Monthly Archives: July 2008

Ding dong the…

Well, okay, there is no witch and certainly no dead witch.  However, I did manage to live through a day I had been anticipating for about a year, the biggest conference talk I have ever done in front of the scariest and most intimidating audience I have ever had to stand up in front of.  It appears as though it was not WOMBAT since the feedback has been pleasant.  And most importantly, I made it through.  Anything that doesn’t kill you…  Funny thing is that now, having gotten through that, I am having a really hard time getting on with doing anything else, I feel like I deserve a big vacation and not a big deadline tomorrow…  And I can say that it does not even seem to be registering that I am in the US since I am stuck in a closed conference site with all the catering and accommodations included, and a large EU contingent represented.  I could be anywhere.

The Maine update

I’m in Maine, having flown into Boston Saturday, stayed overnight, and driven up to Maine yesterday. The conference I’m attending started last night and seems to be going well. My big performance (that I’ve been nervous about for the almost-year that I’ve known about it) is tomorrow, so I should be rehearsing right now and not blogging…

But I’m blogging anyways. There are a few stories of my trip that caused me sufficient amusement to take a break from the rest of it all.

Story one: I got bumped up to business class on my flight over here.  Even though  it was the middle of the day and I was not about to sleep, I put my lie-flat bed into lie-flat position just because I could.  It was amazing.  The service was amazing.  Almost a little embarrassing, even.  But I’m still puzzled about the number of business class seats on this flight that were occupied by the  “too young to drive” set.  It was a luxury for us to fly anywhere as children, and we certainly were not flying to Europe, nor flying business class.  And yet my sister and I were the rock stars of our elementary school after doing a Washington DC to Minneapolis round trip as unaccompanied minors, but it was nothing compared to a 4-year old (my guess) in one of the huge business class seats.  Some people apparently have too much money.  The mother of the 4 year old WAS wearing the largest diamond ring I have ever seen in person, it was like a Hollywood ring.

Story two, I’m apparently losing my ability to speak American.  I just gave a coffee shop lady the most blank stare ever when she alerted me to my options regarding which milk to put in my iced latte.  I never thought I’d be so used to saying “full fat” milk instead of “whole” that it would confuse me to hear it the other way around!  I still think the Americans all sound like valley girls, too, even the boys.  Is this normal?  Has my ear become so trained on British that I have forgotten the sound of my own language?

hi from heathrow

So apparently it is the busiest travel day of the year in the UK. I wondered why today’s flight was more expensive than usual and why premium economy was not available to book! I’m at Heathrow where the security lines were non-existent because the lines for checking in and the supposedly ‘fast’ bag drop were epic. To Heathrow’s credit, they had lots of extra staff handling crowd control. But to their discredit, the queue wranglers were arguing amongst themselves trying to reroute the queue to accommodate the incoming throngs. The result was not pretty. They’ve also made a neutral switch in the security area-laptops don’t have to come out but now shoes do have to come off. Which is nasty in the summer with no socks! With any luck I’ll be taking off in less than 2 hours…

American Invasion

There must not be very many people left in the U.S. right now because I swear they are all HERE in England at the moment. I cannot walk more than a few yards (or meters, Chris) without hearing American speech. It’s a bit stunning, too, as the young girls especially ALL seem to sound like Valley Girls. I swear, I never sounded like that even when I lived in the U.S. Gag me with a spoon!

Of course, I leave for the US again in just over 12 hours. This time it’s a conference in Maine. Last trip to the US this summer that does not include getting to Minnesota… the Minnesota trip is less than a month away. State Fair! Cheese curds! Jonny Lang! I’m dreaming about it already.

See, I really am happy

Today I had a brief opportunity to catch up with one of my professional friends, you know, the people you know only through work but with whom you eventually develop a casual friendship based on your jobs. Even easier these days with facebook and blogs. This one is quite amusing because I live in her home country and she lives in my home state. I had last seen her before Christmas, and I was delighted to hear (after being falsely accused last week, much to my chagrin and hurt, of being uniformly negative about my life here) that I seem happy and settled compared with 9 months ago. I topped off a 12 hour work day with a stop at one of my favorite little holes-in-the-wall (and not a Barclay’s cash machine), a tiny restaurant with six tables, that is simply called “Restaurant”… I guess I had forgotten about it when I was ranting about all the chain places in my neighborhood. Even better, a new place opened on the same street this week and it’s Korean food! I can’t wait to go, definitely won’t be able to wait until my sister’s next visit. And I swear, I am not just happy because I am flying back to the US in three days time for another conference, Maine this time. Lobster bake, I am ready for you.

What I love about England in the summer

Anyone who knows me well, knows that although I never had a problem with Minnesota winters (you can always put on more clothes) I had a real problem with Minnesota summers (you reach a limit where you can not take more clothes off!)  The heat, the humidity, the bugs.  The weather swings that can cause so much change in 24 hours that you have to check the weather on a twice-daily basis.  The likelihood of getting caught somewhere in clothes that were good for yesterday’s weather and are utterly diabolically wrong for today’s.

Although I have bugs here, I also have the following ten-day forecast:

Partly cloudy every day

High-low for each of the next nine days:










So bottom line, comfortable temperatures, sunshine, and no need to actually check the weather forecast on more than a weekly basis.  I’m in heaven.  Could someone please remind me why the English complain so much about the weather???

Clamping down on visitors

The Economist reports that Britain is tightening the visa-waiver rules, essentially rescinding the visa waiver programme for countries it has decided pose threats. I’m guessing that this will be part of a growing trend, that the age of free and easy entry into countries like the US and the UK is likely over. I’m not sure that I think it’s a real problem either; introduction of a registration system like the Australian ETA (electronic travel authority, essentially an electronic visa that you can apply for over the internet) does not seem to me to be particularly problematic. The process is virtually painless (with the exception of the money charged to your credit card) and it can be done nearly instantaneously. I know that people always argue that business travellers need to be able to go places at the drop of a hat, but I suspect the age of spur-of-the-moment international travel is probably over. And it should be. If you really need to talk to someone in a distant land at the drop of a hat, just do what the rest of us international types do, and video conference over skype or any other video chatting service.

On friendship

I realized this week that it was fifteen years ago last month that I graduated from high school back in Minnesota, back in the US. Now it’s impossible to guess on that day where you will be in fifteen years (and I don’t think I would have ever guessed England!) and who you will still know or talk to. So it is with great pleasure that I have to send my love and greetings to the girls from my graduating class who are still among my best friends in the world.

Maintaining a friendship across 20 years and a number of different states and eventually countries is not easy. We’ve drifted in and out of contact, and in and out of closeness over those years. In some ways, many of us have changed and funnily enough we’ve changed in ways that have been similar, such that we are close friends now only because we have all changed. Our circumstances differ, we are all in different places, different circumstances, but we are still friends.

Obviously this requires a great deal of understanding and patience. It’s not that we never argue, don’t disagree, don’t fall out, or otherwise feel the same about all things and never challenge each other. But we do have some degree of tolerance, of appreciation for the friendship, such that at the end of the day, we still love each other. This is an amazing thing, a very good thing (ha, Martha Stewart!).

I think if I had been asked 20 years ago whether I would still be friends with my female friends from junior high school at this stage of my life, I would have guessed “no”! My tomboy nature meant that I had more male friends than female ones, but interestingly the boys have mostly disappeared. I also had many friends from the years above us, and again I suspect that if asked I would have thought that the people in my own graduating class were not my most likely long-term friends. It has thus been a pleasant surprise to find that I was utterly wrong.

Nothing is better, when navigating the difficulties of a foreign country, than realizing that you do have a support network, even if they are a (seemingly) million miles away. Common backgrounds and interests, shared experiences, these are all things that somehow start to matter.

And it is not as though there are not new friends, new people in my life. There are, both from my time in England and before. My life is enrichened and my spiritual happiness enhanced by the friendships I have made since my teenage years. This is not at all to be discounted, and in day-to-day dealings some of the “new” interlopers are more important to me on a daily basis than the old stalwarts from my youth. But the big picture is pretty. Friendship is a treasure, and life is an adventure. As we go around the world, as we navigate difficult circumstances, we realize just how much we value the familiar.

I cannot possibly stop this theme without commenting that, much to my surprise and delight, one of the best friends I have made in recent years is my own sister. I’ve blogged about her before, and we embark on adventures as much as we can, given our different locations and situations. Just as with my non-blood related friends, we have our ups and downs, but at the end of the day the book on my shelf called “no friend like a sister” rings far truer than I ever could have guessed. She has a few years until she hits the 15 years from high school milestone, and I wish her as good of luck as I have had with the friends made in those days.

Americans have this tradition of Thanksgiving, celebrated in November, when we verbally and spiritually commemorate the things we are thankful for. I am a few months from that, and blessed to have celebrated it last year with other Americans displaced as I am from the homeland. But the spirit does live year-round, and so today I am thankful for my friends.

Observed at the grocery store

Two critical observations from my local Sainsbury’s tonight.

  • On Cheese. They did have some slices of something that looked like American cheese. As in, it was yellow and in a package of individually wrapped slices and called “Cheese-flavoured slices” which I thought was very amusing. They also had something shockingly scary-looking called “Dairylea Nachos” which I bought just for the heck of it. Full report later, but I’m guessing it will be nothing like American nachos. For one, the cheese is the wrong color!
  • On Hokies. Sainsbury’s is for some reason channeling the Virginia Tech sports teams with their odd new color scheme for the uniforms.
    Hokie logo

    Hokie logo

    Sainsbury’s has always been about the Orange but for some amusing reason they have switched the uniforms from UVa colors (dark blue and orange) to the Tech colors (maroon and orange). Can they possibly know here the ramifications of this loyalty switch given the intense rivalry? Are they trying to show much delayed solidarity for the victims of the Tech shooting? Inquiring minds wish to know.

Artwork on American consumerism

Regardless of how you feel about the politics of what’s being said about the US’s consumerist culture, the artwork shown here from Chris Jordan is really cool. I admit, I have always been Seurat-obsessed and this use of every day items to create the same effect is amazing. My favorites are the barbie dolls and the soda can Seurat, of course! Have a look.