Beginnings of the London experience

Greetings:

It has been an amazing whirlwind so far. I am living in Bethnal Green, an amazing part of London. The area reminds me very much of San Francisco as it is an interesting mix of houses, row houses, and tower blocks. I am walking distance from multiple tube stations and literally a 30 second walk from the nearest bus stop. The area itself is in the middle of a transition to being extremely desirable, as a result many buildings are being renovated. As a result of the change, many of the new buildings are right next to graffitied commercial kitchen consignment shops (I have seen two in my area, not sure how that business is so good). I personally really enjoy this mix of polished and gritty environments.

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(Some of the rather stunning graffiti)

I have really appreciated that even though London is so built up, they have preserved green space very purposefully. There are at least 6 parks or grassy spaces that are within a short jog of my house, which is always wonderful to go and enjoy. I have been enjoying being outside very much, even convincing a number of Brits to play Frisbee with me.

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(The church in front of my house and the beautiful greenery around it)

It hasn’t been all games though. I have been generating marketing material for a number of different projects that Matryoshka Haus is responsible for.

One of my projects is for a course that Shannon teaches for a school in London, which is now being packaged up as a separate workshop. The course covers what successful social justice projects look like and how to get from the initial concept (where people often get stuck) to a finalized plan with actual mechanics for success.

My next marketing project is for the Transformational Index, a tool that was developed because of the realization that many organizations don’t actually know what it is they are attempting to achieve, much less how to measure it. The workshop takes both for-profits and non-profits and connects them with what they really value and then pushes them to create metrics by which they are able to tell if they are actually moving towards their goals.

Lastly, I am also working on the marketing material for two other games that, as far as I know, I am not allowed to share publicly about yet. However, as soon as I am, I will let you know.

I am also taking control (mwhahaha) of the social media of Matryoshka Haus. If everything explodes, you will know why. Hopefully though, I will gain real experience in developing an organization’s social media presence.

I have really enjoyed getting to be a part of the community of Matryoshka Haus. Every Thursday is a community meal, which I as an intern get to prepare (all part of my mission to learn every strategy on how to be a good husband). I have really loved this event because I get to meet many of the extremely different people who make up MH. The conversations that rise up have been rather enthralling. The meal is a truly unique experience since it is a recurring event. Even though the attendees change, the goal stays constant and the community grows deeper and wider as a result.

 

Cameron

Introducing…Cameron!

Cameron joined us from California at the beginning of July and will be interning with Matryoshka Haus over the summer. Before he begins contributing to the blog, we thought we should get to know him a bit…

Why did you decide to come & intern with MH?

My initial introduction to MH was through seeing a TI delivered. [We met Cameron and his family in California last September] I was immediately enticed by the language of transformation and intentionality. When it came time to decide what I was going to do with my summer, I thought about the normal route of getting an internship and getting great experiences to add to my resume, but felt that that would be missing an opportunity to create value with my summer.

What are you hoping to do while you’re here?

First and foremost I am excited to just be a part of all the action that happens around MH. Beyond that my goal this summer is to get to contribute in a meaningful way to the progress of MH’s projects and goals. In addition, I am looking forward to enjoying the culture, history and various other experiences that are truly unique to London.

What are you most excited about being in London?

I have two big things that I am looking forward to. First, I am excited to experience the uniquely organic and always enthralling world of the MH community. Second, is the music scene in London. London is home to many genres I love, so I am excited to attend some (hopefully free) concerts.

Cameron

Cameron experiences some Matryoshka Haus community hospitality.

Eating my way across Texas – Part Two

Part two of Rob’s adventure’s in Texas take up his eating adventures in Austin. Read part one here

Stacy was an impeccable host who introduced us to Salt Licks smokehouse BBQ an experience, which should not be missed. Ribs, sausage and delicious brisket served with beans and potatoes – just perfect – and take your own favourite beer to wash it down with. We then walked in the park at Laguna Gloria and saw these fascinating sound sculptures by Chris Long.

Time then for a beer a couple of ‘locals’ where one guest beer was Newcastle Brown Ale (for those who don’t know, my home town was Newcastle) then a few more tasty tapas before retiring.

First stop the next day was the 24 hour Kerbey Lane Cafe for a traditional American breakfast; eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, fruit and coffee – scrummy. Next, a visit to the Capitol Building and a very interesting guided tour. We enjoyed a lovely walk along the river, followed up by a swim at Barton Springs in the naturally formed pool. Our evening was spent at Shady Grove with chilli cheese fries (chips to us Brits). I also had fried Catfish for the first time and again was not disappointed. I definitely need a return visit to try other dishes on the menu.

Austin

We left Austin for San Antonio and more Texas history at the Alamo. A must visit site in Texas as it is so important in the history of the state. The River Walk is very attractive with many café’s and bars and a trip on the river bus would have been good but we did not have the time.

Off next to Kerville and the Hill Country. A huge thank you to Carl for taking us to the family ranch, where en route we saw, Texas longhorn cattle; white tail deer; fawns drinking in the brook and a wild turkey. Carl gave us shooting lessons, and thanks to some expert tuition we actually managed to hit the target. This was my first attempt at shooting and I have to say I did find it fun. I do not intend making any comment about the gun laws in this blog post.

The evening was spent with dinner hosts Greg and Kim, Carl and Regina, Eric, Leah, Seth and four out of five of Greg and Kim’s daughters. We had yummy pulled pork and grilled pork served with salsas and a delicious queso dip. A visit to Greg’s man cave should be on everyone’s itinerary (men only), I guess with a wife and five daughters you need a safe haven (that’s the male chauvinist bit done). Another splendid evening with great people. Now a big thank you to Eric and Dana (who I never met) who let me stay the night with Harry who was very well behaved and didn’t snore once.

KerrvilleBefore leaving Kerville we had brunch with Carl, Regina Seth and Leah at Francisco’s. I had the fish taco’s which were delicious and to be recommended. We said goodbye to Carl and Leah who is one of the happiest girls I have met and has a smile will melt many a young buck’s heart. Regina and Seth we would see again as we were all heading for Dallas.

Next came a brief stop in Fredricksburg which was originally settled by German immigrants and still has that German influence. The main street is full of delightful gift shops. The Pacific War museum is in Fredricksburg and has an actual submarine outside almost on the street.

We arrived in Dallas late that evening but not too late to have a couple of beers at the Nodding Donkey and meet up with Shannon again.

The first full day in Dallas was a quiet affair with coffee in the Design District Where the service was diabolical which is almost unique in the U.S. to get such poor service. Lunch was salad at a café on McKinney where you had to stop talking every time the old trolley went past. We helped Regina and Seth do some unpacking in their new apartment which I got paid for in the form of a fridge magnet with ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ which now has pride of place on my fridge. I had the best steak ever at Morton’s Steakhouse – a 16 oz. rib eye cooked to perfection with beautiful vegetables and a couple of bottles of a very decent red. Quick thank you to Seth for the interesting conversation on sport and education (we let the girls talk about girl stuff).

Our last full day in Dallas was spent touring on foot and public transport, “what? No car?” I hear you all exclaim! Making use of the free Trolley and bus is something everyone should do in Dallas.

We alighted at Clyde Warren Park a modern park built on top of the highway with water features, a restaurant, food trucks, it is a veritable oasis in a city of tall buildings. Then our best cup of coffee in Texas was had at Joule. While Cathers went off to do some business I visited the 6th floor museum at Dealey Plaza dedicated to the late JFK. Very informative and quite moving. My view is Oswald did it but there was probably some kind of conspiracy. The picture is taken from the Book Depository window where the shots were fired. The President’s car passed just under the road sign when he was shot.

Dallas

We took the free D-Link bus to Bishop Arts district which is full of quality art and craft shops, of which we left no stone unturned looking for inspired gifts. We dined at Gloria’s, Latin American restaurant with very good food and excellent cocktails. We headed back to McKinney on the bus and Trolley and spent our last evening having drinks at the Nodding Donkey.

Not to waste any time in Texas we spent the morning in the company of Mark and Dawn Thames, Shannon and Regina devouring breakfast Tacos (another Tex-Mex delicacy).

Finally it was time to say goodbye to Texas. I have seen some wonderful sights, eaten some great food, but above all have met some warm, generous, interesting, unforgettable Americans, to whom I hope I can reciprocate their hospitality sometime.

Eating my way across Texas – Part 1

This May, Cathers took her Dad (Rob) on his first trip to Texas – here’s what he got up to. As the saying goes “everything’s bigger in Texas”, the same goes for blog posts, so it will be published in 2 parts…

*****

This is dedicated to my wife Angela who sadly passed away last year without fulfilling her dream of visiting the USA. This journey was for us both.

Last year Shannon said, “Why don’t you come and see us all in Texas?” I didn’t think it would be possible. Catherine (aka Cathers) said of course it was possible! I thought if anyone could arrange things it would be my daughter. However, the months went by without word, eventually in March she said, “Book two weeks off work in May and we’ll go to Texas.” Me, I like everything nailed down and all my ducks in a row long before I travel but Cathers is a bit more last minute. We only just booked our flights a week before departure!

The night before our flight, Catherine announces that she has to work the next day but confident we’d make our 1500hrs flight. “OK” I said but the plane goes at 1300hrs. “S**t” came the reply “No problem we can still make it, just”, and fair play we did.

American immigration welcomed me with open arms but interrogated poor old Catherine for what seemed like forever at the end of which I was wondering if I was travelling with an illegal immigrant/terrorist!

Eventually, we arrived safely in Houston and were met by Robin and Richard (the Paoli’s) who gave me a very interesting history of Houston, how it was built on a swamp, the rise and fall of the Astrodome, the impressive medical facilities and other things, which were important, but I promptly forgot due to tiredness and old age. My first impression of Houston? It’s big with a lot of fast and wide freeways.

Our accommodation for the next few days was Hotel Roger. I was given the spare en suite bedroom which had just been very tastefully decorated but he really didn’t have to do that just for me.

My first impressions of Americans? They are very hospitable and made me, a stranger, feel very much at home. A theme that continued for my entire stay.

The first day I had a good coffee at Boomtown in the Heights and a mooch around the trendy antique stores followed by lunch at Torchy’s Tacos. This was my first taste of Texan food and to be fair it was pretty good, tasty tacos and loads of chips (tortilla crisps) with salsa and bean dip. Next stop was the museum district which is an art lovers dream. We examined the Cy Twombly collection, but, I have to say, “sorry I don’t get it Cy,” (not that he will be bothered). The main Menil Collection however was another matter. Very interesting particularly the Rene Magritte exhibits.

A big thank you to Ken and Becky for taking us to the ball game. Having the rules and nuances of the game explained made it a lot more interesting. It was a local rivalry (what we Brits would call a Derby) game between Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers (Dallas). After a good few hours the game looked all over at 4 – 0 to the Rangers but the Astros rallied and with virtually the last pitch of the 9th innings a home run was struck to give victory, a very exciting finish. Would I go again? Definitely, but not very often. I now have my Astros beer mug and a baseball cap kindly donated to me by Richard to remember the evening.

On Thursday, Karen was our wonderful tour guide. Our first stop was the San Jacinto monument where Sam Houston and his Texicans defeated Santa Annas Mexican army, after the defeat at the Alamo, to proclaim the Republic of Texas. The monument is a replica of the one in Washington and apparently Texas was told their monument could not be higher than the Washington one. The tower itself is not higher, but Texans being Texans stuck their star on top and the rest is history.

The view gives you a real feeling of the incredible job done of reclaiming the land from the swamp. However, the trip to the top is negotiated by one very small elevator (lift), occupied by one very large operator sat on a chair taking up half the space. Add to that a party of seniors in wheelchairs and walkers and busloads of excited school children and we had the basis of a comedy sketch, Karen being particularly humorous of the situation (outrageous actually but very funny).

Off to the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston (Glen Campbell nowhere to be seen). We stopped at Bennos for lunch and tucked into 3lbs of Cajun spiced crawfish, which were absolutely fabulous especially for a fish lover like me. To sum up Galveston – it’s got a good sea front and beach, some very interesting architecture and a very scrumptious cake shop. [Cathers here – Dad forgot to mention a free ferry ride and dolphin sighting! – Karen would never forgive me!]

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The restaurant, Ibiza, is not to be missed! Reasonably priced and excellent service. Myself, Cathers, Roger, Karen and Shannon decided on sharing small plates. We tucked into, ceviche, fried oysters, green goddess lettuce, grilled prawns, and red snapper on a bed of cauliflower puree all washed down with very good white wine and to finish the evening I had my favourite Glenmorangie malt whisky.

Friday we lunched at Local Foods, with a mouth-watering selection of salads. I spent the afternoon with Richard at Wholefoods to pick a local brew for dinner and a trip to Specs the biggest liquor store (off-licence) I have ever seen! I then drank the Wholefoods beer and watched Richard expertly prepare food whilst discussing the world’s problems and probably thinking we solved most of them.

Dinner was a great success with beautiful Mexican cuisine, mango and pineapple salsa, chargrilled beef, and vegetables. The evening was completed by meeting even more interesting, engaging and welcoming Americans. A big thank you to Robin and Richard as perfect hosts and Karen, Leah, Brittany and Ashley for being the perfect guests.

Saturday was pool day, with a delicious Paoli picnic. In the evening, Shannon took us to the Downtown bars and a tapas bar. We shared, belly pork, patatas bravas, dates wrapped in pancetta, prawns and a green salad accompanied by some splendid sangria.

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We left Houston for Austin the next day, but my biggest regret was not saying a proper goodbye to Roger who had been the perfect host.

*****

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow…

Post-Learning Lab Reflections

Hello all,

It’s been quite a while since my last blog post! A lot has has been happening here in London, but I just wanted to take a moment to reflect that it’s been a year since the Learning Lab. One year since I first left the United States and came to London. Oh, and what a year it has been!

For anyone reading the blog that doesn’t know, the Learning Lab was a short project that Matryoshka Haus ran for a week last summer in partnership with Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, an evangelical church in Dallas. The goal of the Learning Lab was essentially to share Matryoshka Haus knowledge and experience about postmodern culture, while also conveying the core values that make Matryoshka Haus flow and function as an organisation and community. I was one of the fourteen Americans that came over as a member of the Bent Tree team.

Learning Lab, one year ago.

Learning Lab, one year ago.

Looking back on the past year, I can hardly believe how much my life has changed. I originally came over to the UK having almost no idea what to expect, and now I’m living in London and am a part of Matryoshka Haus. I mean, I can still remember deciding to come do an internship, and still not really fully understanding how Matryoshka Haus works off paper. The irony is that even though I now understand how everything works, in the process of getting there I’m no longer sure I can accurately and concisely explain it to another person… That’ll be an exercise for another blog post!

But in comparison to other years of my life, it seems like a disproportionately large amount has happened since the Learning Lab. When I think back to who was with me on the Learning Lab and where we all were at that time, it feels like it was ages and ages ago, even though not that much time has actually passed. So while I could talk about how much the Learning Lab as a week-long experience has influenced my life, that blog post feels like it’s about ten months too late, given how much has happened since then. Really the Learning Lab served me more as a kind of launch pad for growth in the past year, also obviously leading into my internship with Matryoshka Haus.

For one, the experience of moving to London and being a part of Matryoshka Haus has really helped me grow in my faith & walk with God. Obviously the act of trying to establish myself in a new city/country is cause for change in and of itself, but I’ve definitely had to review how I value everything compared to the States – most notably with respect to church and the community that is Matryoshka Haus London. By far one of the best things about my time in London has been getting to know all the awesome people from Matryoshka Haus, whether that is during a community meal, over coffee, or during a project meeting. I also love how I’ve been able to apply my abilities & passions to Matryoshka Haus projects like the Transformational Index, given how the field of interactive media is so narrow and broad at the same time.

Community Meal

Overall, much like trying to explain Matryoshka Haus, talking about my time in London on the blog is equally as difficult. I feel I am either radically understating the breadth and depth of what goes on, or I’m rambling and the meaning of what I’m saying is somehow 90% lost.  Hopefully one of our next projects will change all that! :-)

More to come soon™

Brenden