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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fun with Friends

Our last scheduled company of the autumn left yesterday. It's been a whirlwind of people stopping by, both from Stockholm and the U.S. and it's been a great time enjoying these treasured friendships. It's also given us an awesome chance to be intentional about seeing this and that in London!
While my cousins were here we took a day and drove out to Stonehenge.
The real deal...not the one from Spinal Tap
It was pouring rain and the traffic was awful but it was good to see this age old place.
Druid cousins
It really is quite remarkable and the presentation surrounding it was very informative. From there we hopped down the road to the charming town of Salisbury with its grand cathedral. I have seen a lot of cathedrals in my day, but this one still took my breath away. Gothic architecture is so sublime in my mind. And we got to see the Magna Carta. Very cool.
Made me want to read Pillars of the Earth and the Susan Howatch Glittering Images series again. (Google it...based in fictional Starbridge, the real life setting is Salisbury). Both places were on my British Bucket list so well done us.
This past week a young couple who I first knew as university students at North Park came for a visit. I was privileged to marry these 2 just weeks before moving to Stockholm, Sweden back in 1998. It was my last pastoral act as chaplain of NPU and I'm so thankful for the ways we've been able to keep up with one another in spite of living oceans apart.
We shared a memorable final day in London with these two. We took the boat ride on the Thames that I had enjoyed with my cousins. The day was sunny and bright and perfect for cruising. We landed in Greenwich and all enjoyed the charm of this cute town down river from bustling London. We ventured into a cute sweets shop and I was dismayed to find these horrible US varietals on the shelf. Why oh why do these things get exported and imported across the pond?
That evening we made our way to a beautiful pub near where we live that some friends had introduced us to; The Freemasons Arms. We were all quite dazzled by the beautiful surroundings and I must admit, their fish and chips ranked at the top of favorites thus far. It was roasting hot inside so that was the only downside to the cozy fire and candlelit tables. But a short walk home in the night air rejuvenated us!
And finally, TANNER is doing so much better. Almost cone-free all the time, his eye is finally starting to heal a bit and not breaking open every other minute. He is handling the oral steroids so far and can be out in our garden now on his own. Soon he will be able to enjoy a run through Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill. I'm so glad!
The weather here has been unseasonably warm and mild. It is a big contrast to where were landing in Stockholm at this time of year. Europe "fell back" (switched to winter time) last Saturday and while the day is shorter, it is significantly longer than what we were experiencing in Stockholm. I looked up the stats and while there is only a 10 minute difference in the morning sunrise times, already the sun is setting much later. Stockholm sunset is at 4.06 pm while London's is at 4.41 pm. I will take all of the minutes I can. November was always the worst month in Sweden so it will be interesting to see how it feels here, just a wee bit further south.

Monday, October 26, 2015

London Gin and A Market

I'll admit to enjoying a G&T as the gin and tonic is affectionately called here in London. Gin is very much a part of London's history so when visiting friends Tim and Anji expressed an interest in learning something about gin whilst here in London, we thought it was a good opportunity to visit the Beefeater Gin Distillery. I'd also heard that the tour was pretty interesting so off we went to learn about this flavorful spirit.
The tour was interesting. The first half hour you were given a chance to wander through a history of gin making in London. Some of the early recipes were pretty nasty, touting turpentine as a central ingredient. One part of the exhibit showed an attempt to lure people away from the evils of gin and instead stick with the virtues of beer. I found that a bit ironic and humorous.
But it was quite interested to discover that the gin and tonic emerged in India as the Brits needed to take quinine to ward off malaria and they found it went down a bit easier if added to gin. Quinine is still what gives tonic it's bitter flavor and thus it was discovered that not only does gin make the quinine go down easier, the drink itself is good tasting!
As with all spirits, the quality and flavor of gin can vary depending on the distilling process. Beefeater claims 9 different botanicals which include the must have juniper berry and angelica seeds, both which in my opinion really hinted at what makes gin gin when I tasted and smelled them, which we were able to do during the second part of the tour. We were taken near the stills and shown barrels of the various botanicals. It's quite a long process to get the to heart of the alcohol that is kept and eventually mixed with water and bottled to be sold as Beefeater Gin. 
The displays of bottles and adverts through the years was fun to look at. I thought this add for Christmas 1980 was quite clever and it brought a little smile to my face!
It was all very well done and quite interesting. Of course, at the end, you were treated to a classic Beefeater Gin and Tonic with lemon!
So full of knowledge about one of our favorite drinks, we headed for Borough Market which wasn't too far away. Here we entered a neighborhood that is south of the river Thames and had an old school London feel. There has been a market in this neighborhood as far back as the 11th century and today's market reflects a great sense of history and community. Food of all kinds dot the various market stalls. Samples of cheese, olives, breads, spices, etc. are on offer and it's quite fun to wander the amidst the warren of goods and vendors. Saturday was hugely crowded so it wasn't easy to get around but we got a good taste of this bustling market scene and we left with a few tasty treats in our possession.
The best part of the day was sharing it with our dear friends! 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tanner Tales (tails)

Yesterday we went to the vet...again. This time it was for a check up and to get those nasty stitches out of his eye. Tanner was a very good boy in spite the vet picking around his eye. Poor guy the vet started to remove the stitches, Tanner back up and open a swinging door with his hind end. Then the swinging door trapped his tail! He started yelping and I finally realized that his tail was stuck in the door. Talk about adding insult to injury! So with Doug holding his head, and me in a full on body lock, the vet was finally able to remove the stitches! Treats were definitely available.
So, the protocol moving forward is to put him on an oral steroid that will hopefully chip away at that nasty bump and eventually return him to full normality. We can't start the steroid until Monday because of the other meds that he's been taking but within 2 weeks we should know something. That is the next trip to the vet. Oh how we love pouring pounds into the Royal Veterinary College of London. To be fair, they've been great, but still!   £££££
The wound looks OK...still bleeds a bit but the vet said that it is only a superficial wound at this point and should heal quickly. This means that he only has to wear the cone overnight and whilst we are gone, until the scab has completely disappeared. Hurray! He is resting this morning, cone free for the first time in 3 weeks!
Tanner continues to be his happy, silly self and for this we are truly grateful. I'm sure he's ready to start playing in the park again and be out on proper walks. He continues to feel quite indignant about the foxes in our back garden but cannot root around back there just yet. Poor guy has really been a bit cooped up during these recovery weeks.
The steroids are the last treatment we'll try for now. He'll be on them for a month. I just hope they don't make him hyper or stronger. He definitely doesn't need any help in those departments!
We love our canine pup! Here's to better health for Mr. Tan Man!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Celebrating 55 Years of Life

Another birthday has come and gone and it was a very good day. We had decided to check out the show Bend It Like Beckham. We had loved the movie and had heard great things about the musical. We had also heard that every day you could get front row seats for £15! So we headed to the box office in the morning to see if we could score some decent day tickets, and we did! Now sitting in the front row is a very different experience but it is still a lot of fun and for that price, you can definitely afford to see it again from further back if you want to! So, with the evening sorted, the rest of the day was left to our own planning. I fancied going for a proper afternoon tea so we found this great place, The Wallace Collection, whose restaurant is a this gorgeous courtyard that is flooded with natural light and real foliage yet protected by the elements by a huge sunroof. In fact, you feel as though you are walking back outside when you enter the restaurant. It was the perfect choice for us as we dined on tea sandwiches, scones and jam, and three different mini-desserts. It was all quite delicious, served in a beautiful manner, complete with one single birthday candle and the perfect way to spend the afternoon of my birthday.
The Wallace Collection is quite impressive and is completely free! We wandered through the rooms of this beautiful house taking in the gorgeous and prolific collection of porcelain, paintings, and sculptures. The house itself was a treasure to behold and most impressive were the rooms devoted to the armory collection. Of course, I was thinking about how lovely it was to spend this afternoon with my own knight in shining armor! I am glad that we don't have to battle with these weapons in today's day and age however. 
And then it was time for the show! The curtain was this wonderful display of things that were going to unfold during the show. From the first moment of the show until the very end this was one entertaining, feel good, moving experience! It was a total girl power show too which I loved! So many roles were for young, athletic girls and it was so great to see them celebrate athleticism! The cultural divides that inevitably occur between immigrant parents and their children were at times humorous while equally heartfelt and moving. The depiction of "Posh and Becks"(Victoria and David Beckham for you non-English superstar aficionados) at the end of the show was nothing short of campy hilarity and the lyrics to the songs were often so beautifully poignant you felt touched deep down inside. All in all, a great show to bring young people to, especially girls, but as a jumping off point for discussions about culture, choices, dreams and passions. The taste of Bollywood in the dancing and the music were excellent and deeply reminded us of many things we experienced in India two years ago. We left with a spring in our step and a song in our heart..the best way to depart from the West End of London.
My birthday was great this year. Of course, I dearly miss my parents as I celebrate taking another lap around the sun. Over the weekend we celebrated in a few different ways. Friday night a new friend from church who happens to be a great cook came over and showed me how to make chicken pot pie. The crust was epic and this was the biggest pie I'd ever seen... very, very delicious as well. She also whipped up a lemon drizzle cake that was melt in your mouth yummy!
Another group of friends came over on Saturday and I set the table and prepared a nice meal and it was so good to have people gathered around our table. Another couple had us over for dinner on Sunday night and we celebrated with chocolate sundaes, singing and a candle to blow out! And yesterday was just one good thing after another. It was good to share the day with Doug and Tanner.
Tanner update: The vet called yesterday and we were so relieved to know that they are not recommending any more surgery. That is great news because we were not going to do any anyway. They are saying that it seems he's contracted the most rare of problems...a muscle inflammation that they think they can treat with oral steroids. We were so relieved and are willing to give this a try. I am not sure any of us can stand that cone for much longer. The wound from the biopsy is not healing all that well since he keeps knocking the scab off even with the cone on so we'll see what they say about it on Thursday. Other than being a bit bored by not being able to exercise, he remains our loving, loyal companion.
The weather remains mild and lovely. No major rain storms for a couple of weeks and temperatures still quite warmish for autumn. The European time change is Saturday. So far, there is a lot more day light here than there was in Stockholm by now so all in all, the coming winter does not feel overly daunting just yet!
I've kept up with the running and so far am finding some rhythm in it. It's still pretty tough at times but I like the program and I like the women. I'm pleased that I've stayed with it.
I feel very thankful for my life. Doug and I are enjoying life in London with all of the many fun things to do, the church is filled with lovely folks and a great spirit of service and hospitality and our dog remains our faithful companion. I don't love all that comes along with getting older but it beats the alternative and for this I am very, very grateful. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The River Thames

I had not been on a boat ride since we sold our boat last October so it seemed a nice thing to do whilst the weather is still good. Unfortunately, while it was warm, it was also a bit cloudy. Even so, it was a good day.
Prior to the ride my cousins and I jumped into a local pub for some lunch. Susan had been looking for the right pie and when we found The Red Lion specializing in pies, well, it seemed to be the place. The downstairs was crowded but as in most pubs, an upstairs dining room beckoned us. Susan ordered pumpkin soup and one of their vegetarian pies whilst I stuck with a chicken pie. Mike, who was clearly in the mood for sweets, ordered cheesecake and hot chocolate! The food was the most fantastic pub food I've had since arriving. The soup was velvety smooth and the pies were divine. Even the cheesecake had a special quality to it. So with our gullets full, we waddled over to the boats.
As we were looking for the boat tickets, we stumbled on this amazing WWII memorial sculpture. It includes Churchill's famous quote, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed to so few." It's a chilling piece of art.
We chose the right ride for ourselves, far less crowded than the other company with nice rooftop seating to take in all of the sights.
We started here under the majestic Big Ben
I always think it's great to see a city from whatever waterway runs through it.
The Shard, tallest building in the European Union
 You get a real feel for how thing ran when the river was the main source of transportation and you get such beautiful perspectives on the buildings.
The London Eye
I was dazzled by each sight as it came into view thrilled to get a better look at these famous icons. The commentary was provided by the driver of the ship and was worth the price just to listen to his locally grown perspective!
A clear favorite was the Tower Bridge.
The Tower Bridge
That and Big Ben where we started, are 2 of the most iconic sights along the river.
Tower Bridge with the Shard peaking through
The Tower of London sits impressively along the shores.
The Tower of London
 Lots of bad stuff went down there!
We learned that many boats started with a more noble purpose such as being an art gallery but most if not all learned that the only way to survive was to turn into a pub!
From Westminster, the City of London,
St Paul's Cathedral
through Southbank,
Shakespeare's Globe Theater
 the reinvented east end with its gorgeous riverside luxury apartments and the rather new financial district of Canary Wharf, we were really able to see it all.
Canary Wharf
We landed in Greenwich which is an adorable town worth spending a bit more time in one day.
I loved the dog sitting outside this pub in Greenwich
The Cutty Sark sits proudly at the dock.
The Cutty Sark
We took the light rail to our tube line and were home in a mere 45 minutes even though we had journeyed to the complete other side of London via boat. The Thames, while not suitable for bathing, provides a lovely afternoon journey and a great way to see London from an entirely different perspective.