Thursday, 31 December 2009

Hot Springs on a frigid night, farewell to a long time comrade, and an evening with the CUTEST kid ever...

Family,

And a good evening to you from the Mountain Fortress in Whitesburg, TN on the LAST DAY OF THE YEAR! Honestly, HOW is that possible? I'm not sure, but there's little to no time for contemplation, as we're just a scant 4 hours from VOL BALL, baby! Deets and Hardee - your Hokies are GOIN' DOWN. I don't care what 82% of America says (according to ESPN - what do they know about sports?), the Vols will reverse the curse of the Georgia Dome...as long as CP stays in Colorado, that is.

So the last 3 days have been simply FANTASTIC. When I got on that plane to come home on December 18th, I had no idea how AMAZING my time at home would be or how much fun I would have. Between all the good food, great gifts, and the trip to Opryland, I didn't think my time at home could get much better. Boy, was I wrong...

On the 29th we got up and rolled over to Dad's, where we headed out for a "mystery destination." 3 hours and a stop-over at Cracker Barrel later, we arrived in a spot I have NEVER been to in all my days in the Volunteer or Tarheel states - Hot Spring, NC.

Talk about a BLAST. This place is a TINY little town now BOOMING because of the rock slide on I-40. There are only about 3 places to eat in town, and they are RAMMED now because of the influx of traffic. Thank goodness we booked in advance!

So we showed up and checked in at the Iron Horse Station, an old pullman hotel now converted into a great little hotel. Our room was SO CUTE, and the entire place was like something out of a movie. We took a walk along the French Broad River for about 90 minutes before rolling down to the Iron Horse Station Restaurant (yep, the owner is like Boss Tweed - he pretty much runs the ENTIRE town).

So a little back story - Hot Springs got its name from...wait for it...wait for it...some hot springs in the town (I know, I know - I can sure write a cliffhanger). These hot springs were the reason for our visit, and we'd booked a hot tub for 9 PM. Knowing that the pace of life moves a little slower in Hot Springs and wanting to ensure that we had ample time to eat before dinner, we grabbed a table at 6:50 PM, just in time for the start of "Open Mike night."

And while the music was very good, the service wasn't. At 7:28 PM, we still hadn't seen hide nor hair of our waitress, and I was starting to get the shakes because I hadn't had a drink in almost 4 hours. Luckily, the host came over and took our order, and just a scant 40 minutes later we finally had drinks (Highland Mocha Stout - Wags, I knew you'd be proud) and some of the BEST Southern fried chicken I've had in a long time). All in all, a successful run.

We then went to the hot springs for the marquee event of the evening - the hour in the hot tub. This was GREAT! Jenny and I had a private tub (please keep the jokes to a minimum), which was basically a lean-to shed with a tin roof. It was only 20 degrees outside, so I actually wore a beanie for the first 10-15 minutes, but the water was GREAT and practically every star in the night sky was visible through the openings in the roof. It was AWESOME! Well, except the part where you have to get out and FREEZE YOUR ASS OFF.

We caught the tail end of the bowl game that night (no TV in the room, but a 60 inch one was in the bar) before PASSING OUT. We are talking one of the BEST nights of sleep I've had in a long time.

The next morning we had a great breakfast at a local dive before heading back through exotic Newport, TN (Miller - think of this as a "big Tazewell"). We then stopped back at home for 90 minutes or so before rolling back to Knoxville to spend the night with the Rice clan. It was during this time, that I was forced to bid farewell to a true solider at arms. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, after 23 WONDERFUL years of service, the Bronco has officially given up the ghost. After carrying dad and I all the way to the International Peace Gardens, carrying me, Adam, and Pattie to countless ball games, and serving as the official vehicle of Russellville athletics for 2 decades, it has FINALLY set sail into the West. Dad, don't worry - I'll pour a little Fat Tire out for it tonight to honor its memory. Good times, and hey - at least the memory of Ranger Rowdy lives on.

Next up - the gourmet feast at casa de Rice. So we arrive to be greeted with a growler of Cherokee Red, some of the finest brew in the Volunteer State. But that was just the teaser, as dinner was OFF THE CHAIN! Picture asparagus wrapped in prosciutto ham, the SIGNATURE hash brown casserole, broccoli salad, and then...TWO KINDS OF RIBS (country and baby back). You talk about eating like KINGS - Henry VIII never ate like this. FULL MARKS, GUYS!!!! THANKS SO MUCH! And just wait until you see the photo of muffin puffin and I rockin' our new Vol gear!

We spent the evening and this morning hanging out with them, having a GREAT time catching up and debating the merits of firing Mike Leach. Can't wait to see you guys again in 2010! Sam will be mobile by then!

Okay, gotta run and eat the bountiful New Year's "snack" that mom and Steve have prepared for us. But just so we're clear - "snack" means about 20 pounds of sausage balls, cantelope, country ham biscuits, sausages, and all the cake and cookies you could ever want. Mom said, "This will be a good appetizer before dinner tonight." Honestly, this is only an appetizer IF YOU ARE KING KONG. All the same, who's NOT complaining? THIS GUY...

That's all the news that's fit to print. Look for the second post later today - the Year (and Decade) in Review!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Monday, 28 December 2009

Christmas in Dixie - recapping 4 AMAZING days in the Smokies...

Family,

And a good evening to you from the Mountain Fortress in Whitesburg, TN. WOW - what can I say other than the fact that these last 4 days have reminded me why I love this country and this state so much, and that, once we're done "livin' the dream," there will be SO MUCH to come home to. Apologies in advance for no photos, but the PC here at mom's house doesn't have SD read capability. However, should you check this puppy and re-read this blog once I'm back in the UK, I promise you'll be treated to all the "Taylor family photos" you could ever want.

So Christmas eve was great. We started with a SUPER EASY drive over the mountain - I couldn't BELIEVE how few cars were on 26. Bob and Jan, fret not - we were SUPER gentle with the victory van. Let me just say that I wouldn't have dreamed she could handle so well on those curves at 95 mph - she corners like she's on rails. I'll try to get her up on 2 wheels on the drive home...

4.5 hours later, we rolled into the Mountain Fortress, where we bonded with Steve and Mom for about an hour before driving to my old church, Trinity United Methodist, for a candlelight Christmas Eve service. Then it was off to the oldest time-honored tradition in my Tennessee Christmas memory - dinner at Grandmother's.

This year was certainly a bit different, as it was the first year without granddaddy there. However, the rest of the gang was there and in full force, and it was a GREAT NIGHT with the family. Between all the FANTASTIC FOOD, courtesy of the Taylor women - and we're talking squash casserole, two types of hashbrown casserole, strawberry salad (the true Taylor staple), turkey, ham, broccoli casserole, and enough deserts to feed the Viet Cong for 10 years - and all the laughs, it was a GREAT night. Also, props to Uncle Scottie for tackling the toughest task of the night - stepping in to give the blessing, which was the post that granddaddy had held every other Christmas of my life. Full marks.

It was then back to dad's for gifts, relaxation, and the presentation of THREE CASES of wine to my stepmom. Hey man - she LOVES three buck chuck - what's a stepson to do? We handed out the gifts and had a great night kicking back and taking it easy, leaving about 11:45 and rolling back to mom's at midnight. From there, it was off to bed.

Christmas Day was just, well, simply perfect. We got up about 9:30, had a nice cup of coffee while we started on presents, and then cleaned up before heading over to Nanny's for the other time-honored tradition of my childhood - Christmas Dinner at Nanny's. SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies).

Turkey, ham, more squash casserole, CREAMY mashed potatoes (complete with 2.5 sticks of butter - Paula Dean would be so proud), green bean casserole, rolls, dressing, and THE BEST Red Velvet cake I've ever had made this a Christmas dinner to remember. However, the best part was seeing everyone again and relaxing all afternoon. Chuck - you'll be happy to know that "Nanny's Money Fund" is still alive and well, and best of all - Jenny's the newest member of the club! Winner, winner, chicken dinner...AND we got some of Nanny's candy. I'll let you have some, but only if you finally break down and agree to let Martin sit on your porch when he visits Atlanta.

That evening we finished opening gifts at mom's before rolling back over to dad's for a few brewskis and an evening of catching up. Again, all in all - a VERY good night.

The last three days (December 26-28) have been SO MUCH fun. Mom, Steve, Jenny, and I all rolled to Nashville, where we spent 2 days tooling around the Opryland Hotel. They pull out ALL THE STOPS for Christmas, and this year certainly didn't disappoint.

A true highlight was on the way down (and no, it wasn't the Cracker Barrell dinner...although that was SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD), as we popped into Johnny's place and....wait for it...wait for it...MET SAM!!!!!! Dudes - she is SO CUTE. We are talking absolutely adorable. I held her for about 30 minutes, during which time she sneezed on me about 7 times but never released any other bodily fluids. All in all, I would consider that a success. Can't wait to see her again on Wednesday!

We then pressed onto Nashville, where we checked in and promptly headed to downtown, where we crossed a MAJOR "Tennessean to-do" off the list - THE GRAND OLE OPRY!!!

I gotta tell you - I don't know what I expected, but this FAR EXCEEDED any expectations I had. It was SO MUCH FUN!!! So here's how it works - there are 4 portions, each 30 minutes. Within each portion, you have 3 or 4 acts, and they each perform 2 songs. You get some bluegrass, old stuff, and new country in the mix, and it's an absolute BLAST. And the kicker is that, between each performer, there is a commercial performed live (and woven in very well) on stage! Since it's broadcast on the radio, the commercials help fund the show (much like our $50 a seat, I imagine...).

The highlight of the show HAD TO HAVE BEEN Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Mountain Express. This cat rolls out in a BRIGHT BLUE Zoot Suit, and I am cackling thinking how terrible he's gonna be. However, he then says, "When I wrote this song 42 years ago, I had no idea it would be the best thing that ever happened to me. More than that, I had no idea that, in 1982, it would become the state song of Tennessee." That's right, ladies and gentlemen - on Saturday night, I stood up and sang Rocky Top at the Grand Ole Opry, led by the cat THAT ACTUALLY WROTE THE SONG. As a Tennessean, it will forever remain one of the COOLEST THINGS I've ever done. If you aren't a Vol fan, odds are you just won't understand...

The next day was a GREAT one as well - from one of THE BEST buffet breakfasts I've ever had (can someone say 8 strips of thick cut bacon? Yep, I know what healthy is...) to wandering around the hotel gardens to an hour in the hot tub (since she didn't have her suit, check out JT's make-shift bathing suit) to watching football in Rusty's Bar while drinking Yazoo Pale Ale (and JT FINALLY getting a real Margarita), it was a GREAT afternoon. We had a room with an indoor balcony, and it was SO COOL to overlook all the vegetation and the gardens. And honestly, I'm just SO GLAD that my mom's headache went away!

The highlight of the night was dinner at the Old Hickory Steakhouse, where we ate LIKE KINGS. Picture a 10 oz grass fed filet covered in Stilton Cheese, the Cheese Experience (where a cheese peddler brings them to your table to sample), some GREAT Syrah, and a DELICIOUS creme brulee, and you have a recipe for one of THE BEST (and CERTAINLY the most expensive) meals I've ever had. I can't WAIT to show you guys pics!

This morning was fun as well, as we rolled over to ICE!, an exhibit they do every Christmas at Opryland. This year's theme was "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and they used over 2 MILLION POUNDS OF ICE to put the attraction together. Mercifully they give you kevlar jackets to wear, but it was still COLD AS BALLS in there. That being said, it was AWESOME!

Lunch was (I know you'll be shocked) Cracker Barrell, and then on the way home we stopped off at the land we'd purchased (but still hadn't seen) in Knoxville for a look - well done, mom! And while I'm mentioning it, if anybody wants to move to Knoxville and wants to live near a TVA lake...

Now we're back at home, gorging on Cookies and Creme truffles and getting ready to watch the Heels in action against Rutgers. This is my first Heels game of the season - I'm so excited!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. I am going to try and get 2 blogs out on New Year's Eve - one recapping my day with Dad and Alice & our day with the Rice's, followed by the "Year in Review" blog. However, don't shoot me if only the year in review comes out. Chat on Thursday!

Love,

A VERY relaxed, refreshed, and chubby (or should I say "fluffy") Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas at the Tacy's!

Family,

And a good evening to you from Lancaster, SC. NO MORE WORK FOR A WEEK!!!!!! Well, considering I've got calls tomorrow and next week, that's not entirely true, but hey - it's close enough and I'll take what I can get!

So today was a day of Dr.'s appointments (VERY exciting, I know). Appointment #1 was the dentist, where a 70 pound hygenist scrubbed, clawed, brushed, flossed, and pummeled my teeth so hard that every molecule of enamel in my mouth hurt for the next two hours. The only antidote? A tall Starbucks coffee with toffee nut - after Mountain Dew, it is the other nectar of the gods.

Appointment #2 was a visit to OrthoCarolina for the long awaited confirmation of the inevitable - I do, for certain, have a stress fracture. They took 4 x-rays (with nothing to protect the twig and giggleberries but a tiny steel plate, for the record - NO JOKES, BOYS), and the doctor had to stare at the film for about .00000000000005 seconds before he noticed it.

Consequently, check out the new fashion style. Who needs flannel plaid and a cane when you can rock...wait for it...wait for it...henley shirts and the BOOT! But hey - as awkward as it is to walk, at least I know for sure and have a way to heal it now. Price - you think shaving my legs will speed up recovery? In the spirit of Armstrong, I'm gonna start on my biography as well: "It's not about the boot."

The highlight of the night was Christmas dinner and presents with the Tacy family! We had some of THE BEST turkey ever, as well as enough stuffing to kill a small horse (or fill a large bird). I am so full that my stomach feels like an anvil has been deposited inside it, but I will quote the line BJ Freidinger gave me: "Dedication to food isn't eating until it hurts; it's eating WHEN it hurts. Fight through the pain." Well said, Dinger - or should I say, "The most interesting man in the world."

It was a GREAT night, and we had an absolute blast. We even got to see Kim! And while she and Jenny didn't give the epic dance performance we saw in London, it was still a great night.

Tomorrow is the journey over the mountain (on 26 obviously since boulders the size of HOUSES are still laying on I-40) before Christmas Eve with my half the the equation! I can't wait! And so you know, the blog will probably be very sporadic between now and 28 December. I'm hoping to get one in on Christmas night, but no promises.

That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat with you all soon - MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Four meals...four VERY American eating experiences...

Family,

And a good evening to you from the Palmetto State - just one more day of work to go!!!

So the last 36 hours have been a FANTABULOUS tour through American culinary delights. I mean, I might be 15 pounds heavier, but every calorie has been worth however many miles I have to log on the treadmill once my foot is back to normal (so....about 2014).

For starters, I had lunch yesterday with some work peeps at a GREAT burger joint in Charlotte - Nix Burger and Brew. Honestly, tell me how life could possibly be better than fried pickles, sweet tea, and and a BBQ Black and Bleu Burger - LIFE CHANGING. Granted, I asked for rare and ended up with it cooked well done (what I like to call a "UK special"), but it was still so guuuuuuuuuud.

After work, I made a quick stopover at Trader Joe's, where, Alice, you'll be happy to know that I'm now 3 cases of wine heavier for the drive home. Alice - I simply can't tell you how happy I am that you have moved past your "White Zin" days...even if buying "Electric Reindeer" used to be an annual treat for me.

Dinner that night was a Taylor staple and weekly meal ever since moving to the Villages at Eastover - Hawthorne's Pizza! We had SUCH a good time for several reasons, the biggest of which was that we got to hang out with some more of our friends! Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you...Mindy and Craig Miller! Mindy and Craig were married back in April, and Jenny was in their wedding (and the INSANE runway model photo shoot...I mean wedding day photo shoot). They are living in Chapel Hill now, where Craig is getting his MBA at UNC - GO HEELS!

You'll also recognize two familiar faces in this photo - the COUSINS!!! We had such a good time catching up on life; add in a $1.50 deal for any pint and the delicious Pesto pizza (add chicken, of course!), and you've got a recipe for success.

Today was fabulous as well, as lunch today was a turn with the Narvenator, the Closer, the Shogun, and Donkapotamus at a very, VERY sophisticated "owl themed wing establishment" (Shogun - full marks for the commentary). I mean, let's face it - we are some UBER-classy individuals, and I can think of no better place for GHR's finest minds to congregate than...you guessed it - HOOTERS.

We wrapped up the culinary tour this evening at the Tacy household with an AWESOME meatloaf. Throw in some veggies, mashed potatoes, and gravy, and you've got a recipe for success (and obesity). But who's got two thumbs and is EXTREMELY fat and happy? THIS GUY...

Now it's time to watch some more football. And on a side note - is anyone else in SHOCK that we have THIRTY-SEVEN bowl games this season. Really? REALLY? SEVENTY-FOUR TEAMS are in the post-season? Is it really possible that only 23 teams have losing records this season? All of a sudden the Meineke Car Care Bowl doesn't feel so special (insert joke about the ACC as a pee-wee league football conference here).

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A FABULOUS first weekend back in the Queen City...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after two AMAZING days back home. It is SO GREAT to be with friends and family again! Sorry for no blog last night, but as will soon become apparent, that was just not feasible (I know, I know...you can already guess why).

So we started Saturday with some great coffee (Santa's White Christmas - ah how much I've missed half and half!) and a Canada Implementation conference call (breakfast of champions). 75 minutes of discussion on Canadian retirement and associated taxation codes later, I was ready for a trek into the wilds of American shopping malls (insert chill running down my spine here).

On the drive out, I had a FANTASTIC "Welcome to America" bumper sticker. As we prepared to turn onto Providence, I noticed a truck in front of us had the slogan "It is the RESPONSIBILITY (completely in red for emphasis) of ALL Americans to be armed and ready at ALL times." As I digested this fabulous nugget of wisdom, he mashed the gas, at which point I noticed his license plate - SHOOTER. Only in America, ladies and gentlemen. But that's why I love this country - you won't see that on any Smart cars in Chelsea!

Shopping was great. Jenny bounced from store to store, REVELING in the fact that, after 6 months of paying through the nose for everything, we were finally converting stuff to POUNDS! Target felt like a half-off sale! With this profound sense of calm, muffin puffin RACKED UP. And I am happy to report that she looks more stylish than ever.

After a successful run of shopping, we came home about 5 PM, where Jan treated us to a FANTASTIC ham dinner. We then cleaned up and headed uptown, where we kicked off a GREAT night.

Since there were so many folks we wanted to see and just not enough time in Charlotte, GC and Melissa Robinson graciously offered to host us at their place. We rolled up there about 8 PM, where a LONG AND EXTRA AWESOME night started with a bang.

Picture walking into a condo filled with Kanye, Fat Tire, and some GREAT friends that you've haven't seen in ages. Throw in some shots of tequila, a SHITZOO (Wags, that's for you) drinking Sweetwater, and all the Fat Tire you can drink, and you've got a recipe for success. But wait...there's more!!!
Notice the bottle that Melissa (the gal on the far right) is holding. That, my friends, is a bottle of homemade apple wine from 1978!!! That's right - this stuff is OLDER THAN MY WIFE. And let me tell you - that stuff packed a punch. Given that the cork was rotten and fell into the winer, we had to strain it WITH A COFFEE FILTER. After having tasted it, I can confidently say 2 things:
1) Don't smoke around this stuff - it might lead to the next Chernobyl.
2) Always carry some in your car when driving through Death Valley. In the event you run out of gas, this should DEFINITELY carry you to about Vancouver.
It was SO GREAT to catch up with folks, and the evening FLEW by. However, it didn't hit light speed until about 2 AM, at which point we discovered the joys of "Rock Band - World Tour." WOW - dudes, if you haven't tried this, you're letting the best in life just pass you by - OUT OF CONTROL!!!!
So we stayed up until 4 AM playing this, at which point we were about to pass out (and I was hoarse from trying to cover "Livin' on a Prayer"). That thing was SO MUCH fun!
5 hours later, we were back awake and en route to Panera, where we grabbed the usual (that would be 3 asiago cheese bagels, 1 tub of sun-dried tomato cream cheese, and a large cup of Hazelnut coffee) before rolling back home. We then hit the mall again, where we CLOSED DOWN THE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING - BOOYAH!!!
Then it was home for wrapping, where I recharged my batteries with the nectar of the gods. I would tell you what it was, but then again - you already know, don't you...
We're now about to settle down and watch the Carolina Panthers throttle Farve and company at Bank of America Stadium. Come on, boys! Put the Vikings DOWN!!!!
Back to work tomorrow - it's GO TIME for Canada - time to get my game face on!
That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Saturday, 19 December 2009

2009 - A year (and a decade) in review...

Family,




And a good evening to you on the last day of 2009. This particular blog is one that I've been working on for some time now, and my only fear had been that it would accidentally publish before I had the change to complete it properly.




Despite some challenges and some serious emotional heartache, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that 2009 has been the best year of my life. There have been some hurdles, to be sure, and every day has not been a picnic (even if I am absolutely "livin' the dream," which for the record I feel I am. However, the joy that this year has given me (not just from the travel and the work) has been more than any man deserves or could ever hope for.




For starters, my wife and I are more in love than ever. Every day I wake up and look at the woman I married and cannot believe that a) she chose me and b) this is the life we have together. And the fact that marrying her gave me such a wonderful family (Bob, Jan, Kim, Sara, Steve, etc.) is an even greater bonus.




Second, after years of hoping and dreaming, I've slain a dragon and accomplished the goal of living abroad. This experience has been incredible, as evidenced by the 130+ blogs that accompany it. The work, the people, the travel, and the beer - all of it has been more than I could have ever hoped for. I think my buddy BJ said it best: "Taylor's packing 25 years of retirement into 1 - all while STILL getting a paycheck." Truly - it has been a blessing, and I owe a lot of folks for helping me to get here, most notably the Hitman for making it all a reality. Thanks, brother.




Third, I feel closer to my family than ever. Despite the miles, in fact because of the miles, I think I realize now more than ever the value of family and that you should never take family time (be it dinner, a phone call, an email, etc.) for granted. Life moves too fast, and you will regret any chance you pass up to talk to the people who made you who you are and who love you more than anything (no matter how you act). Also, I think of this year as a special year because it is the one where Pattie (my sister) and I have truly developed a friendship. PR - I'm so proud of the young lady you are and that you've got the maturity to make the decisions you've made and are smart enough to know to enjoy your life.




In that same vein, this year has been a huge one for me and Johnny. Not only because of Sam and being a godfather (which is still something too big for me to get my head around), but because, outside Allen Funeral Home at my Grandfather's reception, both crying as it snowed around us, we confirmed once and for all that you don't have to have the same parents to be brothers through and through. I love you, man.




And then there's been the travel, the new experiences, and all that come with it. Laughter, tears, frustration, growth, you name it - there is no substitute for the education and the life experiences travel gives you, and I feel like I've grown in leaps and bounds this year (although, Puma, I STILL wish we'd gone first class on that train in Tunisia).


And I would certainly be remiss if I didn't mention some huge milestones for my family as well. Adam graduated college. Pattie started high school and was the only freshman named to the varsity basketball team. And in one of the most shocking twists of the year, my dad FINALLY got a cell phone (although the Taylors of Cain Mill Road continue to be the only household in America WITHOUT call waiting).

2009 wraps up a decade, and there's no question it's been a big one for us. Jenny and I graduated college, moved to Charlotte, met each other, made out on Jacqueline's couch with about 400 of our closest friends on the floor around us, got married, bought a house, and moved abroad (twice). Within all that, I honestly think that I've figured out who I am and my place in life, and for that I am eternally grateful. More importantly, I've found my soulmate and some AMAZING friends spread out across multiple continents, the former being the single most important thing in my life.




And so, in the spirit of lists that dominate the life of a project manager, I thought that I'd lay out 2009 in review with the 10 memories that stand out in my mind. And so, in no particular order:




1. Watching John Rice knock a FOOT of snow off a grill and then work for 20 minutes (while all I did was drink Fat Tire) to light a grill and cook THE BEST STEAK I'VE EVER HAD in 4 degree weather in Boone, NC (SO GLAD we didn't have to use the oven).




2. Melissa Robinson crying in her cube when we told her that Jenny and I were moving to London (Melissa - you were the first to know, for the record).




3. Staring at an American flag with a cloudless azure sky in the distance, listening to 3 volleys of gunfire - one of youth, one for old age, and one for life eternal. We miss you, Granddaddy.




4. Standing on a balcony you could launch a SPACE SHUTTLE FROM, looking at the CN Tower and Lake Ontario, all while Roger Tise tries to light a grill and cook steak in 15 degree weather (it was snowing, for the record). All I did was drink Stock Ale during this tribulation (see a pattern forming here?).




5. An extra side of bacon at Original Pancake House, trying to absorb the amazing moment of having my mom, dad, and sister all around me.




6. An email from my dad telling me that a generation was over, and realizing that I'd never again see Useless curled up under the stove.




7. A text from Johnny saying: "She's here."




8. The look on Jenny's face (wearing that cute green shirt) when we first dropped our bags at Flat 303, 10 Weymouth Street.




9. Dice in my hand, folks chanting my name (all while wearing a "Price is Right" nametag), taking some joker betting with the house for all his money, rolling back to back 11's at Bill's Gamblin' Hall, and then looking over to see my wife killin' the table at Pai Gow (with 4 drinks in front of her, for the record).




10. Watching a horse race with my dad, experiencing both a childhood full of memories at the track while at the same time finally being about to truly enjoy the highs and the lows with him.




11. Steve Markham sipping on a Spitfire, telling us how amazing it was to have family like this. We love you, brother - don't forget we're always here for you (even if you are a Gator).




12. Dinger walking down the steps of Chuck's place with a tub of frozen cool whip in his hand, finally cooling off the burn that was the Habanero pepper.




13. Seeing Rice holding Sam on Skype and realizing that, at long last, it's happened.




14. Galatta Tower at Sunset, watching Istanbul light up for the evening.




15. The look on Tait Robinson's face when we walked into the Hard Rock Cafe in Denver to surprise him for his graduation.


16. The look on GC Robinson's face when Tom and I stood up in the middle of his wedding to sing "Carolina in my Mind."


17. A flash of images - Mom's eyes, the words "He didn't make it," a mother's hug, and then my stepdad blocking my path to my room and giving me a hug.

18. Singing "Rocky Top" at the Grand Ole Opry with the cat WHO ACTUALLY WROTE IT.

19. Sitting in our "Old Familiar" in Brussels, drinking a triple and thinking about how insane it is that a guy from East Tennessee has a "local in Brussels."

20. Hearing Alice tell someone about a GREAT weekend that dad and I spent together in March (basketball, wings, and even a Science Hill vs. West tournament game), and agreeing with dad's statement that "It felt just like old times."

You will notice that, despite the AMAZING places we've been and things we've seen this year, almost all the memories that stand out are those involving our family and friends on this side of the continent. I take that as all the proof one ever needs to know that there's no place like home, and no substitute for family and friends.




To close, for all those that have been reading the blog - thank you for reading and for all the pings, comments, and emails. I love writing this thing, but there are days when it's tough, and your encouragement and enjoyment keeps me going.




For all those I know and love (whether you read this thing or not) - know that I love you, can't wait to see you again, and wish you a 2010 filled with more than you could ever hope or expect.




To BJ Freidinger - thanks for the advice on the foot. Much appreciated. But for the record - Gunther and Farouk were both WAY out of line.




That's all the news that's fit to print this year! Chat with you in 2010!




Love,




(A very blessed) Sam and Jenny

Despite the snows of the Apocalypse, WE'RE HOME!!!!!!!

Family,

And a good morning to you from...Lancaster, SC! That's right, Team Taylor has made it home safe and sound after a LONG day of travel. But hey, as Dorothy said (or Elphaba, for that matter) - there's no place like home.

So JT popped up at 6:10 AM GMT yesterday, and I was up at 6:30. All the bags packed, we hopped into a "people mover" (also known as a VAN) at 7 am to find negative 2 degree temperatures but clear roads. Given that they had been calling for snow reminiscent to "The Day After Tomorrow," Jenny and I were quite relieved. Oh, so naive...

Two minutes into the trip, the driver gets a phone call. Bearing in mind that we can only hear his half of the conversation, here are his four sentences:

1. "Yep, I'm with the clients now."

2. "Nope, I'm pretty sure they have to fly out today."

3. "No problem - I can wait around there."

4. "Yeah, I'll let them know. Cheers."

This is the point where muffin puffin looks over at me and says, "That didn't sound good." And sure enough...ALL AIRPORTS IN LONDON WERE CLOSED DUE TO SNOW. Odd, I thought, SINCE I COULDN'T SEE A FLAKE OF SNOW ANYWHERE IN A 10 MILE RADIUS. However, I wasn't too stunned. After all, this is a country that suspense rail travel across the nation for such terrifying occurrences as "rain" and "leaves on the rails."

However, as we got closer to the airport, we realized that the reports were true. Whilst most of England was dry, four counties got pounded, one of which was Surrey, where Gatwick airport sits. However, with no options, we rolled on and arrived at Gatwick at 8:30 (fortune did smile, as we were on the ONLY motorway - read "interstate" - that wasn't gridlocked).

As we were checking in, we found out that they had re-opened. However, our flight was delayed 3.5 hours. Given that, we did the only respectable thing - went to the pub in the airport and had a Full English Breakfast (I went with the Large version, even adding black pudding, for the record - yup....HEAAAAAAAALTHY).

We sat in the "Flying Horse Bar" for 3 hours before milling around the airport shops. At 12:30, we got the nod to go to our gate. Boarding, however, didn't start until 1:30, and we didn't leave until 3. All in all, NOT ideal, but hey - we were off.

The flight was easy - I finished "Twilight Watch," the 3rd in the Night Watch series (Russian horror) before settling down to catch 3 films: "The Taking of Pelham 123" (entertaining), "State of Play" (also well done), and "Australia" (which I enjoyed because I'm obsessed with it even if they ended in-flight entertainment WITH ABOUT 10 MINUTES LEFT IN THAT BLOODY 3 HOUR FILM). I'll just have to assume it ends the way I wanted. Details....

We landed at 6:45 and cleared customs quickly. Only then did we get into baggage claim and wait 50 MINUTES for our "priority" bags to come off the line. US Air strikes again...quality.

But it was all worth it when we rounded the corner after customs and SAW JENNY'S FAMILY!!!!! Check out the happy reunion of the Tacy family!

45 minutes later, we were in the Palmetto State, eating some food and relaxing. MAN, does it feel good to be back in the good ole' US of A. And whilst I know that Jenny is excited about today because she's on the hunt for a coat to keep her warm (meaning ALIVE) in Ottawa, I'm just looking forward to a cup of drip coffee and a Mountain Dew.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

(A well rested) Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 17 December 2009

HOMEWARD BOUND!!!!!

Family

And a good evening to you from across the Pond on a FRIGID Thursday in the Mother Country. I've heard tales that it's freezing in Charlotte as well, so I guess this is good practice. All the same, it was almost impossible to WALK outside this evening on the way home. In fact, the wind was so strong that it actually blew my cane around and almost kept me from using it!

Let me say for the record that WE CANNOT WAIT TO GET HOME AND SEE OUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS AGAIN. The goal is that I'll be able to continue the daily blog (including pictures) with the exception of the trip to the Great White North (that would be Ottawa), where I'll be restricted to using my company (and hence no admin rights) laptop. Oh well, I promise to add them all back in upon my return to the UK and the friendly confines of Flat 303.

So the good news is that we are all packed (with just 1 bag and 1 carry-on each - when is Gatwick gonna drop that stupid rule?) thanks to my perfect pumpkin. JT was an ANIMAL while I was at work tonight, and I came home to the most surgical packing job I've seen since my mom and dad managed to fit all 3 of us, 3 weeks of luggage, an inflatable raft, all my toys, and 3 weeks worth of clothes into the back of that trailer attached to the F-150 (Ranger Rowdy, looking for A/C hookups under $14 a night, putt-putt at Cherry Hill campground, and sleeping on that raft - talk about some AMAZING memories). But that's another story for another time. Let's just say that I am who I am because of 4 trips across our great nation - I'll let your imaginations fill in the details.

I did get a bit nostalgic on the walk home, stopping every so often to look at all the lights and trees scattered throughout my walk home. It's so hard to believe that half of the assignment is already over - it has flown and been six of the most magical months of my life. And with the knowledge that I only have 1 Christmas experience in London, I wanted to make this last walk count.

I started with the massive tree in the Bank of America building lobby and finished with the lights of Oxford Street, shivering as wind whipped snow all around me yet thrilled that I was privileged enough to stand there and see it (and to have called those lights "the lights at my Tube stop" for the past month). In between, I was constantly reminded of why this city is so great, and why the quote "When a man is tired of London, a man is tired of life" rings true. Christmas in London is truly magical, and the memories of the lights and decorations will stay with me forever.

Okay, time for me to brush my teeth and hit the sack - the cab comes in 8 hours!

That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow - when we're STATESIDE!!!!!!!

Love,

(A very, VERY excited) Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Birthday drinks and (FINALLY) an AFD...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond on this wonderful Wednesday - only 2 more sleeps until we're home!!! We are SO excited to see our friends and family again - we can't wait!

So apologies for now blog last night, but you can probably guess the reason for the delay...

So after work, we went out with Lynda and the work family (known as the "Outpost of Happiness") for Lynda's birthday drinks. Her original selection was The Parlour, the newest (and most shish) spot in the Wharf. However, upon walking in to find more people than a division of the Red Army and music loud enough to drown out a Space Shuttle launch, we decided that was NOT the place for us. Instead, we took a wander down toward West India Quay and landed at The Fine Line, a cute little wine bar (with beer as well!).

It was great - we had a full crowd, as you can see by the photo. In fact, we were such a big deal that even the Volturi graced us with their presence - check out Kat's crimson eyes (Twilight reference - if you have hair on your legs or are a girl older than 14, you probably won't - or shouldn't - get it).

After that, we rolled over to Srinam, where we had some of THE BEST Thai I've had in a while. I must say, after having hit many a Thai place, this joint ranks among the best. And Hitman - I am happy to confirm that ladyboy is still there and desperate to see you again. S/he gives you her/his best...

We parted ways about 11:30 PM, rolling home just after midnight and passing out.

Today we awoke up to FREEZING temperatures, and WE SAW SNOW!!!!! There were huge flakes blowing around the Wharf - it was really, really cool. And MAN, was it chilly. The walk home was NOT fun, but I was so happy about the snow that I didn't even care (mom - you would have been so proud).

Sorry so short tonight, but it's time to start packing, and it threatens to be an absolute NIGHTMARE. But at least I had my first AFD in 24 days...if my liver had regained any of its strength back, it would be smiling.

That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow! The countdown is on!!!!!!!

Love,
Sam and Jenny

Monday, 14 December 2009

Introducing.....KNOCKOUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a CHILLY day in the Smoke. It was super busy, but with Canada Go Live just 23 days away, there's no rest for the weary!

So this morning (once sober) I realized that I forgot one critical component of last night's Christmas roast. While it is true that our gracious hostess Liz allowed us to partake in the time honored holiday tradition of American football, the second half was largely interrupted by something that is FAR from tradition in East Tennessee, Charlotte, and all the spaces in between. A fair word of warning to all those brave enough to watch TV in the mother country at someone else's home - when you are not the master of your domain and not the ruler of the remote, you may find yourself subjected to all manner of British horrors. Last night I was a victim. The dungeon master was Simon Cowell. The torture chamber...was X-Factor.

Formerly "Pop Idol" (their equivalent to "American Idol"), this is Simon Cowell's brainchild in Britain and EVERY BIT as big as ours. I didn't realize that Leona Lewis won it two years ago and that's how she got her break - craziness! But anywho...let's not get to excited. Instead, let's recap the evening:

1. The two dueling it out were Olly and Joe. Neither one of these cats was Adam Lambert. Then again, neither of them made out with some dude on stage at the AMA's, so maybe they are better.
2. The host was a Ryan Seacrest clone - same outfit, same bad hair, same terrible jokes, same voice. It was like watching Dickie V commentate a basketball game - all you want to do is mute the TV.

3. Instead of a t-shirt, Simon actually had a sports coat on.

4. I didn't know a single song the entire night.

5. At the end, just like American Idol, they announce that the finalists will now sing the same song and that the winner will release that song as their first single. What song did they have to sing, you ask? Try this on for size - "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus (It's Miley! Everything she says is interesting!). Seriously? Seriously? Two dudes COVERING Miley Cyrus? Is there no humanity in the world? Well, then again, at least it wasn't "Party in the USA"...utter donkey trash.

Tonight was a great night, as Jenny and I (FINALLY) caught up with an old friend. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Kirsten Olsen, nicknamed KnockOut. KO and I worked together back in '07 on the Arinso Transition, and we went through hell together for about 9 months. Consequently, we are now forged together forever as friends.

We met KO and her husband Istvan at DelFino's, this GREAT pizza joint, where I had a diavola pizza (loaded with pepperoni) and JT had a pizza covered in delish parma ham. All in all, talk about a successful night! It was so great to catch up with Kirsten, joking about the old times and getting caught up on what was new with them.

We then walked home from Oxford Street, where we saw some really cool Christmas lights out and about. Check out this set of decorations (Hitman - this is right by the Hog on the Pound).

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A full English farewell and a proper Christmas roast...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a simply FABULOUS day in the Smoke. Today was simply great, especially since it involved solely our favorite themes of living in London - eating and drinking.

So we popped up at 8:15 and were out the door by 8:30. Props to Steve and Sara, as we have NEVER popped up that early on a Sunday before. We walked down to Cosi, a former favorite, only to find out that they were SHUT DOWN on Sundays. A bit concerned, we walked over to Regent Street, assuming that we could find a pastry shop but hoping for more. The results were WAY better than we could have hoped for.

Whilst walking along the street, we happened upon Oser, the GREAT dinner place that Jenny and I always rave about. Granted, we knew this place served good food. However, we did NOT know that they also served breakfast ALL DAY on Sunday. We walked up to check the menu, where we were promptly greeted with glasses of orange juice. Seeing that the prices were reasonable, we rolled in only to find out that coffee was also included. Can someone say winner, winner, chicken dinner?

So Steve finally got his full English, whilst Sara got a GREAT fruit crepe and Jenny and I each ate redonkulously good egg and meat dishes - talk about a SPECTACULAR PLACE - we will DEFINITELY be back here for brekkie. So guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies).
After that, we wandered home, where we told Steve and Sara goodbye. After so much fun, it was really hard to watch them go. At least I was able to help them by weighing their bags (mom - your gift came in handy AGAIN!). All in all, I would definitely call their visit a successful run through London.
Kim left at 11:30 as well, and Jenny saw her all the way to the Heathrow Express. KJ - we'll see you in 11 days!
We then got cleaned up and headed into South Kensington, where we were treated to a meal fit for Henry VIII himself - the Christmas roast of Mark Goodyer.
You talk about a meal for a king - this was AMAZING. Here's the recap:
1. Start with a bottle of Maker's Mark, sipping your way through two STIFF drinks.
2. Add in a bottle of French wine (red) whilst you eat 3 AMAZING cheeses.
3. Have an avocado and shrimp starter (with butter toast).
4. Did I mention the festive popper presents and the poinsettia?
5. Try enough beef to feed the Red Army...and it was guuuuuuuuuuuud.
6. Parsnips - if you haven't had 'em, you're just letting the best in life pass you by.
7. Potatoes that they would have served Charlemagne.
8. Veggies galore - but let's face it - you're there for the roast.
9. Dressing (don't panic Nanny - I defended you to the hilt) and bacon wrapped sausages (I ate about 45 of these).
10. Candles and Christmas music - tell me that isn't a recipe for FAAAAAAAAAAABULOUS!!!!!
I mean, for crying out loud, check out the master chef (future Michelin award winner) in action!
After dinner, we caught two big sporting events. First was a major Premier League battle between Arsenal and Liverpool (Arsenal won 2-1 in a HUGE game), and second was...wait for it...wait for it...an NFL match!!! That's right, unbeknownst to us, Sister Mirza has Sky Sports, meaning that she has access to NFL Sunday! The featured game was Minnesota (with the Gunslinger) vs. Cincinnati, and it was SO CRAZY to watch American sports (especially when commentated by Brits - bloody brilliant). Talk about a good time - we had so much fun!
However, at about 11, we realized that we simply had to get home and get to bed, especially since we've got a BIG WEEK planned. I'm sure this blog could have been funnier, but I must confess that I am REALLY hurting and need to get to bed before I pass out. However, if I find out that I haven't done today justice, I'll make up for it tomorrow. That being said, I would be absolutely remiss if I didn't thank Mark and Liz for some AMAZING hospitality and GREAT food today. And Fizzy - consider the room booked in January, as we'll DEFINITELY be over to watch the NFC and AFC Championships.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow, when you'll (hopefully) meet a new (Canadian) character!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

A perfect day, some stinking bishop, and a full-on pub crawl through the Smoke...

Family,

And a good morning to you on a fabulous (and potentially sunny!) Sunday in the Mother Country. Today's blog is going to be a recap of (most likely) galcian proportions, as the Taylor-Tacy-Markham clan covered some GROUND yesterday. Also, thanks to brother Steve's INSANE knowledge of the full capabilities of the Canon Elph camera, this blog will also be the "Jenny Taylor Experimental Photography Exhibition," arriving soon at the Tait Modern (VA - come back over so we can get hammered and go laugh at it).

So we woke up at 10 AM and made it out the door by 11:30 (a 30 minute improvement to the previous Saturday). Step 1 was the ride over to Charing Cross, where we popped out at Trafalgar Square to a BEAUTIFUL day. Turning our backs on the national Christmas tree, we headed up Strand, making our way to Fleet Street.

The stroll down Fleet Street was great, as we hit all the usual spots, stopping to actually go in Twinings (it was open for a change). St. Bride's was closed, but the fam did manage to enter St. Paul's to look at the inside before darting back out (they want 11 POUNDS for entry now - ridiculous. Tabitha - I KNOW that doesn't please you - no paying to pray...).

After that we stepped over the wibbly wobbly walkway (aka the Millennium Bridge) and made our way toward Borough Market, stopping on the other side of the river to take this AMAZING PHOTO. Tell me this isn't a postcard...

After that, it was onto Borough Market, where the clan put up an IMPRESSIVE display of eating. The finest performance of the afternoon? KIM TACY. Not only did she roll through a chorizo sandwich, she also bought a block of parmesan cheese (aged two years - change you LIFE good) AND a falafel wrap. Throw in a few samples and strawberries, and you have an impressive display for a gal who weighs about 90 pounds. Full marks, KJ!

Also, the highlight for me was definitely trying "drunk cheese," which is a type of Italian cheese soaked in red wine for 18-20 months. This stuff was guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud...and you could really taste the wine in the cheese. Dare I say, it's almost like killing 2 birds with one stone (and a heck of a lot cheaper!).

We then began the final "must do" for the farewell Saturday in London - the time honored tradition of the pub crawl. Let me tell you - life does NOT get any better than this.

Stop 1 was the Market Porter, which proudly boasted 11 ales I had NEVER tried before. I went with Winter Solstice, while Rye Smile and Meantime Pale were the selections of others. On our way out, fortune struck and I crossed off another of my London "to-do's" (full credit to Steve on this one). I walk out the door and Steve says, "Dude - check out the pungent smell in this place." Granted, this is the part where any girl in her right mind says "Um, no." However, this is the time when every guy says, "Hell yeah! Sounds great!" And two minutes later, I am nose deep in olfactory overload. That's right - Steve found the aged cheese hall.

So this place has got cheese that looks STRAIGHT UP LIKE 100% MOLD. I mean, we are talking solid green on the inside (perhaps even with a heartbeat). And upon smelling all this limberger goodness, I knew there was one cheese I had to ask for - the Stinking Bishop.

So backstory on this - Stinking Bishop is apparently the smelliest cheese on earth. I had heard that you could only get it in certain stores and at certain times of the year, and I figured this was my one shot at a winner. Sure enough, when I asked, she proudly replied: "Oh, we've got two. Do you want the two year or the four year?" Thirty seconds later, I'm tasting the two year, which will definitely put hair on your chest. Thirty seconds after that, we're trying the four year, which was DELICIOUS. Sold and determined to buy, I walked outside to get money from Jenny.

It was only then, 4 minutes later when I found JT, that I noticed this terrible smell around me. In fact, it was as if I was standing in an open sewer. The girls noticed, and Steve and I stared at each other with a sinking feeling. That led to a sniffing of the finger we picked the cheese up with, and then a near moment of wretching. HOLY MOLY. That's when it started.

So this stuff isn't over when you eat it. It burrows into your skin like a chigger and stays there ALL night. We tried anti-bacterial gel. That transformed it from smelling like dead rhino to smelling like a dead rhino covered in formaldehyde. We then proceeded to wash our hands at the next FIVE PLACES we went to - no joy in removing it. In fact, our breath was so bad that, when Steve and I were walking on either side of Jenny and talking to each other, I thought she was going to pass out. I can't smell it now, but I think it's only because I've completely burned out my olfactory nerves.

From there, we made our way back across the bridge to one of the most famous pubs on Fleet Street - Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. I know I've mentioned this one before - it's the pub of Voltaire and Dickens, and a spot that Cromwell used to keep his horses. It was a blast, and I even rediscovered my love of Sam Smith's! I had an Oatmeal Porter with Kim, whilst the rest of the group rolled through some wheat beers and alpine lagers. Jenny also gave the oak aged Bitter a dance, and it proved quite tasty. Best of all, we drank down in the cellar (the bar just keeps going down and down - it might be the gateway to Dante's Inferno), which had a GREAT atmosphere.

After that, we rolled to the Coal Hole (you have to pay the toll troll to get to the coal hole - KJ - that was 100% for you. After all, it's always sunny in London as well), where all the cask ales were off. Since that did NOT make us happy, we continued to another Taylor staple - The Porterhouse.

The Porterhouse was PACKED, but somehow, thanks to the magic of Sara Markham, we found a table! We rolled through some Porterhouse Reds and Temple Brau ales before decided to get experimental. The result was that I found a beer that I fell in LOVE with in Chester but hadn't seen since then. Puma - this if for you, brother - I rocked the TUSKER last night! Incidentally, this beer was named for the elephant who stabbed the original brewery founder with a tusk, killing him. Charming story, eh? So entranced was I with the tale, that we thought it prudent to have a moment of silence for the fallen brewmaster (hence the resulting photo).

I realize that we were really into exerimental photos by this point in the evening, but you must also check out this GREAT shot of JT and Kim at the Porterhouse. Diggin' the "color accent blue" feature.

After that, it was off to another pub that turned out to be the new WINNER. Hitman, Ray Ray - this is the NEW Bear and Staff. In January, we are going to the Salisbury. Why, you ask? How about Timmy, Deuchar's, and Bombardier ALL ON DRAFT (those are 3 of my top five ales, incidentally, and I've NEVER seen them before in the same place). Needless to say we LOVED it. Feeling the need to press on, however, we rolled to the Bear and Staff for a pint of Party Popper, a holiday brew that was guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud.

We then made our way to the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus, where we ate some of THE BEST Thai we've ever had. Steve and I both ripped through a green curry, but I confessed I had pad thai envy looking at Kim's dish. Consequently, knowing that Jenny takes a bit longer to finish her meals, Steve and I ordered a Pad Thai extra spicy to split. In a word - RELIGIOUS. Wow - they will serve that in Heaven.

At that point, stuffed to the brim and sufficiently satisfied that we'd covered some ground on the London Ale Trail, we rolled home, where we took this final photo of the evening. This is All Saints Church on Regent Street, and it's one of my absolute favorite buildings in the Smoke (taken in color accent - red, by the way).

Then it was home for a final bottle of wine before sacking out around 1:30 AM.

All in all, this was wire to wire one of THE BEST days I've EVER spent in London. Great times with GREAT people, laughing all day whilst eating delicious food and having WONDERFUL beer that you just won't find anywhere else.

I absolutely LOVE having visitors, as they give Jenny and I an excuse to try new things whilst at the same time seeing all the sights that made us fall in love with London in the first place and remind us why this is such an AMAZING city that is truly like no other on earth.

Sara, Steve, Kim - this was one of THE BEST weeks I've ever had here. Thank you SO MUCH for being such wonderful people. I am so blessed to be able to call you guys family, and I can't wait until we get into more trouble in some other random destination. Thanks so much for coming - it was a BLAST. Safe travels!

Also, it must be stated before we close - HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!!!!! I love you so much and can't wait to see you in less than 2 weeks!

Last thing - Dinger - the Dos Equis guy as your profile pic - AMAZING. I absolutely cackled when I saw it - well done.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow (actually later today if all goes well)!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A Christmas curry, loads of Timmy, and open air urinals...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond on this GLORIOUS Saturday morning here in the Mother Country. Apologies for no blog Thursday or Friday night, but as has become the theme as of late with the Markham/Tacy clan, we had some LATE nights. I can't help but think of the dodgeball quote: "Rough morning, boss?"/ "They usually follow good nights, Dwight." :-)

First off, it's worth calling out the Brian James (the good Doctor) Freidinger completed his first half marathon last weekend, rolling in at a time of 1:42:34 (Dinger - I think that's right). In case anyone's scoring, that is ABSOLUTELY HAULING ASS IN THE PIEDMONT. Full marks, brother!

Secondly - Samantha Layne is home! Rice - I know that we haven't caught up on Skype, but the photos have been GREAT man! In case anyone else wants to see, check the Rice clan out at http://thericeisright.pages.live.com/.
Okay, as for the recap of the last couple of days, the work portion is easy - crazy, very stressful, super productive, and always an adventure. The big news to report is that finally, after 6 months of trying, I now have a UK BlackBerry! Hitman - FOR THE RECORD - I actually tried to email you last night to show you I was using it. But alas - it kicked back. I know - DNM, DNM.
Thursday night was a BLAST. I went with my team for a "Christmas Curry" on Brick Lane. Brick Lane is "Little India," also known as the "Curry Mile." It is RAMMED with curry houses, each one begging you to come in, offering you a discount, and best of all - IT'S ALL BYO!!!!
Classic moment was when I went to the place where we ate (the "original" Brick Lane curry house) - Nazrul - the guy handed me a card and told me to walk down the street, show the card when I buy the booze, and get 10% off. The quote "You get special deal because you know me." So I walk into this place, where the drink prices are about the same as in the restaurant (but honestly, isn't it cooler to walk into a joint with your OWN BOOZE?), and I buy 2 Cobras.
Beside me, another girl has a different card from a different joint, which she shows to the guy behind the till as well, saying "Um, the guy at my restaurant said you'd give me 10% off" (different restaurant). And on the walk back out, 2 other guys accosted me with cards to give me a "special price." It felt like the bazaars of Cairo all over again.

The food was great, as was the fellowship. I went for the Red Chili chicken, which was DELICIOUS. Although, I must confess that, as pleasant as it was on the way in, it was NOT pleasant on the way out. Price - this is definitely a dish you'll want to avoid YOUR ENTIRE LIFE.

Yesterday was great as well. We got to Leicester Square at 7 PM, where we roamed through ChinaTown before heading into SoHo to have dinner at one of Kim's favorite haunts - The Cous Cous House.
Well, as fate would have it, it was THE ONE RESTAURANT IN SOHO that was fully booked due to a party, so it was a 2 hour wait. Consequently, we rolled over to a bar called the Three Greyhounds (where we drank outside because it was FREEZING) and then over to an Italian joint called Zusilli for some apps and wine (which the fam picked up for Jenny and I - very sweet of them) before heading BACK over to the Cous Cous House, where we were told there STILL weren't any tables.
Luckily for us, Kim was making friends with the bouncer at this point, so we were definitely familiar faces. We THEN roamed to one of the 11 pubs of the "Shaftsbury Ale Trail" - The Cambridge, where we killed some Timmy T and I tried a new one - Rudpolph's Reward (tasted something like plastic). Then it was BACK to Cous Couse House, where (third time lucky) we finally got in. The place was delicious, and the owner came out and talked to Kim, and we ate some of THE BEST hummous and meat I've had in a long time.

And then, on the way home, we saw some of our council tax dollars at work - the open air public urinal - henceforth known as "The Lifesaver."

Okay, sorry for the short recap, but it's my turn in the shower, and we've got a busy last day with the fam in the Smoke - pray for good (and slightly warmer) weather.

That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Simply...WICKED...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after an AMAZING DAY in the Smoke. Another busy (but productive) day at work, but the fun really started at 7:15, when met the family for a viewing of my FAVORITE musical: Wicked.

I met the fam at 7:15 PM outside the theater, after I'd eaten the WORST chicken kabob (or, for Yazz, should I say...SHAWARMA!) ever. This thing was nothing but fat in a butter filled bun. And Tom, I'm pretty sure that's what you think I eat every night, but this was too much even by my standards (which are pretty low...).

Whether you've read the book or not, you simply MUST see the musical - it is absolutely STUNNING. And best of all, we had MONEY seats - they were perfect! Steve said it best: "Clearly Wednesday night in winter is the way to go." And Irina Derevko - if you are reading - I am happy to report that this Elphaba was STILL defying gravity (not as strong vocally, but I would argue that visually more stunning).

I will say that, during the second act, we had some royal donkeys who felt the need to talk to each other the entire time. After I politely told them to shut the @#$# up, they finally settled down, but I can confirm that visions of kerosene danced through my head for a brief moment.

After the show, we rolled over to the Duke of York (Brisson - that's for you), where we had a couple of pints (Staropramen and John Smith for me). As always, very tasty!

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't show you this photo from Brother John. Check out Samatha at 2 days old! How cute is our goddaughter?!?!?!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,
Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Announcing.....SAMANTHA LAYNE RICE!!!!!!

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT day in the Smoke. Actually, this is one of THE BEST days in a long time, as today we have a new addition to the family! That's right - today I found out that Samantha Layne Rice became the newest member of Vol nation, arriving at 8:15 PM last night, 7 December, and weighing in at 8 pounds and 7 ounces today. That means a) that a dream has officially come true and b) Jenny and I are now godparents. Yeah...be afraid - be very, very afraid...

And best of all - I GOT TO SEE HER ON SKYPE TODAY! She is gorgeous - I just can't believe it. Honestly, I was sitting here in shock looking at her. And in 23 days, Jenny and I will actually get to hold her! Guys...I love you. I have no words.

Continuing with the good news, my muffin puffin is finally back home!!!! I'm trying to convince her to write her next installment, "Jenny's Second Bliggy Blog," so we'll see how that goes. Since we've got family in town, it might be a day or two. However, fingers crossed.

Third, now that I've got a camera, I wanted to show you what you'd missed during the "life and times of a camera-less and bachelor Sam Taylor." First up - steel yourself for the new haircut!

Secondly, check out my new accessory - the cane (better known as Cano or, "Sammy's pimp stick"). In fact, Tom Price has actually copywrighted this photo as "Pimpin' ain't easy...especially with pit stains and a beer gut"). Personally, I'm planning to get a monicle and top hat and parade around as Mr. Planter's.

Also, a confession - I typed the blog before I'd finished Brisinger last night, so no one actually got to share in my agony. As I neared the last 50-60 pages, I started thinking - you know, we've got a LOT of unresolved plot lines here...I have a sinking feeling. And sure enough, I got to the end to find out that, due to the author's desire to "weave a more intricate story," he'd decided to add ANOTHER book to the trilogy, therefore calling it a "cycle." Honestly, I was IRATE. We'll see if I buy the fourth one. I'm actually thinking that I'll fly to Montana and beat the guy with a rubber hose instead.

However, Dean - the good news is that Matthew Reilly's got a new one coming out in January! That's right, baby - Jack West is BACK!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,
Sam and (home again, safe and sound) Jenny

Monday, 7 December 2009

The reappearance of Cano...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another great day in the smoke. First and foremost - the Rice's are at the hospital as I type this! I just chatted with Rice on Skype, and so far, so good. Granted, there's a ways to go before the new arrival, but we're close!

So last night was a DREADFUL night of sleep. That is what I get for watching too many horror movie trailers on Youtube. Between some really freaky "end of the world" foolishness and not having my muffin puffin beside me (to keep me safe, of course!), I ended up staying awake until 4 in the morning, which made for puffy eyes and serious bags this am. However, thanks to a cup of tea at 4 PM, I was able to rally.

And, for the third time in its existence, our dear friend Cano has appeared on the set. Cano is the name of the cane that we bought Jenny in 2007 when she broke her foot at Dover Castle. It carried her through Madrid, and later I used it during a bout of tendonitis. Now, as I realize I have no choice but to take the pressure off my foot, I have embraced him once again, this time as my silent companion on the mile walk to and from work, as well as the substitute for my left foot when I'm standing. Granted, it takes some getting used to a cane, and I'm still at the point that I try to just walk slower instead. That being said, it definitely came in handy today.

I worked out after work, which was a good thing, because tonight Sammy had his second straight pizza in a row from Sainsbury's. Oh yeah, baby - I know what healthy is!

Other than that, not a whole lot to report. I will say that I now think our housekeeper is an enchantress, as I simply cannot imagine how in the WORLD she got this place clean after this weekend's festivities with the fam. Full marks, Rocia!

Lastly, I finished "Brisingr" tonight, the last of the "Inheritance Cycle." If you've heard of the movie or book "Eragon," that was the first book in the series. And while it was worth taking the plunge, I am SO GLAD that it's over. The kid is incredibly talented, don't get me wrong - but he could have stood to trim about 300 pages off this last installment (which came in at a whopping 762 pages), which had WAY too many descriptive passages and unnecessary chapters. Think about J.K. Rowling gone wrong. All the same, I'm glad I've cut through 'em.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow, when my perfect pumpkin is back at home with husband bear!

Love,

Sam and (probably 4 bottles of red deep at this point) Jenny

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Home alone...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a great (even if incredibly quiet) day in the Mother Country. So as you all know from the earlier post today, my muffin puffin and her family went to Paris this morning. That left Samwise home alone, and I gotta tell you - it's a weird experience.

After spending every single moment of my last six months with JT, being completely alone today was surreal. However, in an effort to be productive, I tried to cross a few items off the "to-do" list, and as I type this at 8:46 PM, I am resting soundly in the knowledge that it was a productive day.

The weather was simply GORGEOUS, so I headed out to Oxford Street, determined to get myself the lunch I'd been dreaming of - a pasty from the Cornish Bakehouse. However, as fate would have it, in the last week they've decided to turn THE ENTIRE BUILDING where it's located into a completely restricted construction zone, meaning the bake house is shut down until further notice (yeah, didn't see that one coming). All was not lost, however, as I found another one (I didn't even know that it was a chain) about 10 minutes down the way on Tottenham Court Road. 3 minutes later, I had a fresh beef and stilton pasty in my hand, and I could taste the intersection of fat, cheese, and butter - it was pretty much the greatest thing ever.

Next up was the British Museum. Yes, yes - I know I go there all the time with guests. However, as I whipped Sara and Steve through it last night, it occurred to me that I never really take the time to enjoy it myself or explore the new areas, something that I always said I would do if I ever lived her (just take a section a day and enjoy it). Consequently, I spent about 90 minutes tooling around, exploring sections that I hadn't seen before, and spending some time reading in greater detail in some of the rooms I had been in previously. I must confess that it was immensely satisfying, and I left there quite proud of my labors.

On the walk home, I happened by "Mr. Topper's Hair Cuttery - home of the 7 pound haircut." And 20 minutes later, I was a NEW MAN! Sorry there are no photos to show tonight, but muffin has the camera with her in Paris, meaning you'll have to wait a couple of days for the new and improved Sam 6.0. I can't WAIT to see the look on Jenny' face when she sees it, as she's been less than happy with it for the last, oh....SIX WEEKS. Mom - the stylist found it quite amusing that I was "getting my hair cut for my mother," but I told him I hadn't seen you in 3 months and had to be presentable!

After that, the wind kicked up, and I rolled home and worked on some personal stuff before ducking out to Sainsburys and picking up a pizza. Now, first off, the sad thing - last night it took 5 of us to kill 2 pizza smaller than this, and tonight I took down a whole one on my own. The sadder thing? The fact that it had ham, mushrooms, and cheese wasn't enough - I had to add an entire slab of pepperoni to it in order to really "lock in flavor." Yep, pretty pathetic...BUT SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD. As was the 3 pound wine I had to wash it down. I mean hey - how can you eat "Italian" without some vino?

I also caught Rice on Skype - they are going to the hospital at Midnight tonight!!! I can't believe it!!!!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow! Muffin and family - I hope you're having a BLAST in Paris!!!! Eat some cheese and drink some wine for me...oh, wait...

Love,

Sam and (somewhere near the Eiffel Tower) Jenny

Fake snow, Christmas goblins, and an old fashioned SEC showdown..

Family,

And a good morning to you from across the Pond on this sunny Sunday in the Mother Country. Again, I realize I'm flipping the order in which I'm sending you the info, but it was another LONG night, and so I figured you'd appreciate the version where I didn't misspell 49% of the words.

The first stop on the tour was the walk down Oxford St. Oxford St (where both mine and Jenny's Tube stops are for work) is considered the "shopping street" on London, and it is PACKED every single day of the year, rain or shine. In the Christmas season, however, it's so rammed that they have to block off the entire street so that pedestrians can use it. Let's just say that it was quite the spectacle, complete with people in green santa suits, fake snow, and even the Santa Claus jazz band. You'll notice that, on the balloon, it references a date. It actually says "Celebrating 125 years." And honestly, while those boys were good, by the look of the saxophone player, a few of them have been around and playing in every one of those Christmas parades.

Also, check out the girls in this photo. The white stuff you see in the air is fake snow, and several department stores were blasting it out at people.

After getting through the craziest part of Oxford St (which included a little window browsing at Debenham's and Selfridge's), we found a cute little Christmas market, which we ducked into for about 10-15 minutes.

Most of the stalls were the usual trappings - sausages, Swiss potatoes covered in cheese, and mulled wine. However, apparently the UK decided to just import all of this year's Christmas markets straight from Bavaria, because what was every third stall dedicated to? JAGERMEISTER. That's right, nothing put's you in the Christmas spirit like drinking deer's blood flavored with black licorice. I was just waiting to see absinth around any corner.

After that we rolled into Hyde Park, where a nice little protest was brewing at (where else but) Speaker's Corner. Today's campaign of choice was a request to ban all domestic flights worldwide to reduce carbon emissions. Yeah, good luck with that, boys. Tell me how that turns out.

Next up was the "Winter Wonderland," which is basically a mini-city that gets built every Christmas by the Serpentine (the river that runs through the parks). Here we ate like kings - I took down a crepe and a sausage, and I almost went in for some honey almonds before I realized that we still had "lunch plans."

The Wonderland was neat, but it was a CRAZY place, filled with rides and even (get this) - HAUNTED HOUSES. I mean, seriously, there was one dude running around in a skull mask trying to scare people (he got Jenny good). And look at this photo. I don't know about you, but nothing says "Merry Christmas!" to me like a wreath in the shape of a bell besides a rotting corpse. I mean really? REALLY?


After that, we walked over to Harrod's, where we walked the Wizard of Oz windows again before rolling into the Food Halls. Honestly, the prices are good, the food is uber-fresh, and the variety is endless. I ended up going with a prosciutto and goat's cheese pizza, filled with kalamata olive paste instead of tomato sauce. Jenny went with a salmon sandwich that could have fed 5 people, and it was only TWO POUNDS! And whilst we were there, we rode the Egyptian elevators to the top and even found another bear for me to love. I know, I know...but he was really cute.








After that, we rolled over to the Albert Memorial, which was WAY more impressive than I remembered it being. I hadn't been here since March, and there was construction all over it at the time. Now, 11.2 million GBP later, it looks immaculate.

Considered "the greatest monument of the Victorian era," Queen Victoria created it for her late husband, Albert. Apparently it's one of the greatest love stories ever (which I'm a bit skeptical about considering that I'd NEVER heard it until yesterday). Either way, this has become a new "must show" spot for the 2010 Taylor Tour of London (still taking reservations, btw).

After that, it was over to the British Museum, where we were told that we only had 45 minutes to burn through the place. Folks, the Markham's got the POWER TOUR of that place, which I am proud to say has been further refined to include additional items, complete with color commentary throughout (tips always appreciated and accepted).


It was then home to pre-game and get some food (hello pizza and beer, complete with koozies) before rolling over to the biggest meat market in Europe: Sports Cafe United Kingdom. I can't lie - this place SUCKS. However, if you want to watch American sports, it is the ONLY place that will show them. How do I loathe this place? Let me count the ways:

1. There's a 5 pound cover.

2. There is ALWAYS a line to get in.

3. No good beer - we're talking they sell stuff that's a heartbeat away from PBR.

4. There's a bathroom attendant, and all he does is give you TOILET PAPER to dry your hands. Apparently, the recession means you no longer get paper towels.

5. The food is akin to solidified battery acid with some transmission fluid on top.

6. As an American, ou probably get better service in Kabul, Afghanistan or anywhere in Iran than you do at this place.

7. Cash only. Seriously? You have to be THE ONLY PLACE IN THE UK OUTSIDE OF BRICK LANE THAT'S CASH ONLY.

Okay, that vent aside, we had a really good time. The purpose of the visit, of course, was the SEC Championship, pitting the 12-0 Gators vs. the 12-0 Crimson Tide. By now, you know the outcome, and as you can tell from my cousin Steve's shirt - he was none to pleased with the outcome. However, as the photo indicates - no matter what, Gator, Vol, and Tide fans can all get along (usually facilitated by the fact that you are 5,000 miles from the action and are desperate to find other Americans to talk to about "our football").


We got home and went to bed around 2, but the rest of the gang got up at 5:45 AM for a train ride to Paris. I, on the other hand, slept like it was my JOB until 11. SO GOOOOOOD.


And now, the next question is, as a bachelor in London, what do I get into for the next 2 days. Hmmm.....stay tuned.


Family - have a GREAT TIME in Paris!

Rice clan - Tomorrow is D-Day!!! I am gonna try to find you on Skype later today and see if we can't chat before hand. Time for the pre-game pep talk. :-)

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat later today!

Love,

Sam and (somewhere in Paris) Jenny