Thursday, 29 December 2011

Salvation for the mirror blind

My early birthday present from Ben - I can now explore!
Well, soon...
I am sat in the lounge of our apartment, staring at the computer screen with a slightly dazed, slightly frustrated expression on my face that can only have been caused by immigration paperwork complications. Before anyone worries, it's not anything serious, nor anything that will jeopardise my staying here, but merely a hiccough in terms of getting the order of things right. This morning I went to the DMV to take my driving test. Because I had been working really hard for it, and winding myself up something silly, I figured it would be better to do sooner rather than later. However, after waiting in line for almost two hours (the computer system went down, as luck would have it), I was told that I wouldn't be allowed to take any part of the test until my green card came through. The I-94 (landing card, stapled into my passport along with my visa) has less than 20 days left on it, and so the DMV are unable to do anything until I have permanent residential status (i.e. a two year green card). The fact that my application for this is in process, and that I am totally within my rights to stay in the USA while this goes on - in fact, if I left, I would have trouble getting back in without an Advanced Parole document - does not alter the fact that my I-94 doesn't have enough time left on it to issue me a driver's license, were I to pass the tests.

Having studied the NC DMV handbook and signs documents at length, as well as doing practice test after practice test over the last 10 days on the I Drive Safely and Driver's Prep websites, this is obviously frustrating in terms of effort, and in terms of nerves built up at the thought of doing a driving test. Ben even got me an early birthday present of a Garmin (with lifetime maps! Very exciting if you've ever owned a sat' nav': the annual map updates can cost more than the unit itself if you're not careful), so I could explore with confidence. It is also annoying as it means I can't renew my NC ID card until the green card comes through, so it will have to have my maiden name on it until then.

Balls.

As a more direct consequence of this, I am now in need of car insurance that is explicitly aware of and designed for international drivers with full foreign licenses, driving privately owned personal vehicles in the USA. This actually does exist, but it costs a lot.

For six months' insurance. Yowser. 

So, I can do it, and it may even be a little cheaper if we go with Ben's current insurer, as long as they are able to insure people on foreign licenses (some places simply won't do it). Otherwise, I will have to get my own insurance as, although driving is not an "essential" right now per se, it's crucial to my (personal) ability to make Charlotte my home, as well as being able to apply for more wide-ranging jobs. My EAD (Employment Authorisation Document) may well arrive significantly ahead of my green card, so being able to drive will be an asset on my résumé, as and when I have permission to work.

The other complications are that I can't update my new name (as mentioned above), and address on my ID card. You're supposed to do this within 60 days of a move, which may be possible should my green card process be super-fast, but otherwise, I will have to let it lapse. I do hope this won't cause an issue, as it's really nothing I can help, and I've done all I can to make the relevant authorities aware of the situation.

Anyway, it isn't something I can do anything about by worrying any more, and there's some relief in not having to fret about the test for a few months now. We just need to sort out the insurance later today, so I know I am legally allowed to drive, and then we carry on as normal. Which I did when I got home, with milk and Hobnobs. Pip pip!

You can take the biscuits out of the UK, and you can feed them to me.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Where the love-light gleams

My wonderful family - one of my favourite photos of us.
As you might imagine, Christmas in NC, now knowing that I am going to be here for good (unlike last year, when it was the world's most exciting holiday), has caused me some mixed emotions. Right now, I am possibly less positive about it all because not only am I apart from my parents, brother, and sister-in-law, but Ben has also been working until late, meaning that I have not exactly been festive this Christmas Eve.

However, I've made a promise to myself (and Ben, as part of my vows) to always look for the good, the positive, the bright side (i.e. stop being a moaning cow as much as possible!), so with that in mind, I would like to say that I am lucky to have a family that I miss as much as I do. Which is a whole lot more than I can put into words, and it doesn't just count at Christmas. They are an incredible, supportive, zany, hilarious, loving, inspirational, warm, joyous bunch of people who deserve even more adjectives than that, but I'm afraid I'll make a paragraph out of one sentence should I continue. Mum, Dad, I love you and I miss you so very much, and I wish I didn't have to be away from you for such long periods at a time. Sam and Wren, you are the most fantastic brother and sister-in-law a girl could wish for, for so many reasons, and I really think you should move to America ASAP (and put Mum and Dad in your suitcase).

But seriously, merry Christmas. I wish I could be with you.
xxxxx

Saturday, 24 December 2011

I sing for you, though you can't hear me

As I have a few hours to kill this Christmas Eve (insert name-related joke here), I thought I would write that full update post I've been referring to for at least the last three weeks. Ben is currently at work, and won't be back until after 11PM, which is a bit rubbish for the time of year, but it can't be helped. So, dear reader, you will bear the brunt of my festive wafflings.

So... first things first: immigration status update. After the list of documents and information requirements had been fulfilled, we were able to send off the AOS (Adjustment of Status) package to the Chicago, IL USCIS drop box at the beginning of this week. We've now had its delivery and receipt confirmed by the USPS and USCIS respectively, which means that my documents are now being processed to allow me to have a 2 year green card, as well as legally be allowed to work - and leave the country should I need to!

Confirmed by the mail, and confirmed by USCIS via text AND email.

This is, of course, a great relief. I wasn't quite so manic about getting it all sent off (eventually, anyway) compared to finishing off the UK-side of the process, as there's not actually a requisite time period during which the AOS must be submitted. It's just recommended to do it sooner, rather than later, for obvious reasons - things like your medical results will be considered invalid if you don't use them within a year of obtaining them, so you would have to pay for another medical (in time and dollars). It means that, after a biometrics appointment and possible interview early next year, I will not have to do anything paperwork-wise, except for an annual renewal of my work permit, for two whole years. After 12 months of form-filling, the prospect of this is just so wonderful! After that, I can apply for a 10 year green card, followed by naturalisation (citizenship) when I have lived here for three years. This would allow me to obtain a US passport, be considered a full US citizen, and therefore I would be able to vote too - very important, especially when we have kids.

Strictly speaking, now I think of it, this is not all in order, actually, as although we had done a lot of the paperwork, we didn't send it off until after the two other big-exciting-grown-up-things. No matter. One of those I've already written about: getting a car, and being allowed to drive. I now have the privilege (and nerve-wracking pleasure) of being able to get out and about, wherever I want and whenever I want. I feel much more human, just so much more normal! Silly though it sounds, it was the one thing that paralysed me and frustrated me, far more than getting a social security number, bank account, or having my immigration papers in order. The strangest thing is that I don't even enjoy driving that much! I think it is just that I have been so used to being able to choose whether or not to go somewhere, and not to have to rely on anyone to help me out with that (willing and lovely as everyone here has been about it), that having that ability revoked was far more irritating than I could ever have predicted. I guess a decade of that being normal made it very hard to adjust to it suddenly being taken away (not to mention the total lack of knowledge of local geography!). So, it gives me great pleasure to say that I am writing this from the Starbucks in Mallard Pointe, just off Tryon, having driven here all by myself. Given my penchant for double tall skinny vanilla lattes (yes, I'm one of those douchebags), this is doubly pleasing.

Learn ALL THE SIGNS!

Of course, I can only drive on my UK license for so long. Technically speaking, I can drive for 12 months using a foreign driving license, but due to a variety of things (namely NC-specific insurance laws - grr!), I am allowed to drive a privately-owned vehicle for 30 days only, on temporary insurance, which is supposed to be the time period used to pass my NC driving test and obtain a state license. So, I am now preparing for my driving test! I have been told that it is not the horrific experience I remember as a 17 year old (and I didn't even have to do the hazard perception test then), not only because I am already a driver with 10 years' experience, but also because the US test is a bit easier, and apparently they are usually pretty kind to experienced, English-speaking, ex-pat drivers. That said, it's still a test, and I don't want to scrape through it, because it won't help my driving in the long term. So, I have been studying the NC DMV's Driver Handbook for the past few days, and learning the laws, signs, and requirements for driving around here. There are three parts to the test: a sign-recognition test (which also incorporates a sight test), a theory test, and a practical test. I'm feeling okay-ish about it all. I can learn theory without a problem, and it's a lovely thing to be able to put it into practice straight away. I currently have sign-Tourette's whilst driving, as there are two whole pages to learn, and you get asked to identify about 20 random ones before you're allowed to do the other parts of the test. Eek! I have also purchased practice tests that have review and full mock tests available - very helpful, and thus far, I haven't failed!

So far, so good. 
The second of the big-exciting-grown-up-things is something I'm not going to go into a whole lot of detail about right now, as I want to wait until it all goes through, so I don't get prematurely over-the-top about it and then have to backtrack. The short version is that Ben and I put an offer in on a house in Charlotte and, after some back-and-forth bartering, it was accepted! Realty works somewhat differently here to in the UK, and we've already signed paperwork (along with the seller) that marks the offer as legally accepted. We now have until the 10th to get the house inspected (surveyed, in UK-speak), and then we and the buyers are bound in to the sale. I will divulge more then, as I won't feel so much like I might jinx things, but I am - we are - SO very excited. It's our dream house! *crosses fingers* 

That pretty much concludes the update. We've had some fantastic meet-ups with friends recently; a Ninja Santa party at our apartment, girl-dates for me, trivia fun at the diner, and a burrito and cigar night, to name a few. It's been a lovely - not to mention exciting, and ridiculously crazy-busy! - month (marriage, car, house, in a MONTH?! Madness), and I hope I have more license- and house-related good news to report in 2012. Merry Christmas to everyone, anyone, who reads this! Have a wonderful holiday.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Beep beep'm beep beep yeah

There's so much to update on since the wedding. Not only have we sent off the paperwork for the next stage of the immigration process, we've also been doing a lot of grown-up married stuff. I don't have time to go into a long post about it right now, but this post should give you a small idea of the kinds of things I mean: I have a car! And, as of today, I am allowed to drive it. Hee! So, meet Millie.

Millie!

Ender is not quite as excited as I am.

We got her last weekend, and had to wait for my insurance paperwork to go through (I am only allowed 30 days of insurance on a temporary policy to allow me to practice and take my test for an NC license). So today, I had a chance to get used to the size of the car, for one thing (I used to drive a manual Ford Ka; I am now driving an automatic Honda Accord - quite a change!); the other side of the road; the signs; the rules... and it was fantastic. I feel so happy and free! Silly though it sounds, I now feel much more like a resident here. I can take my test any time over the next month, so started studying hard yesterday, and am going to try to get it done before my birthday in January. But for now, I need to practice hard, both on the road and with the books. I foresee several photo trips in my very near future (a great excuse to develop my driving skills), and a lot of online mock tests!

Friday, 9 December 2011

I could trace your private number

Today's post is inspired by the brilliant cover of 'You Spin Me Round' by Thea Gilmore and Mike Cave, and the ridiculous amount of detail I have had to go into about myself, my background, and my current identity documents, for the next stage of immigration paper work we need to do to obtain my green card. Now, officially, we don't actually have to do this right now - we could wait a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, to submit the Adjustment of Status (AOS) documents - but, as with everything immigration-related, a) it is better to do all submissions sooner rather than later, and b) I am a crazy person and like to get everything done, colour-coded, duplicated, and filed about a million days before it actually needs doing.

So, here we have the next stage:



I've managed to make a start on all of the forms (and pretty much finish five of them). The other two need Ben (the I-864) and possibly another US sponsor to be completed, to ensure I don't become a financial burden to the country, and the I-693 has to be filled in and signed by a civil surgeon. As I have already had my medical back in the UK, this just involves having my vaccination record checked and signed off. I have to pay for the privilege, but I am getting used to the random costs that we incur throughout this process, so it's hardly a surprise! You should shop around for an affordable surgeon to do the honours, as - due to the nature of private medical care, I am guessing - it is entirely possible that a practice will insist on their own "medical" before signing off the I-693, justified by their individual policy (which, unsurprisingly, results in more money for them - colour me cynical, but seriously?! It's SIGNING a piece of paper that has already been approved by a US Embassy verified doctor in the UK, and filling in a few boxes. I don't need another blood test/full health screen/lifestyle interview to ensure nothing has changed in the last three months due to so-called "medical ethics" that somehow add to the money pot, courtesy of yours truly's purse), that can result in incurring anything between $100 and $300 in getting it all signed off. You should be looking at $50 tops, plus any vaccinations you might need if your record is incomplete. My appointment is costing $35. 

Rant over! Once the forms are complete, and I get used to signing my new name with a more confident flourish, we can get them all sent off next week, and then sit back and wait. All being well, I should get my EAD (Employment Authorisation Document - from form I-765; item #15 on the list) and AP (Advanced Parole, to allow me to travel in the event of an emergency) in 2-3 months, so I can start doing paid work - if I can find a job - and then the biometrics and interview appointments shouldn't be too much longer after that. And then, green card! Fingers crossed... 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Our happily ever after

I am sat watching my husband - hee! - playing tug-of-war with Ender (our dog) and the toy frog that he (Ender) is very fond of, thinking how lucky and happy I am. I am also sat in my pyjamas, which have been my outfit of choice all day, due to a total systems failure after a week of wedding festivities and family frivolity. I have not been too well today, but no matter, we are now a full-blown husband-and-wife team, official both ceremonially and on paper, and are joyful even when I look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards. That's what love is. Or part of it, anyway.

On the day itself, though, both of us were looking pretty spiffy. Ben was in his gorgeous suit, shiny new tie, and with newly man-scaped beard. I had spent the morning being thoroughly pampered by Ben's cousin's fiancé, Johnny, who made my hair look like something out of Cinderella (or A Cinderella Story, to be precise), along with making the whole thing fun and light-hearted (despite not being nervous as such, I was somewhat... highly strung?!), and sorting out all of the styles for my sisters-in-law, too. Our friend Elizabeth came along to do my nails, and Wren, my brother's wife, helped me into my dress - a fun affair resulting in me getting stuck with my arms flailing out the top at one point! I am nothing if not elegant.

Some married friends and acquaintances have told me that they don't remember their wedding day, or at least the ceremony. I think I remember quite a bit. I remember feeling manic and nervy until about 5 minutes before the ceremony. I remember we played some awesome music, and that Johnny was pleased that we had Blondie on one playlist. I remember wanting some space from all the getting ready noise in the dressing room, and hiding in the bathroom for almost ten minutes, taking my time to "clean my teeth" before returning to the main room in time to don the dress. I remember feeling uncomfortably under-dressed and a bit ridiculous in the moments before the dress made its way over my head, as I was stood in heels, underwear and wearing a tiara, fully made up with awesome hair and nails, in a room full of people. It was strange and a bit disconcerting! I remember how kind everyone was; checking in on what was needed, bringing us drinks, asking people to come to see us (I couldn't leave the room as Ben was at the venue, and we were trying to ensure we didn't see each other before the ceremony - about the only tradition we kept to!), and their general joy and sweetness. I remember how I asked for my parents to come in and see me before we went out, as we'd had no time together that morning really, and how happy it made me to share that moment with them. I remember being told it was time to go outside and get started. I remember feeling much, much happier once I was chatting with my Dad, and pleased to know that he enjoyed the music we'd chosen for the bridal party to walk to. I remember laughing and trying to walk slowly with Dad down the pathway to the gazebo and towards Ben. I was practically running, I think.

Ben and Steven, waiting for our arrival
Dad walking me down the aisle to Ben

And then I remember getting there. Dad "handed" me to Ben, asking him to take care of me, and sat down next to Mum in the front row. Then Ben and I stepped down to the bottom of the front steps to the gazebo, and turned to face where Steven (our officiant) would soon conduct the ceremony, until 'Arithmetic' came to an end. We talked, we laughed, we almost kissed (but didn't!), and I felt nothing but overwhelming happiness, looking at a man who is, was, and always will be, without doubt, the one man I truly love.

The ceremony itself was blissful. The sun shone; happiness radiated; the light was magical. I remember the feeling of warmth and a surreal but nevertheless believable sense of how utterly wonderful this day was, what it meant, for us. The ceremony was entirely of our own scripting - Ben and I wanted a secular ceremony, as we are both atheists, and we wanted something personal to us that also honoured the non-religious but nevertheless traditional aspects of the marriage ceremony - and we included two readings. The first, an excerpt from a Roland Barthes' 'A Lover's Discourse', was read by my dear friend Tim, who flew over from the UK to be with us for our wedding weekend. The second was read by my brother, and is a favourite sonnet of both me and Ben, written by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It's actually called 'I Do Not Love You', which probably sounds a little odd, but it speaks to the necessity, inevitability, and simplicity that being really in love entails.

After the readings, we declared our intentions, read our own vows (we both wrote them together, but separately), Steven blessed the rings, and then, after placing them on each other's ring fingers with the words, "With this ring, I thee wed", we were officially Mr. & Mrs. Lloyd. I'm lost for words again now - I remember feeling giddy and like it still wasn't quite all real - but I have to say, we did well with the first kiss. I think if you get heckled, you know you're doing it right.

You may now STOP kissing the bride. Whenever you're ready.

The rest of the day consisted of smiles. Everywhere. We were surrounded by gorgeous people who we love and love us; we were blessed with a warm, sunny day (in December!); we had an entire 12 hours of food, music, dancing, toasts, hugs, chats, wine; we had the most wonderful wife-and-husband photographers in Spanglish Studios; and we were also surprised by an alternative ceremony at our evening reception venue, The Wine Vault (officiated by the awesome Cassie, clad in wizard robe and hat), as well as our car and apartment having been glitter-bombed while we were out celebrating. Utter, utter joy. We are so lucky.

Photo by Spanglish Studios
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Monday, 5 December 2011

Mr. & Mrs. Lloyd

Too happy and giddy and busy right now to write properly about our wonderful wedding day, but here is a photo of us (courtesy of a wonderful friend's phone!) just after being pronounced man and wife. Eeeeee!


December 3rd, 2011.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Tomorrow...

After a wonderful few days with family, in-laws meeting, and time with friends, we are now about to be married. Tomorrow. Eeeee!