Public transport pro?

As I travel to Teddington from Durham today, it strikes me that I'm becoming a bit of a pro at utilizing mass transportation. Three months ago I used England's infamous rail and tube stations cautiously and with loads of self-doubt, constantly worried about getting lost or always fumbling like a fool with my bags whilst simultaneously riding an escalator or buying a ticket. Three months ago, a four-plus hour journey to Teddington via public transportation would have put me totally on edge, and by the time I got there, I would have been frazzled. Today I feel incredibly cool and content during my journey, which seems to be a dramatic shift within me. So now I am starting to wonder exactly what has changed.

It's obvious to me that I've become one of the Average Jane commuting masses. I "fit in" somehow, instead of always sticking out like a sore thumb as I did in the recent past (or rather I came off like a car-dependent bus-phobic Middle American to be more accurate). Here is some proof…

I pack my belongings in the manner most optimal for the journey ahead. Roller bag if long stays, backpack for short ones, purse inside backpack if tube AND train, outside if tube only. Always keep both sunglasses AND an umbrella in my bag's side pocket when an outdoor hike is required, as the weather changes rapidly here.

Before departing, I put my Oyster card &/or train tickets in my right hand outermost coat pocket for quick access to the ticket scanner or to show the porter.

Amazingly, I can now both collapse the handle on my suitcase and carry it up tube station stairs all with one hand & in one smooth motion without missing a step (the key is proper thumb-on-handle placement).

I have mostly broken my American habit of always walking on the right side of the gangway, and instead I can weave in and out on the left with ease.

I have memorized all the tube and train stops which I frequent, usually down to the level of knowing which side the doors open at each station, and also what carriage to be on for the post-departure race for first in queue at the taxi stand.

I have all the various fares memorized, and I pay for my tea with exact change whenever possible to keep the snack trolley vendor happy and efficient. Hell, I can even walk up the escalators on the left like a sprinter without feeling any awkwardness, no matter what type of heels I'm wearing!

I assume this change has occurred in me slowly over time, but for some reason today it seems dramatic and sudden. I mean... sure, I still get lost or trip over the tube gap from time to time still, but its less scary than before and usually due to me being the clumsiest person alive instead of due to my public transport naivety. And that subtle difference makes me feel so good.

Sent from my iPhone.


America shopping list

I'm going to be stateside in a little over two weeks and can't wait to do some shopping!

Here is my list so far. Some of this I can't get in the UK at all, others are just way cheaper in the states.

A proper American salon haircut and color (!!)
Flavored cheezits
Canned black beans
Bare Escentuals makeup
Lubriderm lotion
Hazelnut flavoured ground coffee
Any sour candy I can find (!)
Generic Zyrtec
Valerian root capsules
Huge ass bottles of ibuprofen
Kraft macaroni and cheese
Clothes from Banana Republic
New Balance sneakers
Reeses peanut butter cups
Good quality headphones
Skin for my iPhone

Um I'm sure there is more. Got to take an extra bag just in case :)

Sent from my iPhone.


Socialised Medicine, Part 2

Okay, so all didn't go so well with my little SM adventure today. I got to the clinic, started filling out the paperwork and when the forms asked for my credit card number, I got quite confused. Um, WHAT?! I thought this wasn't a pay per use type service! Totally frightened about looking stupid, I asked about the costs and quickly found out that I had stumbled into a private clinic that is not run by the NHS at all. The front office man did a little sales job on me trying to convince me to use them anyway (at £65/30 minutes plus ala carte prices for tests!). I was feeling pretty shitty at the time, had nothing in my stomach as far as sustenance, so in typical Julie-mode, I got mad and the tears started flowing. I would almost feel sorry for the guy at reception had he not made my general paranoia worse by trying to get me to stay and pay.

So, I called up Will and complained profusely which of course made things worse. Not sure how the man puts up with me sometimes, I swear! As my mom has always said, I'm a bit high-maintenance to say the least. (Note to self: Really need to stop using the phrase " I hate your country sometimes... " - doesn't get me sympathy in any way). Poor Will didn't know what to do with me in the state I was, except to say I shouldn't have to pay and he had no idea why I was being asked to do so. That pretty much made up my mind to leave.

I eventually got the guy at reception to tell me where the REAL (aka free) NHS clinic is located, and off I went. In my misery, I didn't pay enough attention to the signs at the station and ended up taking a REALLY out of the way route to Liverpool Street which involved about 2 miles of walking which I could have avoided if I had taken a train instead of Tube at Bank, which I'm pretty sure the reception dude told me but I wasn't listening because of my anger (duh, dumb American girl get with it!). Of course, the difficult journey made me even more upset and my hunger sure as hell didn't help, so when I finally got to Liverpool street, I was in a right state. Knowing my body well, I grabbed a sandwich and some water at the first place I encountered. And then I hit my iPhone.

Have I mentioned that I love my iPhone, and that I can't imagine a life with out it? I had no idea where this clinic was, only that it was near Liverpool Street station. I used Safari to look up the address on the NHS website, then I put the post code into Google maps, used the 'Current Location' function and next thing I know, I had precise directions on how to get to the clinic from where I was standing, in all of about 3 minutes (would have been faster if I weren't also stuffing my face). Thank you Bill Gates. You are a genius.

Ok, so finally got to the NHS clinic, filled out a MUCH simpler form (name, address, DOB nationality - that's it, no HIPAA shite, no insurance questions, nothing...). Turned the form in, sat down on a pretty damn comfy leather chair to wait, and 35 minutes later walked back to the train station with a diagnosis from a really nice nurse practitioner. Luckily, it's just really bad wax build-up and not an ear infection! Yucky I know, but I prefer ear drops and a potential 'syringing' next week to loads of drugs, so now I'm a happy bunny.

All-in-all, my first experience with socialised medicine was very simple and pleasant, once I finally made it to the NHS clinic itself. The fact that I didn't have to fill out a load of forms nor pay a dime truly did offset the fact that I REALLY miss having a car to handle these types of situations. ( Americans have no idea how easy they have it with HUGE parking lots outside of everywhere. But then again, I don't have a car payment or associated hassles, so there ! )

I did learn one key lesson today, one I will never forget:

Medical clinics inside of train stations really ARE too good to be true.

Oh yeah, and I also learned that the NHS are pretty alright.

Socialised Medicine, Part 1

I am writing from a London train, on my way to Waterloo station. I am full of anxiety and worry and loathing. No, its not because of work.

Its because my ears are messed up and I need medical attention. Which means I am about to try out socialised medicine for the first time. Which means that I'm behaving in a typical American way and am scared shitless.

What's funny about this situation is that if it weren't for Michael Moore, I probably wouldn't be going at all, or at least not until I passed out and Will dragged my unconscious body to the A & E. I have heard many horrible stories about socialised medicine in America and I can't imagine voluntarily subjecting myself to its evils! And seriously, how can it be any good if it’s free?! Nothing good in life is free, or so I have been brought up to believe. Despite my hearing going bad, an increase in pain daily and about 3 consecutive weeks of ear "issues", I have yet to see a nurse or doctor. And I was resolute in my decision not to do so until this weekend.

Sunday night I watched "Sicko" and Mr. Moore made me see how silly I am being. The NHS is not evil and it appears that my fears of it being sub par because its free is a misnomer because its not free - we are taxed out our asses here to pay for it.

So now you must be wondering why I am still filled with so much dread as we draw closer to Waterloo medical centre? Well, first of all, I'm going to a medical centre located in a TRAIN STATION. Seriously, how weird is that? Convenient, sure, but is it sanitary? Secondly, although Moore raised my confidence in the UK health system, it totally lowered my confidence in not appearing like a buffoon when using it. In a way I'm thankful that Moore asked all the typical American questions in the film, eliciting bewilderment and laughs from confused Brits.

Saves me the embarrassment I suppose. I mean who WOULDNT ask about co-pays back home? Apparently here its a foreign concept, which lends credence to my fear of feeling foreign.

Almost there now. Wish me luck. Tell my mother I love her should I not return.

To be continued....


an unexpected result

My interest in footy (aka soccer) was primarily spawned from my interest in Will and his general passion for the sport, as well as my desire to share something special with my nephew Elijah, who loves going to Columbus Crew games. Hence I watched parts of the World Cup with vague interest, I learned the basics so I could keep up in conversation with Will, and I got a season ticket to the Crew last year to share with little E. But really, I wasn't all that into soccer on its own. Instead I enjoyed it primarily as a mechanism to feel closer to the two important men in my life.

Fast forward to now, and it's amazing how things have changed. I find myself talking and reading about football with no prompting from Will. I love going to the Boro matches and I don't spend the entire time drinking and talking anymore - I actually watch the match! I know about 80% of the Boro songs, I get genuinely upset when they play like shite and I think I'd even go watch a match in a pub on my own should I be in London when the Boro play. I'm fascinated by the culture of it, and also by the game play itself. Suddenly the term 'the beautiful game' is starting to make a bit of sense to me. And this all just seems a little bizarre.


what a difference a year makes

Cruising to Amsterdam
Originally uploaded by juliehicks75
This time last year both of us were just starting to put back together the pieces of our lives which were fragmented by 12 months of hell, all of it primarily self-imposed of course. Over the last three years, life has been incredibly up and down but I wouldn't take back a moment of it. If the bad times had not occured, I would not be where I'm at now (geographically, or emotionally). I would not have found such beautiful friends for life in AmyMo, or Karin, or Carnes. I never would have finished my PMP certification. I would not have had a chance to see my niece born, or the look on Ed's face when his first child arrived. I wouldn't have witnessed the amazing mother and friend my sister has turned out to be. I would not have had 18 months of intense bonding with my nephew, which has probably brought me closer together with my family than I ever thought possible. And I wouldn't have gotten the infamous brown 'sleeping bag' coat, which got me through one miserably cold Ohio winter. Ugly as it is, I love that coat.

Yes, things were utterly bad for awhile and I was miserable for a long time - and yes, that misery was primarily my own & Will's fault - but I am so absolutely thankful for the direction my life has taken and the gifts I've been blessed with because of this path. And I can't express the depth of my love for this life and this man.

Thanks baby, it was all worth it.