Archive for April, 2010

On a lovely warm Sunday afternoon, the much-improved end to the 50 Fixed Women Ride’s rainy start, a bunch of us were gathered at The (old) Ship, in Fulham, and it was discovered that one of the ladies rides a bike that has a 52×52 cm frame. This is exactly what I’m looking for, after having discovered that for longer rides, exactly the right size frame is kinda necessary and my 52×54 (seat tube x top tube, for those not conversant) frame is just a bit too big for me. This wonderful, metallic cherry-lipstick-red frame only had clipless pedals though, and I can’t ride clipless yet. But what do you know? The owner of said frame also wears my size shoe and was perfectly OK with swapping shoes so I could have a clipless experience!

She showed me how to clip my dominant side in, then sent me off, and I pedaled slowly around the pub’s green past kids on scooters, fellow imbibers, under trees, past brick walls, along the river path, avoiding stairs, and back around, three or four times, completely unsuccessful in my attempt to clip the other shoe into the pedal. I finally gave up and got an explanation on how to get the other one in (tip toe towards ground, push) and was off!

Joy! A responsive bicycle experience is suddenly so much more responsive! Can I skid to a stop? Let me try! Pedal, pedal, pedal towards friends, lock legs, skid to a gorgeous stop exactly where I had intended to, on dry pavement (!)……and fall right over, slow-mo stylee! I just had to laugh, I was barely hurt, just a few grazes to my left lower leg, and then discovered I was stuck in the pedals! Cue more hilarious laughter from friends and onlookers alike, and the eventual discovery that I can, indeed, unclip from the pedals while laying on the ground.

Oh man, I gotta try more of this! Am currently on the hunt for shoes, cleats (to go in the shoes), and pedals, and will detail the continuing adventures of yohabloespanglish y los equipos sin clips!

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I looked back over my posts to see if I’d written anything more about my non-official internship but couldn’t find anything, which seems like a good indicator for a new post. There is some confusion on what to call myself while discharging my unofficial duties. I’m not associated with a university, so am not a student social worker, and I’ve just learned that to British minds, the term “intern” conjures up images of the incarcerated. As a Qualified Social Worker registered with the General Social Care Council, I will have some clout and be able to command better pay than a social worker’s assistant, but I’m not there yet. So do I say “volunteer social worker”? I guess it’s the best I can come up with now. It would behoove me to speak to more Brits and see what they have to say about it. I had no idea that “intern” is a term really only used by Americans. They say “internship” here, so why aren’t they “interns”?

My destination point is 12.5 miles away from my home, over a couple of hills that I can now recognize as medium-difficulty rises, after accidentally trying ride up a hill so long and so steep that I had to get off to finish it and then being told it was one of the easier hills in south London. Gypsy Hill is not easy for someone on a fixed gear bike. I wonder if I’d like to try it again when I somehow manage to get a geared bike (anyone going from NYC to London anytime soon who would like to be paid to bring an incomplete bike to me? There’s a bike bag and everything!).

After a few weeks of riding the entire 25 mile commute, working 8 hours, and cramming tons of new info into my head, I pooped out and started taking the train in the morning and riding home in the evening. It is glorious! I feel so much more awake and alert, and less grumpy, too! Wednesday, when I changed my start time at work from OMGearly to 10 a.m. I got a little lost on the internet and missed my train so had to ride in. The difference was startling – I was calmer, stronger, and felt better the whole way. I’m not sure whether to put that down to strength, less exhaustion, or the later start time. Either way, while I’m still volunteering, and thus coming in later, I will attempt to ride my bike some mornings as well.

Beginning a new commute is always a bit daunting; I usually Google map things and then do the driving directions, dragging the route around until I craft the shortest line between point A and point B. This is not always the smartest thing to do. Things such as needing to cross busy roads without the benefit of a light, and hills, and how busy a particular stretch of road is must be taken into account. Someone recommended Cycle Streets, a UK cycling route planner, but it gave me this really complicated yet cycle-friendly route that I didn’t feel like memorizing. My present route has me riding on many extremely busy roads, but I’m confident now and generally navigate the difficulties well. I’m enjoying my hills to the extent that I can, and am getting stronger.

Some people ride really fast, all the time, some people ride really slowly, all the time. I’m somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I wish I were as strong as some of the racing girls, but I won’t give up chocolate or ice cream to off-set the added muscle and keep my legs at an acceptable size. I manage 12.5 miles in an hour without feeling like I have to try too hard to keep up the pace, and I’m happy with the speed of my journey. I’m happy with the state of my legs. I’m not the slowest, I’m not the fastest, and I get where I need to go without killing myself. I’m cool with that!

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The Waiting Game

Still no news on the visa front; I was told that I can check the progress of my visa through the system, when I enrolled my biometric data (no retina scan, sadly), but have been unable to find the section of the UK Border Authority’s website that would let me do that. I can’t even find where to ask someone about it. And all numbers given are pay numbers. They sure don’t make it easy for you to navigate that system, do they? Probably the same in every country.

I can’t even remember when I sent everything in. It seems like it may have been about 5-7 weeks ago, and the maximum time length given for expected return of an uncomplicated spousal visa (right of abode) is 14 weeks. I think it has been about 3 weeks since I enrolled my biometric data, where I was told that after the data was compared against national and international databases, and I was vetted, my application would be assigned to a case worker. The husband and I are hoping that it will be no more than another 3 weeks until I get the visa. Apparently I will receive a letter first, letting me know that I will be getting my national identity card (new thing!) and when I do receive that I can breathe a sigh of relief.

As for “work”, my “internship” has been going swimmingly. Well, if by “swimmingly” you think of the frustration of trying to cram a load of new information into your brain in a very short time, then yep! It’s going swimmingly! I’ve been given no more promises than a shot at an interview, but that was more than I had two weeks ago so I’ll take it! Most of the managers have taken the time to come up to me and tell me what a good job I’m doing and how helpful I’ve been around the place, it makes me feel really good. It just seemed like I was floundering around and probably being of some help, but without training I wasn’t sure if I was anywhere near the mark of what kind of work I was supposed to be doing. Now I know there will be training available, on both the caseload system we’ll be using as well as on work-flow and the manner in which to undertake an investigation. I believe I’ll be well supported, and the team is filled with really excellent people I enjoy working with. It’s pretty much a win-win situation.

The garden is coming along, but as my landlord-roommate is painting the fence you’ll all have to wait for update photos. At least the light is out much longer in the day now, I’ll try to take photos during the coming week. For now, a blurry photo of our laundry covered wagon. Laundry fort?

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After a beautiful, often sunny several days, the weather decided to kick us in the nads last week and turn back into winter again. None of us in the house noticed this, so the heating stayed off and we started getting torpid and shivery. A couple of days ago, the husband was asked what he wanted for dinner and came back with, “Comfort food,” after which both of us said, “I want mac and cheese!” Never Enough Thyme’s Cheesy Beefy Mac recipe was what we decided upon. The inclusion of vegetables sounded like a really good idea, so I got to work.

I’m not sure if it was just the fact that I didn’t measure anything but the shredded carrot (if memory serves, I accidentally doubled it), or if people don’t like their macaroni and cheese to resemble the gooey goodness of Velveeta Shells n Cheese (note: this is most likely just nostalgia talking), because most recipes I find call for a much lower cheese-to-pasta ratio than I wanted, and this was no exception.

So I doubled the cheese sauce. It had to be done, even if that means I used more cheese than you can shake a stick at in this recipe.

1 8 oz package elbow macaroni
cooking spray (or olive oil)
1 cup chopped onion
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
2 tsp. minced garlic (optional)
1 cup shredded carrots
1 pound lean ground beef (I used 500g)
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup low-fat (or fat-free) milk
2 tblsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, grated (most of a med-large block)

I didn’t fuss with all that low-fat malarkey, we used mostly semi-skimmed versions (in the UK, 2% is considered “semi-skimmed”). I couldn’t imagine it being creamy enough without some milk fat.

Preheat oven to 350 F (190 C).

Cook the elbow macaroni while preparing the rest of the recipe. Drain and reserve until called for.

Cook the onion, celery, bell pepper, carrots and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauteing 4 to 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add the ground beef and cook until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain the ground beef and return it to the pan along with the reserved vegetables. Add the tomato sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.

Add the cooked macaroni into the beef/vegetable mixture and stir to combine well. Spoon the beef and macaroni mixture into an 11×7 baking dish. The recipe says to coat it with cooking spray but I used a bit of olive oil because I didn’t have any spray.

Make a light roux by whisking milk, flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan until well blended. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add 1 cup cheese, stirring until smooth. (This is what I doubled.) Pour the cheese mixture over the macaroni mixture and stir together. Top evenly with the remaining 1 cup cheese. Bake at 350/190 for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

I think this would be super easy to make for kids; if your kids won’t eat any particular vegetable addition, just nix it in favor of something you know they will. This week. While this isn’t exactly “mac n cheese”, it is delicious, and I recommend trying it at least once!

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We got the rubbish pile organized and all the herbs in pots. The washbin had to have holes drilled into it, as well as the galvanized steel pail that we planted the strawberries in. We also drilled holes in a decorative pot that had been used mostly to allow water to stand in it and become fetid. It stank up the whole back garden as well as the kitchen when we dumped it out. Now it’s being used to grow tarragon, thyme and coriander. It may be too small for so many herbs, or we just won’t get as much of each as we’d like. But how much of those herbs will we possibly use?

We had to put bricks between the fence and the raised bed to help keep it from falling apart as we couldn’t attach it to the posts. Then we put in the “walkway” in front of it and marked off the outer edges of the bed at the right so the few rogue pea plants I put in over there won’t get stepped on when the decking and shed start to get built. I also put in more red onions back there and filled in the row behind the rocket with white onions.

lavender and rosemary

herbs & bucket o' strawbs

Here is when we started the project.

I seriously want to try this upside down plant idea, I don’t like the bags (Topsy Turvy), I think pots are the way to go, even though its more plastic.

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Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a McCall’s pattern for a scooter skirt from 1969. I bought it thinking it’d be perfect for bike riding, then when I opened it and saw there were only five pieces and five steps I thought it would be a piece of cake! I’d had this gorgeous dark purple and blue 100% linen plaid material I got to make a dress/jacket combo. However, when I took the jacket pattern pieces out of the envelope, I panicked, and put the whole thing away. Then I found the scooter skirt pattern and knew it would be great in that plaid! It’s basically a pair of shorts with a flap at the front and at the back.

Because of interning it’s taken me two weeks to finish, but that’s another blog post. At some point I’m going to have to get off my duff (maybe when I’m drawing a paycheck) and sign up for some sort of intermediate level sewing class because there’s still tons I don’t know about sewing. The zipper nearly drove me bonkers and in the end I just sort of winged it, doing something between a lap zipper and an invisible zipper. At least I used the zipper foot. I had the problem with a sort of “dip” at the bottom of the zipper that I was warned about if I didn’t sew from the bottom up, but after two tutorials and two books, all of which told me different things, I was sick of it and just got it in however I could because I was afraid if I didn’t, I wouldn’t. It had been sitting there waiting to be put in for a week as it was.

Then, I couldn’t figure out how to do the bottom hems like the pattern wanted so I ended up just doing a double-fold seam so the linen wouldn’t fray. The machine’s manual gave me the hint to cut corners off at certain parts so there wouldn’t be too much bulk and I must say, I’m super happy with the result! I opted to slipstitch the rest of it b/c I didn’t know how to do an invisible stitch and couldn’t figure out if “blind stitch” was my English machine’s manual’s way of saying that.


To top it off, when I got to the snap at the waist band, the two ends didn’t meet up flush, and then I sewed the snap on the wrong side. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Oh well, this is one of those things where if I don’t tell people about it they won’t know it’s there. And of course, here I am, not only telling but showing. But I don’t know how the sides ended up not matching, so I’ll have to be more careful when I make them next time because THEY ARE AWESOME! I also plan on trying to make them not quite as wide through the legs, because as you can see, they appear to be at least an inch and a half wider on either side than the picture indicates. I don’t think I’ll adjust them quite that much, though.

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For the past few weeks we’ve been waiting excitedly for seeds to sprout and be ready to plant out. Sweetcorn, tomatoes, tiny little round carrots, basil, courgettes (that’s zucchini to Americans), sprouting broccoli…I feel like there’s something else but can’t think of what it is…it’s been exciting and frustrating, sitting there staring at them as they come out, get two leaves, grow tall, and then stall. They’re mostly still skinny little things not quite ready to go out, except the courgettes, which went huge! and into the ground today.

We also have various herbs, two lavenders (one blue, one pink), rosemary, coriander (cilantro to Americans and Spanish speakers), chives, thyme, strawberries, tarragon, too many peas, too many onions, too many beets (anyone want some seedlings?), what else…parsley and fennel! We went to the gardening store for soil and of course everything looked awesome, so we bought it. 10 small herbs for £14.99, buy 5, get 6th free veg. Good deal!


The empty spot in the middle you can barely tell is empty is reserved for lettuce! There will be sweetcorn at the back of the left hand side. Courgettes are at the back of the right hand side. Last year when I visited, I got to see G’s plot and I’m now experiencing what she did, that you need a much bigger plot than you think you do. At least we’re not doing many squashes. Their leaves are huge ground coverers. I’ve been remembering my neighbor’s mother’s plot from childhood – it was their entire backyard! All I can remember is that they had lots and lots of cucumbers. We won’t get to do that, I don’t think we’d want to, but I do want to grow more stuff. Potatoes, shallots, onions and garlic are in the works.

Can’t wait until everything’s bigger and really growing! This is our first garden, really excited for eating what we’ve grown ourselves. I thought we ought to test the soil to see if it’s poisonous, being in a city and all, but one of our roommates decided that this area has been housing for at least two hundred years, so we just went with it.

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