January, oh January

14 Jan IMG_1734

It’s not even the middle of the month and I’ve already lost count of the conversations I’ve had with people along the lines of how fed up we are of healthy eating, how cold it is outside, how we’ve got colds, how we’re cutting back on alcohol even though January is almost the time you need it the most purely as a coping measure.   I, of course, am just as guilty as everybody else.  Not least because I lost the first week of January to a horrific cold which I believe I contracted from my Christmastime visit to the UK, a week when I should have been actively working out in order to bank some calories ahead of a two-week business trip at the end of the month.

Incidentally, I have received a new nickname at work, ‘Patient Zero’.  I seem to be the source of most office-based contagions lately, my personal belief being that I no longer have any resistance to UK germs and as a result manage to contract whatever is going and then introduce it into our open plan office.  For some reason, nobody seems to like this type of gift.  The duty free Cadbury’s is much more popular.

So now the ‘Happy New Year’s are over* and thoughts turn to buckling down to some of the new year’s resolutions that I started to think of on the flight back from our trip to the UK.  For some reason, transatlantic flights always put me in a reflective state of mind.  Last year I flew a lot – like, making BA Executive Club’s Gold status with 4 months to spare, a lot – and still every time I boarded a Europe-JFK flight I found myself thinking, planning, and generally feeling inspired.  I guess it must be some deep-rooted feeling of homecoming that puts me in that frame of mind, but it happens every time without fail.

I am not really one to make new year’s resolutions.  Not necessarily because I won’t keep them, but more because it just seems like too much effort.  However, I really can’t fight the feeling of reflection that comes at each new year, and when combined with a transatlantic flight it’s a force that’s too powerful to ignore.  So here, without further ado, are some of the not-resolutions that I’ll be trying to focus on this year:

  • Do more professional development/training.  After a valiant effort to obtain CPD status with the Institute of Direct & Digital Marketing in 2015, which seems to have resulted in a narrow miss due mainly to me spending too much time on planes and not enough time finding conferences/events to attend,  I’ve decided that this year I am actually going to prioritize my personal development and even – gasp – pay attention to the CPD tracker during the year so that I don’t find myself with no time to do anything in the final quarter.
  • Stay in touch with people better.  I often make this resolution.  As a classic introvert, I much prefer the text/email/Facebook comment method of interacting with people, I just need to do that more frequently.  And also Skype/FaceTime where appropriate.  The time difference can be a convenient excuse, and I need to stop hiding behind it.
  • Find some interesting dinners to make.  Now that M has a significantly different work pattern to me, it’s become very important to find dinners that can be made – quickly – by one of us and eaten by the other a couple of hours or a day later.  I’m going to make a concerted effort to find some new recipes before we start to get impossibly bored of the meals in our current repertoire.
  • Run more.  In the back end of 2015 I started running.  Not much, just 5km or so, but running requires such little equipment and can be done almost anywhere, that it’s the ideal exercise for me to work in during my business trips.  I want to carry on doing this, and get it into my proper routine.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a way to squeeze running gear into a carry on along with 3 days’ worth of clothes…
  • 40 before 40.  A lot of my friends turned 40 last year, and although I have a little way to go myself yet, I did prick up my ears when I happened across a blog post talking about ’40 things to do before I turn 40′.  Seeing as the genesis of this blog was a to do list inspired by Mike Gayle’s book ‘The To-Do List’, I think that a ’40 before 40′ seems like the perfect thing to get me back into blogging and also give my life a little focus for the next [redacted] years.  I’ll definitely post more about this in the coming months.

So that’s it.  That’s where I am right now.  Let’s see what 2016 brings.  For now, Happy New Year one and all!

IMG_1734

Where I do my best thinking

 

 

*When is the right time to stop wishing people a Happy New Year?  Last Friday I was adamant that would be the last day of it, but I’ve since bumped into or spoken with people for the first time this year and the three words have popped out of my mouth before I’ve been able to stop myself.  Perhaps this Friday I’ll give it up.  We’ll see.

Life, 3 years on

29 Oct

For one reason and another, I haven’t felt like blogging much this year.  Sure, I’ve done plenty of fun things.  I may even write about them on here one day.  The issue comes down to the simple fact that, for much of the year, we have not known whether we are staying or going.  Everything has been up in the air.  Whenever I’ve given updates to friends and family, no sooner has a message been shared than something else has changed.  This is not good for me.  I like to be in control.

But lately, things have started to feel like they are settling down.  We are starting to feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Like maybe we can start to plan forward a little bit.

But first, let’s go back to the beginning.

3 years ago

This time 3 years ago, we were in the middle of a flurry of social activity.  Every night was booked out, to spend the last few precious moments with friends and family before embarking on what we thought at the time was our 3 year adventure in the US.  I distinctly remember telling people “don’t worry, it’s only 3 years.  We’ll be back before you know it”.  At the time, I believed it.  I’m not sure many other people did though.

And now, here we are.  3 years later.  If the original plan had come to pass, we would have been packing up our lives ready to reload the truck and ship it back in the opposite direction.

If this was a movie, now would be about the right time for a whizzy fast-rewind montage.  Possibly with silly music.  But because this is a blog, Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ from last Friday will have to suffice.

On this day

Would our stuff still fit in there?  I’m not so sure…

3 years on

In case the date was not already permanently etched in my consciousness, I would know our original time here was coming to an end by the fact that everything is expiring.  The lease on our house expires at the end of the month.  Our visas expire at the end of the month (don’t worry folks, we’ve taken steps to make sure we are still legal).  My driver’s license expires at the end of the month (again, still legal, although I did have to brave the DMV to make it happen).  Our car lease expires in early January.  Everything is coming to an end.  Or is it?

Living in a country that is not your own changes you.  It gives you a different perspective.  However worldly-wise you thought you were, you can’t really begin to understand a nation’s psyche until you’ve lived it every day.  Without living here, I would not have an appreciation for the importance of peanut butter; I would not understand why Bud Light exists (try drinking it on a hot summer’s afternoon and you’ll be with me); I would still wish people “Happy Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”.

Although there are still some things I don’t get.  For example, why is there always a system, yet the system is never explained?  Why are the tax returns full of instructions to write ’56’ in box 7 but only if the value in box 25 is greater than the square root of the value in box 26?  Why are the presenters on my local news channel so funny looking?

Yet somehow, this country has gripped me.  I feel – we both feel – that there is still more here for us to experience.

We’re locals now

What I’ve steadily come to realize over the last few months is that we are now locals.  The staff in our local bar know us, remember our business, and are always happy for a chat and a catch-up.  The guys in our local pizza place greet us when we walk in.  I love supporting our local family-run spin studio, and would go even more if my schedule suited.  We have ties in Westchester.  Granted, not family ties.  And not all the friends that we grew up with.  But we feel at home here.  We’ve met some great people and made some amazing new friends.  And that’s something I never thought would happen.

So I guess if I had to put my finger on when I truly realized I wanted to stay here a little longer, it was when I started to realize this was becoming my home.  Not a holiday home.  Not somewhere I was transitioning.  But somewhere where we had made a life.

Don’t get me wrong, what we have here is not a replacement for what we have back home.  When I say that living abroad changes you, it also complicates things.  It complicates your notion of where home is.  It makes you forget how to express yourself in the right language (yes, English English and American English are two very different things).  People ask me, a lot, whether I will give up my British citizenship.  My answer is always “no”.  I am British, and I will always be British.  It’s part of my identity and I could never let that go.

But for now, and with the will of the US government, for a little while longer, this is me.  An English girl in New York.

I am many things. I am also a cyclist.

31 Jan

2014 was the year I became a cyclist.  I know this for a number of reasons:

  1. I had to throw away several pairs of trousers because my thighs were too big for them.
  2. I can now only wear certain jackets with very thin layers underneath, because my shoulders have expanded in a weird and not at all wonderful way.
  3. I have a weekly mileage target that I usually achieve, even if I’m traveling and have to ride on gym bikes that belong in the 1960s.
  4. When I park my car in the garage, I often say hello to my bike and pat his saddle.

During 2014 I did many things on my bike that I’m proud of.  (I also did many things on my bike that I’m not proud of including, but not limited to, swearing loudly at a driver that cut me up before realizing I was wearing a jersey that was heavily branded with my company’s logo…  But that’s another story).

I rode a metric century.  Twice.  (Although one of those times it only registered as 99.8km because I forgot to restart my Garmin after a rest stop.  Idiot.)

NJ Fondo

Where were the podium girls with the bizarre cuddly toys?

I rode alone.  A lot.  Even though I did once have to be collected by Mr P when I got a puncture and couldn’t work the gas pump to inflate the spare tube.

Flat tire

Whoops

I significantly lowered my winter riding threshold.  By about 15 degrees F.  I went out over Christmas and my water bottles froze.  But, when you catch the light just right, and there’s no cars on the road, and snow on the ground, it’s just, well, magical.

Snowy Biking Snowy but beautiful

I also learned that seafood platters and cocktails can make excellent pre-ride preparation.  There’s one you don’t often read about in the cycling literature.

Fondo Prep

Just out of shot: several hundred cocktails 

What next?

I know, you’re probably wondering what on earth I can do to top that extensive list of athletic achievements.

Well.  In 2015, I want to do an imperial century.  And this time I will make sure I keep my Garmin on the whole way round.  I want to ride once a week with the local cycle club, so that I can improve my group riding skills…  Once the weather improves, of course.  I want (well, need) to practice changing tubes so that if I get a puncture, it won’t be the end of the world.  But really I guess I just want to carry on enjoying it.  Which is the main reason you will not find me riding the 5 Boros again.  Once was enough.

The great American road trip

5 Sep Holland Tunnel

Well, this has been quite the radio silence, hasn’t it. My last post was on May 26th, over 3 months ago. And I can offer no excuse other than that I have been pretty busy both at work and at home. And one of the things I have been busy doing is spending the weekend driving to Tennessee. Yes, Tennessee. 650 miles of American highways.  Just to see some cars racing round a track for a few hours.

It all started in an NYC airport.

Damn you, La Guardia

As anyone who has ever traveled through New York City will tell you, the airports are an absolute nightmare.  Ageing, decrepit, shabby, busy, stressful, the works.  La Guardia is the worst of all of them.  Walk in, and it’s like you are back in the 1970s.  Anyway.  After a mildly stressful check in process when we could not get the check in machines to complete the process, and the check in assistant pulled a face and said ‘oh’ when she looked up our booking, we were settled in at the gate.  Facebook statuses updated, magazines open.  Only to hear the announcement that our flight had been canceled.  One hour before takeoff.  Wait, what?  Yes, a mechanical failure.  Or, sorry, a “mechanical failure”.  Regardless, the decision was made.  Wait 5 hours for a flight that wasn’t even direct and might get delayed anyway?  Or jump in the car and take a road trip?  Obvious really: road trip!

Road trip

Yes, you read that right.  9 hours, 44 minutes.

Yes, road trip

I love a good road trip.  And I have done many of them before, although never one of this length and never a spontaneous one that hadn’t been accompanied by extensive pre-planning.  So an unexpected 650 mile road trip (when I put the destination into my phone to create the above picture, I had not realized that our hotel was actually another 40-ish miles from where I thought we were staying) was not what I’d seen myself spending my Friday doing but hey, we were going to make the most of it.

Road tripping on a Friday

Let me just make one thing clear.  Road tripping on a Friday, when you start from the east side of NYC and have to cross Manhattan and take one of the tunnels into NJ, is not great.  Especially when you travel for about 2 hours and have still only made it as far as your place of work.

Holland Tunnel

Just the usual Friday afternoon chaos

Things you learn on a long road trip

Road trips are a great learning experience.  You learn about yourself, you learn about your traveling companions, and you learn about the places you are traveling through.  Here are just a few of the things we learned:

  • Those roadside posters shouting out the distance to the next restaurant/hotel/attraction?  They are not an eyesore.  They are an incredibly useful way of communicating to the weary traveler where they can stop for a leg stretch, comfort stop, and a vast array of stodgy refreshments.  Which brings me to…
  • Gas station toilets. In the UK I would always feel odd going into gas station toilets if I was not buying anything there.  In America however, the gas station is an established rest stop, particularly on highways that do not have full-on service stations.  My initial discomfort at this approach was more than offset by the discovery that, in many cases, the gas station toilets
    were infinitely more spacious and clean than many Manhattan restaurant toilets.  And that includes in the good quality restaurants.  But don’t get me started on that.
  • While on the gas station theme, if you want a coffee from one, get it yourself.  Do not rely on your traveling companion, however well educated and otherwise intelligent he or she may be, to get it for you.  Unless you want to wait 5 hours.  This person knows who they are.
  • A good way to pass the time is to play the number plate game, where you try to spot a number plate from all the states.  We did pretty well on this journey but still did not get them all.  And I’m not sure M has quite forgiven me for waking him up by shouting “IDAHO” at the top of my voice just as he was falling asleep.

To summarize: if you want to travel anywhere quick in America, do it by road.  We checked up on the flight that American had tried to rebook us on, only to find that it had been delayed so much that we would have missed our connection and been stranded somewhere miles from our destination.  Then, the flight we should have got home was canceled as well.  Lesson learned, America.  (Or, in fact, AmericaN.  Eagle.  Who suck).

However long your journey is, it will be worth it when you arrive at your destination

The Bud Lights we had when we arrived at our hotel at 2am were probably the most anticipated beers in all the world.  And then, when we arrived at Bristol Motor Speedway the following day and saw the awesome sights of the track, heard the cars, got caught up in the atmosphere of it all, enjoyed a fabulous race…  Well, we had no regrets.  Not even when we spent the rest of the next day in the car and didn’t arrive home until midnight.  I will remember this weekend for a long time.  And none of the memories will be bad.

Beer by the pool

 Not the first beer, and not the last

Bristol Motor Speedway

 It’s Bristol baby

Bristol baby

Joey Logano takes the win

Five Boros, 40-some miles, 32,000 cyclists making for one interesting experience

26 May

A few weeks ago now, me, M and 5 of our buddies went for a bike ride.  It was a plan concocted months ago, via the medium of Facebook (because if it doesn’t happen on Facebook, it doesn’t happen, okay?).   Somehow, 7 fully grown adults made the combined decision that cycling the five boros of NYC, with 32,000 other cyclists, would be not just a good idea but a great one.  Yeah, let’s do it!  Let’s get printed t-shirts!  Two of us will fly over from Scotland and make a vacation out of it!  We’ll be able to get some miles in and see some great sights!  It will be a great day out!  And thus, a plan was born.

7 Deadly SpinsLet’s face it, the shirts were pretty cool, and of great quality.  A shame the same can’t be said about the quality of the photo.

And so Sunday 4th May rolled around.  We were all primed and ready.  Most of us had been in training, all of us were excited.  Plans were formed.  Bikes were stored in places that were not designed for bike storage.  Bidons were prepared, carb loading (well, mac n cheese loading) took place, some sleep was obtained.  We were going to do this thing!

Bikes in apartment

Yes, not exactly made for the storage of 3 bikes.

We got up early, we met on the Riverside Park, we made our way to the start line.  And, 6 hours, 40-something miles, a few rest stops, a few unscheduled stops and a puncture later, we finished.  A further 2 hours after that, we were back on Manhattan soil toasting our achievement with a nice cool beer.

The time in between though?  Well, there’s a story.  A story that involves NYC streets empty of traffic (amazing experience) but rammed full of bikers (sometimes good, sometimes irritating experience).  A story that involves rest stops packed full of bagels (nice surprise) and portaloos (containing surprises, but certainly not nice ones).  And a story that, if you believe my Garmin read out, logs my maximum speed at a positively rapid 62.9mph but the average speed at an eminently more accurate 9.9mph.

Radio CityMe (in yellow), definitely not doing 62.9mph

And it’s actually a story I’m not going to go into in too much detail.  I could labor the point and complain about the fact that the whole experience would have been much better if far fewer people were involved.  32,000 is simply way too much.  It works fine on wide Manhattan avenues and sweeping bridges like the Verrazano, but in more cosy areas like DUMBO in Brooklyn where streets are narrow and windy, it was laughable.  At times we were off our bikes and standing still – yes, not even walking – for 15-20 minutes.

But, it was worth it.  Cycling up 6th Avenue with no traffic at all was an experience that not many people can say they’ve had.  And crossing the Verrazano Bridge to Staten Island, experiencing the brutal crosswinds and the amazing views, took my breath away.  I loved watching the baffled looks on people’s faces as they stepped out onto the pavement and saw so many cyclists on the road, and quickly whipped out their phones to take photos.   But I am not sure I would do this again.  Not unless I could get an earlier start time and have a fighting chance of actually doing some proper cycling.

Start lineYes, that’s a lot of cyclists

But, it was worth doing once.

America: land of the monthly box

7 May

I don’t know if it’s because I used to work in direct marketing or because I like to feel that someone is thinking of me, but I love getting mail. And I don’t mean the thousands of GEICO and Capital One promos that I get every week. I mean nice, meaty looking, substantial packages and simple, thoughtful postcards. Nothing makes me happier.

I also love drinking cocktails. And I love buying clothes. Not necessarily things that spring to mind when talking about mail. Unless, of course, you find yourself in America, land of the monthly box.

Cocktails by post
We are approaching our 12 month anniversary with Julibox. I absolutely adore my Julibox and receiving it at work has become something of a minor event as we all look forward to seeing what is included.

If you’re not familiar with the concept (by which I mean, if I haven’t bored you incessantly about it already), Julibox is a monthly cocktail club. Each month you get sent the alcohol and mixers to make 2 x 2 themed cocktails. You get an email ahead of time telling you what fresh stuff you need to buy to make it all happen.

We’ve discovered some new favorites through Julibox. Last summer, for example, we lived off caipirinhas. We also found a few fantastic festive drinks that we shared when we went back to the UK for Christmas. It’s a great way to try new things without ending up with a spirit cupboard full of random stuff you never drink.

20140510-082302.jpg

Our favourite caipirinha

If you live in the US, love cocktails, and can spare $40 a month, you can do a lot worse than signing up online at http://www.julibox.com. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Shopping by mail
When my colleague told me about Stitch Fix, I was instantly intrigued. A personal shopper? For me? For only $20? I couldn’t pass this one up!

So, back in December I ordered my first Fix. I completed an online profile and asked for some nice tops. It’s an interesting business model actually. You get charged a $20 styling fee which is refundable against anything you buy. They send you five pieces; if you buy them all, you save 25%. You have 3 days to try on the clothes at home, and returns are free but you have to do it within the 3 days.

I excitedly told a lot of people about this. Surprisingly though, quite a few were reluctant, preferring instead to choose their own clothes. But I think it’s a great way to get some variety. I’m certainly guilty of buying the same old stuff over and over (let’s not talk about all the lightweight sweaters I own). So I’ve just ordered by second Fix because my summer wardrobe needs urgent attention.

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My first Fix

My first Fix was okay. I kept the top two items in this picture. The red lacy blouse (which looks pink in shot) and the sweater with hearts on, which I adore. Yes, I know this is *another* lightweight sweater. But I liked it! The other items were patchy but hey, I just sent them back. No biggie.

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I adore this jumper

Want a Fix of your own? Click here to schedule one.

Just the tip of the iceberg
So this is just a small example of the monthly box potential offered by this vast country. A quick Google showed beauty boxes, men’s gift boxes, dog care boxes, personally styling for men, Japanese snacks (please, not the green tea Kit Kats again) and – uh oh – a cycling one. Now, where are my credit card details??

Small disclaimer
This is not a sponsored post. If you click my Stitch Fix link and sign up, I will get $25 in referral credit, but this is a standard “recommend a friend” offer that all Stitch Fix members have access to. I’m writing about these boxes because I love the concept and because they make me happy whenever they arrive, and I wanted to share this with you. Nothing more, nothing less.

Life through a lens

11 Apr

My iPhone camera roll  is absolutely huge.  Full of pictures of shoes, outfits, cocktails, selfies and other random moments, I love flicking through it and reminding myself of things I’ve done.

I know it’s been a long time since I last posted, so in lieu of a full update here is a brief run-down of the last 6 or so weeks since I was last here, as seen through the lens of my iPhone.

We created our own private hunting lodge

Deer

Home, February 23rd

I mixed two of my favorite things – champagne and fast cars

NASCAR

BA lounge, JFK airport, March 2nd

I went to Berlin not once, but twice

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie, March 3rd

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate, April 5th

I shopped til I dropped (for a change)

Woodbury

Home (after a trip to Woodbury Commons), March 15th

I did a safari in an uncomfortable, smelly but super cool Trabbi

Trabbi Safari

Berlin, April 2nd

And I saw something I never thought I’d see – the Kremlin and Red Square

KremlinKremlin, April 9th

Red Square

Red Square, April 9th

 

Until next time, folks…

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