Wednesday, October 30, 2013

New Arm Candy Courtesy Of Celliana

I was super excited to win this amazing piece of arm candy from Celliana, an online costume jewellery retailer specializing in all things punk, edgy, and bright - with lots of fluoro accents, metal details, and even the occasional skull or two (I know, so me, right?). Although I admired a few necklaces and rings from Celliana at the recent Stylist's Rail event at The Hoxton Hotel, I ultimately left empty-handed, so I'm feeling especially lucky to score this treat today. And okay, I know that my style is a little more Links of London than studs and spikes, but I have a feeling that this fun and gorgeous bracelet will be versatile enough to carry me through the next few seasons, since it'll work with dark knits in the winter and floaty dresses in the spring/summer.

Thanks, Celliana! xo


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Skate @ Somerset House Is Back

Skate at Somerset House is back (starting on the 14th of November) and I'm so excited for all the different ice-skating venues to pop-up in London. A few years back, John, Udita, and I skated at the Tower of London, which was a lot of fun. You're given an hour on the ice and yeah, it can get kind of crowded depending on what time you go, but it's such a beautiful atmosphere to whizz around in (or in my case, fall over repeatedly while clutching onto the barriers - let's not kid ourselves here) and it makes me feel all ... dare I say it ... Christmassy. Having a cup of hot mulled wine afterwards does just the trick.

But skating at Somerset House has a lot of personal significance for me as well: eight years ago, on the weekend of my 22nd birthday, John bought last-minute tickets for me to fly out and meet him in London, where he was interning at the time. I was in the middle of my senior year at MHC and remember telling one of my professors that I wouldn't make it to tutorial on Friday because I was taking a weekend trip to London. It only sounds preposterous to me now, but it certainly didn't at the time! Udita borrowed our friend Dory's car, drove me to Boston Logan Airport at 4:30 a.m. (we also had an incident where the hood flipped up halfway down the Mass Pike, we both screamed, had to pull over, and couldn't shut the hood until I slammed it down in frustration - then it stuck) and drove back to take a Neuroscience exam at 8 a.m. What a friend, right?

When I landed at Heathrow, I remember being so happy to see John but also being so, so sad that our weekend together was so short. He was living in Stoke Newington at the time (not far from where we're living now, funnily enough) and I even remember taking the 243 with him into Central London (which I regularly take now), where he surprised me with tickets to Skate at Somerset House. There's a picture of us floating around somewhere taken on Jubilee Bridge that evening, post-skate, and our faces are pressed together, grinning into the camera. We look so inexplicably happy; in fact, it's one of the few moments I remember being happy during that year - the rest of it was marked with a cold, dark Massachusetts winter that seemed to last forever, and lots of sadness at being apart.

Right before I left for Boston, John gave me a small box, containing a necklace with a small, solitaire diamond. I put it on immediately and have never taken it off. When I saw Kara this summer for our wedding reception, she mentioned how happy she was to see me wearing it because she remembered how excited I was when I came back from London during our senior year, having just seen John.

So, though Somerset House's skating rink might be the last place you find me this winter because of my severe lack of balancing-on-the-ice skills, I can't help but get excited every time it's advertised because it reminds me of our weekend in London all those years ago and how it's important not to take these things - these moments - for granted.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Afternoon Tea @ The Covent Garden Hotel

I've lived in the UK for six years now (six years!!!) but I never, ever get tired of taking afternoon tea. Cakes, scones, finger sandwiches, you know, tea - what's not to love?

Because John's been pulling some ridiculous hours at work for the past week and weekend (think: 4:30 a.m. starts and 11 p.m. finishes, sometimes 12 a.m.), I decided to treat his exhausted self to a Drift Away massage treatment at The Covent Garden Hotel followed by afternoon tea in the hotel's beautiful restaurant.

The Covent Garden Hotel is one of my favorite boutique hotels in London - but then again, I'm a fan of all the Firmdale Hotels, evidenced by the fact that I organized Suzy's baby shower at Number Sixteen in Kensington last year. Handily located in the middle of Seven Dials (where all the chic boutiques and cafes are located, and where I always find myself in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure kind of quandary as I inevitably get lost), The Covent Garden Hotel's interior resembles an English manor house - without the stuffy, heavy fabrics or outdated furniture. Instead, the textiles and upholstering are cheery but smart, and the decor is elegant yet understated. I could hang out there forever.

Anyway, on to the good stuff. While John was in the process of "drifting away", I ducked into the Wolsey pop-up shop on Monmouth Street and bought my brother a Christmas present (a luxe, leather and canvas gentleman's wash-bag, if you care to know) and tried on a few dresses at Orion. By the time I came back, John's treatment had finished and he emerged, yawning and hair-rumpled.

I got down to business and ordered the "Covent Garden Afternoon Tea", which consisted of a selection of mini sandwiches (cheese and pickle, chicken salad, avocado and smoke salmon wrap, ham and mustard), two scones (one plain, one with currants) with clotted cream and jam (strawberry and raspberry), and the cakes, which you can see above. John opted for the "Gentleman's Tea", which sounded lip-smackingly good: mini fish goujons with fries, mini club sandwich, a mini crabmeat burger, and a scotch egg, all served with a mini slice of cake and a Meantime Pale Ale, if desired (at an extra supplement), plus your choice of tea (he chose Lapsang Souchong).

Ladies and gentlemen, I had major food envy (except for the scotch egg - I'm not a fan of scotch eggs). That crabmeat burger was delicious - spicy and tangy. And the mini fish fingers were to-die-for.

As for mine? I loved the scones, and the sandwiches were pretty tasty too (it helped that the waitress appeared halfway through to ask if I would like any "replacement sandwiches" to replenish my stock - two thumbs up for that). But you know? I was kind of disappointed by the cakes. Where pastry or sponge was involved, it was dry and crumbly. I didn't love the mini-meringue, as pretty as it was, and I didn't touch what I assumed to be a rhubarb custard tart. I gave my mousse to John as it looked unappealing and far too rich (which he confirmed to be the case). A bit of a shame, really, as I've had tea twice at Number Sixteen and it seemed that the quality and selection of cakes were far better there.

Oh well, I shouldn't complain. It was fun anyway, since it had started to rain and we had the perfect seats for people-watching out the window. Covent Garden is such a fun place to browse - I feel super lucky to have worked near there for practically my whole career.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Halloween Surprise!

The most beautiful package filled with Halloween goodies arrived for me in the mail today:

Every year, my friend Anna sends me the most outrageous holiday-themed candy from the US (spending a FORTUNE on the postage, might I add - so, so unnecessary but so, so lovely!) in beautiful, handmade packaging along with a beautiful, handmade card and it is like, honestly, the brightest spot in my day ever. I literally let out a squeal as I unwrapped it this morning and spent a few minutes marveling at her clever card making and packaging skills before excitedly sifting through the candy. She's the best.

Look at all these treats - AND THOSE ADORABLE PEEPS!!! I can't wait to try them, especially those Reese's pumpkins. Thank you, Anna!

What are your plans for Halloween? I don't have any, but I hope we get some trick or treaters - they are too cute.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Creature Comforts: Tesco Expands Its Asian Snack Selection (Much To My Delight)

So, it used to be that I had to suffer the extortionate prices and watchful, beady eye of shopkeepers at the Chinese supermarkets in London's Chinatown in order to buy just one or two overpriced packets of the Japanese rice crackers I missed from home, or the abalone-flavored instant noodles my Dad would drop into the soup at the end of our hot pot dinners. I'd carry my sad bags of shopping home, feeling cheated, but happy that I had just a little reminder of home in my London flat.


After I went to Alice's wedding dress fitting on Wednesday (which, btw, was SO MUCH FUN - I may hate weddings and everything white, but I squealed every time she came out of the fitting room), I went to Tesco in search of mirin for a salmon recipe I was making and nearly dropped to my knees: there, in front of me, on the shelf, was the biggest stock of my favorite Chinese snacks, all lined up as if they were waiting for my arrival.

Vitasoy (a soy drink that also comes in delicious malt flavors), the first item I spotted, was a brand I hadn't seen since I was a child, sitting on my grandma's bed in her Happy Valley apartment in Hong Kong, sipping through the little plastic straw as if my life depended on it. Next to it were packets of Demae Ramen and another type of instant noodle that we buy at Ranch 99 Market in Renton. They even had my favorite brand of miso soup! I was in Chinese (and Japanese) snack heaven. Like a possessed person, I started scooping Demae ramen packs into my arms (I hadn't bothered to get a basket because I didn't expect this miracle to occur) until Alice had to take some for me because, in my excitement, I was dropping them on the floor. Oops.

In the US, I stock up on miso soup packets, those rice crackers that I love, the occasional pack of White Rabbit candy, and as many Pocky and Yam Yam packets as my suitcase can possibly hold. Then I eat them while crying on the plane on my way back to the UK because I miss my parents so much. I land at Heathrow, then repeat the same in my flat while watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians until John appears at the living room door just to study my swollen, puffy eyes and say, "What are you eating?"

Ramen might not be considered a snack, but it is in my family. When I was home in July, I whined that I needed a snack (between lunch and dinner). "Why don't I make you a ramen with Chinese meatballs and fishballs?" my mom suggested perkily. "A snack, Mom, I said I needed a snack," I snapped. "Not a meal." "Ramen is a snack," she said, looking wounded. So, ramen and all these other "snacks" - the rice crackers, the Vitasoy soy milk boxes, Pocky sticks, etc. - are really my comfort foods. They remind me of my childhood and of my home, where my Mom keeps them well-stocked. It sounds ridiculous, but I'm comforted by the fact that the Tesco across from Islington Green has these foods.

(It also means I'll have more room in my suitcase during my next trip to the US for new clothes. I mean, what?)

This is me, tonight, slurping up a big bowl of Demae ramen noodles.


No Menus At Pipsdish, Covent Garden - Just Deliciousness

Post-yoga, I asked Lauren if she wanted to grab lunch, and she suggested a new restaurant on Exeter Street called Pipsdish, which exists in another incarnation in trendy Hoxton Square.

We were welcomed into the small (seats about 16, I counted) but chicly decorated (think rustic farmhouse versus modern soulless) restaurant by the owner, Philip Dundas - writer and cook.  

I waited expectantly for a menu to appear when I suddenly realised that there wasn't a menu. 

I was so excited

Instead, Pipsdish serves up whatever is being cooked that day, using a variety of fresh ingredients with influences from around the world. Aptly on a Sunday, they were serving a starter of bruschetta followed by a hearty pork roast or stuffed portobello mushrooms with feta and baby new potatoes as the veggie option. Although I'm an enthusiastic carnivore at the best of times (remind me to tell you about our recent visit to Meat People later), I'd been craving a salad before Lauren made her suggestion, and the thought of the steak I had in the fridge for dinner ultimately steered me away from the roast (as appealing as it sounded!) and toward the stuffed mushrooms instead. And while I stuck with mint-infused water, Philip did tempt us with the suggestion of a glass of prosecco or freshly pressed apple juice, which sounded delicious.

Well, let me tell you: the bruschetta was ah-mazing (I loved the sweet, yellow and red tomatoes and deliciously salted rocket leaves), but the main course was divine. There was just the right amount of feta crumbled into the mushrooms and the baby new potatoes were cooked to the perfect consistency - so that the insides were just the tiniest bit unyielding, rather than powdery or crumbling. To date, I've only had similarly cooked potatoes at St. John, which was a total luxury. Though filling, it didn't feel heavy, and the addition of flavorful, smaller mushrooms mixed in with the potatoes were a real treat.
The curried cabbage was my favorite and I only wish I knew which ingredients were used to prepare it, because it was so delicious - I greedily helped myself to seconds and even thirds.

And for a totally silly reason, I loved that the food was served in a simple casserole dish and accompanied by pretty plates and vintage cutlery. It really felt like we were dining in someone's kitchen at home, rather than "out" out, if you know what I mean.

Though the restaurant doesn't usually take bookings (due to last-minute no-shows, as evidenced the day we were visiting), they have a very sweet "hut" downstairs that can be reserved for a larger party, say, around 10 or so. I'm seriously considering this for my 30th, though if I wanted to invite more people, I might check in with the Hoxton Square location, which seats more and caters for private events.

Of course, I also enjoyed the literary and philosophical hall of fame in the bathroom:

I'm so looking forward to taking friends to Pipsdish and I haven't felt so enthusiastic about a new restaurant in a while. If you like being surprised and love home-cooked meals, I think you'll want to try it too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Joshua Bell With The Academy of St. Martin In The Fields @ Cadogan Hall

I was so excited to see Joshua Bell's name on the Cadogan Hall website recently that I impulsively booked a ticket for myself (there was only one left) to see him perform as a soloist and conductor/concertmaster of The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on Tuesday. I'm not going to lie: I've always had a not-so-secret crush on Mr. Bell, which started when I was in junior high or so when I repeatedly listened to his Kreisler album before struggling my way through my own interpretation and ... well, it still hasn't really ended (sorry, John). I had the opportunity to meet him at the Barbican a few years ago (with Udita in tow!) and still keep the photo I took with him in my violin case (creepy, but I do a silent fist pump every time someone remarks, "Is that your husband?"). But isn't everyone enthralled by him? There's something so magical and captivating about his on-stage presence, his quiet charm and down-to-earth nature in interviews, and oh, that time he busked in D.C. playing unaccompanied Bach and no one recognized him, save for one person. Swoon.

And although I had grown up listening to recordings by The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on the radio, I'd never heard them perform, so I knew this was a rare opportunity - even if meant going on my own. I don't really mind, though. Cadogan Hall is my favorite classical music venue in London. The acoustics are wonderful, the stage slightly reminds me of Pacific Lutheran University Music Department's auditorium, and it's just small enough that I feel like I'm part of something really, really special every time I attend a concert there. My mom and I saw Julian Lloyd-Webber perform there three years ago and it's a moment I'll always remember.

The first piece on the program was one that every violinist who played in a junior high school orchestra would remember (as it was invariably always performed at junior high school orchestra concerts, with a chugging cello section and equally sluggish plus squeaky upper strings, plus a member of the city youth orchestra who also happened to attend said junior high and was deemed to play at a level that far surpassed the rest of the orchestra), the Bach Violin Concerto in A minor. And, I must say, what an entirely different piece it is when it's performed NOT by a junior high orchestra! I bet you can imagine. Of course, it was perfectly executed and the orchestra was perfectly together, even in the absence of a conductor. I forgot how much Joshua Bell moves when he plays - his hair flopping entertainingly from side to side, his movements often exaggerated (most likely in order to effectively lead the orchestra) and expressive. I've never heard or seen him play baroque pieces; only sweeping, emotional works such as the Barber Violin Concerto or Chausson's Poeme.

The next piece, the Beethoven Septet, was a very pleasant surprise. I wasn't familiar with it at all (I didn't even know Beethoven had written a septet) and was puzzled at the arrangement of instruments before me: violin, viola, cello, double bass, French horn, and clarinet. But it was wonderful. The first movement was reminiscent of some of the Beethoven piano sonatas, I thought, and once in a while, the French horn would pipe up like, "I'm here!" with special mentions to the clarinet, which was both joyful and surprising. The star of the septet, however, was the double bassist. She anchored each movement with an authoritative but effortless bass line and every time she chimed in, it lent a richness to the piece that sounded like a full symphony orchestra was playing. Sadly, the elderly gentleman behind me fell asleep and started breathing quite heavily (one step away from snoring, but so loudly that five people turned around to stare) during the slower movements. Then the person next to me got the giggles as a result, and I had trouble concentrating from then on.

At the intermission, I bought myself an ice cream, as you do when you're attending concerts alone, and happily enjoyed it in my seat before the lights dimmed for Beethoven's 7th. I'm so glad that I stayed for the symphony (I was debating whether to head home or not as it was a school night and Sloane Square is slightly annoying to get home from) because it was, in one word, smashing. And I never use that word, but it's the only word I can think of to describe it. The energy, momentum, and excitement of the orchestra's execution of every movement was made even more astonishing by the fact that Bell was leading and conducting from the concertmaster's chair. Remarkable. I really couldn't get my head around it - I'll even go as far as to say that the ensemble of that night's performance was better than conducted performances I've seen by other professional orchestras. It was truly incredible. And of course, the haunting, famous second movement was brilliant. When we reached the final, fourth movement however, my jaw literally dropped open (I had open-mouthed syndrome for the majority of the performance, btw, luckily I had brought gum) at how much energy the musicians still had at the conclusion of such a demanding piece in order to maintain the frenetic pace. Bell was out of his seat in several instances and I could see, even from my seat in the back, that his flop-able mop was beginning to collect with sweat. Adorbs.

I stood to applaud at the end, I couldn't help it. It was such an extraordinary performance from a really respectable orchestra, and such terrific leadership from a childhood (and adulthood!) idol that I was moved to stand and clap. Such a marvelous performance and one I wouldn't have missed out on for the world.

Photo source

The Great British Bakeoff vs. Cupcake Wars

A few months ago, John purchased the BT TV package because it had all the sports channels he'd been missing over the years. "Plus, a few channels you'll probably like too," he added hastily. I wasn't convinced. So unconvinced that I had a slight hissy fit when the box arrived, claiming that he hadn't really consulted me before buying the package and, "doesn't my opinion count anymore? Your penchant for new technology is getting out of control!" This is only because I came home from yoga one Sunday afternoon to find him quietly assembling an Apple TV box in our living room (which has proved to be quite useful, btw) while pretending nothing was out of the ordinary.

But then. I turned on the TV. And ... okay, let me break it down like this: EVERY trashy American channel that I had ever missed i.e. TLC, E!, Food Network, Comedy Central, etc. suddenly appeared. All access. I was hooked. I went an entire weekend without speaking to anyone, sitting on our couch-that-is-not-a-couch-because-our-couch-still-lives-in-our-hallway-because-it-doesn't-fit-through-the-living-room-door binging on fascinating American television shows that I'd only heard about and never watched: Toddlers & Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, NY Ink ... you name it, I binge-watched it. Afterward, I felt sick. Really sick. I had to seek relief by switching over to more tasteful programming on the BBC. It was like Alka-Seltzer to my mind and soul.

Like every other person who currently watches TV regularly in the UK, I've been hooked on The Great British Bakeoff (or #GBBO, as it's known on Twitter), where Mary Berry (queen of cakes - I have, like, two of her cookbooks - and someone who reminds you of the grandma you wished you had) and Paul Hollywood (king of bread and alleged extra-marital affairs, according to certain websites) put a set of amateur bakers to the test with challenge-themed weeks (pastry, for example) and other impossible tasks. Each baker sets out to out-do each other while giving to-the-camera testimonials about how sad they are someone has been kicked off only to quickly add, "but I'm just so glad I'm here for another week", so really, they're not sad at all.

It's all very British: a tent set up somewhere in the middle of the British countryside, historical anecdotes accompanied by classical music so that cakes can be placed in their correct historical context, and passive-aggressive eye-daggers being thrown between contestants as they furiously whip and knead and decorate. The finished products are tasteful and elegant, such as Howard's (one of my favorites, who was unfortunately booted off a few weeks ago) beautiful green tea biscuit pagoda, and something you could imagine being served at afternoon tea in a Cath Kidston decorated living room. It's all super middle-class and comforting.

It's all quite different to, say, Cupcake Wars on TLC, which I happened to switch on to during my Weekend Of The Binge. On this show, Kristen Cavallari (who made a name for herself on the reality show, Laguna Beach - if you're not familiar with the show, don't worry, the title says it all) is a featured judge and a ginormous digital clock counts down the minutes and seconds in ominous, red numbers. Having been out of touch with American TV for over six years now, I felt like an alien that just landed on earth while watching this program. If the creations on GBBO were all about understated elegance or quaint, English-related themes i.e. a cake made to look like an "allotment plot" or the Tardis from Doctor Who, then the cupcakes on Cupcake Wars were totally and utterly American: lots of frosting, bright colors, and crazy flavor combinations (i.e. my kinds of cakes). There are no passive-aggressive eye daggers in sight: instead, contestants rag on each others' abilities and in some cases, there are even instances of in-fighting within teams. Fascinating.

For me, GBBO is enjoyable but at times a little too prim and proper, while Cupcake Wars is a little like cake on steroids - too much, and I just can't cope. It's funny, because in the US, my friends are all about Downton Abbey, whereas my UK friends are obsessed with Breaking Bad. I love having the both of both worlds and watching pure junk - whatever the accent.

Photo source

Monday, October 7, 2013

Duck, Waffle, And Vertigo at Duck & Waffle, Heron Tower

One year ago yesterday, John and I eloped to Wales with only our photographer and her fiance as witnesses. As we said our vows in the Conwy city hall and took pictures later on the Llandudno pier, I remember thinking that it was the happiest day of my life.

To celebrate this occasion, John took me out for brunch on Sunday at a surprise location - I couldn't have imagined that we'd be heading to Duck & Waffle, on the 40th floor of Heron Tower. Having only been to the Shard a few weeks ago, we'd been spoiled by views of London from high up, and yesterday was no exception, particularly as the weather was just. So. Dang. Nice.

Unfortunately for me, I hadn't quite realized that the elevator (unlike the Shard's) was glass paneled, so I shut my eyes for most of the journey. I regretted this, as John said that on the way up, London suddenly "opened up" like a pop-up book. I did try to concentrate on the way down, but was too busy taking selfies to notice again. See how much you miss when you're attached to your phone?

I don't know how to say this without sounding obnoxious, but I think we might have had the best table in the restaurant: set off to one corner, we the advantage of floor to ceiling windows both immediately behind and in front of us, as the Gherkin cast a shadow to my right.

Although the day before had been overcast and grey, Sunday couldn't have been more different. In fact, the sun was shining so brightly, we both wore our sunnies for the duration of brunch and I think I might have gotten heatstroke, after it felt like the sun was boring a hole into my back. It felt awful to complain about such an amazing spot plus such gorgeous weather, so I kept my mouth shut until we picked up the bill and left.

As the gift for the first year is paper, I presented, with a flourish, John tickets to see The Book of Mormon in November. He gave me a "joke" present (very prettily wrapped, however) of a ceramic notepad, so that we "can leave notes for each other". Err ... okay.

The menu at Duck & Waffle is creative, exciting, and fun. You know when you're jumping-up-and-down excited to try something? I felt like that about mostly everything on the menu (except for the foie gras brulee). The American in me ordered the toasted PBJ, served on brioche, with banana slices sandwiched in the middle and accompanied by fresh berries and dab of cream. John was slightly more adventurous in ordering the spicy ox cheek doughnut, which, with a tangy sauce and smoky filling, proved to be a real taste sensation (John dubbed the combination of flavors a "Western version of a Chinese char siu bao, or BBQ pork bun", which wasn't far off!).

Of course, we just had to order the duck and waffle to share, which consisted of a crispy leg confit perched atop a waffle with a fried duck egg and mustard maple syrup. Sounds so wrong, but tasted so right.

So, I loved a lot of things about Duck & Waffle, but namely these few things:

1) Our bill (including drinks, though John had two and I just had water) came to £45. That's about as much as it costs to have brunch anywhere decent in London.

2) It's apparently open 24 hours a day. Yes, that's right. If you're jet lagged or experiencing a bout of insomnia, you can rock up at 3 a.m. to slurp down half a dozen Carlingford rock oysters or BBQ-spiced crispy pigs' ears while taking in the incredible night view of London below you.

3) The prices are accessible. Although some of the main courses are understandably on the pricey side (they're really unique and the quality is fresh), you could also simply opt for a greek yogurt with homemade granola and compote for a mere £5.50. Or Belgian waffles for £8.50. And you still enjoy the lovely views and cool-factor that the restaurant has to offer.

Beware of the cocktail menu though - they sound divine, but a G&T will set you back a cool £14.00, so my advice would be to go for the food menu, as that's the real gem of the establishment anyway.

As we enjoyed our duck and waffle at such glorious heights, John and I both thought about how lucky we were to share such experiences together, but more importantly, how lucky we are to be able to look back one day (at a time when eating duck and waffle at such glorious heights will seem like a whole lifetime ago) and say, with some certainty, that we "did" London well.

Square Meal

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reflections On My 11th Mountain Day (Or, The Feeling Of Not Being Alone)

Yesterday was Mountain Day at Mount Holyoke, so a group of us alums (plus two study abroad students - Class of 2015! I feel so old!) met up at 18:37 (natch) after work for ice cream at Scoop in Soho. I went home afterward to my husband and announced, "I'm in SUUUCHHH a good mood today! You know why? (dramatic pause) BECAUSE IT'S MOUNTAIN DAY." He looked up briefly from his work to smile and exclaim, "Yay! Congrats!" I shot him a withering look. "That is not what you say on Mountain Day," I said with great disdain.

Mountain Day is a long-held tradition at Mount Holyoke (and indeed, at a select number of other East Coast colleges) whereby the church bells ringing on a sunny but brisk autumnal day signal the cancellation of all classes and a trek up Mount Holyoke in Skinner State Park. At the top, ice cream is served, the alma mater is sung, and students take turns snapping photos with the backdrop of New England's fall foliage behind them - photos that end up in yearbooks and picture frames long after they've graduated.

I remember not my first, but my second, Mountain Day at Mount Holyoke: it was my sophomore year and I was still relatively excited about anything that was vaguely traditional. I gulped down far too much coffee at breakfast, met Udita at the bottom of the mountain and convinced us both that it was a "race" and if we didn't run up to the top, "they" would eventually "get us". To this day, I have no idea who this fictitious "they" were, but we sure got to the top in a hurry. I think there might even be a short video floating around of our ascent to the top; us laughing and panting as we laughed over numerous inside jokes and attempted yoga poses on slippery rocks.

Today, Mountain Day holds a different kind of significance for me. As an ex-pat living in London for over six years now, I let out a silent cheer from my office desk yesterday when the Mountain Day announcement lit up on my phone around noon and quickly took over my Facebook newsfeed. I was so excited to see other alumnae that evening and indulge in a tradition that never really left us - not even after graduation.

At Scoop, I caught up with a few alumnae I'd met before, plus some I hadn't, including two students who were currently studying abroad at Queen Mary. When they answered my question, "What class are you?" with an enthusiastic, "2015!" it made my heart melt. I recognized that excitement and enthusiasm in my own junior-year-abroad eyes. I quickly scanned back to the year I was studying abroad in England, at Oxford, and desperately tried to recall all that I was thinking and feeling at that time. What was it like? It was impossible for me to capture that moment again, but being in that room with fourteen other Mount Holyoke women made me feel, in an instant, at home. Our shared experiences of Chef Jeff cookies, bats near the 'Delles, library carrels, brunch in Ham MacGregor, elfing, convocation, Canoe Sing, and numerous other characteristics that make Mount Holyoke a truly unique place to live and study for four years made us both classmates and sisters, in a sense. I remarked to another alum ('96) that I loathed the word "sisterhood", yet I couldn't think of a more applicable term to describe that feeling of togetherness.

Often, when I head home after work on the 38, staring out the dark windows as the bus pulls up to Angel, I feel very much alone. My journey in and out of central London consists of small moments of loneliness on buses, tube trains, by foot, which are then interrupted by longer lengths of familiarity as I arrive to greet my colleagues and friends at work, at the gym, at orchestra rehearsal, in my small rented flat in North London.  But not that night.

As I got off the bus in Islington and walked the short walk home without my music in for once, my hands still sticky with ice-cream, I thought of Mount Holyoke's often-used motto: "Uncommon women on common ground". And I thought of that evening eating ice-cream at Scoop in London: aren't we actually common women on uncommon ground? In this still unfamiliar place that I'm reticent to call home, I'll still have that - this network of brilliant women, both old and new, existing and breathing and moving and shaking in this strange, lonely city of mine. And I threw my head back and laughed because that thought was comforting to me.

Happy Mountain Day, Mount Holyoke.

Fall foliage photo credit © Alumnae Association of Mount Holyoke College 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

FROW @ London Fashion Weekend

Whenever John's away, I have about 5 minutes of feeling sorry for myself, and then I fill up my social schedule as much as possible so that I can stay busy until he comes back. Last week, he was away for a week to San Francisco, so I decided to make plans with friends, buy a few books, book in a facial, etc. It's not that I don't do these things when he's around - it's just that we both have such busy schedules anyway, that I like to take advantage of the time we do have to spend together.

And I'm not averse to spending time on my own or going to places/events on my own. In fact, one of my favorite memories was attending a American-themed concert at Cadogan Hall two years ago by myself. Pure bliss. No shuffling or sighing next to me ... no fidgeting or slow unveiling of the Economist ...

Anyway, I digress.

Last Sunday, I went to the final day of London Fashion Weekend, which was being held at Somerset House. Although I've always dreamed of attending London Fashion Week (open to the trade and not the public, not to be confused with the Weekend, which is open to the public) properly, but alas, my lack of connections in the fashion world will never make my dream a reality. Still, it didn't stop me from purchasing tickets for the trend catwalk show on Sunday, so I'm sharing with you some of the highlights - my favorite looks for fall.

Graphic prints and bold color-block stripes seemed to be on the agenda for this season. I was pleased to see this skirt and jacket combo on ASOS recently and even thought about buying it, before remembering that I'm not a 5'9 stick-thin model. So that outfit idea was quickly scrapped.

Pink, pink, glorious pink is apparently, the color of the season, as dictated by the catwalk and current magazines. While I like the dress and would nix the furry coat on this look, I'd definitely take the chunky block heels. The gold trim reminds me of art deco architecture and Tom Ford accessories, for some reason.

Finally, there was the Victoriana trend, which reminded me of someone abruptly running out of a Tori Amos music video during her From The Choirgirl Hotel days. Think: prim and proper white button-ups with tartan skirts (how predictable, yawn) and some more refined, unique elements, such as the flowing skirt above. Victoriania re-invented.

My favorite look is the first photo that I've posted here - I love the elegance and moodiness of the long, swishy ink-print dress juxtaposed with the haphazardly placed (faux-)fur stole.

I was disappointed by how short the show was (30 minutes exactly, with some awkward space filling by some unknown presenter, plus ads for Maybelline and other sponsors masquerading as "behind the scenes" short films) and how utterly crowded the shopping spaces were. I left after about an hour and a half, feeling grateful for the experience but in need of peace and quiet. Negotiating fashion-obsessed tweenies pawing at jewellery being sold in pop-up spaces is not my idea of a pleasant Sunday afternoon, so I went home and had a slice of cake and tea instead.

The end.

Lost and Found

I rarely lose things; in fact, I've only lost an umbrella once (when it wasn't even entirely my fault, having given my bag to someone else to hold on the bus - ahem, John) and I can count on one hand the other items I've "lost" or left behind over the course of my life.

Of course, I also know what it is like to leave something behind: that sudden pang of panic, the urge to recover what is yours immediately, no matter how far you have to go or how long it takes to get there.

Serendipitously, I've been on the phone to a few lost property offices lately. A few weeks ago, I left the bag pictured above on an old Routemaster bus. I had several bags in my hand and was on my way to yoga in Covent Garden. Feeling flustered as I looked up and saw my stop coming up (with no stop button on the bus), I quickly stood up, abandoning my bag on the seat. It contained souvenirs I had purchased for my parents at my visit to the Shard. Replaceable, sure, but I still wanted them back.

So, I did what every 21st-century woman would do: I tweeted about it. And luckily enough, one of my followers retweeted my tweet to Heritage Bus Routes, who then gave me the number of the bus depot, which I called the next day and ... they had my bag! With all the souvenirs inside! Of course, it meant I had to trek all the way to the bus depot at Star Lanes (hint: don't go there. Like, ever.) during a torrential downpour on my lunch break, but they were so nice and one driver even offered me a ride in his car (he'd just finished his shift and felt sorry for me, slogging along a deserted road getting soaked), which I politely declined as my mom taught me to never get into cars with strangers. Nevertheless, the sentiment was appreciated. And I just so appreciated someone taking the time to turn in my bag and leave it at the depot for me to collect.

Then, this past weekend, John returned from a business trip to San Francisco (he'd already left his suit behind in London and had to buy new pants at Macy's as soon as he landed) and timidly asked, "Have you seen my iPad mini?" I was like, "No ..." but I kind of knew in the back of my head what was coming. Call it instinct. Sure enough, he "must have left it somewhere". Okay, fine ... the only thing is, "somewhere" isn't really helpful when you're trying to track down a lost item. "Do you think you left it at the San Francisco airport security checkpoint?" I ventured. Helpless look. "Okay ... the plane? Do you think you left it on the plane?" I prodded. Another helpless look. I sent his jet-lagged self to bed and emailed both lost property at Heathrow (where items on the planes that land there are returned) and San Francisco International Airport.

The next day, I called Heathrow's Lost Property office, as I saw a description of what could have been John's iPad mini on their website, I spoke to a very nice man named Rob, who informed me that items from John's flight hadn't been returned yet, but that he'd give me a call the next day in case it had. I doubted he would remember to, but sure enough, I had a call from Rob this morning who said he definitely thought he had John's iPad mini in his possession. After describing it in full detail, he arranged for it to be couriered to me (at a total cost of £35.50 - it costs £20 to pick it up in person) and I'm just crossing my fingers that it'll safely arrive this week.

The moral of this story is: don't lose your things, yes, but more importantly, always try to recover them. I think a lot of people automatically think, "Oh, there's no way that would have been turned in - it's gone forever," (like John's iPad mini) but what I've discovered more often than not, is that the opposite is true. There are some good Samaritans out there. After all, I did find a dropped cell phone after the 4th of July fireworks in Seattle this summer and managed to get it back to its owner. We exist.

(Sidenote: to those of you wondering why I have such a vested interest in recovering John's iPad mini for him since it's - quite frankly - his problem, I BOUGHT HIM THE DARNED THING!!! HE'D BETTER NOT LOSE IT!!!)
© angloyankophile

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