January 28, 2016

New Beginnings as Brummies

Alright, so it has been a while since I've talked about how we got here - to Birmingham. I can't very well tell you about all of the wonderful experiences we've had since arriving here without actually telling about this not-so-fun part because that's just not real life. The truth is that it was an extremely difficult transition in a lot of ways, and it all started the morning we left for good ol' Brum.

After experiencing some of the marvels of London, reality was beginning to set in - and, with it, my anxiety. That was not helped in any way, shape, or form by the fact that the trek to our new home was a new level of awful. But first we had to eat breakfast, check out of the hotel, and get to the train station via the tube.

Never, ever, ever try to move to a new city with all your belongings in massive suitcases via public transportation in the middle of morning rush hour. 

We didn't really know how crowded the tube was going to be, we didn't know that certain tube lines were more crowded than others, and we didn't know how the train system worked with all those bloody tickets and receipts that look like tickets. Add tripping over other people, lugging around 50-pound suitcases, exhaustion, claustrophobia, anxiety, being THISCLOSE to having the tube doors slam shut on you more than once, rude people glaring at you because you're taking up too much room or you accidentally stepped on their foot, running to catch the train only to realize that you got on the wrong coach just to get off (with said suitcases) and run down to the other end (because you didn't know that you could walk through the coaches)... ugh. This is why I never wanted to write this post. That morning was hell. Absolute hell. I can't even write about it in one sitting - I had to leave the computer for a solid ten minutes and come back. It was so awful. Just thinking about my hyperventilating while running for my train makes my chest tight.

I mostly kept myself together on the train from London to Birmingham without going into complete meltdown mode. We arrived at our destination and hopped into a cab because, let's be real, we had no idea what we were doing or where to go. The drive was a bit longer than I expected and the drivers were crazy as heck, but we got to our hotel in once piece.

The husband and wife who ran this hotel were extremely nice and very helpful, but everything was still a bit of a shock to me. The city looked nothing like I expected, we had no real place to live yet (that is a completely different story that unfolded into more drama later, much to my dismay and despair), it was noisy and dirty everywhere I looked, nothing was familiar, the list goes on and on. I was completely exhausted and 100% overwhelmed. The past few hours had pushed me to my limit, and I was about to break into a hundred different pieces.

All I really remember was sitting on the bed with my mom and Patrick across the room as they were trying to decide where to go. They knew that I needed to be distracted, but I recall being asked one too many questions and I just lost it - I completely broke down. Sobbing, gasping for breath - the works. That was the first time I actually cried about the whole moving abroad thing, the first time I truly let my emotions show exactly how I felt, and it was obvious that I had been bottling it in (something I try not to do on a normal basis). I had brought leftover valium with me from my dental appointments a few weeks prior (I'm telling you, anxiety sucks), so my mom convinced me to take one; eventually, I calmed down enough for us to go out for a bit. I'm pretty sure we took a bus back into city centre (things are a little bit fuzzy for obvious reasons), but we got there somehow and explored a bit of our new home - complete with canals, bridges, lots of brick, beautiful old buildings, Victoria Square, the Bull Ring, Selfridges, the works. The pretty parts of the city.

(This last photo is not from that same day, but it's one of my favorites... so there you have it.)

We had our room booked at that hotel through Monday morning when my mom was scheduled to leave for her plane back to the States. The next day, my mom and I were heading on a train to Wales in order to catch the ferry over to Dublin for about 36 hours. Boy, was that a whirlwind trip! But it was definitely one to remember - in a good way, of course.

Over the past few months, we've settled into our new home. City living is so not my thing, but it is what it is. It isn't all bad; it just isn't my cup of tea (haaaaa haaa... tea... in England). Our roommates are wonderful, we're close to so many things, and living in city centre means that I can occasionally see Patrick during a break in the middle of his day, which is extremely nice. Popping into the college now and then means that I get to see some lovely faces as well, which is always a plus. That being said, I love getting out of the city far more than I love coming back in, but you can't always have it all, can you?

And, without further adieu, here's a little tour of our flat and the area of Birmingham in which we live! The video won't be listed as public on my YouTube channel forever (I'm a little bit paranoid), but I'm going to just hope that no crazy stalkers find this video before I make it private. ;) Enjoy, and be sure to let me know what you think!

January 25, 2016

A Trip to the Supermarket: England Edition

As it turns out, we're nearly five months down the road and I still can't find things that I am pretty sure exist somewhere in Birmingham. And I'm still baffled by some of the things I find on the shelves here if I actually take the time to look.

Let's be real, though: I hated going to the store back in the States; I hate it even more here. While I am getting better at it, anxiety loves to strike me when I must forge my way alone. I spend more money than it says on the receipt, I can never find everything in one place, I loathe packing the groceries into my backpack, cloth bags, and our rolling cart, I detest walking home with them all as I feel akin to a pack mule, and I'm still not really used to the nonsensical layout of the stores. When we first arrived, I would spend two hours looking around the store for everything on my relatively small list, only to make half a dozen circles and retrace my steps countless times. Grocery shopping is for the birds. They do offer delivery here, but we haven't tried it out yet - mostly because the majority of what we buy is fresh produce, dairy, or meat, and I'm extremely picky... no grocery boy will be handing me a bag of squishy apples or wilted lettuce, thanks.

Oh, side-note. Every time I say something about going to the store, I get weird looks. The supermarket, guys. I'm going to the supermarket. The grocery store. Those take way too much effort to say, so we tend to cut it down and say "the store"... but be prepared to explain yourself if you say that here. Get on my level, England.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. There are some really strange things that line the shelves of the stores here in England - and when I say strange, I mean strange. Some of them are normal items with ridiculous names (Excuse me, would you like a bag of roasted monkey nuts?), but there are a lot of weird items that I would never dream of eating. Surely there have to be strange things back home that I just never notice, but that's the point - they're so commonplace that I took no notice of them.

(Except spam. I always notice spam. And vienna sausages. And cheese-whiz. Gross. And totally weird. Although I do love me some fake-as-heck Velveeta.)

Here are some photos of what it's like to go grocery shopping for us, and some of the many items that have caught my eye as we've wandered through various stores trying to find our bearings over the past few months. I'm sure there will be plenty more over time, because it feels like we find something new during every trip!

- - - - -

Even in the early days, I was so grateful to have this shoulder bag from Rachel and her time in Dominica! Despite the fact that I am so not a tie-dye kind of girl, I use it every single time we shop. It's the world's most perfect bag for carrying my precious eggs on the long walk home.

This is from one of my first trips to Tesco by myself and before we bought our rolling cart. UGH. So. Heavyyy. The walk to the less desirable store (think Walmart) isn't that bad, and it's especially beautiful in autumn.

The other store we frequent is Morrison's. It is the more desirable store by a long shot (not nearly as wonderful as Target, but better than Walmart... probably along the lines of a good Buy For Less or Homeland, both of which I despise), but it is a tad bit more pricey. However, the walk is much less desirable - it is far longer and goes through a not-so-lovely part of town, including this bit that goes under the city streets. But because I'm picky about my produce but still poor, we walk the 25 minutes to Morrison's.

We paid too much money for this cheaply-made grandma-style rolling cart, but it is worth its weight and more in gold. Or groceries. We've already had to jimmy-rig it with some duct tape, but alas. At least it works. Time to trek home with the groceries... in the rain!

(That happens more frequently than I would prefer.)

I become especially grouchy when I have to grocery shop, pay while trying to get my groceries back into the cart, strategically pack up the items, and roll them all home by myself. That's if I don't have an anxiety attack first. But again, I'm so grateful for these two carrying conveniences, plus my trusty backpack.

Alright, now for the grocery items. Let it be said that this is in no way a comprehensive list. Not even close. Merely a glimpse. It's just the stuff that I remembered to take a photo of for one reason or another. For clarity purposes instead of story-telling purposes, I'm putting the captions underneath the photos... because you just have to see them first.

They make a lot of pies here, but never the sweet kind. This brand is all over the place, selling everything from pies to boxes of tea. We don't know how to actually pronounce it, so we just say it like so: "Puke-uh." Want some puke-uh pie? No, thanks. (And their vanilla chai tea is terrible, for the record.)

NO. No, no, no. I once had the unfortunate opportunity to eat Marmite-flavored crisps (aka chips for my lovey American peeps). That was disgusting. Thanks for that one, Luke. 

I had read about Marmite before we came over to England. Apparently, the way it came to be was an accident. Let's just say that I don't knowingly choose to eat accidents, especially accidents that taste like that. 
And then you have the wording, which is always said in a hick country accent in my brain...
"SQUIRT ON YOUR SPUD! YUM!" Again... no.

Um... in case you were wondering where you were, the company name might give you a hint. Don't you want canned hot dogs? I never enjoy hot dogs (literally, maybe once every few years when they're being made over a campfire), but this sounds especially unappealing.

Lord, have mercy on us. WHY do humans insist on putting meat in a can?! Ugh. At least these guys don't try to dress it up. Want some canned meat? No guessing games here. We claim that it's something you'll actually recognize - HAM, not something ambiguous like spam or hot dogs - and reduced to canned-form. Actually, I think that might be worse. (For the record, I have no earthly idea why I'm okay with canned tuna and nothing else. I blame my childhood.)

Mug Shot. It's just so dang punny. Maybe they serve these to inmates, because I can't imagine anyone choosing to eat this of their own free will.

Oh, by the way. The whole 85p thing. That's their way of saying it's $0.85. Eighty-five pence, or pennies, instead of eighty-five cents.  But they definitely verbalize it as eighty-five-P. Weird, but I kind of like it.

Oh, Pot Noodle. Just one noodle in the pot, apparently.
"Noodle, noodle in the the pot. Whatcha got?!"
I said it once in a video when we first moved to Birmingham, and I'll say it again: These noodles must be called such not because they're made or served in a pot (which is obviously not the case); it must be because you have to be smoking pot to actually want to eat this stuff. I suspect it's quite popular amongst the college crowd. We were reduced to trying it in our hotel-hopping days, and I have never longed for ramen noodles so much in my life.

Cry for me, friends. Cry for me.

Anyone care to spend $9.00 for a pack of chocolate creme Oreos? Nope, didn't think so.

Mushy peas are a big thing here. Yes, mushy. I'm not a big fan despite my general approval of peas. If you hate peas, I'm sure you'll love them even more in their "mushy" state. Ahem.

What is this, a store for ants?

Okay, I have some serious beef with these metropolitan Brits and their inability to sell items in bulk - or even in a normal size. Guys, in order to make one batch of chocolate chip cookies, I have to purchase three teeny bags of chocolate chips for about 85p each, and it still comes out to less than one bag of normal chocolate chips back home. It ends up costing about the same amount as it would back home, but I feel like such a glutton buying bags upon bags of chocolate chips at one time! I'm not going to eat them by themselves (okay, I might), but I don't need them snack-sized! And this teeny tiny bag of flour? They have that size for flour, sugars, everything. You can get slightly larger bags, but if you have to share your kitchen with three other adults you won't have anywhere to put it. A baking-lover's nightmare.

This is the craziest looking vine of tomatoes I have ever seen! If it wasn't 4 pounds per kilo (I think that's right...), I would have purchased it just because it was so outrageously awesome. They looked pretty dang delicious, too.

Cock-a-Leekie soup. I'm such a middle schooler when it comes to my sense of humor sometimes... but I'm guessing this is chicken and leek soup? Anyone?

About mid-October, the mince pie and fruit cake frenzy starts showing up. Maybe I was disillusioned to it back home and I just didn't realize we did this, but there is a plethora of decorated cakes and pies just sitting out on the shelves. Like... legitimate Frozen birthday cakes and such, but they're not in the bakery section of the store; they're next to the processed snacks and breads. And they sit there for what seems like months because they're always in stock, but I know people must buy them. Goodness... 

We found this guy recently amongst the cheeses. Tube-cheese. But not just cheese. 
Cheese with ham. In a squeeze-tube. Because that sounds absolutely delightful. Why???

I might as well finish off with some Monkey Nuts, because who doesn't love those? They're "Great for snacking and sharing." I love sharing my nuts. I just love grabbing a bunch of monkey nuts and taking them home for later enjoyment. Do you prefer your monkey nuts plain or roasted?

Guys, the wording is everything. And monkey nuts? I'm pretty sure they're just unshelled peanuts, and you're hurting the feelings of elephants worldwide. Come on, England. Get with it.

January 24, 2016

The McIver Clan Goes Camping

The type-A person in me wants to post everything in chronological order - on Instagram, on my blog, everything. Well, I've already messed that up, and I figure that a story told out of order is better than no story told at all. Wouldn't you agree?

Back in August of 2015, just a couple of weekends before we left for England, it was time to go down to Texas to visit my family one last time. The drive is only a little over three hours, and it is always a weekend well-spent when we can hang out with them. This time, we decided to go camping as a family. The weather wasn't miserable, and we haven't camped as a family in a decade or something crazy like that. While we were missing a couple of family members, it was still such a lovely little outing amidst the chaos of preparing to move overseas. We were forced to slow down and remove ourselves from the stress of it all (as much as possible, anyway).

We got to Texas just in time to see Joshua perform with his high school marching band, which we absolutely loved getting to experience. Patrick has a long history with marching band, and it was fun seeing my Joshie out on the field with his sax!

We decided to stay home that night and leave for the campsite the next day. There was a meteor shower going on, though (part of the decision to camp where we did was to get away from light pollution), so we made our way to the roof of the house and camped out up there for a while. Oh my manta, how we laughed! I seemed to always be looking at the wrong place in the expansive sky; everyone would gasp a collective, "Woah!" and I would throw a minor hissy fit at missing yet another meteor lighting up a huge chunk of the sky. My Annie B laughed at me every time, which made me laugh right back. Joshua was the first to turn in, then Dad and April; Patrick, Anna, and I stayed out until nearly midnight making far too much noise while gazing at the stars. I'm sure you can guess that Patrick wasn't the one being obnoxiously loud. Oh, and we blinded ourselves quite a few times while taking pictures in the dark. Patrick might have rebuked us for the sake of his eyes once or twice.

The next day, we eventually made it out the door and to the campsite. We ended up at Lake Crockett at the Caddo National Grasslands in North Texas because it isn't far from the small town where they live. The campsite was only $4, we got a superb location right on the lake's shore, and we had the entire place practically to ourselves! It was fantastic.

Over the course of our stay, we mostly just chilled. It was so wonderful to be able to just relax and have a good time with people that we love. Patrick and I were also really glad to be able to use our camping gear one last time before we packed it away into the storage unit while abroad (we had intended on doing much more camping during the spring and summer, but time got away from us, as you can well imagine). April made the most delicious tuna sandwiches for an early dinner, and we basically munched on fruit and snacks that were already at the house. That night consisted of watching the gorgeous sunset and some more star gazing (which brought plenty more giggles). We all turned in pretty early, and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the frogs in the night. Man, I slept hard, but I always sleep so well when we're camping.

The next morning consisted of waking up early (what else can you do when nature wakes you up?) and wandering around the campsite for the best pictures and the best lighting. I take far too many pictures for my own good, but there were some that I absolutely loved. Anna was my buddy the previous afternoon and that morning, just hanging out and chatting with me while I experimented with my camera. I love having her around! She's such a joy. Dad would pop in here and there to take some photos (I come from two parents who love photography; I was doomed from the start). Everyone woke up at varying points in the morning, but we were all awake to watch the sun rise. It was quite a lovely morning, which is a rare blessing in the middle of August in Texas!

The next picture is one of my favorites, but not because it's exceptionally good or anything. It's just my poppa taking a photo in his classic Greg posture. I love it and it makes me miss him even more than I do. This is also why I love taking candid photos of people rather than posed; you would never get this in a posed photo, but it's so essentially him that I want to be able to remember it forever. 

I didn't post the other picture of this walk because April would kill me. To be grossly honest, there was poop on the floor of the campground restroom and it stunk to high heaven. April and Joshua had to walk past it, which resulted in shirts being pulled up over the nose for survival. Hahaaa! Oh, it was so funny and so disgusting. These are the memories that make trips like this! I do think this photo of April and Joshua is so adorable, though, so I'm totally okay with it being the substitute.

We eventually made breakfast and packed up the gear. I remember getting really stressed and frustrated and having to apologize for my behavior afterward. The fact is that that I was an emotional and stressed-out mess of a girl, and that reared its ugly head as we were packing up to leave our last stay with my family before moving to England. It was truly a wonderful weekend and mini outing, one that I will savor until I get to squeeze the heck out of all of them once again.