Category Archives: minnesota

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.

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Schoolgirl Excitement

I have had a most amazing week, and I am sorry that I have not been better at sharing the excitement. But it is in part about my job, about which I choose not to blog. This week has been amazing, and please–Twitter-folk who know about my secret identity, please don’t share it. But the bottom line is that my work life has been a big social media experiment gone good. I’m about to celebrate 50,000 YouTube hits for my work video in just over three days. And that’s amazing. But even better, tomorrow morning I head to Heathrow to fly to Baltimore for a weekend with my sister, and then we fly together to Minneapolis for a long week of celebrations for my father’s x0th birthday. I have more fun things planned for Minneapolis than I have in a while, and for once I am feeling excited about being back “home” and not conflicted in any way. Have I mentioned that my grandmother is now 95 and still kicking arse at Scrabble? It should be fun. I am ready for this trip in a way that I was not ready for trips to Minneapolis in the past. And now I must finish cleaning out my fridge and finish packing. But I’m happy in my British shoes, and happy to be going home to America. Even the inevitable and unfortunate discussions about American politics have not dampened my spirits. Expat life, 2000, former life, 0. Here we go.

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.

My accent. It’s a-changin’

This week I became acutely aware of the fact that I’ve been losing my North American vowels. I knew previously that I had adapted to UK vocabulary and perhaps even grammar, and that because of this I was starting to sound “foreign” to my friends and family in the US. But now I’m pretty sure that I also have started to neutralize my accent in response to the local pronunciation. Think to-may-to, to-mah-to. I’m not yet at the point of saying “bawth” and not “bath” but I’m somewhere in-between. And every time I hear myself doing it, I’m surprised. I am from Minnesota, but the south, Twin Cities area, and I’ve never had the “Fargo” accent. But it’s clear that the twang-y letter A is the first thing to go after you’ve lived in the land of RP for a while.

Vacation, Interrupted

I know I have been quite quiet lately. There is, of course, a good reason. And regular readers of this blog will have been able to guess what happened.

I went to the US for my usual August holiday, to see my friends and family in Minnesota and to go to the beach for the only proper holiday I take in any given year. (And even then I typically work at least 1.5 days per week because, well, that’s the nature of my job, it never stops, not even in a European August.) I managed to completely ruin all of my Minnesota plans by losing my wallet in the Milwaukee airport en route, and thus did not have a car and completely changed where I was staying and what I was doing. This was not all bad, I might add, as it contributed to the great vacation skill acquired on this trip: I learned to knit. But that is a story for another day. What is important for this story is that I was heading to the beach for two weeks of idyllic paradise and relaxation after what had been a somewhat discombobulating Minnesota experience.

Beach day 0: Pack my beach things into my beach friends’ car and drive from the DC area down to the North Carolina Outer Banks. Arrive late morning after an ungodly early start, have a nice beach arrival lunch, pick up the beach house keys and pack in to the beach house. After unloading and settling in, head for a walk (just a mile up the beach and back) and cook dinner.

Beach day 1: Have a nice long walk on the beach (3 miles up the beach and back) and food and etc.

Beach day 2: Have a long day on the beach, swim, surf. Happen to be sitting on the beach when an earthquake happens not far away, and totally feel it. Start to become aware that in addition to the earthquake, there might be hurricane trouble coming.

Beach day 3: Obsessively read weather.com and outer banks websites, knowing that the hurricane is coming. Try to enjoy the beach regardless, have another 6 mile beach walk. Total beach miles to date: 14.

Beach day 4: Awake to an impending sense of doom with regards to the hurricane. Read weather.com obsessively over coffee. Happen to be on the local website the moment the mandatory evacuation order is posted. Change out of PJs and pack out of beach house. Arrive back in DC area in early evening to prepare for hurricane.

(non)Beach day 5: Hurricane preparedness. Buy bottled water and canned goods.

(non)Beach day 6: Hurricane. Play board games and wait out the storm.

(non)Beach day 7: post-Hurricane. Go for a long walk in the sunshine, see many downed tree branches but otherwise feel as though the whole thing had not happened.

(non)Beach day 8: Waiting day. Spend the day working and regularly refreshing the Outer Banks news to see if there would be a resumption to beach 2011. Find out at 3 pm that vacationers will be allowed back at 10 am the following morning.

Beach day 9: Groundhog day. Take beach day 0 and repeat. Pack the car, drive 300 miles, have lunch while waiting for the all-clear to re-enter the beach house, pack in and settle in for a nice evening.

Beach day 10: Back to paradise, right? Except the beaches were closed to swimming due to trees and other debris. Long walk (6 miles) and dinner.

Beach day 11: repeat of beach day 10. Still no swimming, but lots of impressive driftwood, if by driftwood you mean entire trees littered along the beach. Another 6 miles of walking and documenting.

Beach day 12: Finally, some swimming.

Beach day 13: Swimming and another 6 mile walk. BUT time to start packing, as it’s over.

Beach day 14: Pack up and move out.

Total beach miles walked: 32. Not bad given the circumstances. Number of days spent in the Atlantic surf: 3. Pathetic for a two week holiday. Books read: 2. Far below the usual standard, but that’s because I spent four days transiting between DC and North Carolina. Not to mention all of the packing.

Silver lining: I had an adventure and have a story to tell. The beach where I was, in the northern Outer Banks near the Virginia border, was virtually unscathed. We had power at the beach when friends in Baltimore and Boston had none. I worked on my new-found knitting skill, which is, as I mentioned, a story for another day.

Moral of the story: Do not vacation in the outer banks if you are averse to hurricane evacuations. That’s two years in a row for me, Earl in 2010 and Irene in 2011. Earl was better timed, in that it was at the end of my two weeks, while Irene was as inconvenient as possible. But, she says as a scientist can only do, statistically I am unlikely to be this unlucky next year, after two forced evacuations in a row. Yes, the Outer Banks are totally worth the effort, and I will continue to take my holidays there. Hurricanes are just part of the adventure.

I’m back in England now, and the paperwork battles for my visa are now in full swing. This holiday was supposed to be the stress-free vacation before the paperwork storm, and it did not end up like that. First Milwaukee, then Irene. But I’m stuck with the mantra “anything that does not kill you can only make you stronger” and so here I go into the next phase of life. Wish me luck with the paperwork and hopefully my next beach vacation will involve 14 full days of beach bliss.

Milwaukee

At 9:53 am this morning, the Fedex man arrived at the door to my parents’ house and handed me a box, thus ending the nearly 48-hour saga that has completely dominated my life this week. Let’s step back to Saturday, which was the day I flew from London to the east cost of the US. I stayed overnight and caught a morning flight to Milwaukee, where I had a 90 minute layover before flying on to Minneapolis for my annual August pilgrimage to the land of my youth. I had plans, I had a car to rent, people to see, things to do. But I managed to completely cock it up in Milwaukee.

I have never been to Milwaukee, and I had never flown through Milwaukee either. I took the flight because I could not get a reasonably priced direct flight into Minneapolis (always a problem when Northwest was running the hub there, now near impossible in the age of Delta domination). I could not even get a somewhat unreasonably priced direct into MSP, a direct was going to cost me about the same as my flight to the US from Heathrow. So Milwaukee it was. I stepped off the plane in Milwaukee, headed towards my gate for the transfer to MSP, and saw a cute little sandwich and coffee shop. This being Wisconsin, they were offering grilled cheese sandwiches and I could not resist. I took my wallet out of my laptop bag to pay for the sandwich and an iced coffee, and I sat at a little table to eat. I then walked down to my gate and waited for boarding to be called. When it was, I opened my laptop bag to get my boarding pass out and realized to my absolute horror that my wallet was not there.

Somewhere between buying my grilled cheese an hour earlier and that precise moment, my wallet–containing my drivers license, credit and cash cards, and all my cash money–had gone walkabout in the Milwaukee airport. And I had absolutely no recollection of how it had happened.

I approached the gate agent for the lovely Frontier airlines and expressed my panic, and asked hopefully about a lost-and-found. He was adamant that he could not leave the door because the flight was boarding, but that I should talk to someone at the next gate over. That guy just said he hadn’t seen anything and had I tried the sandwich shop. I walked back down there and looked around, but saw nothing, and had the sinking realization that one potential scenario involved me throwing out the wallet with the remains of the sandwich, which turned out to be not that good. (Seriously, why take a perfect thing like a grilled cheese sandwich and put tomato AND chipotle mayo on it? Ruinous!) By this point it was 20 minutes until my flight was due to leave, so numbly I walked back to the gate, handed my boarding pass to the agent, and got on the plane. If I was going to be anywhere without any money, ID, or cards, better to be in Minneapolis than in Milwaukee, where I know not a soul.

The flight was mercifully short, and I made lists about who to call (credit card companies and bank) and what to do (investigate how to get a replacement drivers license when you have no picture ID on you). Wait, you might ask, where was your passport? I had quite smugly left it on the east coast, locked in a drawer for safekeeping. No need to bring it to Minneapolis where I could lose it. And thus it dawned on me, I would have to get my passport Fedexed to me because I would not be able to board the return flight from Minneapolis back east for my beach holiday with no picture ID. This was getting very messy.

We landed at Minneapolis and I turned on my phone, to see that I had a voicemail message. It was someone from the baggage handling department for Frontier airlines at the Milwaukee airport, and they had something of mine. I started shaking. I got off the plane, sat down at the gate and called him back. And here’s where the story becomes completely incredible. He had my wallet, all credit cards, and he had counted the money: “78 dollars, and oh also some pounds, you’ve been in England lately, have you?” Not a penny was missing. Someone had found my wallet and turned it in to the airport people without even taking a finders fee, which at that point I would have gladly relinquished.

The lovely boy in Milwaukee then arranged to Fedex me the wallet, in a conversation that was more than a little amusing: address? Just look at the drivers license (like all expats, I used my parents’ house as my home base). Payment for the Fedex charge? (since it was clearly my fault and not the airline’s) Dude, you’re holding my credit cards in your hand.

Relieved I started off towards the baggage claim, only to realize that at that moment I was still stuck. With no drivers license and no credit cards, I could not rent a car, and with no cash I could not get a taxi. Dang. But as I said, if you are going to be marooned anywhere and with nothing of importance, do it in your hometown. I was supposed to have dinner with a friend that night and he came and gathered me, bought me dinner, even bought the beers so I would not get carded, and then brought my back to my parents’ house that night, where I have spent the last 48 hours anxiously tracking my Fedex parcel.

I have travelled all over the world, and I have always joked that as long as you have your ID, credit card, and mobile phone nothing can go wrong. This is the first time in all my years that I have blown it with that mantra. And I’m still terribly disturbed that I have no idea how I actually lost my wallet in the first place. My sister, who has joined me in Minneapolis as of last night, thinks the whole thing is hilarious and keeps posting “Milwaukee!” as her status update on facebook. Now that I actually have my wallet back, I can finally chuckle a bit at that one.

But what an ending to the story: in a week that started with riots in London, complete with lots of looting and opportunistic theft, some good Samaritan in the Milwaukee airport was completely and utterly honest and returned my wallet completely intact. I’m utterly Gobsmacked, completely relieved, and more than just a little bit sheepish. Of course, my carefully crafted plans for the week have gone completely awry, as my trip home is already 40% over, I have no car, and did not do any of the things I planned to do yesterday. But oh well. I consider that a small thing in light of what could have been a very messy week. God bless the Midwestern USA!!!