Sunday, November 18, 2012

Settled in Seattle

It only took 2.5 months, but I think it's safe to say, we now feel settled in Seattle.  Whew.

I'm really surprised at how long it took-considering we had a place to live, and I'd been thru the process of setting life up here once before-so for example, I knew which mobile provider, cable provider, energy use.  Plus, we've had the added flexibility of having someone at home during the work week to manage some of the small appointments (Simon starts his new job next week).
It's especially surprising when I reflect back to how long it took to feel settled in London (3 months), and how frustrating and tiring it was dealing with the endless to-do list. It was the exact same feeling here.  This past weekend was literally the first weekend since we arrived in Seattle (August 31st) that I actually felt like I could sit down and relax-and not continue to think about the things that needed to be done...largely, because the list is now done!

Admittedly, it wasn't until 2 weeks ago before our goods from London arrived (we had them packed for shipment in mid-May...don't get me started...), and it wasn't until 10 days ago that the couch & chair that we bought in North Carolina in July arrived (we'd literally been using an air mattress as a 'couch'), and I know that was a large contributor to the feeling.  But even 'stuff' aside, the settling in process has been considerable.

Moving back has been one constant surprise after another.  I guess I should simply add this one to the list too!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cross Country Trip Pictures

Better late than never, right? Two months and countless nagging requests to Simon after we finished our trip, and all of the photos have now been uploaded and tagged.  Phew.

I was just having a flip thru, because I thought it would be a good idea to post one trip from each state we visited-then I realized that would be difficult for the last half of the trip where we were in 3,4,5...cities per state.  Then I thought I'd post one picture per stop.  And realize that sometimes we didn't take many pictures-and some times we took a hundred (hello, Grand Canyon!).  So...I give up. I'm just going to post the good ones-and try to keep it to under 50 pictures.  Kidding...No, I probably should try to keep it under 50. :)

Feels like this trip was years ago-not months ago.  Especially as I look at the warm climates, sun, tans, and short sleeves that seem to be the constant in each picture.  Sigh.  Oh well. Summer in Seattle is only a mere 9 months away (it rarely gets 'summery' here before July 4...).

Anyhoo, hope y'all  enjoy looking at the pictures as much as I just did.  Blogger isn't being very friendly to the picture upload, so the first pictures are actually the middle of the trip.  When you get to the Gold Cost, OR picture, the photos flip to the first part of the trip starting in Charleston, SC...Sorry for the confusion.  Grr.
Going local in Austin, TX

MEAT-Salt Lick (Austin, TX)

Roswell, case it isn't obvious

Central square-Santa Fe, NM

Mud bath at Ojo Caliente, NM

Tinkertown -Sandia Park, NM

Albequerque Isotopes

Painted Dessert-Petrified Forrest National Park

The very Grand Canyon

Gazing out over the Grand Canyon 
On the road to Sedona, AZ

Sunset in Sedona, AZ 
Proof that the Monster Chicken lives...

Santa Cruz, CA

How Wine Tasting should be-CA

Chandler Tree-Leggett, CA

Redwood National Forest-Humboldt, CA

Gold Coast, OR

Charleston, SC

Savannah, GA-Birthplace of  Girl Scouts

With old friends (and new) in Hilton Head, SC

Atlanta, GA

Rockin' on the front porch at Jack's house: Lynchburg, TN

Walking in Memphis..Beale Street

I'm going to Graceland!

Stax Recording Studio-Memphis, TN

Lobby of Shack Up Inn-Clarksdale, MS

Back 'yard' at Shack Up Inn

Bonnie C, Simon, Mr. Crawford-Oxford, MS

Cemetary behind Faulkner's 'marriage church'

Walking the tracks in Clarksdale, MS


St Louis Cemetery 1-NOLA

St Louis Cemetery 1-NOLA

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things I Miss About London-Part 2

I can't believe I'm about to say this...

I miss having milk for my tea provided to me in the office.

Yep.  There it is.  I said it.

This Southern American misses having milk for her tea.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


I mentioned on my blog at some point several years ago that anything greater than a 1-inch heel in London was just a baaad idea. 
Well, times have a-changed being back in the US & driving everywhere (the one upside to driving everywhere...).
In fact, the very wedge shoes I referenced in my blog are currently sitting on my feet at work.

Heels on my feet for the first time in 4.5 years.   It's the small things in life... 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Last Leg of the Trip

Where did the time go?!?!?  I've been back in Seattle for 2 weeks, and it seems like references to our trip-especially the earliest parts-are for a trip that happened years ago, not weeks ago.  Sigh.  I think real life has settled in again.

Before too much more time passes by, I want to get details down for the last leg of the trip.  In some ways, it was my favorite part of the trip, and fortunately, given the proximity of this area to Seattle, comprises the easiest places on the trip to pop back to for a weekend away from Seattle.

Stats since the last update
20 days.  2500 miles.  3 States.  Cities visited: Sedona, AZ; Scottsdale, AZ; Palm Springs, CA; Venice, CA; Santa Barbara, CA: Santa Cruz, CA; San Francisco, CA; Sonoma, CA; Eureka, CA; Gold Beach, OR; Newport, OR; Astoria, OR; Portland, OR.

Highlights...Sedona was a godsend-both the beauty of the scenery, and we stayed in an "AirBNB" type condo that had a kitchen-so, we got to cook!.  All of the Wineries we stopped at along the way were lovely-some better than others...Fess Parker was incredible, and our last winery (sadly, the name currently escapes me), was simple perfection in the setting and experience.  Astoria -and well, any of the Oregon Coast cities-are all hidden gems that I can't wait to return to during weekend trips from Seattle.

Lowlights...really just one...Santa Cruz. The one place on the trip that, hindsight 20/20, I wish we hadn't stayed in.  After booking the hotel, we were unfortunately 'locked in' for 2 days. The town is 'meh', and our hotel be brutally honest (if not a bit kind...) was a shit hole.  Yes, a shit hole.  I've never used that phrase to refer to a hotel before.  Until now.  Santa Cruz is very expensive, but you'd think that for ~$150 a night, you'd get something in which you didn't feel the need to wear socks while walking on the carpet in your room.  Ew.  Oh we know!

So, that's it.  That's the trip-a trip of a lifetime.  All told, we travelled 7700 miles across 13 States and 29 cities.  We started the trip Sunday, July 15 in Charleston, SC, and arrived in Seattle on Friday, August 31.  48 days.  Whew.

It's good to get settled in to Seattle (well, as settled as we can be without our stuff from London yet..), but I could have easily done another 2-3 weeks of the trip.  I start a new job on Monday, but hopefully in another 3-4 years, we'll have the opportunity to take some time off and do the northern route from Seattle to NYC!

I'm sorting thru pictures now.  Once we've been thru-and noted everything-I'll do a pictures post.  Should happen next weekend-it's Simon's task this week to tag the pictures. :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Things I Miss About London

Two Random things while thinking about it...

1.  Not that this one should be a surprise, but I miss not having to worry about drinking and driving. I miss having public transport as an easy option to get me home after being out in the evening and having more than a couple of drinks.
As a result, I'm keeping myself fairly sober.  Or sadly, am just drinking in the hotels... ;)

2.  I miss English public loos-and the privacy they afforded.  Proper walls that went to the ceiling and to the floor.  Proper doors that didn't have 2 inches of space in-between the door and the wall.
American public toilets...#fail.  I'd never realized how massive the lack of privacy was when you went to use one (even on trips back here..), but the past few weeks, it's all I can notice when I'm in the bathroom.


Movin' On

I suck as a blogger.  It's been at least a month since I last blogged-though I've had a post written for over 2 weeks!  I've been desperately trying to upload photos from my phone to accompany said post, and it's such a struggle to get WiFi, that I'm going to forego photos for now, and simply add the blog post-with pictures to come later.
So, odd thought it may read, imagine I had my act together & actually posted this update ~2 weeks ago...

Hard to believe it’s been a little over 2 weeks since I last updated.  We’ve travelled a fair bit since then-and have hit a fair number of places along the way that we’ve absolutely fallen in love with (more on that later..). 

Stats since the last update:
18 days.  2600 miles.  6 States.  Cities visited: Memphis, TN; Clarksdale, MS; New Orleans, LA; Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, TX; Roswell, Santa Fe, and Albequerque, NM; Flagstaff, AZ (en route to Sedona).

Highlights…there’s almost too many to mention.  I’ll skim here, and detail more below..
Between Nashville, and Memphis, we both really liked Tennessee.  Clarksdale, MS was outstanding-not because of Clarksdale per se, but rather the place we stayed, and the visit we made while there.  NOLA was…NOLA.  It was a first visit for both of us, and it oddly felt like being in Europe, and not- all at the same time.  Great everything.
Austin was good fun-and has made me understand a bit more why Texans are so..’Texan.’
Santa Fe and Flagstaff.  Oh, if only we could retire to either tomorrow.  Much love for both of these places-both Simon & I even went so far as to start looking at real estate websites/booklets!  Oh, and did I mention the Grand Canyon?..

Lowlights…er..does weight gain count? J  We’ve each put on about 10 pounds on the trip thusfar (effectively erasing my weight loss from last year.  Bugger).  But, with eating and driving, driving and eating…I’m somewhat relieved it isn’t more than 10 pounds!  But, it’s something we’re both trying to be better about now..

It’s all in the Details
Memphis was cool.  Though we were barely there for 18 hours, we managed to cram in a lot:  We were able to catch a minor league baseball game, hit Beale Street (pre-game) for some drinks, BBQ and a wander, and had a walk from our hotel over to Graceland (we were staying in the Heartbreak Hotel, which was across the street from Graceland..hee).  At $30-something per ticket, we opted not to do the tour, and instead stood at the wall on the property and took a few photos. J

Clarksdale, MS
A random spot I know, but the place we stayed-The Shack Up Inn-was recommended by my old High School English teacher as a must-stay, so we did.  And it was one of my favorite places we’ve stayed the entire trip.  From Clarksdale, we also popped over to Oxford, MS and visited with my old teacher-who did an outstanding job of showing us around.  He’s been a Faulkner buff for as long as I know, and as Faulkner is from Oxford, there were some fabulous things to see.  Between getting to catch up with Mr. Crawford, and the putter around Oxford, that day was a total highlight for me on the trip. 

New Orleans
There isn’t anything I can say about NOLA that hasn’t already been said before.  Our trip centered around two things:  Cocktails and Cemeteries.  NOLA is known for having many bars/hotels that excel in cocktails-and I can personally verify this.  In addition to the bars/hotels, during our time there, the “Tales of the Cocktail” convention was also going on.  Though it’s primarily an industry event, anyone can buy admission and attend.  So, we did.  And for $45 each, we got to wander around various convention sites for 2 days (coulda done 5 if we would have been there for the duration…) and drink for free-and also attended an interesting presentation on ‘Russian Cocktail History.’  Note to self:  forget Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.  Perhaps next year we re-visit for the full duration of this event!
The other major activity for us in NOLA was cemetery visits.  I love cemeteries.  Always have (I get it from my mother), and NOLA is certainly known for its cemeteries.  I can’t really describe how much I enjoyed our wanderings-we managed to dig into two really well, and drove by a fair few more.  Similar to the cocktails, cemeteries alone could be a reason to go back to NOLA.  Wow. 

Austin, TX
What a neat little city.  We spent almost as much time at the State Capitol and vicinity as we did anything.  Now I get Texas-er, a bit more...  They had to fight so hard, so long, and so frequently for independence from multiple parties, that it’s no wonder the state has always seemed a bit different from the rest.  Well, that and the sheer size of the state.  But, now I get it.
Oh, and the steaks and BBQ?  Wow.  Just wow.  At the insistence of several friends, we popped out to a place called Salt Lick, where they have an ‘all you can eat’ meat platter, and it was simply divine.  And the BBQ Pit?  Should be considered an 8th wonder of the world.

Santa Fe, NM
Though we’d already hit a few places along the way we both really liked (both as tourists and as possible living cities), Santa Fe really called our name from a ‘this could be a place we retire to’ perspective.  From the walk-able downtown, to the amazing scenery, friendly people, *relatively* inexpensive housing, and perfect weather, we’re both having serious thoughts about this being one of our retirement locations.  Event to the point of doing a bit of flipping thru the real estate magazines.  From the population we encountered, we’re clearly not the first ones to think of Santa Fe as a retirement location, but I guess the good news is we’d be in good company! J

En route to Albuquerque, we took the Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe, and that was simply stunning.  The highlight of the drive was a stopover to a place called Tinkertown.  My pictures don’t even do the place justice, but if I were a parent, this would be place number one I’d take my child on a trip in the area-the inspiration and creativity were just unbelievable!

Flagstaff, AZ
Similar to Santa Fe in ‘ambiance’, but from a visual perspective, it looks like I’m in Alaska.  Really struggling to wrap my brain around it.  But am in love with the little city nonetheless!  Oh, and it’s only 90 minutes to the Grand Canyon. 
There haven’t been many times I’ve been with Simon that he’s been stunned into silence, but there were definitely a few times on our visit yesterday that words failed him.  It really is an amazing place-and though it wasn’t ‘built’ by the US/Americans, there was an immense sense of pride I felt at being there yesterday, and hearing so many foreign languages, and knowing that these people sought out this place; they gave up visiting other incredible places in the world to come *here.*  Go figure.

All in all, the past week of the trip has felt immensely different from the first part of the trip. I think it’s because the first ~4 weeks were about getting *to* a destination and settling in-and though we are still destination-focused, much of what is calling our attention now are on the drives themselves-the in-between things.  It’s partially due to where we are in the country, but I’d also like to think we’re now finally able to really appreciate the journeys and not just the destinations (thanks, Confucius).

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The First Three Weeks

I’m not really even sure where to begin on this post.  There’s the ‘returning to the US’ part of the post, and the ‘road trip’ part of the post-and both parts almost have nothing to do with each other, but at the same time my observations from each part are most definitely intertwined.  Well, when in doubt, be organized. J

Returning to the US

That’s really what the first 2 weeks of ‘The First Three Weeks’ are about; returning home.  Home.  Wherever that really is.  Some part of the US?  London?  I’m not really sure at this moment, but that’s OK.
Our first week was spent quite literally buying a car.  I sold my car when I moved to London 4 years ago, and as you kind of need a car to do a cross country road trip, that was first on our agenda when we arrived.  The original plan was to buy a Manual transmission, but, one spin around the local mall parking lot with Simon behind the wheel (for the first time in close to 17 years…), and it became pretty apparent that we’d be getting an Automatic transmission!  I’ve never felt such stress in a car in my life, as I sat in the passenger seat as Simon jerkily made a few circles around the lot-and it really stressed him out as well.  There’s so much for him to have to get used to now-different side of the road (if just mentally, as he never really drove in the UK), the logic of the road signage-never mind the actual driving of the car.  Whew.  We’ll get there eventually.  And though, the original plan was that Simon would be doing some of the driving on the trip (er, the long, straight stretches of the road…), the reality is that it’s really not a good idea until he gets more comfortable.  So I’ll do all of the driving, and Simon will navigate.  Then, once we get to Seattle, we’ll get Simon some professional driving lessons.

In the due course of the first week of being back in the US, I took Simon to Faith, North Carolina for his first July 4th celebration.  
This little town of ~300 people will swell to 30k during the week of July 4th, and one of my dearest friends has grandparents who live there, so I’ve been to the July 4th celebrations before-and knew it was the only proper experience Simon could have for his 1st July 4th.   Faith did not disappoint, and Simon really seemed to love the small-town experience (complete with BBQ sandwich from the fairgrounds).  Good times.

The Rough Life in Myrtle Beach, SC
Week two of the trip was spent with my Dad and his GF in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Myrtle was the summer location of my childhood vacations, and I thought it would be a hoot to go there with Simon & my Dad.  It was good fun, and it was nice to be in an ocean that was as warm as bathwater-even at 10am!  Simon never understood why I had problems getting in chilly water (ocean or pool), until that trip, but now he gets it.

Other than that, most of our first two weeks was taken up with ‘life admin’ from the move-trying to pay final bills, Simon chasing some probate things for his father’s estate, and planning details for the trip.  My father doesn’t have intertwebs, so it seems like we spent a good 10-15 hours over those two weeks in the local Starbucks on their WiFi!

All of the above aside, I would say there has been a bit of the reverse culture shock that so many people said I’d experience when I returned.  Not much, but I think that’s because what we’re doing now isn’t ‘normal life,’ so I anticipate that once we settle in in Seattle, there will be more observations.  Simon has made quite a few (which I hope he will guest blog about in short order), but for me the biggest thing I’ve noticed-and it’s somewhat tied to the ‘haven’t had a car in 4 years’ bit from above:  Must we be on our mobile phones when driving?!?!?  More times than I can count, the near misses on the roads have been from people on their mobiles.  What gives?  Must common sense be legislated?  Sigh.

Road Trip
6 days.  2600 miles.  5 States.  Cities visited thusfar: Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Hilton Head, SC; Atlanta, GA; Bridgeport, AL (just so Simon could tick another State off the list…), and we just arrived in Nasheville, TN.

Our lovely room in the 17hundred 90 Inn
Highlights:  Savannah, GA.  I’m supremely embarrassed that I’ve never been to Savannah before, given how close it is to where I spent most of my life, but the two days in Savannah were perfection.  Loved it.  Simon too.  As in, ‘I’d like to retire here’ kind of loved it.  Great everything.   We stayed in this incredible place called the 17hundred90 Inn, and were so happy to be there, I think we walked around with stupid looks on our faces for 2 straight days!
Rockin' on Jack's front porch
Also, cliche though it may seem...we took the Jack Daniels Distillery tour in Lynchburg, TN, and it was incredible!  Great story, great organization, and the information was enough to be educational and entertaining without belabouring the point.  A Plus.

Lowlights:  Navigation.  I’m not patient enough with Simon/the GPS, and need to get better about this, or we’re going to fight every day-and I don’t want to be that way.  As mentioned earlier, Simon doesn’t yet understand the logic of the road signage, so for him to tell me what he sees on GPS (as we’re not able to dashboard mount the thingy…), is frequently misleading/incorrect, and causes immense frustration for me.  Must. Get. More. Patient.

Final Thoughts....Frustrations with my fellow Americans aside, I'm stunned at how quickly I've slipped back into the US.  When we flew out of London, I quite genuinely thought I'd be bawling my eyes out on the air plane at the prospect of leaving London.  Nope.  Instead, it was more like:  "Come on, come on, come on...can't this plane go any faster!"  I'm really not sure where that came from to be honest.  
The Riverwalk in Savannah, GA
Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA
And Similarly for Simon, the stress of the last 2 months in London with his father's death/estate were really taking it's toll.  We were fortunate enough to find a solicitor to take over probate just weeks before we departed, and now that they're in full action mode, there isn't much that Simon has to worry about (er...other than selling the house).  Nevertheless, the move here-and the trip in particular- was the perfect opportunity to 'draw a line' (Simon's words) from that stress.  I think we both still need another week or so to really come down, and then I think we'll be really ready to embrace this new adventure to the fullest.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Great American Road Trip

One week from today, we fly out of London back to the US.  Though I am leaving behind a city and country I have come to greatly appreciate, and a job that I love, love, love...I can now say I AM SO FREAKIN' EXCITED to leave and start our road trip!!!

It's been a desire of mine for close to a decade to drive across the country, and about this time last year, I mentioned this to Simon when we started talking about 'how' we would make the move.  We initially decided to be practical and find jobs first, but responses from that effort 6 months ago quite literally made it clear that we would have to be Stateside to properly job-seek.  So, we then thought we'd move, land in NC, visit my dad, and take a week or two to quickly get cross country.  Then you get reminded about how about how short life can be (Simon's dad wasn't even 60 when he passed away 7 weeks ago), and we decided-well, really Simon decided (I was always OK with it...) to take a proper amount of time off (2-3 months), and really make this a trip of a lifetime.

So, about this time next week, we land in Charlotte, NC. We'll spend a week with my dad-car shopping-and then go to the beach with him for 4 days.  We'll return, do some laundry, catch up with a few friends, and then on Sunday, July 15 begin what is currently shaping up to be a 6 week drive across the US!  We estimate that we'll arrive in Seattle around August 30, and I.can't.wait.

We'll potter in the South along the coast for over a week, but then once we hit Atlanta, it's on! :)  Nashville, Memphis, Oxford, NOLA, Houston..that's 2 weeks. Two more weeks gets us thru Texas (Houston, Austin, San Antonio), New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albequerque), and Arizona (Grand Canyon, Sedona, Phoenix).  Then we should hit California at San Diego, and begin 2 weeks pottering along the CA Coast.  We'll then spend the last week in Oregon-before finishing off 2 nights at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale (where we got married), then make a last drive to Seattle.

If anyone has any suggested things to see/do/eat/places to stay for under $100 (that hopefully have some "character"), give me a shout-I'd love to know! I'm familiar with everything up to NOLA, and then I've either not been-or it's been soooooo long, that I need a refresher.

Simon is concerned about the heat & humidity of the trip-and up to central CA, it is going to be a challenge for him-er...and a challenge for me. :)  He doesn't deal with heat very well.  So, erm...if anyone has traveled with kids in the heat, I'd love some suggestions as well!  hee hee...

Wish us luck!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

...and Breathe

Wow.  What an intense 4 days it's been. I never thought I could be as stressed as I was when I moved FROM the US, and it turns out...I was wrong!

Saturday was chock full with errands, packing, and last minute details to get the flat ready for the check out guy to review (painting, replacing burnt out light bulbs, etc) on Tuesday.  We also had our leaving-do pub crawl in Borough Market, and I accidentally doubled booked myself at a college alumni event for the first pub of the crawl, so I spent most of the alumni event being stressed about missing my own leaving-do.
Sunday, we packed up the rest of our bits in the flat (movers had already taken most things the week before) that we'll use for the next 3 months while travelling. That was an effort in itself: I over estimated the amount of 'stuff' I was keeping-versus packing space, and there was a sizable moment of panic (in truth, an actual panic attack) when I tried to figure out how to deal with it all-what had to be packed immediately, what I would need for the next 2 days, and what I would need on Wednesday morning in the hotel we were moving into
From the packing, we brought all 6 bags to my office to store until we moved until a hotel on Tuesday night (our lease expired 10 days before our flights).  And then we raced home to get ready to go to a friends flat who was hosting us and our pub quiz team for Sunday lunch.  It was a lovely time-it's always great fun with that group, and the food was simply amazing, but around 6pm, my mind started thinking about all the remaining to-do items that had to be done, so we raced back home to continue pottering in the flat.
Monday, the cleaners came to give the flat the contractually required deep clean, and though they did a good job, they kind of broke the oven-and with the impending check out the next day, that caused unnecessary stress.
Tuesday...good ol' Tuesday.  I was up at 4.30am to catch a flight for work, so that left Simon holding the bag to deal with the check out guy-and juggle the cleaners returning 30 minutes before check out to try to fix the oven (which they couldn't...)-and managing to get the last 2 bags of our things out the door, back to work, and then eventually to the hotel
I finally got to the hotel around 11.30pm last night with barely one eye open, I was so tired.  So, after settling in, I finally took a deep breath and relaxed.

That was just me.  While all of this was going on, Simon has been dealing with his last week of work, a last trip to his Dad's house to deal with estate things, and juggling all of the bits from the move that I wasn't around to do (such as the check out inventory).  It all really seemed to pile up on Simon on Monday, and he had a little mini-breakdown after dinner.  He's made the mistake of not just doing the things that *absolutely have to be done* and is instead also trying to do things he *wants done*...and his list is too long.  Simon is trying to wrap up all of the loose ends, and there comes a point when doing what we're doing, where you have to realize that there are loose ends that won't get wrapped up.  Possibly ever.  At least in hindsight from my US to UK move, I did learn that very painful lesson, and am using it this time.

I think it really hit him hard, so Monday night was spent trying to calm him down and tell him that all of the must-do things WILL get done.  I don't like seeing him so stressed, and though I knew this move would be hard on both of us, since I'm worrying about him as well, I do think this move may actually be a bit harder than the US to UK move.  The logistics are no different (generally speaking...), but I have someone other than myself to think about -and that someone has never done this kind of thing before.

The GOOD news however, is that when I got to the hotel last night, it did seem as if Simon were feeling better about everything, as he seemed more relaxed and back to his usual chatty self (he wasn't chatty the days before).  And, this morning when I got up-and throughout today-I've realized that I am now beginning to look forward to the move, instead of dreading all of the things I have to get done before.

I think the hardest part of this life-change is over (God, I hope so!), and for the first time in a long time, I (we) seem to be breathing a bit easier.  Whew.

Oh, and the picture below?  That's 'home sweet home' until July 2.  Good times...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let the Anger Begin

I had almost (*almost*) forgotten how incredibly frustrating my move here was 4 years ago.  I had almost (but not quite...) forgotten how incredibly angry I felt for the first 3 months I was living in London while trying to establish my life here, and had to deal with the endless bureaucracy.  Almost.

And, then I was reminded today when I had to go to the Post Office and submit our change of address form.    Oh, US Postal Service.  How I sooooo took you for granted when living in the US-and for that, I will forever be sorry.  I sincerely apologize.  I want to thank you for delivering my mail to me (unlike my current post man who is completely incapable), and I want to thank you for not charging me an extortionate amount of money (or, anything for that matter!) when I submit a change of address form when I move.  Mind you, this could possibly explain why you're currently bankrupt, but I don't want to split hairs...

The UK Post Office, in their piss-poor way, thinks it's OK to charge me £250 for 6 months of mail forwarding.  £125 for Simon. £125 for me.  Because we have different.last.names.  Same house.  Same address.  Both moving.  Different last names. And for that we're being penalized.

Given the track record of mail delivery the past 4 years (my magazine subscriptions 'mysteriously' stopped getting delivered....and last week, I took delivery of *all* of my neighbors mail-one of dozens of mis-deliveries...), I get the sincere feeling that submitting the form doesn't really matter-and we're very likely to only receive 10-15% of all of the mail that we'll be due.

Grumble. Grumble.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Life As We Know It

This is it.  The last week of life as we know it.  The movers come on Thursday to begin packing up, and will remove everything on Friday.  At that point, the flat will be barely a quarter full-compared to now.  That will be weird.
We head out Friday for our last long-weekend in Barcelona-well, at least 'last' for a good while.  We get back to London on Monday super late, and have our final leaving-do the following Saturday, June 16.
Tuesday, June 19, we 'check out' of our flat-and check in to a Travelodge in Covent Garden until July 2.

From there, we fly the friendly skies to the US-and by our estimation, will spend about 58 days on the road.  .

By my count, after Wednesday nite, it will be almost 100 days before we sleep in our bed again.  Excited-and not looking forward to bad beds all at the same time. :)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Return List

One of the first posts I ever made in this blog was called The List, and it was quite literally the list of some of the big-ticket items (sell car, rent condo..) that I had to take care of prior to my move to the UK.  Well, it goes without saying that as we prepare to return to the US, Version 2 of "The List" is in full swing.
I've come a long way from scratching out things on a piece of paper to keeping a full blown spreadsheet with color coded columns:

The Return List

This is but a small fraction of everything that needs to be done, and I haven't quite gone in to full-blown detail ('final utility bills' instead of separate line items for electricity, gas, and water...), but I am nonetheless surprised at how shockingly different The Lists are from one country move to the other.  Yes, there are some similarities, but not as many as I would have expected for the same general experience.

My only hope is we're able to stay on top of everything.  I'm trying hard not to get too stressed over all of it (my mantra: 'it will get done'), and in particular, trying not to let Simon get too stressed, as he's also got his Dad's estate to deal with-he's the executor.  It will happen-goodness knows how bad it was when I came here-but I'm hoping that it won't be as bad, or last for as long.

The glass is always half full, right?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times...

I'm sitting at work today-it's a Sunday-to get some work done, and some life admin done, as the past two weeks have been absolutely crazy.  I know people (myself included) overuse that phrase to describe their life, but in this case, the past two weeks are a real reflection of that sentiment.

It Was the Best of Times...
Sunday, April 29th, Simon and I took a big step in the direction of getting ourselves back to the US.  I've been really quiet about this topic the past few months, and it's time to let the cat out of the bag on everything related to this, as I have a feeling this will become a large topic of focus in our lives for the next several months.
On that Sunday, we booked our one-way tickets from London to the US (Charlotte, NC to be specific) for a July 2 departure-just 2 days before July 4; Independence Day.  Seems fitting. :)
We'll fly in to Charlotte, and spend a week or so visiting my father, catching up with friends, *buying a car* (oh, that little detail), and then head to the beach-the NC/SC beaches are just some of the best in the US in my humble opinion, and I've talked to Simon about them for ages-it's time he gets to experience it first hand.  From there, we'll take ~4-5 weeks and drive cross country and up to Seattle for our final destination.  I still have my condo in Seattle, so we'll stay there until we either get jobs in Seattle-or up sticks and move to San Francisco (plan B).  I'll bore everyone with the details on the job search later, and our travel plans-once we know what they are...but, that's the gist.

Then, Monday, April 30th was our First Anniversary as a married couple.  I can't believe it's been a year already!  It's been an incredible year, and if it's anything to go by, I look forward to the next 50 years with Simon as well.  We splurged with a 7-course tasting menu (wine with each course) at Le Gavroche, and oh what an experience that was!  We ate and drank so well (the best was the cheese souffle), and it is now surely a top-3 meal for me in London.  I will remember that night-and the hangover the next day-for some time to come.  It was a truly special experience.

It Was the Worst of Times...
Wednesday, May 2nd however is where life decided it was time to remind you how fickle it can be: Simon's Dad passed away.  He had not been a well man the entire time I've known him (3 heart attacks, numerous angina attacks, and more trips to the hospital than I can genuinely remember), and he was in the hospital when he passed away, but it was-and still is-a shock to the system.  I was in Dublin when Simon phoned my mobile at ~11am.  As soon as I saw the call, I knew exactly why he was calling: it's just one of those things you know.
We spent last weekend at Simon's Dad's house taking care of 'admin' along with Simon's brother & sister.  Simon heads back up today to have a meeting with the church vicar on Monday, and then the funeral is planned for May 18.
Simon is the executor of the will, so the past week has also been intense in beginning the paper chase to settle the estate.  I've tried to help where I can with phone calls to various companies to request paperwork to wrap up this account or that account, but there still seems to be a fair bit to do-and I think we're both feeling overwhelmed at the admin-both for his father's estate, and as we try to wrap up our lives here.

The silver lining to all of this (I am trying to stay positive...), is that it has meant he's been able to spend some good time with his brother & sister-and, Simon doesn't leave the country with the burden of his father's health hanging on him.  It sounds horrible to say-but it is the hard truth. Simon even recognizes that when he was to last see his dad in June before we leave could quite possibly have been the last time he saw him alive.   And, once we land in the US, Simon can't leave the country for 6 months (part of the conditional visa/green card process).  I couldn't bear the thought of Simon arriving in the US, and then not being able to return if he had to for his Dad.

What has been incredibly surprising to me (I disclose this in trying to keep with the true spirit of this blog), is the lack of difference in general approach/admin/details that seem to exist between the US and the UK on the topic of death and funerals.  It all seems incredibly familiar to me-the process-and I'm very surprised, given how different other common things (renting a flat, for example) have been.

Where the US and UK do diverge on this concept however is in price.  Before Simon spoke to the funeral director about the pricing for everything, I told him that I recall my mother's funeral expenses (all in) ran about $10k-and that was a fairly standard price.  Given how typically expensive everything in the UK is, we were bracing our selves for a £10k price tag (or ~$15k).  Surprisingly, the entire cost for the funeral will barely run £2k.  Everything (coffin, flowers, funeral home...everything) is so much less than what it is in the US.  Go figure.

Well, that's it for now.  There's so much to do in the next week-and subsequent weeks-that I actually need to get moving.  I will try to update a bit more regularly over the next few weeks about well, everything.  It's been a crazy few weeks, and it isn't stopping any time soon!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Moving to London-Revisited

Blogger has a new interface (I promise I'm going somewhere with this...).  On the 'back-end', I can now see a basic level of Google Analytics with each post.  It's a nifty way of seeing high-level information at a quick glance.
While posting about my Reims trip, I had a quick potter thru to see what old post had had the biggest number of views.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but a post I made in October, 2009 called Moving to London has received more views than just about anything else.  Though, British Teeth Explained is a close second. Hee..

So, I had a re-read of the Moving to London post, and I'm pleased that I think it still holds up.  My 20/20 hindsight on my 20/20 hindsight post hasn't changed.  And, even 2.5 years on, except for perhaps adding a few nit-picky things (paperwork to bring with you), I probably wouldn't add loads more.


Catching Up-Champagne Country Travels

Avenue de Champagne Epernay
Avenue de Champagne in Epernay
Moet et Chandon
Moet et Chandon Cave
I'm a bad, bad blogger.  It's been too long since I've posted anything.  Time to catch up!

We've spent the better part of the first two weeks of April travelling.  Barcelona for a quick weekend (because we can), and FINALLY...Reims & Epernay, France (aka 'Champagne Country'). Check one more off the bucket list.

Oh, so much fun.  Oh, so much champagne.  Oh, it was all sooooo good.

We took the Eurostar to Paris Tuesday night after the 4-day bank holiday. My first vacation since early November. Whew.  In to Paris for one night, and then out the next day for Reims.  We got into the Paris hotel rather late, but after dropping off our bags, headed out again to try to find a place for dinner.  Given the area of town we were in (Gare d'Est/Gare du Nord), I wasn't holding my breath, but we actually managed to find a place just around the corner from the hotel-Chez Papa-that was absolutely incredible.  I had a salad with lettuce, two kinds of cheese, sliced/fried potatoes, and a slice of parma ham.  Heaven.

We spent Wednesday morning walking around Paris for a bit.  Coffee & breakfast at Cotume Cafe for seriously some of the best java ever...and then a quick trip to Rue Cler near the Eiffel Tower.  Rue Cler is one of (I'm sure many...) foodie areas of town, and there's a place there called L'Epicerie Fine Rive Gauche that sells the most incredible tarragon flavored dijon mustard. They sell other incredible things, but we were on a mission for this mustard. :)

Afterwards, we took a stroll up to the St Germain de Pres part of town for lunch and then back to the hotel to get our things & go catch the train to Reims, which is 45 minutes east of Paris.

We stayed in Reims for 4 nights & used it as our base.  From there, we popped down to Epernay for a day (train journey is only 30 minutes).  Reims was much bigger than we expected, so we walked a lot.  For the amount (and type..) of food & booze we consumed on this trip, I should have packed on the pounds-but with all of the walking, I actually lost 1.5 pounds!  Best. holdiay. ever. :)

Over the course of our time in Reims, we had a good wander over most of the town, did cave tours of Tattinger & Pommery, had a tasting (no tour) at Charles de Cazanove, and consumed a fair few more bottles/glasses of champagne with our meals.  We wandered by Ruinart (my absolute  fave), but didn't (ahem.  couldn't...) go in.

Epernay was 1/10th the size of Reims (200k people v 20k people)-and more of what I expected the trip to be like.  Super quaint, picturesque village with all of the champagne houses just lined up one after another on a main strip.  Since we didn't have a car, Reims was challenging at times-and I'm sure we missed a good bit -but, for this reason, Epernay was perfect.

We did a tour at Moet & Chandon, and then also tasted (no tour) at Venoge..

The Dom himself

Foie Gras sushi

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that we had delish sushi twice in Reims at a place called Sushi Shop (a Lenny Kravitz chain-seriously!). They had a foie gras sushi on their menu (only in France) that was incredible.

Knowing we were going to spend a good amount on champers during the trip, we opted to hit the local Carrefour on our first day & buy supplies for our breakfasts.  Croissants, meats, cheese, OJ, yogurt, coffee and cream.  Simple, but delish.  We stocked up a few times while there and probably only spent $40 for both of us for breakfast for 4 days.  We were fortunate that the hotel we stayed in had a micro-fridge & kettle to boil water, so we probably had just as good of a breakfast as if we would have gone out in town (and it was nice to have a lazy breakfast in bed..).

Breakfast of Champions

Ah, it was such a great trip.  Work has been busy the past 5 months-and I was beginning to get a little burnt out.  It was nice to have 5 days not thinking about work-and just thinking about the moment.  Simon & I always travel quite well together (thank you, Jesus), so it was nice to be out & about with him as well.  All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better trip.