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Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
4:02 pm - I felt so symbolic yesterday
The last 3 days
the rain was unstoppable
it was always cold
no sunshine...

There's something good
waitin' down this road
I'm picking up
whatever is mine.

(Tom Petty)



You're all mad at me, aren't you, all you people who've been checking for updates for 2 months now. If you've been reading my blog you know I've been updating that quite faithfully, but if it's minutiae of my personal life you want, I guess that's no substitute.

So, some snapshots of my life lately. Well, this past weekend I spoke to a gathering of cancer survivors at my college's Relay for Life. ("Is that a pro-life thing?" my friend Hoots asked, and I told him, "No, it's anti-cancer." But I guess that is pro-life, in a way, isn't it? Anyway, if you don't know, it's an American Cancer Society fundraising event.) I was very happy to do it, because public speaking is something I enjoy -- I'd forgotten how much -- and it was a nice excuse to start processing the events of this past year in a creative way. And it has only been a year, if you can believe it; I was diagnosed exactly a year ago tomorrow. (I just looked it up.)

Fiance Dan came with me to New Haven. We found a lost-looking prefrosh at the train station, so we gave her a lift to campus in our taxi -- I felt like I should try to give Yale a friendly face, to make up for the fact that New Haven is not at its most attractive when you enter through the train station. (It was a bit thrilling to see the empty spot where the Coliseum used to be, though.) We had just a bit of time to walk around campus before we had to report for registration, so I was able to give Dan a fast tour of the highlights. You know: "That's where I lived freshman year!...That's where I lived junior year!" All the exciting stuff. Most important, we had time for a quick self-guided tour of the new Catholic student center, which is totally the sickest building on campus. I'd spend all my time there if I were still a student.

After I registered at the gym (and picked up my purple survivor T-shirt) and met the student organizers and stuff, Dan and I hung out until the opening ceremonies. I joined in the "Survivors' Lap," my very first, which was exciting and a little bit emotional. Then Dan joined me for the caregivers and survivors lap, after which we headed off to the survivors' reception, which is where I did my thing, speaking to a small but very appreciative audience. (Dan, mentioned in my speech, got a round of applause, as well he should.) It was truly an honor to be there, and now I'm almost sorry I don't have a more dramatic tale of survival, so I could travel the country telling it. Anyway, I didn't see anybody I knew during my time on campus (unless you count Dean Salovey, or Annette the Flower Lady), but I met some very nice fellow survivors, and learned that the Relay equivalent of "What college were you in?" is "What kind of cancer did you have?" I must say I never anticipated that I'd come back to campus to talk oncology with strangers.

In other news, the wedding planning is moving forward. Dan and I have settled on a honeymoon spot (St. John), and we're very close to booking a band and a photographer. Meanwhile, I begin the great gown search this weekend, attending my first-ever sample sale, in Chelsea. I am intimidated but optimistic, and Polythene Pam is coming with me (since my MoH is otherwise occupied this week), so I'll be depending on her much greater sophistication and fashion sense to guide me. The dress is not one of those details I'm excited about. Picking a photographer and choosing a band, those are kind of fun... I'm really looking forward to working on the invitations... and of course planning the actual liturgy should be a treat. But the dress is just a chore, and I'd like to get it over with as fast as possible. If I could, I'd just buy a white sundress and be done with it, but I'm afraid I have a summer wedding attitude and a winter wedding date.

I got used to wearing my ring, and then had to stop wearing it, because the stone came loose in the setting. So I spent a few days constantly panicking about what had happened to my ring, but I figured that was better than wearing it and then discovering I'd lost the stone. We finally went and had it re-set and resized, and then re-examined by the appraiser to make sure it was still the same diamond, since neither of us would have been able to tell on our own, and I might have walked around for the next 20 years with a glass stone and not known the difference. Jewelry is too high-maintenance for me. Happily we got it back in wearable condition just in time for a few prime show-off occasions.

And Easter, of course! Easter was lovely; I got to take part in all the various liturgies at my parish this year, which was great, and I was able to focus a lot better than last year (when I spent Holy Week recovering from my biopsy surgery and anxiously awaiting the results). I've loved being a part of the RCIA team, and my involvement made it extra-exciting to see new people being received into the Church at the Vigil. And on Sunday afternoon I went up to the Bronx with Dan to feast with my future in-laws.

Otherwise I've been copy-editing, babysitting, waiting for warm weather to arrive; lots to do and never quite enough time to do it, so journal updating keeps getting bumped to the bottom of my priorities list. Now I have a few more things to do before I head out for a theatre date, so if you'll excuse me...

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Saturday, February 17th, 2007
12:41 pm - You're gonna love tomorrow
We have so much in common,
It's a phenomenon.
We could pool our resources
By joining forces
From now on.

(Sondheim,
Gypsy)

Sometimes I don't write for ages and ages because I have no news to report, and sometimes I don't write because I have too much going on. This time it was the latter, as you probably know by now! But just to make it official: Boyfriend Dan is now Fiance Dan. (Although I may go back to calling him "Steely Dan," because I miss the Homestar reference already... and the word "fiance" bugs me a bit. It's so fussy, and any time I refer to him as "my fiance" I feel like I'm saying, "Ask me about my wedding plans!" -- and, for the record, don't.) Part of my delay in updating this journal was that I was hoping to inform all my fans in a slightly more personal way, and I figured you'd be hurt if you had to read about it on livejournal first. So if I didn't get to you, I apologize.

Anyway, then-still-Boyfriend Dan surprised me a couple weeks ago on Thursday night, when I thought I was just heading over to his place for some cozy Office-watching and dinner delivery. He knew I wouldn't be suspicious, since who would schedule anything opposite a new episode of The Office? And he let me get as far as flipping through the delivery menus before he pulled out the ring. I was looking particularly unglamorous, even for me, but Dan had arranged for a car to take us back uptown so I could change, and then we went out for a fancy vegetarian dinner. And then we went back to his place to watch The Office. So it was pretty much the perfect Thursday night. And the ring is lovely. I'm still getting used to wearing it; because I am prone to weird skin problems on my hands, I take it off every time I wash my hands or apply lotion -- which I have to do every 10 minutes or so, in the winter -- but I have trouble remembering to put it back on. So it spends a lot of time in my pocket. But if you see me I will be glad to show it off!

I spent most of the weekend sharing the happy news with family and friends, and on Sunday evening Dan and I went uptown to his parents' house to make our official debut there. They made a big fuss over us -- champagne and cake, and even a "Welcome to Our Family!" sign around the dog's neck. So everyone seems to be as pleased as we are. Nephew Duncan is particularly pleased. This past weekend we were all in Scranton, and he announced to Mom Greene: "Nana, I have good news! Aunt Sheila is getting married with Dan, and he's going to be our uncle!" That last part is the really significant fact, as far as he's concerned, and he doesn't understand why the actual wedding hasn't happened yet.

Since then I've been busy with a lot of different things -- some work (I had a piece published online this week, and I've been keeping up with the "professional" blog; also lots of freelancing), family stuff, etc. Dan took me to see the Encores! production of Follies, which I'd been looking forward to for months, and it did not disappoint. And, of course, wedding planning! I'd love to put off the planning indefinitely and just enjoy our new engaged status... but since we'd like the wedding to happen sooner rather than later, there's no avoiding it. Fortunately, we've managed to pin down the church and our reception site of choice for the same date, in January of 2008, so now we have something concrete to work toward (and a reasonable amount of time to get our acts together). Right now the one thing we're really enjoying thinking about is the honeymoon. The weather in NYC is so unpleasant at the moment, we're having no trouble imagining ourselves relaxing somewhere warm and low-stress in 11 months. But I'd love to hit fast-forward and skip all the planning along the way!

Anyway, it will probably make for good blog/journal fodder at some point, but I don't know yet whether I'll be writing about the wedding stuff here, or over at my "public" blog. Or maybe I'll be using my online writing as an excuse not to think about wedding stuff for a while! Guess you'll just have to stay tuned.

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Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
5:05 pm - Could I write a piece about you now that you've made it?
And I've heard all the stories
About the black cabs and the way they drive
That if you take a ride with them
You may not come back alive
They might be psycho killers
But tonight I really don't care
So I said, "Turn up the music,
Take me home or take me anywhere."

(Jens Lekman, "Black Cab")



The honeymoon is over, I'm afraid. I refer, of course, to my heretofore idyllic relationship with food delivery service Fresh Direct. In case I haven't mentioned it lately, I love Fresh Direct. I can often be heard encouraging people to try them out; I tell them, once you order your groceries from home, wearing your pajamas, you will never go back to doing your shopping the old-fashioned way. Especially if you live in New York City, where grocery stores are cramped, miserable and overpriced. Anyway, I could go on forever listing reasons I love Fresh Direct, but I'm not really in the mood, because they stood me up on Saturday morning. I was home from 11:00 to 1:00, my predetermined delivery window, but no groceries ever arrived. I waited around till 1:15, but finally had to leave (I had a matinee to see!), and when I checked the Fresh Direct website from Steely Dan's apartment around 5 that afternoon, it said my order was still "in transit." I didn't get back to my apartment until 11:00, and there in the lobby was my stack of Fresh Direct boxes, with my small bag of "frozen" items on top. I can't say when my stuff was finally delivered, but the "frozen" items were definitely room temperature. Fresh Direct! I thought we had something special!

I complained, of course, and by the end of the day on Sunday I received notice that they were refunding the delivery charge, plus the price of all the items that should have arrived in a refrigerated state. So that takes away some of the sting of disappointment. The refund is issued as a discount on my next order, so I only get it if I order from them again...but let's face it, I'd go back no matter how badly they treat me. I'm hooked on convenience.

That wasn't my only bad service experience on Saturday, but it was the only one I could do much about. Steely Dan and I had a date to see a show at the Village Vanguard on Saturday night -- he's patiently teaching me what I should know about jazz -- so we hopped in a cab on 9th Ave. Our driver was talking on his cell phone (of course), but that didn't stop him from getting into some kind of argument with another cab driver. Somebody cut somebody off, I don't really know what happened... for all I know, the dispute might have had its origins in their shared native land. But anyway, this other guy was very mad at our driver, and he also seemed "mad" in the British sense of the word. In spite of heavy traffic, he managed to catch up to our cab, and swerve dangerously into its lane, several times. There was much yelling, but most of the time I couldn't tell whether our driver was yelling at his friend in the next lane, or describing the scene to his friend on the other end of his cell phone. Anyway, we finally got away from the lunatic driver (who, believe it or not, had passengers and needed to drop them off), but our driver's performance didn't improve all that much on the open road -- and he never apologized for, you know, endangering our lives. And then he seemed surprised when we didn't tip him. I'm sure he complained about it to his friend on the phone as he drove off in search of his next victims.

The show (featuring pianist Kenny Baron) was fun, and of course I get a little bit cooler every time I hang out at the Village Vanguard, which is always good. And our ride home was much less eventful, although the driver had trouble remembering where he was supposed to drop us off; 2 stops was 2 too many for him to keep in his head.

On Sunday I was scheduled to read the petitions at Mass, and also to serve as a Eucharistic minister. The lectors are supposed to check in with each other in the sacristy before the Mass starts, and our 2nd reading lector did not show, so at the appointed time I volunteered myself to read that one too. The church was pretty full, because all of the students preparing for confirmation were there to formally declare their intention to receive the sacrament, and presumably some of their families were also in attendance. So I thought it would be embarrassing if the priest had to do the reading himself. Anyway, it went fine, but when I got back to my pew I found that someone (three people, in fact) had forced me out, and I had to squeeze into the one behind it and ask them to pass me my coat. This is the thanks I get.

I spent Sunday afternoon working on the story I've been writing, but I took a break that evening to watch the playoffs (and eat yummy snacks) at Susan and Gordon's pad. I played with the boys until they went to bed, and by that time the second half was well underway, so unfortunately I didn't really start watching the game until things got ugly for the Patriots. I have trouble following football, and I probably always will, because there are so many rules, and I can't see myself absorbing them without actually sitting down and studying them. But I understood enough to be on the edge of my seat, and I was disappointed in the end.

I spent all day Monday working on my story -- you wouldn't think, from the finished product (which I hope will be online soon!), that it would have required all this work, but hey, writing is hard. I was very happy to leave my computer and head downtown for dinner with Steely Dan when he got home from work, and then we scrapped our plans to watch "a movie or something" in favor of ABC's reality lineup, Wife Swap and Supernanny. I wasn't too excited about last night's Swap, but Supernanny is a different story. How much do I love Jo? How much do I want her to come to my house and tell me what I'm doing wrong? (I don't have kids, obviously, but just in general? I feel like she'd have good advice.) And I think Dan likes it even more than I do! So that may be our regular Monday night thing from now on.

This morning I turned in the first draft of my story, then ran some errands and such in the afternoon. And tonight I have a play to go to, which I'll be blogging about at some point. The updates over there have been more frequent and more interesting, but I wanted to at least check in here and say hello to anyone who still wants to hear about the minutiae of my daily life!

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Friday, January 12th, 2007
7:29 pm - I can slay a dragon any old week
Sandwiches only,
But she eats
What she wants when she wants.
Sometimes it's lonely
But she meets
Many handsome gallants.

(Sondheim, "The Glamorous Life")



Hi everybody! And thank you for stopping by my new blog. (If you plan to keep stopping by, I recommend bookmarking it, because I'll probably be taking down the links here soon. I'd like to keep this journal "private," whereas I'm hoping the blog will get lots and lots of attention.)

As you can see from the frequency of my posting over there, I've been keeping busy blogging this week. I'm really enjoying it so far, and I've gotten a fair amount of traffic/attention, which is encouraging. It's good practice, if nothing else. But it's made for a quiet week, most of which I've spent alone with my laptop. I'm also preparing for a big assignment next week, for which I'll actually get paid, so that's pretty exciting. And I've been spending some time with Duncan and Walt. Yesterday I picked Duncan up at school, and we spent the afternoon at the Met. He's gotten into knights lately (he got some dress-up "armor" from Santa, and on Christmas morning he was running around slaying dragons left and right), so I thought he might like to see the arms and armor gallery, and he was very much impressed with it. I had lots of fun seeing the place through his eyes. We also took in the medieval/religious art -- he couldn't understand why we kept seeing so many statues of Mary and Baby Jesus without Joseph, and I had a harder time than I expected trying to explain the concept of a "halo." But that's not nearly as hard as explaining mythological figures like "cupid," or what a "sphinx" is. Duncan was extremely thoughtful and well-behaved throughout our afternoon, and on the way out, he told me that if he were an artist he would make a statue with five lions and three bears, but the bears would be behind the lions, so you could see all their faces, and from one side you would see the bears but on the other side you would see the lions. Sounds like a winner to me. (However, he's still planning on construction work as a career.)

In health news, I am still having trouble waking up in the morning -- there's no way I'm getting out of bed unless I've had at least 8.5 hours of sleep, and even then it's a bit of a struggle. That's unusual for me, and frustrating, since in theory I'm a morning person. So I still feel a little like I'm borrowing someone else's body. But I guess I just need to be patient, and grateful that I *can* sleep a little more than usual these days!

That about does it. Happy Birthday to my big brother in Boston, and Go Pats!

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Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007
1:07 pm - Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Fact is, there's nothing out there you can't do
Yeah, even Santa Claus believes in you.

("Can You Picture That?"
The Muppet Movie)


Happy New Year, all! And Merry Christmas, while we're at it! I arrived home on the 23rd after a surprisingly painless Martz trip. I was proud of myself for showing up so early to queue for the 8:30 bus that I actually scored a seat on the just-departing 8:00 bus instead! I didn't even know there was such a bus, but it was a great time to leave, because we zipped home with no traffic and not too many stops. And I found an old high-school classmate onboard (who said, "Did you know there was an 8:00 bus?!"), so that was a nice surprise - we got to catch up, and I got to sit next to someone I knew wasn't crazy. (Or, at least, not crazy in a dangerous sense.)

I spent the afternoon organizing the piles of gifts in the Greene family living room, sorting them into stacks by recipient, and that evening we headed out to the Secret Pal party for grownups (only my second year in attendance!), where I scored some Garden Botanika makeup and a couple of CD's from my cousin-in-law. He was home in Omaha, opening my gift, I assume, because by amazing coincidence we ended up drawing each other's names. A couple days earlier, Boyfriend Dan had presented me with some CDs, including 2 recordings by the Westminster Cathedral Choir (how did you know?!), Tom Petty's (terrific) latest album, and a Belle and Sebastian CD from my Amazon wish list. I didn't open the last, because I had written "any Belle and Sebastian CD" on my Secret Pal list, so I thought I might end up with 2 copies. But my cousin bought me 2 other CDs, so all of a sudden I have a nice B&S collection! And it's about time, too.

As you know if you're the churchgoing sort, worship schedules were a little screwy this year, thanks to Christmas's falling on a Monday. We all went to Mass for the last Sunday of Advent on Saturday night, and then went to Christmas Mass on Sunday night up at Holy Family Residence. I didn't sleep in on Monday morning, though -- Mom and I got up early and headed over to Susan and Gordon's house to see the boys opening their gifts from Santa! We thought we'd miss most of the action, arriving at the late hour of 7:30, but the house was dark when we arrived. Not for long, though! And it was certainly fun to see Duncan and Walt come down the steps and see what Santa had left them. Duncan had asked for "a big blue jeep," and was pleased (but not surprised) to find a royal blue Power Wheels jeep sitting in the living room. He was impressed by the evidence that Santa had eaten the cookies he'd left, and by the note Santa left. And when the gift-opening frenzy was starting to quiet down, his eyes suddenly lit up: "Mommy! It's time for you to open *your* present!!" He'd been shopping with Ya-ya at Kmart, and he was very proud of his purchases: a muffin tin ("It's for cupcakes too," he said when she opened it) and a cupcake serving tray. Just what the new kitchen was missing!

Back at the Greene home, things were quieter. Freddy was awake and playing his new "Guitar Hero" game by the time we got back. I got lots of useful "grownup presents" (as Duncan would say) from Santa, like sneakers (for exercising, which I swear I'm going to do this year) and earmuffs and a new scarf and so on. I was spoiled further by my sibling secret Santas, but the gift-opening portion of the evening was so crazy that we all hardly noticed what the adults were opening. After dinner, the 3 kids (Duncan, Walt and Anna) threw themselves into the distribution of gifts, but they were much less interested in the "watch while the recipient opens the gift" part of the process. And, of course, every time they opened anything for them, they wanted to start playing with it right away. But they were all very polite and enthusiastic about the giving and the receiving -- especially Anna, who shouted, "I love it!" every time she started opening anything that was addressed to her.

I rode back to NYC the next day in Susan and Gordon's car, which was packed to the gills with Xmas stuff and driven by a friend of Gordon's. (Susan, Gordon and the boys were off to Disney World for a little post-Christmas adventure.) We got back in time for me to have dinner with Boyfriend Dan, and we cutely had our date at the same restaurant where we dined last year after I returned from my Xmas break. The rest of the week was quiet, as the week between Xmas and New Year's usually is, but I got a chance to catch up with Crystalline -- on a break from her busy teaching schedule -- and I put in many hours at StarStruck, which was important for my bank account.

On New Year's Eve I was scheduled to lector at church, and I ended up doing both readings because my fellow lector was a no-show. I hadn't read through the first reading, and I ended up skipping a line, which I felt bad about, especially since it was the line about revering your mother. So, just for the record: he stores up riches who reveres his mother! I was also pressed into duty as a eucharistic minister, so it's a good thing I was there!

I rang in 2007 quietly, babysitting at Susan's with Boyfriend Dan for company. That's how we spent last New Year's Eve, when our relationship was much younger, so we were happy to return to the scene of the crime this year. Although the apartment looks quite different now! Susan and Gordon moved back in just before Christmas, but they're still getting settled, and there's still some work to be done. Everything is looking great, and Duncan was glad to give us the tour. "Come on in my room!" he told me. "It's not very messy in there. Well...it's messy with toys." The family had just returned from their trip to Disney World, so the boys were full of stories about their adventures, and they fooled Steely Dan into thinking they were the real Pluto (or two real Plutos) with the help of some awesome Pluto hats.

On New Year's Day I reported to work at StarStruck, which meant I walked perilously close to Times Square (on New Year's Eve I never left the Upper West Side). And I'm telling you: tumbleweeds. Midtown was a ghost town. Things were quiet at the magazine, too, which gave me some time to work on another proofreading job. On Tuesday I had to drop off that work at my old office, where the security guard in the lobby surprised me by saying, "Welcome back!" when he buzzed me in. Who knew he ever noticed me? I was happy to say hello to some of my old coworkers, and also happy for the reminder that I'm glad I don't work there anymore. Now I actually have time to follow some of my creative impulses!

That is my major resolution for this year: Now that 2007 is here, and my health is no longer an issue (except for this stupid cold I've had for what seems like forever), I am resolved to get back into the habit of writing, and to seek out more freelance opportunities. Right now the one thing I have to show for my efforts is a new blog I've started, as an outlet for my theatre/arts criticism. Yes, a real blog! Those of you who tend to skip the artsy parts of my journal updates will be glad to know I've found a new home for such things (even though it may mean I'll be writing here less often). And those few of you who actually like it when I go on and on about plays I've seen, books I've read, etc., are encouraged to bookmark that link and forward it to all your like-minded friends. Right now I'm mostly talking to myself, but I hope that will change. And I am off to a matinee this afternoon, thanks to a free ticket, so you can expect to hear about that soon!

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Wednesday, December 20th, 2006
7:06 pm - Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
"Tell me what you saw in London."

"Very little." (A more naive girl would have said, "Oh, everything!" But Rosamond knew better.)

(George Eliot,
Middlemarch)


I've been to London to visit the queen! But I'm back on American soil now and eager to tell you all about my adventures there.

As I said last time I updated, the main reason for the trip was a wedding. Boyfriend Dan is lucky enough to have a good friend from high school who moved to England and decided to get married there, and I was lucky enough to be invited to the wedding too. We traveled with Dan's brother, who is a priest (and who celebrated the wedding), and whom I will call Father Ted, in honor of the British sitcom of the same name. Dan and I flew out of JFK, and we braved the not-very-straightforward AirTrain to get there. It was the first challenge of our journey, and I'm happy to report that we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, despite managing to get on the wrong train at Penn Station, and much confusion finding the check-in desk once we finally found our way to JFK. We took an overnight flight and didn't get much sleep (who does?), so we were bleary when we arrived at Gatwick, but we stumbled through immigration and "baggage reclaim" and found our way to a Costa Coffee, where we revived ourselves with enormous lattes while we waited for Fr. Ted (who was on a different flight) to arrive. I had some euros left over from my trip to Italy last year, so I used them to buy our coffees, but I got my change back in sterling. For some reason I thought the UK had changed over to the euro, but obviously I should have done some googling to test that assumption, because the pound sterling is still going strong. Anyway, Fr. Ted came along right on time, and we all set off for our hotel.

The Barkston Gardens, where we stayed, is hardly a luxury establishment, but it wasn't bad either. I had looked at user comments on some some travel websites, and I found that the reviews varied widely, from "What a dump!" to "This place is great!" So I was a little worried about that. But we stayed there for two nights, in two rooms, two separate times, so altogether we got a look at 4 different rooms, and now I understand that the variations in people's opinions can be explained by the wide variations in quality among the rooms. The first room Dan and Ted stayed in was so small that the door hit one of the beds when you opened it. To get there, you had to cross through the hotel restaurant and go through about 5 fire doors, and their window looked out on the dumpster in the back of the building. My room was much bigger and nicer, with a great view of the eponymous garden, but the carpet was certainly older than I am, and I had no hot water in the bathroom. Ah, Europe.

We couldn't check into our rooms when we got there, which was probably just as well, because if we'd seen the beds we might not have been able to resist napping. Instead we headed right back out to get started on our sightseeing agenda. Although I didn't bother to investigate the currency situation, I did a lot of other prep-work, flipping through my 6-year-old guidebooks and making notes so we'd be able to see as much as possible during our 4 days in London. And in my research I had learned that we would have only one opportunity to experience that highest of all tourist attractions, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. So off we marched, and we got to the park just as the first Guards band was making its way along Spur Road toward the palace. We found a spot off to the side, near the gates in front of the palace, from which to view the seemingly random yet highly ritualized sequence of marching and stopping and shouting and shuffling that took place over the next 15 minutes or so. Then the Guards band, which up to this point had played a couple of basic military marches, broke out some music stands and launched into something with a surprisingly funky bass line. Fr. Ted was the first to recognize the tune: "This is 'Movin' Out'!" And he was right; unlikely as it seemed, they were indeed playing the Billy Joel song "Movin' Out." In fact, they were just beginning a long and lovingly arranged Billy Joel medley, which also included "Piano Man," "Only the Good Die Young" and "Just the Way You Are." If I haven't mentioned how much I love the British before, let me say it now: I *love* the British. It all reminded me of my YPMB days. And I also felt like I was seeing some twist-ending movie in its original release -- something like Psycho or The Bad Seed, where they ask you not to give away the ending to people who haven't seen it yet. Because I have often heard that the changing of the guard is a must-see, but never have I heard that it might include a lengthy, military-precision performance of American pop songs. God save the Queen indeed.

Once that was over, we took a stroll around the area, since we were within easy walking distance of a lot of key sights: Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square. Outside Westminster Cathedral we saw a class of Catholic schoolchildren caroling, raising money for a hospice, and it was about the cutest thing you can imagine. Some of them were dressed as Mary, Joseph and angels (with coats on), and they had heavy accents, so they were singing about "Jesus' buhf" and "peace on uhff," and it was just great. I was excited to peek into the Cathedral, too, because I spent so much time there back in 2001. It was pretty much as I remembered it. *Not* as I remembered it was Trafalgar Square -- in 2001 there was some controversy in London about pigeon-feeding and the discouraging thereof. Ken Livingstone, the mayor, was then beginning his quite sensible campaign to cut down on the swarms of pigeons that infested the square, and he was getting a lot of flak for it. His first step was to expel the birdseed vendors from the area, and I thought it a very good idea. Why anyone would want to feed pigeons is beyond me, but the hungry hordes of them certainly made it difficult to cross the square. And now they're all but gone -- hurrah for Livingstone! We also saw the famous direct-from-Norway Christmas Tree, and were a little underwhelmed. We learned over the course of the week that the English have lower tree-decorating standards than we do -- the trees we saw tended to be kind of sparse (probably an effect of the species of evergreen being used, although I don't know much about such things), and they usually looked like someone had just tossed lights at them and walked away.

By the time we finished all that, we were ready to head back to our hotel, check in to our rooms, and take a quick nap. Well, I took a quick nap. The boys powered through, God bless them. That evening we headed out to meet the weekend's groom, who was apparently leaving the last-minute details to his bride. He took us to a charming (and very crowded) pub in his Notting Hill neighborhood, which featured door jambs not 5 feet high. "This is like the bar scene in Middle Earth," observed Fr. Ted. The pub was also very smoky, as most pubs are, so we adjourned to another for our last round of drinks. That one was smoky, too, but at least we got to breathe some fresh air in between! I was glad to get a chance to meet the groom before the wedding, and the boys were all glad to catch up, although we were all three of us zombies by 9 P.M. I was very happy to get back to my room and go to bed, but in spite of my exhaustion, I found myself wide awake at 1 A.M. I didn't have any means of telling time, since I'd neglected to bring a watch, and left my cell phone at home, so I lay there awhile wondering whether it was too early to get up. Surely it was at least 5:00, I thought... odd that there wasn't much traffic outside. Finally I turned on the TV, and learned from the BBC that it was actually only 1:00. Stupid circadian desynchronization.

I did get back to bed eventually, and slept soundly until Boyfriend Dan woke me for breakfast. He'd gone out to Starbucks, bless him. And you will not make me feel guilty for patronizing to Starbucks in England. I try to experience the local culture to a reasonable extent, but I am not a tea person. I am a person who needs coffee. And you can't trust just anybody to make coffee for you in England. You're likely to get the caffeinated version of Sanka. The Bucks brew was weak, by American standards, but I was very happy to get it.

Once we were awake and caffeinated, we headed off to the Tower of London. I'd been there twice in 2001, but I didn't mind going back a bit. There is an awful lot of history to take in -- nearly 1000 years' worth -- and although I felt pretty up on my "British Studies" curriculum in 2001, after 4 months of London living, I find I've forgotten most of the particulars by now. I'm not usually one for guided tours, but if you go to the Tower, you should definitely take advantage of the free Beefeater-led tours. I recommend you start your visit with a tour, as we did, and then explore the nooks and crannies once that's over. The guides are immensely entertaining, and quite knowledgeable too. Plus, you're sure to get inside the St. Peter ad Vincula chapel, which I didn't see on my last two trips, and which is worth checking out. I was honored to be in the presence of St. Thomas More's mortal remains, unidentified though they may be. Once our tour (led by a very personable Yeoman Warder named Kevin) was over, we explored on our own. I met Edward I (actually an actor, with a much less curly beard) in the Medieval Palace -- when he and his courtiers asked where I was from and I told them, "New York," they pretended to hear "near York" and commented on what a long ride I must have had. It was all very silly. We inspected the armoury, admired the crown jewels, felt no inclination to donate yet more money for the upkeep of the Tower after viewing the crown jewels, visited the Bloody Tower and Beauchamp Tower, and then headed back out to have some lunch at the Tower Hill branch of Wagamama, my favorite London restaurant chain. (Why do we not have these in New York yet?)

After lunch we went to Westminster Abbey, another site I'd toured before but was glad to see again. I must say that both times, the Abbey struck me as a confusing jumble, and a not-very-dignified resting place, simply because so *many* people are buried and/or commemorated there. It's so crammed with monuments you can hardly get your bearings. But I was glad we went there after visiting the Tower, because many of the figures that loom large in the Tower's history are laid to rest in Westminster Abbey (including my friend Edward I), and I was much more impressed by their graves now that I had more information about who they were. Brush up a little on your British history before you visit the Abbey and you'll enjoy it a lot more: for example, given their personal histories, you can't beat the side-by-side burial of Elizabeth I and her sister, Mary I, for irony. Naturally, I am a big fan of Poet's Corner, even though it's very hard to figure out who's actually buried there, and who's just mentioned in stone. George Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins are both interred elsewhere, but I still loved the fact that I could hopscotch from one name to the other and end up standing on Robert Browning's grave. (Not that I would do anything so disrespectful.) And then be just a couple of feet from Chaucer!

When we left the Abbey we headed to the Cabinet War Rooms, which I saw and loved in 2001. As I toured various sites in England, especially this one, I felt like I learned so much about an aspect of World War II I'd never really considered. In the U.S., WWII means Nazis and concentration camps and Pearl Harbor. But in the U.K. it meant bombs falling on St. Paul's and children sent away to the countryside for the duration. And Churchill! They had added a whole Churchill museum to the War Rooms since I last visited, which I didn't realize, so our visit ended up being a bit rushed. But I'm glad we didn't skip it. The reason we were hurrying was that we wanted to make it to 5:30 Mass at Westminster Cathedral, our only chance to hear a sung Mass with the full choir. I wouldn't have considered my visit complete if I'd had to miss out on that! And they were every bit as fabulous as I remembered. My only regret is that I didn't make it while the gift shop was open, so I could buy another of their albums. I've listened to the 2 I already own a million times each, so I'm ready to add more to my collection, but you can only buy them through the Hyperion website. Oh well, looks like that's what I'll be doing! And it's not as though I need to spend any more money on myself right now (did I mention that London is expensive?). After Mass we headed to the home of Dan and Ted's cousin, who was hosting a Christmas party and had graciously invited us. It was nice to have an authentically British experience, after playing tourist all day! My feet weren't thrilled about me standing, after our long day of walking, but the rest of me enjoyed myself very much.

On Friday we checked out of the Barkston Gardens and headed for Cambridge, via a train from King's Cross station. While there we enjoyed more caroling schoolchildren ("Jingle Bells" sounds twice as festive when sung in unison by a bunch of prepubescent kids with British accents), and caught a glimpse of platform 9 3/4 (for the Hogwarts Express -- did I mention that I love the British?). Cambridge is a quick and relatively scenic train ride north of London, and our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, was a quick and not-quite-so-scenic cab ride from the train station. (Although less convenient to the sites, the Holiday Inn Express was in every other way superior to the Barkston Gardens.) We checked in, dressed for that night's rehearsal dinner, and then took a cab back to the city centre to see some of the sights. After a quick bite, we headed straight for King's College and its remarkable chapel. Church nerds all, we had a good time trying to decode its matching New-and-Old-Testament stained glass windows (as the windows are from the 1500s, the scenes depicted are a little difficult to make out). Sadly, we didn't get to hear Evensong, because the fall term was already over. But we strolled around and saw many of the other colleges from the outside, then stopped for a pint (well, a soda for me) before heading to the church. Our Lady and the English Martyrs is a beautiful, gothic-style building, although only about 115 years old and therefore pretty recent by Cambridge standards. Boyfriend Dan and I had a chance to explore a bit while Fr. Ted talked to the pastor, and later conducted a very efficient rehearsal. I was proud of myself for recognizing the crest of St. Thomas More in one of the windows -- he is, after all, one of the most important English Martyrs, and his crest is also the crest of Yale's Morehouse!

After that we went to a Cambridge restaurant for the rehearsal dinner (which, we later learned, is not a normal feature of British weddings). We were given Christmas crackers as favors, and one of the dessert options was a traditional Christmas pudding, so we felt we were truly experiencing a British Yule.

We were up late catching up with some of Boyfriend Dan's high school chums, so we got off to a slow start the next morning, although we made sure to get up early enough to take advantage of our hotel's yummy and free breakfast spread. I helped myself to a mini-box of a cereal called "Crunchy Nut," which bore the slogan,"It's ludicrously tasty." I found this very amusing (although maybe not as amusing as Fr. Ted's suggestion for an alternate slogan: "If we took the bones out, it wouldn't be crunchy!"). When we got to town, all dressed up and ready to party, we had a little bit of time to explore the nearby Fitzwilliam Museum before reporting to the church for the wedding. The liturgy had a Christmas theme, which was maybe not all that appropriate, liturgically speaking, but who can complain about an opportunity to sing Christmas carols? And with programs in hand, we were ready to join in with the opening hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Until the singing started, and we realized that the British sing the same lyrics to an entirely different tune than we Yanks. Who knew? (Well, Wikipedia knows, obviously. But an informal poll of the Brits we met afterward confirms that normal people on both sides of the ocean are not aware that this is so. So consider yourself educated.) We had the upper hand, though, for most of the Mass, since only about half of the guest in attendance were Catholic. And I'm happy to report that Fr. Ted did a lovely service and gave a terrific homily.

When the Mass was over, a double-decker coach bus came to take us all to the reception site, a farm some 10 miles outside of Cambridge. British weddings, if this was any example, are long and festive affairs. In this case, we arrived at the farmhouse and were greeted with mulled wine and cider and little bags of roasted chestnuts. After a cocktail hour of sorts (during which we gawked at the farm's livestock -- which included a peacock!), we went in to the "wedding breakfast," also known as dinner. The food, all produced on-site, was great, and the company was very pleasant too. Boyfriend Dan and I were the only non-Brits at our table, so it was a true cultural-immersion experience. They told us what was "American" about the wedding ceremony -- chiefly the procession at the beginning, which one woman told us she had seen done on Friends but never in her own country. And we told them what was new to us -- like the emcee in a red coat and tails, who rang a bell when he wanted our attention. And -- I didn't mention this one to our tablemates, but I must mention it here -- the hats! Lots of women were wearing hats, fabulous hats that went with their outfits and made me feel underdressed. I'd never seen any woman close to my age in a dress-up hat before, but apparently in England the answer to "Does anyone still wear a hat?" is emphatically Yes. And, of course, we were not prepared for the excitement surrounding the evening's toasts. The high point of a British wedding reception are the speeches made by the bride's father, the groom, and the best man, in that order, with the best man's being the main event. He is supposed to beat up on the groom -- to "take the piss out of him," as the Brits say -- delivering laughs without quite stepping over the line of propriety. People at our table were heard to say, "I love wedding toasts!" which I am sure I have never heard anyone say in America. So I'm afraid they were a little disappointed in this best man's performance -- he gave a very nice toast by American standards, but expectations were very high, and I understand that a British groom would have chosen his best man specifially for his toasting skills. So in this case the groom went largely unmocked.

After the toasts, we went back to the "conservatory" for cake and coffee (yay), and a dessert item called "chocolate-coated physalis" that tasted a lot better than it sounds. The staff, meanwhile, were setting up the room we'd just been in for the dancing portion of the evening, and when we went back in (at the emcee's behest), the tables had been moved around to accomodate a band, a dance floor, a buffet table, and an open bar. Apparently it is customary to invite yet more guests to attend just this part of the reception, and I think we were joined by a few more people at this point. The band was great, and Boyfriend Dan and I had never danced together before (at least, not in public), so we were happy to take advantage of the opportunity. I don't know whether this is traditional, but I think I want a band to play the Oasis song "Don't Look Back in Anger" at my wedding reception, too.

It must have been after midnight by the time the coach came to collect us, which means we'd been partying for a full 12 hours! The upper deck of the bus was a bit rowdy on the way back -- we kind of regretted our decision to sit up there -- but we were happy to be deposited back at our hotel.

On Sunday morning we again partook of the hotel's breakfast spread, but our mood was subdued a bit by the bad news that Fr. Ted had lost his wallet. Lost, or been relieved of -- there are signs everywhere you go in Cambridge and in London warning you to look out for pickpockets, and I'm afraid we might have run into one. He didn't know when he'd last had it, so after we checked out he ran all over town, to all the places we'd been, but it didn't turn up. Rats. Fortunately, he still had his passport, so at least he wasn't stuck in England! And he wasn't traveling alone, so money wasn't a problem. But still, I'm choosing to believe it just fell out of his pocket and remains wherever it lay, because he was wearing his clerics the whole time we were in Cambridge, and who would be so heartless as to pick a priest's pocket?

We caught a train back to London and checked back in to our hotel (in much nicer rooms this time), and then, since it was Sunday, Fr. Ted said Mass for the three of us. I'm pretty sure it was the most subdued Gaudete Sunday I've ever experienced, but celebrating the Eucharist in a hotel room was yet another new experience for me.

After that we repaired to the pub across the street for lunch, but we managed to arrive just after they'd closed their kitchen. So we lunched elsewhere, and then headed back into the center of London for more sightseeing. As it was Sunday, and late in the day, we couldn't really go to any of the "sights," so we took a long walk all around the big shopping areas, taking in the Christmas bustle. We went from Covent Garden to Soho to Oxford Street, and walked the length of that to Marble Arch. There we got on the subway and headed back to Leicester Square, where we decided to see a movie, since none of us could stand the idea of walking any farther. (And since the theatre scene is pretty quiet on Sunday nights.) We decided to see Borat, and we decided not to be deterred by the insanely expensive tickets. 11 pounds, 25 pence each, which is about $20, if you're doing the math at home. Yikes. We had arrived at the cinema at about 7, and the showtime was 7:30, so we figured we'd just go on in, in case it was crowded. (And because we wanted to sit down.) To our surprise, the theatre wasn't open yet, so we waited in the bar (!) for 20 minutes or so. And it still wasn't open! It was about 7:25 when they let us in, and we thought that was weird... but after some 40 minutes of ads and trailers, we realized why nobody else bothered to show up early. Anyway, the movie was very, very funny, but you don't need me to tell you that. I thought it might skew the experience a lot to be seeing it outside the U.S., but there were only a couple uncomfortable moments that made me want to defect permanently... and I think I'd have felt the same way no matter where I saw the movie.

Afterward we went to a pub across the street for dinner -- it took us a couple tries to find one whose kitchen was still open; we'd gotten over our jet lag, but we still hadn't adjusted to the more nuanced aspects of English time! And we made our plans for the next morning. We wanted to meet up with Steely Dan and Fr. Ted's cousins again, and I was also hoping to meet up with some friends of mine, and of course we managed to schedule all that for the same time, in opposite ends of the city. But it worked out, because Fr. Ted preferred not to ride the London Eye, which I'd planned to do with my friends, and so on Monday morning he went off to meet his cousins while Boyfriend Dan and I headed in the other direction. I was meeting up with some kids I used to babysit for, and their lovely mother, and we all had a grand time seeing London from the sky. Well, little C. (who was not quite 3 when I saw him last, and is now a few months past 4) was disappointed that it wasn't more of a "ride," I think. But he was impressed with the view. And I was thrilled to have a chance to catch up with them, and introduce them to Dan. When we disembarked, he headed off to meet his brother and cousins, and the rest of us went along to the nearby aquarium. For the record, London's aquarium is definitely not a must-see attraction -- it's nice, but probably no nicer than the one closest to wherever you live. But it was great to spend more time with them, and the kids were very excited about it. C. was very impressed with the sharks and their sharp teeth, although, as he pointed out to me, he has sharp teeth too. "I hope you don't use them to bite people!" I said, and he replied, "No. You can only use your teeth for biting a monster, or a gruffalo." There's so much I don't know.

After I bid farewell to them, I met the Steely brothers and their cousins in Holland Park, which was nice -- for some reason, I'd never really explored that part of London, in all the time I lived in the city. We had a yummy lunch in a local pub and then headed to St. Paul's Cathedral, which is very worth visiting. Christopher Wren has a reputation for genius for a reason. I'd visited it on a class trip, for my art & architecture course, but I was glad to get another chance to explore it and admire it. It was dusk when we left, and as we made our way across the Millennium Bridge (which was unfit for foot traffic back in 2001 -- nice to see they've sorted things out) I kept looking back to enjoy the view. Dig that dome. On the other side of the bridge, we headed into the Tate Modern. We didn't have much time to explore any galleries (and honestly, I find the lobby's massiveness kind of discouraging -- I feel like I'd have to walk half a mile just to *get* to a gallery), but we did enjoy the big Unilever slide installation. Vicariously. Then we walked along the Thames, taking in the sights all the way to Westminster Bridge, where we crossed back to the other side of the river and headed straight for the first Starbucks we could find. We needed to sit down and caffeinate, and congratulate ourselves on having seen so much!

Restored, we headed back to Notting Hill to meet one of the Steely cousins for dinner in a trendy gastro-pub. She and her boyfriend, who joined us, are both actors, so I had a grand old time talking theatre with them, and am hoping we'll be able to see them in NYC before too long! That would make up for not fitting any theatre into this trip.

By the time we headed back to Earl's Court and our hotel, we were full of yummy pub fare and ready for lots of sleep. On Tuesday morning, I can't say I was ready to leave the UK, but I was ready to stop watching my money disappear at double the normal rate, and my tired legs were ready to spend a good 7 hours on a plane! (Although I am proud to say that I held up very well during the trip -- I certainly couldn't have kept up the sightseeing pace 6 weeks ago.) We made it to the airport with no trouble, and the check-in and security were surprisingly hassle-free, which may have something to do with the fact that we were taking an 11 A.M. flight on Tuesday, but probably also owes something to the politeness of the British airport personnel. The flight took off late, but wasn't unpleasant; I napped a bit, when they weren't stuffing us with food and drink. I did run out of things to read, having plowed through all my magazines at last, but soon after we began our descent into JFK. And here I am, home again, and alarmed to find Christmas only 5 days away! I bet you're busy getting ready, too, and I bet if you had known how long this entry was going to be, you wouldn't have started reading it. Sorry. But may I wish you a very Merry Christmas, just the same? And Happy Hanukkah-in-progress, to my Jewish readers. I am heading home to NEPA on the morning of the 23rd, I hope, and via Martz, so wish me luck!

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