31 December 2009

The Beginning, at the End.


Hello from Boxing Day.
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
It's almost 2010. Twenty-ten, two thousand ten, or next year, whatever you want to call it, it's almost here. As usual, I've got a handful of resolutions that mostly have to do with my weight, how I eat, and my attitude in general. None of those will last past the end of the day tomorrow, but there is one that I'm going to try my best to keep. 2010 is going to be the year that I go back to writing.

I have so many ideas floating around in my head. Novels, short stories, epic adventures and children's picture books. This year my focus will be on sorting through the hive of bees in my head and making some strides toward categorizing and committing them to paper.

I'm easing myself back into this mindset by reading. I hate to use this analogy but I can't think of a better one...I'm like Helen Keller at the water pump. I can't stop wanting to read, and for once I'm reading all sorts of things rather than my usual sci-fi/fantasy books. It's the words...I truly can't get enough of the words. I can't wait to see how things will be described or what one character will say to another.

I'm blogging more, and in two languages. I've gone back to my ASL V-log, Nerda's World, and I have every good intention of keeping up with it this time.

2010 is going to be the year of re-kindling my literary fire. I'd lost my voice, in terms of my writing, for many years and I'm so happy to see it coming over the horizon, headed for home. Just wait and see what happens when it finally crosses the threshold. I know I can't wait.

Happy New Year, Lettuce-Heads. See you in the new decade.

21 December 2009

The latest from Old Blighty

Please ignore my lack of lips in that picture and enjoy my latest contribution to Touring Old Blighty:

"Number Eleven for Christmas in Yorkshire"

I work in retail (in a mall) and my store is a bus and two trains away. The other day I was working and had popped down to the food court in the mall for some lunch, when I was treated to some lovely Christmas carols performed by a brass band set up by the entrance to Morrisons. Then today, as I was coming down the escalator at Leeds station, in a hurry and admittedly cranky with the crowds of shoppers and people with large luggage traveling for the holidays, I had a chance to be still and just listen. A brass band was playing Christmas Carols outside of the ticket barrier, and I will further admit to missing the Carlisle train because I lingered there, under the big board, feeling more in the Christmas spirit than I had all day.

I'm a sucker for a brass band, and I'm lucky to live in Yorkshire where bands come in all shapes and sizes and ages, from the colliery bands still playing together despite the end of that era to the village bands that blend old and young performers. But there's something about "Ding Dong Merrily on High" played by a brass band in the acoustic perfection that is a concrete and glass railway station that would make Scrooge and the Grinch both smile. Merry Christmas from the land of whippets, flat caps, and brass bands!


My Avatar Experience


I see you...
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
I want to start this by saying that I was stunned and amazed and thrilled by the graphics and the effects in Avatar. The movie is visually beautiful, the creatures on the created world of Pandora are surprising and the language Cameron created for the natives has the lilt of a cross between Tolkien's Elvish and modern Gaelic.

I don't want to say too much about the move for the folks who haven't already figured out where the plot will be heading and want a surprise. Fair enough. However, I want to comment on the biggest complaint I had with the movie and I'm able to do that without spoiling it for those of you that haven't seen it yet.

I just want to pause for a moment here and say that if you have the chance to see the movie in 3D and/or IMAX, please do it. You'll be glad you did. I caught myself almost swatting insects, the 3D is so convincing.

Right, back to my complaint. I will say openly that now that I'm outside of the US I have become a bit sensitive about the portayal of the Average American in the media and toward the ideas that other nationals have about us. I consider myself to be more or less an average American, albeit a very liberal democrat American. My complaint is that the team of humans that were mining on Pandora, the military presence that resorted to violence at the drop of a hat and packed some serious firepower, and even the scientists who wanted to improve the lives of the natives by setting up schools for them...they were all American. I know that it's an American movie that was made in America by an American director/producer/writer/whathaveyou, but a multinational cast might be more representative of where humanity will be at that point in the future.

I see the effects of this kind of portrayal every day. Several months ago an Englishman told me that he didn't think that Obama would be in office long enough to make any positive changes because "He'll get assassinated. That's what you lot do in America, you shoot people." Today a customer at work insinuated that my family could help me find a book once he learned that I was born in Atlanta. The book was about reloading guns.

Anyway, if you can make it in to see Avatar at an IMAX, do it. The effects will blow you away...while the Americans on screen do the same.

11 December 2009

This Week's Article on Touring Old Blighty

(Otherwise known as my other blogging venture...click the link in the title to read more!)

Disclaimer: Unlike most "Top Ten" lists, this one is in no particular order and draws its results from nothing more than this ex-pat's experience of her first Christmas season in the UK. Do with as you will.

10. Christmas adverts on the television.


Starting in about late September, there were "holiday" adverts on the television. (Yes, those who think that all British TV is advert free, we DO have them on some channels...mostly the ones NOT controlled by the British Broadcasting Compay.) Those tended to be filled with reminders that "the holiday season is just around the corner" but were delightfully void of "make your layaway purchases now!" advice. However, following Halloween, Christmas adverts have been appearing all over the telly, and some of them are just spectacular. While it can be said that Christmas is even more commericalised here than it is in the US (if that's even possible) and that the "Reason for the Season" is left out, I don't completely agree. The adverts show warm, happy, scenes of home, with people gathering and celebrating together. Now, granted that leaves out the Christian reason for the season, but it promotes giving and what I think to be family values. One such example, included for your viewing pleasure, is the following lovely John Lewis advert.



9. Christmas Displays in Shop Windows


Of course, this is not limited to the UK, but I have seen some positively fantastic window displays in shops here since around the middle of November. Moving parts, music, lights - nothing seems to be too much when you're talking window displays. However, what has impressed me is the participation in what seems to be more commonplace here than the US. I'll give you two examples of what I mean: first, I work for a retail shop and the company policy is to make all the windows across the country look the same. The idea is that continuity brings with it a certain amount of familiarity and therefore brand-trust. Makes sense. However, some of the branches, mine included, have large, walk-in front windows (or fall-in, if you're me) and the staff were visibly disappointed at the notion that we will not be decorating the window beyond the bits sent to us (and all branches) by corporate. To my lazy American mind this was joyous news indeed...they tell us what to put in the window and we do it. But my colleagues were telling wonderful stories about Christmases past and staying at the store well past closing to work on window decorations - and I admit to feeling a bit cheated that I wasn't there "back when."

8. Christmas Light Displays and City-Wide Christmas Light Switch-Ons.


Perhaps I didn't live in an area in the US that felt as strongly about switching on their Christmas Lights. Greenville, SC, where I lived until immigrating back in April, had fantastic fairy lights in all the trees downtown - that are on year round. There were of course banners and extra lights added to the streetlights, etc. downtown, but I think the big "thing" in the US is the Christmas parade.

The big thing here is the celebration and official Switch On of the town/city/village's Christmas lights every year. It happens in late November/early December, and I'm ashamed to admit that I missed it for Keighley because I was just feeling a bit too homesick that day to go watch anything Christmas-related. The celebrations range from a local band playing to lavish stage shows and last several hours, the climax of each being some local celebrity pushing a big button or throwing an oversized switch that lights up the big Christmas tree (and other lights in the town, I would imagine). Each place has their own unique thing that they do for Christmas, and I'm pleased to share with you my husband's favourite bit from the town centre here in Keighley (shot yesterday afternoon on my way home from work):


7. Mince Pies (if you like sultanas, that is).


Personally, I don't care for them, but my husband (and other friends, I must admit) giggle with glee when these precious little pastries first appear on store shelves in late November. A mince pie, according to Wikipedia, is "A mince pie (sometimes also minced, minced meat, or mincemeat pie) is a British festive sweet pastry, traditionally consumed during the Christmas and New Year period. Mince pies are filled with mincemeat – a preserve typically containing apple, dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas, spices, and either suet or vegetable shortening."

These things are the stuff of legend, and I'd always compared them to the frightening and traditional fruit cake that is served, feared, and probably re-gifted throughout the US at Christmas. (I have a theory that there are only a few fruit cakes in the US, and those few have been circulated across the country for years.) But where the fruit cake is a joke, mince pies are beloved. I can say that I've tried them and sadly my distaste for raisins and anything similar keeps me from enjoying them, but they are a much anticipated treat here and I felt, as such, they deserved mention.

6. Christmas Specials on Television.


Now I'm not referring here to Andy Williams or The Osmonds. These have little to do with Bing Crosby, a contrived sitting room with Christmas decorations, or two hours of back to back Christmas carols. The Christmas Specials I'm talking about are the episodes of popular programs such as Doctor Who, Two Pints, and others that have specific Christmas themes and sometimes last longer than a normal episode. The Doctor Who specials, for example, are must-see-TV and often herald the new series that will start in the new year by dropping hints or introducing new recurring characters. Other programs use the Christmas special to bring back former characters or craft an entirely different story that has nothing to do with what's going on in the regular series. It's like a Christmas present from the show, and while some programs in the US have similar ideas I see this as unique to British television.

5. Nativity Plays in School.


Have you seen Love Actually? Do you remember the lobster and octopus that rode to the Nativity Play with Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon? While I understand that schools in the US also perform "Christmas Programs" just before the winter break (having been a participant in them myself many many years ago), I find it charming and just lovely that the schools put so much thought and time into their Christmas programming. I also find it, I will admit, a bit astonishing the amount of Christianity in the plays and pageants, but then I am reminded that I am living in a country now with a State religion, the Church of England.

4. It's Flippin' Cold!!


If you didn't grow up having Christmas in the southern part of the United States, then this item won't mean as much to you as it does to me. The temperature outside at Christmas when I was young could range from the 30sF to the 70sF, and I can't remember a single one where we've had snow. There was ice occasionally, and it's not nearly as beautiful and magical as one would think to have one's yard turn into a skating rink. Also, having grown up watching people on TV shiver and pull up their collars around their ears while out Christmas shopping or warm up with a mug of cider or eggnog around a roaring fire while singing Christmas carols, I felt a bit cheated every year when my Christmas included iced tea and shorts (indoors at least).

I'm paying for all that envy in spades now that I live in the UK. Man alive is it cold here! The wind is gusty (if only to remind you that this is, after all, an island) and the air is frosty. It FEELS like Christmas here and has since about October, off and on. We have our odd warm days where the mercury climbs to a scorching 60 degrees and I see people outdoors in shorts, but those are few and far between. In fact, I've found myself thinking that I don't need my hat if it's not going to be below about 2C outside (35F) because I'll be warm enough without it. When I lived in the states I didn't go outside unless I had to when it was that cold!

But oddly enough, the British tendency to "Keep Calm and Carry On" seems to be rubbing off on me and I truly am not minding the cold as much as I did just after I moved here or two years ago when I visited over Christmas/New Year. It's all about layers, public transport, and lots of cups of Yorkshire tea, friends.

3. German and Otherwise Christmas Markets


One of the best parts of living in the UK, in my opinion, is the abundance of markets. Keighley, for example, has a Farmer's Market on the third Sunday of every month that is set up on the Church Green and has some of the best of local produce, butchers, and crafts. These markets happen every day of the year somewhere in the country. However, as Christmas draws near the items on offer change as the markets themselves change. There are "German Christmas Markets" that set up in cities across the UK and this website, Christmas Markets.com, has a pretty comprehensive listing of "European Christmas Markets," including offers for coach trips and mini-breaks (flight and all) to some of the markets around Europe.

Keighley's Christmas Market is this weekend and I'm anxious to see how different it is from the regular Farmer's Market. Wakefield, where I work, has a German Christmas Market (complete with bratwurst!!) that sets up around the Wakefield Cathedral and has been running every day for about two weeks now. I see the stalls with their festive red and white roofs on my way into work in the morning, and can smell the brats cooking on my way home in the afternoon. Leeds has a well-known Christkindelmarkt as well that runs into the evening, so it's a must-see on the Thursday Late Night Shopping trips during the Christmas season.

2. Panto


For number two I had to think about something that my husband loves about Christmas in the UK that you don't find in the US. This entry, I must admit, puzzles me slightly and makes me feel like an outsider because I just don't get it. From our good friend, Wikipedia, we find this entry on Pantomime or "Panto" as it is called:
Traditionally performed at Christmas, with family audiences consisting mainly of children and parents, British pantomime is now a popular form of theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, audience participation, and mild sexual innuendo. There are a number of traditional story-lines, and there is also a fairly well-defined set of performance conventions. Lists of these items follow, along with a special discussion of the 'guest celebrity' tradition, which emerged in the late 19th century.

It is not uncommon during Christmas to see hordes of children being shepherded by tired and slightly frantic-looking teachers on public transport, headed for the local theatre to see the Christmas Panto. It is a huge deal every year to see which TV celebs are appearing in which Pantos. My husband has already been checking into tickets for us to see one in Leeds, I think, so I can report more if that happens. If I'm honest, though, it isn't a Christmas tradition that I'm looking to join anytime soon.

1. Christmas Crackers


Last year my husband and I celebrated Christmas at the home of my sister, Susan, and her husband Dave (also known as the other part of TOB) and he made sure we had some British traditions on hand to make my husband feel at home. One of those is one of my favourite things about Christmas in the UK: Christmas Crackers. Again I turn to Wikipedia for a bit of history of the Christmas Cracker:
"Crackers were invented by Thomas J. Smith of London in 1847. He created the crackers as a development of his bon-bon sweets, which he sold in a twist of paper (the origins of the traditional sweet-wrapper). As sales of bon-bons slumped, Smith began to come up with new promotional ideas. His first tactic was to insert mottos into the wrappers of the sweets (cf. fortune cookies), but this had only limited success.

He was inspired to add the "crackle" element when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on the fire. The size of the paper wrapper had to be increased to incorporate the banger mechanism, and the sweet itself was eventually dropped, to be replaced by a small gift. The new product was initially marketed as the Cosaque (i.e., Cossack), but the onomatopoeic "cracker" soon became the commonly used name, as rival varieties were introduced to the market. The other elements of the modern cracker, the gifts, paper hats and varied designs, were all introduced by Tom Smith's son, Walter Smith, to differentiate his product from the many copycat cracker manufacturers which had suddenly sprung up."

Sadly we can't take them back and forth from the US to the UK because of the "banger" mechanism mentioned above - TSA tends to frown on exploding bits in luggage - so last year Dave bought them at a British shop stateside. I have to say I love this tradition and I don't even mind wearing the paper hats found inside the crackers.

Happy Christmas!!

As Seen on Touring Old Blighty...

Disclaimer: Unlike most "Top Ten" lists, this one is in no particular order and draws its results from nothing more than this ex-pat's experience of her first Christmas season in the UK. Do with as you will.

10. Christmas adverts on the television.


Starting in about late September, there were "holiday" adverts on the television. (Yes, those who think that all British TV is advert free, we DO have them on some channels...mostly the ones NOT controlled by the British Broadcasting Compay.) Those tended to be filled with reminders that "the holiday season is just around the corner" but were delightfully void of "make your layaway purchases now!" advice. However, following Halloween, Christmas adverts have been appearing all over the telly, and some of them are just spectacular. While it can be said that Christmas is even more commericalised here than it is in the US (if that's even possible) and that the "Reason for the Season" is left out, I don't completely agree. The adverts show warm, happy, scenes of home, with people gathering and celebrating together. Now, granted that leaves out the Christian reason for the season, but it promotes giving and what I think to be family values. One such example, included for your viewing pleasure, is the following lovely John Lewis advert.



9. Christmas Displays in Shop Windows


Of course, this is not limited to the UK, but I have seen some positively fantastic window displays in shops here since around the middle of November. Moving parts, music, lights - nothing seems to be too much when you're talking window displays. However, what has impressed me is the participation in what seems to be more commonplace here than the US. I'll give you two examples of what I mean: first, I work for a retail shop and the company policy is to make all the windows across the country look the same. The idea is that continuity brings with it a certain amount of familiarity and therefore brand-trust. Makes sense. However, some of the branches, mine included, have large, walk-in front windows (or fall-in, if you're me) and the staff were visibly disappointed at the notion that we will not be decorating the window beyond the bits sent to us (and all branches) by corporate. To my lazy American mind this was joyous news indeed...they tell us what to put in the window and we do it. But my colleagues were telling wonderful stories about Christmases past and staying at the store well past closing to work on window decorations - and I admit to feeling a bit cheated that I wasn't there "back when."

8. Christmas Light Displays and City-Wide Christmas Light Switch-Ons.


Perhaps I didn't live in an area in the US that felt as strongly about switching on their Christmas Lights. Greenville, SC, where I lived until immigrating back in April, had fantastic fairy lights in all the trees downtown - that are on year round. There were of course banners and extra lights added to the streetlights, etc. downtown, but I think the big "thing" in the US is the Christmas parade.

The big thing here is the celebration and official Switch On of the town/city/village's Christmas lights every year. It happens in late November/early December, and I'm ashamed to admit that I missed it for Keighley because I was just feeling a bit too homesick that day to go watch anything Christmas-related. The celebrations range from a local band playing to lavish stage shows and last several hours, the climax of each being some local celebrity pushing a big button or throwing an oversized switch that lights up the big Christmas tree (and other lights in the town, I would imagine). Each place has their own unique thing that they do for Christmas, and I'm pleased to share with you my husband's favourite bit from the town centre here in Keighley (shot yesterday afternoon on my way home from work):


7. Mince Pies (if you like sultanas, that is).


Personally, I don't care for them, but my husband (and other friends, I must admit) giggle with glee when these precious little pastries first appear on store shelves in late November. A mince pie, according to Wikipedia, is "A mince pie (sometimes also minced, minced meat, or mincemeat pie) is a British festive sweet pastry, traditionally consumed during the Christmas and New Year period. Mince pies are filled with mincemeat – a preserve typically containing apple, dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas, spices, and either suet or vegetable shortening."

These things are the stuff of legend, and I'd always compared them to the frightening and traditional fruit cake that is served, feared, and probably re-gifted throughout the US at Christmas. (I have a theory that there are only a few fruit cakes in the US, and those few have been circulated across the country for years.) But where the fruit cake is a joke, mince pies are beloved. I can say that I've tried them and sadly my distaste for raisins and anything similar keeps me from enjoying them, but they are a much anticipated treat here and I felt, as such, they deserved mention.

6. Christmas Specials on Television.


Now I'm not referring here to Andy Williams or The Osmonds. These have little to do with Bing Crosby, a contrived sitting room with Christmas decorations, or two hours of back to back Christmas carols. The Christmas Specials I'm talking about are the episodes of popular programs such as Doctor Who, Two Pints, and others that have specific Christmas themes and sometimes last longer than a normal episode. The Doctor Who specials, for example, are must-see-TV and often herald the new series that will start in the new year by dropping hints or introducing new recurring characters. Other programs use the Christmas special to bring back former characters or craft an entirely different story that has nothing to do with what's going on in the regular series. It's like a Christmas present from the show, and while some programs in the US have similar ideas I see this as unique to British television.

5. Nativity Plays in School.


Have you seen Love Actually? Do you remember the lobster and octopus that rode to the Nativity Play with Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon? While I understand that schools in the US also perform "Christmas Programs" just before the winter break (having been a participant in them myself many many years ago), I find it charming and just lovely that the schools put so much thought and time into their Christmas programming. I also find it, I will admit, a bit astonishing the amount of Christianity in the plays and pageants, but then I am reminded that I am living in a country now with a State religion, the Church of England.

4. It's Flippin' Cold!!


If you didn't grow up having Christmas in the southern part of the United States, then this item won't mean as much to you as it does to me. The temperature outside at Christmas when I was young could range from the 30sF to the 70sF, and I can't remember a single one where we've had snow. There was ice occasionally, and it's not nearly as beautiful and magical as one would think to have one's yard turn into a skating rink. Also, having grown up watching people on TV shiver and pull up their collars around their ears while out Christmas shopping or warm up with a mug of cider or eggnog around a roaring fire while singing Christmas carols, I felt a bit cheated every year when my Christmas included iced tea and shorts (indoors at least).

I'm paying for all that envy in spades now that I live in the UK. Man alive is it cold here! The wind is gusty (if only to remind you that this is, after all, an island) and the air is frosty. It FEELS like Christmas here and has since about October, off and on. We have our odd warm days where the mercury climbs to a scorching 60 degrees and I see people outdoors in shorts, but those are few and far between. In fact, I've found myself thinking that I don't need my hat if it's not going to be below about 2C outside (35F) because I'll be warm enough without it. When I lived in the states I didn't go outside unless I had to when it was that cold!

But oddly enough, the British tendency to "Keep Calm and Carry On" seems to be rubbing off on me and I truly am not minding the cold as much as I did just after I moved here or two years ago when I visited over Christmas/New Year. It's all about layers, public transport, and lots of cups of Yorkshire tea, friends.

3. German and Otherwise Christmas Markets


One of the best parts of living in the UK, in my opinion, is the abundance of markets. Keighley, for example, has a Farmer's Market on the third Sunday of every month that is set up on the Church Green and has some of the best of local produce, butchers, and crafts. These markets happen every day of the year somewhere in the country. However, as Christmas draws near the items on offer change as the markets themselves change. There are "German Christmas Markets" that set up in cities across the UK and this website, Christmas Markets.com, has a pretty comprehensive listing of "European Christmas Markets," including offers for coach trips and mini-breaks (flight and all) to some of the markets around Europe.

Keighley's Christmas Market is this weekend and I'm anxious to see how different it is from the regular Farmer's Market. Wakefield, where I work, has a German Christmas Market (complete with bratwurst!!) that sets up around the Wakefield Cathedral and has been running every day for about two weeks now. I see the stalls with their festive red and white roofs on my way into work in the morning, and can smell the brats cooking on my way home in the afternoon. Leeds has a well-known Christkindelmarkt as well that runs into the evening, so it's a must-see on the Thursday Late Night Shopping trips during the Christmas season.

2. Panto


For number two I had to think about something that my husband loves about Christmas in the UK that you don't find in the US. This entry, I must admit, puzzles me slightly and makes me feel like an outsider because I just don't get it. From our good friend, Wikipedia, we find this entry on Pantomime or "Panto" as it is called:
Traditionally performed at Christmas, with family audiences consisting mainly of children and parents, British pantomime is now a popular form of theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, audience participation, and mild sexual innuendo. There are a number of traditional story-lines, and there is also a fairly well-defined set of performance conventions. Lists of these items follow, along with a special discussion of the 'guest celebrity' tradition, which emerged in the late 19th century.

It is not uncommon during Christmas to see hordes of children being shepherded by tired and slightly frantic-looking teachers on public transport, headed for the local theatre to see the Christmas Panto. It is a huge deal every year to see which TV celebs are appearing in which Pantos. My husband has already been checking into tickets for us to see one in Leeds, I think, so I can report more if that happens. If I'm honest, though, it isn't a Christmas tradition that I'm looking to join anytime soon.

1. Christmas Crackers


Last year my husband and I celebrated Christmas at the home of my sister, Susan, and her husband Dave (also known as the other part of TOB) and he made sure we had some British traditions on hand to make my husband feel at home. One of those is one of my favourite things about Christmas in the UK: Christmas Crackers. Again I turn to Wikipedia for a bit of history of the Christmas Cracker:
"Crackers were invented by Thomas J. Smith of London in 1847. He created the crackers as a development of his bon-bon sweets, which he sold in a twist of paper (the origins of the traditional sweet-wrapper). As sales of bon-bons slumped, Smith began to come up with new promotional ideas. His first tactic was to insert mottos into the wrappers of the sweets (cf. fortune cookies), but this had only limited success.

He was inspired to add the "crackle" element when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on the fire. The size of the paper wrapper had to be increased to incorporate the banger mechanism, and the sweet itself was eventually dropped, to be replaced by a small gift. The new product was initially marketed as the Cosaque (i.e., Cossack), but the onomatopoeic "cracker" soon became the commonly used name, as rival varieties were introduced to the market. The other elements of the modern cracker, the gifts, paper hats and varied designs, were all introduced by Tom Smith's son, Walter Smith, to differentiate his product from the many copycat cracker manufacturers which had suddenly sprung up."

Sadly we can't take them back and forth from the US to the UK because of the "banger" mechanism mentioned above - TSA tends to frown on exploding bits in luggage - so last year Dave bought them at a British shop stateside. I have to say I love this tradition and I don't even mind wearing the paper hats found inside the crackers.

Happy Christmas!!

07 December 2009

In Which Nancy DOESN'T Watch Where She's Walking

It was a Saturday morning just like any other in the UK...Cold, dreary, and potentially rainy. Simon and I bundled up Daisy in her coat (thank you, Rebecca and Dave!) and then bundled up ourselves and headed out to the post office to retrieve our Christmas cards that had arrived. We headed for Oakworth Road post office which requires a walk through the park, nothing really earthshaking.

Then I saw them...we were almost to the park and I saw a gorgeous Alsatian and another bull terrier type dog and somehow forgot my own clumsiness and lack of walking ability. I had just said to Simon that the Alsatian was lovely and "ooh look there's another one too!" when my toe struck the curb rather than cleared it. Next thing I remember is being on my hands and knees on the pavement, left palm stinging and both knees on fire. Bless him, Simon was very concerned and was trying to help me get up, and all I could do was hiss at him that I was fine and could we keep moving please?

Luckily, when I "went straight over like a stone," (Simon's account of my swan dive onto the pavement) I didn't let go of Daisy's leash nor did I fall on her. I should really not be allowed out of the house. We managed to pick up the Christmas cards and get back home, and all I have to show for my adventure is a scraped and bruised left hand, some bruises on my right knee, and a stiff-legged walk that could only be made more pitiful by a walker or a cane.

At least I wasn't having to figure out which way the traffic was coming at the same time or I might have a concussion as well.

03 December 2009

Piano Lessons and Happy Birthdays



A year ago this past Tuesday I was working at the University of Georgia. I had a class in the Poultry Sciences building to interpret and was running up the hill between Clark Howell Hall and the Chemistry/Biology block of buildings because, per usual, I was late getting to campus. My phone went off in my pocket and I simultaneously pulled my iPod earpiece out and slammed the phone against my head. Breathing like something off a bad B movie, I answered the phone and heard the most wonderful news I'd heard to date: "Joy is here!"

A year ago this past Tuesday something incredible and remarkable happened. My sister and her husband had their daughter, my niece, Joy. Now, I've had nieces and nephews and god-daughters before, but this time it was different. Joy is my sister's child. She's my niece. And she's perfect.

I can't believe she's a year old now or that I wasn't there to celebrate with her on her special day...but I'll see her next month when her parents take her on her first trip to the UK. Until then, join me as I enjoy her piano "lesson" with me back in October of this year. Miss you, Joy, Auntsie loves you to absolute bits.

29 November 2009

Thanksgiving, 2009


Ooh, this is good!
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
My sister in law Liz and I threw our English inlaws a Thanksgiving meal yesterday to both celebrate American Thanksgiving but also to celebrate my and my niece (her daughter)'s birthday which was Friday. We had a plan, and then decided to throw caution to the wind and just go tot he store with a vague idea of what we wanted to cook instead of a grocery list.

Our menu consisted of roast turkey breasts, mashed potatoes with onions and sour cream, Caramel and Praline Sweet Potatoes (a brand new dish making its debut at this meal due to the lack of maple syrup or treacle in our sister in law Louise's cupboard), cranberry sauce, my mom's cornbread dressing, cornbread, a bad attempt at green bean casserole, peas and carrots for the kids, with pies and cakes for dessert. It was fantastic!!

I still don't completely feel like I didn't miss Thanksgiving. But I do feel like I know my inlaws a bit better and we had a fabulous time. The funniest part was how surprised they all seemed to be with how full they felt afterward. That's just part of Thanksgiving!!!

16 November 2009

It's not time for Christmas yet!!


pilgrims
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
Anyone who knows me well knows that We Do Not Decorate for Christmas Before Thanksgiving/Nancy's Birthday (whichever comes last on the calendar). As I child I remember clearly thinking that my birthday (27th November, in case you're keeping track) had been forgotten when people jumped on ahead to Christmas. Nothing red nor green was hung in my parents' house until at least November 28th.

Apparently the UK didn't get the memo. Now, to be fair, there is no Thanksgiving Holiday in the UK, but still...Christmas things were being hung here and there and surreptitiously mentioned on the television and internet back in October. October! That's the month for spooks and haunts, people, not Dasher and Dancer, for pete's sake!

I may not be at home for Thanksgiving this year (or Christmas, for that matter) but I'm still celebrating. Liz's daughter and I share the same birthday, so for our birthday dinner we're having American Thanksgiving! Turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, the works...providing Liz and I can get everything done without burning Louise's kitchen to the ground, that is. I'm excited about sharing part of what makes me, me with my in-laws as well as just having a family get-together...to me that's more of what Thanksgiving is than a meal, and it's what I will miss this year about not being with my family.

After that, we can start celebrating Christmas...and shopping.

13 November 2009

New Foray into Expat Nerdiness


patriotism
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
Just wanted to let you guys know about an exciting new blog I'm working with called Touring Old Blighty. I'm one of the collaborating authors and focus on both the UK as seen by an American expat AND pet friendly travel in the UK. I'm very excited to have the opportunity, but promise not to forget you, my 5-10 Loyal Lettuce Readers.

You have a title now. Please feel free to use it in social situations and put it on business cards. Folks will be impressed, I'm sure of it.

My insomnia continues, and tonight I'm pondering something that we got at the grocery store today...squash. Not the veggie that is oh-so frequently present in "seasonal vegetables" served alongside a main entree at a chain restaurant, nor the strange game that looks like tennis gone mad. I'm talking about fruit juice that is so highly concentrated that you can add, according to my husband, a capful to water and PRESTO you've got orange juice (or whatever kind of squash you prefer, I chose the orange over Strawberry/Kiwi or Apple/ Blackcurrant).

Fellow expats, British readers, and basically anyone that's tried this super duper non-refrigerated alternative to good old orange juice...answer me this: is it going to taste like Tang? It smells a bit like Tang. Not that I have anything against Tang, it's served our astronauts and millions of kids in 1970's America well. But it's not orange juice, regardless of the pulp level or brand name.

I think it's time to try to sleep, don't you?

12 November 2009

Travel and other Developments

Before you say that Simon and I have reached a new low in Strange Hat Photography, let me just say that I was overtaken by the Awesomeville that IS Dawsonville and Simon put the hat on me when I wasn't looking. I mean how could I be looking? I have those huge sunglasses on after all. In November. Indoors.

We are back from our two weeks away in America, and as always I am of several minds when looking back on the trip. There is, and will always be, a huge part of my heart and soul that wanted to stay there and just send Simon back to collect Daisy and Mills and bring them home to the US. This time back I also had a strange feeling that I was in a foreign country, not like last summer when I felt that I was finally back home. Strange that, because I still feel like I'm in a foreign country here in the UK.

I remember before we left thinking how nice it would be to grocery shop in the US again, and commented to Simon how it would be "easy" because I'd know where everything was. Amazing how I was looking for Flora, Tango, and other British brands at Ingles and getting frustrated when I couldn't find them.

Anyway, we had a marvelous time, including trips to the Carolina Renaissance Festival (my home away from home and huge part of my family of choice), the World of Coke (I tried the Beverly, y'all. It was WRONG.), the Georgia Aquarium, and my 20th high school reunion.

I know, the hat in the picture there makes me not look a day over 10 years out of high school, doesn't it?

Simon attended his first American football game, and we had a great time the next night catching up with my high school buddies over dinner. It was funny to me how we all came into the restaurant in a mass, then seemed to separate into the same groups we were in back at CHS when it came time to sit down to eat.

I had the predictable and never ever pretty meltdowns over, I think, being a stranger in my home country. One was at Target/Mecca, when I bought on a whim a new duffel bag to replace one of the ones we brought over that wasn't going to hold all my winter clothes we were planning to take back. I got out to the car with it, and promptly marched back in to return it...only to find that the cashier hadn't charged me for the carry on that I bought at the same time, so I went BACK in again to pay for that. I should have taken the bag and run, I know, but I love Target and didn't want to feel like Undesireable Number One (thanks, JKR) when I shopped there in future.

Meltdown two came as we were loading the car, and three happened as we took off from Atlanta in the rain. After a bumpy and cramped ride back to Manchester, we came home to Keighley and resumed life today...if I'm "fun" at work on normal then I must have been a riot today on jet lag.

Clicking on the picture above will take you to the photo album from our trip. Thanks unending to Susan and Dave and Joy and Mom and Dad and Katy and Kurt and Leah and Anne and the CRF Cast and the Hounds of East Fairhaven and the Commerce High School Class of 1989 for a fab time. See you all in March...well, some of you anyway.

I wonder if I can sleep now?

22 October 2009

Of Store Windows and Bad Dog Owners


Daisy's Eyes
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
Okay, here's what really happened. I was helping a colleague of mine to replace the posters in the anti-theft thingys at the front of our store yesterday. The back sides of two of them are slam up against the entrances to our store windows, both of which were open because another colleague was working on the window displays. I hopped up onto the opening created by the ajar door on the left hand window and the height helped me reach the top of the thing. Because the floor slopes downward, the right hand window's floor is much lower than the left...a tidy fact that I failed to take into account when I sat on the ledge of said lower window.

I leaned back to sit down on the floor of the window, only to find that instead of a few inches away it was about two feet away. BLAMMO. Landed on my back like some kind of crazed turtle, laughing my face off and leaving my poor colleague (who soon joined me laughing) to wonder if I'd hit my head on the way down, I'm sure. Today I'm a bit sore on my back and neck and feel like I've scraped the backs of my knees, but otherwise I'm none the worse for wear.

And Julian, it had nothing to do with the Benadryl. Okay, maybe a little. Teensy bit.

The Benadryl I'm taking to combat a particularly nasty allergic reaction to new washing powder has left me in a haze...an emotional, quick to react, haze. I managed to make it to the bus station early to catch the bus home last night (no small feat considering after 6:30pm they only run once an hour and I didn't even leave Wakefield till 6:40!) and plopped myself down in one of the seats to read while I waited. A man and woman that I see frequently around Keighley came into the bus station with their two dogs.

Now I'm going to pause here and say quickly that I know that not everyone feels that dogs are members of the family and that we have a duty to care for them when we take them into our homes...but I do, and under normal circumstances I am appalled at the treatment of dogs I see on a daily basis around my neighborhood. Just down from us I saw a woman beating the fool out of her dog one day for I don't know what...I made a comment about how dogs respond better to love than abuse and she took the poor thing inside her house. Most of the time I can hold my tongue and not let myself get too involved in the things I see...I have to, because if I don't it honestly hurts my soul.

The man and woman were waiting on the same bus as I was. Someone that I assume they know came over to talk to them and squatted down to pet the dogs. He had no issue petting the male, but when he paid attention to the female the male barked at him. Reasonable reaction, really...they are clearly using these two for breeding (from the state of the female's body every time I see her!) and the male thinks the female is his. The visitor backed up and headed on to his bus stand. The man hit the male dog with whatever was in his hand so hard that the dog yelped and immediately assumed a very submissive posture. The man then looked each of us at the stand in the eye in turn, making comments about how he can't have that dog barking like that and next time the dog will know better, etc. Later on, as we all still were waiting to leave on the bus, I saw the female dog sniffing at something and the woman literally kicked the poor thing off it's feet to stop.

But did I say anything? NO. I will admit here and freely to anyone that asks that I am a coward, and people who will do that to their animals scare me. But at the same time I, in the aforementioned Benadryl haze, was almost in tears thinking about those poor dogs. They look to their humans to take care of them and provide them with safety, and in return they are hit and kicked. I don't know how anyone can look into the eyes of an animal and do it any kind of harm...I know that I could not look at those eyes in the photo there and do anything but fall in love.

Next time I see them I hope that I will be brave...I hope that I will be un-Benadryled and close to an authority figure like a police person...and that I will have hit my head hard enough in the store window to report them and hopefully make life better for their dogs.

12 October 2009

Lemons and Lemonade


Lou says "Surprise!"
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
Last Thursday was a pretty normal day. We were getting ready to head up to the Northeast on Saturday to surprise Simon's mom for her birthday, and I'd gone for a much needed hair appointment. I sprinted from the salon to the bus station, made the bus, and got home...and decided that Friday evening and Saturday morning were PLENTY of time to finish laundry and packing and tidying the house for Simon's friend to spend the night and watch Daisy for us.

Lemon Number One: Friday morning before he left for work, Simon popped our duvet cover and spare sheets into the wash so that his friend would have a clean bed to share with Daisy. I went down around 8am to take that out and put some clothes in, and found that the washer was standing in water. Not good, and not the first time it's done that. Did I mention it is a front loader? Kitchen was nearly standing in water as well! I removed the duvet cover and started the thing again with just a sheet left inside in the hopes that it would drain. I checked on it as I was leaving for work and found it again standing in water but THIS time, as a special bonus, the water was foamy. At least I learned my lesson from the first waterfall and left the door shut.

Lemon Number Two: Friday night we had a mandatory training at work...after work...on Friday night. I got out of there at about quarter to eight, caught two well timed trains, and made it to Keighley in time to RUN to the bus station in the hopes of catching the 9pm bus to home (after 6:30 pm, really, the buses only run once every hour). Once again, however, I found myself at the bus station as the flipping bus was pulling out of the station...literally, I made EYE CONTACT with the driver as he left the stand. You can imagine my joy at the mile long walk home in the dark.

Lemon Number Three: To quote my husband, our washing machine is "completely buggered." Bless him, he went out Friday night in search of a laundrette so that we'd have bedding for Ste and underclothes for ourselves and all were closed, so he had to go back Saturday morning. We left for the Northeast about an hour later than we'd planned due to having to wait on the tumble dryers at the laundrette.

Lemonade: Look at the expression on my mother in law's face in that photo. She had no idea that all four of her children, two daughters in law, one son in law, and three granddaughters were coming to take her to dinner for her birthday, and we could hear her almost squealing when she opened the door and found the girls there, claiming to be lost. (The adults were all in various states of crouch behind the hedge.) She wore that grin for most of the night and into the next morning. Simon's entire family has been so kind to me since I got here in April, and his parents have welcomed me into their family like I've always been there. Good times and nothing but lemonade.

26 September 2009

Brrrr!


cold post
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
Okay, it's not quite as cold here as in the picture, but in the past week the temperature has dropped considerably. It's like the weather was trying to stretch out just a bit more summer, realised that it's just a few days from October, and BAM! Colder weather. The days are markedly shorter...it's now dark-ish at 5:30pm and YIKES DARK by 7pm. I know that we're WAY farther north than where I used to live in the states, but it's still a bit shocking how fast the change seems to come on. Last week I'd wear a scarf on the way in to work and be sweating on the way back with my jacket on but not buttoned. Just yesterday my nails were turning blue because I'd forgotten my gloves.

With the cold weather I'm starting to notice the difference between houses with double glazing and those, like mine, without it. Thankfully we have the fireplace in the sitting room or I'd be completely unable to watch television there without a wool jumper and possibly the duvet from the bed. Once the fireplace is turned off (it's gas), the heat is sucked out of the room and it goes back to it's recently constant state of "It's chilly in here." We don't turn the "central heating" on until October, it seems...though I'm not entirely sure that I would call radiators on the walls that don't have blowers the same thing that I'm used to calling "central heating." (I may have to take shorts and a swimsuit to the US next month to deal with the temperature of my parents' house after getting used to always being mildly cold here!!)

As far as daily life here goes, I continue to plod along through my new life. I'm getting used to the idea that the English Nancy is a totally different person than the American Nancy, but I'm still not sure I like the new me. The American Nancy had a career that she was passionate about, and that passion for language and ASL in particular made it possible to overlook difficult clients and disagreeable coworkers. The English Nancy has a part time job that brings in just enough extra money to the house to make it impossible for her to quit in the face of difficult customers and disagreeable coworkers. American Nancy had a house full of greyhounds and cats, and her non-signing life focused mostly on activities involving her hounds, about her hounds, and with other people who have hounds. English Nancy has one hound and one cat, and doesn't really have any activities outside of work and her BSL class (there just isn't time, when a four hour work day takes eight hours with the commute time added).

Homesickness has struck again, most likely because a lot of people I know in the States headed to Myrtle Beach this past weekend for Beach Bound Hounds. I've only just started going to BBH again, but the absence of that gathering of people who understand me hit me just as hard as the absence of the RID conference did in August, the absence of the Georgia Renaissance Festival did in April and May, and I'm sure the absence of the Carolina Renaissance Festival will in October and November.

If I've learned anything, it's that I had a very very full life in the United States that I did not come close to appreciating until I lost all of it to move to the UK. Chilling thought, that. I always thought of myself as unhappy there, but I wasn't, not as unhappy as I've been from time to time here, when I think of what I gave up. Now, what do I do with THAT information? For now, to quote an earlier post about compartmentalizing, I'll put on my Confessor's face and get on with it...fake it till you make it...or freeze to death, whichever comes first.

09 September 2009

Outings in the Rain and other dislikes...

I like not having to drive when I go somewhere as far away from my house as Leeds. I like that all grocery stores will deliver my groceries to my door if my husband didn't just love grocery shopping too much to give it up. I like that people call me "luv" and tell me that my accent is Gorr-jus. I like that I can take Daisy on buses and trains and no one bats an eyelash. I like Carex hand soap, the blue kind, because the Aloe Vera green kind smells weird. I like that I can get the same kind of Dove soap I use in the US here in the UK. I like Red Leicester cheese and ASDA brand melba toast. I really like Marmite breadsticks and can't wait to try Twiglets.

I don't like going anywhere when it's raining. I don't like rainy days where the wind can't pick a direction and turns my umbrella back inside out faster than I can right it. I don't like cars that intentionally pull over toward the pavement I'm standing on to splash me while I'm waiting to cross the street. I don't like taxi drivers that refuse to take my dog in their taxis, even if it's to go to the vet. I don't like people who stand in bookstores and very loudly criticise America when I'm standing right nearby and have just asked if I can help. I don't like stairs. I've fallen down two flights of them in three weeks. I don't like having my only bathroom at home be on the top floor of my house. See above comment about stairs.

If you look at those two paragraphs and count the sentences I think you'll find that the first one is longer than the second one. That's huge progress for me. Finding my way to my job on my own for three weeks is huge progress for me, considering it involves two busses and four trains for the entire round trip. The fact that I'm working somewhere that requires me to talk to strangers every minute of every day that I'm there is huge beyond measure...I still make Simon call to order takeaway.

But the biggest huge is that while I'm looking forward to our trip to America at the end of October my entire life isn't hinging on it as it did on the one in June. Well, at least today it isn't...

02 September 2009

Why I Desperately Miss My Dishwasher


splish, splash
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
Yesterday's post was pretty upbeat, if I do say so myself. I was up on time, I was ready to go to work on time, all was well.

Had I a dishwasher, things would have gone exactly to plan and I would have made it in for another day of destickering fun. However, I don't, and something as simple as soaking a grill played havoc with my day and turned all my plans on their collective ear.

Okay, that's a little melodramatic. Here's the Reader's Digest version of what happened (for those that are not as ancient as I am or not from the US, Reader's Digest is a fantastic periodical that contains articles and stories, and was my favorite read when I was in elementary school).

Simon had filled the sink with hot water and soap in an effort to soak the grill and remove the remnants of our last foray into quarter pound burgers for dinner. After I ate my brunch (Frosties or Frosted Flakes in the US, and yes, they are GREAT!) I drained the sink to rinse out the bowl so that the grill didn't soak in soapy milk. That done, I replaced the plug, poured in some dish soap and started the hot tap.

We have a divided tap, and the water that comes out of the hot one is akin to what comes out of our BADLY IN NEED OF DESCALING kettle. As in don't try to wash your hands under it unless you don't mind losing a layer of skin.

The sink was taking forever to fill so I dried my hair and came back. Mostly full. I turned off the tap and went back to finish my hair. In the five minutes that took, the sink drained because I didn't get the plug in all the way the first time. Literally, rinse, repeat. Plug back in and tap on, I ran upstairs to grab my bag, iPod, and other travel essentials. Back downstairs, thankfully without the iPod turned on, and I hear water hitting something that does NOT sound like the grill or the sink.

There was an inch of water on the floor and more spilling out over the lip of the sink. Seems that when one gets the plug in the hole properly the sink, which isn't huge, fills up PDQ and runs over onto the floor. It was 11:58 and I had 9 minutes to catch the bus that would get me to the train station to catch the train that would get me to the second train station in time to catch the train that would get me to Wakefield with enough time to walk to the shopping centre and be at work on time at 2pm. You can imagine my panic.

Rang up Simon at work who said he would come home and take care of it so I could go on to work. But then he said something that made me stay home...I heard him tell his co-workers that I'd flooded the kitchen...and they laughed. I rang up my work and told them what was going on, they of course said I could make up the hours later, and that was that. Much toweling and mopping followed, and after I placed the big fan in the kitchen doorway I had a chance to sit down.

None of that would have happened if we had a dishwasher...or if I knew how to plug a sink.

01 September 2009

Coming out of the tunnel

This past week has felt like I've been in a long tunnel, like the one between Shipley and Leeds on the Leeds/Skipton train, except without the ears popping. I started my new job a week ago Sunday, and in those nine days have learned to navigate the railway system, use a till correctly, order books in the system, and find the strength to keep moving for four hours without a break. I've also learned that the conductor for the London KX train in Leeds will not wait for love nor money if I'm there one minute before departure...but that's more a lesson in patience for me, isn't it?

I'm liking my job, if not the commute. To get there I take a bus to the train station, a train to Leeds and then another train to Wakefield, then walk about half a mile to the shopping centre where the bookstore is. On the way home, rinse and repeat. It isn't so bad when my iPod is cranking and I've got a book to read, but I do hate having to stand on the train on the way home because everyone and their brother's dogs are traveling at the same time I am. Who knew Keighley was that popular?

Yesterday was another small victory...Simon and I went to Costco to renew our memberships (which, by the way, Costco cancelled and I'm SURE it had to do with that American Express Card) and we were able to get a Yorkshire Family Day Rover ticket to go. That covered our bus and train travel anywhere in Yorkshire, and for two people the £8 fee is very very reasonable. We got to Leeds, walked to the bus station (though we could have gotten a bus there), then caught a bus that took us almost to Costco's car park. We could have made purchases and lugged them back on the bus, it was that close, but instead we went to Nando's for dinner before heading back to Keighley.

Mmmmm Nando's. That is going to be one of the drawbacks to moving back to the States...no Nando's.

So now bank holiday is over and I'm back to work today...and tomorrow...and then not again till the following Wednesday. Can't complain there. I feel like I'm coming out of the tunnel of my first week at a retail job and into the sunlight of knowing where I'm going, what train to get, etc etc.

Only we don't have sunshine here, really...I'd better check those timetables again.

25 August 2009

On being an American Overseas

When I first moved to England in April (and, if I'm honest, well before that too) I was very careful to keep my opinions about things, both in the US and the UK, to myself. I didn't want to sound like one of those Angry Expats who move away from their home countries as some form of protest and continue to be angry with the government/politics/social programs/etc etc of said country in loud and obvious ways as they make a life in their new country. I didn't want to sound like a Homesick Expat (though I think in my heart that's really what I have been), who has moved to a new country for a specific reason, not just because he or she fancied a new way of life. I just wanted to generally be Simon's wife and be ignored. I'm really good at playing the wallflower, at least in public.

Something has changed, though, recently. I think it started with a woman that I met in Wakefield at a bus stop. As soon as I answered her question, she surmised that I was "not from around here" and when she found out I was American...it was ON. She had never been to America, mind you, but had heard such dreadful things about it. Forest fires, earthquakes! Houses built into the sides of mountains! Places only accessible by trams! The HORROR. I mentioned (when I could get a word in) that I was actually from the eastern coast of the US and what she was describing sounded like the western coast. "Well, how different could it be, really, it's all America after all. Dreadful!"

I had been sort of insulated, I think, by not working and staying home a lot of the time. The people I socialized with were my inlaws and Simon's friends, none of which would tell me if they did bear ill will toward America. (None of them do, to my knowledge, but if they did they wouldn't say it in front of me.) The gloves have come off, though, and once I got those pesky things off my hands I found myself free to remove my rose colored glasses. Interesting what you can see when the world comes back into its intended colors.

I feel that I need to pause here and say that while I do love the UK and the people that I've met, I dearly love America (warts, overpriced health care, and all). I am doing my best to make a life here with my husband, but I will be totally honest and say that if he came home from work tonight and said "I've got an idea, let's move to America," I would have half our bags packed before he finished the sentence. Having said that, I will further admit that I tend to be a little biased when it comes to rhetoric that I perceive as America-bashing...but come on, it's that age old idea that I can talk about my family but you'd better watch it if you do. Right?

With the release of Mr. Megrahi, the man convicted of being behind the bombing of the Pan Am flight that crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland, anti-American sentiments seem to be on the rise here. Not that they were dormant prior...the health care reform debate (which again, I'm not blogging about, if you're keeping score) had already put the US in the enlightened European cross-hairs and labeled most Americans as short sighted selfish cretins. And while I know that for the most part, British people don't really think one way or another about Americans in their day-to-day lives, I still feel that I have to defend my homeland...loonies included...whenever anything of that ilk comes up.

So here I go. I find it interesting that when Mr. Bush took the US to war with Iraq (not Afghanistan, mind you) and claimed it was on humanitarian grounds, to spread democracy and end tyranny, many enlightened Europeans pointed out that the real reason seemed to be so that the US would not lose one of its sources of oil. Seemed logical. In fact, it was so logical that I, loyal American and not yet expatriate, had no trouble believing that to be true. So when the Scottish parliament (which by the way, is an arm of the UK government as a whole, what with the whole United Kingdom thing) releases a convicted terrorist to his home country which has, by the way, a whole lot of oil and a good relationship with Britain, no one thinks it's anything but enlightened compassion. Huh.

And yet, I try not to say anything because I don't want to further the stereotype of the Loud American...well, until now anyway. The next time I hear "...and that's just because, as we all know, America is at least two decades behind the rest of the world. aren't they?" I may have to speak up. Maybe. I know that America is still learning, still growing. But I also know that I am at heart, an American, and that I accept her faults and hope for her future. I just hope that my adopted home and its people can learn to do the same, for me and for America.

19 August 2009

Hello...from the edge of the world...

Not really. Perhaps one of the more northern corners, though.

Today we visited Dunstanburgh Castle, or the ruins thereof. The place is almost fairytale like in its simplicity, its history, and its massive fields where Sheep May Safely Graze (nods to Bach, my parents, and an English friend of theirs)...and Walk Right Past You.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no city girl, really...I know what sheep are, and I know how big they are...but to visit your grandmother's former farm when you're very little and see the one or two cows there, or to visit a working farm where Sheep Are Safely Grazing Behind Fences is a very different thing to walking along a path and seeing them not five feet from you. My niece kept saying she wanted to touch one, but we convinced her that they weren't tame and wouldn't stand for such treatment.

Here's the part where I eat a little crow, but only just a little. Ben, I now understand why when you were up on that hilltop in Wales and the sheep stared at you it was a bit unnerving. They're strange creatures, sheep, with their "strange, wide, staring yellow eyes," as my father-in-law so aptly put it today. These weren't wild animals, certainly, but they're close, living up on this wild and wonderful hillside with nothing but clover and sky and ocean.

Oh, and rock. Let's not forget the rocks. Clumsy Nancy+Path With Many Rocks=me imploring my niece not to try to hold onto me lest we both go arse over teakettle down to the rocks and surf.

Well, I didn't say arse. In fact, I am not sure I said teakettle. But we did have to stop holding hands until we at least got on to the thickest grass I've felt under my feet outside of a golf course. I wanted to curl up in it and take a nap...and all I could think of was my Daisy bounding over those hills...and running nose to nose into a sheep and then fleeing for her life.

It was a good day but I'm completely exhausted and my back is still screaming from the fall down the stairs. I'm all right if I'm walking around, but sitting is a nightmare and GOD FORBID I should change positions. I may take my pillow and get down on the floor, but I don't think that will help.

Tomorrow is back to reality, away from this magical fairy land. I'll be taking back 100+ photos and the big smile you see in that picture...and making plans for my next trip. Bamburgh and Alnwick Castles, you are ON MY LIST.

18 August 2009

So I made it down the slippery rocks...


Cragside House
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
...but not down the stairs.

We went to Cragside House today in the rain and fog. The path leading down from the front of the house is wide rocks and is slippery. I navigated them like a champ, even paying more attention to my niece than where I was walking to make sure SHE didn't fall. I was even taking pictures and more worried about where the camera was than where I was placing my feet, and not even a stumble. Maybe that was the key.

After we got home, I had just read her a bedtime story and was coming downstairs with my laptop and blackberry in my hands. My mother in law was on the phone, and I was coming down as quietly as I could to the sitting room...and then at some point something happened...there was slipping and pain and an attempt to NOT let my laptop go flying. And from now until eternity (or it's fixed) there will be a lovely mark on the wall in the stairwell at my parents in law's house where the laptop crashed into the wall as my tailbone crashed into the steps.

Bless her, my mother in law (and sister in law, who was the person on the phone) were very concerned but I'm none the worse for wear. A bit sore is all...tailbone and ankles and definitely ego. Dangerprone Daphne Stikes Again!

17 August 2009

Mini-Holiday to the North

Today I started my mini-holiday visit with my parents in law in Lucker, a small village north of Newcastle. Getting here was all about the drama, but now that I'm here, settled, and no longer damp (I'll explain THAT in a minute), I'm so relaxed I nearly fell asleep eating my dinner tonight.

Simon and I departed Keighley on the 7:05 train. I left him at the Shipley station to go to work and continued on to Leeds. Unlike the other trips when I've had about 2.2 seconds to find and board my train before the whistle blows, this time I was waiting on the platform 20 minutes before the train even showed up.

As I got on the train, I noticed that the signs by the doors said out of order. I wasn't sure what that meant, other than I wasn't going to be able to know which coach I was on...and since I had an advance purchase assigned seat that might have been good information. Imagine wandering up and down the aisle in a plane until you find an empty! I soon decided to just board a coach and hope for the best, and ended up with a lovely window seat. I didn't have to get off the train at all until it called at Alnmouth where my parents in law and niece would be waiting to collect me.

We passed through some of the most gorgeous parts of the UK...York, Durham, random gorgeous countryside with random gorgeous white and fluffy sheep, etc. whizzed past my window as I fought sleep. Luckily for me, every time I'd relax enough to doze off Mr. Ticket Taker would want to see my passes, so I was sure not to relax at all.

At Newcastle a couple boarded and came to stand at the seat directly behind me. The man ordered the man that was already sitting there to vacate their seats, to which he responded that the reservation system wasn't working on the train. (Note to self: that's why the outside signs read Out Of Order). The couple repeated that they didn't care, these were their seats and he would have to get up. Not "could you please" or "if it's not too much trouble," mind you, but "Mate, I'm not playing with you here. If you don't shove off right now I'm gonna tip my tea right on to you, I swear."

The distance between seats was small. I suddenly became acutely aware of my surroundings.

"There's no need to threaten me, sir, there are no reservations on this train so I don't think I should have to..."

"I'm not playing, mate. Move. Get out of my seat. NOW."

Acutely aware of surroundings turned into holding anything that might be damaged by flying tea or other spoils of this tiny train war that might come hurtling into my non-reserved seat directly in front of this altercation.

Finally the seated man leapt from his seat and slammed his belongings down into the seat next to me. I started to protest that he'd nearly poured his coffee on me until I noticed the shade of purple that his closely shaved head and ears were turning,and thought better of it. He sprinted off down the aisle toward the next coach and I hoped he was scouting out a seat. In a few minutes he returned, collected his things, and took off again.

Whew, right? Nope.

Along comes Friendly Mr. Train Porter to discuss with the suspects behind me how the now very angry man felt threatened and afraid after the altercation and wanted to press charges.

Wait. Hold on, I'm on a train, not in a pub. WTH?

Turns out the bloke that hightailed it to another coach went straight to a porter and told on the rude couple now behind me. He told them that they had two choices: One was to disembark at the next station and continue their journey on the next train, therefore putting the whole matter out of the train company's hands and letting them off with just a warning, or stay on till their destination (also the other man's destination) and visit the police in the train station once they got there.

They were still on the train as I scurried off at my stop.

I'm here now, the drama is over, and I'm relaxing and enjoying the gorgeousness that is the NE of England. If you click on the picture of me in this post, taken reflected in one of the water features in the Alnwick Gardens, you can see what I've taken pictures of so far. And yes, I do love the macro setting. What?

Today was a trip to Alnwick Gardens and it started out rainy but soon turned into a perfect English summer afternoon. My niece, who is also staying here with my parents in law, had a good time running her fingers through every fountain there and then drying them off on various parts of ME, but I didn't mind. It's all part of summer holidays, and I didn't stay damp for long.

(Told you I'd explain it.)

14 August 2009

Bet you thought I'd talk about Health Care Reform, Didn't You?


Hello from Gaffney!
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
Nope, not here. Not today. I think I have said more than I probably needed to say and definitely read more than I ever wanted to read. It all proves to me that if you ever want to get something done in America, all you need to do is band together and YELL.

Well, might not get what you wanted to happen, but you will certainly garner the attention of the entire world. Make sure that it's the kind of attention you want, that's my advice today.

And PS-the NHS is working just fine, thank you. You get what you pay for. Okay, NOW I'm really not going to talk about this any more.

I'm all about the anecdotes recently. Here are two that I found funny at the time, all related to the fact that recently I've had to start wearing my glasses again to use my computer sans migraine. Time for a trip to the eye doctor I guess.

First off is the fact that my purple glasses, the ones in the picture up there, are my Superman Frames. There are no logos or otherwise comic related features to them, nor can they provide xray vision or deflect bullets. That's okay though, because if I got shot in the eye I could just pop into an NHS clinic and bob's your teapot, I'm right as rain and don't pay a cent on the way out the door...oops, sorry, got carried away.

The reason these are my Superman glasses is that when I wear them people who have known me for YEARS (pre-glasses, that is) don't have a clue who I am. Seriously. Every time I put them on I think of the time two years ago when I was at a professional conference in San Francisco. Someone I'd known in interpreting for literally years walked right past me after looking me dead in the face. I called her name and she turned around and looked at me with that deer-in-headlights look that means "Oh dear LORD I don't remember this person but clearly she knows me and now what am I going to say and..." and I took my glasses off.

"NANCY! I didn't recognize you!"

The power of the glasses is undeniable. I bet I could rob a bank and people would be left saying "I know it was a woman, but because of the glasses she had on I have NO recollection of what her face looked like."

The second story involves my other pair of glasses. They are half rimless, with a silver bar across the top and orange arms. Yes, Louise, I think I AM obsessed with orange. Anyway, I had them on once while visiting a mall local to my parents. There was a LensCrafters in the mall, and I thought that it would be a fantastic birthday present to myself to have some new frames...perhaps all orange, or blue with orange...or maybe black.

Plastic, anyway, regarless of colour, because the metal frames get heavy and try to slide down my nose but are thwarted by the "nose pinchy thingys" that I'm sure have a name but I call 'em as I see 'em.

I walked into the LC at the mall and asked about getting new frames. I told them I had a LC prescription and as she looked it up in the system, she asked me why I wanted new frames when the ones I had were Just So Cute and fit my face Just So Perfectly.

Let me interrupt here to say that Georgia, where my parents live, is a RED state. RED RED RED. As in Republican. Also, let me add that this took place in November of last year, when we all knew who had just LOST the election.

I said, "I want new frames because these are heavy and pinch a bit (she's nodding and scanning the computer screen which hasn't produced my prescription yet) and because frankly I'm tired of people telling me I have glasses just like Sarah Palin's." Apparently the magical sound of Democratic Dislike for Ms. Palin was all the computer needed to find my prescription and render some bad news.

"I think she's a stunning woman," the LC employee said. "But I can't help you, your prescription has expired as of December 2007."

"But I just got these," I said, taking them off for fear that I might start sounding crazy if I wore them a moment longer, "last March, in Greenville."

"Well," she said, standing up to indicate our conversation was over. "They may do things like that in South Carolina, but we don't here in Georgia. Thanks for coming in though!"

I've got to read up on which UK politicians wear which frames before I go in for new glasses here. I should also take a third person with me, in case when I put the new ones on Simon ceases to recognize me and runs away from the crazy American asking for his opinion...

13 August 2009

Canal Walkers


Canal Walkers
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
I was reminded today of a funny story I thought I'd share. Before I moved to the UK, I had a weekend visit from my dear friend Anne. She was moving to Greenville from Jacksonville and was looking for places to live. My best friend Leah was in town too, and the three of us struck out to find some of the properties Anne had found online.

I volunteered to drive because I was the only one that lived in Greenville and remotely knew the area. Pay attention to that word, remotely, as it will make sense later in the story. Anne brought along her sat nav in case I wasn't sure about some of the areas.

Turns out I wasn't sure about a LOT of the areas, so we turned on Yoda, Anne's sat nav (programmed to speak like Yoda from the Star Wars movies, hence the name). She was in the backseat programming in the address we were looking for while Leah helped me watch for street signs from the front seat.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Greenville, like most smaller urban-esque areas in the US, has mostly one way streets weaving through its downtown area, so if you miss a turn it may take three more to get you back on the right track. Poor Yoda was one wrong turn away from telling me "Your window you will roll down. Sat nav you will throw out the window. There is no more try, there is only bad driver." Finally we called my husband, already in the UK, who got us where we need to go by looking it up on Google Maps.

After 300 yards, left you must turn. At next place able, around you must turn. The other way, you must go. Thank goodness she had it set on Yoda and not Darth Vader, I might have wet my pants when that told me to make a U turn!

I thought of that when Anne mentioned coming to see me to take some photography walks, and I suggested she bring Yoda. "After 300 yards, bear right you must, or swim in the manky canal, you will."

12 August 2009

Birthday Wishes


Daisy's Eyes
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
I could fall in, swim around, and live in those brown eyes. Happy 5th birthday, Psycho Puppy Girl, my Best Girl, She Who Restores My Sanity Daily and who reminds me that there is humor in everything. Even eating a postcard that Simon's had for 10+ years that can't be replaced. Thank you for taking our new life in your unflappable stride, for learning the buses and trains with ease and sharing the bed with me in the morning when Daddy's left for work.

And never, ever stop looking at me like that, my Brown Eyed Girl...my Daisy Mae Mae. Here's to 10 more birthdays just like today. Ta for being born, for being mine, and for letting me be yours.

11 August 2009

Blooming in August


Macro Berry
Originally uploaded by Nancy Dunne
So what's new with us?

Daisy will be five years old tomorrow. But that's a post for tomorrow.

I got a job...I start part time with Waterstone's Books in Wakefield on 23rd August. I'm amazed that they wanted me, actually...everything that could have gone wrong on the way to the interview did and I arrived hot, sweaty, tired, and wearing shoes that were a half size too small. I have blisters on TOP of blisters...but that was as good an excuse as any to pop into Clark's for another pair, don't you think?

I have experienced being utterly ignored by a bus three times in the last few days, so that's also new. There's something special about arriving at the stop, turning to see the bus coming and then watching it whiz by the stop without even braking. I know it's not because I've had Daisy with me either, because dogs are allowed on public transport.

We've had new blooms in the back garden, including the strange little berry in the photo above. I have made it to Wakefield and back on my own, even having to buy a ticket on the train by myself and manage to figure out which train went from Leeds to Wakefield. No small feat for a shy girl from Georgia, hey? Counted in the vein of small victories...

Next week I'll be heading north to Newcastle to visit my mother and father in law for a few days. Photo opportunities abound! So that's new as well...

I'll round out this terribly and happily mundane post with a funny story from a recent shopping trip. We'd added a soup bone to the grocery list for Daisy because her teeth are getting a bit manky in spots.. Simon and I were at ASDA (Walmart) on Sunday and we stopped at the butcher counter to see if they had any soup bones. Now I'm always worried that someone won't understand me or vice versa so I tend to make Simon ask for things. The woman said that they did, and took us to So and So who would show us where they were. Thinking it odd that they weren't in the butcher section but going with the flow because HEY this is a foreign country and all, we soon ended up in the housewares department looking at...

Wait for it...

Can you guess?

Soup BOWLS. Now if only she'd given us a bone to make some broth to EAT out of them...

#metoo

#nofilter #goodhairday Yep, that hashtag in the title means what you think it means. But that's not what I want to talk about today....