Friday, March 30, 2012

Devil in a Green Dress


I did something bad. Real Bad. Really, really bad. It all started out innocently enough, with a trip to Memorial City Mall to cash in on a gift certificate to Sun Ski Sports. After using our store credit to purchase an Aberdeen appropriate North Face fleece and Ugg slippers, we were faced with the choice of going home or continuing to shop. The prospect of bypassing colorful spring garb was depressing to me, but Jonathan mentioned that he’d at least like to glance around at Fossil. Big mistake. As soon as we entered the store I heard my name being called by a ravishing sea foam green maxi dress.

I decided to try it on, just for fun. Big mistake. It was as if the dress were tailor made for me. When I was shopping for my wedding dress, I kept waiting for that emotional reaction when I put on ‘the’ dress. It never happened. But there, in that Fossil dressing room, I knew that this dress was designed specifically for me, fitting me like a glove and accentuating my green eyes (which at this point had filled up with tears of joy).

I had visions of myself walking barefoot down some Portuguese beach, hand in hand with my true love. Visions of sitting in a cafĂ© in Paris reading a Hemingway novel. Visions of watching the shore disappear from the deck of a Mediterranean cruise ship. And even though I‘m about to move to the arctic circle and have no realistic use for a new maxi, I knew that I just had to have this dress.

When I was checking out, the Fossil employee asked me if I had somewhere special in mind to wear my new frock. “To France”, I replied, and gave Jonathan a wink and a nudge.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

So American


As our move date gets closer, I find myself becoming unexpectedly sentimental about my American-ness. I’ll never forget a friend’s comment at a late-night College party when I asked where the nearest 24 hour McDonald’s was. “You’re so American” she said. When I ordered a Malibu and Coke at a restaurant in Paris, I got the same response. And again when I requested the DJ play a Nelly song at the Nigerian Yacht Club.

“You are so American.”

So often this is said in a condescending manner. Occasionally it’s good-humored teasing. But either way, I know it’s true: I am so American. But what is it about me exactly that so screams my nationality? And will this cripple me as I try to live outside my home country?

I’ve been reflecting more and more on these questions, trying to call to mind what makes me uniquely and unequivocally American. I think that culture is so intrinsic that it can be hard to identify what makes your own unique, kind of like describing the taste of water.

I was born and raised in South Louisiana, but it wasn’t until I moved to West Texas at age 24 that I realized how heavily my geography and culture impacted my identity. To this day, I feel like a fish out of water in Texas and desperately miss Cajun Country. If I experienced so much culture shock in crossing one state line, it’s hard to anticipate what crossing an ocean will do.

When we recently went to the Houston Rodeo to see the Zac Brown Band, they performed Devil Came Down to Georgia. As I stood in that packed arena, listening to a classic country song, I identified that moment as being uniquely American. Other things that come to mind are college sports (specifically SEC football), outdoor music festivals, Target, summer camp, country music, Thanksgiving, Spring Break, crawfish boils, and a thousand other little things. Also, I find that Americans in general tend to exude confidence, friendliness, and ambition.

Those are some of the good things. But on the other hand, being American sometimes implies priorities of consumerism, convenience, and self-entitlement. Either way, I know that I am as All-American as it gets. And so I worry that I may struggle more than I think with the adjustment to Scottish life.

Aberdeen does have both a McDonald’s and a Starbucks, so if I get desperately homesick, I can always grab a Quarter Pounder or Caramel Macchiato. And on the other hand, what I’m most excited about is stumbling upon those things that are uniquely Scottish; getting to eavesdrop on a cultural conversation that the Scots themselves might not even identify as special. I’ve simply got to change my perspective, stop thinking like an American, and embrace this opportunity to immerse myself in a different cultural experience. I’m pretty sure that’s one of those ‘easier said than done’ sort of things.

What I’m most ambivalent about is the possibility of raising children abroad. Jon and I don’t have kids yet so I’m getting ahead of myself, but since our 10 year plan involves both overseas living and starting a family, it’s a factor to consider.

On the one hand, I think affording our children global experiences is such a gift. On the other hand, I mourn the fact that they may grow up without little league tournaments or vacation bible school; that I may not be able to relate to their childhood because it differs so much from my own.

I had one of those magical middle-class American childhoods and I get a bit sad thinking that my kids might miss out on those same experiences. It’s scary because I’m not sure what their own childhood memories will be replaced with or how to give our children a sense of their own American-ness.

I met a few people in college who had grown up abroad and they mostly seemed very mature, fascinating and well-rounded. A few others couldn’t handle it and ended up transferring to schools in Europe and Canada. They simply didn’t identify themselves as American and felt too much culture shock when finally immersed in their own country. I know their parents felt saddened by this rejection, though they knew this was a risk when raising their children outside of the US.

Ultimately, I want to offer my children varied and numerous opportunities. As of now, we believe the best thing for our family is to take this adventure and explore the world. We will have to constantly reevaluate this philosophy as we go and reassess what the best situation is for our family at any point in time.  

I recently found this book in the travel section of Barnes and Nobel. It’s a collection of essays written by Ex-pat women defining what it means to be an American living abroad. I can’t wait to read this one, though I think it might be more meaningful to wait until we get to Scotland to start.  Maybe I’ll even read it at Starbucks, because that would just be so American of me.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ex-Pat Orientation


Before leaving for an international assignment, Jonathan’s company requires that you attend an Expat Orientation specific to your new country. Ours was supposed to be Monday and Tuesday, but due to the nature of the assignment and our previous experiences in Aberdeen, we were able to squeeze everything into one day.
It was truly a great experience and we learned a lot of valuable information. I rely so much on my parents for knowledge and advice about moving to Aberdeen, but theirs is just one perspective. We are humble enough to know that we will need all of the guidance we can get.
The woman leading our orientation session lived in Aberdeen for several years and is actually good friends with my parents. She brought in two employees to speak with us; one young American who had completed an assignment in Aberdeen and one Scottish national completing an ex-pat assignment in Houston. We were like sponges just soaking in all of the information on our host country. And let me tell you, we are pumped!
We’ve been warned of the cyclical highs and lows of ex-patriating and we definitely acknowledge that we are presently in the honeymoon phase. It all feels very romantic, getting to embark on a true adventure with my husband in a fairytale setting.
But as with any relocation, we know that there will come a point in time where we will hit a wall. We will get frustrated and negative. We will get homesick. We will get weary. We will panic. We will think we’ve made the biggest, most irreversible mistake of our lives.
Our strength is that we know this is coming. We expect it and we are ready for it. And we know that, just as the honeymoon phase will end, our regretful phase will pass as well. And we’ll be left with a stronger and more intimate marriage.
This will be our third move in our four years of marriage, and though living in a different culture will undeniably bring its own challenges, we are very familiar with both the stress and excitement that comes with relocation.
I think the most valuable part of our orientation was talking with the young American about his and his wife’s experiences in Aberdeen. He said that, while Jonathan will transition more easily due to the familiarity and routine of work, the move will be 10 times more stressful for me. Jonathan’s job will be staying constant. He’ll be working for the same company which shares policies and procedures no matter which country he’s working in. He’ll also be in a position very similar to the one he’s been filling in Houston.
It will be me whose entire life will change without any constants. I’ll be navigating a foreign environment every step of the way. Nothing will be familiar; everything will be a new experience. I know the novelty of that will wear off pretty quickly for me. I was grateful that this young man recognized his wife’s role in the transition and advised Jonathan to have patience with my adjustment and to be supportive and encouraging through this process.

While we reviewed some of the logistics and quirks about living in Aberdeen, the jist of the orientation was ‘managing our expectations’. We listed pros and cons about our upcoming assignment and people with experience in Aberdeen gave feedback on our assumptions.
Some of our pros: It’s a beautiful city/country; travel access to Europe; choice of housing (in some locations you live in assigned housing); decent healthcare; shopping; dog friendly; they speak English; it’s a similar culture.
Some of our cons: distance from family; harsh winters without much daylight; cost of living; driving on the other side of the road; hassle of shipping dogs; small ex-pat community.
I think we are both realistic about the positives and negatives of this particular assignment, but actually living it will involve constantly re-evaluating our expectations. While I definitely have moments where I think ‘what the heck are we doing?’, most of the time I can’t wait to be there.
I gained a lot of peace of mind by talking to other employees who had thrived in Aberdeen. While reminiscing about their time in Scotland, all three stated that they were jealous of us and wanted to go back themselves. Its comments like that which really put my mind at ease. And also, pictures like these don’t hurt:


Yes, everything is going to be just fine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Geography Lesson


I sure hope that when you woke up this morning, you thought ‘Gee, I’d really like a Scottish/ European Geography lesson today’ because that’s exactly what you’re about to get. When I initially asked where Jonathan most wanted to travel in Europe he responded with Turkey and Israel.  Big mistake.

This elicited a brief but thorough geography lecture on the difference between Europe and Asia and the countries that comprise them. I may have even broken out a map or two as teaching aids. He changed his list to Germany and Italy pronto. And technically, parts of Turkey are considered to be on the European continent, so I’ll let him slide on that one this time. Next time, I won’t be so generous. 

Geography is hands down my favorite subject; if only there were a way to make money off of it. Oh well, for now it makes me a first round draft pick anytime we sit down for a game of Trivial Pursuit. With my help, you’ll be a trivia all-star by the end of this post, at least if the questions pertain to British geography.

Let’s start with Scotland. Scotland is small, y’all. So small that if it were a U.S. state, it would be the 41st largest, right in between South Carolina and West Virginia.  We’ll be living in Aberdeen which is in northeast Scotland, located on the North Sea and near the Grampian Mountains. Just to give you an idea of the scale, it took us 2 hours to drive from Abderdeen to the West Highlands and 2 and  half hours to drive to Edinburgh in Central Scotland. We're not in Texas anymore.


Scotland is a free country with its own parliament, yet belongs to the United Kingdom which also includes the countries of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.


A citizen from the UK can either be referred to as British or indicating their specific country: English, Scottish, Welsh, or North Irish. From what I understand, most UK citizens refer to themselves first and foremost by country; Scottish, Welsh, and North Irish due to patriotism, and English  moreso due to a superior World Cup soccer team. I’m sure it’s all more complicated than that, and I hope to learn more about the distinctions while living there. Though honestly, it does seem like a lot of cultural oberservations can be made by paying attention to the politics of soccer.

I guess the biggest mistake you can make is referring to a person from Scotland as English or vise versa, so I’ll try to steer clear of that. When it doubt, the adjective British should suffice and not cause too much offense.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Progress Report: I'm a PC

I’m a little late posting today, but I have a valid excuse. Say hello to my new best friend:

For the past 4 years I have tried desperately to be something I’m not: A Mac person. With ever fiber of my hipster-wannabe heart, I have tried to understand the unique and beautiful creature that was my i-Mac, but I finally had to admit that it just wasn’t working out between us. Yes, the prodigal daughter has returned to her PC roots and I couldn’t be more relieved. Last week was the first week that I had access exclusively to my i-Mac with no supplemental PC usage and Jonathan received several text messages about the various ways I was going to murder that computer. After extracting our files from it last night, he concluded that the best thing to do was just to hurl it over the balcony. The fact that a friend had agreed to buy it from us for $500 was the only thing protecting it from a gruesome end.

Just like there are cat people and there are dog people; there are PC people and there are lunatics Mac people. I will proudly shout it from the rooftops: I AM A PC PERSON! That being said, I have several friends who swear by the Mac operating system and say it’s more user friendly. Let’s just agree to disagree. I’m just that glad I can right-click again.

So my excuse for posting this late is that transferring all my files from a Mac to a PC took the better part of Sunday afternoon, and a few hours to decompress after the homicidal urge that Jon and I felt towards the old computer. The last thing I felt like was hopping on the new computer to blog. You can understand that, can’t you? Sounds like a solid excuse to me. So now, let’s get back to relocation related information because quite a lot has happened in the past week.

Logistics: We have officially applied for a Visa. In total this process consisted of receiving work visa sponsorship from Jonathan’s company, applying online for a UK visa (hint: answer no when asked about any prior terrorist activity), taking passport photos, and getting fingerprinted. We sent all of that information along with our passports to the UK embassy on Friday afternoon. It could take anywhere from 5-30 days to receive approval. From what I understand, the UK government has a fairly rapid turnaround time, but the Scottish branch of Jon’s company might hold up the process. We’ve been assured that his approval will be at the top of the list so we are optimistically expecting to have our Visas within the next two weeks. Once we receive our passport back, we will take a house-hunting/business trip to Aberdeen.

We also can’t officially put our house on the market until we are granted work visas. According to relocation policy, we have to interview two realtors to market our house. We’ve already met with the first one and I’ll meet with the second later this week. Hopefully everything will be in place so that we can put our house on the market as soon as we receive our visa approval. Last week we started fixing things around the house that we’d been putting off, including landscaping. Jon got me purple and gold flowers for our patio, which in my book makes him the sweetest husband in the whole wide world. I’m a simple girl: buy me something purple and I’ll love you for life.


The biggest thing we need to do before putting our house on the market is paint our guest room. The previous owners used the room as a nursery and some of the wall decals peeled off the underlying paint. We thought it would be easy to match since they had left the information of all the paint colors in the house. However, when we patched up and painted the walls, the color didn’t match exactly, so now we have to repaint the entire room. One of the good things about living in a teeny-tiny cottage: teeny-tiny rooms. We plan to tackle this task this afternoon. Of course, I said that yesterday afternoon as well, but sometimes it’s more important to take a nap instead.  

Another big accomplishment last week is that our dogs have been micro-chipped and vaccinated against rabies which are steps 1 and 2 of a 5 step importation process. It sounds simple, yet it’s anything but. I’ll start calling pet transport company’s this week to get cost estimates and hopefully they’ll be able to help me navigate the process.

Shipment: We joined Costco last week and started buying a few things to go into our shipment. As with a lot of things in this process, I feel like its one step forward, 2 steps back. When I got home with $200 worth of Rotel, Taco Seasoning, Oatmeal, etc we found out that the policy has changed to where no food, medicine, or appliances can be shipped to the UK. Our strategy now is to bring some of it over in our suitcases when we go for our initial trip and leave it with a friend until we move. We’ll bring the rest in our suitcases when we make our permanent flight.

We’ve also become more comfortable with the idea that we will survive if we can't find American items. Part of the experience of an international assignment is eating locally. We’ll just have to be resourceful and creative when adapting recipes with Scottish ingredients. But Rotel is non-negotiable, even if I have to smuggle it in. I can see it now: Locked up Abroad: young woman caught with a kilo of tomatoes with green chilies stuffed into lining of Vera Bradley suitcase.  It’s a calculated risk, but one that I must take for the sake of Taco Soup.

Unlike food, something that is encouraged when moving to Scotland is a good pair of hiking boots. Luckily my mom had a pair of gently used boots from her stint in Aberdeen that she has given to me. One more item to scratch of my list!


Miscellaneous: I decided not to lug my library of books around the world with us, and so I took a loaded box over to Half Price Books to sell. I made 14 smackers! It was kind of sad to see the last 4 years of my reading life reduced to 14 dollars, but what’s important is that they all find good homes.

This week: We already completed our Ex-Pat Orientation required by Jon’s company (I’ll write a separate post on the information). I’ll meet with our second realtor on Wednesday and hopefully we’ll have chosen our real estate agent by next week. We also have a psychological assessment Wednesday morning to make sure we’re stable enough to handle living in the most beautiful country on the planet. Mainly this week will just be centered on getting the house ready and securing our pet transport company. I’m feeling much less overwhelmed now that the process is rolling along and I feel good about what we’ve accomplished so far. I also feel real good about right-clicking.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Market Value

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We have a realtor coming in about 15 minutes to give us a market analysis of our home value. Do you think the fact that they’ve just started major construction on our street will decrease the value of our home? Gotta love Houston! I think the tourism slogan for the city is “Under Construction”. At least it feels that way in our hood.

Once we finish meeting with the realtor we will send off our visa paperwork, including our passports. Some people feel naked without their cell phone, I feel naked without my passport. It’s not like I have an international trip on the books or anything, I just like having the option. I feel a bit trapped without it in my possession. 
Since we’ve accomplished so many biggies this week, we’ve decided to take a relaxing break this weekend and go enjoy the beautiful spring weather at Lake Conroe. With the rain we’ve gotten this week, we may even be able to get the boat out after the crippling drought we experienced last summer. 

And hopefully I’ll be able to get a tan before shipping off the the UK.  In fact, I’m going to add “Get a Tan” to my to-do list, and perhaps “Finish South of Broad by Pat Conroy” and “Drink a Margarita” and “Eat Gelato” and “Go See The Hunger Games”, just to give myself the illusion of productivity while I laze away the weekend.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stress Management


It’s mighty convenient that this time of upheaval in my life happens to coincide with the seasonal distribution of Abita Strawberry Lager. When the going gets tough, the tough sit down with an ice cold beer that tastes remarkably like strawberry shortcake. It’s so good that I think that rather than timing our home visits for the Christmas holidays, we’re going to plan them for Louisiana’s strawberry season.  In my opinion, the overlapping of crawfish, strawberry, and baseball seasons trumps Christmas for the title of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. But that’s just me. 
In relocation news, things are moving along quickly. Yesterday was mega-productive with us joining Costco, buying several necessities for our shipment, and filing our taxes. The amount of federal taxes we paid last year was more than my entire salary. Can I vent about that for a moment? Yikes!!!!

This morning the dogs got their rabies vaccinations. Next step is to get them treated for tapeworms within 5 days of arriving in the UK and then expedite the paperwork to the USDA for official signatures before loading them onto a plane. That gives me about the next 30 days to try to figure out how the heck to fill out all of their paperwork. You can hire transport companys to handle it all for you, but it costs in the range of $4,500. Worth it? Quite possibly. Every time I look at the forms I get an instant migraine headache, which is only curable with a Strawberry Abita. Lucky for me, I have 3 cases in the fridge, so maybe I can push through the pain and save us 5 grand.
Next week we start meeting with realtors and attend our 2-day Ex-Pat orientation. Then hopefully, we’ll be able to arrange our house hunting trip to Scotland! I actually feel much less overwhelmed now that I’ve been able to cross a few big items off of the to-do list. Of course, Strawberry Abita nightcaps help with the stress management as well.    

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Costco

Yesterday was a hard day for me. I felt more frustrated and overwhelmed than I have at any point during this process. It was exacerbated by the fact that my morning started off with 4 immunization shots and the sacrificing of a lot of blood for various lab tests. Hunger + Shots + Blood Sacrifice = very grumpy Laine. At least I can scratch Medical Exam off the to-do list. But that’s about all I accomplished yesterday due to a freakish storm that blanketed Houston for the entire day. 

I’m guessing my Mom sensed my panicky state of mind yesterday because she is graciously volunteering her time to help me today and tomorrow which means it’s time to get my game face on. We’re headed to Costco this morning so that I can become a member and start stocking up on food stuff for our shipment. Also, Aberdeen has a Costco so I’ll be able to use my membership there as well. 

Well, it’s hopefully going to be a productive day so I guess I’ll get out of my pajama pants now. Though, come to think of it, I doubt the dress code at Costco requires real pants. Hmmm....decisions, decisions. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The. Absolute. Hardest. Thing.


Nothing soothes my soul like time spent in south Louisiana, and this past weekend was no exception. Friday morning we made the drive down to Baton Rouge to begin checking off items on our our Louisiana Bucket List. First on the list, devour a Drunken Fish Roll at Drunken Fish sushi. When Jon and I started dating he was a sushi connoisseur while I was more of a burger and fries kind of girl. He took me to eat sushi on our second date and I actually had to spit my roll into my napkin to keep from throwing up. It was mortifying. But Jon assured me that sushi was an acquired taste, and since he was smokin’ hot, I pushed through. 
I shortly discovered that sushi wasn’t half bad just as long as it was deep fried. Enter Drunken Fish Roll: a deep fried batch of crawfish heaven, drizzled with honey. Now in the 7 years that I’ve been with Jonathan, I’ve developed a much more sophisticated pallet and actually eat ‘real‘ sushi. Since I hadn’t eaten at Drunken Fish since my sushi infancy, I wondered if I was idealizing the scrumptiousness that is a Drunken Fish Roll. Let me tell you: I was not. Hands down the most delicious thing that I have ever eaten. If you’re ever in Baton Rouge, do yourself a favor and try it, even if you don’t like sushi. Trust me on this one.  
After deep-fried sushi, Jonathan dropped me off at my grandparents’ house and he headed down to his hometown of Cut Off, Louisiana. Yes, Cut Off, Louisiana. It’s about an hour south of New Orleans. Yes, an hour south of New Orleans. A common question is “They have land down there?” Not much. It’s commonly referred to as “Da Bayou” and its about as stereotypically Cajun Country as you can get. Think ‘Swamp People’.
While Jonathan enjoyed his time jet-skiing on da bayou with dem gatahs, I enjoyed a much more sophisticated Saturday at the the Baton Rouge St. Patrick’s Day Parade where my BFF April and I caught two bags worth of beads, cups, stuffed animals, and green panties. Yea, maybe sophisticated isn’t the right word. But it was fun and sentimental to participate in an event I’ve enjoyed since childhood.

After the parade we went back to my grandparent’s house where my Uncle Brandon boiled up the best batch of crawfish I have ever had. I’ve been a bit stressed lately, but there’s something about eating crawfish on a warm Louisiana day, drinking a cold beer, and spending quality time with friends and family that helps me to shrug off all those worries and just be present. It was a perfect moment.  
Eventually, I had to say goodbye to my Aunts/Uncles/Grandparents/Cousins/Family friends, which was difficult, especially when my cousin Gracie asked if she’d ever see me again. I told her I’d try to come home for Christmas and she responded “That’s a long time”. It’s a good thing I had on sunglasses, because I definitely didn’t want to be caught crying. There’s no crying at Crawfish boils. But that being said, saying goodbye to family is the Absolute. Hardest. Thing. 
I was glad to have April there to cheer me up. We took a mini-road trip down to  New Orleans to see my other BFF, Talia. On the road, we jammed out the The Dixie Chicks and I was transported back to age 16. April and I reminisced about how we’d both been at their concert when they played at the Cajundome 12 (!) years ago. We both sang “Heartbreak Town” at the top of our lungs, somehow remembering every single word to a song we hadn’t really listened to in several years. It was another perfect moment.
When we got to New Orleans we picked up Talia and her husband Josh and headed to Jacques-imos, an eccentric New Orleans restaurant. We got really lucky and scored a table set up in the bed of a truck parked outside. I’m totally serious. Here’s proof:

And while dining in a truck bed we were serenaded by a homeless man’s cowbell rendition of Freebird, I saw an old college friend ride by on a clown bike, and we were eyewitnesses to a high speed car chase. Seriously, is there anywhere other than New Orleans where that combination of events could happen and no one even thinks twice about it? Another perfect moment!    


It’s like God knew that I needed a classic Louisiana sendoff for our upcoming adventure, and he 100 percent delivered just what my soul desired. Sunday was a bittersweet ending of our weekend as we enjoyed lunch with Jonathan’s family. We ate at our favorite hole in the wall pizza place in Baton Rouge before shedding some tears as we said our final good-byes to more loved ones. The. Absolute. Hardest. Thing. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Progress Report

Last week was not very productive, but it was a whole lotta fun. We spent two nights at the Houston Rodeo, one night out with family, and a whirlwind weekend in Louisiana. Here’s a summary of what was accomplished last week and what’s on deck for the next 7 days.
Logistics: Jonathan sent in his relocation paperwork last Tuesday, but there was an “issue” so he has to resubmit it today. We were bummed about this since there seems to be about a 4 day turnaround on processing paperwork. We can put our house on the market and schedule a house hunting trip as soon as we have the paperwork approved and obtain medical clearance. Our medial exam is scheduled for tomorrow morning. I just found out the it involves fasting, and there is nothing in this world that I hate more than fasting. Makes me hungry just thinking about it. Of course, after my weekend spent eating my way through south Louisiana, I could probably use a little abstinence from food. 
Jonathan completed his mandatory “Financial Advising” Orientation where they review all of the tax intricacies of living in another country. I’m free to attend this same orientation if I’d like to on Thursday. No thanks.

The biggest accomplishment on my list so far is having the dogs microchipped this morning. That’s the first step to a long and arduous process. Tomorrow they get their Rabies vaccinations. Lucky dogs get to visit the vet two days in a row. They’ll be so excited. I know getting shots is their absolute favorite thing on Earth. Not at all. Luckily they have an overindulgent mom who has been showering them with cheesy rice cakes  all morning long so they are getting close to forgiving me. 

Shipment: I got nothing. Really slacked off last week. 
This Week’s Goals: My biggest goal is to get the dogs’ paperwork filled out and mailed to the USDA for “official” approval. I’m more anxious about filling out their paperwork correctly than I am with my own. I’ll definitely be doing a lot of emailing to DEFRA in the UK to make sure everything is picture perfect before my pets get onto a plane. I’ve already emailed them a few times to make sure I’ve got my facts straight. I can already tell that they are going to love me by the time this ordeal is over with. 
Another big goal is to get the house staged and ready to sell. Biggies on that particular to do list are to clean our carpet (to get rid of any dog smell that we may not notice anymore), fix some broken slate tiles on our porch, and landscape the backyard. Its a bit ambitious, but in my ideal world, the dog paperwork will be in the mail and my house will be ready to sell by Sunday.   
My first day as a House Wife started out with a 7 mile run. My goal is to be promoted to Trophy Wife soon. For now, it’s off to run errands and do some yard work. Yuck!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Red Beans and Rice

Though we will be able to buy most everything we need in Scotland, there are a few food staples that can be hard to find. In fact, when I asked my Mom what we need to put in our shipment, the first thing she listed was Rotel tomatoes. According to my mom, other weirdly scare items include chocolate chips, pre-packaged cake mix, and peanut butter.
When I spotted these Camellia Red Beans in Target, I loaded a few in my basket, figuring it’s a safe bet that if I can’t find chocolate chips in Aberdeen, I surely won’t be able to find these beans from Harahan, Louisiana. I have a hard enough time finding them in Texas and was actually planning on stopping by Albertson’s on our Louisiana trip this weekend to pick up a few packs. Well at least that’s one more thing I can go ahead and cross off my list. Now I just need to buy a year’s supply of Rotel and I’ll basically have all the fixings for Red Beans and Rice. Mmmmm….I bet some red beans and rice would taste mighty good on a chilly Scottish day.
As a bonus for reading the blog today, I’ll let you in on an authentic Louisiana family recipe for Crockpot Red Beans and Rice. I promise you it is the easiest recipe you have ever made. Like most of my favorites, it only contains 6 ingredients and requires minimal supervision. The beans do require 24 hours of soaking before cooking, so it requires just a teeny bit of foresight. Here’s what you’ll need:
Ingredients:
1 package of red kidney beans (I suggest Camellia if you can find them)
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 can Rotel tomatoes
Tony Chachere’s or other Cajun seasoning
Sausage
Rice

Directions:

1.       Soak red beans in water for 24 hours. You may have to keep adding a bit of water throughout the day.
2.       In the morning, add Tony’s seasoning (about 2 tsp initially and you can add more throughout the day if you think it needs more kick), a can of Rotel, and 3-4 crumpled up bay leaves.
3.       Cook in the crockpot on high for the next 6-8 hours, stirring occasionally. Add seasoning as preferred.
4.       An hour before serving, slice sausage and place in crock pot and continue cooking on high for 1 hour.
5.       Serve over rice.
6.       Thank the Lord for southern food. Amen.
It is so simple, truly delicious, and not unhealthy. What more could you want from a meal?
For extra credit, you could also make this super easy cornbread:
Ingredients:

1 package Jiffy Cornbread mix (milk and eggs required for prep)
1 can rotel

Directions: Prepare jiffy cornbread mixture as directed on box. Drain a can of Rotel and add tomatoes to jiffy mix. Bake as directed. I prefer making cornbread muffins so I bake mine in a cupcake pan. To each his own. No judgment from me if you prefer a loaf of cornbread to cornbread muffins (weirdo).  
To all of my friends who have been impressed by my authentic Red Beans and Rice before, now you know my secret that it’s actually embarrassingly easy to make. I hope you enjoy cooking like an authentically lazy Louisianan.
For now, I’m off to visit my homeland and enjoy friends, family and crawfish. I’ll be back Monday with the weekly progress report. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Early Retirement

Yesterday I published my Aberdeen to-do list as part of my blog pages. Today I was able to cross my first task off the list: Obtain recent med records for med exam. Done! And I’m glad I did it today because my doctor’s office needed to fax it to me, and as of this afternoon I will no longer have access to a fax machine.
That’s right, it’s my last day of work, y’all. Tomorrow I officially begin my new career as a housewife, aka relocation slave, at least for the next 2-3 months. After that, its days spent walking the dogs, going for long runs, and reading by the fire in a flannel robe. Because that’s what housewives do, right? RIGHT????

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Goals

When I first told my mom about our decision to put in for an overseas assignment, she gave me this advice: Make sure you both have the same goals in doing so. Before ‘draft week’, we were asked to compile a list of the top 5 assignments Jonathan would like to be considered for. When narrowing down our list of five, we re-evaluated our goals based on each potential job location.
 Jon’s company distinguishes between ‘hard-ship’ and non-hardship locations, and a few places like Thailand or Indonesia fall somewhere in between. Depending on where a location is on that scale determines the magnitude of employee benefits. For instance, taking a job in a ‘hardship’ like Angola would include a substantial pay increase and two “Rest and Relaxation“ vacations.  Not to mention we’d have virtually no living expenses since the company pays for housing and vehicles.
Our goals for an Angolan assignment would be primarily to save enough money to pay cash for a house when we returned stateside and also to take some spectacular vacations to Europe and South Africa. Our goals for a location like Angola looked drastically different from a place like Aberdeen. 
Non-hardship expat locations like Scotland, Canada, and Australia still have their perks but are more minimal in terms of benefits. Therefore our goals while in Aberdeen are a bit less financially ambitious; mainly we hope to travel Europe and somewhere along the way, start a family.
By going Ex-pat, Jon automatically gets 4 weeks of vacation, plus every other Friday off. Scotland also has several ‘bank’ holidays which will allow for long weekend trips around the country. There is a European Airline, Ryan Air, which offers unbelievably cheap airfare. Seriously, they make Southwest look ridiculously overpriced. I looked up a round trip flight to Dublin and it was 50 pounds (roughly 80 dollars) including luggage. With several cheap, direct flights it will be easy to take 4 day trips to Paris, Rome, London, Amsterdam, etc. Europe is our oyster.
Since we don’t want to take any big trips immediately after getting to Scotland (and because there is nowhere better to be in the summer months than Scotland) we are planning on using our first few months to travel in-country. By the end of the Summer we hope to have seen the Isle of Skye (Jon’s choice) and the Orkney Isles (my choice). 
Scotland vs. Texas
Since Scotland is roughly the size of South Carolina, we should be able to accomplish these in long weekends, especially since during the summer months the sun goes down at about 10 pm allowing us plenty of time to get out of dodge on a Thursday afternoon. Other Scottish things we’d like to do this Summer are visit St. Andrews, hike part of the West Highland Way, and see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Military Tattoo
As far as big Europe trips, it’s going to be harder to whittle those down. Europe is my travel dream and narrowing down my extensive wish list will be quite the feat. We are so grateful to be in Scotland for the next few years, but the fact is there is just not enough time to see it all, especially when you factor in trips back to the States. Jon’s highest priorities are Germany, Italy, and Skiing in the Alps (France, Switzerland, or Austria).
My biggest wants are the Brittany region of France, Portugal, and Croatia.
And Belgium.
Oh yea, and Prague. And Budapest, Istanbul, Wales, Spain, Slovenia… And the list goes on and on and on. Which must see European sights are we missing?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To Nest or Not to Nest?

Part of our relief of being assigned to Aberdeen is that Scotland would be a lovely place to start a family. The health care is top notch and Aberdeen is a small, family friendly city. We plan to be there for the next 2-4 years before shipping out to our next assignment which will likely be a bit more rough of a location. For instance, unlike other potential assignments, we don’t have to worry about malaria or yellow fever (and their questionable vaccinations) in Scotland. This might not be the case next time. Therefore, one of our goals is to have at least one child by the time we leave the UK.
My Mom is convinced that Jonathan and I should go ahead and buy our nursery furniture now to include in our shipment to Scotland. Rationally, this seems like a perfectly logical idea. Furniture is a lot more expensive in Scotland, they don’t have as much of a selection, and the style tends to be a bit more contemporary/modern while cottage/French country is more our flavor.

However, I can’t help but feel that it would be a bit unlucky to buy nursery furniture for a baby who hasn’t been conceived yet. I realize this is superstitious, but I’m still hesitant. I don’t want to jinx it. But at the same time, I do feel like God is calling us to be parents and I have faith that He will bring us a child whether that be through conception or adoption. Buying nursery furniture could be a testament of my faith; sort of a Noah building the ark type of thing. I just can’t decide and I need feedback. What do you think?
I have to say I’m leaning towards going for it. Especially after stumbling upon these exquisite nursery sets by Restoration Hardware.


Wowza. I think my uterus just skipped a beat.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Progress Report

I’m a bit scatter-brained lately and I think it’s showing in my blogging. Now that we’re in the midst of the chaos that is relocating, I might be a little less apt to be posting everyday (I’ll still try!), but every Monday I’ll do my darndest to make sure to summarize where we are in the relocation process.
Logistics: The biggest breakthrough last week was getting Jonathan’s official job offer. Once he signed on the dotted line, we knew our relocation counselor would be contacting him within 48 hours with the next piece of the puzzle. Forty-Eight hours later (to the minute), our relocation counselor provided us with a step by step guide of the upcoming process. It’s truly a domino effect and one task must be completed before we can begin working on the next. It’s tough on my multi-tasking heart, but also helps keep panic attacks at bay. The comprehensive list is quite a beast so it’s nice to compartmentalize it.
The first few steps are for Jonathan alone. He needs to partake in an ex-pat orientation and fill out a few forms for his visa sponsorship. We both need to have medical exams, but that’s pretty easy-peasy to do- just show up and take deep breaths when instructed. For now, I can just focus on finishing my last week of work and keep on pretending that my entire life isn’t in a state of upheaval. Ah, denial.
Shipment: Our biggest stressor so far has been trying to figure out what to put in our shipment. The company pays for one unlimited shipment for the first assignment outside the US. Since we are planning on spending the next 10-20 years outside the States, we are trying to anticipate what we’ll need down the road and purchase it now. After this, we likely won’t be able to get anything substantial from the States for a while. Some of you might not realize this, but the US is cheap! Real cheap. And convenient. Online shopping and Target are just not the norm in other parts of the world.
Our biggest source of strife has been over furniture. Right now we live in a teeny-tiny 3 bedroom cottage and therefore only have a teeny-tiny 3 bedroom cottage’s worth of furniture. Since we only have 6 weeks until our move date, and most furniture takes 4-8 weeks to ship, we have to decide if we need more very soon, without knowing what our living situation will be in Aberdeen. Will we have 3 or 4 bedrooms? I don’t know. Will we have a conservatory (sunroom)? I don’t know. Will we have garage/attic/closet? Don’t know. Will we have a formal dining room? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. And we’ll continue to not know until about 4 weeks out from the move.
We went ahead and bought a secretary desk and two chairs from Restoration Hardware this weekend. These are functional and small so we have a lot of options on how to utilize them. I’m picturing using the chairs as a cozy reading area by the fireplace. Will we have a fireplace? I don’t know. But since we’ll be living in Scotland, I sure hope so.
In non-furniture shipment news, I also picked up 2 pairs of my favorite running shoes. I’ll definitely be getting my run on in Aberdeen, so I figured I should stock up on a pair that I really like. We also bought a rug for our living room. Why we didn’t do this 18 months ago when we moved to Houston, I have no clue. At least we have it now to help stage our house.
This week’s goals: Hopefully this week Jon will complete his orientation and receive preliminary visa approval. We’ll also try to complete our medical exam. This is my last week of work, so starting next week, we hope to start crossing a lot more off the to-do list including the biggies of putting our house on the market and taking our house hunting trip to Scotland.
Personal Note: Already, this move is teaching Jon and me things about each other and the existing dynamics in our marriage. This weekend we had our first move-related fight, and it stemmed directly from core differences in our personality. When Jon is faced with a stressful to-do list he starts immediately attacking any task in sight. At first, he accomplishes more than I do, but due to his hastiness and impulsivity, he will often need to re-do a task that he didn’t do correctly the first time.To me, it feels a bit schizophrenic which I think is why I’ve been so scatter brained lately. Jon is a natural born leader so I’ve just fallen in line with his way of doing things.  
On the other hand, I’m a much more careful and cautious person. I try to map out the whole picture of what needs to be done, prioritize tasks and come up with a strategy for how to most efficiently accomplish my list. Initially, I don’t accomplish as much, but once I get started, I’m pretty efficient.
I admit that for the past week and a half, I haven’t done much outwardly, but inwardly, I’ve been a researching and planning fool. Jonathan interpreted this lack of outward action as a lack of enthusiasm and unwillingness to take my fair share of the responsibility. I assured him that I am beyond thrilled to be going to Aberdeen (maybe he should read my blog) and showed him my detailed to-do list (in order of priority and anticipated date of completion). We had an amazing Bible study last night where we both admitted our failings as spouses and asked the other for forgiveness. Most importantly, we realized that we are both on the same team here and we could both be more patient in letting each other deal with stress in our own ways.
 I’m ready to get to working on my ever-growing list, but still have 4 days of full-time work to wrap up. Our nights this week will be full with two nights at the Houston Rodeo (Zac Brown Band and Jason Aldean. YeeHaw!) and spending time with my Dad before he heads back to Africa. This weekend, we will be making the rounds in South Louisiana to spend some quality time with friends and family before we ship off to the UK. It feels insane to be leaving town this weekend, but it’s absolutely necessary.  I’ll need a bit of relaxation and girl-friend time because come Monday, I’ll be officially unemployed, and will have to start facing down "The Beast" (aka: my to-do list):