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.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Next: World Peace

My friends, I have a bit of news that is, quite frankly, astonishing.

I have finished Don Quixote.

I know! I never would have thought it possible either. But with my mom's revolutionary plan of committing to 50 pages a week, a mere 3 months later, I'm finished!

I think I'm actually going to miss The Don a little bit. My bag was so much lighter, carrying it into work this morning sans The Don. No more crazy adventures for DQ and Sancho Panza to get into.

As Cathy and I were e-discussing this morning, it's actually surprising how many current cultural references there are to Don Quixote today. I mean, there's the word "quixotic"! How many books get a word all their own?

So I'm glad that I read the book. It may not have always been "pleasant" and would never be considered a "quick read." But I did it, and I'm glad I did. There might actually be something to this incremental way of doing things ....

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Anyone want a Master's Thesis?

On a completely unrelated note ... I was just thinking about how I have many copies of my Master's Thesis, taking up loads of room on a perfectly good bookshelf. Does anyone want a copy?

It's 4 or 5 chapters about the first few months that I lived in England as a volunteer. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll crave chocolate. Mmmmm, peanut butter M&Ms .... oh sorry, I got distracted.

So anyway, if you want a copy and don't have one yet (shockingly enough, as I believe I pressed them into the hands of everyone I know), then post a comment here. If I don't know your address, well. We'll work that out. I think I have a system, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Fall Books

As most of you know or have noticed, I do like to read. But I think that Fall definitely influences my choice of books. More so than other seasons.

Winter causes my rate of reading to increase, due to the lack of motivation to step foot out the door or even out from under the blanket. But I wouldn't say it puts me
in the mood for a certain type of book.

But Fall! Fall makes me want to read long, serious tomes that are comfortingly heavy in your hands. And it makes me want to read creepy books with dark atmosphere and a villain around every corner.

I just read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind, which was excellent Fall reading. I'm ready for more spooky, gothic novels.

On the other hand, I love the I Spy books in general, and I Spy Spooky Night in particular. So if I don't feel like tackling something big and heavy, I may opt for the picture book with riddles instead.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fall Activities

So once I'm properly attired in a chunky fall sweater, boots, and (of course!) a scarf, what are the best Fall activities?

Well, these actually need to be sorted into two categories: when it's raining, and when it's not. When it's not raining, it's things like going through a corn maze, hiking in the woods and admiring the leaves changing color, picking out a pumpkin and apple cider from a roadside market.

If it's rainy, however, that's perfect weather to sit inside and sip your apple cider while reading a scary book. Or watching Halloween movies. I love Halloween! This weekend I started a book about pirates—The Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe. It's not particularly scary, but definitely hilarious. And they say "Garr!" a lot.

When I was a kid, I loved to rake leaves. But not in a helpful manner. I insisted that I be allowed to rake the front yard into a semblance of rooms and hallways, which I called Leafland. I maintained it religiously, cleaning up any stray leaves that fell into the " dining room" or the master bedroom. Don't you hate it when you have leaves on the table? Our yard is a lot smaller than my parents' ... I wonder if we even have a rake. Or whether Keith would be willing to indulge my whims.