Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Day 21: Who needs bridges?

Today I finally managed to get near the Hudson River to take a photo. The sight of this huge river completely frozen-over has been a remarkable part of the last week or so, but always seen from 6-lane highways until today.

Even the frozen river is far from uniform. This part is fairly smooth (under a thick layer of snow). However, in other places the surface is made up of slabs of ice sticking up at 45° or so, presumably having floated downstream and piled up against each other. Apparently in the spring the piling up of ice in melting rivers can lead to flooding, so sometimes the ice is broken up using explosives.

Incidentally, unlike the lakes we ventured on to at the weekend, I very much doubt that the river-ice is safe to walk on - there is certainly no evidence that anyone has tried, although bearing in mind how hard I found it to get to the bank, it may be lack-of-access rather than self-preservation that has prevented it. So, to answer my own question, whether the river is ice or liquid water the bridges are an essential part of life in the region, and although the views they provide may be hard to capture, they are nevertheless pretty amazing.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Day 20: Buyer beware!

Laptop operated by a trained professional in a closed family room.

I didn't want this picture to give you any ideas of trying this at home. I'm sure the proximity of the mug to the power lead of the PC was worrying many of you...

Advertising here is a world of contrasts. On the one hand, there is the extreme seriousness of car adverts 'filmed with a professional driver on a closed course' or 'simulated scenes' as pieces of paper float around the room in a not-remotely realistic manner. On the other hand, there is the milk carton promoting it's farm origins and then giving the name and contact address of their C-E-I-E-I-O, or another saying moo-chas gracias for buying this milk. One of my soya milk cartons even has the following: 'It's Free! ...of lactose, dairy, cholesterol, glutem, eggs, casein, peanuts, MSG and worries. You still have to pay for it though.' Somehow either of these extremes would seem out of place in the UK, although I suspect that the 'Don't try this at home' brigade will take hold there before the lighthearted packaging does.
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Monday, January 29, 2007

Day 19: What do they think of us?

Here is another picture from yesterday. I'm not sure what it suggests about the girls, but I like it. Today we finally received some firm-ish delivery dates for our household goods shipments. This has prompted some back-of-the-envelope calculations. The airfreight shipment will have taken 22 days door-to-door when it arrives on Wednesday. The distance it will have travelled (direct) is 3400 miles. That means it has averaged 6.4 miles per hour. The sea shipment, when it arrives next Monday will have managed 5.2 miles per hour. I conclude that the invention of air travel has speeded up mankind's exploration of the globe by approximately 20%. Pretty impressive I'm sure you'll agree.

Despite this less-than-impressive average speed, we are not alone in our world-travel and there is enough of a market for Britishness over here for the BBC to make a channel especially: BBC America. This channel, I imagine, represents or forms the American view of all that is great about Britain. So, let's review the offerings. At least two hours a day dedicated to antique shows (Cash in the Attic etc.) At least two hours a day of Whose Line Is It Anyway? A collection of dramas from UK TV (mostly non-BBC all with plenty of sex in the trailers): Hollyoaks in the City (rebranded as In The City), Mile High etc. But do not despair - there is always the mainstay of British-excellence: comedy. Who could doubt that here at least we can export greatness? And we do.

Benny Hill.

What do they think of us?
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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Day 18: If you go down to the woods...

The outdoor life continued, although slightly less ambitiously, today with a trip to Five Rivers one of our very-local places for a walk on a Sunday afternoon. The first of many visits I should imagine. The weather was more UK-like than any recent day, it was the sort of cold (-2 °C) snowy day we recognised with damp air and big clumps of snowflakes. We followed the 'Wild Turkey Trail' where (apparently) turkeys can be seen eating acorns in the Fall (right up to Thanksgiving presumably). No turkeys today, but a very nice walk in woods, grassland and forest (all within about 1 mile).

The 'not quite the same' experiences continued with last nights visit to a Chinese take-away: no Prawn Crackers or set-meals and a meal for four adults coming in at just over $20 (£10). Not all surprises are bad ones. Even filling up with petrol is an adventure as I discovered seeing it afresh through Exile #2's eyes today. 1) Button to open filler cap, 2) card in pump, 3) remove (quickly), 4) pick up nozzle, 5) button to choose grade, ...

Today was new church number three in as many weeks, and we are starting to weary of being newcomers and longing to belong somewhere. Paralysed by choice again. Maybe its time to settle down.
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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Day 17: A day at the beach

Today the exiles had a day out at Grafton Lakes State Park with T & S, some other exiled Brits. Most of the day was spent on or around the beach, although only digging through the snow could tell you whether you were standing on the beach or the water. Here we are standing out on the lake. Only the snow prevented it from being as treacherous as a skating rink. Exile #3 and Exile #4 enjoyed a dog-sled ride and were joined by Exile #2 and S on a horse-drawn ride through the forest. Meanwhile T and myself measured the depth of the ice (approx 4 inches) by sticking de-gloved hands down ice-fishing holes and watched a state trooper driving an air-boat around on the ice of the lake. Standing behind it in the snow blown by the propeller was a taste of the blizzard conditions that we have so far avoided.

A good time was had by all. The temperatures were respectable, even reaching 20 °F but not quite the balmy 32 °F we had predicted. It snowed most of the time, the kind of tiny flakes blowing in the wind that rarely if ever make much of an impression in the UK - today of course there was no question of it not settling. If it hadn't been for yesterday, we would have thought it pretty cold. Fortunately, it was possible to get into the warm and we sampled the thoroughly-unhealthy delights of fried dough whilst sheltering in the warmth of an out-of-season beach-side cafe and stood for a few minutes by a fire someone had lit beside the lake.

It's snowing again now, although I doubt we will get the 3 inches required to trigger our drive-and-path snow-clearing service. Apparently, January so far has had 12 inches less snow than average. So there is some catching up to do in the next few days.
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Friday, January 26, 2007

Day 16: Baby it's cold outside

Today the daytime temperatures dipped below zero. Daytime maximum temperatures have been below freezing most days for the last week or so, but today was really cold. There was even a 'Wind Chill Advisory' issued because the effective temperature was due to be between -15 and -25 °F with the wind taken into account.

For those who are Fahrenheitedly challenged:
0 °F is approx -18 °C
-20 °F is approx -28 °C

Today was the coldest day in the region for two years apparently - just going outside was considered to be dangerous. The Friday-afternoon skiing at Exile #3's school, having been cancelled due to lack of snow a few weeks ago, was cancelled today because of the cold. Exile #2 and Exile #4 were caught in a salt-storm in a parking-lot when a gust of wind stirred up salt from the road and hurled it at their few bits of exposed skin. My excitement was the walk from work to the car. After a cold, but manageable 5 minute walk, I realised that I had moved the car earlier in the day and had left it in the opposite direction. It turns out that the advice from the TV weather reporters to avoid standing around outside was not over-stated. A ten minute walk wearing hat, coat and scarf was enough to make me not only cold, but indifferent about who might see me looking cold. Tomorrow, the temperature may reach approximately 0 °C. Suddenly that (32 °F) sounds positively balmy.
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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Day 15: All the world's a stage

And so it begins...the keen followers of the exile will have noticed that yesterday was the first post-free day since Day 0 (moving day). OK, the really keen will have noticed that the Day 1 and Day 2 posts were actually posted on Day 3...but no-one is that obsessive I hope. It turns out that yesterday was a big day for myself, involving doing 3-5 minute interviews with about 50 prospective new employees at a job fair, one colleague pointed out that this relentless exercise bore more than a passing resemblance to speed-dating.

Tonight was Exile #3's moment in the spotlight as her new school put on an all-school Shakespeare evening. In fact, only the 12-14 year-olds actually attempted the Bard, the 3 and 4 year-olds did some Elizabethan themed songs and dances and this is the moment when the player returned (triumphant) from strutting and fretting to enjoy the rest of the show from the cheap seats.
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Day 13: Ring the bell and run away!

Two weeks after we moved out of our house in the UK, we are still waiting for our 'essentials' to arrive via planet-destroying airfreight. It seems remarkable to me that they apparently failed to leave the UK for a week after they left our house - so much for an "express 7-10 day service". Now they are with US customs and no-one can do anything to speed them up. Hopefully they will arrive soon, otherwise the deep-sea shipment may catch up as rumour has it that is, rather than washing up on a beach in Devon, arriving any time now in New York City.

When I was at school it was a well known game (among the naughtiest children - never me of course!) to go up to a house, ring the doorbell and run away. Here, I would guess, the children are too well-behaved, the doorbells are too far from the street and in any case grown men have taken the game on and raised it to a new level. Who are these adult-pranksters? The parcel delivery men. Yes, they put the parcel on the doorstep, ring the bell and without waiting to see if anyone will come, return to their van and drive away. Well, it seems to work OK, so who am I to complain?
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Monday, January 22, 2007

Day 12: As simple as A, B, C

A is for Angels: Today the snow has arrived with some conviction at city-level. Exile #3, it seems, has been taught the from-cradle upstate art of making snow-angels by one of her class-mates. Just as well we equipped her with snow-pants (what a great image that conjures for the British ex-pats).

B is for Bells: The snow has also prompted regular renditions of 'Jingle Bells' from Exile #4 - fair enough, it really has nothing to do with Christmas in any of its forms except by association. I was interested to find out that it was broadcast from space as part of a prank by the astronauts on one of the Gemini missions claiming to have seen Santa's sleigh from orbit.

C is for...: Exile #2 has furthered our attempts to live in a vaguely ethical way by finding some free-range eggs. The wonderful name these 'certified humane' eggs go-by? Cage-free. I suppose it has the benefit of giving a graphic impression of where the other eggs come from.
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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Day 11: Walking in a winter wonderland

What a difference a day makes. Today we have felt healthy, full of energy (relatively anyway) and up for a challenge. The first one was another new church. Once again we were made to feel very welcome and the sermon was about creationism (watch my concern about the church in the USA grow...) but about how not all Christians feel the need to believe in a literal six-day creation (phew!). In fact the preacher gave a very nice account of how the Genesis creation story blends 3000-year-old science with epic poetry about the way that God was in the centre of the act of creation and went on to point out that that fusion of science and faith is still just as possible today.

After going back home for a proper Sunday lunch (that even Exile #3 who has been off her food enjoyed) we ventured about 10 miles up into the snow in the wonderfully named John Boyd Thacher State Park. Here is the recently refuelled Exile #3 by a frozen stream (the surface was completely frozen, but we could hear the water running underneath). The sunlight sparkling on the powdery snow was really beautiful and the views down over the lowlands to the East towards the Hudson River were spectacular. We did however need all our cold-weather clothes!

Whatever you may believe about how it came to be, the world is an amazing place.
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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Day 10: Home comforts

Today was Saturday and, in part, it felt like a 'normal' Saturday. The day started with our traditional Saturday Breakfast - a long-standing tradition of the family, eaten in front of the TV (other days are strictly round-the-table affairs). It was English muffins this morning - how ex-pat of us! After that, we braved the mall - actually quite quiet in the morning apart from families with young children.

Today's weather was extremely cold once the wind-chill was taken into consideration. People certainly were not hanging around outside. Even the mall has open fires that people huddle around, more for comfort than for warmth as such as the whole mall is kept at a perfectly comfortable temperature.

We've been doing the same - this is where we have all spent most of our home-relaxation time. The TV has brought Dora the Explorer to Exile #3 and especially to Exile #4 and BBC America to the adults and the fire has brought warmth and comfort to all. Not like home was in the UK, but nevertheless a bit of homeliness in a strange land.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Day 9: Our new best friend

Today we woke to snow on the ground, Exile #3 finally made it to school and they both made it through the day, although the snow's survival was patchy. The rest of the week looks set for a few more snow showers and all below-freezing weather, so we may get used to it.

The principal at the school said that normally at this time of year the ground would all be completely buried in 2-3 feet of snow, and our landlady's daughter said how she'd been enjoying the mild winter right up until she watched Al Gore's An Uncomfortable Truth. Well apparently last winter was unusually snow-less, so there's certainly room for wondering if it is a change rather than an aberration.

One way in which the planet is being saved here (probably) is pictured, the near-ubiquitous waste disposal. Ours has the wonderful name IN-SINK-ERATOR. Instead of collecting green-waste in a lorry from smelly bins, everything is shredded under the sink by this device and carried away by the sewers. Exile #2 says the process of posting bits of left-over food into this hole (carefully avoiding becoming disposal-feed ourselves) makes her think of feeding a pet dragon - the sounds certainly fit. I remember there being a spate of enthusiasm for these devices in the UK in my youth, but they never seemed to catch on. Maybe the novelty will wear-off for us too, but for now it seems remarkably useful. Whether the power used by a street's worth of houses running the little electric-motors and whatever happens when the waste water is processed actually use more or less carbon than a green-waste collection I'll leave you to argue amongst yourselves.
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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Day 8: Too many choices

Exile #2
asked me yesterday if I thought that the US was defined by quantity over quality. We came to the conclusion that it was not, once the factors affected by available space were excluded. For example, houses are big (except in crowded city centres) because there's plenty of space, roads are wide (for the same reason), kitchens are large (in general) because houses are large, and in the large kitchens are large fridges, as a result of this everything you buy is pre-prepared, pre-diluted, pre-expanded because it can be. OK, I'm generalising and extrapolating like mad, but hopefully you take the point. There are some exceptions, but in general, I think quantity over quality is not entirely fair.

However, it is a land of consumers and what that results in is a bewildering array of choices for everything. The other day we walked down the 'juices' aisle at the supermarket and didn't find any orange juice. This is because there is a section just for orange juice with every conceivable combination of pulp/no pulp/some pulp, from/not from concentrate, with/without added calcium/fiber, low sugar etc. and each of these from two or three different brands. Everywhere more choice than can possibly be healthy.

Today was register with a doctor day, well as it turns out register with three doctors day - no local GP here, we have a pediatrician for the kids, a primary care physician for us and an O.B.S.G.Y.N. (apparently) to prepare for the arrival of Exile #5 (or perhaps that should be Native #1?). And how to choose each one? Everyone has a recommendation, then we have our (perhaps peculiarly British) desire to not have to drive 10 miles to see them. Even narrowing down by "recommended AND nearby AND compatible with our insurance " leaves far more choice than we know what to do with. Aaargh!

Now where did I put that piece of paper and pin...
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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Day 7: Left out in the cold

Today was a cold, dry winter's day. Exile #2 had a first solo trip to the supermarket today and finally found out how to buy products without lots of artificial colors, flavors and sweet'ners - 'Natural' is the word to look for (fair enough I suppose) but can any of the UK readers guess what 'vegetarian beans' might be? Yes, Heinz's own Baked Beans, but rather than just being beans it has to be pointed out that there are no sausages or other meat products - it's really just beans and therefore, presumably, only of interest to vegetarians.

Exile #3 was delighted to get all her new winter-wear on and go outside, but it was not her that was left out in the cold, that was the trash and recycling about which we have been give very detailed instructions to follow. "On the night before collection day, the refuse cart must be placed within 1 foot of the street with lid hinges facing your house, keep away from poles, mailboxes, parked cars and other obstacles. The recycling (details provided separately) should be placed on the opposite side of the driveway from the refuse cart." This is so that the driver can "dump the refuse cart without leaving the cab of the truck". Mind you, if the temperatures are in single figures (F) overnight as predicted, I can't blame them.

As I said yesterday, every little thing reminds us we are foreigners here! Tomorrow we will find out whether the instructions were followed satisfactorily.
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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Day 6: We've got mail

Today the weather has been kind, but Exiles #3 and 4 have been sick and Exile #2 and myself have been exhausted from a sleepless night. So it's been a quiet day all round. I started work in anger (anger at my ability to connect to the IT systems that is!), and we started to realise just how far we are away from feeling like we know what we are doing. Every simple everyday task seems incredibly hard. Today's tasks were attempting to register with a doctor and buy something for the girls to drink at the supermarket - maybe it's the apparent familiarity of the culture that makes the differences seem so big.

We had our first post today - the USPS man stopped me to say "Your mail's started coming buddy". I can only assume that he felt the need to tell me because he put mail in today and found that we hadn't removed yesterday's. We could be kind to ourselves as suggest that it's because of the ice-storm and not going out today because of the kids being ill, but the truth of the matter is that it's another cultural misunderstanding. In the UK, our post arrived in our hall after being delivered through a letterbox in the door. Now, being cosmopolitan people, we know that doesn't happen here - the mail-man comes and puts it in the box by the street, and the box has a little flag to indicate when there's mail in it.

Close. The box has a little flag to indicate when there's outgoing mail in it. Doh!
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Monday, January 15, 2007

Day 5: A bit late for Christmas trees?

Who needs baubles when you've got freezing rain? Not so great for the roads, or for cars parked outside, but pretty spectacular for the on-looker. This morning every twig and blade of grass had a little ice jacket and the trees had their own decorations.

Later the temperature rose enough for these sheets of ice to start falling from the high branches of the trees making spectacular crashing sounds on the roof and through the other trees.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Day 4: The Ice Cometh Man

Sunday morning brought a taste of winter, this icicle was our first warning, but the real adventure started on driving the car out of the garage. Picture the car perched at the top of the drive(way) on a sheet of ice, as I started to reverse down the drive I suddenly thought that if I was going to slide down I'd rather it was forwards. So, now we're sitting in the car attempting a 3-point turn and picturing ourselves sliding sideways down the drive. Eventually, with a bit of help from the grass verges of the drive I actually managed to turn the car around and slide/drive down to the road where we were able to (cautiously) gain enough traction to achieve uphill movement to the main road.

We were on our way to try one of the local churches. We went to the local Vineyard church where we received a very warm welcome, a tour, some great worship, a challenging message and a lunch-invitation. Not sure if it will be our home, but it was a great place to be a newcomer!
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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Day 3: Where did everybody go?

Not to the park - that's for sure. This is Exiles #3 and #4 today (Saturday morning) you can see our temporary wheels on the right (not exactly eco-friendly I'm afraid) jostling for space in the packed car-park. Anyway, we walked around the park before heading to a place where you can drive, park (easily) and shop - and here at last were people in abundance!
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Friday, January 12, 2007

Day 2: Hook, line and sinker

Ah, the superstore, the same the world over? Not exactly. I visited a modest sized one today - well I say modest, you couldn't actually see the whole way across it due to the curvature of the earth. In one corner I saw this sign indicating the contents of the aisle (apparently without any irony). I refused to fall for it and passed by on my long hike to the other end of the shop.
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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Day 1: Lost in translation

Exile #2 related the following conversation she had with one of the lovely people who did a wonderful job of preparing our new home for us. They were concerned that we had not been well advised about the things we should have done prior to our departure.

- Did you get your documents translated?
- Translated?
- Yes, the authorities won't really deal with anything that's not in English
- Oh [struggle to keep a straight face] that's OK, they're in English

We just moved here from England what did you expect?

Day -1: Countdown to exile

Many of our worldly possessions left in a 20' shipping container on Tuesday (as you can see) a fair few others have found a final resting place in land-fill, reduced where possible using space-fill in the roofs of our families' houses, freecycle (nice people thank you whilst relieving you of your junk - cool!) etc. The container will be transported by uncomfortably-named 'deep-sea' shipping. It's hard avoid imagining the container in deep-sea rather than (as we hope) floating on top of it.
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