Monday, May 31, 2010

Food, American Food

I will probably have quite a bit to say on this topic. Where do I begin? Let’s start with Sizzler because it fed right into the stereotype that the rest of the world has about how America eats. Sizzler is still alive and kicking in the American West. I remember when it first arrived on the scene, a step up from Ponderosa. H loves a good salad bar and suggested we go there for an early dinner on our first weekend. It’s funny how at that place, even though there have been tons of additions to the salad bar that make it a sufficient dinner option all in itself I found myself making the same salad I made when I ate there in say 1984, lettuce, a few tomatoes on the side, some blue cheese dressing and sunflower seeds sprinkled over the top. I noticed a table sitting nearby who came back to sit with huge salad mounds like four inches tall at least on their plate all dripping with dressing so there was no recognizable vegetable, sides of wings, asking for extra Texas toast and drinking huge endless glasses of soda. This was all before their meals arrived. It made me sick just watching it. H came back from the salad bar with a salad on his plate and some guacamole on another plate and said that while he was up there, even though they had guacamole on the salad bar a woman reached up and grabbed a whole avocado from the veggie display around the salad bar and put it on her plate. I couldn’t get over that.

But falling into a stereotype myself (Americans only eat burgers). We live close to a local institution, a burger stand called Hire’s Big H. They have a dining room or you can park and flash your lights and get car service. H & A had visited before I did and raved about it. Finally a few weeks ago we all visited. The first thing A said was, “they’ve got the good ice”. They serve their drinks with that ice that’s small and kind of like gravel. The burger was rich and divine. I got it with all the fixins including sautéed onions, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and fry sauce. Fry sauce is a unique Utah condiment, a mixture of ketchup and mayo. It’s so rich it’s up there in the top ten of burgers, but it’s also a once in awhile treat. I’ll be planning my next visit soon.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Car Shopping - It Gives Me the Willies

Knowing we only had a month with a rental, we started the arduous task of picking out two cars. Now that that is past us, I hope we don’t have to car shop for a very long time because just deciding what to buy on a budget and with a deadline was very stressful. We started with a car for me. I had told H before we got back to the States that I wanted to look at the Honda Fit. My friends T and J have one and they’ve loved it. Getting a Beetle would be too sad and the Fit actually has a back seat. After considering a lot of other things, that was what we got. Going to the new car lots, the hard sell was in full force and it really turned me off. I ended up working with a dealership partly because we did the majority of the transaction via email which was a lot more no nonsense. When I did talk to the Salesman, there was something about his accent and a phrase he used that made me think he was from the UK but hadn’t lived there for quite some time.

On the way to the dealership, we were laughing in the car that we were buying a car from Willey Honda. Willie is slang in the UK for male genitalia. When we met our salesman he started asking us some questions about ourselves and I told him that we had just moved back from the UK. He said he could tell by A’s accent. I had the opportunity to ask him where he was from and he told us that he had been born and raised in Cardiff, Wales and had emigrated to the U. S. as an adult. H then shared with him how we’d been laughing at the name Willey Honda. I was absolutely mortified and so was A, not knowing if he was going to think this was funny. When he took us out to the car, he pointed to this cardboard insert that was placed where the license plate will be. It reads “Willey Deal”. He told A that when our plates came in she should take that out and send it to her friends back in England.  Side note, I once said to one of my UK work colleagues that something gave me the willies and she burst out laughing.

As we were waiting for some paperwork at the bank on this car I said to H that this may be the car that A ends up driving and taking to college. He quickly came back with, “No, she’s going to have a Volkswagen wagon like I did”. This was his first car and there was a massive hole in the floorboard. He said one day he took a corner and the pair of glasses he had on the dash flew off and fell through the whole and he never saw them again.

Getting H’s car was the easiest process and made me really love CarMax. He wanted to look at a few of their used SUVs wanting something with 4 wheel drive. There are several ski resorts around that might be good places to work and we’ve been told that 4 wheel drive will come in handy. After a few test drives he decided on a Jeep Liberty that’s a few years old. The whole experience was stress free and pressure free. I highly recommend it.

As we sat and waited for that paperwork to complete I said to H that I am surprised when I think back of the number of cars we’ve had over the years. We got to reminiscing and one car particularly sticks out in his mind, the 1961 red corvair that I fell in love with when we lived in El Paso and had to buy from his friend. I’m gonna plead that a mixture of idealism and post-partum depression probably influenced this decision. This car sticks out in his mind because the lack of safety features and us having an infant, he ended up having to drive it. Needless to say it had its quirks. He said he’d stop at a light and someone would pull up next to him and say, “Hey buddy your car’s on fire” and H would respond, “Aw no, it’s just burning oil”. It was cherry red with new matching red and white interior. What I didn’t remember about that paint job, but H reminded me was that his friend had taken it to Mexico to have it painted and it was still tacky when we bought it so bugs stuck to it. He said it was tacky for months. I remember driving it a few times and at least 50% of the time calling AAA was involved. It cured me of ever having a vintage car since the only way not to have that kind of experience with one is to spend a lot of money and then why not have the modern conveniences if you’re gonna do that?

This weekend is the first weekend that we don’t have to worry about car shopping and boy does it feel good!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Will I Be Converted?

I have been asked by friends and family, so is it weird living there? I think everyone may think the whole state of Utah is like the HBO series Big Love. We have been pleasantly surprised with our surroundings in SLC. First, it is truly beautiful. We have had snow this month, which I can hardly believe in May but while it’s warm in the city, the snow-capped mountains and dramatic skies are always nearby.

The area we are living in is definitely more hippy and student than anything else. There’s a Whole Foods grocery store that’s a 5 minute walk from our house and after going in there, A said she had never seen that many dread locks in a grocery store in her whole life. As I walked through the neighbourhood a few weeks ago I noticed a house, arts and crafts style with a big porch on it. There was a girl, university student age, sitting legs crossed on the railing of the porch meditating.

If I feel uncomfortable at all or feel like a minority here it actually more about not being an outdoorsy person. There is so much natural beauty, so many great places to hike, and (I’m told) some of the best snow on the planet. It is easy to spot the outdoor athletic type and let me tell you, they are many. I’ve joked for many years that I like to keep nature as far from me as possible. My friend T got A this Fisher Price lantern when she was a toddler that you put batteries in and turn it on and it lights up and sounds like the nighttime outdoors, crickets included. She said she knew with me as a mom she’d probably never have a camping experience so this was a substitute. Oh T knows me well! I do want to try and ski at least once to see what all the fuss is about, and with all of this natural beauty, with a camera in hand will I change my stand on nature?

School on a Movie Set

Initially because I was told that the school boundaries weren’t as strict here I thought we would look at all the high schools in SLC and let A pick. After being here for just a few days and thinking that out a bit more, I thought she needed to just go to the school that she is districted for since it was only six weeks. She needed to get into a routine and I needed one less decision to make. She’d been off for two weeks for Easter half term and then had spent a week sitting around a London hotel room waiting for our flight. We had all spent a little too much time together by this point.

The school that she started attending was East High. Getting a tour around the school after she registered, A came back saying it looked scary. I joked and said that’s just because she hadn’t seen boys at school for two years and they made is scary. We were directed to go down to the bookstore in the school to get her gym uniform and walked into a gift shop instead. You see East has become a bit of a tourist attraction because they filmed the Disney High School Musical films there. Not only can you buy sweatshirts and t-shirts with the school’s logo on them, you can buy an autographed picture of the cast as well.

Of course for the first week every time I would ask A about school one of those darn High School Musical songs would play in my head. The first week was a little rough because she was so nervous. However, she has enjoyed a little more lax approach by teachers and that she is also ahead of some of the kids. She got moved up in math class to the next grade and when she came home and was telling us how she had showed the class her way of solving some math problem (I shut down on the details since it was trigonometry and she and H had their own private math moment). My response to this story was, “do you need to move up again in math? Is that not the right class?” Her response was a horrific, “Mom, please don’t do that! I’m already the youngest kid in the class.”

According to wikipedia there have been some other notable students at East High – Roseanne Barr dropped out of East, and Patrick Fugit, best known for his role in the movie Almost Famous, went to high school there.

She has also found one good friend, which is all she ever wants.

Monster Trucks All Around

I’m still not used to the size of American cars again. When coming into the Salt Lake City airport that night, even though I had rented an economy car, all they had was SUVs so I ended up with an Explorer. I hated driving it (except for the satellite radio) because it was so huge. Explorers used to be big vehicles but I realized how time has changed when I pulled up in front of this truck.

One of A’s first observations about SLC was how wide the roads are here. I read online somewhere that the roads in downtown SLC are particularly wide because Brigham Young wanted them wide enough for a covered wagon to turn around in (source an LDS website).  Another tourist website stated this same claim but added that he wanted this so that drivers wouldn't resort to profanity.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Next Stop the Library

On our second day in SLC, what did we do after laundry? We went and got library cards. The main library is about a 20 minute walk from our house and it truly is spectacular. It’s exactly what a public library should be, very integral to the community and on a Sunday afternoon it is buzzing with activity.

They have rooftop access which gives you a beautiful view of the city and the mountains.


Someone arranged some temporary housing for us for two months and even though it is a bit of a drive, I asked that it be in Salt Lake City instead of closer in Utah Valley to work. Why? Well, if one of us is going to have to drive to and from work I would prefer it be me because of H’s hours and I also figured he would have more opportunity to find something in Salt Lake City. It’s also more liberal and varied there than in the valley where homogeny rules. We are living in the downtown area, close to the university and close to a medical center so there’s lots of students and lots of activity and the housing reminds me a lot of Five Points in Huntsville. We love it. A doesn’t like the house though. It’s a duplex so our side of the house is like a shotgun house where you could open the front door and the backdoor and shoot a gun through it. It’s completely furnished. How funny that we are staying in a duplex, sharing a wall with a neighbor. I thought I had left that behind in England with our semi-detached. We also walked in to find a washer/dryer combo machine. NO!!!! H did one load and nothing dried. At least I have my answer. The combo machine sucks on both continents! I have to find the answer to this question, why are there so many duplexes in downtown SLC? Is it the age of the housing and it was a popular style when all of the housing was built or is it a cultural thing?

We found a Laundromat in the hippy part of town next to a place called Alchemy Coffee, so it’s become our ritual to wash our clothes there on Sunday morning and enjoy a cup of joe. It’s by far the best Laundromat I’ve ever been in with free wi-fi, and humongo machines and this funny mural on the wall of Southern Utah rock formations and flying washing machines. The only other time we’ve ever had to go to a Laundromat on a regular basis was when we had just moved back to the States from Germany and couldn’t afford to buy a washer and dryer. It was so depressing.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

One Month

And what a month it has been, so I’ll start from the beginning. Our flight was delayed leaving London which meant we missed our connection in Denver. If you haven’t flown international lately, you have to go back through security after customs, which on a Friday at 5:30pm is daunting. We were told to go through security and head down to the gate where the next Salt Lake flight was leaving in hopes we could catch it. We asked the agent if he needed to re-tag our bags and he assured us that wouldn’t be a problem…famous last words. We got down to the gate which was of course the furthest away gate possible in Denver and they were boarding. We were told sorry, we can’t get those bags on this plane and if we can’t get those bags on this plane, you can’t get on this plane. Because of 9/11 bags and people are supposed to match on planes. This was super frustrating because by this time we’d been up 24 hours and we were told we’d have to sit around the Denver airport for three hours waiting for the next flight. We were so irritated, especially when we got to SLC and our bags were waiting for us, you know the way bags are waiting when they arrived on AN EARLIER FLIGHT! We were so tired in Denver, waiting around eating over-priced pizza. I don’t quite know how the conversation devolved but at some point Angelina was crying saying that we don’t love her. I know it was exhaustion and travel talking. I honestly didn’t know what to say since all I wanted to do was lay down on the floor and take a nap so I stood up and said, “Okay, well I’ll meet you at the gate”, and we all walked down close enough that we could all see each other out the corners of our eyes but not close enough to actually hang together. Still pouting over I still don’t know what, she didn’t want to sit with us at the gate, which ended up being a problem for her since the woman sitting next to her had this annoying habit of smacking her lips together constantly. Everything was fine once we got to SLC, again, not sure what that was all about.

We were supposed to get in about 7pm but instead by the time we got our rental car and got to our rental place, it was after 1am. I was so tired but the temporary house we have for two months was so cold and had unfamiliar sounds that my sleep was restless.

The next morning we walked out our front door to the stinky smell of a blossoming Bradford pear tree and it felt like home.

It's Been Difficult To Write Lately

Not because I have writer’s block or nothing to say but because of a skylight. A’s room has no windows but has a skylight right above her bed. By 9am if you walk past her room a natural reaction is to try the light switch thinking she left the light on and realize it’s the skylight, it is so bright. I usually write in the mornings when I’m the only one awake but because of the skylight it’s not uncommon for me to wake up at 7am on a Saturday and find her in the living room flipping channels and complaining about the skylight.  So while I've been loving getting reacquainted with the sun, she's not so keen.

It’s overcast this morning! I’m all alone and it’s 7:21am!  But by 7:37, A was on the couch next to me complaining of the light.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Elvis, Sweet Elvis

A few weeks ago I sent a box of See's Candies Peanut Brittle to our Sri Lankan landlord and his family in the UK with a thank you note.  I used to bring this peanut brittle back to the UK office whenever I had a trip to the States and it was always a big hit.  I got a thank you email from them yesterday saying that they really liked it and had never had it before but had heard that Elvis liked peanut brittle.  That made me smile.

Speaking of charismatic singers, when we were at Heathrow I picked up my final copy of Q magazine to read on the plane.  The cover boasted an article about the 100 greatest frontmen in rock.  As I'm going through the list I'm thinking yeah, absolutely not, what???  Then I get to the end.  The number one frontman of all time in rock....Liam Gallagher of Oasis.  Seriously?!  This article totally exemplifies the cultural divide between the U.S. and the UK.  Most Americans don't think the Gallaghers are rock gods and no we don't think everything Damon Albarn does is brilliant.  I've seen Liam in concert, yes a little after their height of fame, but what a wanker.  How can you have the likes of James Brown, Prince, Elvis on a list and then top it with Liam?  I thought about writing a letter to the editor, but once our flight got delayed in Denver and I was desperate for sleep, the moment passed.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The End of J in the UK

I thought I would have time at the end of our experience in England to write something poetic about it but with all of the rushing and the travel issues, it just never happened. It had its ups and downs but I wouldn’t change a minute of it. In a way I am glad it was so busy I didn’t have a moment to get choked up about leaving, that while we may visit again I imagine we will never live there and so that chapter has closed. There are moments that I find it hard to believe that A is growing up and pulling away. Yes, it’s natural progression but it’s difficult. I think sometimes our experience in England kept us that much closer for just a little longer and I’m grateful. We will always have that time to think back on.

Thanks to all who have kept up with this blog. I appreciate your comments. I never realized how much I enjoyed writing and taking pictures until I started this experience. This blog will be transforming into “J in the UT” soon (named by A.). If you’d like to keep up with that cultural experience, stay tuned!

A Spin Around the V&A

The V&A is the one museum I can usually get A to go to. It does hold a special place in my heart as well because the collection is so diverse. On the day before our flight she and I went there for a walk through. We hadn’t been since they opened the new Medieval and Renaissance rooms and the space is gorgeous. We didn’t spend long enough in there.

Oh how I will miss having that much culture and history just a train ride away.

Love Bakery

Cupcakes seem to be all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic. A and I stopped in this adorable and tiny bakery on the Kings Road in Chelsea when we were in search of Rupert Grint. I was chatting with the lady working that day and she was telling me that Michael Caine was a regular at the chocolate shop next store. His favourite treat – the sugar free chocolate.  We bought two cupcakes, an oreo and a red velvet.  Who can resist red velvet especially when it has sparkly frosting?  I didn't try either but they got two thumbs up.

Last Full English

H and I took a moment out as we were packing to have breakfast at one of my favourite places close to the office. It’s a beautiful old building and the two ladies that own it are delightful. Very low ceilings! Neither one of us can walk to the counter to pay the bill without injury.

One Last Pub Quiz

I joined our team at work for one last pub quiz at our local before I left. We came in 4th out of the 18 teams. My only contribution (which I got one wrong) was to name five songs written by the Bee Gees on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack that reached number one in the UK. I made the mistake of thinking of only the songs the Bee Gees sung on that record and not considering that they wrote songs for others. The one I missed, Yvonne Elliman singing If I Can’t Have You.

As we were waiting for the scores to be tallied there was a table of three next to us who had been struggling all night and wondering out loud how they could do better. I leaned over and told them they should look around for another small group that scores well and join forces. One of the women asked me, “Is that what you did?” And I responded, “Yes, I don’t even know these people”.  :)

I will miss the pub quiz for the good company, the atmosphere and realizing week to week how little I knew about English history, sport, and politics.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Cheese Toasty

There’s a gallery/tea room close to work that I’ve visited once before that I haven’t been to in awhile that I ended up having lunch at two days in a row during my last work week and it’s all because of the weather and the sandwich. They make a cheese toasty (think grilled cheese) with a secret cheese blend and sundried tomatoes and it is super fine. It’s also got a nice seating area outside and when the sun is out, there’s nowhere else you want to be. According to the owner’s website, there’s a ghost in the building. But that won’t keep you away, it’s the “service” of the proprietor might. I asked my friend B at work, “Hey, have you ever eaten at The Drawing Room?” She said no and I went on to tell her that in spite of the service it’s still a good place. That made her laugh and she went on to demonstrate the difference between American service and English service. In her opinion English service is much more (in an accusatory tone) “What do you want?!”

Tottenham v. Portsmouth

On the Sunday of The Magical Mystery Tour Wembley was hosting two FA Cup Semi-Finals. I ran into several Portsmouth fans on the trains that day and I’ve been told they are very loyal fans, supporting their team through the good and bad and they were rewarded that day with a win. They are also very musical fans! Outside of pubs they were singing and even on the trains. This group was asking for requests and instead of giving them a song title, I took their pic.

On big game days the British Transport Police are out in full force. The tube may have banned alcohol back in 2008 but that goes out the window on game days.