Sunday, February 28, 2010

Soon. Really.

It has been 14 days since I last blogged.
It has been six days since we got home from our vacation in Sweden.

I just cannot get back in the groove. Once you hear about our trip - or, rather, our journey home - this may make a little more sense. The short version is we had an amazing time! The long version is exhausting.

Thankfully, I did take notes while we were away so that I did not forget anything about our trip. I also took a million (700+) pictures. It's a daunting task editing and organizing and labeling them for my online album.

So this here is to let you know that there will be a new blog coming soon. Very soon. I promise.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day. My First Wedding Anniversary.

I have always been a hater of Valentine's Day. The tackiness, the expense, the pressure to have a Valentine. It's just a day, who cares, and all that.

And then I got married. On Valentine's Day. And the world changed.

My world at least. And no, I don't mean I want chocolates and a dozen red roses. And I still don't know why there has to be a Valentine's Day. If it is suppose to be a time of love and showing the one you love how you feel, should it be limited to one day? Why can't everyday be Valentine's Day? Instead of your partner giving you a valentine on the day you'd most expect it, would it not mean more to get a hand written I Love You on a random day (or days) of the year?

I'm not saying that I don't get taken in by the Hallmark Holiday. I see the cutsie things in the stores. But really? All I have to do is look at the price tags, and I generally get over it pretty quick. For example, while in town a few weeks ago, Briony and I saw this at Marks & Spencers:

It's soooo cute, right? They have it on display under glass to suck you in as you walk past. Then you flip over the tin and see the price... £25?! For a couple of cookies? The next table had something that was a better deal financially, but much worse for your waistband. For the value price of only £12, you get over a pound of yummy goodness:

But the question is, who needs it? And can you picture the expression on your partners face if you wrapped it up and brought it home to them? Here, darling, I love you so much I bought you a slab of chocolate. How do you even go about eating it? With a hammer and chisel?

Am I saying that I wouldn't like a gift on Valentine's Day? What girl (or guy) would turn down a gift? They put out piles of stuffed animals in pink and red, which are cute and all, but what is a grown woman going to do with it after the holiday has passed? And roses? Crazy expensive.
Flowers are pretty and all. But they die. And then there is nothing left to be shown for the gift. The same with chocolates. You eat them and they are good, but then they are gone. I've always felt that if you are going to spend up to a hundred or more dollars on flowers and candy, you should just go for jewelry! Actually, I'm kidding. But something that can be used or enjoyed again, at least. And no, I don't mean a vacuum cleaner or a toaster. But if that's your line of thinking, I think you should just go for the jewlery...

I have told you what Valentine's Day does not mean to me. Let me tell you now what it does mean to me. The Valentine's part, I'm not so bothered about. The Anniversary part, it means everything. It is a celebration, a commemoration if you will, of the day I married my love, my other half, my best friend. I remember every detail of the day spent with our family and friends. Their love and support means so much to us both, and we are so grateful to have such people in our lives. Thank you to everyone that was there that day, to everyone who could not be there with us but sent us well wishes and support. And to my husband, I love you. Always And Forever.

So, what are we doing today to celebrate? Nid and I are in Sweden visiting friends. I'll fill you all in when we get home.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Random Tuesday Thoughts.


I'm sick, but recovering. My daughter was sick, but is better. My husband just passed the beginning stages of sick and is full blown. Life in a sick house is no fun. Just ask my son, the only one not sick. It is amazing how fast trash cans fill up with nothing but tissues in a sick household. I just used "sick" in each of the last six sentences, and this one makes seven.

We know we need to start packing and purging. The move won't be any easier if we leave it till the end. But it's hard to start when we don't know when we're moving. We're waiting, US Embassy, please send the letter!

When you call Scottish Power, you talk to a Scottish person. Imagine that!

When we were at the hospital a few weeks ago for a checkup, the cleaning guy walked to our little curtained off area, turned and faced me from about 3 feet away and scratched his crotch.I complained. A supervisor came tell me she'd dealt with it. When she found out I was American, she just kept repeating - "But you don't look American!"  What do you say to that?

I am loving this book:

For more randomness, visit Keely at The Unmom.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Charity Re-Makes.

I was 10 years old in 1985. In school (5th grade) we were learning about the famine in Africa. When We Are The World by US For Africa came out, it was monumental. Everyone was talking about it. I had a 45 record that I played over and over. Musicians from all genres came together to do something wonderful.

Now, 25 years later, the same thing is happening. I was all ready to write this blog about what I thought was happening, which was someone decided to re-make We Are The World for Haiti. Before I got around to writing this blog, however, I learned that that is not true. It turns out that Lionel Ritchie and Quincy Jones had been planning for months to do an 25th Anniversary re-make on January 28, 2010. When Haiti was struck with the devastating earthquake, they changed it to be a fund raiser for the people there.

The fact that Ritchie and Jones were behind this re-make, and not someone else gives it credibility, however I am not a fan of the re-make in general. Especially when the motivation behind it changes. Does so easily giving away a moment in time take away from the issues in Africa? Are we to forget Africa in lieu of the current world disaster? And what about our own (American) disasters? Hurricane Katrina, anyone? Sure, musicians did benefit concerts, but was there a song recorded (or re-recorded) to mark that moment in history? Who makes the decision as to which catastrophe is worse and deserves more attention and money? Years after Katrina, I had an internet friend who was still trying to re-build her house and make it a home. The money ran out, and they lived for a long time in temporary housing and then in a partially completed home while they worked on it themselves after work and on weekends. Where was the relief when she needed it? If someone wants to create something new "commemorate" the devastation in Haiti, to raise money for the people suffering, have at it. But be original. I guess we'll see how it turns out on Friday, February 12th, when the song is debuted at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

And then there is the other song. It hurts me just to write it here, but for thoroughness I feel I should. Simon Cowell has re-made R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts. You can watch the original version here. In a recent article in the Guardian entitled Why British pop let cool get in the way of a good charity single, the author says "There's nothing like a charity single for making musicians pull together – as long as they're American." As much as I dislike the idea of a new We Are The World, at least the rest of the world thinks America is great because of their generosity of spirit. An article online at BBC Magazine talks about the meaning of the song and how it relates (or does not relate as the case may be) to the situation in Haiti. The comments at the end are worth reading as well, as at least half of them defend my thoughts on re-purposing an existing song.

I have heard the new version of Everybody Hurts. It hurts my ears. Listening to it (I had to listen to give it a chance and be fair about it, right?) I received a death threat from my loving husband. If you dare, you can listen to the entire song here. Just scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. Or you can (watch) listen to it here.

What I did not know in 1985 was that in England, Band Aid had been formed in 1984 and released a song to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia as well. Nid introduced me to Do They Know It's Christmas the other day, and I got the same feeling watching it as I did watching We Are The World the first time. Curious as to whether or not it had been re-made over the years, we found out that it had.
Here is the original version

And here it is re-made for Band Aid 20

It does not have the same vibe, and to me that equals less feeling, less dedication, less commitment to the cause. The more edited and photographic, the less it is about the music and the reason for the music.

But of course, this is all just my opinion.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

An American In London And Beyond.

No, it's not me. It's American country music artist Phil Vassar.
Weren't expecting that, were you?

Phil Vassar is a Virginia native (Yay Virginia!) and an amazing singer, songwriter, and performer. Unfortunately, I did not know that he was coming to the UK until it was too late. We'd already booked return tickets to London for the day before he was there. Turns out he toured the city, so we might have passed on the street! How cool would it have been to take the family to see a Virginia musician in London and then taken them to see him in Virginia later? Oh well, it would've cost a fortune, so best not to dwell on that.

I was very pleased when I saw video footage on Phil's blog of him boarding the plane to come to England. Wearing a Virginia Tech t-shirt:

Go Hokies!
And then he got off the plane wearing this:

Boo UVA :(

While sightseeing in London, Phil is wearing this:

A Union Jack hat. So clearly, he has no fashion sense.
You'll see why below when I discuss the Union Jack.

I wanted to see more of Phil's time in Europe, and there were some entertaining videos of him touring the cities they visited and of his shows. But there was also a fair amount of poorly done research into the areas he was coming to.

This is a newsletter I got about the tour:

For those of you not familiar with UK Flags, let me explain what I see. On the header, there is the Union Jack, which is the flag of the United Kingdom. Next to that are the flags of the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, and Germany. It looks pretty enough, right? Only, on the countries Phil came to are:
London, England
Dublin, Ireland
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Glasgow, Scotland
Untermeitingen, Germany

That adds up to five countries, and should add up to five flags.

So, what looked like this:

Should have looked like this:

Easy, right?

England is not the United Kingdom. It is a country unto itself, a part of Great Britain, yes, but the identity of the English should not be diminished just because people associate the Union Jack with England. Nid is very much English, but don't call him British. I've heard the same about the Welsh, Scots, and Irish. They have identities of their own, and they should be respected for that.
[Note: Northern Ireland has not had a flag of their own since 1972, so the Union Jack is their current flag]

And then, while looking up the locations, I saw this on his tour page:
January 26 London, England The Borderline
January 28 Dublin, Ireland Whelans
January 29 Belfast, Ireland The Avenue
January 30 Glasgow, UK King Tuts Wah Wah Hut
February 01 Untermeitingen, Germany Four Corners

Glasgow, UK? Is Scotland not as much it's own country as England? And are the two Irelands not completely different countries, one of which isn't even part of the United Kingdom?

I continue to be amazed by the lack of thoroughness of people. If you are paid to do a job, why is it so hard to do the job properly? This goes a long way to explain my difficulty enjoying some of my work situations in the past. I have been (repeatedly) told by managers and bosses that I just "expect too much" of other people. I only expect as much of others as I give to a job I am assigned to do. I am far from perfect, and I do not expect others to be. But it's not hard to do so many of the things I see done wrong around me.

Nid went to Phil's facebook page to let them know about the flag of England not being the Union Jack, and they got back to him right away. They changed the image to this:

Definitely an improvement. As long as you aren't from Northern Ireland, and looking for representation.
Thank you Team Vassar for your prompt attention.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I've Gotten Behind.

It's been a very busy week, and I've not written a single thing about it. I suppose that's not entirely true. It's been a long exhausting week, but perhaps not a lot has happened. I've been sick. Briony's been sick. It's getting old. We went this morning to the doctor, who told us it was viral, and we just needed to treat the symptoms. Which is what we have been doing, to no avail. As soon as we got back from the doctor, we both started sneezing. A new symptom, great! And it's Briony's 14th Birthday. And she gets to spend it in bed.

So, to go back to the last time I should have blogged, I'll talk a little about Monday, January 25th.

We were up early to get the train to London for Nid and the children's medicals for their visas. We each packed a bag with snacks and a lunch, and various other things like mp3 players and books. The train was pretty busy, but we were in a quiet coach, and I managed to sleep for most of the hour and a half ride. Arriving at St. Pancras, we walked to the Tube station and bought our day passes. We got off at Bond Street, which is actually on Oxford Street, and since we had plenty of time, we walked down to Grosvenor Square, which is where all of the Embassys are. As far as London goes, Grosvenor Square is quite attractive, and we took some photos. I had heard about a pharmacy near there that sold American sized passport photos, which we have to have when we go back for the interviews, so we went in search of that. It was right up the street, in view of the US Embassy, which was great. What wasn't great was the price, just under £18 for the three of them, which got us two photos each. But we had to have them, so we didn't have a choice, and I'm glad to have it done. While we were there, someone brought in their cell phone to store, which they apparently charge £2 for. You aren't allowed to take bags or cell phones or much of anything into the Embassy, so it's good to know that we can leave things there for such a small fee. The name of the place is Audley Pharmacy.

We left there and went straight to the Knightsbridge Doctors office. The map they had given us was not to scale, and missing some side streets, so it was a pain to find. We went in, filled in the paperwork, and had our lunch. It was pretty crowded in there, but we got there just in time to take the last seats on the leather couch. The kids ended up needing to get a flu vaccine (which was not on my list of required vaccines, but oh well) and Nid had to get a booster as well since we do not know about his childhood vaccines. Then we went into another waiting room. Nid had to get blood drawn and have a chest x-ray taken, and they all got full physical exams. While they were out of the room, I chatted for a bit with a man with a Russian or Ukrainian type accent. He was there with his wife and their two children (little) and were trying to get visas for Canada. He said it was harder to get Canadian visas than US, and as many times as they kept taking them back I believe that. He was told that it wouldn't take long, and his children were so bored, I felt bad for him trying to keep them entertained in the small space. Thankfully they did have a small box of toys in the waiting room.

We finally got out of there, after paying a whopping £455 with instructions to get a few things checked out at our GP before they could forward the results to the Embassy. We took the Tube to South Kensington, and walked for ages underground to the Science Museum. Only to emerge and realize that we were there. We literally came out at the front door, which was excellent. We had about an hour there. I was very excited to see a Veterinary section. Then we got to it. On the 5th floor, tucked in a corner. The room was hardly bigger than my living room and dining room combined, and basically was a few plaques, with equipment next to each one. These are the things that they felt summed up the history of Veterinary Medicine:
Military Veterinary Medicine
Marking For Ownership
Veterinary Surgery
Veterinary Treatment
Each of these headings got the same amount of space. What a waste of a trip to the 5th floor! You can see the correlating photos on my photo site. The Human medicine section was a lot more interesting, with lots of dioramas.

We met back up and took the Tube back to St. Pancras. It was rush hour and quite crowded, but certainly not as bad as it could've been. We ate at Burger King right outside the station, and the first song they played when we walked in was Shania Twain's 'Man, I Feel Like A Woman'. It might have been like a little bit of home away from home, except that with a speaker right over the cash registers, it took forever to order because I couldn't hear what the guy was repeating back to me. Dinner was wonderful though, a nice treat at the end of a long day.

We thought we were in for another great treat, First Class accommodations back to Leicester. But unlike regular class, First Class does not have a QUIET option. And the train was packed. With families. Little kids. It was not relaxing. One of the chairs was broken and very uncomfortable. The lights were on full blast even though it was dark outside, and it hurt my eyes. It was a much longer ride home than it was trip there, and I was so glad when we pulled into the station. A short walk and taxi ride later and we were home! The kids brushed their teeth and went straight to bed, and we relaxed the rest of the night. Despite the cost of staying in a hotel, I am glad that when we go back we won't be doing it all in one day.

I've got some more things on my list, but I think I'll save them for Random Tuesday Thoughts tomorrow.

All my photos are located HERE.