Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Bucket List

With the decision to leave London, we of course had to create a bucket list of things we want to do before leaving.  Some of the items are small/simple things in London; some will require travel (yea!).  We've already managed a little over half the items-and in truth there are one or two items on the list that likely can't be done-but, we're certainly going to try!
  • Cocktails in the OXO Tower.  Check:  Dec 30, 2011
  • View the London NYE Fireworks.  Check:  Dec 31, 2011/January 1, 2012
  • Horse ride in Hyde Park...a good incentive to lose another 5kg so I can get under the weight limits to ride the horses
  • Visit Olympic Village.  Check:  Dec 27, 2011
  • Visit Lakes District
  • Visit Devon and/or Cornwall
  • Visit Cockfosters Tube Station.  Check:  Oct 23, 2011
  • Visit Reims, France (trip booked first weekend of March)
  • Visit Porto, Portugal (a first for Simon).  Check:  Jan 12-14, 2011
  • Visit Victoria & Albert Museum.  Check:  Nov 13, 2011
  • Picnic in Hyde, seemed like a good idea when the weather was still nice in October; I'm not so sure, now!
  • Visit all tube stations....we've perhaps the end of 3 more lines to go
  • Ride a Boris Bike.  Check:  Nov 13, 2011 (to the V&A museum.  a two-fer day!)
That's it.  The list is short and sweet-in truth, the list could be over 100 items, but we wanted to keep it realistic.  

What would be on your London bucket list?

Moving Home

It's time to come clean about this after a few comments in my blog the past few months...Simon & I have made the decision to move back (well, 'back' for me..) to the US in 2012.  We're aiming for Seattle within the next few months, but would seriously consider San Francisco for the right jobs.

Somewhat because of the finances (seriously...this city is *expensive*), and with a final kick in the pants to make it happen when my dad was diagnosed with Parkinsons late last year, it's odd that while I know I moan about living in the UK rather frequently, I'm already sad about the prospect of leaving.

There's just two eensy weensy things standing in the way of us making this happen sooner:  a job and Simon's green card.  Is that all, you ask?  Silly details, I know.  When we first even started toying with the idea last year about moving back in 2012, we actually thought about just upping sticks and moving-with the green card, but no jobs.  We had a grand plan of taking a few months off to explore the US cross country while finding jobs, and then land in Seattle as job hunting kicked into high gear.  Then the US economy recovery seemed to falter, and we decided against this plan.  So, we're doing the responsible-but challenging task of trying to find a job before we move so that a)we'll have income when we land and b)we'll have an employer that will financially support the physical move.  Good times.

I'm sure over the next couple of months, just like my move here (and the blog posts..), there will be stress, and uncertainty, and lists, and logistics to tackle, but it will hopefully be worth it in the long run.

I'm excited about moving back to be with friends again, but know that a LOT has changed since I've been gone.  Lots o' babies have been born, marriages, and a few folks have moved away as well.  I don't expect to return to Seattle and just settle back in to life as if I'd never left (that would actually be a bit sad..), but I am curious to see just how much has changed since I've been gone-and a little trepidatious.

So, wish me luck as Simon & I embark on our biggest adventure to date.  I'm not sure how this is all going to shake out, but I'm excited about the change!

Life Admin: The Necessary Paperwork

Thanks to David for asking a question that I think prompts a post about my response-what paperwork/legal documents should you plan to bring to the UK when you move?  With the benefit of hindsight, I can only say this:  Bring everything you think you would need-and even everything you don't think you will need.  In other words, if it's an important document to you in the US, it will be equally valuable to you in the UK. If not moreso.
My list of documents-in no particular order- I've needed/reference on a regular basis include:
  1. My passport-kinda goes without saying
  2. US Drivers license-seems to be acceptable here as a form of ID (I've used it at the Post Office to collect packages..)
  3. College transcripts
  4. College diplomas-an odd one, but I did have to have this for my Tier 1 visa app
  5. At least 3 years previous tax returns.  A. You'll want a few to help your tax pro when preparing your current year TR-and B. You could end up being the fortunate recipient of an IRS Audit letter of a recent tax return filing, and you'll want to have a copy of your returns handy.
  6. Birth certificate
  7. Social Security Card
  8. Marriage certificate-certified
  9. US Home mortgage paperwork-deed & loan docs
  10. Immunization/Medical Records-probably even more important if you have kids
It will only take up a bit of space to have these handy-but could save some serious stress (and cost) if you suddenly have a need for one of these-and have to put an express order in.  Yikes.  

At some point in my 4 years in London, I've needed every one of these docs.  But, I'm probably missing a few things that I'm just not aware of.  What else? What other documents have some of you had to have?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jonesing for American Food

I've not been back to the US since September, and it will likely be several months more before I go back.  As you can imagine, I'm beginning to miss some of the food that I always enjoy eating when I go back to the US.

So, it got me thinking...when I'm jonesing for some American food in London, where oh where do I go?  The list is short-but in truth, when I crave 'American Food', it usually takes only one of three forms:  burgers, BBQ (I am a Southern girl, after all!), or Mexican (that's technically 'American', right?..):

Burgers.  The most challenging of all.  I think I've mentioned more than once that I struggle with British Beef (my shortcoming, not British Beef's...). Until recently (hello, Byron!), I can count on two hands the number of burgers I've eaten in my four years in the UK.  So if there's one thing I truly crave as a food symbol of 'home', it's burgers.  Luckly, there are a few places in London to satisfy-and they seem to be ever-increasing in numbers (uh-oh):

  • Automat.  Truly 'American'-they import and serve USDA beef.  Not the greenest burger in the world, but desperate times call for desperate measures, people!  Rumor has it, this is where Renee Zellweger would come eat when she was packing on the pounds for the first Bridget Jones movie. It's understandable why. Their burgers are incredible, as is everything else I've had on the menu.  They ain't cheap, but sometimes, you have to splurge.
  • Byron:  A fairly new arrival on the London scene.  Their first shop opened in 2007-and in truth, I'd never heard of them until last year.  I'd never even set foot into one of their shops until just a few months ago when they opened a shop in the bottom of my office.  Sadly now, I'm averaging a burger there every 10-14 days.  This isn't good-but oh, their burgers SO are!
BBQ:  You can take the girl out of the South, but you can't take the South out of the girl.  And god knows I love a good pork BBQ (pork.  not beef..don't even get me started...;)). This can be difficult enough to find in the US when outside of North Carolina, never mind the UK!  Thank goodness there's Bodean's.   I first discovered Bodean's fairly early in my move to London, as there was one not too far from where I live.  I've spent a lot of time at Bodean's over the years-watching Tarheel basketball, joining friends for a bit of 'cue while watching an NFL game-and even most recently, spending Thanksgiving there.  They've been a great 'home away from home' in terms of food and entertainment, and I for one am a huge fan!

Mexican:  Ok. Ok.  I know this technically isn't 'American Food,' but I think any American Expat at some point in time comes to realize just how freaking difficult it is to find good Mexican food outside of the US (or Mexico.  ahem...).  This one is probably the most contentious in terms of which place is best in London-and goodness knows, I've read enough debates on expat forums on the topic.  But for me, when considering authenticity and location (read:  isn't an hour away from home...), one of my favorites in town is a place called Crazy Homies.  The name alone should be enough to pique the curiosity. :)  Next door and owned by the same chap who owns Lucky 7 Diner (another outstanding American-style eatery), Crazy Homies serves tasty Tex-Mex, and in particular darned good guacamole. 

I'm getting hungry just writing this post-and should scoot out and get some dinner.  But, it's something I've been meaning to post about for some time.

Where else?  Where else?  I'm sure I'm forgetting tons of places/categories (Brunch probably being a big miss...).  So what am I forgetting people? Give me some inspiration of places I need to hit up!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year's Eve in London

Finally!  After four NYEs in London, I finally got around to seeing the London fireworks in person! 

I’ve been planning this for months:  my company’s new office is in Soho-and we’re currently occupying the 5th floor of a high rise building that provides the perfect vantage point-an unhampered view of the London Eye.  Yippie!!!

Sounds crazy, I know:  let’s go to the office to watch the fireworks!  But, many years ago, when I lived in Charlotte, NC-and my office was located on the 36th floor of the Bank of America tower in downtown, I lost count of how many colleagues would go into the office on July 4th with their families and watch the fireworks.  Why not?  No crowds.  No weather issues.  Great access to clean bathrooms...

So, Simon & I had dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, Ebury in Victoria, around 8.30pm, and then around 10.30pm, we made our way to the office.  Signed in at security without any problems, and then made our way to the 5th floor where we popped the bottle of champagne we had in the fridge to chill down for another 45 minutes.

I also discovered on this evening that you can live stream BBC TV programs (an evening of firsts!), so while we were hanging out in the office, waiting for midnight & for the champagne to chill, I live-streamed Jools Holland’s Hootenanny on BBC2 [as an aside...I love Jools Holland’s live programs-if you have the chance to watch, you should!].

Then, at midnight, we got to watch an incredible firework display from the comfort of the office with a lovely bottle of champagne.  

Pretty neat, huh?  If I had to do it all over again, the only thing I would change is that we’d do dinner in the Soho area as well, and avoid the tube as it’s getting that close to midnight.  The tube at 10.30pm/11pm on NYE is a zoo-I lost count of how many drunk people there were blocking the escalators/entrances, throwing up, and making general arses of themselves (as you do...).   
The tube station near the office was closed due to overcrowding when we finally left the office around 12.45pm, so we walked up to Great Portland Street tube about 30 minutes away.  But, the rain had stopped, and the temperature was perfect.  It was a lovely stroll once we got out of the madness of Soho, and was nice to burn off a few calories from our dinner earlier in the evening.
All in all, it was a fantastic NYE-and Simon seemed pleased as punch about seeing the fireworks as well!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011-The Year in Review

There’s the proverbial saying that the older we get, the faster time seems to fly.  Well, for me, 2011 is certainly no exception to that saying!  It was an incredible year; I’m actually still trying to wrap my head around everything that happened to me personally (never mind *everything* that happened in the world).   In no particular order...
  •         Started a new job-and couldn't be happier!
  •          Attempted (but failed) to run a marathon
  •          Got married
  •          Spent 67 nights away from home on foreign travel to 9 countries (1 new)
  •          Attended my 20 year high school class reunion
  •          Made the decision to move back to the US in 2012 (more to come on this in a few weeks...)
  •          Finally, after 4 years in London, got to see the NYE fireworks in person
  •          Lost 15 pounds (erm...though I put 2 back on over the holidays.  They *will* be coming off soon...)

 Whew.  Pretty major life changes.  AND, it was an incredible year in the process.  I can’t even begin to imagine what 2012 is going to bring!