Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Signs of Autumn

I'm An American Soccer Mom

When I think of the term “soccer mom” SUV comes to mind. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to take over a lease from someone at work who is returning to the States. The good part is that the car is an automatic so we only have to get comfortable driving on the left, putting off getting comfortable shifting with the left hand for a few months. The downside is that it is an Audi SUV and it is massive. We could have moved into this car. Of course when I mentioned getting used to driving this car on the tiny UK roads a co-worker said to me, “Come on, you’re American!” I have never driven a car of this size in my life. It would be a very tight squeeze into our driveway so I have to park it on the street.

One of my co-workers said to me, “You get to pretend to be a hip hop star for a few months”. Hahaha

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Virgin Daughters

Channel 4 ran a very interesting documentary Thursday night about the so-called American phenomenon that is the purity movement. I was asked Friday morning by a work colleague if I saw it. I said yes and that I was just as unfamiliar with this whole slice of American life as she was. This article that ran the next day in The Independent gives you a good idea of what the documentary was all about.

What's Cookin

H has been cooking wonderful meals for us. Yesterday A was telling me about all of the choices she was given for the chicken he was including in her lunch. She said to me, “It’s a school lunch! I don’t care!” This made me laugh. The flip side of this is somehow I have lost all ability to cook. One night, A and I were home without him and we opened the refrigerator and stared into it wondering with a heavy feeling of helplessness what we would eat that night.

The other night I came home and immediately told him that something that he was cooking smelled really good. I walked into the kitchen and saw these beets cooking in red wine and was sorry I said that. I have an aversion to beets, or beet root as they call it here. He had never had them before and wanted to try them once. This preparation made them edible, but I still would never seek them out. I asked him what he thought and his response was “I’ve cooked them” which means been there, done that, won’t be on the menu again. I had to take a picture of them though because they did look beautiful as they were cooking.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It Was Warm Last Weekend...

but it wasn't this warm! Little kids were stripped down to their underwear playing in this fountain.

Book Sale on the Thames

It even had a table devoted to Elvis!

Trying Our Best to Enjoy the Scenery

Last Saturday after hitting the Slow Food Festival we just walked along the river and enjoyed the city and the weather, much to A’s chagrin. She was in a mood, not a good one, and just wanted to go home. There were only two things that interested her at all, the skatepark and the sand sculpture.

Saw An Actor

Last Friday we saw Toby Jones walking through the tube station in London. I pointed him out to H but said I didn’t remember his name. H always thinks I’m full of crap when I say I’ve seen a celebrity, but I KNOW it was him. I have seen him in Both Infamous and The Painted Veil and didn’t realize he was British, which makes my theory even more plausible.

A Monologue about America

Last Monday night as I was walking home from the bus stop I got stopped by the neighbors. They were asking how we were “getting on”. I told them fine. They seemed surprised, even though I explained once again that I have been here for a year now. They wanted to know what we were finding different about life in the UK. I hate this question. So I picked out something innocuous like the postal system and then talked a little about the high price of things. By this time, H and A were also outside. One of the neighbors who visited America once when their daughter was working there launched into a monologue about it. Lots of stuff was thrown in there, some good, some bad but some of the statements that stuck in my mind were how ugly America is compared to England and how they expected to hate Americans and America but actually quite liked it. If that’s not a back-handed compliment what is? He went on and on and on and on about our gun culture, crap television, but he loved Elvis and visited Memphis because of this. He also loved the free refills of coffee at restaurants. We couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

H and I talked about it later. He wasn’t offended by anything that was said, so maybe it was just my mood after what seemed like a very long work day. In fact, he found it kind of amusing. I was mad off and on as I thought about it, and it took me a while to realize why. I think it is because I couldn’t have my say, which I know says more about my issues than the neighbors’. But most of all, even if I could have, there really wasn’t anything I could say to probably change his mind that some of his perceptions might be wrong.

As for America’s beauty, I couldn’t express standing at the fence by my front yard what it’s like to be in Alabama on a beautiful fall day, to be drifting down the Chicago River in awe of the architecture, to walk along the beach in Southern California, or to marvel at the beauty of the Badlands in South Dakota. And the list would go on and on.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Funny

On our walk to school yesterday A asked me what “posh” meant. It’s a word that isn’t as commonly used in the U.S. as it is here. I explained it to her and asked why. She said that her friend that she walks home with told her that the kids from the other school antagonize them because they think they go to a posh school.

Today was a half day of school so A went to hang out with her buddies on the High Street, taking the tube for one stop without H or me (sniff, our baby is growing up!). What’s funny is that my work phone just rang and H had accidentally texted me a message to my work number instead of my cell phone and here text messages actually get read to you on the land line. His message, complete with robotic British accent was, “A is home. No police escort”. I laughed out loud.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Signs of Fall

The neighborhood flowers are showing signs of autumn.

Beautiful Weekend

I took Friday off so H and I could take care of some business in London. The weather was absolutely glorious. I snapped these pictures from the South Bank of the Thames.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our Apple Tree

Here's the view from our kitchen window. We found out too late after the fruit was too ripe that the tree in the backyard produced edible apples. I thought for sure it was crab apples and just ignored it.

If You're a Vegetarian...

you probably don't want to click on this picture. The butcher shop by work was getting a delivery. You just don't see meat like this in the U.S. unless you are at a meat packing plant.

School is Going Well

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about A and school. She is settling in. She and I walk about thirty minutes of the way to school together and then I go on to the train and she continues to school. She’s not a morning person and neither am I, but I’m fortified with caffeine, so me trying to make conversation usually annoys her. I joked with a work colleague that if it wasn’t considered child abuse, I would probably make her drink a cup of coffee to get her moving. Most mornings it’s a silent walk but every once in awhile she opens up, telling me about the friends she has met that she walks home with.

The other school that we thought she would go to, many of the kids that go there pass us on our walk as they head in the other direction. She said after school they sometimes tease the girls from her school. I asked her what they say and she responded, “I don’t know I can’t understand them.”

She said she gets teased nicely about her accent. They make her say words like tomato. She said the other day they were talking about a flashlight at school and her friends laughed. They call this a torch. She said to me, “What if I showed up for the field trip with a stick on fire”.

She got invited to as H calls it “loiter” with her friends next Thursday after school since it ends early. They are going to walk down to the High Street in town. I guess it’s kinda like American kids going to the mall together.

One day this week, after she and I had parted ways in the morning, I saw her meet up with one of her friends to walk the rest of the way to school. The rest of my day went so smoothly seeing for myself that she is fitting in.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

We've Got Elvis Plate Collectors...

I guess they have Freddie Mercury plate collectors.

American Politics

Inevitably being the only American that some of my colleagues know I get questions about the presidential race. There is so much I could say, but we are at work so I just try and keep it neutral. I do get the sense that they blame Americans for introducing the “polished” politician to the rest of the world. Someone here did tell me that they were happy that Obama beat Clinton. They said seeing a woman as President didn’t seem as monumental as having a black President. They said they could never see that as a possibility in England.

Forget the politicians. A has been watching a lot of music videos when she has control of the remote and Green Day’s American Idiot is still on heavy rotation on one of the stations here. As they would say in the UK, I still think the message and the video is “brilliant”.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Where The Americans Are...

My work colleague L met me at the Bloomsbury Theatre Wednesday night for an evening with David Sedaris. I was so happy that the two of us could go to the event together since she is just as much a fan as I am. The Bloomsbury Theatre is not a huge venue, but it did sell out for the event. David read “All the Beauty You Will Ever Need” from his latest collection as well as some things he had been working on and some entries from his diary. For an hour straight we laughed our heads off. He then took several questions from the audience, which revealed how many Americans had come to the event. They asked questions like what he most missed and what he most disliked about the American South, what he thought about the presidential election, and whether his family still speaks to him. His answers were all hilarious and some you probably had to be there so I’m not going to write them down here. About the presidential election though, he did comment that he didn’t really think there were undecided voters for this election. He works for NPR some and he said that they were working on an “undecided voter” show. David thought anyone who could not pick a side in this election must just be looking for attention.

He took great care in talking with everyone who wanted a book signed. I got nervous when it was my turn and just babbled I’m sure. We talked about his last visit to St. Louis. David lives in the London and asked L where she lived. She in return asked him and when he said Kensington, she told him that she used to be a librarian at the local library. He said that he visited that library often, and wrote in her book “To L, I wish you were my librarian. David Sedaris.

On the train ride home I of course thought of all the questions I would have liked to have asked.

Peaceful Wednesday

Wednesday was a really beautiful day to be in London, one of those days that made me stop and think, being here is a gift. The days are getting shorter and some of the leaves in the parks are slightly changing. I had a work meeting in the afternoon, and afterwards a colleague and I sat in the park just to enjoy the nice rain-less weather. This statue of Gandhi sits in the middle of the park.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Split Personalities

There were some tears Sunday night about returning to school on Monday. A says she can't find her way and she feels like she is bugging her "go to" person too often. I gave her lots of hugs and tried to reassure her that everything was going to be fine. Monday morning when the alarm rang, a beast came out of the bedroom, not my lovely daughter. I said very little and let her go about her business of making her lunch and breakfast. On the walk to school, after I suggested we take a shortcut, she snapped that she hated this school and it just went downhill from there. I tried to talk some sense into her but there was nothing I could say to make it better. I think if I could have said to her guess what, you never have to go to school again, she would have still taken issue with that! So instead we walked the rest of the way in silence. My boss and I have discussed the fact that if our kids aren't in a good place, it sets the tone for our days. As I got on the train to go to work, I wished that I could just go back home and pull the covers over my head.

I called home at the end of a busy day and she was all upbeat and in a great mood. Thank goodness!

It's Tuesday morning and she's not in a foul mood, but she did go back to bed. When I go and wake her, I hope it's good personality and not bad!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More English Wildlife?

It rained practically all day today and in the middle of it, A and I made a mad dash to the train to pick up some groceries and some movies for the weekend. As we walked down the sidewalk, we came across this lil guy. Where did he come from?

Family Without A Country

Downers come up here and there that make me pause and think, if I would have known that BEFORE we accepted the offer to move to the UK, would I have passed on the opportunity?

Finding out that getting financing for a car was not going to happen because we haven’t lived here for three years was a bit of a setback. Our U.S. bank will not offer us financing either since we no longer have a U.S. address. We have decided to keep going along without a car for a bit longer in hopes of saving and just buying something outright. I was irritated for a few weeks but now I am moving on.

Before H left the U.S. he got a letter from the university he had been attending in St. Louis encouraging him to come back because he was close to finishing his computer science/math degree. I felt sick when I saw the letter in the mail because I know it is difficult when you are at the end of a program to transfer to another school and feared that he would have to repeat a lot of classes at the school that he transferred to. I never dreamed after lots of research the amount that can be transferred is much lower than expected and that he could not get UK resident tuition rates because again, we haven’t lived here for three years. This answer has been standard at every educational institution and it triples the cost. For cryin out loud I pay taxes here!

Friday, September 5, 2008

I Warned Ya'll

I mentioned him in an earlier post. I don't think we need him back any time soon.


First Day of School

First day of school was a success. When I walked into the house yesterday, A was laying on the couch looking very exhausted. With a lot of physical exercise and probably a lot of brain processing after a very relaxing summer, she went to bed last night without being asked which NEVER happens.

A is one of those kids that doesn’t immediately tell you everything you want to know about her day. You’ve got to wait for bits and pieces over a five hour time span and you need to know the right questions to ask. The first thing I asked her was were the girls nicer than she expected or meaner than she expected. She was very nervous about this so she had a very relieved look on her face and said, “Waaay nicer than I expected”. She said at one point in the classroom she was sitting at her desk and there was a wall of girls surrounding her. When she was being introduced to another girl, she asked A, “Are you from America?” When A responded yes, the girl said, “I love you!” They couldn’t believe she walked to school. So see, teenagers are universally lazy!

Some differences:

She doesn’t have the same schedule each day. For example, she had French on Thursday but she won’t have it again until next Tuesday. The different rotation of classes will keep her on her toes and she has a planner to help her.

She has to take two languages. She chose French and Latin. She has already had one year of French but quickly realized she was behind the other girls since they have all had two years and her St. Louis French teacher moved at a snail’s pace. She wanted to take Spanish but she would have been two years behind so we talked her into Latin, which was starting fresh.

They got a kick out of A’s “here” response when attendance was being taken. They just say “yes”.

When she walked in she was directed to go to the hall to get her picture taken. After standing puzzled in what we call the hall, she was directed to what we would call the auditorium.

I told her she needs to just relax and enjoy the differences. It’s going to be an interesting year.

Facebook and Old Friends

For a number of reasons, I recently took the plunge and created a Facebook account. Much to my surprise through this account, we were able to re-connect with a couple that we were friends with when we lived in Germany. We had lost touch with them about twelve years ago and I was so happy that we have found them again.

Moving back to Europe this past year, I have thought a lot more often about our time living in Germany. I now realize a military move is much simpler than a corporate move, due to all the assistance (and full-sized American appliances) that the military offer. I have also thought about all the bits and pieces that you pick up from friends along the way that become part of you as time goes by. We are all just amalgamations of the people and places we have known. Before knowing this couple, I had never heard anyone yell, “Roll Tide!” before, and I had never tasted homemade crawfish etouffee and other wonderful Southern treats. I am changed for knowing them, and glad to catch up with them again to hear about their adventures since we last spoke.

If you’re thinking of an old friend that you lost touch with, there’s no time like the present to try and find them.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

School Starts Tomorrow

A is packing up for her first day. We live close enough to the school (within 3 miles) to not have bus service so she and I will be walking the 1.7 miles in the morning for her first day.

Bus Tales, Part Two

When I got on the bus last week the bus driver, in a thick possibly Russian accent yelled at me for getting on the bus too early and started pointing at the ticket dispenser to explain that he could not give me a ticket for another minute. I told him I didn’t understand and his response was, “Where are you from?” I responded with the name of my village. He got this look on his face as if to say “like hell you are”. Not only had I disobeyed by getting on the bus early, but somehow he now also thought I was a smart ass.

On the way to work the next day we got stopped in the usual place where the road narrows and the bus driver was not willing to give in and put it in reverse to give the oncoming driver some space. Next thing I know, a man has walked up to the bus driver’s window to cuss him out. It went on for almost five minutes with a lot of “you fat fuck” and “fucking twat” thrown back and forth. Never have I heard so many “f” words jammed in one span of time. It was a bit unsettling at first, but then it was just downright funny.

My last note on the “f” word. Due to the after 9:00pm the “f” word is okay rule here, I think A has heard it more in the past three months than she has her entire life. I’m beginning to think it is not the holy mother of swear words that it is in the U.S. I asked one of my colleagues who used to live in the States and they agreed.

One Last Thought on A1

I was looking on for the A1 commercial on youtube where the guy is grilling and a drop of A1 hits the grill. I didn’t find it but I was amazed at the number of clips there were of people chugging a bottle of A1. Seriously???

Monday, September 1, 2008

Yeah, It's That Important

My buddy RB sent us a care package from the U.S. last week, which contained special treats for all, including my favorite condiment, A1! Forget ketchup and mustard, A1 is good on everything, from steaks to burgers to French fries, to baked potatoes.

The blog Best Ads Ever has a link to the A1 centrifuge commercial. This will be me trying to get that last drop out of the bottle.