Tag Archives: moving abroad

The Halfway Point

Tomorrow marks 18 months since we moved to England.  We’re here for another 18 months before we head back to America.  This is the halfway point. And still I sometimes can’t believe we’re even here and we made this happen.  I love living in England,I truly do.  I love that we did this big thing and we’ll always remember it and it changed us in so many good ways.

I even don’t mind the weather; I can deal with grey chilly winters with a great deal more tolerance and grace than I can handle humid, sticky summers with 95+ degree temps. 

We’ve already done so much in our first 18 months here, but we really do have even more left that we want to do.  I’m glad we’ve got another 18 months, but even with that time I doubt we’ll ever do everything on “the list”.  Mostly because the list grows faster than we can check items off of it.

It’s astounding to me to look back at the first few weeks and months we were here and realize how insanely overwhelmed I was.  I didn’t really comprehend it at the time, because when you’re really inundated, you just do what you have to do without processing it too much.  But then I read my journal or this blog and I can hear the notes of panic behind my voice back then.

Not anymore, though.  Now it’s just normal here. 

I’m used to the insanely narrow roads and the slightly different version of English.  I love the longer school days and the longer school year and the much longer school breaks.  I know that we must take advantage of sunny weather anytime we have it because it doesn’t happen all that often.

I know now that every pub in the country serves a Sunday roast ONLY on Sundays, really there are no other restaurant options that day.  That there’s always fish on Fridays.  That tea isn’t just the drink, but also a term for an early dinner.  That pudding means dessert of any type.

I know that sweaters are jumpers and sneakers are trainers and pants are trousers and underwear are pants.

I know that we’re all expected to just get on with things, regardless of the weather or the complications or the extenuating circumstances.  Stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on, and all that.

I also know that my kids are amazingly adaptable and will rise to any challenge.  That they embrace whatever they’re doing and wherever they are with open arms and their whole hearts.  I know they can and will be fine anywhere they go, because I’ve seen them adapt and overcome and assimilate.

I know, too,  that Matt and I can get through difficult things with a reasonable amount of humor and cooperation.  We can navigate through really, really confusing times and we can fake it till we make it, and we always do it together.  I love that.

More than anything else, more than the amazing travel and the incredible schools, what I know and love is that we’re doing something that has forever changed us and will forever stay with us.  We are different today than we were when we got on that plane in August of 2015, and the things we’ve done and learned and experienced have shaped us into more well-rounded, adventurous, adaptable, happier, more open-minded people.  No matter where we go or what we do for the rest of our lives, these years in England will stay with us.

Here’s to another 18 months, and to all the adventures behind and ahead.


Six Months


Six months ago today, we arrived in England. 

Time is a funny thing; depending on my perspective, I feel like the last six months have flown by OR I feel like that first day in London was practically a lifetime ago.

One thing remains true: I am so, so glad we took this chance. 

We expected to be forced outside our comfort zone when we moved to a new place; we had all the normal moving-related fears about making friends, finding our way around, starting at a new school.  I also worried about learning to drive on the other side of the car (on the other side of the road), about finding doctors and buying appliances and settling in to a new house and getting the kids ready for school.


Looking at the last six months, I can see now that some of my concerns turned out to be not that big a deal — the driving, while certainly terrifying at first, became second nature so much more quickly than I expected.  We muddled through the first few weeks on absolute clueless determination, but we got it done.  What other option did we have?  We spent three days driving around in an enormous rental van from used car lot to used car lot with all four frustrated kids, not knowing where the hell we were, until we found two vehicles that worked for our family.  Every day we’d have to go out to find and purchase the million things we needed that we couldn’t bring: a washing machine, dryer, fridge, freezer, microwave, coffee maker, toaster.  We spent three weeks with no furniture, sleeping in sleeping bags on blow up mattresses and eating microwaveable food off of paper plates.  At the time, it just seemed like what we had to do.  Looking back now I feel pretty proud that we did it with no serious issues because it was a lot to handle. 


And you guys, that first night when we got to sit down at a real table set with proper plates and silverware and eat a meal in this house that we were able to cook because we had pots and pans finally, that was a good night. 


We did not anticipate other things that turned out to be some of our hardest challenges.  Grocery shopping, something I never anticipated being an issue, turned out to be one of my biggest obstacles.  I cried, literally cried, almost every time I had to go food shopping in a British store for the first three months.  It took me twice as long to shop as it did at home, at a minimum.  I’d wander the aisles for ages, confused and frustrated.  There were so many items I couldn’t identify and so many items I wanted that I couldn’t find, either because they don’t carry them here or they call them something different.  It took me weeks and weeks to figure out the proper check-out procedure.  And I felt every trip, for the entire time I’d be in the store, that I may as well have had a neon sign blinking above me that I DID NOT BELONG.  It was weirdly disconcerting.

Six months in, we have made new friends.  We’ve traveled a lot and we’re getting pretty good at it.  We’ve tried new foods and found new favorites.  We’ve adapted to a school system that could pretty much not be more different than what we were used to.  We’ve learned to speak British

In those first two or three months, when we didn’t truly know anyone, we were forced to get closer and stronger as a family.  The children relied on each other, completely and solely, for playmates.  We had no distractions, no friends calling one or two kids away, no baby-sitters to take the children for a night while Matt and I went out.  We had no one but each other and we all felt out of place, so we turned in and held it together, together.  I am grateful for that unexpected blessing. 

We have so much more to learn and look forward to while we’re here, but I know it’s also important to look back and realize how much we’ve already accomplished.  We’ve done it, we’re doing it, we’ll keep on doing it. 

Here’s to the grand adventure — long may it continue!

Punting on the Cam


Cambridge is a beautiful old city centered around the University of the same name.  The River Cam runs through it, and “punting on the Cam” is a time-honored tradition there and a really, really beautiful way to see the gorgeous campus.


On a clear, warm Sunday in August, we took our turn down the Cam.  Although we could have had a “professional” (college student) steer our boat, we opted to rent our own, and thanks to Matt’s skill we had a lovely ride down the river.  


The boats are long, fairly wide, and flat-bottomed, with a platform at the end for the driver to stand on.  Rather than row, you punt: you steer and move forward (or backwards or sideways) using a long pole that reaches to the bottom of the river. 


He only almost fell in three or four times.  And he only hit his head on one very low bridge.


To be honest, that’s a remarkable feat that I am certain I could not have accomplished.  It’s nearly guaranteed that I would have either fallen in, crashed us into something, or lost the pole and have been adrift.


Since we didn’t have a guide, we didn’t learn what every ivy-covered building was called or the legends and stories behind each of the lovely bridges we cruised under. 


But we spent a day together in the sun exclaiming over the beauty surrounding us, and that’s a day well-spent.


Every time we embark on one of these adventures, I am reminded again of how lucky I am.  These places are beautiful.  These experiences change our perspective of the world. 


And every minute I spend with my favorite people just watching as we grow and change and see new things further cements how much I love them and how grateful I am for this life we’re living.  IMG_4980

Adventure takes different forms; this wasn’t high-speed or daring or very far away or anything but relaxing and beautiful.  Instead it was just peaceful day of food for the soul. 

Except for the parts where Matt almost fell in, those were scary.

Also, read about our first weekend in London, here and here.

Unwritten Rules

IMG_4914You just don’t have any concept of the number of unwritten social mores that are simply understood in a culture until you are in a culture where you don’t know all the rules.  

Small things, like a trip to the grocery store, become an exercise in sociological discovery: do the lights on the checkout lanes mean that lane is open or closed? Do I provide my own bags? Do they charge for plastic bags if I don’t have enough of my own? Do I pack my own groceries, or will the checker pack them for me?

All these things that I don’t know are running through my head as I lay my items on the belt. It only takes a single comment between myself and the checker, though, for her to realize I am not a local — my American accent betrays me. And then I’m free to ask all my questions and we sort it all out, and I’m on my merry way with plenty of newfound knowledge about grocery store conventions in the UK.

It’s bad enough being clueless on your own, but when you add children into the mix, it complicates things even further.

For our first days in England, each restaurant we entered was a minefield of deciphering social conventions. Do we stand at the entrance and wait to be seated or can we pick a table ourselves? (We encountered both types of places in the first few days.) Will there be a children’s menu? (And will it have any items that don’t come with peas?) Do we wait for a waitress to take our order, or do we order at the bar? (Depends on the establishment, the time of day, and how busy the restaurant is apparently.) Do people in England really eat burgers and fries with a knife and fork? (Yup, some of them do.)

Matt and I spent each meal watching the people around us, explaining things to the kids, trying to decode menu items we didn’t completely understand, and wondering if everyone else in the room could tell we were foreigners just based on our restaurant behavior.

Now, two months in to our stay in England, we’re slightly more familiar with the way things are done here. We’re finally comfortable with grocery shopping, we’ve got restaurants basically down, and we’re slowly learning the nuances of the British private school system. But that doesn’t mean that surprises don’t pop up, like when we arrived at Back to School night and were offered glasses of wine. Or when I had to drop my car at the mechanic and instead of giving me a loaner car to take home, the mechanic drove me back to my house in my own car and then took it back to the shop to fix it.

Every new experience broadens our horizons, though, and makes it easier to take on the next challenge with a little less fear and hesitation. Each time we learn a new way to do things, we expand our understanding of our new home, and we equip ourselves to deal a little better with the changes we face each time we travel somewhere new.

It’s hard work learning a new culture, but it’s worth every minute.

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