Monday, September 30, 2013

Checking out British emergency services

I'll admit that there was some panic on my end. I even foolishly called my parents, which I know, deep in my heart, I should never do unless I actually have no choice. There's nothing they can do from that far away and all I end up doing is worrying them horribly. This can have terrible short term consequences (for everyone). This does nothing good for anyone. I will try to keep my head on straight next time.

Eventually I had enough logic to remember closer friends though. I called DP Steve, who didn't answer. Then I called Books, who also didn't answer. I finally called Intern, who picked up though admitted in a later talk that he'd just been about to silence his phone for the night. Apparently everyone and their mother does this except me. I guess I've always been too afraid of being that asshole who someone tries to call in an emergency and doesn't pick up because their phone is silenced. Being the person on the other side has made me cautious in this way. I guess we know why I think it...I am that person trying to call you in the middle of the night with an emergency! Pick up your damn phone and stop silencing my call for your own sleeping convenience! I promise I will pick up your call in return when you have an emergency!

[As a small side note this is probably why my friends do call me with their emergencies...especially emotional ones in the middle of the night...they all know I never silence my ringer. I have received several 3am calls in my past to this effect. I still do not regret my decision. I would rather be the rock in the night that everyone can count on than be the jerk who later found out my friend was in need and I was not there.

Okay...getting off of my soapbox. Apologies. Just passionate about needing help and sometimes not finding it.]

Intern was extremely helpful in giving me appropriate numbers and information, having just been through the hospital system himself (though lucky for him it was things he'd scheduled, rather than for emergencies). And as I was getting off the phone with him DP Steve called me back, having heard my rather frantic voicemail (he's the only one I know, especially close, who has a car...this is vital information when you can barely walk and sitting is a pain...literally).

Now it had crossed my mind that I could call an ambulance (which is oddly free in this country...I know this is probably how it is in most places but coming from the States the idea of emergency care being free still strikes me as strange). I'd been told that if I really couldn't walk and get into a taxi I could indeed call an ambulance to aid me to the hospital. But that just seemed ridiculous to me. So I called a taxi. Luckily DP Steve called me back before this taxi arrived though, so I was driven personally instead of needing to pay. Friends with cars: priceless.

Also, as it turned out, since it was a bank holiday weekend, they'd all been celebrating the Notting Hill Carnival and it seem this is a known time for gang violence. Something something lots of drunk people and lots of people gathered in one spot...violence erupts. They've done a better job of squashing it with additional police presence and the like...but inevitably there will be some idiot who shows up and starts a fight. In any case, I was warned by the woman I talked to at the hospital that even if I did call an ambulance I might be waiting forever and a day because they were exceptionally busy that night.

We drove to the hospital and I hobbled through the A&E (Accidents and Emergencies) entrance as DP Steve parked the car. I could only walk with my torso horizontal to the ground so it was an awkward talk at the desk. Luckily they accounted for this possibility and had mounted speakers at every height, so they could still hear me through the glass.

Surprisingly this part of their system is very much like the US. They have you fill out a form about what your problem is then it's triage. And despite what the woman on the phone had said, I guess my condition was deemed urgent enough that they called me in within 15 minutes...not shabby.

There they did the usual things - took samples, measurements (blood pressure, pulse, etc), the like.

After that I was booted back out to the waiting room to wait again. I couldn't walk all the way there though so we were given seats in the hallway on the way back out to the waiting room. I think we waited there for half an hour; it was hard to tell time anymore and I hadn't bothered to put on a watch as putting clothes back on to go outside had been painful enough.

DP Steve and I caught up on what had been going on in life since we'd last seen each other. He'd bought an apartment in Hanwell (which is nearby). Sweet stuff.

Eventually I was shown in to see a doctor. After some prodding around of my abdominal areas and some other physical tests she determined it wasn't my appendix. In fact she didn't know what it was. This left us in a pickle of sorts. Since she couldn't tell for sure what it was and didn't have a good idea, it was a hard sell to send me to emergency without good cause. Yet because I was in so much pain she couldn't really send me home either, since that's just plain mean and silly.

So she gave me a few tablets of codeine and then decided to sell me to emergency services under the guise of pain that seemed to be something something the thing (medical condition that could be something more serious but was undeterminable). Apparently this is your ticket into emergency services. Triage, sometimes you work against me.

And with that I was told to hand some papers to the window across the ward (luckily a slow and plodding 10 minute walk for me but not so horrendous) and well...wait again.

One again the procedure continued: taking measurements, pulse, etc. This was the third time I was being asked about my symptoms, despite it all being recorded everytime. It might have been the pain and fatigue talking but I was getting a bit annoyed. I just wanted the pain to go away and to sleep (which I couldn't do because of the pain). By now it was around 1am.

I was told to go back out to the waiting room to wait for a bed (the only kind of space they have in emergency services). They would call me back to get some blood in a bit but otherwise it might be a bit of a wait; lots of people from the carnival had arrived and it was a bit hectic.

Unfortunately at this point DP Steve had to leave. He had to work the next day and would then be taking a two week holiday somewhere excellent (New York). I thanked him profusely for staying with me as long as he had and driving me, and he left.

I laid down on the benches in emergency services' waiting room and basically fell asleep as much as I could. The pain at this point was tolerable (guessing the codeine had done some magic) but it's not exactly glory laying on a metal bench in bright fluorescent lights at 1am somewhere unfamiliar. There weren't that many people in the room with me (just a middle eastern couple who looked just as freaked out as me), so at least it was fairly quiet. The advantage of going in the middle of the night I suppose.

About half an hour later I was called in and they took blood. No beds were available still but they said they would try to get things done as efficiently as possible. I warned them about the difficulty with my veins - for whatever reason I have the kind of  veins that love to not rise to the occasion. You can poke and prod all you like but you're not going to get anything substantial from them.

The nurse heard me but blood needed to be taken.

And thus the wonderful experience of eight needle pricks began. She started in the normal areas - crook of the arm, in the crease where normal IVs go. When this failed miserably (and I do mean miserably), she switched to the top of my hand, with mild better success. After three pricks there she dug the needle around enough to get what she needed - four tubes full of my blood for testing.

She then inserted the scariest apparatus I've ever seen in my life:

Apparently this is one of those "just in case" things. Maybe I'd need an IV later or some sort of medicine intravenously, therefore...instead of dealing with the fuss of finding veins again later...well, we'd just keep that puppy open.

The entire thing was taped to me. I was told to go back to the waiting room until a bed was opened. I was a bit freaked out. Not a huge fan of having pieces sticking out of me that are attached to holes in my body. Holes.

About an hour later a bed was ready. I'd definitely started passing out in the waiting room by this point so it was a welcomed change. I was led to a bed in a separate room (even had its own door with a peep window so doctors could see that I was in there).

On the way there I could see the other beds were all full. Most of them were only behind curtains rather than in separate rooms. I considered mine a "luxury suite" in comparison. The ones with curtains also had police officers stationed at the ends of them. Guess that's what they meant by people from the carnivals. Getting watched while you get medical treatment. Ouch.

After I got to the room they once again asked me about my symptoms. I was then told to undress down to my undies and lay on the bed. I could steal a sheet from the shelves and lay on the bed (a gurney really). I asked if I could fall asleep in the meantime. I was told that I was more than welcome to, and in fact it would be encouraged because it would likely be awhile.


So I did exactly that. The only problem? The thing taped to my hand. And I had foolishly worn a long sleeve sweater.

...not something I had planned for.

I will sum it up like this though: getting a sweater off with something large and attached to your hand is really difficult and terrifying. The fear of ripping out said thing from your body is quite high while the desire to get the sweater off is also quite high. Not a desirable situation. I'll leave it at that.

After twenty minutes of finagling I got the sweater off though and promptly passed out. It was around 3am by then.

Doctors came in and out of my room and over the course of several sleepy visits, I got my treatment. I barely remember most of it.

They eventually discharged me at 4:40am. By this point I knew I wasn't going anywhere that day, and the pharmacy was naturally closed so even though I'd gotten a prescription that would likely help my situation, I couldn't get to it to receive immediate help anyway. I'd need to come back. Sigh. The inconveniences of not-America. I did grumble.

I called a taxi and went home after emailing my team that I would not be coming into work. Oddly my manager was awake only an hour later and said that was more than alright.

Little did I realize that I would miss almost an entire week of work...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Leaving Creamfields behind

We all woke up particularly early the next morning. I think the idea that there were no more gigs to watch just made us uninterested in sleeping any longer in slightly miserable conditions. It was also particularly cold that morning, making it less than comfortable to stay in your tent. We were all up by 7:30am.

We packed everything with a strange efficiency. I guess once you've burned through the majority of the supplies you've brought it doesn't seem so bad hauling things back out. Always lighter on the journey home.

As we trudged our way back through the campgrounds and on our way out, I scanned the multitudes of camps and the tens of thousands of tents that lay sprawled everywhere. There were only a sprinkling of dumpsters everywhere, most of which weren't even close to full. I was told by British C that most people leave their tents because they can't be bothered to repack them and walk them back to the cars. Buy something for 20quid and leave it there; it's not worth the effort.

I stared out at the tens of thousands of tents with a fresh perspective. So much waste. Creamfields could house an entire refugee camp with all of the sleeping bags, pillows, and tents that were left behind. And all of them were just going to be torn down and put into a landfill. I was once again disgusting at the amount of waste. Only in the first world. Only would we even dare to think of buying something knowing full well that we'd only use it once and be fine with throwing it away, perfectly usable and intact. In pleasure we trust.

We eventually made it back to the car, happy to be on our way to civilization. We stopped at McDonalds on the way back for our first meal of the day. I had my first sausage mcmuffin with egg in ages (I can't remember my last one's probably been years...they're so good). I had the entire meal: hashbrown, mcmuffin, orange juice. Breakfast of champions.

Making it back to British C and Ozzie L's house was like finding paradise. Civilization! Showers! I've never felt like scrubbing myself so badly before. Like I wanted to burn all my clothes and never see them again. But of course I didn't; if this trip taught me anything it was that waste is such a first world luxury. So I took my shower hastily and vowed I was doing myself a service just getting clean. It still felt like heaven.

I was then dropped off at the train station and an hour and a half or so later, I was back at my apartment, back with the world. It felt...weird.

Of course it didn't help that the pain in my body had never really ceased and had in fact, gotten much worse. I continued to ignore it like a champion all day until I could barely stand for more than a few seconds later than night, near midnight. Then in a panic when it was too painful to even sit, I called a few close people to see what I could do about it (not knowing anything about the medical system).

And thus began the second part of my adventure...

...which will be chronicled in the next [few] blog posts.

But before I get into that I'd like to give special thanks to British C and Ozzie L. Without them the weekend in Creamfields would have surely been a disaster, and their experience saved us an overwhelming amount of pain, effort, and definite annoyance with the rather drunken, dirty, and disgusting festival revelers. Though I may have a personal problem with the amount of waste and destruction that was present there, I have an exceptional appreciation for them and the amount of fun they have there despite all that. And they are the considerate type of camper who does not only pick up after themselves (and make sure that we were that type of camp as well), but who do not leave behind myriads of waste, in any sense of the word.

So thank you, British C and Ozzie L, for bringing me in on this experience. Especially since I wasn't forward thinking enough to buy in the first time around. Without you I would not have known what this was like and wouldn't have been able to experience it for myself. You guys are true troopers and I would never take away what we did, not one smelly minute of it. :)

I will be forever grateful for your thinking of me when that ticket became available. Will I go again? Haha, probably not (unless we consider that ridiculous VIP area, which I think we all agree is not worth the money), but it was definitely worth going through at least once.

Live a little, live a lot. Written in the stars.

Thursday, September 26, 2013 2

All of us woke a little after dawn. There is something to be said about the combination of lots of booze, cheap tents, and young people. You get little sleep and what sleep you do get, is pretty poor quality.

Despite bringing sleeping bags and other fairly alright camping equipment, all of us were up really early. It gets very damp and very cold in the English countryside and Creamfields was no exception. It was probably still in the low double digits in the mornings but it was damp enough to put dew on everything and make things generally unpleasant (you could see your breath and once again, wellies and boots were the smartest thing you could be wearing).

Everyone was either woken by the sun or by the cold. I was woken by the fact that I'd gone to bed at 9:30pm the night before and despite being woken up at 3:30am previously, I was just done sleeping. I was up around 6am. There you go.

Wherever I am my routine always follows - I did my morning rituals before everyone else was up and desperately sought out a warm beverage. Since the British don't enjoy any tea that's uncaffeinated, hot chocolate was my only choice other than hot water. I took one for the team and took hot chocolate (it's still caffeinated but I like to pretend it's slightly less caffeinated than normal's probably about the same). It was surprisingly good (I think more to the point I was hungry and conditions were outdoor so everything just tasted a little better than it should have).

Soon after everyone was up and wandering around. We had a lot more shows we wanted to see that day, so more scheduling and logistics planning. Also because there were more famous artists on that day, our group wanted to split, making things a little more difficult. No problem our group couldn't solve though!

And so we got ready (relatively quickly, in comparison to yesterday), got our faces painted (plus diamantes, once again) and headed down to the festival after some more joyous day drinking. Once inside the prices of drinks went steeply up (from our own supply, brought cheaply from various supermarkets, to London prices...which everyone aside from me greatly detested).

Who did we see on day 2?

Porter Robinson
Feed Me
Groove Armada (a DJ set of remixes)
Sebastian Ingrosso + Alesso

The last two I saw on my own while everyone else went to see Tiesto. I'd seen him already at another festival in Finland previously and Sebastian Ingrosso was more interesting to me (though I'd already seen him in Finland last year as well).

Surprisingly, Feed Me was probably the outstanding winner out of all of the performances I saw. Porter Robinson was also good, but having seen him in San Diego before I moved, there was something that didn't strike me the same about him. He also admitted that his set was a bit less mainstream because he was getting tired of touring and wanted to play the things he liked, rather than what a crowd might like. I'm totally fine with that but it's sort of a funny thing to admit to a crowd. So there you have it.

At this point my body was starting to feel pretty broken, though it felt slightly better than Saturday. I had to sit down for most of the Sebastian Ingrosso set and everything ached. I had assumed at first it was just getting old and not being able to sleep on hard ground for a few nights in a row, but after doing some stretching and not having the pain abate even after warming up and moving was clear something was actually wrong.

I still ignored it though; I was at Creamfields for holiday and was going to enjoy every bit of my youth that was possible, given the circumstances.

As we walked back from the festival and regaled each other with stories of glorious people watching and sets unseen by the others...we walked through the camps closest to the festival entrance.

Horrid smells washed over us. The odor of urine, overflowing toilets, garbage, unwashed people reeking of alcohol sweat, and rotting food all stuck in mud. There is no smell-o-vision experience for this blog so I can share with you what that smell was like but know that it was more than nauseating. It made me want to stop breathing.

All the camps at the bottom of the hill near the festival entrances were what my sister would kindly call "trash camps." (Akin to "Garbage City," what my sister had dubbed Athens after weeks of their trash workers going on strike and refusing to do rubbish can only imagine what that is like in 35 degree summer heat and a penchant for deliciously fresh and seafood-based cuisine...yeah). Not only were people urinating around their tents and anywhere that looked vaguely open (so on the roads we were walking on to get anywhere...all compacted under the pounding footsteps of tens of thousands of campers and dampened by the urine of about 70% of those campers), they didn't bother going anywhere to dump anything. Trash was everywhere...rubbish, just thrown to the wind (which luckily there was not much of, so the smell didn't carry as far as our camp, happily sitting on top of a hill).

The grass had been trampled into nothing, the entire thing was just...filth. Real slums are cleaner than these camps. Everyone living in just pure and utter squalor. The product of pure first world neglect. Ambivalence. The ability to have everything at your fingertips, absolutely anything you would ever require for a life of luxury and just...destroying it without any regard simply because you have the ability to do so.

I have no other real feelings about this other than complete and utter disgust. All of us felt it.

We walked back to our clean camp on top of the hill and felt thankful once again that Ozzie L and British C had enough experience to get us there. Our grass was still green and long, a brisk breeze blowing over our camp from behind us, bringing us fresh clean air from somewhere not associated with the festival. Though the camps next to us weren't as clean as us (we brought garbage bags to dump everything in so nothing was left strewn about), at least they didn't urinate on our tents, only on their own. When you have young neighbors that's all you can really ask for. Unfortunately some of my friends still had been fallen on by drunken walkers in the middle of the night, so it's not that we all came out unscathed.

We took it easy for the rest of the night, knowing that we would be packing up early the next morning and getting out as fast as possible. We left the partying to the young ones. Our fun here was nearing its end. We talked into the night and contented ourselves with the fact that it was a weekend well spent.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A facelift for fall

Not literally of course...for the blog! :)

I don't know how many of you actually go to my site everyday/sometimes versus just plugging my link into a reader or subscribing by email (it would be interesting to know the stats actually...I can only pull the stats that are fed through the site without putting more effort into it...mostly what I've found out is that my main reading demographic is in the States (no shock there) and that I have about x page hits a day (I'll keep that a trade secret)).

Anyway, I figured it was time for a change around here, since I hadn't changed anything about the blog (except maybe the publishing pattern) since I started it.

So, boom! New look for the upcoming fall festivities and fun. Something different. And finally, something that gives my photos frames without me doing anything (ah the magic of everyday technology that enhances our lives).

Feeling quite good about this update, small as it is. Life needs these constant little improvements.

I've always loved the autumn; as a child it was my favorite season. All the beautiful changing of the colors and the crisp clean air. The Finns have the most wonderful all-encompassing word for this transition: ruska. If only English had something as elegant.

It's not began to quite turn fall yet here in England (something I am so oddly grateful for), but I know it's just around the corner because the nights are getting nippy.

And so, the change in scenery.

tSH 1

Rather capitalistically, Creamfields doesn't publish their line ups in any sort of convenient way. Instead they encourage you to buy a lanyard (priced at 8pounds a pop) that has the artists listed by day and stage. I'll fully admit that this system had me more than a little miffed. Their website is even designed in such a way that you can't print the information. Talk about information display failure. Either someone's a genius at making money and skimming as much as possible from young people, or someone's an idiot. Or a jerk. I'm going to go with options 1 and 3.

Anyway, as it happens Ozzie L and British C enjoy buying these lanyards as souvenirs of their trip every year, so they had no qualms getting one for the group. The other couple that came also decided this was a good idea, so in the end, we had two copies for the group. This ended up being enough but we still had to constantly refer to them because the information was displayed in such a way that we could never remember what we had planned. Note to self: try to get myself hired as their next graphics designer...I'm sure I could find a more efficient way to present this info. I wonder if I could get this based on commission as well (for every lanyard they sell, I get 5%...I'd make tons of money).

Saturday, day 1, ended up being pretty breezy for us - the group basically wanted to see all the same artists and there weren't many conflicts. Since I'd decided to go low tech and leave my cell phone at home (since there was basically nowhere to charge it and in all likelihood it would get lost, stolen, or otherwise damaged), we had to go with low tech solutions for meeting up like back in the day...set a time and meet at a place that was agreed upon ahead of time. Talk about ancient techniques. It was kind of lovely though...not having the siren call of my email or text messaging. The only thing that made it kind of a drab - my oldschool point and shoot camera and knowing that I'd need to plug it into a computer in order to sync everything to my accounts later. But that was a small price to pay for three entire days without being bothered by anything. It was surprisingly easy. I didn't feel stressed about it at all.

So who did we end up seeing that Saturday? A few goodies.

Nicky Romero
Sasha (oldschool, I know) friends all went to see either Avicii or Prodigy later that night.

Unfortunately I'd started to have what would continue to be gnawingly bad pains in my abdomen. So I called it an early night (it was right around 9:30pm by this time, right when Prodigy was to start). I got walked back to my tent by Ozzie L and promptly fell asleep. Good thing too because most people came back to their tents around 3:30am (there was still music playing at this time, by the way, last show didn't stop until around 4:30am...which I could hear from my tent) and woke me up. I definitely had the most sleep of the group.

I'd have to say getting older has taught me one thing - nothing is worth it if you're feeling like crap. You'll have another chance in life and it's no problem sitting something out and recovering to go at it again the next day. Your friends will understand and if they're good friends, they'll just let you feel better and make it out the next day, whatever you feel up to doing. No pressure. These are my friends, and they are wonderful.

That was our first day. Pretty laid back, easy going. Sunday was going to be...more. That's the only way I can describe it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Setting up camp

On Friday I finished up my work early and headed out, all my gear in tow. I thought I had packed pretty well - light and smart. Only some thick tights, shorts, tank tops, a hoodie, and my snowboarding jacket to wear all weekend plus my wellies (rainboots) as last year the entire festival had to be canceled due to rains.

Summary of what happened last year: overnight the equivalent of one month's worth of rain fell, completely flooding the campsites and literally washing tons of mud into people's tents, cars, and well, everywhere. Stages sank. People swam to get to places. People lost possessions forever. The third day of music never happened. It was such a catastrophe that people were actually given partial refunds (this never happens in festivals of this size - we're talking 20,000+ people in one spot...that's a lot of money to be made).

Luckily my friends British C and Ozzie L had been there many years in a row and had camped smartly, so their stuff was not only saved from the torrential downpour, but due to Ozzie L's hangover, they actually slept through most of the rain as well (they were in their tent when the downpour happened and then left before the festival was officially canceled). Fortunately their car was spared and they were three spots from the temporary roadway in the parking lot (which is really just a field) so they just drove slowly and carefully and were on their way. Here are some pics of devastation:

Notice the man swimming to the tents on the bottom right picture. Yes, swimming. Btw it's highly likely that he got sick after such a thing because not only did it rain last year it was also fairly cold (got almost into the single digits at night) and well...people are dirty. I'll get to that near the end of the documentation of this camping experience though.

Anyway, we were in much better luck this year. The forecast said only light drizzle for the Saturday morning we were pulling in and the rest was overcast with slight sun and no rain! Whoo! And strangely, for Britain, the forecast actually held.

It was unfortunately drizzling when we got there and had to make camp (a good two kilometer walk through mud, in other words), but we had been warned ahead of time that this trek would be arduous and awful, so it actually wasn't as painful as it had been described. In the end it's all about expectation. And we were expecting it to be a lot worse. British C and Ozzie L had definitely planned well - sleds had been bought (versus something with wheels) to deal with the muddy conditions and we skated to our campsite with ease in comparison to the less experienced teenaged fools who brought things like rolley suitcases (I'm sorry, but that's just not going to cut it when you're in 6 inches of mud).

Once again the decision of wellies was most wise. I've not had to wear mine on too many real occasions (once for when my back patio flooded in San Diego and I had to pail out the water for several hours...maybe a few other times in legitimate rain) and it felt like glory wearing them for a realistic reason. Everyone had wellies. The variety of styles was overwhelming - never before had I seen so many colors and patterns of wellies before...and it was glorious. I thought mine (strangely Indian-patterned...I got them cheap at Payless back in the States for $15 when I was feeling cheeky back in uni...San Diego literally gets one week of rain a year...oddly most girls I know in San Diego still own a pair...something about the novelty of it all...) would be out of place but I was wrong. They ranged from matte blacks and greens to fantastic clear glitter, bubblegum pink with sailboats, even some with rubber embellishments like bows. They even came in different lengths! Ankle-highs and mid-calf. Lovely variations of the traditional. Most people had obviously brought their cheap pairs though, not wanting to bring their all-classy Hunters or otherwise brand-name wellies. Fair enough; basically anything that was brought to this place would later be burned or otherwise thrown away so it only seemed appropriate.

But I digress.

We walked to one of the farthest camps from the arena/festival entrance, the Blue camp. British C and Ozzie L stressed to us the importance of camping away from the festival areas, citing years of experience. Also the advantages of camping upon a hill and not in the valleys. And away from porta-lous (porta-potties, in other words). And away from main pathways. We would soon learn the wisdom of their ways. Time learned lessons.

We soon found our camping spot of choice and set up camp. Nice hilly grassy area, one of the furthest camps from the entrance. The rain had stopped and after camp was set up we got about getting some food and getting about to what festivals are really about: incredible amounts of day drinking and planning which artists we wanted to see and when. Not to mention glow paint and diamantes. What is this you ask?

Glow paint is paint that is reactive under black light conditions. Somehow this had gotten popular in the years I'd been out of the scene. Delightfully creative, British C was all into painting our faces and getting into the festival spirit. She's rather excellent at getting us jazzed up, and actually convinced everyone in the group (two guys and four ladies total, including herself) to get their faces painted. The battle was hard, but eventually won.

Diamantes are wonderful plastic jewels that are applied with similar festiveness. I absolutely loved these, and plan to incorporate them more into my party going as time goes on. Little bit of fake eyelash glue and you're golden (or in this case, sparkly). The effect is fantastic when paired with the glow paint and we were festival ready after some rather creative thinking and patient applying by the crafty hands of British C.

The fun was just about to start.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The dream of British camping...

Since moving to London I've been in constant awe at the glorious music scene they have here. Since London is a major hub of fashion and culture, tons of my favorite bands have come and gone. The problem more or less has been noticing in time that they are coming and actually buying tickets enough ahead time to go and see them (everything interesting sells out here because there are so many people).

Another version of music-watching, especially during the summer time, is festival going. Similar to what is offered in Finland, the Brits love to have multiple-day festivals in which their favorite artists come and perform in mass. Unfortunately unlike the Finns, who have a rather organized and efficient way of doing things, the Brits prefer to do this out in the countryside. I guess the justification is that the city is just too packed already as is. Something something go out in the open air and enjoy the...beautiful weather?

I don't know whose idea it was first to do festivals outdoors and out of the cities, but whoever thought of it should be shot. This is not convenient and it certainly isn't pretty. Do you know what British people are like outside of their city habitats? They're disgusting. But I'll get to that later.

Anyway, one of the bigger festivals that comes through during the summertime is called Creamfields. Oddly it's next to Liverpool and a place called Daresbury (the second of which no one has heard of, so no worries on that account).

I had made vague plans to go with British C and Ozzie L earlier in the year when they told me they were going, but after hearing that it required camping and logistics I backed out in a haze of laziness. I don't own camping gear on this side of the ocean and without a car getting to places far away is actually quite a bit of hassle. Having seen quite a few of the headliners at various places and times in my life already, it just didn't seem worth the effort (this is how you know you're getting old: you just can't be bothered...even in the name of fun).

Well, as luck would have it (or just pure happenstance), one of their friends backed out last minute and a ticket was made available. I was asked if I wanted to join, and as it stood, I'd failed to make plans that weekend (one of the few completely unplanned weekends I'd had...and a weekend with a bank holiday attached nonetheless).

It didn't take long to convince me this was a great idea.
  1. I didn't have plans that weekend. So these plans would fit perfectly into my nonexistent plans.
  2. What about the camping equipment I needed? British C and Ozzie L had a spare set of everything for me. OMG so perfect that's not even funny.
  3. What about transportation? I would just need to get up to their house in Milton Keynes and they'd drive me the rest of the way. OMG so convenient.
  4. What about the rest of the stuff I would need to bring like food or booze or whatever? I could just pay for people's drinks there once we were in the festival to contribute. Yes, throw money at the problem and run. I can do that.
  5. Uhh, yeah, I think that pretty much solves any qualms I'd have.
I even got a packing list of items I should bring. All it took was a 5pound shopping spree at Boots and I was ready to rock (things like dry shampoo, which I'd never used before, were purchased...oh and lots of face wipes...which are like fancier baby wipes...and waterless antibacterial gel...I think you get the point).

And so it as arranged. I would be going on my first British festival camping experience. Holy crap.

Holy crap was definitely right. But I'll get to that.

Before I knew it it was the night before and I was packed and ready to go. My stomach was turning in a churn of knots. I didn't know if it was something I'd eaten or just nerves about being out in the British wilderness for an extended period of time, but something was gnawing at me.

Adventure ho! I was ready to rock.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The troubles of a fusspot

One of the many problems I face on a regular basis is eating in front of people. As you've probably noticed from my posts this is a sort of constant problem, since I do eat and cook a lot and naturally, girl gotta eat.

I've come to realize, over talking this over a few times with Liono, that there are specific reasons why I may have this particular hangup. I used to generalize it by saying I need to be comfortable around people in order to be able to eat well in front of them, and this is usually just hampered by the fact that I eat incredibly slowly in comparison to the average person and I like to talk a lot, which also slows down my consumption. Also I have TMJ, which makes eating a process and sometimes I just get tired before I finish eating. All of these make my eating habits rather...different than the average person.

The more he and I have talked about it though, the more I'm starting to realize the root of the problem could perhaps go further, since it's only around certain people (or types of people) that I get particularly uncomfortable eating. So, it is my hope to delve further into this and perhaps explain myself more fully to you, dear readers.

I think there are two main factors to my discomfort: my level of comfort with the person I am eating with based on their level of attractiveness to me (how attractive I think they are, and therefore what activities I would prefer to be doing around them, rather than eating) and how easy the food is to eat. These are likely the main culprits.

Level of attractiveness

If I find someone particularly appealing in any sort of way, this makes me uncomfortable anyway. Really attractive people have never been my forte and being comfortable around them just isn't natural to me. Because of this one of the main things I definitely do not want to be doing around them is eating. Eating to me is a rather private and intimate thing (very basically human) and because of this, the more attractive someone is, the less I want to eat around them. Sounds silly and stupid when I put it out this way, but really, I think it makes perfect sense.

Naturally there are many people I find attractive who I've learned to be comfortable around. This takes time and a certain level of intimacy though and it doesn't come easily. It is achievable but there is experience behind all this.

Easy to eat

Food that is difficult to eat is just plain embarrassing. There will be lots of wiping with the napkin, potential for spillage onto my clothing...basically lots of possibilities for mistakes and or situations where I will feel generally ashamed of my habits. Though it is likely that none of this will be my fault I feel somehow inept around people if I don't know how to eat cleanly and efficiently. Perhaps this is why I feel that eating is such an intimate affair and should only be done around people I really enjoy and feel comfortable around.

One of the things that slightly negates this is only eating food that is simple to eat. Snacks, bite-sized things, things that are dry or otherwise easy to manipulate with utensils (be it knife and fork or chopsticks), are much easier to deal with, and I feel more comfortable. The possibility for mistakes is less, therefore less anxiety.

Putting the two together

I think it only makes sense then that when you put the two together, the formula for ultra comfort with me is to have someone I'm comfortable around (i.e. someone who I find nonthreatening in the attractive sense) with food that is easy to eat. Or it needs to be proportional. If I'm around someone who is very attractive who I'm not comfortable with, gotta be with easy food. Difficult food can only be eaten around people who I am comfortable around.

My OCD mind wants to make some sort of graph for this but I'll abstain. In my head I've already created it so I'll just let you do that on your own.

As Liono and I slowly achieve this level of comfort (I find him extremely attractive and I've now been put into eating situations with him twice already), I find chipping away slowly to get to the comfort level something that I'm willing to work on. It's helpful that he finds my fusspot ways adorable rather than awkward.

I'll likely be reporting more on these things as I learn more about myself. It's nice to figure yourself out through others.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The patent is live!

Like I mentioned in a previous post, after a certain workshop a team and I filed for a patent. That patent has now become official. It even has a number: 13/934856. That official.

What is it for, you ask?

Actually the idea is kind of silly but I think it's fairly interesting (and that is not a statement for tooting my own horn, since I'm only one of the inventors, not like a singular all-encompassing only-inventor).

Basically it's an app that acts as a smoking break for exercise. You know all those extra minutes you have while you're waiting around for other things? Say you come to an appointment ten minutes early. You know what you could be doing in those ten minutes instead of rifling through an old (and potentially germ-ridden) magazine? Toning your muscles and making the most efficient use of that time.

That's basically what this app is for. Making extreme use of all of the minutes of your day. Those minutes add up. If you used all of those minutes for exercise, there'd be no reason to set aside dedicated time for the gym (per se). No more excuses either for how you don't have time to go to the gym. You could be at the gym everywhere, anywhere, all the time. :)

Anyway, that's the gist of it. There are a lot of other details that come with the idea, like how it uses location-based technology to personalize your exercise experience (e.g. it sees you're around a park so suggests that 10 minute walk instead of doing stair exercises since you're in an office building). Or that you're in heels and professional clothes so the types of exercises that you can do at the moment are limited, so only certain exercises should be offered. Or that you aren't near a shower so the exertion level should be toned down. Or that you want to tone a certain part of your body so you want exercise suggestions that focus on that section.

The possibilities are endless.

But now the idea is there.

For now there are no plans to actually execute this idea into reality, but should someone feel motivated to make it into reality, please come talk to me. I'm sure we can make something work. :)

In the meantime the team of us are going to go out for drinks to celebrate. Feels weird to say this officially now, but...I actually invented something.


Visiting Bristol

Thanks for the patience, dear readers. I'll be posting two today to make up for the absence.

Back to normal!



Strangely similar to my days in Finland, I've not been to too many of the British offices other than the one I currently work at, in Paddington. Admittedly my track record here in the UK is a bit better, but that's almost circumstantial - before I moved here I had reason to go to our old offices in Southwood (which no longer exist) when I was still living in San Diego. I have fond memories of spending weeks there at a time at an adorable bed and breakfast. I have a feeling now that we've pulled out of that area of the UK that that little business park has likely dwindled down.

So when my manager suggested we go to the Bristol offices to meet up with our other teammate who's half-based there and in London, all of us very happily agreed. A chance to get out of town for a day on the company dime and see another site? Absolutely. We work rather closely with several of the teams there so it's always nice to stay close also. Why not?

We made our arrangements and met at the Burger King in Paddington station before boarding our 9am train to Bristol. It takes about an hour and forty minutes to get there on the most direct train, which is what we were taking. The scenery outside the train is beautiful countryside outside of London. Sometimes it's hard to remember that outside of the huge city we all live in there is actually greenery and nature. Fields where no one lives for miles.

One of the stops along the way is Bath; one of the cities I very much want to make a weekend trip to one of these days. Maybe I can convince my Helsinki girlfriends to come and visit and we can have a spa weekend there. I don't think it'll be a hard sell. It's a gorgeous historic town with lots to do and not even very far away (maybe an hour away by train).

Anyway, eventually we land in Bristol close to 11am. We get off the train and walk our way to the office, which is only fifteen minutes away. The weather is gorgeous and sunny, surprisingly mild even though every British person has basically told me the summer is over and was longer than normal (this shocks me because we barely had three weeks of good "hot" weather).

Admittedly it's hard to get a good grip of the town; I've heard many times that Bristol is a lovely city and is indeed worth checking out on its own. It's even in the Britain guidebook my parents have bought me, but there's nothing in there that I can remember specifically. Apparently there is some sort of spectacular bridge there. We don't see it this time.

We make it to the office after a few stops and I am taken aback; the office is completely different than any other I've been in. Since the focus at this office is entertainment, they have loud music pumped into the reception area (which is kind of nice, actually) and gorgeous prints of musicians hung on every wall, matching the rather loud carpet. I like it; it's different and funky. Not so corporate. I prefer the office I work at for its floorplan and comfort but generally speaking, the fact that this one is so different makes it likable.

We have our full-day of work and are extremely productive. It is good to see our teammate after such a long absence (she's had health troubles and hasn't been traveling back and forth to London as is her normal plan).

Afterwards we go out for dinner at a local Italian restaurant. It is adorable and quaint and the wait staff are very friendly.

We all decide to order wine after our long day and in celebration of a lot of things - my intern has found a job after several weeks of interviewing (we were told we would not be able to keep him) and my patent has become official (which I'll write about in the next entry). Also, finally, after several months, the team is back together again, all in one place.

Chin chin!

All of us order our meals and all of the food looks delicious. I order the lobster tortelloni and they are fabulous:

Slightly sweet and creamy tomato sauce, soft pasta covering a slightly cheese lobster filling. It was sprinkled with cheese and freshly cracked black pepper. I do love Italian food, and it's been awhile since I've really had it. For whatever reason it gets heavily deprioritized whenever I'm eating out nowadays. Perhaps because it's so easy to get usually.

Everyone remarks at how much faster I'm able to eat now. I think it's because I'm starting to get comfortable around my team. I also say how eating around other people at work has forced me to eat faster; they definitely comment about my eating habits and it makes me self-conscious. I try to keep up this time; knowing we are under time limits for when our evening train leaves.

We part, all happy and warm from our wine, knowing that this is the last time we will all four be together. My intern leaves in another two weeks and after that it is difficult to say when we will all be together again, even us three. It is difficult for the teammate in Bristol to travel and because of this, my manager and I are the ones moving around the most. I don't mind; I've always been a traveler, and in this case THE traveler for the team.

So we three board the train and make our way home. It is a quieter train ride this time versus the time we came up; we're all sleepy and there is an angry man in the seat in front of us. He has a loud conversation with lots of swear words, pounds his fold down table several times, throws his iPhone. His heavy aggressive breathing makes us all uncomfortable. Luckily he gets off several stops before ours so we don't need to be around him the entire time. We all discuss after he gets off how we're all country bumpkins enough to feel unsafe around people with anger issues. Best not to provoke them in any sort of way.

We part ways with my manager at the train station since she lives somewhere else; my intern and I take the same route home since we basically live in the same neighborhood. It has been a good but very long day.

Nice to see Bristol finally; I'll have to see it again with fresh eyes on a weekend sometime. There are two people there I can now visit; my teammate (who has invited me to stay with her whenever I want), and a girlfriend I met in Salzburg when I was backpacking through.

Hello, Bristol.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Sunday of celebrations and remembrances

Apologies for the delay in my post; Monday thru Wednesday I'm attending a conference here in London so I don't have normal computer access. My posts this week will be late or absent. Sorry in advance for that. Starting Thursday posting will resume as normal.



After the fun of a gloriously unplanned but excellent Saturday, Sunday was actually expected to be fun. I had a birthday party to go to and a dinner meet-up that had been planned well in advance. I was even planning ahead enough to not eat before I went out. That kind of planning. Impressive planning ahead.

In the morning I cooked like there was no tomorrow, as I mentioned in the other post, then I got ready and made it out the door with perfect timing. I was meeting everyone for the birthday celebration of Instagram (who I met at the Holi One festival of colors), who had kindly invited me to her party at the beautiful Truscott Arms. I later found out that this place is gorgeously owned by a friend and his wife. Good to know people who own nice places. I'm finding there are lots of friends with these kinds of hook ups. It's excellent really, excellent.

Anyway, I arrived there in perfect time as Books arrived at the same time. Glorious coincidences, these life happenstances. We whispered conspiracies to each other as we made our way outside to the patio where the birthday celebration was being held.

This is not a photo that I took so apologies, but this is what the patio actually looks like. Just imagine the tables being pushed together so we could use a whole section and there were wonderful cloth streamers hung in celebration.

The party commenced as soon as Books and I arrived, despite us being there first with the birthday girl and boyfriend, Sandals. Luckily I'd brought a small birthday gift this time in preparation because it seemed everyone did actually bring a gift (this was not normal in Finland). Since Instagram and I share the same name in the real world it only seemed appropriate to celebrate that; I gave her a monogrammed notebook. Everyone gave joke gifts or colorful items; my gift fit right in. There was a surprising number of mustache-themed gifts. I guess this just runs amongst those with our name. Weird.

The celebration was lovely; the booze flowed freely and there were lots of jokes and stories. It was a small gathering of intimates; only maybe 10 people total. We ordered food near the middle to keep the alcohol-food ratio appropriate. Since I was meeting up with friends later for dinner I tried to keep it light (same with the booze consumption), so instead of ordering the roast (which was highly recommended and looked amazing), I instead ordered the mushroom tart with truffle goat cheese:

Not a hard sell either, I must say. Their menu looked amazing. This dish did not disappoint. Mushrooms, gloriously poached hen egg, some roasted veggies (green beans, carrots, some other root veggie that strangely I did not recognize but resembled some sort of lime green carrot), and the glorious glorious mushrooms...pretty sure they were chanterelles). Fabulous. Even Books was jealous of my dish and she got the amazing beef roast (which really looked incredible). I snacked off of one of her potatoes, which was lovely. The truffle goat cheese really was as good as it sounds.

This was the perfect dish for me because it staved off my hunger but didn't fill me up. Just enough to go with the one cocktail I had (something very nicely called The Optimist) and a glass of rose bubbly.

All around a nice gathering of friends and a reaffirmation that I had made a nice group of friends and rather quickly. The Holi One festival had done a good job of solidifying our friendships. An experience, shared. We were all fairly busy in the next few weeks but plans to meet up again afterwards were made.

Unfortunately I had to sprint off after that to make it to my next appointment: roast duck dinner with some friends from uni: a friend and her husband who are currently living in Spain.

So I took the tube (luckily the same line I'd arrived on, just a few stops down) and found my way there.

The restaurant is one I'd been recommended several times by every Chinese person I knew (e.g. Chinese Australian H). Apparently their roast duck was legendary, though their service left much to be desired. I had been forewarned. The online reviews did nothing but back up these claims. I was not prepared for the real life experience.

I found my friends with no problems; they were waiting outside. Luckily my friend knew Cantonese, so it was no problem letting the hostess know that there were three of us and we were ready for dinner. It was only a 10 minute wait, much to my relief. Since there were no reservations you could be waiting for hours for all I knew. I later found out that this would never be the case. They would definitely shoo people out before they ever let this happen. The turn around time was incredible. At the sacrifice of a good dining experience. But I'll get to that.

It was lovely catching up with my friends but everything was a bit frantic. We took our time pouring over the menu as, despite what was said in the reviews, there were at least four types of duck on the menu. Which one was the one everyone loved?!?! There was Peking duck, roast duck...I think you see my point. There was a quarter duck, half duck, whole duck...jeebus, the options were endless.

Eventually we just decided to get two types of duck. The Peking and roasted, since it seems this would likely yield the results we were looking for. They kept coming over every two minutes (literally) to see if we were ready to order, so we just ended up throwing together a bunch of things to eat. If we wanted more we could always order more.

So we got a quarter of the roast duck, half of the Peking duck, some guylan (Chinese broccoli), and seafood dein mein (crispy noodles).

All of it was really good. Unfortunately given the rudeness of the service (coming every few minutes to see if we were done) sort of undermined the experience. Really. We were trying to catch up and given my slowness of eating as it is...there was barely any time to eat and talk at the same time. These types of situations give me anxiety. Being rushed to eat, being bombarded with stressful. I think if I ever came here to eat again I'd just get takeout and eat somewhere else. After awhile I just felt like giving up on eating the service was so pushy. I am a fusspot, this is known.

Here is a pic of the roast duck after the waiter had appropriately deboned it and mashed it into more bite-sized pieces. I didn't have time to take pictures of any of the other food:

Another sign of overt rudeness by the staff, though this one I sort of expected: my friend's husband asked for more water in Mandarin during a point in the meal where he'd finished eating but I was still eating. The staff completely ignored his request until he asked in English. Ooof. Yeah, that kind of service.

After we left we decided to get boba (pearl milk tea). I was more than happy to oblige - it'd probably been a good two years since I'd last had it. And as luck would have it, there was a shop right down the street that served it!

I treated my friends to it because they'd treated me to the delicious albeit rushed dinner. We stared at the menu. There were so many choices. You could choose what kind of tea, the amount of ice (more ice, less ice, normal ice, no ice), and the amount of sugar (more sugar, less sugar, normal sugar, no sugar). Kind of ridiculous amount of customization, though I'd have to say I sort of loved it. You could also add more types of jelly and other edibles more than just the pearls.

The only thing was they didn't seem to have a lot of the normal flavors you'd expect with boba (or at least the ones we'd become accustomed to back in the States). Like barley or toasted almond weren't there, but they did have hazelnut and banana and taro. I guess to each their own.

I ended up going with their traditional pearl milk tea. Less sugar, no ice. It was very tasty.

We stood outside to get out of the busy shop and finally had a more relaxed chat about everything that was going on. This was a lot more like what I was expecting - friends, catching up on what was going on in their lives, funny anecdotes. None of the stress that came with rushed and rude service. It was absolutely lovely catching up with them. It'd been years since I'd last seen them - likely since I moved from the college campus Maybe 2008? Probably 2008. That was still five years ago. Horrific, if you think about it.

Awesomely though, in this age of internet, we'd kept in touch. They'd both moved to Spain about two years ago after the husband had gotten a research job there and they heard I was moving to Finland. Americans abroad in Europe. There aren't that many of us from our group, so it's always nice to connect to others in your situation. She kept a blog so I read about her life and she reads this blog so she'd been reading up on my life. Funny how that happens.

Soon they'll be moving out of Spain though and likely to Washington DC, so once again the numbers of us abroad will dwindle. They only have one other friend who lives out in Europe - a guy I've only met maybe once or twice who went with his dream of studying perfume making and now does it professionally in France. Just goes to show, pursue your dreams to the fullest and you can definitely make it happen. I guess I'll be one of the two. :)

We ended on a lovely note; if I want to visit them in Spain I better do so before mid-January. I have a new weekend destination in mind before the holidays hit. I gotta get cracking on those plans.

And thus ended a rather busy but wonderful Sunday. I took the tube home feeling wonderfully full of good food and friendship.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cooking mania

I've noticed that I get rather manic on the weekends after my farmer's market purchases and literally go into frenzies when it comes to planning and executing my cooking plans. Literal mania - I'll decide what to cook after doing some searching and thinking on and then I'll chop, stew, saute, and package like my life depends on it. Literally. Then I'll wash everything and clean everything like a drug addict looking for a fix. I'll almost always be listening to music and singing along at the same time and it is generally a relaxing process but I do get into a mode and it's very unlikely that anything will stop me in the middle of it. Nothing has so far at least. Not even the time I burned my foot on that red hot oven rack. Still made that amazing blueberry crumble like no one's business.

Anyway, I'm starting to think that though this is a fantastic thing to do on the weekends, I should probably relax a little.

But that's not what this entry is about. Nope. This is about what happens during that mania. Sweet sweet cooking glory is what happens during that mania.

So what did I make this time?

Broccoli with garlic butter and cashews

This was a new recipe from Got very high ratings though and I had basically all the ingredients (minus fresh garlic...this is like the fourth recipe I've found now where I've not had fresh garlic...might just bite the bullet next time I see it and just buy the damned thing...or at least some powdered stuff...this is getting ridiculous), so, I was going to make it.

I'd bought the freshest most gorgeous broccoli from the farmer's market the day before. It was straight from Kent, about two hours drive to the south. Beautiful. Two heads for a pound. Can't beat prices like those and it was just wonderful, staring straight at me. I love broccoli. Admittedly if I've not had enough sleep and I'm handling the little nodules too much or I find them in certain places (like by themselves on my counter later on after I'm done cooking) I tend to freak out...but I try to ignore those feelings as much as possible. It's just one of my weird plant-phobia things. I love eating broccoli, especially the "trees" (versus the "stems") but sometimes I just can't handle it.


Made the recipe. You can find it here.

Admittedly I did modify it, as everyone seems to (I'm also not great at following recipes to the T...just because...why do something to the letter when you can spice it up yourself and add your own flavors and style?).

So admittedly there is way more sugar in my version (and I ran out of brown sugar after the first disposable packet from my pack of weird sauces (reference the eggplant I made last time)) and I didn't bother to thicken the sauce as a lot of the reviewers suggested, but whatever. It was tasty.

Smelled wonderful.

What else did I make?

Cracky cracky broccoli slaw

I've talked about this before. The broccoli slaw that makes me sick everytime I go to Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation because I eat so much of it. I absolutely love eating this recipe. I made it with celery last time but it really isn't the same. Broccoli is king.

I even had a red onion this time instead of just the normal white kind. It does make a difference.

Admittedly the thing I had the least of was mayo (this is a crying shame but I've been eating open-faced sandwiches like a poor college student...I just can't resist...I love them too much...or rather I just love eating mayo on perfectly toasted multi-seed bread) I had to cut the dressing portion in half. This is probably a good thing at the end of the day - less fat and all the like. Whatever, this thing is still tasty by half. I will likely still eat the entire thing in two days. Much to the detriment to anyone who is nearby me (extreme raw onion breath).

And finally:

Free range organic chicken pot pie stew

Yep. I got this recipe from allrecipes as well, you can find it here.

But I'm too lazy to make my own crusts or even buy crusts and really I just think of carbs as being the vehicles for the things I really want to eat (the meat and veggies) so I didn't bother with that part. Hence, you get delicious pot pie stew instead:

This turned out gloriously, especially considering how much I changed the recipe in order to make it work (since obviously it would not continue to cook in its own juices in the oven).

I instead just cooked everything in butter (or olive oil spread which is pretending to be butter...I'm far too cheap for butter on a regular basis...I know I know... ~_~) and then did the roux stage of adding the flour, salt, pepper, etc. Then stewed everything in chicken broth and milk (in my case both from chicken bouillon and powdered milk...I almost never have fresh milk on hand).

Turned out awesomely. Had about a third of it for lunch today. Greatness. Really did taste like pot pie but in stew form (and a little thinner and healthier, to be honest).

I still have another pack of free-range chicken in the fridge; I'm thinking of making chicken cordon bleu with the rest and a local block of brie I have from Bath. I even have slices of ham (sort of unusual for me). Could be glory.

Hilariously after I cooked everything I didn't eat any of it. I wasn't in the mood and was going to a birthday party and then a dinner with Tiffany (a friend from university). So, knew I would be eating and drinking all day. So, three full recipes of cooking mania and straight into the fridge for lunches and dinners this week.

Nothing wrong with being ridiculously prepared I suppose. My week is going to be delicious. :)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Third time's the charm

After hitting the farmer's market with an unusual precision and vengeance, I was walking home thinking about what I could potentially cook with my newly acquired free range organic local chicken when I received a text (I, like usual, was listening to music so I heard the ping right away). It was Church asking me what I was doing for the day. I replied that I had just finished at the farmer's market and had nothing else planned (which was true) and we started making plans together. Seems she'd been stuck inside for the last 48 hours with the flu and wanted to get outside for some fresh air and walking around. She asked if I had any sites I wanted to check out. I said I'd been wanting to go to Stonehenge though that required some real planning, and also to go back to Portobello Market after the first visit with my parents in wintertime and the last failed attempt with Books when we went on Sunday.

So to Portobello we decided to go.

Third time was definitely the charm. The market was in full swing that day and the weather was mostly on our side - we only saw a little bit of rain and we happened to be in a Starbucks by the time that happened so I'd say we were all good from that standpoint.

In fact it was so crowded that day that maybe it was a bit too crowded, but whatever, we definitely met the objectives of getting fresh air, trying some foods (Church got a nutella coconut crepe) and we looked at new and wonderful things. We even purchased some stuff. Incredible!

I bought a hilariously oversized beige sweater with rabbits all over it (something that I imagine will be excellent for the wintertime, though I have already taken off the tags to wear it first thing Monday morning to the's unusual that I get so excited about new clothing) and some new cheap sunglasses as I've been trying to find a new pair that has no nose pieces that I can bring to festivals and other places without worry that they might get damaged (my real pair being some very excellent Kate Spade aviators that I am terrified of breaking). My current pair hurts after extended wearing. That's the pair I unfortunately (or fortunately?) had for the Holi One fest. These new cheap sunglasses are like tortoise shell Ray Bans. But much much cheaper. Surprisingly dark tints though; which will be good in the incredibly bright British sunlight (that's sarcasm).

My sweater looks like this but is the boatneck version (and extremely oversized). I'm impressed I could find it online (I'm wearing it at the moment, so taking pictures of it is impossible):

Church similarly bought a dress, some earrings, and the crepe. But we definitely looked at everything. Portobello Market really is a wonder of a lot of weird stuff. Especially the antiques section. I gloried over some of the scrimshaw selection.

After awhile we stopped in the Starbucks and gathered our energy. Decided that the rest of the day could very easily be spent say, eating and watching a movie. And since the weather was devolving into possible rains, it was time to be indoors. Shepherd's Bush was only a few tube stops away, the indoor mall we went.

Great fortune.

We bought movie tickets for The Heat with Sandra Bullock and the actress from Bridesmaids (the large woman who really made the movie fantastic) and went to go eat dinner before our movie started.

We decided to go healthy and eat Yo! Sushi. Not the best thing in the world but fast and healthy. Most of our selections were actually vegetarian: seaweed salad, roasted eggplant (we both got two dishes of that each, it was so good with its scallions and ginger), salmon sashimi, and some very odd salmon skin (we both decided this was no good). In the end our checks were surprisingly light for Yo! Sushi: Only about 15pounds each. Whoo!

Filing into the movie theater we relaxed and settled into our seats for comedy. It was great. The movie itself was only alright but it provided the laughs and relief that we were looking for. Nothing too difficult to take. Perfect.

We ended the night early and settled back into our homes having spent a well-satisfied Saturday.

Life always happens when you're making plans and never expect it. Good Saturday considering I was expecting to do nothing and just cook. :)

Perhaps this whole London life thing will be alright after all. :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Second grad school tour: UCL

This tour, I'm happy to say, went much smoother. The appointment itself was later in the day (a rather excellent 4:30pm) and the campus is a very convenient 20 minutes away from my office on a single tube line. No transfers. It's also situated right in the center of the city, so very easy to get to from just about anywhere, including my house (would be maybe 35 minutes from my apartment).

As I leisurely walked to the building I was to meet Adam at, I looked at the campus. It looked and felt like a university campus - or at least how I imagined university campuses looking like, since my undergraduate university didn't really look like a typical college. This one had gorgeously academic-looking buildings and even an old English chapel amongst the normal city buildings and roads. A university literally built into the city. It was beautiful. I could see students walking everywhere as well, despite the fact that term wasn't in session. I walked past student housing (where apparently students were still living) and saw young people approximately my age (give or take 10 years in both directions) and felt...well, like I could easily be mistaken as one of them.

It didn't take me too long to find the building I was meeting Adam at: 26 Bedford Way, otherwise known as the Center of Languages and International Education.

Hilariously this building was also being renovated during the summer months, though not to the extent that Goldsmiths' buildings were. It seemed pretty small scale but somehow manageable. I still got a good idea of what the building was like and what being a student there would be like.

Adam and I had a long discussion about the major and related topics. UCL has a very clearly laid out plan for part-time students (at least half or so of the students admitted are part-time and this is strongly encouraged) and they are very interested in people coming from different backgrounds. So interested in diversity that last year they had students from computer science, cognitive science, neuroscience, and even history of drama enter their department (the major is on decision sciences). Fantastic. He and the department founder were very interested in my academic and professional background and the fact that my company was interested in having me further my education; seems I would be a good candidate. Also the fact that I'm an international student seems to bring a different perspective. Whoo, difference making a difference.

After a quick look around the department and a discussion about what admission would be like, I parted ways and felt rather elated. I could definitely see myself being a student here, wandering the halls and doing homework. So this is what it felt like. It just felt right.

So I'll be submitting my application here in another few months. Watch out UCL, you've got an application coming your way.

It's real, and it's happening. tSH is planning to go back to school. Fall 2014-2015.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

First grad school tour: Goldsmiths

As I've definitely mentioned before: I am on a mission. A mission to go back to school and get my master's degree. The question is in what and where. And actually...kind of when.

Unfortunately in my love of overhours and achievement and lust for travel I missed the deadline for applications for the 2013-2014 year (despite it being extended) so it looks like I'll be shooting for the 2014-2015 year. I find this acceptable though, in the grand scheme of things. Gives me more time to really research the schools I'll be applying to, potentially apply for scholarships (I'll explain more about that in a second), and most of all: get funding from my company so hopefully they'll pay for the entire thing.

The entire thing really started when I was back in Helsinki and attended JBL's lecture series on the blending of academia and industry. How do we best get the two together? There are brilliant minds in both places but they seldom work together. There are fantastic discoveries going on in universities everywhere but again, seldom are these results and discoveries and glories being used in industry for the furtherment of mankind and consumerism on a whole.

So how do we fix the situation? The only good response that was given at the lecture series (though not everyone agreed) was: do both. Have people who do both so they can understand the whole perspective and see the big picture.

Well, that's what I plan to do. Do both. I once again have a thirst for knowledge and I'm not going to stop. It was always in my mind to go back and finally the planets have aligned in such a way that it makes sense. Doesn't feel forced and unnatural, it's just the right time to go back.

And so it is. And the process has started. Starting with...

The proposal on why my company should support me financially in furthering my education. Since naturally I will need to take a small amount of time off of work to attend classes and the like in order to make this degree happen (as I intend to continue working while I get this degree). It's already gone through my boss and now it needs to go up the chain.

As a small summary, tuition is expensive for someone like me in the UK. I'm not a citizen of the UK, naturally, so I don't make it into their first tier of tuition prices (otherwise known as the cheapest ring). I'm also not a citizen of the EU, which would have qualified me for the considerably more expensive yet still cheaper second tier of tuition prices (nope, definitely don't quality for that still). I, being an American, make it into the third category of things: the foreigner category. Definitely the most expensive ring of tuition prices. We're talking a jump of:
  • Roughly 1,000pounds for a UK citizen
  • Roughly 9,000pounds for an EU citizen
  • Roughly 20,000pounds for a foreigner (everyone else)
Yeah, that kind of ridiculosity. Ohhhhh company, you are so helping me out with this amazingly expensive tuition.

Anyway, so I'd submitted my proposal as to how my furtherment of knowledge would cure cancer and save the company from financial and other types of ruin and set that into motion. My boss has every confidence that I will be supported in some fashion. We'll see what the verdict is. At the end of the day it comes down to how everyone's feeling and doing's hope that someone hates traveling for a year and I'll get everything paid, yeah? ;)

The second part of the process includes doing the appropriate research to find out which schools and majors would actually fit what I'm looking to study. This makes a huge difference to me though to no one else.

What am I interested in studying? That's actually a slightly difficult thing to describe since it requires a bit of background into what I'm already doing (which I've not actually described here).

Anyway the basic summary goes like this: industry and experience have taught me the how (methods) and what (technology) of my industry. What I want to know is the why. Why do people do what they do. This can be used in many contexts, so it continues to expand rather than limit what I've already been studying and doing.

So, the search begins.

And the first place I was interested in checking out for their program? Goldsmiths. It was recommended to me by my manager. They have an Interactive Design MA that looked pretty interesting and after emailing back and forth with their department head I arranged a face to face meeting and department tour to check out their program (getting a leg up on the competition as well since all grad schools here require a face to face interview to get accepted into the program).

I got horrifically lost along the way after having a hectic half-day at work (we were meeting at 1pm). Needless to say it should have taken me about an hour to get there, had I actually made it on the pathway I was supposed to. I did not, and instead it took me about an hour and a half and a frantic/stressful/anxiety-ridden call to the guy I was supposed to meet to find the place. I may or may not have made tactful yet justified claims that their campus was difficult to find. Luckily the man (Tobie) was understanding.

I met him at this building (the Ben Pimlott building), which is where the (interaction design) lab is:

Sexy building on the outside. Unfortunately was being gutted and renovated on the inside, since it's the summertime and term is not in session. I was soon to find out that this is common practice - all the students are away, quick do some construction! This is a great way to do things but it sure does make visiting rather difficult.

Luckily the lab was still working though so I got to see industrious grad students doing their thing during the summer, which is when most people go off and do crazy things because it's the summertime and they actually have things like vacation during summer (something I've forgotten for the past, well, all years of my life).

Tobie made me some tea (rooibos, which I thought was nice) and we chatted about the program. Large emphasis on the fabrication of a physical object, likely some programming to make the software interface and then placing that object in an environment (or several environments) and then reporting on what the result was of people interacting with it. Literal interaction design.

It dawned on me as we talked more that this program was extremely valuable to a certain kind of student. Unfortunately I am not that kind of student. I was looking for something a little more philosophical and a little less applied in this sense. Also it seemed they didn't really have a great plan for part-time students, seeing as how only 1 of the 14 students they'd admitted for the upcoming year was part-time. On their website they didn't have a well-laid out plan for people who worked at the same time. I had a sneaking suspicion that they would make do but that full-time would be the emphasis here. That's okay but obviously my lifestyle would be entirely different from the majority of students attending and I wouldn't want to feel like an outcast based on something like that.

Tobie gave me a great tour of the facilities in the building, most of which were under construction but you could still see their purpose. The majority of them were workshops where you could make your object of interaction choice: 3D printers, casting shops, wood works, textile shops, this kind of thing. It was a gorgeous place for craft. He asked me about my experience with materials. I honestly said I hadn't done anything like that since undergraduate art classes. It's been awhile since I've done anything physical like that, minus my small crafting (which I didn't feel like bringing up and didn't think of at the time).

All in all it was a good intimate program but looks like the shoe isn't fit for me. I'll not be applying here for the next fall.

Good that I saw this as my first one though, since it was a great primer for the next tour that I took (which was the next day, jampacked week as it was): UCL.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Moar cooking extravaganzas!

Well it was time for the weekend again and I had absolutely nothing planned. And usually when this happens a few things happen instead: I go into super sloth mode and from the time I lock my door Friday night I don't unlock it and appear in public again until Monday morning. This was one of those weekends, more or less. I think I went outside on Sunday to dump my trash and walk across the street once or twice. I didn't even go to the farmer's market. That kind of awesome weekend.

I didn't go to the farmer's market because I still had an overload of ingredients and produce in my fridge from the last trip and I'd done a crap job of making lunches for myself instead of just buying from the company cafeteria (something I'm now terrified caused my attack). So, in an attempt to not have the same thing happen for the next week, I went into cooking ridiculous mode and cooked up a storm. What did I make this time?

Chinese hot and sour eggplant

I still had the eggplants from when I'd bought a bunch the other week and awesomely they were holding up well in the fridge. I didn't want to make them wait any longer though and I loved the idea of eggplants, so it was time to make use of them.

I looked up a swell recipe on and came up with this beautiful plan. I would make hot and sour Chinese eggplant, recipe found here. I had been having an amazing amount of it everytime I went out for Asian food...maybe I'd be good enough to make it at home.

Well, here went nothing.

Actually, it turned out stupendous. Way too spicy for my own good (could only eat small amounts of it at a time), but whatever. It was pretty good.

I changed the recipe a bit, as you can see: added an onion and bell pepper...the sauce was completely different as well. As part of my moving process my parents had given me a bag of odds and ends for our temporary apartment cooking adventures. This, as it turned out, had some pretty weird stuff in it like hot chili oil and soy sauce vinegar (I'm not even sure what that last one would be for in real life...potstickers I guess?).

Anyway, the recipe called for both vinegar and soy sauce so...why not use the soy sauce vinegar in place of both of them? And chili oil...couldn't have asked for a better substitute for sesame oil (recommended by one of the reviewers) and chili flakes. Boom.

There were also a few packets of that weird red sauce that sometimes comes with deep fried eggrolls (called sweet and sour sauce normally I think). I blended in one of those as well after tasting it. Oh and several packets of raw cane sugar. That little baggie of weird packets of stuff definitely came in handy in making this overall glorious sauce. Win for the win on that one. Unexpected awesomeness, everywhere I turn.

One of my prouder cooking moments, I'd have to say. People on FB are lining up to be part of my future dinner parties.

Sauteed zucchini and sausage

I'd also bought fresh summer zucchini along the same lines as I had when I bought the yellow squash. Love the squashes of summer. So I decided to do the same thing as I had last time and saute the entire thing together with some boullion and rosemary. Unfortunately no more onions.

Turned out great though, especially with the pork and leek sausages (unfortunately not from the local sausage man but rather from the local non-GM-fed butcher...his sausages aren't as tasty, I'm afraid to admit).

Great and healthy recipe...wasn't as tasty as the variant with yellow squashes and caramelized onion sausages with onions. Well, can't be perfect always.

Seasoned couscous with fruit and nuts

Next was a recipe that I'd been dying to make for a few weeks. The only reason I'd been holding off is because I'd had so much fresh awesomeness in the fridge so it seemed sacrilege to make something that had nothing fresh in it.

Well to hell with it, I'd done as good as I was going to do with everything previous.

The general recipe for this can be found here, though as you can tell I've deviated from it a bit so it's not really the same thing anymore.

This has nuts, seeds, mixed dried fruit and the spices of cumin and pumpkin pie spices. I don't have plain cinnamon anymore (used it all up before I left the US and now all I have is cinnamon mixed with sugar...pumpkin pie spices have cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and I think enough in most circumstances), so pumpkin pie spice was the next best thing without sugar in it.

I also made the couscous with multivitamin juice per the suggestion of the reviewers, which gave this a great fruity flavor on its own, rather than just plain water. Man those reviewers; know what they're doing.

I enjoyed this immensely and will likely make it again. There really is something about aromatic fruits and nuts. I used to hate fruit in foods but this is lovely.

And that's what I was doing this past weekend other than being a sloth and reading, watching tv, and occasionally napping. I literally didn't really leave my house. Perfectly happy with the situation. Sometimes you just need those weekends.