Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's a mad, mad world

I've started a handful of posts with the words, "If you ever want to get a really good look at yourself..." Some of the posts I've published. Others are dangling in my 'draft' file, waiting for wit and substance to arrive. A few examples of endings to this sentence include: "pack up your entire life and move out of the country," "set-up residence in a foreign country," or "live with another family in their home." Well, I'd like to add another predicate to that subject. Add, "take a 36-hour road trip with your family across five states while hauling all of your worldly possessions in a trailer behind you."

Last week we drove from Portland, Oregon, to Austin, Texas. The good news is, it's over. We are here. We have new jobs, new home, a new start. The bad news is, last week we drove from Portland, Oregon, to Austin, Texas.

Remember when I mentioned two paragraphs ago that there are posts in my 'draft' folder just waiting for wit and substance to arrive? Well, I'm putting this post out there sans wit and substance. To be honest, it's probably missing a whole lot more than just those two elements, but I'm doing it anyway. Why? It's all still fresh in my mind. And before I try to lock it away in that closet in my mind where I keep WAY too much baggage, I'm setting it free for the world to see. (Okay, not the world. Just the 14 people who have signed on to be Followers of my blog.)

I kept a notebook next to me in the front seat so I could jot down bits of fascinating insight as they occurred. I never quite accomplished fascinating insight...the closest that I came to that was when I realized that all public radio stations have their fundraising drive at the same time - which really, really bummed me out as I scoured the dial for some sort of information source. But I digress. What ended up first in my notes was the situation with the Mad Libs.

Our wonderful friends, Tom and Casey, prepared a treasure trove of activities for the boys to do on the road. Let me tell you, that bag of goodies was my god for four days. One of the items inside was Mad Libs...remember those fill-in-the-blank stories? You have a story written with key words missing, and you have to fill-in key words without knowing the context in which they will be used. You only know the part of speech that belongs there...verb, noun, adjective...or it says you need to fill it in with a girl's name, or body part, for example. Yep. Tell a seven year old boy to name a body part. Better yet, tell him to name a PLURAL body part. You're seeing where this is going, aren't ya?

But wait - there's more. Like the offer on TV where they'll double the fun for the same low, low price, I also have additional fodder within one story. It's not all about bodily functions and inappropriate body parts that come in pairs. No, it's also about the tunnel-vision of a seven year old boy who cannot seem to get a concept out of his mind. Kids do it all the time...they get obsessed with something and talk about it non-stop. They pretend around it, they draw pictures of it, they ask about it. See if you can guess what Son 2 was fixated on in this sampling of our conversation. We were about three libs in at this point.

Me: Okay, I need a noun.
Him: Godzilla.
Me: How about something that Godzilla is? Like "lizard" or "creature."
Him: Godzilla wasn't just a lizard.
Me: Yes, but using his name isn't going to work in the story. His name is a proper noun, remember? We need just a noun.
Him: F i i i i i i i i n n n ne. Morphed crocodile-lizard.
Me: (writing down 'lizard' and hoping he won't remember.)
Me: Now a plural noun.
Him: Plural means more than one, right?
Me: Yep.
Him: Two-headed Godzilla.
Me: Well, that's not quite what it means by plural.
Him: Four-headed Godzilla.
Me: What I mean is, the creature needs to be dogS, catS.
Him: Four headed tyrannosaurus.
Me: (sigh)
Him: You can just write "four-headed T-Rex" if you can't spell it.
Me: I can spell it...I don't think you are know, like I said about dogSSS or catSSS. (emphasis on the 's')
Him: Dogs and cats are lame, though. How about just a four-headed Godzilla with a buncha two-headed baby Godzillas?
Me: No multiple heads. Just multiple CREATURES. No more heads, just one head per creature, okay?
Him: (sighs) Jeez.

Are you feeling it?

Just to make it clear that not all Mad Libs ended in a communication breakdown, I'll tell you about one that was particularly funny. Now it's my chance to be inappropriate and juvenile, because the boys didn't even "get" it when John and I were cracking up over the way this one turned out. I'll transcribe the end of it here, verbatim. The words in italics are Son 2's words. Note the coordination of the part of speech, despite the complete absurdity of the sentence. That is, until the last sentence. The last sentence is could stand on its own. And remember, this is ME reading the whole thing aloud after it was complete.

"The other day I had to ask my two giant gnomes, Sleeping Tootie and Bella for help. They're both on the varsity cyclops team. It was a grueling thousand million months before my smelly sisters deemed me ready for the poopy moment. I had to do deep toe bends and skyscrapers to improve my truck capacity. As for me, I didn't have the slightest crab with three eyeballs what to do about sports. It's embarrassing that in a family of supersonic athletes, I'm the only one without any hand-groin coordination."

Perhaps it was funnier when we were slap-happy in the middle of New Mexico. Needless to say, Husband and I have made a couple of hand-groin coordination jokes since. Go ahead...try it at home. Funny, no?

Here's a picture of one of the worksheets in a second grade Brain Quest book. It was another one of the gems in the Tom and Casey Bag-o-Tricks. Son 2 was doing some worksheets, Son 1 was reading a book, Husband was driving, and I was acting like I didn't want to take a nap and wake up in Austin. It didn't take long for something to end the silence. The boys caught this little mishap in editing at Brain Quest, Inc. and were giggling and laughing about it from the backseat. I had to ask what was so funny. Look closely and tell me which one of these pictures doesn't quite belong:
I've probably given you the impression that our road trip was nothing but bad words, potty talk and multi-headed creatures. Au contraire, mon frere. There's much more to come!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's like riding a never forget how to do it

Hey! Do ya remember me??

I remember you. It's been a while, I know. Wanna know what' s happened? Where I've been? Well, the long and the short of it goes like this: I've been to England. I've been back.

I enjoyed a WONDERFUL summer in Portland, Oregon, and I got out within moments of the winter settling in. Hmmmm...what's that like? Winter in the Pacific Northwest? I'll tell you: Wet newspaper. Yep.... that's how I'd describe it. Look up to the sky and see a giant, wet newspaper hanging over you. A giant wet newspaper that's not to be removed for the following nine months. That's the Pacific Northwest. Summer ROCKS. Winter...not so much.

Have I made any major semantic faux pas in Texas? Not yet. Will I? Damn straight. Stay tuned.....

Monday, August 24, 2009

What I miss about the UK.....(seriously!)

When I look back on my previous posts, I often wonder if I gave the impression that I didn't like living in England. I don't think it looks that way...but I'm the one who can't ever tell if what I'm writing is even interesting to the reader, so what do I know? Apparently it isn't interesting to agents or publishing houses, for instance. (Yes, that was bitter. I'll own it.)

Anyway, I've been back in the States for 15 weeks now. I've eaten my way across the city of Portland. I've used every convenience item available to me. I've made pancakes weekly. I've used inches, feet, and every other non-metric measure. I've pushed a grocery cart with one hand while drinking coffee. I've driven with reckless abandon. (Okay, that's an exaggeration. I've driven without sweating and stressing while I fight off carsickness and the impulse to put a big sign on the top of my car that reads, "Forgive my motoring transgressions. I'm a yankee!")

Now that my American mojo is intact, I'm noticing that I am missing things about the UK. (Will I ever be satisfied???) Of course what I miss most aren't things, but rather people. I miss Simon, Claire and Liv. I miss all the fun we had together, and the great times we shared with their other friends.... who soon became our friends as well.

As for the things I miss, I'll begin with the food. It's always about the food with me, isn't it? I miss the endless supply of Cadbury chocolate, the delightful "crisps" in their teeeny little bags, the pizza at The Faulkner, and the pasties at the The Pasty Place on Bridge Street. I miss daytrips to castles, afternoons in the park in Shrewsbury, and strolls around the city walls of Chester. The greetings from all the shopkeepers on Hoole Street as I made my daily visits for fresh bread, meat, produce and other necessities...the way they all called me "luv" is something I'd love to hear again. I miss the TV shows we grew to love, and the ones we loved already and got to see more of once we were in country. I really miss the boys' school made that part of our day so much easier! I miss being able to walk to just about anywhere. I miss that feeling I had (which was happening more and more often) that I had "mastered" the new life...and by that I mean that I FINALLY knew where I was, what to do, what was going on, and that I had figured it out on my own. I miss being special because I was from "somewhere else" and all the nice conversations that ensued from that fact.

Where did this come from? I don't know, exactly. I was re-reading my past posts, trying to assemble them in some order to submit them as part of a manuscript. (A publisher I contacted told me what she'd like to see and I'm trying to format it for her. No big book deal or anything....this publisher is part of a self-publishing company, so we'll see where it goes.) But it made me miss the UK. Who knows - maybe I'll get published and then I'll get to go back to England as part of a book signing tour. Like I said in my first post: A girl can dream, right?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chill Out

Just recently I wrote on my friend's Facebook page, "You can take the girl out of the hood, but you can't take the hood out of the girl." I've often said something similar about myself, except saying that you can take me out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest out of me. I'd like to amend that and add, "...except in matters related to weather and temperature tolerance." The Midwest has left me, no doubt about it.

Again you find yourself asking, "Renee, what the hell are you talking about?" Let me tell you. It has been over 100 degrees here for almost a week and I have been DYING whenever I have to leave to comfort of air conditioning. Yes, me. The girl who used to spend June, July and August's hot and steamy days outside, laying in the sun, wearing oil all over my body, getting up only to hose off, dip in the pool, and get more lemonade. (Or California Cooler, depending on what year it was.) The girl who went to high school wearing no coat, a short uniform skirt, and slip-on shoes in six inches of snow and single-digit temperatures. Yes, that hardy girl who is now, apparently, a climatic weenie.

For my dear readers in St. Louis who only leave the AC to go to and from their cars and who may be wondering why I'd even be exposed to such heat while indoors, here's a teensy bit of insight about the Pacific Northwest. Until recent years, most homes were not built with air conditioning. It wasn't necessary because this kind of heat was extremely rare. However, things have changed, as we all it climate change, call it global warming...whatever you choose to call it, all it really means is that I am sweating my you-know-what off and it makes me cranky.

Yes, there are window units. Yes, there are fans. But the problem with those is that they effect only the immediate area around them. For example, the window units in the upstairs bedrooms crank out cold air all night long, but the fact of the matter is that the house - the structure itself, its contents - are already hot and cannot be cooled down with zonal cooling. So the floor is still warm, as the heat from the levels below rises. The levels below are warm and won't cool off until there are several days of cool temperatures. And right now, things have "cooled down" to the 90's. Yes, that is what they say on the weather reports, "Expect a gradual cooling to the mid-90's by Sunday." Since when is that cool?

For almost a year now I've observed a lot of disparity between the areas of my life that are best served by cold temperatures and those that are not. The airport in Manchester? ( WAY too cold. Beverages in England? Not cold enough. July in Portland, Oregon? WAY too hot. It seems that I'm like Goldilocks, searching for the place that is not too hot, not too cold, but just right for me. And that's rather telling, considering the up-in-the-air nature of our life right now.

Monday, June 22, 2009

T-minus 12 hours and....blaaaaaaaachhhhh!

"Attention, Delta passengers on flight number 65...we will now begin the pre-boarding process. For our passengers requiring special assistance, those traveling with infants, small children, or with swine flu, please proceed to the gate with your boarding passes at this time."

How many times were we sick while we lived in the UK? Once, maybe twice? Seriously. We aren't a sick kind-of family, fortunately, but I would much rather be sick in, say, mid-March, as opposed to the last 12 hours before we are taking an international flight. But that's exactly what happened.

Let me set the scene. I'll backtrack a bit and explain the environment in which we were traveling. It was before swine flu was named a pandemic, which made it more relevant and widely-known to the US.  However, prior to the declaration of it being a pandemic, the swine flu was definitely on the minds of most folks in the UK. In fact, the day before we were
leaving, the first case of human-to-human transmission was confirmed. (How were people getting it prior to that? From all those daily encounters we humans have with swine?? I don't know.) What I do know was that every single channel on TV had coverage of the situation. The airport officials were using heat-sensitive body scanners to screen individuals at the airport...presumably to detain and quarantine you if you had a fever (the first symptom). You've heard of those scanners that are designed notice the sweaty palms of nervous potential terrorists? They were being used to detect fever in of unsuspecting travelers.

The weekend before we were traveling, there was a sign on the door of the neighborhood pharmacy that read, "Attention Patrons: If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, or you are caring for someone with flu-like symptoms, please DO NOT ENTER. Return home and contact the NHS on instructions for treatment." I swear to you that's seriously what it said. I only wish I had my camera with me, but I had already packed it. (The NHS is the National Health Service...they have nationalized healthcare.)

Back to the scene. The boys and I were leaving first; John was remaining to finish the season and would be back about a month later. We were invited to dinner with some friends on that Monday evening, and were leaving early on Tuesday morning.

Early Saturday morning, Son 2 woke up sick. He was throwing up every 45 minutes or so, but recovered within about four hours. I have to say that my children are the BEST little barfers because they always make it to the toilet or in the garbage can or whatever else I throw their way to catch it. Not that any of that is relevant to the story, but I'm just saying.  After all, in what other forum can I give my kids props for puking? Anyway, he was all good and I chalked it up to his less-than-stellar handwashing practice.

Then, on Monday afternoon, Son 1 started complaining that he didn't feel well. I didn't even link it to Son 2's bout of illness until Son 1 began with the vomiting. Remember those dinner plans we had? Count Son 1 and I out of the picture. Husband and Son 2 went, I stayed home and did some last minute packing in-between Son 1's fits of dry heaving. The boys and I were leaving in 14 hours.

It keeps getting worse from this point on. Husband and Son 2 get back home from dinner at about 8:00 pm and Husband went straight up the stairs to the bathroom. |Son 1 had his last round of the heinous puke-poop cycle about an hour before that. He was sleeping, pale as a ghost, completely drained and weak, grateful that nothing was being emitted from his body outside of his control. Now Husband had the next four hours to suffer, and suffer he did. In the meantime, I scurried about, doing the last of the last of the last packing. We were leaving in less than 12 hours.

At around 11:00 pm, I got a rumble in my stomach...could it be? No, I told myself. I will NOT be sick. Mind over matter. Just keep doing the final packing. Zip those bags shut. Charge those Gameboys. Pack those snacks. Check the empty drawers one more time.....okay, maybe if I go to sleep I will feel better. Probably just nerves. We were leaving in about eight hours.

I had completely and totally misdiagnosed my case of "nerves" and quickly changed my diagnosis to whatever it is that can make you involuntarily heave and expel matter from various orifices with complete loss of control. When I say orifices I'm including my eyes...are they an orifice? I was also crying while I was being "sick" and it was not pretty. Here's what you would have heard had you been inside my head at the time (and managed to not get expelled from an orifice, that is):

Good God in heaven, we've got the flippin swine flu. Damn all the f-ing bacon around here, I know that's how we got it. If I can get better in the next 10 minutes, I swear to all that's holy that I will never eat pork again. OHMYGOD, in 10 minutes it will be 1:00 am and I have to board a plane at 8:00 am. A plane. Wasn't there a movie about snakes on a plane with Samuel L. Jackson? And he was also Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction and said, "I don't dig on swine," and that pigs are filthy animals. I think there's a message in that somehow. F-ing bacon. I'm hot. I am SO glad I printed my boarding passes already. Where did I pack the gum? Ugh. I might have a chance at being okay by the time we have to leave because everyone else has only been sick for four hours. I could be finished with this nightmare by 5:00 am and still sleep an hour and then get up and get the last minute stuff packed and be ready to go. I'm cold. Might have to break the rule about fast food for breakfast if the boys are hungry...OHMYGOD, why'd you have to think about food?????? I wonder if barfing is good for my abs, because they sure feel like they're getting a workout. Do I still have those pills for nausea and would they work for puking if I took double? Can I even swallow a pill right now? I'm hot. Why won't this toilet paper roll stay on the holder? Who breaks shit around here and leaves it for me to find? I think I can get away with this straightened hair for one more day. I don't even want to try and wash and dry and straighten my hair again before I go. How can I pack a hot flat iron? That's just gross to even THINK that post-hurling hair is okay, Renee. Idiot. I'm cold. I hope I'm not waking anyone up with all this flushing and coughing and sniffing and nose blowing. I wonder if this is helping me lose weight. I am SO leaving our toothbrushes here and buying new ones in the States. I hope the alarm goes off and we don't lose power like the McAllisters did in Home Alone. If we miss our flight, do we have to pay for a new one? Do they let you do that on international flights? I'm hot. Maybe we can upgraded to First Class and have lots of room. If I concentrate really hard, maybe I can communicate with Husband's mind and wake him up and tell him to bring me something to sip on. I want some Sprite. I need my pillow.

So, yeah. That was my next four hours. And true its history with the rest of my family, the bug ran its course and left me weak and shaky, but able to be upright and more importantly, to get to the airport. That was our next hurdle.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

'Country' as a noun; 'Country' as an adjective

I just realized something that I didn't miss while living in the UK. Yes, I am Stateside again, albeit in a holding pattern of temporariness as we await the news from the new club - but more on that later. In the meantime, I promise to keep working my way through the endless notes I scribbled down in an attempt to capture the essence of living abroad. To whom am I making this promise? I'm not quite sure...but in case anyone is still reading, I'm still writing.

Considering the fact that I still have my faithful 13 followers and not a single new one for like four months, I'm guessing I might be writing for posterity sake at this point. So be it. Some gals have a therapist, others keep a journal - I have my currently mis-named blog. But Renee in the US doesn't rhyme like Renee in the UK, so I can't change it.

I digressed again. Sorry. Back to what I didn't miss when I was gone.

Just to explain how much I didn't miss this thing, I should first say that I didn't even KNOW I had been blissfully free of it for six months until this past Monday, when I was at the gym (which is a whole other story for a whole other time...let me just preface it by saying that locker rooms should be segregated by age so that I don't have to be all nakey next to the hot 20 year old with no tan lines.) I am at the gym, working out with Husband, who graciously trains with me despite the fact that he has to adjust the seat and the weights between each set we do because I am on weenie weights and he is on grown up weights - not in a Hans and Franz-ish way, though...he's patient and supportive and rarely laughs at me. Back to the, the gym has music going all the time and has done an impressive job of not making it all "Eye of the Tiger" or "Gangster's Paradise" while I'm in's always appropriate. However, on Monday, I just about broke my foot as I nearly dropped a barbell (okay, it was 7.5 pounds...I woulda cracked a toenail at best) as I struggled to cover my ears to prevent my eardrums from rupturing in response to the heinous noise coming from the speakers. Yes, it really happened like that.

What was the noise? What could make me want to run from the building, or perhaps fall down on the ground in a seizure like the lady who couldn't watch Entertainment Tonight because of Mary Hart's voice? (True story...check it out: )

I'll tell you. It was COUNTRY MUSIC.

I should first mention that my experience with country music is limited to The Donny and Marie Show where Marie claimed to be "a little bit country" and Donnie was "a little bit rock & roll." Aside from just loving him in ways inappropriate for my age of seven years, I chose Donny's rock and roll. There was also a show called Hee Haw that my parents must have watched...I know I wouldn't have turned it on myself. But it was ALL country...bales of hay, overalls, missing teeth, and a weekly special musical guest like Tammy Wynette and Roy Clark. So those are my country music "roots" so to speak. I went once to a country bar in St. Louis...a friend of mine was into it for a while so my girlfriends and I would go...I was more into the $1.00 long necks, though. But one should not draw conclusions about life based on what one sees in 70's sitcoms...after all, was Hogan's Heroes was an accurate depiction of life as a WWII prisoner of war? Still, I have never been a country music fan.

So back to England, where the locals are unaware of this stuff called country music. How? Well, I can't speak for the entire kingdom, but in the north west region, there were no country music stations on the radio. There was not a country music tv station wedged in between my MTV and VH1. And there certainly weren't any pick-up trucks, cowboy hats, fringe of any sort, line dancing, or cut-off jean shorts. Am I stereotyping here? You betcha. But what I mean to say is that country music is uniquely American, and for something that is just ours, we sure have a LOT of it. Its abundance in our culture demonstrates how much we, as Americans, like to have everything in big, major ways. In the span of six months I went from living where there was not even a notion of country music, to a place where at least three of the 20 or so radio stations are country music...whether that's classic or contemporary or "all country, all the time" format. And this is Portland...there are places in the rest of the United States where it is even more prevalent. But that's the American Way...if eight ounces is good, then 32 ounces is best. Or, if you really mean business, get the 64 ounces.

When British people found out I was an American, they would often ask, "Why did you come here?" which implied that I left paradise or something similar. I told them it was because I had just HAD it with country music. No, I'm kidding...but the point in mentioning their "why?" questioning is to show that to those on the outside of America, we've got it pretty good. Even with Toby Keith.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Things are tough all over

We went on a hike today, and here's what greeted us when we went to use the bathroom at the parking lot:
We decided the the trails near that spot probably weren't the best ones after all. What's that saying about what a bear does in the woods? I'm thinking it applies to people as well.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Turnabout is fair play

Okay, for all the jokes I have made about some of the sights in England, I post this one specifically FOR my friends in England. This is an actual place about five minutes from my house in Oregon. Seriously.


Friday, May 1, 2009

Say what?

There's this popular show on BBC3 Called Gavin and Stacey ( that I loved to watch...and if you have access to any BBC shows, you should check it out as well. (I'm always bossing you around about what to watch, aren't I?)

I was watching one episode where the entire extended family was sleeping over at a family member's house, so there were odd pairings of the characters in strange places...and admittedly, I was not familiar with the entire cast and storylines quite yet. In fact, this was at Christmastime, so I was pretty much unfamiliar with everything about England at that point. (As opposed to my keen insight and understanding of the country now. Yeah, right.)

The scene went like this: It was the middle of the night and a sleepy looking guy stumbles into the kitchen and pours himself a glass of milk. Another similar-looking guy comes into the kitchen and startles the first guy, and then apologizes. Then the first guys says that he was laying there in the dark, trying to get off, but just couldn't seem to do it. The second guy says something like, "Yeah, I couldn't get off either. I thought a glass of milk might help."

Here's an approximation of how I looked at that moment:

Was I watching a porn with an actual plot? Is masturbation during primetime an okay thing to have on TV in England? If this is what's on during the supposed "family" hours, then what will I see after 10:00? Well, let me answer those questions for you: 'no,' 'no,' and 'depends on the channel.'

As it turns out, 'get off' means go to sleep, not the thing you might do before you go to sleep. I've never quite been able to incorporate that into my vocabulary, though.

My days are frequently peppered with these sorts of vernacular stumbling blocks. Here's another example. Son 2's teacher was telling me how well Son 2 was doing during his first week of school. He told me about Son 2s great sense of humor, his off-the-charts scores in reading and math, and his ability to really get on with the girls....that he sure has his way with the girls.

I was stunned. Shocked. Embarrassed, and not sure what to say. Son 2 is six....where did he learn inappropriate stuff like this? By no means do I pretend that my kids are angels, but Husband and I are good about monitoring their TV watching, there's no unsupervised internet, and we don't have a secret stash of nasty books or movies. Then it occurs to me that all the other parents (or at least the ones with girls) will totally know who I am - the new Mom on campus, and I still have to exit the building, going through the playground where all the other parents are. They are going to stare at me even more than normal now, the mom of the kid who 'gets on' with girls. Oy.

I took a deep breath and pushed aside the image in my mind of Son 2 in his classroom, wearing his bathrobe, leaning against a desk in Hefner-esque style, chatting it up with a group of little girls. In a quivering voice, I manage to say to his teacher (who is male,) "Um, well, please make sure you remind him to be appropriate, and Husband and I will talk to him tonight...I'm sorry, and I don't know what to say."

The teacher stares at me, obviously replaying the conversation in his mind, scared that I'm going to cry, and not sure how things went so wrong in the past 20 seconds. And, just like on TV when the light goes on above the character's head, the teacher has a "ah ha!" moment. He leans forward, smiling, patting my hand to reassure me, and says, "Mrs. American, Son 2 is being completely appropriate. What I meant to say is that he is a good friend to the girls, unlike some boys his age who are mean to the girls. What I meant was that the girls like him, and he likes the girls. Respectfully."

Can you hear my enormous sigh? Can you see the glow from my bright-red face? Add 'the boys' primary school' to the list called Places This Writer Makes an Ass of Herself.

Here's another example of one of my stumbling blocks...or shall I say stumbling hump? I was attempting to get directions to the main library from a woman at the barber shop. Mistake number one...she had an accent thicker than pudding (real pudding, that is) and spoke incredibly fast. As she went on about the way I had to go, it became obvious that she was going to describe the route, as opposed to giving me the names of the roads. Among her descriptions of so-and-so's house with the wayward daughter and some yahoo with a blue garage who kept too many cats, was her warning that I'd also "see a lot of humps"....that, in her words, I should, "Mind the humps on those back streets."

The only thing I'd like to see less than two locals humping is backstreet locals humping. Or locals humping me, I suppose, although that would be difficult to I digress. Needless to say, I skipped the walk to the main library that day. It wasn't until later in the week as we drove to the library that I realized what she meant about the humps.

So, yeah, humps in the road are speed bumps. Don't get the giggles or anything when you see a sign like this. And don't be such as ass and think it means anything inappropriate.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Rules for Scooters & Motorcycles

Since I have already dished about driving in the United Kingdom ( so I won't repeat myself...okay, I will try not to repeat myself. But now that I am a real driver (yes, I am. True story.) I have a few more observations to make about the whole scene.

Did you know that in the UK it is perfectly acceptable to pass on the right? It sounds harmless when I say it, but imagine sitting on the right side of the car, driving on the left side of the road. In your mirror you see a car coming up alongside you, usually much faster, and it kind of throws you for a second. It was a bit scary the first time it happened. That isn't the thing about motorcycles, though. The thing about scooters and motorcycles is that they can pass in between lanes of traffic that are otherwise stopped in traffic. So imagine sitting in a traffic jam and suddenly a motorcycle comes along, weaving its way alongside the stopped cars, carefully avoiding everyone's mirrors and (for all intents and purposes) cutting in line - because that is essentially what they are doing. Like the person who drives up the shoulder in a traffic jam, the motorcycles and scooters are getting out of having to wait like the rest of us.

The first time I saw this happen, I said to John in my high-pitched, 'no way' voice, "Did they just - did I just see that motorcycle do that??" He answered, without even looking at me, "Yep. It is legal here. They don't need to be in a lane. I asked someone about it myself." To which I replied, "That is SO not fair."

It then occurred to me that I would never see that happen in America...the "cutting" being allowed for some people and not others. The first reason is because things, whether good or bad, are generally kept pretty fair in the US. I mean this in a very broad and general way. Second, I imagine that anyone ballsy enough to try to cut in line could be subject to someone's door "accidentally" opening as they approached with little or no time to stop, colliding with the open door and therefore possibly resulting in an injury to the motorcyclist, and certain damage to the car door...which would then be a lawsuit for one or both parties. The United States is pretty adept at averting situations that could result in a lawsuit of some sort. I never realized how true that is until we moved to the UK...but that's another post for another time.

By the way, while I have your attention, I would like to say that I really, really, really HATE HATE HATE scooters. They are HORRIBLY whiny and loud. Yes, they are better for the environment than a car...but what about my ears??? We live near a university campus, so I think I hear a disproportionate number of them on a daily basis. And since it is probably mostly university students, I hear these buzzing monstrosities at all hours of the day - and night.

At first I was able to laugh it off, thinking about Eddie Izzard doing his imitation of the Italians on scooters, saying "ciao!" But now the weather is wonderful for having the windows open and so I REALLY hear them. (I've said it before and I'll say it again...if you haven't seen Eddie Izzard: Dress to Kill, you are REALLY missing out. So go rent it. Buy it. Just make sure you see it. Or try try this link...the stand-up part of it begins about four minutes in. It will be the best hour and fifty minutes you have spent in a long time. I promise. ) If you insist on only watching the scooter part (which would be a shame) it is at about the 26 minute mark. But you'll be missing some seriously SMART and funny stuff by only watching that part.

Okay, I KNOW I am being a crazy old lady in getting all agitated and annoyed by something as minor as scooters whizzing by my house every day at all hours. I accept that about myself and love it anyway. So there.

Now go watch Eddie Izzard. It gets funnier and funnier as it goes along. You'll thank me. And, if you go to the UK and you are stuck in a traffic jam, do not open your car door. You can't say you weren't warned.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bank on it

If you plan on doing any sort of commerce while in the UK, you better bring your card and leave your checkbook at home. I'm not talking about shopping with an American credit be honest, I never really used my American account here. We set up our accounts here right away and for anything in between, I had cash. What I'm talking about here is the system for shopping here versus shopping in the States.

In the States you can usually pay one of four ways. Cash, credit, debit, or check. Obviously not all places accept checks, but until I arrived in the UK, I never realized how antiquated the check really is. Don't get me wrong...if I don't have cash with me, I will choose writing a check over giving Visa another opportunity to charge a merchant another fee. (Yes, I am one of those anti-'big bank' people.) But after I asked a few merchants here, "Do you accept checks?" and they looked at me as if I had a bleeding third eye growing out of my forehead, I realized they don't use checks like that.

What they DO use, however, is a fraud-proof card system that really seems to be a great way to cut-down on card theft. It is called a PIN and CHIP card. The card has a teeny little chip on it that only works when inserted into card reading machines - not swiped, but inserted - and the card reading machine requires you to enter your PIN...that part is like using a debit card in the US, except that here, the PIN is required for your credit card as well. And, unlike a debit card, there's no option for the customer to process the card as a credit card with no PIN required. Only the merchant can choose that option, and that rarely happens. If you forget your PIN, you are pretty much stuck.

So when you use your card at the register at any store, you enter your PIN. If you use it at a restaurant, they bring to your table a handheld unit where you have to enter your PIN. The guy at the table next to you can be using one, too....they are on a wireless system of some sort, and so more than one transaction can be processed at once. There's no waiting, which is good. (It occurs to me right now that I should have invented the handheld unit. Damn.)

So one more thing about the cards. I'm going to save you a moment of panic when you go to the ATM, pop in your card, plug in your PIN, and read the "One moment while we deal with your request" message. (They need to "deal with" my request? Sounds like I'm annoying them.) Anyway, your card will be spit back out at you with a series of loud beeps. It is NOT because you don't have any funds in your account. A few uncomfortably long seconds later, your cash comes out. Then there is a message that says, "Thank you for your custom" and you don't have to remember to take your card, nor do you have to dispose of a receipt. So once again, it's pretty efficient.

While we are discussing banks, let me add that if you are a bank robber, don't come to England. It appears to be nearly impossible to rob a bank here, and I say that not as a person who sized up a bank to rob. Rather, it was interesting to notice how different banks are constructed here. There are small branches with little or no lobby, open from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm, with two to four windows with tellers behind security glass and with slide out drawers on the counter to exchange stuff with you. (Like in a drive-through in the US.) That's not so unusual...I'd say it is comparable to a bank in the US that's in a really bad neighborhood or something, with all the security measures protecting the teller.

But the big branches of the banks here ARE unusual to me, as an American. At the entrance you will find a handful of uniformed staff with clipboards, ready to greet you and point you toward one of the dozen ATMs built in a semi-circle-shaped wall behind them. There is not a counter nor tellers anywhere within view. The ATMs have signs above them for deposits or withdraw (but called something else that I can't think of right 'taking out' or 'putting in', seriously.) If you need to talk to a person, you have to tell the clipboard people, who take down your information on their clipboard, walk over to a little kiosk with a computer, type in your details, and ask you to take a seat and someone will be with you shortly. Then, depending on what you need, another uniformed staff person shows up and takes you to the next section back (still no where near the actual tellers at counters, which may or may not exist at these branches) or up one level to another floor. Both of these locations look like an office with a bunch of cubicles. Still no counter or tellers to be found. And definitely no safe with a giant door leading to the safe deposit boxes like you see in the States. If you have cash to deposit as part of whatever you are talking to the bank employee about, they will take it and come back with a receipt. Where it goes is anybody's guess. Or I suppose any non-bank employee's guess. There must be a teller somewhere, as there must be a safe. But it's in a difficult place to get to, and probably an even more difficult place to get out of. I'd bet that any bank robbery here would have to be the result of an inside job. Of course that is just speculation on my part...I hope to never hear about it or see it happen.

So what I am saying about banking in the UK is this: PIN and CHIP cards are a great idea. If you are a bad guy, you'll find yourself particularly challenged in the UK. There's no easy way to use stolen credit cards, you can't forge checks because no one takes checks, and you can't go barging into a bank and rob it.
And again, I say this as an OBSERVER, not as a potential perpetrator.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Driving, Part Deux

I'm a driver. I drive. I'm an INTERNATIONAL driver, in fact. So there. Add it to my resume. (Remember that movie with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus called What about Bob?? When Bob gets up the guts to sail, and he is strapped to the sailboat shouting, "I'm sailing! I sail!" Another movie that I HIGHLY recommend...the dialogue is hilarious. ( oops...another digression) Anyway, I'm a driver. I drive.

You may be asking, "How did that come to be, Renee?" Well, let me tell you. It came down to whether I wanted to spend a rainy afternoon at home with John, Jack and Ian, (all of whom were watching some soccer match on tv) or an afternoon of freedom, essentially. Freedom from the responsibilities of the house stuff. From the guilt that accompanies an afternoon of doing nothing. (I know, I know, I put that evil on myself. You don't have to tell me that.) Freedom to just stroll around the store (rabid cart wheels aside) and, if I so choose, compare every single per-unit cost of every single item I buy...or to read every single label of every single item, or to double back a few aisles because I forgot an item. HOWEVER, getting there to be the lame, strolling-about, label-reading, aisle-repeating weird lady was up to me and my ability to drive.

I wasn't great at know, taking up both lanes a few times as I tried to orient myself to just exactly where I needed to be on the road. And it was tricky in the parking lot, for sure. Turning into a parking space from the opposite side of the car AND road is challenging. Going the wrong way in the parking lot really threw me because it is such a small space with no room to "get over" if I found myself going the opposite way of everyone else. But I did pretty well. Okay, actually, I forgot A LOT while trying to park, and I got honked at. If I could hear them cursing me, I bet they would have said "stupid yank" or something along those lines. But I am exactly that...a Yankee in their country, doing stupid things as I try to get by.

You know what? In general, it was EASY. The driving was easier than the parking. Granted, I was out on a Sunday afternoon, but was much easier than I imagined it to be. Am I ready to drive in London? Hell-to-the-no. But around my neck of the woods? Yep.

Friday, April 17, 2009

No talking grocery bags here

Going grocery shopping in England? Let me prepare you for the experience, because it's not like shopping in the States. Like much of what I have described for you, it isn't's just different.

I'll begin with the cart situation. There are four things about the carts - which are called 'trolleys,' by the way - that make are different than what we have in the States. First of all, let me tell you right now that the cart you get is not broken. No matter what store you find yourself shopping, you will no doubt be thinking that you have the bad cart with the bum wheel. But all the carts are the same...and the way the wheels turn every which way is not an indication that something is wrong. The wheels are just like me on this one. You can stand there at the entrance of the store all day long and try different carts. It will be the same. (Not that I did that or anything...I mean, how foolish would that have looked???)

Before you can get your cart, though, you might have to put a coin in the handle to get it released from being locked. Don't'll get it back. Similar to the luggage carts at the airport, many of the grocery stores here require a coin to release it, and you get it back when you return it. They even sell key chains with a 'fake' coin on it that you can use to get your cart, and the stores themselves sell the key chains, so it isn't fraud or anything. I have speculated on the reasons why they require the coins at all, and the only one that makes any sense to me is so that the carts get returned. However, it doesn't seem likely that there is a missing cart problem, or at least not in any of the stores where I have encountered this, so it's just my speculation. I don't see a homeless population, nor do I see anyone using carts outside of the parking lots for other reasons. So really, I don't get it. But if you are trying to get a cart from the stall at the entrance and the cart seems stuck to the other one in front of it, don't bother going over to the next row and trying that one. Or the row after that one, either...they aren't stuck together, they are locked. Yanking on them won't help. You'll just look stupid. (Not that I did that, either...again, how foolish would that have looked, yanking on rows of carts, when all that needed to be done was depositing a coin in the handle?)

If you are looking for a cup holder, you aren't going to find that on your cart. That's a good thing, really, because once you see how willy-nilly these carts go, you'll realize that your drink would just be spilled all over the place. Seriously, the base of the wheels rotate a full 360 degrees, independent of each other, and they are NOT in need of oil...they not squeaky and they spin and rotate without ANY drag. Your cart goes sideways at the same time it is moving forward and at the same speed. There's no one-handed pushing, and I can safely say that they are actually difficult to control in comparison to an American cart. In fact, there are different handles on the carts at my favorite store, Sainsbury's. The handles raise up above the straight bar across the front. I've attached a picture to show you...the blue part is what I'm talking about. These handles help you control the cart much more than just the plain straight bar for sure.

The last thing you'll notice is a separate compartment in your cart for your bread and for flowers. True. There is a section at the front of the cart, opposite of the kiddie seat that will hold your baguettes and your flower bunches and keep them from getting squashed. Pretty clever.

Aside from the carts - I mean, trolleys - being different, there aren't many other visible differences that would make you think you aren't in your hometown grocery store in the US. There are only two other things I notice as different when I am there - I mean, as far as what I see when I look around.

The first thing is when I go to buy fruits and veggies. The produce department in every store here is the same in that the produce is in large green bins with flip-open lids that obviously come from the producer. The bin is similar in size and shape to a recycle bin in the US and I assume they use these bins instead of tons of cardboard boxes. Great idea, isn't it? I'm not saying it is straight from the ground, or sloppily thrown in the bin - it is bunched or bagged or packaged just like it is in the States - but it is contained within the bin. The produce department people just roll out a pallet with the green bins stacked, and they set the bins on a slanted display surface, flip open the attached flap lids, and the contents are displayed, ready for the shopper to just take the product out of the bin and place it in the cart. Just like a Dierberg's or an Albertson's or any other store in the US, there are sprinklers above some of the displays, and of course there are bags and ties and scales as well, but there is not a fancy display of each piece, or bunches arranged in rows. It is practical and it works.

The second thing I noticed was the absence of baggers at the checkout. I should first mention that the English are GREAT at not handing out plastic bags for every purchase. They will ask you if need a bag, there are signs reminding you to bring a bag, there are canvas bags for purchase (cheaply) everywhere, and there are no paper bags available. Along this same line of thinking, they have customers bag their own stuff while they check you out. And since this is NOT America, you are probably not buying dozens of items at one time, and if you are, they are not huge and over-sized. I think the absence of baggers can be attributed to two things (and this is just my opinion) that seem to be consistent here. The first is the thing about bags...they don't want to encourage you to use theirs. They want you to bring your own and bag your own stuff. The second is the customer service aspect that is prevalent in the United States and distinctly absent here. That customer service thing is not just my opinion, either. Several of my British friends have commented on the outstanding service they always get in the States as opposed to here. But that's another post for another time.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Grocery Shopping in the UK where I tell you the names of all the food that isn't what you think it is. Or something like that.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

93,000 square miles to protect

Sometimes in the midst of my day-to-day existence here, I am briefly stunned by the realization that this entire country is about the size of Oregon. Not that the size of the place is really relevant, but it occurs to me that the problems I have had in trying to live here seem SO much larger than the physical space it occupies. But at the same time, it also makes the need for such stringent immigration rules more apparent. What they've got going here is a pretty good thing...especially for such a compact space. They can't mess around and risk ruining it.

Then....I see something like the article I have linked to below. The reaction of the British to the US State Department brief, in my opinion, was a bit over the top. And it shines a less-than-flattering light on what the reasoning behind the rules might actually be. To me, it now feels anti-American, and thus personal, as opposed to what I formerly respected as their need for self-preservation by exclusion.

I KNOW, I isn't about me. I really do know that...but what I'm talking about here is how I feel. Some of the comments from the British just look stingy and boastful and belligerent. And that's not how I want to see them...that's not how I want to remember my time here.

Of course I speak in generalities. When I look at it specifically, I couldn't ask for a warmer welcome or better friends here than Simon and Claire, Anna and Tim, or Tara, or name a few. Again, it's more just me pouting and feeling bitter about how it all panned out with the work permit process.

Take a look at this article. It is from my hometown paper, The Oregonian. (I also found it interesting and coincidental that it involves the two places I have lived over the last 12 months.)

Maybe I can get a job at the State Department, compiling briefs that actually contain relevant information for the President. Think about love of politics combined with my love of research and writing? Aside from it making me a rip-roarin' fun gal at parties, it could actually be the perfect job for me. hmmmmmmmmmmm............

Friday, April 10, 2009

In holidays we trust

This Easter is the second major holiday I have spent in the UK.

Yes, I am calling Easter a 'major holiday' and I'll explain why. Unlike the US, there is no intentional line drawn between religion - Christianity, specifically - and the government. And no, the place is not overrun with zealots, either. Quite the contrary, in fact, as there are FAR fewer Christian extremists here than in the States and MUCH less of the division between the "types" of Christians. That fact alone says a lot to me about the nature of the religious culture in the United States...but that's not what this post is about. Or at least, not exactly. Allow me to explain.

Talking about religion isn't taboo here. Schools are required to have, among their core subjects, 'religious education' as a subject for at least the first six years of school. ( ) When I say 'schools' I mean public schools. It is part of the National Curriculum. There isn't a big deal made about no one sues the school district or anything.

Religious holidays are acknowledged for what they are as well. As I mentioned before, we are in the middle of a big one right now...Easter. Easter is celebrated with a four day weekend here. Good Friday and Easter Monday are Bank Holidays. People wish one another "Happy Easter" without reserve. Right now The Sons are in the middle of Easter Break...not spring break, but Easter Break. The entire country's school children are on Easter Break. Early this afternoon, when I went to the shops, the produce store was closing at 1:00. The bakery was closing at 2:00. The butcher shop wasn't even open. And it was all in honor of Good Friday.

I can't remember if I posted about Christmas here or not, so I'll give you a brief synopsis of what I observed. The collective holiday season here is called Christmas...not "the holidays." Unlike the US, people in public places wish each other a "happy Christmas," without reserve - and when I say public, I mean in the stores, or even on the news, and on the phone. I spoke to dozens of customer service reps during December as I set up our phone and satellite and such, and they all wished me "happy Christmas" and "merry Christmas" as we were hanging up. I can honestly say that NO ONE here wished me the innocuous "happy holidays," and the few times that I said it, I was looked at strangely. I think it would be safe to say that there isn't a need for those "Jesus is the reason for the season" bumper stickers. Jesus and His holidays are alive and well in England, and no one is offended by it, either.

Since I mentioned bumper stickers, I'll share with you something that impresses me about the way religion is handled here. (There is a segue in this...bear with me.) Now keep in mind that this is a very BROAD and sweeping generalization...nothing scientific or measurable, okay?

We have all seen the those metal outlines of a fish that people in the US mount on the rear of their car, to signify their Christianity. We've also seen the ones that are fish with legs, with "Darwin" inside of the fish body, to signify their belief in evolution. I would say that those two symbols are good examples of two opposing points of view among Christian Americans, wouldn't you?

In America, there are places where people still debate over the opposing views of Creationism (or the theory of Intelligent Design and Evolution ( Those who believe in Creationism think that Evolution is in direct opposition of what God has told us to be true, through the Bible. Those who believe in Evolution think that Creationism is a way to impose a religious view onto a scientific situation.

Again, this is a BROAD generalization here, okay?

In either case, they have chosen a "side," and for whatever reason, in the US, people are forced to take sides. Yes, I know, that is part of America, to have choices and options, to be able to take whatever side you want AND not have to fear persecution. I understand all of that and I am not being critical of it whatsoever. You won't find anyone who loves America more than me these days, trust me.

What I am saying, though, is that maybe we Americans can learn something from the British in this situation. There's no fighting about it. There are no divisions. No one has to take a side, no one sues the City Hall for nativity scenes...they don't let that kind of nonsense happen. Not Christian? Okay, no worries. Enjoy the time off of work. They just live and let live.

Remember, this is the country that gave us Charles Darwin. He could be perceived as the lightening rod for one of the major dividing points in America, couldn't he? Yet in this country of "Happy Easter" and "Merry Christmas" and religion taught in schools, there is also a tremendous reverence for Darwin. They celebrates him in a huge way. There's Darwin Day ( and the national celebration of his 200th birthday this year. Most notably, Charles Darwin is buried at Westminster Abbey. Why is this most notable? Only the best of the best in Britain are buried there... including royalty such as Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Edwards I, III and VI, Henrys III, V and VII, and people such as Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and Geoffrey Chaucer. No small feat to be buried there. AND, it is considered the 'holiest' of churches here, like the mother of all cathedrals.

What is my point, you ask? (I get that a lot.) My point is that if a country as discerning as England can wish each other "Merry Christmas" and close banks for Good Friday, yet still exalt Darwin, then maybe we, as Americans, should lighten up and try to do the same. There are so many more important things to debate these days...much bigger fish to fry, so to speak.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Time and Weather

Here's what my weather will be today. This is exactly what was written...I cut & pasted it straight from the website. I swear. Does anyone else think it's funny?

Sunny. Nippy. 45 °F
Sunny. Nippy.
What else is interesting about the weather forecasts here is the inconsistency between the temperature reported as Celsius and Fahrenheit. Now this isn't necessarily true for all of the UK, but I have observed that in my little part of the world over here that when it is really cold, the temperature is reported in Celsius. Like instead of it being 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it will be reported as zero degrees Celsius....but when it is warmer, like in the mid-to-upper 40's, it becomes Fahrenheit again. At first I thought it was just me, that it wasn't really happening like that. Then one day as I was discussing the weather in general with my friend Fiona, she asked me if I ever noticed how the measure of the weather flip-flops, and then proceeded to tell me about the switch back and forth. I was relieved to hear that I wasn't imagining it, but curious as to why.

Fiona said - and mind you, these are her words, and she is British - that the English just really love the opportunity to complain. She gave me an example...according to Fiona, if you want to complain about the cold weather, it is going to sound a lot colder when you say it is two below, instead of 28 degrees. If you want to complain about it being too warm, it sounds much more oppressive to say it is 86 degrees instead of 30.

And while I'm talking about numbers, I should also mention that Daylight Savings Time began on Saturday night. I never knew that Europe's schedule for springing forward and falling back is different than the time we use in North America. Did you? So I guess that now I am nine hours ahead of the west coast. Oy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

Today we went to a friend's house for Sunday Lunch. Sunday lunch is a big deal here. I'd compare it to the way there are brunches on holidays (such as Mother's Day and Easter) in the States, except that here it isn't just for holidays. It is every Sunday.

I had noticed signs for "Sunday Lunch" and "Sunday Roast" and "Sunday Carvery" at all the pubs, hotels and the bed and breakfasts. (Yes, there are B and B's all over the there is something that actually is like the England in the movies and TV.) We have never gone to one, whether at a restaurant or someone's home. Today was our first time, and I have to say that it was spectacular.

Our friends, Simon and Claire, live in the country, and so they have a huge yard, a trampoline and tennis courts, and their neighbors have horses that come right up to the fence in their yard. The boys fed the horses and played soccer - I mean, football - and jumped on the trampoline, and ran around with the dogs, and had an all-around great time. The weather was BEAUTIFUL- sunny and warm (for here, that is) with a clear blue sky all day long. We went at 12:30 and spent all afternoon enjoying a beautiful day, and lunch was served mid-way through the day. It was phenomenal...they served roasted chickens, with potatoes, carrots, onions...there was salad and bread, sausages, quiche and pate'. Now I see what all the fuss is about.

But even better than the meal was the company. Simon and Claire are great hosts and they made us feel right at home. It occurred to me that the tradition of Sunday Lunch is the British equivalent of our Sunday BBQ tradition. I realized that weekends are the same on any continent: a time to be with people you enjoy...friends, family, or both. And today was the first time we had experienced a tradition shared among friends...after so many months of being so far away from the friends we love. I had no idea how very much I missed such things, and was thrilled to have enjoyed myself again so thoroughly.

Here's a link to that great site I refer to so often. It explains meals and such, because in case I haven't mentioned it, that is totally different here as well. Not just pudding, either. The boys' school lunch is called their dinner. And what I think of as dinner is called tea...but then tea is also the drink and snack at around 3:00. Confused? Me too. But I'll get to that in a different post. Here's the link:

If you consider Sunday the first day of the week, then my week just began on a really good note.

Friday, March 27, 2009

It's not just the language difference....

...nor the time change, nor royalty, nor the geography that makes the UK so different than the United States - or the US so different from the UK, if you will. Rather, it is a combination of hundreds of little things. When I say little, I mean 'minor' and not necessarily 'small'...although that is probably a good place to start.

As Americans we are well aware of our obsession with all things bigger and larger. It's no secret that we like it that way. What was a secret, I think, (and at least to me) was exactly to what degree we have everything on such a larger scale. What I have discovered since living here is that the rest of the world doesn't live smaller, but the United States just lives larger.

I've already addressed the snack-size bags of chips in a prior post. In addition to chips, things like ice cubes are smaller and are in much less quantity. I've included a picture of the ice cube tray that came with our new refrigerator. It is seriously the only one that came with it...teeny trays with tiny cute-shaped ice cubes. It makes me wonder what a Brit would think of those huge freezer cases full of giant bags of ice cubes that sit in every store and 7-11. I should include a picture of our refrigerator as well, but I'm going to let you do the math on that one by providing you the measurements of ours so you can compare it to yours. Keep in mind that the refrigerator we have is considered full-size. It measures 22 inches wide by 66 inches tall. The freezer compartment is on the bottom and consists of three drawers...oh, and an ice tray. Don't forget the ice tray.

Speaking of 7-11...well, I can't really speak of 7-11 because there aren't any here (at least not where I live or have been) and the concept of a convenience mart like that is entirely different here. There are things called 'One Stop' and some other quick-mart like shops attached to gas stations, but they aren't the same as the ones in the US because they aren't based on saving you time, or being convenient. In fact, the notion of convenience is pretty much nonexistent here. That leads me to my next observation.

When we moved into our house it took about three days for us to notice that we didn't have a microwave. It then occurred to me that maybe we didn't actually need a microwave, so we decided to give it a try: living a microwave-less life. Surprisingly, it has worked for us. I won't lie...there are times that it would be easier to have one, and every time we are at a store HUsband suggests that we get one I get tempted, but I've rather enjoyed the challenge of making do without one. Weird, I know.

Our house came with a washer, but not a dryer. When we looked into getting a dryer, we discovered that although dryers are available here, most houses don't have them because of the extremely high cost of gas and electricity. Indeed, as I looked around, I noticed that just about everyone has a laundry line hanging in their yard, and at every store I've noticed there are multiple choices for clothes drying racks. During this investigation I also discovered that the radiators are the best way for drying clothes, at least during the winter. The stores sell these wire rack things that hang off the radiator and increase the surface area for drying clothes. And because it is a radiator, there's no risk of fire. It's just hot water going through the pipes, and while it keeps the house remarkably warm, it isn't hot enough to burn anything. Believe me when I say that I checked out that possibility in every possible way.

While I'm talking about water, I'll describe the faucet situation. This puzzles me SO much. Apparently the concept of one tap for the water just hasn't caught on here, and it isn't just in our house. I've noticed it everywhere else I go...there is a knob and tap for the hot and the same for the cold. So washing your hands with warm water isn't is either hot or cold. Running a bath requires a lot of stirring, as the water from the two faucets needs to be mixed.

Did I mention that my washer is in my kitchen? I thought that was strange at first, but as I watch local commercials and tv shows, I see that it is the norm. Unfortunately it also means that I don't have a some brilliant design effort, the person who remodeled the kitchen placed the washing machine (a front loader) in the space where a dishwasher might go. However, if the number of commercials for dish washing detergent are any indication of how many people are hand-washing their dishes, I am certainly not the minority.

If I can be completely honest right now, I would have to say that the dishwasher is by far the thing I miss most. I really hate doing dishes. But you know what it has made me realize? All the complaining about unloading the dishwasher I used to do was absurd.

In fact, many of the realizations I have come to since moving here come at the expense of my ingratitude for what I had back in the United States. That is not to say that I do without here, but rather, I do DIFFERENT. And as I've said so many times before, this country is NOT what you see in the movies, it isn't what you read in the books. What it IS, however, is incredibly complex and admirably self-realized. It's mind-boggling when considered in the context of its size, which is roughly the same square mileage as my state of Oregon.

I'll leave it at that...right now I need to get back to creating posts that are in the true spirit of the beginnings of this blog. I think I'll tackle soap and deodorant in my next post...and NO, it is NOT about the American misconception that Europeans don't shower as often as we do or use deodorant. Besides, the British don't consider themselves as Europeans. Again, another topic for another post.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Strap on those steel-toed Stride Rites, kiddies. We're going to Renee's

I just realized why women are meant to be young when they are having babies. It occurred to me today that I'm in no condition to care for a baby. A baby of mine would choke to death, or in some other neglect-related incident while in my care, and here's why I'm afraid of that happening.

Yesterday I was cleaning up around the coffee table and I picked up a know, those colorful plastic ones, shaped kind of like a top hat? The ones that are so much easier to pull out of the cork board than the flat ones....perhaps another sign of my age. Anyway, I accidentally dropped it and it bounced on the ground and disappeared, either blending in with the crazy colored oriental rug, or on the floor somewhere else, like under the edge of the couch or something.

I hesitated for a few seconds, running through my head the scenarios of what would happen if I left it. A possibility was that I'd step on it. Ouch. Or, Husband would step on it...ouch with a few bad words. Or, one of the boys would step on it, and yes, it would hurt, but more importantly it might happen right before school, and the stepper would try to use it as an excuse to stay home. NOT HAVING IT. So, I made my way down to the floor, intent on finding the tack and picking it up, preserving everyone's feet and my quiet during the day.

As I laid flat on my stomach, looking across the carpet for any sort of projectile object (aside from tortilla chip pieces and popcorn kernels) I realized that not only had I lowered myself down in phases (down on my right knee, then my left, then my right hand, then my left, then walked my hands out until I was on my elbows, then kind of wiggled my torso down to the floor, then lowered my right arm flat and then my left arm flat...and yes, it took as long to do it as it took to write it,) but also that once I was down, it was almost comfortable and I didn't want to get back up right away. Once I was down, I realized it was going to be an effort to get up, and that I might even use the coffee table to help me up. (An image of my Nana doing the exact same thing popped into my head, except my face was on her body.) How did I do this 'up and down' thing dozens of times each day, just a mere five or six years ago? I know I made a LOT less noise when I did it, too. And when I say "I" made noise, it doesn't just mean the sighing, but my knees and elbows as well.

But it isn't just my physical state...after all, women of all ages have babies and take care of them perfectly well. Rather, it was my attitude about finding the tack. Since I didn't see the tack anywhere, and looking for it involved more effort, I did a quick assessment in my head and decided to leave it. I was measurably relieved that no one here would put it in their mouth if they found it, and slightly concerned that I had considered leaving it even if they would.

I have a feeling that this post is one of those things that will come back to haunt me, like if we ever decided we wanted to try and adopt a baby, ("Leaving the tack on the floor? Oh, that was just a joke,(nervous laugh) really, a total joke. I don't let babies play with anything pokey or dangerous. The pencil lead that's embedded Son 1's eyebrow was just a freak incident a long time ago and if he weren't blond, wouldn't even be that obvious. Really.", or if I ever apply for a job at a children's advocacy group or something. Or, if one of my kids steps on a tack and ends up in the ER.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pudding is as pudding does

I'm thinking that I'm not original in the observations I've made about all the differences between American English and English here in the UK. If I were unique in this, I'd have a book deal or a column in a newspaper or something. But nevertheless, I keep writing and someone keeps reading, so I'll carry on. (And thanks for reading.)

Someone suggested that I find a way to protect my "intellectual property" here. Hopefully no one is stealing my stuff and passing it off as their own...although I'd think the risk of that is minor, considering what as ass I can look like in my day to day functioning around here. Who would steal someone's indignity?

As you have read, these humbling moments range from minor ("Just spell it, please!") to major ("She's just full of spunk!") and happen more than I document. This one that I am about to share is especially embarrassing because my misunderstanding has been going on for two months.

The best way to share the anecdote is to recapture the dialogue. I'll give you the setting.

Like other moms, every day when my kids come home from school I ask them how their day was, if anything exciting happened at school, and other various methods to get them to talk to me. Like other moms, I know in my head that they will be more forthcoming with information as the evening goes on, and that bombarding them with questions when they walk in is moot. Like other moms, I know that they need to just zone out with a snack and the TV or video games, taking time to re-group before they go out to play or do homework or talk to me. But unlike other moms, I get impatient and want to engage them right away. Common sense flies out the window...I'm so glad to see them and I want to scoop them up like when they were babies and have them face me, looking at me and listening to every word I speak. Considering the fact that Son 1 is 90 pounds and five feet tall, and that Son 2 is not far behind, getting them back into baby mode is just not possible. Which probably explains why I want it so badly. But I digress. (No, really.)

Back to the setting. Picture this: Weekday afternoon, boys come in from school, rainy day so no outside playing with their friends (or mates, as they say here.) Son 1 and Son 2 are both slouched on the couch, Son 1 playing Xbox and Son 2 watching, waiting for his turn. Mom stands above them, lobbing questions their way.

They don't break their glazed stare at the TV to look up at me, so using that Bachelor's degree to the fullest, I employ the method of getting down to their level...physically, that is. I sit down in between them on the couch, ready to interact. Remember, I've temporarily lost all common sense and won't wait the 45 minutes to really engage them.

Me: So was your day?
Them: Fine. (staring at tv)
Son 2: (to Son 1) Brother, did you see the new hoop ball thing outside? (not looking away from the tv)
Son 1: Yeah, they were putting it up on my recess. (still playing Xbox)
Son 2: I saw it after I got my pudding so I ate pudding really fast so I could play with it.
Me: (Sensing my 'in') You had pudding today, Son 2?
Son 2: Uh huh. I have it every day. (still watching Son 1 play)
Me: You have it every day?
Son 2: Yes...oh Brother, look out for that sniper dude!
Son 1: Got it.
Me: Don't you get sick of it? The pudding?
Son 2: Nope. It's good.
Me: Do you have chocolate every day? (See, as a good mother I know that my son's favorite pudding flavor is chocolate.)
Son 2: Not every day.
Me: What other flavors do they have? (Cha-ching! A question that can't be answered with 'yes' or 'no')
Son 2: I dunno...lots. (still looking at tv)
Me: (Lapsing into some Seinfeld-esque questioning) I mean, how many kinds of pudding can there be? There's vanilla, banana, butterscotch, pistachio - you aren't eating pistachio, are you? You are allergic to pistachio!
Son 2: No pistachios. (to Son 1) Is it my turn yet?
Son 1: Almost.
Me: But eating it every day? Don't you get sick of it?
Son 2: I don't eat it if it has fruity stuff that ruins it. Like cherry junk on chocolate. Or pie that isn't apple pie flavor.
Me: Ewww! Chocolate cherry pudding? I've never heard of fruit pie pudding. (Making note to self to look up pudding recipes to try to make for him. Surely MINE will be tasty and worth eating every long as the recipe isn't in metric. Damn the metric!)
Son 1: Here, Brother.
Son 2 takes the Xbox controller.
Me: So is it served in a bowl, or are they individual cups like the Jello ones from back home?
Son 2: It can be in a bowl or on a plate.(Now he's playing Xbox, still focused on the television.)
Me: Pudding on a plate? Do you eat it with a fork or spoon? How does that work? (I'm asking this one because I really want to know.)
Son 2: Depends on what it is, Mom. (Clearly getting annoyed with me at this point.)
Me: I just don't get it. How can you have pudding on a plate? Like, really?
Son 2: (sighing) If it is on a plate, you use a fork.

Then finally, Son 2, who has been forced to listen to this exchange, speaks up. It has apparently occurred to him exactly what I am misunderstanding. He takes mercy on me, finally, but not yet looking away from the tv and Son 2's game, says this to me: "Uh, Mom...'pudding' is dessert here. It's not really pudding like you're talking about. It's all desserts."

Me: (Insert sound effect from the end of every Sesame Street sketch where the human looks at the camera, puzzled, after being duped by the know, that trombone-like sound of two tones, "wah-wuhhhhhh") Oh...okay...uh...really?
Son 2: (Slightly chuckles) Yeah, mom.
Son 2: (recovering) Nothing, sorry.
Me: So when were you going to tell me? Like how long were you planning on letting me go on, thinking you ate pudding every day?
Son 2: I don't know...I mean, I wasn't really paying attention to what you said.

That marked the end of my after school question and answer sessions.

And now you can add to your English to English Dictionary that
pudding = dessert.