Spoilers

I felt a shock of Deja Vu on my way to Tesco today. The chilly wind and darkening grey sky post-3pm on a November day took me back to 2008. In an instant it felt like I had traveled full circle back to my starting point in this big city. I was a house wife on my way to pick up some wacky dinner ingredient then, too. Our lives were changing at lightning speed and would continue to change in unimaginable ways for the foreseeable future.

belly
Photo courtesy Brooke Kelly Photography

On my second first day as a house wife in London, I feel less guilt about being home. (I feel absolutely no guilt about the nap that I took from 10.30am to 1.15pm.) I feel somewhat inclined to make two hot meals a day for the man that goes to work, but I also feel like I am doing something incredible by just getting myself showered. More than anything though, I have that sense of being on the edge again.

Here we are. Same city, same crazy kids, different adventure… What have we gotten ourselves into this time?

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

All the Women in His Life

From time to time (more than I am proud to admit), I have been jealous of the matriarchs in Drew’s life. The love and respect this man has for the incredible women who raised him can be overwhelming to a novice wife such as myself. Just look at the facts: they make better biscuits and fried green tomatoes, they kissed his boo-boos, and have never made him speak about cramps—or begged him to give copious details about his day at the office (which he rarely wishes to describe once he’s on his own time, fair enough).

The point I am making is that I have not felt confident that I could ever measure up. I have wondered what in the world lead him to me—a nutty, over-sensitive, blabber mouth with zero fashion sense or super model qualities.
not a model jen

Suddenly a light has come on. In considering his devotion and the qualities he values most in them, I feel humbled. I am in my early days of becoming awesome still, but he chose me because of these women, not despite them. It makes sense; I’ve always said that I see the qualities I favour in my dad in Drew. He likes to laugh (bathroom and geeky humor), he’s really intelligent, he is organised, logical, thoughtful, generous, he challenges me, he values honesty, he plays guitar, he has simple needs, and he’s creative (there is probably more). If this is true for Drew, it makes sense it might be true for me.

These women instilled in him high standards; his high standards brought him to me. His love and respect for these women is nothing if not a direct reflection on what he sees in me. I am a candidate for that club—I could hold my own among women of this calibre some day. They are seasoned livers of life, strong, full of love, incredibly kind, prone to laughter, quick to add a seat at the dinner table for any friend you bring home, smart, practical, family oriented, loyal… These are also the qualities I saw in my mom on her best of days. I have what it takes to grow into these shoes and, God willing, there is still time.

There are more women in Drew’s life with whom I could never compete–and I just wouldn’t try. I have seen Drew struggle to grow into his role as an adult big brother to three amazing ladies; it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to him… (Women are infinitely complicated, bless him.) But being able to see his heart straight through his chest, even when his words fail him, I know what he feels for them and how far it extends. This gives me all the peace I need to know that his well is deep enough to hold all the love his baby will ever need. His patience may wax and wane (as it does with us all), but he has an incredible heart.

I can’t promise that I won’t ever feel a pang of jealousy again (what women could?!), but I can’t imagine that I will ever go back to feeling quite the same about all the women in his life. I am so honored that he saw something in me worthy of being among them.

drew loves me
Photo credit: Brooke Kelly Photography

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

Reveling

Friends and relative strangers keep reminding me lately how incredible my life is. Case in point:
jen and drew favorite

Look again at those dimples. His Mama put those there for me to treasure and melt in. He is my matching puzzle piece, my very best friend, my night light, and even my sparring partner when I need it.

No matter how lonely life in London can sometimes seem, I am counting the chance to live here among my blessings. The strength of the love that our family and friends extend to us, despite our distance (or city-ness––as the case may be with London friends) is beyond measure.

There’s so much more; you would need all day to read my list.

We have also both been reminded more often than seems fair lately that we aren’t guaranteed time–we are not guaranteed life. I always face the temptation to let loss wash over me indefinitely, but I see that it is loss that should make us all more determined to be grateful each day for what we have, even as it slips like sand from our hands.

I watch the people in my life who have endured (and continue to battle) the most unthinkable circumstances as they continue to love, continue to give, put one foot in front of the other, struggle to laugh, find time to cry, cling to meaning, and count their blessings. If they can, I certainly can.

My list starts with this.
drew and peanut

It radiates out like spider’s web beyond where it tangles you. It is true what everyone says; my life is incredible. I have more than I need, more than I deserve, more than I can find words to describe.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

We Will Keep Them

I can’t seem to put the right words in place to mark the day and I can’t think of any I’d like to borrow either. I am 4000 miles away from where I feel I ought to be and yet spent moments of the day completely present on an island which doesn’t really exist. On purpose I filled the day with distractions and the warmth of friendship, but the moment has come that I am alone with my thoughts.

red flower for granny

You are here. You are all here. Slowly the miles melt away; if I close my eyes I know I am sitting next to you.

Together we will keep the loved ones we’ve lost alive in the world.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

A Moment of Silence

A moment of silence does a lot for me.

It has not been my intention to turn the blog into a continuous update about the baby. (A handful of regulars have noticed the gaps–it’s hard to write about anything else…) Knowing that everything I post is automatically shared on Facebook for friends and family to find more easily also means that other people who aren’t interested get reminded that we are celebrating a miracle. Being 4000 miles away from home makes technology like this all the more like a life line. However, I know that little cracks form in the hearts of some precious friends and family members the more I bang on about it. Others are just plain annoyed.

We can’t contain our excitement; there is certainly no ‘off’ switch that I can find. And I know that I owe it to Peanut to be this in awe of every wiggle, every kick, every new development… I owe it to myself (and to us) to share what we can with the people who want to be involved in the only way possible. But it is a struggle to do something which feels self-centered. (What about keeping a blog is not almost entirely self-centered, though?)

I might not be so sensitive to these feelings in others if I had not myself experienced them. There were times when I wanted to ‘un-friend’ connections on Facebook because I couldn’t bear to read constant updates about their baby. There were periods that I didn’t update my own status because nothing seemed to matter except the loss we had experienced. Innocent comments made by others at the time, who didn’t know the full extent of what our miscarriage was like, still cause me a niggling frown every now and again.

What I am really trying to say is that I’m sorry there have not been more updates and I am sorry that there will be more now. This isn’t a passive aggressive message to anyone; the people concerned know who they are. We have friends in all stages of growing or not growing a family–some absolutely opposed, others not interested, more than we can count just struggling to be healthy, a few just dipping their toes in, a good many happily rolling along, a handful desperately waiting, a number delicately and carefully rolling along, some considering alternate action and many whose families have grown–with and without medical intervention or adoption… Others are enduring complicated situations and separations–my heart doesn’t stop wishing them well.

I want to share our experience with those who would like to tag along, but it would be great to turn our joy into something positive for those others out there walking a different path. A moment of silence, a prayer, a little more awareness… I am not even sure what I am asking of you. Let’s just be in this together, ok? Let’s not feel guilty about being happy or being sad. Let’s not be so preoccupied with hurting each others’ feelings that we stop being honest. Me especially.

If you were interested enough to read this far, I love you and I miss you. (I also love and miss some of those other suckers who only like fart jokes and funny blog posts; we’ll try to catch them next time.)

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

Full Circle

Just four nights ago I was glued to the live feed on BBC’s website in the middle of the night. It is hard to believe that last night at a similar hour, I was awake with leg cramps—giggling deliriously at the new choreography Peanut has learned. How can a person so quickly move from fearful to thankful? What has changed?

London was wide awake for three nights in a row while riots and looting sprang up in neighbourhoods across England. I won’t pretend that I can give you the best report of the events which passed, but I can recommend this BBC web page for a summary of events and this Guardian article for a refreshing look at the ‘why’ of these events… I have not been scared for my own safety in the midst of the disorder; I am very fortunate in this regard. Electronics, sporting goods, and other high street shops were the targets of choice, of which there are none in our immediate vicinity. The most action we saw was on the water; narrow boats moved in from Camden in the East and Hackney in the West. As he rearranged his boat along our part of Regents Canal, a man on one of the boats yelled an apology for waking those of us standing curious on our balconies, explaining that he had been advised to move somewhere safer than where he had been docked. I think we were relieved to hear that danger was still miles away…

Hearing the interviews of rioters is just further proof [to me] that we cannot afford to ignore where we are falling short of creating a family centred society (globally) and where we have turned our backs on society’s responsibility in terms of early childhood development. This is not a suggestion that governments should give more handouts (in fact, I might argue that this is highly undesirable). It is merely my personal reflection on the state of what is fundamental to our survival as a human race as well as what my role is in all of this.

The overlap of education, child and adolescent development, and psychology (in general) has been a passion of mine for years. Suddenly I feel like I have been witness to a very large case study in my chosen discipline…

Coming full circle in moments, four nights ago I looked away from the scene of fire, riots, and looting to my growing belly and knew that the very best thing I can do in this world is to provide love to my child(ren) in a stable, healthy environment. It is imperative that I continue to be a light in the world and that I take action, inside and outside my own home.

I am changed by the roller coaster ride of late. I don’t know who I am, but I like her.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

Full Circle

Just four nights ago I was glued to the live feed on BBC’s website in the middle of the night. It is hard to believe that last night at a similar hour, I was awake with leg cramps—giggling deliriously at the new choreography Peanut has learned. How can a person so quickly move from fearful to thankful? What has changed?

London was wide awake for three nights in a row while riots and looting sprang up in neighbourhoods across England. I won’t pretend that I can give you the best report of the events which passed, but I can recommend this BBC web page for a summary of events and this Guardian article for a refreshing look at the ‘why’ of these events… I have not been scared for my own safety in the midst of the disorder; I am very fortunate in this regard. Electronics, sporting goods, and other high street shops were the targets of choice, of which there are none in our immediate vicinity. The most action we saw was on the water; narrow boats moved in from Camden in the East and Hackney in the West. As he rearranged his boat along our part of Regents Canal, a man on one of the boats yelled an apology for waking those of us standing curious on our balconies, explaining that he had been advised to move somewhere safer than where he had been docked. I think we were relieved to hear that danger was still miles away…

Hearing the interviews of rioters is just further proof [to me] that we cannot afford to ignore where we are falling short of creating a family centred society (globally) and where we have turned our backs on society’s responsibility in terms of early childhood development. This is not a suggestion that governments should give more handouts (in fact, I might argue that this is highly undesirable). It is merely my personal reflection on the state of what is fundamental to our survival as a human race as well as what my role is in all of this.

The overlap of education, child and adolescent development, and psychology (in general) has been a passion of mine for years. Suddenly I feel like I have been witness to a very large case study in my chosen discipline…

Coming full circle in moments, four nights ago I looked away from the scene of fire, riots, and looting to my growing belly and knew that the very best thing I can do in this world is to provide love to my child(ren) in a stable, healthy environment. It is imperative that I continue to be a light in the world and that I take action, inside and outside my own home.

I am changed by the roller coaster ride of late. I don’t know who I am, but I like her.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

Tongue Tied and Tired

There are days when my own words won’t take shape. On those days I find myself clinging to the words of others… Today it is Chris Rice’s turn.

‘Every day is a journal page;
every man holds a quill and ink.
There’s plenty of room for writing in
all we do and believe and think…
So will you compose a curse,
or will today bring the blessings?
Fill the page with rhyming verse?
Or some random sketchings?

Teach us to count the days;
teach us to make the days count–
Lead us in better ways
that somehow our souls forgot.

…Every day is a gift you’ve been given; make most of life–every minute you’re living.’

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

Yield

As hard as we may try to stop it, the seeds will sprout. Doubt, fear, frustration, joy, hope, love… Whatever your heart sings deserves to be heard.

‘It takes a lot to keep it going/
It takes a lot to keep it real/
Take some time for yourself and learn to yield’
– Amy Ray

grass through pavement

Let it speak; listen in earnest. And then let it go.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

365

Drew has begun a photography project – a partner in crime to our dear friend Elsa. He plans to post a new photo every day for 365 days. In itself, that is quite a commitment.

I am not sure that either one of us knew that I would feel like each image is speaking to me.
ivy through fence

I am sure it wasn’t his intention.
moss of rooftop

But somehow I do feel so personally affected…
purple flowers

It’s kind of like those movie posters where the eyes follow you everywhere… only, being slightly less creepy than all that.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

The Cycle

We are all subject to the cycles of light and life. The greats all say pretty much the same thing about this… ‘It has to hurt if it’s to heal’, ‘It’ll get darker before it gets lighter’, ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…’

With every fiber of my being, I get it. I feel next to normal these days, but that isn’t to say it came easy.

So many broken things are so beautiful…
glastonbury abbey

I can only hope that applies to us as well.
jen and drew winchester

Broken bent tired confused
Listless and gutless and buried and bruised;
I ache and I cry but I haven’t confessed
that I’ve married my pain – that my heart is undressed…

You’re gone, but I’m standing here waiting to see
if some odd miracle will bring you to me-
for a moment,
for a second,
on a breeze.

My heads swims, my heart heart swells;
I am soaked by the waves
of the life that you’ve left moving
through what’s left of my days.

On the edge of this ocean,
feet buried in sand,
I will listen to hear you-
my heart in my hand.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

So Much to Say

The more there is to say the more trouble I have saying it. All the words about all the meaningful moments, those that are beautiful and those that break our hearts, get tangled together. I have wanted to tell you everything–-it just seemed so disrespectful to recount to you all the sunny days in October as if the sun shines everywhere at once…

Drew’s Granny Young is very ill. My sister was in London visiting when we got a call to let us know that Granny had been admitted to the hospital and another call to say that she was being discharged, weak and tired. It was a bit like waking suddenly from a deep sleep in which I was dreaming a lovely dream.

We all flew home–Drew, Donna, and me. And then Drew and I came tearfully back to a colder London. (That part you know.) While we carry on here, Granny is hanging in there. Some of her days are better than others, but she has some stories still to tell… She is looking forward to Christmas and so are we.

Granny isn’t the only one holding my heart for ransom. My heart is traipsing around the US, sitting in turns with the people I love; sometimes I even suspect it is in more place than one at any given moment. She’s tricksy like that.

The point is that we will resume normal programming here on the blog, but I’d like to be clear: real life continues with the serious things mixed in, even when I don’t mention it. And we couldn’t make it without you.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

The Sun Will Come Out

Tomorrow. Or the next day. I think.

With heavy eyes and our hearts soaking wet, our plane circled London in a morning sky that looked more like a sunset – a large stroke of hot pink sat squarely on the horizon. The grass and the grey both might have been colored in on black and white film; the light was the kind that photographers dream about… Through the tiny window on the plane I watched London rise as I fell that familiar, steady, controlled-fall into the maze of pavement.

London has a strange new smell since we’ve been gone. It smells like dark and winter chill. It’s perfect. It’s exactly what I needed. London’s cold shoulder is like music to my ears.

While I was having a smashing time showing my sister the inner-workings of my day-to-day life in the big wide London-town, we got news that Granny Young was ill. She’s doing fine now, thanks for asking, but the news of Granny’s illness was enough to get us on a flight home. Like I said, Granny is a trooper and we’ve returned to the daily grind, but somehow returning gave me an unexpected feeling. When I can put my finger on exactly what feeling that was I will let you know.

Until then, I would just like to say ‘Thank God for babies’. Just look at them. Gorgeous. Yummy. Snuggle-able.
baby cousins

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

Fly Away

Two years have now gone by since we first landed in the UK. It seems like a very long time since we dragged our three suitcases across the ocean to this door in Seven Dials, but at the same time feels almost like it could have been yesterday.

seven dials flat

It’s weird to read what had to say when we landed on 5 October 2008.

So much has happened since then that I wonder how we’ve managed to stay sane, but then I know the answer.  We’ve never been alone.  Drew’s been faithfully, unmovable, by my side every step along the way and I’ve done my best to keep my chin up for him.  Our family and friends have not forgotten us.  New friends have embraced us.

This painful, wondrous, awe-inspiring experience has been a true adventure.  In 85 years my grandkids might be reading this journal and find inspiration here…  I can’t help but be pretty inspired myself; we are so fortunate to have had this opportunity.

Cheers to two years!

To celebrate, my sister is on a plane to London!!  (Thanks for sharing her Richard, Alicia, and Elizabeth!  I know that you’ll miss her very much.)

One Is the Loneliest Number

It’s very often I am reminded I am not in control of all things in life. This week I have been sent a message via canal boat. It is a first, I assure you.

loose canal boat

I see that there is something to be learned in finding a canal boat drifting aimlessly down the canal, but I can’t promise I have figured it out just yet… Not to worry – it has been safely moored by some random folks down yonder way. I just hope its owners know that their house has taken up residence downstream from whence it came.

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

The Serenity Prayer and Beer

You are likely to think I am an alcoholic by now. You know, I do ask myself if I should be worried about the number of times per week I consume an alcoholic beverage. I will let you know if I begin to suspect a problem. Until then, please consider Exhibit A:

what the beer

I have had to ask myself if my guardian angel might send Pale Ale to me in London in times of my greatest need. It seems a little out of character from what I’ve been told of guardian angels, but what do I know?!

I am taking it as a sign.
jen on the moon

I can hear my guardian angel’s voice now, as she shakes her head in wonder (and with a strange pride): ‘My daughter drinks beer.’

www.drewandjengotolondon.com

Just Creatures

Creation sheds light; it draws what is human out of us, reflecting it back. It heals and it hurts, but it hurts so good. Creation, in force or in action, carries us forward. It gives insight into new ways of being. Creation is sexy.

(Creation is fruity, if you will.)

spraying hands

i heart tea
(Yeah, me too buddy.)

charcoal hands

wrist splint hands

hula hoop

supplies from higher

graffiti art

painting the town

painting hand

drew's hands
This last pair of hands makes my heart pound and my palms sweaty. Among other things. I am gonna create amazing things with the owner of these hands.

That wasn’t my point was it? No. (And yes.)

Do it, make it, shout it, be it, sing it, raise it, shake it, live it, have it, throw it, soothe it, shape it, give it, get it out. Set it free.

A Southern Girl Speaks

It’s not unusual.

(Tom Jones, anyone?)

[Ahem. Now that you have that out of your system…] It’s not unusual for a southern girl to make a friend on the train or in the line at the bookstore. (Dude, where ever you may be, when I invited you for coffee because we were buying the same book – I was mostly kidding and I definitely did not want to steal your wallet or go home with you.)

Anyway, a southern girls speaks. Sometimes she speaks out of turn or little too much, but she does say her piece – and you love that about her. What a southern girl must learn to do is speak honestly. That shirt is nice, but what I was thinking when I said that was that you should have gotten one in your size.

In her natural state, she speaks. Politely. With love.

Even when she has to tell you that you spoke harshly, let her down, and or accidentally called her an idiot when you said that she should have checked that her vegetarian meal was onboard before the aircraft doors were closed, sugar slips off her tongue.

And this southern girl is back at home in her natural habitat for a few days where this behavior is normal. We’re throwin’ a weddin’ and I couldn’t feel more in my element…

I am sending you my love. All of it. I am overflowing.

I Miss You (Especially) Today

Sitting here, across the ocean
somewhat out of sync with another time and place-
it seems so strange that my heart
should swell for the wind on the tide.
But there are moments when I am here at this desk
or standing on a corner
any corner
sitting in a theatre
laughing with a beer in one hand, and suddenly

my heart is far away.

You can keep it for a while.

The Way Out is Through

There is something to be learned by this. Unfortunately it takes time to pass through the initial shock of a tray full of tumped over cupcakes.

tumped cupcakes

I owe you a lot of words. Specifically, I should tell you about Thanksgiving and fireworks. You might also like to hear about flat hunting or the personality of London boroughs and neighborhoods. Possibly, you are wondering what the weather is like. A few of you might care to know more about the inner workings of the healthcare system. Today is not the day for any of these things. I do apologize.

All I can muster is the strength to exclaim that great change is underway. Let your mind run wild with the following analogy: Drew and I are in the back of a manual transmission taxi which is rushing to an unknown destination. Someone is dressing me (without having been asked) and gives little instruction so that I might help – and I am being asked to give the driver directions while icing a three tiered wedding cake in my lap. Drew has been given the task of cutting perfect strings of snow angels from the tiniest origami paper while also learning how to juggle using only his elbows. All the while, we are required to maintain a conversation with each other if we are not in physical contact.

Yeah, I laugh picturing this, too. But it is really how I feel.

I’ll get to work gathering photos and videos for those updates. Don’t you worry, I have not let 2009 knock me out for the final count, though I may confess that it has stripped me nearly naked and left me upside down. Please don’t attempt to picture that.

Love each other.

When you visit the website, it gives me a warm fuzzy.

Move Over Jack Handey

Someday I will look back at this period in my life and think about the lessons I have learned and how strong it helped me to become. For the moment, though, I am distinctly aware of the stretching and growing as if I were poor Westley on ‘the machine’.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And God, can I cancel that request for patience and strength of character? Seriously.

There are links to new photos on the website. Besides, aren’t you curious what time it is in London?

The Caveman is Among Us

 

defendingthecaveman

Defending the Caveman, the one man show starring well loved Australian comedian Mark Little, is a witty exploration of gender roles and social opinion.  Upon entering the theatre you are welcomed into Mark’s slightly cave-ish living room, complete with cave paintings and Flintstones style furniture.  Mark’s spear is ready at hand–beside the remote.

As Mark entered the stage it was hard to tell if he was a character in the show or the host about to announce the show–and I got feeling he didn’t like his shirt.  Although opening night may have started slowly, the audience soon grew comfortable with a stage show that crossed over into stand up comedy.  Mark found a groove and got comfortable.  Moments later laughter erupted as we started to identify with the scenarios plaguing Mark and his wife Cath.  Hunters vs. gathers and negotiation vs. cooperation were common themes.  Writer Rob Becker has obviously done his homework on the subject; the humor is based in anthropological study, the philosophy of gender, and real day to day life.

It’s a great laugh.  It’s easy to relate to.  And there is never a better time to laugh about what makes us different than right now.

Seeing this play reminded me of something I had read recently.  Isn’t that funny how you come across something new and then you start seeing it everywhere?!  My favorite philosopher, Ken Wilber, has some great things to say about gender roles and feminism.

“…we can learn to value the differences between the male and female value spheres.  Those differences, even according to the radical feminists, appear to be here for good — but we can learn to value them with more equal emphasis.  How to do so is one of things we might want to talk about.”  

(1996, A Brief History of Everything)
ken wilber

 

Of Bridges Burned

While Drew was busy today, I joined Emily and Kerry for a walking tour of the area near St. Paul’s Cathedral, on the south side of the City of London.  Apparently Emily has become friends with some credentialed London tour guides, Keith and Gordon, whom I had the pleasure of meeting.  It is amazing the amount of history they have stored under their hats!  These gentlemen surely have very full social calendars; they know the whole city by heart as well as most of what there is to do.  Keith gave us plenty more information than I could ever remember about the buildings in the area that had been destroyed and rebuilt, whether due to bombings or refurbishment requirements.

keith

tour statue

st. pauls

stationers

We ended our walking tour at the Museum of London.  Though it looks rather unimpressive from the outside, it houses a fantastic amount of information on the history of the city as well as precious artifacts.  The collection of exhibitions are well presented and inviting.  Currently, the museum is undergoing refurbishment on the lower level to accommodate for exciting new features.  I wouldn’t mind visiting the Museum again, less tired, less snotty, and less frozen.

Although the headache was quite prominent by this time, the night was still very young.  The walking tour group headed to the Sir John Oldcastle pub; Drew joined our group there.  Drew and I celebrated our first beer of 2009 and enjoyed a curry.

curry

We met a few more of our group and were privileged with more information about events around the city and additional bits of history before moving along to our final destination.

The Slaughtered Lamb, in Clerkenwell, is a nice place to enjoy a drink, a hot pub meal, and live music in a part of town that is rather quiet on the weekends.  Trusting the expertise of our new dear friends, we are able to recommend the chips, but can only give three stars to the fish due to it’s low crunch factor.  The portions are healthy, and the atmosphere isn’t bad, but crunch is a rather important factor to this group.

I know you are wondering how we stumbled upon The Slaughtered Lamb.  Upon the urging of Kassi Thomas, and seeing how the venue happened to be in my neighborhood, it felt right to be at Levi Weaver’s show – despite the low grade fever, exhaustion, headache, and runny nose.  It was well worth the late night to say the least.

levi weaver

If Bob Dylan, Thom Yorke, and Coldplay had a baby I think they would name him Levi Weaver.  And I hope my saying so doesn’t offend Levi at all…  Armed with a pick, a haunting voice, a drummer, a borrowed guitar, two loop pedals (one of which may have fried mid-Of Bridges Burned), a harmonica that was missing early in the set and later returned by mic b (Mike B.), and a borrowed violin bow, Levi won my heart.  It might have taken a lot less, but I think it was the fried equipment and mislaid instruments that made the night so special.  It was cause for conversation that tied us all intimately into the performance – even to the very last note of Which Drink.  Kassi Thomas’ name did come up, in fact, and Levi spoke sweetly of my dear friend.  That’s good; I’d hate to get all redneck in public.  Under the lights.  On stage.  Like the time I was on Springer.

The lyrics are haunting and intelligently crafted, riding on a voice that lifts up one of your heartstrings in an unexpected way, and sneaks in.  If you aren’t convinced by the recordings you can find on his site, I would beg you to give it another listen live.  Experiencing his candor, wit, and spirit enhances the mere poetic vibrations – which are lovely on their own – and creates a tangible connection to the universal themes of love, loss, and the peace that only comes with hope.

Blue. Blue Seven.

  1. I am married to my best friend.
  2. I can afford food, clothing, and shelter.
  3. I have marketable skills and an education.
  4. I live in London, a place where many people may never even have the chance to visit.
  5. This week there is evidence that more Americans feel hopeful.

Although it isn’t always the most fun to live through emotionally taxing moments, they really can turn into the funniest stories.  I hope that you get some enjoyment out of it when I rant and rave about a day’s crazy events because somehow Drew and I manage to laugh ourselves off the couch about it.  And…  I would like to think I grow a little bit each time my eyes well up with tears (yes, we all know that’s not the rarity it should be) or some idiot troublesome, but lovely, individual makes my heart race.

So, what’s with the list?  On days that present challenges, making a Top Five list becomes a lifeline.

Yesterday started nicely enough.  While making a trip to the office supply store (or heaven, as I like to call it) and the grocery, I found a small street market that I had never seen before, right around the corner from our flat.  This market on Whitecross Street boasted several ethnic food booths–and others with random wares for sale.  I also found a vegetarian restaurant of a more permanent variety, called Carnevale, that has vegan cuisine on the menu daily.  The restaurant appears to have pretty limited hours, so I might just have to try it alone.

whitecross market

carnevale

carnevale menu

After my spirits had been lifted by this new experience, I happily returned to my flat for lunch.  While I was submitting an online application my computer screen went black.  I was nervous.  Then I noticed I was sitting in the dark; I looked up to see if the people across the street were still working.  The whole office building across the street was in darkness and workers had left their desks, like I had, to look out the windows at the city employees tearing up the water lines below us.  I am sure we were all thinking that someone down there must have accidentally cut the power on our street.  As I was watching the people in the building across the street, those people started to notice me as well.  One at a time–from different floors and different sections of windows–people started to wave excitedly and smile.  For some strange reason it thrilled me to be so warmly greeted.  And I smiled and waved back.  Before I could get the camera to capture the warm waving workers, the lights had come back on and they began returning to their desks with cups of tea.  And just like that the magic moment passed.

water works

gullivers house

Over my own cup of hot tea, I took a moment to peruse our Barclays online bank statement.  A very fishy charge in the amount of £74.99 appeared on the account.  I don’t know where to begin telling this bit of the story.  I’ve already filled you in on the ordeal of starting our account.  Then, I am sure I mentioned the trouble regarding the debit card I requested.  It seems that I remember also filling you in on the debit card I requested three more times.  Did I also tell you about the the time I found out I wasn’t eligible for a debit card like Drew’s?

Short back story on this new edition of “bank error”:

On a Friday in November Drew made a purchase.

Immediately after purchase Drew did some research and realized he had been lied to.  He called to request a refund but the phone number is invalid.

Drew immediately went to Barclays to dispute the charge and cancel his debit card.

Barclays refunded the money ($74.99) immediately, pending investigation.

Barclays sent Drew paperwork to fill out; he got through most it.  However, signing the document signifies that the cardholder did not provide banking information to the company presenting the item for payment.  I took the form to a Barclays branch to ask a member of staff how to properly complete the form.  The rep recommended that Drew leave the rest of the form blank (don’t sign it) as it does not apply to him; send it in without a signature.  Although this sounds like complete crap to me, what information do I have to argue?  I mailed the form as we were heading to airport for our Christmas holiday.  The form said that if we didn’t mail it back within 14 days, the bank would assume the money should be debited from our account.

Yesterday I see that the charge reappeared on our account.  (That’s grocery money.)

Drew requested that I investigate the situation.  The problems with this were that 1) Drew made the purchase, 2) Most Barclays advisors don’t listen very carefully to what customers are saying, 3) Most Barclays advisors I have dealt with say whatever they need to say to get you out of their own hair and into that of some other department outside the building, 4) Barclays Card Services, Branch Staff, and Online Banking department do not communicate well with one another, 5) There are fundamental flaws in the electronically generated communication with the customer and between departments, 6) Gaps in time make diagnosing a problem difficult, 7) Bank staff in all departments are trained to expect fraud and suspicious activity, 8 ) I have witnessed that many customers requesting help can be rude, emotionally charged, ill-prepared, uninformed (like me, not always our fault), disorganized, and talking on a mobile phone in the bank–so, the advisors are harried before I get to them, 9) It’s London; London is busy.  They don’t have time to deal with me, 10) I just might be that suspicious person they have been trained to catch in action.

Although I felt strongly that our dispute paperwork had been filled out incorrectly (or not to Barclays’ satisfaction), resulting in the charge reappearing on our account, I headed to the branch with the nicest advisors I had yet found in this fair city to find out what I could do to rectify the situation.  I am not sure what I expected them to say.  However, I was prepared with the printed statement, my account numbers, a well thought out explanation, and my passport.

After briefly explaining the situation to the young bank advisor she asked for my account information.  Then, she spit out a bunch of gibberish.  It went kind of like this:

Me: We’ve disputed a charge on our account, but it has shown back up again.  I am afraid we may have incorrectly filled out the dispute paperwork or missed some step in the process to clearing it all up.  I’d like to find out why this charge has been assessed to my account at this time and how I go about clearing it up for good.

Idiot Lovely, but troublesome, bank advisor: Sort code?

Me: 111112

Idiot Lovely, but troublesome, bank advisor: Account Number?

Me: 11111112

Idiot Lovely, but troublesome, bank advisor: Hmmm…  Blue.  Blue seven.

Me: That doesn’t make any sense.  Are you sure you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?

Idiot Lovely, but troublesome, bank advisor:  Blue seven. (This is where a smile should have come into play.  Blank stare.)

Me: Seriously, after all of the misinformation I have received I can barely stand here and accept that “blue seven” is the answer.

Idiot Lovely, but troublesome, bank advisor: Since it was Andrew Huddleston that made the purchase in question, and not yourself, you are not authorised in the first place to investigate this charge on your account.  You have no power here.  Be gone, before someone drops a house on you, too!

If you are an ex-pat who has stumbled across this blog entry in your research on which bank to choose, I hope our misadventures, at least, are helpful to you.  As for me, I feel like I might be a few centimeters taller.  There is also a creepy warm feeling in my chest and throat (like heartburn) seeming to suggest that if someone mentions Barclays within the next few weeks I might catch fire.

 

What if the Mightiest Word is Love?

On this historic day it is still wonderful to be in London informally representing the country that has ushered in great change which will effect us on a global scale.  It is regrettable, however, to be so far from you who are celebrating–or at least witnessing–the changing of the guards.  Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in today as the 44th President of the United States.  Forgive me for stating the obvious or if I seem overly dramatic; this blog entry is really for my children.

President Obama is our first African American president.  He has been compared to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr…. and Aretha Franklin sang at his inauguration.  He delivered a speech that may not be remembered as one overflowing with catchy phrases, but he genuinely seemed to address the nation and the world with a message of love, peace, and cooperation.  He expressed the enormity of the tasks that lay ahead for him as president, especially in the midst of a global economic recession.

I have hope that Obama really will reach across party lines to effect policy change that will more likely reflect the needs and wishes of more Americans.  I have hope that our foreign relations will vastly improve and that we will bring soldiers home.  More than anything, though, I hope that more Americans will pay attention.

I fully appreciate the commission of the poem Praise song for the day, written and recited by Elizabeth Alexander.  I was also moved by Jon Williams’ arrangement of Air and Simple Gifts as performed by cellist Yo Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill.

Perhaps the best Inauguration story is the one I saw on the news this morning about Obama’s evening visit to the Lincoln Memorial with his family.

Whatever your views personal political views, I hope you too have hope for the future.

Reconsider Everything

While walking through Green Park today on our way to take photos of Buckingham Palace, I heard a terrible commotion in the distance.  It sounded like someone giving a heated speech to a noisy and responsive crowd–like you see in old history films.  A detour down Piccadilly towards Piccadilly Arcade led us to the source of the disruption.  A very large crowd was marching, followed by many police (on foot, in several police vans, and on motorcycles), with a loudspeaker in the middle.  A man’s voice could be heard shouting and sometimes chanting things like “Gaza is a killing field”–and the crowd would repeat most of what he said.  Their bright orange signs read “ONLY KINLAFAH WILL LIBERATE PALESTINE”, “STOP ISRAELI TERRORISM”, and MUSLIM ARMIES MUST DEFEND GAZA”.  Although I was at first intrigued by the crowd and the police that allowed them their peaceful demonstration, my heart quickly began breaking at the sight.  As usual, I have no interest in a debate; I just feel great concern for the human lives for which these voices rang out and I am at the same time conflicted over the issue of violence to bring about peace.  Isn’t that like spanking your children because they hit someone?  I don’t mean to suggest that Gaza should not be allowed to defend itself, it just seems that these two peoples will not be satisfied with peace.  It appears that peace is not what either truly desires…

demonstration one

demonstration two

I didn’t wake up this morning hoping for something so big to blog about, nor do I consider myself to be knowledgeable enough to speak about this issue itself.  However, my brain translated this incident into a representative event.  Drew and I are living in a very big, very diverse, city.  We are closer to world events than we have ever been.  Our children may someday appreciate that we were witnesses to events like these and may learn an appreciation for our place in the global society from our example–that is, once we gain our own footing.  And I also ache for the children on the shoulders of the parents in that crowd, learning very deep anger, to support violence, and prejudice at such a young age.  I also must be thankful that we live in a place where we may all peacefully express our views on the Queen’s doorstep.

Before the deep thinking began, we slept late and headed to our neighborhood Pizza Express for lunch.  I was anxious to get photos of a quintessentially British site before you all got bored and Buckingham Palace seemed like the very best stop.

Buckingham Palace

new do at the palace

green park gate

After the camera ran out of juice and we explored the grounds, we headed toward the London Eye, Big Ben, and the houses of Parliament.  We’ll have to make that trip again with two batteries fully charged and more light left in the day.

After dinner we finally unpacked and started laundry.  Yes, my London housewife life is now back in full swing.

Yesterday was very pleasant, though bitter cold outside.  We slept late, got haircuts at ESHK, ate lunch, began planning for the website upgrades, walked to Islington, ate dinner at Yo! Sushi, and saw “The Spirit” at the Vue Cinema.  If you like films made in the style of graphic novels (that’s sort of like a more grown-up version of a comic book, mom), you might really like this movie.

drews new hair

website wall

website wall two

I am very excited about our new website.  And there is no better way to demonstrate excitement than by hanging brightly colored Post-Its.

Leaving Nashvegas

The collection of mail on our doorstep is a testament to the great length of time we were afforded with family and friends.

Mail pile

We didn’t come close to seeing everyone on the list, but we wore ourselves out trying.  Since our last post we saw two more beautiful (and growing) children and their parents and I was able to connect with an Aunt and Uncle from Lincoln County.  Even though it was firstly a vacation, we still had loose relocation ends to tie up and there will be more to follow–for quite some time, I suspect. I am thankful for the room and board we received as well as the warm welcome. It was great to be in a familiar place among familiar faces. Although leaving a second time was harder than the first, it is nice to be back in our frozen flat; these little radiators will take some time to warm the place back to a normal temperature. Thank God for blankets and hair dryers.

Blog topics are a jumble in my brain today and I apologize for the somewhat random order or lack thereof… Mainly, you need to know that Continental Airlines treated us like gold. A string of unfortunate events was in store for us on our trip home, but the staff seemed to do everything they could to provide the best service possible. Our first flight out of Nashville was anticipated to be cancelled due to terrible weather in New Jersey so the Continental staff had already flagged us for another flight prior to our arrival to the airport. We left later than anticipated but in plenty of time for our international flight out of Newark, which was only delayed by thirty minutes. Of course, once the plane had pulled away from the gate we were called back because several people who removed themselves from the plane may have left luggage on board and this is a huge security no-no. Once we were clear, we were in the air. The flight was estimated at 5 hours and 55 minutes; I am not sure if this was due to flying with the Jetstream rather than against or that we were flying at night with less air traffic. I can assure you that storms over the ocean are bumpy. Whoa and Dang, Gina.

Top Five Reasons to Fly Continental:

  • More options for special meals, vegan meals available on most flights
  • You can sleep through the landing
  • Professional crew members
  • On demand entertainment with a wide range of choices and your own screen
  • One pass membership points (please share your miles with us if you’ll never use them)

We had no trouble with re-entry and breathed sigh of relief once we had collected our last bag from the baggage claim area. The journey home on the tube was long. Fortunately, after the stairs we had to battle to get to our station, we only had to roll our stuff about a block and half to our flat. I was thankful, again, that we chose the flat with the lift. A trip to the grocery store, a shower, dinner, and snuggling completed the night. Poor Drew went to work today. I would like to say that I dusted, did a load of laundry, landed a job, and unpacked our suitcases. Unfortunately, that would be a big fat lie. I did manage to make appointments to have our wigs busted tomorrow, go to the bank, go the grocery, wash dishes, cook dinner, wash dinner dishes, clean the tea pot, water the plants, answer an email, surf job openings, watch an episode of Ugly Betty and My Name is Earl, and write a blog entry. Lucky you.

When you tuned into the news this morning, I wonder if you heard the same headlines; what we got was this:

     

It’s all disturbing, don’t get me wrong, but I am quite conflicted about the Designer Baby. The prospects of saving future generations of women from breast and cervical cancer are beautiful ideas, but manual, purposeful genetic selection is more than unnerving. I do not have any interest in starting a debate but I do desperately hope for some clarity. At what point do we consider how this choice ripples the ocean? Gattaca anyone?

(Speaking of everything, I am officially a fan of Ken Wilbur. This man inspires me and I am just getting started. If you are the least bit interested in philosophy, written in layspeak, please get a copy of A Brief History of Everything. I am working through it and feel the need to keep pen and paper very close as I read.)

While we were out this evening, we found that we were under a gorgeous London moon. It really is great to be here.

Charterhouse

And on winter nights like these, we do have a freezer. I am not sure what this little box outside our flat door is for, but it hides dessert rather well until after dinner.

Freezer

What are we doing now? Well, we are enjoying some quality time on the internet, I am having a cup of tea, and we shall snuggle again soon. Please don’t forget us. 2009 is a great year to visit London.

Here’s What I Know

On days like today I have time to realize (or rather, run out of time to avoid) how much really has changed for me in the last year and a half or so.  It’s like remembering that no one is holding on to your bike as you peddle like mad down the street.  Usually on New Year’s Eve (before everyone goes to their separate festivities) I am painting on a very, very large 428 pound vinyl canvas with a group of really talented student artists to loud music and wishing at the end of the evening for warm water to wash out rollers as my hands go numb.  For the last handful of years we’ve attended the Tune NYE bash–-it’s never sounded so good as it does to me now.  My New Year’s Day is usually spent powdering that sticky canvas and folding it up with that same group of really talented student artists.

Looking back on the transitions I made to find the right day job, I feel sure that I was protected and propelled forward by mysterious forces.  Remembering the former comfort and constancy of my extra curricular programming schedule opens up a wound I can’t seem to let heal just yet, even though I made the choice to move away from it.  This reflection inspired a brief moment of desire, for the first time since we arrived back in Nashville, to go home-home to London.  The acknowledgement is stinging, but it is even more painful to say.

The longing to go home wasn’t at all related to wanting to leave anyone we’ve come to see.  It’s really more like I’m an addict wishing to be far away from temptations narrowly escaped.   I still don’t know what my time with my students meant if it was always meant to end or why I found a dream job prior to Drew’s job offer in London, but the longer I am here I feel like pieces of my heart get achy in proximity to the people and things I bravely left behind.  Leaving them a second time is going to be as difficult as I expected.  Gotta get a job–something new to focus on, with new challenges.

I certainly will not be able to see every single person I’ve been missing before I am back on a plane to London, but I am thankful that my New Year’s Eve plans include a wedding, a beautiful baby, and Apples to Apples.  These familiar comforts are more than I could have asked for and everything I needed to get me ready to face the next string of challenges.  Thank you for your love.

Would You Like to Dance?

Where to begin…

With a sequence of events not entirely unlike a roller coaster ride–the kind you wait in line nearly half a day to ride and get off feeling sick, exhilarated, and thankful to be alive–it’s hard to know exactly how to begin to tell the story of the last two and a half days.  This may eventually make its way into the draft copy of that book I told you about.

Monday there were yummy (vegan) Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemony Icing.

vegan gingerbread cupcake

I had an interview on Tuesday morning with the CEO of a dynamic and specialized medical company looking for a Clinic Coordinator.  The long term goals of the organization are quite inspiring and I was honored to have made it to their short list.  However, I think our recent relocation may have given them the idea that I may not offer them the longevity they are hoping to find in the right candidate, raising a tiny red flag.  Although I can’t make any promises about what the next five years hold for us, this opportunity would be a dream for someone looking for career advancement in my field– and in related fields.  There are quite a few potential leads in the wings at the moment, but I am intrigued at the challenges presented for this Clinic Coordinator as well being very impressed with the clarity of the plan.  The environment is small and manageable enough still that there should be a moment to get acquainted with the role before the expansion and growth begins.  There is a bright future for them, regardless what they decide about me.

There are several other opportunities in the wings that are more closely in line with the work I was doing when I left the states.  Unfortunately, I will probably not know anything about those opportunities until January as most employers during this season are just lining applicants up for hiring at that time, when teams have returned from holidays.  I do find it a bit strange that my previous employer has not contacted me since I arrived in the UK, though I did make sure to pass along my contact information and I had received such positive feedback from the team here.  It seems I was more starry-eyed about them than they were about me.

Headsick and hopeful, I left my interview to get you some photos of Carnaby Street.  It’s a fun little pedestrianized shopping street near Oxford Street Tube Station where big Macy’s-Day-Parade-like snowman balloons hang in the air above your head as you wander along shopping.

snowman 1

snowman 2

snowman 3

snowman 4

Wow, snowmen and tea shop window displays do wonders for that part of my head that almost never stops asking questions that keep me awake at night.

whittard 1

whittard 2

You know what else eases my mind?  Modern dance done well.  I know that seems like quite the non sequitur, but stay with me here.  It has always been my view that Drew could appreciate modern dance if we were to identify a choreographer that had something in common with him.    Tuesday night I had the chance to find my answer.

edward scissorhands

When Drew was offered tickets to Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands at the Sadler Wells Theatre in our neighborhood I was thrilled.  It is essentially a contemporary ballet (which relies heavily on movement as a theatrical tool as well for its purely enjoyable aesthetics).  The show is a must see for contemporary theatre, Danny Elfman, and dance lovers.  Though the story took a slight departure from the film, it was still an incredibly staged adaption ending in [SPOILER ALERT]  snow for the audience, too.  I much appreciate the live orchestra and superb company of dance/actors as well as the talent and vision of the team who put the show together.  Wow.  Even Drew was really impressed and dance is not normally his favorite thing.  Dang, Gina.  I wonder if there are any dance classes in the area for old, out of shape, degree holding dance minors who can sizzle like bacon and rise like smoke from an invisible fire…

And this is where the story starts to get really personal.  It’s hard sometimes to decide what details to share with the world.  I am quite aware that my potential employer might be the type that Googles every candidate and well aware that my former students cannot be kept from reading something publicly available on the world wide web.  With all of that said, you know that I do give great consideration to the content of our blog and that I make every effort to ensure every embarrassing and/or personal divulgence is relevant to some worthwhile point.  I talk too much.

There is such a thing as being too eager.  I am suspicious that this eagerness is often the catalyst for the weird situations in which I find myself.  Wednesday morning I nervously rushed around to be sure that I had everything I needed for my first appointment at a clinic here in the UK: plenty of water in my body, passport, National Insurance number on my welcome letter, my pap smear results from my April exam back in the states, and a vile of urine.

Drew, my sister, and I went through a lot of trouble to get those stinkin’ lab results from my physician before we left the states because I had done research on the subject; my sources strongly advised having original medical and dental records upon arrival in your new country of residence.  Besides, it is programmed in my thinking that you cannot get a prescription for birth control without those yearly exams and I intended to avoid an unnecessary exam if at all possible.  Ladies, are you with me?

(If you really don’t want to get to know me personally, skip the next paragraph or several.  If you can talk about medical things that happen and apply to us all (or the women in your life, for the  gentlemen) without thinking about the fact that it’s me in this story, read on.  But be forewarned.)

As for the urine sample, picture this: I have taped aluminum foil around the specimen cup to avoid getting the label wet.  Like a ten year old with a science project, I have also constructed an aluminum foil funnel that I am also seriously considering using.  This is the only time I have ever stopped to consider the convenience of being a boy.  Anyway, due to lack of time and planning I decided to forego the funnel.  My brain may have stopped functioning for a few fractions of a second when I got creeped out by having my hand dangling in the toilet; instinct told me to stand up a little and try to look to see if I was about to accidentally put the cup in the water.  You know what they say about stopping mid-stream.  Fun times.  As a side note, I have a legitimate reason for being freaked out by the whole peeing in a cup scenario, but that’s another story for another day.

So, I jaunt off to my appointments with all my documents and urine sample in cup in a baggie in another baggie in my purse.  I am supposed to see the doctor at 10:20a and the nurse at 10:40a.  A little weird to see the doctor before the nurse, but no one else seems to think it is weird, so why should I?  On my way to the clinic I went over in my head all of the ways in which I could be discovered carrying urine in my purse.  What if a cyclist mowed me down and the nurses in the emergency room had to go through my things to get my ID before I regained consciousness?  What if I fainted and someone wanted to see if I had a cell phone to call an ambulance?  What if I stopped to buy a bottle of water on my way to the clinic and the clerk saw what was sitting next to my wallet?  I can’t believe this is a normal practice here.  Weirdos.

I arrived at the clinic just prior to my appointment and waited my turn to speak with the receptionist.  When she was free, I gave her my name.  She greeted me as if she expected to see me and I was very impressed.  I handed her the paperwork I had brought with me and asked if that could be added to my chart.  She took it, said yes, and went back to her computer screen so I took a seat amongst the other waiting patients.  It was weird to walk away without marking on a sign-in sheet, getting out an insurance card, or paying a co-pay.

The environment was very different from the private practice offices I am used to, but similar to the clinic I remember on my university campus.  When it is your turn to be seen, your name and room number pop up on an announcement screen.  A loud beep sounds each time a patient is directed to a treatment room so that everyone knows to check the screen.  Moms sat with children and cute little old people nodded off in their chairs.  There were also a few young-ish people reading magazines while they waited.  Everyone seemed to get pretty comfortable in their chair before they were called back, but I didn’t notice any really long wait times, except for me.  At 11:30 my heart was pounding.  I was afraid there has been a mistake and I was keen to get it straightened out; I preferred to straighten it out like a normal person and avoid being perceived as a self-absorbed American, but I was slightly concerned because  I know that missing an appointment can result in being removed from a practice’s treatment list and I wanted my first appointment to go smoothly.  In my two encounters with this receptionist she has been impersonal, if not rude.  I finally ended up approaching her.  She motioned for me to talk to her even though she has just said hello to someone she called on the phone.

Me: Hi, I am really sorry to bother you.  I have been waiting for over an hour for my appointment and I just want to make sure this is normal.

Receptionist (with the phone to her ear, apparently on hold):  What time is your appointment?

Me: I had a 10:20 appointment with the doctor and a 10:40 with the nurse.

Receptionist: You didn’t sign in.

Me: I’m sorry.  I thought all I needed to do was give you my name, which I did when I first arrived.

Receptionist: You didn’t tell me you had two appointments.

 

 

Me: I didn’t realize it mattered or that you wouldn’t already know that I had two appointments.  I just said my name and I thought you knew why I was here and then I asked you if my medical records from my previous doctor could be added to my chart.

Receptionist (with a flash of recognition, a touch of color coming into her face, and sterner, louder tone of voice):  You just handed me papers to go in your chart.  You didn’t tell me you had an appointment.   You have to sign in for your appointments.  I am afraid you are not going to seen.

Me (wondering why else I would have been in the clinic if I wasn’t registering or turning up for an appointment): What should I have done to sign in?

Receptionist: You have to come to the counter and give me your name.  And you have to sign in.

Me (attempting a sincere tone of curiousity and well intention): What do you mean by “sign in”?  Do I have to actually sign something?  What part of “signing in” did I fail to do?

 

 

Receptionist (apparently the other party on the line is speaking to her now): Hold on.

Big, fat, crocodile tears began to fall uncontrollably down my face.  (Don’t get too upset, I am a self-professed crybaby experiencing PMS, it could have happened at any moment anyway.)  There was no sobbing, but my face is hot and wet.  I was embarrassed that I had somehow missed something after attempting so hard to meld into the system.  I was embarrassed that this person had raised her voice at me, had become defensive at my mere request for information, and the fact that she was belittling me at a medium volume in front of her colleagues and a small waiting room crowd.  I was embarrassed that I was letting it affect me–and that I was falling apart in front of all of these people–while she took a phone call.  When she had hung up and turned her face to me again, I calmly attempted to speak with her again.

Me: I apologize, again.  This is my first appointment with a physician in the UK.  I understand that I have missed my appointments today and will not be seen, but in future, I do need to know how to sign in.

Receptionist (calmer and in her regular loud voice): You just come to the counter and give me your name and sign in.

Me: Ok.  This morning I gave you my name.  How do I sign in?

Receptionist: Everything is computerized so when you sign in we let the staff know you are here and they can call you back.  When it is your turn your name and room number will come up on the screen in the waiting area and you go to the room indicated.

Me: Ok.  How do I sign in?

 

 

Receptionist: You give me your name and you sign in.

I was absolutely exasperated at this moment and I took a moment to breathe.  I knew that the issue  may have been that I am pretty intelligent and that she didn’t know how to explain what I needed to know.  We had both made some incorrect assumptions.  I got it.  She obviously didn’t.

Receptionist: You handed me paperwork; you didn’t say you were here for an appointment.

Me: So, to “sign in”, I need to tell you I am here for an appointment.  [Because you don’t know to expect me and have not looked at the day’s schedule.  I have worked in a busy medical clinic and our front office staff knew who was on the schedule to be seen that day, even when we had over a 100 patients on the schedule.  If they didn’t recognize your face, which was rare, they sure as heck recognized your name as one being on the schedule when you went to the window and gave it to them.]

Being a nice person who could see a miscommunication for what it was, she kindly phoned the nurse and doctor to explain what had happened and arranged for me to be seen.

The nurse was very kind and let me pull myself together before she started taking the necessary vital signs and history.  She teared up as she asked me to explain what had gotten me so upset.  I gave her the short version of our relocation trials and explained that PMS+last straw+being new to everything at almost 30=occasionally getting overwhelmed.   The nurse also explained that people pop in to drop off paperwork or pick up prescriptions.  It is quite common that people show up in the office without appointments for other reasons.  Note to self.  I saw the doctor next.  This is your intermission.  Take the opportunity to make a bowl of popcorn or warm your coffee.  I’ve been working on this entry for about three to four hours already, so we all need a break.

As far as I can tell, no one ever looked at my chart or those lab results I brought that caused all of the confusion.  By the time I sat with the doctor I may have been in shock already.  These rooms in which I met the nurse and doctor were more like offices than exam rooms.  Except, they were more like the offices you met your biology professor in to discuss taking a test early so you could miss class for an out of state trip with this color guard group–that no one understands is really a sports team competing in world class competition, sort of like the Olympics (well, maybe that’s a stretch).  I explained that I just wanted to get the birth control and migraine medicine most similar to what I had been taking.  I looked around the strange room while she Googled the brand names of my prescriptions.  Yes, she did.

What she said next kind of made my head spin.  If you have ever felt faint or been on the Tilt-A-Whirl, you know you the sensation I mean.  In the UK, migraine sufferers (especially those who are   age 35 and/or smokers) are not prescribed combination type birth control pills, which is the most popular type of contraceptive.  This is what I had been taking.  Apparently, the risk of stroke is something taken very seriously.  My natural defenses were lit and I felt offended that she might be implying that American physicians are ignorant or reckless.  Of course, I was too dumbstruck to know what to say in response.  She said that I could opt to use occasional methods which are widely available at pharmacies over the counter or I could choose between two more effective treatments available through the clinic.  The progestogen only pill is an option only slightly less effective with a different set of potential side effects.  Equally as effective as this option is the insertion of an intra-uterine device (IUD) which prevents pregnancy without chemicals (though you can opt to have one with hormones for symptom management or as a spermicide).  Both of these options holds a new set of risks.  I’ll let you do the research you care to do.  That part isn’t really what’s important in this story.

I enjoy a healthy dose of drama just as much as the next girl.  But this was more than I thought I would be faced with at this juncture.  This type of combined-hormone pill therapy was something I chose as a treatment option ten years ago when my doctor recommended it for symptom management.  It has been something I have been thankful for as I enjoyed having time to be married without children.  And it is something that gave me time to enjoy working with that crazy string of teenagers I love so much (not in the weird Michael Jackson way).  I have always looked forward to having kids, but I have also wanted to wait until I had more patience, more wisdom to share, and more love to give to them as a less selfish me.  Babies are a thrilling and heartwarming prospect, but it’s not something I want to juggle alongside getting settled–and I need to earn a little money for a while to kick start our plan.  Having a baby, though awesome, has more serious consequences than dropping an M&M.

I came expecting the unexpected and I know the challenges are far from over.  But I was still caught off guard when our relocation affected me in such a truly personal way.  You don’t get more intimate than this.  (I have done some research today and I am certain that I already have all of the side effects that any of these options could cause [in less than 3% of subjects studied versus those on placebo].)  BTW, if anyone understands why those two people on top of the cliff are holding hands from separate bath tubs at the end of the Cialis commercials, please fill me in.

Before this experience I had no frame of reference to even begin forming questions about it.  Now, I am prompted to research things I never thought would be applicable to me.  It’s quite funny considering that I have worked in pharmaceutical related industries for ten years and medical related industries for four of those.  You would just think that I might have come across this information in my research.  Well, maybe not.  Not every woman relocating from the states to the UK is a migraine sufferer on combined hormone birth control pills.  The IUD is also less commonly used in the states.  None of my friends have mentioned it.  Is someone holding out on me?  Point being, who knew?!

There was no time to sit around and feel sorry for myself for being conflicted about some serious choices ahead of me and having been so fantastically embarrassed. I had an appointment with a genius at the Apple store over 2 miles away. Carrying my computer to the tube station nearest me on the Central Line and getting off in the busiest area of town year round, let alone at Christmas, was probably quite a site for people watching. Dang Gina. By the time I got to the Apple store I was hot and sweaty, but thankful to be somewhere quite familiar. I had an appointment. I was thirty minutes early. It was awesome. Maybe it wasn’t that awesome, but in comparison, I didn’t know that. There were fun people waiting beside me and I had a short conversation with two of them. Then, I discovered that my genius was personable and we ended up having a pretty cool conversation. He asked me out on a double date; he and his fiance are in the process of relocating here from Australia and we have both put in some time in the field of clinical research. Did I just make a friend? (If any technophiles have made it this far, I just need to replace the RAM.)

Later that afternoon, I got my prescriptions filled at my local pharmacy (chemist). A very nice family runs it. My migraine medicine was £7.10 for 6 pills, a year’s worth of the progestogen is free, but I may not need it that long. The jury is still out.

At the end of the day, the two contrasting experiences left me with a sense of being from another planet.

The communication breakdown at the clinic combined with the realization that medical care is structured more differently here than I had imagined started that train of deep thoughts and ranting…  It was like I said to the nurse, I will eventually be thankful for the emotionally poignant experience I now have to remind me that there is no shame in admitting you are new to something and that reaching out is worth the difficulty of doing so.  I was also reminded that the world is big and that as much I want to be unbiased, I am still displaying stereotypical American traits that are not so desirable.   (I am proud and I assume MY WAY is THE WAY.)  Maybe the staff at the clinic will appreciate this opportunity to reassess how new patients are handled.  Perhaps I have helped them to identify a breakdown in their systems and procedures.  If not, I at least modeled an attitude of flexibility and willingness , without looking to place blame, in the midst of a stressful situation.

I don’t think my experience with the receptionist at the medical clinic brings to light issues solely related to the medical community here.  There is a culture of impersonality that permeates London.  People are not unfriendly, though.  I have enjoyed my share of impromptu conversations with strangers.  Most of the time I smile at someone, that smile is returned to me. Today I may have made a friend in a busy store.  The issue is sheer volume.  The number of people conducting business–or just going about their day–in this big wild city have changed the way people interact.  It is certainly foreign to me.  I am still attempting to enjoy those tiny human connections appreciated in more rural areas through such conventions as customer service.  When you hear it said that people in cities like New York, Paris, and London are unfriendly and callous, you should consider that your perceptions are based on societal norms that don’t apply in that place.  It’s not a case of Nashville versus Venice; it’s a case of “when in Rome…”  As for me, I will continue to smile at strangers and give open-mindedness a jolly good go.  I will also bite the bullet more often and ask questions, even when I think I know the answer.

About nine years ago I had a brilliant dance instructor that told me to quit thinking of gravity (or more so the concept of weight) and the floor as obstacles, but to be mindful of them as essential tools for movement. Part of the trick was, of course, learning to properly use the tools. For me, it was one of those concepts that I could only understand at first in bursts of what I describe as being wow-the-universe-is-big moments. Once I was in that moment, I really felt like I was part of the floor and I could work in tandem with gravity. But, it is also knowledge like everything else, that fades in to the recesses when it isn’t being used. That concept, at least, does seem applicable to this situation and quite often in life. Maybe Edward Scissorhands tickets weren’t so random after all. It may have been the reminder I needed that there is no coming to consciousness without pain.

Take Me to Your Leader

Who really runs this place?!  And why do I live in a country where I know so little about the government, its laws, and my relative role within this play?  I heard a rumor that they keep the Queen around because she brings in so many tourists each year, but I am intrigued by the general attitude Londoners have about their government leaders and politics in general.

The United Kingdom, comprising England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, is governed by a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system.  London is the capital and home to the parliament as well as the current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor II.  (Her reign began when she was merely 25 years old; she had a four year old child–and I have recurrent nightmares about losing track of my baby, which I do not yet have.  Thank heavens I am not responsible for millions of people.)  I still don’t necessarily understand what the Queen actually does.  I think her purpose is to regularly give politicians the stink eye to remind them about the seriousness of their post and the needs and desires of the people they represent.  I imagine for them it’s kind of like knowing their mom (or grandmother) is always watching.  The Prime Minister is the head of the executive branch of government, similar to a U.S. President, except that I think I understand that the Prime Minister is appointed by the monarch depending on which party is the largest in parliament.  Members of parliament, however, are elected directly by the people.  I think.

Queen Elizabeth is also the monarch of 16 other commonwealth realms; I believe that there are figures to represent her among those governments though the Queen is reported to remain extremely knowledgeable and active in her duties, though she officially represents the people and rarely expresses personal opinions on issues.  I am quite surprised at how much admiration I am beginning to develop for the Her Majesty–not necessarily, yet, understanding the role of a monarch in general–but for her strength and sense of duty.  Of course, to know her seems impossible.  You may piece together what is said by those who deal with her directly and infer what she might be like through the studying of her many speeches…  You can take into account the appearances she chooses to make, her public choices, and foreign relations actions–but rarely does the Queen herself speak candidly or personally.

I tend to operate under the belief that we are more alike than we are different.  Though I have never been royalty, I have been a girl all my life.  She may be made of iron and she may have been bred for serious responsibilities from the very day she was born.  Based on my own disposition, though, I hope that Queen Elizabeth is just Elizabeth to someone–someone who knows her completely and loves her.  Really loves her.

Queen

Is it a sign that I am old and growing motherly when I start thinking about Her Majesty as someone I should care for personally?  And if I am, in fact, growing older–shall I expect wisdom to visit soon?

What’s That Smell?

Term of the Day: Have a jolly good go

  • Make the best effort (usually with light and fun undertones)

While I am having a jolly good go at learning how to live the life of a Londoner, I also learn a lot about myself. I shouldn’t expect any less from this blip out of my life-long journey, but sometimes it still does surprise me a little to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. For instance, I still find it shocking how little I understand foreign relations matters and know not a thing about how a hedge fund works. It is appalling how long I was completely uninterested in politics. Instilling these values in my children will be a challenge I have to face in the age of technology, where every single word from my mouth will compete with the never ending barrage of incoming signals. My every action will have to speak where words will fail me.

Whew. I bet you are glad that’s over!

How about some photos of the Carnival in Leicester Square that Drew mentioned? Please look carefully through some of these photos for the smoking carnival workers. I just don’t know how they manage to enjoy their nicotine, keep their balance, not get hit by an unwieldy teacup, and keep everyone sufficiently nauseous by spinning them around more than should be good for them.

sign

basketball throw

bumper cars

dart throw

fishing

ice maze

merry go round

night flower

pstry stand

ring toss

smoking

sweet stand

swing

waltzer

Things for Which I Am Thankful

I am one of those people who operates best with a plan and a deadline.  I also happen to be an extremely emotional person who attaches meaning to everything.  The flaw isn’t in my sentimentality or my best laid plans–it’s in the crying and pouting that ensues when Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t go as planned.  The short story is that canned pumpkin is not widely available, if at all, in the UK.  I do not even know how to begin to cook a real one and I have not yet seen a pumpkin in a grocery store…  It is also hard to locate canned, whole black beans or cilantro, but I shouldn’t be surprised by that.

Through these and other complications, I am so thankful that my husband (who had to work on this holiday) is easy going and has a great sense of humor.  He didn’t mind our make shift dinner of home made guacamole, yummy black bean dip, and random leftovers.  He politely ate the little chocolate (plan b) cakes that I overcooked while talking on the phone to family overseas.  That’s my man.  And he’s a good after dinner snuggler, too.

The truth is that am blessed to be sharing my life with my very best friend.  I am reminded by current events that today is just another day in the grand scheme of things–terrorists attack on Thanksgiving, too.  People all over the world are far from their families for reasons beyond their own choosing; I have made a choice to be an ocean away from my family, but at least I had the freedom and opportunity to make that choice.  I promise that I don’t miss you any less just because I am resolved to enjoy my life in London.  I may, however, be on my way to gaining a truer and deeper respect for this global society as I consider my comfy traditions and full-bellied celebrations.  I wasn’t sure when the day started what I would have on my list besides the standard fare, but in the end, I am thankful for this awesome chance we have to be broken and sent through the fire.  We must surely be amazed at the transformation we see on the other side.

Strange New Day

Last night Drew worked well into the evening and he’s fighting a cold, so we snuggled a few extra minutes this morning.  He had decided to go late to the office if he woke up feeling as lousy as he did yesterday.  Though he didn’t sleep very much later than usual, it felt strange to make a big 9 am breakfast while he checked his first round of emails…  Feed a cold, right?

Anyway, I was blown away as we ate by the news of an anti-government protest that shut down the Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, Thailand.  The story is fascinating.  I hope that the protest is peaceful as long as it continues and that no one is harmed as the Thai government attempts to return the airport to normal operations.

Some of the passengers stranded in the airport were complaining to the protestors, who were offering the same stranded passengers food, that some of them would be missing Thanksgiving celebrations with their families in America.  Suddenly, this holiday that had been so firmly ingrained into my internal calendar became as foreign sounding to me as it was to these Thai natives.  Living for a few weeks in this melting pot has already given me such a greater sense of the size of the world and the nearly infinite number of cultures in it that I can not help but experience moments in which I am utterly disconnected.  Of course, it takes mere seconds for the familiar to flood back in; I am saved by the invisible lines drawn between us.  Our relationship saves me from being lost at sea.

Home means more to me with each passing day, but being home is becoming less about about geographic location and more about the feeling I get each time I am where I am supposed to be.  Being on this adventure with Drew, across the ocean from the only place we have ever lived prior to October, is just as unexpectedly inexplicable as I thought it would be.

Simple Tips for an Easier Life

As today was such a whirlwind, you will be treated to an excerpt from the draft of my upcoming book, under the working title I Still Need to Get the Copyright on This Stinking Book Title.

I do hope you enjoy.

 

For the love of all things good in the world, pick one brand of socks for each color you wear.  Since every single sock you would then have–in say, white or tan–would look exactly the same, you will eliminate the heartache of the scenario where you’ve washed 18 white socks and none of them match.  And for Pete’s sake, if you discover a sock has a hole it, immediately throw it in the trash bin as if it is on fire and add it to your shopping list.  Do not pass “Go”, do not collect $200.  You know what will happen if you don’t.  Somehow the three hole-y socks you own will be the only clean ones that ever make it to your drawer.  Those sneaky little deceivers smile up at you as they snuggle up against your underwear, convincing you that they deserve at least one more wear.  “One more wear” inevitably yields same result.  You throw them on in a hurry to meet someone for lunch and within five minutes the hole gets twisted around the little toe next to the tiny toe.  This will adversely affect your day–this may have been the day you were meant to administer CPR to some fantastic stranger–and you were in the bathroom fixing your sock while someone else steels your love connection or gets your million dollar reward.

Let someone help you shed your extra stuff.  You may need help being talked into letting go of that ticket stub from the midnight showing of Terminator 2 and the free Sienna Sundown eyeshadow you got when you purchased your last bar of face soap, so get on the horn to your best friend or bossy sister.  It’s not going to be your color next year either.  I cannot express how good it feels to own less crap.

Expect your plan to fail.  Keep wine and/or chocolate on hand for the occasion that things get terribly out of hand, but more importantly, be prepared to be flexible.  If you keep in mind that you might have to make a last minute adjustment (or total plan makeover), everything still goes according to plan.  Pack a granola bar in your pocket, carry an umbrella, and keep a change of clothes in your trunk.

Buy a small, blank notebook that speaks to your sensibilities (or lack thereof) and create a new Top Five list everyday.  Things you appreciate, people you love, people who love you, activities you enjoy, books you’d like to read, people you’d like to meet, and moments that influenced the you that you are at this point in your life, are all great places to start.  It is important give thanks and celebrate, even in the midst of great sadness.  Especially in the midst of great sadness…  And it is paramount to listen to the inner voice that is so often overrun by the information we take in.

If you can’t manage to keep a detailed calendar, make a section for To Do lists in the notebook where you keep your Top Five lists.  Start every project with a list and track your progress.  Once you discover the joy and the art of the list you will forever be changed for the better.  When you are balancing your checkbook and you can’t remember why you wrote a check for $37.86 on the 18th of February, the list from that day will jog your memory.

Write notes, tell the people you love that you do, and give compliments.  Send cards the old fashioned way, you know, in your own handwriting.  It might do you some good to practice.  Thank people and take small gifts to dinner parties.  It has nothing to do with them.

Never clean in silence.  Whether you choose music or talk radio, it is great for your brain to associate enjoyment with the act of cleaning.  You may even discover that the whole experience turns into the most brilliant choreography.  Or not.  But if you are techno-savvy enough to download an audio book, you might even learn something new while you scrub into your skinny.

Exercise.  Something appropriate, of course…  I have even heard that you can takes classes to learn how to strip, belly dance, or choreograph a pole dance if the normal fare offered at your YMCA isn’t your cup of tea.

Hug an animal or join your local zoo.  I don’t understand it, but research shows that it’s good for us.  If you have a pet, you get it, but you probably don’t spend enough time playing with or giving them the physical attention they need to be healthy.  Love them.

If you pass a Starbucks cup somewhere it shouldn’t be, pick it up and deliver it to a trash can.  There are so many reasons why this is a good practice.  Just do it.

That Is a Cuss Word Where I Come From

If Lelan Statom (my favorite meteorologist, and the sole reason I watched News Channel Five) said the word “snow” in his forecast, within four hours grocery stores ran out of bread, milk, eggs, batteries, gallons of water, and Swiss Miss.  If the lovely Carol Kirkwood, BBC weather presenter, mentions snow it’s considered a horrible slight to the dreams of young children all over London.  It may snow elsewhere on this island, but people actually laughed at me when I asked if it ever snowed here in the city.

I only bring up this controversial issue because I was innocently walking down the street today, thinking about my new trainers and the way that some of the leaves have still clung to their trees, when a mother leaned over to her child and said that she heard it might snow on Sunday.  I began to walk very slowly indeed.  The grocery store was behind me; I helplessly began to run through our kitchen contents in my mind before I decided not to give in to the Tennessee Storm Terror Sickness.

I had more important things to worry about.  There is an after work party for Drew’s boss who’s been promoted to a position overseas and I needed a card and chocolate.  For the boss.  Not for my too-big-for-the-black-suit-pants arse.  Anyway, as I was picking out truffles, the lady at Thornton’s asked me if I had ever tried their specialty chocolates; I hadn’t.  That is, I had not tried their truffles until she handed me one to sample.  (I swear, chocolate is out to get me.)  Thornton’s does in fact have yummy chocolate.  Very yummy chocolate. I do not, however, endorse this as a vegan friendly product. Just be aware.

The calories from the truffle may have been burned off when I found out that I have been invited back for a second interview!  It’s Tuesday at 2:30pm.  You’ll just be starting your day as I am rushing around, but maybe you can sip your morning beverage and think of me.  While you are at it, imagine that I am slightly taller and thinnish with a fantastic smile.  That should do the trick!

Stylin’

Word of the Day: Brolly

  • umbrella (slang)
I have a weekly run to the post office on Mondays; it’s always packed.  What was so special about today’s trip was that there may have been a Senior Citizen’s Center meeting to have just let out ’round the corner.  If you know me, you know I quite adore most elderly people.  Well, in London, the older people are just that much more adorable to me.  Most old men wear funny hats or cuss in pubs (or both).  Little old ladies walk across streets wherever they want, taking as long as they want.  They are decked out and working their trolleys.  Oh yeah, trolleys.  Almost every elderly person I see has a personal trolley–not to be confused with a shopping cart provided by a store for shopping within that store; these are little trolleys you use for carrying your own things around and for shopping where ever you go.  It makes sense I guess, but it’s a sight to come across a gaggle of gossiping old women mucking about and blocking the whole sidewalk.  I promise that I attempted to get a photo but they got suspicious and tried to trip me.

trolley

I don’t know why I bother to bring it up, but I stopped at the bank for some cash.  I know I have been vague about our banking problems, mainly because I didn’t necessarily understand them.  Finally I am able to put my finger on what wrong.  I never got a debit card because I wasn’t “approved” for the premium card “awarded” to Drew; I can only have a card if Drew accepts the step-down card.  This was finally explained to me after my fourth complaint (in branch, at 30 minutes minimum per visit) that my card had not yet arrived.  Let me sum this trip up for you.  I am still angry that I have to “apply” and be “approved” to access my own flipping money!  Yes, I understand that I am not working and that it would be a risk to lend me credit.  However, who do you think does the grocery shopping and runs the errands with Drew’s money?!  My personal banker had the nerve to suggest that I should get my own bank account so that Drew could have his premium card and I could have the step down card, but that we would both be able to have a debit card in that scenario.  I laughed.  Really, I laughed loud, and I didn’t care.  Why can’t I spend his money; if he didn’t want me to have access to it why would he have put my name on the account?!  We live together.  I cook for him (at least twice a day until I get a job, hee hee) and do his laundry.  He owes me the money I spend.  What Drew and I decide about our money is our business, right?!
 
So, back to cute little old people.  I decided to take our clothes to the laundrette for a change, to see if it is worth the time and money to have clothes that have been through the dryer.  I am always nervous in a new situation and this was no exception.  I was almost paralyzed with anxiety before I somehow worked up the nerve to get out the suitcase and start packing.  I filled three small trash bags with dirty clothes, whites, colors, and towels.  I packed them in the suitcase with the soap and softener.  Then I headed out to the laundrette.  When I got there a very sweet looking man returned my big smile.  He also returned my big smile after I had gone out for more change, and again as I sipped my coffee (that I bought to get change).  As he packed up his personal trolley, he made sure to pause for one more big smile before he slipped out the door.  And by “slipped”, I mean made a five minute ordeal about getting himself and his trolley turned the right direction and out the door.  I love him.  I didn’t have enough change, I went to get change, then I had the wrong change but didn’t realize it, then I loaded a machine that didn’t take the change I did have and had to move it all, then I had to use a machine that is meant to wash a comforter to wash our underwear because that machine took the combination of coins I had, then the dryer…  wow.  Dang Gina!
After the laundry was clean and put away, I went to meet Drew in Covent Garden so that he could pick out some new clothes to go with his new hair.  The truth is that we only brought three suitcases with us and he needed some new clothes to wear!  After all, he goes to work everyday.  So, he deserves new clothes–and a debit card.

We’re not in Kansas anymore

Simple things, like eating a meal out somewhere, have become something of anxiety producing process.  Each time I consider where to eat I feel my heart beating a bit faster.  How much does a sandwich cost here?  Do I order at the counter? Am I supposed to leave a tip?  Do I really want to sit here alone and eat a sandwich? I have to pee so I should eat here because that would give me a good excuse to use the bathroom, but then I’d have to carry my purse and backpack into the tiny bathroom.  Then the staff will think I don’t know that the bathroom is for customers only, but I can’t order and then go to the bathroom… I also can’t leave my things at the table while I go.  If I have to ask a question I may not understand the answer because of their accent and the time it takes for me to get it sorted out may piss off everyone in line behind me.  Am I really standing here having this conversation in my head with myself?  Where is St. Mungo’s?

On the upswing, I have never seen crisps in this many flavors.  Lay’s has a contest going to create a new flavor; in the UK Lay’s=Walker’s. Doritos though, go by the same name.  But they don’t come in Chili Heatwave back in the states. Sunbites, known as Sun Chips in the states (and owned by Lay’s/Walker’s) are also here in full force–and full flavor.  Wow.  Who knew I was so easily fascinated by junk food?!

Though it sounds like a petty issue, discovering the variety of new-to-me crisp flavors is an analogy for the life I find myself living in London.  There are more choices for everything–choices I had never considered.  The answer is obvious, but still so novel to my programmed themes and schemas.  There are more people here.  And the people here are from all over the world.  Cultures and ethnicities are colliding all around me.  It’s been happening for longer than I have been alive and longer than anyone I know has been alive and on and on.  As silly as it sounds, crisps in all of the flavors just remind me that I have been so sheltered.  No matter how intelligent, open-minded, cultured, or whatever else I considered myself to be, I was none of those things.  I may be yet.

In talking to native Londoners, I am also learning that they are just like that native Nashvilian in me.  The ones who have never traveled or lived close to people vastly different from them are the same person I was before I left the states–a bit ignorant about how alike we all are.  None of these revelations make me miss home any less.  It just becomes clearer each day that the only things in life that really matter aren’t things at all.  New and better junk foods exist outside the ones I know and take guilty pleasure in.  People though, are mostly the same.  I hope I am never in the position to stop being surprised at what the world has to offer, but I also hope to remember how valuable this new knowledge is.  It’s like I previously understood the theory and now I am viewing it from a more interior perspective.

There’s something to be learned by living away from home.  There is something special about being in an uncomfortable situation and finding that you have the strength to order that sandwich.  Above all, there is great satisfaction in the growing pain once it has passed.

We love you.

Expats in London

magazine cover

In this issue of Expats in London:

  • ‘Sweet and Spicy’ 30 Minute Meal recipe #2, from the “Accidentally Yummy” collection
  • A Newcomer’s Experience at International Banking
  • House-Hunting Tips and Trends
  • What’s Hot and What’s Wrong with this Picture
  • Stereotype Myths: Real or Old School Hype?
Letter from the Editor
Thanks to all of our devout readers who continue to inspire us to write (almost) every day.  Your continued support of this little online ‘zine we’ve got going really keeps the whole machine running.  Keep those letters coming, and please, let us know if you would like to have your thoughts or questions highlighted in an upcoming issue of Expats in London.  We look forward to bringing you the day-to-day events of two crazy-in-love kids and their grand adventures in London.

Sweet and Spicy: a 30 Minute Meal (recipe #2)

Before I forget how I accidentally created a yummy new meal, with beginner’s luck and an amateur excitement about cooking in a kitchen with two pots and a wooden spoon, let me share my brainstorm with you!  Please bear in mind that I have very little experience in the kitchen and no natural cooking talent.  Those readers of a more advanced chef’s pedigree may choose to continue to the next interesting article.
Main Dish Ingredients:
palmful Carrot sticks
palmful Broccoli Florets
palmful Cauliflower Florets
1/2 small Onion, chunked
1/3 to 1/2 Red Bell Pepper, Chunked
Olive Oil ’til it looks right
1 clove Garlic, or good, sensible shake(s) of Garlic Powder
Chili Pepper, flakes or fresh
Salt and Pepper to taste
Balsamic Vinegar
Maple Syrup or Honey
Alright.  Measuring is for wussies.  So, 1) Mix the Balsamic Vinegar and syrup in a small bowl until you have a mixture that is runny like warm pancake syrup. Set Aside.  2) Toss veggies with olive oil, to coat, in frying pan (or the largest silly saucepan you have).  Heat veggies until sizzling and sprinkle with spices, lightly coating the veggies.  Vary the spices to your taste.  (The dish is especially yummy when the chili flakes can be tasted against the sweet syrup.) 3) Cook the veggies until you can insert a fork into a carrot or broccoli floret and it’s the texture you like. 4) Turn off the heat and add the sweet and sour sauce immediately. 5) Toss well, remove from burner, serve immediately.
Side Dish Recommendation:
Couscous in your favorite flavor!
A Newcomer’s Experience at International Banking
Upon opening our first checking account as US expats living in London, we felt like real people leaving the bank that day.  It was explained to us that our checks and debit cards would arrive within 7-10 business days.  Oh, what a rush!  Real, bank card carrying citizens… So what’s the insider skinny on this banking business?  We’re happy reveal the easy, straight forward steps to starting your first off-shore account.
1) To open an account with an international bank, one must present a passport and a bank statement or utility bill showing the applicant’s previous address.  It doesn’t hurt to rock a low cut shirt or rising hemline.  Next, you have to decide on the type of account you want and the added features you desire.  For us, a simple “current” account did the trick.  Online banking, debit cards, and a check book were all free options with this type of account.  Please note that you should confirm with the sweet, thickly-accented personal banker starting your account that he has spelled your name(s) correctly.  It is a good idea to be sure your first name has not been entered as “Mr Andrew”, for example.  That would generate bank records for the individual “Mr. Mr Andrew Huddleston” or a debit card for “Mr. M Huddleston”–both of which may cause confusion when using the card to make purchases.
C) Once your account has been activated, each individual will receive a letter concerning the pin number for their debit card.  The pin number is revealed by using a secret decoder ring (only found in the bottom of select General Mills cereals) with a highlighted passage in the letter; the resulting message should be mailed via Royal Post to the queen for authentication and further confirmation of pin number.
32d) Under separate cover, each individual on the account shall receive a card reader device for online banking.  The card reader must be used each time an account holder would like to log in to the banking website.  The card reader generates a printed message upon card insertion; this message must be entered exactly as printed into the login screen upon first try before the message self-destructs.  Additionally, a separate letter for each account holder will arrive to provide the individual’s online membership ID number.
F) At some point before one of the account holders has another birthday, a debit card will arrive for each individual listed on the account (if it has been properly ordered at the time of account set-up).  When any attempt is made by the account holder to activate the card or try online banking for the first time, they will fail.  An additional trip, and a beautiful hissy-fit, must be thrown at the branch closest to the account holder’s home, or corporate housing, or street grate that you are sleeping on because you have no debit card to pay the deposit on the flat you are supposed to move in to…  Though the phone representatives are very nice and the music they play when they put you on hold is the from the “Pay It Forward” soundtrack, they are slightly unable to help you.
Additional Tips and Info:
Be sure to pack your essential documents in your carry-on luggage; you’ll need them for lots of things once you land.  Essential documents include, but are not limited to the following: work permit papers, passport with attached entry visa(s), original birth certificate, original marriage certificate, tax return documents for the past three years,  college and high school diplomas, medical and dental records, and the crossword puzzle from inside the American Airlines magazine.  You wouldn’t want the airline to lose these documents and you may need them to get through customs.  Of course, you will need them when you open your international bank account and upon applying to rent property.
House-Hunting Tips and Trends 
Before you set out to meet an Estate Agent they are going to ask you quite a few questions.  You need to know your budget, what area you are looking in, what kind of property you want, and what any deal-breakers might be.  Look at a wide variety of properties and check out different areas of the city.  Consider whether it is your top priority to live in a place with blue wallpaper or a place above a laundromat.  Both of these things are really cool, but which feature is the most important to you?
Here are some great internet resources to help you get started.

Just remember to be honest with your agent, ask plenty of questions, and don’t be afraid to explore places with which you are unfamiliar.  There are agents in every neighborhood and on every high street.  They are all working for the landlord, so go on and give up your innocent ideals of being fairly represented and get cheeky.  Buying a book about relocation can be helpful, but it is a good idea to ask people who live in your new city/area, ex-pats who’ve relocated to there, and then figure out that no one can predict your situation for you.  Roll with it.  Your gut instinct about what is around you when you go to view the property is usually a very good indication of whether or not it is right for you.

What’s Hot and What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Wandering the streets in London, it becomes clear that tights are in.  Wooly tights, patterned tights, thick, legging-style tights, bright tights, and neutral tights can all be worn with ballet flats or boots. But what’s wrong with this picture? Oh yeah, your purse is legally required to be bigger and/or weigh more than you.
tights and purse
 

Stereotype Myths: Real or Old School Hype?

Is it true that fish ‘n chips is the only dish served in London?  Are all big-city folk rude and pushy?  Do all Londoners have teeth like toe-separators?

My husband and I recently joined an online group of US expatriates.  I was so dismayed to read a recent string of messages dedicated to things these Americans miss.  Topping the list were things like Lucky Charms and Peter Pan peanut butter.  I feel for those people who are here with the military and not necessarily by choice.  For them, I think, there is much more room for homesick posts about crappy fast food and grocery items.  The rest of us should stop and appreciate the reasons we chose to be here.

We have really old buildings in London, a very funny governmental structure to laugh about (and learn from), opportunities to interact with people originating from cities all over the globe, and theatre that trumps anything I’ve ever imagined.  “Chicago” is playing at a theatre I can see from my living room window.  Really.  We are a stone’s throw from France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Rome, Scotland, Ireland, Wales…  It’s really hard to adjust to a new city and that’s beautiful in and of itself.

In my opinion, the only thing really worth being homesick for are those lovely family members and friends we left behind.  The myths and stereotypes about London and Londoners are just that.  With your best friend beside you, a genuine smile, a healthy sense of adventure, and some southern charm an American can feel right at home here.

My First Really Good Day in London

As I sit in a coffee shop near my new home with cup of hot chocolate in my hands, I can feel the vibration of a train passing underneath me for the first time in the 13 days I have been in London. The sensation is a novel experience–a reminder that I am really here.  I wonder where the people are going on a Friday, midday.  The weather is chilly with a good bit of sun, despite the assurance of a cold and gloomy forecast by the folks back home.  Sitting here, looking out this big picture window, it stuns me– the juxtaposition of new and old.  Although I feel extremely inspired to write, the stimulus of the surroundings demands my complete attention and it is all I can do to melt into it.  The sensation is foreign and familiar at the same time.  Traditions and social order are completely cultural, but we all seem to be more the same than we are different.  Every person passing on the street is loved by another someone.  All the people I lay eyes on are living the human experience; we’re all sort of working out why we are here and trying to enjoy the connections we make until we figure it out.  Beyond just making my way around the city, I am making a big step toward living globally–with a better awareness of how each of us fits in the puzzle.

 

I love you.  I miss you.  I can’t wait to see you.

The Saturday Evening Post

After a very full week of emotionally and mentally exhausting work, we ponder what to do with our night.  The evening has passed already, but the streets are still full with people and the restaurants will be serving for hours…  It’s Saturday night–we should be tearing up the town–but we’re very tired.  We’ll definitely eat.  We may wander the streets a little and could even see a movie.  There are a couple that look quite good.

Though I am feeling a bit like a novice at everything concerning life in London after my first week on the job, I have learned a few things.  I have a moment to share a couple of my simple observations with you.

Big purses must have come into fashion because women taking public transport have to carry their wallet, passport/id, pen, grocery list, tube map, tube card, bus ticket, grocery bag, regular map, hat, light jacket, umbrella, sunglasses, hair brush, chapstick, change of shoes, maybe dry socks, possibly a scarf, a book to read or a journal, a bottle of water, and a snack.  Small purses are only carried by the wealthy women being driven around.

Using the dryer is bad.  Invest in fabric softener and litter your flat with wet clothes.

 Laundry

A Londoner’s perspective of personal space is very small compared to a statesman’s. This seems to be reflected everywhere. I am sure this is due to obvious reasons. It’s just such an adjustment and something you don’t consider before you come. You just accept that the place you’ll live in London will be small and storage will be at a premium. However, you have to learn what side of the sidewalk to walk on (we still don’t know), how to squish in to the train or the bus, how to stand at stations, how to queue, and how to mind your own business with someone breathing down your neck in a restaurant. There’s nothing bad about it. People actually do nice things like walk arm in arm and kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting, all related to this personal space thing, I think.

Londoners do not all know where Nashville is.  Just say Elvis, Justin Timberlake, and Johnny Cash.  That’s the ticket.