I was a very religious child growing up and did quite a bit of Bible reading in my day. I was more of a New Testament fan though and didn’t spend too much time on books like Job. Such a downer.

But I came across this passage today…completely out of context…and don’t remember ever reading it. But I love it!

Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone,
And the face of the deep is frozen. 

-Job 38:29-30

Now that’s just great poetry! Had to share it. :)

Roses beginning to bloom with a carousel in the background.

Roses beginning to bloom with a carousel in the background.

Last weekend we had, not one, but two Easter events…even though Easter was still two weeks away. The first one was the community Easter Fayre on Saturday in St. John’s Wood that raises funds for the local hospice. We’d gone to the summer fair last year, but hadn’t planned very well and ended up having a bit of an emotional blowout at the end.

So this time we planned accordingly, we made sure we had enough money for everyone to eat and drink something…last year we only brought enough for a snack and a few fair rides for our son at £3 each. We also waited in a long line to see Peppa Pig, which made him antsy.

He was still napping at the time, and we stayed for four hours through his nap, so he was exhausted at the end. And there was just a ridiculous amount of people in the summer, so he was way over stimulated.

The Easter Fayre by comparison was far less crowded…probably due to the fact that it was 45F degrees outside and sprinkling rain. We brought lots of cash and ate doughnuts and Greek kabobs and savory crepes with spinach and mushrooms and cheese. I even had a bit of wine in a plastic cup…I was hoping for mulled wine on a chilly day…but settled for the regular red variety.

One of the yummy food stalls.

One of the yummy food stalls.

And our son played an “everyone’s a winner” game and got to pick out his own prize…he chose a toy rifle. I was actually relieved as he’d been eyeing the large bow and arrow set for a few minutes. Phew!

We stayed for less than three hours this time and even managed to get some face painting in. Our son has only had his face painted once before…a tiny pumpkin on his cheek for Halloween when we first arrived. This time he went full tiger, and it was super cute!

By the end of the day though he’d become quite self-conscious as everyone kept commenting on it. When we were walking home he would duck his head so that people we passed wouldn’t see his face. I asked him why, and he said he didn’t want them to think he was a real tiger and be afraid of him. ;)

Our son getting his face painted.

Our son getting his face painted.

The second event was organized by one of the embassy families that goes to our son’s nursery school and lives in the same apartment building. They invited some more families from work, so there ended up being around a dozen kids and two dozen parents.

We started with a lovely little get-together in their apartment, then proceeded out to the garden for a good old-fashioned Easter egg hunt. The kids had a blast, and then our son ran back to our apartment to open his prizes and couldn’t be coaxed out again.

So I left him with Daddy and went back to enjoy the party, which involved champagne cocktails, chocolate croissants and cheese platters with the other parents. Definitely a successful early Easter weekend celebration. :)

Lecture flyer.

I was able to attend a panel discussion on the Future of the Arctic at the British Library for work on Monday. And it was really interesting!

The panel was made up of a “Panel Chair” to direct the conversation, mediate and encourage questions, and four field experts made up of Alan Kessel (Deputy High Commissioner for Canada), Ed Heartney (Counsellor for ESTH issues at US Embassy London), Lord Teverson (Chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Arctic) and Dr. Gabrielle Walker (scientist, author and broadcaster).

And it was a clever mix of people for the panel as Canada is the outgoing Chair of the Arctic Council, and the US will be taking over Chairmanship of the Council from May 2015-2017. And since my next post is Iceland, I was definitely keen to hear what they had to say.

If you’ve not heard of the the Arctic Council, it’s a governmental group made up of members from the countries that ring the Arctic Ocean: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Their goal is to protect the arctic environment and it’s animal and human populations. It also includes six Arctic indigenous groups, and several other countries have signed up as observers.

The two most dynamic members of the panel were Lord Teverson and Dr. Walker. It was very easy to imagine Lord Teverson arguing points dramatically in the House of Lords as he spoke with strength and confidence and projected his voice to the back of the room. And Dr. Walker was obviously very passionate about issues at both poles, had been to Antarctica (instant favorite), and was able to paint a beautiful mental picture of how she felt on her first visit to the Arctic .

If you’d like to see some of their work, you can read the House of Lords’ report on the Arctic on the UK Parliament website.

And Dr. Walker has published several books that are available on Amazon, including Antarctica, Snowball Earth, An Ocean of Air, and The Hot Topic.

Since Russia is also on the Arctic Council and has made quite controversial headlines in the news this last year, I think the only thing that would’ve made the discussion more interesting was if they’d had a Russian panel member.

Daffodils in front of the London Eye (internet photo).

Daffodils in front of the London Eye (internet photo).

Since I returned from Spain last weekend, the weather in London has been sunny and gorgeous with temperatures in the 50s. The fruit trees are suddenly flowering, and there’s a really bright cheerful yellow something-or-other blooming along the bus route on the way to work. The daffodils and crocuses in front of our apartment are in full swing. So it seems that spring has arrived!!

But for some reason, I’m a little down about it. Maybe it’s because we had another pathetic winter in London, so it doesn’t feel like it should be over yet if it never really arrived. And also, this is the final stretch of our tour. So once spring transitions into summer, we are out of here!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to a summer holiday and home leave and our new life in Reykjavik. But on the flip side there is the joy that is packing up your entire house and unpacking it somewhere else. Putting the cat in quarantine. Taking 15-hour flights with a preschooler. Waiting for your car to arrive. It all just sounds like a pain in the ass. And we really have had a lovely tour. I feel like so many things will be left undone, so many places unvisited.

Maybe part of it is also because we barely left the house last month and have all had colds for weeks on end. We made it to one theatre show and to the Tower, and that’s about it. April looks like it’s going to be packed with fun though. We have not one, not two, but THREE separate groups of friends coming to visit. There’s a community Easter Fayre as well as the Embassy Easter party for the kids, and a visit to Highclere Castle (home of Downton Abbey) planned.

But there’s still a huge list of things to do and see, most of which I’m sure we’ll never get to like:

  • Going to Scotland for the Highland Games
  • Visiting the Keys Creek Lavender Fields
  • The Henley Royal Regatta, and the Royal Ascot
  • The Natural History Museum
  • Bletchley Park
  • The English School of Falconry in Bedfordshire
  • Fishbourne Roman Palace & Gardens
  • Watts Chapel in Surrey
  • The Museum of Somerset
  • Wells Cathedral
  • Fishbourne Roman Palace & Gardens
  • Sherwood Forest
  • The Scott Polar Research Center Museum in Cambridge
  • Goodrich Castle and Puzzlewood Forest
  • Stowe Landscape Gardens

…and entire towns like Brighton, Penzance, St. Ives, York, Whitby, Lindisfarne, Lincoln, Durham, Scarborough, Bath…not to mention most of Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

So ya, I still have a massive bucket list, and I’ll be happy if we get to even 1/4 of it in the next few months. I’m not ready for spring yet.

Last weekend I flew to Spain to meet up with a British girlfriend (we’ll call LH) who lives there, and it was so much fun! We were roommates during our respective study abroad programs in France in 1992-93. And I remember her fondly not just for being a great roommate and a wonderful friend but for also taking me around town on a pub crawl on my milestone 21st birthday while we visited her family in Cambridge over the Christmas holidays. She’d also popped over to see me once when I was living in Florida. And I’d popped over to visit her later when she was living in Manchester.

Now that we were on the same continent, we had to get together! We’d talked about trying to get my family down to meet her family…husbands and sons and all. But it looked like it was going to be a bit expensive and take a bit of logistical coordination. So in the end, we decided it would be much easier, cheaper and possibly more fun to just have a girls’ weekend somewhere in between. I was originally thinking Paris or Madrid, but we eventually settled on something quieter in the town of Alicante. And it turned out to be a perfect host city. Paris or Madrid wouldn’t have been nearly as relaxing.

I flew down on Friday from London and arrived around 4:00pm. It was a short €20 cab ride from the municipal airport to the Hotel Sercotel Spa Porta Maris, and we were right on a pier in the heart of the city with a lovely view along the harbor on one side and a Mediterranean beach on the other. After I checked in, I leisurely made my way down to the lounge for a glass of wine, a bite to eat and a view of the sea while I waited for my friend.

Flying into Alicante on a little prop plane from Madrid.

Flying into Alicante on a little prop plane from Madrid.

View of downtown from the hotel balcony.

View of downtown from the hotel balcony.

A little dinner on the Mediterranean.

A little dinner on the Mediterranean.

LH still had to work that day, so she drove up from Lorca a few hours later and arrived around 9:30pm armed with bottles of Spanish wine and cheese, olives, tomatoes, and a baguette. Needless to say, we stayed up until all hours of the night with the door to the balcony open wide eating, drinking and catching up on the last 15 years…and it was like no time had passed.

The next morning, we took advantage of the spa at our hotel and spent a good two hours soaking in the dry sauna, the steam room, the swimming pool, and three temperatures of Jacuzzi hot tub…although technically one of them was freezing cold. What a fantastic way to spend a morning!

As my official local tour guide, LH then gave me the choice of how we should spend our day…siteseeing at the local museums and the nearby ninth-century Santa Bárbara Castle, or sidewalk café-hopping in the sun. I chose option two, and we spent the rest of the day wandering along the wide Esplanada de España and through the narrow streets dotted with palm trees, tiled street signs and pastel buildings looking for suitable cafés, tapas restaurants and cervecerias.

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The lovely long esplanade with wavy marble design.

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Sidewalk cafe (behind the bus stop)…pastel buildings…and castle.

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Yours truly enjoying a “tinto de verano”…aka a “red wine of summer.”

LH as we wandered through the backstreets and alleys.

LH as we wandered through the backstreets and alleys.

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Pretty Soho cafe in the square Portal de Elche with four old Moreton Bay Fig Trees.

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Colorful tile street sign.

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Sunset at the harbor.

Eventually we made it back to the hotel for a rest, a little more wine and food to fortify us for the evening, and then we stepped across the street for some international karaoke. The place was relatively empty when we arrived at 10:30pm, but by the time we left at midnight, it was full. They also had a great selection of songs in English, Spanish and French (and probably German and Italian)…all of which we heard that night and made for a great European flair.

The next morning didn’t dawn quite so pleasantly. But we still managed to get a bit of a sleep in, and then I had to pack for the airport. It was a quick trip, but it was so wonderful to see my friend again and have a chance to catch up and relax and enjoy each other’s company in such a lovely setting. We should make it an annual event!! Here’s hoping that we will still be able to get the boys together someday before the little ones are off to college. ;)

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 thought 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 (internet picture).

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!

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