{September 29, 2011}   Lights, Love, and Hostels

I’m thrilled to be a featured guest blogger on The Hostel Life about my time working in a youth hostel in Paris.

Check it out:



{August 28, 2011}   Anytime, Anyplace

This morning I ran through Wembdon, a little village near Bridgwater. It was sprinkling lightly—typical English weather, I suppose. I welcomed it since it kept me cool and kept the kids out of the playground so I could use the monkey bars for pull-ups, benches for push-ups, and so on. You know the typical things normal people do on vacation.

And I tried not to get lost.

You see, in almost every place I’ve visited in the world, I have this weird method of exploration—I run or walk until I get lost and then try to find my way back. Sometimes it’s not so bad. Other times, it is, and I end up near tears berating myself for being such a jackass.

Yesterday morning, I ran, trying not to go too far in any direction for fear of getting lost. I ran past all the “Bull in field” sign, the farm animals in people’s back yards, the rowhouses, and the shop/post office. Coming back, I found my aunt and uncle’s residential complex fine, but then spent fifteen minutes trying to find their house. I found their street and tried following it to their number, but when it twisted and curved, I went on what I thought was the logical way—the path that continued on straight ahead. Turns out, it was the wrong way as I ended up on another road with no recollection of the direction I had come in. So I had to bug two little old lady neighbors for the way, hoping they wouldn’t inquire as to what this strange, sweaty American girl was doing poking around their way.

Since I like to torture myself like this on a regular basis, I went for a random run again this morning. Again, I found the complex okay. Again, I had trouble finding their house. But I found it on my own, I tell you, and strutted into the house.

“I made it back!,” I announced.

So now what am I doing? I told my mom and aunts how I needed to continue Lisa time and was going out to find a café. I won’t even get into the numerous questions I fielded about why I would want to go to a café alone, what do I mean by a “café,” and so on. I like nothing better than to escape to a local café for a little alone time, to read, write, reflect, or maybe just stare out the window with my head tilted to one side to daydream. Trust me, there are worse ways to “escape.”

I tried following the maniacal route my aunt showed us yesterday to get into town. Whereas I was in New York last weekend and easily found my way around on straight, narrow streets, these directions were full of twisty turns around narrow alleys, back through public walkways in between rowhouses, crossing a narrow bridge over a quay, and enough obstacles to ensure I will never find my way back again.

But here I am, in the Nutmeg House. The waitress stymied me when she asked if I’d like a cup or mug of coffee. What’s the difference? The mug’s larger, in case you’re wondering. But, I was able to counter my total Yankee ignorance by knowing the English pronunciation of scone, courtesy of my English mother. A short o rather than a long one. Take that!

Regaling my tale of victory to my mom and aunts later that day, my aunt said, “You can pronounce it scone or scohn here, either one is fine.”


{August 21, 2011}   Snowballs in August

Since one of my last posts was on the foods I’d been exposed to in England, this will focus on the fun travel sport of drinking.

I write this after a Snowball, which is a mix of Avocaat and something. Avocaat is supposed to be something with eggs or cream or something like that, according to my family (we’re a very detail-oriented crew in case you didn’t notice). Whatever it is, I don’t see it back home in the States.

I first and last tried a snowball when I visited England at 17. My mom and aunts raved about them while I raved about how I could drink underage without anyone doing a double-take.

So when I saw the Avocaat in the fridge during this trip to England, I started thinking about snowballs, nothing to do with winter, however. My mom must have had the same thing in mind as all through our neighborhood walk, she talked about having a snowball when we got back. Her reward for finding her way home.

My uncle did some mysterious voodoo drink magic in the kitchen and my aunt came out with some tall glasses with colorful star swirling sticks in it. It was a shade between yellow and off-white with light fluffy peaks like you see on a cappuccino. It promised a rollicking good time.

I sipped the happiness and busted out my Kindle since I hadn’t yet read any of the English classics I’d loaded and planned to read on this trip. Did I have Dickens? Check. Shakespeare? Check. Sherlock Holmes? Check. Jane Austen? Check. Apparently, I had big plans for this trip. I found my spot in The Portrait of Dorian Gray and enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s wordplay as I tried to slowly savor the Snowball.

I know—pretty bad ass…

If you know where to find Avocaat in the Boston area, let me know immediately. Just think of all the classics I’d read!

Or what they call me mum.

As I put on my sneakers (or trainers), she asked me, “Buggering off?”

My mom has never asked if I’m buggering off. She’s never told me to bugger off. I’m not 100% sure what buggering off means so I look at her strangely.

“If you mean am I going running now, I suppose.”

See, my mom hasn’t lived in England for 40 years, but the second she gets off the plane, she gets back into English mode. What I mean is she uses the English colloquialism that we don’t often hear in our daily interactions in the States. Sure there’s the occasional “blast” or “bloody hell.” A few years back she said the chair was “wonky,” which made us do a double-take. But generally we can understand what this lady with the English accent is trying to communicate to us kids.

We’ve been in England for three days now. Twice my mom tried to translate English to English for me, only her expressions are now stuck on this side of the pond. My aunts and mom were discussing going somewhere and my mom tried to translate: “It’s a car boot sale.”

“What the heck is a car boot sale?” I asked.

“Like a flea market. You know, but they sell stuff out of the boot.”

Blank expression.

“Their trunk!”


For the record, nobody sold anything out of a boot. It was what we call a flea market.

I wonder how she explained to my aunts what a flea market is.

{August 8, 2011}   Mind the Brambles

Our first night in England, I suggested a walk to see the area after we had our tea. We traversed narrow public walkways through an area of rowhouses and even a thatched cottage; we saw sheep, goats, cows, horses, and even a sign that read Bull in Field.

My aunt said it was probably a ruse to keep trespassers out since no bulls ever appeared.

“Watch the brambles,” my aunt said. “They hurt.”

As we continued our walk through wildflowers and distinct little houses, I excitedly pummeled my aunt with stupid questions.

“Is this a village? A town? The country?  Or a — what izzzz this place?”

“A town,”  she replied, leaving out the duh.

I lived in a town and never saw farm animals in back yards so I was impressed.

Falling in step with my mom later, she said, “Don’t touch the brambles.”

The next morning, I opened the door and smelled a distinct odor. Animals.

“It’s the country for you,” my aunt said.

So we were in the country. How exciting! On my last two trips to England, I stayed in London. I hadn’t been in the English countryside for over a decade.

On another walk, I read signs for the village of Wembdon. A village–even better!

Signs read Cottage this and Cottage that. How much more English could you get than cottages in villages in the countryside? I read signs for Cottage Lane, Cottage Inn, and Cottage Guns. What? Hold on. Cottage guns? Somehow that didn’t fit my vision of English cottages. Do they just slap the cottage title on anything or is there actual meaning behind it?

On a walk later that day, may other aunt said, “Mind the brambles. They will hurt you.”

Now I’m wondering what the bloody hell are brambles?

{August 8, 2011}   Candy is Better in England

My uncle just gave me candy called wine gum here on my visit to Bridgwater, England.

“Is it like gummy bears,” I ask, because I hate gummy bears.

“Sort of,” he replied.

Since the chocolate in England is way better than any you get in America, I threw my disdain for chewy little creatures aside and took a bite.

Ooh, not like a gummy bear at all! Sweeter, less chewy. I tried the red. Then I tried the orange. Awesome. And then yellow before I threw the bag aside.

What’s happening to me?! I don’t really eat candy at home! Here I had a meal consisting of chocolate and chips.

Chips–they call them crisps, which I guess makes more sense. They are so innovative with crisps that we look like dullards. I think they just take two odd foods that don’t belong together—and have no business being involved in any sort of crisp ingredient listing—and put them together. Beef and pickle, anyone? The odd thing is they’re so weird that they’re goooood.

I just ran into a corner store to see what I’d find. Right there on the bottom of the shelf was Flame Broiled Steak. Let the festivities begin! 

I won’t mention how I bought cookies, called chocolate biscuits, to go with tea earlier because they were called Funky Monkey.

Tea. That’s another story. I’m totally confused about tea here. First, we drink it non-stop. This is not an exaggeration. It is almost always tea time.

But then, there’s TEA, which is somehow different from drinking tea because it involves eating a meal. Dinner and supper are two different things and they are not at our dinner time. For Tea, the meal, one night we had bangers and mash, which is funny just to say. The next, it was fish and chips, which my mom thought I’d “ruined” by bringing a salad.

I opted to save the extra salad so asked where I could get a container. Then three sisters (in how my sister’s boyfriend calls me and my two sisters the Ya-Ya sisterhood) barked contradictory orders at me:

“Put a paper towel underneath it the salad.”

“Put a paper towel on the top of the bowl.”

“Put a paper towel on the top of the bowl and cover it with a saucer.”

I followed the last one since it was the most recent one to barrage my ears. And it was from my mother so I’m used to her telling me how to do things.

“Happy?” I ask.

“Yeah. Too bad you used a plate. That’s not a saucer.”

Oh yeah, isn’t a saucer used for tea?

“I get so sick when I travel. The last plane trip to Abu Dhabi, I got so sick. I just took medication.”

Then, you don’t want the person sitting next to you on a plane to do this…

Babble excessively about her theories of life at the wise old age of 19 to the guy across the aisle, and then take out a quilt-like blanket, pull out the tray table, lie down on it, and drape the blanket over her like a tent before passing out.

Because what’s going to happen?

You’re going to have to go to the bathroom.

My mom and I were flying to England to visit relatives. My mom drinks at least five cups of tea a day and has to have a bathroom break at least four times as often as that. Naturally, we had tea before we got on the plane, and of course, she had to go to the bathroom almost immediately.

Throughout the flight, the woman next to me flung her arms randomly while trying to sleep, almost knocking over the food on my tray. She kept scratching her head, almost like a nervous reaction. But the repeated action filled me with terror thinking she had lice and I was in their jumping distance. When I finally dozed off, I woke to find she’d put her pillow on my shoulder and was sleeping on me. 😦  I don’t like strangers touching me.

Halfway through the flight, the itchy pharmaceutical sitting next to me unveiled the tent and dashed out of her seat. My mom practically mowed me down to use her get out of jail free pass to the bathroom. When I walked down, I noticed the bathroom stall read Vacant so I pushed the tiny door in. Who was perched, no hunched, on the toilet? Our seat mate. She slammed the door shut and locked the door so it now read Occupied.

“Mom, you need to book the aisle seat in the future, not the window.”

“You can do that? I just took what they assigned.”

This is from a woman who has flown to London every year or two since she moved to America forty years ago. Apparently, she hasn’t noticed that you can choose a seat—even though you check in on line now and it asks if you’d like to choose a seat. What is this strange speak of seat choosing? Who does that?

You just take what life gives you!

et cetera