Saturday, December 22, 2012

One month

To my dearest Katherine,

In the hours before your birth, my darling girl, I worried about your early arrival.  But as soon as you were here, squalling, small and mighty, your APGAR score (9 initially, 10 out of 10 at 10 minutes) showed you in rude good health and you've given us no reason to worry since then.  You only lost 30g and gained back all that and more in the first 5 days. 

They took you to the Special Care unit solely because, at 4 lbs 2 oz., you were under 2 kilograms, and after monitoring your blood sugar for 24 hours, you were sent up to room in with Mummy.  We spent 8 days cocooned in a lovely warm bubble being looked after by the brilliant staff on the JR Radcliffe Maternity Ward 5 in Oxford.  The SCBU nurse told me when you were only 12 hours old that you are a laid back baby, and she's been proven right.  You hardly fuss or cry at all.  You've been an absolute doll, and don't think I don't appreciate it.

Why were we in the hospital so long?  Because, dearest, you needed to kick a bout of jaundice.  You spent the first two nights serenely sleeping under the bili-light in your cot.  After a night off, because we thought you might have licked it, a nurse came in at 2 am with the bad news you had to go back under.  When the light was set up again, the nurse said to me "well, at least she doesn't seem bothered about it" and left the room.  Ten minutes later, I pushed the call button because you were screaming and I was in tears, as it was unbearable to see you so distressed.  So they set the light up over my bed and you were perfectly happy as we slept under the lamp together.

Eventually, it was time for us to enter the big bad world.  You looked so teeny, swallowed up in your snowsuit in the car seat.  I was feeling quite emotional and delicate at this time, and I blinked back tears as we walked out of the hospital into brilliant sunshine on a crisp, cold day and your Daddy said, "Welcome to the world, little one!"

The first night home was a tough one for me, as I came to grips with pumping my milk and feeding you every three hours without the luxury of an endless supply of sterilized bottles.  But soon I settled into the routine with the help of your Daddy, who has taken fabulous care of me so that I can take care of you.

Because you were so tiny when you were born, you feel like a real live babydoll to me so "Babydoll" has naturally evolved as my nickname for you.  However, Daddy has adopted the equally apt "Squeaker."  You make squeaky little cooing sounds when you sleep, and when you've got wind, you make this odd little noise that sounds like a pigeon crossed with a turkey gobble.  Daddy said you could be the Squeaky the 12th dwarf... at which point I had to remind him that there are actually only seven dwarves.  He's got a lot to learn, your daddy. :-) But while watching him calm you during an intense set of hiccups during one your first days home, I told him "I don't think I have ever loved you more."

A wise friend told me that whatever you and I are experiencing right now in these first months, in 10 days it will be different.  Three weeks ago, I was struggling to get you to take 25 mils in a half-hour feeding.  This week I've seen you sink 60 mils in 10 minutes if you're really hungry.  This month has flown by and we can tell you're already so much bigger and stronger. Today you weighed in at a whopping 5 lbs 10 oz, piling on 1 1/2 lbs since you were born, you little star. You've outgrown a couple of your smallest clothes, and I'm already feeling sentimental about how quickly you are growing.

Another wise friend who endured the "pump-and-feed" routine with her twin daughters told me that the grueling schedule made her feel like she never got to hold her babies.  The truth of this statement was a real eye opener for me, and after that I made sure to fit in as much cuddle time with you as I can manage.  The sensation of your warm, soft weight melting into my arms whilst I breathe in deeply your divine newborn smell is one of the most sublime feelings in the world.

In the final entry of my pregnancy journal, I mused on the easy pregnancy and wondered when it might get hard and whether I can be really be this lucky.  I've bounced right back from the pregnancy and an easy delivery and, my darling, you are an absolute joy to care for.  So the answer is yes, yes I am this lucky.  I am so lucky I get to be your Mummy.

I love you with all my heart, my sweet baby girl,


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Katherine's Birth Story

In the Special Care Unit - 12 hours old
When last I wrote in my pregnancy journal, I was 34 weeks pregnant and feeling brilliant, looking forward to delivering the baby sometime, fingers crossed, just before Christmas.  So it was a bit of a shock to find myself in labor over a month early.

On Tuesday night (Nov 20, 35 weeks +1), D and I played our customary evening round of Wii Golf and I retired to bed.  Nothing unusual at all.

Except at about 12:30 am Wednesday, I woke suddenly to the feeling that I was wetting myself and jumped quickly out of bed to avoid a mess.  Bladder incontinence, though not something I had experienced myself, is not unheard of in late pregnancy.  I went to the bathroom and then realized that I was soaked to my knees.  Not having been able to pee more than a thimble-full in several months, I became concerned that my water had broken.  Sitting on the toilet, the fluid just kept coming and coming... and I started to panic.

I just sort of sat there moaning "oh, no, oh, no" and after a few moments, managed to weakly call D's name.  I heard him say from the other room "Are you okay, babe?"  He hadn't heard me call him, but just sensed something was wrong.

"I don't think so," I moaned.  "I woke up and I'm not sure if I wet myself or my waters have broke."

Thinking quickly, he jumped on Google and said, "Apparently if it smells like pee, it's pee, but if it smells of bleach its probably amniotic fluid."

I picked up my soaking PJ bottoms and sniffed deeply. "I can't smell anything."  Bless him, D did the same - with the same conclusion.

"It's still coming - this can't be pee."  I was shaking and cold now, and nearly in tears.  It was time to call the hospital.

The midwife I spoke to assured me it wasn't an emergency and that my baby should be fine.  I was told to gather my things and get to the hospital in my own good time.  D was a total star.  He had expressly told me (on the advice of our prenatal class) to pack a hospital bag the previous weekend... advice I had foolishly ignored... but he gamely gathered up all I needed whilst I directed the process from the porcelain throne.  And he managed say "I told you so" only once, which I took with the appropriate good humor, since he was totally right.

Eventually it was time to drive to the hospital... but I was still leaking profusely.  I stuffed a maternity pad and one of my baby's diapers into my knickers, sat a towel under my bum on the car seat and we headed off around 1:30 am.  Despite the precautions, when I arrived at the hospital, my clean PJ bottoms were soaking and I was walking like an 80-yr-old invalid just to avoid leaking a trail of fluid behind me.

I was examined by the triage midwife, who found me not dilated at all, which was unsurprising as I'd had no painful contractions.  Since the scan that was to determine whether I needed a c-section hadn't scheduled for another 6 days, they wanted to wait until the ultrasound tech came on duty at 10 am to decide whether I would be induced for a normal delivery or go straight to a c-section.  During my wait, I asked what to expect when delivering a baby at 35 weeks.  They said its lungs should be fine, but that it might need initially a breathing tube or a feeding tube because it was quite small, and might spend a couple of weeks in the special care unit.  Since there was nothing to do but wait, I sent D home to get some sleep and tried to do the same myself... still leaking like a, well, leaky thing.

At 10 am, I was scanned and they estimated the baby's size at 3 lbs 13 oz.  I was also cleared for a trial of delivery, as the baby's tiny head had managed to slip below the problematic fibroid.  They were going to induce labor.

Since I had been waiting for the results of the following week's scan regarding a c-section, I hadn't prepared myself for birth at all.  My birth plan had been: make a birth plan next week.  Oops, there was no help for it now.  At one point, I was asked if I wanted an epidural.  I told them I didn't not want an epidural, but that I'd see how things went.  I had no idea what my tolerance for pain might be, but I consider myself a bit of a wimp.

At 11 am, I called D and said he might want to consider coming back to the hospital as I was about to be induced.  Then I called him back and told him not to rush because I figured this would take a while.  I have a sister-in-law that was induced on a Thursday and had her baby on Sunday.  So I was prepared to settle in for a good long wait.

At noon, they started the IVs and noted that I was already dilated to 3 cm... so despite not feeling anything going on, apparently early labor had indeed started after my water broke.  Left alone in a darkened delivery suite, I watched a film on my laptop and dozed off and on.  I was checked on periodically, but always claimed that contractions which I could feel weren't yet painful.

Around 2:30 pm the contractions began strengthening.  While they weren't particularly comfortable, I don't remember them being very painful.  I asked the midwife when I should consider options for pain relief in case labor got all hurt-y.  She offered me gas-and-air (laughing gas and oxygen) which I began inhaling during the contractions, but never really went for it because I was worried that it might make me nauseous.  For the next 90 minutes or so, I simply needed three deep breaths to get through the contractions and I was relaxing in between.  The midwife had me laying on my side because it was difficult to monitor the fetal heart rate in other positions, but around 3 pm I asked if I could sit up on my knees in bed.  I just felt that needed to be done to move things along.  D arrived around that time and I warned him that I still thought it could be a while.

At 4 pm, I was checked and dilated to only 4 cm, confirming my theory that we were in for a long wait.  What I didn't know was they were about to jack up the induction drug.

At 4:30, I started to feel like I needed to poop.  Like really bad.  And I was concerned because I was hooked up to all these monitors and IV lines and how was I going to get to the bathroom.  The midwife went into overdrive preparing the room for delivery, and I was all "it can't be time yet, I was only 4 cm a little while ago!"

It all gets a little fuzzy for me here.  D told me that at some point the midwife hit the emergency button and an obstetrician and another midwife showed up.  At 4:45 I was told to lay on my back and start to push.  The transition from a comfortable first stage of labor to active pushing came very quickly and I was no more prepared for that than I had been for any of this.  Used to weight-lifting, where you must breathe out through the muscle contraction, I tried the same approach which was totally wrong.  The second midwife who was on my shoulder said, "Krysta, I need you to hold your breath and push like you are going to take the biggest poop of your life."

So I did.  I pushed so hard I saw stars.  And when I started to breathe again I was hyperventilating because I felt so deprived of oxygen I thought I was going to pass out or puke or both.  The next contraction came and I did it again.  It was all very sting-y and painful, and after about three of those I was seriously regretting that I hadn't had a chance to ask for an epidural.

I started to panic and moan about how I can't do this.  I really wanted someone to make it stop.  But the 2nd midwife told me what a great job I was doing and that I can do this.  So I did it again for another contraction.  Then the doctor told me they really needed to get the baby out and he wanted my consent for an episiotomy and forceps delivery, and I said "NONONONONONONO!"

The doctor explained that it wouldn't hurt the baby, and I was thinking "I know it won't hurt the baby, but fuck that, it's going to hurt me!"

So he got my consent for at least the episiotomy and told me I had to push with everything I had.  I didn't realize that he had pulled D aside and explained that it was really important to get the baby delivered pronto as its heart rate was dropping alamingly.  Two or three more contractions, giving it my all, and then they told me the head was delivered.  Another contraction and a gentler push and my baby was born.  I'd pushed for a total 15 minutes.

The baby started to cry.

It was the sweetest sound I've ever heard.

I asked "what did we have?" and they set her on my chest and said "take a look." I've never seen newborn bits before and hers were all swollen and confusing, so I said "I still can't tell" and D later told me he wasn't prepared to venture a guess and look foolish, so they said "you've had a baby girl!"

I looked up at D and said, "Look what we made!" and the look on his face, of pride and amazement, is one I'll treasure forever.

* * *

In my next post, I'll tell you how we're all doing now.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Baby Katherine made a surprise early appearance, born on November 21, a squalling 4lbs, 2oz.  She's small but mighty and so tiny that she charms every one she meets.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Week 21, Photo Op

20 week scan
I was a bit disappointed that the photo from the 20 week scan didn't really show Baby Beanie's facial profile.  As if the fact that we can't really see his or her little nose made me feel less connected somehow.  So on Friday I put the photo away and didn't really think much about it as I tried to process my feelings about the other things I learned at the scan.

But today I pulled the picture out again to scan it when a co-worker mentioned that the ink on the facsimile-type paper will degrade over time.

And for some reason, my eye was drawn not to the missing profile, but to the exquisite detail of the little baby fist.  I wondered what moment had been captured here.  Is Baby Beanie winding up to give me one of those unfelt punches?  Has its little thumb just popped out of its mouth?  Is it about to launch into its own version of mama's signature karaoke performance anthem - Prince's "Kiss?"  Suddenly, it struck me that there is a tiny little person in there with 10 fingers and 10 toes and rapidly connecting neurons that are increasing its ability to perceive and react to its environment more and more every day.

And then I knew - this was the moment that little one reached out and grabbed my heart in its teeny, tiny hand.

Read more of my pregnancy journey here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Keenie Beanie's Olympic Moment

I do love watching the Olympics, getting sucked into the stirring back stories, learning (or feigning to know) more than I ever though possible about a variety of sports, watching the thrill of victory and agony of defeat.

Yet, here I find myself living mere miles from the centre of this year's Summer Games, and I feel completely uninspired.  In fact, I'm rather dreading it.  I have a beastly commute already, and in a few short weeks, precious travel lanes are going to be placed off limits to the proletariat for the convenience of those involved in the Games.  There are signs and warnings everywhere about the coming travel snarls.  There are companies encouraging their employees to take holiday or stay at home for the duration.  It hasn't stopped raining for months; Britain has chalked up the wettest spring EVAH and the London Games could be, quite literally, a washout.

Signs placed all along my 25 mile commute warned about coming traffic difficulties for the Olympic torch relay scheduled last Tuesday to start in Oxford, visit the Queen in Windsor and wrap up in Reading.  Monday night, I googled the torch route to find out just how much my commute would be impacted.  To my surprise, it was scheduled to pass right through Egham, in which my office is set.

Egham is a nondescript little English town with no particular claim to fame.  It blends seamlessly into Staines, the larger town down the road made famous by Sasha Baron Cohen's Ali G (to Staines' collective embarrassment).  Yet the torch was going to come through unremarkable little Egham a mere 15 minutes' walk from the office.  I decided that this was a moment not to be missed.

There were two schools of thought in the office: those who wanted to go be a part of Olympic history and those who were "bah, humbug!" about it all.  The morning passed, as it so often does lately, with alternating showers and sun.  When the time came to set off, the sun was shining and the torch-seeking contingent recruited a few bah-humbuggers to our cause.

Photo: Surrey County Council News
Within minutes of our departure, grey clouds gathered ominously and by the time we joined the crowd lining the route, a proper downpour was underway.  I had ventured out in a designer raincoat more stylish than functional and a wool felt bucket hat that is absolutely impervious to rain.  With the exception of the meager protection offered by that hat, I was soaked through to the skin.

Between the brolleys and the five-row-deep crowd, there was precious little view of the route.  A lady near me in the crowd expressed surprise that the rain hadn't kept more of the spectators away.  In a classic observation, another woman exclaimed - "Of course not, we're British!"

However, proving that old adage "if you don't like the weather, wait 10 minutes - it'll change," in short order the rain had stopped, the brolleys were stowed and the sun was shining brightly again.  As the crowd and the road started steaming in the sun, we waited expectantly for the torch to arrive.  Soon enough, it came into view - union jacks were waved, a cheer was raised, photos were snapped, and a bit of Olympic history passed by.

Photo: Surrey County Council News
In a quick moment, it was all over.  We all headed back to the places of which we were from, and I imagine in 20 minutes there was little left to indicate the crowd had been there at all.

Our bedraggled group returned to the office, to the bah-humbuggers' self-satisfaction about the wisdom of giving the event a miss.  One of my soaked co-workers rustled up a vendor's promo T-shirt reading "I'm too EXSI for this T-shirt" and got a fair amount of ribbing for donning it in place of her soggy blouse.

However, as another one of my co-workers observed: "From now on, there will always be two groups of people.  Those who were there, and those who were not."  Soaking wet and all, I'm very glad to say I was one of those who were there.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Some news

Although I haven't been posting, I have been writing, and it's time to go public now.  Even though I found out 11 weeks ago today, I still can't quite believe it's true: D & I are going to have a baby and Baby Beanie is due on Christmas Eve!

So, more for my own benefit than anything else, I've been keeping a weekly pregnancy journal, which can be found in all its neurotic glory here: Baby Beanie, week by week

But in case you, understandably, don't want to immerse yourself in the tedious details of my gestation, I've excerpted the first and last couple posts to share with you below.


St. George's Day, April 23 - Week 4 +3

Looking back, the signs were there, but I dismissed them.  I didn't want to get my hopes up.

The previous Friday, we had simultaneously closed the sale of our house in the U.S. and found a new (smaller - uh, oh!) place to rent in Britain in order to escape the rat hole.  Then on Sunday evening, D and I were watching a property search show, and the featured couple announced midway through their home search that they were expecting a baby.  As we had recently noticed how often that seemed to happen on these shows, D remarked on it once again.  I said, "Do you know what else is strange? We just sold one house and rented another and I'm a few days late."

D looked at me with a surprised little smile.  I said, "Perhaps I should wait until Tuesday and then take a pregnancy test."  He nodded eagerly and we spoke no more of it.

I woke up the next morning and took a look at the calendar.  Yep, officially as late as I'd ever been.  So I decided not to wait anymore.  A few minutes later, the pink line appeared.

I crept upstairs, woke D with a cup of tea and quietly told him, "We made a little baby!"

July 2, Week 15 - Nothing to see here, folks

Though I'm not showing at all and have only gained 4 lbs (3 in the first three weeks after that positive test!), there are visible signs that both D and I can see of Baby Beanie's growth.  When I first wake up, before I'm up and about and gravity tucks everything back down below, we can see an actual tiny bump - and baby still has a definite preference for the right side of my tummy.  My uterus has grown enough that some mornings its top has migrated nearly up to my belly button, though it is usually about 3-4 fingers lower.

On Sunday morning, Baby Beanie had uncharacteristically wandered over to my left side and nearly up to my belly button and there was a sharply visible protrusion that, had it been later in pregnancy, I would have sworn was an elbow.  As I chilled out in bed for a few hours, that same sharp bump wandered around my tummy until Baby Beanie settled back into the customary lower-right-side location.  I started to wonder if I was feeling some sort of cyst, but later on Baby Beanie must have changed position, and the bump returned to its normal taut, smooth and round shape.  Maybe it was Baby Beanie's bottom?

Baby Beanie is supposed to be about 10 cm now (almost 4").  When I think about the rate of growth, its astounding - that's nearly 30% since the scan.  I do want to document progress of the bump in photos, and that wouldn't be complete without a "before" picture for reference.  I'd best get that taken soon, before Baby Beanie catches me out and makes a surprise appearance on my waistline.  Might be any day now... or it might be months.  I do have my fingers crossed for one of those discreet "basketball up the sweater" pregnancies that can't be detected from behind.

July 9, Week 16 - The Wanderer

Ever since last week, when the mysterious "bump on the bump" appeared, I've been visited more and more frequently by this odd phenomenon.  It moves about from down near my bikini line to more than halfway to my belly button.  Sometimes it's very easy to trace its dimensions, which are roughly baby-sized (about 12 cm now, a little shy of 5 inches, after another burst of growth last week), and sometimes the thing isn't perceptible at all.  A very scientific search of google reveals that I'm not the only one to experience this, and the general consensus is that it's baby.  Baby Beanie, if indeed it is, nearly always makes an appearance when I wake up.  So I lay there for a few minutes with my hand over the taut little lump, trying to connect with the little one and detect any movement. (Nothing yet.)

I had my 16-week appointment with the midwife today.  She measured my still outwardly invisible uterus at 15 cm and then had me lay back so we could listen to the baby's heartbeat.  She warned me it might be a bit difficult to find and not to panic if so... but as soon as she set the doppler wand on my tummy we could hear it, galloping away at 147 bpm.  She even heard the baby kick, though I didn't realize what I was hearing until the moment was already past.  It was so reassuring to hear the little ticker beating away.

I described the "bump on a bump" to her and asked what she thought it was.  Unfortunately, the thing was in hiding, so she couldn't actually feel it at the time.  To my disappointment, she guessed it might be a fibroid or maybe even a part of my bowel.  Which means all this time, I might have been communing with lumps of poo.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Hot and Cold

A bit of our lovely new garden
I'm writing this whilst blissfully enjoying a patch of warm sunshine on the lawn.  It's about time.  British weather, ever a topic of conversation amongst the locals, has truly challenged me this spring.  Coming from Portland, where the rains close in sometime around the end of October and don't let up again until, say, June - I thought I was prepared for British weather.  I'm not one to complain much anyway.

After a crisp dry February and truly lovely and unseasonably warm March, the Southeast of England had to declare a drought condition and instill a hosepipe ban.  The irony is, about 10 days later it began to rain and it didn't stop for about 6 weeks.  I follow the Thames to work and each morning it got a little higher until it threatened to overspill the bank.  The nearby public footpath became a nearly impassable bog, and yet I still can't rinse my car with a hose. Worse than the rain, it was just so. damn. cold.

Let me first say, I'm generally not even sure, officially, how warm or cold it is around here.  I don't know how to judge temperatures stated in Celsius.  I'm confounded by a country that measures its distance in miles and its beer in pints, but goes all metric when it comes to stating the temperature.  I think it's some kind of conspiracy.  A conspiracy happily joined by my husband, who is perennially hot-blooded and gleefully took the opportunity to declare that 15 degrees is a perfectly legitimate maximum for the thermostat.  I had to look it up, but that is only 59 degrees!!

For weeks temperatures (outside) struggled to reach the mid-50s and I was in a semi-hypothermic state.  Having lived through a couple of Oregon winters with only a woodstove for heat - and that only making one room in the house truly comfortable, I'm no stranger to cold.  But I was completely caught off guard by frigid depth of the bone-chilling cold that crept into me and refused to be dislodged.  I ran a space heater under my desk at work, showered twice a day to try to drive the chill away and spent most of my time at home huddled under blankets and cradling a hot water bottle.

Last week, I'd had my fill and decided it was finally time to start bitching in earnest about the weather.  As the lovely Helen pointed out, at least that meant I was officially becoming a Brit.  And then two days ago (cue the chorus of angels and shining beams of light) the sun not only came out, but the temperatures suddenly soared to the upper 20s (that's low to mid 80s in real money).  I've been lovely and warm through and through.

Brits celebrated for all of about half an hour.  And then promptly began complaining that it was too hot.  Well, at least they're never short of something to talk about.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ease on down the road? Not so much.

Do you know what the hardest thing about moving to England has been for me?  It's not the rat hole, or the fact that we're moving this weekend (again!) and have to load and unload (again!) all our worldly possessions,* it's not even $8/gallon gasoline.  It's driving.  The simple act of getting in a car and conveying myself from point A to point B - something I've been doing, even enjoying for over two decades.  When I had a convertible, there were few things I relished more than dropping the top, cranking the tunes, and carving up the lanes on a sunny day.  Road trips were an adventure - the journey was the destination.

* and by we, I of course mean D.  The man is a moving machine.

But now, the car is my nemesis.  If had only to learn the rules of British roads, it would be fine.  If I had only to learn to shift the transmission with my left hand instead of my right, it would be fine.  But the act of trying to do both, it stymies me.  The sheer concentration required to ensure that I'm shifting into the right gear and not jamming it into reverse or 2nd rather than 4th whilst monitoring the pertinent traffic approaching the roundabouts.  As D reminds me, I have to not only get comfortable on the roads, I have to pass a driving test.  So I need to develop good driving habits - not just get by.  And now, I question and second guess every little decision.  Did I shift up too soon? Shift down too late? Brake too hard? Signal too early? Turn too hastily in front of oncoming traffic? Block traffic for too long waiting to turn? Pull out at the roundabout too aggressively? Too timidly? Push the accelerator too hard to achieve optimum fuel economy? (The car, the tattling little brat, has a computer that reports on my sins in that area.)  The required concentration and resulting stress of a journey in the car is enough to make me want to abandon the effort entirely.

For those that have done this before with little concern or effort, my frustration probably sounds trite or silly.  "How hard can it be?" these fortunate souls ask, to which I can only answer, "You have no idea."

"Learning to drive" again after two decades of doing it as second nature is bad enough.  Not having the ability to jump in the car and just go is so much worse now than it was when I was peering over the precipice of adulthood, chafing at a lack freedom and independence before I'd ever really tasted it.

I need to stone up and just do this already before it develops into a full fledged phobia - but I never dreamt it would be so hard.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Finding my voice

If ever there was a time to blog, when you might have something engaging and interesting to say, when those you love are far, far away and really want to hear it, one might think it would be when you embark upon the adventure of an overseas move.  I was determined to chronicle the Long Journey - and recounted the story to up until the point we checked in to our hotel for a few days stopover in Iceland.  And then nothing.

I wanted to do that little bit of heaven justice - with photos and descriptions of how marvelous our time in Iceland was.  To tell of how a jet-lagged walk to the 24 hour supermarket in the wee hours led D to discover one of the most exceptional displays of the Northern Lights, rarely visible from within the bounds of Reykjavik's city lights (and I was fortunate he sprinted back to the room to wake me up to enjoy it too). To convey, with ironic humour, the seriousness with which D mooted the idea of emigrating to Iceland before I'd even set foot on British soil with my newly-minted settlement visa. But the business of settling into the UK took over my energies, and my dogged determination to tell the story with some kind of chronological sense stopped me in my authorial tracks.

So here we are.  There is loads to tell - if only to keep those that care about me in the loop - and I best just get on with it.

England has been amazing and terrible all at once.  We've been here three months this past week and I still feel unsettled due to a rough bit of luck with respect to our living accommodation.  We had rented a cottage, based on the virtue of pictures and a couple of phone conversations with the landlord who claimed it had just been fully renovated.  It appeared ideal.  A semi-rural village on the outskirts of Windsor.  The charming little cottage, set on a 13-acre gated equestrian property, next to a large house with lovely manicured gardens, a swimming pool, and plenty of parking (always a plus in England).

Our landlord seemed kind - concerned that we would be comfortable during the five-week period before the shipping container arrived, when we'd be living there on the floor with nothing but the suitcases permitted by the airline baggage allowance.  He invited us around for a drink and during the course of the evening offered us free access to his apartment in the South of France, should we ever want a holiday there.  He's a very old, very lonely man whose face would light up if we happened to wave to him in passing.

Yes, it seemed ideal, and for the first three weeks, life in England was indeed pleasant.  We explored Windsor, enjoying lovely views of the castle during evening ambles along the Thames, delighting in the knowledge that we weren't mere touristas here, we actually get to enjoy it full time.  The cast iron lion that serves as a door knocker made me smile whenever I arrived back at our new home.

There were a few niggles.  Take, for instance, the fact that the floors we were sleeping, eating, lounging, living on were absolutely covered in a layer of fine dog hair.  The carpets the landlord claimed had been professionally cleaned: upon showing him the problem, did our landlord offer to get the job done right?  No, he did not.  So it took D over two solid, full-time days of painstaking vacuuming to make them passably clean.  Further, the oven didn't work, the fridge compressor leaked, and one of the shelves in the newly fitted kitchen cabinets was missing its mounting pins (halving the storage capacity therein).  To top it all off there was evidence of rodent infestation in the closets.  We patiently submitted a list of items to be addressed, at which point the landlord started giving D the names of contractors and asking him to sort it out.  Having just completed the exhausting renovation of a home we actually owned, the injustice of having to take on the landlord's job in a place we've rented started to feel a bit unfair.

Then came the Sunday morning when the power in the cottage suddenly went out as D was preparing brunch.  After a bunch of diagnostic trips to the fuse box, we determined the water heater was the cause and went next door to inform the landlord.  He asked if he needed to get someone to deal with it that very day.  Magnanimously, we said, "No, that would cost too much - tomorrow is fine."  Loyal readers, we were without hot water for 13 days.  And, ironically, the plumber insisted on doing the work on a weekend, so we were forced to cancel our plans to go away in order to accommodate him because we were so desperate to just effing have it fixed already.

It took a well over month to get the pest controller in to review the rodent problem, and when he did arrive, he pointed out that not only were there mice in the closets, but the attic in the bathroom extension was literally carpeted in rat shit.  (Oh yes, and that the power shower unit up there was leaking, so the landlord had it switched off without telling us.) The exterminator spoke to the landlord about the remedial actions required, and on a return visit when nothing was addressed, he advised us that we were perfectly within our legal rights to move out and strongly recommended that we do so.

Meanwhile, our container had arrived and, unwilling to unpack when we had made the decision to break the lease, we were now living essentially in a storage unit with paths leading through the boxes.  We commenced the soul-destroying effort of finding another place to live, which consumed another month of our weekends.  The halcyon days of our first few weeks were replaced by a frustration, bordering on anger, that life has to be this much effing hassle.

Au revoir, Leo, you're the only thing
I'll miss around here.
But fear not, my faithful friends.  Things are looking up.  Last weekend, after having had a number of promising properties rented out from under us before we could even see them, we secured (through a bit of luck) a detached cottage to rent.  It is set in a picture-postcard village of Tudor houses set around a 12th-century church and we're excited to be moving in next weekend.  We are very much looking forward to beginning what we hope to be a much more settled and content existence.

I've loads more to tell you about my new life in England, but I shall leave that for another time.  Thanks for reading, my lovelies, and for all your support and encouragement.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Long Journey, Part the Second (Notes from the Road)

Continuing the chronicle of our move from Portland to England...

We left Portland on a stormy Friday - all week there had been snow, then ice, then we were deluged with rain and wind.  The unusual weather kind of reflected how my life felt while in the throes of the move.

* * *

We leave everything to the last minute, it seems.  Despite completion of the herculean task of packing the shipping container on the previous weekend, when the day of departure came, it felt like we would never be done emptying and cleaning the house.  Which we finally were... two hours later than planned, of course.

* * *

We received a call about an hour before we drove away for the final time noting that the counter offer to the buyers' counter offer to our prior counter offer had been accepted.  We were going to sell our house!!!

In the chaos of the moment, it was an anti-climax that barely registered at the time.

* * *

Leaving the keys on the counter, closing the door, realizing that was is it - we really couldn't go back and do just one more thing.  Our time at the little shack on the prairie was over.  Very strange feeling.

* * *

We were driving to Seattle for our flight departure the next day, normally a 3.5 hour trip.  It took two hours in truly horrible traffic, and even worse weather, just to move 35 miles across the city to drop off our rental car.  It felt like Portland didn't want to let us go.

* * *

The friends (to whom we will be eternally grateful) that we planned to stay with overnight in Seattle told us they hadn't had electricity at home for over two days due to even worse storms up there.  However, we were welcome to stay if we didn't mind flushing the toilet with a bucket.  We booked a hotel instead and arranged to meet them for breakfast the next morning.

* * *

About 30 minutes from the end of our now nearly 6-hour drive, we received a call from the hotel.  They'd just lost power too.  We were welcome to stay... if we didn't mind flushing the toilet with a bucket. (I wish I was joking.) We booked another hotel.

* * *

Despite the fact that the Seattle airport had been all but closed two days earlier (due to ice), we lifted off on Saturday afternoon after an uneventful trip to the airport and a smooth-as-silk check in of the two suitcases each that we would be living out of for the next six weeks.  I heart Iceland Air.

* * *

We touched down in Reykjavik at 6:30 am local time (11:30 pm Pacific).  The frigid Icelandic sky was black as ink, with not even a hint of dawn.  I'd never been this far north before.

* * *

We rode the packed, but silent coach to the bus terminal, and transferred to a minibus for the drive to the hotel.  By now, it was 8:30 am.  The sky was still completely black.  There was no one on the street and few lights on in the houses. It was quieter than Portland at three in the morning.  Eerie, almost.

* * *

D and I asked the coach driver when people tended to get up and head to work in winter, since the mornings were so dark.  "Sometime after nine," he told us.  We glanced at the time and asked, "Where is everybody, then?"  He looked at us like we were daft and said, "It's Sunday!" (The residents of Reykjavik have a reputation for partying hard - very hard - on the weekend, and need a nice lie-in.)

D and I had both been under the exhaustion-addled impression that it was Monday already.  It hardly seemed possible that it was only Sunday morning, given all that we had experienced so far.

* * *

We were staying at a little non-chain hotel where one needed a pass-code to enter the building.  No one was at the front desk to let us in when we were dropped off.  It was about 30F (-1C).  We were stranded on a empty street, with our pile of luggage... hungry, cold and nowhere to go.  After waiting around for 20 minutes, I was swiftly losing any shred of humor or poise I had left.

* * *

Eventually we were let into the hotel to check our bags, but couldn't check in early.  We left in search of someplace, any place, to get some food.  After a half hour of aimless and increasingly resentful (on my part) wandering, we finally settled into the corner booth at a bakery that had only just opened its doors for the day.  We had endless hot drinks and pastries for several hours - which did wonders to improve my mood - before we gratefully checked into the hotel and collapsed into bed for a nap.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Long Journey, Part the First

When last we left our heroine, she was mourning the fact that her birthday weekend was going to be spent packing her life into a shipping container...

It looked enormous - four feet off the ground (with no ramp!), 20 feet long, 8 feet high and just as wide.  A big empty box waiting for every nearly every possession we have, whether precious or mundane, to be packed onto it in the space of three days.  By ourselves.  And we'd barely made a dent in the boxing and packing in the house.  Our moves are always like this.  Too particular to trust the packing and moving to professionals, too proud to ask for help, we leave it to the last minute and confidently insist that we can "do by self" as the toddlers are wont to say.

The container was dropped off on a Friday evening and was due be picked up the following Monday.  Two days, three nights.  D was sure that the container was more than enough to swallow what was left of our possessions after countless trips to Goodwill and the dump.  How hard could it be?

We had no idea.

Fortunately, we have two very dear friends that practically insisted that we needed their help.  They packed up their two children and their two dogs and all the extra moving blankets and packing tape they had lying around from their recent cross-country move and drove nearly two hundred miles from Seattle for the weekend.  Boy are we lucky they did because, seriously, the job would have been impossible - wait let me all-caps that - IMPOSSIBLE to complete without them.

After two very long days and two very late nights and nearly 3,000 linear feet of stretch wrap, we got the job done, just.  And we still had to leave behind more than we planned.  D was a machine... he and our friend S carried everything to the truck and then D fit it all together with the finesse of a world-class jigsaw champion.  In doing so, he lifted nearly every item we own no less than twice, often three times or more.

S was the king of stretch wrap - have you ever used this stuff?  We encased nearly everything in this industrial plastic film to ensure it was secure, watertight and sticky enough to be fit together in a big block that won't slide around at sea.  S quickly developed a two-man technique and stretch-wrapped like it would earn him time off for good behavior.

My friend R was a rock.  She's a packing genius and systematically reduced all the random things laying around our house to neat packages for the boys to heave out.  She made me laugh, provided critical moral support at a particularly low moment when I was exhausted and convinced we'd never be done, and generally reminded me why she's one of my best friends in the world.  And I'm very glad it was a dear friend packing up my things, because one revelation I had that weekend was this: if you are going to let someone help pack up your life, you want them to be either a chosen sister who won't judge your housekeeping or the ridiculous detritus of your life... or a stranger you will never see again.

What did I do?  Ostensibly, I was directing the efforts inside the house while D manned the trailer, but I'm not entirely sure I was much use. The weekend is all a big, mentally exhausted blur.  But Monday morning, we finally shut the door on the container and waited for the trucking company to come haul it away.

The truck driver was brilliant, assuring us about the security of our shipment while D (in his own words) "clucked about like a mother hen."  This was our entire life packed in the giant box and it feels a bit weird to watch it be hauled off for a 15,000 mile, months-long journey by sea.  It had started to snow and I went inside as the container was pulled off the drive.

A few minutes later, D still hadn't come in.  I went outside to find him looking into the distance as the driver gingerly negotiated the potholes on our long country road.  He watched until the trailer finally pulled out of view.  Then we turned and went into the strangely sad, nearly empty house that was still going to be home for four more days.

But the journey was begun.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Effin' Birthday

It's my birthday today.  13 is my lucky number and a birthday on Friday the 13th is just cool.

I've scheduled this post for the precise minute when I was born all those {ahem} years ago, adjusted for time zone effects and all.

That's about all the acknowledgment my birthday's going to get from me this year.  The monstor move has taken over our lives.  In fact, I got myself a 20 ft shipping container for my birthday.  That's how I roll, and I hope there's a big effin' pink bow on it when it shows up on the drive this afternoon.  Kind of like those cheesy Lexus commercials for Christmas.

Not that it hurts my feelings if my birthday doesn't happen.

If a birthday candle is lit in the forest and no one is around to see it, does one turn another year older?

I don't think so.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

So many stories...

... I could tell you.

I could tell you how the job opportunity in the UK with my old company did work out.

I could tell you how I was feeling so optimistic and happy at how things were coming together for the big move to the UK.  Until the monumental task of actually accomplishing the move caught up with me.

I could tell you how hard we worked to get the little shack on the prairie remodeled and ready to sell.

I could show you the before and after pictures which remind me just how far we've come with the house.  Even when all I can see are the few little things that aren't done yet.

I could tell you how we worked every waking moment on the house until it felt like we had nothing else to give and yet the work still wasn't done.  And how I thought I would never, ever, be done painting the utility room.

I could tell you how we didn't really get to celebrate Christmas, our absolutely favorite time of year, and it felt like we were robbed.

I could tell you about how we still managed to put up a little Christmas tree and the small treasured light it brought to our miserable existence nearly saved my sanity.

I could tell you that we stood in the biting cold on our new back deck and surveyed our 130-degree view of the horizon and watched as the fireworks went off all over to ring in 2012 and how I will never forget the moment when this life-altering year kicked off.

I could tell you that I was optimistically hopeful that since everything else came together for the move, selling the house in this dire market would be a piece of cake.  But now I'm not so sure and it terrifies me.

I could tell you that my immigration application was ridiculously easy to get approved and for that I'm grateful.  But it doesn't stop me from having a recurring nightmare that I've forgotten some critical step and won't be admitted to the country when I get to Heathrow.

I could tell you how hurt and angry I feel since someone I considered a close friend here in Portland wrote me a "have a nice life" kiss-off message (she's got her own things to deal with right now) and didn't even respond to my gracious and understanding reply.

I could tell you how another one of my closest friends has volunteered to drive over 300 miles for an overnight trip with her family and her two dogs to help us load the shipping container.  But I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am to have a friend that would do something like that for me.

I could tell you how I was so focused on the future after we move, I forgot to prepare myself for how difficult it would be to tear myself away from the life I've built in a city I love.

I could tell you how lucky I am to find that a dear friend's mother was willing to adopt my two I was prepared for how hard it would be to give them up when we dropped them off on New Year's Day... but that my husband was not prepared for how hard it would be for him - and how experiencing that pain with him intensified it more than I could have imagined.

I could tell you how we found a place to rent in a fantastic location in the UK and how I'm slightly worried since we rented it sight unseen (in person anyway), but so excited because it's a little cottage set in the English countryside and seems like the perfect place to start our new life there.

I could tell you that I've gone back to work at the start of January (commencing in the Portland office before moving to the UK later in the month), which was perhaps a foolish decision given how much we have to accomplish before the move.

I could tell you how I have nightmares and wake up in cold sweats because I feel like I'm balancing spinning plates and I'm just barely managing not to drop the whole lot of them.

I could tell you that no matter what happens, we are on a plane to Iceland in two weeks.  And after a few days relaxation in the frigid Icelandic winter, our new life will begin - ready or not, here we go.

I could tell you all this, but I've barely time to breathe, let alone write.  I'm a ball of tears and optimism, and I'm just hanging onto my sanity by a thread until this relentless pressure ends and I can finally relax.