A little Chi-Sick

In the past month we’ve met three new families that have moved to Birmingham from the U.S. and it has caused me to reflect on our first few months of living here. I was fairly homesick for the first two or three months for city and friends we had just left. Now, even though there’s lots of time before we do move back, I sometimes like to enjoy the nostalgia I have for the time we spent in Chicago.

Check out this awesome time-lapse video of Chi-town.

Or this post from a friend about Chicago neighbors.

And any of these (1, 2, 3, +) instagrams from this fabulous photographer.

It’s not easy to admit to myself that it will be equally difficult and painful to leave Birmingham next year. I just won’t think about it until the time comes…

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1 Year in Lists

We made it to and just past our one year mark of living here. Wow. I took some time to go back and read what I wrote on the blog when we were first here, and I’m happy to report that life is much smoother now and we’ve learned so very much in the past year. I sort of feel badly for my past self and how overwhelmed I was! However, going through some of that was a necessary evil in order to get us to where we are now. Anyway, we took some time to sit down and list a few things we’ve learned over the past year.
IMG_8109Get ready for a monster post. I see this as a good thing though – it means we’ve learned and grown and that living here has been worth all the initial stress.

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Easter in England (and Wales)

I love Easter and springtime! Who doesn’t? I also love that since Easter is a more important holiday to this country Derek had both the Friday before and the Monday after off of work. Friday we took off towards Wales.
IMG_0005We stopped at Tintern Abbey on our way. We’ve seen a lot abbeys lately, but I was interested to this one because of this pin I found right after we moved here.
IMG_0010IMG_0023Derek was really excited to find some original (medieval!) stained glass.
We drove farther into Wales to Cardiff, where we stayed the night and saw the castle.
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IKEA Marriage Therapy

Sorry we’ve been MIA lately. We moved from temporary housing into our apartment two and a half weeks ago. Our new place is “part furnished” which means there were couches, beds, and dressers, but not much else. The primary work of furnishing and filling up the apartment with kitchen goods (meaning food as well as dishes, cutlery, pots, pans, etc.), linens, and everything else we need to turn this place into our home has fallen to me as Derek is busy working to pay for said home. There is, thankfully, a store nearby that carries some household things (rubber gloves, mops, clothes hangers) but I can only buy as much as I can take home with me in L’s stroller. Yesterday I did a big shopping trip to a store that’s about a mile away, but much better priced than one that’s only half a mile away. When Derek and I were discussing how I got the groceries home he suggested hanging a bag off of the stroller handle. I had. And I was carrying two shoulder bags, and the underneath section of the stroller was full to the brim. “Oh you must have been quite a sight.” haha It’s nothing new, really.

Last weekend we rented a van and drove out to IKEA. This included a little bit of stress in advance – what if the van only has 2 seats? Do I wear L in the moby while we drive there? Will that be okay? Can you (Derek) drive on the left side of the road? How comfortable are you with stick shift?

IMAG0030There were 3 seats so she was in a car seat (whew!) even if she was in the front, Derek was great with driving on the left, and fine with the shifting gears. And boy did we filled up that van. At least now we have a dining table, a crib, duvets (warmth!), kitchen goods (pots, pans, etc) all which allow us to feel so much more at home!
I wasn’t kidding when I said we bought a lot:
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The day after our big IKEA trip we spent a good chunk of time putting things together, as is the norm with IKEA.  While Derek and I were putting together our home we decided that working together as a team is kind of like a marriage therapy exercise. (If you’re a NBC/Tina Fey fan – Liz Lemon has her own theory about IKEA shopping and relationships). You have the same goal as each other, each of you have different strengths, and ultimately you have to figure out how to use your strengths to compensate for the other’s, um… non-strengths to succeed. And in time, once the goal is accomplished, or the table is built, or the curtains are hung, you are proud of what you’ve done together. Too cheesy? okay. (Side note: After re-reading this, my theory is similar to Liz Lemon’s in that the table has become a metaphor for our relationship. Ah blerg!)

I’ve also been MIA because it has taken us a while to finish setting up some things like internet, phones, electricity, etc. BUT our WiFi is up and running (we’re no longer in the stone age…) and I think the majority of our to-dos have been checked!

So Happy 4th of July to all of you! We’ll be having a mini barbecue tonight with just the three of us and then getting together with another expat and her family to celebrate this weekend. And to those who are sweltering  in 100+ degree weather- I hope it brings you a little solace to know that, at least for today, I’m a bit jealous.IMG_5163

[The last fireworks we saw from the window of our apartment in Chi-town]

New City, New System

I wrote this post after some rather disappointing and un-productinve apartment viewings, but I have a few tomorrow that seem promising. We really are getting along quite well overall!

We’ve been here less than a week and we both have had several moments of feeling  overwhelmed. I have lived internationally before – once when I was 13 for 4 months in Paris with my brother’s family and again when I did a study abroad myself for 2 months as a college student, also in Paris. But both of those times I wasn’t in charge of anything, really. My housing was taken care of for me, the study abroad program provided cell phones for each set of roommates, and I was able and content to structure my days, but not much else. Derek and I have been busy finding housing and cell phones, getting the lay of the land, and adjusting not only ourselves to a new culture, new city, new system, & new time zone, but our daughter too.IMG_5229

New System:
Cell Phones – plans are cheaper, and phones are widely available, but we’ve run into a few momentarily frustrating hang-ups. Our US phones will take a UK sim card (great! we thought) so we bought one, but then found out that the US phone would have to be unlocked. However, when we took it to be unlocked we were told it couldn’t be… We bought a UK phone.
The plans seem straightforward and we know what we want, but we can’t get a plan set up until we have a UK debit card. We can’t get a UK debit card until the bank sends us one, and who knows when that will be – we’ve been working on setting up the bank account for what seems like more than a month. We have an account number, but no card as of yet. I was amused by the EE (mobile phone company) guy who when he found out we didn’t yet have a card said, “Oh, it’ll be very difficult to set up a plan without a card.” Me, “How difficult?” Him, “Very difficult.” Me, “Do you mean difficult, or impossible?” Him, “Very difficult. I can’t set up a plan without your debit card.” That sounds like impossible to me. Enter the pay-(cash)-as-you-go sim card and inexpensive phone. Although as a plus we’re planning on hanging on to that phone so our visitors (you) will have one to use when they (you) come!

Grocery Shopping – Typically when I go shopping for our family there aren’t many surprises. I go to one of two or three stores, and I know what I’m going to get. I don’t have to make any new decisions on brands or sizes of food unless I want to. I know and understand what is priced well and what isn’t with a simple glance at the posted price, and I’m happy to make a few random decisions on produce (what’s in season, do I want this organic) and the like. Not so anymore! It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I have felt fairly overwhelmed (I know, I need a new word – boggled, bewildered, steamrollered?) the few times we’ve been shopping. Every single item I buy is a brand new decision and I have to make those decisions during my window of happy baby time. Do I want the generic brand, or what looks like a name brand? Do I care that it costs £3 rather than £2? How much is £3 again? (kidding…mostly). Will we eat that much cheese by the time we’re out of our temporary housing? (Of course we will). Do I have enough cash? Can I carry that home? (Until we get a car there’s really only one store that is decently sized within easy walking distance).

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Some other random differences: Almost all apartments have at least a washing machine if not a combo washer/dryer (hooray!). Most bathtubs don’t have a curtain or sliding doors, but a glass ‘shower screen’ that doesn’t cover the whole tub. I’m not a fan, especially as I’m the one in our family that mops up water on the bathroom floor. There is some use of the metric system (Celsius temperatures, purchase produce in kilos), but it’s not exclusive (they use mph when driving, pounds and ounces in cooking, and for some reason cheese is labeled in either pounds or kilos, depending on the brand).

Little L is fascinated by our combo washer/dryer.

Little L is fascinated by our combo washer/dryer.

Then there are also the obvious differences – the accent, terminology, and driving on the left.

New City:
When we moved to Logan Square in Chicago in 2009 we weren’t very picky about our neighborhood. But when we moved back to the city in 2010 we were much pickier, had a friend helping us find housing, had a higher budget (one of us actually had a long-term, full-time job for a change), and we had been there before so we had a better idea of what we wanted. No such luxuries (well, besides the job part) here. We thought we wanted to live in the city center, but I have looked at quite a few apartments, and almost all of them seem to be bordering a sketch-tastic part of the city. Across the street from a Tavern, next to social housing, close to a big road with gentlemen’s’ clubs…no thank you. All of these places look lovely online and that’s even with google street view. But when I get there I can tell I won’t feel fully comfortable walking around.  As Derek has started work and as our temporary housing does have a deadline, I have the responsibility of finding our flat. Hence feeling somewhat overwhelmed. If you feel the need to cross your fingers, say a prayer, wish me luck, or whatever it is you do, you are welcome to do so. The hard thing is that we would probably be fine in most of the places I’ve seen, but I want to be happy and safe, not just fine. That’s fair, right?

In the majority of the cities I have lived in before there is something by way of a grid for the streets, or at least an structured system. Even though we have walked all over the city center I have yet to discover the system here.  I think being grid-less would be fine if all of the maps were reliable and the same. The other day I was trying to find our way on a map in my hand while referencing a posted you-are-here map and I was having a hard time, particularly once I realized that the maps had streets and canals in totally different places! And I know I was looking at the right areas! Paris may not be on a true grid, but at least if you have a Paris Pratique you can trust it to be correct! With that being said, however, we have happened upon some lovely views in our wanderings:
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IMG_5253Enough negativity.
We’ve picked up a few pamphlets for nearby things to see – and there is so much within less than an hour’s drive! Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s home), Cadbury World, Kenilworth Castle, and more. I know once we get settled in we will be able to appreciate where we are. Also, as a bonus, all of Birmingham’s museums are free!

Image of Kenilworth Castle from the English Heritage Website

Some other positivity:
I’m so glad I brought our stroller (or buggy, push-chair, or pram if you’d rather we use some britishisms). I was concerned that other moms would exclusively have little umbrella strollers, but we are not at all out of place with our sturdy/cobblestone-taking/big-wheeled stroller.
I’m grateful there is decent public transit here. I do think we’ll be getting a car, but if that was on our to-do list this week I would cry.
I’ve already met a few other moms mums with kids that have made me feel so welcome. It’s a blessing.

Officially an Expat

It’s true. We have jumped the pond.
We left Chicago yesterday afternoon, and have made it all the way to Birmingham. Last minute things in Chicago were absolutely crazy to the point that we were the last people to board our flight. So much for all of my advance planning. We had a lifesaver of a friend come to our aid and ensure that we made it to the airport…with all of our luggage.IMG_5192

The flights went fine – I’ll post more about traveling with a baby soon, but this is how [thankfully] some of it went:IMG_5190We’ve taken a preliminary walk around the city, and I’ve realized that I had very little expectations about Birmingham itself, other than it would be a city (check), British (check), and probably rainy (unfortunately check). I have done a little reading about it, but that was actually ages ago so I only vaguely remember some of the highlights.

After we got in, took a nap, and put on a fresh coat of paint mascara, we strolled around a bit. First thoughts about the city:
Very Amsterdam-ish feel (the first place we explored was some of the canals)
028The city goes back and forth between very modern buildings
IMG_5196 and more quintessential European Buildings/pedestrian streets/squares.
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Stay tuned! We have lots to learn and do in the next few days weeks months.

Canals photo source, Victoria Square source.

Craigslist

Dear Craigslist,
Thanks for existing.
Sincerely,
A young couple moving overseas

But seriously. As we have to pay out of our own pocket to store our things while we’re gone, we’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff. Enter craigslist. Thankfully nothing has been too sketchy and the only thing left to that we want to get rid of is our old-school TV, aside from a trunk full of things to go to Salvation Army. Although the TV  may find it’s way there too if craigslist doesn’t pull through on this one.

In other news we’ve nearly finished boxing up our whole lives in preparation for next week.

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