Friday, October 28, 2011

Cookies and cupcakes and calories, oh my!

The week before halloween has been truly scary around our house.  I've been doing my best imitation of Smiling Suzy Homemaker, but have been so high on sugar from licking the bowl, spoon, beaters, floor and my forehead...  OK, I'll admit I didn't go so far as those last two, though I did indeed spatter batter or frosting on both of them.  

On Monday I baked the following cupcakes for one of the boarding students celebrating his birthday.  My mother had imported halloween sprinkles and candy corn from our nearby Wal-Mart back in Texas, so I went hog wild with them.

On Tuesday I got a break, but of course I had to go shopping for more baking supplies.  Wednesday morning, I rolled out of bed to create these hand dipped white chocolate Oreo ghosts for the oldest daughter's volleyball team to go in their snack bags.

Later that morning, I also whipped up another two dozen cupcakes for another boarding student celebrating her birthday.  See the little blue plate with eight not-so-fancily decorated cupcakes?  They were some extras I had and handed them off to the nice older British gents who man the security gate at school.  They appeared to be most appreciative of my offering.  I had visions of them sitting down over a nice cup of tea while biting into the cupcakes and wondering about the candy corn perched on top since it's not something found here in England.  I say, dear fellow, what sort of sugary confection could this be?  Why I am utterly flummoxed, Watson, as to what in the devil it is!

And finally, the youngest daughter and I made some cupcakes for her volleyball team's post game nosh on Thursday.  Yep, we're still trying to use up the zillion candy corns in the three bags my mother imported for us.  Plus the bag my husband brought back from his Texas business trip.  Hmmm... maybe candy corn would add a nice crunch to salads or give a bit of color to a broth?  Maybe I could put it in the bird feeder and get my ADHD yard squirrels all hopped up on sugar since they're always chasing away the birds to hang upside down and eat to their little heart's content anyway.  Or maybe go all crazed Martha Stewart and hot glue gun it to some plain pillar candle for that extra special festive touch.  Would it really be a "good thing"?

I had been eating very sensibly on the cruise the week before, so licking the spoon wasn't too terribly naughty of me on Monday.  By Thursday afternoon, following my 5th batch of cupcake batter, my stomach was so bloated that I needed to don a maternity top.  Lesson learned (yet again) - gluttony leads to tight jeans!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Oct Break Cruise, Sun & Mon

I got a whopping 4 hours of sleep Saturday night because Mr. I Have a Fear of Missing My Flight Fraser was convinced we had to leave the house at 4:30 am to catch our 7:05 flight to Rome.  It figures - we were delayed an hour since the little towing machine thingy that backs the plane away from the gate didn't work so they had to bring another one over.  Why it took an hour to accomplish this is beyond me since we were surrounded by gates on both sides of us and you would think those towing machine thingies would be just about everywhere out on the tarmac.  

We got off the ground just in time because I was about to go all psycho on this tiny little Asian lady whose mother or father must have been a camel because she was smacking the hell out of her gum.  Save it for takeoff, whydontcha.  She dared pop one big 'ol bubble that sounded as if someone had fired a gun, so I turned around to give her my big-eyed incredulous look followed in quick succession by the narrowed, squinty eyed glare that dared her to do it again.  Once we got in the air, at least the roar of the engines drowned out MOST of the racket as she continued to chew her cud gum.

We arrived in Rome with plenty of time to spare, so we collected our bags, found our driver and set off for the long ride to the port of Civitavecchia.  Unfortunately, we didn't pass anything memorable on our way out of town and up the coast.  All of us dozed on and off since we had been up before the chickens that morning.

Here are a couple pics the oldest daughter took from her balcony.  We traveled on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas.

Our first excursion was the following day, Monday, so we headed out to see a bit of Sicily.  We drove up a couple thousand feet on this terribly narrow road filled with enough switchbacks to make me dizzy and were promptly surrounded by a big bank of fog that totally obscured our views from Mt. Etna.

Below is a shot of my better half atop some lava.  The tour guide kept spouting off all sorts of information about the eruptions that seemed to happen about every other year.  I'm happy to report that we did not witness any spewing or sputtering of lava, ash, etc.

The youngest daughter scooped up some of the lava bits and ferreted them away in the small plastic baggie that held the headphones for our receiver systems while on the tour.  We did our little covert recon in the 20ish minutes we were given to see the crater, which wasn't really visible in all the eerie fog.  I opted out of the crater climb because I am not good at traversing inclines, especially those with all sorts of loose rocks underfoot.  I prefer to do my climbing on a treadmill, thank you very much.  According to me, the highlight of our Mt. Etna trek was the sampling of almond wine and cannoli - yum!

For the remainder of the day, we spent some time traveling along the coast and into the town of Taormina.  

Looking in one direction, you could see the pretty blue waters of the Ionian Sea.  In the other direction, you looked up towards the hills of lava that formed this island eons ago.

The town was very picturesque... as if any cruise ship excursions are gonna take you to the slums.  Check out the steel rods showing underneath the pretty second floor balcony seen below.  I'm thinking this area is prone to some tectonic movement thanks to the active volcano.  And the combo of wind and sun gave everything a bit of a shabby chic feel.

Here is the obligatory shot of one of the local churches we passed while strolling back through the streets of town.

We didn't get to enjoy the scenery, and some gelato, until after my husband had made us haul butt down to the Teatro Greco, or Greek Theater, seen below.  

Archaeologists believe it was constructed in the 7th century BC by Romans atop the foundations of an earlier theater from the Greek period.  Those ancient folks sure knew how to pick some prime real estate, with that million dollar view of the water behind what remains of the main stage.  Below is a picture of me pausing from taking a picture of the theater for Annie to snap a quick pic of me. Ya got that?

If you look closely at the pic below, you can see me on the far left, with my husband seated in front of the fountain while our youngest daughter is climbing up the ever present center-of-a-darling-square fountain right behind him.  

And finally, the fun shots.  The youngest daughter often has to fill the role of photographer for the oldest daughter.  I thought this was a pretty cool pic she took of her big sister goofing around on the balcony in the port.

Last, but certainly not least, is our documentation of the first RC towel animal.  What a cute pair!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Nobody is Keeping Score... Except Me

I love the cardio room at my gym.  It's a good mix of folks my age or older and I enjoy the fact that I have become one of the regulars.  I find it entertaining to work out alongside the gentleman that brings to mind John McEnroe's grandpappy, sporting the sweatband on his head and chatting up all the older gals as he makes his way from elliptical to bike to rowing machine.  Today I spent a lot of my time and energy focused on t-shirt guy.

T-shirt dude is at least 10 years older than me, probably somewhere between 55-60.  It's hard to tell because it's obvious he has spent a lifetime in the sun and has the weathered face to prove it.  That and the fact that he probably weighs about 110 lbs soaking wet, with rocks in his pockets, and hence this exacerbates the wrinkles on his face.  I think of him as t-shirt man in my head because he's always sporting some old participant shirt from a marathon, fun run or triathlon.  And they're so old that it's hard to make out the year, though I know they begin with 19-- instead of 20-- , so it seems his glory days are behind him.

I can always tell when t-shirt guy is on the treadmill behind the row of ellipticals I use because he has one of those slappity runs, where his shoes hit the belt with a lot of force and thus creates a steady drone that serves as a metronome bouncing around the cardio room.  And t-shirt guy runs full out as if someone is chasing him trying to wrestle his ancient Manchester Triathlon 1998 shirt off his body and toss it in the rag bag.  He also has a tendency to showcase his spindly legs in those tiny little wind shorts that are just one gust away from exposing all his bits and pieces.

The t-shirt guy finishes his mad dash on the treadmill and hops on the recumbent bike next to me.  I'm one of those covert competitive workout folks, using my peripheral vision to scan the readouts on their machine.  Are they going faster than me?  What is the resistance level?  How many calories have they burned?  Is the incline cranked up or are they slacking off today?  What makes me crazy are the folks that don't touch the resistance, then pedal their little hearts out with only the most minimal calorie burn.  They're working like maniacs but not even breaking a sweat and their heart rate hasn't budged.  Come on... are you here to get in shape or just watch a bit of TV someplace other than your own living room?  

So anyhoo, I noticed that t-shirt guy is pedaling at the same pace as me but he has the resistance set a bit higher.  My inner competitor takes notice and dials up the resistance on my bike from a 10 to 12.  It's not as if I can't handle it, but I've already been on the elliptical for 45 minutes and am so sweaty that it looks as if I've just come from the water aerobics class in this outfit.  I check my heart rate and it has jumped from a steady 143 to 160.  I start to huff and puff a bit, but I'm not about to call it quits.  Bring it on, old skinny runner guy.  Just because I'm toting around a bit of middle-aged perimenopausal cellulite doesn't mean I can't keep up with you on the bike, even if it's just a competition I've created in my head.  So what if my heart is pounding in my ears and my legs are starting to feel like overcooked pasta.  What's a little chest pain when my vanity is at stake.  No way I'm letting you and your little 3% body fat, look at me I ran a marathon t-shirt wearing self best me on the bike.  

And praise be - he hopped off after about 10 minutes and saved one of the trainers from breaking out the AED to kick start my heart.  While I backed off the resistance, t-shirt guy was replaced by one of the sweet little used-to-be-hot grannies whose stomach hangs over the top of her workout leggings since she wears a lycra top a couple sizes too small.  So yeah, she looks like she's about six months pregnant when she plops down on the bike next to me for a leisurely ride at level 4 resistance and I'm not feeling the need to compete with that.  However, it is a reminder to suck in my gut in order to the keep the "When are you due?" questions to a minimum.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

An A is for Awww, I passed the second time

A couple days ago I went over to Chertsey to take my driving test... for the second time.  I had gotten over (most) of my disappointment with failing it the first go 'round.  If anything, I was feeling even more nervous about the second test because I had a month to obsess about how picky the test administrators could be.  So what's a girl to do?  Pop some Xanax I had frittered away that my doctor had prescribed for the flights across the Atlantic Ocean that freaked me out in the past, but are now just a pain in the butt because they're so danged long.

Even with my Xanax on board, I got to the test site a bit early.  There are just some compulsions no meds will overcome.  My British driving instructor was attending the test with one of his other pupils, so we chatted a bit in the waiting room.  The same slew of civil servants filed into the room to call the names of their victims test applicants for the 1:35 drive and I noticed that the same old guy that had failed me on my first test had slipped out of the nursing home again.  The Xanax that had me chillin' was about to be a big old waste of some good drugs until I heard the bound-to-be-pushing-90 test administrator call out my instructor's OTHER pupil's name.  Whew!  My test administrator entered the room last.  He was probably around my age with a bit of salt 'n pepper hair and a friendly disposition.  

I had to learn all sort of things that might be asked on the test, including how to check the oil and brake fluid.  I lucked out and was asked to show the test guy how to clean my windshield using the wipers and how to check if my brake lights were working.  Easy peasy!  Once we took off on our requisite 40 min drive around the area, I once again drew the easy card with a three-point turn instead of the dreaded reversing around a corner.  And I didn't have to do an emergency stop - hate slamming on the brakes and getting a wedgie when I slide forward in my seat so fast.

At the end of the test, the guy told me he was pleased to say that I passed with a 96.  Woo-hoo!  He went over the 4 dings I got, though I already knew two of them were when I forgot to signal left with my blinker on a roundabout that went straight across.  That always seems so ridiculous to me because I'm traveling straight across it to the other side and not actually turning left, but alas, that is the stupid rule.  The other two points I lost were for, get this... 1) being too cautious at a roundabout and waiting for a slow moving car to pass before I pulled out into the lane of traffic and 2) pulling up too close behind another car at a stop light when I should have left a safer distance between us at the stop light, where we were stopped, as in not moving and not in any danger of running into each other. Talk about goofy!  So in my mind I really scored a 98 because these two points I lost were ridiculously subjective.  Seriously, he might as well have knocked off a point because I'm a woman and because I'm an American with a southern accent.  They have about as much validity as the reasons he listed for me losing those two points.  But who cares... I passed!

Get a load of the size of my temporary license.  

I've had to fold it in half about four times to get it to fit in my wallet.  And that crazy-eyed license pic that looks like I belong on a terrorist most-wanted poster will be on my permanent driving license, oh joy.  But again, who cares because now I'm a legal driver and our insurance will continue to cover me since I only had a year to become fully licensed over here.  Of course, the bad news is that now I can get what they call "points" on my license.  If you rack up too many points for various traffic violations, then they suspend your license.  I intend to be the most law abiding driver on the road because I hear too many points resulting in a suspension requires that you take the driving test again.  That's quite the unpleasant thought.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Recent Conversation

Here is an excerpt from a brief conversation I had with the youngest daughter last night.

Me:  I'll be glad when dad gets home tomorrow.*
Kid:  Yeah, me too, but he doesn't really do much around the house.
Me:  He helps out sometimes.
Kid:  Right - he does change the burned out lightbulbs for you in the ceiling.  But if any bugs fall out, then you have to clean up that mess.**

*The husband has been in Texas on "business" for almost two weeks, where he gets to visit with friends and family, eat Tex Mex food, go to American football games, and not have any kid responsibilities.  Hmmm, sounds more like a vacation to me.

**Recessed lights on the second story open directly into the attic, where wasps and other insects nest.  This summer, whenever a lightbulb upstairs had to be replaced, I always had to vacuum up bug remains/shells that fell through to the floor once the bulb was removed.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Trip to the Mall

The latest craze has made it to the suburbs of London - fish pedicures.  Can I get an eeewwwww and an ickity ick ick?  Somebody please pass me a bottle of Lysol or container of ammonia because just the thought of this makes me squeamish and germophobic.

A couple weeks ago, the family trekked over to the mall in nearby Kingston-Upon-Thames.  It's a pretty little drive of about 8 miles that takes you over the river and through the woods right by the front entrance of Hampton Court Palace.  I love shopping here because 1) a big chunk of it is an indoor mall 2) much of the area around the mall is filled with more cute shops on pedestrian-only streets 3) there are several parking garages so you never have to worry about finding a space and 4) we can get a meal of "American" food at the nearby TGIFriday's.  It's a win-win situation.  

Our oldest invited one of her friends to join us, momma of Percy the Pug pictured below.  Whenever the teen needs a ride to this friend's house, the youngest and I gladly oblige because we inevitably get out to give the pugosaurus some love.  He's about 7 and has some white on his mask, but is always game for attention.  She snapped some pics of him last weekend.  Isn't he a darling?

As soon as we got to Kingston and parked the car, we split with the teens.  They wanted to look at dresses.  The youngest wanted to head to the toy/arts 'n crafts store while the husband made a beeline to the bookstore.  I was in charge of keeping Cal occupied while everyone else was shopping at their leisure in stores they wanted to visit.  This doesn't really bother me so much anymore now that I'm a stay-at-home mom and can snoop through the stores while they're at work and school.  We all ended up back in Bentall's, the big anchor chain with escalators that run up the center of the store to all five floors.  Sure enough, this is where we found the teens.

Don't let that "Fish Massage" sign fool you.  This is what is really going on in the tanks.

Feet as fish food - gaaaaaaah!  That's right, folks, the little fishies nibble off dead skin on your tootsies.  

In theory I think it sounds fine, all eco-friendly and such.  But seriously, how sanitary is this?  It's not as if they can pour in some bleach and scrub down the tank with a scouring pad in-between each session.  And obviously there is no way for the little fish to brush their teeth and gargle with some Listerine after each meal customer.  Isn't this how things like the plague were spread back in the Dark Ages?  

I'll be interested in this new-fangled sort of pedicure as soon as the worker fishes grow some limbs and can massage my feet with freesia scented lotion.