All of my LJ entries this year have been written from the House of the Red Roses. Which makes it ironic that this post -- which is about the House -- is written from Zurich.

Recently, [ profile] dragonmamma said: I am amused by the name of your house since you are in White Rose country!

Well, that's a fair comment, since we live in Sheffield which is [nominally] in Yorkshire[*] -- the home of the White Rose!

Given that we do not live in the House of the White Roses, it seemed worth clarification. Our house name has nothing to do with its location. Rather, it derives from the stained glass decoration:

A Red Rose

There is such a red rose on all outward facing windows (except on the converatory), with a more ornate version on the three outside doors. You can sort of see what I mean in this picture, taken from our back garden:

House of the Red Roses

From a distance, it is more difficult to see detail, but the top portion of each window contains a rose like the one seen in the above picture.

Thus, as you can see, it would be a tad strange to refer to our home as the House of the White Roses!

(Hmmm... I think I need to make a red rose icon from the stained glass to use in future house-related posts.)

I hope that all of my dear friends are having a lovely weekend!

[*] Personally, I tend to think of us more like being in the now-defunct Hallamshire than Yorkshire. Being in the south of South Yorkshire, Sheffield is about as far out of Yorkshire as you can get and still be in it!

anarchist_nomad: (Default)
( Oct. 3rd, 2016 12:37 am)
Another collaboration meeting over. I am writing this entry whilst sitting in Haneda Airport and waiting for my flight from Tokyo to Beijing.

Beijing is just a stopover on my way back to Sunny Olde England. After a short stay at home in Sheffield, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I will be off to New York for the Sooper Sekrit Pagan Gathering... and then I will be on to Chicago for another meeting at Fermilab.

Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom all in the same week. (Plus a cameo in China.) I'm starting to get déjà vu here... because it all sounds a lot like this entry!

It has been two thousand four hundred fifty-six year -- nearly seven years -- but compare for yourself how similar things can be. Many things have changed... but I guess others stay the same.

Back then, I shared a photograph of the contents of my wallet. Six bills (or notes) -- none of which were the same -- representing the "coin of the realm" for three different countries. This time, my wallet had only five notes (or bills)... but, again, none were the same and the represented currency from three different countries.

Take a look for yourself:

January 2010

October 2016

Time to go through security and get ready to board. If any P**T***ns are reading this, I can't wait to see you next weekend!!!

ETA: By the way, that is indeed the brand new plastic five pound note that debuted less than three weeks ago. If you caught it, kudos for the sharp eyes!
Gentle readers,

Ten days ago, your friendly neighbourhood Nomad hit the big FOUR-OH. Wowza -- how did that happen? Seems like only yesterday that I was celebrating my 30th birthday at the Event Horizon!

I firmly believe that if one is going to grow older, one should do it in style. Ten years ago, I resolved to throw the biggest Event Horizon party to date... and I succeeded.[*] For forty, I raised the stakes and decided to make it my absolute bestest birthday ever!

So what does that mean? What are the ingredients for a spectacular birthday?

Well, first is location. I love Oxford, but celebrating at home wasn't going to do. I wanted somewhere that would be warm and sunny in mid-March. No point in partying somewhere cold... and, besides, I wanted to go scuba diving! My first thought was the Mediterranean, possibly Corsica or Sardinia. Maybe Sicily. Then I checked: Average highs of 50F? That won't work!

Further South, then, which brings us to the Canary Islands. Yeah, that could work. Average highs in the mid-70s? Now that's more like it!

A plan began to take form: Rent a large villa in Lanzarote and invite everyone I know to join us there for a week. Although not the largest of the Canary Islands, the volcanic landscape and the César Manrique architecture was highly appealing. What's more, the entire island has been designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

In the end, I didn't end up inviting everybody I knew. We topped out at sixteen people, filling two private holiday villas. That seemed like a wise place to stop; coordinating an international week-long trip with sixteen people from two continents was one heck of a lot of work! Lots of logistics to arrange, including accommodation, transportation, and activities.

Lots of work... but it was totally worth it!

So what did we do in our week on the "Island of Fire" (as Lanzarote is known)? Well, we rode camels over the volcanic landscape:

(click on picture for full version)

and we ate food cooked with geo-thermal heat:

(click on picture for full version)

The picture above was taken at the El Diablo restaurant in Timanfaya National Park. The grill is set over a hole in the ground. That's all. No fire below; the heat of the volcano cooks your food for you!

(Also acts as a nifty underfloor heater, too!)

What else? Well, I got my scuba dives -- two off the coast of Playa Blanca (one day dive and one night dive) and another from Puerto del Carmen. We spent time on the beach at Arrecife, the capital of the island. We also took a bus tour around Timanfaya National Park. On another day, some of us went horseback riding (not me), whilst others took a bicycle tour (me!).

On one afternoon, we chartered a private pleasure cruise for five hours; on a different afternoon, we visited a few of César Manrique's architectural masterpieces. My beloved [ profile] cheshcat lined us up an excellent sampling of his work, including his Volcano House, his Cactus Garden, and the lookout point Mirador del Rio.

Some of us also made time for hiking. I went on three hikes, around the Montaña Caldereta, along the Timanfaya Coastal Route, and a sunset hike on my birthday itself, climbing the red mountain Montaña Roja, which was just behind our villas.

Here is a shot of yours truly atop the Caldereta (a volcanic crater):

(click on picture for full version)

Plus, there was lots of chill out time at the villas. Besides the two heated pools, we had a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room. So it became a regular pattern to go out and be active during the day, then come together for a big meal in the evening -- coordinated by my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth. After dinner, we would soak up the amenities and be social in the evening.

By chance, the folks who went horseback riding ran into a masseuse; she was then hired to come to the villa on two separate days, working on half of our party during that time -- some people used her twice!

The penultimate day of the trip was my actual birthday, March 13th. After days of rushing about, the big day was spent at the villas. Pancake brunch, afternoon tea by the pool (served by [ profile] miss_amaranth in a bikini), and lots of good company!

Was my plan a success? You betcha! As you may recall, dear friends, the goal was to make turning 40 my best birthday ever. Spending a week on a subtropical volcanic island with more than a dozen of my closest friends? Riding camels and scuba diving and eating geo-thermally cooked food? You bet this was the bestest birthday ever![**]

Now then, what can I do to top it for turning 50?

[*] Eventually, as I made more friends in Chicagoland, the regular parties would grow to be larger than that special one... but at the time, my goal was met with 25 people celebrating in a two-day party.

[**] Sixteen hours before I left for this awesometacular holiday, there was one extra development that made it even better. "What might that be?" you may ask. Ah, but that's the subject of my next LJ post...
Gentle readers, if there is one thing that you know about your friendly neighbourhood Nomad, it may well be that he likes doing new things.

Sometimes this takes the form of going to new places -- hence the "Nomad" name -- but, more generally, I enjoy and actively seek out new experiences. Right now, for instance, I am posting this entry from approximately 39,000 feet over Russia, as I fly to Japan. Posting from a plane? That's a new experience. Also, I have with me my brand new UK passport, but have left my US passport at home. Travelling solely as a Brit? That's also new for me.

Fun though these tidbits might be, they are little things. So, my dear friends, let me tell you of another new experience that I had yesterday. Much more interesting than in-flight WiFi, or the first stamp in my UK passport.

This picture, taken by my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, is where we spent last night:

(click on picture for full version)

That would be the Natural History Museum in London.

For about five years now, the Natural History Museum has had a monthly sleepover event for children, which they call "Dino Snores". This involves an animal show and t-shirt making, before putting the kids to bed at midnight and then feeding them breakfast in the morning.

Museum nights for kids are not particularly uncommon. There are several other museums in London that do sleepover events for children, including the British Museum and the Science Museum. For that matter, I know that theAmericam Museum of Natural History in NYC also does its own sleepovers, and Chicago's Field Museum has Dozin' with the Dinos.

What makes the Natural History Museum different is that they also do a sleepover event for adults: "Dino Snores for Grown-Ups".

Apparently, after they started doing the monthly Dino Snores, they started getting questions about doing an event without the children. So, back in 2012, that is precisely what they did. Dino Snores for Grown-Ups different from the original event in several ways. It is a much smaller event, capped at about 200 people. It is also much pricier -- the kids' "Dino Snores" costs £52 per person; the adult version is £175 a head. However, it also comes with a heck of a lot more -- like a three course dinner, a selection of activities to choose from (rather than a fixed plan). And, of course, no "bedtime" at midnight.

Here is what our Dino Snores evening was like last night:
  • At 19:30, we arrived at the Natural History Museum, just as things were getting started. We set up camp in the Central Hall with our sleeping pads right next to Dippy, the Diplodocus skeleton seen in the picture above. We also met up with our friends C&J, who were joining us for the evening. After taking some pictures, we popped over to the bar (something else not present at the kids' event) to grab a couple of drinks.

  • At 20:30, we were brought into the restaurant for the aforementioned three course meal. As we ate, there was a raffle with some silly prizes from the souvenir shop given out. The only one that I really wanted was the dinosaur head puppet... but, alas, we did not win. Even so, the food was good, as was the company and the conversation.

  • At 22:30, directly following dinner, we had a choice of stand-up comedy or a talk on the sex lives of insects. The four of us opted for the latter. It was a good choice. The scientist giving the talk was quite the stereotype -- the nerdy, slightly frumpy "fly girl" with big glasses who talked with great gusto about all these different insect penises. It was a great talk and quite entertaining. Gauging from the audience reaction, everyone there had a fantastic time. I know we did!

  • At 23:30, we had another choice to make: We could eat some of the bug genetalia that we had just learned about, as there was an edible insect tasting. Or we could attend an interactive video presentation about evolution. C&J went to eat bugs. Meanwhile, [ profile] cheshcat had no interest in joining them and, as a vegetarian, I cannot do so. Thus, our choice for this slot was easy. Whilst J was taking pictures of C chowing down on bugs, [ profile] cheshcat and I learned about the ways in which we are related to other hominids, lungfish, parasitic worms... and bananas. Personally, I'm more pleased to have bananas in my family tree than I am about those parasitic worms.

  • At 00:30, the museum galleries were opened. We went to see the Hall of Mammals and the Whale Hall. Then we took a break to pop back over to the Central Hall bar for more drinks and snacks before it closed at 01:00 (though the free tea & coffee would stay available until 02:00). There was live music in the Central Hall -- the harpist provided a lovely atmosphere for the setting. Soft and pretty, but subtle and unintrusive. Next, we took our sweet time going through the special exhibit on this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Checking out the WPotY exhibit is an annual tradition for [ profile] cheshcat and I. However, we normally have to fight our way through a crush of people when we go during regular museum hours. Going at night was a lovely change of pace -- with only a handful of other people in the gallery, we practically had a private viewing!

  • At 02:30, the museum galleries closed. Some folks started going to bed; we gathered to hear ghost stories about the museum. Apparently, there are tales going back to the museum's Victorian origins, and other stories dating back only to recent weeks. Much of the haunting seems to take place at three o'clock in the morning... so it was rather amusing when the lights had an unscheduled switch-off for a minute or two at 03:00!

  • At just after 03:00, once the ghost stories were over, most people went back to the Central Hall to get some sleep. For those of us who preferred to keep going, there was a movie marathon. We had several choices but, not surprisingly, the vote went quite easily to Jurassic Park. Which, I may add, I had never seen before. J started to doze partway through, and went off to bed. Meanwhile C and [ profile] cheshcat and I stayed to watch the film.

  • At 05:15, the next film voted in was Jaws. Which I have also never seen. C opted to stay, but [ profile] cheshcat and I decided to get a couple of hours rest. I'm glad we did -- walking through the darkened museum to get back to our sleeping pads in the Central Hall was one of the best parts of the night. I hadn't expected this, but it was really cool being there, by ourselves -- most others were already asleep -- strolling through the dark halls as we peered into cases to see stuffed pandas and ostriches and whatnot inside. After brushing up, we got into bed around 05:30 and claimed a couple of hours of sleep. I had expected to stay up all night but, in retrospect, I think that this was the better choice. Falling asleep next to Dippy was also pretty awesome!

  • At 07:30, we arose -- waking up next to Dippy was pretty awesome, too! C&J were already awake -- indeed, C had never gone to bed. We got caffeinated with the tea and coffee being served in the restaurant and chatted whilst waiting for breakfast to be served.

  • At 08:00, breakfast was served. Nothing special, just a traditional full English breakfast, with a vegetarian version available. The freshly squeezed orange juice was rather yummy, though! During breakfast, we filled out feedback forms -- we each gave them a 10 out of 10 for the event. Also, prizes were awarded for the pictures taken and tweets tweeted during the event. Not being a twit, I hadn't even tried to win this one!

  • Finally, at 09:00, we packed up and headed home.

Definitely a new experience, and very different from anything that I've ever done before. I had a great time. I know [ profile] cheshcat did, too, as we were only a few hours in when she said that we should do this again sometime. I'm game for that! C&J also had fun, and I'm glad that I could convince them to come out and play with us!

With no rest for the weary, I drove [ profile] cheshcat and I back to Oxford and proceeded to pack for Japan. And, in about seven hours, Japan is where I will be.

I am rather delighted (or, as the Brits might say, "chuffed") to have done this. It was a spectacular experience. I don't know of any other museums that have overnights for adults, but I hope that more will pick up on the idea and it will become a trend.

Meanwhile, my friends, tis time for this Nomad to post his museum adventure and then try to get a little shuteye before landing. Be well, everyone, and talk to you soon!
(Not to mention three days before Yule!)

Good evening, gentle readers! I hope that you are all having a lovely holiday season so far and that -- whatever Decemberween festivities you partake in -- your plans are coming along swimmingly!

Life here in the City of Dreaming Spires is good, if a bit hectic. Our own preparations have been coming along well, though there is much buying of gifts left to be done! About a fortnight ago, we purchased our Yule tree -- a beautiful Nordman Fir -- so Chiron Beta Prime is well decorated for the season.

Speaking of which, here is a virtual Yule card for all of you who are still out there in LJ-land! This picture was taken in our living room three nights ago, on Sunday evening. Please to enjoy!

(click on picture for full version)

Actually, tis very similar to a shot that I posted in 2011. You can find that entry here. Heh. Is actually somewhat amusing to look at the two side-by-side. Remember those games in the newspaper when you were a kid? The ones where there would be two cartoon panels, and you were supposed to spot the subtle differences between them? This is sort of like that. Go on, click the link and check it out for yourself! (It's okay; I'll wait...)

What else have we been up to besides decorating our flat? Well, last night, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I went to the carol service in the Chapel Royal, at Hampton Court Palace. Built for Henry VIII -- and currently the property of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandneice, Elizabeth II -- the chapel is a breathtaking setting, with a particularly magnificent ceiling. Again, don't take my word for it; see for yourself here:

The next two days, I will be attending the NuPhys 2013 meeting in London. After that, the festivities really kick in. Yule ritual in Oxford on Friday; Solstice morning at Stonehenge again on Saturday, followed by a carol singalong at the Royal Albert Hall; then a screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" in Greenwich with friends on Sunday. My darling [ profile] miss_amaranth is hosting a holiday feast at the House of the Rising Bun on Monday evening... which takes us to Christmas Eve and Day. Those will be spent celebrating in Oxford with my dearest [ profile] cheshcat; then on Boxing Day, we jet off to the States.

For those who are interested in seeing everyone's favourite Nomad during his 2013/14 USA Winter Tour, here is my planned itinerary:

  • 26 Dec - 28 Dec: New York City with friends
  • 29 Dec - 30 Dec: New York City with Mom
  • 31 Dec - 01 Jan: Philadelpha for New Years at Asylum House
  • 02 Jan: Driving to Michigan (with [ profile] gyades)
  • 03 Jan - 04 Jan: East Lansing, Michigan (to visit the wonderful [ profile] tawneypup and the rest of the Lansing Pagan Village crowd)
  • 05 Jan - 07 Jan: Chicagoland
  • 08 Jan: Flying back to Merry Olde England

Most of this time has already been planned, but if you want to catch me as I zip on through your area, drop me a comment and let me know!

Chicago people -- take note! The Chicagoland portion of the trip is the only bit still entirely unplanned... so that leaves three free days to grab a Nomad! Due to the 2012 decomissioning of the Event Horizon, it has been over a year since I have been back to the great state of Illinois, and there are lots of awesome people there that I miss. So if you are one of them, and you want a visiting Nomad, do speak up!

Right. On that note, I'm going to call it a night. Need to wake up way too early tomorrow morning. So sleep well, dear friends, and I hope to see many of you soon!
After ten days in Moscow[*], I left that metropolis behind me yesterday to spend my last few days in Russia exploring some of the cities in the so-called "Golden Ring". On the excellent advice of [ profile] ms_redcat, I decided to get out of the capital and see a bit more of what some would term the "authentic" Russian experience.

Thus, my dear friends, I am currently writing this entry from a lovely little rustic hotel in Suzdal, with plans to move on to Vladimir later today. This is a sample of what Suzdal looks like, from a picture that I took of one of the many picturesque sites at dusk yesterday:

Sunset Suzdal

(click for full-sized version)

The Golden Ring is a modern name for a group of eight cities that form something vaguely resembling a circle, or ring, to the NorthEast of Moscow. They were founded in roughly the same period, about the eleventh and twelfth century, as invading tribes pushed people out of Kiev, which was then the capital of Kievan Rus, a proto-Russian nation.

Moscow was one of the settlements founded during this period. I suppose one could say that, technically speaking, Moscow is a Golden Ring city. In the medieval period, the Golden Ring settlements were rather wealthy, flourishing on trade with the West. Indeed, Vladimir was once the capital, instead of Moscow! Eventually, though, Moscow emerged dominant -- and remains so to this day.

That said, I must comment on how beautiful the Golden Ring area is... and what a difference it makes to get outside of Moscow! In the capital, there are many impressive sights. It is well worth visiting. However, most people there are dour and unfriendly to foreigners.

Before travelling to Moscow, I was warned that it was a dangerous city. I now believe that this is an exaggeration. My travel book concurs with my experience; the section on "Personal Security & Health" begins by saying: "Moscow is a safe city for tourists, despite its reputation." As with many places, petty crime -- like theft -- is a concern, but this can be avoided with basic precautions. At no point did I feel like I was in danger of any real harm.

That said, I was also warned -- by two friends who have spent considerable time in Russia -- that Moscow is not a friendly place for foreigners, particularly those of non-Russian ethnicities. This was definitely my experience. With a few notable exceptions, I found most Muscovites to be scowling and unhelpful. Twas was even true at places one would not expect, like at my hotel. For example, when I checked in on my first night, at 22:30, I asked if there was anywhere nearby I could get food after my long journey. The woman behind the counter dismissed me with a curt "no." I learned the next day that there is a restaurant right next door, which stays open quite late! Oy!

Lots of other examples like that, but I won't dwell on it. I saw many excellent and beautiful places in Moscow -- some of which shall be featured in upcoming LJ entries -- but you do get tired of people being rude and surly after awhile. In contrast, outside of the capital city, I have found folks to be much more welcoming. Some will chat with you randomly, others will return your smile with a smile, rather than a scowl. Strolling the streets, there is a pleasant feel, with sidewalk cafes and pubs open late into the night. A rather welcome change!

Off to go explore more of Suzdal now, before moving on to Vladimir later today. More later, gentle readers... including an answer to the mystery of Nomad's missing hair!

[*] This includes the conference! Twas not all sightseeing -- a fair portion of my time there was spent at LomCon-16.

I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change.
An August summer night...

—The Scorpions

My evening had an uncanny resemblance to the 1990 song Wind of Change, referenced above. Having been at LomCon-16 for the past seven days, I have not worked out in a week. My darling [ profile] miss_amaranth and I went for a swim right before I left to catch my flight... but then nothing since.

I rectified that this evening. On this August summer night, I went for a 10K run that started in Gorky Park and followed the Moskva along its embankment, out and then back.

I had been trying to figure out where in Moscow I could go for a run, and Gorky Park was what I finally settled on, partly after serendipitously finding this article in the New York Times on Monday. This turned out to have been an excellent choice... for several reasons!

For example, the Moscow Running Club meets three times weekly in the park and goes for a run. So there are 1K, 3K, 5K, and 10K routes already marked out, including signs to indicate when one should turn around for each distance. That made the logistics of the run quite easy.

Also, the run along the Moskva embankment was absolutely lovely! I don't usually run linearly, going out for the first half and coming back the same way in the second. I normally prefer a circular run, to continually have new scenery during the run. In this case, however, I was willing to make an exception. The park and the river was such spectacular scenery. There were people out for a stroll, other runners, cyclists, skaters... and riverboats. What a fantastic environment! Turns out, most of the boats for the river cruises are faster than me... but only just!

My performance on the run was unremarkable. I covered 10 km in 56:40, which is pretty average for me. When I say "unremarkable", I mean just that -- it was neither particularly fast nor particularly slow. Since I have not exercised in a week and had been walking around all day, I suppose that average is better than I might have expected.

There is also another aspect worth noting about tonight's run. It pertains to just being able to run through Gorky Park and alongside the Moskva. As a US-American citizen, I am well aware that this would not have been possible in the not-so-distant past... within my living memory. Somewhat boggles the mind to think about it. And that's where the song by The Scorpions comes in again.

I've much more to share about this trip, but methinks that will have to wait. I should go to bed now, to be fresh and rested for another day of sightseeing in the morning. So, dear friends, I will leave you for now, signing off with this self-portrait taken not long after tonight's workout, at one of the illuminated fountains in Gorky Park:

Listening to the wind of change...

(click for full-sized version)
As mentioned previously, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I celebrated our anniversary a couple of weeks ago by playing tourist in London. We finally blocked off time to see so many of the things that, because they were so close we could go at any time, we had never made time for.

One of the places that we visited on our anniversary weekend was Westminster Abbey. Of course, you don't need me to tell you that Westminster Abbey is a Christian place of worship that is also the most famous religious building in London, which is one of the most important cities in the world.

Fast forward now to a few days ago. On Friday evening, around sunset, I got my first close look at St. Basil's Cathedral. Of course, St. Basil's Cathedral is a Christian place of worship that is also the most famous religious building in Moscow, which is one of the most important cities in the world.

The parallels may end there, though. I find it striking how two buildings that are so similar in many ways can be so different in others. Take a look for yourself and you will easily see what I mean:

Both pictures were taken by yours truly; both pictures were shot this month. You will pardon me, gentle readers, for not labelling the photographs. Somehow, I have faith that you can tell which is which.

One thing is not clear to me, though: What does "cathedral" mean in the Russian Orthodox tradition?

In many Western branches of Christianity -- including the largest of them all, Roman Catholicism -- a cathedral is named for the cathedra, the throne of a bishop. Unlike a church, which has a priest, a cathedral is presided over by a bishop. As the bishop has authority over a full diocese, a cathedral is the seat of power for that diocese. The Church of England has 42 dioceses, therefore it has 42 bishops and 42 cathedrals. Simple, yes?[*]

To be fair, the Church of Scotland -- which is Presbyterian -- does not have bishops, and yet still has cathedrals. I myself have visited Glasgow Cathedral and St. Magnus Cathedral, in Kirkwall. However, this still makes sense to me. Before the Protestant Reformation, these were Roman Catholic cathedrals, with bishops and all. Although the Church of Scotland broke away from Roman Catholicism -- taking those buildings with them -- the structures retained their original names. Tis historic, with a certain logic to it.

In contrast, I cannot see any such pattern to the Russian Orthodox cathedrals. Between the Kremlin and neighbouring Red Square, I count at least six cathedrals -- all within a ten minute walk! In Red Sqaure, there is St. Basil's Cathedral (above), of course, as well as Kazan Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Epiphany. Next door, in the Kremlin, there are another three: the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the Cathedral of the Assumption, the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael. Surely there are not six dioceses -- six administrative regions of the Russian Orthodox Church -- in such close proximity; thus, I find myself at a loss for what a Russian Orthodox Cathedral really is. Is it just a case of a particularly ornate church being termed a "cathedral"??

Off to bed now, dear friends. Tomorrow is the final day of the Lomonosov Conference... after which my week of sightseeing begins in earnest. I shall try to post again soon, with pictures selected from my first three days in Moscow.

[*] Well, maybe not quite so simple as that. This one-to-one-to-one correlation of dioceses, cathedrals, and bishops within the Church of England was true for a very long time... but it is currently in the process of being slightly violated. The C of E is dissolving three dioceses; the diocese of Bradford (centered on Bradford Cathedral), the diocese of Wakefield (centered on Wakefield Cathedral), and the diocese of Ripon & Leeds (centered on Ripon Cathedral) are all being made redundant. Replacing them is the newly created diocese of Leeds. Presiding over this will be the newly created Bishop of Leeds, who will have all three of the aforementioned cathedrae to himself!

Two recent numbers of significance worth noting here:

First, on my most recent run -- earlier this week -- I passed the 11 km mark for the first time.

These days, my standard running workout is a five minute warm-up walk, followed by a sixty minute run, then ending with a five minute cool-down walk. When the workout is over, the running app that I use reports an average pace for each of those three parts; I ignore the walking segments but use the data for the run to work out how far I went. Previously, my best record was 5:32 per kilometer (or, if you prefer, 8:54 per mile) -- set on the 5th of August. That works out to a 10.84 kilometer run (or 6.74 miles).

When I was new to running last year, I used the NHS Couch-to-5K podcast series. The narrator, Laura, frequently reminds us that some runs will be better than others, often without clearly identifiable reason. (She also points out that a bad run is still better than no run at all -- helpful advice!) Well, I'm not sure why... but my most recent run -- the day before yesterday -- turned out to be a very good run! That was evident early on, as I just felt "in the groove" and the distance reports every five minutes were impressive, compared to my normal pace. I knew if I pushed on, I could likely set a new record... and thought I even had a chance of squeaking past the 11 km mark for the first time.

Turns out, I was doing better than I thought -- my average pace for the hour worked out to 5:19 per kilometer (or 8:33 per mile)! That's 11.28 km -- well past the 11K mark! Tis also well beyond the record set eight days earlier! Measuring in Imperial units, I ran 7.01 miles -- just barely passing the seven mile marker for the first time! As the title to this post mentions, this was indeed a literal milestone for my progress as a runner. Go me!

Next, we get more figurative. On Monday -- August 12th -- my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I celebrated our 19th anniversary! Go us!

We celebrated by spending a three day weekend in London[*]. Not long ago, right here on LJ, [ profile] acelightning had a discussion about travel, in which we noted that there are often opportunities to see interesting things without going far from home. For our anniversary this year, [ profile] cheshcat and I decided to do just that. Next year, for the big TWO-OH, we are planning a two week cruise -- either to Scandinavia or the Mediterranean -- so this year we decided to stay nearby and finally see some of the many things in London that we've been putting off for years because, after all, we can go anytime!

The idea was good, and our weekend was delightful -- we finally visited Westminster Abbey (seeing the graves of Newton and Dirac!), we caught a West End show, we indulged my passion for tall buildings by going up to the viewing platform at the Shard, and more. Hopefully, I can find time for a detailed entry -- with pics, of course! -- before heading out for Moscow next week! Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, dear friends, I will share one shot from the weekend. Just because. The picture below was taken at Kensington Palace. Construction on this palace began in 1689, on the orders of William & Mary; the motivation was to construct a royal residence closer to London than either Hampton Court Palace or Windsor Castle... but further from the polluted air of the city than Whitehall Palace, which used to sit on the banks of the Thames -- William III was asthmatic and couldn't breathe well whilst at Whitehall.

Over the centuries, Kensington Palace has been home to a great many royals. Princess Di lived there, as did the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret. It is also where Queen Victoria was born and where she grew up. The picture below was taken in the so-called "Red Saloon" room at Kensington Palace, which is the room where Victoria held her first privy council on the morning where she became queen. We heard an excellent lecture in the room, and there were also costumes available for folks to play "dress-up". A common tourist attraction, I don't usually succumb... but I thought this jacket was just too good to pass up! Take a look at the pic itself (try to ignore the fact that I'm wearing shorts and sandals underneath!) and tell me if you agree:

(click for full-sized version)

Oddly enough, whilst [ profile] cheshcat was taking this picture, one person thought I was a statue in the exhibit! He was visibly startled when the photo had been shot and I started moving and talking -- go figure!

Anyway, a very happy anniversary was had by us! Yay for nineteen years... and yay for the next nineteen years, too!

[*] Many thanks to my sweet [ profile] miss_amaranth for looking in on our darling kitties whilst we were away. And even more thanks for the lovely card and flowers, set up to make for a wonderful surprise when we got home!

Took all four cats to the vet yesterday. As you may be able to tell from the picture below, Chirp was not pleased:

Not Pleased

(click for full-sized version)

Not really sure what else I can say. This shot stands on its own. Poor Chirp wanted to flee as far away as possible -- and if Giles already happened to be in that space... well, she wasn't going to fuss about the details.

(Poor Giles, too! Having to go to the vet is bad enough without having a cat heavier than you decide to use you as a seat!)

Apologies for the poor photo quality. This was obviously a rather impromptu situation, so I just grabbed my phone to point and shoot before the moment was gone. Er, I may have also been shaking with laughter whilst this was being taken.
Ever since completing the Yoshida-guchi trail up Mount Fuji earlier this month, I have been eager to do more hiking. [ profile] gyades and I already have plans to spend a week next July walking the 84 mile Hadrian's Wall Path[*], and I attempted to organise a group outing with some friends to hike Mount Snowdon next month. With an elevation of 1085 meters (3560 feet), Snowdon reaches less than a third of Fujisan's 3776 meters (12,380 feet); even so, it is the highest peak in Wales[**] and taller than any in England.[***]

All that is fine and good but, as the unusually fine Summer weather persisted over Great Britain, I wanted to get outdoors and hike something sooner. So, on Sunday, my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth and I set out from Oxford's Osney Bridge and hiked the Thames Path from Oxford to Abington.

This ten mile stretch of the path is described nicely here, albeit in the reverse order to how we walked -- the description proceeds upriver, whilst we walked downstream. The hike was also a nice continuation of the 42 mile Oxford-to-Cricklade walk that I did with TS last year. Putting the two together, I have walked from Cricklade to Abingdon, covering about 52 miles of the 184 mile Thames Path (which starts at the official source of the river in Thames Head and ends at the Thames Barrier, in East London). Bit by bit, I intend to complete the whole of the trail!

For most of the walk, we enjoyed perfect hiking weather -- clear skies and a cool temperature. Near the end, though, there was a brief period where the skies opened up, when we were near Nuneham House[****]. Of course, a little rain and a little sun make for a most lovely rainbow... and that is precisely what we saw:

Somewhere under the rainbow

(click for full-sized version)

Strangely enough, the lawn ornament that can be seen on the right side of the picture -- just near the base of the rainbow -- is a Jacobean water conduit that was installed in the very centre of Oxford from 1610 to 1787. When the roads were widened to permit coach traffic, the Carfax Conduit was retired and moved out of the city to become the decoration it is today.

Covering ten miles of level ground, Sunday's hike was not particularly challenging. However, it was pretty and fun. It was nice to be outside in the Summer warmth, it was nice to walk alongside the river... and, of course, it was nice to spend time with my lovely [ profile] miss_amaranth!

[*] Being a relatively small country, the United Kingdom doesn't have hiking trails in excess of 2000 miles, a la the Appalachian Trail. On the other hand, the Hadrian's Wall Path follows a structure nearly 2000 years old -- the Northern border of the Roman Empire, Hadrian's Wall.

[**] Snowdon is also the third tallest peak in the British Isles, and the highest outside of Scotland. Although I would like to climb the tallest British peak -- Ben Nevis (1344 meters, or 4409 feet) -- at some point, getting there requires considerably more driving than popping out to Snowdonia National Park. Less suitable for an impromptu weekend getaway.

[***] Alas, my impromptu attempt to organise this outing was not successful -- perhaps unsurprising when trying to assemble a last minute group weekend away for August, when folks are already travelling. No matter, as Mount Snowdon will still be there next Summer!

[****] Built in 1756 by the 1st
Earl Harcourt, who had an ancient village removed to make room for a landscaped park around his new home. The park was then designed by "Capability" Brown, who I am convinced is more than a single person -- a la the Dread Pirate Roberts. Oddly enough, the building is now owned by the University of Oxford and used as a retreat centre by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.

In a comment to yesterday's entry, the super-spiffy [ profile] cjtremlett asked me about posting photographs. In doing so, she reminded me that I have a large backlog of photos that I've been meaning to post -- from January's ascent up the Tokyo Sky Tree to March's birthday outing at Hampton Court Palace to May's adventures in Seoul to my bank holiday weekend trip to the Broads and Fens. And more!

Well, catching up on 2013 pictures and travelogues will take some time. Even so, here is a gem that I thought you might appreciate now, dear friends. Enjoy!

Land of the Setting Sun (2013-JAN-29)

(click for full-sized version)

I am rather pleased with this picture. Perhaps you can see why?

This photograph was taken from a height of 451 meters -- the topmost observation point of the Tokyo Sky Tree. The folks who designed the 634 meter Tree were rather innovative. There are two observation decks; one at about 350 meters and the other at about 450 meters. The lower deck is about what one would expect -- it is large and flat. The upper deck, in contrast, is less spacious. When you step out of the lift, you find yourself at the bottom of a sloping floor, with each direction bringing you upward. The two parts rejoin together at the zenith, which is a small area of level floor at 451 meters. There are windows all around the upper level, so you can see out from anywhere on the sloping floor. However, the figurative high point of the visit comes at the literal high point; the 451 meter level ground looks out to the West, providing a gorgeous view of Mount Fuji.

I am rather a fan of tall urban structures, and make a point of ascending them whenever I have the opportunity. In the past nineteen months, I have been up the Empire State Building (86th and 102nd floors), the Sears Tower, Berlin's Fernsehturm, Taipei 101, the Tokyo Sky Tree, and Seoul's Namsan Tower. In general, I try to ascend about an hour or so before sunset, so that I may first appreciate the view in daylight... then watch the beauty of the setting sun... then enjoy the lights of the city at night -- all in one visit!

In this case, my strategy was particularly rewarding. As you can see, gentle readers, the design of the Tokyo Sky Tree was particularly clever. Not only does the highest viewing point look directly at Fujiyama... but the location of the Sky Tree means that, at dusk, one sees the sun set right behind the mountain. This was completely unexpected, and a delightful surprise. Absolutely breathtaking!

The plan is to hike up that mountain next week. Looking forward to taking more lovely photos from the top!
Much of yesterday was spent celebrating the birth of my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth. As she likes to continually mention: "I'm twenty-three. I'm old now." When she does this, I generally threaten to break up with her in order to find a new nineteen year old. Seems the only appropriate reply to claiming that twenty-three is old.

The day was full of celebrations around Oxford. We started in the afternoon at The Rose, home to the best cream teas in Oxford. It was all very casual and unstructured, with people coming and going from the party as we sat around chatting. Indeed, after my own tea and scones were finished, I had to duck out for a few hours, missing the second stop -- Far From The Madding Crowd. In the evening, I collected my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, and we rejoined the group for dinner at the Japanese(ish) chain, Wagamama. I don't usually get to enjoy vegetarian gyoza, so that was a nice treat. Then we finished the night off with ice cream (and presents!) at the best dessert parlour in Oxford[*] -- Indulge. Finally, at the end of the night, I went back to the House of the Rising Bun with the birthday girl for some quality alone time.

Due to the unstructured nature of the festivities, we don't have a tally of how many people actually came along. [ profile] miss_amaranth felt no need to count... and the Knave of Numbers (me) was not there for the whole time. Still, I estimate that twenty-something people showed up -- from as far away as London and Reading -- to celebrate. Huzzah!

Hard to believe that so much time has passed. When I first met [ profile] miss_amaranth, she was barely nineteen and just about to start university. Now she's twenty-three and in her second job post-graduation. Not quite sure where the past four years went -- maybe it's hiding under the sofa?

In any case, I don't have a picture from yesterday's party, so I shall re-use this older photo, taken at Oxford's Harcourt Arboretum two years ago:

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! I know that twenty-two ended on a high note, with many wonderful things falling into place for you right now. May twenty-three be even more spectacular! I look forward to sharing it with you!

[*] As a side note, I particularly like the fact that all of the chosen venues of celebration were local Oxford businesses, save one. Wagamama was the only chain. I may have an Oxford party at some point that follows much of the same itinerary, except perhaps substituting Atomic Burger for Wagamama. And maybe have The Eagle and Child as my choice of pub, instead of Far From The Madding Crowd.

anarchist_nomad: (Mailbox Madness!)
( May. 31st, 2013 06:51 pm)
Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a citizenship ceremony at the Oxfordshire County Hall. Thus, since about 15:30 yesterday, your friendly neighbourhood Nomad is also your friendly British neighbourhood Nomad. Tis true, dear friends, I am now a Brit. Huzzah!

Some of you may recall this entry, from last November, in which we announced that my beloved [ profile] cheshcat had been approved for British citizenship. Now I have followed in her footsteps.

There was a remarkable sense of déjà vu, given that my ceremony had the same Deputy Lieutenant representing the Queen. The venue was, of course, the same; the procedure was the same; all the speeches were the same. Excepting the fact that the Lieutenant's mobile phone stayed silent this time -- she had accidentally left it on at [ profile] cheshcat's ceremony; it rang several times whilst she was speaking -- I could have been watching a 3D full-sensory replay of December, when [ profile] cheshcat became British.

Here is a picture, taken by the professional photographer, of yours truly receiving my certificate of naturalisation:

Citizen Nomad

(click for full-sized version)

That piece of paper I am taking is the actual, honest-to-goodness legal document that proves I am now a British citizen. We are not supposed to do anything to it -- not even laminate for safekeeping. I am going to need that paper as-is when I apply for my UK passport.

In addition, new citizens get a "welcome pack" that includes a "Commemorative Certificate of Citizenship". No legal value whatsoever, but it is certainly prettier than the official paper! Much more suitable for framing and hanging. In fact, I have already put mine in a nice new frame; it shall soon reside on a wall in Chiron Beta Prime, next to where [ profile] cheshcat's C.C.C. has been hanging since December.

Here is another photograph, taken by [ profile] cheshcat after the ceremony had concluded, of everybody's favourite Nomad holding his pretty commemorative certificate:


(click for full-sized version)

The most common comment I have received about all this (besides "congratulations", of course!) is that I now need to acquire a proper accent. The most common question is whether I have had to give up my US citizenship -- the answer to that is "no". Both the United States and the United Kingdom permit their citizens to hold more than one nationality[*] Thus, I am now a dual citizen, or what we like to call a "half-and-half".

Besides the psychological benefit of no longer being a foreigner, there are also practical legal benefits. I have already begun to take advantage of these -- this morning, I registered to vote in the United Kingdom and requested a registration form for voting in European Union elections. When I there is a six week gap where I will not be leaving the country (November?), I will also apply for my British passport. Indeed, once I am able to vote and have my UK passport, there will be absolutely no difference between my legal status in the US and my legal status in the UK.

This is the end of a long process that stretched on for more than seven years. I've certainly come a long way from where I was in Spring 2006, just arriving in a country where I knew no one and had difficulty with even simple tasks like getting a bank account (due to no prior credit history). It's nice to reach the end of this road and finally claim to be a citizen of my adopted home!

[*] There are countries that do not, like Japan. Likewise, Germany does not permit this except under some rather unusual circumstances (e.g., a child who was a dual citizen from birth).

anarchist_nomad: (Look Like An Egyptian)
( May. 22nd, 2013 11:39 pm)
Final night in Korea -- I fly back to Merry Olde England in the morning. My last full day here was excellent. I didn't manage to see the DMZ, but I did have a very intense tour to the RIMZ[*] in the first half of the day. Got back to Seoul in time to visit Seoul Plaza & City Hall, see the Royal Tombs at Samneung Park, take a nighttime stroll through Deoksugung Palace[**], then walk by the newly restored Namdaemun gate[***] -- National Treasure #1.

I'm hoping to write up daily travelogues for this trip, as I have much that I would like to share in terms of both words and pictures. For now, though, I will just note that the highlight of the day -- the trip to the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom[****] -- went better than expected. None of the bad things that could have happened did happen (e.g., tour cancelled by United Nations Command... or getting shot by a member of the Korean People's Army), and what I had thought was a longshot did happen -- I got to cross the border into North Korea!

Okay, it wasn't far across the border -- just a matter of feet. Also, I didn't get to stay for long -- just a matter of minutes. Even so, I was in North Korea today. Pretty cool, huh?

So the clear winner of today's Picture Of The Day Award is a shot of your friendly neighbourhood Nomad on the northern side of the Military Demarkation Line (MDL) that serves as the border between the two countries:

Nomad does North Korea

(click for full-sized version)

Actually, whilst reflecting on the experience en route back to Seoul, I realised that this was probably less like visiting Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin and more like visiting Checkpoint Alpha -- the crossing between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, or "West Germany" in the old days) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or "East Germany" back when it still existed).

To wit: Checkpoint Charlie was in the middle of a major city. The Joint Security Area is in the middle of a four kilometer zone that, except for one village on either side of the MDL, is nearly uninhabited by humans. Not being in a major population centre means that there is more room in the vicinity for things like, oh, anti-tank walls... and live minefields. To the best of my knowledge, neither the Soviets nor the Americans ever set up a minefield within Berlin! In contrast, I imagine that the conditions around the crossing between the two halves of Germany was a lot more like the Korean RIMZ.

One final note before bed: As has been mentioned in the comments of my recent posts, the empty zone between the two Koreas has become a bit of a wildlife refuge. With no major human activity there for sixty years, endangered species are making it their home. This includes types of cranes, leopards, and so on. At this point, the Korean government even gets requests from scientists to study some of the wildlife developments in the zone. Our tour guide today noted that when Germany was reunified, no area of uninhabited border was left behind. She said that she hopes when (not "if") Korea is re-unified, the RMIZ will be left untouched, like it is now, for nature. I think she is on to something -- if you ignore the minefields and high security in the zone, it really is a beautiful place!

[*] That would be the Really Insanely Militarized Zone. Don't know where the Demilitarized Zone is located, but there was nothing demilitarized about where I went this morning!

[**] Deoksugung Palace brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department, as "gung" means "palace".

[***] See above footnote, since "mun" means "gate". Er, excuse me whilst I go visit the ATM machine and input my PIN number.

[****] Strangely enough, we had to pass several checkpoints on the way into Panmunjom. Three of them, to be precise. The first, as you might guess, was Checkpoint Alpha. The second was Checkpoint Bravo. And, of course, the third was Checkpoint Charlie. The irony was not lost on me.

anarchist_nomad: (Baby Giles -- two weeks old)
( May. 18th, 2013 08:52 pm)
In other news, our littlest furry baby turned five today! I find this somewhat hard to believe, but today is the birthday of Giles, our gorgeous -- though temperamental -- silver tabby!

Giles is the only native Brit in our household. He was born in Oxford and, indeed, has never left the City of Dreaming Spires. Our other three kitties -- Chirp, Stumpy, and The Boy -- are US-American and well travelled. They were born in Arizona, and travelled the 1900 miles to Chicago by car a year later, eventually followed by a trans-Atlantic flight to Merry Olde England.

We met Giles when he was four days old and brought him into our home five weeks later; since then, he has been a much loved part of our household. Excepting, of course, when The Boy is trying to sleep and Giles wants to play; at those times, there is a little less love in the house for him.

Giles is a bit of an odd duck cat, inventing new games for us to play with him like "Sink Game" -- wherein he jumps in one bathroom sink and meows for attention... then suddenly runs to the other bathroom sink and meows for you to follow and continue what you were doing in the first sink! Rinse and repeat -- he can go back and forth between the two bathrooms for quite some time!

This is how baby Giles looked, nearly five years ago, at the age of two weeks...

Normally, I would include a birthday picture, to compare "THEN" with "NOW". Alas, being in Japan makes this difficult. Even so, here is an non-birthday adult shot, showing how the little guy developed:

Giles came into our home shortly after a time of profound loss, not long after a four month period where we lost our previous tabby, Totoro, to kidney failure and our lovely Foxy to cancer. Not only did my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I find our hearts deeply wounded from the loss, but our surviving kitty, The Boy, was confused and lonely at being without other feline company for the first time in his life[*]. Whilst nothing can make us forget our departed furry children, Giles filled a much-needed space in our home and in the hearts of all three of us. So happy fifth birthday to him... and I wish for many, many more!

[*] At that time, his sisters -- Stumpy and Chirp -- were still living at the Event Horizon, some four thousand miles away!
anarchist_nomad: (Default)
( Jan. 30th, 2013 11:11 pm)
Decided to take a couple of days to hang out in Tokyo at the end of this Japan trip. I fly out in the morning, so a full write-up will have to wait. Meanwhile, please to enjoy a shot from earlier this evening:

(click for full-sized version)

Taken in Asakusa, from the bank of the Sumida river, this shot features the Asahi Beer Hall on the right, with the brand-new Tokyo Sky Tree on the left. Towering over Tokyo from a height of 634 meters, the Sky Tree is currently the second tallest structure in the world! Pretty spiffy, huh?

I set the camera to take a relatively short exposure for this shot; even so, the shutter time necessary to collect sufficient light in nighttime conditions caused the cars on the foreground highway to be incoherent smears. Even the much slower water bus on the river is slightly blurred. I think I like it that way, though -- adds a slightly kinetic element to the picture!

Please to enjoy!

ETA: Huh. I just noticed that the wikipedia page for the Asahi Beer Hall features a picture that was taken at precisely the same location! It's a bit older -- witness the construction work on the Sky Tree in their shot -- but, other than that, it's the same shot. Well, other than it being daytime... and their photographer carelessly letting part of the stairwell in the lower left corner of the picture (something that, perfectionist that I am, I assiduously avoided).

Hello hello, gentle readers! I hope that everyone is having an awesometacular holiday season!

This year, for ease of reading (and writing), I have decided to split my journaling of Yuletide adventures into two parts. Instead of one "Twelve Days of Christmas", you get two "Six Days of Christmas" posts. Really, it works out to be six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Thus, without further ado, here is what everyone's favourite Nomad has been up to this Decemberween:

Day Zero: (Thu Dec 20) As the sun set at the start of the Longest Night, our coven -- Dreaming Spires -- lit a candle to hold the light through the long dark. Later in the evening, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat led us in a lovely Yule ritual.

Day One: (Fri Dec 21) At the distinctly dark hour of stupid o'clock five a.m., my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth, [ profile] cheshcat and I piled into the car and made the ~75 mile drive to Stonehenge. As noted in my previous post, this was my ninth dawn amongst the Stones -- three Summer Solstices, one Vernal Equinox, and five Winter Solstices.

The first seven Stonehenge dawns took after an early Pink Floyd album -- the Sun was Obscured by Clouds, making a cameo appearance... or often none at all. That changed last year, when we were fortunate enough to witness a spectacular Stonehenge Solstice sunrise!

After last year's great luck, I was ready to accept another year full of clouds, with memories to remind me how glorious the experience can truly be. Imagine my surprise, then, when we arrived at the henge to find the pre-dawn mist slowly dissipating, giving way to clear starry skies! That's right, my dear friends! For two years running, we have witnessed the Sun rising to signify the return of the light!

Don't just take my word for it, though! They say a picture is worth a thousand words... but, truth be told, I think these shots convey the beauty far better than any description that I could ever write:

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn

(click for full-sized version)

Guess Who? Your Friendly Neighbourhood Nomad greets his old friends, the Stonehenge Stones!

(click for full-sized version)

Here Comes The Sun! The first rays of light emerge over the horizon!

(click for full-sized version)

This is basically the same shot that I took last year, included here for comparison.
(Honestly, I liked last year's version of this one better -- what do you think?)

(click for full-sized version)

Um, wow. Just wow. Really, do I need to say anything else here?

(click for full-sized version)

From a different vantage point. If you look closely, you can see that the Sun is passing through two of the Stonehenge archways here. Behind the large inner arch in the foreground, there is also the lintel of an outer arch visible. Pretty spiffy, no?

(click for full-sized version)

Finally, the new Sun rose high enough that its brilliant light made everythng else seem dim by comparison. This one is taken well after Sunrise, and shortly before the site was cleared.

(click for full-sized version)

Two years in a row? How lucky is that?! And what an amazing way to welcome in the return of the light! Huzzah!!

Day Two: (Sat Dec 22) Much holiday prep during the day; in the evening, [ profile] miss_amaranth, [ profile] cheshcat went out for a delicious Yule feast at one of our favourite Oxford restaurants.

Day Three: (Sun Dec 23) Started the day by ringing a quarter peal of mixed doubles -- Plain Bob, April Day, and Grandsire -- at St. Nicholas Church in Old Marston. I am pleased to say that the quarter was a success; this makes my second quarter peal of the month.[*] Later in the day, I also rang at St. Giles Church before their annual candle-lit carol service. Along with [ profile] miss_amaranth and [ profile] cheshcat, we stayed for the service. The atmosphere is really quite lovely, with the church lit up by all those candles and the celebration of the season through singing!

Day Four: (Mon Dec 24) More holiday prep ensued during the day; in the evening, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I went out for a Christmas Eve dinner at The Old Parsonage Inn. Over the past couple of years, we have slowly been sampling some of the best restaurants in Oxford, splurging on an expensive meal for special occasions. This marks another one checked off the list! The food was absolutely excellent, and the venue was delightful -- particularly since we managed to reserve the table near the fireplace!

Day Five: (Tue Dec 25) In the morning, [ profile] cheshcat and I woke up early to see what had been left under the tree and to open our presents! I received many lovely gifts from my beloved... but, without a doubt, the most impressive was a fantastic new Citizen Eco-Drive watch! Vunderbar -- I have been in need of a new watch! Actually, this is my first analog wristwatch. I have always appreciated the art of timepieces but, until recently, opted for a high-tech digital watch for practical purposes. Now, after a quarter of a century, my smartphone can do everything any watch of mine ever could manage (and more)... which frees me up to go for aesthetics on my wrist, rather than functionality!

After all the unwrapping was done, we spent a bit of quality alone time together before packing up our bags (and a kitty) and heading out to London. Our destination was the latest home of D&J, who were hosting the Christmas feast. And what a feast it was! Other than the roast goose, all of it was vegetarian-friendly: The stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the potato and onion mix, the carrots, the roast chestnut chutney[**], the sweet potato, the onion gravy -- incredible! For those of who could not enjoy the goose, there was even a yummy mock chicken dish as a substitute!

After dinner, we played a few party games like Werewolf and Celebrity[***] before the dessert was brought out: Pumpkin pie and homemade ice cream and cheesecake! My diet may have gotten slightly derailed for a day -- whoops! But, hey, it's Christmas, right?

Day Six: (Wed Dec 26) We stayed over at D&J's after the big Christmas party to spend Boxing Day in our pyjamas with these dear friends. The mellow follow-on to Christmas was part of the plan, with nothing more strenuous in the works than a few rounds of No Thanks! and some Christmas movies, like It's A Wonderful Life and Patrick Stewart's 1999 version of A Christmas Carol.

After an exciting Christmas and a mellow Boxing Day, [ profile] cheshcat and I stayed over in London with D&J for one more night, before heading out for more adventures the following morning. But I believe that we have come to the end of Day Six, gentle readers... so stayed tuned to hear about Nomad's Six More Days of Christmas!

[*] The first one, on December 16th, was a quarter peal of Cambridge Surprise Minor -- my very first quarter of a Surprise method... and a significant milestone in my accomplishments as a ringer!

[**] Try saying that five times fast!

[***] A new game, for me, but one that bears a striking resemblance to an old favourite: Bag of Nouns.

In the first paragraph of yesterday's entry, I mentioned that I have been doing "some other stuff", and made a mys-TEEEEER-ious reference to today's entry. Which didn't exist then. But does now. And you are reading it right at this very moment, my dear friends -- imagine that!

Back in January, I mentioned that I was starting the Couch To 5K plan. The plan begins with only sixty seconds of running at a time and, with three runs per week over the course of nine weeks, builds you up to a half-hour run. Although the plan is widely publicized, the UK's National Health Service has made a particularly helpful series of podcasts designed to bring you through the programme. Having never been a runner before, I needed somewhere to begin, and this seemed like an excellent start. Careful readers may note, however, that following the initial entry, I never mentioned running again. Until now.

My first attempt at the Couch To 5K programme came to an early end after an extended week one. I incurred a minor [non-running] injury to my right foot in early February. Although I was able to walk normally without the use of a crutch or a cane, I was advised to refrain from running for six weeks. Inertia set in and it was early June -- four months later -- before I restarted the plan.

My second attempt at Couch To 5K started off much better. I ran regularly and made it through the first four weeks of the plan. Then July came and the kidney stone episode occurred; indeed, I believe that it was the final run of week four that caused the little bugger to move... landing me in the hospital for eight days and seven nights. Ouch.

The third attempt began at the start of the August bank holiday weekend[*], on Friday August 24th. Despite having been nearly halfway through the plan on my previous attempt, I went all the way back to the beginning. Week one was much easier than it had initially been but, rather than skipping ahead, I pushed myself to run faster in those early weeks.

By the time I left for Japan in mid-September, I had completed the first four weeks once again. In other words, I was right where I had been when the kidney stone had laid me low in July. During my two week trip to Japan, I covered weeks five and six, which are the transition weeks that move you from intervals of running and walking to pure running. I arrived back from Japan and started week seven -- which consists of twenty-five minute runs -- in Oxford, then continued it here in Chicagoland, at the Morton Arboretum. The Morton Arboretum is only half a mile from the Event Horizon, and it is a beautiful place to run[**] -- particular at this time of year, as the foliage changes into an exotic array of colours. Don't believe me? Think I am exaggerating? Then check out this picture, taken last Friday:

Not a bad place to go running, yes?

(click for full-sized version)

I began week eight in New York, at the Sooper Sekrit Pagan Festival, continued it in Pennsylvania during one of our stops on the drive home, and finished the week off back at the Arboretum.

This past Saturday morning, before the Event Horizon party began, I ducked out to the Arboretum once more to tackle the first week nine run. Week nine is the goal -- running thirty minutes continuously! What a thrill to pull it off -- huzzah![***] On Monday afternoon, I went back for the second week nine run... and this evening, at long last, I completed the Couch To 5K programme! That's right, I am now a Couch To 5K graduate -- hooray for me!

I am delighted to have made such progress! When I first started on the plan, the sixty second runs of week one were a challenge. My experience, which I believe is typical, involved many thoughts of "Please let the minute end before I die!" I was definitely on the "couch" side of Couch To 5K. In contrast, running thirty minutes now is easier than running one minute was then. Welcome to the "5K" side.

Moving on from here, I plan to continue the thirty minute runs for the rest of my stay in the States. Once I get back to Oxford, I will do some analysis on my speed and distance, then make plans on how to improve from there. There are three new NHS "Couch-To-5K+" podcasts, designed for graduates of the programme -- one is designed to increase speed, another is designed to improve stamina, and the third is called "stepping stone" (whatever that is). I will likely try out all three. I also want to look for a reasonably local 5K race to compete in; I don't expect to win, but it will be gratifying to finish.

Of course, running 5K is only one step towards my goal of completing an Olympic triathlon before I turn forty, which will happen in 2015. The running portion of the Olympic triathlon is ten kilometers, so I will need to start building up from my current five kilometer status. When you look at it that way, I am only halfway there!

Even so, I am running thirty times further than I could earlier this year, so I count that as a success worth celebrating![****] Huzzah!

[*] For my friends in the United States, this is the UK's end-of-Summer holiday somewhat equivalent to the US "Labor Day" but one week earlier.

[**] Or hike, or otherwise explore.

[***] It was also my first run in the rain, which is a minor miracle considering that most of my previous runs were in England and Japan! Nonetheless, I was not deterred by the weather. Not deterred; just wet.

[****] My beloved [ profile] cheshcat noted that I actually did put a couch out by the road for trash collection yesterday, as we continue to empty the Event Horizon. She observed that there is some interesting symbolism there, as I discarded the couch then promptly entered the "5K" territory.

Um, Universe? WTF? Seriously??

Saying that this month is over-committed would be a strong candidate for the Understatement of the Year Award. Besides flying between three continents and being a member of the Sooper Sekrit Festival organizing team, I have had a lovely visit from the wonderful [ profile] tawneypup, thrown a spectacular farewell party for the Event Horizon, and am busy sorting through all of my worldly possessions as we close down the house. All whilst trying to keep from falling behind on my physics work and while applying for the new job openings in the current academic cycle. And some other stuff (e.g., see tomorrow's LJ entry).

Apparently, however, the Universe doesn't think that I am being kept busy enough. Since life obviously was not sufficiently interesting, said Universe threw this at me:

Why, yes, that is a very large stick that came crashing down through the roof of my garage. Funny you should ask!

On Saturday afternoon, [ profile] gyades put his car into our garage, making room for the annual High-Stakes Four Square match at the Event Horizon party. On Sunday afternoon, he went to retrieve his car... only to find that said very large stick had narrowly missed impaling his lovely blue Prius. Quoth [ profile] gyades: "I am damn lucky!"

Heading outside to see what he was talking about, I made the acquaintance of the aforementioned very large stick. Whilst being conscious that [ profile] gyades was indeed damn lucky to remain in possession of an unimpaled car, I was also aware that there was now a sizable hole in the roof of our lovely two-car garage. Quoth Nomad: "Fuck!"

Ah, the joys of home ownership!

Here is another view of that very large stick, along with the accompanying hole:

Seriously: WTF, Universe??!

Presumably, the heavy rain on Sunday morning, whilst eight of us were enjoying a post-party breakfast at Butterfield's, dislodged the very large stick in question. It must have fallen a fair distance to have (a) landed with one end down, and (b) acquired sufficient momentum to punch a hole through our garage roof.

Nine years have I lived at the Event Horizon. For the past six, I have only been physically present for a few weeks each year. Yet somehow the Universe chooses now -- when we are here with but nine days left before being fully moved out -- to spear my garage with a very large stick. Thanks, Universe! Wouldn't want to think you forgot me or anything!

Once more, with feeling, I present a final view -- from outside -- of that same very large stick. The painted-on red circle is added by your friendly neighbourhood Nomad, to distinguish the subtle yet very large stick from the background. Please to observe it as it protrudes from our roof:

Honestly? I know that I should be annoyed about this... but it is just too absurd for me to get angry. In reality, every time I think about that very large stick, I incline towards laughter; the whole thing is more ridiculous than anything else!



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