Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer Has Arrived!

I apologize that I didn't post yesterday, but yesterday was a holiday in both the US and the UK so that lets me off the hook, right?

We have had the most picture perfect weekend. It was about 80 degrees and sunny both Sunday and yesterday and this weekend Seaton Carew played host to the Thunder Cat boat races which of course were directly outside our front window! It was really exciting to watch the boats race and the beach was packed which is great for business down here. I hope the great response from the locals and the beautiful weather encourages the Thunder Cats to return to Hartlepool in the future. 
Jason and I also experimented with letting Max off of his leash on the beach for the first time and it was so wonderful. The only time we had to run after him was when a labrador tried to steal his ball, which you can see from the photos below he doesn't like to be without. Even though he ran off after the dog I am still proud of him for being civilized and not barking or growling at him. We had such a great time and he really got to let loose and run.  

I have to admit that this weekend for the first time I experienced my first real pangs of home sickness. I heard reports from friends about the beautiful weather in Chicago and reminisced about the camping trip my friends and I took Memorial Weekend last year I was really missing that time with my friends and family. Luckily on Sunday the weather turned into the most beautiful day I have experienced here to date and Jason and I had a great time out on the beach with Max and everything just kind of came together and my homesickness soon passed. 

I am really looking forward to this summer, and especially looking forward to not sweating when I step outside the door and not needing air conditioning. Jason and I are planning a camping trip probably sometime in July and I am looking forward to my first time camping here. I will share more details when we have planned our camping trip.

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Weekend!

This Week's British TV Review:

How Clean Is Your House?

You may have seen this show on BBC America already, so bear with me as I rave about it if you have already seen it. I love this show, and it always inspires me to go clean some room of my house after I have watched it. Britain's cleaning goddesses Kim and Aggie descend upon the homes of some of the most disgusting people who haven't cleaned their homes in literally years and bring along a full cleaning crew to clean and sterilize the house from top to bottom. They also teach the homeowners cleaning tips to cut down the time they spend cleaning and make the tasks seem less daunting.  

I have seen shows that are about cleaning up clutter, but I like this show because it focuses on true cleanliness. When they visit the homeowners they "scare them straight" by taking swabs of places all around the house and coming back and showing them the types of bacteria that they have found thriving on the kitchen counters and bathroom floors. They have all kinds of interesting gadgets that can guage the number of colonies of bacteria on a surface and really give these people an idea of how their lifestyle can seriously damage their health.

If you get a chance to watch this on BBC America, definitely take the time out to watch it. Kim and Aggie are so fun to watch and you can also pick up some great cleaning tips for your own house!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Eurovision Song Contest

I am going to combine my usual blog and television review this week.

This Week's British TV Review:

Eurovision Song Contest 2009

This weekend I finally got to experience something I have been looking forward to since I moved here, I have heard about it before and I was fascinated by the idea. This grand event I speak of is the Eurovision Song Contest. It is a competition involving all European countries, they all submit a song and those that make the cut are performed during a one night extravaganza. This year the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Moscow. I had heard so much about what happens at this competition I couldn't wait, one thing I heard was that the songs and performances are all ridiculous and over the top and that usually the country that wins is the one that has the least political enemies, so pretty much always a Scandinavian country. 

The top 25 countries perform in one show, which is followed by a round of voting. Each country has a chosen jury as well as a public vote and they award points to their top ten choices. The bottom 7 receive 1-7 points in ascending order and the top three receive 8,10 and 12 points. There are great pains taken to make voting fair. Each country gets the same number of points to award and the biggest catch is that you can't vote for your own country. One interesting phenomenon is that countries with a lot of political upheaval often end up scoring very well because there are many displaced nationals living in neighboring countries. Turkey tends to have a good showing every year because there are so many Turkish nationals living abroad in Europe so they have a bit of  a loophole and Turks living abroad can vote for their own country.

I couldn't wait to see this show, even if for a laugh. I suppose I have already fulfilled my duty as a British resident to not take the competition very seriously. I especially love the Eastern European countries entries! Here is one of my favorites from Romania:

Another favorite is the Greek entry, which was one of the songs favored to win. This guy is like the Greek version of Ricky Martin.

This year Britain tried to change their image in this competition. Britain has a reputation for not taking the competition seriously and always sending in their B squad so this year a huge campaign was launched to change this perception. Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber was recruited to write the song and the artist was chosen through a reality show format contest. What do you do when you want people to take you seriously? Make it into a reality show of course! In the end a West End performer, Jade Ewen was chosen to represent Britain. 

The song was heavily promoted all over Europe and hopes were high that this could be Britain's year! In the end Britain did do fairly well, winning top marks from Turkey and several top 5 showings from other countries and in the end Britain finished 5th. I think the European community voted for Britain as a reward for stepping up to the plate and sending in a top performer and composer team. Sadly, I think the performance fell flat. Andrew Lloyd-Webber's song "It's My Time" was incredibly cheesy, and Jade broke under the pressure and what should have been an impressive vocal at the end turned into a mess of undershot notes but the European community still awarded Britain an"A" for effort.

Going into the competition Norway was favored to win. I still don't get quite why the Norwegian song was so heavily favored but the hype was effective and Norway won the night by a landslide and became the most popular song in Eurovision history. The song was written and performed by a dashing young man named Alexander Rybak and although I think it was catchy, I don't think it was best. 

My choice for the best was the runner-up Yohanna from Iceland. It was a great song and Yohanna is really talented. Iceland won last year so I think the voters decided to go for Norway to avoid a two-year streak by Iceland. I think this song is great, if only Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber could have come up with something like this...

There was a clear "worst" performance of the night, although this wasn't reflected in the final scores. Before the Russian act went on the commentator mentioned that she was a "last minute addition" and it just so happened that her father is a Russian billionaire. The performance was awful and I found myself wishing Simon Cowell was somewhere in the audience to put her in her place. I won't even post the video because I like you all and it isn't something that anyone should have to listen to. Despite the terrible performance, Russia still managed to place 11 out of 25 finalists which is a great example of how political the voting is. 

I can't wait for this event next year, it is so entertaining. I just hope next year Britain can put together a better act and maybe even win!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays

I have been writing my blogs so fast lately I feel I am leaving so much out so I am going to start writing it earlier this week and try to keep writing a bit each night so I don't have to give you half-posts. First, this week I will return with the TV reviews. I know it has been weeks since I did this but I will definitely start up that little series again. Also, with so many personal revelations as of late this blog has kind of gone off topic and has become less about how Britishness is effecting my daily life so I will get back to that as well. I hope you all have continued to read my blog posts on Anglotopia.net if you needed your Anglophile fix!

My birthday was this week and it was my first here. It was my 26th, so I didn't expect much. I have heard it is the most insignificant birthday of your 20s and having just gone through it I have to agree. My birthday was fairly uneventful but I barely noticed so its not a big deal. I did get some fantastic gifts, our dog Max (which has changed my life), an iPhone (which has also changed my life) and a few other little things from friends and family. 

This is about the time of year when I start waiting for the weather to suddenly warm up. That time of the year when the season of freezing and thawing that passes for Spring in the Midwest finally ends and the days start getting warmer. Here the summer warms much more gradually. We have had a couple days in the 70s and that is probably as good as it gets but it is rarely warm enough that I don't have to wear a jacket or sweatshirt out. I actually love this weather but it does feel strange, like I am waiting for something to happen even though I know it never will.

Truth be told I hate hot weather, anything over 80 degrees is too much for me and it can make Midwestern summers unbearable for me. Still, this is the time of the year I am missing, May and early June are the best time to be in the Midwest when people are so jubilant about the beautiful weather. Its not the weather I miss but the overall attitude of the people being elated just to be outside. I remember taking a camping chair out onto the back deck of my apartment in Chicago, turning on the radio and sitting out there with a glass of wine doing nothing other than enjoying the glorious weather. 

England is internationally known for its "bad weather" but since I have arrived here I have noticed that this isn't exactly an accurate generalization. The peculiar thing is that it seems this idea is perpetuated by the English people themselves. When I tell local people that this winter was like paradise for me they think I am crazy, they can't imagine anything could possibly be worse than a gray English winter where the temperature rarely dips below freezing and the rare sight of snow only stays around long enough for a few fetching photographs. When I tell them I am looking forward to a mild summer they can't imagine anything worse than an English summer without any need for air conditioning. What could be worse than temperatures that rarely get warm enough to make you sweat, that persistent pesky cool and refreshing breeze, and sunny days interrupted by short and frequent light rain showers (usually promptly followed by a brilliant rainbow) that keep the whole country green and growing all summer long. Terrible weather indeed!

The Midwestern United States has, in my opinion, some of the worst weather in the world. Several months straight of sub-zero temperatures, followed by a couple weeks of freezing and thawing, followed by a humid and sweltering summer with temperatures regularly staying in 90s with little respite in the muggy evenings. Still, the people of the Midwest truly make lemonade out of lemons when it comes to the weather. Sweltering hot outside? Lets strip down as much as we possibly can, mix up a cold fruity cocktail and lounge on the beach all day. A blizzard outside? Lets light a fire in the hearth and make some hot cocoa! Some of the most enjoyable experiences of living in the Midwest are really no more than brilliant coping mechanisms to deal with absolutely terrible weather. 

That is one area where Britain could take a feather from the hat of Midwestern Americans. Considering poor weather is far more rare in this part of the world than in the US, I think Britain could benefit from a new rainy-day attitude and start really enjoying those days when its just too gray and depressing to go out. 

This Week's British TV Review:

Britain's Got Talent

The contestants on Britain's Got Talent have been popping up on YouTube and are already gaining fame in the US and this season is really fabulous. There are some fantastic acts, so many that I don't think Susan Boyle is a shoe-in to win the whole thing. There are some amazing dance groups and some kids with beautiful and incredibly mature voices. Its really an amazing season.

My personal favorites to win are "Stavros Flatley" only because nothing has made me laugh that hard in so long, and I like the idea of the Royal Family watching these guys strut across the stage. I think this kid has so much charisma, and its a really funny act. Click on the link below to see the video!

The thing I really like about the British version of this show is the judging panel. Piers Morgan is on the show as well as British entertainer Amanda Holden and of course Simon Cowell. Its kind of nice to see Simon on British TV shows because although there is a bit of his signature harshness, he is definitely more laid back than he is on American Idol. I also like the British judges more because I can't stand "The Hoff" and Sharon Osbourne together. They have kind of all become charicatures of themselves and it makes it difficult to watch. 

I also like that the prize is a spot in the Royal Variety Performance. It adds an interesting twist when you are watching and realize these people think they should perform in front of the Queen. It is absolutely hilarious to imagine some of the acts performing for the Royal family. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Welcome Home Maximus!!!

Everything went smoothly with adopting Max (we have decided to make his full name Maximus) and continues to go really well. We were able to go pick Max up on Friday afternoon and he has settled in really well. The first couple nights we didn't quite know what to expect and it had been our intention to make the kitchen his sleeping quarters because we weren't sure if he would resort to chewing or destruction if he got anxious or bored during the night. After two nights of the heartbreaking sound of dog whining, but no destruction at all, we decided not to restrict him to the kitchen. He has settled on sleeping on the couch and we have all been getting more sleep now and he seems much happier. 

I keep bracing myself for him to act up, but we haven't had any problems with him being left alone. We are lucky to have a dog who we can trust not to destroy our house when we are out or asleep. This week I found out that I won't be starting my new job until June 1st. The building we are moving into is a month behind schedule so they just don't have a desk for me yet and other things essential to my job are running a bit behind schedule. It works out perfectly for us because I will have a month to get Max settled in before I start leaving him for the day and hire a dog walker to come walk him in the middle of the day. Everything kind of fell into place perfectly.

I think it is safe to say that Max is an adoption success and I am so happy with our decision to adopt a dog that needed a home. There are so many dogs who need homes and love but are homeless due to no fault of their own. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about shelter dogs. When I told people we were planning to adopt a dog from Dogs Trust people gave me a laundry list of reasons why I shouldn't and it makes me sad that so many people won't give these dogs a chance. 

Many people assume that shelter dogs will all have terrible habits they picked up from previous owners or that all dogs in shelters come from violent pasts and are there because they are aggressive dogs. This is so far from the truth and there are many dogs in shelters who have been left homeless because their owners could no longer afford to keep them or had some other kind of life change that created a situation where they could no longer afford to care for their dog. As I sat in the rehoming centre listening to the other dogs' stories, most of them had come from that type of situation.

I am so glad I didn't listen to the nay-sayers and decided to go ahead and adopt a dog. I think there are many advantages to adopting a dog. Most of all, on top of having a companion I feel like I have given this little guy a second chance at a happy life and every dog deserves the chance to live in a loving and happy home. 

Here are some photos we took of Max, he loves to run and he especially loves splashing in the sea and playing football with Jason.