The 5 year itch?

This month marks five years of permanently living in the UK for me. Not a momentous milestone compared to the tenure of some other expats I know, but it feels big to me regardless.

When I came over in 2007, I remember our plan was for me to spend five years in the North East after which time Will and I would set sail for a new life in America. It didn't register to me then that I might not actually WANT to move back yet after five years. Surely there was no way I would stay in the UK longer than I had to, right?

The thing about me is that I am an extremely restless person by nature. I don't really sit still for more than five years at a time. I like new experiences more than new achievements. That's one reason why we moved to London last year - I was feeling overwhelmed by the need to have an adventure but at the same time I didn't want to do it without Will by my side. I still may give up cities and jobs easily, but when it comes to my family and friends, nowadays I generally prefer to keep the "good uns" around. (Against their will even if must be - thank goodness for Facebook eh?)

The last year or so living in London has been fantastic. I don't feel like I need to move on from this city just yet, but I have a feeling that the restlessness will settle back in eventually - sooner rather than later. It's inevitable really.

I think I was just born impatient. I have this (made up) memory of kicking the hell out of my mom from inside her uterus, shouting "are we there yet lady?" at the top of my prenatal lungs.

And yes, I realise impatience isn't glamorous nor attractive, but I wouldn't change myself too much in this area either. Despite the fact it can be a bit annoying, the internal drive I have for continually doing new things, learning more, finding new places...it's made me pretty damn brave over the years. I'm not afraid to make a fool of myself for the right reason. I'm not scared to risk everything for something I am passionate about. I don't really mind starting over as I've done it so many times already.

And most importantly, I am pretty sure the journey is more important than the destination in life, so as long as I get things more right than wrong, it will all be good in the end right? At least, that's what I always tell myself. ;)


Goodbye Mini!

When we realised this summer that we'd put less than a 1,000 miles on the Mini since moving to London, the decision was made to sell our sweet little car. Today we signed her over to her new owner, and it felt really weird.

Now, I haven't really driven much at all since moving here in 2007 so for me it isn't AS difficult to imagine not owning a car anymore, but at the same time I can't think of any long stretch in my entire 36-years where I was living in a household that DIDN'T have a car. Yeah sure, maybe we didn't have a WORKING car, but we still had a junker out front at all times nonetheless. So the realisation that we don't have an automobile any more feels a bit odd. And freeing, but mostly odd.

For Will it's even more disconcerting. He had a brief car-less stint during his RAF days 30 years ago, but that's about it. Back then he hitch-hiked everywhere, but sadly I don't think he'll be doing much of that these days as he lacks the uniform and youthful stupidity. He loved this car, or at least loved to moan about this car. Within minutes of signing her over, Will was enroling in a car club called ZipCar. Which is fine and a great concept, but I'm guessing we'll use it two or three times and that's it... we just genuinely don't need a vehicle anymore now that we live in one of the most accessible cities in the world. It's rather freaking cool.

PS I plan to start telling everyone we are car-free because we are doing our part to save the environment. Sure, it's more of an unintentional side effect of our car-free life than an active choice, but I might as well get props where I can.


I'm no role model - life lessons from Boston

On a business trip in Boston, had the following conversation about careers with a 20 year old uni student in Boston who is waiting tables at Legal Test Kitchen:

Him: 'So, how did you end up working in the UK? Did you go there after you got your MBA?'

(I should have answered: "lots of training & hard work plus the help of some very generous people along the way". )

Instead I gave him the full overview of my crazy life story including dropping out university to follow a boy to Colorado, my 'starter' marriage and the globe trotting I've done since.  All of which he has overtly romanticised. Am now afraid he's contemplating quitting uni & following my example.

Don't be daft kid!


Life is good, so go on and hate me... :)

It's been eons since I last wrote on this blog! So much has changed yet so much is the same.

We live quite happily in London now - moved here in August 2011. Shockingly, I am still with the same company. The other half and I are still in love and, quite sickeningly, seem to ACTUALLY like each other more and more with each passing day. To complete our family, we have adopted a "fur baby" cat named Maisie who only has three legs, half a tail and a rather hilarious personality.

Our life has sorta turned all perfect in a "dysfunctional romcom" way.  In the movie version of us, I fancy Anne Hathaway as me and George Clooney as Will, but I would settle for Paul Rudd if pressed. For either of us really.

A lot of our life has remained the same as it was two years ago. We both have some big regrets from our dark and distant pasts. I miss my family and friends in the US insanely. My accent has become a mid-Atlantic mess and apparently I'm sounding posher by the day since moving south. But honestly, we know we are fortunate and we are humbled by all the good we have in our lives. I hope one day to right past wrongs and strive to be the best person I am capable of being....in the mean time I am happy, healthy and on the right path. Life is good and I am not taking that fact for granted. Now go ahead and vomit if I'm making you sick with all this gushing... :P


NOT An Idiot Abroad by any means...

I've just booked a ticket for my nephew Elijah to come see me next summer. (Just typing that sentence is making me tear up.) I am so excited to have him come visit us. So proud that he's independent and mature enough to do so. So glad that we are lucky enough as a family to be afforded such opportunities. So thrilled to share my new country and life with my own blood. So happy to have an excuse to visit tourist attractions I normally can't drag my dear husband within 50 yards of. Woohoo!!

This trip is as much for me as it is for Elijah. It's a way for me to feel a little less alone on this strange island while simultneously broadening my nephew's view of the world be a few thousand miles.

Plus, I absolutely LOVE playing the role of tour guide. :)


American Expat "Moment of Zen"

Originally uploaded by DeeMac
In homage to one of my favourite telly shows, I bring to you today's 'Moment of Zen' as an American Expat living in the UK.

On my flight home from Heathrow tonight, I was sat next to two 20-something Geordie lads who were commuting home from some job they'd just finished abroad. Their conversation meandered around a lot, often touching on funny stories about coworkers, including some of American descent. They were only speaking with eachother... and as far as I could tell, they had no idea it was loud enough that I heard everything they were saying.

At one point, the gents started telling funny but raunchy stories about one of the lads on their last job who watched porn at 3am every night, despite the fact he was room-sharing with other blokes. The jokes they made about this lad were very off-colour and I'm pretty sure not meant for my ears.

Later the conversation meandered back to their American coworkers, who they were earlier speaking of relatively kindly. However during 'Round 2', they started making fun of the American accents and optimistic natures, including impersonations of course.

( Up to this point in the flight, I had not said a word to them so my accent had not given me away, and luckily my clothes and hairstyle no longer serve as a neon 'American Lady' sign like they once used to do. )

Anyway, one of the lads does his best John Wayne impersonation and sings-songs 'Have a Nice Dayyyyy!' with a shit-eating grin on his face. The other guy, who's sat right next to me, starts laughing and says 'HAHAHA and they ALL say that too!'.

This is the point where I lean over to the gent right next to me, look at both of them and say "Actually, not all of us."

Initial reaction was an awkward laugh followed by looking down at their tray tables rather than at me.

Immediately followed by the silent realisation that they've just offended an American lady that they're stuck sitting next to for 30 more minutes.

Eventually the realisation that said American lady probably also overheard the entire porn conversation. (Although, potentially it's just wishing on my part that they'd be uncomfortable speaking about porn in front of me?)

And lastly, a palatable discomfort on their parts for the rest of the plane journey and a huge shit-eating grin on MY face this time.

Oops! :)

And that, my dears, is today's Moment of Zen.


Goodbye Grandpa.

grandpa and the shake
Originally uploaded by julieboddy
My grandpa Jim was never a man of big stature, but in my childhood memories he is a giant. Whenever I think of "home" in the familial core-being sense, it's his house on Critchfield Road which pops into my head, a place that serves as backdrop to most of my truly pleasant childhood memories. Grandpa in the garden picking beans or fussing about rabbits. Grandpa in the kitchen, peeling apples for pies. Grandpa in the living room with a pile of books and classical music on the hi-fi. Grandpa laying face-down on the floor while my sister and I walk up and down his spine in our bare feet. Grandpa loudly cursing at his new-fangled gadgets like the monstrously-sized 1980s microwave or VHS player. Grandpa taking a nap in the recliner despite my protests for him to play with us instead, telling me he's just "catching 60 winks". Grandpa growling at my sister and Dad because they are cheating at cards - again. Grandpa smiling with pride at my mother when she picks us up after classes, treating her as if she was his own child. Grandpa, my real-life Papa Smurf, watching cartoons with me followed by a grisly war movie or Madonna videos on MTV (shh don't tell Grandma!). Grandpa with a glass of sherry in one hand and the other hand petting the dog with love, the smell of his baking pies always in the background. These are the youthful memories I have of the man and the house that define "home" for me at the basest of levels.

As I grew older and more jaded (or maybe realistic?), my understanding of Grandpa Jim began to change, to grow more deep and less naive. I began to see not only his strength and beauty more clearly, but also his vulnerabilities and flaws. His huge dependence upon my grandmother and his nearly-smothering love for her. His ridiculous prejudices and immense secrets, especially those in regards to a distant past he rarely spoke of. Vast holes in him caused by the war, his childhood, the times before his brain tumour. His very complicated relationships with his own children, which contrasted so greatly against the absolutely uncomplicated one he had with me and my sister. His ability to anger too easily and his need to feel at the centre of things at all times - a need which grew greater the more frail he became. But it's not only his failings and frailties that I noticed as I aged...I also grew to appreciate his intelligence, his candour, his dry sarcastic wit, his generosity, and - most selfishly - his ability to love me no matter what ugliness I showed him, whether that be shocking blue hair or a shocking foul mouth.

To use a cliché, life is full of regrets. I regret I didn't spend more time with you before you died Jim. I regret I didn't know you at your end as well as I did at my own beginning. I regret not being home for your funeral, immensely. But please know that I am also grateful. I am grateful for the things you taught me growing up, especially the love of books, swimming, vegetables, cards, and just generally having a good time. I'm also very grateful that the final years of your life brought so many good things back into my own, especially as it relates to my Dad. You were the anchor which tied him to Columbus for the last several years, and his grandchildren are reaping the benefits of having their 'Grandpa Longhair' nearby and loving them so.

Thank you for everything Grandpa. I miss you already.


Somewhere In Between

Me on the 4th of July Cruise
Originally uploaded by julieboddy
Last week I took the Life in the UK exam, a mandatory step in the UK immigration process if you want to stay in the country long-term as a spouse of a Brit. I found studying for the exam to be really boring and frustrating because the book was filled with facts that seemed irrelevant and also at times inaccurate. After ranting about one particular bit of misrepresented statistics, an American friend of mine recommended that I think of the test as an "English Language" test rather than a knowledge test, which made it a bit easier for this egghead to accept. The test itself was actually pretty easy. I did have to memorise a lot of dates, numbers and odd factoids which I think the average Briton wouldn't know but hey, I passed and it was a relatively painless hour of my life to get past this first hurdle.

Next up: Indefinite Leave to Remain visa followed shortly thereafter by my UK citizenship. Both expensive and paper-heavy ventures but then I'll be done forever with this UK immigration BS and can quickly start bragging about being a European citizen. :)

In November I will have been living her for three years. THREE YEARS!! I cannot believe how fast the time has gone actually. The first three months were pretty easy - almost like a vacation - but then it got really tough really quickly. For about a year my entire core being seemed to rebel against the foreigness of this place and I couldn't settle in properly. Around the 18 month point I finally began to feel acceptance and even some contentment with my "new country". Nowadays entire weeks will go by where I don't even realise I'm a "stranger in a strange" land until something happens to shock me into recognition that this ain't Kansas anymore, Toto. It's the littlest things that make this happen as well.

Most recently this occurred when I was riding my bike into the city centre to pick up some spices at the Quayside (river dockside) market. Just as I was turning left to take a short-cut through a nearby park, I was suddenly overcome with the feeling of "foreigness". Potentially only other expats can fully understand what I mean by that statement, but basically I was riding along on my bike and this huge swell of emotion came up involuntarily, pushing the thoughts of "I live in a foreign country. This is not my culture. This is England. How did I get here again?" into my mind. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling necessarily, but just a highly intense awareness around the fact that I'm not in my native land. These thoughts were then followed up by mixed feelings of pride, sadness, intrigue and loneliness all at once. It lasted for about 5 minutes whilst I was cycling along and then *poof* it was gone. Very weird sensation all around, but from what I can tell, quite common amongst expatriates, even those who've been here 2 and 3 times longer than myself.

I tend to surround myself with friends who are also foreigners of one type of another. My closest work mates are from different parts of the country to the North East (and believe me, on this small island, being from a town only 75 miles away means you're a foreigner!). The people I am closest to here "in real life" and online are from other parts of the country and/or from another country altogether. Most recently I've started up local friendships with some Scottish and American people who've been transplanted to Newcastle for various reasons. I crave all of their company as fellow "strangers". The empathy these groups can provide is really important but also it's a heck of a lot easier to make friends with other displaced adults than it is to break into a circle of life-long friends like a lot of the Geordies I encounter seem to hold dear.

Sometimes I wonder what all of this means in terms of me as an American. My vernacular is changing quickly. I spell like a Brit, swear like a Brit and discuss vegetables like a Brit (i.e. courgettes, to-MAH-toes, BAH-zil). However, even after I get my UK passport and have all the rights of a British citizen, I will never really be British culturally-speaking. I'm also starting to realise how foreign I seem to Americans these days as well, which is equally weird (just ask my sister!). Besides the way I speak and write, my viewpoint on world affairs has totally changed, my eating habits are vastly different and my reliance on public transportation is almost awe-inspiring. My husband says I'm turning into a 'Mid-Atlantic' citizen, meaning that I don't have a single cultural home anymore and that my culture is formed somewhere on a mythical island between these two incredible countries. On good days, I take that as a huge compliment, but on bad days I look at it as a disadvantage and I mourn for my waning American identity. I think the reality lies somewhere in between, wrapped in the loneliness of being "forever foreign" and the excitement of being a "citizen of the world".


Group (Career) Therapy

I'm about three-quarters of the way through an experiential leadership course offered by Common Purpose, called International Navigator. The demographic for the course attendees tends to be energetic, ambitious and high achiever types (read: SWOTs) in the early stages of their careers as leaders. There are several programmes going on concurrently within & external to the UK, organised by geography - I'm on the 'North' cohort, which is dominated by public sector delegates and just a small handful of us private sector folks. The London cohort is more private sector dominated, and the Scotland and Indian cohorts are, well, primarily dominated by Scots and Indians (ha - don't know their sector mix so I resort to lame ethnic jokes instead). Anyway, this is the first time I've been around so many people at the same point in their careers but from different sectors as me, so it's been an interesting scenario to say the least.

All of the Common Purpose course events are covered by the Chatham House Rules, so I can't get into exact details of who said what when, etc. but I can discuss the information I gain as long as I don't reveal the source or reveal anything said confidentially. Which isn't as easy to do as you'd think when trying to explain the context of a really cool approach used at XYZ organisation! (I digress, but I could probably do a whole blog post just on CHR itself. Very interesting construct for meetings...but back onto topic here...)

So, in my last two Common Purpose sessions, we've done group exercises which basically went like this:
  • Each group member has 2 minutes to pitch a problem for which they'd like the group to brainstorm potential resolutions.
  • Group votes on a single person's problem to use in the exercise.
  • Group spends 15 minutes asking the 'problemed person' about their problem, their personal values, aspirations, etc. - anything relevant to finding a resolution to said person's issue.
  • Group spends 15 minutes discuss the 'problem' & potential solutions but the 'problemed person' is not allowed to speak or influence in any way.
  • Last 10 minutes are spent with the group listening while the 'problemed person' reflects back on the discussion and explains what he/she are going to take from the exercise, including any potential solutions.
When these group sessions were first pitched to me, I rolled my eyes and was like 'oh great, here we go with the touchy feely stuff'. However, after the first one where I helped problem-solve for a public servant facing workplace politic issues shockingly very similar to my own previous experiences, I was totally bought in. I approached the second session with zeal, and was pretty excited when the group picked MY problem as the one to discuss (although keeping my mouth shut for 15 minutes was REALLY difficult and I sorta cheated on the 'no influencing' aspect by pulling faces a couple times). Anyway, I won't bore you to death with the details of my problem or the myriad of suggestions I received, but I do want to share two lessons I've taken from the exercise:

1 - This form of 'group exercise', or group therapy as I jokingly call it, is actually a very effective method to brainstorm problems & resolutions, whether they are personal or professional. Hearing other people discuss topics very close to my heart without being able to interject or influence was difficult but also incredibly enlightening. I'm not sure how I will use this tool at home or at work, but I definitely need to figure out a way because it is, quite simply, a brilliant method for generating new ideas for old problems.

2 - The session where we focused on my own career conundrum was quite possibly a *true* epiphany moment for me. Having my concerns, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses replayed back in front of me by a diverse group of 7 talented leaders from around the UK has really lit a fire under my oh-too-lazy bum. I have a huge list of ideas from the group, some of which I had already considered but now seem more plausible and others which I could never have come up with on my own. Pretty damn cool, actually!

In the 7 days since that 'meme' session, I've made several key realisations. First of all, I believe that I need to create my own personal brand and market myself proactively against that brand. It is unacceptable to just float through my career on best intentions. I am passionate about my profession, personal values and various hobbies, but I'm not bringing those themes together cohesively in my daily life, which I firmly believe is why I'm not completely clear where I want to go with my career. It's time to quit whinging about being confused, set some goals (no matter how small) and work to achieve them. Over the last week, I've filled up about 6 pages of notebook paper with ideas big and small, from blogging more seriously to getting my UK driver's licence to finding a way to run my own consultancy business and/or moving to Spain before I'm 40.

The myriad of things I've jotted down are definitely not all achievable as a whole. It's also highly likely I'll chicken out on some of the riskier aspects, but this is *literally* the first time in years where I've had some real clarity and focus upon what I want to get out of my career longer-term. It's a bit scary but also really damn exciting.

So, here's hoping I don't just let this newly found drive all die out... to help prevent that from happening, I have decided to approach the situation like I am managing a project at work - create a plan and then hold myself accountable to deliver. Won't bore you with the details, but after this blog post is published, task #2 can be marked complete. Wheee! :)

Now time to get back to my regularly scheduled programmes. I've earned the right to veg out to some Scrubs reruns, me thinks.


False Sense of Security....

Warning: Bad language alert.... only read on if you're not easily offended. 

Tonight I was the victim of a sexual assault during my commute home from work.

Wow, that sentence feels very heavy - too heavy. Sexual assault. Was that what it really was?  The law says it is so (if it can be proven). The cop said it was so (if it can be proven). But it wasn't rape and I didn't get hurt physically, so those two words feel overly heavy to me, and weirdly laden with victim's guilt. Was it my fault, did I encourage them, etc. etc. All of that is going through my head right now, but I'm getting ahead of myself here, let me fill you in on the backstory.

I was verbally harassed during my train journey home tonight by a roughly 13 year old boy whilst his two friends urged him on and told him new things to say to me in their native language. Lewd and disgusting things that 13 year old boys shouldn't be saying to a woman of my age, or even at all. As I left the train after enduring about 6 or 7 minutes of this abuse, one of them patted my ass. I know this because a) I felt it and b) when I turned around sharply in response, one of the boys was blaming the other for doing it. They got off the train behind me making some more noise towards me, but I bee-lined up the stairs and out of the station as quickly as possible in fear they would follow me. I saw some Metro ticket checking agents on my way up, but I was too freaked to stop and ask them for help or to report the boys' behaviour.

I walked home and immediately broke into tears when I saw my husband behind our safely closed front door. In an instant after explaining what had happened, Will had his keys in hand and was rushing off to the station to find these boys himself (teens often hang out in front of the station for some stupid reason). Thank goodness that Will found them already embroiled in a ticket dispute with police officers when he got there or else tonight might have ended with my husband in cuffs. He was definitely that angry. When he rang me to have me come down to ID the boys, I thought he was going to tell me something much worse... but thankfully he was just solving my immediate problem which was trying to find the flipping police's phone number via google. (Seriously, when you're really pissed off, even googling is difficult)

Long story short, the police now have my details, the boys deny verbally harassing me and the one boy who would admit to touching me says it was 'an accidental brushing'. I've told the police I want to press charges but I couldn't positively identify which one was the one that actually touched me. It's possible that the CCTV footage on the train will give them something to go by but I'm not very hopeful. I agreed with the coppers that I would not have the boys arrested right then as long as the police took the kids back to their parents in the squad car. If the CCTV footage turns up something useful, I'll press charges but otherwise I will have to be consoled that the incident is now on record and the parents are definitely going to be notified. Maybe it will scare them into thinking twice before bugging another woman... maybe, but I doubt it.

I am calm now, but at first I was too shocked to know what to do. And I was so freaked out on the metro that survival mode had kicked in. I was trying to be tough, funny, ridiculous - anything to get the boy to go back to his original seat and leave me alone. What I wasn't doing was paying attention to their faces! I couldn't look in their eyes, only at the floor and out the windows. I can't even be sure which of the three was the one saying the nasty things versus the ones just laughing and egging him on in another language. All I can remember is their very unique jackets and their spiky hair. I think my mind just checked out after a few minutes.... common I suppose.

I kept thinking that either they were going to follow me home and (if I was lucky) maybe they were only after my iPhone or wallet. I kept internally debating whether or not I could talk my way out of the situation if they didn't let up, whether I could harm them more than they could me, whether or not I had been wrong in not immediately chastising them and it was my fault that they kept on harassing me because I didn't act disgusted enough. And I was also angry at the fact that the other 2 or 3 people in our train car didn't seem to want to make eye contact with me despite my desperate attempts to look at them and find an out from this little nymphomaniac wannabe who saddled up next to me. Here's a brief snippet of the things which were said (I'm leaving out some of the lewder bits):

Boy: "My friend, he fancies you. He wants to fuck you."

Me, nervously: "I'm old enough to be both of your mothers twice over, no thank you."

Him: "He wants to lick your fadge. Don't you want him?"

Me, faking a laugh: "Very funny. He'd have to grow about 10 inches in height and some body hair before he'd be my type and even then I'd never be interested". Insert fake smile again.

Him: "But my friend wants you so much, hey look at me..." blah blah blah.

I think what angered me the most is the fact that I have successfully told middle aged drunk men at the bars to "fuck off and leave me alone" on a night out, but when being harassed by three rinky dink brats on my evening commute, I felt completely helpless. I guess that I am not prepared to be harassed in that environment, and especially not by children. It just really really paralysed me for some reason. And now I'm really fucking mad at myself that I took a coward route with it and tried to laugh things off in the moment instead of standing up for myself - what was I thinking?! I know I'm the victim here, but I am a STRONG woman and I can't believe I let three little kids upset me so much.

But you see, all that was going through my head in the moment was something my sister told me about her 12 year old son recently. She was saying how that my nephew has gotten so strong at only 12 that she knows he could physically harm her if he wanted to, and she's damn well glad he's too scared of her still to ever do so. "He could take me Julie, seriously he's that strong" is what she told me. So when the first of the boys sat right next to me and started saying those lewd things the first thing I thought was "I bet I couldn't stop them from taking me". I knew they weren't going to do it but I couldn't get that out of my head. Over and over. And I think that was the moment I lost my (false?) sense of security for the first time since moving here.

The police were amazing, my husband was amazing and I'm genuinely proud of myself for not just letting it slip past without report. Too many boys and men get away with harassing women in this world and only by reporting it can I wage my own little protest. Now I just have to watch my back when I ride the train every night, in case they get on it with me again. :(

On the bright side, I now know yet another British slang word for female genital. Thanks for expanding my vernacular you little bastards.