22 September 2014

Landed


Such a long absence,
I know

I've needed time to sift the events, 
the thoughts, the feelings in my mind

While in the UK,
I had no idea what my reflections would reveal from this side of the move...


London Heathrow Airport


Our move back to the US was a rocky one with unforeseeable mishaps:

- all our checked-in luggage was 'lost' for one very long week

- tracking online, we saw Hurricane Arthur pass over the ship that carried our house contents

- our pets were delayed in US customs due to a bomb threat evacuation

- and more things broke than ever in this move

Feeling like we were starring in 'The Truman Show', we can laugh about it now
Sort of :)




Surprisingly,
those first weeks in the US I didn't miss England
but I felt sad that France was less accessible
(go figure!)

Now, I often find myself lost in reminiscing about England
- London, birdsong, public footpaths, picturesque villages, 
our beautiful drive to school, friends -

It feels like I broke up with a boyfriend I loved dearly
but now I need to move on

They say the longer you stay abroad,
the longer it takes to resettle back 'home'

So we felt it was the right time to leave,
especially for the kids

Living in the UK was a dream come true with the opportunities it provided,
the lifelong friendships created,
and the growth that would have been difficult
to achieve had we never left the US

We have no regrets about raising our kids abroad
during some of their formative years

I can't wait to hear their reflections when they are older
 and see how it molded them as people




Now I feel we are entering not a new chapter in life,
but a whole new book
where everything feels foreign 
in this US timezone I've never lived in before

Unexpectedly, 
I exhaled when we moved back to the US where the laws make sense to me
(subconsciously a tiny part of me was afraid I'd break an English law I didn't know about)

I felt a tiny bit vulnerable and self-conscious about being a foreigner
My accent would always label me 'The American'
no matter how long we lived in the UK

And there was so much I didn't understand on a deeper level:
processes, cultural references, mindset

I feel like we belong here,
although we don't yet belong

I imagine it will take a while before we feel we live here,
not just visiting

With some local day trips around the area,
I am starting to see what is here
rather than what is not




Nowadays
I still walk up to my car with a moment of hesitation
- do I get in on the right side or the left? -
and I'm occasionally surprised when I hear American accents
(as I often thought in England, 'oh, visitors!')

It took a while to shake the nagging low-grade worry from the UK
that I might not find a parking spot I can fit into
or that I might not have proper change to buy a parking ticket

Here, I'm surprised strangers ask me where I'm from
because they detect an accent, they say
(which must be a slight difference in intonation or word choice)

But then due to a lack of English accent,
people are confused when I say I moved here from England
so I must say 'I moved here after living in England for 4 years'

The 'English' part of me feels that answer is way too wordy and 
divulges more personal information than I want to part with,
but that is where the follow up questions lead anyway
so down that road I follow




Having lived in 4 houses over the last 5 years,
I find myself hesitating to spend money on this house in case we move again

Although we bought this house without intentions of moving,
that nomadic life of 'we might need to pick up and go' still lingers

I have loved decorating our new 1950's house
All my bottled up creative decorating energy has been released
and it feels good to stretch those legs that have been in rental houses for the last few years

Lately I discovered some fantastic home decor blogs
which provide daily visual inspiration
and I have tidied up how I receive blogs through UnrollMe

Internet shopping has allowed me to put the house together fairly quickly,
which has been crucial for feeling settled

To set up house, we bought new electronics and appliances with US plugs
With the benefits of streaming and downloads,
we won't buy a DVD player or stereo system this time around

I still need to shed the scarves and sweaters for a warmer weather wardrobe
And I must buy a pair of sunglasses!

The biggest change I've noticed from living in the US 4 years ago
is the technological advances:

iPads have replaced some cash registers

Some businesses accept Google Wallet for transactions

Slide your credit card at the gate when you enter a parking garage

Simple mops and brooms are hard to find

And even soft drink dispensers have a new look




If you must know,
I can't get enough iced tea!

And not to brag,
but I can get a week's worth of laundry done in half a day
(happy!)

It is refreshing to have the sounds of American football
on the TV all weekend, not just at dinner time

And we're back to
going to professional baseball games
with yummy oversized brats and sauerkraut

Proudly I now have another driver's license under my belt
(needless to say, it was much easier than the 3-part test in England)

Nonetheless
I naturally I have my intense 'missing England days'
and I would visit again in a heartbeat




Blogging was an integral part of my experience in England
as it motivated me to do and see more

It has been an amazing experience to e-know so many of you
and I even met some virtual blogging friends face-to-face

While I intend to keep this blog online
(still thousands of pageviews weekly!),
the title of my blog lends itself to stay in the UK

One day I might start up a new blog
but I haven't identified something I really want to get down on paper

So for now,
thank you so much for reading

My heart is happy we connected somehow
in this crazy internet world

I love you guys!
Wishing you all the best

- all photos my own -
(an unsponsored post)

26 June 2014

In Flight

Today our family’s flight path takes a new turn
as we settle back in the US




The literal flight path will take us over Greenland’s icy waters
and then deliver us to our summery new hometown
which I imagine will feel foreign for a while

On the calendar:
Driver’s license test
 4th of July rodeo
Summer camp
Visit family

Life is filled with transitions
and this is just another opportunity to practice our adaptability




See you on the other side
:)

- all photos my own -

14 June 2014

Reflecting On England


What can I say...
so much we have learned 
and so much we will miss

Thank you for joining my journey!




I am so thankful you have read and commented on my blog
which in turn encouraged me to keep documenting our time here in words and images

As I start to look at England from a rear-view mirror perspective,
here's some of my thoughts about this wonderful country
we have been lucky to call 'home'...

THE WEATHER

Enabling green grass and lush landscapes year around,
rain is an important fiber of the English culture




Providing not only a conversation starter,
rain has created a hearty crew who holds events rain or shine
and 'just gets on with it'

Molding fashion,
you find adorable wellies and umbrellas at the ready for rain
and the sweater-scarf-leggings-boots combo is put to work 
at least 9 months of the year

With rain comes rainbows and
the probable cloud cover provides soft lighting for photos
The mild weather is predictable with occasional 'sunny spells'

Fog has been infrequent
but always a treat
as it drops a totally different lens to a wintry landscape




Wintertime is short but very dark,
and later we're rewarded by insanely long hours of daylight in summertime

In general
the clouds and rain are like a cozy blanket
It makes me say, 'Ahhh, that's my England'

THE OUTDOORS

With all that rain and mild temperatures,
this island has the most wonderful conditions for growing things




Dancing wildflowers are left to grow along the roadside
and walls of greenery guide you down the lanes 
in the form of hedgerows and tree tunnels

Picture-perfect crop fields are just as beautiful
as the countless public gardens that dot this verdant country

Garden nurseries sell not only flowers and plants
but pots of tea, lunch and dessert

With public footpaths zig-zagging the country,
there is no shortage of local hikes
and dogs can frolic off-leash to their waggy-heart's content




Without the danger of bears, mountain lions, or poisonous snakes
children can run around more carefree than we are accustomed to
(there are venomous adders, but rare)

Oh, how we will miss... 

being woken up at 5 o'clock by birdsong
old car horn sound of a pheasant call
bike pump sound made by the Great Tit
skinny little legs on the sweet and revered English Robin

wandering solitary fox
spinning tail of a newborn lamb
gorgeous haze of bluebells in Spring
shocking acid-yellow rapeseed




rich blue of a British summer sky
fairytale-like toadstools in autumn
magical hoar frost in winter

THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Like many Americans,
I am quite smitten by the English accent
and surprised how it varies greatly
depending on class, education, and location




I've started to notice which type of accent is spoken in radio commercials
which provides a whole different level of information to the listener
as to what the advertiser wants to convey

While the English are not boastful,
they'll remind you of their original ownership of the English language

And yet
they have pronunciation inconsistencies that make me look like a real heel
such as Cliveden - should be Clive-den but is pronounced Cliv'den -
and other pronunciation rule derailments such as Thames and Leicester

I imagine the English use a larger percentage of their dictionary than Americans
and they have an impressively extensive vocabulary for landscapes such as
moor, tor, fen, fell, dale, vale, copse, lea, common, green, heath, and beck

There is even a wordsmith game show on BBC radio

I love that the public will correct grammatically incorrect signage

How I wish I had taken a photo of a notice placed in an elevator/lift I saw a few years ago
Someone had used a pen to make about 4 grammatical corrections on the sign
It was taken down that night

But I did get a photo of this one at my local post office...


Someone attempted to scratch out the 's'


On a side note,
I find it fascinating that the French has an official authority (Académie française)
determining the usages, vocabulary, grammar, and dictionary of the French language

FOOD & DRINK

Let's cut the the chase:
man, how we will miss our country pubs




Imagine a 17th-century pub with a warming fire in the fireplace
and board games stacked nearby just waiting to be played
Perfection!

A warming drink may include 
a pot of tea
hot chocolate
(warmish) pint of beer
Winter Pimms
or mulled wine

Happiness is sitting outside on a sunny day at a pub
while the kids play on equipment or hide-and-seek

'Quiz Night' is on Fridays
Sunday Roast each week
Dog and family friendly

Pubs are the heartbeat of many villages
and there simply is no equivalent in the US
or possibly elsewhere in the world outside the UK/Ireland region

With so many cool pubs to discover,
you never have to go to the same one twice




While England gets a bad rap for food,
delicious Indian take-away is as common as Chinese take-out in the US

The London food scene is amazing, delicious and diverse
and is constantly evolving with clever new ideas

From liquid nitrogen ice cream
to Alice In Wonderland tea,
from pay-per-minute cafes
to sushi on conveyor belts,
London has it all
and we're spoiled for choice

Our sweet tooth will be missing a lot of British favorites:

millionaire shortbread bars
lemon drizzle cake
treacle tart
sticky toffee pudding
honeycomb crunch ice cream
first of the season British strawberries

And those unforgettably named dishes
Toad In The Hole, Bubble & Squeak

In place of syrup,
who knew squeezing lots of lemon juice and sprinkling sugar
all over pancakes would be a new breakfast favorite?

Tipped off by a French friend who knows her food, we found another love
good local bread
- so soft, so light, with lots of holes inside to capture the butter -
yummmmm

Aside from rain, tea also is an obvious integral part of England
Offered in homes and schools, by hairdressers, and at medical appointments
'a nice cup of tea' is another emotional cozy blanket in England
to either welcome or soothe




Interestingly
'cream tea' is more regional than I would have expected
with its clotted cream and scones
When I stumble upon one, I bring out my happy dance

THE DRIVING

As intimidating and silly the driving exam seemed at the time,
I actually am thankful I had to go through the process
or shall we call it 'a right of passage', hmm?

I definitely became a much better driver
thanks to the exam, the driving lessons,
and fellow drivers who honked at my missteps




I love the continuous driving enabled by
roundabouts and yields (no stop signs)

And I appreciate 'creative parking'
in any direction on sidewalks
made possible by low kerbs/curbs

Speed limits that change on digital signs 
are a brilliant idea on the highways/dual carriageways

You gotta love the single lane roads that call themselves a double lane
- smile if you know what I'm talking about -

And I can just hear the crowd go wild
when I totally nail one of those challenging parallel parking spaces
- that is some serious satisfaction, my friends -

TRAVEL

While we have the same number of school days as our American counterparts,
our holiday breaks are much longer


Ireland


In the US, it felt like nine months of solid school

In the UK, 
it feels like we are on break, just finished a break, or about to have a break

Consequently, English schools finish the school year in late June or July
making the summer holiday quite short

And with two magnificent international airports nearby,
many destinations are just a direct flight away

Due to our location,
many countries are in a nearby timezone
meaning jet lag often is of no concern

Travel is affordable-ish
with discounted airlines and most hotels open to some bargaining

We will definitely miss all the mental breaks from school
allowing us quality family time even when we didn't travel

Feels like healthy living

MISCELLANEOUS

A few other oddities I will miss:


For portable toilets, that slogan is priceless!


* on/off switch on wall outlets

* Panto season at Christmastime

* LBC and BBC talk radio - giving me more insight into the English mind

* contest radio winners who respond with a simple 'thank you' or 'I'm. so. happy.' 

* upcoming Scottish independence vote and UK General Election
Refreshingly, voting happens with little fanfare and no endorsements signs
I'm sorry to miss feeling the pulse!

* English synonyms for so many American words
My vocabulary has definitely expanded

* little things such as the European '7' with a line through it,
the date written in a different order,
writing in upper case letters almost exclusively,
formally beginning emails with 'dear' and ending with 'kind regards'

* the density of so much to do, see, learn, and photograph
so close to home




While the time is right on many fronts for us to leave,
we are returning to the US as new, improved 'us'

I'm definitely a lot smarter having absorbed English history and culture
and grateful to learn a different way to do life and raise a family

Would I live in another foreign country again?
Although it has its challenges, yes, definitely yes
:)

- all images my own -

11 June 2014

British Library Tour


Interesting
that in the world's largest holding library
you are unable to check out a book
and need special permission to touch one

While I had visited this library before,
I went back for a proper tour just a few weeks ago
(there isn't much to see on your own, so a tour is a must)




In the UK and Ireland
a copy of every publication is donated to the British Library
for the sake of archiving the printed word

Besides books, the British Library archives
store catalogs, maps, games, stamps, playscripts, and musical scores

Moving images as well as sound recordings
such as music, animal sounds, and regional accent samples are stored as well

Three million new items are added to the collection each year,
some of which are donated from other countries in different languages

Miles of shelving are added annually to accommodate new additions

While the main library is in London
other branches are in Oxford, Cambridge, Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales, and Dublin

Contrary to most libraries,
the British Library organizes their books according to book size
because the Dewey Decimal System would be too time consuming for reshelving books

When a book is returned
it is placed at the end of the shelf next to books the same size


King's Library and public tables


If one wants to look at a particular item,
a registration process must be completed
and permission is granted based on genuine scholarly purpose

It is mostly university students, professors, 
and industry researchers who are granted access

As nothing can be checked out,
items only can be viewed in monitored reading rooms

The Magna Carta is the most requested item (and denied)


Reading Room


When an item is requested, it goes through a system between the walls that reminded me
of luggage at an airport with trays on automated tracks




Seventy people work in the basement 80 feet below ground
where items are stored on 20-foot high bookshelves

The lowest level of the building is filled with pumps
since the basement rests below the water table and River Thames

The King's Library holds King George III's collection
which is considered one of the most important from his era

Originally donated to the library when it was part of the British Museum,
the collection is now housed in a customized area with a clever fire plan


King's Library


In case of fire elsewhere in the library,
a fire retardant gel would fill the space between the double glass panes
and King George's collection would be pulled out of the skylight to safety

Since water would create a lot of damage to books in case of fire,
other precious books are stored in an emergency blast freezer corridor
This means a vacuum sucks out air and blasts the area with cold air (-18°C) to freeze books
Then those books are transported to freezer holds in area grocery stores for safekeeping
Sounds like a movie!

Next time I would love to attend Conservation Studio: Behind The Scenes Tour
Offered monthly, this will be on my list for next time :)

- all images my own -
(an unsponsored tour)

07 June 2014

The Lake District


For the long holiday weekend
we took a quick zip to the Lake District, 
the largest and most visited National Park in England 
located near the Scottish border




You can see how this area has inspired so many authors
including William Wordsworth and Arthur Ransome




The area is known for its 
long, thin lakes
hills (known as 'fells')
verdant countryside (indicating it rains a lot) 
and hardy Herdwick & Swaledale sheep




Aren't you in love already?








We visited Beatrix Potter's 17th-century farmhouse, Hill Top,
which was a real highlight

We saw local village locations that appear in her books
such as this letter box


Queen Victoria was the first to put her 'royal cypher' on new postboxes
Here, 'GR' indicates this letterbox was placed during the reign of King George V (George Rex)
Queen Elizabeth II's royal cypher is EIIR (Elizabeth II Regina)
Rex/Regina is Latin for king/queen


So glad we fit in this last trip!
Well worth the five hour drive :)

- all images my own -
(an unsponsored post)

05 June 2014

Living In The Space Between


Last week the movers packed up the container
and took everything we own to the dock to be shipped out tomorrow

I admit I was a bit misty-eyed as the truck's doors were locked and secured
with homemade artwork and favorite acquired treasures inside

So many memories packed into one container!




Appropriately
the shipment is due to arrive the US port on the 4th of July

In advance
we had to power wash our bikes to remove all dirt
and rid of items that were raw, untreated wood
in order to pass successfully through US Customs

We are hoping for a speedy customs clearance 
so we can get our lives unpacked and settled in quickly

With our furniture gone,
we are living like university students once more

Using moving boxes as night stands
Two twin beds pushed together
Interior design magazines for ideas in our future home :)




For a few more weeks we'll use rental furniture
- 3 beds, 1 sofa, 1 table with chairs -

We sold all electrical items with UK plugs,
got rid of our light bulbs, 
purged liquids
(incl nail polish remover, cleaning supplies, liquid medicines),
and soon our cupboards will be bare

We'll do some creative cooking with the few ingredients we do have on hand

It has been a monumental clean out
performed previously just 4 years ago
It is exhausting but then somewhat liberating




For our last days in England
we will sleep in a hotel, and the pets will be in boarding

The house gets a required 3-day professional cleaning
before an inspector comes through with her check-list
(always a daunting day when she comes through)

Feels so strange...

Cheese in the frig will expire after I leave

Fliers announce events I cannot attend

Leaves grow on trees that I won't see fall this autumn

I will miss my beloved toadstool and conker season
Guy Fawkes Night too




Oddly, my calendar is empty from the next month on

Once we return to the US
we will attend events we aren't even aware of yet
and we'll fill the refrigerator with food once more

Thanksgiving will be celebrated traditionally once again

It's hard to stay in the moment
when the moment feels so unstable
- I'm neither here nor there -

Passionately
missing my friends and my life here already
while excited to be reunited with friends & family back home
and set up our new life

This is the space between

- all photos my own -

01 June 2014

Downton Abbey Film Locations


Highclere Castle is the primary film location
for ITV's popular Downton Abbey television series

Highclere Castle is open to the public select days each year


wikipedia


Although I won't have a chance to visit Highclere Castle, 
I recently had tea at Byfleet Manor 
(aka Lady Violet Crawley's house in the series)

Not too far from London,
this private home opens to the public for tea parties, special events, and pre-arranged tours




The original portion of the house was built in 1670
in the location of a previous palace belonging to Henry VIII

Two wings were added later
and each lived in by different residents today

The Hutton family resides in the middle portion,
which is used for filming


Most filmed room for 'Dower House' of Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith)


A great story unfolded thirteen years ago...

With a newborn in her arms,
Julie Hutton watched in horror as her dog ran off and bit a man 
who turned out to be a judge

As you would expect, 
a policeman came knocking at her door to take the dog away

The policeman took pity on the emotional new mom and did not take the dog,
and impulsively the Huttons bought Byfleet Manor with its fenced yard
(which she saw in a flier) 
in an effort to save their pet

It worked - the dog was saved




Years later, a stranger knocked on their Byfleet Manor front door 
and asked if the house could be used for filming a television show
(Downton Abbey)

They said yes
and interestingly all 'Dower House' scenes for the season are filmed in just one day
(plus one day to clear out the room and another day to put it back together)




Here's a peek at the Hutton's beautiful garden within the 24 acre property




and one of their pet pigs




I find this animal lover's story to be a great reminder -

When life sends you a lemon,
it could be for lemonade
:)

- images my own, excluding first one -

(an unsponsored post)