Everything is smaller and milder here

 Posted by at 22:50 on 26 August 2013
Aug 262013

Sometimes I have a quick interaction – say, with a cashier – that includes this: “You live in England? What’s it like?” or the English version: “How are you finding it here?” How to summarize the whole of my experience of Glossop and its surrounds into a soundbite? Surprisingly, I didn’t actually struggle with this question.

Everything’s smaller here.

That was the first incarnation of my answer – it was one of the first things I noticed. Houses are smaller, cars are smaller, roads are smaller, yards are smaller, packs of things at the store are smaller, paper towels are smaller, mountains are smaller, trees are smaller, what they call rivers are smaller, everything is smaller. The people aren’t smaller – I don’t find myself surrounded by four-foot tall people, thankfully.

Then I stayed here awhile, and I realized something else: Everything’s milder here, too.

Let me tell you how …


Some examples to start:

  • The weather is milder.
    • It simply doesn’t rain as hard here as I’ve experienced in the US. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” only to look out and see a light rain (sometimes a drizzle). For all the increased perception of certain things the English usually have (see point 2), they always seem to miss the look I give them after this exchange.
    • It doesn’t rain as long: most days with rain are really days of showers: rain for about 10-15 minutes, stop for awhile, rain again, stop again. They say, “It’s been pissing with rain all day.” They mean, “Tt’s been spurting drizzles all day.”
    • It doesn’t hail hard: hailstones tend to be pebble-sized, perhaps 1/16″ diameter at most. Thus, you don’t park your car in the garage to protect it from the (frequent) hail: you obstruct the street with it and keep your junk in the garage – the only difference is that the American motorist will usually keep it on the driveway.
    • Thunder and lightning are very rare here. Shame, I’ve always liked a good lightning storm.
    • When it’s hot, it isn’t as hot here as I’ve experienced – even in Michigan.
    • When it’s cold, it isn’t as cold here as I’ve experienced – even in Louisiana. (Yes, really.)
  • Ideas about strife have much lower thresholds than I’m used to.
    • Abuse means verbal abuse, usually I’m still fuzzy on what precisely they mean by this, to be honest. What I do know is that I often come across accusations of one person abusing another when I thought the accused was just being straightforward.
    • Rows (which rhymes with house, not with doze) apparently have different grades. Makes sense: fights do, too, if you think about it. I’ve concluded that what constitutes the lowest grades of row to an Englishperson doesn’t even register as any sort of discord to me. The next higher grade would be a simple disagreement to me.
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Even the weapons they use in their fights are milder! 😉

I’ve never been good at being anything other than straightforward, and I tend to actually tell people when I disagree with them. Goodness knows how many people I’ve unknowingly abused and had rows with!

So yes, everything’s smaller, and everything’s milder. I’ve left many examples out, and the milder list is really just the tip of the iceberg. What would you add to either? Is there anything that you wonder whether it’s included or not?

My Header Photos

 Posted by at 18:09 on 20 August 2013
Aug 202013

I thought some of you may wonder about some of the photos I’ve used in the header of this site (that strip across the top of the screen). If you wonder why I’ve put that in the plural, try pressing the refresh button on your browser, and look again at the header image. It should have changed. I couldn’t decide on just one header image, so there are a few different ones the site will randomly choose from each time you load a page.

I know I should have stuck with ones from England, it being Dampland and all, but I wanted to include some others I like, so the photos actually come from a variety places. No doubt more will get added as time passes.

I wonder if you’ll be able to discern what one photo in particular is. I shall tell you about the others, and then see if anyone can figure out the last one.

As will always be the norm, click on any image for a larger version.

Photos from England …



This is a wonderful shot of the Dark Peak – the dark gray gritstone here causes the ground to actually look dark, as opposed to the white limestone of the White Peak – that Chris took … yeesh, a decade ago now. I love this shot; we have it hanging in our living room, actually.

These three are all local. The first two were taken on our wedding day, from our reception venue. The last one was taken on one of our walks around Glossop.




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This is from Longdendale Reservoir. The origin doesn’t really matter; the fact is, you can’t talk about Derbyshire without some acknowledgement of all the sheep here!




The first photo is obvious enough; the second photo is of Glossop High Street; the third photo is of the clock tower of Glossop Town Hall (which I only noticed has a cross atop it while putting this collage together – Edit: Chris tells me it wasn’t always a cross – it was a weathervane to start with. Ah, so the weathervane is broken, much like the clock it sits on. Fair enough.); the fourth photo is from Chatsworth‘s grounds. The last photo is Chatsworth House itself.

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The next photos are all from Blackpool, a tourist trap of a seaside town. If you ignore the tourist stuff, the beach itself is nice to visit.





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Photos from Louisiana …

All of these photos are from our first trip together, around South Louisiana in the spring of 2008. I like this first one so much that, again, it hangs on our living room wall as well. It’s from Jean Lafitte National Park.



While we were in that national park of swampland, we were both vastly amused to see this:



More swampland…



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Sadly, much swampland was at the time being choked by salvinia (floating on the surface of the water in the right-hand picture), blown in by Hurricane Katrina, our swamp tour guide told us. I don’t imagine the situation’s changed much: it sounded like it was right difficult to get ride of the stuff.

South Louisiana has not just swamps, but marshes, too. (One notable difference is that swamps have trees). From our tour, I daresay there is more marshland than swampland; I know many swamp trees got cut down during the Industrial Revolution. I don’t know if these treeless swamps then turned into marshes.



South Louisiana is a flat, flat land. It’s something Chris couldn’t get over when he first visited. Coming from the hills you just saw, he kept looking around and exclaiming, “It’s so FLAT!” I’d squint into the distance, point, and say, “It’s not flat – there’s some trees sticking up over there.” 😉 Yes, it’s really that flat.

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Coincidentally, alligators and crocodiles lend themselves very well to the shape I needed for my header image. I quite like having gators in my header images. 🙂 I started out with more, actually, and pruned it down to just these four.





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On that trip, we made it down to the coast at Holly Beach, as we drove along the Creole Nature Trail. I highly recommend the latter for anyone taken with this landscape; they’ve built many stops along the way to park and walk along a trail for a bit and really take it in.



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We also spent some time in New Orleans – happily, Chris loves it just as much as I do. Sadly, none of those photos made decent headers (wide and short photos), except the ones we took of this Mississippi river bridge (it’s the Highway 90 bridge, seen from Woldenberg Park, French Quarter).



Photos from the Ozarks …

On that same visit, we did go up to the Ozarks for a weekend. I’d wanted to go hiking, but it was miserable weather most of the time. We did find this very short trail and walked along it – I love the atmosphere of this picture.



We also found this great place to stop – randomly, on the side of the road, in someone’s yard I think, as you do – to take photos of this stunning view. We even managed to get some with ourselves in them, too. 🙂



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And one more for you to guess:


Any ideas what it is?

Comparison is an act of violence against the self

 Posted by at 23:13 on 18 August 2013
Aug 182013

As I start down this blogging path, today the universe has thumped me soundly to keep something in mind: I must do this for me, first and foremost, and I must not compare myself to others – in general, or in blogs. Thus, the title of this post – a quote from Iyanla Vanzant (who has some other interesting quotes here) – seems particularly apt.

The first thing I came across in this vein was this video (thanks for pointing me to it, Dr. Mabry), particularly the point starting at about 2:15:

We continually edit ourselves to present the best image we can, he says.

Click for more …

I find I can’t disagree. Obviously we’ve done this for thousands of years, but when our worlds were confined primarily to face-to-face interactions, people were more likely to gossip about each other and spread the bad as we worked spread the good. Now, many of our friend sets don’t overlap, and thus each only sees a limited part of us. We have more ability to edit out the less-good-bits, and we’re using it (myself included).

Then came this article: a newly released study says using Facebook can lead to unhappiness. Especially on the heels of that video, that makes perfect sense to me. If we’re all editing our social media to provide the pretty picture of who we’d like to be, then that means when we look at our social media feeds, we get screens full of our friends’ and family members’ perfect lives. I think we look at these screens full of perfect lives and subconsciously or consciously compare ourselves (because it is human nature to do so); since we’re still well aware of our own failings (even if we never talk about them), we find ourselves lacking. Getting this message too often would, indeed, bring anyone down.

So yes, beware of comparing yourself to others. I said this all had to do with blogging; the links I stumbled across today do: Comparison is the thief of joy talks directly about comparing oneself to another when looking at blogs, and was inspired in part by The trouble with blogging, which includes this profound statement from Carmen from Mom to the Screaming Masses:

“We need to stop comparing our insides to others’ outsides.”

What a thing to remember, along with the rest of what Amy wrote, as I embark on this blogging thing. Many blogs, as she points out, are quite professional and polished – and are meant to be businesses. Mine isn’t. I just want somewhere to record my thoughts and doings; somewhere to post my pictures; somewhere to explore thoughts, mostly in medium form; and perhaps somewhere to perhaps keep local people in the loop of things going on about town, as a friend of mine suggested. All of that is what’s right for me just now. And that’s completely fine.

I shan’t compare my blog to all the professional blogs out there; I shan’t compare my insides to anyone else’s outsides. I shall use my blog as I want and need to. I shall remind myself that, just as I’ll edit what I present on here for public digestion, so too is every other person editing their public face, whether that face is digital or corporeal.

I made a banner!

 Posted by at 00:34 on 17 August 2013
Aug 172013

I’m no expert seamstress. I do, however, have a sewing machine, which has been woefully underused. Much of the problem has been a lack of confidence. There’s fancy jargon that I haven’t a clue what it means; I’ve just been doing simple things, figuring it out as I go along. I’ve been pretty sure I’ve been managing to do that stuff right – in no small part because it comes out the way I need it to! – through application of logic and whatever vestiges of sewing knowledge remain buried deep within my brain from childhood.

Click for more about my sewing history …

See, my mom sewed a whole lot when I was a kid. She made all – or at least many – of my Halloween costumes. I didn’t even know about the existence of the disposable costumes that populate stores every October until I was a teenager. I’ve never had to wear one of those, for which I’m so grateful. I loved my proper costumes.

Mom sewed all sorts of things, of course. I think she taught me how to cut out a pattern at some point, and I learned a lot just by hanging around her while she was crafting. I learned some in high school home economics, where I sewed a pillow (in the shape of a telephone … which today’s teens wouldn’t even recognize, come to think of it). I remember feeling so daunted then about threading the machine, every single time I had to do it.

But hey, sewing is a needed thing in my world – I have to hem pants, because they never make them the right length for me. Things need mending (and I despise throwing things out); things need altering (again, I’m not shaped like a runway model); small things can be whipped up quickly and add so much to the home. So, right, I’m going to have to do this sewing thing.

For a long while, I just figured it out as I went along. My sewing machine came with basic instruction on how to use it – threading this one is quite painless, thankfully. The first thing I think I did was sew some basic curtains to hide away this awkward alcove we have in our living room. All I had to do was cut a rectangle of fabric the right size and then hem up all four sides. Well, two rectangles cause there’s two curtains. I managed! 😉 Little things here and there got figured out and accomplished. Still, dragging out the sewing machine was a chore.

Then I won a bursary (scholarship) to Denman College, the Women’s Institute‘s own adult education college. I was so thrilled to go – I’d always heard such wonderful things about it. I poked and prodded endlessly before finally settling on a course – two, actually. I looked at the course cost, the train fare, and the bursary, and decided to make the most of my train fare by taking two courses: one right after the other. I booked two sewing courses (Sewing Machine Magic and Nip and Tuck: Altering Clothes), both run by May Martin, and she and I would be there from Monday afternoon to Friday afternoon, at the end of April.

I had no idea who May Martin was. When I got there, I found out she’d been a judge on the Great British Sewing Bee, which had just been on tv (and filling up my twitter feed) the month before. She’s quite a likeable person, and during the tea breaks (this is England, people honestly can’t function without tea breaks) she told us what it was like being on the show, and answered all the questions about that lobbed at her. Far more than that, she gave us wonderful instruction, not least of which was that she answered every single question asked of her in class, too. I asked many of them; I always want to dig until I really understand something, and she never once lost patience with me for that. I don’t quite get down to the little kid level of “Why? Why? Why?” with no end in sight, but … sometimes I get a bit close to that. She always answered with a real and true answer, and for that she’s one of my favorite teachers ever.

Most of all, though, I came away from those courses with:

  • a much better understanding of how my machine works,
  • a much better understanding of how sewing works,
  • that I don’t need to know everything about sewing to sew something,
  • that I’ll probably never know everything about sewing, given that May, after 40 years of teaching sewing tells us she doesn’t know everything, and
  • that I’d been pretty much right with everything I’d been doing so far.

Wewt! What a boon to the confidence that last bit was: learning that by applying simple logic, I’d worked out what I had correctly, so extrapolating from that means that applying simple logic in the future means I’ll probably work out future things correctly, too. Hah – The world is my oyster!

Click for lots of pictures!

In the wake of this, when one of my groups wanted a banner to put up with its gazebo in the forthcoming Glossop Carnival, I didn’t hesitate to say I could do it. Once fabric was sorted (which was my only hesitation – fabric isn’t cheap!), I was away. I made a mock-up and took it with me when we put up the gazebo the first time (a practice run well before the carnival), and it was approved, pending a few changes. I’d pinned it all together, bearing in mind May’s mantra that pins are great because you can always take them out and re-do them. 🙂 So, changes made, off I went.

I'm going to use the floral fabric as the background, then the gray fabric on top of that, and then put black lettering on top of that. Me with my straight edge for marking fabric.  I love this straight edge: it's heavy enough that it stays put, and long enough for any fabric I'll be working with.  Here I'm using it to mark the lines I'll need for the fabric edging for the display boards Chris is making.

I’m going to use the floral fabric as the background, then the gray fabric on top of that, and then put black lettering on top of that. On the right, you see me with my straight edge for marking fabric. I love this straight edge: it’s heavy enough that it stays put, and long enough for any fabric I’ll be working with. Here I’m using it to mark the lines I’ll need for the fabric edging for the display boards Chris is making. You’ll see those later.

It's starting to look like a banner!  After two days of the most mindless work I've done since I worked on a factory line, the letters are all sewn on, wewt!  The gray panels are sewn onto the floral backing, but I haven't hemmed up the floral fabric yet - I still need to arrange ties and weights and pockets.

It’s starting to look like a banner! After two days of the most mind-numbing work I’ve done since I worked on a factory line, the letters are all sewn on, wewt! The gray panels are sewn onto the floral backing, but I haven’t hemmed up the floral fabric yet – I still need to arrange ties and weights and pockets.

Ties are in and hems are sewn!  Time to put it together!

Ties are in and hems are sewn!


I was worried about light showing through the banner from the back in certain circumstances and thus seeing the letters going both ways, as you do when you hold a sheet of paper with words on it up to the light. Putting a layer of the same black t-shirt fabric I used for the letters between the two sets of lettering seems to have taken care of that nicely. I made sure to put that on first, though – I sewed that onto the back of that piece of fabric before sewing the lettering panels onto the front.

On the side with the black backing, you can also see the pockets I sewed for the poles to go into, and the bulge along the bottom seam (which is closest to the other half of the banner in this picture) is where the weights are in the bottom hem.

Those weights were originally 1m long (3′) steel poles vaguely around 2mm (1/16″) in diameter. Chris had gotten them for another project, but never made that work so had done something different there. He was easily able to cut them down for me (so they’re in 20cm (8″) lengths), so I sewed them in. In addition to the horizontal bottom hem, I sewed vertically between the weights to keep them put where I wanted them, with some clearance to either side of the vertical seams, plus about 5cm (2″) empty space between weight pockets. The empty space was so that it’d be easier to fold it up – I knew a fabric banner would need some height to its fold, unlike, say, a paper banner. This actually worked out really well.


The two sides are sewn together! It’s a banner! Woohoo!


The finished product! The top view shows it with the ties out (the ties all have buttonholes sewn in the ends as well, to tie more string through in case they should ever come up short); the middle view shows it with all the ties tucked in; the bottom view shows it with posts in it that could be used to carry it in a procession or stick it in the ground.


The stitching isn’t perfect if you look at it up close, but then, you’re not meant to.


My lower thread tension kept messing up, so it’s not quite right over on the right-hand side of this picture. It’s also very messy on the left. I’m not terribly keen on the pink, to be honest, but it was strong thread that I found pretty cheap at my local craft store, and from a distance it blends well enough. I thought having good, strong thread was more important here than a perfect color match.

I didn’t actually know about the existence of this “strong thread” until I was in the midst of this project. May had taught us about better and worse thread (and how to tell the difference), so I knew the thread that came with my machine wasn’t brilliant. When my thread kept snapping when I first started practicing sewing those letters on, I got fed up and hiked down to the craft store to demand stronger thread … whereupon I discovered some thread is actually called “strong thread” on the label. I got one black for the letters and one pink to sew in the ties and brought them home. The black sewed the edges of the letters like a dream, but I used it all up after four letters. Extrapolating, I figured out this would suddenly become a very expensive project if I carried on with that thread. I went slower with my cheap black thread and it was fine in the end. I had enough of the pink to make the ties, sew them in, and do all the edge sewing of the entire banner, so that’s good.


See? It’s a bit better from a bit of a distance.


I switched to black thread when I was sewing the lettering panels on and had to sew over the letters. I didn’t expect such a perfect color match; I’m delighted – it’s damn near invisible!

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Now that it’s all sewn together, this is what the middle of the bottom looks like. On the left: lift up the top floral backing and you find the area to tuck the tie into. On the right: the pocket the post slides into, with the tie tucked in outside the pocket. You can see the weight just under my thumb there. I was a bit concerned that would cause trouble with putting a post in this pocket, but it doesn’t, phew.


The banner in action! This is at our first event, Glossop Carnival, 6 July 2013. You can also see the larger of the two display boards that Chris made off to the right.

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The hands-on activity we had at this stand wass braiding strips of t-shirts together to then wind (in a circle or a rectangle or whatever shape you please) it up and stitch the back of it to make a mat – a coaster, a placemat, a bathmat, etc. I’d made a long braid and, with nothing better to do with it just then, used it to add a bit of color to the banner. On the right is a closer view.


The banner in use again! This time it’s at Inspire Festival, 3 August 2013. You can also see the smaller of the display boards that Chris made, off to the right.


The banner all folded up for storage. It takes a couple of minutes to fold it up, to line everything up just right because of the weights, but it does fold. That’s how it’ll look most of the time, provided I put it somewhere the cat can’t sit on it (and shed on it). 😉

I’m quite proud of this banner because I just made it up out of my head, and it all actually worked! I let it percolate in my head for awhile before commencing it, and thought up a few different design elements to incorporate, so it became a bit more than just “stick letters on a long piece of fabric and be done with it.” Every design element actually worked; I didn’t have to abandon any of my notions. None of them are perfect, but they did all come together. It does the job, too, which is always good.

I didn’t actually realize I was horrifying Chris in the process of this til I heard him on the phone telling someone about it: “When I do a project like this, I get out AutoCAD and all sorts. I think she had scribbles on one sheet of paper.” Hee. It was four sheets, actually. 😉 After I heard him say that, I horrified him further by actually showing him and walking him through my “scribbles.” He just kept shaking his head. He can’t say much – clearly my process worked!

Hello World!

 Posted by at 20:51 on 16 August 2013
Aug 162013

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

Once upon a time, I wrote a newsletter for my friends and family in the US to keep up with my doings here in the Peak District of England. This blog is the next incarnation of that newsletter, and welcomes a wider audience than the old email newsletter.

I plan to use this as a place to put my brain dribbles, on any subject that titillates me – this will very much be a mixed-genre blog, not one of those that focuses on a particular subject. Some of these ruminations will keep my friends up to date with what’s going on in my world; some might shed some perspective on the customs and way of things here in this funny old land for readers from any country; some posts will simply serve to share my photos; some, perhaps, might seem to serve no purpose at all.

Hopefully some of it will entertain you, some of it will enlighten you, and some of it will make you think. Enjoy!