Sunday, April 25, 2010

They're coming to take me away hee hee ha ha

As with anything involving the government, doesn't matter what country you're talking about, the immigration process to get Paul into the US was a colossal headache! First I had to file the I-129F Petition for Alien Fiance(e) which would allow Paul to file the K1 Non-immigrant Visa for Fiance(e). These were accompanied by about 12 other forms each outlining everything from our backgrounds, to finances to not just our criminal histories but histories of everyone in our immediate families! We also submitted supporting documentation as evidence of our relationship which manifested into an 8inch 5pound box of photos, gift receipts, airline ticket stubs and a phone record so large dad nearly had a heart attack when it arrived thinking it was last month's bill! Finally, after seven months of scrambling, arguments and 3 nervous breakdowns, Paul received word that he had an interview with the US consulate in London for a final determination about the visa.

I knew I'd be too nervous to sit by the phone and wait and as Paul's interview was scheduled two days before his college graduation, I immediately booked a flight and the next 8 weeks DRAGGED BY! There was a problem however during this time. We had a pretty good feeling that Paul would be granted the visa but I couldn't find affordable housing in a decent neighborhood. Mom and I pounded the pavement hitting as much as 3 roach infested, urine soaked apartments in skeevy neighborhoods a day until finally two weeks before I was to fly out, we came across a small one bedroom apartment in lower Bayonne. Unfortunately, the place was pretty filthy but mom and my sisters scrubbed the place from top to bottom while I was finishing the bureaucratic BS in London with Paul.

First, we arrived bright and early at the consulate, showed the desk person our appointment and went up to the 6th floor. There, another desk person had us wait 30 minutes until Paul was called up to yet another desk person. This desk person told Paul he would have to get a physical from an approved doctor a few blocks away and return for another appointment at 11am to finish up the process. So we went back out on to the street and queued up like good British people to wait for the office to open so the doctor could give him a full bill of health, do bloodwork and xrays and headed back to the consulate. By then the room was full of other people waiting for visas and paperwork but an hour or so later Paul was called again and the desk person had in her hands the massive box o' evidence we'd submitted. She'd told us #1 she was surprised to see me there as most of the time the other half doesn't make the appointment and #2 this was the most evidence she had ever seen in the 15 years she'd been doing the job. She then stamped Paul's passport and it was official, he had been granted permission to move to the United States so we could get married!

Two days later, on September 13th, I met up with my future mum-in-law and brother -in-law at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College in High Wycombe to watch my future hubby walk down the aisle and receive his degree. We spent a final night with Paul's parents and flew back to America the next morning. One week later we were married, but that's a story for next time:)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Forget Springtime, I love Paris in the Summer!

Ah Paris, an experience all its own! During the visit described in last week's blog, Paul and I decided to take a side trip to Paris, France. Like my trip to England, Paris proved to be interesting but with Paul's help I managed not to cause any international incidents.

We anxiously waited in the behemoth that is Waterloo Station for the announcement to board the infamous Eurostar, a train that goes about 200mph, and I thought the trains in England were fast! Being the young American tourist, I took pictures of everything and anything that was interesting and different, including a machine I found in the bathroom that not only air dried your hands but shot a moisturizing liquid into them once your hands were dry! Of course, I took advantage of the few seconds the room was empty before snapping the pictures;) With the telltale flicking sounds of the old fashioned train station signs that I love and miss, it was announced that our train was now boarding! The Eurostar is the longest passenger train I've ever seen and sharply painted in white, yellow and navy blue with the sleek front that Acela passengers are now familiar with. The interior was remarkable to me then although now nearly every Amtrak train has followed by their example and was a far cry from the old fashioned trains Paul and I had jumped on and off during our commute to visit his family. Those trains still had thinly cushioned seats on wooden frames in individual compartments with their own doors that open and close to the outside. Though very uncomfortable, I love that I got to ride in them at least once before they were finally taken out of service a few years ago.

Anyway, back on the Eurostar, we chugged along coming to a stop as we approached the Chunnel (the Channel tunnel connecting England to France) and waited as customs came around to check everyone's passports and paperwork. Then, in a force I thought was reserved strictly for airplanes, the train started moving again, picking up speed as we zipped along so fast I was glad for the darkness outside to keep me from losing my lunch (rule #1 NEVER look out the window at any one given thing for too long while riding on a high speed train!). At the end of the 2 hour trip we pulled into Gard du Nord station and slipped into the funky filthy station that led to the Paris metro line. It was reminiscent of the NY subway system of the 80s complete with stench and graffiti but I was amazed at seeing a double decker subway train! We quickly climbed in and whisked off to the station closest to our Parisian hotel. As we wandered through to street level, we looked at each other and quickly sped past a large American man sporting a cowboy hat and bearing a remarkable likeness to Hank Hill loudly twanging at some poor customer service agent about finding a decent place to eat and "none of this frog leg, fru fru sheeyit"!

Once above ground I stopped and took a deep breath. One thing I noticed during my trips to Europe is the air is so much different than here in the US. I don't know if it's just because I'm always in vacation mode but the sky always seems crisper and the air feels cooler and clearer even in summer. It was about mid morning on a weekday so the streets were fairly empty as we made our way to the Best Western Derby Eiffel. I've never been a huge fan of Best Western hotels but this was one of those rare instances where I found a very elegant and impressive branch of the chain.

Now everyone talks about how nasty and uncooperative Parisians are but as Paul alerted me and I discovered myself, if you make an attempt no matter how foolish you feel at speaking French rather than rattling off to them in English, a Parisian will usually stop you, smiling sheepishly at the assault on his ears, and start speaking to you in English. We were given our room key and headed upstairs. Imagine our surprise when we opened the door to find someone else's stuff inside! After checking three times to make sure we had the right room (despite the fact the key opened the door you still feel compelled to check that you didn't make a mistake) we went back to the reception desk where the staff apologized profusely for double booking the room. There wouldn't be another available vacancy ready for several hours but we were able to leave our luggage with them and wander around the city for a few hours until the room was ready so it wasn't a big deal.

Our first stop was Notre Dame Cathedral. I'm a big fan of Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame and stood there, looking up at this colossal building, just awestruck at the detail involved in a time before cranes and thinking about just how old the building really was. Seeing the place on the screen just doesn't compare to seeing it in real life! Inside, people spoke in hushed voices and sunlight poured in through the large stain glass windows and danced along the stone floor. There was a latin mass finishing up as we entered so we quietly wandered along near the walls looking at a kind of shadowbox exhibit of the Stations of the Cross.

We picked our way through the countless "starving artists" that set up shop on the streets and calling to us in every language they knew to get us to stop and buy something. Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower and we couldn't help but stand directly underneath it and look up (rule #2, make sure to do this in turns so you can catch each other when you start to fall over;). There were different admission prices for the three levels and a fourth if you wanted to eat at the restaurant on top but because of Paul's vertigo we only went as high as the second level. You could also walk up the stairs for free but well... no! You get on this strange little glass elevator that rides slanted up along the legs to your level and although we didn't go all the way to the top, the view on the second level was breathtaking! We wandered around the city and got to see the smaller replica of the Statue of Liberty that sits on a little island in the middle of the Seine, we ate the best chocolate eclairs I've ever had in life and which were about the size of your head and had a fairly forgettable lunch for tourists in a place located underneath a large stone bridge with very large pigeons walking around.

We went back to the hotel to rest and freshen up for dinner and discovered our luggage was already moved into our room which wasn't a room but a SUITE! There was no extra charge and the staff was apparently very happy we didn't explode at their snafu so the manager had us stay in the cute little suite with a giant clawfoot tub, big soft beds and french doors that opened up to a beautiful little cafe garden. Unlike lunch, dinner was very memorable. We wandered around and found a place called Le Royal Tour Brasserie. It was a warm night and we wanted to do the people watching thing so we sat at one of the tables outside. The menu was in French so I was at a total loss, however, Paul was able to translate somewhat and he ordered his usual steak and french fries while I went exotic, determined to try the local cuisine, and ordered a kind of pot pie with what I thought was beef in gravy with vegetables but Paul later informed me was probably horsemeat! The texture was softer and a bit stringier than regular beef but the whole thing tasted great so I didn't care and would probably order it again. This was also my first time ever trying Tiramisu. We wandered around a bit more, the city began waking up as the sun set a half hour before midnight, but we had an early train to catch so we headed back to the hotel.

We were only able to stay one night and only scratched the surface of places to go and things to see in Paris but we hope someday to return and hit everything next time!

Well, that's it for this week. Our next post will take you on the roller coaster ride that was dealing with US Immigration and the nervous breakdowns that ensued. Have a great week everyone!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Apologies for the delay but as they say good things come to those who wait! As promised, here is the tale of Miranda's first visit to the United Kingdom and meeting the in-laws...

I've always loved travelling and new experiences which is why I think my first visit to the UK at 21 years old, despite the more disasterous moments, is in my top 10 favorite experiences of all time. I was excited to embark on my first international flight and eagerly looked through the little plastic bag of goodies that was sitting on my seat after setting up my books, cd player and case for the 6 hour flight out of Newark. The flight wasn't very full and being in a center row I was happy to discover that I'd be able to stretch out my 5'11" frame across the other seats if I decided to sleep. It was the largest airplane I'd ever been on and loved feeling the power of the engines as they lifted us off the ground and into the darkening sky. After BBC News played on the little tv screen that we now take for granted on airlines today, the flight attendants started passing out everyone's food trays and I got to experience my first cultural faux pas. I looked down at little packages of crackers, cheese, creams, sugar and cookies surrounding my little chicken dinner. I got through dinner alright, having decided to ignore the little packages for the time being until they came around again with coffee and tea. Not being a tea person, I asked for coffee and my dinner was cleared away and once again I found myself staring at the little packages. Through some dissection I figured out what went with what until I found myself holding two packets of cream in two different types of tubes. I looked around trying to see what everyone else was doing and not wanting to discover the correct answer the hard way. Finally, as they came around again I called an attendant over and told her, look, I know it probably sounds stupid but what do I do with these? She just smiled, probably thinking stupid American girl, and informed me that the clotted cream was for spreading while the other was for coffee or tea. That was when I first discovered there are no stupid questions, only stupid people as I was getting ready to do it the other way around!

The rest of the flight was uneventful. I stretched out and slept until we flew over Ireland when I freshened up in the bathroom, contemplating the purpose of the hot towel the attendant handed to me but deciding not to ask. Although I assumed from the looks I got from the other passengers as I sat with it sprawled across my face that once again I wasn't doing it right, but who cares, we were about to land at Heathrow! I slipped into one of the empty seats by the window and looked out to get my first glimpse of London as we circled and my heart lept when I was able to pick out Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament! It was great seeing Paul again after a 3 month absence and strange to not be the one waiting at the gate this time. I won't tell you how in an effort to show off Paul managed to hit a pole while pulling out of the parking lot and burnt the clutch at our destination, oh wait, I just did he he

Being students, Paul got me a room at the Halls of Residence at his school in High Wycombe as a kind of headquarters as he whisked me around the country to meet my future in-laws. First up was a trip on the fastest train I'd ever been on in life, followed by a ride in my very first double decker bus (and of course I had to sit in the top level) zipping down a road so narrow I couldn't fathom how it could possibly be a two way street, especially when approaching and passing another double decker bus doing 70! Upon arriving in the sleepy little seaside town, we walked up what I "lovingly" nicknamed The Hill of Death that thankfully had a bench halfway up to sit and catch your breath. I have to say, and not because there's a chance of any of my in-laws reading this, but I like Paul's parents. His mum is a sweet lady who dotes on her family and who at one point I think went into Mama Bear mode when during one conversation we had I'd mentioned buying and sending Paul several pairs of pants during our years as friends before our engagement. I was of course talking about the multiple pairs of Levis I'd picked up and mailed for him as at the time they weren't available in the UK without costing a mint. However, my future husband neglected to tell me that in the UK pants refers to underwear and I should've been calling them trousers! So while she was in the kitchen making tea, I asked Paul why she was looking at me like I had 15 heads and when we discovered the issue, Paul quickly explained away the second cultural faux pas of my trip. Paul's father is just awesome. Upon first meeting him, he immediately reminded me of Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances. Very down to earth and no frills and at times more than made up for my uncle during Paul's first trip to NY!
During that trip I also got to meet Paul's sweet little Irish granny who was ecstatic that he was "marrying a good Catholic girl," and all his siblings. Our first meeting, I think, went very well however the second meeting involved the biggest, most embarrassing faux pas to date!

It was a few days before my flight home so we were invited to my sister in law's home for dinner. Everything was going well until the Chinese food came which consisted of several takeout containers that here in the US would contain a personal meal (meat, rice, veggie). So I sat down opened the container and was prepared to eat when I noticed a silence... an uncomfortable, awkward, BAD silence. I look up and quickly discovered the custom was for everyone to order something and then pass all the dishes around so that everyone could partake. Needless to say I immediately wished with every power of my being that the earth would just open up and swallow me!

My visit wasn't all horror and embarrassment though. I got to see the sights (somehow I always thought Big Ben would be taller) my favorite is still The London Dungeon, discovered my favorite pub food is a toss up between steak and kidney pie (which I misunderstood to mean steak and kidney beans) and fish and chips (I'm still sad that they've recently done away with serving fries, excuse me chips, in a newspaper), and learned that when you ask for lemonade you're gonna wind up drinking Sprite. Oh yeah, and most importantly, I discovered even if you come prepared with a power converter it's not a good idea to leave it plugged in and attached to an American oscillating fan. That little mistake ended up blowing out power to the entire dorm and I quickly buried the evidence DEEP inside a garbage can (whistles innocently and walks away). We also decided to take a side trip to Paris which we'll talk about next time.

All in all it was a very interesting experience, as is every trip I take to Europe, and over a decade later I find I'm still learning and making mistakes but hey, if you can't laugh at yourself when you screw up life just gets too damn serious!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

...And On the Third Day We Were Engaged!

Greetings all! I know last week we promised to tell the story of how we fell in love but we decided though it makes for a great memory it doesn't make for good writing:( So, in commemoration of the event 11 years ago, we'll fast forward to Paul's marriage proposal!

On a chilly day about mid-March I got a phone call from my favorite Brit with news that he'd be coming to visit Easter weekend, just two weeks away! It would be a short visit but as we hadn't seen each other for three months it was still a nice surprise. Mom and I were active in the church choir and that being Easter Week we were singing ourselves hoarse from Wednesday night on and the schedule was fairly hectic. So dad met Paul at the airport on Holy Thursday, which like it did this year fell on April 1st, and headed right to church while mom and I were at practice before mass started. Between the long mass, dinner with the family and the fact that the only room we had for him was on the living room couch, Paul and I didn't get a chance to talk alone until late that night after everyone had gone to bed. The lights were low and the tv off so we could talk quietly without disturbing the rest of the family in the little two bedroom apartment when the conversation suddenly went serious. Paul looked a little nervous as he started talking about how much he always loved me from the beginning. Being we were involved in a mostly long distance relationship I'd insisted on our taking things slowly so when he said "I love you" a mere three weeks after we'd started dating and then more recently when he'd started talking marriage and kids three months prior to this visit, I'd panicked on both occasions and we'd gotten into huge fights. It wasn't that I didn't care for or love Paul but at 18 and 19 years old I wasn't exactly family oriented and the intensity of Paul's feelings along with the sureness of our future scared the hell out of me. Yet as he sat there now seriously telling me about his feelings for me I started wonder that maybe I'd held him at arm's length too often and for too long and he was breaking up with me. I started to get angry at both him for not having patience and myself for being such a chicken while at the same time glad that at least he was man enough to do it in person rather than leaving it to a letter or doing it over the phone when I saw him go down on one knee. Confusion caused my brain to stop functioning as he pulled out a dark blue felt box, opened it and presented a little gold ring with seven small diamonds glittering in the dim light and the words floated up to me, "will you marry me?"

My mouth fell open, he wants to get married? Is he serious? But it's April Fools Day? Could I see myself spending the rest of my life with this man? Do I love him that much? I searched inside the way I usually do when it comes to major life decisions. The idea of being someone's wife made me nervous but the idea of marriage, kids, spending the rest of my life with Paul just felt right. I immediately thought back to that day we'd first met and the moment we'd said goodbye in the lobby of that hotel and suddenly realized what it was I'd felt that day. I did love Paul, always had, and there was absolutely no fear. I had my answer and it was yes... and if this was some kind of joke I was going to kill him!
That's it for this week kiddies. Next week will be the weird and wonderful story of when I visited the United Kingdom for the very first time, met the in-laws and got a crash course in culture shock all at the same time! Be sure not to miss it, if you thought Paul's meeting with my family was funny, this story will just kill you!

Meanwhile, don't forget to enter our giveaway! Right now every donation gets you entered in a live drawing April 25th (via Ustream, time TBD) for a Cappuccino Mug and Blueberry Pie candle set! You can't have pie without coffee and you just can't have coffee without pie:) The default flavors and scents are Cafe Latte and Blueberry but you can also get Mocha and Apple, Pumpkin, Strawberry, Lemon or Chocolate cream pie upon request. Or if you're sensitive or allergic to scented candles, they can also come unscented upon request.

So please, donate now and help us towards our goal of having a baby. Remember, proceeds not used by the procedure go to the March of Dimes and the National Adoption Center so you're helping three causes:) Also check out a site Paul and I created as part of our grieving process from our last pregnancy that gives information and guidance to those who've experienced the same problem and are having trouble dealing with it or knows of someone who does. Thanks and have a great week!