Birds · British "stuff" · British Birds · Fitting In · Garden · Home · Life · Musings · Nature · UK · Uncategorized

The Bird Watching Diary

They are coming more often now to the backyard. My part in that being dotting more food stations and water around, and replenishing them more often.  They also seem to be moving more in pairs, showing off in a dance sashaying their wings, and singing in unintended chorus that make mornings so much more beautiful.  I will miss this when I go back soon.  But not to worry, hubby is putting cameras inside the bird houses (we have 2) and I will be able to see how they are growing their families. If I often gripe about how Technology has alienated people from one another, I marvel at how close it has brought us to our animal friends. :)  Note:  Magpies, I learn now, are not just black and white.  They have that electric blue stripe from the edge of  wings to tail.  As if they could get prettier.

“The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”  ~ Willie Nelson

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Books · British "stuff" · British Birds · Chicago · Expat Dilemmas · Fitting In · Gadgets · Garden · Gifts · Life · Nature · Photography · UK · Uncategorized

Bird Watching

When I tell friends in the US about the “British things” I like or do when in the UK, I get reactions like eyes widening (or rolling) or raised eyebrows.  Drives home the reality that my lives on either side of the pond are VERY different, and this oftentimes makes my interests on one side of the pond sound quite incredulous to people on the other.  But I always say “vive de difference” as it is always difference, diversity, even incongruence, in life that makes things inviting and fun.  The latest thing I have developed is (get ready for this) BIRDWATCHING.  In Chicago, I don’t get the chance to see the variety of birds that i can when in our little village in the UK.  I can tell you though that at any one time when I look up the sky in the Windy City, I can see at least 3 planes flying northwestward over Lake Michigan, en route to Ohare International.  Mechanized flying things that roar, not quite as graceful as birds and their songs.  And so I started noticing these feathered friends from those daily look-outs from the window by the kitchen sink here in England, and hearing their tweets and calls.  What a refreshing treat.  Not long after my father-in-law gave us a colored poster of common birds (pull out from a Sunday paper) which piqued my curiosity even more. Add on a day at Caernarfon Castle with the RSPB (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds) selling (and me buying) lapel pins of a host of bird species to raise funds, and the serendipitous £1 find I got from a charity shop (RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds by Simon Harrap) the very next day, and there we have the perfect storm of the birth of a new hobby.

Over Christmas, Hubby bought me a pair of binoculars, specifically, a NIKON PROSTAFF 7s 10×42.  They are not the typical small little things that birdwatchers can thrust into the pockets.  More the type you hang on your neck while you move around. They feel “substantial” — which I like, because they have more the feel that you’re holding a piece of equipment rather than a toy.  The best part of it is that it is lightweight, for all the power it packs in.  IMG_3358

I keep on the window sill the RSPB pocket guide, and a more expansive “Birds of Britain and Europe” by Rob Hume. I like that both books either describe the bird voice/sounds or illustrate their flight pattern.  Both books also provide a cross reference to confusion species or similar species.  I also have a small notebook where I have begun to note down the birds I have seen and where.  For now, I think the most special one I have on the list is the Great-Spotted Woodpecker which honored us with its presence when it came for the bird-feed pellets we have just put out.                                                                                                                            With his bold black wings decorated with little white dots, and a bright red crown and under tail — what a beauty.  We now have 3 feeders in the backyard, and we like to think it has become Blue Tits Central in this little neighborhood.  They fly together, and oftentimes we have finches, blackbirds, chaffinches, robins, starlings, chubby wood pigeons and even the odd pheasants joining in there party.  I am so looking forward to more of these glorious feathered creatures, in number and types, coming over in the spring and summer.

“…I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.” ~ Mark Nepo (author, in “Facing The Lion, Being The Lion, Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives”)

Uncategorized

The Right To Bare One’s Arms

This is the day and age of the Selfie Photograph.  Gone are the days when a camera was a major purchase for an entire family; and long forgotten are the time when only professional photographers would have a pretentious tripod on which to perch that precious camera.   Cameras are now everywhere — in our bags, in our person, pockets, integral features of our little army of handheld gadgetry — Do we have phones with cameras?  or are they cameras with a phone feature really?  Cameras are so commonplace that everyone has the capability to document their lives every day, many times over.  We snap away and post the places we visit, the common or unusual sights along the way, the things we eat, the outfits we tried, the outfits we wore.  “OOTD” (a.k.a. “#OOTD, a.k.a. Outfits Of The Day) photos are displayed by stylists, fashionable types, celebrities and trendsetters, —  all the way to those irritating trying-hard wannabes who spew fashion advice as if their readership are idiots who know nothing about dressing themselves (pointless — this is the age of the individual expression and quirks).   And who needs a tripod when you can extend your arms to take that self-portrait, as often as you like and can?

Byproduct of this love affair with the camera is the hand-on-hip (HOH) pose. It has been called the “chicken wing” or the “tea pot”.  This postural affliction that affects women and girls of every age.  A world-wide phenomenon of sorts, strangely enough.  Anytime a camera is trained to take a shot, The Pose is assumed almost instinctively –arm crooked at the elbow to form a small diamond between arm and oblique (chicken wing or teapot handle up).  Needless to say that pose also entails arching one’s back (upwards, and sidewards) to cut and define a clear angle on the waist.  This, I must say, is not a look I really enjoy.  The said “pose”, once the monopoly of fashion models and starlets, has since trickled down to Reality TV stars, the famous-for-being-famous, and now it is EVERYWHERE.  Just look through the Newsfeed of your FaceBook page.  Or possibly, take a look at your own photos.

Per se, I have nothing against The Pose.  I just don’t think it is an entirely flattering stance or look to affect, at any age:

1.  The pose doesn’t look good on little girls or kids.  It’s creepy.  It’s Jon Bennet Ramsey-ish.  It’s just doesn’t look right.  Kids should enjoy their childhood and days of play.  Save the attempts to look saucy or beauty pageants for much later, should they wish.

2.  The pose doesn’t look good on college kids and younger adult women either, especially if they do it ALL THE TIME.  Diane Von Furstenberg once tweeted the advice that the hands on hip look makes one look like a starlet, and not the star.  I couldn’t agree with her more.  The pose just smacks of trying too hard (to be what?  Glamourous? Sexy?  Cool?  Real Housewives of Hollywood-ish?  or just simply “trying too hard”?).

3.  The pose is not a very professional look –unless you’re a fashion model, Paris Hilton, part of a girl band or a reality TV star.  Imagine seeing a shot of your lawyer or your surgeon with that pose all the time. Comfortable with that? I thought not.

4.  The pose is not a very good look for women of a more mature vintage (ha!), either.  I have seen many of that going around.  It can be an amusing look, but let’s face it, it’s not exactly elegant.

Perhaps it is because I think this way that I have never taken to affecting this pose.  In most of my shots, one or both my hands are either in my pocket(s), folded in front of me, or joined behind my back. Awkward poses of the unsure? Perhaps. But that’s how I like it, eversince.

Uncategorized

Reality Check (from city to village)

Over the weekend, the British hubby and I headed out for dinner, not because it was “date night” or anything like that but just because I declared war on any more cooking and dish-washing for the day.  People here in the UK seem to generally dress-up more when going out for dinner compared to Americans.  It’s most likely because eating out here is for the most part luxury (at the very least it is not cheaper than eating at home) rather than for convenience — meaning bone-tired, no desire to wash or cook, let’s head out to the local restaurant.  So when in Rome, bring out the toga.  I made sure I had on killer heels despite the cold, put on a stylish coat and my make up was right.  I have yet to purchase those furry, fake eyelashes British women would have you believe they are born into, but on the whole I was spruced-up and decently ready for a beautiful night out with the hubby.  Shortly after we get on the road, I begin to notice an odd stink in the car.  I began to sniff and look around — trying to figure the source of this funk.  Did the hubby leave yesterday’s lunchbox overnight at the backseat?  Did a rat find it’s way into the car and died?  The hubby noticed my fuss around the car and asked what was going on.

Me :  There is a strange stink in this car and I am trying to find the culprit.

Hubby (very calmly) :  That’s probably the smell of manure fertilizing Farmer’s Geoff’s farm at the back of the house.

Me (with that flash of enlightenment):  Oh yeah.  Manure and a farm.  I forgot about those.

And so the process of reorienting myself to the change in geography and lifestyle continues.  :)

Life · Road Signs · Travel · Uncategorized · USA · Work

Meanderings

In a few days I will be headed home to the UK, and I can’t wait.  The best thing is always that moment when I finally exit UK Immigration and look through the sea of faces for That One. :)   Yeah, home is really where the heart is.  I have been musing today about how little I blog while I am in Chicago, or while travelling around the States.  I seem to dive in getting my nose dirty in books and papers, catching up with friends, finding ways to bask in the new and get back in the groove of the familiar, running around doing 3,000 things.  In short, I blog less wearing my “Miss Chicago hat” than when I am on the other end of the Atlantic “missing Chicago”.  Which really makes me think whether this whole blog needs a change of direction.  I have ideas swimming in my head.  And re-packaging, and a new related blog which may involve providing my loyal readership of four (one of whom is my husband) with US Immigration and Nationality laws tidbits and updates, may be forthcoming.  Oooh, lucky you.  (really….).

On a side note, I have a professional collaboration possibility in the UK the off-ing.  It’s not employment, and at this point in my life, anyway, “employment” is not something I am interested in.  (Did I tell you my Indian name was “Bindher Dandhat”?)  I like the freedom of being on my own.  I got an (unexpected) invite from them, but the proposal on paper seems ideal.  The talks are scheduled for the day after I arrive in the UK.  I take the train to London the next day, and am keeping my fingers crossed on that one.  My Jewish and Chinese sides tell me to keep all other details under wraps.  Wish me luck. :)

This is a picture of where I was over the weekend. I drove quite a ways to Eureka Springs. The trek was not what I expected. It was on the mountains and I was on 36 miles of steep and curvey roads. I drove through 15 mph hairpins, if that gives any indication of why I was mostly thinking.... what would this drive be like in the WINTER when covered with snow? Boooo. Scroll your pointer over the picture to find out the name of this place.
British "stuff" · British Food · British Traits · Lost In Translation · UK · Uncategorized

Ambivalently Proudly British

“Really rather good”

Originally uploaded by MissChicago

The Brits rarely hardsell anything. They are the masters of underplay and understatement. And even when they must toot their own horn, — what in the cut-throat world of marketing — they seem to be reluctant about going all-out.   I found this packaging on Marks & Spencer’s Rich Team Cream Fingers quite amusing: “Really rather good”. In America, there would be no qualms about something being “ooh oom good” or “finger lickin’ good”. But M&S proudly declare these little sweethearts to be, uhm …. “REALLY RATHER Good”.  “Really rather” sounds like an oxymoronic pair of adjectives that cancel each other out.  But somehow, knowing their British origins, it adds to its charms.  That tendency to false modesty which really translates to “Go on, YOU tell us it’s really good, because we’re not going to!”.

They are proud in their humility.  Proud that they are not proud”.  ~  Robert Burton (British Clergyman) 1574-1640.

Uncategorized

Match Made In (Football) Heaven

I’ve always been a big FIFA World Cup fan.  Maybe moreso excited this year with the much anticipated match between, — what else — England vs. USA.* (Last time the 2 countries played against each other was in 1950 in Brazil, a terrible upset for the English team).  The match takes a special dimension for me now that I’ve moved to England, which makes me somehow torn between allegiance.

England and America, it is obvious to me, has more than just a common language separating them.  It’s the general attitude which undoubtedly developed from their respective histories and culture.  It’s obvious in the build-up to tomorrow’s big game.  On the one hand is England, undeniably one of the World Cup’s strongest and finest, yet going into tomorrow’s match with some trepidation and unwilling to be totally optimistic of a win.  On the other hand, young Team USA, the true underdogs with the never-say-die, anything-can-happen attitude.

Look at how each country cheers its team.  In contrast to the USA’S “GO TEAM USA!”, England’s is, uhm…. “Come on England”.

and

Yeah, tacky mannequin

almost as if begging to extract a performance from its players, a plea for the team to please not let them down.  “Come on, England” is not as gung-ho as “Go Team USA”…. its a call to fight that is an acknowledgement that the game is their’s to lose, — but please hopefully not.

It’s very interesting to see this difference in attitude.  And while overconfidence can translate to arrogance, and reservation can translate to tentativeness, here’s hoping that the good sides of these traits come out tomorrow.  That would make the game more interesting.  A strong team that stays watchful of giving its best, against a team with still something to prove to prove something.   Makes for an exciting fight tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I struggled to find a shirt in this town (or even in this country) with a USA logo, but I found accessories to go with my white shirt, jeans and red shoes tomorrow.  Here —

Happy Game Day!

Food · UK · Uncategorized

Eating Like You Brit It

I have a list of places in Britain to see, which we strike off as we go.  C has truly been “forced” to stop and smell the roses — slow down more and visit the wonderful places in his own country, with me around.  Which is a good thing.

So last weekend, we headed out for a day in the Lake District.  One of the advantages of being “centrally located” in the UK is that going North, or South, is equally within manageable distance.  Just strike out and go.  Anyway, as an old friend who travels often to Europe with the Navy often says, “you can’t lost in an Island”.   That brings me comfort that if at any point my car should hit a big body of water, I can just say “ooops” and turn back.  Not knowing which particular town, village or city around The District to stop at, we randomly chose one from our faithful reference, the Reader’s Digest Travel Guide to Britain (yes, how sophisticated, no?).  Finger stops at — ta dah! — Windermere (idem sonam — “Wind the Meer”), punch that into the SatNav” (English translation for “GPS”), and yes, we’re good to go.

When we got into town, we parked our car and decided to walk towards the Lake — which is probably a good idea considering we were in THE district.  My impressions:  Clean and beautiful.  The terrain of Windemere busily curves up and down, left and right.  So different from the flat, rigid grids of Chicago.  We had a nice sun and a friendly winds, the day was perfect.  A lot of people out,  — fabulous. :)   I loved the simple, sturdy architecture of the homes facing the lake, and their beautiful windows that view out to the Lake.  And of course, the Lake.

Love the windows above the entrance that spans two floors

Boats! 4019872550_cc5e0cf6c9

4019095259_b300d9504a 4019842560_64c78a155b

At some point in the about 2 mile walk down to the Lake —

“Are you peckish now?”

I swear.  I do NOT speak English —

“Am I WHAT?”

“Peckish.  PECK-ISH.”

“Peckish? oh THAT Peckish.”

English translation :  “feeling the beginnings of hunger.”  Mental note to self:  Really need to add that to growing arsenal of English words/vocab.  And how coindental that right in front of me I should see a sign for “award-winning CORNISH Pasty”.  Nice association.  Cornish — which I usually associate with “hens”, paired with “peckish” pangs.  And importantly, I’ve never had a Cornish pasty.  Thank you, Cornish Corner Cafe Bar & Takeaway for my giant Pasty —

CORNISH PASTY 002

Yeah, nice and fat.  Nicely overloaded with stuff.   And the view inside the little devil —

CORNISH PASTY 003

That was delish.  And yeah, the “mushy peas” on the side as well.  A bit like baby food, but good.

4019838910_2e0796ac0d We will be back to this area.  Next time, we’ll pick another town, which I am sure will be equally beautiful.  :)

Fitting In · Life · love · Uncategorized · Weather

Don’t Try This At Home

An overcast day in a beautiful semi-rural village on the outskirts of Manchester (England).

Outside, the leaves begin to fall, with a big chunk of burnt orange and yellows defiantly clinging to the branches, — thanks to a lingering Indian summer.

Inside, the house is too quiet and still.  And here I am by myself in the study looking out as Geoff*, (*that’s how what sounds like “Jeff” usually turns out to be spelt here), the English farmer, and his German Sherpherd do their routine back-and-forth walk on the field beyond our fence. 

In the background, iTunes randomly and perhaps coincidentally plays the perfect setback:  Elgar’s “Nimrod”.  And, being that time, It hit me.  I felt It creep in softly.  That which I knew would surreptitiously and very treacherously come one day.  I just did not think it would be today.  — “What the frick am I doing here in this part of the world, by myself, forcing myself into a very particular jigsaw puzzle shape to fit in?”  “What wind possessed me to marry in my 40s, to move away, and to exchange the familiar for constant second-guessing?”

Luckily, there was a  faithful box of tissues beside.  And between sobs I nagged myself to stop this silliness.  And you have an appeal due for filing in Cali on Tuesday.  Stop now and starting working.  Thankfully the clouds — I mean the ones hovering inside my head — did not tarry.  I blew my nose, took a deep breath, exhaled, and fired up the laptop. 

Moments later the hubby walks in, clueless to that bit of internal struggle, and I say:  “I really would like to have blueberries with my coffee.”

“Did they have it in the Co-Op?”

“Yes, they did.  2.89 for an itty-bitty pack.  But I want some.”

“Let’s go get you some then.”

“Ok.”

“You go get dressed.  I’ll wait in the car.”

And so it came to pass.  I have my two little boxes of blueberries.  And no more tears.  And I think to myself, “THIS boy — who always put priority to what makes you happy — is why you are here.” 

In a different life, this morning could’ve continued with me blueberry-less and still questions-ful.  In a different life, I could be sad, for real and not just because of the weather’s sleight-of-hand, or Sir Edward’s tendency to the melodramatic.  And so again, I exhaled.

Take it from me.  Stay away from Elgar, and the Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” on gloomy, lonely, quiet, autumn mornings.

Saved the day
Saved the day

 

"The View"
"The View"

 

Outside the British Consulate in Chicago.
Outside the British Consulate in Chicago.

 Postscript :  In any case, Carried Bradshaw, too, married in her 40s.  All in the name of love, and closet space.