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.


- 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

September 06, 2006

Multi-National Classrooms

In our 7th Grade son's class of 16 kids, there are:

- 4 Americans
- 3 Brits
- 1 each from 9 other countries, including Australia and Italy.

That's 11 nationalities out of 16 students! Pretty international!

In our 3rd grade daughter's class of 13 kids, there are:

- 6 Americans (although one's parents are Japanese and Mexican)
- 3 Brits
- 1 each from Denmark, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Germany.

That's 6 nationalities out of 13 students. Still quite diverse :-)

We have neighbors on our street from Belgium, USA, UK, and one family in which the husband is Greek and the wife Italian.

We're loving living in England.

September 6, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 05, 2006

Floor Plans & House Photos

By Very Special Request, my longest-running, non-blood-related friend, Katherine B, received rough sketches of the floor plan of our new home (created by moi), along with some photos of the house inside and out, so she can imagine where we spend our life now. If you are family, friend, someone I have met face-to-face OR you have commented more than five times on this blog, feel free to request these items by email or in comments if you're interested.

September 5, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 13, 2006

View From our Bedroom

Bedroomwindowview_2All green. Very peaceful, quiet, restful.

Unfortunately it's too cloudy tonight to see the meteor showers in the sky above these trees.

August 13, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 05, 2006

The Wait is Over!

"Highly Skilled Migrant Programme"

"We have considered the application against the HSMP qualifying criteria and are able to approve this application."

"You [...] fulfil the terms of the qualifying criteria."

"You must now make an application for entry clearance to come to the UK under HSMP."

Today our British Royal Mail carrier, Keith, handed us a large manila envelope. I have been scrutinizing every item of mail for weeks, hoping and hoping. Today I dismissed the long-awaited envelope and tossed it on the bed towards David, who said, "What's this?"

"I don't know."

He turned it over, and read the return address: HSMP. This was it.

Thank you to each one of you who prayed for us during this waiting time. The long wait is over. The work permit was approved. Now we have to complete the next step of getting the official entry visas, which apparently is quickly done in person (outside the country). We'll officially end our "summer holidays" in England, exit the country (probably to France), and come back in as residents. Very exciting.

The Timeline (soaked in desperate prayer):

May 18             We receive the contract of employment from David's new company in London and soon thereafter submit our first application for the UK work permit, with what we think are a lot of detailed documents.

June 21            Our first application is refused.

June 29            We submit our second application with a thicker stack of documentation obtained by Fedex from various transatlantic and transcontinental sources to whom we are grateful.

July 12             With trepidation, we take all our earthly goods with us on "summer holiday" to England, and move into a rented house.

July 26             The UK work permit office makes their second decision but won't tell us over the phone what it is; they mail the paperwork to our old address in France.

August 2            France redirects the mail to us (but we don't know this has happened yet).

August 5            The work permit paperwork arrives in England and we discover the approval at long last.

Glory to God, who answered our prayers and yours!

August 5, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

August 03, 2006

Monet Calendar Rediscovered

In the second to last office packing box, I just found my desk calendar, the day-at-a-time kind. It still says July 8th/9th. July 10th was packing day in France. Now it's August 3rd. Time to rip off 22 pages. It's a special Monet calendar that my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas because she knew I love Monet. Each day has a different Monet painting. Lovely. Great to have it back on my desk. Thanks again, Nathalie!

August 3, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 26, 2006

3, 13, 30

When we called British Telecom to arrange for our phone number to be the same as the previous tenants' number (a request of the landlord), they misheard our street address house number as

13 instead of 30.

So we were working on the wrong number phone number for a week or so.

Then when the French post office typed in our address forwarding request, they mistyped

3 instead of 30.

So the kind gentleman on our street at #3 received two pieces of mail for us, but didn't know who they belonged to, since we hadn't met him yet. He tried to deliver them to the folks at #13 (without success, of course, as those neighbors hadn't met us yet either)!

Hopefully this is mostly sorted out now...apparently a Belgian family will be moving into #13 (which, ironically, is right across the street from us at #30!) later this summer, and they have three children, who will be attending the same school as our kids!

July 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Trying and Succeeding

Vous avez atteint la date de fin de vie de votre code secret.

This is what the screen said to me this afternoon as I tried to log onto our French bank account online. It means, "You have reached the date of the end of the life of your secret code."

I stretched my neck back against the leather of this comfy old sofa chair hand-me-down, closed my eyes and smiled. Smiling is a better alternative than screaming.

Consider the balance:

"TRYING" STUFF: (as in, I find this very trying...)
- still waiting on the work permit, 27 days after mailing it for the second time (found out today they may not even have started looking at it yet, although we are reassured that they do at least know who we are and have our application)
- still waiting on someone to want to buy our house (2.5 months after putting it on the market)
- still waiting on a UK bank account to really start working (some 12 days after David rode the train to downtown London to set it up with a particular work-sanctioned institution)
- still waiting on adding me to the bank account as well, as my name's not on the UK utility bills (though apparently we can use a bank statement from our French bank, now that it has our new address on it; shall try that tomorrow)
- still waiting on the plumber, who could have come yesterday, but it was rescheduled and we thought he was coming this morning, but he himself did not think he was supposed to come until we waited three hours for him not to show up (and the garbage disposal sits hanging open in its rusty old exploded way under the sink for the 14th day in a row, while the new faucet the kids can actually use sits patiently in its box on the kitchen windowsill)
- still waiting to figure out whether we get to go anywhere for summer vacation (probably not, I am thinking at this late juncture, since some required school activities start up again August 18th). Then again, we did start out in France and are now in England via Georgia already, not bad locations ;-) It's just we'd been hoping to visit at least one set of the grandparents' homes.
- still waiting for some real British cool drizzly weather (it's so hot here, we'd never have thought it!)
- found out there was a bathtub leak before we arrived as tenants, and the den may have to be repainted, requiring all our stuff to be moved out of there (just after moving it in, obviously)

- the kids have made new friends already and had a sleepover (only two weeks into our stay here; that's amazing).
- nearby Christian youth group for 11-14 year olds that Jason loves (AND his new friend wanted to accompany him on the spur of the moment tonight, though it's probably a sort of a new experience for him)
- my mom came to help us unpack and was a great help sorting out our kitchen storage challenge (along with playing games with us, giving us a date, and even doing some ironing - a blessing incarnate, that woman is)
- the house and neighborhood are both lovely, quiet, safe, convenient and pleasant
- the kids are happy
- ice cream social at the new school, meeting plenty of people who identify with us in so many ways (ex-pats waiting for their goods to arrive, getting used to new surroundings, trying to sell houses in other countries, etc.)
- my confidence has been rising in my driving on the left with the steering wheel on the right and the gear shift & rear view mirror on my left
- it's easy to buy Ben & Jerry's ice cream at the grocery stores here!

With the heat (and lack of air conditioning, which we put in our previous three houses and then moved away from each time), and the dragging on of the "still waiting" items above, I've been struggling to keep a cheerful, trusting and patient disposition (and I've been losing today). But we are all healthy, we're all together, we're all free, it's a beautiful world, and God has placed people in our path to love. So buck up, Katherine, and settle back down into faith. And wait some more.

P.S. on the secret code thing I mentioned at the top - I only had to change it online and the new password worked right away. No big deal. Nothing worth screaming about.

July 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 16, 2006

Serendipitous Café Meeting

Before visiting the first of our handful of potential church families this morning, we decided to investigate a café in a neighboring town for breakfast. The Sun, in Sunninghill (not to be confused with Sunningdale, where we live, or Sunnyvale, California, where we lived for ten years 1995-2005).

As we sipped our hot chocolates and espresso, and nibbled on our quiche lorraine, croissants (surprisingly good), pain au chocolat (doesn't matter that it was spelled incorrectly, it was fresh out of the oven), doughnuts and apple strudel, another family of four walked in and ordered. They sat down at the next table and we couldn't help but steal glances at them:

- The father carried a laptop (this made us feel bonded already).
- The mom and kids were blonde (we are too). I don't remember the color of the dad's hair, perhaps light brown.
- There was a boy about Jason's age, and a girl a little older than Emily.
- Then we overhead their American accent.

Since we don't know a soul here, on the way out, I had to initiate a brief conversation with the pick-up line of "Excuse me, but is there wireless internet access here?" (something I would have dearly wanted to know anyway, since we are still on dial-up for another week or so).

It turned out we had a mind-blowing amount in common with this family, in addition to the above four items:

- They moved here this week.
- Their kids will attend the same school as ours.
- Their son will be in Jason's grade.
- They are not only from the U.S., but from California. Not only from California, but Northern California. From Silicon Valley. Menlo Park, to be exact.
- Their kids went to International School of the Peninsula, where our kids went to a summer French immersion camp.
- They have lived in France (for six years; in fact their kids were born there).
- They have lived in additional countries (Netherlands).
- They have a VW (we had a VW in California, and again in France; we don't have a car yet here).
- They thought breakfast at the Sun on Sunday morning would be a good idea.

Wow! So we exchanged information and hope to get together soon to get to know each other better. Thanks, God!

Then we went to church and had a great time - the kids both loved their classes, and there's a youth group meeting Wednesday night for Jason (and this church is 8 minutes from our house! We've never had anything that close before). We still have about four other good possiblities, so we will probably visit those as well.

July 16, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack