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Swimming, Swimming…

Swimming, Swimming,
In a swimming pool.
When days are hot, when days are cold,
In a swimming pool.
Breast stroke, side stroke, fancy diving too,
Wouldn’t it be nice if I could go swimming with you?

We’ve hit a heat wave in the UK this past week (or two, actually!) and I’ve been spending time away from the computer and outside in the garden….until it got even too hot to do that.

Yesterday, we were melting. I had just finished making dinner, and standing in front of the hot stove/oven had overheated me. I went outside (where it was cooler!) and watered the garden before coming back in and Tim suggested we head on over to the Yarborough Leisure Centre to have a swim. Entry costs £2.90/adult for casual swim, which gives you about an hour and half of swim time.

It was….interesting. Nothing like what I expected, and nothing like what I’m used to in the US. In the US, I’ve always had community pools at my disposal (either in my development or within a short walk) and your fee for using it was always included in your annual fees. At the pools where I grew up, you would walk in, flash your pool pass, and then head into the gender segregated changing rooms/toilets. At this one? We all got herded into one single changing “pavilion” (I believe that was the word used) which had coin-operated lockers (£1) and individual changing stalls (with locks). Men, women, and children all together in the same room with plenty of attendants on hand. If you needed to change, you were expected to use one of the changing rooms, and the only shower facility was the group shower area (so no way to really wash with shampoo/body wash, etc. unless you went into the gym’s segregated changing facilities). To say that I was shocked was an understatement. The attendants didn’t even say anything when Tim and I went into the same changing cubicle post-swim.

After you changed into your swimming costume (US: swimsuit/bathing suit) you went through the showers (required before swimming) and handed your ticket to a lifeguard. He then handed you a colour-coded wrist band (though mine was large enough to go on my ankle) based on what time you entered. Along one side of the lifeguard station was a strip of bright lights. When your time was up, a buzzer sounded and a coloured light lit up based on your wrist band colour.

Despite the crowds of people waiting to get in and milling around the changing room, the pool itself wasn’t too crowded. I imagine the colour-coded wrist bands help. Tim and I swam a bit, and did “water aerobics” until our colour lit up. Then, it was out of the pool, back into street clothes, and home with just enough time for Tim to get ready for the overnight shift.

We’re hoping to swim again soon. Our plan is to eventually feel comfortable enough to attend lane swimming instead of open swim so we can get in more exercise, but it’s been a while since both of us swam, so we’re taking it slow!

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Gleeful

I’ve just watched the season finale of Glee, and I’ve been trying to catch Gleeful: The Real Show Choirs of America that aired on E4 on Monday….and from what I’ve seen so far, it really doesn’t paint a very positive view of choir in the UK. My children are not going to experience the thrills of musicals and singing pop songs in harmony and showtunes….and it just really upsets me that my children won’t discover music in school the way I did. Like the one American they had on…I started singing in choruses when I was 6! And anyone who knew me when I was younger (which is a handful of you reading this on LJ, more if you’re reading this on FB) knows that music was a huge driving force in my life. At one point, I think I was involved in 6 or 7 music groups between school choirs, band, church choirs, bell/handchime choir, etc….not to mention the annual school musical! I really can only assume the reason HHS didn’t do a show choir was simply because a) we already had 5 choirs b) we put money into marching band shows and the annual musicals and wouldn’t have had money to go into a show choir.

But this isn’t about me being sad that I didn’t have a show choir to be part of. I was pretty proud of what I did accomplish, and was awarded several awards for my involvement in music.

Do British schools really NOT have music education/choir? One of the British women spoke about choir being “once a week. We started with a hymn, then we sang another hymn, and oh, then we sung another hymn”. It just breaks my heart that my children might not get that exposure to music at school. Not to say I won’t be educating them about music on my own, but there’s something really special about performing on stage.

I mean, all is not lost. If Tim and I have a girl, and if she enjoys singing, she could join Sweet Adeline’s Young Women in Harmony when she is 7 and/or LABBS (and Sweet Adeline’s) Ivy League. I can only assume that BABS has something similar for boys.

Tim and I are at least 3 years away from having any children of our own, and a long way away from starting music education, but it still makes me think and makes me want to find a music program for them to be involved in…or at least try. Obviously, there’s a possibility that our children won’t inherit my voice or my love for singing/music. Our children might not even inherit Tim’s love of trains…and that’s alright. But we both want to be able to expose them to our interests and at least have them try them out before deciding they’d rather do something else (Just watch. We’ll wind up with footballers for kids or something).

And a big you suck to the British Comedian who says “what good is this” and doesn’t think it should be taught in school!

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Digging Shakespeare

When my mom had her extended visit courtesy of volcanic ash, we decided to take advantage of Tim’s day off and took Mom to Stratford-upon-Avon. Tim and I had previously been there in October 2008, but we hadn’t seen all the attractions, and it’s just a nice place to go!

Fortunately, the weather agreed with us, and we had a fantastic day. We started with Shakespeare’s birthplace and walked on floors he once walked on as a child. We even got treated to an impromptu performance of selected scenes from Macbath, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, and several other plays. The performers were more than happy to continue to perform for us as the crowd kept asking for more!

We had a picnic lunch along the Avon before we wandered over to Nash’s house and gardens where they are currently doing “Dig for Shakespeare” – an archaeological dig to try to find the original house! Dig for Shakespeare includes a display where you can touch artefacts they found and I got to hold a 500yr old brick and some Roman coins. Pretty nifty.

After that, we headed to the car to drive out to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. We just made it before they closed, and as we were the only people there, the guide went above and beyond in talking to us, showing us everything, and telling us stories that had been passed down.

We had an absolutely fantastic day, and since the Shakespeare homes offer an annual pass with your admission, we can go back again within the year without having to pay again!

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Beamish Revisited

About a month ago, Tim and I took advantage of our annual passes to Beamish we got in September when we were there with my mom. I finally got to see sections I hadn’t seen before, including the farm and I got to pet a lamb! (which was trumped a few weeks later by feeding a lamb, but that’s another story!) But one thing was missing…

The Westoe Netty! It used to sit right outside the train station area, and when Tim and I were there, you could walk up to the netty and we took photos of Tim pretending to use it and me looking confused.

Oddly enough, a photo website has photos of the Westoe Netty posted on the 23 of April, only two weeks after Tim and I were there, so I’m really confused!

I’m trying to track down information from Beamish if the Westoe Netty is still there or not. Maybe it was moved and we didn’t see it since we only went to the sections I hadn’t been to before…who knows?

If you have any information about the Westoe Netty at Beamish, please leave me a comment!

But first, here’s some photos Tim and I took while we were there:

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Annual Passes

Tim and I have visited various attractions the past two years that offer annual passes. We hardly ever take advantage of the offer since in many of the cases it’s an attraction that isn’t local, such as Walt Disney World or something like that. But I’ve been noticing a lot of attractions that are “local” (by local, I mean within a few hours drive) that offer an annual pass when you buy your admission.

Examples include:

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – Your admission price gives you unlimited entry to HMS Warrior 1860, Royal Naval Museum, and Action Stations for one year, however it is only valid for one entry to HMS Victory, the Mary Rose Museum, and Harbour Tours. Tim and I went in fall 2008. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to return to use our tickets again, but if you live close enough that you can go over the course of a few days, I highly recommend it! There’s so much to see there. Currently, you cannot visit the Mary Rose, as they are in the process of building a museum around her and expect to open in 2012, but you can still see everything else. Touring the HMS Victory was well-worth the banged heads on the lower decks!

Shakespeare’s Houses and Gardens – Entry is valid for one year, and if you download the voucher located here, you can even get a two for one offer on the multi-house ticket until October 2010. Tim and I first went in the fall 2008, and then recently took my mom for a visit a few weeks ago. This time, we used the 2 for 1 voucher (didn’t have one last time) and are planning on returning before our year is up. Just like Portsmouth, there is a lot to do there that all fall under the one ticket. When we went in 2008, we only had time to tour two of the buildings since we also had tickets to see a show at the theatre.

Beamish is another place that gives you a full year for the price of a single admission, and with so much to see there, it’s well worth it. We purchased tickets in September (2009) when my mom and I were visiting, and Tim and I took advantage of the annual pass and took a trip up to Beamish with a packed lunch so it only cost us petrol for a full day out! The first two times I was at Beamish, I only was able to see a few areas, as it was the Winter season. We finally went during the “Summer” season, but there’s still more to explore!

Or, if you’d rather a large variety of places to visit, there are organizations such as English Heritage (Membership starts at £44) and National Trust (Membership starts at £36). Each organization manages over 300 sites throughout the United Kingdom, and an annual membership gives you free admission to ALL attractions they own/operate.

Another website I’ve found useful for planning trips is Enjoy England. Enjoy England frequently offers 2 for 1 deals on many attractions.

Going away for a weekend getaway doesn’t have to be expensive!

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Consider Yourself One of Us

Tuesday night I went to see a local performance of Oliver! at the Lincoln Theatre Royal with my friend H while my husband and her son went to a steam-up. Interesting to note, I also saw Oliver! on the West End being performed at the Theatre Royal. Just a funny coincidence. The theatre in Lincoln is small….I honestly think my high school auditorium had more seating in it, but it made for an intimate evening. We were back in row L, but had a clear view of (most of) the stage. We couldn’t see the bits that were far stage left, but that was only a few dancers in the full adult company numbers (“Who Will Buy?” and “Oom-Pah-Pah”). Overall, I enjoyed the show. The young boy playing Oliver was adorable. I was worried when he forgot the words to his first big number (“Where is Love?”), but it turns out those were just first-number jitters, as he was word-perfect for the rest of his songs and lines.

My only real pet peeve about the whole performance was some of the actors relying on imitating actors from the most recent West End production, most notably the characters of Fagin and Nancy. I would have loved to have heard the actress playing Nancy singing with her own voice, not trying to imitate Jodie Prenger, but I understand as a singer how hard it is not to mimic someone else’s voice when you’re singing “their” songs!

But we had a great time. Everytime I go to a local performance it makes me want to get involved in local theatre. Perhaps sometime I will!

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Friday Night is Music Night

On Friday, Tim and I attended the second-to-last night of a drama and music festival being held in Lincoln. The Lincoln Sounds were participating in the competition and there also was a quartet made up of our members as well as many of the members also performing in the Lincoln Mix, a combined choir of the Sounds and Harmony Lincs. Harmony Lincs is the male barbershop group that inspired the ladies group to form.

We had a fantastic time. I wish I had been up on stage with the ladies, but being in the audience was just as good. Each group had to perform two songs in different styles. Unfortunately, we didn’t take home the top prize. The men’s chorus beat us by just one point! One point! How awful. But, we’ll get them next year because I’ll be singing ;).

After the festival, there was a party called Afterglow in the oldest building in Lincoln. Tim and I were invited along, and we got to mingle with the members of my group and Harmony Lincs…and I got to sing. Tim had actually never seen me sing before, and he said he could tell how happy it makes me. I am so excited to be a part of this group!

Roll on convention!

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An Abbey in Ruins…Right in Our Backyard!

Today’s post is brought to you courtesy of Tim and I wanting to avoid the traffic back-up caused by an accident near Lincoln.

Tim and I went to Tesco a few Fridays ago to pick up some chicken wings, as I had promised my Father-in-Law that I would make him some buffalo wings. On our way into town we noticed there were huge back-ups going the other way. Not wanting to get caught in the traffic, Tim decided to take the long way out of town through some smaller villages and towns. It was a route I had never been on before with some beautiful scenery and winding country roads.

At one point he said to me, “if we turn here, we can see the abbey ruins”. Of course, I had to ask about them! Our short detour took all of about 20-30 minutes, and most of that time was actually walking from the side of the road over to the ruins, as there really isn’t much there to look at. It used to be an abbey called Barlings Abbey.

Barlings Abbey was founded in 1154. in 1537, the abbey was closed by King Henry VIII (when he was closing lots of abbeys, priories, and churches) and all of the valuables were taken away, including the roof! By 1726, only the tower and a few bits here and there remained. The tower fell in 1757 and you can see that some of the stone was used in the nearby farmhouse and farm buildings. Today, all that remains is a bricked up arch, part of the tower base, and lots of rubble. No formal excavating has ever been done on the site, and the remaining wall will probably eventually fall down as well, as it doesn’t have any support nor really a way to support it.

I still get a small thrill touching stones from the 12th century. I can’t help it. It thrills me to the bone to touch pieces of history. I really should have become a historian!

Barlings Abbey is located seven miles east of Lincoln. The site is in private ownership with public access through the farmland (provided you stick to the designated public footpaths) and is free. We actually were only two or three miles away from Tim’s grandad’s house in Langworth, which is only about four miles away from our house!

For more information, see: http://www.lincsheritage.org/community_heritage/guides_information/witham_abbeys/site.php?key=barlings_abbey

Selected photos. More can be seen on facebook:

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To Market, to Market

Several times a month there is an outdoor farmer’s market in Lincoln. Tim and I managed to go once last year while I was visiting, but many of the stalls had already closed for the day, so this time we made sure we got in by noon. There were about nine stalls. I don’t know if this is a normal amount or not, but I suppose I’ll find out as it gets warmer out. I did notice the windmill stall (sold bread & organic flour) was missing, so hopefully they will be there on a different day.

I’ve managed to misplace all the business cards, so apologies to the businesses if I skip links. I will be sure to post some links next time! (I also neglected to pull my camera out. Whoops!). There were three stalls devoted to meat, two to cheese, one for bread, one for fudge, one for jams/jellies, and one for organic veg. Oh, and there also was a stall selling ostrich burgers, so that actually makes ten stalls, not nine.

We were on a mission. Tim’s younger brother and his girlfriend were coming over for dinner this past Sunday, and a request had been put in for “giant Yorkshire puddings filled with bangers and mash”. We thought since market was on Friday, we’d scope it out and check out what options for fresh (and possibly bizzare/unique) sausage there was. I let Tim pick, since he and his brother (B) would be eating it. Brother’s girlfriend (M) and I decided we were going to have chicken, as bangers and mash just didn’t appeal to us. At the pork stall, Tim found some apple sausage as well as ale sausage. Reports are both were good…..I could smell the apples in the apple sausage while I was cooking them!

My second mission was to speak directly to the people at Woodlands Farm about their organic fruit and vegetable delivery service. I saw on their website that would deliver to our village on Tuesdays, and I wanted more information and needed to ask them about what to do in relation to my food allergies. The man we spoke with was really helpful and he had examples of the sizes of the boxes with him as well, so you could figure out what size box you wanted. We’re getting our first box today, along with a dozen organic free-range eggs. If we like it, we’ll be putting in a standing order.

Of course, we had to buy from the two cheese stalls. Our first stop was the Lymn Bank Farm stall. They had loads of tasty cheeses and offered you toothpicks to taste. If we had stayed any longer at their stand, we’d have eaten all their samples! We settled on three – Apple Smoked, Cranberries, and Double Barrel. We intend on working our way through the rest of their cheeses at some point. What we’ve had so far was super tasty! The other cheese stall was the stall for Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese, a regional speciality. They also made several varieties and let us sample each before deciding on their Barrel Poacher (a strong, sharp cheese). According to their website, they even sell in the US (at Zingerman’s of all places and a few places in Philadelphia, too) and you can mail-order it. I highly recommend it!

Just around the corner from the organic vegetable stall was a jam and jelly stall. Unfortunately, I can’t remember their name other than it had the word sin or sinful in their name. I’ll get a link next time. We chatted a bit with the two ladies who ran the stall, and it turns out the one was married to an American and she knew exactly which jar I was headed to (pickles!). We also picked up a cranberry and orange marmalade, and something called Banofee Jam. Ah, they’re called Saints and Sinners. Helps if you check the labels of the jars you bought!

The last stall we gave our business to was a stall selling Lincolnshire Plum Bread, another regional favourite. I hope I’ve got the link right, as I’ve thrown out the paper from the loaf! The bread is quite tasty, but it’s more of a dessert or snack bread than something I’d want to eat a sandwich off of.

Oh, no, I lie. We also stopped at the ostrich burger stall. Tim tried it last time and thought it was tasty, so that became Lunch. We also discovered they sell kangaroo meat, so we might have to try it out.

After the market, we happened to be walking past the Corn Exchange market and I suggested checking out the meat stand in there. Turns out, it was a great idea, as they were selling 3 packs of bacon for £5. It’s turned out that each pack has had 12 slices, so that’s a lot of bacon for very little money!

If you’re ever in Lincoln, be sure to check out the farmer’s market:

Lincoln Farmers’ Market 1
Where: City Square [This is the area right outside of Wilkinson’s as you walk along the river]
When: 1st Friday of every month, 9am–4pm

Lincoln Farmers’ Market 2
Where: High Street [Usually the stands are set up in the open space near Barclays Bank]
When: 2nd Wednesday of every month, 9am–4pm

Lincoln Farmers’ Market 3
Where: Castle Hill [I haven’t been here yet, but I imagine it is in the area between the castle and cathedral]
When: 3rd Saturday of every month, 9am–4pm

[information taken from the Times Online]

Here’s a picture of our haul:
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A Day Out

I took the bus into Lincoln today because I had a few errands I needed to run.

I got off the bus at the “top of the hill” near the Cathedral, as my original plans were to talk to the people at the pub we want to use for the reception in person, but that didn’t work out. As I was walking down Steep Hill (yes, it’s called that) I happened to spot a volunteer sign in the window of the Cancer Research charity shop. Since my application for OxFam must have been rejected (never heard back from them!), I was still looking for some place to volunteer, both as something to do, and as part of the new requirements for seeking citizenship in the UK. I walked in, asked about volunteering, and 10 minutes later I was “hired”. I’ll be working every Thursday from 1-5PM, which goes nicely with my other activity on Thursdays – an all-female Barbershop group (part of Sweet Adelines).

After landing the “job”, I went to Primark to replace some of the items I accidentally shrank in the wash* and then to Boots (drug store) to use some coupons that expired at the end of the month, and to place an order for photos to be printed to go with my insurance claim form. Then, it was the trek over to the other side of High Street to Argos to make a return. Right as I got to the barriers for the train, they went down, so I sent a text to Tim. He called and played “big brother” on me by looking at me through his CCTV! Item returned and new item purchased (I needed a new small crock pot), I walked back only to get to the crossing right as the barriers were going down again.

I met up with Tim and we went shopping for Mother’s Day cards and Birthday cards and then decided we’d just go look at eyeglass frames at one of the discount stores. I found frames for both regular and sunglasses that I liked (and they were only £70) and so we asked about making an appointment, and there happened to be an opening right then, so this afternoon I had an eye exam and got new glasses and sunglasses! I pick up the glasses on Thursday.

We also did our weekly run at Tesco, and now I’m busy (at midnight) finishing roasting a chicken so I can use it tomorrow in a stew I’m making for Tim’s grandad.

I just need to keep my eyes open for another half hour….

*Last week when I did the wash, I forgot that temperatures were in Celsius and I set it for 60…..60C is a hot water wash, not the lukewarm water wash I thought it was.

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One Month!

I’ve officially lived in the UK for one month, as of….well, right now, since my plane landed at 530 in the morning on the 21st of January. I’m settling into married life and life in the UK, and things are starting to get sorted –

*I’ve been added to Tim’s bank accounts and have received my debit card
*I have my NHS number and card and have been in to see the GP several times
*I have an EHIC card, so I’m covered if Tim and I jaunt into the rest of the EU and I need a doctor
*I have my NI number, so I can open savings accounts and get a job (if we decide I should)
*I have a library card, which has proven to be quite useful
*We joined the co-op and started earning a small bit for dividends
*I’ve been contacted by a local choir and have been invited to attend rehearsal this week

….the only thing left is for me to sort out the Provisional License, I think. As that requires sending off my passport for a month, I wanted to make sure I got everything else taken care of first.

It’s been a wild and crazy month, but I do love it here. I love being with Tim and we’re slowly getting the house sorted (and re-decorated) and everything is falling into place. We’ve even got most of the reception here planned already!

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My First Visit to the GP

Okay, I know it might sound funny for a 30-yr-old to write about her first trip to the doctor when she’s probably been going to see a doctor since she was born, but bear with me. Going to see a GP in the UK is a lot different than going to see the doctor in the US…and I don’t just mean because in the UK there is no co-pay!

My visit to the GP yesterday took all of 20 minutes. I got called back to the office at the exact time of my appointment, and the doctor was already waiting for me in his office. 20 minutes later, I was walking out with my new prescription in hand.

The health centre even has it’s own dispensary for prescriptions, and if they don’t have what you need, the co-op pharmacy is just one door over. We waited maybe 5 minutes for the prescription, and just like at the GP’s office, didn’t have to pay a co-pay to get it.

So, let’s talk about the NHS and using it as a spousal visa holder. Easy. All you have to do is walk into the GP office near your house and tell them you want to register as a new NHS patient. You fill out the new patient information for the GP, then THEY put your information into the computer, send it to the NHS, and about two weeks later your NHS number will be issued. You also are eligible for EHIC, which entitles you to free healthcare while travelling within the EU. At first, this looks like it involves filling out an application and sending in copies of your visa and waiting 21 days….but not if you’re on a spousal visa and are the spouse of a EU National. All your spouse has to do is call up EHIC and request a card for you. I should have my EHIC card in about 10 days.

There are other things that are different in the UK. For example, you don’t call the GP and set an appointment for way in the future. Most of the time, you’ll be asked about coming in later that day or the following day. The GP office also allows walk-in appointments (during set hours). The nurses at a GP office seem to have more responsibilities over nurses in a US doctor’s office in terms of what they handle for patients. The GP sees you in his office, not an exam room. I have to say, it’s a lot easier telling a doctor about your problems when you’re sitting in a friendly office setting and not perched on a cold table!

I was talking to the GP about Tim and I starting a family in 3-5 years and the first thing he did was offer me the implant birth control, which lasts for 3 years. He also told me that a woman isn’t high risk until age 40, and they usually do a natural birth unless something is really wrong or you are having a large baby. My US doctor had told me several years ago that if I wanted to have children, it would have had to be caesarian.

And did you know that if you throw up or have diarrhea within 3 hours of taking a pill, the medicine wasn’t absorbed by your body? I never knew this, and I’ve had digestive issues for several years now.

But the most astonishing part….it’s all free. No co-pays, no mysterious bills showing up in the mail later for tests you had in the office, no feeling like you need to take out a loan to afford your prescriptions…it’s all handled. Certainly makes you feel more comfortable about going in for preventative care!

Now, I won’t be stupid and claim that there aren’t any problems. Because of the free care the NHS offers, if you’re waiting for a non-emergency or non-essential surgery you might have a longer wait as they will schedule the emergencies first. And if you go to A&E (That’s Accidents & Emergency, known as the ER in the US), you’ll get seen based on the level of your emergency, not based on the order you arrived in, so if you go to A&E for something minor, expect a wait.

But I also know how good the NHS is. My father-in-law had a kidney transplant a few years ago, and Tim says he probably wouldn’t still be with us if it wasn’t for the NHS. When Tim’s gran went into the hospital, she was there for nearly 6 months and most of the time was just because she was too weak to be on her own. Tim’s family never saw a single bill. A 6 month stay in a US hospital can cost as much as half a million dollars.

I called my aunt last night to tell her about my doctor’s visit and she asked how much it cost. When I told her it was all covered by the NHS, her first response was “Why can’t we have something like that here [in the US]?”. I’d love to know.

Oh, and the GP gave me a prescription, but after I left he noticed it flagged in the system as something I wasn’t supposed to have, so he called over to the co-op to ask them to have me return to the office immediately. About 5 minutes after I arrived back at the GP, I was called back, given an apology, and walked out with a prescription I was allowed to have. I’m also going back over today to see someone about the arm infection my US doctor was trying to get rid of, and the GP doesn’t think I’ll need a skin graft like the US doctor did (of course, that might change based on today).

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In love with a Brit? Working for a company offering a transfer to the UK? Studying abroad? BritianniAmerica offers an online community and information for those living in or planning a move to the UK.

http://board.us2uk.net

Uprooting your life and moving across ‘the pond’ can be overwhelming, exciting, and confusing. BritiannAmerica offers community, information, and guidance to Americans at any point in their journey to live in the UK – all for FREE. We will NEVER ask you to pay for any of the services we provide or ask you to pay to access additional features.

http://wiki.us2uk.net

The online home for Americans living in, working in, studying in, or wanting to move to the UK includes a growing wiki, an active forum, and a great community.

http://www.us2uk.net

BritanniAmerica is also great for networking and meeting new friends! Imagine moving to a country where you barely know anyone, but having a strong network of friends who are just like you! Friends who will offer advice and support whenever you need it, without that expensive phone call back to the US. From time to time, we’ll even be hosting various gatherings to get to know your fellow Americans face to face.

Not from America? No problem! We welcome anyone who is working their way towards a move to the UK, though most of our experience with immigration lies with US to UK moves.

We are still a relatively new site, so we also are looking for people to join our staff – people to moderate different sections of our site and board, people who want to add pages to our site (and who know HTML), people who want to write articles for the Wiki, and even people who just want to write a blog post about their experiences so far.

Come join us!

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Establishing Myself in the UK

I landed at LHR (London Heathrow) in the wee hours of the morning on the 22nd. We were the first plane down for the day (at around 5:30AM) and I managed to get through immigration and customs before Tim even left the hotel room! Sitting in Business Class (thanks Friend! [you know who you are]) rocked. They passed out these “fast passes” for immigration which goes to a special line only for First & Business class, so not a long wait there at all. I held my passport open to my spousal visa when I walked up to the counter and was asked one question “Where is your husband?” I replied that he should be waiting for me on the other side of Customs, and the I/O stamped my visa and said “Welcome Home, Mrs. L”.

Fortunately, luggage carts are free at LHR, and I piled it high with my bags and managed to get myself through Customs (nothing to declare) and out into the arrivals hall….to no Tim. Granted, it was 6AM, and my plane was supposed to land at 5:55, so I wasn’t upset. Instead I called Mom to tell her I had arrived and then called Tim. Turned out he was just leaving the hotel (since we live about 3 hours away from London by car, we figured a hotel was the best idea).

We were soon reunited and loaded the car…and we almost took the bags of someone parked next to us (who was even on my flight!) who had a purple bag, because Tim is programmed that all things purple must belong to me. heh. We had breakfast at the hotel, then went to our room and crashed for a few hours.

I woke up around 11, and after a shower we decided to head into the nearest town (though not into London proper) to find some Lunch and pick up a few things at Boots (Pharmacy), and tehn it was mostly hanging around in our hotel room until our pre-paid dinner at the hotel restaurant. Unfortunately, my stomach hadn’t figured out the time change yet, so I spent most of my afternoon being sick, but I felt well-enough to go down to dinner and nibbled a bit. Again, we didn’t do much after dinner (partially due to me not feeling well).

The following morning we decided to stop at IKEA in Essex on our “way home”. It wasn’t entirely on the way, but closer than any of the IKEAs in our area, and we wanted to go window shopping for new bedroom furniture.

We wound up spending 5 hours in IKEA! But it was worth it. We now know what we want and have a plan for renovating our bedroom.

We returned to Lincoln….and then the errands started. Oh, the errands.

Monday we went over to the GP (Doctor) so I could register. The receptionist had a little trouble with registering me, as she thought I needed to call the NHS to get a NHS number, but after calling the helpline from the lobby we got it straightened out and I should have my NHS card in a few days. We also headed into town, thinking that we’d be able to add me to Tim’s bank account. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work out and we had to make an appointment for Tuesday. We also stopped at the Library though, and I got a library card and then to the Co-Op to sign up for a membership there. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my NI number (It’s similar to an SSN), but I have the number to call to get that, too.

Tuesday we had our bank appointment and after a two-hour meeting overviewing our finances, I was added to the account, we paid off the credit card mostly (we used it for my visa & moving fees), and we have a plan for a new savings account once I have my NI number. I should have my bank card in a few days!

We’ve also been doing a lot just to get the house in order. We plan on celebrating our Christmas on Sunday, complete with putting presents under the tree. At IKEA we purchased a new laundry hamper that ought to handle a week’s worth of two people’s clothing (and it even has a divider), and a cute side table for under the living room window. We’ve also been opening the wedding presents and started to use them – yesterday I made bread in the bread machine and it turned out really good.

Sadly, last night the washing machine decided that this was teh PERFECT time for it to crap out. So today we went off to Comet’s and picked out an inexpensive washer dryer combo. We figured since we knew we needed a new dryer eventually, we might as well spend the money now to get the combo, because buying them separate would have been twice as much. Plus, this gets rid of one of the units in the kitchen, so more space for other things.

Hopefully we’ll have a quiet weekend (other than Christmas on Sunday) and start to get things in order. My shipment got to Felixtowe on the 25th, so hopefully it won’t sit in customs for too long….but hopefully long enough for us to make room for the boxes.

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My Visa Journey

I’ve recently applied for and recieved my UK spousal visa. Here is a detailed account of what I did. I hope this can help someone in the future!

1229091138 On 5 November 2009, Tim and I got married in a small and private ceremony in PA, followed by a reception for friends/family in th US. I filled out the paperwork to get the certified copy of our marriage license before the wedding and had the envelope and cheque all ready to be sent post-wedding. Tim and I departed on our honeymoon on the morning of the 7th, and my mom mailed off the request for the certified copy on Monday. We returned from our honeymoon on the 15th, Tim went back to the UK on the 16th, and the marriage certificate arrived on the 17th.

Before sending off the marriage certificate, I went ahead and changed my name with my bank (though I did that immediately after the wedding and added Tim to the account) and with PennDOT. Then, it was off to the post office to send in a renewal/name change on my passport. This is an optional step, however I really wanted everything to be in my married name. I did NOT expedite my passport, but I had it back after only 4 weeks. During this time, Tim was able to collect the required documents we needed on his end, and he FedExed me his paperwork on 23 December. Due to the holiday, I did not receive the package until the 28th.

Tim and I had gone through the paper version of the application together to make sure I knew the answers to some of the questions (like Tim’s NI number) in case he wasn’t around when I filled out the online form. Fortunately, Tim was around and we filled out the application together. It took about an hour, but that partially had to do with my slow computer. It got to the schedule biometrics page and I was given a date at the beginning of January.

I organized all the paperwork before I did anything else. I purchased Avery dividers with document pockets and color-coded each section. I had 6 sections to my documents – General Information, Identification, Finances, Employment, Housing, and Misc. I will attach at the end my table of contents for more details. Anything that was more than a page long got paperclipped together, and each section was then clipped together with a small binder clip. The entire application was 60 pages, 12 photos, and 3 passports, so I then took 3 very large binder clips and clipped it ALL together on three sides.

After hearing a few success stories of getting biometrics done early, I decided to take my chances and we drove over to York (where my local facility was). It worked out since it was only about a 20 minute drive away, and we wanted to go out to Lunch at a restaurant in York anyway. Fortunately, there was only 3 people waiting for their testing (this also is INS, the place where US immigrants go for their biometrics and green cards!). Since they weren’t busy, they agreed to take me after the three people waiting.

Biometrics was pretty painless. Instead of using ink and paper, they have a special scanner that scans in your fingerprints. Mine were hard to read, and the woman doing it told me it’s because I use my hands a lot – like to type on a computer, send text messages, even crafting. Doing those things creates lines on your fingertips and it makes it harder to read your prints. Fortunately after about 15 minutes, she finally got something that the computer was satisfied with.

When we got back to the house, I had an email from my courier instructing me to send my application via overnight FedEx that afternoon, so off we went to the FEdEx facility across town. It cost me $53, but it was worth it!

I used All Star Visa & Passport Services and I can’t recommend them enough. They were very professional, didn’t offer me any unsolicited advice like some of the others, and kept in communication with me every step of the way. The received my application at 10AM on the 30th, after their submission time to the consulate, but that gave Myra time to go through my application and make sure I had sent everything I said I was (a step I appreciated). She wasn’t going through it to review it like some places, just checked for my documents. She also told me that I was pretty organized, which pleased me. Their services are a little more than some of the other LA couriers – $150 plus an additional $24 for shipping, but in my opinion it was well worth it to have such professional service. I had heard a lot of complaints about at least 2 of the other LA Consulate couriers, but nothing but good things about All Star.

Ken submitted my application in the morning on 31 December. The consulate was closing early for the holiday, so it was iffy if it would get looked at. When I didn’t hear from the courier by 3PM PST, I assumed it was going to have to wait. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call around 7PM EST telling me I was approved and my visa was on it’s way to me! Way to go All Star!

My visa process took exactly 8 weeks from wedding to visa issued, but you can cut some time off if you don’t need to/want to change your name on your passport (or if you expedite your passport). Tim had most of his documents all ready and we were only waiting for a copy of the land registry, but I’ve been told we could have used the internet print out instead, which also would have cut off a week.

I’ll be leaving the US on 21 January to join my husband so we can start our life together!

My table of contents is a pdf for you to look at and use as a guide. It can be found here: spousalvisatableofcontents.pdf. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list, and you might require additional documents depending on your situation.

For a guide of required documents and an example of what your sponsor’s letter should look like, please visit Transpondia.

You can find support from fellow Americans who have gone through or are going through the same process by visiting the forums at BritanniAmerica.

Meg from UK-Y has put together a sample budget, and you can download the template here. Again, please remember this is only a guide, and you might need to add or delete lines as necessary based on your own financial situation.

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Trip Itinerary

We leave on Monday for our trip across the pond, so I thought I’d share our rough draft of plans with you –

Monday – Depart PHL
Tuesday (AM) Arrive DUB (with a layover in CDG). Check into hotel (Fleet Street Hotel), relax, Guinness Store House
Wednesday – Writer’s Museum, Trinity College
Thursday – Dublin Castle, Cathedral
Friday – Stena Ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, meet up with Tim. Welsh Highland Railway
Saturday – Lancaster in AM, Beamish in afternoon
Sunday – North Yorkshire Moores Railway & Howard Castle
Monday – York
Tuesday – Coastal drive (lighthouses), to Tim’s house
Wednesday – Lincoln
Thursday – London
Friday – open
Saturday – open
Sunday – open (but Tim’s day off, so possible stratford?)
Monday – Rail and Sail from Lincoln to Dublin via Hollyhead
Tuesday – depart DUB 🙁

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Planning September’s Trip

Mom and I are headed over to Ireland in September, and then plan on meeting Tim in Holyhead (Wales) over his long weekend to travel around the UK. Mom kept making lots of suggestions for things she wanted to do, so Tim and I decided to buy her a guidebook and map. We picked out Great Britain (EYEWITNESS TRAVEL GUIDE) as it looked like it was the best guide book in terms of lots of information and pictures, some Post-it brand tabs, and MapEasy’s Guidemap to England.

First, we went through the guidebook and marked EVERYTHING she expressed an interest in seeing, as well as places Tim or I thought she would like. Then, we started looking at the map and mapped out three different routes making lists of the places we could stop along the way. The Easyguide map was perfect for this, as it’s more of an artistic map and you can easily view the town names. However, I do not recommend liquid highlighter. A week later, I had to break down and cover the routes with clear tape since the marker was still wet!

We presented this all to mom, and told her she was free to pick from the three options for this trip (noting that we would at some point do all three trips. After all, we’ll be going back!). She picked option one, so we will be visiting:

Liverpool
Lancaster
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Beamish
North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Castle Howard
York
Flamborough Head

before returning to Lincoln. IF we have an extra day with Tim, we will also visit:

Stratford-upon-Avon
Warwick Castle

In addition to this, Mom and I will be going down to London on our own for at least one day, and possibly other day trips.


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Seaside and Seals

[This entry refers to a day trip taken in March 2009. As requested, I will be going back and blogging the trips from January – April.]

Tim had a day off mid-week, and since it had been such a gorgeous week so far, we decided to head towards the seaside. Previously, we went North to the seaside in Yorkshire, but this time we decided to stay in Lincolnshire.

We started our trip by driving through some of the small towns along the way, including Market Rasen and Louth. We explored the small town shops for a bit before heading on a drive through the Lincolnshire Wolds. We actually pulled over to the side of the road to enjoy a brief snack and just to enjoy the scenery.

I can’t remember where we made our stop for Lunch (hopefully Tim will comment and let me know!), but it was a small walking path surrounded by a wetlands/wildlife area. The carpark even had a port-a-john. We sat down for our picnic lunch at a small pavilion platform built out on top of some of the wetlands. It was quite windy and chilly, and I actually wound up putting on extra layers while we ate! [*edited to add* Tim informs me we stopped at Tetney Marsh]

After Lunch, we followed the coast all the way up to Mabelthorpe, where we happened to spot a sign for the Seal Sanctuary. We checked and the place was open, so we decided to visit the seals. We soon found out that not only were there seals, they had all sorts of wildlife from around the United Kingdom as well as animals formerly native to the United Kingdom, from wild cats to pheasants, beavers, foxes, owls, ducks, and a whole slew of other animals. We stayed until it was closing time for the facility, since we were having fun wandering around and seeing all the animals.

I think we spent the most time looking at the wildcats – Tim told me it had been one of his goals to see one up close, and we were lucky enough to see three! These cats were huge, but I still think my own “little” housecat could pass for a small wildcat.

We were super tired when we left, but we still managed to stop off at Tim’s grandparent’s house to visit his granddad for a bit. I was yawning and was very unsociable, but Granddad didn’t seem to mind.

For dinner that night, I had Brown Sugar Chicken in the crock pot, from A Year of Slow Cooking, but since we were out of the house for over 10 hours, it wasn’t too great. Oh, well. Can’t win them all.

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(photo by Tim) A random tank on the side of the road….

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(photo by Tim) Wildcat!

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(photo by Tim) Me looking at Geese

For more photos (most of them taken by Tim), please see: http://photos.beccajanestclair.com/uk-trip-2008/mabelthorpe/

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Video from Black Country Museum

Tim walking the boat:

Direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFYNl5MnksI

It *does* get brighter at the end, I promise!

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Kitten on the Tracks

[This entry refers to an event from March 2009. As requested, I will be going back and blogging events from January – April.]

Tim’s cat, Prudence, likes to be outside when there are people around. She also likes to walk around on the garden rail tracks:

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Watch out for the that train!

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