After three months of waiting, our early departure date was FINALLY approved this week.  Woo hoo!!! We’ve had a couple people ask if there’s something wrong…they though we liked we London! Why are we trying to leave early? And, of course, we still do. It’s a simple matter of logistics.

With our original assignment, we’re allowed to leave anytime between August and October. But our son’s school starts in August. We still have a required month of home leave. And there’s a training class I wanted to take in July for my new job. Plus the OMS I’m replacing is leaving several months before I arrive, so they’d have to get a temp in from DC. Pushing my departure/arrival date forward really helps everyone out.

So we went through the “curtailment” process, which I actually felt rather bad about. I always thought people only curtailed if they hated their post or got fired. But apparently not. And since my curtailment is only by an extra four weeks to July, it’s more of an adjustment to my orders than a true curtailment. But I still had to submit official paperwork and get permission from five different people in London as well as people in DC…and field a few exclamations from coworkers of, “OMG, you’re curtailing?”

But now we are all set!! Immediately following our approval, I set to work on the time sensitive to-do list that I had been impatiently waiting to complete but couldn’t without date confirmation.

  • Reserve vacation rental for home leave.
  • Register for training class in DC.
  • Request housing in DC for training.
  • Request transfer travel orders (so we can then request plane tickets).
  • Update home leave address.

So now that some of the business of home leave is done. I took a few moments to enjoy the idea of a month off work in Arizona!! Granted it will be 120 degrees in July, but it will be just like summer vacation in the Sacramento Valley when I was a kid. And it’ll be a nice toasty warm break between the UK and Iceland.

I even indulged in a little online bathing suit shopping. I’m hoping to lose a bit of the 30 pounds (WTF?) I’ve gained since leaving Belize, but in case I don’t, I want to be prepared and able to get in the pool!

In the meantime, I will daydream about this image taken from a fun article on Mid-Century California Swimming Pools. :)

This is The Fox residence pool in Chatsworth, which apparently hosted the very last photo shoot of Marilyn Monroe. It was built in 1951and went up for sale in 2011 for $12m.

Poolside cocktails!

The Brits have a few crazy local foods. Since we arrived I’ve become a big fan of chutneys, which I’ve mentioned before. And I have an English friend who sent me a list of classic British foods I should try including Spotted Dick, Toad in the Hole, Bubble & Squeak, Eaton Mess and Welsh Rarebit. I haven’t gotten around to those yet, but I have had Black Pudding, Scotch Eggs, Steak Pie, Haggis and am a huge fan of Bangers & Mash.

The other day I stumbled across a new condiment that left me so confused, I had to look it up: Pickled Walnuts. What on earth is a pickled walnut? What about that horrible crunchy shell? Do you have to crack it first?

Obviously the answer is, no. Because they pickle them when they’re green before the shells harden. I had to buy some, of course. And I’ve decided they taste a bit like a large olive that’s been sweet pickled.

I also had to look up how they’re served since I’m known to eat things directly out of the jar standing over the sink. Apparently they are excellent on salads and as part of a cold cuts or antipasto tray, and also go well with beef dishes. So there you have it.

Pickled walnuts.

Pickled walnuts.

I like to stretch fun events out as long as possible. So we started celebrating Valentine’s Day on Thursday by taking the afternoon off from work and going to see a matinee at the Trafalgar Studios theatre.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love watching big screen celebrities live on stage. So this time we went to see James McAvoy (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last King of Scotland, Becoming Jane, Atonement, Wanted, and of course the new generation of X-Men) in The Ruling Class.

And he was so good!! He has amazing energy, and I’ve always been impressed with the amount of emotion he can get into his facial expressions. And the play was pleasantly surprising. Billed as:

Jack, a possible paranoid schizophrenic with a Messiah complex, inherits the title of the 14th Earl of Gurney after his father passes away in a bizarre accident. Singularly unsuited to a life in the upper echelons of elite society, Jack finds himself at the centre of a ruthless power struggle as his scheming family strives to uphold its reputation.

…I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a bit too serious. But it was really funny in parts. It does get a little dark toward the end however. And I can honestly say I’ve never seen a sex scene live on stage before…so that was a bit awkward for me. But the whole cast was superb. I even recognized another British actor, Ron Cook, from Charlotte Grey, which is another one of my favorite films.

Photo by  Johan Persson.

Photo by Johan Persson.

Photo by Johan Persson.

Photo by Johan Persson.

Photo by Johan Persson.

Photo by Johan Persson.

So that was a pretty great start to the weekend. On Valentine’s Day, my hubby was kind enough not to get me chocolates since I’m on a diet and trying to be good. And instead he got me a beautiful bouquet of red roses and made my favorite dish for dinner…Chicken Picatta with Lemon Butter and Capers. Mmmm!

On Sunday we took the whole family out to the Tower of London. We’ve had an annual palaces pass since last March, so it’s set to expire next month. And he and our son hadn’t been to the Tower yet. I really wanted to show our son the “Line of Kings” exhibit with all the armor and horses. Apparently it’s considered the oldest museum in Britain and has been on display since the 1600s.

Our son wasn’t quite as excited as I thought he might be, but it was surprisingly crowded (Sunday afternoon during kids’ half-term school break supposedly?). But he did think the dragon on the top floor was pretty cool and spent a good five minutes pretending to battle it with imaginary guns and swords.

The Line of Kings display at the Tower of London in 1878.

The Line of Kings display at the Tower of London in 1878.

The Tower dragon, named "Keeper." :)

The Tower dragon, named “Keeper.” :)

On Monday, we dropped our son off at nursery school and went to Rowley’s for lunch. We had a lovely coupon from LivingSocial for Chateaubriand for two with unlimited chips. It was cold and rainy, so we enjoyed our steak with a couple Irish coffees and some red wine.

After that we cruised over to the Wallace Collection, one of London’s hidden gems, and spent the afternoon perusing their 25 galleries of European armor and paintings, including half a dozen pieces by Canaletto, Rubens, Titian, Rembrandt, and my favorite of the collection: The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The silk wallpaper in each room alone is worth a look.

Hertford House on Manchester Square home to the Wallace Collection since the 1800s.

Hertford House on Manchester Square home to the Wallace Collection since the 1800s.

The Great Gallery.

The Great Gallery.

The Oval Drawing Room.

The Oval Drawing Room.

"The Swing" by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1767.

“The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1767.

So all in all, it was a pretty amazing weekend. I hope you all had a lovely Valentine’s Day as well!!

…is basically nonexistent. This is our second winter in the city, and until today we hadn’t seen a single flake of snow. The rest of the country gets it, and the north of England and Scotland get respectable amounts each year.

And it’s seems that the East Coast of the US gets pommeled every winter. But we never get anything. I think there was a lovely snow storm the year before we arrived. But nothing since then.

This morning however, I was standing in the kitchen and saw the sweetest little flakes falling quietly outside the window. It only lasted for about 10 minutes. But it was long enough to show my son and to contemplate running outside. Sadly we had toast in the toaster, so he wanted to stay in and eat his breakfast. It was nice to see it though.

The best comment I’ve seen about the weather was from Derek Knight, a producer at Radio 1, who wrote: “It’s valiantly trying to snow in London, but it’s melting as soon as it hits the cynicism.”

Parliament in snow.

Parliament in snow.

I have finally resigned myself to the fact that we’re not going to be able to visit many of the places I’d wanted to go while we were living here, as we need to stop spending and start saving money for home leave. Some destinations are easier to let go of than others. Others like Lindisfarne and Hadrian’s Wall I’m very disappointed about because I’ve wanted to see them for years.

Lindisfarne is a small holy island off the northeast coast of England near Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is famous for its ruined monastery and castle. The monastery was set up by an Irish monk named St. Aidan in 634, and the monks there produced amazing illuminated manuscripts similar to the Book of Kells. I just found out last week that the Lindisfarne Gospels with their jeweled cover are actually on display at the British Library. So I can at least go see that!

Jeweled cover of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Jeweled cover of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Page detail.

Page detail.

The other reason that Lindisfarne is so well known is because it was the first place attacked by the Vikings in 793, and that event is considered to be the beginning of the Viking Age.

he ruins of Lindisfarne Priory.

The ruins of Lindisfarne Priory.

Lindisfarne Castle was built in the 1600s on top of a little hill on the island and looks very similar to Mont St. Michel in France or the similarly named St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. It was briefly occupied by Jacobite rebels in the 1700s, and in 1901 it became a family home. Since then it’s been used in many films including as the site of Mont Saint Pierre in the 1982 film The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellen, which was one of my favorites growing up!

Lindisfarne Castle.

Lindisfarne Castle.

About an hour south of Lindisfarne is Hadrian’s Wall. The wall was built by the Romans in AD 122 under Emperor Hadrian to separate the mostly conquered southern half of Britain from the still wild and crazy northern tribes. It’s 80 Roman miles (73 mi) long and stretches from the west coast to the east coast.

In some places it’s 10 feet wide and 20 feet high, in others it’s 20 feet wide and 11 feet high depending on what local material was available for building, ie. stone versus turf. The whole thing was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is a very popular tourist destination complete with Roman battle reenactments.

Hadrian's Wall at Walltown Crags.

Hadrian’s Wall at Walltown Crags.

I suppose we can come back and visit when our son’s a little older. But in my experience, you don’t always get a second chance. So I haven’t given up on the sites completely. Lindisfarne is about a 5-hour train ride or a 7-hour drive north of London, which is a solid commitment. But we shall see!

We haven’t done a whole lot since the holidays ended…although I did manage to sneak in one great girl’s night and an afternoon tea with my hubby weekend before last. I am forever thinking about Iceland but figured I should save some things for future blog posts since we’re going to be there for three years. So I’m trying to keep my head in the game and think locally.

One of the funny things about living in a place rather than being a tourist is the random mundane details that will obsess you now and then. For the first year and half that we were here, I never paid any attention to the fact that there seemed to be a thousand little foot-wide cast iron manhole-looking things along the sidewalks. I vaguely assumed that they were something related to utilities…water, power, gas, etc. Nothing interesting.

Turns out they’re actually “coal holes” left over from the 1800s when the entire city ran on coal. Folks didn’t want those messy coal delivery guys getting coal dust all over the antique furniture, so they dumped it down a shoot built into the pavement into a coal bunker under the house. And there are THOUSANDS of them.

Many of them seem to be designed with similar geometric patterns representing whoever manufactured them. But my favorites are in a series of 14 decorative coal holes (the new covers were installed in 2013) on North Audley street in London. Each of the covers depicts a trade that used to be present on the street early in its history. Happily, someone was kind enough to photograph most of them and put them on the internet. So here are 11 of 14 of them!






Pub called Vernon’s Head.




Pub called Marlborough Head (still on the corner).












Lava at eruption site. (Photo: NASA image courtesy of the Institute of Earth Sciences.)

Lava at eruption site at the beginning of January. (Photo: NASA image courtesy of the Institute of Earth Sciences.)

Ha ha! I just found out about this, and it is now on my bucket list. Ever since I learned about the Swords in Rock monument in Stavanger, Norway, last year, I’ve wanted to go there. Because it’s huge and awesome and looks like something out of The Lord of the Rings.


Sverd i fjell, or Swords in Rock, monument in Stavanger, Norway.


Another view.

Another view.

The three swords have been around since 1983 and were created by Fritz Røed to commemorate the Battle of Hafrsfjord that took place there in 872.

Obviously we haven’t made it to Norway since we moved to the UK, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get the chance in the next six months. So imagine how excited I was to discover that Iceland has its very own giant sword monument in Njarðvík…so far referred to as the Viking sword monument.

The Viking sword monument in Njarðvík, Iceland.

The Viking sword monument in Njarðvík, Iceland.

I haven’t had much luck finding anything out about it. But people have been uploading pictures of it to the internet as recently as 2014. So hopefully it’ll still be there this summer. It’s not quite AS cool as the ones in Norway…being in the middle of a traffic island and all. But it’ll do in a pinch. :)


A typical crowded London bus. Newer buses allow entry at the front, middle and back. Older ones (like our normal commuter) only allow entry at the front.

Nothing terribly exciting has happened since my last post. So I thought I’d share a little incident that we had on the bus the other day. Riding the big red double-decker buses to and from work was fun at first, but it’s much less fun during cold and flu season…or when you’re tired…or it’s busy and crowded…or it’s raining…or hot…or there’s a strike of any kind…or your kid is cranky. So ya, we really miss driving our car regularly and can’t wait to use it again in Iceland.

Sometimes it gets so crowded on the bus that, even if you start well before your designated stop, it’s hard to get from your seat on the top deck to the doors below because you have to shove your way through an unmoving mass of people. (And it’s always better to sit upstairs because the view is better, and because people aren’t allowed to stand on the top deck. So if it is jammed full of people…they’ll all be downstairs, and if you’re lucky enough to get a seat upstairs, you will have an inch of personal space.)

It’s also difficult for the driver to tell when everyone has finished leaving the bus when it’s busy. On older buses, they don’t want people to get off the bus to move for the people disembarking, like you do in a crowded subway car, because then they can’t tell who’s just getting back on and who’s trying to sneak on without paying at the front.

So on a couple occasions, we’ve had the doors close before we’ve actually gotten off the bus. On those occasions one usually yells loudly and presses the “stop” button repeatedly hoping the driver will notice and reopen the doors. Worse-case scenario is that you just walk back from the next stop.

A couple days ago, we were on a very crowded bus and had the rare experience of the doors closing on us…after our son had left the bus. It wasn’t a big deal in the moment…the doors started to shut on me, I stopped them with my forearms, shoved them open again and stepped calmly off the bus with my hubby behind me.

Unfortunately, our son witnessed this from where he was standing on the sidewalk…and FREAKED OUT. The poor little thing started screaming, “Mommy!” in true terror. Then he burst into tears, and was inconsolable for at least five minutes.

Since then he gets very nervous and agitated when we get near our stop, and he starts insisting that he has to get off the bus, that we have to hurry so we don’t get trapped, and that he has to hold both of our hands.

It’s been a very eye-opening experience coming from a kid who has been virtually fearless since birth. Who throws himself into swimming pools and off of ledges. He’s even run off from me in downtown London and disappeared around the corner (don’t get me started on THAT). And he barely notices when we drop him off at nursery school. He usually wants to run ahead through crosswalks rather than hold our hand.

So I don’t know if this is a new level of caring for us that he’s developed and thought I might get hurt by the doors, or a broadening sense of how vast his surroundings really are, and how small he is by comparison. But it was a moment of change nevertheless, and one I’m sure we will all remember for a long time.


California and Iceland


Iceland and Antarctica




The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and are not attributed to any government organization.

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