Sunday, January 22, 2012

How long is too long?

How long is too long to be an expat? I realize some people and families make a career out of it and are happy to do so for a very long time. I still unsure that we could be one of those families however we have already extended our tour of expatriate life longer than we ever thought we would.

This question of how long is too long is one we have discussed quite a bit lately because Scott has been offered and has accepted a new job (still with the same company) --- a promotion and a new position that will keep us in England a while longer. How much longer will we stay is the question? That answer is unknown.

We know it will not be forever. Neither one of us wants that situation, as we know we want to return to the US. However, we have quickly become one of those couples who we heard about when we were first moving abroad and both thought that would never be us.

It was the scenario we heard over and over again. "I was offered an expat assignment in X location for 2 years, and we loved it so much, it turned into 5 / 6 / 7....or whatever the greater number was." Countless tales of such assignments that extended well past their initial contract date. And now here we are ---- 3 1/2 years into an 18-24 month initial contract.

It is the right move for Scott's career for us to continue our time here, or so we hope at this point. The new job will be a great challenge for him and will hopefully allow his career to hopefully continue to flourish with his company.

But the more time we spend away, the more I grapple with the question of how long is too long to be away? Initially our answer was that when we were ready to start a family, we would probably return to the US. Clearly, I survived [the rather horrendous childbirth situation in the UK hospital] and we are still there. Dare I say, there is a part of me that has been glad to be in the UK with an infant because of the year-long maternity leave it has afforded me. (of course I am not sure that is outweighed by the lack of family within close proximity! or the really terrible hospital experience!)

Various discussions on this topic of length of time abroad now are focused on Crosby and our wants and desires for her life. Is this still the right decision for us to be abroad, now that we have a child? Is the end time for us abroad now when she is starting school? Is that primary school or secondary school? Or are we providing her with a great gift of life adaptability by being away and learning about another country/culture/lifestyle? Or will she feel unsettled because she will have not spent her entire life in one country and/or location? So many questions and concerns, and of course there is no "right" answer. People view such opportunities differently which is of course why some people accept such assignments and others do not.

We have also said we will continue to pursue the best career paths, provided that we are all healthy and well. God willing, this will continue to be the case.

Obviously with Scott accepting a this new job that will keep us abroad for a while longer, we have agreed that this decision is currently the best one for our family. However, with an end date unknown and time spent building a further life for ourselves in England, we really struggle with the debate of how long is too long and when is the right time to return home? We also realize that "home" will have a new meaning for us in the US because the variables will not be the same in our life / location / home / family etc from right before we moved abroad.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Seasonal Candy

While I was home in the US for the Christmas holidays, I noticed the shift in the store shelves from the Christmas themed candy to the Valentine's Day themed candy. Shortly after January 1st all of the red, green, and santa themed candies were cleared away and the shelves at Target and the grocery stores in the US were lined with red and pink candies, with lots of hearts all around. I started to think that there is much more of a holiday/seasonal candy market in the US than I ever see in the UK. It seems for any possible holiday in the US, there is a sugary and sweet treat to match up with the theme of the holiday.
Two of my favorite candies - Brach's cinnamon and Cherry Hearts made their way back to the UK in the nearly 200 lbs of luggage that Crosby & I flew back with. I cannot say there is anything quite like this type of candy on the shelves here in England right now...

However when I walked into my grocery store the other day, I noticed a sign for "SEASONAL CANDY" so I thought to myself, "Well, maybe there is more of a market here than I thought before." I went to investigate the offerings.
Apparently the candy market goes straight from Christmas tins of candy straight to chocolate Easter Eggs here! Funny to see Easter candy on the shelf in January but I guess when Cadbury has been the most loved sweet manufacturer in this country, the stores do everything to support their products (and I do love their mini eggs! When I think about it, the mini eggs were the only thing I had to eat last year during my 24-plus hours of labor when having Crosby, so I guess they were out on the shelves well before Easter last year too!).

I know conversation hearts do not exist here in England for Valentine's Day but I wonder, do small children exchange candy for Valentine's Day like we did when I was little in the US? Or is it another commercialized event only in the US??

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Change of Travel Plans

Well, Crosby & I were supposed to be back in the UK by now....and I am sure we would be having a fight with jet lag right about now but we're not! We changed our flights (of course with Scott's permission and agreement) so we could stay an extra few days with my parents. Plus, it hasn't hurt that the weather has been 65 degrees and sunny in the midwest this week!
We spent the morning on a walk and at the park in order to enjoy the super nice weather we are having right now.

This always happens when I am about to leave my parents after a visit. I really don't want to leave them because I don't get to see them as often as I would like. When I think about it, I know I am a "home body" and maybe I am stranger than most in that I really love being back at home and enjoy spending time with my parents. Perhaps it's a female thing but Scott is good about encouraging me to spend time when I can with my family because he knows how important it is to me. If I take a step back and look at it, I am often amazed that I do so well with being in a completely different country from my family, but I know that my parents were always good about encouraging my sister & me to flee the nest so we could take advantage of life opportunities.

When I was younger, I remember my father taking out a map and drawing a circle around our city, saying "Here's a 500 mile radius. You girls can go to college anywhere outside this circle." And he meant it! At a time when most parents we knew were trying to keep their children close to home, ours were telling us to go away. Their theory was that we could always come back home again, but we needed to leave first to see what else was out there.

I feel their lessons ring true more often than not these days. My sister & I have both moved away and are making our own ways out in the world. I am sure my parents never imagined that their encouragement in fleeing the nest might lead to our current life in England, but they have been nothing but supportive of it, despite the times when the distance really is far.
Now, in time, it will be my turn with Scott to teach Crosby such lessons in life. But for now --- for one more week -- Crosby & I just wanted to be home again to enjoy some more time after the busy holiday period. Jet lag can wait another week, because I am sure it will find us upon our return to England, regardless of when that is.

Sometimes it is just really nice to be home again.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"Home" for the Holidays

We have been "home" for the holidays. I say "home" loosely because of course we have not really been back in our actual home in Chicago, but we have been traveling between various locations including time spent with Scott's family and my family in an effort to see everyone during this time of year. It has been wonderful to see everyone and Crosby has been a trooper during her various moves between hotel rooms, houses, plane rides, train rides, car rides, etc. For the most part, our time back "home" has been spent fighting jet lag, unpacking, repacking, traveling, and visiting with family (oh and eating more meat than we ever thought possible!). I think we crammed a lot into our visit this time and yet it still doesn't feel like we've spent enough time in any one location, or seen everyone we had hope to see. I know this is just often the case when traveling in from out of town, and now with a baby, time seems even more compressed.

I am not sure if it is better to have both families in one city or if it's better to have them in different locations? I am aware that either situation has its own set of benefits and challenges. For us this year, it felt like neither side of our family got a fair bit and of course we felt like we were a bit sandwiched in the middle. We were rushed on Christmas Eve to pack up all of our belongings and get everything ready for our travel on Christmas Day, and then we didn't get to stay long on Christmas Day with my family because we had to fly twice, transfer planes, etc. and drive another hour to get to Scott's family once we landed at our final destination. So, we ended up eating Christmas dinner back at O'Hare airport where we had to transfer flights. Then once we got to Scott's family's house, it was late and so we did Christmas gifts, etc. the next day. So much pressure around one day and it just goes by in a blink of an eye! I am not sure what the answer to the splitting of the holiday is - it would be a challenge even if we were just in Chicago, still but of course the international aspect makes it even more complicated. Despite the headaches of travel, we did enjoy our visit as much as we could and were very glad we decided to spend the holidays back in the US. Crosby of course probably enjoyed it the most because she had everyone's attention!

Crosby at the train station in the suburbs of Chicago. Crosby & I took a train from the suburbs of Chicago while Scott stayed on to do some work for a few days at the start of our time back in the US.
Having dinner in the city with some extended family. Crosby loved being out in public and eating at the table in a proper high chair.
Bundled up in her snow suit for the cold Chicago weather. Thankfully no snow, but it was cold!
Enjoying a dinner out at one of Dad & Mom's favorite old restaurants.
On the plane again....leaving Chicago and off to see my family.
Crosby's ride through the airport (she will have seen the inside of O'Hare airport 5 separate times during this trip back to the US alone!!).

We spent some time with my family and then flew out to see Scott's family on Christmas Day.
The three of us on Christmas.
Crosby loved playing and being with her Aunt Carrie again!
Playing with her nativity set on Christmas morning.
A brand new baby doll for Miss Crosby! She was so happy and loves giving the baby doll kisses.

Hanging with Grandpa Craig at his house.
Crosby has really become attached to her little stuffed lamb. The lamb even had to join her at breakfast a few mornings while we were with Scott's family. She would not let it go!
A gift from Grandma Cris - a motorized hamster. At first Crosby was scared of this pretend pet but by the end of our week's visit, she had really warmed up to it and was chasing it around the house instead of letting the hamster chase her around.
Spending time with Uncle Todd & Gail was fun.
A third Christmas gift opening event for Crosby. Gifts with Great Grandma!
Visiting with Great Grandma and practicing her wave.
Watching football games with Uncle Matt.
Enjoying her visit with Grandpa Craig & Grandma Cris.
On the plane again....another flight, back to Gram & Pa's house on New Year's Eve.
Ringing in the new year with Pa, Gram, Uncle Ray & Aunt Claire. Although Crosby didn't know it, she was the greatest entertainment ever for the evening.
Crosby has been busy sifting through the local newspaper and clipping coupons and sale ads while we've been back. The newspapers in England don't include such sale flyers and coupons.
Spending time with Pa and winky the lamb too.
Learning new tricks - first how to use her new snack "catcher" with Gram.
And then how to drink from a straw!
It's been a great visit but now it's time to start packing to go back to England....