Tag: Expat

Performing Patriotism

“It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.”
― Aristotle

Watching US patriotism shaming from across an ocean and as an expat is a really enlightening and thought provoking experience, especially in an election season. If you don’t perform patriotism the way a person or group wants you to, the rage machine that can be and often is mobilized against you can be fierce. The group of my friends who are into sport are currently up in arms (on both sides of the issue) about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit for the national anthem. A couple of weeks ago people dragged one of the most celebrated female athletes in the country both for her hair and her forgetting/choice/who knows to put/not put a hand on her heart during the same national anthem. I remember a brouhaha a couple election cycles ago about the fact that a candidate wasn’t wearing a flag pin on his lapel and what that said about his inner commitment to the US constitution. Pick a current topic of policy (or lack thereof) in the current presidential campaign and enjoy the flurry of commentary about how the candidate in question is fundamentally un-American.

I grew up in a military family, living on or near military bases multiple times in childhood. I remember how the national anthem was played at the close of day, during which everyone in earshot would stop and remain still for the duration. Flag ceremonies were de rigeur. The symbols of national identity were everywhere, up to and including my father’s collar. I consider myself fairly patriotic, even though I am openly critical of my country and the many challenges it faces in living up to its own ideas enshrined in revolutionary documents. But outside of the structure of the military, civil service, and local/federal government life, I also don’t see the been or benefit in some of the hyper patriotism (not to say nationalism) I see in the US displayed by many civilians. I find it strange, for instance, that the national anthem is even played at a football game, which has nothing to do with the body politic or any workings of government at all.

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And I have been really disheartened to see a strain of American discourse weaponize patriotism–or rather how others “perform” patriotism. The vitriol heaped on a football player for exercising the very rights in question has baffled me. I’ve been far, far more angry to see a convicted rapist walk free for good behavior after serving just half of a six month sentence (ridiculous in its own right). In the election cycle, the hyperbolic scrutiny and wild interpretations about this candidate’s or that’s loyalty to the government has frankly veered into the realm of the bizarre. Meanwhile there has been a notable lack of policy debate about how the government should apply in people’s lives.

Perhaps it has to do with my experience with faith and religion, but I view patriotism in very similar ways to belief: something deeply personal, highly individualized, and fundamentally uninterpretable by other people. I can both criticize and love my country. A candidate for office cannot be evaluated based on jewelry. Flag ceremonies are insufficient barometers of loyalty. Sitting for the national anthem is not an act of treason. Neither is failing to place an appendage on another body party. There is no person or entity that can accurately measure devotion of any kind in another human and I’m struggling to cite an instance where a person or entity has tried without a whole host of interior motives behind them.

Now as a “stranger in a strange land” again, this time in the secular sense of being an expat I sometimes wonder if this commitment to displays or performances of patriotism is even good for Americans as a people. Does the devotion to the outward trappings actual result in devotion to the underlying principles? I have personally found that display is more often is tied to ideology than ideals, and political ideology that lacks the ability to be challenged is frightening to me. If history shows us anything, it’s that that way danger lies.

I’ve heard more than one American here in Britain talk disparagingly of British patriotism as being “tepid.” By comparison the Brits certainly are less loud about it, but most I’ve met are privately, staunchly proud of their nation. They acknowledge conflicts or disappointments with aspects of government or history or any number of things, and are perfectly willing to criticize themselves, but woe betide any outsider who may try to do the same. Americans are just as fierce about outside criticism but we are, strangely, equally or even more fierce when criticism comes from within in my experience. I’ve seen Yanks more likely to turn on one another than any outsider–I think that inability, at least in my opinion, to accept internal criticism more than anything explains the ridiculous and ineffective state of American politics at the moment. We seem hell bent on presenting a united front to the world, and willing to descend to insane levels of infighting in pursuit of it.

I don’t have any solutions to this problem except to say that I don’t like it and it disappoints me. I hate patriotism shaming and at a core level, I am mistrustful of anyone who partakes in it. And, as nationalistic sensibilities spike all over the world, I cannot but wonder if it’s dangerous.

House Hunting

“I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”
― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Ironically, for someone who works in property, a couple of weeks after the Brexit vote (which has rattled the industry in a lot of interesting ways), our landlady dropped me an email informing us that as a result of the vote (amongst other things) she was selling the apartment and we’d have to move. The process should take a few months, and neither she nor the agents thought it would be a quick process and would likely go into next year, but she would keep us updated.

Well, alright then. We made a note, quietly started looking around the neighborhoods we were interested in living in, but not with a major sense of urgency, and figured we’d be moving in a few months. We were happy to help with viewings, provide access upon request, and keep the apartment neat and tidy…with the benefit of advance warning of visits at least.

Needlescratch to a week and a half ago when we got a phone call from the agent informing us that our apartment has been sold. Quite suddenly and without warning, our search kicked into high gear.

There is still a lot behind the scenes work for our landlady but all things considered we’d far rather choose when we go than be assigned a countdown clock by someone else. We spent a couple of days searching, made a list, called the relevant agents and set aside a weekend to do nothing but look at potential options. We ended up paired with a really savvy agent who clearly is good at his job because he both started and ended at properties that were at the north end of our budget, but were both good options. Cheeky. However I’m happy to say that as with our first apartment, the first one we saw was the winner and we made an offer the same day as we knew it would go quickly. Our landlady has approved the earlier move out and we had to pay an advance and deposit to secure it, but come October, we will not be homeless.

We will also, it must be said, be living in a truly adult apartment for the very first time. I could not be more thrilled. We will have a dishwasher for the first time in over seven years of marriage (whose name is not Jeff), a terrace, and a completely new kitchen–I grow misty eyed thinking about it. It’s a great apartment and we’re ready to live in something that is not a shoebox; our current flat is less than 350 square feet. We’re also ready for things like cupboards and wardrobes and blenders, silly as that may sound. We’ve been living without them for years, of course, but I’m really looking forward to things like cooking, laundry, and cleaning being a bit easier thanks to the fact that we don’t have to fight against decay as well as mess.

With an upgrade comes bigger challenges however. We own almost no furniture, only the raw basics of cooking gear, and most of what we own we will be able to fit into suitcases. We will have to build a home from scratch on a shoestring budget–as a significant portion of our expendable money went towards a deposit payment–and literally piece by piece. Starting with a mattress. It will take at least a year.

I’m ready for it.

The hood.
The hood.

 

 

A Weekend in the Country

“It was a sweet view-sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.”
― Jane Austen

This post needed to go up today because London has been in a rainy, gray fog for several days now–in defiance of both the appropriate season and the 30th celebration of my birth. Weather aside it’s been great as I’ve taken a short workweek and a break from almost all media to enjoy the aging process. However I could not continue to let photos of the first (and at the rate we’re going only) proper summer weekend of the year.

My friend who kindly invited us for New Year’s this year, even more kindly invited us back for a camping weekend. His family home is a working estate, complete with livestock and acres, that operates a farm shop, camping grounds, and restaurant in addition to being a family home. Both he and his partner are in the events and entertaining business (admittedly on a grand and international scale) and as you may imagine, they are exquisite hosts. They also have a seemingly endless supply of fun, funny, and interesting friends and spend a great deal of their scant free time organizing ways to spend time together. New Year’s Eve was a grown up and dog affair, this party was a mass of families with children–with dogs. This is Britain after all.

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The house is gorgeous and the family have spent a long time and a lot of investment in keeping it both up and properly in the family. Not all homes like this still survive with property intact and it’s a real testament to how much they love it that it’s still in their care.

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What’s a stately home without some sort of grand hall, I ask you?

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We might have slept in tents, but we dined in absolute style. This was seriously the most civilized meal arrangement you’ve ever witnessed: long table set up in the “summer garden” with a pretty much constant flow of food and beverages, all with interwar records playing in the background. Badminton was played, pups were frolicked with, and long hours were spent sitting in the sun discussing the Queen and other highly important topics. It’s was terribly British in the most lovely possible way.

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One of our hosts with one of the canines. His hairstyle made for required photography.

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The gentlemen enlisted the help of one of their private chefs for the cooking (don’t worry, he tucked in along with the rest of us) and the results were about as amazing as that suggests.

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Seriously, it was glorious.

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Did I mention there were dogs everywhere?

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A rousing and very chaotic game of rounders was played later in which were were injuries and several delays of play when pups absconded with the necessary equipment.

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Obligatory bonfires were also had.

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The next morning, another unbelievably civilized breakfast was taken with locally sourced bread, a special coffee machine was set up (again, in the garden) for those needing caffeine, and heaping amounts of a jam made from a rare breed of French strawberries that only last about a day once picked and so have to be eaten or made into something immediately. Of course it was. I raved about it so much the chef (who I actually have worked with on several events now and really love) gave me a pot that I lovingly cradled in my arms for the whole train ride home.

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After breakfast, farm chores.

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The family keep pigs, hundreds of chickens, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl. All the significant players are, of course named. The larger pig is Gertie, the lone guinea fowl is Cutherbert and he’s apparently a major bully in the farmyard.

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It was, as I’m sure you can tell, an absolutely smashing weekend!

The Church of Brunch

“Bloodies are the centerpiece of the Sunday Brunch–they are also, perhaps, the #1 Prep mixed drink…..
1. Place ice cubes in a large glass
2. Pour in two fingers of vodka
3. Fill glass almost to top with V-8
4. Season with: 2 drops Tabasco, 4 drops Worcestershire, 1/2 tsp. horseradish, 1 tsp. lime juice
5. Add wedge of lime, stir and drink
6. Repeat as needed”
― Lisa Birnbach, The Official Preppy Handbook

Starting from when I went to university and getting increasingly worse as time went on, Church attendance had pained me for years. There was a particularly memorable length of time where I came home from every single service either in tears or enraged by something that had been said over the pulpit, taught by a teacher or leader, or even just discussed in the classes that follow the main communion service in Mormonism which is the central part of Sunday worship. I started taking breaks from attendance when we still lived in the States, a week here or even a month there, believing that if I gave it some time and space, the next time I went to services would be better. Almost inevitably it was not and often it was worse. A sermon would be preached proclaiming things to be true that I believed deeply to be false. A teacher would cite centuries of Church leadership stating a position I thought fundamentally wrong. Stances I held because I felt them to be right and good were decried as dangerous or even evil. Meanwhile, my own research into history was complicating the many, more simple stories I had been taught about my faith all my life.

This wasn’t a one-time thing, it had lasted the better part of a decade. It was spiritually and emotionally draining, and the cognitive dissonance was strongest on the weekends. I came to dread the Sundays when we did attend services as the results were usually bad, and Sundays when we didn’t I spent at home whipping myself into a mass of Puritan-descended guilt. I felt for years that something was wrong with me for thinking and feeling the way I did and having the questions I had. I felt ashamed that I had not been able to find the same answers within the faith that almost everyone important in my life had, and embarrassed to be struggling with a problem that, as far as anyone else could tell (whichever side of faith divide you fall on) was entirely in my own head. To a lot of outside observers who shared their thoughts on the matter with me, it should have been easy to decide either to stay or to go. It wasn’t.

I'm also making brunch dates with my husband a priority. For obvious reasons.

The last time I attended services was here in London.

In news which is not in the least groundbreaking, Mormonism has a major problem with racism in its history and in ways that affect it right up to the present day. Black men could not be ordained to the lay priesthood until just eight years before I was born, and both men and women of African descent were excluded from the most important parts of worship in Mormon temples–which is, by the way, fundamentally necessary in the LDS view of salvation. Meaning it was a valid theological question whether or not black people even got into heaven, and if they did, in what capacity. There are decades of recorded statements on the matter that black men and women did not qualify to enter heave except as “servants.” Cringe.

The LDS church has been attempting to formally address some of the troubled or troubling aspects of its past through a series of essays over the past few years, and I give it a lot of credit for confronting many of these issues head on using good scholarship and historical citations. It has not always done so. One of these essays concerns the history of what has been come to be called the “Priesthood Ban,” though I find this problematic since women are not ordained to the LDS priesthood at all and as mentioned women were just as excluded from what are considered saving ordinances. In some academic circles the more accurate term of “Racial Ban” has gained traction, and it’s the one I use. This essay goes on to explain that a number of folkloric justifications for the Racial Ban developed in the LDS community over the years (quite true) and that church leaders today disavowed those previous statements and reasoning (this essay was the first disavowal I have ever seen, and is fairly weak, but I’m willing to take the intention in good faith). It’s a long overdue piece of writing, and doesn’t go far enough in clearing up the decades and centuries of racially tinged folklore and official teachings of the church, in my opinion, but it’s a step forward.

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It was after this particular essay had been released that Jeff and I made the decision to give LDS services in London a real shot. We’d only attended church sporadically for the first few months of living here because I was frankly burned out from leaving services crying or ranting, and Jeff was not far behind me in exasperation, though he was much less vocal about it. Nevertheless, it was worth a shot recommitting ourselves to regular attendance, we decided, and so off we went one December Sunday with a renewed sense of dedication and a quiet uptick in hope. Perhaps all the frustrations were mostly our fault and if we shut our mouths more often and tried listening instead, we’d notice the things that bothered us less and the things that uplifted us more.

Plus, we were a bit lonely. Growing up in the military meant that the Mormon congregations we attended were a massive part of my family’s social structure. No matter what country we moved to, we were assured of finding an instant community of people ready to welcome us with open arms. As adults and expats in our own rights now, Jeff and I were missing that community, having found nothing to replace it with. The congregation we were assigned to at the time was in South London and almost entirely made up of first or second generation African or Afro-Caribbean immigrants to the UK. There seemed to be a couple of expats and a lot of people from “somewhere else” as we were so I was hopeful we’d find a group of people with similar experiences to us who would have a lot of wisdom to share.

The day in question, just before Christmas, it so happened that the Sunday school teacher was a visiting white American man who, rather than teaching the lesson topic he had been assigned, decided to expound to the congregation (of, again, almost entirely black members) his feelings about the recently released race essay. They were not entirely positive and the main gist of this speech was that he was puzzled that leaders had “disavowed” the teachings he had always “known” to be truth. I could have felt more sympathy for him if he had not gone on to lecture the members as to why “you people” were not able to be ordained to the priesthood, citing the very folkloric teachings the essay tried to distance itself from as truth, and growing more animated in the defense of those racist theories as he went on.

I sat there for as long as I could but at some point I got up, found the bishop in another part of the church, apologized profusely for what was about to happen, and burst into tears. After first assuring himself that the teacher got back on track to his appointed teaching topic, that kind bishop sat and listened to me as I sobbed for an hour about how for years, every single time I had entered a church building, I had heard a lesson like this. Racist, sexist, politically tinged in a way to make me wince, anti-LGBT in ways that violated my conscience, and so on. I was (and remain) deeply conflicted that as a white, admittedly privileged woman, I had felt offended where clearly people who had far more cause than me to be were not, but as I explained to that patient man, my reaction was not the result of that one hour, but the years proceeding it. Church did not feel safe for me, and I genuinely felt that there was no place for me in the organization I had been raised in. I fundamentally disagreed with too much of it, and as time went on the disagreements and dissent were getting bigger and bigger.

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He listened. He acknowledged the social/political/historical divides I felt (even validated a few of them as being genuinely hard to reconcile with the faith). He didn’t try to cite quotes from leaders or scripture at me as previous bishops I had spoken to on the subject had done. There was genuine love and sincere care in the way he spoke to me; it was the kindest encounter I had had with church leaders in years.

And as I said, it was the last time I attended services, unless staying with family or escorting visiting friends. Jeff and I decided to take another break after this particular Sunday, this one intentional and for as long as we needed; guilt was not allowed. We found other things to do on weekends: museums, walks, markets, exploring the city, and just generally being with one another. It was spiritually restful. A few months later, a spate of high-profile excommunications took place that cemented for both of us that the LDS church was not where we wanted to be nor aligned with what we support and believe. We did not believe several of the key truth claims, we could not in good conscience support the leadership on the many public stances they had taken, and neither of us were comfortable with the idea of raising a family in the structure–particularly daughters. Even to keep the peace with friends and family, there was no point in even going through the motions of attendance or participation. We were done.

These days we attend what I only semi-satirically call, The Church of Brunch. On Sunday mornings we now usually go to one of a handful of venues that do a proper Yank brunch–or occasionally get adventurous and try to find a new joint famed on blogs or social media for its protein and carb heavy concoctions. We linger over food. We debate, argue, joke, talk news, gossip about work, and plan for our future. We’ve had some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations of our marriage over pots of tea and avocado toast (sausages and waffles on his side). We often include friends, growing the new community we are trying to build for ourselves as proverbial strangers in a strange land, but more often we use it as a time to reconnect after long weeks focused on careers.

It’s not a global network or system of belief, and I suspect most people would probably laugh about it if I tried to explain it to them, but the Church of Brunch has done me and us a lot of good. It’s filled a gap and created a safe space in a time slot that was previously dreaded and painful. It’s reliable, uncomplicated, and good in the way that simple, basic things often are. We plan on including future friends, children, and even strangers (we strike up the oddest and best conversations with our co-diners). And it’s delicious. We expect to be devotees for a long time.

*all images from my Instagram

Dublin Pt. 2

“My heart is quite calm now. I will go back.”
― James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

We only had two days to enjoy it, but we rung a lot of pleasure out of 48 hours in Dublin.

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We ate at pubs specialising in traditional music (referred to as “trad”), and wandered Temple Bar following the sound of fiddles.

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We stumbled upon hidden gems. Outside of Queen of Tarts we found a very small market where I fell in desperate love with a stall that sells old maps and reproductions with an appropriate name and signage…

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When not at Cow’s Lane, he’s found just outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Which is great because I walked away from a glorious reproduction map of an late 19th, early 20th century publication detailing “Dublin’s Greatest Evil” and marks every then-operating pub in the city. I immediately regretted this decision and so when we quite literally stumbled upon the seller again in another part of the city, I parted with some euros gladly.

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Even better, we happened to be in town on the right day to enjoy a once-a-month flea market that I fully intend on going back to enjoy someday because it was stuffed with treasure. London is great for antique or vintage shopping but it can get pricey really quickly. This place by comparison had some really good deals and I had to restrain myself from making furniture purchases because at the end of the day, we still live in a shoebox. But someday…

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The market has an indoor space as well for food, books, prints, and collectibles that was also great to explore. Dogs were everywhere which on the one hand was a lot of fun and on the other, exacerbated our puppy lust something fierce.

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48 hours flew by and Kelsey and Cody had to jet off to the Isle of Man to enjoy the grand prix (as one does, darling), but we naturally had to first repair to safe ground for a fortifying snack pre-flight…

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Before catching a flight a la James Bond, by walking out on the tarmac. In the still (not to harp on this, but seriously) gorgeous weather.

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We’re planning a return trip, obviously.

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Dublin Pt. 1

“…I live in Ireland every day in a drizzly dream of a Dublin walk…”
― John Geddes, A Familiar Rain

The one thing Jeff and I are constantly berating ourselves for is the fact that we live in one of the major international travel hubs of the world, and yet we do not do a fraction of the traveling we should. Even within the UK there are countless adventures to be had, and yet we find ourselves pretty London-focused. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a fabulous city, but it’s pretty shameful how little we get out of it.

Speaking frankly, for the first year and a half, this was largely down to finances and the constraints of freelance life. Despite that I was growing as a freelancer almost exponentially year to year, the currency conversion was backbreaking and I didn’t feel I could take a break. Meanwhile Jeff was putting in the first two years of his career with all the hours that implies. However in the past year, with new opportunities and smarter time management, many of those constraints have lifted and we’re now trying to make a conscious effort to travel more. After all, it’s one of the reasons we moved here!

A few months ago (I am shamefully behind…) one of my friends from university emailed me to say she and her husband were making plans to come to Europe and did we want to meet in Dublin? Did we! It took some coordination but we made it happen. On a side note, these friends succeed where we fail, they make it a priority to go on a trip at least once a year and have an adventure. We’re hoping to arrange a couple of future ones together because we had an absolute blast. Recapping on the flight home, Jeff and I got to talking and realised that almost all of the travel we have done in our lives has been with family–which is wonderful and I wouldn’t put it down for the world. But there was something so enjoyable about going on a trip with friends and we were glad to discover the pleasure of it. There was no “character building” to be done, or educationally required stops to make, we simply decided to enjoy the city in good company. While eating as much food as we possibly could.

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I’ve made an art of the travel capsule wardrobe. You are looking at the sum total of what I took with me and I felt downright smug about it until I caught glimpse of my travel partner on the train platform…

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Because Jeff was his irritatingly well-put-together self on just as little gear as I packed. The man is stylish, but infuriating in said stylishness.

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Somehow, the weather gods were with us. I have no idea how we lucked into such a gorgeous spring weekend, but it only rained once and that was while we were snug in a Spanish restaurant eating tapas.

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Seriously. The weather was freaky it was so lovely.

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Kelsey and I actually first met on a study abroad program at university and our first leg of that program was a week in Ireland. It was a delight to return to a place where we had made so many good memories, with a couple of good looking gents in tow who were enjoying it for the first time. Our first stop for food was the famous Queen of Tarts, which you must go to if you are ever in need of a munch whilst in Dublin. It’s a gem of a place and the food is seriously impressive. Cardamon cinnamon rolls, guys, just saying.

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Dublin is a very small city, but unlike many places in Europe, it’s remain largely untouched by the ravages of two world wars. Which is not in the least to say that it hasn’t had its share of troubles as a nation, but much of that history has remained available to view. Medieval, Georgian, Victorian, and modern architecture and design all live side by side and give you a sense of the depth of the past of the city.

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Again, the weather. Frightening in its unrelenting goodness! Kelsey and I dragged the boys around Trinity College simply for the sheer joy of walking the grounds in the sunlight.

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Dublin is a fabulous city for pedestrians, there is absolutely no need for public transport, which is something to take advantage of.

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One of the places we traveled in Ireland was the Dingle Peninsula, famed for its traditional music and use of gaelic, and the home of Murphy’s Ice Cream. The ice cream is made from the milk of a cow breed from the peninsula and found no where else in the world (according to Murphy’s there are fewer of this type of cow than pandas left in the wild), fed on Dingle grass, and raised by Dingle farmers. The flavours include “brown bread” and “sea salt” (made from Dingle salt, of course), and all of them are delightfully unexpected and lovely. Kelsey, doing her research, discovered that since we were last in Dublin, Murphy’s had opened a shop, one of only four in the world, and naturally we had to insist on a visit. The guys had no complaints.

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Friday Links (Triumphant/Slinking Return Edition)

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” 
― W.B. Yeats

Oh hi, kittens. Where have I been, you ask? Well, first Dublin, then turning 29, then working on a project I can’t talk about, and then working 14+ hour days this week on another project I can’t even talk about. You see my difficulty in communications, yes?

No? I am in disgrace? Very well, I shall try to begin making it up to you immediately. My first offering is an extra long Friday Links post for your delectation. Tell me what you’re getting up to this weekend, or offer your harshest abuse at my neglect, in the comments!

Dublin was a babe.
Dublin was a babe.

 

Where is everybody? An astrophysicist ponders Fermi’s paradox.

Why Addy matters.

Sensationalism of the Duggar case aside, sexual crime is so, so much more common than people thing. Sexual crime against children, horrifyingly so. And it hits far closer to home than most are willing to recognize.

This woman sounds like someone I’d like to have a long lunch with and just listen to talk.

Since I occasionally dabble in Mormon news, this story caught my attention.

Stop.

I have so many thoughts about this story, it may have to form its own blog post, but I’m curious as to how US-based minions are thinking about it. Weigh in in the comments for me, please.

Let’s fight about this! Ranked wrong, right, or totally off base.

Jerks.

Tumblr find of the week. A writers life for me.

Seen Mad Max: Fury Road? Read these reviews.

Grace over at Culture Life talks language!

Marian Keyes says the term “chick-lit” needs to go. Since she’s written one of my favorite novels, I think she may be right.

Woof… No further commentary.

Kate Beaton is on the Mary Sue! Make haste!

Moral of the story: “Wear comfortable shoes, square your shoulders, and walk like you’ve been sent to murder Captain America.”

And speaking of Avengers, Mark Ruffalo takes on the “I’m not a feminist” crowd, with some help from Libby Ann Bruce. One of my particular pet peeves is any phrase that begins, “I’m not a feminist, but…” and then goes on to make some point about parity of opportunity, education, and rights. Hate to break it to you…

Two Words: Customer Loyalty

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.”
― Karl Lagerfeld

Our Easter weekend meanderings was a fascinating example of the best of shop culture that I’ve found in Britain and not found anywhere else. America might be run by consumer culture, but I’ve never lived anywhere that does shops like I’ve found here. On the other hand, I shouldn’t be surprised, Britain has been built on shopkeepers and mercantilism for centuries. But in an age of brand shopping, fast fashion, ready made everything, and general convenience being king, it’s kind of great to see how personal business can be.

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Our first stop of the day was Alexeeva and Jones, to pick up some Easter chocolate. We got to chatting with the woman assisting us, and it turns out that she was one of the founders! I expressed how much I enjoy the fun and unusual chocolates they carry and she immediately asked if I was a repeat customer, and had I been given a discount? Yes, and no respectively. She immediately whipped out her business card and wrote us a personal 10% coupon, no expiry date.

Feeling pretty pleased, we headed up to 282 Portobello Road. I have been on the hunt for a tweed jacket for months and to be frank, most off the rack stuff doesn’t fit me. I’m a petite woman with a short waist, and a definite hourglass figure, but broad ribs. It’s a tricky business finding me any clothing that fits correctly–believe in tailoring, kittens–and I’ve not had a lot of luck with jackets in general.

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As far as I’m concerned, if you’re looking for vintage clothing that focuses on classic British houses, cuts, and tailoring, Claudia is the woman you need to see. I’ve written of my unabashed enthusiasm for her before, but life and work have been so busy for months now and I haven’t had the time to visit old favorite haunts. Well, after months of looking in all the wrong places, I walked into 282, and found a 1950s jacket almost immediately that looked like it was cut to my exact frame. The sleeve length, the lapels, the fit…it’s perfect. As she was ringing us up, Claudia glanced over at us and declared, “You guys have been here before.” We had, but as a mentioned, it hadn’t been in months. I said as much but she just beamed, “I love it when people come back and find something they love.” And she gave me an instant price reduction.

Finally, on Sunday we went to Spitalfields to get a “scotch egg brownie” from Flavourtown Bakery–maker of the finest cupcakes in the city, as determined by SDS Industries. We hang out at Spitalfields regularly on the weekends and have been buying treats from Flavourtown for months. The owner recognizes us, knows our favorites, and makes recommendations. That day was no different except that we had a long chat about how they’ve started supplying two of the most famous department store foodhalls in the city, how one of their lead team members had to leave due to family reasons, and the general ups and downs they’ve experienced. In the end, we bought a box of cupcakes (along with some helpful tips on how best to freeze them so as not to glut ourselves on sugar), and got the last “secret” flavor of the week cupcake thrown in. Pro tip, like them on Facebook, fans get extra treats.

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In rapid succession, I saw how personal relationships build business. As someone who has (believe it or not, based on this post) tried to cut down on a lot of unneeded consumerism in her life, it was an insightful weekend. A woman learned I valued her product and immediately provided me a way to enjoy it more, benefiting us both. Another woman recognized me as a repeat customer who expresses enthusiasm for what she’s enthusiastic about, and helped me get something I’ve wanted for months for just a little bit less. I know I’ll be back to buy from her again, and it has nothing to do with the discount. And finally, a guy who probably enables my sweet tooth too much, and who has countless of customers across multiple markets and shops, takes time to recognize his regulars and engage with them genuinely. As a result, we make it a point to keep coming back to say hi and see how he’s doing. We inevitably come away with a treat.

It’s not just these guys either! Now that the weather is warming up, I’m shopping at markets again and I get recognized by produce stand owners, cheesemongers, and breadmakers. I’ve asked shopkeepers for advice from cloth to cuts of meat and gotten minor educations. I don’t know if it’s the tradition, the relative small size of the country, or just something in the culture, but the British do shops far better than anywhere I’ve lived, and they seem to do a better job about sustaining them as well. It is possible to build a business out of something someone is desperately passionate about here in a way I’ve not found in a lot of other places. I hope I never have to give them up.

Friday Links (First of 2015 Edition)

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Well, hey there, well-beloved-but-desperately-neglected minions! We’re back from the States, back at work, and back at the grindstone. Let’s catch up. Jeff has dived straight into studying for his next round of exams (we’re down to less than a year of this slog), and I’m back freelancing and in the world of London luxury development. The first couple of week of a new year are always a bit hectic, but we might be setting a new record for post-holiday self-destruction. Luckily, there a few things keeping us sane.

We finally coughed up the money for a shiny new laptop that is causing me to coo, “the precious…” every time I open its sleek lid. It’s long overdue. I’ve been using a refurbished laptop we bought for about $400 at least three years ago that’s been getting increasingly clunky and hard to manage over the last year. When I couldn’t have two windows open at the same time without the whole thing freezing, I knew it was time to let Marvin go to his rest. Let’s just hope all my image and music files transfer over alright.

The intrepid Caitlin Kelly is in town and crashing at our place this week as she journeys around the city, conducts research and interview for assignments, and generally puts us all to shame with her pace. Last weekend, completely backward due to jetlag, we all went out on the town and had some much needed adventuring. We ate good food, had great conversations, and did some truly impressive vintage shopping. Caitlin’s got the touch for spotting a deal, let me tell you!

Less immediately important, but still pretty vital, I finally got my local library card and might actually have made headway in getting a British bank account. Long story, will rant later. In the meantime, I’m putting together budget proposals of numbers so high as to give me a nosebleed, working with a grade-A creative team and a world class illustrator, and checking off new items from my list with satisfying ticks. Here are your links, catch me up on your holidays and tell me what you’re up to this weekend in the comments!

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Enjoy a shot from me on assignment in Notting Hill. Much as I whine, life’s pretty decent, kittens.

 

Some people have more…something…than sense. Not sure it’s money.

You lucky ducks, Caitlin is blogging her adventures (plus tips on renting flats in Paris).

Unsure about the background of Tolkien’s mythology? CPG Grey is here to help.

Jezebel gives a pretty good account of the “fluffication” of this history surrounding Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Headline of the week, I feel.

I barely use my iPod for music anymore, it’s all podcasts through and through, so this list from Medium about interesting podcasts from 2014 (minus Serial, because obviously) hooked me.

Women’s issue news worth sharing and a cause worth supporting.

Since I’m still working in London housing, this is fascinating.

Ah, journalism.

Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail forever.

A response that moved me on the attack in Paris, a city where Caitlin is just visiting us from and returning to at the weekend. Thoughts for safety all around, please.

An 18th century time capsule opening.