Tag Archives: moving

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You’re Not “Settled In”

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One British phrase I hear a lot these days is “How are you settling in?”

I get it with respect to my recent move. I also get it with respect to my new job.

And my answer, I fear, is “Not very well.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love our new flat. And while the job has been super-busy, it’s also very interesting and I’m learning a lot and getting terrific experience as a manager.

But “settled in?” Not hardly.

There are lots of reasons for this, but I think the main one is that a lot of the basic things I rely upon to give my life some semblance of order have been absent over the past couple of months. Which has caused me, in turn, to reflect upon what it is- exactly – that furnishes us with a sense of control over our day-to-day existence.

So here’s my list of what throws me off-kilter when it goes missing. I’d love to hear yours:

1. You lose your phone. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time not so long ago when none of us had a cell phone. We do so much on our phones now – from texting to scanning the news to mapping journeys to updating our status on Facebook – that they really have become an all-purpose gadget in the digital age. But  I don’t think you quite realize the degree to which you are dependent on your cell phone until you lose it or it breaks down, as mine did last week. Boy, was that an eye opener. Not only did the temporary phone the store gave me lack about half of my contact list, it was also a very primitive model, so there was no internet access/no weather/no Twitter/no bells and whistles/nothing. If you want to feel disoriented in five seconds flat, try texting someone  on a phone you don’t know how to work. Your text will look like a ransom note and you will suddenly feel like you have lost complete control of your life.

2. Your house is in disarray. Thanks largely to my husband, our move to a new flat this time around was about as smooth as it’s ever been. But as anyone who’s moved house regularly knows, there’s moving in and there’s moving in. We’ve done about 80% of the work now – the furniture is where it’s meant to be and the dishes are on the right shelves. But behind every sofa still lurks a pile of unhung picture frames and if you open any random drawer you are likely to discover a surfeit of random medical supplies. After my last move, I wrote a post about living with mess and coming to “radically accept” that unfinished feeling. But boy it ain’t easy.

3. You’re off social media. Granted, this one isn’t going to be as unsettling for some as it is for others. But if you’re used to being Online several hours a day for several years, to wake up and suddenly find yourself “somewhere else” during the day – in the dreaded “real world” – is profoundly disconcerting. In my case, adjusting to less time in cyber-space has been compounded by a glitch in my Seesmic account, which – for the non-initiated out there – is a fabulous, free software program that enables you to manage things like Facebook and Twitter all in one place. I’m still on Twitter and Facebook, but – as with the lack of my mobile phone –  I feel decidedly handicapped by the transaction costs entailed in using less sophisticated technology to access them. Simply put, I just don’t have all of my usual tools at my disposal.

4. You interrupt your exercise schedule. This is really key. For many of us – even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as particularly sporty – having some sort of exercise routine is a key way that we instill a sense of order and purpose into our weeks. In my own case, I’ve been pretty good for the last several years about running three times a week and doing yoga or Pilates on a fourth day. But since I moved and changed jobs, that’s all gone out the window. I’m still keeping up the running (more or less), but Pilates has virtually disappeared. And I’m feeling the consequences, both physically and mentally. I can’t afford to let this happen. Nor can my back. So until I resume Pilates, I know I’m going to feel off my game.

5. You lack a routine. When I took my new job, I negotiated that I would be part-time for the first two months and full-time thereafter. This decision was largely dictated by my imminent move and also by the fact that we didn’t have any childcare in place at the time. And while this arrangement has helped me manage both of those things, it’s also meant that I haven’t had much of a routine yet at work; some days I’m there a full day, while others I’m there only four or five hours. Some people groove on the lack of routine, but not me. Having no two days alike just makes me feel out of sorts and I actually think I’ll relax more once I’m there full time.

 

How about you? What kinds of things make you feel like you haven’t “settled in”?

 

Image: Cell Phone by JonJon2Kate  via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Live Frugally

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve just moved. One of the things that happens when you move is that you get a chance to reassess your life . You reconnect with your past, you re-imagine your future and you start noticing things about your life that might have passed you by because you hadn’t opened a certain cupboard in four years.

One of the things I’ve noticed is how frugally our family lives in London compared to when we lived in the United States. Some of that has to do with the global economic recession of the past few years, some of it with the exchange rate, and some of it with the exorbitant cost of living in London.

But we’ve also made some smart choices about how to cut costs and I thought I’d share some of those with you today:

1. Don’t buy books. OK, this may sound insane coming from someone who regularly posts about books and reading, but it’s a good piece of advice. Owning a lot of books not only wastes a tremendous amount of space, but you have to ask yourself  how often you actually re-read them. (In my case: almost never.) Books are expensive. The average hardcover book retails for about $26 right now. Whereas in the library, you’ve got loads of choices and they’re all free. So as long as you request them sufficiently in advance, the sky’s the limit to how many books you can read without ever spending a cent. (OK, I’m not counting late fees….)

2. Don’t buy movies. I have a good friend here in London who watches a lot of films. But whenever I recommend one to him, he always says “Great! I’ll go buy it this afternoon!” This friend isn’t loaded and I always wonder why on earth he spends so much money on movies when you can subscribe to something like Netflix (US) or LoveFilm (UK) and see all the movies you like for a low monthly fee. (Or get them at the library for nothing. See above). We own a few films, but most of them are for the kids and almost all have been presents. It just strikes me as a really easy way to cut down your budget without losing out on anything.

3. Make your own coffee. This one is a no-brainer. If you add up all the money you spend on buying coffee out everyday – let’s say you spend $2.50/day on some kind of fancy coffee drink, that adds up really quickly:  $16/week, $74/month, $888 a year to be precise. (This is, by the way, is exactly the sort of logic we used to use when I worked at Chicago Public Radio in order to exhort listeners to donate to our station.) For $800, you can buy a really nice espresso machine these days, and possibly even a grinder to go with it. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually prefer my own coffee to the stuff they sell on the High Street. I can even send you a video on the optimal way to tamp your espresso (free of charge.)

4. Buy second-hand items. For years I resisted this. Part of the reason was that my mother always shopped at vintage clothing stores when I was growing up and for that reason alone, I was hell-bent on not doing it. But now I see her infinite wisdom. And it’s not just clothing. We’ve furnished half of our flat in London with (really nice) second-hand furniture that we’ve acquired from other American families who come here for a few years and then move on. Over the past few years, we’ve chalked up sofas, rugs, waffle makers, night lights, you name it…and all at a really moderate price. I’m a member of a local women’s group that lists such second-hand sales as part of its services. But many schools, churches and other community organizations do this sort of thing regularly. So keep your eyes peeled…there are some real treasures out there and people are often dying to offload them.

5. Do some travel writing. Granted, this one is going to be easier to implement for the journalists and writers out there. But it’s amazing what kinds of deals you can get on hotels and travel arrangements if you agree to do a review. We’ve done a ton of traveling around Europe over the past few years – to places like Helsinki and Vienna and Croatia – and most of it has been possible because I arranged to do a review of the hotel where we were staying. Note: you don’t necessarily have to be a professional writer to score this kind of gig. One site that I write for is mostly just a bunch of mums offering tips for family-friendly travel. And once you’ve done one of these reviews, getting more gigs is a piece of cake. Try it! You *will* like it.

Image: Unphotographable Otto Espresso Machine by CoffeeGeek via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Living With Mess: Radical Acceptance

Christina Katz has a great post over on her Prosperous Writer E-zine this week about what she calls “clarity.” She defines clarity as “lucidity…exactness…simplicity.”

It’s about figuring out what you need and what you want as a writer and paring down your obligations and responsibilities so that you can really zero in on what’s important. (Note: you must subscribe to her free e-zine to read this post, which I heartily recommend.)

This is great advice for both writing and life, and something I continually have to remind myself to do when I start feeling overwhelmed. “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity,” as the man said.

The problem is that isn’t always that…well…simple. Sometimes you can’t achieve clarity because there are too many loose ends in your life and you have to accept that some of these just aren’t going to get tied up in short order.

Which is where I’m at right now with – oh – just about everything in my life. You see, I’ve just moved house. So everywhere I look I see unopened boxes.

There are the real boxes, those last stubborn few that simply refuse to empty themselves because – if you cared to tackle them – they’d require you to scratch your head and say: Now where does that plug go? Which cannister is that the top to? And why, again, did we decide to save that yarmulke from that bar mitzvah five years ago?

Then there are the metaphorical boxes:  The stack of New Yorkers that lie unread. The emails that began to pile up the day of the move and some of which sit still – unopened – in the dark recesses of my inbox. Those last few changes of address that haven’t yet happened because it turns out that you actually need to call the pension fund in the U.S. where you still have some pocket of retirement savings during (its) business hours because they can’t process an overseas address on-line.

And then there are all those technological boxes that can’t be opened because this is the U.K. where the customer comes last. So the internet provider lost track of your account and now you have to wait another 10 days for them to come to your neighborhood to set it up. Or the bank forgot to update your address so your credit card keeps getting rejected. Or – my personal favorite – the satellite dish for the TV can’t be installed because you live on the third floor and their ladders don’t go that high. (Um…no offense, but isn’t this what you do for a living?)

It drives me insane, all this mess. Because I hate things that are un-finished. I’m the lady who sometimes adds things to my to-do list *after* I’ve done them just to feel the satisfaction of crossing them off, remember?

So I’ve been feeling really unsettled lately. (It didn’t help that for the first five days of my move the U.K. didn’t have a government. I was like “C’mon, guys! Just make up your minds, would ya?“)

And then, something weird happened. Yesterday night was my monthly book group meeting. And, on top of everything, I hadn’t finished the book. This has never happened to me before. I’m one of those hard-core, unsympathetic book group types who *always* finishes the book. But this time, I just couldn’t.

But because I love my book club, I went anyway. Even though I hadn’t finished and felt wretched about that. (It helps that we were reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s marvelous Half of A Yellow Sun about the Biafran War. Speaking of learning how to live with mess…)

And you know what? It felt OK to be there, even half-read. Because it was the best I could do.

My life coach has a great phrase for moments like this. She calls it “radical acceptance.” It’s for situations where things are exactly how you’d like them *not* to be  – where you can’t, yet, achieve “clarity.”

So you force yourself to extend the parameters of what you’d normally find acceptable. And you decide to  just roll with it. Because you know that you are on the road to clarity.

And that’s O.K.

Radical Acceptance.

Image: Unopened Boxes by CDaisyM via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Songs To Listen To While You Move

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Today’s list is inspired by – what else? – my imminent move.

I remember when I was leaving graduate school and needed to pack up my apartment. I called an old friend and asked him for advice on how most efficiently to do this. His advice? “Get really drunk and stay up all night shoving things into boxes.”

That may have been good advice for that particular phase of life (even then, it remains doubtful), but it certainly isn’t how we’ve been approaching this move. Instead, to distract us from the minutiae as well as to motivate us to clear the final hurdle, we’ve been listening to a lot of music in our house of late.

And I’m finding that when you’re moving, listening to music that’s about actually about moving can be particularly inspirational. In that vein, here are five songs to get you psyched up for a move:

1. Cleaning Out My Closet. O.K. Definitely not one to listen to with the kids around, what with all those references to killing one’s mother and the like. But there’s something really cathartic about the rage and determination that Eminem brings to this song that will have you decluttering in no time.

2. Movin’ Out. Yes, I’m a die-hard Billy Joel fan. I’ll fess up right here (along with admitting to a certain fondness for Barry Manilow.) The great thing about this song is that it’s all about New Jersey (“Who needs a house out in Hackensack? Is that all you get for your money?“) And New Jersey is the great state where I grew up – and, significantly, left at the age of 18. So for me, this song is a poignant reminder of why there are times in your life when you just need to move on.

3. Movin’ On Up. Oh, come on. Surely you remember this one. It’s the theme song from that 70s sitcom about the upwardly mobile African-American family, The Jeffersons. (Still don’t remember? Sure you do. Listen to this to jog your memory.) What an awesome song (and show.) I’ve been humming it for weeks now, as we contemplate a move into a bigger space with a nicer view. It’s not the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I’ll grant you. But next to where we’ve been living (see yesterday’s post), it’s not too shabby.

4. Leavin’ On A Jet Plane. The Peter, Paul and Mary version, puh-leeze. My husband hates folk music of any sort – or as he puts it, music that “inspires you to sway.” Me? Can’t get enough on it. Especially when it’s loaded with nostalgia, like this song is. So if you want to inject some melancholy into your departure – to really savor nostalgia for a place – pop this bad boy into the CD player and start swaying.

5. Hit The Road Jack – And then, once you’re done feeling sombre, it’s time to kick it with the incomparable Ray Charles. Here he is performing his classic Hit The Road, Jack. Say no more.

What have I forgotten?

Image: Packing Sucks by John and Katurah via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Saying Goodbye to My Mews House: A Poem

I’ve long been of the mind that right before you give something up – a car…a neighborhood…definitely a relationship – you allow yourself to be annoyed by that thing.

It’s not that the thing itself has changed in any fundamental way. It’s just that whereas you once focused on the upsides (he’s cute…he’s funny…my mother likes him), you now allow the negatives to creep in (I hate that shirt…please stop chewing like that…kissing you is so boring.) It’s just normal. It’s how we begin to separate before we say goodbye.

In that vein, as I pack up the last bits and bobs around our current house before leaving it permanently on Thursday, I find myself doing precisely that:  allowing myself to hate all the things about this house that I’ve managed to put up with over the past four years.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to like about this house, which I’ve often described as an exceedingly well-located closet. I wrote a novel here. I started my blog here. And – most important of all – it’s the place that we first moved into when we decided to throw caution to the wind and move our family overseas four years ago. For that reason alone, it will always be special.

And yet, as we stagger towards the finish line, I’m allowing all the negative things I’ve suppressed about the house to come to the fore.

I’m not much of a poet. I usually leave that to the fabulous Communicatrix and her Poetry Thursday series. But as I take my last walk around this house and pick up the errant sock or felt tip (magic marker) cap or MatchAttax card that mysteriously appears – years later – in the obscure corners of our storage space, I find myself moved to wax poetic.

So here it is – my Ode to a Mews House – inspired by that childhood classic, Good Night, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I’m calling it Goodnight, Mews:

Goodnight Mews

In the tiny, cobble-stoned street

without a sign

there was a house

and for four years, it was mine.

And though I’ll be sad to see it gone

Here are some things for which I won’t long:


Goodnight kitchen tiles, that never quite fit

and were meant for the wall – not the floor – but tough sh*#.

Good night shower curtain, which hangs by a thread

And the sweaters I was forced to keep under my bed.

Good night builders, who knew nothing of plumbing

and Good night, next-door neighbors who hated my son.

Good night, storage closet that eventually hits earth

and was home to the rats who made our house their berth.

Good night, Toilet Seat from which I would fall

And the miniature fridge that stands two feet tall.

Good night shower that always floods when it rains

And goodnight darling landlord, you were really a pain.

Goodnight stars, Goodnight air

Good night Mewses everywhere.

*****

For those who are interested, head on over to PoliticsDaily.com to see why I think Gordon Brown will lose this election on Thursday.

Image: Pink Mews by tubb via Flickr under a Creative Commons License


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Five Ways To Stay Positive While You Move

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

We’re moving in exactly one week. And so I’m pretty single-minded right now. When I’m not actually doing something connected to the move, I’m thinking about the move.

I’ve fessed up before to just how very much I hate moving. (Some would say irrationally so. I name no names.) But I’m also trying to take my own advice from last week’s volcanic ash crisis and remind myself that “Ce n’est pas gràve.”

And it really isn’t all that “gràve.” In fact, there are a lot of positives that emerge when you move house and they aren’t just the simple pleasures of decluttering.

In that spirit, here are five ways to stay upbeat during a move:

1. Reconnect with your kids’ childhood. One of Gretchen Rubin’s four splendid truths is that “The days are long but the years are short.” She employs this principle to capture what it’s like to be a parent:  how those long, seemingly endless days of reading Good Night, Moon and potty-training dissolve – overnight – into adolescence. Her point is that you really need to savor your kids’ childhood while it lasts because while it may feel long in the day to day, it’s actually fleeting. (I had this same realization last year while re-reading Peter Pan with my daughter.)

Moving helps you to savor their childhood. Because of the many things you unearth as you re-open those frightening storage containers that you hid in the depths of your closet when you first moved in are the myriad art projects, report cards, essays and birthday cards that your kids have done over the years. My own favorite was a picture that my son drew when his (quite progressive) nursery school did a unit on Martin Luther King. I’d forgotten all about this picture, which used to hang above the desk in my old office. It depicts a sort of Monsters, Inc.-style version of MLK addressing an audience with a disproportionately large microphone while saying “I hope that one day Black people and White people can be friends.” Priceless.

2. Reconnect with your own past. You may not have any kids. But you’ll still be forced to take a trip down memory lane as you yank stuff out  of those dusty old cupboards. I found a pair of my father’s orthopedic shoes. He left them here on his last visit to London in October of 2008. We saved them so that we could give them back to him on his next visit. But he never came back. He died, suddenly, of a heart attack in March, 2009. Back when he was alive, I hated those shoes. They were large and clunky and a visible reminder that the body of a man who used to take jump shots in our driveway well into his 50s was slowly giving out on him. (It ended up giving out on him much more quickly than we expected.) But seeing those shoes again actually made me happy. They were a tangible reminder of his presence in our lives. And I needed that.

3. Allow yourself to let go of the *shoulds*. I’ve written before about how many of us go through life tethered to an endless list of things that we feel we ought to be doing, yet never quite manage to accomplish: making photo albums, reading the Bible, joining a gym. During the course of going through my files the other day, I came across some notes from a Hebrew class that I took while pregnant with my son and which I’ve schlepped around with me for (gulp) ten years. The thought was that some day I’d get my act together and really learn Hebrew. Well folks, I still haven’t let go of the goal of figuring out my relationship to Judaism. But I think that I’ve finally acknowledged to myself that despite my best intentions, that process will not entail learning Hebrew (a least for the foreseeable future.) Toss. Ditto my hopes of ever actually using that over-sized fish poacher that we got for our wedding. After twelve years doing noble service as a de facto spice rack, I think it’s finally time for me to dispatch that particular item from our lives. Phew.

4. Imagine new vistas literally and figuratively. One of the most exciting things about moving is that it offers the prospect of a whole new neighborhood to discover. There will be new cafés, new book stores, new dry cleaners – not to mention new neighbors!  I love change so imagining these things is always a way to motivate myself when I just don’t feel like calling the Gas company to request new service or whatever arduous task lies at hand. It’s a bit like singing My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, if you’ll forgive the cheesy Musical analogy. And change in one’s physical scenery can also furnish a new take on life psychologically. Out with the old and in with the new, and all that good stuff. I really believe that.

5. Trust that things will be better once you make it to the other side. Like childbirth, if you really remembered all the gory details, you’d never move more than once in your life. And yet, most of us do it several times. So, yes, moving is painful but it also does come to an end. And when the clouds part, there’s a whole new world to explore.

*****

For those of you who’d like to hear my latest thoughts on this unbelievably exciting British election, please head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.


Image: Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King by zug55 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Improve A Long-Term Relationship

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.

So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:

1. Make a small gesture. Happiness blogger Gretchen Rubin lists “Give Proofs of Love” as one of her resolutions. By which she means that it’s as important to demonstrate your love to someone else as it is to love them. Perhaps even more important. There are lots of ways to show someone you love them. You can buy them a new car. Book an appointment with a career counselor. Decorate their room with their favorite things. But you can also do small things. In my case, I noticed one morning that my husband’s toast had popped out of the toaster and was ready to be buttered. While that’s not normally something I’d do for him (speaking of breakfast routines), one day I decided that I’d do it, just to be nice. Guess what? He noticed. And thanked me. Then I did it again. He thanked me again. And I realized how even a tiny gesture can speak volumes.

2. Defer to your partner on a decision. If you’re in a long-term relationship, chances are you’re making loads of decisions together all the time: where to live, which school to send the kids to, how to balance career/family. Some of those can and must be done together. But occasionally a decision will come along where you can afford not to weigh in as much as you otherwise might. In my case, it’s our upcoming move. I’m a bit of a control freak. (In case you haven’t noticed.) And in an ideal world, I’d probably approach our move somewhat differently than my husband would. But I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to defer to him on this one. He’s less spastic (for lack of a better word) than I am about moving. And it just seemed like a real shame to try to micro-manage this particular event in our lives (and all the stress, anxiety and quarrels that would likely provoke), so I  just let him take the lead. And you know what? We’re both more relaxed about it now.

3. Make A Sanctuary. Once you’ve spent years in a relationship of any sort, it’s easy to start letting other parts of your individual lives (work, kids, relatives) invade your space together. Try not to let this happen. Obviously, you can’t seal off your relationship completely. But you can at least try to protect it. I had one set of friends (a couple) who made a rule that “all work stays at the door.” By which they meant that their bedroom would be a sanctuary. They were both allowed to work in the evening – they had to, sometimes – but when they were finished working, all work had to stay by the door literally outside their bedroom. I thought this was a great idea.

4. Carve out Time. Of course, a sanctuary isn’t any good to you unless you actually spend some time there. So in addition to demarcating your private space, you need also to do things together inside it. Whatever you enjoy most. In my own case, my husband and I try to set aside time every night to talk about the day and then watch something together – a DVD commentary, a BBC documentary, The Daily Show. Another couple I know makes a point of eating dinner together every night after their daughter goes to sleep (*he* cooks, mind you!), even if it’s 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night.  Still another couple I know takes a run together once a week in the morning and stops for tea mid-way through. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but that you do it together.

5. Go On An Overnight Getaway. Ok, this advice may be less good for the room mates at hand. But if you’re in a long-term romantic relationship, a great way to re-ignite that flame is to go on an adventure. If you can’t afford to pay for a hotel and sitter, then see if you can send your kids to a friend or relative and have the night to yourselves in your own home. That can be just as fun. If you can afford to splurge once in a while, it’s well worth the effort. We had some friends in Chicago who spent the entire weekend of their 10th anniversary at a hotel in downtown Chicago just 9 miles away from where the live. They had a blast. Last week, we managed to finagle a free room in a fancy hotel in London while my mother was visiting. True, we were on the smoking floor. But I can’t tell you how much fun it was to get dressed up and go down to Soho and have dinner at  a chic restaurant on a Thursday night and then amble back (at a leisurely pace!) to our fancy digs. Bliss!

*****

For those who are interested, hop on over to PoliticsDaily.com to see why I think Nick Clegg has fundamentally changed the nature of British electoral politics.


Image: Toasts by Electric Bielka via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Crisis Management: Lessons From France

Hello, again.

I’m back. Well, sort of.

When last we met, I was on my way out the door for a glorious family vacation in the Loire Valley. While away, I had thoughts of coming home and posting on the lovely chateaus that we saw, the cool troglodyte dwellings that we visited, with a few gestures to French cuisine, bien sûr.

Oh, that is soooooooo 10 days ago.

Because shortly after touching down in my lovely adopted home, my country of residence became engulfed in a crisis of volcanic ash. It has paralyzed air travel for the past five days and has wrecked havoc on the economy, the schools, heck – even the flower stalls. You can read all about the volcano’s wider consequences for Britain on my post over on PoliticsDaily.com today.

But since we’re here now – and this is a place I sometimes come to vent, I thought that you might permit me a few moments of wingeing (to borrow a phrase from my adopted country.)

I think I first knew that I was in trouble when my husband and I went on our first “date night” (no, not quite of the Steve Carell/Tina Fey variety) last Thursday when this whole volcanic ash thing first erupted (no pun intended). We had miraculously won a free room in an upscale hotel in London for a night, and carefully arranged to book our room on a night when my mother would be visiting so as not to incur undnecessary babysitting fees. So far, so good.

But by the time we got down to the hotel that evening to check in, we were told that because of the volcanic ash, the hotel had only double bed still available, and it was on the smoking floor. The other rooms were all singles. Note: this is the *third* night that my husband and I have spent together without our kids in nine and a half years. Not exactly what we had in mind. (As it happened, the room itself was OK but the hallway required the use of a gas mask.)

And things went downhill from there. You see, everybody I know is stranded somewhere right now. I’ve been getting Facebook updates all day from friends who are in Rome, Dubai, San Diego, The Algarve or never even managed to leave London because of this thing. In our case, it’s my mother who’s stranded. She was scheduled to leave London this past Saturday. They are currently telling her she might get out *next* Saturday.

Which would be fine, of course, except that we’re about to move. So in addition to all the boxes and check lists and endless organizational trivia that accompanies a move (I finally got the official change of address form from the Post Office today!), we also have a house guest. Thank goodness she likes to read a lot.

So, all in all, I’m feeling pretty stressed (unlike this lady in the New York Times who seems to have taken her inadvertent London vacation in stride.)

Which brings me back to France (as all things eventually must.)

When we got off of the Eurostar in Paris, we were greeted by the news that there was a rail strike in the country that would affect most major rail journeys for the duration of our trip. And – true to form – we not only missed our train to the Loire Valley, but had to wait three hours for the next train, where we literally sat in the aisles all the way down to Tours.

As Americans, we aren’t really used to powerful labor unions. It’s just not part of the political fabric of our country in any meaningful way. So we were perplexed, outraged and vocally fuming about this massive and unforeseen change to our trip.

In France, in contrast, strikes are a part of life. They happen all the time. And while they may annoy and inconvenience the French, they don’t fundamentally get to them. “Ce n’est pas gràve” is a phrase one hears quite often.

And it was true. Instead of moaning and complaining throughout the course of this incredibly cramped two-hour journey, people were smiling, chatting, and drinking wine. They just weren’t treating it as “gràve.” And the more I watched them, the more I realized that they had the perfect attitude towards this whole mess. Why feel lousy over something you can’t control? There’s no point.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the French since the volcanic ash crisis took over my life a few days back. And every time I feel myself wanting to rage against the machine, I try to remind myself “Ce n’est pas gràve.” And it helps.

Plus, I just feel more French when I do it.

Stay tuned.

Image: Early Morning Spectacle by Storm Crypt via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Make A Move Easier

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I mentioned yesterday that we will soon be moving.

Did I mention how much I absolutely *hate* moving? If I had my fictitious wife, I think I’d put “orchestrate all moves” at the top of her list of duties.

Not everyone feels this way about moving. I think it’s a great example of something where there are just two kinds of people. One friend of mine, for instance, loves to move because it enables her to throw away all the things in her house that annoy her. My husband doesn’t actually mind it either. It gives him an excuse to re-allocate our many gadgets within an entirely new space. (Aha! So the Dustbuster really *can* fit on top of the television! Whaddya know?)

But for me, moving is the very embodiment of hell. So if, like me, you dread moving house, here are five tips to make the process easier:

1. Get boxes beforehand. Lots of them. This sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many boxes you need to carry out even a small move. Fortunately, after all of my work on the PTA soliciting donations from various local businesses, most of the merchants in my neighborhood on a speed-dial relationship with me already. So I don’t foresee a problem obtaining boxes when I need them. But if that weren’t the case, I’d begin collecting now. Buying them from Mailboxes Etc. really adds up. Trust me!

2. Make a Change of Address List. Right now – while you’re thinking about it – sit down and make a list of every possible place that needs to know that you’re moving. Not just obvious places like your kids’ schools and your doctor’s office, but all of your frequent flyer programs, any utility companies who send you a paper bill, your grocery store if you have food delivered, and especially your local voting authority. There are way more than you think.

3. Declutter Now. I’m not a natural de-clutterer. I tend to favor putting things into neatly stacked piles, only to ignore them until said pile topples over under the weight of freshly sorted material. And particularly with this move we’re about to embark on, it looks like we’ll be moving into a considerably larger space. So it’s really tempting to just hang on to that PlayMobil Castle and all its attendant turrets, even though my son hasn’t played with it for years. But that would be a huge mistake. Because there are so many things – clothes, toys, kitchen aids – that we simply don’t use and must go buh-bye. (Unsure of what to toss? Here are 8 specific tips from the decluttering guru, Gretchen Rubin.)

4. Have someone else pack for you. Sadly, we can’t afford to pay someone to pack up for us this time round. But I have done that twice in my life and my husband often comments that those may well have been the two happiest days of my life. (Too bad all I owned at the time was a suitcase, a guitar and a futon, which did take a bit of zing out of the pleasure, it must be said.) But there is *nothing* like having a couple of people whisk into your house and pack up your belongings while you sit there sipping a cup of tea with your feet up.

5. Buy some Xanax. Really, just do it now. You’ll thank me later.

*****

Speaking of moving, Aiden Donnelly Rowley had an interesting post over the weekend on Ivy League Insecurities about what it’s like to sell a house and that bitter-sweet feeling that accompanies the open house. Have a look…

Image: Packed Boxes Upstairs by Arthaye via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Renting Or Buying: Which Is More Grown Up?

We’re about to move.

We just got notice from our landlord that we have 60 days to vacate our home. And among the many things we’ve had to contemplate on short notice is whether or not we want to continue to rent or go ahead and buy.

I’ll cut to the chase and reveal that it looks like we’re going to be renting our next flat (which – in an act I can only attribute to God or Karma or both – we may have miraculously already found, the very day that we got kicked out!) But for a brief moment over the weekend- 48 hours or so – we thought seriously about buying.

I’ve written before in this space about how I find safety in movement. For me, buying a house falls into a long list of things – jobs…careers…continents – which make me feel trapped, and from which I instinctively flee.

So I was heartened when renowned Yale economist Robert Shiller gave me an out from forcing myself to confront my commitment-phobia in a column that he wrote for the New York Times last week. Shiller points out that the United States government has been subsidizing home ownership for decades. And it has done so largely for cultural reasons:  for many Americans, owning a home is intimately bound up with our notions of citizenship. Home ownership is the very embodiment of individual liberty, whereas renting has been linked (culturally) with the oppression of the landlord.

Shiller wants to suggest that this American attachment to owning a home needs to end. Financial theory tells us that people should diversify their assets, rather than dumping them all in one place (a home). And by encouraging people to take a leveraged position in the real estate market at all costs, mortgage institutions have encouraged this culturally rational – but economically irrational – practice. And we all know where that got us. (Thank you, sub-prime mortgage crisis.) (For an interesting perspective that argues the exact opposite, see this article in Forbes.)

Shiller’s bottom line, then, is that we should re-think the idea of renting because it might make more sense for the majority of Americans. He gives Switzerland as an example of a country that has re-jiggered its housing finance institutions in the direction of rentals without sacrificing national pride.

Shiller isn’t framing it this way, but another way to put what he’s saying is that in the present economic climate, it may actually be more grown-up to rent, rather than to buy. Which is the exact opposite of how we normally think about this issue.

To which I say: Amen. When can I sign the lease?

*****

Yesterday, I was over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about the never-ending War In Iraq and its ongoing political and cultural legacy.Have a look.

Image: For Rent – Reduced??!! by Kelly Sims via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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