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I've been the victim of credit card fraud 4 times.  The first time was when I was a youth mentor to 'at risk' kids during my undergrad years.  There was a big trip to the San Antonio zoo with all of us who were mentors and our kids and we all went and had a great time.  Two weeks later, I opened my American Express bill (and thought, "come to think of it -- where is my Amex card??") and saw that the bill (it was a charge card not a credit card -- this was the 90's) was over $500 -- most of which came from a single Wal-Mart charge.

I thought to myself, what in the hell did I spend $500 at Wal-Mart on?! I kept thinking, I must have lost my mind -- and why one Earth would I spend $500 at Wal-mart?? 

You know when you can feel your neurons firing...and suddenly they collide at just the right moment to give you that Oprah 'A-ha' moment?  Well, I thought back to the last time (before my apparent sleep-walking Wal-mart spree) that I'd used the card: the Zoo. And that made me wonder if the only person other than me, who'd had access to my purse that day had taken my card. So...putting my detective skills to use that I'd acquired from years of reading mystery novels, I drove over the youth's house I was mentoring and snooped in their garbage: new TV boxes, new stereo boxes, new everything. Interesting.

I called Amex and told them that my card was stolen, and that the Wal-mart charges were fraudulent and said that I allegedly (daughter of an attorney, can you tell?) believed it was the youth I was mentoring (due to my super stellar Nancy Drew detective skills).  Amex removed the charges and I went on my merry way. 

The next two times it happened were the result of filling up with gas along the highways of Texas.  The first of these times, I was driving between Dallas and Tyler, Texas -- to pick out a suit for the funeral home to put on my grandfather who had just been killed in a car accident 2 days before.  I remember feeling like something at that gas station was 'not quite right' and telling my sister (who was in the car with me) that I thought this place felt weird.  But, I was still in shock from all that was going on, and it was a traumatic day so I shrugged it off.  Two days later, video games were bought online with my card in Montreal and the Czech Republic. 

Another time, driving between Dallas and Houston, the same thing happened -- at a gas station -- and again, two days later, some toys were bought with my card in California.

And now, in London...

The day our sea-crate arrived (back in July) was exhausting and after a full day of unpacking, we wanted to order take-away.  So we phoned in an order to Noodle Hut, and they brought our mediocre (at best) Chinese food.  We thought it was pretty unremarkable and never ordered from there again...or so we thought.

This weekend the Canadian and I logged into our Barclay's account and noticed a charge from Noodle Hut on Wednesday. At first, we thought it must have been delayed from our order back in July, but no, we found that charge. Then we thought (much like I thought with the Wal-mart charge) 'did we eat at Noodle Hut on Wednesday?'.  I think one's first instinct is to believe that, surely, it was us.  Surely we've just blanked out and spent $500 at Wal-mart or £29.99 ($50) at Noodle Hut -- because the alternative is, someone stole it, and that just feels a little too heartbreaking. 

Needless to say, we did not order from Noodle Hut on Wednesday.  So, naturally we called our bank.  And they instructed us to and resolve it with the merchant.*  So, the Canadian printed out our bank statement from July to show Noodle Hut where they had charged us in July and to explain that we hadn't ordered from them since and headed over there on Saturday to talk to them in person.

You can guess where this is going right?

They're closed.  Shut down. Gone. Poof. 
They took our money (and probably lots of other people's) and ran.
To put the cherry on the parfait, the Canadian tried the number again today and wound up talking to the landlord. According to him, they were late on their rent (shocking I know), so he went over there to talk them on Friday (our fraudulent charge was posted last Wednesday) and the place was an absolute mess, trash everywhere, and a lot of his restaurant equipment was stolen.  Nice, right?

But here's the thing.  We can afford to lose £29.99 -- and this is a hassle more than anything.  But what if we couldn't?  What if that was our grocery money for the week, and it was all we had?  This is what makes me angry about people who steal -- they give no thought about what they're doing to people.  This is the kind of thing, especially when done in greater amounts, that can actually ruin people's lives.  This then spins me into greater philosophical 'life' questions about ethics, and where/when we acquire them, and is it learned or is it just inherent etc.  But that's for a different blog, and a different day.  Or over a Pimm's cup. 

In any case.  Noodle Hut scheisters, wherever you are, I hope Karma catches up with you. 

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*Bank of America is our bank back home, and we have had some serious beefs with them, but I will say this: when my money was taken, it was credited immediately back into my account and then the bank tried to work with the merchant to sort out the details -- not, making us go to the merchant and talk to them first and then filling out paperwork to hopefully get our money back.
 
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I spend a lot of time here
I've now been here 3 months,  (holy crap! time flies) and I'm fairly settled in to the day to day...I figured it might be time for a 'what I love' and 'what drives me insane' about life here in London.  I have a bunch of them, so I guess this will be a weekly series...

As a preface, you might be wondering how I feel about London overall.  The thing is, I don't love it but I don't dislike it. I've been here before in the past -- once on a 6 week trip through England, and once on a 2 week backpacking trip through the UK -- and I feel the same way now as I did before living here.  London has pockets of charm and when I find them, I'm delighted!  Sometimes though, it feels depressing, soulless and sterile. I thought that maybe I'd feel different living here than being a visitor -- the conundrum that if you travel to a place, you don't get to experience life there -- the ins and outs.  I can say, in this instance, my feeling is exactly the same -- I guess first impressions are everything.  But, it's not a bad thing, and this isn't a criticism, it just is. 

Sunday, I went to Spitalfields Market and wandered around while the Canadian got his hair cut (at a place called Pimps and Pinups. I love my Canadian.)  I was having fun just browsing by myself - it was a gorgeous day, interesting people watching, funky clothing, interesting bags, and tons of other stalls selling everything from beautiful yarns to soaps and bathrobes in addition to exquisite baked goods.  I felt happy -- which, honestly, I haven't felt very often here. 

This is in direct contrast to my last experience at this very same market.  I was in Spitalfields in early August and that was where one of my first expat meltdowns occurred.  I was homesick, and I wanted the market to be something it wasn't.  I had hoped it would be like my beloved Marche Aux Puces in Paris - and so when I arrived, and it wasn't, I felt angry and let down.  I'm not saying it's rational (it's not) I'm just saying that's how I felt, and then I think that spiraled into anger and disappointment about being an expat in general.

And I am learning (yet again), about the power of expectations -- and that disappointment only comes from when your expectations are not met.  It's a lesson I continue to learn, so I guess I continue to need to learn it. 

So, let's say overall, London is good -- not great, but good.  And I'm learning so much: about myself, about the Canadian and our relationship, about expectations. Lots of learning!

Now, onto the little things about life here.
Since I believe in starting out on a positive note, we'll go with what I love first.

 I love my 'hood.  Love it. (Kensal Rise/Kensal Green/Queen's Park) I'm a few minutes walk to either an Overground station or the Underground Bakerloo line which means I can get almost anywhere I want relatively easily.  There are several gastropubs with excellent food all within a 5 to 10 minute walk (for pie-hole stuffing goodness) as well as fantastic ethnic food places, like Portuguese restaurants, also nearby.  There are farmers markets, a dog-sitting place (for the Rotten One when we take our trips AND they carry her fancy pet food), bakeries, coffee shops, a pedicure place, an indie cinema, a library opened by Mark Twain (which is in danger of being closed) and decent high street with some cute shops.  It's friendly, walkable, and safe but ethnically diverse enough to make me happy (I heart diversity). 

There's also a park that I adore in my hood! Queen's Park.  It's a 7 minute walk from my house and it's absolutely gorgeous.  I wish I could gobble up all of the parks in London and take them back to Texas.  I had a conversation with my friend Kim on Skype last night about how Austin (and really all of Texas that I've seen), frankly, sucks at parks.  My small little neighborhood park in London is better than the best park in Austin -- truly. 
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My walking trail with the Rotten One
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Fall has come to Queen's Park!
And then there are the big parks, like Hyde Park, and St. James Park -- which are breathtakingly beautiful. I took these photos a few weeks ago (before Autumn came to London!)
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St. James Park
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A look toward Duck Island in St. James Park where the Pelicans live
In St. James Park there are some resident pelicans (the state bird of Louisiana where my grandmother is born -- and I know this because she always says "I'm not a Texan, I'm a Pelican" wtf?!)

Anyway, according to the royal parks website:
Living near Duck Island are the Park's famous resident Pelicans, first introduced in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador. Regular visitors can see the Pelicans basking on their favourite rocks and getting fed fresh fish at 2:30pm every day.

There are currently five Pelicans in the Park...They're gregarious, social creatures and there are numerous stories of their entertaining antics. One rather mischievous Pelican used to fly over to London Zoo in Regent's Park to steal their fish for his lunch and they're often seen climbing out of the lake to sit on the benches.



Now, here's what I don't love:
Does no one in this country change their address when they move?  I mean, I understand getting mail from the previous tenant -- but the previous 15 tenants?!?! (I am not exaggerating when I say, I've received mail for 15 different people)  How on earth do these people ever receive their mail if they aren't changing their address?  And, I can't really figure out if I can do the whole 'Return to Sender' thing here...so it just sits on a pile in my dining room. 

The other problem with this, tangentially related, is that property taxes here (known as council tax) are paid by the tenant not the owner...so if someone moves and doesn't pay the council tax, then the council has to hire people (bailiffs) to hunt them down.  And then you get letters like this:
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...shoved into your mail slot.  This is a past due notice for one of the former tenants who hasn't paid her council tax.  Now, these people are unaware that she no longer lives here (because changes of address are apparently unheard of!!) and so now, they are trying to collect taxes from her at a place she no longer lives (which is why in the States they collect property tax from the owners, not the tenants)

But here's the deal.  What p*ssed me off was that they "...may remove goods even in my absence".  Um. No sir! NO SIR YOU WILL NOT.  Because you know whose goods those are? MINE.  So because some d-bag woman couldn't change her address (or pay her council tax), and because this country tries to chase down tenants (versus charging owners...hello?!?!) and tenants move a LOT, then some bailiff might remove MY things?!  Thinking that my things are her things.  Does anyone see the flaw in this system????

Needless to say, I called them and sorted it out...now, if only we could sort this whole 'change of address' issue out as well...
 
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My cafe au lait and pain au chocolat. Bliss
Avignon was hot. And so was my cafe au lait the morning before the girls arrived.  It was accompanied by a pain au chocolat -- all of which constituted the best. breakfast. ever.  I felt quite French (minus the cigarette) as I sat there sipping my coffee, reading my book and savoring my croissant -- and I loved every minute of it. 

Sara (of Sara in Le Petite Village) and B (of Is there such a thing as too much cheese?) arrived early afternoon, and as soon as we all met, we knew we'd be friends FOR-EVAH, and here's why.  The first thing they said was, "It's Aidan's birthday next week, so we need to surprise her at dinner tonight! Let's go get candles!" (FUN! I love surprises!) and then, we needed to go into Sephora (because Avignon HAS a Sephora -- unlike London -- and girls NEED Sephora), and Sara forgot her pjs so we needed to do some cute clothes shopping (bonus), and then maybe we should wander around and find ourselves a drink?  Uh, yes please.

So, B, Sara and I went and ran our pre-Aidan errands - and then Aidan (of Conjugating Irregular Verbs) arrived!  And we went BACK to Sephora (which was awesome!!) and you know what we didn't hear? Complaining!  From BOYS!  Which was ALSO awesome.  Because you know who would have been complaining about two trips to Sephora within an hour? The Canadian (and probably the Husband of Sara who huffs and puffs.)

So, after our Sephora double-hitter, we headed out for our drinks. And we talked and laughed about things I cannot even begin to post about...because they were *dirty*.  And there were lots of secrets! And lots of the inside scoop on things you would never read in our blogs because some of it quite scandalous!! (Also, B told us ALL about the game 'front bum, back bum'...I'll let you draw the picture in your head.)

And then we moved to an Irish bar (in France, naturalement) and drank there until it was time to pimp ourselves out for dinner -- when went back to the hotel and spiced ourselves up as only girls can do.  AND we did girly things, like admired our dresses (Cute!! That's hot!!) and did hair (Sara flat-ironed Aidan's) and used our new stuff from Sephora -- and we behaved like GIRLS!  Which was fun, because sometimes when you're only around boys (the Canadian) -- you forget how much fun it is to have feminine confirmation on something like lip gloss or mascara.  And you can have hour long conversations about skin creams and the boy's eyes aren't watering from boredom. 

Then we took our spicy selves out to dinner, which, was delicious!!  And drank TWO bottles of wine.  All under the stars. It was quite romantic (at least as romantic as it can get for four married women.)  Then we headed back to the Irish Bar and drank some more until the wee hours of the morning.

The night gets a little foggy here, because I think I might have been a little drunk.  And for some reason, I was the only one hung over the next morning?  (Apparently, I'm a lightweight?) 

The next morning, after we'd all slept quite soundly, it was time for coffee (and tea for Aidan), where one of us (not saying who) googled "the one that got away..." -- and apparently, he got away and got his M.D. and is now a surgeon.  What might have been...

After the ex-boyfriend talk, we went across the street to the patisserie and acquired some breakfast food (I ate some cheese and bread concoction that was heavenly -- by why wouldn't it be??) and then made our way back to the hotel to pack.  The girls were headed back in the car and I was leaving by train (sadly) to make my way to London.

Honestly, my week in the south of France was one of my favorites -- between the heat, and beach time with the Canadian, and the overnight with the girls -- I was completely blissed out -- and in my head, I'm planning Hot Ladies Get Drunk Sometime After My Comprehensive Exams, 2011.


 
 ...that France Part II is coming soon. 

I have had a guest for the last 8 days and I am absolutely beat (which is why I've been so absent).  Plus, at the beginning of the visit, there was an incident with the Rotten One.  And that's a whole 'nother story (as we say in the South), because it involved BIG drama and now the Rotten One is on probation.

So, look for, the rest of the France post, a post on the Rotten One, and a major giveaway soon...
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This is where the Rotten One goes next time... (click for source)

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