Sunday, October 29, 2006

Emily's Birthday

Emily riding a horse
Emily Riding
Emily started her Birthday by opening all her cards and presents before school. The rest of the day was taken up with routine activities. After school she went horse riding and did her homework. Then we took her to the Marble Slab Creamery to try and make the day a little more special.

One of Emily's Birthday cakes
One of the Birthday Cakes
At the weekend, she had some friends round for pizza and Birthday cake (fairy cakes (cup cakes), each with a single candle) in front of the TV (Doctor Who) and a sleepover. The next day, they went bowling.Click here to watch the video

Emily carrying her saddle
Getting Ready to Saddle-Up
Mum outside the stables
My Mum at the Stables

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Visit from My Mum

The view from our front porch
The view from our front
porch (taken by my mum)
My mum came to visit us for ten days recently. Mark was working most of the time and the girls were at school, so there were no big day trips to see the sights. Her experience was very much one of everyday living in the Goodacre household. Nevertheless, she didn't give the impression of being bored. Perhaps next time we can show her a bit more of NC.

Day 1
Lauren, Emily and I picked my mum up from the airport, then took her to Bojangles on the way home, so from the outset she was introduced to NC life.

Day 2
We started the hunt for Emily's Birthday present by visiting Target, Walmart and Dick's Sporting Goods. If you're American and reading this, you may wonder why, when she's dragged herself nearly 4,000 miles, I'm dragging her to places like Target instead of showing her the sights. The answer is that:
  1. My mum is very easy going, so she doesn't mind what we do.
  2. Visiting quintessentially American places like Target and Walmart is part of the overall experience, so people who visit from the UK quite like doing this (we particularly like to point out the sale of guns in Walmart and things like "no concealed firearms" signs on doors -- this really freaks the average Brit out).
  3. Whatever we did had to fit into the school day.
  4. Emily's Birthday was drawing nigh and I had to buy her a present.

In the end, we bought her a pair of rollerblades from Dick's.

Day 3
We had lunch at school with Lauren. This is a must for visitors because this too is a very American experience because:
  1. One cannot, in most (if not all) schools in the UK, waltz into the school to have lunch with one's child on any day of the week and without notice.
  2. The school dining hall is full of American children (including Lauren's friends) talking in their little American accents. One also gets to hear Lauren talking to her friends in her American accent. You see, Lauren speaks in a fairly Southern American accent at school, but a Birmingham (UK) accent at home.

We rounded off the day with a lovely curry made by my mum.

Emily riding a horseDay 4: Emily's Birthday
While the girls were at school and Mark was at work, my mum and I went shopping. Emily celebrated her birthday by going horse riding. We rounded the day off with a calorie-intensive trip to the local Marble Slab Creamery (Mmmmm.... fat-ilicious).

Day 5
Today, it was sushi for lunch. In the evening, Emily had some friends over for pizza, cake and a Birthday sleepover.

Day 6
The plan for this day was for Lauren to attend a "cheer clinic" -- a one day cheerleading event held by the local high school to introduce children to cheerleading. Unfortunately, Lauren was ill (she'd been ill for a few days, but had got worse), so couldn't go (this was also $30 down the drain). Emily and her friends went bowling as part of her Birthday celebration. The idea was to drop them off at the bowling alley, then pick them up later. What actually happened was that Mark dropped them off, then sat in the car reading, in the bowling alley car park, until it was time to pick them up. My mum and I stayed at home to look after Lauren.

Day 7: Mum's Birthday
She started the day with the opening of her card and present. We then went to church, then out to Golden Corral for lunch. I know what you're thinking -- "Couldn't you have taken her somewhere nicer than Golden Corral?" Well, we had planned to go to a nice restaurant to treat her, but my mum wanted the full American experience of an all-you-can-eat feeding trough (a phenomenon that is still in its infancy in the UK). She asked if we could go to Golden Corral and after much persuading we relented.

Day 8
Occasionally, I help in Lauren's class at school. This morning was one such occasion, so I had to leave my mum to fend for herself. We spent the afternoon postcard and smoothie shopping.

Day 9
Mark and me by the lakeAs I mentioned before, we've decided to apply for our greencards. Part of the application process involves a medical examination. This morning, we left my mum to fend for herself again while the four of us went for our medical examinations. In the afternoon we went for a walk by the lake. In the evening, Mark's friend Stephen, who happened to be in Raleigh came to see us. We had a lovely chicken carbonara and garlic bread dinner, cooked by Mark and all the requisite wine and liqueurs. Stephen stayed the night, then went home the following morning.

Day 10
Mum enjoying a smoothie in the Bryan Center of Duke UniversityOne cannot come and see us without the obligatory trip to Duke. Mum and Mark in Sarah P. Duke GardensThe trip included a walk through the chapel and smoothies in the Bryan Center while Mark was teaching, followed by lunch in the Divinity School Refectory and a walk through the beautiful Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Day 11
Lauren relaxing at homeThe last day. Mum didn't get to say goodbye to Lauren before she set off for school because this is the day that Lauren has her Choral Ensemble practice before school. Instead, we had lunch with Lauren so that my mum could have a chance to say goodbye to her. In the afternoon I took my mum to the local Lifeway Christian Store, where she didn't find anything worth buying. Then Mark drove Emily to her horse riding lesson and my mum to the airport before going on to work.

On the bright side, it's not long until Christmas.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Joe Strummer Spins in His Grave

Here's a fun video about whether or not Tony Blair should step down that was brought to my attention by a friend of Mark's:

Joe Strummer Spins in His Grave

An Update on the Job Situation

Ren asked how my job search was going. I realised that back in November last year I mentioned the plan to get a job:

Before leaving the UK, the plan was to come over to the US on a non-working visa. I would then apply for jobs where the employer could sponsor my upgrade to a working visa.
Trailing Spouse, November 2005

The USCIS only award 65,000 H1B visas a year. A year begins in October and they start accepting applications for a given year at the beginning of the preceding April. As we only moved to the US at the end of September last year, I'd pretty much missed the boat.

I decided to aim for October 2006. With this in mind, I sent out my CV and covering letter to various companies, explaining my situation. I managed to get a company to sponsor me to upgrade my H4 (non-working) visa to an H1B (allows me to work). Unfortunately, the company were badly advised by the attorney that they had hired to guide us through the process. They were advised that we should start the procedure in about June/July 2006 so that I can start working for them in October 2006, so we twiddled our thumbs for a bit, then tried to re-contact the attorney at the start of June, just to find that he would not return our calls. As soon as we realised that something was amiss, we wasted no time in finding another attorney who informed us that applications start being accepted in April, but that all 65,000 H1B visas were fully allocated by the 26th of May.

Now, we are aiming for October 2007 (starting the application process in March, so that the application can be submitted at the beginning of April).

I've added another string to my bow in that we've decided to try applying for greencards. It turns out that I may be able to submit an application for a temporary work permit while my greencard application is being processed. We would have to apply for a greencard eventually anyway, so we may as well do it sooner rather than later.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

We [Don't] Want Your Blood

Nosferatu probably
wouldn't be so fussy
When I was younger, I used to give blood. I lapsed when I got pregnant for Emily because they don't take blood from pregnant women. Several years later, I tried to start giving blood again but they had tightened up the regulations and they no longer wanted my blood because I did not meet all the regulations. One of the new rules was that if one had ever stayed outside the UK for a continuous period of six months or more, one could no longer give blood. As I was born in India and only moved to the UK when I was five years old, I was told that I could not give blood.

Cartoon: Chicken is trying to give blood, but the nurse says: What do you want me to do? Give someone salmonella?
The other week, our local church had a blood drive. My hopes were not high, but I thought that I'd pop along on the rather slim offchance that I might be able to give blood. The regulations here said that if one has visited the UK for longer than three months between 1980 and 1996 one cannot give blood (because of a risk of vCJD).

Ah well, at least I tried. I can now not bother to give blood and not have to feel bad about it either. Let's just hope that my brain is not turning spongiform even as I am writing this.

Here's some links about donating blood in both countries:
UK's National Blood Service
America's Blood Centers

Friday, October 20, 2006

I Don't Exist
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

It also turns out that neither of my daughters exist either. At least it was a nice way to waste a few minutes. If I hadn't got married, though, I would exist. Statistically, there are nine Viola's in the US with my maiden name.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Move to Beta Blogger

OK, I've decided to take the plunge and ditch my old template in favour of moving over completely to Beta Blogger. As it is a beta, it has a number of issues that need sorting out and a few things that do my head in, but hopefully you won't be too bothered by them.

If there are things about the new site that do your head in, let me know. If I can do something about it I will. Otherwise, our fate is in the hands of the Beta Blogger team.

Here's my previous post on the topic: Beta Blogger

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Health Care Expenditure

This blog post is built on my earlier post on Medical and Dental Insurance in the USA and on the comments that followed.

At about 26%, the US has one of the lowest Overall Tax Burdens in the whole OECD. The UK's is much higher than the US's (about 37%) and is about the same as the OECD average. I was interested in the question of how much the UK and US spend on health care so I thought that a fresh post on the topic was called for.

As you probably know by now, I am a bit of a google addict (a bit like the "Area Man" in this Onion article), so I decided to try and find out a bit more about health care expenditure in the UK and in the US. I took a look at the OECD website to see if I can find any international health care comparisons. I'm not an economist or a statistician, so if I've mis-interpreted anything that I've read, please feel free to enlighten me.

Graph showing percentage GDP spent on health care in UK and USA and percentage that comes from public expenditureAccording to the OECD, the UK government spends nearly double (as percentage of GDP) what the US does on health care. This is pretty much stating the blindingly obvious because the US's health care is mostly privately owned, whereas the UK's is publicly owned. The US's overall expenditure on health is greater than the UK's, even after taking into account their high expenditure on pharmaceuticals. The US expenditure per capita is about three times what it is in the UK (about $2500 in the UK; about $6100 in the US).

One might say that one can see the fruits of the greater expenditure on health care in the US. For those who can afford it, private health care in the US offers better quality of service, access to more up-to-date drugs and treatments, greater empowerment of patients and a lack of waiting lists. I am, however, left wondering how good a net the safety net of Medicare/Medicaid is when people on lower incomes still have to face large bills when they have had medical attention and I doubt that those who rely on Medicare/Medicaid get the same quality of treatment as those who are not.

In Britain, some who can afford it prefer to "go private" to circumvent the queues, so I suppose that although all are equal, some are always going to be more equal than others. However, the NHS was founded on the principle that medical provision should be a human right for all, not a privilege for a few. Even if the average healthy UK tax payer is ploughing more into the health service than they are getting a return for, to those who are on low incomes or are non-tax payers the service is indeed free. I think that this is worth paying a bit more tax for if we need to. Another thing is that if I, as a healthy individual, am to pay for health care that I haven't needed, I would prefer to give the money to a scheme that provides free health care to those who do need it, rather than lining the pockets of an insurance company.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

England Fiasco

Paul Robinson lets Gary Neville's pass into the England goal
Gary Neville's Pass Goes Past
I don't normally complain and I normally try to keep my blog posts civil. However, I would just like to express my loss of patience with the England football team. First it was 0-0 to Macedonia, then 2-0 to Croatia. Perhaps if Paul Robinson opened his eyes while standing in goal he'd be able to see if a ball happens to be coming in his direction!

These people get paid huge amounts of money. Perhaps they can put me on the England squad. I'd happily be paid a few million pounds to not be able to play football. I'm sure that I would be quite good at providing a lacklustre performance and hoofing the ball into the wrong net.

Year after year, tournament after tournament, good or bad, we get behind our team (after all, they're all we've got). Come Euro 2008 (if we qualify), I'll be singing the songs and flying the flags from my car window, but sometimes I lose patience and have to vent.

Here's a good blog post on the topic: Do I Not Like That

Monday, October 09, 2006

Medical and Dental Insurance

One aspect of US life that is a stark contrast to UK life is the reliance on insurance policies for medical and dental treatment.

When we lived in the UK, our only insurance policies were building & contents insurance and car insurance. We knew that in the US we would have to pay medical and dental insurance, but thought that the cost would be mostly offset by no longer having to pay National Insurance. This turned out to be a false assumption because one has to pay for one's own medical and dental insurance policies as well as paying for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Doctor Doctor Joke: Patient: Doctor, I feel funny; Doctor: Well, you look ridiculous to me
Medicare/Medicaid is the nearest thing that the US has to the NHS. People pay an amount each month out of their wages (I suppose, a bit like people in the UK pay National Insurance). Medicare is an insurance policy to provide medical care for those over 65 years old and some disabled people. Medicaid is a policy that provides treatment for those who are below the federally-defined poverty level.

As far as treatment is concerned, the UK media has countless nightmare stories about how people are treated on the NHS and I myself have had a few bad experiences. However, I can also say that I have seen a doctor on countless occasions (which here in the US would cost me a $15 excess for each visit) and have had a few operations/stays in hospital without having to part with a penny. If I moved house, I could just sign up at the nearest doctor's surgery.

In short, the NHS provides treatment to anyone regardless of socioeconomic status for free or near-free. Medical and dental provision (including prescribed medicines) for children is always free and most provisions for most adults is also free. Adults who earn above a certain wage have to pay for prescriptions (about £6 or so per prescription). As far as dental charges are concerned, we would visit the dentist twice a year and all I would pay for was £13 to have my teeth checked and polished. The option is available, for those who have the means, to pay for private medical provision, and private medicine does have its advantages. However, this is voluntary. One does not have to subscribe to private medicine just because one is well-off. One can still be treated by the NHS.

Doctor Joke: doctor says to patient: your problems stem from you being too rich, but I think I can help you
When we first arrived in the US, we were handed a 3" thick lever-arch folder that explained the various insurance policy options that were available to us. We were (and to a large extent still are) flummoxed. The folder was mostly gobbledygook -- containing phrases like "...subject to the deductible, covered at 80% of coinsurance of plan allowance...". Translated into our level of understanding, this says "...@!*#$ !@ #$% *$&:^?@!$# etc..." After hours of reading through this tome we were very little wiser, so we just picked a plan and hoped for the best.

It's now a year later and we still don't have a doctor. Our medical insurance only pays out if we have a doctor from their approved list. Upon phoning around the local surgeries in our area that were on the list, we discovered that:

  1. the list is out of date and many of the surgeries on the list do not take patients with our insurance policy and
  2. those doctors that do not fall under (a) have a full quota of patients and are not taking any more on.
My next recourse is to try further afield, and see if we can get a doctor in the Durham area. It's true that for $150 or so extra a month, we can choose any doctor, not just one from a pre-approved list. However, as we've been here a year and haven't needed a doctor, $1,800 a year extra seem like rather a lot to pay.

As far as dentistry is concerned, we had our first visit to a US dentist recently. There were no treatments other than prophylaxis (fissure sealant for the kids' molars (charged per-tooth), polishing, x-rays), yet our bill exceeded our insurance payout by about $750. I dread to think what it would cost

  1. without insurance
  2. if we had to have any actual treatments
In the UK, all children's treatments are free and I've already mentioned the cost of an adult's check-up and polish. Last time I had an X-ray I didn't have to pay, but even if these days there is a small fee, it'd be nothing when compared to the cost here.

When one is living in the UK one can see the NHS's problems. No matter how much public money is ploughed into it, for various reasons it is always hungry for more. It's not until one leaves the UK that one begins to appreciate just how great an ideology and institution the NHS is and how much, despite its problems, it's worth fighting to keep.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


If you like the new NBC series Heroes, you might be interested to know that there's an online graphic novel. Parts 1 and 2 are online at the moment, with more to come. Personally, thus far it is just my cup of tea (which probably means that it will get cancelled after about one and a half series), even though it falls in line with the usual American-TV-casting policy of not employing ugly people.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Whichever side of the pond you reside on, you'll still have to deal with bankers. Wherever one goes, one will always find a few bankers. However, not all bankers are the same. There are some differences with banking here, compared to banking in the UK.

  1. Cheques are not "cheques", but "checks". A check must also be "endorsed". This means that in order to cash it, it has to be signed on the back by the person trying to cash it, using the exact name that the check is made out to.

  2. There is no such thing as an arranged overdraft (at least, not as far as we know). In the UK, if one has the foresight to realise ahead of time that one's salary for the month is not going to last the month, one can phone the bank and agree an overdraft limit with them. An overdraft that has not been arranged leads to rapped knuckles, a good telling-off from the bank and penalty fines. In the US, one cannot arrange an overdraft. All overdrafts therefore come with the requisite rapped knuckles, telling-offs and fines.

  3. There is no such thing as a check guarantee card. In the UK, when one writes a cheque, one can present one's cheque guarantee card and the recipient writes the number of the guarantee card on the back of the cheque. If a cheque is presented to the bank with a guarantee number, the bank has to honour that cheque. It is a way of the cheque recipient being able to confidently accept cheques without fear of losing revenue.

  4. The UK does not have drive-through banks. The US has drive through fast-food, drive through pharmacies and even drive through banks. After all, why should customers need to be bothered with things like having to get out of a car?

  5. US monetary notes are all the same size and colour, so it's quite easy to confuse (for example) a $1 bill with a $10. One has to look quite closely at them. In fact, in the UK, we would talk about notes, not bills. One would have a £10 note, not a £10 bill. In addition, if one has a purse (pocket-book) with both US and UK change, one has to look quite closely because a US penny and a UK penny look very similar. A UK 5p coin and a dime (10¢ coin) are also the same colour/shape/size.

  6. Here, in our part of the USA, a handbag is a purse and a purse is a pocket-book.