Friday, October 30, 2015

Won't You Be My Neighbor? Part 1 - The Early Years

While I know I haven't exactly done a good job of describing our daily life in Birmingham on this little blog of mine, it has definitely become my new reality - quirks and all. We live in a small two-bedroom apartment with three other people, and they are seriously the best roommates we could have asked for during this international phase of our lives. And while nothing beats living with my Livy (sometimes I even scoff at Patrick and ask him why he can't just sing at the top of his lungs and dance with me around the kitchen like Livy did... hehe), they are truly lovely to live with.

Most days, I have the apartment completely to myself, but I still stick to our bedroom and the kitchen as there isn't really anywhere much else to go. The apartment is very secure, but the walls are so thin here, and they don't do a good job of sound-proofing the front door, so I can hear people coming and going in the hall (or corridor); sometimes it sounds like our front door is opening, but it's someone else. And the plumbing here... it's so noisy! I swear, I can hear every time someone in the building is using the toilet, and I can certainly hear the water flowing through the pipes in the walls. It's that way a lot of places - I was so weirded out when I was at the library and I could hear the toilet water being flushed. So very strange. And when someone rings our apartment, the noise at the telephone in our bedroom makes me jump out of my skin every single time, whether I know it's going to ring or not. Anyway, back to our living arrangements.

Some days, this little apartment complex is completely boring and nothing interesting happens in the least. Other days, I feel as though I'm Jimmy Stewart's character in Rear Window; our situations are not the same, but we're both regularly confined to an apartment that overlooks a courtyard of sorts (mine is a parking lot) and the dozens of windows that look into individual apartments. It's kind of like looking at a fishbowl with a very limited view, but it's rather fascinating. I love imagining the people and their lives - each as different as their individual apartments.

There is a woman across the way who plays the violin, and I can often hear her practicing with great vigor and determination. She is actually a very good player, and I truly enjoy having a live soundtrack in the background of my day. A few apartments to the right and one floor down, there is a group of female vocalists who sometimes gather in the living room and practice. I don't really know what songs they're singing, but they sound so lovely as they harmonize, and I think they do a bit of dancing - or maybe just swaying and side-stepping. In the apartment above them, there is a couple with a little baby; I don't know if the baby is a girl or boy, but I often see the father holding his child, bouncing up and down, swaying side to side, in an effort to calm his little one. There is also an opera singer somewhere in the building; I don't know where she resides, but you can bet that I can hear her loud and clear. Then there is the woman who is definitely a chain smoker - I see her sitting on her deck several times a day, no matter how poor the weather, smoking like a chimney. If I couldn't see her smoking, I could definitely hear that smoker's cough, all phlegmy and choked-sounding. Gross.

Taking into account all of the above, it is easy for me to say that our living arrangements could be much worse, but I know they could be worse - because they have been worse. Stick with me here.

A few weeks ago, my sister in law texted me and opened up the floodgate of memories in reference to living situations. Hah! Oh my lanta, all I can do is laugh and shake my head at the thought of some of those places, some of those people...

The OBU House

The first place that Patrick and I lived in together (at the tender ages of 21 and 22, mind you) was an itty-bitty house in Shawnee, Oklahoma that was owned by Oklahoma Baptist University and was just off campus. It is a very kind thing to call that place a house; more often, I lovingly referred to it as a cardboard box. That place was TINY at a mere 475 square feet and a really poor layout, and boy was it a load of crap. Haha!

We got married on December 12, 2009 and took our honeymoon after Patrick took his finals the next week. We came home to the epic Christmas Eve Snowpocalypse of 2009 and were stuck in Dallas, Texas without our luggage and with no way to get home. That really was a blessing disguised as a curse, because my dad, stepmom, and siblings just moved to Dallas right before our wedding; however, my dad had to go back to Arizona for work and things, so my poor stepmom was alone with her two smallest kids in a new city and an apartment that needed to be unpacked - then we got stuck in Dallas and she came to the newlyweds' rescue! We got to spend Christmas with my family and it was wonderful despite all the kinks thrown in, but that's beside the point. Just for good measure, though, this is the photo of us on our honeymoon that I always keep on my phone. That was so long ago!

What I meant to say was this: when we got home to our cardboard box of a house (a few days after Christmas as we were still stuck in OKC when we arrived at the airport), there was snow everywhere and it was fracking cold. That house didn't have central air OR heat: it had one window unit air conditioner in the living room, and it had a gas heater on the living room wall... which we sometimes had to light with a match. I swear to you, we thought we were going to blow ourselves up every dang time we had to use that thing. Patrick's parents even bought us a CO2 detector to plug into our wall because the gas and open flame made us all nervous. And while the heater somewhat worked at warming up the living room, it couldn't combat the paper-thin walls and the sub-freezing temperatures.

We didn't dare sleep with that thing on, so the newlyweds bundled up in layers upon layers of socks, pajama pants, long sleeved shirts, and sweatshirts, and we must have had five or six blankets on top of us. It was quite comical to look at, actually! However, it was not nice to wake up to. While we tried our best to warm up the house with the heater and the oven before bedtime, it became absolutely frigid during the night when neither of those were in use. It was not uncommon for us to wake up and see our warm breath in the air - INSIDE OUR HOUSE. I kid you not, it was that cold in our bedroom! Haha! Needless to say, it didn't take us too long to realize that we needed to suck up the expense and buy a space heater, and we definitely slept with it on - despite the warning labels and fear of burning the house down with us inside.

There was also a time when I thought I was going to get blown away in that cardboard box by a tornado on Patrick's birthday (I was home alone for that one as well), but that is actually a long story that still gives me anxiety. Too close for comfort. No thanks. I don't miss tornadoes.

Shawnee Locals as Neighbors

Oh Lord have mercy, those Shawnee neighbors. Now, these people weren't awful to live next to, but it was definitely an experience for a girl who was raised in Mission Viejo, California, and Patrick wasn't too used to having neighbors like these at his parents' house in Oklahoma City or in the dorm rooms at OBU. Shawnee is a small town and, while it has thriving sectors, there are parts of town that are very rundown and the people who live there aren't much better off.

The neighbors on the right side of our house (if you're looking at the house from the street) had their chainlink-fenced yard completely full with children's toys and play sets. I kid you not, the yard was completely filled with crap. It looked a thousand-percent awful. Aside from that, they weren't a bother. No one really was, but there was the occasional *visitor* who made me raise my eyebrows.

One night, way past midnight, I had just returned home from a Black Box concert. Patrick was still at the school tearing down the set, and Zach had mentioned that we should all do something. Oh, to be young again - the thought of starting to hang out past 12:30am makes me tired! A few minutes after I got home (alone), there was a knock at my front door. Given the time and the recent conversation, I thought it was Zach. I couldn't check if I wanted to, though, because there wasn't a peep-hole in that door. Stupid. When I opened up the door, it was not Zach who stood in front of me... it was a child. He had to have been about 13 years old. Immediately, I started looking around to see who else was with him, thinking it was some prank or something stupid like that - what else would a young teenage boy be doing at my doorstep at 12:30 on a Friday night?

"Uh, my dad was wondering if he could borrow a cigarette."
"...I don't smoke."
"Oh. Okay. Thanks."

Okay, so it wasn't the strangest conversation, but it was the details that got me. This boy was a complete stranger; it was dark; it was very late; the boy was alone - no additional person or vehicle in sight. Your "dad" wants to borrow a cigarette? Suuuuuure. Okay. Sorry, pal, can't help ya no matter if it's him or you who really wants one. I shut and locked the door, then I cursed the fact that the door had no peep-hole and no deadbolt lock (yeah - just a lock on the handle!!!), because I was sufficiently creeped out. Needless to say, we didn't go out that night. Haha.

- - -

The other infamous neighborly moment was on a sunny afternoon during the middle of the week. It had to have been spring because it wasn't wicked hot yet, and I was enjoying my time at home on my day off from Dillard's. The blinds on the windows were open, so I could see that there was a sketchy-looking woman looking at the house on the left side of us. She kept wandering up to the house, around it, and looking over at our place. Mercy, here we go again. She walked up to our front door and knocked; she didn't seem threatening, just a tad bit crazy, so I answered.

This woman had some shabby looking hair in a messy ponytail, cutoff shorts, a tank top, and I'm pretty sure she was missing at least one tooth. She also had the most hick accent I've heard in my life.

I opened the door. She spoke first.
"Hiiiiii. Ah'm lookin' fer Starrr. Does she live here?" (pointing to our neighbor's house)
"I don't know. We don't know them. Sorry."
"Oooooh, okaaaay. Thaaanks."

Haha! I know it's not much of a story, but we still quote her on a regular basis 'round these parts. Because we're terrible people.

The Third-Floor Apartment

Our time at our second residence was pretty uneventful compared to the rest of our living arrangements, but getting there was the worst moving experience of my entire life. And that says a lot - I've moved across the country from California to Oklahoma at the age of 16 (my poor mother), I've moved across the world to a different country, and I had my first miscarriage on the day that we moved into our last house in OKC. While all of the emotional baggage behind those moves was worse, the logistics of this particular move was terrible. Ugh, what an AWFUL day!

Basically, we had been married for less than 6 months and were moving from Shawnee to Oklahoma City to a third-floor apartment. We had all of our stuff ready to go, and we had hired a company to bring a truck to us in Shawnee, load our stuff into the truck, drive it to OKC, and unload it into the apartment.

The movers never showed up. EVER.

We called and called, tried to get some information, were told that they were on their way, and they never showed up. They never came. Thank heavens we didn't give them a deposit! We had to be out of that house by the end of the day, and we had to get to Oklahoma City by a certain time because Patrick had to drive down to Falls Creek for a gig. Everyone had gone home because school was no longer in session, and all of our family was awaiting our arrival in OKC where they also lived. WHAT A NIGHTMARE. We ended up being able to rent a truck from UHAUL, thankfully. However, if it weren't for Jay and Jeff, our pastor and music minister, we would have never been able to move. So much of our furniture was either a gift or hand-me-down, and it was far too heavy for me to lift. The four of us could hardly lift our ancient hide-a-bed couch... oh, the number of times we had to move that couch pains me!

We eventually made it to Oklahoma City, but we had to have Patrick's parents scramble to help us find someone to help us get our stuff up those three flights of stairs. Ugh, that was sickeningly expensive, and it didn't help that it was as hot as the devil's frying pan that day, either. Two men who worked for a moving company slaved away in the evening summer swelter and got the majority of our stuff up the stairs and into the apartment. Whether it be from the truck, them, or one of us, there were a lot of things that were broken during that move... but I was almost broken myself! We are blessed with a huge number of friends and family back home, and they came to the rescue when we needed help the most - there were so many people swarming around our apartment, helping me unpack and put things away, and I couldn't have been more grateful or overwhelmed at the entirety of the day. Patrick eventually got home, but boy I wouldn't have wanted to come home to me that night. Yikes. Too many tears and anxiety attacks for one day!

Like I said, living at that apartment was pretty mild, but there was the occasional disturbance from a midnight drunken pool party or our next door neighbor, a student at OCU, practicing his vocal skills - and let me tell you, he needed the practice. Oy. The three flights of stairs were really fun when it came to hauling groceries or firewood (the remnants of which remained in the back of Patrick's car for years).

We did have a family of pigeons that decided to nest on our deck, though. Those dumb pigeons. Oy, they were so annoying! There came a time when the sound of their cooing literally filled me with rage. And these less-than-bright birds weren't too great at making nests, either. They kept pooping-up my deck and bringing piddly pine needles and assembling them in a circle-ish shape and called it a nest. The next time they started doing that, I provided a rag to bring it some sort of comfort; I couldn't bear to think of those little bitty eggs cracking on the freaking pavement. Dumb animals.

There was also that one time that I stumbled upon a real-life scene from Mario Kart in our apartment complex parking lot... hah! Someone had a sense of humor and too much time on their hands. And far too many bananas.

The second Snowpocalypse happened while we were at that apartment, and I had all but forgotten the fact that our cars were completely stuck in the parking lot behind walls of iced-over snow mounds. Cars were stuck in the angled roads left and right, perched behind parked vehicles whether they liked it or not. Hah! We took a few walks around the complex just to get out and enjoy a bit of the weather, and that was the first time we made snow ice cream. Those were good times!

- - -

As this post has turned into a ridiculously long one, I decided to split it into parts. The next place we lived was so ridiculous that I currently have 12 separate stories to write about... and that's only at ONE residence! Hahaha oh, those were the days! But those days will have to wait for another post. Rest assured, though, that post will come - those stories are too good not to share. :)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Saying Hello: A Day in London - Part 1

It's really hard to believe, but it has been nearly two months since we began this new phase of our lives, and that means our day in London was also that long ago! I meant to write this post a couple of weeks ago, but life in this strange new place got ahead of me and I just plain didn't make the time. I'm going to try to remedy that and post more often, as we have already experienced so many things in our short time here that I want to document, but we'll see if that happens... hah. As for now, though, London will have to suffice.

To say that London is magical is probably doing the city a disservice. London is everything I hoped it would be and more, and it stole my heart from the minute I looked out the window of the airplane at the sprawling English metropolitan city. It is vast, complex, and completely marvelous. It is beautiful from every angle, and photos can never truly capture the magnificence in its entirety. The man we talked to on Tower Bridge said that this is the greatest city in the world, and I'd have to say that it would be tough to argue with his statement. We fell in love with London from the get-go, and I am aching to go back and explore it in more depth, for we only got a teeny taste of what the city has to offer. For now, I'll have to be content with the day we spent - the three of us worn-out American travelers - in the greatest city on Earth.

Getting off the airplane and through the airport is kind of a blur, but oh how I can recall with great detail (and pain) the woes of trying to get our 50-pound suitcases to and fro, up, up, UP... oh my gosh, I get flustered just THINKING about the mess that it was! Good heavens.  I'm extremely glad that we brought all that we did (especially after only having those items in our possession for our first month of living due to our unforeseen apartment nightmare), but moving to a different continent via suitcases is so not the ideal situation. Especially when stairs are involved. Lots of stairs. Vertical ascent plus 50 pounds. Oof.

Best to start at the beginning, though. We were still on the airplane in my last post!

- - - 

We hadn't had much sleep due to a lot of reasons, excitement being one of them, uncomfortable sleeping accommodations being another (see my previous post and that bloody man in front of us for the majority of that discomfort). After we ate our in-flight breakfast, we were given our customs form and instructed on arrival procedures. Really, a lot of that morning is a blur, but I suppose we ended up in the right place somehow because we were in a massive line that snaked through an even larger room - oh, sorry, I guess I'm supposed to call that a queue now. So we queued up and waited to be intimidated by the terrifying customs officers. The scariest part about that is being separated from your loved ones, praying that one of you doesn't say something wrong or have the wrong visa or something. A worry-wart like me tends to have all sorts of bad scenarios running through her head when it comes to stuff like this. Anyway, the lady who interviewed me was not very pleasant, but she didn't detain me so I wasn't all that upset about our cold meeting.

After retrieving our luggage, stretching our cramped and over-tired bodies, and taking a few deep breaths, we decided that we should probably get going toward finding our hotel. Ugh. Those suitcases... sooo heavvvvyyyyy for those tired little travelers! You would think that finding your way around an airport that resides in a country that speaks your native language wouldn't be that difficult, but you would be wrong. Haha. We had the hardest time of it, but with the help of a couple of locals we found our way to the tube that left the airport.

Now, I have some beef with the tube. This glorious mode of public transportation seemed so simple and easy when we got on, but what we failed to realize was that we were traveling into the city during the beginning of rush hour; the longer we rode, the later it got and the further into London we went, and the more people got on. More people. More people. Then some more. Oh, there's no room? No worries, ten more people will fit above your head and under your feet. Maybe you can let someone sit on your suitcase, eh? Sigh. NO.

(However frustrating this crowded bit of traveling was, though, it was nothing compared to the following day when we left London for Birmingham. But that's another nightmare for another day, my dear.)

Seriously, there were so many people, and trying to get our bloody luggage through the - I don't even know what they're called - bars that take people's cards and tickets and let them through, now that was tough. The floods of people had to move around us like fish move around rocks in a stream, and approximately at that rate. These people don't stop for anything. After we managed our escape (with the help of a very nice Londoner or two to help with the fight our luggage put up against the stairs) and were no longer held captive by the underground, we were still technically underground - we had to find our way to the city streets. We could see it. But it was UP. Waaaaaayyyy up. The sunshine gleamed off the city buildings and down into the tunnel of stairs like a beacon of hope that we wanted to reach out and grab, but our hands were full. WITH LUGGAGE. And to our dismay, there was no lift (aka elevator) that we could find. A very kind female police officer tried to help us find out where we were supposed to go, but I'm pretty sure she was dead wrong despite her best efforts. I won't begrudge her, though, because we had no earthly idea either and we looked like a bunch of American fools with our loads of luggage and deer-in-headlights looks plastered across our faces.

I feel really bad for my lack of patience during stressful moments of travel, and I definitely bit off the heads of my mom and husband more than a couple of times each. My stress level increases exponentially with the increase in number of people surrounding me, and that just gets worse with suitcases, not knowing where I am, and lack of sleep - that's without taking into account the fact that we were in the process of moving to our new home. Oy.

Eventually, we figured out the general direction in which we needed to go to get to our hotel in Westminster... and by general direction, that is exactly what I mean. We had no clue where we were, where we were going, or how to get there, but we knew we were heading in the right direction... hah! We were most certainly lost on the streets of Westminster, but we weren't too sad about it because it was freaking gorgeous everywhere we turned.

The streets were serenely quiet and beautiful in the soft morning light, but the "clunk, clunk, clunk" of our rolling suitcases on the stone sidewalks echoed, the noise bouncing off one building and on to the next. It was painful to listen to, really. Patrick was quite distressed at the noise we were making and how tired he was of carrying those suitcases, but I pretended to be blissfully ignorant of the echoes and my aching arms. The city was new and exciting, the neighborhood exquisite in its beauty, and it was almost a pleasure to be lost in this area of Westminster.

By the grace of God, we made it to our hotel somewhere around 9:30am with only a couple of wrong turns and "Do you know how to get to blah blah blah" under our belts. We checked in and were given fresh, warm cookies upon arrival, but that didn't mean that we could go to our room - it was far too early.

As the lobby filled with more and more people (I'm sensing a theme here...), we sat on the ginormous ottomans and guarded our hoard of luggage, not the least bit concerned with how much room we took up. That was one instance when I was perfectly okay with embracing the American-traveler stereotypes. The three of us then took turns going to the bathroom and freshening up. This took a while because we were all excruciatingly slow due to exhaustion, and we certainly took our time after the rush of the morning's travels. Good heavens, I have never been so glad to wash my face and brush my teeth! Despite how severely tired I was, the ability to put myself together was quite refreshing and gave me a second wave of energy. Or was I on the fifth wave by now?

Once that was all said and done, we begrudgingly gave our precious cargo to the less-than-enthusiastic hotel employee and left for a day of sightseeing in the greatest city in the world. We definitely had a list of things we wanted to see, as any good tourist does. The Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the River Thames, and so much more were waiting to be explored and adored!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Saying Goodbye: A Day of Departures

When I sat down at the desk in our bedroom and opened up the computer, I had planned on writing an entire post about how we got here - to Birmingham, England. What decisions we made, the actions we took, and the unbelievable amounts of stress that we endured trying to get where we are today.  I'm sure that post in its entirety will come eventually, but I realized that I'm not quite ready to relive all that drama yet.  In the weeks leading up to our departure, despite our planning and best efforts (and copious amounts of money thrown in), we still had yet to receive our visas and - with those precious documents - our passports. We had to call our state senator's office for help with that. Sure, we could travel there without a visa for a certain number of days, but we couldn't leave the country without our passports. I'm getting stressed out just thinking about the mess of it all, and the result was definitely one very stressed-out couple.

As a physical manifestation of that stress, on the morning of our biometric appointment, I had pains in my stomach so bad that I couldn't stand up straight and I could hardly breathe. Mere days before we left, I had an ear infection and it was all I could do but lay around for two days - NOT what you need to do 72 hours before you leave the country for two years. That's just a teeny picture of the shape I was in before we left - the result of months of trying to fight our way through the process of getting to Birmingham TOGETHER, in once piece, on time. Forget trying to find a place to live. Ugh, that's a different and equally frustrating story. 

By the end of it all, I stated, "I'm pretty sure the British government does this so they can filter out the idiots. We're both smart, resourceful, responsible adults with college degrees, and we can hardly get this crap accomplished!" I know that I don't know what the process is like for those coming to live in America long-term, but I have a new appreciation and empathy for those who do. What a nightmare.

So, with that very brief overview, I'm going to leave the details of that saga for another time... a time when I can sit down to relive it all without my chest tightening as I type. Seriously.

Instead, I want to recap the start of it all - the real start of this journey - when we had to say goodbye to everything we knew in order to say hello to our new reality.

- - - 

September 1st, 2015

Packing Up

The morning hours came far quicker than they should have. It was 6:30am, and I had 40 minutes of sleep under my belt. Yep. Forty minutes. We were close to being all-the-way packed, but not close enough. We were supposed to pack up the van at 8:00am for the trek to the Dallas airport if we were going to check in by noon for our 3:40pm flight. Pack up the van at 8... ha!

There are so many problems with packing and moving abroad that I won't go into on this post, but I cringe at thinking about how much STUFF we were trying to take versus how little weight we were allowed on the airplane. I thought we had done a really good job of paring down everything we needed to fit into our minimal amount of luggage, but we were still over our weight limit and I was throwing things out of our suitcases left and right that morning.

The space bag of my pajamas? Gone. They can be shipped later; I have a pair to last me a few weeks in my carry-on.
My bible, journal, Walks Around Birmingham book, other paper-based essentials? Gone. They weigh too much. (Oh, how it pains me!) Again, we'll have our parents ship them later.
Spare toiletry items? Gone. BARE MINIMUM, GIRL.
Socks? Ha! You have a few pairs. Suck it up and wait! Gone.

The truth is, I don't even remember what else I left behind at the last second. I was beyond tired, and my best planning had failed me due to nearly two days of having zero amounts of energy. Dang ear infections always ruin everything and make me so... blah. I get nothing accomplished when I have them.

Eventually, it was time to start packing up the van. It was a little bit after 8am, and my mom was on her way. I was okay with that, because I needed a good 15 minutes to make sure everything was set. It's all a bit foggy, but somehow everything was ready to go for the trek to Dallas. Patrick's parents decided to take a trip to Florida to visit Jonathan, Rachel, and Greysen that day, so the luggage of 5 adults was loaded up into what I affectionately like to call the Gargantu-van. Big James left before we did, so we made sure to say goodbye to him as we were packing up.

Leaving Our Baby

Thinking about saying goodbye to my fur baby makes me cry every single time. Oh, how I miss that sweet ball of fluff of ours. I feel a bit silly saying that I miss my cat so much that I cry, but the truth is that Chloe is the sweetest little thing, and I miss her constant companionship when I feel so very alone. She is truly a people-loving cat, but she only loves her people.

My quiet little shadow followed me wherever I went, silently moving from room to room so she could be with me. The same was true for Patrick. When both Patrick and I were home but in different places, she situated herself so that she could see us both at the same time, no matter where we were. If Patrick was in the bedroom and I was in the bathroom, she sat in the hallway. If I was in the kitchen while Patrick was sitting on the couch, Chloe was in the dining room. If both of us were on the couch or bed, though, she was right there, usually situated so she was touching both of us at the same time. When we were out of town and left her at home, she would cling to us even more when we got back; it was as though she was trying to soak up all the love and affection she missed while we were gone. Chloe became lonely without us there, but she was extremely wary of anyone (even my mom, who she lived with once upon a time) who came over to take care of her.

So, you see, when I think about how we had to just leave her at Patrick's parents' house without being able to explain to her what was going on, that I was sorry for having to leave her behind, that it was better for her to stay, that I wished more than anything that we could bring her with us, it tears me apart.

There's a scene in the movie Sweet Home Alabama where Reese Witherspoon's character is talking to her dog at his grave, and she is crying, apologizing to him for leaving him behind, and I can 100% relate.
"Like when everything went pear-shaped, you never left my side. And then I just left you. I bet you sat there wonderin' what you done wrong."
Guys, it tears me apart knowing that my sweet fur baby, who is so incredibly loving and attached to us, was left alone to wonder when we were coming back, not knowing that we aren't coming home for a very long time. I know that she is in extremely loving hands with my wonderful in-laws, but my heart hurts just the same. I've contemplated paying the outrageous cost of a plane ticket to go home and snuggle her in the coming months, but I'd probably never come back. Not an ounce of me is kidding.

That morning, all of those feelings were rushing at me as we had to say goodbye to our sweet little companion. Chloe knew something was up; she didn't hide like she normally does when we're flying around, trying to pack and load the car. I picked that little ball of fur up and held her close, muffling my sobs in her soft, warm coat. "Our baby," is all I could say to Patrick, and, by the tears in his eyes, I knew that he was just as upset as I was to leave her. We set her on the bed, grabbed our backpacks, and got into the van.

The Trek to Texas

Charlie (my father-in-law) was driving, Bernice (my mother-in-law) was in the passenger seat, Patrick and my mom were in the seats behind them, and I plopped myself onto the row of seats in the back and tried to catch a few minutes of sleep while we made our way from OKC to Dallas. It was probably for the best, too, because I was trying my hardest not to break down and cry at the prospect of leaving the place that has become my home, so sleeping proved to be the best option.

I remember turning my phone on airplane mode during the drive to save battery. I remember receiving so many loving thoughts, prayers, well-wishes from the best people in the world when I turned the reception back on. I remember being extremely uncomfortable, trying to situate myself around baggage and vehicle fixtures. I remember being hot to the point of sweating (my airplane outfit had me wearing the bulkiest items, including my lace-up boots, wool socks, long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, and knit scarf on that 95 degree day; we'd get off the plane at 6:55am the next morning and have a 30 degree temperature drop).

I remember the five of us trying to navigate through the Dallas/Fort Worth airport entrance... ha! That was funny. Our flight was through FinnAir, but American Airlines operated it... but it was an international departure... via American Airlines. By the grace of God (seriously), we just so happened to end up at the exactly-right curbside drop-off entrance. I remember unloading our suitcases, hyper-aware of everyone around us, careful not to let anyone near our items as we got organized and said our goodbyes. I remember being at this extremely weird crossroads of emotions as we had to hug Patrick's parents, say words of love and thanks that fell so short of what we wanted to express, at the same time that I was trying to stay focused on our task of getting checked-in and through airport security, all while being both excited and terrified at what was about to come (something I'm sure my sister-in-law Rachel can completely relate to).

Arriving and Departing

Somehow, we made it. We were checked-in successfully, our checked bags were under the 50 pound weight limit, and PRAISE GOD they didn't weigh our waaaaay-over-the-limit carry-on bags (we were allowed 17.5 pounds TOTAL for our carry-on suitcase and personal backpack... combined). While we were checking in, I recall trying to joke around with the workers, to somehow make them crack a smile, in the hopes that they wouldn't be so strict in case they did decide to weigh our carry-ons. I had my sob story of "we're moving overseas and this is all we're taking with us" all prepped, but I'll never be sad that I didn't get to use it! We made it through airport security without any hiccups, the prospect of which always stresses me out. However, I was rather bossy when it came to the speed and efficiency of getting our items unpacked, through the scanners, and re-packed, all while trying to make sure no one stole anything.

It should be stated that international travel is not the ideal scenario for type-a people with anxiety issues. Sigh.

We eventually made our way to our gate, and it was only then that I was able to start relaxing. I even got a bit excited. "We're going to London!!" I whispered to my mom and Patrick with wide eyes and a smile. I was the only one of us who hadn't been there before, and I was finally allowing myself to enjoy the prospect. Ready or not, the time had come.

There were a few hours to kill before we were allowed to board our plane, but we had no trouble finding things to do. We came prepared for that and the 9 1/2 hour flight ahead - sudoku, playing cards, magazines, books, etc. were sure to keep us occupied. We found our gate, settled into some chairs near outlets, got some food (and coffee), and waited until the throngs of people signified that it was time to board our plane.

The Long-Awaited Flight

The flight to London was extremely tight - not an empty seat on the plane. Thankfully, we had thought to call FinnAir way back in March or April and had them "request" reservations for three seats together, because I don't know if any of us could have sat through that flight that close to strangers.

It didn't help, either, that the only person on the entire airplane that reclined his seat to full-capacity for the entire 9+ hour flight was the man in front of Patrick - the middle seat of the row in front of us. I kid you not... the ONLY bloody person on the plane. Oh, the rage!! Poor thing, he did his best to endure the claustrophobia for as long as he could, but it eventually became too much and my mother graciously traded seats with Patrick. Even when he got out of his seat, this stupid man left his chair fully reclined. UGH! And when I had to get out (I was at the window), I literally had to climb over the back of his chair to get out - but, rest assured, I was careful to make sure I rattled his chair as much as I possibly could without getting punched in the face. There were a few coughs that I conjured up and sent his way, too, since this man's face was mere inches from mine. Heh... sucks to suck, dude. This man was clearly annoyed but completely oblivious to the fact that he was causing so much distress to the row behind him; his wife, however, made me more mad because she was 100% aware of the situation, but did she do a dang thing about it? Absolutely not. I could have clawed her eyes out, despite the fact that she was at least a foot taller than me. SIGH.

During the flight, I read my magazine, did some sudoku, watched American in Paris (I thought it was fitting, and it was Gene Kelly), and eventually tried to get some sleep. I don't normally have trouble sleeping on planes, and I didn't think I would have problems with it during our flight due to my severe lack of sleep the night prior, but I guess moving abroad versus traveling abroad are different, and this flight had me all sorts of anxious. I would go to sleep (thank heavens for that wonderful sleep mask I bought on Etsy), catch a few z's, and wake up thinking that several hours had passed - haha NOPE. I only slept about an hour at a time, and caught three - maybe four - of these little cat naps before I decided that I needed to wake up. After all, I didn't want to screw something up at customs or have any of our carry-on baggage stolen because I ended up sleeping too long. Unfortunately, yes, this is how my brain works - anxiety much?

As I looked out the window over Ireland, the Celtic Sea, and England, it began to become real to me. Gazing through the dirty window, the reality of what we were doing was settling in, but I was kind of excited about it. After all, what I was seeing was beautiful. Surely, I was going to be living in a beautiful city in the middle of a gorgeous country on which I had never set foot. Talk about a thrill. Talk about overwhelming.

The in-flight breakfast came, as did our forms to fill out for the customs officers. The flight seemed to take so much longer than 9 1/2 hours, but then, all of the sudden, there we were - just outside of LONDON.

And Lord Almighty, was it beautiful!