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March 30, 2007

Neighbourhood Coffee: Six Nationalities

In my living room for the first time this morning, there were gathered seven lovely ladies from my neighborhood. Two were British, and the rest were all different nationalities:
Irish
Italian (married to Greek)
Mexican (married to American)
Australian (married to Indian-Brit; with her 8-month-old baby girl, so cute)
and me, American. There was going to be another USA gal, a lady from Seattle with her three-month-old, but she got a sore throat last night and decided to rest. The Belgian lady (apparently married to a Dutchman) and the Danish lady, plus a handful more Brits and Americans, couldn't make it this month.

I love that my neighbourhood is so international and that we're starting to get to know each other a bit.

I realize that my previous posts could be mistakenly interpreted as saying I want to live back in the USA. That is not the case. There is no "back home" for me, having lived in four states but not grown up in any of them. We didn't leave a house or stored goods anywhere. My mother lives somewhere I've never lived. All our stuff is here with us. I like living in Europe in general. I'm just a confused citizen of the world struggling with our various changes of lifestyle in the past two years and trying to forge a new happy medium in my new location, with my husband's new job rhythm, our growing kids hitting new stages, and back in anglophonia.

March 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 28, 2007

It's the End of the Relocation Honeymoon, Part II

(Part I is here)

My emotions have been quite close to the surface in the past couple of days. I miss having friends nearby with whom I share a little history. I miss little daily rituals like drinking Dole Orange Peach Mango juice (or even the Joker multifruit juice we had in France - just haven't quite found my daily juice here in England). I miss our church in California.

It has felt really good in the past few days to give room (and courtesy) to my mysterious feelings, to share a few bits of them with new and old friends, by email, blog, Twitter, and face to face. At first I thought I was just in a short "funk" - but I now I think it's going to take a little longer - I've been in denial and now I have to accept that we're not going to be living in a francophone country, that the kids are going to be losing much of their hard-earned French from last year (as a result of no longer being immersed), and that my husband is going to continue working over an hour away in a big city. More posts on food and language differences in US/UK/France will hopefully be forthcoming.

Some various thoughts I've been having:

1. Defensive ones:
a) Yes, I know I'm not living in Kazakhstan (and apologies to those of you who are, whether you like it or not). I speak the language here in England, and many things are very similar to other places I've lived. I'm not even new to the ex-pat way of life. I've lived it exactly half of my life, in three different countries which didn't issue my passport. Also I realize that I have an unending list of things to be thankful for. None of this negates my uncomfortable feelings.

b) You'd think I'd be good at this by now.

c) "It could be worse" is a totally unsuitable comment at this point. Unsuitable because "nothing is wrong." One uses "it could be worse" to describe a bad situation. This isn't a bad situation, it's a good one. More appropriate comments I could make to myself might include:

- Let's make the best of a good situation. This applies to the country, the school, the culture, the people, and church. It's all good - maybe not my ideal, and with its share of challenges and differences, but certainly a far cry from anything that could be labelled bad. There are many wonderful aspects of them all.

and

- Bloom where you're planted. An oldy but a goody.

2. Random ones:
a) I've been pondering the romanticization of life in movies; the manipulation of moods using sweeping music with long panned shorts of breathtaking landscapes. Movies vs. Real Life. It's quite a contrast.

b) When writing in my prayer journal - did I really connect with God? Like something you might say over a two-way radio: Hello, hello, come in, please...

3. Helpful ones:
a) My kids cheer me up. E.g. Jason showing responsibility by following up on questions and grading issues with his math teacher, or confiding in me about how much it hurt when he got clocked by a basketball to the nose. Emily progressing beautifully in her piano playing, or giving me a hug.

b) I'd like to listen to my feelings and use them, not stuff them or tell them they shouldn't be doing what they are. Feelings can be very useful (contrary to what I used to think). I'd like to explore them, map them, and then maybe kick them a little until they get up. Oops, that doesn't sound like good psychology. Feelings are just feelings - they need to be treated as such - not good or bad, just useful clue-givers as to what needs attention, what is affecting me deeply. Do you know that Michelle Tumes song, Feel? I also found Flood, by Jars of Clay, very apt for me right now.

c) In a recent post, I mentioned some Bible verses which I had been collecting since February or so and decided to share. Martin commented on them, which brought them to mind again, at a needy time. Thank you. I need to expand on them and put them into practice.

Psalm 25:5 - I need to purposely place my hope (all of it) in God repeatedly during the day. And again. I need to throw my arms up towards Him.

Psalm 31:15 - My life, day, year, home, family, husband, kids, soul, feelings, location and activities are in God's hands. I need to rest in that and trust Him with them all (and my feelings about them).

John 7:37 - I need to drink from Jesus' fountain of living water. This takes time and focus and intentionality.

I'll add two more I just read and loved (again), both from Deuteronomy chapter 33:
"Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders." (v. 12)

"The Eternal God is your Refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." (v. 27)

Recent advice from an experienced new friend here when I spilled my "end of honeymoon" feelings:
- Take a walk with a friend or grab someone for a chat
- pamper yourself
- it's cyclical: this will pass, and it'll come again later...

I, like Amanda Witt, loved this quote:

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."
--Philo of Alexandria

March 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

It's the End of the Relocation Honeymoon, Part I

I have a light developing post on Durable Gift Giving and another on Family Firsts in 2006, but a more pressing topic has taken over for the moment. I'm realizing that we are going to be living here near London (UK) for at least another year after this one, and I'm not sure what to do with my feelings surrounding that fact. Last year at this time we were gearing up for our next big move, and I didn't have to think about anything else. International moves have a way of completely taking over one's brain space. Staying somewhere, by contrast, leaves plenty of time for feeling and thinking. After eight months, things have settled down. Who am I again?

You've heard of the Stages of Grief when someone dies. People here in the expatriate community talk about similar stages of transition regarding international relocation. I wasn't able to find too many obvious webpages to illustrate this, but I did find some helpful paragraphs scattered here and there:

From the Amazon blurb about a book by Barbara Cummings, partially entitled The Sociological Impact of Corporate Relocation on the Family System:

"Relocation is not an isolated event but a process of adjustment over time involving emotional stages similar to the stages of grief and loss. Each family member may experience the relocation differently and progress through the stages at a different rate. This creates a period of disorganization and disorientation for the family similar to a prolonged jet-lag, which I call Relo-Lag(TM). This period of adjustment for the family system is the most frequently cited short-term effect and can last up to two years."


From an interesting article criticizing the pedantic use of the 5 Steps of Grief:

"A change of circumstance of any kind (a change from one state to another) produces a loss of some kind (the stage changed from) which will produce a grief reaction."

"Significant grief responses which go unresolved can lead to mental, physical, and sociological problems and contribute to family dysfunction across generations."

"We don't have to go through the stages in sequence. We can skip a stage or go through two or three simultaneously."

"Grieving only begins where the 5 Stages of "Grief" leave off. Grief professionals often use the concept of "Grief Work" to help the bereaved through grief resolution. One common definition of Grief Work is summarized by the acronym TEAR:

T = To accept the reality of the loss
E = Experience the pain of the loss
A = Adjust to the new environment without the lost object
R = Reinvest in the new reality

This is Grief Work. It begins when the honeymoon period is over, [...] everyone thinks you should be over it, and everything is supposed to be back to normal. It's at this point that real grieving begins."

They also described a funny example of finding your car battery is dead, and how people deal with this "loss."

From the Synopsis of a paperback by William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes:

For something that we have been experiencing all our lives, most of us handle change very badly... each change brings with it new fears and further confusion. How can we better handle these difficult, painful experiences? And what new insights can we learn about ourselves from these transitions? ...the three stages of transition:
1. Endings - every transition begins with one. Too often, we misunderstand them and confuse them with finality. We must recognize endings as opportunities as well as losses, and even celebrate them with rituals designed to open new doors.
2. The neutral zone - the second hurdle of transition: a seemingly unproductive "timeout" when we feel disconnected and things in the past are emotionally unconnected to the present. The most frightening stage of transition, the neutral zone is really an important time for re-orientation. How can we make the most of it?
3. Finally, the new beginning - in transitions we come to beginnings only at the end, when we launch new activities. A successful transition requires more than persevering: it means launching new priorities and understanding the external signs and internal signals that point the way to the future.


From A Portable Identity, by two ex-pat women:

"Women moving overseas primarily in support of the husband’s career are often referred to as the trailing spouse. With each overseas move, the life of the trailing spouse alters dramatically. She experiences a loss of continuity, a loss of connection to familiar surroundings, and a loss of contact with people who have been central to her life. She experiences a wide range of thoughts and feelings that may not make sense to her. How she defines herself – her sense of who she is in relation to her world – becomes unclear. Her identity is undergoing a process of change that she may not fully understand.

The research shows that the spouse's satisfaction during an international relocation is key to its success."

Continued in Part II.

March 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 25, 2007

Pheasant

The yield of a blustery, gray walk in Great Windsor Park yesterday: a close-up pheasant sighting. It is a pheasant, isn't it? That's Jason in the cold weather gear with the big branch.
Jason_with_pheasant
Pheasant

March 25, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 23, 2007

Now I'm Smiling

...David is working from home today (as he has a few Fridays now - a nice blessing and reprieve from his usual 2.5 hours of daily commute). Together on his lunch hour we put together a batch of fudge brownies with walnuts, pecans and almonds...it's baking now...I like cooking with David. Even if he does take a long time relishing the thought of each recipe before settling on one, while I am chafing to get going on the thing. It's kind of charming, actually (don't tell him I said that; oops, he reads my blog).

I said to him as we were putting the finishing touches on the brownies, "We've been living together a long time now. But not long enough." I really like him.

* * *
Now I feel like I'm twittering in my blog. Sorry, I think you can only read the stuff at that link if you sign up for a twitter account yourself (which I only did so I could read Julie's, Ted's, Enoch's, and Chatterboy's twittering). I heard about it at Julie's blog; I do think it is a bit of TMI (last definition), but can/could be fun at times, for the detailed-information-maniac-people who have however gotten over their compulsive-need-to-keep-things-up-constantly and only-do-it-when-it's-fun.

March 23, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thirsty

The blossoms on the magnolia tree and the rhododendron bush have faded.

It snowed yesterday morning, only sticking to very cold things like cars and parts of roofs, colder patches of soil and corners of driveways. Emily was grumpy that it could be snowing and she would still have to go to school, where they don't let you throw snow or run on the snowy grass (which makes you slip in the mud anyway, even if you could). It had all melted by mid-morning.

Today it's overcast and gloomy outside, and the daffodils are bent over, dejected.

But Emily's having a friend over after school, and Jason is going to a double 13th birthday party tonight for two girls in his grade - the entire 7th grade is invited, and it's a disco-type party. The four parents will be in attendance, I was glad to hear. One of them is Jason's Theatre Tech teacher at school, and also teaches drums, which makes him very cool indeed, I suppose. One family is British and the other Canadian. Jason has been in a school play with one of the girls, but I don't even know what the other looks like.

If this post sounds down in the mouth, it could be partly because I saw "Becoming Jane" at the cinema yesterday with some friends, and it depressed me. It did make me extra-thankful for what I have in my own real life, but it also made me very sad for Jane. I realize that a bunch of the storyline was dreamed up, but some of it was true.

Looking upward towards Hope and Glory, here are my five favorite verses of the past seven weeks:

"In Your unfailing love you will lead the people You have redeemed."
Exodus 15:13

"You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long."
Psalm 25:5

"My times are in Your hands."
Psalm 31:15

"How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!"
Psalm 139:17

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink."
John 7:37

Glug, glug, glug. Ahhhhhhh.

March 23, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 20, 2007

That's What Mothers Are For

CrockeryvaseMy son was going to donate his first attempt at a handmade clay pot to the school art department to store paintbrushes in, without me even seeing it. That's how much he thought of his school art class creation.

Nonetheless, at my request, he guided me into the art room to take a peek.

Now, objectively, I could see some reasons why he might not feel it was the best he could do, or why he might compare it with others' work and see a lack. But subjectively? Subjectively, I absolutely LOVED it. I grabbed it and tucked it under my arm and talked about how I really liked the round holes around the top, and how maybe I could stick some flower stems through those, and how I liked the purple parts and how the blue melded with them, and how the glaze in certain spots was particularly smooth and glossy, and I thought how proud I was to see my son's initials on a piece of crockery.

The pot now sits on the window sill above my kitchen sink, holding carnations and chrysanthemums. A happier fate than a corner of the art room with old paintbrushes. I wouldn't think of giving it up. All of a sudden my son is rethinking things and pondering aloud whether this could be my early birthday present...

Edited March 22nd to add photo, per Leah's request in the comments below. Permission granted by the potter himself after some consideration about who might actually be reading this.

March 20, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 18, 2007

Rainbow of Shirts

Our 7-person ladies' choir was told to wear black trousers and a solid, bright-colored blouse for our first performance this morning. Without any consultation amongst members, these are the colors we got:

RED (the pianist)
ORANGE (the conductor)
YELLOW - soprano
GREEN - alto (me)
LIGHT BLUE - alto
DARKER BLUE - soprano
PURPLE - alto
PINK - soprano
WHITE - alto
Rainbowofshirts

March 18, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

ABCs of the Last Few Days

Acting
Balloons, Birthday, Book, Buds, Bus
Concert, Candles, Camera, Clouds, Cake, Captions
Daughter, Daffodils, Drama
Elegance (no pockets)
Furniture moving, Festival, Frosting
Green, Guests, Girls
Husband, Hugs
ISTA*
Jump 5
Kisses
Laptop, Late
Magnolia, Music
Nose**
Overcast, Orthodontia
Photo albums, Polly Pocket, Prayers answered, Popcorn***
Quiet
Rain, Restaurant, Reading
Streamers, Sweat, Singing, Sunshine, Sleet, Son
Telephone, Tissues
Upset person who got accidentally kicked in the mouth
Volunteering, Victorian studies
Windy
eX-patriate eXhibition
Yellow blossoms
Zippered sweater

____________________________________________________

*International Schools Theatre Association, which sponsored Jason's drama festival this weekend, and was also behind one in which I participated as a student at the International School of Geneva back in the '80s. Fun to see it is still around.

** Friday was Red Nose Day here in England, and Jason also did a Red Nose Clown workshop at his drama festival, coming home with one of these "smallest masks in the world."

*** I must have popped 25 bags of microwave popcorn on Friday afternoon, when I volunteered at the "Friday Fever" Lower School event for my daughter. I reeked of it afterwards.

If you feel inspired to do an ABC list for yourself, I'd love to read it. The idea for this post came from Melene, who wrote a list without cheating like me (she only had ONE item for each letter!), then reminded me to do one of my own, in her comment. Thanks again, Melene.

March 18, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 17, 2007

8 Girls Around 9

9thbirthdayballoonsMy husband and I hosted eight third-grade girls in our home for three hours this afternoon. They frolicked with balloons and streamers, played games, opened presents, hunted for colored centimetre cubes, ate homemade cake and ice cream, and giggled together.

Emily is nine!

March 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack