Category Archives: domestic

Long time…

I’ve been back to being super busy at work, which always interferes with my ability to sit down in a disciplined manner and rant about England and the English. Oh that and Twitter. It seems that nearly 6 years into this little adventure, I can get a lot of rant out of my system in a mere 140 characters.

And I’ve been working out. Which is a bit of a shocker. I have a gym to whom I pay money each month even though I have not been there in a few years. Oops. I joined in 2008 ahead of my inaugural trip to Australia and I was good about it for another year after that and then I wasn’t any more. And I kept convincing myself that I was going to get back into it, which is why I didn’t just quit. But now I need to, as I found Jillian Michaels when I was back in the US over Easter.

Being away from the US for almost six years, and not being much of a fan of so-called reality TV, I had missed the whole Jillian phenomenon. I can recall having seen the occasional American person complain about how difficult her breakthrough workout DVD (“the 30 day shred”) was on Twitter but I wasn’t really paying attention. And then I was at my sister’s house, and sitting on her couch with my iPad, and my sister asked if I minded if she do this 20 minute workout. So I watched it and was fascinated. For a week in Minnesota with my sister, we dutifully tromped down into the basement with a couple of pairs of my Mom’s hand-weights (more on that in a minute*) and did the 20 minutes of hard work. I was hooked. I bought it on iTunes and vowed to make it through 30 days.

That trip was busy and I was doing work things after Minnesota, so I didn’t get back into it straight away. On returning to England, I had to locate a set of dumbbells, which meant I went into the local sporting goods megamart for the first time ever. (I have been being my usual self, and still tending to buy things like quality working out shoes while in the US…) And of course I had to pick all the weights up and try to guess how heavy they were, since they were marked in kg. (I know, as a scientist I should have that conversion memorized, but I don’t. I’m getting better at Celsius temperatures, though! Only took 5.7 years!)

I’m on a roll now–I’m not going to jinx myself by admitting how many days in a row I’ve managed, but it’s been quite a few. And no matter how crappy I feel or how long my day was at work, it’s remarkably easy to find 20 minutes to do this intense and intensely brutal workout. (Although that said, that may just be the 20 minutes of blogging time that I’ve been eating into…) And Jillian Michaels is remarkably motivating in a way that I’m not used to in terms of fitness DVD instructors. Believe me, I’ve tried them all over the years. I’ve had Jane Fondas, Denise Austins, former supermodels; I’ve tried The Firm, step aerobics, yoga, latin dance, intense cardio, intense leg lifts, ballet. Admittedly these are all American, I’ve not ever tried any British fitness options. But regardless, somehow this one is different and in a really good way.

Hopefully, in some future number of days, I’ll be able to announce that it’s worked and I’ve made it through 30 days and plan to keep going. And maybe there will be some nice side benefit, like a decreased jeans size just as swimsuit season approaches. But for the moment, more than anything I’m just loving the routine of forcing myself to do something active like lift heavy** objects over my head while simultaneously doing leg lunges.

* I got my mom off osteoporosis meds and onto a weightlifting regime a few years ago. (There is good science in this, believe me–this is my area.) She now has the nicest arms I’ve ever seen on a mom-type person. I’m only a tiny bit jealous because a few more years of Jillian and I’m sure I’ll look the same.

** 1 kg. The girls in the video do 5 lbs. I’m close, right?

I almost forgot to mention this: I am personally against the whole concept of for-fun bloggers doing sponsored posts that read like real posts until you get to the end. This is entirely about me and my constant battle with the bulge and in no way, shape, or form did any one give me any money or swag in order to advertise this particular exercise DVD! I hate that I feel the need to write this disclaimer but I wanted to make it abundantly clear what I’m up to.

Snowmageddon 2012: The aftermath

It has snowed here in England, about a week ago, and it has left a legacy (I’m sure) of broken bones and trips to A&E due to snow becoming ice. I would love to see the official statistics. There is an (unfortunately) popular myth in England that bad things might happen (legally) if you clear the snow from the sidewalk (AmE)/pavement (BrE) outside your house. It happens to be untrue. The government says:

And don’t believe the myths – it’s unlikely you’ll be sued or held legally responsible for any injuries if you have cleared the path carefully.

But it seems to be ingrained in the British psyche that it is better to not remove snow from the footpaths in front of one’s home or business in keeping to some legal myth that not clearing the snow is the better outcome. Americans, and as far as I can tell, those from many other countries, are used to a law whereas not removing the snow is a legal offense and tickets and fines can result.

As an end effect of the mythology of snow removal from sidewalks in England leading to negative legal consequences, we have this situation, several days after a snow:

And the uncleared footpaths turn to ice, which is how I managed to totally wipe-out and fall on my arse on my way to work a full 5 days after the snow. I have pain in both a wrist and a hip after falling, although I was lucky to fall in an intersection where I was able to catch myself partially on a metal pole. More shockingly from my perspective, considering the ice in front of houses is that even businesses do not clear the way:

This was in front of my local grocery store. This is ridiculous. In most jurisdictions where snow occurs (including the US state of Minnesota but also many others as is evident from my twitter friends) it is actually illegal to leave snow outside your premises (home or business) and you can get ticketed and/or fined for not removing the snow. In some places, the city or local council will remove the snow for you after some number of hours and send you a bill for not having done your civic duty and making the footpaths safe.

England, it’s time to step up and deal with your snow issues. Leaving a pedestrian-based city an ice-rink is not acceptable.

Snowmageddon 2012

It snowed last night in England. The sort of snow that I actually quite like, because it takes place at temperatures not too far from freezing, and is thus fun to build snow-people with. And the temperatures not too far from freezing means that while it’s happening, a girl can go outside and enjoy the experience of catching snowflakes on the tongue, a la the Peanuts characters in the Christmas cartoon special. No big deal, right?

Wrong. This is England, so snow is treated as the Snowpocalypse. As of yesterday afternoon, before it was actually snowing, 1/3 of today’s flights at Heathrow airport were cancelled. Warnings were issued. Grocery stores took on that air of menace whereas people were cleaning the shelves.

I am familiar with this phenomenon, because I have also experienced snow in Virginia and in Washington DC, where it is as infrequent and as difficult to manage as in England. There is a lack of infrastructure for dealing with such things that causes any flakes that fall to turn into a major incident. And this amuses me, as a girl from Minnesota where we are far more accustomed to such things.

I have these flashbacks to Minnesota days, in which a prediction of snow came with a great deal of organizing. For one, a “Snow Emergency” was likely to be declared, which meant concerns over which side of the city street on which to park for days after the event. None of which was helped by the requirement that my car be not in my apartment’s car park over an eight hour stretch in order for that to be cleared. The logistical challenge of parking one’s car in three different places after a snow-storm was always taxing. But it reminded me that at least in Minnesota we did something about the snow. As far as I can tell, in England it is just something to talk about.

It stopped snowing overnight, and as such by this evening was a thing of the past. Except for the fact that it all, at this point, is sitting largely where it fell. No effort has been made to clear the car park at my flat, nor has anyone even bothered to shovel the walkways leading into my flat. I can see now that walking to work tomorrow will be a slippery and dangerous challenge.

And here we have the great irony of snow in England. Much talked about, but little acted on. The BBC website this morning was full of stories of people trapped in cars on the major freeways at a dead standstill for hours, and even overnight. But we all knew it was coming, the forecasts were quite clear. Why was anyone out in a car on a motorway, knowing full well that it was coming? And having happened, exactly as predicted, why has no one made any effort to remove the snow? Shovels are not exactly expensive. Ice in the coming days will only be a hazard because no one bothered to move the snow that did fall.

And really, it was not that much. A few inches here, and in temperatures, as noted above, not too far from freezing. As far as I can tell, England collectively loves the drama of the “chaos” caused by a few inches of semi-frozen precipitation. Twitter was, this morning, full of photos of back yards with a light dusting and snow-people having been constructed in public places. But in the grand scheme of things, it was only a hugely dramatic event because people wanted it to be that way. In England, people love to talk about the weather. And the joke is that normally the weather is quite unremarkable. Apparently when it is ever-so-slightly remarkable, the taste for hyperbole overwhelms even the most sensible of persons.

My evidence: the result of “heavy snow” in my neighborhood. It apparently paralyzed all but the mouths and typing fingers of the locals.

The Thanksgiving aftermath

I was so excited about Thanksgiving dinner last week. It was the event that was going to kick off a long weekend filled with some fun adventures, not to mention starting off the holiday season proper. I am a true American, and I refuse to break out the Christmas music or decorations until Thanksgiving dinner is done. I spent Tofurkey day at work, as one does when living in a country where this is not a national holiday, and rushed out of the office and off to the dinner, organized by a mixed couple (he’s British, she’s American) who happen to be good friends of mine here. They also happen to have a little one, a bouncing baby boy who is about to turn toddler by hitting a year old this week. This might prove important in this mixed up tale.

Thanksgiving dinner was decent, it was catered by a local outfit and there were twenty-some people there, perhaps ten or so Americans and the people who tolerate them and their funny holiday traditions. The main dishes were better than the attempt at pumpkin pie, which was sweet, creamy, and served with berries and mango puree. And thus completely disgusting. The non-turkey main dish was a nut roast which was dry and uninspiring, but I decided to use my “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and assume that the gravy in boats was only onion gravy and thus would be good on my nut roast and mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes and green beans were additional accompaniments, and all was well. So we had a Thursday night success.

Friday morning I was off to central London, where I was meeting up with a number of friends for some foodie weekend events and some culture. The plan, which went well on the Friday, was for a pub lunch, shopping on Oxford Street, and dinner at a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant. (There are five Indian restaurants with one Michelin star in London, and I have now been to three, so only two more to go. Delicious every one so far.) So a Friday success as well. Now we take a turn for the worse.

Saturday morning I awoke at about 9 am and ran to the bathroom to evacuate the contents of my stomach. (I know, TMI, apologies for the mental image.) I then spent the next 6 hours unable to swallow even a sip of plain water. Mid-afternoon I managed to get my hands on a bottle of that British cure-all, Lucozade, which I think of as Pedialyte for grown-ups and I managed to get a few sips into my system. By nightfall, I had also eaten four plain biscuits. As an expat, I was musing that evening on the fact that instead of ginger ale and saltine crackers, I was on Lucozade and water crackers, but in the end as it all worked, it was as good as could be. I will never know what caused my illness, whether it was a bug contracted from the baby who functions as a germ incubator given that he spends days at nursery, or some sort of food-borne illness from the Tofurkey day dinner. What I do know is that it was not anything I ate on Friday, as my dining companion ate every single thing I did over the entire day and never showed any signs of illness. Thursday night was the culprit, for certain–three other diners from that evening ended up in the same place as me on the weekend.

Saturday was thus a complete disaster. I had to cancel all planned cultural and dining events, including something I had been looking forward to for several months– a planned expat meet up for dinner. I was, in the end, paying the princely sums associated with a hotel in central London in order to spend the day entirely indoors and miserable. The weather was appropriately grey and gloomy, but it was still extremely disappointing.

Sunday morning dawned, and I was intending to head back to my town earlier rather than later. But I managed to convince one of my friends to help me try and salvage the weekend by doing something cultural, and we headed for the British Museum. I had never managed to visit, and it was amazing. I was a bit weak, having not managed to eat much in over 36 hours, but it was quite enjoyable in the end.

So I headed back to my town after a really mixed long weekend. There were a few glimmers of greatness and a few moments of pure hell all wrapped into a few short days. On returning home, I set about putting out the fairy lights and Christmas decorations, and put the Christmas music on constant replay. The only way forward is to stop worrying about Thanksgiving and the aftermath, and to focus on the next few weeks of holiday magic. What can I say? You win some, you lose some. This was certainly a mixed weekend.

Through Fresh Eyes

There is a new member of my group and she happens to be an American and a she. She arrived just over a month ago, and regular meetings with her have really been amusing. See, she is going through the inevitable adjustments of being an American in England, trying to settle in and focus on her day job, while being reminded constantly of the fact that she is not from around here. Interestingly enough, this has made me realize that my blog tag-line is starting to be a little bit less true than it used to be. After more than five years in England, with permanent residency and a permanent job, I am a little bit from around here. And nothing reminds me of that as much as chatting to this new arrival.

I mentioned this to her today when we were meeting, when she was discussing the difficulties of adjusting to separate taps, life without a tumble dryer, with only mini-refrigerators under the counter, with food that seems like it should be familiar (salads and sandwiches) inevitably being different in some unexpected way. Of course, these days I’m fairly well-adjusted, and although I would very much like an American-style washer and dryer, otherwise I’ve managed to find comfortable accommodation with modern conveniences and my daily life is no longer as surprising because I’ve had five years to adjust to the local cuisine. She caught me out big time, saying I was “complaining about having nothing to complain about–how American!” and she was right. I don’t sound angry these days, and if you go back to the blog archives from the first two years, I definitely sounded angry at times. I spent a lot of energy in the early years worrying about my sense of other-ness, something that I hardly notice any more. And this is both being acclimated to being foreign and having adapted–in particular, I’ve adopted more local pronunciation and vocabulary than I care to admit, and she kept reminding me of that while we were speaking.

It sounds stupid to be wistfully sentimental for the early days of being an expat, but strangely enough that was how I felt after speaking to her this afternoon. At times in the early years, I was happy for a day when I went about my daily life without much of a reminder that I was in a foreign country. Now, the country is not so foreign, and I miss the days of remembering that! I suspect part of this is resignation to the fact that the ‘current economic situation’ is such that I am happy to have a good job and the likelihood of me making any big life changes soon is virtually nil. I can’t be the only person who craves change and craves adventure after a number of years of equilibrium! For now, I will stick with being cautious about what I wish for, and try to enjoy the feeling of fitting in.

As the sixth year starts…

I have been terribly busy. My 5-years-in-the-UK anniversary was two weeks ago today, and it already seems like a distant memory. My job has a fiscal year that starts in October, as perhaps could be inferred from the fact that that’s when I started 5 years ago, and that means the first few weeks of October are always absolute madness.

Because of this, I have not really had much time to think and reflect about my five years here. Some things have become quite normal and commonplace, while some things are as surprising to me as the day I arrived. I thought I might try to make a list. We’ll see how that goes. Feel free to chime in with suggestions. And you can tell that I’m a hobby blogger and not someone worried about a “brand” or “numbers” or anything because although there are posts about most of these things on this site, I am too lazy to try and dig up the appropriate links!

Things that still surprise me after 5 years in England.

  • Two tap sinks. Still totally useless IMHO, especially as a hand washing sink in my lab.
  • The way young girls dress. So much skin!
  • Public drunkenness. Which often leads to public violence and bleeding people in the street. And public urination (typically by drunk men in all three cases).
  • Cars parked facing each other. Cars parked half on the sidewalk.
  • Stephen Fry as a National Treasure. Not unrelated to… the existence of the show QI (which I watch regularly, but don’t know how to explain to people back in the states).
  • The school system. It’s so bloody complicated.
  • The fact that I have been here 5 years, am a scientist, and still have a tough time with temperatures Celsius and metric conversions of recipes.
  • The welfare state. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.
  • The food. Try being a non-meat eater in a country whose cheffy chefs are in love with offal…
  • The language. I know from my trips back home that I say lots of utterly British things and sound very foreign to my American friends. But I also still struggle in my day-to-day life with words and accents.
  • Customer service. Or the frequent lack thereof.

Overall, I would say I’m rather well acclimated/acclimatized. Most of my appliances now are British plugged. My transformer for US appliances lives in the bottom of a closet for occasional weekend use with the one thing I have not replaced (my beloved Kitchenaid Stand mixer–I know, I should trade with someone who is heading stateside…) My closet is full of clothes acquired here instead of clothes imported from US shopping malls. Well, nearly on that last one. I still seem to occasionally come up with something that I simply cannot find here and must acquire abroad (Eddie Bauer no-iron button-down shirts, I’m looking at you!) I’m on my 4th UK cell/mobile phone and my third flat. My desktop and laptop computers were both bought here, along with much of my furniture. I love not needing to own a car, although I am seriously considering getting a UK driving license to be able to rent and explore this country that I have adopted.

For all of these reasons, I am seldom filled with the rage and frustration that characterized the early days of this blog. It’s kinda fun to go back and read the early posts, to remember where I was and how I felt back then. Life is not perfect–I am still sorely lacking in the area of good friends in my own town, but I suspect part of that is the fact that it’s quite tricky to find other 35 year olds who are childless and happy and thus share common lifestyles with mine. That would be tricky no matter where in the world I was, as I know from discussions with my fab sister both when she was living in China and now that she has repatriated to the US. I have hope that another few years will find me some improvement in that area. But overall, it’s hard to complain. Life lately really has been about day-to-day existence and rather little about being foreign, now that my residence visa is sorted and my job is in full-on crazy mode. I’m not traveling at all this fall, as I was unclear on the visa thing and so I’ve planned a few months of hanging around and enjoying my British life.

And really, I’m not complaining.

Denouement

It’s been an eventful few days. I am happy to say that on Thursday my ILR (permanent residence) visa was printed and placed in my passport. As of Saturday my previous (5-year work permit) visa expired. Sunday marked the 5 year anniversary of my arrival in the UK. And Monday (yesterday) was the day on which I was reunited with my passport containing the new visa and the stress of it all finally lifted.

In retrospect, and one can always be more calm in hindsight, I really got my undies in a bundle over something that was unlikely to be as problematic as I was imagining. I can be a tad dramatic, and somehow I had convinced myself that this was going to be a big fight. People kept telling me things like “even in the worst case scenario you’re likely to be fine” and I focussed on said worst case scenario (having the original application rejected and having to appeal) instead of concentrating on getting the paperwork right the first time. I hired a specialist, in the end, and I calculate now that this process has cost me about £2500, including the fee to get my US passport renewed in expedited fashion back in June (something I should have dealt with months earlier), the costs associated with taking the Life in the UK test, the expedited visa service fee from the UKBA (so as not to have to wait weeks to months to find out the result) and the specialist who prepared all the paperwork and provided me all the information and assistance and frankly hand-holding that I needed to make it through the entire process. And the money, at the moment, does not bother me at all as the relief I felt yesterday afternoon, as I danced up and down the corridors of my office showing my visa to anyone who happened to be around, was worth every penny/pound/whatever.

I kept saying yesterday that I was the happiest girl in all of England. I’m sure it was true. I’m still pretty darned happy today. Celebrations continue tomorrow when I have dinner with another American who recently got her similar visa, although through marriage rather than through employment. I used her books to pass the Life in the UK test and am passing them on to another friend who is getting ready to gear up for her own process.

The fact that my imagination got the better of me becomes apparent when you, gentle readers, hear that at one point in late August/early September, when I was in the US on my annual beach trip experiencing earthquakes and hurricanes, I was threatening to fly back to the UK, to quit my job and pack up my belongings and move in with my sister in Baltimore while looking for a job in the US. Anyone who has had to go through a visa process in which their life as they know it depends on the thing will understand this seemingly irrational train of thoughts. Earlier in the year I had in fact applied for a bunch of jobs back in the US, some far inferior to the one I have here in England, in the hopes that I could escape from Europe before I had to deal with this. None of this is rational. I have discovered over the years that I quite love my job and my life in England EXCEPT when I am actually back in the US, and somehow the prospect of having to deal with the visa just amplified my temporary irrationality. I have, as it happens, the sort of job that many of my colleagues would probably kill for, and as of January it’s permanent. So I needed the visa, and now I have it, and I have an amazing job for life and the ability to stay in this country and work at it and all is good. But clearly you can see from the details I am now revealing that it was a near thing for a while. My good, scientific, common-sense attitude towards life completely deserted me in the last six months whilst this visa thing was hanging over my head.

So now I sit on my couch in England with a new lease on life, a really busy time at work expected for several weeks, and my entire autumn ahead of me with very few plans. I had turned down all travel opportunities for this fall on the grounds that I would not know when I would be free to travel, so now I feel like I should jaunt off to the Continent just because I can. Totally sensible for someone who just spent nearly three months’ rent on a visa, I know. In the end, this entire process was far scarier in my head than it was in real life, and for that I am eternally grateful. England, you are winning me over.