Saturday, 24 March 2012

RFE packet delivered!

Not got the official receipt text/email from USCIS yet, but the USPS website confirms that the packet of documents for the AOS RFE was delivered just after 5PM yesterday. Yay!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Winning at requests for evidence

In the latest of instalment of our immigration/visa/green card journey (or what I am starting to regard as the bureaucratic endeavour to destroy as many forests as humanly possible), I have just finished packaging up the documentation for our RFE. When we sent off the I-485 (adjustment of status form) back in December, we were pretty confident that we had included everything we needed to in order to ensure the smooth processing of my green card application (which also includes my employment authorisation and travel document, the latter of which allows me to leave the country legally without jeopardising my residency status). When we had confirmation of receipt less than a week later, and then a letter detailing my imminent biometrics appointment, we were even more reassured that we were in the home stretch.


Three weeks ago we received a letter which contained not one but FOUR requests for evidence (RFE). Each one, written on delightful pink paper, had a list of documents that were required to fulfil each category of "missing" information.

I'm actually not too cross about the whole thing. I've been stressed out about it, as obtaining a few of the documents has taken a while (proof of future employment prospects (for Ben)? So, we need to ensure we have proof that he isn't getting laid off any time soon... right), and I like to be expeditious when it comes to any USCIS business. But I haven't become angry or upset about the requirements. Like the dog that accepts his fate, I have learned to be (somewhat) helpless when it comes to jumping through immigration hoops. It just has to be done, and there's nothing more to say than that.

Dutifully, then, I spent this morning writing a cover letter detailing ALL THE THINGS that needed to be included in the packet of documents to be sent back to the USCIS, and then organising ALL THE THINGS thus:

Letter 1 of 4

1.       Supporting tax documentation submitted to the IRS from the petitioner on Form I-864 for the most recent tax year. Two separate W-2s; one for each place of employment.
2.       Proof that the household member on Form I-864 was/is authorized to work in the United States.  A copy of the biographical information page of the US passport.

Letter 2 of 4

3.       Petitioner’s Federal Income Tax return for the most recent tax year. 
4.      Petitioner’s supporting documents for the most recent tax year. Copy of two separate W-2s.

Letter 3 of 4

5.       Proof of current employment and income
a.       Letter from petitioner petitioner re: future employment.
b.      Letter from  petitioner ’s manager confirming his dates of employment, detailing hours worked, and confirming prospects for future employment.
c.       5 pay stubs from place of employment #1
d.      6 months of pay stubs from place of employment #2
e.      Copy of two separate W2s

Letter 4 of 4

6.       Evidence of assets that confirm petitioner meets 125% of federal poverty line
a.       Bank statements for petitioner covering the last 12 months
b.      Evidence of ownership of property. 
                                                               i.      Copy of settlement statement (HUD-1) showing value of property, date acquired, and purchase method.
                                                             ii.      Copy of warranty deed for property, showing that petitioner and applicant own the house together.

This is actually a helpful process for several reasons: firstly it allows me to make sure my brain is fully aware of what is required; secondly it ensures that whoever reads it knows how the documents are organised; and thirdly, I can use the letter as the main check list before sealing the envelope.  

Once everything has been organised and double-checked, I then scan it. All of it. By this point, I am usually flagging. The initial determination and energy I experienced while organising papers and filling the envelope has deteriorated into a petulant whine about how I want to be done already.

It's necessary though; to not have our own back up copy of everything we send would be foolish. Fortunately, when we moved house, we decided that we would invest in a new printer for our study. This little gem is a wireless printer that will happily scan straight to the computer, in several different formats. So, although a little laborious, getting .pdf files of every piece of evidence straight from the study to my laptop down in the kitchen is really rather pleasing. It should also help reduce the amount of trees dying as a direct consequence of our attempts at obtaining a green card. Ha! "Green" card. Anyway...

All that is left to do now, then, is post that fat envelope full of proof off to the USCIS and cross everything* until we hear back. Here goes!

* This is unlikely to actually occur.

Thanks to Hyperbole and a Half for the awesome meme images, and to my friend Matthew, for making them for me as he watched my Facebook-documented despair earlier today.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


After my recent post about the slightly more medium-term impact of leaving your home country, an online expat friend Paul, of From Sheep to Alligators, has written a post along similar lines, and considering the same issues. I've linked to Paul's blog several times on QE's Facebook page, as he always writes considered and balanced pieces when comparing the UK and the US. It's really lovely to make a blog connection with another expat, so I encourage you to read this post (linked below), and his blog in general!

Identity crisis?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Stand by your man (or why moving my whole life to another country to be with my husband basically makes me the best feminist ever)

Okay, so the title is a bit of a joke - for one it's far too long, and it's certainly a little hyperbolic. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not really big on causes or activism (or making out that I'm the best at anything). I'll speak my piece when I really sense injustice or even unkindness, but I don't tend to take a big stand on anything because I like to look at issues and events from a multitude of perspectives. Some people may see this as weak or indecisive; I have come to see it as open-minded and an attempt to push away from ego- and ethnocentrism. So, much as I support my fellow woman, I've never been much of a purposeful feminist.

To be honest, feminism has always been something of an odd concept to me. For one, it sounds like "communism", at least with its suffix, and so tends to imply a negative thing just via etymology, if not also by association and/or presumptions about people that might advocate such a perspective. It seems the general image of a feminist is still, sadly, a butch, man-hating, angry female. But this clearly isn't true; modern feminism is developing a new face, and it's one that doesn't shriek "anti-male", but more confidently hails "pro-equality".

I guess this is where I come in. I take more of an evolutionary psychologist kind of view on the subject: I've never been much of a feminist because I think that differences should be celebrated, not necessarily overcome, and on top of that, I've been lucky enough to live in societies that, while maybe a little male-biased, have never made me feel like a second-class citizen because I'm female. I've never felt less able, less appreciated, or less than for being a girl in any major way. I haven't had to fight. Some people may disagree with this - what with corporate glass ceilings, default masculine language; not to mention the psychological theories of socially constructed gender identities, and so on - and I am merely writing from my own perspective. I certainly don't have any directly-related academic credentials to back this up, but I do have some thoughts. I don't advocate making a massive fuss over the teensy issues, and I certainly don't like the idea of creating aggression and conflict when people can rub along well enough in spite of - and sometimes because of - their differences. It is only when differences become stereotyped to the point of prejudice and discrimination that society will inevitably have a problem. Other than that, the fact that men have dangly bits and women have bazooms seems to work well enough to me. It's just stating the differences then, no hierarchy implied.

On top of that, whether you are a feminist, apathetic, or anti-feminist, there is one universal truth: we're all human. The fact that I moved countries, and Ben didn't, has nothing to do with me being female. I am happily in love with another human being, and we worked together to ensure that we could share the same physical space in the most practical way possible for both of us. We are a team. He is a man, and I am a woman, but we are both human. He is my best friend and the love of my life. His being male had something to do with the latter, because of both of our sexualities (and that is a whole other post!), but in terms of our equality, it matters not a jot. Working together, standing up for each other, avoiding conflict by listening: relationship strategies between two people such as these could very easily be applied to addressing differences between two genders, in my opinion. There is no need for a struggle to be "better", to put the other down. You're in it together.

So, why say something now? Well, much as I would like to stay quiet, I have been reading so much anti-female news in the States over the past month that I simply can't any more. Apparently women's freedom should be restricted because we're baby-makers. As a Brit, I am just appalled, and a little scared.

There have been attacks on the female sex on the basis of contraception access, sexual promiscuity, and the choice of abortion. The picture above, sent to me by a friend here, pretty much sums it up. Between Rush Limbaugh calling one specific woman a "slut" for using her right to speak up for the availability of contraception on health insurance plans - and by extension all women who use contraception, because apparently that means the state are paying for them to have sex without getting pregnant; a privilege denied to women because we were stupid enough to be born with foetus-carrying equipment - to the proposal of laws that can force a doctor to lie to pregnant patients, or require a woman to go through invasive and distressing gynaecological procedures prior to being given the right to choose an abortion, it seems that the "war on women" is more than just a catchphrase.

The greater medical liberty I enjoyed in the UK has certainly coloured this post, but a list of comparisons will not do much to help here. So, this is how I see it, without any of the particulars being discussed. I have no qualms about doing things for my man, because he's my person. The gender difference is just factual, not a statement of opposition. I don't want to see a fight between men and women. It should be a fight against injustice that affects other human beings. Men and women need to come together, work together, stand up for each other, on this and other issues. Speak together, because you're on the same side.

When women are verbally and/or politically attacked, they do not need to be angry with the attacker - if a man - because he is a man necessarily, but because what (s)he is saying is unjust, because it is ignorant, because it encourages bigotry. Equally, when it comes to these particular issues, men can stand up for and with their female counterparts. Denying other human beings the right to choose what happens to their own bodies is morally abhorrent, and assumes that someone else knows what's best for other people. No one has that right, and not only does it create clearly prejudicial circumstances, it sets a precedent for people in power to make choices for all those living in that regime. Yes, I said regime. It would not be a free place.

We have a voice, and we are louder together. I know that my partner will stand up for my right to make my own choices about what happens to my body. I also know that I will do the same thing for him, should the occasion arise. So that makes us both pretty awesome feminists in my book.

Source: Merriam-Webster online

Something that I tell myself I need

This blog post constitutes another attempt that I am making towards avoiding things that I should be doing (going to the gym, organising the business plan for My Other Limb, working out some sort of dinner for when Ben gets home), and allows me to continue the stream of things that I am substituting for real achievements (blogging, updating my phone, working out the lyrics to a parody song I'm writing about ovaries, drinking an ever-so-necessary fourth cup of coffee). Much as I'm a girl with the best intentions (geddit?!), these sometimes don't get put into practice as soon as they could be.

My brain is all over the place today, so I think I will default to my old faithful method of organising my Tangled thoughts:

  1. I am frustrated by the length of time it is taking to get documents together for the RFE. It's stopping me really start life here (by working), and I now feel like it's also causing misunderstandings between me and Ben. As I can't do it myself (the documents required pertain to him and his employment), it's down to him to get them all, and then down to his employer to get them to us too. It leaves me impotent and irritable. 
  2. My entire experience in Charlotte at the moment is very bipolar; one moment I am very happy and feel almost settled, the next I am feeling confused, alone, and just very... detached? 
  3. Life here is keeping me very busy: the internship is BRILLIANT; I have loads of my own personal photo projects to get on with; I am meeting people via CPMG; I have awesome friends here already through Ben; when we do get to see each other, me and Ben have plenty to do (eat out, walk, watch BBC dramas, sit on the deck with the birds and our resident chipmunk, watch roller derby games, go to the movies, see friends) and have loads of fun doing them.
  4. Despite being so busy, I feel kind of at a loss for things to do sometimes, and so look for more (I almost joined a book club earlier today, I started a new MOL project this week, and I am always adding to my list of e-pen pals), even though I don't know where I would fit them in. Maybe it's a lack of fulfilment, something I'm missing without realising it? 
  5. In another twist, in spite of the feeling of being busy, I also find myself lacking in motivation to do simple things far more often these days. It almost irritates me that I need to do things like clean the kitchen, walk the dog, shower... This isn't anything I've really experienced before! My sister-in-law and I had a good conversation about this lack of energy, and it seems to stem from a feeling of limbo, of nothing being settled yet. She would know, too, as she's not only emigrated from Australia, but is also living with my brother in Geneva right now (as they are currently waiting for her UK visa to be approved) rather than in England, which is a temporary and testing place of residence because of its transient nature and the fact that they speak a different language there, too. 
  6. Nowhere really feels like home any more. 
  7. I miss my people back in the UK. I am so lucky to know such wonderful people here, and I want that to be noted, because I am beyond grateful for their friendship and general awesomeness. But I have known these people for about a year, and have only lived around them for just over five months. To not have memories with people, the impact of having relatively very little to look back on, is something I wasn't prepared for. Ben is the exception of course (and one other friend here does feel like an old friend, in the nicest and strangest of ways!), as he is my best friend, and we have lots of memories together. But I miss being able to talk to people who I have a deep, long-term, historical knowledge of, outside of my marriage, just because of the longevity of our friendship. Stories of teenage silliness, forgetting that red lights mean stop, getting walk of shame phone calls, wearing a miniature tent on your head and dancing outside after midnight in a quiet neighbourhood, all Christmas shopping being done by now, talking for hours into the evening on my folks' balcony, using Hanson's 'MMMBop' as an early morning motivator on the drive to work: all of these do not need to be overtly discussed but they are there, underlying the friendship in its present state. All that history isn't spoken, but it's obvious that it's there. Or rather, it's become obvious to me when it isn't there. 
  8. The opposite of #6 is also true, though: having pretty much no history to define me leaves me very open to make something more of myself. I was the first to say I was stagnating in the UK; certainly I was very flattened emotionally, and to some extent professionally, too. It was without a doubt my own doing: holding myself back and not really believing in myself was the root cause, and while I'm not saying that a person needs to emigrate to effect change, it certainly has done me good. I see Charlotte as a place where anything can happen, and I frequently find myself held in thrall by the skyline because it represents so much to me. 
  9. The fatigue and generally "low" feeling I have been getting is being tackled, both physically and mentally. Going to the gym is good for me on both counts, but on top of that, I have been reading a lot of other expats' experiences of their move via their respective blogs, which has given me a sense of comfort and solidarity. Iota has actually written two posts that I felt like I could have written (minus the kids and plus her writing talents!) about the effect of an intercontinental move on a person. I strongly recommend reading both parts one and two, whether you're an expat or not, as it really does explain just how confusing (however pleasant) emigration can be. 

In short, there's so much going on that I don't know what to really think or feel at all. Conversely, it feels like there's not much going on at all because, on the surface, it all looks fine. This mess is all in my head! 

I will conclude with a video that is both a fantastic summary of what I spend most of my days doing, emotionally speaking, and is in keeping with the theme of this post (the movie 'Tangled', in case anyone missed it!). This is the scene where Rapunzel leaves her tower for the first time in her life, against her mother's wishes. She has the "best day ever" because she finally experiences the world in its full glory, but is simultaneously wracked with guilt (about her mother) and anxiety (about her ability to survive). I think it is an excellent representation of what a newish expat goes through about twelve times a day. 

About once every couple of hours

Monday, 12 March 2012

It's like the night is taking sides

Over the last month or so, I have noticed a distinct change in my sleeping pattern. What was a pleasing new ability to sleep well (I've been either an insomniac or just had really poor sleep hygiene - or both - for at least six years, and have always had a few issues around falling to sleep ever since my teens) has turned into an inability to wake up. I can sleep for 10+ hours every night, fall back to sleep very quickly after waking up, and am finding that I cannot stay awake for long periods of time without a nap somewhere in there. I'm really very frustrated, and tonight I snapped a bit about it. It seems I just can't stop sleeping, or wanting to sleep.

For as long as I can remember, I've been someone who, although not the most disciplined when it comes to resting, has used available time effectively. I've not been one to give in to physical fatigue easily. If a job needs doing, it needs doing sooner rather than later, and I've frequently been able to forgo a few hours of sleep to complete a task. While my insomnia, at its worst, took its toll on my body in terms of skin conditions, weight loss, and an overall oddly unkempt look (and I certainly don't want to ever get to that stage again), missing out on a bit of rest always seemed to make sense to me. In short, I think to some extent I preferred the idea of using the extra time not "wasted" sleeping - if I was going to not be sleeping anyway, I may as well put the time to good use. The idea of being able sleep too much was something I never considered. I feel dopey, sluggish, and lazy.

I am trying not to beat myself up about it, as I know that psychological negativity will only serve to add to any sleeping problems, and so have been going about objectively researching and discussing possible reasons for the sudden onset of the problem.. This seems more sensible than adding anxiety to the list, and certainly beats catastrophising. A very kind and sensible friend of mine pointed out that I have, over the past few months, quit my job, moved countries (and continents), got married, moved house, and changed careers. In fact, I'd be interested to know whether other immigrants, to the USA or otherwise, have experienced any similarly delayed physical "come-downs", for want of a better term.

All of this fatigue may just be a delayed response to quite a list of major life changes. That, along with a little over-indulgence in the food and wine departments (!) over the last few months, and a distinct reduction in my usual exercise levels have probably all contributed to a previously unknown brand of tiredness.

The first attempt at a solution that I am going to try is a combination of regulated sleep (7.5 hours per night allowed, sleep or no sleep), vitamin and anti-histamine supplements (I'm having some fun allergic reactions to the different pollen here), a monitored, mainly meat/veg/fruit diet, and a proper exercise routine at the gym me and Ben joined last week.

Hopefully this will kick-start and maintain a healthier, more awake me. After doing this for 4-6 weeks, if I am still having issues despite having stuck to the plan, it might be time to consider anaemia, or some other deficiency that would need a doctor's appointment to diagnose. But for now, I am going with Occam's razor: I've done a lot of stuff and I'm a bit dozy. And so, to bed!

The blue hour over Rodborough Common, England.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

You are not a cartographer

Recently, Ben suggested that I draw out a representation of how I see Charlotte right now, having lived here for  almost five months and been driving around here for about two. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my view of the city I now call home. Please don't judge me.

The amusing thing is that I can't really tell whether I'm right or not, other than when Ben had a quick look and laughed at the fact there's actually a park on top of our house, if my map is to be believed. I'm guessing there are some errors...

I plan on drawing this again in a few months or so, to see how much I've learned and how much I correct on this one. To that end, other than making plans to drive to other locations, I'm not going to look too closely at real maps, but if you want to check out how unlikely it is that cartography will be my back-up career, there's a Google map of the city area here.

Not so quiet on the eastern front

I've been neglecting QE a bit recently, as I've had the huge pleasure of having my friend Vicky staying with us for the past 10 days. She's here until next Wednesday, so I imagine I might be a little less bloggy until mid-March as, after Vicky returns home, Ben and I are going to take a break together and disconnect from the rest of the world for a few days. For now though, I have some photos from Vicky's stay to share on here, and possibly one more post if I have time later today.

First night: dinner at Sir Ed's

Bird watching in the sunny garden

Lovely husband of mine
Vicky on the deck

Ender on the deck
Ender amongst the bird feeders

Breakfast at IHOP

Wandering around uptown Charlotte with cameras

Trivia at the Diner in Concord

Finally meeting Cassie!

Attacking me with straws

Friday at the Sleepy Poet antique mall 
Lady lunch at the Flying Biscuit on Saturday

Beard tickling
Roller derby bout on Saturday night: CSD vs. ARG
Introducing Vicky to queso blanco dip


Trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Asheville

Silliness with the lovely Rae

Introducing Zebulon (lizard acquired in Asheville) to Ben! 

2nd dinner at Sir Ed's


Diner round 2!


Studio work - bit of a busman's holiday! 
Workin' 8-5... 

So, as you can see, we've been pretty busy! We've also had some lazy days at home, cooked proper dinners (including two pies), and watched a few movies and some American TV, including The Oscars 2012.

Over the next few days, we have plans to visit the NoDa district, wander around Lake Norman if the weather improves (we've had terrible storms over the last 24 hours, though nowhere near as bad as some areas of Charlotte), have dinner at The Cowfish followed by a sleepover with Cas and Brad, and maybe visit the Mint Museum Uptown to see the 'Fairytales, Fantasy, & Fear' exhibition that opened today. I'm not entirely sure what we'll do for Vicky's last night here, but hopefully it will be something big and special! It's been such a joy having her here.