Saturday, April 29, 2006

"My Kitties" Number One: Anne

I was cleaning up my room, and I realized how much I missed my kitties.
I thought I might introduce them to you.

This is Anne

is one of three kittens I picked up in October 2003. Anne apparently looks the most like "mom" who was ferrul and living in Little Compton, RI. A curator at a historic home in that rather deserted part of the state found three of the four in the litter and took them into her own apartment, already inhabited by two older cats, one of which developed a "stress disorder" having to deal with the new "children."

Anne has two sisters, Charlotte and Emily. She tends to communicate her desires vocally, and she has a different tone for "I want this" and "No, mom, I didn't do anything wrong, really..." She frequently teases Phoebe, my mother's cat; however this recently resulted in several cuts on her nose and the subsequent decision to cool it for a little while or enlist her sisters as reinforcements. She usually figures out when I am about to go to bed and stakes her claim on the foot of it before anyone else can.

Here, she is in one of her more well-behaved states. I would like to mention that after she woke up from this particular nap, she cornered Phoebe under a wheeled footrest with Charlotte and then went outside and refused to come in until about 2 am. Lesson: Don't be fooled by the innocent "nap state." Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My Love/Hate Relationship With England

Now that I am fresh--well, maybe not fresh given the time span between my last shower and the present time--off of the plane from Manchester, I was thinking about the good and the bad in England. It's funny how perspectives differ. I was sitting in an aisle seat (thank you, Dad) on one of those airbuses. Across the asile from me was this girl, probably about eighteen or so. Once we landed in Manchester, I am thinking "here we go again," and she says, "I am soooo glad to be back in England." Go figure.

So as to get the insulting part of this out of the way first, I present:

The Bad

Hot and Cold Taps: Why these can't be combined into one tap whereupon you can regulate the amalgamation of the hot and the cold water before it hits the sink basin, I will never know.

Weather: Now, New England is world renouned for being unpredictable. It could be seventy degrees in January and then you get a blizzard in April. But, here, albeit consistent, the weather is usually "rain expectant" no matter how nice it may be when you wake up in the morning. The dampness stays everywhere here. I remember mentioning the state of the ground--the wet, muddy mess that is anything with grass growing on it--to an English student, who said, "I didn't know the ground was suppposed to be dry in winter."

Vegetables: Sometimes, you just don't want tubors as a side dish to, say, everything.

Breakfast Food: To continue the food trend, I was recently reminded of British morning food options, including "pancakes," which are really crepes (but the British don't want us to think they have anything in common with the French), "golden syrup," which is essentially butter and sugar melted together (where is the maple, my friend?), and "bacon"--thankfully, my previous pilgrim practice of soaking bacon that has been salted has come in handy. Also, there is what they refer to here as a "full breakfast," which includes tomatos, mushrooms, and the ridiculous British version of baked beans.

Coffee: Alas, I must bid a temporary fare-well to my beloved iced coffees, given even the folks at Starbucks don't know what I am talking about when I order one here.

No Driving: Not to say that I would ever attempt to drive here, given I would probably turn out looking like Clark Griswold in his European Vacation movie (sans Eric Idle), but there is something to be said for being your own means of transportation. You can get where you want when you want to taking your own personal routes, etc. If I want to be my own means of transportation here, I have to don the comfy shoes and start walking--never forgetting an umbrella.

Money: Congrats, my English friends, your money is worth far more than my own. I put an exchange in and then, whoa, I have half as much. I also noticed that in the US, products I can get both here and there are priced the same given the scaling. For example, I can get an item for 200 dollars in the US, and here because people make more money, it costs 200 pounds, which is about 350-375 dollars.

The Internet: This only really applies to my living in campus housing, but the internet here is crap. I can't get on and depend upon it, and the proxies I have for features like AOL never seem to work for long. I also can't upload anything from here. I'm sure this is true of most Universities, but still, it is a pain in my ass.

Pharmacy System: In the US, if I need something, I can generally get it. However, if I want anything on the "adult" level of strength here, I have to have a discussion with a pharmacist. Let's just say I would prefer not to talk about menstrual problems with a complete stranger, albeit professional, in front of about seven other customers in line in the only Boots in the whole city.

My Hair: In the US, I have ever so many more options. Here, I couldn't figure out why so many people sport multi-colored dye jobs that were cut perfectly straight. The problem here goes back to the weather, I think. No matter what you do, no amount of ultra hold gel will keep curl in your hair. You hit the air outside and it is gone in thirty minutes, rain shower or perfectly clear day. At home, I can curl it once and it lasts until I wash it, giving me so many more stylining options--which is essential.

Job: Because I do not have a working Visa, I cannot work in the UK. I was thinking of doing some volunteering around since classes are over, but I really can't pick up any cash. I would like to do something other than sit and read in solitary confinement, but I can certainly rule out making some money on that deal.

The Good

Now that all of the British folks are groaning, growling, and scrolling down angrily to the "comments" section, I will present the other side of the line.

Sunlight Hours: New England was nice, and I thought it was light rather late, but when I got here I was completely surprised. The sun rises before six and sets at eight already--the longest day of the year in NE isn't even that long, and it's only April. I am really excited to see how long it stays light out when we do near June. The idea of a lot of daylight hours is very motivating to me, so, I can't wait.

Proximity to other Countries: Most people will say that the USA is like one huge country that incorporates other cultures in the same way that Europe incorporates other countries. However, everyone still speaks (some form of) English and there are a lot of cultural similaries throughout. England is really close to a lot of different places and it would cost me as much to get to them from here as it would to go from New England to Washington DC, which isn't far away. I hope to take advantage of it this time.

Bus/Train System: Although nothing beats being able to hop in your car, turn on your radio, buy a coffee, and drive yourself, the English transportation system is actually really, really good. I can get where I need to go by bus or train fairly easily as long as I plan ahead and am on time. It's much better than HAVING to drive, which is really what it is like in the US everywhere except for right in the middle of most major cities.

Hair: As much as I hate the fact that curl is a moot point, I can say that the dampness keeps my hair down when it is straight--no fly-aways, nothing.

No Snow: I may not be the biggest fan of this rainy country, but at least the concept of a Nor'easter is a foreign one.

Mail: I send away for something, and I have it within two days--a day in some cases. It pays to have a small country. In the US, I could send away and not get it for weeks. Then UPS will inevitably lose or damage it anyway.

Some Pharmacy Items: In some very rare cases, I can get things here without a prescription that I can't in the US. I remember having an infection once, and I ended up buying a pill for it that I couldn't get without a doctor's check at home. I took it and four hours later, I was fine. I would have had to wait to see the doctor, wait for the prescription, pay a ton for it, then take it and wait in the US. By then, the infection would have probably healed itself.

Bakeries: I can get quick food from someplace other than a McDonald's or a Burger King. Different may not equate to healthier, but at least it is something.

Nice People Give Directions: All bets are off in the US. You could ask an old lady for directions who will hit you with her purse or a cab driver who doesn't know the answer even if he has driven the same city for twenty years. In any case, you get an attitude. Here, they not only tell you where to go, they direct you, sometimes walk with you, and call you "luv."

Well, there you have it. I am back in the UK. At least I get a room away from cultural immersion, unless you count the Chinese students on the hallway--but that is a different culture all together. Ah, well, back to Monty-Pythonland.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My Harbor by the Hearthside

Years ago, I had a cat we called "Barney." He was another abandonment case, and he was a "one and only" in terms of the "domesticus" species in our house. Then, one December night, Dara showed up at our back door. Barney wasn't thrilled with Dara at first, but she was more than happy to allow him to have his run of the house, so he quickly realized the benefits of remaining king of his domain and having a playmate. They used to play this game we termed "chase." They would run after each other all over the house, taking terms being the chase-er and the chase-ee until one of them reached the slate platform in front of the fireplace. Then, the running stopped. The chase-ee was on "base" and could not be touched. Eventually, so the game would continue, the chase-ee would leave this safe spot and the running would continue in this cyclical form until one of them got fed up and gave the disapproving "hiss and swipe" to get the point across as clearly as possible.

Regardless of our experience in this world and how it increases over time, we never seem to expect bad things to happen to us. They happen over and over again, and yet, they remain surprises, they take us off-guard. No matter how level headed you are, I honestly don't believe anyone is so well adjusted to the mysteries of what we call life to say "I just roll with the punches," implying that those things have no negative effects. Of course they do. We shouldn't be striving for the unattainable ideal that is not allowing any of life's ridiculousness to throw us for a loop, make us upset, make us take a long, hard look at ourselves. Instead, we should be ready for those things to happen--we should expect them in the unexpected, allow them to produce their effects upon us, and let them ultimately strengthen us so we learn something from them. Ignoring them, letting them slide off of us like "water on a duck's back" cheats us of too many valuable learning experiences.

Well, we admit something bad happened and we feel bad now because of it. Now what?

One thing I have discovered over time is the concept of that "base" as being the one thing that reminds us that everything can and will be OK. There are things within ourselves--qualities, interests, dreams--that existed before that happened, and will exist long after we have forgotten why we were so upset in the first place. It is too easy to let those events and how we feel about them subsequently narrow our vision and focus. That is what makes learning how to completely ignore them so attractive. We get so caught up in how we feel, how upset we are, that it can become literally consuming. However, that "base" can be the one thing that keeps us from sinking and gives us that all-too-necessary perspective.

What's your base? Is it what you want to be, who you want to be? Is it a happy memory, a kind person, a beautiful song, a quiet place? It is your interests, your thoughts, your faith?

Mine is usually what I want to do--projects I want to accomplish. I think about my writing, listening to certain music that has stayed with me over time through many similar situations, places I saw and enjoyed before it happened. Simple, yes, but they remind me that there was something before and will be something after that is positive. It confines that moment to what it is--a moment boxed in on either side by other moments and experiences much more well worth remembering.

I'm going to sit on my slate platform in front of the fireplace for a little while, because this next game of chase, well, I don't intent to lose ;-).

Harriet Update: Although we did think that her time was up a few weeks ago, she has subsequently recovered from her illness and is doing just fine. She is treated every three days with a hefty injection of antibiotics, to which you can assume she readily objects. Luckily no one has landed in the emergency room....yet....