Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Invasion

I have been watching the progress on the Starbucks building for a few weeks now. Today was opening day. I thought about it but decided not to stop in.

Heaven in a Cup

Ever since H started making risotto I have been obsessed with it. In fact he made it for me when I was home a few weeks ago and it was delicious. Yesterday in Windsor I stumbled upon a local restaurant's mushroom festival. I got this nice sized cup of mushroom risotto which was steaming hot with a rich combination of mushrooms, so delicious on a chilly day.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Some Interesting Buildings in Windsor

The Moat Around the Castle

The Moat around the tower is now a beautiful garden. You can see signs of autumn in the foliage.

Trip to Windsor

Getting up early is the key to getting Windsor on the bus. I had a wonderful day today exploring the castle, the town of Windsor, and neighboring Eton. Just like the Tower of London, Windsor Castle is more sprawling than I expected. It also had an impressive collection of art, not just royal portraits. There was a special exhibit on royal weddings in the gallery. Interesting fact, when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip married in 1947 and the rationing from the war was still in place, their wedding cake was made from ingredients that were gifts from other countries. If you tour the Castle, do not get so taken in with the interiors that you forget to look out the windows. The Castle sits on a hill so the views from almost all of the windows are really beautiful.

Friday, September 28, 2007

1990 vs 2007

We lived in Germany in 1990 and the link back to the States for a very poor couple like us came in the form of the postal service. I don’t think ever in my life have I waited for and longed for mail as I did there. It was the only way. We called home very rarely, in fact I can only remember one phone call clearly and that is when I woke my mom up at probably 4 or 5 am to ask her how to make gravy. It was the first time I had ever prepared Thanksgiving dinner and she wasn’t very happy to hear from me! The telephone was very expensive. We paid our German phone bill on the Army post and I remember standing in line once and listening to this poor soldier in front of me trying to arrange a payment plan for his $800 phone bill. He had a new wife and she was homesick. I remember thinking that having an $800 phone bill would truly be the end of the world. Communicating back home now is amazing in comparison. Through the internet I get to talk to the family regularly, and instant message and email with friends often. I even get to see A on the webcam when we talk. It really makes things easier.

My friend M has been asking me about the television situation here. He was concerned I would not get to watch my favourite shows. I had visions of him coming to visit me with a suitcase full of American television DVDs he’d burned from his TiVo and us never leaving the couch the whole visit. I reported back that a lot of my favorite shows are on here but a season behind (they call a season a series). It was killing me though to know some of my favourite shows were debuting this week and I couldn’t watch them. Even though I can get to or and see a link to the episode on line, I get blocked from watching any of that content because of my “location”. My only loophole right now is that because my billing address is still in America, I can download episodes of television shows from the American version of iTunes. So tonight, after I trudged home in the rain, I downloaded my ABC Thursday night from iTunes and chatted over MSN Messenger with M about it as I was watching it. Gotta love technology.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

English Garden

I walked home in the rain tonight and there's definitely a fall chill in the air. So I thought I would post some pictures that I had forgotten I'd taken last month while exploring the neighborhoods.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The School Search Begins...

When I was getting ready to move here I was talking to a friend at work who lived in England during his tween years. He was telling me that he attended a Church of England school, and then the American School in London. His father worked for a large American corporation. I was curious about the American School although it is too far of a commute every day, but was shocked when I saw the price tag, which is about $35,000 a year. I called my friend and told him that he should call his parents and thank them for his education! Looking at the prices of other secondary schools, private school is definitely out.

I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the school system. The terms are very different: o levels, a levels, 6th form, league tables. What adds to the confusion is that where I work is situated on the border of two counties with different types of school systems. School started here a few weeks ago so many of the schools are having open houses in the next few weeks. Buckinghamshire County (Bucks for short) is one of the only counties in the whole country to still do a grammar school system. What that means is at a certain age, if a child does well on a test, they can go to a separate grammar school. I visited one of the grammar schools in the area tonight. I was impressed by the students and the wide range or classes, but there was one parent who turned me off.

There were about a thousand people, prospective students and their parents, attending this open house and we were being divided up into small groups so we could be escorted around by a student tour guide. I joined a group with two other families when one of the moms got this strange look on her face and said very loudly to me, “Where is your child? You don’t have a child?” Everyone turned to look at me like I was the out of town pedophile sneaking into the school. I quietly explained that we were moving to the area and left it at that. Here I am always on guard wanting to not come off as the obnoxious American and little did I know, obnoxious was taken.

There’s a lot of this happening at the sinks of England

So what do you do when you have two water faucets, sometimes quite a distance away from each other and you are trying to wash your hands? I turn them both on and move my hands quickly from one faucet to another, not staying at either for too long. Of course I only do this if I am alone at work at the sink in the bathroom. If there is someone there I just use the hot and leave with second degree burns.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I stayed in bed with my first English cold yesterday so I compiled a list of observations:

I have decided that flat (top) sheets are not popular on beds, at least in the world of UK hospitality. We noticed it when visiting back in June and my bed at the first hotel and now the two at the B&B never have top sheets.

The word “bits” is used a lot more here. Like the other day, a colleague described putting the customer’s bits (documentation in this case) on a USB drive, and L sometimes brings me a basket for breakfast that has my bits in it like crumpets or croissants. I’ve also heard the term “naughty bits”, which I am sure is self-explanatory. Why don’t we use it more?

Pudding is dessert. It’s kind of like how in the South all carbonated beverages are “Coke”. Sometimes people just shorten it and say “pud”, which I love.

They use the word "garden" like we use yard. So a house can have a back garden and a front garden.

I went to dinner at a friend’s house Saturday and they served stuffed marrow. I had never heard that term before, but I found out afterwards that it is a squash.

Going back to the pud, Gu makes this lovely little chocolate pudding called “mini pud”. By American standards, it is way smaller than any packaged dessert that you can buy from the refrigerator section at the grocery store but so much better. Rather than getting a big tub of flavorless Swiss Miss Pudding, this actually tastes like rich chocolate. Why do we always go for quantity over quality?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

De Hems Pub

I met some work colleagues for a going away gathering in London at a pub called De Hems. It's a Dutch pub in the middle of Chinatown and the theatre district, very interesting. It used to serve as a meeting place for the Dutch resistance.

Kelly Osbourne is Mama Morton?

She may be wonderful in it but I just can't see Kelly Osbourne playing the same part that Queen Latifah played in the movie version. According to the press, Kelly was not so pleased that her tattoos were airbrushed out of these publicity shots. Is it just me or did they do some other airbrushing? Something looks odd about the picture.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Naked Cafe

I have heard folks at work talk about “the naked lady café” and didn’t want to look like an idiot by asking what they were talking about. I asked L, who knows everything about our little village and she said, oh they must be talking about The Drawingroom which is a little art gallery and lunch café on High Street. Maybe it was called that because of the logo which is the back of a woman’s corset. I thought today at lunch I would go check it out.

Eating outside today was out of the question because of the weather so I was directed upstairs for a table. As I walked up the stairs, it was increasingly apparent why this place had been granted the nickname. Every piece of art was a tasteful (some questionable) female nude. As I looked at the paintings I asked myself, would I bring A here? I mulled it over and thought, well yeah, it’s just the human body, a female human body, we should not be embarrassed. At that moment, I looked at the other wall in the room and it had a larger than life-sized painting of a nude male angel in all his glory. It was something to behold! Ugh, on second thought… On reading the website, I see that the building is haunted by a female presence. Maybe the naked angel has to be there for her enjoyment or she starts throwing teacups against the wall.

Check out their website. However, you might not want to look at the art link if you are at work!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Scotch Beef

I pass this advertisement at the bus stop every day.

Having a Laugh

Last night I got in from work late and picked up Chinese takeaway on the way home. I sat in the dining room and ate my dinner and talked to L, and N, another guest. L had us laughing so hard we had tears running down our faces. When I lived in the South and gathered with friends for dinner we would spend hours just sitting around telling stories. It feels very much the same here.

P.S. You pay less for takeaway here than you do ordering the same food and eating in the restaurant.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The V&A’s Transformation

When I entered the V&A I took a picture of the topiary at the door. As you can see, just hours later, it was transformed into a pink carpet with paparazzi everywhere. I also got a glimpse of the courtyard before my early exit and this must have been where the party was held. From reading the paper today, I see that it was a fundraiser and some fairly famous people were in attendance. The most famous person I saw arrive was Yasmin LeBon (wife of singer Simon LeBon). If I would have known that people like Kate Moss and Prince would be walking the carpet I would have braved the cold and my need for a bathroom a little longer. Seeing those designer gowns up close and on actual people, they do look like works of art. One guest rode up on his bicycle and chained it up right by the pink carpet, buttoned his shirt, put on his bow tie, took out his iPod earbuds and then walked the carpet. Interesting to see what happens behind the scenes!

The V&A

When our meeting ended at 4:30, I took the opportunity to look around the Victoria and Albert Museum, which was right around the corner. I will have to go back because I only got to see a portion of one floor. They have a fashion exhibit that begins with clothes from the 19th century and I guess because Fashion Week was happening right across the street, I had to check this out. As you can see from the pictures, there were some beautiful things. I got asked to exit prematurely which got me wondering if there might be some after-hours event and sure enough there was.

Fashion Week in London

This week is London Fashion Week, and the shows are held on the grounds of the Natural History Museum, which was also in close proximity to where I was yesterday. I am told that this event is not as big as say Milan or Paris. I was of course on the street with the “untouchables” while these three ladies sipped champagne outside one of the tents at 11:00am.

Lovely Day in London

Before I left St. Louis last week I was on a mission to find a jacket that would protect me from the elements this fall. Mission accomplished, thank goodness because while the sun shined yesterday, the temperature dipped down to a windy 10 degrees (50 Fahrenheit). That might not sound that cold, but the wind here feels different, colder. Two of my colleagues and I headed out to an afternoon meeting with a customer which was right in the vicinity of the Royal Albert Hall. The Royal Albert Hall is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which is the west side of central London. As you can see from the pictures this area is just beautiful. I am told it is also a pricey place to live, which explains all of the nannies I saw pushing baby carriages down the street, not a parent to be found!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Into the Wild

Since relocating reading has taken up more of my time. I had been reading the paper every day and had to stop that because I was convinced the world was going to end in oh, about fifteen minutes. You know what they say, if it bleeds, it leads. Right before I left the States, I picked up a book that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. I wanted the last thing that I read as I travelled here to live to be a book set in the United States. It sounds strange but it seemed important at the time. Anyway, the book I selected was Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and it has been in the news lately because Sean Penn has made a movie from the book. If you have read the book you are probably wondering as I am how this will translate onto the screen. I actually thought of my friend H in Iowa when I was reading it because she and I often talk about books we have read and we seem to come at the subject matter with the same practical outlook. H, this book will fascinate you and frustrate you all at the same time. K is reading my copy now and we had a long conversation about it when we were travelling to Chicago last week. If anyone else has read it and would like to comment, I would love to hear what you think.

Back in the UK and Back at Work

Today was my first day back at work. It was good to get back into that routine since before I left, I was finally starting to feel comfortable. It was so hard to leave the family behind. I am glad at least this time at the airport it was laughter and not tears. All A. was concerned about was me sending her a care package including whatever goodies I got on the plane. Virgin Atlantic even gives coach passengers a cozy pair of socks and one of those sleeping masks. When you are a mom, it seems that nothing is yours and yours alone!

The B&B was a full house today including an old friend of L’s who used to rent a room from her and his mother so she invited me to go out to dinner with them. We had a lovely meal at a local Indian restaurant. Our party included a 15 year old and a 19 year old, kids of a friend of L’s. Since I like to know what the young toughs are up to, I asked them if MySpace was popular here. It seems in the UK that Bebo was the more popular online gathering place, but now it has switched to Facebook.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Back in the UK

I arrived back today. If you must fly (cattle) coach, I highly recommend Virgin Atlantic. This trip was the first time that I had flown that airline and it is superior to the others.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

From STL to Chicago and Back Again

Before I left the UK, one of my work colleagues asked me what the trip was like between St. Louis and Chicago. I paused and replied, "Oh, it's about five hours on very flat roads. It's the kind of journey that makes you dream about futuristic travel where one might be able to sleep the whole way while the car's on auto-pilot". He laughed.

We hit a pretty bad traffic accident that added a few hours to our journey yesterday. By the time we got home, I was over my need to drive again.

I think K summed it up mid-way on Interstate 55 when she looked out the window and said, "That's a lot of corn".

I'm Legal!

So the whole point of me being in the United States is my visit to the British Consulate to get my visa incorporated into my passport, which meant a trip to Chicago. Since A is back in school, the trip was going to be a solo trip until my friend K agreed to join me. I was doubly excited about this because I couldn’t bare being alone and it also gave us an opportunity to catch up. K and I have traveled to Chicago a number of times, but always with a very specific goal and a very specific timeline. Go to a concert and drive home. She has never had the opportunity to see the downtown area. To my great surprise, the British Consulate is in what is known as the Wrigley Building right on Michigan Avenue (the building with the clock on it). My appointment was at 10:30am on Wednesday which lasted about an hour and then I was told that I had to leave my passport there and come back after 2:30 to pick it up, with the new visa attached. The whole appointment process was very stressful because there were lots of rules that needed to be followed just to get up to the Consulate’s floor. We all understand though why precautions need to be made, but it made me question why I was going through all of this!

Well, here K and I were with three solid hours on our hands, so we did what we both had really been wanting to do, the architectural boat tour, which just so happened to start right outside of the Wrigley Building. As you can see from the pictures, it doesn’t get much better than this in Chicago. It was a real pleasure to be able to talk with K about a city I love. Standing on the bridge on Michigan Avenue, I was struck by how big and far apart the streets looked. I had a new perspective on this American city after spending so much time in England.

My friend Mel let us sleep at her place on Tuesday night, and it was a real treat to visit with her. We laughed a lot. We tried our best to get her to play hooky and go into the city, but she is just too darn responsible for that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Celebrity Rap Superstar

Sunday night, my friend K came over to watch the MTV Video Music Awards with me and A. As an advertisement for the show Celebrity Rap Superstar appeared, I must have had a look of confusion on my face because without me making any comment, K said, "Yeah, you haven't missed anything on television here." Hahahaha

11/9 Programming

As I was packing my things on Saturday morning I had the television on and one of the main BBC channels was advertising their 11/9 schedule (known to us as 9/11). They were running Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11, which I thought really spoke to a level of cynicism about the war that hasn’t been reflected on the major U.S. networks in their primetime timeslots, has it?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Being Hugged by a Taxi Driver

Saturday morning I left the UK to head back to St. Louis. Everyone gathered on the porch at the B&B to wish me well, which was very nice. The taxi driver was an older Englishman and we talked the whole way to Heathrow about a number of topics. I told him I was in the process of moving to the UK. He told me all about his visits to the U.S. His daughter lived in New Jersey for a few years and he has also visited Las Vegas, New York City, Orlando and other cities a number of times. He proclaimed his absolute love for America. He said that the service he experienced there was second to none. He also is in awe of the size, which he says that no Brit can truly understand unless they visit the U.S. He lamented that when he meets people from the States that they inevitably say that they want to visit England and see the history. In a most animated voice, he said, "No, don't visit! You will get ripped off, you'll get bad service, and you will hate the food!" I laughed. He said, I tell them "live the dream in your head and avoid the reality". We had a wonderful visit. When I got out of the taxi and he finished unloading my bags, he hugged me and wished me well on my trip. This might sound strange, but we talked like old friends. It was very sweet.

Strange Statues

I am fascinated by the stone work on the old buildings. When walking through the York Minster, I was drawn to these two statues on vaults. The inscription was in Latin so I couldn't tell who these people are, but they look like members of the clergy. This lazy horizontal position does not look very dignified though, does it?

More of the Minster

The York Minster is a site to behold. It is the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe and you feel that when walking through the building. While this church was founded as a Catholic church, after Henry VIII, it became Church of England. If you know English history, this should be obvious, but it wasn't to me. When I walk in a gothic cathedral I assume it is Catholic. I believe that no matter where you are in your personal faith (don't get me started on my confusion!) one gets a sense of awe in walking through these churches, even if you only focus on all that people probably sacrificed to build something so beautiful. Not all churches are Cathedrals and not all churches are Minsters, but the York Minster is both. Research and discuss!

Tea by the Minster

After our meeting on Friday, we sat at an outdoor cafe and had a cup of tea, and I took this picture of the York Minster from my seat. It demonstrates what an absolutely beautiful day it was as well as how beautiful this church is. My boss and I decided instead of heading right to the train, we would take a tour and have some dinner in York.

As my boss and I sat with our other colleague drinking tea, the two of them were criticizing the weak tea that had been put in front of us. It reminded me of my years living in the South and how from the coaching of others, especially my friend B, I developed quite a discriminating palate for iced tea, especially sweet tea and how it was made. I am sure over time, I will be the same with hot tea in the UK!

The Beautiful City of York

The weather was so beautiful in the walled city on Friday that we walked to and from the train station to our meeting instead of taking a taxi. Walking across this bridge, I noticed that there was a restaurant facing the water called "Orgasmic". That sets a high standard, doesn't it?!
As we walked back to the train station I took this picture of the wall and this local decided to pose for me. My boss and I just laughed at him as he smiled.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Madeleine McCann Case

The Madeleine McCann case was in the news every day when we were visiting England in June, and now every day since I have moved here. I have had a chance to talk to two people about the case, because something stood out in the story to me that has been ignored in the coverage. According to these two folks, it is the elephant in the room, the taboo topic. The piece of the story that I cannot get over is that this couple left twin 2 year olds and a 4 year old asleep in a hotel room so they could go have dinner across the street with friends. And then the 4 year old comes up missing. Who in their right mind would leave children of that age alone in a hotel room even if they were sleeping. We all know that children wake up from time to time in the middle of the night. Was the 4 year old going to take care of the other two if this happened? Both of the people that I talked to, both moms, said the same thing and that is what moms all over the country are discussing. They believe that because this couple are educated middle class that this is being ignored. If the mother was a single mom who was a checkout girl at the grocery store or an immigrant, she would probably be skewered in the press. Very interesting.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Trip to York

My boss and I will be taking the train to York to day for a user's group meeting. I have heard such wonderful things about this beautiful walled city that I hope I get to see a little bit of it, but we all know how work travel is.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


I got a lovely card in the mail from my sister-in-law B, with some great pics of A and her cousins at my going away party. I also got an email from her saying that she liked looking at the pics on my blog but she doesn’t like always reading the text accompanying the pics because I seem so sad. I appreciate her concern, but I am not sad. I have moments, but I truly in my heart feel like this is the right thing for us, come what may. One of the important things about this blog for me is that I didn’t want it to be like one of those annoying Christmas letters you get from people that’s just brag, brag, brag, my life is perfect. We all know nothing ever is, no matter how we try and paint it for other people. We all do the best we can day by day.

First Day of School

For the county of Buckinghamshire, yesterday was the first day of school. It was fun seeing all the school children in their uniforms. Even little B that lives at my B&B showed up for breakfast in a school sweater, with dress shirt and tie. So cute.

When I was telling the head honcho at work that I am living with a family in a B&B until my family arrives, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, you like that??? It really has been wonderful. Every morning, we talk over breakfast. Yesterday, L invited me to go out to eat with her and B to celebrate his first day of school. She fields all my crazy questions about British life like what do people think of David and Victoria Beckham or what is a WAG? (A WAG is a wife or girlfriend of a footballer. They grace all of the tabloids). I appreciate their kindness.

Going Home

Now that I have an official work permit, I have to go back to the States and visit a British Consulate to file official paperwork which will allow me to live and work here for five years. I leave on Saturday, so I will be very happy to see my family again, even though I know I will be only with them for a week and then having to come back alone.

Funny, I was telling someone here that my plan was to fly to St. Louis, then on Monday drive up to Chicago (closest British Consulate), file my paperwork, and hopefully drive back in the same day so that I can help H. finish up the last bits in the house so it can finally be listed. They asked me how far Chicago was from St. Louis and I told them five hours. They gasped and said, “You’re going to drive? Manchester is three hours from here and I would fly there”. I laughed and said that Americans love to drive, maybe it starts out of necessity, but I truly think it is in our blood.

Here, when asking me about my future plans, they say, "Are you going to drive?" Of course! It's the next challenge on my list.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Chase

I have been in several meetings discussing projects and whenever it is asked, for example, has John finished running the scripts, if the person being asked has not heard from John, they will say, “I will chase John about that”. That always makes me giggle because we never really use that phrase where I am from. I am very careful not to point out differences since I am sure I say things that make them laugh. Today I was in a meeting with someone who I know has a sense of humor and we were reading over notes and there it was in the notes, someone was being chased about a task. I laughed and said, that phrase really makes me laugh, which made him laugh and ask why, didn’t we say that? I told him that whenever I hear that I have this vision in my mind of two people in a high-speed chase on foot. Maybe I watched too much Baretta and Starsky & Hutch in my youth. I told G that it just sounded so aggressive, chasing people, and he laughed and said, “Well we only chase people we like”. I didn’t ask what they did to people who were not liked…

The People's Princess

I remember exactly where I was when I heard that Princess Diana had died. My friend Mel was visiting from Chicago and we had just wrapped up A’s 2nd birthday party. As expected, on the tenth anniversary of her death, the newspapers and the television were flooded with stories of Princess Diana including new conspiracy theories. On Friday morning, the day of the memorial service, the message from BBC morning talk show was let’s move on and leave her memory alone, but it was obvious some don’t feel that way. One of the reporters on the scene at Kensington Palace began reading some of the notes that were left with flowers at the gates and they were strangely personal. The one that sticks out in my mind said something like Diana we will never accept the woman that wrecked your marriage. Wow, it made me sad for her sons who have had to deal with family issues that many of us have had to face, but with an ever present camera and millions watching.

About six months ago, I was on a flight to Montreal and got to see most of the movie The Queen. I was hoping to watch it in its entirety Sunday night as it aired on television here, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. When I was at the barbecue earlier in the day on Sunday I had asked an older gentleman what people thought of this movie. He said to me that he liked it because it showed the royal family as the lunatics that they are! I thought that was hilarious.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


Today was a lovely day. After having breakfast with my hosts, I walked into town and had a cappuccino as I read the Sunday paper and then went on a long walk. The park across the street from where I live had a Medieval festival today so I walked through and took some pictures. The signs advertised food and drink but all I saw was the ice cream truck and an outdoor bar. So if one was so inclined, one could have a 99 flake with a shot of Jack Daniels on the side!

My host, L, had a birthday yesterday so I was invited to a barbecue at the house. I laughed when she invited me because she said if I didn’t mind spending the afternoon with a bunch of English people, they would like me to come. I laughed because that is kind of how I spend all my days after all. I was glad to be included and spent most of the afternoon talking to her older relatives about politics and English culture. Their stories were wonderful.

P.S. The other night when I was out to eat we started talking about fish and chips. I haven’t had any since I have been here. One colleague suggested I try it at one of two places, either down on the coast or at a Chinese restaurant. I asked why a Chinese restaurant and he said that some of the fish and chips places around here cook their chips early in the day and just let them sit. I think I will wait for a visit to the coast.

Old Chesham Church

Here are some pictures of the lovely old church in Chesham.