Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back Home Again, in Indiana

I thought I'd recap the repatriation experience for posterity purposes, not to mention the fact that it's 95 degrees outside (that's 35 C for my Briton friends), and 105 with the "heat index" whatever that means.  And all I want to do is sit inside in the wonderful air conditioning (unheard of in the old bungalow).  

Tangent:  I just recently found out that "Brit" is short for the noun "Briton" not the adjective "British".  It's different because you would use the word "American" both as an adjective and a noun.  Class dismissed.

It started on the evening of July 31st - I worked a full day, took my group out for a pint at the on-site work pub at lunch, then wrapped things up, said my goodbyes, and swapped out my BMW for a people carrier (minivan, Americans) to fit our luggage.  Three checked bags, two carry-ons, 1 cat kennel, and half an umbrella per traveler adds up!  We had to lay down all the seats to fit everything.

All of our belongings from the UK (minus cats) - did you know umbrellas don't count toward your luggage allowance, regardless of its size?
Over the few weeks preceeding the move we started planning what we were going to pack, what we were going to offload on others, and what we were going to pitch.  

We gave away our bicycles, spices, food processor, bedding, towels, hangers, meat grinder, mini-grill (as I mentioned before), hair dryer, and my UK hair clippers (I cleaned them!).  I threw away all of my white (now grey - we never could figure out why bleach didn't work the same as it did back home) socks and undershirts, in addition to 2 pairs of trousers which I'd completely worn out the crotches (from walking), and 3 pairs of shoes which had reached their end of life.  We also had to throw away the cat things like their litter boxes, scratching post (which got very good use), and leftover food.  Man I hate wasting food - I did try to eat all we had, but we dined out a few too many evenings leading up to the end and had some leftovers we had to pitch.

I just realized the detail in the above paragraph is far too much boring detail for the average reader.  I apologize, but I won't delete it.

After the van was packed up we tried to sleep for the next 90 minutes (I could not) before we took off for Heathrow at 1:00 AM.  Yep, this trip home was cat-centric.  It was far too logistically challenging to get a hotel room at the airport for the night with the cats in tow.  We had booked 7:45 AM flights to get home at a reasonable enough time to get the cats situated back at our house and get our bed out of storage.  The cats had to be at the cargo terminal FOUR HOURS ahead of the flight.  Then we could drop off the rental van and proceed to check in.

The only hiccup in this whole process was that there was some miscommunication about the waybill number for the cats on our flight.  We had two numbers because someone had "recently switched computer systems".  Isn't that always the case?  There were a few minutes around 3:40 AM on August 1 (the day our visas expire and the day I'm no longer allowed to drive legally) when I thought we were going to get denied.  Luckily, the emergency number provided by our pet shipment broker worked, we handed the phone over to the processor lady, and she sorted things out.

By the way, the first guy we talked to at the United cargo check-in desk was completely useless.  We were the only people in the reception area not wearing high-vis gear and not shipping commercial goods.  We were also the only people who had no idea what the hell a "waybill" number was.  He simply said "you're not in the system" and left us high and dry.  Luckily another worker - a very friendly woman - showed us pity and actually looked up the flight to see that indeed two cats were scheduled to be on it.  Luckily, she realized there was probably not another person with the same last name who would be dropping off two cats at Heathrow Cargo at 3:45 am to be shipped to Chicago.  She smoothed everything over, took our cats to the live animal waiting area, and with our coritsol levels dropping, we went to return the car and check in.

Not gonna lie, this was pretty miserable.  I'm already on 20 hours without sleep.
After we checked in our luggage (I won't scare you with the price charged to check a 3rd bag...).  We grabbed some breakfast and went to our gate.  They announced our names over the loudspeaker to call us over to the gate desk.  And then something very, very good happened.  Something that redeems every stressful flight scenario we'd encountered over the last 12 months of traveling.  We were handed new seating arrangements - row 6, priority boarding, BUSINESS CLASS!!!

I was in disbelief at first, and Kerry didn't understand what it even meant.  She had never flown business class before.   And this was on a newer 777.  We were greeted with champagne, given blankets, pillows, eyeshades, socks(?), and a toothbrush.  Our seats laid back completely flat into beds.  All the windowshades were drawn and the lights went dim in the plane after takeoff.  It was magical.

I didn't bother with any pictures, and honestly I wish I could say I slept better than I did, but the experience was incredible.  The food was actually pretty good, the attendant tried to get me drunk, and I watched Lincoln and The Hobbit Part 1 feeling very comfortable, dozing off  during both, but seeing enough of the films to be content.  Kerry slept much better than me.  Not to mention how well she slept in the van while I was driving south on the M1 at 2 AM...

The next leg of the trip was a chauffeur car from Chicago to Indy, by way of the cargo terminal to collect our cats.  You're probably wondering (1) why didn't we fly to Indianapolis and (2) why we got a chauffeur.  To answer (1):  there are rules about flying with live animal cargo; if it's too hot they won't let the cats board the plane - August 1st at noon in Chicago was not even a "lets wait and see" option.  They just said No.  Also, only small regional planes fly from Chicago to Indy, that wouldn't take animals anyway (we flew from Indy to Newark on the way out).  To answer (2):  company policy states you're not allowed to lease a rental car after an overseas flight lasting longer than 7 hours, so they paid for a chauffeur.

I had called ahead to say we had a lot of luggage - here comes the Lincoln Navigator, the largest personal car I've seen in a year.  Welcome to USA!

Our cats were very quiet on the way home (they usually meow constantly in cars).

Welcome to Indiana, beautiful in its own way.  The Chicago-based chauffeur was less than happy he had to drive to Indy and back (6 hours).  But he was paid (and I gave him a little extra since he had to wait for us at the cargo terminal), so suck it up.

Home sweet home!  And look at my trusty Ranger waiting for me in the driveway!  Yeah our house is a bit aged-looking on the exterior.  There are plans to spruce it up, not sure when they'll be executed...

Kerry's parents and sister were waiting for us when we arrived!  Our renters' lease was up the day before, but vacated a week early for a vacation.  So, since my sister-in-law had an emergency key, they let themselves in to prepare for our homecoming (aka filled the fridge with beer!).  As you can see the house is still standing, and the interior was no worse for wear.  I was very happy our tenants worked out as well as they did, in addition to our property manager.  I'll gladly give you a referral if interested.

Our first American meal.  This pizza chain is one of our favorites.

Dessert from the Flying Cupcake - a popular Indianapolis institution - thanks to my sister-in-law, Kim (who visited us last June with Kerry's parents).  And notice the M&M's in the background?  Dear lord, we had an unhealthy first day back! haha.

OK, not all junk food.  From my inlaw's garden, a giant "courgette".  USA! USA! 

Unpacking our beds and kitchen was top priority, which went along very quickly thanks to our help.  By this time I'd had only a couple hours of fitful sleep in the last 48 hours, and was falling asleep at the dinner table.  The next 10 hours of sleep in my own bed were amazing.

So over the weekend we settled in slowly, and I found things to fall into place pretty quickly and easily.  I instantly noticed how much easier it was to drive a mile, park, take care of X, and return in a reasonable amount of time.  The woman at the cafe where I ordered a "coffee to go" (unheard of in continental Europe, tolerated in the UK) wanted to be my best friend. And the cicadas and crickets during the summer night were so loud!  I never realized England didn't have crickets until my first day back home.  

Here's a few things we did that were high on the priority list.

I sharpened my chef's knife.  Butcher shops do this for you in the UK, but Kerry would never take mine in.  I never saw the point of buying a sharpener stone over there, so my knife was DULL.  It was one of the few kitchen utensils we brought over with us, along with the wine bottle opener, scraper, and my fast digital food probe thermocouple.
As you can see, we had remodeled the kitchen recently.  Actually it was finished about 8 months before we left for the UK.  I can't express in words how happy I am to be back in this kitchen that we designed from the ground up.  Not to mention how happy I am our tenants didn't destroy it.  I am literally about 30% more efficient in this space with all my tools and appliances in their place.  I think its the one physical "thing" I missed the most during our time in the Sandiacre bungalow.

Kerry's cherry red Honda Fit!
We needed a new car for Kerry pretty quickly, I think.  It never was made clear how long I was allowed to rent a car for after our return...  Her car was totaled in a minor accident about a month before we left, so naturally we spent the insurance money on travel, haha.  Oh well, I was able to finance this used car for a very good price by buying from a private seller.  I took out a low interest loan against my retirement savings.  Yes, we could have saved for a new car during our year abroad - I knew I needed one - but we didn't.  We traveled.  Not ashamed of that.

Cats had priorities of their own.
This garden window looks out to our very large backyard, home of our very large silver maple.  Our cats did not forget where their favorite basking spots were located.

So, after getting home on a Thursday afternoon, I was back at work on Monday morning!  First week went pretty well (I'm still on the phone with my UK colleagues often).  That next weekend, we could have stayed home and continued to unpack the non-essentials, but instead we drove back up to the inlaws house in northwest Indiana for a neighborhood party.

This, my British friends, is Cornhole.  Beer in one hand, corn-filled 16 oz bag in the other hand.  Get the bag in the hole, job done.
The inlaws live in a lake community with  a private beach, so we had a good time grilling out with their friends, and it served as a nice "welcome home" party with extended family who live in the area.

This is not a British seaside town, just a suburb off the highway with a manmade lake nearby

Nice spread at our BBQ!
That night it was the annual fireworks display, so we all hopped in Dave's boat to get a good spot on the lake for viewing.  This year a couple of his buddies decided to do a "Venitian night" theme by lighting up their runabout ski boats.  I should clarify - "Venitian night" in this context is a Chicago Yachting Association's annual parade along the lakefront of Lake Michigan.  I'm not sure it has anything to do with Venice, Italy.

Regardless, this was pretty fun - these guys got creative for the first annual Shorewood Venitian night!

Ours was the one with the illuminated flamingo!
We made a flotilla by lashing the boats side by side an had a nice floating party while we waited for the fireworks.  

So yeah, that was different, huh?  I hope you enjoyed the contrast to our usual British post.  I have one more of these I'd like to share about our trip to the Indiana State Fair (more to try to get a few laughs out of our British friends who read this).  But that's all for now.

A couple of Americans being American. (I was happy to have my "I heart Jet Engine Noise" tshirt out of storage!)

1 comment:

  1. It took me a while to read this one. This was hilarious and made me miss America. Although I'm not sure how you wear out your crotches so fast. Glad you finally got the knives sorted out. I don't know why Kerry couldn't have been bothered to take care of that in England...... geeze. And wtf is a waybill.