Monthly Archives: March 2010

And off I go into the wild um east yonder

I have slept a total of eight hours in the two nights since arriving back in the UK, and it’s not like I’m even on US time: Last night to bed at 9:30 and awoke at 2 am. Was worried about a few things that needed to get done before I left, worried about packing, worried about sleeping through my alarm and missing my flight to China. Worried about BA–so far, so good–no cancellation text messages. So here I am, been up for several hours, got the first few crucial things done and will soon hop into the bath and then continue with the packing. Normally I find packing to be not too stressful, but then again normally I’m travelling someplace where I know I can pick up anything I forgot at Target. So this whole China thing feels different. And I was way too tired to finish a few key work things last night, thus the early bed-time. I planned to get up at 5:30 or 6, not in the middle of the night, but oh well. It is what it is. And I’m just going to keep packing and organizing until the car comes for me, in a mere 4 hours. I’ve mentioned it already but I doubt I’ll be able to get through to this blog (or to facebook or twitter, for that matter) due to Chinese internet restrictions so this is likely the most ‘off the grid’ I’ll have been in a long time. Should be interesting, and maybe even relaxing if I can forget about all the things that need doing… back 12th April. So until then, happy Easter and enjoy my favorite month in England!

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Random wrap-up from Philly

Well, NFAH, you might ask, where have you been for the last two weeks, and what are you now doing in Philadelphia international airport? Good question. The last two weeks have been insanely busy. I have been in the US, which is normally somewhat relaxing for me but this trip has been about work more than play. I have been doing the sorts of meetings that involve three meals in restaurants a day with colleagues, which means that the day starts early and finishes late and has basically no free time at any point in between in which to write on my blog or do anything more complicated than update my facebook status or perhaps send out a tweet. You can tell how busy I have been when you hear that I had been here for 9 days before I managed to make it to Target. Entirely my own fault, as ever–no one is holding a gun to my head and telling me I have to do all of this, but I still have the young person’s attitude towards taking career-building opportunities that means that I subject myself to stupid things. My bad.

Week one I was on the Michigan upper peninsula, someplace I had never visited even though I lived in Michigan for 5 years when at University. (And we interrupt this narrative to yell GO SPARTANS! since my alma matter just made it into the final 4 in the basketball tourney.) I was quite startled to realize that I had known my friend there for 17 years, which makes me old. Since we met in college. Sigh. But the UP was gorgeous, the weather was unseasonably warm and there was approximately no snow.

Spring was definitely springing during this entire trip. The weather was volatile, as it can be near the equinox, and there were many buds on trees and signs of interesting wildlife.

I also had a fun time on the weekend last weekend, between my two main work trips, to go to Toys ‘R’ Us and browse. Anyone who has been to my apartment knows that I have a weakness for Lego models of cars, but this time I found something even more cool: an entire display of classic Meccano toys/building sets. Meccano was a British invention as of 1901, and although the company has changed hands a few times (and is now allied with the US Erector set brand) not much has changed about these toys. They require real tools to put together, and this set had no plastic parts at all. It had such a vintage engineering feel about it–I was in heaven. This little guy is making his way back to the UK in my suitcase, and I have grand plans for my more leisurely beach trip planned for the US in August: I’m going to get one of the bigger sets and spend time doing lots of Meccano building. Hooray!

But back to the randomly in Philly thing. I held my nerve with the BA strike. I kept my flight on BA from the Baltimore-Washington area to Heathrow even though I knew it could be strike affected. I checked regularly when the updates were being posted on BA’s website. I checked in online last night at 6:45 pm for a flight due to leave at 6:40 tonight. And…. I awoke this morning to a text message from BA that my flight was cancelled and I should call to rebook. I had slept in, thinking all was well with the world, and so it was now mid-morning and there was not another flight out of either international airport in the area until tomorrow. And I, as you might recall, only have 48 hours or so in the UK before I must fly out to China (assuming that BA flight actually goes… watch this space!) So I agreed to the rebooking out of Philadelphia, which is about 2.5 hours from DC, and found a kind-hearted friend willing to bring me up here. I thus had a whirlwind tour of the I-95 corridor this afternoon, and arrived in Philly many, many hours before my flight so as not to inconvenience my kind friend with the car too much.

So here I sit in the BA lounge with free Wi-fi and my last glass of California Chardonnay for a while, finally having the time to update my blog. So apologies for my absence, but I fear this will be the continuing trend for the next few weeks as the Great Firewall of China is unlikely to allow me through. I might try to post by email which may or may not work. But I swear come the 12th of April I will be back in communication patterns that are far more normal for me. And I will have a heck of a lot of photos and stories from that grand adventure, due to start with my departure (BA-willing) on Wednesday mid-day. Fingers crossed…

Dear So-and-So, About to be a weary traveller edition

Dear person who was pounding on my door this morning and kept trying to enter my flat with the master key even though the chain lock was clearly engaged,

Seriously. You did that to deliver a cardboard recycling bin. You so could have left the $%£*^& thing outside the door.

Needing my beauty sleep, NFAH


Dear UK tax authorities,

This thing where you randomly assigned the start of the year to start some time mid-April is remarkably inconvenient for expats from sensible countries where the year starts on 1 Jan. And of course, I should not expect that there is anything so modern as an online system for me to sort through my pay stubs for the past year, it’s paper and my calculator all the way.

Tax time is the most annoying and time-consuming time of year, NFAH


Dear Car Service,

I promise I will not sleep through my alarm tomorrow, and thus not waste your driver’s time and efforts like I did on the aborted first attempt at the Germany trip two weeks ago. And fortunately for me you’re picking me up tomorrow at 10:30, not 6 am!

Gettting giddy to get to America, even though it’s work all the way and followed by the China adventure with no time to deal with jet lag, NFAH


Since Saturday

Saturday was one of the most fun days I’ve had in a while, I went up to Norwich for the first time ever, to meet up with another expat blogger. I would describe the entire experience for you, but Rachel has already done such a great job on her blog, so go have a read and enjoy the fab photos and hilarious video at the end. It was an epic day for me, sunshine, wandering around, an American voice, and I learned something important in our geeky “we have so much in common” technical discussion. So that was awesome. This crazy meet up with people you know from blogland thing is fun, especially when you already sort of know something about each other when the day begins. Looking forward to the next time I get to do expat blogger things, probably in May with a foursome meet-up of relatively local bloggers who I now know (!) and only waiting until then since I’m traveling insanely in the meantime. Yes, here we go with the establishment of an expat blogger club in England… join in if you’re around the East of England!

Monday was huge for me, as my passport came back along with my Chinese visitor’s visa. So I’m set to go at the start of next month. And it’s starting to seem real, and I’m starting to get pretty excited. Last year’s big adventure was Australia, this year it’s China. New country to experience, new landscapes to photograph. And I get to do it all while hanging out with my sister in her last few months of living as an expat in China (for now…) so all good. Pictures will appear, watch this space in April.

Monday night I got myself potentially into just a little bit of trouble. Black tie dinner. You know, these things are commonplace on a Monday night, right? (See how long I’ve been living here… I was at work until 5:30 for a 6 pm start with a change of clothes clearly needed…) Mostly enjoyable. Was seated (almost said “was sat” which would mean I had turned a corner into British strange grammar….) next to a Brit who had spent a year in the US recently, and it was fascinating. I maintain completely that the view of Brits here who have lived abroad is totally different from the view of those who have not. And it does not have to be abroad in America. Anywhere seems to work as long as it’s for long enough and people sufficiently get into the overseas culture. But I digress. It was the point in the meal (after it, really) when people stand up and raise a toast to the Queen. And I stand up politely, may or may not pick up my glass, but definitely do not utter the words “To The Queen!” and do not drink. And I catch the eye (accidentally) during this little ritual of a local who I sort of feel does not take too kindly to my status here as an invader. Oops. We’ll see if that comes back to bite me. But seriously, other Americans–we overthrew the monarchy of this particular country in a revolutionary war that defines us, would you toast it at an event out of social pressure? And I live here and love it here but does that have to mean that I also love the monarchy and all it stands for?

Today was a long and busy day, and I’m struck by the fact that I’m less than 100 hours from leaving the country on a speaking tour of the US before China, so I really should be more organized. My busiest work time of the year is January to mid-March, and so I’m taking off right at the point at which a sensible person would be spending about three days sorting out my messy flat and back-logged laundry and another three dealing with the piles of paperwork in my office. But no, I’m off to the US to lecture and visit interesting places that I’ve never been before, like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. (I lived on the Lower Peninsula of Michigan for five years but it was in the era when I did not just hop in a car or on a plane and venture out for adventures… totally different times.) I’m about to equal my record for as far north in North America as I have ever been, so that should be fun. But the paperwork piles in my office, and laundry piles in my flat, mean that I should not be travelling. I can only hope that after this epic month of US-home for 2 days-China I will be able to recover and reorganize. But, (she says, trying to justify her actions) you have to live life while you have the chance, and surely taking these opportunities is living life to the fullest? (Or the most insane, take your pick.) Regardless, I shall be off soon and reporting from foreign lands and sending back messages except perhaps from China where the “Great Firewall” impedes communications to the point that I may not be able to reach this blog from afar. Interesting times.

Tuna pizza anyone?

I had to laugh when I got home from work tonight, Friday, after a long day, and saw this post from Rachel (@crustacean77) in which she mentions the strange British thing that is tunafish on pizza. Because I had one in the oven even as I read it. Not tunafish and sweetcorn, but tunafish with spinach pasta ‘stir-through’ sauce from M&S and 2 kinds of cheese.

It’s actually a favorite quick time-saver food thing of mine, to put some sort of sauce on a tortilla, with toppings and cheese, and bake it on a pizza stone. The tortilla gets crispy and acts like a thin crust pizza base without any of the work normally associated with pizza dough (especially when you don’t have access to Pillsbury refrigerated pizza crust dough). Thank goodness there is now a regular supply of Old El Paso products (including tortillas) in my local Sainsbury’s to make this possible. But how I miss Pillsbury refrigerated doughs here in England! That said, I used to do this in America, with fresh tortillas (from the refrig. case instead of in the grocery aisles) and where the sauce was inevitably the TGI Fridays frozen spinach dip. Sure, not exactly a pizza purist-style like Margherita in the lack of red sauce, but a really quick and tasty version of the pizza idea with a wide variety of “use what’s in the house” options for sauce, toppings and cheese based only on the need for tortillas. And admittedly made possible by the Pampered Chef pizza stone to crisp the crust. (Takes me back to my days of being a married suburban housewife when I first acquired the pizza stone…) I actually cannot remember how I started doing this, I used to often make TGI Fridays spinach dip quesadillas in a frying pan (again I don’t know how I started doing that) so it sort of looks like a logical extension, and perhaps there was some Pampered Chef recipe that helped inspire me–the details of switching it to a pizza form now happened so many years ago (5+) that I can’t recall exactly what the motivation was. But super yum. With the spinach sauce and the tuna it’s a complete meal, and the fastest thing I can possibly make after a long day in the office. Two of these ‘pizzas’ made for a filling dinner tonight and reminded me of the goodness that comes from shelf-stable ingredients like tuna in packets (not cans) and jars of pasta sauce. I do, of course, consider cheese to be one of the four staples of life and always have some (coffee, bread and butter/margarine being the others).

Fitting that this little exchange over tuna pizza would have happened today, as I am heading up to Norwich tomorrow for the first time ever, to meet Rachel/@crustacean77 in the latest round of my “meet the bloggers in real life” adventure that’s been taking place of late. I will have my camera, it’s due to be a sunny (at least partly) afternoon and I’m getting an opportunity to check out a new part of England thanks to the magnificent train services that make it reasonably easy to get to one place or another! I shall report back, hopefully with good photos, after I return from Norwich!

Two tap sinks revisited

Or the one where NFAH has to eat a little crow. But only kind of.

I have complained about two tap sinks before. I still really dislike them. But this week, they have strangely become a slight bit of a saving grace for me. I’ll start at the beginning. I was doing one of my wild weekend cooking things, making ravioli (inspired by the dumplings a few weeks ago). I went to rinse out a bowl after using it and when I tried to turn the water off, I was faced with this:

In case it’s not that obvious, the hot tap would not turn off. I could spin the faucet around and around and still had a steady stream of hot water. I threw on some shoes and went running down to find maintenance, but this was Saturday night. The best they were able to offer me was an Allen key to turn it off at the valve in the cupboard under the sink.

So here’s the crow part: if this was a single tap sink, I would effectively have no easy access to running water in my kitchen without running it solidly all the time. But at the moment I can at least wash dishes by boiling water in the kettle to put into a bowl in the sink, and running the cold intermittently to rinse. However, here’s the only-a-little-bit-of-crow part: It is now Tuesday evening and they still have not come to fix the hot tap, as they were supposed to do on Monday. Apparently it’s just not that urgent, or (perhaps more likely) the problem didn’t get logged into the maintenance request book and I’ve been forgotten. So I’m going to have to follow up with this in the morning. 72 hours so far of me absent-mindedly twirling the hot tap with no result. I actually have not once turned the hot tap on with the Allen key, it just feels wrong somehow (probably because of how remarkably un-ergonomic it is…)

So I have photos from the ravioli process but they’ll have to wait for another day as I’ve been distracted by the process of applying for my Chinese visa for my big trip in less than a month. I was told I should get my passport back on Monday, and I will be counting the hours until then. Since I have to go to the US before I go to China. So I’ll actually really need the passport. And for the record: express visa service for Brits was £139 but because I’m American it’s £185. Now I know why so many of my long time expat friends who travel a lot go for British citizenship…

Expat Blogs Links Updated

I’m increasingly finding it difficult to keep track of all the great new blogs I’ve been finding through twitter! So I’ve made an attempt at updating the expat blog links page, but if I missed you (or made a mistake) please drop me a comment so I can fix it!