Thursday, August 28, 2008

Arachnophobia blues

After our second night in our house (tangent: have we mentioned that in the history of uncomfortable beds, ours is likely the 3rd or 4th most uncomfortable? possibly a post on this later)...but anyway after waking up from our second night, I awoke today to a reality version of the b-movie, Arachnophobia.

I came home at lunch to find a bleary eyed Cassie, eyes red and damp from melting down over finding a spider in her towel after showering. Oh, and the millions and millions of spiders we have in our house. My superhero wife spent the morning vacuuming the windows and crown moulding, wiping out cracks and crags above, behind, in-between, and below most every object, doing her best to rid our humble establishment of the very living beings who ultimately protect our living environment from various critters, pin-head sized or otherwise. Only trouble is now, she says is that we have a spider population equivalent to the state of California (or Great Britain as they call it in Great Britain).

So upon coming home at lunch, Cassie explained her toils to me, breath interrupted, and in one motion, grabbed a paper towel, lunged across the room, and smashes her fist into the wall, all while screaming 'Victory!!!!!' She opened the rag to reveal her spoils......a spider the size of a grain of sand....and a fat one at that. Turns out that I married an expert mini-spider hunter....which of course I find very attractive.

Anyway, this evening while having dinner and settling in afterwords, we had multiple periods of increased heart-rate....quivering lips....complete paralysis....upon discovering another...and another.....and another....and another spider.....turns out that we really have a lot of spiders in this joint.

We went to the UK version of check out the local, economically-priced wares, namely spider cianide, tarantula toxin, arachnid anthrax....where there was a complete lack of pest control products. Coming from a country where we love our chemicals, We were truly surprised not to find any pest control products of any sort.....but we did buy some clothes pins, cling wrap, anti-bacterial wipes, and a toilet brush....which are great....but still are not creepy-crawly killers.

So now we are off to bed....where we are sure to encounter night-terrors of the eight legged kind. To those of you who know what I am talking about.....thank you for your prayers....goodnight.

Monday, August 25, 2008

London Calling......

Our first long (Bank Holiday) weekend was spent in London....with lots of crowds.....
Scott waiting for our train to arrive with our bags packed. 
We left Saturday morning and took the train from our town (of course we missed our train initially because we were on the wrong side of the tracks and probably running a little too late due to a stop for a cup of coffee!) down to London. Once we arrived in London, we easily got straight on to the Tube and headed to the Mayfair neighborhood to check into our hotel to drop off our bags. Then, it was off to find this stylish cheese shop and cafe I had read about recently -La Fromagerie - for a late lunch
This store and tasting cafe did not disappoint! Oh the cheese. We could smell it from blocks was glorious. This store has the most amazing "cheese room" in it behind glass doors. They only allow a few patrons at a time in there. It was beautiful. The restaurant has a small set of farm-like tables with benches squeezed in the back of the store - their "tasting cafe", and so we ate our lunch back there. We ordered the cheese plate of the day and also the charcuterie plate with some recommended red wine for our meal. 
Our delicious lunch....
And for dessert, we had this delicious rendition of carrot cake. 
I will try to replicate the recipe for that carrot cake! It had a scrumptious layer of orange glaze on top of it and then had a creamy filling with a bit of orange zest in the middle.  YUM.

In order to burn the many calories that we inhaled all weekend long, we walked all over town to various events. On Sunday, we walked towards Buckingham Palace to see the celebration London was having in honor of the hand over of the Olympic Torch from Beijing to London. A very nice English woman overheard us asking someone about where to get tickets and she gave us two tickets to the party in front of the palace, so we braved the lines and the crowd, and attended the celebration for a while. 
Our tickets to gain entry into the London 2012 celebration - it was clearly shown everywhere that this event was sponsored by Visa.
There were big screens set up all around the area to show the closing ceremonies live from Beijing. 
The celebration also included an afternoon of British pop star performances and a lot of rallying for excitement towards 2012. It made us pretty excited at the idea of Chicago being a host for the Olympics in 2016 (hopefully we'll be living there!). 
As we left, I turned around and took this photo. It is difficult to see how many people are in the crowd - but it was pretty neat to see 50,000 people standing in front of the Palace all waving UK flags in the air. 
That afternoon, we walked to the British Museum but both decided after about an hour inside the museum that we would need at least a full day to explore the contents of it. We look forward to returning to museum to learn more about the historical contents inside. 
Scott in front of the British Museum
This morning (Monday) we decided to brave the crowds again and headed to the Notting Hill Carnival. A recent article we just saw online tonight said there were over 850,000 carnival-goers there today. It was crowded! It is Europe's largest street festival with massive crowds, Caribbean music and steel drums, colorful floats, and street vendors selling Caribbean food. 
The crowds going into the Notting Hill Carnival. Notice how all of the first stories of these houses are boarded up - it appeared that every business covered their store fronts with boards so nothing would happen while the carnival was taking place.
The food vendors all seemed to have Jerk Chicken grilling - last year more than 5 tons were consumed! 
The smoke from the barbecuing permeated the air....
Scott trying the Jerk Chicken and the corn on the cob. Both were pretty tasty.
The floats and masquerade people in the parade were quite colorful.
More floats and even an English Red Bus in the parade.
Found this so interesting....a Brit walking around campaigning for Obama in the UK. 
After the carnival, we made our way back to pick up our luggage and then catch our train back up north. This quiet little town and our quaint country hotel was a welcome change after a weekend packed with people. Tomorrow we are allegedly moving into our new house here! GOODBYE HOTEL LIFE!!!
Our beautiful hotel for tonight. We only WISH we had checked into this place before tonight! This place is so much more peaceful and elegant than our time at the Holiday Inn....

Friday, August 22, 2008

The first few days in England

We have survived our first few days in England. Scott started work straight away (as they say here) on Monday and I have been keeping busy with various things.
We are both QUITE tired of eating out for every meal and cannot wait to move into our house so we can eat simple things for lunch, such as grilled cheese and cut-up fruit. Life in the hotel has gotten old fairly fast, but luckily we only have less than a week left of it. 
Our home for a while...The Holiday Inn Hotel.
The view from our "suite" - raining outside (again)
It has rained every day at some point since we have arrived. An investment in a few good umbrellas will be necessary soon. We are both quickly learning not to go anywhere without an umbrella in hand because, inevitability it will start raining! 

I have spent most of my afternoons wandering around the town center and running various errands. On Wednesday I actually bought a cell phone so I am able to communicate with others! I currently have 2 UK numbers programed into my phone....Scott's phone number and then the wife of one of Scott's co-workers who has just moved to this town as well. I chuckled to myself when I went to buy the cell phone because I really do not have anyone locally to call yet. So, I opted for the least expensive pay-as-you-go plan and bought a fairly basic phone but it does have the capability to be used all around the world, so I can travel with it, which is nice.

This afternoon, I am off to a department store (of sorts) in the town center to pick up my order for the dishes, coffee maker, toaster, etc. that I reserved earlier today online. Very interesting system they have....I just show up at the store and pay for my items. This way, I save on delivery fees which is nice. 
The view as I took a walk in our town - en route to the main street.
Each day I have gone to the local grocery stores to buy little snacks and/or bottled water for both of us. On Monday, I was elated to find these little marshmallow cookie treats - for only 30 pence per package! I was so excited to try them....
While these marshmallow treats were yummy, I think I ate too many at one time and now I cannot bear the sight of them. I know there are plenty of other carbohydrate filled treats at the new grocery stores for me to try soon enough. I am just amazed at what a large cracker and cookie selection the grocery stores in this country have to offer.

This coming weekend is a "bank holiday" weekend here so Scott is off of work on Monday. Since we are living in a hotel, we have decided to move into a hotel in London for the long weekend. I am looking forward to some variety in our meals in London, since we have exhausted almost every restaurant in a 3-town radius around here....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Our Road Trip Recapped

Over the past 23 days, we have covered a lot of miles and locations via car and plane. I have calculated the distance we have traveled since we moved out of our Chicago house on July 29th and it is as follows:
We drove approximately more than 2600 miles in our lovely red rental Pontiac car around the United States. Our trip started and ended in Chicago.
We filled up with gasoline 11 times during our road trip. Prices varied along the way - $3.78/gallon (Lafayette, IN); $3.72/gallon (somewhere in KY); $3.95/gallon (Lexington, KY); $3.92/gallon (Marshall, VA); $3.71/gallon (Richmond, VA); $3,73/gallon (Smithfield, NC); $3.65/gallon (Augusta, GA); $3,79 gallon (Dalton, GA); $3.64/gallon (Eddyville, KY); $3.63/gallon (Viadellia, IL); $3.88/gallon (Lafayette, IN); and we forgot to fill up the rental car tank before returning it to O'Hare (a $75 charge - draght!).

We have traveled approximately 12,000 miles by plane in the last 3 weeks - from Washington DC to London and back, and then from Chicago O'Hare back to London. In total, we have traveled over 14,600 miles since July 29th. That means our average milage per week equates to approximately 4,866 miles. Thank goodness we're here and do not have to go anywhere for a while! 

Sunday, August 17, 2008

We are finally here!

Although we do not have a house to live in (the contract is still not finalized), we finally have at least officially moved to the UK. We landed at Heathrow before 6 am (UK time) and then wearily cleared immigration with our new visas, and met our driver to travel to our new town. We arrived in our new town at about 8am today with our 184 pounds of our checked luggage (plus our carry-ons) in-tow. Upon our arrival, we tried to check into our hotel, but of course it was sold out, so we sat in the lobby staring into space and at each other until about 1 pm when our room finally became available.

We are fighting to stay awake so that we may be able to adjust to the time change quickly. Despite the bumps, we are just glad to be here for real this time! 
Cheers! Our drinks on the plane last night in honor of the fact that we made it on the plane to get here! 

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The meaning of Murphy's Law

Murphy's Law (according to Wikipedia) "is an adage in Western Culture that broadly states "if anything can go wrong, it will. " It is also cited as: "If there's more than one possible outcome of a job or task, and one of those outcomes will result in disaster or undesirable consequence, then somebody will do it that way."; "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong."

Muir's (must be some gaelic translation of Murphy) Law (Entry 8/15/08) - We spent the day running around Chicago with last minute appointments, errands, etc. and then headed out to the suburbs near O'Hare to have an early dinner with Scott's brothers. We scurried out of their house after 7:30 so we could go to the airport to return our rental car and check in for our 9:30pm flight. Scott dropped me off at the terminal with all 7 of our suitcases! I felt like I was in a scene in a National Lampoon's movie while I tried to maneuver the cart full of luggage through the terminal, while trying not to hit anyone or anything in the process....
We arrived at the gate with a few minutes to spare before the boarding would begin. 5 minutes before departure our flight was listed as "on time." However, as the departure time drew near, the announcements from the captain began. There was a problem with the satellite system, so they needed time to see if they could fix the problem. Finally, the inevitable happened - the delay became a CANCELLATION. Scott just started laughing when the announcement was made. Murphy really has it out for us! So, now we are spending one more night in Chicago in a hotel by O'Hare and will hope that this flight actually departs on the next day.

Despite the chaos that ended up occurring yesterday, we did have one special highlight during the day. Friends Amelia and Jason had a baby girl, Sarah Elizabeth, on Tuesday. Congratulations to them and to the new big sister Rachel!  We got to meet the little Sarah who was still in the hospital with her mom for a little bit in the afternoon.  
Cassie, Amelia, and Sarah Elizabeth.
I got to hold Sarah in the hospital - so sweet and tiny!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

30 Hours until Departure

We have just received confirmation that our visas have been approved and processed. PROGRESS! Our visas are now in the hands of Fed Ex and should arrive in Chicago tomorrow morning at our hotel. Our flight departs out of O'Hare tomorrow at 9:30pm so we are about 30 hours away from our departure time now...

We are now in transit on our way from a two day visit with my parents in St. Louis and are making a quick stop to see Scott's parents again en route to Chicago. A few last good byes before we really move....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A night in Nashville

We are in Nashville for one evening. Our lawyers who are working on our work permits and visas were able to secure our biometric appointments for us at the application support center here in Nashville for tomorrow mid-morning. There are only 129 of these "application support centers" in the US and we could not schedule this appointment with such a center until we returned from our second home finding trip from the UK, because we will have to surrender our passports at this appointment. 

We thought that our lawyers would push to schedule this appointment for us as SOON as we landed back in the states since it takes another 4-5 business days (after this appointment) to process our final visas, but as with every thing else we have experienced with this move, this appointment is not going to happen on time. Apparently the earliest appointment we could secure anywhere on the east coast or in Chicago was not until August 18th, so we asked the lawyers to look anywhere in the south and we would work to get there. Nashville's office is able to take us tomorrow mid-morning (the earliest appointment they could find almost anywhere east of the Mississippi), and so we are here. After this application center takes our finger prints, photos and verifies that we are in fact who we say we are, then they will send our applications to our lawyers. Our lawyers will then hopefully go back and forth with the US Government and British Embassy to process our visas quickly so we can finally move!

On the housing front, we still do NOT have a confirmed lease for this house we saw last week while we were in the UK.... Our UK agent actually emailed us after we returned from the UK to say she could not move forward with the lease on this house over there because she did not have credit applications from us. I almost went through the roof when I read her email. We were in this English town (same town as our agent) for almost THREE entire days with nothing to do but secure this house and she did not think to give us these applications until we RETURNED to the states?!?!
Such is par for the course on the way this entire moving process has been going for us so far....
Let's just hope our visa part actually goes well tomorrow.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Southest Road Tour

We came back from the UK on Thursday and immediately headed south to visit good friends, starting in Richmond, Virginia. We spent time there with our hosts Sarah & Jonathan and also visited other friends in the area. Not only was it nice to visit with them, but Sarah secured quite a treat for us - we feasted on the ever-famous cinnamon stick pastries straight from their vacation at the beach in Westport, MA....I have tried to replicate these delicious pastries but have never succeeded. Whenever I talk about my favorite bakeries (which you know can be frequent), I talk about this bakery in Westport Point - Perry's. If you find yourself anywhere near this coastal town, take a detour and stop there for their amazing baked goods. Finally after eating a few of them on this visit, Scott understood my obsession with this breakfast delicacy.  
Our gracious canine hosts Petunia & Pete in Richmond. :) 
From Richmond, we headed to South Carolina to see more friends. I had to post this photo of the exit we saw along I-95 near the North Carolina/South Carolina border. Are we in Mexico or the Carolinas? 
The South of the Border Exit....
Our gracious hosts and soon-to-be parents Beth & Bryce in front of their adorable South Carolina home! 
This afternoon we arrived in Atlanta to visit Chad & Lori and to meet their precious son, Owen. Scott & I have both already been christened by the child's reflux system, so we think he must be comfortable with us! Scott fed Owen a dinner of green beans and cereal tonight. He sang the entire way through his dinner which was really cute.
Scott feeding Owen his green beans for dinner. 
Owen's messy (and precious!) face after a full meal!  (A mini version of his dad Chad)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Driving in the UK

Driving here in the UK can be a hair-raising experience. I would recommend anyone who rides as the passenger in the front seat of a car purchases those eye shades those people wear on airplanes. 

I did try to drive here for the first time last night but we had to destroy the evidence.  Instead I am going to post this home video of Scott driving this morning as we explored the area around our town. The video, mind you, is not nearly as scary as it is sitting in the front seat as a passenger in a car here! It is fun to see the houses and the area in which we will live soon.

Back in the UK for a 2nd Home Finding Visit

We are back in the UK for a second home finding trip and I am pretty convinced I will not be leading a jet-setting life anytime soon. The jet-lag has hit me pretty hard this time around. It is now 4am on Tuesday morning (UK time), and I am sitting in our hotel lobby surfing the net because I woke up at 2am with no real hopes of falling back asleep. 

We left Dulles airport on Sunday night and arrived at Heathrow airport on Monday morning (local UK time). We then drove back up to the Midlands Area here to meet with our relocation agent in the late afternoon. She had secured an appointment for us to view the house that we had recently found online so we could see it in person before signing the lease. It actually appears things are set in motion for us to secure this house as our new home. This row house is located in the actual town where Scott will be working and it is more of an "in-town" location, so we are both pleased with the choice. I will also be able to walk to a few shops and amenities, so I should be able to exist without a car for a while if needed.
Hopefully the front of our new UK home....
There are some downsides to the house: no closets anywhere, no wardrobes, no dryer, only a half fridge, no garage, etc, but overall it is a good choice and has old character, but has been nicely updated on the inside. 
The Refrigerator and the Washer ONLY (no tumble dryer.....)
Our time is limited at this point, so we would like to just settle on a place so we can move forward with securing the lease. We have FIRMLY asked our agent to make sure the check is cut for the deposit on this house. Only after the letting agent receives a deposit on a house, can one obtain a lease to then review and amend. The terms of the lease are not clearly spelled out with the owner and tenant until after this deposit has been received, and we are hopeful that the owner will not change the terms of our lease so we will not loose this house. Of course, finding this house and the process to secure it has been surrounded by more out-of-the-ordinary circumstances which now seem more normal to us, rather than if it had it gone smoothly. We are not sure if these problems have stemmed from the owners of the homes in the UK (who overall seem to have no motivation to move quickly on securing leases for their own homes) or if the problems have stemmed from the incompetency of our agent who is representing us here. Either way, it has been a less than enjoyable (and frankly quite frustrating) process. 

Since it seems that our housing situation should be as secure as we could hope at this point, we will be heading back to the US earlier than expected. We will drive back down to London on Tuesday evening to hopefully fly back to the states on Wednesday. I cannot wait for the jet-lag to set in again once I encounter another new time zone....

Sunday, August 3, 2008

From Louisville to Lexington

We have started our road trip....We left Scott's parents in Indiana and drove to Louisville, KY, to visit Scott's friend Andy and the lovely Tara yesterday. We had a nice time visiting with them and also enjoyed a drink at the Maker's Mark Lounge there in Kentucky. After a delicious brunch this morning at the North End Cafe where I had the MOST scrumptious banana cream pancakes with some kind of yummy graham cracker crumbs on them (they rivaled the Bongo Room in Chicago), we headed east on Highway 64 through the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia.
The view for a large part of our drive today - haze and clouds among the mountains.
We have landed tonight in Lexington, VA, mostly because it was a good stopping point after driving for about 430 miles today. After the dinner we ate, I think Scott & I are both glad we took a chance on this Virginia college town (home to W&L and VMI). We are staying at a hotel just off the interstate but decided to venture into the historic district of Lexington and found this charming little restaurant called the Southern Inn Restaurant. The food was fresh, local and absolutely delicious! If you are passing through this town sometime, I would highly recommend you stop for a meal here. It has been a family owned restaurant by a few different families, since 1936 and was originally owned by a greek family (funny since most of their menu items are a little southern in fare). It has evolved over the years but everything is still made from scratch - the breads, desserts, dressings, etc. I had the buttermilk fried chicken and Scott had a trout dinner with an interesting and complimentary berry sauce on it. We indulged on their homemade peach cornmeal upside-down cake and southern pecan pie with a side of homemade marshmallows for dessert....excellent! 
Tomorrow we will drive to DC to catch our flight to go back to England for our second home finding trip. Our agent has been furiously emailing and calling us trying to convince us not to come back for a second trip because she thinks she is close to securing a contract on a house for us, that we had seen online and emailed to her as a suggested property. We are still both skeptical about not having a signed contract from both ends with this new property, since our last one fell through at the last minute. So, we will go back to the UK to hopefully just to see this property in person first, and sign a document agreeing to our terms, and then we will come back to the states earlier than expected. If for some reason the contract does not matriculate, then we will be house hunting again next week. Keep your fingers crossed that we are able to secure this house we have seen online soon (and that we like it still when we see it in person!).