Becca Jane St Clair

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Women’s March in London

I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit

On January 21 2017, the first day of Donald Trump’s Presidency, women-led marches, welcoming all participants took place across the world, with over 2 million (and counting!) global participants.

We marched for the protection of our fundamental human rights. I marched to remind Mr Trump that we exist, we are watching, and we will not let him take away our rights. I marched along with my sisters (and brothers) across the globe to remind the world that love trumps hate. We will not remain silent. We will not allow Mr Trump to take away rights for women, the LGBT family, or minorities.

I attended the march in London. There were many marches across the UK – some even in some of my favourite places to be – but I chose to attend the London march to march with some of my fellow ex-pat friends. At last count, they estimated 100,000 people participated in London alone….and the police only expected about 10,000. So given those numbers, you can imagine how crazy the event was. This led to me thinking the event wasn’t very organised, but after speaking with a friend who was part of the volunteer base, I found out that the problem actually was more people than they had planned for, but in my friend Bonnie’s words:

When a march greatly exceeds its expected size, the very fact that it strains the organised plans is a mark of success. Traffic is tied up, streets & rally points overflow, AND THAT MAKES THE CITY & COUNTRY TAKE NOTICE. It is a bit of bother for participants but it means you got your point across. So pat yourself on the back. You just launched a Movement!

Of course we will need to do things to keep this movement growing, and I am committing myself to making whatever difference I can, in the UK, US, and globally.

Same shit, different century*

I share in their sentiments.

My day started off early in the morning. Too early, in my opinion, but when you can catch a lift into town with your husband on early turn, you take it. Even if it means waking up at 0400 and arriving in town at 0530 and your train isn’t until 7! But that’s OK. I had plans to grab a coffee from wherever was opened and then sit in the warm waiting room in the station, which opens at 6 (the waiting room opens at 6. The station opens earlier for the 0526 train, but then you’d have to sit on the cold platform until they unlocked the waiting room). I wound up going to McDonald’s after noticing a distinct smell of oranges coming from my back.

I bought a coffee, grabbed a stack of napkins, and found a corner. As soon as I opened up my rucksack I saw the problem — my bottle of orange juice to go along with my packed breakfast had leaked…everywhere. Fortunately, I am a smart packer even for a day trip so everything inside my bag was inside bags (plastic or cloth) and my electronics (my kindle, selfie stick, and emergency charger) were all in a separate pocket. The item that really got the damage, which I ultimately threw away was an A5 sized make up bag from Accessorize I had bought on clearance for £2 (because it was damaged by missing a single bead!) last year. Inside the bag was some extra layering items in case it got colder. All the items inside the bag were fine as the bag absorbed most of the juice. The juice also got on the drawstring bag my butterfly twist flats are stored in and a folding shopping bag (I kept both of those). I also had some face wipes in my bag, so I used those to give the inside of the bag a quick clean, re-loaded, and headed over to the station. It was around 0630, but the London train was already on a platform so the guard let me board even though the lights were out. Fortunately, by dumb luck I picked an unreserved seat once the reservation signs lit up! I managed to sleep for part of the journey until about Nottingham when other people boarded and sat with me (I was at a table) and we chatted – including a girl who was also attending the march. We arrived into St Pancras a few minutes before 10, and I made a beeline for the toilets since I knew we wouldn’t have many opportunities for a loo once we were part of the crowd.

I arranged with my other friends coming down from the North that we would meet up at the Meeting Point at St Pancras, also known as The Lovers. It’s a huge statue of a couple embracing right in front of the Eurostar platforms (which are behind glass). It’s a relatively quiet spot too, so I knew we’d easily be able to meet up. People started trickling in, and we finally had our group by 11AM so we headed to the tube. Plans were to go as far as Oxford Street and then walk to Grosvenor Square from there as we knew it was going to be hectic.

What we hadn’t planned on was how hard it was going to be to keep 6 adults and 4 children (one in a pushchair) together, and we actually became separated with one child with us on a platform while mum and the other 3 had boarded a train! No worries, we just took her with her and kept her calm until we met up with her mum again at Oxford Street….where we joined massive, massive groups of people all with signs all with one purpose. Fortunately, several of us know the area pretty well and we knew to go down a different side street than everyone was being directed on….but we met with a wall of people just shy of Grosvenor Square!

Crowds at Grosvenor Square

The rest of our friends were “near the drums”, so we asked a volunteer how to get there and they directed us to use the pavement to get down to our friends, but we soon were blocked there as well. Two of our group managed to get through (though I don’t know if they ever found the rest of the group!), and the rest of us were stood on the opposite end of Grosvenor Square from the US embassy for at least a half hour. Probably longer now that I really think about it. At some point we got shoved around by people behind (obviously wanting to get moving) and the official march time start came and went. Chants of “We want to march” rang out, and my friends and I kept ourselves amused by looking at all the different signs people had brought. I pulled out my selfie stick to grab some pics of the crowd, as I knew this was the only way I was going to get any!

Eventually, a volunteer with a megaphone came near us followed by a motorcade of motorcycles and told us we needed to move, so we threaded our way through the taxis to a little slip….where we stood again for probably another half hour before we finally started to move! We got to the corner and people were being directed to march back towards the embassy building, but we headed straight instead and caught up with another section of the march further on.

We were finally on the move! But the crowds were still very large and it became harder and harder to keep our small group together. At one point, I got cut off from my friends and I thought I could see the hat of one of my friends, but it turned out not to be her and I was well and truly separated from them. I marched on, but I really needed a loo.

I got as far as the Hard Rock Cafe, and I decided that I would go use their loo, even if it meant that I had to get a table or go to the bar, but fortunately, they were allowing people who asked in to use their loo. I then walked a bit past the Hard Rock to try to find out where my friends had got to, but a police officer told me I needed to keep moving as “this wasn’t a stopping area”. Err…Ok.

I wound up on a quiet side street where I managed to get myself back in with the main march crowd, and I had hoped closer to where my friends were…..but then I soon gave up on finding them or getting through the crowd. Someone near me murmured that online it was reported that we had 50k (this figure later turned into 80k, then 100k as they realised how many were there). Someone else was loudly complaining that they didn’t understand what all these people were here for (I’m assuming they were a tourist and got swept up in the crowds by accident). I finally saw the Green Park tube station, and that was when I decided I was going to head back to King’s Cross as I knew I wasn’t going to be able to find my friends again, and it was already well past 1500. The rally was supposed to have started at 1400, and I knew if I didn’t make it back to KGX by 1830, I would have to wait until 2030, which would be the very last train that could get me home on a Saturday.

After looking at the National Rail app and talking to Tim, I decided to get something to eat and made plans to get on the 1630 Virgin East Coast train to Newark, and then onto Lincoln from there. I even made it home and was in bed before some of my friends made it out of London!

I’m really glad I went, I’m glad I was counted in the numbers demonstrating, and I would absolutely do it again if the need arises.

Artist remains anonymous, but gives her permission for her art to be shared/used.**


*I saw these ladies, but I did not take this picture. This picture was taken by Tara Rose. I just borrowed it for instagram (So this pic has been edited by me via Instagram).
**As stated in the caption, the artist wishes to remain anonymous, but has given her permission for others to use her art and to share her art. This image is not mine.

The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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happy-halloween-house-wallpaper This morning, I got the chance to speak on BBC Radio Lincolnshire about Halloween as an American now living in the United Kingdom, and it made me think of the holiday growing up.

First of all, a little history about Halloween — Did you know it didn’t originate in the USA? According to Wikipedia, Halloween has Celtic roots in the British isles, specifically in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. In Wales, they still celebrate Calan Gaeaf on November 1. Halloween was then adopted by Christians as the day before All Hallow’s Day (Hallow in Scots Gaelic means Holy), like many other Christian holidays that have Celtic/Pagan roots.

It’s also interesting to learn that the idea behind trick or treating isn’t entirely American, either. This actually originated in Ireland, where it involved adults going door-to-door in costume, performing a song or play, and receiving food in exchange.

In the United States, the Puritans did not celebrate the holiday, and it was not celebrated at all (as far as historians can tell) until the Irish and Scottish began immigrating to America in the late 19th century and it did not spread beyond their culture until the early 20th century. Even the traditional Jack O’ Lantern carved out of a pumpkin is only a pumpkin because pumpkins were more widely available than turnips, the vegetable used in Scotland for carving lanterns.

Trick or Treating, called guising, continued in the United Kingdom until the 1930s, and first began in the USA in the 1920s. I can only assume it stopped in the UK due to WWII, though I can’t find any information to back this up. The use of the term ‘Trick or Treat’ did not come into use until the 1940s when it first appeared in children’s magazines in the United States. The term guising was still being used in the UK at that time and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the term ‘Trick or Treat’ began to be used here and it’s only become more and more popular in the UK as American mainstream media is imported more and more.

I find it fascinating to learn the holiday and practice has roots in the United Kingdom when so many people in the UK seem to hate Halloween and consider it to be “Americanising” children by celebrating it. Not so much, eh?

Halloween in the US and the UK are different, but also very similar. Like with the idea of Prom, it feels to me that the UK takes the American idea and makes it even bigger — possibly as a result of the public’s exposure to American television and films where most traditions are more over-the-top than they are in general.

While Halloween can have scary costumes, ghost hunts, and haunted mansions; Halloween also has home-made costumes, hayrides, and a lot of traditions associated with harvest and not scaring. In fact, I can’t actually remember my parents ever buying me a Halloween costume. Accessories to go with one perhaps, but most of my costumes were entirely home grown and either made specifically for Halloween or adapted from something I already owned. For example, if I wanted to dress as a black cat, my mom bought me a headband with cat ears and I wore a black leotard and tights for the body and my mom drew whiskers on my face with an eye pencil. I was fascinated with Little House on the Prairie when I was younger, so the year I dressed as Laura Ingalls I re-used my dress at Thanksgiving to be a pilgrim. One year when I was a teenager, my neighbour’s son asked me to take him Trick or Treating and as I had recently had knee surgery I wasn’t prepared and I managed to throw together “absent-minded professor” by wearing my Pajama bottoms with a white shirt and tie, one slipper on the leg that had surgery and a shoe on the other! But in the UK, I feel as though costumes are mostly bought and things are focused more on having scary/gory costumes.

Trick-or-Treating is also different. In the US, you would typically go out with your friends and maybe one parent when you were younger and you would only go to homes that had their porch light turned on. Here, the tradition seems to be a child going out with their parent, and only to the homes of friends/family. This year, I also heard about a UK tradition of putting out a pumpkin by your front door to indicate that you would allow trick-or-treaters, but more often I’ve seen online shares of signs to print that say things like “NO Trick-or-Treaters”, “Do not knock”, etc., and some of those have even been issued by local councils. I think the signs are unnecessary if you go by the rule of “look for a pumpkin”.

One thing I haven’t touched on at all is the idea of tricking or making mischief if you do not get a treat. I grew up in New Jersey, where we called it Mischief Night, but I personally was never involved in causing or receiving mischief, so I really don’t know how prevalent the practice is in the US or in the UK. I do remember being driven around the day after Halloween with my parents and you might see a few trees that had been littered with toilet paper, but not knowing who owned the house or who did the TPing, I don’t know if it was micheif or decoration!

Halloween, like any other holiday, is voluntary. If you don’t like it, don’t participate. Simple. Just please don’t ruin it for the people who do want to participate!


Top image from

The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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How The TSA Stole Christmas

I flew back to the UK from the US on Christmas Eve so I would arrive back in the UK to spend Christmas Day with my husband. My aunt gave me two small containers of Christmas cookies before I left – one was a small round tin filled with about a dozen and a half peanut butter cookies, and the other with some of my favourite cookie of all time, pinwheels. Since she packed the containers tight I packed them into my checked bag along with loads of Christmas presents for other people, including 6 packets of a McCormick Buffalo wing mix my FIL likes and some peppermint Hershey Kisses, so my bag smelled pretty interesting.

I checked my bags in Philadelphia and headed to security. Security in Philly was a LOT tighter than it was in London*. In Philly I was required to remove my laptop from it’s protective case, remove my kindle from it’s case, and remove my shoes. Oh, and could I step to the side even though the metal detector didn’t ping for a personal pat down?

Yeah. Don’t wear a dress when travelling through Philly or they will have to give you a pat down. Fortunately, there wasn’t many people present and the woman doing my pat down was very apologetic and explained to me that it was required because a dress/skirt doesn’t show the contours of your body so they have to pat you down. Nice. Here I thought I was making it easier by not wearing trousers that might have bits of metal all over them. The agent patting me down did not touch me above the waist, did not pat down my rear, and did not pat higher than mid-thigh. I thought the whole idea of the pat down was to make sure I wasn’t hiding anything? Not that I’m complaining. It just all seemed pointless, especially considering my dress was fairly form fitting to begin with and the fabric was clinging to my tights. I wonder what happens to people who go through wearing baggy clothing. Soon we will have to fly wearing form-fitted bodysuits.

Funny enough, I went through security with my 1-QT bag of liquids and yet in the bottom of my carry-on I later discovered two items that had fallen out – a small container of hand sanitizer and a breath spray, neither of which were detected by their machines. I also had a packet of mustard my mom stuck in the bag with the lunch she packed for me and that didn’t get flagged, either.

First trauma over, I headed on my merry way to the gate, boarded my flight, and was soon landing in London (LHR). The UKBA was on the ball and I didn’t even have to answer any questions on my return to the UK, she just told me “welcome back” and stamped my passport on the page opposite my spousal visa (unlike when I landed in the US!**).

I noticed the “cleared by TSA” sticker on the outside of my suitcase and found the “Notice of Baggage Inspection” buried inside as soon as I got home. I didn’t really think anything of it and assumed the combination of the peppermint Hershey Kisses and the Buffalo wing spice caught the attention of the baggage inspector. But it wasn’t until this morning that I discovered something was wrong with my luggage.

As I mentioned above, my aunt sent me home with two small containers of homemade cookies. The first container was a square vintage Tupperware container that contained my beloved Pinwheels. No problems there. The second container was a small tin she was re-using that contained some peanut butter cookies. When I opened the tin this morning, I discovered HALF MY PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES WERE GONE, and the remaining cookies were broken and crumbled due to being shaken around the half empty tin.

I am NOTimpressed. Thank you, TSA agent for stealing my little bit of a homemade Christmas. I hope you were allergic to nuts.

*Security in London consisted of taking my laptop out of the bag but not the case, having my kindle out (but in it’s case), and I was able to keep my shoes and cardigan on.

**Oh, this is great, too. When I got up to the desk at US Immigration I was GRILLED by the agent. Excuse me, but isn’t it the right of an American Citizen to be able to freely leave and return to the US? No? I got asked when I was last in the US (I was vague and said “about two years ago”, why I moved to the UK, why I was returning to the US, who I was staying with in the US, and the best one? When was I leaving the US. Again, I thought American Citizens are allowed to stay in the US for as long as they’d like. Apparently not. I suppose I should consider myself lucky I didn’t get a time limit visa stamped in my passport!

The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on, my facebook page, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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US Traditions in the UK: Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my US friends! I’m currently watching the Annual Thanksgiving Parade on WGAL courtesy of USTVnow after being stuffed with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, and cranberry sauce topped off with a slice of pumpkin pie. UK friends when finding out what we were having commented with “kind of like Christmas”, and so the idea for this post was born.

Just about the only thing Thanksgiving has in common with Christmas is perhaps, the turkey and it’s fixings. I always have looked at Christmas as more of a nuclear family kind of thing, as in parents and their children (whether single parents, step-parents, half siblings, etc.) and Thanksgiving was always more of an extended family kind of holiday where you saw aunts, uncles, and cousins you rarely saw.

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season as well with Christmas only a few weeks away. Many people use Thanksgiving as the marker for starting their Christmas shopping or for putting up their Christmas trees. Growing up, Thanksgiving always meant a road trip from our home in NJ to my aunt’s house in PA. My aunt and uncle would drive to our house for Thursday dinner, and usually I’d get to go back with them when they left and my parents would follow on Saturday because my family did our big dinner on Sunday.

What is Thanksgiving? There are many stories about the first Thanksgiving, but the one that we are taught in primary school is that the Pilgrims were so grateful for surviving their first year they invited the Indians to a feast. I’m afraid the real story is probably not nearly as romantic or nice. Holding Thanksgiving in November didn’t start until 1863 with a proclamation made by Abraham Lincoln. Thanksgiving continued to be held sometime around the end of November with no set annual date until 1941, when it was decided Thanksgiving will be held on the last Thursday of the month in November. Thanksgiving has been both a religious celebration and a harvest celebration, but in recent years it has become more of a family oriented holiday and a time where you “give thanks” for what you have, and many people give to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving by donating food to local food pantries, or providing meals at a local soup kitchen. I spent several years helping out at my aunt’s church for their annual community dinner.

Even though I now live in the UK, I want to keep some of the American traditions alive. This year, due to Tim’s work schedule and Sunday being my MIL’s birthday, today it was just Tim and I for a noon-time dinner. I’ve been not feeling well lately, so it almost didn’t happen, but I’m glad I pulled it off. It was nice. And now I’m watching the parade and talking to my mom. Who knows? Maybe some day I will get to be in the US for Thanksgiving.

The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on, my facebook page, or the RSS feed(s), please notify me.

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I’ve just watched the season finale of Glee, and I’ve been trying to catch Gleeful: The Real Show Choirs of America that aired on E4 on Monday….and from what I’ve seen so far, it really doesn’t paint a very positive view of choir in the UK. My children are not going to experience the thrills of musicals and singing pop songs in harmony and showtunes….and it just really upsets me that my children won’t discover music in school the way I did. Like the one American they had on…I started singing in choruses when I was 6! And anyone who knew me when I was younger (which is a handful of you reading this on LJ, more if you’re reading this on FB) knows that music was a huge driving force in my life. At one point, I think I was involved in 6 or 7 music groups between school choirs, band, church choirs, bell/handchime choir, etc….not to mention the annual school musical! I really can only assume the reason HHS didn’t do a show choir was simply because a) we already had 5 choirs b) we put money into marching band shows and the annual musicals and wouldn’t have had money to go into a show choir.

But this isn’t about me being sad that I didn’t have a show choir to be part of. I was pretty proud of what I did accomplish, and was awarded several awards for my involvement in music.

Do British schools really NOT have music education/choir? One of the British women spoke about choir being “once a week. We started with a hymn, then we sang another hymn, and oh, then we sung another hymn”. It just breaks my heart that my children might not get that exposure to music at school. Not to say I won’t be educating them about music on my own, but there’s something really special about performing on stage.

I mean, all is not lost. If Tim and I have a girl, and if she enjoys singing, she could join Sweet Adeline’s Young Women in Harmony when she is 7 and/or LABBS (and Sweet Adeline’s) Ivy League. I can only assume that BABS has something similar for boys.

Tim and I are at least 3 years away from having any children of our own, and a long way away from starting music education, but it still makes me think and makes me want to find a music program for them to be involved in…or at least try. Obviously, there’s a possibility that our children won’t inherit my voice or my love for singing/music. Our children might not even inherit Tim’s love of trains…and that’s alright. But we both want to be able to expose them to our interests and at least have them try them out before deciding they’d rather do something else (Just watch. We’ll wind up with footballers for kids or something).

And a big you suck to the British Comedian who says “what good is this” and doesn’t think it should be taught in school!

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Hotel Review: Vienna Wolf Trap Hotel

When we were planning Tim’s visit, we decided to go away for a week of sightseeing outside of my local area. Our choices were pretty wide, but we needed to be able to move around via public transportation, since I knew we wouldn’t be able to borrow my mom’s car for a whole week away (I sold my car in July 2008), and a rental car would have been too expensive. We settled on taking a trip down to the nation’s capital, Washington,DC since we could take a train from Lancaster to Philadelphia, and then Philadelphia to DC. We also entertained the idea of going down to Orlando to visit my cousins, but I think the heat intimidated Tim a bit!

Anything in DC was going to be expensive, so I put on my research hat. I first loaded the Washington Metro website and then opened my regular search engines for hotels (Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz, Hotels.Com, etc.) I cross referenced the search results with the Metro map to help find a hotel near a Metro stop, and the name Vienna stuck out at me. My friend Maggie used to work in Vienna (and as it turns out, we stayed at a hotel directly across the street from where her wedding reception was! I completely forgot!), so I started checking Vienna hotels.

The Vienna Wolf Trap Hotel stuck out at me, because I’ve been to concerts at Wolf Trap (for BNL, I know you’re not surprised!). A check on Trip Adviser gave out mixed reviews, but it still had an overall customer rating of 4/5. Then, I checked the hotel’s website directly and I was pleasantly surprised to find a summer special – rooms for $69/night! WOAH! So, we booked it. The person I spoke with on the phone was a really nice man named Jeff who answered all my questions and told me the Metro stop was about a mile away, and I was able to book us a room with a mini fridge and microwave to help save on food costs, too.

The hotel itself is pretty standard. It has a motel set up where the doors all lead directly to the outside. Two buildings of three floors. No attached restaurant, but there was a Mexican place next door, and several other restaurants all within walking distance. There also was a 7-11 and a grocery store nearby. We were told our stay included breakfast in the morning, which was served from 6am until 9:30AM.

The room was pretty basic. Two Queen-sized beds, a large TV, a table/desk, a fridge, microwave, and coffee pot…but only one chair. The toilet and shower were in the bathroom, but the sink was at a separate vanity outside the bathroom. The sink was a little dingy and miscoloured with cracked enamel, but fortunately the shower was clean. And boy, did they have lots of TV channels! The hotel had more channels than Comcast in Lancaster has!

The air conditioning really worked overtime in our room, too. We finally learned to leave it set somewhere between the cold and hot dial in order to make it comfortable, otherwise we started to freeze overnight!

Other hotel amenities left something to be desired. The cleaning service wasn’t all that great and several times they failed to replenish the cups for the coffee pot. Fortunately we were able to make do with what we had. But they did make the bed and provide clean towels every day, so that really was my only complaint. Breakfast….left a LOT. They converted the hotel room next to the lobby into the breakfast area, with 2 tables to sit at and a long table for the food. Our choices? Coffee, Sunny Delight (yes, Sunny D. Not OJ), bagels & donuts from Dunkin Donuts, bread (for toast), and a few sad looking pieces of fruit. They also provided cream cheese, butter, and jelly. Not exactly the greatest breakfast in the world, but it was enough to keep us going until Lunch, so really, that was all that mattered. It’s just funny comparing it with the hotel breakfasts I got used to in the UK (a hot breakfast, usually full English).

We only had one problem during our stay. There was a really bad thunderstorm, and it managed to knock out the keycard system at the hotel. There was only one person on desk, so he had to run around to let everyone back into their rooms each time someone wanted in. He also had to create new keycards for every single room that was occupied and had to call each room to tell the occupant when to come pick up their new key.

The walk to the station was long. Longer than one mile, I don’t care what they said. My pedometer (now lost in DC) said 1.46 by the time we got to the station. Fortunately, in the mornings there is a Fairfax Connector bus you can take, and it also runs in the evenings, but more about that in a different post. A taxi ride was just around the $7 mark. There also were several Metro busses that passed near the hotel, but none of the routes and times seemed to work for us. The Metro busses also seemed to take the long way around to get to the stations, and we really didn’t want to spend 45 minutes on a bus, when the Metro ride was about 40-45 minutes into DC.

If we were going back to DC again, I think we’d probably stay there again, now that we know what times the Connector runs. The price was right, and the addition of the microwave/fridge meant that we saved on food 2 days (which was good, considering one of our days we ate out with friends twice!), and had a place to keep a gallon jug of water cold to refill our bottles in the morning.

Our total bill for the 4-night stay including tax was $303. I’d say it was a pretty good deal!


Serious Tourism Blunder!

As some of you might know, Tim is traveling across the pond to visit me for three weeks in July and August. Being a British bloke, he’s not used to the really hot summers we can have in Pennsylvania, so I’ve been trying to prepare him. Today, for example, it was 30C in Lancaster, PA. While we were on the phone (Skype), I googled “average temperatures july lancaster pa” to try and give him a decent taste on what the weather would be like.

I stumbled upon the “World Guide to Lancaster, PA”. Where do I begin on how inaccurate this website is? We can start with the website suggesting that Zoo America is located in Lancaster, when it is in fact located in Hershey, PA, about a half-hours drive. Or how about how it claims that you’ll get views of the countryside, but most of the hotels are downtown. No, I know. Let’s look at the photos. You know, the main item on the webpage that is supposed to grab people’s attention and make them want to visit the town your site is showcasing.

Photo 1 – The center square in Lancaster, PA. Nothing wrong here.
Photo 2 – The side of Central Market, the oldest market in the United States. Again, nothing wrong.
Photo 3 – “Lancaster Castle Prison”

Uhm, what?

That castle you’re looking at? Is this castle:

(image provided by Wikipedia)

That castle is in fact, Lancaster Castle. In Lancaster. However, it’s not in Lancaster, PA. Heck, it’s not even in the United States. Nope. It’s in Lancaster, United Kingdom.

The “Lancaster Castle Prison” is this building:
(image provided by Wikipedia)

Which is an actual county prison. The only way you’re visiting it is if you’ve broken the law.

Now, both Wikipedia entries for Lancaster Castle and Lancaster County Prison as well as the Lancaster County Prison’s website claim the Lancaster County Prison was modeled after Lancaster Castle. Personally, I can’t really see it as being an “exact replica”, but it’ll do nicely as a homage. Still though, I can’t quite justify showing an image of a castle on a tourism website that is located in another country.

I can see tourists wanting to see “the castle” and being directed over to the prison and soon being disappointed that it’s not the castle pictured on the website. Uh, sure, just drive to the Atlantic Ocean, swim for about 3,000 miles, then travel halfway up the UK to get to it.


Quick and Painless Passports

Today (well, Friday), my mom and I went to apply for her first passport. The only traveling outside of the US she had done in the past was to Canada, which formerly only required a driver’s license. I’ve had a passport since I was a minor, and was able to renew my passport as an adult since my former passport was less than 15 years old, so I was unfamiliar with the process for applying. To assist my mom, and so I’d know what to expect, I started reading up on all the current requirements on the Department of State’s website. A few things I learned today I thought I’d pass on to you, some of which are not on the DOS webpage:

1. Make sure you have a valid birth certificate. Your birth certificate needs to have a raised seal on it and most likely comes from your state’s department of health. If you do not have a certified copy, you’ll need to get one. It will cost about US$10 (fee varies by state), and might require you to drive to an office to apply in person. We went to Harrisburg last year to get a certified copy of my mom’s birth certificate. It took us about an hour between filling out the form and waiting for it to be processed. (please note: this only refers to US citizens born in the United States. For details on how to apply as a naturalized citizen, you will need to check the Department of State website.)

2. Get your passport photos taken. If you are a member of AAA, you can get passport photos for free with AAA Plus, or for $6.99 as a regular member. This seems to be the cheapest way to get passport photos. Walgreens, CVS, etc. charge between $8-12. (Note: AAA price may vary by region, as a friend of mine has AAA Plus and was charged $8.99 for her photos two years ago in Upstate NY. We’re part of Central Penn AAA, so check with AAA first!)

3. Know your parent’s birth dates and birth places. We were shocked to find out that even as an adult, you still needed to fill out that section. We had to make an emergency call to one of my aunts because neither of us were positive we knew the town my Nanny was born in. Turns out, you only needed to know the county or state. The woman working behind the counter told us that some people just make a random guess because they don’t know and don’t think to call a relative.

4. If you are divorced or widowed, you still need to provide information about your former spouse. Their name, the date you got married, and the date you were divorced or became a widow. You do not need a copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or spouse’s death certificate. Even if your birth certificate has your maiden name and you are applying in your married name. As long as your married name is also on your driver’s license, you do not need your marriage certificate for your first passport. You will, however, need it if you are changing your name on your existing passport after marriage. (Thanks to mirrajay on UK-Yankee for answering this for me!)

5. Your driver’s license needs to be at least six months old. If it’s new, then you either have to bring along your expired license, your social security card, or another form of ID. The woman behind the counter was explaining to the people ahead of us that this is to make sure people aren’t just getting an ID for the sake of applying for their passport.

6. You must apply in person for your first passport, and you have to pay a $25 fee on top of the $75 application. These fees are paid in separate transactions, and the $75 needs to be paid either by cheque or money order. Conveniently, the post office sells money orders if you do not have a chequing account.

And that’s about it. It literally took less than 15 minutes after Mom filled out the application to hand it in. We were told to expect her passport in 4-6 weeks. We’ll also get back her birth certificate, and apparently it might even be mailed out separately.

For more information about applying for a US Passport, please see the Department of State‘s website.

Please note: All information in this post is current and valid as of 6/2009. If you are reading this post as an archived post, requirements may have changed, so please check the above website for more information.

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Update on Shopping at Weis….

Today, I received this in my inbox:

Dear Ms. S,

I apologize for our vector security guard asking you to check in empty plastic bags at the customer service desk. I talked to the security guards supervisor, and made sure he covers with all of his guards, the necessary policies Weis Markets has, which doesn’t include empty bags.The next time you visit our store ask for me, Carl Zartman. I would like to meet you, and apologize in person. Thank you for your continued patronage.

Carl Zartman
Store Manager Weis #41
Phone [717] 392-6511

Good to know that barring reusable bags is NOT Weis policy and was just the security guard being a moron. I haven’t gone over to that Weis since the incident happened, but I suppose I’ll go over there next time and ask for Carl since he wants to apologize to me.

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Have some Train with your Wine (and Cheese)

p5309533-640x480 This morning, my mom and I went to the Bird in Hand Farmer’s Market to pick up some vegetables. Since we were on that side of town, we decided we’d go over to the Strasburg Railroad and take a ride….only, we got to the parking lot and discovered that neither of us had managed to bring along a camera, so back home we went. We weren’t really planning on going back out today, but I was checking the Strasburg Railroad website to see what times the train was running on a Sunday, and discovered tonight was a Wine and Cheese train. I also discovered the Wine and Cheese train would be running on both our birthdays, but since Mom’s birthday is near Independence Day and my birthday is near Labour Day, we figured it’d be busy on those days, so we called up and got tickets for the 6PM train.

We boarded at gate “0” and were at the back of the train for the ride over to Paradise. They brought around trays with cubes of cheese, grapes, and strawberries for us to get what we wanted. I think we had four choices of cheese, but by the time the tray got to us, there was only Gouda, Cheddar, and an herb cheese to pick from. Our crackers were from a small basket sitting on our table. 4 Carr’s Wafers and 2 wheat crackers for the two of us to share. We had a choice of 4 wines – Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, or Strasburg Red. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t a blush/pink option. A Zinfandel would have rounded out the choices nicely! We picked the Riesling for starters.

The train got going and it’s a fairly straight 20 minute ride through the Amish countryside between Strasburg and Paradise. We passed the Red Caboose Inn and the site of the Amazing Maize Maze (currently being grown), as well as several Amish and non-Amish farms. in Paradise, we briefly meet up with the Amtrak line and the engine loops around to hook onto the back to pull us back in the other direction, so for the ride back, we were now the first car.

While the engine was being moved, we were offered our second glass of wine (this time we picked the Strasburg Red) and the platter of grapes and cheese went around again. We happened to be in the middle of the car, so by the time the trays came by this time, it was really slim pickings! We each managed to find a few pieces of cheese and some grapes. We were not offered seconds on the crackers. The group sitting across from us decided to order non-alcoholic drinks. 2 colas and a bottle of water. I was surprised when the gentleman on the end got out his wallet and needed to pay for the drinks. I think it would have been nice if they offered the non-alcoholic beverages for free (or at least, offer free water) since you pre-paid for your wine and if you weren’t going to drink the second glass, why not?

The train soon re-attached and we were headed on our way back to Strasburg. They came around for a third time offering wine, and I decided to try a bit of the Chardonnay. Mom opted to skip on her third glass. This time, the grapes and cheese were not offered.

We made it back to Strasburg a little before 7PM, which leads me to believe we must not have left right at 6, since it’s supposed to be a 45 minute ride total.

After a visit to the restroom (I had to, I had too much wine in me!) and some more photos, we headed to the car and decided to round out our little trip with dinner at Willow Valley.

Amish Farmland

Shadow of the Engine on the way back.

More photos are available at my Facebook page, which can be found here.

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Groceries US vs. UK

Tonight, my mom and I went over to the Weis Market in the Manor Shopping Center (Lancaster, PA). We usually grab one of the mini-carts and put our reusable bags on the bottom half while we shop. As we walked in the door, the security guard stationed by the door tried to tell us that we needed to leave our bag(s) with the customer service desk while we shopped. We explained to him that they were our grocery bags, and his comment back to us was “people still could use them to steal stuff”. The overall impression I got off this security guard was that he somehow thought Mom and I were going to steal groceries and that’s why we were bringing in bags. I’ve never felt so offended before going grocery shopping. If this is going to be a trend with that store, we simply won’t shop at it anymore!

And then when we were checking out…it seems to me that if you bring in your own bags, the cashier doesn’t make any moves to assist you with packing up your purchases. Even if they have finished ringing you up and you have paid and the remaining items are out of your reach. No, you must stretch yourself to try to push them down to where you can reach them.

I compare this type of service to the service I regularly received at Tesco in the UK. Never once were we stopped by anyone for bringing in reusable bags, in fact, they encourage reusable over plastic and offer you 3p off your order for every bag you bring in. If you need plastic bags, you need to ask the cashier to give you some. Also, as soon as you start packing your groceries, the cashier always asks if you need help packing and will do their best to ensure that you can reach all your purchases.

I could be looking at grocery shopping in the UK through rose coloured glasses, but I never came across a rude cashier or stocker in any of our trips to Tesco. Matter of fact, I even received help finding an item in the store from an employee who was off-duty doing her own shopping when she heard me tell Tim I couldn’t find an item off our list!

I wish Weis was more like Tesco (and I wish they didn’t charge over $7 for the tiniest bottle of Ribena you can get for under £1 in the UK!). I’ve also sent in a complaint via the Weis Market’s website. I had wanted to speak with the store manager, but there was a long line at customer service and only one woman behind the counter. I didn’t want to cause a huge fuss asking for a manager to complain to when clearly, they needed help dealing with all the customers.

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