Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back Home Again, in Indiana

I thought I'd recap the repatriation experience for posterity purposes, not to mention the fact that it's 95 degrees outside (that's 35 C for my Briton friends), and 105 with the "heat index" whatever that means.  And all I want to do is sit inside in the wonderful air conditioning (unheard of in the old bungalow).  

Tangent:  I just recently found out that "Brit" is short for the noun "Briton" not the adjective "British".  It's different because you would use the word "American" both as an adjective and a noun.  Class dismissed.

It started on the evening of July 31st - I worked a full day, took my group out for a pint at the on-site work pub at lunch, then wrapped things up, said my goodbyes, and swapped out my BMW for a people carrier (minivan, Americans) to fit our luggage.  Three checked bags, two carry-ons, 1 cat kennel, and half an umbrella per traveler adds up!  We had to lay down all the seats to fit everything.

All of our belongings from the UK (minus cats) - did you know umbrellas don't count toward your luggage allowance, regardless of its size?
Over the few weeks preceeding the move we started planning what we were going to pack, what we were going to offload on others, and what we were going to pitch.  

We gave away our bicycles, spices, food processor, bedding, towels, hangers, meat grinder, mini-grill (as I mentioned before), hair dryer, and my UK hair clippers (I cleaned them!).  I threw away all of my white (now grey - we never could figure out why bleach didn't work the same as it did back home) socks and undershirts, in addition to 2 pairs of trousers which I'd completely worn out the crotches (from walking), and 3 pairs of shoes which had reached their end of life.  We also had to throw away the cat things like their litter boxes, scratching post (which got very good use), and leftover food.  Man I hate wasting food - I did try to eat all we had, but we dined out a few too many evenings leading up to the end and had some leftovers we had to pitch.

I just realized the detail in the above paragraph is far too much boring detail for the average reader.  I apologize, but I won't delete it.

After the van was packed up we tried to sleep for the next 90 minutes (I could not) before we took off for Heathrow at 1:00 AM.  Yep, this trip home was cat-centric.  It was far too logistically challenging to get a hotel room at the airport for the night with the cats in tow.  We had booked 7:45 AM flights to get home at a reasonable enough time to get the cats situated back at our house and get our bed out of storage.  The cats had to be at the cargo terminal FOUR HOURS ahead of the flight.  Then we could drop off the rental van and proceed to check in.

The only hiccup in this whole process was that there was some miscommunication about the waybill number for the cats on our flight.  We had two numbers because someone had "recently switched computer systems".  Isn't that always the case?  There were a few minutes around 3:40 AM on August 1 (the day our visas expire and the day I'm no longer allowed to drive legally) when I thought we were going to get denied.  Luckily, the emergency number provided by our pet shipment broker worked, we handed the phone over to the processor lady, and she sorted things out.

By the way, the first guy we talked to at the United cargo check-in desk was completely useless.  We were the only people in the reception area not wearing high-vis gear and not shipping commercial goods.  We were also the only people who had no idea what the hell a "waybill" number was.  He simply said "you're not in the system" and left us high and dry.  Luckily another worker - a very friendly woman - showed us pity and actually looked up the flight to see that indeed two cats were scheduled to be on it.  Luckily, she realized there was probably not another person with the same last name who would be dropping off two cats at Heathrow Cargo at 3:45 am to be shipped to Chicago.  She smoothed everything over, took our cats to the live animal waiting area, and with our coritsol levels dropping, we went to return the car and check in.

Not gonna lie, this was pretty miserable.  I'm already on 20 hours without sleep.
After we checked in our luggage (I won't scare you with the price charged to check a 3rd bag...).  We grabbed some breakfast and went to our gate.  They announced our names over the loudspeaker to call us over to the gate desk.  And then something very, very good happened.  Something that redeems every stressful flight scenario we'd encountered over the last 12 months of traveling.  We were handed new seating arrangements - row 6, priority boarding, BUSINESS CLASS!!!

I was in disbelief at first, and Kerry didn't understand what it even meant.  She had never flown business class before.   And this was on a newer 777.  We were greeted with champagne, given blankets, pillows, eyeshades, socks(?), and a toothbrush.  Our seats laid back completely flat into beds.  All the windowshades were drawn and the lights went dim in the plane after takeoff.  It was magical.

I didn't bother with any pictures, and honestly I wish I could say I slept better than I did, but the experience was incredible.  The food was actually pretty good, the attendant tried to get me drunk, and I watched Lincoln and The Hobbit Part 1 feeling very comfortable, dozing off  during both, but seeing enough of the films to be content.  Kerry slept much better than me.  Not to mention how well she slept in the van while I was driving south on the M1 at 2 AM...

The next leg of the trip was a chauffeur car from Chicago to Indy, by way of the cargo terminal to collect our cats.  You're probably wondering (1) why didn't we fly to Indianapolis and (2) why we got a chauffeur.  To answer (1):  there are rules about flying with live animal cargo; if it's too hot they won't let the cats board the plane - August 1st at noon in Chicago was not even a "lets wait and see" option.  They just said No.  Also, only small regional planes fly from Chicago to Indy, that wouldn't take animals anyway (we flew from Indy to Newark on the way out).  To answer (2):  company policy states you're not allowed to lease a rental car after an overseas flight lasting longer than 7 hours, so they paid for a chauffeur.

I had called ahead to say we had a lot of luggage - here comes the Lincoln Navigator, the largest personal car I've seen in a year.  Welcome to USA!

Our cats were very quiet on the way home (they usually meow constantly in cars).

Welcome to Indiana, beautiful in its own way.  The Chicago-based chauffeur was less than happy he had to drive to Indy and back (6 hours).  But he was paid (and I gave him a little extra since he had to wait for us at the cargo terminal), so suck it up.

Home sweet home!  And look at my trusty Ranger waiting for me in the driveway!  Yeah our house is a bit aged-looking on the exterior.  There are plans to spruce it up, not sure when they'll be executed...

Kerry's parents and sister were waiting for us when we arrived!  Our renters' lease was up the day before, but vacated a week early for a vacation.  So, since my sister-in-law had an emergency key, they let themselves in to prepare for our homecoming (aka filled the fridge with beer!).  As you can see the house is still standing, and the interior was no worse for wear.  I was very happy our tenants worked out as well as they did, in addition to our property manager.  I'll gladly give you a referral if interested.

Our first American meal.  This pizza chain is one of our favorites.

Dessert from the Flying Cupcake - a popular Indianapolis institution - thanks to my sister-in-law, Kim (who visited us last June with Kerry's parents).  And notice the M&M's in the background?  Dear lord, we had an unhealthy first day back! haha.

OK, not all junk food.  From my inlaw's garden, a giant "courgette".  USA! USA! 

Unpacking our beds and kitchen was top priority, which went along very quickly thanks to our help.  By this time I'd had only a couple hours of fitful sleep in the last 48 hours, and was falling asleep at the dinner table.  The next 10 hours of sleep in my own bed were amazing.

So over the weekend we settled in slowly, and I found things to fall into place pretty quickly and easily.  I instantly noticed how much easier it was to drive a mile, park, take care of X, and return in a reasonable amount of time.  The woman at the cafe where I ordered a "coffee to go" (unheard of in continental Europe, tolerated in the UK) wanted to be my best friend. And the cicadas and crickets during the summer night were so loud!  I never realized England didn't have crickets until my first day back home.  

Here's a few things we did that were high on the priority list.

I sharpened my chef's knife.  Butcher shops do this for you in the UK, but Kerry would never take mine in.  I never saw the point of buying a sharpener stone over there, so my knife was DULL.  It was one of the few kitchen utensils we brought over with us, along with the wine bottle opener, scraper, and my fast digital food probe thermocouple.
As you can see, we had remodeled the kitchen recently.  Actually it was finished about 8 months before we left for the UK.  I can't express in words how happy I am to be back in this kitchen that we designed from the ground up.  Not to mention how happy I am our tenants didn't destroy it.  I am literally about 30% more efficient in this space with all my tools and appliances in their place.  I think its the one physical "thing" I missed the most during our time in the Sandiacre bungalow.

Kerry's cherry red Honda Fit!
We needed a new car for Kerry pretty quickly, I think.  It never was made clear how long I was allowed to rent a car for after our return...  Her car was totaled in a minor accident about a month before we left, so naturally we spent the insurance money on travel, haha.  Oh well, I was able to finance this used car for a very good price by buying from a private seller.  I took out a low interest loan against my retirement savings.  Yes, we could have saved for a new car during our year abroad - I knew I needed one - but we didn't.  We traveled.  Not ashamed of that.

Cats had priorities of their own.
This garden window looks out to our very large backyard, home of our very large silver maple.  Our cats did not forget where their favorite basking spots were located.

So, after getting home on a Thursday afternoon, I was back at work on Monday morning!  First week went pretty well (I'm still on the phone with my UK colleagues often).  That next weekend, we could have stayed home and continued to unpack the non-essentials, but instead we drove back up to the inlaws house in northwest Indiana for a neighborhood party.

This, my British friends, is Cornhole.  Beer in one hand, corn-filled 16 oz bag in the other hand.  Get the bag in the hole, job done.
The inlaws live in a lake community with  a private beach, so we had a good time grilling out with their friends, and it served as a nice "welcome home" party with extended family who live in the area.

This is not a British seaside town, just a suburb off the highway with a manmade lake nearby

Nice spread at our BBQ!
That night it was the annual fireworks display, so we all hopped in Dave's boat to get a good spot on the lake for viewing.  This year a couple of his buddies decided to do a "Venitian night" theme by lighting up their runabout ski boats.  I should clarify - "Venitian night" in this context is a Chicago Yachting Association's annual parade along the lakefront of Lake Michigan.  I'm not sure it has anything to do with Venice, Italy.

Regardless, this was pretty fun - these guys got creative for the first annual Shorewood Venitian night!

Ours was the one with the illuminated flamingo!
We made a flotilla by lashing the boats side by side an had a nice floating party while we waited for the fireworks.  

So yeah, that was different, huh?  I hope you enjoyed the contrast to our usual British post.  I have one more of these I'd like to share about our trip to the Indiana State Fair (more to try to get a few laughs out of our British friends who read this).  But that's all for now.

A couple of Americans being American. (I was happy to have my "I heart Jet Engine Noise" tshirt out of storage!)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Last Weekend: CrossFit Games Viewing Party and Many Goodbyes

It's taken me 3.5 weeks to get back to the blog since we've repatriated.  It's as I had worried - we fell right back into our pre-expat routines (plus getting re-settled).  At night the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a laptop and type.  Today (Sunday) we decided to take a break and go do something in Indy, but I'm going to try to knock out a blog post before we go.

This "final weekend" will not be the last you'll hear from me.  I have many ideas for blog posts in my head (I've taken zero notes) that I'd like to write about before I get too comfortable in the pre-expat routine, but I want to do it right - or at least as best as I can juggling everything else.  Hopefully, in time my thoughts will distill down to be more valuable instead of forgotten?

So what's coming?  At least there will be a post about our first days back in the USA, the "inside joke" of pretending to be Brits at the Indiana State Fair, a post from Kerry recapping her thoughts on a year without a car or job, and maybe a well-thought out list of things we miss about the UK and things we love about the USA (I'll really need to be taking notes if I want to make that happen).

On the Sunday of our final weekend, we hosted an open house of sorts with our CrossFit Nottingham members and alums - shoutout to Rob and Ath, owners of Deviant - so we could watch the final day of the Games - the last stage in the competitive exercise season where the fittest men, women, and 6 person teams from around the world give it their all to get the title "Fittest on Earth" (a bit dramatic, I suppose).  You'll recall my previous posts where I talk about the Open and Regionals in Copenhagen.

But before I dive into that, the rest of the weekend was a blast!  Friday night we hosted our neighbors Phil and Chris, for one final dinner.  I grilled hamburgers on our mini grill, and the evening was so nice (and mosquito free!!!) that I moved our dining table outside so we could enjoy some dining al fresco.  The conversation and wine went late into the night, and we said our final goodbyes to the best neighbors we've ever had.  (Well, they did stop by one last time to lend us their luggage scale).  Unfortunately I forgot to snap any pictures.

Saturday we went out for a stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) intro lesson (thank you Stacy!) on the Trent River near the National Water Sports Centre.  By the way Team GB puts out a lot of gold medalist rowers, so their facilities are top notch.

Trent River canal boats

A manmade whitewater rafting course, getting pretty high!


These old tough Landrovers are popular here, way moreso than Jeeps in the US

A coach riding alongside his athlete with a timer

Cool looking high ropes course nearby

Our kit - some are inflatable
We went around on our knees for a few minutes to get the feel of it, then popped up.  It's pretty easy in calm water, but if a boat went by you had to pay attention to your balance as you went over the wake.  The paddle helps stabilization.  

A couple of naturals

A gaggle of geese marching by

Since the CrossFit games are in California, they are 8 hours behind us.  Nikki came over for dinner and we all watched some of the Saturday afternoon events streaming over the website before turning in.

The next morning we had a lot of preparation work for the open house - we were expecting up to 30 people in the bungalow!

Room starting to fill up around the TV!

I found an extra tv stand in the garage to raise ours up for better visibility in the crowded room - what do you all think of our lovely curtains by the way?  I don't miss those...

Grill ninja - my last time with the mini grill that I drilled holes in the bottom for better airflow.  I cleaned it up and passed it along to Jessie on my last day in the office. 
Burgers and veggie/haloumi cheese kebabs.  Never had haloumi before but it's very good and doesn't melt.

The garden finally gets some use as an overflow area between events.

I've noticed our couple shots got rarer and rarer throughout the year

A nice picture of Nikki and Dani

Matt gave me a very nice going away present of a UK flag bandana and a bottle of gammel dansk (inside joke from Copenhagen).  I felt bad that I couldn't fit the bottle in my luggage, but most of it leaked out on the back seat of his car, so I did at least have a farewell drink with him.  This stuff has a certain smell that might be hard to get out...

The party went on from about 1 pm when the earliest folks showed up.  But they didn't crown champions until the last event ended around 8 pm Pacific... yep that's 1 AM GMT on a Sunday!  I made it very clear people were welcome until the very end, and even though I live 9 miles away from Nottingham city center we had a core group stay for it!

I was very wise to provide tea and coffee with milk for these hardcore fans.

Congratulations to Sam Briggs from Manchester for winning it for the women - she won't be as popular in the UK as track and field gold medalist Jessica Ennis, but the amount of work she did over very broad fitness domains from swimming, rowing, sprinting, weightlifting, and just moving heavy loads long distances quickly is arguably more impressive. 

Also congrats to Rich Froning from Tennessee (same region as Indiana) for wining his 3rd straight Games.  And my hat's off to Ute Crossfit for having the fittest team by a wide margin.  They're doing something right because they qualified 2 teams to the Games - that means their 2nd "B" team was in the top 3 in the Southwest region!  That is more than just luck folks - it's the pursuit of and dedication to excellence.  We can all learn from that and apply it to our lives in many other ways.

Finally, I didn't get a picture of receiving this gift, but I want to take a moment to give out a huge thanks to the crew at CrossFit Nottingham for the best, most special gift to remind us of our time as the "unlikely" expats.  

Signed CFN nameplate from regionals
At regionals each team is given two nameplates which are out on the floor when the team is performing, so the audience knows who is who.  Coach Andy, Katie, and Kristen got many of our friends from the gym to sign this, frame it for us, and then shipped it overseas to our US address.   It's hard to express our gratitude and the meaningfulness behind this gesture - it seems like "unlikely" just no longer makes any sense...  We'll sorely miss our UK friends, both at the gym as well as the other great people we met during one amazing year.

Moved in, this was the first picture hung!  Next to my pull up bar and rings.

Surrounded by friends...  Take care everyone, and we'll be back!