Introducing Flat Stanley

Katie, my niece who lives in Texas, wrote me a lovely letter asking me to help her with her school project.

“Our class has finished reading the book Flat Stanley. It is about a little boy who becomes flat in the middle of the night when his bulletin board falls on him. While he is flat, he has many adventures.
Our class is working on our own Flat Stanley project. I am sending Stanley to you to go on a new adventure. If you don’t mind, would you please write down any adventures that Stanley has with you while visiting”.

Unfortunately, Stanley arrived too late to go to London with me. So, for a while I was at a loss with what adventures, if any, I could take him on. For a whole week, Stanley lay on our coffee table folded up in Katie’s letter. Feeling terribly guilty that I hadn’t done anything with him, I stuffed him in my purse last weekend before heading out to meet a friend at Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville, PA.

The plan was to hang out with her and knit while her husband performed in the free chamber music series. However, before her husband took the stage with the rest of the quintet, a local Pottstown High School student played several traditional Scottish instruments. He started with my favorite: the Scottish Highland pipes (bagpipes).

Halfway through the young man’s performance, it occurred to me that this would be a great ‘adventure’ for Stanley.

Later in the week, when Dan and I headed to center city Philadelphia to catch an opera, Stanley went with us.

Mike, one of our friends who went to London with us, plays the bassoon. Through him, we often learn of the latest operas, ballets and other performances in the Philadelphia region. While in London, he told us of the latest opera he would be performing in, L’Enfant. It is an opera about a little boy who is very naughty, refusing to do his homework and frequently destroying the items in his house. When his mother leaves one day, the furniture, books and wildlife take their revenge on him. It sounded like such a fun and interesting concept for an opera that we were excited to see it.

L’Enfant was performed by the Opera Company of Philadelphia inside of the Academy.

On Saturday, we also took Stanley with us to see the St. Pius High School drama club perform the Into the Woods musical. They were great! Dan and I really enjoyed the entire production. We were actually quite impressed by some of the young singers/actors. Unfortunately, the pictures didn’t come out because it was too dark.

Can you think of any other adventures I can take Flat Stanley on before I have to send him back next week?

London, the Long Version

Winners from my 2nd Blogversary:

Loren
Katia

Thanks to everyone who left a comment! You make blogging fun.

 

 

Upon my return from London, I didn’t care about the fabulous time we had on vacation. I was just so happy to be back home, to see Jake, to sleep in my own bed and to cook in my own kitchen. Now that a week has passed, I can look back on our time in London with fond memories.
So, for those of you who asked (nay, insisted) on hearing all the details from our trip, here you go.

(List of people who traveled with us:
4 of our friends flew out with us: Vaishali or V, our godson Finn, Arecia, and Mike.
Dan’s father and his girlfriend Donna Jo flew in from TN.
Dan’s sister Michelle also joined us. It should be noted that this trip was her idea – ever are we grateful.

Further details: Mike and Arecia stayed with us (Dan and I) in the rented flat.)

We arrived in London at 9:30 pm on April 1st. We breezed through customs, especially after we announced that we were here to drink their good beer. Our taxi driver was waiting for us outside baggage claim to escort us to our rented flat. On the drive there, we were desperately looking for something – anything – that looked “English”. The houses looked similar to the row homes in Philadelphia. The trees, gas stations and shores also looked just like the ones we had back home. Then, we spotted the Fuller’s brewery. Arecia and I broke out in applause. Dan proclaimed, “You can celebrate now. We are officially in London”!
Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the flat. It was lovely, spacious and conveniently located. It had 2 floors, a huge kitchen, an electric kettle (I ordered one for myself as soon as we got back home),

2 bedrooms – each with its own bathroom, a spa-sized tub in the bathroom off our bedroom and a cute patio. It was in the kitchen that we learned a new word; a hob is a range.

We got a slow start on our 1st full day in London. I woke up hungry and went to ravage the pantry. I try to be resourceful, but I couldn’t think of a single thing that I could make with just honey, marmite and sea salt. Instead, I sent Dan out in search of bread. Thankfully, he had spotted our local convenience store the night before.
Once everybody was bathed, dressed and fed, we headed to Covent Garden neighborhood in search of the Tea House and pubs. We traveled almost everywhere via the Tube, London’s subway system. Fulham Broadway was the stop closest to our flat.

While Mike and I perused the Tea House, Dan and Arecia enjoyed a beer at the Bunker Bier Hall. The Tea House was filled with exactly what I hoped for: a wide selection of loose tea. Most teas had samples stored in clear glass jars that could be opened and sniffed. Both Mike and I left 2 new teas in hand. I chose White Monkey and a Yogi spice blend.
Philly pride note: Philly has a tea shop with a much broader selection of teas and with better service than London’s Tea House. If you are in the area, stop by Premium Steap at 111 S 18th St.
Mike and I rejoined the rest of the group which now included Michelle. The group decided to move onto another pub, the Cove, for cask beer (real ale) and pasties. I opted to head back to the flat for a siesta (nap). It was a luxury that I tried to indulge in most days.
Feeling well rested, but once again hungry, I went in search of a bakery. Can I tell you how difficult it was to find a bakery in London? I found lots of delis just in our walk around town, but no bakeries. I had assumed that I would stumble across several selling scones. No such luck. The local grocery store didn’t even sell cream. I think I’m still in shock over that finding. I was so certain that scones and London went together like peanut butter and jelly. Once I abandoned the “stumbling across a bakery on my walk through town” plan, things started looking up. In a Coventry Garden guidebook, I found all of 1 bakery listed. Still dreaming of scones, I sallied forth to Paul’s Bakery.

They had a beautiful selection of cream and fruit pies, cream cheese pies, breaks and much more. I bought 8 pie slices and a loaf of bread for the rest of the week’s breakfasts. They were delicious, but you’ll notice the lack of scones in my description. They didn’t have any.
Happy with my purchases anyway and a wee bit proud for locating the bakery on my own, I met up with Dan and the group. They had found Dan’s father and Donna Jo and were off in search of yet more pubs. On the way, they told me about the Cove and the wide assortment of pasties available to eat. Unfortunately, it was about this time that I learned something awful about myself. Apparently if I don’t eat for a few hours, I lose patience with people and start to curse. Michelle was so kind to me. She stopped everything and helped me find a snack at a nearby convenient store.
Renewed with energy, I rejoined the search for dinner We finally settled on Belgo Centraal. Rick Steves had featured it in his London episode and for good reason. Belgo serves a good selection of Belgium beers and traditional Belgium fare, such as mussels.
Philly pride note: Monk’s Cafe’s selection of beer is hard to surpass even in London.
We learned a new phrase at Belgo Centraal: “take away”. Rather than asking for “a box” to put the leftover food in, which is what we do at home, you should ask for take away when in London. It keeps them from apologizing and saying that the best they can do is wrap it in foil; would you mind?

Friday, April 3rd we visited the Borough Market and Vinopolis. While I went in search of scones at the Market, Dan tried a Devil in Horseback, prunes wrapped in bacon. Dan gave the thumbs up on the Devil in Horseback, a great combination of sweet and salty. I didn’t have as much success; not 1 scone did I find. I was beginning to think that all of London had abandoned the whole scone-eating tradition. Maybe everybody was on a diet. Maybe there was a conspiracy against me. It was Michelle who shined a light at the one flaw in my search. All the time I had been searching for triangular scones, since that is the way they are shaped in Philly shops. In London, scones are round. Still, even armed with this new knowledge, I only found 1 scone in the entire market out of several bread shops. I didn’t buy it; it didn’t meet my grandiose plans. I wanted to buy an assortment of scones: plain, blueberry, orange, cranberry, oh my. So while Dan, Mike and Arecia perused the selection of beers in Utobeer,

Michelle and I visited the cheese shop. One of the clerks recommended his favorite goat cheese, a 3-week-old goat cheese from a local farm. It was so creamy and delicious that I bought a chunk to take back to the flat. Loaded down with our purchases, we all headed to Vinopolis.
Vinopolis is a wine museum that is short on museum artifacts and long on wine tasting. After walking through the mini-museum, you listen to a short lecture on how to enjoy wine thoroughly via sight, smell and taste. Then, it’s time for the wine tasting. Several tables are lined up in 2 adjoining rooms displaying rows of wine bottles, each with a detailed description.

I made the following observation: Wine is nice, but port is delicious. Specifically, I fell in love with a port called the Duke of Cumberland.
Philly bash: Nowhere in all of PA can I find the Duke of Cumberland. The state-run wine and liquor stores don’t carry it.

Saturday, April 4th started with a fry at the Slug on Fulham Street, nearby where we were staying. Beer was included with the cost of the fry which is a lovely tradition, don’t you think? We ate it while watching a rugby match and wondering what the heck the rules of the game were. While Michelle hooked up with Dad and Donna Jo for a boat tour, Dan, Mike, Arecia and I attended a football (soccer) game.

QPR vs. Crystal Palace.
The game ended in goose eggs: 0-0. Despite the no score, it was exciting to watch. The teams seemed evenly matched and several attempts on the goals were made. We supported the home team, QPR, but I secretly wished we had sat with the visiting team. Crystal Palace had the best fans! They cheered, shouted and sang the whole game while the QPR fans only mustered two cheers.
The day ended with a dinner out at Rasa with Michelle and her group of friends from Wharton.

Sunday, April 5th started at the Fox and Anchor pub for Dan and I. We were quickly joined by Michelle. The three of us sat, talked, ate appetizers and tasted our way through all of their cask ales. When Michelle left to catch her plane back home, I joined her on the walk to the Tube. Two stops away from “home”, I realized that I didn’t have a set of the keys to get into the flat. Dan had our set. I called; he apologized and we agreed on a meeting spot. The error led to a wonderful discovery: our neighborhood pub, The Pelican. While I waited for Dan, I drank a Fuller’s London Pride on cask, knit the BSJ and chatted with the friendly bartenders, the friendliest bartenders we would meet in our travels.

Dinner was taken at The White Horse, a pub a few blocks away from our flat. Mike and Arecia joined us in short order and told us of their walk along the Thames earlier that day.

On Monday, April 6th, we were reunited with Vaishali and Finn, who had been in Paris. They met Dan, Mike and I at the Tower of London. This was a lot of fun to tour!

I was excited to see the Koh-i-Noor because of a story I had heard years earlier. Come to find out the story isn’t true, but it was beautiful all the same. It was the story of a young Indian prince who gifted the diamond to Queen Victoria. Later, when he was older and wiser, he visited the queen and requested for the diamond. Nervously, the diamond was handed to the prince. He turned to face Queen Victoria and stated, “Now that I know what the Koh-i-Noor is worth, I bequeath it to you out of gratitude”. Like I said, it’s not true. The real story can be read on the link above.

After touring the Crown Jewels, we took lunch in the form of a cream tea at the outdoor cafe within the Tower grounds. Finally, I had found my scones and clotted cream! I should have taken pictures, but I was too busy stuffing my face. Oh, they were so good.
Poor Finn had a minor meltdown on our way to tour King Henry VIII’s collection of armor, but he recovered quite quickly and was a joy the rest of the trip. As a reward for his fine behavior, Finn got to pick out a toy at one of the shops. Finn chose a collapsible lance, after being told the sword wouldn’t fit into the suitcase. I opted for a bar of plain (what we would call dark) chocolate as well as gifts for my nieces. The ladies (and Finn) went home for a siesta before the evening’s supper. The evening meal was taken at The Pelican.

Tuesday, April 7th required an early start. Everybody met up at Waterloo station to take a train up to Windsor town to see the Queen.

The best part about the Windsor castle wasn’t the castle itself, but the chapel that was attached to it.

St. George’s chapel held the burials of King Henry VIII and Queen Mum among others. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the interior. It’s a pity because there is no way I could describe the marble tombs or the intricately carved wood paneling, seats and balconies. It was a marvel to see.
For lunch, we headed over to the Carpenters’ Arms for cask ales and meat pies. V, who almost never drinks beer, fell in love with the cask ale. Even Dan’s father was converted. Arecia, on the other hand, never found one she liked. The rest of us needed no convincing. I had made it my mission to drink nothing but cask ales and tea whilst in London. Mission accomplished.
The trip was tiring and upon returning to Waterloo, we all retired early for the night. Although Dan did find the energy to venture back out for a beer with Mike and Arecia at the Royal Exchange, you guessed it – a pub.

On Wednesday (April 8th) morning, I stood outside the Natural History Museum waiting for V and Finn while Dan waited for his father and Donna Jo at the Cove. The beer drinkers then ventured over to the Spice of Life and later to the Porterhouse before Dad and Donna Jo had to go catch their plane home.

The museum had an entire wing dedicated to the dinosaurs – the very reason for our visit. Finn was quite good at identifying the various dinosaurs. Some of my favorite quotes of the day:
V: “We saw a lot of dinosaurs. Have you had your fill yet?”
Finn: “No” as he runs over to the last exhibit

V: “Do you want to get a T-rex stuffed animal”?
Finn: “He would scare the rest of my stuffed animals”.

Me: “What was your favorite dinosaur”?
Finn: “T-rex was real! (The exhibit moved, roared and blew steam). But he couldn’t get out because of the fence”.

After the mid-day siesta, I went in search of the local yarn shop, since by now I had almost finished the BSJ. With a little help from Alice, the store owner, I found Socktopus!

Alice was slightly surprised to learn that I came to a yarn store named Socktopus, but had never actually knitted socks and had no desire to start. She didn’t hold the ‘fault’ against me. We had a lovely conversation, I bought 2 skeins of yarn, and she even invited me back for Thursday’s knitting circle.
Dinner was taken with V’s sister and BIL, who V and Finn were staying with in London, at an Italian restaurant called Bella Italia. We would equate the restaurant to an Olive Garden, but with better food. For dessert, Dan and I stopped off at The Pelican for a pint.

Thursday, April 9th, is when we did our city stroll with V and Finn, while Mike and Arecia visited Whales.

We started at the Big Ben and walked all the way down to Picadilly Circus. I took so many pictures of the buildings along the way – not because I knew of their historical significance but because I thought they were pretty.

We rested our weary feet at de Hems, a Dutch bar. While the adults ate traditional Dutch fare and drank Belgium beers, Finn played on his Leapster until he could no longer keep his eyes open.
Forgoing my daily siesta, Dan and I headed over to Albannach, a Scottish themed bar. This is the place to go if you love Scotch whisky, which we don’t. We downed our ales and then high-tailed it out of there. Parting ways, I stopped by the flat to grab more yarn before setting off for the knitting circle. I had a good time sitting and chatting with the other knitters while drinking a glass of wine. These were the first knitters I had met in all of London! Not once did I see another person knitting on the Tube or in the pubs or in the airport. Just as the circle was breaking up for the night, the woman sitting across from me introduced herself as a fellow American. She went on to tell me about her search for a friendly yarn store, noting what I had observed: people in London are very respectful of your privacy and prefer to not bother you. It’s a very kind gesture, but it also can feel unwelcoming.

While Friday, April 10th was a day of rest for V and Finn and a day of touring museums for Mike and Arecia, it was a day of pub crawling for Dan and I. Foolishly, we started our tour in Holborn, a business district within London. Because it was Good Friday and thus a bank holiday, the area was largely deserted. Think ghost town. Both of the pubs we had hoped to visit were closed. By chance, we stumbled across an open bar, the Duke of York. Gratefully, we both ordered Hobgolin, on cask of course, and reviewed the list of bars in our London “beer bible”, Around London in 80 beers.

Dan came up with a new route, but this time we called to make sure they bars were indeed open. Upon leaving the Duke, we headed to Cittie of Yorke for meat pies and more cask ales. We enjoyed both in one of their snugs.

Next up on Dan’s route was the Dog & Duck. On the way there, we came across Princess Louise, a beautiful Victorian pub. We couldn’t pass by without peaking our heads in and at least drinking a half pint. We didn’t want to appear rude, you know. Then, we picked back up the trail to Dog & Duck. While Dan enjoyed an ale, I had my afternoon tea with a raspberry and almond tart. It was at about this time that Mike and Arecia called us and invited us to join them at Porterhouse, an Irish pub.

It was a wonderful way to end the day and to end the vacation.

Conclusion:
We had a wonderful time. We were thrilled to travel with so many of our friends and family.
We stuck to a relaxing pace, spending the lion’s share of our time chatting in one pub or another.

Will we ever go back? Probably not. We have enough memories to last us a lifetime.

2-Year Blogversary Celebration

To be honest, it seems like I have been writing this blog for a very long time. Yet according to WordPress records, I wrote my very first post on April 11, 2007.

I started this blog for the selfish reason of promoting my Etsy store, the very store that I have removed the lion’s share of my inventory from. I would have closed it months ago if it wasn’t for my affiliation with the Etsy Knitters Street Team.

I keep writing because I love it. Some days, it is my motivation to actually finish the knitting/sewing/quilting project that I started. Other days, it is my outlet for frustration. Mostly, it is a place where I can come and share my hobbies with other people who understand and are just as passionate as I am about them. Dan is sweet and supportive, but he has never once elicited the correct response to a skein of yarn or a bolt of fabric. 

I have met some wonderful people via this blog; people that I refer to as my friends. It is time that I properly thanked each and every one of you who reads my blog and sends me lovely comments.

Properly = with Free Yarn

For example,

To win, just leave me a comment. I’ll randomly pull a number, or 2 or 3 numbers, out of a hat (i.e. use a random number generator) on Monday of next week, April 20th.

Home Sweet Home

I couldn’t bring myself to write a blog yesterday announcing my arrival back home. Harry, the voice of the Phillies, passed away hours before our game against the Nationals. I can’t believe he’s gone. The season never really started for me until his voice came over the TV broadcast or radio.

Harry was unlike any other announced I’ve ever listened to. You could tell how much he loved the game; he had the excitement of a little kid at Christmas every single time. I’m thrilled that he was with us last year as the Phillies finally won the World Series.

On a happier note, London was fantastic. The weather was warm and sunny; we didn’t see rain until the final 2 days of our stay. The football game was fun to watch. The architecture was amazing to look at. Half of my pictures are of the pretty buildings. Hanging out with my friends and family was wonderful; I’m so glad we were lucky enough to travel with people dear to us.

Of course, we really went for the beer and the food. So how was it?
The British cask ales, or as they would say – “real ales”, were as delicious as I had imagined they would be. Though I only had the “fry” (full English breakfast) once, I became a fan instantly. I was surprised to learn that the English could make sausages and bacon that rivaled the tasty reputation of the Germans. I can remember only one meal that I was disappointed with; the rumors about English food being bland and boring are exaggerated.  Their meat pies and lamb kabobs were downright delicious.

A few cons about London:
The London Bridge is ugly. I’m sorry, but it is.
The dryers don’t dry the clothes. We did a lot of air drying whilst in London.
There are no dead bolts on the inside of the doors, requiring a key to lock the door no matter which side you are on.
The toilets in our rented flat had to be hand-pumped, which took some getting used to.
People were nice and cordial, but rarely would they sit and chat up a stranger. I can’t tell you how many people I said Hi to and tried to strike up a conversation with, but was rebuked. Around my small town, I tend to have the opposite problem: sometimes I can’t get the neighbors to shut up and leave me alone. So, it was amusing.

Pictures taken by myself and Dan can be found in my Picasa gallery:

London 2009

As forewarned, we didn’t do the traditional “sight seeing”, only hitting two landmarks: The Tower of London and the Windsor Castle. On the other hand, we managed to hit A LOT of pubs. We had the terrible habit of waking up in the morning, deciding that we didn’t want to do what we had planned the night before, and going straight to a pub instead. The locals informed us that we were starting to think like Brits.