Friday, December 18, 2009

Carol Service at St. Hilda's

I didn't post yesterday because I knew I would want to post about my experience last night. I have been trying to visit St. Hilda's since I moved here and I've only ever seen the outside. Well last night a choir I sing in, The George Colley Singers, provided the music for the Hartlepool Freemasons Carol Service.

I've never seen anything quite the same as a carol service in the States, although certainly similar services in the season of Advent. The way it works is that a series of lessons are read, last night there were 9 lessons read starting at Genesis, through prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament and then finally to many of the familiar passages of the Christmas Story. Between each reading, a Christmas carol is sung. At this carol service my choir did a short Musical Interlude halfway through the service where we sang O Holy Night, Be Still My Soul and an Italian carol called Bambino. The rest of the service we just led the congregation in the carols and threw in harmonies where we knew them to fill out the sound.

It was a magnificent service. Sadly I couldn't get any photos inside because it was too dark in there and I don't believe in using flash photography inside 800 year old sacred buildings. Its disrespectful and the light from flashes can damage the frescos, fabrics and other priceless art decorating these buildings which are irreplaceable.

I was really surprised when I entered St. Hilda's that it has been so beautifully kept and fitted with a lot of modern conveniences like beautiful modern lighting and heating. Although there is only so much you can do, the church was still absolutely freezing and while the congregation stayed in their coats and wooly hats, I was wearing this...
It should come as no surprise that I am easily the youngest lady in the choir.

A bit of history about St. Hilda's Hartlepool. Although the exact date is unknown, St. Hilda's church was built in the 13th Century by the Brus family. Yes, the same family Robert the Bruce came from and local legend has it that Robert the Bruce was actually born in the Brus family home in Hart Village and not in Scotland as Scottish history books tell us. It would certainly make sense as Robert the Bruce's father was the Lord of Hartness and owned most of Hartlepool. Both the original St. Hilda's church and the Hartlepool Town Wall were built by the Bruce family.

St. Hilda's Church
Hartlepool Town Wall

The site of St. Hilda's church is actually home to an even older sacred place dating back to the 7th Century. Before St. Hilda's church was built by the Bruces, St. Hilda's Abbey existed on the Hartlepool Headland and was founded by the Saint in 640 A.D. So the land where St. Hilda's currently stands has been a place of worship for over 1300 years.

Visiting this church is special, but getting the opportunity to sing in this space with a really talented group of musicians was a special Christmas treat for me and something I will never forget and hope to do again next year and in years to come.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Midwest To-Do Lists

I don't know if I posted it here, but I am coming home for Christmas. I will be in Lake Orion from December 21th-27th and in Chicago from December 28th-January 2nd. I have a lot of feelings swirling around about this trip, it has really been a long time since I have been back and I don't know what to expect. My first priority was to find a place for Max while I was gone, I finally found a great kennel to board Max. Its a farm, and come on what dog doesn't love a farm? He will get lots of love and most importantly exercise and that was my main concern. It will be so hard to leave, but at least when I leave him I can convince myself he is going on vacation too.

So, now with all of that out of my mind, I can start thinking about what I am going to do when I get home to Lake Orion and when I get back to Chicago.

My Metro Detroit List

Dinner and margaritas at Sagebrush Cantina in downtown LO
A couple drinks at Hamlin Pub for old time's sake
A long visit with Barbie, we have so much to catch up on and there are some things that can only be said in person
A visit to Canterbury Village, I never realized how much I missed this until I went through a Christmas season without it
Christmas Eve service at King of Kings Lutheran, there is no substitute and its not Christmas without it
Starbucks, Starbucks and more Starbucks

My Chicago List

A visit to the Globe Pub, the place where Jason and I met
Good old Chicago brunch at Pick Me Up Cafe
Pints at the Irish Oak in Wrigleyville
Lunch with babies, sounds silly (and messy) but in the past year my group of friends in Chicago have had TEN beautiful babies (with another due any day) and I have yet to meet a single one of them
Get a haircut
Do some bargain shopping at Filene's Basement/DSW
I have A LOT of people to visit and drink wine with, I won't list them all here but you know who you are
Visit my old office and former coworkers
Eat LOTS of sushi
Starbucks, Starbucks and more Starbucks

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

You are probably wondering what I am doing for Thanksgiving. You may remember last year I cooked an entire Thanskgiving feast for my in laws, all from scratch. I cooked for three days straight and by the time the meal came around I think I was too tired to really enjoy it.

Well, this year I am doing the exact opposite. I am just cooking a little meal for myself, but with all the basics. I didn't even really plan anything in advance and this morning I just kind of threw together what I had.

I bought a little turkey breast roasting joint at the supermarket and just checked this morning to see what I had to flavor it with. I made a rub of herbs de provence (leftover from last year's turkey roast) and then I just roughly chopped an onion and threw it all in the slow cooker. I needed a bit of cooking liquid so I just glugged in what was left of a bottle of white zinfandel I had in the fridge. I think for just throwing things together it will probably turn out to be pretty darn good! I have one of those divided slow cookers, so in the other side of the slow cooker I cut up some carrots and some sweet potatoes and I have those simmering in some chicken stock.

I bought some cranberry and chestnut stuffing, although it is the British kind not the American style. British stuffing isn't made with big chunks of stale bread, its made with breadcrumbs so its not quite the same but this will do. I also was able to find a jar of cranberry sauce! I think I will make some green beans and maybe some roastie potatoes as well if I feel like it when it gets closer to dinner time.


Just finished my delicious meal, here is a photo of my spread. Once I saw how much I had I decided to nix the roastie potatoes and green beans.

And just if you are wondering if it smells good, Max sure thought so (that pink blur is his tongue)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Taking a Moment to Pat Myself on the Back

I've been feeling very proud of myself lately. Although I certainly haven't done all of the things that I have wanted to accomplish after being here for a year (like finding a job) I have managed to do a lot of other things that I have every right to be proud of.

First of all, I have stripped this flat of all things granny and bachelor, and when I moved in there was a lot of both and its taken quite some effort to make this place really look nice without spending much money.

I think my greatest accomplishments are making friends and becoming involved in the community. I feel more tied to this community now than I ever did in Chicago. I supposed its easier in a smallish town to find ways to integrate yourself into the community, but I didn't dilly dally and I got involved right away and a year later I feel like I have become an important part of this community. Also, when I moved here I had zero friends, now I have two very close friends and about a dozen other friends and acquaintances which in a town where I have very little in common with anyone is quite an impressive number. After living in Chicago for a year I didn't have anywhere near that many new friends. Its not a popularity contest or anything, its just a matter of feeling like I belong and having a support system.

I am also really proud of myself for learning to drive here. It was really difficult and at the beginning it was one of those things I honestly never thought I was going to be able to do. It was probably the first time in my life I genuinely felt like I couldn't do something and I kept at it anyway. Its been a month since I passed my driver's test and those first few weeks were really rough and I wondered if I would ever get used to driving our car, but I forced myself to get in the car and go places I didn't necessarily want to go and put myself into situations that scared the living daylights out of me but now I am comfortable in pretty much any driving situation. I know a lot of people who after their driving test never quite built their confidence up to the point where they feel comfortable driving outside of town. It is very daunting, and I definitely couldn't do it without the aid of my satellite navigation system. I can see how easy it is to settle into the routine and never really feel comfortable driving on the big roads, it terrified me too, but I sucked it up and did it anyway because I felt I had to and its another thing I am proud of myself for.

Now on a less egotistical note, I have been considering putting my tree up a week early. First of all because I won't be here for a few days before Christmas so I will miss out on valuable tree time then, but also because it seems that all of the stores and shopping centers are already fully decked out for Christmas. Its one thing to be selling Christmas stuff, but our main shopping center has all of the Christmas lights up and Santa is arriving there next week! If Santa says its time for Christmas, well then I think its time. London had their official lighting ceremonies last week, and this week they are turning on the lights in nearby cities like Leeds. Why shouldn't I too be able to put up my Christmas decorations? So I think this settles it and I am going to put my Christmas stuff up a week from Saturday!

A final note, in case you don't read my blog column on Anglotopia, I am going to London for a day next week on Wednesday! I am really excited, mostly because I got such a great deal on my hotel and train tickets and there is nothing better than feeling like you are getting a good deal when you travel. I am just going down to London to see the sights and meeting up with some people from Anglotopia while I am down there.

I will give a full report when I return next week!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Happy Bonfire Night/ Guy Fawkes Night!

November 5th is known as Bonfire Night and it is the celebration of the foiling of the plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5th 1605. Guy Fawkes kind of gets the bad rap, his job in the plot was to prepare the explosives, all of the actual plotting was done by a group of Catholic gentry including Thomas Percy who was from around these parts. Thomas Percy was at the time of his involvement with the plot the constable for Alnwick Castle and was basically in charge of all the properties belonging to his cousin the Earl of Northumberland and the Percy family. When you visit Alnwick Castle there is an exhibit set up about his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, including some letters related to the plot that have been put on display for visitors.

My mom, me and my dad on the grounds of Alnwick Castle

If you want to read about the Gunpowder Plot, check out this Wikipedia article.

I am a bit worried about Max and how he will react to fireworks going off tonight. I know the sound of motorcycles and helicopters stresses him out, so I am bracing myself for the fireworks tonight. I think the best I can do is to keep the TV on and shut the living room door as most of the fireworks go off behind our building, and most importantly stay calm for him. There have been fireworks going off since Halloween and the big fireworks will be on Saturday night, so I will have to keep an eye on him over the next several days and try not to be startled by the fireworks myself!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Halloween from Count Dogula

Be afraid, be VERY afraid...

The very distinguished Count Dogula
Count Dogula flashes his fangs!
He may be a vampire, but he is also a gentleman
Showing those fangs again!
I vant to suck your blood and lick your face!

This is actually a child's costume set, it was only £4 at Tesco (kind of like the British version of Meijer) and he already had the fangs! I was surprised that he didn't try to shake off the cape, he just pranced around in it like it was no big deal.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pumpkin Pie, and why it represents me

Pumpkin pie is DEFINITELY an American thing, but what many people don't know about pumpkin pie is that it was actually created using traditional English baking recipes. English settlers were introduced to the pumpkin by Native Americans, they saw it had similar properties to some English produce and created pumpkin pie by substituting pumpkin for ingredients they were used to in England but didn't have access to in colonial America. The first pumpkin pies probably resembled mince pies, with a full covering of shortcrust pastry.

I think that is why it kind of represents me, the English settlers took something very American and adapted it to be a kind of American-English hybrid.

I have been craving pumpkin pie since last year but never had a chance to make one because I didn't anticipate that the pumpkins would be available only for a few weeks in October. This year a friend of mine from choir was growing pumpkins in his garden and gave me one of his a couple weeks ago. My mom also brought me a can of pumpkin when she came to visit this year, so now I have a freezer full of pumpkin just waiting to become some delicious holiday recipes. However, even though its only October I just couldn't wait another minute for a piece of pumpkin pie so I made one yesterday.

First I cut the pumpkin in half and scooped out the guts. I saved the seeds and plan on roasting them today for a little snack.
I placed the pumpkin halves on a greased baking sheet and baked them for 1 1/4 hours at 350º until the flesh was soft. I let them cool for a bit so I could handle them and scoop out the flesh.
Then I pureed the pumpkin, most of the recipes I looked at suggested straining water from the puree but my puree was incredibly thick so I never had to drain it. It was a really rich sweet pumpkin, perfect for pie making.
I quickly whipped up a basic shortcrust pastry in my food processor and chilled it in the fridge while I mixed up the filling. I used a recipe that called for beating 3 eggs then adding two cups of pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream and 1/2 cup of brown sugar as well as a blend of cinnamon, allspice and ginger.
Once the pie was ready I baked it in a 375º oven for 45 minutes and it turned out perfect!
I whipped up some heavy whipping cream and confectioner's sugar (by hand with a whisk, it was hard work) for some fresh homemade whipped cream. The first bite was magical, it was instant taste memory and it was such a comforting taste. It was definitely worth all the work of making it totally from scratch!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Yes, I passed my UK Driving Test on the second try. According to everyone "All of the good drivers pass on the second try". I have had so many people say this to me, and it rolls of their tongue like they have said it a million times before. It is counterintuitive that the good drivers would pass on the second try, if they are good drivers why wouldn't they pass on the first try? I am alone in that assessment though, and it seems the rule is that good drivers pass on their second try so I guess that must mean I am a good driver.

I do a have confession though, and this confession will probably cause my family to disown me. I really really really miss driving the Toyota Yaris I learned to drive in. The ride was smooth and for a tiny car with a diesel engine it had a lot of get-up-and-go. I am now driving Jason's Vauxhall Astra. For those who don't know, Vauxhall is the UK branch of GM, or at least it was at one time. So the Vauxhall Astra is similar to a Chevy Malibu I think.
A Vauxhall Astra, similar to the one I drive

I am grateful to have a nice car to drive, but I have to say its a bit of a let down after driving around the Toyota Yaris for several months. The Yaris zoomed along and got up to speed so smoothly, but driving the Astra it feels like it takes a lot of effort to accelerate and its just clunky to put it in the nicest terms I can think of. I am getting used to it and starting to learn how to get it to perform at its best but it takes a lot more effort than getting the Yaris to perform like I want it to. Alas...

Friday, October 9, 2009

My 15 seconds of semi-fame (I kid)

Check it out! Today I was quoted in The Guardian Life & Style section in this blog about parmo! The Guardian is a large, well respected national newspaper. (Although, this little article probably only made it to their website.) Still, I am flattered that this columnist quoted me in his article.

I am the "one American blogger" referenced in the article, and the article links to my original Anglotopia post about the beloved Teesside delicacy. Maybe I will become famous for coining the term "delinquent nephew of veal Parmigiana" and soon after pigs will probably fly, but one can dream.

This was a nice little ego boost today after a very stressful week.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's be serious for a moment

I've been a bad blogger, I know. Failing my driving test kind of caused a lack of focus in me, or really I have been so busy distracting myself I have lost the ability to un-distract myself. So, I am forcing myself to focus for just a bit.

I am feeling okay about the whole failing thing, its a good thing in a few ways. First of all, I know that I can pass because really I already did once. Second, I know that I can drive well in the test situation. If this makes sense, before the test I was nervous about being nervous. I was afraid that my nerves would get the best of me on the test and it would cause me to drive badly. Now I know that I can drive exceptionally under the pressure of the test so I no longer need to be nervous about being nervous. And third and finally, I feel more prepared to drive on my own. To be perfectly honest before my test I was terrified of getting in the car and driving on my own. Even though my driving itself wasn't lacking, I think my confidence in being able to drive on my own without my driving instructor as a security blanket has really gone up since the test. The examiner obviously doesn't give any help during the test and I managed to get through the test fine without needing any reminders from someone and that is a big confidence boost and now I feel like in two weeks when I do pass I can hop right into my car and not be afraid of driving on my own.

As my blog has become more popular, especially with some of the Anglotopia readers coming over to read my blog, I feel the subject matter has gotten a lot less personal. I think I blogged a lot more about how I felt in the beginning, I was more keen to go into detail about how I was handling things emotionally and I haven't really gone into great detail about that recently since I know there are strangers reading this.

Whatever, here goes. I think I am handling things exceptionally well. One thing I resolved to do when Jason left was to really cut back on alcohol consumption. Not that I by any means had a drinking problem, but last year bars and free flowing beer were just so accessible. Going out every weekend was fun, but it really took a toll on my mental state and the depressive effects of alcohol really started to manifest themselves. I am certainly not going to stop drinking altogether, but I have resolved not to have alcohol in the house and only drink if I am going out with friends. Its made a huge difference. At the same time I have also cut out all snack foods, because if I can't reach for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the next best thing is a cookie or ten.

That Friday that I failed my test I seriously felt like a patient detoxing in rehab. I was a bit disgusted with myself that I have come to rely on wine and snacks to get me through difficult emotions. I felt the emotions so much more sharply when I couldn't reach for a glass or a sweet thing in shiny foil paper and I found it a bit alarming that I had dependence on these things. Don't worry, I didn't get the shakes or start sweating, just had a bit of a rough "Eureka!" moment.

Max has been such a big help, I never feel alone and he knows when I am sad and knows just what to do to make me feel better. He has really settled into our home well, and I think he feels like he belongs here now.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I failed.

I won't go into too much detail because my current vocabulary isn't family friendly. I failed not because I made a bad judgement call but because the examiner did, and my instructor was in the back seat and agreed the examiner was premature in his action.

As I was pulling over on a fairly narrow and busy road the examiner suddenly grabbed the wheel. I knew immediately it was a fail, anytime the examiner has to take the controls it is an automatic fail. But I knew I hadn't actually done anything to make him grab the wheel. He apparently thought I was going to clip a lamppost with my mirror, but I was nowhere close. In order to be close enough to do that my wheel would have at least had to be running along the curb, if not over it and I was far enough away from the curb that there is no way I could have clipped the lamppost unless I had some special go-go-gadget mirror that extended and hurled itself into the post.

The rest of my test was great, at least I have the experience of taking the test. I am obviously really upset, but I am confident the next time I won't give the examiner the chance to make a call like that. Possibly he misjudged my ability and steering accuracy and thought I might veer in closer to the curb but next time I will make sure there are no gray areas.

It could be up to 5 weeks before I take my next test, I have to wait at least 10 days and then I will start checking the website every day waiting for an opening.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beans on Toast

Beans and toast is a staple of English cuisine. It might sound disgusting to you, but consider that English baked beans aren't like American ones. Heinz is the preferred brand of baked beans and its a simple recipe of white beans and tomato sauce and not much else. There isn't any molasses or brown sugar like in American baked beans so its a much more savory dish.

The other night I got home from choir and wanted a quick but filling meal. I looked in the cupboard and saw we had quite a stockpile of Heinz Baked Beans so I decided that after a year of avoidance I would throw in the towel and try out beans on toast.

My first step of course was to Google it. Surely it couldn't be as simple as making some toast and pouring beans on it. Was I to toast both sides of the bread or just one side? Well its a good thing I did Google it because had I just toasted the bread and poured beans over it, I wouldn't have been making it properly. The key ingredient left out of the name is butter. After I Googled it I found out I needed to butter the toast before putting the beans on.

I also had to Google cheese on toast several months ago. Its similar to grilled cheese but its an open-faced sandwich made under a broiler so the cheese gets nice and golden on top. However, had I not Googled "cheese on toast" I wouldn't have known I was supposed to sprinkle the bread with Worcestershire sauce before putting the cheese on. It might seem silly to Google these simple things, but it pays off because something like a dash of Worcestershire makes all the difference.

I wasn't too afraid of beans on toast as most Americans are because it reminds me a bit of an after-Thanksgiving meal we had in my house growing up. I am not sure what the real name of it is, but I have always known it as "sh*t on a shingle". Sh*t on a shingle uses the leftover gravy and turkey meat from Thanksgiving and is poured over bread. It was a delicious meal, and quite similar except we never toasted the bread but the concept of pouring something saucy and chunky on some form of bread is pretty much the same. Just like beans on toast, sh*t on a shingle is not the most visually appealing meal but still delicious.

I can't believe it took me so long to try beans on toast, and now I am being told the next step is beans on toast with a fried egg on top. One step at a time though...

Here is a video my dear friend Nikki shared with me with step by step instructions for making beans on toast:

This Week's British TV Review:

Jamie's American Road Trip

This series follows Britsh celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on his journey through American food. Each episode he explores different American cities, not focusing on the trendy foodie scenes but on the cultural food of these places. When visiting LA instead of stopping at low-carb bistros in Beverly Hills he visits the hood and samples Latin cuisine of the Mexican community.

In this week's episode Jamie visited Wyoming where he cooked "on the range" with real cowboys. He learned how to rope and ride, branded calves and even slept on the ground in the mountains rounding up some stray cattle. He cooked chili and baked beans in a dutch oven over an open fire and cooked for the chuck wagon at a rodeo preparing a simple beef roast flavored with coffee. I have to hand it to Jamie he really took this project seriously and delved deep into the fabric of American food.

Jamie's American Road Trip airs on Channel 4 at 9:00 PM on Tuesdays. Episodes available on 4oD.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Just call me Martha

People keep asking me how I am filling up my days now that Jason is gone. Well, somehow I manage to keep pretty busy. My house is always clean, and lately I have always had baked goods on hand. Both of these things are brand new to me, not to say that I never cleaned but my home has never stayed this clean. I used to enjoy cleaning, then letting it get nice and messy, and then cleaning it again. Now I don't give it the chance to get nice and messy, it pretty much stays tidy and dust-free all the time.

When I was registering for my wedding at Bed Bath and Beyond with my maid of honor Christine I was going crazy in baking area when she chimed in with "Why are you registering for all of this stuff. I have never seen you bake Lisa." Well, she was right then, but its a new hobby I have picked up. There is something really satisfying about baking, the actual process is theraputic. Most batters require a good amount of elbow grease (I stick with the old wooden spoon method, no power tools for this girl) and its a good way to relieve stress and pass time. Next comes the part where your home is full of beautiful smells of baking. Finally, you get to enjoy something delicious.

One thing I have learned about this new baking hobby is that its not the best for a person living alone, and I need to stick to things that can be frozen and/or shared. For example, my peach cobbler was a bad idea since I quickly consumed the whole thing on my own but the apple-pecan muffins I made were perfect because I could freeze them and I have defrosted them as I need.

Well, I can smell the hazelnut blondies I am baking are almost done so I must go. Let me leave you with some photos and recipes!

Apple Pecan Muffins (reduced fat and sugar) from Ellie Krieger

Hazelnut Blondies from Martha Stewart

This Week's British TV Review:


I recently got ahold of the first three seasons of this show and I have been addicted. This show stars the quintessential Englishman, Stephen Fry, as market town solicitor Peter Kingdom (for Americans that means a lawyer in a small town). This show has a great mix of drama and comedy, with each episode finding Peter Kingdom trying to get to the bottom of his clients' wacky legal troubles. To the town of Market Shipborough, Peter Kingdom is more of a therapist than a lawyer and his talent seems to be helping his clients resolve their problems outside the court.

Stephen Fry is perfect as Peter Kingdom but this show would be nothing without the ensemble of cooky village personilities. First is his hormonal associate Lyle, fresh out of law school and learning the ropes under the tutelage of Kingdom. Peter's family is what makes the plot twist and turn with his sister Beatrice who is in and out of mental clinics and his brother Simon who is believed to be dead when his gambling debts drove him to walk into the North Sea.

The two other characters that drive the comedy of this show are Sidney Snell, a pungent villager whose mission in life is to be the thorn in the side of the Market Shipborough council. His partner in crime Ted along with being the town's pub owner also seems to show up everywhere in places you would never expect and is always spewing wisdom that would seem beyond his intelligence.

I absolutely love this show, and I hope they renew it for a fourth season!

The first three seasons of Kingdom aired on ITV.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mustn't Grumble, BUT

I usually don't complain much about life here, after all I chose it and pretty much knew what I was getting into. However, I have to say that the policy for using international driving licenses is really unfair.

It was actually my driving instructor who pointed this out to me and thought it was unfair. As a driving instructor he has taught people from all over the world and knows the system well and he brought this to my attention.

Any person with an EU driver's license, or citizens of many Commonwealth countries can swap their license for a British one, no questions asked. This policy has nothing at all to do with the driving standards in these countries. I am sure it is more of a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" policy. Sadly, the US is not is not involved in the back scratching so Americans can't swap the driver's license for God knows what reason. It certainly isn't anything to do with the standard of driving.

For example, my instructor started teaching a Chinese student who had a valid Chinese driving license but when she came over could barely even move the vehicle because the standards to get a license in China are extremely low. She took a few lessons and then went back to China for a holiday and returned with a Hong Kong license. She swapped her Chinese license for a Hong Kong license, and then from there she was able to swap her Hong Kong license for a UK license. And this girl can barely even move her vehicle. He said there are a couple EU countries where the driving test is simply starting the car, driving down a street, stop the car, here's your license. Yet, even though the standard is so much lower, because they are EU countries its an even swap. I already took a driving test ten years ago and worked really hard to meet the standards of American driving (which aren't that different from here) and now I have to go through the whole process again while people who can hardly drive fly right through and possibly put people in danger.

I am glad that I have had to learn to drive again, the whole manual transmission concept was new to me. I just don't think its fair that people who can do nothing more than start up a vehicle and drive it in a straight line don't have to go through this process. Its dangerous, its unfair and completely arbitrary.

Alright, I will step down from my soapbox and hopefully that is the last time I need to gripe about red tape.

This Week's British TV Review:

60 Minute Makeover

This is a fun little home improvement show. Its kind of like Trading Spaces on steroids. On Trading Spaces they are given two days, and a budget. On 60 Minute Makeover, they have 60 minutes (actually, two 30 minute sessions with a tea break in the middle to let the paint dry) and they decorate 4 rooms in a house. They do all of this with a minute by minute plan for each room, an unlimited budget (with lots of freebies for product placement) and an army of helpers.

If you love home improvement shows, this is right up your alley. Its amazing to see what they can do in 60 minutes. To watch people lay carpet and paint four rooms in 30 minutes is pretty amazing and the organization it takes to pull it all together is pretty impressive as well. I even saw an episode where they tiled a bathroom.

60 Minute Makeover airs on ITV.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Camping in the Lake District

Well, its been awhile. I hope you have been reading my posts on Anglotopia. If you haven't, check them out. I reflected on some of my original posts from when I started this blog a year ago.

Jason's leave was amazing, we spent a lot of time together, did some little home improvement projects and took a wonderful camping trip. Here are some of my favorite photos from our trip.

A shot from the top of Hard Knott, you can read about our treacherous journey here

The campsite was set in a valley, with fells surrounding on all sides

Fisherground Campsite

Relaxing in front of our tent

The country roads in the area were lovely

A view in the little village of Eskdale

We had to find a creative way to keep Max cool and hydrated. He loved the spray bottle!

Our camping neighbor Josh, he was Max's best buddy, and the adorable little girl from another neighboring campsite

All cooled off and relaxing

Max gets up close and personal
Max entertains all of the children in the campsite

Setting out on our hike to Stanley Ghyll Force (waterfall)

Jason climbed all the way to the top of the waterfall for this lovely view

Dipping my toes in the water after a wonderful hike up the waterfall

The nights were very cold so we let Max cuddle in to stay warm.

The fours weeks of leave flew by, but I feel like we made the most of it. Jason left for deployment this week so I am now left with a lot of time on my hands. Luckily I am getting closer and closer to my driving test which is on the 18th of September. I only have a few more lessons and I am doing really well with my driving. I can't wait until I pass my test and I can drive about freely!

This Week's British TV Review:

Four Weddings

This show was made for me. It is a kind of spin off of Come Dine With Me, which I wrote about several weeks ago. Instead of judging dinner parties, this is a show where brides judge each other's weddings.

Four brides are chosen and they all attend one another's wedding. After each wedding the guest brides have to rate the bride on the venue, the food, the dress and the overall presentation. After all of the weddings are complete the bride with the highest marks wins a dream honeymoon.

This show is a bit of a guilty pleasure, brides can get pretty catty and I love to watch the personality clashes and I especially love to watch the envious brides nit-picking the other's weddings. They often throw some non-traditional weddings and ecentric brides into the mix with themes like Renaissance (with a roasted wild boar at the buffet table) and a snotty Russian bride with a wedding dress that looked like it belonged in the Moulin Rouge and no shame in turning her nose up at her fellow brides.

Another interesting twist is that during the premier of each new show, viewers can log onto the Living TV website and rate the weddings themselves and also chat with each other and compare notes on the weddings. Its interesting to see how the viewer's opinions often differ with the brides.

Four Weddings airs on Living TV at 9PM on Monday nights. You can check out the website here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Well one test down, one to go and I will be a fully licensed driver! I studied for hours, going through literally hundreds of sample questions and memorizing stopping distances, signs and speed limits on various roads. When I actually sat the test today I felt a bit silly for all of the studying I did because the majority of the questions were common sense things I already knew. Most of my studying was unnecessary but its best to be over-prepared rather than underprepared.

The part of the test I was most worried about was the hazard perception test. This consists of viewing video clips of driving situations and clicking the mouse when you see a hazard developing. The problem with this test for experienced drivers is that most experienced drivers will click too early and before the scoring window starts. After some practice I was able to figure out the scoring system and click at the right time so I passed this part as well with no problem.

There is a waiting list of about a month to schedule the road test so I will continue taking lessons until I can finally take my road test.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Summer Day Out

Today was a beautiful day and Jason and I took advantage of it by driving up to Crimdon Dene on the Northern outskirts of Hartlepool to take Max exploring in the nature reserve and beach. Here are the photos from our day out!

Anglophile's Digest is on Vacation

Sorry, I've got too much going on with Jason home on leave, taking driving lessons and other things at the moment so I don't have to time to blog every week.

I am still posting over on Anglotopia in the meantime, although I am using the next four weeks to look back at the year so I don't have to spend too much time coming up with new material for the blog. I might post an update here intermittently but please still continue to read Dispatches form the North on Anglotopia until I come back in mid-August.

Thanks for reading and thanks to my friends and family for all of your love and support.

All my love,

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Home Improvement

Forgive me for being lazy with my blogging over the past couple weeks. I will be perfectly honest, I have been in a bit of a dark place lately. After Jason left to go back to the base two weeks ago it hit me that the next time he left it would be for far longer than I am prepared to handle. I haven't been able to shake the feeling for these two weeks and sadly its given me a nasty case of writer's block.

I haven't been letting my dark attitude get me down too much. I have decided on some projects to keep me busy over the next couple months. I helped my sister-in-law paint her dining room this past weekend and we made a bit of a pact to help each other out with home improvement projects over the coming months.

My first project is going to be my kitchen. When I first moved in I had decided I was just going to let it be the way it is until we can completely redo it, but over the past week I have looked at it and thought of some ideas to really make it work and make it flow with the rest of the place for not a lot of money. The fact that it is kind of a simple kitchen will only enhance the relaxed seaside feeling I am going for and I think after a good coat of paint, window treatments and some art on the walls and well placed accessories that it will be quite easy and inexpensive to transform it. I might even replace the cupboard doors if I can find a really good bargain.

Looking forward to this and other similar projects I have planned is a little glimmer in my dark mood. Still, please forgive me if my posts take a turn for the slightly depressing over the coming months.

This Week's British TV Review:

Relocation, Relocation

I just recently started watching this show. It is one of the many real estate and home related shows here in the UK. The concept of the show is to help home owners cash in their current city home (usually in London) and use the value of that home to purchase a "country" home or at least a larger home in a place where their money goes much farther as well as a "crash pad" in the city for them to use during the week.

There are two things that strike me about this show, first of all in many of these cases the father uses the crash pad during the work week while the wife and children stay at home in their family home. It strikes a chord with me because these people are basically opting for my lifestyle. My husband works away during the week and is here on the weekends and I can't say that I would choose this lifestyle if it wasn't sort of pre-ordained for me. Not only are they choosing this lifestyle, they have made an entire television show out of it!

The other thing that strikes me about this is that is makes me understand and appreciate the curious phenomenon that is the American suburb. Suburbs simply don't exist here. Once you escape the limits of the clustered cities and towns of England you reach nothing. There will be a far flung country home or farm house here or there but nothing resembling a suburban American neighborhood.

Its a bit sad really. In America when the city becomes impractical for raising a family people move to the suburbs. I think its a bit sad that for many people the option of working away during the week and being home on the weekends is kind of the next best thing. I don't think that kind of lifestyle would go over very well in the states but its kind of become all the rage here.

You can check out more about this show on the Channel 4 website

Monday, July 6, 2009

Kindness of Strangers Tour: Monkey Business

Mike Harling, author of Postcards from Across the Pond and my fellow columnist at Anglotopia, is on a "virtual" world tour visiting blogs all over the globe. Today Mike is virtually visiting Hartlepool and I have given him a place here on my blog for the day. Enjoy his virtual visit!

What day is this? Where am I? Oh, it’s Monday, the 6th of July. I’m in Hartlepool. And it’s raining. Forgive me if I’m a bit bleary this morning but my hosts – Lisa and her husband Jason – and I spent the weekend at Dockfest, Hartlepool’s premier music and comedy festival. I’m a bit old for that sort of thing but, frankly, there wasn’t much else to do after we exhausted the Monkey Hanging story.

As most of you know, Hartlepool is famous for having hung a monkey, which they mistook for a French spy, during the Napoleonic wars. It’s a great story, even if it’s almost certainly not true. As the town’s claim to fame, it’s also a bit outdated and unnecessary because in 1914 Hartlepool became the first place on mainland Britain to be bombed by the Germans. And because of that, they can also boast the first soldier – Theo Jones – to die on British soil in the Great War. That’s got a specious monkey hanging beat hands down.

We spent the early part of the weekend touring the local drinking establishments and discussing the relative merits of these stories, but then a group of locals began getting shirty when I suggested the monkey story had more myth than mayhem about it so we retreated to the waterfront and see what Dockfest had to offer.

It was a hoot! I saw Sean Lock – one of my favourite comedians – and listened to the Lightning Seeds and some local band called “Lithium Speed Dementia.” My ears are still ringing.

I know what you’re thinking, “but did you do any book promotion?” Well, yes. At least I think so. I have a fuzzy recollection of handing out business cards and my rucksack is empty, so I must have unloaded all the copies of my book I’ve been toting around. Unfortunately, my wallet is also empty, so I either gave them all away or bought everyone a drink with the money they paid me. Either way, don’t tell my wife; she keeps reminding me we’re supposed to be making money on this tour, not financing an unending binge. Easy for her to say; she’s safely tucked away in our flat while I’m out here working hard doing… uh, market research. Yeah, that’s it.

I have to sign off now; I hear people stirring and the distinct aroma of a full English breakfast is wafting into my room. These northerners are a hardy lot; I don’t think I’m ready to face much more than a piece of dry toast and a cup of tea but I suppose I’ll have to be polite and eat what’s put in front of me. I just hope they don’t include the fried bread.

Later today I’m leaving Hartlepool behind to move on to another destination. I’ll miss it. I had a grand time here, despite the weather, and hopefully I’ll be able to return some day. But if I do, I certainly won’t let on that I have doubts about their monkey story.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I wrote a guest post on the blog "Pond Parleys" this week. The topic we discussed was manners, so go check it out here!

This week I had my first two driving lessons. I did amazingly well, my driving instructor Tony is really impressed with my driving and the progress I have made in just two lessons. It is such a huge weight off my shoulders to realize that I can do this, that I can do this well, and I don't need to be afraid of driving in this country. Well, maybe a little bit. A woman veered into my lane and then cut me off yesterday.

With each lesson as I am getting more comfortable with carrying out all of the steps of operating the vehicle little bits of my experience are settling back in. I am once again keeping my speed steady, staying aware of what is around me and steering smoothly. Instead of feeling like I am learning all over again (which is how it felt at first) I feel like I am really just supplementing my knowledge.

However, this learning experience still packs a lot of surprises. Even though I am used to the roads here in England and know the layout of the town very well the flow of traffic is so different here and the steps I have to take in operating the vehicle to deal with these situations are completely new to me. There are very few stop signs and stop lights and lots of situations where I have to make the choice between stopping and continuing forward fairly quickly. I can't just stop until I feel safe, this is a great way to get rear ended.

In just two lessons I have achieved shifting gears and taking off and stopping up to the test level. However, now the things I need to learn are the nuances of driving on English roads which is a whole different beast altogether. The good thing is that learning all of these little things is much easier now that I am comfortable and confident with operating the vehicle.

I think it is actually going to take me longer to take care of the red tape end of things like getting my provisional license and booking me theory and practical test than it will actually take me to master driving. I am confident that by the time I actually take my practical driving test I will be well settled into driving.

This Week's British TV Review:

Ross Kemp
Ross Kemp is a former soap opera star who turned his talent and recognition to investigative journalism. He goes far deeper than "imbedded" reporters and puts himself in some of the most dangerous places and situations to reveal the truth through his documentaries.

In 2006 Ross Kemp released a documentary series where he investigated the inner workings of gangs. More recently, in the series Ross Kemp in Afghanistan he followed the 1st Battalion of the British Army's Royal Anglian Regiment. He traveled alongside them during a 6 month deployment in the Helmand Province and his investigative reporting went deeper and closer than most journalists would dare to go.

In his latest documentary Ross Kemp In Search of Pirates he traveled to Africa and South East Asia to get to the root of the piracy problem in countries like Somalia and Nigeria. Ross Kemp puts his life in danger to deliver these fascinating documentaries and they are all well worth watching.

His documentaries are on Sky 1 so they are only available for free to Sky subscribers. Some of his documentaries have been released on DVD and they can also be found on bit torrent sites (but I didn't tell you that).

Friday, June 26, 2009

Driving Lessons

Well, procrastinating is over. I have finally booked my first driving lesson for this coming Monday. Now that I have booked the lesson, I have no clue what I have been afraid of and why I left it until quite literally the last possible second to start my driving lessons.

I think I am a bit ashamed. After all, I took driving lessons ten years ago and now I am back to square one and I have to learn how to drive... again.

Learning to drive the first time around was an interesting experience. When I first started my driver's ed course when I was 15 I was by far the worst driver in my class. I remember my driving instructor telling me that the worst driver in the class always turns out to be the best driver by the end of the class because they have so much to learn. Most teen drivers don't pay much attention and slack off during class and never really improve in class but since I had so far to go, I really had to work hard to learn how to drive.

As a result, I think I am a very safe driver. I had one road accident when I was in college on Woodward Ave in terrible road conditions, other than that I have a clean driving record and have never had a speeding ticket.

Now that I have to take driving lessons again, I suppose I am afraid that my second experience as a driving student will be the same as the first and it will take me forever to master switching gears. I have to remind myself that I do have 10 years of driving experience, and the "easy" part of driving is actually operating the vehicle so I will probably learn very quickly.

Also, I made the mistake of allowing Jason to try to teach me to drive several months ago which was nothing short of traumatic. First there were vague instructions including the very helpful "just do the thing" and other completely incoherent instructions. Then he convinced me that I was driving the wrong way down a one way street (though I actually wasn't). At this point I realized that maybe I wasn't as bad at this as I thought and maybe it wasn't best to be taught by the king of speeding tickets.

I am feeling a bit more confident about the driving lessons now, wish me luck! I hope it only takes a few weeks until I am driving a manual transmission like a pro.

This Week's British TV Review

Come Dine With Me

This is one of my favorite British shows and I started watching it immediately when I moved here. It is a competition where 4 people take turns hosting a dinner party and rate each other's cooking and entertaining skills.

I love cooking and entertaining so its a fun show for me to watch and always gives me great ideas. Each show features a different host or hostess and follows them throughout the day as they prepare their meal. I love watching the cooks scramble to create an impressive feast, often attempting recipes that are beyond their abilities and failing to deliver.

There is also always a bad egg in every group, the snob who turns their nose up at everyone else's food and rubs everyone the wrong way. I love this "reality TV" dynamic of the show.

The prize for the show is £1000 which is awarded to the host who scores the most points after the guests (who all take their turn at hosting) score the night on a scale of 1-10. I love watching the smug snob of the group realize that their superior attitude toward everyone's food wasn't the best strategy when it comes to actually winning the competition!

This show is available on the Channel 4 website if you would like to check it out! (Let me know if the link doesn't work outside of the UK!)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Post coming soon...

I had planned on posting today, then my niece called to ask me if she could come and stay with me for the day. She fell during PE class and bumped her head and they sent her home. She was okay, just a nasty lump on the back of her head, but my sister-in-law had to go to work so she came and stayed with me for the day. About an hour after she left Max got an upset tummy so I had to go boil some chicken and rice to settle his stomach.

Anyway, haven't had the time yet to sit down and knock out a post but I will be able to do it in the morning!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Car Boot Sale

For those of my American readers who are confused, a car boot is the trunk. Don't ask me why they call it a boot, I still can't bring myself to say it. Anyway, this weekend I attended a Car Boot Sale in the parking lot of a local horse racecourse with my sisters-in-law Kirsty, Diane and Paula (Paula is Jason's half sister) as well as my niece Abbie and nephew Jack and Paula's son Lewis.

It was a lot of fun, although I was a bit disapppointed. It was like nothing I have ever seen. Hundreds of cars filed into the parking lot, lined up in neat rows with two rows of cars next to each other and an aisle on either side of each row. People bring their folding tables and all of their old junk and set it up outside their vehicle. I tagged along more for the fun, I didn't expect to make much money and I just brought a few bags of things. I don't have much to sell since I got rid of everything unnecessary about this time last year.

I have never seen a car boot sale in the States, I am sure there are places where people sell things out of the trunk of their car but I think by and large this is an English phenomenon. I think most Americans opt for the traditional garage or yard sale, but here most people that are lucky enough to have a garage either have it out the back or its tiny. Most people don't even have a driveway. Also, most front gardens are small and enclosed so they aren't well suited to a yard sale. Instead they load up all they can in their car and go to these car boot sales. It has kind of a flea market or swap meet atmosphere with all kinds of shady people crowding the aisles. If I really had to put my finger on an American equivalent it was like a having a park-wide yard sale at a trailer park.

I was looking most forward to haggling, but I was sadly disappointed that most of the people weren't haggling. The girls told me this isn't normal, usually people are eager to haggle for a better price and they were also frustrated with the reactions from people visiting our stalls. People would come up to the table and pick up an item and ask how much (everything was reasonably priced) and then when they were told the asking price they would wrinkle up their nose, set the item down and walk away. It got extremely frustrating. What is the point of asking the price of something if you aren't willing to actually work for a bargain. All of the girls expressed that they were annoyed so many of the patrons of the car boot sale seemed to be expecting things to be handed to them for next to nothing.

Given the greedy customers, I only sold two items Jason's broken digital camera for 50p and a panini press for £3. Not much but it was enough to get myself something to eat from the burger stand. The girls did better, my sister-in-law Diane sold lots of Jack's old toys and made about £70. Kirsty and Paula both let their kids do all the selling themselves and let them keep their earnings for pocket money. It was funny to watch them wheeling and dealing with customers and that alone was worth going for!

This Week's British TV Review

Deal or No Deal

I know Deal or No Deal is also on in the US, but in the UK the show is much different. There are no sleek briefcases being carried by scantily clad models. Instead, red boxes are carried and opened by future contestants. They all stay together in a hotel and get to know each other and appear on the show every day until it is their turn to take a shot at the big prize. Other than that the structure of the show is pretty much the same nail-biting excitement that makes Deal or No Deal a hit.

There is a different dynamic to the show since all of the contestants get to know each other so well and often strike up close friendships. As they go along in the game they give each other advice and encourage one another. I much prefer it to watching bimbos with briefcases.

I also really like the host Neil Edmonds who also hosts the British version of Are You Smarter That A Fifth Grader? (called Are You Smarter Than A Ten Year Old? here) and I think he is a great game show host. I definitely prefer him to Howie Mandel, who I think is a bit scary looking.