Monday, 3 December 2007

A Bit 'o Christmas Cheer

With the wind raging, rain pelting, skies darkening, and temperatures dropping, we in flat #6 decided it was time to spread a little holiday cheer in our home. None of us feel like leaving the flat any more for fear of blowing away and, as a result, have had ample time to decorate.

Our kitchen Christmas tree.



The whole kitchen: lights, paper snow flakes, and tree.



My window candles.



Mulled wine has become a staple in our diets. It's warm, spiced, and oh so good. The university gave we international students a traditional English Christmas dinner the other night. Sadly I have no pictures, but I can list the menu for those interested parties.

They started us off with a kind of melon salad and rolls. Not quite sure if melons are really a winter fruit, but we'll go along with it. Next we had turkey, then sausage wrapped in bacon (why oh why?), two types of potatos, carrots and, you guessed it, not one single leafy green! Grrr. But it was a very good fat and carb centered meal. Dessert consisted of Christmas pudding which as near as I can telll is mashed up raisans and rum.... or something (they topped it off with cream sauce) and mini mince pies. I felt about 10 pounds heavier after that meal. Oh, and get this. Instead of playing the usual Christmas carols, we were treated to techno remixes of Christmas carols. I will never understand this techno craze. It makes no sense to me at all. Thankfully my freinds and I returned home, put on some Bing Crosby, made a salad, and all was well.

This may be my last blog for a while as I am coming home in less than two weeks time (YAY! A thousand times, YAY!). That is of course assuming I survive the train trip to Blackpool to catch a flight to Dublin to catch a flight to Chicago to catch a flight to S.F. Should be interesting. Happy Holidays everyone! Will be seeing most of you very soon. Love, Kate

Friday, 23 November 2007

Thanksgiving, England-style

So, as many of you might have guessed, they don't do Thanksgiving here. But I wasn't about to let that stop me. Thus I took it upon myself to organize a feast for 14 people (both Americans and English). My english flat mates were very excited to experience this brand new holiday and were even happier to discover that it would allow them to put up Christmas decorations and sing carols even earlier than usual. And so, at the early hour of 9am yesterday morning I dragged myself out of bed and began the rather daunting task of cleaning and decorating our kitchen.

Finding a turkey proved harder than expected. My first thought, though not a very serious one, was to catch and kill the giant goose pictured below. I was then informed that one can get expelled from the school if any of the birds are killed. You can kill a person, go to prison, and come back to the University, but kill a bird, and your just out of luck. We then contemplated going to a farm down the road that had a sign saying we could kill our own turkey. None of us had the stomach for it though. Linsey, who had previously lived in Belgium, told us of their first Thanksgiving there in which they finallly found a turkey being sold by the local laundry place. In the end, we just baught a few turkey breasts from the store and called it a day.



Justin carving the turkey bits.



The spread, and the best cranberry sauce I've ever had (sorry mom).



Our numerous kinds of stuffing, thanks to Marks & Spencers (as Laura said, if she'd cooked them, we all would have died).



The gang in our "giving thanks" circle.



Happy Thanksgiving! Love, Kate

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Edinburgh

This past weekend myself, my friends Justin and Faye from Lancaster, and my freind Brittany who has been studying in London, all met up in Edinburgh, Scotland. I never thought I would say this, but I think I've found a city I like even more than London. Some of this partiality had to do with the wonderful hostel we stayed in. The picture of the beach below was taken just yards from ou hostel. The hostel itself was in an old manor house and was cleaner than my freshmen dorm at UPS. And, at £7 a night, I couldn't have asked for more.



Edinburgh afforded all sorts of great adventures. I quickly learned that, for whatever reason, the Scottish are much more friendly than the English. It's not that the Enlgish are unfriendly, but the Scottish were just very eager to talk and share stories. It was lovely. We were pretty near freezing the whole time we were there, so some tartan scarves had to be purchased and warm woolen hats as well. The city was just beginning to be decked out for Christmas, which made everything all that much more magical. Below are some pictures of our adventures.

Prince Street park. We had a good amount of happy frolicking in said park.



Tartan mill. Wanted to buy everything but could only afford a scarf.



A £6,000 (that's upwards of $12,000) bottle of scotch. Can't even imagine why anyone would buy it, but I was impressed all the same. We had a great time sampling somewhat cheaper scotch. I'm not really a fan but, when in Scotland!



I got quite a kick out of the contrast here. Modern bus in front of this wonderful Gothic tower. Good stuff.



Justin and I spotting our first deep fried Mars bar. It's apparently a big thing here, but I couldn't be bothered to try one. Also, note the brand new wool tartan scarves we're both sporting.



Architecture. I absolutely loved the buildings in Edinburgh. And the Chrsitmas "wrapping" made it all the more special.



I'm not sure why Brittany and I decided it would be a good idea to climb this rock in high heeled boots... but climb it we did. There was a lovely little monument at the top. Worth every bruise.



The food on this trip was highly entertaining. I finallly found good mexican food... in an Italian restaurant. Go figure. We ate most of our meals at a pub called The Tron which served £3 full English breakfasts and a burger and beer for £3.50. We did branch out and have tapas one night. Brittany and I ordered a creme brulee which, sadly (thus the picture) turned out to be flan. We were very unhappy, as we both have a mild obsession with creme brulee. Sigh.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

And so it begins

Let me preface this by saying that, scientifically speaking, I know nothing about weather patterns. That aside, I think winter is upon us here in Lancaster.We are very close to the ocean and on the highest ground around so somehow, and I'm not sure how, this means we get total crap for weather. Up until now things have been okay. A few showers here and there, but nothing major. A few days ago, however, all hell broke loose. Well, perhaps "froze over" is a better hell reference.

As I sit here in my cozy little room, listening to Christmas carols (I know I know... it's too early) with a spice candle burning, the world outside looks down right scary. Earlier, as I crossed the lawn with my hamper full of laundry, the whole thing was blown clear out of my arms across the lawn. We are experiencing gale force winds here. It scares the crap out of me. Not only are they strong, but they are cold as cold can be. My combination of sweaters, vests, and wool coats isn't even enough. And it's only November! I can't wait 'til we add rain and sleet to the fray. Should be good fun trudging 20 minutes to class in that!

On another winter related note, it now gets dark here at 4:30pm. My poor internal clock is not happy. Some of my lectures don't even start until 5, by which point my body thinks it's time to be eating a bowl of soup and going to bed. All this, however, is much better then any kind of hot weather, and I have to keep telling myself that. I don't like sunshine that much so really, this isn't that bad. Just bloody cold!

In an effort to offset the effects of winter weather I made a mexican feast for my friends last night. An easy enough task in America, but finding the ingradients here proved a bit more difficult. They have tortillas, but they're not really tortillas. I think it's actually pita bread that they label as tortillas and then mark the price up on. So I used corn chips instead. I was able to make tortilla soup and even some fresh guacamole. Boy was that guac good! I bought the spiciest salsa they had which, to my Californian taste buds tasted more like tomato paste than anything. The Brits, however, thought it was almost too spicy to eat. Go figure. All in all though, with the wine supplied by our resident Spaniard, the adequate mexican food, and the good company, we managed to forget about the hurricane raging outside. The moral of the story then, is that guacamole fixes everything!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

A Walk in the Hills

Faced with the choice of either doing my reading or taking a walk through the contryside I chose the latter (which produced the following pictures).

This is the very beginning of my walk. Once you get out of the ugly university buildings you are greeted by plenty of fields (like this one) most of which are used for rugby practice. It also just so happens to look like a scene from my favorite movie of all time, "Emma".



The path leading out onto the main road. I'm loving this whole fall concept. We don't really get much of it in California.



Hello sheep!



It's like something straight out of "All Creatures Great and Small". Very friendly cows as well. Not entirely sure I was supposed to be in their field though.



The break in the hedgerow that I took to be a path, of sorts.



The road home.



A house I wouldn't mind owning.



Colours. On leaves. What a concept!



In conclusion, England is very English looking. Who would have thought?

Friday, 26 October 2007

Mind the Ducks!

Today is a miserably grey (British spelling intentional) day. About 90% of my friends have gone away for the weekend. Hence I did what any sane student at Lancaster would do... I went to visit the ducks. Yes, we have ducks. Just down the road a ways is an old stone farm house with a pond and a number of ducks, some chickens, and very large and very ill-tempered goose.

These were the first two to see me. I expected them to run away but, silly me, they thought I had food and were most happy to waddle on over.



Blue/green ducks. Who knew?



I sat down on the bank to commune with the ducks. Bad idea. They all seemed to think I had bread for them and conseqeuntly I was surrounded. Eek!



Duck butt. I think this one was mad at me... with good reason I suppose.



Here we have the line of ducks, chickens, etc. headed off up the road to where two very nice girls had brought them some food.



Which left me all alone with the goose (who decided he'd rather hiss at me than get fed). Stupid goose.



All in all it was a lovely little self-pity trip. My daily dose of advice to all of you is that, should you ever find yourself out of spirits, find a duck, and take pictures of it. It's great fun.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

London Calling

This past weekend I decided to ditch a few classes and head to London for a long weekend. I met my friend Lizzy there (who is studying in Norwich) and we had a grand old time. We stayed in a hostel right on the edge of Hyde Park and spent our days and nights wandering the streets of London.

Here I am looking really excited to be in my first ever red phone booth!



The outside of St. Paul's Cathedral



The inside of St. Paul's. I would not mind getting married in that. Not at all.



The view from the top of St. Paul's (post 200+ stairs climbed).



Frolicking in the trees outside the Tate Modern.



Home to the best brownie I have ever tasted. This place was filled wall to wall with nothing but chocolate in its many forms. Yum!



Me outside of Buckingham Palace. Nice place... not very cozy.



We sat in Hyde Park (my favorite of all the urban parks I've ever seen) for a good two hours. While there we got to watch this model boat race on the lake.



And finally, on a completely ditzy note, the haircut inspired by London (and it's ridiculously fashionable people).



So, to sum up... I am moving to London the first chance I get. It was beautiful, fantastic, exciting, inspiring, fairly clean, and just plain old jolly good fun. The hostel left something to be desired due to the guy from Spain throwing up on the guy from Italy's bed at 3am and waking the whole dorm up. Really, they were all nice people. I just hate being woken up for things like that. Bleck! I hope to get back down to the city very soon and encourage you all to do so as well.

P.S. They even have "mexican" food in London. It's bland, but it's there!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

A Taste of Academia

* The following is a piece of writing I did for a creative non-fiction class here at Lancaster U. It paints a nice picture, don't you think?


Why is He Wearing a Sequined Thong?

In general, I try to be an open minded and understanding sort of person. Unfortunately there are many things in life that I will just never be able to understand and consequently hate with a fiery passion. Beans on toast, leg warmers, beets, people who walk unbearably slow and insist on taking up the entire footpath whilst doing so… these things and many more I could happily do without. I had been hoping that as I got older the list of hated things would cease to grow with such rapidity. Sadly, my arrival here in England has added one, and possibly the worst, item to my list.
Dance clubs. Oh, how I loathe dance clubs. Whoever decided they were a good idea for socializing ought to be dragged out into the street and trampled by a hoard of sweaty young adults in varying degrees of half-nakedness. Or should I say clubbing clothes? I’ve never really understood the difference. In any event, I suppose I ought to give a bit of background for this abhorrence of mine. It seems only fair to do so.
Not so long ago I was introduced to the idea of a dance club. I had just stepped off the coach from Manchester to Lancaster and arrived in my flat. I was immediately struck by how friendly my flatmates were as they all insisted I come out clubbing with them that very night. Having never been to such an event, drinking being illegal at my age in America, I decided to throw caution to the wind and head on in to town. I was jet lagged, I could hardly see straight from exhaustion, but god damn it, I was going to dance!
As the hour of 10pm rolled around, my flatmates knocked on my door to see if I was ready to go. I had just spent the better part of an hour attempting to look presentable but when I opened my door I suddenly felt as though I’d just rolled out of bed wearing a potato sack and slippers. Each and every one of the girls in my flat was dressed in what I can only describe as the kind of clothing I see in fashion magazines and go “huh, that looks lovely and monstrously uncomfortable.” I had never seen so much glitz and glamour in my life. Back home in California we always accepted anything better than track pants as dressed up. I was very clearly no longer in my element. However, in the interest of getting to know people, I simply sucked up my clothing shame, stumbled into the cab, and prepared for my first ever dance club experience.
Upon arrival in said club I was instantly unimpressed. Not only had they robbed me blind at the door for a cover-charge, my lungs were now filled with the excrement of a cheap fog machine and my ears were already pulsing with terrible techno remixes of mediocre songs. Really, Britney Spears is bad. A remix is not going to fix that. Deal with it. In fact, I would wager that most of the people in dance clubs only put up with the music because they are a) drunk as all hell, and b) in a state of mind that can only be classified as a frenzied state of near insanity. Soon, however, my lungs adapted to the lack of oxygen and over abundance of smoke and my eardrums went numb. It seemed I had now grown my clubbing gills, as it were, and was ready to venture into the crowd.
It took me a grand total of five minutes in that sweaty gyrating multitude to realize that it really wasn’t for me. Perhaps it was my utter lack of dancing ability or maybe it was just a wondrous presence of mind but whatever the reason, I had to get out. These people were insane. I’m sorry, but it is just an unnatural phenomenon for people to actually enjoy such a pastime. First of all, I am fairly certain their must have been at least five strings of “Fresher’s flu” passing around the dance floor at any one moment. It’s hot, it’s sweaty, it’s unsanitary, and really that which is called dancing is nothing more than planted feet and a hip shake here and there. I was getting so overly cynical standing in my corner surveying the madness that I knew something drastic needed to be done. So, I headed for the bar.
As it turns out I really have no problem with dance clubs… after enough alcohol to kill a baby elephant has passed my lips. In my opinion there is no other way to even come close to enjoying such a place. And, as I surveyed the scene through my newly found beer goggles, I became convinced that the rule held true for at least 95% of the people there. I suddenly had a vision of me standing there with a magic device that robbed everyone on the dance floor of their drunkenness. The room was instantly filled with utterly bewildered looking people wondering the following: why on earth were they drenched in sweat? Why were they drenched in sweat that wasn’t theirs? Who were these two completely strange people pushed up against them? Was that actual music punching holes in their eardrums? Or was it, as it sounded to be, actual tracks of cats dying? And above all, why oh why was there a guy wearing nothing but a sequined thong and some neon body paint? Slowly each and every person filed out into the streets, blinked up at the strobe-light-free sky, took a deep breath, and bustled off to some more worthy source of amusement. Sadly, like most of my fantasies in which I have a magical device to get rid of that which I hate, this one was soon ruined by reality. I heaved a great sigh, then did what any self respecting club go-er would do. I downed another shot of something or other and wedged myself into the sweaty mass of dancers.

By Kate Hetland

Sunday, 14 October 2007

A Proper Weekend

Up until now, weekends here have either consisted of endless hours in dance clubs or me coughing the night away in my room. Neither of these two options really tickle my fancy, to be perfectly honest. Don't get me wrong, I like to dance here and there, but it just seems to get old faster for me than for others. In any event, this weekend I managed to turn the tables on weekend activites. My flatmates had told me about these two great old pubs called the Water Witch and Three Mariners respectively. I have been trying to get to a nice traditional pub since I got here. Somehow, however, I always seem to either end up in a jazz club or in (you guessed it) a dance club. I was beginning to wonder if such a pub even exisited. I can now say that it does. And it was fabulous.

The first place we stopped (The Three Mariners) was a delightful little pub situated down by the canal in a little grove of trees. It was all very dark and Halloweeny in a cheerful kind of way. They just so happened to be giving out free pints of cider so we took ours and occupied one of the many picnic tables in the trees. The following picture is of me (with a slightly over-excited expression and some free cider) and the pub in the background.



The group that went consisted of my roommate from freshmen year (Linsey), our friend Justin (also from UPS) and our token Brit for the evening, Leo. One thing I've noticed is that, for some reason, at some point in the night the conversation always turns to politics. Tonight was no exception. I must say it's always a good time, and this evening was especially amusing as Leo attempted to explain how British and American political parties compare with a couple of leaves on a table. I was quite surprised to find out that both Democratic and Republican parties are farther right than their British counterparts. Yet another reason to like England I believe. Below is a picture of the leaf demonstration.



For our second act we four headed down the canal to The Water Witch (pictured below). This is perhaps my favorite place in Lancaster thus far (aside from the castle, of course). It's a great little pub with every ale you could ever want, a very cozy atmosphere and, if it's not raining, canal-side seeting with some very friendly swans included. Lovely. Simply lovely.



Yesterday evening (Saturday) I was roused from a very intense reading session of The Brothers Karamozov by an almighty cheering coming from the bar outside my window. Curious to see what all the fuss was about I bundled up and headed out. Turns out England was playing France at rugby... and it was a HUGE deal. The bar was absolutly packed with people. There was a small corner in which the french fans had been banished but they kept their sprits up with bright flags painted on their faces and such. It was a great time. British sports fans sure know how to watch a game. Lot's of singing, chanting, taunting (I did actually feel sorry for the french as they were outnumbered about 10 to 1) and just plain old screaming. I don't know a whole lot about rugby but I can tell you it is one of the most fun sports I have ever watched. I was hoping to play it myself, but sadly that idea was blocked by their insane athletic fees. Humph. In any case, if you have never seen a rugby match, do. But make sure it's with a bunch of poeple native to the country who is playing. It's fantastic!

So there you have it. That's my kind of weekend right there. And now I get to finish it off by reading hours and hours worth of gigantic books. I sometimes find it sad that they actually want me to study here in England. Alas. I'll leave you now with a picture of me with my first chips in a paper cone. They even give you a little fork. Go figure.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Well Mannered Violence

*Please note that the following may very well be a gross generalization of various cultures. That being said, it is a personal blog, so with any luck no one will actually care.

Those of you who have ever had the misfortune of playing cards with me will know that I am an avid fan of "spoons". This is the game in which all players eventually end up scratching and clawing their way to the middle of the table to grab a spoon before their rivals manage to do so. Most often, I am playing this game with men. Now, in my experience, this game is one that shoves chivalry of any kind out the window with an almighty heave. Most guys I know will not hesitate to punch the hell out of anyone, male or female, who gets in the way of them and their spoon. Don't get me wrong, I myself have drawn blood in this game. It's just always been a bit shocking to me that the "never hit a girl" rule is so quickly done away with. Tonight, however, I have discovered that this is not a world wide problem.

This evening, in an attempt to feel less sorry for my cold/cough ridden self, I dragged my aching body to the neighboring flat of some friends of mine (mixed Americans and Brits). While the rest of the university was off dancing the night away to the usual techno remixs, we six sat around the kitchen table and decided to play cards. The Americans at the table quickly recommended "spoons" which the Brits had never heard of. They learned quickly, however, and we soon had a very loud and quite dangerous game going. After a few rounds we decided to spice things up a bit. We took those spoons and placed them outside the kitchen at the end of the hallway. The goal now was to be able to push your way past all others out the door, into the hallway, and grab your spoon before the rest of the hoard fell on you. I, being used to playing with American guys, was prepared for injuries akin to those obtained in rugby (which, by the by, I am now playing). The outcome, however, was somewhat different than expected.

When the time came for everyone to launch themselves into the hallway the only other female in the group was knocked down. I am slightly ashamed to say that I did not stop to help her but pushed a few guys out of the way and continued to hurtle down the hall. As I looked back, however, I saw something that was absolutly shocking to me. One of the British guys had actually stopped to help her up. Granted, he had been the one to knock her down but still... had this been the average American co-ed he would have simply run over her in his pursuit of spoon glory. And the whole game was like this. Not once did a Brit harm a hair on my head. Odd, but appreciated. Hence I come to reason number whatever-number-I'm-on-now why I like England. The men here, while perfectly able to kick the crap out of someone should they wish to, do not do so to women when playing cards. Or at least not the ones I've met thus far. I think that says a little something positive about a country.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Back to Basics

On arriving here in Lancaster I quickly realized that I had, much to my horror, forgotten a few very important items. I'm not really a fussy person when it comes to general surroundings but my bedroom is a different story entirely. No matter where I am, if I'm going to be there for more than a few weeks my bedroom has to be arranged just so. The second I stepped into my room here I nearly cried. There was nothing, I repeat, nothing, to make the room at all home-like. I was surrounded by bare wood furniture and a bedding pack provided by the school (it's all pale hospital blue... not very cozy at all). I didn't mind that I was thousands of miles from home, or that I didn't have any food yet, or that I had no idea where my classes were. None of that bothered me at all. The room situation, however, caused my first (and only so far) breakdown. Over the past week, however, I've been able to collect a few things to make bedtime a bit less traumatic. I'm including some pictures below so those of you who would like to be able to place me in your minds (i.e. Elana) may do so. This way I'm no longer just floating around in some ancient city but sitting in a proper building.

1. This is me in my little English room.



2. My little rose bush. I named it Jane and it's made all the differnce in these spartan surroundings.



3. Nothing like cheap overhead lighting to get you down. This little guy was my solution to the problem.



4. Cheers for university poster sales.



5. Last, but not least, the view from my window. That's the offending bar on the left.

Friday, 5 October 2007

The "cute" factor


While riding the bus into town today with a freind of mine (also an American) he posed an intersting question. Back in America we both find land without mountains to be quite boring and, well, rather ugly. Here, however, while we are surrounded by mostly fields and small hills everything is absolutly stunning. That's one of the main things I've noticed about England so far... it's absolutly beautiful. Even things that are most often ugly are gorgeous.

Take, for example, the shopping district here in Lancaster. It has everything your basic run o' the mill shopping mall would have such as drug stores, department stores, shoe stores, fancy boutiques, and so forth. Now, in America these things would be crammed into a huge block of a building with no windows and a usually seedy atmosphere. Here, however, these stores are spread out along small stone alleys and, get this, they all have windows that let actual sun light in. Go figure. The picture above is of the main shopping street on which I was able to buy a blow dryer in the drug store as well as some freshly baked bread from a roadside stall just outside. Sidenote: it was the best bread I've ever tasted!

Aside from the shopping areas, pretty much everything else is cute as well. The farms almost make me get teary-eyed. Those low stone walls winding through pristine fields with a small (i.e. not huge, red, and falling down) farmhouse in the distance just get to me every time. Even the cows look like someone arranged them in that formation on purpose. They just know how to stand in the perfect spot under that perfect oak tree to make the whole picture amazing. I keep meaning to go for a stroll and get some great pictures of these fields but as I have yet to purchase wellies such an adventure might prove deadly. Soon though.

Last, but not least, even the traffic here makes me happy. Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer not to sit in it. I do, however, like to look at it. I wonder if we just added a couple of red double decker buses to our traffic back home would we like it better? It might be worth a try.