Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy New Year

Have a safe, happy, healthy and prosperous 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays

We wish you all a Merry Christmas

or a Happy Hanukkah

May your Holidays be blessed.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Repatriation - An American's Story

This week, we welcome our friend, brand new author, blogger and repatriated American, Meagan Adele Lopez as a guest blogger. Meagan is an American who returned to the States last year after living in the United Kingdom. Everyone tells you repatriation isn't as easy as you'd imagine; here's Meagan's story.

I’ve been back in the United States for a year and three months now, and I’m about 4 months away from the length of time that I lived in the UK. I can’t believe I’ve been back that long. Toni asked me to write a guest blog over a year ago, and I’m finally getting to it after the job searching, the book publishing, and the apartment hunting. But I’m back, and more settled than ever.

I have to say, the difference between my first year in the UK and the first year back in America is that time has flown since I’ve been back. My first year in the UK felt like a LONG, LONG year. My boyfriend and I had most of the same issues that we have here - looking for a job, etc., but I remember thinking in England - man, time really idles by. Here, not so much.

Do you experience time pass by at a slower pace while living abroad? Or is that just me?

I put it down to awareness. In another country, every moment is a learning experience, and everyday there is the possibility that something new and exciting will happen. You hear a new word; you turn the corner and discover a previously unknown bakery; or you meet a stranger who wants to talk to you simply because you “have an accent.” Every moment is cherished and different. When you’re in your own country, you are the same as everyone else - getting by, trying to make ends meet, or furiously rushing to succeed, be with family members, and somehow, still, to sleep at least 6 hours a night.

In an ideal world, one would feel alive and in the moment no matter where they lived, and time would, well, take its time. But, unfortunately, you get into a routine and time doesn’t necessarily fly when you’re having fun. No, in my opinion, time flies when you’re comfortable, and follow a schedule.

Toni wanted me to write about how it was to return to America after living abroad for nearly two years. Have I felt reverse culture shock? Do I miss England? Am I a changed woman?

To be honest, I was ready to come home. Unlike when I lived in Paris in 2004, came back to the United States, and fell into a deep, dark depression from missing France, coming back from England last year was fairly easy. In Paris, everything was different from America. In Paris, I was the eccentric, sought-after butterfly that no one could catch, but everyone wanted. In Paris, I spoke another language, met new friends, was completely on my own without knowing anyone, and truly immersed myself in the culture.

In England, it almost wasn’t different enough - yes there were the colloquialisms, the quaint, old towns, the history, and the millions of other differences that are just slightly confusing to the American who thinks the English and the American is cut from the same cloth.

However, it was just similar enough that I felt slightly off-kilter and disoriented, but not unfamiliar enough to deeply change me. I certainly wasn’t sought after, but mostly made fun of (as the English do in the most loving way possible), and I went there while in a relationship so I already had a built-in network of people.

I enjoy all the eccentricities that make England what it is, and always look forward to going back. Nevertheless, and perhaps part of it is because I am slightly older than when I was in Paris, there was nothing about England that rocked my core, or shook my foundation enough to warrant a reverse culture shock.

Perhaps I’m too much of an idealistic, American to fully embrace the witty, realistic and ironic view of the English. Perhaps I am now too set in my ways. I still have a slight mid-Atlantic accent, and say “a bit” and I can’t be “arsed” (well, now I say “arsed” since Toni corrected me a few weeks back. I always thought they were saying “asked” but just in their funny accent!), and I know I will move back one day. But, I have to thank England for making me realize how much I actually love America. I never thought I would say that - honestly.

I was embarrassed to be American before, but maybe I finally realized that there’s another country out there just as deliciously flawed as the one I come from, but whose people don’t apologize for it.

So yeah, I suppose that’s what I learned while living abroad. England gave me a backbone, a realization that they may make fun of us, and we may always be the rugged, bastardized children of their defeat, but we are the far superior country when it comes down to it. (Ha! Just kidding…but no, not really…OK yes, I’m kidding.)

Here’s to making time slow down whilst in America!


Meagan was an expat in England for nearly two years. Since her return to the US, she has finished her first novel, “Three Questions”.(Toni has just read it and highly recommends it.)  Lopez is also in the midst of running a nerve-wracking Kickstarter campaign to help sell the novel into a screenplay. She would love your contributions! You will get some great rewards, and be a part of a very cool project. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Shopping

If you celebrate Christmas, there's no getting away from the need to buy or make gifts.


The good thing about having a Thanksgiving holiday it that it acts as a sort of buffer against early Christmas hysteria. The downside is that people start putting the decorations up as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is digested, even though it’s still often November. There should be a law against that.

Since all my family is in England, I am forced to focus on gifts before the tans have faded from everyone else's summer holiday. The mailing deadline is some time in early December, and back when you could send stuff “surface” (ie. not air mail) the deadline was some time in October. Having sorted the UK presents out, I typically sit back and forget about everyone else until, like now, it becomes a bit of a stressor.

I used to be the online shopping Queen, but with the shipping and handling coming in at $5-10 extra per gift this year, it looks like I’ll just have to brave the madding crowds and actually venture into a couple of shops.

Problem is see, I don’t live in the burbs where there are mega-malls every couple of miles; my nearest shopping destination is the famed Michigan Avenue in Chicago. (Think Regents Street on its busiest day, with tourists wandering round gazing up instead of looking where they’re going and you’ll get the picture.) There is no "quiet time" since tourists stay at the downtown hotels, chomping at the bit to get out there and shop as soon as the revolving doors open. 

Oh dear, oh dear. I must conjure up the motivation from somewhere.


Our Christmas shopping is all but done.  The little bit I have to do I’ll probably finish this coming week.  But then, Christmas shopping for us involves mostly walking into town to peruse the Christmas market stalls, wander through the mall and visit the shops on the high street.   In addition to that, the majority of our gifts this year we made ourselves.  Mostly that is down to my wife; she not only made all the cards herself (and addressed them because my handwriting is illegible) but has been knitting and patchworking like an artsy-crafty demon since October to come up with some unique and appropriate gifts for most of her friends and family.  (All I did was publish a book that everyone in my family is, goddammit, getting as a gift whether they like it or not.  And you can see how close my family is by knowing that they haven’t already gone out and bought multiple copies themselves.)

But that’s just us, because of where we are now; we’re all about being Green and returning Christmas to the season of giving, not receiving.  I’m sure we’ll just piss everyone off, but that’s just part of the Christmas spirit.

I say all that knowing, even for Britain, we are an anomaly.  Not many people have a town centre just a few minutes walk away with such an abundance of shopping opportunities.  Also, it is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Christmas shopping American-style when I lived there.  Going to the mall, jockeying for a parking space, fighting the crowds, spending inordinate amounts of money—that was what made Christmas Christmas in my view.

That time has passed, however, and now I’m happy to pick up gifts locally when I can, make my own when appropriate and judge the success of the season, not by the amount of money I have spent, or how many of the items I ticked off of the “I want this for Christmas” lists sent to me by my sons.

And if my wife has to put up with my home-made cards every year, well, that’s the price she pays for scaling Christmas down and trying to return it to the pure and joyous occasion it was meant to be:

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