All the things: birthdays & leaving London

I can hardly believe it but several things are taking place in the next 35! days that are pretty momentous in my life.

Item 1. My youngest turns 11. I could look at it like she’s growing up, wah!, or she’s pretty much in teenager mode, and it’s only 7 more years till I can make her move out. It really depends on the day and the attitude.

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On top of the Cliffs of Mohr, Ireland

Item 2. I’m turning 40 in ten days. I’ve generally been fine with this, age is just a number, yada yada, and I’ve got far more important things going on right now to worry about it (see next item). That is until a friend who is giving a birthday dinner for me wrote in the email Andrea’s 40th Birthday Celebration, then I started freaking out a bit.

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But in almost 40 years I have lived in 3 countries and 6 US states, visited 18 countries (so far), and I have seen so many wonderful things I couldn’t even begin to describe them all. That’s not too bad considering most of the people I went to high school with still live in the town where I grew up. I caught the adventure bug early on and I think I’ve made the most of it.

Item 3. We are moving back to the US in 35 days and saying cheerio to London. I can’t even describe how happy I am about that. It isn’t that London has been the worst place I’ve ever lived (middle of nowhere central Kentucky has that honor), but would I choose to do it again? No, probably not. It is not lost on me that my dearest wish as a naive 18 year old was to live in a thriving city (the goal was NYC). I can now say that I have lived in a city, and the experience did not really agree with me. London is loud, dirty, crowded,  my neighbors are obnoxious, and I am very much looking forward to closing the door on this experience.

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Taken June 27, 2015, our first weekend in London

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from the bus

I will miss the art museums, Kew Gardens (which you’ll note isn’t technically IN the city), and even the tube. It is sometimes nice to get to a destination while watching a movie on your phone, or reading a book, instead of driving.

But mostly I miss the quiet solitude of our US home, with it’s deer walking down the street, and nothing but mountains and evergreen trees out the window.

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Item 4. We are traveling to two different countries in the next two weeks (Scotland and Norway). I am quite excited about both. In Glasgow we will be visiting our tiny little 2 square feet of land that legal allows us to use the titles Lord and Lady. And no, I’m not joking. It’s part of this scheme (and there are other programs like it) used as a way to raise money to restore the castle on the grounds. I bought us the titles for our anniversary this year. They came with full fancy certificates with wax seals and everything. I’ve already started changing all my official documents to

LADY ANDREA OF CHAOL GHLEANN

It does have a nice ring to it (even if I have no idea how to pronounce it). The Husband has asked the children to call him Lord Father. So far, they aren’t complying. The cool part is that we are allowed to use them on legal documents. Something about that makes me happy.

It’s the little things.

The next 35 days will be so very, very busy. Saying goodbye to favorite places like Kew, the Italian restaurant in Notting Hill, and the Royal Academy. Making sure everything in the house has a designation for shipping: SEA, AIR, or SUITCASE. Selling off electronics, and storage closets; donating clothes, and books to the local charity shop. Making sure every single piece of paper you need for moving four people and a dog across two countries is filled out and stamped and sorted in triplicate.

35 days to go.

 

The old and good

I have been wanting to find the zip files for my old, old blog (the one I wrote from 2005-2012, the one after that I know is locked on my desktop Mac, which is in storage in Seattle). While I did find a file of my blogger before I migrated over to WP, all of the pictures/links are of course missing. I am replacing the pictures that I can find, or pulling a post if it simply can’t be recreated without visual evidence.

But YAY! I found so many memories! Like this one, back when the blog word had the little 125×125 images that you could post on your site with the embed code, and then if someone liked your blog they could post your image on their blog {the old fashioned kind of advertising}. I crack up when I see our poses in this picture at the St Louis Arch. We were moving from Campbellsville, KY to Seattle {DRIVING 5,000+ MILES WITH TWO KIDS AND A YEAR OLD PUPPY, PEOPLE! and we are ALL still alive!}

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I snagged the picture from my old Flickr account (which I didn’t even know still existed, I can’t remember what made me think to try to log into it), so the quality is a bit fuzzy, but I found so many great pictures: from Cincinnati Reds games and events, my kids running through the sprinkler (they were 9 and 4), when we had just gotten our puppy.

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These are the times when I love the digital age. Such things did not exist when I was a kid. We bought our first digital camera when my son was born, and he’ll be 15 in February. I am amazed because my kids don’t know anything other than the iTunes and MP3’s, and digital camera’s and smartphones – our first computer was when I was in high school. I didn’t even have an email account until 1995 when I went off to college.

It’s such a different world now. I can’t image what it will be like 20 years in the future.

{So long story to say, I’ve decided to upload my old blog onto this one, to prove that I used to amusing I suppose, so expect posts from 2010 and back to 2006 or so to come flooding in!}

London: Month 11

Eleven months ago, (eleven months and 5 days to be exact), we left Seattle and arrived in London to begin our two year commitment to all things British. I’ve made observations on this experience before, some positive, some negative. I will be the first to admit, I haven’t had the easiest time since we’ve been here. Even though I *should* know what I’m in for since I spent four years in Germany living the Expat Experience, eleven months in I am still struggling.

Somehow this time feels very different. It is different of course. In Germany we lived in a small town, not a city of 8.5 million. Bonn is clean (to a scary degree sometimes), orderly, quiet. London is obscenely dirty with trash everywhere, and there’s nothing like being woken at 3 am by people singing on the sidewalk. Walking down the street is like utter chaos, dodging tourists, people on cell phones, prams, dogs. After a visit to Oxford Street this weekend, I won’t be going back until fall when the tourist season at least slows a bit. You can hardly walk let alone think in all the noise and crowds.

City life has worn me down. Most days now I choose not to leave my little high street. I am ready for a break. I never thought of myself as much of a lover of suburban America. It’s slow and quiet and you have to drive everywhere.

Reasons I’m missing suburban America: it’s slow and quiet and you have to drive everywhere.

Contradiction but there it is. Even though I’m surrounded by world class museums, art, culture; things I enjoy immensely, I haven’t really felt like creating anything myself until recently.aviewfromAbove

Lack of space to create definitely doesn’t help (I can’t exactly build a table, paint dressers, or use spray paint in a London row house). I feel like I need to keep trying, or art will also fall away just like writing did. You used to never find me without my fingers glued to a keyboard furiously typing away about this character’s lies, or that characters despicable murdering tendencies.

I rather miss feeling so inspired. The fictional worlds I created spoke to me all hours of the day. I actually used to dream about my characters because in my mind they were so real. I once wrote two chapters on my Blackberry because it was all I had to hand and ‘Kara’ just wouldn’t stop talking to me. I still have little scraps of papers and receipts with notes scribbled on them, and 3×5 cards with story ideas.

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When you are a writer and need to write, you use what you have to hand, whenever and wherever.

I haven’t written anything other than a few pages in several years. That makes me really sad because I was told by writing groups, friends and even an agent in a rejection letter, that what I had to say was pretty dang good.

I don’t know where that person who used to churn out the words has gone. At this point, I don’t think that inspiration is coming back. Sorry Scott, you’ll never know who killed your wife and why (her boss, blackmail); we will never know if Mark and Kara survive the aftermath of the car accident (probably, after all, it was their third story, and after getting through Tom’s death, the discovery of Abby’s true paternity, and all that other crap, I think they did deserve some measure of happiness). And the winery story definitely would have needed intense, in depth-research, vineyard-by-vineyard I’m sure.

I’ve wandered off track, not unusual for me.

The desire to go back home to Seattle hasn’t let up. Going back to the place we left, to a home we own, instead of a new location, is a new concept for us. I’m normally adventurous and open to moving around (I definitely didn’t need any prodding to move to London). Maybe it’s because I’m approaching that age where adventure needs to come in a ten day format, instead of a twenty-four month variety.

Either way, 13 months to go.

Five days to go

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Yes, five days to go. This week goes something like this:

  •  The Boy graduates from middle school tonight (seriously?!)
  • It’s the second to last day of school (full of signing yearbooks, and in the Chick’s case going to the movies)
  • The movers arrive on Thursday. ThursDay. Friday night we sleep in a hotel and I’m not certain if we will ever sleep in this house again or not (we’ve made no real decisions about moving back into this house, though we will be moving back to Seattle. After London flat living, it’s going to seem way too big I think.)
  • We are down to five days till our plane tickets say we are supposed to be aboard. Even the dog is all set for her flight on Sunday. We still are missing THREE visas. I am trying not to completely freak out, and remember before we moved to Germany we only got plane tickets 3 days before we left. So miracles CAN happen. We have 30 day visas, supposed to arrive to us today, then we have to get our BRP (?) green cards once we arrive in London, picking them up from our local post office. We then use those to get in and out of the UK. The rules just literally changed as the Husband who got his visa in February doesn’t have one. He has a visa in his passport.
  • Have a million and one things to gather still, like medical records, and medicines, visit a notary so we can establish getting our mail forwarded, get Mocha her final vet checkup (praying that the vet doesn’t chuck out the papers the USDA stamped and sent back to them, because then my Scottish/Irish temper will be coming out in full force)
  • And have my children underfoot while the majority of this goes on.

What’s on your plate this week? I’m hoping mine doesn’t crack somewhere along the line, because I’m pretty sure the movers will have already packed the tape.

The great purge

So, I’m staring at the calendar and it is telling me we have

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days until moving day. NineTeen. I can hardly believe it, both in the sense of what took so long?? and oh.my.god. there’s only 19 days left to do ten thousand things  Both thoughts are bouncing in my brain.

I will say, we’ve accomplished a lot, the kids and I. We’ve sorted through all the games in playroom and marked out what goes to London and what goes to storage, and what straight up goes to donation. We’ve whittled down the same with regards to books and stuffed animals and dvds. I’ve tried to think of every possible thing we might need more of, like my favorite cleanser, or make-up, or shirts and shoes. You’d think we were moving to a third world country by the way I’m stocking up, instead of moving to central London.

Meh.

I can’t help it. When I get nervous/panicked/anxious I shop, online, compulsively. I’m extremely good at finding bargains though, so at least there’s that silver lining. (I did, admittedly, enjoy telling the Husband I went to Lowes the other day. I could practically hear him canceling my debit card from 4,700 miles away.)

It keeps me from worrying about getting our visas on time (fingerprinting isn’t even until Monday, and it’ll take 5 days to get the actual visa. That’s cutting it very, very close in my eyes for a June 21st departure.) Either way there are 5 tickets for flights on June 21st (including the pups) so lets hope all of us are on them.

If not, maybe our tenants won’t mind if I spend a few days living in the house with them. You think?

I’ve also been compulsively studying the pictures the Husband took this week at the flat. Bless him, he even took photos of all the kitchen cupboards (above and beyond, as I only asked that he count the cupboards that weren’t hiding things like a dishwasher, trash, fridge or washing machine). This has been excellent. Now I have already planned where each item should go (dishes above the sink/dishwasher, baking dishes below the wall oven). Whether they actually end up there with movers all about and unpacking everything who knows. But at least I have a plan and list, and that is very calming indeed. (Sometimes I feel like my life is one giant series of post-it notes, because I can’t live without them everywhere, all over, in excess.)

Oh yes, our flat. It’s topnotch excellent. I’m loving the modern look of the kitchen with the glass walls with sliding doors to separate it from the dining/living rooms.

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It’s all rather sleek, and I like that (even though I’d have to say at heart I’m secretly obsessed with French Country style, no idea why).

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How long it will stay glossy white, I am not sure, but the type of cabinets they are (very European), they will at least be very washable. Which is a bonus with a dog who has a talent for getting nose-prints on everything.

The rest of the main space is very large and airy, I’m not sure if it’s actually too big or not, we’ll have to see how much we try to fit into these two plus rooms.

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The furniture will be removed before we move in, as we plan to bring our own things.

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There’s even a teeny tiny terrace for the pups to breathe in some fresh air.

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The trees you see in this picture? Yeah, that’d be Hyde Park. And in Hyde Park is Kensington Palace. So, technically, we are neighbors of the royal family….

so to speak anyway.

The great purge and sticker sticking has begun around the house too. Everything like furniture or other large items have to be labeled with a sticker that says Air, Sea, or Storage. It is not as easy as you think to make all this:

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Fit into the flat above. I do wonder if what we are sticking to storage, minus some furniture pieces, are things we even really need. Maybe like after all our moves, there will be a second purge, a blood-letting, a what-have-you.

Either way, it’s time to get back at it, slogging through art supplies, dishes, junk drawers, and a plethora of nearly empty shampoo bottles. What are you up to this Wednesday?

Let’s live simply

There are many things that I would like to do, and one of them is to live simply. That can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. About a year ago I stumbled upon the blog Gone With The Wynns, and I became completely fascinated. Here was a couple in their thirties, along with their two cats, living the nomadic lifestyle. Their house is an rv, all their possessions travel with them, and if they want to they can park themselves in Florida or Alaska.

It seems like a dream to me. The caveat is that they have careers that allow them to work from anywhere (very important to a nomadic life), and they don’t have children. There are plenty of people with children who are nomads though in this exact same way, I’ve even visited blogs where one family just had a baby to add to their family of five.

I can’t imagine doing that long term with kids, and I know for us traveling year round with kids is not even a remote possibility. It isn’t something that my family would be willing to consider. And I’m sure after about a month, I’d probably be calling uncle trapped in 75 square with an 8 and 12 year old. But after the children have gone off to college? Yeah, maybe.

So simplifying to the point of living in an rv isn’t an option for us. But what about simply living smaller and smarter? The Tiny House movement is fascinating to me. It’s ten balls of crazy and awesome all in one. A true Tiny House is usually defined by being on wheels and under 100 square feet, which is not realistic for us either. There are ways to downsize and simplify though, and that’s what I want to focus on doing.

Moving to London in a few (okay 5 ish) months is going to help me towards that goal. We live in a big 3,300 square foot suburban home. Their are 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, two living rooms and a formal dining room. Do we need so much space? No, we don’t. Like I learned, and really connected with, in this video – a Tedx Talk by ManvsDebt – I don’t need all this crap. Even though we just upsized less than a year ago (and boy is hindsight a royal pain in the ass), I’m realizing that with this move to London, where we will be forced to most definitely live with less, and in less, and that it is a wonderful thing. Sure, my house is very pretty, and big, and impressive. But it doesn’t really feel anymore like a home than the last place that was 600 square feet smaller. And obviously had we had any inkling that just six months after buying this house we’d be offered a job in London, we would not have moved. We thought this would be the last stop until the kids went off to college, and then we’d sell up, move downtown, and enjoy condo living, just the two of us.

We’ve had to debate whether to sell or keep this house and rent it out, and we are torn. Selling it means we will definitely be losing money we invested when we bought it. But selling means no more connection to something we really aren’t sure we want. We still own a home in Kentucky, and through some wonderful stroke of luck, we have kept the same renters for the last four years, and really feel like we won the tenant lottery. They’ve lived in that house longer than we did. Would we love to sell that house? Absolutely. Is that even remotely possible in the incredibly depressed KY economy? No, it’s not really realistic unless we pay to walk away from it. We make no money, in fact we lose out about $400 a year between paying for pest services and the HOA. All we want it to break even and walk away without spending more than $5.

Let’s live simply.

When we move to London, we do not plan to get a car (let alone the American two we have now), we will live in a smaller space, forcing us to really think about what comes with us, what will go to storage (because some things simply will go to storage), and what will just be set free to be enjoyed by someone else. I know a true Tiny House is not for us. I also know that a huge house like we have now is not for us. It has to be somewhere in the middle. Living in London will let us see what we really can live without. I’m hoping this will be a very good thing. I’m ready to let go of things. I’ve been practicing letting go of things I no longer wear (you have to start somewhere right?) I use services like ThredUP.com to sell my old clothes, and Goodwill for things that need to be donated. Since we moved into this house last May, we have done an incredible job of getting rid of things. I think that has led me to see that we didn’t need so much space to begin with. We simply needed a space that functioned the way we wanted, and we didn’t have that. I know now that going bigger isn’t the way to get the function I was looking for. Because with that function (better living room space which is truly where we all live), I ended up with a lot of space we don’t use, we don’t need, and simply can’t even think how to use. (I have many kitchen cupboards that don’t have more than one item in them.)

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

I am going to spend the next few months reducing, and recycling a lot of things. I’m hoping that the items we send to storage will be few (we know items like grandma’s china, my wedding dress, and some appliances have to go to storage. It’s not logical, or useful to take them with us.) When we move back to the US (if indeed we do after our two years, or maybe we continue on to somewhere else), I want our experience in London to have taught us to live with less. To live simpler. To just be.

We have four months, and that’s not enough time

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Having done the great move overseas before, I know that four months notice is tight to get everything accomplished. It is very odd (quirky, comical, ironic), that in 2005, days before Thanksgiving, we were asked to move to Germany. We left in March 2006.

Fast forward to two days before Thanksgiving this year. We were offered the chance and made the decision to move to London, and will likely leave in April. The timing is pretty funny even though my husband worked for a different company the first time. It seems we always have news to share at the thanksgiving table!

Four months, really five, seems like plenty of time to get everything together. The hard part is that the majority of things that need to get done come down to the last 4-6 weeks.

– finding a house/flat to rent in London (I’m extremely realistic about what that will mean being that we are looking to live IN London, on a very good budget, but still it’s not going to be the 3400 square foot suburban life we are used to

-we need to figure out how to return/sell two leased cars. One 8 months early, and one 24 months early

-we need to rent out our current home in Seattle (since in all likelihood we will be returning here, unless I can convince my husband we should move somewhere warm for a change, like Spain)

-I need to get all the paperwork finished to import one overly barkful mini-daschund

-we need to get our kids into our preferred (and currently full), IB school; this is also important because we need to get into a school first, then find a place to live since public transport will be our only method of transportation

-we need to organize, sell, or store items and be realistic (ruthless) regarding what possessions we bring to London, space is at a premuim, and sadly, most of my book collection will have to stay behind in storage

-we need to sort out renewing 3 of 4 passports that would expire while living in London

-etc

Right now I’m all about reading about what we want to do and see in London, and learning about different areas. I’m having fun on Zoopla looking at flats, and figuring out getting from one tube to another.

It’s all fun. The house hunting trip in February-March will be even more fun.

Then it’ll become reality 24/7, that we are moving our entire existence to a foreign country, and I will freak out about all the shit that still need to get done.

It will get really real, really fast. Last time I stood in the kitchen as the movers removed the final box and cried. And I was excited about going to Germany!

After moving countless times (I think this will be 13-14?) I still feel like it’s the first time. I just hope I don’t forget anything. Anything vital anyway, London is after all a ginormous city.

Four short little months to go. The next time I say lovely, and quite, and bugger, it’ll hopefully be because I’m in England.

*picture from my first and thus far only, visit to London. July 2007.