I had just finished University a few months before the Bush v. Gore presidential election took place.  If you are old enough to remember, you might recall what an unmitigated disaster it was with terms bandied about the news like: hanging chads, the military vote, Florida, Katherine Harris, the foreign vote.

I was pretty politically savvy then (as much as one can be at 24 years of age) and, as I was not in school and didn't have a job, I spent all day, every day, glued to the television buzzing about what was happening in Florida.  I won't go into the politics or conspiracy theories because this is not a political blog and frankly, that election was a long time ago, but, until the judges stepped in, much of the weight of that election was hanging on the balance of the votes of a few men and women overseas.
The hanging chad
This year is the first year where I'll be mailing in my ballot from London.  I find this to be incredibly cool -- that even though I live thousands of miles away from home, my voice still matters. 

I've been spending some time going through every single candidate and prop on my ballot.  I go to websites, I look at their positions, I look at news articles about them and sometimes I watch their debates.  I weigh their value systems against my own and I eventually make a decision.  Sadly, the media has made this election about the President, but it's really about your local and state congress, city councilors and (in Texas), judges.  These are the men and women who are truly going to impact your daily lives; who, as I used to tell my students, will increase your tuition or tax your textbooks.  These offices matter. 

The office of the President is important, but the individual votes in a non-swing state are often lost.  Every other election, however, is critical.  I don't like electing judges (not all states do this, but Texas is one of them) but, as someone who used to work with men with felony convictions, a fair judge was *really* important to my work.  And you never know when you might wind up in front of a judge - and hopefully you did your homework and voted for the right person (who was elected).

The people who decide our laws -- our laws regarding same-sex marriage, gun ownership, taxes, municipal bonds, regulations on water and air quality, taxes on small businesses, university tuition -- all of these people are up for election.  And I want a say in those issues. I want someone in office advocating for my value systems. 

I was always amazed at the kids who came into my classroom whose parents had never taught them to vote.  It broke my heart that I was  the first person who had ever clued them in to how important their vote was. They had no idea that their vote could change an election.  I would show them the documentary "Last Man Standing -- Politics, Texas Style" (*highly recommend*) and how that election was won (I won't spoil it for you because it's a cliffhanger) by just a handful of votes (20 or 30 something).  A few years ago, my friend who is the mayor of San Marcos, Texas, won his seat by 41 votes. It matters.

There is a saying in Spanish: Su voto es su voz: Your vote is your voice. If you don't vote, you have lost your voice. 
'Bits and bobs' is one of the most English terms I've ever heard -- and I really love hearing it, although, I can't really say it because it just sounds ludicrous with my American accent (think biyuts and bahhbs -- not the same).  But, it's a great term for when you have no name for a collection of something (knick knacks would be the closest translation), but, it can be used to also describe a collection of happenings as well.  So here are some of the latest bits and bobs in my world.
  • We've found a house and are in the middle of dealing with signing a contract.  It is WAY more complicated to rent a house in the UK than the US.  I've rented houses within an hour or two in the States back before we bought one -- this has taken almost two weeks now and we're going on our third week.  To be fair, some of that has been exacerbated by time differences with the Canadian's company back in the U.S. and the letting agents over here, but still, it's a lot of back and forth negotiation on all of our parts and nothing is straightforward.
  • The new house, at least as much as we've seen it (which was for 30 minutes 2 weeks ago), is a definite improvement on this one -- and, the unfortunate part is, we're paying for that too. London is unbelievably expensive and getting more-so by the minute. Apparently since I moved here 15 months ago rental prices have increased by 8%.  Painful.  Nevertheless, I'm pretty happy with it and I'm only a mile walk from Hampstead Heath, my favorite favorite place in London.  In fact, the Canadian, the Rotten One and I went for a long stroll in the Heath this weekend and explored a part we hadn't seen before.  I was definitely blissing out. Below is a photo I snapped of the leaves turning...
  • I've started training again for a 5K race.  This serves two purposes: once, to keep me in shape and two, to help get me outside, get vitamin D and combat depression which it turns out, I'm VERY prone to here.  Last fall it wasn't so bad but this spring (when it rained almost every day for four months), I was kind of in bad shape.
  • The Canadian is also running, but he's kind of a running bad-ass (unlike me...).  He's been running a LOT and just completed his second half marathon in 1:41...wearing lederhosen.  Why? (you might ask) Well, he lost a bet. 

    You see, he had signed up for a charity spot in the Royal Parks Half Marathon -- the way it works is, if you don't get a regular spot, various charities allow you to run on their behalf (each charity is allocated a certain number of spots by the race organizers) but you have to raise money for the charity, which also means if you don't raise you're on the hook for it.  So, a couple of weeks ago we were with a group of friends at Oktoberfest -- the Canadian drank 5 litres of Beer and bet all of our friends if they would all donate and he could reach his goal, he would run the race in lederhosen.  And he did.  AND he set a personal record, beating his old time by 5 minutes.  How's that for some bad assery!

  • In 2 weeks the Canadian and I will head down to the south of France where we'll meet up with Sara and Gregory and the Canadian will run another half marathon between Marseille and Cassis. Totally looking forward to seeing my sister from another mister, my favorite French-dude G, and watching the Canadian run a race while Sara and I sip champagne on the French coast.
  • I've had a bit of nostalgia for Texas the past few days -- missing my friends and my family.  Living abroad has kind of underscored a bit of the craziness of my people, and I see how we must seem to the rest of the world (especially when I see the news...), but I still love it and I miss the wide open spaces and friendly waves and laughter -- I really really miss hearing laughter. I only hear that here when the sun shines and people are in the park. I think the world would be a much better place if we were all trying to laugh a lot more...just sayin'.
  • What I don't miss is the election nonsense.  I love that I don't have to see campaign posters in yards, absurd bumper stickers, watch political ads...None of it!!  I might have to move to London during the autumn every four years if only to escape the American political BS.  I cannot stand it.

That's most of the recent news around these parts...I'm thinking I'll do a post on my new 'hood vs my old 'hood once we get our papers signed...
Envision this view from the inside of a taxi...this is how I've seen Brussels -- twice.  At night, in the dark, from a taxi window.  The first time was last Christmas, the Canadian and I were staying overnight in Brussels on our way to Germany.  We arrived around 10 pm took a taxi to the hotel and left at 5 am the next morning via taxi to the train station. (Also, as it turns out, the Canadian and I are planning another trip to the German Christmas markets and are, you guessed it, over-nighting in Brussels...I will, again, only see Brussels in the dark for a third time!)

My second trip to Brussels was not planned and it was also comprised of a taxi ride to and from a hotel at night/dawn.

Here's what happened.

The Canadian and I went to Munich to meet some friends for Oktoberfest.  We had a great time. The Canadian ate a lot of sausage (insert inappropriate joke here), and we both drank a lot of beer.  The Canadian also went missing for several hours (twice) apparently wandering around....(???) but that story takes too long to tell here.  Anyways, my train back to England was supposed to be a quick and easy trip back:

Munich to Stuttgart -- change -- Stuttgart to Paris --- change -- Paris to London.  I had first class seats all the way because it was only five Euros more to upgrade and I would have been home before dinner.  Easy right?

Except when, about half an hour before we reach Stuttgart, a train derails at the station (for the second time this year, I discovered after googling...) and then, Deutsche Bahn (German's National Rail system) has a total meltdown.

So I'm peacefully sitting on the train, working away on my dissertation when these announcements begin happening in German, a language I don't speak at all.  I recognize the words Stuttgart, Mannheim, gleiss (platform), tren (train), and a couple of other random words, but that's basically it.  Fortunately another nice Canadian couple (I really do love me some Canadians) had been living in Munich for the last year and were able to kind of sort of translate...basically that there was a problem at Stuttgart and we would have to change at Mannheim.

Fast forward many German announcements later, and an hour of waiting, and I'm unceremoniously dumped on the platform at Mannheim feeling a bit like Paddington Bear; crumpled coat, bag in hand, with a note around my neck saying "please look after this human". 

Now y'all, I know my way around German train stations, so really this was going to be just a blip right?  I figured out that I needed to catch the train from Mannheim to Strasbourg and then Strasbourg to Paris (we had missed the direct train from Mannheim to Paris), and then I'd just hop on the 8:01 Eurostar to London after buying a new ticket.  I'd be home around 10 that night, but, no big deal.

Except, that the 8:01 train to London was cancelled due to engineering works in the channel tunnel.  Ok, fine, I'd spend the night in Paris and then leave on the first train the next morning to London.  Except that all of the Eurostar trains from Paris were booked for several days.

So, then I went into problem solving mode: I knew the Eurostar trains also left from Brussels and Lille, so while I was on a 40 minute layover in Strasbourg I went to the ticket desk and tried to see if I could get a ticket to either city that night...and yes, there were tickets to Brussels.  Perfect.  I bought that.  Then I called the Canadian and asked him to get me a room in Brussels and see if he could get me a Eurostar ticket from Brussels to London first thing.  Yes to both.  So, at 10 pm, I found myself in a taxi in Brussels, speeding through the night to might hotel like something out of the Da Vinci code with the Belgian taxi driver rambling to me in his thickly accented French -- which sounds to me like he's speaking the French I understand but with a giant gumball in his mouth.

And then at 5:30 the next morning, a different taxi driver sped me back to the train station to take the train to London. (This taxi driver was explaining to me that he had to take a detour because of the market on Sunday mornings...that much I was able to discern.  I love Paris where I can actually understand what people are saying to me!)

One of these days, damnit, I am going to see Brussels during the day. 


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