Monday, 29 September 2014

#154: Go to an (American) Football game

One of the things about living abroad is that I've found that I occasionally miss spending a lazy Sunday watching football on TV. It's an American ritual that is somewhat hard to shake. It's been years since I've been to a live NFL game in the US, however, I've been lucky enough to go to a few of the International games they've held in London in the past and have always had a really great time. There's something about American razzmatazz that is awe inspiring (and cheesy) but if you go in with the right mind set, can be so much fun.
This year the Minnesota Vikings played the Steelers and I knew when I made my list that I had to find a way to get tickets, as the Vikings are my favourite team. By the time game day rolled around, though, I was still ticketless. Knowing this was on the list made me stick to my guns and persevere. Otherwise, I could have easily just sat and watched it on TV.

It's times like this that having The List is good because it (still) does force me to do the things I know I'd like to do when those moments of laziness hit and I don't want to leave the house/participate in life.

It was a great game. (Vikings won 34-27)

Saturday, 27 September 2014

#280: Pay down my debt

One of the things I'm most proud of achieving in the aftermath of my break-up was that I was able to buy my Ex out of the home we bought jointly, renovated together and lived happily in for 5+ years. No relationship is perfect, and obviously ours had some fundamental problems (which I didn't see at the time), but despite all that I absolutely loved my life and my home was a big reason for that. One of the things that made the initial stages of our split so terrifying and awful was the prospect of not only losing my love, but also losing my home and daily habits associated with it and where I lived.

While I was able to scrimp and stretch every last cent, it also required me to take on more debt. This was an absolute necessity at the time, but the debt is at a level that, long term, I'm not comfortable with. So earlier this year I put a budget together to help keep me on track and start saving enough to pay down meaningful chunks of debt for the next 3 years. I have a long way to go before I'm debt free, but I've passed a significant milestone in reducing the debt load I'm carrying.

Photo credit: iQoncept, Creativa Images / Shutterstock

Thursday, 25 September 2014

#153: Host a dinner party

Photo Credit: 9lives / Shutterstock

One of the things I enjoyed about my previous life was the fact that we had a very sociable house. We had people around for drinks and/or dinner at least 3 times a week, which kept life lively. I myself am really rather shy, especially about inviting people over. But it was something my Ex did with welcoming ease, and I loved the result while wishing I could be as inviting myself.

Not having people over was one of the things I immediately missed in my new life. The absence of friends around the table made my new life seem that much more empty after my split. As I've mentioned in previous posts, splits are hard on mutual friendships; people don't want to come around and face an empty chair instead of their (other) friend.  They had their own post-relationship adjustments to make (or maybe, they just liked my ex better).

I put 'Host a dinner party' on my list because I do love having people around, especially for dinner. I knew I had to force myself to be more sociable, even though it doesn't come very easy to me. It took me a while, but 9 months on, I had 5 new friends around for dinner and a fun time was had by all, most of all by me. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

#277: Be more active

Like a lot of people, as I've gotten older I've become less active than I was in my 20s. Having an office/desk job doesn't help, especially since I can't stand going to the gym.  I long ago realised that I'd be better off using dollar bills as kindling for a fireplace than to use them to pay for a gym membership. No matter what great intentions I had, I've learned that I just wont go regularly enough.

So it was me quite a challenge for me to find a way to tick this one off the list. I realised that the best way for me to start being a little bit more active was to understand how inactive I actually was. The experts recommend that people should take around 10,000 steps each day, so I needed to find out how far off that I was in my normal life.
So I got a fitbit, which is basically a pedometer that I wear on my wrist. I quickly realised that in an average day, if I didn't make any effort, I clocked up around 4500 steps a day -- or around half as many as I should. With this new found knowledge I then started looking at ways I could get more steps in: Getting off the tube a few stops early, walking the long way to meet a friend, parking in the most distant parking spot available, etc. I found that could get me to around 7-8k, but not to the desired 10,000 mark so I for the last 2 months I've been walking the 4.5 miles to or from work a couple of times a week, weather depending. At first it seemed like a really long way, but I've come to enjoy the time it takes me to cover the distance and I feel much better for having done it.

Photo credit: Christian Mueller / Shutterstock

Thursday, 18 September 2014

#151/152: Go Boris Biking / Be a tourist for a day

Otherwise known as Barclays cycle hire, 'Boris Bikes' is London's public Bike sharing scheme. It was modelled on the popular and successful Velib network in Paris. New York City recently launched it's own version called Citi Bike, and many cities across Europe and the US have similar bike share programmes.

Launched in 2010, there are more than 8,00 bikes available for hire. They are pretty ubiquitous as you cross London. 3 years on, however, and I still hadn't tried it so this was a perfect item for my list. With the warm days of summer beginning to fade into the distance and the increasing threat of rain and cold winter looming, I thought my window of opportunity for an enjoyable ride was closing. So I got off my backside and finally made this one happen.

And what a great day it was! As it happened, Central London was closed for the professional Bike race Tour of Britain (Like the Tour de France, but not as famous). We were able to Bike through central London with almost no cars. So I was able to be a tourist in my adopted home town and enjoy a lovely Indian Summer Sunday hitting all the top tourist spots in town along the way. A great day out!

And now that I've registered for a key fob, something I'll be doing more often.

Monday, 15 September 2014

#150: Make my parents proud

This is a tough one to publish, and to be honest, I almost kept it as one of my private items. But then I realised it was something of an accomplishment I should be proud of myself, even if I don't really agree or understand why.
Most people would like their parents to be proud of them. As much as sometimes I wish I didn't, I do. The fact is that I thought my parents, and others, would think less of me for my failed relationship. I for one was very proud to have such a long-lasting, and I thought loving, relationship. My parents were devastated when my relationship ended. They repeatedly kept saying to me how they really thought we would be together forever (at which, I wanted to sarcastically point out that wasn't a particularly helpful method of support as I, more than anyone, was the one who thought we'd grow old together! However, I managed to keep my mouth shut.) My guilt, as far as my parents were concerned, wasn't helped by the fact that our break up happened after a week-long visit with my parents, during which time my father cried to me saying how much he loved my Ex and was so happy that I was so happy in life.

Being married for 45 years, my parents have never experienced what I've gone through and is something they never expected of me. (I could have point out, again, neither had I, but again I kept quiet.) I understood though. It's not something any parent hopes or expects for their child.

So it took me a little by surprise when recently both my parents said how proud they were of me for getting on with my life, keeping the house, getting promoted at work (really, this was what they were most proud of, I suspect) and trying to have fun in spite of the pain. Part of me wants to dismiss the compliment by noting that they are 3,000 miles away and didn't see me crying myself to sleep night after night. (I should also point out they are not on Twitter/don't know about this blog so haven't seen me publicly embarassing myself, either.)

But, after such a tough year, I'll take whatever compliments I can get. Whether I feel worthy of them or not right now, I'm hoping that at some point I will.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

#274: Understand Formula 1 Racing better

This is another strange one to have on the list, particularly because of the reason why. When my Ex and I were together certain 'in-laws' were huge fans of F1 racing, including my former mother-in-law. Now this woman was not the type I normally would have associated with being a petrol-head, more a rugby and grouse-shooting type than motorsport. The fact she loved it though intrigued me and made me think there must be something interesting about it.

My Ex didn't care for the sport so we didn't watch it much. We'd go for a walk or do something by ourselves.  So when there was a rare occasion when we did watch it, for the life of me I just didn't understand what the hell was going on. It just seemed like grown men going around a track at high speeds with not much happening. Oh how wrong I was.

A relatively new friend is a F1 fan and has had the patience to explain the rules and answer my dumb questions. Like 'What's the DR zone'? I can now appreciate some of the finer nuances and technicalities of the sport and have gotten to know the personalities of the drivers, teams and the drama of the points race.

While I'm unlikely to be glued to the TV for an entire weekend of racing, I can now appreciate the joys of a Sunday afternoon race.

Photo Credit: MrSegui /

Friday, 12 September 2014

#149: Drink Martinis at The Dukes

Photos: The Dukes
Legend has it that the Martini at the Dukes Hotel in London inspired Ian Fleming to come up with the classic James Bond line 'Shaken, not stirred'. Together with its low key, old fashioned bar it's easy to see why The Dukes has become synonymous with martinis. Their signature Vesper martini, served from a trolly and made in front of you at your table, is divine.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

#273: Behave like a 20 year old for a day

Ageing sucks. There I said it. Time has a cruel way of transforming a person from someone they were to someone they are, sometimes without them even realising the changes that take place. Day by day, month by month, year by year subtle changes result in you ending up somewhere you didn't expect. Once I was a young, somewhat irresponsible 20 year old, with my whole future and endless possibilities ahead of me. I blinked, time passed and I've become a (reasonably) responsible adult.

If you told my 20-year-old self what my life would be like now, I think I'd have wanted to shoot myself then and there, for I am generally a quite sensible and reliable adult. *Boring Klaxon* Coupled with a relatively demanding and stressful job, means I find myself refraining from doing things my younger self would have happily dove head first to do. So knowing this was on The List, I went for it and did something I normally would not have...and while I'm glad I did, it's not something I'm going to be making a habit of. There's fun and then there's knowing and being comfortable with oneself and one's situation in life.

I've realised I'm comfortable with who I am today and don't need to go chasing after my youth (too much).  I enjoyed my evening, but I don't want that to be my life. I've been there, done that, got the t-shirts...and long ago given them to good will when cleaning out my closets. I realise there's no need to go back. There was a reason I moved on to begin with.

There's something quite freeing and gratifying about that.

Photo: Dmitry Strizhakov / Shutterstock

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

#148: Redecorate a room

Photo Credit: Charles Taylor / Shutterstock
I've successfully been able to buy the ex out of the house and, more importantly, been able to stay in my home. It has been my sanctuary since our break up and I'm grateful that I was able to maintain some consistency in my life post-split by keeping the house and my routines and not having to move on top of all the other upheaval I've gone through.
Some time has past, but not enough for the house to feel completely mine. One door has closed and I'm opening a new one, but I'm occasionally taken aback by some memory the house unexpectedly unfolds in front of me. I can be doing something completely mundane, like opening the closet under the stairs and a vision from the past will float across the room like a ghostly apparition. My relationship may be dead but the house is haunted by memories of my past. My ex and I renovated the house together, so literally almost every corner has a story to tell: the chimney breast that had to be scraped for 3 days by hand with a razor blade, causing our hands to cramp in disfigured claw-like fashions; the wobbly windows that were reconditioned and painted; the numerous cans of paint samples that had to be tried and tested in different light conditions. In short, while the house is my sanctuary, it haunts me at times.

I knew at some point I would need to reclaim the space as my own and start building new memories in the house I thought we'd grow old together in, but until recently that was too much for me to take on. When I was ready, I started with my bedroom. I considered swapping rooms, but that wasn't practical. I considered changing the colour, but I liked the colour we chose; it was similar to what I painted my bedroom in NYC when I was single 10 years ago.
So I rearranged the furniture. While that was a good start, getting new sheets and bedding REALLY helped. I bought a new set of high thread count, white cotton sheets/duvet, which now makes me feel pampered and special every night I climb into bed.

Oh and I also started sleeping in the middle of the bed...

Saturday, 6 September 2014

#272: Learn my Blood Type

I've long wanted to find out what my blood type is. It's admittedly a bit of a strange thing to want to do. But considering it's an important part of me, literally, I'm surprised I've made it as long as I have in complete ignorance (though it's not surprising really for my list of ignorances is long and distinguished!).

I have to say it's been surprisingly difficult for me to find out and tick this one off. I went to the Doctor last year for an unrelated matter and asked my GP what it was. Apparently they don't have it on record (um...slightly concerning, but that's a different matter). But because they only run blood tests when something is medically necessary, he couldn't help me. Thwarted, I thought I was going to have to wait until something was seriously wrong with me to find out...and so I was happy to stay in the dark as long as possible.

One thing I didn't realise, however, was that one of the benefits of signing up to be a blood donor is that they test you and give you a card with your name and blood type on it.

So a few weeks after I donated blood, I received my report and card in the mail. I got a B+, which I was slightly disappointed about because I thought with the extra effort I put in, I might have scored higher.  ;-) But I'm glad I passed the test. :-)

Photo credit: petr73, prixel creative / Shutterstock

#147: Go to Afternoon Tea

Is there anything more English than going for afternoon tea? If there is, I can't think of it. Low cosy chairs, finger sandwiches, pastries, fine china, and of course tea (or coffee). There are actually different types of afternoon tea: Cream tea, light tea, full tea, high tea.

History of Tea Time
Prior to the introduction of tea into Britain, the English had two main meals, breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was ale, bread, and beef. During the middle of the eighteenth century, dinner for the upper and middle classes had shifted from noontime to an evening meal that was served at a fashionable late hour. Dinner was a long, massive meal at the end of the day.

According to legend, one of Queen Victoria's (1819-1901) ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope (1783-1857), known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon teatime. Because the noon meal had become skimpier, the Duchess suffered from "a sinking feeling" at about four o'clock in the afternoon.

During the second half of the Victorian Period, known as the Industrial Revolution, working families would return home tired and exhausted. The table would be set with any manner of meats, bread, butter, pickles, cheese and of course tea. None of the dainty finger sandwiches, scones and pastries of afternoon tea would have been on the menu. Because it was eaten at a high, dining table rather than the low tea tables, it was termed "high" tea.

At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

#146: Go to Experimental Cocktail Club

Experimental Cocktail club, or ECC as it's known to its regulars, is one of those 'speak-easy' cocktail bars with no sign out front, hidden away in the middle of bustling Chinatown, so if you don't know where you're going it would be difficult to find. In my search for the perfect cocktail/cocktail bar in London ECC kept popping up as recommended, but I feared it would be full of 'too cool for school' types making it not worth the hassle. Repeatedly praised in the press/blogs as having some of the best coktails in town, however, I had to go try.

I'm glad I did. The cocktails are great. However, my fears about the clientele was spot on. So much so that I'm not sure I'd go back. But it was worth going and checking this off the list finally.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

#271: Join a book club / Literary Salon

I enjoy reading but as an adult I have found I rarely make the time to read books in my day to day life. I tend to bring a stack of books with me on holiday and binge read, only to come back to the real world and not pick up a book again until my next plane journey.  Th trouble is I can rarely commit to keep one day a week free as work, and other life, obligations often intrude and take precedent.

So I was really excited when a friend said she was organising a book club (technically she called it a 'literary salon', but close enough). I jumped at the chance, especially since the first book was Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolfe. It's a classic, but not one that I actually had read before. As a unique and complex book, it was fantastic to be able to dissect a text like I used to when I was at school...except this time wine was flowing as well as conversation.

Here's hoping I can continue to make time for it.

Monday, 1 September 2014

#145: Play Rounders

Rounders for my American friends is a popular British school yard game kind of like baseball but with a shorter bat and no gloves. As a kid I played T-ball and softball in the States, so when I moved to the UK and heard about a game called Rounders, I was intrigued. The opportunity for organised but casual team sport seemed limited, however, so I doubted that I'd ever get the chance to actually play Rounders. I looked into how I might be able to play and it turned out there was a 'tournament' nearby.  So I got some of my British friends together and off we went. It was a very fun day out, especially since my team came in second place.