Saturday, June 25, 2011

Here Comes Summer

This post was inspired by a great post at Grumpy Old Woman's blog. Toni's talking about the US and Mike chat's about the UK:

  1. Mosquitoes
  2. Complete change of wardrobe. (Yay - no more ski jackets and snow boots.)
  3. Al fresco dining - 90% of the time
  4. Mosquitoes
  5. Air conditioning
  6. 3 months off school - (double edged sword)
  7. Mosquitoes
  8. Outdoor concerts, movies, street festivals, farmers' markets, - everything
  9. Beach life
  10. Mosquitoes

  1. Rain.
  2. White wobbly bits that were never mean to see the light of day and, for the love of all that is Holy, should be forever kept from public view.
  3. The day the complaint goes from “it’s too cold” to “it’s too hot” with hardly a breath in between.
  4. Fetching young ladies who, for the sake of my heart’s health, should be forced to wear an overcoat.
  5. Three consecutive days of 80 degree heat.
  6. Rain.
  7. More boisterous than usual chucking out times (nothing too serious in our quiet little town, usually just some singing and merriment as they wend their way homeward).
  8. Late nights in the beer garden.
  9. Subway cars that feel like the inside of a kiln. 
  10. Rain.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

College - US style.


The Queenager is going to a college in Washington DC, and the whole process was a far cry from anything I've seen. Unlike her English cousin who is still doing his A levels, she has had the luxury of knowing where she was going before school even ended. None of this worrying till results come out in the middle of August. Last week she went on a three day orientation with the Ball & Chain. Three day orientation? I know I didn't have one of those back in the day, and I'm wondering if British soon-to-be-undergrads have those now? There were scheduled activities and talks for both parents and students, and they came back with a bag full of swag bearing the college's insignia. They taught the kids the "fight songs" which are to be sung at sports games and the like. I'm pretty sure Bristol Uni doesn't have a fight song, even though they've often done well in sports.

She starts on August 29th, so we're all going up in the previous week to help her settle in (ie. buy the stuff she needs). Again, none of that putting-her-on-a-train malarkey. We can  however, buy it all at our local shop and have the entire order shipped to her dorm. Once she has selected her courses, (oh yes, there's so much choice in what she takes that she had to go over a mock schedule with her advisor last week) she can oder her books on line, then they'll be boxed up and ready for collection when she arrives. Her computer will be ready and waiting, and any repairs needed are done by the on-site Mac shop at no cost. (OK, since laptops didn't even exist when I was at uni, I can't really make a comparison there.)

There's been a freshmen Facebook page up for a few months so she's "met" several kids already. Her dorm (hall of residence) and room mate have been allocated and the girls have been chatting away on FB too. When I went to Bristol I knew no one and had but a handful of people to look up. Any questions she has about what to take, what it will be like etc. are answered almost immediately by current students. Not that going to uni was traumatic for me, but how great that they have this much back up when they need it.

Oh yes, and then there's Parents' Weekend in October, which doesn't sound too optional to me, as everyone I know is going to their kids' version. In reality this is to keep the parents as connected as possible to the college; in other words, yet another opportunity to hit them up for a donation to its coffers. (Something I foresee happening more and more as British fees increase.)

The weirdest difference between American and British college campuses? No student union bars!


I didn't go to college, and the two of my sons who did went while I was living in Britain, so I am eminently unqualified to comment on this subject.  Toni, however, seems to have had enough experience for both of us.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Benefits of Staycationing

This week, while Toni is busily embroiled in the phenomenon known as an American High School Graduation, Annabella Forbes--founder of Bed&Fed, a network of home from home guest rooms across the UK and Ireland--and I take a look at the phenomenon known as the "Staycation."


Staycation:  a derisive term applied to holidays spent in your own country.  I doubt this term is used in America (and if it were, I don’t think it would be derisive) because staying in the US on your vacation is practically a given.  That is, if you actually go on vacation at all.  (But this is best left for another post.)

In the UK, however, going abroad is what you do on holiday—France, Italy, Spain, Croatia and beyond—and staying at home is looked upon as the last refuge of people who can’t afford a proper holiday.  I, however, love staycations; my wife and I usually plan at least two in-country getaways every year.  And every year we make wonderful discoveries.

Britain is a beautiful place, with astounding variations of culture and landscape in a comparatively compact country; it would be a shame to spend all our holidays in southern Spain soaking up the sun and miss the atmosphere and grandeur of the Yorkshire moors on a grey and drizzling morning.

No, I honestly mean that.  Really.

Annabella Forbes:

Staycationing? The beautiful art of holidaying at home – or at least in the same country.
We have a wealth of destinations here in the UK that are fascinating, terrific, exciting, breathtaking and beautiful – sometimes you miss the things that are right in front of you. Staycationing is the new black and here’s why:

Benefit #1 – Save Money, Cut Carbon and Avoid airport taxes and other excruciating fees.

Airlines, while great at getting you from A to B, can really put pressure on your purse strings with their extra charges when it comes to holidaying abroad, not to mention the fact that you will probably have to buy food in the airport which in itself is financially crippling! Holidaying in the UK means you just need a car or train (or even just a bike!).

Additionally you can feel extra smug because, unlike your jet-setting friends, your carbon footprint will be as minuscule as that of an ant wearing stilettos. Holidaying in the UK can also save you a fortune on visas and time – it can all be done last minute and on a whim! Staycationing allows you to be spontaneous: plan your break away on a Friday afternoon and leave that evening!

Benefit #2 – Find Unique and Interesting Places to Stay

Where can you stay on your staycation? Well, there’s always hotels and B&B’s (which admittedly can be quite pricey), but staying in a real homes, like those on the Bed&Fed website, is another great option. This is a lot less restrictive than staying in a hotel and far nicer and more fun – plus you don’t have to check in, queue for a seat in the restaurant or wait at the bar to be served. You are met with a warm welcome instead of a reception desk and the smell of a delicious supper wafting in from the kitchen – it’s just like staying with friends.

Really affordable accommodation CAN be found in the UK – from cottages to castles, farms to city pads, some of the friendliest, loveliest, cheapest, prettiest, nicest, coziest, lovely-jubly home from home guest rooms can be discovered on our very own lovely little island. Plus many of these properties are just perfect if you are a freelance contract worker, going on a course or just traveling for work!

Benefit #3 – Meet and Eat with new people who could actually become your friends

Let’s face it, you’re not going to stay in touch with that lovely waiter from that bar or the lady in the shop who sold you those overpriced sunglasses. Visiting somewhere in the UK however means you have the chance to make friends all over the country – as the saying goes, ‘a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet’.

A home from home experience can make a huge difference to your stay away. It can be really enjoyable and you get to meet great people who want to Host you in their home – it’s something that should be seen as exciting – there is no-one better to stay with than people from the area you are visiting, as this will enrich your experience (and if you’re lazy like me you won’t have to read a guide book as they will tell you all you need to know!). Think about it: you ALWAYS have a better time on your travels if you meet people from the area.

Bed&Fed is here to help you get so much more from your trip - affordable, welcoming homes with home-cooked food and priceless local knowledge.

From me to you, enjoy your stay(cation)!

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer Weather - Feast or Famine

Can we safely say it's summer time?


Well it’s here. The Chicago summer. There was no spring in any sense of the word. Only last week I was complaining, along with many I might add, about the freezing temperatures here in Chicago. Not quite freezing, but too bloody cold for May. We were in the low 40’s (farenheit) and still wearing winter clothing and footwear. I took the dog out one day wearing my biggest ski jacket, winter boots, and still had to come back early because my hands were too cold!

And then all of a sudden, wham! 90 degrees. The weather people had warned of it, but you don’t quite believe it do you? I mean how can you be wearing ski gear one day and beach wear the next without getting on a plane and going somewhere?

The funny thing about the Chicago summer is that we’re pretty much guaranteed warmth when it finally arrives, but that doesn’t always equate to “good weather”. So far we’ve had two rounds of severe thunderstorms (we’re talking flash floods and near fatal lightening) and a couple of tornado warnings. Flying at this time of year is often more of a pain than in the middle of winter because of all the thunder, which either makes for cancellations or extra flying time as the pilot tries to navigate around some huge “system” in the sky.

It didn’t help to hear of all the “fabulous” weather in England while we were still freezing our butts off.
All I can say is – when I come over at the end of June, the British summer I’ve been hearing so much about had better still be going on.


Ah, the weather.  What would we do if we didn’t have it to complain about?

After the coldest December on record here in Sussex, we were treated to a mild first quarter of 2011, followed by the driest spring anyone can remember.  This has been one of the only times I can recall people complaining that it isn’t raining.

We recently returned from Scotland where the weather was uncharacteristically tropical (well, for Scotland, anyway) and you could tell the Scots didn’t know what to do about it.  Nice, sunny, warm weather?  In Scotland?  What they did do was go around with too little clothing on (not in a prurient sense, but in a way that tells you there was going to be a lot of pink, peeling skin in the near future) and went to the beach.

The thing is, pretty much anywhere in Britain, and in Scotland in particular, the beaches, however inviting they look, merely give access to frigid water.  Even in August the sea can freeze your extremities off, and at the end of May you need survival gear if you are going to do anything other than wet your toes in the surf.

The method of swimming over here has no relation to what I think of as swimming, which involved lazy days slashing about in the gentle currents of the Kinderhook Creek, or jumping repeatedly into the inviting water from the rope swing or the rocky cliffs.  Here, people seem to regard swimming as dressing up in a bathing suit, walking out into the waves up to their knees, then running—squealing and splashing—back to the relative warmth of the shore.

It must be frustrating, during these scorching days (we’re talking in the seventies, now) to have being too hot or freezing cold as the only temperature options open to you.

Today we were blessed with some much needed drizzle under a cooling cloud cover, and you just know that somewhere, someone was complaining about it.  But that’s the good thing about weather, it is always doing something to get your attention.  I recall one memorable October morning aback in 1987 when we woke to a bona fide blizzard.  It was so bad that when I ventured out to get some supplies from the convenience store not a quarter mile away, I found myself lost in a white out.  Then I heard branches (tree limbs, actually) cracking and thumping to the earth all around me.  It gave me a healthy respect for Mother Nature, and I was glad just to make it back to the safety of my house, without the supplies.

This storm cut power to much of New England and made travel impossible.  A friend of mine ended up staying with us for a few days until the road to her house was cleared.  During that time—being blessed with both a gas stove and a fireplace—we basically camped out in our living room, eating turkey and ham and other items that were thawing out in the freezer and drinking ice cold beer kept chilled in the snow banks outside the door.

When my friend was able to return to her home—where the electric and other utilities were in working order—she discovered that she was having so much fun roughing it in the disaster area that she came back to finish weathering the storm with us.  We were glad to have her—you can only eat so much turkey.

Now that is the way to enjoy bad weather.

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