Monthly Archives: August 2009

Apartments (or flats, as the case may be)

I apologise in advance for the fact that I am ornery. Yesterday I was sad about leaving America. Today I am annoyed at myself for living like a student in England, and trying to figure out if I can fix it somehow. Since I got divorced (amazingly coming up on 8 years ago) and sold the lovely 3 BR house that I had lived in, with all the modern conveniences, I have had 5 apartments. Three were in the US, and two in the UK. If one was to make a list of the modern conveniences in each of them, my current digs would come out worst or close to it. Let’s take inventory:

  • 1BR High-rise, down-town Minneapolis. Loved the apartment, hated the job. It was probably 1980s era but full of mod-cons and the views were amazing out the many windows overlooking the Basilica. Moved out to go back to school to finish my PhD.
  • Studio, student-friendly Marcy-Holmes area of Minneapolis. Closest approximation to what I have now in terms of its deficiencies, but benefitted from having a shower AND a full-sized fridge/freezer. And a pantry off the kitchen. And TWO count ’em TWO huge closets. Although no washing machine.
  • Amazing two-level apartment in Virginia. Again, loved the apartment, hated the job. It was new and totally kitted out including an extra half-bath upstairs where my study was, with my books and my computer, in a room over-looking the main living room with windows about ten feet high. Washer/dryer, dishwasher, the works. Bedroom was so big I used a divider to split off a separate music room.
  • Temporary furnished flat in England, at least it had a shower. Barely worth mentioning since I was there only three months or so.
  • Current one-bedroom digs in the UK. Only improvement on my student accommodations near Dinkytown is that it has a washing machine and an actual bedroom. But lacks a shower, of course has no mixer taps, no garbage disposal, no closets, no dishwasher, a washer but no dryer, a dorm fridge with a mini-freezer, and generally makes me feel like I am not a grown-up. And oh yeah it’s only big enough for a twin bed in the bedroom, due to the need to take up floor-space with wardrobes, which also makes me feel like not a grown-up.

What can I do? I know that not all British flats are completely devoid of mod-cons. I assume that not all British people live without a shower and are okay with it. I have been working in the UK for nearly 3 years, and thus feel quite annoyed that I am living like an impoverished student. Although I love and adore my job 89 or so percent of the time, I have been increasingly realizing that I can’t keep going home to my flat without being increasingly depressed. And as I basked a long and luxurious shower this morning, ahead of my departure for the UK tonight, I started wondering if it is showers that have been driving my near-constant travel this summer. Living out of a suitcase may suck, but living out of a suitcase and getting to shower every single day? Priceless. Funny how the simplest of things that one takes for granted becomes the most important thing in your thinking when deprived of it. Of course, if I vacated my job-subsidized flat and had to pay market rates for a 1 BR flat near where I work, I could say good-bye to ever being able to travel anywhere again. I can’t quite figure my way out of this particular pickle. But it is definitely starting to wear on me, so I’m going to have to figure something out soon.

Plastic pint glasses?

I could not help but chuckle and roll my eyes simultaneously when I stumbled on this article about calls for plastic pint glasses in Britain.

Plans are afoot in Britain to replace the classic pint glass with one made out of plastic.

The government’s idea is that by introducing shatter-proof plastic vessels it will help address the increasing problem of beer drinkers using pint glasses as weapons in their local pubs.

Needless to say the plan has gone down about as well as a warm beer served, well, in a plastic cup.

There have been cries about how the proposed plastic vessels will substantially affect the quality of the amber nectar being drunk.

Others claim it’s yet another example of the government’s attempts to transform Britain into a “nanny state”.

The last point is a good one, although sometimes you wonder if a nanny is needed when you see statistics like this one, also from the article:

The motivation behind the push for the new model comes from official figures showing that 5,500 people are attacked with glasses and bottles in England and Wales each year.

I do not know what to do about Britain’s binge drinking culture, or the associated violence. I experienced some of this for the first time a few months ago, when on a sunny afternoon I had to walk out of my way to avoid a drunk guy who was covered in blood and fighting with another guy. It just made me sad. And a little frightened. One of the things I loved about England when I first moved there was the ability to walk down the street at night alone without feeling as frightened as I would have in the US. But that’s no longer true, especially when you take the pub closing times into account.

It is my last full day in America until December, something which has made me surprisingly melancholy. I think I spent too long in the states this trip–I’ve acclimated myself back to American ways and now I anticipate a tough transition back to British life. That said, I am tired of living out of a suitcase, something which I have been doing for most of the days since late June. I have no travel planned until mid-December, and for that I am increasingly grateful. I also look forward to getting back into a normal routine after all this time on the road. I woke up yesterday afternoon, napping after returning very early from the beach (to avoid beach traffic) and had absolutely no idea where I was. That makes sense, as this trip has seen me in New Hampshire, Boston, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and last but most certainly not least, Minnesota. No wonder I had no idea where I was! And that’s after a summer that also included Singapore, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. Time to go “home” to England and stay there for a while.

Beach cookery

Sadly my beach holiday is over. I did a very un-American thing this year and stayed two weeks instead of one. I am relaxed, tan, and … not exactly thrilled about having to go “home” to England. This trip was five weeks long, half work and half play, but that has been enough time for me to have reacquainted myself with modern conveniences such as showers and mixer taps. Not to mention American grocery stores and Target.

My favorite new snack is Pepper Jack Cheez-its. It seems to me that American cooking and certainly restaurants have all taken on a decidedly Tex-Mex flavor. There are jalapeños in everything! I had an amazing Caesar salad with a chipotle dressing.

But the one place I did not see much zesty fusion was the beach. There it is all about seafood, done in classic styles. The absolute tastiest experiences of the beach trip came at the hands of a local company that I found in the free restaurant guide, Steamers. They make up these tin cans full of yummy goodness that you take home and cook yourself, just by setting the can on the stove and turning the burner on high after adding a cup of liquid. I love the concept because it is such good engineering! There are potatoes in the bottom of the can, that essentially get boiled. On top of this is your choice of shellfish. I had lobster, crab legs and mussels at various points in the trip. On top of that is corn on the cob ears. You call them and say what fish you want and for how many people, and that’s it, instant dinner. The fish and corn get steamed by the liquid coming off the boiling potatoes, and there’s a hole in the top of the can for the steam to escape. I tried to take an action shot but it doesn’t do justice to how cool this was. And you KNOW I’m going to be trying to figure out a way to do this myself…

Life’s a beach

I’m back in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my absolute favorite place to get a little R&R. Although the internet access is intermittent at best, so my apologies if you are expecting to hear from me by email or any web medium! Life will be back to normal soon enough–I’ll be back in England at work, and commenting on the growing rumbles about American Healthcare Reform and the inevitable comparisons with the NHS. I have a few things to say on this subject 🙂 But not until I’ve put a few more miles on my legs. Beach for me means regular 6 mile walks, semi-regular 10+ mile bike rides, plenty of swimming and surfing, and lots of cooking. And reading books about cooking. I am obsessed with Tony Bourdain. I have a strange obsession with chefs who swear a lot, apparently, since I’m also secretly quite fond of Gordon Ramsay. But at the moment, it’s all Tony in my dreams. And England seems a distant, hazy place, and one in which I’m not 100% sure what’s going on. I really do have a transient life, where living out of a suitcase starts to feel normal after a while. And I can’t decide if that’s a good or a bad thing sometimes.

Minnesota trip, by the numbers

  • 5: number of total nights in the trip
  • 4: number of nights spent in Minnesota
  • 1: number of nights spend in Wisconsin
  • 3: number of visits to my beloved nonagenarian grandmother
  • 1: number of grilled cheese sandwiches (Velveeta, of course) eaten at the home of my nonagenarian grandmother
  • 3: number of cups of tea drank at the home of my nonagenarian grandmother
  • 4: number of games of Scrabble played with my nonagenarian grandmother
  • 1: number of games of Scrabble won by me when playing with my nonagenarian grandmother
  • 2: number of times I had lunch at the new Burger Jones in Uptown
  • 2: number of times I had bagels for breakfast (Bruegger’s once, Einstein’s once)
  • 0: number of times I had Starbucks coffee in the midwest (Dunn Bros. and Caribou are both firmly non-zero tallies)
  • 3: number of purchases at the Uptown Art Fair
  • 3: number of purchases in the Maple Grove Shoppes
  • 2: number of awesome gifts from family members
  • 2: number of items I had to carry on the plane in a separate shopping bag when all of said new acquisitions did not fit into my luggage
  • 5: number of times I drove over the new 35W Mississippi river bridge
  • 2: number of times I turned on my rental car to find Jack Johnson playing on Cities97
  • 2: number of new songs heard on Cities97 in 6 days of driving around in said rental car (not that familiar music is a bad thing…)
  • 0: number of times I drove directly by one of my old apartments in Minneapolis
  • 4: number of times I was close enough to one of my old apartments in Minneapolis to feel nostalgic
  • 3: number of times I randomly teared up while driving around town
  • 3: number of times I was asked if I had heard from my ex-husband (not in over 2.5 years, for the record)
  • 1: number of times I had a bad dream about said ex after everyone kept asking about him
  • 2: number of good friends from high school that I got to see on this trip
  • 1: number of high school friends that I meant to see but ran out of time
  • 0: number of cousins I got to see on this trip again due to very limited time (maybe next time…)
  • 2: number of times in the last 3 trips to Minneapolis that I’ve ended up spending time out of Minneapolis at another midwestern town with a Big 10 University
  • 0: number of times in the next 3 trips to Minneapolis that I intend to spend time out of Minneapolis at another midwestern town with a Big 10 University (although who knows if I can really control this…)
  • 3: number of gifts for my parents that I forgot back in England
  • 1: number of gifts for my parents that I brought with me to Minnesota but forgot to give them
  • 4: number of possessions of my sister’s that I meant to bring and also forgot in England
  • 2: number of “care packages” that I will have to send from England to deliver items to parents and sister
  • countless: number of times I’m glad that I finally made it back to Minnesota after a year in England and traveling elsewhere

Minneapolis update

I was going to write a post about the bittersweet nature of being home in Minnesota, but then I realized I had written it already–last year at this time, when I experienced the same sorts of ups and downs about being here. Read it here. So that’s the emotional update, that made it much easier than trying to write the words fresh. I guess in some ways that is why I don’t spend much time here anymore, much to the chagrin of my family. It’s just a bit too much.

So that said, what have I actually been doing?

  • Staying with my best friend in her awesome new digs near uptown but in the part where grown-ups actually live.

  • Bought an amazing photo of the old Uptown theater, at the Uptown Art Fair last weekend. Seemed appropriate. And it’s one of those photos that, if you know what it is, it’s awesome, and otherwise it just looks nice.
  • Took what must sound like a totally random brief road trip to Madison with my sister. Had a three hour work meeting and then sis and I went on the town, stayed overnight and came right back. If you’re in Madison, check out Harvest Restaurant, it rocked.
  • Played lots of Scrabble with my nonagenarian grandmother and her caretaker, who happens to be my dad’s older sister. When my sister’s not playing too, I can win occasionally. When the sis is there, I get crushed every time. Grandma does the scorekeeping and you have to keep a close eye on her or she’ll deprive herself of deserved points 🙂
  • Had dinner with another good friend and her little girl, now almost 4. There are still a few very good friends here (as well as a large number of facebook friends!) and I don’t do a perfect job of catching everyone when I’m in town, but I try my best. This particular friend has an edge since she lives six blocks from Grandma, so I’m always lurking about her neighborhood!
  • Drove over the new 35W bridge, tried to view it from the side from the Stone Arch bridge and decided it is so undistinguished and indistinguishable that you cannot even clearly see it in the photographs, it just blends into the scenery. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
  • Bought a few random toiletries at Target

Off to spend my last full day here with the parents and sister, with perhaps one more stop off at Grandma’s. Going to walk around Lake Calhoun in the sunshine, meet my parents’ new dog, and probably eat just a bit too much at newer restaurants in the area. And try to stay busy so as not to dwell on the melancholy or bittersweet feelings, but just enjoy the sunshine.

I like to be in America

It’s amazing that I have been here more than a week and a half already, and have been through three main stages of the trip. Part of the nature of my whirlwind start to this trip was due to the fact that I was traveling with a junior colleague. I wanted to show her an awesome and multi-faceted technical experience as well as a bit of my country, as long as we were here. So after working solidly all weekend, Tuesday was the day for a bit of fun, and we went to pay tribute to a few of my favorites in the Nation’s capital. Almost first was Einstein, but I was so busy taking photos of my colleague in his lap that I forgot to take a photo myself. On to Lincoln.

DC monuments - 1

DC monuments - 4

Washington.

DC monuments - 3

And my personal favorite, Jefferson.

DC monuments - 6

DC monuments - 7

DC monuments - 8

Inspiring stuff. I was never quite so patriotic before I moved to England.

From there it was over to Georgetown for lunch and shopping on M street. I think I showed my colleague a nice day in DC, and for me it was nostalgic to be back in my old haunts.