There are a lot of interesting folks and critters in our little 'hood in Kensal Rise and over the coming weeks I'll be introducing them.  One neighborhood resident in particular entered our lives a few days ago when we noticed he was always spying on us through the window, watching our every move. 

We are fairly certain that this guy is most certainly an agent for MI-6 and so we have dubbed him Spy Kitteh. 

One morning the Canadian had the door open to get some fresh air and this guy decided to nose around inside the house, I assume gathering 'intel' for his people about the new inhabitants. 
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Spy Kitteh snoops for government secrets
We also discovered (when the Rotten One encountered Spy Kitten in the garden) that Spy Kitteh is a master of martial arts. He is definitely worthy of taking on James Bond. Fortunately the Canadian was filming when this meeting occurred. Note the Rotten One's exceptional counter-moves. We are also considering sending the Rotten One to spy school since she clearly has skillz.

P.S. Please forgive the brief interlude where the Rotten One has to *ahem* do her business
P.P.S Most of the action happens toward the end of the video
 
So. I've finally arrived in London!

The Canadian, MomE and I disembarked at Southampton cruise terminal and were greeted with absolutely miserable weather -- gray, drizzling and damp cold.  I almost turned around and commandeered the QM2 to sail back to Texas where it was a balmy 105 degrees. But, in the spirit of Keep Calm and Carry On, I took a deep breath and moved forward.

We arrived at the house the Canadian had found (I promise, there will be pics soon!) and it was my first time to see my new neighborhood and where I'd be living.  I was incredibly quiet as I walked through the house and I think I gave the poor Canadian a heart attack because I didn't say a word.  He was so worried I wouldn't like it and was nervous that maybe he had really done something wrong.

I just couldn't speak because I was thoroughly overwhelmed and was processing everything -- including the fact that I had just moved to London.  The gloomy weather had dampened my mood and I had this feeling that maybe I'd made the wrong decision.  Maybe we shouldn't have moved here. Maybe we'd made a mistake.  I held back tears as I went room by room -- touching doors and windows, opening cabinets and seeing the rooms I'd live in for at least the next year.  It wasn't so much that anything was wrong with the house or with London, but I felt pangs of loneliness for my friends back home, I missed the heat and sunshine, and everything seemed foreign and overwhelming.

The Canadian asked if I was ok and I said I was, and MomE just said "I think she's processing" and I said "I am."

I knew that I needed to do something to make the house my own. It felt so unfamiliar -- like some other person lived there (and the unattractive rental furniture didn't help).  I felt like maybe I needed some flowers. As it turns out, I have a lovely, albeit small, garden.  It's overgrown and unkempt, but thoroughly English and quaint.  So I went outside, with some rental kitchen scissors, the rain drizzling down my face, and I just started clipping flowers in hopes of brightening the gloom...and then I saw it.  A butterfly bush.

When I moved into my house in Austin, one of the first plants I planted in my garden was a butterfly bush.  It grew like mad and after a year, a sweet family of cardinals moved in and hatched a few baby birds.

One night a horrendous thunderstorm swept through town and with it came a massive hailstorm.  Normally when it rained I would check on the birds and would see the mama cardinal on the nest, wings spread out, protecting her babies.  But this time she was off somewhere and I was worried that the hail would knock out or kill one of the babies. 

So I convinced the Canadian (who was in his pajamas) to go out into the hail storm (unprotected) and hold an umbrella over the butterfly bush, to protect the babies (meanwhile getting pelted by the hail because the umbrella was over the bush).  About 10 minutes later the storm passed and the babies were ok.  A few weeks later, I watched as the mama and dad cardinals nudged their babies out of the nest, across my garden and into the woods behind my house.  The next year the mama and dad cardinal returned to the butterfly bush and hatched another set of babies (no hailstorms this time) and I loved going out in the morning to check on my tiny family -- it made me feel as though I'd created a welcoming place where the birds felt safe.
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My first year of baby cardinals in the butterfly bush...how cute are they?! They had hatched only a few days before in this pic.
The butterfly bush was always alive with the local fauna -- bees, butterflies, and other critters living in and around it and I often sat outside watching nature take it's course and the garden serving as a resting spot for those who needed it.  It's been a constant in my life ever since we moved into our home in Austin and when I walked into my London garden, seeing that giant purple butterfly bush felt like it was a sign that I was ok, that things weren't so foreign, that a little piece of home was in my garden here, and that this place was telling me that it would take care of me if I took care of it. 

I snipped three branches of the vibrant purple flowers, a bit of foxgl and some yellow foliage, brought them inside and put them in a glass pitcher I found -- and now forever, for me, the butterfly bush will remind me that home is where the butterfly bush is.
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My tiny garden bouquet
 
I thought you might wonder about some of the activities on board the ship – like what does a day look like?  Well, I’ll clue you in and describe a little of what you might expect during this week at sea.

(…as a note to those who are pedantic and sticklers for precision: I am fudging on exact times/days of particular activities because I don’t have my program in front of me.  So please forgive a few inconsistencies, this is just meant to be a broad generalization of what goes on aboard the QM2.)

Midnight: The Canadian and I put our little door hanger on the door indicating what time we’d like coffee (and REAL cream) delivered to our door the next morning.  This takes a great deal of discussion because the ship’s clock moves forward an hour each day in order to slowly acclimate to UK time. 

Do we do it at 8:30? Or 9:30 to accommodate our new time?…Do we want to sleep in? Or get up early? What time do we want breakfast, because we should give ourselves at least an hour to relax over coffee…These are difficult decisions!  Ultimately we decide on 8:30 in the morning and then crawl into bed, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship.

8:30 am:  The knocking on the door awakens us and our coffee is delivered by a very nice gentleman who wishes us “Good Morning”.  The Canadian pours coffee and we turn on the BBC and we watch news of the economic collapse of Greece.  We feel guilty that it makes us contemplate a Greek vacation.

9:30 am: We get dressed and make our way down 10 flights of stairs (we avoid the elevators in hopes of also avoiding the inevitable weight gain on a cruise) and head down to our restaurant on the ship, known as the Brittania Club.  Our waiter Aleksandar (from Macedonia) greets us and tells us, “Whatever you want, I will make it happen.”  We love him. Aleksandar is assisted by Igor (from the Ukraine) and who is also thoroughly adorable.  I want to take him home in my pocket.  I also love Ralph the head waiter who places my napkin in my lap and makes sure we’ve had a good night’s sleep or enjoyed our day.   (How could one NOT enjoy their day?!)

During breakfast, the Canadian spots a pair of Dolphins jumping alongside the ship which I reference about every 30 minutes from that moment forward. (Weren’t those dolphins cute?...I love dolphins!... You know, dolphins protect people from sharks!... I want a dolphin like Flipper…)  The Canadian is displeased with my dolphin chatter.

10:30 am: We meander back to our room to decide what to do today?  Dr. Ruth (yes, that one) is a guest on the ship and is giving sex talks, particularly on Sex over 50.  We decide to go see her and then head to “pub trivia” in the on-board pub. 

I won’t go into graphic detail about Dr. Ruth, because this is at most a PG-13 blog (although if you knew me in real life, our conversations would be NC-17), but, for the purposes of the larger internet I’ll keep this fairly clean.  She did tell this story though:

“I never allowed my husband to come to any of my lectures for fear he would say something embarrassing but one day Diane Sawyer came over to our house to interview me, and he adored Diane Sawyer and I didn’t have the heart to tell him he couldn’t be there.  So we sat down for the interview and Diane Sawyer asked, ‘Mr. Westheimer, how’s your sex life?’ and he responded, “Ms. Sawyer, the shoemaker’s children have no shoes.”

11:30 am: We decide to go to Pub Trivia where the Canadian and I proceed to tie another team for first place, answering 18 out of 20 questions correctly (we missed the year that Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic – 1993 not 1992 as we thought and we also missed the average number of peas in a pod – 8, not 6).  There were several tie breaking questions which we answered correctly until, the final question, which year was the Eiffel tower * raised * (not built, but actually lifted).  It wasn’t our guess of 1888, it was 1889.  So, we lost. : (

12:30 pm: We make our way down the stairs for lunch, and order our usual 4 courses (appetizer, soup or salad, main, dessert).  We are unsure how it will be possible to return to fixing our own meals…and what on earth did we eat before?  We agree we don’t want to think about it.

1:30 pm: At around this time we go see a screening in the Planetarium (the only one at sea) of the film “A Summer Sky” presented by Royal Astronomy Speaker Mark Butterworth. 

2:00 pm:  I attend my watercolor class and paint a pair of tomatoes – I think maybe they are better than my rose….tell me what you think?

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3:00 pm: The Canadian heads to the Commodore’s Club to attend a Whiskey tasting – he proceeds to become relatively drunk, but, it’s definitely 5:00 in London, so this is certainly acceptable. (As an aside, Auchentoshan Triple Distilled (in a bourbon cask and then two different sherry casks) was his favorite)

4:00 pm: I finish my painting and find the Canadian stumbling around the ship.  We decide to go for afternoon tea so that he can sober up before our formal evening.  We much on cucumber sandwiches while the harpist plays in the background.  The Canadian definitely smells like a distillery and I’m wondering if others notice…

4:30 pm: We head into the pub for pub trivia again, this time with MomE who supplied Tammy Wynette (which country singer was kidnapped) and Groucho Marx (Who said, “I never forget a face, but in your case Madam, I’ll make an exception”).  We didn’t win this time though. 

5:00 pm: We head upstairs to change for our formal night.  I read the dinner menu and it’s lobster night tonight (note – you should read my lobster story here to understand how I feel about lobster night) so I put on my loosest dress. I heart lobster.

7:00 pm: We make our way to our dinner table where Igor and Aleksandar serve us our usual 4 courses (and giving us each an extra lobster tail…I’m in love).

8:45 pm: The Canadian and I decide to see a performance of Canterbury Tales put on by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts – what a talented group!  And of course, the typical bawdy jokes were fabulous. 

At this point I would also like to thank Mrs. Larkin (my 11th grade English Lit teacher) for making me memorize the introduction to Canterbury Tales in Middle English…I lip synced along with the actor as he began the play.  In Mrs.Larkin's class I wish I had I just known that someday, watching a Canterbury Tales performance on the Queen Mary 2, that I would be grateful that I memorized it. (This particular talent of still being able to recite the prologue also tends to be great at parties as well…it’s a real show stopper when I bust out the Chaucer after a few glasses of wine)

Here's a sampling:
WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghteof Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth       
Inspired hath in every holtand heeth
The tendre croppes,and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,       
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,To ferne halwes, 9 couthe 10 in sondry londes; And specially, from every shires ende        15 Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende, The holy blisful martir for to seke, That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

10:00 pm: The Canadian and I decide we should definitely go play some darts in the pub – so we play a few games (he won, 2 games to 1) and then finally around midnight head back to the room to read our books for awhile and go to sleep.
 
You might be wondering what one does for 7 days at sea – well I’m not going to pretend it’s all luxury, fun and games.  It’s not.  There’s a lot of work involved like seminars and meetings to attend as well as schedules to keep.

For example, they want you to eat breakfast before 10 am – never mind that this morning I’d just had my coffee delivered to my stateroom at 8 am and needed at least an hour to drink it while watching the ocean go by before getting ready for breakfast. 
Picture
The view from my room
And on Saturday the Pilates class was really tough – I’m still sore!  And there’s so much walking, from one end of the ship to the other.  We had to walk from the pub for lunch to the Queen’s lounge for tea yesterday…exhausting. 

The drinking has been tiresome too – they had a bottle of champagne in our room waiting for us, and it would really have been rude not to drink it.  And of course it would make the Sommelier quite devastated if we didn’t order wine with dinner – no one wants to be responsible for a sad Sommelier. 

Plus, you’re subject to self-esteem issues. Yesterday, I took a watercolor class and our painting that day was a rose.  I carefully traced my rose and began laying down the colors.  I plugged away for almost an hour during which time the teacher walked around to everyone and complimented their roses, holding them up for the class to see.  She soon arrived at my station and said as she critically looked at my rose, “Yes, some people use that technique…” and then trailed off not knowing what else to say. 

I admit, my rose wasn’t exactly an O’Keeffe, but it’s not awful – see for yourself and let me know what you think.
Picture
The rose that prompted the awkward moment
So, it’s been really quite challenging adjusting to life at sea, but I guess I will have to adopt the English stiff upper lip and keep calm and carry on.

…more sea updates to come.
 
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The last few months have been an incredible journey -- from the moment the Canadian and I decided to move to London, up until this very second as I sit in a hotel room in New York, it has been a profound and radically life-changing adventure.

I have never run a marathon, but I think that those last few miles must be the hardest and most rewarding.  You're pushing yourself, you're exhausted, but you know that if you can just summon the reserves you will finally get to the finish line.  That feels like today -- and yet -- it's only the beginning because you have your next marathon, your next race, your next day of training.

On Sunday the Canadian and I began sorting our belongings mainly into 'storage' and 'sea crate'  but some things went to friends houses or MomE's house or charity.  Fortunately my type A (*cough* anal retentive) personality had pre-labeled bins (storage, moms house, suitcase, K's house, other etc.) already prepped and ready.  We made one room in the house our storage room (everything else being sea crate) and began the process of dividing it all up.

Monday morning, bright and early, the movers arrived and began packing EVERYTHING.  All of a sudden all of the contents of my house were wrapped in packing tape and brown paper...and it was chaotic. (Plus there's nothing like seeing large grown men throwing your lacy thongs into boxes...)  At the end of the day the movers took the storage stuff to some warehouse somewhere (I have no idea where it lives now...) and left for the evening.

Tuesday they returned, finished packing the sea crate, which they then loaded onto the back of a truck, and drove it to Houston.  Ostensibly, it will be loaded onto the ship the SeaLand Racer in a week which will leave the port of Houston and dock in Felixstowe, UK, on June 30 where it will be offloaded and then dropped off to our house in Kensal Rise a few days later after it clears customs. 
Picture
The SeaLand Racer (click for source)
Wednesday we had the house cleaned and prepped for renters, we ran a gazillion errands and then headed to MomE's house to pack everything else and spend the night before heading to the airport at 5:30 this morning. 

Now, I've told you in the past that I often have insomnia - and for the most part, I've learned to live with it.  If I just have one night of it, I can usually hang in there and with a few extra shots of espresso, I'm fairly functioning.  That said, I'm sure you might imagine that I haven't been sleeping all that well lately with all of the stress and chaos occurring and have had several days in a row of little sleep.  Wednesday night, however, was pretty much the cherry on the parfait of my insomnia.

You see, the Canadian has had a bit of a cold lately and that night we went to bed at 10 pm (hoping to get around 6 hours of sleep before our flight.)  Well, the Canadian began to snore....ALL. NIGHT. LONG. (And that, my friends, sucked.) I fell asleep around 11:30 pm and woke up at 1:30 am....wound up staying awake until it was time to get up for our flight because of the snoring.

So, all day long today I was napping...on the plane, in the taxi, at the hotel -- I felt like a narcoleptic, I couldn't seem to stay awake anywhere.  Anytime I found a place I could lay my head down (including the nice man on the plane next to me) I would pass out from exhaustion.

And now, here I sit in the hotel room -- the packing is finished, the house is cleaned, we made our flights (with 8 checked bags -- that was disturbing to see), and it feels like I've finished my marathon.  Yet this is only the beginning -- and it feels really odd, but good, but also really sad (because I miss my friends!). 

Today, MomE, the Canadian and I board the Queen Mary 2 for Part 2 of the Journey.
 
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Remember Wayne's World? Top Ten lists WAY before Letterman.
I've been reflecting on this move, and thinking that there are a few things I have learned about the process of moving overseas, so I thought I'd share them with you.

1) You learn exceptional problem solving skills.  Navigating the vagaries of of an expat move requires a lot of thinking 'outside the box' (even though I hate that overused phrase, it's early and I'm still drinking coffee so the neurons are just barely firing.)  There are so many variables to juggle and trying to make them all fit feels like a million piece jigsaw puzzle that you're trying to put together after a night of tequila and strippers.  It's not pretty. 

2) You allow for meltdowns.  Yes, I've already had one.  I wound up sobbing on my kitchen floor and then subsequently fixing myself some lavender calming tea (for more on that - go here). As an aside, I tend to melt down on the kitchen floor a lot (not that I melt down a lot, just that it tends to happen more frequently on the kitchen floor) -- not entirely sure why that is but it dates back to my late teens...any thoughts are appreciated.

3) Life does not stop just because you have a big move.  In an ideal world you would be given a remote with a 'pause' button to give you 2-4 weeks to get your life in order for the move.  You wouldn't have board meetings, or appointments, or papers due or work obligations or social obligations.  You would just have all the time you needed to sort, and pack, and talk to movers and take your dog's paperwork all over creation.  In reality, this does not happen and you just have to suck it up and deal with it.

4) People have done this before.  I am sure that when one is pregnant (never having had children I don't have a true compass on this) new moms tell themselves people have been having kids since the beginning of time and a) your baby isn't the first and only and no one wants to hear about it all the time and b) you'll be fine, you'll figure it out.  I suspect both of those apply to the expat scenario as well.  Although, if I wanted to throw a major dose of 'crazy' onto this move, I could just get myself knocked up and then that would definitely make for some interesting blogging. 

5) You will be in denial at some point.  I'm still there so please don't burst my bubble.

6) You will lose your temper with someone.  For me, that was the vet's office a few days ago.  I swear I could make millions teaching a class on how to import a dog/cat overseas to veterinary staff. I was trying *so* hard not raise my voice when they, once again, could not understand which form to fill out. Further, I was at the end of my rope when the vet came in and the conversation went something like this:

    Vet: I'm confused about her paperwork, has she had two different names?
    Me: Yes, I've indicated before, and it should be in her records, that she was our foster dog and then we adopted her and when we adopted her we changed her name.
   Vet: Well, on this form it indicates she's a German Shepherd but your vet in New Orleans says she's a Husky.
   Me: Right, well, I can't tell you why they put that -- she's half and half (as I lift up her tail and show the vet her curly husky tail)
    Vet: Well, I just don't know if this dog has had a rabies shot.
    Me: I'm not sure what to say -- it's the same microchip on the dog so, that's the best I can do.  I can't really help how a vet fills out the paperwork.
    Vet: The New Orleans vet should have given her a 3-year rabies vaccine
    Me: Um, ok?  I'm not sure what to say about that...
 (Meanwhile, the Rotten One pulls on her leash and coughs because she chokes herself)
    Vet: Is she sick, does she have a cough?  It's very important that she not have a cough
    Me: No, she was pulling on her leash
    Vet: She looks very thin -- are you feeding her?
    Me: (this is where I snapped) Yes, I feed my dog!  (Although I did forget once last week...)

Now mind, you, this conversation is AFTER waiting an hour and a half in the vet's office with three different techs coming in with the wrong paperwork and asking me questions like "have you had her rabies titers taken?" Uhh yes, I had to do that 6 months ago.

7) You will eat pancakes and drink vodka.  I don't really know how to explain this...except that it has happened to me several times during this move.  I seem to make pancakes (to use up my flour) and drink vodka (to use up my vodka).

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Something like this (click for source)
8) You will have emotional swings -- without the hormones.  One minute you're so excited about the new adventures and 15 seconds later you're crying because you're already missing your friends (and you haven't left yet).  You're angry that the vet accused you of not feeding your dog and you're elated about the upcoming trip to Paris.  You pretty much get the privilege of an endless trip to Six Flags and riding a roller-coaster over and over again, except that it's all in your head...

9) You will suddenly care a lot about your health and grooming.  Because you are not familiar with the doctors or hair salons or whatever in the new country (not that they are bad, just unfamiliar), you will steadfastly hold on to your healthcare/grooming places in your country of origin.  So you will overschedule yourself with long overdue doctor/dentist/hair salon appointments right before you leave in order to put them off in your new country. (Note: you've never cared this much before...)  Which of course creates the additional stress of actually making it to all of those appointments  (Case in point, in 30 minutes I have to leave for the hair salon.  Last week it was dentist and dermatologist)

10) You will obsess over something insignificant as an avoidance tactic.  I seem to be choosing a candle to obsess over.  For some reason I feel like I NEED this candle, but can't figure out if it can go in the sea crate or if I have to pack it in my luggage to take on the boat.  I have been obsessing about this for days and can't seem to close the loop on the decision.  Obviously if I make a decision, then I'll have to face the *really* hard realities of moving and I clearly am not ready to do that.  So I'd like to just hang on to my candle obsession for now.  Thanks.

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