Monday, 29 December 2008
Big cities live and breath fashion...and fashion, as a form of self expression, is something that I love. Ladies (though guys may want to listen up too), the operative words here are self expression. Not cloning! I can't be the only person who gets tired of seeing women en mass jump on the trend bandwagon in an effort to "roll with the fashionistas." I'm not saying it's a crime to buy into the latest fad....but do pick and chooses the clothes, makeup, etc. that suit your personality, and your body type. Not everyone will look good in Kate Moss's Topshop range and it's boring when all of a sudden everyone starts sporting a poncho. Why are you wearing layers of foundation? Is it for you or is it more in name of fashion?
I think that it's a sad day when women hide their spirit behind a facade that's not of their own true choosing. It's fake. Or if one passes up better made, probably pricier items so that they can snap up the newest lines out in Primark (whose manufacturing means I seriously question). That's foolish. I'm not saying buy Escada if that's not in your budget; I'm suggesting you consider mid range quality in lieu of quantity for the sake of a trendy wardrobe. Alternatively, look off the high street. Go to a market and find the unique. And if you are one for couture, don't buy and drop items like flies in an effort to keep pace with the likes of the runway. That's wasteful. Make full use what you have!
What happened to fashion as a form of expression if we all want to look the same? What happened to individuality, enhanced through fashion?
There are days when I look around me and get lost in the whirlwind of the Fashionista Merry-Go-Round. I want to hold my own with all those beautiful London people. But then I remind myself to work with what I've got. So here's a little poem I wrote for all of you out there that may also occasionally struggle with this dilemma:
LIPS PAINTED RED
She had it goin' on
Dressed to the nines
How's a girl to emulate?
That rosy lipped vixen
I'll try it on for size
Bat my lashes
Color my lips
Pucker up cherries
And make your entrance
Watch heads turn...
Lips painted red
But is the facade wise
Would you rather just
Look a bit deeper into my eyes
And see me for who I am
Not yet a desperate housewife
But off the market still
I want to be sexy
But I want to be real
What's the point otherwise?
So I'll pass on the
"Squeeze into the latest trend game,
Who cares if it fits?"
Kick off reason with the shoe I bought yesterday?
I'll wear my soles through, thank you
Lips painted red
But is the facade wise
Would you rather just
Look a bit deeper into my eyes
And see me for who I am
I hope so
Thursday, 25 December 2008
To all my family and friends in the USA, I'm thinking of you and missing you!
Chris and I are with his parents in Bournemouth this Christmas. It's not a white one, but it's cool, crisp and sunny. In Stevens tradition, we took a walk along the beach around noon. Come cold, rain, snow....the English love their walk "along the front."
I felt kind of glamorous in my new red coat, whipped by salt and wind and buoyed by the festivities around me.....children frantically speeding along on new bikes, couples sporting santa hats, teenage boys playing ball Frisbee on the beach (Chris would have happily joined in), families walking their dogs... Spirits were running high.
Then they ran even higher when we were tipped off to free mulled wine being served by one of the cafes further along the beach. Got to love the mulled wine! And for free! Since when do you get anything for free? Talk about mixing the spirit of giving with savvy business acumen.....give and you will get in return.
I like that everyone has their Christmas traditions. We always go to my aunt or cousin's house in New York. In Australia BBQ's on the beach are rife. And in the UK, we have our winter beach walks. I wonder how Obama's family is celebrating with their new Secret Service additions? I wonder how Chris and I will forge our own traditions with time?
We all spend this day in our own special way, but there is a solidarity at large in the mutual celebration that is Christmas that I find very satisfying.
So wherever you are....with family, at the beach, in the snow, continuing tradition, trying something new.....if you are celebrating Christmas today (or even if you are not), sit back and enjoy being merry.
Sunday, 21 December 2008
So if the holiday season leaves you dizzied by flashing lights and rich food, office parties and charity collections, credit crunch warnings collided with materialistic trends, remember these tips for bringing Christmas back to the basics: festive, giving, and not breaking your bank:
- Bake some cookies - it's traditional, tasty, fulfilling and cheaper than all the crap they're trying to see you in the stores
- Mull wine -Why spend lots of money out at bars/pubs when you can cozy up indoors with warm glass of home mulled wine. A basic recipe.
- Decorate a your home - Cheer up your home and cheer up your mind -decorate a tree, cut some greens and make a wreath, put out a few candles.....create the ambiance to enjoy that glass of mulled wine and those Christmas cookies
- Think small and thoughtful - Gift giving can get out of hand, and particularly credit crunch times such as these, what is meant to be a thoughtful gesture can cause undue pressure. So if you are struggling with last minute shopping, get back to the basics. Think about something small but special to the person you are buying for.....something a little more obscure that you know they would enjoy but wouldn't expect.
- Send e-cards - Haven't sent out Christmas cards? Let people know you are thinking of them but save on postage.
- Invite friends over for dinner - Why brave restaurants full of pre-Christmas revellers and rushed service. Plan a simple menu and bring the festivities to your door.
- Identify reserves - Tempted by that cute wrapping paper and ribbon set? First look in your closet to see what was left over from last year before you buy....and if you were smart, you purchased extra wrapping paper etc in all the post-Christmas sales and you'll be all set!
- Check the TV guide for 'Miracle on 34th Street', 'It's a Wonderful Life', 'The Grinch Who Stole Christmas', etc. etc! They're usually on in abundance, and you might realize you haven't slowed down in the last few holiday seasons to enjoy these Christmas classics!
- Take a walk - Whether in the city, suburbs or country, get out in the fresh air and take in the Christmas spirit around you, be it Christmas lights, floral displays, carolers, etc.
- Pick up the phone, or sit and write that email - Connect with those that you care about that you can't be with at the holiday or that you don't see/talk to so much. Reconnect.
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
I first visited Woolworths on my second trip to England. I was 18, and visiting my boyfriend at Plymouth University. Knowing my penchant for candy, he took me in for a pick-n-mix. I was sold and my dentist was delighted. Since that day, Woolworths held a special place in my heart.
It wasn't a classy or upmarket shop, but it wasn't a dump either. It was a basic but reliable department store, readily available and reasonably priced. I recently read Bill Bryson's 'Notes from a Small Island', in which he discusses feeling some comfort in the consistency of certain British institutions found far and wide across the country. Woolworths fit this bill of broadened comfort zones. Sadly, it's soon to be a mere memory.
The papers report scenes of vultures ravaging a haggard carcass as a cross-country movement of shoppers descend to reap the rewards of discounted goods. One shopper, clearly one of my kindred spirits, bemoaned the loss of the pick-n-mix. Some people cried outrage. Others sought a good deal, and didn't care beyond that. I took a trip down to my local Woolworths to check out the damage....and my reaction was one of solidarity with Bill.
What's to come of this large building on my high street? Is another Tesco or cheap outlet shop on the way? Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions here, and they'll turn the whole two story building into a beautiful book store, or toy shop. I keep my fingers crossed that a contemporary urban blemish is not around the corner, but my faith is not too high after seeing a fantastic old cinema on the South Circular with Roman pillars and tall doors converted to Weatherspoons pub. I mean, really? I'm not for the Urban Pick-n-Mix. Keep it traditional, or get a decent urban planner!
Thursday, 4 December 2008
One of my all time favorite quotes comes from the 32nd President of the United States: Franklin D. Roosevelt: "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."
I recorded this quote in my book of quotations and personal poetry on February 23, 1998. At the time, I saw it as a reminder to overcome insecurity, stand up in the face of adversity and take control of my own destiny. I was, after all, 16 years old and was accustomed to getting tangled in a web of my own issues. FDR's wisdom may have been applicable to the country, but it was also relevant to me!
I'm sure that this frequently quoted statement has struck a chord with many over the last half century. I thus wasn't surprised to find others online herald it as a mantra for President-elect Obama and his promise of change for the United States, or that Time Magazine included a cover shot of Obama under the title "The New New Deal." When Obama enters the White House in January he inherits a mess; a mess that requires brains, strong spirit and difficult decisions to clean up.
There is no doubt in my mind that Obama is committed to realizing tomorrow....the question for me, is what exactly that tomorrow will bring in the face of challenges like curbing the looming recession, reforming education and eventually withdrawing from Iraq. Though untested in an executive role, I believe that Obama, like FDR, embraces the American "can do" spirit that when fuelled by smart, lateral thinking is a recipe for progress.
Here in the UK and Europe I've talked to many sceptics, often friends, who challenge this "can do attitude." Some feel it's overly jolly, others that it's insincere or maybe just unrealistic....but I'd never regret being born and bred with the mindset that I could achieve to the best of my ability whatever I put my mind to. To me, it's not about entitlement, or unfathomable illusions of grandeur....it's about staying confident, working hard to achieve goals, and ultimately achieving good, whether it's on a personal or global scale.
Now obviously you could take this quote, twist it around and tout it as a mad fascist or plain wacko because sadly, there are some of those nutters at large who act before they think. In fact this is a common trait among some of the world’s most powerful politicians. But for the average Joe and for a promising President alike, sound judgement coupled with the strength to consult and plan, and decide and implement in order to realize tomorrow is an exercise for the greater good. I think Obama has that in him. But time will tell...
In the immediate, I'm happy to say that British and European opinion toward the United States is already shifting towards a more positive light, much to my joy, and of I'm sure that of my fellow expats. It sometimes gets tiring reminding people that many Americans are not exports of the George W. Bush administration! Let's hope the future fuels this new perspective.
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
During my recent trip home (home #1: New York, as opposed to home #2: London) for Thanksigiving I couldn't help noting the parallels of this historic day of thanks and my own life situation. Let me explain...
One of the first recognized Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in 1621, when English colonists in Plymouth shared an autumn harvest feast with the Wampanoag Indians. Alongside solidifying the long term Native American tradition of celebrating the harvest in American history books, this meal has since become a symbol of cooperation between the English colonists and Native Americans.
How ironic, that there I sat, now a UK resident, home for my first Thanksgiving in New York since moving to England six years ago. Across the table, sat Chris, my own symbol of transatlantic cooperation, proof that this vibrant and strong bond has survived the complications of history and is again at large almost 400 years later. In that moment I felt thankful for how far we've come since the days of New England colonialism....thankful for planes and travel, email and skype, all of which have enabled me to forge a life abroad with easy access to my family and friends still in the United States. These necesseties of the 21st century are a new form of sustenance, often taken for granted. At the table in our room off the kitchen, surrounded by family and feast, I shut my eyes and gave a wholehearted shout out of thanks for them.
With a great deal to be thankful for, I shouldn't really have been complaining, but I found myself sitting in the Union Square Starbucks with my dear friend Nathalie, and lamenting my unfulfilled promise as a writer. Nat is always a great sounding board, and besides, she works in publishing, so maybe she'll take pity on me and hook me up with a sweet publishing deal! The problem? I haven't written anything to start with and my sweet publishing scenario is totally unrealistic. But Nat helped me resurface from the mire of my woes, and brought me back to some the little things I can do to get back on track writing....take a writing class or join an aspiring writer group, nurture my ability to rhyme, make time for something I truly enjoy, revisit my blog....
So little blog, here I am. This is another start, but hopefully one of a long, interesting journey.
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Hello again....it's been about 2.5 months since my last entry and I'm now trying to get back on my blogging bandwagon....
Chris and I have a new addition to our family! No, not a dog....no, not a new car....no not a baby! In late April, we welcomed little kitten Rico into our home, our life, our hearts. We have a cat!
The cat battle has been raging in our home for years now. Chris loves animals, and he always wanted a cat. I saw cats as aloof and a bit condescending....a kitten also scratched my tights in nursery school and branded me anti-cats for life...or so I thought.
To make a long story short, Chris upped the anti of his kitten quest by bombarding me with pictures of cute kittens that needed homes. Emily and Becky from work both told stories about the adorable antics of their cats and encouraged me to take the plunge. And finally one fateful day in April, Chris and I came across an ad for Rico and 1.5 hours later he was ours....a scared, inquisitive little bundle of fluff!
Suffice to say, I've now been converted. Rico is our baby, our buddy, our tyrant and our friend - he's one of the little things in life that has proved pretty big. He's a friendly little fellow with a slight penchant for biting but a lot of love for all that cross his path...except for perhaps other cats, which he's still getting used to. I'm posting some pictures of him on this blog, and am sure he will feature in some of my future stories, as he's now a feature of my life.
If you've been waiting to see the little guy, finally, here he is!!
Monday, 14 April 2008
First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me through this journey. The mix of sponsorship for WellChild, enthusiastic encouragement and calming words of advice I received kept me inspired through training, showed me reason when pre-race nerves wreaked havoc with my sanity and yesterday helped me put one foot in front of the other over the entire 26.2 mile course. You guys rock, and you were my rock, so thank you!
They claim the London Marathon is the best in the world because of its mass fundraising appeal, smooth organization and amazing race day atmosphere. I trained for weeks in the name of WellChild and benefited from the Marathon Expo, pre-race instructions and Realbuzz runner blogs on the FLM website. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the race day spectators.
The crowds cheered us runners as a mass movement. They played music, handed out oranges and jelly beans and belted out positive encouragement over almost the entire course. Children offered high fives. I'd added my name to my shirt since I heard the crowd would cheer you on by name by doing so. I didn't expect at least 50 people to personally cheer me on; men and women alike shouted "Gooooo Tanya!" "Keep going Tanya!" "You can do it Tanya!," "Oh yeah Tanya!" These were the same people who sit silently on the tube or pass me on the street without a second glance. The ability of this marathon to galvanize a community spirit unlike anything I've experienced in the UK struck a real emotional chord with me. It was a similar reaction to how I felt when I saw an elderly couple taking pictures of each other next to the street sign across from my office window: something simple, genuine and good that sent a shiver down my spine. These moments remind me to enjoy the little things in life.
In amongst the masses, were some special spectators near and dear to me. I tried to make eye contact with those shouting my name, but somehow managed to miss Chris, Jeff & Becky on 3 occasions! I also apparently ran right by Chris' brother Tom, as well as Cristin & Sarah from work! I did manage to spot Emily & Linda (also friends from work), whose cheers and support sign spurred me on at mile 24 and gave me the extra push needed to get through Blackfriars underpass, which was quiet without spectators, full of runners walking, lit by creepy orange light and spelling pretty fetid from the gross males pissing out of the watchful eye of the crowd (not that this stopped them at other points on the run - nasty)!
I was a little apprehensive about running in such a big crowd, and starting so far back from the start line (I was assigned pen 8 of 9). When it came down to it, I didn't find the crowds or initial positioning too constraining. The first several miles were fairly congested, but the pack slightly thinned after that and you just got used to weaving around people and dodging empty (or half full) water bottles being tossed to the side of the road - sometimes they provided a welcome splash! Around mile 3 the red and blue starts merge onto the same course (the course start is divided due to the mass numbers) and the respective runners actually booed at each other! I think this might be a good spirited tradition, but I found it pretty bizarre.
Around mile 7 after the Cutty Sark I spotted Canary Wharf across the river and thought, "I can't believe I'm going to be running there in about an hour - ahh!" Then around miles 10-12, the cool, sunny day turned sour in classic April style and the heavens opened. It poured cats and dogs and then it poured some more. At one point it came down so hard I could barely see. I then realized that my sneakers and socks were completely soaked and that I was going to be running for 2 plus hours with soaking wet feet. The rain itself was fine, the wet feet were not so cool. But the runners all persevered, and the crowd cheered on.
Around mile 16 the spring in my step started to fade. I felt comfortable for the first half of the race, but miles 16 and 17 seemed to drag on and were definitely my low point. My longest training run was 20 miles, and while the thought of 3 more miles seemed reasonable, almost 10 more miles did not appeal. Lots of people started to walk and talk about "absolute agony" was rife. I just kept thinking that each step brought me one step closer to the next mile, and to the finish. The crowds were huge on this part of the course, which helped too.
At mile 20 the route headed back in the direction of Buckingham Palace (the finish) and this gave me a mental boost. The crowds on the Embankment brought me home, and as I approached the final stretch around the St. James' Park, the skies again opened and the rain pelted down to deliver me across the finish line.
What a journey. I felt proud of my personal accomplishment, proud of my fundraising, proud to have taken part in the goodwill of the day. My legs are sore and feet are blistered, but every step was worth it.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
Today when I opened my curtains and took in the growing white crust on all in sight, I had a different reaction. How was I going to run in this?! Does my life now revolve around this marathon? It's now one week before race day and for the moment I think that it does. I had planned to complete my last distance run of 10 miles, dressed in race kit and prepped by a full warm up to get me in the groove for next weekend. Quickly sticking snow was not part of that equation!
I bundled up in gloves and warm running clothes (not my race kit) and decided to forge on regardless, mad woman that I've become! When I ran my 20 mile I faced some light snowfall, but this was a different ball game. A cold wind whipped the snow into my face and eyes, hindering visibility and soaking into my clothes. After only a mile, I started thinking about turning back. I was annoyed and conflicted by an urge to just push it versus worry about catching a cold or slipping over if it became more icy. But I was a machine, and this was my last chance to get in a decent weekend training run.
At that moment a familiar silver Audi began honking as it approached me on the opposite side of the road. It was our car, and there was Chris, winding down the window and motioning for me to get in. I scurried across the road and jumped in the passenger seat.
"It's nasty out there," I said.
"Yes, that's why I was driving around in search of you," he countered. "It's getting cold, and probably icy, and there is no way you should be running in that. You don't even have a hat on." I didn't. Oops. Thank you Chris!
So we drove to the gym and I ran for 40 minutes on the treadmill, without my ear phones and access to the TVs. I'm spoiled that all gyms offer that feature, and really can't stand just running in place on a machine for any length of time. But I ran on, in prep for this marathon. And I was warm, instead of wet and freezing. So all in all, it worked out for the best.
Who would have thought last Friday was a beautiful, warm, Spring-like day? It's supposed to be cold here on Monday and Tuesday before warming up later in the week. I hope it does, because a snowy marathon really doesn't appeal. I guess I just have to keep my fingers crossed for cool, bright conditions.
Saturday, 5 April 2008
For those that may not be familiar with the term teetotal, you may now realize that it means abstinence from alcohol. I don't think I'd heard of the term until I moved to the UK, and I originally assumed it might have something to do with the British love for tea. It made sense to equate teetotal with a decision to drink tea in lieu of any alcohol... something now tells me that is not the case, however when I just had a quick look on Wiki the etymology of the word was vague to say the least.
It was my colleague's 25th birthday so my office went to a cute cocktail bar in Soho to celebrate. The cocktail list looked yummy and it made me really want a drink. Now those of you that know me know that I don't need alcohol to talk!, or to enjoy a social night out. But after a long week of work, when faced with an extensive cocktail list, I felt weak. A gin and tonic would really have taken the edge off the blaring music too.
But I was strong in true athletic spirit, stayed on the water and had a fun night. I don't mean to sound mournful. I'm really not an alcoholic. In fact, my going out has been at minimum over the last couple of months. It just goes to show the strength of temptation emanating from the festive Friday spirit of Soho! Maybe that's why everyone there is always so drunk! My favorite spots from last night include a guy shoved face to the wall being restrained by two cops who didn't seem to be talking to him but holding him in one position (maybe holding him up?) and a young couple the middle (not the side) of the sidewalk shamelessly making out while people staggered around and into them. They didn't seem to care or notice.
Around that time I reconsidered missing my drink for the night - who needs a £6.50/glass buzz when there's so much free entertainment for the sharp eyed taking!
Thursday, 3 April 2008
Tonight my cabinets were starting to look pretty bare, but fortunately pasta is one provision that I always have in stock. So I decided to reconnect with a favorite, back to basics meal that my grandma used to serve up during an afternoon visit to her apartment in Queens: pasta with ketchup.
Call me crazy, but I've always enjoyed this combination. My grandma gave me the taste for it at an early age, much to the horror of my many Italian friends. "Don't worry," I'd tell them. "The ketchup is not supposed to be a substitute for tomato sauce and it tastes good!" I'm certain that my friends never believed me.
So tonight I loaded up on a carb heavy pasta and ketchup dinner - simple but delish! The question remains if it will fuel me well for my pre-work run tomorrow....
Wednesday, 2 April 2008
I am a thinker. But ideas only get me so far and I could often benefit from a bit more movement. Take this blog for example....where are all the gems of observation I promised? Not that it mattered much before now, because following this post I'm actually going to share this blog in hopes of recruiting a small, but existent readership. I'm moving and using.
I'm moving and using on many fronts in fact. As you may know, on April 13 (in 11 small days) I am running the London Marathon. My first marathon! I've been running since I can remember and first thought seriously about a marathon back in my Boston days of running around the Charles. Then there was that fateful day of the 2002 Boston marathon - my dear friend and I decided it would be a bright plan to run the last mile or so of the marathon route (which passed our apartment door) in order to take in the atmosphere at the finish line. So I grabbed my sneakers, she grabbed her roller blades and we were off, only to find the route was still cordoned off and spectators were cheering me on like a superstar, and booing my friend like a heartless cheat! We managed to break out of the barriers before the finish line, thankfully. I'm now ready to reach the finish line in good faith.
I'm running on behalf of children's charity WellChild, so if you haven't yet sponsored me and would like to, you can at http://www.justgiving.com/tanyastevens. I'm around £350 off my fundraising target of £1500 so please support me if you can. WellChild is a small, grassroots charity that provides nursing care for chronically ill kids, support servies for their families and research into childhood illness.
Re the race itself, I'm respecting the distance; 26.2 miles is no breeze and I've been training like a mad woman...or maybe like any responsible runner would do! At times I felt like a mad woman going for a run in wet, cold, dark conditions before work, which is why I'm loving the longer, lighter days post daylight savings and my discovery that running during my lunch hour is a great way to train and clear my head.
How am I progressing? My body has become a little machine that charges on in rain, snow and sun for great lengths...15 miles, 18 miles, my personal peak distance of 20 miles (during which I faced all of the above weather!) that I completed in just over 3 hours. I'm aiming to finish the run around 4 hours or just under so I appear on target but it all depends on how I feel on the day....
Some of my best discoveries so far have been:
1. Runners Need - it pays to be fitted for sneakers and seek advice from a proper running store. I got some excellent shoes and training advice from the Liverpool Street Store (http://www.runnersneed.co.uk/home.aspx)
2. Go Gels - I'm not totally into the isotonic drink/power bar/etc. type things, but I kept reading about the performance enhancing effects of carb gels so I thought I'd try one out on my 20 mile run. I had it around mile 17.5 and surprisingly it wasn't too sickly sweet, didn't make me want to throw up and did give me a little boost. I had the orange flavor.
3. Friendly runners raise my spirits and add a spring to my step :) - Since when do passers by around London smile or say hello as they rush past you on the street? People are more likely to run you down as they go about their regular business but I've encountered many fellow runners that greet me with an encouraging smile, nod or hello. It's a show of mutual respect and support. And it's refreshing.
Sunday, 10 February 2008
You might argue that any 3 week old would make such a noise and that my renowned first word was merely a common gurgle. While you may be right, I beg to differ. Some would consider this a self dis, but I'm the first to admit that from that fateful day 26+ years ago, I verbalized my lifelong prophecy: that once I got going, I would not stop....talking that is!
I love to talk. I enjoy playing with language. I gain perspective by exchanging thoughts and ideas with others, which in turn empowers me to learn and to grow. One of the most meaningful compliments that I've received is that I actually listen and retain what others have to say....Thus I'm not all talk, but an open ear too.
I'm also a near non-practicing, random poem every so often, head spilling with unfinished ideas writer. This blog is my vehicle for changing that, for self expression and observation. I moved to the UK 5.5 years ago and the process of building a life and my independence here has come with many bumps, inspirations, tidbits and gems that I'd like to give a voice to. I can't promise anything overly shocking, profound or fantastic on this blog but I can say that I hope this forum gets me writing and helps me share my thoughts and ideas with my family and friends on both sides of the pond. If you're reading, your comments are always welcome!
In honor of talking, writing and conviction, I'd like to share a poem I wrote in school when I was around 13....
Tick tick tick whispered the clock
A monotonous rhythm to some
Yet a remarkable revelation to me
We share incredible qualities
Our obstacles relate
Showing we are truly kindred spirits
Some acknowledge we never relax
Say we are nothing but endless chatter
Quiet, the attempt to shush us
Often to no avail
For we are not stalks to be blown to and fro in the breeze
Our words are our initiative
That carry us to success
Tick tick tick
And as the golden mirage dies down into the vast night
All the day's experiences collect
To fall perfectly into place
My breath falters, settling
Into the same pattern as my companion
Tick tick tick