Showing posts from 2009

Oh Ten. Wait, that's not right.

Last weekend, while trying to describe our usual new years eve activities, I realized how silly our custom of watching 15 seconds of a three hour show just in time to watch a great big sparkling ball come down is. And how difficult it is to describe. I mean, what the heck is that about? It certainly reinforces my theory that new years is a fairly pointless holiday, though the year has to change sometime. Nevertheless, it is a good opportunity to evaluate my, um, goals from last year.

Now, most importantly, I did get a good flashlight for work. Thank you LL Bean. I haven't gotten any further into reading the Bible, so that goal will be tabled to next year. Other than that I'd like to write more, even if I have nothing to say. I'd like to do a better job trying to understand people. But my top priority is to finish this wild ass plan strong, and not to lose sight of why I'm here.

Oh, and write my 600th blog post. Done!

This was the first year ever I didn't hav…

Christmas in Shrop-shurr

There are a few things that make a British Christmas decisively British: crackers and crowns, pudding, roasted parsnip, mince pies, baking with alcohol, brussel sprouts, and boxing day walks. Over my Christmas break I had or experienced all of those things, making it a very satisfying time. I stayed with a lovely family in the county of Shropshire, a highly underrated beautiful place where England really looks like England. The family have two kids, neither of whom I could understand (at least for the first couple of days.) Though kids with British accents are pretty much irresistible. We baked together, saw the countryside, and ate tons of delicious food and met some cool people.
We visited the town of Ironbridge, where not coincidentally the worlds first iron bridge was built in 1779. Fun fact of the day. We also did some post holiday walks in the famous Shropshire hills, giving us wonderful views of the surrounding area and into Wales. We visited a Bronze age (2000-1400 BC) …

If Only in My Mind

This Christmas is guaranteed to be outside of my normal. Completely away from home, rather, in someone else's home. I am being hosted by a family in the county of Shropshire (or Shrop-shurr) as I pronounce it.
HOST is a program where local families can host international students for holidays and weekends throughout the year. I am very lucky to get a Christmas placement, and it will be even more interesting as I will be sharing the experience with a Taiwanese student. The hosts themselves are a family of four, both children under six, and I'm told that for Christmas, the house will be filled with in-laws and friends as well. The host family seem really nice and they must be, as they get no compensation from any of the parties involved and host students merely for the good experience.
I am certainly looking forward to tucking in to a traditional Christmas dinner and am most curious as to what exactly comprises a Christmas pudding. I'm sure all my questions will be answer…

The Gym

"The Gym" is not a phrase which often passes my lips. For much, well all really, of my adult life, I have been a conscientious objector to the gym. All through school it was abundantly clear I was not sport inclined. For most of that time I believed I was being clever and practicing good civil disobedience as I refused to run around a track. The rest of the time I was being ashamedly lazy. (To be honest I still think that running should be reserved for fires.)
Thankfully, though, we can evolve. Here I can admit that I have been going to the gym for the last few weeks. Several things have motivated me, obviously a healthier lifestyle, jaffa cakes, it's now too cold to take the bike out, rain, Christmas, and perhaps most importantly, my accommodation fee includes membership to our sports center. So not going is a waste of money!
With mild irritation I endured the required gym orientation, but a combination of a very nice leader and my fascination with a treadmill tha…


We arrived in sunny Cardiff after a long bus ride and early wake up call. Because it was right across the street, we went straight to the National Museum of Wales. This museum fulfilled all of my nerdy needs: natural history, welsh history, and fine art. From dinosaur bones to Monets, it is quite the place. Something for everyone!
After seeing all we could and accidentally trying to read all the explanations in Welsh, we explored the city center. I think Cardiff is downplayed a bit as a capitol city, it is bustling to say the least. We explored it’s large pedestrian shopping areas, Christmas market, city market, and the ubiquitous, really old church.

We found our hostel and checked in without issue. I think I have been spoiled in my hostel experiences, as they’ve all been great. Due to it being winter our six bed room was never filled, and overall the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. But really with a free breakfast and huge shower (by any standards, let alone hostel standa…

Playing the tourist

Lesser known than the Shakespeare sites, Stratford is home to the UKs largest tropical butterfly farm, which as it turns out is an excellent place to visit. Even if you have a passing interest in butterflies, it is easy to be won over by seeing hundreds of them flying around a beautiful (and warm) setting. They also have Chinese quail, some other tropical birds I can’t identify, a room of rare (caged) insects from around the world, and the completely unmentionable room of (also caged) giant spiders. After spending about two hours there, we still had time to waste in beautiful Stratford, before our trip took us to Warwick.

Famous mostly for its huge, restored, and very intact castle, Warwick is a relatively small town outside of Coventry. I wasn’t planning on going to the castle, as it is very expensive (£18 for an adult) but I was overcome by the allure of a reduced student group ticket. I’m glad I went, it is a very beautiful place, and in winter, not full of tourists. Many of t…

Lincoln, lincoln

This Saturday was the last of the International Office trips for the year. We went to Lincoln. And if you think that's random, you're right! But, like many random small towns in England (I am learning) it is full of charm and history.
I think my book will now be called “The giant cathedrals of England and their surrounding areas” as now that I think of it, the last three weeks I've been to three different towns and the first thing I've done is explore their ancient and huge cathedrals. With good reason. They are all beautiful and fascinating and Lincoln Cathedral is no exception.
The original church was built in 1092, dating it back to the Normans. Parts of the skeleton of the original church are still visible today, and things can be said like "That doorway is older than your...well everything." Like most old British buildings it has been through a lot; fire, earthquake, spires blowing off, and a complete collapse of the central tower, have shaped the c…

Helimed 53

Today I took the bike to the airport to do a site visit of the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance, whew! Better known as WNAA or by their call sign of Helimed 53.
Everyone was extremely nice and accommodating to my silly questions. This helicopter runs with one pilot, a paramedic, and a doctor. Having the doctor is "really handy" as they can do all sorts of crazy things in the field including thoracostomy (chest tube), thoracotomy (chest 'cracking'), surgical airways, clamp bleeds, amputations, RSI, etc. They average about five "jobs" a day, but like many medivacs, get canceled quite a lot.
All medivac helicopters in the UK are funded entirely on private and corporate donations. This really boggles my mind, as where I work, the helicopter is funded through billing, and where I live, it is funded through taxes.
Throughout the year, all of the medivacs have fundraisers and PR activites to raise awareness. In fact, some busses in Coventry have…


Today (well officially Sunday) is the first day of Advent, the season of Christmas. A couple of weeks ago I received a mysterious box from my parents, not to be opened until now. I have no idea how she fit it, but inside a shoebox, my Mom has put 24 envelopes to open throughout the month and one Christmas present at the bottom. I mean, seriously! Once I stopped crying, I was able to open #1 and I have a little more idea of where this will be going. It was a piece of my favorite toys ever, playmobil. Will update. (Oh and yes, you must be crazy, which is why I love you.) It is pictured below with my official Top Gear advent calendar.
Here is a great article about how this calendar is contributing to putting "Christmas in danger of becoming an empty shell into which we stuff all our fads." Personally, I think it's brilliant. C and I are big fans of the show and I think a TG advent calendar isn't any worse than any of the non holiday themed ones I've seen her…

Bits and Bobs

I’ve been washing my hair with 12p shampoo for a month now, and it hasn’t turned green or fallen out. Hurray for cheap stuff! I never thought I’d find such items here in the UK. I was under some illusion that there were no generic brands or something, but really some of those ASDA prices would make Americans go crazy.

One thing I have found (or not found) is solid deodorant. Now, hear me out. I know it’s random, but after noticing that I couldn’t find it, I realized I really couldn’t find it. I know I have a history of standing in stores staring blankly for unusual amounts of time, but the deodorant aisle doesn’t usually hold my attention. After careful evaluation (far more careful than someone of my age should take), I ended up with an aerosol can (which is the prevailing choice next to roll-on). And let me tell you there is nothing like: a. spraying freezing cold liquid onto your skin, b. having the first ingredients of deodorant be methane and butane, or c. inadvertently br…

The Switch On

Tonight was Coventry's Christmas light "switch on." It's a nice event held in towns across the UK where people get together, entertainment is provided, and a semi/real celebrity pushes a button or something to switch on the city's Christmas light display.
During the day today, Cov had a Chinese Market, a display of real reindeer and penguins, and a lifesize gingerbread house (disappointingly not edible.)

There was entertainment by some singers I'd never heard of, mostly because I've never seen x-factor or Britain's got talent. The switch on was done by Wallace and Gromit, the Mayor and his wife, and that guy from "A Hitchhikers Guide." So, not a bad line-up! It was a pretty nice atmosphere and not too cold. I was actually surprised that so many people turned up, but it probably shows my inexperience with such events.
Afterwards I went to the "Light in our Darkness" service at the cathedral to mark the beginning of Advent. I can&…


I wasn't thrilled to learn that York is almost a three hour drive from Coventry. Also, heading north, historically has meant rain. But, when we arrived it wasn't raining. In fact, unbelievably, it was sunny. I almost forgot what that looks like. Seizing the good weather we went to climb the tower of York Minster, a huge church and major landmark in York.
The whole Minster took me about two hours longer than I expected to, but in the best way possible. We started by climbing the 275 spiraling steps of the tower which was really nice, and gave us great views of the city. From there we went all the way down to the crypts. Here you can see parts of the original foundation built by Romans, and also the foundation of the church build by the Normans in 1100. The current building was completed in 1472, which really wasn't recent, unless you compare it to Roman times.
We then went into the minster itself to enjoy the enormity of the place, and its intricate wood and stone ca…


According to my favorite Disney classic, the 1973 Robin Hood, back in the day, "oo-de-lally" was a commonly used phrase. After spending an afternoon in Nottingham, I can attest with certain authority that no one says it anymore (if ever). Also, sadly, we didn't find a troubadour rooster, or an outlaw dressed as a stork with an uncanny talent at archery.
What we did find was Nottingham castle. Like many English landmarks, it is a much changed place from it's original buildings, but now houses a nice museum focused on the history of Nottingham. When we'd had our fill we enjoyed the city center all set for Christmas with an ice rink, and (the now ubiquitous) German Christmas market.
It was really nice and only rained a little. We went into the St. Stephens church, and wandered through some of the charming streets, ending at another museum, more dedicated to Robin Hood. Did he exist? Did a "Rob Hod" exist? Who knows? Although I love Disney's vers…

A first time for everything

Thanksgiving this year was inevitably a strange one. I was very excited to share it with new friends, none of whom knew what thanksgiving was all about. I don't think I had the best explanation of this highly evolved holiday. I like to say it was a utopian couple of days when the "pilgrims" and "Indians" lived in peace, after the Indians kindly saved the remaining pilgrims from dying. More or less immediately after the first Thanksgiving was over the pilgrims set to spreading disease to the Native Americans, and generally killing them in any other way possible.
But, it really is a great holiday. I was able to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade via live webcam feed on Times Square. It was the best way I've ever watched it, as it was completely without annoying commentary and periodic broadway performances. I could see the baloons, listen to the bands, and watch Santa arrive in peace.
I got up early and for the first time made my Mother's s…

How you say? Show.

Today I rode the bike to the Emergency Services Show. It was about six miles away, and about three miles in, the traffic was backed up. I figured there was no way it was for where I was headed (but it was!). Happily on the bike, I cheated and rode on the "pavement" passing many trapped motorists. Unfortunately about 1/2 a mile away I ran out of pavement, and after riding in the traffic for a while found a path to the entrance I could take. Of course it involved lifting the bike over a fence, and in the end was completely not worth the time it took, but I still enjoyed leaving the road.
The expo was great. Outside of getting tons of free pens, I also got some cool keyrings, lots of information, got to play with a lifepak 15 (awesome) and saw more emergency vehicles than I will in a year. From motorcycle ambulances, to helicopters, to police jet skis, it was all there. Even a rescue kayak! Yes!
It goes without saying that it was super squirrely, and I'm very glad I we…

A labor of love

If you have ever mused: "I wonder how much fun it would be to ride a bike 3 miles with a 13 pound frozen turkey in my backpack while its raining." then look no further. I can attest that there is very little fun involved in riding your bike while carrying a 13 pound turkey in the rain. It is probably more fun that riding 3 miles with a live turkey, though. Ah, silver linings.
It is thanksgiving week and although I am looking forward to sharing our traditions with the rest of the world, I am a bit nervous about all the people who are coming over. I mostly has to do with the admittance that I have never cooked a turkey. Everything good I had to eat in college was made by the uni or my roommates. Not me. Every past thanksgiving I have kind of helped out, chopped, or stirred, but never really was a part of the big thanksgiving picture.
Also, our kitchen is sparsely stocked with a few plates, random silverware, and a strange assortment of pots. I'll be borrowing a few t…


On Saturday I visited the town of Chester. It's a very charming town with (like many charming English towns) a long interesting history dating decidedly back to Roman times. They had built a wall around the town, many buildings, an arena, and lots of columns (as was their custom.) The Normans made their contribution with the Chester Cathedral which is absolutely beautiful and huge. In the Tudor period they build plenty of those "black and white" buildings. Many were rebuilt during the Victorian era, because they looked quaint. Also, a great covered shopping area was perfected over time now called the Chester "rows" Basically, the 1st floor of buildings has a covered area on the facade that allows shoppers to wander around in dry comfort.

We had a nice tour in the morning, then in the afternoon, I convinced some people to nerd it up with me in the local museum. It was really nice for a small town museum, and I'm feeling a theme of such places, that t…

Bulk food Awesomeness

When I first moved to New Hampshire, I wanted to find some familiarity. Stores, the landscape, the climate, many things were different than what I was used to. But, when I visited the local Costco, I found it to be a familiar and happy place. I was also at the time overcome by discovering their beer aisle. How naive I was!
Today I visited a UK Costco. It was a bit of a pilgrimage as I had to take the train to get there, and then walked quite a distance, but when I arrived, I knew I was in for a foreign bulk retail treat.
I did find it strangely familiar with almost the exact layout of my store at home, and extremely similar products and brands. I found myself looking for my usual Costco shopping companions, which did make me feel a bit sad.

So, I spent an unusual amount of time combing the aisles for differences. I indulged in many samples of course, most notably, alcoholic beverages. Where the NH store had beer and wine, the England store surpasses it with liquor. Jameson to Ba…


Last week I went again into the north to Leeds. I didn't really know what to do here to take up all of our time, but we started in the local art gallery. Unfortunately much of it was being constructed upon and some galleries were closed. They did have some nice modern sculpture. From there we went to the Leeds City Museum. This is a very nice place that takes you through the history of Leeds, and I mean history. From the movement of tectonic plates bringing the UK out from underwater, to local Roman artifacts, to a unique collection of taxidermied wild animals. By the time we finished there it was raining. Surprises.
One thing Leeds does have is malls. Whatever you call them, downtown Leeds is full of malls, they are around every corner, in various degrees of posh. We spent most of the rest of the day seeking refuge from the rain in these various malls and got really good at wandering in circles. Leeds also has a great huge market. So I enjoyed seeing all the weird thin…

By the Sea

Before I got there I knew a few things about Blackpool. It had a beach, they lit lights in the fall, and James May had never been there because he ran out of gas.
I know a bit more about Blackpool now. In November, the lights are beautiful, the sea is cold and turbulent, and it never rains. No wait, wait, I mean, it always rains.
It was sunny blue skies for most of our journey to the northwest coast of England. Then we made a turn and, welcome to North England: it's raining. I didn't mind, figuring it would be just like in Cov; rain for 10 minutes then clear up. Oh how wrong I was.
I did feel quite excited to be on the coast, thrilled even to see hear the incessant waves and seagulls. The rain was off and on throughout the day, but mostly on. We had a nice blue badge tour of the high spots. The guide did her best to keep us dry, touring more inside than out. We finished in the center of the city and immediately found the closest chippy as it was raining again. Fish an…


Last week I met my friend who graciously showed me around her hometown of Birmingham. I had heard a lot about it, as far as I can tell, Birmingham really gets a bad rep. I found it to be pretty interesting; full of shops, history, art, and industry like any good European city.
We stopped in the modern art gallery, Ikon, where I didn't understand anything that was going on. We also went through the symphony hall, the war memorial, and to the other art gallery to see an exhibit of old photographs of the city.
A large portion of the city center is pedestrianized, making it very pleasant to walk through. Now, to the "pincushion" (pictured above). I got the feeling that the city has mixed feelings about it, and my environmentalist guide could barely look at it without needing a place to be sick.
I think it's kind of cool looking, which is high praise for a building that contains a giant shopping mall. I also think it's a little out of place, virtual yards from the…

Remember, remember

Thank goodness, in 1605, some Catholic extremists decided to blow up parliament. Thank goodness one of them lost his nerve and caused them to fail. If that hadn't happened, there wouldn't be a November holiday in the UK! Traditional Guy Fawkes day, or bonfire night, is celebrated with a bonfire including burning and effigy of Fawkes, and a fireworks display. What an impact on history he's had here, to have a whole holiday named after you, still celebrated 400 years later?! Wow.
Anyway. Thanks to Guy and his friends I found myself this evening pedaling 4 miles in the rain to Longford park to take in a proper English fireworks display.
My nerve faltered when it was so cloudy, but I was assured it would go on rain or shine. So, armed with my waterproofs, high-vis vest, and blinking taillight, I set off into the unknown.
I found the park without a problem other that by the time I got there I was an hour early and it was raining. A lot. I hid for a while under a bus stop, …


The other day I spotted a coin on the floor and victoriously went to pick it up as finding coins on the floor is my only source of income. I turned it over in my hand and found it be American dime. So I had made a pointless 7.5 pence. But really, how weird.
Change here is an important part of the culture, I think. Mostly because there is so much of it. In the US $1 coins do exist, but are barely legal tender. When you use them, people look at them as strangely as if you'd handed them Monopoly money. After careful scrutiny, they relinquish and take it, still skeptical and wondering who Sacajawea is.
Here, on the other hand, they got rid of the pound note about 20 years ago and never looked back. Now, and probably then too, there are commonly used two pound, one pound, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p, and 1p coins. That’s a lot of change! (I miss the quarter myself.) There is always a healthy amount of change jingling annoyingly in my pocket.

Over the last week, unbeknownst to me, I recei…

I miss EMS

We were called out a 4am for a sick person. When we got there we went to the door and rang the doorbell.
An inquisitive “Who is it?” came from inside.
Were you expecting someone else at this hour?

We were called for shortness of breath. When we go there we went in and found the patient in moderate distress but able to say:
“I have oxygen here, but I didn’t put it on.”
That’s when I picked up the tank and smacked him in the head with it.

We were called for a psych problem and arrived to find a lady rolling on the floor, shouting, and being generally uncooperative. Her friend came over to help us calm her down.
Friend: “It’s okay, it’s’re just crazy.”
Thank you, captain obvious.

31st October

I'm bringing the picture of the day project for October to a close with a visit to the lovely Coombe Country Park. It's about 5 miles outside of town and completely worth the drive/bike/bus ride. I'm sure the time of year had something to do with winning me over. The park has a huge abbey where you can stay the night or get married, or both. In fact, I saw two brides, and I was only there a couple of hours. There were a lot of other people enjoying the park today, allowing me to feel entirely safe. There was also a food stand, donkey rides, and possibly the greatest playground I've seen. It was like a ropes course for kids, awesome.
Strictly speaking I wasn't allowed to ride my bike down their tree lined, smooth, beautiful, perfect paths. But I did anyway. It was awesome, and it turns out that the crap bike likes trails!
So, happy Halloween, and I hope you enjoyed the pics.

Plug follow up

When I first arrived, I had the great idea of using a US power strip to power all of my US electronics at once. Genius, right? Of course not! When I plugged it in on the first night, I nearly caused a fire and needed new pants.
So, instead I decided to plug things in individually, using the adapters that I had brought. I had to buy these in a bit of a rush on ebay because the one I originally had only allowed for two prong items to be plugged into it (as opposed to the thee prong plug on most things i.e. laptops).
This worked, but not really. I was afraid of it because it would occasionally spark when I plugged it in. Silly me.
When this adapter failed to work in the library, worried that I would burn it down, I set off to buy an adapter that had a fuse or a voltage adaption feature. I found one with a fuse so I bought it for 7 pounds. Victorious, I plugged the lappy in and it didn't spark once. Totally worth the money, right? Of course not!
The next day, wandering aimlessly…

30th October

The quintessential picture of Coventry: Lady Godiva.

29th October

Because I don't have a job, without shame I went to the local ASDA (the UK wal-mart). Here I got shampoo for 0.12 pence, and many other good buys. I was again fascinated by UK retail and I'm pretty sure I love it. I couldn't buy too much as I was on the bike, but I now have more confidence that I will not be completely destitute next year.

Afterward, I rode the bike back toward home. I got a great free bike route map so I was far less worried about being lost. Though, I will admit I got a bit...misplaced, but that can be a good thing.

28th October

Late-night Christmas light hanging, just outside my door.

27th October

I know, I owe you a picture of the day for yesterday. But as for today...At 1030 last night, I had literally just stepped out of the shower when the fire alarm went off. Under normal circumstances this would have yielded some irritation, but being soaking wet and undressed really added another dimension of inconvenience. So, I hastily dried off and haphazardly threw clothes on, and by the time I was downstairs I realized that I didn't have my glasses. Oh well, at least I was dressed.
Again, our security arrived, and again so did the fire engine. Sweet. The fire alarms now have become more of a social gathering, so soon as we were let back in, I grabbed my glasses and camera we all hung out for awhile with some beers. It was all too easy to forget that it was a Tuesday night; we were having a good 'fire alarm after party'.

I left there with two of my friends around one. My hand was on my door handle when we noticed that an unusual number of people were out and about i…

26th October

Vegetable extracts. Why?