Friday, 11 April 2014

Of planes and baseball - America 2014; Part 1

I've got to tell you. You need to brace yourselves for quite a few posts about America. I mean I could try and condense into one or two.....but I'm not going to.

Consider yourselves forewarned.

Let us start at the beginning.

As I mentioned in my last post, the turnaround from engagement to wedding was kind of fast. Knowing me and the kind of person that I am you may think that I would have been all over the planning of it.

I was not.

It just seemed to creep up on me and became on of those things that you say to yourself "Oh that's after Christmas, I'll think about it then" - and then suddenly it's mid-February and you realise that you're going away in a few weeks and nothing is organised.

We had a vague idea of what we'd do when out in Arizona. We didn't want to be too under feet whilst American Boy and American Girl were in the lead up to the wedding and still at work and we wanted to take the opportunity to do a bit of road tripping when out there. Cue lots of list-making and looking things up on Google Maps and looking for accommodation and getting tips from anyone we could ask.about where to go.

One piece of advice I was offered was from someone who recommended that we upgrade our seats from Economy to Premium Economy for the flight. We were taking the direct flight from London Heathrow to Phoenix Sky Harbor which is over a 10 hour flight. So not a short flight. I listened to my friends and I thought "Nah. We'll be fine." - basically I'm a cheapskate.

The worst thing about being in economy is that they make you walk past the Business Class seats in a Bullseye "This is what you could have won" style. As I gave everyone richer than me deathstares I realised that there was a nagging noise in my ear. What was it? Oh it was the sound of a child. Screaming.

This child then went on to scream for what definitely felt like the next 10 hours.

It must have been awful for the parents. Terrible. There they were with a baby (who was actually silent) and a toddler on a 10 hour flight. No mean feat. But my god I wanted to hurt somebody. Shut. the child. up.

We ended up in the middle of the middle of the plane. The person next to me fell asleep as soon as we took off and stayed that way for the night 9 hours, the guy next to The Person did not move for the whole flight either (he didn't wee, how is that possible?!) so we weren't massively comfortable. About 5 hours in I eventually found a position that didn't cut off the circulation to one of my limbs and determined to stay in that position. When I then tried to stand up I realised one hip was about 5cm higher than the other.

By the end of the flight I didn't know whether to cry or cry. The Person had managed to get some sleep, I got nada.

(The child was still screaming when we went through immigration. I hoped they might not let them in to the country but sadly it wasn't to be.)

Anyway.

You know what you do when you go to Phoenix in March? You go to Spring Training baby.


Spring Training took me a while to get a hang of but basically a load of baseball teams from up where it is cold have parks that they have built in places where it is hot so they can come and do some practice! So the Chicago Cubs leave behind the freezingness and the snow and the horrible weather and come to the boiling hot Phoenix. I'll be honest, I'd rather practice in the snow than in 30 degree heat but I'm just crazy like that.

So you can be dedicated and go and sit in the boring stands or you can take a blanket, sit on the grass and get drunk and not really watch the baseball.


The other thing you do is eat a hot dog.

Here we experienced American hospitality at its best. When we went up to order our hot dogs they were just in the process of making some more. The guy who served us apologised about three times in the space of about 3 minutes that the hot dogs were not ready immediately.

I wanted to take him home with me. It's hard to imagine the same happening if you went up to order a Pukka Pie at the Emirates...

From the baseball it was on to drinking and then a little bit more drinking. More sitting in the sun and talking. A slightly anti-semitic moment in a bar. (Don't ask, I can't even go there.) Before ending the day on this rooftopAmerican Girl and I talking whilst American Boy and The Person ended up inexplicably inebriated, gesticulating wildly, silhouetted against the setting sun.


I decided a screaming child on a 10 hour flight was probably worth it.

(But you bet your backside we upgraded to Premium Economy seats for the way back.)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

On watching your best friend getting married...

You may have missed this because it kind of happened in the midst of my massive blog hiatus last year but America Girl and American Boy totally got engaged last summer.

They were going to be over in England for American Boy to attend a conference in Manchester and we said that we'd go for a little break in Corfu whilst they were over. We'd talked about a trip for our 30th birthdays anyway and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to get away and for them to tick another European country off their list - I actually think they're beating me in the number of places that they've been in Europe you know.

All was planned and in place and so I nearly died when American Boy e-mailed me saying that he was planning on proposing to American Girl - he needed to know some logistics about what we were doing when so he could plan his proposal.

My reaction was two-fold - so much excitement that I nearly vomited and absolute horror that I was going to have to keep this a secret for months. 

I coped with the latter emotion by telling as many people as feasibly possible that did not know either of them.

I'll never be a spy. No good at keeping secrets.

Their engagement story is not mine to tell but it was unique and personal and beautiful, even with a dead pigeon involved.

They got engaged the day before we flew to Corfu and the week we spent there was spattered with conversations about when the wedding might take place, who might be invited, where it would be, what it would look like etc etc.

Picture has no relevance - it's just to make you jealous.

I felt simultaneously incredibly excited but also just a tiny bit sad. No, not for the reason that you think, but for the simple reason that this was my best friend getting married and, thanks to that stupid Atlantic Ocean and the fact that she lives on the wrong side* of the United States - I wouldn't be able to really help out that much with the planning of the wedding. Not the dress trying on or the table plans or, you know, just any of the stuff that you get to talk about when one of your most favourite people is about to walk down the aisle.

Thanks to the wonders of Skype, Pinterest and Facebook messaging I got to see how things progressed - and progress they did quickly. I'm used to 1-2 year engagements so I nearly fell off my chair when I found out that the wedding would be taking place about 9 months after we all returned from our Corfu holiday.

It was never a doubt in my mind what I would go. When I told people we knew when the wedding was they asked me "Oh, are you going?" and I would look at them as if they were slightly insane. There wouldn't have been anything on this planet that would have stopped me going.

I felt sad that I didn't get to take part in the Bridal Shower or Bachelorette party. Mostly because it meant I wouldn't get to do something that's on my list of Things I've Seen Time and Time Again in American TV and Movies. Did you know that a Bridal Shower and a Bachelorette Party are two different things? Not just a hen do? Anyway, much as I would have loved to have been a part - two trips to the US in a month was off the cards for me.

When we arrived in Phoenix I was overly keen to get involved in anything that might be 'helpful' to the wedding, but those guys were well planned, no matter how hard I tried I couldn't find anything to do to be useful. Up until the day before the wedding when I got to be super helpful and help make the flowers for the table centrepieces. Under the guidance of a professional I sat under the shade of their patio and tried to uncover my inner florist - sticking greenery and succulents into oasis until they eventually resembled something that looked pretty damn good.


I did ok at the wedding. For me. There was a point where I cried every time I looked at American Girl but I eventually got a hold of myself.

I would have done anything to have been more involved in their wedding day but nothing can compare to being able to be there when they did get married. Sat on the little white chairs on the grass, towards the end of a beautiful day, I couldn't believe that I was actually there, watching them get married. 

Sometimes it absolutely smacks you in the face how quickly life goes past. Oh I know we sit there and go "How is it April already?!" but I never really take in the actual speed of it.

How was it possible that it was eight and a half years that I went back to Manchester to do my MSc and met these two guys who were currently standing on the altar in front of me? Eight and a half years? It can't be possible. (In fact it can't be possible so much that I have spent about 20 minutes counting on fingers and paper and checking with The Person that it was in fact September 2005 that I went back to Manchester.)


It was something that I knew was going to happen and I knew I would watch one day. I knew these guys would get married, but here it actually was. Here is the actual day and I'm sat right here remembering. Remembering the year that we lived together in Manchester. Remembering that very first e-mail that I sent to American Girl once she was back in the US and I was living temporarily in Salford. Remembering all the e-mails and Facebook messages that have taken place since then. Remembering my trip over to the States in 2008 to see them. Remembering the time they came over the UK and it snowed and it snowed and it snowed. Remembering all the Skype calls. Remembering Corfu. And realising that now I get to remember their wedding day.

I could sit and be sad that I live in the stupid UK and she lives in the stupid US. I could sit and rage against the fact that there are no islands in the Atlantic Ocean that mean we could meet in the middle more often. I could sit and be sad that I couldn't be more involved in their wedding day. 

Or.

I could be overwhelmingly happy with all the things that I have got to experience. I could be overwhelmingly happy that I happened to have lucked out when I applied to stay in Halls and was thrown in with those two. I could be overwhelmingly happy that we have managed to keep a damn good friendship going for eight and a half years when we don't live anywhere near each other. Overwhelmingly happy that I have just got to witness my best friend getting married. 

There isn't anything that can beat that. 

Uncharacteristic cheese from me. Source from here

Except the discovery of an island in the middle of the Atlantic...just saying...


*The 'right' side of the United States would be somewhere like New York i.e as close to the UK as you can get. Not over in Arizona which is most definitely the wrong side.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A tentative return post

I should begin with the stock phrase that all rubbish bloggers like me trot out after an absence of posting...

"I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages, but....."

Well I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages but at least I left you with a brilliant post on the front page - gerbils eating pancakes anyone?

And I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages but I did get really busy because I kind of went on the trip of a lifetime to the US to see American Girl and American Boy get married.

And I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages but then work did a work explosion right in my face as soon as I got back and I couldn't even think about blogging.

And I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages but then it was my birthday on Friday and I was too busy...just...having a birthday.

And then I thought that I really should blog again but not knowing where to start meant that I was a little bit paralysed.

So I thought I'd write a test post.

And you see, I'm so out of practice that instead of putting "write" in that last sentence I put "right". Jeeeeez.

I thought I test post might help me get back into the swing of things. That and a list.

And now I can't even remember how to finish a blog post.

(Picture of a gerbil?)

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Shrove Gerbil Tuesday

Damn. I should have either done this post on this Tuesday when it was actually Shrove Tuesday or I should have waited until next year and posted them just before Shrove Tuesday.

But there is no way I'm sitting on these photos for a year. No way.

In fact I haven't because I totally already put them on Twitter.

But I'll tell the story behind them anyway.

The gerbils have a little routine now where they wake up and come to the first floor and stand right in front of the door. We call it the Seed Door as we have clearly trained them that if they come up to the door and look cute we will go over, open it and give them a pumpkin seed.

So it looks a little something like this...


So we're sat eating our pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and there the boys are, looking super cute at the Seed Door.

And then the best idea I've ever had came into my head.

GERBIL PANCAKES.


Gerbils are allowed little tiny treats as long as they are in moderation. They can eat most things but it's really hard to get around your head how small gerbils are until you give them something like a blueberry.

Blueberries are small aren't they? I'd read that gerbils like blueberries and I picked one out of a punnet and handed one to a gerbil. Once the gerbil takes the blueberry out of your hands it instantly looks like the biggest piece of fruit ever, it's like you or I standing with a watermelon in our hands. It's brilliant.

We also added half a slice of banana and a little gerbil chocolate drop to the top of the pancakes. Important note - gerbils should not eat normal human chocolate. It's bad for their little gerbil tummies. But you can buy special little furry people chocolate drops which they can have.

I knew that we wouldn't have long to get the shot of the gerbils tasting their pancakes so I was at the ready to take the picture.

What I was not expecting is that I would only get one photo which is of Tyrion Lannister absolutely whipping the pancake away from us and running off in to the gerbilarium with it.


He whipped it away so fast that he left the toppings behind and Ser Jorah Mormont contented himself with his first taste of banana.


See! Look at the size of that piece of banana - that is half of a tiny slice of banana and look at it in his little gerbil paws!

After Tyrion ate most of the pancake to himself I decided that one pancake was probably enough for two little gerbils and that is when I invented a new thing...

PANCAKE CANAPES.

You are welcome.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

The one who moves away

It’s a funny feeling being the one who moves away.

I get a lot of “It’s been too longs!” or “When are you coming back for a weekend?!” and I answer and go “I know, I’ve just been so busy and haven’t had the chance to come home, I’ll let you know when I’m back and we can go out.”

I explain that for me to get home at a price that doesn’t cripple me I take the Megabus. Unfortunately the times that the Megabuses run are not convenient if you work Monday-Friday so for me to come home I either have to take a Friday off work, or not arrive until 1.30pm on the Saturday afternoon.

And then I stop and think.

Where are the messages and texts saying “When are you free? We’ll make a trip up to see you!”? Where are the people offering to sacrifice their precious annual leave to make the trip over to the Midlands?

But of course I don’t get those messages.

Because I’m the one who moved away.

Birthdays tend to be a good example. I was asked recently whether I would be coming back to Hull for someone’s birthday in May. I was told that it didn’t need to be expensive because they were probably just going to go out for a meal and go to the cinema.

I have to take a deep breath with these situations. I want to ask people to really think for a second what they’re asking me to do. In this case I’m being asked to take time off work to come back to Hull to go to the cinema…

It would be fine if people accepted that you couldn’t come back for everything but unfortunately they can’t. Everyone likes to think that they’re special (myself included) and that someone would want to come back for their birthday, if you don’t then it’s taken as a rejection of friendship.

And yet, let’s talk about my birthday. Nobody says to me “Right, so when are we coming over for your birthday then?” instead I’m asked what I’m doing and I’m asked if I’m coming back to Hull to celebrate.
Because I’m the one who moved away.

Coming back has now become a stressful experience rather than the relaxed feeling you should get upon returning to the city that I love. It’s become a military exercise of trying to shoehorn everyone in and trying to keep everyone happy. Least of all has it become about spending time with my Mum.

You know, my retired Mum who is almost 70 and lives on her own and might actually enjoy having her daughter around to spend time with. A daughter who doesn’t come home and stay there for five minutes before dashing out to meet up with someone for coffee/go out for a night out. It’s not like we have grand adventures planned, but she likes to make dinner for me and watch a bit of rubbish TV and wander over the fields to Matalan. It’s simple but it’s what we like to do and I hate that my time with her becomes compromised or becomes something that I fit in around when everyone else is free to meet up with me.

In fact it’s so bad that when my Dad and his partner actually left Hull to move down to Somerset I was basically relieved. One less visit to try and cram in when I venture back home.

I’ve even thought about sneaking trips back home to see Mum so I can avoid the guilt trips that follow when I’ve been back and haven’t had chance to see absolutely everyone I know that lives in Hull.

Being the one who moved away means that you are simultaneously expected to make new friendships whilst maintaining the ones back at home. People resent you for making new friends and moving on, having new in-jokes and “You had to be there” stories. But at the same time, people resent you for not keeping up-to-date with their news – after all you should be the one constantly checking in and finding out what’s happening,


Because you’re the one who moved away.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

On losing and gaining weight

For a long time I was able to weigh (excuse the pun) in on discussions about weight loss and various diets. I could tell people about the time that I lost over 60lbs following a Weightwatchers plan and that it had been hard at times but, also, not really, I'd just got on with it and fixed the issue that was making me sad.

Only that was in 2011 and we are now in 2014.

So where are we now?

For a long time everything was fine and although I didn't weigh myself (I don't own scales) I could tell just by the way my clothes fit that I was vaguely the same. And I was fine with that, it wasn't about being a particular weight, in fact I wasn't very comfortable at my goal weight, it was just a little too slim for me. It was just about feeling better in myself. And I did.

But come on, I haven't answered the question. Where am I now?

The god's honest truth that I've only just admitted to myself after a fairly hefty period of denial?

I'm only a stone away from where I started in 2011.

And I've managed to put it on in basically the last part of 2013.

We live in a funny little world I think. It's gradually come to my attention that we live in a society where we really enjoy not taking the blame for bad things that happen. I understand that to some degree, it helps to be able to point the finger and say "You, you are the cause of all my woes". I actually saw someone on my Facebook feed make a comment about the recent flooding, followed by the comment "Sort it out Mr Cameron." I know, I judge me for having a friend who would write that too. But it does illustrate a point, we really like blaming people for when bad things happen.

And I am at this point gifted a huge opportunity because I have the ultimate scapegoat to blame for putting weight back on.

The diet industry.

What could be easier than blaming Weightwatchers, the very instrument that helped me lose weight, for putting weight back on again?

Except that I'm not an idiot.

People love to throw around statistics about how people who do diets end up piling the pounds, plus a few extra, back on once they come off the plan. I don't believe I fall into that statistic, we're talking about something that happened just over three years ago, it's not as if I put it all on six months after reaching my gold weight. Weightwatchers did exactly what it is that they are supposed to do. Helped me to lose weight. It is not their job to keep the weight off, that has to be down to me surely?

In this day and age can we ever lay the blame at the diet industry's door? There can't be a person out there that doesn't know that to lose weight you have to eat less and exercise more. If you know this equation then how can it be anyone else's issue but your own?

So if I can't blame it on the diet industry then what else can I blame it on?

Here I could offer you a multitude of excuses.

- I lived with my sister for a year and didn't really have control over what I ate
- Moving away from The Person meant I was sad and more prone to eating rubbish to make myself feel better
- Then when I did go to Preston to see him it was a treat so you'd eat 'treat' type things
- Then we moved back in together and I started eating portions to match his monstrous appetite
- Then the weather was bad and my knee was injured and I couldn't go running and get exercise in

All valid and all contributory towards me piling on more than a few pounds but they are exactly what I just said.

Excuses.

I know more than anybody what I need to do to lose weight. I did it once before, I don't get to have excuses. Emotional eating is a problem, yes, but I'm doing exactly what I said I didn't want to do, which is to pass the buck and blame something else. "Oh it's not my fault I've put weight on, it goes back to deep seated issues I have with food to do with my mother/father/auntie/next door neighbour."

Saying "I'm an emotional eater" is just another excuse.

"Well getting over that is easier said than done" I hear you say. And I couldn't agree more.

I wish I was blessed with a naturally small appetite. I wish that I didn't feel an inexplicable need to finish everything on my plate regardless of whether or not I was hungry. I wish that I didn't want to eat when I was bored/sad/happy/nervous etc etc. But the fact is I do and therefore I have a choice. I can carry on and eat everything in sight and be very overweight and not feel happy in myself, or, I can just fricking eat less and go out for more runs. Sometimes stuff in life doesn't come easy to certain people. Crocheting amigurumi animals? That comes fairly easily to me. Not eating all the food in the cupboards and lazing on the sofa all the time? That comes a little harder.

Believe me if I could find someone to blame for my current situation I would. It would be so much easier. It would be so much easier for it to be someone else's fault that I ended up throwing a strop and not wanting to go out this Saturday night because none of my clothes fit and I felt uncomfortable.

Because the terribly unpalatable truth is that the only person to blame is me.

And finally I've found something that's hard to swallow.


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Gerbil fun-time play-time

Oh hai, let's talk some more about gerbils, yeah?

Our gerbils are very happy in their gerbilarium but it is important to get your gerbils out and play with them regularly. They like being with humans and are naturally inquisitive and they need to get used to being handled so getting them out for some fun time is very important.

When we first got them we had kept the box the gerbilarium came in and would put them in that with some toys for a while. But they always seemed a little frantic in it and it wasn't particularly big and I eventually got very annoyed at having a massive box in the living room so we needed a new option.

Enter gerbil bath-time play-time.

No you don't put water in you crazies.

Put an old towel* down in the bottom of the bath, set out some toys and away your gerbils go!

Spot the hilarious gerbil standing up

Things that gerbils love include:
- something to hide in
- old t-shirt to play in
- tubes to run in and out of
- dust bath (gerbils have dust baths like chinchillas)
- snacks in case hunger strikes

They absolutely loved scampering about and having fun in the bath. I felt pleased that they were getting some decent exercise and it's just so much fun to watch them having a good time and exploring all over the place.

Plus you get to take good pictures like this;


Aah yes. This picture.

This is a picture of Tyrion Lannister looking for a way to get out of the bath.

It seemed that no matter how much fun the gerbils had in their bath, after a while they started to look for a way out. We had visions of being able to leave the gerbils in the bath for a run around but witnessing Tyrion coming incredibly close to reaching the height of the bath from a standing start made us realise that bath-time fun-time had to be supervised.

This wasn't huge fun for us. I love my gerbils, but when I found myself sitting on the toilet, crocheting whilst supervising gerbil play-time I decided that it would be good to look for other options.

Enter....Gerbil playpen fun-time.


The Person found this in a pet shop in Burton on his lunchbreak. I was initially sceptical - the gerbils can easily jump the height of this, but at least if we were going to have to supervise playpen fun-time then at least we can do it in the lounge, watching tv at the same time.

Please notice the new addition to fun-time in the form of that big yellow ball. That has caused us a few problems.

I had a hamster when I was younger and I always wanted one of those balls that you put them in and let them run about the house in, but I was never allowed to get one. Mum was convinced it would fall apart and the hamster would be on the loose and the cats would find it...you  can imagine.

But I am a grown-up now and I can get a ball for my gerbils and I was so excited for them to be in it.

Only problem was the gerbils just didn't really like it. We would put them in it and they would have a little run and then mostly just stand still in it and not move at all. Gerbils are not often still so we felt it wasn't a good sign. Luckily for us the ball also came with two openings that you can attach - a solid one for when they are free-running and an open one that you can attach to a stand and they can hop in and out of and have a run around in.

Well.

They. fricking. love. it. As soon as Ser Jorah Mormont sees it he jumps in it and spends most of gerbil playpen fun-time absolutely galloping in it like a maniac. Tyrion was a little more cautious at first and didn't want to get in but he's come round to the idea of it now. There have even been times when they are both in it, running. Of course every time I try to take a photo or video of that, one of them jumps out.

Gerbil playpen fun-time is a great way to try and take photos of your gerbils. Just be aware that they may come out looking a bit like this;


Gerbil fun-time play-time is immensely important for gerbils and their gerbil parents, but you don't need to have bath-time fun-time or even playpen fun-time - all you need is yourself and your gerbil and a nice seat on the sofa. As long as you have your wits about you, you yourself can become a gerbil playpen and your gerbil will scurry about like the little gerbil they are.

And when they are still you can take photos like this;


Gerbil fun-time play-time.

Not just fun for gerbils.


*I cannot emphasise 'old towel' enough. Gerbils like to eat things and dig at things and they will eat through material. Trust me. I have the holes in my clothes to prove it.