Thursday, November 7, 2013

Life as Cats

Monsieur Nick

We moved into our apartment last week and, as one of my friends put it, we are nesting. By that she meant making our flat a home and becoming accustom to our life in London. As I had previously mentioned, our flat came furnished with the large essential items such as a bed, couch, chest of drawers, ect. However there were still a few items that we needed in order to make our apartment more functional. For instance, Brett brought more shoes to London than I did and because of all his shoes, he was very adamant about having a shoe rack. Seriously, a shoe rack was on the same level of priority as a TV and dishes.

Now I'll take a minute here to explain the purpose of the title of this post: Life as Cats.  When we decided to move abroad I was pretty overwhelmed with all the logistics it was going to take to move us from Chicago to Cincinnati (where our items would be stored and where our parents live) and then to London. My married into mother (I refuse to use the word in-law, as it carries a negative connotation and doesn't begin to describe my love for my married in family) rested assured that everything would work out perfectly because we are cats... excuse me? I mean I LOVE cats, but come again? How are we cats? She explained that we always seem to land on our feet and that our move and time in London will all work out because we always land on our feet. And I took that piece of advice to heart. Like when we didn't have a place to live for the month of September, when I lost my debit card and only source of money three days before we left the States, when we couldn't decide on where we wanted to live and the fact that I don't have a job yet.

Cat Instance #1:
But she is right, we are cats and whatever obstacle that comes up in our lives, we somehow manage to land on our feet. We had put an offer in on a place in West Hampstead, but at the end of the day, I didn't feel excited or nervous on whether we were going to get the place. I think it was that I wasn't sold on West Hampstead. I took that as a bad omen and panicked worrying if we would be in the right location. The next day we toured the Clapham area in anticipation of our flat showings scheduled for the following day. Once we stepped out of the Clapham Common stop, we were sold on the area. Which didn't really help my anxiety because then I needed our relator to find us a flat just as nice as the one in West Hampstead! But as cats will have it, we found the perfect flat, in the perfect area and again landed on our feet.

This is the view from our apartment. We can see Big Ben and Westminster!

Most of the items we purchased to finish off our flat were found via Gumtree, which is similar to Craigslist in the States. However not having a car made the search quite interesting. We ended up finding items all within walking distance, and ended up carrying each item back to our apartment. Including a vanity dressing table, a huge mirror and a TV stand. It took us all day to pick up those items because the walk each way would take about 30 minutes and we obviously could only carry one item at a time. Notice in the picture below, the table we carried 1.5 miles as well as the coffee cup that I found on the side of the street in a box labeled "free".

Cat Instance #2:
The biggest cat-like behavior so far was that the guy across the hall from us was moving to Italy the same weekend as we were moving in! He gave us so many items FOR FREE that he couldn't take to Italy with him.

The worst part about moving to a city via plane, instead of vehicle, is that you can't take the small items that you have had forever, like hangers! We ended up spending 30 quid on 50 HANGERS! So when we started seeing him place items in the hall, we scavenged everything. Here is what we got from him: shoe rack, a few baskets, a few pots, a Brita, a bathroom rug, mop bucket, a light comforter, a few trash cans, two bedside table lamps, extension cords, HANGERS, vases, containers, and a chair! Seriously we took everything he was getting rid of, including a juicer which I don't really think I will ever use, nor really know how to use it.

It was to the point that I was checking the hallway every hour to see if more treasures were out there! Eventually he just invited me into his apartment and practically said "take whatever you need". And now that he is gone, the hallway isn't as cheerful anymore, I felt like every time I turned the corner to our apartment, it was like Christmas morning!

I tried to think of something that I could give him to thank him for everything he gave to us, but being that we just move here, all I could offer him was a bowl of chili. Which he respectfully declined.

Cat Instance #3:
As a domestic house cat, I also sleep a lot since I don't particularly have a job. Which leads to my fourth and final cat-like behavior.

Hopeful Cat Instance #4:
So now to wrap up this cat related post, I am hopeful that I will use some of my cat-magic and land myself a purrrrfect job. Wish me luck!!

Do you guys find yourself acting like cats ever?


Monday, October 21, 2013

Landed in London

We started down this path to living in London back in March, and it is hard to believe that we actually made it here nearly six months later. We landed in London last Monday with 7 bags and one box to our names. It figures that all three of Brett's checked bags were exactly 50 lbs (the weight limit), and all three of my bags were overweight. When we arrived in London, we had a private car service waiting to pick us up from the airport. He drove us around the city for what seemed like an hour, giving us the tour of London and then finally dropping us off at our temporary housing in the West End, or how I like to describe it- tourist hell! It's very close to Regents square, Buckingham palace and Westminster, which explains the massive amounts of people.

Brett thankfully was given last week off as a transition week, therefore we used this time to really try and get to know our new home. It however did not feel like a vacation, I felt like we were on an African Safari... we were constantly in  search of food and shelter. Food being that we kept accidentally ordering this thing called rillette, which is the preparation of meat similar to pate and served as a spoonful on your plate that looks and smells strikingly like cat food. But for fear of offending the chef, I made sure to eat at least half of that Fancy Feast dinner. After ordering rillettes two times last week, we decided to start googling menu items to be sure of our order.

And shelter being that we were constantly exploring new neighborhoods to determine which area would suit our lifestyle best. We were between West Hampstead and Clapham Common, both zone 2 locations, only about 3-4 miles away from the city center and both only about 30 minutes from work. We ended up choosing a place in Clapham Old Town. We found an apartment complex right in the center of a bunch of restaurants, bars and cute little shops, plus the tube stop and a gigantic park are very close by as well! Our apartment does not have a dishwasher, something I had been preparing for the last few months but does have a "full sized" refrigerator, meaning it is tall and has a separate freezer. Most of the places we were looking at only have those mini refrigerators you take to college.

The most interesting thing about Flat searching in London is that most of the places available for let are furnished, the price is determined per week and it is all negotiable. The place we ended up signing was newly refurbished and the only piece of furniture was a kitchen table. The place was listed for 350 GBP/week and we put an offer in at 340 GBP/ week plus furniture: king size bed (equivalent to a queen in the states), bed side tables, 2 chest of drawers, coffee table, ANNNNDDD I asked them to buy this specific couch frmo IKEA that I am obsessed with, and it seems like they are going to get the one I asked! My friends in Brooklyn own this couch and it is perfect for lounging on a Sunday but has extra storage and turns into a double bed (instead of a pull out mattress)! Perfect for visitors! Link here!

The ironic thing is that our apartment in London could very well be bigger than our apartment in Chicago! I can't wait to get settled instead of living out of our exploding suitcases!

I'll post more this week about our adventures thus far, but here are a few pictures to get you by...
First dinner in London- Barrafina, Soho

Regents square

Entrance to the Mall
Buckingham Palace
St. Paul's Cathedral


<3 Mary

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Visas Approved

We received notification this morning that our Visa applications have been approved! Brett said he had to submit over 60 pages for our applications and spent nearly 10 hours putting the package together. Everything from pay stubs to marriage license to copies of our college degrees. Now I just need to finish my resume and start looking for jobs in London- anyone looking for a financial analyst?!

We packed up most of our unnecessary kitchen items and sent them home to Cincinnati with Brett's sister during her visit last weekend. The last time I posted I had mentioned that we had to find a one month sublease and move into a new apartment through the end of September. Thankfully we found a pretty cheap apartment, discounted by a woman who had recently purchased a house and was looking for someone to cover the remainder of her lease. 

We will save $500 in rent at the new place, which will virtually pay for our movers. We currently live on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator. It took an hour to get our couch up the stairs, hopefully these movers will be more efficient!
Last week was very reminiscent of fall, cool mornings, warm afternoons and sleeping with the windows open.  I'm beginning to get pretty sad that I won't be here to enjoy the beautiful fall weather. I love lazy October Sundays spent watching football on the couch as the cool breeze blows through the window. Curled up with a blanket and a craft beer doing more sleeping than actually watching the games. I love the orange, red and yellow trees, and every year pick a new favorite tree that I admire and take way to many pictures. They probably have trees in London too, and instead of football they have futbol, but what about my pumpkin spiced lattes or lets not forget thanksgiving!!

Thankfully some of our best friends (he plays professional volleyball and she makes the best crepes in the world) live in Belgium and are only a short train ride away for when we need a taste of home. Or maybe just an excuse to make a pecan pie or sweet potato casserole.

Also, I wonder if our train conductors will be as pleasant as they are in Chicago. I was typing this post while riding the train into work and the train conductor told me he loved me! Well in he actually came on the speakers and said, "Have a wonderful day, I love you too", but I took it personally!

I have a lot of anxiety building in life right now, but am trying to just tackle each item one at a time. Some people like to run, work out or maybe even drink (eek) in order to reduce their anxiety, but for me, cooking is my therapy. Last night my mind was running at 100 mph (or should I say kph) and I just needed to relax and stop thinking about things I have no control over. So with an empty apartment, I spent the next hour and a half making a delicious chicken pot pie, equipped with a homemade cheesy biscuit crust. It was the perfect way to settle my nerves.

What is your favorite fall activity?

What do you do to reduce stress in your life?!

<3 Mary

Friday, August 9, 2013

Paris- Our First Trip Booked


Yesterday, Brett officially booked out first travel destination...

We are headed to Paris for our one-year anniversary! I can't believe it, in just over two months I will be walking the cobble streets of Paris, dinning at little cafes and celebrating an Amazing first year of marriage!!

Brett has been to over 15 cities in Europe due to his college study abroad trip, but I never did one of those trips so all of this travel will be a first for me! Therefore, my first visit to Paris will be to celebrate our first year of marriage, how romantic indeed! The first time in the most romantic city in the world will be spent with a pretty amazing guy, celebrating our wonderful marriage (cough cough, "ok we get you are kind of a spoiled brat")!

We are staying at the Westin Paris, which I have no idea where that is in relation to everything... but I do know that there are views of the Eiffel Tower from some rooms!

Last weekend we went to a quaint little French restaurant a couple blocks from our apartment and it just got me so excited for this trip. We had foie gras, tapenade, freshly baked bread, grilled red snapper, a bottle of red wine and we finished off our dinner with a classic crème brulee!

Although the food was phenomenal, the atmosphere didn't compare to what I imagine actual Paris will be like. It was a cool night, so we sat outside on their side patio. Our evening was frequently interrupted by the casual motorcycle gang, large semi trucks and city buses.

Is it too cliché to expect someone to be singing "Bella Notte" while we dine beneath the stars?

Any recommendations for things to do while in Paris? Or restaurant recommendations?!

On a less exciting note, we officially found out today that we have to move out of our apartment Sept 1st and find a sublease for one month... This is tragic news for us as it will be such a struggle to move twice, and I can barely grasp the magnitude of crap we have to move.

<3 Mary

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Packing our bags

This past weekend, Brett and I started packing our belongings into boxes. We were very meticulous about labeling and categorizing items: boxes that go in storage, boxes with stuff to go to London and giveaways/ charity. 

I went through my closet and took out everything I don't plan to take to London. This was such a liberating feeling, guys! I have been holding onto clothes that are either too young, out of style or just not in good shape for way too long. I think it was because I didn't just want to throw these clothes away, because a lot of them are still nice, and I never forced to sit down and identify the stuff I wouldn't wear again. So I have a gigantic box filled with stuff I'm going to give my sister, or else donate. 

We have another box that we are going to put in storage that is filled with mementos, cards and what Brett likes to call "clutter” that I won't let him throw away. But we have determined that the only things we will be bringing to London are our clothes and a box of kitchen stuff (pans, pots, my Boos Block cutting board, knives). 

Brett has platinum status on American Airlines; therefore we both get two check bags, plus our carry-on for free. We received a relocation bonus, to be used for relocation costs, but we are hoping to save most of that due to me not having a job right when we get there. We thought about shipping a couple of boxes and found out that it would cost $500 to ship two 16x16 boxes less than 30 lbs.!! 

Based on this information we have come to terms with the fact that we are going to have to consolidate our worldly belongings to four checked bags.  Also we are coming home in December to celebrate one of my best friend's weddings, so we will be able to take a couple extra bags with us then (summer clothes, a few pairs of Levis to sell on the black market- apparently a $35 pair of Levis sells for like $100 over there). 

Another item complicating our move is that our families live in Cincinnati while we live in Chicago. Here are a few things that make this complicated:
1. Our lease in Chicago ended July 31st and we are currently working out a deal with our landlord, hoping that he will let us stay in our apartment until September 30th. It is apparently much harder to find tenants to rent Oct 1st than Sept 1st, so our landlord is tempted to kick us out end of August, meaning that we would have to find 1 month of temporary housing! That would also mean that we would have to move everything TWICE! If we lived in the same city as our parents, we could easily move in with them for a few months.
2. We have to figure out a way to get all our stuff to Cincinnati and organize it. We are taking some stuff home this weekend, and Brett's sister is coming up next weekend to take stuff home, but once we get the stuff to Cincinnati, we have to set up a triage center with categories so that things don't get lost/ forgotten!

Phew! Moving to another country is crazy!

But thankfully I will be able to spend this weekend with my family and best friends! You know that girl getting married in December? Her shower is this weekend, and I have been crafting all week preparing for it!

<3 Mary

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Checking things off the list

Today I have been working on a few admin items to prepare for our move:

  • Schedule last doctor and hair appointments
  • Cancel my auto refill on my bus card
  • Cancel my auto refill on my highway toll pass card
  • List a few items on Craigslist
  • Working on a list of items we will need to purchase before moving
Items we still need to do:
  • Cancel gym memberships 
  • Cancel cell phone- or figure out how to keep our phone number (maybe a prepay phone, so that we have a phone when we come home
  • Figure out how to pay loans abroad
  • Order contacts and glasses
  • Determine how to get prescriptions abroad
  • Sell Car
  • Apply for Visas'
  • Set up bank account in London
  • Change permanent address to our parents' house for administrative purposes (US banking, loans, mail ect.)
  • Obtain copies of all medical records to bring to London
  • Give certified copies of important information to our parents: SS Cards, Passports, Visas, marriage certificates, birth certificates
  • Power of Attorney- for both sets of parents and spouse. Make copies for all parties.
  • Make a checklist of all packing boxes and what goes in each of them

Ok... and there are a lot more things I need to do besides the ones listed above. But at least Brett is the type A in our relationship and he thrives at administrative stuff. 

For example, literally the day after we returned from our honeymoon, I had a 30 page folder filled with information on changing my name. He even included "sign here" tabs. Then all I had to do was go to the SS office and get a new drivers license. I thought that was a pretty good trade off: Brett preparing the documents and me losing my last name. 

I'm going to move this post over into a tab so that I can keep track of what I can cross off my list and what I need to add to it. Hopefully this post can help future expats preparing to move. 

On a more fun note- Brett and I, and a couple of our best friends, went to the USA vs. Panama football (soccer) game at Soldier Field on Sunday. It was a pretty chilly day for the middle of July, (~65 F) but I just kept telling myself that the weather in Chicago this summer is preparing me for the weather in London. This was my first experience at a professional soccer game and it definitely got us more excited about our move. We were thinking about being Manchester United fans- how does that sound? 

 The picture with Brett and I is kind of fun.... Both of our office buildings are included in the picture. The short red building over my left shoulder is my building (CNA building) and the tallest white rectangular building on the right side of the picture is Brett's building (Aon Center). One of my favorite things about the location of our offices is that Brett and I will often sit in the parks downtown and eat lunch together. We are hoping to work close to each other in London as well, maybe even the same building if I get a position with his firm.

That's all for now!

<3 Mary

Friday, July 26, 2013

Accepting our Offer

pic: Taking Fountain

So we officially received and accepted our offer today! Our official move date is October 13th! So I believe our first contact regarding moving to London was back in April. So it has taken about three months from the inception of the idea, to receiving an official offer to move. I can't believe it only took three months, because believe me, it has felt like 6 months! We would go through month long periods without any updates to the process of the possibility.

Having an official move date helps with so much. Being able to start selling things, packing and ability for me to start looking for a job. I am currently a financial analyst at a large insurance company in Chicago, and have prior experience as an external auditor. My husband is in a similar field and will be doing healthcare transaction services with KPMG. Fortunately because we are married, I will receive a spousal visa. This is helpful because one of the largest challenges in obtaining a job as an expat is obtaining a visa.

Brett and I plan to be in London for at least two years with the eventual plans to return to the United States. We are so excited to be able to share this experience with one another. I think this will be a great opportunity to develop and strengthen our marriage, as I am sure there will be many obstacles that we will encounter during our move.

So I'm going to go off track here for a second- but I can't help think how lucky and blessed I really am. I haven't been very active in my religion recently but the other night I felt compelled to just take a minute and thank God for everything he has blessed me with. In high school I never would have dreamed that my life would play out the way it has. I feel like Charlotte from SATC movie where she is scared that something bad is going to happen to her because her life is so perfect. Now, I wouldn't say that my life is perfect, but it's perfect enough for me!

As we prepare to leave and begin to tell people we are moving, I am starting to get a little choked up. Since Brett and I live in Chicago, I was wondering how many more times my parents would see me if I lived in the States as opposed to when I move abroad. I counted that my parents on average see me 8 times a year with us living in Chicago, and when we move to London, it will only be 2-3 (Christmas, parents visit, maybe one more trip home).

So that was a little upsetting to think about. Like my extremely wise Grandmother said to me "People don't live and die in Cincinnati anymore, and you have to take advantage of these opportunities while you have the chance". She is pretty much the most amazing person I've ever met, and I will miss her beyond words. She doesn't have internet in her house, so my Mom will have to figure out a way for her to Skype with me.

That's it for today. Going to try and enjoy this weekend in Chicago as I won't have too many left!

Thanks so much for reading!

<3 Mary

Thursday, July 25, 2013

We are moving to London!

My husband and I have always dreamed of living abroad, and for the most part I always thought this was only a dream and that it would never be feesible for us to leave our family, friends and our beloved city of Chicago.

Brett and I were watching House Hunters International one evening when Brett turned to me and asked how I felt about moving abroad for a few years: London, Germany, China ect. After deciding that this was a route we wanted to take, Brett brought up the idea of a rotation, or seconment in Europe with his company. Four months later, and enough anxiety to push even Jimmy Buffett over the edge, we have finally been offered a rotation in London with an anticipated move date of mid October!

It's pretty crazy to think that in less than three months, we will be living in another country! Espcially because I have never been to London! Everyone I have talked to says they love London, and coming from another big city like Chicago, I am hoping the transition won't be as difficult as we are anticipating.

Over the next couple of months, I will be sharing our experiences in getting ready to move abroad... what we sold, what we are keeping, and things we need before we head over there. If you have any tips or advice about moving abroad I would love to hear them!

I plan to use this space to share our travels, adventures, afternoon coffee breaks and challenges from moving abroad with our loved ones at home. I will also use this blog as a personal journal so that one day I can look back on all the fun places I have been and what I learned.

I hope you continue reading my posts and feel free to leave as many comments as you would like. Thanks very much for stopping by!

<3 Mary