Expat Observations

On To The Next Chapter

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” -Dr. Seuss

I know I’ve been quiet in this space lately. I’ve been enjoying life with Jana and noting that my newborn is getting big. I had her in her car seat yesterday and all I could think was how big she looks, that my new baby is not so new anymore! (She’s three months old and weighed in at 5.32kg!)

Anyway, the above quote sums up well how I’m feeling lately. Our adventure living and working abroad is coming to an end. I’ve been running the gambit of emotions. We are excited to get home and start on projects and plans we’ve been making for the long term. Our families and friends are just going to go bonkers over Jana, she is so sweet and cute. So, yes, I’m happy. But I’ve also had many wistful and even weepy moments. I was in Henley the other day and was reminded of our visit there on our first trip over to England looking for flats. We stopped in a tea house right on the Thames and had Cream Tea. It’s so picturesque it’s twee. I ended up wondering why we didn’t venture into Henley more often, it’s so close.

Although it is ending abruptly on a sour note making us both want to get back to the US as quickly as possible, we had a good run of it. We traveled to over a dozen countries and experienced so much while we were here. We both owned our dream cars. We enjoyed the company of family and friends who came to visit. We’ve both made a number of fantastic friends who we’ll miss dearly. And I ended up having an amazing job at the Natural History Museum when it was looking like I wasn’t employable.

There is plenty I’ll miss. Particularly the village life, having shops and restaurants to walk to, the footpaths right outside our door, being so close to the Thames and surrounded by fields of flowers, sheep and woodlands. We’ll miss out on the bluebells this year, it would have been sweet to have photos of Jana in them. We will be back for visits, for sure, Jana will need to see her home land.

For over three years we made England our home, we started our family here. This has been an experience of a lifetime and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Next week we leave sunny England for winter in Pittsburgh. We’re going home with incredible memories, but have a new adventure ahead of us with Jana. It’s time to start the next chapter in our lives.

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2009 Year in Review

(better late than never, belated posting)

What a year we have had! Most of which dominated by one event. At the beginning of January, we decided to “pull the pin on that grenade” and go ahead and have a baby. In what seemed to be the longest pregnancy ever, starting with the twenty two weeks of nausea and vomiting, I eventually really enjoyed being pregnant. Epsilon got to be a very well traveled fetus, starting in Barcelona and making three trips to France, not too mention the day to day mundanity of flitting about England. Jana arrived two weeks late in December, a fantastic way to end the year.

I participated in making a video for an exhibit in the new Darwin Center. Capping off my tour of duty at the NHM before going on maternity leave by meeting Prince William and participating in the opening of the Darwin Center.

Jana’s arrival completely overshadowed our three year anniversary of moving to England (December 1st). This will be our fourth winter here. It still feels like we’ve only just arrived. That first walk down the footpath behind our house is so fresh in my mind. But that may be because I/we walk on it so much.

Jana is the best souvenir we could be bringing home from our time spent living here.

Epsilon
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I’m Doooomed!

Recent news stories are listing Maidenhead and Slough as new “hot spots” for Swine Flu breakouts. These are the two stops my train makes on the main line on my morning commute everyday. They are both major “ports of call” with massive shuffling of people on and off the train. And on the way home, depending on the train I’m on, can involve many school aged children.

Hrm. I’ve developed a sudden really sore throat, but no other symptoms. But being pregnant, I am in the high risk category for flu. This would mean that I would have priority access to antivirals (I’m not sure there are any even approved for pregnant women) or a vaccine when one becomes available.

So, when do I start looking really insane and wearing a mask in the morning?

Epsilon
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Half Way There!

Deb (and Epsilon) at 20 weeksHere we are, we’ve made it half way. I feel so huge already and there are many months ahead of us. The official weigh in, I’m at 129 lbs, of which 10.5 oz is ε. Head to toe, she’s now the size of a banana, or so goes our favorite fruit analogies.

I’m particularly missing this years 36th Annual Family Picnic. A cousin of mine is also pregnant and due five days after me and her first child is celebrating his first birthday today. There will be so many little cousins all around the same age in our family that will make future picnics a lot of fun as we continue our traditions.

Those of us living in the Mother Country didn’t get to enjoy a long weekend. We may not have the volleyball games or fireworks, but we’ll still celebrate Independence Day in our own way. Mostly by eating ribs, drinking iced tea and other wise having a relaxing day.

Epsilon
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Tube Strike

I am not looking forward to this mornings commute. There is a 48 hour Tibe strike on. I wonder if the train in will be deserted from people either avoiding the city or able to work from home. I have a long walk through the city, which I’m sure will be chaotic, to get into work. I’ll keep you posted.

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Signage

Uploaded - 3\5\09-7In the “only in England” category in the Health and Safety fueled frenzy of signage. I present a bottle of shower gel, specifically it’s a “shower smoothie” of the cucumber, mint, lemongrass variety (I’ve also picked up the yogurt and honey version). At the bottom of the product description, in capital letters even: PLEASE DO NOT DRINK. As tasty as they may sound, who would be tempted while soaping up in the shower have a sip?

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Verrall Supper

Verrall SupperTonight I stayed in London late to attend the Verrall Supper and the lecture that preceded. The supper is a tradition started in 1826 as a social dinner club and Entomological Association. There is surprisingly little information on the interwebs about the history of the Verrall Association, although there is a book out there. You can only attend if you’ve been invited by someone who has attended before. I was half expecting there to be a secret handshake or something. Women entomologists were only invited to join starting in the 1960’s it was traditionally such a club for men. At the start of dinner a number of people were introduced. International visitors were recognized from traveling in from all over (including Quentin Wheeler with whom I had the chance to talk quite a lot with), former members who passed on were given a moments of silence. I was told in previous years it was also tradition to announce the newest members and they would have to stand up and say what you’re working on. This year was apparently a bumper crop of new members for The Verrall so that bit was passed over. After a toast to the Queen and grace that consisted of, “Thanks for friends, food and bugs!” we tucked in to a nice dinner, wine and lots of socializing (and networking for those new to the crowd). I’m glad I went and was a part of the tradition.

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String of Ponies

Uploaded - 2\7\09-6We needed to get out of the house today to enjoy what turned into a really sunny day, so we opted for short walk along the public footpaths that run right near our house. In a field not to far from our place was a string of Shetland ponies. They were incredibly friendly and came over to great us. It also helped we were offering some of the nice long grasses from the neighboring field, as they had mowed down the grasses in their own field down to nubs. They really just wanted to go, “nom nom nom,” on our scarves or the Japanese cartoon charm on my cell phone (which explains the quality of the photo since we didn’t bring our camera along).

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More Snow Today

I’m glad I stayed home from work today too. The local train isn’t running and the trains on the main line are not running on any regular schedule. My commute would have been horrific this morning. As I type this, more snow is falling.

I’m loving it actually. On Sunday afternoon, I was laying on the couch looking out the window at the grey clouds wishing for snow, they looked like the right kind of clouds that would give us snow. I saw about five snow flakes before the clouds cleared and it turned into a sunny day. I think we’re getting just the right amount of snow too. Enough to remind me of home but I know it will be short lived (as in, we won’t be buried under it for months). They say to be careful what you wish for. In this case, it worked out perfectly.

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Snow Day!

At 4 am after the win in the start of the snowLondon is shut down today due to snow! Even though I had already taken today off so I could stay up for the Superbowl, I wake up to emails from work saying don’t try to come in. Tomorrow may be more of the same as southern England is forecasted to get even more snow later today and tonight. This is more snow than England has seen in a long time.

We need to get outside to get some photos today. This shot is from last night when it was starting to fall in the middle of the night and after the Steelers won the Superbowl. I’m sure our neighbors appreciated our yelling and screaming at four in the morning.

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Here We Go Steelers!

Deb in Steelers regalia by the ThamesI can’t help but feel we are missing out by not being home for the Superbowl. Nothing brings a city together like their team making it that far. And there’s nothing quite like a Steelers fan. I’m sure there are hours and hours of Steelers-centric rally television and radio going on local stations, further whipping the excitement up into a frenzy.

Mark and I went for a drive today, it was sunny even though it’s quite cold and we’re expecting the Great Snow of Ought Nine (they’re expecting 6 inches), we were in the Lotus with the top down. We took our Terrible Towels out for some rabble rousing (as much rabble as can be roused in a rather quiet British way) and photo shoots.

The Superbowl actually airs live on BBC1. The commentary is quite different as well. We won’t see the commercials, those slots so highly prize by advertisers. Instead, during those breaks when the US is being entertained by those historically epic or hilarious commercials (the main reason some people even tune in to watch is just for the ads), we’ll be watching people talk about football and the game field is not off camera. It’s not idle chatter either, they talk about the game and rules of play for an audience who don’t necessarily know what’s going on. But, it is refreshing compared to the inanity that comes out of some commentators mouths these days.

Pittsburgh football on the tellie and a snow storm barreling down on us. It’s like a touch of home. Tonight, even though we are in England, we’re in Steelers country.

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Go Steelers!

In my Steelers paraphernalia for the playoff game!I may be living and working nearly 4,000 miles away from home, but today, my heart is fully in Pittsburgh. I’ve been wearing my Steelers paraphernalia since waking, knowing full well the entire city back home is also clad in black and gold. The city must be a manic place to be right now given that this AFC championship game is a home game at Heinz Field. The game doesn’t start until 11:30 pm UK time, so in true Steeler fan fanaticism I am taking tomorrow off work so I can stay up to watch what is promising to be an exciting game i.e. an ass-kicking as the Steelers crushed the Ravens twice this season. For the benefit of my UK readers, this game is significant because if the Steelers win this game, they go on to the Superbowl. There’s a Terrible Towel waving in this fan’s heart from across the pond!

WOOT! STEELERS WON! 23-14! I’m joining in on the chorus of the goofy song, “here we go, Pittsburgh’s going to the Superbowl!”

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Weather Score Card

Today’s stats–

Bourne End, England: 52°F (10°C)
Pittsburgh, US: -8°F (-22°C) – sounds like the city shut down yesterday with the -25°F (-31.6°C) wind chill factors!

For this balmy winter England weather, I am grateful.

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Happy New Years! (Eve)

Mark and Deb in the leavesIt’s the last day of the year already?  Well, here we are, 25 months into this adventure and it’s the end of 2008.

I know I’ve already reflected a bit on this already, but the year has flown by and has been as normal as it can be living abroad.  It’s been a year of settling into a routine for both of us working and living in England.   Mark commented recently, that it’s not camping anymore, we really live here.  This was after one of those moments where I look at him, and sounding genuinely surprised and in disbelief exclaim, “You know.  We live in England!” like it’s this brand new realization of someone who just walked off a plane.

There have been losses and gains this past year.  We lost our sweet Greenbean, which was difficult.  I miss my Bean and think of her everyday.  Her photos are everywhere, on my desktop background, in a locket around my neck and by my bedside.  She was our family.  She had a fantastic life, was well loved, and was so awesome she has turned two people into cat people.  In April, I gained a sister-in-law as my younger brother married a delightful woman.  Two of my cousins had babies this year and one also is newly married.  Our extended family is growing in leaps and bounds.

This has been a year of increased visitors, a pattern I imagine will ramp up in the coming third year of our residence here.  My parents and another brother visited in March, the first time trips abroad for all of them.  Friends visited us in May, September and October.  We made a second trip to Turkey for a holiday, which, I’m really digging the whole vacationing with friends idea.

So what will 2009 bring?  We’ll be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.  Living abroad for a third year.  Where will we travel?  Who will visit us?  What will our jobs bring? How much more will our family and circle of friends grow?  2008 was a good year, 2009 is shaping up to be spectuclar already and we’re still a few hours away from it beginning!

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Happy Boxing Day!

This has been a strange holiday for us this year, no doubt. It is weird not being home and surrounded by family. However, we ended up really enjoying ourselves with just each other for company. It helps that we are each others favorite people to be around. But, I’m sure the novelty of being abroad has a lot to do with it too.

We had a lovely Christmas Eve lounging in new jammies, exchanging our gifts and watching UK television show holiday specials (“Gavin and Stacey” and “Have I Got News For You”). Yesterday we went into London for an “Orphan’s Christmas” hosted by fellow Ex-pat friends for those of us not making the trip back across the pond. We enjoyed a fantastic ham dinner, the company and conversation; and even a bit of family time as our friends have a baby. The streets of London were strangely quiet as we drove in and out. Late in the evening we watched the new Doctor Who and Wallace and Gromit, also out for the holidays. Our US shows we watch go on hiatus in December, it’s nice to have something new to watch snuggled up on the couch.

I hope everyone had a holiday as enjoyable and stress free as ours! It’s back to snuggling under a blanket for me, happy Boxing Day!

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NHM at Christmas

NHM at Christmas

Ice rink and holiday fayre outside the museumThe Natural History Museum during the holidays is all decked out and looking lovely. I particularly love the fairy lights that are wrapped around the branches of the enormous Plane trees. Out front, there has been the Christmas Fayre and the ice rink set up since November (the other morning there was a Dalek on the ice!). I love working in this building. This is the view I walk by every evening leaving work. I haven’t been feeling terribly festive this year, but when I see this, I can’t help but smile and fill with warm holiday thoughts.

We are staying in the UK for the holidays this year and it really doesn’t feel like Christmas. We have been all Bah Humbugs. Since we went home the past two years, we don’t have many decorations to put up. So we haven’t decorated. The big thing though, that my brain is having a hard time processing: no snow. I look around and it really looks and feels like spring in Pittsburgh.

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Me and My Smart Car

Debs' Smart 6

This doesn’t really need any comment or caption. I love having my own car now and we are both really enjoying zipping and buzzing around in this tiny capsule of a vehicle.

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A Touch of the Pink

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to any. Who can blame me for getting tired of it, living for so long in a city with more classic rock stations than any other genre. Where you can’t blink without hearing them. Where I grew up surrounded by their sound and lyrics. My tastes in the music I listen to wax and wane over time and vary by mood. But, I have found lately that listening to Pink Floyd makes for an excellent sound track for commuting into, through and out of London.

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Balmy England

Pittsburgh Weather todayWe’re watching the Steelers game and I’m reminded again how much I love winter in England.  It’s a home game, today’s high they mention? The HIGH!  -4°C!! A high of 23°F, I don’t miss having regular weather like that. Nope. Not. At. All. It feels downright balmy here with our high temps in the forties.

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Two Years

Two years! TWO! It’s our second anniversary of living abroad today. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were piling out of that giant rental car loaded down with luggage? It seems easy now, even after all the planning and paperwork, were we making the right decision? I wouldn’t change anything.

It’s almost hard to believe that we could have been heading home for good soon. The time has honestly flown by. Each year has had a distinctly different flavor.  Our first year was all about travel, how many days were we on the road? 140?  160?  I’ll have to look up the exact number, but it was A LOT.  Year two has been all about settling into a routine of living and working in England.  I never expected to find a job in my field, or work at all for that matter, so it’s been its own adventure commuting into London everyday.

There are so many adventures yet to be had. I wonder what flavor of life this third year will have.  Here’s to the start of year THREE!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Like so many Ex-pats, Mark and I celebrated our Turkey day the Saturday following  the actual holiday, as we were both working Thursday.  My parent’s asked me, “so when do they [the British] have their Thanksgiving?  Canada has one, what about over there?” to which I had to reply that this in not an English nor European phenomenon.  Which this also makes finding key ingredients a little tricky, not impossible, but it’s not like the grocery stores back home that are abundantly stocked with sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin for pies.

We roasted a chicken, as our small oven and refrigerator can not accommodate a turkey.  We had actually celebrated last Saturday too.  It is so easy to roast a small chicken.  Brined and stuffed simply with quartered shallots and cloves of smoked garlic, it comes out moist and flavorful in just over an hour and the juices from this concoction makes for perfectly seasoned and flavored gravy.

It is also surprisingly easy to scale down all the wonderful sides that we would normally make in industrial quantities when hosting our families.  Only mashing four potatoes instead of 5 lbs.  Candied two sweet potatoes instead of a huge casserole full.  A small serving of the last of my supply of Stove Top stuffing (hush, it’s tradition in my family to have this in addition to home made stuffing on the table and I honestly prefer this to stuffing from in the bird).  The batch of cranberry sauce I made was the normal portion, but I love home made cranberry sauce.   And of course a huge pile of sweet corn.  When cooking for our families, we would have several other options of veg, but for just the two of us, corn is all we need.   I have also outdone even myself and made the absolutely perfect pumpkin pie two weeks in a row.  This all just enough for the main meal and the requisite left overs the next day.  There is also enough meat left over for making chicken salad and the carcass is used to make stock for soup (currently simmering and filling our house with the most amazing aroma!).

I prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas by leaps and bounds.  It’s not a religious holiday and it doesn’t involve presents.  There is no pretense.  It’s all about the food (fall harvest) and family and enjoying each other’s company and reflecting on what you can be thankful for.  We’re both safe, healthy, have a roof over our heads, live comfortably and are loved by our family, friends and each other.  Even though we are far from home and our families, we carry out this tradition abroad and are with them in spirit.  For all of this I am truely thankful.

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Insomnia

(Test post from my iPhone with a new app)

Two weeks away is just enough time to completely reset one’s body clock. And the five hour time difference is particularly annoying. I’m plagued with insomnia. I need to be up in four hours. Having just watched “Fight Club” for the hundreth time, I’m reminded of the quote, “insomnia, you’re never quite fully asleep and you’re never fully awake either.” or something like that. I’m Deb’s very tired brain and body, why am I not asleep?

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It is teh awesome

After work I hopped on a fast train to Reading to meet Mark to go pick up my new-to-me Smart Car. Two years without a car and I’m pretty excited! We get there, take care of the paperwork and other sundry business. A few tutorial laps around the neighborhood as a passenger followed by some laps as the driver later, I was ready to hit the road. We equipped my car the with sat nav and Mark followed me out. I had one moment in my first big round-about where I became a little flustered, missed my exit and needed to go around again. But that’s the beauty of the round about.

Once on the highway, I could almost hear Mark yelling, “go faster!” If only he could hear me retorting, “I’m giving her all I got Scotty!” as the motorway had a slight incline to it. I didn’t have any problems with the semi-automatic up shifting, it felt completely natural despite not being a manual car driver. I was also much more comfortable following Mark than leading. I quickly got into the flow of traffic once up to speed and was passing and keeping up with him. It drives great. It feels great. I even think it sounds great.

In short: this car is the awesomest car that ever awesomed.

We head to the states tomorrow for a couple of weeks, so I’ll have to patiently (or not so patiently) wait to have my fun when we return.

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NHM During Half Term

British Natural History Museum during half termThis is a sight I won’t see at home. It’s half term in the U.K. and that brings people and their families into the city in incredible numbers. It’s days like this when you can’t deny that the Natural History Museum gets up to 15,000 visitors in a single day (free admission too). There is literally wall to wall throngs of people. Everywhere. Every corner. I hesitate to leave the department on days like this, just getting to the loo or making it out for lunch is a harrowing obstacle course. It will be this packed all this week and possibly next week, as it seems schools stagger their half term breaks. My friend and I seemingly had the Carnegie to ourselves in April visiting the newly remodeled dinosaur hall.

An interesting connection to the museum back home: taking center stage in the main hall greeting every visitor to the museum is a cast of the Diplodocus carnegii skeleton whose original is housed in the Carnegie. The BM has it’s own Dippy.

The cast was given as a gift by Andrew Carnegie, after meeting with King Edward VII who was fascinated by the fossil animal. Carnegie arranged for a cast to be created at his own expense, at a cost of £2000, copying the original. The pieces were sent to London in 36 crates. The new exhibit was unveiled in May 1905. It created a bit of a stir as the original skeleton had yet to be articulated and mounted back home. Nicknamed “Dippy,” the news of the new exhibit spread. Carnegie eventually paid to have additional copies made for display in most major European capitals, making Dippy the most-seen dinosaur skeleton in the world.

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England: Smart Car!

Two years without a car and now this will be mine on Thursday! I always said that I couldn’t imagine driving in any other car over here, with these roads that are so narrow.  I love love love Smart Cars, now I get to put this one in my pocket and take it home to drive:

Deb's new car

Mark wants to find a “My other car is a Lotus” bumper sticker. Expect to see a photo series involving our dueling tiny blue cars.

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