Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dishwasher Salt?!?

...and I thought I had seen it all!
I'm either the most clueless dishwasher user in the world, or this is truly a UK-only dishwasher phenomenon!  Regardless, after almost four years in this country, I'm still amazed at the things I learn on a daily basis.

We had a dinner guest over last nite, and in the course of pulling out a few wine glasses for drinks, Simon made the remark about how dingy the glasses looked.  Our genius guest asked us if our dishwasher was just out of 'dishwasher salt', to which we both just sat there with what can only be described as 'huh?' written across our faces.

Our guest proceeded to hop up off the couch, walk into our kitchen & open our dishwasher.  Where, in a matter of 2 seconds pointed out a covering in the bottom of the dishwasher marked 'Salt' (of course!) where you pour said salt.

Apparently, this is very common in the UK, but I've never heard about it until now.

Learn something new every day...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Getting a job in London or the UK

At the request of David who left a comment on my 'Work Differences' post and Alana who left a comment on my 'Reason Number 37...' (and after realizing that I've never actually done a post about finding a job in London/the UK...), I thought I'd try to do so now.  Ironically, though I have a job here-and have successfully found jobs once on the ground here, trying to sum up to others what to do is proving a challenge.  But, at the heart of it are 2-3 big ticket items worth mentioning (that, especially compared with finding a job in the US are rather different):

1.  It's not what you know, it's who you know.  This seems to be even more true in London (and the UK and even wider EU) than I've ever experienced.  Aside from my first role here in London in which I transferred with my company from the US, I've found my subsequent jobs thru people I know.  So:  If you aren't on LinkedIn, get yourself on with a good profile *yesterday.*  I cannot stress this enough. I've lost count of the number of times I've met someone in a professional setting-however brief the encounter-only to have a LinkedIn invite waiting for me in my inbox before the end of the day.

LinkedIn.  Do it.

2.  It's not who you know, it's who knows you.  On the flip side of the above, for better or for worse, recruiters/head hunters are incredibly active in placement for many-if not most-companies in London/the UK.  I don't know of any company who doesn't work with a recruiting agency aside from my current employer.  One simple search on Google easily confirms this space: type "London BLAH recruiter/recruitment" where BLAH is your profession, and you'll instantly see the full list of results of companies that operate in this space.  Check 'em out, and contact the ones that have a job you're interested in.

On a related note about LinkedIn, you will also likely find that with a full profile, recruiters won't be shy about reaching out to you either!  Mind you, my professional space is probably a bit more 'active' on LinkedIn than others, but I easily average ~2-3 connection requests/direct emails a week from recruiters.  I almost took a job via the recruiter route (opted instead for my current employer), so it is indeed a legitimate route-though at times, it can feel simply like a 'necessary evil.'

3.  Make sure you can um, actually *work* in the UK.  Sorry to have to state the obvious, but it does bear mention:  make sure you're speaking with companies that actually have the ability to hire a non EU/UK citizen and have to have a work visa. There are numerous types of visas, but for most people reading this blog, a Tier 1 or Tier 2 are the likely options.  A Tier 2 visa requires 'company sponsorship'-ie you can work in the UK as long as you are employed by your sponsoring company.  A Tier 1 visa effectively functions as 'self sponsoring' (though an employer can help you to receive this visa as well).  The difference/benefit of having a Tier 1 visa is you are now free to come/go to any employer you wish to-much like a EU/UK citizen.

To qualify for a Tier 1, you have to have a certain number of 'points.'  On the points based system, you'll have to prove things stability (bank records, as well as salary of your current job), English proficiency (a pass if you're American/Canadian/etc), education (Bachelors is good, Masters is great), and a few other bits.  If I recall, the Masters degree, and making over £40k (I think?...) were the two biggest boosts to get the points you need.

A note of caution: The rules for visas in the UK change numerous times during the year, so it would behoove you to do your homework first on this topic to even understand whether or not getting a job is even an option!

A note of caution #2:  It can take some time to get your visa.  So, whether you work with an employer/legal firm or DIY, you should allow for a good 6-8 weeks, if not longer-and plan accordingly.

OK. Short of going on forever, those are probably the three big things*I* think are most important regarding this topic.  I am *by no means* an expert on this-and would love to have input from others. What are your top tips for finding a job in the UK?

Thinking About a Second Career (an Update)'s almost like TFL (Transport for London-the managing company for London Underground) was reading my blogpost!

In my inbox this morning was the following email:

"I am writing to remind you that although our transport network is very safe, you should continue to be vigilant, particularly now the Christmas shopping season is upon us.

Here are some simple tips to keep your belongings safe:
  • Keep your bags zipped or closed
  • Small high value items are most desirable for pick‑pockets, so try to keep items like MP3 players, wallets and Smartphones out of sight
  • Avoid keeping your wallet or mobile phone in your back pocket
  • Try to have your ticket, pass or change ready in your hand so your purse or wallet is out of sight
For more information visit"

Well timed, TFL.  Well timed. :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thinking about a Second Career

I've lost count of the number of times I've seen women walking around the tube stations, standing on the tube platform, or in the actual tube with their purses wide open.

If I were a predator, this would be the easiest second career I could ever consider.  Just this past week alone, I saw two women on the platform at Tottenham Court Road (different days) with purses hanging from their shoulders with large, gaping holes because they haven't zipped/snapped/clipped the top of their bag shut.  And, just last night, I sat across from a lady who got on the tube, sat down, and actually placed her purse on the ground next to her.  And then proceeded to bury her face in a book.   

I know we all have momentary lapses in awareness from time to time, but I do often wonder if some of the women I see doing this are just that absent minded-or just that irresponsible (my polite word for 'stupid').  Perhaps it's just me, but when I'm on the tube and sitting, I've got my purse in my lap with a death grip on it; if I'm standing, the starting point of the zipper always faces forward, and I keep my 2nd hand over this.  

One of the purses I love to carry has a superfluous zipper on the outside that, due to the way I carry my purse, the zipper is behind me where I can't see and easy to get to-if someone wanted to.  I've lost count of the number of times I've gotten off a crowded tube only to find the zipper had been unzipped-by clearly an intentional act of someone hoping to get lucky. some point we must stop making ourselves such easy targets.  Care to start today?

Thanks to Bag Sanity for the image 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reason Number 37 Expats are Made to Feel Like Criminals

It's rough enough going thru passport control in the UK these days.  My passport is scrutinized.  My ID Card (acting as a proxy for my Visa) is scrutinized.  I'm scrutinized.

Apparently that isn't enough for UK Immigration.   They're now starting to monitor immigrants at work.  This just landed in my work inbox.  I can't help but add my own [editorial commentary]:

"I am writing to inform you of the upcoming right to work checks that {your employer-aka YE} will be conducting. As you may be aware [no, I wasn't...], YE are required to conduct annual right to work checks on employees in order to comply with UK immigration legislation. Although we already have on file copies of the required authorizations for your right to work in the UK as a non-EU National [which should suffice...], UK legislation requires us to take certified copies of these documents on an annual basis. For more info please see the UK Border Agency guide.

We are arranging for these checks to be carried out by our specialist immigration providers.  They will need to meet with you personally to view your Passport, visa, or other relevant documentation, as appropriate. [Shall I also provide a blood sample, iris scan, or DNA string?...] It is extremely important that these checks are completed and we ask for your assistance in accommodating the request. [Like I have any choice?..]"

Relative to the US, I generally acknowledge that the UK is much more flexible on these types of things, so it's correspondence like this that makes me wonder just what Simon & I are opening ourselves up for if he ever gets a greencard & we move to the US.  'Life Admin' as an Expat is exponentially greater as an expat.  I can only imagine how much worse this will be in the US.  Good times.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'm with the Brits

This past week, I attended my first-ever pan-European conference for work.  Over the years, I've attended numerous US conferences, and several UK conferences.  This was the first conference I've ever attended that spanned not only the UK, but the continent as well.  And, let me just say....if there were ever any doubt about identifying with the country I've been living in for the past 3 years and 8 months (!), that all evaporated this past week!
The chaos, pushing & shoving (we were a bit cramped...) and 'non-British' queuing *really* got on both my and my London-based colleagues nerves-and I can honestly say I was longing for the ways of the English. Funny.

Conversely, I don't think others saw me as an American at this conference either; I was quite firmly with the Brits, and identified as being 'one of them' (primarily by non-native English language people who can't discern the accent difference).

And, I was completely OK with it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Work Differences

Thanks to Gennifer6 for the suggestion...

I don't think I've ever blogged about the differences I've observed at work between Americans & Brits-I know I've talked about the differences with my colleagues at work, but that's probably about it, so here goes!

Gennifer6 wanted me to comment on workplace differences that I've observed. I'm sure in certain industries and companies, the differences are VAST, but barring a brief stint, I've primarily worked for US-headquartered companies.  So, what I've noticed may really only scratch the surface...

1.  To Americans, the 'work week' (and even the 'work day') is a very fluid concept.  In the US, you wouldn't think twice about leaving the office mid-day to go to the doctor/dentist/car repair shop, and you wouldn't think twice about leaving work a bit early on a Friday.  Conversely, it seems like the emails don't really stop after '5pm', and I definitely recall getting emails even on weekends.
In England however, I've encountered the complete inverse:  rarely, would I leave work mid-day for a personal errand (I'd instead try to schedule it for first/last thing in the day), and I can quite literally count on 2 fingers the number of times I've left work before 5pm on a Friday in 3.5 years (sigh).  However, rarely do I receive an email from a British colleague outside of work hours during the week, and the same holds true on weekends.  Brits seem to be more protective-and prescribed-of their 'non-work' hours, whereas for Americans, it's all just seems to flow together.

2. In England, don't even think of going to the kitchen without asking everyone (and it does feel like everyone...) if they want a cup of tea/coffee/water/biscuit...whatever the kitchen stocks.  It just isn't done.

3.  Employers in England (though, perhaps this is a London-only thing), are more 'generous' with the amenities they provide in women's bathroms:  lotion, feminine hygine products, and the ubiquitious aerosol deoderant are in almost every corporate bathroom I've ever been in.  It's a nice touch.

4.  Brits aren't afraid of being open to their colleagues about what they think-about their boss, other colleagues, etc...When working in the US, I can't think of a time I ever *truly* shared with a colleague my feelings about a co-worker or boss-at least while I was working at the company.  In England, it's the complete opposite.  I remember the first time I heard a colleage slag off a superior at work (to me, not to the superior).  My jaw almost hit the floor. 
I'm really going to have to be careful about taking this trait with me whenever I go back 'across the pond.'  Though I appreciate the candor of my colleagues, I don't think this one would go down to well back in the US!

Those are the big things I've noticed.  I can't help but think I'm forgetting a few things, so if anyone else has any observations, do pipe up!


Perhaps one of the most touristy things you can do in London, but I don't care.  I've wanted to go to the Northern Picadilly line terminus ('Cockfosters') for ages, and get a photo.

We went last Sunday-spent the better part of 2 hours round trip on the tube for just a few photos, but it was worth it!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Great Sunday Read

Just this past week I picked up Twisted Agendas by Damian McNicholl. (In the interest of full disclosure, Damian contacted me on my blog & asked for a review.) This book intrigued me as one of the main characters was a female American expat living in London, and I naturally presumed I would identify with her.  I was wrong, but I'm OK with it! :)

I started reading the first chapter on the Tube at about 11am on Sunday, and  Before I knew it, 50 pages had flown by.  I had a few errands to run during the day which caused me to stop & start reading, but basically be 9pm Sunday night, I was finished with the book.

The gist of the story is that the two main characters, Danny and Pippa fatefully meet on a ferry from Ireland to England and end up becoming friends.  Their stories become intertwined in the here & now, and their side stories (disfunctional parents, confusing romance, general 20-something angst) also bind stories together.

Though the connection with the main character is what caused me to be interested in the book, the ultimate story, and plot development/twists & turns is what kept me turning the pages.  The last 20 pages were especially tense, as a few late developing plot twists (in my mind-perhaps I'm just daft..) really caught my attention.

Borderline drama, borderline thriller...either way, if you're looking for a great way to spend a Sunday-especially as the weather looks like it has officially turned south for the next 6 months... this is the book for you!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Google Freebies

I don't think I've publicly mentioned this, but my newest gig since early this year is with Google.

Long story short, they've just launched a new Paid Search program called AdWords Express.  This is a product for the 'little guys' to use who have limited budget & resources to set up their Paid Search program, and I'm lucky enough to have a handful of £50 vouchers in my hands for anyone to use who is interested.

If you're interested, drop me a line in the comment section of my blog with your email address (promise I'll delete your comment as soon as I email you to save you from spam), and I'll be happy to provide you with a voucher/coupon code for £50 of free Google AdWords advertising!

Not too bad for a Monday!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Would You Do?

Just had a bit of a laugh with my English (born & bred) colleague.  One of the local newspapers published sample questions from the UK Citizenship test.

He scored 12 out of 24 questions.  I scored 10. Not too bad relatively speaking.  Kinda interesting to see the kinds of information a Citizen is expected to know (read:  memorize and then forget).

How many did you score?

It's Official..

...I am now officially a London Asshole.

I knocked into a guy today while I was rushing to the tube (as you do).  He apologized to me.  Not in the harsh, fake "I'm saying 'sorry', but really I'm saying 'f-you'" way that many Londoners do.  His apology was genuine.

The problem is:  I knocked into him, and didn't even bother to say sorry (real or fake).  Instead, I simply ignored him and kept plowing on.

I have officially become a London Asshole.

I guess my only saving grace is that unlike most Londoners (especially commuters in & around the tube), I do feel bad about it.  And... I guess in all fairness, this may not just be a London thing, but a big-city thing.   Or not.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Old Age is Everywhere

Man, I'm Old.  This past weekend, I flew home to NC for my 20th (yes, 20th) class reunion.

Except for the people I want to see, many of my classmates I quite literally haven't seen since graduation day back in 1991.  That all changed this past weekend.

I hadn't been to a previous reunion at all, so I was curious to see how this would all go down:  what would people look like? Answer:  half look exactly the same, half I didn't recognize.  Would everyone still be just as stupid (myself included...) as we were in high school? Answer: thankfully, no.  Would people stare at my husband and say 'you talk funny'? Answer: thankfully, no; rather, people were really sweet about his accent.  Would this be one of the lamest things I could be dong on a Saturday night-and regret every painful moment of it? Answer: thankfully, no.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend.  No, I don't really have much in common with some of my classmates who, aside from college have remained in Hickory, North Carolina their entire lives.  No, I really don't have anything in common with my classmates who have two or three or five and who looked at the Saturday night event as their one evening out all month.  But, it was great fun to go back and just see how people were doing.  You can't have spent the first 18 years of your life with folks and not wonder how they eventually turned out!

On the flip side of this, as I was in my hometown for the reunion, we stayed with my dad-as we always do when we go to NC.  I had not been 'home' in over 18 months.  I've seen my father at other random locations (Charlotte, when we were passing thru on our way to Las Vegas.  Portland for my wedding), but I haven't seen the house in over 18 months until this past weekend.
I've been very aware for year of the progressing age of my father (he recently turned 74) for some time, but as he's in relatively good health, have probably been mentally postponing what I know is going to be an eventual reality.
The time I was at home this weekend however, made me realize that he is officially approaching the 'old person' status and adopting all of the odd behaviors that old people adopt:  stockpiling random things (Really Dad.  Do you need the beach hotel pricing guide from 2003?  When you also have the 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 issues?....and you've stayed at the same hotel for the past 15 years?), not cleaning the house as thoroughly as it should be cleaned, and just generally picking up some personality quirks that you only typically see in 'old folks.'   It's got me a bit concerned-and has really made me start thinking about how much longer I can continue to live in London, which is a good 8.5 hours away by plane-never mind the simple reality that when living this far away, I'll do good to get to NC once a year.

Can I continue to live in London guilt-free as my father ages, or is it time to put family first and think about moving back to the US and make seeing my dad more frequently a priority?  I knew the time would come when I would have to start thinking about this very issue.  I just thought I'd have a few more years.  Perhaps I'm overreacting a bit, but my mother passed away 16 years ago, and I'm an only child.  My Dad's girlfriend is 80. I am his support network.

This is life.  These are the types of decisions we're all faced with all the time.  I just don't think I'm quite ready to deal with the ramifications of a)making this decision and b)acknowledging what making this decision could mean.

Would it be so much to ask for things to go back to the way they were in High School when we were all younger-and maybe postpone the reality of this situation for another 20 years?

Old Age is Everywhere

Man, I'm Old.  This past weekend, I flew home to NC for my 20th (yes, 20th) class reunion.

Except for the people I want to see, many of my classmates I quite literally haven't seen since graduation day back in 1991.  That all changed this past weekend.

I hadn't been to a previous reunion at all, so I was curious to see how this would all go down:  what would people look like? Answer:  half look exactly the same, half I didn't recognize.  Would everyone still be just as stupid (myself included...) as we were in high school? Answer:  thankfully, no.  Would people stare at my husband and say 'you talk funny'? Answer:  thankfully, no.  Rather, people were really sweet about his accent.  Would this be one of the lamest things I could be dong on a Saturday night-and regret every painful moment of it? Answer:  thankfully, no.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend.  No, I don't really have much in common with some of my classmates who, aside from college have remained in Hickory, North Carolina their entire lives.  No, I really don't have anything in common with my classmates who have two or three or five and who looked at the Saturday night event as their one evening out all month.  But, it was great fun to go back and just see how people were doing.  You can't have spent the first 18 years of your life with folks and not wonder how they eventually turned out!

On the flip side of this, as I was in my hometown for the reunion, we stayed with my dad-as we always do when we go to NC.  I had not been 'home' in over 18 months.  I've seen my father at other random locations (Charlotte, when we were passing thru on our way to Las Vegas.  Portland for my wedding), but I haven't seen the house in over 18 months until this past weekend.  
I've been very aware for year of the progressing age of my father (he recently turned 74) for some time, but as he's in relatively good health, have probably been mentally postponing what I know is going to be an eventual reality.
The time I was at home this weekend however, made me realize that he is officially approaching the 'old person' status and adopting all of the odd behaviors that old people adopt:  stockpiling random things (Really Dad.  Do you need the beach hotel pricing guide from 2003?  When you also have the 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 issues?....and you've stayed at the same hotel for the past 15 years?), not cleaning the house as thoroughly as it should be cleaned, and just generally picking up some personality quirks that you only typically see in 'old folks.'   It's got me a bit concerned-and has really made me start thinking about how much longer I can continue to live in London  which is a good 8.5 hours away by plane-never mind the simple reality that when living this far away, I'll do good to get to NC once a year.

Can I continue to live in London guilt-free as my father ages, or is it time to put family first and think about moving back to the US and make seeing my dad more frequently a priority?  I knew the time would come when I would have to start thinking about this very issue.  I just thought I'd have a few more years.  Perhaps I'm overreacting a bit, but my mother passed away 16 years ago, and I'm an only child.  My Dad's girlfriend is 80. I am his support network.

This life.  These are the types of decisions we're all faced with all the time.  I just don't think I'm quite ready to deal with the ramifications of a)making this decision and b)acknowledging what making this decision could mean.

Would it be so much to ask for things to go back to the way they were in High School when we were all younger-and maybe postpone the reality of this situation for another 20 years?

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Favorite Things

I have been crap lately about blogging.  Work has been insane, I've been travelling a ton, and as we are in the heart of the Great British Summer (note the sarcasm...), I've just not had the time.  Well, no more!  I'm eating lunch at my desk today to take a few minute to post something.
This came about as Simon & I were out to dinner Wednesday nite at our favorite Lebanese place-and I remarked, it's a pity (only partially..) that more people don't know about this place-the food/service are incredible! And, thus we started talking about a few of our favorite things in London.  It's been a while since I've done a post of this nature.  But, without further ado-and in no particular order...

  • Fontana Lebanese-I'm sure there are cooler, hip-er places in town (some with belly dancers)...but for great food, and great service, this place rates as one of my favorite
  • Monmouth Coffee-I've probably talked about this place at least 23,000 on my blog so far-but it bears repeating.  Best. Coffee. In. London.
  • Hyde Park-OK. I realize this is like stating the obvious to mention Hyde Park...but, the next time you're in Hyde Park, take a loaf of bread along and go find 'Round Pond.'  You will not be disappointed.
  • Monsoon-Clothing shop.  I can count on 2 hands the number of clothing items I've bought in the UK in 3.5 years; UK clothing isn't my 'style', and I simply refuese to pay £30 for a t-shirt that will cost me $15 in the US.  Never mind the psychological warfare that the UK sizing plays on you when looking for the US-size equivalent.  If you're stressed over your size to begin with, the UK isn't the place to be!  Enter Monsoon:  for me *personally*, it's clothing that's my style-and their sizing is so generous, I find that my UK size is usually my US size-or sometimes even smaller.  yea.
  • My Local Kebab Shop-I haven't a clue what it's called, and it's not even on Google maps.  But, after a few pints while out and not arriving home until 10pm on a school nite, nothing but nothing tastes better than their chicken schwarma and chips-with tons of garlic mayonnaise and chili sauce.  Yes, it probably contains 1000 calories-and god only knows what the 'chicken' actually is...but once every now & then is surely alright!
  • Heathrow Express-15 minutes from Paddington station to Heathrow Airport-and as we live so close to Paddington, we practially live *in* Paddington-means we can be from door to door in under 30 minutes.  I've never lived anywhere in which this were possible. Amazing.

Ok.  Quality over Quantity.  I could probably wang on for ages on other things.  But, at the very least, it's a good start-and on the days I get grumpy over living in this crowded and sometimes rude city, it's a nice reminder for myself!

PS.  Yesterday was my official 3.5 year anniversary in this country.  Where the heck has the time gone??!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots: A Brief Comment

It's not often I walk around the streets of London feeling concerned for my safety-which, I know may be a surprise to most people..  But, with so many people out on the streets, it's usually a safe place to be.

Sadly, for the past 24 hours, I can't say I've felt that way.  Unless you've had your head buried in the sand, you're well aware of the riots that have been happening in London since Saturday nite: the opportunists (as much as I really want to call them all sorts of names, I'll refrain...) are running amok on the streets smashing and grabbing and burning.  And are pathetically using the death of a man as the impetus for the violence.

This behaviour is forcing people like myself indoors; as I walked home last night at 8.30pm, the sidewalks were deserted-and that was not a pleasant feeling-and even once I got home, I saw all of 3 people walk thru our mews (a fraction of the usual footfall), and only 1 car pass by.   No violence per se came 'close' to where I live, but as London is home, it all feels close.

This behavoiur is forcing businesses to close; even the company I work in sent people home at 4.30pm today-and that seems to be common based on what I'm reading on Facebook from my friends who work at companies spread throughout London-regardless of how close they are to the past or present violence.

The upside?  Check out Twitter and search for #riotscleanup  or visit
It's not exactly our 'Arab Spring', but perhaps it's the best we can do for now.
Hopefully this is a start to some good happening here in London.
After these past few days, we all need it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Smooth Move, Laxative!

No, no.  This post isn't what you think it is...

For all of the British-isms I've picked up over the 3.5 (almost!) years I've been in London, I do often forget about the American/Southern-American lingo I continue to spew forth-and many time to my poor husband, who is still learning 'the language.'
Last nite was no exception, and the result was so funny, I have to make note of it.

We were tossing a rubber ball back and forth in the hallway-as us hip, married couples do on a Friday nite-and at one point, Simon fumbled the ball so terribly, I couldn't help but revert to one of my favourite childhood taunts:  Smooth move, Exlax!

The look on Simon's face was one of utter confusion.  So, it dawned on me that Exlax must not be a product that was ever sold here in the UK.  So, I quickly proceeded to explain to him that it was a popular chocolate-flavoured laxitive sold in the US, so the phrase, 'smooth move, Exlax' was meant to imply, well..a sarcasm in someone not being so smooth or fluid in their movements.

He took it onboard like he does many of these things, and we proceeded to keep tossing the ball.  Well, after a few more throws, I too fumbled the ball.

Simon's taunt?  Smooth move, laxitive!

I proceeded to double over in laugher as I dropped the ball.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

'Where Are You From?'

Simple question, right?  I used to think so.  Not any more.
This past Sunday, while sitting down to lunch in Paris (rough life, I know...), the Americans sitting at the next table looked at me and said, 'where are you from?' as they heard me talking when I sat down, and darned if Americans aren't friendly to their own kind when they're abroad! :)

And, thus the dillema began.

When living in the US, 'from' implied where I was originally from-as opposed to where I currently lived.   And, as most Americans can still detect a slight Southern accent, my reply, 'North Carolina' isn't a suprise.  Since moving abroad however-and especially since fully settling into life in London-I really have no idea how to answer that question.  If I say, 'London' (which I did in this case....), I immediately get:  'oh, wow.  you don't sound  British.'  And, then I usually have to follow up with explainig that no, I'm not British-I just live there. I'm most recently from Seattle.  Invariably, the Southern accent gets mentioned, and then I have to further clarify that I'm originally from North Carolina.

Who ever knew that such a simple question could create such a complicated response!  Maybe I'm just making this more complicated than it needs to be.

So, blog readers....when people ask you 'where are you from?' how do you respond?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Left versus Right

I've been meaning to post about this for a while, but after two seperate comments from friends when I was back in the US recently, I knew I had to get this up tout de suite!

We Americans eat differently than the Brits.  And, after living here for 3 years, I'm starting to come around to the way the Brits do it more & more often (hence the friends' comments).  What do I mean, you ask?  Simples.

Americans, when faced with needing to use a knife with their meal, will put the knife in their right hand and fork in the left.  We'll cut our food, and then switch hands and use the fork in the right hand to eat with.  Back and forth and back and forth.
Not the Brits.  Once the knife goes in the right hand, it stays there.  And, even more interestingly is that unlike Americans who will use the fork in a scooping motion, the Brits don't flip the fork over; rather, they use the knife to scoot food onto the back of the fork tines and then eat.

To wit:

Brit Eater

American Eater

What really brought this home for me was last night:  Simon & I took a dinner cruise on the Thames-and there appeared to be a fairly even split of Brits & Americans on the boat (based on the accents I heard).  Once we settled in to dinner & I was looking around, it was even more apparent as I observed the different styles of fork/knife usage.
After 3 years of being in London, I'm starting to notice that I'm adopting this style of eating too (hence the friends' comments when I was in the US).  Not all the time, but half the time at least.  It kinda makes sense:  the back & forth kife/fork switching really is unnecessary.

Though, I can't help but wonder how the 'American-style' came to pass..

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lesson Learned

After 3 years, and close to a dozen trips back to the West Coast of the US, I think I have finally cracked the nut on this jet lag thing!

To wit:  I flew in to San Francisco this past Sunday, and by Wednesday (a mere 3 full days later!) felt completely human-in fact, I was feeling pretty good on Tuesday-except for the falling asleep at 10pm part.

What's different from this trip, you ask?  I think it comes down to one thing:  keeping it simples.  Normally, my return trips to the US, whether for work or personal or a combo of two mean that by the 2nd day in the US, I'm working a full day AND going out with friends in the evening-or simply running 'life admin' errands all day long from the moment I'm awake (usually at 5am the first few days.  sigh), until I hit a wall around 8pm.

This time, as I was staying in Sunnyvale, CA-and knew NO ONE within a 50 mile radius, I simply woke up each morning, went to the gym, went to work, went out for dinner, and went back to the hotel.  That's it.  No burning the candle at both ends.  No running myself crazy.  Just a very simple schedule.  Yes, I was awake at 5am on the 1st three days, but as I eased into my routine, staying awake until 10pm-and even midnight on Wednesday were both possible and pain-free!

It sounds silly, but I think this is a complete milestone in how I'm able to cope with the 8 hour time difference from London to the West Coast (London/East Coast has never been a problem)!  It just pains me to think about what 'could have been' the past 3 years. :)  I'll have to test this theory again the next time I'm back in the US.

Fingers crossed I may have just stumbled across my 'jetl ag miracle cure'!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Have you heard the one...

About the man, the train, and the horse?  No, this isn't a joke-just your typical day in Wrexam, Wales!

This past week, a man tried to board a train with his horse-who, for the record, he did buy a ticket for.  "Only in Wales..." have my friends and colleagues been muttering this week.

Now boarding....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dorothy has been Released!

With a huge and teary sigh of relief, I'm happy to report that my friend Dorothy has been released to go back to Doha (and possibly by now, she's home in Vancouver getting some much needed love and attention from her family).
She's a strong lady-stronger than most (myself included)-and it makes me sad to read about her ordeal.  I can't even begin to comprehend.

Ironically, by not allowing her in to report on what was going on in front of the world, Syria has given her unbridled access to what was going on behind closed doors. Hopefully, her article will help continue to keep the spotlight on what's going on there-and though the true purpose of the Free Dorothy FB page, and the twitter account, and all of the newspaper articles, tv coverage, etc is no longer needed....perhaps we can all continue to work for the root of the cause that sent Dorothy there to begin with:  freedom and truth.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

April 30, 2011: A Perfect Day

In the mania that has been since returning from getting married-and wanting to leave the Dorothy posts up high for a while (more on this in another post), I'm just now getting round to recording my thoughts about the wedding.  Whew.

What can I say? Not that we were striving for a perfect day-god knows that would have been incredibly unrealistic-but, in hindsight, and without trying to sound too was a perfect day. 

As per the usual, I was up and awake before Simon.  Between jetlag and just general 'ok, time to get up', I was up at 8am.  It was nice to have a bit of peace and quite to myself; I thought the next 90 minutes would be all I'd get to myself all day long, and that thought was not incorrect!  The next moment to myself would come 18 hours later around 2am when we both went to bed (god only knows how poor Kate Middleton must have felt: up at 6am, and Fireworks at 3am to celebrate the marriage).

I pottered downstairs to the lobby to grab a cup of free (but yummy) coffee, and then came back upstairs and sat outside in the hallway reading the newspaper, enjoying my coffee and poking around on the internet.  I know it must sound odd to say I sat in the hallway, but between the lighting, benches and relative quiet at 8am on a Saturday, it was actually a great place to sit-plus, the wifi is better in the hall than in our room.  I will confess, as I wrote the blog post about our wedding on that day, I did find myself getting a little teary eyed.  Ok.  A lot teary eyed.

Off to breakfast at 9.30am with Simon, his best man, my man of honour-and his wife and another friend. [This trio of people are my oldest and dearest friends and would effectively be my salvation for the day.]  A big breakfast, and back up to the room at 10.30 to shower up before heading off to hair & makeup at 11am.  It's the only time in my life I've ever splurged for professional hair & makeup.  It was soooo worth it.  Not just because my hair & makeup still looked pretty darned good 14 hours later, but it was nice to just sit there and not have to worry about it!

Even though I told him he didn't have to come, I should have known better:  my man of honor, Scott came up at 11.30a and sat with me for the duration.  What can I say?  He's a champ.  And, he probably has no idea how much I appreciated having him there.  If I would have sat there by myself, I'm pretty sure I would have hit freak-out mode in no time flat.  Best friends you've known for close to 30 years are incredibly rare.  If you find yourself fortunate enough to have one, you should consider yourself the luckiest person in the world.  I do.

After hair & makeup, we had just enough time to grab a quick bite of lunch before I had to hustle off and finish getting ready, and the same for Scott.  It's a good thing we took the time for lunch.  As I've heard more times than I can recount from friends who have wed, I really didn't get much more to eat for the rest of the day:  my plate of food at the reception was only half eaten before I had to abandon it, and neither of us even had a wedding cupcake (well, I finally ate mine the next day, but Simon never got one).

Little did I know that while this was all going on, Scott's wife and our other friend were working pretty hard behind the scenes on the last minute details that NEVER even occured to me.  Having never been married before, it never occured to me (for example...) how to get the boutineres from the florist to the men.  Or, my bouquet up to my room for when I was getting ready.  Or, any other dozen little things that just never even crossed my mind.  I consider myself to be an organized person-and on the things that I thought about, I was organzied (I swear!).  As for the things I didn't think about?  Again, all I can say is thank god for friends!

Back in the room at 10 minutes to 2pm-with t-minus 40 minutes, I still need to get dressed.  It was a warm day (finally-after 6 days of crap weather), and after Simon's shower, between the heat from the sun and the heat from the shower, it was swealtering in the room when I arrived.  Within moments, sweat was trickling down my face and I begin to hit panic mode:  a)my makeup is going to be ruined b)my hair is going to be ruined and c)I'm concerned that once I get my dress on, between the heat and the nerves, I'm going to pass out!  Oh, and at that moment, the photographer shows up to take a few 'getting ready' shots.  Good grief.

We bust open the windows, pull the box fan out from the closet and crank it on high.  It starts to cool off, but I'm still too warm to get in my dress.  So, I try to stall:  I lay everything out to make final assembly fast.  Put on my jewellery, go to the potty one more time....anything to stall for time so I cool off.

Finally, I do-and at that moment my girlfriends arrive to help me in my dress.  Scott, bless him, probably would have stepped up if I had asked him, but it was probably better he didn't! :)  I've lost close to 14 pounds over the past 3 months-with most lost the last 6 weeks before the wedding-so I didn't have the dress altered to fit; it would have been a wasted effort.  Luckily, I bought some lingerie tape-the doublesided stuff-and after I put the dress on, my friends procede to tape me in the dress.  The dress had a sash tie, so I could sinch the waist myself for auto-correct on the sizing, but the bust was in great need of help, so we spent 15 minutes taping me in.  I wasn't going anywhere any time soon!

All the while, we're keeping up a good patter of banter, which is helping to keep calm.  But, again, like clock work, as we get the dress sorted, there's another knock on the door.  It's 2:20pm, and my father has arrived to take me to the ceremony.  He looked so handsome-and a bit shellshocked at seeing me-that I almost burst into tears when I opened the door.  I had to have my friend Kirsten punch me in the arm to keep me from crying.   (Kirsten is very good at punching people-and has been for 20+ years, so I knew she would be the right person for the job.)  Scott shows up a moment later, and then there's a flurry of getting boutineres on him & my dad before we all catch our breath before heading out the door.

I think Kirsten can now see the nerves on my face, so she starts rambling on about her oldest son (who's 5) finally loosing his baby teeth.  She keeps this up for the 2-3 minutes it takes us to to walk to the ceremony site (the theatre on the property).  She probably doesn't realize this, but I'm pretty sure her talking is what kept me calm those last few minutes.  

The next thing I know, I'm standing at the end of the aisle next to Simon who *really* does look like he's going to pass out-and feels it too.  His hand, when I touch it is cold and clammy.  To the point that the first few minutes of the ceremony, I'm not really listening.  Instead, I'm plotting as to whether or not I try to catch Simon when he falls, try to tip him in the direction of his best man who is much larger and could probably catch him without injury, or just let him hit the ground.  Bless his heart.  It was a bit warm in the room-and the pressure he was probably feeling didn't help.  Ironically, as a result of thinking he's the one that's struggling, I find that any nerves I had were gone. I had always presumed that I would be the one that would be mush and Simon would have to be the strong one at the alter.  But, one look at Simon made me snap to.  I was surprised at how calm I sounded when we were reciting our vows, and even more surprisingly, didn't shed a single tear at the cermony.

Fortunately, he didn't pass out, and after 15 minutes, we say I Will (it's an Episcopal thing).  We're married!

From there, it seems that all of the nerves are gone for both of us.  I feel the weight lift from my shoulders, and I'm suddenly quite aware of how excited I am about spending the next 8-10 hours with my friends-just hanging out, drinking and dancing.  Is it weird that the ceremony was almost like the work/chore we had to get thru to get to the fun part?  Hm.  I'd never really thought of the ceremony in that way before, but given that was where the pressure was greatest, it does make me wonder...

After the ceremony, we all herd to the front of the hotel where the steps and the entrance are quite grand, for group and wedding party photos, and then we head off with the photographer for more photos-and send people on their way to the pub with drink vouchers in hand.  It's just gone 3.30pm at this point, and the 'English' part of the wedding is about to hit full stride:  in the pub, drink in hand, and let's get pissed!  Personally, I think it's the way to go-what a pity we didn't get to join for another hour. :)

As it was a surprisingly nice day, we were able to take a good number of photos both inside &outside.  I haven't seen the pics yet, but am super excited for their arrival!  McMenamins (the place we got married) is just so freaking photogenic, that I know the pics are going to look great.  My favorite part of all of this, is at one point, we're standing on the 2nd floor balcony of the hotel.  The photographer is on the ground and taking photos looking up at us.  It dawns on both of us at that point that it's all very 'Royal Wedding', so we jokingly start waving to the masses-in that bizarre Royal way.  Mind you, there are no 'masses'-just a few friends and other random folks wandering down below with drinks in hand, but it does make the strangers pause and look at us with a very puzzled look on their faces!

From there, the next 8 hours are again, a blur.  Food (only a bit..), drinks (again, just a bit-I don't think I had 3 drinks total in the reception), dancing, talking, laughing.  The reception was a perfect way to spend the evening.  The locale was simply perfect, the decorations my friends added couldn't have been better, the music was fantastic, and it all seemed to go off without a hitch.  I remember snippets of the evening, but it seems like every time I'd look at my watch, I'd lost another 2 hour chunk-though it felt like 5 minutes!  Fortunately, the photographer was at the reception for a few hours, there were a lot of pictures taken from friends, and we hired a photo booth (like at the beach), so there's plenty of documentary evidence even if I can't remember much.  I have seen several photos since-many even with me posted and smiling.  I can't remeber the picture to save my life.

We had to be out of the reception by midnight, and from there, we pass out more drink vouchers and folks head out to the bar on premise that is open the latest-the distillery.  We nip back to the room to change clothes:  12 hours in a suit for Simon and 10 hours in my dress=two people who really want to put on some jeans!  Don't get me wrong, my dress was super comfy-perhaps the most comfortable dress of any kind I've ever worn.  But, 10 hours in any one clothing article starts to bug me. :)

We head out to the distillery, but after half a drink for both of us, we decide to say good night.  It's beginning to push 1am, we're pooped, and have to be up by 9am the next day (hosted brunch at 10.30am).  Plus, it's starting to get boozy-and, not that I'm not a fan of a drunken evening, but I'm so tired, that I can't even be bothered.  Who knew:  leading up to the wedding, I presumed I'd drink more than what I did on our wedding day.  But, as we both kept getting drinks and then being pulled off for something, neither of us actually drank that much when it was all over.

Favorite memories of the day:  seeing my dad for the first time,  the minister's ceremony (Colin, the man who married is a B-school classmate of mine; he was an ordained Episcopal minister before B-school.  It was a such gift to have someone who knew us to perform the ceremony), getting to spend more than 3 hours in a year with my old friends from home, having homemeade Cherry Lemon Vanilla Sundrop shipped in from North Carolina (don't ask.  it's a long story...), watching one of Simon's friends-who tends to be the calm one of the group-go completely *bonkers* on the dance floor, seeing everyone have so much fun with the photo booth, being serenaded by Chris (Pat Benetar's "Hearbreaker"; she used to sing in a Pat Benetar cover band...) on the dance floor, the group dance at the end to New York, New York (an English tradition. go figure), and simply getting to spend a proper weekend surrounded by family and friends.

I'm leaving out so much, but I should stop.  I could write a book on this-the errands the week leading up to the ceremony, the exhaustion we both felt the next morning (after being woken up at 8am.  grr...),  the irony of both the news of Osama Bin Laden and my friend Dorothy going missing all on the same weekend, the surprise (and delight) at finding out that people actually you cash in envelopes on your wedding day, the beauty of the flowers-and sadness to know that I'm probably the only one who noticed them, the fun of having Eric stand up and tell the story about 'On the Road,'  and on and on.

OK.  I really am stopping now.

My final $.02:  I will NEVER do this again! ;)

I'll post a few pro shots once we receive, but in the interim, here are a few that were taken from my camera:

My Handsome Father

Man of Honour after hair & Makeup
Scott, moi, Kirsten, Scott's wife, Susan-my oldest and dearest friends

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An update on Dorothy Parvaz

Firstly, a heartfelt thanks to all of you who have commented on my previous blog post-or even just read the post (knowledge is power).

The Syrian government did confirm on Thursday (a full 6 days after her initial detainment) that they were holding her.

Dorothy has not been allowed any contact yet with the outside world, and the US State Department/Consular service has not even been allowed access.

If you've joined her facebook page or Tweeted on her behalf (#FreeDorothy)-I thank you. 

If you haven't yet, please, please take 30 seconds to do so today. We must keep the momentum going and continue applying pressure to the Syrian government to let her go.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My friend Dorothy Parvaz is Missing

This is not the type of thing you expect to happen to someone you know.  My friend, Dorothy Parvaz, a journalist with Al Jazeera, landed in Damascus, Syria on Friday and has not been seen or heard from since.

If any of you our there are reading this, please join her Facebook page or retweet #FreeDorothy.

If anyone out there has any connections with anyone, anywhere that may be able influence what is happening to her-even a call to your state senator, local MP, etc.  I would greatly appreciate the help.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Different Wedding wedding.

After 3 incredible years with the man I met after living in London for 4 days, we're getting married today.

I'll give a full update once everything is over, and we've had a chance to catch our breath, but suffice it to say, I'm so excited for this day to be here.  I feel very lucky to be marrying someone who is a better fit for me than I ever thought I could find.  I guess it just took going 4500 miles away from home to find him!

Love you, Bunny and look forward to spending the rest of my life with you.  Let the fun begin.

Friday, April 1, 2011

I am a Failure

It's taken me a few days to screw up the courage to write this. It's not often the word 'failure' enters my vernacular-especially when the words 'I am a...' proceed it.  But, as this blog is about my life here in London-the good and the bad-it's only fair I post about the bad too.

This past Saturday was to be THE run.  The run that I've been training for since January.  The run that has been the catalyst for me loosing 13 pounds.  The run that I've commented on a few times on this blog.  The run that has well & truly sucked a good portion of my free time the past 3 months.

The run that I couldn't complete because my knees would let me.


Two weeks ago, I ran 28.8k.  Well technically, I ran 27k and hobbled 1.8k.  My knees simply said f-you. We're done.  The mind was willing, as was the body from the knees up.  But the knees themselves weren't so willing!  That really made me nervous, so I tried to take the next two weeks easy-fewer runs, shorter distances, lots o' anti-inflammatory drugs.  The whole lot.

So, when this past Saturday came, I knew there was a pretty good chance that my knees would say f-you again.  But, I had a plan:  If I can at least make it to the 30k mark, I'll hobble the last 12k even if it takes me until the gym closes (effectively meaning it would take me 8 hours to complete THE run-2.5 hours longer than my target time).  Alas, my knees first started protesting at the 7k mark, and by the 14k mark when I took my first break, I knew I was in trouble.  I didn't know what to do, and perhaps more importantly than completing the run in any level of respectable time, I was concerned that continuing would cause damage.

At the 21k mark I threw in the proverbial towel.  Intellectually, I know it was the right thing to do.   Emotionally, I'm still feeling grumpy about it-and though 21k is nothing to sniff at, it's still only half of what I set out to do.  Training had gone so well for me for the past 3 months-I was genuinely surprised at how well my body seemed to respond to the effort, and as the weeks passed, I felt more and more confident at what I was trying to accomplish.  The longer runs were hard, but I really enjoyed them-and past a point was truly looking forward to THE run. And on some level, more importantly, I was looking forward to enjoying the feeling of completing such a daunting task.

Sigh.  Well, there's always next year.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Come one, Come all... the Greatest Show on Earth!  Also known as, The Royal Wedding.

An article in this Saturday's Times gave a breakdown of the various places around Westminster Abbey that onlookers can rent on April 29th for Kate & Wills wedding.  Coming in on the low end of the spectrum, at £60 per head was Methodist Central Hall, which is a 'lecture hall with champagne breakfast for 500 Guests or the Great Hall accomodating 1000 people.'  The Lecture Hall is owned by the actual Methodist Church.
On the upper end of the spectrum are the NIOC (National Iranian Oil Company) House and The Sanctuary (effectively owned by the Church of England).  Both also offer views of Westminster-at a paltry £100,000 for run of the facility.

There are also apparently several places in the vicinity of Westminster that are for rent ('price not disclosed'). I guess it's a case of, 'if you have to ask, you clearly can't afford it..' For the most part, these places are all owned by the 'Crown Estate.'  Who's that you ask?  It's the royal family themselves.  Yep.  The very people who are holding the wedding (at the cost of me, a taxpayer, mind you...) are effectively going to make money on the very event they're having.

I've clearly missed the mark.  Simon & I shouldn't be inviting guests to our wedding.  We should be renting out the chairs for viewers instead!

...why didn't we think of this first?!?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vitality Aromatherapy-My New Favourite

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that Vitality Aromatherapy is a new company that my friend (Lou) has recently started, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be testing some of the products she will eventually offer for sale on her website.

Regardless, I am officially in love with her gorgeous, perfectly scented, homeopathic products!  So far, my favourites have been her Peppermint & Lavender Aloe Gel and the Body Butter.

 With the running I’ve been doing, the Aloe Gel has become the first thing I reach for when I get home, and I can’t get enough of it!   Beautiful smell, great cooling properties for my hot tootsies, and the aloe and naiouli are doing a great job of healing my various blisters and pain points more quickly than if I were to simply let them be.   Plus, I find that the Peppermint & Lavender combo just makes me happy. J

The Body Butter...oh, what can I say about the body butter?!?...  The cocoa butter smell is light enough to notice, but not in a sickly-sweet Cadbury/Hershey chocolate bar kind of way; it is divine.  The butter simply melts in your hands (literally), and goes on so smoothly.  I honestly have licked my hands after using-it simply looks & smells good enough to eat-and is!  Don’t judge me.

Anyhoo.  I am so incredibly proud of Lou-she’s been working towards her goal of getting her company up & running for some time now and I can honestly say that after testing some of her products, that she will be a raging success.    She’s passionate and knowledgeable about what she does, and that shines thru in the beautiful things she makes.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit Vitality Aromatherapy and see for yourself.  Lou is still finalizing all of the online ordering bits of the website, but she can still be contacted via the website to place a bespoke order.

Here’s to you Lou-I wish you all the best!  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Relocation Benefits

An old colleague in the US recently asked me about relocation benefits: she's contemplating a move for work abroad, and isn't sure what benefits may (or may not...) be available to her. In the course of crafting my rather lengthy response, it dawned on me that there's power in the collective, so I thought I'd repost my response here and ask folks to pipe up with other suggestions.

In no particular order, here's what I've managed to come up with:

The first thing I'd state is this: regardless of what is *offered*, you should get creative in what you ask for-and ask for everything (this gives you a better position to negotiate from!): salary too low? Ask for a transportation subsidy or more on temp housing. Own a house in the US? Inquire about your company supporting a sale that guarantees you won't loose money (ie the company covers any difference between initial purchase price & resale price-PLUS expenses). Or something to that effect. Anyhoo, for what it's worth, here's a laundry list of things I've either personally received (or know others have received). Some if it's probably pretty obvious, but others may be a bit more obscure..

-Pre-move visit to search for housing (can't say how important this one is)
-Up front local market real estate agent support (whether to buy or rent...)
-It goes without saying: corporate housing for a minimum of 2 months. Push for more. And then, if you're able to move to permanent housing earlier, get your company to agree to split the difference on the 'rental refund.'
-Even better: get them to pay for housing for the duration of your stay
-Ditto for living expenses (ie a per diem). This is well & truly a true 'expat package' feature, and not that many companies do it any longer, but it still never hurts to ask!
-House hold good shipping (options: air freight-faster, but *very* expensive. a good solution to getting a few extra boxes that you couldn't bring on the airplane. or, shipping container....slower (think ~6 weeks), but this is where you could literally bring your entire house). -and negotiate how *much* the company is willing to ship-regardless of method
-Visa support-push for the most open type of visa that would be available (ie one that will last for years and avoid the need to be 'company sponsored'-if that is indeed an option where you're moving-ie the equivalent of what is/was a Tier 1 in the UK)
-Also make sure that the household shipping includes packing & unpacking
-Relocation bonus. The new tea kettle, TV, couch, etc...isn't going to be free! :) this is an especially good one to negotiate, as frequently hiring managers can't add more to the salary-but relo bonuses tend to come out of different 'pots', so there could be more flexibility here...
-Tax preparation-both for the US & the country you relo to. Be *aggressive* on this one-even request a pre-move tax/financial planning chat with a professional. This gets very expensive to pay for yourself-and trust me, you'll need help on your taxes both while you're abroad, and for a good number of years after you move back!
-Storage: not moving all of your stuff abroad? Ask your company to pay for your storage in the US
-Auto: if you plan to drive, get a transportation allowance-whether it means a company provided car/driver or whatever....or...if you don't plan to drive, ask for an allowance for public transportation
-Early contract cancellation fees: For example, if you need to break your mobile contract early or gym membership, apartment rental...ask for your company to cover the cancellation charges.
-Banking: get your company to help you establish a checking account AND get a credit card
-Flybacks: have them pay for you to return to the US X times each year-to be used for personal trips at your discretion
-Your boy/girlfriend/partner/husband: visa sponsorship as well as the same relo benefits you'd ask for ('stuff', car/xport, flybacks, etc...).
-Language Lessons: unless you're both already fluent in the foreign language of where you're moving to! :)
-Have a pet? Get the company to ship the pet-and pay for the quarantine pre/post shipping.
-If you'd still be paid your salary in your US bank, have the company cover any wire transfer fees you'd incur for getting money to the country you're moving  to live off of. 

Whew.  That's what I came up with in just a matter of minutes-I'm sure I've missed loads-like, there has to be things to ask for if you have children.  But, I've no clue about that! :)

What else is there?  What else have you received/heard of someone receiving as part of a a relocation package?  Give a shout-or better yet, post your comment.  Thanks!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ow My Feet

I've spent the better part of January and February running.  A lot.  And, I'm not even done yet.  I don't think I fully appreciated just how *much* running I'd be doing when I decided to commit to doing a marathon.  Well...let me tel you:  it's a lot. :)  Up until this week, I've run short distances on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Saturdays have been 'big run' days (22.4k is the longest to date, but that will change this Saturday...).  Starting this weekend, I'll also add a short Sunday run to the mix as well.

What is most surprising about this experience however is what/how/where the impact has been.  The three largest impacts that I have seen from all of this (freaking) running are:  my health, my feet, and my time.

My health-not surprisingly-has improved. I've already commented on my blog about the weight loss (yea!), but what I'm even more surprised about is the complete change in how I *think* about food.  I still like food, don't get me wrong, but when I'm eating now, I'm constantly thinking about whether or not this bite of food is going to make me 'better, faster, stronger.'  Meal planning-especially on Fridays (before my Saturday big runs) starts occupying my mind by Wednesday, and I'm always obsessed with how much protein I can consume on Saturday breakfast before the run.  I'm not trying to preach-heck, I ate 5 mini-cupcakes this weekend, and I still drink a few pints during the week-but, the mental shift in how I think about food has been a real surprise.  I wonder if it will continue once I'm done with the marathon-part of me hopes not.  Part of me hopes so-it's a bit exhausting to always be thinking about your food in that way. :)

My feet.  My poor, poor, poor feet.  I'd take a picture and post it on the blog, but my blog would probably be pulled down for the graphic images!  Literally, my blisters have blisters.  It goes without saying, but Saturday runs are the worst.  The damage I'm doing to my feet can't be good-fortunately, as I loose weight, I'm putting less stress on them as I run, but it would be great if I could drop 20 pounds before this Saturday's run!  And, of course, in an effort to stave off new blisters or attend to the ones I have, I'm spending about £10 a week on blister pads, padded band aids, foot inserts, athletic tape...yeesh.  I finally sucked it up and bought a new pairs of shoes on Monday.  My 'cheap' fixes aren't working, and as much as it pained me to plonk down £98 for a pair of running shoes, I figure that if they work, I'll make the money back simply by not having to spend the £10 a week!  Though the Saturday runs are generally difficult, I have found that it's really my feet that make them the most difficult:  I'm fine from the ankles up.  The ankles down are a completely different story..

My time.  Door to door, my Saturday runs going forward will likely take 4-5 hours.  And, I'm at the gym by 9am.  With a 25-ish minute travel time to get there and a need to digest breakfast before I leave, I'm up earlier on Saturdays than I am during the week!  Add to this another 90 minutes of effort on Tuesdays/Thursdays (fortunately, I'm now using the company gym-which is a 2 minute walk from my desk), plus 'foot maintenance' time before every run, and we're talking about a good amount of time taken up during the week.  Once I add Sunday runs to the mix, and starting next week, I need to increase the distance (and time spent...) on my Tuesday/Thursday runs, I'm easily looking at 10 hours a week of going to run/preparing t run/running.  Whew.  I don't think I fully appreciated the time I'd give up when I committed to this!

I know it must sound like one long whine, and that's not my intent at all.  I am genuinely enjoying the training/effort-and certainly some of the results.  But, these have been the prevalent themes for several weeks now, and I just wanted to get it all down before I'm done!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Random, I know.  It's one of those items that hits me from time to time, and then I quickly forget about it.  But, after this afternoon, I decided it was worth recalling to mention:  aerosol deodorant!

Americans...when was the last time you saw someone use (never mind purchase...) a *can* of deodorant/anti-persperant?  Personally, I'm pretty sure it was sometime in the early 1980's, before the whole 'aerosol can/CFCs are destroying the ozone layer!' thing.

Well, if you ever wondered what must have happened to all of those aerosol cans, I can confirm that they are VERY MUCH alive and well in England.  Aerosol deodorant still occupies a good 50% of the shelf space I've ever seen in any pharmacy or grocery store.  And, unlike the stick/roll-on stuff most Americans buy-who you wouldn't see using in public if a gun were pointed to their heads...aerosol deodorant usage in England is very much in the public domain.  Literally!

More times than I can count at work, I've heard 'pffffftttt....' from some part of the floor.  Co-workers share a can.  There's frequently spare cans found in office loo's for anyone to use (much like lotion, kleenex...), and I'm pretty sure I saw someone using it on the tube the other day.

I kid you not.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Catching Up

Confession:  I have been crap about updating the blog lately.  I could try the ‘I’ve been busy’ excuse, but in truth, that always sounds a bit crap-we’re all busy.  Regardless of my lame excuses, it’s time to get to updating.  Oh, where to begin…

Marathon Training
In my post In the Public Domain, I proclaimed that I was going to run a marathon in short order.  Well, I’m happy to report that I am still well on target to do this.  I’ve been spending a loooot of time running lately (more on this in a moment)-dare I say ‘training’ for the marathon.  I’m at the halfway point more or less in my quest to run the marathon before the wedding.  It’s been hard-no one wants to get up at 8am on a Saturday, shovel food in-not because I’m hungry, but because I need the energy, trek to the gym and slog away for 3 hours in a 20k run.  But, by golly, I’m doing it.  And (shhh-don’t tell anyone), am thoroughly enjoying it.  Don’t get me wrong:  the 22.4k run this past Saturday hurt-and I do fear the eventual 42k/26.2m run-, but I am *loving* the physical gains I am seeing both in terms of my run times improving and the literal physical gains I am seeing on my body.  I’ve shed about 8 pounds in the past 5 weeks, and hope to lose another 10 more before the actual ‘big run’.  If for no other reason than I need to be lighter for my poor feet! J  They’re in a constant state of ache, and my big Saturday run days are utterly destroying them: my blisters have blisters.  If I’m lighter, than this will ease the problem.  I hope.  It had better, or I’m in trouble! 
Though, the flip side of this is…if I do lose another 10 pounds, my wedding dress is officially going to be too big for me (it’s already getting a bit loose-fortunately, with a sash tie around the waist, I can get away with a bit of weight loss).  But, as we’re really hoping to do this wedding on a budget-and I was able to buy the dress off the rack & it fit perfectly, I’m really hoping to not have to suck it up and get alterations.  Damned if I do.  Damned if I don’t.
Speaking of weddings…

Wedding Planning
As of today, we’re 72 days out until the wedding.  Yikes!  Seriously, where has the time gone? I remember when it was ‘9 months out’  then ‘6 months out’, now suddenly we’re 2 monts out!
We’re in a bit of a holding pattern now, as we need all of the RSVPs to plan for things that involve headcount-though the RSVPs are really starting to flow in now.  I think we’re both starting to get excited at the prospect not only of ‘the wedding’ but also of ‘marriage.’  Everything has become ‘the last time we do this as an unmarried couple.’  This past Christmas was ‘our last Christmas before I become Simon’s wife.’  Valentine’s Day was ‘our last V-day before the wedding.’  Sick, I know.
The planning/to-do list items have actually gone better than I ever anticipated (more on this in a moment…).  I realize I’m probably setting myself up for some serious stress by saying this, but I recall so many girlfriends stressing over their weddings when it was still several months out, and that just hasn’t happened to me yet.  Though, on some level, it makes me think I’m missing something huge-that would be stressing me out.  And, that thougt does stress me out a bit.   Go figure…
Don’t get me wrong:  I’m sure that the 7-10 days before the wedding will be a completely different story alogether, but I am at least enjoying a bit less stress now than I thought would be the case!
Which brings me to my last update…

Gardening Leave/New Job
I’ve changed jobs.  I started a new job this past week (yea!), and it’s been an interesting process to get here-largely because I’ve been on what is termed ‘gardening leave’ since November.  Gardening Leave is effectively paid time off.  With traditional notice periods in the UK frequently from 90 days to 6 months, it’s not uncommon for someone to serve notice, and then at a point in their notice period for the employer to put the employee on Gardening Leave.  I for one cannot complain-and as it gave me time to train for a marathon, plan a wedding, tick off a whole bunch of other things on my to-do list-not to mention find another job, it was really a good time.
It was fun while it lasted, and I’ll probably never have another opportunity like that again, so I’m a bit sad to see all the free time go, but in truth, if there’s one thing that Gardening Leave taught me:  I would make a bad ‘lady that lunches!’

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saving Money in London

For most of my friends that know me-both here and in the US-most of them probably know that I love nothing better than saving money on my purchases-I love coupons (vouchers to the Brits), discounts, deals, loyalty programs...anything that will make living my life a wee bit cheaper!  And, as vouchers have become very in vogue in London the past two years with the economy, I started thinking about all the ways I try to save money while living in this incredibly expensive city.

Now, I'm not one that would go so far as to buy something I didn't want/need just to say I got a deal (well, barring that Givenchy jacket I bought 10 years was Givenchy, afterall!), and most of the things I try to save money on are either things I'd buy regardless (meals out, for instance) or would like to buy, but refuse to pay full price for (a full half-dozen microdermabrasion treatments).  So, continuing the spirit of sharing, I thought I'd mention a few of the places/ ways I've saved money since being here-for what it's worth, these ideas don't have to be confined to London-or even to the UK (I'm fairly certain some of the group discount sites are now in the US).  In the interest of full disclosure, any links below are purely IMHO, and I'll make no profit from you clicking on them-except the Groupon link-though, in truth, I think I've screwed the link up, so it doesn't matter! :):

Groupon:  There are a few versions of Groupon circling the globe-Tippr, Groupon/My City Deals, Living Social, etc..and they're all effectively group discount buying sites.  With these concepts, you sign up to a website (free), pick your location, and sit back and wait for daily deals to be emailed to you. In the past few months with Groupon, I've bought £170 hair cut/color packages for £45,  a £500 microdermabrasion series for £50, and £60 worth of food and drink (at a place we go already!) for £19.  You really can't beat this, and I may never pay full price for a beauty treatment in London ever again!

Email Vouchers:  I am the queen of vouchers, and I'm not afraid to use them. :)  My $.02 for what it's worth...take a look around at the places you frequently spend money-restaurants, shops, department stores, pubs, etc...and then see if any of them have websites with email programs you can join to receive vouchers.  Ask (think, Olive Garden but better) has a great email voucher program, and as there is an Ask about 50 feet from our front door, it is our go-to restaurant when I don't want to cook and we don't have the inclination to trek somewhere.  Rarely, if ever to we pay full price at Ask-and their deals usually mean one meal is free.  We ate there two nights ago and had two pizzas -both 50% off (or £5.07 each).  Can't beat that!  Young's pub chain is also good with voucher emails-our local is a Young's chain, and again, I can't remember the last time we paid full price for a meal-and have on more than one occasion received a voucher for a free drink (no purchase necessary)!

Loyalty Schemes:  Why not make your purchases net you something in the end? And in the UK, this option seems more plentiful than I care to think!  Boots, Harrods, Nandos, Ping Pong, Nectar, Nero, local restaurants with punch cards...I have no problem carrying around carrying around a tiny piece of paper or plastic the size of a credit card if it means I'm going to get something free after just a few purchases.  You're going to buy the face cream/chicken sandwich/coffee/dim sum anyway-why not use a loyalty card and effectively get a 10% or more discount off every purchase?!?

Bite Card:  I swear I'm the only person that knows about this, though I don't know why...It's a discount card that gets you 20% off at a good number of food stalls in train stations-Delice de France, Costa, Millies...and a few others.  If you have a commute that involves a train station, you're crazy not to have one of these.

Annual Tube Pass:  I have an annual tube pass.  This means that I suck it up once a year (though, some employers will offer interest-free loans), and pay a chunk of money to TFL so that I don't have to worry about what travel in Zones 1-2 *really* cost me again for 365 days.  Along with the actual tube pass come a few 'perks' that seem to be the best kept secrets of the Annual Pass:  Discounts on Heathrow Express (about 40%) for up to 4 tickets purchased at one time-even if all travelers using the discounted tickets don't have an annual pass, and discounts on National Rail.  Most train discounts run in 30-50% range, which is not small change.  The nature of the annual pass alone means you get a free month of travel-in comparison to buying 12-one month passes, and with the other discounts, you have a very real chance of clawing back even more cash into your wallet!

Pub Quiz:  OK.  Don't laugh.  But, the pub quiz can be a very real way of saving some cash!  I'm lucky enough to play with a group of people who, collectively are the right combo for a winning team, and we're fortunate enough to win something (free bottle of wine, bar tab...) almost every week.  I like to look at it as self-funded drinking!  I'd likely be in my local once a week for a few beers anyhow-why not organize with a few friends and make those beers free?!?

Taste Card: The Taste Card is a dining discount card that gives you either a 50% off or 2 for 1 deal at participating restaurants.  Unlike every other suggestion above though, this one does cost to participate.  There is an annual fee of around £75, but if you Google 'taste card discount', you'll almost always find a relevant code for 50%-ish off the annual fee.  There are a good number of national chains with the card (Pizza Express, GBK), but there's also some local gems (Ukai Sushi, Greigs)-and a few that are rather pricey in which the card could actually pay for itself after one use! 

With all of the above, Simon & I hardly ever pay full price for a meal-unless we're just out and about and decide to grab a bite at the most convenient place.  But, if we're looking for a meal, and have the option to plan for a bit, we likely will get a discount on the meal.  As such, we probably eat out a bit more often than most.  But, eating out has always been a special treat for me as we didn't do it much when I was grown up;  if I can treat myself and save money all at the same time, you 'd beter believe I'm going to do it!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Roasted Potatoes-My New Favorite Food

Now, I realize that potatoes (in any form) are a go-to food for many, many people: roasted, mashed, boiled, fried...But, oddly enough, until I moved to London, potatoes for me were my 'eh' veg; I don't mind potatoes, but I just felt that there were other, more worthy-and good for you-veg that I'd rather eat.

Well, no more! Admittedly, I do think french fries (chips) here are outstanding-and I have consumed well more of them in the past 3 years in London than likely the past 10 years in the US. And, since Simon & I moved in together two years ago, mashed potatoes have become a go-to veg for me as Simon isn't as in to vegetables as I am.

But, for Christmas this year, I decided to make traditional Roasted Potatoes.  I used the recipe of Simon's best friend, Herbie (I think it's actually his granny's recipe...), as I'd had Herbie's roast potatoes once previously and they were delish.  I was trying to make our Christmas dinner as 'British' as possible, and roasted potatoes seemed the way to go.  Since Christmas, I've made them 3 times more-twice this past week alone.  I can't seem to get enough of these things!  Which, is somewhat a pity-I know the reason they're so yummy is because they're roasted in goose fat.  Not exactly the healthiest thing in the world, but I can't help it!  So, in the spirit of sharing, if any of you have any goose fat just 'hanging about' the house, you may want to put it to some good use-direct from Herbie:

1) make sure you buy the right potatoes - King Edwards are the best  [I honestly don't know if King Edwards are readily available in the US; if not, get a 'waxy' potato...]

2) peel and cut the pots into reasonably large pieces (too small and they will break when you par-boil them), think about the size in-between a squash ball and a tennis ball.

3) par boil the pots in salty water for about 7mins. They should be getting soft but not yet breaking up

4) drain the pots and put them back in the dry pan over the heat to get rid of excess moisture...give them a really good shake in the pan while you do this to fluff up the edges of the pots as this will add crispiness when they are roasted. You can add dusting of flour or semolina at this point for extra crunch [I have added about 2 Tbsp of flour every time I've made them and can say it is well worth it!]

5) pre-heat a large roasting tray with about 1cm/2cm depth of oil. Goose fat is best (adds flavour), or lard. Don't use olive oil as it burns too easily. (set oven at high temperature for this)

6) when the oil is spitting hot carefully add your pots one by one and swill around so they get covered with the oil. you can drain off any excess oil if the pots are swimming in it.

7) put in the oven and leave for anywhere between 45mins and 1hour. Make sure you work out all your other timings to the pots. You should plate up your meat and veg and have gravy ready so you take out the pots last and immediately serve them. Trust best because it stops them from going soggy. Alternatively you can take them out, roll them around a bowl lined with kitchen roll to remove excess fat, then put into a large semi-heated serving bowl and then bring to the table. Don't whatever you do leave the pots in the oven to 'rest' at a lower temp-they will lose their crispiness.
I've been cooking the potatoes on 220 C, which is about 425 degrees F, and that seems to be a good temp for our oven.
Happy potato roasting!