the Ride Across Britain!" Excuse me, you're doing one day of RAB. Have a good ride!

8: I have been thinking today about why I'm doing this ride, particularly in the context of trying to explain to the girls why I spent so much time doing something so hard that hurt so much. I'm still working on the answer, but it is, in part, because doing something this hard by choice means that I know I'll be able to do the hard things that come along that I don't have any control over. And that is a very important thing to know.

9: I never thought I would ever say this, but I am really, really tired of eating All. The. Time. It was fun for a while, but now it is just a chore. Bah. Also: trying to take pictures of yourself while on the bike is really quite difficult, as evidenced below.

Right, enough disjointedness. Day 7 done, on to day 8 and the lovely (ha ha ha) hills of Somerset.

Day 7: 91/741/~953

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day 6: Manchester to Ludlow

Today's profile was the reverse of yesterday's - 80+ miles of more-or-less flat country lanes and then a big climb. About 20 miles in, the heavens opened and released a biblical downpour for about 30 minutes. I ended up completely soaked to the skin, as well as freezing cold, so it was a long haul to pit stop 1, where the sun was out. This pattern was repeated for the rest of the day - soaking rain, then sun and wind to dry us off, then more rain.  I took off a bit hard from the first stop, since I was pretty cold. The route went along tiny country lanes lined by hedgerows. When the sun was out, it was absolutely lovely.

Andy warned us last night to save our legs for the first two thirds of the stage, because the steepest climb we've had yet was coming at mile 85. The climb, again, was long and relatively steady except for a few short steeper bits. My legs felt pretty good though, and I was pleased to be the first of my group up to the top. From there it was rolling terrain for ten miles and then a nice long downhill. So no Long Mynd, but a pretty tough day nonetheless.

My knee is doing much better, but my ankle is worse. The word from the medics is that the solution is to stop riding, surprisingly enough! Mostly its just a bit of tendonitis, so I'm on a strict ibuprofen refining. Hooray for anti-inflammatories!

I've attached a few pictures for today, including one of my interesting hand tan. Even with all the rain we've had, I'm getting some funny lines!

Today is my tenth wedding anniversary. On our first anniversary, Himself and I did a 40k time trial together. So there is a precedent for silly athletic events on this important day. I wouldn't be here if not for his support, so thank you sweetheart. I'm so glad you forced me to sign up for this!

Day 6: 106/650/~953

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 5: Carlisle to Manchester

I knew that things would get hard at some point on this adventure, and I arrived at that point today. We left Carlisle in a light drizzle, and headed into the Lake District. Today's profile went up right from the beginning, peaking over Shap Fell. The climb was long, but not really steep - kind of like Gates Pass in Tucson - but we were climbing into the clouds, so there weren't any good views.

Over the top onto an 8 mile descent down into the Lake District. We dropped down below the clouds into Beatrix Potter's England - stone walls, sheep, green fields, wildflowers and birds singing. The rain lifted, the sun broke through and we rolled along. We're getting into the stereotypical English country lanes - they are gorgeous to ride, but they tend to go up and down pretty sharply. If you don't keep some momentum going, it gets rough. The last 20 miles were in a very urban area, which took a bit more concentration. A tough way to finish.

So the toughest part today was mental rather then physical. I've been breaking each day down into pieces of approximately thirty odd miles - to the first pit stop, the middle bit, and the last section after the second pit stop. The problem today was that the first stop was at 28 miles. The day's big climb was finished by 40 miles. So I got to the bottom of Shap Fell, and thought "Right, that's it". Actually, there were 75 more miles to go. Oof! The last 30 were really rough - it started raining again, we were going through rush hour traffic and one knee and the other Achilles were acting up. Oof again. I am so grateful that I had people to ride with - it would be so much harder alone!

Now I've been fed, massaged and physio-d for my various issues. Apparently I have very special hamstrings - it took the physio with 30+ years experience ten minutes to figure out what was going on, and I will soon be sporting thumb sized bruises in the back of my leg where she detached the head of my hamstring from the bone (about as much fun as it sounds, believe me). Hopefully that will sort things out for tomorrow's trip to Ludlow.

Thanks to everyone reading and leaving comments - I do get them, even if I'm not responding. So please do leave a message if you get inspired! As for me, I'm off to bed.

Day 5: 115/544/~953 - over the hump!