No one woke me up when September ended!

But seriously, that Green Day song has been the bane of my birthday for YEARS now. Oddly enough, no one mentioned it this year. This was finally the year I was allowed to sleep through September ending. Wild. So, what’s been happening?

Well, for starters we have a new and furry family member in our house! Her name is Ophelia and she’s the prettiest kitty in Colchester. (Significant Otter will argue the prettiest ever.) She spent the first week in our house hiding behind the sofa, and the next two only hanging out with us when we were sitting. Nowadays, she goes where she pleases and loves hanging out with us. This does lead to some comedic moments, like this morning when she accidentally fell in the laundry basket and nearly destroyed it getting out. However, she came out unscathed and came to purr on M’s legs whilst he tried to sleep a little longer.

I’ve also been on a bit of a museum binge (Surprising, I know.) recently and been to some new ones. My colleague managed to score some tickets to the Bart’s Pathology Museum, which is only open a few times a year. It’s a room filled with jars of human bits and skeletal remains. Basically, it’s disgusting and fascinating in the same go, and each jar has a little blurb of information on it, so you could easily spend a lot longer than your allocated hour there. It was originally used by the university as a teaching collection, but now the room is only ever used for exams. M says he’s sat some there and was wholly unimpressed. I loved it. Unsurprisingly, they don’t let you take close up photos of the specimens, but you can take room-wide shots. The room itself is cool just for its architecture.

Next was a staff field trip to our satellite museum in Tring. Someone described it to us before going as a Dead Zoo, and that’s actually a pretty apt description. Not in a terrible way, but I wouldn’t go if you have issues with taxidermy. It’s a small museum, but absolutely stuffed to the gills with specimens, and really helpful and friendly staff. Tring is a bit out of the way, but it’s definitely worth a stop. We got a fascinating backstage tour of the collections, and saw more eggs and bird remains in one room than I’ve probably ever seen alive in one area. They’ve got one of the best and most diverse collections for each, so if you’re researching birds, you’ll likely end up in the little town of Tring.

After a museum binge, I had two different work trips through September. First was the ToScA 2017 meeting, in which I had to give a talk on my work with the blue whale. It was only slightly terrifying, and I think it ended up okay. Over the three days, I met a load of interesting new people, learned some new tips and tricks in the tomography world, heard some cool new work going on, and got to have dinner on the HMS Warrior – the first ironclad ship built in 1860!

Towards the end of the month, I got to fly on one of the few uncanceled RyanAir flights up to Edinburgh to attend a Standing Up for Science workshop. While there, I learned all about working with the media as a scientist and how best to get work across to someone who will inherently not know what the topic is on. It was a really handy course, and I met even more cool people in varied fields with some fascinating works. It was a good month for meeting people! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to wander Edinburgh as I’d hoped, and was on the last flight of the evening home for a weekend with the family.

Towards the end of September of course, is my birthday! I was working late on the actual day, but the Saturday morning M and I had a nice lie in and then wandered over to the nearby village of Coggeshall. It was such a cool place, with over 300 listed buildings and two National Trust sites. I spent the day blissfully looking at old things, and my beloved M came along for the ride, enjoying a scone with me in the garden of the Paycocke’s House and a pint of beer at the medieval pubs I had earmarked. We ended the adventures with dinner at one of the pubs, which had a steak so good that I think we would both gladly go back the 13 miles to have it again. The weather behaved, my gifts from everyone were fabulous, and it was all in all a really good day.

Sunday morning began October, and with it my Sober October challenge. I’ve signed up to be sober for the entire month in order to raise money for the cancer support charity Macmillan. It’s a great cause and a good reason to give up alcohol for the month. I suspect by the end of it I will be a bit healthier and Macmillan will have a bit more to put towards helping people whilst they fight cancer. I’ll be taking donations all month, alongside of sorry looking photos of me in pubs with friends and a soft drink in my hand, so if you feel charitable, donate a pint’s worth to the cause. 🙂

And most recently, there was the car wreck outside of the Natural History Museum that had everyone in a tizzy. Turned out to be just a really bad taxi driver, and nobody had serious injuries. I wasn’t even at work when it happened as it was on a Saturday, and got woken up from a nap with my phone blowing up to ask if I’m okay. Grumpy yes, but okay. Honestly though, don’t let these things put you off coming to London. It’s a wild city with so much to offer. And if you want to see us here at the NHM, we’ve still got the Whales exhibition open where you can stand next to a flipper for a sense of perspective – and the ice rink will be opening soon!

All in all, it’s turning into a fine autumnal season. I’m looking forward to seeing what October will hold. 🙂

 

— Kate

The Big 3-0.

Though he still may be occasionally checked for ID at the grocery store, the Significant Otter has reached the big 30th birthday milestone in life. For the last few birthdays we’ve rather made a habit of going abroad for the big day, but for a milestone birthday you should really celebrate with a big to do. And we most definitely did! M invited all of his friends around on the Saturday before the actual day. Ended up with absolutely perfect weather for the BBQ and partied merrily on until the evening at our local pub The Ship nearby. We had such a great time, I rather forgot to take any photos! Ah well, sign of a good party then. 🙂

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The only photo I got – pre-festivities.

The following weekend we packed up the surviving decorations and drove out to the Cotswolds to celebrate Birthday Round Two with the family. The weather was not as gloriously perfect, but the day of the party held steady and we enjoyed yet another BBQ. You’ll be unsurprised to find out that most of his presents this year were BBQ or otherwise back garden themed.

He may be in his 30s now, but it doesn’t seem like anything has actually changed all that much. (Though there were vegetables at both BBQs – a sign of the times!)

It was a lovely few weekends with both friends and family, and I’m glad we’re heading back out again next month when my parents get back into the UK for a visit.

Well, it’s only taken a few months worth of posting, but as of this entry I’m caught back up into the present(ish)! From here on out, the post and the current events may actually coincide. Maybe. Talk to you next week!

 

— Kate

Easter 2017

It was so nearly summer weather for Easter, but it was apparently not to be as we were soon back to sunny but chilly. Hey, beats rainy and chilly at least.

Started my long Easter weekend with a much deserved lie in, but only for so long. Significant otter was in a FitBit Workweek Hustle with myself and friends. He had no chance of catching up with me, but was neck and neck with my favourite Caffeinated Social Worker and determined not to take third place. This meant, of course, that we were about to go on a forced march around town. And march we did, through nearly every department store in the city centre, and around the gardens of the cathedral. (She noticed and just started walking more when she woke up.) Wrapped up the evening with a chilly BBQ and Star Wars VII.

The next day was more driving and less walking. Roamed the grocery store aimlessly in search of Easter roast and settled on a gammon. Wandered the carpet store doing pricing to determine if it’s worth having an external company do all the flooring in the new house – spoiler – not really. Came home and watched the most recent Star Wars. God, no one told me how awful that was.

Easter proper rolled in the next day and we had a quiet day of it – calling family, going for a nice walk around the nearby park, and having an Easter feast to ourselves. (The leftovers fed M for the rest of the week in sandwiches alone.) And of course, we tucked into the copious amounts of chocolate available.

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Finally, our last day of the long weekend came due, and it just seemed a bit morose. Poor M had to start nights that night, so we couldn’t really go anywhere or do anything major. Probably for the best, as I managed to fall down our stairs taking some water glasses to the kitchen and then promptly whined the rest of the day about how I was dying.

It was good to have a few days off work, and wonderful to spend some quality time with the spouse, but it just felt really odd not getting together with any family for Easter. We’re planning a trip out for M’s birth-week though, so that will help. I dunno, maybe it was just the tantalisingly-close-to-warm weather that was doing us both in, but I suspect our upcoming holiday will help. 🙂

— Kate

 

 

Trip to Manchester (Winter 2017)

Another Friday off, another great journey into the North. This time around, we went for Manchester to celebrate the nephew and sister-in-law’s birthdays. Learning our lessons from driving to Leeds, we did not get off the motorway in hopes of avoiding any traffic jams. We made it to Manchester in good time, but then nearly ended up in the centre of it when our sat nav decided we should start making illegal U-turns on a busy road.

However, we managed to turn around in a bingo hall car park and get to our hotel for the evening in one piece. Everything settled and unpacked, M and I were taken to his sister and brother in law’s house. Our nephew was super excited for his party with classmates the next day and was telling us all kinds of new Harry Potter facts. The party was epically themed to Harry Potter with all credit due to my crafty sister in law A. The wee one quizzed us on our Potter knowledge all through dinner and until he was put to bed. I was excited he was honing in on a fandom I could compete with this year!

We got back to the hotel later in the evening and were sorely tempted by this majestic creature in the hallway –

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Somehow though, we resisted and went to bed. Tomorrow was a double birthday celebration after all.

We all made it to the nephew’s party somewhat on time, and were promptly put to work. Not only were M and I made prefects of different houses, we were also to put together some magical book bag parting gifts and produce a cut up birthday cake. A still managed the lion’s share of it all though, keeping all the kids occupied with games and stories and making sure they were fed. From the noises coming forth from the other room as we were on cake duty, I can only guess that the kids all had a great time of it.

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M did try to write an H in candles. Still, Haribo cake? Awesome.

Birthday mischief successfully managed, we all helped tidy and get the new toys carted back to the house before splitting up into groups again. M desperately needed a nap after all the child minding, so we hung about the hotel for a bit until it was time to go back to A’s for her birthday celebrations.

This time, the poor nephew Super Child was not coming along and he wasn’t too pleased about it. His babysitter arrived and put him in good spirits though, and we took that as our cue to head on over to the pub we were having dinner at.

It was a lovely evening out with the portion of the clan that were all in attendance and the food was super filling. I think we were all still a bit tired from the party earlier though, as we only managed the evening and not late into the night.

The next morning we tried to rectify this by going to a trendy new breakfast place in town called Brezo. It had a very boho atmosphere and the food was good, but man was it popular that morning.

By the end of the meal, we were all full on food and new Harry Potter trivia, and so we walked back to their house to digest and decide our routes for the day. The husband and I decided it was best to be off soon if we wanted to miss the rush at the afternoon, so we hopped back in the Little Red Mini and headed back towards Chelmsford. It was a short trip to see the family, but it’s good to see them all doing well.

 

— Kate

Christmas 2016

Christmas snuck up much quicker this year. Suppose it helps being employed! However, M and I were quite pleased to have all the presents wrapped and accounted for BEFORE Christmas Eve. We were even packed up and ready to travel before strictly necessary. It was wild.

There were also all the Christmas parties in the world to go to during December. At least it felt like it. (Not a complain by the way!) So maybe that’s what made it feel like it was coming up so quickly. So many opportunities to wear my reindeer antler headband. Looking back, I can see why my jeans were so tight by New Year’s.

The husband had work until Christmas Eve, so we left the evening of and headed out to Tetbury. It was nothing short of miraculous that we managed to get our luggage, all the presents, and ourselves into the Little Red Mini, but it was accomplished!

It did make for a bit of a laugh when we finally arrived at the in-laws around midnight and added our presents to the pile. Seems everyone was feeling extra festive this year. After we got everything in the house, we snuck up to bed to get a few hours sleep before the youngest in the family woke up to Christmas magic. We almost made it until 7 am.

Gift opening took less time this year than last, but it was mostly due to a new opening system. That and everyone looked like they could use a nap before Christmas dinner. Post-present, post-nap, we all got dressed up nicely and came down for the Christmas feast. All the traditional foods were served, including the ever misunderstood Brussels sprouts.

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In case you wondered what they looked like in the wild.

Dinner concluded, the annual Christmas game began. It goes as thus – wrapped presents appear on the table. Everyone picks a number out of a bowl. Depending on the year, the person with the highest or lowest seems to go first. They pick a present, but don’t open it. The numbers go around with everyone picking a present in order. Then they’re all opened and the real game starts.

Unlike other varieties of this game that you will see, the family rule is that it continues until everyone is happy with their gift and no one else swaps for an entire round. This makes what could otherwise be a 20 minute game into a two hour event. Keep in mind, these are not high ticket items, but you’d be amazed the bargaining power of a cat head timer or a pack of wooden spoons. Bargaining and pleaded was completed, and we all headed to the living room for the evening.

The next day was Boxing Day. Tradition in this house is to do a cold cut spread, and this year it was EPIC. Keep in mind, there were twelve adults present, but there were still bits to nibble on the next morning.

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After two days in the house, M and I really needed to go for a walk, so we took a joy ride over to Cirencester and wandered the town. He ended up being dragged into the Corinium Museum to satisfy my never ending need to see old things along the way, but handled it admirably.

We did have a time frame to stick to though, as we were due at his aunt and uncle’s house for the belated Boxing Day party and (this year) murder mystery dinner!

After Boxing Day festivities, it all went quiet in the Cotswolds as we relished in that limbo period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Most of the family headed out to Manchester to celebrate the youngest’s birthday, but we stayed behind as M had to be back at work too soon to allow it.

He did however plan to meet up with his friend from Leeds, who was currently in the area visiting his family. He went out to pick him up from the nearby town and I hung around the house, figuring I’d give them some male bonding time. Little did we know just how long they’d be gone.

I never quite got the same story out of both of them, but from what I gather, they were about 3 miles away from the house with groceries in the back of the car when suddenly M either overcorrected or just didn’t see it, but managed to hit a pothole. I only wish I could see this pothole, because the damage it did not only shredded the tyre, but upset the wheel too.

So the boys got to sit on the side of the road for about 2 hours as one AA van came out and agreed that the tyre couldn’t be reinflated, then a tow truck followed along to get them back. When they got to the street, the truck couldn’t go down it, so they had to take the poor limping Mini off the back of it and slowly drive it to his parents’ house.

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The poor car. 😦

The next morning, we got to call every tyre place in the region to find someone who could not only replace a tyre, but also a wheel. In Christmas holidays.

Miraculously, one was found that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, and we headed out only a day later than intended. It’s not a holiday without something happening now is it? 😛

Thankfully, the journey home was uneventful and the overall festive period was much enjoyed!

 

— Kate

Trip to Milan (Autumn 2016)

Shortly after moving in, we got word from my parents that Dad had a conference in Milan the week of my birthday and that Mom was thinking about going along too so she could visit Italy. We did some quick research and found that flights from London to Milan are relatively cheap, so booked it up and planned to meet up with them at the end of September! Time flew past and soon we were through customs, off the train, and walking into central Milan.

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Our base camp for the next few days.

The bit of the city we were in was relatively modern, but there was a wide array of history to be found in Milan during the week. M and I had arrived a day before Mom and Dad, so we had a little tour around the centre of the city to see what there was to see – without visiting all the touristy bits we knew Mom and Dad would want to come along to as well. We stumbled upon a statue of Leonardo da Vinci, whose famous Last Supper painting is in Milan. (We regretfully didn’t book tickets far enough in advance to see it. 😦 ) We also had a nice wander through the massive Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. It’s named after the first king of the Kingdom of Italy and was built 1865 – 1877. It’s still actively in use today for the same purposes.

M and I called it a quiet night with just the two of us and waited to catch up with the parentals. The next day we went hunting for history with Mom (Dad was at his conference) and found a rather macabre church nearby that of COURSE we had to go see – the San Bernardino alle Ossa. The church itself is standard Catholic beauty, but the small side chapel is a whole other ball park. The chapel was originally built as an ossuary in 1210 when the nearby cemetery ran out of space. A church was attached in 1269, but the bones were left be until 1679 when it was transformed into a chapel and the bones collected over the years were used as decor in the Roccoco style. You have to ask to be taken to the chapel, but it is still open to visitors today.

From there we thought it might be best to take a trip back to the living, so we headed out for lunch and then left M at the hotel so Mom and I could check out our very first cat cafe. It was all you could hope for and more! The cats were all very sociable and we had little furry friends hanging out on the sofa with us as we drank tea and split a slice of cake. The staff have to give you a warning not to feed the kitties, but that was easy enough. Man, if I had a cat cafe within easy reach of me, I would definitely be there all the time. So much fun!

 

We spent the evening back in the Milano Navigli district where Mom and Dad were staying and all met back up for dinner at a Texas themed rib joint. (Hey, why not?) After dinner, we strolled around the canals and had a nice night outdoors. It’s a really trendy part of the city, and a great place to go in the evenings – though very popular, so book ahead.

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Bright and early the next morning, we dashed across town via the Metro system and made it to the train station just in time to catch a train to Switzerland. We’d heard Lugano was just as lovely as Lake Como and only half as busy, and Mom thought it’d be fun to check two countries off her list in one trip – so off we went! Mom and I were rather disappointed that they didn’t bother to check passports, as it meant no new stamps for us.

Still, Lugano proved to be exactly as gorgeous as everyone said it would be, and very quiet.

 

We mosey’ed about for the afternoon, had lunch, and then climbed back up the side of the foothills to the train station to go back to Milan. Went out for dinner, then got the parents into an intense round of Pandemic back at their hotel. If you haven’t played this board game, you really should give it a try. You can play with 2-4 people, so it’s great for couples or groups. There’s also a ton of expansion packs, so you always have something new to add to it. For this round though, we just went with the original so we could teach everyone. It was a good night. 🙂

The next day was my birthday, and a day Dad had off from the conference, so we went out to do all the touristy bits in the city that we’d been wanting to see. It wasn’t even breakfast before I was dragging people to look at some Renaissance era buildings that we walked past.

The big deal for the day though had to be the Duomo, or Milan Cathedral. This building took nearly 600 years to complete and is the largest church in Italy. The roof is open to tourists and allows a close up view of some of the beautiful architecture that would otherwise go unnoticed at such great heights. The view of the city at the top is nearly as breathtaking as the building itself.

 

Inside is a world of history. The construction began in 1386 with the demolition of older buildings on the site. Construction began quickly and already famous artwork was created for the site, including the tomb of Pope Martin V in 1424. In the 16th century the building was still not completed, but the Spanish domination of Milan put it to a standstill and made the cathedral usable in most respects. The next major works did not begin again until the 17th century. Due to this, the cathedral contains a wide array of styles bridging through the time periods. The cathedral was finally declared completed in 1965, even though there are still some uncarved blocked that are meant to be statues. Regardless, this is an impressive building, and it even contains the remains of not only a saint, but reputedly one of the Holy Nails from the Crucifixion of Christ.

The cathedral is not only the centre of Milan now, but apparently is on the spot of the centre of the Roman Mediolanum. A paleo-Christian basilica was discovered underneath the foundations of the current building that date to 355. You can still see and even walk into the remnants of the old octagonal baptistery.

Feet utterly aching from walking for hours, we took a breather and then all regrouped for birthday dinner at this hole in the wall place that looked authentic as all get out and proved to be utterly delicious. Let me spare you talking about all the food we had during this trip and just give it to you all at once. Good lord, I think I gained ten pounds, but it was all so good!

The morning dawned, and we were on our last day. Determined to go find something Roman whilst in Italy, I then dragged my beloved family across town to go look at the Roman Museum and nearby amphitheatre remains. Got my Roman fix, and got some bonus Etruscan artefacts in there as well. Score!

With that, M and I had to head out before Mom and Dad did, so we all got in a ton of hugs and parted ways towards the airport. It was such a great trip being able to catch up with my family and see some history on the side! We flew back to the UK, which was significantly cooler than the Milan we left. We were coming through customs and I told the guard how glad I was to be home, with which his response was a gloriously sarcastic, “Well you say that now.”

Never change Britain.

 

— Kate

Sandwich Heaven… or Hell?

Just a quick one today. Also, it’s my mom’s birthday and since she’s my favorite mom of all time, she totally deserves a shout out for a very happy birthday! Miss you Mom! 
We need to talk about pre-made sandwiches here. They’re getting out of hand. I have always been either a ham and cheese or turkey and cheese kind of girl, with maybe a BLT thrown in for good measure. Really though, there are only about 5 varieties of pre-made sandwiches available in the US deli section of stores, at least that I’m aware of. Not in England though. Here you can get all the above sandwiches and then some of the following in the deli/food-to-go section (and this is just from Tesco’s website):

  • All Day Breakfast (pork sausage with egg mayonnaise, tomato ketchup and sweetcure bacon)
  • BBQ Beef Mustard and Slaw
  • Cheese and Onion
  • Cheese (only)
  • Chicken and Sweetcorn
  • Chicken Caesar
  • Chicken Pepperoni and Cheddar
  • Egg and Cress
  • Egg Bacon Malted Brown Bread
  • Smoked Salmon and King Prawn
  • Smoked Salmon and Egg
  • Jalapeno Chicken
  • Ham Coleslaw and Jalapeno
  • Chicken and Stuffing
  • Egg Mayonnaise and Cress
  • Ham Salad and Chutney
  • Prawn with Lemon and Herb Mayonnaise
  • Tuna and Cucumber
  • Just Chicken
  • Just Ham
  • Piri Piri Chicken
  • Ploughmans (Cheddar cheese, tomato, pickle, lettuce and onion mayonnaise)
  • Prawn Mayonnaise
  • Red Cheddar and Tomato
  • Salmon and Cucumber
  • Sausage and Egg
  • Tikka Chicken and Mango Chutney
  • Tuna and Sweetcorn
  • West Country Cheddar and Pickle
  • West Country Cheddar and Red Onion

SO MANY OPTIONS.
SO MANY OPTIONS.
Of course, when you really just want something basic and quick to nibble on before you hop on a train, the ham and cheese will be nowhere to be found and it’ll be like the sandwich makers have never heard of turkey. It’s at this point you must make the split-second decision on what you want to be brave and try today. Honestly, sweetcorn is pretty good in a number of things we don’t generally use in the US, like as a salad topping or on pizza. Seriously, on pizza.

To wrap this up, I guess in the land that invented the sandwich I shouldn’t be surprised they’ve continued on with it with such gusto.

— Kate