First Times


While I was home over Christmas, I had my yearly facial with the awesome esthetician I’ve been seeing since I was 15  (15, and then in the throes of dermatological unpleasantness).  She is the mistress of the art of extraction, and my first visit to her was as much a cultural touchstone of my entry into modern womanhood as my first trip to the gynecologist.  Though no less painful than my first pap, at least the esthetician rubbed my face and shoulders down with essential oils, and I had glowy skin a week later, once the zits she coaxed to the surface and the redness had subsided.  The gyno just poked me with a metal spatula and gave me the pill… which made me break out.  (Sudden stroke of brilliant idiocy – spas that also offer pap smears!  I am trademarking that business idea right now.  Whole Women’s Health & Beauty sees you inside and out!).

Sadly, after treating my skin for almost 15 years and my own mother’s for 30, our esthetician was hanging up her tweezers, imported creams, and bug zapper to retire.  This would be the last proper facial I will have in a while, as I’ve yet to find anyone half as good.

Lying back in the chair, listening to Enya, snuggled in my quilt, wholly safe in the hands of a professional, I was sad, and wanted to mark the occasion somehow.  What about… a lip wax?  I’d been annoyed at the downy hairs on my upper lip for some time.  Terri is the only person I would let wax and pluck my eyebrows, given her skill, and the only person I trusted to tell me if an upper-lip wax would be a terrible mistake, or a bold move forwards. (more…)

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My lips, this cricket

This is a post designed exactly so that people can weigh in on the most exotic foodstuff they’ve consumed.  It’s going to fall heavily on the side of carnivores, for which I apologize in advance, but if you have tasted fresh rowan from the Himalayas, by all means, speak up.

I’ve dined twice at this restaurant in London, Archipelago, which specializes in exotic cuisine.  The first time I went, I was too embarrassed to take photographs of our meal, because this is desperately uncool.  The second time I had no such compunction and snapped away, as I was truly regretful I had not documented the first time I ate crickets.

While by no means cheap, it is reasonably priced for the quality and rarity on offer, and a great place to bring out-of-towners looking for a bit of a treat.  My first visit, I had the ostrich starter (ostrich is always amazing – thready and flavorful) and the zebra steak.  (more…)

Many moons ago, I was forcibly uprooted from the co-ed, hippie, Montessori learning enclave of my early childhood and enrolled by my parents in Catholic all-girls’ school.  Whereas once I had daily worn teal-and-black animal-print high tops and tee-shirts celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was suddenly thrust into a world of uniform plaid jumpers, saddle-shoes, and dour-faced nuns.

Orderly rows of assigned desks replaced the colorful carpets on which I was accustomed to lounging.  I was no longer permitted to while away the hours in the library, obsessively consuming comics and books on the Salem witch trials, or scribbling in my journal.  Instead, study time was strictly scheduled and misbehavior was publicly punished.  I was forced to take math beyond pushing a desultory bead around an abacus.

Math, in fact, was the fundamental cause of this disorienting change of course, as recent testing demonstrated that my nine-year-old self possessed the vocabulary of the average college student (thanks to my insatiable appetite for reading) and the math skills of your average three-year-old sorting out Cheerios at the breakfast table.  It seems my parents found this troubling, and despite the fact that I could adeptly weave hammocks from plastic six-pack rings and was extremely disturbed by the Gulf War, some basic educational tenets were lacking in my development.

This alleged inability (or total unwillingness) to learn math was also what prompted my mother to chauffeur me, whining, to Kumon twice a week, while my dad suffered my crying fits over everything from fractions to basic Algebra.  If you are wondering if the extra-curricular Kumon teaching methods are effective, I can only say that my math skills sped from 0 to 60 and the school was later that same year forced to furnish me with a sixth-grade math book – this for the girl who, months prior, had barely mastered basic addition.  In my experience, Kumon is the steroids of arithmetic, and for your math-averse child, akin to a prolonged, pinpointed torture session.  Obviously, I plan to subject my own children to it in the future, when they’ve been very bad.    (more…)

A few months ago, I was scared out of my wits when a heavy hand thudded on the door of my apartment.  I live in an apartment block with four top-to-bottom flats, accessible only via a secured entrance from the street, so my first thought was that it was a neighbor coming to complain about something, or possibly my landlord conducting a random spot-check.  Either way, it is an unusual enough occurrence (actually, no one had ever knocked on my door before – we are not casual, drinks-party neighbors, but the type who actively avoid each other in the stairwell) that my heart immediately started jackhammering in my chest.  The second rapid-fire thought, naturally, was that it was someone announcing their intention to rob and kill me.

My third thought would probably have been of the gas meter man, had it not been 8:00 at night and a gruff, muffled voice then announced, “Police.”

I can’t think of a single good reason that police would be calling at your home.  They don’t send police to tell you you’ve won the lottery.  They don’t sell cookies.  They’re only there to question you, arrest you, or give you bad news.

Or, someone pretending to be police is there to rob and kill you, possibly after they robbed and killed whatever idiot neighbor buzzed them into the building.  In any case, one opens the door with great reluctance, sometimes hiding a kitchen knife behind one’s back.  This is embarrassing when they are, in fact, real police, and one makes them hold their badges to the peephole and stand five feet back on the landing before one will crack the door two inches to eyeball them, sweaty fingers clutching the most lethal-looking implement from the butcher’s block. (more…)

A week ago I had an appointment with the British Home Office in Croydon to upgrade my immigration status from a sponsored Work Permit to Tier 1 Visa as a Highly-Skilled Worker, for which I am newly qualified.  My reasons for this are two-fold:  for one, I am job-hunting, and this grants me the ability to work for any employer in any industry within the UK, rather than relying on new sponsorship within my current profession; secondly, although I still have over two years remaining on my Work Permit, I thought it best to get in there fast to take advantage of the recently relaxed requirements for Tier 1 qualification before the new Tory coalition government clamps down on immigration policy.  It means that I can continue to live and work in the UK without dependence on a company or a partner, which is a pretty sweet deal, even if it does cost £1095 for the privilege.

Like anyone would, I jumped at the opportunity to combine my passion for navigating bureaucratic red tape with the thrilling roller-coaster ride that is the uncertainty of employment and immigration status.  It’s like visiting the DMV, but with your livelihood on the line!  Already a “highly-strung” personage, I’ve found the experience to be nerve-wracking, especially on top of the dozen job interviews I’ve had over the last couple of months.  I feel like I’ve been living in an uneasy state of limbo and have been hopeful that at least settling this aspect of my existence here in London would bring some clarity.

Alas, it was not to be.  Here’s what’s happened so far. (more…)

I take great pleasure in helping out people looking for directions or guidance, in so far as I am able.  Here in London, exasperated tourists will approach me with varying  degrees of English competency on the regular, looking for assistance in locating their destination; I am always delighted to point them in the right direction, when I can, drawing maps on a notepad or even walking them partway if I have nowhere important to be.  Even though this is not my home country, this is just good hospitality, and I like to do my best to send folk on their way with a positive impression, just as I rely on fellow Londoners to help me out when I’m in an unfamiliar part of town.  I am a big believer in asking for, and offering, directions.

So this is, as I said, just good hospitality, and ultimately good karma.  It’s not a big city, but it is a busy and twisting one, and we all need a little help from time to time.  I was recently thinking, however, about the people I call Travel Angels.  These are the people you meet in the course of your journey who go far out of their way to assist you, and leave you with a warm feeling in the pit of your belly, the people who replenish your basic faith in humanity, however grand or small the gesture.  These gestures are always poignant, but especially so in a foreign setting when you are wary of your vulnerability.

This is more than essential kindness, and more than giving directions.  These acts require the Angel to take time away from themselves to see you safely to your destination, or extend their welcome to the point of invitation into their own lives.  It’s the person who sees you on your own in an unfamiliar place and invites you to a Lebanese family supper, or offers to drive you 30 miles out of their way (both experiences from my own life).  With that thought, I wanted to detail four instances of Travel Angels and invite you to share your own.

(more…)

The Body Fortress Goliath to my standard hotsauce David.

Well, it’s finally happened.  My skinny, indie-band-guitarist-looking boyfriend has brought home a vitamin bottle full of powdered protein bigger than my head and announced his intention to Buff Up.  It’s been a while coming.  His best friend is a highlighted gym bunny, two of their good mates are professional football players with tree-trunk thighs, and another is elite Special Forces with a chest like the side of a barn and the alleged ability to maim with his big toe – not that any of this affects their collective smoking and drinking regime.  The rest of their boy gang are regular blokes with varying degrees of fitness, and Boyfriend has coasted comfortably as the Good-Looking and Sensitive One for years.  He’s got strong legs and more than held his own in the weekly five-a-side, but lost his niche a bit when he left everyone behind and relocated to London to move in with me.

I knew it would all change when we started partnering in hand-to-hand combat class and he discovered I could punch harder than him, as well as tote him across a gym in a fireman’s carry.  Actually, no, he likes these things about me, and since we found out I’m three pounds heavier, he will jokingly accuse me of throwing my weight around whenever I’m being bitchy.  Oh, the fun we have!  It just proves I could save him in a war zone or an emergency.  If I felt like it. (more…)

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