Hello Apple Cinnamon

Or why putting sweet potatoes in a cake is a great idea.

Because my London kitchen is lacking some of the necessities of dessert baking and because of my newly found calorie conscience, it has been far too long since I last baked anything. Yesterday, I was on a mission to change that. I dug around through some of my bookmarks and came across this gem: Cook Yourself Thin’s Apple and Cinnamon Cake.

This is where the sweet potatoes come in. If you have never heard of Cook Yourself Thin, the basic idea is to take meals that you love and transform them into healthier versions. So this lovely Apple and Cinnamon Cake, for example, uses ingredients like ground almonds and two cups of shredded sweet potato to aide in binding and sweetening while lowering the amount of sugar needed and eliminating any oil or butter. The result was fantastic! You really can’t tell that any alterations have been made here. My husband had no idea and he is quite the critic. Let’s get started:

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Hello 243

Or why the bus needs new brake pads

Two Four Three to Wood Green.

Today I got on the 243 with the worn out brakes and chalk board rotors.
All 31 stops from Holborn Station to Lynmouth Road, I was reminded that I need to find
My head phones and preferably before tomorrow morning.
I was reminded of my brain pulsing idly and why I took an Aleve only 3 hours ago.
Surely the combined £1.30 of all of these bus-goers could have paid for
A new set of brake pads or at least complementary ear plugs like the cheap orange ones
That were all over the house when my brother worked at the refinery.

Today I got on the 243 with the chatty group of hat-lovers and plaid-buttoners headed to Dalston.
The bus was mostly empty spare a few who looked as though their Mondays
Had been as mundane as mine but this girl decided to sit so close to me
That I could count the number of hairs in her left brow when she turned to look out my window.
She sat so close that I could hear the person on the other end of her conversation
Speaking in fast-paced Spanish. However my 5 years of poor public school Spanish classes could
Only translate something about the vestido she wore last night and problems with her novio.

Today I got on the 243 with the bus driver who has never known motion sickness.
He drives like it’s a two door Smart Car with the speed of a Lotus Esprit that he stole from
A shady back alley dealership somewhere in the depths of Hackney.
He never sat for too long in the back seat of a hot minivan as a child
While visiting the Grand Canyon in the dry desert of Arizona in August.
I’m certain he has no idea what Dramamine or Hyoscine is or what the paper bag
Tucked in the pocket underneath the tray table on a 747 airliner is actually for.
He probably loves boats and Carnival Cruises and his organs feel best when shifting and sloshing.

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Hello Whiskey & Cactus Wine

Or a sneak peek of what I’ve been working on lately.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on a collection titled “Whiskey & Cactus Wine: A Dedication to the West.” Most of this collection includes found poetry crafted from this book. I will skip the discussion on what I think of the guidebook because the poetry should hopefully speak for itself. Here are a few strictly found poems included in the collection.

Author’s Note

Perhaps, the way of life and obsessions still to come
happened in conflicting information.

Many have relied on everything but history,
have not reported preconceptions, and
too often have left out all kinds suffered.

A traveler more enlightened would thank me with enthusiasm
for advice about firearms and appreciation for history.

What to Take

A vial of brandy,
A small bottle of sureness,
A flask of burden

A word of exchange,
A pinch of once rough-and-ready,
A bit of gold dust

A target for gangs,
A trunk of obvious jokes,
A supply of profits


with curiosity about
moving mountains

introduce you to
firsthand of army exploits

several eloquent Indian leaders

curious about the men who push.
a rambunctious buckaroo

regal you


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Hello Harold Washington Library

Or why you should keep track of your personal belongings

I lost my journal in the Chicago Public Library.
Set down to free my hands and it lay forgotten among the books.
Level 5 near the classics
I set it down to pick up an old copy of Shakespeare but
So entranced by the words of others, I overlooked
My own sitting there on the stack.
Someone will pick it up and open it as if it’s
Supposed to be public-
They’ll flip through my entries and birthdates
Of relatives I’ve marked down so I don’t
Forget and wonder who Emily is.
They’ll wonder what it is doing shelved
Near Dickens and Dickinson,
Author unknown except to say that her
Husband’s birthday is on Feb 27 and
That she feels inadequate from time to time.
Maybe they’ll find it raw and rare,
Unedited for publication and wonder
About the messy handwriting that
Starts out nice and ends as scribbles
Only intelligible to the author.
They’ll wonder how the story ends
Or where it started for that matter.
They’ll be tempted to call Carol whose
Number is marked down in a corner
Near the top of page 7 and ask
To speak to a writer, but they won’t
Because then they would have to admit
To reading it.
They’ll leave the ticket stub from the Coheed concert
Bookmarked on the same page I left it
But wonder what it is doing on April 7
When the show was 2 years ago in September.
It won’t be returned to the lost and found
On the 3rd floor or to the nice security guard
Who helped me find the elevator
To the Winter Garden on the 9th floor.
Instead, they’ll move it from Eliot to Whitman
And Back to Dickens, unsure exactly where it belongs.


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Hello Jack

Or what happens when I speak in Texan

This piece (and many of the previous western themed pieces below) comes from a collection I have been working on titled Whiskey and Cactus Wine: A Dedication to the West. (Please note: Audio is included. To listen, simply click the title.)

Three Days Worth of Whiskey

You’ve been sitting on that bar stool for three days, Jack.
You’d think you would have at least changed that shirt.

He looked down at his white button-up shirt
Tinted pale yellow from the sweat of three days
Worth of whiskey.

You’d think you would have had enough to drink by now
But I’ll pour you another. I’ve always did have a soft spot for sufferers.

Before he swallowed the burning in his throat,
He swirled the liquor in his glass like a sommelier
Would to a fine Cabernet or Merlot.

You haven’t said a word in three whole days, Jack.
That’s long enough to drive a man crazy, if he weren’t already.

His mouth opened slightly but closed back tight.
Teeth grinding below his unkempt mustache,
He took another swig.

I always thought of you as a pretty sane man, Jack,
But lately, I’m not to sure about you anymore.

He sat up a bit to reach around his gun holster
and into the pocket of his khakis for a couple of coins
To put on the bar.

I feel bad for you but it serves you right for falling for a Miss.
I’d have let you fall in love with me if I thought you would.

He looked up just long enough for the brown eyes
Underneath his Stetson to meet the center of mine before
His neck bent back into a slouch.

Hell, I might still consider it if you changed your shirt
Every once in while and maybe took your hat off for a lady.

The left side of his lip curled up as he snarled at me.
His boots slid out from under the bar stool and he stood
Up as if he were going somewhere.

Oh, sit back down, Jack. You don’t deserve it but I’ll pour
You another. I always did have a soft spot for sufferers.

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Hello Oysters

Or the corny ramblings of a traveler

I have never quite understood the phrase “The world is your oyster.” Perhaps, my first experience eating an oyster still sticks too strongly into my mind to make the connection between possibility and slimy shellfish. My father likes to tell a story about his grandfather who loved oysters. His grandfather loved them very much, but his frugality kicked in when over the years the price of oysters rose. Set in his ways, he refused to buy them. Nevertheless, my father continued to purchase them for him every time he went to visit him. Grandfather would ask the price with a scowl and my father lied to him every time. Then he would smile and open the jar offering to share with no one. The love of oysters was somehow passed down through the generations perhaps through a particular gene yet to identified. The shellfish gene? My chromosome make up, however, was not graced with this particular gene. So the first time I took a bite of the raw oyster, it was gritty and slimy and unknown. To be fair, I only ate one on a dare and for a monetary reward from my father who was so sure I would just love them as his father and fathers before had.

Years passed before I tried my luck again. Maturity begged that I try them again. Maybe I just needed to grow up a bit to appreciate the taste. So this time, I grabbed a cracker and some cocktail sauce to mask some of the sandy slime. It still wasn’t a culinary miracle, but I tolerated it. I think I even ate two that time. As the years have went on since then I have had them on multiple occasions some of which were ordered by myself. But I still reach for the cracker and sauce. Maybe this is what they mean. Sure, you can conqueror the world, but sometimes to make it through you need to add the extras. The experience of eating an oyster is enhanced by adding a saltine and some Heinz cocktail sauce, maybe even a lemon. So then maybe the experience of exploring –whether in a literal, physical sense or in a mental, emotional sense- can not stand alone either without the enhancement of things like family, friends, or love. If it can not stand alone, perhaps, when one says “the world is your oyster” they are simply reminding you to dare to try something new but not to forget your ritz and your cocktail sauce.

Or maybe the phrase refers instead to the fact that an oyster can be home to the possibility of a beautiful mistake. When a foreign particular makes it’s way into the oyster lining, it irritates and creates a protective barrier- a pearl. A rare accident indeed, but lovely and pure. Pearls are reserved to celebrate milestones like your 30th anniversary. My parents gave me my first real pearls to mark the completion of my bachelor’s degree. I suppose when you allow something foreign into your life, every once in a while you get something perfect. Not every oyster yields a pearl, but maybe life is about allowing things to irritate you and open your mind until you find a pearl in the lining of your life.

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Hello Sue

Or a poem about a lovely T-Rex

I met Sue today in downtown Chicago.
Casually hanging out at the
Watering hole, she looked down
At me as if this was an everyday
Occurrence. Tame to people,
She was mild mannered and stood as
Straight as a rex can given
The curve of her spine
I would have shook her hand
If she wasn’t so tall so instead
We just exchanged glances and
Open mouth almost smiles.
She didn’t seem to mind the biting
Wind upon her bones and
Didn’t complain about the lack of
Boats on Lake Michigan.
She wasn’t upset about the
Recent snow lazily melting.
She just quietly stood there like
A permanent fixture,
Next to the Tower among the skyline.

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Hello Visitors!

Or some things you should know before heading across the pond

Lately, there has been some talk among friends about visiting Bryan and I here in London in the coming year so I thought I would compile a list of good to know things so you can plan accordingly. I’m going to skip any culture talk as that’s something you should learn when you get here. Instead, I plan to go over things like pricing, packing, and tourist attractions.

#1. Get familiar with the exchange rate. You can start by converting the amounts in the post.
I will try to say this in the least scary way but the bottom line is London can be expensive. The exchange rate is approx. $1.60 USD to £1.00 GBP. This effectively means you should be prepared to spend almost 60% more on things like food and drinks. (I will cover travel in the next section so disregard that). So your pint of Fullers London Pride at the bar may cost you £3.50 GBP which sounds fine but that converts to $5.40 USD. Your fish and chips meal may cost you £7.00 GBP but that converts to $10.80. You get the idea. Meals and drinks can be as expensive as you want them to be and as cheap as you want them to be. That being said on average expect to spend £3-4 GBP on a pint and anywhere from £6-10 GBP per meal depending on how fancy you want to get. The good news is a British or Imperial pint is 20 oz rather than 16 oz in the US and you’re staying with a good cook so eating in once in a while won’t be too painful.

#2. Don’t forget to talk with your banker before you leave.
You should be able to use your US debit or credit card here with ease; However, there are a few things you should think about. First, consider what fees your bank charges for international transactions and international ATM fees. Chances are the ATM will be the best way to for you to access your bank account while over here. The good news is ATM’s are abundant in London and most of them are free to use. I believe that the ATM limit is £300.00 per transaction so usually it is better to simply pay the international ATM fee that your bank is charging than to pay by percentage per transaction. You can bring US dollars with you and exchange it once you’re here but of course use your head and be safe. All the usual travel rules apply here. You don’t want to be in pickle if you lose it or something happens. If after you review your bank’s fees you decide the ATM is the best route for you, be sure to consider what your current limit is on your card and the conversion rate. You may need to raise it slightly in order to get the full amount per ATM visit and save some money on fees. I can not stress enough though to follow standard travel rules. Obviously you don’t want to raise your limit to some ridiculous amount and then lose your card somehow. Be smart. Finally, don’t forget to call that number on the back of the card you plan to use and tell them that you are traveling. The last thing you want is for your bank to lock your account when you need to use your card.

# 3. Learn about the different ways to travel in London.
Luckily for you, I’m going to tell you all about it and you don’t have to do any research for yourself. There are two main ways to travel in London. The first is using the Tube aka the subway for you Americans. Using the tube is the fastest and easiest way to travel in the city. There are several different lines but the whole system is user friendly and very easy to navigate. You can download a pdf of the tube map online to store in your phone but every station has one readily available. I do want to stress that the tube map is NOT to scale. These little things I can discuss again with you when you get here so don’t worry, I won’t quiz you. The only trouble is we live in an area of London called Stoke Newington which does not have a tube station.

This brings me to the second way to get around London- The buses. Keep in mind when I say bus, it does NOT mean the same thing as the bus in say San Antonio or Corpus. Sure you may find a random homeless person on the bus, but for the most part the buses are clean and a great method of travel. So many people travel via the bus so be prepared to see TONS of red double decker buses. There are loads of different routes and come so frequently that you will rarely have to wait longer than 5 minutes for your bus to come. We can go over the specifics when you arrive though.

The best way to travel using either route is with a lovely thing called the Oyster Card. You will need to pay a £5.00 GBP deposit to get an Oyster card for the first time (Apparently this is refundable if you return the card). You can easily swipe in and out of stations and buses using the card and it saves you money rather than buying individual tickets. There are three ways to use your Oyster Card: pay as you go, weekly bus ticket, or weekly travelcard ticket. The pay as you go is not a good option for you in my opinion since either weekly ticket allows you to travel as often as you like. I suggest getting a weekly travelcard ticket. This will run you £29.20 per week and allows you to travel as often as you like on the tube in zones 1 & 2 (you will probably never need to go further than that) and on selected buses (which again you will need to return to Stoke Newington). There is a slightly cheaper option of £18.80 per week but this option only allows you to travel via bus. There are pros and cons to each but there is so much to see that you will most likely want to pay the extra money to get from attraction to attraction so much quicker.

#4. Invest in a good pair of shoes and leave the appliances at home.
You should be prepared to walk and walk a lot. You will walk from attraction to attraction, from station to station, etc. The good news is you’re likely to shed a few pounds but walking in uncomfortable shoes will make you absolutely miserable here. If you are trying to decide which shoes to wear always pick comfort over style. Consider bringing at least two pairs of comfortable shoes in case one fails you. Also, I wouldn’t suggest bringing TOMS along as your only pair of comfortable shoes. I know from experience that walking a few miles in TOMS is not a good idea. So hit up DSW for a pair of comfy aerosoles or something of the like. NO HEELS.

This probably only applies to girls but I will say it here for all to know. It’s probably a good idea to leave the appliances -a hair straightener, curling iron, etc- at home. I can also tell you from experience that even with my fancy 50 dollar converter, my beautiful 100 dollar straightener melted into a big mess. I now own a good  UK straighter and blow dryer and if you’re nice I might let you borrow them. Feel free though to bring any of your USB gadgets such as your iPad, Kindle, Camera, iPhone (although you should probably leave it on airplane mode while you’re here to avoid charges), etc. If you have a Mac computer, you could feel free to bring that as well since I also own a UK Mac charger. Imagine that.

I can’t comment on the weather as I have no idea when you plan to come nor what the weather is like all the time. Therefore, let’s discuss that when it gets closer to your trip time.

#5. Decide what attractions you may want to see.
Luckily for you, I have compiled a lovely list of places at the end of this post. I have included the attraction prices as well since these can be kind of pricey. The good news is there are so many things you can do in London for free. This list by NO means covers everything you might want to see but it should hit the hot spots. There are more museums that I can list so if you’re interested in something in particular like history or biology chances are there is a museum to suit your tastes. You’re welcome.

#6.  Finally, Take a look at other places to go while you’re in Europe.
I am no expert in this area but I can show you a few good places to look. For starters, you should know that from £69.00 round trip, you can hop on the EuroStar Train to Paris for the night. Maybe you fancy having a beer in Brussels from £104 round trip on the EuroStar. Both of these train rides are under 3 hours so they could easily be squeezed into your trip. You can also browse budget airlines like EasyJet because chances are that place in Europe that you have been dying to go to is in your budget and only a quick flight away. Be aware that budget airlines like EasyJet do NOT include checked baggage in the cost of the flight. These airlines ask that you only bring a carry-on bag. You can select the option to check a bag at an additional charge but you probably don’t need to do this if you are only going to be there for the weekend. Because prices are going to be dependent on when you are coming over, I will let you search for flights yourself, but it is worth looking into because it really can be in line with your budget. If you do decide that you want to travel outside of London, let us know. We may not be able to join you, but chances are with enough notice we can fit it into our budget as well.

Are you still with me? I think I have answered all of the common questions that we are getting in this post but feel free to ask if you want to know something in particular. In fact, why not ask your question in a comment on this post so that everyone can benefit from it.

List of Tourist Attractions (in no particular order):

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