Sunday, 23 December 2012

After 440 days...

Photo courtesy of Danny Smith (friend and early riser) I will be home for the first time since I left England.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Thursday, 20 December 2012


We arrived at LGW at around 7:00 AM local time. We've had the most wonderful first day here with my brother, Wren, and our friend Vicky. There has been much laughter, great food (including homemade breakfast pie!), and a general relief at finally coming back. I'll try to blog again later during our time here, but for now I'm just going to enjoy being home. 

Breakfast pie. No joke. Yay!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Yeah, but, no, but...

It's the evening before we fly home, and I couldn't be more elated or more scatterbrained. I'm packed. All the pets' stuff is prepared. Ben did an amazing job cleaning the whole house today. I squeezed in a quick holiday pedicure so I can wear some heels while we're away. We're about to spend a couple of hours cuddled up watching 'Love Actually' and eating home-made ice cream. I am back and forth about being ready and not being ready. I am. I'm not. But I am!

So... this is what an expat looks like right before her first ever trip home after over a year living Stateside. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Days of miracle and wonder

Baking for Thanksgiving - I made shortbread!
I started writing this post on the evening of Thanksgiving. That's now over three weeks ago, and I only got as far as this sentence. So, I guess this can now be about Thanksgiving and everything since, rather than just a quick update on my second Thanksgiving in NC, although there's not been a whole lot going on that I would say is blog-worthy, more just a few personal bits and pieces. Thanksgiving was a really lovely day spent with Ben's family, eating a helluva lot of turkey, congratulating Ben's cousin on her upcoming wedding, catching up with people we'd not seen in a while, and celebrating the fact that it was the penultimate day of Ben's old job, as he was to start his new one the following Monday. More on that later!

Digging for potatoes with Dad circa 1987

The other reason that Thanksgiving was more significant to me this year was because it fell on the same day as my Dad's 60th birthday. My Dad was 30 when he had me, so there was a special kind of symmetry in my head about this birthday, and I was really sad to miss the actual day itself so I could tell Dad in person how much I love him. However, he sent me a lovely video of him listening to my gift to him (the 25th Anniversary edition of Paul Simon's 'Graceland') and we managed to Skype briefly before Ben and I went to Thanksgiving dinner, which was wonderful!

B, after a walk, a run, and some play time in the yard!
In general, the menagerie is fine, but we've had a few dramas. Bertie has been diagnosed with anxiety, which sometimes manifests itself in stress colitis. She suffers from separation anxiety and winds herself up terribly when left alone. We have, in general, before we even knew this, always tried to keep time alone for the dogs to a minimum - why have a dog if you're just going to leave it all the time? But of course, there are times when I have to leave her alone (albeit with Satine), and even though she comes to work with me, I can only spend my lunch hour with her, and the rest of the time she and Satine have a run outside or a pen indoors in the warm.

So, she gets extremely hyper, paces, pants, yips, barks, cries, and sometimes even thrashes against whatever is between us and her to get to us. It's incredibly upsetting to see her so distressed. She cannot focus on anything else when she is like that, and so even if you go to get her once she has calmed down, she simply ramps right back up again.

Fortunately, we have the most wonderful vets, and Dr. Johnson has been helping us to manage Bertie's issues in order to help her keep calm and reduce the physiological effects of her nerves. She is now on a bland diet to try to calm her stomach; she has Benadryl when she needs it to allow her to focus and listen for greetings and departures, and metronidazole to help her stomach stay calm (explosive diarrhoea is not fun, let me assure you); and most importantly, she has a new exercise routine that will hopefully not only tire her out, but give her psychological peace too.

Because B has some herding breed in her (most likely Collie), she needs a "job". So, Ben and I are taking it in turns each day to run 1-2 miles (more when he and I are fitter, but that will take a little while!), with Bertie running along with us wearing a dog backpack. No, we have not become those dog owners and started accessorising our pets - I promise this is veterinary advice! - but in actual fact the backpack is a symbol of it being "time to work" for Bertie, as well as providing some extra weight to ensure she burns more energy. Currently I just put a small bottle of water, my phone, some poop bags, and a house key in there, but as she gets fitter and more used to running, we can put bigger water bottles in there as weights. So far, it seems to be working, and I'm so very glad to see behavioural methods having such a positive effect after just a week of implementing the new routine. Long may it continue! She's an incredibly smart, special dog (I know, all owners say that!), and it's great to know we can help her to be a happier little lady.

Anyone with a cat needs to do this
Wash has also given us some cause for concern, but everything seems under control now. He was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (reasonably common for cats; his murmur is rated 4/6 on the scale) back in August, and has been on a beta blocker since then to reduce the likelihood of him having a heart attack. He's been generally great taking the medicine and has also become more affectionate and playful with us. That may of course be a function of time as well as feeling better, but either way, he seems happy.

Last week he was scheduled to have a dental clean, but Dr. Johnson heard something rattling on his lungs that she was not comfortable with. He'd had a cough for a couple of weeks but he'd been on antibiotics for that as it had sounded like a throat infection. So, some X-rays were done of his chest to investigate further. It turns out that he had some fluid on his lungs (another common issue for heart problem kitties) and so anaesthesia would not have been a good idea at all. He's now on another medication to help him get rid of the fluid, and will be having his teeth made all shiny come January, provided that his cough has gone.

The thing with cats is that they seem just fine right up until the point that they're definitely not fine. He's been just the same as always: playful, miaowing for food and treats; winding the dogs up; stealing water from our glasses; trying to pull cupboard doors open; rearranging DVDs; stealing receipts from Ben's in tray - all the usual fun Wash stuff. I am so very glad we have caught this now, and that he is being treated for it already, much as it's worrying in itself. I'd much rather know. He's a delightful cat - his morning cuddles are especially sweet! - and I want to make sure he gets the best care for all his poor heart ailments.

Satine matches the autumnal colours
Satine has recently mastered being able to "shake" with both paws. She also pooped out a piece of pink fleece last week, and has a new favourite stick that she keeps in the yard. With the other sticks.

This dog is the most wonderful derp in the universe. Everything about her has an element of silly, from her daft long legs to her wonky smile to her love affair with sleep. She's doing great and seems to know this is her home forever now.

Although I may not be mentally prepared,
Christmas jumpers have certainly
been purchased and packed.
So, it's no wonder I've not had much time to think about anything else leading up to us going home for Christmas! Aren't you glad we don't have children yet?! I can bore you enough just with fur-baby updates. Apologies for the length and detail there but, what with me being a new pet parent, generally an anxious person, and being totally immersed in the veterinary environment 4-5 days out of every week, I tend to be a little preoccupied with the canine and feline these days.

Seriously though, I actually think being so busy and having distractions like other creatures to care for has made me cope with facing the reality of being back home - or at least made me suspend belief that it's happening. I've purposefully made sure we've not made too many concrete plans in order that we can maximise on chilling out time as well, rather than rushing around trying to see every person we can possibly squeeze in. Other than that though, I haven't allowed myself to think much on the reality of being back when I have had time to do so, as I get so overwhelmed (with happiness!) that I just cry. To imagine actually seeing people like my brother and sister-in-law, my parents, my childhood friends, my old colleagues, my friend-families, all back in my home country... It's just a bit too much. I guess that might also be why I have put off writing a blog post for so long too, as well as being pretty tight for time, because putting it into words makes me have to process it, and I'm not sure how I feel about it just yet. That probably sounds far too dramatic, but other than already being really overjoyed at seeing people I treasure and excited at feeling the familiar ground of my little town beneath my feet again, I'm not entirely sure what to expect emotionally. I'll keep you posted.

So, back to US happenings. Ben is loving his new job at Old Navy, and the whole package is just kinder in general to him, us, and our life together. The work itself keeps him interested and meeting people. The hours are not killer (at least not every day -  the week leading up to Christmas is a little different!). The way the company takes care of its employees in terms of benefits and employee discount is incredible (we now have proper health insurance and all benefits offered apply to married and unmarried couples, including same-sex couples - the kind of company I wholeheartedly salute!), and they have a great salary, prospects, and holiday plan in place already. I'm very impressed, and so happy that Ben is happier. We both feel very fortunate.

We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary at the beginning of the month. Mum and Dad were kind/living dangerously enough to send us an ice cream maker as a gift, and funnily enough it's been hard not to use it every day. It makes (or rather, Ben makes!) absolutely delicious, creamy, decadent ice cream, and it's a fun thing to do, too. So far we have tried chocolate with fresh strawberry chunks, and more recently Baileys chocolate ice cream. Come the summer time we can make sorbet and yoghurt-style treats too. Yum!

It's just amazing that we have been married a whole year. While it has flown by, it also feels like things have felt "right" for a good majority of that time, like we have established more than the average couple in our first year of marriage. Our house, our place here together already feels like home, even as an expat who is constantly experiencing new things or having to readjust (albeit only slightly for the most part). We work together wonderfully well, have jobs we both enjoy now, a beloved network of family and friends around Charlotte (and some further out across America), and of course our own critter crew in our own four walls. Along with the joy of normalcy and contentment is the magic of being in love, and being married to a man who I love and loves me in a way I only thought possible in fairy tales. I am grateful every day for the magic he brings to the world. (Feel free to vomit now!)

Only cool people allowed

Time for festivities!
Since our anniversary, we've been catching up with family and friends, trying to spend time together, and preparing ourselves and our house for our visit to England. We went to see 'The Hobbit' in 3D (an early Christmas present from me to Ben) on its opening night, which meant the midnight showing. It was an extra challenge for me as we got in at 3AM and I had to be up for work at 5AM. However, it was such a treat, both in terms of how happy it made Ben and because it was a really fantastic movie, that I didn't really notice how tired I was until late on Friday evening. That was also the evening that we had Ben's folks and siblings over to our house for a 'Christmas' dinner. Ben had the day off and prepared a fabulous feast of roast beef, mashed sweet potatoes, sprouts, cauliflower cheese, and I made Yorkshire Puddings when I got home from work. Everyone brought something to add to the meal, from cheese to veggie dishes, to pudding and cake. We had an absolutely delightful evening, chatting, laughing, and generally being festive; and it was an extra special treat because we won't be seeing that side of the family over the holiday period at all. I guess we'll always be missing someone.

That about sums it up. Congratulations if you made it this far; I apologise that this post has sounded somewhat like a five year old's diary ("...then this happened, then this, then this... and then THIS!") but I just haven't had much to blog about from an expat point of view and there's only been minor personal stuff going on, at least in the grand scheme of things. I suppose it's possible to see this as evidence of how far I've come in just over a year. I'm generally content, settled and very, very happy. Life is calm and beautiful; I feel like I fit into NC without compromising who I am and I take a great deal of joy from everyday experiences (although that was true before I moved, I think). I love living here, and I'm learning to both adapt to and challenge various aspects of American life as I immerse myself in it more and more. Naturally, I'm still as English as they come, but becoming somewhat binational seems to suit me too. There's exhilaration and sweet mundanity all at once.

I blame my parents.
And by "blame" I mean "thank". 
So all that remains for me to do is pack the last of my things, irritate our house-sitters for the bazillionth time checking that they have everything they need, cuddle my critters excessively the day before we go, and get my Oyster card ready for some serious swipe-age.

I can't wait to go home.

P.S. As if England couldn't get any more exciting, guess who I will be seeing there during the holidays?!

Le squee!