Nearly There, Just Missing a Few Boxes.

It has been quite the eventful week! GP visits, packing, paperwork, and really sweaty trains! Where do I begin?

Let’s start with the exciting bit – the house inspection passed and we are officially getting the keys handed over on Friday! We had a rather extensive tour of all the inner working of the house, and learned some cool new facts along the way. I don’t know when I got to the point in life that smooth closing cabinets in the kitchen and built in hair catchers in showers became cool, but it happened at some point. After being taught how radiators work and what not to put down toilets, as well as the useful bits and bobs, we’ve signed off on what will hopefully be some of the last few bits of paperwork before we can move in! Well, ignoring the fact we’ve had to hire movers to get there. That’ll be another 3 forms at least.

Ahh, it was amazing seeing the place at 99% complete! Because I’m a nerd and have nothing better to do on public transport, I even made a little before and after photos between when we last saw the interior in May to now.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being so close to completion means it was also a week of frantic packing. Unfortunately, that’s where the GP visits cropped up. I’d been poorly on and off all week and didn’t get much sleep. Poor M had to pick up the slack and pack singlehandedly during the workweek, on top of doing his normal 48 hour a week job as well as cart me around for doctor visits. Honestly, I married a saint of a man.

Whatever it is that’s afflicting me, it was mostly contained over the weekend and I managed to get a hefty portion of the house packed whilst M was working the night shift at the hospital. It was a grand team effort, with him building boxes in the evenings before work and me filling them all up while he was asleep. It’s this time of year when we pack up to move every year that I (secretly him as well, a little) contemplate a severely minimalist lifestyle that doesn’t involve ALWAYS having to buy new packing boxes. Honestly, I don’t know if they’re dying at an alarming rate or if our stuff is expanding, or both. It always seems to be a different size that’s gone missing each year too. Moving is fun like that.

As this will hopefully be the last move for awhile, we’re getting movers to help successfully transport everything to the new house without completely scuffing the walls up. I will be eternally grateful to them for moving all the heavy bits in the middle of the summer, especially if the weather decides to give us a heatwave again.

And about that HEAT. Britain is not an island meant for weather above about 27° C. And it hit 33° C this last week. The trains literally started melting the tracks. They were actually buckling. Greater Anglia tried to work with this by moving trains really slowly across them and not running as many trains in general. Of course, the trains they did run were the mostly older stock which have little vent windows and no A/C. How many trains had further delays caused by passengers passing out in the heat inside the carriages is beyond me, but they intentionally cancelled 47 train journeys on the hottest day. This led to some great British sarcasm at work:

DC0ygABW0AAO1eE

At one point Greater Anglia even put up a picture post on their Twitter account (now deleted) with bullet points on how to beat the heat and all that with tips about drinking water and only pulling the emergency handle at the stations. The best tip though? I swear to god they had put on there “Decide if you really need to use the train today.” Yes, because I’m sure loads of London commuters can just call in to work to say it’s too hot. We’ll all take the bus. Honestly.

Thankfully, the lab has been a blissful 22° C for the last two weeks, so I can even enjoy a hot cup of tea in the dead of summer. Unfortunately, I’ve been limited to only one cup a day for two weeks by the GP to settle out the whole upset body dilemma. The first three days I had a raging headache and wanted to sleep on my desk, but it seems to be getting better now. I might even (*cue shock and horror*) consider keeping my caffeine intake lower after all of this. I’m really feeling like I have more overall energy, and I don’t have the constant desire to snack on things. Meh, we’ll see how it all plays out!

What else has happened over the week? Got to walk through the staff portion of a hospital, got my annual dental check up (no cavities!), accidentally walked outside and witnessed the Chelmsford Naked Bike Ride in full swing, and managed to finally kill our shower and am having to revert to baths for the week. Let’s be real – if the letting agency knows we’re moving out Saturday, what are the chances of the shower being fixed before then? In the meantime if you need me, I’ll be hanging out with Rubber Ducky.

Man, it’s going to be a hectic next few weeks, but all filled with very lovely things. After this week we move, then the next week my parents come to visit, then the week after we’ll be taking them down to Tetbury so all the parentals can see each other and enjoy the English countryside. I will attempt to keep up, but I make no promises!

So far, this week is off to a good start, and maybe we’ll even have all of our packing done in time for this move! Wish us luck for the relocation, and I’ll talk to y’all next week! 🙂

 

— Kate

anatomy of a cup of tea

The Big 3-0.

Though he still may be occasionally checked for ID at the grocery store, the Significant Otter has reached the big 30th birthday milestone in life. For the last few birthdays we’ve rather made a habit of going abroad for the big day, but for a milestone birthday you should really celebrate with a big to do. And we most definitely did! M invited all of his friends around on the Saturday before the actual day. Ended up with absolutely perfect weather for the BBQ and partied merrily on until the evening at our local pub The Ship nearby. We had such a great time, I rather forgot to take any photos! Ah well, sign of a good party then. 🙂

D55124C0-74CB-4FA3-8439-09C00A33DC01
The only photo I got – pre-festivities.

The following weekend we packed up the surviving decorations and drove out to the Cotswolds to celebrate Birthday Round Two with the family. The weather was not as gloriously perfect, but the day of the party held steady and we enjoyed yet another BBQ. You’ll be unsurprised to find out that most of his presents this year were BBQ or otherwise back garden themed.

He may be in his 30s now, but it doesn’t seem like anything has actually changed all that much. (Though there were vegetables at both BBQs – a sign of the times!)

It was a lovely few weekends with both friends and family, and I’m glad we’re heading back out again next month when my parents get back into the UK for a visit.

Well, it’s only taken a few months worth of posting, but as of this entry I’m caught back up into the present(ish)! From here on out, the post and the current events may actually coincide. Maybe. Talk to you next week!

 

— Kate

Back to America, Part Two (Summer 2016)

So we left off with the husband and I travelling back up to Salt Lake City and civilisation in general last post. That will be short lived. But first, we get to see my parents again! Mom and Dad came to rescue us from the airport and take us back to theirs’. (After a quick stop for lunch and a venture around the nearby Super Target of course.)

Man, going back to my parents’ house felt like no time had passed at all, but in the same vein I was coming back after a year gone and now with a husband in tow. Still, all changes were good changes, and it was fantastic to see everyone again! We passed on offerings of Percy Pigs and Jaffa cakes, and Dad made some delicious chicken enchiladas for dinner. We capped off the night by hanging out in the new pseudo-pub my parents have built in their basement. Seriously, it’s awesome.

The next afternoon M’s parents arrived in town to see the sights before we all came back to my parents’ for the big party in a few days time. When in the region, you absolutely have to go and see Yellowstone National Park, so that’s what we planned to do. Tuesday morning we all piled in a car and headed up to Wyoming/Montana.

The first day was a mosey about the western side of the park, following the river and the hot springs at the edge of the caldera. We ended the day by driving to Cooke City, Montana and having dinner on the Main Street before heading to our rental cabin for the evening to relax and play some card games. By the end of the night, you could start to see visible withdrawal symptoms from the internet and phone service from M.

img_0632img_0633img_0636

The next morning we went in with more focus on what to see, only to be further stalled by the copious amount of bison on the roads. The attitude towards seeing bison in the wild changed vastly from the beginning to the end of this journey. They are majestic creatures though, even if they insist on standing in the middle of the road.

img_0666

We continued our waterways trend, but this time went to the famed Yellowstone Canyon, for which the park is named. The walls of the canyon have a distinct yellow hue to them. M and I separated from the pack and wandered down a trail on the side of the canyon, which looking back on it now may not have actually been an official trail. It was nice enough though until we found the way barred by fallen trees. From there we turned around and had to get back to the vehicle in order to see our next point – Old Faithful!

img_0669img_0676

Old Faithful is indeed pretty faithful, but its timing has changed due to earthquakes in the area over the years. Since 2000, it erupts about every 45 minutes to 2 hours. The nearby Old Faithful Inn has signs posted outdoors with approximate times for the day. The geyser isn’t the tallest in the park, but its eruptions can shoot  3,700-8,400 US gallons of hot water up to 106-185 feet in the air for about 2-5 minutes.

The Old Faithful Inn is an attraction unto itself once you’ve witnessed the geyser go off. It’s the largest log hotel in the world and has a massive stone fireplace in the main hall. It was originally constructed in 1903-1904 and was advertised for having electric lights and steam heat. It offers all that and paid wifi these days, which I witnessed M seriously considering at the time. We distracted him with ice cream cones from the shop off the lobby and headed back to the cabin. Slowly. Through a herd of bison. Dinner, you will be glad to hear, had free wifi included.

Thursday we popped into a Main Street cafe for breakfast and then drove into the Mammoth Hot Springs area. We admired the features of the massive buildup from slow geyser growth, as well as a moose roaming the village. Feeling quite enough outdoors for the time being and needing to get home to help Mom finish setting up for the party, we headed back after a quick lunch stop.

img_0700

And now, you must wait in further suspense to hear what this epic party was all about – unless of course you were there. In which case, shhh. I’ll tell it next week!

 

— Kate

 

 

Back to America, Part One (Summer 2016)

It was bound to happen eventually. Yes, I went back to America last summer for three weeks. Man, that was an adventure. 🙂

We began our journey in London, boarding on to a plane and sitting there for the next 10 hours. As it seems to be a tradition by this point, the significant otter had just gotten off night shift and wasn’t too fussed with the soon to be 7 hour time difference. I didn’t sleep quite so soundly.

However, we arrived in good spirits into Salt Lake City airport, collected our bags, and headed over to border control to enter the country. I’ve gotta say, it’s a pleasant moment to know that someone actually has to let me into a country for a change. My favourite person was a bit overwhelmed by the burly customs agent with his weaponry and questions about where we were going and who we were staying with, but I happily chirped the answers and he let us in with no trouble. I’m not sure why M seemed to think there’d be any trouble for an Englishman coming to visit America with his American wife. I suspect he just needs a baseline level of things to worry about.

We waltzed through the gates and back into the land of my birth, headed towards the car rentals. The doors opened and we were immediately hit with the dry, hot, oppressive air that is Salt Lake in late June. I thought it was glorious. The husband thought he had walked into an oven. Perhaps 97°F (36°C) was a bit much to introduce to the sweets straight from England, but we were going to be in a desert in some form for most of the trip, so I suppose it was best he learned then.

The hotel we crashed at for the evening was across the street from a Cracker Barrel. Of course we had to go in. He needed to witness the American-ness that is Cracker Barrel. And to see what a proper US biscuit was. He survived on a steak and I revelled in the fried chicken. It was a win for all. After dinner, we popped over to a Walmart for his second American experience and picked up some supplies for the next day. I have to say, I was disappointed he wasn’t particularly shocked by it.

img_0619

The next morning we were both wide awake at 7:30 thanks to the jet lag, so we decided to go see the Salt Lake before the temperatures rose. I remember visiting the lake last in a cool March afternoon, and forgot some of the things about Salt Lake that are wise to remember.

  1. It is indeed salty, but doesn’t have the tides like the ocean. Therefore when hot, it smells quite strongly of fish and salt spray.
  2. It is really, really sunny in Utah.
  3. The midges like to take over the edges of the lake on nice warm days. Like Biblical swarms that you don’t see until you walk into their lair and they all start to fly away.

On the plus side though, it’s still a phenomenal thing to witness in the middle of a desert, surrounded by mountains. It’s also still beautiful, and the water was lovely to stick your feet into. 🙂 We explored the perimeter near the Salt Air building, then took the causeway over onto Antelope Island inside the lake. There are bison roaming the island! M took it as a mission to try and capture one on camera. I was content to just drive and enjoy the breeze.

img_0483img_0486img_0501

We went back into the city when the afternoon arrived and had a wander around the area for the rest of the day before calling it an early night. When in Rome and all that meant that we had to go look at the Mormon temple. It’s honestly not as big as the photos all make it look, but it’s very distinctive in the centre of a bunch of modern city sky scrapers.

The next day I woke up sunburnt to a crisp, whilst the sensible husband was fine from his constant slathering of sunscreen the day before. Thankfully we had a bunch of water in the back of the car from the shopping before, and so we continued our journey out of Salt Lake City and down into southern Utah to see Zion National Park.

If M thought SLC was bad, he didn’t know what he was getting into. When we arrived into Zion it had reached 107°F (41.6°C) and the park rangers had put up warning signs everywhere to drink loads of water. Even the local wildlife was parched.

img_0540

We started at the top of the canyon and drove inwards, then carried on through and explored through the Zion Canyon at 3,000 feet deep on foot. The top of the canyon is entirely desert, but in the basin where we were was forest and the North Fork Virgin River. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go into the Narrows this trip, as we were just too hot to safely continue walking long distances. Zion never fails to feel like an otherworldly experience though. It really does feel like stepping back in time, and the photos never do justice to the actual sight. I cannot recommend the park highly enough.

 

img_0523img_0529

As the sun slowly began to drop in the sky, we left Zion and headed to St. George, Utah to sleep for the night. We had found this really interesting place called Inn on the Cliff online and booked it because A) it had a beautiful view and a connected restaurant and B) it was next door to a private airport and M wanted to peep at any prop planes going through it. It turned out to be probably the best hotel we stayed in on the vacation, and I wish we’d had more than a night there!

img_0558
The view from our room.

Day three began and we got to watch the £ plummet in value. Oh yes, Brexit happened the first day we arrived. Yeah, that was only slightly traumatic.I don’t think any of the English family are still overly keen to discuss it at any get togethers. We felt a bit separate from the world at that point though, going from one desert wilderness to the next. Sighing at the news and packing our bags, we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Just like Zion National Park, photos do not do justice to Bryce Canyon. Oddly enough, the area is not actually a canyon, but a massive collection of giant natural ampitheaters along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. These are filled with distinct geological structures called hoodoos, which have been formed over the years by the constant cycle of snow, rain, water and wind. Though only 70 miles away from Zion, Bryce is much higher in altitude with the rim varying from 8,000 to 9,000 feet. It doesn’t feel like it when you’ve driven up to near the top of the rim, but you certainly feel it when you start walking and gasp like you’ve been running.

img_0586img_0576

After catching our breath and marvelling in the natural beauty, we reluctantly got back into the car and started to drive towards Salt Lake City again. I’ll leave you here in this tale and continue next post!

 

— Kate

 

The Great Visa Event

You always hear horror stories every now and then with anyone having to deal with federal governments, especially for permits and visas and such. For everyone following my summer’s rambles, you’ve realized that I quickly became one of these stories. At this point, I’ve decided to make a timeline of this ordeal for anyone else that may be searching the internet wondering where their visa and passport are if they end up in a weird situation like I did with an approved visa that just wouldn’t come home!

Without further ado, I give you – The Great Visa Event:

June 30: Completed the application online and paid the visa fee. After recovering from the pain of the standard cost of a visa ($527 in total), I did not choose to pay the additional $170 to have it fast-tracked to me.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.19.50 pm

July 3: Completed biometrics in town and received my required receipt. Overnighted the application and all associated documents to the New York City British Consulate. (Didn’t arrive until July 5 due to the federal holiday and honestly probably wasn’t even looked at until Monday, July 7. The overnighting made me feel like I had some control though.) [3 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.22.49 pm

July 8: Received confirmation that my application had been opened and that I should expect a decision in approximately 10 business days. [8 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.25.55 pm

July 17: Visa was approved and I was notified via email in only 7 business days! [17 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.27.15 pm

July 24: Received email stating that I had not sent my application with a completed pre-paid return shipping label and appropriate packaging. (I did, but I’m not going to pick a fight over this. It may have just gotten lost.) Was told to follow specific instructions to give them a PDF of a pre-paid label via email to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk. I followed instructions and emailed the PDF to the consulate the same day. [24 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.28.43 pm

July 31: Used UKVI’s contact form to ask why my tracking information still said pre-shipment. Was told to wait a few days and re-contact them with details. [31 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.30.20 pm

August 7: Messaged UKVI through their contact form again and was told that my visa had been approved and they would alert me when it was mailed out. Of which I was already aware.  Tracking status through USPS still showed pre-shipment. [38 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.32.36 pm

August 8: Bought a second shipping label and emailed it to the consulate at UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk again as requested, assuming the first was lost in a spam box.  Sent a message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk as suggested by others that had gone through the approved-application-gone-missing process and asked why my papers were still not in the mail. No response from either, and tracking status still showed as pre-shipment. [39 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.34.27 pm

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.37.50 pm

August 12: Sent a repeat email of the PDF of the shipping label to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk and repeated my message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk asking where my documents had gone. Found another contact form through the UKVI website to lodge a complaint about missing documents after waiting 10 days. Sent them a message with my email and phone number to contact me. (Never did get a response from them, come to think of it.) [43 days from start]

August 13: Sent the PDF of the shipping label to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk yet again and repeated my message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk again. Called the pay-line for the UKVI and got to speak to a human who told me that there have been delays in shipping out processed visas. (That would have been nice to know.) He sent me all the information he had on shipping instructions for New York and said he’d escalate my case. I was told to call back Friday if I had received no word. [44 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.53.12 pm

August 14: Notified by email that my package would be in the mail in one business day. Email from USPS tracking that stated the package was leaving NYC by the afternoon and later that it had been dropped off at the New York City post office. [45 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.54.48 pm

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.56.08 pm

August 17: USPS tracking showed the package had arrived and left Boise, ID and was expected to be delivered by August 18th. [48 days from start]

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 05.58.19 pm

 

August 18: Visa is here 7 weeks from the start of the application! They returned it with my current and expired passport, as well as my original final transcript and the extra passport photos I had sent along. The visa is basically a pretty fancy sticker placed on an empty page in the back of your passport. (Perfectly placed ink line on my left eye there, haha.) Being there for a year for courses allows me to be there one month before and four months after, so it’s valid from September 2014 to the end of January 2016. [49 days from start]

IMG_0005

 

Needless to say, I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS. A beastly, massive-sized weight of stress has been taken off me and I can now enjoy my last two weeks (two weeks!!) in peace with my friends and family. Let’s do this. I’ve got it. 🙂

 

[Edit]: Gianni from acrossthehogsback (Another brave soul crossing the pond for a higher education. Go check her out, she’s awesome!) had a great question that I kind of over-answered, but realized that I never mentioned before. After dealing with the vagaries of federal government requests, I can only hope it’ll help someone else looking at the required documents for their student visa. This is all from an American perspective though, so your mileage may vary.

Gianni asked, “Regarding transcripts, was it actually necessary for you to send them or did you just do it preemptively? And did you send newly ordered, official, sealed transcripts?”

Excellent question! I preemptively sent in more than the minimum required documents to avoid any delays (ha!) for my application. In my package to the UK Consulate I sent:

  • A completed application form with my biometrics receipt attached (duh, a requirement).
  • I didn’t need the Appendix 8 form for my major, so nothing there.
  • My current passport as well as the expired passport
  • 4 passport photographs (The post office only prints them in packs of 8, so I figured some spares wouldn’t hurt.)
  • My proof of student loan letter from the university, proving I had the £820 a month minimum necessary for my time there (Crazy that living in London will make that £1020 a month!) I thought about adding bank statements for my savings account, but never did. Couldn’t hurt you if you have it.
  • A printout of my CAS information webpage that the school sent me.
  • Didn’t need to do the NQF assessment for mine, nor the ATAS clearance.
  • I hadn’t paid any money to the university because I’m doing loans, but I did put money down on my flat, so I sent them copies of my email receipts. Apparently that will look good.

For the “documents used to obtain your CAS” I sent:

  • An official final transcript from the university I graduated from (I went to 3 before graduating with my BA, long story)
  • Added in copies of the info from the other schools (Reeeeally didn’t want to pay them more money for official transcripts when ISU had all the info on my final transcript with them.)
  • A photocopy of my fancy degree paper.

Basically, as a US citizen we’re super low risk and they really don’t need much, but if you want to send them everything they have on the list including the things that don’t count for Low Risk Countries, it’s fine.

Oh, and for the love of all that is holy, DON’T FORGET THE RETURN ENVELOPE. 😉 And remember to put the consulate address as the sender!

 

 

— Kate