Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Has time re-written every line?

Last night I read the funniest and most cringe-worthy thing I have EVER read. Unfortunately it’s not for sale so you can’t read it, it’s a sort of one-off. A manuscript, even.

It was one of my earliest journals, covering 1986-87, the years when I was in 9th grade and then graduated onto High School. So pretty formative couple of years, really.

I’ve been doing some sorting out and found a whole lot of fascinating memorabilia (of which I should write in my blog later, really) but this journal probably was the best thing. I flicked through it before going to bed and was laughing and embarrassed all at the same time – it was like watching The Office.

It’s amazing the amount of detail I put into this thing. I wrote nearly every day and recorded pretty much every single thing I did, what my friends did and even what scores I got on exams. It was like looking at my past, and I remembered people that were so important to me then but I didn’t even remember. I was surprised to read that by the age of 15 I’d already had three boyfriends!

In those days I didn’t just like someone: I would love them with all my heart. I didn’t just have a bad day: it was a total tragedy. I hated people with all my strength, adored my friends completely and pretty much went over the top in all other emotions. I could barely bear to read what I wrote about a boy I had a crush on: it was incredibly mushy and icky yet, at the time, I must have really felt it for it was written without the tiniest bit of irony.

Flashes of the person I am now were visible: I hated mayonnaise (still do), spent a lot of time in the after-school computers club as I quite liked computers, loved reading and writing, had issues with my mother, loved all things Disney (I even have some fascinating descriptions of a trip to WDW when I went to Epcot for the first time, including descriptions of all Future World rides along with their music). I absolutely loved learning and doing well in school but I struggled with math, and I rooted for the English football team at the World Cup. I loved movies and a lot of the music I like now I very much liked then. I wrote exclusively in English and felt very comfortable with the language, to the extent that I quoted one of my teachers that said “I had native-like mastery of English”. She should hear me now!

There were also a few surprising comments: I said I liked rain (which I really don’t, especially after living in England), I wanted to grow up and become a poet – probably before I found out they don’t make any money! – and seemed obsessed with the movie “St Elmo’s Fire” but I can’t remember being so obsessed with it.

But I really was a pretty silly girl, involved in all the petty and silly squabbles that all 16 year old girls get involved in, complete with excruciating analyses of every tiny little thing that certain boys did, said or even wore. I would fall completely in love with one boy only to suddenly realize that I actually liked another boy much better and consequently transferred all my affection to the new one, complete with gushy poems and secret notes in school. Man, those boys must have hated me!

Things that seemed OH SO important at the time have now been totally forgotten, which of course is no surprise as this was a long time ago. In fact, a lot of my current friends were not even in the landscape at the time, as I met most of them a few years later. But there are some incidents that I could vaguely remember in my mind, mainly because they were so painful, and it was hard to read what I wrote about them at the time, when the wounds were fresh. It reminded me that those things really did happen and the pain I felt was real.

But in the main I was just like most other 15 to 16 year olds, hanging out with friends, very interested in boys, trying to do well in school and having fun. This is only the beginning of a long line of journals that I wrote and I’m sure there is a box full of them in my loft. It will be interesting to bring them down and have a read of those, because this journal ran out just as life was getting interesting…. I just wish I hadn’t been quite so mushy and icky in my writing, otherwise I probably could have made some money publishing them!

Monday, 28 April 2008

Online translators don't work

I've just entered my previous post into Babel Fish and BOY is it funny! It's actually funnier than the original one I wrote and it really, really lost it's way near the end, where it's come up with stuff that has almost nothing to do with the original words.

Obviously, automated translators can't cope with slang and are hilarious when translating metaphors literally... so if you're a translator I can definitely say that your job is safe, at least for a few more decades.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Maybe this post will increase traffic to Babel Fish!

(With apologies to those that don’t speak Spanish…)

Es raro escribir en español. Desde aquellos primeros diarios que tenia yo a los nueve años, siempre he escrito en Ingles. Como que es mas fácil, siento que las palabras fluyen mas fácilmente y no me tengo que preocupar mucho por los acentos! Luego me cambie a un país en donde se habla Ingles y obviamente mi uso del español se redujo drásticamente. Era todavía más fácil seguir mis diarios en ingles y cuando comencé este blog, pues ni siquiera le pensé y siempre ha sido en Ingles.

La verdad es que el Ingles es un idioma muy fácil para mí. Tengo prácticamente el mismo tiempo hablándolo que el español y en cierta forma conozco mejor el Ingles por mi educación y por el hecho que tengo más de 10 años de vivir en Inglaterra. Si voy a escribir algo, prefiero hacerlo en Ingles…

…pero a la hora de hablar, el español es más divertido. Los modismos, las frases y hasta las maldiciones se escuchan mucho mas divertidas e interesantes en Español. Siento que me convierto en otra persona cuando hablo Español – mi esposo dice que generalmente son puros gritos y tiene razón!

Porque es esto? Es porque la gente que conozco que me habla en Español me conoce demasiado bien y da la casualidad que puedo ser mas informal con ellos, mientras que a la gente que me conoce ‘en Ingles’ la conocí estando ya casada y hay algo mas de formalidad en nuestra relación? O es el idioma en si el que me da estas limitaciones?

Claudia en Español es definitivamente más divertida que Claudia en Ingles. Para los que me conocen déjenme decirles que Claudia en Ingles casi no dice malas palabras – Claudia en Español no habla mas que en PURAS maldiciones. Claudia en Ingles habla pausadamente y con voz bajita; Claudia en Español se la pasa gritando y riéndose.

Este viaje a Madrid fue excelente para que Claudia en Español se pudiera divertir, porque hace mucho que no sale a pasear, mentando madres en todo momento. Claudia en Ingles quiere ser como ella…

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

I'm back...

... and it was awesome! I'm happy, tired, stuffed, hungover, the proud owner of new shoes and music and with a mind full of memorable moments.

All I can say is that friends are worth more than their weight in gold. Friends, good friends that you can be yourself with, are rare, and time spent with them is definitely good for the mind, the heart and the soul. I love every single one of them and even the ridiculous distances between us will not change that - because good friends live in our hearts and will always be there when needed.

Friday, 18 April 2008

The great weekend getaway

For a long time know I’ve been a little bit sad that I am so far away from my oldest, truest, bestest friends. They all see each other regularly, have the best times, can still catch up and talk about nonsense, shop together, have dinner and do all those things that we all take for granted. I’ve been feeling like I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I married and moved abroad.

This weekend though will go someway to address this: I’m going to Madrid where I’ll hook up with two of my oldest friends – all of them from Mexico – and we are just going to be silly together, catch up, gossip, shop and do all those lovely things. I really can’t wait!

Seeing my old friends always fills me with energy and makes me feel that actually the world isn’t that huge a place. Sure, I can’t be there every single day but thanks to the Internet I sometimes feel like I am… and the time I do get to spend with friends becomes totally quality time with no distractions: no work, no chores, no kids (!!) just the chance of being together 24/7 for a few days.

I hope to come back with some new shoes, maybe a new handbag, a bloated stomach from eating and drinking too much (maybe a headache) and of course lots of photos of my girlie weekend. See you all sometime next week!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

It's not British reserve, it's just plain bad service

It wasn’t that long ago that I got myself a new mobile. After a while of trying to learn how to use it, I finally got it and actually quite like it – especially the fact that I can browse my Facebook while on the move. It does have some annoyances (mainly that some features are hidden or under strange menus so I can never find them again) but in the whole it’s a pretty cool phone.

But yesterday out of the blue the phone stopped working: it wouldn’t make or receive calls. At first I thought that it may have somehow lost some settings but after a while studying the O2 site and my phone’s instructions, I was none the wiser. I even got myself into a crappy mood because I hate it when things don’t work and I can’t fix them.

Today I decided to take it to the shop. I mean, the phone is an O2 phone, bought from an O2 shop and I’ve been an O2 customer for, like, ever so surely they could help me? Boy was I wrong! I’d totally forgotten that I live in the UK and the customer is hardly ever right around here

O2 guy: we can’t fix the phone here, we’ll have to send it away.

Me: But you haven’t even looked at it. It could be something simple to fix that you can do!

O2 guy: Sorry, we can’t do that.

Me: how long will it take to get fixed then?

O2 guy: Oh, about 10 to 14 days.

Me: WHAT?! I can’t be that long without a phone! Do you have one I could borrow?

O2 guy: We don’t. Maybe our other shop has one… but I don't know...

Me: And can you CALL THEM please to find out? Don’t make me walk all the way over there for nothing. I am taking time out of work to be here you know.

So not a brilliant start. He wouldn’t even touch my phone, let alone try to help me figure out what was wrong with it. Nope, procedure was to send it away and that is all he could offer. But it wasn’t even that easy, I still had to jump over a few hurdles…

O2 guy: do you have your receipt?

Me: No, not on me. But I bought this phone in this very story not more than 4 months ago so surely you have a record of it.

O2 guy: We don’t, sorry.

Me: I don’t understand, ‘someone’ must have a record! I got a letter about 3 days after I bought the phone – from YOU – welcoming me to my new contract and phone! So somewhere in the system is the record…

O2 guy: …actually, that letter must have been sent by O2

Me: Isn’t this O2??

O2 guy: no, this is the O2 shop, we are not customer service.

And that phrase sums up what is wrong with all of this transaction. The guy clearly doesn’t think he’s customer service – he just sells phones and that is all he will do. With this he is telling me that he doesn’t care for customers once they bought their phones, that he can not help and actually doesn’t much care. He just follows procedures and right now wants nothing more than to get me out of the shop and be no longer his problem. But as I am a customer and he provides a service, isn't he, strictly speaking also delivering 'customer service'?

Even though I’ve been in the UK for 11 years (today!) I still can never get used to the very, very poor customer service I get around here. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time in the States but I’ve gotten used to being treated well, having my problems solved and all that with a smile. But around here ‘customer service’ is really just a way to annoy customers just enough so that they will go away, seriously.

Because my phone is an O2 phone that isn’t yet 4 months old and I bought it in that shop AND because I’ve been their customer (on a rather costly contract, I may add) for ages I thought that I would get the phone replaced. It is practically new and it isn’t working, so what would be the best thing to do? Just replace it – especially as O2 is both the manufacturer and seller. But no, I get placed in the same process as everyone else, regardless of the problem (and remember, this might be something easily fixed) and causing me great inconvenience which they didn’t even attempt to help with.

I know that part of the problem is that shop staff around here are not generally empowered to do anything other than follow a strict procedure, I know because I used to work in retail. So management and all those people in the head office should take notice and realize that if they want to keep making money (especially in these uncertain times) the most cost-effective way is by retaining existing customers. And how do they retain these customers? Not with gimmicks and direct mail, but by providing excellent customer service and training the staff so that they can use their brains in solving problems and exceed expectations. Yeah, I sound like a Disney cast member but in the end Disney does this very well and nearly everyone else in the UK doesn't, so start learning!

In the end I succeeded in handing over my phone without a receipt and I got a replacement one (pretty crappy at that) while they figure out what’s wrong with mine. I even asked for a replacement and that was out of the question “it’s not policy” and that was that. I didn’t even get a friendly word out of the salesgirl (I was in a different shop now) or a hint of humanity in the whole transaction.

I know customer service is improving around the UK, albeit slowly, but why oh why do they find it so difficult to do properly? I would love to say that this example was an exception but I’m pretty sure that any mobile company would have been just as bad so what’s the point in switching? And not just mobile companies but nearly EVERYONE seems to think that customer service is a costly annoyance and must be discouraged.

I’m going to miss my phone and they better fix it or else I’m going to be VERY annoyed. But while I wait for that, I will be composing a long letter to O2 and might even direct them to this blog. GRRRR!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Promise

Sometimes Disney songs surprise me by how deep they can seem:

We can reach for the stars we find along the way
Dreaming as we learn to love everyday
Promise you will take my hand
As tomorrow comes, we'll go on.

They can also seem surprisingly romantic even though the song itself isn’t used in a particularly romantic setting:

We'll go on growing closer through the years
Moving on through the good times and the tears
Ever on another thousand circles around the sun
A new life has begun
The two of us as one
We'll go on.

If you don’t already know what song this is, it’s “Promise” which is one of the songs that formed part of the Epcot Millennium Celebration. I believe this song played after the main Illuminations were finished and as guests were exiting Epcot, in the dark with the country pavilions brightly lit and Spaceship Earth glowing up ahead… so it is a little romantic but the song is surprisingly tender and loving. I wouldn’t be surprised if people have used this in weddings!

We'll go on
There is music if you listen
In the rhythm of each breath we take
Destinations undiscovered
Revolutions from every choice we make
And I know there are diamonds dancing in the sky
All we have to do is open our eyes
Promise we'll walk side by side
As a new day dawns we'll go on.

There is a hopeful tone to this song which is pretty common in Disney songs (who wants to be depressed while they’re on vacation?) and Epcot has always been the park that aims to get people happy about the future and its possibilities. This song fits into that beautifully but it is also a hauntingly romantic song even out of context. This is one of my absolutely favourite theme park songs, even though I never heard it in it’s original setting.

Friday, 11 April 2008

I'm still a super hot female

You know another great thing about Sex and the City? This show gave curly hair a sexier image!

Think about the time when it first hit our TV screens: I think everyone wanted to have straight Rachel hair and we spent hours with straighteners and hair dryers trying to achieve this look. For some girls this came easily as they were naturally blessed with poker-straight hair but for some of us it was a bit more of a challenge. But it was the fashion and we all suffered for it!

But then came Sarah Jessica Parker and all of a sudden having curly hair wasn’t a fashion disgrace – in fact, it could be the opposite. You could see that the catwalks now had models with curls, magazines suddenly had pictures of girls in less-than-straight hair: curly hair was vindicated.

I myself have wavy hair so, to be honest, it could go either way. It isn’t terribly difficult to straighten it but it does take time and it is quicker to get it to go curly. I hadn’t really embraced my curly side since the 80s when poodle perms were all the rage – possibly because of the lasting effect of this look on me! So I experimented one day and let my hair curl and the response was so good that I haven’t really looked back since. Sure, I still straighten my hair every once in a while but now I’m curly and proud. I am sure that it even suits me more and when it looks good it fills me with confidence.

A similar thing is happening with my running these days – although I can’t claim to have lost lots of weight or even inches, the small changes I have noticed make me feel good. I feel much, much fitter than I have felt in a long time and I also like the fact that my trousers are a little looser, that my skirts feel a little nicer and that my legs are a little more toned. Some changes are very small but enough for me to notice and gives my confidence a huge boost.

I have noticed that I walk with my head held tall these days and that I am proud of what I look like. Sure, I may not look anything like those skinny minnies all over the magazines but I know that I look great for me. It is such a great feeling and I know it comes from running and all the exercise I am trying to do these days.

I know there is still work to be done and some weight to be lost but I am confident I will slowly get there, in a healthy and sustainable way. I am actually enjoying the process and definitely enjoying this boost of confidence. There will be no stopping me now: I am confident, strong, smart, healthy, stunning and with a head full of soft, brown, spiral curls!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Somehow running in silence has never been an option

Running isn’t something that comes naturally to me – I have to work at it and fight my natural tendency to be lazy. There are three main things that motivate me to get out there:

  1. The desire for sunshine and to be out on a lovely day (which makes treadmill running extra-hard)
  2. The knowledge that I need to exercise to get fitter and to lose some weight, especially if I don’t want to go on one of those restrictive diets
  3. The need to take some time out and listen to my music

I really can’t control the weather (I've tried) and the improved fitness takes care of itself once I’m out there, so the one thing I can control 100% is my music. As long as the MP3 is charged up, that’s one less thing to worry about and very often, the choice of music is what pushes me through a less-than-great run.

So what music do I listen to? I’ve written a little before about my eclectic music choices when I am running. But what does my playlist actually look like? Well, I’m actually constantly refining it and now is a good time to share what is working for me when I’m running. Bear in mind that these days I’m running short sessions of 5k or less so I don’t need hours and hours of music – back in my marathon training days I did need much longer playlists as I was out there for 3 or 4 hours at a time!

My ideal playlist will start with something funky yet easy to warm up with. Something like “One day in your life” by Anastacia or “Lady Marmalade” from Moulin Rouge is great to get me in the mood for a run. Speaking of Moulin Rouge, “Rhythm of the Night” is a great song to follow up with, as it’s up-tempo and I can’t help but run faster (but it’s not too fast for my slow pace).

As I pick up the pace I like almost anything by Cascada, like “Every time we touch” because all her music has the same beat! It may not make a great album but it means that I have around 8 songs that all are the perfect tempo to help me run fast but not too fast. For sheer fun I also like to include some music from High School Musical (1 and 2!). The tempo for some of these is a bit slow for a run but I imagine myself dancing along to the music and it makes time pass quickly.

But what about the pure Disney songs? Well, I do listen to lots of those too. My favourite running ones are “Welcome to the Magic Kingdom” (which has the lyrics “I’m walking right down the middle of Main St USA…” and it’s very easy to close my eyes and imagine I’m doing just that!), the music from California Screamin’ and the Epcot Fountain of Nations (like “Iron Will”, “Rocketeer”, “Standing in Motion” and “Surprise in the Skies”), “Just like we dreamed it” from Disneyland Paris and “I’ll make a man out of you” from Mulan. Very inspiring!

There are also a few other pop songs that always put a spring in my step, like “Outside” with George Michael, “Rock your body” by Justin, “Wannabe” from The Spice Girls and “Gold” from Spandau Ballet. I do have quite a few Gloria Estefan songs in there as well as Wham, Blue, S Club 7, Jennifer Lopez, Steps, Ricky Martin and even Barry Manilow. I’m sure I’m forgetting many others!

When the run is winding to a close there are lots of great songs I can pick for that, like “We go on” which is an Epcot song just like another great one: “Promise”. I also love to use the music from “Soarin’” because it’s inspiring and it can sometimes make me feel like I’m flying! I also like “Arthur’s Theme” – an oldie from Chris Cross and most of George Michael’s ballads while I’m cooling down and stretching.

So there you have it – a very eclectic mix of music that keeps me energized while I run and at the same time it also helps to make the session more enjoyable and fun.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Into another dimension

This morning I arrived at my desk at work before almost everyone else and, after filling up my water bottle, took a drink. The little red tip of my bottle fell onto the floor and I briefly saw it bounce on the blue carpet after disappearing.

When I looked for the lid, it was nowhere to be found. It is bright red and should stand out against the blue carpet, not to mention that the office is very tidy so there aren't that many places to hide. Well, I've spent the whole of the day trying to figure it out: where is that little red cap? I've had a real good look around and even checked my clothes and all around but nothing.

I saw it bounce on the floor - I'm sure I did. As it's now totally disappeared I think that it may have found a 'window' into another world and it's now sitting there, unable to return to our world. It's the only explanation!

A very productive crop!

I went to my all-day crop yesterday in Olney and had a very enjoyable and productive time. There was such nice atmosphere there yesterday and we all chatted and gossiped and created amazing layouts as well as trying some very yummy cakes) I worked mainly on my Florida album which focuses on all the other things we did while down there in January except for the marathon (because as you know that is the subject of a separate album).

Some of the pages I worked on yesterday are below.
I'm trying to stick to a very limited supply list for this album, which makes the job easier as well as creates a unified look. So the patterned paper is mainly DCWV (Pocket full of posies), the cardstock is both Bazzill and DCWV, and the chipboard flowers are Maya Road. The Journaling is on Seven Gypsies cards or using Autumn Leaves fantastic journaling stamps. I also used letter stamps from Autumn Leaves and Rusty Pickle and even some Heidi Swapp ghost letters.

This first one is simply showing the memorabilia for Samuel's 200 yard race and also a fantastic Mickey given to me by a very generous friend!


I used another one of these amazing Mickeys on the LHS of my Pop Century layout. As the hotel is full of crazy shapes and colors I tried to do the same with my layout. I spent quite a while walking around it the morning after the marathon, both taking photos for the album and also to make sure my legs didn't hate me too much after what they'd been through the previous day.

This is the RHS of the Pop Century layout, complete with memorabilia which I love to use!

The day after the marathon we checked out of the Pop Century and drove down to Kennedy Space Center where my son could enjoy the rockets and all the space stuff, so this is the first of a few layouts about this visit. I may be the first person to ever use glittery flowery paper on a NASA layout but, to me, this pattern sort of reminded me of galaxies while still tying in with the style I'm using for the album.

I had a lot of photos I took during the tour, so a double layout just for them was in order. Notice the shiny stuff on the paper, very spacey... well, that is a section I cut out of my foil marathon blanket! Creative or what?


I had seen the simply gigantic Saturn V rocket a long time ago and seeing it again reminded me of just how BIG this thing is. My son really likes rockets at the moment so this was a big moment! Here is the double layout with photos I took of the rocket, trying very hard to convey a sense of scale of just how gigantic this is.
We then spent the night in Cocoa Beach and for one reason or another I didn't take any photos of our stay there... but I did pick up the usual maps and business cards and stuff. So I thought I had enough to work on, especially as we actually had some of our best meals in Cocoa Beach and this way I can remember the name of the restaurants and recommend them or even visit again! Note the fantastic journaling tag, made just for me by my friend Lynsey.



Finally, a cute layout celebrating our arrival in Ft Lauderdale. It was so nice to work on such a sunny and warm layout on a day that was almost the opposite of that around here... I experimented a little on this layout and used my Gel white pen to outline the sticker letters. I think it looks quite nice but it is unnerving to have to wait until the ink is dry to see what it actually looks like. This is probably why I don't use this pen often enough. I made a few more layouts during the crop but I just simply didn't photograph them! Hopefully this is a good sample of what the vacation album is beginning to look like.

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