What Londoners Do When It Rains

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The first thing to know about London is that it will rain. Every day. Despite knowing this, I still made a few rookie mistakes during my extended stay. I learned right away that hanging out in London for a week with the convenience of a centrally located hotel is quite different from a three week stay in the suburbs. The first major clue to this epiphany was coming home with wet shoes, socks, and pants after every outing into the city. Without a dryer or sunny, warm weather it took three days for a pair of shoes and socks to dry out and two days for jeans. I was starting to run out of dry clothes!

When I was down to my last pair of dry socks and shoes, I decided to be a little more observant. Tired of cold legs from damp jeans, I asked myself, “What do Londoners do when it rains?” Wherever I went I noticed they had dry pants and shoes, so I knew there had to be a trick. After a few days, I had some answers and learned how to stay dry!

1. Always carry an umbrella.

It doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be sturdy. The wind along the Thames can kill a weak umbrella in under two minutes. Londoners always seem to have one stashed in their pockets, purses, or tote bags. Even if the newspaper said it would be sunny, I learned to carry an umbrella anyway. It was worth every bit of the room it took up in my purse.

2. Wear shorter pants.

Both Londoners and Europeans in general wear shorter pants than Americans. I never understood why until I realized the bottom hem of my jeans soaked up rainwater faster than a chamois. Even after the shortest walk on The Strand my jeans were wet up to my knees! There wasn’t much I could do other than fold the hem under a couple of inches, but it did the trick. A discreetly placed safety pin attached the hem to my sock. I never came home with wet jeans, again!

3. Hang out inside.

Even when out in the city, there is always a place to duck in and escape the rain. Stores, tube stations, and coffee shops are all excellent places to wait out the kind of rain that demolishes even the best umbrella. At the entrances/ exits of Tube stations there’s usually a group of people reading the newspaper while it pours outside. Museums are also an excellent way to  dodge the rain as most of them are free and very warm inside.

My favorite way, however, to wait out the rain is to hang out in a coffee shop. One rainy day, I was walking along the Embankment when it suddenly started to pour. I decided that moment was the perfect time to sit down for a warm cup of coffee and a brownie. I joined many other Londoners in what I assume is a tradition. Sit by a window with your cup of tea or coffee and simply watch it rain. Be thankful for a moment where everything just stops, except for the rain.

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Starbucks on Fleet Street
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

4. Stand under a tree.

This sounds stupid, but it works. Throughout London, there are huge and heavily foliated trees. In particular, trees along the Embankment near the Globe Theater are proven rain blockers. One day it started raining and I watched as seasoned Londoners began to gather beneath the trees. I followed them and realized it was perfectly dry under those trees! Barely a drop had touched the sidewalk even though it was pouring. The key to this strategy is to stand at the base of the trunk. It rained for almost an hour, but hardly any moisture hit the ground where I was standing. To pass the time, I did what other Londoners did, I read a book.

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Rain hits on the South Embankment. These are not the magic rain blocker trees, but they are still beautiful!
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

5. Stand under a bridge.

Again, this sounds silly, but it works. There are tunnels, benches, and spaces beneath almost every bridge in London. In many cases, there are buskers in these areas, so while you’re waiting out the rain you can enjoy some great entertainment. However, I wouldn’t recommend standing in these areas alone, but rather with a group. Especially, if you are one of those super obvious tourists.

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Hiding out from the rain under Westminster Bridge
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

6. Wear your wellies.

Those big rubber boots aren’t just for gardeners. They are sold all over London and I watched as people carried them in tote bags or by the back loop. If I didn’t have such a small suitcase, I would have invested in a pair. Made out of plastic or rubber, these boots protect your feet and legs from puddles, splashes, and wet grass. I swear London is the only place on earth where people don’t look ridiculous wearing wellies while on a walk through the park or rushing through the financial district.

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Wellies!
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The last lesson learned? When the weatherman or newspaper forecast says it’ll be sunny, don’t believe it. The idea of sunshine all day long is more wishful thinking than it is reality. The rain is always there, ready to sneak up from behind and catch you by surprise!

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Other Articles in the New Familiars Series:

Grocery Shopping in London

Lunch In A Chinese Home

The Language of Signs: London

The Language of Signs: Prague

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c.b.w. 2014

Project Chapbook

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In December of 2013, I found myself in the middle of two challenges. First, I was tasked with editing and organizing twenty poems into a chapbook manuscript.  The next phase of the Writer’s Digest 2013 November Poem A Day Chapbook Challenge  involved submitting a manuscript and I didn’t want to miss the deadline. Second, Christmas was a week away and I couldn’t decide what to give a good friend of mine. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend, yet I wanted to give him something special.

It turns out the first challenge helped solve the second challenge. With a completed (and submitted) manuscript, I realized I could turn my work of art into a one-of-kind gift. Thanks to a new bookbinding technique I learned last summer, it was a snap to turn my chapbook manuscript into a handmade book.

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Front Cover of “Finding Gravity”

I made the cover using standard card stock in navy blue. The cover design was made using only one layer of a contrasting color and two black and white embellishment pieces. The title, along with the poetry pages was printed from my computer.

Inside the front cover, I included a decorative page that continues the black and white pattern theme.

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A decorative page gives this book a little personality.

The poetry pages were a unique challenge in that I had to make sure each poem was placed in the same place on every page, no matter the length or width. Through a little trial and error, I figured out the margins. Then, I measured each page to be a hair smaller than the cover. This was the tricky part because it’s incredibly important for the pages of a book to fit inside the cover and stack evenly. A lot of patience and a paper slicer made it possible to cut out each poem page with spot on precision.

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A beautiful page of poetry!

To bind the book together, I used a Japanese side stitch bookbinding technique. A simple tutorial for hole-punching and stitch order can be found here. Once I had the holes punched, I stitched my book together using thick beading thread. I coated the thread in beeswax to give it more strength and to make it stick in place as I sewed the book together.

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Japanese side stitch binding.

Before I knew it, I had a handmade poetry chapbook! My friend got a unique gift and I got to live the dream of seeing my poetry in the form of an actual book. As nice as it would be to see my chapbook published, I wouldn’t mind making another handmade version of Finding Gravity for myself.

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c.b.w. 2014

Favorite Thing Friday: Gift Yarn Socks

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As a knitter, one of my favorite gifts to get is a skein of yarn. I love gift yarn for a number of reasons:

1. Colors, textures, and weights I would never consider end up in my yarn basket. This constantly challenges my creativity and gets me to try patterns and techniques I might otherwise ignore.

2. When I knit with gift yarn, I think of the person who gave it to me as I knit each stitch. Yarn is already warm and fuzzy, but it’s even warmer when infused with the love of friends and family.

3. I never run out of yarn. Ever.

Last Christmas my aunt gave me some beautiful sock yarn. It was fancier than anything I’d used to make socks up to that point. Usually, I buy the cheapest sock yarn I can find or whatever is on sale! So, it was really exciting to get Plymouth Yarn Happy Feet merino wool sock yarn.

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Plymouth Yarn Happy Feet Color 0010

The yarn was so special to me, it sat in my yarn basket for a year while I struggled to decide on a sock pattern. I love who gave it to me and I loved the color. The pattern had to be perfect!

I must have paged through dozens of magazines and books before I finally settled on Isela Phelps’ Seeded Rib Socks. Merino wool is very soft and wishy-washy, which meant I needed a pattern that would make this yarn a little more meaty and sturdy. The seeded rib is a nice, tight stitch that doesn’t let the merino “grow” too much during regular wear. Plus, it puts a little spark into the basic rib pattern.

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Seeded Rib Socks

I made these socks on my trusty KB Authentic Sock Loom, even though the pattern was created for a different loom. The pattern only needed a couple minor adjustments in order to work on the KB Sock Loom. First, knit the cuff with a 2×2 rib, instead of a 1×1. I’ve found the 2×2 offers better cuff elasticity. Second, adjust the number of pegs to match your foot size, while also ensuring the number breaks down evenly for a 4-stitch repeat.* For my socks, I used 52 pegs, which works well for a Women’s size 7½.

As I worked those knit and purl stitches, I thought of my aunt and hoped we’d be knitting together very soon. We live far apart, but gift yarn makes the gap feel a little bit smaller.

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*Special Note: There is a typo in the pattern printed in Phelps’ book Loom Knitting Socks. Be sure to check for errata.

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2014

Wreck This Journal: Time

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One of my favorite pages in Wreck This Journal gives directions to document the passing of time. There are so many different ways to play with this prompt and so many interesting directions in which it could wander!

When my Grandma and I completed this page, we took the obvious route in some respects, but in others we offered our own unique perspective on the passage of time.

Grandma pulled out her scrap box and cut up an old calendar to express days, months, and a year. Then, she drew an alarm clock, which is something that cracks me up. She had an alarm clock that she really loved because it lit up when it went off in the morning. The only problem was she never heard it ring (she was a heavy sleeper) and therefore she hardly ever got to see it light up.

However, my favorite part of Grandma’s page are the trees she drew along the side. A baby tree growing into a taller sapling is such a beautiful way to document time. It reminds me of something she and my Grandpa did for my sister and I when we were kids. One summer, we planted baby pine trees and then stood beside them to take a picture. Every year, when we’d come to visit for the summer we’d stand by the same trees and take our picture to see how much all of us grew. The trees always grew faster than we did! I don’t know if those trees are still growing (the house has new owners), but I like to think they are still reaching for the sky.

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Grandma’s take on time passing.

As for me, I geeked out as a history teacher and stole an idea from my Grandma, (it’s only fair – she stole my pyramids). I drew a clock and pasted in clippings of time from an old TV guide. Then, I doodled symbols from various eras of World History. My favorite is the boat, because never in a million years did I think I could draw something like that! One of these days, I’d like to continue this page to include the eras I wrote in the bottom corner of the page.

My job as a history teacher has me thinking about the concept of time on a daily basis – Is it always moving forward or is that simply how we perceive it? Are we that different from people who lived centuries before us?  What was it really like to live in a time other than my own? Time it seems is a riddle that will keep me guessing until my time runs out.

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My take on time passing.

The quote I wrote on my page has never meant more to me. I had 35 years with my Grandma and yet it only feels like  five minutes. I’m grateful for the moments we had, what I wouldn’t give for more. Every day with her was precious,  but there those moments where I wish I had more awareness of how fleeting time can be. If anything, reflecting on these pages reminds me to treasure the time I have with those I love. No matter how many years pass by and how much time we have, it will never be enough.

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c.b.w. 2014