Thursday, February 28, 2008
Since the weekend, I've come to the conclusion it's not really the snow I dislike so much about winter. When it snows, I simply stay home until the storm is over and the roads have been ploughed. What I really don't like is the ice, and the HUGE potholes that form in the roads. We have signs on the main road that we have to drive along to get to our house that say "Potholes ahead. Proceed at own risk." These are not temporary signs. They have been there for, as far as I know, at least the last eleven years - since we bought a house in this town! You'd think that at some point in eleven years they could have fixed the potholes, but no! They do some temporary patching, but they know it's not going to last so they don't take the signs down.
Currently there are some sections of road where it is absolutely impossible to avoid the potholes because they spread across the entire width of the road. (Not one pothole that wide, but a series of them arranged in such a way that it is impossible to avoid them.) Some are very wide and only an inch or two deep at this point, but others are already ten or twelve inches deep! This despite the fact that they've already done one round of patching this winter. They haven't done anything recently though, as patching a twelve inch deep hole that's full of slush doesn't work. Because of the amount of water on the roads from the melting snow, it is difficult to tell how deep most of the potholes are, so you have to assume the worst as you're driving - that they will swallow your tires and cause serious damage to your vehicle. When the water freezes, it evens out the road a little - but, of course, it also makes the potholes bigger in the long run!
In the town's defense, they have plans to widen the road and that will of course involve resurfacing the whole thing, so it seems like a waste to repair the potholes too thoroughly. The only thing is, the plan to widen the road has been in place for over eleven years (i.e. since BEFORE we bought our house!) This week there have finally been surveyors out at this end of the road, close to the line with the next town, so it looks as though the work will actually begin this year. They've even put up signs on the side roads leading to the main road:
(Photo taken from a side road, looking towards the main road, which runs left-right across the photo.)
All the trees on the other side of the main road within 6 feet of the road have orange marks on them (not just the few you can see in the photo.) This is the first stage of the road widening - all those trees will be felled. With luck, this will bring more sunlight in to the end of our road. Currently there is a layer of ice across the end of the road - just visible in the photo, but not in all its glory. It is several inches thick, and there are ruts in in it several inches deep. Without anti-lock brakes, or driving EXTREMELY slowly (as in barely moving), stopping at the end of the road is next to impossible right now.
When the weather improves* and they do eventually get started, there is no way we will be able to get anywhere once the work starts without having to navigate the roadworks. Sadly, even the thaw I'm looking forward to will bring no relief in terms of driving around here!
*Apparently no time soon, as there's 4 to 8 inches of snow forecast for Friday night!
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
This photo was taken last Saturday. It didn't come out as well as I'd hoped - the yellow dot is a lamp post.
This one was taken at 3:30 this afternoon.
I stopped to buy milk on the way home this afternoon. (Not because it was snowing, but because we really needed some. Honest!) The clerk at the store's commentary on the weather was: "What happened to the rain we were supposed to get today? I've had enough of all this snow. I'm SO ready to mow the lawn!"
Thursday, February 21, 2008
There's a big conference of beer producers in the most beautiful town in the world: Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
At the end of the day, all of the presidents of all beer companies decide to have a drink in a bar. The president of 'Budweiser' orders a Bud, the president of 'Miller' orders a Miller Lite, Adolph Coors orders a Coors, and the list goes on.
Then the waitress asks Arthur Guinness what he wants to drink, and much to everybody's amazement, Mr. Guinness orders a Coke!
"Why don't you order a Guinness?" his colleagues ask."Naah. If you guys won't drink beer, then neither will I."
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
London trip really well organized ... it was almost worth the money just to NOT drive in London. Some pathetic members of the group complained that they had expected a champagne reception ... peasants!
Train journey good, fast, clean and on time - probably a first for the company! Excellent dinner and adequate room, with a fine view of the staff garage ... but it was quiet. Really good breakfast then off by coach to the Dome/O2. A ghastly insult to architects the world over ... but it worked. The (included) lunch in Pharaohs Palace was excellent, the talk first-rate, concise and well delivered (by a lady who had worked in the Valley of the Kings) Then we by-passed all the queuing public and were ushered straight up to the exhibition ... I have never before been in a tent with an escalator and an upper floor paved with marble.
We had plenty of time to see everything, and the ecoute device was an extra help when one could not get really close to the printed details, as they were just the same, but with added bits of information in one's ears. There was a lot of gold; some very fine sculpture and art work ... almost everyone commented on the beautifully decorated little woven cane chair for a princess.
Returning to the hotel in Docklands, was an experience ... Saturday traffic in London ... all the lanes stationary, and just as we began to move, the sound of Police sirens and ambulance neenaws gave us to believe that Milwall had lost at home. We got back in time to sit in the bar and watch the second half of the rugby, then another fine dinner.
Next morning, off to the British Museum ... had I been driving, it would have been termed a scenic route, we drove past several landmarks twice ... including the side entrance to the museum ...and indeed the main one. (It turned out that the coach and driver had been imported from Sheffield.) Our timed tickets gave us plenty of time to admire the new main courtyard, have coffee and then go into the reorganized reading room ... again the layout was first class. There was a lot of film and video, but plenty of real stuff ... much of which we had seen in China, but one could get so close here ... even the marks on their feet and shoes and the brushmarks on their hair were clearly visible.
One particularly fine exhibit was a long model ... a bit like a 3d comic strip, showing the entire manufacturing process from digging the clay to positioning the finished warriors ... full of detail, and worth a lengthy scrutiny. There were seven actual warriors, a general and some foot soldiers, plus a chariot complete with horses and charioteer. Two of the horses were fake , and clearly marked as such. One other fine display was a group of musicians, playing to some dancing water birds ... and there were jugglers, strong men and dancers, plus display cases of armour, headdresses, and weapons, much of which we had only seen photos of in the auxiliary museum in Xian, so we felt it was well worth the journey.
One little add on ... as we drove through Greenwich, our driver commented that we had just crossed the meridian and "You are now on the other side." Your father said he had always wondered what it would be like, and there was a general consensus that it was exactly like the world we had left behind. It seemed a fitting comment following two days admiring the tombs and art work of the long ago.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
When I had my first child, the local hospital arranged a post-partum doula for me. I was living in a town I'd only just moved to, but worked 60 miles away, so didn't have any friends in town other than DH's. The doula coordinator did a brilliant job. The doula she found for me lived right around the corner - I could see her house from mine, but we had never met before. She was the same age as me and also from England. However, she had moved here at the age of 18 with her parents, had married much earlier than me (who didn't?) and had three children, the youngest of whom was 4 at the time. I would not have made it through the first few weeks of motherhood without going insane or being incredibly depressed if it had not been for her help. She was wonderful. It seemed at the time that I had found a new friend.
Yet now, over 8 years later, I have to admit I don't even remember her name. Maybe it was the circumstances under which we met - although the hospital was paying, it was a little as though she was working for me. She came to the house when I needed her, and did things like the dishes, laundry and cleaning for me as well as helping me with the baby. Maybe it was because there wasn't enough of a connection. Yes, we were both from the UK, both the same age, and both parents, but what ELSE was there? Clearly something was missing. Both our lives were already busy - hers probably even more so than mine given that she had three children already. Given my lack of friends in town, I don't know why I didn't make more effort to stay in touch, but I didn't.
I've recently added a lot of expat or bicultural blogs to the list of blogs I read regularly. I'm really enjoying reading them, which is why I listed them here. Do I enjoy them more than someone who is not also an expat or who does not share the same culture? I suspect not - good writing is good writing - but clearly the shared experiences are a powerful connection. These are not friendships though, at least not yet, though I suppose there is that potential. No one will notice if I STOP reading a blog, just as (unless I comment) no one notices when I read it. Some of these bloggers could perhaps be good friends, while others because of differences in, say, age or family situation would not. Yet that's a silly comment because one of my most valued friends is also an English expat living in the US, married but childless, and old enough to be retired already. Shared geographical location is not a requirement for friendship either - I have at least one very good online friend (not just acquaintance) whom I have never met.
So, I don't roll my eyes anymore when someone says "Have you met so-and-so? (S)he's from England too. I'm sure you'd get along!" Maybe we would, maybe we wouldn't. I hope our mutual acquaintance is thinking of other reasons we might become friends too and not just about our shared nationality, but it certainly doesn't hurt to find out. We don't have to be best friends, or friends for life. Friends for now is enough. Sometimes even just broadening your circle of acquaintances is nice. My life has been just as enriched by the people who have just been passing through like my doula (without whom I would have gone insane) as by those who stay forever, like DH. Now there's a mystery friendship - different nationalities, different ages (did I mention I'm a cradle-snatcher?), different hobbies and on and on . . . and yet it works! :-)
Monday, February 18, 2008
I'm not allowed to give blood here in the United States because, despite being resident in the US for so long, I have spent long enough in the UK since 1980 that the health authorities worry that I may be carrying Mad Cow disease. A sensible precaution really, given that it is not something that they can test for.
I suppose I should be reassured by the fact that there is a far lower incidence of CJD in the USA than in the UK, but today's news of a beef recall makes me wonder. How can they be sure that the beef supply in the United States really is free of mad cow disease when quite clearly there are meatpackers who ignore potential symptoms of BSE in the animals they are slaughtering? I know there are supposedly 'other safeguards' in place - but who knows if those are being ignored too? I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but this will certainly strengthen the argument of those who think BSE is more prevalent in the US than the USDA would like us to think. I'm just glad that I only eat beef once or twice a year, when our friend Theo makes his wonderfully yummy teriyaki beef.
Friday, February 15, 2008
The only thing I was offered and decided I was not even going to try was chicken feet.
A few years later, I went on a package tour to mainland China. I was amazed at how reluctant the Americans on the tour were to try the food. One of their major complaints was that the food wasn't like the Chinese food served at their local restaurant at home in the US. Ironically, one of my complaints about the food we had on the first 2 days of the trip was that it was NOT typically Chinese! Fortunately, there were two Chinese-American families on the tour - I sat with them at mealtimes so I didn't have to put up with constant whining about the food.
On our last day in China we had lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant in Guangzhou. The Chinese-Americans and I had a GREAT lunch - the Americans were all not eating in anticipation of getting to Hong Kong and being able to eat western food again. We did the rounds of all the tables helping ourselves to all the goodies they were ignoring!
The Americans were ecstatic when we finally arrived late at night in Hong Kong and they headed off to the Hard Rock Cafe. One commented that she was looking forward to a milkshake - her first milk product in over 3 weeks. I asked why she hadn't had any milk, yogurt or cheese in China? Although many Chinese are lactose intolerant, they provided those foods for the Americans in the hotels. She hadn't liked the milk because it was served warm. She hadn't seen the yogurt because it was not served in little plastic containers with foil tops. She hadn't wanted the cheese because it was served at breakfast time and "cheese is not breakfast food."
While the others in the group ate bagels, cereal (with cold milk) and yogurt (from plastic containers) for breakfast in the hotel in Hong Kong, I delighted in eating things like teryaki salmon, rice porridge, and steamed buns with barbecued pork filling. Why go abroad and eat the same things I would have at home?
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
When I was growing up in England, sending a signed Valentine's Day card was considered to be incredibly naff, not to mention unromantic. I still have a hard time signing Valentines even though I'm obviously only sending one and if DH didn't know it was from me there would be something odd going on! There was none of this sending signed cards to everyone in your class in elementary school so that no one felt left out. Actually, I don't remember celebrating Valentine's Day in elementary school at all.
I think the only Valentine's Day I really have any recollection of from when I was in school, was 8th grade. ('Year nine' it's called in England now I believe, but it was 'third year' at the comp.) I actually had a boyfriend. It was the only year I had a boyfriend on Valentine's Day the entire seven years I was at that school. His name was Tim. He was tall, dark haired, and had gorgeous brown eyes. It was years before I could go out with anyone else with brown eyes after Tim.
We got each other Valentine's cards of course. It was the first romantic Valentine I ever got, so it was a big deal. I remember waiting with anticipation to see how romantic the card he got for me would be. It wasn't as simple as just giving each other our cards. Given the tradition that the cards were supposed to be unsigned, you had to find a way of anonymously getting the card to the other person. Of course you hoped they would only get the one card. I had a friend who sent two to the same boy, and then dumped him when he didn't tell her about the second one! I forget how Tim's card got to me, but I remember asking a mutual friend to deliver my card to Tim's locker. I doubt there was much focusing on school work that morning!
When his card was as romantic as I had hoped, I was delighted and also, to my surprise, a little scared. I'm not sure how much longer the relationship lasted after that, but the whole thing only lasted a few weeks. I dumped him. I didn't even tell him myself. I asked the same mutual friend who had delivered the card, (the same friend Tim had used as a go-between to ask me out in the first place,) to tell him I didn't want to go out with him any more. I never explained to him why - that I was terrified because I liked him so much. I was only 13 and my body was reacting to him in ways I knew I wasn't ready for and the only way I knew to deal with it was to back off. I didn't have the social skills or experience to handle it any better. Of course, even if I had explained, he wouldn't have understood. Fortunately we weren't in the same classes and didn't see too much of each other around school. Nonetheless, after that, it was four years before he spoke a single word to me.
Over the years there were some depressing Valentine's Days with no prospects of any romance, and some so-so, predictable, ones. My first Valentine's Day with DH was neither. It's a long story, but involves him sitting outside my apartment in frigid weather thinking I'm out when in fact I was home. He'd driven over an hour to see me (on a work night, no less) and sat outside for almost an hour before I finally realized he was there and opened the door. He had a helium-filled balloon for me that never recovered from the wait in the cold, and he's never let me forget his devotion that night.
DH has promised me a bottle of blackcurrant lambic instead of chocolates this year. Probably not much better in terms of calories, but at least it's low fat and will get both of us in a very snuggly mood! He then surprised me tonight with flowers. He is such a sweetie :-) I'm SO glad I broke up with Tim, and the other boyfriends I had over the years - DH was worth the (very long) wait! I hope he thinks I was worth the wait on that very cold porch 12 years ago!
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I had no idea North Korea was that big though. ;-)
Sunday, February 10, 2008
There seemed to be fewer squirrels here than at our last house and we hadn't seen any squirrels near the house so we thought we were feeding birds rather than squirrels. How foolish we were! The squirrels had been pigging out at a large 'squirrel-proof' feeder that holds several pounds of bird seed. They had figured out how to reset the lever that closes the feeder up tight if anything as heavy as a squirrel sits on it. DH bent the lever so that the squirrels can no longer reset it, and now they come to the feeders at the house (which are most definitely not squirrel-proof) instead. They are pigs and completely unafraid! We tapped on the window at this one - it turned and looked, and then ignored us.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Education seems like a logical approach. Many years ago a neighbour of ours in the UK moved to Canada with her family. When we saw her a couple of years later we were stunned at how much weight she had lost, and how good she looked. She said on her first visit to a doctor in Canada, he had told her that he considered her to be obese and that if she wanted to be his patient she had to lose weight. That simple approach worked for her! No one had ever actually told her a) that she was obese and b) what the consequences might be.
How about refusing to serve food to an obese person? Would that be very effective at helping them reduce their weight or change their attitude towards food? (If, indeed, that is their problem!) Take a look at this bill:
House Bill 282
AN ACT TO PROHIBIT CERTAIN FOOD ESTABLISHMENTS FROM SERVING FOOD TO ANY PERSON WHO IS OBESE, BASED ON CRITERIA PRESCRIBED BY THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH; TO DIRECT THE DEPARTMENT TO PREPARE WRITTEN MATERIALS THAT DESCRIBE AND EXPLAIN THE CRITERIA FOR DETERMINING WHETHER A PERSON IS OBESE AND TO PROVIDE THOSE MATERIALS TO THE FOOD ESTABLISHMENTS; TO DIRECT THE DEPARTMENT TO MONITOR THE FOOD ESTABLISHMENTS FOR COMPLIANCE WITH THE PROVISIONS OF THIS ACT; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. (1) The provisions of this section shall apply to any food establishment that is required to obtain a permit from the State Department of Health under Section 41-3-15(4)(f), that operates primarily in an enclosed facility and that has five (5) or more seats for customers.
(2) Any food establishment to which this section applies shall not be allowed to serve food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the State Department of Health after consultation with the Mississippi Council on Obesity Prevention and Management established under Section 41-101-1 or its successor. The State Department of Health shall prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese, and shall provide those materials to all food establishments to which this section applies. A food establishment shall be entitled to rely on the criteria for obesity in those written materials when determining whether or not it is allowed to serve food to any person.
(3) The State Department of Health shall monitor the food establishments to which this section applies for compliance with the provisions of this section, and may revoke the permit of any food establishment that repeatedly violates the provisions of this section.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2008.
Doesn't this read as though the dateline should have been April 1? Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Surely the courts in the USA have already dealt with this issue? I believe restaurants should provide adequate nutritional information about the food they are offering, and leave the choice up to the consumer. The fast food places are actually fairly good about posting information about their foods since the lawsuits against McDonalds. I would like to see more restaurants including more nutritional information on their menus, but to ask them to make an on the spot assessment of the cause of a customer's obesity is ridiculous! If I eat a high calorie, high fat, meal from time to time, that's my business. Maybe I compensate by eating nothing but veggies for the rest of the week! Maybe I'm overweight because of a medical problem, and nothing to do with what I eat. (I would guess most truly obese people do eat too much and the wrong kind of foods, but I'm sure there are some who don't.)
I don't believe there are any easy (I was going to say one-size-fits-all) answers to the question of obesity, but legislating who can eat in restaurants is NOT something that is going to help anyone! In fact, although it wasn't an April Fool and certainly wasn't intended as a joke, the author of the bill didn't expect it to pass and the state House Public Health Committee chairman said he is going to "shred" the bill:
"I was trying to shed a little light on the number one problem in Mississippi," said Republican Rep. John Read of Gautier, who acknowledges that at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, he'd probably have a tough time under his own bill."
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Monday, February 04, 2008
The children did watch the first half hour or so of the game and I listened to the reports on the radio this morning. (That way we could all make conversation about the game without actually having seen the whole thing.) It sounds as though if I had been interested in American football it actually would have been worth watching - certainly more entertaining than watching France hammer Scotland 27-6 at rugby this weekend. Not that I watched that either - I haven't found any TV channels here that carry rugby with any regularity without paying extra. The games are available on the BBC website but will only show the video to people accessing it from the UK :-( That may change in the future though
That's the French team in pink.
Here's one from a calendar of French 'rugbymen' or 'Dieux du stade' (Gods of the stadium)
The chains supposedly represent the 'strong links between the players and the rugby ball'.
Friday, February 01, 2008
The drive-through is a thoroughly American concept, and something I managed to avoid for a very long time. I have no interest in eating at somewhere like McDonalds or Burger King, and even less desire to eat their food in my car. I think I have been to a drive-up window at a fast food place precisely once - and that was because the driver (not me) wanted a Coca-Cola and decided it was too hot to get out of the car.
There are the obvious places for drive-through windows such as fast food emporiums that I knew about before coming to the US, but there are others too. There are the drive-through wedding chapels in Vegas, though I didn't know until today that at least one of them was originally created to make it easier for individuals who have difficulty walking to get married. There are drive-through flu clinics where you can get your flu shot without even getting out of the car and even drive-through liquor stores, which just seems so wrong! I used to think the whole idea was plain silly, and typical of lazy Americans who couldn't be bothered to walk a few yards. I suspect that in the many years since I left the UK, the idea of drive-throughs has surfaced over there too.
Since having children, I have discovered advantages to the drive-through. It is very nice not to have to get the children out of their car seats and then back in them again, especially if the weather is bad. On the days when getting the children moving anywhere is like herding cats, it is just so much easier to use the drive-through ATM (hole-in-the-wall cash machine). I get my cash, and I don't lose any of the children or my temper. Ditto for dropping off or picking up prescriptions at the local pharmacy (chemists) - PLUS I don't end up making impulse purchases in the store. "Ooh, look, that lipstick's on sale! Can't remember the last time I wore any, but it's a good deal, and I'm sure I'll remember to put lipstick on in the morning if I buy a new one!"
I'm very glad they don't have drive-through liquor stores around here though. That would be very bad.