Category Archives: Rule Britannia

North American Expats in England

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? Hah. Haaaaaha. Ha. At least it got me writing a little more frequently, yes? Yes. 
———————————————————————————–

There was a fantastic article posted on Business Insider the other day about the experience of a US Expat living in England.

It is hard.  Just because people speak English, do not be deceived.  It is an utterly alien place from America culturally, and I found (and still find) the adjustments frustrating and I sometimes still get furious from the difficulties.

Some of the Americanisms aren’t really applicable to Canadians (universal health care and parental leave being well-established in Canada, too), but a lot of the other lifestyle differences ring really true.

The material standard of living thing is a big one. Even coming from a place as expensive as Vancouver, we find it quite hard to get ahead, and are overall spending more and saving less than we were previously able to. Frankly, it’s stressful, and not something we’d anticipated.

But oh!

The proximity to London, the prevalence of pub culture, the treasure houses. “And best of all (to me):  the deeply inbuilt intellectualism — world class museums, theatres, concerts, bookshops, lectures everywhere.” Quintuple that when you’re living in Oxford or Cambridge.

Being a Canadian, and used to only our irritating sense of defining ourselves by what we are NOT, in the loud, brash shadow of unrelenting US patriotism, I find the sense of strong, quiet, unquestioning national pride here inspiring.

The whole piece is worth a read, if you want a glimpse of what relocating has been like.

And yes, so far, it’s worth it.

A clash of cultures: Kid-friendly vs. Kid-centric

It’s November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
———————————————————————————–

Oh dear. Not even 10 days in, and I’ve failed to post every day. And my excuse for missing yesterday isn’t even that great: we were at the pub.

We went out for dinner last night with some friends at their local, which is everything a good English pub should be: good food, friendly staff, and a steady stream of regulars of every age.

This is one of the things I really like about the UK. And Europe in general, really. Kids are just accepted as part of life. I remember Maggie at Mighty Girl saying something similar about Barcelona earlier this year.

It’s so different from the ‘Child Friendliness’ cues I remember from Vancouver. Everywhere I’ve been with Isaac in North America, there has been a very overt display of whether a place is “For People With Children Along” or “Totally Unsuitable for Children Period.” The former will always have high chairs, kids’ menus, change tables. If it doesn’t have any of those things, it’s a pretty big signal that children are not welcome. Case in point: I caught wind of a big brouhaha in Vancouver over the Earls High Chair Controversy. My lands, the drama.

Conversely, here, there are certainly a large number of places who offer all the kid-friendly accouterments you could ever wish for, and just as many that don’t, that are equally welcoming to kids. We’ve been to places with absolutely zero indications of kid-friendliness that have been super excellent in terms of interacting with Isaac and serving up a kid-sized meal, and others that have some high-chairs and things, but were clearly waiting for us to finish up quickly and go.

Some pubs and restaurants are more welcoming to families than others. Some say no kids after 6pm, some 9pm, some don’t care. Still others leave it up to your discretion. Nobody’s going to complain about a family with some kids at 6pm on a quiet Tuesday evening, but might give you the stink-eye if you want to bring your noisy brood in at 8pm on a Friday.

I am still often in awe, though, of all the places we see kids and it’s just no big thang.

Last year, Neil and I headed out to one of the Ashmolean’s Live Friday Events. It was interesting, to say the least, to contrast with my experience of similar events or activities in Vancouver

I find things in Vancouver to be very segmented by clique. Activities are attended almost solely by either older, upper-crust patrons of the arts, 20- and 30-somethings without kids (whether they’ve left them at home that night, or don’t have any at all), or families. Very few things cater to, or are attended by, all three, all at once.

At the Ashmolean, in addition to the roving hordes of students (this is a university town after all), I witnessed a number of grey-hairs rocking out to the jump-jazz-calypso band, loads of other adults from 18-80, a number of kids in the 5-15 category, plenty of babes in slings, and at least one toddler dashing about. And everyone was having a fine time.

Alcohol was sold on-premise throughout the event, kids were kept mostly under control by their parents. Anything incredibly precious was behind barriers or glass, but there were plenty of sharp, breakable and otherwise potentially ‘unsafe’ or ‘delicate’ things about that weren’t smashed to smithereens. And as far as I know, nobody or nothing exploded.

It was just, people. All out for an evening’s entertainment.

So, back to last night. The pub was fairly quiet. Isaac was entertained by a combination of the cars and crayons we brought, the staff wandering around with him and plying him with chocolates, and some other girls of about 6 or 7 who thought he was cute and hilarious to parade around.

And the fact that none of that was out of the ordinary is still extraordinary to me.

Swanning About

It’s the first of November. Which means NaBloPoMo. Let’s see what happens when I force myself to blog every day for a month, shall we? 
———————————————————————————–

So here’s a thing I don’t think I would’ve learned had I not moved to the UK:

Swans are AWFUL. 

Not having any practical experience with swans, all I knew was that they’re fair-sized water birds. Generally associated with ideas of beauty and grace and romance. And ballet.

Clearly the people who think these things have zero experience with actual swans.

Swans, at least, the ones I encounter (Mute Swans around here), are MEAN.

Somewhere in the evolutionary process, they lost the ‘flight’ part of the ‘fight or…’ response. Swans are like that drunk guy in the bar at the end of the night who stands in your way because he really wants you to challenge him to a fight. And then, since he also has no sense of self-preservation, will come at you with zero fear and swinging with everything he’s got.

swan

Oh god. RUN!

 

And they are HUGE.

Not Ostrich Huge, but if my 90lb dog were to get into a tussle with one, I’m not sure who would win.

One morning a pair of swans with three cygnets (still fluffy grey, but already the size of geese) were blocking the bike path. There were five of us, fully-grown adults and bicycles, standing there wondering what on earth to do, because we were all too afraid to challenge them to move.

So it could be understandable that I now think of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale an entirely different way…

“…and then the Ugly Duckling grew up and turned into a STUPID, TERRIFYING ASSHOLE which is WAY worse than being ugly, so be careful what you ask for.”

Still a good lesson all around, I’d say.

Daguerreotype

I really hope that whole ‘soul stealing’ aspect of photography isn’t true. Because if it is, I am running awfully thin on spare soul.

I don’t know whether to blame UK bureaucracy (I originally typed ‘bureaucrazy’ there, which seems apt), the general process of moving internationally, or something else entirely, but I am fully and officially fed up with having tiny pictures made.

Every time I need to complete some sort of official process, I need to submit the paperwork with between 1-3 copies of a ‘passport-size’ photo.

It started with our initial settlement visas. Which we renewed our passports for (because having a passport that expired well before the visa did seemed like a recipe for annoyance). Which required another set of photos.

Say CheeseAnd then they took a photo at the document drop-off appointment (hilariously called an ‘interview’), to prove it was us dropping off our documents.

Then came the residence permits. We had to bring in more photos for those. And also have our photos taken at the appointment (for verification? biometrics? good luck? who knows).

Somewhere in there we also had to send passports and a set of tiny photos away for visas to visit India, which I know isn’t part of this, but adds to the general photo-weariness.

Now I need to exchange my BC Driver’s license for a UK one. Which of course means I need to submit ANOTHER set of photos.

In fact, I have had the paperwork for the license exchange sitting on my counter at home for a month. I just haven’t gotten my act together enough to get yet ANOTHER set of tiny photos taken. Every time I think I’ll finally do it, I run out of time in the day, or something else comes up, or I just plain forget when I’m running other errands near the photo place.

Worst of all, I have probably chucked out just as many photos as I’ve submitted, because the photo place that’s nearest only does them in sheets of four, and I never need to send in FOUR, and who needs extra clutter around?

I do, apparently, because along with death and taxes, there is a certainty that at some point soon, SOMEONE ELSE will want a 2″ likeness of my not-shiny-not-obscured-not-smiling face-on-white-background.

Part of it is, I think, the fact that in the UK most of these things are done by mail. With the exception of my Canadian passport, every time I needed an official document card created or renewed in Canada, they took the photo in their office. Here, the civil servants are all conveniently separated from the public by the postal system wherever possible.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure which I prefer – because standing in line at the BC Driver’s licensing office, or in the NEXUS offices, and dealing with disenchanted-slash-power hungry provincial and federal employees is no picnic either.

Nevertheless, I am still annoyed (and photo-less).

I might be less irritated about the whole thing if I hadn’t see how damn easy it was for Neil to get his UK Driver’s License. As a UK Citizen, he filled in a form online, entered his passport number, and the powers that be in the UK Government used that single data point to verify his identity, pull up the one copy of his likeness that they have on file, and 10 days later, he received his official document in the post.

Contrarily, I, who have no fewer than FIVE separate photos of myself drifting around various UK government divisions, still have to fill out a paper form, submit it, along with my BC Driver’s license and my Canadian Passport (which they will hold for up to THIRTY DAYS, DO NOT EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THAT ONE), and of course the required tiny photos, so that I can legally drive in this country again.

I have high hopes that I will actually remember to get out of the office at lunchtime this week sometime and hit up the photo place to get it all sorted. And this time, I’ll keep the spare tiny photos around. Probably guaranteeing I never ever need to submit another photo again.

Can we talk about the SPIDERS!?

England is a really buggy place.

I was surprised at first, but considering the humidity, it’s not really all that shocking. There’s an amazing assortment of creepy crawlies here, 98.5% of which I am totally OK with.

Except all of them seem to want to be in my house. In everyone’s house, really. And who can blame them? Outside, between September and June, is pretty gross.

Truthfully, I’m not even that fussed about the bugs that make it into the house. Sure, I’d rather not have to include ‘vacuuming cobwebs off every godforsaken corner’ in the list of weekly chores, but it’s not actually that big a deal. Most of what we see day to day are the humble woodlouse, daddy long legs spiders (which hardly count as spiders), a species of mosquito that only bites cows, some misguided wasps (which are actually quite bad this year) and the occasional crane fly when we’ve left the windows open too wide at night.

But there is one thing which I CANNOT ABIDE.

THE AWFUL FUCKING TERROR THAT IS THE EUROPEAN HOUSE SPIDER. 

Do not google that.

I told you so.

Please stop screaming.

Apparently we are now into the time of year where they come inside in search of a mate. We have so far had four come out into the open and make themselves known. Scuttling out from dark corners or underneath cabinets.

And they are HUGE. I had to deal with one the other day that was too big to step on – its legspan was bigger than the width of my perfectly average-sized foot. I ended up throwing a magazine on top of it, and then stepping on *that*. Ugh.

I had started to control the awful panic by convincing myself they were confining themselves to the ground floor, until last night. We were up on the first floor watching TV, minding our own non-spidery business, when I saw  movement out of the corner of my eye.

One of those motherfuckers was making a b-line straight across the living room toward us. I screamed and leaped up onto the couch. Neil screamed (because I screamed), spilled his tea, then valiantly bludgeoned the thing to death with my slipper.

Apparently nowhere is safe.

So if you happen to be driving around Oxford, and catch a glimpse through a window of a terrified-looking woman tromping around indoors in welly boots (very effective spider squishers) with a crazed look in her eye, that’d be me. Please send help. And insecticide.

lol-cat-spider-32

The First ExPat-iversary

A year ago. A whole year. We landed with a lot of luggage, a lot of excitement, a few nerves, and some semblance of a plan.

In some ways it feels like we still arrived here yesterday. In others, it feels like it’s always been like this.

So, a year in, what have I learned?

It takes a lot longer to feel settled than I thought it might. What might be considered small bureaucratic accomplishments by a native (like getting a parking permit, or a new banking service) still feel like larger victories.

However, I’m starting to find that hearing a lot of North American accents together is somewhat jarring. And I don’t have an accent myself (yet?), but my speech patterns have changed somewhat. I say ‘yeah’ a lot more than ‘eh’ now. And some pronounciations are being overtaken by the Queen’s English. These days I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to come out when I open my mouth to say ‘tomato.’

We’re doing pretty well in the friends department. Oxford is small, so it’s easy to run into the same people a lot. Having a kid helps, because we get to know parents of other kids. As does having a job and making friends with workmates. But a rare in-person visit with a friend I’ve known for over a decade quickly puts these much fresher friendships into perspective.

It’s hard, really hard, being so far from family.

But there is one thing about being an ExPat, an overarching theme to it all, that I really, really like. And until very recently, I wasn’t sure how to put it into words:

Being an ExPat means being free to forge a new path.

When we arrived here, one thing I really liked was the perception I had that more people work-to-live than live-to-work. The English, I thought, have a much healthier attitude toward their careers. I have a friend here who spent a year living near Toronto, and thought exactly the same thing about Canadians!

It seems to be less about the attitude of a country’s people toward life, than the type of people you end up exposed to as an ExPat, and your experience of seeing the world without the lens of their cultural history and expectations.

And the same thing happens to the way people see you. Natives don’t expect you will have the same background, goals, or priorities they do, since you are not one of them.

At the same time, nobody from ‘back home’ expects you to live the same way anymore, because you are no longer there.

It’s a total opting-out of the rat race. Of the competitive parenting. Of keeping up with the Joneses.

Oh, we still cause people’s eyes to bug out of their heads occasionally, when saying things like “well, if we don’t end up living in that catchment, we’ll be ok. It’s only primary school.” Except the eye-bug is more one of ‘Wacky Canadians’ rather than ‘Terrible Parents’ (which is what many of those who aren’t ultimately consumed by where their kindergarteners end up are labelled).

There are still things I miss about Vancouver. Top of the list is that network of family and friends, of course. But I also find myself longing for the beaches and mountains in a way that surprises me. I miss North American pizza, great cheap sushi, and bread that doesn’t disintegrate if you wave some butter near it.

But I am finding new things here. Not replacements for the life we built before going, but additions to it. A proper cup of tea. Bacon sandwiches. Pub culture. Beautiful old treasure houses. The network of rivers and canals. The ever-present sense of English ‘fair play.’ New friends.

All things that I’m discovering I’m going to miss whenever the time comes that we move on.

Happy ExPativersary to Us!

As of July 12th, we’ve been in the UK a year – a whole year!

It has really flown by.

mixedflag

Image from mixedflag.com. I think I need this on a t-shirt.

I have so many more words to say about it, but between a crazy quick trip to Vancouver earlier this month (a surprise for my dad’s 60th birthday) and moving house (argh!), time to extract them from my brain through my fingers to the keyboard has been in short supply.

But! If you are on the twitters, you can follow @PeopleofCanada this week, where I’m curating the account and sharing snippets of life as a Canadian ExPat in the UK.

Life List: Learn to drive a manual transmission – Check!

It’s been slow-going, including some active avoidance of all driving on my part, but I think I am finally confident enough to cross “Learn to drive a manual transmission car” off the life list!

I am not currently going to win any races, but with Neil out of town for a few days (leaving the car sat in our parking spot), and the weather taking another turn for the miserable, the temptation to take 4, enclosed wheels, rather than my usual 2 exposed ones to work was too strong!

Not a lot has changed since last August, when I complained about my reluctance and terror. Except, after a few more lessons, and a lot more time as a passenger here, getting more opportunities to observe the rules of the road, I feel like I know a little more about what to expect from other road users.

And, more importantly, I feel a lot more confident about what to expect from my car.

One thing I didn’t expect from the driving lessons was that it would make driving my own car a lot more difficult. The instructor’s car has a well-used, incredibly mushy clutch. Great for learning on, when one has a hojillion other things to think about.

Less good, when trying to drive a car with a much tighter gearbox, which ours has. It was stall-city. And at one point I found myself trying to enter a busy mini-roundabout from a slight incline, and could just not manage to move off.

At which point I threw a complete snit, made Neil hop out of the passenger seat and complete the journey himself, and refused to drive our car anymore out of nothing but frustration and spite.

But, one hectic day, I ended up having to drive the car to a job interview when I ran out of time to call a cab. And then again to running group. And then I willingly took it on a few more errands.

Which brings us to this week. I drove to and from work (including nursery dropoff for Isaac), which means navigating left and right turns, a few hills, and a clutch-tastic creep across town in heavy commuter traffic.

And I made it. Mostly confidently. Stopping on a hill still results in looking like a bit of an idiot with my high revs and heavy clutching. I still lurch wildly on occasion. But I’m not stalling. And I even pulled my shoulders down from around my ears long enough to turn on the radio at one point.

I’m not what you’d call graceful in my maneuvering, but I am remembering how much I really love to drive.

So I’m calling this one a win!

Silver 2009 5-door Ford Focus

Hello, friend.

Winds of Change

With all the griping I did about our move, you would think I do not like change.

This is not true. I like it a lot. Perhaps too much. I am rarely content to leave well enough alone. I just prefer when I’m the one initiating it, rather than having it imposed upon me.

So after a bit of a yell and a bit of a cry about the unfairness of the world, etc. we picked ourselves up and got on with it. Saturday morning we headed down to the property management office, and by Saturday afternoon we were viewing a property right around the corner. Monday morning we had an accepted tenancy application. We move in on July 11th.

One thing that’s been made really obvious on this ExPat adventure is how much change there is in the world. Without the usual, familiar anchors of neighbourhoods we know like the back of our hand, social systems we’ve been navigating all our lives, long-known friends & family nearby, a house we don’t have to move out of until we decide to, or jobs we’ve been in for a long time, we feel all the other little changes quite a bit more keenly.

Basically, we are coming to realize that we can’t actually count on anything staying as it is.

New friends come and go as people move in and out of our jobs/daycare/neighbourhood/city. Businesses we have come to rely on & enjoy close, or change owners, and we need to find new ones. Landlords adapt to the changes in their own lives, which trickles down to ours. The constant ebb and flow of bureaucratic processes surge in and out, interrupting and changing our plans as we weave our way through our dealings with government offices and institutions.

It’s actually kindof amazing to ride the rollercoaster of emotion that comes with each change. Sadness and disappointment are keen, but tempered by knowing that they’ll pass. And in contrast, joy and excitement are so much sweeter, and really relished, knowing that they could be fleeting.

With each change, we learn a little more, broaden our horizons, gain a bit of wisdom, grow a bit more resilient.

And wait for the next wave to crash.

Wind Of Change – Scorpions – Official Music Video from Chito Mañosca Francisco on Vimeo.

On the Move

Just last week we were talking about how gloriously happy we were in our current place. Great space, lovely neighbours, excellent location. So of course, we received a call today that the landlord wants to move back in, and won’t be renewing our tenancy when it expires on 31 July.

Fuck.

We have just shy of three months to find a new place. It’s not impossible, but it’s going to be very hard to find a place in our budget that gives us the space and location we love about our current digs. This is exactly the kind of thing I was worried about when we jumped on the renting bandwagon.

Not that purchasing a place is really possible for us right now anyhow.

As soon as we got the news, in an effort to not be unceremoniously punted out of our next place (and the one after that?), we called the bank to ask about buying. And being new to the UK has burned us again. I can not apply for a mortgage without being a permanent resident (known here as having Indefinite Leave to Remain – ILR). That’s in the process, but certainly won’t be done by the time we need to move. So we’d have to qualify on Neil’s salary alone. That doesn’t leave us much to work with in this neighbourhood.

It’s just another of the ways I’m feeling particularly screwed by the immigration process lately.

I am mired in the procedure and bureaucracy of the arduous processes to get a driver’s license, because they need to take my passport for a month to verify my identity. Unfortunately, the UKBA Home Office has it for the 6 months they take to process ILR applications.

I have basically given up on the idea of getting a credit card in my own name (I am currently a secondary cardholder on Neil’s), because I do not know a bank officer, doctor, postmaster or chartered accountant who lives in the UK, has known me for two years, and will sign a certified copy of my passport swearing that I am who I say I am for the anti-money-laundering regulations.

And, immigration-wise, we have it relatively easy. Neil is a UK citizen, so he has fewer hoops to jump through to get a driver’s license (though he does still have to pass a road test on a manual transmission). His company set up a bank account and credit card, so we’re ok on that front. He did have a hard time getting a national insurance number, though.

We’re even moving faster than most on the whole ILR thing; we coincidentally received my and Isaac’s visa just a couple weeks before they changed the rules, so it means we do not have to serve the mandatory waiting period (used to be 2, just changed to 5 years) before even applying for settlement.

I do not know how other people get through that period, to be honest.

I don’t even have a lot of the barriers many other immigrants do of coming from a totally different culture or language. I don’t look or dress like I’m ‘from somewhere else.’ We are allowed to drive here for a full 12 months on our Canadian licenses, and can exchange them for UK ones, even if it is only for automatic transmissions. Nobody recognizes my university or my degree, but I am at least able to practice my profession here (unlike foreign-trained doctors, etc.) Hell, I’m even allowed to vote here (thanks, commonwealth!) But just when I feel like I’m fitting in and settling down, I keep running into these roadblocks that make me feel like a second-class citizen.

The things I worked for, achieved, or had earned in Vancouver mean nothing here. No credit history, no reputation. Nobody cares. I am an unknown, and generally not to be trusted. It all feels profoundly unfair.

“Starting over” sounds aspirational and romantic. Mostly, it’s a logistical nightmare.

I have so much empathy now for anyone who makes a much bigger leap than we have, to begin a new life in a new place.

Anyhow, having this rental rug pulled out from under us, when it was one of the only things I was feeling really good and confident about, is hard. Really hard. Making me question why we ever bothered coming here hard. Making me want to cut our months of time and thousands of dollars in losses and just get out hard.

But I have never been one to do things the easy way.

And so we plod on.

Six years later

It’s grey here today. Exceedingly grey. And cold.

And there is nothing like reminders from Timehop about the fact that this time one year ago, I was in Cuba, and two years before that, in Thailand, to make me feel extra grumbly about the grey and cold.

So I scrolled further back in the past, and whaddya know, it was six years ago today that we were in Oxford. My first trip here.

Oxford's Bridge of Sighs

Six years ago, Neil and I were engaged, and planning to move into our condo in Kits (which wouldn’t actually be completed for an additional 6 months). There was still no plan or idea of Isaac. The dog didn’t have a hint of grey in her now salt-&-pepper muzzle.

Neil didn’t yet have a UK passport, and wouldn’t for another 4-ish years. Moving abroad wasn’t anywhere on the radar. Heck, I had barely traveled anywhere at all before that year.

And yet, there was something about our visit. Something that sparked the idea of moving abroad at some point. Something that made us think, as we wandered around the city, that maybe one day we could live here.

It wasn’t so much about Oxford, as just going somewhere Other Than where we were. Making our world a little bigger than it had been. It became a gauge by which we’d categorize all trips we’d take: interesting, but could I live here?

View from the Tower

It was six years ago that we ventured the furthest from the hotel we’d gone, into another neighbourhood via a narrow street lit by bare overhead bulbs. Where we turned right, onto a street anchored by the iconic Oxford University Press and full of interesting looking boutiques and eateries. Where we looked up one of the side streets and saw the bright streak of pastel row houses, and I said “if we ended up in an area like this, I could totally live here.”

It was six years ago that I stepped into the road to take the photo currently used in the blog header.

Neighbourhood and street names long-since forgotten, we found ourselves actually moving to Oxford. And against all odds ended up moving to that neighbourhood. I only recognized it because of the pastel row-houses, and had to dig out the picture to be really sure. They are the same houses. Observatory Street.

And we found them, via Walton Street in Jericho, by heading down Little Clarendon street, illuminated at night by bare bulbs strung across the street. Now our regular stomping ground, but feeling eerily familiar, in a dream-like way, from having seen them so many years ago.

Six years ago it happened to be sunny this week. Uncharacteristically so. Except for that one day in Henley-upon-Thames when it was so rainy and windy that my umbrella blew inside-out and practically tied itself in a knot. And the river was flooded that year, just as it is now.

But that little blast-from-the-past now has me thinking a lot less about today’s cold and grey, and about the immense amount of adventure the past 6 years have held. And how absolutely clueless about it all I was back then.

And I’m wondering what, or where, on earth I’ll see in another six years.

Tea-mendous

Moving house can often lead you to see your possessions in a new light.

Especially when you have packed in a hurry, without making much effort to thin your piles of stuff before beginning. And are then distanced from that stuff for half a year.

Because who the hell brings tea (from the new world, at that) to England?

Us, apparently.

Amber just posted round two of her Tea Stash Challenge, which reminded me how overwhelmed and somewhat incredulous I feel every time I look at the shelf containing all our tea.

Tea Shelf

It doesn’t look too bad, until you unpack it all onto the kitchen counter:

Photo 1

There are multiples of different types of tea, thanks to my old work-desk stash making its way back home, some tea gifts, and impulse purchases of various lemon/ginger-type blends bought on a whim when I’ve felt sick. There are random bags and samples I’ve picked up along the way. There are tins from at least two tea shops that have gone out of business.

The small green tins down the right side are all leftover wedding favours (we gifted tiny tins of mint tea, to tie in with our Moroccan honeymoon) from nearly five (!) years ago, and the large tupperware on the left is Moroccan mint tea, bought on said honeymoon.

Does tea even last that long?

Honourable mentions go to two tins of drinking chocolate, a box of spiced cider sachets, and a couple orphan packs of Starbucks VIA coffee; also on the shelf, but not pictured, since they’re not tea.

Of course, the tea that actually gets used is the box of standard PG Tips, going through a pot or two a day. Runner-up is the loose or bagged Rooibos, for when I’m feeling overcaffeinated.

I would never describe myself as a “tea fiend,” but I clearly have some sort of tea hoarding issue.

It’s obviously time to start introducing some variety into my daily cuppa, or bin the lot and reclaim a shelf.

Are you a tea fiend and/or unintentional hoarder? Do share!

Show me Your Tea Stash at Strocel.com

2013: a little more conversation, a little more action.

I was going to go for a run today. Instead, I am watching the “fitness” app on my TV update. And will then proceed to do nothing about it once it has. I’m really just curious about the app, not interested in exercising right this moment.

That is very much 2012 speaking.

I took a glance at my resolutions at the beginning of 2012, and had to laugh about how irrelevant they are, considering where we ended the year. But, scanning through what little I’ve blogged in 2012, and reflecting on the year I’ve just had, I definitely have a resolution for 2013: Lean In.

I feel like I have been hanging back for a while. Carrying around a bunch of baggage. Nothing big on its own, but enough pieces that, combined, I’ve let slow me with their weight.

So in 2013 I’m resolving to lighten that load.

Moving abroad has made one thing crystal clear to me: I need to DO more. To lean in. To “Ship.”

I feel like I’ve had ideas about things like connecting with friends, making new friends, and finishing stagnant projects for a couple years. I’ve been telling myself that when things “settle down” I’ll have time for all these. Time to do them properly.

Therein lies the error of my ways. Things do not “settle down.” And in the meantime, I’m a continent and an ocean (in either direction) away from friends and family who don’t often hear from me, and I continue to unpack projects that I need to either do or dump. It would also probably do me well to get over myself and ask one of the casual acquaintances I’ve made over for tea.

It all sums up to dropping the baggage and quit waiting for everything to be just right before I send an old friend a note, or ask a new friend to tea, or take the next step in a project, or do something about getting up off my ass with that fitness app. To stop worrying about perfection, and do it anyhow.

So, here’s to 2013. Let’s do this thing.

Home for the Holidays

I’ve always wondered what it’s like for people who take trips “home” for the holidays. When they live somewhere either away from family or the place they’re from, and make their way back to that place at Christmas time.

Now I know.

And it’s simultaneously very nice and very strange.

First of all, I have been trying not to refer to Vancouver as “home” anymore.

Not only does it make it harder to really lean in to our experience in Oxford, conjuring up bouts of melancholy homesickness, but “home” as we knew it in Vancouver doesn’t exist anymore. While we have family and friends here, and enjoy being surrounded by some of the places and things we left behind, our life in Vancouver (the place we lived, the jobs we had) doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t truly go “home” that way.

It’s been really excellent to spend time with friends and family, but there’s also a tinge of detachment overhanging it. The experience is temporary. The gang’s all here, but most members are making plans for next week when the status quo returns; we’ll be gone again.

This all sounds quite melancholy, but it isn’t, really.

It’s (so far) exciting to pack up and head out on another trip. To share the holiday experience of returning “home” with airports full of others.

It makes the experience of spending time with those friends and family sweeter, more intense. I find myself being much more present with friends & family now, because chances to spend quality time with them are fewer and further between.

It solidifies which traditions are really important and worth preserving, despite the challenges of timing, weather, and distance.

It makes it very obvious that as much as so many other things have changed over the years, others stay predictably, comfortingly, blissfully the same.

Santa

Even Jetlag is no match for Santa