Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Traveling Spouse

Scott has been working in a new role (still for the same company) since the start of this year. His new job is requiring a LOT of travel. In fact, I think he's only been in the UK for a two full weeks since the first week in January. It is the kind of travel that has allowed him to nearly reach gold status on TWO airline carriers within the first quarter of the year, and he is almost gaining status on a third carrier. I am not quite sure if those are status achievements he should be boasting about or not!
It's been an adjustment for all of us, most especially for me since during that time I have gone back to work and am trying to balance the work/mom roles while not having the daily support from my husband in a physical sense to pitch in with childcare and/or daily life tasks.

I am learning my way as a single parent during the week and dare I even say at this point now, nearly a full 3 months into it, I can say it is sometimes easier to manage certain things when Scott is away? Not major things but there are certain things that are easier - the house stays cleaner, our bed is always made, I don't have to cook full dinners every night, Crosby knows our routine and what to expect, I can sleep in the middle of the bed, and I can watch whatever I choose at night on the tv! However, these small feats are not out-weighed by the downside of having Scott gone all the time lately. I find that although the house may be clean and I have time alone at night, I find that I am doing this all alone - and I am just purely exhausted by the end of each week when Scott comes home for one or two days before the car service comes to collect him bright and early on Monday morning for his next week of work travel.

When Scott took this new job, we both knew there would be some travel involved. I am just not sure either of us thought there would be this much travel involved - and I know neither of us knew what the situation would be like with me back at work on top of it. This past weekend was a perfect example of the compression felt by both of us, by having one spouse who is not around during the week. Scott was in the office on Friday here in the UK and intended to scoot out of the office a bit early so he could catch Crosby and spend some time with us since he was due to leave early on Sunday morning. As responsibilities go, there was too much work to do in the office and he needed to finish things before leaving town so leaving work early on Friday never happened and his arrival home was after Crosby went to sleep and was even later than expected for dinner.

So, Saturday we raced around town trying to run a few errands - Scott wanted to get a gym workout in, he needed a haircut, etc. I wanted to just have a short break myself since I had been on my own for the whole week prior with Crosby, and that never really happened because Scott had priority on his to do list since he was going to be out of the country the next day. I also wanted some quality family together, knowing that we were only going to have this one day to be together, just the three of us again for a while. Too many things to make happen in a short period of time, of course sandwiched in between Crosby's naps and her meals.

There is a part to all of this traveling and long working hours that I have come to expect - most especially as part of the expat assignment - but there is a part of it that I did not expect and that is the difficulty of having good conversations with my spouse while he travels. Crosby & I can really manage fairly well on our own, although it is tiring. What I miss is the part of the night when even if Scott is home (very) late from work, we have a good 15 minute (minimally) catch up on our days and we have a partner with which to decompress. With Scott's international travel schedule, it has been difficult to get a good conversation in on the phone. His free time seems to come right as his work meetings are wrapping up, just before the dinners start, which is the time when Crosby is at her crabbiest and needs the most attention from me at this point in my day - so a focused call is difficult to manage. Or, Scott's schedule frees up after dinner which seems to be late and at that point I am half asleep because I am trying to get rest for my early start at work the next day. Or perhaps Scott has a free moment during the day - it always seems to coincide with the days that I am in the office and can't talk myself. And then of course there are those trips like the one this week, where there is a significant time difference in where Scott is and the UK, so managing a time to catch up is even more complicated! Couple these challenges with the fact that I find my husband not a good phone conversationalist to begin with and consequently, I feel like there are too many missed conversations during the week. The weekends become even more crammed with playing catch up and even still - the weekends never make up for everything in the same way as it would if Scott were home.

So here we are at the end of a 6 or 7 week solid stint of Scott having been away every week and some weekends straight in a row without a break. He is coming back just in time for his family to arrive in the UK and just in time for me to leave the UK to go on my first trip (and first nights away from Crosby) alone for a short bit. In theory, it sounded marginally like a good idea, although now that it is almost here, both of us are finding it to be a wee bit more stressful than anything else. At this point, we would both say it would just be nice to have a week away from work as a family together, or even better yet, a weekend for Scott & me away at some point too. Neither of those things are going to happen now because of other plans set forth, so we are just trying to move forward in that continuation of the "cram-everything-into-as-little-time-as-we-have-together" mode in the few hours we have as our little family of 3 before our visitors arrive.

The good news for Scott's family who is coming to visit is that they get to spend time with him, since he has arranged his travel schedule to be here while they are. The downside for me is that as soon as they leave and just after I return, his traveling commences again. And although it will be nice for him to have some extra hands to help out with Crosby while I am away, it would have been a good experience for both he & Crosby to be on their own for a week so Scott could see how the other shoe fits (since we have a nanny who comes when I work so she comes when Scott works too!). His response to this idea was something coy, reinforcing the fact that he knows how to make these things work to his advantage. (I describe his response with all my love of course). If I had my parents over every time Scott left town, I think they would live with us permanently at this point!

The only other small advantage from all of these worldly travels of Scott's is that Crosby is gaining a collection of dress up clothes and shoes from around the globe that will rival many other children's play selections some day.....
A vibrant skirt and top from India (Crosby needs a few years to grow into it)
Turkish slippers taste yummy!
The Turkish slippers are pretty cute on her little feet!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mothering Sunday Weekend

Another small advantage about being an American Mom (or Mum as they say here) in England means that I can celebrate two Mother's Days because the UK's version, known as Mothering Sunday, is never on the same day as American Mother's Day. This year Mothering Sunday was March 18th and Mother's Day in the US will be Sunday May 13th. Personally I think that since I gave birth to Crosby in England, we will always want to celebrate both Mother's Days since the British one has reason to fit into our yearly celebration calendar! (we'll see if Scott reads this post and if he agrees with this sentiment once we move back to the US someday)

Although most of our weekends seem to be consumed with just playing catch-up on household tasks lately due to Scott's busy work travel schedule, this past weekend actually felt a bit like a nice break from the routine.
On Saturday, we all dressed in our green attire (Crosby wore lots of green) in honor of St. Patrick's Day so we wouldn't get pinched by anyone. Although it looks like she might be doing an Irish jig here, she's really just practicing her snapping (she started mimicking Scott when he snapped in front of her and now she does it all the time, most frequently on the weekends when he is around). We took a family trip to Bicester Village which is probably the nicest, most upscale outlet mall we've come across. Crosby enjoyed her time "shopping" from the comfort of her stroller. We met our friend BJ at Bicester who journey-ed up from London for the weekend to come visit us. He has been without his lovely wife for a few too many weeks due to her busy work travel schedule, so we offered him the promise of some home cooked goodies and a night outside the city. I think Crosby was quite confused when we walked into the suit shop and saw her Dad and BJ dressed identically!

Then on Sunday - the actual Mothering Sunday, I went to a chocolate workshop in the late afternoon with one of my friends. When I came home from the class, Crosby was nearly ready for bed, but first we had a small little Mothering Sunday card and gift exchange.
Daddy was very clever and helped Crosby shop for a card and gift for me! She gave me a new heart tea cup to add to my English china tea cup collection! And of course, as with all things right now at this stage, as soon as she saw Mom take a sip out of the cup, Crosby wanted to try it too...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Back at it

I have been back at the work bit since January now, and it has been another learning experience I did not expect. I have learned that I like to work.

I am not sure why this has surprised me so much but it has. I knew when we first moved to England that I liked working because I was pretty close to loosing my mind for the first 6 months when i didn't have a job. Once I found my (current) job and started at it, I really was much happier. It's funny because I always thought that not having to work and having all kinds of time on my hands sounded like a dream. Once I had the option of not working and just being a lady of leisure, I actually hated it. It probably didn't help that I had (and still have) a husband who works a LOT and that is part of the gig since we live abroad for his job right now.

Being back at work has more than its fair share of challenges but it also has some advantages. Last week I was invited to the launch of the new innovation center for Kraft/Cadbury because they are now a US/UK company and I work with such companies in my job. (It's really a great fit since I fit the bill as an American living in England). Not only was it a really cool day to spend at Cadbury learning all about their chocolate (and tasting loads of it!!) but it reminded me of why I do enjoy my job - AND - how much I have grown within myself by working over here.

As I was driving to this work event I was thinking to myself that I was not sure if I would know anyone at the event but it didn't matter whether I knew anyone there or not. I know that I have enough confidence to walk into a situation where I don't know anyone and I will be able to walk up to people, will politely introduce myself, have a conversation, and hopefully make a worthwhile connection by the end of my time at such an event.

Thinking through these steps made me remember how I felt three years ago when I had just started my job over here. I was starting to meet stakeholders and other business people in the local area for my job. I met a local CEO of an organization and he invited me to be his guest at a business black tie gala. I accepted because it was due to be a worthwhile business event.
The day arrived and I was on my way driving to the event and it hit me - I realized I was about to walk into a 500 person event by myself and I knew only one person who was going to be in that room. This wasn't an event in Chicago anymore where I had gone to work functions by myself but always knew that because I knew enough people within my industry, I would walk in and would be able to recognize someone I knew - or someone with whom I at least had a connection.

This time, I was going to an event in a new city and a new COUNTRY and I did not have any type of professional network here yet! In fact, beyond my team of employees, I really did not know anyone else within a work capacity.

So, three years ago, I went to that black tie event and it turned out to be fine. In fact, it was more than fine. I actually walked away with a fist-full of business cards and made some connections to people I see and do business with now on a regular basis.

I am reminded of these thoughts and sentiments when I am off to events now where I am not sure if I will know anyone or not. And it doesn't bother me anymore because I know I have moved countries, made new connections, and built a new professional (and personal) network for myself since I had that first experience of getting thrown into the deep end here. It is good to remind myself about how I felt three years ago because it makes me realize how much I have grown and how proud I am to have established myself professionally within a new country, even though it was my husband's expat assignment that brought us over here. I know I would not have had the same (personal and) professional growth opportunities if we were still in the US, so for that I am grateful.

Cadbury's chocolate making headquarters!
They had the guests (only about 40 of us in total), tasting their liquid chocolate with various mix-in ingredients to see if we could create any flavor combinations that were worthwhile. Since it is their innovation center that we were touring, this type of activity takes place all of the time there.
And then as if I didn't consume enough chocolate at the event, they sent each attendee home with a bag full of Chocolate products to sample later.
My little taste-tester was, once again, into the bag straight away, trying to get her teeth into that chocolate! (Unfortunately for her she hasn't been allowed any chocolate).

Monday, March 5, 2012


I love oatmeal in the winter months. Sometimes I eat it all year long too. My latest cooked breakfast cereal has been steel cut oatmeal. In the quest for making easy foods that can be done in advance, I found quite a few recipes for slow cooker steel cut oatmeal. I loved the concept and I enjoy steel cut oatmeal but never made it much before because I knew it took forever to cook. I knew I wanted to make the oats in the crock pot, so I began my quest to the steel cut oats in England, but could not find them here. I was perplexed - if the oats are called "Irish Oats," then I figured they must be sold in the UK which encompasses part of Ireland.

I was incorrect.

I cannot find these oats over here! When I started to look for "Steel Cut Oats" at the grocery store, no one seemed to know what I wanted when I asked for them. I was pointed in the direction of oatmeal but nothing on the shelves that resembled steel cut oats. After some research online, I did find out that they are not necessarily called Irish Oats or Steel Cut Oats over here but are often referred to as "Pinhead Oats."

According to wikipedia, Steel-cut oats are whole grain groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) which have been cut into pieces. They are commonly used in Scotland and Ireland to make porridge, whereas rolled oats are used in England, other English-speaking countries, and Scandinavia. They are sometimes named after the grade of cut, e.g. pinhead oats; steel-cut oats from Ireland are sometimes called Irish oats.

Why do Scotland & Ireland use them but their neighbor England does not? It seems a bit strange to me.

I went so far as to email a few oatmeal distributors in England who claim to have pinhead oats within their product portfolio. One company said their brand was sold at the local grocery store chain, Waitrose. I went into the Waitrose store by us and talked to a supervisor. No, unfortunately they don't carry that type of oatmeal and weren't sure where to find it but suggested calling the local farm shops in the area. So, I called three farm shops. No one remotely seemed interested in helping me to find this type of oatmeal.

Alas, my quest for the oatmeal here was fairly unsuccessful. I have seen it now online but I have not yet ordered from the web store. Instead I took the "import" route and brought back a few heavy tins of it in my suitcase after the holidays. Two months back in the UK, I was almost out of it already so I had Scott buy more last week when he was back in the US for work.

I just find it terribly ironic that is marketed as "IRISH OATMEAL" but it is not even sold in the country that exports more goods to Ireland than any other country!
My new supply of Steel Cut, Pinhead, Irish, or whatever-you-want-to-call-them Oats directly from the US for my slow cooker breakfast recipes. Yet another food product that I would have thought would be available in both countries but apparently is not as readily available as I would have thought.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Into Everything...

I am not sure when it exactly happened but it seems that from the moment we returned to the UK from our extended visit to the US over the holidays, Crosby had quickly become interested in everything and suddenly she was into everything in our house. In late January, she mastered the art of crawling up the stairs to the second story (or the first floor as they say here in England) and so stair gates were quickly purchased. Also, since she is able to pull herself up and stand quite well with one hand on anything to keep her steady, all cabinets, tables, other pieces of furniture, etc. are of great interest. Everything in the kitchen is especially interesting because there is food in there for snacks! These days I feel like I blink, and once I look up, I have found my child into another pocket of the house, exploring something I didn't even know was possible. It is keeping me on my toes but it is actually a lot of fun right now. I am enjoying this stage much more than I did parts of the previous stages for sure.
Crosby climbing the stairs (pre-stair gate). She is able to stand up and reach our "snack basket" in our kitchen island. It is a favorite activity to unpack all of the snacks in this basket while I am trying to cook dinner in the evenings. The stair gate went up and we now have one unhappy little girl who sits at the bottom of the stairs and tries with all of her might to move that gate out of her way!Into the baking cabinet she goes. Rooting around for some good ingredients!And it's not just the kitchen that's of interest - Crosby has discovered how much fun she has while playing in the curtains of the living room. Crosby finds the linen and ziploc bag cabinet in the kitchen. She "rearranges," aka pulls everything out on to the floor. Crosby crawled into the kitchen (very quickly I might add!) and she immediately tore into Scott's fruit and fibre cereal box. She spilled it all over the floor and then proceeded to eat it. If you saw her in action, you might think we never feed her with the way she ravages through the food! Even climbing into the tupperware toy storage bins is new and fun right now. After coming home from a joint birthday celebration the other weekend, Crosby somehow managed to pull apart the bag of the supplies in the dining room while we weren't looking!

I have to laugh while posting these pictures because if I saw these photos from someone else, I might think they never watch their child. Some of these incidents (mostly in the kitchen) have actually taken place under my direct supervision...I will be trying to cook dinner and toys I bring to her are of no interest, so as long as she is not causing any harm to herself, the food, or the kitchen items, I will let her sometimes "rearrange" the towels, etc. while I am there. Other times, she really is just that quick that she scurries out of one room and into another before I've realized what has happened. Fool me once, but now I know (some of) her tricks, so I can pretty easily guess where she is going and what she is going to get into before she does it. However, when Dad is on duty these days, it's pretty funny to see how Crosby knows that he is not aware of how quick she is and what tricks she has up her sleeve, so those make for even more interesting situations.....