Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Random Acts of Friendship

About a week or two ago, I received a call from Rachael at Homestart. Homestart is a wonderful charity organization that trains and supports volunteers to support families with children under age 5. I had made a referral to Rachael and when we met she shared that she knew another American living in the area. She rang somewhat out of the blue and invited me to hers for dinner and to meet her friend, Carolyn. I was more than happy to accept the invitation- the more friends the merrier here! Brianna came along with me and we had a great evening. It was funny because towards the end I think we were all getting tired and all said we needed to get going, and then stayed and talked for another hour or so. We found we all shared similar policital and some philosophical views, and Brianna has found herself two new running partners (I of course, have abstained from that invitation). I am planning to attend a workshop Rachael is doing for some colleagues and friends on Saturday and Bri will be running with them in the next couple weeks. It's funny how easy it can be, once one person makes the move to reach out, to make some new connections.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Let it Snow!

My first real snow in England and I have soon discovered that many people in this area do not know how to drive in it! It started lightly in the afternoon and really started to get heavy around 3 or 4pm. I had to drop Karen off to pick up her car and was headed to an appointment when I began to notice that traffic was coming to a standstill. I called the mom I was meeting and told her I would be late. About 15 minutes later, I called and suggested we rescheduled. I then headed home, starting at about 4:15. I tried to work my way through Merry Hill (the giant shopping mall in the area) thinking it would be quicker that Brierley Hill High Street. It wasn't! By the time I made it home to Sedgley, It was just at 7PM. It should usually take me about 20 minutes to get home. Brianna was stuck somewhere in Dudley as well and it took her almost as long, so we were texting, entertaining each other with jokes about the music on Radio 1. She said later that at one point she contemplated getting out of her car and dancing in the street; I think some may have joined her. Or maybe they would just think she was some wacky foreigner, "There's no way that nutter's from the Black Country!" She made it home about five minutes after me and we headed straight for the pub! We just had a few beers and on the way home I started a snowball fight, which was a very good laugh.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Festive Weekend

We started our Thanksgiving festivities more so on Friday. Thursday night I had drinks planned with someone so Brianna took over the kitchen to get her wild rice dish and pumpkin pies done. I woke up about 6am Friday (you would have thought it was Christmas morning and I was 5!) and started cooking around 7am with an apple pie and the turkey. I had to call Stacy because she had done a smaller dinner for some friends on Wednesday and had experienced this turkey business. It was not easy, especially coming from someone who once upon a time would eat nothing that came from animals! I managed to get the giblet bag out without too much screaming but Stacy had to endure my moans of agony at eight o'clock in the morning as I pulled the nasty neck out. Using Grandma's recipe, I managed to get it cooking. We had to take it out during the day to cook all the other dishes and I got it back in just before people came. It looked amazing but with Lesley's help to see if it was all the way done, alas it was not. We put in back in for a bit and it was fine and Paula helped me to cut into the poor bird. Everyone brought loads to drink (we still have left over wine, YAY!) and seemed to love the food. Lesley, with family in tow, Nikki and I headed to the Beacon for a few pints after people began to leave. Then later, Nikki and I got Bri and headed out to dance off the food for a bit.

I am very proud of my first turkey!

Come on! Even you vegetarians have to admit it looks pretty good to be cooked by a former vegetarian who still struggles to cook anything meat!

Lesley and Nikki, both friends from my work team you've seen on the blog before.

Lesley's daughter Charis (on right) and her friend Natalie joined us as well. They remind me a lot of our gang in high school (essentially, that means you Julia)- which was a bit amusing and a bit nostalgic at the same time. I even ventured to say that evening watching them made me miss that age, but I would like to retract that statement after further reflection. :-)

I gave Charis control of the camera and now have quite a few of her and Natalie...and a few like...

This...Can you guess which legs are mine?

After leaving the pub Nikki and I went back and picked up Brianna. We tried to just go up the road to Montey's but despite Brianna's bartering the bouncer would not let us in. We talked some guy into paying for our taxi up to Wolverhampton and were back to Cheeky's for a dance. I behaved myself and maintained, so Nikki and I were able to shoo away all the leeches. I managed to encounter the whole spectrum this time, from 17-37 year olds. The 37 year old didn't even believe that I was from the States, he thought it was some tactic. Brianna, on the other hand, while I think she may have behaved, kept disappearing on us now and then.

The next day we got up, slowly but surely, and headed for Ludlow. Needless to say, Brianna had to make one or two stops along the way, from drinking the night before. But she quickly recuperated once we got to Ludlow, for a little Medevial festivities and Christmas shopping. I agreed to drive this trip but have now decided (after all my moaning and anxiety on this one) that I will no longer drive poor old Rusty any farther than Bridgnorth.

Brianna attempted to stay warm while we waited in the long queue for the cash point (ATM) and it started to rain.

The armored man looked right at me when I took this; I thought he might come and get me for disrupting the posterity of medevial times with my photo technology!

If you look to the center you can see a very tall man in a dark cloak. This was a giant friar with a huge felt face; kind of scary when you are a little hungover!

I got myself a giant Oggie, basically a huge pasty with beef, leeks, potatoes and gravy. Not so easy to eat!

We caught a bit of the medevial carolers. The lead guy was telling jokes to the crowd that everyone seemed to laugh at but us.

And rested our weary medievial shopping arms with a half pint of ale (well, I did) and some medievial jams.

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Sunday, I went with a friend shopping in Birmingham. We were mostly shopping for Christmas gifts for his family, but I managed to get a couple CDs for myself while in HMV. Birmingham was very nice. We don't go there often enough and Bri and I keep saying we are going to get there more often on the weekends for a change of pace. It was lovely to just walk around the Bull Ring and see all the elaborate holiday decorations about. I also got a little tour of Selfridges and discovered they have some "American" foods I haven't seen anywhere. I got Bri some Aunt Jemima pancake mix, but the syrup was 6GBP so I just went with the mix!

Stacy, Brianna and I finished off the weekend Sunday night going to see the new Harry Potter. I thought it was pretty good; and Ralph Fienes plays Valdimor! I still refuse to read the books, though.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Beer Festival

Last night I made it out with a group of friends from work: Nikki, Liz, Vicki, Lesley and her partner Mike and their friend Russ, and Denny and her friends. We started at the Saracen's Head, a pub down the road from the town hall where the festival was. After a few drinks there we headed to the festival. You paid 5GBP and got a glass (which I lost somewhere along the way that night); along the wall were various kegs and you had a guide to describe each beer and their percentages. I didn't drink anything below 6%. By the end of the festival, I had a big bottle of German lager in one hand and my glass in the other filled with "Last Rites" (11%). I also got the chance to see friends from the old Robin Hood and particularly got to catch up with Marine, who I hadn't seen in a few months. Also had a nice run-in with Steve and Jon. We danced away to the Irish tunes of the band and chugged our beers down when we were told to get out. Most of us then headed to the Civic in Wolverhampton for some Cheeky Monkey madness. Things gradually got blurry from there and I think Nikki had to drag me home to keep me out of trouble. All in all, a very fun night!

Towards the end of the festival, we made sure we had plenty of beer in each hand before they shut us down and enjoyed some traditional Irish tunes.

An attempted shot of the band and how much everyone was enjoying it, swaying (or swaggering) to the music.

As always, Lesley gives a very lovely pose for the camera . . .meanwhile Denny (to the left) keeps dancing away!

I think this was maybe taken at Cheeky Monkey's. It must of been because I don't remember taking it and that's when my memory kind of faded to black. . .
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Brief reflection on a bad day

A little girl I have never even known has been on my mind all day today as I watched her mother suffer with the details of her loss, feeling like I wanted to do as much as I could to support her, but knowing there was nothing. Following this, I was so distracted by my thoughts that I bumped into the back of another car. Fortunately, the person I struck was so kind and seeing how upset I was, let it go. I think I almost got in an accident two more times as I tried to get home. I got myself home and phoned my friend/manager, telling her I needed the rest of the day. I managed to eat my way through the fridge for a bit and just sat then, thinking of nothing and everything all at once. Thinking of how selfish I feel that I feel so upset when I never even knew this child. Thinking about my guilt of every little thing I complain about when I know I have one of the strongest support networks (albeit, they’re thousands of miles away) a person could possibly have; and then feeling guilty for making it about me. I actually had that fleeting thought I get sometimes that it would be nice to have a man around, at least for someone to cuddle up on the couch with- just wanting that contact in this quiet house that seems large enough to envelop me when I am alone in it. But I resolved that feeling with a very long bath and Sigur Ross. I have discovered Sigur Ross’ new one is also a perfectly emotionally evocative album for those days when you can’t think straight but can’t stop thinking.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Last Weekend

Just wanted to share with you all my most recent adventure, but first I think I should tell you about Brianna's first. Some of you know the story a bit already, but two weekends ago Bri decided to go up north, near Newcastle, to visit a host family she knows well from when she studied up there a few years ago. Her little Rover that she paid a whole 450GBP for had a tendency to overheat unless she put water in it now and then and her heater was not working. On her way back that Sunday, she forgot to put water in before taking off and somewhere around Carlisle (about 190 miles from here) she overheated and broke down. She waited a bit for it to cool off but the car would not start. Eventually she called breakdown coverage and it took them forever to find her as she stood on the side of the motorway, watching the sun go down. They eventually got to her and told her she had blown her head gasket and was told it would be around 500 GBP to fix. I was going to drive up and get her but once we realized how far away she really was and that it would take about three hours for me to get there, only to have to turn round and drive back another three, she decided to get a room for the night. The room she ended up in had no heat and she had to get up around 4:30 the next morning to walk to the train station and catch the earliest train back. Her car was proclaimed dead and left in Carlisle. Who knows what would have happened to us if I would have driven up there in 16 year old Rusty!

So, being without a car, I have been driving her partially to work, which has been no trouble at all since it is on my usual route. She was not happy about the fact that she is now carless, though and her friend Maggie was coming into town Saturday. I had planned to go to Wessex but decided not to after her experience and said I could drive to pick Maggie up at the airport in Birmingham. That Friday afternoon, my car started making some funny grumbling noises. Unfortunately, I had just cancelled my phone contract and had to buy a new phone to have pay-as-you-go with a different company. Those money issues like to crop up on me all at once, don't they! Since the noise had just started I wasn't too worried. I looked at it in the daylight Saturday and thought it looked okay to drive to the airport and back, and then I would take it in somewhere Monday. Well, on our drive to the airport, it seemed to get louder and louder. We got Maggie safe and sound, but on the way back, I went the wrong way on the motorway and headed toward Manchester on the M6 Toll instead of going through Birmingham. As we were discussing the best way to get in the right direction, the exhaust hit the ground! I pulled over and made a call to Stacy, who gave me a few numbers. I called the breakdown coverage but they said they could help me until I had the exact junctions I was between. "I don't know! We were lost when this happened." Meanwhile Maggie was enjoying the sights of the English countryside for the first time from the side of the M6 Motorway with cars whizzing by. I walked down to the closest SOS (emergency telephone box) and picked up the receiver to find out my location. The gentleman on the line told me to "stay on the opposite side of my car from the lanes- it's dangerous out there" and to make sure I "bundle up because it's getting cold." I phoned my breakdown cover back and we waited for an hour or so for the tow truck. We got lucky and got a very nice guy who took my muffler fully off and offered to tow us to a locale that we could get home from. He towed us to about twenty minutes from Dudley and we were on our way, car growling at the top of it's lungs. Sounded a bit like a loud prop plane struggling to come in for a landing.

We made it out Saturday night- the usual Wolverhampton crap that I am starting to get very tired of, but managed to have a fun time, regardless of the scary 20-21 year old males there. Sunday was a day of rest and back to work this week for the chaos! Fortunately, the only visit I had Monday was with the police and they usually drive so I was able to get my car in and fixed that day for a mere 75GBP! It's sounding much better now!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"Her mix tape's a masterpiece"

I always used to think that song line was all mine, but not so sure these days. There is nothing that quite compares to the days of the Doe-Marinara mixes, circa 1992-1996. Perhaps it's the fact now that mixes are too often put onto a CD. There was something special about those cassette mixes, blaring in Big Mamma or Whitey, with their handwritten messages, creative titles, and perhaps a collage or two. But, after much deliberation, experimenting with bit torrent and failing and finally resigning to the Itunes music store, I think I may have made yet another decent mix for five special people. Not my best, but it will do.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Creationists have really gone for it this time!

I heard about this on Channel 4 news tonight and was blown away! A Creation Museum has been built in Northern Kentucky, not too far from Cincinatti (or my Indy home). The purpose of this museum is to speak out against "evolutionary indoctrination (that) has undermined the Christian foundations in America (Wait! I thought we were escaping religious oppression when the foundations of "America" were set? What about all those founding fathers that were separatists, even atheists perhaps?)" and what they consider to be "a wonderful alternative to the evolutionary natural history museums that are turning countless minds against the gospel of Christ and the authority of the scripture." How anyone could seriously believe the earth is only 6,000 years old, I do not know that I can ever understand that. Have we all heard of the geological time table? I have to say though, I am curious to check out this museum sometime and see the replica of the TRex that joined the rest of the animals two by two on Noah's Ark, I just don't think I could bring myself to financially support this insanity!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bonfire Night

Guy Fawkes Day, or Bonfire Night as most people call it was last night. Brianna decided to go to Newcastle for the weekend and the rest that were supposed to go dropped off because of the rain, so just Stacy and I went. During the day, we went to Bridgnorth with Teri and got a strong head start on some Christmas shopping. I think we were both pretty worn out after that but we were determined to check this bonfire out. We went to the one at Himley Hall, being told by many people it was one of the best. When we got there, I was expecting a big wood fire and a bunch of people gathered round. Singing Kum bi yah, perhaps? But the fire was actually a built replica of I suppose the Houses of Parliment, which Guy Fawkes intended to set on fire. Notice the little man on top in the first pictures. It was a pretty amazing fire with a great fireworks display to follow, and a cruise through a cheesey little carnival filled with teens- making me feel very old!

I think it had just recently gotten started when we got there, and this was the view.

Just kept watching as the structure burned down, I was mesmerized by it for awhile. . .and then started fiddling with the new camera. . .

The fireworks display was set to War of the Worlds. There was also a laser show and narration that we couldn't really hear. The fireworks were very good- this is about the best picture I got of the display.

After the fireworks a lot of people bolted for the exit. Stacy and I strolled the Carnival which had your typical rides and games. We decided we would try the oh-so-exciting "Bat out of Hell" ride for a whopping 2GBP. We went in the little roller coaster trolley and through the mysterious dark doors to be faced with an old plastic store manequin in half with some red paint on it. We then were attacked by a big plastic spider and a paper ghost which we both swerved to avoid (Germs! yuck!...yes, we are getting old, I think). We came back out and were rushed in the most exciting five seconds down a little hill and then back in to be confronted by the scary man above yelling something in a very frightening British accent. And then the ride was over. . .we went home after that.

Today I was thinking I might finally make it to Malvern for a little hike but with the weather like this, I think I will be staying in.
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