Sunday, January 31, 2010

A January for the books.

I'm just thinking back over the last month and how utterly our lives have changed for the better due to the generosity and love of the people in our lives.
Some of the things that happened were small, and some not so small, but they've all added up to a drastic improvement in our living situation and possibilities for the future.
First off, obviously, is the amazing opportunity we have to move into the house in four weeks time.  I cannot believe that we will be living on our own in what amounts to the lap of luxury after the past few months of living in someone else's space.
A second huge thing that happened this month (or maybe it was late in Dec.  Either way, within the last 35 days) was that it is suddenly possible for us to come home for a visit.  WHAT???  That's right.  We're coming home, probably in September over our anniversary, but the dates are still up in the air.  I'm really hoping that after flying for 7 hours driving for 4, and taking a 1.25 hour ferry, that people will come and see us on the island because I highly doubt we'll be taking many road trips (particularly after not driving for a YEAR!).  So.  Plan ahead.  Road trip to Vinalhaven sometime in September.  There's an awesome motel that you should all stay at:  Massive reunion times, here we come!  Wooo!!  You heard it here first, folks.
Third huge amazing thing that happened in January: Chad has received two of his grades back on his papers.  Now, before the drum roll, I feel like we need to explain a tad.  EVERYTHING is hinging on these grades.  He's been told over the course of his undergraduate career that his writing leaves something to be desired, so a lot was riding on his pulling it together and doing his best on these papers.  They are the first grades that he has received back since we've been here, and our staying here for the next year has been hinging on his passing "with distinction" (i.e. 70 or above - I won't even go into the crazy UK grading system).  So here it is folks: a 75 and a 78!!!!  Let me emphasize that he did not have any feedback from any of his professors and that these were all done by himself (with plenty of blood, sweat, and tears, I might add), but I think I can safely say that he is officially an awesome writer.  He's looking into options for publishing one in a journal and probably submitting one for a presentation at a conference in Edinburgh in June...field trip!!!
Finally, last huge thing that's happened - Dad and Elaine have made their travel plans and will be here on the 16th of March!!!  Super, super excited to see them and to have guests in our new place!  Already planning what we will do and what I will cook ;)
There are all sorts of sweet, small things, too, though - like the surprise birthday party the girls at work threw for me.  They took me out to a bar nearby and then to a club for salsa dancing. Even though it was not up everyone's alley, I think it was one of the most fun nights I've had since I've been in the UK, so that was pretty huge.  Also, when it was all rainy and icy here just after Christmas, and my half marathon training was going by the wayside, one of the girls from work offered to let me use her treadmill so I could get back on track.  Thanks, Claire!
The best things in life are often the gifts that keep giving.  After Christmas, Chad started picking up his guitar now and then, but was mostly so engrossed in writing his final papers that it sat all sad and dejected in the corner.  This month, though, after his papers were submitted, I've been able to once again bask in the background music glory of my husband playing around with a new rhythm.  It's good to have it back.  I've missed it.
Lastly, yesterday I auditioned for "The Fabulous Stockingtops", a women's singing group with an attitude that specializes in swingin' tunes - we sang "And All that Jazz", "Breaking Up is Hard to Do", and "One Fine Day", among others, and I even recognized a few of the women as customers from the shop.  So I think I'll probably end up doing that, which will be a great way to get to know some more people.  Chad and I are also looking at joining a karate dojo once we get settled in our new place.  It's on Tuesday nights and quite close by to where we'll be living.  Some friends in Bar Harbor do it together with their two sons, and it just seems like such a great family activity, not to mention great exercise, so we thought we'd give it a whirl.
So. That's our story and we're sticking to it.  Thank you all for making our lives so full and joyful.  We love you!!!!!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Premature excitement is my middle name

Hello all!  Here's hoping 2010 has been treating you as well as it's been treating us!

So a few of you know the new and exciting news in our world, but for those of you who don't, get ready - it's a doozy!

Two Tuesdays ago, I received a completely random message in my e-mail inbox from a woman called Gillian who said that she has a three bedroom house to rent in Southdown, an area of Bath that's about a half hour's walk from the city centre.  I brought it to the attention of my manager at work and we looked it up on the web, realising that it's about a five minute walk from her house.  It was advertised on a property agent's website, which included several photos of what looked like a gorgeous, fully furnished house, complete with landscaped backyard and patio (and compost!!!), as well as a field about a hop and a skip away where we could walk Nugget.  Rachel and I twittered excitedly about that for a few minutes, but I was determined not to get my hopes up as they have been dashed so very many times whilst here so far.  I e-mailed Gillian back saying that we would be very interested in chatting with her about it, and gave her our budget, which was a full £200 less than what it was advertised for commercially...which did not include bills.  I fully expected not to hear back from her as I was sure she could find suitable renters who could afford quite a lot more than us. 
Imagine my surprise when  she called the evening she said she would to arrange a viewing a couple of days later.  I emphasized what our budget was and she seemed to take it all in stride, saying that we sounded perfect and would we like to see it in a couple of days time?
Well, a couple of days came and went and go to see it we did.  It was all we could have asked for and more, not counting the fact that Gillian seems totally awesome as a person.  It turns out that she stayed in Rockland last year on her way to Bar Harbor, and may well have stayed in the house where Chad had his first job as a landscaper!  Basically, she's looking for someone to love and take care of her house and garden.  She doesn't want to rent it commercially because she'd have to move all of her stuff out, get crazy insurance, etc., and wouldn't have the opportunity to choose who the tenants would be.  She loves her house and just wants it to be taken care of.  And she has chosen us to do it.
So, without further ado, here is our new house, where we will be moving to on the 28th of February (these are photos from the letting agent that I pilfered from their website).

This is a view of the living room from the kitchen.  As you enter the house, there is a small entryway with stairs in front of you, leading to the second floor.  Directly to your right is the door that is visible in this photo.
  As you walk through the living room, through the vantage point at which the previous photo was taken, you enter the kitchen, fully remodeled last summer, complete with washing machine (all washing machines seem to be in the kitchen over here).  It's evidently also fully kitted out with all modern kitchen accoutrements as well, which will be a welcome change from our current rent, where the kitchen is outfitted only with the very basics.
If you carry on through the kitchen, you find yourself in the conservatory (feel free to make as many Clue references as you like).  This was a new south-facing addition to the house last summer and evidently gets so swelteringly hot during the summer that you can't leave candles on the table because they'll melt.  Just imagine all the tomatoes I will grown in this room (shudder of pleasure).   It's a bit chilly out there now as the heat hasn't been installed yet, but it's a seriously lovely space.
Last but not least is the terraced garden, complete with barbeque and seating area, perrenial flower beds, and bench swing.  The compost is that thing in the back right corner (yet another shudder of pleasure).  I am very much looking forward to getting my hands dirty in those beds and am already trying to work out when I can start planting lettuces and other cooler-weather crops.
Alas, I don't have any photos of the upstairs, but here's the basic rundown: When you alight on the second floor, directly in front of you is the bathroom.  To your right is the first bedroom, which has a window overlooking the back garden and seems very quiet.  There is also a huge, wall-to-wall built in closet.  Down the hall are the other two bedrooms, one a mirror image of the first with the same closet, and the second a smaller, single bedroom currently used as an office space...which is probably what it will remain so Chad has a place to write his dissertation. 
As for the area, as we mentioned earlier, there is a "city farm" about a three minute's walk from the front door, which it takes about 40 minutes to circumambulate (thank you, Dad, for expanding my vocabulary), and evidently it's where all the cool dogs hang out.  About a five minute's walk away is the little downtown area, including a small chain grocery store, a small independent green grocer, a butcher, an Indian takeaway, and evidently quite a good bakery.  I'm sure there's more as well, but we just did a quick drive through.
So. There's our exciting news.  This is all very premature as we haven't signed a lease yet, but have a verbal agreement with Gillian, who, strangely enough, seems just as excited about us moving into her house as we are about moving there.   We're meeting up to sign paperwork and work out the nuts and bolts of our agreement soon, but until then, please keep your fingers crossed for us!  We're giving our notice to our current housemates tomorrow, which I think they'll be pretty bummed about since we all get on pretty well, but I hope they'll be happy for us.  It really is a plum opportunity.
I'll let you know as things progress, but for the time being, if you're going to be in the area anytime during the next year, after March 1st, you've got a place to crash.
Love to all,
Sarah and Chad

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Remain calm.

I am continually amazed by the mediocrity the British are willing to live with - pathetic water pressure during a shower where one feels as though one is being spit on, consistently tardy trains, poor quality goods (the coat I got for Christmas is already splitting at the seams and the wellies I got less than two months ago have also split.  Le sigh). 
The latest in a string of inadequacies struck the country last week, causing the proverbial squealing of breaks and bringing most of the country to a standstill.  Snow.  But not just any snow....wait for it...three inches of snow.  Dear Lord! What will we do???  Panic ensued.  Sheer panic. The grocery stores were packed as though Armageddon was upon us.  Canned goods and bottled water were flying, literally, flying off the shelves.  Ready meals were carted off by the, well, cartload.  Schools were cancelled for DAYS before the snow even started.  DAYS, I tell you.  At work on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Bath was like a ghost town.  Intrepid shoppers came in looking dazed, telling us we were the only shop open in town.  By that point, there was no snow accumulation at all in the city of Bath.  All three inches of it had been cleared away, and yet, it was utterly deserted. 
Evidently, it snows pretty much every year with this result.  I would have thought that a Plan B might have been thought of, or at least the mass hysteria wouldn't be quite so massive or hysterical.  But no.
I was struck by the dogged determination of the English, though.  As no one was able to go to work lest they get their feet wet, snowmen were erected that rivaled some of the cathedrals in the area.  Mind you, I have no idea how one constructs a 7 foot plus snowman with less than three inches of snow, but construct they did, and with gusto.  The specimin in our front garden has not only a generous three-ball-body, but a full head of hair and various accessories, and she was voted best dressed in the neighborhood.  Sophie, our roommate, scraped up almost all the snow in the garden to create her, with the odd result of a snow(wo)man sitting in the middle of a green lawn.
All in all, the Brits are an odd bunch with some pretty bizarre priorities...we're fitting in just fine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

No way!

I know, I know, two blogs in ONE WEEK?  REALLY?  But I have a few minutes to spare and had such an...interesting day yesterday that I just wanted to pop on and say hi.
First off, my DAD has a blog, about which I am super psyched because he's walking around the island (not all at once - in bite-sized chunks), and I get to read all about it, keepin up with someone I looooove and keeping up with a place I looooove...all from across the ocean.  Isn't technology amazing? I am so inspired by the idea that I'm trying to figure out where I can do it around here.  Clearly, there aren't any islands to walk around, but there are beautiful walking paths through farmland that criss cross the whole country and I might just find one each weekend and see where it takes me...or maybe I'll just talk about it, as per usual...either way, yay Dad! Way to be!
So yesterday, New Year's Eve (oh yeah, Happy New Year, everyone!)...I went to look at a flat in Bath and thought it was really amazing - good price, good size, furnished, allowed a dog, AMAZING location, etc etc etc.  Chad was totally on board and it was a really exciting prospect - to have our own place.  So with all that on our minds, we headed over to Tara and Bas's for a New Years Eve sleep- over with SHRIMP BALL!!!!!!  For those of you who don't know what shrimp ball is, I really pity you...although I think it's really me who is pitiful when I think about my complete addiction to it.  I had also made shortbread (from my new "Great British Food" cookbook) with caramelized apples, but very successfully left it on the table as we hurried down to the train station.  Over the course of the evening, Nugget was extremely well-behaved, especially considering how many yummy foods were laid out on the coffee table, exactly at her nose level, and everyone fell madly in love with her.  It was such a lovely evening, involving good conversation, easy and delicious food and wine, and lovely company.  We realized that "meatball" is probably Nugget's favorite word in the whole world as it is comprised of two of her favorite things in the world - meat and ball, and all had quite a good laugh about that.  We watched the countdown on the TV, which culminated in a fabulous fireworks display eminating from the "London Eye", a huge ferris wheel near the Parlaiment in London. 
Over the course of the evening, I realized that, for various reasons, it did not make sense for us to rent the flat, which put me in quite a morose mood, as I've been spending 7 and 1/2 hours a week and £66 a month traveling to and from Bath.  This morning, though, we awoke to a new day, a new month, a new year, and Chad reminded me to say "rabbit rabbit rabbit" before I was fully awake...quite an auspicious beginning to ZOLO (as my friend, Kit, calls it).  After a most delicious breakfast and an invigorating walk back down to town with the Nug, I came home and, determined to get back on my training schedule, ran 4 miles, found a bunch new leads for possible accommodation in Bath, and Skyped with another of my favorite people in the world, my Mom.  So, all told, an excellent start to 2010 after a slightly dodgy ending to 2009.  Here's to a magnificent new year!  Much love to you all, and keep an eye out for a possible new food blog!!!