Summer Obsession

Badgers_Toronto_Arts_League_SoftballI never thought I’d feel this way but… softball is my new obsession.

I come from a very athletic family (both parents excelled at several sports), yet somehow I did not inherit their sporty genes. Still, as I round the bases of life (ok, I promise to refrain from further baseball metaphors though it’s really tempting), I’m determined to try my hand at everything I can.

Living in Toronto (after Vancouver), I’m now blessed with a real summer: sunny days and hot nights, no jacket required. While commuting home by bike in the summer months here in TO, I often rode by softball games in progress. It seemed like the perfect way to spend a summer night: enjoying the weather, getting in shape, and making friends. So in late May, 2013, I sent an email request to join a team in the Toronto Arts League. A few days later I was delighted to receive this reply:

“Julie: Consider yourself drafted by the Badgers!”

They would have me.

That first game, I had very low expectations of my skill level. And I was right. I struck out and even fell when running to 1st base. I persevered and practiced as much as I could (YouTube videos on batting are great). Then on one momentous evening, I got a run!  In the next game, I caught a pop fly in the outfield. I stopped feeling like an imposter.

I never thought playing on a sports team would be for me, but there’s something so potent about working together, each playing our position, accepting each other’s errors and strike-outs with support and magnanimity, high fiving our shared accomplishments, and of course, the after-pub – my one guaranteed weekly night out. So thank you Badgers for your commitment, humour and enthusiasm.

And wouldn’t you know…we’re on a four game winning streak! Next week we play the best team in the league and we’ve even got a chance at the playoffs.

Win or lose, I love my team. And, for me, Wednesday is the new Friday.

Julie James, August 1, 2013, Toronto

Are you a Podcast listener yet?

Ever since we got our Pekingese fur-kid Chloe, I’ve walked her every morning and evening for 30 minutes to 1 hour per excursion. Our vet commented on how fit Chloe is at 10 years old.  The impressed vet held Chloe’s haunch and enthusiastically exclaimed, “Now this is how a dog should feel!!”   I couldn’t help but think (though I buttoned my lip) “You should feel my haunches – I’ve walked every mile with her!” :)

Aside from the health benefits, dog walking can get pretty repetitive, quite quickly.  To while away the time, at first I listened to the radio, but then I discovered the enriching and diverting world of podcasts.

Most podcasts are freely downloadable to your music player or phone, but other podcasts make their most recent podcast free and then charge for older broadcasts.  My favourites are from BBC Radio (UK) and National Public Radio (USA) although CBC Radio has some excellent ones, too.

I’ve learned a lot from podcasts!  They’re educational and fun.  Most television and radio newscasts are too brief and unsatisfying.  A podcast has the time necessary to drill down into a topic in greater depth.  It also allows one to focus on areas of interest rather than just recent sensational news bytes.

If you’re a podcast listener, please share your recommendations by commenting.  Note: many of these can also be viewed on demand but I prefer audio.

Now here are my top picks…

Popular Culture:

This American Life (WBEZ Chicago Public Radio)

Favourite episode: “The Super” In 1980’s New York City, rent is rising: it seems out of control, and residents struggle to keep up. So Jack Hitt helps organize tenants, and threatens a rent strike. This does not go over so well with his building super, who, as it turns out, is a very dangerous man. (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/323/the-super ) Note: You can get a new episode every week for free, but archived episodes like the one above will cost you a dollar.

The Moth Podcast (USA) “True stories told live and without notes”

Favourite episodes: This is hard! I know I’ll forget some (and upon searching it appears many are not available or listed online) but I’d say they are the following:
Dan Kennedy: And How Did That Make You Feel?
Edgar Oliver: The Apron Strings of Savannah
Wanda Bullard: Small Town Prisoner
Teri Garr: Wake up Call
Irene Pepperberg: Alex and Me
Eric Konigsberg: Crying Uncle
Michaela Murphy: All Star Game
Leonard Lopate: The Rocket’s Red Glare
Darryl “DMC” McDaniels: Angel
Bokara Legendre: Mummy Was a Wild Game Hunter
Joe Limone: The Magic Nail
and many more…

Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4) The most difficult question is asked of this show’s guests.  Find out which 8 records people would take with them to a desert island!  I liked listening to the shows with Debbie Harry, Vidal Sassoon (and many others).  There’s even a great show in which they reveal the results of a poll of UK listeners.

Economics:

Planet Money (NPR USA) “Meet economists and regular folks trying to make sense of our global economy”
This one really deserves a shout out for two main reasons.  First, in our current economic situation we should all be keenly aware of how the economy works and what’s going on globally.   And second, you might think you’re not interested in the topic of economics, but I’m pretty confident that this show will win you over because it’s so fascinating and relevant!

The Invisible Hand (CBC Radio show on economic theory – unfortunately only a dozen episodes were made.)

History and Education:

Witness (BBC World Service) “History as told by the people who were there”
Favourite episode: Ishi, the “Last Indian” and many more…

Four Thought (BBC Radio 4) “Recorded live, talks are given by a range of people with a new thought to share”. I call this one “Ted Talks without Powerpoint” :)

A History of the World in 100 Objects (BBC Radio 4)

Learn Japanese Pod (Japan)

Technology / Business:

TedTalks (audio only is available)

Favourite episode: Over the past few centuries, Western cultures have been very good at creating general prosperity for themselves. Historian Niall Ferguson asks: Why the West, and less so the rest? He suggests half a dozen big ideas from Western culture — call them the 6 killer apps — that promote wealth, stability and innovation. And in this new century, he says, these apps are all shareable. (Recorded at TEDGlobal 2011, July 2011, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Duration: 20:20.) http://blog.ted.com/2011/09/19/the-6-killer-apps-of-prosperity-niall-ferguson-on-ted-com/

ReCivilization by Don Tapscott – unfortunately only 2 episodes were made

Spark (CBC) by Nora Young

Marketing Geeks http://www.marketinggeeks.ca/about/

News

iPM: Share What You Know (BBC Radio 4) “The news programme that starts with its listeners”

Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4) “Interviews and news affecting women around the world”

Dog Days of Mexico

A couple of years ago, I thought I’d never go to Mexico.  In recent years, the Canadian media has covered too many accounts of Canadians tourists who were murdered, jailed or violently targeted while vacationing in Mexico.  (I myself sent an email to Prime Minister Harper asking him to liberate Brenda Martin).  On the other hand, my father has been going to the Yucatan for years and he’s always sung its praises and felt completely safe.  Ivan and I decided that this year, we’d see for ourselves on a ten day vacation to the Yucatan with my dad and two of our friends.

On February 29, we flew from Toronto to Cancun, and then jumped on a bus for the four hour ride to our first destination: the colonial city of Merida.

Merida was built on the site of a centuries-old Mayan city, making it the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas.  The state of Yucatán (of which Merida is the capital) has traditionally been isolated from the rest of Mexico by geography, therefore creating a unique culture. The conquistadors found the Mayan culture to be incredibly resilient, and their attempts to eradicate Mayan traditions and religion had only moderate success. The surviving remnants of the Mayan culture can be seen every day, in speech, dress, and in written and oral histories. Merida has the highest percentage of indigenous persons of any large city in Mexico. (Wikipedia)

We had a happy reunion with my dad at the Gran Hotel de Merida (1901) his favourite haunt.  Then, Ivan and I (and friends) stayed for two nights at B&B Casa Esperanza – a Spanish colonial oasis hidden behind a nondescript door on a dusty street in the city’s Centro Histórico district.  I greatly admired the splendid authentic period architectural features and eclectic artwork at this beautiful century old home.  I also fell in love with its mosaic tiles for their hit of colour and pictorial detail (not to mention the coolness they provide in the tropical heat.)  Now I’m an avowed tile convert.  My favourite meals were at Restaurante Amaro in the Centro Histórico district of Merida.

Lobby of Casa Esperanza B&B in Merida

Lobby of Casa Esperanza B&B in Merida

Art Nouveau doors at Casa Esperanza in Merida

Art Nouveau doors at Casa Esperanza in Merida

Upholstered chair and mosaic tile in Merida

Upholstered chair and mosaic tile in Merida

Me, Ivan and Dad at a cafe on the Square in Merida

Me, Ivan and Dad at a cafe on the Square in Merida

Mike at the market in Merida

Mike at the market in Merida

At the market in Merida

At the market in Merida

Ivan and I in traditional courting chair in a Square in Merida

Ivan and I in traditional courting chair in a Square in Merida

Our gang at lunch in Merida

Our gang at lunch in Merida

Amaro Restaurante in Merida

Amaro Restaurante in Merida

Frida Kahlo Exhibit in Merida

Frida Kahlo Exhibit in Merida

Art Education at Frida Kahlo Exhibit in Merida

Art Education at Frida Kahlo Exhibit in Merida

The Opera House in Merida

The Opera House in Merida

View from the opera house deck in Merida

View from the opera house deck in Merida

Dad in lobby of Gran Hotel in Merida

Dad in lobby of Gran Hotel in Merida

Near the market in Merida

Near the market in Merida

Cathedral in Merida at night

Cathedral in Merida at night

The remainder of our stay was at a rented beach house in the fishing village of Chicxulub (just east of Progresso) on the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a short 30 minute drive to reach Chicxulub.

Chicxulub is most famous for being at the geographic center of the crater created by the impact of the massive asteroid or comet some 65 million years ago theorized to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs and a dust cloud that blocked the sun for years. (Wikipedia)

Chicxulub is a favourite retreat for Canadian snow birds from Ontario (like my dad).  Every morning, we strolled to the local market to pick up bags of fresh squeezed orange juice, ripe mangos, papaya, and avocados.  It was easy to get around as you can jump on their private bus system for 6 pesos (50 cents).   It’s a welcome change to find oneself living in a Mayan town, integrating into a vibrant, friendly culture with people who are happy to see you and patient and good-natured enough to communicate in a mix of English, Spanish and gestures.  We were smitten.

Our white modern beach house was magnificent.  El Norte was blowing (a strong cold northeasterly wind which occasionally blows across the Gulf of Mexico) so we had a few days of wonderful dramatic weather and a wind that cooled us during the 30 degree weather.  The ocean view and palms flanking our pool made us feel like jet-setters.

Our beach house in the Yucatan

Our beach house in the Yucatan

It was here that we encountered the strays of Chicxulub.  Like many countries, Mexico has an abandoned or unwanted dog problem.  We were surprised at how gentle (but wary) they were.  I couldn’t help but feed a beautiful black dog who kept reappearing at our back patio.  “Frida” as I called her, wore the tell-tale collar provided when she was spayed at a local sterilization clinic for strays to help control the population. Frida soon brought along her rag tag buddy “Scruffy” and we saved our food scraps for them to enjoy. I removed tics from their ears and they entertained us and stole our hearts.

Our friend Frida - a stray dog in Chixculub

Our friend Frida - a stray dog in Chixculub

Ivan and Frida on our beach

Ivan and Frida on our beach

A few days later, Ivan and I found ourselves offering to volunteer at the first ever “Chicxulub Spay and Neuter Clinic” put on by AFAD: a nonprofit out of Merida that focuses on: raising awareness of the ethical treatment of animals; improving their living conditions; and reducing the high levels of dog and cat overpopulation in the Yucatan.  At this one day clinic, a whopping 151 dogs and cats were spayed or neutered (and yes, even the puppies were all taken care of at the end of the day).  Nineteen doctors gave up their Sunday to come and do this for the community of Chixculub (as well as over 30 veterinarian students)

I was fortunate to meet AFAD President Lidia Saleh who had come from Merida to help out at the Chicxulub clinic.  She said, “A dog is a dog.  Whether it’s from Merida or Chicxulub – we just want to help them.”   And help they did, as over 900 animals have been sterilized in Chicxulub and Progresso by AFAD and Planned Pethood in 2012 alone.  Via this link, you can learn more about AFAD and find out how you can help.  I also found an article with a story and more info.  Here are some of my pics of our furry friends and the people who so kindly cared for them:

Volunteer Vet students dispense post-op meds for dogs and cats

Volunteer Vet students dispense post-op meds for dogs and cats

AFAD President Lidia Saleh and Canadian volunteer

AFAD President Lidia Saleh and Canadian volunteer

Locals patiently wait with their pets for surgery

Locals patiently wait with their pets for surgery

Pups about to be weighed at AFAD Clinic

Pups about to be weighed at AFAD Clinic

Chixculub Boy Nurtures his Post Op Pet

Chixculub Boy Nurtures his Post Op Pet

Chixculub Youth with Puppy at AFAD Clinic

Chixculub Youth with Puppy at AFAD Clinic

Chixculub Boy with Recooperating Pet at AFAD Clinic

Chixculub Boy with Recooperating Pet at AFAD Clinic

Our verdict…. we loved Mexico!  I savoured the tastes of lime soup, mango ice cream, and chili and bean panuchos.  The people welcomed us with smiles and didn’t charge us Gringo prices.  We did notice the chasm between the working classes and the wealthy, a disparity that is more evident than in Canada.  It has made me sympathetic to the early Mexican revolutionary and socialist cause espoused by (among others) Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  I am currently reading Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by art historian Hayden Herrera (and I highly recommend it).   Looking at the pictures I took, one can easily see the beauty of the Yucatan.  We left with mixed feelings – happy to return home to Canada and aware of our blessings, but reluctant to leave and quite certain we’d return.

Ivan and I at the pool at our beach house

Ivan and I at the pool at our beach house


Fishermen secure boats during Norte storm

Fishermen secure boats during Norte storm

The juice man in Chixculub

The juice man in Chixculub

Dad and friends singing at Natasha and Lupe's Restaurant

Dad and friends singing at Natasha and Lupe's Restaurant

Me, Dad and Ivan in ice cream shop in Progresso

Me, Dad and Ivan in ice cream shop in Progresso

A great time was had by all

A great time was had by all

Ivan with grafitti in Chixculub at night

Ivan with grafitti in Chixculub at night

Pinterest Interest

I received an invitation a week ago to join Pinterest and I’m already addicted. If you’d like to check it out, do send me your email address and I’ll invite you. Here is my take on the latest social networking craze.

The Facts:

“Pinterest’s user growth rate is what Facebook’s was five years ago. Earlier in 2011, it was valued through venture financing at $40m and, most recently, just a few months later, at around $200m.” TechCrunch

The Purpose:

Pinterest is a showcase of images that have been identified, ‘pinned’ and shared by users. With a free Pinterest account, one can create any number of personal online bulletin or ‘pin’ boards: each representing a project, hobby, wishlist or inpiration. I’ve created a board for my upholstery passion and also one for all the craft/DIY projects I’d like to tackle on a rainy day. It’s simple to use and dangerously easy to while away time searching for recipes, clothing, and home decor. The site is popular not just because we love visual stimulation, but because it’s so brilliant for accumulating information and sharing ideas. I’m thinking back to the time when Ivan and I were planning our backyard reno. In order to communicate my ideas to Ivan, I saved dozens of links in my “Favourites” folder, cut out pictures from magazines, and copied and pasted product info from retail websites into a Word doc. What a mess! Now, with Pinterest, one can easily display all of this info in one place: your Pinterest “Backyard Reno” pinboard! Husbands: your wife’s “Dream Home” pinboard is coming soon! :)

The Pay-off:

At present there are no overt ads on the site, though you can easily click through to find the sources of the beautiful things pictured and often where you can buy them. I’m pining to know how they’ll manage the transition to making our pinboards pay. And I welcome it. In historian Niall Ferguson’s Ted Talk “The 6 Killer Apps of Prosperity,” he argues that not only is the consumer society one of those six killer apps, but that “the consumer society propels economic growth more than even technological change itself.” I like the fact that Pinterest will raise the bar on consumerism by featuring ‘the good stuff’ that we Pinners truly like instead of the rubbish that many retailers pitch. It’s consumer-led consumerism. And we’ve got standards!

The Verdict:

Except for frequent server errors which result in delayed gratification for my image searches, Pinterest definitely resonates with me. Bing or Google image searches often produce a hodgepodge of low res misclassified results. My searches on Pinterest are sourcing high quality images and handy reference pages. My Pinterest search for “upholstery”netted me a handy visual guide for the calculation of fabric yardage that someone else had pinned. It’s not surprising that the output is high quality because fellow Pinners have generated it. The web has turned into a megastore with too many aisles and distracting announcements. With Pinterest, I save time because my browsing is tailored and curated for me. Who wouldn’t want their own store?

My Pinterest Dashboard

My Pinterest Dashboard

>Pinterest hiccup - too many server errors

Pinterest hiccup - too many server errors

A Canadian in England – The Final Chapter

I’ve just returned home to Toronto after 7 action-packed weeks in the UK.  There’s no place like home, but it sure was a treat to experience England.

What have I learned?  What were the highlights?  And what’s my new favourite dessert?  All shall be revealed herein…

I make a friend:

As I mentioned in my last post, after Ivan returned home I was really missing him and our three fur kids.  Fortunately, in week 2 of my 6 week course, Debbie joined the class.  Debbie is originally from Northern Ireland (‘bandit territory’ she said) but now calls London home.  We hit it off immediately, bonding over our mutual love of charity shops, antiques, crisps, and faffing about in pubs.  After only a week, we had drunk our local out of red wine and decimated their crisp supply!*  What a rare and dear thing friendship is.

*Note: Hey, it only took two bottles and a few glasses, but many more bags of crisps at Ye Olde Fleece Inn, Kendal’s oldest pub circa 1654).

I experience French driving, English cooking and prison life:

Though I was in school 6 days a week, I still had evenings and Sundays to explore.  One Saturday night, Blandine (my wonderful and patient French upholstery teacher) drove us to a well-regarded pub 10 minutes outside of town.  As we hurtled down the serpentine country road with only the jeep’s headlights illuminating our narrow path, we were surrounded on either side by ancient stone walls and massive bare trees.  Somehow, we arrived safely at The Punchbowl, Michelin 2009 Pub Guide’s “Pub of the Year”!  I enjoyed steak and ale pie with fresh peas, purple vinegared cabbage, pumpkin mash and requisite chips.  By order of British law, a lovely black lab introduced himself to every customer.  I so wished Ivan could have joined us on these forays.  I know he would LOVE my new favourite dessert: sticky toffee pudding with ice cream:

Sticky Toffee Pudding at the Wheatsheaf in Kendal

Sticky Toffee Pudding at the Wheatsheaf in Kendal

On another weekend, we went to Lancaster.  On approach, we saw a huge gothic castle on a hill surrounded by the town.  First, a rest and warm-up at The Borough pub restaurant where I had Sunday roast, mulled wine and mincemeat tart.  Since we ordered two meals, they throw in a bottle of wine.   Then, we walked around Lancaster visiting the Judges Lodging (a historic Victorian house and museum) and ended up at Lancaster Castle where we joined the last tour of the day.  Little did we know, Lancaster Castle has been England’s longest functioning prison, with two functioning courts and the grim record of meting out the most executions in English history.  The tour guide was excellent and he even locked us in one of the ancient cells in total darkness so that we could fathom what it might have felt like for convicts in the past.

Lancaster Castle 1778

Lancaster Castle 1778

I learn British English:

It happened one day in class.   I casually interjected, “You mean 50 quid?!”  No one arched an eyebrow.  My Brit-lish flew under the radar.   At that point I jumped right in with my wellies and began referring to my apartment as my flat, describing things I don’t like as pure rubbish and wearing jumpers instead of sweaters!  And wouldn’t you know they bought it like marmalade!  There was one quick witted elder in McDonald’s (John Hindle) who did call attention to my ‘native’ vocabulary.  He said: “Funny. We used to say that if one said ‘I’m mad about my flat’ it would mean ‘I love my apartment’ if you’re English and ‘I’m angry about my puncture’ elsewhere!”

I learn how to upholster:

I earned a diploma in traditional English upholstery from the AMUSF while at Kendal School of Upholstery.  Some of my projects are pictured below.  My three finished chairs as well as a research essay on 20th Century Furniture Design were taken down to London for this accreditation.

1954 Howard Keith chair

1954 Howard Keith chair - BEFORE

1954 Howard Keith chair - AFTER

1954 Howard Keith chair - AFTER

Chloe on her bespoke bed (featuring a deep buttoned headboard and fitted box cushion)

Chloe on her bespoke bed (featuring a deep buttoned headboard and fitted box cushion)

All’s Well that Ends Well:

Now I’m back in Toronto, but very much refreshed and inspired.  New experiences like living abroad definitely revitalize us, flexing our skills, rousing our brain cells, and challenging our preconceived notions.  Thank you very much to the village of Kendal, Cumbria.  Extra special thanks to Debbie, Fraser, Blandine and students and staff at Kendal School of Upholstery, John Hindle, Francis from Kendal McDonald’s restaurant, and John and Charlotte and their girls in London.  Extra special special thanks go to Ivan, Chloe, Fredd and Marie – for putting up with my long absence and welcoming me home with open arms and paws.

Last drink at Ye Olde Fleece Inn in Kendal

Last drink at Ye Olde Fleece Inn in Kendal (from left: me, Debbie, Jackie)

December 18, 2011

A Canadian in England – My First Impressions

As I mentioned in a previous tweet and explained in my last blog, I’m living in the UK in a small north-western town called Kendal.  I’ve been here for two weeks and have four more to go before I return to my beloved home in Toronto. You might be wondering what exactly brought me here and I’m happy to explain.

As your typical Canadian mixed breed, I descended from various expats from the British Isles (as well as a proud Mohawk – but that’s another story). I’ve watched Coronation Street for most of my life.  I majored in English literature and over the years I’ve seen every Merchant Ivory, BBC, PBS, Masterpiece Theatre, Upstairs Downstairs, Jane Austen, Bronte Sister, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy dramatization ever created.  That’s enough to make one slightly obsessed with England.   So when it came time for me to find a comprehensive furniture restoration and upholstery course and there was none in Canada but several in England, I figured enough was enough and I had better see Mecca before I die (and while the Canadian dollar was at an all time high).

The first weekend in Kendal was spent with Ivan, but he’s returned to Toronto to look after our three fur kids and resume his job.  As a result, I felt quite lonely during the first week of school.  My weekdays start in Kendal’s McDonald’s restaurant because it’s open before 8 am and they have the precious drug I so desperately crave: free WI-FI.  I buy a McDonald’s cafe latte (they’re quite good with chocolate sprinkles) and log on to my net book to connect with all those back home from 8 to just before 9 am. Then it’s a short walk to school for a full day of hands on study from 9 am till 5 pm.  During the school day we invariably begin with tea in the morning, have tea once again mid-morning, tea with lunch, and finally mid-afternoon tea. Then it’s time to head home. (Actually, quite a bit is accomplished during the school day but I’ll write more about that in another blog).

So here I am, living in the land of repressed emotions and good television.  Finally!  Here are some of my early impressions and my favourite things:

Open for Dogs

Open for Dogs - how welcoming!

  • Dogs are welcome in many cafe’s, pubs, and even some restaurants.  The owners of these establishments openly advertise dog accessibility with hand-made signs and even professionally made signage like this.
  • Luxury cheese is affordable.  A Scottish woman in my class who travelled to Calgary last summer said they were surprised to find cheese in Canada was so expensive.  In the meantime I’m getting my fill of yummy cheeses with descriptive (and entertaining) names like: Applewood, Stinking Bishop, and Lincolnshire Poacher.
  • There’s no litter in England!  I’m awed by the lack of it.  I couldn’t FIND any litter in the London tube.  And I looked hard.  Even more strange, Ivan and I couldn’t find a garbage or recycling can anywhere in the tube and train stations (we later realized it was because of worry over terrorism) and STILL there wasn’t any litter.  Thumbs up, Britain! Give a hoot, don’t pollute, Torontonians!
  • I love the cobblestone streets, 19th century buildings, meandering stone fences, fields of sheep, double decker buses, monkey puzzle trees (there are a few in Vancouver, too), and old graveyards with leaning gravestones.
  • Often British words and phrases are quite different from Canada’s.  Instead of asking someone “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” here people ask: “Are you alright?”  At first I thought I must really be looking unwell.  One thing I really like is that people quite frequently refer to friends, strangers, and customers with the endearment “love.” It’s sweet and unexpected.   It also spreads goodwill.  How could you ever be churlish to a clerk who calls you “Love”?!
  • Most houses in the UK are a sensible size.  Canadian homes are getting bigger and bigger with multiple carports.  Most of the homes here in the UK are row houses; fully attached townhouses or at least semi-attached.  As a result, neighbourhoods are walkable because towns are far more compact.  I haven’t seen the suburban sprawl we get in Canada; which inherently makes many of our communities car dependant.
  • Charity Shops and 2nd hand stores are plentiful.  There are two on every block!  Instead of being a jumbled dumping ground (like they often are in Canada), these UK shops are beautifully organized.  I scour them whenever I can and have already purchased a sweet Laura Ashley skirt for only 5 pounds!
  • Milk is still delivered!

    Milk Delivery

    Milk Delivery in Kendal

Please send me your comments.  I’d love to hear from you!  Till next time, have a brilliant day! :)

Julie and Ivan in the UK

October 30, 2011 –

Greetings from Julie and Ivan in Kendal, England: gateway to the beautiful Lake District. For the last ten days, we’ve been sightseeing in England, travelling around by train, underground and local bus. What a time we’ve had!  Now, on our last night, we sat down with some red wine and very affordable Stilton to co-write a blog post describing the highlights of our travels…

London:

We arrived at London Gatwick after a red eye flight (Air Transat had the best price) and caught a pre-booked train into central London and then transferred to the Underground to Ealing where our friends, the Ellis family, live. Although Ealing is the last stop on the busy underground Central line, it has a great village feel with a charming, relaxed main street. We caught up at their local, doted on their adorable kids, and had a relaxing evening at their lovely home (featuring high ceilings and gorgeous crown moulding).  A big thank you to the welcoming Ellis clan!

The next day, Big Ben struck 11 am as we emerged in front of it from the underground. From Westminster Bridge the Parliament buildings and towers are gothic masterpieces and quintessential London. You really feel at the centre of an empire when you take it all in.

As big Churchill fans, we went to the Cabinet War Rooms: a secret underground office and living quarters where Churchill and his military staff lived and led the WW2 campaign.

Tea in the Orangery (Kensington Gardens) was quite posh. We thought of Diana who once lived just across the yard from where we sat.

We adored the Victoria & Albert (Decorative Arts) museum. Even the grand building itself is part of the display. As with the British Museum, one could spend days here and not repeat any part of the experience. Julie loved all the exhibits but was excited to see those on 20th Century design movements that she’s been studying including: Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modern and Post Modern.

For a tour of modern art and architecture, the Tate Modern is not to be missed.  We had a laugh at a few of the installations like ‘Giant pile of sunflower seeds’ and ‘Twisted metal dog shits.’  On the brighter side, the Tate Modern is housed in an unforgettable building: a massive former power station that was architected mid 20th century (by the designer of the famous British red telephone box).  It’s the perfect venue for a modern art gallery and from it you can walk across the fantastic Millennium Bridge.

We caught the mighty Thames at low-tide and Ivan suggested we walk down the steep stairs to stroll the edge of the exposed riverbed. We were startled to find tiny pieces of crockery, brick and other remnants of the past amidst the stones.  Julie gathered a few tiny pieces and intends to make jewellery with them (after a very thorough washing).

The Ellis’ introduced us to Song Star (a karaoke game) on Play Station, and Julie sang Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Somebody to Love while Ivan toned it down with ‘80s classics like Blue Monday and Don’t you Forget about Me. Good fun.

We even had a mini family reunion with Ivan’s cousin who lives in London and his Aunt who was there from Australia on a visit. We had a great dinner and visit and got to meet two new nephews.

Cambridge:

Cambridge is a lively medieval town with a great central market (surprisingly only an hour’s drive from London.) Our hosts are Cambridge grads so they gave us the insider’s tour. Punting on the Cam River was precarious and hilarious. Ivan and I took turns and we managed to steer and not fall in. After, we had tea and Chelsea buns (very tasty and similar to cinnamon buns). It was commencement / graduation day, so we got to see the timeless tradition of black robes, sashes and mortar-board hats as the thrilled graduates walked down the cobblestone streets.

Ivan punting on the Cam in 'Cam' bridge

Ivan punting on the Cam in 'Cam' bridge

Brighton:

Off to Brighton to begin our whirlwind tour of the south coast. The rain continued to hold off (we’ve been incredibly lucky with warm dry days).  After dropping off bags at our B&B, we took the local bus towards Eastbourne, alighting in the tiny hamlet of East Dean. It’s a short hike down to the Beachy Head shore: the grandest cliffs on the English coastline! We beachcombed and hunted for fossils. After a few hours we hiked up and along the soaring chalk cliffs far above the Channel surf. We got caught in a tiny bit of rain on the hike back, nothing bad. It was a welcome excuse to pop in to the Tiger Inn for a warm up. It’s the quintessential pub on the village green, where dogs are welcome.  In fact, inside we counted three dogs, one fireplace, and four ciders on tap. Julie was in heaven and Ivan was smitten with the mini-Dachshund that kept giving him shy glances with his sensitive face.  (The regulars were very friendly, too!)

That night was Brighton Pier in all of its tacky, lamp lit glory, and finally our first English Fish ‘n’ Chip meal. Yum!

Bath:

On to Bath, the tea-time and social Capital of England, steeped in history, architecture and Jane Austen.  We were awed by the incredibly well preserved Georgian architecture (which we saw much of on our free two hour walking tour operated by the town council).  Bath is certainly deserving of their World Heritage Site designation.While walking, we looked into a studio and met Olympic sculptor Ben Dearnley!  He showed us a work in progress of British Olympic swimmer Mark Foster as well as another monumental piece he is doing for the Prince’s Trust. What a friendly, unpretentious encounter with a real working artisan. We hope his work gets exposure during the Olympics.

With Olympian Sculptor Ben Dearnley

With Olympian Sculptor Ben Dearnley

Beachy Head - the Seven Sisters

Beachy Head - the Seven Sisters

Finally, we cursed our bad luck at deciding to spend only the one night in Bath when we discovered that one hour after our train departure, a killer classical line-up was to be performed in full gusto right IN the Bath Abbey: Saint-Saen’s Organ Symphony, Danse Macabre, and Sorcerer’s Apprentice! We were VERY sorry to miss this Samhain Spectacle… but at least we caught some of the rehearsal during which the organist made the earth move with those giant opening chords to the second movement of the Saint-Saens.

Kendal:

And finally way up north to Kendal in North Western England. What a beautiful little town, nestled in the river valley. Though it’s the rainiest part of England it was still sunny and glorious!  We headed across the river Kent and up a hill to ancient Kendal Castle (family castle of Katherine Parr: King Henry VIII’s last wife). Would you believe Julie can see the castle right across the river from her flat’s living room window?

Our second last day was spent exploring Kendal’s pubs, getting groceries, getting a library card, and sorting out internet connectivity in the flat – life’s essentials.  We finally caught Woody Allen’s new movie Midnight in Paris (highly recommended) then went out to dinner to celebrate Ivan’s 40th!  Julie wishes she could be 40 again.

Ivan with Great Horned Owl in Kendal - care of Wise Owl World

Ivan with Great Horned Owl in Kendal - care of Wise Owl World

On our last day, we took a local bus for 45 minutes to Grasmere, the home of William Wordsworth. I can’t imagine a more idyllic setting. We embarked on a hike and just kept climbing – incredulous as the view got more and more spectacular with each turn. Old stone fences and streams meandered o’er the verdant hillside.  At the top, from our vantage point at Alcock Tarn we could see three different lakes. We met quite a few Brits on the bus, while hiking, and while walking in Kendal. They were always friendly, enthusiastic, and eager to make us feel welcome.

Lake District Hike

Our camera battery went just after taking this but we got a few beautiful shots of the hike at Grasmere to Alcock Tarn.

One could really get used to the relaxed lifestyle of the Lake District and northern England. And fortunately Julie has the opportunity to do just that as she’s staying on for six weeks taking a furniture restoration and upholstery course at the Kendal School of Upholstery.

By Ivan Kosir and Julie James

In front of Kendal Castle

Here we are in front of my neighborhood castle!