About Me

My photo
One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tell me about your 2009.

Well I thought in this blog I would pass it over to you to tell me a short paragrpah about what you have been up to in 2009 - highlights and lowlights - along with your dreams for 2010.

So go on and give me something to read for a change by posting your paragraph in the comments. Xx

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Give Thanks for all our family and friends

I have been putting off writing this blog as I just couldn’t work out where to start of how to put everything down onto “paper”. So many feelings and thoughts to work through and try and make some sense of them.

Jarlath and I used to love doing road trips in the car and particularly in America. On several occasions we would fly into the US with no plans other than having a hire car waiting at the airport for us. We had a couple of our best holidays just jumping into the car, buying a road map and then taking off to wherever the road led us. A tour around Florida away from all the usual tourist haunts was one of the best. We have become slightly lazy (and used to luxury) over the past few years and have not done one of our road trips for a while. So when we knew we were going to spend Thanksgiving in Rochester, NY we thought we would try and combine it with a mini version of our road trips. The only difference being we did have a couple of specified destinations to work to.

We started off from Washington DC on the Friday afternoon of the 20th of November and headed north. The only remit we had was that we wanted to be in Toronto in Canada by about early afternoon on the Saturday. We had a great sunny day for a drive and set off North on highway 15 which would take us directly north towards Buffalo NY. I started out driving to allow Jarlath to continue working on emails and phone calls for a few hours. I always find this part of the driving rather boring as I can neither chat or have the radio on while Jarlath is working on the phone but I am a day dreamer so I manage to while away a couple of hours just day dreaming happily about everything and nothing. Once Jarlath finished work for the day we had checked an audio book out of the library to help us pass some of our journey. We had chosen it together – Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeffry Lindsay. It is the book that the tv series Dexter is based on. It was a good choice at it was a combination of a serious crime drama and comedy rolled into one and being 7 discs long it was going to cover a lot of our journey there and back again.

After driving for 6 hours (me having done 5 of those) we thought we would find a place to stop for the night so we could get some dinner and have a couple of beers. We came across a small town called Geneseo which was about 20 miles south of Rochester in NY state. It was a small college town so had a few bars and restaurants although nothing fancy but this suited us as we only wanted to go out for a couple of hours as we knew we wanted to get up sharp in the morning to continue our drive. We had a pleasant evening and a good night’s sleep in the Quality Inn there before continuing our journey to Toronto on the Saturday morning.

Saturday again turned out to be a lovely sunny day and the temperatures were very moderate for that time of year that far north (in the mid fifties Fahrenheit). We continued our drive and crossed the border in Buffalo into Canada before driving across Toronto to the suburb of Whitby.

Whitby is where the Tipping family is from. They are sort of relatives of Jarlath’s. It is too complicated to go into the family history but I class John and Kate (mom and dad) as Aunt and Uncle and their four daughters as cousins of Jarlath’s. We were mainly going to visit their oldest daughter Sonia as she had just had a baby girl one month previously but also she was the one we have always been most friendly with.

I remember the first time I met Sonia and her dad, John. Jarlath and I were staying at the family house in Achill in County Mayo, Ireland. It was a dreary, typical, wet and misty Irish day on the West coast so Jarlath and I had decided just to stay in for the day. We had a fire lit and I was doing a jigsaw while Jarlath was putting together an airfix model he had found around the house but generally just cosying up and enjoying a quiet afternoon. Then there was a knock on the door and in the typical Irish fashion it opened and in came John and Sonia. After introductions, Jarlath remembered Sonia from when he was a young teenager and she was a younger girl so we all packed up and walked around to the local pub (The Strand) and caught up on the last 20 years (or in my case met them for the first time) and had a lovely afternoon which stretched into the evening. From that fateful afternoon we both built up a nice friendship with Sonia and would meet in Ireland most summers when we were all over visiting family. I got on really well with Sonia at the time and we always had lots to talk about and laugh over every time we met. After several years, life and careers took over a bit and we never saw or spoke to each other (except the very occasional hello email or facebook message) for at least 4 years. In this time Jarlath and I got married (Sonia couldn’t make the wedding) and Sonia married Dale (we couldn’t make her wedding even though it was in Ireland) and Sonia became stepmom to Dales son Carson as well. We did bump into each other again in Ireland but our schedules just never seemed to click correctly. So anyway, when they had their first daughter, Ciara Grace, I thought that we should definitely make the effort to go and visit and re-establish our friendship.

We arrived at their house early on Saturday afternoon and were immediately at ease with each other like old friends. We just spent the afternoon chatting and then Katherine and Marie (two of Sonia’s sisters) came over to visit and then Mom and Dad came over for dinner and we spent a lovely evening with the family having some drinks and a lovely dinner of steaks (done outside on the BBQ even in November).
On Sunday we all decided to head to downtown Toronto to visit the CN tower. Jarlath and I had both been there before at separate times before we met each other but surprisingly Dale and Carson had never been up it despite living around Toronto for all of their lives. It was the perfect time for them to go up for the first time with their visitors. We left baby Ciara with grandparents for the afternoon and headed off.

The CN tower is a well known site and most people will have seen photos of the structure from the outside. There is not much inside except the view and a restaurant. The restaurant is a bit overpriced so we decided just to look at the view and have lunch somewhere else.

CN Tower is the tallest free-standing structure on land. It is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and was erected as a communications and tourist tower. The CN Tower consists of a main hexagonal hollow pillar of concrete containing the elevators, stairwells and power and plumbing connections. To the main pillar are attached the broadcast antenna and the two main visitors area: lower down is a seven-storey Main Level at 330 m (1,100ft) while higher up, the Sky Pod (formerly called the Space Deck) at 447 m (1,465ft), just below the antenna. (Confusingly SkyPod was the name given to the seven-storey Main Level, but now refers to the Space Deck.) The main pillar has three supporting legs giving it the appearance of a camera tripod.

Some floors of the Main Level is open to the public. At 342 m (1,122ft) is the Glass Floor and Outdoor Observation Deck. The Glass Floor consists of thermal glass units that are 64mm (2 1/2in) thick. The floor has an area of 24sq metre and can withstand a pressure of 600psi. At 346m (1,136ft) is the Horizons Cafe and Look Out level. There is a rotating restaurant at 351m (1,150ft) called the 360 Restaurant. It makes a full rotation every 72 minutes. Below the Main Level is the tower's microwave receiver shaped like a big white donut.

The Sky Pod is presently the highest observation deck in the world. From here, you can see 100-120 km (60-75mi) away, to the city of Rochester across Lake Ontario in the US, and see the mist rising from Niagara Falls.

The CN Tower has the tallest metal staircase in thw world. At the 1776th step, the staircase reaches the Main Level. It reaches the Sky Pod at the 2,579th step. The staircase is intended only for emergency use, and is not open to the public outside three times a year during the charity stair-climbing events.

The CN Tower was built by the Canadian National Railway Company, and the CN originally refers to "Canadian National". It was built on former railway land which the railway company had planned for a development called Metro Centre. Two years into construction of the tower however, the Metro Centre development was scrapped, so when CN Tower was completed, it stood isolated. A few decades would pass before the "wasteland" below the tower was developed. Today new additions including the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the SkyDome (called the Rogers Centre since 2005). In 1995, the railway company sold off the tower before going public. Since it is no longer owned by the railway company, the CN abbreviation is now expanded to mean Canada's National Tower, a name not commonly used. Nevertheless, the locals as well as foreign visitors popularly call it the CN Tower.

The CN Tower was constructed when Toronto was experiencing an economic boom. Indeed the Canadian National Railway had planned it to demonstrate the strength of Canadian industries, and CN in particular. The late 1960s and early 1970s was a particularly prosperous time for Toronto, which see a sprout of large skyscrapers. This caused some difficulties in broadcasting to the downtown area, due to reflections from these tall buildings. The solution is to raise the antenna above all these buildings. At that time, most data communications use point-to-point microwave links that require line-of-sight links. The new skyscrapers obstruct such communications. By constructing this super tall tower, the CN Railway company can rent "hub" space for microwave links, as it will be visible from almost any building in the Toronto area.

Construction of the CN Tower began on 6 February, 1973. It topped off on 2 April, 1975, after 26 months of construction. It was opened to the public on 26 June, 1976, and had its official opening ceremony on 1 October, 1975.

We decided to go to the highest level of the Sky pod and luckily had great views as the weather was quite clear. The best part was when a cloud passed by. As we were so high up we were actually in the clouds so would suddenly be surrounded by it for a short time.
We then moved down to the main observation deck where the best part for me was the glass floors. It is freaky to be standing and looking down to see yourself so high in the air with “nothing” underneath you. Some people would not even walk on the glass but I am sure it is very tough and well tested to ensure that there is no risk of cracking or falling through.

We were all quite tired after our afternoon out so just went back to the house where everyone came over again and Mom and Dad brought over lasagna and we just all had dinner and chatted for the rest of the evening. Dale in, typical Canadian fashion, is into Ice hockey and plays in a team so he had to go out late on the Sunday night as he had a game booked at 10.45p.m.! He must have been shattered when he was finished.

It was lovely to catch up with everyone again and we will need to make sure that we don’t leave it so long next time. I loved being able to hold the baby and I always like rocking them to sleep and even got a chance to feed her. It always makes me a bit broody when I get to hold a baby, particularly when they are friends or family, and does even make me sad that I will never have one.

Monday came and we said our goodbyes and set off for the next leg of our road trip. We were heading for Niagara Falls. Again we had both been before we met each other with different friends but fancied having another look and experiencing the lovely tacky side of the falls on Clifton Hill. It was only a three hour drive so we arrived early afternoon, had a short drive around to see the area and then booked ourselves into a Days Inn on Clifton Hill. We originally were joking about trying to get a lovely, tacky room with a heart shaped, vibrating bed but even in Niagara Falls these were not apparent. So we vouched for the Jacuzzi room instead which was a lovely big room with two Queen size beds and a huge Jacuzzi (that could have fitted 8 people comfortably if you were so inclined) right in the bedroom. As it was another lovely afternoon we didn’t waste any time in the room and headed out for a walk towards the falls. They are an amazing sight and I would recommend a visit to anyone who is travelling to that part of Canada. We decided to try and get a bit closer so tried to sneek down an access road that was closed to the public and did manage to get closer than we should have to the bottom of the falls.
We also walked around to the Horseshoe falls on the Canadian side where we got soaked from the spray as the wind was in the wrong direction and brought all the spray back over the sidewalk.

That evening we fancied getting a bit dressed out and having a wee fun night out so we headed out to one of the famous casinos. We only gamble about once every 5 years on these such occasions so it is actually quite fun. We set ourselves a budget of $100 canadian each and once we lost that we would walk away. The only game we know how to play is regular blackjack so we found a table with a low minimum bet, got a couple of drinks and sat down to gamble. It was fun because I love trying to count the cards in a “Rainman” fashion (but without the brain to succeed). I bet for a couple of hours until I eventually lost all my stake money but I was happy to just sit and watch Jarlath continue to play. He was very lucky (or skillful!) and he managed to use his $100 stake money and came away with $225. So he made my losses back plus kept his own stake money and made $25 on top which paid for the drinks. So all in all a thoroughly enjoyable night. We had lost track of time and realized it was now 1.30 in the morning and we had not eaten all evening so headed out of the casino to see if anywhere was still open for something to eat. No luck so we had to go to bed hungry. When we woke up we were both so ravenous that we just threw on some clothes and headed out to the nearest diner for some breakfast.

Here are some photos from this part of our trip:


Again we packed up and decided to set off on our road trip. We decide to drive to Niagara on the Lake and spend the afternoon there as it is supposed to be rather elegant and tranquil.
Besides having the reputation as one of the prettiest towns in Canada, Niagara-on-the-Lake is also one of the most fascinating historically.

The Town has retained its 19th century charm and is a wonderful place to explore with its forts, grand mansions, colourful gardens and parks, and pot-pourri of arts and crafts."
Strategically situated at the mouth of the mighty Niagara River, Niagara-on-the-Lake played a key role in much of the early government, the War of 1812, commerce, and most recently as a centre for tourism and the arts.
In fact, it is said that to understand the history of Niagara-on-the-Lake is to understand the history of early Ontario.

There were lots of lovely little, very British, shops. My favourite being the Scottish Loft where I stocked up on four cans of Diet Irn Bru and was very excited for a while. We just had a stroll around the lake and then some tea and scones in a lovely wee Irish tearoom. We found a plaque with the celtic history of the name Keating and bought it for our house. We also bought a couple of little Christmas decorations for the Christmas tree - I got a Canadian Mountie that moves its arms and legs up and down and Jarlath got Homer Simpson as santa being stuck in the chimney. It was a lovely relaxing afternoon and again lots of fresh air in the cold but sunny weather.

That evening we were originally supposed to be heading to Rochester to stay with Martin and Lisa and their kids but we got a call to say that the workmen they had in were running behind so could we arrive a day later on the Wednesday. No problem, so we took the opportunity to visit Buffalo NY for the night. We found a hotel and went out for a couple of drinks and a lovely Italian Dinner but as we were both quite tired we had a fairly early night to save our strength for thanksgiving. I wasn’t that impressed with Buffalo as it seemed rather poor and rundown but perhaps we just stayed in the wrong area and if we had a local guide we would have a different opinion of it, I certainly would not rush back for another visit though.


Wednesday morning and we drove into Rochester. As we were not expected until after 3.00p.m. we decided to drive straight the Eastman House.

George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film combines the world’s leading collections of photography and film with the stately pleasures of the landmark Colonial Revival mansion and gardens that George Eastman called home from 1905 to 1932. The Museum is a National Historic Landmark. Mr. Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, is heralded as the father of modern photography and the inventor of motion picture film.

The Eastman House, the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the world’s oldest film archives, opened to the public in 1949. World-renowned for its photograph and motion picture archives, the Museum is also a leader in film preservation and photograph conservation, educating the top archivists and conservators from around the world.

Mr. Eastman (1854–1932) built his home at 900 East Avenue between 1902 and 1905. He created a unique urban estate complete with 10.5 acres of working farm land, formal gardens, greenhouses, stables, barns, pastures, and a 35,000-square-foot, 50-room Colonial Revival mansion with a fireproof structure made of reinforced concrete.

Mr. Eastman’s house presented a classical facade of decorative craftsmanship. Beneath this exterior were such modern conveniences as an electrical generator, an internal telephone system with 21 stations, a built-in vacuum cleaning system, a central clock network, an elevator, and a great pipe organ, which made the home itself an instrument, a center of the city’s rich musical life from 1905 until Eastman’s death in 1932.

Mr. Eastman’s will bequeathed his estate to the University of Rochester for 10 years. His close friend Rush Rhees, then president of the university, resided here until 1935, succeeded by the Valentine family. Following World War II, the university transferred the estate to a board of trustees, which formed to establish a museum of photography, attracting precious artifacts from around the world to a center of study, care, and exhibition.
The George Eastman House Museum of Photography was chartered in 1947. Today the Museum’s full name is George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. The Museum’s mission from the outset was to collect, preserve, and present the history of photography and film. The Museum opened its doors to a diverse public audience in 1949, displaying its core collections in the former public rooms of Eastman’s house.

It was a quite interesting place to visit although the one display that Jarlath remember from a previous visit was no longer there. It showed Niagara Falls at their original full power before some of the water was redirected to create power and given our recent visit we both wanted to see them. It was still an interesting couple of hours.

We headed off to the house for 3.00p.m. but in true Martin fashion no-one was there so we “forced” ourselves to go to the local pub and have a beer while we waited for our friends. Martin joined us after 40 minutes and we all headed back to his house and waited for Lisa and the kids to come home. Liam, Erin and Cate are such lovely kids and after about 5 seconds of shyness they just treat us like they see us every day. Cate is just 6 months old and I grabbed her the moment they arrived and barely let her go the whole time I was there. Again it was lovely to be around the kids - it makes me realize how much I miss my nephews and nieces in the UK.

Thursday was Thanksgiving day and we were all headed out late afternoon (after a lovely trip to the lake) for dinner at Lisa’s Mom and Dad’s house (Beth and Don). A number of her family were there – her aunts Phyllis and Dar, Dar’s husband Fred and daughter Kate and Lisa’s Nana who is 92 years old but ever so fit and sprightly for her age. It was a lovely time being welcomed into the family home for my first Thanksgiving (along with baby Cate as well). It was just a full turkey dinner, lots of wine and loads of chatting. We got on really well with aunt Dar and Fred and have been invited up to their house for Christmas as they only live a few hours away in Pennsylvania. We won’t be able to make it this year but will certainly take a trip up to them at some point.

The next couple of days we just all hung out together and caught up and had a great time.
I adore Martin and Lisa and their kids and wish that we lived a lot closer so I could get to see them a lot more. I hope to go and visit myself next year to help out with the kids and to catch up.
So much love and happiness was shared over Thanksgiving and it really gave me a warm feeling to be welcomed into such a loving family. I did get a bit emotional on the Friday evening. I was sitting through in the living room on my own with Cate, trying to get her to sleep. I could hear Christmas carols coming through the speakers from the kitchen and lots of lively chatter as well. I am not really sure what I was thinking but got overwhelmed for a moment and shed a small tear but it was a happy sadness – don’t tell anyone though as I don’t want them to think I am going soft or something! I was also slightly teary when Beth and Don and the rest of the family were leaving as it just made me realize what I don’t have with not having any family around me any more.

Well another wonderful trip ended with an uneventful car journey home on the Saturday to prepare for getting back to reality on the Monday. Lots of beautiful memories and time with my husband.


Love to everyone and just spend a moment giving thanks for your friends and family. Xx

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's raining cats and dogs

Well I thought for this blog I would share with you some photos of some of my animal clients. they are all lovely and each have their own personality and mannerisms (just like humans). The job is really going well and it is doing everything I wanted it to. I am getting out walking in all weather - yes even when it is raining cats and dogs.

These photos are my regulars and I have been visiting them all for the last couple of months. I am glad they have kept me on the same area consistently as it lets me build up a friendship and trust with each of the pets and this makes my life easier as they respond more to commands after a few visits. It also helps in that I no longer need to use my GPS to get to the houses and can drive without any aid, this along with not having to read the information sheet for each visit takes about 5 minutes off the time I need each visit which adds up over the day.

My first one is Plato.

His breed is Standard poodle and he comes up to my waist.

He is completely mad and relies on his looks to get by rather than his intelligence, I guess he is the doggy equivalent of a bimbo. He is quite highly strung and loves chasing after trucks that drive by and chasing stones if you kick them on the pavement. He lives with a Jewish family of Julia and Matt with 3 year old daughter Hannah. Hannah is looked after by her Russian grandmother who I talk to every time I go into pick up Plato. she is a mine of local information and just fun to chat with.
Plato comes running as soon as he hears my key in the back door and loves to stand with his head bowed in front of me letting me pat his head and play with his floppy ears.
In these photos he is a bit shaggy as he needs to be clipped. It was so funny when he was just clipped as he looked really gaunt and like a completely different dog.

These two beauties are Tango and Romeo the cats. They are not my regulars and only get looked after when their owners - The Horwitzs - are on holiday. They remind me of Trudie, Jethro and Dexter when I visit them. They both come running when I go in the house and their favourite game is to lick your hands and arms clean with their rough little tongues. Very loving cats and always look like they could get up to a lot of mischief.

This tiny wee thing is Ellie. She is a Chihauhau/Rat terrier mix. She was an abused dog who was rescued by her owner. It is heartbreaking to think of someone mistreating her as she is such a loving little thing once she gets to know you. Because of the abuse she does not like people very much until she trusts them and it was sad at first to see her so scared of me as if I was going to hurt her. She actually bit me the first time I went in and tried to get her collar and leash on but she was just so terrified - it wasn't an aggresive thing but just self defense. Now when I go in she comes running and jumps up onto my leg and then runs to the door to get her collar and lead on.
She loves her walk as she has so much excess energy and I almost have to run to keep up with her which is so funny as she has tiny little legs. I look forward to this walk as it is usually my first of the day and it is a good fast walk for half an hour.

This funny little face is Buffy the pug. She is very loved by her owner and is left at home during the day with her own blanket on the couch and the tv left on showing all the soap operas and Project Runway on. When I go she jumps of the couch and goes and chooses a toy from her toy box to bring to me. Her favourite toy is the frog in the second photgraph, so cute.
Buffy hates the rain and when you take her outside in it she won't move and gives you a look as if to say "WTF you dragged me away from my warm couch out into this" as she has a very expressive face.
I have found myself tucking her under my arm with her wee Burberry coat on and carrying her away from the house a couple of blocks so she has to walk home when it is raining.
Did you know that pugs have very sensitive throats so you should never walk them with a collar and leash and shoudl always use a harness so that you are not tugging on their necks!

These next two ladies are Ubu and Maggie Moo. Two large black labradors. I have them for an hour most days and they are a right handful to walk together. I try and walk them together and they love being with each other but some days I have to take them out individually when I am to tired to handle them both. Maggie is fatter, older and a bit slower and is very well behaved, if a little excitable. She loves to meet new people but will sit in front of them and get patted.
Ubu on the other hand is still a puppy in labrador terms and is very strong and pulls a lot. When she spots a squirrel or another dog I have been known to almost fly off my feet if I am not ready for her drag.
They are both very loved as they belong to a couple who are having trouble with fertility. Lara is an art teacher and has been struggling with fertility issues and mental health issues and the dogs are her babies. I have met Lara a couple of times and she seems really lovely if a little sad. The karma of the house is a bit sad overall.
I certainly get a good workout when I walk these dogs as it is an hour of being dragged at quite a good speed.

This old dear is one of my favourites. She is Sheba and is a twelve year old Black Lab. She was also an abused dog who was rescued when the son was 21 years old. She walks really slowly and plods along like a big brown bear.
Her owner is unsually in when I pick her up and she is very complimentary of me and says she only keeps the company on because Sheba adores me so much.
I usually walk her mid way through my day and it a nice respite and restorative walk after my other more energetic clients.

This intelligent chap is Rufus. He is a Nova Scotia Duck Retriever. He also looks forward to his walk and has a real intelligence behind his eyes when you look directly into them. His family is lovely, Lynn and Rich and their two wee daughters Esther and Maia. He is a very loved dog and is so loving and well behaved. I got a Christmas present of a lovely hardback book full of doggy photos from him.

This puppy is Rosie. She is a yellow labrador. While she is a lovely little thing I don't enjoy walking her so much as she doesn;t really walk but just sniffs about. We don't usually cover much ground and she can be very stubborn and I spend half my time trying to drag her home.
The plus side to this dog is that she lives close to a woods. Most of my walking is on suburban streets so it is nice for once to get into some trees and off the streets. A family of deer live in the woods and we quite often come across them. Luckily Rosie is not bothered with them so we get very close to them without Rosie trying to chase them away. the worst part of this walk is that Rosie like to try and eat the deer poo, so I have to be quite vigilant when she is sniffing around so that she doesn't.

Well that's all the ones I managed to get photos off and most of my regulars anyway. I have just signed up two more houses on my normal route.
Ziggy is a mad, vegetarian, holistic dog. Not sure what that entails but she is crazy and poos a lot of sweetcorn!
Calvin and Meli and 2 sweet puppies, one black and one yellow lab. They are so young and frolic about with each other. I take them out together for now but will need to separate them when they get bigger and stronger.
Well I love my job still even when it has been mad for the last week with a lot of people being away for the holidays and having lots of extra houses and pets to visit. The other day I was walking for 6 hours in the day with different dogs. Completely knackered at times but very happy with it (and with the extra money!).
Hope you enjoy the photos and my brief descriptions of each of my clients. Take care. Xx

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fall has landed

It is beautiful here with all the leaves falling of the trees and seeing the vast array of colours. What is strange is the ever changing weather. Some days it feels like winter while other days it is 70 degrees and I am out walking with shorts and t shirts. I never know what clothes I am going to wear from one day to the next as it can change in the blink of an eye. The one good thing is that the weather forecast usually gets the prediction right for each day and then that day stays constant – unlike in Scotland where you get caught in a snow drift in the afternoon after leaving the house in a summer dress because the sun was out in the morning. The one piece of advice that has been useful is layering – I always wear several layers so that I can adjust my outfit throughout the day with the weather.

Well the dog walking is going really well and I can already see a change in my fitness and body shape from it. My metabolism has got faster again and I am constantly eating to keep my energy levels up but not putting on any weight as I am walking so much. I am also please that I am still going to my yoga and pilates class each morning and I am now really seeing the results in the change in shape of my body. Jar noticed that my butt had tightened the other day and described it as a “nice pilates bum” and that has always been my problem area.

The job has been doing everything I hoped it would as I am getting so much fresh air each day and I am out even when it is pouring down and I would otherwise not be venturing out in it. I have just taken Elaine (Dingsy) advice on buying myself a very decent pair of waterproof walking boots. I had a pair of good hiking boots but they have never been right on me and always ripped my feet to shreds so we went out over the weekend and bought a new pair which I thoroughly tested in the shop but I guess only time will tell if they work well. I certainly need them as my trainers were not waterproof and I couldn’t really do all the walking and driving in wellington boots. While I was at the sports shop getting them I also bought myself a wee cheap pedometer as I am curious to see what distance I am covering each day – no reason other than sheer curiosity. I will start using it tomorrow so will let you know.

The dogs are just so loving and are genuinely bonding with me. I have been doing the same basic route for the last 3 weeks so have the same core clients each day, with extras added on every other day. It is so lovely when the run to me and bounce around very excited. I will try and get some pictures over the next few weeks and write a blog about my clients. So many different dog types and mixes that I have never come across.

What else have we been up to?

Well we experienced out first American Halloween. They really go in for it in a big way. In the suburbs where I do my walking, every other house had Halloween decorations outside – lots of spiders webs complete with giant spiders and grave yards in gardens complete with grave stones and skeletons climbing out of the ground. Lots of pumpkin carvings as well. We decided not to bother with any pumpkins or decorations as we knew that we were going out for Halloween and would not be having any visitors or trick or treaters. On Halloween night we met up with Kim and Andrew in Georgetown for an early dinner. The restaurant was, aptly, named The Tombs and all the staff were dressed up. My favourite was the barman dressed as an Oompah Loompah. I went as Galadriel (the queen of the elves) from Lord of the rings and Jarlath went as William Wallace from Braveheart. Jars costume was outstanding and certainly got him lots of attention on the Metro as we were coming home later on – if one more person shouts Freeeeedom I would have probably screamed. After dinner we headed up to the Dupont Circle area and went into a bar called Lucky bar as it looked like fun. It certainly was fun as again everyone in the place was dressed up in some way. It was amazing to see almost everyone out that night had made an effort to dress up in some way. I got overexcited to see some of the muppets from Sesame street and almost passed out when I found a Hobbit to go with my costume. Well we ended up going in for the costume competition and Jarlath came a healthy second place to win a $50 voucher for the place. We will go back and have some dinner and drinks soon as it is a nice place. He was beaten by Oscar the Grouch which was a superb costume although it is available to buy as a completed costume on the internet whereas Jarlath’s was homemade from items we had in the house so I felt he deserved his prize just for that! Anyway it was lots of fun. Jarlath and I went to get the metro home just after midnight which was quite a surreal experience as we were surrounded by some strange people – although I am sure we looked just as strange to them. I ended up sitting beside Jesus Christ complete with Crown of thorns and had quite an interesting conversation with him on our way back to Bethesda. When we reached Bethesda we decided to drop into our local Irish pub for a last night cap. Luckily it was still open and some of our friends were still there so we had some fun for another hour before eventually giving it up for the night and getting a taxi home for 2.00a.m All in all a fun night. Here are the photos:


And here are the photos of the pumpkin patch we visited even although we didn’t buy any:


I have been quite remiss in visiting any museums or places of interest lately so decided to go into downtown DC and visit a museum. I wasn’t in the mood for anything of high intellect so we chose to visit the Crime and Punishment museum. It was quite interesting and had the usual sections of medieval torture instruments (which I love) along with more modern serial killers from America. They had a CSI crime lab which was fairly interesting and would be more so if you watched the program, I am sure. It was an interesting day out if a little overpriced – it was a privately owned museum and not part of the Smithsonian. It is also still quite exciting to just wander around down town DC as it is still new to us.

Even more photos:


We also decided to take advantage of the good weather last Sunday by going out a long walk. Vicky had given us a book called 50 hikes within 50 miles as a house warming gift and we have been trying to use it every so often. We chose a walk in Rock Creek park. This park was established in 1890 and covers 2100 acres in the heart of DC. When Sarah (Sazzymch) was passing through on her way to Texas we had tried to find the park to go a walk but only succeeded in finding a small wooded area full of garbage and condoms. Well I am not sure how we couldn’t find this park as it is so big and has lots of sports facilities, planetarium and lots of trails. Jarlath and I found a 9 mile walk in the Northern wooded area and had a lovely afternoon out as the sun was shining through the trees. We also visited the nature centre where I got to handle lots of pelts from real animals, which was a bit gross, but interesting.

Some photos:


This Sunday was another lovely day so we again decided to have a day out somewhere different so decided on driving to Annapolis to see the Naval academy and harbor. You forget how close some places actually are and realized this was only a 45 minute drive out towards Chesapeake bay area. The temperature was at 70 degrees again so the drive was lovely and when we arrived we parked up and went a walk up the main street to look at all the quaint little shops and then around the harbour. We then decided to take a 40 minute boat trip around the bay with a tour guide giving us some history on the Naval academy and local area. It didn’t really tell us very much but the boat ride was quite pleasant and for once I didn’t feel queasy or sea sick. After our boat trip we decided against the tour of the naval academy as we wouldn’t have time to do it properly so we found a lovely restaurant and sat out on the deck overlooking the harbour for some lunch. It was a nice trip out for a lovely Sunday afternoon. All a bit middle aged but I guess we are getting that way now!

Some more photos:


Well spending this week having the book group at my house and getting reading for our week long Thanksgiving trip to Toronto in Canada and Rochester, NY. So, I should have a bit more to write about for my next blog.

Hope I haven’t bored you too much and that people are actually still reading!!?

Happy Christmas and Thanksgiving planning everyone.

H Xx

Ps Hugs to Trudie (notblondereally) and a fast recovery from her post op infection and to Elaine well just because!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Quest to become a Domestic Goddess

One of the joys of not working full time is that it gives me a lot of time to enjoy all my crafts and to try a lot more home cooking and use of fresh produce. I used to always cook fresh in the UK, even when working full time but it tended to be old favourites that I would cook in bulk every month and freeze individual portions. Better than eating ready meals or junk but it just did not scratch my itch of trying lots of new recipes. Well now I have the time I have been spending a lot of time each week reading through all my recipe books - mainly Nigella Lawson - and picking out the next recipe to try. It has been so much fun with some successes and some failures but all good fun to try. Jarlath is very good to cook for as he gives good constructive criticism, I would hate it if he juat ate everything I put in front of him. Well he does eat it but will tell me honestly what he likes and dislikes about each dish and whether he would request it again.
I have also been trying to use up any produce from the garden and as most of you know I have had some lovely fruits over the summer.

Above is a jar of preserved figs from the fig tree. We ate a lot of the figs fresh but there were just so many that I didn't know what to do. Everyone here kept suggesting Fig jam but I only really like Raspberry or Strawberry jam and as I had a lot of Raspberries from the garden as well I had to think of what else to do with the figs so they didn't go to waste. I originally tried a recipe from the Nigella Lawson original book "How to be a Domestic Goddess" which was preserving the figs in a rum syrup. I did one jar load of this but it just looked too sweet and very sticky so decided not to do this for the rest of the figs. I didn't put a photo on as it looks kinda disgusting - a jar full of brown blobs!! I am sure it will taste fine and will let you know once we open them. Nigella recommends leaving them for 3 months or so before trying. So I ended up searching the internet for a preserving recipe and found the above one where you basically preserve them in sugar syrup and lemon. They look really nice and with the jars I picked up in Ikea they make really good presents as well. I gave Kim and Andrew a jar full and have two in the cupboard as well and these should be ready for eating right around Thanksgiving.

Here is a picture of a couple of the jars of Orange marmalade that I made. The oranges were shop bought as we don't have any growing in the garden. The reason I tried this marmalade is because Jarlath is very fussy about his marmalade. He only likes the Irish thick cut orange marmalade and I could only get that here in the imported section of the supermarket and I just refuse to pay $6.00 for one jar of marmalade so I thought why not try myself. I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. It could do with being slightly thicker but that happened because when I was squeezing the muslin bag, to get all the natural pectin out of the mix, it burst and I probably didn't get enough out as well as boiling it for slightly longer next time. It does taste yummy and has passed the Jarlath test as he uses it most mornings on his toast and says it tastes perfect but agrees with me on it being slightly thicker next time. This was my first ever attempt at making jam or marmalade so I was quite chuffed by it. The recipe was from Delia Smiths basic cookery book.

This raspberry jam was my second attempt at jelly making and it was so easy it was laughable. There is a large raspberry patch at the side of the house and the yield of raspberries was unbelievable. We ate loads fresh, I baked Rapsberry muffins, we even gave some away but again I had to find some other way to use them all up so I thought of jam - I just love raspberry or strawberry jam. The recipe was Hands free Rapsberry jam recipe again from Nigella Lawsons Domestic Goddess book. The smell of the jam and the fresh raspberries just make your mouth water. Again it passed the Jarlath test with flying colours and no criticism so I gave Vicky a jar as well and she loves it too. The rest of the raspberries I ended up freezing to use later (I am actually using some more today to make some more jam as we have already finished the last batch). I followed the advise from RISI of freezing each raspberry individually on trays before moving into bags and it worked so well that I can take the exact required weight out of the freezer as I need them. I also looked out a recipe today for Raspberry and Mascarpone chocolate tarts which I will try at the weekend once I have bought the right size tartlet dishes.

Ok so one of my favourite crafts is knitting. I was taught how to knit by my Mother as she has knitted my whole life. I usually only do baby clothes as I get too impatient with adult stuff as I like to see a finished product fairly quickly but as it comes into Autumn and then winter here I thought I would branch out and try some adult stuff. So what better than some fingerless mittens, hats etc to keep everyone warm when it goes to minus 21 here over December and January.
I downloaded this pattern free from the internet - don't you just love what you can get free from the internet these days. It is so simple and is my first attempt at knitting something where I have to use three knitting needles when you are doing the twist in the cable stitch. Guess what everyone is getting for Thanksgiving presents from me!!! lol. I have so far only done this orange and the beige set but I plan to knit myself a black pair as I just got a black beret.

Here are some of the baby clothes that I have made recently. We seem to be going through another spate of births with family anf friends. The pink and white bootees and mittens have been sent to Canada as one of Jarlaths cousins up there have just had a wee baby girl. We are going up there just before Thanksgiving to visit and see wee Ciara Grace.

I have also been doing some cross stitches for some of the babies. The last couple I forgot to photograph but I remembered to do the last one for Ciara in Canada. It is on a cream background and wasn't too difficult to do just time consuming but I did it over several months a wee bit at a time while doing other projects as well .

This is the final framed product. I will need to learn how to mount and frame them myself as it costs an absolute fortune to get them framed. I decided on a double mount with the black and the beige for this one because I thought the extra black brings out the eyes of the teddy. The guy in the frame shop is getting to know me now as I have had four framed now and he just leaves me to rummage through the frames and the mounts until I put together what I want, although it was him that found the right brown colour for this one.

Well that is the story of my journey towards becoming a Domestic Goddess. I still have a long way to go on this path but I am enjoying every minute of the journey. Glad I could share it with you. Xx

Monday, October 19, 2009

A walk in the park

The story of my part-time job.

I took a while to decide whether to post this on my blog page as there are certain people who have access to my blog, who would ridicule me for my decision to have the part-time job I am currently doing. Thanks to my RISI friends for not judging or ridiculing me for making this choice. Even my husband laughed when I told him what I was planning on doing to earn some extra cash and get some exercise.

In my old life I was a Finance Director of a multi million pound company and was on the Executive Board that ran the company and took all decisions on the path it was going and all decisions to do with the staff. I gave this up to move to America to build a new life with my husband and have been thoroughly enjoying it, as anyone who has been following my blog will tell you.

I have enjoyed the summer but as we come into the Fall and the winter I fancied getting myself a part time job to earn some money of my own. The remit was that it would be part time – 3 to 4 hours per day from Monday to Friday. It also had to be without any stress, something that would get me outside into the open air and not in an office.

During the winter I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is only helped by getting a lot of fresh air and as much sun exposure as possible, so this was a large factor in what job I would choose. I was determined that I would not sink into the depressive feelings of SAD and that I would continue with my healthy lifestyle even when the weather was not very supporting in that.

So the job. Now this is the part where I get nervous as everyone I have told so far has laughed out loud at me. I trust you guys not to laugh, well not in my face anyway.
My new job is looking after cats and walking dogs! I basically sub-contract myself to a company called A Walk while you are out and they assign me jobs each day to go and walk dogs, look after cats and feed other animals. It is so much fun. My clients are mainly dogs of people out working all day and I am paid to visit and play with their gorgeous dogs and take them out a walk – anything from 15 minutes to an hour. I am meeting some wonderful varieties of breeds and personalities. My favourite so far are a couple of Labradoodles called Marley and Sunny. If you have ever seen the Muppet show and seen the muppet dog on there, well that is what Marley looks like. He is a cross between a Black Labrador and a standard poodle and is just a big adorable muppet.

So, I am getting a lot of exercise and fresh air – so much that I am knackered each day – but pleasantly so. I also get paid to sit with some adorable cats and feed and pet them. I visited two, Tango and Romeo, who were adorable – they reminded me of Trudie despite them not being ginger. Romeo spent a good ten minutes cleaning my hand and lower arms on my visit and they both enjoyed being petted and brushed while I was there.
Another plus from this job is that I am travelling around Bethesda, DC and Chevy Chase areas visiting suburban streets that I would never otherwise have reason to go to. This is allowing me to look out for rental properties and areas I would like to live.

So how funny is that job! Going from the top of the ladder to way below the bottom. But you know what, I am happy and I made $280 for 15 hours work last week and $300 this week so tongue out to everyone who would laugh at me and looking forward to the extra cash and being lively and healthy throughout the fall and winter.

Thanks for listening to me. Xx

Monday, October 12, 2009

Murder in the Orient

It was Jarlaths 39th birthday on the 29th September but as he was still in Seattle that day, I had decided to arrange something to celebrate the weekend following his birthday. I had been given a Murder mystery dinner party game a couple of years ago by my sister – I think it was for a Christmas present – so I thought that would be a fun thing to do to get some friends together for his birthday. The planning started about 2 months ago when I had to decide on a guest list. You could have either 6 or 8 guests but needed a minimum of 6 to fill all the roles critical to the murder story. I started early so that people could put it in their diaries early so they would definitely be able to come as I needed a definite commitment to make the whole thing work. It was just as well I did as there were several changes to the guest list as various people couldn’t make it and I had one possible to work in – although he ended up not being able to make it.
We ended up with 6 people including ourselves to fulfil all the necessary roles.
The scenario was this:
It’s 1937 and Shanghai is one of the great international cities of the world. The rich of all nations gather here for business and pleasure, and for those who can afford it, there’s nowhere on earth more glamorous, more decadent or more insecure. The Japanese are casting acquisitive eyes at the city, society is polarized between extremes of wealth and poverty, and corruption is rife.
An ill-assorted group of people have been invited to dinner at the home of one of the leading businessmen in the city, Fu Manchuria. Unfortunately, your host won’t be attending dinner this evening. Or any other evening. He’s been murdered in his own dressing-room, tied to a chair and stabbed through the heart with a chopstick.
One of you is a murderer. Your task is to identify that person. Or, of course, to evade detection. Luckily, you have the benefit of Marlowe McClue, the celebrated private dick, to assist you in your investigations.
The suspects:
WAN TON WILLY – Andrew Yang was in this role
A local businessman, a close associate of the murdered man. Like him, you are suspected by many people of being involved in the notorious Shanghai criminal underworld.
An American Missionary, with more than a hint of aggression in your missionary zeal. You’re a passionate campaigner against organized crime.
An Indian born wife of Rev Spooner and you work with him in the Mission as a school teacher. No one would guess this from your glamorous image.
The Chinese housekeeper to the murdered man and – some people believe – you were also his mistress. You remain a mystery to everyone.
SU SUKI – Kim Yang
A Japanese actress, one of the greatest stars of the Oriental stage. You have a reputation for being a self-absorbed prima donna.
PEKING TOM – Simon Martin
An Australian adventurer with a taste for any business deal, regardless of how shady the circumstances.

The night was a combination of scripted dialogue, some talk from the cd and giving each character secrets and questions to ask each other. It was quite fun and everyone tried to get into character. Simon was hilarious with his fake Aussie accent and Jarlath kept getting the words of the script wrong and was quite fiery as the Missionary. Everyone really made the effort with their costumes as the pictures show:
It was fun but I felt there could have been more scripting and more talking from the cd. We were left on our owns to make it up quite a bit and, while none of us is shy, we were not quite sure what to do at times. Anyway we still had fun and the murderer turned out to be Rev. Al Spooner.
The menu for the night was:
Canap├ęs with Caviar and sour cream on blinis served with Belini cocktails.
Homemade sushi – I made some rolls and some Nigiri
Hot and Sour soup – I cheated on this and bought a packet mix. Served with Chinese dumplings and rice crackers.
Tempura – I got to use my fondue set for the second ever time to make this. We had prawns, jalapeno peppers and mushrooms and had great fun dipping in the tempura batter and waiting for them to cook.
Sweet Jasmine Rice – from Nigella Lawson book but hardly any got eaten as I think everyone was full up.
Cheese board – served up with some port we brought over from the UK as we had received it as a present and it was a good bottle. Shame I don’t like port as it always looks lovely with a cheese board.
Birthday cake – I ended up just buying a chocolate sponge cake as I was too busy on Friday to make my own – felt a bit of a cheat but what the hey!
I decide on this menu as it would allow me to be fully involved in the murder mystery without slaving over a hot stove on the night as I could prep it all before anyone arrived. It all went down well (apart from the sweet rice) and everyone was nicely full without feeling stuffed.

After the murderer had been announced and food was finished we were all still in a games mood so decided to play some good old fashioned charades. Vicky had never played Charades before so we had to teach her all the signals and I, sadly, knew them all after years of watching Lionel Blair and Una Stubbs (showing my age there)!! I was the only one that was acting out a movie that didn’t get it guessed. It was 500 days of summer and was given to me by Vicky to act out. My acting was, obviously, faultless so it must have been the guessers that were being numpties!
Bobby decided to join in the fun by bringing a live mouse up to us as a gift. We didn’t manage to catch it and thought it had gone down into the basement so would be able to get out from there. This was not the case as it made a reappearance at 1.30 in the morning while Simon, Jarlath and I were watching a movie. It was hilarious to watch them running around the living room trying to catch the wee mouse. I, off course, was just standing taking photos and the mouse was never caught.

All in all it was a very enjoyable night and thought I would share it with you guys. Xx

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Tale of Two weekends

A Weekend in San Francisco by Jarlath Keating

On occasion, these trips are somewhat forced upon you. In this case, I was in San Francisco for client meetings and a technical seminar from the 22nd until the 25th September and was then due in Seattle for more client visits on the 28th & 29th September. It did not make sense flying home from San Francisco just to turn around again and fly back across the country to Seattle 2 days later.

I therefore found myself getting on the Bay Area Regional Transport (BART) on Friday afternoon taking a train to the Embarcadero area of San Francisco and then a taxi to the Marriott hotel on Columbus Avenue, located just off Fisherman’s Wharf in the north of the city. I got to the hotel around 4.00 pm if I recall correctly.

As usual, the first task on arriving at a hotel is to get hooked up to the internet and work e-mail system and download all the crap from that day. After this, I spoke with Hazel to let her know I had [safely] arrived at the hotel. I then crashed out for an hour – it’s a tough life in sales!

Having got my ass out of bed around 7.30 pm and showered and clothed by 8.00 pm it was time to explore Fisherman’s Wharf. What I fancied was finding a nice, small, cozy Italian restaurant where I could have good red wine and simple food and then move on to a pub or bar that had some music and a good atmosphere. What I hadn’t figured when deciding to stay in this area of the city was that it was a mini-Blackpool. The strip was as tatty as hell, with loads of shops selling junk, tourist crap and cheap jewelry etc. I walked East down to Pier 39 which is the main restaurant area and a little more up market. However, it was really busy and I did not really want to fight my way into restaurants that no doubt had a 45 minute wait. I decided to head West instead. On my way, I stopped at the end of the pier to look over the water towards Alcatraz – my destination for tomorrow. It is a beautiful view over San Francisco bay, but more on that later. I also happened across the area where an entire herd of sea lions make their home. There were hundreds of them using floating mooring rigs as their base.

Heading West, I saw a bar called ‘Jack’s which looked suitably ‘pubbish’ to attract my attention. I went and discovered that it was an alehouse serving lots of different beers – Jackpot I thought. I ordered a beer and sat at the bar. I soon got chatting with a couple from Hackney in East London who were on their holidays. 3 beers later, I realized that I still had not eaten and that this was not a good idea. I therefore left the pub and pretty much walked into the first restaurant that did not look too crap. It was an unremarkable experience. A plate of ribs and a glass of pinot noir later I was back on the road looking for an Irish bar that was advertised on the map I had picked up at the hotel.

It is a sad fact, but a true one. If you are looking for a bit of music and a half decent atmosphere, head to the nearest Irish bar. Why the American bars can’t get this right is a mystery.

I found the bar (Tirnan’s Irish Pub) on Beach street and settled in at the bar. There was a moderate crowd and a solo musician singing a mixture of Irish and pop songs. I stayed there for about an hour and then headed back to the hotel. It was about 11.30 pm when I crashed for the night.

Waking up on Saturday morning feeling a little groggy, I was out-and-about by 10.00 am. I wanted to get to Pier 33 before 11.30 am so that I was in plenty of time to get the ferry to Alcatraz. I had booked the ticket on the previous Wednesday and was booked on the 12.00 pm boat. Before I headed out to Pier 33, I walked around the seafront. There are a number of WWII submarines & ships moored in the area as tourist attractions. I did not go onto any of them but took a few pictures. I also stopped by the sea lion colony again, as in daylight you could see better how big it was and watch the sea lions swimming.

Arriving at Pier 33 at 11.15 am, I got my ticket and grabbed a cup of tea. It was busy! All the tours had sold out, so it was a good thing I booked the ticket several days in advance. The boat ride to Alcatraz took about 15 minutes and gave a great view of the bay. You could see the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges really well. Impressive structures to say the least. Once on the island, I made my way to the pick-up point for the audio tour equipment and set off on my tour of the most secure prison in US history.

What is interesting about Alcatraz is that most people think it was just a maximum security prison for the likes of Al Capone, The Bird Man and Machine Gun Kelly. It actually started life as one of the forts defending San Francisco from the sea. It was then used in the civil war to imprison rebel sympathizers and native Indian’s who were supposedly causing trouble during the re-settlement of the tribes. That said, most tourists come to the island to see the prison and learn what it was like from the 1930’s to the 1960’s when it housed its more notorious prisoners.

The audio tour is excellent, and I highly recommend a trip to Alcatraz if you are in the San Francisco area. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like being imprisoned for one week on that island, never mind 10 or 15 years which is what most of the inmates jail time was on Alcatraz.

Returning to the main land, I decided to grab some lunch, have a nap and head downtown for the evening. I fancied North Beach or China Town but I didn’t make either. It’s funny who you bump into unexpectedly.

I went to Jack’s bar as it had an outside area and it was a really nice day. I had just sat down (I had not even ordered a beer), when a familiar face was walking towards me. Marie Piazza is a colleague of mine at BioReliance. She lives near Seattle and has been on maternity leave for the last 3 months. Her husband, daughter and 2 friends from Edinburgh were also in San Francisco for the weekend, and coincidence would have it that they were in the same bar. The afternoon therefore took on a slightly different tack and I stayed chatting, drinking and eating for a couple of hours. However, I was not going to be denied my nap, so I headed back to the hotel after saying my goodbyes to Marie et al.
Waking up around 7.30 pm, I turned myself around and made the decision to stay in the local area. I could not be arsed with getting a taxi downtown and trying to find somewhere to spend the evening. So, I walked to a couple of bars and had a couple of pre-dinner drinks and then found an Italian restaurant that was not as tacky as the others. I had a nice meal and a glass of good Pinot Noir and lingered far longer than usual when dining alone. A nice experience. I then headed back to the Irish bar I had been in the previous night (sad I know), and listened to the live music. I rolled out at about 12.30 pm, headed back to the hotel and crashed.

What to do on a Sunday morning in San Francisco when you are mildly hung-over, need to eat, pack, get to the airport and fly to Seattle? I decided to walk.

West of Fisherman’s Wharf there is a number of famous districts that hug the waterfront, namely Fort Mason, the Marina and the area around the Golden gate bridge. I decided to walk from the hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge, a round trip of approximately 7.0 miles. It was a beautiful day, with the temperature in the high 70’s. There is no doubt about it, the Golden Gate Bridge is an impressive structure spanning 2 miles connecting San Francisco to Marin County. It dominates your view as you walk West along the seafront and even after an hours walking seems no closer that when you started.

I passed through Fort Mason – now a cultural centre with shops, galleries and restaurants (it was once a depot for shipment of supplies during WWII), the Marina, where there are a shit-loads of boats, big and small bobbing about and lastly along Golden Gate Promenade that was very busy with joggers, cyclists and people out walking. The beach that runs along the promenade was surprisingly busy, with a few brave souls in the water. I say brave, because the bay water is generally cold and cleanliness is a question as well!

I got to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1.5 hours and was conscious that I needed to start the return journey almost immediately if I was to get my taxi to the airport in time. I grabbed a load of pictures, a cup of tea and a brownie (energy for the walk back!), and started off. The walk back was quicker as I took a more direct route rather than the meandering route I had took on the way out. I was back on the Wharf by 2.00 pm and took the opportunity to look at a couple of the old ships on the harbor, one of which was built in Glasgow. The name escapes me right now.

My weekend in San Francisco was rapidly drawing to a close. I was due on the 4.00 pm flight to Seattle where I would spend the next 3 days working.

In hind sight (and I can only say this after my trip to Seattle), I should have spent the weekend exploring Seattle as I had never been there before and the bits that I glimpsed of it during my 3 days there were beautiful. However, San Francisco is definitely a place to visit should you get the chance. The challenge lies in mixing business with pleasure and the ability to ‘turn off’ from one day to another. Solo sightseeing tours are also a challenge because whilst you have the advantage of doing what you want, the camaraderie of being with others is lost. Lastly, there is no way of getting around the fact that drinking on your own in a bar is lonely, even with a talkative barman and live music!!

I will no doubt be back in San Francisco in the near future, and I will make an effort to see other parts of the city. Hiring a car is probably a good idea as this would open up far more opportunities in what is a large city.

For now, it’s hasta la vista to San Francisco!

Here is the link to see the photos of my trip:


My Weekend at home by Hazel Keating

Well this is the first weekend that Jarlath and I have spent apart. Is it wrong of me to be looking forward to it??!! Of course I spent the weekend pining away in bed for him so nothing to write – only joking.
Saturday was the National Book Festival in Washington DC. It was held in The Mall in front of the Smithsonian buildings. It is run by The Library of Congress and is an annual event. The first ever one was held in 2001 just two weeks before 9/11 happened.
They had several large tents set up with various themes: Fiction & Fantasy, Teens & Children, Children activity, Poetry & Prose, Mysteries & Thriller, History & Biographies and smaller tents for the book signings. There was a large list of authors that were given talks in each tent and each talk lasted between 30 and 40 minutes. The authors were then scheduled for book signings at the book signing tents. I have never really been in getting autographs from people and the queues at the book signings made my mind up even more not to bother.
I met Vicky at the metro station in Bethesda to ride downtown as we knew parking would be horrendous in Washington. We meet early at 10.00a.m. as the first author I wanted to see was on at 11.00a.m. We made it in good time to have a short walk round and go to the Fiction and Fantasy tent.
My first author (and the one I desperately wanted to see) was Jodi Picoult (pronounce Peecoe by her which settled a mind debate I have always had). She came across as a thoroughly real and lovely person and just seemed to be full of fun and the joys of the world. It was interesting to hear how much research she puts into each book and never just sits down a writes a story without at least 18 months of detailed research. I think you can tell this when you read her books as the technical and legal sides of them are always very detailed and realistic. She discussed various items but mainly her latest book – Handle with Care – and she told us about the real families she met during her research that went through the same issues as the book. It was interesting to her of real people having to sue their OB-GYN just so they could give their child a decent life. As she said, very topical in todays climate of major Healthcare reforms in America.
She then went on to mention the book she is in the middle of researching to write next year. No detail apart from that it will be about embryonic research and gay rights. Very intriguing!
At the end of the talk they allowed questions from the audience. The best question was what she thought about the movie version of “My sisters Keeper” and whether she agreed with the change in the ending. Well her answer clearly said that there was a bigger story there. She said “that she had been blatantly lied to her face on several occasions” and that “changing the ending was the worst mistake they (the film producers) had made’. She said this in such a vitriolic way that I would have loved to hear the full story. So hopefully that answers the question of all the RISI people about whether she knew about the change in ending.
We then saw Jeanette Walls. She wrote The Glass Castle which is her memoirs of her life being brought up in poverty in America where her parents end up being homeless on the streets of Manhattan. I read this about a year or so ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, despite not really liking misery memoirs. She is currently writing her next book which is about the life of her Grandmother. Most of the questions were, obviously, her mother’s mental health and her siblings. Her mother is now living with her on her horse ranch in Virginia and is still somewhat different in her spirit. Many questions were about the mental health of her mother but Jeanette refused to really speculate on that and just described her as loopy but a free spirit. Now if you have read her book you will know that this must take a lot of forgiveness for her to welcome her mother back into her life. If you have not read The Glass Castle, I would recommend it.
Next we saw an author called Julia (pronounced Hoolia) Alvarez. She is originally from the Dominican Republic and moved to America in the fifties when there was a political meltdown in the DR. Her most famous novel is How the Garcia Sisters lost their accent, which is basically about herself and her sisters and their move to America. Bizarrely this book has been banned from several schools in America because it supposedly contains a paedophile scene – this is just a flasher showing his willy to a young girl – not quite enough to be banned in my opinion. It was Vicky that chose this author as she has read a couple of her books. I had never heard of her but will be putting the Garcia sisters book on my Bookmooch wishlist and giving it a try.
Next came John Irving – A prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider house rules, The World according to Garp etc etc. He seemed very shy and his talk was presented as an interview by someone else rather than him just talking. He is 67 years of age but would pass for in his forties. He had his first child when he was in college and still has one child living at home now. He was very interesting – he starts every book by writing the last sentence in the book first and working back from there. He said this was not something he had ever planned but just always seemed to happen that way. He could see what he was trying to achieve so then went about achieving it. Even more interesting was that he does not use laptops or word processers ever. He hand writes the first several drafts of all his books before then typing them up himself on an old-fashioned type writer. Now can you imagine writing A Prayer for Owen Meany out in Long hand even when copying it, never mind actually writing it from scratch!!? This practice of long hand has caused him to have mild arthritis in his fingers. He was also a very good wrestler in his day and still coaches kids at wrestling now. He didn’t take any questions from the audience. He came across as an eccentric genius during his interview.
The last author we stayed for was Nicholas sparks. I have only read The Notebook (and watched the movie) but have another of his on my shelves and always planned on reading a couple more of his. His style is not my favourite but are quite simple, effective reads. He came across as a bit arrogant or as I put it “up his own arse”. He writes a book a year and seems to write on demand without any research (his own words). His latest book (the name escapes me) which he just finished in July was actually written on demand for the Disney Corporation. He had an idea last year which he discussed with the Disney Corporation and they bought it to use as a vehicle for the second movie of Miley Cyrus (after The Hannah Montana movie). He was then asked to actually write the screen play before the book so they could shoot the movie in line with Miley’s schedule. He then went on to actually write the book. Now, I don’t know about you but this just seems wrong to me! I prefer to think of my authors as writing from the heart and being inspired by something in life, so when a book is written as a movie vehicle for someone like Miley Cyrus I think it is just wrong, wrong, wrong! Anyway he lives in North Carolina and has 5 children, 3 boys and then 2 girl twins.
It is quite telling that all the authors I chose to see were in the Fiction tent (although why Jeanette Walls was under fiction I will never work out). This is my favourite genre for books so it is not entirely surprising to me.

After the book festival Vicky and I got the subway home to Bethesda and then had some dinner and a couple of beers before each heading home to our separate houses. It was raining toady and quite cold which is a real change in the weather from the summer weather I have been experiencing since I got here, so it was a bit of a shock for me and I was chilled to the bone. I got into my pyjamas and furry slippers as soon as I got home to try and get the chill out of my bones. I then made the mistake of choosing a horror movie to watch – at night when I am on my own in the house!! Well after the movie I went to bed to read my book and was convinced that someone was creeping up the stairs of the house. I then crept out of bed to see what was going on to realize that it was actually the sound of that rain on the roof of the bathroom – that will teach me for watching a horror movie.

Sunday morning I had a lovely lie in and woke myself up by reading my book in bed for ages (I am missing Jarlath honest!). I then decided I should try the homemade Raspberry jam that I made this week with the raspberries from the garden. I went and got a couple of fresh croissants from the baker across the road. OMG the jam was the most delicious jam I have ever tasted. I don’t want to sound big headed but it was so tasty and fresh but I supposed it should be as the raspberries were fresh from the garden.
I was still sitting in my jammies when I got a text from Vicky to meet her at the metro station at 1.00p.m. to head across the city to go to the Latino Festival.
It was a celebration of Latino culture with contributions from a variety of Latino countries. I guess the nearest UK equivalent would be something like The Notting Hill Carnival. We met up with Vicky’s friend Sarah and made it by 2.00 p.m. in time for the parade of countries. It was very interesting to see the parade with all the different music and all the colourful costumes. It was very hot and some of the costumes looked really warm and the people very sweaty in them but everyone was having a good time. The dancers were all very lively and subject to contrary opinion it was the Peruvian woman and not the Brazil that were the best looking. I was also surprised at how many people there were from Bolivia there. Not sure why really but it is not a country that I really thought had lots of people living elsewhere in the world and there was at least five separate groups in the parade from Bolivia alone.
We then just wandered about the festival between the various dance stages. It was quite a bizarre experience as nobody was talking English and all the signs were in Spanish as well. I felt quite isolated as I seemed to be the only person that couldn’t understand a word of what was being said and couldn’t join in the jokes made by the bands. I discussed this with Vicky and Sarah and said that this must be how immigrants feel like when they move to a country with a language they can’t speak. It was amazing how isolated you can feel in such a short time and on a fun day out.
After the festival we walked a mile down the road to an area called Adams Morgan. Adams Morgan is a culturally diverse
neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C., centered at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road. Adams Morgan is considered the center of Washington's hispanic immigrant community, and is a major night life area with many bars and restaurants, particularly along 18th Street (the primary commercial district) and Columbia Avenue. Much of the neighborhood is composed of 19th- and early 20th-century row houses and apartment buildings. Along with its adjacent sister communities to the north and east, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan long has been a gateway community for immigrants. Since the 1960s, the predominant international presence in both communities has been Latino, with the majority of immigrants coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries. Since the early 1970s, like other areas of the nation, Adams Morgan had seen a growing influx of immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, as well. Gentrification and the resulting high cost of housing, however, have displaced many immigrants and long-time African American residents, particularly those with young children, as well as many small businesses, but the community still retains a degree of diversity, most evident in its array of international shops and restaurants. In the five-square-block area where most of the commercial establishments are located, one can choose from a variety of ethnic cuisines, among them Spanish, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Mexican, Italian, Dutch, Vietnamese, Ghanaian, Cajun, Brazilian, Palestinian, Peruvian, Indian, Israeli, Thai, Lebanese, Eritrean, and Chinese.
Adams Morgan also has become a thriving spot for night life, with a number of bars and clubs featuring live music. Over 90 establishments possess liquor licenses, putting it on level with other popular nightlife areas like
Georgetown and Dupont Circle. Local stores along the 18th Street corridor were rapidly replaced with late-night establishments, leading to a moratorium on new liquor licenses by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board in 2000 after successful lobbying by resident groups. The moratorium was renewed in 2004, but eased to allow new restaurant licenses.
Despite the exodus of many immigrant, as well as African-American residents from Adams Morgan caused by high housing costs, a nexus of long-time institutions, many established specifically to meet the needs of Latinos and other non English-speaking residents, continues to serve as magnets for immigrants and their families. Adams Morgan is home to Mary's Center, a clinic focusing on healthcare delivery to Spanish-speaking patients, and the Latino Economic Development Corporation, as well as numerous businesses and churches that employ and cater to immigrants. Adjacent Mt. Pleasant also hosts a number of commercial enterprises, social service agencies and other institutions that help to anchor local immigrants to the area.
Another barometer of the enduring pull of Adams Morgan for immigrants is the linguistic and cultural diversity of its public schools. Many of the families served live beyond the boundaries established for routine student enrollment; however, Adams, Reed, and H.D. Cooke elementary schools all have international populations, with children from well over 30 nations in attendance. Latino and African-American children comprise the majority of students in the public schools, and virtually all are children of color.
It is a very interesting area and one I have been meaning to visit on a night out for a while. It made me realize just how much of Washington I have still got to visit, despite making my best efforts over the summer to get out and about and see all I could, I have barely touched the surface of this city.
Well that is the end of my weekend and it has been fun on my own. It shows me that I have made friends and a life in this country of my own that allows me to enjoy myself even when Jarlath is on the other side of the country.
No photos from me as Jarlath had the camera and I have not fixed my other one yet.
Be well everyone. Xx