Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Cold snap

On Sunday afternoon at 5 pm it was 77°F; I went for a walk wearing shorts, T-shirt and sandals.

On Monday morning at 8 am it was 27°F; I went for a walk wearing coat, scarf, hat, gloves, and boots.

Living here certainly gives you a new appreciation of warm and cold fronts.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Ice Ice Baby

This Saturday we went to see the Ice! exhibition at the Gaylord Texan resort, near Grapevine. Thousands of pounds of real ice carved, coloured and illuminated to form amazing displays. It was a tad expensive but well worth it. As you will see....

Old Man Winter, I presume.




Giant baubles.



Trying to eat a fairy cake! The big blue coats were standard issue, and I was glad of mine despite having another coat on underneath. The exhibit was kept at 9 degrees F (-13 Celsius).




Although Graham, as always, didn't seem to feel the cold at all. Here he is with a rather weird elf.


Ice-gingerbread house.
Well, I guess an ice exhibition has to include a skating rink! The trees were real trees, I think, coated with ice.
The giant angel was beautiful.
And the finishing touch - a life-size nativity scene.


Finally, the fun part! We both had to have two goes on the slide. Sorry the video is sideways - I couldn't work out how to rotate it.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Trip to Dallas

"Life's too short to live in Dallas" runs the slogan in a local BBQ establishment. But it's nice to visit once in a while.

The TRE is only $5 return and is an exciting double-decker train (why don't we have those in the UK?) so we decided to take the trip over on that. Unfortunately we stupidly missed the one we were aiming for, arriving on the platform just in time to see it pulling away. We had to wait over an hour for the next one.




However, once we got to Dallas we had a very nice afternoon. We disembarked at Victory Station, next to the American Airlines Center. AA sponsor almost everything around here, it seems; no wonder they're struggling financially! The big outdoor screen was showing, as always, American football, and despite the chilly air several people were standing around watching it.


From there it was a short walk over to the Arts District, which hosts a number of museums. Due to our missing the train we were there a bit late and most things were closing, but this worked to our advantage in the Dallas Museum of Art, where we got in free for the last 45 minutes or so. We wandered around an exhibition called "Take Your Time" by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. His works are described as "devices for the experience of reality" and included such diverse things as a wall covered with moss, lights projecting coloured geometric shapes on a wall or shining at a rotating mirror, and sequences of photos showing the same landscape from dawn to dusk. We particularly enjoyed the yellow-lit room which made everything look black and white; seeing your skin look grey is weird! Another room was completely dark except for light shining on a spray of water - that was pretty cool too.
When we came out the setting sun was shining on the buildings and producing some pretty artistic effects of its own.


There's an old trolley car which runs up McKinney Avenue. You can take the trip for free, so we hopped on for a ride. The car we were on had been restored over 8 years by a couple of enthusiasts, having been used as someone's house for about 30 years before that. It had very funky reversible seats; the back flipped from one side to the other so that you could face whichever way the trolley was going. The whole thing was, in fact, fully reversible, with a door and a driver's station at each end. The driver simply unhooked all his handles from one end and took them to the other when he changed direction. Then he nipped back to get his banana! He was a friendly guy, and when he noticed us trying to take a photo at the end of the journey, he insisted on getting someone else to take one of himself and the two of us.


Life's too short to live in Dallas. But it's nice to visit once in a while.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

I have a piano!!!


OK, maybe we should have bought a stand! But who cares if it doesn't have the most aesthetically pleasing setting - it's great to have something to play on again. My most loving and wonderful husband had obviously picked up a few signs that I was missing my piano (no, I wasn't hinting that badly!) and a few days ago said, "I was just in the guitar shop and they had a big sale on keyboards - do you want to take a look?" So we went and browsed around a bit, and he firmly dragged me away from the $1000+ models and made me look at some more reasonable ones, and after some discussion we went for this little Casio. It's more portable than the type with a built-in stand, which was a big consideration when we know we're moving in less than 2 years and I had to leave my old one behind for precisely that reason. It's got weighted keys so the touch is good; the sound could be better but it renders Bach quite prettily even if not really coping with Rachmaninov (let's face it; I don't really cope with Rachmaninov!). And I'm very very pleased to have something to practise on and not feel like I'll lose all my pianistic ability over the next couple of years.

our little pepper

We went on a plant-buying spree a while back and among our purchases were two Habanero pepper plants. I don't consider my fingers to be a particularly deep shade of green, so I was surprised and delighted when this plant bore a little pepper. It gradually ripened to a pretty orange colour, and we decided the moment had come to try out its heat qualities. Despite its minute size, it flavoured a batch of chilli pretty well. Both plants are currently sporting a pretty array of little white flowers, so I'm holding out high hopes for another crop in the future. It's not quite living off the land, but hey, it's a start!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

On having an accent

Back in the olden days, when it was a major undertaking to get from, say, Bristol to London, or even Bristol to Weston-super-Mare, and so most people didn't bother, it is said that you could place people within 10 miles or so by their accent. Now that we've built motorways and everyone spends their days whizzing up and down them, you have to go a bit further to get your accent noticed, but moving 3700 miles from Bristol to Texas certainly does the trick.

Of course, I don't really have an accent - I speak quite normally, thank you very much, but everyone else talks funny around here, so naturally I stand out as different. It's been a strange experience to be marked out the minute I open my mouth. About the second thing everyone says to me is, "You're not from around here" or, "Where are you from?" Even though we talk the same language (well, almost), the way I speak says I'm a newbie, a stranger, something exotic.

Fortunately the third thing people say is usually, "Oh, I love your accent!" followed by an account of their friend or second cousin or whoever who lives in England, or a tale of their visit to the UK in about 1976, and how much they liked it there. It's quite humbling what a good press the UK gets over here, considering that the respect isn't particularly mutual. And I have to say, I much prefer it to, "Oh, what a horrible accent!" followed by a summary of Britain's failings. Makes life a lot easier.

There are, however, a few difficulties in communication, especially on the phone. I thought Graham was exaggerating when he said he rang up to order a pizza once and no one could understand what he was saying. Then I got over here and had a memorable conversation which went something like this:

"Hi, I'm phoning for details about the job you had advertised in the bakery window. Could you give me some idea of the hours and so on?"
"Ummm..... well we have chocolate, carrot cake, white cakes with flowers..."
"Sorry, I was asking about the job? You want someone to work for you?"
(long pause) "Uh... you need to order something like that in advance"
(defeated) "OK, thank you very much."
(hangs up and crosses that possibility off the list)

I've also had to practice emphasising the r a bit more in Martha (Marrrr-tha instead of Mah-tha), otherwise no one gets my name, and of course White over here comes out something like Whaaate, but I can't quite make myself abuse the letter i that much yet. Still, two more years - I shall move back to the UK and be greeted by, "Hey, where are you from? Why do you talk with that awful drawl? Can you believe the idiot that those Americans elected for president?..."

On second thoughts, maybe I'll just stay here and learn to talk like a native. Howdy, y'all!

Monday, 13 October 2008

A Tale of Two Churches

Yesterday was my first Sunday off work for several weeks, and I was looking forward to going to a church service. We strolled over to a local Lutheran church for its 11am service only to find they were all out doing good works in the community - extremely admirable, but we rather wished they hadn't chosen that particular Sunday. So we settled for a megachurch we'd been to before, which has several "campuses" around the DFW metroplex.

The trappings are certainly impressive: state-of-the-art sound system, huge screens, slick video sequences, funky banners reflecting the theme of the latest sermon series. Which on this particular Sunday turned out to be about politics. OK, not my number one topic for a sermon, but it's obviously topical right now, and the Bible certainly has plenty to say about kings and leaders. Could be an interesting talk on our responsibilities as Christians and how to interact with our government, and I know the preacher is a good communicator.

That was the worst sermon I've ever heard. And I don't say that lightly. He went for every crowd-raising button-pushing topic you could think of: homosexuality, abortion, benefit fraudsters, drunken louts, terrorist immigrants... and moved it all along with a few way-out caricatures of relativism as a test with no right answers or a hospital where you go in with an inflamed appendix and they decide to cut off your nose... and finished up by labelling socialism as unbiblical and the cause of half the country's problems (the other half being caused by relativism, of course). No, I'm not socialist, nor am I relativist, nor yet do I condone people committing benefit fraud or blowing people up. But the whole thing was designed to whip everyone onto their "the world's going to hell in a handbasket" hobbyhorses without taking any responsibility for the current state of the USA or giving any idea what we might do about it. With a couple of Bible verses and a little prayer at the end to give it a Christian veneer.

As for the rest of the service, we were treated to several songs by the beautiful young musicians, which most of the congregation either didn't know or found difficult to sing, or both; a slick video presentation encouraging us all to go straight to the church shop and buy their newly-released worship album; and a list of notices (again, very well presented). No prayers. Have you ever been to a worship service where they just don't talk to God? It's weird.

Through a somewhat convoluted series of events, we found ourselves, later that day, standing outside a cafe in a small town named Justin where a church service was about to start. We hadn't intended to join them, but a man carrying an amp inside insisted so strongly that we were welcome that we felt it impolite to refuse. He introduced himself as Brother Massey and led us through the door, where we were introduced to various other brothers and sisters and ushered to seats in the centre of the front row. Although the music consisted only of electric guitar, keyboard, sax and electric drumkit, the ceiling was low and the congregation enthusiastic, and the effect was rather like being dropped in the middle of a gospel choir! It was fantastic. It was utterly crazy, of course, but it was just great.

There were about 30 people of all ages and widely varying beauty packed into this tiny cafe. The preacher interjected "Praise the Lord" after every other sentence, which rather made us wonder if he did that all week or just on Sundays ("That's $2.57, praise the Lord! Thanks to God, have you seen our special offer today?"). Healing was prayed for fervently, with laying on of hands, speaking in tongues and anointing with oil. A lady of 25 told us how her cancer tests had recently come back clear, just as it was looking like she'd have to have a hysterectomy. The sermon was entitled "Why eat lunch with the devil when you can eat dinner with your daddy?" and was about how the devil can't touch us in God's house, but he's desperate to drag us outside of it and get us to make a mess of our lives. Not an interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son I've heard before, but I could kind of see what he was getting at. It was full-on Pentecostalism with added enthusiasm, which isn't something I've been exposed to much, and I wasn't at all sure what Graham would make of it, with his very limited experience of Christian craziness.

But however mad it looked and sounded, however uncomfortable we felt at suddenly being made guests of honour in the middle of it, however much we wouldn't normally express ourselves like that: there was something real in that church. Something that wasn't in the megachurch, with all its 20 000 people and slick presentation. These people had faith, and were excited about it, and it showed. And if God was anywhere that Sunday, I reckon he was with them.


(Graham, in fact, said he felt surprisingly comfortable there, and seems to have rather taken to hand-waving and "Praise the Lord"ing. Maybe I've married a Pentecostal...)

Monday, 22 September 2008

Caddo Lake


This is a somewhat belated post about our Labor Day weekend away at Caddo Lake, on the Texas - Louisiana border. I've just got the photos up on Facebook which tells most of the story:




It was fun to be camping again - I haven't done that for ages, but I've always enjoyed camping since we had a trailer tent when I was younger. In the States, of course, keeping cool is more of a problem than keeping warm, and the countryside is populated with lots of nasty bugs who thought of me as a tasty picnic. For some reason Graham tastes bad to them, which is totally unfair!


We were right on the border where Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas meet, so we drove around a bit just to say that we'd visited each state. To be honest they looked a lot like Texas.


We camped near a little place called Uncertain (which must give rise to endless puns) but the nearest interesting town is a place called Jefferson, which used to be a big inland port - paddle steamers would come all the way up the Red River from New Orleans. In fact Jefferson supplanted a place called Caddo Landing as a port, which used to be pretty much where we were camping, as far as I could tell. It was founded, grew to be a bustling port, and faded away again to the point where there's nothing left in some ridiculously short time - about 60 years! It seems incredible from an English point of view.


It was a good weekend and great to see something which you just can't see in the UK. We just don't have that kind of lake.

Friday, 5 September 2008

complete wedding photos

A nicely organised set of wedding photos is now online at:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=56519&l=5f5d6&id=667138898

A lot more were taken, of course, but I think those are the best ones. I'm not sure how they come out quality-wise if you want to download them, so if you want copies to print or anything email me and I'll see what I can sort out.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

employment in the USA

Well, I'm now back to making a useful contribution to society (and paying taxes) with my first job in the USA. My love of cakes is still being indulged, as I'm now icing dozens each day; I have a job as cake decorator for an up-market supermarket called Tom Thumb. The current cake decorator, Jennifer, has been working 10-12 hours a day trying to keep up with demand, so is very glad I've arrived! Hopefully between us we won't have to work such long hours. She's also a very lovely person to work with, and I think we'll get on well.

It's always strange being back at the bottom of a pile, knowing nothing and no one, but I think this will hone my decorating skills, and it feels good knowing I'm going to really help out someone else. The holidays are coming, i.e. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I'll certainly be busy...

In other news, yes, I will get some more wedding photos up soon, but it might have to wait until we have internet in the apartment. This job thing all happened rather suddenly!

Friday, 29 August 2008

We have wedding photos!


There was a delay at the photo developing company, apparently, but we now have 5 folders full of photos of ourselves looking extremely happy. I've put a few up on Facebook in a rather haphazard manner, just to keep everyone photo-satisfied for a few more days. Here's the link:


(I deleted that album so have deleted link; see above for new link)

It's Labor Day weekend here, so in common with probably everyone else in the country, we're planning to go away, so I won't be around to add more photos until probably Tuesday. Till then... enjoy!


Tuesday, 26 August 2008

our new apartment

Moving was a slightly surreal experience given that our new place looks almost exactly the same as the old one, except for being a different layout. That's what you get for living in a throw-'em-up-and-pack-'em-in apartment complex I guess - albeit a very nice one.


So, entering apartment 433:


To your right is the master bedroom:


with en-suite bathroom:




and looking back, from your left, that's a walk-in closet, door to the hallway and door to the bathroom:





Following the layout so far? OK, go back to the hallway and put your back to the front door again, and this time walk straight forwards into the sitting room:



As you can see, ahead of you is the door to the balcony:



for which I have grand plans for a herb garden and other plants.

Leading off the living room is the dining area:



and if you walk through that and round to your right you reach the kitchen:



Go back through the living room again:



and if you turn right (i.e. left as you came in the front door) you are absolutely surrounded by doors, leading to the utility room, second bathroom, hall cupboard, and through into the second bedroom, which then, believe it or not, has another cupboard and a walk-in wardrobe of its own. And no, I didn't bother taking photos of all those! But this is the second bedroom, aka office, with its window out onto the balcony:



And finally, a view from the outside - we're the top floor:



From left to right you can see the master bedroom window just above the tree, the little kitchen window, the dining area with its nice double layer of windows, and the balcony.

If you now have an accurate picture of our apartment I congratulate you on your exemplary spatial awareness! Feel free to come and compare your picture with reality.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

photos now available

No actual wedding photos yet I'm afraid (hope they arrive soon...) but the photos of the rest of the trip are now on Facebook at:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=53715&l=3498c&id=667138898

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=53722&l=b4263&id=667138898

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=53725&l=14c2a&id=667138898

Enjoy! and I might get round to putting a bit more of a story on here at some point, but the photos will give you the general idea.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Mr and Mrs White

Just a quick post to say that yes, Graham and I are now married, the ceremony was beautiful, the honeymoon was amazing, and photos should be available next week, at which time you can have the whole story with pictures! If I can I'll get some photos up before then, but I'm working off a public computer which makes playing around with hundreds of photos a bit more complicated. Watch this space...

Friday, 25 July 2008

I made it!

Well, here it is: my first post from Fort Worth!

I arrived safely, despite a 4-hour delay at Newark. The connecting flight to Dallas/Fort Worth was running late anyway, but they got us all onto the plane about 4pm, we taxied away from the gate... and then found out that the weather was so bad that no planes could take off. So we sat there... and sat there... and sat there.... until 8pm, when we finally took off. I arrived at 10pm Fort Worth time, which is 4am UK time, having got up at 6am that morning!

It is, of course, fantastic to see Graham again, and we have now bought wedding rings and are all set for Hawaii! One week to go!!!