Category Archives: bloggers

On dragons and bunnies

It’s my birthday. And I discovered this week that a fellow blogger suffers from the same humiliation as I do: having been born prematurely in January of 1976, and thus contrary to what you would think based on years of education via placemats in Chinese restaurants, I am a rabbit, not a dragon. Sigh. Read all about it via @unbravegirl here. And just for her, here’s a picture of my couch.


One problem with blogging rather anonymously is that sometimes it becomes difficult to impossible for me to have anything to say in this venue, when big things are happening in my job, or in some other aspect of my life about which I have chosen not to talk about here. So that’s the first thing on my mind right now, that big things have been going down, they have taken up a ton of my time in recent months, and there is very little I can say about it without giving away some of the details of my life that I have chosen to keep quiet. Let’s just say that this started with my moving house last summer, the first anniversary of which passed just last week. So 13 months of dealing with this thing has been rather annoying, every time I think I’ve sorted it all out something else happens, and I’m hoping for news later today that will let me see if and how this is going to get resolved in the future. And no, this is not something to do with my day job, which is very lovely and hunky-dory at the moment if a bit madcap busy. So there. The least informative update on the life of NFAH as there ever was.

(And don’t forget in the midst of this all I’m working through my permanent residency paperwork, which is another big thing keeping me busy. That’s something that I never really understood about living abroad until I actually did it: there is far more paperwork than if you lived in your home country. Taxes are complicated. Visas are complicated. Banking is complicated. Things that you would not normally think about living in your home country become huge time and energy sinks in a host country. So free time for blogging becomes a figment of your imagination!)

This does bring up an interesting point. I have, in the wake of the scandalous unveiling of a lesbian Syrian blogger as a married American man residing in Scotland, read various posts against anonymous blogging that have made me think about this quite a bit. I understand the point that if you are saying things that have political impact, it’s important to use your own identity. Similarly with science, medicine, and other such topics for which your background and position matter a great deal to your message. You might notice that, although I have a PhD and a Serious Scientific Job, I don’t often say much about the subject of science or medicine. If you know me and know what I do all day, you will also have noticed that I choose not to write much about the sector of the economy in which I work. Occasionally I can’t help myself, but I do actually try hard not to do so and certainly not to try and claim great expertise or authority in the subject since I am not revealing my face or position.

This makes things interesting. And I know people have varying view points on the subject. I don’t actually have a science or work blog, although I do have two Twitter accounts, one in my blog name and one in my real name. Most of the bloggers with whom I interact are using their own names and faces, although some do suppress some details (kids’ names, especially) in the interests of privacy and protection. I happen to know that if you desperately want to know who I am, there are enough identifying details floating around the four years of archives to figure it out, and I know that at least one person has. But I thought it might be worth revisiting the reasons for my standing behind the NFAH curtain. I wanted to talk about expat things without talking about my job. In my world of science, our names are very google-able and I wanted to keep this little expat blog project separate from that.

(As an aside, in the worst job interview I ever had for what turned out to be the worst job I’ve ever had, the person interviewing me had googled my name and came not just upon my various publications and things, but also on the website of my ex-husband all about pinball machines. At this point we had been divorced for five years and I was appalled to have him brought up in the interview!)

I’ve joked on more than one occasion that I have a grand plan that involves writing memoirs of my life in England at some distant point in the future when I’ve perhaps gone back to America (or not–but the memoirs would still be intended for an American audience). This blog is not actually likely to be much help with that, since there ARE so many things that relate to my job and my life over here that have NOT been recorded in any detail. I have tried hard to keep this about US-UK things and expat things, and other general life things that might interest someone who is interested in expat things (like my travels in interesting places like China and Australia). Yes, there are a few places where there are little hints to myself that may trigger my memory, especially in the very rant-y early years when things were a lot more difficult and lonely than they are now. But I’m quite interested in thoughts and feedback about choosing to be or not to be anonymous and pseudonymed in this context. I’ve clearly made my choice, and I’ve tried to explain why my real name is not plastered all over this blog. But I know lots of people have made the opposite choice, and I know plenty of people have negative views of my type of decision.

Let them eat cake!

Birthday cake, that is.

Yesterday was my birthday. For the first time, on my fifth birthday in England, I managed to do something fun on my birthday with new friends that I’ve made since living here. The common theme was Americans: I had both bloggers and work colleagues that just happened to be American, and several of them brought their British partners as well. My dear friend came down on Saturday to help me with the party prep, and that turned out to be both fun and a total Godsend when it came to acquiring all the groceries and cooking. I don’t know how I thought I was going to do it all myself. We made chili and guacamole and the cake and set out a tex-mex feast for my wonderful friends. By last night I was exhausted, a feeling which ran straight through to this morning (at which point I cancelled the few meetings I had and took a much-needed rest day). Having the party at my own place was important to me for several reasons. First, several people travelled quite a distance to attend. Meeting up in a restaurant just didn’t feel like it sufficiently expressed my gratitude at their willingness to attend. Second, I really like my new digs and I was really excited to show off what I’ve done with the place now that I’m unpacked and settled. And third, I had promised myself that I was now going to start acting more adult-like and do some grown-up entertaining now that I AM more settled.

It was great fun and I’m really glad I did it, although it was a hella lot of work. Note to self, perhaps go smaller next time and have a small dinner party instead of throwing a larger bash with numbers in the double digits! But I wouldn’t take a minute of it back–I felt so loved and so grateful to have new friends, friends that are really starting to change my views about my life in England and my longer-term future. But now, back to my regularly scheduled life.

On blogging

I absolutely loved this post on blogging and sponsorship, and I thought it would provide me with a good opportunity to make a related point. Different bloggers have different aims, that I know. But here’s mine. This is supposed to be fun. This is not my job. I sometimes write things late at night and I sometimes write things after I’ve had a glass or two of wine or even just when I’m not concentrating because it’s the weekend and I’m lazing around on a Saturday afternoon in my pajamas. I sometimes mis-spell words and use incorrect grammar because it’s all a bit stream of consciousness. Because it’s for fun. Not my job. I have to write a lot in my job, and I have to proofread and grammar check and spell check and ensure that the sentences are all interesting and that I haven’t used the same word three times in the same line. But I don’t do that here. I tend not to go back and edit even when I do see things that, on re-reading a post the next day, make me roll my eyes at myself. But that’s okay to me, because this is for fun. Not my job. Just my creative outlet, a place to vent a bit, and more importantly of late, a place to interact with other human beings, many of whom have also moved from one country to another.

And I don’t want this to be like a job. I don’t want to have a “blog brand” or to worry about search engine optimization or any of the other things that seem to come up at the “blog conferences” or in blog books. Yes, it makes me happy when people do read what I wrote. Yes, I smiled when the site stats counter passed 100,000 visits in the time it’s existed. Of course I love it when there are comments but if there aren’t, that’s okay too. Because I do this for me. For fun. Not work.

And because of that, I don’t do things that are commercial here. I certainly don’t talk about my real work. I don’t have advertisers or sponsors or anything like that. I don’t solicit free things and then review them here. Those sorts of things, to me, all make it feel like a blog is work. That it’s something other than a person just being themselves, just using a public forum to write about something from their own point of view. Further, this is creative writing. This is not I reserve the right to embellish, to use creative writing devices to tell a story. If you don’t like that, I’d suggest that this is not the blog for you. As I have said before, after years of letting all comments through, no matter what they said, I decided earlier this year that I only let comments through if they are not mean. And I’m okay with that policy and I feel like this makes my blog a good read compared to the days when there were rather vicious exchanges in the comments. But if you’re not, if you want to see me getting beaten up over my little musings, then again–this is not the blog for you.

In addition, I’m not using this blog as a way to advertise my services. I am already a writer in that I write (technical things, mostly) for my job. I know many bloggers who are writers or who want to be writers, and that’s fine with me, but that’s not why this blog exists. If I was trying to launch a writing career from this platform, I would probably be more careful about my grammar and edit my ramblings! But that’s not why I’m here. You’ll not see me participating in blog memes that are associated with creative writing prompts. I know some people do that, and that’s fine for them, but that’s not me. This is purely, 100%, my own little documented (if occasionally ever-so-slightly embellished) story of my life as an American in England, including my travels, my musings, my feelings, my reactions to things I see in the real world or on the web. I write when I have something to say, which can mean twice in a day or no times in two weeks.

I may or may not take the time to put this little “badge” on the sidebar or I might just leave it here in this post, but I do quite like it. It spells out my thoughts and my intentions in a pretty straightforward manner. And now, I must get back to work. Writing, of course.

Expat blogger meet-up round-up

The posts are now all in, and my comrades from the expat blog meet up have spoken:

Perhaps more interesting than the posts themselves (sorry, gang!) is the comments, including those we wrote to each other after the event. But the best and most thought-provoking was from Michelloui on Mike’s blog:

It was a fun day and I must admit it was only as I was writing my post about the day that I realised how well we all got on immediately. There weren’t any silent awkward moments, and it was all just friendly and fun. Is that because we’re American (Have a Nice Day!) or because we were all just a self selecting group of friendly people?

A very good question. We span quite the age range, we’re in the UK for a range of different reasons, and yet we could chat like we’d all been friends for decades. That is probably the most interesting result of the meet-up. Yes we can talk about American foods that we miss and all of the usual expat stuff, but we’ve also been following each others’ antics for months to years in the strange online world that is the blogosphere. So we meet in person, and we are all fast friends.

I think I was the best placed in this regard, as I had met everyone but Nappy Valley Housewife before the day. And this brings me to my final point. How on earth did I get so bold so as to spend so much time meeting up with bloggers in person? Given my comments in my post about a bad experience in this regard, it’s amazing that I’ve perservered with this live-meeting, risk-of-people-not-liking-me thing. This is probably the biggest change in me due to my move abroad, and it’s still somewhat surprising and shocking when I think about it too much. Perhaps it’s the easy public transport links in the UK. Saying “hey, let’s meet up” is not so stressful. It’s not a big country, so we’re all not that distant when it comes down to it. Perhaps it’s my being somewhat lonely in my job-centered UK existence, that makes me crave the company of other human beings with whom I seem to have at least a chance of a common ground based on blog posts. Whatever it is, I have to say that I’ve been really much more bold than my shy typical self would allow for in this whole blogger meet-up thing. And for that, I thank England. Moving abroad definitely changed me in this way. Before I came here, I moved across the country in the US and did not make the sorts of human connections that have resulted from this silly little late-night time-wasting hobby of mine that is blogging/twitter/whatever. Although my online persona is formally anonymous, I jump at the chance to get to know people and to form more real bonds with people who I have “met” through this medium. (Note to Iota from the last post’s comment: you do know me better than an average blog reader because we’ve ‘talked’ a great deal over email!)

Living abroad has changed me. I think this is a good thing. I hope more people get the chance, in this globalized society, to experience this type of overseas adventure.

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.

On visitors and visiting

My sister left mid-day, and aside from the fact that my kitchen looks like it was hit by Minnesota tornados, and the fact that I have photos to prove it, it’s like she was never here. Which is sad. I have so much fun with her–she’s the only person who has religiously visited me every year that I’ve lived here, 4 visits total. I generally hate this feature of departing houseguests–it’s a bit tough at times organizing your normal busy life around them, but it’s so empty when they leave. It’s really one of the funny things about 21st century travel. I am still amazed when I get on an airplane in one place and leave the plane in a completely different place, and I’m still fascinated when people come to visit and show up for a while before disappearing again. The last few weeks have been quite exciting for that particular feeling, since Dad was here only a few weeks ago and now my sister’s been as well. Welcome to the wonderful world of “if you’re an American expat in Europe, expect a deluge of visitors in Feb. when tickets are cheap, and none in the summer.” Not that the British summer is all “Beach Blanket Bingo” or anything. I don’t exactly blame them.

The big news is the China plan’s starting to come together, so I’m lucky in that I’ll see my sister again very soon. I will fly out to Shanghai in about 6 weeks for my first ever China visit, which will be a last hurrah for her before she repatriates to the US this summer (at least for now, I have a feeling she’ll feel the lure of expat life again some time). Sis and I spent many hours with the guidebook, a handy printed table I made with the dates of my visit, and maps a-plenty trying to figure out how much of this amazing country I’ll be able to see in 12 days. My goal was to be sure to catch the obvious “must see” places but still add a few interesting destinations that she had not yet seen. I’ll keep you posted. There will be photos. The trip will be shorter than my maiden Australia voyage (already over a year ago, shocking!) so I don’t know if I’ll manage to beat my record of over 1000 photos on a single trip, but I’ll try 🙂 Memory’s cheap and my new camera rules.

A highlight of my sister’s visit was actually another blog-friend-meet-up with Kat from 3 bedroom bungalow–Kat and I have discovered that there is a neutral location between our two towns of residence that is relatively easy to reach for both of us. I’m half tempted to move there. In my newly-adopted role as Aunt to Kat’s kids, I feel like it would benefit us all if I was closer to them. So my sister got to see that I have actual flesh-and-bones friends in the UK, and I got to spend time with my sister AND Kat AND Kat’s little ones all in one cathedral-packed afternoon, which also included a playground as shown here. Who misses the exuberance of childhood when you see this photo?

On being an ‘Auntie’

When I was a child of about 9 years old, I met the person who was the adoptive ‘Uncle’ through my formative years. He was called that to me, ‘Uncle Dave’ and he was a work friend of my father’s. I was a budding engineer, thus illustrating that I knew very early what my job in the future was going to be. He was a PhD mathematician, and I know he was put into my direct path by my father to encourage me to stay with maths and to pursue this technical stuff as a career. He and his wife were childless by choice, as am I, and we developed a special relationship that lasted well into my late 20s before circumstances drove us apart. There was a special thing when I was a kid, whereas we as a family used to go out with Uncle Dave and his wife, always for pizza. An interesting factoid that will be important later. On the back of a napkin, Uncle Dave explained to child-me the concept of a “googol” which was not a search engine, but a number–10 raised to the power of 100. A very large number. And there was a “googol plex” or 10 raised to the power of a googol. Again, a very large number. But not infinity. And we spent time discussing the concept of infinity in pizza joints across America as people moved and things changed. (And now the search engine behemoth’s headquarters is called the Googleplex, which is not an accident but a geeky play on words found amusing by those of us who find such things amusing.)

In the early days, before I called him ‘Uncle’ and before I freely acknowledged how important he was to me, I called him my mentor. When email was new in the early nineties, and I was at University, Uncle Dave and I re-connected and he continued to be my mentor, but our fondness for each other developed and we had a true friendship that continued up to about the time that I moved to the UK, or just after. It was a completely intellectual meeting of the minds and it mattered a great deal to me. Unfortunately I think the last time we communicated much was a few years ago now. By that time, I had a PhD degree of my own and an exciting new job and a physical distance from much of what I left behind in the US. For various reasons, we’ve drifted apart completely and have not been in touch in recent years; he nears (if is not already at) the retirement age, and I’ve been remarkably busy and distracted trying to forge this career of mine. I’m sad about this loss of communication with someone who was a factor in my life for literally 20 years, but also strangely philosophical. Sometimes a person appears in your life to play a key role and then drifts out again. Life is complicated, and unpredictable. But when people ask how I ended up where I am, both literally and figuratively, one of the answers is always ‘Uncle’ Dave, who I credit as a mentor and a friend, not to mention a special person who was there for me, listening to me when I was yet a child and continuing to discuss the world with me when I was struggling with adulthood and the realities of grown-up life.

I feel a strange sense of history repeating itself, but now with me potentially in the ‘Auntie’ role. I’ve become quite attached to fellow expat blogger Kat‘s kids (the kids are known as Lala and Kiki, in internet anonymity terms). When I think about it, it’s the closest attachment I’ve had to any small children since I was babysitting in junior high school, literally 20 years ago. Coincidentally, we’ve had pizza most of the times that we’ve all been together, including two outings to kid-friendly Pizza Express (although the kids don’t get why there is so much sauce and so little cheese on the pizza here compared with American pizza) and a Domino’s delivery up at Kat’s place. Although being with them does not encourage any maternal feelings in me, I connect with these kiddos in a way that I never could have imagined. My ‘Uncle Dave’ knew that I was struggling with the realization that I had no desire to bear my own children but he always told me how fun it was to be an ‘Uncle’ and to watch the development of young minds–and that I should not discount the importance of children in my life even if I did not wish to have my own kids. I don’t think I quite understood what he was saying until now. And I’m really enjoying it. And I’m really hoping that I get to be a part of Kiki’s and Lala’s lives for another 19 or so years (at least!) and in the way that my Uncle Dave was a part of 20 of my formative years.

Dear So-and-So, My American Friends edition

Dear My American Friends,

I never intended to move abroad and become very good friends with a bunch of American expats, but that’s what happened. And right now, after over three years of living in England and being a bit lonely at times, I am very happy. Tonight was Korean food with one very good friend in my town, and tomorrow I get an expat blog/twitter meet-up with @Michelloui and @3bedroom (both of whom I’ve seen in person before) and I couldn’t be more excited. Another American friend is out of town for the weekend but I plan to see her again soon. @crustacean77, you’re next.

Loving the friendships not to mention the convergence of online and real life worlds, NFAH

Dear World,

We celebrate Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, so why not Birthday Eve? I intend to start this observance tomorrow, with My American Friends. That’s right, NFAH will be adding another notch to the belt on Saturday. This will be my 4th birthday celebration in England, and the first time since I moved here that I’ve felt like I really had something to celebrate.

Excitedly yours, NFAH

Dear fans of the academic discipline of American Studies,

I seem to have accidentally offended you with my tongue-in-cheek words last week. No offense was intended, and I am deeply sorry. I have consulted with many locals, both expat and otherwise, and we were all previously unaware of the existence of as many American Studies departments in Europe as apparently there are. The wikipedia page is very informative in this regard. I just thought the mental image of an American studies professor sitting in an office in England earnestly answering questions about GLEE for the BBC was very funny. No offense was intended.

My deepest apologies, NFAH

Dear Apple,

Sorry to say that I was right, but your tablet does nothing for me. And the name, oh the name.

Sticking with my iPhone, MacBook, iMac, Linux Netbook and Kindle, NFAH

Dear so-and-so, Tuesday edition

Normally this is a Friday thing, but I’m bubbling over and can’t wait three more days.

Dear December,

I am not ready for you. Could you please wait a few more weeks?

Time-crunched, NFAH

Dear British ladies of a certain age:

Yes, you are right in thinking that those neon colored tights with black skirts and shoes are making a statement. That statement is, “I’m not young enough to pull off this look.”

Helpfully yours, NFAH

Dear Gym,

I know you must think I don’t love you since I don’t visit you very often. Hopefully the three visits in the last eight days will help reassure you that I really do love you. And I do plan to visit you more often in the new year.

Yours with sore muscles, NFAH

Dear American boys,

Your shameless self-promotion is really starting to wear on me. I know this attitude would work okay in America, but here in England it’s a bit much. Why don’t you just whip that thing out, and I’ll grab my tape measure.

Glad I don’t have one, NFAH

Dear team,

I promise you that in the next 48 hours my flat will become tidy and food and drink will be obtained. I realize that from the look of things right now, it does not appear that a holiday party will take place on Thursday.

Channelling Cinderella (but not until tomorrow), NFAH

Dear Social Media people,

There are really only a few ways to piss me off, I swear. But you’re very good at them:

  • Be a (very) minor celebrity but refuse to be facebook friends with anyone you don’t know. Send a message explaining how you don’t want to have too many facebook friends. Excellent, I will be sure to delete that post I was writing about your self-produced CD
  • Actually do tweet what you are eating for every meal and when you are bathing. TMI and I don’t need to know.
  • Or tweet the name of a new song every 3 minutes
  • Or keep tweeting the same message day after day
  • Or keep trying to advertise your latest scheme
  • Or make your blog content unreadable due to advertisements

Helpfully yours, NFAH

Dear Huffington Post,

Thanks for providing me with such interesting reads today. While I was utterly appalled with the patriarchal and heteronormative message found in “Don’t forget to have kids” I was totally and utterly delighted with the profile on my favorite Indie rock star and uber-Twitter genius Amanda Palmer. 1/2 ain’t bad.

Child-free, single and happily yours, NFAH