Monday, 28 February 2005

"Getting Better" - Beatles, 1967

Some of my colleagues here in Oxford have been a little slow to accept me, I think, even though I've now been in my job here for just over two years. But something special happened this morning, making me feel that it's getting better all the time.

Last Friday, as I do from time to time, I brought some chocolates back for folks in the office when I went out to buy some weekend groceries for John and myself. I've never seen a group of people go through chocolates as quickly as my co-workers here do. They are amazing!

Anyway, this morning, when I arrived at the office, one of the empty boxes was right in the middle of my desk, with a note sitting on it...written on a paper towel (or "kitchen towel", as they would say here in Britain). I've posted a snapshot of the note below.

I'm really touched. I'm not sure which one of them wrote this, and it doesn't matter. It means a lot to me. I'll be smiling all day because of this little act of kindness.


Photo: Note From A Colleague

Click on photo for a full-sized image. Posted by Hello

Saturday, 26 February 2005

"Birdland" - Weather Report, 1977

I live in a barn. Really! It's a "barn conversion", actually, typical of a lot of dwellings in England. It's remarkable. The building dates back to the 1700's, according to my neighbor and the former owner of the entire farm.

I was very lucky to find such a special place to lease. But some people are amused by where I live. My friend Joel in Houston once quipped, when writing to me, "Janet, just because you were born in Oklahoma doesn't mean that you have to live in a barn!" Ha Ha, Joel...very funny!

One of the features of my end of the building is a row of sort of "cubby holes", for lack of a better description. We suspect that they had something to do with air flow/ventilation in the barn. White doves live in those cubby holes, and they've become our friends. Their cooing is very soothing, and it's fun to watch them raise their families. They've been such prolific breeders over the past year that the end of the house became a sort of white dove tenement building for awhile. But recently we suspect that some of the youngsters have been told to grow up and move along and not live with mum and dad (and, we suspect, grandparents and aunts & uncles, too!) anymore. It's much less overcrowded now, but I have to wonder how far away the young doves had to go to find suitable new homes.

The doves are one of the features of the house that's most special to me. I worry about them when the temperature dips below freezing, but they always seem to find a way to all keep warm and have shelter.

"My birds" can be seen all over the village as well. Sometimes they almost seem to follow me when I walk to the bus stop in the center of the village, as I can see them perched on buildings in the Market Place as I'm waiting for the bus to take me into Oxford. I'm sure I'm exaggerating...but it's fun to think that perhaps they might be tracking my movements.

Below, you'll find photos of the building I live in (with the village's beautiful church tower in the of the church building date back to the 1200's, but the tower was rebuilt in the 17th century), of the inhabited cubby holes in the end of the house, and of one of the white doves on the nearby brick wall...a wonderful portrait that John took last year.


Photo: Where I Live

Click on photo for a full-sized image. Posted by Hello

Photo: The Doves in the Cubby Holes

Click on photo for a full-sized image. Posted by Hello

Photo: John's Portrait of a White Dove

Click on photo for a full-sized image. Posted by Hello

Friday, 25 February 2005

"Oh John" - Paula Cole, 1994

Last night, I attacked a stack of unsorted CDs in the living room, and I rediscovered "Harbinger" by Paula Cole. It's an old favorite of mine, and it rightly deserves being loaded onto my I did immediately.

I was snowed/iced in yesterday and worked from home. But this morning, I set off a little before 7am for the Oxford park & ride lot that's the nearest to the village I live in. I took the Paula Cole CD with me to listen to in the car as I made the 14-mile drive. I hadn't listened to "Harbinger" in a long time. It was like rediscovering an old friend.

When I got to track #8 -- the title of this blog entry -- I had to smile. I discovered this CD right around the time that I met my John. It brought back great memories of first meeting a charming man in "North London"...someone who would later become the most important person in my life!

Oh very glad I am that it's Friday and we are about to have a weekend together!


PS John, I've just noticed on Paula's website that she has a connection to Peter Gabriel, describing him as "My friend and teacher and musical hero..."!

Thursday, 24 February 2005

Photo: Snow at Home 1

Here's the view from my front door this morning, after the overnight snow in North Oxfordshire...and it's still snowing! (Click on photo for full-sized image.) Posted by Hello

Photo: Snow at Home 2

My side garden this morning. (Click on photo for full-sized image.)Posted by Hello

Photo: Snow at Home 3

I hope you can read this sign on the brick wall in my back garden! (Click on photo for full-sized image.) Posted by Hello

Wednesday, 23 February 2005

"Wind Beneath My Wings" - Bette Midler, 1989

I wouldn't have believed it was real if I hadn't found it myself this evening, in the "travel pillow" section of Magellan's website. I've always found a lot of interesting travel gear there.

Take a look at the Flatulence Filter!

My favorite part of the commentary is -- "And at 30,000 feet, it's difficult to blame the dog!"

You have to wonder how many of these things they actually sell, don't you?


"Doctor! Doctor!" - Thompson Twins, 1984

I must be very hungry today, as all I can think about at the moment is that John has a Subway shop near his office in London. I don't. And I'm craving a Subway today.

Actually, I think John has two Subways nearby!

I travel a lot for my job, running training courses for people in energy. One thing I really like is that almost everywhere in the world I've gone, I've found a Subway. I know I can get something fresh and tasty whether I'm in Houston or Calgary or Singapore or Dubai, if I get tired of "local cuisine" (which I sometimes do, given how long I'm away from home on some of my trips). But I can't get a Subway here in Oxford!

I've never looked up Subway's website before, but I just did. Most interesting to me is the history of the company, which you can find
HERE. It's a good story...very "American"!

I also had no idea that the company which owns Subway is a private organization called "Doctor's Associates". It's owned by the two men who started the Subway brand -- Fred DeLuca and Dr. Peter Buck. That was all the way back in 1965. I'm not sure I even had my first Subway until I moved to New York City in 1986...when I was lucky enough to have one just around the corner from where I lived, near the UN headquarters.

Meanwhile, using a handy location finder on Subway's website, I have learned that there actually is a Subway shop here in Oxford after all. Unfortunately, it's not near my office but is in a student building, in Headington, on the Brookes University campus. That's too bad. I understand they are now featuring toasted subs, and wouldn't one of those be terrific on this cold day in Oxford.

Maybe John will have one for lunch today...and then I'll live vicariously through him!


Photo: Oxford Snow 1

Looking east down Broad Street, Oxford, this morning. (Click on photo for full-sized version.) Posted by Hello

Photo: Oxford Snow 2

Oxford is a beautiful city anyway...but it has been made even more beautiful with some snow. This was taken this morning at Pembroke College, not far from my office. (Click on photo for full-sized image.) Posted by Hello

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

"Homesick" - Finn Brothers, 2004

It all started with one of my New Year's resolutions -- to eat more fruits and veggies.

Last week, during my adventurous after-work trip to Sainsbury's in Banbury, I picked up some apples. I didn't notice until this morning that they are a variety I don't think I've ever had before. I assumed that these Empire apples, like many of the apples you can buy here in England, were from New Zealand...especially with a name like "Empire". But I'd failed to notice the "Product of the USA" sticker on each piece of fruit. It turns out they are from New York State. Duh! I should have thought about that. Especially since I love New York City and the surrounding area so much. I even have a large wooden version of the Empire State Building in the front entrance area of the house I'm leasing here in Oxfordshire.

A little quick web research taught me a lot about apples. First, I found the
New York Apple Country website, where I learned that the Empire's especially nice taste comes from the fact that the variety is a hybrid of the Red Delicious and McIntosh apples...and I agree with the description that the Empire has a "sweet-tart taste". I went on to find the US Apple Association's website, where I learned even more about various varieties of apples that I enjoy.

Then I thought it only fair to see if there was an equivalent website for English apple growers -- if there were any -- and lo and behold I found the site for the
East of England Apples and Orchards Project.

But then, as I ate my New York state apple, I thought of the term "The Big Apple" and wondered where it had come from...and why I'd never thought about that before. After all, I lived in Manhattan myself for 7-1/2 years...and there's even a photo on
this page which proves it!

So although I haven't had much time to spend on it yet, I recommend an interesting looking site called "The Big Apple".
I've read only enough to learn that the term was already in use in the 1920's, by a fellow named John J Fitz Gerald, a track writer for the "New York Morning Telegraph" newspaper. Interesting. I'll dig more into that site when I have some time.

I miss "The City" so much. I guess I always will. I often wonder how I can feel so incredibly "homesick" for a city which was just a temporary stop along the way during the adventure of my life.


Monday, 21 February 2005

"Substitute" - Who, 1966

I've been thinking about the trip that former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. have made to the tsunami-ravaged areas in Asia. At the same time, current US President George W Bush is traveling in Europe, allegedly trying to patch up the shaky relationship between the US and various European countries.

For all the good he's doing in Asia, I believe that former President Clinton is with the wrong Bush.


Sunday, 20 February 2005

"I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" - Elton John, 1983

Well, that's it. Chelsea are out of the FA Cup, as of a few minutes ago.

Was Mourniho gutsy but then unbelievably unlucky, making those three half-time subs? Or was it just foolhardy on his part?

It's anybody's guess...but I have no doubt that the pundits will enjoy speculating on it for days to come.

I just don't want to talk about it any more...

Well...except that I'm very worried about the mid-week Champions League match with Barcelona, given the physical condition of a lot of our players.


"Day in the Life" - Beatles, 1967

("Four thousands holes in...")

I enjoyed watching the Burnley v Blackburn FA Cup round match this afternoon. It's always terrific to see Brad Friedel in goal. As the BBC commentator said as well, he's a non-flashy, solid keeper. He's also proof that "Yanks" can play soccer...sorry, non-American readers, football. I'm always happy to have the chance to see him play.

And did anybody besides John and I chuckle because the name of the Blackburn player Andy Todd? Any "Little Britain" fans will understand why!


Saturday, 19 February 2005

"The Good In Goodbye" - Cerys Matthews, 2003

I didn't think I was going to mention this today, but I just can't help myself.

There was an hour-long episode of
"EastEnders" on BBC 1 last night. It's the 20th birthday of the television show...a "soap", or as is more politically correct in the States these days, a "continuing drama". In order to celebrate the milestone and in a valiant attempt to boost flagging ratings, "Dirty Den" Watts was killed off for a second time. I believe the last time he allegedly died was back in 1989.

So why is he really dying again? Well, it supposedly has something to do with the actor Leslie Grantham's "activities" with his webcam, in his dressing room on the "EE" set...but we won't go into the sordid details here.

Many of us in Britain eagerly awaited last night's episode. John and I certainly did, and we made a point to watch. (The "EE" set at BBC Elstree isn't far from John's house, by the way!)

But not everyone was quite so lucky.

I understand that the royal family -- well, at least the senior members, the Queen and Prince Phillip -- are fans of "EastEnders" also.

But last night, there was a very important dinner at the Palace for members of the visiting Olympic location selection committee. For those of you who aren't aware of the story, London is making an aggressive bid for the Olympic Games in 2012. (Not everybody is enthusiastic about that idea, though...see

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one pondering if the Queen and Phillip were at least mildly distracted last night, during the smoked salmon and Meursault and small talk, wondering just how Den Watts was going to bite the dust this time. Poor things. I wonder if they even know how to program a video recorder? Hey...maybe they have TiVo!


PS After originally posting this item, I've discovered that John's local newspaper's online edition has published an interesting article called "20 Years of Walford", about the EastEnders set. Funny that they just happen to mention the show having fans from as far away as Houston, Texas! Now isn't that an interesting coincidence!

Friday, 18 February 2005

"Gallon of Gas" - Kinks, 1979

Wow...I knew that oil traders could be a macho, tough bunch. But this surprises even me! Thanks, Bill, for the link to the story.


"Who Can It Be Now?" - Men at Work, 1982

When John first mentioned, many years ago, that he enjoyed listening to BBC Radio 5 in the morning, I looked them up on the web. News and sports station. AM radio. No music at all. It didn't sound all that intriguing to me, even given what a news junkie I was and still am. (I was, after all, the only person in the trading room always monitoring CNN!) I didn't see the point of a non-music radio station at that point in my life.

However, over the years, I grew to appreciate John's view of
Five Live Breakfast. I've become completely hooked on the show. I even accepted (albeit very reluctantly) the changeover from Julian & Victoria to Nicky & Victoria...and now to Nicky & Shelagh. It's the best before-work program ever...sorry, Katie & Matt!

They really made me laugh this morning. Shelagh is away, and her replacement had a small slip-of-the-tongue. She was reading a story about global warning...saying that a new report suggests that it is indeed man-made. But she misread the story, saying that global warming has been caused by "a man". I could hear the others chuckle in the background. Nicky wondered out loud who that man might be. So did I! He suggested that perhaps he's the very same man who has stolen that plutonium that they talked about 24 hours earlier. (John wrote about that
here.) The texts and e-mails immediately started coming into the station, with suggestions from listeners regarding who that man could be. John Prescott was, I believe, the first suggestion. I couldn't help thinking that at least we know it couldn't be Al Gore! I had to leave for work soon afterward, so I missed the other suggestions. (Sometimes I listen to the radio in the car during my "commute", but this morning I was more interested in listening to Willie Nelson on the CD player-- see the post below!) However, I noted with amusement that the next time she read that same news story, the wording had been changed to indicate that "mankind" was/were (never sure about that one...) to blame for global warming.

Once I got into my office in Oxford, I was able to listen to Five Live for a few more minutes before any of my nearby colleagues arrived....thanks to a cool little
Pure Evoke-1 digital radio sitting on my desk. I heard the news item one more time, and again the cause of global warming had been reworded by the BBC. This time it was because of "humans". Whew! That clears that one up!


"Texas" - Willie Nelson, 2004

Here's a big THANK YOU to my friend Joel for the recommendation of Willie Nelson's latest CD "It Always Will Be", which I picked up at HMV here in Oxford at lunchtime yesterday! What a of his best, I think! I especially love the duets with Paula Nelson (daughter? granddaughter? new wife, perhaps?), Norah Jones and Lucinda Williams. It's made for great listening as I "commute" through the Oxfordshire countryside.

Joel, once again your musical recommendation was what might here be described as "top grade"! Thank you so much...and John, I'll share it with you over the weekend!


Thursday, 17 February 2005

"Helter Skelter" - Beatles, 1968

I feel like a grown-up tonight. For only the second time since getting my British "driving licence" (for my US friends, note the wording and spelling) last September, I drove myself in the dark to the supermarket for groceries! Last week, it was to the Tesco in Banbury. Tonight, my target was the closer Banbury Sainsbury's. But this week was even more of a challenge, as I did a full throughout-the-store grocery shop. Why was that such a challenge? Because of the helter skelter way that Britons drive their "trollies" in the supermarket! It's absolute madness! I've spent my 2+ years here trying to figure out the system. Is it left-side-of-the-aisle or right-side-of-the-aisle? I've determined it's neither. There is no system...just madness. I only bumped into two other people's carts this trip (although I must admit I also almost ran over a woman carrying a plastic shopping basket full of fruit), so I consider it a success.

And once I managed the lack of traffic patterns in the aisles, I had to face the frightening self-packing of the grocery bags moment! It's not that I'm lazy or think I'm too good to pack up my own purchases. It's just that I have spent my entire life having it done for me in the US and therefore just don't have the proper skills! My American family & friends (at least those of us of a certain age) will remember a very famous episode of one of Lucille Ball's comedy shows in which Lucy and Ethel are working on an assembly line and can't keep up with the speed of the items coming down the belt. That's me in a UK supermarket. So I usually will only go with John if I'm buying more than a few items. He's really good at packing up grocery purchases. He even tries to do it at Randall's in Houston, much to the dismay of the high-schoolers for whom it is their source of after-school income!

So after work today, I faced a lot of my fears -- and now it's time for a nice glass of wine and tonight's trials and tribulations of "EastEnders"! I'm rather proud of myself!


"Things I Miss The Most" - Steely Dan, 2003

I've been pondering what to post first on my new blog. John has a blog as well. His is a great outlet for his writing abilities. He has a terrific (and seemingly easy) way with words that I admire but just don't have myself.

Then I remembered that John had suggested that perhaps "Lord Celery" could be an outlet for some of my observations about life here in the UK. Maybe others would enjoy hearing my thoughts, too. You know, John gets bombarded all the time with all my comments about the differences between life in America and life in England. Perhaps he'd like to feel that others are sharing the listening burden! Poor thing! He's so very patient with me. It really must be love!

Anyway, this line of thinking led me to the conclusion that a good way to begin this exercise is to simply talk about the things I miss about living in the US...counter-balanced with those things I especially love about living here. Then, as time passes, I can chat about more of my observations as they come up in day-to-day life.

British people often marvel at how little I seem to get homesick. That's true for the most part, I suppose, and it has surprised me as well. But what do I miss the most? Well...

1. Being closer to my family and friends. You all know who you are. But a special mention goes to Melissa and Jennifer. I miss you two like crazy, all of the time!

2. Watching American sports on TV over the weekend. I'm craving baseball and basketball especially. There are games shown during the middle of the night on Britain's Channel 5, but I usually forget to record them. There was so much choice of sports on TV during the weekend in the US, and I took it for granted.

3. Being able to easily get good Tex-Mex/Mexican food. John makes killer chicken fajitas and quesadillas, but I still miss going to Pico's in Houston for their seafood enchiladas and other specialities. Yum. And Mama Ninfa's for almost anything!

4. The Jim Lehrer News Hour. CBS Sunday Morning. Austin City Limits. HBO. The Sunday morning news programs. Nova. 60 Minutes. Anything with Bill Moyers. Katie and Matt on The Today Show in the morning.

5. Carpets of bluebonnets on hillsides in Texas in the spring.

6. Big Bend National Park in Texas.

7. Listening to "oldies" on US radio stations -- all the time -- anywhere in the country that you go!

8. Being able to get to the Tunnel Vista on Highway 82 in New Mexico without making a long transatlantic flight first. That's my favorite spot in the entire world. (If you'd like, you can see some of John's photos from our last trip there at:

9. Community New Orleans coffee. Wolf Brand Chili. American peanut can sometimes be gotten here, but it costs a small fortune. Canned biscuits. North American cantaloupe. Gulf Coast seafood...especially shrimp and soft-shelled crabs. New Mexico green chiles...especially in the form of green chile cheeseburgers from Johnny's Outpost (Carrizozo) or from The Owl Bar (San Antonio). The buttermilk pie at Luby's Cafeteria.

OK, then. In contrast, let's talk about what I love about living in Britain...

1. First and foremost on the list is being near John. It's the reason I'm here, and it's been the best decision I ever made!

2. British radio. It's truly wonderful! Especially BBC 5 Live in the morning, and BBC Radio 2 almost any time. And I should add here that digital radio is very cool.

3. Jonathan Ross. Anything he does!

4. Little Britain. Funniest two people on the planet...even though I would have to agree with a friend here who describes them as "disturbing"!

5. Bob Harris. He's just incredible. (Bob, if by chance you're reading this, I probably have almost as many CD's and records in my collection as you do! Would you please consider giving me a job?)

6. Have I Got News For You, A Question of Sport, watching EastEnders on a timely basis four nights/week, Horizon, Panorama, Little Britain, Top Gear, Nighty Night, Countryfile, BBC documentaries, the presenters on BBC South Today on weeknights, reruns of Inspector Morse, etc. etc....the list goes on and on. Of course there's crap on British TV, too, but the proportion is smaller than on TV in the States.

7. The countryside. It's so beautiful and so good for the soul. I have the same feeling, driving in the British countryside, that I do driving in the Texas Hill Country...except for that annoying problem of being on the other side of the road!

8. English village life. I'm so very lucky to be able to work from an office in the beautiful city of Oxford (it really does have "Dreaming Spires") and yet live in such a picturesque, friendly, historic village in north Oxfordshire. I realize how lucky I am every single day.

9. British humor...or humour, as it would be written here. It's everywhere, sometimes in very unexpected places. I'm especially developing an appreciation for Liverpool's distinctive brand.

10. Public transportation. It's easily available from almost anywhere, and sometimes it's actually on time!

11. Ginger beer. Branston pickle. Lemon curd. Eggs...they just taste better here, and the yolks are such a bright yellow. All of those different types of creams and yogurts. Smoky bacon crisps...although I try not to eat them too often. All the varieties of sausages. Leeks. Parsnips. Scottish beef.

Undoubtedly there are more items for both lists, but I'm running out of thoughts and might as well stop at some point and just post this. I'm sure I'll share more over time. But at least that's a start!


Wednesday, 16 February 2005

Thoughts, Ramblings, and Observations...

It's always seemed a little vain to have a "blog" on the internet, but what the heck! This will be a place for, as the title suggests, thoughts and ramblings and observations. Of course, given my current situation as an American living in Britain, no doubt much of what I write here will be my observations about living and working in a new country. But maybe other things will pop out of my brain from time to time as well. So, stay tuned...


Tuesday, 1 February 2005

Photo: Janet - in another favorite place in the world!

Photo: favorite location in the world!

Tunnel Vista, NM Highway 82 Posted by Hello