Trip to the UK: March 13 – April 3 (Part 3 – Highworth/Swindon)

August 5, 2012

Finally I get to the last section.  John’s parents rented a mini van and were kind enough to drive us up to Highworth (a small town just outside of Swindon, Wiltshire where my parents live) on Thursday 22 March.  We more than appreciated that they did this as it was a long day for them driving us up and then staying for lunch before driving home to Worthing again.  After Ann and Bill had left we took a gentle walk into Highworth (only 5 minutes from my parents) and then finished the trip by coming back past the park so that Kirsten could let off some steam.  Kirsten also found the trampoline in Nanny and Grampy’s garden that belongs to her older cousin, Chloe, and had many hours of fun on that during our stay.  Nora and Steve came over a little later once Steve had got home from work, with their son, my nephew, Simson.  This was our first time of getting to meet him and he was 13.5 months old.  Kirsten and Simson hit it off straight away.

I have to admit I don’t really remember what we did on Friday 23.  Saturday though we met up with Nora and family and their friend, Ben, who was also visiting and we drove off to a local farm, Roves Farm.  It was beautiful weather and we all had a wonderful time seeing the animals and walking the nature trail.  Nora helped Kirsten complete the nature trail leaflet (there were stamps all along the trail) which meant Kirsten got to hand it in and get a lollipop.  We drove back via Asda/Walmart and picked up dinner for everyone as my Mother had been at Cirencester Farmers’ Market that morning.  She has had a stall with a number of women selling home made foods and preserves for about the last 10-15 years and so has a very early start and is exhausted at the end of the day. Kirsten was exhausted too when we got “home” and fell asleep on the sofa in the living room, which for those of you who know us, also know that this never happens.

Sunday morning the three of us met up with Steve and Ben at the car park for the Uffington White Horse.  Again, another glorious day.  We were so lucky with the weather on this trip that we made the most of every last minute of it.  The Uffington White Horse is only about a 20 minute drive from my parents house and that was with me trying to remember the way in my head through the country lanes after not having been in over 10 years.  After a walk around the hillside for a couple of hours we decided to head across to Lechlade, the source of the River Thames.  Steve and Ben were going to come too, but after a chat with Nora they headed home to help out with Simson for a litle while.  Lechlade turned out to be extremely popular that afternoon due to the weather, but we managed to find a parking spot and had our walk along the Thames. When we got back to my parents in Highworth we found my father working with his bees.  Yes, he’s a Beekeeper and has been for over 20 years.  He also trains people that want to become beekeepers.  My Grandmother arrived a few minutes after us.  She has also lived in Highworth for about 20 years and typically joins my parents for dinner at least one day at the weekend.  It is slow, but she walks from her house to my parents although typically someone will drive her home again. She is in her 90s!  Nora, Steve, Simson and Ben then arrived to have dinner at my parents too.  My Mum loves to have a full house.  She’s used to a family of 6 but any excuse for a gathering and we’re all there.

Monday we drove across to Bicester to go to the Outlets.  We try and get here every visit and we noticed there had been a big change since our last visit.  There had been an expansion and they really, truly now are Designer outlets.  Kirsten passed out in the car back to my parents which is just as well as by the time we got back, my niece Chloe, she was 12 at the time, had arrived after school and my Aunt and Uncle, Kate and Stephen, who actually live in Chicago, were visiting the UK and spending the night with my Grandmother came over to my parents to say hello too.  My cousin, Rose, their daughter, was then staying on for a couple of months.  Rose had actually visited us in Phoenix for a night a couple of years ago when Kirsten was only a few years old.

Tuesday morning, Nora had invited us over to keep her and Simson company at their house in Wroughton.  It was a relaxing time and Kirsten got to spend some quality time with her cousin.  They even did some art work together that I brought home and had framed.  It is now hanging on her bedroom wall as a reminder of a lovely morning.  We left when Simson needed to go down for his nap after lunch.  Kirsten spent the afternoon trying to master the balance beam in the back garden at my parents house.  That evening John and I went out to curry with some of my friends to celebrate my birthday.  The Indian Restaurant was in Wanborough.  The restaurant was called The Burj and although I was out of practice in understanding the accents of the waiters they gave me a souvenir mug to take home as a birthday gift.  The food was delicious and the company of my friends was equally as good.  My friend, Kerry, organises an Indian meal out every time we return to visit England and both John and I appreciate this very much.

Wednesday was our last day before family and friends were due to start arriving from Norway.  Again, the weather was beautiful so we decided to take a day trip up to Cadbury World.  Definitely worth at least one visit in your lifetime especially if you have a sweet tooth and love your chocolate.  I enjoy chocolate, but Kirsten and John have extreme sweet teeth.  We didn’t book our tickets in advance but purchased them on the day.  Thankfully we arrived early in the day as there were a lot of school trips.  Word to the wise, if you are not going to arrive soon after opening make sure you have booked your tickets in advance.  On entering the exhibit you are each provided with a couple of full size bars of chocolate.  Trying to explain to Kirsten she could not eat these all at once was not easy and by the end of our visit although she’d not eaten everything she’d had more than enough chocolate.  On our return to Highworth/Swindon area we decided to make a surprise visit to the older of my two brothers, Magnus, and his partner, Kim and their children.  They were just getting home from shopping so that was perfect.  We spent a couple of hours with them before heading back to my parents house.

Thursday my friend Irene was flying in from Norway to visit for my birthday weekend.  Irene and I met when I was at Seljord Folkehogskole from 1990-1991.  We have managed to see each other a couple of times since this time.  A visit for a 5 year reunion; then Irene met myself and John in Denmark in late 2006 when I was pregnant and travelling with John on a business trip; then most recently when Kirsten and I went to Norway for the long weekend end of 2010 we took the bus to Larvik, where Irene lives, and stayed overnight with her and her family.  I was thrilled that Irene had agreed to come over to England to help celebrate my birthday.  John, Kirsten and I drove to Heathrow to collect Irene as she was staying with us at my parents house.  My Aunt, Anne, well she’s really my Mum’s best friend from childhood and is classed as “Aunt” was also flying into Heathrow today, but not till later.  She was bringing her daughter, Margrethe, with her.  Margrethe is my Mother’s Goddaughter.  They were staying at a local bed and breakfast during their stay.  Anne and Margrethe fly to England for every special event that they get invited to.  It was a leisurely late afternoon and evening.

Friday.  Well it’s my 40th birthday and we had decided to go and visit the sites starting out at Stonehenge and finishing at Avebury to see the Stone Circles.  It was a little overcast, but what a fantastic memory for my big day.  Thank you to everyone.  We were at Avebury Stone Circles and bumped into John’s parents.  They were coming to my party tomorrow, Saturday, but hadn’t known previously if they were going to come down the night before or not.  I insisted that they come over to my parents house later that day for Fish and Chip supper.  Anne and Margrethe also joined us for dinner.  I think the total was in the region of 12 or 13 and then my Aunt and Uncle and daughter, Clare, Thom and Victoria arrived a little later.  They had driven down from Edinburgh and were going to stay with my Grandmother.  Of course, we can’t forget that my cousin Rose, from Chicago, was also staying with my Grandmother so Victoria actually stayed at one of the local Bed and Breakfasts.  It was a lovely evening.

Saturday morning arrived and everyone was getting excited.  Today was my official birthday party and was being held at a Twelve Oaks Golf Club in Highworth. Over 40 members of friends and family came along.  My Dad went round and gave everyone labels so that people could tell how I met them.  I had friends from secondary school, friends from Norway, family, nieces and nephews.  It was wonderful that so many people wanted to help me celebrate.  Apologies to anyone that I forgot to mention.  Dinner was amazing and the room was large and spacious allowing us all room to move around and chat.  For those who could, we then went back to my parents house for tea and cake (very British I know for my American friends).  I can’t say it enough, but I had a wonderful day.

Sunday morning saw us going to the local craft shops.  Irene, like myself is also a craft enthusiast but, if I do say so myself, so much better.  She had asked to go to a local craft store.  My sister recommended Hobbycraft.  I’d never been as this was a new shop since we’d left England but would highly recommend.  Irene was in heaven.  The cost of craft supplies in Norway are extremely high so she made sure she stocked up. We had to say goodbye later that afternoon to Irene, Anne, Margrethe, my youngest brother, Conrad and his wife Marie-Clare.  Conrad and MC were driving home to Worthing and the others were all flying back to Norway on the same flight believe it or not.  My Dad drove them back to Heathrow this time.

Monday, our last day.  I had to work out the packing of everything.  Thankfully we had thought ahead and already prepaid an extra suitcase.  Definitely worth while and far cheaper.  It actually worked out cheaper than sending a package over.  There was a lot of weighing on the scales to distribute the weight back evenly.  We also drove across to see my Grandmother at her house and spend some time before saying goodbye plus took a last trip to the shops.  What a vacation.  We made the most of the beautiful weather.  In the 11 years (well almost) that we have been in Phoenix and traveled back for visits this was the best weather so far and we made the best of it.

Can you believe we flew home on Tuesday and John and I were back at work Wednesday morning and Kirsten was back in school too.  Yes, we were exhausted but it helped to get our body clocks back in sync that little bit faster.


10 Years as a British Expat

August 25, 2011

28 August 2001 brought myself and my British boyfriend on a flight to Phoenix, Arizona fresh from Burford, Oxfordshire, England.  On deciding to make the move with John we sold my house in Swindon, Wiltshire and opted to keep John’s house in Burford for the next 12 months while we saw what we thought.  What a difference both in surroundings and temperatures!  I had been out three times before.  Once in March of that year on a business trip with my boyfriend after which he asked if I would be interested in moving with him; the second in May to source somewhere to live; and the third in July when we attended the Infosol’s Annual Conference in Vegas.  The second week of this trip we drove across to Phoenix to finalise our details.  Infosol was the reason we were moving out here.  John had worked with the owner of Infosol for a number of years as he had had his own business back in England, but now John was leaving his business to work for Paul.  Here we are 10 years on!

On arrival, it was a Monday, we stayed at the Candlewood Suites while we waited for our apartment to be ready.  We had also organised the purchase of some furniture back in July but all we arrived with were a couple of cases of clothes each so we spent the next few days going backwards and forwards to what was to be our new favourite store, Target!  We went backwards and forwards to this store picking up what we felt were essentials: vacuum cleaner; bedding; towels; electric kettle (this was not an easy find); and so on.  We moved into Terra Vista apartments in Cave Creek for the next 14 months.  Why Cave Creek I hear you ask.  I knew no one outside of my boyfriend and he was to be doing a lot of travelling.  Phoenix is a sprawling metropolis and the only person I knew slightly was John’s boss and wife.  They lived with their family in Cave Creek.  It is located in North Phoenix and creeps up against the mountains and has that slight elevation which means we are always those few degrees cooler than downtown Phoenix, which, in the heat of the Summer make all the difference.

The next 9 months were going to be difficult.  As John and I were not married we had been told that I was not eligible for a long-term visa and would have to continue to use the visa waiver scheme meaning that I could stay no longer than 90 days in the US and had to go back to the UK.  We booked a return flight for November 5.  We had been told that our personal items that we had shipped out from the UK would take about 6 weeks maximum which would give us plenty of time.  We thought we had done all our homework with vast quantities of reading through books, internet etc and then the world changed!  September 11, 2001! Need I say more. Everything we thought we new was no longer.  Our shipping didn’t arrive until November 3rd our monies, paperwork etc were all held up and processes for visas, Green Cards and so on changed.  They change continually and it is up to you to make sure you always know what is going on.

On April 15, 2002 John and I were married at the Couples Resort (known as Tower Isle), Ochos Rios, Jamaica.

Just Married

We opted to have no family or friends present, but did then have a wedding reception back in Highworth, Wiltshire (where my parents live) at end of May.  This would allow me the opportunity to go back to the UK to sort out my visa paperwork, update my passport and then for John to come over and we could celebrate with friends and family alike.  I took the opportunity to get family wedding photos and so got to wear my wedding dress twice.  The reception was held at the local rep and anyone that we knew who made something participated.  My Mum sells at Cirencester Farmers Market and my father is a beekeeper so between them I think they know anyone and everyone.

October 2002 saw us selling John’s house back in Burford and purchasing our own not too far from where we had been in the apartment.  Yes, we had decided to stay.

During our time here we have had so may guests.  My mum has been out too many times to count whereas my Dad has been out I think 4 or 5 times.  John’s parents have been out at least half a dozen times.  My English Grandmother came out to visit at the ripe old age of 87.  My mother flew out with her and then my Grandmother flew onto Chicago to stay with an Aunt there.  We’ve also had my mother’s best friend from Oslo, Norway with her daughter, Margrethe, come and stay with us for a few days too.  So many family members have made it out and we thank you all for wanting to spend holiday time with us.  OK, the fact that we have so much sunshine, a pool and a spa may help too.

2003 saw John bringing a previous work colleague, Steve D, out to work.  They had worked together in 2 previous companies so had known each other for far longer than I had known John.  Steve brought his wife, Joy with him and I believe she is still enjoying the fact that instead of working full time she is spending vast quantities of time birding (a true passion of hers and if you ever need any information she will always have the answer for you).

What I have learned during my time here, and continue to learn even after 10 years, is although we both speak the same language, English, it is still very different.  My work prior to coming out was as an administrator and I have to admit I still find it difficult to switch my spelling to the American way whereas John, who has spent much of his working life working with Americans spells and says things differently to me.  Of course, Kirsten, in my mind, is not only a dual citizen but is bilingual too.  It is quite a regular occurance that the teachers have to ask what something means or, if Kirsten explained it herself, they find it cute.  We’re going through the phase of using plasters at the moment, but of course here, they are bandaids.

So where are we. Oh yes.  2003 saw us with our first addition to the family, Mohawk,Our first Cavalier King Charles Spaniel a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel purchased from a local breeder, Hurricane Dogs.  I think I’ve shared pictures recently showing that Mohawk is now 8 years and 4 months and instead of being the few pounds he was when we got him is now 30lbs and definitely becoming a grouchy old man.  We added to the brood with Charlotte around September of 2006.  We purchased Charlotte AKA Muffity Adorable Charlenafrom the same breeder but she was purchased as an adult (3 years old).  She turned 8 this month and is still the petite female that she was when we purchased her although has gained a healthy few pounds.

Next came Kirsten Greer Wilcox.  She arrived May 30, 2007 and what a change she has made to our lives! Introducing Kirsten Greer to the world Now she is an extremely tall, extremely active 4 year old.  She is now at full time montessori in order to keep her in check and she loves it.  She is also sleeping a full night’s sleep for the first time ever.  Last, but definitely not least, we added MarblesA Black Merle American Cocker Spanielto the brood in January of 2010 as a 2 month old American Cocker Spaniel puppy!  Thankfully he has calmed down except for when Kirsten is chasing after him.  What will the next 10 years bring?

Celebrated end of May 2011

My Mother’s Visit

June 8, 2011

My mother arrived on May 17 and left Monday evening, June 6.  The time came and went very quickly but we managed to do a couple of things together and yet make it a relaxing trip.  On her first weekend here the three of us, Mum, Kirsten and myself, got up and went to the Peach Festival at Schnepf Farms. We left home around 7.45am and reached our destination at around 9am.  I was amazed at how many people were already there.  We spent a good couple of hours there and came home with a tray of freshly picked peaches (by ourselves), a peach pie, some apricots (we purchased from the store) and various other little peach items.

My mother, bless her, spent Sunday morning turning the peaches into pots of jam and the apricots too.  She also made 2 small crumbles which we put in the freezer for a later date.

We finally got to go and visit the Phoenix Children’s Museum.  I had heard such wonderful things so I was hoping it would live up to my expectation.  Kirsten loved it.  There is so much there to see and do that she had 3 fun filled hours and fell asleep in the car on the way home. We are actually going again next week as Kirsten has a field trip with her new school as part of their Summer Camp. I’m going as a chaperone so I’ve not doubt I’ll be exhausted at the end of that day.

Then we celebrated Kirsten’s 4th Birthday on Memorial day.  We invited a couple of friends over with their children for a BBQ/Pool party. We were 7 adults and 5 kids, and I hope they all had as much fun as they appeared to.  Kirsten is currently going through her Disney Princess phase so everything is Disney at the moment.  She needed new dress up clothes so I had 4 outfits made by 2 separate shops on Etsy.  She got costumes of Belle; Cinderella; Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The local Safeway also made me a beautiful Princess and the Frog birthday cake with chocolate/vanilla marble cake and strawberries.  We were eating the cake for the rest of the week.

Last but not least Mum and I managed to attend a cooking class at Sur La Table together.  Mum had never attended a cooking class in her life and yet she bakes and sells preserves at Cirencester Farmer’s Market back home in England every other week.  Anyway, back to the class.  This one was Summer Treats of Italy. We had a wonderful 2.5 hours that just flew by.  There were only 4 of us in the class so plenty of food for tasting and we even got to take a little home so that my husband could try some of the peach stuffed gnocchi.  The cherry granita and cherry sorbet were exactly the same recipe but one was made with the ice cream maker and the other was just placed in the freezer.  I have to say that the granita/sorbet and the gnocchi were my 2 favourite items of the evening.