Saturday, December 14, 2013

Candy Cane Complicated (AKA My Big Fat Moving-In Post)

From America to Britain, from Salem to Gayton, from Beth to Acorn, from Marion to Norfolk, from Chauncey to Oak way or the other, we are here and in a house.

Welcome to 9 Acorn Drive, AKA the already-named Oak House, in the town of Gayton, the county of Norfolk, the country of England.

Don't trip over the boxes or children piled up everywhere, please.

The kitchen. The red is my favorite feature!

It may not look super-impressive to you, but this house has a normal-sized fridge/freezer...AN EXTREME RARITY IN THE UK!
An important feature for all my PNW visitors: a built-in cappucino maker. You're welcome.

I took these photos before the movers arrived. Because I figured my readers didn't really care to see giant walls of boxes. Care to join me on a tour?

But first, here's the skinny on how we found this place: my friend Kim back home has a friend who has a friend who just so happens to be stationed at RAF Mildenhall like us. She said, hey want me to hook you up with someone I've never met but who knows my friend?

Why not? So first via Facebook, then via Bob Hope (no, not the man, the indoor playground on base!), I met Liz.

For the first time in our 9 years of marriage, we have a staircase. Nick, as you can see, is pretty happy about that.

Liz is a super-cool and crafty Montana mom of two boys whom I immediately liked. She lives in Downham Market, which she immediately liked when she first moved there 18 months ago. "You should try to find a house there," she said.

And so I did. Try, that is.

I had been searching online for a house with Mildenhall (the town where Nick's base is) as the center. And the pickings were pretty slim: 1200-square-foot houses being described as "extremely spacious" by letting agents, no garages, NO CLOSETS, small and cramped rooms, and did I mention no closets? And all pretty spendy. I knew we could make it work if we had to, but I held out hope for something better.

The living room. Nick has only set it on fire once so far.

So when I moved my online pinpoint from Mildenhall to Downham Market, I discovered something amazing: the further you got from base, the better the houses got. And then I saw this house.

It looked amazing...but it was a 45-50 minute drive from base. I should have known better than to show it to Nick; he immediately started drooling and said to call the letting agent. Once he gets an idea in his head, it's there for good. (I am a prime example).

The piano room
Long story short, I came alone (yet somehow with 3 small children), I saw that the bathrooms had vanities (another rarity here) and that the kitchen was red and I fell in love.

Jack saw that it had a trampoline and some play equipment. I told him those things don't come with the house. "Actually, these ones do," the agent said. "The owners are moving to New Zealand and can't bring them."

Jack smirked and reminded me that last week he had prayed for a house with a trampoline. And I knew that we were meant to be here.

The utility room
The cool part? Kim, my Salem friend who introduced me to Liz, is a real estate agent. I would never have seen this place if it wasn't for Liz. So Kim, in other words, unwittingly found me a house on the other side of the world. She's good, folks.

Another view of the utility room. It's larger, thankfully, than most master bedrooms here in the UK.

Since then, it's been pure craziness. Moving internationally is wild, moving in December when you're easily guilted by perfect Facebook photos of your friends' perfect Christmas memories is a jungle on steroids. Part of me wants to title this post, "THIS IS THE WORST TIME OF THE YEAR TO MOVE EVER!" But then I think about the disaster in the Philippines, and the homeless, and Pastor Saeed, and the older Reece's Rainbow kids who are coming close to forever losing their chance at finding a family, and I realize that just to be sheltered, warm, fed and together is such a gift.

Our little double garage. Our van doesn't fit, and to get MacGyver in, you have to fold the mirrors in. But hey, it's a garage, which is quite a find around here.
Some cliffnotes on British houses, and ours specifically:
  • Though the house is only 4 years old, it still doesn't have closets. This is a sore sticking point with me, obviously.
  • The doors do not have deadbolts; each individual door and window has its own key. In other words, this house has about 30 keys and I have locked myself in at least 3 times. 
  • Kitchen sinks here do not have sprayers.
The utility room bathroom
  • The walls are made of concrete, not drywall. So if you notice a sprinkling of bruises on any given limb of mine, don't worry. 
  • Bathrooms don't have any outlets (except for a shaver plug; I have no idea why) or light switches. Instead, you dry/curl your hair elsewhere and the lights have long cords. Apparently, they don't worry about strangling lawsuits here. P.S. Jude is thrilled. With the cords, not the lack of lawsuits, although I'm sure he would be given the chance. 
  • No screen doors; instead, they have window vents.
The kitchen leading into the dining room
  • Each individual plug-in has its own off/on switch. Of course, it's not like we can use the vast majority since we have all American appliances and only two transformers that we drag all over the house. I will never take my Scentsy warmers for granted again.
  • The garage doors don't roll back, they lift up. 
  • No hoses or water spigots out front. Apparently washing cars in such a mud-infested country is not a high priority. 
  • The toilets hook straight into the vanities. 
The lovely-sized backyard, complete with trampoline and playground

Raised garden beds and a clothesline!

The kitchen leads to the entryway and utility room
The good: 
  • This place has 6 bathrooms. I would trade 3 of them, however, for a closet. If the Church of England doesn't have a patron saint of closets, it should. And fittingly, he/she wouldn't have any pockets. 
  • Celia gets her own room. I'm praying this entices her to visit often. 
  • For anyone who is thinking of visiting, you don't have to worry about your accommodations. You get your own guest suite, complete with bedroom, master bathroom and lounge area that closes off from the rest of the house.

Celia's room

Our room, with a view into the backyard

Thank goodness the owners had to move internationally. This wardrobe just wouldn't fit in their carry-on.
  • Speaking of visitors (and oh, we want you), we are only 20 minutes away from the beach, 15 minutes from the Queen's summer home and less than a 2-hour train ride to London.

Our bathroom, with a towel holder that even I have to bend down for.

Our shower

The family bathroom
  • We live in a town of 1400 people. Lots of farms and pretty views. Not so many sidewalks, street lights or other safety features.
  • The church here is called St. Nicholas and was built in 1216. 1216, folks. Prince William, Prince Harry and Pippa Middleton attended a wedding here a few years ago. To which my mom will roll her eyes and say, "So?"

Avinly's room, of course. It was already pink.

Jack and Jude's room

It's so weird that a) our stuff actually made it all the way across the world and b) they managed to fit a semi on our one-lane road.

  • Acorn Drive has about 10 houses. The occupants include several doctors and scientists and one Formula One racer at the end. And then there's us.

The boys' bathroom

The hallway leading to the guest suite

The guest bedroom...not quite ready for visitors, but by next month, it will be!
As I unpacked box #198 (at least that's what it felt like), I pulled out a bar of soap and smelled it. Tears pooled in my eyes before I even realized why.

I closed my eyes and was transported back to a great hall back in Sunriver, Oregon. People milled around the booths showcasing their Christmas crafts and homemade goods for sale. Mom and I strolled, stopping at every booth, examining almost everything in Riddle woman tradition.

We came to the Bend Soap Company. A lifelong sucker for the smell of peppermint, I zeroed in on the candy cane soap but didn't buy it.

Guest bathroom, or "ensuite" as the British call it
Christmas morning came, and of course, the soap was in my stocking. I didn't think much of it at the time; it was just some yummy soap that smelled nice from a mother who loves to buy me little things she knows I like.

But now, surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of 9 years of marriage and 6 years of motherhood, this soap suddenly meant so much more. They say the sense of smell is most strongly associated with memory, and I guess it's true.

Because in that moment, I would have traded anything just to be shopping with my mom again.

Life goes on in the midst of a move, especially with a future interior designer in the house!

The candy cane is so much more than a sugary December treat. It was created to represent the great Shephard's suffering (google "legend of the candy cane" sometime). The sweetness is ever-present, yes -- but it also is mixed in with the red, the representation of Christ's blood shed to save us.

And this move has been like that. Gratitude for what we have, sadness over what we're missing back home. Sweet yet bitter with the knowledge of what someone else suffered so we could be free.

It's candy cane complicated.