crystal's capers

one girl's international adventures

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Christmas Everyone!!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Good News

Just like the year, things here are wrapping up. Tomorrow is the last day of classes before we 'break up' for Christmas. Children and teachers alike will be feasting on a turkey buffet (pronounced booffey) at lunch tomorrow. I've also baked all my kids cookies, and have prepared for their little Christmas parties. I've got my years 8 and 9 lessons planned up until March, and only my yr. 11 crap to work on over my 2-week break. Christmas cards are sent/delivered. Shopping is done; presents are wrapped. My mobile phone has FINALLY been reconnected, after faxing in proof of our change of address SEVEN times, and waiting (impatiently) for SIX weeks. I've also, supposedly, got a rebate on the way for line rental fees for those 6 weeks. Our reservation is made for New Years Eve Teppanyaki, with or without the fabulous Cox's. Our passports were promptly returned from the Home Office on Tuesday (though I had to pick them up at 7:00 am on Wednesday morning because we missed delivery), so barring any new catastrophes, we can proceed as planned to Germany for Christmas. Tonight we're meeting our semi-neighbour for a drink, and tomorrow we're having Riccardo's Japanese tutor, Mitsue-san, for dinner. Saturday will be a mix of laundry, packing and cleaning. Then, 6:30 Sunday morning, we're off to Dover to catch our ferry for the long drive to Ginsheim-Gustavsburg. I feel bored, almost, what with all the loose ends being tied.

I'll be bringing my computer to Germs with me, and look forward to your emails. Let me know if you have some time to chat while you are on break, and we'll schedule a phone-date for you to call me at Riccardo's parents.

May Santa bring you Christmas cheer, above all. All the best to you and your families.
Love Crystal xxx


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


... I've been busy.

I'm trying to plan my lessons for next term, before we leave for Germany so that I don't have to spend the whole time I'm with Riccardo's family jabbing at my computer. This is a big feat, as the department actually wants me to teach something next term, rather than just practise writing skills. On the plus side, it's not quite so dull; but then how could it be dull trying to inflict The Tempest on surly 14-year-olds?

In other news, I've joined the Staff Choir. Yes, I'm that much of a nerd. Since my friend, Katie, is the Head of Music, and therefore the Choirmaster, and since my other friend, Amy, is gung-ho into it, I was wooed. Hey, I'm missing karaoke that much. We're doing a cheeky version of the 12 Days of Christmas in front of the staff at the weekly morning staff meeting tomorrow. Fun. Then next Monday is the official concert, which us girls have managed to coerce our boyfriends into attending. We've had two official practises, and most of the songs we're doing are UK Christmas carols to which I don't know the lyrics or the tune, so I'm sure to be quite the gongshow. Perhaps I can arrange for Riccardo to take a video...

More visa drama. Or at least the inklings of visa drama. I had to apply for my new visa by the beginning of January, and knowing that we'd be busy and/or away for Christmas, I decided in mid-November that I should apply before Christmas. This also had something to do with the fact that I was considering quitting my job, and wanted to get a more permanent visa sorted out before I potentially ended up unemployed. So assuming that one month was more than enough for processing (the High Commission in Canada processed it in a matter of hours, and I had the visa back in less than a week, from maildrop to pick-up) I sent it out on November 21st. I just received confirmation from the Home Office that it was received on November 22nd. It's now December 12th, we're leaving for Germany on December 23rd (already paid the £200 for a ferry reservation) and I have 7 business days left for my passport to be kindly returned to me. What's worse, Riccardo had to include his German ID card (like a passport within the EU) in my application. Because he's off to India in early January, he's now had to send his actual passport in for his own visa application (the Indian Embassy guarantees that in 7 working days), so he's actually document-less as well. Perhaps we won't be leaving the UK for Christmas after all... unless we can hightail our butts to London to pick up the documents ourselves (in which case my application is withdrawn and I have to start the whole process over again!)

Why does everything in the UK have to be so damn difficult?

And while I'm in that whiny mood, I'll just say how much I disprove of company Christmas parties where spouses and partners aren't invited. It probably wouldn't be so bad, but in conjunction with a couple business dinners that Riccardo has had to attend this week, we have been called apart for 4 evenings in a one-week period. And Christmas is supposed to be a time to be together with the people you love. Grrrrr.

Otherwise things are well. Heating is working, though we can't get the timer to ignite the damn thing on schedule. Commute to work is a bit of a pain, but so far livable. Christmas shopping is (tentatively) finished. We've made a new potential friend in our neighbourhood. Long story.

Well, not that long. While we were moving the last bit of furniture into the house, a man walking his dog spotted us and volunteered to help. As I mentioned before, my arms were shot at this point, so we were quick to accept. Of course pleasantries were exchanged. A few nights later, this man stopped by to shove his name and number through our mailslot. About a week after that he left a bottle of wine on our doorstep. How nice. So we have got in contact with him, and are hoping he and his wife can show us a good local pub sometime next week. It's good to meet the locals - the nice ones anyway. Which reminds me: one of our lovely neighbours left a bitchy note on my car informing me of where I should and should not park. I realise that he/she had mistaken me for someone who previously parked their car elsewhere and had recently decided to enhance the congestion in our complex's small carpark, when in fact we have just moved here and are as entitled to a space as anyone else, but please, give it a rest.

Quick word of congratulations to Sylvie, who just finished the last exam for the overall completion of her Masters Degree!! We all know what hard work you put in, Sylvie!! You soooo deserve a month raising lion cubs in Africa! xoxo

Mmmmm... my takeaway curry is here. I love curry. I love UK curry.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Drama in the Classroom

I had just finished teaching first period this morning, and my students were lazily filing their way out of my classroom (as if they were in no hurry to vanquish my presence!) when disaster struck. One of my more 'challenging' year 11 students was retaliating in a pen-throwing war, and bent down to pick up a previously airborne writing implement, when his face collided with a desk. I watched as the whole thing happened before my eyes and though it seemed like slow motion, there was naught I could do to prevent it.

The student, NF's, eyes popped out of his head when his upper jaw made contact with the desk, and as he reeled backward I found myself jumping to escape being impaled by his mouth shrapnel: bits of his two front teeth went flying in all directions.

NF, now bleeding from the mouth like something from a horror film, and white as a cheese (German expression, ha!), at first proclaimed that it didn't hurt. He began walking out of the classroom to medical, and then back in like he couldn't understand what had just happened. And so I lead this disoriented, ghostlike boy to medical, leading him with my hand and repeatedly asking him if he was okay, despite my former dislike for the child. Halfway there he commented casually that his jaw hurt.

NF missed the rest of his lessons today, for what I assume involved some reconstructive dentalwork. Did I mention that NF just came to class today with his casts from both his previously-broken hands removed?


Monday, December 03, 2007

A Safe Flight?

Riccardo left for Berlin this morning. Another work trip. He was delayed in Duesseldorf for several hours though, because the plane meant to take him to Berlin was struck by lightning on the way over and had to be serviced for electrical problems. Scary!

On the plus side, at least the statistical chances of Riccardo's flight being struck by lightning were lessened.

Happy travelling, baby! See you Thursday!


Ups and Downs

For starters, I feel like I'm wasting my life on hold. Over the past 3.5 days I've spent more than 8 hours on the phone with BT, our telephone and internet provider. At this point I'm ready to strangle the first BT employee I can get my hands on. We didn't realize until we moved and our BT internet phone worked before our internet was even connected that there is a logical reason we've been getting £175 phone bills - the free evening & weekend with supercheap international calls plan we signed up for was never properly installed, so we've been paying full rates for all of our calls! This saves us £70 from our last bill alone! Problem is, everyone at BT is too f**king stupid to know how to deal with the past bills and requisite rebates. Grrrrr.

Now I've got to add calls to our home insurance provider to the list, as I battle to get some sort of compensation for our stolen bikes. Did I mention that we suspect the teenage dirtbag from next door? And so begins the saga of the White Trash Neighbours.

On the upside:

Riccardo and I had a fabulous impromptu date night on Friday! By about 7:00pm, we had given up on getting anything from BT for the evening, and were starting to think about dinner. Cooking? ha! Not after that week! Take away? Naw. Japanese? Hmmmm...

Figuring we should take advantage of living in the city, we Googled "Japanese restaurants," and found a good half dozen in our fair town. We decided to try one downtown, in a posh shopping centre called The Mailbox. Shogun Teppanyaki turned out to be a vibrant, flashy place with fantastic fool! The line-up was out the door and the teppan chefs were very professional with their jazzy slicing-dicing-flaming-tossing-extravaganza. Though our lovely meal cost us a good £75, it was worth it just for the AMAZING spicy maguro (aka tuna) - this dish was not the cheapy tuna mince of old, but thick chunks of fresh maguro in a chilli-maki delight!

Mmmmmm maguro!

We topped off our fabulous dinner choice with a walking tour of the Birmingham nightlife - a first for me! My previous impression of Birmingham was not a good one, but this all changed when Riccardo introduced me to the labyrinth of canals with winding walking paths, and to Broad Street, a crazy party strip to rival Roppongi, Tokyo! If only I had my girls and we were 21 again! ;)


Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Annoyance

This is something that happened before we moved from the old place, but I haven't had time to post it. Apparently this is legal here in the UK!

Photo Sharing - Video Sharing - Share Photos - Free Video Hosting


Our House, in the Middle of Our Street

So here it is people, the long-awaited picks. Just so you can all see, with your own eyes, what kind of folly we've gotten ourselves into!!

The Plans:

1. Put in new carpet - DONE. We thought it would be easier, and cheaper, to replace the 20-year-old emerald green shag before we built up all our furiture. The new carpet is 'almond cream' and covers the stairs, landing and 3 bedrooms.

2. Wallpaper removal. This is the first reno we have planned for early in the new year. Hopefully we'll be able to do it ourselves (e.g. not have need to re-plaster) and it can be a fairly cheap project. Unfortunatley, the ENTIRE house, including ceilings, need re-doing. Ugh. I think we'll start with the fantastic green-and-pink dealy in the entrance way, stairway and landing first.

3. Add-on the lean-to. We have a brick built lean-to out back, which is attached to the house, and was constructed with the original house. Now it houses a little mud room, the aforementioned 'Outhouse' (a toilet room - no sink, no hot water), a small storage room, and a small workshop; our goal is to unite it all, bring the floor up to house level, insulate, add electrical and hot water, and make it into a utility room and full second bathroom. This is a BIG project, which will involve a BIG budget, so will definitely happen well after the wedding.

4. Reno the upstairs bathroom. Once we have a functional second bathroom downstairs, we are thinking of tossing out the tub upstairs and adding a nice shower stall instead; the upstairs bathroom is so tiny, you have to close the door fully just to walk to the sink. Plus, the suite is in a lovely almond-coloured shell motif that just doesn't suit us, or any potential buyers.

5. Loft conversion. We can't fit up the trapdoor at the moment: we have to have a bigger hole put in asap. The idea, though, if the roof is high enough, is to convert the loft into a fourth bedroom, with perhaps an en suite. Remarkably, there is enough room in the landing for a steepish staircase.

6. Open up walls between kitchen, living room and dining room. This is my own wishing and dreaming, and as such, will likely never happen. We expect to have to replace our boiler (hot water and heating) in the next couple years, which will then free up a great deal of wallspace: for some reason, in the 50's, they thought it smart to put these boilers behind the fireplaces, fully enclosed, in the middle of the house. When we change to a small, modern boiler (which will likely go on the wall of the new bathroom) we can, ideally, take out the wall between the kitchen, living room and dining room altogether, opening up most of the main floor. At this point I would choose to up-date the kitchen as well. Anyone have £20,000 they want to give us???

So if all these reno's are needed, why did we buy the place? Well, for starters, we got it at a steal. At least we like to think so. We think the area, King's Heath, is up-and-coming; particularly our street, which since the closure of the local pub half a block away has seen a major upswing. There are tons of new developments in the immediate area, and a reduction of council housing (city funded housing). The gardens are really nice - a drawing feature for us both was the lovely landscaped back garden, with room to expand the house! The most imporant thing though, was the size of the rooms - the bedrooms, in particular, are much more sizeable than any other place we looked at.

We think, with some minor updates (e.g. not everything I've listed above), the house has potential to make us money... but who knows, it's a gamble.


    • At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Ale said…

      Guys... what can I say?!
      It's great, spacefull (not considering the bathroom, hihihi), adorable!!!
      Are you sure you want to remove the wanderfull wallpaper??? ;-)



    • At 8:15 PM, Anonymous amy said…

      what a lovely house! Nice combo of wallpaper ;)
      Welcome home
      ps- got your wedding date...can't wait

    • Post a Comment
Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Proper Welcome


I guess we know what kind of neighbourhood we've moved into. Here less than a week, and our bicycles have been stolen out of our shed (don't laugh - yes, I have a bike! HAD a bike). We know that our thieves were determined; stealing our bikes involved jumping our 6-foot fence, cutting the deadbolt and evasively escaping right through the front yard, cycles in tow.


We've filed a report with the local copshop, but don't expect any miraculous recoveries. Fingers crossed we can claim this on our home insurance... without a huge premium increase.


Poor Riki, he loved his bike. :(


    • At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Riki said…

      Wow, those are interesting plans for the house!
      Who is going to do that all...???

    • Post a Comment

adopt your own virtual pet!