Tanned and Ready to Go

Welcome back, true believers!

As I write this my final beach day sunburn is just starting to peel in the last spots. While outside, we’re being treated to drizzle before the weather is supposed to climb to the perilous upper 20’s later this week. Hoodie and lovely new tea one day, shorts and tank tops the next. Ah English weather, you do like to keep me on my toes. (more…)

Meanwhile, Back In The States…

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while. Since the English “summer” weather (read rainstorm) has decided to conspire against tackling the front garden YET AGAIN and I’ve baked myself out of flour and sugar, now seems a good time.

We’re all creatures of habit, and nothing makes that clearer than when things you normally do automatically are thrust to the forefront of your attention because they’re now more difficult or outright impossible. Like grocery shopping in a new country where the aisles are different and they’ve never apparently heard of buying whole coffee beans and why on earth aren’t the eggs refrigerated. It took me MONTHS to figure out which stores carried which products, and even now it seems strange to me that I have to go to three different shops in an average week to pick up all the items I want.

Now add to that mix drug stores. I can’t find the same brands of, well, just about anything. And that’s before we talk about the differences between A4 and letter sized paper and how strange all the binders are with only two rings and … Yeah.

In April when Alasdair and I headed back to California for two weeks for my cousin’s wedding, we packed empty suitcases. We filled said suitcases with all the American products I can’t find over here and were critical enough to be worth the suitcase weight. By the way everyone, TSA considers peanut butter a “gel” that you can’t take carry-on. Just so you know. Since my birthday is coming up and there’s the possibility my family will want to send me goodies, here comes the laundry list of American products I just can’t get here in drippy, wet England.

Food

  • Taco seasoning. The Mexican cuisine scene here is virtually non-existent, and the two restaurants I have found are chains. They’re not bad, but they’re not home-made, right? I’ve got two GIANT containers now. I’ve only used the packets before, so this’ll be fun to experiment with.
  • Green chilies and chipotles. “Chiles” here are of the Asian variety – the small red Hunan-style nuclear jobs, or jalapenos. No poblano, pepperocinni, or other mild-to-medium green varieties.
  • GOOD olive oil. I know, Italy’s closer than California but trust me, the stuff ain’t the same.  Two big bottles of Trader Joe’s California Estate came back with me, plus a gift bottle I got from a friend which I haven’t tried yet.
  • Kosher salt. The Jewish community here is MUCH smaller and isn’t represented in mainstream stores at all. Along with the salt, I brought back matza ball mix for the next time I need Jewish penicillin.
  • Instant pudding. “Pudding” in England is the dessert course, and Jell-O style puddings don’t happen. Instead they make runny custard and pour it over everything. Blech. I’ve got a carefully hoarded box of vanilla waiting for the MutherFudger to reverse engineer…
  • ‘Nilla wafers. Banana pudding, y’all!
  • Clif bars. *sigh* They can be found here, but at £2-£3 a piece at specialist running stores, and not in nearly as many flavors. I used to buy them at Raley’s at $1 a piece. *sigh*
  • Liquid smoke. Yes, Pablo, it does exist. And I can’t make proper brisket or pulled pork without it.
  • Butterscotch and cinnamon chips. Butterscotch isn’t a thing here. There’s toffee, and there’s banoffee (which is like of like bananas foster), and there’s Werther’s which is about as close as it gets. But only in “sweets” (candy), not in baking components. Which is weird and sad and wrong.
  • Vegetable soup mix, i.e. Spinach Dip. Knorr as a brand exists here, especially in the dedicated Polish shops, but I haven’t found this stuff in particular. But that’s okay – I have half a dozen packets now. I’m set.
  • Spices I used to be a snob about – only the best from The Spice House would do. These days, sadly, my wallet won’t support that, but I still brought back my heavy-duty Saigon cinnamon and poultry seasoning, which is apparently an American only thing.
  • Pumpkin. Another “we don’t do that in England” shocker, but the local Waitrose stocks canned pumpkin in the autumn, and I still have a few cans squirreled away for Thanksgiving this year. Alasdair is a definite pumpkin pie convert.
  • Peanut butter M&Ms. Seriously. They have every other candy combination known to man – pretzel and coconut and mint and peanut – but no peanut butter.
  • Goldfish crackers, the whole wheat cheddar ones. I could have filled an entire suitcase with them, they’re my ultimate “with chicken noodle soup” comfort food. Those and the Mother’s pink and white animal cookies.

Health and Beauty

  • Okay, first things first – UK sizes are SMALL. All their products, be it toothpaste or deodorant or whatever, come in much smaller containers. That whole “Everything’s Bigger in America” thing is accurate, and not just the happy meals.
  • The J.A.S.O.N. brand of deodorant I like can only be found in one health store in York. So I stocked up.
  • This St. Ives green tea scrub hasn’t made it to England either. All their other products have, just not this. And you don’t even want to know what Amazon.co.uk charges for it. I bought three of them in California.

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Stationary

  • What? Stationary? I know! Generally this is one category where England wins hands down. They have a much better selection here, and of higher quality. Unless you’re running out of your favorite gel pens in the middle of exam revision and you panic and seriously consider paying international shipping for PENS. I swear, the stress must have got to me…

Vendors

  • International shipping is expensive, where it exists at all. So I stock up from my favorite companies when I’m back in the States, like Sock Dreams, The Spice House, and ThinkGeek. And that’s before we even talk about clothes from Lane Bryant or Avenue, or shoes. Oh Zappos, please start shipping internationally!

That’s everything I can think of off the top of my head. If the minute I publish this I think of a million more, I’ll update.

Saddle Up

Today is the last day of Easter break. While it’s certainly true I didn’t finish as much school work as I would have liked, I can’t say the time was wasted. I was burned out, and to some extent am still below normal operating speed. The long evenings of just relaxing with a videogame (I finished Tomb Raider and have started Bioshock 2 as a ramp-up to Bioshock Infinite) or episodes of the West Wing have helped a great deal.

We also had two different sets of visitors: Alasdair’s parents for two days for his dad’s birthday, and then his best friend and fiance from Austin for another couple of days. Tack on the spring cleaning to get ready, and the (still ongoing) dregs of household repairs, and it was a busy and enjoyable time.

I’ve also accomplished a great deal of back-end organization on Cast of Wonders, including the guest narration at Drabblecast, “Hullabaloo” and recording my first guest host spot at Podcastle which will air around April 16th. I have an all new respect for Alasdair, Dave, Norm, Graeme, and all the other podcast hosts out there – writing endcaps is tough work! Plus I’ve finished the raw audio on my current ACX project – just need to edit if and pass it off to the sound engineer.

Now it’s time to knuckle back under and put my head down with exam revision. I have three more weeks of group discussions before out trip to the States for a family wedding. (Sunshine! Oh glorious sunshine how I’ve missed you!) After that it’s another two solid weeks of revision before the start of the four week exam period. I have two 3+hour exams a week for four weeks.

Along with the depressing spring weather, the gear-up for the next academic year has begun, and all it’s associated emotion. It’s not just accepting an offer for me, there are visa considerations, and the ever-present funding concerns. I’m applying for several scholarships for next year, but it’s difficult to find ones where a non-EU citizen can even apply.

Plus, it’s frustrating. I was granted a scholarship to attend the summer school program I applied for, but due to my first choice of program being cancelled and the second choice having a scheduling conflict, now I can’t go! I had hoped I might be able to hold over the scholarship to next year, but not only isn’t that the case, but it appears unlikely this type of scholarship will be offered against next year. *sigh* It’s hard to remain positive and motivated when faced with a cascade of little setbacks.

Still, with the clocks moved forward and the longer and brighter (if still not warmer) sunshine, things are improving. There’s no new material to process, just old to consolidate and study. With less classroom time and dry(er) weather there’ll be a chance for more long walks and exercise, and eventually all the paperwork will be done. Just gotta keep moving.