Thursday, 28 October 2010

Green Monsters, Ghosts, and the Living Dead.

For the past month I have been fighting a ‘sorta’ cold.  Sorta because I wasn’t sure if it was just really bad allergies or the obligatory seasonal change cold.  In the last few days I have had enough.  I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night and/or didn’t wake up with that disgusting crust around the eyes and film in the mouth from the gaping fish breathing all night. 
So for the last few days I have broken out the good allergy drugs to eliminate those symptoms.  These are the ones my mom smuggles over from the states in packages of mail and newspaper clippings from home.  I don’t know why, but the UK can’t seem to make a good allergy medicine (or cold or sleeping pill, but they do over emergency contraception over the counter so I can’t complain too much).  So for two days I have been taking Claritin-D which always makes my allergies disappear.  But I am still feeling crap and sneezing every two minutes on average and still gulping air through my mouth.  I’m also shovelling food into my mouth in a constant attempt to settle the yucky cold stomach.  Needless to say I haven’t been to the gym in ages.  I am full-blown sick.  Yucky throat, constant sneezing (and the mountain of tissues that goes with), body aches, and now a chest-rattling cough producing what we call ‘green monsters’.  I feel like death warmed over. 
What does this have to do with Halloween you ask?  I remember being sick on many trick-or-treat nights and refusing to stay in.  Which meant I was trick-or-treating as a ghost.  This allows for numerous layers in order to keep warm.  It was always a disappointment.  Although it shouldn’t be, as most trick-or-treat nights required numerous layers and costume alterations.  The year I remember most distinctly was the year I had an awesome genie costume.  Sewn by my mother and not made for late October in Northeast Ohio.  So instead I trick-or-treated as some type of zombie-esque creature with black cape (hiding the obligatory layers) and a make-up job that meant my friends didn’t even recognize me when I showed up at their house.  This was one of the last years I went trick-or-treating.  To be honest, I was probably a bit too old to still be going around, but at least I dressed up and made an effort. 
As I lay here watching daytime television and Halloween-themed episodes repeated, I was thinking that I haven’t really put much effort into Halloween this year.  The monster pumpkins are still just sitting on the table.  I haven’t had the energy and neither has Pete since he’s taking care of me when he gets home.  No costume (nowhere to wear a costume, so that isn’t too bad).  This used to be one of the biggest decisions of my life each year.  I decided on it at least two months in advance so that I had time to find the pieces or we could make it.  It was a huge deal.  And then it was always ruined by Halloween weather.  Somehow I always forgot about the rain and cold and ended up as a ghost (or the last year, a zombie-esque something). 
This year I feel like the living dead.  Perfect for the cold, and probably rainy, Halloween night coming up.    

Monday, 25 October 2010

Monster Pumpkins

In honor of my favorite holiday, this week is devoted to Halloween-related goings-on. 

Pete had no idea what he was getting into when he chose me.  To be fair, he hasn’t experienced the full-on Webb Halloween experience which includes stretching cotton across anything stationary in the house to create a cobwebby look (much like the Addams Family cleaning scenes), replacing lamp lights with red bulbs, hanging specially torn curtains (freshly laundered), and engineering an over the top lawn display with three large (as large as a mature maple) spiderwebs made of rope, a scavenged iron rickety fence, 12 specially created tombstones with epitaphs extending beyond the simple R.I.P about Combusto the Great (a circus performer miscalculating the mixture of TNT and tonsils), Samuel E. Gruel, M.D. (trying to perfect self-surgery), and the slightly disturbing nod to the family heir, Ariel Lamore (succumbed to a broken heart on 14 Feb).  Not to mention the elaborate party eagerly awaited each year, consisting of costume and ghost telling contests and ‘spooky’ scavenger hunts.  But (remember where that incredibly long sentence started) we are progressing slowly and the jack o lantern is the place to start.
My Halloween celebrations since moving to the UK have been pared down (when in Rome...)  I have been reduced to wearing orange and black and maybe a witches hat or bat barrettes.  My first UK Halloween I bought tons of candy and a tiny carving pumpkin from the grocery store.  (I know, travesty, but I have yet to find a local pumpkin patch).  The future jack o lantern I brought home was the biggest I could find and it was about the size of a very large grapefruit.  I then taught Pete to carve a pumpkin (and got very jealous that his first jack o lantern was better than my 28th).  But this was about a week and a half before Halloween night and he couldn’t understand doing this so early.  I had to explain about alerting neighbourhood families that we were a Trick-or-Treat friendly house.  This then led to stories about avoiding houses with no porch light on, etc.  Halloween night came and I sat anxious for the Trick or treaters.  Finally there was a knock. I jumped up (complete with hat and scary glove) and greeted the little monster, passed over some candy and a ‘Happy Halloween.’  That was the last Trick or Treater I saw for three years (although I was always ready).
We moved to a larger house and I decided I had had enough of this non-event Halloween and threw a Halloween party.  I created our first couple costume (bee and bee-keeper) and sent out the invitations.  Very few friends came dressed up and those that did were a bit non-descript (although one came as her research subject (academics, what can you do?) and one pre-sent a poster relevant to her costume.  Pete’s work friends talked him out of his part of our costume (I have yet to get him in a Halloween costume, but they made it up to me on his stag night).  But the night was saved by the trick-or-treaters.  There were tons, and they were costumed.  Awesome!!!! 
This year is a bit low-key, but the pumpkins are bigger.  These seem to be the part of the Halloween tradition that Pete has really grabbed.  He researches and agonizes over his design for days.  This year our monster pumpkins have finally come close to the size of jack o lanterns of my childhood.  Pete got very excited about the pile of monster pumpkins at the grocery.  He grabbed the two biggest and placed them in the trolley.  We then realized that we had no room for our weekly shop and that we were going to have to walk these pumpkins home along with our weekly shop.  We tried not to think about it.  It took us about twice as long to walk home with three rest stops in which our fingers refused to straighten when we pried them off the carrier bags. 
Two days later, the monster pumpkins are still uncarved.  They are being moved around the kitchen, from the counter, to the table, to the floor, back to the table as we go about our daily routines.  It’s like they are too big to contemplate (in comparison to our usual).  They are going to need a very special design (we moved on from faces pretty quickly).  To date we have done three faces, a cat, a ghost, and a witch.  This year Pete is thinking about dancing skeletons.  You have to admire the commitment.  Now if I could only get him in costume for something other than the stag do.  Helping me hand out candy will have to do for now. 

Friday, 22 October 2010


**This happened a few weeks ago.  I jotted it down on my iPhone and just got around to getting it off the iPhone.

I heard a familiar clicking sound. It sounded like a toenail clipper. But I'm on the commuter train, that can't be.
It is.
There diagonal from me across the aisle a man is clipping his fingernails.  A pile of nail clippings accumulating on the floor. 
Let that sink in.  He wasn't trying to hide it and no one else seemed to notice, or else were doing a great job avoiding it.  I was in shock.  How disgusting!!  I know that there is a weird exception to the public/private divide on trains and the tube.  Somehow people see it as a transition between being at home and being in the public eye and conduct all sorts of business that is usually saved for more private spaces.  Make-up application, arranging very personal appointments, and uncomfortable child-rearing are just a few examples.  But this seemed to push the line a little too far.  

On my return journey at the end of the day, there he is again. 

I sat down at a table and as I settled in realised it was the same guy.  Directly across from me.  I didn't know what to do.  It would have been a bit awkward for me to then get up and move.  And then it became more awkward.  He recognized me.  He comments on the seating arrangement so similar to this morning. I smile and mumble something about commuting. I can't help but sneak a look at his nails. I'm surprised by the neat job he made of it this morning.

If he starts untying his shoes I'm making an emergency exit!!!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Monday Mopes

***Warning. Pity Party Ahead.  It disgusts me as well.

I love my weekends.  Two full days with my Pete.  Wonderful.  I end the weekend with inspiration to be productive.  This week will be a new start.  I fully intend to get up, do some Yoga, buckle down and do some work, maybe even get started on the closet cleanout I desperately want to do and plan my t-shirt quilt and clothing alterations. 
And then Monday comes.  Pete is off to work at his steadily advancing career and I am left in the house with no deadlines, no big push.  Just me in my head.  Feeling sorry for myself.  Then feeling angry at myself for feeling sorry for myself.  I just want to scream.  I don’t know what to do.  Everyone else knows what they think I should be doing.  Writing articles, applying for jobs I don’t really want because I need to get my foot in the door.  I feel like I have wasted seven years working on this stupid degree that isn’t going to get me anywhere.  I’m not excited to be Dr. Terranova-Webb.  I don’t know what I want to do with it.  I feel like I missed my chance to have a career.  I don’t know when that chance was or what the career was, but I feel lost now.  I’ve realized that I have spent seven years working towards something I didn’t really understand and now I don’t want it.  But I don’t know what I do want.  I don’t know how to make a start because I don’t know what to start on. 
I get upset with myself for feeling so down.  I have almost everything I ever wanted, except the job.  I have an incredible husband who is everything I ever wanted (foreign, funny, charming, sexy, smart, curly hair, cooks, dances with me, deals with me, gets me, loves me), I travel or at least have the ability to travel, I’m living abroad, I have the PhD.  The only thing left out of the picture is a job I enjoy.  That’s pretty good really.  Not many people get that much of what they’ve dreamed.  Just one more thing to figure out. 
I got this idea in my head that I wanted to write programs for the radio, but I haven’t really followed it up.  I don’t know how.  I have no experience and in the current climate, no one wants to hire someone they have to spend time training.  They’re in the process of getting rid of people.  I don’t really want to go back to school.  I’ve been doing that for years and it is just prolonging the inevitable.  I look online and I see people making livings from their blogs and making their own radio shows.  Maybe that’s the way forward, but they all have other jobs as well.  And they seem to be better writers, thinkers, photographers, more creative, more brave.  Or maybe it’s that I am not patient.  I want immediate results.  I can’t think about being committed to something without any return and without any assurance that it will work out the way I hope.  I need that external validation.  It’s a slippery slope. 
There are a lot of ‘buts’ in there.  They can all be explained away.  They are just excuses.  Because I don’t need to bring in money, I should be even more willing to try and make a go of it on my own, really throw myself into trying to make something for myself.  I have a ‘but’ for that as well.   It’s fear, I think.  I’m scared to work for something and it turn out not to be what I thought it would be or what I want.  I have just spent seven years doing that.  I don’t want to waste another seven.  I thought this would make me happy.  It doesn’t.  I went through all that pain and unhappiness and it doesn’t make me happy in the end.  Pete does, but he’s not really connected to the academic work at all.  It was more a way to stay here with him. 
Maybe that’s the break-through.  The PhD wasn’t about career building, it was about life building.  It allowed me to stay here and build a life with Pete and meet some great people (in the circus) and find some stories.  Maybe that’s all it was and I shouldn’t expect anything more from it.  It has served its purpose. 
Has that freed me to think about what I really want to do with the after-the-fact skills of a PhD and the variety of experience that came before?  I don’t know.  It's not too late, only 31 (soon 32).  But I don't want to wake up and it's a year later and I am still here. 
But tomorrow will come and I will stay in bed again and not do anything again. What will break the cycle?  

The bum jiggle

A reason to go to the gym.
The bum jiggle.  I’m not talking about the everyday bum jiggle that makes me want to throw on the pajama pants and curl up under a duvet with chocolate.  I’m talking about the treadmill bum jiggle. 
I’m not really a runner.  But I have been giving it a go at the gym.  The first few weeks were agony.  It took ages to get a rhythm.  With the help of Kenny Loggins and the Footloose soundtrack, I finally found a good pace, slow, but good.  Then there was the bum jiggle.  This is the painful bouncing of skin, and what has to be fat, with every step that brings up the image of saddlebags bouncing along at a Pony Express gallop.  It probably isn’t noticeable to the runner on the treadmill behind you, but it feels like there should be a thumping soundtrack synched with every bounce.    Within a few minutes it goes away, or at least you get numb to it.  But at the start of every run, there it is.  I immediately think two things simultaneously:  why am I putting my bouncing saddlebags on display and this effort better be worth it.  It’s almost enough to make you stop running.
I had been in a good routine with going to the gym about three times a week and running at each session.  Then I took about two weeks off.  No reason really, I just didn’t go.  Tuesday was the first day back.  It was torture getting ready to walk out the door and I was dreading it every step of the 10 minute walk to the gym.  But once you’re there, there isn’t anything to do but get on a machine and join in the sweaty show.  I began my workout, it sucked, it was hard.  Then I got to the running bit.  And there is was, the bum jiggle.  I was horrified.  I had forgotten about it and there in front of a line of waiting, stretching runners was the triumphant return of the bouncing saddlebags. 
But in the midst of my horror, I realized that the runs must be working in order for me to forget about this horror.  I try to remind myself it's about building a healthy lifestyle not about looking good or fitting into my jeans without extra lumps.  Who am I kidding?  The thrill of buttoning up a pair of pants saved at the back of the drawer (because someday...) feels awesome right then and there.  I am all about the instant gratification. 
Time to head to the gym again (I haven't since Tuesday).  Hello bum jiggle.  Let's try not to meet too often.  

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The RMT kitchen

Quesadillas became a left-over user-upper.  We resort to a particular meal when we feel we are in need of greens; chicken salad, which is actually better than it sounds, and usually ends up with left over chicken strips.  These usually end up in a dry sandwich sometime in the next few days.  But then I found a quesadilla recipe.  It may seem silly to use a recipe as I have the feeling that quesadillas are like an Italian’s pizza: just throw in (on) whatever you have laying about in Tupperware in the fridge and bake.   But I’m not the kind of cook to experiment.  Mostly because I seem to lack the basic skills that most people instinctively know about cooking, like when a pan is hot enough to use, or hwo to keep things from sticking to a non-stick pan.  Which means I require detailed instruction and description. 
The first time it went pretty well.  I was worried about flipping the stuffed tortillas in the frying pan.  So I devised this ingenious method.  I insert the skinny plastic blue IKEA ‘flipper’ from our ‘starter’ pack under the bottom tortilla.  This won’t scratch the ‘non-stick’ yet increasingly sticking surface.  Then, here comes the ingenious part, I then press the wider metal flipper on the top tortilla, both handles pointing in the same direction.  Then, I take a very deep breath, sorta count to three (slightly bopping the quesadilla with each count) and... then.......FLIP!! 
The first time it worked perfectly and I was incredibly proud of myself.  Usually when I attempt these kind of cooking experiments it ends in disaster, meaning ingredient detritus everywhere, or a fairly serious burn, almost always accompanied by Pete giving me that kind of exasperated and amused, ‘baabee’ as in what were you thinking, aren’t your attempts at cooking cute? 
 It hasn’t really worked since.  Ever since the first batch, every subsequent flip is a little bit worse.  This last batch lost the majority of its filling at every flip (the last one actually spitting its contents at Pete) and caused me to actually give a little upset, hopping, twitching ‘come on!!!’ fit.  I haven’t employed ‘the twitch’ since before I left home for University.  It is a patented move I employed whenever I didn’t want to do something my parents wanted or was incredibly upset because I did want to do something and they didn’t.  It involves a synchronized twitch of both arm and leg, although usually on just one side.  Advanced twitching involves both right and left and a little hop. This was advanced twitching.
‘Why can’t you just work!?’ was directed toward the blue flipper.  It seems that this batch of quesadillas was its last straw.  It refused to keep its rigid, lazy L shape and would bend backwards straight and then backwards L shape with the weight of the loaded tortilla.  Almost as if it were saying (in the sweetest southern drawl), ‘Darling, you don’t seem to understand.  I work alone.  I have never been more insulted and I will not put up with it anymore.’ And then taking a leaf out of the RMT union’s playbook, ‘I am on strike.’ 
That’s fine.  FINE.  It was washed, dried, put away in the drawer and that’s where it will stay while it thinks about the value of striking in a world (kitchen) in which it was almost exclusively used daily.  Time to bring in the scabs.  Courtesy of T.K. Maxx household section.  Competition is good for the kitchen utensil soul.   

Monday, 4 October 2010

When Ariel met Sadie

When I finally pulled myself out of bed around 9am.  I checked my email over coffee and saw a message from my husband with the subject ‘pirate.’  He’s always sending me photos or comics or funny links and I thought this was the same.  It was one line.  “The paper says Johnny Depp is filming the next Pirates movie in Greenwich for the next few weeks.”
I read it three times to be sure I didn’t misunderstand.  Johnny Depp, the second sexiest man alive, is currently within walking distance!!
I immediately opened facebook and updated my status with a joke about being busy for the next few weeks with stalking duties.  I then proceeded to go about my morning routine and actually forgot about the whole thing. 
Around noon, for some reason I began thinking about what my 18 year old self would say to me today.  I have been in a ‘what next’ mood for a few weeks now and I thought this might be a good exercise to get me refocused.  This is what happened next...

Ariel:  Johnny Depp is filming in your neighbourhood and you’re sitting on the couch watching daytime TV!!!???  It’s Johnny Depp!  It’s a five minute bus ride or 15 minute walk!  Get off the couch!
Sadie:  Really?  I will joke about stalking a movie set on facebook, but there’s nothing to it.  I’m too old to be chasing after celebrity sightings.  There’s about zero chance that I will get even a glimpse of Johnny Depp.  Besides, any minute now I am going to turn off the TV and start working, I just want to see if this CSI turns out like I remember.
Ariel:  First of all, no you aren’t.  You have your whole day planned out based on the TV listings.  Second, no you aren’t.  You are not too old to be chasing after celebrity sightings, especially when it is Johnny Depp!  You currently have no responsibility or obligation for the next few hours or days for that matter.  Remember Dogstar?  The summer before University you wanted to stalk Keanu Reeves so badly, you played sick for two days, so you could skip out on the finale dance number of Will Roger’s Follies in order to get to his concert at a bar 40 miles away!  This is just walking down the street!!!
Sadie:  OK.  I’ll go, but I’m running errands as well so as not to seem a complete spectator and pathetic groupie.
Ariel:  Why do you care if you seem a pathetic groupie?  There are probably already tons of people down there.  Who is going to pick you out as the pathetic one?  Whatever you have to tell yourself.  Just go!

I did go down to the movie set.  I showered, put on a ‘grown-up outfit’ with pantyhose and everything, I’m not sure why, and went downtown.  It’s impossible to mistake the set.   The entire Old Royal Naval College is screened off for the next six weeks but above the fences and screens there are huge scaffolds of fake buildings, blue screens and military/royal blue and red banners.  There are also about a dozen black carriages and the horses and stables to go with.  I walked around with an air of annoyance at not being able to get to the usually open walkways while secretly dying of excitement.  Girls were climbing fences to try and get photos while security guards singled me out for repeated reminders to not take pictures (even though I didn’t even have a camera out).  I finally gave up and decided to go down to the river to have some lunch.  A fence is only so exciting, despite getting a few glimpses of what’s behind.  As I walked down the ‘diverted footpath’ I came upon the Catering tent.  There was an empty bench right across from where food was being handed out to costumed actors.  I diverted to the bench, sat down, and when I looked up there was Captain Jack Sparrow waiting his turn in the catering line!!!!!  In case that went by too fast to be appreciated (because it almost did for me at the time)...Johnny Depp, in full costume, was standing 20 feet away from me!!! 
At first I cursed myself for diverting to the bench.  If I had kept walking I would have crossed paths (quite literally) with the Captain.  (At which point I would like to think I would have shot him a casual brim touch and “Capt’n” as I walked by, saving my ‘oh my god!!!’ jumping around for around the corner, but would actually probably just stopped and stared or apologized for falling at his feet as I tripped over my own as I so frequently do).  As it was, I just stared, a little wide-eyed, a little mouth gaping, a little smiling and just shook my head a little at the unbelievablility of it all.  And then it happened.  He looked at me.  Right at me.  As I was staring, with a can’t-believe-it-type grin and he grinned back!  He grinned back!!!!  Johnny Depp looked at me and grinned!!! 

I think I may be consulting my 18 year old self a bit more in the future.  Sure she did some stupid things and probably has questionable professionalism, etc.  But she also was up for fun and willing to be true to herself and her desires, in this case getting an up close glimpse of an idolized celebrity.  My life didn’t change because I saw Johnny Depp.  I’m still getting up late and struggling with the lure of daytime TV, but I did reclaim a little of the feisty gal I was 14 years ago.

P.S. I still can't remember what errands I planned to run in an effort to not look like a pathetic groupie.  I will probably remember soaking wet and running late.