Monday, 29 November 2010

The MOT

Every car in the UK has to pass a yearly inspection called the ‘MOT’. It’s more than just your typical ‘check-the-blinkers’ kind of deal, they check every part of your car to make sure it’s in proper working order, lights, seatbelts, windshield wipers, steering, tire tread, brake pads, exhaust, transmission fluid… all of it. And if they find something that doesn’t meet the legal requirements, then you’re basically forced to spend the money to fix it.

It’s a stressful time, really, taking your car to get MOT’d. It feels a bit like taking your child to take the SAT or ACT. The result of the test definitely has bearing on how much you’ll be spending in the near future; I wanted her to do well, but I didn’t want to put too much pressure on her. Nonetheless, a perfect score would result in a ‘free ride’, and we all know how much that would be appreciated given the current state of the economy and the rising costs of higher education. I gave them the keys to the Happy Honda, told them to be gentle, and then waited to hear good or bad news.

Unfortunately, the Happy Honda failed… there were problems with the exhaust and something else. It probably wasn’t her fault; she did her best. It probably had something to do with the way I treated her this summer. I was too hard on her. Plus, these British tests are hard for foreigners (she’s Canadian).

On the bright side, however, even though I had to pay some money to get her fixed, the things that were wrong really did need to be fixed immediately because they would have led to several other more major problems, from which the Happy Honda might not have recovered. So, fear not, all is well now… she went in for the retest today and she passed with flying colors.

One more year with the Happy Honda, long may she live.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Thanksgiving dinner

One of the positive developments in our relationship with England is that we’ve begun to look forward to seeing her when we’re in the U.S. Being home is great, and we’re always sad to leave, but there were several things that I was looking forward to in Cambridge that made coming back to the cold British winter a little more bearable. In fact, if one were so bold as to make cheesy weather analogies in the name of Thanksgiving, one might say that the coldness of the winter wind could scarcely permeate the warmth in our hearts as we gathered around the table with friends.

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Reuniting with new friends and old friends made our Thanksgiving day feel a little less ‘foreign’ and a little more ‘home’. We even had Gary, a friend from undergrad, join us since he is just a quick train ride away in London for a few months!

One feature that I’d like to point out (because I think it’s awesome) is that this beauty of a bird was never frozen… (pre-cooked photo)

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That’s right folks, we ordered her from the butcher down the street and he got it directly from the farm; that is, freshly from the farm, if you know I mean (with a few feather remnants still attached).

Personally, I think it made a difference. It was really good turkey, and it did taste quite fresh. The oven bag was also a good decision, I think, so thank you Aunt Donna for your contribution to our turkey cooking adventure. I’ve heard of about a thousand different ways to cook a turkey… in fact, I think everyone we asked while in Oklahoma gave us a different method for cooking a turkey. Some say to cook it overnight on a low temperature, because this allows the turkey fairies time to tenderize the meat. Some say to turn your oven all the way up for two hours, then put the turkey in and shut the oven off and leave it overnight, which is supposed to be an easier way to maximize emergency room visits the next day. We opted for the plastic bag method; no fooling around, just 350 degrees for 2 1/2 hours.

We had 16 people over, and we liked everyone that came :). We made it a point to hear from everyone at the table about what they were thankful for: the expressions of gratitude ranged from appreciating a good pair of gloves when it’s cold to celebrating the anticipation of new little ones to looking forward to new adventures. It was the best kind of cheesy.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Giving thanks

Here’s something that we’re both very thankful for… our google story.

Home at last

We finally made it back to Cambridge! It feels good to be back in our own bed in our own place. And I must say, catching the return flight from North Carolina instead of from Dallas made a huge difference. Not only were we adjusted to eastern time, so that we will only be jet-lagged 5 hours instead of 6, but we also were happy to find that the flight from Raleigh-Durham to London is nearly 3 hours quicker than the one from Dallas! And believe me, it’s those last three hours that really bring you to brink of despair at the end of your poor, pitiful rope. In fact, I think one of the announcements went something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are starting our initial descent into London Heathrow, we ask that you return your seats to their upright and most uncomfortable position and turn off anything that is fun at this time, so that this last 30 minutes will creep by as slowly as possible.” Just to spite them, I decided I wouldn’t turn my phone off. I know, I’m a wild man, a rebel, a maverick :).

Also, some of you may remember that on our last trip to the US, I feigned an intense fear of exit doors so that we could switch to seats that reclined. Well, this time, I tried to repeat my heroics :). There were three seats in the middle aisle next to us, and only one of them was occupied, so the logic is that if that guy will switch with us, then he can have our two seats and we can have the three, giving Candice more room to lie down. I could tell he was the kind of guy who needed to feel free to choose whatever he wanted, so I didn’t pressure him. I was very kind and told him that if he was happy with his seats, that he didn’t need to switch with us. Sure enough, he said no. I was a little bummed, thinking that maybe I should’ve pressed him a little harder. Then, after a few minutes to think it over, the remorse was too much for him… he changed his mind and switched! Score! We were pretty happy, sitting together, just us, team Bullard on the way home, crying our eyes out while watching the in-flight movie, “The Blind Side.” Our general mood was also helped greatly by the fact that we had in our possession two cinnamon crunch bagels from Panera, which we were very much looking forward to at breakfast :).

And, finally, back to 1 Selwyn Gardens with Thanksgiving to look forward to tomorrow. I picked up our fresh from the farm, 15-pound turkey from the butcher this afternoon: let’s do this.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

North Carolina Thanksgiving

Some of our favorite friends live in North Carolina now… Jared, Reagan, and Jesse. We are currently at the end of a 25 day whirlwind tour of the U.S. We saw family all over Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico (putting 2,300 miles on a borrowed Honda Accord to prove it). We went to conferences in Indianapolis and Atlanta (unfortunately, we had to separate to do this). And now we’re in North Carolina, reunited and staying with Jared and Reagan.

We’re exhausted and burned out, but being here has been really refreshing, not least because we are staying with the most gracious hosts imaginable. Not only did they force us to sleep in their own bed, but they have also been working for days to prepare an absolutely glorious Thanksgiving feast, which happens to be authentic in the sense that it is shared between English pilgrims (us) and American peeps (them)… and it’s even more legit because Candice is actually Native American :).

So on the list of what we were eating today for our early Thanksgiving: candied yams, green bean casserole, broccoli and rice casserole, mashed  potatoes, cornbread dressing, Cornish game hens (instead of turkey, since there were only five of us), a brown sugar ham, brown & serve rolls, an apple pie, a pumpkin pie, and a pumpkin roll (which is a kind of dessert with pumpkin bread rolled up with cream cheese/cool whip filling)… in other words, plenty of food to feed the cast of a middle school Thanksgiving musical. It was all homemade and all wonderful… thank you Jared and Reagan (mostly Reagan!).

Here’s the cast of characters…

The guys:

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The girls:

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The food (and that’s not even all of it):

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The pumpkin roll:

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We were thankful, and happy.

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Friday, 19 November 2010

Conferences

Conferences are really fun things when you’re there with good friends, but they can also produce very awkward moments, which I suppose is the natural byproduct of bringing together a couple of thousand strongly opinionated professors who don’t really know each other very well. That’s my experience at least, which may be different in 20 years when I actually know some people, but for now it’s definitely the case that the majority of conversations I have with people this week will be filled with awkward pauses followed by attempts to exit the conversation without too much notice.

It’s all different, of course, when the evening comes around and everyone leaves the conference to hang out and live it up with the people that they know and like. Such was the case tonight, after hearing papers and meeting people and struggling to make conversation with strangers, dinnertime finally came around, and with it, the chance to hang out with some cool guys from Truett Seminary. One of the guys had a car, so we went for a drive around downtown Atlanta to see the sites: the world of Coca-Cola, the Olympic park, aquarium, and CNN headquarters. We ate Cuban food, which was an interesting but very satisfying experience… don’t ask me what I ate; I don’t know. All I can say is that the folks at Papi’s Cuban Grill know how to stack piles of yummy, happy-making food before you, and before it’s all over, you’ll realize that the fried plantain is what’s been missing all your life.

After a great meal, the three of us felt emboldened to crash a dessert reception for alumni and friends of a certain Southern Baptist Seminary… we ate cookies and mingled with the crowd, and I even ended up winning a few books by sitting in one of the lucky chairs around the room!

I have three more days to charm my way into the hearts of those who will ultimately be judging my scholarly work and determining my future employment. We’ll see how it goes… if you know me, you know what a sight it is to behold when the intensity of Collin’s WOO is unleashed on a room full of strangers.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Ruidoso 2010

We had the opportunity to drive out to New Mexico and visit with some family who have a cabin in Ruidoso, NM. We’re at 7,500 feet with a pool table, a hot tub, great food, and even better company; it’s a beautiful thing. One of the fun parts about this trip  is that we get to see our niece, Gracie, and our little cousins, Ella and Oliver.

Here’s Oliver, or, as Gracie calls him, Aviter.

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Collin, living the dream.

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Oliver, living the dream.

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Rebekah and Gracie. Gracie is basically the best 2 year old I’ve ever spent time with. And I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of 2 year olds. :) She is so precious.

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Sweet Ella Bella hung out in her wagon while Collin pulled her around. Loving that tiara.

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The view from the front porch.

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Today we celebrated Thanksgiving together, complete with turkey and all that goes with it. Collin said it was the best Thanksgiving meal ever. Actually, I think he said it was the best meal, in general, he had ever eaten. That’s a pretty big claim, y’all… so thank you, Aunt Donna and Nana, for cooking all of that deliciousness.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Wedding

Candice's mom got married on Friday; it was a success. They left married and happy, which made us happy. It's funny to see one of your parents act like a teenager in love, but then you realize that falling in love is not just for teenagers, it can happen to anyone anywhere, even over Cokes in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

It was the first wedding where I was the appointed, official photographer (I use that term very loosely to mean something like, "guy with a camera"). I don't think I did a really great job compared to some people I know who actually do this professionally; I blame part of this on deficient equipment, and the other part on people's general inability to stare at the camera and smile at all times.

I have to say, though, compared to other weddings, this one was pretty low drama and laid back, which is mostly a reflection of the personalities of the people who got married, and fairly surprising considering the newly-formed family is made up seven daughters, six sons-in-law and 12 grandchildren.

In other news, I'm typing this blog on my phone in front of McDonald's because they have free wi-fi... we're pretty desperate for a decent Internet connection; not, however, desperate enough to actually eat anything in McDonald's (you've got to draw the line somewhere). I leave with a few pics from the event:

The happy couple and their girls.

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Seven years later and still just as happy as when we were 19 :).

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Our nephews, Rylan and Dalton, were looking dapper.

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This is just the immediate family and their crews. Wow.

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All the sisters :) – Angi, Cara, Melissa, Jennifer, Candice, Baylee, and Kristina.

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Friday, 5 November 2010

Grandma’s 90th Birthday

One of the perks of coming to Oklahoma this week was that we happened to be around for Candice’s Grandma’s 90th Birthday party! We drove to Idabel, and the answer to your question is yes, Idabel is every bit as country as it sounds. The party was pretty fun, we picked Grandma up from the nursing home… she’s a very interesting person to be around, since she has this habit of saying whatever it is that pops into her head. We asked her how things were going at the nursing home, and she said matter-of-factly, “Well, you know, people dyin’, and then other people movin’ in.” It’s not that she’s being grim, she’s just telling us what’s been going on.

We took her to her house, put a party hat on her, got the cake out, and fixed some tacos – PAR.TAY! Here’s a good shot of the cake; originally, I wanted to put 90 candles on the cake, but everyone else didn’t think that was a good idea.

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Here’s Candice and her Grandma… also featured in this picture is Candice’s new haircut. Some people have said they think the new ‘do’ is smart, sexy, sassy, and stylish… they’re right.

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Candice’s dad was there too :)

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Happy 90th Birthday Grandma! We think you’re gonna make it to 100 :).

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Soccer and Halloween

It felt a little unnatural for the weather on Halloween to be sunny and 80 degrees, but having come from some really lousy weather the past couple of weeks in Cambridge, I wasn’t about to complain. It was an awesome day, and even better, we had a great excuse to sit out in the sun for a while at my nephew’s soccer game.

Dalton doesn’t seem too competitive when it comes to sports; I don’t think he really cares what the score is most of the time, although he is very proud to tell you that his soccer team is undefeated :). He showed me some of his soccer tricks:

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He was really excited that Candice and uncle Collin had come to watch him play, so he basically went spastic on the field and scored three goals in the first quarter! The other parents were like, “What did you guys feed Dalton today?!” Doesn’t he look like a superstar?!

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After that, we drove back to Ardmore and enjoyed the Oklahoma sunset on the way. I took the “Scenic Turnout” off I-35, which, strangely enough, I had driven by a thousand times but never stopped to check out. Comparatively, it’s not super scenic, but it does have a charm all its own.

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Later that night, we had some trick-or-treaters and even carved a pumpkin, which I love! All in all, it was a great day :).

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Monday, 1 November 2010

October 31, 2010

A few thoughts about our first couple of days in the States:

1. 80 degrees and sunny on Halloween day in Oklahoma! Crazy, but awesome. We watched our nephew’s soccer game, the weather was beautiful and I think I got sunburned!

2. We had Braum’s ice cream today after the soccer game… I almost cried when we walked in… so happy.

3. We got to carve pumpkins today! I love carving pumpkins, even though it makes me sad that they rot so quickly… any advice on how to make them keep their shape longer (when it’s 80 degrees outside, they seem to last no time at all)? I once carved an entire haunted house into the side of a pumpkin (it looked awesome, by the way) only to have it go bad within 48 hours!

4. A 10 hour plane ride is too long, and no matter how many times we do it, it never gets any easier. Although, I have figured out that some motion sickness just makes things worse, so I have discontinued use. One of the side effects of some motion sickness medicine is “restlessness and nervousness”… this is basically the opposite of what you want to be feeling on a ten hour plane ride. Even though it would make me sleepy, I would get terribly restless; in fact, I’ve decided that making yourself ultra sleepy and then placing yourself in a situation where it’s absolutely impossible to sleep is the fast lane to crazy-town. So from now on, it’s low-dose non-drowsy for me, in combination with ginger pills to help with the nausea.

5. I love seeing family. I never realize how much I’ve missed them until we’re finally here and I remember what family feels like. Even when it’s stressful, it’s still good.