Back to America, Part Three (Summer 2016)

Back in town and blissfully back on wifi, we all began to rush around and get this party started. What party you might ask? Well, due to the nature of transatlantic weddings, my parents (read: Mom) didn’t get to do nearly as much for the wedding as they would have liked to do. To make up for it, we had a second reception in the US for everyone to either come party again or come celebrate if they missed the wedding.

Mom did not mess around on this front. She completely transformed the back yard into a venue and rented some tables and decor for the event. Dad was helping with music and by cooking a metric ton of BBQ. I suspect a few of us may still have calluses from helping to shred all that meat. Oh, and there was a trip to Sam’s Club.

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This is only part of the supplies.

When it was all said and done though, my parents had pulled off one really awesome summer party! We had SO MANY people come from across the US to say hello and congrats, and it was amazing to catch up with everyone. I only wish the party was even longer, so I could have spent more time with so many wonderful people.

Sadly, everyone had to go home eventually. We managed to get the house back into a semblance of order relatively quickly and then tried to pass off all the leftovers in quesadilla form to all of our helpers. We also had to remove some of Mom’s twinned UK and US mini flags in the front of the house because some neighbors were threatening to deface the yard. Rude! I mean, the 4th of July was two days after the party, but c’mon – it’s been a few centuries now guys.

It’s tradition in my parents’ town to do a 4th of July parade through the streets, so we all woke up and walked over to the portion near the neighborhood. It did not disappoint. Truly, they know how to do patriotic well. It seems they haven’t entirely banned the practice of throwing candy at small children on the sidelines, but they’ve had to really push the “please don’t run in front of the cars” rule to allow it. Oh yes, and the Idaho Potatoes truck threw out individual bowls of instant potato mix. I can tell you this because one of our group caught one. Ah, small towns.

After witnessing Americana in all it’s glory, we all headed back to the house to get ready for the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration on the river that evening. The company set off 30 minutes of non-stop professional fireworks accompanied with music to celebrate Independence Day completely for free. The only payment is if you want seats outside at the dinner they host. You get a guaranteed place, a meal, and don’t have to stake a claim to a section of the river, so it’s usually a pretty good deal.

Having been abroad for nearly a year at this point, listening to the general patriotic speeches given was interesting. You develop a bit of an outsider’s perspective of your own country when you live away from it, and it was really different to see it now. I suppose it’s one of those things you just have to experience personally to really understand what I’m talking about.

After all this non-stop activity, we finally began to slow down a bit. The day after the fireworks, M and I had a wander around town and then got hopelessly lost in the foothills driving amongst the giant windmill farm. The next day we sent the boys out to hang out and Mom and I had some bonding time out roaming the stores around town and generally catching up.

On 7 July, the four of us all piled into the car and drove out to see Craters of the Moon National Monument, as well as the nearby EBR-I reactor museum. Craters of the Moon is otherworldly indeed. It contains a vast section of three major lava fields. These all lie along the Great Rift of Idaho, which contains some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world. One of the deepest on earth is located here, measuring 800 feet. In these fields you can see almost every variety of basaltic lava, as well as some cavities in the lava left by incinerated trees from one of the explosions around 2,000 years ago. There are also plenty of lava tube caves, though you need a permit from the front office to go in for safety reasons, and we didn’t get around to picking up one.

Needing some time out of the glaring sun, we then drove over to EBR-I. Also known as Experimental Breeder Reactor I, it is a decommissioned nuclear research reactor out in the middle of the desert. Its claim to fame comes from 1951 when it became one of the world’s first electricity generating nuclear power plants. Some of the original light bulbs lit up by this are still on display today, as well as a bit of wall in which all the employees working there at the time have signed for posterity. After this first test run, EBR-I continued to produce enough electricity to power its own building as well as the neighboring town of Arco. It was used for further experiments until it was finally decommissioned in 1964. It is now open to the public for tours and is a pretty fascinating place to visit – if you don’t mind the desert drive.

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We eventually headed back as the afternoon wore on. The last few days we spent in town were just nice and local – spending time with my family and enjoying the beautiful summer days. Finally though, the day came that we had to head back to the UK. We all drove down to Salt Lake City together and enjoyed some cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, then slowly wound our way through to the check in. Only minimal tears were had, but plenty of hugs and well wishes were traded instead.

The flight back was relatively uneventful (thankfully) and we safely returned to British soil. I also learned a fun new fact after standing by myself in the non-EU/UK customs line. Apparently if you’re flying together, you can go through the EU/UK customs line with your spouse and not have to spend a year and a day waiting to get through otherwise. A lesson that was handy later on in the year!

All in all, I had an amazing time going back to see everyone, and would love to do it again. However, I think it’s now time for some of my lovelies to come back this way! 😉

 

— Kate

Norfolk at Large

Happy Bonfire Night! I adore this holiday, mostly because if you think about it it makes no sense as to why it exists. A man named Guy Fawkes attempted to assassinate the political powers that be back in 1605 and failed miserably. Since he didn’t get to detonate his explosives, we all now commemorate the occasion of his failure by lighting much less dangerous explosives once a year. What? I am convinced that there is just an innate need for every country to have an official day set aside to light off fireworks.

Sadly, M is working this evening so we shan’t be lighting any sparklers in the back garden today. However, Norwich City Council are having a big show tomorrow night and lighting professional fireworks off the castle. I don’t know about you guys, but I find that to be a completely acceptable substitute to the actual day, and we’ll both get to go! With large jumpers and treacle toffee in hand, we’re aiming to find a place amongst the crowd around the City Hall to enjoy the festivities. Hopefully someone will get a photo!

Anyway, I thought I’d catch up this week with some photos from around Norfolk as I got to tag along with M’s lovely family during their holiday, as well as a few from our visit to see them near Tetbury (out in Gloustershire). To start with, we’ll head west to Tetbury. Tetbury is a tiny town of approximately 6,000 people and has been around in some form since the period of the Anglo-Saxons. It’s a part of the Cotswolds, which is known for being incredibly picturesque. For a good part of our visit though, M and I got lost on a walk or were at his parents’ new home, so the photos are a bit limited. It’s a stunning place though, and if you have any interest in antiques it seems to be the central location. You would think the economy runs off antique sales by the amount of shops in the centre of the town.

Next we go to Cromer, at the northern tip of Norfolk. Seaside resorts have sadly been on the decline in recent years here in England due to cheap package holidays to places like Spain or Greece. Some of the seaside towns have declined dramatically, but Cromer still does pretty well for itself. It also helps they have some great local crabbing and the seaside is picture perfect even in October. Whether anyone will want to feel the spray of the sea on their face when they come for the wedding in January remains another story, but I imagine it will still be pretty whilst they slowly freeze. Or perhaps they could just sit inside the Red Lion pub and watch the waves whilst drinking mulled wine and eating something toasty.

Our day in Cromer had mild weather, so we got to climb up the cliffside to see the lighthouse and breathtaking view around it. We also had some fish and chips (of course) and tried some of the Cromer crab legs while there. We even wandered the beach at high tide looking for small pebbles with natural holes in them. They’re supposed to be good luck. M and I came back again later in the week to visit the family and got to sit by the sea in the aformentioned pub before dinner. It was a really soothing place!

Finally, we all met up again to visit Blickling Hall, north of Alysham. The hall is a stately home that is part of an entire estate that has been cared for by the National Trust since 1940. It’s a fab mixture of modern life (up until the owner’s death in the 1940s) with historical. It pops up most in the history books as being the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, though the signs National Trust have put up make it seem that they are uncertain of this. Of course, the house in its current form is from the 17th century, though pieces of older buildings on the premises are incorporated into the hall. Being built with a moat around it made it much simpler to just reuse bits of still standing walls and frames over the ages.

We got to see all of the interior, and if you’re a fan of Downton Abbey you’ll probably be thrilled with the downstairs region for kitchens and servants passages. Outside we only got a brief walk through before the weather took a turn for the worse. Supposedly this is one of the most haunted buildings in England, but it didn’t seem remotely sketchy in daylight hours. Then again, you’re only supposed to see the ghost of Anne Boleyn on the night of her death and even then she’s supposed to be coming up the grand drive with her head in her hands. Why she decided to come back home after all that happened seems a question worth asking.

Well, it’s time for me to go make myself a cup of tea if I plan on staying awake past 7 tonight. Will speak again soon!

 

— Kate

Essay Week

Blood, sweat and tears have been spilled, but the word count has been reached and the grammar has been checked. The module one essay was turned in Monday morning and I’ve been trying to recover since. Have finally gotten to the tail end of whatever gunk I caught, just in time to start a new module. The lesson learned from this? I should never, ever become an ethicist. If it’s not practical and real world work, I’m out of my element. Needless to say, it’s not been an exciting week of traipsing the English countryside for me, though if the weather isn’t too miserable I may go check out Abbey Park this weekend. The Weather Channel is predicting only a 20% chance of rain Saturday, but trusting the weather forecast here that far in advance is lunacy.

Aaaaanyway… I was lame and did not go out for Bonfire Night. Instead I wrote on my essay and watched fireworks in the distance from my flat whilst hacking up a lung and going through obscene amounts of camomile tea. Actually, I watched fireworks go off for the next 3 nights after and got the most spectacular text from it:

I mean, I feel it'd be a reasonable excuse.
I mean, I feel it’d be a reasonable excuse.

For most of the week it was some variation on this grumbling, but somehow between the frantic bouts of inspirations and the frequent breaks for Buzzfeed articles a miracle happened and a paper appeared. From this point I’m just choosing to not think about it any more and start focusing on the next looming deadline – presentations.

Back home, it seems that my parents have gotten SNOW already, and tonight the weather is threatening -20 to -40 F with the Arctic chill sweeping through the North American continent. I will take drizzle any day over that, thank you very much. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point of walking outside without a jacket when the sky is grey because “it doesn’t smell like rain outside” and it’s accurate. I’m impressed with myself.

Oh! Speaking of dying, I got to visit a real-live NHS doctor’s office this week. Was actually just for the routine check up I booked before coming down with plague, but that’s life for you. Of course, this is only one clinic in one city, but I was really impressed with the service. At the front desk I signed in through a touch screen that told how many patients were ahead of me and then sat down in the waiting room. In the room was a scrolling marquee that would chime whenever a patient was to be seen with their name and the room they should go to on the screen. When it came to my name, I walked to the room and was greeted by a friendly nurse who took my vitals and asked what I needed to be seen for. She updated my prescription and even helped me out with it because there’s no direct version of it here in the UK. (Definitely check your medicines before studying abroad for this!)  It felt really weird just walking out of the building after without talking to the front desk about billing. It felt even weirder filling the prescription. It literally consisted of me handing over the paper, the pharmacist finding the pills and putting the data in the computer, then handing them to me. No insurance fuss, no dread over what the final bill was going to be. Granted, I didn’t have to pay for my medicine in this case, but not all medicine in the UK is free. It’s a complicated system, but it’s still much clearer and less dread-inducing than medicine in the US.

Otherwise I’ve been more resident than tourist, so I tried to get a few photos of just everyday things around town that stood out in one way or another. Some of the things that get me the most are the food products. Sometimes the food is exactly the same as in the US, sometimes it’s arbitrarily renamed, and sometimes you’ll find something completely unique. I’ve learned to not go into the shops for groceries with any preconceptions.

I’ve also been really missing my fuzzball kitty and I’ve been told he misses me, though it seems Mom and Dad have been excellent cat keepers thus far as he’s snoozing behind their heads on the couch in the evenings. It made me sadder to see this poster on a street coming home, but it gave me some faith in humanity to see what people had added.

Lost Cat Poster

My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.
My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.

And to end this fascinating blog update, there was this weirdness I ran into today walking to the Fees Office on campus and laughed harder at than I probably should have. There were no gardeners in sight and though overcast it wasn’t raining. However, it looked like someone just kinda thought, “Meh, this is good enough for now,” and just walked away from it. Maybe it’s just the adjustment of living with what feels like a ‘meh’ mentality here from most people, but I found it hilarious. I dunno.

"Meh, this is good enough for now."

I guess if I’m laughing at a lone lawnmower it’s probably time for me to get some sleep. Hope all is well where you are, and I hope to write again this weekend!

— Kate

The British Museum and Relearning to Drive

Hello all! Been a busy week, but not with much to report back with that would excite the general public. I did enjoy getting to drag my favorite Englishman through a city in England he’d never been, but I’m dying to have some of the folks back in the US threatening to come visit come do the same tour. I can only imagine the comments. Thursday was the day with the most photographs this week as the museum studies department took a field trip down to the British Museum. I think the photos can stand for themselves to sum up what only a fraction of this museum has to offer.

I’ve been to the British Museum before, and I need to go yet again before I am satisfied that I’ve seen all I wanted to see. Maybe. There’s so much!

After our field trip, some of us stayed afterwards to do the London Dungeon tour, being the day before Halloween and all. If you’re a fan of blending history and pop culture with some shock scares, then this is an excellent adventure. We witnessed Jack the Ripper stalk the streets, the plague sweep through the country, and even took a boat tour through Traitor’s Gate. Mind you, they don’t mention just how much queueing is involved, but I still think it was well worth it with friends to wait with. We all grabbed a bite to eat and wandered around a little bit before we took a late train home to Leicester afterwards.

 

Friday in seminar the group discussed some of the ethical issues to be found in the British Museum (And there are loads to be discussed, really.) and from there I hopped on the train to Colchester for the weekend. There wasn’t much going on for Halloween in Leicester, and Colchester was about the same. The pubs and bars had people dressed up, and a few shops had paper pumpkins or skeleton stickers on their windows, but Halloween is celebrated with nearly the same enthusiasm as Earth Day in the States. Mostly just a reason to dress up and get a drink. Or just get a drink. Saturday however, was a more exciting prospect as I was finally convinced to hire a car for the weekend to get a feel for how to drive in England.

 

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My valiant steed.

What we thought we were getting was a Ford Mondeo (Ford Fusion in the US), which while a wider car in the UK was not all that bad. What we actually got was a minivan. A really nice new minivan, but a tank of a vehicle for such tiny English roads. Giggle now as I complain about that size, but imagine taking almost half the width off a US road and you’ll understand why it was so concerning. This poor behemoth straddled both lines of the road nearly all the time. Taking the car out of the car park, I actually got immediately into the right hand lane… Thankfully I had the ever-patient M (This man is seriously a saint.) in the passenger seat to guide me through staying on the correct side of the road and all the roundabouts we went through. You don’t notice it when you’re walking through the towns and cities, but I swear to god that half of Colchester just consists of roundabouts. Was honked at probably a good 6-7 times through Saturday as I got a crash-course (but no car crash!) in the English rules of the road I didn’t realize. Yes, as an American over the age of 25, you can in fact just hire a car with your US license. I would personally recommend to have the UK ban this practice as it’s got to be causing a significant amount of chaos on the road. I think I only managed because I had someone to tell me what I was doing was wrong. The amount of honking did go down exponentially over the next two days, but it’ll be some time before I’d be completely confident with driving in the UK as much as I was in the US. A necessary evil I suppose.

Otherwise, it was a mostly quiet week, a wonderful weekend, and now a sickly start back into the week as I deal with a persistent cough and itchy throat that have snuck up on me. Yay for new germs. Bonfire Night is tomorrow, so I hope I’m feeling well enough to get out and see some fireworks, but if not there is the perk of being in one of the tallest buildings in Leicester. Hope all is well wherever you are, and I’ll speak to y’all on the flip side of my next major essay. Wish me luck!

— Kate