Archive | November, 2011

Chubby pop and bathroom doors

26 Nov

It’s a little weird to be back — weird because it’s really not that weird. I expected some great warm, fuzzy American feeling to overcome me once I reached O’Hare, but it looked and felt like every other airport around the world, except they have the stupid body scanners working now. I haven’t driven a car in almost 300 days, but it was just like riding a bike. I quickly slipped back into suburban American life like I never left. However, there were some things that surprised me — my parent’s dishwasher, for example. It’s ginormous! Or at least it seemed like it compared to the one in my flat that can barely hold two meal’s worth. I also couldn’t get over how fat a 2-liter of pop is here. Every time someone in my family pulls one out I crack up and say “It’s so chubby!”

At O’Hare I did experience some reverse culture shock, in the bathroom of all places. In the UK and Europe public restrooms (“toilets”) almost always have a full door — no opening underneith or cracks on the sides. The only way to tell if it’s occupied is by checking if there’s a red line on the lock, or by simply knocking or trying to press the door open. It feels like it should be the other way around considering Americans have the reputation of being prudes and privacy-obsessed, while Europeans are more “free,” with their nude beaches and all. I know that grown women are not interested in peeking through the door cracks, but the girls in my first grade class used to, and ever since then I’ve been paranoid about bathroom doors.

In short, it’s good to be back and I’m adjusting to the time and customs, although I did catch myself saying, “Look how long that queue is! I wonder how many tills they have open?” yesterday.

Why Black Friday may no longer be my favorite holiday

25 Nov

Remember when I said Black Friday was my favorite American holiday? People always thought I was crazy. Turns out I have never really experienced a true Black Friday. Now I know why.

At first my family set a no-shopping-on-Thanksgiving rule. We were to hang around the house, eat, then relax as a family. But then we saw Old Navy’s coupon was only valid on Thanksgiving and would give better deals than Black Friday. And if my family enjoys anything more than hanging out with each other, it’s hanging out with each other while getting a good deal. So while my dad watched the turkey, my mom, brother and I went to Old Navy. And since that was OK, my brother and I thought we’d go to Michael’s in the evening, since their coupon was also better on Thanksgiving. And since that was OK, we figured we’d just pop into Walmart and get some deals on video games and blu-rays.

Ha.

I don’t know what I imagined Black Friday to be like at Walmart, but there really are no words. So here’s a thousand’s worth:

We waited in a long queue at Michael’s then made it to Walmart just in time for the specials that began at 10 p.m. My brother had his heart set on an Xbox but the minute we walked in the already-busted door he knew that deal was long gone. We didn’t even try to park in the store’s lot, opting to park near the office buildings across the street.  Once we entered the store it was choose-your-own-cliche: a zoo; a madhouse. We wanted to beeline for the electronics section, but we couldn’t move. Aisles were blocked wall to wall with shoppers and their massive carts full of loot. Police officers and security stood guard by giant bins full of goods that could not be sold until midnight or 8 a.m.

“I was trying to get the Paula Deen pan set and somebody stepped on my foot,” we overheard someone shout in a strong southern drawl.

“I just want to get the game and get out,” my brother said. “I don’t care about anything else.”

An employee was blocking off aisles with yellow tape. It was unclear why, so we cut underneath it. She protested but didn’t stop us. We maneuvered our way through the crowds, similar to a motorcyclist in a traffic jam. We were probably breaking some cardinal rule of Walmart Black Friday, but from what I could tell, there were no rules, just utter chaos. There weren’t even any sale prices on anything – you had to remember what was on sale from the flyer. We finally made our way to the electronics section, passing hundreds of customers with carts waiting in line for who-knows-what. We came upon the video game case, only to find the game we really wanted was gone. My brother grabbed a couple blu-rays he remembered were on special and was about to give up on the game when we found a few stashed in another display. We found an electronics till with no line which seemed too good to be true, but went for it. That’s the thing about Black Friday – some things are too good to be true, but some aren’t, and when they aren,’t, you just have to go for it because there are no rules; every man for himself. Purchased goods in hand, we felt a sense of victory… until we realized we had to exit the store.

Miraculously the whole ordeal only took us a half hour, but if we had waited in the lines to check out up front, we probably would have been there until 2 a.m. We lucked out by parking across the street and not trying to manuver a cart around, but I would still never go to Walmart again on a Black Friday (or Thursday) ever. No deal is worth that. That’s why God invented the Internet.

We went to the mall this morning and could not turn in because a gaggle of geese were crossing.

I am also mad at Black Friday because no site has the camera I want on sale, and the one that did jacked their price up $30 from Monday. Maybe this is a sign I don’t need a fancy camera right now.

Busted TVs and weighty bags

21 Nov

A couple months ago we almost blew up our TV. Friends, have I told you it’s not a good idea to bring major electronics overseas? Because it’s not, I’ll say it again.

During the two warm days we had in London this summer, we dug out our fan from the US and used the giant 1,500-watt transformer to power it. We had unplugged the transformer from the second TV and Wii to use it. Eventually autumn rolled around and we realized we had no need for the fan anymore and should return the transformer to the TV so I can once again use my Wii Fit. I was in the other room when Stephen plugged it in. The minute he turned the TV on, all the lights in the flat went out and there was a faint smell of burning electronics. I yelled to Stephen to see what happened, but he didn’t respond. Imagining the worst, I rushed in to find him standing with the TV remote in his hand. “Crap,” he said. If you remember, it was around this time last year when we almost blew out our main TV. (First world problem: my second flat screen TV doesn’t work.) At least he learned from that mistake and didn’t immediately plug the TV back in again. We unplugged everything from the transformer then did what anyone else would do — we didn’t touch the TV for months and hoped the problem would fix itself.

Yesterday Stephen decided he was going to have another go at it before he dug up the Best Buy warranty and tried to explain to the British Geek Squad what happened to our American TV. He gave the transformer plenty of time to warm up and used a new US power strip (we’ve blown out at least three so far and are now on our last one. Better stock up on Black Friday!). He tested the power out by plugging his iPod charger in and it worked. Long story short — turns out we didn’t blow out the TV, the surge protector on the power strip saved us, and we can once again use the Wii and secondary TV!

I used the Wii Fit this morning to weigh my suitcases — 47 and 42 lbs. I really hope the airport scale is as accurate as the Wii Fit, that 47-pounder might be pushing it. I’m not looking forward to pushing both of them around Heathrow and O’Hare tomorrow, but I’m excited that everything fit and that I’ll finally be on US soil again soon!

Melon love and Scooter McGee

15 Nov

Yesterday I walked to Sainsbury’s for the last time in 2011. As I was halfway there I realized something — I didn’t really need to buy anything. I was just going out of habit. I could have turned around, but I pressed onward in the misty air in the pursuit of melon. Because lately, I’ve been obsessed with melon. In the US, or at least at regular non-overpriced grocery stores (I’m looking at you, Whole Foods), it seems you can only get three types of melon — watermelon, cantelope and honeydew. A few weeks ago I discovered galia melon, which Wikipedia tells me is a hybrid of cantelope and honeydew. It looks like a cantelope on the outside, is green like honeydew on the inside, but tastes like heaven — in other words, nothing like honeydew, which tastes like the rind of a cantelope. This melon is so good it was worth the long walk and potential encounter with Crabby McScooter’s handler.

Yes, apparently I’m not the only one who makes a habit of shopping every Monday morning. For the past few weeks I’ve encountered this old woman in a motorized scooter. She’s incredibly bossy, but I wouldn’t have noticed her too much if it weren’t for the man with her. Since she’s in a scooter and can’t reach much, he helps her do her shopping. And he talks. A lot. I encountered him for the first time in the frozen meat aisle a few weeks ago. We were both looking at chicken and the old lady was crabbing about something. “Can you believe this?” he joked. “I don’t even get paid for this!” I smiled and laughed and pushed my cart away. Then I saw him again the next week in the vegetable aisle. I assumed he was the lady’s husband, but I heard him refer to her as Mrs., like he was some type of employee of hers who apparently doesn’t get paid. The lady was once again complaining and he looked at me and said, “And I’m not even getting paid!” Once again I smiled and laughed and went onward. A few minutes later I overheard him in the butter aisle giving the same “I’m not getting paid” spiel to another shopper. I started wondering if he was somehow being paid by someone to say that he’s not getting paid, because he surely said it every chance he got. I ran into him again by the milk and he just kept talking. I don’t think he had an exact recipient of his words in mind, he just liked to hear himself speak. Last week I heard the crabby scooter lady’s voice an aisle over and decided I’d rather make a detour than have to smile and laugh to “I’m not getting paid,” once again. I thought for certain I was on the opposite side of the store, but I turned down the cereal aisle and there he was. “Can you believe this?” he said. “No,” I wanted to say. “I am trying to avoid you and you miraculously turned up on the other side of the store,” but instead I smiled and laughed. “The things I do,” he went on as Crabby McScooter rolled away. “I’m not even being paid!”

Once again Old Scooter McGee was at the store yesterday, and I waited for the familiar voice of her helper as I planned my escape route. But to my dismay, she was with a young woman, no more talkative gentleman friend.

I guess he got tired of not being paid.

Black Friday anxiety

13 Nov

It’s hard to believe my favorite American holiday is less than two weeks a day. No, I’m not talking about the day where we eat turkey, say “thanks,” then pass out in a food coma. I don’t get that excited about cranberry sauce or football. I do, however, get excited about shopping. Bargain shopping, particularly.

When I was young (OK, this was maybe five years ago) I got it in my head that Black Friday was the best shopping day of the year. That anything and everything I could ever want to buy would be on sale that day for ridiculously low prices. I soon realized that wasn’t true. Yes, the deals are good, but often on things I don’t want or can’t get up early enough to obtain. I have yet to get a computer for $100 or wait in line to “bust a door,” but I still look forward to Black Friday shopping. Last year just wasn’t the same doing it online from the UK. In the past I spent most of my Black Fridays standing in line at Old Navy trying to buy $5 jeans or waiting for a dressing room at New York and Company to try on a 50% off dress. But this year I’ve got my eye on a new fancy camera — a Christmas present for myself. Ever since I took photojournalism in college and rented a spiffy Nikon DLSR, I’ve wanted one. So I decided I’d check the deals on Black Friday, because I still have a bit of that mindset that anything and everything will be on sale and I’ll get a $1,000 camera for $200 (with a free carrying case, lens and SD card, of course).

But lately it seems Black Friday is changing. Stores are having “Black November” sales, daily deals and Cyber Monday. You can get good deals sitting at home on your computer instead of braving the cold and crowds. There’s less stories of people who camped out in front of Best Buy for three days for a computer or the woman who got trampled in Walmart over a digital camera.

This makes me nervous.

It used to be so concrete — you want the best possible deal on a DLSR? Go to Best Buy, Walmart or Office Max at 4 a.m. on Friday. But I’m seeing good deals now. Do I pull the trigger if a good deal pops up online in the next few days? Shopping online often means no tax and free shipping. But what if the camera goes on sale for cheaper on Black Friday? Or what if I buy one on Black Friday, and there’s a better deal on Cyber Monday? Or during some last-minute pre-Christmas sale? There’s nothing worse than seeing something you thought was a good deal on sale for cheaper later.

True story: the other day I got legitimately upset because I bought prawns at Sainsbury’s for £4.49 then saw they were on sale for £3 at Waitrose on my way home.

Yes, I’m getting antsy. Stephen wants the Star Wars collection on blu-ray as a belated birthday present. He messaged me that it was on sale the other day for $57, which is a great deal for nine discs that normally cost $140. But I hesitated, thinking, “What if Best Buy has it on sale for $50 on Black Friday?” After I convinced myself that it would probably cost $59.99 on Black Friday, I went back to buy it and it was too late — the price jumped to $75 in my cart. I still have hopes that it will be cheap on Black Friday, but I also fear it will sell out. I’ve got a plan to stay on GMT until Black Friday, but I still don’t intend to line up at Best Buy the night before.

This is my first world problem — getting the best deal on an extravagant camera. I guess life could be worse.

Carry-on Treasure Trove

11 Nov

I have 10 days until I really need to start packing for my return to the states, but the worry has already hit me. I should probably be worried about the weather, flight delays or getting to the airport on time, but instead I can’t stop wondering how I’m going to fit all the shoes, clothes and Christmas presents I want to bring into one suitcase. So this morning I got out my suitcase and starting playing shoe Tetris. Then I found my wheeling laptop carry-on, which for some reason I haven’t used since 2007 (when I brought it on a cruise and checked it with my laptop inside and my laptop screen cracked. Maybe that’s why I haven’t used it). Like my purses I haven’t used in years, this carry-on was a landmine of treasures from the past. In fact, let’s play a little game. In creative writing you can help develop your character by imagining what would be in that person’s trash can. I will tell you what I honestly found in my carry-on bag and you can try to determine what kind of “character” I am. I swear I am not making any of this up.

-Microsoft Office Professional 2003 disks
-2 computer mice
-iPod cord that allows you to change the song by pressing a button
-Hanging toiletry bag
-2 pennies
-Seagull-cut pinking sheers
-Bag of embroidery thread
-Small white button in a tiny plastic bag
-2 pencils, 2 pens and a JP Morgan highlighter
-Pen cap that doesn’t belong to either of the 2 pens
-Photo of me giving my dog Squirt a bath, c. 2000
-Half a hair brush
-Ticket to Zumanity in Las Vegas from March 2008
-Hollister perfume samples
-Fortune cookie fortune that reads “Your surrounding friends will take good care of you”

I placed all of these things on the floor and looked at them, trying to figure out how they came to be in this laptop bag. I could find proper places for everything, or I could throw some of it out. Or I could stuff all of the stuff into the hanging toiletry bag and throw it back under the bed where the carry-on was.

I’ll let you guess what I did.

“I’m having a love affair with this operating system”

8 Nov

Lately I’ve been hearing way too much about tablets because Stephen has decided that’s what I’m getting him for Christmas. The one he wants was supposed to be launched tomorrow, but is being delayed until December because of Ice Cream Sandwich. Yes, “ASUS Transformer Prime reportedly pushed to Dec for Ice Cream Sandwich” is a legit headline. Anyone who doesn’t know about Android’s naming system would have so many questions. I have so many questions… namely, what kind of name is Ice Cream Sandwich for an operating system?!

According to Wikipedia, “each version is developed under a code name based on a dessert item. The code names were released in alphabetic order: Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich.”

Cupcake I can understand because cupcakes are huge right now and everyone loves cupcakes. “Donut” is pushing it, but “Eclair” and “Froyo” have nice rings to them and don’t immediately make you think of food. Honeycomb makes sense because of the layout on the screen. But Ice Cream Sandwich? I can’t go for that (no can do). For one, the name is entirely way too long. Why not just ice cream? Or a cooler-sounding dessert name, like tiramisu or creme brulee? Creme brulee is good enough that “ASUS Transformer Prime reportedly pushed to Dec for Creme Brulee” sounds believable because creme brulee is difficult to cook exactly right, so there’s often a delay before it’s ready. But you can get a pack of ice cream sandwiches for $1 or so, right? It seems the cool tech kids call it ICS, which sounds like it could be an operating system, like OS X. Just don’t ask anyone what ICS stands for.

On a final note, whenever I think of ice cream sandwiches, I think of this: