Thursday, December 28, 2006

Last Year's Resolutions

So about this time last year, I waxed poetic about all the things I was going to accomplish in 2006. It was such a heady time, full of promise and possibilities.

And now the year is nearly over. How'd I do? Overall, I'd say not too bad. I mean, I did make 11 resolutions; what were the chances I'd stick faithfully to nearly a dozen promises for an entire year? Slim-to-none, my friends.

But I did give myself full marks on 5 of the 11 resolutions, and partial credit for another 2. So that leaves 4 that I was entirely unsuccessful on. Maybe I'll only make 7 resolutions for next year .....

2006 Resolutions
1. Buy a house. Check!
2. Get a dog. Check!
3. Pay off my first car. Check! (Not on the list: get car stolen and almost have to start paying off a new car, then get original car back and be grateful once again for no car payment. But I'm an overachiever.)
4. Read 50 books, with a minimum of 12 classics and a maximum of 10 romances. Yes and no. I read 50+ books, but only 6ish classics (Still hoping to finish the "Book of Job"). That's hard work; damn you, Don Quixote!
5. Start lifting weights regularly again, run a sub-30 min. 5k, and lose enough chub to banish the "fat face." Definitely failed here. Maybe next year ...
6. Learn more about creating graphics for a website; get virtualfam.com up and running. Um, sorta. I *did* learn more about graphics, and there's now a site for the fam's presence in the virtual universe .... it's just a pre-existing site that we signed up for a membership on. But overall, I think it counts!
7. Join an organization that works to increase literacy and contribute on a regular basis. Big "F." They all want you to be available during the day. Or at least, the three that I called in Cinci before we moved did. Maybe I'll try looking in Cleveland.
8. Visit 12 places I've never seen before. Check! They range from York, England, to our new house, but I've definitely hit 12 new places and then some.
9. Finish my travel book synopsis and send it to 10 agents. Fail. No sugarcoating this one.
10. Try one new variety of wine. Um, I think I crossed this one off the list on January 2. Check!
11. Write a blog entry every non-holiday weekday in 2006. Fail. This ended, what?, February maybe? But I still haven't done too badly. We've surpassed the 200-mark!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Christmas Feast

Success! We hosted Christmas Day in our house for the very first time ever .... and have lived to tell the tale! We cooked a turkey for the first time ever and—after a few minor, hardly-worth mentioning-missteps—served it to our family! And they ate it! And, two days later, I've yet to hear that anyone's been taken ill. Yay for us!

I was pretty worried about the turkey. We'd done practice run with the stuffing and cranberry chutney, so I was relatively confident about those recipes. But the turkey—13 lbs of dead bird is intimidating. Luckily, my parents arrived pretty early in the cooking process, so my mom could talk me down off the ledge and explain to me the differences between cooking a turkey in a roaster bag and out. (Trust me, my friends—there's major differences.)

In hindsight, I'm almost glad there was some comical confusion about the turkey. It wasn't easy, but with much help the "goose" was cooked. And the next time I host a major holiday meal (in 5 or 10 years), I'll have the satisfaction of knowing I did it once before. But I'll also invite my mom over early, too. You know, just in case.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Smidge Paranoid

Fiona and I have finally been reunited!

It's actually been a week since I got her back from the repair shop. Over the weekend we cleaned her from head to toe, and I started driving to work again on Monday.

Of course, I did NOT drive to work and park in the same old spot. I had to purchase a parking pass for the lot behind my building, so I could park behind a tall gate topped with barbed wire fence. Word is that no cars have ever been stolen from there—not to say it can't be done. It's probably just isn't worth the time and effort.

And yet, knowing this, using my new card to get into the lot every day, waiting for the gate to roll back ... I'm still paranoid that my car's going to get stolen. The first day I drove to work, I kept worrying about it. All I could think was, "The last time I drove to work, my car was stolen."
I know it's just going to take time to stop worrying so much. I've already driven to work 4 whole days and had my car waiting in the parking lot for me when I returned. Plus, I've also driven to a shopping mall and found my car after leaving the store.

I mean, everyone knows that feeling of being in a crowded parking lot and not seeing your car at first. Your stomach drops, and you start looking frantically around, knowing you've just misplaced it—it couldn't possibly be stolen. Could it?

99.9% of the time, it isn't actually stolen. But I have experienced the .01% of the time when it really is. And it's going to take some time for that to go away, I think.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

This year, apparently, Keith bought me a present that's hard to wrap. He's brought up several times that it'll take some figuring to get this one prettily presented under the tree.

At one point, it turned from a difficult present into ... an ostrich. He bought me an ostrich for Christmas, which has proven to be rather tricky to wrap. Not very cooperative.

Okay, this makes us laugh. You know why? Because it's a joke. A silly joke; no one would actually BUY someone an ostrich for Christmas, right? I figured that was pretty much understood.

And then, on my way into work this morning, a local radio station was interviewing a TV show producer. This person said that, on their show tonight, there's a feature about what to get that hard-to-buy-for special someone .... an exotic pet!

Seriously?!? Someone not only thought this would be a good story idea, but got others to agree and do interviews, etc, and it's actually going to be on the air.

It's bad enough when someone surprises another person with a garden-variety puppy, kitten, or fish. But an exotic pet?!? Specifically mentioned were cougars, camels, and snakes.

My friends, this is not a good idea. You may think it's cute, and it would definitely be a surprise. But I beg of you: don't go there.

And if Keith really did buy me an ostrich, next week I'll be posting about how he needs a place to crash until he's allowed back in the house. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It Passes the Time

Call me an "underachiever" if you like, but I think there's a lot to be said for mind-numbingly dull work.

Today I spent a good chunk of time writing messages in the office Christmas cards, and getting them all set to be mailed. Then, this afternoon, I worked on the filing. Tedious? Yes. But I have so many Christmas-related tasks and errands running through my mind, it was sort of a relief to just zone out on work and think about all the things I wanted to do at home.

Plus, it helped my afternoon go quickly. It's nice to occasionally work away from the computer, and not have a constant reminder of how little time has passed since the last time you wondered if it was time to leave yet. Yesterday, while I stood at the filing cabinets, I heard a co-worker answer the phone and assure that caller that, although it was time to leave, she hadn't put on her coat yet so there was time to talk.

Time to go home? I was shocked! And delighted. Of course, I think that more than a day or two of filing and addressing Christmas cards would drive me over the edge. But for now, leading up to the holidays, it's a nice respite from thought.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Do joysticks bring joy?

A coworker and I were talking about Christmas shopping the other day. He mentioned that he and his wife were still somewhat conflicted over whether they should buy the latest and greatest video game system for their kids. It would be a couple hundred dollars, at least, and would it be worth it?

It reminded me of the "family gifts" that Santa used to bring. I seem to remember them as board games or a video. Maybe some tin cans tied together with string.

Okay! So maybe I'm embellishing slightly, but the point is, you didn't have to spend hundreds of dollars to find something everyone could enjoy. I wondered what I would do if I were in his position.

It's not unreasonable for his kids to want the same game system that everyone in their school has. But it's also not unreasonable to think that it's too much money to spend on one thing. Plus, I have a hard time getting past the feeling that it might actually make for less quality family time and more time spent alone with the TV screen, or with friends. Not family.

Am I crazy for thinking like that? Do I sound like a technophobe? I'm sure my kids will hate me when I surprise them with tin cans tied together with string.

Monday, December 18, 2006

This Is Important!

You probably already know this! But the sign on the microwave in the work kitchen reminded me! If you end every sentence with exclamation points, it loses its meaning of urgency and excitement!

So maybe, in the case of punctuation, less means more!!! Just keep it in mind!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Woxy's Been Back!


As Amy pointed out the other day, I've been delinquent in updating you all on woxy.com news. But I do have an excuse.

When woxy was going off the air again—seemingly for good—I was very depressed about it. I was definitely going to lose some of my coolness quotient, and I need all that I can get. It felt like a part of me would be missing—the cool, indie part.

Then, right at the end, there were murmurings that it might be resurrected again. A big investor (who turned out to be the founder of lala.com) was interested. Dare I hope?

So I didn't write about it because I didn't want to jinx it. Or get my hopes up only to have them dashed again. But the talk kept growing stronger ... and then there was a date! I think they were off the air about 3 weeks before returning as part of lala.com.

The station is just as fabulous as ever and getting better. They want to add lounges in other cities where they can record and broadcast lounge acts. And, of course, I've listened to nothing but the Holiday Mixer since I heard about it. So check out woxy 3.0! (And might I point out that, if you visit the site on your own, you don't need my second-hand info? I'm notoriously unreliable.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Special Delivery

I like to do my Christmas shopping early. This does occasionally causes problems, as when my older sister's boyfriend out-of-the-blue bought her this poster she'd always wanted—the same one I'd already bought and framed for her Christmas gift. It's now hanging in my dining room (good thing she has good taste!).

After that incident I pushed back my definition of "early." I used to start in October, if things were on sale or I knew the perfect gift. But now I'm content to have my shopping started before Thanksgiving and mostly finished by the 2nd week in December.

What has greatly facilitated this in the past year or two is shopping online. I'm a big fan, particularly because most of the people on my list like books and CDs. This is not something you need to see or touch before buying. You pretty much know what you're getting.

This year, I placed a large amazon.com order on November 29. As is the Amazon way, I asked for as few shipments as possible and received 7 gifts in 4 separate shipments.

By last week, I had received nearly everything except one book. By this week, I still hadn't received the book and I was starting to get worried. I checked my account online; it told me the book had been delivered on December 1 to the side door.

That made me think: I at first assumed that meant the back porch, as we've had packages left there before. But I hadn't found the book there .... We also do technically have a side door, but it opens from the driveway to the basement stairs landing, and there's no reason to use it until you're moving in furniture and avoiding the tight turn of the back porch. At least, in my experience, that's the only reason for the side door.

So if that's the only time we used it, it's probably been months since we've opened it. I thought some more .... I was pretty sure there was both a screen door and a wooden interior door.

Last night, I opened the side screen door, and an Amazon package that had been stuck between the doors slid out. I felt like I'd discovered a buried treasure! Mental note: don't order anything perishable online, or at least open the side door once in a while to see if any packages slide out.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Holiday Modern Rock Mix


Much to the chagrin of anyone who's lived with me between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my tolerance for Christmas music is high. Very, very high. For the past 5 years or so, I have happily listened to 3 albums for all of December: White Christmas by Bing Crosby, When My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick, Jr., and Handel's Messiah. I'll pop them into the CD player and listen to them over, and over, and over again.

It puts me in the Christmas mood, but perhaps not those forced to listen along with me. But this year, there's a compromise! I just found out that the very best radio station of all time (Internet or otherwise), woxy.com, has a Holiday Mixer of Modern Rock! Just today I've already heard "Fairytale in New York" and many traditional Christmas songs sung by bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Yo La Tengo, Badly Drawn Boy, and even classics from Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, among others. It's fabulous!

They do warn you that there's only a few hundred hours of music in the mix, so if you listen to it frequently you may hear some repeats. Please! My former Christmas collection repeatedly hourly. Bring it on! I'm still holding out for some Bing, though. And--dare I hope for The Chipmunks? One can dream...

Monday, December 11, 2006

And another thing ....

Something else to dislike about holiday shopping is the problems caused by the sheer volume of crap being bought.
Last week, Keith and I combed through all departments of Target, picking up a myriad of gifts and holiday-related items. To start, we didn't even have a basket. Then we broke down and got a basket halfway through ... and by the time we checked out, our merchandise was bursting out of the basket.

Leaving the store, both of us carried several bags of things that seemed important at the time, but whose contents I haven't a clue about today. (It's probably your present I'm so blase about.)

At home a few days later, I was going through the bags in search of one specific item, and I discovered a bag of stuff that wasn't ours. Several packages of batteries and a cheesy Christmas movie—the kind that's displayed for $5 right next to the register.

I felt terrible; obviously someone had paid for these things and left them on the check-out counter, and we scooped them up with our bags. But what can you do? I'm not making a special trip to return the items to the store. Previous experience tells me that when you try to be a good Samaritan to a large corporation, the counterperson thinks you're crazy, and just wishes you would have kept the free goods and not bothered them with returning it.

Really, I'd want to give the bag to the people who actually paid for it, but we have absolutely no idea who they might be. They did not helpfully leave a business card in the bag, or even a partial name or phone number that we could investigate.

So we kept the bag; it's sitting next to the other bags that we, presumably, purchased. I haven't actually checked them all, come to think of it .... but I feel like I should do something. Don't worry; I won't. Just another thing to annoy me during the holidays!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

You know it's cold ...

How do you know it's really cold out? Well, it's getting to that time of year when wintery habits pop up again. You know it's cold when:
* I wear socks to bed so I don't shock Keith with my blocks of ice. In theory I'll take the socks off once my feet warm up, but sometimes they don't reach that point until it's morning and time to get back out of bed.
* The car warms up just as you get to work and have to shut it off again.
* Getting dressed to go outside becomes a time-consuming, multi-layered affair. And that's just to get the mail.
* The rug just inside the back door is covered in foot apparel, which was taken off covered in snow and left there to recuperate.
* I break an ankle on above-mentioned footwear.
* 40 degrees seems delightfully balmy.
* Like with "sea legs," you're so used to walking on icy sidewalks that you use the careful, shuffling gait on all surfaces, icy or not.
* You're only reading my blog because you want an excuse to have the laptop on your legs and warm them up.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Christmas House

There's been some buzz around here lately about the opening of a new museum. Apparently, a fan of the movie A Christmas Story has bought the house where the movie was filmed and is turning it into a museum.

My first reaction was somewhat skeptical. There's an added layer of ludicrosity (I think I just made that word up, by the way) to having a museum dedicated to a fake event. As I understand it, the original short story was actually set in rural Indiana. Because my facts were sketchy, I just read the wikipedia entry on A Christmas Story and discovered:
The house, on the west side of Cleveland Ohio, where the movie was filmed, was only used for exterior shots. The "fudge" flat tire was filmed down the street from the house. An entrepreneur later bought the house on eBay for $150,000.[6] He spent another $240,000 to renovate the house and back yard to look like the movie, and opened it to the public in November 25, 2006 as a museum, with original cast members attending the grand opening. The restored house contains some of the props from the movie, including Randy's snow suit and the leg lamp.
Firstly: damn, those wikipedia people are fast!

Secondly, let's recap: the house and surrounding streets were used for some exterior shots. That's it. But this guy has had contractors come in and completely gut the house to rebuild the interior so it matches the movie.

I like museums. Quite a bit. Especially oddball tributes to strange facets of life like the Mutter Museum of Medical Oddities and Sir John Soane's Museum. At first, I tried to convince myself it would be neat because it would be like reliving the movie and it would be a look into 1930s-era culture.

But I think this may be too much for even me. A house is used for a few shots in a movie, which is based on a fictional short story. And now this prop has become a museum?!? The connection between the interior of this house and any actual events is just too tenuous for me to take it seriously as a museum

Of course, having said that, it doesn't mean I won't go. I love that movie!

Monday, December 04, 2006

It's a Wrap for Charity

Last evening, I joined my mom in wrapping presents at a local bookstore to raise money for Love-a-Stray. Obviously it's a charity near and dear to my heart, since Love-a-Stray is where we got kitten Gomez from. I was looking forward to laughing at harried shoppers, cheerfully wrapping presents, and raising some money for a good cause.

Let me tell you: people are stingy. We had our first customer after about 15 minutes, and she was fantastic. She knew all about Love-a-Stray, had us wrap a couple books while we chatted about animal rescue and all our assorted animals. She dropped $10 in the donation box and promised to send more money when she had the chance. And I actually think she meant it!

After that exchange, Mom and I were left with a warm, fuzzy feeling. It made me want to go home and pet Gomez and spread the goodwill. Of course, it all went downhill from there.

The next person got 4 presents wrapped and gave $1. One stinkin' dollar. And the person after that was the prize. She had us busily wrapping away. I mentioned that we were from Love-a-Stray, intending to just spread the word and give her a business card. Because really, isn't that why we were there?

However, when I started talking about the charity we were affiliated with, she clutched tightly to her purse. "I'm sorry," she shook her head. "I just don't carry any cash with me. I'll have to bring it next time!"

She then proceeded to tell us about how she stiffed the local high school band, who were wrapping last week, and even the Salvation Army guy. She felt terrible, but what can you do? She doesn't carry cash!

Ummm ... don't go to a CHARITY wrapping table and get your presents wrapped?!? Is it really that hard? Why are you even pretending like you ever intended to give money? If you don't carry cash, DON'T use a service that requests a donation. It's really not that hard.

Unless you intended to really get those suckers at the wrapping table and take 'em for all they're worth. In which case, well played! We wrapped her presents and smiled and wished her a good evening, I think because both of us were so shocked that we didn't really know what to do. Merry freakin' Christmas!

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Reprieve!

It was my turn to get up and walk the dog today, and I was not feeling it. I mean, not that I ever hop out of bed, full of excitement to greet the day and walk/run a spastic pup before the sun is up. Usually I manage to drag myself out of bed and into running clothes with a minimal amount of grumbling. Mostly because (1) Keith is asleep, so there's no one to complain to, and (2) I'm still half-asleep anyway.

But as I'd mentioned yesterday, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. It rained all night. This morning, I was relieved to wake up and not hear a steady patter. Well, that's not so bad then! I tried to encourage myself to get out of bed. It may be frigid outside, but at least it's not raining!

Except it was. When I finally dragged myself out of bed and downstairs to let the dog outside pre-run, I saw that it was still raining steadily. Apparently, putting down the storm windows in the bedroom blocks out the noise. Not a bad thing, but it left me feeling ill-prepared and a bit miffed.

Except ... the dog refused to go outside. He walked onto the porch and considered his options. I squinted into the backyard to assess the muddiness factor. It had surpassed mud--the middle of the yard was a lake of standing water, surrounded by many smaller lakes throughout. It didn't look appealing.

Beckett agreed. Instead of launching himself off the porch and straight into the yard (he disdains the wasted time of steps), he stood under the covered porch and considered his options for a minute or two. I stood at the door, watching him watch the rain. He looked back at me. I opened the door and he raced back inside and straight up to bed.

Hurray! I figure if the dog doesn't even want to be outside, really no one should. It was great to go back to bed and snuggle under the covers for a half-hour longer. Although I suppose it's too much to hope for the same outcome at 5:30 Monday morning.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Wintery Chill

The weather this past week or so has been amazing. In the 60s, balmy, sunny ... the very definition of Indian Summer (except significantly later than the norm). Everyone knew that it was just a brief reprieve before real winter set in. I saw masses of Scantily-clad (aka wearing t-shirts) people doing yardwork, walking their dogs, and putting up Christmas lights.

I've heard rumblings that this would end soon, but I had chosen not to 1) listen or 2) check. I didn't really want to know when it would be over. I just wanted to enjoy it while it lasted.

Well, it's over. Or on it's way out. It's still in the 60s here, but the rain has begun to fall, and the crepuscular sky at 3 o'clock in the afternoon assures me that there's plenty more on the way.

Can you believe we had several days where we didn't have to scrub Beckett's muddy feet every time he came inside? Or that I didn't have to steel myself to get out of the warm bed in the morning, and face the frigid air?

It's my turn to walk Beckett this afternoon, and even if it's raining I'll try to appreciate the warm air. It'll probably be the last time I venture out without being completely bundled until March or so. I've put off the bad weather news for as long as possible, but it's time to face the chill winter wind.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Suggestion Box

In response to yesterday's self-congratulatory post, Bob left a comment suggesting I post about hating it when people suggest topics. The many layers of irony in the fact that I'm now writing a post based on Bob's suggestion is enough to make my head explode.

I actually don't mind it when people suggest topics. Sometimes I'm stumped. Sometimes, my brain don't work so good. Sometimes, I'd rather have someone else come up with the ideas. You be the "idea person" and I'll be the grunt who actually writes about this fabulous concept.

It does bother, I'll admit, when people generously give me ideas ... and then tell me exactly how to write about it, though. The conversation goes something like this:
Friend: "Hey! I know what you should write about. You should write about cheesy Christmas movies."
Me: "That's a great idea! I think I'll just do that."
Friend: "Yeah, it would be great! And you could even do a countdown of the best/worst Christmas cheese. Maybe you should even call the entry 'Christmas cheese' ... and you can talk about the best-known quotes from those movies ... maybe you should even do a comparison of the animated movies vs. live action. There's a lot there, you know."
[long pause]
Me: "Thanks. I'll think about it."

I'm always open to ideas. But if you actually outline the whole entry and have lots of specific details that should be included ... then get your own damn blog!

p.s. Thanks for the idea, Bob:)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Happy Anniversary!

You won't believe this, but somehow in the midst of the car stealing/recovering and Thanksgiving .... the anniversary of A Right Gapesnest slipped by. I wrote the first entry on November 21, 2005.

Can you believe this blog's been around for a whole year? Or perhaps—and probably more likely—you can hardly believe it's only been a year. It's become so important to your well-being and feelings of fulfillment that you shudder to think of a world without A Right Gapesnest. It's too terrible to even contemplate.

But never fear! ARG (ha! I like it:) is around to stay ... at least for the foreseeable future. Which is approximately the next week (I don't like to plan too far ahead). Of course, the problem now is that all of the entries I'm coming up with ... I already wrote about last year. (Cheesy Christmas movies, music, commercials, etc. have all been covered.) This has never happened before! I'm so witty and insightful that I have probably already said EVERYTHING there is to say about this time of year.

And yet, for the sake of my readers, I'll do my best to think of something to complain about.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fiona Lives!!!!

I must say that, except in the most extreme cases, I'm not a fan of multiple exclamation points. But this deserves it!!!!

Yesterday Keith had a dentist appointment, so he got home earlier than usual. He called me at work to say there was a message on the machine from an impound lot, saying they had my car and I could come pick it up. The message said that it "wasn't in bad shape," but I had no idea what that meant. I mean, certainly an impound lot worker's idea of "bad shape" could possibly be somewhat skewed.

I called the number they left, which was for the city's impound office, and started writing furiously. We had to go one place to pay the tow fee and fill out paperwork. Then we needed to go to the impound lot to actually pick up the car.

I called the specific impound lot next: they said the battery was dead and it would probably need gas, but I would be able to drive it off the lot. Again, I was concerned that their definition of "driveable" and mine would not quite meet.

From this point on, I'm just a bundle of nerves. Excited and anxious. What would the car look like? How would it drive? Was it being found a good thing or a bad thing? Would I want to even drive it home from the impound lot, or would it be too weird/creepy knowing that the last person to drive it was the car thief?

At the impound office, we were behind two people in line. The first was dispatched quickly; I knew the second one would be trouble when I heard the officer say, "Well I have to issue you a citation for false plates" and the man started to argue with him. But eventually we took care of the paperwork and headed over to the impound lot.

By this point, I felt jittery. I didn't want to see the car, but I also wanted to get it over with. In the office at the impound lot, the worker asked whether Keith and I knew how to start an ignitionless car with a screwdriver. The blank looks on our faces told him "no," so he sent out a worker to jump the car and help us get it started.

Keith and I walked toward the numbered spot with a gas can. We could finally spot the car: it was the moment of truth. We walked up to the car and Keith started to put the gas in while I inspected it inside and out.

I can't adequately describe the relief and amazement I felt when I looked the car over and saw NOTHING wrong. All of the windows were intact, I didn't see any dents or scrapes on the outside (although it was dark, so that may change), and the interior looked fine. They'd dumped out the contents of my glove compartment and stolen the iPod charger and CD converter. Fine, take them!

All of my mix tapes were there. Not that I was thinking they would be a hot resale commodity, but I assumed everything in the car would be gone/trashed. Even the Adam Dunn baseball card was still intact. My garage door opener was in its usual place, and the ignition they'd removed was on the floor of the car.

All this was amazing and good, but there was still one more moment of truth to come: the drive home. The impound lot worker jumped the car, Keith finished pouring in the gas, and the worker started the car with a screwdriver, making sure to show Keith how it was done. (Yes, Keith can now steal cars! But only if someone punches out the ignition for him.) Keith and I got in, and I drove him back to his car on the other side of the lot. Keith got in his car, and we drove home.

It still felt like my car. It didn't smell very good (I had the windows open most of the way), and the glove compartment contents were all over the floor. I still tried to put the key in the ignition when I got it and take it out when we got home--that was a reminder that things were not quite right. Not that I ever really forgot ... but it did feel like my car.

The whole drive home, I was in shock. I couldn't believe I was sitting in my car, driving it along the same streets where I'd driven it countless times before. But just a week ago, I had walked out of work and it was gone. In a moment, I'd lost a car. And just like that, it felt like out-of-the-blue, I'd gotten it back again.

Of course, the saga isn't over yet. Insurance still needs to look at it and estimate the damages and it needs to get repaired ... plus I need to buy a parking pass and park in a fenced-in lot so this never happens again! But I have my car back, which is something I never thought I'd be able to say.

I have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

By a Roaring Fire

This afternoon, I get to leave work early. (A whole half-hour!) Even more exciting, I'm leaving early because the chimneysweep is coming to check out our fireplace.

By this evening, Keith and I could be comfortably snuggled on the loveseat, in front of a roaring fire. Of course, this won't happen for several reasons. Primarily, we haven't actually bought any firewood yet. And just as importantly, we haven't purchased a firescreen to keep the kitten from trying to grab the pretty, dancing flames.

But our lack of preparedness isn't really important. What is important is that we have a fireplace, and will get to use it soonish. We had a fireplace in our first apartment together. When we signed the lease, I thought of the fireplace as a nice extra, but who would really use it? I was surprised by how much we did use it, and how much I missed it in our next apartment. I'm really looking forward to having one again.

Since it's ours, I guess we'll actually have to take into consideration the cleaning costs, and how much creosote builds up on the chimney walls ... but that won't happen until we buy firewood and a firescreen. All in good time.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fiona: RIP

Okay, I was torn about whether I should blog on this topic or not. But I finally decided I should because I wanted to warn you all not to be like me. (Shocking, isn't it!)

On Wednesday, my car was stolen from outside work. I parked on the side street next to the building at 8:00 am, and when I left the building to go home, my car simply wasn't there. I thought at first it had been towed ... but it hadn't.

It's been a long week. There's a lot of feelings associated with getting your car stolen—anger, fear, vulnerability, irritation—just to name a few. I know that I'm lucky because 1) I never keep anything in my car, so there wasn't an additional loss, and 2) I didn't see anything, and I wasn't personally threatened.

I know that I don't work in the best neighborhood. BUT I thought my car was safe because it was as basic as you could get. Four wheels, a frame, and some seats. I had a factory-issue TAPE deck. No power steering, no power windows .... I thought there was absolutely nothing they'd want the car for.

The police officer to whom I gave the report was of the opinion that it was some juveniles who stole it because—apparently—the Neon has a plastic steering column that's easy to get into. They stole it because it was there and they could, and probably rode around in it for a while, maybe committed some crimes, and then were probably going to dump it.

I thought my car would never get stolen because it wouldn't get a lot for resale and there were no parts worth stripping out of it. I've decided it's because I'm such a goal-oriented person, I stupidly assumed that thieves would need a reason to steal something that I need, take good care of, and took several years of payments to rightfully own.

I was wrong, and I just don't want anyone else I know to make the same mistake. If you have a nice vehicle, it could be stolen to be sold or stripped. Or if you have a purely functional car, like my little 2000 Neon (aka Fiona), it may be stolen just because. So I want everyone to know that objects you hold near and dear are considered by others to be a disposable commodity, used for a few hours and tossed away. Not a good thing to think about, but I'd rather you hear it from me than experience it yourselves.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Back to the Drawing Board

Way back when .... before our trip to the UK ... I made 5 copies of the first 3 chapters of my book manuscript. I bundled them up, along with lovingly-prepared query letters, and sent them off to 5 carefully chosen agents whom I thought might be convinced to represent my work.

Upon return from the UK, I already had two rejected copies waiting for me. Since then, I've received one more. So in theory, there's two agents out there who are still considering my work.

However, I've decided it's time to start working on the next book. I need to read through the last manuscript one more time as a whole, tidy up any loose ends or inconsistencies ... but it's basically finished. It's not perfect, but I've reached my revising limit.

So I don't want to just sit around and wait for it to get rejected many, many, many times. I've decided to start brainstorming and working on the next manuscript. Which is exciting and scary at the same time.

Once your rough draft of a book is done, your main characters and chain of events is pretty much set. You can change a few things here and there, but the story as a whole probably isn't going to change very radically. And every time you chose an aspect of your characters' personalities or a situation they'd encounter, that meant there were numerous other personality traits and situations you'd never be able to use.

So I'm excited to start again with a clean slate. The brainstorming is the fun part, where anything is possible. It's the actual writing, dealing with a blank page, that is intimidating me again.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Running Is Hazardous

Last week, Beckett and I were running before work. Since time change, it hasn't been as dark. When we start out, it's still pretty dark. But by the time we're finished, it's light out. Before—and again soon, I'm sure—it was dark to start and finish.

So last week we were running, and it was light enough to see where we were going. We were running on a path near a lake, and Beckett must have smelled/seen something good over by the lake, because he kept looking over that way and straining at the leash.

In fact he was so intent on his prey that .... he ran into a tree. Right, straight into it. No attempt to swerve or stop. We were running along, and suddenly I hear his head bonk against a very sizeable tree trunk.

I immediately stopped to see if he was alright. He simply shook it off and wanted to keep going—pretend it never happened. Once I knew he was alright, I laughed to myself for the rest of the run. He actually ran into a tree! I'm sure this isn't what people have in mind when they say that pets are good for your health, but I definitely enjoyed it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sinister Tourists

In Dublin, it was "The Walk Macabre." In Savannah, GA and York it was simply a "Ghost Walk" and in London, it was called "Sinister London."

Wherever we go, we like to take tours that explore the seamier side of human nature and the occult. Is this weird? There's always plenty of people on the tours, so it can't be all that strange.

I think London's tour is better than most. It just has such an amazingly rich, gruesome history. From public hangings to the plague to modern gangsters, a lot of people have died in London in very unpleasant ways. And we got to hear all about it from a very knowledgeable, London born-and-bred tour guide.

Even better, with it being somewhat the off-season in late October, Keith and I had our own personal tour, since no one else had signed up. It did mean that I was chastised once for my wandering attention, but at least I got to hear what he was saying!

My sister Amy mentioned that there's a tour you can take in Cleveland, visiting places important in the Torso Murders. My immediate reaction is interest and a thrill of excitement. But maybe it would be a bad thing to learn about the sinister side of the place where you live and work?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Londontown

And finally, we arrived in London. We took our suitcases to the last hotel, knowing that the next time we packed them, it would be to go home. We arrived late Friday morning, and set out to explore after a quick perusal of the room.

Firstly, in honor of Keith's sole previous experience in London, we went to Euston Station. When I was living in England, Keith came to visit for a week after Christmas. It's a long, entertaining story full of crazy antics and strange coincidences, but the short version is that Keith was only in London for a little over a day (we were supposed to be there for two). In those roughly 36 hours, he probably spent 16 at Euston train station, 10 sleeping, 5 traveling around, and possibly 5 hours in the city. On a Sunday afternoon when everything's closed anyway. It was not a good trip.

Ever since then, we've sworn that the next time we were in the UK, we would go back to London so Keith could actually see more of it than the inside of Euston. And yet, it seemed fitting to start by traipsing to Euston. Keith showed me where he sat on the ground waiting for me, and a security guard thought he was a homeless guy and tried to kick him out. And the food court where he ate all his meals the first day, and the courtesy phone when I called from Birmingham to tell him I was stranded .... it was a great trip down memory lane.

Even better was leaving the train station and actually walking around the city! I think we had a nice mix of standard touristy destinations (London Eye, the Tower, Trafalgar Square), and things off the beaten path (wagamama, Greenwich, Sir John Soane's Museum). I'm not exactly sure whether to consider Greenwich off the beaten path, though. It felt far from London, but it was filled with pushy Asian tourists. NOT that I'm making a broad statement about Asian people in general. I'm just saying that if I'm standing in the middle of a room and reading an exhibit, I prefer not to be elbow-to-elbow with a complete stranger.

For me, London is a different experience from the rest of the UK because I feel like I have very little personal connection there. I mean, that is where I started and ended my volunteer year, and we went there several times for retreats ... I don't know why. I don't know if it's because it's so big, or maybe because I didn't do much touring of the city until the very end of my time in the UK, it still feels impersonal to me.

Some people like the facelessness of London. Faceless in that there's so many different nationalities and cultures meeting in the city, it's difficult to talk about London without getting into pluralities and exceptions to any rule. This is not a bad thing. But I guess I prefer a city that's a little smaller. That offers plenty of arts and culture, but also feels like it has a local identity and roots.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Weather

This may sound crazy, but I'm glad it rained while we were in the UK.

There was some sun, and the weather was good for the wedding, but I'm glad that we got to experience some gray, drizzly days. Otherwise it wouldn't be a very British holiday, would it? And I had also packed my umbrella, so I felt smug and justified in using the valuable suitcase space.

Of course, British people are known for their ability to discuss the weather for inordinate lengths of time. Plus, everyone talks about weather in the days leading up to a wedding. So that was probably the prime topic of discussion our entire stay in Scotland. That and people asking us whether we could understand the accent, which is a somewhat ironic question.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Curry and Bowling

After being real live tourists in York, seeing the sights and staying in an actual hotel, plus several days of riding on the trains, we were ready for a break. Because we were in Doncaster to see Jacqui, a former pupil at St. Vincent's, and meet her fiance Adam, we didn't feel the need to be running around all day.

Jacqui and Adam met us at the train station in Doncaster and took us to their house. Jacqui made me a cuppa and we had a nice long chat before we did anything else. I'd never met Adam before, so it was great to meet him and get to know him.

It was just a nice, regular day. I could see living there, and getting together with Adam and Jacqui for dinner and a movie. That night, we went 10-pin bowling (aka "bowling"). I lost, which is the norm. The bowling shoes were normal bowling shoes, except that Keith and I had no idea what size our feet would be in Europe. We had to hand over our regular shoes for the worker to judge.

After bowling, we went back to the house and played a music trivia game on the Playstation and ordered a curry. We talked, I ate too much, we talked trash during the game .... it was just a great, relaxing day. I only wish we could have spent more time in Doncaster. The next night we could have gone to see a film and stopped by the chippie on the way home. And the night after that ...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

We Had to Visit at least One Church

So we couldn't travel through the UK without visiting at least one old, impressive church. This is the interior of York Minster Cathedral in—of all places—York.

Our day in York was nice because it was the one place on the trip that I'd not been before and had been wanting to go. True—I'd never been to Doncaster before. But we weren't really there as tourists—we just hung out with Jacqui and Adam.

York in general and the church in particular was old and impressive. You can still walk along part of the wall from the original walled city. The Shambles is a street of crooked houses still standing from medieval times.

The cathedral had amazing detailed carvings throughout, from the lofty ceilings to the feet of the pews. We took a free tour that lasted an hour or so, and although there was so much more to see, my brain had pretty much shut off. I can only take in so much grandeur and delicate details before I'm overwhelmed. So we paid extra to walk up approximately a million steps to the roof of the cathedral, overlooking the city and surrounding countryside. A good contrast to the intricate interior.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Few Truths about Train Rides

My friends! We have been talking about this trip for a long time. For many more days than the trip lasted, actually. To jump right onto the train references ... I'm running out of steam. But there's still so much more to be said! So I'll try to keep this thing chugging along for one more week, and then we'll move onto holiday driving, Christmas cheese, and the like.

I really, really like riding on trains. Probably because it feels somewhat exotic, since I never get the opportunity in America. But I like the predictability of it, too. The timetables and updates and everyone getting places efficiently.

Since reading the Harry Potter books, trains also remind me of Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Although I've not yet seen anyone in a wizard's robe yet. But there's still time...

The thing is, even though I like trains, I have a tendency to fall asleep while in passive motion. If I'm not driving or moving under my own power, travel makes me sleepy. I had big plans for our train rides on this trip—writing postcards, journal entries, reading .... hardly any of it came to pass because, once we were moving, my eyelids were suddenly heavy.

And yet, that brings me to another enjoyable facet of train rides: the voice that pleasantly announces your approach to every station, so if you fall asleep on the train you won't miss your stop. Somehow, they managed to achieve just the right volume level so that it's not blaring, but never fails to rouse you from your refreshing train nap.

Keith and I have looked into taking train rides in America, but they're too expensive and they take too long. It's hard to justify spending 12 hours to get to Chicago when our car will get us there in 6, and that's including a dinner stop at a restaurant of our choosing.

So I'll probably have to wait until our next trip to England before I can nap on the train again, buy a Chunky kit kat from the meal car, and watch the landscape roll by until (3 minutes later), I fall asleep.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Flying Visit to Liverpool

When planning our trip, I was somewhat torn. Did I want to visit all of the places I'd been? After Elaine's wedding, we'd only have about a week, and it may be a smaller country than the U.S., but there's still much, much more than you could ever cover in 7 short days.

I decided to spend a day in Liverpool because I did want to revisit the school where I had volunteered. Many of the same people were still working there, and some of the students were even still there. Looking older, but recognizable as kids I'd worked with.

I'm glad that we stopped in at the school, but it was a difficult visit. Enrollment has gone down, and no one's exactly sure what the future holds. The next time I visit the UK, St. Vincent's may or may not be there, and definitely all of the kids I knew will have moved on.

Walking from the bus stop to the school, it almost felt like time had stopped. Like I was going to work and, after the school day was over, I'd be heading back to our house and on with the routine of life in Liverpool.

Out of the whole trip, this was when I felt saddest, as I had feared on the way over. Sad that my time in Liverpool is just a memory, when all the buildings and the people are still there. Disbelieving that once I had made a life in a different country, and worried that I would never have the courage/opportunity to do something like that again.

In Liverpool, visiting the school was nearly all we had time for. After the visit, Keith and I caught the bus back into town and called Elaine's Uncle Martin, who had kindly offered to put us up for the night. He and his daughters picked us up from the train station and whisked us out to their house for dinner (chicken this time—not Yorkshire pudding) and a relaxing evening watching footie on the tellie.

All in all, we probably spent a total of maybe 2 hours in the city centre, and that's being generous. I'm still undecided about whether I wish we could have spent more time there. Anything we did would probably be a trip down memory lane, as opposed to something new. But it still seemed like short shrift. Hopefully, we'll be able to revisit in 2008, when Liverpool will be European Capital of Culture. And maybe by then it will be a mix of old and new, instead of just me revisiting the past.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I Really Must Go to Florida.

Everyone in the UK has been to Florida. And half of them have also been to LA.

For many of the people I spoke to, this is their only experience of America. Disneyland, palm trees, sandy beaches. This is not the America I know.

I have never been to Florida. Never been to Disney Land or Disney World. And I think I could go my while life without ever going to those places because, as most of you already know, I hate people. And the places have a lot of people.

I don't mean you, dear readers. I mean I hate people I don't know. The people that cut in line, and talk loudly on their phones, and take up two parking spots just for the hell of it. The people that you'd probably find a lot of at theme parks.

And yet, I feel like I have to go to Florida at least once, even if we skip Disney World. Because I'm curious about what people see when they visit. If this is the only place in the U.S. that the Brits visit, what is their impression of our country?

Obviously, it's a warmer and sunnier place than Ohio. But what else is its great allure? Maybe someday I'll make it to Florida, and I can ask all of the Brits staying in our hotel to explain it to me.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Just the Facts

Right. So, I decided to be wild and crazy and not write my descriptions of the trip in chronological order. It just felt too constricting. And I'm glad I'm doing it that way; it makes each day a little more exciting. (Yes, I know. I need to get out more.)

But I thought that, as we're about midway through the trip blog entries, you might like a refresher on exactly what happened when. So below is a brief itinerary with a ton of links, so you can learn as much (or as little) as you'd like about the places we visited.

Saturday, October 14: Arrived in Glasgow
Sunday, October 15: Visited Tenement House and Willow Tea Rooms, shopped at Primark
Monday, October 16: Elaine and David's wedding
Tuesday, October 17: Went to St. Vincent's School in Liverpool
Wednesday, October 18: Visited York Minster in York
Thursday, October 19: Visited Jacqui and Adam in Doncaster; shopped in Primark (again)
Friday, October 20: Headed to London. Checked into our hotel, went to the London Eye, Middle Temple Hall, wandered through Sir John Soane's Museum, and on the Sinister London tour
Saturday, October 21: Lunch at wagamama, Cabinet War Rooms, stopped by the Tower of London, saw a show in the evening
Sunday, October 22: Went to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, wandered past Buckingham Palace and got soaked in the rain; Thought about going to the National Gallery, but went back to the hotel to dry out and watch "Trust Me ... I'm a Beauty Therapist" instead; headed back to Leicester Square for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Delicious! (And you can only have Yorkshire pudding and fish and chips so many times in 10 days)
Monday, October 23: Flew home

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lazy Day in Glasgow

We arrived in Glasgow on Saturday morning. We managed to stay awake all day Saturday and then slept 13 hours Saturday night. Waking up around 11 o'clock Sunday morning, I would hesitate to call us "refreshed" but at least we were close to adapted to the time zone.

It was our only day for sightseeing in Glasgow, but we didn't really see too many sights. Firstly, I'd failed to take into account that many things are closed of a Sunday in the UK, so some of the things we'd planned on seeing were closed or had reduced hours.

Mostly we just wandered around town. We took the train in, which made us feel somewhat self-sufficient since we'd been personally escorted from one place to the next since our arrival. From the train station, we wandered down the main shopping streets (Buchanan and Sauciehall) and up toward the Glasgow School of Art.

Or at least, that's where we were meant to be headed. At George Square I got turned around and somehow we started walking Southeast, when we needed to be going Northeast. Keith didn't let this state of affairs continue for long, however, before he sneaked a furtive glance at a map in our tourist book, righted our direction, and piloted us safely to the Tenement House.

In the guide book, the Tenement House is described as a step back in time, to the WWII era in which this apartment was kept by its owner until she passed away in the 70s. It appealed to me for both historical reasons and for the voyeurism aspect—that someone had left their earlier life intact, and we could view it. I thought it would be something like those shows of OCD people who have 20 years of newspaper stacked ceiling-high with only narrow aisles between.

But it was actually just an old apartment. It was small—a bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom. And pretty simple. We wandered around for maybe 15 minutes, shrugged our shoulders, and left. The accompanying museum on the ground floor of the building did give a little bit more of the voyeurism I was seeking, displaying letters and rent books and the like. It was alright, but I came away a bit underwhelmed. Maybe it was just the remnants of jet lag.

Actually, I was a bit underwhelmed at our next stop, too: the Willow Tea Rooms. I knew they'd been designed by Rennie Mackintosh, whose work I greatly admire. And I had never gotten to eat there during other visits, so I was really looking forward to it. But once there we found out that the original ones had been knocked down and this new version was created in the 1990s. And, like the Tenement House, the restaurant was much smaller than I expected.

I know, I know—you'll say it's because I'm an American used to Biggie-sized meals and McMansions. But really, it wasn't even the whole upstairs of a shop! Just sort of a walkway around the walls, with the middle part being open to look down into the shop. Small tables, small menu, and we sat waiting for ages for the bill, because we couldn't remember if the waitress brings the bill to you or if you go to the counter and pay.

Eventually Keith sorted it out and we wandered back to the train station, with me popping into shops here and there. We made it back on the train and into Cleland in time for a lovely Yorkshire pudding dinner.

I'm trying to decide if I regret not doing more in Glasgow. But I think it was probably just the lazy kind of day that we needed. To get our bearings at the beginning of the trip, rest up after the flight and before the wedding.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Prime Place for a Meridian

Every day during the trip was different. A wonderful, exciting adventure, if you will. But even so, our trip to Greenwich stands out in my mind as a particularly unique, memorable day.

Although just south of the Thames and accessible with a Zone 2 Underground pass, Greenwich felt miles away from London. When we arrived on Sunday morning, the air was cool and humid. Behind the National Maritime Museum was an expansive, grassy lawn. A trail through the lawn led up the side of a hill, to the Royal Observatory. All across the lawn, people were walking with babies or dogs or both. The entire scene felt very serene.

The Observatory was somehow quaint and modern all at the same time. Just a museum now, due to the horrific light pollution that is the London metropolis, the displays ranged from the first clock to keep correct time on the high seas to the most modern timepieces. I had never truly considered how difficult it was to get everyone on the same time schedule. Back in the day, "local time" meant the church clock in your village, which may be running slower or faster than that in the next village over. Usually I rail against the tyranny of time and my lack of it. But this gave me an appreciation for the development of time-telling technology.

I think what struck me the most about the creation of the Prime Meridian was the arbitrariness of it. Hey! We need a way to define longitude in a concrete way for the entire world. So we need a starting point, like the equivalent of the equator. How .... about ... here! And the Prime Meridian was born. Ah, the joys of a vast and dominating empire! To bend time and geography to your iron will and inimitable spirit.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Hey dude."

The wedding was our last night in Glasgow. We'd gathered for pre-wedding drinks around noon, and were finally back at John and Lorraine's at one in the morning.

I raced upstairs to change out of my "heels turned to instruments-of-torture" and into jeans and a sweater. Ahh, the blessed relief of unzipping the dress and stepping out of the shoes!

After we changed, everyone congregated in the kitchen for a snack before bed. Lorraine and I had roasted cheese, which involves using a broiler to melt slices of sharp cheddar onto bread, and adding black pepper. As far as I know, anyway, the key ingredients (broiler, sharp cheddar, black pepper) are always the same. Funny how it tastes completely different from a grilled cheese sandwich, but I swear it does!

For the most part, Elaine's family had taken our presence in stride. We talked about the trip, and how Elaine and I had worked together, but there hadn't been a lot of questions about "What's America like?" and "Have you ever seen a gun?" or "Have you ever been on the Jerry Springer Show?" etc.

At the last moment though, her teen-aged cousin Rebecca couldn't resist.

On the way upstairs, she turned to Keith and me and said, "Can you please say 'Hey, dude.' Just once."

I looked at her. "Hey, dude?" I said, puzzled, trying to figure out the significance of that phrase.

She clapped her hands together. "That's brilliant! I've been wanting to ask you that since you first came! One more time, please!"

I repeated "Hey, dude" still with a slightly quizzical tone, having a hard time believing that I was saying it.

Rebecca bounded up the stairs, thrilled to hear a live American saying "Hey, dude."

I still haven't figured out what was so thrilling about the phrase, but at least it was a lot easier to say that than to explain what America's like or how Bush got elected a second time :/

Monday, October 30, 2006

Yorkshire Pudding Isn 't Pudding At All

We ate a lot during our trip. A LOT. Without a doubt, the best meals we had were at the start of the trip, when Elaine's family members were feeding us.

Keith and I used to laugh about how Burger King and McDonald's are British foods. When he came to visit me in Liverpool and we traveled to Dublin, it seemed like those were the only eating establishments open when we were hungry.

This time, we were fed amazing meals by actual Scottish and English people. Saturday morning, Sr. Theresa made us a traditional Scottish breakfast with fried eggs, toast, sausage, bacon, potato pancakes (yum), and black pudding. Keith and I politely declined the black pudding. Because, of course, black pudding is actually sausage cooked with blood. Loads of blood.

Saturday evening, Elaine's mom made us an expected—yet delicious—goulash. Sunday evening, Elaine's Aunt Lorraine (also known as the provider of the hat) made us a huge traditional meal of a spicy soup appetizer, Yorkshire pudding, about 5 kinds of potatoes, green beans, and I can't even remember what else. But there was mounds of food, and it was all amazing.

For the wedding, we again chose the Yorkshire pudding. I've decided I'm a fan. Of course—it's not actually pudding. It's roast beef and gravy served with a little pastry cup. Why a cup, I haven't figured out seeing as how you don't actually put anything in it. But it's cute, and quite tasty.

In Liverpool, Aunt Jeannette made lovely chicken breasts with a spicy sauce, and Keith was faced for the first time with mushy peas. Although, after reading the definition of "mushy peas" on wikipedia, I may be wrong about that. They may not have technically been to the "mushy pea" stage, but they were different enough from our typical cooked peas for Keith to lean over to me and ask what they were.

Along with all of this wonderful food, we greatly appreciated that our hosts assured us they wouldn't be offended if there was anything we didn't eat. So if anything didn't appeal to us, we were to just leave it on our plates and not worry about it. When you're in a different country and trying to stay on good terms with various hosts, the disclaimer is very helpful.

I can't for the life of me remember what they call actual "pudding," but I'm sure it must be something completely different.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Scottish Wedding

I have to say: I think my favorite part about the wedding was the hats. Along with the kilts. And the Franz Ferdinand.

I had known, from my last time in the UK, that it's traditional for women to wear hats to weddings. And not just any hat—ridiculous hats with feathers and flowers and all sorts. I was dying to get a hat for Elaine's wedding. But the hat selection in America wasn't what I would call "good." Plus, where could I pack a hat?!? So I went without.

Luckily, Elaine's Aunt Lorraine got me sorted. When she heard I wouldn't be wearing a hat and why, she said she had just the thing. So I got to wear the fabulous hat pictured above. And I didn't even have to fit it in my suitcase!

The wedding, other than the kilts and bagpiper, was pretty much a standard Catholic ceremony. For me, the biggest differences became apparent during the reception.
  1. They fed us a LOT of food. The ceremony attendees were fed at the church hall while the wedding party took pictures. Then we were bussed to the hotel reception and fed a sit-down dinner. Later, during the dancing, a separate buffet was put out.

  2. The traditional wedding cake is a fruit cake. Still the same fondant icing, but quite a surprise underneath! Rumor has it fruitcake keeps better, which should bode well if Elaine and David intend to follow the crazy tradition of saving some cake for their first anniversary.

  3. Plenty of Scottish dancing. This actually falls into two categories: the kind of dancing that requires memorized steps and an ability to follow a partners, and then the modern dancing. Everyone was up and dancing to The Proclaimers and Franz Ferdinand. "Do You Want To," off FF's second album, will now always remind me of the wedding reception. Hearing it makes me smile.

  4. I don't think I saw any presents at the reception. I think I heard that it was considered somewhat rude to bring a present to the reception because then you force the bride and groom or their families to find a way to take it home. Makes sense to me!
The wedding was absolutely wonderful, and Keith and I felt so lucky to be a part of it. We wish Elaine and David all the best!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Random Conversations about Americans

It happened all throughout the trip, but the time that really stands out was the train ride from York to Doncaster.

If I hadn't heard it for myself, I would never believe that British people talk so often about America/Americans. Just out of nowhere.

On this train ride, Keith and I were on the left side of the aisle, munching on some breakfast sandwiches. On the right side of the aisle a row or two up, two British businessmen started conversing.

"When I was in America, I walked everywhere."

"What? Didn't you get shot? Don't you know they don't do that in America?!?"

Hardy laughter from both men. Then the conversation turns to how America was formerly a free nation, but how you can't do anything there anymore without the government interfering.

Keith and I looked at each other and grinned. When I overhear these conversations, I feel several warring instincts.

On the one hand, it always made me happy that I can't be immediately picked out of a crowd as an American. Granted, I'm sure it's a lot easier to blend into a British crowd than if we were traveling, say, in Japan. But even so, I feel like I've managed to stealthily infiltrate their society.

On the other hand, I feel the (always successfully suppressed) urge to defend my country. "I like to walk," I wanted to tell these blokes on the train. "And I've managed to live my entire life in America without ever having seen a gun."

One of my favorite questions that people would ask me during my year in England was, "So, what's America like?"

I think that, living in such a small country, it's hard for Brits to comprehend how truly vast and various the U.S. is. Someone growing up in rural Idaho is going to have an entirely different experience from a native New Yorker.

The tendency to make broad, over-reaching statements about Americans seems, in my limited experience, to be a popular pastime in the UK. Sometimes, depending on the speaker, the statement, and the tone, I find it immensely irritating. But most times I laugh it off, as when I overhear someone remarking about how all Americans are rich and have endless supplies of cash.

If you guys know any Americans like that, please introduce me to them!

Friday, October 27, 2006

What, Exactly, Counts as a Souvenir?

I know I already blogged about this once, before the trip, but I thought I could also report back on how the souvenir-buying went.

Pretty much, I went crazy in Glasgow. I bought a CD (of The Editors—a UK band), and loads of clothes for work. Then, in Doncaster, I bought a cute black purse, necklace, bracelet, wallet, and Christmas cards. (So some of you may be sharing in the bounty of my "souvenir" shopping;) I also twisted Keith's arm to get him to buy a zip-up.

In London, we did buy some touristy things. I bought a keychain with a red mailbox on it, but only because I actually did need a new keychain. We bought a Paperchase scrapbook ... only to see it yesterday in our local Cleveland-area Borders. But I know that it's from London!

All throughout the trip we bought postcards to add into the scrapbook. And, eating chocolate and drinking pints every day, I think I gained a few souvenir pounds of weight;)

I also have a hard time picking out souvenirs for other people. T-shirts are out, as I'm bad at picking sizes and I personally wouldn't want a cheesy souvenir t-shirt from someone else's vacation, so I refuse to do it to anyone else. I also wonder whether people want picture frames, magnets, etc. when they might not have ever been to this place.

Let's say I bought you a souvenir London keychain. Next time you're in line at the store, the person behind you says, "Oh! When were you in London? I love London at this time of year!"

And then you have to say, "Well actually, I've never been to London and have no desire to go. But my friend gave me this souvenir keychain" and shrug.

See, that's just awkward. Don't get me wrong—we still bought people such souvenirs as mentioned above. But I did wonder about the wisdom of the purchases, though.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pants, Brollies, and the Like

Okay, both Cathy and Andrea voted for #5, so I'll do that one first.

One of my favorites things about living in England was not only learning the slang, but getting the opportunity to use it. Using foreign slang/phrasing is great because:

1. It's amusing. You use phrases like dirty weekend* or skiving.** It's like you're talking gibberish, but people are actually responding to it!

2. It helps communication. One phrase that kept coming up during my volunteer year and again on this trip is college vs. uni. In the U.S., you go to college and get a bachelor's degree. Saying uni or university would sound pretentious.

But in the UK, college means a junior college, where you would come away with an associate's 2-yr degree, and uni is where you'd go for a 4-year degree. And school is just secondary school--they would never use school/college/uni as interchangeable terms, like we do.

Once you realize the difference between these terms, it felt to me like I was being obstinate or obtuse if I didn't conform to their usage. And we all know I'm neither of those things, so I started using the UK terms. And they made me snicker, but it also made me feel a little more a part of the society, when I would say something British and I didn't get laughed out of the room.

Of course, one slips out of the habit after 5 or 6 years. One word I had particular problems with was pants. In America, it can be used interchangeably with trousers or slacks. In the UK, it is used interchangeably with underwear or panties.

You see the problem.

We got into Glasgow on Saturday morning. On Sunday, Keith and I spent the day in town, and I bought some clothes as souvenirs. (More on that topic later.) One of the items was a pair of gray trousers. Of course, whenever I was telling Elaine's family about shopping and what I bought, I always said pants instead. And they laughed.

To fit as much slang as possible into one (already lengthy) blog entry, I've written below a sample paragraph—once in American and once in British.

American Version
The wedding took place at one thirty in the afternoon. I thought about wearing nice pants and a dressy shirt, but I ended up wearing a dress instead. The weather was great, and everyone had a very good time. The next morning we were really tired, so we slept late and then called home in the afternoon. For lunch I had a Coke and a couple candy bars. It was great!

British Version
The wedding took place at half-one in the afternoon. I thought about wearing nice trousers and a dressy top, but at the end of the day, I wore a dress instead. The weather was gorgeous, and loads of people said the day was brilliant. The next morning we were knackered, so we had a long lie and then rung home in the afternoon. For lunch I had a ginger and some sweets. It was fab!

*I never actually had an opportunity to use this phrase.
**This phrase I used loads.

***Update from Keith on the picture: According to Wikipedia, it was used in the first Harry Potter movie. The place—not our actual picture.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

In No Particular Order

I have so many different aspects of the trip to write about that I just don't really know where to begin. I suppose the obvious order would be chronological, but for some reason I'm not feeling it. So here's a few of the topics in no particular order. If any of them seem intriguing to you, let me know and I'll do those first!

1) A Scottish wedding
2) Just a curry and bowling
3) Random conversations about Americans
4) A few truths about train rides
5) Pants, brollies, and the like
6) "Hey, dude."
7) Yorkshire pudding isn't pudding
8) I really must go to Florida.
9) What, exactly, counts as a souvenir?
10) The Weather
11) A Flying Visit to Liverpool
12) Sinister tourists
13) We had to visit at least one church
14) Lazy Sunday in Glasgow
15) Londontown
16) The Prime Place for a Meridian

In-flight Inner Turmoil

Taken from a journal entry written on the flight over:

For the first time since leaving in July 2001, I'm on my way to the UK. It's hard to believe it's been so long. Even though plenty of things have changed in the meantime:

  • I got my own apartment in Dayton, got a job, got my master's

  • I moved in with Keith in Dayton, got engaged, and got married

  • I got a new job and moved to Cincinnati

  • I hated the new job, quit, Keith got a new job, we moved to Cleveland

  • We bought a house, I got another new job, we got a dog and a kitten.

Seems so simple, put in a bulleted list! [...]

I hope I don't get depressed, because it was so adventurous and exciting that I was living over there, and this time I'm just a tourist. But a little more than a tourist; I like the fact that our journey is routed according to the people I knew. I know people.

I think I should think of it as Amy (sis) suggested—work on the assumption that I'll be moving back there at some point. So don't waste the whole trip being sad that the past is done, but enjoying the moment and looking forward to the next visit. And I have no doubt that there will be another visit, which is a comforting thought.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Safe Return

Just a quick post to let you all know that Keith and I, plus assorted random souvenirs and suitcases of stinky clothes, have safely arrived Stateside. We got back last night and are both back into work today. Sitting at my desk, looking at the pile of papers waiting to be filed, it feels like it was all just a dream ....

A dream I will describe in detail for you soon!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Going on Hiatus


Today Keith and I are leaving for our fabulous UK trip. I know all 4 of my readers (oh wait—Keith will be with me) 3 of my readers will be devastated to see no new blog entries for over a week! But you'll live. While I'm gone, check out Married to the sea, where I got the fantastically witty graphic.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pre-Trip Serenity?

It's really almost time! Just think, at this time tomorrow ... I'll be at work. But at 5:55 pm tomorrow, the plane should be moving away from the gate, taking Keith and me across the pond, to Elaine's wedding and exciting adventures in Scotland and England.

Of course, while the plane is preparing for take-off, I'll be hoping and praying that I don't get airsick during the flight. And by "exciting adventures" I mean that everything goes exactly according to plan. Because adventure in traveling usually means something goes horribly awry. And it's a funny story to tell later, but not so amusing at the time.

Surprisingly enough, I'm not really freaking out anymore. I've decided it's like procrastinating on writing a paper. You worry for weeks about getting it done, without ever actually accomplishing something. But when it's the day before the paper's due, you crack your knuckles and settle down to the computer. There's a sense of peace in having an impending deadline—no more procrastinating. Even if you get no sleep, you'll be done by tomorrow afternoon.

So I think that's my current attitude toward packing, etc. No matter what, we'll be on that flight to Glasgow. And, if worst comes to worst, they sell underwear and toothbrushes in stores all across the UK.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

List Mania

Well, I'm officially going into meltdown mode in preparation for our trip. Since we started planning it, I've been obsessively keeping spreadsheets with plans. A worksheet for the budget, one for travel details, another with a list of people to whom I'll send postcards. (Don't worry—you're on it. At the top of the list.)

This morning, I found myself unable to resist the urge to make more lists. On scraps of paper—the "old-fashioned" way. And these were the same lists I'd already made. Yet I can't help myself.

I think I'm going to go make the "what to pack" list for a third time. But this time, in cursive. With little checkboxes next to each item.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Congratulations, Karen!

Surprisingly enough, I'd like to write a blog entry that's entirely about someone other than myself. I know—I'm a fascinating, witty, and gorgeous individual. But the person I'd like to dedicate this blog to is all that and more—it's my mother-in-law, Karen, who ran her first marathon this past Sunday.

All of her kids ran cross-country in high school, yet she didn't start running until years after they graduated. (For her sake, I won't divulge how many years;) It all started when she wanted to get into better shape for a trip to the Grand Canyon, so she went to a local park and walked around a path there, roughly 1 mile.

After a while, just walking got boring. But she'd never run before so she was nervous. She would walk and, once completely out of sight from the road, she would run along the back part of the path. When she came into sight of the road again, she'd walk.

Fast forward a few years and many, many miles later. She's run 5k, 10k, and half-marathon races. She's been training off and on for years, and she decided to bite the bullet and commit to a marathon. It was a big decision, and involved a lot of time, effort, and ice, but she did it.

The Towpath Marathon in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is not a race for those who crave attention and adoring fans. Mostly it's you, some beautiful nature scenery,and the path. The path that just ... keeps ... going. Nevertheless, Karen did run the Towpath Marathon on Sunday and finished it. It's a fantastic, inspirational accomplishment, and one I'm sure that she'll repeat many times in the future. I'm looking forward to cheering you on at the New York Marathon soon.

Congratulations, Karen!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Adrift Without an Anchor Tome

So I've finished Don Quixote. Which is good and all, but since I closed it for good, I've felt a little lost.

Since it's taken me several months to finish DQ, I also read other books during that time. Last week, I was reading a couple of pirate adventures by Gideon Defoe. But they were short, and I finished them not long after I finished DQ. Suddenly, for the first time since May or so, I'm not reading a book. There isn't one next to my bed, or in my bag, or on the coffee table.

Okay, I did grab a book and put it in my bag, but I haven't started it yet. When I think about reading at lunch, I can't think about where I am in the book and what might be happening next, because I haven't even started it yet.

Does anyone else ever get like this? I like to be in the middle of a book AT ALL TIMES. Is that so weird? At least I'll get to go to the library tonight or tomorrow and pick up some books for our trip. And I'll read the first chapter of every book I pick up, so I won't have this lost, empty feeling for quite some time.