Posted in Green & Pleasant Land, Lakenheath

Is It My England Too? On Being a Third Culture Kid

I’m going to Washington, D.C. for my high school reunion. Yes, the mighty Lancers of Lakenheath High School, RAF Lakenheath, Brandon, Suffolk, England –well, we don’t know where we belong on this continent. So this year we’re going to DC (last year it was Vegas, before that San Diego, Dallas, St. Louis…).

RAF Lakenheath (<–that’s the Wikipedia article) is in East Anglia, or what I used to call ‘the ugly part of England.’ With England, it’s all relative. East Anglia really isn’t ugly, it’s just not as pretty as the other parts. Here’s a well-known local saying that sums it up: “Any fool can appreciate mountain scenery. It takes a man of discernment to appreciate the Fens.” [Harry Godwin – pollen analyst – circa 1932]

Here’s a link to what it looked like when I was growing up. Note: amount of sunniness not to scale. Really, would you fly thousands of miles for this?

I guess I would, and here’s why: I moved to England when I was 12 and left when I was 18. It is my home/not my home. It is English, and I am American, with an American accent and an Irish name. But because I was there for a long time during my formative years, I am marked by England forever. Along with many of my classmates, I’m a third culture kid.

From the Wikipedia article:

“Third Culture Kids” … integrate aspects of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new culture (the second culture), creating a unique “third culture.” Sociologist David Pollock describes a TCK as “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership of any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of a similar background. (emphasis mine).

So I’m going to DC, to see the people who’ve lived what I’ve lived. I’m excited and nervous. I haven’t been sleeping. I’m one of three people on the planning committee. The other two have English mothers. That’s no accident.

Here’s what I’ll take with me the next time I go to a therapist:

As Third Culture Kids grow up they become Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs).

Some of them come to terms with the tremendous culture shock and loss that they have experienced. They gain a broader understanding of the world through their varied experiences, while others spend most of their adult life trying to come to terms with those same issues.

Many Third Culture Kids face an identity crisis: they don’t know where they come from. It would be typical for a third culture person to say that he or she is from a country but nothing beyond their passport defines it; they usually find it difficult to answer the question.

Now I feel as if I’ve just shown you my knickers. George Orwell to the rescue to explain the English (second country) side of the equation: (from
this essay, written in 1941:

Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.

Meanwhile England, together with the rest of the world, is changing. And like everything else it can change only in certain directions, which up to a point can be foreseen. That is not to say that the future is fixed, merely that certain alternatives are possible and others not. A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip.

I’m putting my blog to sleep for the week. I’ll report back on the reunion next week. Nighty-night.

Posted in Around Town, Current Events, Green & Pleasant Land, Uncategorized

Open Space Now

Good news–there’s a group in Pasadena called Open Space Now advocating for preserving open space in the Pasadena/Altadena area. Sign me up!

From today’s Pasadena Star-News article (link above):

“Open Space Now wants to see linked open spaces going up the Arroyo Seco, across the Rim of the Valley Trail through Altadena and south down the Edison power line corridor.”

Other links of interest: Altadena Foothills Conservancy , Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the link to the City of Pasadena’s Draft Green Space Element.

Posted in Film, Green & Pleasant Land, Uncategorized

In the parking lot of Ralph’s

I went to see The Queen yesterday, and afterwards I was feeling all nostalgic about England. It was the first evening after the time change, so it’s just about 5 pm we’re on the way to darkness. From somewhere, from nowhere, it got cooler and the breeze whispered, “This is as close as it gets to autumn in southern California, so you’d better enjoy it.”

I took a detour on my way back to the car and stepped into Book Alley, a fine used-book establishment. I leafed through a volume of George Herbert, found a book with a lot of poet’s pictures in it, and wondered how I would pose if I were ever being photographed as “poet.” Everyone in the book looks wizened, or scholarly, or both. I decided that crossed-eyes, or a balloon creation on the head, would be the way to go.

So I’m in the car, and I decide to stop at Ralph’s on the way home. Not one of my favorite stops, but my husband is having dinner with a friend so it’s a chance for me to make pasta for dinner (he’s a potato guy), and I need parmesan cheese. I pull into the parking lot and wow–I see a friend of mine…a new friend who is English and who’s just returned from a trip home to promote her one-woman show (she’s in the midst of writing it and had a good nibble from the folks at Really Useful Group.)

She doesn’t live in my town…just happened to be here for a meal and shopping. It was so fun and affirming and great to bump into her…what are the chances?

Happy autumn, everyone.

Posted in Green & Pleasant Land, Travel, Uncategorized


October is my favorite month. I love autumn, and this month is its centrepiece. (Just had to spell that the British way.) We don’t have a riot of color in the west like they do in the east, but we get a little autumn color action here and there.

I went to a college reunion this past weekend. It wasn’t exactly my college reunion–well, it was and it wasn’t. Lemme ‘splain.

My career as an undergraduate was varied and wonderful–it just turned out that way. I went to three different undergraduate institutions. I started at Homerton College, Cambridge–did a whole year there. (Click on the link…great photo of the place.) I was studying to be a religious studies teacher (religious studies was compulsory in English schools at the time…don’t know if it still is or not). I knew that I didn’t want to stay in England and teach young kids. I was 18 and hadn’t lived in the States since I was 12. I wanted to come “home.”

So I went to Seattle Pacific University. I had never been to Seattle.  I picked it because it looked like a good Christian liberal arts college and it wasn’t too far from Salem, Oregon, where my mom was living at the time.

Then in the fall semester of my senior year, I went on an exchange program from SPU to Westmont College. I went there because I was involved with a guy (who later became my first husband, but that’s not what this is about). Westmont is located in Montecito, a swanky, mansion-laden ‘suburb’ of Santa Barbara. The Kerr family (of Kerr jars fame) donated their estate to help found the college, and the neighbors have been complaining ever since.

I didn’t graduate from Westmont, but they treat me like an alum anyway. I guess when you’re a small school that’s only been around since 1940 and you don’t have a big endowment, alumni is defined in the most expansive way possible.

One of my themes this year has been reunion. I had a family reunion with my mother’s family in June, my high school reunion (also in June), and a family reunion with my dad’s side in August. I decided to help plan my 30th high school reunion which will be next August. So I really wanted to go to this reunion, even though I was sure that no one would remember me. 

Susan and I hit the road on Saturday morning in her boyfriend’s Audi A4 (thank you, Doc Rockit) and rolled up to the campus in time for lunch. We sat ourselves on the steps leading down to the soccer field, and over the next several hours a parade of old classmates came by. Some people did remember me (whew!). I love reconnecting with people and hearing about how their lives have unfolded. I’m sometimes surprised by the high expectations I had for people and finding out they aren’t the super CEO I thought they would be. It amazes me after years of not seeing someone how intimate details of life are spilled out and held like precious pearls.

I find that I make new friends at reunions, too. People that I only knew from afar, or even people I didn’t know at all, become friends.

I’m an advocate of the reunion. It’s a benchmark of life. You can look back if you want to–look back a little, look back a lot. It’s your choice.

Besides catching up with other people, a reunion is a great time to check in with yourself. How do you sum up two or three decades about your life in a paragraph or two? What details are shared? What’s left out?

Other questions that a reunion brings up: Where am I now? Is this where I wanted to be? Want to be? What do I need to change NOW to get where I really want to go?

Posted in Green & Pleasant Land, Self Care, Uncategorized

My Genes Have Bad Teeth

As my dental hygienist said this morning, everyone’s got a weak spot in their body. Mine happens to be my teeth. I’m less than half British, but I’ve got British teeth. You can’t tell that I have British teeth right away because some of my crowns are enamel on the part that shows when I smile (and gold on the inside where it can’t be seen).

But in addition to my rather nice crowns, I have some big old fillings that were installed in a dental surgery in Mildenhall, England, ca. 1975. (It’s not a serious as it sounds…”dental surgery” is the same as “dental office.”) If you make me laugh hard and my lower jaw drops, you will see these works of dental excellence. British dentistry in 1975 wasn’t too far ahead of British dentistry in 1875. The office equipment looked to be right out of a 19th century painting. I know that one day these old fillings, one of my most lasting souvenirs from living in England for six years, will have to be replaced.

Until then, I’m engaged in a pitched battle (this link is not for the faint of heart) to keep my gums healthy. I’ve moved beyond regular maintenance to periodontal maintenance, which means a new little brush to be used post brushing and flossing to get things back in shape.

In the “new, scary things to know” category, a firm link has been established between periodontal disease and heart disease. Those crazy bacteria leave your mouth via your bloodstream and end up dancing their jig in your heart. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the US…or not. Let’s just go with heart disease kills a lot of people.

My visit with my new hygienist, Carol, went well. Toward the end of the visit, it was time to polish my teeth. “Close your eyes, ” she said, “the paste has a tendency to fly.”

I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in my bathroom tonight.