Thursday, January 04, 2007

America: Bigger, and With More Stuff

I imagine a great weeping and gnashing of teeth this week in all of the nations of the world that celebrate December based holidays and run on traditional, Gregorian calendars as millions stagger out from under self-induced holiday comas and find their slightly larger rear ends sitting in familiar leather seats, staring once again at monitors and wondering where the heartburn medication is. (Me, I always know.)

Mr. DD and I had a truly brilliant holiday with my folks at their lovely home in rural Maryland. Their house is one of the quietest, most restful places I know; the pleasure of lingering over breakfast or lunch in their sunny kitchen alone is worth the 8 hour flight across the Atlantic. Mr. DD and I had a week before the rest of his family arrived (we had a joint Christmas with Mr. DD's family this year- something my parents have been hoping to happen for nearly 6 years now) so we took advantage of the stillness for reading, guitar playing and catching up with my pater and mater familis. Both of them were much admirous of my burgeoning bump.

To spare you a huge post on the specifics of all of our holiday misdeeds I shall endeavour to condense our doings into a list of highlights. Although all that we did was wonderful, jolly and interesting to US, I have no illusions about its interest value to those who frequent this site.

All American Hero School- Coming back from dinner one evening before the rest of Mr. DD's clan arrived, we stopped for petrol at a station not far from my parent’s house. Filling up at the pump opposite was a fire truck from the local engine company. Mr. DD had a definite 9 year old boy moment- oooing and ahhing over the shiny chrome fittings and the inherent coolness of a large, shiny, purpose built piece of machinery. He mentioned to my mother how, while he was a fan of American fire trucks, my brother in law had had a full blown fetish for them when he was a child. My mother, who tends to store little bits of information like that away for future use, took it upon herself to call the local fire company that the truck belonged to (which just so happens to be situated next to the school where she teaches) and asked them if it would be alright if we stopped in to have a gander at the engines.

While not the strangest thing I have ever done over Christmas, pulling into the fire station on Christmas Eve Day with a wildly excited BIL (accompanied by his lovely girlfriend) in the car (he had no idea where we were going until we pulled into the driveway) probably ranks fairly highly on the randomness scale.

We were met in the engine bay by the watch commander, who’s last name I cannot recall at the moment due to the fact that it is difficult to remember anything about him other than the fact that he was an inch or so taller than Mr. DD (6'2") and nearly twice as wide. His Christian name was Andre and he looked like he was possibly an ex-Marine, power-lifter or, at a stretch, a pro-wrestler called “The Punisher”. He introduced us to the rest of the company, who also had rather macho ranks like “Lieutenant” and even more macho surnames like “Varney” and “McKendrick”.

“You guys fire-fighters back in England, then?” he asked, trying to find some common ground with the rather odd assortment of people that had just turned up at his station on Christmas Eve Day.

“No, we’ve just always liked American fire trucks,”
offered Mr. DD.

“Okaaay,” said Andre, sceptically, “no, no, that’s cool. Let me show you around.” He looked at me sideways. “You’re not about to have a baby, are you?”

“Nope, I've got two months yet. You’re safe.” I said, thinking that while fire fighters are, in theory, trained in basic medical procedures, if given the choice, they'd probably rather not perform any of them if they don't have to.

After the quick tour of what I imagine is a very modern station, and a quick introduction to a volunteer called Wilbur (“He’s not pregnant, he’s just fat,” offered Andre) what I had been secretly hoping would come to pass did: Andre offered to let the boys play dress-up.

I remember visits from fire fighters from very early school days. They’d bring the truck around and then pile all of their gear on one lucky kid to see how long it’d take them to fall straight over. Having very little to do on Christmas Eve, the company assembled to watch in amusement as Mr. DD and his brother got the same treatment. “You guys can feel like All-American Heroes!” Andre said, without a trace of irony.

Both of them are fairly fit guys. Mr. DD does Marathon training and my BIL has spent the last year doing triathlons. But stepping into Andre’s boots took some doing. Apparently all the gear has to be on a fire-fighter’s body and functioning within two minutes, and given that both my boys had to use Andre the Giant for support while stepping INTO said boots, my guess is that neither would be fire fighter material at the moment. (Plus, Andre called my BIL a “peanut head” due to the fact that his own personal helmet didn’t exactly fit him, although I can’t imagine that Andre’s helmet would fit many people, except for Mr. DD who has a slightly oversized cranium himself.)

At any rate, we left the company with a plate of cookies and chocolates (from the mountain of sweets and baked goods in their kitchen, I could see why they needed their well equipped gym) and our grateful thanks for a truly surreal day.

Quote of the Morning:

Mr. DD: Thanks so much for the visit! Is it ok if we take some photos of the truck?

Andre: Sure! Do you want me to pull it out for you?

Mr. DD: (not able to stop himself in time) I bet you say that to all the ladies.(and immediately thinking, "I wish I hadn't said that to the largest man I've ever personally met without checking to see whether or not he's got a Jesus fish on his pick-up tailgate.")

Andre: (smirking) That's nice. I'll remember that.

Mr. DD: (to himself) Whew.

Shopping: No trip to the States would be complete without splashing out on stuff that we get routinely financially fleeced on in Britain; namely, everything. At Christmas, there were bargains galore and Mr. DD, my BIL, his girlfriend and I spent a good many hours in Frederick, buying last minute gifts and a few things for ourselves as well.

As it was my BIL's girlfriend's first trip to the US there were some questions to be answered.

“So, what’s Home Depot?”

“It’s like B&Q only bigger and with more stuff.”

“Ok, and what’s Michael’s?”

“It’s like Hobbycraft, only bigger and with more stuff.”

At this point I realized that this particular description could be applied to the country in general, hence the post title.

Away in A Manger: Now with Added Llama! - Mr. DD and I were married in a church in downtown Frederick. This same church also holds an annual Christmas Eve service with a live nativity INSIDE the sanctuary. Although none of the UK contingent hold any particular religious convictions, it was something we felt like we might just have to see. My mother had a service to play for at her church and my father elected to remain behind with the cooking and the cats, so the rest of us smartened up and went for the novelty factor of seeing a couple of live cows wandering around the altar where we said “I do.”

As it turned out, this particular nativity did not feature cattle, but rather sheep, goats and interestingly enough, a large llama. While the Bible doesn’t specifically say anything about a llama in the stable at Bethlehem, I imagine that it was more the thought that counted and maybe a docile enough cow couldn’t be found. Llamas don’t fit well into the Nativity story; partly because they come from the other side of the world and partly because they’re ornery bastards. The llama in this particular tableau, however, seemed to be fairly well behaved. Until, that is, the annunciation to the shepherds when two members of the youth group came flapping up the aisle dressed as angels, at which point the llama, who had been a pretty good sport up til this point, went “Shit! Angels!” and tried to make a break for it. Luckily, the “shepherds” were also trained veterinarians with hypodermics up the sleeves of their robes. The sheep and the goat didn’t seem to have any such qualms about the appearance of the heavenly host, but sat quietly, munching hay.

The sermon that evening centred on how we should make our souls soft like a baby. (I think I’m not doing it justice with the description; it was actually a fairly decently crafted homily) To remind us of this, we were given, on our way out, small squares of soft felt. Mr. DD was overjoyed, as he has a fuzzy fabric finger fetish left over from childhood. (He likes to rub pieces of fabric between his fingers. I do something similar, only on the tips of my fingers with fabric that's folded to a sharp point. Weird.) Upon our return home, I presented him with my square to “la-la” as he wished.

“Mmmm…” he said, contentment spreading over his face, “flat, fuzzy Messiah.”

Feasting- Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without many varied caloric things to consume. Seeing as how I’m destined only to get fatter in the next two months anyhow, I pretty much consumed anything that was set in front of me.

Since I moved to the UK, I have been questing to bake a sucessful Shoo-Fly pie. (a PA Dutch creation made mostly of molasses and brown sugar.) However, I have, as of yet, been unable to reproduce this delight on the UK side of the Atlantic. But I am pleased to report that I turned out THREE during the festive period, concluding once and for all that some kind of hoo doo is messing with my Shoo Fly mojo here in the UK, whether it be vaguely different ingredients or our unreliable marina electricity supply. I made THREE. Count them. THREE. And they all tasted AWESOME.

Eating out is also substantially cheaper in the US than in the UK, so we took advantage of this fact to hit all of our favourite restaurants in the area including the local Perkins TWICE for breakfast, a hibachi joint, a great soup and sandwich bar, a new favourite Italian joint and a nearby upscale seafood place that tries to shove crab meat into absolutely every dish. (Tuesday special: Maryland crab cakes with crab and parmesan sauce served with a side of crab Imperial and petit pois covered in Old Bay seasoning. Side salad with crab and Blue Cheese dressing) Although the crab/parmesan dip and baked pita chips were well nigh irresistible, I managed to keep my main course crab-free. (Salmon with pomegranate glaze. Yum.) There was also fabulous home cooking to contend with. I haven’t yet stepped on the scale since I got back (it’s hard to read the numbers anyhow because I can no longer see my feet) but I imagine that I’ve gained a good few pounds over the holiday that I can’t blame on the Prawn.

Beasts of a Different Nature- My parents own 3 cats who were all highly amusing to everyone over the Christmas period. It must be heavenly for a cat- a house full of crinkly things and one very big plant indoors with shiny things on it to swat at. Since we all had a vague feeling of guilt about the animals in the UK languishing in a kennel over Christmas, (more like the dog and cat equivalent of the Ritz. They probably didn’t want to come back) we were happy to transfer our affections to my folk’s fuzzy trio, Vandella, Parsnip and Crackers. I personally have no idea how my parents get anything done with 3 of them in the house. The moment you sit down, they’re right there, in your face, investigating everything including the cereal you’ve just poured into a bowl, the glass of water you’ve just sat down on the table or, in Vandella’s case, anything shiny and hard that you might have on your person. (Buttons, watches...all are fair game for chewing)

One of my gifts to my folks this year was a “Caution: Cat Vomit” sign. I’m not sure if it was the fact that it’s printed in Spanish on the opposite side (“Cuidado: Vomito de Gato”) or the simple, but meaningful illustration of a cat barfing in the middle, but it tickled me and I know that they’ll actually USE it. (it was given it’s maiden run while we were still there. Parsnip is a champion hornker.) There is actually a photo of the sign being used for it's intended purpose, but it's kinda gross.

After finally bidding a rather melancholy farewell to my folks, (we actually tried to extend our tickets to prolong our peaceful holiday, but were rebuffed by Virgin Atlantic customer service, much to our dismay) We boarded the place exhausted, hoping for some rest on the return flight. However, we were bordered on both sides by screaming babies, so that idea went out the window quickly. I always feel bad for mothers travelling alone with babies; they get “ohgodpleasedontsitnexttome” vibes from everyone on the plane and dirty looks when the screaming starts. Being painfully aware that everyone wishes that you weren’t there can’t be easy and hell, people have got to get from one place to another. (Spot the person who is, herself, shortly going to be the target of 7 different kinds of hate the next time she boards a plane.) Mr. DD and I took vastly different approaches toward the noisy onslaught; I popped in earplugs and he listened to Black Label Society on his iPod. This is a man who regularly, in his youth, would fall asleep to Guns N Roses, so whatever works, I suppose.

New Year's was the damp squib that it usually is. The whole of the holiday season is hard to celebrate year by year as a rule; it’s always sort of an amalgamation of every Christmas and New Year’s that’s gone before, making it vaguely depressing to a lot of people. While I find Christmas cheerful and positive, there’s something about New Year’s Eve that’s utterly uninspiring.

Mr. DD had a gig with his band at a large, local pub, so I waited around until 11 (as not to subject the Prawn to more smoke and noise than humanly necessary) before joining him. As far as holiday gigs go, the mood of the crowd was good and no obvious fights broke out. I did have two utterly strange mad, drunken women kissing and talking to my belly and telling me it was going to be the greatest experience of my life, but other than that, I was fairly safe from any excess oddness. Some pregnant women have a real thing about strangers touching their bellies; me…it doesn’t bug me so much, but I still wouldn’t do it to anyone I didn’t know. It’s not like you’d do it to a random fat person in the street…what’s so different about being pregnant?

So that brings me up to the moment, sitting at my desk and attempting not to fall asleep. It does nothing to help matters that the cat is curled up in her plush basket on a chair across the room, taunting me with her easy slumber.

I hope the holidays were as full for you and yours! Normal blogging service to resume as soon as my body clock manages to successfully reset itself.

Happy New Year!


lisalou said...

I enjoyed the bits about the fire trucks and the llamas! Happy New Year!

Meri-ann said...

Welcome back! Sounds as though you had a thoroughly wonderful Christmas, love looking at the photos!