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She got the way to move me, Cherry

24 May

Remember how I posted 3 weeks ago that my parents’ dog, Cherry, didn’t like me?

Well, now we have a different problem. She likes me. A lot. And I like her a little too much too.

Before, she used to give a “does SHE have to come?” look on our family walks. Now she hesitates to walk unless I come too. It’s amazing how something finally clicked in her little head and she realized I was someone she could trust. I can understand why she was apprehensive at first — she got attached to her original owner and she dropped her off at a shelter, then she got attached to her foster mom and she dropped her off with my parents. But now my parents have had her for two months and I’ve been with her exactly one month, and she’s finally starting to feel like she has a real home with some stability. Which I’m afraid will only make it harder on her when I go back to London in a week. Will she still recognize me the next time I’m home? Will it take her over a week to acclimate to me being around again?

I say I’m afraid it will be hard on her when I go, but I also mean it’ll be hard on me. I told myself I wasn’t going to fall for her, which was easy when she didn’t care for me. After all, she’s not “my dog” in the same way that Squirt was. But she’s just so adorable, cuddly and friendly, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve fallen pretty hard for the little girl and her cute corgi butt. So for now I’m trying not to think about how much time we have left together and am just enjoying the time we have.

cherry dog.png

Just because it’s your namesake doesn’t mean you can have any!

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We took her to a local dog-friendly tap room. (Don’t worry, she’s drinking water!)

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Cherry went on a playdate with her birth mom who’s still recovering from surgery. Here she is imparting some motherly advice!

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They were both vying for my attention!

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Cherry loves being with us — even if that means climbing onto the kitchen table while we play Mexican Train Dominoes! I love her little back legs subtly lounging.

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Fact: It is really hard to get work done when someone is splooting on you! (Splooting refers to the way she’s sitting with her back legs kicked out. It’s a classic corgi move, which makes me think she has some corgi blood in her. Squirt never splooted.)

Recovering from London Syndrome

15 May

According to a recent AskReddit thread, there’s a term for what I was suffering from before I came back to the states: London Syndrome.

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I think it’s all but cleared up now, thanks to some quality time with friends and family in Milwaukee, Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland, plus the vast areas of emptiness that you can only find in rural and suburban America. When I run here, I’m lucky if I run into one other human being (though I am obligated to wave and smile at them, of course). The European stereotype of Americans is that we’re loud, fat and friendly, and I always forget how true that last one is. I was riding the lift (I’m sorry, elevator) in my hotel in Chicago and this guy just started… talking to me. As far as I know he wasn’t trying to pick me up, he was just being friendly. It happens at the grocery store all the time too. My mom and I were at Aldi talking about how much cheaper everything was than at Kroger, and this stranger just joined in the conversation like it was a completely normal thing to do. As an anti-social introvert who has apparently lived abroad for too long, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable about that aspect of suburban American life, though as far as American stereotypes go, it’s certainly not a bad one.

My running has been suffering since I’ve been back, though if I’m being honest, it’s been suffering since Pokemon Go came out last July. At first it was too rainy, now it’s too hot. My lungs have been suffering when I go more than 2 miles, and I’m not sure why. Am I coming down with something? Am I just choking on that sweet taste of freedom and unpolluted air? I was keen to do a local 5K this weekend, but now I’m thinking I’ll do the one in two weeks instead. When did running 3.1 miles become a struggle for me? And in light of that, why did I think this was a good idea?!:
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(I just entered the lottery. And if my luck is anything like my Royal Parks Half luck, I will not be allotted a spot. Though I have no idea what I will do if I actually am allotted one — could I really run 26.2 miles in April 2018?!)

Baby [doesn’t] love me, Cherry, Cherry

3 May

It’s hard to believe it’s been 2 1/2 year since Squirt crossed over the rainbow bridge. My parents were adamant about not getting another dog. The loss was too fresh and too strong to imagine ever going through it again. But there’s that ol’ phrase about time and wounds, and ever since they returned from Europe at the end of last year, they began to throw around the idea of opening their home once more to a furry friend.

Last month they were out shopping and noticed the new dog bakery next door to the Dollar Store was having an adoption event.

“Let’s just go in to look,” my dad suggested, seeming to forget that every time my mother goes out to “look” at furniture, clothes or electronics, she comes home with a new couch, dress or TV.

All the dogs available for adoption were large breeds, so my parents asked the adoption coordinator if they ever got any small dogs in — a chihuahua mix, perhaps. There was no harm in asking, right?

It turned out the rescue had just pulled a chihuahua mix from the shelter. Her name was Cherry.

cherry chihuahua

And — as you probably guessed — she’s now sitting right next to me.

OK, that’s a lie — not that my parents adopted her, but that she’s sitting near me. She’s sitting on the floor a few feet from me, because she refuses to jump on the couch with me. Because even though I’ve been home for over a week now and take her out for walks every afternoon, she’s terrified of me.

After my parents picked me up from the Megabus stop, I was eager to meet Cherry. I knew she wouldn’t greet me like Squirt used to (he’d get so excited he’d nearly wee himself!), but I expected a little curiosity and joy. After all, Cherry was described as the anti-Squirt. He was a barking, biting, little butthead Alpha Dog, while she’s sweet, affectionate, submissive and quiet. She didn’t bark the entire first month my parents had her. But she’s also a rescue, and rescue dogs often come with a little baggage. She was surrendered by an elderly woman to the local animal shelter, spent several weeks there before the rescue pulled her and placed her with a foster home, then finally made her way to my parents. My dad took time off from work the first few days to make her feel welcome, but she ended up imprinting on him like a baby duck. She followed him everywhere and took a month to get comfortable with my mom.

Which brings me to my relationship with Cherry. When I walked in the door that first day, she immediately bolted out of the room. She didn’t bark or snarl like Squirt would have, she simply wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. When I went with my parents on her walk, she constantly turned around, unhappy I was tagging along, and would sidestep or backup if I got too close to her. She wouldn’t accept a treat from my hand or sit on the couch with me. When I was out of sight, she was her normal, cuddly, happy self, but the minute I walked in, she would back up, run or avoid eye contact. She’d give my dad a “dear god, why is she still here?” look. Getting her just to stay in the same room as me was a milestone. Now that it’s been a week, she’ll walk with me alone on the lead well, but still won’t sit with me. This is the face she made when I tried to cuddle with her on the couch a few days ago.

cherry scared

It’s hard not to take it personally when a dog doesn’t like you. Part of me wants to just grab her, squeeze her, and scream “love me!” But maybe softly singing Bonnie Raitt/George Michael’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” would be more appropriate. At first I was chasing her around, making her feel even more uncomfortable, but now I’m just trying to coexist, giving her time to adjust to my presence. It could be worse — she could have a barking attack every time she sees me (like Squirt did with my friends), or be so enamored with me she falls into a deep depression when I suddenly vanish at the end of my visit.

…I am now typing one handed. Because the minute I typed “enamored with me,” a certain someone finally worked up the courage to jump onto the couch and sit next to me, and licks my hand the minute I stop petting her. It’s like she could read what I was writing, or I somehow willed it to come true by typing “she’s now sitting right next to me” above. Or I finally did it right — I gave her some time and she finally warmed up to me. Now hopefully we can have a wonderful month together and she won’t be too gutted when I leave. Or at least she remembers who I am tomorrow and we don’t have to go through this all over again…

Fun times at The Wilds

23 Jul

Trivia question: The largest wildlife conservation center in North America, a place where African, Asian, and North American species roam freely on over 9,000 acres, is in what U.S. state?

Did you guess Florida, California, or somewhere with way better weather than middle-of-nowhere Ohio? You’re wrong. The answer is Ohio (middle-of-nowhere Ohio, to be exact).

Last week we drove approximately 3 hours from Cincinnati to visit The Wilds, the largest wildlife conservation center in North America. Though it’s partnered with the Columbus Zoo, there’s nothing zoo-like about it — all the animals roam freely in open pastures. The only way to see them is through scheduled bus tours, which drive you through the pastures for 2 hours like you’re on a safari (or at Jurassic Park). They have open-air buses for the authentic safari experience, but since it was 90+ degrees F (33C) on the day we went, we opted for the “climate-controlled” buses. I put “climate-controlled” in quotation marks because whatever air-conditioning system they had on board did not seem to be working and I was a hot, sweaty mess by the end of the tour. If you want to get up close and personal with the animals (and have $125 burning a hole in your pocket), you can take the Wildside Tour. We first encountered a Wildside truck being surrounded by Persian onagers.

wildside onagers.pngAs we circled back around our bus met the same fate.

persian onagers.pngThey were everywhere! Apparently they were attracted to the bus because the exhaust kept the flies off them. Two of them parked themselves right in front of our bus and would not move.

onagers bus.pngOur driver had to call Animal Management to come and lure them away so we could continue on with the tour.

We got off the bus for a bit to see the parakeets and some other animals.

parakeets the wilds.pngCheetah!

cheetah the wilds.pngThey were feeding the African painted dogs while we were there.

painted dogs the wilds.pngZebra (with a less impressive wiener than the zebra we saw in San Diego. Sorry, it had to be said!)

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zebra close up.pngFrom a distance we saw the ostrich harassing the Wildside Tour, so we knew he was gonna be fun.

ostrich wildside.pngHe kept trying to stick his head in our driver’s little window.ostrich bus.pngostrich funny.pngWe had a great view!

ostrich the wilds.pngHow often do you get to see an ostrich and a giraffe together?giraffe ostrich.png

giraffe the wilds.pngSouthern white rhino

white rhino the wilds.pngScimitar-horned oryx have wicked horns!oryx the wilds.pngThey’re native to North Africa and still thought it was way too hot in Ohio.

Baby scimitar-horned oryx with tiny horns!

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Almost all my photos were taken from the bus, so you can see how close we were able to get to a lot of the animals. If you ever find yourself in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, I highly recommend a visit to The Wilds. Just maybe not on one of the hottest days of the year.

A long-awaited wicked 4th of July do

10 Jul

I had a right proper American 4th of July for the first time in a long time. Although I don’t think any American would ever use the adjectives “right” and “proper” together, so they may be on the verge of taking my citizenship away. (I’ve already got one strike against me for no longer drinking my water with ice.) Even when I lived in the US, July 4th was never one of my favorite holidays. As a kid I hated the loud noises, and as an adult I hated the crowded and the heat. But this year I happened to be in Chicago on July 4, so some friends and I had some delicious barbecue, then met up with some other friends to watch what we thought was going to be an amateur fireworks display. On our walk over there we encountered some true amateurs attempting to set off fireworks, one of which went off a little too close for comfort. “Don’t you wish you were in Kensington Gardens right now?” My friend whispered to me. (This was minutes after she whispered “Don’t you miss the Tube?” after we walked right into a hobo fight on the L.) Oh, Chicago. Your trains and streets smell like urine and some of your people frighten me, but you sure know how to celebrate the 4th. When we finally arrived we saw them unloading a U-Haul full of fireworks and knew we were in for a treat (that, or a multi-ambulance emergency. Likely both). The firework display they put on was out of this world, and we were so close we could feel the vibrations. We topped off the night with a classy visit to a champagne bar, which we had practically to ourselves, because Chicagoans apparently enjoy blowing stuff up way more than throwing back the bubbly. It was a brilliant end to my nearly two weeks of traveling. (Also brilliant: the Megabus to Cincinnati left on time and nothing exploded. A successful ride!)

Now I’m in Kentucky, happy to no longer be a hotel nomad living out of a [jumbo] suitcase. I’ve been savoring all the quality family and friend time, and also playing Pokemon Go. Freaking Pokemon Go. As if hitting my Fitbit step goal wasn’t reason enough to walk around aimlessly. But I can save that for another post.

I’ll end with what is clearly a better mascot for America than a bald eagle:
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(My favorite instagram corgi, supercorgi_jojo!)

The expat struggle

17 Dec

Last night I was flipping through photos on my phone, reliving the most awesome 6 days I just had in Chicago and Milwaukee. This visit home has been excellent so far — I’ve had such quality time with friends and family that my mouth sometimes hurts from smiling and laughing so much. Which is why it was so unexpected that I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of homesickness last night — while at “home.” I came to a short video on my phone of Stephen and I driving down Bond St and suddenly I wanted to be back in London, cruising around on our usual Saturday afternoon roast duck run. And yet I wanted to be in Kentucky just as much.

This may be the hardest part about being an expat. Sure, dealing with long plane rides, foreign currencies and different voltage sucks, but it’s really hard to have two homes that are so far apart. No matter where I am, a bit of my heart is always across the ocean. When I’m in Kentucky I miss eating healthily, running in the park, queuing for day seats and walking everywhere. When I’m in London I miss high fructose corn syrup and other bad-for-me foods, driving at night with the perfect song on an empty highway, and shopping at the mall. Going back and forth between my two homes can be rough, but it also always gives me something to look forward to. To paraphrase Thoreau, I need to “suck the marrow” out of my American home while I can (which mostly means having fun with family and friends and eating and drinking all the bad things), before I get back to London and healthy eating, half marathon training, and fast, loud rides down Bond St. in Stephen’s new car.

And now here are some pandas who also wish they could be in two places at the same time:

panda fight

American vs. British Sour Patch Kids

6 Dec

It’s time for another American vs. British sweets taste test! On the table this time: Sour Patch Kids.

us uk sour patch.pngSour Patch Kids were just launched in the UK in 2012. They are marketed by Maynards (which was sold to Cadbury, which was acquired by Kraft, which goes by the name Mondelēz International, Inc. — have you gone cross-eyed yet?). Maynards is also behind the popular wine gums, which are firm gumdrops that contain neither wine nor gum.

Besides the giant “Maynards” there’s another packaging difference — the American bag is 226g and the UK one is 160g (does this surprise anyone that the American one would be bigger?). I got the US one for $2 (£1.32) and the UK one for £1 ($1.51), which is roughly the same price per gram (the US one is a slightly better value).
us uk sour patch kids.pngThe other main difference is in the list of ingredients. Here’s what’s in the US version:

us sour patch kids ingredients.pngMmm…. corn syrup and yellow 5.

Did you happen to catch the little guy on the front of the UK package saying “We are made with natural colours”? Check out the UK Sour Patch Kids ingredients:

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Mmm… Paprika, spinach, stinging nettle  and turmeric extract!

Here’s what the kids themselves look like. The colors, Duke, the colors!

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See that purple UK Sour Patch Kid on the far right that looks like a naturally dyed blue raspberry? It’s not. It’s blackcurrant.

“What the heck is blackcurrant?” my dad asked.

I showed him this photo:

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“That looks weird,” he said. Then he popped a blackcurrant Sour Patch Kid in his mouth.

“That’s $%&@!” he declared.

Blackcurrant is not an American flavor whatsoever, but the Brits love it. According to Wikipedia, “in Britain, 95% of the blackcurrants grown end up in Ribena and similar fruit syrups and juices.” During our very first trip to Tesco after we moved to London we bought a bottle of Ribena because it was on sale and we thought it was grape juice. I think we drank almost half the bottle before realizing it was concentrate. Tip: Ribena tastes much better diluted with water.

Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz are only available in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. So naturally I had to walk an hour to Morrison’s (the only place that seems to sell them) to get some.

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They too are made with natural colours and come in cola, orangeade, cherryade, tropical and apple fizz flavours. Judging by that list, I’m not entirely sure the folks at Maynards/Kraft/Mondelēz International have ever had soda pop. The cola one is especially tasty (and very soda popz), orange can pass for a soda flavour (but it’s also included in the regular pack), but the others do not belong. Why not make cherry cola? Or Dr. Pepper? Or root beer? Basically all the flavors in the Jelly Belly Soda Pop Shoppe collection. And why aren’t Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz available in the US, the world capital of soda consumption? Because they know we would see through their questionable flavor selection?

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Here are all the kids in a group family photo.

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Now for the important questions I know you’re wondering: how did they taste? Which one is the best?

Like with my Cadbury Egg experiment, the US Sour Patch Kids tasted like what my brain thinks Sour Patch Kids should taste like — like childhood and sweet, sweet corn syrup. They got a natural advantage. The UK ones had a slightly different texture — they were a bit more chewier and dense, almost like Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles. If I had to rank my favorite flavors I think I’d pick American cherry, British cola then American raspberry. British cherry just didn’t have that punch that the American one did, however eating the British bag made me feel like I was somehow being healthy by not consuming handfuls of corn syrup and artificial colors with my buckets of sugar. As for the blackcurrant one, I have come to enjoy blackcurrant as a fruit and flavor — it’s one of my favorite Fruit Pastilles, but it just doesn’t go right with the sour coating. I’ll take a corn syrupy blue raspberry Sour Patch Kid over a blackcurrant one any day.