Sunday, 25 September 2011

Back in the US (for now)

Well, the pre-move trip is over.  We finally found a house we liked on Friday afternoon.  (Lori actually found it Wednesday night online because our house hunting trip with the realtor Wednesday day was so disappointing.  We had a Thursday viewing scheduled but the house realtor stood us up so our realtor rescheduled for Friday afternoon.)  So on Friday we walked through the house and really liked it; good neighborhood location, close to very good schools and close to our price range.  Fast forward a couple of hours and we have confirmation that the house is ours for two years.  Huge, huge relief to have that settled.  I will follow up later with details, no pictures at this point though.
  The difficult part now is getting the kids into the schools close to the house.  As mentioned previously England has a state law capping class sizes so now we apply and see if the schools are accepting students.  We can appeal if we get turned down but we need to apply first.  Keep your fingers crossed.   

A few final thoughts on the trip:  Their McDonalds use sweet pickles in their quarter pounders, kind of a funny taste.  We were told they don't have dill pickles over there so I'll put that item on my Englsih myth busters list.  I also did not see any pick ups over there.  They do have Lorries which are more like smaller US delivery trucks than F-150's or Chevy Silverados.  I will have to look for US style pick ups when we return.

Today's Steve Frey Animal Pic

Nothing special about this picture, just a tip o' me hat to Steve Frey and his excellent blog ( for those looking for another perspective on life in the UK.  The Freys are both Rolls Royce employees on their secondment like we will be starting shortly.  The pic was taken between Derby and Manchester on Friday afternoon on our ride to the Manchester hotel by the airport.  We flew back today, very nice to be back.  So our next step is to get our visas and wrap up our affairs here. Probably be about a month and we will all move over. It's starting to get exciiiiting.
Thanks for listening,

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Bits and bobs (odds and ends for the American crowd)

Yesterday was disappointing, deflating and a little scary.  Now I know where those sad, wailing, blubbery drunken Irish ballads come from - house hunting in the UK!  We went house hunting and saw six homes, but didn't put an offer on any of them.  We did see a few nice ones but none were within walking distance of a school.  Lori gets a car for work but if we want a second car we have to buy one.  That still may be what we do but we are trying to avoid it if possible.  If I end up getting a job I would need a car but until then we are going to try relying on walking or public transportation.  We are also strugling to find houses near some of the better rated schools.  We did get a better idea on areas now and have a catchment map (thanks again Becky L.) so that should help.  Now we can triangulate primary & secondary school catchments with available housing and hope public transportation is close.  The other catch is just because we live in a catchment for the school, the kids won't automatically get in.  There is a state law that puts a ceiling on the class sizes, so we would have to wait for an opening if the class year (grade in the states) is full.  I don't mind walking to stores or what not, I am more concerned about how the kids get to and from school.  A very frustarting day yesterday, maybe today will be better.

We also picked up some more Brit lingo yesterday.  During our house hunting the realtors kept talking about the gardens as we looked at the backyards.  I thought they were pretty poor gardens as nothing was growing in them until I realized their garden is our backyard.  They also called the front yard a lawn.  I didn't think to ask them what they called our garden.  We did see one house a little out of our allowance that was BEAUTIFUL!  We need to look into that one a little more, it had three "gardens", 3.5 baths, 5 bedrooms and 3 reception (our living room) rooms.  Bigger than we need but it was SOOOOO nice.  Probably expensive to heat/live in which is a consideration.  

As an FYI we are in the Derbyshire (pronounced darby-shur) area.  I keep thinking of Bugs Bunny cartoons of my youth when Daffy Duck was Dorlock Homes looking for the Shropshire Slasher (said with his trademark blustery lisp of course).  I loved that episode.  I don't know if Chuck Jones was never over here or if he chose to pronounce it as it is spelled.  Let's move on before I digress to much.

Today's Dana Johnson pic.  Typical breakfast at the hotel.  When I say typical I mean every single morning.  Every... single... morning.  Starting at the fried egg and moving clockwise; drowned in butter mushroom, fried in a ton of butter hash brown, black pudding, spice pork sauage (hope it was pork), pork sausage (ditto), smoked back bacon, and grilled tomatoe in the middle.  The hash brown and bacon are okay.  The black pudding is a blood pancake, I only put it on my plate for the picture.  It kind of grossed Lori out and it was only on my plate.  I have not tried it yet, I was going to but chickened out.  Blood anything is not real high on my new experiences list.  It actually is just below live grizzly bear wresting. 

On the positive side we were able to FaceTime with the kids last night.  That was great, we really miss the kids (Lori is going on two weeks, so she is having definite withdrawls).  It is nice to get away and live as adults for a while but you always worry about your kids, especially when they are not near you.  Thanks Bob & Lona for taking care of them this week, we really appreciate it.

Thanks for listening,

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Now this is the English weather we keep hearing about

Today is the first day we experienced the wet, dark, cloudy and gloomy weather England is known for after having sunshine three days straight.  It has rained on and off all day and temp is 16 C which is 61 F for the American crowd.  Still warm so no complaining from me.

No pics today so I will just touch on American football, food, television, our school stops and curbing.

Besides friends/family I am not sure if I am going to miss football or Mountain Dew more.  Probably football.  I did see the scores online though.  Sorry Kevin and Owen/Karl/Vetter, tough start for the 0-2 Colts and Vikes (thanks for taking McNabb though Owen).  Hot Rod's Rams and Marky's Brownies are at even keel while my Skins are an ugly 2-0.  Jeff's Pack is 2-0 even though there isn't a D in Packers.  419 for Brees, 432 for Newton, is 450 next for Cutler?  And the roaring Lions are looking good at 2-0, early season congrats to Soupy, Hef, Rog, Big Dummy, Dino, Hardcore Dan, Skinny and the rest of the Lion faithful.  We'll see how they do once Stafford breaks another bone in a few more games.  Fortunately I have a few Sundays left to enjoy the games before we all move over.

Birds Confections is AWESOME!  Airy dough, thick but not gaggy chocolate and/or cream fillings, and a broad selection of pastries.  I even like the fruity treats.  Yum yum yum.  Eclairs, layered cake slices, bismark like creations, so so good.  Definetely a place to take the kids when we all come over.  Root beer does not exist over here.  It really interests some people, Lori and I would like to bring some over to give to one of the front desk people here.

Do you ever have those A-Ha moments?  Well I did earlier this week.  I figured out why they call Canadian Bacon Canadian Bacon instead of ham.  It is because Brits call ham bacon!  HEY CANADA - that is really ham not bacon; or at least call it "What England calls bacon".  Don't steal it and try to claim it like you started it.  (Just kidding Dana - you can call it whatever you want.)  Apparently what Americans call bacon exists here as streaky bacon (thanks Becky L.) so now I have something to find in the grocery store.

My biggest excitement yesterday was learning that England's nut warning on labeling actually means something.  For those not in the know I am allergic to tree nuts.  I can eat candy bars that say "may have been produced on machines that also process tree nuts..." in the US.  So yesterday we were at an ice cream stand in the mall and I asked the lady if there was nuts in the Chocolate Champagne ice cream.  She didn't know so she read the ingredients.  England's nut warning says something to the effect that processing methods may contain traces of other nuts blah blah blah.  So I am thinking that I will be fine since the warning is similar and have the ice cream (which was soft, airy, a little bit liqueurish, and very very good).  By the time we walk back to the hotel I am having a mild allergic reaction.  Nothing serious that required medicine, definetely not like when Lori tried collecting on my life insurance in Chicago with Ronny & Donna.  But that is a different story.  And I know not to have anything that contains that warning which I am guessing will be ninety percent of chocolate treats over here.  No Mountain Dew, no chocolate... my diet is shaping up already.

TV is very different.  After 9 o'clock nothing is censored.  Nothing.  A show on medical conditions showed more than was stomachable for us.  Waaaaaaaaaay more.  We also checked out Big Brother since Lori and the kids were watching US Big Brother this year.  I quit counting the F word after 5 minutes.  No TV after 9 for the kids over here.

Looking into schools for the kids was a little disappointing.  We checked out two for Kalle and one for Karl.  None of them really excited us so we are trying to schedule more visits for Thursday so we shall see.  At home if you move into a school district the school will find a space in one of the district schools for your children.  Over here the school districts are called catchments (probably spelling it wrong) but moving into a catchment does not guarentee placement in the school.  The schools are also not all connected like in districts at home.  Some primary schools (US elementary) partner with secondary (US middle and high schools) but most are not partnered.  Schools also end at 16 here so at 17 the child can either go to university or start working for pay.  Some schools are adding an additional year so students can go to school at 17 instead of university but it is still rare to see.  Schools will also not start any of the registration process until we have a local address so no guarentee that any of the schools we see on the trip will accept them when we do move over.  School will be very different for us and the kids.  Not bad, just different.

And finally, I drove today!  We had dinner at Ed and Becky's tonight (thanks guys it was really good) and one of the things we discussed was a second car.  They chose not to get a second car for a variety of reasons but on one of their trips she drove in the parking lot so that she could say she drove over here.  So I thought, BAM! I need to drive while I am here.  Lori rented the car and has done all of the driving this week so my oppertunity window was closing (and I do not want to drive in the city until I have to).  So we do the Chinese fire drill outside Ed & Becky's driveway and I drive for 30 feet.  I shifted fine and kept it on my side of the street but I did hit the curb.  I am not sure if it was the poor lighting, narrow roads, new country, different time zone, nervous navigator (she actually yelled as I hit the curb at a brisk 15 mph), moon in my eyes, or not adjusting the seat after she drove but I am sure it wasn't my fault.  At least that's my story.    

Thanks for listening,

Monday, 19 September 2011

Not a manic Monday

Today we did less than expected.  We met with RR Global Mobility people to iron out details and ask any questions.  We were going to open a bank account but you need a permenant address so we have to wait until we have signed paperwork on a house.  House hunting is Wednesday so in the meantime we continue to exchange money at the usury rate of 1.67.  It is a little tough turning in $200 and getting 119 GBP (Great Britian Pounds) and 68 pence back.  Gotta love the weak American dollar.  

Lori's first ride, or "hired" car as the Global Mobility person called the rental car.  A Peugeot 508 SW, auotomatic transmission but a boat by UK standards.  So we go back to the Avis location...

And Lori gets a manual Ford Focus TDCi.  Much smaller which she likes.  Surprisingly she said left handed shifting  wasn't very difficult.  It must be true as she didn't grind any gears today.

Today's Kevin Coleman pic.  The tap handle didn't say cider on it so I was a little surprised when I saw the glass but it was okay.  Interestingly the bartender asked if I wanted ice in the drinks (Lori ordered a Diet Coke) and I said yes not thinking that she would put ice in my beer.  As you can see I was wrong.  Either she has waited on Americans that prefer cold beer before or the American cold beer preference is widely known. 

Today's Dana Johnson pic.  We ate lunch at Walkabout, an Australian restaurant.  I ordered the Kangaroo meat salad.  Described as a generous bowl of greens on the menu I was expecting a larger portion.  Obviously American generous is different that Brit generous.  The kangaroo meat was very good.  Lori would not try the kangaroo.  The salad was very good.  The salad dressing is mayo, not a normal US option but it tasted good with the meat. 

So for the rest of the afternoon we shopped around downtown and picked up a couple of items for the kids.  (No spoliers kids - you have to wait for us to get home to find out what we picked up.)  We have seen a LOT of clothing stores for Kalle over here, I am not excited.  We have also seen a few gaming stores for Karl but he will be forced to just drool on the games as we are bringing our gaming systems with us.  (Grandparents and aunts/uncles can expect a video game specific Christmas and birthday list from Karl.)  The US and Europe gaming systems have different region codes so you can't play British purchased games on US consoles.  

Weather has been very good here.  All of my three days so far has been mostly sunny and borderline no jacket/light jacket weather.  Mornings have been 14-15 degrees C (57-59 degrees F) and get up to 19-20 degrees C (66-68 degrees F).  We have been warned not to expect this type of weather, everyone seems to be surprised at how nice it has been.

We have seen a lot more American influences here then I expected.  American music, current (Lady Gaga) and old (Beach Boys) is blared all over the downtown area.  American TV shows are on the tele although the hotel tele programming is sparce at best.  One of the people we discussed American - Great Britian differences with did say that British TV carries a lot of American shows.  I find it interesting because American TV adapts British shows instead of broadcasting them as is like they do over here.

And no Mountain Dew over here.  I may have to cancel the secondment.  On the positive side I guess I will finally kick my MD addiction.

Thanks for listening,

Sunday, 18 September 2011

More observations and cultural differences from this weekend...

Everyone says how expensive things are over here.  My obseravtions so far is that they are expensive because the dollar is weak compared to the pound.  A shirt that sells for $20 at home sells for 20 pounds here.  Same with shoes, boots, video games, etc.  I guess if you are here on holiday (Brit word for our vacation) things would be expensive.  I do reserve my final vote until I am here for a while, maybe I just haven't seen a lot of stuff yet.

We found Kalle a book published in 1893.  Karl gets the new book, it was published in 1902.  (Thanks for the tip Becky - hope you enjoyed your trip btw.)

Swiping credit cards seemed to confuse a few people here.  Apparently they have chip on the side of their cards so they insert the credit card into their hand held credit card machines.  We did have to tell a few people to turn the card around so their machines would read the magnetic stripe on the card.

The lights in the hotel only stay on if you insert the key into a room key slot on the wall by the door.  Energy saving I guess.  Another energy saving method is that all of the hotel room outlets have switches next to them so you need to turn on the outlet before you can use it.

At restaurants it is considered impolite to bring the check so patrons have to ask for it.  Most places do not expect tips.  A lot of restaurants also close after lunch and open at 6 PM for supper.  Then you have places like Burger King that are open all day but close at 7:30 PM during the week and 5:30 PM on Sunday.    

The Standing Order, a pub that used to be a bank.  We met the world famous Kathy Elliott there Saturday night.  Hey Mark - when are you coming over?

Ye Olde Dolphin - Derby's oldest pub.  It was established in 1530.  For a little historical perspective, Columbus "discovered" America in 1492.  The Spanish San Miguel de Guadalupe colony was established by South Carolina in 1526 and the English Jamestown colony was established in 1607.

The structure is original but the interior furnishings were not original.

Corn Beef Hash with egg and a bowl of chips.  I saw it on the menu and had to try it, Holly and Uncle Fran would understand.  Not what we get in the States though.  Think boiled potatoes cut into quarters and covered with Manwich sloppy joe mix.  The egg did help.

The food has been mostly good overall.  Breakfast sausages are "different", not terrible but no seconds for me thanks.  The beer is not warm either.  Not as cold but definetely not warm.  Most beer is pumped at the bar from kegs stored in the cellar.  But I have seen quite a few tapped beers advertised as "extra cold".  From what one bartender explained they pressurize the keg which keeps the beer colder.  They also don't pump the extra cold beers from the bar, they just open the tap and CO2 pushes it out of the keg like your basement kegerator.  This is the kind of stuff I find interesting.

Ye Olde Dolphin has a haunted cellar, above is the sign advertising the next tour.  The existing pub building used to be the original pub next to a doctor's office.  So when a person died at the doctor's office they would put the body in a part of the pub's cellar until burial.  According to legend a person was declared dead and woke up in his coffin in the cellar.  His spirit now haunts the pub.

Lori next to the door leading to the old coffin storage part of the cellar.  Visitors are not allowed in that part of the cellar.  It actually goes further underground so the floor is slippery and the ceiling is lower than the door shown.  The cellar was neat, Lori wants to come back and do the tour.

We also went to Sainsbury's, a local grocery store.  I didn't take a picture but we found "Table Still Water" (bottled water) for 17 pence (pence=cents, pound=dollar in money lingo).  The Sainsbury brand was 84 pence.  Before we bought the table still water I wanted to read the label since it was so cheap.  There was a warning on it to drink the water within 3 days of opening the bottle and refridgerate it after opening.  Needless to say we did not buy the table still water.  I'm still not sure what goes bad in drinkable water that you have to drink it within 3 days.  And I hope I do not find out.

And they even have stores my dad would like.

Thanks for listening,

Our First Impressions

I will start the blog by apologizing to all of my English teachers, as you will see my writing style is a cross between rambling and poorly written, on my good days.  Hopefully you can follow along and enjoy my posts as we experience life as ex-pats.  Enjoy!

Our oversees adventure started on September 17, 2011 as I joined Lori in Derby (I keep wanting to spell it Darby as it is pronounced "Darby" but spelled "Derby").  We are here for a week to find housing and schools and iron out the other details of the move.  This weekend was spent looking around downtown Derby and venturing into the surrounding suburbs.  My thoughts below are my first impressions as this is my first time in Britian.

The first interesting thing I saw was on my ride from Manchester to Derby.  In the US they built overpasses for railroads that crossed roads.  In Britian they build overpasses for cattle to cross between pastures that roads bisected. 

View of downtown Derby from our hotel stairway.  Derby has a lot of stores and restaurants/pubs within walking distance.  Very convenient.

Lunch in the Westfield Mall.  Pasties were very good.  Lori had a steak, potato, onion and carrot. I had a chicken, bacon, potato, onion and chicken gravy.  The gravy was baked inside the pasty, very tasty.

Coral Reef fish eating my feet.  They are actually supposed to eat the dead skin off of your feet, still not sure if it works.  Not painful but more uncomfortable than tickling.  Obviously Lori's idea.

Lori feeding the fish.

Proof that Lori's second car trip didn't total the car.  She actually did good after almost getting into a head on accident.  Seriously.  I would have taken pictures but my hands were shaking to bad to hold a camera.  She actually did a good job.  The pic is of the rental car in front of the Frey's, an Indianapolis Rolls Royce couple that are here on their secondments (what Rolls calls the process of their employees working and living across the pond).

Looking down the street outside our hotel.  On the left is the White Horse Bar and Restaurant, today's lunch location.

My Dana Johnson meal pic.  We had a "carvery" lunch, a Sunday tradition according to the waitress/bartender.  Turkey and Beef carved off the breast/roast in front of you with roasted or mashed potato, brussel sprouts, carrots, cauliflower in a cheese sauce (not as good as Grandma's), stuffing and Yorkshire Pudding.  And a pint of John Smith's Extra Smooth to wash it down.  The Yorkshire Pudding is the bread bowl holding the stuffing ball. 

The "Pudding" is an example of US - British word differences.  Their pudding looks like bread to me.

Some other word differences - their lemonade is our Sprite.  Apparently they don't have lemonade here.  Their "Give Way" traffic signs are our "Yield" signs.  They drive on motorways and we drive on freeways.  They also don't use yellow lines to separate two way traffic which was what led to our almost head on collision.  They use white lines.  I'm still not sure how you know if a road is a one way or two way.

We didn't go in here but this is my kind of Happy Hour, 11 AM - 5 PM.  The Brits do like their pubs tho.

I found this funny.  It is like a betting store where you can bet on football games and watch the games you are betting on.  The store name "Ladbrokes" is what I find funny.

That's all for my first impressions.  Global mobility meeting, banks, houses and schools are next.