Thursday, December 06, 2007

Off by a measly 10,000

November is... thank goodness... over. In case you were wondering how I did on my word count: I wrote 40,000 words. In one month. I was 10,000 words short of the 50,000 word goal, but I did beat my 35,000 word secret goal.

And that Word War I was having with my friend? On the last day, I was 1500 words behind her and my day from about 2pm until midnight was typing as much as my brain would let me. I almost caught up, but ended up losing by 50 words. Sniffle.

However, adding my 40,000 words to the 12,000 words I had before November, I have now completed the very first, first draft of a novel. It's very exciting.

I haven't even opened the file since Friday (the 30th) but I will crack it open soon and see how much of a disaster it is. But for now, I am glowing a little with pride.

And here's a pic of my final minutes...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Apologies and excuses

I know; I know!

It’s been ages since I’ve posted a blog, and I’m terribly sorry. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing instead:

Co-coordinating an anthology of unpublished children’s fiction writers, judged by six industry professionals, from over 250 submissions. See The book and its cover are in the middle column and will be printed and shipped out at no charge to every agent and editor in the UK in the hopes of getting these fabulous writers published. I do intend to blog about the experience once it’s all done and dusted.

Attempting to write 50,000 words in the month of November. See I’m over 18,000 words, but that’s not a good enough pace to make the 50,000 word target. Still, I’m happy with my 18,000 words and will keep going in an effort to beat a friend at a “word war”. Between the two of us, the person with more words in the month of November gets to enjoy a yummy dim sum meal paid for by the person with the fewer words. So far, I'm winning!

Working like a dog. November is our busiest month creatively, as out managing director takes a trip to New York to pitch our new ideas. I’ve been working on a doggie proposal and a quirky witch proposal while attempting to edit a 50,000 word samurai book, manage a tidal wave of consecutive 4,000 word dinosaur books and a 12,000 word genie book. AAAHHH!

Visiting my lovely grandparents, one of whom was not doing so well, I’m sad to say. But my grandpa is back at home now, and I hope that things start to improve for him and my grandma soon.

Exercising twice a week. Aren’t I a good girl?

And, for pre-emptive excuses, here are some things I will be doing in the coming weeks:

Still attempting to write 50,000 words. So forgive me if my blogging takes another hiatus.

Still working like a dog. That samurai novel will come around one more time, I've got to finish that quirky witchy proposal plus another proposal that's very hush hush. And yet more dinosaurs.

Celebrating Thanksgiving with my parents in England. The celebrations will be loosely themed and perhaps not actually on the day of Thanksgiving.

Bidding on a snowflake. See Robert's Snow. I was lucky to win one of the snowflakes the first year, but I couldn’t get one last year. This year, I’m determined to get one in particular. Go and check out the story behind these snowflakes and the amazing art and bid on one that takes your fancy. Unless it’s the one that I want. Then forget you ever saw this link.

Reading the first draft of a novel by a friend of mine. I’m SO excited because I’ve been watching it evolve from a short story into a fully formed novel. And it’s going to be so good!

Being evaluated at my performance review at work. Dum dadum dum… DUM!

Saturday, September 29, 2007


If you're headed to Greece, I would recommend a couple of nights in Athens to experience the choatic city atmosphere, but not much longer than that.

We stayed at the sleek, trendy Fresh Hotel, and loved it. The taxi drivers had a hard time finding it, despite it's central location, and if you read the cyberspace reviews you'll gather that it isn't in the best part of town. But you'll feel cool every moment you're inside.

The hotel has won various design awards, provides the all-important free business center with internet access and has a fantastic roof terrace bar/restaurant next to the small pool called the Air Lounge. It turned out to be quite a happening night spot for the wealthy locals, and you can even see the Acropolis all lit up -- beautiful. We enjoyed both lunch and dinner up there, plus several rounds of cocktails at all hours on the big comfy couches.

General observations/tips
The Acropolis -- take your own guide book, one that includes the Greek gods, or buy one before you climb up the steps. You won't get any information about what you're looking at once you're up there. In general, there is a decided lack of signage in Greece, even in the tourist destinations.

Maps -- If you have a map of the city, don't give it to my dad to read. He might walk you in the complete opposite direction you want to go, through the seediest streets, insisting all the while that the Acropolis is just in front of you.

Car rental -- Don't worry, no problem-lah! We bought a cheap single-sheet fold out map from the airport and zipped all over the south coast. Most road signs are in the Greek and Roman alphabets. We didn't drive in Athens because everything there was to see was in walking distance.

Always wear your sunscreen --

Elections -- If you happen to be in Greece on election day be prepared to get stuck in crazy traffic and cut off by random, unannounced road barriers. The city streets were one big huge party with people waving flags, blaring horns and mass-celebrating, despite only re-electing the same leader.

Restaurants -- Two recommendations for you:
As I mentioned, we had a lovely dinner in the Fresh Hotel, so that's at the top of my recommended restaurants. The food was delicious, the waiter was lovely and they gave us free booze!

My second recommendation is really not to be missed. The food is very slow, but the atmosphere is awesome. The manager of the restaurant (perhaps the owner?) is chatty and charming, but the real reason to visit this restaurant is the live music. There's a small stage which was filled by the most passionate, engaging and adorable Greek singer. He is a one man band with several harmonicas attached to his acoustic guitar and a tambourine strapped to his foot. He is awesome. He gave 100% of his energy for two hours straight, took a short break and then went back on for another set. He played tons of Greek songs as well as several Spanish ones. Yes, there was a rendition of La Bamba! I'm afraid I don't know the name of the restaurant in English, but it's located on a small Sari Street, just off the trendy "Ag. Anargyron" in the center of town. Here's a pic of the sign, and the singer. It's worth tracking down if you can...

Next blog: Santorini!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A three hour tour

Yes, the boat was gone, and the only person on board was about as far from a sailor as you could get. She was a Turkish sunbather, waiting for her friend to finish diving. All I could think of was how much I would be freaking out if I was in her situation.

There was much cursing and worrying, and we all began swimming to shore against the choppy waves. The boat driver had also been diving, but he had realized the problem much sooner than we had, hurried to shore and banged on house doors until someone leant him a phone. Now on the beach, the driver and the Good Samaritan watched through binoculars as two people: a diver and the Turkish girl's friend tried to swim out after the boat. It was probably half a mile from the shore, drifting farther and farther out of the bay.

After much insistent Greek over the phone, the boat driver finally got through to our instructor's partner who was back at the dive shop with another boat. Moments later, the other dive boat came racing across the water to the stranded boat, James Bond-style. The local watched through his binoculars and reported that the swimming divers had made it, and that the sunbather was being put into the rescue boat.

I didn't get to hear the sunbather's side of the story because she had to hurry off to dinner with her boss, but everything ended well. It turned out that though the anchor had been secured, the line to the boat had not been. The boat had meters and meters of line to let out and as we dived, it merrily did. It was a windy day and the boat picked up more and more speed as it floated, still anchored to the same rock. At some point, the boat pulled the anchor away from under the rock where it was wedged and then a bit later on, the anchor caught on something that it couldn't get loose from. The strength of the boat now moving at speed pulled the entire mooring mechanism out from the boat. Needless to say, the boat driver was a little upset. He said various words that I won't describe here.

In the end, the dive instructor took Neil and me out for dinner in an obscure Greek taverna, I think to apologize for us having to swim for shore.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Swimming with the fishes

Hi all! I'm writing this from our hotel near Anavyssos. I'm a bit sad that tomorrow is the last day of our vacation, but it's been wonderful. I've been compiling my diving blog, but figured that I'd post this first half of it now, to whet your appetites. I'm skipping over the first week in Athens and Santorini (some great stuff to tell you about those days) for now, but will write it up with pictures when I get home. Meanwhile, here's our first day and a half of diving...

Husband and I are qualifying for our PADI Advanced Open Water certification, one step up from our first level diving qualification. We had to do five dives to improve our diving skills, each with a different focus.

Day One (Saturday), Two Dives. Verdict afterwards: Knackered.

The winds off the coast of Anavyssos were unusually strong this morning so we couldn't do the first dive off the boat as planned. Instead we went to a nearby beach dubbed "lawyer beach" for the wealthy lawyers that live on it. It was an 8km drive away from the dive shop. We did a shore dive in order to complete our Fish Identification specialty course. We saw lots of different kinds of fish: wrasse, damsels, parrotfish -- we even saw a moray eel, and Neil spotted a Little Cuttlefish. A great refresher dive.

At about 4pm we went back out, this time on the boat. We were tempted by an exciting looking canyon that we were promised we would get to see on another day, but this dive was the Underwater Navigation skills course. Compasses, lubber lines, bezels, and all sorts of other things I don't properly understand. The location was a bit improvised because of strong currents, and we had to abandon our navigation exercise of swimming in a perfect square, using the compass. We ended up doing the rest of the dive as a fun dive, and intended to carry on with the navigation the next day.

I had forgotten how much effort diving is: hauling the tanks around, the actual swimming, the excitement and the stress. We were too tired to do anything at all in the evening. ZZZzzz.

Day Two (Sunday), Two Dives. Verdict afterwards: Amused.

Our first dive today was breath-taking. We did our course in "deep diving" which means anywhere below 40 feet (18 meters). We went to 55 feet (26 meters), descending down a wall. Looking up at about 20 meters was really awe-inspiring. It was sheer rock with beautiful coral dotted all down it. If you know SCUBA, you know that you can't spend long down at those kind of depths, so we came back up to about 30 feet and then went into a spectacular "canyon". Inside, the ceiling was covered in coral and it was thrilling to be surrounded by rock. But the best bit was turning around to come out of the canyon to see the clear blue nothing expanding out in front of you, framed by the coral-covered rock. Awesome.

The second dive was a bit more... interesting. This was the second try at our underwater navigation course as well as the first half of our peak performance buoyancy course.

The buoyancy part of the course is to help you control your body in the water. If you know SCUBA, you know that beginners (like me) sometimes have a hard time floating along smoothly, staying in one spot without furious arm paddling, and controlling their depth. This is all to do with neutral buoyancy. The idea is that you don't move unless you intend to -- often the weight (or lack thereof) of your equipment causes you to rise or fall uncontrollably. You are supposed to make gentle movements with you breath -- if you are truly neutrally buoyant, when you breathe in you will rise slightly in the water, and when you breathe out, you will sink slightly. We had to do an exercise where we lie flat on the sand, breathe in to rise and breathe out to sink, bobbing up and down at an angle to the sand. Neil got it quickly, but I needed a bit of help from the instructor who showed me that I shouldn't be shy about inflating my underwater life jacket to reach neutral buoyancy.

The navigation part of the dive went rather well, if I may say so. My square was spot on and I even managed the more difficult triangle. It seems lubber lines aren't so unfathomable to me. Then, the instructor sprang the ultimate challenge: he told Neil to lead us back to the boat. We'd come down from the boat almost 40 minutes ago and neither of us really knew where it was. But after a bit of consultation with each other, Neil set off in the general direction. It turned out that he was right but he was wrong as well.

As we swam, another Dive Master came down to our instructor and we began a rapid ascent (from a safe depth). There was something wrong. She pointed down at a strange line in the sand below us, and as we surfaced, it became clear... the boat was gone.


How's that for a cliff hanger? I'll be back with the rest of the story once we're back from Greece.

Love you all!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Happy Birthday Grandpa and Yassas (goodbye) in Greek

Yassas, all you sMOOchalicious readers. Husband and I are heading to Greece for twelve days with my parents.

The flight is at 6am tomorrow (ugh) and I'm feeling a bit under the weather. (Sneeze!) But I can't wait to get to the sunshine.

We're spending a few days in Athens, then going to Santorini, and then my parents fly back home. Husband and I stay on to do an advanced open water SCUBA diving course, just east of Athens.

So no blogs for a while, but I promise many pics and hilarious stories about us trying to navigate our tiny rental car around Greece on my return.

As for today's cultural activities: it was my mom's dad's 90th birthday today and we had a sixty-person strong family reunion.


I heard the Welsh national anthem sung for the first time in both English and Welsh. My grandpa was born in Wales to British parents, and came back to London when he was sixteen. There was even a rendition of Happy Birthday in Welsh. It was a wonderful, joyful and touching event. (Way to go Mom and Dad for organizing it!)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Chainsaw Carving

For the last day of our bank holiday trip up to the Midlands (Sunday, August 26th) we went to the Tatton Park Country Show, specifically to see the chainsaw carving. We were definitely the odd couple out in not having a dog with us. I hope next time we will.

The chainsaw carving section was big, with each of the 25 carvers having their own fenced-off section to do their long-term pieces. The long-term competitions were: the "Combo Competition" which uses log diameters up to 2ft in two categories, chainsaw-only eight-hour carve or full-power thirteen-hour carve. I wish I knew more to explain exactly what that means. The other long-term competition is the "Classic Competition" which uses log diameteres up to 4ft and takes 21 hours (presumably these pieces are worked on for all three days of the country show). Here is a wide shot and a close up of one of the fenced-off areas and the detailed, beautiful sculptures they were making:

And here are two little clips of carvers at work in thier fenced-off areas. Some day, I'll have a time-lapse camera to show the whole transformation, because just one cut doesn't really do it justice. I can't remember who the first carver is, but the second is the Japanese competitor, Toshiyuki Nagai.

The carvers also had finished pieces on display that were to be auctioned later on in the day. I would have wanted to buy either of these (or the owl above), depending on how expensive they were, but don't have the space to display them in. Boo. Unfortunately, they didn't label who produced which of these pieces, so I can't link or give credit where credit is clearly due...

The event we came to see was the "Speed Carving" which is perfect for spectators. It's one big fenced-off area for all the participants. The carvers have 30 minutes to carve whatever they want, and then it gets auctioned at the end to those who watched it being created.

I have video of the beginning of the speed carving and it's such a shame that my camera doesn't do audio. The noise of them "starting their engines" was glorious. We saw two old ladies on the other side of the fence watching with their fingers plugged into thier ears. We all got covered in sawdust.

There was one American carver who carved his bear in fifteen minutes flat and had time left to go over to help another American who was carving an owl. But all the bear-carver was doing was carving a slot into the bottom end of the owl-carver's sturdy tree trunk. At first I thought he was turning it into a post box, but then we saw him slicing off two long, rectangular sheets of wood from one of the gigantic tree trunks that were laying about. When he started sizing up the rectangles against the slot he was carving out, we realized that the two carvers were working together to create a bench. One pole was a bear, one pole was an owl, and the rectangles were the bottom and back to the bench. In typical American fashion, they carved and burned "Have a nice day" into the back of the chair. Brilliant. Here's a clip of the two of them just as they are starting out...

And here's a pic of the finished product. Just enough room for two!

The speed carving yeilded at least three owls (one carved by the only female carver), three bears, and three horses (one of them like a knight chess piece three foot tall). The carver were picking the collectable themes. There were also more unique pieces like a guitar (done by an American) and a skull (smooth and accurate, almost like it was made of plastecine).

I loved the chainsaw carving demonstration, and though the announcer was quick to say "don't try this at home" I don't think I can resist. For those of you who know how klutzy I am, my husband has promised to supervise. Woohoo! This will depend on us having an actual backyard and, of course, owning a chainsaw...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Walking in the Peaks

We had 50% success with our walks in the Peak District.

The first walk was a twenty minute drive from Bakewell through beautiful and isolated countryside. Both of us would sorely like to move to the middle of nowhere and be surrounded by lots of green and very few people, but the trouble is that niggly thing of employment.

Ahem. Back to the walk.

Walk number one was to Thor's Cave.

"Thor's Cave is the most spectacular sight of the Manifold valley, dominating the central section of the valley. The rock in which it is set rears up out of the hillside like a giant fang with the cave entrance forming a hole in it ten metres in diameter, a sight which is clearly visible for several miles.

Excavations have shown that the cave was occupied as long as 10,000 years ago and this occupation probably continued until Roman or Saxon times, making it one of the oldest sites of human activity in the Peak. Stone tools and the remains of a range now extinct animals were found within the cave."

(above info from here.)

Thor's Cave is definitely a destination worth striving for, and strive we did. It took us an hour longer than the three hour estimate because we tried to improvise a shorter route the cave and failed. But we met a new friend along the way.

The second walk was the unsuccessful 50%. We didn't want to do a whole second walk as the first one tuckered us out, but we thought that we could begin the second one Neil had planned, find a nice spot to sit and read, and laze away the last few hours before we left the Peak District. However…

The path was often indiscernible, overgrown with weeds up to my elbows at some points. And the first half mile of it was by a quarry, lined with the above signs.

If you are American, you may not have heard of stinging nettle. Stinging nettle is the British version of poison ivy, and I was wearing Capri pants. Not only did I have to fight back the thorns, I also had to avoid this innocent-looking, heart-shaped, and unfortunately ankle-height plant.

We kept waiting for the fabulous vista or the bubbling stream to sit by. But by the time we realized that such a place was not on this map, we were too far in to turn back. And neither of us wanted to wade through the nettles again. So, there was no option but to finish the whole three hour walk.

The very last stretch was the worst with a narrow, muddy path through a nettle field. About twenty steps away from the clear break in the trees, I slipped and fell onto my backside right into a patch of nettles, which stung me even though my shirt. A true taste of the British countryside.

Then, to finish off the trek, as we left the forest of nettles, we passed a sign that read something like: this is a difficult path that we don't recommend you use.

And I wouldn't recommend it either.

The next post will be the chainsaw carving – with video!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Glorious Sunshine

We drove 469 miles this past Bank Holiday three-day weekend from London to Bakewell (200 miles) to Knutsford (35.5 miles) to Leicester (92.5 miles) and then back to London (141.1 miles) – with a few little trips in between. We were up in the Peak District, in the Midlands of England and it just happened to be the only three days of summer we've had in England this year.

The village of Bakewell was beautiful.

We bought a traditional Bakewell Tart from one of the local shops to give to some friends we visited on our way home. A Bakewell Tart is basically a marzipan themed pie with a candied cherry in the middle of a layer of icing – definitely an acquired taste that I have not yet mastered. Husband loves it, though. But then he likes Battenburg (the most horrid British thing I have ever encountered).

Bakewell is very near to Chatsworth House, used in the recent Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice. It was Mr. Darcy's home, and ever since I watched that movie I have wanted to see the sculpture room that they featured briefly – in particular, this sculpture, which fascinates and amazes me:

The cloth looks like transparent fabric, but of course it's marble. Astonishing.

We also were very impressed with the gardens. (Even more so than the gardens at Hampton Court!) There were so many different sections to explore, including a huge water feature full of naked, muddy children splashing around, a pinetum and a kitchen garden. There was also a little surprise sculpted garden… it was just like the inside of a house: tables, chairs, etc. Here's the couch bush.

Art was scattered around the gardens, and Sotheby's had just set up various pieces on display, including an out-of-place, massive sculpture of Kate Moss in a compromising position.

There were two pieces I was really keen on. The first you might have expected me to like…

And the second I caught sight of from inside the house and was captivated.

Chatsworth House was a wonderful day out, and I'm grateful to my hubby for whisking me up to the Peak District at the last minute.

I shall save our the second day – the Peak District walks – for a separate post. You'll just have to hang out a little longer for the chainsaw carving.

I'm Back!

I know, I've been slack at updating my blog (and calling all of you that I normally call). But I've got a good excuse. A few, in fact.

Firstly, just before the August bank holiday was my two year wedding anniversary, and I was away for the weekend. (More to come in future posts on that.)

Then, this past weekend we were down in Poole visiting family and friends as well as hosting our first-ever "party" in the form of a BBQ for my work friends.

In between it all, I've been responsible for co-editing (read: sorting papers for) a children's fiction writing contest. We've had 250 submissions, and it has been an epic task organizing them for the official judges. We had to send off the judging packets on Tuesday, and of course the photocopier broke when we were just about finished. Oh yes. It did.

I have absolutely loved working on this project, despite the mountains of adminstration. In my current job, I don't get to read anyone else's creativity -- everything I'm reading is based on a storyline we produce. So for this contest, each submission was a surprise. Some were delightful, others were not so. But I'm excited to be back involved with the evaluation of others' work and the search for fabulous stories and storytellers. It's something I got to do plenty of in my first publishing job, but not so much now.

Anyway, I hope you'll accept my apologies for neglecting my blog, and I'll busy myself putting together some pics of my exciting bank holiday trip. I'll leave you hanging with two words: chainsaw carving.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I'm Famous!

Okay, not really. But I do have my picture in a publishing industry weekly. They spelled my name right and everything.

This appeared in Publishing News on Friday, 3 August 2007. Hooray!

Yes, that is my boss in the middle of the picture.

My company held a summer party to celebrate our new offices. Apparently they are "state-of-the-art". Woohoo!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Village Fête

I went to my very first fête today, a staple of British village life. A fête is like a traditional American school fair, but instead of cake walks and bobbing for apples, they have a coconut shy and a hoopla.

A coconut shy is a coconut balanced on top of a pole, and you have to hit it with a ball and knock it off for prizes. I think it is also a British tradition to walk away from the coconut shy and mutter that everyone knows that the coconuts are glued on anyway.

This was the "professional" coconut shy, £1 for three balls. By professional, I mean a purpose built booth with signs. I was told that this was not quite how the coconut shy would be in a small village. While we were watching, we actually saw two people hit a coconut dead on, but it still didn't fall. Hmm...

This was more authentically set up, but less traditionally fruited. It was a mango shy, 50p for three balls. We had a go at this one, and all four of us were unsuccessful.

A hoopla is throwing hoops over prizes. I tried the professional hoopla, £1 for two hoops. There was a sign clearly displaying what was a winning hoop and what wasn't. Look closely at the sign. If you're not winning, what are you doing? Unfortunately, I was not a winner.

This fête was technically more like a festival and put on by the Innocent smoothies people, rather than the village church. There were thousands of people there and hundreds of stalls with food, eco-friendly products, health products and, of course, smoothies. Yum.

Among other things, we did a bit of sponging: (That's my friend Stuart getting soaked.)

A bit of music, under a tree:

And a bit of ferret racing: (My ferret choice, Country Girl, beat Neil's choice, Ratso) (okay, and then in the second race, Neil's choice Silver Surfer kicked my choice Miss Cherry's butt):

I got sunburned in odd patterns, because of my partial sunblock application. Yes, Mom, I'm a twit.

But it was fun-tastic!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pea and Prosciutto Soup (Zuppa Prosciutto e Piselli)

In the style of a blogger that I much admire, the Pioneer Woman, I am going to attempt to post a recipe that I cooked last night, though I do not have as good lighting as she does.

I am not a great cook, but I do love making soup. I’ve been experimenting for a few months now with various recipes, and my husband suggested that this time I step it up a notch. The ham and pea soup I made last night is from the posh The River Café Cook Book (the blue one) and the reason I’ve decided to post about it is because it TOOK ME FOREVER. And I want some credit for all effort I put in.

Firstly: getting the ingredients was a tad epic. Frozen peas and any old ham just won't do for The River Café. We went to three different stores over the past two weeks to get the amount of peas still in their pods that we needed (2 kg) and the recipe asks for a 250g "hock" of prosciutto which I never managed to get. I could only find wafer thin slices, but on a last ditch attempt, I found a deli worker who would cut about half-inch thick slices for me.

Secondly: I then had to shell two kilograms of peas. This took me about an hour and a half, non-stop. Okay, this is really why I'm after some kudos. An hour and half of standing at my sink and shelling peas made me appreciate what apprentice chefs at fancy restaurants must have to do every day. Ugh. Not fun.

The rest of the cooking was easy peas-y.

For the stock, I put the prosciutto with a head of celery, half a red onion (the other half is used later), the stalks from one bunch of mint (the leaves are used later), two roughly chopped carrots and about one quarter of the pea pods into a big pot, covered with water and let them simmer for an hour and a half.

With half an hour left of the stock simmering to go, I chopped up one and a half red onions. Then I melted 50g of creamy English butter in our big wok and added two tablespoons of olive oil. The chopped onions went into the butter and I cooked them slowly to a light brown.

Once the stock was ready, I strained out all the stock and set aside the prosciutto. (I confess I couldn't bear to just chuck out all the stock ingredients so I snacked on the carrots while I finished cooking.)

Next, all the peas and half of the bunch of mint leaves went into the wok with the onions. After stirring that for a couple of minutes, I covered the mixture with stock and let simmer for 30 minutes until the peas were soft, topping up with stock once.

While that was cooking, I peeled the fat away from the prosciutto and then blended it in my blender to a "coarse purée" with a little of the stock.

Once the peas were ready, I strained out half of the peas and onions and put them into the big (now cleaned) pot that I cooked the stock in. The other half of the peas and the juices went into my blender for "pulsing".

Lastly, I mixed in the prosciutto purée and the blended peas and stock in with the non-blended peas in the big soup pot. I chopped up the remaining mint leaves, sprinkled them in, stirred and served!

The only note I would make to anyone trying this soup out for themselves, is to blend slightly more than half of the peas to have less peas floating. I feel like my end product needs a bit more soup to it, though having a decent amount of solid peas is important.

I actually served it to myself, as Neil was out. He still hasn't tried it yet, but I'm pleased with it. It says it serves six, but I'm guessing we'll be eating it all week.

Special thanks to Grandma for providing the huge soup pot, which is getting plenty of use.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Gardens galore

I had a lovely weekend visiting my aunt and uncle, and on Saturday we went to Hampton Court Palace.

If you ever go, make sure to visit the Tilting Yard Café. We sat out on their patio in the glorious sunshine, surrounded by trees and ate lovely sandwiches, fresh lemonade (actual lemonade, not Sprite which is what the Brits call lemonade) and a delicious brownie.

After our lunch, we walked from garden to garden all the way around the outside of the palace. Each section of garden was distinct and it seemed that behind every wall there was a completely new garden to see. There were manicured yew trees, stunning flower beds, a "Great Vine" and naked people statues. My favourite outdoor feature was the two pond gardens that visitors can't walk through. You had to poke your head in through little viewing holes in the tall border hedge.

Inside the palace, we went on a tour with a lady in costume who told us a ghost story about King Henry VIII's fifth wife (beheaded for having an affair). Then we walked around the kitchens which had been set up to look as it would have in the early 1500s. There were several rooms, all necessary to feed the 500+ people that would dine at court, hoping to catch favour with the king.

The first room we saw was the butchery. Please note the blood stains spattered on the wall. Gotta love that authenticity.

The weather was very kind to us, and I think I might have even got a little colour on my pale cheeks. Hooray for summer!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The book of the year has arrived!

No, not that book.

This book!

What's it about, you ask? You mean you haven't heard of it? You missed the huge media blitz? The street parties? The countdowns? Well, okay, then... I'll tell you:
My Sister the Vampire #1: Switched is the beginning of a faboo new book series. It's a little bit of Parent Trap, a lot of Sweet Valley High and a dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

This book is very, very close to my heart. It's one of my babies, and it's the project I am most proud to be involved in at my work.

So, please, if you live in the USA and you like me even just a little bit, buy a copy of this book. Go to your local bookstore and ask for it. If they don't have it, gasp and say that you heard it was going to be the next big thing, and they should order five copies.

If you don't like bookstores, you can still buy it.
Here's an Amazon link: Buy this book!
Here's a B&N link: Buy this book!

I promise you a fun and funny read, and lots of gratitude for you support.

Buy one for you; buy one for a friend. Or just buy one to prop up your wonky table. I'm going for numbers here, people.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Off to the ballet... school

I'm very excited. Tomorrow, Neil and I are going to The Royal Ballet School end of year performance at the Royal Opera House. It's a showcase of all the students at the Lower and Upper Schools (ages 11-18, I think) coming together in a variety of performances to show off how fabulous the talent of the school is.

I went to the same show last year for free (hooray!) because I worked on a series my company helped produce in conjunction with the school called, as you might imagine, The Royal Ballet School Diaries. Because we worked very closely with the Marketing Director at the school, we were taken on a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House, got to watch the rehearsal the day before the matinee and also the actual performance. Fascinating stuff.

This time, I'll be an anonymous spectator, but I'm really interested in seeing some of the girls that I’ve become fans of. You see, for the book covers, we got to use actual RBS students as models.

I'm a big fan of "Lara", real name Ruth Bailey.

She's won the Young British Dancer of the Year award, at a very young age as well as other awards and solos. I remember speaking with the photographer who took the pictures for the covers. He wasn't surprised how well she was doing because he was amazed that someone of her age could perform such a difficult leap so precisely, and well enough for the photo to win approval by the very discerning head of the school.

I'm hoping to see her again tomorrow, still shining like a star.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Done a runner

This whole tenant situation was a bit tense this past week. After last weekend, when the tenancy expired and the tenants refused to leave, we geared up for an all out war of paperwork in the courts. But after getting a whole lot of attitude from the !£$%^&* tenants, they said that they would leave on Friday.

Once we foud out that filing paperwork at the court would cost us £150 ($300) we decided to hold off to see if the would actually leave on Friday without a fight.

When I called on Thursday to arrange a check out time, Friday had become Saturday, and I saw before me a future filled with this same phone conversation over and over again. However, he finally agreed to a concrete time on Saturday. It was a good sign.

We drove down to Eastbourne, about an hour and a half away from us, and at the appointed time we rang the bell. No one answered. We went upstairs and rang the bell. Still no answer. We let ourselves in and the flat was empty: they had "done a runner" as the Brits would say.

Plus side: they are gone.
Minus side: we have no forwarding address and they owe us money.


But at least we didn't have to go to court, which would not have been entertaining.
What was entertaining, however, was the lady on the other end of the National Landlord's Associate advice line, who got more incensed at the situation than I was. She encouraged me to write a letter to the tenant's father decribing ourselves as honest people just trying to get by and the "disgusting behaviour" of the tenants. Clearly, she is a woman who loves her job. And I must say, I am tempted to take her advice.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Everything but the kitchen sink

Well, our kitchen is transformed, but we're still not quite up and running.

The sink is in but not connected. None of the complicated looking white plastic pieces are in place yet. And the cabinets aren't screwed to the wall either. (We've also got tiling and painting to do.) But this is the general idea…

We are still doing our dishes in the bathtub. I can just hear myself now talking to my children, echoing all the newlywed home improvement tales my parents told me. I'll say in my shaky, old woman voice: we didn’t have a couch when we moved into our first home – we didn’t even have a television. And we had to wash our dishes in the bathtub. So don’t complain to me about having to unload the dishwasher, ya little so and so!

There is currently no time table for kitchen sink completion, but I'm sure my husband is sick of me nagging. So, it won't be long. In fact… it's 11:30pm and poor husband is working on it as I type.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tenants from hell

Updates on and pictures of my kitchen sink will come when I get back home tomorrow. I have heard that we’ve made real progress, but haven’t seen it as I have been down in Seaford with my Grandma. Unfortunately, this is not a regular social call – we've got some very tricky business in Eastbourne, nearby.

I haven't blogged about this before because I didn't want to grumble, but now this is so all-consuming that I can't avoid it: in September, my husband and I bought an investment property in Eastbourne to rent out and ride the property wave into retirement. The beginning of our property empire. We hired a management agent and expected it to be smooth sailing.

However, the !£$%^&* management agent turned out to be very bad at choosing stable tenants and handling maintenance issues – basically, very bad at his job. We finally extricated ourselves from his contract, but have not yet been as successful with the tenants he installed.

These !£$%^&* tenants have not paid a penny of rent since April. They have not paid any money on time since February. After giving them every chance to pull themselves together, we followed all the legal steps and served the relevant notices to evict them. Now they have refused to leave.

You know that worst case scenario when you buy-to-let? Well, that's just about where we are.

And I'm SO MAD.

On the upside, I get to fill out tons of paperwork and negotiate with the Eastbourne County Court in trying to get a court ordered eviction. I also get to have argumentative and belligerent phone calls from the tenant. What fun! Not sure if this counts as "trying to keep myself entertained" but I am guessing that it will turn out to be a particularly British experience. Stay tuned for a very grumpy Sara.

I hope the new sink will cheer me up.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wash Out

My Sunday did not go as well as I hoped it would. As I said in my last blog, Sunday was supposed to be my first live cricket match. But... as occasionally happens in England... it rained and rained and rained and rained and rained.

So we didn't go.

We ended up watching Shrek 3 at the cinema, which didn't really make up for the disappointment of missing the men in white. I felt most sorry for my husband's middle brother who drove about two hours to come and see the cricket. He could have stayed home and watched the movie with significantly less effort.

We put up a good show for a couple of oldies though. We were out partying until well past 11pm on a school night. (Oooh...) We were drinking shots like proper college kids, and everything! Please, don't tell my mom.

My first English cricket day out will have to wait -- and so will my sink! Those of you at the edge of your seats waiting for more pics of our kitchen construction will have to wait until Thursday to see any progress. My construction crew is not available on Tuesday, so it will be at least Thursday before I can wash any dishes.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

57% Complete

Due to the !£$%^&* leaving great big holes in our floor, we haven't finished our kitchen reconstruction, despite a long day of hard work. Rebuilding the floor took a lot of time.

We took most of the morning to cut down the old cabinet fronts to use as floorboards...

and then cut new laminate flooring to size to go on top.

I use the term "we" loosely. I sat in the bedroom and did a lot of very important work.

Next, we had to build the base units to figure out exactly where the sink was going to sit and where the pipe holes would need to be in the cabinets. (I did actually help at this point, as I am the Flatpack Queen.)

Then, we had to figure out the plumbing. The new layout has the washing machine on the opposite side of the sink, and the sink is shifting about two feet to the left. After scientific calculations and elaborate diagrams, we had a plan:

The plan worked! The only hitch was, it was about 9pm when it was finished. And then we discovered a rather annoying little hitch: IKEA only half-cut out the sink hole in the countertop that we paid £25 for them to cut out. I can't imagine this is the standard procedure, and they will be receiving a phone call from an inquisitive ME tomorrow morning.

The DIY segment of our show will be back on Tuesday. In the meantime… tomorrow is my first cricket match!

Friday, June 22, 2007

What Lies Beneath... our cabinets

The final stage of kitchen destruction has begun! For the past four hours, my father-in-law and husband have been demolishing the final piece of the kitchen – the part where the sink is. Cue dramatic music.

The first thing we discovered in taking away the cupboards where our fridge will soon be is that the !£$%^&* who put together this kitchen didn't bother to sensibly bury the wiring in the wall behind the cabinets. No trunking. No fixture whatsoever. Just loose dangling wires.

You may have also noticed the hole in the floorboards in the photo above. We can thank the !£$%^&* for that as well. They seem to have taken it up to let one of those wayward wires stretch across under the kitchen floor. But that little gap is nothing compared to what we found directly underneath the kitchen sink.

It's no longer a mystery why we had little furry visitors a few months ago. Blech. But you may be pleased to learn that my ingenious construction crew are using the dismantled wood cabinet fronts to form new floorboards to fill the gap. Recycling! Hoorah!

I'm pleased to say that we've made fast work of it. We have already installed my beautiful new sink. Here it is...


Stay tuned for more progress tomorrow.