Saturday, September 30, 2006

Technical Difficulties

Eugene and I may not be able to blog for a couple of days, as our Internet connection at home isn't working. The problems started last night around 6:30. I kept getting error messages while surfing the net, and then they wouldn't load even after I refreshed the page. I can't get e-mail either. Event my Internet provider's diagnostic webpage won't load, and usually I can at least work with that. Right now I'm at our local Barnes and Noble using their network. I was able to download my e-mail; I was afraid that if the problem was with our provider, I wouldn't be able to get that. I'll have to write down the technical support number before I leave.

We have several things going on this weekend worth mentioning. Tonight we're going to a games get-together hosted by a couple I met through a local forum. Tomorrow we may pick apples in the morning and go to a kids' birthday party (one of them was either our ring or coin bearer--I can't remember at the moment). When I have a chance, I'll post how they went.

I've been too lazy to edit Lennon's Line the last couple of nights. I'm at the sick-of-looking-at-it stage, but if I force myself to edit it for submission, will I be able to do a good job of it? And if I take a break from LL, what do I work on instead? I have several new projects in mind, but they're still in the pre-writing stage. Something to think about....

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Science Fiction vs. Horror: Definitions

This is a response to Russ's comment on the previous post. I originally was going to respond with another comment, but it wound up being quite long. Besides, the URLs weren't linked, and I used the wrong form of "its." I can't have typos like that in my blog.

Here's Russ's comment:

Now. Sandra, I'm going to take issue with your strict delineation between sci fi and horror. I don't think they can be so easily separated. Sci fi is about the unknown, about discovery, about mystery. These can be wonderous and enlightening, or they can be terrifying. Think E.T. vs. Alien. Which makes sense, by the way, because horror is about the unknown too - something lurking out of sight, a mysterious hidden threat - that sort of thing. The genres cover the same themes, so it makes sense that the delineation between the two frequently blurs.

And here's my response:

Well, yes and no, Russ. Science fiction can evoke a sense of wonder, but that's not necessarily its primary job. It's really more about the relationship between humanity and science/technology. Without the speculative scientific element, the story would fall apart. Here's what Robert Heinlein has to say: "A handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method. To make this definition cover all science fiction (instead of "almost all") it is necessary only to strike out the word 'future.'" (See more definitions here:

As for horror, this is directly from the Horror Writers Association website:

...horror can deal with the mundane or the supernatural, with the fantastic or the normal. It doesn't have to be full of ghosts, ghouls, and things to go bump in the night. Its only true requirement is that it elicit an emotional reaction that includes some aspect of fear or dread. ...By this definition, the best selling book of all time, the Bible, could easily be labeled horror, for where else can you find fallen angels, demonic possessions, and an apocalypse absolutely terrifying in its majesty all in one volume?

So, yes, there can be overlap, but the two genres are trying to do two different things.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mayfly and Other Musings

I don't read much short fiction these days. I used to subscribe to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but I stopped to have more time for novels (and, to be honest, the stories didn't meet my needs). I still subscribe to Realms of Fantasy, though, and I try to read the online zine Strange Horizons every week. Sometimes the stories don't meet my needs either, but today I read a story called "Mayfly" that really caught my attention. Here's the link:

If you're interested, go ahead and read it before returning to this blog. I'm going to assume most of you won't read it, but I'm going to discuss it anyway, ending and all. You have been warned.

This story is about a woman from a family of human "mayflies"--the women live a full lifespan in about a week. (I don't think there are any men in the family, though the women do need a man to get pregnant--three to five days after their own births.) To compensate, they are born with memories from previous generations and seem to heal quickly. The story really grabbed me with a hooky opening and lines (as the latest May debates whether or not to consume her mother's dust--a custom in this family) like, "But my mother is not strawberry-flavored, so I opt for the shake." Ordinary activities take on new poignancy as May mails postcards, debates what to read, and goes grocery shopping, all done for the next generation. Although May seems isolated from most people, she still maintains connections with the rest of her far-flung family through the postcards. Although it's been a long time since I analyzed anything for an English class, the theme of this story, IMO, is family. Perhaps it makes a couple of points about using one's time wisely, as May first reads a "trashy" novel and then finishes Anna Karenia, a book started generations before her.

There were a couple of things about this story that didn't work for me. May's family is described as being very rich; she lives off of a trust fund. (I doubt her lifecycle would permit her to hold down a normal job.) Yet she rents an apartment instead of buying a house or condo. Perhaps it would take too many generations to complete that project; even paying a bill uses up much of May's precious time. I was also disappointed by the ending. Although it completed a cycle (from birth to birth), I wanted to hear the rest of what happens to this May. I don't know if the author (Heather Lindsley) insteads to write another story about the Mays, but if she does, I'd like to read it. I find myself fascinated by the world, so much like our own but seen through an unusual set of eyes.

I should finish with a plug for this magzine, since it subsists solely on donations. This is a pro magazine for this genre, so the authors and artists get paid. (I think the editors donate their time.) If you like this story, other stories, or the columns, please consider donating to them. There's a link to PayPal on the main page.

Turning to Locus, I see that one of my crit partners on OWW was supposed to have his first book come out this month. I didn't see it when I was at Barnes and Noble last week, but maybe I checked the wrong section. I thought it would be in Young Adult instead of Science Fiction and Fantasy; I'll have to look again. Even though it's in hardcover, I'll buy it to support him. It's called Reiffen's Choice by S.C. Butler. It's a strong story with some great description and a couple of unexpected twists; I recommend checking it out.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Wine, Women, and (Beatle)Song

This weekend was the Oktoberfest at our local winery, Lynnfred Winery, in Roselle. We weren't able to go last year since we were still away on our honeymoon, so this year we definitely wanted to attend. We arranged to meet with some friends of ours -- a fellow Beatles fan and her husband--there. Although we had some heavy rain in the afternoon, we were fortunate in that the rain stopped and held off for the evening.

I brought my camera but didn't take any pictures, so I'll have to describe the setting. The winery is in a large house covered with vines, with a covered porch next to the tasting room and a balcony overhead for the bed-and-breakfast suites. A tent covered the cobblestone parking lot for the occasion, with a smaller tent set up for the German band playing polkas at one end of the lot. Under the tent were lots of tables and the food and beverages; additional tables were set up outside. Behind the stand was a pig on a spit (I meant to take a picture of it, sorry.) Lots of people of all ages--even kids--stood or sat at tables or passed back and forth with bottles of wine.

After buying tickets for the food and drinks, we bought a bottle of white wine to share. I had a pulled pork sandwich and sweet corn, and Eugene bought a pork dinner with sauerkraut and potato salad. (I'm a bad German; I don't like sauerkraut.) The four of us sat at one of the tables, talking, eating, and drinking. Eventually we bought a second bottle of wine, this one a mixture of red wine, port, and spices. It was supposed to be warm, but they don't warm up the bottles, just the glasses. I still found it pretty potable for a red. While we told our friends about our trip to England and listened to my friend's husband tell us about his recent vacation in Ireland with his family, darkness fell. On the other side of the fest, children participated in a grape stomping contest; we heard the MC announce it but didn't watch. Our friends could only stay for a couple of hours, but it was great to see them. Hopefully we'll be able to get together with them soon.

Today was just a chore day for us; we did laundry and made a Sam's Club run for meat. The morning started off wet and overcast, but it cleared up nicely in the afternoon, after we'd already decided to postpone apple picking for next weekend. Hopefully the weather will still be nice then. I also uploaded over 360 photos from our vacation to Snapfish so we can start creating a photo book for our coffee table. I'd post the link, but you'd have to register with the site to see the pictures.

Writing: I finally finished my epic game last night, so I have no excuse to not work on Lennon's Line. I did some edits on it this afternoon, just trimming it down a bit. Time to pull out my OWW crits and start incorporating them too. I'd like to finish this project by the end of the year and start submitting it to agents, so it's time to kick things up a notch.

I feel as if I need to write in addition to editing, but I'm still a little uncertain as to what I want to work on. Catalyst in the Crucible, the sequel to Lennon's Line, is calling me, but I need to look at the plot and figure out how to simplify it. The first draft is over 200,000 words and needs some restructuring.

Heather e-mailed me this evening and said she wanted to read about the places I visited in England in LL. I hadn't planned to have Jo spend much time in London, but now that I've made the trip for myself, I realize I need to mention the jet lag from the trip. Maybe Jo can lay over in London for a day or two before taking the train up to Liverpool. I'm not working on that section at the moment, but I can think about it in the meantime.

Well, Eugene told me he blogged, so I have to check on it and see what he said about Oktoberfest.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Look Who's Blogging...

Today, Eugene broke down and joined the Blog Collective:

Picture If You Will...

It's still in the beginning stages. I'll add a link on the sidebar later on.

In other news: Sara might appreciate that yesterday I got to do some IT work in the lab, so to speak. I had to install program updates on one of the computers used to run a lab instrument. Another computer on a different system gave me much worse problems: as I was in the middle of setting something up, I started getting line error messages when I tried to run things. Rebooting the system didn't help. I decided to try reinstalling the program, thinking that some code had been corrupted. The first part of the reinstall was on a CD, and that part went smoothly. But for some unfathomable reason, a second, "optional" part of the program was on a floppy disk. That's right, an archaic floppy disk, which for some strange reason wouldn't work on the computer in question but could be read on another computer's floppy drive. I tried copying the files to a CD to use on the first computer, but the computer wouldn't accept the files unless they're on the original disk. So on Monday our tech guy will come out and swap drives to see if that fixes anything. If not, I have to keep calling the company we purchased the equipment from to see if we can get another copy of the disk from them. Why can't I just get to run experiments?

Writing: I've been a bad girl and been goofing off with a game I downloaded. It's one of those epic fantasy quests, and I still have several quests to finish before I get to face the Ultimate Bad Guy. Someone was talking on the OWW mailing list about cliches to avoid in writing; this game uses several of them. I suppose people not familiar with the genre still enjoy the cliches.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One Year and Ten Days Later...

It's been quite an experience these last 375 days, learning to live with my sweetheart, sharing the ups, downs, and lulls of life. But at long last, we've earned our sweet reward....

our anniversary cake.
Instead of having to save the top layer of our cake in the freezer for a year, we received a fresh cake from our baker. And what a cake: yellow cake with chocolate mousse and raspberry fillings frosted with dark chocolate ganache. No wonder I've been counting down to our anniversary all year. But ironically, since we stuffed ourselves on sushi and crab legs earlier tonight, eating our delicious cake was quite a challenge. We did successfully feed each other bites of cake, but although it was good, it was almost too rich to eat. We might need some help finishing the rest of the cake. Anyone want to stop on by?

Writing: While reading Scientific American this morning, I came across an article about mass extinctions caused by anaerobic bacteria rising from the depths of the oceans during global warming and emitting hydrogen sulfide, a noxious gas. Sounds like fiction, doesn't it? Well, according to the article, it's not; the bacteria may have caused mass extinctions prior to the great dinosaur-killing asteroid. Still sounds like something I could work into a story; I got an idea for the writing challenge before I'd finished reading the article.But it may not quite fit the first line, and I'm still not how to work it into a personal challenge. You're supposed to use the challenge to do something you've never done before, and I'm envisioning this as a science fiction short story told in the third person. I've already used all of those elements before, so maybe there's something else I can play with in this story. Of course, since I prefer novels, a short story might be enough of a challenge for me.

I've been sloughing off on both critting and my own work; I hope my brain recovers from my vacation sometime soon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Murphy Visits

I didn't blog yesterday because it was one of those days where everything went wrong, and I don't like making people listen to my complaints. Most of the snafus were relatively minor and cleared up today. A couple of them were more of a hassle; I had a flat tire, which I got fixed today at Sears. It was a leaky valve; it only cost $20 to repair, but the service guy didn't tell anyone when he was finished, so I had to wait longer than necessary. Eugene arrived home before I did, and I normally get home a couple of hours before he does. Another glitch that I need to figure out is what to do about my dentist now that my company is changing insurance plans and she's no longer in their network. I talked with our HR person today about it, and it looks as if it may not be much of an issue. There is one major problem (I don't think I should go into detail about it here) that I still have to try and resolve, even though I can't prove what happened. It won't be the end of the world if I can't get it to work out, but I won't be happy about it either.

Speaking of the end of the world, the OWW's writing challenge for October was posted to the mailing list today. The challenge is to write a story using this as the first line:

"The world ended yesterday, and I want to know why."

From one angle, this intrigues me: it is a strong hook. On the other hand, the first things that comes to mind feel a bit cliched to me. I think of mysteries (which I've never written, so that would be a good challenge) and of the deaths of parallel universes. For a short story, I'd rather focus on something smaller, like the death of one person's world. But I don't have a clear direction for that either yet. It would be good for me to try this challenge so my writing doesn't stagnate. The question is whether I can work this up into a story before October 2007. I wish the Challenge Dictator for OWW would give us more lead time for these challenges, as it takes me a long time to incubate a plot before I'm ready to start writing.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Our Vacation: Pictures

I've spent most of the afternoon uploading some of my photos to Photobucket. I've heard you can view pictures there without having to register, so I thought it would be the best way to share our photos. (Actually, I don't even have Eugene's photos yet; he has to burn them onto a CD so I can copy them to my computer.) Here's the link:

Please let me know if this works or not.

Our Vacation: The End

This part isn't as exciting as what came before, I'm afraid.

Our flight back to the U.S. was on Thursday. Right after breakfast, we took the Underground from the stop closest to our hotel to Heathrow; it took an hour, but at least we didn't have to transfer. We got there about four hours before our flight, and while we had to wait for a while after check-in to learn where our gate was, we needed the time to get through all the layers of security at Heathrow. Even after going through the metal dectectors, we still had to open our carryon luggage for inspection at the gate and submit to a pat-down. I have to admit the extra precautions were reassuring, though.

Since we weren't trying to sleep on the flight back, I watched X-Men: The Last Stand (OK, but I wasn't happy about the differences from the comics) and played trivia head-to-head against Eugene. I'd say we both did well. Clearing customs was much easier here than back in London, especially since we didn't have to wait as long.

Our flight back to Chicago wasn't until Saturday afternoon, so we spent the time with Eugene's aunt and uncle. We'd hoped to meet with some people, including the Dear NYer, but our plans fell through. It rained buckets on Friday, so we didn't feel like going out into New York. It was nice to relax and start catching up on more than just e-mail.

The airport Saturday was very crowded; Eugene speculated the rain on Friday had canceled some flights. There was some confusion about which gate we were supposed to use, but in the end, we made it back on time. We didn't get home until about 10:00 last night.

So, that's about it. London was very expensive, but we had a great time and would love to go back. There's so much there we didn't get to see, and we'd like to make some day trips to Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, Stonehenge...and, of course, Liverpool.

I'm still uploading my pictures to Photobucket, and Eugene needs to transfer his photos to CD so I can upload them via my computer. I'll post a link when I'm done; hopefully this site will let people see the pictures without having to register first.

Our Vacation: Days Seven and Eight

Day Seven was Tuesday, and this was the last day our travelcards and passes would be valid. (Next time we go, we'll have to get a seven-day pass.) To make the most of them, we decided to visit Kew Gardens. First we ran a couple errands at the bank and post office, then we took the Underground to Kew Gardens, which was close to the outskirts of London. Once there, the slogan "Mind the Gap" quickly became "Mind the Crap" -- the crap from the waterfowl, that is. Some of the birds were kinds we weren't familar with, so we took pictures of them.

Kew Gardens is huge, so we barely scratched the surface. We toured three of the greenhouses, but we didn't go inside the palace or the pagoda. We examined one of the oldest trees in the garden, watched black sheep graze, and strolled through a Japanese garden. And, of course, we took pictures of Oscar and stopped to smell the roses. We encountered some light rain at one point, but for the most part--indeed, for the whole trip--the weather was pretty good.

We spent most of the day in the gardens, but we left mid-afternoon to have a proper English tea. The teahouse we found was a bakery/cottage; I'm not sure if the building itself was from King Henry VIII's time, but one of their receipes was. The inside was cozy; it felt like someone's living room with the decor and the fireplace. I didn't take a picture inside because it seemed too "touristy," but I did take one of the outside.

The tea consisted of a pot of tea (we chose peppermint), along with four scones, clotted cream, and jam. As if that wasn't enough, we also were able to pick two additional pastries after we finished the scones. It hit the spot; I wouldn't mind importing this custom back to the States. I don't think my waistline would appreciate eating like that every day, though!

After tea, we rode back to Oxford Street and looked for gifts. Nothing caught our eyes, but we did find an Internet place where we could clear our spam. Afterwards, we had dinner at an Italian place. We had a two-course meal of salad and pizza; the individual pizzas were at least 9 inches across and too much for us to finish, especially since we needed to leave room for dessert.

Wednesday, September 13, was the last day we had for going around. (Hard to believe our vacation flew by so quickly.) We started the day at the British Museum. The highlight here, IMO, was the Rosetta Stone, which was one of the first exhibits we saw. There were also lots of Egyptian and Roman artifacts. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, but Eugene took plenty of pictures.

We left in the early afternoon. I'd had my eye on a Scottish shop with cashmere sweaters, so we stopped there. Eugene finally found some presents for his family, and I picked up a scarf for my mother and a couple of things for myself. Afterwards, we had tea again at a nearby hotel. This tea was even grander than the one we'd had yesterday. In addition to tea and scones, we also had sandwiches and chocolate cake. When we were done, we strolled around for a while, making it down to the Courts of Justice. Close by was the Knights of Templar church, and we strolled around their grounds until we found it. We couldn't go inside as there was work being done on it. We arrived too late to get tea directly from the Twinnings store, so when my coworker goes to England next month, I'll have to ask him to buy me some breakfast tea.

Our last dinner in England was at the same restaurant we'd had our first lunch at. This time, instead of the regular fish'n'chips, I had trout. Then, wishing we could stay longer, it was time to pack and prepare for the trip back.

Our Vacation: Day Six

This brings me up to September 11th, and yes, it was remembered over in England too.

We started the day at Westminister Abbey. Again, we weren't allowed to take photographs inside. Picture if you can tombs and monuments spanning hundreds of years all packed together. Some of the tombs had medieval effigies laying supine with their hands folded together; others looked to be 17th or 18th century to me, with the scupltures reclining on their sides. We saw, among other things, the coronation chair that's been used for hundreds of years; it has a space for the Stone of Scone from Scotland (which will let the Brits borrow it for the next coronation) and the tomb of Queens Mary and Elizabeth. One corner is dedicated to servicemen from WWII; some of the damage from that time was left there delibrately. Poets and scientists are honored there as well. I lit a votive to remember the victims of 9/11.

After going through the abbey and another church, we returned back to the hotel to drop off our purchases and had lunch at a pub (more fish'n'chips, but we had wine, not beer). Then we visited the British Library. I don't think I can list all of the bibliotreasures on display here: an ancient copy of the Diamond Sutra, Qurans, lavishly illustrated bibles (and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible), two copies of the Manga Carta, and a Shakespeare First Folio. More "modern" works were also there, including books by Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Kipling. There were musical scores, naval logbooks, and stamps from WWII. But of course my favorite part was the Beatles display of handwritten lyrics. It was pretty thrilling to listen to "Strawberry Fields Forever" while gazing at John's writing.

After I tore myself away from the library, Eugene and I "minded the gap" again and took the Underground to a stop close to the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe. The original theater burned down in the 17th century but was recently rebuilt. (I took pictures of the inside, but I'm still uploading them as I type.) The good news was that we were going to see Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors at the Globe; the bad news, we had to stand. Before the show, we had dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant. I don't remember the Greek word for the meal we had, but it was like a Spanish tapas meal, with us sharing several appetizers. We had grilled octopus, flatbread, sweet dolmas, and mini spinach pies. Then we queued up for the theater. We were very close to the stage, so close we could touch it. Although it was an open-air theater, the night was pleasant and clear. Despite our sore feet, we enjoyed watching the play and being so close to the stage; it made the action more intimate. Afterwards, though, we weren't up for much more than going back to the hotel for some rest.

Our Vacation: Days Four and Five

Continuing our story...

The morning of Day Four (Saturday, September 9), we unpacked, discovered that the hotel didn't provide washcloths, and had breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast was served buffet style, and the items were pretty much the same every day: cheese, fruit, ham slices, soft-boiled or poached eggs, stewed tomatoes, rolls, butter and preserves, and baked beans (which we both avoided). They also had cereal, which became my staple. (I never felt curious enough to try the English Wheatabix, however.) And of course there was juice and tea; I particularly liked a green tea flavored with orange and lotus.

After breakfast, we set off to collect some LondonPasses (prepaid admission to some of the major attractions) and Underground (subway) passes we'd bought as part of our vacation package. We had to get them from a visitor center near Picadilly Circus, and since our hop-on, hop-off bus pass was still valid, we decided to take the bus there. But as we passed St. Paul's, Eugene said to me, "Let's get off here." So we did. (Later on, we found out that our LondonPass included admission to St. Paul's, but live and learn.)

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside of the cathedral (this one is of a statue outside), and I don't think even my writerly descriptive powers are up to the challenge. There are many monuments and tombs inside dedicated to military soldiers; there's even a section set off to remember American soldiers who protected England during WWII. The stained glass windows there have symbols for every state in the U.S. My favorite part was the dome and its amazing decorations; I think some of them were of the writers of the Gospels. After walking around the ground floor, we ascended many shallow steps to the dome. The first level was the Whispering Gallery, so of course I walked halfway around and tried it out. Eugene said he could hear me, but I couldn't hear him. Who said I could listen anyway? ;) We then climbed to the next level, the Stone Level, which was open to the outside. We took a few pictures, then climbed more narrow, twisting steps to the top level, the Gold Level. I freely admit I don't like heights, especially when they're open like this level was, and the stairs made me nervous. How the Fire Watch dealt with those narrow passageways in the dark during the Blitz of WWII is beyond me. Nevertheless, by focusing on one flight at the time, I made it up to the Gold Level and took more pictures. We then descended to the crypt to look at more tombs, including the Duke of Wellington's and Sir Christopher Wren's, which was in a side chapel.

We left St. Paul's around noon and hopped back on the bus, retracing most of the route we'd traveled the day before. Unfortunately, we misunderstood the driver and didn't transfer when we were supposed to. Consequently, we wound up taking the long route to Picadilly Circus--not good when you're hungry and worried that the center will close before you arrive. But it didn't, and not only did we pick up our passes, but we were also able to check e-mail (though it was more expensive than other Internet places we found, and I wasted two pounds on a computer that wasn't working properly). We ate lunch at a sandwich-salad bar type of place and took some pictures at Picadilly Circus, then wandered down to the National Gallery, passing by a nice street painting. There was only about an hour and a half before closing, so we had to focus on seeing the highlights and dashing from room to room. We still had time for the gift shop at the end, though. We took more pictures at Trafalghar (sp?) Square of the statues and fountain. I also fed piegons while Eugene took pictures of them using me as a perch. (One of them sat on his hand.) We then walked down Oxford Street (with very expensive shopping and lots of crowds) back to our hotel. After dropping off some things, we had dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant with live piano music while planning the next day's trips.

The next day (September 10, our anniversary!), we started by going to the Tower of London using the Underground. Although some of the stations were shut down for maintenance (yes, they do it on weekends), it was still easy to navigate. Transferring lines could be a hassle, as it required working your way up and down platforms. We got off at a nearby station and took pictures of a giant sundial before going to the tower. We joined up with a tour being given by a yeoman who lives at the tower; he had quite a few stories to tell about the tower. Remember how we slept through the Ceremony of the Keys the day we arrived? We explained what had happened to the yeoman, and they were kind enough to let us see the ceremony tonight. We were quite happy how that worked out. After seeing the Crown Jewels, we went inside a chapel and toured the White Tower, where the monarchs used to live. We spent a lot of money in the gift shops, but we did give each other anniversary presents from there.

By now, not only were my calves sore from the climb the day before, but I'd done something to my left foot and was limping. But even a limp couldn't keep me from visiting one of the holy Beatle sites--Abbey Road Studios. We took the Underground to the closest station, but I still had to walk several blocks. It was worth it, though. I didn't bother having my photo taken on the famous street crossing (a la the Abbey Road cover); it felt strange doing it by myself, plus it didn't seem safe. I wrote a message to the Beatles on the wall outside the studio, though.

After relaxing for a while at the Abbey Road Cafe, we took the Underground to Baker Street. We didn't have time for the Sherlock Holmes museum, but I had my picture taken outside. Instead, we walked to Queen Anne's park to eat ice cream, watch the birds (including a pair of black swans), and take pictures with Oscar. We even saw a bride and groom having pictures taken there, so that was neat.

As dusk fell, we returned to the Tower of London area and ate dinner at a noodle bar. We then hung around an hour or so for the Ceremony of the Keys. We, along with other observers, were allowed inside the gates. This ceremony has been going on for over 700 years; it started way back when the Tower was used as a market, and the guards needed to evict the merchants every night. We couldn't take pictures (not only was it forbidden, but it was dark), and it's only been shown twice on TV. As we watched, one of the yeomen, accompanied by guards, marched down to the gates and locked them. As they returned, they were challenged by another guard and exchanged a series of traditional questions and answers. They then marched under an arch before being dismissed. One of the yeomen told us a ghost story before letting us out of the Tower. We got back to our hotel around 11:00 and went to bed, tired but looking forward to seeing more in the morning.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Our Vacation: Days One-Three

We're still not home yet; we're flying back to Chicago tonight. Right now we're in New York, staying with Eugene's aunt and uncle. Since we have some free time, I figure I may as well start describing the trip. Photos will have to wait until we get home.

We left last Wednesday, on the sixth. We took a bus to O'hare. I'd checked in online the night before, so all we had to do was check in our luggage at the curb and go through security, which wasn't too bad. It helped that we'd checked on restrictions before packing. Then it was just hanging out at the gate, reading and waiting. We had a small communter plane, and the flight was routine. When we arrived at JFK, Eugene's aunt and uncle picked us up and had a nice dinner waiting for us at their house. We sat around the table afterwards, drinking wine and listening to Eugene's uncle's stories. I tried checking in online for our international flight, but I ran into a snafu and couldn't complete it for both of us.

Day Two was pretty quiet. We spent the morning with Eugene's aunt and uncle, and they treated us to a Chinese buffet for lunch. We left for the airport in the mid-afternoon. It was a little more involved checking in and passing through security this time, but we'd left plenty of time for all of it. We even obtained some pounds from a currency service. I ate a light dinner since I wasn't sure what meal we'd receive on the plane.

The plane this time was a 747. We were in economy, of course, but although there wasn't much space, it was still pretty nice. Every seat had a built-in console where you could play games or watch TV or movies. We also received complimentary travel bags with earplugs, an eye mask for sleeping, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. Dinner was pretty decent (I think it was a chicken dish, but I'm not sure), and we were given a glass of wine with our meal. Afterward, I tried to sleep, but I wasn't able to get comfortable. It's no surprise I couldn't sleep, but Eugene couldn't either, and that's saying a lot. Although it was exciting watching the sun rise over a new country, I would have preferred to sleep.

We arrived at Heathrow about 8:00 a.m. local time. There were about a thousand other international passengers who'd also come in at the same time, so we had to wait for an hour to clear customs. I was already starting to feel the fatigue, but we knew we had to stay awake as long as possible to adjust our biological clocks. It was a struggle, however. We'd prepaid for a shuttle to take us to our hotel, so once we were ready, we found the shuttle. We had to wait close to another hour before the shuttle came, but in the meantime, people from the company gave us tips about where to go (or not go) and where to eat. It took us another hour or two to reach our hotel, as we were the last to be dropped off; I was bobbing my head for most of the ride. We reached the hotel about 1:00, but it was too soon to check in. We were able to leave our bags with the hotel, though. Our hotel was in Bloomsbury; it wasn't a posh hotel, but it had the basic amenties (except washcloths, Eugene added in the background). We had our first fish-and-chips for lunch at a restaurant next door. To pass the time and get a sense of the city, we bought tickets for a hop-on, hop-off tourist bus traveling around London that stopped at the major sites, such as St. Paul's, The Tower of London, and so on. I was alert enough at first to pay attention, so I noticed things such as how clean the city appeared to be (compared to an American city), and how many of the buildings had flowerboxes at the windows. About half-way through the ride, I started to really feel the jet-lag. We returned to the hotel around 4:00. I couldn't stay awake any longer, so while Eugene showered, I just crashed in the bed. I think I woke up about 8:00 briefly, but by 11:00, both of us were fully awake. Right then, Eugene started wondering what date it was. We'd written to the Tower of London a couple of months in advance to get a pass to a special ceremony, the Ceremony of the Keys, in which the Tower is locked up at night. We'd thought our pass was for the day after our arrival, but after checking it again, we realized it was for the same day--and we'd slept through it. I felt especially bad for Eugene, as he'd read about it in a book when he was in high school and really wanted to see it. (I'd never heard of it before reading about it in the guidebook.) We figured there was nothing we could do about it, though, since it had to be set up so far ahead in advance. With a sigh for Misadventure #1, we tried to go back to sleep. That didn't work too well, so we watched the BBC for a couple of hours. Finally we fell back asleep around 3-4 in the morning and woke up around 7, finally ready to take on London.

More to come....

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Going on Vacation

Well, tomorrow Eugene and I go on vacation to New York and London. I doubt I'll have much time or opportunity to blog for the next ten days, but at least I'll have a lot to talk about when we return. Take care, everybody!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Wedding and Vacation Prep

Eugene and I went to a wedding reception last night. It was on his side; the groom's father is friends with Eugene's dad. (Eugene also knew the groom when he used to work at the front desk where Eugene worked out.) Since Eugene had to work yesterday, we couldn't attend the ceremony. The reception was at a hotel; the cocktail hour was held in a Polynesian-style lounge area before the room was opened up. It was a big reception; the groom's father told us nearly 500 people were there. There were a lot of friends of the couple there; some of them did beer gongs to get the couple to kiss. The meal was very good, but the cake didn't get served to us; we saw someone with a plate of sweets and followed her to a sweet table and cake in another room. We left around 11:00, since we didn't need to wait for the bouquet or garter toss.

Today we ran some errands, getting ready for our vacation. Eugene needed a new piece of luggage since he couldn't find his old one; luckily we found a good deal. We also picked up some other things we needed, like travel-sized toothpaste and extra batteries, and took care of some other errands.

Writing: I finished reviewing Sue's chapters, though I've been remiss about sending Heather her chapters. I better take care of that tonight. I've also been sloughing off with my work, though I should have some time tomorrow to edit. I'm not going to edit Lennon's Line during our vacation--I'm not taking my laptop with me--but I may try outlining the sequel. I'm also going to bring along some books for research.

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