My Love/Hate Relationship - Fantasy Football

I just got home from my second FFL draft. Thankfully, I only do two leagues because anymore would make my head explode from keeping track of the permutations.

I felt pretty good about my club team. Not so much about my work team. For those who are interested in it all, here's whom I have.

Parrot Head League:

QB1 Andrew Luck (my first round pick - I drafted 10 out of 12 and passing TDs only score 4)
QB2 Alex Smith
RB1 Andre Ellington
RB2 Joseph Randle
RB3 Shane Vereen
RB4 Devonta Freeman
RB5 David Cobb
WR1 Emmanuel Sanders
WR2 Golden Tate
WR3 Anquan Boldin
WR4 Eric Decker
WR5 Steve Smith, Sr
TE1 Rob Gronkowski
D/ST Packers
K1 Dan Bailey

SmartBall League:

QB1 Matt Ryan
QB2 Eli Manning
RB1 Matt Forte (my first round pick - I drafted 8 out of 10)
RB2 Lamar Miller
RB3 Andre Ellington
RB4 Devonta Freeman
RB5 Shane Vereen
RB6 DeAngelo Williams
WR1 Dez Bryant
WR2 Emmanuel Sanders
WR3Amari Cooper
WR4 Brandon Marshall
WR5 Donte Moncrief
WR6 Markus Wheaton
TE1 Jordan Cameron
TE2 Charles Clay
D/ST Seahawks
K1 Matt Bryant

We draft so many players (18) in our work league that you're literally just hitting the Draft button and muttering, "What the hell", by the end.

Without actively trying, I have four of the same players on both teams. That makes it easy on game day to know whom to watch for sure.

It's so fun to draft live which we haven't done in our work league since I've been in it. The trash talking is awesome. What wasn't so awesome is that the guy next to me kept taking the picks I had in the queue. I do not believe it was a coincidence at all, Tyler!

When I got home, I had an email from NFL.com where we do the work league. Perhaps I shouldn't feel so inadequate about my picks because they're projecting me to go 12-1 and win the league.

From their calculations to the football gods' ears!

Bucket List - Crown Jewels

I loves me the jewelry. The more bling, the better. So, I was very excited to visit The Tower of London and see the Crown Jewels.

There are actually 21 total towers at the Tower of London.
First up on our visit was a lecture by one of the Beefeaters also known as Yeoman Warders. Those are the colorful guards who must have served at least 22 years in the military, reached the rank of Warrant Officer and been awarded a good conduct medal.

Yeah, these guys.
Our Beefeater is not one of the guys pictured above. He basically threatened anyone who took and published his picture. I chose not to mess with him about it. He seemed to be a pretty cranky Welshman. He did give a thorough and entertaining tour and answered many questions from the crowd. It was certainly worth the time.

It was amazing to think that we were standing in a structure built by William the Conqueror and housed too many famous prisoners to list here.

They certainly built things to last.
The last time this roof was rebuilt was about 500 years ago.
History lesson complete, it was off to see the pretty stuff! The line seemed long and we were getting antsy since we were on the tour's schedule. But, it moved pretty quickly. You first go through some historical scenes/information then go by some ancillary items before getting to the crowns.

Here's the rub of it all. No pictures are allowed. They were pretty serious about it, too. I scavenged among the interwebs to find some.

Blurry because it was taken on the down low.
The scepters were HUGE. You'd need some pretty good upper body strength to carry them for any length of time. Unless they were hollow gold then hmmm...

Just a few of the many crowns.
There wasn't an ability to lollygag or plop yourself in front of any of the crowns because those tour people were genius. While you could study the earlier material to your heart's content, the jewel themselves went by at a rapid pace because you were on a moving sidewalk.

Don't blink or you may miss something.
Just as with the scepters, I can't imagine having to support the weight of the crowns for very long. They were all pretty heavy on the gold and jewels. The heaviest that can be worn is about 5 pounds. Think about having a bag of sugar on your head for an extended period of time.

Imperial Crown of India made for George V.
Trust me, the emerald in the middle is ginormous.
I would definitely suggest visiting the Tower on your own schedule so you have plenty of time to roam around. I missed out on seeing the torture stuff, the chapel and hunting down Anne Boleyn's ghost. I bet she had a lot she could have told me.


The National Gallery

My Sunday in London was spread over two places, British Museum and The National Gallery. They were both within walking distance to my hotel and I got the bonus of checking out Trafalgar Square in the process. And, I checked out several side streets as I took more than one wrong turn going to and fro. Natch.
The National Gallery - London
Per usual, I rented the audio tour and made my way through the list of highlighted pieces. You can check them out here if you're interested. Several of them were on loan to other institutions but I did get a feel for the quality of work in the Gallery.

I also learned I was a Philistine. After an hour so, they all really started to look alike to me. Not in subject matter but in "Oh, look another classic painting by a really famous artist. Next!" It was probably a combination of lack of sleep, physical exhaustion (17K steps that day was way above my norm) and frustration with continually getting lost but I was jaded. The thrill was definitely gone.

I even got lost inside of the Gallery.
I lost count of how many times I ended up in room 11.
There were definitely moments of awe despite my fatigue. I saw a Sunflower painting by my old Amsterdam buddy, Vincent can Gogh. Great works by Rembrandt, Rubens and Vermeer abounded. Monet and Renoir were well represented, too.

I also saw a LOT of baby Jesus pictures. White baby Jesus, of course.

I took a couple of not very good pictures because it was hard to get dead on with out pushing someone out of the way. Damn tourists, or maybe art students, were plopped in front of every painting, deep in study of the works. Whenever I was tempted to do the same, I felt guilty for blocking someone's view.

I recognized this guy right away. Maybe because he's the only historical Cardinal I know by name.
Philippe de Champaigne's portrait of Cardinal de Richelieu.
I love this style of painting. It has little paintings done exactly in the styles of the original artists.
Like an all in one art exhibit.
This was painted as a jab at collectors who don't share famous works with the people and we're supposed to know that by the monkey in window. At least, that's what the audio tour told me.
If I recall correctly, this is a painting of people looking at paintings in The National Gallery.
Trafalgar Square.
No, I wasn't drinking so that's not why it's crooked. I'm not as good with my phone as I am with my camera.
The National Gallery was not on my bucket list but I'm glad I went. The audio tour was well done and worth the money and there are some fabulous works to admire up close and personal.

Bucket List - Rosetta Stone

I've always been fascinated by the story of the Rosetta Stone. Just thinking about how this slab of rock moved around over a couple of centuries until someone figured out it was the key to understanding Egyptian Hieroglyphics is amazing to me. I would have loved to have worked on a team deciphering it but I would have had to been born in the mid to late 1700s. No thanks on that.

While I was planning my London visit, seeing the Rosetta Stone was number one my list for what to do in the city. Apparently, it's number one on the list for everyone going to the British Museum as well.

I was politely waiting before the official opening time right outside the door that led in to where the Rosetta Stone was on display. I should have plastered myself to the door to ensure I was the first one in because a group of tourists with a guide moved ahead of everyone. I'll let you guess where they were from but some stereotypes are based in fact.

The doors opened and the crowd swarmed in. Flashes from phones and cameras went off and it was a bit chaotic. Most of the folks jumped in for a quick look and a picture then moved out to let others in. I did the same. The plexiglass cover protection was not my friend with its mirroring effect.

Man, I wish I could have touched it!
I went past the Stone a couple of times while I was at the Museum but it was always surrounded by a swarm. It would have been great to have planted myself in front of it to study the different markings and let my mind pretend we were back in time. Oh, well, at least I got to see it.


Panoramic of the British Museum.
The British Museum was pretty cool, overall. I rented the audio tour and wandered for several hours. They have some amazing pieces. If I were an Egyptian, Greek or Italian, I would find it hard not be a little bitter about so much of my history "owned" by a country in another continent. To the victor goes the spoils, as they say, and the British Empire was pretty vast.

Definitely worth the visit - tons (literally) of historical objects and free admission. Doesn't get much better than that.




The Omens Were Ominous From The Start

I had to go to Germany last month for another corporate integration. I decided to add on a stay in London on my way home.

All by myself.

Eek.

I'm a huge extrovert but I'm also a scaredy cat so it was pretty brave of me to plan four days in a foreign country without a companion. A companion who might not know anything more than I do but will at least have a better sense of direction than I do. Which is to say, any sense of direction.

To make it easier and less scary, I decided to take some structured tours. I found a company online and was persuaded not only by the itineraries but by the fact that they picked up at hotels. Again, no sense of direction but getting to a lobby is doable. A very thorough search at Hotels.com to find a hotel on the list that had A/C, a lift and wouldn't cost a million dollars and I was set. It only cost me a half million dollars. London ain't cheap!

Here's the itinerary for my first day's tour:

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Lacock and Bath. Includes traditional lunch in a 14th century pub.


Includes entrance to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge, plus traditional lunch in a 14th century pub - why not try the fish and chips?

 Highlights: 

  • Entrance to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge
  • Pub lunch in 14th century Inn included in Lacock
  • Panoramic tour of Bath
  • Luxury coach and professional guide

Windsor Castle - first group to enter in the morning
Over 900 years of royal history are waiting for you in Windsor Castle, which is perched high above the River Thames just outside of London. From William the Conqueror all the way through to our current Queen, successive monarchs have lived here and left their mark on what is now the largest continuously occupied castle in the world. We shall be amongst the first people to enter Windsor Castle, so you can see for yourself the splendor of St. Georges chapel and the sumptuous state apartments. Windsor itself is a pretty town full of traditional shops and historic pubs. Shakespeare is said to have written his play The Merry Wives of Windsor in one of them! 
 

Stonehenge
The most famous prehistoric monument in the world, and now a world heritage site, Stonehenge stands alone in the vast empty tract of Salisbury plain. Its origins date back nearly 5,000 years and it has been home to pagan religion and spiritual worship, not to be mention public debate ever since. What was this vast collection of stones intended for? Was it observatory of the moon, a temple to the sun, or an elaborate cemetery? Who were the people who carried and carved these 40 ton rocks? Come and unlock the secrets for yourself and marvel at this remarkable and mysterious feat of ancient engineering and design.
Lunch in a 14th century pub in Lacock
What better way to enjoy lunch than in a classic country pub? Relax and soak up the charming atmosphere while being served some delicious home cooked food. Why not try the fish and chips?


BathOur final stop is Bath, another world heritage site. Bath is a beautiful Georgian city with delightful crescents, terraces and architecture. Following our panoramic tour of the city, there will be time to visit Bath Abbey and Pulteney Bridge overlooking the river Avon cascading over the weir. And you can shop, explore or take afternoon tea in the Pump Rooms while listening to the string quartet.

Man, that sounded great!

I landed in London on Friday night and laid low because they were picking me up at 7:25 AM in the lobby come Saturday morning. Apparently, I was stressed because I woke up every hour starting at 2 AM even though my alarm was set for 6 AM.

Here's the rub. My phone was on vibrate and I didn't hear my alarm. I woke at 7 AM, felt pretty rested then looked at the time.

Holy shite!

I managed to take a shower, put my hair in a pony and pin my bangs up, throw on some clothes and make it downstairs at 7:23. No makeup, no jewelry, no breakfast, one quick glass of water while I was getting ready and that was my only sustenance. It was a little later that I noticed that the shirt I put on was one that I spilled something on in Germany, used hotel soap to clean but didn't rinse well enough so there were white spots across my chest. 

Fantastic. I must have looked like a homeless person.

I've looked better, fo sho!
(Shirt stains not in picture, thankfully.)
We got picked up on time then transported to the coach platforms at Victoria Station. What a cattle call that was! Fortunately, I found the right place to be and was waiting to get loaded when the first sign of trouble occurred. They started dividing up our group because there was a "problem with a coach". 

There had to be over 1,000 people waiting.
Our tour guide told us she was riding on the coach with half of our group and the rest of us were to go on another coach but she would meet up with us at Windsor Castle. That she did and our visit to Windsor was cool. 

It was when we got back to the coach park that it really fell apart. Apparently, we were supposed to have started with a double decker coach but it went out of service for some reason. They were bringing in another but it was a ways out. Some of us were shuttled to an entirely new coach and guide and I noticed our guide was getting on another coach with some of our group.

When I asked about it, I was told "They have lunch in Lacock so they have to leave."

Um, we all had lunch scheduled in Lacock.

Our new guide tried to smooth things over but our driver had more information than what was coming from corporate. It was 10:30 and corporate said a bus would be here within a half hour but our driver called the guy bringing the new coach and he was well over an hour away, perhaps even longer.

At this point, it was chaos and the ugly Americans came out. One guy was on his cell phone, literally yelling at the coach company. Other people were peppering our new guide (who just inherited us all) with questions. I hung out with some Australians until I decided it wasn't worth standing in the parking lot any more. I interrupted poor Hugh, our guide, and asked, "Is it safe to assume no one will be here until at least 12?" He confirmed my assumption so I flagged my Aussies down and told them we might as well go get something to eat or drink.

I managed to down two Diet Cokes and a snack then we were back to the coach park still without a new coach to move us all. Hugh said that the current coach held 53, we were 66 so if 13 people wanted to bail and ride back to London with the coach that was just doing the Windsor tour, we could move on. My Aussie friends had several weeks in London so they said sure. Most of us had only a few days so we were determined to ride it out. By all that I considered holy, I was determined to get to Stonehenge and I think most people felt the same so not enough folks bailed.

The replacement coach finally arrived, hurrah! But, we were well over two hours behind schedule. Lunch at Lacock was canceled completely. For us. I'm sure that other group had a delicious meal. Bummer, because it was in a pub used for filming some scenes from Harry Potter. 

As we were driving, someone suggested skipping Lacock completely and just going on to Bath since there was no lunch being offered. Hugh called the tour company and they said no dice. We still had to go there. If they understood that we would only have about 20 minutes, they didn't care.

We pulled into Lacock and Hugh offered to do a quick walking tour. What he had tried to tell the company was that people were going to need to take washroom breaks and get some food and 20 minutes may not be long enough but, again, they didn't seem to care. 

I did the quick tour with Hugh and towards the end there was a public washroom. Our gang lined up to use it. We were well past the 20 minutes at this point and our driver was getting antsy. Actually, he was irate about it all.

We finally got in to the coach and were driving down the main street when someone said, "Hey, we just passed two people who were in our group!" The driver reluctantly stopped and they got on but as we continued to drive away, someone else said, "We're missing one other person!" 

Our driver was willing to just abandon the person at this point but Hugh made him stop so he could jump off and track down our missing person. The driver was getting honked at for blocking the road so he took off. I don't know if it was possible to do a shorter turnaround but we ended up doing a huge circle on to the main road then back into town to pick up Hugh and our missing passenger. Our driver was livid, Hugh was resigned, "People have to use the washroom."

We were probably three hours behind schedule by the time we got to Bath. I was looking forward to seeing the Pump Room because we'd just read about it in a Jane Austen book but there was not time enough to visit, certainly no time for afternoon tour as promised in the itinerary. Hugh offered to do another quick walking tour so some folks headed off with him.

A beer never tasted so good!
Nor, was it ever needed more!
At this point, I said "Frak it", took a few pictures of the outside of some buildings then went to a pub and ordered lunch and beer. And, finally used the washroom. 

It was back on the bus with the fear of our driver leaving without us and we were finally on the way to "The Stones" as they all called Stonehenge. As we pulled into the coach parking lot, I saw our original guide with the lucky sods who got to do the full day as planned.

I tried to burn them all with my eyes to no avail.

I did manage to see The Stones but my worry about getting left behind made me spend less time there than I wanted to.

When I got back to the States, I sent an email to the tour company that started with "You've probably heard from many people..." I didn't tell them all the things they could have done to make the situation better because I wasn't sure they really wanted my advice. 

They did give me a partial refund. While that was good, it would have been much better if they had done that without me asking for it. Again, I chose not to advise them on their customer service issues.

As time has gone by, I've chosen to focus on what I did get to see and tried to appreciate that  at least I got a "good" story out of it all.




Hello, Kitty

Two years ago, we went back to Wisconsin to celebrate my parents' 50th Anniversary. In what is now becoming a tradition, we went to The Pfister Hotel for a meal.

When I asked the server to take our picture, my cousin asked, "Whose Hello Kitty camera is that?"

Yes, there was some judgment in her tone.

I happen to really like pink.
I was immediately offended. For about 30 seconds. But, then I started embracing the idea.

I spent the next two years on a mission to find a Hello Kitty sticker to put on my camera. Preferably, one with glitter. Because, well, glitter. Every time I went to the grocery store or a dollar store, I took a quick perusal to see if they had appropriately sized stickers.

I had no success until yesterday when I was in Target. Bonus is that I only paid $1 for a whole bunch of stickers.

There was just one problem. My pink camera is no more my working camera.

Cameras don't work without a shutter button, yo!
My first day in London two weeks ago, I pulled my camera out of my bag to find that the shutter button had come off. I thought maybe I could just press down on the innards and make it work but, alas, it was not to be. I used my iPhone for all of my trip pictures and they came out "OK" but my camera did a much better job with low lighting and zooming.

Amazon Prime day was the incentive to look for a new camera. They didn't have a deal on what I wanted but I found the next level of Elph (the only cameras I've bought since the 90s) that I wanted. There was a mental debate about getting one with wifi built in but I decided to save the dough and use my iPhone for anything I wanted instantly loaded.

There was only one problem.

That's not pink.

I had to settle for blue.

But, don't those Hello Kitty stickers look great on it?!?!

PS - Here's the family picture from The Pfister. Good times, good times.


Sugar and Fat and Wine - Could Brunch Get Any Better?

It's tough to get all of the Chick Poker gang together for an evening so we fill in with brunch dates. Sometimes, we go out, other times someone hosts at their house.

Stacey was a host this month and, inspired by National Doughnut Day (which has a very interesting history), declared that everyone had to bring three of their favorite doughnuts then we would sample and judge. The judging comes naturally to this group. We have one super baker in our midst so she was commanded to make duffins (that's a combo of doughnut and muffin for those not in the know).

To balance out the doughnuts, we were encouraged to bring fruits or veggies.

There was also some wine drinking though the majority had iced tea. I'm not sure why those people are still my friends.

There were only five of us...

I'm not a big doughnut fan and I didn't want to go way out of my way to get Rainbow Donuts (our work favorites) so I went to Krispy Kreme which was conveniently located next to Safeway where I picked up a veggie/cheese/sausage tray. My options were Peach Pie (never had it before so I was curious), a creme filled Chocolate frosted and a Chocolate frosted with Jimmies. Because Jimmies are cool. Jimmies should be on everything.

Fractured Prune is the only other source whose name I caught. We tried a Margarita, Breakfast Bomb, Morning Buzz, Salted Caramel, French Toast and some Princess one. One of them had shaved bacon on it which, in theory, sounded delicious but I found the pepper they used on the  bacon was overwhelming.

The duffins where the bomb. That girl can bake!

The three doughnut rule was not adhered to, however, and we had a surplus of fried treats. I actually don't think anyone even ate the equivalent of three doughnuts, either, but everyone was happy to eat some veggies and some protein. It made us feel like we were being a little healthy.

A review of the carnage showed that the simpler doughnuts with glaze were the most popular overall.

Overall, it was a fun activity and you didn't feel badly if you didn't like something since we all just cut off small pieces for tasting purposes. I didn't find anything that made me think "this is a new favorite," though. I'm still pretty much of the belief that the doughnut is just there to support the frosting.

And, the Jimmies! Jimmies for everyone!