Thursday, 27 September 2012

I never lived a year better spent in love

A couple of nights ago, I was struck by a sudden urge to look back through our wedding photos. It was such a joyful, exhilarating, magical day, and I was amazed by how well the photographs captured that feeling. The warm, elevated buzz of being loved and surrounded by love is indescribable, but somehow the images had some sense of it, even though frozen in time.

Then it hit me: on October 11th, I will have lived in Charlotte for a year. A whole year! Where did that go?! Of course, I still feel like a total newbie. I'm constantly learning even now, and I think I will always feel a kind of displacement, however much the Queen City feels like a second home.

Just after landing at CLT
Rather than ramble on about what I think has changed and how I think I have adapted, I thought I'd do what I did just before I left: a v-log, answering questions (so still rambling, but just in video form!). I still plan on doing my accent comparison video too, as per the first one I did just after I emigrated, but I thought another Q&A might be fun right now.

So, if you would like to ask a question about life in America, life as an expat, life as an expat coming to the end of her freshman year, language, accent, lifestyle, food, driving, or anything else you can think of, please get in touch! You can leave a comment on this post, write to me via message or wall post on Facebook, text me, email me, Skype me, pigeon - whichever suits you! Everyone is welcome, whether an old friend, an internet friend, a stranger, an expat buddy, a blog lurker, a first-time visitor to QE, or A.N. other. More than one question is more than fine, too. I would love to have a great mix of questions like last time; they really made me consider things I probably hadn't overtly analysed before, or even that I hadn't previously even thought of. I should be able to have the v-log done by the end of the weekend. Hope to hear from you, and I look forward to your questions!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Dewclaw debacle

Doing well after surgery
This week has been something of an emotional rollercoaster, because I have been overtired, apparently was somewhat hormonal, felt really quite homesick (well, familysick), had some tough customers at work, have not been able to see Ben because of our clashing schedules, and because Satine went in for her spay and dewclaw surgery midweek, which I was more worried about than I realised.

So, when Saturday rolled around I felt almost palpable relief: a day with Ben, two days after Satine's surgery and no complications, getting things done around the house, and only just over two weeks until I see my parents.

No such luck.

New stitches in her leg
Satine, despite having an E-collar on and being on strict bed rest (and so mostly confined to her crate), managed to get her stitches out of her leg where her dewclaw was amputated. She opened it right up, in under ten minutes, to the point you could see down to the bone. She had her collar on, and she was in her crate at the time. It seems that the collar wasn't quite long enough for our ridiculously long, flexible puppy, and those stitches were just too itchy to resist.

One trip to the emergency vet later and a huge guilt trip for me, she was all fixed up. She needed a full wound flush (lovely bacteria in a dog's mouth transferring over to that open incision means a high chance of infection), sedation and reverse sedation, restitching, wider-ranging antibiotics, and a new, longer E-collar. Our poor baby.

Not happy about her crate and collar!
Of course, 'Tine is unaware of the whole thing, and seemed rather glad to be going on a car ride, if anything. She paid no mind to her leg the whole time, and was pretty much fine from when we brought her home, other than some post-anaesthesia moans and sways. Silly mite!

I was so worried; I know there is not much more I could have done having followed the doctor's instructions to the letter about her post-operative care, but I still feel horribly responsible. I also hate it that she is now going to have to have her collar on longer, and take a few more days off from being a puppy.  She's dealing well with the new collar though, and I'm home today so I can keep a constant eye on her without her having to be crated. Tomorrow I'm going to take her to work with me, as the massive benefit of working at an absolutely lovely vet is that the doctors want to see her to check she is okay!

Other than that, there's not a whole lot of updating to be done. I've got some fun things to write about the utterly ridiculous healthcare situation in the USA, but that will have to wait. For now I am just going to relax, wait for Ben to get home, and look after our little family.

Adapting to the cone - she got her chew in the end!

Monday, 17 September 2012

A more perfect union: the DNC from a UK perspective

My results

I planned on writing a second part to my previous "short" post about the DNC but I haven't really got too much more to say (unsurprisingly, given that last one!). So instead I will present a short summary, and then a link so all you non-US folk can see where your views fall in the politics of America.

While Clinton and Michelle Obama's speeches were rousing, touching, and inspiring, the President's speech was extremely calm, and far less of a show. He actually did what I would consider more of a party political broadcast, where specific policy details and eventual goals were covered. It still surprises me - and makes me feel a little bit uneasy - to see the political advertising on television here, as it's such a mud-slinging, fact-impoverished way of communicating with the voters. I don't think it does anyone any favours. I was glad that Obama dropped in a little joke about "approving this message" - I'm sick of hearing that daft phrase, and I hardly watch TV!

The President seemed quite sombre, although still hopeful, and focused more on what was still to be done rather than achievements so far. I guess asking people to stick with him to see initiatives like health reform and repatriation of industry is an even bigger ask right now, as so many are currently in dire financial straits and want to see change now (even if it is not lasting change, I think). The long game is a harder, but ultimately more rewarding one, hopefully with some permanent positive results. Overall, Obama came over as honest, determined, astute, and hopeful. Not flashy, but this is an election, not American Idol. I hope.

The impact on Charlotte was much talked about, and I know a lot of people were frustrated by the traffic restrictions and other safety precautions imposed uptown. I also heard a lot of excited chatter about the atmosphere up there, and people making plans to visit specifically because the DNC was in town. I didn't get a chance to travel that way, sadly, but it looked like a lot of fun!

Finally, as I mentioned before, politics here are extremely bipolar. The independent candidates, while they may have some sensible and worthwhile policies, get left by the wayside when it comes to the election. You're either red or blue. I used to see what my political allegiance is (although I was pretty sure I would come out Democrat!), and found that while I was definitely a lefty over here, I actually side more with Jill Stein than Barack Obama. I had hardly heard of the woman! Click on the link to see who you'd be most likely to vote for, to see how other states are currently aligned, to compare candidates, and even to look at how people who came from various sites are most likely to vote. Feel free to share your results in the comments if you would like!

Figures!  :)

Also figures... 


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Meanwhile, 10 months later...

I've been relatively quiet on QE about something very, very exciting happening next month: my parents are coming to visit! So, of course, here is a countdown:

I have been pretty giddy every time I've thought about it, so I've tried to remain calm and not post too early about just how happy it makes me to know I'll see my Mum and Dad again so soon. If you know my family even a little bit, you'll know that we're a pretty tight unit, that we all love each other dearly and take joy in being around one another, and up until my leaving last year, I usually saw Mum and Dad once or twice a week. 

I hesitate to say we're more like friends than family, as that's only really true in the choosing-to-see-each-other sense. I know a lot of families that only see each other for annual "required" events plus one or two more more casual meet-ups and that, while they of course love each other, it's in a quieter, more run of the mill kind of a family way - the embarrassing dad dances, the mum fussing around, all the usual cliché ideas of what a family is. So I guess what I am trying to say is that we are both friends and family. That includes my brother, and since he got married, and so did I, it includes our respective spouses too.

I'm incredibly lucky to have such a fanfuckingtastic group of people to share genes with (and not, in the case of Ben and Wren!). These people are my home; people I can be totally open with; who love me for me and encourage me to be me; who don't mind when we disagree; who are on the same wavelength; who aren't critical but discursive; who are always open-minded and unconditionally loving; who are abstract, creative, brilliant, fun, silly, and just make me glad to be a part of their world. I'm so very lucky. And in three weeks, I am going to be able to tell them that in person.

Dad, Ben, me, Sam, Mum, and Wren in December 2011

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Not today

It's my day off today, and I was going to do all manner of things. I have a huge list of administrative, household, blogging/email, and general tasks that need doing. However, it's 3:15PM, I'm still in my pyjamas, and the biggest thing I've achieved today is making it to the hammock. So, instead of stressing out about my apparent lack of motivation, I'm going to write this little post here, and then spend the rest of the day just getting what I can done at my own pace, chatting to friends on Skype, playing with my gorgeous furry family, and maybe mooching back to the hammock again for some late afternoon sunshine. So there, brain. Ha.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Fence, faecal, and fat (girl) Friday!

It was a day for all the 'F's! Today was the day that we had our garden fence installed (essential for free range exercise for the puppies), said puppies got their second round of de-wormer, and is the day of the week that most of the staff at the vet go out for lunch together and pig out on delicious food from one of the nearby eateries.

In the case of the last 'F', we got lunch from Hungry Howie's today, who serve utterly delicious pizza and moreish dough sticks and garlic knots. Om nom nom! One of our sweet clients also brought in some treats for us, lovely lady that she is, so we were also spoiled with mini packs of M&Ms, Milky Way bars, Snickers, and other such chocolatey tastiness.

In decidedly less tasty events (although if you're Bertie, you'd probably dispute this - her new favourite snack on any given walk is random poo she can find in the two seconds you aren't watching her every move), the puppies needed a few boosters, some blood work, and a second dose of the dewormer Drontal. The latter is going to make them pooptastic as of tomorrow morning - we decided against giving them this medication today as they had to travel back in the car with me, and I know from prior experience that diarrhoea plus back seat does not a happy combination make. Seriously. So it's technically Shaturday, not Faecal Friday. Also, they had their first Lepto' vaccines today, so if they reacted to those I wanted to know if it was the vaccine and not the Drontal causing the runs. NB There's nothing technically 'wrong' with the pups, it's just that they're, well, puppies, so they have worms. Bertie was cleared of her initial puppy worms but then we found tapeworms in her stools - lovely! Satine was abandoned and, when tested at just under 5 months old, had three different types of worms, so needs several doses of dewormer to see her right. She's doing so well, though! Basically we just want them both in the best of health, especially as neither of them got a good start in life, so they're having everything the vets and veterinary staff recommend.

This makes me realise that I've not actually explained any further about how our menagerie grew from one dog, to one dog, a rescue puppy and cat to one dog, a rescue puppy and cat and an abandoned puppy who ended up staying at our house on a permanent basis. After we had adopted Bertie from Animal Control, we found that a) we absolutely loved having a puppy, once we had managed to start sleeping again, and b) Bertie seemed to be needing more dog-on-dog interaction that our older dog, Ender, does not want to and cannot provide. It's not fair to either of them, even though he joins in in his own way, and seems rejuvenated in several ways since B came to live with us.

I digress! I suppose (admit) that "a and b" are just excuses, as Satine (our abandoned, beloved little lady, as pictured below) had my heart from the moment she clambered out of the far-too-small crate she was dumped in on the doorstep of the vet where I work, gingerly came up to me, and let me pet her, and then wagged her tail. Whatever she's been through, she remains the sweetest, most gentle girl you could imagine, and for a five month old puppy it's even more impressive to see how calm she is with people. It's so sad, but we had to teach her what toys were and that it's okay to play and have fun. With the amazing resilience of a canine and the advantage of youth, though, she's already a happy, playful, settled pup even after only three weeks of living with us. She's an absolute darling, Bertie loves her and loves having another puppy around all the time, and we are so glad we took the (somewhat risky!) step of adopting her on the basis of 'it felt right'. I knew she was the right dog for our family, so wanted to take care of her, and it's so wonderful to see her having a happy, deservedly peaceful life with people and a "sister" who love her. The first time she fell asleep on me, I cried a little, as she had at last learned to relax. By the way she flinches when someone moves their hand upwards too fast, and how long it took her just to sit down for more than three seconds when at home with us, I think she's known some cruelty. Well, not now. So, meet our new girl, with our Bertie girl. So happy and lucky to call them ours!


That leads me neatly (sort of) to something we wanted to do when we just had Bertie, never mind two puppies: fence the back yard in so that she had her own outdoor space in which to run around and go puppy-crazy. In Charlotte, dogs are not allowed off leash except for in designated dog parks (not even on greenways or trails), and these come with some inherent risks (unexpected own/other dog aggression, unsuitability for puppies, Leptospirosis) so they won't be a viable option for a couple of months yet. So, today was Fence Friday. Obviously we won't let them out there alone, and they'll never be left out there by themselves whether we're in or out, but the idea is that they can get to know their own strength, tire themselves out, learn to play with and control their energy, and really run. And can they ever run! I only let them out in the yard for about ten minutes today, just to let them explore, and they went bonkers! It was a real joy to see. I'm so looking forward to tomorrow (apart from the inevitable Shaturday element), when we can spend the morning sprinting around with them, throwing them a ball, and watching them really play. Standby for some 'F'otos!

Playing now!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Democratic National Convention

I'll post more about the DNC when I've seen President Obama's speech tonight, but for now I just wanted to share the link to the live feed that's been going out and will continue to go out throughout the DNC events and presentations. Click on the logo to the left to go to the live feed page.

I live too far out to get into Charlotte (you can't drive in to uptown and public transport has been suspended), which makes me a little sad as I'd like to go in to feel the vibe of the event, but it's still exciting to know it's happening just over FIVE miles away! Plus I can watch it in the comfort of my own home, with a nice glass of wine, maybe with a friend or two, and surrounded by Dogs 'N' Cat. Geddit?!

Anyone who knows me knows that my political persuasions are more to do with fairness and equality, as well as honesty, integrity, and intelligence, rather than being aligned with one particular party. However, in America it seems that automatically makes me a Democrat (left winger!). I guess I am kind of a Liberal Democrat back home, but I also have some Conservative/right wing and some Labour/left wing opinions also. It really depends on the issue being discussed. Here, though, I am clearly pretty much entirely aligned with the Democratic Party. I can't remember who said this to me, but a great quote I heard about American politics is that "the left wing have gone right, and the right wing have gone to the insane asylum". I just feel that issues like women's rights, the economy, marriage/people equality, keeping businesses local, the influence of religion over legislation, and healthcare provision are all dealt with better by the Democratic Party in the USA.

One thing I would like to mention is that President Clinton gave an excellent speech last night, and I feel that Democrats and Republicans, and all the independents in between, should take the time to listen to it. While there are, of course, many pro-Obama statements, the issue of being able to work together towards common, mutually beneficial goals regardless of political allegiance, and that compromise is not a weakness, were the predominant elements of his message. The fact that Republicans have made some excellent contributions to America today was not only mentioned but emphasised, and it was also pointed out that the people heading up the GOP today are not representative of the original tenets of the party (so the party itself isn't irrelevant or dangerous, but its current leaders pose a great threat to the American people). To disagree with the President has somehow become synonymous with hating him, as though you must also abhor him as a person to truly be disagreeing with his politics - a very worrying development indeed.

I think it's a speech relevant for everyone. As Clinton concluded, quoting the Preamble to the Constitution, "In the end we decide to champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives ... a more perfect union." America needs people who can empathise, compromise, and vitalise: I think that's Obama and the Democrats.

Lastly, after his speech, there was some fantastic presidential man-love in the form of a president-on-president hug. I thought it was lovely, so here are some photos.

During President Clinton's speech.

Looks like a good hug.
President Obama joins him at the end and
hugs him in thanks.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The greatest thing you'll ever learn

The weekend just gone saw me and Ben not only have an entire 48 hours together (our first proper weekend in months!), but also incorporated a Baz Luhrmann film evening on Sunday night, to the tune of 'Moulin Rouge!' and 'Strictly Ballroom'. Both have an innovative approach to cinematography narrative, a humorous, silly side to them, and both focus on a main theme of love and being true to oneself. The former uses music and theatre as its primary medium, whereas the latter uses dance and the idea of breaking away from small-minded subcultures. I think these choices enhance the movies' idealistic take on love, because of how out of place dance and song are in everyday settings. I absolutely adore both films, so it was such a treat to watch them both, back-to-back!

Not only are these two films amongst my all-time favourites, watching movies I love, about love, with the man I love more than anyone, being, or thing, is constantly a refreshing experience for me. I used to hate watching films or listening to music and knowing that Ben would 'get it', but that he wasn't there, and I had no right to call him or write to him to tell him about whatever it was I was watching or listening to. Not that that always stopped me, but gradually I managed to reduce the frequency of such communications. In fact, it got to the point where our contact was merely perfunctory: saying hi on Facebook; the odd update email; a quick check-in on Skype. We had a tendency to lapse into an all-too-close "friendship" if we spent too much time interacting, so it was safer to always be at about three arms' lengths away to stop that from happening. In the end, the PostSecret above (using a still from another favourite film) was what made me wake up to the fact that I couldn't keep running away from what might be possible, if not necessary, inevitable, and vital. Ben sent me the link to this one image on Skype, again just as a passing comment - "I saw this and thought you would appreciate it" - and I remember uttering, quietly but out loud, without really realising what I was saying "No one will ever get me quite like you". The next week I asked Ben how he felt about me, and we both told each other we still felt the same way we always had. The rest is history (and documented on this blog!). A continental leap, marriage, house move, three dogs and a cat later and here we are, happier than I ever thought possible, than I ever dared believe, than I thought I deserved.

I've written before about allowing yourself to be happy. But all this thinking about love, and sharing common experiences with those who experience things in the same way as you, in this instance, made me miss my friends, and not in the way I usually do. Usually I miss them for me, in a mostly selfish way, and miss them for the things I wish I could talk to them about, or how much I enjoy their personalities and company. This time, though, I missed them because I knew that several of them have been or are going through some seriously shitty times, and I desperately want to be there for them (you could of course argue that this is not actually entirely altruistic; being able to support someone you care for has its own rewards for the self as well as the friend concerned). I don't mean this in an arrogant way - obviously they're doing just fine without me, and I don't pretend that there's some magical friendship potion that only I can provide - but rather, I bring it up because a common theme from every single one of those friends who I've spoken to over Skype or via text or email, has been apologising. Apologising for taking up my time, for "moaning", for being negative, and for simply talking about what's been going on and how they're feeling about it.

So here's a message for you, beloved friends. Come what may, I want to be there for you, in the teeny way I can be while I'm over here, and in the full-on, over-the-top, massive hugs and glasses of wine and overly smushy sentimental statements I'm capable of when we're face-to-face. Don't apologise. There is no need. You are loved, and I want you to know that you are loved, wanted, and that it is a privilege when you trust me with what's going on in your world. Let me love you in return for all the wonderfulness you bring to my life. And, all being well, I'll do the aforementioned in person hugs/wine/sloppiness in about three and a half months. Christmas in England, baby!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Penny for my thoughts

As anyone who's awake knows, the current economic situation in the western world is between not great and utterly shit. As anyone who's ever been a student/unemployed/unemployable knows, sitting on one's arse all day in PJs, eating crackers and drinking whatever liquid is the first one you find in your fridge, is usually conducive to thinking about these things and ending up becoming a little depressed.

This is not, however, going to be a depressing post. It's more of a rumination around financial worries, taking the good things into account, and looking on the bright side. This is the first time a PJ day has resulted in such a sunny side up frame of mind, so I figured writing it down was a good plan (and will possibly provide a kick up the bum should a more negative lazy weekend in the future result in a potential downer).

Right now, with my new job and secure house, I'm not really in a position to moan anyway, even if I felt like it. Everyone is having to tighten their belts and yes, while I earn considerably less than I used to, and it's stressful to count every single dollar, the fact of the matter is that I have a job and I have the potential to not be broke. I'm just impatient because I want my finances to be balanced now, and I'm terrible for stressing over what might happen, rather than the actual situation I'm in (not just in monetary terms, but for everything). I just need to make sure I have enough to take care of the dogs and cat, keep up with the bills, eat reasonably healthily, and suck up the fact that we can't really go out to socialise for the rest of this year if we plan on visiting England for Christmas. The reason I'm stressed, if I'm honest, is just that the bills seem never-ending: as soon as I get back to a balanced figure, something else comes up: house tax, health insurance, car tax, pet tax, home maintenance - you name it, we're probably getting taxed on it, and all before the end of the year. If I could just overcome the seemingly constant stream of bills for things we already have (oh, poor me), I could break even, start saving again, and feel less panicky about the whole thing.

But it's then that I need to look more objectively at my situation, and not see it as ignoring the problem, but more being pragmatic about it. There's no point in me worrying and worrying about the bills that WILL come, because the fact of the matter is that I WILL deal with them. Eventually things will work out, even if it's over a longer time period than I would ideally like, and then there will probably be something else for me to worry about anyway - so standby for that blog post, ha ha!