Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Comfort Zone was more like a Comfort Booth

I love my comfort zone!  I always have.  Even as a young girl I was never one to play the Hokie Pokie with my safe place.  I've known many people who on a regular basis would put their right foot in, put their right foot out.  And even some who would put their whole selves out and shake it all about.  But, nope.  Not me.  I patrolled the boundaries of mine like a soldier.  

As I got older my safe place started to feel really small and cramped.   Prior to my mid-life crisis  restructuring, my comfort zone had become so small that I was folded up like a piece of origami.  

The first thing I did was take a Cruise - all by myself!  I know it sounds crazy and maybe it was a little crazy.  But, it was also life changing.  I drove to the port to get on that ship and the whole way my Inner Child was having a hissy fit.  But, I did it... and I loved it!  And like the Grinch's heart, my comfort zone grew three sizes that day. 

After meeting my Englishman, I find myself in another time of  exploring the lands beyond my boundaries... literally.  On Thursday, I was left to explore London while Matt was at meetings.  I'd like to tell you that I strutted through the streets with confidence, then twirled and threw my hat up in the air while the Mary Tyler Moore theme song played.  It wasn't quite like that.  

Instead my Inner Child decided to come out to play and she brought her friends Insecurity and Confusion with her.  So, I counted to five, put her in Time Out and proceeded on my way.

I visited Trafalgar Square and spent a little time at the National Gallery.  Then strolled and shopped my way down to Covent Garden.  I love that place!  There was a food market, so I treated myself to a chocolate mousse shot topped with candied honey comb.  Yum!!!!  An opera singer was performing in the lower level and her voice was echoing throughout.  It was beautiful.  

I even rode the Tube solo for the first, but certainly not the last time.  (There was the little episode of taking the wrong exit and Matt having to come find me, but we won't talk about that.)

Was I outside my comfort zone?  Absolutely.  Was I happy?  Immensely.  (clapping)  "That's what it's all about!"

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Wicked Queso Quest

Matt had interviews in London last week, so we decided to make it an overnighter.  I've only spent 4 days in London, so there are still a million things on the To Do list.  We decided to check a few more off. 
We stayed at the Grand Trafalgar because it was familiar and in a great location.  We couldn't get the heat turned off in the room (we're accountants, not engineers), so ended up sleeping with the window open.  The benefit was that we could hear the chiming of "Big Ben."  

The actual name of this iconic landmark is The Clock Tower.  Big Ben is the nickname of the 14.5 ton bell.   It is the biggest four-face chiming clock in the world and actually leans about 9 inches to the Northwest.  It became operational on September 7, 1859. 
St. Catherine's Chapel Garden at Westminster Abbey
When we were in London last July, we tried to visit Westminster Abbey but the line was crazy.  This time there was no queue or crowd so we were able to relax and enjoy exploring.  We are Audio-Tour geeks so of course we walked around with the earphones to our faces.  We even try to coordinate when we each push play so we are in sync.  (I told you... audio-tour geeks.)"  

It's beautiful and obviously full of history.  Founded in 960, it is the final resting place of both Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots (among many other Royals and nobles).  William the Conqueror was the first King crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1066. 

Cloisters of Westminster Abbey
Poet's Corner was very interesting.  Tennyson, Robert Browning and Charles Dickens are buried there.

I was able to put my hands on the oldest door in England which is a wooden door over 1,000 years old.  Pretty cool.

The Abbey has a completely different atmosphere from both Canterbury Cathedral and Notre Dame.  It is full of monuments to men, so doesn't have the sacred feeling of Canterbury or the divine feeling of Notre Dame.
Gargoyle of Westminster Abbey
Gargoyle of Westminster Abbey

I love the gargoyles.  They are water spouts to protect the masonry buildings.  The  grotesque forms are designed to scare off evil spirits and provide protection.   It seems that every one is different and more interesting than the previous. 

My Englishman at the Cloisters of Westminster Abbey

After being in England for three weeks, we were in desperate need of a Tex-Mex fix.  We decided to start trying out Mexican spots in London to see if we could find a favorite for our three times a week habit.  

We started our Queso Quest at Cantino Laredo in Covent Garden.  The chips were more Tostitos and less Mission Brand.  The salsa tasted good but not much kick and the queso was pretty cheddary.  It was good but rather bland.  I don't think we've found our spot just yet.   For lunch the next day we tried Chiquitos in Leicester Square.  It was  more casual and had the feel of a good Tex-Mex spot.  It is a UK chain.  We just had a quick lunch and didn't try the queso.  We will definitely try this one again.  

Wicked at The Apollo Victoria Theatre
Next stop, the Apollo Victoria Theater.  I begged and pleaded to see Wicked while in London and Matt begrudgingly agreed.  I assured him that he would LOVE it.  I could tell early on by his body language that he was NOT loving it. He is a master at non-verbal communication!  At intermission he looked at me and said "What twaddle?!"  I thought the Wicked Uberfans around us were going to fetch the flying monkeys!

He did appreciate the production and the music.  He just didn't get the story.  I think he saw the Wizard of Oz once when he was ten.  And he couldn't get past the talking goat professor.  I, however, had a great time.  

I've seen Wicked once before in SA and loved it.  The stage was much smaller this time and we sat closer which I actually found somewhat distracting.   You could tell when someone in the chorus broke character or when spittle was flying.  

Theater going here feels more casual, people were dressed down.  There were coin operated binoculars in some of the seats. We bought a bucket of cotton candy (floss) and the wine was in sealed, pre-measured plastic wine cups.  At intermission, everyone ran for ice cream.   It was a great night out, but Matt gets to pick the next two that we attend.

On Thursday, Matt had interviews and I spent the day exploring on my own.  (More details of that in a future blog).  We then met up at Harrod's for a look around the food court - endless!  We had dinner at Jamie's Italian in Covent Garden.  I loved the atmosphere and the bread was Ah-Ma-Zing!!!  Dinner was okay.   I think we will visit again, but just for wine, starters and dessert.   

After two jam-packed days we caught the train back to our temporary home in Folkestone.   Still waiting for the magic phone call to see where we will be settling.  Hoping that it comes SOON!!  


Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Honeymoon Phase

I’ve read that there are four stages to emigration. 
  • Honeymoon Phase – “Everything is new and interesting."
  • Rejection Phase – “Everything is new and sucks.
  • Regression Phase –  “Everything in the US was wonderful & much better than this.”
  • Recovery Phase -  “Everything is going to be okay.”

I’ve been here 18 days now:  two are a blur due to jet lag, four were spent in Paris and three were spent in bed hopped up on “Night Nurse” (UK version of Nyquil).  So, it’s really only been nine days and I’m certainly still in the Honeymoon Phase.  I’m completely overstimulated and yet under-stimulated at the same time, if that makes any sense.  There is a lot to learn and experience but no job or home to tend.  I’m afraid I can’t put a coherent blog together, so I’m just going to share some random observations. 

  • The English countryside is one big movie set.  It is absolutely gorgeous and magical!  Everywhere you look there is a sight to take your breath away.  Rolling, green hills dotted with sheep, the spire  of a cathedral in the distance, a farmhouse that looks like it grew out of the land and winding, country lanes canopied by trees… it is just beautiful!  If I squint my eyes so that I can’t see the modern signs, then I am completely transported.  I expect to see Willoughby racing across the field on a black steed and the Misses Dashwood walking arm in arm along the stream while Margaret climbs a tree.  I have fallen completely in love.  
  • Norman, Gothic, Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian, Elizabethan.  I don’t know anything about British Architecture, but I’m going to have to remedy that.  The buildings here are so interesting.  And not just the breathtaking churches and cathedrals, but the homes.  There are several house-hunting shows on TV and all of the homes that they visit are old.  And I don’t mean seventies-green-shag-carpet-outdated old, but house-with-a-name-and-full-of-character old.  I can’t imagine the upkeep on a medieval house, but someday I must have a house with a name. 
  • Philly Cheesesteak, Beef Kebab, Sausage & Crispy Bacon, Cheeseburger, Roast Turkey, Grilled Shrimp.  No, that isn’t a list of my last six meals.  That is a list of just some of the Pringles flavors found in the UK.  Yep… that’s right.  Potato Chips (or as they are called here, “Crisps”) of the meat flavored variety.  Ack. 
  • We speak the same language, right?  US and UK.   But, I’m surprised with just how much I’m struggling with communication.  I am used to Matt’s accent and have no trouble understanding what he says, although sometimes I don’t understand the context.  But, in dealing with the public, I often find myself asking them to repeat what was said or turning to Matt for a translation.   There are so many distinctive accents and dialects even among those born and raised in the UK, but when you add the foreign accents of other expats, it has been a challenge.  
  • I believe that you could drive from one end of Great Britain to the other without actually stopping.  There are relatively no stop signs here.  Instead, you will find roundabouts.  The roads are winding and often a single-lane wide.  There is no north/south grid layout to be found.  In the U.S., when asked "how far away is X?", the answer will be answered in time… "a 20 minute drive."  This means that you will be traveling as close to as-the-crow-flies as possible, averaging 60 mph for about 20 miles. Here, the answer will be in miles.  Folkestone is 20 miles from Canterbury; however, it could take anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes to actually get there… and that is still without actually coming to a complete stop along the way. 
  • I can’t end the blog without touching on THE ENGLISH WEATHER.  All caps not because I’m shouting, but to give proper emphasis to something that is both revered and reviled in England.  So far, I have found the weather to be lovely (my new favorite word, I feel like I fit in a little when I use it.)  A majority of the days have been sunny and clear with temperatures in the 40’s or 50’s.  We have had one day that was overcast and foggy.  There have been a few occasions of misting rain, but it has been truly lovely.   I still don’t see what all of the fuss is about. 
So, those are some random observations to date.  Currently, we are in limbo waiting for that magical phone call.  Until then, we are settled in nicely with Matt’s parents in Folkestone.  They are tolerating the American in their midst and have been wonderful hosts. I’m counting down to Jessica’s visit and FaceTime has become more valuable than gold.  I have had some waves of homesickness so profound that they take my breath away, but all in all, things are good.  And I'm hoping to avoid phases 2 and 3.   


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Paris Travelogue

I’ve decided to include travelogues of our trips in my blog, primarily as an online scrapbook.   Fair Warning - it’s long and probably only of interest to us and our moms.  It’s the modern day version of having a dinner party and dragging out the slideshow of the family vacation... only without the cocktails.  I encourage you to enjoy a glass of wine if you do decide to venture further.

We headed to Paris on Saturday to celebrate our first anniversary and Matt’s birthday.   We traveled by Eurostar which is the train that travels under the English Channel to France.  It was a pretty freaky to think we were under so much water.  Thankfully, within 20 minutes we were out of the tunnel, hardly enough time to work up a good panic attack.  Quickly, we were traveling through the French Countryside.  It was very comfy and took about two hours to get to Paris.  We shared a sandwich and a glass of wine and enjoyed the views.  

We arrived to Paris about noon and took the Metro to St. Michael’s Station.  We stepped out of the subway onto the street right by the St. Michael’s Monument Fountain.  I had to stop and look around.  I'm not too proud to admit that I had "a moment"… I'm in Paris!!

We stayed at the Relais Hotel du Vieux Paris.  It is in the center of the Saint Germain district of Paris, on the left bank of the River Seine and close to the Notre Dame Cathedral.  The location was perfect.  It’s off a small alley in a walking district with many shops and cafes close by.  Built in 1480, it’s very charming with exposed beam ceilings and fabric chintz wallpaper.   

The room was small but had a safe and a mini-bar.  The staff was very friendly and helpful.   Only problem, was that my hair straightener wouldn’t work even with a converter… looks like we going curly (frizzy) and up for the trip.  There was a blow dryer in the room but not much power behind it.

After checking in, we set off to explore.  We stopped at a local café for a nice lunch and then walked to Notre Dame.  It was free to enter and there was a line, but it moved quickly.   

The Cathedral is magnificent and we took tons of pictures. 

We then meandered back to the hotel and rested before dinner as we were both still feeling the effects of jet lag.  For dinner, we took a recommendation from the desk attendant and walked to Le Christine.  It was a nice restaurant, but unfortunately I made a poor menu choice.  The mackerel was undercooked and had a metallic taste.  The praline macarons made up for it. 

After a great night’s sleep, we headed to Versailles on Sunday morning via train.  But, not before hot chocolate, baguettes and croissants at a cafe… the perfect breakfast.   It was about a ½ hour trip to the outskirts of Paris.   

We toured the Palace for a few hours and stopped at the snack bar for lunch.  The wine and passion fruit macaron were a treat and felt very French (although we both had a moment hoping they would have nachos).  

We took the trolley through the grounds to the Petit Trianon which is a small chateau on the estate.  King Louis XVI gifted it to his 19 year old queen Marie Antoinette for her enjoyment.  We decided that if we can ever afford our dream home it would have stone staircase and a 10 foot billiard table.

The Versailles Estate is beautiful.  There is a portion that is open as a public park.  It was full of people enjoying the day outside, biking and walking dogs.  There was a young girl learning to ride her bike.

Can you imagine a life where you learn to ride your bike in the gardens of Versailles?  It was a great day. 

For our celebration dinner that evening, we took a taxi to Robert et Louise.  The restaurant was featured by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations and lived up to expectations.  Big, fresh cuts of meat cooked right in front of you on a wood-burning fireplace, served with salad and potatoes.   

The atmosphere was rustic and relaxed.  We were seated at a shared table with an American family, an Aussie and his Irish girlfriend.  We had a great time talking to them.  The French bread and red wine were perfect and the steaks were amazing.  We decided to stroll back to the hotel and stopped at a few cafes along the way for a Gin & Tonic.  We walked past Notre Dame again.   

I just love the gargoyles and we were able to get some great night shots of the exterior.  

Monday we ventured out farther to check some more items off of our list.  First order of business was crepes from a street vendor.   We then visited the Eiffel Tower followed by the Arc de Triomphe.    

We strolled for a bit along the Champs-Elysees and stopped at a café for a refresher.   The highlight was following a guy in an Einstein mask who was teasing and scaring people as they walked along minding their own business.  The reactions were hysterical.  

Then back onto the Metro and to Montmarte.  We stopped at an Italian Bistro for a late lunch of pizza and pasta.  We took the funicular up to the top and toured the Sacre Couer Basilica.

In the search of Vin Chaud (hot wine), we walked over to the artist’s square and were successful in our search. It was terrific.


The views from here are fantastic!

We headed home on Tuesday after one last stroll across the Pont Neuf and a café lunch.   

We both know a only a tiny bit of French, Matt more than I, but we had no trouble communicating.  Almost everyone we encountered spoke English and they were very friendly.  We would greet them with “Bonjour” and they would almost always respond with “Hello”.  I’m not quite sure what gave us away, but they always quickly figured out we were English or American.  And we thought we were doing so good.  

The trip was great.  The weather was clear and chilly, but I only needed a heavy coat at night.  We didn’t try to squeeze too much in since we wanted to relax and recover from a stressful few months. It was wonderful and I can’t wait to go back.  Jessica has requested a Paris trip for her next birthday, we will have to see what we can do.  


Friday, January 13, 2012

Zero, One, Two, Three...

Upon checking in to our Paris Hotel…

Me:   So, we are on the 4th floor.  Do they have an elevator so we don’t have to drag this luggage up three flights of stairs?

Matt:  Four

Me:  What?

Matt:  Four flight of stairs.  The 4th floor is actually the fifth floor up so it’s four flights of stairs. 

Me:  I don’t get it?

Matt:  In Europe, this floor is just the ground floor and the next floor up is the first floor and so on. 

Me:  That doesn’t make any sense. 

Matt:  It makes perfect sense.

Me:  So, then when you are counting you start with zero? 

Matt:  …

Me:  Exactly

Luckily, they did have an elevator that was approximately 4’x2’.  It was a beautiful hotel and I’ll post more later about our trip.  


Mind the Gap

When I met this action-adventure accountant, I knew that a move was likely in our future and here we are.  We are on an overnight Continental flight out of Houston to Heathrow.  We are at cruising altitude and the Captain has turned off the seat belt sign.  I’m in mid-step from my life in the US to my life in the UK. 

This has been a challenging experience.  We packed our life into boxes and suitcases. For the first time I can remember,  I have an empty key ring…  no job, no car, no home.  The only key that I have is the key necklace that Matt gave me for Christmas last year. 

Saying goodbye to family and friends was the hardest part of the move.  I’m not ready to blog about that other than to say as the day of departure came closer the lump in my throat became more and more difficult to breathe around. 

But, we are on our way.  We are stepping into a new life in England where we will unpack everything and rebuild... find jobs, a "flat" and get Tube passes.  I will acquire a whole new set of keys as we settle in on this side of the gap. 

Wish me luck, as I'm feeling a bit untethered at the moment.  

(Written January 4, 2012)


Monday, January 2, 2012

I got exactly what I wanted for Christmas!

I just realized when I look back on my blog for late December 2011, I will have some stress-induced rants about my crazy neighbor, but no mention of the holidays.   And that just will not do! 

It has been a crazy few months, but the holidays were an oasis in the chaos of this move.  It started with birthday celebrations for my daughter.   Jessica was gifted with her first tattoo… a simple, little heart on her foot to match mine.  It’s so special that we have this visual connection and I hope every time she looks down and sees it, she will remember that she is my heart.  

My Dad visited for a few weeks and my Mom and her husband, Bob came in from Austin for a few nights.  It was the first time my immediate family was all together in quite some time.  

Christmas day at my brother, Philip's house with this crazy, beautiful family was definitely one of my Top 5 on record.   I have a video of Matt and Philip Wii dancing to Beyonce  as evidence of the fun.  We even introduced some British traditions into the festivities with Yorkshire puddings (not really pudding) and Christmas Crackers (not really crackers).  

It was hard, knowing that we would soon be leaving the country and that we all had to say goodbye.  But, it was also a blessing because it made me appreciate it all the more.  I was able to focus on the love and laughter, knowing that it would have to hold me over for a little while.   It made all of the trivial things that come up when families get together irrelevant.  (Admit it… no one knows your buttons better than your family.)

We had a beautiful Christmas this year.  It was everything that a family holiday should be… hugs and kisses, wonderful food, fun presents, hysterical laughter and a whole lot of LOVE… lots of love to hold me over until we can be together again.  

“Missing someone gets easier every day because even though it's one day further from the last time you saw each other, it's one day closer to the next time you will.”    ~Author Unknown


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Do you know what I hate even MORE?

This post will be completely off topic, nothing to do with moving.  But, remember the "nosy neighbor" from my last post... well...

The movers came on Friday and we moved into the hotel.  We've been visiting the house each day and finishing up last minute tasks.  We were in the backyard today and noticed that a little plastic chest holding pool toys was missing.  Upon further investigation, we noticed that my lovely porch swing was  also missing from the storage shed.  Mystery! 

I quickly went over to "nosy neighbor's" home and knocked. She was in her pj's of course. (I swear this woman does not own a bra or jeans.)  

Me:  "Some stuff is missing from our house.  Did you see or hear anything?"

Her (looking shocked):  "No.  Not at all.  Nothing.  I'm so sorry."

Me:  "Hm.  Okay...  well thanks anyway."

Door closed.  Each of us then marched through our homes and out the back doors.  Me, to step on to the deck to peer over the fence into her backyard.  Her,  to run to her backyard and try to hide MY lovely porch swing behind her kid's picnic table.

I looked at Matt...  "There's my porch swing."  At about the same time, her sweet little six year old daughter saw me watching and announced with a huge grin... "We have a new swing!"

Matt stuck his head over the fence and politely asked for the swing back.
Luckily, this jogged her memory and she began spilling the "real" story... "the lady said that I could have it."

Nosy Neighbor's husband encouraged her to give us back the pilfered swing as she elaborated on her newly-remembered story... brown van, two ladies with mops, probably the maids, were dragging stuff to the street and told her to take what she wanted.

Matt mentioned the toy chest... "Oh, yea.  It's right here.  They said we could have that, too."  She then went on to describe in detail about the ladies in the van.  OMG... how could they do that? How awful?  The ladies in the brown van took our stuff and gave it to the neighbors!  

Matt and I went inside... me to fume and Matt to come up with a plan.  He decided it was time for a chat  mano a mano with Nosy Neighbor's hubby... divide and conquer.  He invited the gentleman into our home.  (I hid in the potty and eavesdropped like any good wife.)  I was so proud of Matt...

"I know you're a military man and I appeal to your honor."

"Before I call our maid company and raise hell, I want to make sure I have the whole story."

"I will need your wife to describe to the police exactly what she saw."

"I would never accuse anyone, but your wife did deny to my wife that she saw anything at all and now the story has changed."

"Could you please clarify exactly what happened to help us get to the bottom of this?"

Nosy Neighbor's husband was quite nice.  He vowed to get some answers and retreated. 

Matt and I checked to see what else was missing and a few minutes later the doorbell rang.
There was the red faced hubby, holding his cherubic toddler in his arms as his Wingman.  He was there to confess his wife's transgression.  She had, in fact, made a late night shopping trip to our backyard and he would like to beg our forgiveness. 

We asked about some of the other items and he vowed to search his home for any other "new" acquisitions.  Over the next half hour, random items began reappearing... a hammock swing, a patio umbrella and base.  (We told them they could keep the toy chest, which they did.)

After returning our property, he visited one more time to again apologize and to wish us well on our journey.

My wonderful Englishman handled it completely differently than I would have, but it was masterful and perfect.  With his trademark sarcasm, Matt's parting words to the poor schmuck next door...

"Next time, she raids someone's backyard, she might want to make sure the occupants have actually vacated."

So, not only is my neighbor nosy, but apparently she is a thief and a liar and not very good at either.