One year later

It’s been a whole year since I wrote my first post on this blog, in which I fretted about moving to South Africa while recovering from a bout of typhoid fever and an über-traumatic last week at the law firm. In the intervening year, as with most years, a lot has happened. We’ve moved from the US to South Africa to the UK. We’ve traveled to a bunch of new countries. I’ve launched a fledgling writing career. We’ve made new friends. I’ve discovered sewing and rediscovered knitting. Overall, my life is a lot better than it used to be, and I wake up most days looking forward to the day to come.

But when I stop and think about it, it actually doesn’t feel like a whole year has passed. Perhaps this is because all of the big life changes over the past year — quitting my job, moving abroad, starting a new career — happened in rapid succession, and I’ve just spent the rest of the year adjusting to a new routine. The year marker also feels a bit arbitrary, because we’re still in the midst of our big International Adventure, and it doesn’t seem appropriate to do any real retrospective thinking until I’m back in the US and can look at my time abroad with some remove.

A year in, though, here are a few things I can say that I have learned so far:

  1. I like routine. And I like feeling like I have a home. I wrote about this here and my feelings on the matter have only become more acute, because Al and I have had to pick up and move within London several times since then. We’ve been in our current apartment for less than a week and we’re moving again tomorrow. It’s a giant pain. When you move so frequently, and with such short notice, it’s not even worth unpacking your suitcases. I hate that. As much as I love seeing different parts of London, I long for a settled place in the city, somewhere I can use the drawers and closets and get into a comfortable routine. I guess there’s nothing like living like a (reasonably well-to-do) vagabond for an extended period of time that makes one appreciate the comforts of home. Also, it teaches you flexibility. And flexibility is good, right?
  2. South Africa was a mix of good and bad, and that’s okay. Just the other night, I was telling Al that there are certain things I miss about South Africa. The weather, for one. The intense, clear blue of the sky. The vivid sunsets. That wintry wood-smoke smell. Our big, roomy apartment with the little balcony and barbecue. Our car, as unreliable and beat-up as it was. The cost of living. The steak. The wine. But, I realized, it’s possible for me to miss all of that and still never want to live in Joburg again. It’s also possible to say that I disliked Joburg as a city but liked our life there. Life is tricky like that.
  3. Rejections are tough. Enough said.
  4. Having a support network is important. Duh.
  5. I miss the US, but I’m not desperate to go back. I think maybe in the spring, or even after New Year’s, I’ll feel really ready to go back to the States. But right now, I’m content to stay in London a bit longer; I really like it here. (It would just help if we could nail down the housing situation.)
  6. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone but Al. The thing that no one tells you about having an international adventure is that it’s full of annoyances. Living abroad, it turns out, requires juggling an immense amount of logistics. And logistics are a pain in the ass. It helps to have a partner who you like when you’re trying to figure out how to not go bat-poop insane when you have to move for the fourth time in a month, or when your power goes out, or when you get not one but two flat tires in a foreign country, or what have you. Living abroad, even in a cushy, convenient place like London, is always a challenge. If you and your partner come out  of it still liking each other and wanting to travel together, so much the better. Being here with Al has reinforced what I already knew about him: he’s patient, adventurous, and flexible. He also listens to me when I whine about having to pack up my knitting stuff. He gets it. Getting it is important.  IMG_4334
  7. Being abroad makes me more aware of my Americanness. There are two sides to this coin, of course. Occasionally, I’ll see something that will make me feel smug and superior because I know my country has its s**t figured out on that issue. Walking on one side of the sidewalk, for instance. America has that DOWN. England? Not so much. Another example: Chinese food. England, please take notes on this. And don’t even get me started on Mexican food. But then, there are other things that make me realize how a**-backwards certain things are in my beloved country. There are the obvious examples (healthcare! education! Miley Cyrus!) but there are also subtle things. Like, in London, MOST movie theaters that I’ve been to serve booze. In DC, I can only think of one movie theater off the top of my head (The E Street Cinema) that does that. What gives, America? Also, London’s public transportation system is great, the post office is quick and efficient (which, as an American, is mind-blowing), and they have double-decker buses. Makes me think America needs to get on the ball, and fast. But then I’ll watch an episode of Hens Behaving Badly or see a drunk girl peeing in the street at ten o’clock at night and I’ll go right back to feeling smug and superior. So, it’s a mixed bag.
  8. I am officially too old to stay in hostels with shared bathrooms. There, I said it.

I’ve probably learned other things along the way but those are the big ones. So, I’m just going to continue enjoying my time abroad and figuring things out. Maybe I’ll check back in a year from now and tell you what else I’ve learned.

Hot hot heat

Guys, it is hot in London. I told my parents this the other day and they scoffed at me when I reported the temperature (high 80s Fahrenheit), and then I reminded them that, unlike in cushy America, air conditioning DOES NOT EXIST here. Which means there’s no escaping the heat. Plus, Al and I finally put our (sweating, North American) finger on another thing that makes London feel so hot: there’s NO WIND. Honestly, this is the opposite of the windy city. It’s eerily windless. A rare breeze feels like a tiny breath of heaven on my sweating brow. And today is the hottest day of the summer so far: 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (Which, according to my iPhone, is 32 degrees Celcius, for those of you who aren’t familiar with our antiquated American system for keeping track of the temperature).

This also happens to be the day that the much anticipated Royal Baby is being born, although no one in my immediate vicinity seems too fussed about the current state of Duchess Kate’s labor. Hard to tell, though, since everyone is being all quiet and British. I am currently sitting in the sweltering Kensington Central Library, by the way. I came here with the idea that, since the place has free wifi, perhaps I’d be able to work here tomorrow when writing my weekly post for Previously.TV, but, turns out, I can’t access TV shows on the public network here, so I guess I walked here with my laptop in the blistering heat for nothing. But, since I’m here, I guess I’ll make a comment about the biggest noticeable difference between a public library in London and a public library in DC: this one doesn’t smell like pee. Unlike in the US, this library does not appear to be a place for vagrants, drunks, and weirdos to hang out, and the air, while hot, is remarkably urine-scent-free. This is a lot like the difference I’ve noticed between London buses and big city American buses: people behave pretty appropriately on the buses here. I haven’t seen one person clip their nails on the bus, or spit on the floor of the bus, or loudly talk to themselves on the bus. It’s incredible. I know London must have its fair share of weirdos and scary drunks and people who think it’s appropriate to bring smelly bags of seafood onto public transportation, but I haven’t seen them yet (fingers crossed).


Back to this whole Royal Baby thing: I’m sort of hoping that when the RB is born, everyone in the library will spontaneously break into song (perhaps “Rule Brittania?”). It’ll be a little uncomfortable, sure, but I expect a minimum level of pomp, if not circumstance, from ordinary British citizens at a time like this. Spontaneous song (and/or dance) seems appropriate. Or maybe the government will shoot off canons? Fireworks? RAF flyover? They have to do something besides post a notice on the gates of Buckingham Palace — I mean, talk about anticlimactic. The thing I’m not sure about, though, is whether anyone, except for the media, old ladies, and Americans, actually cares about this birth. I mean, sure, it’s interesting, in that Britain is choosing to continue this weird, quaint system of titles and tiaras and bloodlines and castles and stuff, and we’re getting to see that happen in real time, but really, it’s just a baby. This baby has no idea how famous it is, or what its title means, or that its parents’ every moves are followed obsessively by media, or that people are pinning all sorts of weird, creepy hopes and dreams onto its tiny, bald head. I get the sense most Britons are aware of this, and yet the media is freaking the eff out and swarming the hospital where the RB is being born and speculating wildly about names and Kate’s labor and so on. I suppose it’s too much to ask for the media to just play it cool around this whole royal birth thing, huh?

Well, I’ve written a bunch of words about not a whole lot, partly to kill time to see if the RB would be born as I was typing, but no dice. Back to sweating quietly among other quietly sweating people.

What I like about DC

We’re back in DC after more than eight months away (holy moly!) and being here after so long is throwing this city into sharp relief for me. Suddenly, I’m remembering all the things that drive me bat-poop bonkers about this place (see, e.g., the Red Line), but also all the wonderful stuff that makes DC the place I want to live permanently.

I have a love-hate relationship with this.
I have a love-hate relationship with this.

Last night, after a great dinner with some of our best DC friends, Al and I walked back to our hotel and talked about what we miss about this place. We both agreed that we’re glad we’re doing this stint abroad (with more international adventures still to come over the next year!) but that we’ll be very glad to head back to Our Nation’s Capital when the time comes. There’s just a lot of things to love about this place.

So here, without further ado, is a short list of things I like about DC:

  1. Weather. Yes, summers tend to be muggy and, one might fairly argue, swampy. Literally. Like, the city was built on a swamp. But you know what? It’s temperate! There are seasons. And Shorts Weather lasts for a long time, which is really all you can ask for from a place.
  2. Monuments. I’m talking huge, in-yo’-face, impressive monuments. Every time I come back to DC after being away, I marvel at much the city looks like a movie set, with all of these big, famous monuments just crammed together. It looks fake — but it’s not. Although, contrary to what TV would have us believe, people don’t actually conduct business meetings at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial or while dipping their feet in the reflecting pool. Sorry.
  3. Walkability. After being cooped up at home in Joburg for so long, there’s something deliciously liberating about being able to walk places, by myself, when I please. You know what I’ve really missed? Sidewalks.
  4. Food. Over the last few years, DC has evolved into a great food city, and it feels like there are still new restaurants and new chefs popping up all the time. And dang, this city does a good lunch salad. I missed you, Chop’t.
  5. Friends. Al and I have a great group of friends here and we miss them. Can’t wait until we can hang out with them again on the regular.
  6. Location. DC is so convenient. You can get anywhere on the East Coast easily, either by flying or driving, and it’s midway between Europe and California. After having lived for the past eight months in a country that feels impossibly remote from everything and everyone, I now really appreciate DC’s accessibility.
  7. Happy hour. This city runs on happy hours. It’s basically like one of those Brazilian cars that runs on alcohol. And now that I’m no longer chained to a desk at a law firm, I may even be able to enjoy the DC tradition of meeting for early drinks, often on a rooftop somewhere.
  8. Culture. Gotta love a city that has the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, theater, and live music. You never have an excuse to be bored here.
  9. International influence. DC has to be one of the most international cities in the world. Period, the end.
  10. NPR. I’m a public radio junkie and I love that NPR is based right here. It also makes me think my ultimate life goal of becoming best friends with all of the hosts of Pop Culture Happy Hour may eventually become a reality. Here’s hoping.
  11. Family. DC seems like one of the rare big cities in the US where you could theoretically raise children without them automatically becoming entitled, privileged monsters. Just my impression, although I’m not ruling anything out at this point.
DC Metro. Sure, the occasional person dies on the escalator. But at least there's public transportation.
DC Metro. Sure, the occasional person dies on the escalator. But at least there’s public transportation here.

Of course, there are things about DC, as I mentioned above, that make me want to wring its figurative neck. But that’s going to be the case for any city, anywhere in the world. Nowhere’s perfect. But DC is a pretty good match for me, and I’m looking forward to living here again, after our international sojourn. See you next spring, DC!


I voted early this year and, to my delight and relief, missed most of the election week hubbub, except for the inescapable flood of Facebook posts from friends and acquaintances earnestly urging me to vote, or, even better, to vote for one candidate over another.  Ugh.  I mean, when will people learn that social media is not an appropriate way to influence voter behavior?


And now, for a lengthy blog post on my personal political leanings.

Just kidding. I would never do that to you.

The thing is, I really don’t like politics. I consider myself a political moderate, which makes political discussions of any stripe tiresome for me.  I get annoyed with both conservatives and liberals.  My conservative family thinks I’m a liberal and my liberal friends, I suspect, think I’m a conservative, or, if not an actual conservative, a closet conservative. I’m neither of these things, for the record.  Honestly.

I’m patriotic, not partisan!

For me, talking politics is exhausting, boring, and unproductive, so I don’t do it.  I hate the meaningless catchphrases and tropes that people rely on in political arguments.  I hate the manipulation of facts and the filtering of truth to suit any given agenda. I hate every talking head on TV. I don’t get jazzed about individual candidates unless I know them personally, and even then, I only get so jazzed.

Nonetheless, I am a registered voter (independent, thank you very much) and I have voted in every federal election since I was eighteen.  And to think, I used to be a Michigan voter! Ah, how I miss the days when my vote actually counted.  It’s frustrating to think that I went from being a swing state voter (for my first election in 2000) to voting in California (2004 and 2008), and now DC (2012).  Well, at least it feels good to vote, even if I might as well throw my ballot into a giant bonfire and cook s’mores over it for all the difference it’ll make. Mmm. S’mores.

Whether my vote made any difference or not, I woke up this morning to find that President Obama was reelected. It wasn’t until I saw it on the news that I consciously realized how much I cared about the outcome of this election and allowed myself to feel relief.  But that was all I felt: relief.  No jubilation, no exaltation, no dancing in the streets.  Like Obama said, there’s a lot of work to be done. Duh.

Now that the election’s over, I’m most looking forward to the slowing up of the deluge of obnoxious Facebook and twitter posts, both celebratory and teeth-gnashing, that I’ve had to wade through today.  These people and their political posts – the sheer nerve!

Anyway – If you’re looking for something fun and non-political to check out today, please enjoy this video of a Corgi jumping into a lake.  I promise it’ll make you smile.