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The Edge of Tomorrow

24 Oct

See, the wine glasses in this temporary apartment are far too small.  The people upstairs are training for an obstacle race by jumping off the furniture.  The washer is in a haunted closet under the basement stairs.  I don’t have my car, so I can’t drive to my usual grocery store — and I can’t get delivery, because I’m not sure of my post code — and in the UK, if you don’t know your post code, you might as well be dead.  So, I’m dead, haunted, and I can only sip small amounts of wine at a time.  It’s the last part that’s the hardest.

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Did you think I was kidding?

What I’m saying is, we’re moving.  After three years of sinking and swimming, we’re leaving Camelot.  In fact, although I’m writing this now as I eat the paleo snack bars I couldn’t fit into our household shipment, tapping my too-small wine glass and looking out the giant windows of this strange haunted apartment, eyes musing over trees and trash bins, this won’t be published until we have been gone almost a month.  It’s already happened, folks.  It’s over.

I’ve always kept this blog on the gray edge of personal and impersonal.  You’ve known my oddest innermost thoughts, but not the names of my children, for example.  I see no need to change that, now.  Why are we leaving?  It doesn’t matter. It matters that we are gone.  I’m too numb to handle any more goodbyes, any more plans for the future, any more memories of the past.  Tip for you, no charge: if you are planning an international move, don’t save anything for the last week because it will not happen.  Rental house needs cleaning?  Too late.  Books need returning to the library? Prepare to pay a fine.  Friends want to get together for one last coffee?  It’s over.  It’s over.  Your body is still here but your … mind … is … gone.

We’re not going home, because home doesn’t exist anymore.  We’re not moving back to the same zip code — or even the same time zone — that we left three years ago.  Frankly, I feel like we’re going Thelma and Louise, flying off a damn cliff with the police screaming behind us.  (Note to readers: the police are not actually after us.)  Some people are really good at this.  They make careers out of moving from country to country and life to life.  I think they are all crazy, and I guess that makes me crazy, too.

I might start another blog once we settle down in our next home-not-home.  Or I might just dive silently into new oceans and see if I can learn to breathe underwater for a bit.  I have been writing ahead and scheduling posts to come out here from Camelot, taking us through the end of October.  There are so many places I never got to show you, never got to share, never got to complain about or celebrate or just try to capture.  I’m sorry about that.  Maybe I’ll eventually go through my photo archives and pull out the memories of Camelot that feel too painful to find right now.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what is going to happen next.

Tap tap tap on the too-small wine glass.  Sip sip sip from the too-small bowl.  It’s all been too little, too fast.

River Dee

4 Jun

It’s the season of goodbye and hello, here in England.  And while it is June, it is raining and chill, with only rare outbreaks of sun.  The light wakes me up at 4am and keeps the kids awake past 9pm, which is a difficult sort of wonderful — since the alternative is the winter darkness that seriously screws me up each year.  Still, it hasn’t been a fantastic few weeks, here inside my head.  So, have a picture of the beautiful River Dee, running through royal Balmoral, and turn your mental eyes to the sun of Scotland in spring.

20140418_101739No filter, no editing in this photo — knowing this moment existed in my life is like having a cup of coffee that never runs out.  Look back, take a sip, feel the moment once again, and move forward in the day.  Hope those little moments are there for all of you, too.

The heart of memory

9 Dec

I do try.  I try not to obsess about the days of darkness.  I try to talk about something else … anything else.  I try not to give up and go to sleep at 7pm, because it’s been dark for three hours already and who cares anymore.  I keep making meals for the family, keep wandering through my routines, keep tying myself into to the small knots of details that make up a pattern of life even when it all seems pointless.  I remind myself of days where the sun shone endlessly over green fields.  I remind myself of when the sun was so bright it hurt my eyes and I could fling my arms wide and fold it into my skin.  It seems unfair that even in those summer days, I carried the fear of winter coiled in my heart.  Now that winter has fallen, where is my internal memory of summer, to keep me warm?

IMG_0559edI’m making a deliberate effort to work on my gratitude.  To notice and appreciate the unique experiences and opportunities of living in this country.  Like getting to hang out in Shakespeare’s hometown on my birthday, and contemplate the passing of time with a sundial in his daughter’s garden.

Come what come may, time and the hour run through the roughest day.

God, I hope so.

On the right foot

9 Sep

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I found myself talking with someone new the other day.  She was new to Britain; new to town; new to the school.  Lots of newness.  A bright shining cup full of newness, and I found myself wanting to distill all my past two years into three or four intensely important dollops of wisdom to pour into that cup.  Everything I wished I had known, particularly about school life, in four minutes or less.

Is it bad that the first things I mentioned were lice, pinworms, fifth’s disease, and strep throat?  Because as I spent our first winter reeling to discover — Britain is full of cooties.  For any American mother experiencing the rather laissez-faire British attitude toward childhood nuisance illnesses, it is very nearly shocking to see these ailments go round and round and round the school.

Next up: the days of darkness.  I’m not sure how to warn people about the descent of darkness without sounding like a vampy extra from a bad Dracula movie.  But people, it is real.  Winter darkness, even at this relatively lower latitude, is enough to depress, to dishearten, to distress, to despair.   When the kids go to school in the dark, and come home in the dark, and there’s only a dim crack of sunshine around noon … I shudder.   I’ll be taking my daily dose of blue light starting next month, and gritting my teeth for solstice.

Realizing I was on a demoralizing roll, I still felt I had to mention that joining the school community was not as straightforward as the typical suburban American mom might expect.  Here on the blog I’ve alluded to what some people call ‘politics at the school gate’, and how difficult that was for me.  My first year at school was spent as the invisible woman.  It gets better through some complicated British alchemy of people ignoring you when you are outgoing and friendly, and then reaching out once you stop caring.  How to distill all this down for someone filled with fresh-faced excitement?  “It’s not like back home — but I’m sure you’ll be fine!”  Perkiness in the face of adversity.  How American of me.

And a final tip — I have a feeling no non-native adult person can understand the school uniform.  We come to it too late in life.  Just as our children grow up understanding ipods and tumblr as a first language, they pick up the requirements of the uniform, with its multiple socks and wellies and plimsolls and hats and blouses and swim caps and bags and trainers,  through some peer-fostered osmosis.  Just throw money at the uniform shop, and let the kids sort it out.

And then I realized that over quiet sips of a very nice coffee, I had just told this lovely new person that her children would be subject to disease, she would descend into seasonal affective disorder, British mothers would treat her like a leper, and she was about to lose all her money to an unsolvable uniform puzzle.  Oh, and did I mention the GIANT SPIDERS?   Welcome to Britain!

Sigh.  We’ve been in Camelot two years, as of this month.  England is beautiful, and this country is wonderful, but for these few things I wish I had been warned.  I wish I had been prepared.  So from me to you, if you are planning to move to England or to live here temporarily: it’s not all crumpets and jam.  Just try to embrace it.  Even when it’s freezing and dark.  I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Monkey puzzle

17 Jun

It seems that no matter how hard I try, no matter how my previous forty years of not knowing anything about green growing things presses on me, I can’t help but learn the names of trees and flowers here in England.  One of my favorite newly-named-to-me growing things is the monkey puzzle tree.

monkey puzzle

Araucaria araucana, there it is.  I love to greet these tall evergreens whenever we see them in a garden — it’s like saying hi to a new friend you never expected to meet and are always glad to see.  Hi, monkey puzzle!

It’s no secret that I have found transitioning to our life in the UK very difficult.  I’ve felt like I’ve had all the upside and downside of  bipolar disorder, without the medication or therapy.  The enduring not-homeness of this country will always be with me.  I’m still fighting the weather, no one understands my accent, and why the hell can’t anyone drive omfg, and yet … the list of things I love and have brought in to my heart about England are growing.

Scones, clotted cream, a decent cup of tea.  Adventure playgrounds around each corner.  Walking everywhere.  Incredibly supportive marshals at races and strangers cheering me on at the gym.  Ale.  Pies.  Puddings.  Sunday Roast.  Charity shops.  A culture of volunteerism like I’ve never seen.  Everyone going for lunch by 12:15.  National Trust, English Heritage.  Green grass all winter.  Bits of history not only vibrant under every surface, but still living in day to day life.  A pace of life just a few notches slower than in the U.S.  Health care as a human right. The hilarity of enjoying a warm fire all year round.

Each small thing I am coming to love about England is a small reminder that  this can be home, too.  Even though, right in this moment, all I want to do is jump in the car and drive to the Eastern Shore, walk barefoot in my bathingsuit on the boardwalk eating fries, get a sunburn in the warm ocean, eat boardwalk pizza and stay up late to watch the sun set over the waves … I know a proper brew and the promise of more roses in my garden will make this home enough for me to make it though another day.

At the pool. Not like Gatsby. Whatsoever.

26 May

I think it’s obvious that I’m in need of some kind of break.  Enter our local town pool:

Most amazing town pool I've ever seenIt’s the most amazing municipal pool I’ve ever seen, anyway.  Granted, I grew up going to the pool in Southeast DC.  Still.  It’s fairly gorgeous, isn’t it?

Apparently once pool season comes around, my local peers will swim.  No matter the weather.  No matter the temperature.  No matter what.  Here was the scene at a recent birthday party:

Snow nor rain

Rain?  Hail?  Doesn’t matter.  We’re at the pool, so we will swim.  I suppose the lack of thunderstorms means pools don’t need to be cleared for safety reasons during downpours.  Just keep swimming.  As one does.

Respite

20 May

Ah, hello again, dear blog.  I haven’t been in the mood for you, recently.  Still not, much.  So here are a very few photos from a quick trip up to the Shakespeare Houses in between my visits back to the US.  I needed a ‘normal’ family outing to somewhere beautiful in our corner of England, and we found it.

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The newest wicker sculpture at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.  (See earlier sculptures here.)

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And peeking at it again, over beds of tulips.

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And one of the newest residents at Mary Arden’s Farm, a Tamworth piglet with CURLY RED HAIR!

IMG_5807Hello, I am the most adorable piglet on earth, and I will cheer you up.