01 June 2013

The Next Chapter

Wednesday was a day to remember.  I went to Derbyshire County Hall, stood up, swore an oath, made a pledge, and became a proud citizen of the United Kingdom.

Upon learning that I chose to become a citizen, many of the English people I know have simply responded, "Why?", followed by questions about the ceremony.

Why did I do it?  There are many reasons, some of them easier to articulate than others.
  • I enjoy and appreciate the pace of life here (keep in mind that I don't live in London!).  It's not a 24/7 environment; if you need to go to the grocery store on Sunday, you've got a 6 hour window to do so.
  • I feel like people here and in Europe work to live, they we don't live to work.  It is expected that people will book a 2 week holiday (and will still have another 2 or 3 weeks to use).  I think I was able to do that twice in the US, and it was done on an exception basis.  
  • I've gained a new perspective and feel much more a part of the world.
  • I find the UK to be a very tolerant and diverse country.  
  • I've had the opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world.  I've been on work teams with people from India, South Africa, Singapore, Mauritius, France, Ireland, Germany, India, and Spain, just to name a few.
  • There is a strong environmental agenda.  Recycling is done everywhere. Road tax is based on emissions.  Wind turbines and solar panels are common sights.  The cars get better gas mileage than in the US (even when accounting for the bigger gallon in the UK) - and most use diesel, as the emissions are lower and miles per gallon higher.
  • The history is incredible.  I've visited many sites, buildings, and churches that have been around for more years than I can imagine; places I had only read about or seen pictures of.  Walking around Stonehenge, visiting castles, stepping inside a church that is over 1,000 years old, having dinner in a 400 year old pub, taking the dogs for a walk along an old Roman road.  It's hard to put into words, very awe-inspiring.
  • It's a beautiful country with stone houses, barns and fences that dot the landscape, narrow winding roads, and charming villages.  It's green all year long, although sometimes you have to shovel away the snow to see it.  I drive over Woodhead Pass every day as I go to work and come home.  And every day, at least once, I say to myself, "I am so lucky to live in such a beautiful place".  How many people can say that?
  • The British humour - I won't pretend I always get it, but it certainly is growing on me. 
  • And one of the most important reasons - it feels like home.  That's not to say I don't miss all of my friends and family in the US; I most certainly do. 
As for the second question about the ceremony, it was short, sweet, and to the point.  Patriotism doesn't ooze from the pores of the British as it does in the US.  This was reflected in the ceremony, and I for one appreciated it.  Had they tried to go all "pomp and circumstance", it would have felt a bit contrived.  I arrived at County Hall, presented my official invitation, checked the spelling and details on my Certificate of Naturalisation, and then waited 30 minutes for the ceremony to start.  There were 21 of us receiving citizenship; I wasn't surprised that I was the only American.  The ceremony started off with a few words by a couple of public officials.  We then stood up to recite the oath and the pledge together.  Following that, we were called forward one by one to receive our certificate and have our photo taken with someone (I have no idea who she was - some public official or politician or something).  Once that was complete, we were officially welcomed as citizens of the United Kingdom and the national anthem was played.  It took all of 20 minutes.

Next up - registering to vote and getting my passport (a requirement if I plan on getting home after my next trip out of the country).

County Hall in Derbyshire - a beautiful building













Before the ceremony.  The seats visible in the picture were for guests.  My chair was up front, facing the middle.













24 May 2013

Catching Up

These days I often find myself wondering what day of the week it is.  I'm currently on the tail-end of a 3 day "weekend".  I'm sure many people would prefer working 8am - 5pm, Monday through Friday, but I'm rather enjoying the shift work.  I've been off work since Tuesday and don't return until 4pm Saturday.  I work Saturday and Sunday evening, and get another 2 days off before settling in for a 5 day, 8am - 5pm work week.  The way the shifts work, there are times when I only need to use 2 or 3 days of holiday (vacation) time and I end up with 7 or 8 days off in a row.  So, despite not knowing what day of the week it is, I rather enjoy the ever-changing schedule.

I recently went to the Glossop Car Show at Manor Park, which was also the kick-off of the Community Dog Watch programme, organised by Good Glossop Dogs.  There's a good article about the scheme in the Manchester Evening News.

Dog agility course - fun to watch both human and canine participants!













How's this for a little car!













I thought the old buses had a lot of character































Much to my surprise, there was an American Automobile Club at the park.  Even more surprising, this van with an Ohio license plate - from Columbus.













Remember the issues with my car?  Well, it was Reliance Garage that told me what happened and how to get it fixed for free - by someone else.  A garage with integrity - no wonder they've been in business for generations!  Love their old tow truck.













V and I are working our way through the villages of the Peak District.  A couple of weeks ago we went to Eyam.  Yesterday we visited Monyash and Youlgreave.  We enjoyed a nice pub lunch in Monyash, but that's about all there was to the village.  Youlgreave was beautiful, which was more than we could say for the weather.  It's hard to believe that on the 23rd of May, I was wearing my winter coat.  It was 3.5 degrees (38 - 39 F) with rain, wind, hail, and even a few snowflakes.  Even as I type this today, it is hailing outside with winds at 25mph, gusting to 40mph.  I'm ready for summer!

Lunch at The Bull's Head in Monyash.  No, we didn't help to empty those kegs!  A bit too early in the day.



















Beautiful cottage with a huge garden and greenhouse - Monyash.













Youlgreave - better look both ways before stepping out of the house! 













Returning to Glossop - the rain, hail, and snow seemed to follow us everywhere.

16 May 2013

Another Year Wiser

I had a wonderful birthday last week!  It began when I got home from work Thursday night (after midnight) and found a beautiful vase of flowers on my mantle - a very nice surprise after a long 4pm - Midnight shift at work. 

On Friday, I took "the girls" for a walk in the park and then V and I went into Manchester for the evening.  First up was a stop at the cycle shop for some proper cycling shorts.  I've never owned or used cycling shorts and am anxious to try them out.  Perhaps some nice weather will coincide with a day off work soon.  This was followed by drinks and then a visit to an authentic Chinese Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown.  We walked in and saw we were the only non-Asians in the place, which we took as a good sign.  The menu had such things on it as duck's tongue, pork lung, pig's tripe, pig's ear, thousand year eggs, cow stomach, pig stomach - well, you get the picture.  I'm certain they were all very tasty dishes, but we played it safe with dumplings, ribs, pork, chicken, and noodles.  I also had some delicious hot and sour soup (which likely had an element of risk with it). 

All in all, a great birthday!

Drinks in the pub















Dinner in Chinatown
















Chinatown














07 May 2013

Eyam - The Plague Village

The weather in the Peak District has been lovely!  I had the day off work on Sunday and took advantage of it.  V and I went to the village of Eyam to have a walk around and visit some of the historical sites.  From Wikipedia, "The village is best known for being the "plague village" that chose to isolate itself when the plague was discovered there in August 1665, rather than let the infection spread."  The history here is fascinating, and I encourage you to read about it on Wikipedia.  One thing we noticed was that it seemed more women than men survived the plague.  Doesn't surprise me at all! 



















































21 April 2013

A Rainy Day at the Sea

We took a drive over to the Irish Sea today to let the dogs have a run on the beach.  Unfortunately, the beautiful weather we had on Saturday didn't last and we were hit with wind and rain.  Nevertheless, the girls had fun.

Stop one was at Fleetwood Beach - dog friendly from 1 Sep - 31 May.














Mari started off strong...













...but soon gave up and sat down in protest.  She does quite well for being 16 years old!













Lovely Lulu, still battling health issues.  She really enjoyed the day though. 













Unlike any other dog I've known, Lulu does not like to get dirty or wet.  She carefully picks her path to avoid mud and water.  So, it was quite surprising when she jumped into the sea after a bird.  She didn't realise she was jumping into the water - and she quickly jumped back out!













After leaving Fleetwood, we detoured through Blackpool.  Blackpool is one of those places you can say you've seen, but have no desire to ever return.  Think Gatlinburg meets Las Vegas meets the wrong side of the street in Atlantic City.


























In other news - I'm actively car shopping.  Hope to have something soon.

17 April 2013

Pre-Brekkie Walk

Nothing like a morning walk in the woods before breakfast.  And nothing like seeing Lulu, who has been doing poorly, have a spring in her step. 

We took a walk in Gnat Hole Woods, just a mile from my house.  It was a bit of a gray morning, but the bitter chill that has hung around for so long seems to be disappearing.  The little lambs are out and daffodils are blooming - perhaps Spring has finally arrived!

In other news, my car is ready to pick up today.  Turns out a bolt came off of the water pump and punched a hole in the oil pump or something.  It also damaged the timing belt and some other gear or crankshaft.  I'm not much of a mechanic - I just know that a number of parts needed replaced and that I was lucky the bolt didn't do more damage.  The other good news was that I had just recently had the water pump replaced at another garage in town, so it was under guarantee.  The other garage went and picked up my car, took it to their shop and fixed it.  They also paid the bill incurred at the first garage.  Something tells me it's time for a new car.  I've had this one for 6 years now and it's closing in on 90,000 miles.  And now that I'm living in the hills, I need something that does better in the snow.

On to the pictures..












































Lulu has been feeling poorly.  At one point, we didn't think she'd make it through the night, but she has managed to bounce back just a bit and seems to be enjoying some short walks again.  She still has a big lump (tumor?) in her throat but every test comes back negative. It was so nice to see her with a bit of a spring in her step this morning. 













Mari is 16 years old and lives in her own world.  She managed to go her own way this morning, sending me up a hill and into a field to find her and guide her back down to the path.  Of course, we also have to help her find the back garden - she's just that special! 













Once Mari and I worked our way back down the hill, we saw the rest of the mob heading back down the path.













Annabel got to enjoy some time off lead today - this doesn't happen too often as she can be a bit unpredictable, especially if a Border Collie is in the area.













12 April 2013

Oil Shortage

Happy Anniversary to me!  Six years ago today I arrived in the UK and I can honestly say, the place feels like home.  In fact, just a couple of days ago I realised there have been changes I was unaware of.  It all started with a random series of events that saved the engine in my car from seizing. 

A last minute decision to stop at Tesco's one night, a visit with a friend, a dog walk...  All of this led to the discovery of a noticeable oil spill where I had parked my car.  It was more than a few drops and cause for concern.  This resulted in a car swap with V late that night.  I used her car to get to work Saturday morning and she took my car to a garage that was willing to put it up on the racks (with no appointment) and take a look at it.  Turns out, had my car been driven another 2 miles or so, the engine would have seized.  With the car running, oil was coming out as quickly as they could pour it in.  Three mechanics came out to tell V it was the worst oil leak they've ever seen and that the car was not to be driven.  Her and her dear old mum had to call a taxi to get home. 

A week later, my car is still at the garage and is due to be looked at on Monday.  In the meantime, I'm in a hire car.  I wanted a small to mid-sized car, but they only had one car available, a Chevrolet Epica. The Epica is essentially the same thing as a Chevy Malibu.  In the US, a Malibu is considered a mid-size car; here it's classed as a large car.  This is where I realised I've changed.  A few years ago, driving a mid-sized American car would have felt normal.  Now it feels very uncomfortable; it's like driving a boat!  I'm hoping the garage can fix my car quickly so that I can dock the Epica in the harbour soon.

So, what else have I been doing over the past 3 months?

A bit of a walking in February.  The pictures are a bit deceiving.  One might think it was a beautiful walk on a beautiful day.  That's only half true.  It was a beautiful day, but the walk itself wasn't so enjoyable.  There was so much mud that walking was not only a chore, it was quite treacherous - resulting in several falls and a bit of cursing.







































I had a great time at the Crufts Dog Show in March. Really liked watching the flyball.  Click the link to see a video of the session we attended.













And a bit of snow put the country at a standstill for a few days.  In fact, it's been 2 weeks since we had snow and it's not all melted yet!  These pictures were taken on my way to and from work one day.  It takes me an hour to get to work - but just look at the scenery!





















































27 January 2013

Payday!

Oh what a feeling!  For the first time in 18 months, it was payday.  Needless to say, the difference in pay between the public sector and banking is quite noticeable.  So is the sense of purpose, and that's what's important to me.  Rather than walking around the office and seeing the stock price, delinquency rates, and sales figures, I see signs that say, "Saving lives, caring for you".  Instead of attending a seminar on the latest in payment protection insurance, I attended a learning session on CPR and how to use an AED (automated external defibrillator).  I feel like I'm doing something that matters, and you can't find that in a payslip.

The weather has been a bit odd lately.  Friday we had a snowstorm, yesterday we had a thunderstorm.  Depending on where you lived, Friday's snowstorm may have dumped 8 - 12 inches of snow, or you may have ended up with rain or freezing rain.  I left work just as the snow was starting to hit.  The motorways were busy and I wanted to get home quickly, so I took a new route that led me over a mountain pass.  It turns out the road I was on is a road that is notorious for bad weather and is closed more than any other road in the area.  I now know why.  It was snowing, blowing, drifting, and had some very steep uphill climbs (which my car does not like to do when there is snow on the road). It was a white-knuckle, harrowing experience that left me stressed, frightened, and drained.  Never again!

I spent the weekend shoveling snow, cleaning, doing laundry and running errands.  I also managed to squeeze in some back-garden bird watching.  I don't get to do this during the week, as it's dark when I leave for work, and it's dark when I get home.

A couple of photos from last weekend.  The robins in the UK are so much prettier than those in the US




























Some photos from today.  I've got some new visitors - long-tailed tits.  There were quite a few of them flitting around today.  As a good friend said, "they must've tweeted each other that there was food" available.  I have to admit to the "tweet" reference going right past me until she asked if I "got it".

Long-tailed tit


















Blue tit and coal tit (or great tit - I'm not quite sure, but think it's a coal tit)