Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 NYR

                    This is a photo of Fran and Anna a few days before New Years,
ice skating in downtown Greenville.  Since Abby moved there,
getting to know Greenville has been such a delight.

 This New Year was a particularly special one as we had some of Fran's family over and ended up playing a hilarious game of pictionary and charades, making it a very merry, if not a slightly jet-lagged crowd. It ended with a midnight run-about in the yard with 3- foot long sparklers that kept shooting off at dangerous angles.

My 2013 New Year's Resolutions basically flew out the window once I became engaged.  I should have revised them. I only accomplished a few.  I did read 30 books and saw some of the North East of England. I think I'm most proud of learning how to drive a stick shift in the UK and passing my theory test.  I'm almost there to getting my license! I did rest a little from 'work', but that was mostly in the form of having consecutive chest infections this past fall. We attended one dance class in the Dominican Republic. We did not attend a festival, but we did go to our fall gig-of-the-year up in Edinburgh. I didn't learn how to draw or play the voilin.  I had no desire to read Tin Tin or attend evensong consecutively, and fell shockingly sparse in my correspondence. *ahem* *cough* read: changed addresses twice. 

My goals this year I'm sure will be vastly different from what I actually accomplish, and that is what I find so difficult about New Year's resolutions.  They often don't encompass what all you actually did in that year. I found last year a stretching year.  This year I want to rest.  I want to say 'no' often. I want to focus on my research.  I want to learn how to garden and grow things in our backyard. I want to be a better owner to my bunnies.  I want to make our house just wonderful.  I want to find storage space for all our odd and ends.  I want to get rid of more of our possessions and focus on living simply.  I want to paint and to be rid of our boxes on the floor.  I want to eat well.  I want milk delivered to our doorstep.  I want to read for pleasure again.  I want to hike the trails behind our house.  I want to have people over for Sunday lunches.  I want to savor my issues of Garden & Gun and Southern Living.

But despite all these desires, on New Year's eve, I only wrote down three wishes for 2014. 

1. To get married 
2. To stay married
3. To work on my PhD 

Keeping ambition at bay. xo


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Life so far

Why, hello! It's been a while.

In Greenville, a new city I've grown to love

A rare quiet moment

On the steps outside our rehearsal dinner

How to eat friend chicken, part one

On honeymoon in Punta Cana!

Flying home

I realize I don't blog when I'm super stressed, and most of 2013 was just that: super stress.  But some wonderful things have happened.  I moved my things into our new little home in mid-December and then promptly flew home.  I finally was home to plan my wedding and being there in person made it so much easier! And of course I got to see my family which was just lovely.  While Christmas did happen, the build up seemed mostly to the wedding, and it was wonderful to be surrounded by a community who loved me and my family.  The first Sunday I was back home, my arrival and wedding received a shout-out in church! I don't remember sleeping much. I remember being stressed until Fran arrived and going on really long runs in the morning with my dog.  The more people arrived to celebrate the wedding the more fun it suddenly became.  Here were people I loved and hardly ever get to see! And some had come from ever so far.

My wedding was a blur and we went on a lovely honeymoon to the Dominican Republic, which Fran kept a surprise until we were sat eating our wedding breakfast. When we returned, we packed up our gifts and headed back to England, and since we've been in Durham, we've been slowly recovering from jet lag, slowly unpacking, and slowly inventing storage space in our tiny house.  I'm enjoying being married so much more than I thought I would.  I hated being engaged.  I was constantly stressed and thought marriage would be just like that, but somehow worse because you just couldn't leave. But it's not. I've been surprised at how very natural it feels. And then there are mornings like today, when I dug my heels into the bed and refused to get up, and Fran comes along, shoves a coffee into my hand and drags me with him out the front door.  I'm surprised by the constant immediacy of grace.

Mereda shared with me a quote from G.K. Chesterton, and this is exactly how I've been feeling this week:

"It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.”

With much more soon, and lots of photos.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Menu

Thanksgiving 2014

I spent ages pouring over my Thanksgiving menu.  I'm super excited because Fran is even taking the day off work, which is practically better than Christmas.  We'll be cooking all day and sorting out the new house. It'll be our first real chance to settle in and unpack and inaugurate all those lovely bridal shower gifts. Plus it's THANKSGIVING. So excited!!!!! Since I spent AGES planning the menu, I'll share the over-ambitious list.

Our menu:
- Pecan pie
- Pumpkin pie
- Apple pie (?)
- sweet potato souffle
- shoe peg corn and green been casserole
- rice pilaf
- cranberry sauce
- dinner rolls
- bacon and bourbon stuffing
- spiced apple cider
- creamed corn
- green beens
- mashed potatoes
- one turkey

Thoughts: always start with dessert, of course.  Souffle of course isn't really a souffle, it's just sweet potato goodness.  The shoe peg corn and green been casserole has cheese in it-- sssh don't tell Fran. Stuffing or dressing? The infinite dilemma. Bacon won out this time.  Spiced cider or spiked cider?  I still don't know how I feel about turkey. Can you have a thanksgiving without a turkey?

Cooking my own Thanksgiving is something that has been really fun living abroad.  Because it's not a national holiday here, the great thing is most people celebrate it on Saturday, so I get extended Thanksgiving goodness.  This Saturday we're heading over to friends for round two.  And Amazon even does some great Black Friday deals so I'm not even too bummed about the shopping.

 I've thrown Thanksgiving  nearly every year I've lived away, I think all but the first.  I no longer rely on my mom or mema or aunts to cook up something spectacular.  I get to throw this all by myself and it's so inspiring! It feels like home. This year I'm particularly excited to have found creamed corn. Of course, it is from a can and won't compare to the home grown goodness I love, but still! It's the sentiment that counts. And because it's already 'Christmastime' in the England, I practically feel like it'll be minutes before I'm soaring home to see my family, so I'm not even missing them too badly this year.  Well, until I get the what's app from my mom that asks what kind of pie we'd like. (Kentucky Derby, mom? Ah, you're killing me!) Only be missing the sound of Carolina football in the background and playing catch during half time. Love xo

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Railway Cottages


the rear of the house


doors to outside

fran inside

the garden

the outhouse!

the range

the furniture

our favorite bit of the house

view to garden from upstairs window

behind the backyard-- a donkey field

a short walk to a stream

that goes by a horse field

This is our house! I know the last post boded doom and gloom and so we thought, but amazing things have happened.  I went home and cried and I read Isaiah 43:19: Behold I am preparing something new, do you not perceive it? And I did not, and not the next day or the next week. But the buyers lowered their offer and wanted it out of their hands and so this is home.  We'd love for you to visit. It is tiny, but we love it. If I've measured the square feet right, it's 500 sq ft! (18.3 x13 per floor?) All our love, xxx

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts on House-buying

Hi! So it's been a bit quiet on here. So many things going on and I don't even know what to think most of the time.  We're so happy to be getting married- yay! It's finally under the 100-day count and under the 3-month count.  Ten-month engagements are too long! For a lot of this time, we've been exploring where we would live.  We had a house all lined up, such a darling one too, and it fell through today.  We're pretty gutted as it seemed perfect, but these things happen and we're confident that we'll be completely taken care of come January 4!

Such a growing process! Here are some things we learned:

1. Don't use the estate-agent's solicitor. 
            - We didn't do this and we are SO delighted.  Turns out our estate agents played dirty.  They withheld a letter dated June 7th, 2013 from a kind neighbor explaining our questions regarding property boundary.  We didn't get that until October 11, 2013 after we had found the truth ourselves! If we had used the lawyer from J W Wood, we would have been pretty miserable wondering if they were on our side or really just working in the interest of our estate agent. You need friends going into this business and let your lawyer be one of them!

2. Employ the most competent solicitor, even if that means a bit more.
            - Fran sent off about a dozen emails to different solicitors.  He chose the one that replied the quickest and seemed most competent, even if that meant paying just a little more.  We're SO happy we did this!

3. If you're in England, make sure you get a very good copy of your title plan.
            - When we received ours, it was minuscule.  On an A4 sheet of paper, our property was marked out in red in about the size of the thumb print. This made land boundaries very difficult to distinguish.  Especially if it's a country house, land boundaries are very old and finnicky, so make sure you see a detailed report on size!

4. If things are taking a while, take things into your own hands.
            - It took AGES for them to tell us the property boundary.  It turns out the sellers and our estate agent lied claiming they were selling land they didn't actually own.  This took so long to figure out.  The seller's solicitor was so slow. He went on a 2.5 week holiday (that lovely British vacation-leave) during this time.  When he got back, gave us some very shady reply about "being common land."  When things were slow, we should have just gone to the land registry and checked it ourselves rather than waiting.  While you're lawyer should be your friend, no one quite looks out for you as you do! So don't be afraid to do a little sleuthing on your own.

5. If in England, the estate agent isn't your friend.
             - They are employed by the seller and want the seller's interest. They want the property to sell for as high as possible! And when they do take you around, they aren't like the cushy-kind.  They are gruff and after 30-minutes, they kick you out as they have another appointment to rush to meet (even if you're trying to see how badly the roof leaks).  They also won't know *that* much about the property (it seems like to every question I had, the reply was "I don't know"!), will tell you everything you can't do (I apparently wasn't allowed to test the electricity, lighting, or central heating), and occasionally, just flat-out lie (they told us the parking space was included in the land, when it wasn't).  Be shrewd as serpents. They can be worse than a used car salesman!

6. Very old houses are charming, but come with a host of problems.
            - Especially if your landlord is reigns from afar, in our case Jersey! They aren't there to look after the property as they would if they were living in it.  If it's not damp, it's the roof. If it's not the roof, it's the floor.  If it's not the floor, it's the walls. 

7. If you're getting a mortgage, trust your bank with the value of the house.
            - They definitely have a vested interest, like you! We thought our house was worth more even though the bank valued it at less. Turns out, now that we're on the deep end, that we think they are exactly right in what it's worth.  Even if the sellers don't.

8.  Don't be dazzled by charm.
            - Fundamental problems will continue to be just that, fundamental. Is it near a road with a lot of traffic?  Is it near a rail-way line? Does your house get any sun? Morning or evening light? Or does it face North-South? A bigger problem than you would expect in the terraced-house culture of England!  These are things that will not change, no matter how darling the house.

9. Involve your family
            - We've been so SO thankful for all the very shrewd advice we've received from family.  They even came up to look at the house to make sure it was sound, and they were just as delighted as we were! Once problems came up with the land, the advice they gave was perfect.

10. Don't crow too loud.
            - While we've honestly answered our questions revolving "where are you going to live once you're married?," we've only done so when people have asked, and even then, have been a bit reluctant to talk about it. Even when our offer was accepted, I'm not sure we told anyone apart from family.  From the beginning, we didn't feel like we could freely tell other people until we had signed the papers. What if it fell through? What if this isn't what God had for us? As it turns out, this was a good thing, as it didn't go through.  Imagine having to un-tell so many people after this seeming failure! As much as possible, we kept it close to ourselves and to each other.  This has helped us grow in closeness and excluded too many nosy opinions.

11. It takes a lot of heart.
            - Such an emotional expenditure!  We have been on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows regarding this house.  When things weren't going well, Fran and I were both at our desks vainly *trying* to work. When things were well, we imagined the vegetables we'd grow.  If you had told me it would be an emotional roller coaster and to steel my nerves, I would have laughed at you. Not so now.

12. Don't be afraid to renegotiate price
            -When our housing survey came back, there were some big things wrong with the house, namely a leaking roof that had caused damp.  This lowered the value of the property and our surveryer suggested we negotiate.  We thought about it, but were too shy when the sellers bullied us a little. And we loved the house and thought it would just about work out even.  When it came back that the parking wasn't included, we did have to renogiate. If we had tried firmly to renogitate before, it would have made renegotiating parking easier.

13 A level one survey will do
            - We paid for a level two, because we thought we'd have to live there and wanted to figure out how to make the repairs.  But it's more expensive and wasn't worth it in the end. We'd have received mostly the same information with a level one survey, just not in as much detail.

14.  Houses aren't forever.
            - This too will pass.  It has engendered so many conversations between us about identity, paternity, and eternity.  I wouldn't trade those for anything.

Whew! So that's what we've learned from our experience.  Right now our over-riding emotion is relief! Relief from uncertainty and freedom from unsavory experiences. Keep us in your thoughts and if you find any super-awesome housing, let us know! xxx

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Lurgey

The lurgey has got me in it's death grip.  Basic things like breathing and sleeping are now monumental efforts.  My nose and sinuses. Imploded.  I really just want to get better, please. Please.

Since the lurgey attacked, I have:

1. Put my slow cooker to use by having hot apple cider on the boil all day long
2. Watched all of the Harry Potter films. And discovered TWO are missing. So upsetting. 
3. Steam baths. Steam baths make my heart beat fast.
4. Zelda. To Zelda or not to Zelda. That is the question.
5. Bought ridiculous things for the wedding. [Cone of shame]
6. Not left the house for four days.
7. Developed a thorough hatred for dust.

In other news, as of today, I get married in 3 months! It was has been a 10-month engagement, and it's nearly over and I'm so excited! Wahey!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The start of September

Mailing letters, a lovely walk, some gorgeous days of sun, a trip to south shields, a view of the chapel, a door I hope to call home.

Enjoy your weeks!