Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Settlers of Catan

Has anyone heard of this board game? It's so much fun, and I'm really pleased I've managed to play it twice in the past week! I learned how to play it in Oregon and am pleased I've managed to play it again. I really should find somebody to afflict it upon in London...

Monday, August 27, 2007

The days before the wedding

Elizabeth is at work today and tomorrow, as are other people in this house, so I've had time to recover from a packed weekend. On Saturday we went to the farmers' market to pick flowers for the wedding. It's in Goshen and in a barn-like space and rather cool. It is rather different from the one I'm involved at in Twickenham and it was fun making comparisons. For one there are less Amish farmers selling their goods in Twickenham. We also took a trip to Shipshewana (a tourist trap for people interested about the Amish) to Yoder's Meat & Cheese to pick up food, and have visited lots of people and places. Organising a wedding, even a low-key one, is a lot of work! It is so special to be here and be included in everything. And this way I am meeting lots of people who I'll see again at the wedding and thus know more people on the day.

There is an urban trolley that runs between Elkhart and Goshen. It looks hilarious so I had to ride it... It's a cross between a tram cart and a bus! And again looking lost and speaking with an accent got me to where I wanted to go with remarkably little fuss:) It's nice to support the non-car options and it was cheap - $1 one way (about 50p). Today I went on a bike ride to return a film and to visit the Elkhart Environmental Education Centre again, which was still closed, and I think if I can cycle in America I should be alright in London...

On Saturday I helped move Elizabeth's sister into Goshen College so I got to be nosy and see what the dorms look like, and wander around campus. We even surreptitiously joined in the bbq for students and family members:) However, I didn't feel any immediate urge to go back to being a student and sharing rooms and showers.

Tonight I'm going for dinner with the family I lived with in Oregon so that's going to be really special. It's lovely to be able to reconnect with people from the past.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I'm here!

I'm here. I may be languishing in the heat and humidity (that I had forgotten all about), but I'm here! I've been promptly assimilated into the family and have picked lots of tomatoes. And this morning Aunt B and I canned 7 quarts of tomatoes! I have never done that before in my life so I was rather more excited about it than she was...

The flight and entry into the USA was remarkably smooth. I watched a fabulous film onboard the aircraft called The Lives of Others. It's a German film and won the Best Foreign Film Oscar, although more importantly it was a story of choices and redemption. And really, really beautiful. In Chicago I had the chance to practice my best British accent/lost foreigner look as I asked for directions. It worked a treat!

Yesterday I helped fill in holes in the woodwork in a newly built house, and today I volunteered at a place that has a food pantry and runs womens' empowerment sessions, so I'm starting to fit right in... Tonight Elizabeth and I went to this very powerful event. It's a Victim Impact Panel where people who have had drunk driving sentances from the court have to go and listen to somebody who has been impacted by drunk driving. This is run by the Centre of Community Justice that Elizabeth works for, and it was difficult to listen to the speaker tell how her daughter was hit by a driver and their life as its changed. I hope the people who attended tonight listened.

The weirdest memories are flooding back as I see things and remember stuff I didn't know I had forgotten. Like the sandwich bags, or how the yogurt is different, or the porches that houses have, and how crazy it is to actually walk anywhere... It's always the little things.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Cooked breakfasts and Gap years

This is the second consecutive Saturday that I've woken up for a cooked breakfast by my housemate and, after doing the dishes, settled down for a good few hours to read The Guardian. It started off as a joke: we weren't going to go along on a country walk organised by other friends because we were going to have a champaign breakfast. On reflection we decided that was too good an opportunity to miss so we duely had one. (I think it was also partly to cheer me up after my spectacular failure to make it out of the country.) A morning trip to Tesco's provided a reduced bottle of Cava to go with our fairly traded orange juice, organic eggs, croissants, and coffee...


Suitably attired in my "GROLLIES" garments - Guardian Readers Of Leftist Leanings In Ethnic Skirts, as defined by some soul on 'Have I Got News For You' - I sat down after breakfast to tackle the paper, and as I have the sole occupancy of the flat this morning the bits of the paper are strewn over the living room sofas and coffee table as I moved around between sections and cups of tea.

I'm slowly coming to recognise the seasons of the news paper. We've just come through the A-levels stories and have now moved onto Gap Year advice and suggestions, and its not only in the travel section either. I've come to the sad conclusion that I was woefully unprepared when I embarked out of school and into a 11-month stint as a volunteer over in the States. Not only was I ignorant that it was an excellent opportunity to Broaden My Mind, Spice Up My CV, Gain Valuable Experience, and Grow In Confidence but I think I've also failed to see this as a once-in-a-life-time opportunity before settling into steady employment. Nor did it cure me of volunteering or shake off the vague feeling that you can't get paid for something you like doing and thus treat any offers of paid work with faint suspicion... As it was, I did come away with some names of companies and charities that take volunteers for the next time the urge for a more radical volunteering post grabs my imagination!

I've nothing against Gap years and did benefit enormously from my life-informing experiences. I would hardly be the person I am today without it! (Obviously...:) It is just intereting to see the attempt to encouch the idea in the language of marketing, the need to sell the experience without allowing the experience to enough. Does the experience need to be judged by the arbitrary value of the future? Well, for me at least it was all part of the journey rather than The Journey, my Gap year wasn't an arbitrary blip in my existence:)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"No is ok"

At 7:33 am I got a text message that said "No is ok". I do not know who it is from, or what they were trying to convey. It is intriguing though...

Is it meant to be encouraging? A gently disappointed friend? A statement of life? Divine intervention?

Oooh, there are so many questions!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Things I've learned...

The "please hold" music of the British Airways is better than the blasting music of the Finnish consulate, the American embassy employs Irish people to answer their phones, getting a visa is a lot quicker than a passport, old (but still in date!!) British passports are non-machine readable and will get me into Canada but not the USA, and if you miss your outgoing flight the airline considers it a no-show and the return flight gets cancelled too...

Quite a lot for a few days really.

I went to Heathrow on the 9th of august - last Thursday - only to be told my current British passport would not get me into the US of A. That is an absolutely devastating thing to be told at the check-in desk. BA have been absolutely wonderful to me, first they booked me a flight for the next day free of charge, and even though I missed that too I've just been on the phone and they've managed to re-book my return flight for me which had been cancelled. Thursday afternoon was spent phoning around consulates, embassys, crying down the phone to my father... A new passport was not to be had for anything, but I did eventually manage to book myself a visa appointment at the US embassy for the following day.

This meant missing my Canadian leg of the journey, which I am still wretchedly disappointed about. I missed my old housemate's wedding open house, and I haven't seen him in six years. And while I thought long and hard about it I felt too uneasy to head out to Canada and hope that I could get a visa from there.

The visit to the visa section of the US embassy was educational. There's a lot of building work going on around the building, which actually worked in my favour as it meant there were large temporary signs up "Visas This Way" that helped me find my way around to the various security points. My bag went through one of those airport type scanning machines and I went through a metal detector. Once I had handed in my offensive alarm clock I made my way past the armed (and scary) policemen and into a huge waiting hall clutching my numbered ticket. The seats were, thankfully, a lot more comfortable than in many other waiting rooms I've been in, and there were huge screens announcing the next number. However, as these did not come in a consecutive order you really did have to pay attention.

Two interviews and three hours later I walked out with my visa request granted and the return of my passport promised in the next 3-5 working days. This afternoon I got a text that the passport will be delivered tomorrow between 8am and 6pm, so that's a relief! So I've sorted out my visa and my return flight, now I just need to figure out how to get to Chicago in the first place...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I packed last night and it came to 10kg!!!

I've got a few more things to add - like my toothbrush - but I don't think that'll make that much of a difference. What a difference it makes travelling in the summer as winter clothes are so much more bulkier and heavier. I can't quite believe it...10kg... :)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A busy few days

M is moved in now and we've cleared away most of the boxes cluttering the hallway. The spare room looks like it always had someone living in it and we have six boxes of creamed coconut and several half-full packets of food in the cupboards... Life is mostly back to normal in that respect.


Yesterday after work finished at 3pm I headed off to the Tate Modern to see an exhibition called Global Cities. I had one of those "aah, this is why I live in London" moments travelling to the museum. When I got to the exhibition I forgot to think about anything and was completely immersed in the fascinating images and films. Two that particularly stand out for me was a piece about edible estates, which explored pulling up "useless" lawns in cities and creating vegetable beds instead, and a piece about Mumbai and the lack of women's public toilets due to cultural reasons and it explored gender and space.

50% of the world's population live in cities and I do find them absolutely fascinating. It's the interactions and possibilities of urban life that we are increasingly faced with which is just going to get more important as time goes on.


Last night I was going to do a dry run and pack my rucksack. I am aiming to travel as light as I possibly can as it will be me carrying my bag everywhere! So, I got my bag down from a high shelf and then instead decided to sew some colourful flowers onto it. Everytime I am faced with a luggage carousel my heart sinks and I imagine scenario after scenario of not recognising my own rucksack and having to wait until the very end because it won't come... I have been meaning to put some unique touches to what is a very average and typical black and green rucksack to make it more distinct, so I am glad I did that last night. Hopefully this will make my bag easy to spot from miles away:)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Less than a week to go

Next Thursday I head off to Heathrow, queue up for ages, and at some point board a plane for Toronto, Ontario. I think this has finally sunk in so I spent this Friday in a flurry rushing around doing things. I started a 'to do' list which I seemed to add to every time I passed it, and added about three things to every one I crossed off! It's a serious undertaking heading off halfway across the world for 25 days. The sudden panic happened when I remembered that this was the only time I was free in the daytime before I leave (I've subsequently got an email that I won't be working on Monday, but that gives me time to tidy up odds and ends:).

Speaking of panicked starts I almost jumped out of bed this morning at 6:50am thinking I was really late for the Farmers' Market in Twickenham and it was only when my sleepy brain caught up that I remembered that it was Friday and I didn't have to be up at stupid o'clock until tomorrow... With my heart beating violently I lay back down and dozed for a bit longer before getting up to finish "Where late the sweet bird sang" by Kate Wilhelm - which I thought was great!

Added to my leaving activities I've been cleaning the flat as M moves in tomorrow and takes up residence in what was the spare room. It'll be nice to have a third flatmate, although between L's trips to Wales, Scotland, and Morocco and mine to Wales and this upcoming one to the North American continent we've barely seen each other all this summer.

Well, I'm off to the pub now for the third day in a row and I'm beginning to feel like I live there...

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Tonight I got myself to the London Wetland Centre for a bat walk, and I'm very glad I did too. It was brilliant. First we had a presentation and then four groups set off to see and hear what we could find. I wangled my way in on the basis that I volunteer at the Centre anyway and I offered to volunteer tonight too. So I found myself shadowing a sheepdog. (This is the person who is not a team leader and rounds up any wayward stragglers...)

I've seen plenty of bats before but I've never been out with a bat detector. Bats are noisy creatures really. The funniest thing was hearing them eat an insect which happened at a good old rate. We saw/heard pipestrelles (common and soprano), noctules, and Dauberton's. Another group also heard some serotine bats. The clouds around us turned a fabulous dusky colour as the sun set but we did see some stars by the time we had turned round to go back. It was such good fun. I think I'm going to invite myself along to some more bat walks soon.