Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Have a Kit Kat

This is relevant on multiple levels...
Last month I turned 33, meaning that I'm tumbling headlong into my mid-thirties, and on top of that I realized that I have not posted on QE for four months now which, given how much has happened in that time, is both understandable and rather a shame! I'm also always a little reluctant to simply do "update" posts as it doesn't really speak to the experience of being an immigrant and I worry that it's also a bit dull or narcissistic (or both) to essentially just list the goings-on since the last time I rambled about the previous months' goings-on. That said, I am pretty sure I can make this 'Permanent Resident-relevant' as there have definitely been experiences that pertain to being a Brit out of water...

Home is where a certain man is
So, first things first I suppose: we moved house! Buddy and I bought a gorgeous little place in a cute town just north of Charlotte, and have now been moved in since the last week of November. It was a bit of a whirlwind because the process of getting to closing was somewhat arduous. I'm not one to bitch on social media, but let's just say part of the communication chain was... broken at times! Luckily we had the most amazing realtor who helped us through it all and got us the house at a great price, too. Realty in NC is totally different to back home: it can take months and months to close on a house in England (even with no chain), whereas my experience here is that it can take as little as 4 weeks to sell one house and buy another! On top of that, the realtors get a bit of a larger cut, but work incredibly hard and are extremely knowledgeable - making it worth the extra, in my view. I think we looked at close to 20 properties, but kept coming back to the one we are lucky enough to now call our home. Moving day turned into moving week, as I knew I had to empty a whole house and Buddy a whole apartment, and then on top of that we had furniture from both places, too! Family and friends were kind enough to give up their time and lend us their arms, vehicles, and driving skills, and we managed to have some semblance of normality established before the next big adventure.

Our return ride from Innsbruck to London
We'd not been in the house much more than a week before it was time to pack a bag (or two), drop the dogs off with their Auntie Jess, and head off for our almost month-long partial-surprise trip to Europe. I say "partial-surprise" because everyone but my mum, whose 60th birthday was the primary reason for the timing of our visit, knew we were coming. My dad, who is a preposterously excellent planning machine, had been organizing this birthday spectacular for over a year. We managed to pull off the whole thing without her finding out for this entire time, and Buddy, my brother Sam, his wife Wren, and I (plus some of our closest friends and family) actually rocked up in Austria, where my parents were ostensibly on a couple's weekend to celebrate Mum's birthday, knocking on their hotel room door when she was expecting room service. It was so wonderful to be able to be with Ma, and my family, as well as to be back in Europe/England for three whole weeks AND show Buddy around where I'm from. I don't want to bore you with individual anecdotes (but if you want to ask me about the beauty of Austria, the private jet, the view from The Shard, and seeing beloved humans of mine for the first time in three years, I'm more than happy to giddily ramble away about those and all the other things!), but I have uploaded a few photos from the trip on the QE Facebook page in an album here should you wish to peruse our winter break shenanigans at your own leisure.

All in all, being home was wonderful because of the people I love and the general feeling of comfort I get being around social norms I've internalized for most of my life. The outstanding feeling, though, other than joy and gratitude for such magical adventures with treasured loved ones, is knowledge that my home is definitely in North Carolina now. While I happily relaxed into amused observations of pub culture, queueing, regular sized meals, and mediocre-to-moody wait staff, I feel my home is in not in England any more. Many of the people I love are and for them, as well as my background, education, and views, I am grateful to be from England. But my home is in Charlotte.

The X-Ray of B's leg,
taken about 1.5 hours after the fall
We got back to the States, our new house, the dogs, and a semi-normal work routine (I was still on vacation as the State schools are closed during the Christmas period) a couple of days before Christmas Day. Buddy went straight back to work, and I got to get the house ready for us actually living in it. Half of our stuff was still in boxes in the garage, and we'd not exactly decorated for Christmas...! We planned on spending lunchtime on the day itself with family, and then coming back to our place for our first Christmas in our first home together.

Well, you know what they say about best laid plans... And this is where the terrible second 'break' pun comes in: as we were leaving B's mom's place on Christmas Day, carrying gifts down the front yard which was extra muddy thanks to the unseasonable and crazy amount of rain North Carolina had experienced throughout December, Buddy slipped while lifting a toolbox from the house to the car, landed awkwardly on his left leg, and everyone in the vicinity heard an unmistakable "pop" as he came to a halt, toolbox thankfully thrown to the side and not landing on top of him. We knew immediately that there was a break involved, but the hour between getting an ambulance, getting into the ambulance, arriving at the ER, and getting pain medication dispensed and X-Rays taken felt terrifyingly long (to me, to whom it hadn't directly happened!) as we weren't sure how bad the break was.

It turns out that it was both good and bad - if indeed a break can ever be good - as although Buddy had a spiral fracture of his femur, it was a clean break, and so could be pinned back together with a surgically implanted titanium rod that very afternoon. The break happened just after 3:00pm, and he was out of surgery by 10:00pm (they gave him time for food to digest and there was one urgent case ahead of him with his designated surgeon). The staff at the hospital couldn't do enough for us; I was allowed to stay in his room with him 24/7; and his care was consistent and kind. He had physiotherapy in the hospital - we stayed for three days - and had further at-home appointments scheduled for him to ensure he had adequate support and information while he healed.

He's already driving again. :) 
We are now just over five weeks on from that day, and it feels pretty weird to say that. It's been a long road, but it stretches longer still in front of us. I don't want to speak for Buddy (or his family for that matter) but, while it has been a physically and mentally extremely trying time for him, I have to say I've continued to see the amazing man he is through all the pain, frustration, stress, and anxiety an injury like this causes. He's been truly heroic. We've also been incredibly lucky to have amazing family and friends - and in the latter category, several who showed up at the hospital on Christmas Day to be with us and check in on him - who've been supporting us by changing plans to come over to see us, digging us out of the snow when that happened last weekend, sending Buddy books and games to keep him occupied, checking in with both of us via phone, email, text, or just a silly photo message to see how we're doing, cooking meals for us, forcing me to go out and take a break every so often, running errands, walking Bertie and Satine, and a million other things we won't be able to thank you all enough for. For those of you reading, please know that you are so appreciated and it has made all the difference.

So that, dear readers, is about me updated! I am sure I could do a follow-up post about how health insurance played a part in our excellent (and not totally unaffordable) care at the hospital versus how things might have gone down with the NHS, but for now I could do with a Kit Kat... ;)

Saturday, 24 October 2015

And now for something completely different

Sick day chic
This would be my post-Festival survival, post-Jamaica wedding awesomeness, mid-really-quite-poorly post that I'm finding time to write because I'm on a self-imposed quarantine weekend so that I might be able to beat the cold/acute sinusitis I've been battling for the past three weeks. It's been a riot.

But seriously, what a month! October has mostly absolutely rocked, and we've not even got to 1026 yet! I started getting sick right at the beginning of the month and just put it down to a seriously crazy work environment in advance of our 40th Annual International Festival (40 years!), plus intercontinental planning of a surprise bachelorette (hen party), travel to Jamaica, and house hunting with Buddy. I also had a job interview - which I sadly didn't get, but it was still good to push myself! - so it's been a busy few weeks. As it happens, I actually left it too long for "just a cold" (doc' says after a week of no improvement with colds you should get checked out), so despite how fit and healthy I am, 2+ weeks of mucusy grossness meant I developed sinusitis which, in my professional opinion, sucks harder than a new Dyson. I'm now on 2000mg of Amoxicillin a day, which is kicking my ass, but I seem to be on the mend with 2.5 sick days and this weekend consisting of 50% sofa time and 40% bed time (the other 10% is walking the dogs and/or bathroom breaks - not simultaneously, of course).

Going to Jamaica to see my Neldie Chris marry her lovely Ryan was magical. That's probably the only word for it. I got a great, adventurous vacation with my sister/roomie, and to see one of the most important people in my life marry the most important one in hers. Below is a selection of photos from the long weekend, because I really do lack words to do the levels of joy justice.

I also got to travel abroad as a Permanent Resident for the first time ever, and used my passport and Green Card to traverse the airports of Charlotte and Montego Bay and back. I even got to use the 'U.S.' line in Customs on my return! It was really more exciting and reassuring than I had realized it would be, so that was a really nice experience.

You can see from the photos linked at the beginning of this post that the International Festival was a roaring success. Our whole office was an absolute powerhouse in the weeks leading up to the event, and there's a definite sense of accomplishment now it's done (although we're already gearing up for International Education Week in November and then the Great Decisions series next year). It's wonderful to be part of such a committed, passionate, and inclusive team.

As for the house hunt, I'll update when there's something solid about which to update! While things are certainly happening, until we have something lock, stock, and barrel, I'll be keeping schtum about our adventures in realty.

Finally, I think I achieved a necessary #BritGoal last night, as I managed to find myself meeting John Cleese and Eric Idle. I'll say that again: I met John Cleese and Eric Idle. We actually had a conversation with them, because they're real people and really rather fantastic! (Anyone who knows me knows I hate to try to meet people after shows - especially Brits. I feel like I'm asking them to work overtime, and I get super awkward and apologetic.) Jess and I went to the 'Together Again At Last... For The Very First Time' tour when it came to Charlotte yesterday and, as well as seeing 'The Penis Song', 'Bruce's Philosophers Song', and 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' live (to name a few), we got to enjoy an evening of conversation, jokes, and banter between the two Pythons, and then were lucky enough to catch John as he did a brief autograph round on his way to the tour bus, and Eric because he snuck up behind the crowd and ended up having to "shush" Jess because she almost outed him. So, I'm pretty sure we just won at life!

And that, dear readers, brings us about up to date. I shall now return to my sickness sofa, which is currently 2/3 covered by canines, and deal with this silly illness of mine. After all, 'tis but a scratch. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

They say love ain't fair, but I'm doing fine

I am sat at the Wine Vault, reviewing my lesson plans for the next week and doing a few other adulty things (paying property tax, checking emails, looking at mortgage rates, making sure the dog walker is booked, and other such grown-uppery), as well as some less necessary but fun stuff like looking at house listings online and reading this week's Post Secret.

I am happy. I am so very happy today. And I need to remember to write about that. Because whether it's an hour, or a day, or even (fingers crossed!) a whole week, being happy is to be celebrated and enjoyed and noted.

I've had an amazing anniversary weekend with my wonderful boyfriend. The fact that it's been a year since we decided (slash he told me he'd kind of already told a few people, ha ha ha) we were "official" is mind boggling in and of itself, as it's flown by. And yet so much has happened, changed, and been experienced, together and individually. And he really is amazing. We make the best team and I feel so lucky we found each other.

It would be possible to write more, about him and us, and about life here being as blessed as it is. But I think it's about time that I just admitted he makes me this happy. I know I'm more than fine as and by myself, just me. Crazy-anxious, energetic, anally retentive, generous, diligent, dedicated, nervous, passionate, loyal, stubborn, sensitive, caring, and resilient. All just me. But I also know that having him as a partner, him loving me, and us being us has made me joyful in a whole new way. Thank you for that, my love. You are the missing piece. Here's to many more years on our team. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Underground, overground

I am pretty sure that anyone who follows the QE Facebook page will have already seen the glee-filled photos posted earlier this week, but last weekend I got possibly the biggest and best surprise of my life: my parents showed up at my local. Just casually strolled up to the window, held up two Womble cuddly toys to it (Orinoco and Madame Cholet, if you were wondering) and waved at me with them. Because they'd "popped over" for a couple of days. As you do...!

Please enjoy a) the still chosen for this video; b) the utter shock on my face; and c) the fact that I simply hand off my things (wine, handbag)
to Buddy and Jess and RUN at my parents. Standard Rogerson greeting.
Thank you to Austin for this footage!

The cheeky sods had been planning this since April, along with Jess and then Buddy to make sure my schedule was free and that I was kept in the dark. On top of this, all my wonderful friends, as well as the entire staff of the Wine Vault, knew what was going on. I could not really get any luckier with the amazing people in my life, and I don't quite know how I'll ever thank you enough for one of the best weekends I've ever had.

Once the initial shock had worn off (and we had calmed our nerves with some much-needed bubbly), I got to spend 48 hours with my beloved Mum and Dad, and it was just absolutely wonderful. I had no time to prepare emotionally, so I was simply overjoyed. Magic.

Saturday was a the busier day of the two, but it was still very relaxed. Mum and Dad came over and we drank all of the tea (of course), and then we and Buddy headed over to NoDa for a late lunch. The afternoon was spent with our generous and lovely friends Austin and Maedchen (as well as Jess and our friend Jamie) out on Lake Norman, followed by a dinner all together in Mooresville. It was an absolutely amazing day! In particular, the lake and being on the boat was especially wonderful as it's a place I find an immense amount of peace and delight. Sharing that with Mum and Dad was very special.

No huge wonder why I love it so!

Sunday was spent in the University area, and Mum and Dad were up (and at the Wine Vault!) before Buddy and I were even out of bed. We meandered over and grabbed some food and cocktails at Bar Louie, before spending the afternoon and evening outside on the Wine Vault patio. As well as more of our amazing friends, Buddy's wonderful mom and sister joined us, and our families got to meet each other for the first time. Yay! My heart was ridiculously happy.

Family. :)

Not only that, but I was able to share the beautiful music that Jared plays at the Wine Vault every Sunday, too. I've often commented - especially to Dad, as we have a deep, long-term, and shared love of the 'Graceland' album - on how wonderful his Paul Simon medley is, and I'd also previously mentioned to Jared (who has a website - check it out!) that his playing that makes me feel a little bit closer to home when I'm missing my folks particularly badly on any given (Sun)day. He's since been kind enough to sometimes even wait for me to arrive before playing it, which is just so lovely! But this time, I could sit with Dad and listen, and dance with my Mum. Perfect Sunday - done.

I would write about how hard it was to see them leave on Monday morning, and how the wrenching in my chest continues today, but that much I think is obvious, and it will happen whenever we part ways simply because of distance and time between visits. I love my parents so very much, and being so far away from them by choice (however good of a choice for me that is!) comes with some seriously conflicting emotions. But the important thing is love, and the joy that love brings not only when we're together, but just knowing we're family. That won't ever change. This visit was an absolutely incredible surprise, and I am overjoyed having been with Ma and Pa, even just for two days. Thank you both, and thank you to everyone who made it happen. Ah! This life.

Wombling free.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

"Sorry I was late, there was a turtle in my driveway."

What shall we call him?
Okay, so that's not the usual way to start one's work day, but it's totally true! Take a look at this little dude on the right. He was just chilling on the driveway this morning, so I had to herd him on to the flowerbed in order to get my car out of the garage without smooshing him. He was a scuttling little thing, and moved pretty fast, thank goodness! I didn't want him out in the open for too long, especially as it was getting pretty warm already. Not quite the same as being held up by a group of cows crossing the road on Minchinhampton Common, but I enjoyed the parallel nonetheless.

The presence of a turtle on my driveway somehow was the catalyst I needed to remember that I now live in North Carolina. Turtles do not tend to happen across your route to work back in the UK, and this is the first time it's happened to me since I've lived in the States. So funnily enough, it prompted me to consciously think about my expat presence for the first time in a long time.

Unicorns are less common in NC,
but I seem to have found one.
Normal things are happening here, other than random reptiles making house calls, but they're all, inevitably, in the context of being a Brit abroad. I'm making progress at work to the point that I've been asked to apply for internal promotions, and I recently celebrated two years in my current role in the Office of International Programs. It makes me really happy to be forging a formal career in a place so totally new to me, and to be able to be part of a team that promotes and celebrates the importance of an international education and perspective.

Later this year, my beloved Neldie is marrying her Ryan in Jamaica, and Jess and I get to go have a mini-vacation there to celebrate with them! I've never been to Jamaica, so that will be a new adventure as well. A little before that, the ridiculously wonderful man on the left there and I will be celebrating our anniversary, and starting to make plans for next spring when we hope we'll have our own place together, too. This makes me think more about how much change and growth, in practical terms, has happened since I've moved to NC. Making travel arrangements, looking at properties, knowing who to go to to ask questions: all of these things have taken time to learn how to do in terms of doing it from NC rather than England, but it's almost second nature now, and I'm filling in gaps of procedural knowledge, rather than starting from scratch every time.

No, you cannot steal either of them, Steve.
So far this year I've been lucky enough to have several visits from beloved friends back home, with one currently still here (!), and one more just confirmed this morning! Steve has been at The Clamstead for just over a week, and many shenanigans have been had, mostly involving food, friends, the Wine Vault, a visit to Concord and to Salisbury, and the inevitable welcome party (which was rainbow-themed, this time). I'll be very sad to see him go, as we currently seem to only get to catch up every two years or so, in person at least, but we still have a big dinner planned tonight, and there's the likelihood of me being able to visit the UK more as of next year as I'll have more vacation days stored up. Fingers crossed! A dear friend from university messaged me this morning to say she can take a work trip detour en route back to England this coming September, so I will get to see her for the first time in almost three years. I'm so very excited! Having people to stay and, at last, being at liberty to travel more myself, is just wonderful.

And of course, my two fluff monsters, who are now the grand old age of three, are as fantastic as ever. Satine was recently a little poorly with a stomach upset, but because we have the most amazing vets, she is now right as rain and back to her silly self. Bertie is inevitably Queen B, with her rule-making and smarts. I couldn't love those two more!

Finally, my roomie Jess, who may as well be my sister, along with some of the best humans I've ever met, continue to be part of my daily Queen City life, and that is the biggest of blessings. I still cannot believe I am so lucky to have this amazing community of wonderful people in a place that I hadn't even set foot in five years ago.

So, thank you to a certain turtle for making me want to write this lunchtime. And thank you to you, life in NC, for love and loveliness for one lucky Brit.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Guard your heart, don't build walls around it

It's been almost two months since I last wrote. How did that happen?! It seems to be about my standard blogging pace these days. Initially I slowed down in my writing because I was busy, then because I thought I was getting used to being an expat, then because it was too hard and there was too much to say, then because it was still too hard and I didn't know what to say, and now because... I guess a combination of the first two reasons? I'm busy, and I'm pretty used to being a Charlottean these days. No bad thing!

It's no longer too hard to write. My anxiety issues are still there, but they're incorporated and manageable, rather than the main feature. I can attribute this to my own willingness to heal, the amazing encouragement and unending backup I've had from family and loved ones, and the benefits of medical and therapeutic support. These past few months have been painful and a struggle for different reasons to those with which I have an ongoing wrestling match. The loss of two people I loved, differently and at different times, but loved and didn't get enough time with regardless, has been and continues to be very difficult to process (and that's just my stuff - my heart is truly with those closer to them who have lost a parent, partner, or child). I don't feel right writing about that on here, or at all, as nothing seems appropriate in terms of doing the loss any kind of justice, and I certainly don't want to speak out of turn. Suffice it to say that both were taken too soon, and I wish it could be undone.

Running 3-4 times a week again. :) 

So, what to write, then? Over the past eight weeks or so there has been another shift for me. I guess the lessons of the past few months, or year, or two years are that nothing is certain, that shifts happen all the time, and that perhaps you only become conscious of that when a big one pulls the rug out from under you. This has begun to settle as a revelation, and has become more of a truth I always really knew. There are days when I feel inconsolably lonely, days when I just want to sleep (and usually can't), and days when I think I'm okay and then panic rears its head as though to remind me that I can't be assured of anything. But I'm so very well. My strength has returned. I'm happy and aware and fortunate and me - more so than I ever really thought I'd be again. I might even be so brave as to venture that I'm a better me; a stronger, more resolute, resilient, compassionate, assertive, and more comfortable person. Regardless, I'm not constantly anxious or worried about who I am or how I'm perceived any more. At some point, that fear just left me, and that persistent nagging voice is either absent, or so quiet I can tell it to bugger off because I have better things to listen to. It's such a welcome change.

Perhaps I've stalled in writing because subconsciously I've wanted to write an "I'm all better!" post and then move on from there. My naive, optimistic, overly-hopeful brain likely thought that this would be the case some day, and that I should wait until then. But not only is it not the case, it also shouldn't be. As the wise Doctor (Capaldi, in this case) said:

The Doctor: Are you okay?
Clara: No.
The Doctor: Good. There are some things we should never be okay about.

With that in mind, then, let's move forward knowing that things are different and that I may not write as much (for a plethora of reasons!), but when I do, it's from a place of strength and peace and happiness.

And possibly this lake. :D

I am a water baby, and thus am never happier than when near or on/in water,
I had the loveliest July 4th this year.

This man and this derp. Just love.

My sister. :)

They're so creative.

I choose strong.

Ah! These two! Furry loves of my life.

I've even become brave enough to say hello to famous people I admire!

As ever, my Neldie. :)

Love and laugh.

Love wins.

And a bit of humor.

"Never live your life without love and patience; find your way on board before your train leaves the station."

-- Carolina Story, 'When I Was Just a Boy'