Thursday, December 22, 2005

Observations of a childless blogger

I am really enjoying my time here at home. As evidenced in my previous entry, I've been seeing every friend I have in the Twin Cities, and tomorrow I head to the northern suburbs to spend the holidays with my family. Exited to see them, I must confess.

I'm in a different coffee shop today. One of my favourite things about the US is that it is filthy with neighbourhood coffee shops and cafes that have free wireless internet. This particular one is in an area full of starter homes (1920's bungalows) that people in my relative generation have snatched up in an affordable housing frenzy. It's kind of near the Mississippi River, and it's full of cute little shops and restaurants that appeal to the average thirty-something with moderate disposable income and upwardly mobile tastes. This particular coffee shop seems to be the official meeting place for several Mommy/Daddy/Me groups, where the toddlers race cars and run around and build things with blocks and the parents try to have intelligent conversation whilst keeping one eye on the kids to ensure no one puts something metal in an outlet or bonks their head on the hard concrete floor.

Eavesdropping is one of my hobbies, and this is a great place to do this. Lots of people here don't know each other well, but they're trying to be nice to the parent/uncle/grandparent of the toddler their toddler is playing with. My conclusion: these poor people need to get out more.

I've fixated on one guy who has one volume of his voice (super-loud), and he has lots of lame opinions to express. (To be fair, many of the other grownups have stopped talking, since he's sucking all the air out of the place.) He looks like an extra in Yentl, if you cut the earlocks, replaced the yamulke with a newsboy cap, and the wool suit with wide-wale corduroys and a sweater vest. He has a donkey laugh, bless him, and he obviously has had some trouble fitting in in his life. When I first sat down, he was on about how British people are much more interesting than Americans. I came late, so not sure how he got on this topic, but it's all I can do not to jump in and give him my two cents. (They're not more interesting, they're just different. We're fat...they've got bad teeth. We read People, they read Heat. We say cookies, they say biscuits. Same story different day. And we both talk about the weather too much.) He's one of those typical guys who's decided that Europeans are better just because they're not from here. I'm here to tell you that's just not so. They're just like us, with different food and smaller cars. I'm sick of people who've never lived in Europe telling me how much better it is. Personally, I'm currently reveling in every dependable toilet flush and non-scalding shower, because I've not seen either of these in six months.

I'm naming this guy Lenny. Lenny is now reading Thomas the Tank Engine. It's a story about wanting to travel and see the world. He's using voices (that all sound like Droopy Dog.) He's making his child do the alphabet dance. The kids are named Arlo and Miles. Arlo seems to have a little crush on me, as he keeps coming over and giving me a big shy-boy smile. I hope Arlo grows up with more nuance than his dad.

Lenny is now talking about tea. Please stop talking about tea, Lenny. The Brits drink tea, but that doesn't make it holy. It is just an alternative to coffee.

OOOH! Now it's all about Boxing Day. Hmmmm...what next? Will we talk of bumbershoots? Will Arlo say zed instead of zee in his alphabet dance? Perhaps he'll tell us he prefers roundabouts to stoplights?

I think it's time to move on. I'll try another coffee shop and see what they're talking about there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Not dead yet

Hi all.

Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. I apologize for my long absence. I've had a big month, and now I'm home in MSP for the holidays. I'm currently in a Dunn Bros enjoying a delicious cappucino and listening to two handsome gentlemen discussing baptism. (What it means, is it necessary, what does Jesus say, etc.) Straight ahead of me on the coffee shop computer is a really bad transvestite with piercings in his/her nose and lower lip. Ah, diversity, thy name is America. (Happy Sigh)

We're going with the numbering system to get caught up, then I'll start fresh tomorrow.

1) Flew to NYC. Tom picked me up at JFK. We had a joyous reunion in a parking lot, and then headed back to Brooklyn. Stopped for a late-night dinner at Nathan's Famous in Coney Island.
2) Had dimsum in Chinatown on Thanksgiving AM. We sat at a table of eight with six Chinese youth. They laughed at Tom's Chinese, but we got what we wanted so it couldn't have been that bad.
3) George made a delicious dinner, which the three of us shared with their friends Imran and Emory, who are perfect. We had a delightful day, and drank some delicious wine...my personal favourite was the Amarone.
4) Friday and Saturday we just spent time together. We saw Avenue Q and Wicked, both EXCELLENT. We met my friend Blane for drinks after he got out of work on Friday and went to the village for sushi. Sat in Blane's favourite bar and drank a bit, then went to Marie's Crisis for showtunes. It's amazing how someone you've known your whole life can be absent for years, and then you see them and you somehow fit like you've never been away.
5) Flew home Sunday.
6) Filled out an application for an Executive MBA programme at Cranfield University. Submitted it online on 30 November.
7) 1 December they called me to schedule an interview on 9 December. Yikes
8) Made it through my jetlag in time to pick my friend Bethany up at the airport the following Sunday. We had two weeks of fun touring around. I love Bethany.
9) Studied for the Cranfield Tests (to replace the GMAT that I didn't have time to take.)
10) Interviewed for an entire day on Friday the 9th.
11) Crammed in one last proposal the following week, as I only worked Monday and Tuesday.
12) Wednesday, I called for my admissions results. I got in...I start my part-time EMBA on 12 January!
13) Elated, I continued into London to spend the day at the immigration office. I can now stay in the UK for five years, which is good as I've committed to three now due to grad school. (Two years of school, one additional contract year to my employer.)
14) Realised I will officially be in the UK for the entire GWB second term. I wonder if that makes me an exile?
15) Thursday I met my friend Pam at Heathrow for lunch, as she was on her way to Austria for the winter.
16) Friday Bethany and I flew to the US. Spent five hours in delay at O'Hare. (Pleh.)
17) Saturday I got my hair cut in a sassy little two-toned bob. Soni and Anne came to see me at the salon, and we felt like our own white-girl version of Barbershop. Went to the best supper club ever for dinner with KB&D for dinner.
18) Sunday I hung out with my brother and his family. I brought funky ketchup from the UK (Curry and Chili flavours), and we ate them on tater tots.
19) On Monday I had lunch with my friend Lisa Starr. We went shopping (found some great cashmere sweaters, a necessary add in this HORRIBLE weather,) and we defaced a Frango gift basket at Dayton's (Marshall Fields/Macy's) to get the mixed box out because they had no more on the shelf. We would have left well enough alone, but the clerk was snotty in a "sucks for you" way when she realised they were sold out of the single item versions of this product, so we thought we'd show her what for. Turns out you can't buy them singley, so we had to settle for just raspberry.
20) Tuesday I spent the day with my friend KC. We went to my godson's Christmas pagent at preschool. They did great gestures whilst singing Rudolph. Had dinner with Tim and Kelli at their house and I stayed too long. I forget that I'm not working but others are.
21) Wednesday I had lunch with my friend Mark Banker and said hi to my BI friends, came to this coffee shop, and will be having dinner with Kim and Abby at my favourite Thai place.
22) The hectic schedule goes on. More observations and info soon.

I'm really happy to be home. I was homesick, and now I'm surrounded by way lots of people who love me (and I love them back.)

Favourite food since I arrived: Pickles!
Favourite drink: Dirty Martini at Mancini's
Favourite sight: the dirty old Ford on Hiawatha, whose 12 bumper stickers told me he was a liberal Christian vegan. God Bless the USA!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm off to New York this afternoon and I'm very excited. I will have four days with my friends Tom and George, I can eat pickles, and I can relax. I think I may even meet my friend Blane, who goes way back to teenage years, for a cocktail. This is going to be a great trip.

Things have been stressful at work, so this is a good time for a break. I've been really homesick lately. Mind you, even at the best of times I feel disconnected, which anyone who has a blog that tells them the approximate location of their visitors will know....their log will show them being stalked from GB, as I go to all friends blogs once a day (sometimes more if I think the time difference might miss an update,) just for news of the familiar. Note to some of my blogging friends...update more often, please. And if you don't have a blog, HELLO, I have email, too! So this little trip is going to give me a chance to connect. I really think it's going to help my mood, and make it easier to deal with the challenges in the workplace.

I may have time to give updates while I'm travelling, but if I don't you can expect pictures and stories when I return. Tom and Mindy are nothing if not good for stories.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a good weekend off.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Beware the wrath of the Fairies

No, this is not some sort of gay joke.

There is a construction project here in England that is being stalled by fairies who live under a rock. Read the story here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Pauly Shore's new career

So Pop Idol is the UK show that crossed the pond as American Idol. Here in the UK, it has morphed into The X Factor, which is a bit more complex than the Idol format. There are still three judges...in this case, Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne, and a little Irish leprechaun named Louis Walsh who seems to specialize in boy bands. (My theory is that he specializes in boy bands on, ahem, many levels, but I have no proof.) There are three categories of performers: 16 - 24's, 25 and overs, and groups. After a standard audition/selection process, the judges take the finalists from one group each and they further narrow the group and then mentor them thru the competition.

Sharon Osbourne has the over 25s, and they are by far the most talented of the contestants this year. Except for one. His name is Chico. He's a singing (slightly flat) dancing (read Chippendales) guy with abs of steel. The ladies go crazy for him, and he always enters the stage with screams of, "It's CHICO TIME!" And while certainly his physique shows a lot of time spent in the gym, I just can't get past his face. Here's Chico:













And here's who I see every time he's on screen:
Talk about a buzz kill. I mean, Son in Law may be a great movie and all, but Pauly Shore is no Brad Pitt. Heck, Pauly Shore is no Adam Sandler...he's not even Paul Giamatti. I can't believe England is swooning for Encino Man. (Known as California Man here, which I find even funnier.)

You tell me...who is THIS?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Geezer

Oy. My sciatica.

Actually, Oy! my floating rib!

My rib is, in fact, floating. More precisely, it is poking me when I move. I did some sort of slept wrong/coughed too much thing and put my right lower rib out about a week ago. It has gotten progressively worse, and by Monday I couldn't do ANYTHING without pulling a face. I went to an osteopath on Wednesday. He was like 10. Okay, I'm sure he's probably 30, and he was very friendly and helpful and put things back in line, but I felt like his grandmother. Thank GOD I could get myself onto the table, because if I'd needed assistance I'd have died. Those who've been to an osteopath before know that they massage and move things around and you often end up feeling worse before you feel better. At least that's the case with me. Today my rib isn't poking me, but I feel like I've been run over with a truck.

I joined a gym recently, and have been really good about going every day. I had to take Monday and Tuesday off because I would have passed out, but I managed to go yesterday. Today, though, I came home and moaned. I hope I feel better tomorrow.

Oh. And I've been filling in grad school applications and studying for my entrance exam. It's been 20 years since I had any math class, and boy does it show. I guarantee that my 14 year old nephew has better math skills than me. My verbal scores are high, though, and after I studied a bit my math ones were passable. I figure a bit more studying and I'll know my way around equations and fractions again. But it's really annoying that I've lost my touch. I was REALLY good at math. I've never scored below the 99th percentile on a standardized test in my life, so I have a high bar set for myself. I will NOT be okay with an average score. Which, considering that I haven't taken one of these pressure tests since 1983, is not going to be an easy task.

Bad back, can't remember my math skills, whippersnapper osteopath? Could I feel older? Yes, in fact I can...I looked in the mirror today and my grey hair roots are now unmaskable.

And then today I went out to the car, and some kid had scratched "geezer" into the frost on my windscreen. Little snot. If I had a cane, I'd shake it at them.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cauliflower Cheese and Baked Apples

I have been really busy at work this week, and although I have many things in my freezer that are delicious and healthy. Unfortunately, when you get home at 830 and really need to eat, you are stuck with either a) ordering a pizza, which is not tasty and not healthy, or b) eating what you can cobble together. Last night I was seduced by option A, which was a rash and very bad decision. Therefore I opted for B tonight. Here is what I had for dinner:

Half a whole-wheat pita and some hummus
two olives stuffed with a almonds
three carrot nubbins (not really baby carrots, so I had to reclassify them)
cucumber slices
cauliflower, steamed and tossed in a quickly made bechamel/cheese sauce
a small piece of ham intended as my protein for breakfast, but oh well

This was most definitely NOT a satisfying meal. But luckily, I had a bag of sub-standard eating apples sitting in the fridge...they were tart and all, but kind of mealy and I prefer an extremely crisp apple. I bunged them into a baking dish, added a little brown sugar and flour, some ginger and cinnamon, a couple of dabs of butter and a splash of cognac. 45 minutes later I am enjoying a not horribly unhealthy warm, delicious treat. Yum Yum.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

No Midlife Crisis

I'm watching an episode of What Not to Wear, and Trinny and Susannah are making over two middle aged guys with pot bellies who are starting to do that crazy thing men do in their forties...freaking out about getting old, buying sportscars, getting younger girlfriends/boyfriends.

Trinny has a good idea to solve this problem: admit there's a problem and get a makeover.

Stop dressing like it's 1985, buy some pants that fit, shave that balding head, grow a goatee or a beard or some face-slimming hair. Read a book or learn a language or something. You're only old because you're not moving forward in your life...you're looking backwards. You're never going to be 25 again, you're never going to look 25 again, and no car or younger lover or clothes you BOUGHT when you were 25 will change this. So embrace who you are, make yourself current, and enjoy the life you've been able to build in the last 15 - 20 years.

This is good advice for women, too. I'm going to follow it. Good lord...I have a cool job, I live abroad, I travel the world, I have cool friends, and I know a lot of stuff. Why on earth should I worry about lip lines?

Call for schedule requests

To those of you who live in MSP and Chicago, I'll be home for the holidays and with a few days over a month until I arrive I'm starting to work on my schedule. Email me your schedule request. And Lulu, I need your email asap.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Curb me and my enthusiasm

I worry that I am turning into Larry David.

Don't get me wrong. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a phenomenally funny show. I belly laugh every time I watch it. I own the first four seasons so I can watch it while I wait for the new season to start showing here.

But I don't want to BE Larry David. Larry David is rude, annoying, and inappropriate. He makes rash decisions and obsesses on insignificant things. He gets irritated and causes commotion where it's not necessary. Being Larry David is like being George Kostanza (in fact, Jason Alexander says he learned to play the character by imitating LD.) I don't mind being a Rhoda, I can even handle being a Charlotte (even though I wish I were a Carrie,) but I DO NOT want to be Larry/George.

Therefore I'm vowing a kinder, gentler Mindy. I am going to stop saying everything that comes into my head without considering the consequences. It's time to start reading Miss Manners more regularly. I'm going to ignore my tendency to get ooked out when a chair is warm from someone else's butt if I sit down, and I'm going to stop fixating on insignificant physical characteristics and assigning unflattering nicknames like "Single White Female" or "Electric Bluto" to people just because I don't like them. In fact, I'm going to stop taking a dislike to people full stop, unless of course I know for a fact that they're not nice.

So badly do I NOT want to be Larry David, I've even decided to give long-waisted people a chance.

Winter is Here

Last Friday, winter arrived. It was 60 or so when I went to work...kind of sunny, really pleasant. By the time I went to London on Friday night it was about 40, windy, and wet. I wasn't prepared for the cold snap, what with my strappy top and corduroy jacket, and so I was pretty cold by the time I got home at 2 AM. And it hasn't warmed up since.

I've been here a year now. In fact, November 2nd marked my official landing in the UK. I guess it was cold here when I arrived...I remember wearing a coat when I'd walk to work...but I guess it just seemed warm because it didn't snow or get blizzardy. I was still thinking in Midwestern weather terms, and so it seemed quite mild. But this year I lived through summer, and I know that just two weeks ago it was 75 and I was wearing shorts. Now I'm really crabby.

I needed to mow my lawn. I let it go, though, because Susan and Katie were here and it was more fun to hang out with them, and now I fear that it will be another 6 months before it's dry enough to cut the grass. I hope it doesn't grow over the winter.

New Blog

My mom hates conversations revolving around politics and religion. It drives her crazy when my dad and I get into political discussions, what since I'm a big liberal and he's a big conservative and we both love to bait the other. And she really hates it when I bring up politics on this site.

But politics are on my mind a lot these days. I'm angry and disenchanted...you might even say furious...at the way things are going in my homeland. I need to vent.

So my solution...a new blog.

Here's the plan. I will continue to update this blog regularly, in fact I'm vowing to update it several times a week instead of every week or so as it's been lately.

But I now have another blog called I'm a Liberal and You Should Be, Too where I'm going to express my political opinions. I won't have to worry that I'm upsetting my mother. I already do that by living 4000 miles away. Now my political entries will be housed separately, and she can read them only when she chooses. (As can my Republican friends who prefer not to hear me say "I told you so.")

And, since I know that my schedule will keep me from thoroughly covering current events that we liberals care about, I will welcome guest contributors and regular columnists to I'm a Liberal. I figure this will give those of you who have blogs with other themes or no blog at all a way to get things off your chest, too. Just email me or drop a comment to let me know you have something to say.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Travels in the South

On Thursday, we headed to the countryside. We started off at Stonehenge. It was a glorious day, with spectacular sun and warm temps.


Next stop - Wells and their cool cathedral. Wells is a really cute little village, and there's this great ruin of a medieval castle right next to the cathedral. Not to mention some really fabulous shoe stores.




Then on to the Cheddar Gorge and Bath. Our hotel was in a great location...centrally located within walking distance of everything. We went to a cool little bar for cocktails, where Patricia helped strike up a conversation with the bartender and a local guy who was bellyed up. We enjoyed a couple rounds with them, then headed down the street to a little French place for a scrumptious dinner.

Friday we spent the day in Bath seeing the sites. In the AM we did the Roman Baths, and then in the afternoon we split up. Patricia and Susan went off for more costume stuff (Bath has one of the best collections in Europe.) Katie and I stopped for a beer and then went to the Bath Glassworks for a glass blowing demonstration. Katie got a wineglass, and I got a pair of cufflinks and a shiny ring.

We stopped at Sally Lunn's for a Lunn bun snack. Yum Yum. It's this crazy, fluffy, kind of sweet kind of savoury breadlike thing, and then they put a delicious topping on it and broil it. I believe our table tried the strawberry jam, the lemon curd, the cinnamon toast, and the welsh rarebit (basically cheese and worcestershire sauce.) Oh. And tea, which is killer yum. Perfect fortification for the drive to the Cotswolds. Though we did hit a traffic jam and I needed a little supplement with some roasted peanuts.

We stayed the night in Painswick, this picturesque little stone village nestled into a hill. Driving in this town was a total trip...imagine single lane switchbacks with six feet tall stone walls on each side, and two way traffic trying to use them. Our little inn was built in 1472, and had low ceilings, beams, and four-poster beds. They had a pretty decent thai restaurant with a fixed menu, as well, and so we had a delicious dinner there. There was a crazy couple in the corner getting drunk and talking loudly, and we ended up engaged in conversation with them until about 1 AM, mostly because we couldn't find a graceful way to exit. The guy (in fact, his name was Guy) was pretty much a muscular, over-cologned, hairy jerk who talked too loudly and told bad jokes, but his girlfriend (Lorna) seemed nice enough, poor thing.

On Saturday we did a wander through the Cotswolds. Really pretty area...all sheep and hills and little twisty lanes. We were overly ambitious so we didn't have time to walk the fields, which in retrospect would have been a good thing to plan, but it's a beautiful area of England and we saw some breath-taking scenery. And the best part...it's near Milton Keynes so we could come back to my place that night for a dinner of nibbles and wine, with a few loads of laundry on the side.

We had a great little breakfast, and then the weary travelers headed to London. I said goodbye at the train station (no tears, just hugs), and then Patricia and I drove the luggage to Hampton Court, where the girls spent the night. I came home and went to bed at 9...I was positively exhausted...and then everyone returned to their real lives today.

Midweek

Monday and Tuesday, Susan and Katie spent the days in London...and then I'd pick them up at the train station. On Monday I was too tired to cook, so we went to a cool old pub in town and had delicious pub grub like Beef and Speckled Hen pie (SH is an ale.) But we were smart and went to the grocer on the way home so on Tuesday we made a Burmese Chili Pork Salad.

Burmese Chili Pork Salad
2 Tablespoons of groundnut oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Three or four shallots, chopped
One package of mushrooms, chopped
2 large dried chilis, coarsely chopped (or just use dried chili flakes...maybe 1 1/2 Tablespoons)
Minced pork...like maybe a pound?
Tender young broccoli stems, cut in bitesize pieces
Carrot slivers
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Lettuce, tomato, and cucumber

Heat the wok. Heat the oil. Toss in the garlic and cook for a minute or two, ditto for the shallots, and then the mushrooms. Add the chili and stir for about 20 seconds. Then add the pork and cook until almost done. Now add the broccoli and carrots and toss around until they're to the tooth. Add remaining ingredients and heat it up properly, simmering on a low burner.

Now prepare salad dishes with the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. Then you're ready to put the pork mixture on the salads and enjoy.

It was yummy...we had cocktails (sidecars and manhattans) and it was a perfect evening.

On Wednesday, we went into the city again. We headed to Kensington Palace to meet Patricia. She had the costume curator give us a behind the scenes tour of the collection and the palace...very fun. (Susan is the textile curator at the Atlanta History Center, so for her it was shop talk.) We stopped in the Orangery for lunch and then high-tailed to the V&A for the afternoon. Late afternoon coffee stop, and then a stroll through Kensington to a nice little Italian place for dinner.

I'm back

I've had a wonderful week. My friends Susan and Katie were here. It was great.

They arrived via National Express from Gatwick, which took a little longer than expected but got them here just the same. I took them to the Indian restaurant in the church in Stony. It's got a big wow factor, and as long as you avoid the saag dishes (which are just so-so) the food is really good. We had a scrumptious banquet of spicy things, then came home and watched Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and talked forever. Couldn't believe they made it until midnight before going to bed.

Saturday we went to Hampton Court to pick up Patricia and took the train to London. Our first stop: the Ice Bar! It's a totally lame marketing ploy, but it was still fun. The bar is kept at about 5 degrees, and they serve vodka drinks in ice glasses. You are allowed a 45 minute slot, and you're given thermal capes and gloves to keep warm. I had an appletini.

Patricia wanted to go to the Arts and Crafts show in Chelsea, and Susan and Katie preferred the double-decker bus tour. I elected to go with them to check it out for future visitors. It was pretty good, actually. They take you past everything and they tell you all sorts of stories. It was sunny and nice, but MAN it was cold up top. I was pretty glad when we reached Green Park and were able to get off and walk. We met Patricia for a drink in Leicester Square, and since there were no cheap show seats that we really wanted we wandered into Chinatown for dinner. We found a pretty decent place (it was a sauce-heavy sort of place, and I prefer the drier kind, but everything was flavourful and delicious.) We took the train back to Hampton Court and stayed there for the night.

On Sunday we did a comprehensive tour of Hampton Court. Patricia sweet talked the head of customer relations to be our guide for part of the day, which was great fun. Here I am grating some nutmeg, while Patricia looks on from the fireplace. Patricia also gave us a behind the scenes tour of the conservation area, which is her domain at the palace. Since she and Susan are in the same business, they were able to talk shop and museum stuff, and Katie and I got to see a pretty cool view of things. You feel really important when you get to walk into the security only area.

Okay, time to go to work. I've been waiting for the Sky box engineer to come fix my satellite, and he's got my tv working again so it's time to go. More soon.





Saturday, October 15, 2005

Going Quietly?

If you're a Republican and you receive some sort of correspondence criticizing your beliefs this week, it's possible that this is the source.

I must say, that definitely shows commitment to a cause.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Best song EVAH

One of the best songs ever is called "Debra" and it's by Beck. It's on Midnight Vultures. Do you know it? If not, check it out on itunes or wherever you get music.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

School Girl Crush

"In 1997, Miers sent Bush a belated birthday card featuring a sad-looking dog and the note: "Dear Governor GWB, You are the best Governor ever -- deserving of great respect!"

I wonder if she uses a little heart to dot her i's when she signs her name?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I love Charlotte Church

This is a new thing for me. I was never a fan of her creepy, other-worldly, faux opera thing when she was a child. I thought she was wholly unsettling, actually.

But Charlotte has grown up, and now she is one of my favourite celebrities in England. She's curvy, bordering on chubby. She wears too much makeup. She says outlandish things and takes the mick out of herself, and she occasionally swears in public. She's managed to grow into a down to earth person, which is an achievement considering her childhood fame. She occasionally binge drinks and she dates dishy rugby players. She is basically a big mess, and doesn't really care what people say because she's 19 and she's enjoying her life and making mistakes and putting herself before her career.

And she's not one of those trampy Britney types, either. She doesn't wear tight, revealing clothes and she doesn't do pole-and-lap-dance gyrations when she performs. She's actually an interesting mix of posh and trashy...oddly managing to pull the good parts from both.

Her new music is even kind of pop-rocky and, although it isn't deep or particularly complex, it is actually really catchy and fun.

She slammed the Pope for condemning Harry Potter. She's also openly ridiculed a guy named James Blunt, who has one of the worst songs on the radio right now but no one seems to want to point out that he has a bad voice and his lyrics are vaguely stalkerish.

Yes, Charlotte Church is now cool. Can you even imagine it?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

New baby name

Many people think it's a good thing I don't have kids. This is not usually linked to their assessment of my potential parenting skills (or at least they claim it's not,) but more to my questionable choice in names for kids.

My mom is an identical twin, and that makes me the generation that could carry this on...therefore I used to plan my names in pairs, just in case I ended up with unexpected babies and had to think fast. (Don't take that sentence at face value...you know what I mean.) The boys would be Otto and Oscar (my grandfathers) and the girls would be June and Esther (my grandmother and her sister). And, on the off-chance that my partner had his own ideas about names and might think these are a bit naff, I always kept Astrid and Delia and Bjorn and Thor in my back pocket as alternates, just in case. (There were also Christopher Hans and Dinah, the fictional children Tom and I were planning, but those were specific circumstances and not on the main list.)

Even though I'm old enough now that the baby name list is pretty much a non-issue, I can't stop myself from adding to it anyway. Today I've officially decided that Gemma, Hazel, Ellis, and Sherlock are joining the list of potential Hanzliks. Gemma is sassy, Hazel is artsy and introspective, Ellis is cool without being macho.

And Sherlock, well, it's just Sherlock. I might even adopt just so I can use it.

Burning Question

I wonder which is worse to live with...Narcolepsy or Tourette's?

Helpful Hint

If you've had a long day and decide to order chinese food for delivery:

A) order from a good restaurant, not one that serves everything in sweet and spicy, sticky red sauce; and
B) when you discover that you've ordered foul chinese food that belongs in the bin, stop eating, you moron.

If only someone had told me this three hours ago. Pleh.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Shipping Forecast

I have discovered a new oddity to love about England. At 0048 each day, the folks on BBC Radio 4 read the shipping forecast. I'd heard tell of this, and absolutely every Brit I've questioned on it raves likes it is some sort of mystical oracle.

I've been up at 0048 and still alert quite a bit in the last few weeks so I tuned in.

I, too, am mesmerised by its power.

It's not unlike the commodities prices they read on the AM radio news in the midwest US. There's the part about the indecipherable language that's fascinating, but the shipping forecast is even better. (And it's hard to get better than futures on corn or beans or the price of cattle at the Ronan Trading Barn.)

The shipping forecast sets one's mind to thinking about the possibilities of life...of sailing off into the sunset/sunrise, heading out for adventure in the great unknown. As you sit snuggly in your dark, quiet house in the middle of the night (made snugger now that the heat is on,) it makes you dream of distant shores. It's oddly calming, like a verbal lullaby. Reassuring even. As you tuck yourself in under the duvet and turn out the light, it puts the wind at your back and sends you to sleep.

Listen to it here. Nighty night.

Update

In retrospect, even Michael J. Fox has a little Elvis in him. I've decided to forgive him for Family Ties. I mean, he got to work with Meredith Baxter Birney.

London Calling

It's been awhile since I have had a good long dose of London, and my friends Kat and Anna were feeling the same way. I'd had a difficult week, to say the least (11PM was my average leaving time from work) and I'd been out with the chairman of our company on a presentation Friday that put me home around 9 PM. I was in the mood.

So Saturday we took the train to the city. Anna had arranged for free rooms at a hotel, which is code for "We'll put you up for free but you have to tour the place first." We did the tour, and then headed into the city. Met Kat in Leicester Square and had some tapas and a glass of wine in the sunny early fall day. Went to tkts and took a gander at the choices. Richard II is in previews, and Kevin Spacey...dishy pasty-white-stay-inside if ever there was one...is playing the lead. Made a mental note to do that one soon. There were tickets to High Society and I've always loved that (MY she was YAR!) but Epitaph for George Dillon won because Joseph Fiennes is a "horny beast" as Kat says (I believe that is Northern Irish for dishy.) Tickets were half price (the fun of tkts) and so we booked for 7:30.

We did a Covent Garden wander, and I ended up with a pair of new shoes. They are a lovely chocolate brown and will go well with trousers. I can't always wear my red boots. Made the obligatory Lush stop (I needed face wash) and then sat for a cappuccino. Caught a taxi to Kensington Palace for tea. Apparently I flirted with the cabbie (though I'd say I just had some friendly conversation, much as my mother did with strangers when we were on vacation as a kid,) and so he not only dropped us off, he drove on the sidewalks in Hyde Park to drop us right next to the building because it was raining. We had a delicious cream tea. (That means tea, cucumber sammys, fruit scones with clotted cream and preserves and a piece of cake, orange in our case.) Walked off the sweets by strolling back to the hotel, had a complimentary cocktail, then caught the tube to the theatre.

We had great seats and the play was interesting. Joseph Fiennes is, indeed a "horny beast." The play was written in the 50's by John Osbourne and his partner, Anthony Creighton, and foreshadows some of the themes in the more well known Look Back in Anger. Quick synopsis - it is about a supposedly artistic, clever, engaging man who quits his day job and moves in with a work colleague and her stereotypically lower class family so he can pursue his acting. Although he is contemptuous of the banal lifestyle of his hosts, eventually life batters him down and he succumbs to their mediocrity because it's easier than pursuing his dreams. The whole staging has that Leave it to Beaver look about it, and the family who takes him in are two-dimensional, predictable people. George is always saying a-bit-too-clever stuff intended to make you think, thus making him just as much a two-dimensional stereotype as the people he ridicules with his sardonic humour. But there were some good laughs and it was engaging and I though Joseph Fiennes was certainly a bit more than a pretty face. (He's tall, too. Oh. And he's a talented actor and gave a nuanced performance.) Read review here.

Stopped at Wagamama for plum wine and noodle soup. Went to the hotel, and I slept like a log. Got up for breakfast and met Anna at 11. Wandered a bit and caught a 130 train home.

I love London. Twenty-seven hours in the city and I am no longer stressed about work. Why? Because I live in ENGLAND. How bad can it be???

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Random Thoughts

I am way too tired to think connected thoughts, so I'm going random instead.
  1. I want to age like the people in Scorsese's Bob Dylan documentary. Ok, maybe not Allen Ginsburg, but Joan Baez looks great.
  2. Speaking of Dylan, what's up with his hair? All that money, you'd think he could buy some conditioner.
  3. And he still has a Minneosta accent, doncha know. You'd expect him to sound cooler and not oh, say, like my dad. (I love you, Dad, but you're just not that cool, you know?)
  4. I am fearing the end of Six Feet Under. I can't watch Lost because I fly too much...the plane crash thing will freak me out.
  5. I was recruited for a different job today. I can't take it, but it got me thinking about possibilities.
  6. What's so great about Coldplay?
  7. When I go to New York I can have pickles.
  8. I have too much to do at work right now.
  9. Tom DeLay was indicted. Nice to know the justice system works.
  10. I see that they're going to start selling the Versa and the Yaris in the US. These cars are the tiny sorts of clown cars popular in Europe where gas is $8 a gallon. Hoping they succeed in the US...they're great, and these two are even kind of cute.
  11. OH! And I see that W is encouraging energy conservation. It's not bad enough that he's taking the bad plays from his dad's playbook...now he's taking them from Jimmy Carter, too? Interns beware...Laura won't be as pleasant as Hillary was because she's not going to run for president anytime soon.
  12. I shouldn't be so mean...unlike Dick Cheney, I believe conservation is not just a "personal virtue," but, in fact, can be the basis for a sound energy policy. (You must supplement with other measures, but it's a start.) Instead, I'm going to be pleased that they're coming around to my way of thinking.
  13. Just got home from work and it's 930. Nothing good to eat, so I ate crap instead. Hate that. Why do I never remember to have easy, tasty things available in the fridge?
  14. I have the tv on to BBC2 to keep me company, and I am currently watching a naked man with a firework spewing sparks stuck in his butt, and he's singing "There's No Business Like Show Business."
  15. Come on...could I actually make that up? Honestly, it's on TV.
  16. I've been here almost a year now. Can't believe it.
  17. Learn to calculate your weight in stones. (1 stone = 13.7 pounds or something like that.) You'll feel much thinner.
  18. It is only September. I absolutely refuse to turn on the heat until at least October. I'm wearing my coat and a fleece right now, but gosh darn it, the heat is o-f-f.
  19. I'm going to bed at 10pm. That is so not me.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Everything is Illuminated

I hear this movie is out now.

If you haven't read the book, please do so immediately. It is extraordinary, and will make you weep. It will also connect you to humanity in a raw, profound way that I didn't believe was possible with literature until I read it.

Oh. And don't see the movie first, because part of the fun of the book is the fanciful nature of the narrative. And Pam says you'll be retroactively disappointed in the film if you see it before you read it.

It's by Jonathan Safran Foer, and it's got weirdly colored cover...easy to find on the shelf.

Go get it. You heard me, go.

This ain't right

Did you see the article about the dog that swallowed the 13 inch knife?

How can this possibly be true?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Long Live Paul Wellstone

So I'm sitting on the couch listening to the radio and catching up on news, etc. I try to check in with the NYTimes, the Washington Post, The Seattle Time/PI, and the Star Tribune each week so I know what's going on.

In today's Strib there's an article about the legacy of Paul and Sheila Wellstone.

Personally, I think it's great that people have turned their grief/pain/loss towards political action. What better way to honor the memory of a fiery, principled politician who voted his conscience as opposed to the polls, and who got to the US Senate with effective grass-roots campaigning, than to teach others how to do the same. Yes, Paul Wellstone was a big liberal, but more than that, he was a real, live Mr. Smith going to Washington. The Wellstone Action team and the Camp Wellstone concept is a great way to continue his work in the world.

Now, the reason for this entry....partway through the article, David Strom, president of The Taxpayer's League of Minnesota and on-air personality for The Patriot (aka local liberal-bashing radio) has the balls to say that this is worrying because it seems like people are sanctifying Wellstone...and this sort of sainthood behavior is unfair to those who disagree with Wellstone's politics. He cites the popular "What Would Wellstone Do" bumper sticker as evidence...it is supposedly dishonoring anyone who doesn't think like Wellstone.

Lighten up, pal. It's a bumper sticker.

I'm sure that Mr. Strom is a perfectly decent guy. He's probably fun to be around, and has lots of witty party conversation and is kind to children and animals. In fact, I'm positive we have mutual friends, and I know in my heart TC/Kelli wouldn't associate with a true devil, no matter how objectionable I find their public persona.

But, in this instance, I have to say...I think David Strom is being a colossal wanker. (Wanker=dick=a**hole=idiot...take your pick of the insults, as they could all apply.)

Do the "What Would Jesus Do" bumper stickers dishonor our non-Christian citizens? (Or, for that matter, should I be taking umbrage with any of these?) Is his station's co-opting of patriotism a crime against those of us who don't think tax cuts are the way to help the victims of Katrina, or who DO think that the Iraq war is a mistake? Of course not. Freedom of speech is a double-edged sword. You can say what you want, but so can others...and you don't get to cry foul just because you don't like the message.

Remember when Ronald Reagan went to that gated community in the sky? Instead of bringing up Iran Contra and the troubles in Afghanistan that started back in the 80s, we kept our mouths shut and let FoxNews viewers mourn their saint in peace. People have heroes...and whilst you may not understand what they see in them, it's still their right to revere whom they wish.

I believe the real argument Mr. Strom is trying to make is that he is annoyed by the sanctification of Paul and Sheila Wellstone.

You see, you can't swift-boat a dead man. People find that unseemly. Instead of using innuendo, sarcasm, and intentionally misleading information to pick apart the opposition, you have to deal with their arguments head-on.

More importantly, you have to deal with their candidates at the polls. In this climate of cronyism and half-truths and empty promises from both sides of the aisle in Washington, truth and honesty strike a chord with people, which is why eight Camp Wellstone grads are now in the state house, and six more advanced in this year's Minnesota primaries. Worse yet, Camp Wellstones are happening all over the country, and with dissatisfaction growing amongst the voters, this success is likely to make the conservative agenda stall in all sorts of races, not just for state houses but possibly for the US Congress and Senate. And, if the other side gets momentum, who knows what they'll do in 2008?

The real problem...people emulate saints, and people who emulate Paul and Sheila Wellstone advocate peace, they believe in taxing the wealthy more than they do the lower incomes, and they believe that the government can and should establish standards of dignity and living for all citizens, and then they fund programs that ensure all their citizens' lives meet these standards.

Yes, Mr. Strom, I understand that these things are certainly worrying for you.

The Parrot, Part Two

My worst fears are being realized.

The parrot next door is learning new songs. He now has the following repertoire, and it seems to be growing daily:

  • Col. Bogie's March (AKA the theme from The Bridge Over the River Kwai)
  • A cellphone ring
  • The laugh of someone, I assume his owner
  • A host of car alarm squeals
  • A sound like police scanner chatter
  • Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits
  • Quacks like the ducks across the road
  • Ice Cream Van songs (part of Fur Elise and part of some chipper German sounding ditty)

What will he learn next??? If the music I hear through the wall is any indicator, I'm in for nothing but heartache (or headache, as the case may be.) They seem to be fans of bad easy-listening music. Yesterday I heard "When We Get Behind Closed Doors", and "People."

God, help me.

Cooking Shows Reveal All

I had a rather stressful week. Between working a trade show in London, an offsite meeting with my team, and a two-day retreat for a leadership training course, I was not only exhausted when I got home on Friday but a bit overwhelmed by all the talking and interacting I'd been doing. I longed for sleep, relaxation, and peace and quiet.

After a 12 hour sleep on Friday night (followed by a two-hour post-coffee nap,) I decided to read the online news and watch a little television. UK Food Network was having a marathon of their most famous television chef, Delia Smith. I love cooking shows so this seemed like a good non-intensive way to multi-task...read a little, watch a little, etc. etc.

But what started as a casual time-killer turned into a revealing education into the differences between my homeland and my current home.

Take, for instance, beloved US TV chefs such as Sara Moulton, Rachel Ray, or Emeril. They chat, they smile, they make jokes, they make mistakes. They leave the dirty dishes in the sink, sometimes even on the counter they're working on. Sometimes they don't measure things. Their shows are action television, they're entertainment masquerading as recipe advice, and regular viewers develop a relationship with these chefs. (For example, my friend Tom and I have decided that Rachel Ray is actually a friend we have yet to meet, so enamored are we by her on-screen style and goofy demeanor.)

Not so Delia. Delia is friendly enough, but she is very controlled and precise. Her conversation is like listening to very superficial small talk intended not to offend. You would never, ever hear her say something like, "Pork fat rules," or, "I hate anchovies." She tells antecdotes about ingredients or recipes, but they aren't long and they don't distract from the task at hand. Every ingredient is measured to the gram/ounce, and if she deviates she warns you that you must first do as required and THEN experiment. And the weirdest thing...somehow, in the mix of closeups and action shots all used utensils/pans/dishes magically disappear so that the only visible items are those immediately in use.

Sarah Moulton takes live calls and lets callers ask any question they like. She asks them questions, too, and has regular conversations with these total strangers on the phone as she cooks. Emeril does his show with a live audience...he talks to them as he cooks, he let's them sample his final product, he even has a band there to entertain them. Delia cooks in what appears to be the kitchen of her country home. She's the only one in the room (except for whatever sprites are whisking away the used bowls and spatulas.) The only personal pronouns she uses are "one," and the occasional "I" to explain something she has tried/learned/does.

The recipes themselves are different, as well. Emeril, Sarah, and Rachel will use pretty much any ingredient they can think of. They try ethic recipes and add lots of spices and flavours. Some of what they cook is healthy, some is a bit indulgent, but their signature seems to be a wide variety of influences/processes/ideas to fuse into a new American cuisine.

Delia's methods, ingredients, and recipes are much simpler and definitely British. Don't get me wrong...she has some amazing flavours and ideas going on. But she tends to use very traditional British ingredients, often combined with a simple sauce of some sort. Her ethnic forays are those common in England...a bit of Indian, a bit of Thai, perhaps some Moroccan or Spanish, but that's about it. And all of these influences are still secondary to the British ingredients and techniques that dominate. For example, you can do a North African stew, but you wouldn't do a tangine. Nothing is extremely healthy or exotic, nothing is extremely decadent...everything is in moderation.

My conclusions:
  • Americans are loud and discuss personal things. The English are quite reserved and have safe subjects to discuss with everyone else...they wouldn't even consider approaching many subjects with anyone other than the most intimate friends and family.
  • Americans talk to strangers. The English, well, they don't.
  • Americans are messy rule-breakers. The English value order and appropriateness above individuality.
  • Americans are adventurous risk takers. The English calculate their risks.
  • Americans are comfortable with their melting pot. The English are English...foreigners are great as long as they learn to be English.
  • I like both cultures very much, but I am very much an American living in England.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Jesus of the Week


Go here if you want the narrative. Personally, I believe the picture is silly enough.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Pride and Prejudice

So I've discovered a new favorite thing about England. Everyone here loves Pride and Prejudice. They have all read the book, even the men. They love their BBC-1991 version, and more than half of the people I work with sat through five hours of it on Sunday in honor of the new version arriving in theatres. Most people I know have also either been to the opening weekend of the new one, too, and if they haven't they've got plans to go. They discuss the nuances of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy like they are friends, and even men see why women swoon at the mention of Colin Firth.

It's nice to be in a nation of romantics. Considering their demeanor, who knew?

Sky News inadvertantly speaks the truth













(just in case you don't read Wonkette.)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Argos, the catalog store

Tonight I discovered a new shopping experience.

It all started because I need a new toilet seat. The one I have has been loose since May. If you're not careful, the thing will slide off like a toboggan on a well-iced run. While this is perhaps a good way to build your core muscles, four months of this is enough. Plus, my toilet is already a challenge for visitors, what with the temperamental British flush, so making them perform some crazy butt surf whilst using the loo is perhaps a bit much to ask.

Resigned to the idea that I needed to actually go buy a toilet seat, I decided to ask around the office for help finding the sort of DIY place that would carry something like this. Milton Keynes is a city of roundabouts with green space and trees shielding the main roadways from the buildings on the side of the road, therefore you don't necessarily see what you're passing. Plus, most of the stores aren't on my way to anything, so when I have a specific need I have to ask: a) what store should I check, and b) where is the dang thing.

Colleagues recommended Wickes, B&Q, and Homebase...basically your Home Depot/Menards/Lowes type places, except English. Then someone else said it would be cheaper at Argos, so I figured cheap is good...I'll go there.

When you're sent to a store, you expect a store. So you can imagine my shock when I walked into Argos and it looked like an office lobby with a jewelry counter. Luckily, my friend Anna was with me, as we were on our way to dinner, and she showed me the ropes...it would have taken me some time to figure it out. You start out at the table where you can flip through the catalog. They have everything. Kitchen stuff, tools, furniture, clothes, electronics...it's like Sears and Roebuck from 1970. You find your item, enter the number in a little keypad, and it will show you an LCD of the price and the number of items in stock. You write the item numbers on a little notesheet and then take your sheet to the counter to pay.

Once paid, you go sit in color coded chairs (for the four pickup points that are addressing your order,) and the people scurry around in the shelves. When all items in your order are collected, a cheery voice calls your number, you show your receipt, and then they give you your purchase and you go home.

I love this store. Sure it's weird that you don't get to look at the item before you buy it AND you don't get the convenience of home delivery, but the sheer novelty of the place is worth the trip.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Spiders part 2

There was a giant spider living in my boots under the steps. He is dead now. I never, ever, EVER play that if-I-had-a-boyfriend game because, frankly, I can't really be bothered with the hassle they bring and I know how to hook up my own DVD player/computer/stereo, thank you very much. But I tell you what. A big strong man with a thirst for spider blood could make me swoon and bat my eyes, yessiree, BOB. If he also cleaned up overgrown plants in the wet, spider-filled Garden of Terror, I'd marry him on the spot.

Heck, a cave-chested, pencil-necked, pasty-white-stay-inside could turn my head if he had a good strong pair of boots for kicking spider ass.

But then who am I kidding? Pasty-white-stay-insides always turn my head.

Quiz Night 2

Tonight, we had our second quiz night. My first one was back the second week I was here (see November posts, if they're still there,) and so this was definitely a testament to how much my life has changed.

I knew the answers to some of the TV questions.
I knew the name of everyone but two people out of 45. (And those two are new.)
I had conversation with people not on my team.
I identified and successfully avoided all marmite.
I followed proper pint-paying protocol.
I didn't drive on the wrong side of the street when I left.

All in all, I'd call this progress.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know that thanksgiving is two months away, but I am happy happy HAPPY about it today. I confess, I've been homesick lately. I think the permanence of my move has now sunken in, my friend Patricia and I have been busy with our respective jobs, so our Americans in England lifestyle has been on hold for a couple of weeks, plus I've hit the 10 month doldrums that you get any time you move...all in all, I've been dying for a friendly familiar face.

So yesterday my friend Tom and I were emailing. I sent him a link to a castle here that is throwing a thanksgiving party for beaucoup ££s. We decided if we win the lottery we could go, but otherwise it was aimpossibilityty. But Tom invited me to NYC for Thanksgiving instead. He and Georgie are having dinner with friends who also happen to be wine merchants, which means excellent food (from George) and excellent wine (from friends), and then Tom is responsible for the scintillating conversation. I jumped online looking for a fare I could afford, but alas, there were none under £840 plus taxes. No way.

But then I remembered we had a programme going there over these dates and I thought, "Hey! Maybe there's a spare seat!" And there WAS! It was cheap cheap cheap, and I can be in NY by Thanksgiving Wed night, and I can stay for a whole four nights/five days of funfilled NYC and Tom Time. I can go to see the Macy's floats, I can shop at Bloomingdales and Macy's for work clothes, I can have Indian food in the village, I can see a play (hoping for Avenue Q or Wicked), and if Blossom Dearie is playing over the holiday we'll see her, too! I am going to start practicing Howard with a vengeance so that I can entertain my hosts with ukulele hits. I am going to bring the cheese course from my favourite little cheese shop in Oxford. It will be much fun.

And when I return to England, two days later my friend Ms. Bethany arrives for three weeks of pre-holiday fun, and then we fly home together for Christmas!

OH! And then this afternoon, my friend Susan started planning her trip for the last few weeks of October, which means more guests and more fun!

Instead of three months of England and only England, I have one month until Susan and her friend Katie arrive, then I have three weeks until Thanksgiving hols, and then three weeks of Bethany, and then HOME to see my family and my friends.

How homesick can I possibly be?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Cricket for Dummies

England has just taken the Ashes, a little urn of cricket bat ashes from 1882 created after the test where Australia first beat England. Every two years the two countries battle for the right to "own" the Ashes. There are 4 - 5 days of play in each series, with four series total. England hasn't won the Ashes in 20 years, so this is a big deal. Pretty much everyone is glued to the tv for the duration.

Since test cricket is only played in the daylight, it usually goes from 1030 or 11am through 630 or 7pm. Watching cricket is a time-consuming hobby. The nice thing about it, though, is that because cricket moves slowly it doesn't matter if you multi-task or step away for awhile. You might miss some exciting developments, but they'll be others to come so you needn't stress. Plus, they have scheduled breaks for lunch and tea throughout the day and the telly coverage shows highlights regularly. You'll catch the major plays eventually.

Sidebar...can you imagine the NFL taking a break for tea during the Superbowl? Oh. And instead of featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake as the entertainment, throughout the series fans sing the hymn Jerusalem over and over, so it feels more like church.

Okay, back to the cricket lesson.

They say that cricket is dense and difficult to understand if you're not from here. I would disagree with this. In the course of the weekend I've figured out the basics and I'm really enjoying it. Keep in mind that I watch baseball, as well, so I'm pre-disposed to tolerating slow-moving games with batting and style.

Players must wear white or cream in test cricket. Uniforms look like baggy sweat pants and polo shirts with logos. FASHION NOTE: They tuck the polo shirts into the sweat pants, which looks really, really stupid. Each team has a colored hat, thus differentiating their whites from the other team's. If it's cold, they can also add a cream/white sweater vest over their shirt, and it has a band of color on the v-neck that matches their hat...kind of tennis sweater-y. The uniform is very Ralph Lauren, actually.

In essence, the point of the game is the same as baseball...whoever scores the most runs wins.

The field is an oval, and there is a little curb around the edge of the grass. In the centre, there is a rectangle where the batting happens. The fielding team spreads out in relatively standard positions (though there is a lot of liberty in that), and there are two batters standing at opposite ends of the little rectangle in the middle. They stand in spaces called creases. Within each crease is a wicket, wood sticks that can easily be knocked over.

So....the bowler (like a pitcher) takes a run and tosses a ball overhand at one of the batters. (One of the creases is designated as the striker's side, so whoever is there is the one that takes the ball.) The bowler has to have his arm totally straight when he throws, so it ends up looking like some sort of running, freaky softball pitch. 90% of the time, the bowler makes the ball hit the ground midway down the rectangle, which makes it change its trajectory and thus harder to hit. If the striker hits the ball, the two batsmen can elect to score runs, basically running to the opposite crease. Either part of their body or their bat must touch inside the crease to score a run. They can try for as many runs as they like per ball, but they have to have a foot solidly in the crease before the fielders get the ball back to the little rectangle and knock the wicket over.

What we think of as a pitch is a ball, and there are six balls per over. When an over is completed, the fielding side has to switch bowlers regardless. Not every player must bowl, but no player can bowl two consecutive overs, so you end up seeing three or four guys bowling in an innings. (FYI, they say innings in both a singular and a plural sense...see below.)

There are some automatic runs, kind of the home run and grand slam of cricket....if you hit the ball so hard you knock the ball over the little curb around the edge of the oval, you get 4 runs. If you knock it way out into the audience, you get 6. It makes for interesting fielding, actually, because players who think they might mess up the catch will jump in front of the ball to deflect it from hitting the curb, and then worry about picking it up and throwing it back.

Basically this goes on all day until 11 players for one team have been batsmen and 10 of them have been marked out, thus completing an innings. They always call it "taking a wicket" when a player gets one of the batsmen out, but you don't necessarily have to knock the wicket over to "take" one. You can catch the ball once a batsman hits it. The bowler can knock the wicket over with his pitch, or the batsman can fall into his own wicket or deflect the ball there. Batsmen can interfere with the ball by touching it once they've hit it, thus getting themselves out.

You can keep track of the progress by the weird score. If you see a score of 200-6, that means that the batting team has scored 200 runs, and the fielders have taken six wickets, so they need four more to close out the innings.

When an innings is completed, the teams switch sides and the other one gets the same opportunity to score runs. Over the course of the first four days, teams switch as play determines, so if there are only 2 wickets taken when play ends on Friday, for instance, they resume in the same place Saturday AM.

In the end, though, things get interesting. I haven't figured out all the formulas and rules for this yet, but I'll get it down eventually. On the last day of play (either day four or five,) team captains who have the lead can "declare", which has some protocol involved but I think it basically says, "Okay, we have enough runs now...you can use the remaining overs to catch us." It then becomes a hitting game to catch up for the team that's running behind. The other factor that comes into play happens on day five...they use some math formula to average the number of overs played over the last four days, and they determine a number of overs that must be played that day. The teams then fight to have enough overs as the batting side to score the most runs for the series.

In today's test, this factored into England's win...England was having a hitting streak. By the time Australia got their 10 wickets and got into the batting position, there were only 20 overs left and it was pretty much impossible for them to score the 300+ runs required to win. But there was also no way they'd actually give up 10 wickets in 20 overs, either (an average innings is around 90 - 100 overs.) Therefore, the test could not be completed and was ruled a draw. England had won two of the three previous test matches in the series, so they won the Ashes and now the country is celebrating.

There's a parade in Trafalgar Square tomorrow. I have about six colleagues taking the day off to attend. I won't be doing that, but I will admit I'm going to watch the next test that's televised. And if you visit me during cricket season, want to go see it live?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Oh Happy Day

On Friday, my belongings arrived from the states.

I didn't ship that much, but what came will make me feel like there's a bit of me in the house.

I shipped art by my friends Larry and Pam, as well as some items that friends and loved ones have given me that remind me of home.

I have pictures of my friends and family already here, but there are more in the boxes. You'll be spread around the house now.

I shipped some glassware and such because, while I don't really need my dishes, the glasses here suck and I have cool ones. There are a couple of things broken in that box, but I don't know which because I haven't had time to unpack it. I'm hopeful it's not too bad.

I shipped all of my cds, as well as some books I've been meaning to read. I can now fill my house with the sounds I like and can finish Hillary's (auto?)biography before the campaign.

There are winter clothes in time for winter.

There are summer clothes in time for the last days of summer.

I have a down coat.

And best of all, I have my down duvet, my down pillows, and a beautiful quilt that my grandmother (maybe even great grandmother?) made. That box I unpacked, and have made my bed with my own bedding.

So now when I have to kill a spider the size of a baby food jar, I can crawl into my bed and seek comfort with a good book. Though since it's the Ashes this weekend, I've been spending more time with test cricket viewed on my laptop. Some things are irreversibly changed.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More on the international reaction

Want to know what the Brits are saying about the US and Hurricane Katrina? Read this.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

How Katrina looks from here

I've had a lot to do the last few weeks, so I've been working a lot. This weekend, I took stuff home, and have spent a good amount of my weekend working on different projects and keeping an eye on the TV. I hadn't really been tuned in to the news or the internet and I don't get a daily paper, so I didn't really understand how bad Katrina was until Saturday AM when I decided to watch CNN.

My God.

As you all know, it's impossible to put words to how horrible the scene is. Not even going to try. It looks like New Orleans is one of the closest things to hell on earth that's happened in my lifetime. Watching the suffering and dying on national TV was overwhelming. I think I cried for about two hours. I know I saw old people and children from footage earlier in the week who are now sitting in a makeshift morgue somewhere. How can this happen?

I finally couldn't watch it and weep anymore. I had to start intellectualizing it...distance myself from it so I could start to process it. So instead I decided to do a little comparative study of the news coverage...analyze the way they covered the story instead of focusing on the story itself.

First thing I noticed is that the US media had found their spine. I saw Anderson Cooper, Mr. Nice, jump all over Sen Mary Landreau when she started playing politics. I saw Solidad O'Brien express exasperation and contempt in her interview with the head of FEMA. I saw media personnel illustrating the inherent racism of the situation by showing how blacks carrying bread and water from Walmart were labeled as looters and the whites doing the same thing were finding food for their survival. I saw talking heads who weren't wearing makeup or having their hair done, they were crying on camera and begging viewers to help.

Most notably, they were actually criticizing the Bush Administration, and they weren't backing down when they were offered spin and platitudes. Haven't seen that since August 2001. Heck, even FoxNews wasn't giving them a pass on this one. (Okay, the Heads were, but the anchors were showing a sense of reason.)

So then I decided to take advantage of my location abroad to see how the rest of the world was viewing this tragedy.

They have compassion. They have reporters on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi, as well, keeping everyone posted on developments. There are 100 some missing Britons right now. They are just as emotionally connected as we are to this tragedy, and their hearts bleed for us. It's nice to know.

But now the part that's a bit more thought-provoking.

They want to know why our government wasn't ready for this, when weather radar showed the strength of the storm and everyone knew that New Orleans couldn't withstand a storm of that magnitude.

They, too, ask why it took so long to respond. Here we are, the richest nation in the world, and we leave thousands to fend for themselves in untenable positions while we figure out how what to do. They point out that international aid arrived for Tsunami victims over a holiday weekend faster than Washington started getting aid to their own.

And they want to know why we are refusing offers of aid from nations like Cuba and Venezuela...why are we putting ideological issues ahead of the lives that might be saved by willing doctors who can be on the ground in the airport triage hospital in a matter of hours? Why on earth does it matter that they're coming from Castro?

They want to know why we feel its more important to send troops to Iraq than it is to one of our own 50 states.

On the chat shows, one guy pointed out the economic and racial divide illustrated by this, and questions how the US is going to address this. Another asked how the government's reaction would have been different if this had happened in Florida, land of election-swaying electoral votes (and Republican strong-hold lead by Jeb.) They cited similar billion dollar plans for the Everglades and New Orleans to address sinking land and rising sea levels...and mentioned that, while New Orleans has been asking for help for years, only the Everglades plan has moved forward. They think this smacks of preferential treatment, and wonder if priority should have been given to a major city.

Another pointed blame solidly at a President who prioritized tax cuts and demonized big government at the expense of people who need its support. And he was not talking about Bush Jr...but Ronald Reagan. His theory is that the Reagan administration set the US on a path to undermine the government's ability to intervene in the lives of its citizens, and established priorities based upon individual success rather than maintaining a public good. After three more presidents who adhered to this doctrine to varying degrees, it shouldn't be surprising that we can't actually mobilize to proactively resolve a disaster of this magnitude.

So by this afternoon I was ready to bond with my own people and I decided to try CNN again. In the 24+ hours since I started watching this story, the coverage has changed. I actually heard Hayley Barbour (Gov. of Mississippi) suggest that people stayed because they wanted to, so it's kind of their own fault they found themselves in this predicament. The economic cluelessness of this argument is beyond explanation, and I can't believe he got by with it. But he's the governor of an afflicted state...he must know what he's talking about.

We're backing down again from the hard questions. We're letting somber press conferences make us feel guilty that we're angry instead of weeping. We're letting ourselves be diverted by forceful arguments that now is not the time to point fingers. We should be spending our energy helping these people....how DARE we question the administration at a time like this? Do you want the terrorists to win?

Certainly, we owe it to the victims of this tragedy to help them. To spend the money to rebuild and to offer food, shelter, and emotional support until we're done. We need to figure out how to get the thousands transferred to other states back home when they can safely return, and we need to step up to the plate and embody the values we preach to the world.

But we also owe it to them not to brush this under the rug because it's hard to talk about how we could make a mistake this big. We need to take homeland security seriously, and prepare to fight the war at home, even if it's a war against nature and not Saddam. We need to stop parsing the roles of state/local vs. federal government to avoid blame, and realize that some cities and states need help fulfilling their obligations in extreme circumstances. We need to identify the causes and fix them. We need to stop pretending affirmative action isn't needed anymore...we need to pay a bit more tax to fund education and programs that can give people a let up in this world if they're not born into a good starting position.

And most importantly, we need to find people to lead us who really can.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

I hate spiders

I hate spiders. I really hate spiders. They should warn you before you move to England that there are lots of spiders here, just in case.

There are spiders that live in my car. They build little webs on my mirrors every night. In the daytime I knock them off, hoping that eventually the demoralized spiders will move on to some Vauxhall or Peugeot parked next to me, but they keep rebuilding.

I had to take a broom to my house today, knocking down webs and eggsacks on every ground floor window.

There is a spider in the front that I've nicknamed Charlotte, as it regularly builds a web between my rose bushes and my hanging basket that is literally six feet in diameter. I periodically knock it down, though, as I am not kind-hearted like Wilbur.

Robert Redford is a stone cold fox

Watched The Way We Were on tv this afternoon while I worked on some projects for work. My friend Lauren has pointed out on her blog that there is absolutely nothing not to like about Robert Redford, and I must agree whole-heartedly. I caught part of The Sting on Monday afternoon, and about a month ago I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. My, he's attractive.

And of course, as a Katie-girl myself, TWWW always makes him even more attractive. Guys like that never happen to us, so being "Hubbell" makes him extra dreamy, even if it's not real.

Yes, Robert Redford is timeless.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Sky TV

I broke down and got Sky. I have a satellite dish AND DVR technology. I love it.

Not only do I get a bunch more weird British TV, but I get my favourite US stuff, too. OH! And I can pause live TV and tape things, basically making my TV do my bidding.

Hallmark happens to be starting The Gilmore Girls right where I left off last season, and the final series of Six Feet Under just started on E4!

Jon Stewart does a World Edition of The Daily Show and it airs on CNN. It is basically highlights from the week in the US, plus commentary added to help an international audience understand. This week he covered the whole Pat Robertson as hit man thing. Man, have I missed Jon.

I must say that this little touch of contact with my homeland has made me quite happy. I feel like I'm a little more connected to the pulse of the US. Oh. And I get to see that dreamy Anderson Cooper on CNN once in awhile, as well. Why do they make him cover all the hurricanes?

This weekend at the car boot sale

I bought a 3 foot tall artificial Christmas tree and a silk pillow cover for £3.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

What I did last night

Due to my busy schedule, this is actually more accurately titled "What I did 24 August." Sorry for the delay.

My company has a new product. We're affiliated with Ticketmaster, and we sell a high-satisfaction/relatively low cost enhancement to a corporate benefit package, wherein your company pays for a membership to the Ticketmaster Priority Club. You join, you get discounts and they help you find things you might want to attend, etc. It's actually pretty great and, being a loyal employee, of course I joined when they sent the email to us.

When I signed on I was cruising through the genres that I usually like...theatre, jazz, opera, alternative music...and I saw that Beulah was playing at Bush Hall in London on the 24th. Well, you know that I love my Beulah, and tickets were only £12.50, so I convinced my friends Katrina and Anna to join me for a night out in London to see one of my favourite bands.

Note to self...next time, before you buy tickets, check to be sure it's the right Beulah.

Turns out MY Beulah is taking time off (Beulites refuse to say they've "broken up",) and so they are, needless to say, not doing any gigs these days. There is, however, a singer here in the UK named Beulah, and SHE was releasing a new album. I'd heard her on BBC Radio 2 and though I couldn't say I loved her, I would say she didn't bug me that much. Plus, the tickets were purchased and any night in London is better than sitting in MK, so we went anyway.

Workload had blown up, and I was having a bad week. We got out a bit late, and so we were running to the train when we got to the station. Went to platform 4, realised it was a Virgin train and we could only take Silverlink, so we ran back up the steps and over to platform 2. Made it in time to catch the train, but were seated on loose seats so when the train lurched we did, too. It was pissing down with rain, but we decided that the best train to catch to Shepard's Bush was the Hammersmith and City so we walked the 100 yards to Euston Square. Got damp, but we weren't on the pull so who really cares about the hair, you know? Unfortunately, we got wet for nothing, as the H&C was stopped for signal failure so we had to take a different train anyway and then connect to the one that left from Euston Station(where we would have stayed dry.)

Shepard's Bush is one of those "transitional" neighbourhoods on the west side. One of the bombs on the 21st went off there and several of the bombers were from nearby. It's not actually that bad an area really, but I will also say that it wasn't the most comfortable place to be walking around, either. And, inconveniently, it is one of the only places in London with two tube lines that have separate stations with the same name.

Note for future Bush Hall evenings: the Central line station is NOT the one you want.

Our directions were from the H&C station, so we followed the map until we were well lost. Stopped to ask for directions, and the bloke sent us to the wrong theatre. It was still pdwr, so slightly damp turned into drowned rat. After wandering around for about 45 minutes, we got back on track by finding the other tube stop. Turns out the original station was only about 100 yards from the theatre.

Bush Hall is an old dancehall, and it's really cool. Kind of reminded me of The Backstage in Seattle. You could almost hear the echoes of the GIs looking for love before shipping out. I was hopeful...cool setting, alternative vibe, great people watching. There was a woman behind us who brought a massage table, set it up, and then reclined on it to listen to the concert. Figure she had back trouble or something, though it seemed she could cure it by stopping with the hauling of the massage table. But I'm not a doctor.

We were really hungry, but the show was supposed to start. Normally, I'd not worry and just go get some dinner, but for some reason we all decided that we'd stay for the start to decide and then head out if it sucked. We decided to make due with some Maynards fruit pastilles and a couple of beers instead.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, we were famished, slightly drunk, and the opening act came on.

Nice kid. Twenty-something, fresh out of the closet, and OH MY did he need a hug. Poor thing opened with a song about how we think we're shepherds but we're really all just sheep, (someone's been reading The Alchemist,) and moved on to telling us he was a one man army fighting mediocrity as established by his father who waited for the world to come to him and never lived his dreams. All songs were in that Joni Mitchell tempo, and he accompanied himself with flowery chords on the electric piano. He even added a cello to the "sad" songs, just in case you could still see a glimmer of hope in this world. Forty five minutes later, he said his tearful thank you. We applauded, perhaps a bit too loudly.

During the break, I took an immediate dislike to a new arrival. Bald guy with black eyebrows wearing pointy, shiny, white shoes and acting cool.

Fifteen minutes later, my nemesis got onstage to introduce Beulah. Bad sign. Follow up note...watched "Love Actually" over the weekend, and he's an extra in that movie...when they tell the washed up singer that he won the number one slot on Christmas Eve, he's with a group of people and there is a bald guy standing next to him. I couldn't see the shoes, but I guarantee it was the same dude. Check him out. He'll bug you, too.

So out comes Beulah. She's about 25, wearing a cheap black cocktail dress, and giggling into the microphone. Kept playing with her earrings. Told us she didn't like to talk on stage, then proceeded to babble about things like her earring falling out. Giggled some more. Sang. Nice voice, I guess, but nothing notable. Definitely C list at best. Her music was all about lost love, finding your identity, missed opportunities, etc. Four songs in we decided that dinner was in order, so we waited for clapping and started to get up to leave.

But we didn't move quickly enough, the next song started, and my bag was caught under the chair in front of me. Had to sit through another one. The absurdity of our evening had officially sunken in, so we shook with silent laughter for the duration.

I didn't want to seem rude for leaving early, so on our way past the album stand I said something about how it was too bad we had to catch a train. (Can we pick out the midwesterner in the crowd?) My friend Kat is Northern Irish, and she called me a bloody liar in the lobby, so I think they knew.

Walked to the H&C line, waited 45 minutes for a train. The signal was still out, so the trains were moving at half speed. Took us an hour to get to Picadilly. Walked into Chinatown, had a nice meal, then went to catch the train. Home around 1 AM. Laughed pretty hard at our misery.

See, it's possible to have a bad night out in England, too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Readers

The Brits are readers. They all read, every last one of them. Okay, maybe there are a couple of 20 year old YOBs that don't crack books, but the rest of them...they like their books.

This is great. Bookstores have interesting suggestions and authors who come to speak and are crowded with people. People quote favourite authors and they talk about things they've read in the past few weeks and they often make reading recommendations as part of casual small talk.

They like non-fiction, they like mysteries, they like a good novel know and again. It's part of their culture, and they laugh at people who don't read.

Mind you, some of them read crap...Barbara Cartland is a Brit, and we've been invaded by Dan Brown mania just like everyone else.

But I like living in a nation of readers. Readers rule! (Except, of course, for the US president...he doesn't have to read. Dick Cheney does that for him.)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Cyber Playgroup

I love the internet. It's filled a hole in my life. I have my Playgroup back.

When I lived in Seattle, it took me a long time to find my people. Don't get me wrong...I had Soni, and Ben, and Bethany and we spent many a night lounging on the leopard pillows, drinking Henry Weinhard's (or Hank, as we called it,) and walking to QFC dressed as the Gorton's Fisherman at 2 AM to buy fishsticks. But B, B, and S were people I knew before I got there, so they are different.

In order to really feel at home somewhere, to really be comfortable living there, you have to make friends unique to that place. I'd been there almost two years before I found the people I'd retain from the PNW.

I met them when my housemate, Gavin, moved out and we had to get a new housemate. We advertised on coffee shop walls and in weekly papers, and we found Knox. Knox is funny and smart. He is a poet. He is adventurous and interesting and a collector of people...some really good, some not exactly to my taste, but all worth talking to for awhile. And Knox is full of life and is a true connector/maven in this world, so he immediately started the alchemy of mixing his people together to make gold.

Within months we had a Playgroup. There were six of us...Knox, Pam, Larry, Christopher, Vaughn, and me. We knew each other's lives, we had dinner every Sunday night at our house, we dragged each other to things when we needed company, we watched The Tick on Saturday's at LarryandPam's. We had a group crush on Pam's really hot neighbors. We threw a party where we invited people from the personals just because we liked their ads. We spent Christmas together. (I believe that we had Chinese food for three meals that day.) We had our own little family, sometimes dysfunctional, but we became an integral part of each other's lives for three years.

First I lost touch with Knox over something stupid. Then I moved to DC and Minnesota, and since I'm not much at emailing or phoning I lost touch with P, L, C, and V. When I'd go to Seattle I'd see them and I met Larry in Chicago one February, but none of us were very good at the distance thing. Vaughn left Seattle and lived in two cities before I even knew it, and I still can't tell you where Christopher went.

But then we started blogging. Pam is the pioneer there...she started living in Austria part of the year with her husband and she needed to keep in touch with folks. Then I moved here and started this so that I wouldn't do the same dumb thing and lose my Midwest people, too.

In a lonely mood one night, I started googling people I used to know and love, just to see who I could find. I found a pal from high school that kept me out past curfew pretty much every night for two years. I found Gavin, the former housemate, just in time to congratulate him on the birth of his first child. And luckily there aren't that many Vaughns from Odessa, TX, so a class reunion site helped me find him. Now Vaughn blogs, too.

And that brings me to my point. Somehow, 6000 miles apart, my Playgroup is managing to resurrect our friendship. It's pretty cool. Pam and I will be getting together on weekends once she's back in Austria for the winter. V and P and I start comment conversations on our blogs, we send emails, and we are aware of each other's lives again. Larry's not a blogger, but I got an email with pictures of his garden a month or so ago. Who would have imagined it?

These are good people. I'm really glad they're back.

Now if only I could get them here for Sunday Dinner.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Picture Gallery

Sorry for the long absence.

I've been quite busy in the past few weeks, hence the lack of posting. Tonight I'm getting caught up on things like paperwork and bills and bank statement balancing and email and all the things I can't do if I don't sit still. I've unloaded my camera, as well, and put a few pictures in from my visit with Tim in May and my weekends with friends in the past two weeks. There are captions for now, and I'll be back through the week with all sorts of updates.

Car boot sale on Sunday - this goes on for rows and rows...there were probably 300 vendors.

Patricia, Siri, and Anne in front of Fifteen, Jamie Oliver's restaurant

View from Patricia's front window

Ties on the wall at a pub in Oxford Posted by Picasa

Marzipan army of frogs and bears

Woman making marzipan scholar in Oxford. Marzipan is like edible clay. It is unbelievable what people can do with this. We found a store in the Covered Market and watched this woman making figures. Very cool.

Tim and I are crap with chopsticks. Posted by Picasa

Flowers at Woburn Abbey

I live a little over an hour from this. Posted by Picasa

A marketing connection we've missed out on in the US. Posted by Picasa

Unnecessary caption - Don't lean on the doors when you're in a glass pod 30 stories above London.


Necessary Caption - Don't lean your greasy head on the window.