Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Starts Reading Her Christmas Mail.......

Oh my. It is that time of year. The Christmas circulars and cards start arriving. This year really took the cake. (Speaking of which, I think i should go grab some Christmas cake for while I type this. ) There was the circular that hit death by sentence three and from there went on to illness, rheumatoid arthritis, pulmonary embolism and all else, with no let up from the misery and clinical terms until the last paragraph which exhorted everyone to have a very happy Christmas in full caps. It is crying out for a competition for me to enter it into just to bring some joy into its miserable little life. The next contender arrived in my e-mail in-box a few days later. This one was at least positive, but contained the awe inspiring statement "I truly regret that incident at the border." Now, I've since found out about the actual incident, and frankly it is tragic and not to be teased about, but that line is pure literary genius. I just wish people would stop saying "sounds like something you'd say!"

Even the regular Christmas cards are hysterical. I've actually received one this year which includes the word "fucking" in it. Granted, it says "Bush is still fucking president and we still hate him", a sentiment I fully agree with, but it still cracks me up to read it in a Christmas card.

Apart from the joy of those, life's been good. Christmas was quiet, with more church than even my devout Catholic order friends deemed necessary but apart from that it was long walks with the faithful hound, and good food and good friends. Had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner with Mike, and tea on Boxing Day with Pete, Alice and the children. And the interim was spent nice, quiet and not having to deal with everyone bickering. Ah, now that is Christmas my friends!

Hope everyone else's was as nice.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Saves Sinterklaas!

Oh the things that wind up happening when we try to be nice. Oh dearie, dearie, dearie.

The other night, we were all getting together for a Group X meeting on the topic of "Science and Religion." The discussion was going to be led by my friend Jeff, an Episcopal priest and medical doctor, and professor of medical ethics at the local Medical School. But with everyone gathered together in the lounge at Pete and Alice's I arrived home to discover that Jeff couldn't come. His eldest daughter, aged nine, had fallen and gashed her head, and suturing was going to occur. Mom and Dad were in the ER with the two younger kids in tow. Since I didn't have to be up at any certain hour the next morning, I volunteered to fetch the two nippers from the hospital, and take them home and put them to bed.

I had a few reservations about this as the youngest (aged 3) is exceptionally shy and while saying to her Mom and Dad that she loved me and liked it when I came round, she'd never actually spoken a word to me. This struck me as not the best time to have to force that point, but it turned out to be ok. Once inside the house, she was a regular chatterbox, and happy as a clam. All good. Into jammies, up to bed, teeth cleaned, stories read, prayers said, and lights out. Ruthlessly efficient, but all very friendly. I was downstairs in the kitchen when the crisis started.

The kids had climbed out of bed, come downstairs with shoes in their hands, and "reminded" me that it was St. Nicholas day tomorrow so they had to put their shoes by the fireplace. This accomplished, they very happily went back to bed. They were fine.

I, on the other hand, was a wreck. I know what St. Nicholas day is about (or Sinterklaas, as the Dutch call it) from my Dutch and German friends. But I had no idea what went into the shoes, or for that matter where to find it! I called Jeff. Voice mail - no cell phones in most parts of the ER. So I called back to the group for help. General consensus was candy and an orange. I could find oranges, but not candy. I also didn't know how much candy. Text messages were sent to anyone religious I knew, and also to the Netherlands. It was pointed out to me that whatever I did, not to do it before midnight as if they did come home with the eldest daughter, she shouldn't see it before midnight or it would give the game away to her. The panic, the dread, the complications of overwhelming guilt at the thought of being responsible for a small child losing faith in St Nicholas. That's right. As much as I wanted the kids to be happy, I couldn't bear the weight of the guilt of being the one to shatter the illusion.

In a pinch, the group was prepared to send sweets home with someone heading home from the meeting and I could put those in the shoes. Contingency plans abounded. Thankfully, as things hit a crisis point approaching 11, home arrived Jeff, Mummy and the eldest (sporting five stitches in her head, and an exceptionally dazed expression, poor wee thing). The presents were revealed to be hidden in a particular drawer (and it turns out that sweeties in this instance weren't the way to go, since they use it to prepare the kids for Christmas, so they get things like books of Christmas stories and CDs of Christmas carols.

I'm just glad it is over. I can start to calm down now. Whew! Pressure's off.

Gelukkig Siinterklaas!

Monday, November 20, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Starts Thinking About Christmas

Thanksgiving is this week, so it is time to start thinking about the shopping, the shipping, the making, and the whole deal. I've already completed one or two Christmas gifts (you knit, you start early), and I have some good ideas what to get most people. Assuming I have disposable income, which at this point is looking dicey, but hey, here's hoping!

And of course, people keep asking what to get me. I have two options for you. gift list as ever, or I just found this: Ooooo, it made me shiver with tingles of goodness.

But first, Thanksgiving. I have to figure out how to enrobe the chocolates.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Joins the Fray

Right, people. Tom Cruise. More specifically, Tom Cruise's wedding. For fifty points and a chance to win the boat, please discuss the following:

Why. Do. We. Care?????????????

I am, or was, as much of a Tom fan as anyone should be. I mean, he was cute, in a short guy all -American way. The movies weren't too bad on the whole. Some of them were really good. (Born on the Fourth of July, Magnolia, etc). But not being on the obsessive side, I saw them because I wanted to see the movies, not because Tom Cruise was in them. Most people I know feel the same. And now..... well, we all thought this last year was a bit out there for Tom and his publicist should rein him the hell in. Not because we actually cared about what he did or didn't do, until it became an annoyance in our lives. And he should not become an annoyance, as I/we/you haven't met the guy. And 99.9% of the world is not affected directly or indirectly by his actions. So what on earth is all this durm and strang about his wedding? It isn't even his first one. The guy's on his third, and the speculation is that it isn't going to last anyway. (I won't go into the reasons here.) There should have been a total of three news lines about this:
1) Tom Cruise is going to get married.
2) Tom Cruise is now married.
3) (If necessary:) Tom Cruise is no longer married.

So why is there all this kerfuffle? I just don't understand, and what's more, I'm totally sick of it. It isn't like they want me to send a present. Because if they do, they'll be sorely disappointed.

I'm not usually so bitter, and almost never so about weddings. But this celebrity culture thing is just insane.



Wednesday, November 15, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Keeps in the Poetry Vibe

By sheer coincidence, my friend Liz (the other half of Team Milhouse) sent me this poem today to give me a chuckle:

Short Love Poem
Judith Viorst

It's hard to love
The tallest girl
When you're the shortest guy,
For every time
You try to look
Your true love in the eye
You see
Her bellybutton.

I don't know Judith Viorst, but I'm suddenly a big fan.


Friday, November 10, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Gets Various Feedback

That post on business-speak resonated with people, I'm glad to say. I can't take credit for prompting this story in the BBC
but that shows how much this is becoming an issue. In addition, I was sent to the lovely site for the humorous antidote to all this garbage: Keeps me going, knowing that there is still sanity in the world. Particularly as I am interviewing for jobs at the moment, and having to keep discussing my "core competencies." These seem for the most part to be basic lawyering skills such as drafting, negotiating, and the like, but have been taken over by business speak. I'm hoping that the Campaign for Plain English becomes involved at some point.

Thankfully, where business speak leaves off arts comes into its own. Specifically in this case, poetry. Now, I've read a bunch of poetry and in fact I quite like it. I owe a lot of my later understanding of the genre to my friend John Hildebidle, literature professor at MIT, poet and someone always eager to share his enthusiasm for this chosen topic. As much as I was (and continue to be) willing to learn, he is always willing to share, and is the embodiment of the philosophy that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Believe me, I have tested this philosophy to the limit with him.

But he's also a deeply funny guy that you can joke with very openly, and laugh very hard in his company. I have been winding him up of late with my statement and conviction that whatever poem he sent me that week was pretty good, but that all truly great poetry required cows. Needless to say, I chose cows as to the best of my knowledge, they only rarely turn up in poetry. This has been an on-going joke for a while, and now in my in-box there suddenly appears the following:

A friend (to meet her, you'd take her for genteel)
seems devout in her attachment
to beasts of bovine persuasions.
I'd thought the custom was to link
girls and women with horses (just as
men lean toward fast cars and Harleys).
But cows? I suppose, the kindest view
is to take her as unique, not generic.

made to order

He has also hastened to point out that "the greatest of cow verses (outdoing even the Irish proto-epic, "The Cattle Raid of Cooley") is Ogden Nash:

Cows are of the bovine ilk.
One end gives moo, the other milk."

I have had other poems written for me in my day. Most of them were, quite frankly, atrocious. One of them (the one before this) was very very good. But it just didn't have the cow factor. And as previously stated, the cow factor is what makes it all truly great.



Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Finally, more Hat Detail......

I'm very proud, you see.
In Which Our Heroine Has a Little Rant

Like most other people in the world (for example, my mate Gareth)
certain things in life really get so far up my nose, I can feel their boots on my chin. And for the longest time, one of those things has been empty minded business speak. You know the stuff I'm talking about. It is supposed to motivate you, but really it just illustrates how someone else just doesn't understand the problem. And usually, they don't understand the problem they're actually facing.

For example, here. All this stuff about "Wow, isn't this guy great, look at him practice, look at him go!" (for those of you who can't see or access the link, it is pit crew for NASCAR practicing putting on wheel nuts. Or maybe taking them off.) First off, this is actually pretty demeaning to the chap in the photo. Think about it. This photo was pretty much chosen because whoever decided to circulate it around as a "get with the plan" motivational thing thinks that wheel nuts are basically so simple that a trained monkey could do it, and they would never think of practicing it.

To which my response is "Honey, that's why you ain't in the NASCAR pit crew." The point is, that's the guy's job. I'm willing to be that some days he loves it, some days he hates it, and some days are in between. Which makes him like any other guy or gal on the job. But because it is his job, he better know what he's doing or he isn't going to be keeping his job. The initial commentary (from a newsletter called Just Sell, so you know the kind of people they're marketing to here) is that "By practicing, I'm sure he tends to perform better."

No kidding. Just as I get better writing skills the more I practice, or learn to speak languages, row better, play better squash, or do any other job, task, memorization, activity or what have you, the more anyone will get better by practicing whatever it is they do. I remember discussing this with one of my rowers that by doing all our practices, that's how they improved, and that applied to anything, even tests. This particular girl tended to panic under exam stress, and said that she didn't think it would help her, so we practiced stuff for her history test (I think it is actually called studying, but don't tell her that!) and lo and behold, she did much better. That's why the slogan is "practice makes perfect".

But no, then it has to go on. Because you never can have enough business double speak.

"What I find really interesting is not the practising in itself, but the sophistication of the rig the mechanic is working on, and the presence of a dedicated observer by his side. Clearly, he and his team are serious about performance improvement.

This picture really speaks to me in my periodic role as a trainer. Challenging exercises and accurate feedback are the keys to performance improvement."

Ahem. Again, patronising. Seriously patronising. Not to mention, how on earth do you know that it is a dedicated observer next to them? Looks to me like some guy who happens to be looking in that direction and is in the camera lens. As for the sophistication of the rig, when you think how much money is in NASCAR, you think these people are going to cut back on this aspect? No.

And again, "challenging exercises?" The man is doing his job, and being ready. This is not necessarily a challenging exercise. This is the practice. The NASCAR equivalent of shooting free throw after free throw after free throw so that your game percentage is solid. This is not a challenging exercise. And as for the accurate feedback, it doesn't seem to me that you're even assessing the picture correctly so I hope to high heaven you're not giving me feedback, as accurate may not seem to apply. All in all, this is the kind of thing that Dilbert makes fun of, so I won't have to go too far forward.

But it just goes on and on and on. Take a look at this one: Authentic Facilitation. What the heck is that? Why is it that if you call it Authentic, it seems pretty fake? Here's another classic example from that website, starting off with "putting humanity into branding":

"Most efforts at increasing engagement fail because they repeat the classic marketing error: repeating a one-way conversation. Branding spin erodes trust, disillusions people and leads to apathy."

If all else fails, obfuscate, obfuscate, obfuscate. Although I do have to say, this guy does seem to know how to conduct the one way conversation. If marketing is done well, it is a great thing, But there's so much of it that is just rubbish. People spend money for the services of the above two guys, but I'm glad I'm not.

But my absolute favorite comes here, and is filled with all kinds of little gems like this:

"There are twice as many lawyers as a ratio of non-lawyers today as there were in the 1970's. We are competing for half of the business."

Now, this ain't necessarily so. It is only so if there is the same amount of legal work that there was in the 1970s. Is there? I don't think so. The internet, for example, has created volumes of new legal work that wasn't there in the 1970s. It also makes the assumption that all lawyers are working as lawyers. And any lawyer will also tell you that is false. They may maintain their bar membership, but they work in other industry, write books, or frankly just can't get a job. And of those who are working as lawyers, any number of them aren't competing for your work. For example, I don't compete for conveyancing work as I don't do conveyancing. Criminal lawyers don't compete with me as I don't do criminal work. So this whole assertion only works if there's the same amount of legal work in my particular field of competition and twice as many lawyers in that field as there were in the 1970s. That's an awful lot of qualifiation, isn't it?

But the logic sounds nice, doesn't it? Of course it does. And hey, a stopped clock still tells the right time twice a day. But the rest of the time? Not so much.

Stop the insanity folks. Just go do your jobs, do them well, and get on with it.



Monday, October 02, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Takes Her Driving Test

It had to happen at some point. You'd think, after 19 years of driving, that I'd be immune or exempt from having to take a driving test, but that would be wholly untrue. I'd let my US license lapse since they have to be renewed every few years as a revenue grabbing exercise by the State, and since I wasn't driving at home (or here, for that matter) it was ok to let it go. Besides, I don't have a home address in the US any more for them to put on the license so it wouldn't be able to happen anyway. But the good news was that if I passed my UK test, that license would be good until I was 65, barring suspensions for speeding, etc, none of which I plan to get.

That was the good news. The bad news is that I'd have to pass the test. And compared with the US, actually compared with any where else in the world, the UK is incredibly difficult. You spend about 40 minutes on the road, just you and the examiner, taking turns, following directions, heading across roundabouts, making sure all your signals, etc are correct. Be sure to check your mirrors every five seconds. I'm not making that up. Go over the speed limit, that's marked. Go more than 4 miles over the speed limit in any area, that's marked as a serious. One serious fault, you're done for. More than 14 minor faults, you're done for. If you do something so badly wrong, it is within the driving examiners powers to order you to pull over and you both walk back to the test centre, which may be a few miles away at that point.

And they're looking to mark you on everything, which is why less than half the people taking their test pass it. Go too fast, you'll get marked. Go too slowly, you'll get marked for being hesitant. Take the test in an automatic, your license won't let you drive a stick, and so on.

The person taking the test will be required to perform two manouvers. The options are reversing around a corner, parallel parking, reverse bay parking, and a turn in the road. You will not get to choose which two - the examiner gets to choose for you. Hitting the curb=serious fault. One in three people will also have to do an emergency stop. It isn't quite so bad as all that, in that the examiner tells you that you're going to do this, and checks to see if there's anything behind you, etc. Then you just drive along waiting for him to go "Stop!" at which point you slam on the brakes. the key seems to be not to panic, and react quickly (don't react quickly enough or hard enough on those brakes, and thank you for playing, we have no parting gifts for you). It is even ok to stall the car, so long as you use correct stalling procedure. But stall away, brake away, and if you for get to do a massive check of every possible blind spot on the car before moving off, that's a serious fault, and thy name is toast.

You can see what I was up against. I even took driving lessons, just to figure out what they wanted of me. The observation things were interesting - I do feel I actually learned something from them and not just how to pass the test.

In the end, I did incredibly well. The average for people who pass is 11 faults. I got five. Which is pretty incredible, really. I thought I'd lost it at one point when driving along a rather busy road with not much place to pull over, all of the sudden there were flashing blue lights and a siren behind me. Not the police - no, that would be too easy. Bomb disposal unit! Why? Why does this sort of thing happen to me? I've never even seen a bomb disposal unit on its way out before, so why now?

It didn't matter. I still passed. Go me! (Do I have a car? No. Do any of my friends have insurance that lets me drive their cars? No. So the point is? Of that I'm not quite sure yet.)



Wednesday, September 06, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Gets In Touch with Her Crafty Side

I had to attend a wedding on Saturday. Wait, that sounds a bit harsh. I wanted to attend my friend Susannah's wedding, very much. And Susannah wanted me to attend as well. Specifically, she asked me to attend "wearing a great big hat." Now I love Susie, and was happy to accomodate this request, but of course the issue was finding the hat.

In what seems to be universally regarded as "a really Anne thing to do" and also "super cool!", I signed up for hat making class. That's millinery to those of us in the know.

I didn't know I had it in me. Despite having my knitting pattern published in Stitch and Bitch Nation, also for a hat, this seemed pretty different. That was just simple knitting. This was things with blocks. And also, as it turned out, steamers, ropes, feathers, my whisk handle (which I ususally use for spinning sugar for decorating cakes and croquembouche things, etc) hand stitching, and the like. Frankly, I thought that it would be a pretty simple affair, since it was my first hat. What I wound up with, however, is a completely different story.

It wasn't bad. In fact, I sat around staring at it for two days before unilaterally declaring it the best hat in the history of hatting. I'm still trying to get the photos uploaded - the best one was taken on my phone and doesn't seem to want to be saved as a JPEG for some reason. The only other photo is this one, which was taken well under the influence of champagne.

I was voted best dressed guest. That's got to be a first. The last I heard about my mode of dress was that my family thinks I dress like a prostitute. They have yet to comment on the hat, it must be said. But everyone else loved it. The groom greeted me with "That isn't the hat you made. It can't be. It is incredible." I suppose if you think about that it is a bit insulting, but I knew what he meant and I also know that Bruce is one of the nicer people on this earth. But it was definitely a hit!


Friday, August 18, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Encounters Her Deeper Fears

There are many things in the world I am afraid to be near. I think that's pretty normal. For the most part, I'm pretty good at saying "This is scary, but I'm going to do/go/eat it anyway." And then there are the things to which I am truly phobic. Highly irrational, but screaming terror get away from me, eek eek, you get the idea. Thankfully, these things are limited. First off, and the subject of today's little venting, is my mortal enemy, the snake.

Snakes, man. Can't stand 'em. But this is so far beyond that I can barely tell you. I walk across Boston Common, perpetually looking for snakes. I've never seen one, but I'm telling you they're there, waiting to slither up to me and slide across my foot. When we were in Winchester the other week, talking a lovely walk along the river Ichen, something rustled in the reeds and I grabbed my companion's arm with maybe a little too much force as I said "I thought I heard a snake." Re-assured by the transparent lie that I so wanted to believe that before St Patrick went to Ireland to rid it of snakes, he first practiced in Winchester, our walk was saved. But it turns out, not saved for that long.

Total, I've lived in England for about seven years. And in that time I've taken a lot of walks in a lot of places and not seen one snake. Not a one. Ever. I know they're here. Mike has regaled me with tales of how he once pulled a harmless grass snake around by the tail when he was a kid. But I've never seen one, and let me tell you that I have looked.

You may have foreseen by now that this is all about to change, and you'd be correct. So there we were on Saturday, wandering along down by the Quay. Center of Exeter, nice and busy, boats in the water, people on the sides, people on the bridge, and me on the phone talking to someone. It was the fact I was on the phone holding a conversation that stopped me from screaming, although it is a miracle I didn't drop the phone into the river. It was the same sort of reaction as Winchester, though. Namely, to grab Mike's arm, yank him towards the edge of the bridge, and point to the FOUR FOOT SNAKE THAT WAS SWIMMING ALONG DOWNSTREAM.

Mike thought it was fascinating. While i was trying to get as far away from what was as far as I could tell the Loch Ness Monster on holiday, ready to chomp me into little pieces, Mike was running closer to it on the bridge, watching it swim underneath, crossing over to the other side to watch it keep going. I, on the other hand, adopted a state of vigilance that was a little beyond the pale, particularly near the river. We had to go over a little footbridge, which prompted me to be so startled by a duck (obviously a killer stealth duck, you see), that I did in fact jump and scream out loud. Having to cross over the main river twice that day didn't help, and near hyperventilation ensued. Mike, in the meantime, had named the snake Barney and thought it was a friendly little thing, all the while acknowledging that it was a four foot long grass snake. He refused, just plain refused, to concur with me that it was obviously searching for blood.

The amazing thing was that with all the other people around, no one else noticed it. None of the boaters, none of the other people, no one. Just me, and then when half dragged off the bridge, Mike. It was shocking. As Mike even said at the time, "This could only happen to you. I've lived here all my life and never seen a snake in the middle of the city. But with you, sure, why not?"

The movie that combines all my worst fears and phobias, one Snakes on a Plane, opens today. I won't be going!



Wednesday, August 16, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Completes Her Transformation into a Cottage Industry

A couple of years ago, while at a wedding where I was a witness, read a poem, kept the groom's mother under control and made the wedding cake, I paused during the reception to hand a friend and his wife a baby sweater I had just knit for their then forthcoming child. Which reminds me, I need to knit something for what is now their next forthcoming child. But I digress. He said to me at the time "You realize, Annie dear, that with Martha Stewart in prison, your career path is now clear."

Oh, how we laughed.

But now I have to go to a friend's wedding here in England. It is going to be one of those big posh English things. They're well off, so the reception is in the "garden" (I used to live on a farm that was smaller than their garden!) and the bride, who is a dear friend, has specifically asked me to wear a great big hat. Sho nuff, honey, it is your big day.

Except that I've got a big head. And that hats seem hard to find. And they're even harder to find if you've got a big head. The answer, it seems is so Anne-oriented that I can only smack myself in the head why I didn't come up with it sooner.

Take a class. Or, in simpler terms, make my own durn hat.

So that's what I'm doing. Class is August 30-31, and I will leave with one and a half hats (I finish the second one at home). They're going to be big, and they're going to be decorated, and no one will be able to get within five feet of me. I am only limited by the dimensions of the boot of the car I'm travelling in, which is a BMW Z4 convertible. It is the convertible bit that makes putting it in the trunk a necessity. Otherwise that hat will get lost down a little country lane at a high rate of speed.

Pictures to come, folks.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

In Which Our Heroine Gets Around to Updating her Blog
Where does the time go, eh? The issue about not updating is pretty simple. I don't have net access at home yet, and the Blogger is off limits at work. So, there you go. I'm not dead, I'm actually very happy, and life continues on.

There's a lot to recap. In no particular order there was
deportation and readmittance to the UK with a five year work visa
some exams
figuring out how to import the cat (this is in process)
being rotavated at church (suddenly, I'm all having to do readings and the like. I don't mind, but this is rather new.)
Getting my bike down here
Back injury and rehab
Organic lamb dinner parties
Acquisition of a sofa
Acquisition of another sofa
Making friends and influencing people

And so on. If I'd blogged about it regularly, this would be easy, but since I haven't I'm just going to pick up from right now. If you want to know about anything else. you'll just have to e-mail me.

Saturday night I went to my friend Helen's party. The theme was "Toffs and Chavs". I don't own a lot of clothes here, and not wanting to spend a lot of money, I was wandering down the High Street trying to figure out how to pull this off. When everyone went by, I was struck by inspiration. Football fans are tres chav. (I've also figured out that my ex boyfriend is mega chav, since he lives in Dagenham, was raised in Essex and Liverpool, and well, that dress sense baby but I digress). So I went into M&S (which is not a chav shop, but if I was going to get a shirt I wanted something I could wear again anyway), bought a nice red football shirt, got some face paint from Woolworths and then went home to chav myself up. I painted a very cute flag on my face (if I do say so myself) and then some crosses on my toenails with Tippex (like White Out). And then shimmied out to the car and climbed in, only to have my friend Clare say

"Why do you have the Danish flag painted on your face?"

Yes, sports fans, it is true. Cross of St George, white with red cross. Danish flag, red with white cross. Not my finest hour of being a foreigner abroad. I am American. Popular vote decided to find it charming.

The next day I was watching World Championship series rowing on BBC 2 (I love a country which takes rowing seriously), and Denmark was doing very well in one race. I put my toes up on the coffee table to let them cheer.

Turns out Tippex is next to impossible to get off of toenails.