Monday, 10 July 2017

H NOT in London right now, PT 1

Damn, the Charlotte airport is big! It's a bit like a fancy mall with airline gates, and it just goes on and on and on.

And, that's where I am right now, quickly writing about the first of many parts of my journey through the USA as I wait for the connection to Chicago. I had an amazing twelve days in North Carolina, both at in Asheville and at Topsail Island. Here's some of the highlights.

First, my journey from Heathrow to Asheville was perfect, no lost luggage, no delayed flights, and ever since Delta has paired up with Virgin Atlantic, flying transatlantic is lovely. I was given my seat at the gate, something that has never happened to me before, and I was a bit worried. Not being able to select my seat was a bit disconcerting. However, I ended up in Delta comfort, which completely lived up to its name.

The first two days in Asheville were spent with my parents running errands, seeing my grandma, and getting ready to head to the beach. During this time, my father and I had an amazing lunch at a small little place close to where they now live, called Abejas House Cafe. It's small and from the outside, you wouldn't think much about it and may possibly pass
it by, but don't! It's amazing. All the food is fresh and mostly locally grown and/or organic. Plus, it's reasonably priced. If you follow the hyperlink above, it will take you to their "about" page, and it's clear that they are the type of business that should be lauded. If you live in or are visiting Asheville, go! They even serve chilaquiles, although they don't appear on the online menu.

Okay, I'm done sounding like an advertisement...

View from the house (taken by my brother)
On Saturday, my mom, dad, and I loaded up the car and started out for Surf City to the beach house we stayed at the year before (actually it's a duplex and this year we were next door) However, within the first 30 minutes of our journey we were delayed due to a milk truck accident on the highway.
Fortunately, (and also luckily) we were ten cars back from where this occurred, so after the three quarters of an hour that it took to clear the highway, we were quickly on our way.

View from The Bistro
Once we finally arrived at the house on Topsail Beach, we met up with my hot and sweaty brother, who had been waiting for us in his car for an hour or more, changed into nicer clothes and jetted over to The Bistro. This restaurant, as well as spending a week on Topsail Island, has become a new family tradition. My mother's birthday is at the beginning of July, so last year we did this trip to celebrate it. We ended up loving it all so much, we did it again this year and will repeat it next year. By the way (and briefly reverting to my advertisement tone) The Bistro serves the most excellent food and makes a damn good Old Fashioned.

Other highlights from the week at Topsail beach included:

-Multiple Firework viewings from the towns and businesses near to the house, including a fantastic display from the people in the house next to us on both the 3rd and 4th of July. We didn't have to leave and face traffic and crowds to enjoy fireworks this year.

-Down the beach about two houses, there was a small evening wedding on the beach (it may have put some ideas in my head-haha)

Sunrise taken by my mother
-Amazing weather only broken up by the occasional thunderstorm. The surf was a bit too raucous at times to swim, but we braved the sea a few times anyway.
My Topsail toes
However, for me the highlight of the trip came on the penultimate night that we were there. My dad noticed a gathering on the beach of about 16 people. They seemed to be forming a semi-circle around a rather large mound. My mom called me to come and see, and after looking for a few moments, I saw the mound move. Realising it was a sea turtle, I flew down the steps to join my dad, who was talking to our next-door neighbour. The crowd included some volunteers from The Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, who were making certain no disturbed this magnificent animal. She was massive, possibly the largest sea turtle I'd ever seen, and she had just climbed from the sea to an area under one of the steps of the house next to us, dug a hole, laid eggs, and now was making her way slowly back to the sea. Unfortunately, I left my phone in the house and was too mesmerised by the whole thing to go back to get it. It was truly amazing to witness.
Panorama from the deck

After our beach week ended, we returned to Asheville where we ran errands, visited my grandma, took a dip in the pool, and spent a lovely evening with my parents friends, Jan and Ken.
My pool toes

So now I'm in the Charlotte Airport awaiting my flight to Chicago, which boards in five minutes, for the next part of this journey. I'm going to quickly publish and post this, so please forgive my grammar for now.

Ciao for now and see you for part two!

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

From the mouths of babes on today of all days...

It's the day of the election in the US, and people over here in the UK are worried...all people, not just ex-pats.  The hate and vitriol that has permeated this election has affected civility and common decency on what I've seen in the news and social media. This whole fiasco has brought me to the point of despair over the human race.

Until about 10 minutes ago...

If you've read my blog in the past (or you just know me), you know I teach grade 6 at an international school in the UK. The school is approximately 30-40% American with a wealth of nationalities making up the other 70-60%. Earlier this morning one of my homeroom students came to me and asked if she could come in with a group of students and do some filming at lunch recess for a little project she was making for fun. I was a bit annoyed by this because we're in the midst of grading and report writing, and I'm swamped with work. But, I grudgingly obliged, warning that if they were too noisy I would make them leave.

So in they came...quietly...a big bunch of them, and they spread out amongst my desks, taking books from my classroom library and pretending to read as my student walked around the classroom filming them with her iPad. They then all gathered together behind two students who had a notebook with messages on four pages. My student zoomed in on each page, reading the messages aloud, so she could make certain that she was giving enough time for each message to be read.

Page 1- "You see a mixed race classroom. This is our school"
Page 2- "We accept each other for who we truly are no matter of religion, belief or skin color"
Page 3- "Our school treats each other equally and cares for each other because we are a community"
Page 4- "Why can't the world be like our school?"

 As I watched this my eyes welled up with tears. This was not an assignment. No one had suggested they do this. They felt it had to be said, so they gave up their recess to say it.

And with that, my faith in humanity is restored.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

You've let me down, Gloria Steinem!

Gloria Steinem has been an iconic figure for me ever since I can remember. I even subscribed to Ms Magazine for a while. On the 4th of November, 1992, the day after Bill Clinton was elected president, Gloria Steinem spoke in Grand Rapids for a YWCA benefit. My mother was one of the organisers for the event. As I was living in Seattle at the time, I didn't attend, but my mother sent me a picture of herself and Gloria. I've had that picture in a frame and in a prominent place wherever I have lived. But, today I gave some serious thought to taking it down.

There's been a lot of chatter about what the old guard feminists are saying about younger female voters, and from it I came across Bill Maher's interview with Gloria Steinem on YouTube. The interview starts with him gushing over how good she looks for 81. Then he goes on to ask Gloria if she thinks, as some other feminists have said, that young women today are complacent about Rowe v Wade because they weren't around when abortion was illegal. Gloria answers in defence of today's young feminists saying that she finds them to be far more activist way more feminist than the women of her generation and goes on to say that "...gratitude never radicalised anybody." She continues on to explain that she "...never said, "Thank you for the vote,'" and adds, "I got mad at the basis as what was happening to me, and I think that's true of young women too. So they're mad as hell because they're graduating in debt, and they're going to earn a million dollars less over their lifetime to pay it back...they're mad about what's happening to them."

So good. It sounds like Ms Steinem really understands the issues of the youth (and some of us who are not so young) today. But then in one fell swoop she dismisses and alienates an entire generation of women. When Bill Maher points out that the younger generation of women support Bernie more than Hilary in this presidential campaign, Gloria says that women tend to get more radical as they get older, and "When you're young you're thinking where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie."

Wait. What???

So, this entire generation has gone from being way more feminist and activist and "mad as hell" to boy crazy??? For someone who claims to be more radical now that she's older, she certainly seems to be using a rather old school argument some men may have even used to belittle women who had stood up in the past.

Actually I think these women who are angry about the situation they find themselves in economically are more apt to be thinking of the two candidates who is really going to stand up to the bastards that have really set most of my generation (men and women) in the position we find ourselves? Of the two candidates who consistently votes his/her conscience and doesn't pander to big money corporate America? Who does that? Not Hilary Clinton.

When women fought for the right to vote, they did not make an agreement to always vote for women. They wanted the right to speak their minds and vote their consciences and to have their opinions be taken seriously. Instead of taking the opinions of the young women of today seriously, Gloria Steinem has trivialised their beliefs by saying they are supporting Bernie simply because they want to meet a man.

So today after I saw that interview (which by the way has now been removed from YouTube but you can still find it here), I thought about taking down that picture of my mother with Gloria Steinem.

But it's a really good picture of my mom.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

My dry spell has ended. Thank you, Donald Trump!

No, I've not slept with Donald Trump. However, that misogynist, racist asshole, who throws his toys out of the pram when he doesn't get his way, has been the perfect incentive for me. And as a result of his influence, I'm healthier and perhaps slightly wiser.

First, the backstory:
I realised back in November that perhaps I was going out and drinking a bit too much. But, the holidays were around the corner, so I carried on and decided that January would be the perfect month to give my liver a break. Many people have 'Dry Januarys' so I wouldn't be alone. But not drinking when you live in the UK is far more difficult than not drinking when you live in the USA or Mexico. Going to the pub is a social expectation here. People meet up at pubs far more than each other's houses or coffee shops. Plus, I have a fantastic local called The Lamb, where the most interesting and creative people I've ever met congregate. It's become a big part of my life, and I find myself there at least once a week if not more. Thus, I knew that this giving up booze for a month thing would not be easy. I needed an incentive to keep me on track.

If you've read my blog in the past, you'll know that I've a history of using my political/ethical beliefs to keep me on the road to meeting goals, so I was a bit surprised that I didn't come up with this idea on my own, but I didn't. The credit goes entirely to my friend, Kellie, who suggested that if I had a drink in January I should have to donate a sum of money to Donald Trump's campaign. Since I had social plans over the first weekend in January, I decided that the 4th of January should be the start date of my dry month. Thus on the 4th of January this was my Facebook status:

As 2015 was the year of indulgence for me, I've decided that 2016 will be the year of good health. Therefore in order to begin, I will not have a drop of alcohol from now up until the 4th of February 2016. If I do have a drink during this time, I will donate £300 to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

There was no turning back now. Everyone knew I wasn't allowed a drop of alcohol, and the brilliant part of this was that everyone I knew supported me. No one wanted me to give Donald Trump a penny, so no one tried to get me to drink. If I was getting pressured to have a drink, I would explain my incentive, and they would quickly offer to buy me something non-alcoholic. In fact, I have yet to actually meet someone who supports Donald Trump. If those people really exist, they do not live in the UK.

Second, the results and realisations from my dry month:

-I slept better!
I am normally quite the night owl, but found myself going to bed at more reasonable hours and then sleeping straight through the night. When I was out late, my sleep that night was sound. I didn't wake up early and stare at the ceiling feeling like crap having to guzzle down a pint of water.

-My resting heart rate dropped!
This surprised me a bit. I received a Fitbit Charge HR for Christmas and began to wear it immediately. My resting heart rate at that time was at 68bpm as an average before I started my dry month. It's now at 62bpm. For one week my average was 60bpm. This means my heart doesn't need to work as hard when I'm not drinking. Granted, I'm also exercising a bit more (see below), so that also might have something to do with it.

-I was more productive at work on the days after I went out with friends!
I was still social. I still went to The Lamb and did other things on various school nights. I just didn't drink. As a result, I was far more productive at work on the days following. I am always active and alert when I teach, so that remained the same. It's the prep time where my productivity increased. I didn't find myself staring off into space in the middle of a task, and as a result I ended up doing more at work and brought less work home.

-Weekend mornings are far more enjoyable!
This one really needs no explanation.

-I wasn't as socially anxious as I expected I'd be!
Social anxiety is probably the reason I started drinking in the first place. I have always been nervous in social situations, but after a few drinks I am intelligent, funny, and beautiful and don't care what people think. Sometimes my desire to be intelligent, funny, and beautiful would go a bit too far. The best example of this is my one and only real blackout when I was a student at Michigan State University. My friend, who was an active member of the Democratic Party, asked me to accompany him to the Governor's Christmas party. He was also helping secure a role as an intern on The Governor's Cabinet Council for Human Investment, so attending this party would be to my benefit. Since I was so nervous, I drank far too much. My last memory of that evening is clinging to my friend's arm barely able to stand while trying to have a conversation with a group of people that included Governor Blanchard.  Fortunately, my friend was tuned in enough to get me out of there, and I still somehow ended up with the internship. It's what my housemates told me I did when I got home that makes me cringe. Sorry, but I'm not going to relate it here. If you run into me in the real world, ask.
Anyway, since that time I must have grown in confidence because while I was out socially this past month, I discovered that I am already intelligent, funny, and beautiful and really don't care what people think. I no longer need alcohol to make me these things.

-I have just as much fun with my friends who are drinking when I'm sober!
Oh the laughter that happens when we share a few drinks. So many funny things are said that sometimes we laugh so hard we cry, and guess what? Those funny things are still said, and they're still just as funny. Plus, the goofier my friends became when they drank, the goofier I was. I still had a great time. I just didn't feel like poo the next morning.

-It was easier to exercise!
This one is a no-brainer. Cycling long distances on the weekend (30 miles +) is a lot easier if you haven't had a few drinks the night before. It's also easier to drag yourself to an exercise class during the week if you didn't have that glass or two of wine with dinner the previous evening.

-I ate better!
And it was easier to do so. There were no impulsive stops for 'cheesy chips' on my way home from the pub, no hangover pizza orders, and less cravings for cake (although the cake cravings were still strong, just not overpowering).

-And finally, my favourite thing... I LOST 9.5 pounds!!!!!

So today my dry month ends. Will I remain a teetotaller?
Hell no! I like the taste of alcohol, particularly whiskey and bourbon. I miss occasional overpriced cocktails, and I enjoy wine with dinner. Plus, it's just nice having a few drinks with friends at the end of the week. However, I do not intend to return to the level of drinking I was at in November. I feel much better now than I did then, so I still intend to use good old Donald as an incentive to keep healthy. Tomorrow I shall post the following on Facebook:

As Donald Trump helped me achieve my dry goal for the month of January, I will continue using him to guide me in healthy choices. With the exception of one day a week and when I'm travelling on holiday, I will, as accurately as I can, track my calories every day on My Fitness Pal from now until the 17th of June, 2016. If I do not do this, I will have to donate £300 to that man's presidential campaign.

But tonight I'm off out to celebrate my achievement of a month of sobriety with a few drinks.

So, thanks Donald! The fact that you're such a twat has been truly inspiring.