Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Lovely Day or, Just A Little Further

Yesterday started out foggy and cloudy and then proceeded to just be cloudy.   Not a ray of sun to be seen.   But, I forged on and decided to run some errands and get the most out of my day.
After running two of my errands I didn't feel like walking back to the apartment and thought I'd take in some sights.  I remembered seeing something called Roman Gardens and decided to check it out. But, alas, I was distracted.   On my way to the Gardens I found this:

Whatever could this be?   Come to find out these are ruins of the St. John the Baptist Church.   The church was founded in 689 and still stands but these ruins are parts of former chapels.   A very intriguing part of these ruins is a coffin that has been embedded in one of the walls.
There are many mysterious legends about this coffin but from everything I've researched it seems that a church sexton came across this coffin while digging a grave and at the request of the rector, it was placed in this recess in the wall.   The words on the coffin say, "Dust to Dust".   The coffin has been dated to the latter part of the 15th century.
Another picture of the ruins.

After walking in and around the ruins I felt I had been transported to an earlier time.   It was surprisingly silent with the occasional bird chirping or pigeon cooing.   And then out of the corner of my eye I spied a bridge.   A bridge??   That marked the end of my time travel to medieval times and off I went to explore a bridge.   But wait...what about the errands I had left?   I decided to put those off for a while and so I went just a little further.

I came across the Queen's Park Suspension Bridge.   This is a footbridge that connects the city of Chester to a southern district called Handbridge and crosses the River Dee.

A view from the bridge.  There looks to be a very cute coffee shop on the left. 

Another view from the bridge.  You can see the river in this picture.  It's very beautiful.

After spending some time enjoying the view I made my way back and through a park filled with birds and squirrels.  This walk through historical ruins, a beautiful bridge with wonderful views, and green, luscious trees and grass was exactly what I needed.  For fear of getting maudlin, it was a walk to revive the soul and shake away the cobwebs of homesickness.  It was a perfect place to spend the afternoon regardless of it being a cloudy day.  And all because I went just a little bit further.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to their week.  As always, good health to you!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Well, there's no good way of sugar-coating this so I'll just put it out there.  After three weeks, I'm homesick.

The first two weeks in Chester were beautiful.  Weather in the 80s, sunny all day, and a slight subtle breeze in the air to keep you cool .  My husband's co-workers all commented on the fact that they hadn't had weather like that in ages.  Oh, oh, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the trip, does it?

And then...traditional English weather reared its ugly head.   All week it has been in the 50s, cloudy, not a drop of sun in the sky, and rainy. 

Needless to say, this weather doesn't make for good walking about town weather and I've been spending a good deal of time indoors.

I have been able to start writing again so I guess that's a good thing.

Here is a random smattering of things I miss:

1.  Seinfeld.  2.  Conan O'Brien.  3.  Chicken wings. 
4.  Annie's gluten-free mac & cheese
(yes, it's very random...)

I, of course, miss my mom (who god bless her is keeping watch over the house and children), my wonderful writing groups (shout out to Coffee & Critique and Saturday Writers), my awesome neighbors who are also helping to take care of the house (shout out to Kathy and Eddie!) and my four-legged children.

There are a few things that I'm enjoying whilst here:

1.  The mascot for EDF Energy.  I'm not quite sure what he is but he's super cute and on a bunch of commercials.  2.  Come Dine With Me (Shout out to my friend Norma for introducting me to this show.).  3.  Pork Belly (They love pork belly here and I love them for that.).  4.  Stella Artois (I know you can get this in the States but for some reason it just tastes better here.). 

On a Crohnie note, for some reason my appetite has really gone downhill since I've been here.  One very important thing for us is to eat little bits of food throughout the day so as to not shock our digestive system.  Well, it's hard to eat when you're not hungry.  But that, in turn, also messes with our digestive system so it's a no-win situation.  Has anyone else encountered losses in appetite whilst traveling?  All in all though, my health is well and I haven't had any horrible stomach aches or bathroom issues.

So here's hoping to a sunnier week and continued good health!

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Lesson Learned The Hard Way

There are many ways to learn lessons.  When we are little we get our beginning lessons from parents, family members, teachers, and friends.  As life goes on we learn from experiences, repetition, and sometimes strangers can be the bearers of a life lesson.  But the lessons that stick with us are the ones where you seriously f'ed something up.  Hence the title of this post.  I not only f'ed something up but I have since learned from it, am still living with the repercussions of it, and am still berating myself over it.

In order to keep my Crohn's disease at bay I take a medicine called Humira.  Humira is what they call a TNF-inhibitor drug.  TNF, or tumor necrosis factor, is a protein molecule that can promote inflammation in the body which can cause autoimmune diseases.  A TNF-inhibitor drug does what it says, it inhibits these molecules which helps the body to not develop flares.

There are many types of TNF-inhibitor drugs out there such as Remicade, Enbrel, and Cimzia, and they are used in cases of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Crohn's.  In fact, some of you might have seen the new Humira commericals or the Enbrel commerical with golfer Phil Mickelson who suffers from psoriatic arthritis. 

One of the differences in these drugs is how they are administered.  Remicade, for instance, requires a visit to the hospital for an infusion.  I'm lucky enough to use Humira which is an injectable medicine I can use at home.  Very quick and convenient. 

When this trip to England came about my first concern was traveling with Humira as it has to be kept between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit.  Not only that, I now had to go through TSA at the airport and customs in Manchester.  How would they deal with Humira?  And so, the research and testing began.

I called TSA and they told me that if I were to travel with an ice pack, it must be frozen completely.  Any sign of thawing and they would confiscate it.  Ok, no problem.  I then called the airline and they told me they would be happy to accomodate my medicine on the flight over to England.  Great.  I also got a letter from my gastroentorologist explaining why I was on Humira and I had my prescription as well.  Things were coming together.

So my mom bought a travel bag that contained removable ice packs and I tested it against the travel bag I already had with built-in ice packs.  After four days we came to the conclusion that the smaller bag stayed cold longer and the ice packs remained frozen longer.  Perfect.

Off to the airport we went.  TSA didn't bat an eye when I told them I had injectable drugs with me.  One hurdle was cleared so I breathed a sigh of relief and got on my flight to Atlanta.  I knew the pack would stay cold during that flight so I didn't bother to get any extra ice for the bag.  And then I was on my flight to Manchester.  I spoke with a lovely flight attendant who brought me ice for my bag.  Dry ice.  Without giving it a second thought, I put the ice in between the two boxes of medicine in the bag, zipped it back up, sat back and relaxed.

Two hours later I checked on the bag and took the ice out since it was nice and chilly.  I left the ice out for the remainder of the flight.  As we were getting ready to land I thought I'd better get a bit more ice that would tide the medicine over while I went through customs, got my luggage, and drove to Chester.  Everything went well.  Until...

...my husband told me that I had probably frozen the medicine. 

I quickly ripped open the boxes of Humira and took out each individual shot (or pens, as they're called) and looked through the tiny opening the pen has so you can see the actual liquid inside.  One was fogged over.  Crap.  One was very sluggish when I turned the pen upside down.  Double crap.  The other two were frozen and starting to thaw.  *%#*&@))  Every expletive known to man came out of my mouth.  Sorry mom.  :(

Rule number one about Humira: NEVER FREEZE IT!

I landed on a Saturday which meant I had to wait the weekend before I could call anyone.  Two entire days of me beating myself up for doing the most stupidest thing on the planet.  They were not good days despite the fact that I was now in a beautiful town in England.

Finally, Monday arrived.  BUT!  I can't call anyone until three in the afternoon because of the time difference.  The people I had to call were six hours behind me.  I decided to walk around town and kill some time getting to know the neighborhood.  I did get my library card which was pretty much the only good thing to come out of the day.  At three I made my way back to the apartment to start what would prove to be an annoying amount of phone calls.

First, I called my pharmacy.  Verdict: they can't ship overseas because they cannot guarantee the integrity of the medicine.  Fair enough.

Second, I called a nurse that works with patients that take Humira.  Verdict: she was dumb.  I'm sorry, but she was.  She told me that FedEx doesn't ship overseas.  Really?  Is that why they have a fleet of airplanes?  I was done talking to her at that point.

Third, I called my gastroentorologist at his office.  Verdict: he wasn't in so I had to leave a message. 

Fourth, I called my gastroentorologist on his private cell phone.  I was desperate!  Verdict: he was on vacation but more than happy to help.  He did manage to tell me that none of his patients had ever done what I did.  I guess I'm a cautionary tale in his office now.  He said he would make some phone calls and call me back.  About an hour later, he did.  He wanted me to speak with the makers of Humira to confirm that I couldn't take frozen and thawed out Humira and I was to call him back.

Fifth, I called the makers of Humira.  Verdict: You cannot take frozen and thawed out Humira.  They've never done testing on it so they have no idea how the body will react to the medicine once it has been affected in this manner.  Plus, the integrity of the medicine has been compromised so it would be like taking a placebo.  Useless.

Sixth, I called my gastroentorologist back.  Verdict: he was in contact with his Humira representative to see if he could get some samples for me.  He asked me to call his assistant and she would help me in getting these.

Seventh, I called the assistant.  Verdict: one of the sweetest people I have ever spoken to and she was more than happy to help.  I can't tell you how nice it was to come across a helpful and cheerful person while in the midst of a crisis. 

After nearly four hours of phone calls, I cried for an hour.  Okay, I may or may not be able to get samples.  If I did, how would they get to England?  If I didn't, how much time could I go without Humira before having to go back home to get more?  This was Monday.

On Tuesday my gastroentorologist called to say that samples were on their way and if I could have someone pick them up, they were mine.  I'm not a religious person but I thanked whoever might be up there watching us.  My mom was now on the case of getting the samples.

The issue of getting them to England was also resolved.  But they were coming to London so my husband and I would have to drive over to get them.

Last Thursday we left for London, picked up the medicine, met up with some friends, and in 24 hours we were on the road, back home to Chester.  And the medicine was good. 

Bad news: I take a shot every other week so after taking a shot on June 1, the next one is due June 15 and then I'm out of medicine again.

Good news: There is more on the way.

I cannot even begin to thank everyone that has helped me with this ridiculously crazy matter.  There are friends out there to whom I owe big favors.  And not to mention my mom and my husband.

What did I learn from all of this??  DON'T FREEZE HUMIRA!!!!  Lesson learned.  I hang my head in shame.

To all of you out there that take this medicine and need to travel with it, it was pretty easy to get through TSA and on the airplane.  Just don't take the dry ice the flight attendants want to give you.  Ask for normal ice.  And to all of us out there that take TNF-inhibitors, may the day come when we no longer need these drugs because maybe, just maybe, someone has found a cure to autoimmune disorders.

And with that I wish you all good health.  And be sure to thank the people in your lives that you know would go that extra mile for you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Historic Event

A few days ago I kept seeing these signs pop up around town:

I couldn't believe the torch was coming our way and was very excited about it.  I have always been a huge fan of the Olympics (summer or winter, it doesn't matter to me) and this was a big deal for me.  I still remember the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and all the records that Michael Phelps broke and am as anxious as everyone else to see if he can do it again.  I actually cry at the opening ceremonies from excitement and then cry at the closing ceremonies because I'm so sad it's over.  Yeah, yeah, drama...

So the day finally arrived!  Thankfully, my husband got back from work on time and we made our way down to the street that was on the torch's path.  Luckily for us it was, literally, right in front of our apartment building.  And what a moment!  Although it went by quite quickly, it was still a moving moment to see this torch that had been lit in Olympia, Greece and had made its way to England and all throughout the country.  I am proud to say that I was part of that moment.

Afterwards, we went for a beer at the Watergate.  This really laid back pub that is less than five minutes from the apartment and right at the entrance to the racecourse.  It made for great people watching.

As happy as I am that I was able to witness this historic event, I'm very happy to be able to share it with all of you.

I wish you all good health and a wonderful week!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

One Week Down, Many More To Go

It's official, I've been in Chester for one week.  I've done some exploring, am slowly learning the history of this lovely town, gone through a very stressful situation (more on that later), and have learned the following things:

1.  When crossing the street, LOOK RIGHT!  We, as Americans, are trained to look left first and then right.  Well, everything here is backwards and old habits die hard.  When I get to the corner I tell myself, "Look right.  Look left.  Look right again."  So far, so good. 

2.  There is a wonderful show on British TV called "Come Dine With Me".  The premise is that four strangers are brought together to have dinner at each other's homes.  Over the course of four days, each person holds their own dinner party while the other three judge the food from 1 to 10.  Whoever gets the most points wins 1000 pounds (roughly $1500).  We definitely need an American version of this show.

3.  It doesn't get dark here until after 10pm.  I'm not used to so much sunlight in one day but it is quite nice.

4.  People here eat late; usually 9pm or later.  I, for one, enjoy the late dinner but when my husband has to go to work at five or six in the morning we don't always get to partake in that tradition.

5.  The people here love American music.  Case in point: my husband and I were at a bar last night that had a DJ and next thing you know, everyone in the bar is singing along to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing"!  I didn't know Journey was so popular here. 

6.  A cooktop, or stovetop, is called a hob.

7.  I cannot make heads or tails of cricket. 

8.  The bartenders take the art of making cocktails very seriously.  They mix the ingredients in a shaker and then taste it and adjust accordingly.  This reminds me of chefs that taste their food before serving it to make sure it is properly seasoned.   

9.  And last but definitely not least but probably the grossest, eating the worm at the bottom of a bottle of tequila is so last year.  The popular thing now is (drumroll please) Scorpion Vodka.  Yuck.

That's it my friends.  In order to get rid of the bad taste the scorpion might have left in your mouth, here is a picture of the Eastgate Clock of Chester:

This clock stands on the site of the original entrance to the city and is the most photographed clock in England, after Big Ben.

I hope everyone is having a lovely weekend.  Enjoy your Sundays and, as always, good health to you all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dining In

My husband and I had our first dinner in since we've both been here.  I was a bit hesitant, at first.  What do I make?  How do I make it in this tiny kitchen?  And most of all, how do I cook on an electric stove and a Celsius degree oven?

So, first things first.  Keep it simple!  We had gone grocery shopping a few days ago and had chicken in the freezer, along with onions and garlic.  I decided to just get some basics and headed to small, local grocery store.  I loaded up on potatoes, green beans, and some cheese to nibble on beforehand.  And of course I couldn't resist the wine shop on the way home. 

Next came the issue of the oven.  I asked my husband to figure out what the Celsius equivalent of 375 Farenheit was and off I went.  It's been years since I've cooked on an electric stove and now I know why I don't like it!!  I can't control the heat and it takes foreeeeever to heat.  Well, you gotta use, what you got.  So I figured it out and managed to sear the chicken, crisp up the potatoes and then throw the whole thing in the oven for 40 minutes.  In the meantime I sauteed some onions and garlic and once they were soft, I put in the green beans.  I poured in some water, covered it all, and let it steam. 

And voila:

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the green beans but here is the chicken with potatoes and onions.  The chicken was cooked throughout and the skin was crispy.  Yum!  The green beans were a bit crunchy but all in all, the meal was great.  (In fact, I just walked away from my laptop to steal a few leftover potatoes.)

Here is a pic of the Celsius side of the oven:

And the second best part of all , the meal being the best part, was the cleaning up.  A small kitchen equals not so much cleaning.  I put dishes in the dishwasher, washed the pans, wiped down the countertop, and done! 

I'm looking forward to our next weekend excursion to the grocery store and new recipes for me to try out.  I'm thinking fish stew...

To all of you out there, I wish you good health and good eats!  Until tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Apartment Bound

Today I accomplished one thing: I washed my hair.  I actually didn't leave the apartment until 6pm and spent the day inside.  I'm sure you are saying to yourselves, "What?  She did what?  But she's in England!  How dare she not go exploring!"  My excuse?  A combination of jet lag, stress, and moving anxiety.  My body has several responses to stress.  The main one usually involves stomach pain and many, many trips to the bathroom.  Sometimes I get highly annoyed and irritated at everyone and everything.  And the least severe of them, I sleep.  Turns out, I've been sleeping a lot since I've been here.  I haven't been able to put myself on anything that resembles a sleeping schedule but hopefully I can get it together in the next few days.  Then again, if sleep is the way it has to go, I'll take that over having to search for a bathroom when I'm out and about.

In the meantime, here are some pictures I took yesterday during my wanderings.

This is the River Dee which is a 70-mile long river in the United Kingdom.  The river is on the other side of our apartment building and has a lovely walkway alongside it with benches for resting.  I hope to spend time here being inspired.

This is The Water Tower of Chester which is conveniently located in a park close to the apartment.  The tower was constructed in the 1320s.  Its original use was to control shipping and taxes into the port of Chester and because the tower was in the actual river, ships could be moored around the base.

An old-fashioned British phone booth!!  Yes, although there are few and far between, they still exist.

And the most important picture of all: my new library card!!  Although I'll only be here for a few months, they were more than happy to issue me my own personal card.  Aaah...life is good!  And yes, this is a shameless plug for the Saturday Writers.

With this I wish you all a wonderful day and good health.  And in honor of being told that England invented drinking (with the Irish and Scottish perfecting it) I leave you with this quote from Phyllis Diller:

Good Heath - what my friends drink to, before they fall down.