I am sitting at my desk upstairs and my puppy is sleeping soundly nearby.
That’s it. That’s the watershed moment.
For the first few months, I could only get work done when Quinn was in her crate and I was struggling to fit my productivity around her crate/house training schedule. (I know J.K. Rowling would balk at this excuse.)
In the past month or so, Quinn’s been sleeping next to me during the day while I stretched out with a laptop in front of the TV. I could buy myself extra time if she laid next to me on the couch. (Then I got in trouble when Scott found all the photos on my phone of her snoozing on the back of our expensive couch because apparently we’re still trying to keep her off the furniture. He didn’t seem to care that I had made sure to put a blanket down first.)
This was an improvement, but not exactly the best atmosphere for concentration. I was taking a lot of photos of her.
When friends and family asked how puppy ownership was going, I’d say how cute and fun she is. (So cute, so much fun.) But I’d always mention that “I can’t wait until she can just come up to the office and chill by my feet while I work.”
We tried a few times. She pulled threads from the rug. She chewed on the doorstop. She rooted through the waste basket. She jumped on the desk.
So, I’d put her back in the crate and retreat to the library or a coffee shop. And that’s all fine, but I have a quiet office at home. And we got a dog because we like dogs. Surely, it’s about time to bring those two things together.
A dog to sit by my side while I toil away. That’s all I wanted.
And today, it’s happening. Right now.
Awww, look at her. I just want to give her a little squeeze. Nothing to disturb her. Just a little hug. If I lay down next to her and pet her softly, she won’t wake up. See?
I’ll just stay here for a few more minutes. She’s snoring. How sweet.
I should take a picture. No, wait, a video! And then I’ll send it to my mom. And Scott. He’ll love this.
I’ll get back to my desk in a minute. Quinn’s sleeping so–
Oh, shit. She’s awake. Nobody move.
Phew! That was a close one.
A few years ago, before I had any idea that we’d move to the US, I wrote a list of all the things I would miss if I ever left England. I recently revisited this list and decided to give an update now that I’ve had to live without most of these for quite some time.
Do I still miss…?
Cheese as a dessert
Yes, though it’s often an option for an appetizer or a small plate, and cheese at any time is a good time.
Terms of endearment
Yes. I miss hearing “Where to, sweetheart?” when I get in a cab and not being totally offended.
Pubs & rounds
Yes. And on that note, I miss British pubs where there is no one actually sitting at the bar and you can get service easily without having to squeeze through people eating at the bar.
I used to think, why would anyone want to sit at the bar?! But now I understand that if you don’t, you struggle to get the bartender’s attention.
(I still won’t sit at the bar though, because it’s the principle!)
Yes. I had a popover in Maine last year and it was delicious. It was served with butter and jam so although it had similar qualities, it was not the Yorkshire puddings we know and love. A friend told me there is a place in Yorkshire where you can get a stack of Yorkshire puddings and gravy as your starter. It’s on my “must-see” list for my next UK visit.
Yes, I do, but American humor is good too! No, really.
Ordinary looking people on TV
We’ve been watching a lot of documentaries and ordinary looking doesn’t get more real than in the Making a Murderer series.
Thanks to our kettle (more on that later) and a steady supply of Yorkshire tea from friends and family, we’ve been able to keep up with our cups of tea. Scott had a bumpy start with the tea at work, but he now tells me his building has upgraded the tea selection so he’s happy. And he hasn’t had a horrific tea-making experience since that one time a waiter opened an English Breakfast K-Cup and dumped the tea leaves in lukewarm water. And then served it to him with a side of heavy whipping cream.
Yes. I miss the Tube so much. Especially when it was half empty and recently cleaned and running on time and someone just happened to leave a copy of Stylist on the seat next to me.
I know I could make them myself if I really wanted to. I haven’t made any yet, 16 months on, so I guess I don’t miss them that much.
Black cabs & taxi drivers
Yes. I miss everything about transportation in London even with the rising popularity of Uber and Lyft over here.
Yes and no. I miss the ease of it, but food shopping where I am is actually quite pleasant. The shopping carts have cup holders for your Starbucks drinks.
Red phone boxes & post boxes
Aww, I just took a minute to think about them. I still miss them even though I have never used a phone box.
The quality of fruit
No, I’ve been happy with this one over here. Washington has some amazing fruit.
Waitrose and M&S food hall
I can go without Ocado. But even though I love Trader Joes and Whole Foods, I do still really miss Waitrose and M&S. They’re on my “must-see” list as well. I’ll probably have to pay for excess baggage because I always get sucked into buying those cute, seasonal biscuit tins.
Heathrow Terminal 5
Basically, once you’ve been through Heathrow Terminal 5, you’ll never be the same again. There’s no other way to explain it.
Those of you who know Sea-Tac airport and American airlines in general will understand when I say that flying ANYWHERE is 100x worse than it was flying from London.
(But it is a bit cheaper.)
30+ different countries under three hours away
Well, this is still true. Definitely something I miss, and in light of recent news, it’s bittersweet to think about a large portion of those countries, and how close—literally and figuratively-we once were.
Yes, I still cannot figure out the easiest way to use Comcast and I can rarely find anything good on TV.
Channel 4 documentary style shows like Gogglebox and the Secret Life of Dogs and the Girl Who Became Three Boys
We miss them so much we were interviewed for an article in The Telegraph. Seriously. You can read it here. (And no, we didn’t realize our photos would be such a big part of the story.)
We have one and it cost about four times as much as the one we had in England. Without the UK voltage, it doesn’t warm up as quickly but it is our most used household appliance.
No hair dryer has ever compared to the hair dryer I had in the UK. I miss it daily. I’m told it was so good because of the voltage.
We don’t buy sliced bread in the US. It is sticky and oddly sweet. Every once in awhile, my mind wanders and I find myself smiling just thinking of a M&S Super Seeded loaf. The stuff of daydreams.
Cheese & onion crisps
Haven’t found a good alternative for my favorite UK crisps, except for All-Dressed chips. But I have to go to Canada for those.
Maltesers & chocolate in general
They started selling Maltesers at the cinema near us. There is something different about them but in a pinch, they’ll do. American movie theater popcorn totally outranks British cinema popcorn…so who’s thinking of Maltesers anyway?
(But keep sending them to me, ok?)
All the paid vacation time
By the way, I still miss you, too.
More than a decade ago, I went to a wedding registry event at a popular homewares store where they served mimosas and gave the engaged couples free reign of the store before it was open to the public. I was the bride, but my groom was in the UK, so I brought along my mom and a friend. We roamed the store, making note of dish patterns and registering for several sets of napkin rings. My mom was sensible, pointing out that I’d rarely use real china and white everyday plates were best. My friend and I were busy drinking mimosas, still excited by the idea of being over 21.
I was 22 at the time and had no idea what my style was, nevermind what my style might be a year, three years, ten years from then. I was the first of my friends to get married and none of us had moved into our own homes at that point. We had no idea what was practical or useful long-term.
Because I was moving to the UK to join Scott shortly after the wedding, we didn’t register for electrical appliances or big ticket items. Our wedding registry was interesting, to say the least, and was filled with “light” items such as table cloths, ice cream scoops and fridge magnets.
My friend and I left the store slightly buzzed, and with the complimentary heart-shaped champagne flutes they were giving to each couple. What a morning!
I remembered that wedding registry event recently and mentally checked off the gifts we still use. Our everyday white plates are starting to show wear, but they have lasted ten years. My mom was right–real china would have been a waste. The table cloths and the placemats served our holiday gatherings well. The melamine party platters are still a favorite – so versatile, thank you to the sales associate who told me I just had to have them for my outdoor entertaining. The napkin rings are mostly still wrapped in tissue paper, but I’m sure I used them once or twice. And that’s more than I can say for the sushi for two set.
As we celebrated our tenth anniversary this month, I’ve been thinking of the last ten years, the next twenty. Of what it means to be committed and faithful and in love. And loved.
I think of what my gift registry would look like now if I could do it all again. I keep thinking about that sushi for two set.
You see, I don’t actually like sushi all that much. I didn’t know if I liked it back then at that wedding registry event because sushi was not as prevalent outside of big US cities as it is today. A sushi date was something Carrie Bradshaw took part in, not me. Celebrities always mentioned sushi as their favorite thing to eat. My friend who had helped me build my wedding registry had gone to college in Boston–she ate sushi regularly. I went to college in a small town in Ohio where Ho Ho Cake, inspired by those super sugary pre-packaged Hostess Ho Hos, was the most exciting thing on the dining hall menu.
“You guys could make your own sushi!” she exclaimed, holding up the box.
And I must have thought it was a good idea because onto the registry it went. I must have thought it was right up our street.
Or maybe I thought it should be.
That was the first “should” of married life I encountered.
As the years passed, I kept trying sushi. I don’t like to admit that I’m not a big fan of sushi, because it’s healthy and cool and trendy. I certainly don’t like to tell people I dislike sashimi. If I go out for sushi, I order vegetarian rolls or the tempura prawns that taste mainly of batter. I sip the tiny cups of tea and pretend I know what I’m doing with the sauces. I grasp the chopsticks so hard the handwriting callus on my finger starts to reappear.
It turns out Scott isn’t that keen on sushi either. He likes the fresh seafood, but not the rice and seaweed and littly dippy dishes (or any of the bits I do like.)
As a couple, we never go out for sushi. I don’t think we’ll ever make our own sushi.
We will never be these people.
All these years later, after its international tour of cupboards around the world, the sushi for two set now sits in the back of my pantry taking up valuable space.
It stays close to the unopened fondue pot–something we say we should use every winter when I imagine us in some sort of Swiss chalet, complete with alpine views and turtleneck sweaters. It’s something I would register for again even if after ten years we haven’t used it. Because melted cheese and/or chocolate is definitely still our thing.
I tell myself when we get around to
spring summer cleaning or when I put together a bunch of items for charity or when I find the perfect storage solution in the dining room, I’ll reevaluate all of these kitchen items. But for now, I keep the sushi set. Marie Kondo would say I am holding on to the emotions attached to it, and maybe I am.
I most definitely am.
I leave the sushi box there on the shelf, still encased in its original packaging sleeve, because one day…maybe? Or maybe not? For all I know, the tiny plates have smashed to bits in any, or all, of our house moves, but I don’t open it to see.
I’m just going to hold on to it a little longer. Not because I feel I should anymore, but because I like the reminder of how Scott and I figured out our styles and tastes, together. And I like remembering how my friends rallied around me when my soon-to-be husband was 4,000 miles away, and how those friends selected pieces I still have in my home today.
That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we don’t do wedding registry do-overs.
(But if we did, the less napkin rings, the better. Just saying.)
The fox stood in the middle of the road. It was almost midnight. The only dim light coming from behind the beveled glass door at the pub on the corner. The fox looked at me and I looked at him. Neither of us moved. I clapped my hands, but the fox didn’t run.
I called Scott, who was sitting in our home no more than a quarter-mile away, and I whispered into the phone, “There’s a fox in front of me and he’s not moving!”
“Just keep walking. It will run away when you get closer.”
But the fox just stood there. So I ran instead.
That was my only brush with wildlife in the UK.
Last spring, during the final inspection of the house we bought here in Washington, the current owner showed up to collect his washing machine. He came outside to greet us while we were checking out the patio area. We made small talk about the house and the neighborhood. He told us May would be the loudest month of the frogs in the nearby creek. They might keep us up at night, he warned, but he found them soothing. His own personal Brookstone soundmachine. Or something like that.
Our realtor looked out into the woods and added, ominously, “Those frogs will tell you what’s really going on out there.”
“Like…there’s a fox?” I asked, following his gaze.
“Earthquakes. When you grow up in California and you see an earthquake tear up the road right before your eyes, you get real good at listening out for these sorts of signs.”
I think it was at that moment when the current owner clapped his hands together and said, “All right! Well, that’s me done. Best of luck in the house!” before hightailing it to his truck.
On the first night in our new home, we pushed the boxes against the wall, too tired to open another. We collapsed into the bed we’d purchased in England that now looked too small in our master bedroom in the US.
It was early May. The frogs in the creek croaked nonstop just as the previous owner had said they would. Until of course, they did stop. All together, at once. Silence.
“You know what that means,” Scott said.
“Something made them stop. Something’s out there.”
A minute or so later, the frogs started back up again and I forced myself to sleep before they stopped again.
Thankfully, there’s been no significant earthquake yet. (Don’t mention that article about the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia fault line – I know already, I’ve read it, I’ve talked about it, I’ve lost sleep over it.)
But since moving out here, I have seen coyotes, deer, bald eagles, raccoons, and a bobcat. It is no wonder the frogs stop croaking from time to time.
We live in a big neighborhood with hundreds of homes. It is heavily wooded and our house is near a conservation area. It’s not a huge surprise that we’ve seen so many wild animals, but it’s still a surprise to me when I catch a glimpse of one.
The “scariest” animal in this area is the black bear and there are quite a few sightings. We hear about them from neighbors on our community Facebook page, but it seems that actually seeing a bear is still pretty rare.
So, it was both terrifying and amazing to see a bear ambling up the street when I stepped off the front porch to take Quinn for a walk on a sunny Friday afternoon. I saw the car coming up the street slow down before I realized what the large black ball was in the distance. And then I manically jerked Quinn’s leash and ran back inside. To find a good and safe photo spot, obviously.
The bear wandered across our neighbor’s lawn and then crossed the road into our yard. I stopped filming because Quinn, overly excited about being off leash and in a new room of the house, kept jumping on the furniture and was about to bring down an IKEA bookshelf on us both. The bear moseyed on into the woods and I stood at the window, very nearly hyperventilating at seeing a bear in my front yard.
I was still reeling from the wildlife sighting and enjoying the comments section of my video after it had been picked up by a local Seattle news station when I saw another bear. Three more to be exact.
On Monday morning, I was sitting in my pajamas, watching HGTV and sipping coffee. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black bear sniff our outdoor furniture and then head up to the woods, where two more bears were feasting on ferns.
I gasped and pointed even though it was just me and the dog. I channeled John Candy in The Great Outdoors: “Big! Big! Wooo big! Big! Big bear!”
I shouted for Scott–I didn’t realize he was taking a shower–to look out the window, “Scott! Bear! Bear! Outside! Oh my god! There are three of them! Bear! Bear! Bear!”
At that point, Quinn had seen the bears and was going mental, pacing along the couch and barking. The bears munched a little longer and then retreated beyond the pines.
Ten minutes later, when Scott came downstairs, my heart was still pounding and I thrusted my phone into his face. “Bears. Again. Out there. Right there.”
He swiped through the photos, so gutted he had missed them. Again. And they were just out there, right there.
But aren’t you scared now? Everyone asks me. Ok, yes, it’s scary to see a bear. I’m not going to lie. But if you’re going to run into a bear, a black bear is the best kind. They are more scared of us. Plus, this is our home. This is my yard. I live here. What am I going to do?
Well, first things first. I have to reprogram Quinn somehow. Because now, whenever I gasp or speak with surprise, she jumps on me with great concern and then barks at the window for good measure. Watching TV is a real pain in the ass now, and this is a problem because I love TV.
I’m happy to check off “see a bear in the wild” from my bucket list. I’m good now. I don’t need to see another.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a fox again though.
On this day ten years ago, we were walking, arm in arm, on a parade field near a small white chapel in Virginia. When we stopped in a shady spot for some respite from the May sunshine, a ladybug landed on my wedding dress. Before I could brush it away, the photographer called out, “Wait! It means good luck!”
We let the ladybug crawl all over us. For photos, and for extra luck.
We have now been married two years longer than the national average, but I don’t think the ladybug has anything to do with it.
In the last decade, we have watched people around us divorce, remarry, separate and reunite, in no particular order. These changes of status, names, households and hearts have made us stop to take stock, to sense check ourselves. The idea that it can happen to anyone–even the happiest, even the luckiest–is both terrifying and motivating.
I like to think of marriage as a book. And on my wedding day, I knew only the CliffsNotes version–a condensed guide to a lasting union, a summary heavy on idealism, light on reality.
In the beginning, in the honeymoon stage, that was good enough.
But now I understand there’s much more to the story and I think it’s worth telling.
This book called marriage can be thick, with chapters of varying lengths and teeny tiny font. It can make you laugh out loud and cry with joy. It could be the best book you’ve ever read.
It could also be a slim book with oversized text. A speed read.
It might be a book that starts out strong, but loses your interest somewhere along the way.
The setting and the tone of this book can change with very little notice. When this happens, it can be worrying and frightening, exciting and hopeful.
You might like the main character(s) in one chapter and dislike him/her in the next.
There are new characters being introduced all the time. This, too, can be worrying and frightening, exciting and hopeful.
The same goes for plot twists.
Some chapters are worth re-reading. Others, not so much.
There will be passages you want to highlight. Words you need to look up. Phrases you hope to remember forever.
There will also be parts that make you question what in the world the author was thinking!
Lots of people will say you have to read this book. It’s a must-read, they’ll insist.
Many people will truly love this book.
These people will make the book seem like a beach read.
Some people will rave about the book even if they don’t really like it very much because it feels like the whole world loves this book and they don’t want to be the odd one out.
Not everyone will recommend the book.
People will tell you their mom/dad/brother/sister/aunt/uncle/friend thought the book was sad/depressing/awful/scary/a waste of time.
You might meet someone who hates reading books. (They may never read this one. Or they may pick it up sometime later to see what all the fuss is about.)
They may say they’ll wait for the movie version.
Lots of people won’t stick with the book. They might be better off trying another genre.
Investing in a hardback doesn’t guarantee durability.
Some versions of the book are shorter than others.
Some endings will come too quickly and others will be a long time coming.
Unfortunately, you don’t always get to pick the version.
You might find someone has spilled coffee on your edition. The pages are crinkly and stained. You have to work harder to read the words.
Or you may be happily reading the book only to discover someone’s ripped out a bunch of pages.
Or you could get to a point where you think the book is coming to an end, but then you’re relieved to see there are more pages left than you first thought.
Some of the book covers seem shinier, prettier, and more valuable than others, but with all things, it’s what’s inside that counts.
Though, some books really are that lovely, inside and out.
It’s best not to compare editions.
Keep your nose in your own book.
On the good days, you read the book slowly and intentionally, taking in every word, enjoying the flow of the prose. You like to revisit the highlighted sentences.
On the worst days, your mind wanders and you can’t stop counting the pages. You consider flipping to the end just to be able to move on. You can’t remember why you highlighted those sentences at all.
Try to have more good days than bad.
You may feel pressure to be at certain points in the book.
People will have strong opinions about your reading pace. They will wonder when you’ll get to the next chapter and then when you do, they’ll ask about the chapter after that. You’ll feel like you can’t read fast enough.
Those people will be adamant that it shouldn’t take you so long to read this book.
But they will also be disappointed if you read too quickly. Did you skip pages? Did you skim it? You can’t just skim it!
Most people won’t share the parts they are struggling to read because they think everyone else is getting through the book so easily.
Join a book club. Share your favorite passages and the chapters you can’t quite understand.
Take your time. Re-read. Question. Highlight. Bookmark. Enjoy.
This book usually reads best if you keep at it, rather than picking it up and putting it back down again.
But if you really want to, if you really love it, you can always find the page where you left off.
Becoming a best-seller has a lot more to do with love, sweat and tears than sheer luck.
This book called marriage is subjective.
This book isn’t for everyone, in every way.
This book may look different to your neighbor’s/friend’s/sibling’s/coworker’s book.
You don’t always know what kind of book you have.
And because of that, you keep turning the page, and try very, very hard not to spoil the ending.
You know those chalkboards people design for their kids’ milestones? The ones that tell you their weight, height, number of teeth, favorite words, recent accomplishments, etc?
I made one for my dog. What do you think?
I like the artsy twig. I think it really makes the board.
I should probably stop what I’m doing immediately and open an Etsy shop wherein I sell milestone stickers for puppies, a la “Today I Ate My Own Poop!” and “Today I Humped the Cat!” (©™ just in case.)
Seriously, I like the chalkboard pics. I do. They’re very cute and they’ll be wonderful to look back on over the years. When I have a kid who has hit worthy milestones, I’m sure I’ll do the same. But back to my dog.
The animal shelter asked for updates on the patriotic litter of lab puppies and I finally sat down to write up a summary of how life has been for us post-adoption. While I was selecting photos, I got thinking of milestone chalkboards and my love of lists and here we are. Who needs an actual chalkboard?!
Loves: belly rubs, string cheese, dirty socks, frozen carrots, shoelaces, and romcoms
Hates: the vacuum
Favorite games: Keep Away (mostly with the Comcast remote), King-of-the-Mountain (mainly on the one piece of furniture we really didn’t want her on), and Laundry Room Sweep (bolting into the laundry room and grabbing the first piece of laundry she can find. Extra points for dryer sheets.)
Favorite music: Peter, Paul and Mary, but not If I Had a Hammer. She prefers the slower, softer, anti-war tunes.
Best trick: puppy-dog eyes
Friends: Bishop the Rottweiler, Gronk the St. Bernard, Cora the Dalmation, Zoey the Pitbull and Betty White the Chihuahua
Nemesis: Miss Jenna, the Springer Spaniel who lives across the street.
Milestones: First Allergic Reaction After Eating a Bug and First Time Being Startled by the Sound of Her Own Fart
Years ago, I was groped by a stranger on an overcrowded train in London.
I could tell you how my husband ran two miles to the station to meet me after I called him in tears. That would certainly be love story worthy. The part in a romantic drama where we all swoon. But this is a different kind of love story. This is a love story about me, for me. And for you too, and all the other people who ever question the space they keep in this world.
There are more of us than you might think.
It was the holiday season and the last train of the night was packed with commuters and revelers. I had rushed to catch it, after a night out with coworkers. Passengers stood in every available inch, trying to cling to the poles or the backs of chairs as the train swayed and stuttered along the tracks. Beer mingled with perfume and sweat as the scents wafted down the carriage.
I stood near the door, my back against the divider. I remember the journey very clearly because something didn’t feel right. The man in front of me was standing too close. I compared him to everyone else standing around me. The others tried their best to move as little as possible, to keep their belongings to themselves. We were all touching, but not touching-touching. This man was most definitely touching-touching.
But I tried to ignore it because I was afraid to draw attention to myself. I was nervous to accuse him, worried about causing a commotion. I wrote about what happened next in an essay for Good Housekeeping, and even now, five years on, it’s difficult to make sense of why I reacted the way I did.
Back then, I thought people on the train wouldn’t help me. I feared this man’s behavior was excusable because I had smiled at him. I worried I’d “asked for it,” in some unspoken way. I wondered if I’d been too friendly, too easy, too silent. I believed others would think this man’s actions were OK, fine, nothing to get worked up about. I was so scared I’d be making a fuss out of nothing, even when it felt like a really big something.
For a long time after the incident, it was the internal discourse–that confusion of feelings–that disturbed me the most. When I wasn’t doubting the severity of the incident, I was beating myself up for staying quiet, though I couldn’t tell if I’d feel any better about what happened if I’d stood up for myself. I told myself it wasn’t that bad, especially when I thought of the terrible things that take place in the world. But that didn’t help either. It only made me feel worse for not being able to just get over it.
I’ve often thought about what it’d be like to go back and redo that night. I would have stepped off the train the second it got too close for comfort. I would have slept at a friend’s house or paid for a taxi home. I would have said something, loud and clear. I would have punched the guy. Any, or all, of the above.
But I couldn’t have a redo. I could only choose how to move forward. And I realized my feelings surrounding what happened on the train that night were directly tied to how I felt about myself at the time.
I’ve spent my whole life obsessing over the amount of space I take up in the world—figuratively and literally. From my body to my paycheck, from my thoughts to my voice. It always felt too big or too little, too much or not enough. This way of thinking was what was holding me back from getting angry. The good, therapeutic kind of angry. I was too busy hating on myself.
So, I looked at ways to heal from the inside out. I decided to take up boxing lessons. I read self-help books. I signed up for a race. I started to talk about what happened to me, and I always felt a strange mix of relief and sadness whenever someone replied with their own similar experience. Over time, I stopped questioning what happened that night, and I stopped blaming myself.
There is no magic trick, no on/off switch, no quick fix. I’m still learning to take the space I need—and want—in the world, and I have to remind myself not to apologize for filling it. I’m working on that every day.
I don’t think about that night on the train very often anymore. But whenever I do, I feel the anger. And it makes me smile.
Then, I move on.
I told you this was a different kind of love story.