Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Answer.

I don't really like potato salad, however, I once considered it an American dish. How wrong I was! A few months ago we attended an "International Dinner Party" and Ryan brought potato salad (what's more American than picnic food and BBQ, right?) only to have Katherine, a German, bring another. The more people I meet, the more I realize that potato salad is the international dish.

Last night we were at a small Christmas party at Phillipe and Francisco's house, when I realized that potato salad might be the answer. Americans pride themselves on our differences from Europe; how we refuse to socialize medicine, vote for socialists, pay attention to soccer, and allow unions to gain power. But we all eat potato salad! (minus perhaps Asia, although I think Russia has a version as well). And as I looked around the room at my international friends eating potato salad (a Czech Christmas specialty) it occurred to me how different things could be. Currently America has a bevy of political candidates vying for who can be the most Reagan-esque or, alternately, liberal but not dynamic. And above all, we are afraid of other countries and becoming like them.

What's wrong with France sitting on the couch, hitting on the Czech Republic? Or Spain, Bolivia, and Australia debating the responsibilities of Europe to the post-colonized Africa? Why does America pride itself so much on its Americaness that it sacrifices learning from other countries? We need to accept their potato salad might be better than our own.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Did you know?

Many children don't even know there's a cooties vaccination available. Think it doesn't affect you? I didn't think so either, until I found out my own husband wasn't vaccinated. It could happen to you or someone you love. Talk about it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Do you believe in ghosts?

I woke up at 3am Monday, as someone was trying to force open our bedroom door. (Our house is shared and there are locks on individual bedrooms as well as the front door) I grabbed Ryan's arm and he went to the door. The knocking/shaking continued for a moment, then we heard slow, heavy footsteps down the hallway. Ryan waited a moment, then lifted the latch and cracked the door. He saw a large, heavy-set person standing on the landing above the stairs. "Dorothy?" he called out "is that you, Dorothy?" The figure stood there, not responding. Ryan groped for the hall light, keeping his eyes on the figure. But when he switched the lights on, no one was there. The hall was completely empty-- not even a coat rack to confuse the eyes.

Visibly shaken, Ryan closed the door, turned on our lights and climbed back into bed. "I think I've just seen a ghost." I told him there was no way, but I was scared too. We hashed and rehashed the situation for a few minutes, all the while hearing slow, heavy footsteps coming back toward our room, then past, upstairs to Dorothy's room, then stopping. We lay in bed quietly. No more sounds came. After about an hour, Ryan fell asleep. I was drifting off when I heard the downstairs door open and two people rushing up the stairs. One was talking loudly on a cell in the hallway. They walked in and out of Tekla's room next door, carrying on all sorts of activity. It sounded like moving furniture, music on and off, walking up and down the stairs, banging on doors, ringing the doorbell, all sorts. Although they were loud, I was a bit relieved to think that if there was some ghost, those boys would be scared off. After an hour or so, I fell asleep again, only to be startled awake every 30 minutes or so by another loud noise.

When the alarm finally rang at 8am, there was another knock at the door, this time a visibly upset Angel. She was ranting about "Tekla's friend" who apparently banged on her door, came into her room, and stood over her bed in the middle of the night. He was now sprawled out in an arm chair in the living room. We agreed to talk to Tekla. After she left, Ryan asked "do you think it was the ghost?" The figure had not spoken when Angel screamed at it to leave. Also, she did not have her contacts in. Either way its pretty weird-- who goes into someone's room in the middle of the night?

The boy, who I think is Tekla's brother, had his legs sticking into the middle of the living room. Ryan and I walked past to make breakfast, not taking care to be quiet. After banging about in the kitchen I went back upstairs to get my stuff together for work. As I was leaving the boy was banging on Tekla's door, but she wouldn't let him in, only cracked it to tell him to go back downstairs. The boy followed me down and begged me for a fag. I told him I didn't smoke and left for work.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Newest Addition

One Boyer Street has a revolving door for loonies. Last week our semi-normal roommate, Erica, moved out, and in her room now lives Tekla. I met her a few nights ago when Ryan and I were fixing the internet connection in her room. From her belongings I gathered that she is a fitness buff with a passion for Eddie Murphy movies. Also, she has a copy of the Kama Sutra displayed by her bedside. She's going to be a fun neighbor, I thought.

Two nights ago she came into the kitchen when I was cooking and I asked her where she came from. She has moved from southern England to be near her boyfriend, which is always a fool-proof idea, especially when he gives you the choice: move here or I'll break up with you. Tekla has my sympathy for her misfortunes of living at this property and from having an asshole boyfriend, whom I later met.

The boyfriend parked his bike in our minuscule entryway and came in while we were eating to ask us about "a lighter, you know, for fags. I want to have a fag." I told him we didn't have one, but offered up our bounteous supply of kitchen matches, which are our only means of lighting the stove/oven. He promised to bring them right back.

An hour later I was reading in bed whilst Ryan worked on a lab report. We heard shouting and banging on Tekla's door; she had, for some reason, locked him out. He cussed at her and she eventually opened up. The smell of pot leaked out of her doorway and we heard a loud chanting for the next hour or so. We didn't get the matches back.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ode to the Security Guard at Somerfields

Head back, hands on his belt, he saunters into the store almost daily. After surveying the premises, he calmly makes his way to the back. No chillies today. He takes two bananas from the "fresh" section-- no second-rate bananas for this man.

Even at the cash register he does not focus directly on the person serving him, but keeps alert to all the shoppers-- one never knows when shit's about to go down. Just two months ago some teen girls nabbed a pensioner's purse as she set it on the ledge to look at the Royal Galas.

Yes, technically Atkinson's Fruit Shop is not his responsibility. But a mere two shops down, one can never be over-vigilant. If crime struck this small fruit shop, the reputation could quickly spread and topple even the mighty Somerfields. It's his job, dammit, and he takes it seriously.

There is talk amongst the fruit-shop employees that the gravity with which he treats his job, as well as his insatiable desire for hot chillies and bananas, is due to some inner doubt that his toned physique and manly strut can't fix. Do these phallic foods hold the key to his psyche? Or will we learn more from his carefully buzzed sun-whitened hair? You truly are a mystery, Somerfields Security Guard.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Voice of an Angel, pt 2

Ryan and I really couldn't believe it when, on Thursday morning, Angel walked in to the kitchen while we were eating breakfast and invited us to watch her at a karaoke competition Saturday night. What was she singing? You guessed it, Avril Lavigne's "Complicated." Practice makes perfect, I guess.

So last night Ryan and I found ourselves in a crowded club where we were the only non-Chinese speakers. When Angel invited us to be her guests, I felt pretty flattered. The few days clicked by and I hardly gave a thought to the fact that her hair is clogging every drain in the house, or that we are once again almost completely out of gas. We started some pre-cooking for our Thanksgiving celebration last night, and Angel sauntered in dressed to kill to hand us a note in Chinese.
We handed it to a table of ticket-takers like 2nd graders with a note from their mom. We couldn't read it, but guessed what it might say "Don't roundhouse kick these outsiders, they are my flatmates." After being admitted, having to leave and get in a huge queue, and then being readmitted, we spotted Candy who we met earlier this week at the pub. She welcomed us and handed us programs, then the guy next to her asked "Can you read?" And realizing the entire program was written in Chinese, handed the programs back.

We found our seats, there wasn't room for Angel and her friend Tom to sit with us, but she came by often to check on us and remind us to vote for her. (She even pre-filled out our ballots for us.) There were 20 acts, and while Ryan and I are used to karaoke being high on drunken showmanship and low on actual singing, we found the opposite to be true. People were taking it really seriously, singing ballad after ballad with plenty of emotion. Also, people kept running up and handing them things on stage, like a bouquet of roses. The best was this guy who was really into his ballad-- a girl ran up on stage and gave him a Winnie the Pooh bear, and he continued to gesture and sing full-force with what looked like Winnie the Pooh for a hand.

But the hands-down best was the girl (? Ryan and I argued this one) who rapped in Chinese while twirling nun chucks around dangerously fast. Like most acts, we hand no idea what she was saying, but we managed to catch on to the call & response. "[When I say] quai [you say] ha! Quai ...ha! Quai ...ha!"

Angel was second to last in the running order, and although she could've won on outfit alone (micro mini and fishnets) sadly, her singing was not quite up to the high standards of the karaoke competition. It was nice to hear something upbeat, and also in English, but it wasn't her year. Nevertheless, I did feel an odd sense of pride watching her pump her fist in the air on that tiny stage.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Good Wife

On a completely unrelated note to my previous blog (nothing if not disjointed, are we?) I thought I'd relate an interesting conversation I had last night.

Not many people came to the pub, due to a huge and confusing lab report due tomorrow. Oliver, Antoine, Katharine, and a new girl named Candy joined Ryan and I. Candy was discussing her difficulty in deciding to pursue a PHD. The way she explained it "There are 3 types of people in China: female, male, and woman with PHD." Which is really a shame, and also rather a blunder on the part of Chinese men, if you ask me. Oliver suggested she marry a Westerner, I said she doesn't have to get married at all, and we stumbled on to the complex topic of marriage.

Oliver complimented (?) me by saying that Ryan was lucky to have a wife that is not an engineer and is willing to follow him half way around the world, not worried about her own career. This is partly true, but not entirely. I do care about having a career, I just don't know as what; and in the mean time travel seems fine. Ryan said he was surprised to hear someone outside SPU espousing a love for (what Oliver deemed) a housewife. Its certainly not seen as the American ideal.

Housewife can be a sharp word. On one hand, I think its a lovely idea to stay home and care for children, the house, the cooking, etc. I think housewives generally don't get enough credit for the complex task of running a household of people. On the other hand it seems to imply a dullness, as if all the interests and hobbies one would have would revolve around groceries or laundry. Also there is the idea that she is "the little woman" acquiescing to her husband's whims on slightest demand, not an active manager of her family's affairs. Would the same be thought of a house-husband?

We certainly don't have it easy deciding amongst marriage, family, career. I reject the notion that people must fit gender roles, but now comes the task of carving out our own roles-- sometimes it seems almost easier to accept the standards of another time. But when I come home from a long day of work to my husband doing the laundry and dishes, I know that this hemming and hawing is worth it. Roles must be continually negotiated and re-negotiated, but if it means me missing out on the dishes, it's all worth it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Voice of an Angel

Ok, I'm going to keep this to a minimum because its not very nice. Completely true and un-exaggerated, but apparently not very nice.

Angel, my favorite roommate from downstairs, has been especially ironic to her name this week. On Sunday morning as Ryan and I left for church, we ran into her in the hallway carrying her groceries in, she jumped and proclaimed "You scared me!" as she always does (I think she must have nightmares about white people stalking through her house.) On arriving home we saw her groceries had been neatly arranged on the coffee table: rows and rows of juices, soda, cups, etc. I naively thought "she'd never have a party without asking us" and finished preparing for the arrival of my dear old friends, Julie and Justin.

They arrived later that night, as did Angel's party guests. At one point she knocked on our door to offer us Guinness in exchange for a bottle opener, but for the most part I sat in the room with my friends and husband, shaking my head at her brilliant idea of having a party at 11pm on a Sunday night. Luckily for us, her guests didn't stay too late, and we were able to get to bed before 1am (Ryan and I both had school/work the next morning).

Monday night I made some rolls, which were pretty successful now that I've figured out what "fast-action yeast" entails. (Google it) and left my watch on the counter while kneading. After dinner, we received one of the many free 2-hour long performances of "Complicated" by Avril Lavigne, as "sung" by Angel (and I use the term loosely).

Then, Tuesday morning, disaster struck. As I was rushing off to work at 7:30, my watch was no where to be found. Ryan and I rushed around but to no avail. After arriving home, I sat bitterly in our room, listening to Angel's never-ending tribute to Avril Lavigne (with occasional Sarah Mcachlan interludes) and accusing her of stealing my watch from the kitchen where I was pretty sure I left it. Ryan told me this was not very nice, and I explained that if I unfairly accuse her, I will find my watch on my own, and then feel guilty. Come on, that's how things usually work. But to no avail. As we attempted sleep (around 1am) the Avril Lavigne was too loud and emotional, and Julie/Justin nominated me to trod downstairs and ask Angel to be quietly. I begrudgingly did so. She was very sweet and apologetic, as she always is. As I climbed into bed with semi-conscious Ryan, he said "oh I hope we didn't stifle her singing" and I feared this, but next morning I went downstairs and heard more of this lovely singing.

The final blow came this morning, at 10am we were awakened by "Complicated" I got up and started getting ready. I looked over on the nightstand and THERE WAS MY WATCH! I yelled to Julie and Justin, who asked me if I looked there before. "Of course I did! I looked here 5 times!" Julie looked doubtful. "Don't make me think I'm crazy!" I said. Justin joked "you should thank Angel." And I did. In response, wafting through the floorboards was the ultimate terrible karaoke song, Whitney Houston's "I-I-I-ee-I Will Always Love You." BUT on further investigation, Ryan apparently saw Angel this morning and asked her if she'd seen it. She produced it from her room, claiming that she thought one of her friends left it. So, basically, I WAS RIGHT.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

One-Woman Show

So, after several weeks of church-searching I think we have settled on the "Parish Church" (Anglican). The service clips along nicely, the pastor is young and relevant, and although our first week wasn't filled with people dying to introduce themselves to us, we went back this week.

Ryan and I argue about the age of the pastor; he says late 30s I say late 20s. At any rate, she organized a "student's lunch" on Sunday and we stuck around for it. There weren't a ton of people, but it was a decent turn-out, mostly comprising of Czech students. What really struck me about this church is that the pastor seems lacking in the help department. She was the one fetching chairs, pouring tea, pitching ideas for future gatherings, I wanted to tell her to take a deep breath! There were a few older people about (one made us soup) but it seems like churches here are very grey and that trying to get young people connected is a very hard and important task.

Julie and I were discussing this last night (she and Justin arrived Sunday night) and talking about how Europe is less "churched" than America, which sometimes for me seems like it would be hard to be less churched than America, but apparently it's true. I know that most people our age aren't interested in their spiritual sides, mostly looking for social outlet and parties, but it still strikes me as odd. Maybe its just how I was raised, I need church as part of my community. Well, more to think about later.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lovely Lincoln

Last Saturday the husband and I went to Lincoln, and I have to say I think it is the best small town in England. It isn't much advertised, and not in Rick Steves' guide books. We wouldn't have probably found it at all had our B&B host, Derek, not mentioned it when we first came to Loughborough.

It was an hour-and-a-half train ride from Loughborough, and when we arrived, we stepped out of the station directly into town center. Christmas decorations have already been hung, and the town was buzzing with Christmas shoppers, much to Ryan's dismay. He always complains about the early onset of Christmas stuff in America, but at least there we have Halloween and Thanksgiving as mild buffers. After bonfire, the English push straight on to Christmas. It is a huge deal here, the average British family spending 950 pounds on gifts!

But I digress. We made our way through the hustle and bustle, crossing over a lovely canal with swans being fed by old men. We made our way up the aptly named "Steep Hill" (worse than Seattle, I swear!) the walk could only be justified by what lay ahead: a huge cathedral and even bigger castle built by William the Conquerer. The castle's attractions were not terribly well kept, but it does hold one of the few original Magna Cartas. Probably the best site at the castle is the walk around the outer wall, which offers amazing views of the town, countryside, and cathedral.

The cathedral dates from the 12th century and was used as a double for Westminster Abbey in the film "The DaVinci Code." They had a fairly interesting tour about the history of the cathedral (I swear God wants it destroyed because its burned down like 3 times, been hit with earthquakes, and had towers collapse! Sounds like something out of Monty Python). They also had set aside room in the chapter house to display some of the props from the movie, and of course, there were lots of brochures about how Dan Brown is a liar and against Christianity and whatnot. I read the novel on our trans-Atlantic flight, and I thought it was mostly entertaining, but kind of pedantic, and his "facts" were far-fetched.

On our return, Ryan and I rented "The DaVinci Code" and it was a very bad film. All logic points that it should be very good-- great actors, locations, based on a best-seller, but the suspense didn't translate very well at all. Also, the parts of the novel they did change were for the worse. But it was cool to say "we've been there" and notice all the different parts of Lincoln cathedral.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ebony Quits Top Model! (and I quit my job)

Ebony gets bitched out by Tyra, even though Ebony clearly has some serious issues she needs to work on, as opposed to being on a stupid reality show. This morning I called to quit my lunch lady job. No, it wasn't the Coach shoes incident, they washed up fine. I realized yesterday that it is impossible for me to do this job as well as my Atkinson's job, there is too much time overlap. And contrary to what I was told early on, there won't be any evening hours for me.

After all the weeks of pressure, I have done it. My boss didn't bitch me out, she just sounded disappointed. I feel badly, because I know they have invested time in me, but at the same point, I think its better to quit now than constantly be unavailable when they need me. But, thankfully, its over. Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Lunch Lady, pt 2

Yesterday I began training at my substitute lunch lady job. I feel slightly deceitful in this position because my 2 jobs don't know about each other. As I've written earlier, while having multiple jobs in America is viewed as necessary by many, and noble by our president, in England it is frowned upon.

So, I have taken off a few days from the fruiterers under the guise of my visiting American friends, Julie and Justin, who actually arrive next Sunday. I shall have to make up a lot of adventures to tell my coworkers. Or claim that Julie and Justin never showed and act really bitter. We'll see. And the refectory where I lunch lady plans on calling me in from time to time, I don't know how often, to substitute. We'll see how this goes. At any rate, we move to Newcastle in less than 3 months and I'll be leaving both jobs to work FULL TIME in Newcastle.

I am struck here by the lack of upward-climbing in most of my coworkers. I don't know many adults in America who work only one part-time minimum wage job. Yet all the lunch ladies have been there for 8 years + and seem comfortable in their positions, minus a few complaints. Peoples' attitudes seem to be "take what you're given" not "strive after the perfect job" ala the American dream.

But on to the actual lunch-ladying. It is a pretty chill job. 30 minutes after my arrival yesterday we had a tea break, and about an hour after that we ate lunch. Then the children came in and ate their lunch. I was in the dish room, which I have done before on a smaller scale at Glacier Camp, and was mentally prepared for. At first it was kind of like being in a really disgusting relay race, in which your goal was to scrape leftover food into the giant garbage disposal ditch with your rubber gloves. Wearing rubber gloves, a plastic apron, and someone else's uniform, I felt impervious to the mess going on around me.

Then things sped up. The food was flying, the dishwater splashing, and the kitchen so loud I couldn't hear the shouting of my boss 2 feet away from me. And then IT happened. The straw that broke my lunch lady dreams. Shepherds pie on my Coach sneakers. The Achilles' heel of my uniform. It was disgusting and I had no time to remove it. Icky dishwater splashed on my face, food was everywhere and I was ready to throw in the towel. I left work reeking of Shepherds Pie and still not very hungry when dinner rolled around.

The training lasts four days, and after that I don't know when I'll actually be called to work. I know that right now I'm doing what I can because its impossible to make career steps when you're moving every 4 months. I'm just getting tired of busting my ass for minimum wage. Maybe I'm conceited, but I just think my time and efforts are more valuable than that.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Tonight is Guy Fawkes' night, and after a week and a half's worth, I must say fireworks are getting old. For those of you who've yet to see "V for Vendetta" the 5th of November lives in infamy for the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme between some Roman Catholic blokes to blow up Parliament with dirty James I inside, thus killing the Protestant heir. Apparently, one of the plotters wrote a letter to a Catholic Parliament member to warn him against attending that day, and his brother in Christ turned him in and caught Guy Fawkes red-handed. Poor Guy was tortured brutally and hung, and ever since he (and for awhile the Pope, but no longer) were burned in effigy every November 5th. Children were especially fond of the holiday and collected pennies from neighbors (or neighbours if you will) for fireworks.

Sadly, children can no longer purchase fireworks, and the holiday is often simply called "Bonfire Night." Since its on a Monday night this year, the real bonfire was on Saturday night in combination with a carnival at Loughborough Uni. It was an absolute zoo! I had to leave Ryan and some friends to find the ladies' and almost never found them again except for our very tall and awesomely-named Basque friend, Xalbat. (pronounced with a "zs" sound like "zsa zsa Gabor")

The fireworks display truly put all the 4th of July shows that I've seen to shame. They shot off so many simultaneously that it almost melted my brain in sheer amazement. (They did charge us 4 pounds a head to get it, I'm assuming they spent every penny of it on the combustibles). The only really disappointing thing was a missing Guy-- no Guy Fawkes at all! Apparently the whole "death to traitors and papists" thing is out of style and its really just a giant bonfire/excuse to drink (like they need it!). I think America should perhaps steal this concept. Think about it. Guy Fawkes was a terrorist, and aren't we at war with terrorism? The English have burned him in effigy every year for 400 years! That's probably how long we'll be at war with the terrorists and we've got to keep morale up somehow! Making a national holiday with fire and alcohol would at least give us one good thing that's come out of this war.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Halloween III: Season of the Brits

A few weeks ago I started nagging the default "organizer" of social events, Oliver, about putting on a Halloween Party. This is my favorite holiday for the obvious reasons: costumes, chocolate, and embarrassing my husband. (This year I made him dress like a lion! Not quite as good as last year's K-Fed, but the thrift stores here kinda suck)

I was viciously planning up until Tuesday night. The agenda included Stephen King's "Carrie", drinking games and maybe a few classics like "pass the orange." Now that I'm married, I really can't justify making everyone play spin the bottle, even though it would be great odds for any girl there.

But Tuesday night I got a message from Oliver that the room we'd planned on had been reserved by someone else. Disappointing to say the least. What will I do with all the black construction paper bats? But plan B was the good old Moon & Bell, so I tried to go with the flow.

Wednesday is my day off, so after the myriad of futile attempts at cleaning our giant filthy house, I decided to put up our Halloween decor around our house. I was going to decorate the outside of the house, but realized that the little kids would probably take it as a sign to come Trick or Treat, and we'd cruelly be at the pub, hoarding all the candy amongst the adults. As Ryan and I were making dinner and getting ready later, I realized there were no trick or treaters in our neighborhood-- probably because everyone here is Muslim or Hindu. I know the Hindu Diwali festival is going on this week, and I guess maybe the Muslims don't like Halloween.

But I digress. I dressed as Medusa, using a cut-up 29 pence children's mask, and I made Ryan go as a lion. We walked to the Moon & Bell and so NO ONE dressed up, probably because this is sort of a recently adopted American holiday. But our group looked pretty good at the pub, a lot of cheap masks and etc.

I met a few new people on Wednesday night (and no, I didn't give them my phone number this time) and these guys wanted to know all about America. It seems everybody keeps asking me what I "truly think" of England. I'm still not sure myself, but I usually tell them its very different, but that I like it. One of the guys, who had visited Florida once, said he didn't think it was different at all. I admitted that there were many similarities, but that the social rules were quite different-- that I still wasn't sure of many of them. To this he replied "There is one rule in England: to drink. If you drink, you'll be alright." And he's partly right. I've been pretty surprised to hear my coworker (who's a grandmother) bantering with older customers about how "pissed" they were last night and so-and-so fell asleep on the bus, and etc.

It was, all in all, a pretty fun evening. I think I did insult Kevin's wife when I was trying to explain what a "MILF" was (long story) and I definitely had a bit too much to drink, but that's really how one does it in this country, I think.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Yesterday we reached the breaking point. There was no more room in our tiny freezer (we are sharing it among 5 people) so Ryan and I made a tough call and decided to defrost the freezer on the other fridge. This sounds easy enough, but the freezer was literally a block of ice, as in the door wouldn't close, because there was a giant, freezer-shaped block of ice was protruding about 1" through the door.

We scavenged and found an abandoned towel. I used my hairdryer, about which was conflicted, because hairdryers use a ton of energy. But after discussing this with Ryan, we decided that the open freezer door actually wastes more energy than a few hours of hair drying ice. It was a long, wet, process but we now have a foothold against the ice that is inevitably consuming our freezer/refrigerators.

Today felt a lot warmer than it actually was. Andy, my asst manager, is giving me crap about not following the standardized dress code at work (who knew a dress code of looking "smart" actually meant black dress pants?) At any rate, I wanted to look smart, but also stay warm, so I put on my long johns, black dress pants, and pumps. This was a mistake. (Could I be acclimatizing?) I was hot and my feet hurt. After work and grocery shopping, my feet were killing me. So, on the long walk home from Marks & Spencer (the only shop in town with sea scallops, which is pretty good because when Ryan sees the receipt from this transaction we will NEVER eat them again!), anyway, I was channeling Regina Spector and I took off both of my shoes. Nobody seemed to be noticing, and then I saw Oliver, from Ryan's class. He probably thinks I'm crazy now, but that's okay. That's what I'm used to.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Heating Restored

Well, Ryan and I finally got some cash and paid up our card. After restoring the card, we huddled around the radiator, but to no avail. This was followed by a fairly comical scene of the two of us in the woodshed, huddled around the hot water heater, lighting matches in quick succession to read the "reset" instructions. Sadly, the lighting in the shed doesn't work, and we have no "torch" as the English call it (flashlight.) I was close to concocting my own real torch out of newspaper and a glass bottle, but Ryan figured out how to reset the water heater before this was necessary.

Thank you all for your generous out-pouring of concern and ill will towards my roommate. She is not really a bad person, she's actually pretty nice....just lazy and not very bright/responsible. As predicted, she woke up after the heating crisis was resolved. I did however, very passive-aggressively, reset the thermostat timer from turning off at midnight to 11:30, yeah, so take that!

Also, last night as Ryan and I were washing our dinner dishes, Angel woke up and turned on some Mariah Carey-sounding Chinese music and she began to sing really loudly and off-key. It was pretty hilariously awful, so we also had a good laugh and she sang her little Chinese heart out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Domestic Dispute

So as of last week, our house went from nearly empty to full. After Ryan and I came back from London, we discovered someone had been moved into our house during our absence. We met her a few days later in the kitchen. Her name is Dorothy and she is a nurse, originally from Nigeria. She is very nice and cooks a lot, like me. She pronounces my name "Kaily" but I don't mind. She lives on the top floor and we usually see her in crossing from the kitchen to her room.

Then last Saturday, right before Ryan and I were leaving to watch rugby at the Moon & Bell we had a knock on our door. It was another new roommate, moving into the downstairs, named Angel and from Beijing. We were glad she came to introduce herself and we tried to give her a quick run-down on the house: what works, what doesn't, how to sort through the abandoned dish ware in the kitchen. She apologized profusely for the noise of moving in and asked if she could store a box in the corner of the living room. We said sure, and left for rugby.

Flash forward to Sunday afternoon: we come home from church and the entire living room is covered in boxes, including a large mattress laid across the furniture. We ignored it and made some lunch. About 3pm Angel toddles out of her room to ask us to turn the heat on.

Maybe at this point I should clarify the heating system of our house. As I have mentioned, it is a large Victorian house with a lot of "original work" as my landlord put it. Meaning, the floors haven't been varnished in 1oo years and the window frames are sieves for all our heat to escape through. Heating is done by natural gas in England and is very expensive. Our thermostat is set to run twice a day for a few hours at a time. To supplement our heat, we wear layers and also have a small electric radiator for our room. The gas is paid for by card, and every so often (usually after a lot of nagging) our landlord will drop off 50 pounds for us to take the card to the mini-mart and charge it up. He said he expects the 50 pounds to last a month. This is also supposed to cover our cooking gas and the hot water heater, so as you can imagine, we economize.

Since Angel has moved in (3 days ago?) we have gone through a week's worth of gas. Our thermostat is set to turn on a few hours in the morning and a few hours at night, turning off around 10:30. The problem is that Angel goes to bed after midnight and sleeps till around 5pm. (She told us she is looking for a job in London ?) Ryan was making tea yesterday evening when she stumbles out of her room wrapped in a comforter and heads for the thermostat. Ryan explains how the heating system is currently set, and offers to change the hours around, to which Angel replies "why don't we just turn it on when we're cold and turn it off when we're hot? We're not paying for it." Which sounds logical enough, except when you've spent a few anxious days tracking the movements of your landlord and hunting for an open shop when he finally rolls around with the gas card top-up.

So, this morning we are out of gas. Maybe now Angel will see the importance of not heating the entire house for 12 hours a day. Unlikely, though because it is 10am and she is not due to wake up for several more hours.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What do you do with a drunken Finn?

Friday night Ryan and I were invited to play Beer-tionary (aka alcoholic Pictionary) with some guys from the Master's course. So, after a quick dinner we bundled up and headed over to the only grocery store open after 5pm, Sainsbury's, to pick up some refreshments. The whole store was filled with college-aged people loading up their backpacks, and friends' backpacks with cheap beer.

After this brief foray, we meandered over to a campus apartment complex's common room. A group of semi-intoxicated international masters' students had already assembled. Most of these fellas are not native English speakers, so as you can imagine, simply explaining Pictionary's rules was pretty interesting. Not to mention, Fernando, a guy from the Canary Islands, is a total cheater. Worse than me, seriously. Anyway, after the first round my team was doing pretty well, and I managed to guess "the Earth" almost instantly. The second this happened, Stefan, my French friend, yelled "you shit!" I was a little taken aback, but I figured "maybe this is some cultural thing." HOWEVER, he continued to shout "you shit! You shitted!" until another French guy whispered something into his ear, at which Stefan turned bright red and they both spent the next few minutes trying to pronounce the word "cheat." "Shhchhiiiiit, Shhhcchhhiiii-eeeet." It was pretty hilarious.

After some decisive cheating on Fernando's part, our team was victorious, and people began mingling and hanging out, mostly discussing lab blah blah blah. Then a very fancily dressed Asian lady approached me and began asking me a lot of questions. This would be a fairly normal situation, but what struck me about this lady was her perfectly stenciled eye-makeup, blank expression, and automated-sounding voice, which explained that she "come from outer space." I have to say I was a little creeped out. After a moment, a guy I sort of recognized came over and sat next to me. I was glad to have another person to converse with, and I soon realized this guy was fall-down drunk. It was pretty amusing because he was drunk enough to be kind of unaware of his own body, but at the same time, thinking everything he is doing is very cool.

His speech slurred out slowly, and he was hitting on me, but I explained that I was married, and gestured over to Ryan. He must know Ryan, right? He seemed to take the hint and asked if we were going to watch the Rugby World Cup on Saturday. I said, yes we are. He suggested we watch it together, and I figured sure. So I gave him our number. In a few minutes, I was back over with Ryan and I said "Your Finnish friend wants to watch rugby tomorrow night, so I gave him our number." Ryan says "Who?" "That guy from Finland...over there." I pointed to the Finn, who gave me a weird winking face. Ryan said "I don't know who that guy gave him our number?" "Well, I thought he was in your program!"

I spent the rest of the evening avoiding this Finnish guy, and also the robot lady. It mostly worked, minus when I was helping clean up Pictionary and Finnish guy made a swipe at my ass. Man, there's nothing more attractive than a desperate and super drunk guy who thinks he's really special.

We slept in on Saturday and occasionally made anxious checks of the cell phone, but our drunk Finn, for some reason, did not call. I don't know whether to feel hurt, rejected, or what. You just can't trust those alcoholic Finns.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Last weekend the husband and I trekked down to London. I've been meaning to write about it all week, but I don't know what to say, exactly.

We took the train down early Saturday morning, and back late Sunday night, and all in all, it was a whirlwind. I'm not sure I even have a fundamental feel for the city due to the brevity of our visit.

For one thing, London is EXTREMELY touristy. We met far more tourists than actual Londoners. It is very different from our little town of Loughborough, where we've met only one other American. Ryan and I first touched down in the Tower of London, and then spent most of the weekend in and around Trafalgar Square/SoHo/the West End. It was wonderful shopping and theatre, but I don’t feel like we really connected with the city until Sunday night.

After pub dinner, we walked along the Thames as all the buildings were lit, and it was really beautiful. That is the London I'd like to see more of next time. On the way back to the train station we walked through a park with a World War 1/World War 2 memorial, and Ryan noted how ironic and sad it was that so many monuments in England talked about the horrors of "The Great War" and then were forced to add an addendum a mere 20 years later. It is frustrating and discouraging that humanity can experience the sorrow of such wars and still continue to engage in the barbaric practice.

But London is not a comment on history, but an honest presentation of it. The Fabulous British Museum is full of rare and beautiful artifacts carried out of colonies. The Tower of London still stands to shock people with horrific tales of torture and imprisonment. (It actually was pretty entertaining, though I think their next step will be some Disneyland-style robotic people pretending to be executed-- you know, like the Country Bears Jamboree only with more blood.)

I guess my advice on London would be to really absorb it from a historical perspective first. Take in the less sensational sights like the government buildings and churches. Then move on to the more touristy areas. That’s my plan, anyhow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Language Barrier

Everyone's probably heard the phrase "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." I'm certainly finding it true. Not only do English and American people use different words and different expressions, I think their whole manner of speaking is fundamentally different. In America, one speaks to get a point across quickly; for instance, when telling a funny story one will use exaggeration to prove how funny/absurd the situation was. Or when explaining something, one speaks quickly and directly, economizing words.

But in England, there is no such rush in language. People talk to talk. The funniest things here are asking directions and saying goodbye. Most of the English people Ryan and I have come across seem to love to give directions. They'll think as they talk, explaining a particularly good route, then doubting themselves, they'll say "no, no, go this way instead..." and explain one or two more routes. Also hilarious is saying goodbye, particularly our landlord. After concluding a 5 second phone conversation "we need more money on the gas card" for instance, he'll end by saying "Alright? Alright. Cheers, mate, cheers. Bye. Goodbye, cheers, bye." Seriously.

In general, the English are more courteous. I notice this a lot at work. When I tell someone their total, they'll say thank you or cheers (or sometimes both). I'll make change and hand them their receipt, they'll usually thank me again, tell me "cheers", "take care", or my favorite: "bless you, dear." They are also quick to slather the compliments, calling me "lovely", "darling", "dear", "love", etc. Or telling me that my ringing up of their items was "brilliant" or "lovely." Not bad really.

There is one thing that always catches me off guard, though. At my work, all the employees tend to say "Are you alright?" in a tone that makes one think they've just walked out of the ladies' room with mascara streaks running down one's face. They actually mean "how are you?" but it still takes me a second to respond appropriately.

Many of the customers ask me if I'm Canadian. I think a lot of them have a perception of Americans speaking with a New York, Boston, or Minnesotan accent. It doesn't bother me, really. I don't have anything against Canada. But they are very embarrassed when I correct them. I'm kind of amazed when they pick up on the accent when I say like 5 words to most of them. It's probably the "cheers" that gives me away. British pronunciation: chee-as, American: cheeeee-uhrs.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Proper Tea

Thankfully, work was much less stressful today. I'd made 8 pages of flashcards with the codes on the back, so I can master the produce pricing, but it wasn't going well. This weighed on my mind as I trudged to work this afternoon.

The only lady over 30 at the shop was working with me today, she told me her name is Sharon, or "Shaz." She is very nice, but kind of bitter. After hearing my accent, she asked me where I was from and I gave her the run-down of what I'm doing in the UK. I asked her if she was from the area and her reply was "Born and bred. But I hate it here and would do anything to escape." Taken back a bit, I asked where she'd escape to. "Anywhere." "Would you stay in England?" "Never." But all in all she was very pleasant. And there seemed to be a funny flirtation between her and the assistant manager, Andy. They play jokes and pick at each other, its kind of like being in high school. In fact, when Shaz was on break, Andy approached me and asked where Karen was. Thinking I was misunderstanding his accent, I asked "Sharon?" "No, Karen, the other girl who works here." At which I blushed bright red and exclaimed, "Oh no, I thought she said Sharon, I've been calling her Sharon all afternoon! And Shaz!" He laughed and said "well she'd never correct you, she's too polite." I was soooo embarrassed and started to say something to her when she came back from break, but she stopped me and said that this was a joke Andy told everyone, and that half the customers now call her Karen. We decided to call him Adam for the rest of the day.

The codes are coming along better. I did overcharge like five people for their potatoes, but I am getting better. Not bad for two days. I've discovered that a sense of humor goes a long way. This seems obvious, but its hard to step back from a stressful situation and just laugh. This afternoon an old man went off on me when I called his cabbage "lettuce." He was remarking loudly to everyone in the line that I didn't know what cabbage was, and that I worked in a grocery store! How absurd! The gentlemen seemed genuinely offended by this fact, so I deadpanned and explained that we don't eat vegetables in America. At the mention of the US his whole demeanor changed from cranky old man to curious neighbor. After asking me all the standard questions (during which time I was able to find the code for his particular type of cabbage) he wished me luck and left happily with his groceries. The novelty of being a foreigner will carry me far, I think.

And as I sat in the Market Square on my "tea break" watching the generations doing their shopping and socializing, people from many different countries meeting and greeting, I have to say I felt oddly at home.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

World-Class Fruiterer?

Take a look at this picture. You probably know it as a zucchini, or if you are confused, a cucumber. In England, it is a courgette. Yesterday I started my new job at "JJ Atkinsons and Sons, World-Class Fruiterers." I have no idea how to pronounce that last word, so its lucky I don't have to answer any phones. That is actually my least favorite part of working retail, because at least in America, you can't just answer the phone and say the business' name, you must launch into a memorized two paragraph exultation, even if a client is just calling to ask for directions.

ANYWAY, the good news is I don't have to do any hokey phone answers or ask customers if they've seen our latest special or if they'd like to apply for a Target card, I just have to ring up fruit and veg. It seems simple enough. The only thing is that half the produce I've never seen before in my life, I'm still not 100% on British currency, and did I mention I need to memorize like 200 codes for all the produce?

But considering all that, I think my first day went pretty well. The first half of the day was pouring and we had few customers, which was nice. Andy, the assistant manager, walked me through the first half day's transactions, including all the codes, specials, and etc. It is pretty easy when he's standing next to me. The market is open on to the market street, so I was worried about freezing, but we have lovely fleecy jackets provided. They are all large man-sized, so they perfectly complimented the professional yet trendy outfit I had selected with which to make a good impression.

The day was fairly smooth until closing time. How is it customers always know when you're about to close and decide to bring all their families in when you're trying to clean and lock up? I was taken off till to do some cleaning, then called back on due to a massive line. I'm trying to ring up all these items that I don't have memorized so I must keep referring to a giant list of codes, and I almost made the wrong change, and when I corrected my mental math error I started counting it back in dollars instead of pounds, and there was a huge line at my till and Andy was yelling something about my till's screen and I almost lost it. Courgettes, isn't that stupid! BUT I reminded myself that I was living in a foreign country and this was my first day at a job I had never done before and I was just familiarizing myself with the bizarre names, myriad of codes, and absurd amount of coins that each transaction required.

I took a deep breath and just did my best to keep the line moving, and when it was gone I shot Andy a satisfactory look, because I know I can handle this. Perhaps this is my new England mantra. I can handle this. Living in England, nothing is really hard or scary in itself. Its just that nothing is as easy as it used to be in America, and this gets frustrating. But I know I can handle it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sherwood Forest Full of Foreigners

Happily for us, Nora and Phillipe whom we met Wednesday night, gave us a ring Friday and invited us along with them on a hike through Sherwood Forrest the next morning. We trekked over to the university bright and early the next morning, and a few minutes after 9 Nora showed up and walked us over to their flat where Phillipe was tiredly looking for his hiking boots.

They managed to get university housing, which was very nicely equipped but tiny. They have a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. No room for a couch. But their appliances are brand new. I guess its a toss-up, good condition but no room, or acres of room but falling apart. Nora agreed with me that English housing is dirty, and said their place was filthy when they moved in.

We got in Phillipe's Italian car (steering wheel on the left) and after a few "detours" and Nora asking every English person we could find where it was, we made it to Sherwood Forrest. It was surprisingly small, coming from a land of vast national parks. It is an odd mix of ancient oaks and recent plantings. The largest oak in the forest is called "The Major Oak" and is approx 800 years old and 33" around its trunk. Legend has it that this is where Robin Hood and his merry men gathered before raids.

Apparently there was a real, documented person named Robin Hood. He was an outlaw, and though many of the stories about him are probably legend, word spread about him and many people took up his name as an alias and carried on in his grand tradition. Sherwood Forest honors this by erecting a hokey-looking statue and a fairly sad carnival. It was very touristy. But they are planning on tearing this down and building a new visitor's center, which would probably be for the best.

Anyway, we walked around the tiny forest, taking the longest trail which was 3.5 miles. We felt a little over-equipped with our hiking shoes, backpacks, and etc. But we had a good talk about the different countries we had been to, the culture shock of England, politics, and the NHS. I must make a correction, I think last blog I stated that Phillipe is French but he's actually Italian. He and Nora met while they were both working in Monaco, which is a minuscule and bizarre place full of millionaires and NO TAXES. Amazing. Phillipe was a tanker engineer and Nora used her many languages in international business. Also, when I say talk, I might add that Nora is kind of the mouth for both of them. I think Phillipe is self-conscious about his English, though its very good, but he is very quiet when he talks.

After our brief walk, we ventured into nearby Mansfield for lunch. We walked around for about half an hour, with Phillipe and Nora poking their noses into places, then walking out and apologizing to us, in what appeared to be a foreign dining ritual. Ryan and I followed the two of them around, wondering what criteria the pubs and cafes were being judged on. Finally Phillipe turned to us and broke his silence. In his low, accented voice he said "I hate zees place." I almost had to laugh, it seemed like something from a movie. Nora joked "they invented spaghetti so now they are the culinary authority."

We finally settled on a pub, and Phillipe was excited to find the Australian/English rugby game on. Nora and Phillipe coached us through the rules, and I have to say the sport is infinitely more exciting than American football. This one in particular was an intense grudge match, since the last Rugby World Cup was between England and Australia, wherein Australia was stomped on their home turf. The game was pretty intense, and it was exciting to hear the cheering in the bar. The English won, 12-10 and the bar was full of hoots and hollers. Only Nora was disappointed, she said as an Irish person it was against her principles to root for England.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friend Hunting and Job, reverse that.

Sad to report, I did not get the lunch lady job. I blame prejudice against Americans. No, not really, though it is harder to check my references. I have several CVs out currently and two interviews in the immediate future.

The job hunt in England is fairly different than job hunting in the US. You must have a CV for even minor, minimum-wage jobs. And it is a major faux pas to mention to a prospective employer that you are considering taking more than one part-time job. (Although President Bush calls it "uniquely American" and "fantastic")* Apparently the two employers would have to coordinate for tax purposes and the Simon Cowell impersonator I interviewed for yesterday was very adamant about not bothering with this. It was a little harsh for this foreigner.
But, like I said, I have many irons in the fire at the moment.

In other news, on Wednesday I joined Ryan and his research group for lunch at one of his school's cafeteria, which has a full bar, which is open for lunch also. His group is made up of 1 Irish guy, 2 Greek fellows, and a Chinese bloke. We were talking about our travels and I must admit I felt pretty ignorant. I've thought of myself as fairly well-informed because I watch world news and took a class on International Relations. But the Irish guy, Micheal, knew not only where Montana is, but the states that border it and its national parks. I was like, "Oh, that the one with the IRA or is that North Ireland?"

That night there was a post-grad engineering social at The Orange Tree, one of the local pubs. It was pretty fun and we met a lot of people. Some of the conversations were actually a series of misunderstandings because the other party was not a native English speaker and the pub was very loud! But it was fun, and I did meet a lady named Nora who is married to a French student and we had a good talk since we are going through a lot of the same things-- adjusting to married life, following our husbands to other countries, looking for work in the UK, visas, and all that. We also had a good laugh about how our engineering husbands calculate everything. In Ryan's case its "If we ruin this meat, it costs blank, versus buying something pre-cooked, minus the cost of labor...." and so on. It's comforting to know that engineers are the same no matter what country you are in.

*"You work three jobs? Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." (Bush speaking to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Good work England

Yesterday I had a realization of sorts. I'd emailed my Dad to complain about how filthy our new flat is, and he emailed me back with the remarks "You can expect the cleanliness issue to reoccur as you move around because we Americans are clean freaks."

I've always known, at least at a logical level, that just because I did things a certain way in America didn't mean that its the right way; but somehow this notion had failed to permeate. I know that up until now I've been feeling icy towards England-- I had never expected things to be so different.

Taylor teased me before we left that the UK isn't really a foreign country, and though I laughed, I think somewhere deep down I believed it. We share so many things; I would've been prepared for huge changes if we were moving to Africa or Japan, but England seems like it should be much closer to America-- like Canada. But whereas Canada is just like walking around in America, with a few laughable differences, Britain is entirely different. Walking around here, I am keenly aware that there are rules being followed by everyone else and I have no clue what they are.

But we are making progress. Today while crossing the street, I looked to the right without thinking about it. Normally I forget which direction the cars are coming from and just look back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth vigorously until I feel it is safe. AND there are a lot of good things about England. Surprisingly, the food is one of them. Ryan and I have yet to eat bad pub grub (even the peas weren't mushy, Bonnie!). And have any of you heard of pasties? That's a "short a" p-ah-sties, not p-ay-sties, the nipple twirl things. Anyway, they are like the fast food of England, like a little chicken pot pie you can carry around and eat with your hands! And they come in such a variety of fillings! Good work, England.

In other news, I had a job interview lady to be a "catering assistant" aka a lunch lady, at a very posh private school. I find this job bizarrely desirable, and think I would make a hilarious lunch lady.

Monday, October 1, 2007

New Digs

Sorry its been over a week since the last post. It has been crazy!

So, last you read our heroine and hero were vigorously and disappointedly seeking accomodation. Well, for lack of time I'll sum up. After two more disappointing days of bouncing around different letting agencies, and a completely useless bus ride to nearby Shepshed, we finally made a break.

Thursday in Lboro is market day, and also the day the paper comes out. For the hell of it I called an ad from the classifieds and got a viewing appt. I called several more and we made four appointments total Thursday night and Friday. Most of the places were pretty disappointing. But, with a glowing review from our B&B hosts, who were very lovely, we took a room in a shared house on Friday. We jetted out of town on Saturday and spent a lovely 2 days in Bath and then 2 in the Cotswolds, which I'll write about later.

We came back on Thursday this week to find that the promised "cleaning service" had failed to materialize. After speaking to a roommate, she offered up the opinion that our landlord is a lying sack of scum. He's been very nice to Ryan and I so far, and has met all of our requests minus this cleaning bit. He's even offered us a free meal at his steak restaurant, which I'm hoping we can take advantage of tonight.

The house was built circa 1820 and is well preserved. The shared kitchen and living room are large and our room is quite nice. But it is very dirty and our dryer doesn't work. It was the only place we looked at that actually had a dryer, so I guess its a toss up. The kitchen and bathroom need a lot of work. Ryan scrubbed at the stove last night while I constructed a chicken pot pie remarking "Say what you want about Juan and I, but we NEVER lived like this!"

One fun fact about European construction: the idea of a single faucet has not crossed the pond for the most part. All the sinks here have seperate taps for hot and cold water, so you basically have a choice of freezing or scalding. Yes, they built some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, but give me warm tap water any day.

Last but not least, our roommates are quickly vanishing. One moved out on Saturday to attend university in another town, but the one on the top floor has apparently jumped ship after getting two months behind on rent. And our remaining roommate, who is keeper of the internet, we haven't seen since Friday. We were hoping she'd hook up our cable so we can call home via Skype, but no such luck. She has got a lot of stuff around the house, so I don't believe she's jumped ship, but we'll see......

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I’ve decided to call Tuesday, Sept 18 “Initiation Day” because, frankly, it was a shitty day. Ryan and I have since decided that England was testing us on Tuesday, and we believe we have proved to England that we are staying.

Ryan and I both woke up at 2am (thank you 8 hour time change) and spent the rest of the night watching bizarre clips of BBC children’s television, since many channels switch off from 11-6. At 7am breakfast was finally being served downstairs, so we got up and met Derek, the other owner/operator of the Holywell House. He is very nice and chatty and makes a mean pot of Earl Grey, which I have discovered is delicious with 2 large teaspoons of sugar. He warned us about finding apartments in the area behind Holywell House since it is “dodgy.”

We finished up and headed out into the streets of Loughborough…for about 5 seconds, then ran back inside for more sweaters and anything warm we could pile on since it was probably close to 40 F outside. (A lady on the plane told me I could calculate Celsius by doubling it and adding 30, but this is a gross approximation.) We walked around the downtown area “Carillon Square” which is lovely and has many shops, all of which are strictly open 9-5.

Eager to begin our housing hunt, we walked over to the University and arrived at Student Accommodation Services just before opening. We made it in and when Ryan told a Mrs. Claus-looking lady that we needed married housing, she said “Ah! I have one apartment left!” Ryan said “We’ll take it! Oh, but one thing, we’re only here for the 1st term.” The woman’s kindly round face wrinkled into a sneer. “No. Nothing. We have nothing for you and no one else will either. You won’t find anything around here—you’ll end up in a long-term hotel.” Despite the freezing weather I saw a trickle of sweat run down Ryan’s forehead. I stared at the woman in disbelief and she seemed to soften. “Well, I’ll tell you what to do. Take the bus from the roundabout to Shepshed and go to the sweet shop. Put up a post in the sweet shop window and maybe some one will call you—there are lots of large old houses and sometimes people will rent something.” We skulked out of the SAS with our tails between our legs. Ryan walked with his shoulders slumped-- like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. “What a total witch.” I said. Ryan nodded and we walked on to the gate of the university.

There was a letting agent right by the gate, and although the SAS lady assured us no landlord would touch us, I convinced Ryan to pop in with me. A fashionably dressed lady with sparkly eye shadow sat us down and heard us out, with many interjections of “Oh bless you!” as we told her of our honeymoon plans to find university housing. She didn’t look terribly optimistic, but told us that 90% of the apartments were already rented, and there might just be a landlord who was willing to settle for a 4-month lease. She said she’d make some calls and then give us a ring—only one problem, we didn’t have a UK phone number yet!

We gave her the name of our B&B and headed back towards town. That afternoon we had authentic English lunch at a little bakery in Carillon Square; I tried sausage rolls and Ryan ate a chicken Tikki sandwich. We walked back and forth between O2 and Orange, trying to compare cell service. Settling on Orange, the shop lady popped out our sim card and handed us our new 11-digit phone number. The thought occurred that we should call the letting agency again, only to remember we didn’t get her name. So we walked back to the university and left our number for Naomi at Nicholas J. Humphreys, as she and it are apparently called.

It was still early afternoon, but we were exhausted. We went back to the hotel for a break, which eventually turned into each of us trying to keep the other awake. Ultimately the scheme failed, and I was only awoken at 7pm by my stomach trying to eat itself. We groggily walked 2 blocks for Chinese take out, wherein another man couldn’t understand us and gave us double our order. (We really need to start checking these things before we bring the food back!) We managed to almost stay awake until 9pm, and then slept 11 hours straight.

Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, the story gets much happier the next day.

Tomato Sauce

Sunday morning we left Seattle to start our new life in England. Our journey was long and sleep-deprived. After a sad goodbye to Ryan’s parents, we hopped a flight from SeaTac to Calgary, and after some confusion was cleared up (don’t believe the ticket agents at SeaTac who say you don’t have to take your checked bags through customs) made it through security. We had a 10-hour layover, but the customs agent in Calgary was very nice and told us how to get to the zoo.

Calgary zoo was a welcome break, despite the usual muck of parents completely out of control of their crazy children. The hippo enclosure is amazing—the hippos have an above ground area and a large, long tank where you can see how gracefully they swim. Ryan enjoys the flamingos the best—he doesn’t exactly know why, but guesses it’s because they are pink from eating shrimp, as are some smaller birds who cohabitate with them. On the light rail back to the airport I remarked to Ryan about the multitude of “help wanted” signs in Calgary. A turban-clad man in front of us started cursing at me in some foreign language, escalating until his finger was in my face and he was practically shouting “Domine! Domine!” ???

Our London flight left at 10pm MST and was fairly uneventful except that I almost murdered the flight attendants who kept waking me up to ask if I wanted headphones, or a turkey sandwich, or an extra blanket. WTF? What sleeping person wants a turkey sandwich? Maybe they should change their slogan to “Canada Air: so friendly, you’ll want to kill us!”

We arrived in the UK on Monday afternoon (Monday pre-dawn Seattle time). Our first impressions were that the UK stinks. This is because we landed at Heathrow Airport, the entirety of which reeks of lemon-scented disinfectant. Customs and immigration were a breeze. Currency exchange, however, was vastly disappointing. I handed over $90 and was given back just under 40 pounds. Also, it was cold and the bus area had a lot of deformed pigeons. Also, we were tired and cranky from our flight.

We caught a bus from Heathrow to East Midlands airport, during which there were some skeezy guys who leered at me, and I discovered that my electric toothbrush had caused its batteries to leak brown goo.

From East Midlands we caught a taxi to Loughborough, at this time it was late and pouring rain and our taxi driver drove really fast and on the left side of the road. We checked into the B&B and after several trips, got all our luggage up the stairs. Les & Derek are the owner /operators of The Holywell House and are very nice, and they have 3 dogs, the cutest and smallest being Marble, a black and white terrier. We popped around the corner to get some dinner at one of Lougborough’s many “Pizza, burger, kebabs!” shops where the man behind the counter apparently didn’t understand me when I said I wanted pasta with “to-MAH-to” sauce and instead handed me a dish of pasta soaked in ketchup which we finally discovered upon opening our takeout back at the B&B. Completely exhausted, we laughed and climbed into the twin beds that were the only available at our B&B.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beautiful British Columbia pt 1

Ok, I've been meaning to update my supposed "travel blog" with my notes from Victoria for weeks. Here they are!

For those of you who don't know, the new husband and I took a "mini-moon" to Victoria since our big honeymoon in the UK is 3 weeks post-wedding. We took the Victoria Clipper from Seattle's pier 69 to Victoria's inner harbor on August 26th. I would say it was scenic and fun, but to be honest we were both pretty sleep deprived from the night before and mostly I remember an obnoxiously loud Canadian espousing his child-rearing philosophies to some obnoxious American parents whilst Ryan & I tried to nap.

We arrived just before supper and breezed through Canadian customs, then rolled our luggage up a small hill to our gorgeous hotel, The Queen Victoria. I managed to book one of the top-floor suites for a better rate than a cheap room at The Empress or Hotel Grand Pacific. Our room had a balcony with a water view, a gigantic jacuzzi bathtub and was pretty stellar I must say. By check in time we were famished so we walked across the street and got some Spaghetti Factory-- not super classy but quicker than walking downtown to find some place authentically Canadian. We also walked to a local grocery in hopes of picking up a bottle of wine only to discover they do not sell alcohol in grocery stores in BC. We were fairly tired anyway, so we just went back to the Vic and called it a night.

Victoria was lovely, but a little off-setting. Going from America to Canada is kind of like slipping into an alternate universe where everything is almost the same...but not quite. Large American chains ala McDonalds and Subway had the same logo but with a tiny maple leaf embedded. There was a "Canadian Idol" with the exact same logo, music, and contestants (seriously, there was a Blake clone) but the judges were all way too nice for "American Idol." There was a "Marble Slab Creamery" instead of a "Cold Stone Creamery." Is this an attempt at a more distinct Canadian identity or a case of pathetic corporate pandering? Probably the latter, although I didn't mind the Canadian version of Reese's cups, it came with 3!

That's all for the moment, I'll update on the rest of BC as well as Big Britain after I successfully hop the pond tomorrow morning. If you're lucky maybe something hilarious will happen on our 10 HOUR LAYOVER in Calgary. Cheerio!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Que Que Nat-u-rah, You will Understand

Last night among the usual collection of bizarre dreams (one involved eating the arms off of Ryan's cousin's doll "for safe keeping") I had one that I hesitate to take seriously.

I dreamt I was on my way to get a hair cut. The lady who entered the room was a large Japanese Shaman. I don't know if there really are Japanese Shamans, but in my dream there was. There were all these people there-- a lot of people I knew from high school who have it all figured out with what they want to do with their lives-- and she gave each of them a necklace. Each one had a powerful symbol. Then everyone told these stories and they seemed random but I soon realized that each of these stories defined them. There were tragic stories that were funny because the people telling them had a funny outlook on life.

The shaman asked me what my story was. I said I had no idea. She asked me who I was. A lot of words came to mind: disciple, traveler, but I settled on seeker.

In the car this morning there was a commercial on the radio for some computer school. The guy said "I was an actor, a chairlift operator at a ski resort, and a cattle rancher. Now I'm a computer-blah-blah-blah." And I thought to myself "what a step backwards!"

So I still don't know what I want to do with my life, but I guess at least I still have it all ahead of me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An Open Letter to the Asshole Sitting Next to Me While Watching "Superbad"

Its hypocritical of me to despise someone for talking during movies, as my friends and I usually have a running dialogue if the movie is even slightly sub-par (I'm looking at you "Sunshine"). But last Friday night was over my limit.

My brother and I went to see this flick for a little bonding before the madness of my ensuing wedding. It was really disgusting, but hilarious. What's not funny is the douche sitting next to me trying to impress some chick by yelling "faggot!" at the screen and at others in the theater.

How small is your manhood that you need to yell offensive and homophobic remarks at fictional characters? The scene that most offended this redneck was when "Evan" (aka George Micheal from the ever-fabulous Arrested Development) refused to sleep with a girl because she was a totally wasted VIRGIN. Clearly, Evan was a big homo.

How is it that a guy who probably finds a loving mutual relationship between two people of the same sex morally repugnant can simultaneously yell at someone to take advantage of a drunk 17 year old? Does this seem skewed to anyone else?

Looking at statistics in this country for the multitude of people who oppose gay marriage always astonishes me. Who are these people? Have they never met a gay person? Do they not have the capacity for empathy with our homosexual brothers and sisters? I can never believe that so many people can be so ignorant....but then I encounter one of my fellow Missoulians who feels comfortable enough being homophobic to flaunt it in front of a full movie theater and I have my answer.

If karma is really true this guy will experience the joy of being labeled a "faggot" someday. We'll see if he has empathy after that.

Friday, August 10, 2007

All's Fair

Contrary to what most people think about Big Sky Country, I grew up here with very little animal experience-- other than a mysterious parade of short-lived dogs and cats we had when I was between the ages of 9-15. (When a large bird of prey carries off your chihuahua, you know something more powerful is at work.)

At any rate, my current nanny job took me to the Western Montana Fair once again this year, only instead of casually walking through the livestock section to look at some freakishly feathered chicken, I spent the last 2 days there.

4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America for you city slickers) certainly have their own culture. Some of the stereotypes are true-- the Toby Keith "put a boot up the terrorists' butts" attitude and all, but the kid I watch for 3 days a week is a very sensitive, intellectual type. He entered a lamb in this year's competition, and as I watched him and his sister today I learned some very interesting things about this foreign culture.

What do you think they use to wash the sheep before the competition? Guess. Shampoo, dish soap, special livestock soap? No. Woolite. I'm totally serious. After their bath many are dressed in sheep leotards-- I'm not lying-- to keep them clean. Talking to another 4-H participant, apparently they make them for horses and cows as well. They come in 2 piece options for larger animals. I couldn't make this stuff up.

The actual competition took well over an hour. I'd guess probably 100 lambs were shown, grouped together by weight. To "show" the lambs, kids (ages 6-17) have to hold on to their lambs' heads (no leashes, ropes or anything!) and lead them around a ring, which, as you can imagine, is a lot easier said than done. Many of the lambs outweighed their tiny masters, and jerked them around the ring.

The judge seemed bizarrely knowledgeable about how sheep loins were supposed to look and feel (uh oh, I think a bad farmer joke is coming on....fight it....) The only truly disturbing thing about the whole process was that at several times the judge would switch from talking about the beauty and gentleness of the animal to mentioning what a "desirable carcass" it would be when it was "hanging up." Seriously.

In a way, it was like watching Miss America. The judges compare the muscle and shape, the way the sheep/lady is presented, and both are judged completely on appearances and assumptions. I think the only real difference is that when beauty contestants are being judged, they don't piss on the floor.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


The other day my mother and I (in a more sane mood, thankfully) made the epic journey over the mountains to Spokane. See, I took my wedding dress to an experienced seamstress to be altered in APRIL and not only had she not completed it by the time I got back from Seattle (end of June) but she had, in fact, hijacked my dress to Spokane without even calling us!

We had already driven over once for a "final fitting" which actually meant she hadn't done anything except rip off the sleeves and cut the hem....not even ironed. Well at this point I was ready to snatch the dress and run screaming out of the house, sleeves or no sleeves. But my mother, in all her mandatory Southern politeness, insisted that the progress was acceptable because "For heaven's sake she just moved! Its a wonder her house is unpacked, she must be very busy!"

Take a moment to wrap your head around that.

Moving on, we did get the dress yesterday and it is "finished" and by that I mean she somehow decided to narrow the sleeves so they are each about 2" too small for my arms. Any brides out there with 10" biceps who want a dress? Anyway, we decided to take it home and fix it ourselves. She had the audacity to charge us $450, but we just wanted to get the hell away from her house of dress butchery.

So we stopped for lunch at the lovely Northtown Mall. And this was truly an experience of observing local culture. Firstly, the Chilis in that mall is full of people who don't want to be there. While this is probably true of many Chilis, these employees were actually very vocal about it. When the hostess was showing us to our table she asked how we were, and we asked her the same, of course expecting the obligatory "fine." Instead: "Well pretty damn good because I think this is my last day working here!"

As she left I leaned over and whispered to my mom how glad I was she wasn't our server, then our bizarrely chipper waiter came over to ask us how we were at auctioneer-pace, we repeated this little dance and he said "Great, its Friday and I don't have to come back to this awful place for 3 days!"

Also sited at Chilis: 4 waitresses with ponytails so ratty I'm sure they're a healthcode violation, 1 Asian waitress with hair so blond that when I saw her face it took me a second to process she was Asian, and 1 obese customer lifting up her top to display- and scratch- her muffin top.

And the rest of SpoKompton was pretty similar: lots of girls wearing see-through shirts with ratty bras, a giant detour that circumscribed the city and took us back to exactly where we started, and gold rims on cars with chipped paint. Why, Spokane, why?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Compare and contrast

My fiance has caught me. I haven't posted in over a month, and the last post is somewhat.....emo, shall we say? Aiming for poetic, but it was never my strong suit.

Current locale: Montana (aka "Glory of the west"). It is currently 102 fahrenheit, as opposed to a breezy 74 in Seattle. Other differences: Missoula is currently on the red "extreme" pie piece on the fire danger monitor (like the terrorism monitor, only this is actually dangerous). And in this locale, I am working again as a private nanny instead of delving into the chalice of corporate idealogy at 24 Hour Fitness.

Ryan is at home in Seattle and I miss him terribly. He's collecting unemployment after some dastardly mismanagement at his engineering firm. The really sad part: he still makes more money than me! Oh Montana!

Other interesting happenings: apparently you can get an "FUI" in Montana now (Floating Under the Influence-- as in drinking while sitting in a rubber innertube floating down the river). I wonder if they have stings where cops dress as fishermen and signal you to shore to administer a breathalizer? Perhaps they rely on other floaters to turn you in-- unlikely, since most tubers I've seen rig up some sort of floatable cooler in the water. Also, while working on our new fence with my Dad a week ago, a WW2 bomber flew over our house. At first I didn't recognize it, but was seized with an unknowing fear. Then my dad spoke up and I realized I was recalling the old black-and-white war footage.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Give us money!! $$$

I swore I'd never blog. I know people who blog, and they're only interesting in the "I can't believe this person thinks like this what a loser" way. For example the "oh my god people at my work are so mean and dumb" or the "I can't confront my friend/boyfriend/boss/mom about our personal problems so I'm gonna bitch about it online" or my personal fav "look how badly I'm taking care of myself, leave lots of comments scolding me and therefore validating my feelings that I AM THE CENTER OF THE FUCKING UNIVERSE." Seriously.

But here I am, blogging. The dilemma that has pushed me to blog is the fact that I'm getting married to a wonderful man (he is the one who hears me bitch, not you) and we are moving to Europe so he can study alternative energies, and by proxy, save the world. The only catch is we are broke recent grads who may not be able to even get work permits in the EU. How am I going to support Ryan's microchip habit?

My goal, however unrealistic, is that someone will read this and pay me lots of money. It's pretty unlikely, but stranger things have happened. So, if you're reading this, consider me your internet panhandler. Remember, oil is running out and solar panels don't work in Seattle, so giving Ryan money now may eventually save your ass from freezing when the ice caps melt and flood the earth and somehow everything eventually freezes again (I'm foggy on that part of Deep Impact, but somehow a tidal wave in NYC eventually leads to continental ice ages, I'm pretty sure).