Category Archives: Culture

Sweet Nectar of Life

Oh, it took me some time.  And as someone who could take or leave hot drinks, I’ve probably had hundreds and hundreds of offers before I finally succumbed.  I couldn’t quite understand how a cup of tea could be the prescription that soothed all sorts of emotional and physical ailments.   I know Americans love their coffee, but the love that the Brits have for their tea doesn’t compare.  Coffee doesn’t FIX things.  Not like tea.

Balancing out or complementing things like a hearty meal, a good sob, a nasty cold, a chilly day, a stressful day, a relaxing day, the best day ever, a household fire, sitting by the fire, childbirth, and unimaginable grief.

But after 9 years, I think I’m finally starting to get it.

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A Big Night In – American Food, Fun and Films

The last time I was pregnant, The Native and I really did sense the change ahead.  A change we were excited to embrace, but one we also knew would mean a more sacrificial stage of life – where adult conversation is a rarity and usually takes place over the bar of a pushchair or in the front of the car once the kiddo has nodded off.  As a result we tried to soak up the final stages of being a two-some by going on as many dates as humanly possible in my final weeks of pregnancy.

And we were right because over two years later, we know firsthand that it’s REALLY hard to go out.  Since we are working parents and because my in-laws provide so much help with childcare in the week, we feel too guilty to ask for anything more when we want a night for grown-ups and often find ourselves in our pyjamas by 8pm on a Saturday.

A Big Night In is just what we need.

So when Little Stuff said they were teaming up with 2 Little Fleas to see what bloggers would classify as a great night in if they had £750 to spend, my mind started to put all of the dates we haven’t gone on since The Duchess’s birth into one night.  And I have to admit that in true Foreigner fashion I went for the extreme opposite of what we’ve been living for the last 27 months.

“A Big Night In.  Red carpet attire.  Catering.  A candelit dinner.  Fine wines (or Schloer for us preggos).  A stringed quartet.  A make-up artist.  Maybe hair too.”

I got a little carried away.

I soon came to my senses and realized that even if I blew 80% of the budget on styling myself like Jennifer Lawrence, I’d likely be the only one to enjoy it.  (Even though I would enjoy it.)

Some of the best nights of our lives have been the most relaxed when we are in the company of people who we absolutely adore.  And as a foreigner, something that has been so significant to me on those nights is when I get to share and enjoy little bits of my culture with those people.  It’s a chance to share a unique part of who I am.

Our annual Thanksgiving meal is one occasion to bring a little bit of America to my beloved Brits.

Our annual Thanksgiving meal is one occasion to bring a little bit of America to my beloved Brits.

So the Big Night In would absolutely have to be an American barbecue.    Because in the Expat Family book, there is always room (and a season) for barbecue food.

Eight of our nearest and dearest would arrive to a cozy backyard layout.  Picture it.  Picnic blankets strewn about with cushions scattered on the ground, a couple of comfy seats, bunting dangling above and fairy lights hung overhead, acting as our British fireflies for the evening.

We’d have a menu solely dedicated to feel good American grub (you guys KNOW how I feel about a good burger).   We’d dip our sweet potato fries in homemade sauce as we sip on fresh lemonade and root beer floats from Kilner glasses.

But the real fun is that when the sun sets.  There was a drive-in movie theatre not far from my house when I was growing up and I remember so clearly going there for the first time as a young child.  It’s an experience I’d LOVE to share with The Native and would love to introduce to some of our friends.

Sure, it’s not quite a drive-in, but a sit-in movie theatre under the stars sounds just as magical.  My in-laws have a projector and screen and so we’d serve up hot apple cider (not the West Country type – but of the spicy, non-alcoholic kind), set up the speakers, light the firepit, cozy up on our blankets, start to toast the S’mores and project a classic American film onto the garden wall.

So what’s in my shopping bag to make our Big Night In happen:

  • £220 for beautiful, adaptable outdoor seating.  And yes, I will be making use of these chairs and cushions after the Big Night In.
  • £40 for fairy lights
  • £40 for Kilner jars for decoration and drinks (You can never have too many!)
  • £169.99 for Leisuregrow Grillstream barbecue
  • £80 for food
  • £59.90 for firepit
  • £129.95 for Yamaha speakers for watching an American classic under the stars

Total: £739.84

That is date-doing, soul-filling, memory-making, life-sharing stuff.

Oh, and if you don’t know what s’mores are – I’m glad you’re here.  I’m about to change your life.

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How would you spend a Big Night In?  I would love to hear your ideas.

Check out my Pinterest boards for a complete look at the menu, decor and film selection.

Of Jetlag and Late Night Conversations

We have been away.  Just your last minute, run of the mill quick getaway.  To America.  It took us 2 travel days and we were there 6 full days.  It was to meet these two:SONY DSC

but more on that to come.

Long-haul travelling at 24 weeks pregnant is not to be scoffed at, but it’s hard to call the look anything other than scoffing as I passed fellow jet-setters in the airport with my emerging bump and toddler in tow.  People stared.  Especially middle-aged women type people.  Sure they could have been admiring the miniature-sized Thomas backpack I had stylishly slung over my shoulder, but I think it was the bump.  And I was never sure if it was a look of concern or of judgement.

I often underestimate how your body really does demand more of you when you’re pregnant (especially my back, legs and digestive tract).  When travelling in the past, I normally adjust to new timezones quickly, but this time, at 24 weeks pregnant, 12.30pm would roll around and I’d feel like I was dying.  On my feet.  Dead.  Sleep or die.  SLEEP or DIE.  I could not shake the tiredness.

And after adjusting to that 5 hour time difference – oh – like ONE DAY before left, we are now 2 days on from our arrival home and our bodies are struggling to swing back to British Summer Time.  This means the Duchess is raring to go at 1am and I am back at work tomorrow.  And oh.my.gosh I am actually going to die.  At work.

Last night when the awake-ness struck, I thought I’d try to get her to softly sing songs to lull her back to sleep.

Me: Do you want to sing a song?

TD: Yes please, Mummy.

Me: What would you like to sing?

TD: 5 Currant Buns.

Me: …………

I think that is a British song.  Do you sing it with Granny?  Mummy doesn’t know it.  How about another one?

TD: (Indecipherable…I think it was something about bananas.)

Me: Hmmm.  Don’t know that one either.

TD: Wheels on the Bus?  Mummy, you KNOW that one.  You know that one!

Me: Hey, thanks for being patronising.  I do know it.  And I am going to sing the poo out of it.  That bus will be taken to places it’s never dreamed.  The WORLD will be talking about that bus.

Call it American competitiveness, but that’s when the plan back-fired because in the haze of jetlag, I was about to show her that Mummy may not know 5 Currant Buns or a good banana song, but she could take that bus to a higher plain.

What I Wish I’d Known

We are saving for a mortgage.  We are saving hard.  But I still struggle to predict when we’ll finally be in a position to buy our very first family home.  And that is disheartening.  No matter how long I live here, I will always be a foreigner and that has given me an aching desire to dig my heels in and create our home – our actual bricks and mortar home.  I long for it.  I cry about it sometimes.  And then I create crazy plans.  I have toyed with the idea of going on Deal or No Deal.  I would possibly be the first ever contestant to go out on the first offer.  £6000?  I’ll take it, Mr Banker!

The thing is – when I moved to the UK over eight years ago, I never expected to stay.

My life was in two suitcases.  I made no other plans.  I was always going to come back.

During those first two years, I was surrounded by mostly American colleagues who were in the same boat that I was.  We survived by withdrawing large lump sums from our American checking accounts, by paying bills with postal orders or with cash and by never registering with a doctor.   Looking back, I now know that we definitely did things the long way round, but what did we know?   We were only temporary travelers on this expat journey – why do the research when we found our own ways to make it work?

When I did decide to stay (for love – aaaw!), not only did I have nil when it came to furnishings, but I had no driving licence, no doctor and no British bank account.  In my lounge was a sofa, a table and a TV.  My satellite didn’t work, so I watched DVDs of Grey’s Anatomy for about 3 months straight.   I wish I was joking.

I am so grateful that The Native, in his seemingly infinite patience, held my hand through most of the first few years when my American bubble had popped and I truly had to assimilate.

The one regret I do have is that when coming down to the Southwest to work, my employer’s provided my accommodation, rent-free.  We could have bought a home then – maybe even rented it out while we lived in our little cottage – but swimming out into the deep blue sea of international homeownership, with all of those terrifying unknowns circling below my kicking feet, felt too uncomfortable.

I couldn’t have predicted the recession.  I couldn’t predict how hard things would become for first-time buyers in the UK after it hit, but I do wish that five years ago I would had someone to talk to who wasn’t just trying to sell me something for profit.  I wish I could have asked someone who could lay out my options clearly so I could make an informed decision about whether we were going to dive in or not.

And so we wait.  We wait until that day when we’re able to join the ranks of those who have torn their hair out as sellers dangle on “the chain,” mortgage brokers drag their feet, and removal men wrap your life in cellophane.  And we look forward to it.

Which Offshore is a business which provides free, unbiased information to help expats make informed financial decisions. 

 This is a sponsored post. 

Take it From Me….

There are some lessons you’ve got to learn the hard way.

Or at least you’ve got to learn them the hard way when you’re in another culture where you just don’t know any better.

It was a warm June day.  I was at a conference.  There were hotdogs.

It was hardly a 5 course meal but a) I’m easy to please and b) I’m an American (upon reflection, perhaps those two things are synonymous.)

It was a British hotdog so it didn’t come with all of the trimmings.  And I say that with contempt and a visible sneer.  It was no cheese coney (I’m an Ohio girl) – there wasn’t even any ketchup in sight – but there were buns and lo! what’s that glimmering yelllow condiment I spot out of the corner of my eye?  Mustard!  That would certainly do.

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I slathered my hotdog with the yellow substance, drooling with anticipation at the processed meat feast that lay before me.

I found my table and lifted the hotdog to my mouth.  And my eyes started watering.

…….

I pulled the hotdog away trying to make sense of it.

But my stomach could no longer wait.  In a state of hunger-induced rage, I lifted my hotdog again.  As I did, my sinuses fully opened revealing Pandora’s Box.  In retrospect, that should have been a warning sign.

It was too late.  I had taken a bite.

My tastebuds reacted like an unsuspecting patient receiving a colonoscopy from a blind man…”What terrible crime have I committed against humanity to deserve this?!”

It was English Mustard and that, my friends, was the day my tastebuds all disintegrated.

Colman’s English Mustard never to be mistaken for American Mustard again.

Buggy Battleground

I’m warning you now – I may be about to have an unfair rant.  A rant about British people.   British people and their manners.

That’s why I’m giving you the chance to stop reading now.

Right here.  Especially if you’re British or adverse to sweeping cultural generalizations because in my mind, this does not happen in America.  In my mind, the people of America clear paths, sprinkle rose petals on the ground and softly sing lullabies when a momma with a baby is coming through.

Clearly this is going to be a rational post.

Well…considered yourself fairly warned.  You made the call.  I do not want to be likened to Prince Philip in the comments section.

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I am not an entitled Mummy.  I do not walk into town to throw my maternal weight around (which you will find in my baby-lifting arm and shoved in the bottom of my changing bag).  I don’t wave my toddler around your face to try and jump a queue or expect everyone to stop and open doors for me (although that does help – thank you.)

Because my daughter is 1, she goes in her buggy when we are walking through town.   When shopping for her buggy, personally inconveniencing you didn’t fall in the top 5 of my pushchair criteria.  It was #9.

But British people, when you see me in a restaurant or public area trying to squeeze past you, I am not TRYING to hit your table.  I am not intentionally getting the wheels of the buggy caught on your chair and in the hangers spilling from your Primark bag.

See.

I smiled at you.

I politely said, “So sorry.  Pardon me.”

And I am met with no eye contact, no attempts to be helpful and at most, an ever so slight scoot of a chair.

It’s a small ask.  I would just like the tiniest acknowledgement the “path” I’m trying to navigate is like trying to drive a small person in a tank through a garden gate.  So, if you could stand up, push your chair in and be inconvenienced for 3 seconds to help a struggling mother out, I’d really appreciate it.

Please and thank you and start being nicer to me or I swear I will drive this buggy straight into your shins.

Now That It’s Over – Happy Holidays!

We are back on UK soil.  It has been great to exchange work and the responsibilities of life for exploring New York, lazing around in my pajamas in my parent’s house, and eating my own weight in takeaways.   SONY DSC

Time away has been good for me.  It’s been good for us.  Parts of the trip stripped me of all of the energy I possessed, but parts restored my spirit and refreshed my soul in just the way I needed.  We’re honestly pretty sad to be back.   Sure, a little bit of it is post holiday blues (both  Christmas and vacation), but these funny and familiar feelings have reminded me, once again, about the challenges of living this weird expat life.   It’s a longing for a home that doesn’t exist anymore because time and living as a foreigner have changed you.    And yet, the questions still linger.  What if I returned and loved it?    What if it’s exactly where I’m meant to be?

It is never easy, but we are certainly glad to have family and friends on both sides of the Atlantic that make the decision so hard.

Hoping that you and yours have had a very merry Christmas and wishing you a great year ahead!

From our jetlagged family to yours.

From our jetlagged family to yours.