Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I find myself with quite a few things to celebrate today--big and small.

1. Navy Men

Mom and Dad took me to a nearby naval base on Monday. We went to the naval exchange. Think small department store with lower prices and no sales tax. I always loved going to the base exchange (BX) on Mather Air Force Base in California, and hadn't been in one of these places in years. It was great. I stocked up on make-up and a few other things.

And I wore my eyes out staring at Naval Officers. Holy cow! A man in uniform is a very good thing. Even men who are somewhat ordinary-looking look fan-tas-tic in a uniform.

2. Old Navy

When I got back to the States, I immediately managed to rip a huge hole in the knee of my favorite jeans. My only jeans. Yikes! Then I found a pair I had left when I went to England, and was able to wear those for a while, but I was in some serious need of new jeans. I'm picky--I like jeans from Old Navy because they are comfortable, stylish, and cut in a way that kind of flatters my body.

I looked up Old Navy's web page and was astonished to find that the nearest store was in Seattle. That's way too far to make it a convenient trip. I had gotten spoiled in Folsom, with an Old Navy practically in my back yard.

When we were in Utah a couple weeks ago, Dad let me stop at an Old Navy. I had 20 minutes, then we had to be at my aunt's house for breakfast. I raced through, trying on jeans and buying two pairs. But there were tons of cute clothes, and I couldn't take the time to look.

Imagine my surprise when yesterday we found our way to a Petsmart in nearby Silverdale (and it is not listed on Old Navy's site) and I saw an Old Navy! I let out a huge shriek (sorry, Dad). I have an Old Navy in convenient distance to my home!!

3. A Fabulous Day with Summer

Met up with Summer on Friday in Seattle. We had a lovely day and it was so good to see her. We did a tremendous amount of walking, but made up for it by stopping for ice cream and a long sit-down in the afternoon.

We wandered to Pioneer Square and looked in the Elliot Bay Book Company. What a fantastic store! It's a gigantic book store with character dripping from every shelf. It has new, used, and hard-to-find books. They even had a book of photography by Viggo Mortensen (yeah, Aragorn), that Borders and Barnes and Noble don't carry. It's a book of photos of horses, and it is gorgeous. But I'm going to get it from amazon, because it's much cheaper there.

Here's Summer and I on the waterfront:

I was excited to see a California friend after so long, and I found today that I have another visit to look forward to...

4. A Cosmo-filled Weekend with Heather

Yep! Heather's coming to visit in mid-September. The plan so far is to show off how gorgeous the area is and introduce her to the two newest members of the household (they're fine, by the way--still adorable).

I'm excited to show off our area to someone (Summer, unfortunately, didn't get to see it, just Seattle). It will be a great weekend and we have plans for a movie night featuring Sex and the City episodes, Pride and Prejudice, and the Bridget Jones movies.

5. An Adorable Bathroom

When I got back from England, I immediately noticed a light-blue glass bowl Mom had placed on the counter in my bathroom. I thought it looked so good against the taupe-ish colored counter, that I decided to do my bathroom in those tones. I haven't spent a tremendous amount of money, but WalMart and Target have turned out some great vases, candle holders, towels and jars to make my bathroom really cute. Then I found a picture and an anchor on sale at a craft store (50% off!) and the bathroom is complete!

6. A Nice Bedroom

My room is coming together. I need new bed linens and I'm still deciding where to hang my pictures. That reminds me, I need to find my Chico diploma. I like to display it. But I have the furniture set up in a way I like.

7. Playful, Purring Putty Tats--and Healthy, too!

Bella and Duchess are adorable, and according to the vet, quite healthy. We took them to a nearby animal hospital yesterday for a check-up and some shots. They were troopers. It's not nice having your temp taken in your bottom.

We have them on a kitten plan, at the end of which comes the neutering. They're still a bit too young. Millie was done at 8 weeks (about a month before I got her), out of necessity because she was exposed to many other cats. The shelter I got her from didn't like doing it that young, but had no choice. Fortunately, these babies can wait a couple more months.

They're more and more trusting, and they are a regular part of the household now. We're not letting them hide in the guest room anymore. They are doing just fine with this.

8. A New Barclay's Card

Silly Meg...I left my bank card in a Bank of America machine a week-and-a-half ago. It took me a couple of days to figure out it was missing. I called B of A and sure enough, their machine had destroyed it.

I had to call Barclay's bank, but of course, I had to take into consideration their business hours--and an 8-hour time difference. I got a hold of them on Thursday and they cancelled my card and arranged to send me a new one. "Expect it in 10-14 days."

Oy vey!

In other words, expect to have no access to your money whatsoever until it arrives. I have money (I got one last paycheck on the 26th), but no way of accessing it without a card.

I have been borrowing cash from Mom and Dad on an as-needed basis. Today I borrowed $20 and went to the video store. I got home and Dad said, "I think your new card came." Sure enough, there it was. Instead of 10-14 days, it was less than one week!

I'm impressed, and I'm back in business. : )

Now that I can access my money, I need to think about an American bank account.

9. A Cute Little Phone

I have finally caught up with the cellular revolution:

[Picture no longer available]
It's so tiny! And it stays charged for a week, unlike my old dinosaur of a phone I used in Sacramento.


Okay, the job front is looking a teensy bit scary right now. I can't be in a classroom, even as a sub, until I have a Washington certificate. It doesn't matter that I'm more than qualified to teach in California, or that even another country hired me.

But--I'm not letting it get me down. The local school district put me in contact with a lady who knows just what to do and I can definitely fast-forward through the process because I'm credentialed in another state already. I just need to get finger-printed (understandable) and perhaps take a basic educational skills test (though how it can possibly be different than the California version I passed in 2000, I don't know).

Meanwhile, the local video store is now hiring. : P

11. Viggo Mortensen

I rented "Hidalgo" at the above-mentioned video store. I've seen it before, and it's a nice little movie. The best bit is Viggo. On. Horseback.

Now that is worth celebrating.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Another Picture Bonanza

I have some pics of our area, and more baby pics.

First, the pics of Port Ludlow and surrounding areas.

This is our front yard. Mom has put a bunch of shells and driftwood from her favorite beach on display. It looks really cute:

If you stand on our driveway and look to the left:

If you stand on our driveway and look to the right:

If you go up the hill in the above pic, then turn around, here's the view (Ludlow Bay in the distance):

These next few are from the marina area, down on Ludlow Bay:

This is the beach where Mom gets her shells and stuff--it's about a 45-minute drive, out in the middle of nowhere:

Right--now, baby pictures!

The Cuddle Sisters:

Bella stealing Maggie and Millie's spot under the hot lamp:

Duchess eating canned kitten food for the first time. They LOVE the stuff.

After "Tuna Time," the girls always clean thoroughly (this is Bella):

Maggie and Bella (Maggie was not impressed):

They are so sweet--they purr a lot now, especially Duchess. Bella is the more outgoing of the two. If she's not in the same room, Duchess will cry and get worried.

They are getting more and more confident in exploring, and they're very affectionate with us. Not to mention, too cute!! They're still absolutely tiny. We keep them in the bathroom at night so Millie and Maggie won't hurt them. The babies are just that tiny.

Enjoy the pics!



Wednesday, August 24, 2005

To My English Family

Note: I'm feeling a lot less sad now. Bella and Duchess make me laugh, and Millie has been Little Miss Cuddles, so it's impossible to stay down in the dumps.

Well, I commemorated the one-year anniversary of leaving, now I must commemorate something even more important.

One year ago today, after an overnight flight, a trek across London, and a train ride into unfamiliar Essex, I pulled into Burnham Station and met Kathy and Derek.

By this point in time, I had gone more than 24 hours with no sleep. It had been 24 hours since my last shower. I had hauled two massive suitcases across London and Essex county. I was exhausted, sweaty, smelly, greasy, my jeans were filthy and I was very close to falling asleep on the train.

This was their first impression of me.

Later in the school year, Kathy would reassure me that they didn't make their first impression of me based on how I appeared as I stepped of the train. They knew it had been a long haul for me.

But on that sunny afternoon, one year ago today, I met two total strangers who had agreed to let me stay in their home. All of us took a big chance. I might have been a horrible tenant. They might have been horrible landpeople.

But, as all of you who read this blog know, that didn't happen. We got along great from day one. I think I knew we would when I saw the healthy, happy, spoiled-rotten pets of the household, and Kathy's amazing book collection.

Throughout my year in England, Kathy and Derek were much more than the people I rented a room from. They became my English family, always supportive and caring and helpful. From picking up a pint of milk for me while at the co-op, to helping me learn the linguistic English-isms, to listening to me vent about the students on a bad day, Kathy and Derek were the best support I could have asked for.

I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate everything they did for me. They welcomed me into thier home at a time when I needed that kind of connection. Because of them, my transition into English life was easier.

So today, I raise my glass to Kathy and Derek. Thank you for everything.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure--measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife

In--Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

--"Seasons of Love" from the musical RENT, by Jonathon Larson

I dreamt last night that I was chatting with a co-teacher, one who was quite a good buddy to me. I always enjoyed our chats because we have the same sense of humor and the same outlook on teaching. The dream itself wasn't very memorable, but I woke up feeling sad. Not just because I won't have these chats anymore with this particular person, but because I won't go out to cheesy Chelmsford on Friday nights with the girls, or sit in Kathy's living room in the evenings watching Viggo Mortensen or Colin Firth movies, discussing Harry Potter or the latest gossip from school. I miss these things, even though I know that I will find (and I am finding) new things to look forward to here.

I lay there in bed this morning, thinking about what I miss and what I don't (the thought of putting another group of kids through music GCSEs is enough to make me want to, as Heather would say, eat nails). And it reminded me of an anniversary:

One year ago tomorrow, 23 August 2004, I boarded a 747 at San Francisco International and started this whole wild and absolutely true adventure.

One year ago this very minute, I was awake in my bed--nervous, excited, terrified, sad, apprehensive, happy--a bundle of emotions and questions. I was running through my last-minute packing list: "Don't forget your glasses, toothbrush, contact solution, watch, shampoo..." I was crying and trying to cuddle an agitated Millie, who did not like the suitcases. I was thrilled to be going back to England, terrified that it might be a horrible experience, but I knew, really knew, that no matter what happened, this was the right path for me.

How do you measure a year?

In the little things, I suppose, just as the song says. The kids who started to listen, the 4 students who were able to submit GCSE coursework. The walks along the Crouch, the train rides to London. The friends made and the adventures I had. The obstacles I knocked down, the people who didn't want me to leave.

So many little moments that stand out, like strutting across a catwalk in ridiculous sunglasses to the Beach Boys' "California Girls," while my co-teacher Stuart played desperate paparazzi. Or belting out "All I Want for Christmas is You," and knocking 'em all off their feet in the process. How about laughing along with a group of wily 13-year-olds when I accidentally taped a piece of paper to my rear end? The time I finally nailed that little weasel Mark, catching him turning on my stereo and cranking up the volume.

Riding along with Louisa, with her repeatedly apologizing for the mess in her car, and asking, "Are you sure this looks allright?" "YES!!! Louisa, you look fantastic!!" Pulling an English construction worker with arm muscles to die for (even if I wasn't all that attracted to the rest of him). Dressed up as Bridget Jones, to boot!

Flying to Ireland with Jo and Sandra, drinking real Irish Guiness and seeing for myself why they call it the Emerald Isle. Taking the Chunnel to Paris and seeing the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, and finally, the D-Day beaches. Having afternoon tea--little sandwiches, scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, and a nice, hot pot of tea--in countless tea places on countless day trips.

And the most important moments of all...just getting on the airplane. And landing in London, thinking to myself, "By God, Meg, you really did it."

I know that I will continue to have adventures and good times, to make more memories. I'm ready for new adventures. But today, I'm missing England.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. I lived each and every one of them to the fullest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Mom has been wanting a new kitten for a while, and she had decided it would be best to wait until we had made our Idaho/Utah trip. After all, babies need a lot of care and attention.

Well, we got back yesterday (more on the trip later) and today we went out "to look." We pulled up to the Jefferson Country Animal Shelter and went inside, asking specifically for girls.

The first kitten they pulled out for us was a slightly long-haired, blue-eyed tortoiseshell:

Well, of course we thought she was wonderful but we thought it best to see her sister, a short-haired, blue-eyed tortoiseshell:

Bella and Duchess

Now, how do you choose just one?? Dad got a rather exasperated look on his face after about 5 minutes of Mom and I cooing, said, "We may as well get both," and proceeded to go through the adoption paperwork while Mom and I cuddled, cooed and had a ball.

Mom has known for a while that she'd like to name her new kitty Bella, so the short-haired one (we think she was the runt, because she is tiny), became Bella. Now, what to name the other one? I got to pick, so I chose Duchess, for Duchess of Ludlow.

They're settling in nicely. We have them in the guest bathroom, so as not to upset Maggie and Millie. We want to make the introduction as calm and un-intimidating as possible for all cats.


So far they're both quite calm, though they hide behind the toilet when we first come in. They've had some food and water, and Mom just reported that someone's had a little wee in the litterbox.

Here they are in their basket--Duchess wants to play, Bella wants to sleep:

I love this one--you can see how fuzzy Duchess is.

Aren't they sweet?!?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Driving Miss Crazy

Well, I've done it. I've finally gotten behind the wheel and driven again.

I actually did it yesterday, but that was a two-minute drive to the market in Port Ludlow. And I think I've mentioned this in yesterday's update...

I'm pleased to say that, due to not driving in England, I am not confused about which side of the road to drive on. I only get confused when crossing the streets on foot.

Today I decided to really go wild and drive (alone!) to the nearest town to Port Ludlow, called Port Hadlock. It's about 8 or 9 miles away, and you basically have to drive through a forest to get to it. Seeing as how we pretty much live in a forest, this is not surprising.

Anyway, driving again was rather anticlimatic. I popped in my Beach Boy's CD, adjusted the seat and mirrors, and got on my way, wary of cops with radars and deer. Apparently these are the two biggest hazards of driving in this part of the world. Only deer I saw was a gorgeous red-brown doe, right here in our neighborhood. And the only cop I saw was driving the opposite direction.

So I made it to Port Hadlock just fine. It's a straight shot from here; easy enough. I stopped at a scrapbook store (oh, heaven!) and then the grocery store. From there I took a road that I was 90% sure leads to Chimacum, the neighboring town. I made it there, then drove around a bit before turning around to head back to Port Ludlow.

This is where it got a bit tricky. I knew that the road I was on would eventually take me to the Hood Canal Bridge, and I can find my way home from there. But way before the bridge is a turn-off that goes directly back to Port Ludlow. Fortunately, I found it without problem and came out a couple of miles later (after passing a rather distressing "No shooting beyond this point" sign) at the Ludlow Market. Excellent!

I'm quite pleased with myself. Everything is new to me up here, and it can be a bit daunting. I realized yesterday that left to my own devices, I'd probably let Mom and Dad shuttle me around for a while. Before I could drive myself crazy doing that, I grabbed the key to Rosie the Protege and hit the road.

Next challenge: Port Townsend (beyond Port Hadlock) and Silverdale (across the Hood Canal Bridge).



Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I'm Awake, I'm Awake!!

Barely, but I am.

I've been enjoying getting to know the area, shopping, seeing the wildlife and relaxing. Oh, and slowly unpacking.

I figured the best thing would be to get my room organized before attempting to unpack, so my suitcases and their contents are strewn all over the guest room. If Mom and Dad have friends stop by, it's Sofa City, Sweetheart. Just kidding--I'd move my crap.

Basically, each morning I walk downstairs to the guestroom for clean underwear and an outfit for the day.

I had my Target trip on Saturday, and let me tell you, it was a near-religious experience. Angels were singing, the sun was shining. It was a beautiful experience.

Mom and Dad have been showing me around the area. We hit Port Hadlock (nearest town) and Port Townsend, as well as Silverdale--a bit further away but home of the mall and Target. Mom and I hit the mall yesterday, and I had a Mervyn's and J.C. Penney's run.

Today we went to a beach Mom and Dad discovered. Mom likes to beachcomb and make picture frames decorated with shells and sea glass. We spent about 45 minutes walking the beach, picking up various shells and staring at dead crabs. There were shells of a couple of big ones, but also a lot of teeny, tiny baby crabs. I guess they get stuck up there when the tide goes out.

I found a perfect, tiny sand dollar. It's only about a centimeter across, and not a chip in it. Mom said she has never found one at this beach, so I thought that was rather a cool find.

There's all kinds of wildlife around here. We have squirrels in the back yard--they're so cute! I love watching them eat. So does Millie, but for different reasons. We saw a couple deer on the roadside today, and a coyote yesterday. Apparently there are mountain lions in the area--I won't be walking the trails.

It is really lovely here, and I'm learning my way around. Today is the first day I drove, and then it was only the 2-minute drive to the little market in Port Ludlow (I'm taking it time I go out, I'll have a cell phone on me!). The "town" of Port Ludlow is really just one teensy little shopping center with a market (convenience store), Post Office, pizza place, recycling center, Chevron, bank, and a couple of little cutesy shops. For groceries, clothing, etc., we go to Port Hadlock, Port Townsend, or Silverdale. Silverdale is across the mile-and-a-half long Hood Canal floating bridge.

Here's a map, from Seattle to Port Ludlow:

Anyway, that's all, news-wise. I'm mostly trying to get settled in, and catching up with my DVD collection.

If I don't update tomorrow, it will be a few days before I do so again. We are driving to Idaho (934 miles!!!) on Thursday, and spending the night there, so we can see Aaron and Susanne's house. On Friday, we're heading to Utah to see my Grandma, who is quite ill. We'll be spending three nights in Salt Lake City, then heading back to WA via Idaho. We'll arrive home sometime late Tuesday.

Busy week, then.



Saturday, August 06, 2005

Port Ludlow Good Morning (Warning--it's a long one!)

It is about a quarter past 6 on Saturday morning. Someone woke me up at 5:00, but as she was all cuddly and soft and purring like she'd never stop, I couldn't really bring myself to mind.

I had forgotten how soft Millie is. Horrible mother! She is such a silky little thing, and, of course, adorable. She is happy to have me home, though she had to snub me a little at first. Put me in my place, you know. But once she came round it was so lovely to cuddle her and hear her purring. My sweet girl.

As I found myself awake, I schlepped on a sweater, slippers and glasses and started snooping around the house (Kathy, I promise this is NOT what I did the first morning at your place!!). I looked in closets, cupboards, drawers, the fridge. I've figured out where the vaccuum cleaner is, the coat closet, etc.

I have to say that Mom and Dad really chose well. It's a gorgeous house, and they've decorated it beautifully.

The sun was just starting to rise at this point so I crept outside to take a look at the neighborhood. I walked up to the end of the street, turned around, and...


The view is magnificent. Just a few hundred yards up a small hill from the house, you can see Ludlow Bay, surrounded by craggy mountains and more trees than you can imagine. It was pinky-orangy from the sunrise, and had a misty quality about it. Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.

The sun is definitely coming up now, so maybe I should prod my parents into action. I have a Target trip to do! I know I'll fade fast in the afternoon (way too little sleep in the last 24-48 hours) but right now I'm kinda raring to go. Ahh, jet lag.

Speaking of jets...

Oi! Travel. I love going places, but its the getting there that really stinks sometimes.

Getting to Heathrow was easy. The taxi was there at 8:30 sharp, so Kathy and I couldn't stand around crying too long (probably a good thing!). I cried for about the first 15 minutes of the drive, while the driver spoke to a colleague on speaker-phone. When he hung up, we got chatting and that calmed me considerably.

Only took two hours to get to Heathrow, which is fantastic timing. I was a little bit too early to check in, so I lugged my luggage cart (I'll add here that I had two enormous suitcases, a huge backpack, my carryon, a purse, and a leather coat) to a coffee shop and sat my butt down with a snack and a book. Then I waited about 45 minutes in line at the check-in counters.

I was fully prepared to pay 90 pounds (Oh good heavens, there's no pound symbol on this keyboard!!!) for the third bag, but the woman at the counter said, "Let's weigh the suitcases first." They both came in within the allowed weight (miracle of miracles!!). I was actually shocked, I was sure both were a bit over 70 pounds. The lady had me weigh the backpack, and it was very light. I had my bank card out and ready but she just said, "I'm not going to charge you, it's only a light little thing, hardly worth it."


By the time I had checked my bags in, I really needed a ladies'. There's this thing in travelling alone--you can't just pop into the loo and leave your luggage unattended in an airport, can you? You can't ask people to watch it for you, and I'm certainly not going to attempt to cart a loaded luggage trolley that weighs about 500 pounds into the ladies'.

So it was with great relief that I dashed into the loo at this point.

After that I went through security. They asked me what was in my bag as they handed it back. "It's a clarinet." The gal gave one of the guys an "I told you so!!" look, and other than that, they had no problem with me carrying it through security. I breezed right through and got to the important bit:

WH Smith.

I bought a book (the Hobbit) and some magazines for the trip, and then looked around the airport shops for an hour or so. Sat and had a mushroom and emmenthal panini (yummy!) at Costa Coffee and watched the planes being loaded near my terminal.

About 1:30 or so, a 747 pulled into a nearby bay, but I didn't pay it much mind. I would have, however, if I had known it was MY plane, late and empty.

Boarding was supposed to start at 2:00, so at about 10 to I went and stood near the check-in desk so I could be one of the first and not have to wait in line (my carry-on was really heavy with that clarinet). 2:00 came and went. 2:15...Finally, at about 2:25, they called for general boarding--no preboarding, etc. I elbowed my way to the front and got on. That's when I realized the little tunnel was taking us to the late plane.

Still, this did not concern me.

Right, we all get settled in and a crew member informs us on intercom that the plane was late getting to the loading bay because of a "technical glitch."

"But, it's all fixed now."

Right, fine. Planes need maintenance, Five- and six-thousand mile flights are hard on the engines, I suppose. Still, I sat there hoping fervently that the technical glitch was something like a coffee pot not boiling right.

Finally, about 3:05 (take-off time was supposed to be 2:45), we start pushing back. Great! Let's get this show on the road! Only 20 minutes behind, not bad, not bad!

Plane stops. And waits. Waits some more. Finally:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm really sorry, but we seem to have had some kind of mistake with the baggage loading...I'm not quite sure, but they've either put a crate on that was supposed to be for another flight, or the weight isn't distributed properly. That's all we know. Anyway, we have to pull back in to check it out, then we'll have the tower clear us for take-off again, and be on our way."

At this point I'm thinking, "Oh boy, Mom and Dad are going to have a hell of a wait at SeaTac."

Of course, I am not one to complain about the airline in this situation. If baggage weight is not distributed just so, a plane will crash instead of landing. Landing any airplane (but especially an enormous 747) is not like parking a car--it's a science of angles, lift, wind, and weight ratios. You have to hit the runway just so...which anyone who's ever made a paper airplane can see.

I'm a retired Air Force Brat. I respect these things!

It didn't take more than a half hour, so we finally got on our way and took off at about 4:00--an hour and 15 minutes behind schedule. I admit to being a bit worried during take-off, thinking of weight distribution and technical glitches and that stupid year 9 who, just a couple of weeks ago said, "Good riddance Miss, I hope your plane crashes when you go home!!" All because of one stupid detention... Anyway, I'm not superstitious but that was nerve-wracking.

And it didn't help that I started crying as we took off. I cried for about 10 or 15 minutes, then started making a list of things to look forward to (Mom and Dad, Millie, NASCAR, Target, Cheesy poofs, discovering the Puget Sound area, etc.). Calmed down, settled in.

The flight was, well, typical. Long, cramped, boring as hell. Not as much turbulance as at Christmas time. I read, had a small catnap, ate and sat staring at the map, willing the little plane icon to be even closer to Seattle. I like flying, but 9 hours is just way too much of a good thing.

We finally landed at 5:15, an hour after our scheduled arrival time. I figured that Mom and Dad would figure out that the flight had been delayed, wouldn't worry, and would buy a newspaper and some coffee and settle in for the weight. Which is, indeed, what happened.

Of course, coming back into the US is always exciting. For those of you who haven't travelled internationally (or haven't since 9/11), it's all about having 62 different people stare at you, ask if you've brought any plants or livestock back ("Oh, crap, I forgot Bessie! Hold on a minute..."), stamp your customs card, ask why you're here ("I'm American!!! I swear!!") and give you suspicious looks when you tell them that this particular visit to the UK was for a year.

"And what were you doing there?"

"Teaching. Entry visa, page 10 of my passport."

I've gotten good at this.

Anyway, I always get through immigration quickly enough. Yesterday was no exception. I found my bags fairly quickly, sweated and grunted and got them onto a trolley and thought, "Great, walk through that gate up there at Customs, and Mom and Dad'll be there waiting with open arms." I could just feel them hugging me, and I was so delighted.

Of course, these very two, the ones who nurtured and protected me for all those years of my childhood, failed to mention one teensy important detail about going through the international terminal at SeaTac.

You waltz through customs, and then they take your bags!! They put them on a conveyor belt and shove you on a train, with no idea where you're getting off!!

Luckily I was able to ask a nice couple, and they showed me. I got off the train, took an escalator, then...Oh, great, where do my bags come back out?!?!

It took a couple of minutes, but I found out I had to walk to carousel 1 (I was at 5 or 6) and there they'd be. And there, too, were Mom and Dad, with a "Welcome Princess Foo Foo!!" sign and open arms.

We had to wait an hour for a ferry (they get pretty crowded) but it was fine, as we sat and chatted and I showed them pictures, etc. We stopped for Mexican food (Glory, glory, hallelujah!!) on the way home, and finally reached the house at about 10:00. Which, my friends, is 6:00 in England. Exactly 24 hours since I'd got up at Kathy's house.

I looked around the place, flirted with Millie, dug into my bags to find my shampoo and toothbrush, had a long, life-saving shower, and hit the sack. Millie came in and cuddled and purred. I slept like a log until afore-mentioned furball woke me up.

Still, really can't bring myself to mind. ; )

So I'm home. It's still a bit surreal, but nice. As Hugh Grant said to Julia Roberts in Notting Hill.

Right. Target opens in an hour-and-a-half (it's taken that long to write this while perusing other web sites in another window!!). Think I'll go wake up Sleepy 1 and Sleepy 2 and get this show on the road, before I need a nap.

Thanks to the welcome home messages and all the thoughts.



Friday, August 05, 2005

A Very Long Day and One Disgruntled Cat

I have been up for over 24 hours, but I am finally home. Millie is pouting but also not quite taking her eyes off me. I expect she'll come around soon.

It was a bit of an adventure (flight delays and technical glitches--yikes!!), but I made it safely to Seattle. I am, of course, happy to see Mom and Dad, and they are happy to see me.

Now, I haven't brushed my teeth since Burnham, my hair is greasier than that of Severus Snape, and my deodorant gave out hours ago. Shower, bed. That order.


Port Ludlow's Newest Resident.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Inglaterra, cómo te quiero

Or, England, how I love you.

Hard to believe that a whole year has flown by so quickly. Hard to believe that twenty-four hours from now, I'll be twiddling my thumbs in a taxi in traffic (yes, Mom, I checked with the company and they've got me all booked!), or twiddling my thumbs at Heathrow Airport.

Hard to believe that just one year ago today, I was anxiously awaiting the start of my adventure in England, wondering what would happen, who I'd meet, how I would fare.

You all know that it has been a hell of a year for me. I travelled so far outside my normal boundaries, and I learned so much about myself. Some final thoughts...

The Music Room

I walked in about 20 minutes ago and my first thought was, "Wow, I won't let myself into this room again..." Before I could feel sad about this, I looked around at the place I've built and I had a huge burst of pride. This room was a disaster when I first arrived (I wish I had pictures). Books, papers, rubbish, strewn everywhere. No rhyme or reason to the tables and chairs. Two pianos stuck back-to-back in the middle of what has become my teaching space.

To look at it now, you would never believe it was in such bad shape. I put a lot of muscle and even more heart into this room. I have made it an attractive, safe environment for learning. I have taken pride in its upkeep, ensuring that my students cleaned up after themselves and kept the room looking as it should. I still find assorted spit wads in strange places, but for the most part, these kids started to realize that this was not a room to be abused. For that, I am proud. I won a crucial battle!

The School

I made a difference here, and making a difference at St. Peter's High School, in only one year, is a hell of a feat. To take a subject that had been neglected and abused by the two guys who were here last year and to make more kids respect it was not easy. All I have to do is go back in my blog and read about the battles I've had, and the victories I've had. The kids now seem to respect me. As per the conversation I had with Dad a couple of months ago:

Dad: It sounds like they respect you.

Me (crying): Humph. No they don't.

Dad: I think they do. They may not like you, but they respect you.

Some of the hardest kids have come around and by the end of this year, they knew not to mess with me. They didn't like it, but they definitely did what I told them to do, most of the time.

This lovely little town

No doubt about it: I adore Burnham-on-Crouch. I have since day 1, when I set out to explore and found sailboats bobbing on the river, white-washed buildings gleaming in the sun, and friendly little shops run by people who like to chat.

The Post Office is run out of a pharmacy building. The co-op is a social center. The riverside park is actually used. People smile and say hello. Kids are safe riding their bikes around.

This town is like nothing I had experienced before, and I will miss walking along the High Street, knowing I might run into people I know. I hope that it is never spoiled by Boots and WH Smith. I hope they stay far away from this town and let it exist as it is. It's perfect the way it is.


I have a magnet that I've kept in my classroom that says, "Essex, County of Hidden Treasures..." This is true in so many ways.

Before I left, a gal from a Kevin Spacey message board I post at told me about the reputation of Essex Girls. They are known for dressing like it's still the 1980s, and for being a bit tarty. It's a terrible stereotype, really, the girls here are no more tarty and badly-dressed than anywhere else in the country or world.

I have grown quite found of Essex and its people. I think I'll always be able to pick out an Essex accent. I'll actually kind of miss putting "Allright?" in place of "Hello, how are you?" and "Cheers" in place of "Thank you, have a nice day!"

England and the English

Where else in the world can you not only drive on the wrong side of the road, but have to navigate roundabouts?

Who else would think to put a dollop of marmalade on a shortbread biscuit, cover it in chocolate, and name is a Jaffa Cake?

Where else do people get so excited about a cup of tea?

What country gave us Robbie Williams, Elton John and the Beatles?

Where does Kevin Spacey choose to spend his time?

Who gave the world Bridget Jones, Cadbury chocolate, Bobbies, Beefeaters, the Tube, red double-decker busses, black taxis, Harry Potter, Paddington Bear?

Where else am I going to hear (and use myself), "Allright?" and "Cheers!" and "Cor Blimey!" and "Bloody hell!"?

What other country resolutely holds on to its traditions and history even as it modernizes and moves along with the 21st century?

There's no place in the world like England.

And so I go...

I'm strangely at peace with leaving now. I had to go through the really rough part, but it's past, I think. I know I'll be sad tomorrow, hugging Kathy and Derek, climbing into the taxi. I feel a twinge of sadness looking around my empty bedroom. All of the cards, etc. are off the walls, packed and ready to go. The only items in the wardrobe are my leather coat, a t-shirt, and a hat. I have a couple of clean pairs of underwear and socks ready for use. They'll be stuffed into my luggage early tomorrow morning and hauled all those miles to Washington.

Washington, where Mom and Dad will be waiting with open arms. Where Millie will cuddle and purr and be happy that her mommy is back. Where my CDs and books wait for me, and my scrapbook beckons. Where I'll shop at Target and eat authentic Mexican food for the first time in months. Where I have a car and free access to a gym.

Washington, where a new adventure (wild and absolutely true!) awaits.

Bring it on.



Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What a Weekend!!

When last I updated, I had very little to say. I was just enjoying the novelty of being able to work when I like, sleep 10 hours a night (if I so choose) and not having much to do.

But what a weekend! I knew it would be a bit crazy, but I had no idea just how so. It was definitely fun, though, for the most part.

Kathy's Garden Party

Saturday was a fun day. Kathy had her annual birthday party, and I'd been living around all kinds of wonderful smells as she's prepared the food...Brocoli and Stilton Quiche, Chocolate Cheesecake, Spinach and Almond Lasagna, Raspberry and Kiwi Pavolova, Potato Salad, and many, many others.

I've met all of Kathy's kids (Jane, Helen, and Roland), so it was nice to see them again before I go. They're all very nice. Derek's daughter Katherine was there with her two children, as were his brother and sister. His sister Mary is a sweet lady and we actually once chatted on the phone for a few minutes when she called for Derek. I also met Kathy's brother Pete.

It was a lovely afternoon. We sat in the garden drinking wine and stuffing our faces. The family is very close-knit and it is lovely to see step-siblings hugging and kissing in greeting, and that Kathy's kids are genuinely fond of Derek's family members, etc.

I was actually a teensy bit put out that I had to leave, but I had a reception to go to.

Donna's Wedding Reception

I ended up travelling to Donna's reception (in a town called Benfleet) in a very roundabout, time-consuming way. I took a bus from Burnham to Maldon, where I met my friend Louisa. From there we drove to Chelmsford, where our friends Jo and El live. At their place, we caught a taxi and got to Benfleet.

What I didn't like was that Jo had arranged to stay at the reception until 1:00 in the morning, basically ensuring that Louisa and I had to spend the night at their place. I knew, just knew, that my Sunday would be wasted if I stayed.

Anyway, the reception was fine, as far as these things go. Donna looked beautiful and very, very happy. I am glad I lent my support on her big day, even if I did spend much of the evening with a headache. The venue was quite small and crowded, and blue from cigarette smoke.


I ended up staying up 'till four talking with Louisa when we got back from the reception. She has been my closest girlfriend in England, and I wanted to chat with her while I could, as she flies out today to spend a month in Greece.

Ended up getting four hours of sleep. My eyes snapped open at 8:00 sharp and I was awake. I fixed a cup of tea (Jo and El had insisted we make ourselves tea and coffee if we woke up first) and read a newspaper I found lying about. Eventually Louisa awoke, and Jo and El made their way downstairs. We all chatted for a couple hours before Louisa and I got on our way. We stopped for lunch and then she dropped me at home.

This is where I had the first of my more difficult partings.

As I said, Louisa has been my closest girlfriend in England, so saying "see ya" (remember this: I hate the term "goodbye") to her was quite sad. No tears--we both insisted we keep it cheerful and light, especially as plans are definitely being thought up to visit each other. She'd love to see more of the States, and, of course, I'd love to come back and visit Essex.

Still, it was definitely a sad feeling to watch her drive off. Thank goodness for email!!

It was about 2:00 by the time I got home, so I spent the rest of the afternoon chatting to Kathy's son Roland and his girlfriend Leanne before they left, then showering and scraping 24 hours worth of food and wine off my teeth (I'd forgotten my toothbrush and Jo and El's place--ewwwww). By 4:00 I was seated in the garden with a book of crosswords, trying not to fall asleep. I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening longing for 8:00 to come so I could go to bed. I was not allowing myself to nap, as I had a very, very, absurdly early wake-up call for...

Monday's Outing

Alarm went off at 4:00. I rolled out of bed at about 10 past, showered, put on my war paint, and then hiked to the station to catch the 5:34 train. I arrived in London at 6:41, had some breakfast, and then I took the Tube.

Yes, the Tube. I will not bow down and let the terrorists make me afraid to take the Tube! Besides, I'm too cheap for a taxi from East London to West London.

When the bus for Premium Tours arrived at the designated location, I hopped on and gave my name to the tour guide. Nothing. She did not have my name. Gah! She advised me to ride to Victoria Bus Station with them and said we could sort it out there.

When we got to Victoria, I found out that the reason my name was not on any list is because the tour I had booked, the Leeds Castle, Dover, Canterbury, Greenwich tour, had been cancelled due to only 3 people booking.

Thanks for calling me and letting me know before I got up before the crack of dawn!!!

They told me I could go on another tour, all of which included not one thing I haven't seen before. I ended up on the tour of Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's birthplace) and Oxford. All of these I have seen, but 6 years ago.

It was a nice day, though. I was able to kind of rush through the parts I'd done before (the King Maker exhibition at Warwick, the house Shakespeare was born in, etc.) and go directly to the shopping and photo-ops.

The best part of the tour was actually Oxford. When I went 6 years ago, on a class trip, we didn't see much. This tour took us inside Christchurch College, where we saw the gardens that inspired Lewis Carrol in writing the Alice stories. We saw the tree that became the Jabberwocky tree in his stories, etc. It's 400+ years old, and truly magnificent.

We also saw the Great Hall, which inspired the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies. The best bit though, was walking up a short staircase that was actually used in filming.

Remember the bit in the first movie where Harry and the other first-years get off the boats and walk up some stairs? McGonnagal meets them at the top to take them in for sorting. Well, we walked up those stairs, and the tour guide pointed out the spots where Maggie Smith walked, etc. So that was kind of fun.

I made it back to Liverpool Street a bit after 7:00, and to Burnham at 9:45. It was a long, long day, but fun. I'm glad I did it, even if I had to change tours last-minute.

And now...

So here I am. It's Tuesday, and I have a boatload of things to get done. I will, though.

Just think, in a few days, I'll be shopping at Target, watching NASCAR, and cuddling my Millie. Can't be that bad, eh?