Moving to Chelmsford (Summer 2016)

Because we are gluttons for punishment, only two weeks after returning to England (and returning to the correct mental time zone) we up and moved from Norwich to Chelmsford. Thankfully we had done all the house hunting beforehand, so it was just a case of packing up boxes and sorting out moving day.

But oh, were there boxes to be packed. Boxes and boxes. I don’t know how we keep expanding with each move, but it’s going to have to be slowed before we lose an entire room of the house to storage. It’s always good fun to figure out how you last packed all your breakables before doing it again. One year I’ll photograph it all as it’s done so I remember. Maybe.

Due to time restraints and lack of willing (and wonderful) bodies to help us move, we hired movers for this round. It’s amazing how much faster a move goes when professionals are involved. A bit harrowing to watch though. M and I opted to take the train down to Chelmsford and sort out the rental paperwork whilst they put everything on the truck under the watchful eye of the in-laws. Keys were handed over in much better time than anticipated, so we ended up just kind of sitting on the floor of our new empty rental and waiting for the truck and parentals to arrive.

Everyone and everything arrived unscathed, apart from a flower vase that I had improperly wrapped. Not too shabby all things considered! With much help from the wonder in-laws, we unpacked the basics of the house and even built some flat pack furniture without too much profanity and blood loss. In a bit of a box fortress, but a functional box fortress, we bid adieu to the family and began to settle in for the year.

The excitement for the week (post-moving) came the next day with the arrival and installation of a dishwasher! We’d gone a year without one, and let me tell you what a luxury one is when you don’t have it anymore. Not only the ease of cleaning, but also having a space to put dirty dishes before washing that doesn’t cram your kitchen counters/sink and stink up the place. Let’s be honest – sometimes the night’s dishes don’t always get washed right after dinner. Especially when your husband has the ability to use every pot and pan in the house for even a mere casserole.

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What a sight for sore eyes.

Within a week we had tackled the majority of the boxes and put the rest into banishment in the loft. With the house looking vaguely child-safe, we had company over with their bright eyed little baby. Putting down a blanket in the back garden, this was a brilliant evening for catching up and having a BBQ. There were copious amounts of food as per usual, and no one burnt any hair off their face or arms, so it rates as a general BBQ success.

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Plus it may have just been an excuse to use the awesome new grill as soon as possible.

At the end of the weekend, we felt pretty much at home. We’d decorated some, we’d tidied, and we even met the neighbours. Oh, and the neighbourhood cats.

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I was back on the internet scouring for work, and M was doing well in his new posting for the year. Chelmsford is infinitely walk-able and I took advantage of this with my time off. By then I was (and still am) a firm slave to my FitBit. I have to say, the city doesn’t have the same charming feel of Norwich, but has everything you could need and is only 35 minutes away from London by train, so it’s a fair trade. All in all, life was good. Now to just find work again. I make a terrible housewife. 😉

— 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

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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.

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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

 

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Move to Another Country!)

No no, no babies here. Well, perhaps a food baby from dinner tonight.

Annnnyway, I’ve been in the UK for a month now. A month on the dot today. And it’s crazy how quickly this month has gone by! (Suppose I should stop calling it jet lag and go back to the usual student sleep deprivation excuse.) It feels like I’ve done so much and yet so little in the space so far, though I think part of that was having 3 weeks to just explore at my leisure. Now that I’ve gotten a full week of the program under my belt, I get a feeling I’ll be a lot busier, though I promise I will get in a better habit of posting at least once a week, probably on Sundays like today.

So what’s happened in England to Adventurer Kate since we heard from her last? (I really wish that was still a legit job title.) Well, I’m already used to playing Guess the Time Zone to keep up with friends and family across the globe, but I got a new one this week when Dad went to Japan for a business trip. Technology makes this all even more surreal, as he FaceTimed me from his hotel to say hi before dinner as I was getting ready for lunch here. Still great to see him! Also got to fiddle around with FaceTime audio some and called family while waiting on my laundry to finish at my building’s laundry room on the ground floor. Some people will say that being in constant communication with people back in the States will just make you more homesick, but it really makes it so much nicer for me knowing I can still call my parents and tell them about what a great/awful day I’ve had. It’s also great to hear about the little things like how Mom’s classroom is doing or what’s for dinner there (I’m still jealous of that Dairy Queen run you guys. 😛 ).

Another biggie I suppose, is that I had my birthday Monday, as well as the first day of term. I’m now finally old enough for an insurance drop in prices and I can rent a car without any restrictions! Yay for 25? I have to give a major thanks to everyone that sent me cards and presents all the way out here, as it’s been immensely helpful in getting those last few things I’ve been missing in the flat. When everything finally arrives in the post, I’ll have to get up photos. I even got a ton of well wishes and a beautiful bookmark from some of my fellow students, which was incredibly sweet. 🙂

Classes have been… overwhelming to say the least. I was warned about the differences in the US and UK educational systems, but it’s another thing entirely to witness them. Everything is just assumed that you know, and you have to pretty much accost someone to get any specifics out of them. Like my student loans for example… I did get some excitement waiting in line to find out their whereabouts when the guy in front of me passed out from dehydration. After he crumpled to the ground, he woke up, started apologising profusely, then said he hadn’t had drinkable water in his room for two days. Not sure why he hadn’t gone and gotten a water bottle, but I wasn’t about to ask. Turns out when they said they would release my check on the 29th, they really meant more that the university would receive them, but that I wouldn’t get a check until tomorrow for most of it and the remainder another week after to make sure they don’t get screwed over with the currency conversion. So tomorrow I get to pick up the check and deposit it at Lloyds Bank (I have a UK bank account now! Hooray no more ATM fees!) and then wait for that to appear, and THEN I can get my landlords their next chunk o’ change. Glad that’s not due up immediately. Really, I grumble, but I get a feeling I’ll get the hang of this new education and university system without too much grief.

Classes and time after have gone by quickly, and I haven’t been taking many photos, but it’s because I’ve been hanging out and meeting new people in the department. Having awesome people to talk to and meet up with so soon has made all the difference in the world in acclimating to the university, and I’m so glad it’s worked out the way it has. I’ve not had the chance to speak more with locals, but we have a major international influence in the programme and we’ve all had some fun adjusting to the little changes in life here in the UK, such as…

Not sure what's a worse idea - these or the Cappuccino Lays variety.
Not sure what’s a worse idea – these or the Cappuccino Lays variety.

 

“So a herd of well-dressed men came into a pub we’re in and a lone man with them came in half naked with a tyre and fishnet stockings. It’s not a stag night. What is this?”  “Definitely not a stag?”  “I asked. Rugby team apparently?”  “Ahh, that explains everything.”
“So a herd of well-dressed men came into a pub we’re in and a lone man with them came in half naked with a tyre and fishnet stockings. It’s not a stag night. What is this?”
“Definitely not a stag?”
“I asked. Rugby team apparently?”
“Ahh, that explains everything.”
Well now I have to buy both and see the difference.
Well now I have to buy both and see the difference.

Oh man, there’s really been quite a lot come to think of it. But it’s now midnight and I have a 9 am class to get to tomorrow, so it’s off to bed for me. Expect another post by next Sunday at the latest, I promise.

 

— Kate