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…)

One Week And Counting

Back to school already, huh? Well, I can’t say the weather hasn’t telegraphed the change in season. I think it was literally beautiful one day, and gray and miserable the next. Ah well. We’re still having occasionally nice days, and I’m using them to get as much of the last of the yard work done as possible. We’re in decent shape, I’d just like to get the pile in the back finished off before the rain becomes unrelenting.

I wasn’t successful in securing a training contact this summer. Technically I have yet to hear back from one firm, but given how late it is in the recruiting cycle I think I’m unlikely to at all. Which is just plain rude, if you ask me. I know firms are being inundated by applicants, but how hard is it to send a mass “thanks but no thanks” acknowledgement? I do it with all of the Cast of Wonders submissions.

And speaking of which, take a look at this:

2013 Winner Badge
Cast of Wonders won its very first Parsec award! We’re so thrilled, Graeme even introduced our latest episode with the phrase “award winning”. I can’t wait for my statue to get here.

The Isle of Man / York trip was fantastic. We had beautiful weather, smooth crossings, and lots of time to catch up with family and friends. You couldn’t ask for more from a late summer vacation. 🙂

Realizations

-Summer is nearly over, and I go back to school in a mere 22 days.

-As of Thursday, I’ll have lived in the UK a full year.

-I’ve narrated both Hugo and Parsec nominated short stories.

-Forget March coming in like a lion, autumn seems to be taking September out at the knees!

-This academic year I’ll be studying one form of mediation while teaching another.

-I’m about to restart aikido training. I’m nervous, but also excited, especially because I’ll have not only a partner put potentially classmates joining me as well.

-When you’re waiting for decisions that will dictate the direction and schedule of major life decisions for the next four years, six weeks is a very long, anxious period of time.

-Picnics help immensely.

-I can devour over 150,000 words of fiction in 36 hours. Yes, the Hunger Games were THAT good. Completely worth the “book hangover” the next morning.

-Next month I’m going to Batman’s house to watch a movie.

-I still owe the Mutherfudger a guest blog on Mexican food that doesn’t involve chili.

-Vacations always feel amazing because of the amount of work that not only precedes them, but goes into making sure you come back to a clean house. Wash All The Things!

-My life may be uncertain and less padded than I’d like, but I’m happy and in the end, that’s what matters most.

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.

Procrastination

I’ve reached that part of the school year I always hate. Ninety percent of the work is done, and I can’t seem to muster any energy or enthusiasm for the remaining ten percent. There are still exams to take and coursework to finish and my research project to finalize, but the drive just ain’t there.

Maybe it’s my “the perfect is the enemy of the good” philosophy. Maybe it’s the fact it’s snowing on St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it’s that I’ve booked airfare back to San Francisco for the end of next month and I’m counting the days.

There are a lot of things on my blogging list, but it’s clear devoting time to each one separately isn’t going to work with any degree of speed. So let’s return to my old friend, the bullet point.

Games

  • Finishing the Mass Effect trilogy was emotionally rough but I’m very, very pleased with the ending. Green, for those of you in the know. It was the only logical choice.
  • The Mass Effect 3: Citadel DLC is the best one yet, and not just because Wrex uses The People’s Elbow on a flying car. It’s even better than Lair of the Shadow Broker. You know all that fantastic inter-character dialog you love so much? It’s four hours of that. Plus a mission that blows your socks off. Plus arcade games and a battle arena that will ALSO blow your socks off. It’s bittersweet and energetic and the perfect send-off.
  • Shepard is one tough lady. She’s literally gone through death and everything you can think of to save the galaxy. She never sheds a tear. Unless your romance option was Thane. And that was perhaps the most perfect moment of all.
  • After finishing Mass Effect I devoured Musaic Box, a fun music puzzle app Alasdair found me. I’m poking at the hard mode now as a palate cleanser between school work. I really, REALLY love the game and I hope they expand it in the future. I’d love to see fugues and rounds, for example, as well as more of the familiar classics they started with.
  • Now I’m playing the new Tomb Raider. Holy COW this is not your 90’s Lara. It’s very different stylistically, and is focused less on the story and more on how you play with interactive quick-time cinematics and weapon and skill customization.
  • Which is good; after having finished Mass Effect, another story-driven game would undoubtedly fail in comparison.
  • Now that I have the ability to use my climbing axe in combat, I’m much happier: having only ranged attacks isn’t my thing, especially when being rushed by a pack of wolves or a madman with a riot shield.

School

  • This next week is the last week before Spring (or Easter, as they call it here in a country without a phobia of associating seasons with religious holidays) Break. I have a single land lecture to go, and four more weeks of sessions, half of which are consolidation and mock exam question reviews.
  • I’m frustrated with coursework. My grades are trending down, and I can’t figure out why. I’ve got a meeting request in to my tutor to see if she can help me understand.
  • Part of it, I think, is the differences in US versus UK grading systems. Last coursework I made a bone-headed and probably time-pressure based mistake: I swapped two terms. In the States, that would be a one-time point deduction. Here in the UK, however, it functions as a mark CAP: there’s only so high a grade I can receive for having made this mistake. Frustrating, to say the least.
  • However, all my mock exam grades so far have been squarely in the Commendation and nearly Distinction category. Since exams are 70% of my grade — and none of my course work has been anywhere near failing — I’m trying to let it go and keep focused on the big picture. Finish strong, and keep moving.

Voice Work and Cast of Wonders

  • I’m incredibly happy with the quality of Cast of Wonders since taking over as editor at the beginning of the year. Graeme and Barry are a pleasure to work with, and we’ve run an amazing range of stories, with some of my favorites yet to come. The schedule is starting to solidify far enough in advance that we’re discussing Halloween and Christmas projects, and the turn-around time on submissions is staying under 30 days. Plus we’ve arranged narration swaps with some of the best names in fiction podcasting: The DrabbleCast (Norm Sherman), PodCastle (Dave Thompson), and Clarkesworld Magazine (Kate Baker) with I hope many more to come.
  • For my part, I’ve been behind the microphone again recently with “Mercurial Skin” and “Now Cydonia“. Plus I have my swap with Norm appearing shortly on The DrabbleCast.
  • And I’m planning to resume longer piece auditions with ACX this summer after exams.

Life In General

  • Snow. In March. *sigh*
  • The cooking apathy has passed at last. I spent all of Friday cleaning the kitchen and inventorying the pantry in a cathartic burst of energy, followed by baking two loaves of bread (rosemary ciabatta and banana) and making pizza for dinner.
  • Alasdair’s becoming quite the cook in his own right, and is picking up on my knack for re-purposing leftovers. We had some fantastic grilled turkey goujons (that’s tenders to us Americans) marinated in sage and olive oil served with leftover mushroom risotto. It made me think of Trader Joe’s amazing butternut squash ravioli. Sooooooon!!
  • I miss clothes dryers, and the feeling of warm, wrinkle-free sheets. I’m convinced England’s grumpy national character could be cured if people drank more water and had fresh-from-the-dryer clothes on a regular basis.
  • This weekend we’re going to a spring pops concert at the Royal Hall. Hurray for cheap student symphony tickets!
  • During Easter Break we’re having two visitors. Alasdair’s parents are coming down to visit for Ian’s birthday, and our friends Whit and Melissa are staying over a night with us on their trip through the UK and Portugal.
  • It’s hard being on a fixed budget, mentally more than physically. We don’t lack for any basics, but when I’m gloomy it’s impossible not to remember what having a six figure income was like. Gym memberships, weekend trips, disposable income. Anyone who makes big decisions struggles with them, and I’m no exception.
    But I wouldn’t change anything. Not even when it snows in March.

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2012

WOW.

It’s going to be hard to write a succinct and entertaining post about the biggest year of my life so far. That’s part of the problem, I’ve had two in a row. Let’s do the TL;DR version.

In 2012 I:

  • Returned from meeting Alasdair in person for the first time (and then straight through to my brother’s wedding) knowing he was every bit as wonderful as I thought he would be and even MORE head over heels in love, if that was possible.
  • Researched, applied, and was accepted to law school in England.
  • Navigated and paid for an international move, including all the visa hurdles and the emotion of giving away or selling everything I possible could like my car. (He’s in good hands with my cousin.)
  • Encouraged Alasdair to come live with me for the summer, and spent an amazing four months seeing the sights together including New York, W00tstock in San Diego, Disneyland, Yosemite, back to England for a week of campus tours, GenCon in Indianapolis, and seeing Melissa and Whit in Austin.
  • Lost my youngest aunt in a car accident that could have claimed the lives of three more.
  • Recorded a Hugo nominated author’s short story for sale.
  • Said goodbye to the law firm I’d been with for over eight years.
  • Moved to England and lived without everything I owned minus two suit cases worth for 3 months.
  • Went to Dublin to see the comeback reunion tour of my favorite band.
  • Started law school and didn’t collapse into a pile of exhausted tears more than once every 6 weeks.
  • Won a mediation competition and get to compete in Paris in February.

Like I said. WOW.

And that’s without all day to day filler – rock climbing and piano lessons and blogging and reading and voice work. See? I just went back up to that list and added a few things I’d forgot. I miss my old gym and dojo a lot, but I miss having time for exercise more. I got a UK power block for my Wii for Christmas, so it’s back to the fitness games. At least I won’t have to worry about getting rained out!

I also think I made my “piece of culture a month” goal, but since I had to wipe my phone when I moved I can’t look at my old calendar and double check. I remember one Shakespeare play (Titus Andronicus, at long last), two other plays, and tons of concerts: several classical, one Christmas, Dead Can Dance, W00tstock, Jonathan Coulton, and Elbow. Plus watching Lost Boys on the beach where it was filmed, the Alamo Draft House, taking Dave and his daughter to Medieval Times, river rafting, the season opener Cal football game, and WWE Raw.

2013 has a lot to live up to. And from what I see on the horizon, it’s going to make 2012 look like the opening act.

Things That Go Boom In The Night

I love the Fourth of July because it’s a holiday based around shiny colorful explosions and food, with just a touch of summer heat and classical music.  It’s very my family – we love food and tinkering with things that are just a little bit fast and dangerous, and singing while we do it.

My cousins and I took Alasdair to pick out a pack of fireworks, and then threw a few more in. Thanks goodness we got all those sparklers; my aunt is addicted to those thing, and they made for much better lighting sticks than the ones included with the purple rain’s and sparkling fountains.

Even better, it seems EVERY OTHER neighbor of my mom’s housing development went south of the border for their fireworks. Nothing’s better than knowing someone ELSE will get arrested for the illegal M80’s and bottle rockets than getting to watch them first! We had the fairground-sized GIANT ones going off overhead and young kids firing bottle rockets down the middle of the street, with just enough breeze to carry the smoke away.

With the country’s birthday safely concluded, I’m turning my attention to my birthday next week.  “Lost Boys” is playing at the boardwalk it was filmed on, so it’ll be a day of sun and surf and vampire cinema and corn dogs.

T minus two months and counting!

Published in: on July 5, 2012 at 14:59  Leave a Comment  
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