Friday, 28 January 2011

Sky Sports sacks the monkey. The organ grinder runs for the hills

I was wrong.  Sky Sports did the right thing and sacked Andy Gray.  Richard Keys quit, apologising at first but then bizarrely quoting "dark forces" forcing his resignation.  

Keys said: “With success comes envy. The clips you have seen are fairly selective. They have targeted two individuals."

I'm sure it's a conspiracy, Richard.  It's absolutely NOT because you're a nob.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Feminists - lace up yer boots!

For the folks who don't believe that people still scorn women in certain careers...

Sky Sports football commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keyes, were caught off-air in this conversation about female Line Referee, Sian Massey, during the recent Wolves vs Liverpool match:

RK: “Someone should get down there and explain the offside rule to her”
AG: “Can you believe that?  A female linesman.  Women don’t know the Offside Rule”
RK: “Course they don’t.  I can guarantee you there will be a big one today. Kenny [Dalglish] will go potty. This isn’t the first time, is it? Didn’t we have one before?”

RK: “The game’s gone mad.  Did you hear charming Karen Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love.

Don't believe me?  Hear the audio recording here.

Will these morons be sacked?  Nah.  Would they be sacked if they had made racist comments about players?  Yep.

Here's a link to explain the Offside Rule for people who are not qualified Line Referees. No doubt it will also greatly assist any qualified Line Referees who are also female.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Britain vs America - do I really have to take sides?

Some of my friends back in the UK are advising me that my blog is too pro-American, especially after I declared that the American Revolution was understandable.  For me, though, this isn't really an American vs British thing;  I believe that Colonialism, although a great style of architecture, was a pretty ugly chapter of global history.  My parents' homeland (Sri Lanka) - is only just recovering from the violent consequences of divide and conquer.  Under certain circumstances it seems right to reject colonial occupation violently, if you can.  It's a testament to the Americans that they decided - and succeeded - in asserting their independence.   Their drive and determination to self-govern was surely drawn from their British roots, though?  So when Americans ask me what Britain has ever given the world, I respond cheekily with "America".

Aside from the whole issue of whether or not British Colonialism was ok, it has become apparent to me, since moving to the State-less State of DC that taxation without representation really does suck.  Not sure I'd go to war over it, though, as this armchair is just soooo comfortable.  Instead I'll leave you with the words of a British comedian featuring in Jon Stewart's Daily Show, John Oliver:

John Oliver on America

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Angry birds are like Al Qaeda

Is anyone else obsessed with the Angry Birds iPhone app?  This is the crazed slingshot game where you fire birds with different penetrative attributes (!) at green pigs who are hiding under blocks of wood, concrete and glass.

Hank and I are hooked.  Hank reckons the angry birds are like Al Qaeda - they hate pork and queue up with glee to assault the enemy in situations where the enemy is just minding his own business.  Oh, and if they don't get their own way they blow themselves up.

If you have never tried it - DON'T OPEN THAT BOX!  Your life will disappear down a hole, just like it did with the Harry Potter series!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Amendments can be amended


There's been a lot of press coverage here about gun control, particularly since the shooting of an Arizona Congresswoman a couple of weeks ago. Prompted by this Boston Globe article, I have been thinking a lot about the second amendment - the part of the US Constitution that confers the right to bear arms.  This amendment forms part of the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution - which were not automatically given an "expiry" date when they were written, unlike most of the other amendments).  The fact that the second amendment is in the Bill of Rights makes it virtually impossible to repeal*, but that doesn't fully explain why gun control is still so anathema here.  

Hank tells me that the second amendment is often cited as the very foundation of the USA, and I think looking back on this country's history, that assertion has a reasonable basis:  colonial Britain attempted to confiscate arms and prevent gun powder reaching local militias in the lead up to what would become the American Revolution.  Even after the revolution, nobody could be sure that the new republic's government would be any better at representing the people [they might just reinvent that whole taxation without representation thing in DC!"]  

Wikipedia, (a totally kosher historical source), reminds us that the second Amendment was: "to allow the nascent union to defend itself from potential re-conquest and occupation, but also to guard the people against potential tyranny from the government of the republic."

All well and good but is the tyranny of government still a risk today?  Ok, yes, Sarah Palin COULD be elected but other than that?  Do Americans still need to sit out on the porch rocker  every evening, a shotgun in their lap, peering twitchy-handed at their neighbours?  Of all the material I have read on this subject, the only convincing argument for private firearms ownership related to the LA Riots of 1992. The race riots were sparked by the acquittal of white and hispanic police officers who had severely beaten a black man named Rodney King.  A group of Koreans are often quoted as being the only non-blacks who managed to protect their property through the riots.  Firing shotguns and rifles, they faced off against the angry mobs of local black residents and controversially held their ground. 

An unfortunate white truck driver, Reginald Oliver Denny, caught at a red light, was dragged out of his vehicle and repeatedly bludgeoned in the head, the whole thing recorded by TV cameras overhead.  Wikipedia claims that while Denny was being assaulted "the police never appeared, having been ordered to withdraw for their own safety."  

It is difficult for me to imagine how one could defend oneself without a firearm in a situation so dangerous that even the Police cannot help you.  But I do doubt whether even a firearm could have saved poor Denny from his horrific injuries.   Perhaps what LA needed was a respected, credible Petey Greene figure, to soothe the angry and dispossessed in such troubled times.

Back in modern-day Arizona, it seems unlikely that any community leader could have protected Gabrielle Giffords against a loon with an extended clip (although perhaps a little less anti-Democrat "rhetoric" might have helped).  Would an armed bodyguard have saved Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?  

If Congress representatives have to have bodyguards, then they may also need to wear stab-proof vests.  In the UK, one poor MP was stabbed by a nutter who reportedly read on the internet that every Member of Parliament supporting the war in Iraq should be killed.  How do you avoid a lunatic like that?  It is the role of elected representatives to interact with the electorate.  Bullet-proof glass and stab vests don't exactly build trust.  And with so little faith in manifestos these days, trust is the big clincher in elections.  

Sarah Palin hunting in a bikini
Palin- the tyranny of
 moronic government
I don't have any answers but my gut feeling is that I'd feel safer if I knew local criminals couldn't acquire a handgun very easily.  For that everyday safety I'd be willing to risk occasional violent mobs.  Who knows, perhaps I would even be willing to remain passive when faced with the faint but terrifying threat of government by Palin.

*No part of the Bill of Rights has been amended but several states have chosen instead to reject the second amendment.   Some amendments not forming the Bill of Rights have been amended: Amendment XVIII (18): Prohibition of liquor was repealed in 1933 - yep, that one was definitely important enough for a rethink!

Chris Rock, again.  This time on gun control.  Language is not really suitable for kids!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Cats score a point for intellect: cat hates Justin Bieber

Kosmo dislikes black people, hoodies and all dogs which are not descended from the Master Race of Spaniels.  On Martin Luther King Day, I was horrified to learn from Kosmo's owners that he also hates people in wheelchairs.  Goodness me, this dog has more issues than Time Magazine.

The "dogs are better than cats" school of thinking took yet another blow yesterday with the revelation that some cats have incredibly good taste in musicCat hates Bieber

PS If you have not yet checked out Hank's NEW blog page, look for his link on the right.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Being a good neighbour

Hank's occasional snoring sounds like someone gently dragging a heavy shovel along a gravel path.  I can make that comparison because, of the two of us, I'm the one shoveling the iced-over sidewalk in front of our house this morning.  Turns out Hank is a feminist too, especially when he's late for work.

PC2000-8 Shovel
Snow Diggers: more than meets the eye
It is customary in the US to shovel the area in front of your home to prevent the embarrassing slipping over of neighbours and the irritation of blood shed on one's doorstep.  Whilst huffin' and puffin' this morning, I noticed something really nice about my new neighbourhood:

When your neighbour hears you grafting to keep their street hazard-free, they come out and do the same right alongside you.   I met a couple of new neighbours doing this, and we joked about the joys of winter. Pretty soon, between us, our block was looking rather good.

DC law requires property owners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks within eight daylight hours of the snow stopping falling. Perhaps we Brits should all have got our shovels out, sledded over to Heathrow Airport and made the 2010 Xmas holidays memorable for the right reasons!  Manual labour for the public good is just not the kind of civic duty I'm used to in the UK.  

I'm trying to work out if a shoveling law would work in England.  I remember one afternoon, sliding to my friend Emma's home in Kent along a snowy, main road.   Cars were stalling, one after the other, on a single black spot on the icy road.  One bewildered driver had his phone blaring out on hands-free, gripping the wheel whilst a friend talked him through a steep "hill start" on icy tarmac in a manual transmission vehicle.  I noticed the driver's window was open and the terrified chap was chain-smoking, presumably to avoid hyperventilating.

Emma and I wondered if we could help in some way.  Although we couldn't think of any actual assistance we could offer, we waited until the chain-smoker had successfully pulled away before moving on.  As we left, I noticed that the adjacent home had a bedroom light on and a person could be seen, clearly watching the drivers struggling.  I wonder why that person did not come down with some table salt and shake a little into the icy patch.  It also seems unlikely they did not have a shovel, given the size of their well-manicured front garden.  Maybe it just didn't occur to them to take personal responsibility for a public road.  We Brits rely on Government to do this for us - and boy did we feel the consequences of that dependancy in 2011!  Maybe UK residents paid such large taxes last year that we really feel we shouldn't have to help each other out?  Or maybe we just don't want to interfere in the lives of strangers?

I think, of all those options, the last one is actually probably the most likely.  The willingness of a citizen to interfere (for better or worse) in someone else's business might make for some interesting anthropological studies.   Since I'm too lazy to do any such studies, I will now use anecdotes instead.  Call it a perk of being a non-salaried writer.  


Japan. 2000. I'm waiting at a pedestrian crossing on a busy Freeway. A schoolboy on a bike pulls up on the sidewalk beside me as I and a group of Japanese adults wait for the light to change.   The boy looks right, then left.  Seeing no traffic, he prepares to cross illegally.  A car coming from behind us on the right is indicating left onto the Freeway, speeding to make the green light.  The boy on the bike doesn't see the car. Everyone else does.  The boy sets off.  None of the Japanese bystanders move.  The bike clatters to the ground. 

Was the kid hit?


The boy's collar is firmly in my hand.  I'm a hero (at last!) The other pedestrians cheer!   They had been within reach of the child but none of them shouted for him to stop; none of them had grabbed him, although many of them were closer than I was.  My feeling is that the engrained instinct not to interfere in someone else's business delayed them from acting quickly enough to protect the boy themselves. 

The child thanks me and wheels his buckled bike off.  The adults fall silent.


California. 2010.  Hank and I are parking our campervan in the Safeway parking lot when we hear a crunch from above.  A low-hanging tree branch.  Hank climbs up to lift the branch while I reverse.  No progress.  We try to go forwards but all we get is revving and burnt rubber.  Sap seeps down the side of the van.   We are miles away from home and stuck fast.   I feel the hysteria rising.

Could we fix this on our own?


A guy in a green pick-up truck sees our predicament and, unprompted, offer us a chunky, saw-toothed knife.   Hank climbs up and starts hacking.  A crowd gathers.  Do we need a ride home?  A guy in a yellow pick-up asks if we need any help.  We say thank you but we have a saw.  The yellow pick-up driver drives off.  Hank carries on sawing.  The knife is having about the same effect as a nail file.  Onlookers start to be concerned.  At this rate, the guy who lent us the knife will be waiting all day for us to return a blunt stub.

About 15 minutes later, the yellow pick-up returns.   Out of the passenger door emerges a beefy young man carrying a huge tree-saw.

"I couldn't very well leave you out here on your own," yells the driver, over the sound of Hank manicuring the tree.  "So I thought I'd go home and fetch my saw, just in case you hadn't managed to get free.  I brought my nephew here, to give you a hand."

Hank's face lights up.  With the new saw, he lops off the branch within minutes.  I buy the yellow pick-up team a 16-pack of Bud.   

Hank is exhausted as we wave them off.  We decide to camp right there in Safeway's parking lot for the night.  We all sleep soundly. 


Monday, 17 January 2011

1000 pageviews! Thanks, mum!

And, and, AND ... the macrobiotic diet is working! I've shed a lot of weight from my bloated belly (this is useful for countering sneaky glances at my abdomen when I announce to a new acquaintance that Hank and I are getting married in Vegas).  Another bonus is that my appetite has reduced significantly because, when all you can eat is cardboard and rice, frankly, why would you bother to eat at all?

Yes, the detox is working!  I asked Hank to show some solidarity by giving up drinking beer for a month and he said he would - but, you got it, he was pretending.  Upon interrogation he confessed he really won't drink beer - he will simply freeze it and eat it in cubes.

Today's link is for all the military fans out there:

Desert camouflage really works!  Just not in the desert.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Japanese novelty

People who know me only as Georgia won't know that I worked as an English teacher in Japan from 2000-2002.  It was wonderful and I've had an interest in Japan ever since.

I'm having a day off blogging today so I'll just direct you to two quick links which reflect the creativity of our Japanese counterparts:

Obama Sushi

Art imitates life (skip through the movie trailer that sometimes pops up at the beginning)


Thursday, 13 January 2011

When two become one - what do you do with what's left over?

I recently caught a re-run of that 2005 Lifetime TV show "Merge" where a man and woman, deciding to cohabit, try to make their independent tastes in home decor merge together, without nominating too much of each other's stuff for the wood chipper.  It reminded me of the situation Hank and I face in our first home together, trying to make his chrome, leather and black furniture merge with my floral Victorian chaise longue, Wedgewood china and Royal Doulton figurines.

Figurines and cuddy toys - what you men love most about cohabitation

Hank and I had each owned pretty full sets of furniture in our former, independent lives but I was at a disadvantage here in DC - not that it's a power struggle - because I'd left most of my furniture in London to rent out with the apartment.  So, with the relatively few items I have in DC, even a tiny sacrifice for me now could signal a huge shift in the balance between Hank's chunky man-stuff and Georgia's tasteful and refined selections.

Ok, ok, I accept that last description was not very impartial.  Like most people, I am attached to my sense of style, and change is all the harder because sentimental women such as me attach such personal significance to decorative items like a dinner service ("ah.... remember that Christmas when we got Chinese take-out?  Best ever...").  Still, at least these merging pains are really not exclusive to me and Hank.  I have heard of homes where DVDs were shuffled up on shelves so that the perusing eye took in Alien vs Predatorthe Godfather, Terminator, The Wire, Platoon, Mama Mia ... Wait, what?!

Fortunately for me and Hank, what seemed like a daunting task at first has become quite worthwhile.  You may by now be wondering, where on earth dark wood furniture could meet antique Victoriana halfway?

Unknowingly, Hank's parents provided the final piece of the design puzzle when they kindly donated their Asian-inspired mahogany sleigh bed.  It became obvious: SE Asia, colonial-style.  Hank's dark-stained Balinese teak will blend with my screenprints and his rice paper and wicker room dividers.   We hope to choose some campaign-style pieces from my favourite DC vintage furniture store Miss Pixie's.  Lots of tall, leafy house plants to create the illusion of the East Indies.  Maybe we'll scatter a few silk cushions.  With my repositioned Japanese altar cabinet now housing the Wedgewood,  I really feel comfortable with the way this is moving....  This could really work!

I've hidden the Wedgewood in the cabinet, ok?  But Hank, if the china gets into any "accidents" I will call the FBI to dust it for your prints.

But as with all power struggles (reminder: this is not a power struggle), there are sacrifices: this week's loser is poor old Debbie, the Royal Doulton figurine pictured earlier.  Hank just can't find it in him to display her beside the TV.

So, goodbye, Dolly.  It's the bottom shelf of the bookcase for you.  With a smile, I must confess: since she is so valuable and so breakable a dust-magnet, even I am relieved to see her go.

NY Times tips on avoiding a "no-holds-barred meltdown right out of “War of the Roses.”

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

How to survive in the wilderness

Hank and I just saw "127 Hours", a Danny Boyle movie about a guy who insists on going canyoning on his own, falls into a deep hole, gets his hand trapped under an unfriendly boulder and decides to hack it off (the hand) after 127 hours of being trapped without any sign of rescue.  You may think that synopsis was what Americans call a "spoiler" but the joy of the film (if you can call it joy) resides in the suspense created when you know what's coming and are just waiting for it ... wait for it ... wait for it... Hack! You get the idea. 

There are some great bits of the movie, like when the trapped hero Aron reflects ironically on the opportunities he had to tell people where he was going canyoning and stubbornly refused; how he almost packed his Swiss Army knife but couldn't quite reach it on the top shelf at home, so left it behind; and, as his water supplies deplete, he contemplates the solitary litre of Gatorade he left in his car, oh about a hundred miles that-a-way.  The movie is good but not for the faint-hearted: if you are the kind of person who wouldn't trust the ship's barber to hack any of your limbs off at sea then perhaps take a strong swig of rum before you go into the cinema.

The idea of emergency preparedness reminded me of a recent trip to Glacier National Park (USA) with Hank.  It was June but there was still an iciness in the air and the mountains looked less than welcoming.  Hank suggested a day hike to a tarn named "Avalanche Lake", reassuringly sited at the end of "Avalanche Gorge".  Darkness was already falling as we set out.  The trailhead was roped off with a sign which stated that a recent storm had forced its closure.  Hank pressed on.  I was nervous.  

Avalanche Lake - a lovely place for a lone walk at dusk
As per usual I had packed a careful day sack, containing 1.5 litres of water, a survival bag, snack bars, warm, brightly-coloured clothing, waterproofs and a wind-up light (I never trust batteries in an emergency).  As we raced along under the forest canopy, slipping on wet rocks and icy, part-frozen mud, the light dwindled and I asked Hank what we would do in an emergency.  He said he was well prepared.  I felt relieved at first.  Then I realised he was "pretending" (pretending is our word for "lying").  I grabbed his bag and, relieved, found it reassuringly heavy.  I unzipped the front pocket and discovered the following potentially life-saving contents:

1.  Hank's Invisalign retainer
2.  His London apartment's front door keys (quite a heavy bunch) 
3.  His London office swipe passes (on bulky chains)

Hank stops to photograph the scenery along Avalanche Gorge Trail.  Fear not! He has his office swipe pass!
Ok he did have some useful kit but those were the first three things I found, so I freaked out.  At that point Hank gave me permission to leave him behind if he got into trouble.  I knew I would, in all seriousness, never be able to do that, so it was fortunate that we both made it to the tarn and back in one piece - and before nightfall.  As we returned to the road, Hank laughed at my European fear of Mother Nature. Until we saw a sign by the trailhead.

Barely a year earlier, a 27-year old man named Yi Jien Hwa had gone missing hiking in the mountains around the tarn we had just visited.  The sign requested hikers keep an eye out for his body, his clothes, his backpack, his shoes.  My scepticism of American notions of outdoors "rugged individualism" probably only sank in for Hank at that point.  We were devastated.

I have today googled Yo Jien Hwa and found no indication that any trace of him was ever recovered.  His wife had apparently been due to accompany him hiking but had been called away to a family emergency. Unable or perhaps just unwilling to postpone the trip of a lifetime, Yi Jien Hwa had gone ahead, on his own.

With the recent shootings in Arizona, I have been contemplating the New World belief that a true hero can rely on their own resourcefulness to survive any situation.  This confers the right to bear arms (you may need to protect yourself against a crazed gunman) and seems to originate in a profound belief that Government cannot solve all of society's problems, and that society cannot solve individuals' problems.  The Europeans reading this will probably take a different view: where Governments control firearms and ammunition effectively, crazed gunmen (and accidental discharges) pose less of a threat to society; when well-socialised individuals tell our peers where we're going, we're less likely to be alone relying on ourselves to survive in a canyon for very long.  So, Hank I hope you will forgive me but there will be no solitary Utah man-cave for you.  I can't protect you against a lunatic with a gun in Safeway, but I can legislate so that you won't be leaving your hand in a canyon.  Will you do me a wee favour? Please take a friend and a GPS trackable device when you square off against Mother Nature - and come back to your fiancee in one piece.  That's my American Dream xx 

The Presidents say: Your mom was right!  Don't lose your head!
Tell someone where you're going when exploring the great outdoors.  Thank you, good people of the USA!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Shaking the excess off my hips and back into my bank account

Day Eight of my macrobiotic diet and all is NOT well in the world.  Until 2011, my idea of a diet was not eating food that comes in a bucket.  But now I really need to get in shape for the wedding; it's too late to have a dress made specially.  They take months to make and I've no time, thanks to the US Immigration Service.  I'll have to squeeze into something off the shelf or (gasp!) reuse something from my younger, slimmer days.  

HELP ME!  I don't want to be outshone by my flower girl (age 10) or my bridesmaid (size 10).

DESPAIR!  Everyone has a secret tip, a diet they have tried and sworn by.  Do you Dukan?  Like a Lighter Life?  Remember when Atkins was the word on everyone's smelly breath?  Now only Angelina Jolie remains, a die-hard reminder of the low-carb world we left behind with such relief. 

MISERY!  I once saw an episode of Roadrunner where Wile E. Coyote tore pictures of food out of a catalogue and ate them.  I know how he feels.

In 2005, I tried Carol Vorderman's Detox for Life diet and lost around 9 kgs (or 20 lbs) in a month.  By failing to follow Carol's advice about taking vitamin supplements, I also lost a lot of brain capacity - seriously, I learnt to be very careful with any sudden change to my eating habits!  I did save a lot of money, eating only raw foods and abstaining from alcohol, dairy, wheat, and fun.  Of course it was very, very good for my digestion (too much information? sorry), and I did look great afterwards - much healthier, not just slimmer.    The second time around, this macrobiotic diet is proving a little easier, and the cravings for fried food and dairy are subsiding surprisingly quickly.  Importantly, it is also saving money which we can use for massive overindulgence in food and drink at the wedding.  Rock on!

I must admit, avoiding pasta is the hardest.  Like Darth Vader, I just want the Penne Arrabiata.  And for the three people out there who do not have a Pavlovian response to the words "Penne Arrabiata" please lock the kids in another room and watch the legendary Eddie Izzard's Death Star Canteen lego sketch (over 12,000,000 YouTube viewers can't be wrong).

Those who already number in the 12,000,000, I feel you chomping at the bit to watch this again.  Unleash your hounds!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Drug dealers- please pay tax on your profits!

It's a Saturday afternoon and I'm blog tired.  Hank has politely confirmed that yesterday's tips on saving money were a wee bit boring and obvious.  Another friend bemoaned the lack of cute animal pics since Kosmo left our house.   So I apologise to the seventy people who faithfully read this blog yesterday - and I promise you a real gem tomorrow.  For now, I'll direct you to a real, published journalist writing about America's weirdest taxes: Huffington Post article on strange taxes

PS Cute animal pic.  A crowd-pleasing hare Hank and I saw in Yellowstone Park.

Friday, 7 January 2011

How I'm spending less in 2011

View DetailsSince leaving my job to move to DC, I have had to rely on Hank to pay for everything.  As a feminist it feels uncomfortable not to pay my way.  Moreover, it feels unfair to Hank so, I am committed to squeezing every last cent out of his hard-earned dollars.  I have come up with ten little tips, which may interest you, too: 

1.  According to the Daily Mail, the price of food and drink products increased by an average of 5.9 per cent last year  -  considerably above the official rate of inflation.  The supermarkets are definitely squeezing every last penny out of us.  So I've downgraded from the luxury grocery brands to standard or budget brands*.  There are certain things you might not want to risk (like meat?) but for canned vegetables the difference between own-brand canned tomatoes and fancy-pants cans is negligible.  As for health benefits, there are some unexpected positives!  I found that own-brand "juice from concentrate" often contains nothing but concentrate and water - it's cheaper than adding the sugar and preservatives the more expensive manufacturers use in their concentrate.  To compare specific stores' own brands try this link (UK) and click on the handbook to see recent comparisons.

*Hank insists on buying Newman's Own products whenever possible because the profits go to charity and because Paul Newman was "a dude."  But even dude's have coupons.

2.  Hank's lunch meats and cheese are significantly cheaper at the grocery store's Deli Counter than when pre-packaged - and can be sliced to my exact portion needs. 

3.  Bulk buying dry goods at Costco.   Membership at Costco usually costs $50 a year in the US.  I've not found a way to share membership with friends but if you have a friend who is already a member, ask them to let you buy a Costco pre-paid card from their account which you can use, not just the registered member....  

4.  ... But avoid buying too much food at Costco!  Buying "little and often" still makes sense for perishable products.  Apparently Brits throw away 3.6 million tonnes of food each year, 60 per cent of it untouched.  This link offers ten good ways to use leftovers including bread, meats and veggies.  Don't forget you can quickly mix almost anything into a good ole omelette.

5.  I'm packing Hank's lunches (groan).  I used to buy snack pots of raisins and pretzels but they are really expensive so I now buy bigger packs and repack them into smaller tupperware containers.

clip art image
6. During my last week in the UK, I spent an afternoon gossiping with my mum while we counted out Hank's loose change. We didn't count every single penny, we made a "control" stack of each denomination and then checked the height of other stacks of the same denomination against it.  (Your bank will check them when you pay them in so don't spend too much time here).   Hank's change turned out to be well over GBP100 ($150).  I was embarrassed about paying in so much small change, so I told the bank teller I was paying in a Tea Club collection.  I now pick up those empty coin bags whenever I am in my bank.  Note you can NOT mix coins in UK bags when you pay them in.  

7. Use Reward Points instead of saving them for something!  I got $150 off my $500 flight to DC by cashing in a year's worth of HSBC Mastercard Reward Points.

Free money clip art of animated bag of dollar bill euro cash and coins for sale.8. Shopping for online discount vouchers. Some of the sites get frustratingly out-of-date but occasionally you find free delivery or a discount on certain types of product. Starbucks are offering a free coffee on Monday 10th Jan for UK & Irish customers producing this voucher. 

9.  Find cheaper flights using a single search across all airlines (including lowcost ones) using 

10.  Give up alcohol for a month.  The first time I did this I found an extra $450 in my bank account at the end of the month.  I also lost weight.  I was still socialising but drinking juice drinks, mineral water or nothing at all. I saved the most by not getting into costly "rounds" of drinks which require you to stay long enough to buy a drink for everyone in your group  - or be called "tight"!  When drinking with six other people I easily saved $75 a night.  It's not as hard as you think.  When really under peer pressure to drink, I tell people I am on antibiotics ... and the rash is really clearing up nicely, thanks!


Was that useful to you?  If you made a Resolution to be better with your money, these are four really good UK sites: for UK investment, pensions, savings and tax tips.  This site taught me how to invest in the stockmarket. -  UK financial website of the year. - good for finding a cheaper financial product. - lots of UK discounts here.

Please do publish your own money saving tips in the comments box below or email me at  

You can also tag my blog entries as funny, cool or interesting (there is no box for "boring" -  vote with your feet on that one!).  I'd love to know what you enjoy reading and want to see more of.  

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Twitter - what is it, really?

Today Twitter launched a special app for Macs!  Great - I've got a Mac so I am one of the cool kids!  But I still don't know really know Twitter is.  Don't get me wrong, I've signed up for it, I just don't know what it is doing when I use it.

I hear I can be friends with the President of the USA, Oprah Winfrey,  David Cameron and Peppa Pig.  I am scared it could become an obsession.  Look what happened to this poor chap:

PS If you don't like today's blog entry, guess what? You're a TWIT.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Giving up ... for good

Just a short blog entry today (after Hank called yesterday's entry a "dissertation")

You heard about my macrobiotic New Years Resolution in my first entry of 2011.  I have already broken with my "quest to become grass-fed" a couple of times and really I don't think this makes me a bad person.  This selective approach to giving something up reminds me of a story from my singleton days.

It was 2006.  A guy called John took me out for a drink after work.  It was our first date and while we contemplated the snack menu, he stated that he had given up drinking.  He had suffered one too many hangovers and recently also gotten into a fight while drunk.  "I'm really proud of myself for quitting!" he added. "Nobody thought I could stick to it this long."

"Really?" I said, relieved. "How long has it been?"

"One day" came the reply. "No .... wait, I had a beer at lunchtime."

There was no second date.

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Tuesday, 4 January 2011

What is the secret of a happy marriage?

In a recent New York Times wellness article, Tara Parker-Pope printed a sustainable marriage quiz that questioned whether relationships can succeed without allowing each party to grow as an individual.   The question has probably crossed your mind, and I would even go so far as to suggest that this point is probably particularly important to you if you are male.  My fiance, Hank sent me the NY Times link and I know he feels that our two years together have helped him expand more than just his waistline.  I utterly adore him and am happy that he feels I have helped him grow.  I wonder if all women feel the same, though.

There is a gender angle missing from the questions raised by TPP.  Fifty years ago, I wonder how many suburban housewives of DC would have said that a relationship had enabled their self-realisation.  Perhaps some relationships helped them realise that they were becoming someone they did not wish to be: an exhausted mother, a hen-pecked daughter-in-law, a domestic maid.  Remember Linda Loman in Miller's Death of A Salesman, struggling to keep the family together while her husband wrestled with his own dreams? And who can forget that scene in Revolutionary Road where Frank Wheeler yells at his wife, April: "You are an emptyemptyhollow shell of a woman. I mean, what the hell are you doing in my house if you hate me so much?"   

Frankly, where else could April Wheeler have gone?  

To echo Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, happiness in marriage was for centuries "entirely a matter of chance" and happy or not, failure was simply not an option.  Austen's generation had no way out of a marriage, just as they often had little choice on the way in. 

At the risk of reading too much into the socio-economic side, (Newsflash: I'm a feminist), I wonder if the freedom to choose when to enter into a relationship - and when to end it - isn't also a huge factor in the relationship's success or failure.  

Historically, the freedom to marry when and whom you chose has been closely linked to income. Women of Austen's generation and social status could neither earn money nor inherit it.  They depended first upon their fathers, then upon their husbands, to whom their fathers had given them away.  Linda Loman and April Wheeler's financial stability depended upon the success of their husbands' professional ambitions.  This tested the wives, yes, but also placed a huge burden of expectation on the husbands.  

In this era of high female employment, you are probably thinking: well, no-one forces modern American women to marry for economic reasons but we still have a 50% divorce rate.  Ok, but let's really think about this.  Pressures still exist.  How does society respond to "career women" who never marry or choose to remain entirely single?  Did you have an unmarried aunt who got a "pity" invite to every Christmas dinner? Did your mother ever encourage your sisters to settle down before it was "too late"  while your brothers only received similar comments many, many years later?  Consider the wildly different associations you have with the words "spinster" and her male equivalent, the "bachelor".

Clearly women still feel the pressure to marry more acutely than men do.  

As a 21-year old I remember thinking my female friends who were already 26 and unmarried were risking being left on the shelf.  Now, at 32, I look back in astonishment. The rest of your life together is a really, really long time.  Why the big rush?   At 21, I was attracting the type of moronic boyfriend I deserved, with that ridiculous attitude.  It was only after I met my fiance, at the age of 30, that it occurred to me: when we women spend time realising our own dreams before marriage, we attract the type of partner who loves our self-realised personality.  Could it be that just when we decide we really don't need to get married, is the point when we become best suited to marriage?  If so, and if at this point you still want to marry your partner, that has to be a winning ticket.  That means less of the tricky renegotiating of boundaries that women often initiate years into a marriage; the wife has fewer abandoned dreams and a fuller pension pot; the husband values her good company and doesn't mind her preference for microwaved dinners.  Both know where they stand - and are happy with their position - before moving forward together.

It follows that the things a woman may later wish she had done before she got married should all be done before she gets married.  I firmly believe we should encourage this in our daughters. That's also why I urged one of my closest friends, a 30-year old on a great salary, to quit her miserable job in the City and take her dream four-month backpacking holiday in Asia.  She knew this could be her last chance to travel like that.  She will return a more attractive person for seizing that chance.   She is not simply 'discovering' herself but actually creating herself out there.  She will return empowered to make the right choices about potential partners, her career, her home, and her friends. 

For most modern women, a marriage and children is fulfilling but is not enough to populate an entire human identity. The concept of choice is important. "A relationship is healthy when both parties have permission to ask for what they want and need, and they both have permission to say no if they choose" writes John Gray.  He is the author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, the most useful relationship book I have ever read.   I suspect in most modern marriages, the permission he talks about is already there.  It is the "asking" habit which needs to be strengthened.  Often, we women need to teach ourselves how to say "no" to what we don't want. That learning process takes time and probably requires experimentation and challenges which are concentrated outside of a domestic setting.  To experience those challenges some women may choose to travel through Asia with a backpack, or seek validation through work or volunteering. Sometimes academic challenges will be important, or any act of committing to something just because we feel good about it.    John Gray is right about how important it is to give each other permission to choose.  Equally, we women need to give ourselves permission to choose what we get ourselves into - and out of - before we can genuinely be happy helping our husbands to grow.

Revolutionary Road: me at Everest Base Camp (Tibet) the year before I met Hank.
Read the full NY Times article here

I am not a psychologist and my opinions could be way off the mark.  Do leave your comments here. 
Just in case marriage still scares you...  Here's Chris Rock's take on divorce.  Be warned, it is hilarious but not suitable for kids:

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