Ten Little Things

Moving is overwhelming. As I’m quickly learning, making an international move puts the phrase overwhelming to shame. Even when it’s to a country you know well, there are small differences – sometimes subtle, sometimes glaringly obvious – that reinforce how much there is to learn.

Here are ten things I’ve learned this week about this crazy process:

  1. There are good days and bad days. When our first born came home from the hospital, my dad told us on a daily basis “there are good days and there are bad days. As long as the good days outweigh the bad, then you are doing fine.” I have the sense his words of wisdom will be playing a big role in our lives for a while. While most days were exciting and productive, the reality of why we were there set in for each of us at a different time. For all the good that will come from this move, we need to be prepared for the tough homesick days too.
  2. One step forward, two steps back. Even though we accomplished a lot this week, there is still so much to do. Every school visit, every conversation, every new piece of information answered some questions, but also left us with more new ones than any of us were prepared for.
  3. You begin to evaluate your new country the moment you walk off the plane. I’ve been to London dozens of times in the last 27 years. I know – and love – the city as well as any I’ve lived in throughout my life. This trip was different. From the moment we landed, I looked at everything around me with a different lense. How do the houses look? What do the towns feel like? Can I see myself living here? How close is the nearest grocery store? Where can I buy a hairdryer? (Literally got laughed at when I asked at a hair salon about that one.) Things I’ve never paid much attention to as a visitor, became the center of focus as we began scoping out a place to live.
  4. The weather! Maybe it’s because everyone expects the U.K. to rain all the time, but we had the most glorious weather this week. Beautiful spring days with sunnny skies and warm afternoons made it feel as if the English weather gods were putting on their best show to impress us. I don’t care what it was, I’ll take it. Sitting in the outdoor garden of a pub on a Friday afternoon with the warm sun easing away the stress of a busy week is pretty hard to beat.
  5. The Beautiful Game. When soccer plays as big of a role in a family’s life as it does ours, you think we’ve seen and heard it all. Yeah, not so much. A soccer tryout in the birth country of “football” opened our eyes to a whole new level of intensity to the game and raised a set of questions with decisions to make that we didn’t even know existed. On the flip side, it was a lot of fun to head to the local pub and watch a Premier League match where everyone in the pub actually cares about the game.
  6. Argos. Ah, what is there to say about this archaic in-store shopping nightmare. Paper catalogs, hand writing product numbers on slips of paper, computer inventory and check out systems that aren’t in sync. Nothing about this experience was customer service friendly. What should have been a five minute shopping trip took 20+ minutes. Thankfully local friends have assured me that it wasn’t just me and Amazon Prime in the U.K. is alive and well for a much more satisfying shopping experience.
  7. Traffic. I grew up in the Bay Area, so I learned to drive and commute in some of the worst traffic congestion in the United States. However, living in North Carolina for the last 14 years has enabled the heartache of a horrendous commute to become a distant, faded memory. Until now. Living in a metropolitan area with 8.5 million people means traffic is going to be intense. I’m going to very quickly have to readjust my drive time expectations. Thankfully there is an incredible public transport system right at our fingertips.
  8. Managing Expectations. We heard time and time again this week, make sure you set realistic expectations for yourself and manage your experience to them. Don’t expect to exactly replicate your life in the US to your life in the U.K. Things are different and the more you can embrace those differences the more fulfilling the experience will be. (Note to self: come back to this lesson frequently!)
  9. Pub life. Truly the cultural and social hub of a village or neighborhood, the pub plays a much different role than bars in the US. Seeing our 15 year old experience this for the first time was a great reminder of how tremendously unique this is in building out a sense of community.
  10. Having the world at your fingertips. London is one of the most global, diverse cities anywhere in the world. The people, cultures, languages and religions you see walking down the street is a great reminder of how we can all want the same things in life and be together at any moment in time. For those of us who believe in the strength of diversity, it was great to feel at “home” in such a vibrant city.

A Very Unexpected Adventure

London has always held a special place in my heart. I fell in love with the city on my very first visit after high school. The history, the vibe, the hustle and bustle all exposed my 17 year old self to the fact I was meant to be a city girl.

I fell in love a second time when studying abroad in London during college and met my future husband. London was the backdrop for an English boy and a California girl to prove that long distance relationships really can work. My feelings for the city were permanently colored by those early memories of newfound love.

Our kids had their first passports at 4 months old. The very first stamps came from Heathrow airport as they made the journey to meet family members for the first time. Over the years, we’ve watched their love affair with London begin with trains, taxis and double decker buses and grow to include football/soccer, Cadbury’s chocolate and exploring the streets where their dad was born.

Now, the next chapter in this London love affair is about to be told.

After 14 years in North Carolina, a job transfer is taking us (back?) to England. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time. The explorer in me is ready for the new adventure. Easy access to the city I love makes me want to squeal every time I think about it. Playing tour guide for family and friends who come to visit already has me looking forward to a house full of constant visitors. Knowing I’ll get to explore other cities and countries in Europe makes my heart burst with anticipation.

On the other hand, I can barely think about leaving the friends we have made here who have become our family. Those we’ve celebrated holidays with over the years. The girlfriends who have held my hand as I’ve shed tears through the rough patches in life. The moms who have scooped up my kids and treated them like their own. My fellow soccer parents who have cheered just as loud as I have for my kids on the field. All of these people have made North Carolina a very special place and make it very hard to say goodbye.

The good news is I know these friendships will persevere through the years. The better news is I don’t have to say goodbye quite yet. The best news of all is when this journey is over I will get to call London home for a few more years. I can’t wait to see how this very unexpected journey unfolds.

When Everyone Else Is On Vacation

I’ll admit, I’m still getting used to this whole not working concept. My favorite way to describe it is I finally have a chance to pause between thoughts – I’m not thinking about three things at once. The pace of life has definitely slowed down, but it’s not slow by any definition.

May and June were incredibly busy. My family was in town and then I spent 8 days in Greenville, SC cheering on my son’s soccer team as they unexpectedly made a run to the finals in the Southern Regional Championships. Before I knew it, June was over and July was here.

The beginning of July means 4th of July celebrations. Like most Americans, we tend to travel over the holiday weekend. Nothing says summer like BBQ, beach and fireworks and we’ve had some really cool experiences celebrating all across the country in the past. This year, however, we made no plans as we needed a break. An unstructured weekend with lots of extra time seemed too luxurious to waste.


A funny thing happens when you stay home when everyone else is on vacation. You start to see your hometown in a different light. Roads that stress you out during rush hour are suddenly pretty open. You have an opportunity to look at what’s around you. Maybe it’s a restaurant you didn’t know was there or just scenery and landscaping you never pay attention to. The movie theater parking lot is a little less crowded and the line at the grocery store moves a little bit faster.

All of a sudden I found myself taking a deep breath, my shoulders started to relax and I really started to unwind. It was subtle at first, but then I noticed everyone around me was kind of operating at the same pace. No one was rushing to get from point A to point B. People seemed content to move at a leisurely pace. I started to wonder if this is how people feel who live full-time in vacation destinations.

None of this was planned. My husband and I were two ships passing in the night in June. Between his work travel and my soccer travel, we only had a couple of days together throughout the month. The idea of staying home for 4th of July happened by default. We wanted to spend time together a family and neither of us really wanted to sleep in a different bed or eat out at yet another restaurant.

It ended up being such an unexpected bonus to find life slowing down around us at home. For the first time in a long time being home really meant relaxing and enjoying a break from all the day to day chaos. I’m not sure how to exactly recreate what happened, but I do know that next time there is a holiday weekend, I may be a little more eager to stay around and see what happens.

Getting Lost

One of my favorite things about Facebook is the Memories feature that shows up in your newsfeed everyday, and last week I got to relive the trip to Monaco I took a year ago. Looking through the photos, there was one post that really struck me. A friend had inspired me to do daily random travel thoughts and this was one of them: “4. Best part of heading off to Italy yesterday? Just winging it. Dealing with missed busses, delayed trains, no real plans for what to do/where to go while I was there.”

Those words jumped out at me and made me pause. I hadn’t been “lost” since that day. In all my travel, I had a plan and pretty much knew where I was going to go and what I was going to see. That day in Italy was such a welcome, refreshing change of pace and I instantly craved it. Knowing my travel budget is limited to soccer events and college visits this summer, I decided to get lost in my hometown today.

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Ironically, I really did get lost. I had a couple of places in mind I wanted to explore, but I messed up a few key details that took me to the wrong location. I’d read about the Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh a few weeks ago and thought it might be something interesting to check out on my own. However, I googled City Cemetery and ended up in the wrong place. Instead of backtracking, I figured I’d hit the next stop on my list and head to the Farmer’s Market instead.

I thought I knew where to go, but it turns out, not so much. However, I ended up driving through some neighborhoods I’d never seen before and it was fun to see the houses and great architecture. I know Raleigh is a good residential city, but until today I had never spent time in any of those neighborhoods, so didn’t really know where they were or what they looked like.

Arriving at the Farmers Market, my eyes were treated to the bountiful colors of a summer harvest. It truly is a feast for your eyes before the feast for your tastebuds. I enjoyed having the time without the crowds to wander from stall to stall, checking out the food on display and even meandered through Market Imports, which has a great collection of home and garden items.

After loading up my car, I decided to venture back to my original quest. This time, I found the cemetery without any issue. There are a lot of famous North Carolinians buried there, but what I found was a beautiful, historical, peaceful setting in the midst of the city. The quiet that surrounded me just permeated the air. Looking at some incredibly ornate gravestones, I also realized how much history was all around me.

 

It was an interesting morning, for sure. Not something I’d normally do and given the rather complicated way I ended up there, provided a bit of an adventure. What I realized is that getting lost is good sometimes. Whether it is intentional or by accident, not knowing what you are going to do next can be a really good thing.

For me, this break from my job is about taking advantage of these kinds of days and finding these unexpected moments. I know this fuels my creativity and nourishes my soul in a way that travel usually fills. To find it in my own backyard is exactly what I need right now.

Oh, and before I go, I think this was my most favorite thing I saw all day:

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Yep, just sitting there in someone’s front yard. Keep it weird, Raleigh!

Who Do You Think You Are?

Little did I know my last business trip was, in fact, going to be my last business trip for a while. I’ve recently left my job to take a much needed break and figure out what I want to do next. The reaction from family, friends and colleagues has been incredibly supportive, but I’ve also had more than a few people ask “What about the travel? You love that part of your job!” It’s true. The chance to explore new cities, experience new places and wander thru new locations has certainly been the most fulfilling part of my career in the last few years.

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I suppose this last trip was the perfect swan song as I got to visit Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg holds a special place in our family history as my dad was born there and generations of Wiederholds come from the area. When I was studying abroad in college, I had the chance for a short visit with my grandfather’s niece, who was in her 60s at the time. I stayed at her apartment and we went to visit the street my dad lived on – along a canal that was the background for many stories about him as a boy. I also got to see the building where the Wiederhold family furniture store once stood. It was a short visit, but one that ticked all the family history boxes a college student could need.

IMG_6548Returning more than 25 years later I wasn’t sure what what to expect. The last trip had been solely for the family connection. This trip served a different purpose, but I was amazed at how much resonated about who I am and the strong family connections that surrounded me. It was as if I was staring in my own TV episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” Something as simple as seeing the Hamburg flag flying all over the city prompted instant recognition as my dad had one on his boat for years. One of the top tourist destinations in Hamburg is a miniature train museum. Could it really be a coincidence that my dad had a model train set up in our basement throughout my childhood? Knowing it was as much a hobby for him than it ever was a toy for my brother and me, tells me probably not.

The best surprise came in talking to my German colleague who told me about BallinStadt – the emigration museum in Hamburg. The museum focuses on German emigration to the New World and “follows the footsteps of people striving to fulfill their hopes and dreams on their journey to a new homeland”. That is my family’s story! Really, out of all the cities in Europe, it’s Hamburg that has this museum? The “coincidences” were starting to pile up.

Who knows, maybe I was seeking out these connections, but they weren’t hard to find. After the first day, I found myself looking around in wonderment to see what was going to pop out at me next. Ultimately, that is what I want when I travel. I want to find things that resonate and connect me to the place I’m visiting. While this particular city certainly provided a good backdrop for this kind of exploration, there were no guarantees. But taking the time to wander, shaking off the cobwebs of jet lag and being open to what I might see, resulted in a beautifully unexpected part of what could have been a very standard business trip. I’m so glad it was not!

 

 

Holidays Away From Home

One of my favorite holiday traditions is going to church. I’ll confess I’m not a regular church goer by any means, but it was a significant part of my childhood. Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday services were important in our family’s holiday traditions growing up. Today, I can’t imagine the holidays without them – singing the familiar hymns and putting me in the right frame of mind to fully enjoy the day.

No matter where I might be for the holidays  – what city I’m in or where I am visiting – part of my celebration includes finding a church service to attend.  I’ve come to find there is a comfort at these services as no matter where I am in the world a Lutheran or Anglican church service is pretty much the same. While I know what meaning these services hold for me, I never expected to get more out of them than merely upholding the traditions I grew up with.

 

 

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Westminster Abbey at night

I have been lucky enough to attend services at some of the world’s most famous cathedrals. I’ll never forget the first Christmas Eve Mass I attended at Westminster Abbey. The service started at 11:30pm and as it began, the lights dimmed and the stainglassed windows were illuminated by the moonlight outside. It was absolutely beautiful. At the same time, the choir began to sing. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as the beautiful sounds rang throughout the eaves. The acoustics perfectly in sync. That experience was more than 20 years ago and I can remember the service so clearly – what I saw, the songs I heard, and most importantly, how it made me feel.

What strikes me now is how I’ve been able to experience these services as the churches were intended to be used. Westminster Abbey is an iconic part of British history. Tourists from all around the world visit every day to see where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married, where kings and queens are coronated and where famous Britons like Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling and many more are buried. At its heart, though, Westminster Abbey is still an active place of worship. Being able to experience this magnificent cathedral in its purest form was an incredible experience.

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Even for churches not as grand as Westminster Abbey, there is still something special to be gained. Today, for Easter Sunday I was visiting St.Simon’s Island in Georgia with my family and friends. We attended Christ Church in Frederica for Easter service. This church has been in continuous operation since 1736! It was mind-blowing to think this church had been holding services longer than our country has been in existence. As a visitor I got a real glimpse into the history and culture of the area we were visiting.

The best part about these experiences and others is how excited it makes me to be in a new city during a holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love being at home for holidays and building memories with familiar activities and locations. When I am somewhere new, however, knowing I can enhance my treasured holiday traditions with these new travel experiences, makes my holidays richer than I could ever imagine.

New Year, New Travel: What Will 2016 Bring?

After returning from my first business trip of the year, I had some time to think about my trips in 2015. At the start, I made a promise to myself to make the most of every trip I took. It didn’t matter if it was business or personal, I was going to find the sense of adventure that travel embodies for me. Reflecting back, I am proud to say I made the most of (almost) every single trip and am really kind of amazed at what I was able to experience – all because I opened up my perspective on what travel could be.

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Here are the top three things I learned in 2015:

  1. Friends: By far, the best thing I got out of my travels in 2015 was time with friends who I rarely see anymore. In DC, Boston, Seattle, Boise and the Bay Area I reconnected with friends, caught up on their lives and realized how lucky I am to have these people be a part of my journey. Conversations picked up where they left off 12 years ago, our kids hung out together and in the small space of an hour or two I was reminded why we were friends in the first place.
  2. Stay the Weekend: In the past, I’ve always hesitated to take an extra day or two and extend a business trip. Too much work in the office! Who is going to take the kids to their weekend activities? In other words, I came up with a lot of excuses. This year I had the chance to attend a conference in Monaco and decided I needed to stay to explore the country and visit an area I had never been to before. I learned so much about myself – sometimes its ok to wander with out a plan, eating at a great restaurant can be a wonderful experience even if you are by yourself, but most of all, I learned how important sharing a travel experience is for me. I would do it all over again next time a great opportunity presents itself, but I may just invite family or friends to join me.
  3. Find the “moment”: Regardless of where I was, there always seemed to be one moment that sent chills up my spine, took my breath away or made me want to jump around like a little kid. In Chattanooga, it was finding this cool breakfast place and deciding with my 13 year old we were going to seek out the best breakfast place in every city we traveled to for soccer. When I was in Monaco I was walking to dinner with my colleagues, we turned the corner to this breathtaking view and had an incredible dinner at this amazing little restaurant. Driving from SFO to Half Moon Bay, I took a trip down memory lane seeing the pumpkin patch I took my kids to as toddlers and the English pub randomly sitting off of Hwy 1 where we had 4th of July lunch one year. All of these moments gave me “that” feeling and I knew I needed to hold on to them. Those are the moments that make me feel alive.

So what will 2016 bring? As of today there are no big trips on the books, but I will admit I’m itching to plan my next adventure. There will be definitely be soccer travel and I can only imagine what 17 fourteen year old boys can get up to in Vegas. Hopefully they’ll remember they are there to play soccer!

The one thing I know for certain is I’m going to make the most of every day I can for traveling. Conde Nast Traveler had a great article in December about 8 New Year’s Travel Resolutions and the one that jumped out at me was “Make 2016 the year of no unclaimed vacation days”. Amen. I’m pretty sure that is a resolution I can handle.