Monthly Archives: June 2011

At The Talbot

The Talbot Hotel in Stourbridge is old. It was first built in the 1600’s and expanded, remodeled and updated constantly since. The room we are in is known as “the family room” because it has a double bed and two twin beds–an ideal set up for people traveling with two kids who don’t want to stay in the same bed. This is a configuration I don’t see a lot of in American hotels but would be an instant hit.

The Talbot was originally a town house boasting “ten hearths” at the time of the hearth tax–I could google that for you, but I am doing this from my iPhone, and you probably have a keyboard. It reminds me a lot of the White Swan in Stratford-Upon-Avon we stayed in on our last trip to England. Like the Swan, the Talbot has interesting layers with connecting doors at odd angles. The thick dark beams contrast with the white plaster walls. The floors are no longer level, and furniture and windows tilt at odd angles.

There is nearly a foot difference in the floor of our room from corner to corner. I put a round tube on the small dresser and it rolled off as the right side of the dresser tilts up about eight inches higher than the left. Photos cannot capture the Escher-like feeling.

The quaintness of the place outweighs the small inconveniences of the architectural oddities. I like staying at places with character over sterile chains, and this place certainly has plenty of charm. (The free wi-fi is pretty nice, too.)

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Veg in Ireland

Maybe it was the clearly labeled gluten- free oatmeal on the shelf as we walked into The Phoenix B&B near Castlemaine, or perhaps it was the delicious savory smell of veggies simmering in garlic, or it could have been the Lazure-like paint on the walls that made this place feel like home away from home, but it was clear from the moment we arrived that we would have no problem finding healthy eating options for all our various diets.

My husband and son are committed omnivores, my daughter is happiest wheat and dairy free, I prefer a low-fat high fiber vegan diet, and our adopted-for-the-week teen is a dedicated vegan. Let’s just say I have felt as though I have given a number of the waitresses a thorough interview about the detailed contents of their menu options.

The Phoenix Restaurant bills itself as a seafood and vegetarian restaurant with accommodations. When booking their rooms for three nights, I looked at the menu, saw three obviously vegan options and knew we’d have three nights at least of easy eating. We weren’t disappointed. And it was easy because they knew veg-speak. The question “Is it vegan?” didn’t need any explanation. (The flyer for a Camphill festival made it abundantly clear there was a Waldorf connection–as If the food and decor weren’t enough.)

I’ve opted to be vegan-leaning without too many worries about eating vegetarian instead or even meat–I am on vacation after all. I have to admit the warm chicken and chorizo salad I shared with my daughter the other night was delicious. There have been eggs at breakfast, but I’ve passed up the sausage and ham options.

We’ve found an organic or “whole foods” type store in several places to ask where we can find a soy latte, and the tourist offices are very helpful in pointing out places that are most likely to have veg options. The hostess here in Killybegs happened to have soy milk in her fridge. We found hummus and pita at the local market, and there’s always fruit available.

The photo below is my delicious potato with beans and veggies with salad at the Stonechat in Killarney.

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Irish Anniversary

As we read through the local tourist guide for the Dingle area, the ruins of Kilmalkedar caught my eye. The church ruins date back to the 12th century. In front of the church is an Ogham stone (picture below) with a hole in the top of it. The guide book said that a couple can renew their wedding vows by touching their thumbs through the hole. Even though our anniversary is today, we did an impromptu 22nd anniversary renewal. (second picture)

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Not Just Electronic

Before we left, I purchased a four pack of Moleskines, the now ubiquitous writer’s friend. I discovered their supple bindings, their stay open lined pages, and their generally pleasing aesthetics years ago. I’ve often carried one of the smaller varieties in my purse to jot down little notes to myself.

I am likely wrong about this, but I seem to remember that they only came in black. The pack I picked up for the trip came in two shades of green and two of purple. My thought was that we could each use one to record our trip as we went. Most anyone reading this blog post is also following me on Facebook and sees my daily check-ins there. So, if I’m posting there all the time, why bother writing it out? Add in the fact my handwriting is almost impossible to read but by the most dedicated, it seems nearly futile.

It’s not that I’m recording deep thoughts. Most everything I’m putting down in ink are the details you won’t see here or on Facebook. I’m using an iPhone to do everything electronically, and, frankly, it’s not particularly pleasant to be entering all this text via a keyboard the size of a single Graham cracker. It’s legible.

Besides the practical aspects of having am alternative record that is not dependent on wireless and 3G networks, I like the process of writing. I like the way a pen feels as it glides or skritches across paper. It slows me down in a good way when I would tend to rush my thoughts.

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Tastes Like Milk!

When we first arrived at our hotel in London, we were exhausted from our overnight flight and jet lagged. The room was quite nice and had all the modern day conveniences. Instead of an American style coffee maker, which frankly grosses me out with the brown stains even visible on black plastic, it came with a lightening quick water kettle. Plug it in, flip the switch and the water is boiling in seconds. Next to ours were four cups, a selection of teas and instant coffee and a plate with petite pieces of carrot cake. Three of us had a quick bit of tea while the eight-year old took a cat-nap and were off to do something soon after.

It wasn’t until this morning as we were leaving that I looked closely at the little packets that came with the tea service. I had been reading the label as “Milk maid” and “Made with milk.” What it really says is something a whole lot less appealing. In the attempt to assure the consumer that the product inside is q good one, the “tastes like fresh milk” made me pick it up questioning the contents instead.

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London Renewal

I knew that London would have changed a lot since I lived here in 1987. Change is nothing new to a city like this, and yet I can’t help but marvel a little bit when told that a place like Westminster Cathedral underwent rennovations in the 13th century. I don’t think I’m the only American who tends to think something over 100 years old seems ancient.

When I was here as a college Junior with the AIFS program, I lived in one of their student flats in Kensington on Queensgate. As I looked for hotels to stay at for our vacation, I tried to book a room at the hotel I walked by on a daily basis. The doorman who stood out front grew to know me on my regular passings to the South Ken tube stop. At the time I lived here,I never ventured inside but told myself that I would ahould I have the money to visit again someday.

It turns out the Grovesner was unavailable not because it was fully booked but because it is closed for rennovation.

Sometime in the last twenty-plus years, the swanky looking place had fallen to the state where it required being closed and completely remodeled. Pressing my nose to the glass reveals freshly painted interior walls and a mess of a floor. Buildings up and down Queensgate are in various states of scaffolding.

As we took a tour of the city in one of those double decker open decked buses today, it was more than apparent that all of London is undergoing some major infrastructure and cosmetic upgrades. While some amount of upkeep and clean up is always necessary, this has more to do with the 2012 Olympics. Londoners are excited by the notion of hosting the games next summer, and it is as if the whole city is primping for a massively important first date.

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Looking at Those Resolutions Halfway Through the Year

The same friend that prompted this post did a quarterly update on her own 2011 goals. Since we’re almost halfway through the year and it’s not likely I’ll be thinking that much about resolutions while on vacation, I figured I’d take a look at what I was thinking last December and see how I’ve done so far.

1. Reach My Goal Weight: Given that I’m down more than half the difference since last December, I’m going to cautiously say yes, I’m going to make this goal. The reason I’m being cautious is that I’m about to spend three weeks facing down some serious food challenges while in the UK. That picture to the left? That’s called an Ulster Fry. Apparently it’s not served just in Ulster but is likely to be a pretty good representation of a lot of the breakfasts we are likely to see. Forget about things like “High Tea” at Harrod’s or any of the other possible food options we’ll come across. Can you say “Cadbury Flake?” I have a lot of food memories of living in London, and I’m going to have to try to keep some of them just memories and resist trying to relive them.

2. Submit at Least Three Short Stories for Publication: Well, I didn’t say what kind of short stories, now did I? While it may seem like a cop-out to some folks, I am going to say work under my pen name qualifies. I’ve got one story out with the final edit being done for a site that publishes erotica. I’ve been told that it should be “up soon.” I’m thinking it will appear while I’m on vacation, but that’s okay. I’ve started another short story under the same name, and I will submit that to the same site in Mid-July. So, I’ve got one third of my goal accomplished, and am well on my way to 2/3. There’s one more short story just a single edit away from submission as well. I do believe that this goal is close to being in the bag.

3. Actively Help and Support my Writing Group: Hmmmm…I wouldn’t say this is a complete fail, but I could be doing better at this. I have had the opportunity to have a story reviewed recently–the one that’s just an edit away from sending out. I’ve also been able to read some really good work from my group members. I’ve not been terribly good at helping with the organizing or calling to make reservations at the place we usually meet.

4. Read all My Book Group Books:I had to look at what the offerings were so far in 2011. In January, we read Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat. That was an easy read. Got all the way through it happily. February’s pick, Plum Wine by Davis Gardner is still in a canvas tote that I took with us on a little family outing along the way. I started it, but…it just didn’t grab me. Huck Finn for March was clearly cheating. How many times have I read that book? Did I re-read it? Nope. I figured I’d read it at least four time if not more, I didn’t really need a refresher for the discussion that was finally cancelled after enough people were sick or otherwise busy. The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose in April was one of the best picks of the year as far as I’m concerned. I read the whole thing, handed it off to both Margy and Dave who followed suit. It’s a fascinating read, and I’m looking forward to what Roose will do next. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark was our final book, and it left me cold. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t stand this book. Granted, I picked it up and had my mind set on reading a regular sort of novel. If I had known that Spark is a post-modernist writer, I would have had an easier time of it. (Maybe. I’m not a fan of books without some sort of…story.) As it was, I lost patience with the prose and tossed it aside. Literally. My copy has a bent corner now. This resolution is clearly needing my attention. I have five more books this year that might bring up my score, so here’s hoping.

I have a bit of work to do across the board, but if I had met or exceeded all my goals half way through the year, I would have been under-reaching. If I’d said I would get that whole novel submitted, it would have been over-reaching. All in all…I’m thinking I’ve set a reasonable pace. Now, if I can just avoid too much take-away curry while in London…

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