Happy London Saturday

(Written on Saturday morning, extremely early!)

I’m off to London for the day today. I’m on the train at the moment, having left Cardiff at stupid-o’clock this morning. I got up nice and early so I could get myself ready, as I don’t generally wear make-up unless I’m going somewhere nice. Well, today qualified as a make-up day, so I had to allow extra time for that! I obviously have forgotten how long it takes to do a full face of make-up, as by the time I had finished I had no time left to make breakfast. So, instead of the lovely sandwich and couple of pieces of fruit I had planned to take with me, I bought myself a packet of mini-Eccles cakes at Cardiff Central station. [For my overseas (non-UK) readers – do you have an Eccles cake equivalent? It is a cake made with flaky pastry which contains dried vine fruits, and is named after a town in Lancashire, England.]

I’m travelling with a group of friends who all have children in school with my boys. Once of them, A, celebrated her 40th birthday recently and so T, who organised the whole trip has brought Bucks Fizz, strawberries and chocolates and even disposable champagne flutes along for the train journey! And so the party is really getting started, before 8am! T is justifying it as a champagne breakfast; I can see that I (I don’t drink) am going to end up carrying half of them around Covent Garden on my back! (Only joking – they are all, of course, mature, responsible ladies 😉 )

I think the plan is to get into London by about 9.30, spend the morning shopping, so and see the show, have a long and relaxed dinner and then make our way back to London Paddington to catch the train home. After which I will write an update on our day. Happy Saturday!

So, my day went more or less as I had expected. We had a cooked breakfast when we arrived in town, which set us up for the day. We spent the morning and early afternoon walking around the Covent Garden boutiques and then the Jubilee market. We had the obligatory pub stop before heading off to the theatre to see … Dirty Dancing! Yay! It was fabulous! I’d not seen the film for several years and so it was lovely to be reminded of all the more subtle nuances!

The dancing was fantastic and the singing awesome. I really thought that there was a CD playing until I saw the lips of one of the girls moving and realised that it was her singing! ‘Baby’ looked just like the actress who played her in the film. The time flew by, and it wasn’t until we were on the train on the way home that I realised that it was three hours long.

More about my day and photos tomorrow – this post is getting a bit too long and it’s time for me to get ready for bed (I’m exhausted!) so I’m going to split it in two!

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Doodle a Day

During my teenage years I never enjoyed art in school. I was musical as opposed to artistic and dreaded my weekly art lesson. When I was fourteen and had the opportunity to drop art as a subject I did it with great happiness. However, all through my teenage years I saw my mother and father spending time painting and drawing, improving with every new project and really enjoying it. I told myself that I can’t draw and left it at that, with a vague sense of sadness that this hobby would never be one that I could share with them.

My parents (especially my father) have always maintained that you don’t need a special gift in order to be able to draw, just the patience and the perseverance to regularly practice and a thick enough skin to be able to ignore the failures or at least put them down to experience and be able to move on. Despite running a mile from formal art lessons I have always envied those who I perceived to have a talent for art. It seems like such a peaceful and relaxing pastime; something that you could do to take your mind off any worries you might have and just revel in the marks on the paper, the colours on the canvas.

So, with this in mind, and with the words of my parents ringing in my ears (see, I do listen!), I am planning a project. I am hoping that some of you might be interested enough to join in with me, especially people like myself who have always thought of themselves as highly unartistic. However, I will welcome all companions on my experiment. It will be called ‘Doodle a Day’ and is just that. I plan to draw something, no matter how small or insignificant, with whatever time I can spare each day even if that is only ten minutes. I will initial and date my work and then (here’s the brave bit) I will photograph it and post it here. Initially I plan to run this experiment for a month, and I am hoping by the end of the month to have a noticeable improvement in my drawing abilities. So, anyone up for it? It needn’t be an expensive experiment; all you will need as a minimum is a pad of paper (preferably A4, I am told), a pencil, an eraser and ten minutes each day to attempt to sketch something. If you will be taking part with me, post a comment and then keep us updated as to your progress over the weeks. It needn’t just be for novices like myself either. Perhaps you used to do a lot of drawing or painting but circumstances have conspired to stop you being so creative. You could use this month to brush up your skills and dust off your sketching materials. And if you come along to ‘Doodle a Day’ after I’ve started, don’t let that (or my awful drawings!) put you off, just hop on and join in with me.

I’ve even made a nice little button for you to put on your sidebar (or wherever you fancy really!) if you are taking part in this challenge. The URL for the image is below;

https://jenniepowell.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/doodle-button.jpg

and the code for the button is this;

<a href=”https://jenniepowell.wordpress.com/”><imgsrc=https://jenniepowell.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/doodle-button.jpg“=alt”Doodle a day at Jennieworld Today”></a>

However, please bear in mind that I have never made a button before, have never written a piece of code and so it may not work! And in case you’re interested, the picture on the button is a view over Salzburg in Austria which I photographed last December. This is the sort of picture that I would draw if I were able, which is why I picked it for my button. Who knows, maybe after a few (or a lot of) weeks of this experiment I’ll be able to produce a recogniseable copy of my photo. Here’s hoping!

There we are, once I hit my ‘publish’ button, I will be committing to sitting down at some point today and drawing something so that tomorrow morning I will be able to share with you the (quite possibly hideous!) results of my labour! Keep your fingers crossed that my pencils don’t end up thrown out of the window.

Weight loss progress

There won’t be a graph for your perusing pleasure today. I have decided that I’m not going to have a weigh in this week as I gave myself the weekend off the diet to celebrate my wedding anniversary. We had a chinese takeaway on Saturday night, as well as sharing half a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream. We then had croissants for breakfast yesterday, followed by a roast dinner at lunch time cooked by my mother in law, and then a chocolate cake for dessert. So, although I’ve only had that day off, I think that the weight which would show today would probably be inaccurate and not indicative of my progress overall. Therefore I’ll weigh in again next Monday, after a week of my diet being back to normal and I’ll be proud to be able to tell you that I’ve lost more weight, I’m sure. I plan to start up my exercise this week again, which will all help.

First anniversary of the month!

September is a month of anniversaries in our family. And the first one, not generally celebrated, is today. Five years ago today I passed my driving test. From today, I can say that I’ve been driving for five or more years, rather than having to remember the number of years and months each time I apply for car insurance. Yay! And, today I remembered (for the first time in five years) the exact combination of wheel turns required for a perfect example of a parallel parking manoeuvre! I think that at this, the five year mark, my stress-related amnesia relating to parallel parking may have lifted!

This probably isn’t the sort of thing that the daughter of a former driving instructor should admit to, but let me reassure you by saying that generally I believe that my driving abilities are deemed acceptable by my passengers! I don’t get many people hanging on to the sides of the seats, and no-one has ever asked (yet) to be let out of the car prematurely. I think that these are probably fair indications.

Sweets and candy – are they gluten free?

This post is both a bit of a rant and a call for help! I went shopping for my best friend’s mother’s birthday present today, thinking to get her a box of sweets and had a really hard time. You see, she has recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease and I was (naturally) eager to buy something which wouldn’t make her ill! She loves all kiddy sweeties like love hearts, parma violets, marshmallows etc, so I looked at the big packs of Swizzel Matlow sweets first – there was absolutely nothing on them to indicate whether or not they were gluten free. So I moved on to the boxes of chocolates; Milk Tray, Celebrations, Roses etc. Once more, therre was nothing on the labels to guide me as to the right and safe chocolates to buy. So I gave up in disgust, came home and went online to seek help and inspiration! I found that the Cadbury’s website was very helpful, giving an exhaustive list of all gluten free products in their range. Swizzel Matlow wasn’t so helpful, not even a website on display, let alone dietary information for their products. And I couldn’t find information elsewhere about their sweets. Are there any websites out there that any of you know of where I can find guidance for the future present purchases?

Oh, and today I bought a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray and a box of gluten free luxury biscuits from Sainsbury’s (although they weren’t made by Sainsbury’s – I can’t remember the brand). They both were accepted with appreciation, and my children helped make a dent in the box of Milk Tray before we left to come home for bed!

Hurricane Gustav

I’ve been obsessed today by following the events in New Orleans as the Mayor has ordered the evacuation of the city prior to the landfall of Hurricane Gustav. It is at present building up in strength in the Gulf of Mexico, but is expected to hit Louisiana some time in the next twenty four hours. And so the residents of the area expected to be affected are being ordered to move out immediately and find safe places to wait out the storm.

What a terrible thing to happen to people, almost three years to the day since Hurricane Katrina left such scenes of devastation in its wake. I can’t imagine living in a place where you are constantly beset with the fear that you might have to get up and leave at incredibly short notice. My first reaction was to wonder why people went back to New Orleans, if there is this ongoing threat of hugely powerful tropical storms and hurricanes which cause such devastation and, in the worst cases, loss of life. But then, you think it through and realise that most people probably don’t have an option. It is a huge undertaking to move across country and try to find somewhere new to start from scratch; new job, new schools, new home. And I get the impression that a lot of the people in New Orleans aren’t well off. So they won’t have the financial reserves to be able to afford to start over again somewhere else.

I’ve spent much of the day trying to put myself in their position, wondering what I would do if I was living in New Orleans night now. Naturally, with my family I would have to leave and get the children to safety. But what would you pack? In this age where we have, and increasingly feel the need for material possessions, How do you choose what to leave behind? Do you, for example, take the relatively expensive things such as computers, tvs, stereos etc, or do you put your practical head on and salvage kitchen items which may be significantly cheaper to replace but would be infinitely more useful in the short term? I think I’d have to take my laptop with the cds which hold backups of my photos. After that I think I’d try to stay practical, taking long lasting food, clothes, blankets, cooking equipment and toiletries. But it must be heartbreaking to have to leave things behind which you have accumulated over your lifetime, or even that you have inherited. For instance, suppose that you have inherited something like your grandmother’s photo albums or wedding dress; things which are wholly impractical and useless for day to day living but which hold tremendous sentimental value.

Of course, lives are always more important and I’m not advocating staying behind to protect your belongings. I’m just thinking about how difficult it must be to turn your back on everything (bar your family) which makes your house your home.

Last summer, many people across Britain experienced heavy flooding which ruined homes and destroyed their belongings. I imagine in most cases that people were able to move their more precious items up to a higher floor in order to keep them safe. But this flooding was not on the same scale as the weather events which New Orleans experienced three years ago, and that which is threatened in the coming hours. I simply cannot imagine being told that I need to drive a hundred miles away from my home in order to stay safe.

My thoughts and my prayers go out to all these people who have had to abandon their homes and neighbourhoods to find safety elsewhere, and I hope and pray that the hurricane will turn around or somehow miraculously die out before it hits the land. Failing that, I hope that the meteorologists have got it wrong, and that the storm is not gathering strength. I will be following the news avidly through today and tomorrow. Please God let the residents of the affected area have heeded the Mayor’s warnings and left.

Back on the bike (at last!)

I managed to persuade myself to get back on my bike yesterday after a very long gap. I can’t remember exactly when my last bike ride was, but I’m fairly sure it was while the kids were still in school. So at least seven weeks then. Anyway, on Friday I decided that yesterday would be the day, as I had to get to work early in the morning and coincidentally I didn’t have the right change for my bus fare! And so, rather than asking my husband to bring home £3 for my day pass, I got out to the shed, checked the tyre pressure and the brakes and sorted out the things which I would want to carry in my pannier bags.

I was so lucky with the weather yesterday. When I woke up it was grey but warm, which were ideal conditions for cycling to work. This meant that I arrived nicely warmed but not soaked through with sweat! I made it to the office in about twenty to twenty five minutes of gentle ambling along the road. During the course of my shift the weather got better and better so that when I left work in the afternoon the sky was blue and the sun was shining brightly – what a shock to the system after a month of grey day after grey day. I was glad that I’d prepared for all eventualities by bringing both my raincoat and sunglasses, as the brightness of the sunshine definitely called for some protective eyewear!

I cycled up the Taff Trail for a while, and then after passing Llandaff phoned my husband to see whether he and the kids would be interested in meeting me somewhere for a while before I went home. He was, and so we arranged to meet at Roath Park Lake. And so, once more in a relaxed and unhurried way I cycled across the north of Cardiff to the Lake, where I was able to sit and relax for ten minutes and people watch before my family caught up with me.

Sitting on that bench on the warm and lovely day was so relaxing, I think I might take myself up there occasionally when the kids are back in school. It’s not too far to cycle from here, and is mainly fairly flat. There are plenty of benches once you get there to sit and watch the world go by. The children always enjoy a visit to the lake, even when we don’t buy them ice cream or let them play in the play area.

I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got home. I surprised myself, actually, with how tired I was. I cycled somewhere around thirteen miles all told, which just shows how much my fitness has decreased since I was last out on my bike. However, I’m sure I’ll feel the benefits by tomorrow – no pain no gain and all of that!

*By the way, I’d like to point out that these photos were taken earlier in the year, not yesterday. Taking photos yesterday would have involved raising my arms above handlebar height, an activity which I just wasn’t able to do! And so I thought I’d share some old favourites from previous visits to the places I went yesterday. You see, if you know where to look, Cardiff is a really pretty city with many oases of calm dotted about the place. And these locations, naturally, are among my favourite places to cycle. Still plenty more places to explore though, so cross your fingers for more fine days for me, or alternatively the will power to get out in the rain!