Thursday, July 26, 2012

Things that happen when I have cable

I watch episodes of Gilmore Girls on TV with commercials even though I own every season on DVD and could watch it without commercials.

I discover a Grey's Anatomy marathon. And I sit and watch it despite the fact I could watch every season without commercials on Netflix.

I find all the terrible TV shows I didn't know existed. Who gave Bristol Palin her own reality show? It was such a train wreck, I couldn't look away or change the channel for 15 minutes. And these reality shows: The Glass House? I don't even know what the point is or at least I couldn't figure it out in the 10 minutes I stayed on it.

I realize that it's never enough. I was looking at the TV schedule for the Olympics and found that a lot of it is on the NBC Sports Network. Guess what channel I don't get. Yep. No soccer for me on my TV.  The good news is I'll be at my parents' house for the soccer finals, and I'm assuming they have better TV than me and they have DVR.

And I knew I wasn't getting HBO with this deal, but all this chatter about The Newsroom makes me feel like there is something else I'm missing.

So I'm starting to wonder what everyone thinks I've been missing during the last year without cable (and really without live TV at all for much of that). I'm hoping football season and the fall TV lineup make it worth it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Zucchini recipe

The other day I came across this article: Top 10 Things to do with too much Zucchini. I thought it was going to be recipes, but it was a really funny list about getting stuck with a lot zucchini.

I can't say I've been overloaded with zucchini. I have a decent supply (not from my garden), but it hasn't been too much. I have used it in my favorite things: zucchini bread and pie.

And then I tried one of the dozen zucchini recipes that I've pinned on pinterest. I wish I had the mini muffin tin that the recipe called for. In the larger tin, they didn't stick together as well, but did OK. Here's the recipe:

Recipe adapted: The Naptime Chef
yields: 12 mini muffins

1 cups zucchini, grated
1 egg
1/4 yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a mini-muffin tin with non-stick spray, set aside.
2. Grate the zucchini and then place in a dish towel to squeeze out the excess water- like when using frozen spinach; if you skip this part, the middle of the zucchini tots will be really soggy while the outside gets crispy and no one wants that.
3. In a bowl combine, the egg, onion, cheese, bread crumbs, zucchini, salt and pepper.
4. Using a spoon or a cookie scoop, fill the muffin cups to the top. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the top is browned and set.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A change in perspective

I had great plans to actually write a post with recipes in it, but something came up at work and I wanted to write down my thoughts.

My first job out of college was at a newspaper in south Georgia in a community that likely wouldn't exist without a large Army post in its backyard. (Well, there is the whole Aflac thing, but...) When I got there, I had considered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be a distant conflict that didn't really affect me. But moving into a community full of soldiers and their families changes that. The war becomes real.

At the newspaper, we ran an Associated Press story on Iraq every day and on Afghanistan a few times a week. Frequently, those stories were put on the front page. I knew a lot about what was happening, why it was happening, where it was happening and how it was happening.

We had regular updates from the units that were deployed from our area, and deployments and homecomings were front-page news. And when a soldier from the post was killed in action, the story always went on the front page.

As real as the war was for me (someone I was close to was there for 15 months), those deaths and the subsequent stories still became routine. In most cases, those soldiers were just stationed at the post in our town for a few months or maybe a couple of years. The funerals were rarely held in town, but in the soldiers' hometowns. I was always detached from it all. Yes, I read about them and occasionally saw a picture, but it was part of my job.

Fast forward a few years. Last week we found out a soldier from Columbia had been killed in Afghanistan. There was some scrambling to get it confirmed and a lot of back and forth about when to call the family, etc. I stayed in my detached mode. I was thinking to myself, why are we scrambling? The Associated Press will put it in their daily update the next day. But I kept my mouth shut.

A few days later, another co-worker was telling me how she wished she had been soliciting memories and stories about the soldier from readers. I know I had a confused look on my face because she went on to say, "This is a hometown boy; this is a big community thing." And I realized this doesn't happen every week here. It probably doesn't even happen once a year. And I had never been in those soldiers' hometowns where people were mourning much more than a soldier. I didn't see a community's reaction to all of those deaths I read about in Georgia.

But I'm getting a glimpse of the community response now. Friends and neighbors put flags all along the neighborhood streets. And on Thursday, there was a processional that went all through town, and people gathered on the streets and overpasses and in his family's neighborhood to honor him. We received picture after picture from people that watched it. There is a movement to get as many people as possible to make a human wall around the funeral to block the protestors planning to come. 

As a journalist, I read about a lot of tragedies and death. There's plenty of good news stories, but the bad news can wear you down. A lot of times the best way to deal with it is to stay detached.

But as I looked through the pictures from the procession that showed a community standing together, I realized I missed the human element of it. In Georgia, those soldiers were a number to me. In Missouri, that soldier was a son, brother, friend, student, role model, neighbor, Eagle Scout and much more. And even though it's hard, I'm glad I've taken my blinders off to see that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tour of mid-Missouri

J and I have had some fun dates. J grew up here, and it's really fun to see the area through his eyes. Plus I had no idea some of the places he takes me even existed, much less how to get to them.

One weekend, it was really hot, and we decided to drive to Jefferson City, the state capital. J showed me a couple of projects he worked on, and we got some excellent ice cream from the dairy that is based there. We also saw the governor on a walk.

On the way back, we drove through some very small towns. And he showed me the farm where his grandparents lived and his mom grew up. There's even a town and a street named for his grandfather.

Another weekend we had tickets to see Camelot in a town called Arrow Rock. First we stopped so I could pick out some cowboy boots.

And then we got to Arrow Rock and explored the little town. There is a theater there that puts on pretty big productions, and the town obviously capitalizes on the tourists headed to the shows. But there are a few historical buildings, including the old newspaper, The Saline County Herald. Of course I needed a picture:

And there is actually a rock in the shape of an arrow.

We had some wonderful fried chicken at this tavern, where the waiters dress in costume. And then the show was also really good. I couldn't believe how great the actors were.

This weekend the tour of mid-Missouri is taking us to Amish country, where there is a bulk food store. I'm hoping it's as good as Yoder's.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Back at home

The adjustment back to normal life after two weeks away is never easy, and jetlag doesn't help. But my flights went smoothly, and these were waiting in my kitchen:

The next week I worked the late shift, which might have been the best solution for the jetlag because I got to sleep in every day. But I felt like my co-workers all disappeared, and I was a little stressed covering for a lot of people. Still it was good to be back, and when you think that after a vacation, you know you're in the right job.

J kept my water gardened while I was away. He picked a couple of squash and a zucchini, but there wasn't a lot of stuff. And there still isn't. It's been miserably hot and extremely dry. The squash and zucchini plants are holding their own, and I've picked a few cherry tomatoes and two green beans but that's about it. No signs of anything from the peppers and okra. I'm still hoping for some big tomatoes, and the watermelon plants have grown so maybe I'll still get something from those. I'm not completely disappointed, but I was hoping for more. We'll see how the rest of the summer goes.

And then it seems as though J and I are touring mid-Missouri this summer with fun trips to different places in the area. More to come in a separate post.

Friday, July 13, 2012

London in pictures

Part of the fun of going back to London was visiting with someone who has never been to London. I know I wore her out walking around all over the place, but I just loved being in my city again. The first day we had the best weather, and I wanted her to see the big sights. We took the tube to Buckingham Palace:

Then walked to Parliament Square to see Big Ben, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey:

We continued to Trafalgar Square:

And then to Leicester Square and caught the tube to dinner at Piccadilly Circus. After dinner, we walked to Kensington Gardens and saw Kensington Palace and the Albert Memorial:

The next morning we returned to Westminster Abbey for a communion service, and then spent some time around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. We also stopped in Fortnum and Mason, a department store:

We stopped in Covent Garden, where they have these random recreated phone booths:

We ate lunch and then went to the British Museum to see the Olympic gold medals.

Then we stopped by the Tower of London and Tower Bridge before heading to the V&A Museum.

From there, we went to dinner and then to see Mousetrap. We slept in as much as possible with the construction at the hotel and then headed out to Greenwich. We visited the National Maritime Museum, saw the equestrian track for the Olympics in progress and stood on the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory.

Then we did a bit more jumping around to see the Olympic rings, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, the Millenium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral.

We stopped at Harrod's, the big department store, and then I had a brilliant plan to walk to this place for dinner that really wasn't a restaurant and was much farther than I thought.

We crashed early that night and slept in again. On Saturday morning, we made our way through the crowds at Portobello Market and found some cool things, including scarves for 1 pound. We also stopped at the Notting Hill Bookshop from the movie.

From there we went to Trafalgar Square where there was a big festival showcasing all of the West End (Broadway equivalent) shows. The performers from each show performed a song or two. It was extremely crowded, and they were counting people going in so it was pretty backed up. But we found a decent spot outside of the crowd on the steps of the Canadian Embassy. And War Horse was right in front of us. The Motor Museum had famous cars on display right where we were.

Then I said goodbye to London and flew back to Dublin for the night before my flight home.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Return to London

I've lived in several places since graduating from high school, but I haven't really gone back to visit many of them. Obviously, I moved back to my college town, and I was shocked at how much things had changed. But I haven't been back to Milwaukee, Columbus or Charlottesville (yet, the flight is booked) since moving away.

And this trip was the first time I've been back to London since I spent a semester there in 2005. For me, going back was similar to how it would be to go back to any of the other cities, except that there is a lot more to see in London. But I loved seeing what had changed and what stayed the same, and I spent a lot of time trying to picture in my head what it was like seven years ago. We stayed in a hotel in the neighborhood where I lived. The hotel wasn't great, but it was nice to already know my way around to some extent.

We went back and saw my apartment building, and I walked back from dinner one night on a route I used to take pretty frequently and stopped at the grocery store where I used to shop. We'd also be out exploring the city, and I'd pause at a spot and know what was done a random street or realize we were on the same route I always took to work or to classes.

WHAT CHANGED: There used to be a pretty ghetto grocery store next to the tube stop, and it's been replaced by a much nicer grocery store. There's also a Whole Foods on Kensington High Street. Frozen yogurt shops have popped up everywhere there, similar to the U.S., and it felt like that had replaced gelato (sad!). There seemed to be free Wifi everywhere. Granted that seven years ago, I had a laptop instead of an iPhone so I wouldn't have noticed all the hotspots but still free Wifi in the tube stations, very hard to believe! I didn't even see the Internet cafe I used constantly in the neighborhood, but why would you need it?

Maybe it's because I'm not a student trying to use money wisely or that the exchange rate was 1.5 pounds to $1 instead of 2 pounds to $1, but it felt less expensive than it did when I was living there. But that might just be my perception or lack of calculating the exchange rate at that point in the trip. And I mostly focused on seeing things that don't charge an entrance fee.

I was in London from January to April, so I missed the bulk of the tourist season. (By the end of April, it was getting too crowded for me.) And I don't know if this is a time of year thing or just changes in the last seven years, but Portobello Market has grown a lot, not just in people but in the length of it and the number of booths. These crowds made me a little anxious.

And obviously, the Olympics have changed some things. In 2005, London was competing with other cities to get the Olympics, so there were lots of London 2012 signs. But now that they are just a couple of weeks away from the Olympics, most of the signs are warning people to prepare for increased traffic everywhere — on buses, trains, roads. But there were cool things like the countdown in Trafalgar Square, the Olympic rings in St. Pancras station and the gold medals on display at the British Museum.

I also felt like I was in Paris in February — everything was being "refurbished." Everywhere we went there was construction (including at our hotel). And stuff was closed or limited because of renovations, nothing terrible, but it really made me wonder if all this stuff was going to be ready. Because when I was there, London was not looking prepared to be shown off to the world. Hopefully, they get it together and things run smoothly for the Olympics.

WHAT STAYED THE SAME: The thing about traveling in Europe is that everything is old. We think things that are 100 or 200 years old in the U.S. are really old, but in Europe you have stuff that has been around for much longer than 200 years and obviously that doesn't change. Roads stay the same, as does the tube system. I used my A to Z map and tube map a fair amount, but there were some places I probably could have gotten to without a map.

Since we stayed in my old neighborhood, we used the same tube station I used daily for four months, and nothing had changed about it. We ended up in an underground walkway to a tube station that I used to walk through frequently to get from work to class. The smell is still the same, and birds still get in freak you out.

The exhibits in museums are always changing, and I don't remember that many of the museums. But there was definitely a familiarity in the museums we visited. In the Victoria & Albert Museum, it took me a while, but I found the balcony over the room of sculptures that I loved. Of course, it was all being "refurbished" but at least it existed.

The bigger grocery store I shopped in was still there and looked exactly the same. I could go right to the aisle I needed. (The candy aisle, in case you were wondering. Cadbury chocolate is much better over there.)

OK, I'm sure there are many more things, but this was my brain dump on London. The next post will have lots of pictures.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Day 7: Giant's Causeway and Belfast

From Derry, we traveled along the Northern Ireland coast to Giant's Causeway. The coast was beautiful, maybe even more beautiful than the southern coast or maybe it had just been a day or so since we had been on the coast.

Giant's Causeway is a rock formation on the coast that was formed by an underwater volcano. I loved walking out to some of the points farther out and higher. There was also a rock in the shape of a boot off to the side.

After Giant's Causeway, we traveled to Belfast to go to the brand-new Titanic museum (remember how I said there was a Titanic theme?). The Titanic was built in Belfast, and the museum was built at the shipyard where the Titanic was built. It was a pretty incredible museum, very modern and interactive. There were some things I thought were overdone. I didn't really need to be in a moving car to see the exhibit on what it was like to work on the Titanic. And as I said in the post about Derry, there is definitely an effort in Northern Ireland to be more tourist-friendly.

From Belfast, we drove back to Dublin for our final night and farewell dinner. We went to a place called the Abbey Tavern where we had dinner, and there was an Irish band and Irish dancers. It was a lot of fun, and several people from our tour group volunteered to go on stage to dance and to clap along with the band. We had a last drink with the group in the hotel bar and said goodbye. I was surprised how much I enjoyed everyone's company on the trip and that it was sad to say goodbye to these people.

Next up: A return to London