My Path to Dual Nationality

Flash back to 6 years ago and I was a girl with a dream of going to England and a 10 year plan to make it happen. I needed that time to save up for the fabulous, extravagant, dream vacation in London that I’d always fantasized about.

Now skip forward to present day and I am officially a BRITISH CITIZEN!! What? Someone pinch me, that surely can’t be real. Okay, don’t pinch me, it’s real. I have the certificate to prove it!

Officially, I am a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Unofficially, I am a very lucky girl! One country was my home for 23 years, it’s where I was born, where my family lives, all of my childhood and teenage memories belong to that country, it’s the place I can always call home, where I love to visit and am happy to claim as my heritage. The other country is the place where I found my first and true love, my new and future home, where I was married, where I gave birth to my beautiful babies, and where I learned things about myself, both good and bad, that I hadn’t known before.

I’ve had a very love/hate relationship with England. I’ve learned from my newly found fellow expat friends that my experience is a fairly common one. I started out with a very romantic and fanciful love of England; it felt like a permanent vacation. That love quickly turned into despair and bitterness that unfortunately lasted for quite awhile as I was missing home and all the things familiar to me. There was this moment of awakening for me where I realized that I had been living as a visitor the whole time I’d been here, rather than a resident. Changing that behavior was the key to happiness for me. And I’m pleased to now be at a place in my heart where I once again love this country, but this time it’s a realistic love. I love it for all of its beauty and its grit. I’m in the unique position of calling two countries home. For the rest of my life, no matter where I live or where I call home, I will always be missing another place. How blessed am I to have such a problem as that!

Fiancee visa: $860
Visa extension FLR (Stands for Further Leave to Remain): $952
Life in the UK test: $82
Visa extension ILR (Stands for Indefinite Leave to Remain): $1,769
2 Consular reports of births abroad: $200
2 UK minor passports: $151
2 US minor passports: $210
Citizenship application: $1,440
British adult passport: $120
Total: $5,784 (£3,510)

Security of knowing you won’t be separated from your spouse and forced to leave the country: PRICELESS!

In my entire journey to dual nationality, the final step of obtaining citizenship (not counting the cost) was probably the easiest one. In order to qualify for citizenship, I needed to be legally living in the country for 3 years (they have since changed that to 5 years) and I had to take a Life in the UK test, which I had previously completed as part of my ILR.  After then it was just a matter of filling out some paperwork and making a (very large) payment.

I got a letter about a month after my application to say that it had been approved. Next step was my citizenship ceremony! There was quite a large group of people obtaining citizenship at the ceremony. We all had to either swear an oath or make an affirmation of allegiance (difference being that an oath is swearing by God and an affirmation isn’t) and also say a pledge of loyalty. Then we were presented with our certificates of citizenship. Afterward they had cake and drinks for us and we had the opportunity to take photos.

The oath of allegiance I swore:

“I, Ashley Nicole Rayford, swear by almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, according to law.

The pledge of loyalty:

“I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfill my duties and obligations as a British citizen.”

I’ve been asked why it was important to me to become a British citizen. Honestly, it’s important to me because it’s the closest I can get to a guarantee that I won’t be separated from my husband. That’s the number one reason. Another reason is because my children are dual citizens of the US and the UK. None of us have any idea what the future holds, this whole experience has been great proof of that, and I want to have options and be able to live where my children settle if that’s my desire. The final reason? Because it’s awesome and I love this country!

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Chris and I after the ceremony. It’s hard to tell because it’s a selfie, but we took this photo in front of the fountain in Leicester ‘s Town Hall Square. This is the same fountain we posed in front of after our wedding. This town hall has seen our marriage, it’s where we registered the births of our babies, and it’s where I became a British citizen. It’s played a large part in our life together!

Being presented with my certificate of naturalisation by a local alderman.

Being presented with my certificate of naturalisation by a local alderman.

My certificate and the folder it was presented in, which includes the words for the oath and affirmation of allegiance as well as the pledge of loyalty. There's also a photo of the iconic water fountain in Town Hall Square.

My certificate (with important information blacked out) and the folder it was presented in, which includes the words for the oath and affirmation of allegiance as well as the pledge of loyalty. There’s also a photo of the iconic water fountain in Town Hall Square.

This feels a bit like I’m accepting an award, but I feel like I need to give thanks to some people here. Thank you to fellow Three Ladies author, Stephany, for coming to take care of our kids while we attended the ceremony and also getting a cake to celebrate with us when we got home!

Thank you to my parents, not only for all the financial assistance you’ve provided in this journey and for spending so much time and money to come see us since I’ve moved so far away, but also for being amazingly supportive and essentially being the ones to make this dream of meeting my “friend,” Chris, a reality. If it weren’t for you two, I fear we’d still be Skyping each day for hours on end, and instead we’ve got a wonderful life together!

And finally, thank you to Chris. He has dealt with more tears and heartache from me than any person should ever have to deal with. He has had to hear me say awful things about his home country when I’ve been down in the dumps. He had to fill out all the visa paperwork with the exception of the first fiancee visa because it was just too much of a headache for me. And he has never showed the slightest bit of annoyance at any of that and has always been my number one source of comfort when I’ve been down. You are amazingly supportive, loving, and caring and I’m so glad to be a British citizen and spend my life with you, wherever it may be! Love you baby! 🙂

Wier Family Update: The Mile Long To-Do List

To Do List

Hi everyone!  Sorry I didn’t post last week.  Things are getting a little nuts around here!  Colin was in Europe for work, so I took the boys to Kentucky for an 11 day visit.  We had a great time and other than the two hours that Declan screamed on the flight home (sorry fellow passengers!), we enjoyed every minute of our trip.  Now that we’re home, the craziness with the England move is in high gear, so I thought I’d take a minute to update those of you who might be interested or have been asking how things are going.   🙂

We landed Wednesday afternoon and were all exhausted.  Colin flew back from Germany, so by the time he met us at baggage claim, he had already been up for 18 hours.  As previously mentioned, I had been dealing with a crying baby for hours.  We were all excited to be reunited, but just really needed sleep.  We grabbed a pizza on the way home, ate dinner as soon as we stepped inside, and all four of us were asleep by 7:45.  It was glorious.  The next morning, the moving company was here to survey our belongings and determine how long it will take them to pack us up and to give us a pack/move date.  They will be packing up our house on December 17th and loading everything into the container on the 18th.  We will fly to Kentucky for Christmas on the 19th.  From there, we’ll leave for England on January 1st.  It’s going to be a crazy holiday season for us!

I spent 6 1/2 hours on Friday filling out the online visa applications for all four of us.  Let me tell you, filling out a visa application is extremely time consuming and stressful.  Filling it out four times with the same information is pure torture.  I’m pretty sure I now have all four of our passport numbers memorized.  But at least that part is done!  Colin and I will attend our biometrics appointment (where they take our fingerprints and a digital photo of our faces) on Wednesday morning.  Luckily, the boys don’t have to do this as they’re too young.  After that, we have to mail hard copies of everything to the consulate in New York and then we wait.  Passports, marriage certificates, birth certificates, oh my!  Let me tell you folks, keep those important documents on hand.  You never know when a government authority might want them!

We're getting there.  Hoping to mail these bad boys out Wednesday afternoon.

We’re getting there. Hoping to mail these bad boys out Wednesday afternoon.

Aside from the movers and getting the visa applications finished, we are also in the process of opening UK bank accounts.  This is also tons of fun (sarcasm).  If you really want to feel stupid, try figuring how to fill a US address into the supplied blanks on a UK form.  Note:  They do not write their home addresses the same way we do. 🙂 Colin said he thinks that it’s all a test to ensure that we are smart enough to live in their country.  If we can properly wade through all of the paperwork, we pass.  I’m starting to think  he’s right!

We’ve also started making our to-do list.  I’m a very typical Type A person, so lists and organization are a part of my everyday existence, but when my fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants husband said, “Are you writing all of this stuff down somewhere?” I knew it was time to start consolidating my lists and getting more organized.  We sat down on Saturday night and spent an hour thinking of everything that needs to be done between now and December 17th.  There are currently 70 items on the list, much of which will be annoying and time consuming (medical records, vaccinations, selling stuff, moving things to storage…blah).  I’m making myself feel better by putting dates beside each item in hopes that it won’t all be last minute.  Let’s just say November is looking crazy and I’m pretty sure we won’t have another relaxing weekend until March.  Today, around having the boys pictures taken and grocery shopping, we did manage to organize the garage into four sections:  Store, Sell, Ship, and Trash.  Item number 1 has been checked off the list.  I’m feeling accomplished!

I’ve decided that I’m going to have to live with the fact that my laundry will not be caught up again before we leave.  And the chances of my house being spotless again are slim to none.  But that’s okay.  Things will all work out.  We’re looking forward to a fun holiday season and we’re still super excited for our European adventure.  Let’s all repeat:  I will be organized.  I will be on top of things.  I will not be stressed.

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Language Barrier (part 3)

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“A ladybird just flew into the house!” A ladybird? You mean…a female bird? Nope. It turns out that what is known to Americans as a ladybug, is known to Brits as a ladybird. One recently flew into our open front door and I took a video of my son searching for it and posted it to Facebook. You can hear us calling it a ladybird on the video, and since then I’ve been asked a few times why they call them ladybirds here. I have no idea. I’d guess because they fly, but so do a variety of other insects that weren’t given the distinction of “bird.”

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The ladybird flew into our front door, which is located on the ground floor of our house. In England, what Americans would call the first floor is actually called the ground floor. Subsequently, what Americans know as the second floor then becomes the first floor. That confused me a bit when I first moved here and we were in the ground floor flat of our building. Ground floor isn’t so confusing, but calling the second floor the first floor threw me for a loop.

Flat-for-let-Signboard

Oh whoops. I said flat. Generally when I’m speaking to an American audience (which statistics show makes up the majority of our readers here at Three Ladies & Their Babies), I’ll stick to American words/phrases/spellings/pronunciations. After living here for 4 years, that becomes harder and harder to do and I often say things the “British” way without giving it a second thought. I think an apartment being called a flat is probably a widely known Brit vs. American language difference, but just in case you didn’t know, now you do. Speaking of flats, houses, or any other type of building which can be rented, did you know that instead of, “For rent,” they actually say something is, “To let,” here in England?

Recently while out on a drive, we were diverted because they were setting up for a celebration of the Diwali lights switch on at the Golden Mile (Leicester has the third largest Hindu population in England and the stretch of Belgrave Road known as the Golden Mile is one of the best places to discover Indian culture and food outside of India itself.) and the flyover was closed. A flyover is what we Americans know of as an overpass. The word flyover amused me when I first moved here, but like most of these different words, I’m used to it now and use it myself.

Hopefully you enjoyed this installment of Language Barrier. Hope you aren’t too gutted (disappointed, upset) by the differences. Cheers (thanks) for reading! 🙂

You can find part one of Language Barrier here and part two here.

* Any differences in language that I discuss only pertain to the area that I live in, Leicester. I don’t know if other areas of the country use the same words, though I would assume that in much the same way that different states in the US have different accents and slang words, different counties in England have as well. Also, from time to time I may mention a word that my in-laws use. Let me say now that although my in-laws in particular may say these words, that doesn’t mean they are used in all parts of England (they might be, I wouldn’t know!). Let me also add that I do know England came before America and that these posts are meant to be a lighthearted bit of fun. Thank you.

Language Barrier (Part 2)

*Following my first Language Barrier post, I received a few negative reviews. Let me take a moment to clear something up before I begin the second. Any differences in language that I discuss only pertain to the area that I live in, Leicester. I don’t know if other areas of the country use the same words, though I would assume that in much the same way that different states in the US have different accents and slang words, different counties in England have as well. Also, I mentioned a word that my in-laws use during the first LB post, let me say now that I didn’t mean that was a phrase that is used in all parts of England, only that my in-laws in particular use it, and yes, I am certain that I am not misunderstanding them. When participating in a public blog one has to expect a degree of negativity from the general public. The criticism I received was not posted directly to the blog, but rather on public forums where there was no guarantee of my seeing the comments. As much as I’m aware that criticism is to be expected, I’m constantly surprised at the level of nastiness some people stoop to when they have a computer screen to hide behind. So please, if you are offended in any way by something I’m posting here, remember that it’s all intended to be innocent, good fun. I am in no way an expert on the English language and I am fully aware that it was England, and not America, that came first. Also, try to remember that the person whose blog you are anonymously commenting on is a real person with real feelings.

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Did you know that in England, rather than calling the big area designated for parkingParking your car in a public place a “parking lot”, they call it a “car park”? I don’t know about you, but that always brings to mind an image of many cars going down a slide or swinging on a swing set  I don’t recall ever getting a funny look from someone for saying parking lot, but for the purpose of blending in and avoiding the question of where I’m from, I tend to just stick to the usual phrase of car park.

While I’m on the subject of cars, I’ll mention another travel related word. When I first started traveling on the bus by myself a couple of months ago, I confidently stepped on the bus and told the driver that I needed a round trip ticket to the city center. “Pardon?” Was his response, “You mean return?” Of course! I had forgotten that when a person wants a ticket to go somewhere and return to their original destination it’s not called a round trip ticket, it’s called a return ticket. That was slightly embarrassing.

Okay, I’m going there. I’m going to talk about the bathroom. When people need the toilets460bathroom in England, they usually just call it the toilet. That always seemed gross to me. It sounds so much cleaner and polite to call it a bathroom, even when there’s no bath in the room. I’m almost used to asking where the toilet is if I’m in public and in search of one. Almost. Of course I’m sure most Americans know that the Brits also call it a loo. It can also be called a bog. Those words aren’t strictly for the bathroom itself either, they are also used for the toilet paper, which instead becomes loo roll or bog roll.

Another thing found in bathrooms (and kitchens. And bedrooms, if you’re like me and live in a house that has a bedroom that was once a bathroom, but for some reason the re-modelers left the sink.) is a sink. We all know sinks have faucets, right? Wrong. They’re taps! Of course I knew this word before I moved here, I’ve had plenty of tap water in my life, but I don’t think I realized that was the word for faucet here. Chris was pretty confused the first time I told him the faucet was dripping.

We’re sort of in kitchen territory already, so let’s talk about food! I am crazy for chicken. Pretty much any kind of chicken is my kind of chicken. I really love chicken oven chips sc largesandwiches. My husband’s always acted like I’m a weirdo when I say I want a chicken sandwich. It is strictly a chicken burger to him. A chicken sandwich would be on sandwich bread instead of a bun. That one makes sense, so I can’t argue with him too much about it. Speaking of buns, they’re not called buns here, they’re called cobs. What? Cobs?! Like corn on the cob? Nope. Maybe there are some people here who call them buns, but my husband is not one of those people. He had no idea what I was talking about when I told him we needed to pick up some buns from the grocery store. Do you want fries with your chicken burger (on a cob)? Ask for chips! French fries are known as chips here. You may be patting yourself on the back because you already knew that one (I mean, who hasn’t heard of fish and chips?), but did you know that what Americans call chips are known as crisps here? They can’t be called chips, that word’s already taken by french fries. Crisps it is. One last food item: Cookies! Cookies are known as biscuits here. There are cookies here, but I haven’t figured out the difference. I think the difference is in the hardness of them. Biscuits are hard and crunchier than cookies. They’re all the same in my book though.

A bag of Walker's ready salted. Notice beneath the word salted where it says "potato crisps." Does this bag look familiar? That's because it looks almost exactly like Lay's brand potato chips. Walker's is the UK brand name of Lay's. Lay's

A packet of Walker’s ready salted. Notice beneath the word salted where it says “potato crisps.” Does this bag look familiar? That’s because it looks almost exactly like Lay’s brand potato chips. Walker’s is the UK brand name of Lay’s. Lay’s is also known as Chipsy in Egypt, Poca in Vietnam, Tapuchips in Isreal, and Sabritas in Mexico.

That concludes this chapter of Language Barrier. I hope you enjoyed!

A Brave New World: Overcoming My Social Anxiety

(Note: Normally Lisa would post on Monday, but as she’s out of town I’m posting today.)

When I first moved to England, every day felt a bit like a vacation. I was in this new country which felt like a whole new world and I was with the man I loved. It was perfect. I couldn’t work in those first few months until my second visa was approved so I was happy to just go wherever my new husband Chris went.

Chris reads gas and electric meters for a living and works his own hours so I would go with him and be the DJ in the car and while he was out of the car going to read a meter at the next house, I would sit in the car with the windows down and read a book. We would go to a local park for picnics on his lunch break. At the end of the day we’d come home and make dinner together and many times we’d go for a walk afterward. By the time I was allowed to work, I was pregnant with our first child and since we both decided it would be better for me to be a stay at home mom, I didn’t see the point in starting a new job that I would be quitting in a few months.

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One of many days out while Chris was working and I was playing the role of DJ.

We found out that my American driving license would be good here for a year and then I would have to take a driving test and get an English license. Well, that scared me. I’ve never been fond of tests, but I especially remember how nervous I was when I took my driving test in America. The thought of taking one here was not appealing in the slightest. So I was determined to be happy as a passenger. That worked for a couple of years, but eventually going to work with the husband wasn’t as exciting as it used to be. I don’t travel well when pregnant, every time we were in the car I was overwhelmingly car sick, so I decided I needed to start staying home instead.

I was still happy at this point because I had thoughts of my unborn child filling my head. I was anxious to meet him and I just knew once he got here he’d fill up my days and I’d be completely content. I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I love him to pieces and I love staying home with him. I wouldn’t trade my status as a stay at home mom for anything, I feel incredibly lucky to stay home with the kids, but staying home all the time is boring! Contrary to what I had thought, he was not very time consuming in those early days.

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Picnic in the countryside on a particularly sunny day (Hence the squinty eyes!)

It was after having Jude that I started to realize what a hermit I’d become. When Chris was at work, I was at home sitting in front of the TV or the computer and doing little else. When Jude came along, like all newborns, he slept most of the time. I was bored out of my mind. That, coupled with postpartum depression, meant that I was pretty miserable. I would sit here and get so down and feel so sorry for myself. I had myself convinced that I had the worst life because of financial struggles and not having any friends in the area. I was also convinced that all my family and friends in America either hated me, were forgetting me, or both. Whenever there was a family event I didn’t get to be a part of, I would be angry and bitterly jealous of those who did get to attend and convince myself everyone was happier for my absence. Those were dark days.

Eventually the postpartum depression went away. It took about a year after Jude was born before I started feeling like myself again, but I was still living like a hermit and feeling miserable about that part of my life. I kept telling myself that eventually I’d get out there and start doing things. I always had a reason to wait. There was no good reason, but I made them up in my mind. I would think something like, “Oh well, we’re going to be visiting Michigan in a few months and when we get home from there I’ll finally go check out the local children’s center.” Why? There was no reason for waiting, other than my own fear.

When Jude was one and a half we took a trip to Michigan for Thanksgiving. Leaving my family on that trip was the worst leaving experience I’d had at that point because Jude was starting to understand it a little more. My dad obtained a gate pass so he could help us get through security and find our gate. Once it was time for him to leave us at our gate, he gave us hugs and kisses and went on his way. Jude was in his stroller and I’ll never forget the way he kept craning his head around trying to find out where his Papa went and the look of confusion on his little face when he couldn’t find him. I felt awful for him and I’ll tell you now that I sat there in that airport, crying and not caring who saw me because I felt helpless, hopeless, and depressed. These were odd feelings for me to process because at the same time I was really anxious and excited to get home and see Chris again. It was definitely bittersweet. We’d been in Michigan for three weeks and I missed him terribly.

Jude on the plane after it landed in Michigan.

Jude on the plane after it landed in Michigan.

When we got back home I had a chat with Chris about our lives and told him that I felt in my heart we needed to be living in Michigan. He’s always been willing to do whatever I wanted when it comes to where we live so he was on board pretty much right away. We talked to my parents about it that night and they were thrilled and promised to help us out on the journey. We applied for a spousal visa for Chris in January of 2012 and we didn’t learn the final decision until November of the same year. I spent the better part of that year feeling depressed because I just wanted it to be over and I wanted to be living in Michigan with my husband and our son and the little baby we had on the way. We kept putting things off in our lives because we were in this limbo where we felt that we would be moving to Michigan soon so we shouldn’t spend a great deal of time or money on anything here. If we needed to replace something, we’d buy the cheapest version of it we could find. If I wanted to get involved in something locally, I would resist because I didn’t want to get invested in it and then have to leave. If there was someone I wanted to be friends with or try to get to know better, I wouldn’t because I was afraid I’d grow attached and then when I moved to America it would just be someone else to miss.

Well as I said, we heard the final decision about the visa in November and that final decision was a big fat NO. Chris’ visa got denied, quite unjustly in my opinion, and we learned that with our situation the best time to reapply would be 2016 and even then our chances of approval are only 50/50. Four years?! FOUR years?! Now what? Putting things off for almost one year was hard enough, how will I manage it for four? And what will I do if after that four years we’re denied again??

Then it dawned on me. I needed to stop living with my head in the future and live in the now. Who cares if we move and I miss things here? Surely it’s better to live an awesome life and miss things if I move than to live miserably for fear of missing it too much. I miss lots of things about America, but I don’t regret experiencing them in the first place. The people and events in my life have shaped the person I am today. More for the kids than myself, I need to start living here so they can see all that life has to offer. We’d take them out on the weekends when Chris would be home from work and sometimes we’d go out in the evening during the week to the park or shopping. The kids weren’t neglected, but all they knew about going places was that they went with Daddy or they went with Mommy and Daddy, but never with just Mommy. That needed to change.

One of our many trips to the park with Jude.

One of our many trips to the park with Jude.

You might be reading this and thinking, “Duh! I can’t believe it took you that long to realize that.” All I can say to that is you’re right. I’d also have to say that if you’ve never lived far away from everyone and everything familiar to you, and especially if you’ve never lived in another country, you can’t fully understand what it’s like. I’d heard similar things said before I moved and I thought people were wrong, I had a pretty good idea what it would be like. Turns out I was the one who was wrong. I had no idea. If I had known, I still wouldn’t change a thing, but I didn’t know.

It took me a month or so to finally build up the courage I needed to fight my shyness and just do things. The first thing I did was tackle public transportation. I decided it was time that Jude and I got out on our own for a mommy and son day. He’s obsessed with buses and since we have a car we rarely take him on one. There is a bus stop right down the road, so I took him out one Saturday and we rode the bus into the city center. We went to a bookstore and I let him pick out a book, we walked around and chased pigeons. We went to McDonald’s and had fruit, juice, and he got a balloon. It was so much fun! He loved it. We were sitting in a booth at McDonald’s and he leaned his head on my arm and said, “I love you, Mummy!” And I was so happy I finally took that step and braved public transportation.

Jude chasing pigeons in the City Center on our Mommy & Son day.

Jude chasing pigeons in the City Center on our Mommy & Son day.

The second thing I did was go to the local leisure center and attend a water aerobics class. We moved to our current home in January of 2009 and it’s so close to the leisure center that when I look out the front door I can see it quite clearly. I learned early on that they had a women’s only water aerobics class and I’ve always loved swimming so I was very interested in that. However, I was terrified of going by myself to experience this new thing where there would be who knows how many people that I didn’t know, and worst of all, I’d have to wear a bathing suit to do it! I felt extra courageous one day and I told Chris I wanted to do it and he really encouraged me to go, it was in the evening during the kids bath and pre-bed time routine. He assured me that he would handle it and I’d still be home in time to read the bed time story and tell them goodnight, so I went. I loved it. It was so much fun. I am overweight and out of shape and I have never enjoyed working out, but I enjoyed this. It was definitely a work out. It was more strenuous than I imagined it would be, but it was fun. I laughed a lot, I talked to the other women, they were all very friendly. The third week of class I forced myself to introduce myself to another woman that I had talked to a few times, but never learned her name. I’ve gone five times now and I’m not stopping anytime soon. It’s something I get to go out on my own and do and I feel good about myself afterwards. I needed that.

The third thing I did was ride the bus completely on my own. Jude wasn’t with me this time. I’ll tell you a secret, when I went by myself for the first time I let two buses pass me before I remembered that I need to hold my hand out so the driver knows I want him to stop. I took the bus into town again so I could go to the market and get some fruit and veggies. They’re so much cheaper at the market, but we never go because we have to pay to park and it’s just a big hassle taking the kids to the market because it’s so busy. So I decided to take the bus and go on my own. Even with the bus fare we save a lot of money doing it this way and I’ve started doing it weekly. It’s more time to myself and I feel good about the money we’re saving and the food we’re getting for the kids. Since this lets us afford more fruit and vegetables, I’ve also started buying more than usual and making Melody’s food myself. It’s fun, cheap, and I feel great about it afterwards.

The market on a Saturday afternoon.

The market on a Saturday afternoon.

The fourth thing I did, and probably the hardest for me, was to knock on a neighbor’s door and invite her and her son (who was born just two days before Melody) to go to the local children’s center with me. She invited me to her house the next afternoon. The kids and I went to her house for two hours and had a great time. We made plans to go to the children’s center when she gets back from her vacation next week.

The fifth thing I did was take the kids to the children’s center by myself. They had a special stay and play day last week for Easter and I took them both. Melody is still too young to care, but Jude loved it. He didn’t want to leave when it was time to go. It was a lot of work to take both of them without any help, but it was worth it and I’m hoping to take them more often.

One of my friends told me that when I took the plunge and went to water aerobics it inspired her to try kickboxing even though she was nervous about it. Someone I don’t know told me on a message board that she was inspired by my story to go try a class she’d been putting off for fear of growing too attached and then having to move away. I love hearing these things!

I know this was a long story, but it’s a topic I feel very passionate about. If you’re in a similar situation and you keep putting something off that you really want to do, I urge you to stop. It’s hard to put ourselves out there and try something new, but that feeling of it being a new thing only lasts for a short time and I promise you it gets progressively easier. I feel so much better these days for actually doing things for myself and for the kids. I look forward to things now where I used to dread getting up on certain days. I’ll soon be taking driving lessons from my husband so I can learn to drive here as well. I have to learn how to drive on the opposite side of the car and the opposite side of the road. I also have to learn how to drive a manual! I’ll get there though. I’m looking forward to it. I feel like I’m finally getting my independence back and making this place a home for myself and my children and that’s what’s most important to me.

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Language Barrier (Part 1)

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“Okay ladies, hang onto your woggles!” …If you’re an American reading this, then I’m sure you’re having the same reaction I had, “What?! What is a woggle?” A woggle, as I discovered last week during my water aerobics class, is a pool noodle. I had no idea what the instructor was talking about when she mentioned our woggles. I’m sure it doesn’t speak very highly of my maturity level that my first reaction at hearing the word woggle was an internal giggle. I played it cool and looked at the others around me to discover just what the heck a woggle was. As an American expat living in England, I’ve experienced many situations similar to this.

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Woggles!

So let’s take a step back in time to almost four years ago. My visa was approved, my bags were packed, and I was moving to England! One English speaking country to another, it seems pretty simple, right? That’s what I thought before I discovered that there was a language known as English and then there was what I had been speaking, which was known as American English. Don’t get me wrong, I knew there were some words they used in England that we didn’t use in America and I learned some of them when I visited the country prior to moving, but I had no idea just how many things would sound completely foreign to me. I suddenly found myself in a place where words I’d known my whole life meant something totally different and some things were known by completely different words. If I didn’t have the help of my husband I’m sure I would have embarrassed myself on more than one occasion.

Next to completely different words are the different spellings of the same word. The English love their u’s! Color becomes colour, glamor becomes glamour, favor becomes favour, the list goes on and on. It really blew my mind when I found out curb is spelled kerb. That’s just for the sidewalk type of curb though, if you mean it in a curb your enthusiasm way it’s still curb. Confusing, right? I’ve fought the spelling issue to this day, but now that I know my kids will be attending school here I’m going to have to give in and start spelling things like a true Brit so they don’t get confused. I’m sure all my in-laws and British friends on Facebook think I’m dimwitted and don’t know how to spell properly. Truth is, I’m just stubborn.

Back to the true meaning of this post, the different words. There are so many differences, there is no way I’d be able to cover them all in one post, but I’ll share a few with you. Woggle’s not exactly common. I’ve lived here nearly 4 years and last week was the first time I’d even seen a pool noodle here, let alone heard the word woggle. Something a bit more common? Pants. If you see someone wearing some nice looking pants and you’d like to compliment them, do not call them pants. They will probably think you’re talking about their underwear. Pants here are known as trousers or jeans. Women’s underwear can be referred to as knickers. Men’s and children’s underwear are most commonly called pants. I still struggle with remembering this one and I’m constantly saying pants instead of trousers. Oops.

Pants

Pants

Trousers

Trousers

Now I’d like to take a minute to talk about cars. I’m sure you all know that in the UK the driver’s side is on the right of the car rather than the left. Did you also know that in the UK many parts of a car are called something different? The trunk is the boot, the hood is the bonnet, the windshield is the windscreen, and the side rearview mirrors are wing mirrors. While the horn is known as a horn here it can also be called a hooter. I don’t know about you, but when I lived in Michigan and I had cause to use the phrase, I would say honk the horn, however since living here I’ve more commonly heard it phrased as pip the horn. Pip pip!

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Now I’m going to cover some of the more risqué words. I think it’s important to know these if you’re ever planning a visit to the United Kingdom. I will try to be as delicate as possible, but if you’re a sensitive sort, please do not read this paragraph. If you’re still reading, then I have a bit of advice for you. If you are someone who enjoys wearing a fanny pack and you’ll be mentioning it for any reason while you’re in the UK, you should remember to refer to it by its proper English name of bum bag. I’m afraid that a fanny in this country is a rather vulgar word for a lady’s private areas. Next, if someone approaches you and asks for a fag, please do not be offended (9 times out of 10 anyway. After all, I can’t say for certain you’re not hanging out with the type of people who wouldn’t use the word offensively!), that is merely an English slang word for cigarette.

As this is only part 1, I think I’ll end this here. There are so many more and I look forward to sharing them with you. Even if you’re never planning to visit the UK, I find it interesting how many different words and phrases there are here and hopefully you will too. I must be going now, so as my in-laws would say, “Ta-da everybody!” (That means goodbye.)

Any differences in language that I discuss only pertain to the area that I live in, Leicester. I don’t know if other areas of the country use the same words, though I would assume that in much the same way that different states in the US have different accents and slang words, different counties in England have as well. Also, from time to time I may mention a word that my in-laws use, let me say now that although my in-laws in particular may say these words, that doesn’t mean they are used in all parts of England (they might be, I wouldn’t know!). Let me also add that I do know England came before America and that these posts are meant to be a lighthearted bit of fun. Thank you.

Finding Love Online

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We live in a cyber world these days and as such, it’s becoming more and more popular to meet the love of your life on the World Wide Web. There are numerous dating sites available and the ever abundant social media. According to statisticbrain.com there are 54 million single people in the US and 40 million of those people have tried online dating. They have also found that while women lie most about weight, physical build, and age, men tend to lie more about age, height, and income. With such a high number of people trying online dating, you wouldn’t think people would see online relationships as a negative thing. Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that if you think that, you are wrong.

I met my husband online quite by accident in 2007. We were not looking for each other, we were not looking for anyone, we were just playing a simple game of pool and started chatting further. We developed a relationship via MSN Messenger, my husband used his webcam so I could see him, but I wasn’t confident enough in myself to let him see me so I told my third lie, that I didn’t have a webcam. My first lie was my real name, which I led him to believe was Amber. My second lie was my age, which he believed was 20 (I was actually 21. I have no idea why I lied about my age by one measly year).

Our relationship progressed to chatting daily, but neither of us was labeling it yet, we were just two people who enjoyed chatting online. After probably less than a month I told him that my real name was Ashley and I was actually 21, soon to be 22, but I still didn’t tell him I owned a webcam. He lived in England and I lived in Michigan and he was five hours ahead of me. This meant that by the time he got home from work at 5pm, it was noon where I lived. I was an unemployed college student at the time and my classes were either first thing in the morning or late in the evening and he had no other obligations aside from his job so we had plenty of time to sit at our computers and get to know one another. I told my sister, my best friend, and a few close cousins about him, but I still didn’t think anything would ever come of our online chats. I knew I cared for him a lot, so much that I could barely think of anything else and I couldn’t wait to hear the sound of the ping when he’d sign on after work. I also knew that this man lived 4,000 miles away and just so happened to be twice my age. Even though I’d always had a very close relationship with my parents, I feared they would have a very negative reaction to this if I told them.

Seven months after meeting online we were chatting every day for multiple hours a day when I finally made the spur of the moment decision to tell my mom. I had recently graduated from college and my mom and I had taken a celebratory trip to Niagara Falls and after buying a postcard at a gift shop for my friend, I decided to tell my mom who this friend really was. I told her I had been talking to a man in England named Chris for quite some time, but we were just friends. She had a look on her face that said, quite clearly, “Yeah right!” I told her that honestly, we were just friends, he was too old for me. When she asked how old he was I pretended like I couldn’t remember for sure, but I believed he was in his late thirties (he was 44). After we returned to our hotel I called my dad to tell him about Chris because I knew my mom would tell him and I didn’t want him to think I trusted her more than him. I don’t particularly remember his reaction, but it was pretty mild. I presented it as being nothing at the time because that’s what I thought it was. I always had a hope in the back of my mind that Chris and I could be more than online friends, but I didn’t truly believe it would ever happen.

Once my parents knew about Chris they said hello to him when we were chatting. After finding out more about him and about us my parents started trying to persuade me to turn my webcam on. I’ve always struggled with self confidence because I’ve been overweight most of my life. I was afraid if Chris saw that I was overweight he wouldn’t like me anymore. After another month I gave in and told him I had a webcam. I was incredibly nervous and it was all for nothing because he thought I was beautiful. If anything, turning on my webcam made our relationship stronger and it progressed further and we finally started talking like this could really be something.

Seven months after turning on my webcam, one year and three months after we started chatting online, my mom and I had airplane tickets to London to meet my potential fiance. In those seven months we spent more and more time getting to know each other, talking every day and most of those days we would talk for 5 hours or more until Chris finally had to go to bed because it was getting so late in England. I remember one of our favorite things to do was read those online surveys out loud and answer the questions so we could keep learning about one another. I felt like I knew him better than I knew myself and he knew me better than anyone at that point.

Even though these days we have positive support from our loved ones, in the beginning that was not the case. Before our flight to London I received mixed reactions from friends and family. Honestly, the biggest reaction was positive yet concerned, however, there were also a few negative reactions. I was so caught up in what was, to me, a fairy tale romance that I couldn’t imagine anybody looking at the relationship negatively. Looking back, I can understand why people would be skeptical. Unless you were there each day seeing how much we talked, how much we saw each other on webcam, and how much we knew each other, it would seem so bizarre that two people who have never met in person could fall in love, let alone two people with such a significant age gap and geographical distance. It wasn’t bizarre to me, it was amazing and perfect and everything I’d never dared to hope for. I heard pretty much every negative question and comment you can imagine, from people saying what I thought were insulting things to my parents about how they were crazy for letting me meet him to someone saying he was too old and would probably die soon or at least sooner than me so it wasn’t worth it. I was also told that if it were meant to be we would find each other again so I should cease contact with him and see what happens. There were also those people who just chose to ignore that it was happening. I’d be lying if I said these comments didn’t hurt my feelings. There were many tears shed. Chris was so supportive and wonderful, he was there for me and even when he heard these things that were said about him he never had a bad word to say about any of my friends or family. I was so happy and I just wanted the ones I loved to be happy for me. I’m so thankful that my parents were “crazy” and helped me meet him. As for the comment of him dying soon, nobody’s time on earth is definite, we could all die tomorrow, and I would rather have a few moments of true and great love than to let it pass me by because of what ifs and fear. I was astonished that anyone could hear how we met and fell for each other and say that if we were meant to be we would find each other again. It seemed to me that fate had already played a major role in us finding each other when we lived 4,000 miles apart so it would be silly of me to give that up in the hopes that it would miraculously find me again. I learned fairly quickly that if I wanted to do this, I would have to ignore those who had hurt me and go after my own happiness.

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We flew to London in January of 2009 and after going through customs and stopping at a bathroom to prepare myself as best as I could, we were entering the arrivals lounge and there was Chris. The most beautiful man I had ever laid eyes on with the biggest, most beaming smile and it was all for me! I don’t remember much beyond how happy I was and how nervous as well. I think I cried. I know I was shaky. Chris was equally nervous, even forgetting where he parked the car. My mom just stood quietly by, taking pictures of our first meeting and smiling herself. It was a two hour car journey back to Leicester where Chris lived and I’m fairly certain we held hands the whole time. We had our first kiss in the hallway of the hotel my mom and I were staying at after we dropped her off and went out to see the city. My mom and I stayed a week. Chris and I were engaged that week and had the most amazing time. Everything was not like we thought it would be from our chats online, it was better. Chris has told me since then how he wasn’t sure I would show up that day and when I came through arrivals he felt so much love for me it was overwhelming.

I returned by myself to England in March that year and we gathered the necessary documents we would need for me to apply for a visa to move to England. Our visa journey is another story entirely, but my application was approved in late June 2009 and I arrived in Leicester on the 8th of July 2009. We were married in August 2009 and now, three and a half years later, we are blissfully happy with each other and wouldn’t change a thing about our relationship.

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If you’re thinking of entering the world of online dating my advice would be to know who you’re talking to, as well as anyone can online at least. One of the first things I did after talking with Chris was a Google search of his name as well as his username. People commonly use the same username for one site that they would on another. I found Chris on a few other websites this way, they happened to be innocent websites, but you never know. I guess you could say I was being too paranoid, but I think with online relationships you can never be too cautious. Something else you should keep in mind is that the majority of people these days do have webcams. Most laptops that are sold have webcams built into them. Yes, there are still people using older models without webcams and these same people may not own a smart phone or tablet that has a webcam, but chances are if they are tech savvy enough to be in an internet relationship, they are tech savvy enough to own and know how to use a webcam.

If you are in an online relationship and you’re thinking of meeting in person, please, take a friend. Or family member. Just take someone with you. Safety in numbers. As much as you love this person, there are still crazy, manipulative people in the world and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also be aware that internet relationships come with their fair share of ups and downs, probably more so than other relationships because you have the distance factor as well as the mystery of never having met. There were times that I agonized over not being able to get a hold of Chris. There were times when I blew situations out of proportion and was upset because I couldn’t talk to him about it immediately due to the time difference. Obviously looking back these were minor issues in the beginning stages of our relationship, but at the time they were very difficult to deal with. Also, wanting to hug and kiss Chris more than anything and not being able to was one of the hardest parts of online dating.

I feel that Chris and I are proof that internet relationships can work if done correctly. We have both always felt that we knew each other so much better than we would have if we had met in person because for more than a year all we had were our words, there was nothing else to get in the way. I hope if you’re in an online relationship or thinking of pursuing one, you have as much luck as Chris and I have had.