Books · British "stuff" · British Birds · Chicago · Expat Dilemmas · Fitting In · Gadgets · Garden · Gifts · Life · Nature · Photography · UK · Uncategorized

Bird Watching

When I tell friends in the US about the “British things” I like or do when in the UK, I get reactions like eyes widening (or rolling) or raised eyebrows.  Drives home the reality that my lives on either side of the pond are VERY different, and this oftentimes makes my interests on one side of the pond sound quite incredulous to people on the other.  But I always say “vive de difference” as it is always difference, diversity, even incongruence, in life that makes things inviting and fun.  The latest thing I have developed is (get ready for this) BIRDWATCHING.  In Chicago, I don’t get the chance to see the variety of birds that i can when in our little village in the UK.  I can tell you though that at any one time when I look up the sky in the Windy City, I can see at least 3 planes flying northwestward over Lake Michigan, en route to Ohare International.  Mechanized flying things that roar, not quite as graceful as birds and their songs.  And so I started noticing these feathered friends from those daily look-outs from the window by the kitchen sink here in England, and hearing their tweets and calls.  What a refreshing treat.  Not long after my father-in-law gave us a colored poster of common birds (pull out from a Sunday paper) which piqued my curiosity even more. Add on a day at Caernarfon Castle with the RSPB (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds) selling (and me buying) lapel pins of a host of bird species to raise funds, and the serendipitous £1 find I got from a charity shop (RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds by Simon Harrap) the very next day, and there we have the perfect storm of the birth of a new hobby.

Over Christmas, Hubby bought me a pair of binoculars, specifically, a NIKON PROSTAFF 7s 10×42.  They are not the typical small little things that birdwatchers can thrust into the pockets.  More the type you hang on your neck while you move around. They feel “substantial” — which I like, because they have more the feel that you’re holding a piece of equipment rather than a toy.  The best part of it is that it is lightweight, for all the power it packs in.  IMG_3358

I keep on the window sill the RSPB pocket guide, and a more expansive “Birds of Britain and Europe” by Rob Hume. I like that both books either describe the bird voice/sounds or illustrate their flight pattern.  Both books also provide a cross reference to confusion species or similar species.  I also have a small notebook where I have begun to note down the birds I have seen and where.  For now, I think the most special one I have on the list is the Great-Spotted Woodpecker which honored us with its presence when it came for the bird-feed pellets we have just put out.                                                                                                                            With his bold black wings decorated with little white dots, and a bright red crown and under tail — what a beauty.  We now have 3 feeders in the backyard, and we like to think it has become Blue Tits Central in this little neighborhood.  They fly together, and oftentimes we have finches, blackbirds, chaffinches, robins, starlings, chubby wood pigeons and even the odd pheasants joining in there party.  I am so looking forward to more of these glorious feathered creatures, in number and types, coming over in the spring and summer.

“…I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.” ~ Mark Nepo (author, in “Facing The Lion, Being The Lion, Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives”)

Architecture · Art · Chicago · Kent · Life On The Road · Road Signs · Transportation · Travel · UK · Weather

Tudeley All Saints Church : Inside a Gem


A few years ago, I watched a BBC television feature on a little church in Tudeley which housed stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall.  By the end of the program, a visit to All Saints Church Tudeley was in my Bucket List.  So when 3 weeks ago the Hubby had a couple of days’ work with a client down in Rochester (Kent), I grabbed the opportunity to tag along with the goal of striking out to neighboring Tudeley from there.  I planned to go via Tonbridge, about an hour away by train from the Strood station, which was in turn a bus ride and walk from the hotel.  A long-time admirer of Chagall’s works, I have been lucky that 2 of them are within easy viewing for me when in Chicago :  the Four Seasons outdoor mosaic murals (4-sided) at the Chase Plaza entrance to the Dearborn Blue Line station; and of course the America windows at the Art Institute.  All Saints in Tudeley is particularly special because it is the only Church where all (12!) its stained glass windows are works of the Artist.  There is a tragic, heartbreaking story behind the Windows’ commission, but it all turned to good as both Story and Artwork are now immortalized by the collaborative genius of Chagall and glassmaker Charles Marq of Reims.

My trek to All Saints Church Tudeley began with this page, and the “How To Find Us” directions here.  For all the big-time, long-road, open-sky driving that I do in the US, I cannot drive here in the UK (yet). So, from among my available options to get to the Church, I decided to do so by-foot, instead of cab or bus.  That decision came easily enough : The walking directions, which I carefully copied by hand, had described the trek as “delightful”; and I was quickly sold on the lyrical characterization of the landmarks along the way:

“the road rises to the crest of the hills and then descends”

parade of shops”

little black and white lodge” 

green footpath fingerpost”

“charming foot path lane between high sided walls (may be wet underfoot)”

charming wooded dells”

Indeed, a pied it is.  Surely, I thought, there will be a throng of visitors headed the same way from the train station.  That scenic 2.5 mile walk will be dreamy and enjoyable; and it will give me a good 5,000 steps exercise on the walking app (multiplied by 2 if I walked back!).  I also envisioned having interesting exchanges with fellow enthusiasts.  EASY.  Or so I thought.  

I hurled the first of my assumptions out the window as soon as I got off the train.  I should’ve known that a gloomy, chilly, windy Thursday is not exactly the best day for the Chagall Window Enthusiasts sub-set.  Or perhaps any one for that matter.  I found myself walking alone, often bemused if a house or footpath qualifies as “charming” as described in the Directions, and second-guessing what exactly “wooded dells” looked like.  I was a City-Mouse lost in the deep country.  At some point I found myself the only human within sight, often shadowed by that nagging feeling of being followed.  Of course, it turned out that the imagined sound of footsteps or rustling was actually my backpack rubbing against my neoprene jacket.  I walked through lush fields, mountains of molehills, nettles and brambles that whipped at the hems of my jeans.  I wondered where to shelter if the clouds suddenly gave in and poured, and hesitated when a path Y’s out to different paths.  It amuses but doesn’t surprise me, on hindsight, that “The Blair Witch Project” movie was on my mind as I sallied forth.  [Slideshow below to view some of the bits I saw along the way.]:

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By the time I finally managed to get the Destination within sight, the clouds have given way and Sun was out full-blast.  I had sweat running down the small of my back.  My ankles were soft and wobbly.  My pedometer indicated that it took Lost and Flat-footed Me a total of 7.1 miles (2 hours +) to do the 2.5 mile walk. :)  I crossed the dusty road to a little village church that looked outwardly plain and unspectacular, curious to see what lies inside.  [Hover mouse over the bottom of each pics below to see my marginal notes!].

As it turned out, the church building’s deceptively unsophisticated exterior was the perfect tension before the BIG WOW.  Pushed open, the main wooden door was the rabbit-hole to a wholly different world.  The plain white walls and exposed beams provided the perfect canvas for Chagall’s masterpieces.   That day, within that smallish space, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, I walked into a magnificent crossfire of light from 12 vibrantly colorful sets of windows, — primarily beaming the Blues of night sky and deep sea, and a couple golden Yellows the color of corn and sunlight.  The Windows framed an eclectic collection of Biblical characters, members of the  D’Avignon family, the Moon, fishes and doves, sea creatures, playful donkeys, mythical birds, the whisper of Chagall’s term of endearment for his wife (“Vava”), and a selfie of the artist himself!

I’ve read somewhere that the experience of Tudeley All Saints Church feels like being inside a jewelry box.  That is an understatement — I felt like being inside the jewel itself, — and a perfect, most sparkling one at that.    Slideshow below : — 

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Best of all, I had that wonderful space all to myself for most of the time.  It’s not always like this.  The place gets packed with visitors in the summer apparently.  And so I lingered a bit, savored the quiet and the glow of natural and enhanced lights, and remembered my dad.  How I wish he were still around to hear me blabber about this.  And finally, when it was time to head back, I took the bus.  Exhausted and jelly-legged, thoughtful and happy. :)


1. Don’t forget to walk into the open Vestry on the west side of the Church (directly opposite the altar).  There is a switch towards the back which lights up the Boscawen Windows (Victorian glass) on the south wall.  These panels were replaced by the last Chagall installations.


2.  The walking from Tunbridge station is indeed scenic and beautiful.  However if walking through isolated paths is not your thing, make sure you plan ahead and go with a group.  It may not be easy to navigate the Directions on your own.

3.  If you are taking the walk, make sure you pack enough drinking water, your phone is charged or bring back-up power so you can keep in touch if you get lost.  It is quite a long walk, —  with lots of ups and downs and uneven grounds, — and you WILL get lost if it is your first time.  Give yourself enough time allowance, and the cardinal rule:  wear comfortable shoes.

4.  There are interesting and very good publications and postcards on the side of the church.  And a donation box to drop payments and donations.

5.  There is a labyrinth on grounds.  I didn’t see it though.

6.  1.5 miles away is the St. Thomas a Becket Chapel. No longer in active use.  Supposedly has fantastic 13th century painted murals.  It’s still on my list of to-sees.

7.  Bus service to the train station is infrequent — an hour between buses.  And they don’t run late.  The last bus is just past 4:00 p.m., so plan accordingly.  

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”
― Marc Chagall

Art · Chicago

A Very Special “Warehouse” In The Heart of Chicago

Just down the row of our offices, along the same quiet row of converted warehouses in Ravenswood by the Brown Line is this little gem of  a place.  Actually “little” is hardly a word to describe this place.  Architectural Artifacts, Inc., is a huge — and I mean HUGE — warehouse of architectural and interior pieces, tens of thousands of square feet of floor space.  I discovered it a few months ago, quite accidentally, while walking to meet up with a friend at a nearby restaurant.   Walking past I noticed a pair of unusually beautiful doors inside a showroom, rested against the walls.  If they were selling, I thought to myself, this would be exclusively for trade only.  I slowly walked in, with much hesitance, only to be welcomed by a lady inside — “hello, come on in”, as she turned back to whatever she was doing.  Ah, the perfect welcome — not ignoring, but not overwhelmingly hard-sell either.  From there on, I was like a kid in a candy store.  Happily lost.

The place has everything  from religious art —

to ironwork from industrial springs, candles and gates —


to time pieces that follow Sun or Stars —

Seats of Clergy, Choir or Churchgoers —

Pieces of whimsy —

The seriously intricate, ornamental or elaborate —

to things “retro” —

And yes, I wondered who could own this heaven of a business?  This guy.  Boy, I wish I had his job.  Or maybe half his enthusiasm and energy.

Architectural Artifacts,  4325 N. Ravenswood, Chicago IL 60613 • 773.348.0622.  Open 10-5, 7 days a week.

Oh, and by the way, those doors I saw leaning against the wall by the entrance?  They’re from the mansion of the family that founded Amway.

Me, clicking away ....
Chicago · Life · Weather

Oh Snow!

It snowed nonstop for a whole day here in our little village outside Manchester 2 days ago.   It didn’t take long for our front and backyards to be covered in a thick, puffy quilt of white.

For all that it felt so cold during those days, I find that the temps were at its worst just below 30*F (-4.0C), — quite a ways away from the sub-zero (Fahrenheit) windchilled winters of Chicago.  And yet — why did it feel so cold?  Why did the snow fall accumulation seem even more extreme?  I was griping about the cold until the Hubby reminded me that it is nothing compared to our winters in Chicago.  True, I probably complain less about the cold there than here.

Simple explanation.  The cold is more challenging here because the UK is largely unequipped or unprepared to tackle extreme weather of this sort.  On a grocery run for instance, I was surprised to find that SALT had run out, in Tesco, Sainsbury and in the neighborhood co-op.  I was later told that many had to resort to using table salt to dust their icy front door to prevent elderly from slipping; — which gives you a clue that the roads are totally ungritted.  The council took a while to send trucks to plough the snow off the streets, and if they did, it would only be the main thoroughfares.  Most houses are not amply insulated for harsh winters (and of course, let’s not forget the prohibitive cost of heating).  And the government services all seem to come to a halt.  The garbage bin (“wheelie bins”) were not collected.  Mail was not delivered.  Schools are out.  Parents cannot go to work because schools closed.  The roads to the supermarkets are superclogged.  Cars are stalled and abandoned.  Power is cut off in some places…. yadah yadah yadah.  I’m sorry if this sounds like a gripe sheet, but in some way it probably is.  It’s crazy how life almost comes to a stand still, and daily living just seems helpless to go forwards for those few days.   It makes me realize how much I miss the efficiency and readiness of Chicago for wintry elements which make for what appears to be hardier, keep-going, can-do city.  Remember this comment of Pres. Obama regarding a snow day in D.C. same time last year?

Chicago · Cooking & Kitchen · Family · Food · Friends · Holidays · Life On The Road

Thanksgiving Post-Op

This is largely a stub post, so I don’t forget what happened this year on Thanksgiving with me on this side of the Atlantic, and the hubby on the other.  I returned to Chicago from CowTown the day before Thanksgiving.  Did the usual 9 hours straight, with multi-purpose stops…. gas, use the restroom, and grab a quick drink or cookie.  At the end of the drive, where all I ate was a  cheap hotdog and lots of blueberries (let those antioxidants at work while I drive), I was, well, tired and hungry,– surprise surprise.   The nice coincidence is that my best buddies who are based in Kansas City were in Chicagoland area — for a totally different reason other than to visit me.  They took the time out to drag me out of my apartment for food.  We went to the new Sun Wah.  “New” because it  moved from its former home of 20 odd years on Argyle  a few steps east, on Broadway.  Sun Wah is one of the  hubby’s favorite Chinese restaurants in Chicago.  Well, actually, one of many.  He loves Chinese food (I wonder why?  :)), and agrees that the Chinese food in Britain does not compare to the ones in the US.  Notwithstanding the sizeable mainlander Chinese and Hongky population in the UK.  We ordered a white fish in black bean sauce, a large portion of honey pork belly and char-shiew (see below….)

bittermelon in beef,  ma po tofu, and soup (their “small” fed all 3 of us a bowl each plus spare); we also had 3 portions of rice, 3 rootbeers and a coke.   Burp.  I was a piglet, and we had a ton of leftovers to box up to bring home.  The bill came to a grand figure 51 dollars which included a 10.25% tax.  That means, pre-tax the bill was around 46 dollars or roughly under 28 British pounds.  Best of all, it all tasted delicious.  I don’t know that you could get a deal like that in the UK.  I went home stuffed, exhausted from the long-drive, and too happy to be back in my own bed.  I had the perfect sleep.  

Next day, … Thanksgiving, great….  What do we do? I had totally made no plans, having hit the ground running and kept going since I flew into the States 2 weeks earlier.  Carla and Rose (my Spanish teacher) were supposed to come over to my place for dinner.  But Carla has a new apartment, and this time, we agreed to use her kitchen.  As expected, Rose was late (to be fair, she had to work, even on Thanksgiving, …. ay pobrecita!), and Carla could only make the salad (following everything in the recipe book to the letter).  We had no turkey, … so I whipped up what best I could manage.  Anyway, in the end it’s all about having good wine and wonderful conversation and bonding time.   Never mind that I was half-groggy most of the time. :)  

Around 8:30 I had to go home over Carla’s insistence that I just sleep over.  I still wanted my own, familiar bed.  We were planning on our Black Friday activities just as I headed off.  I promised Carla I would look into the coupons I could use the next day and would call so that we can plan which stores hit the next day.  That call didn’t happen.  I intended to wink, but woke up the next morning.  But no one took it against me.  Carla let me sleep in heavenly peace without calling to follow up. 

I still woke up at 7:30 the next day, and yes, we did the post-Thanksgiving American tradition of shopping like it was an Olympic sport, although we played like a Third-World team.  Never mind, we saved more money that way. :p

Yeah, Thanksgiving was alright.  Wish you were here, hub. ;)

The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.  ~H.U. Westermayer  


Chicago, Spared

Before I went to bed last night I swore with dread I would wake up to news of Chicago being the next Olympic City.  How could it not?  Oprah was with the delegation that went to Copenhagen to convince the International Olympic Committee that the Windy City would blow beyond all our expectations; and let’s throw in the First Lady and President (homeboys of Chicago) to make a sales pitch.  Needless to say, I was nervous.  Scenes from walking down Michigan Avenue earlier that night kept flashing on my mind.  —

chicago olympic

Yes, a successful bid seemed imminent. 

And then it came to pass that Chicago was eliminated on Round One of the IOC’s deliberations.  I learned about it while sitting at the office in Ravenswood with my colleagues, discussing appeals and motions to reopen.  R.Mc was suddenly cheering from her cubicle as she surfed the web.  We all joined in rejoicing that Chicago was spared.  Spared even more taxes to foot an Olympic-sized bill.  Spared from the logistical nightmare that would mar our city’s streets, and way of life.  Spared the horrors of yet another of City Hall’s grandstanding.

I am glad Chicago can stay the way it is, and that its broad shoulders stay free of unnecessary burden.

chicago 2 


I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.”  Henry Louis Mencken (American humorous journalist and critic of American life).


A Good, Good Day In Chicago

A FlashMob Lets Loose!

This took place a couple of days in Chicago for the kickoff of the Oprah show’s 24th season, to the Black-Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling”.  Too bad I wasn’t in the City when this happened.  However, realizing that it took place on a work day, I wouldn’t have been able to be there anyway.  But that’s Chicago for you.  YAY CHICAGO — this is how you HAPPEN!

And here’s an aerial (stiller) view — a different, less edited perspective, but nonetheless awesome: 


Chicago · UK

How Does Your Garden Grow

I live in Chicago — or should I say I lived in Chicago, until I upped and moved over here to the UK after getting married 5 months ago?  <pause.  deep thought.>.  OK,  I think my opening statement stands:  I LIVE IN CHICAGO.  I have kept my pad there, despite moving over to England.  I commute back and forth across the huge Atlantic pond for work (since I haven’t sat for the Bar here in the UK yet).  I’ve kept my US phone numbers and continue to pay my utilities.  Yes, I guess I can safely say I still live in Chicago.  And in the City itself.  Not in the periphery.  No, not in the ‘burbs.  Not in “Chicagoland”. IN the Windy City.   I live in a highrise designed by a famous architect.  My window directly overlooks the Chicago cityscape.  I see the lights of Wrigley field from afar on game nights to the west; and catch the fireworks from Navy Pier to the east on Wednesday and Saturday nights in the summer.  We have a doorman, dry cleaning service, a pool and tennis courts on the premises.  There is a gym that I never go to within striking distance, as well as a grocery where I drag my little folding crate to stuff with survival essentials.  I don’t really need a car in a city where a week’s parking rates can pass for one month’s rent money in a nearby city.  The bus that takes me to work, or to the airport, stops right by my door.  Lake Michigan is 2 blocks east, an easy, healthy walk.  That’s my life in the US.

In the UK though, it is a slightly different story.  I live in a town in the greater Manchester area.  Which means, I live in a quiet place with shops, and churches, schools, supermarkets, a town centre, a local college, houses with beautiful gardens, restaurants, war memorials, post offices, the occasional Indian and/or Chinese fish-and-chips takeaway, and not one building that is higher than 3 stories.  When I crave or miss the bustles of urban life, Manchester is half an hour away — easy.  But I guess it can be safely said that for someone who grew up and always lived in big cities, this move feels to me like the “Countrification of the City Mouse”.    And yet I have no regrets, nor major complaints.  The hubby and I are rarely in one place anyway, as we both travel a lot for work; and for fun.  So its nice to be able to come home to quiet, and just us enjoying us.  Life is…. alright, and all right.

That said, there is one I’ve been discovering in our home.  The treasures that grow on our little patch of forest called our backyard.  Our garden is far from being the prettiest in this area — oooh, not even close.  But yesterday, while walking around it to find stuff to stuff into our, uhm… green “wheelie bin” (thats how they call the wheeled trash holders), I found these little gems:

Berries growing up the tree trunk.
our garden 2
Berries, up close.
our garden 5
Lilies "of some sort" -- is how the hubby describes these. They're a nice, happy, tropical orange color.
our garden 4
Defiantly hesitant hydrangeas that refuse to be coaxed out of their shyness. While our neighbors have these huge vibrant balls of blues and pinks....
our garden 6
Apples for baking. (If only I could bake)
our garden 6b
More apples
our garden 7
These are called "gooseberries".
our garden 8
Here they are up close. They look like marble-sized, translucent little watermelons.
our garden 3
Fuchsias. Their droop-down shapes actually make them look like little ladies in swirly ballgown skirts.

I guess there are SOME perks to stepping back from a highly-urbanized lifestyle.

Chicago · Travel · Uncategorized

You’re Right On My Radar – Chicago’s Public Transit

After a full day of travel (and travel delays), I am finally back in Chicago from Manchester. :)  Yay!  I’ve gone to my favorite bookstores in Evanston (nothing fancy, the usual B&N and Borders) and had early dinner with friends at our Filipino local favorite Isla.  Not that the city has much of a range of choices for Philippine food really.  We pigged out on the usual favorites:  kare kare, inihaw na baboy, pinakbet and adobong chicken and pork.  I should, and will, take pics next time.  

Anyhoo, today I was checking the bus schedule for a friend who slept over, and I realized that finally the real-time bus tracker for Chicago’s transit system is fully working.  On all routes now.  Another big yay!  So now, at any time, you can view online precisely what times the local bus will be right at your stop based on real navigation tracking.  I love technology!

Chicago · Fashion · Politics and Current Events · Shopping · Uncategorized

The First Lady and Chicago Style

Michelle Obama’s style is definitely “Chicago”.   Solid on basics, with quirky twists here and there.  And — always ready for a change of weather. :)


For gallery of photos, click here.

And for the “power” behind the fashion, it’s Chicago’s own icon, and dresser of the best dressed, Ikram

Fashion should be eye candy, right down to  a simple t-shirt and sweater.  Even these things can have the most beautiful cut and be luxurious.   — Ikram Goldman