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It has all been for this moment.

image The rest was surprisingly simple.

The last few days of waiting were pure anticipation, all bureaucratic obstacles overcome, all arrangements made and confirmed, just the formality of signing a register to go, before the rest of society would acknowledge the commitment we had pledged to one another long ago, we could finally get on with our lives (after yet more visa paperwork) and She could get a job.

All through the weekend I found myself grinning at Her like an idiot and, as if saying it out loud would make it seem less surreal, I would say; “We’re getting married on Tuesday!” and burst out laughing.
I had never thought I’d get to this point and now I was here, it seemed, through all the dreamlike haze, the most natural thing in the world.
I could honestly look inside myself and detect not the slightest doubt, hesitation or indecision.
There was nothing I wanted more than to spend the rest of my life with these two special people and almost before I knew it, The Big Day arrived.

I’d taken the Tuesday off work to get married, and the Wednesday too, for our honeymoon.
Not the wedding of the century then, but nonetheless it was all we wanted, all bar one thing.
Due to one final twist of the bureaucratic knife, we would be having our little ceremony without Missy in attendance. The seemingly immutable laws of the Chief Registrar stated that, without paying an extra £70 to cover “up to 30 guests”, only ourselves and our two witnesses would be allowed in the ceremony room.
Working as we were on a tight budget, paying seventy quid extra for one six year old was not an expense we could justify, although Missy was focused mainly on the reception, (to be held a month or so later, once we could give people rather more notice than we’d had available for the wedding itself) so we played down the day as “just signing some boring documents” and that seemed fine by her.

I got up early and took Missy to school, then made my way out onto the moors to pick up Chris, old friend, wedding witness, financial saviour and one of the people we really couldn’t have done all this without.
After that it was just a matter of going home to get changed and sit chatting, waiting for the hands on the clock to crawl up to midday.
She was already dressed when Chris and I returned and She looked positively radiant, glowing with happiness and, like me, not in the least bit nervous.

We drove into town and parked by the concrete monstrosity that houses the civic centre and registry office, arriving just in time to meet Becca, a former housemate of mine and the second witness to our nuptials.
Whilst Chris and Becca were shown into the ceremony room, She and I went with the registrar, to confirm all our details and be walked through the last steps of a journey that had begun with a misplaced thumb on Facebook, over six months ago and nearly four thousand miles away.

To be honest, I doubt if I would have noticed if there’d been a hundred people in the room, all I remember is looking at Her and speaking the words we were asked to repeat, Her eyes as calm and beautiful as that first day of revelation, looking up at me with an expression that told me all I needed to know, had ever needed to know, that this was meant to be.

We exchanged rings, but even that was mainly for show as they were already ours; She had a small sapphire ring, which also covered the blue part of the “…something borrowed, something blue” tradition and I used my late father’s signet ring, a small way of including him in a day I wish he could have been there for.

And of course, The Kiss.

Then it was time to sign the register and pose for photos, (thank you again to Becca for doubling as wedding photographer for the day) after which the nice lady who recorded our wedding asked if she could read an Irish marriage blessing, which was very poetic and rather sweet.

The whole thing took barely fifteen minutes.
Next thing was to organise the reception, so friends and family that She had yet to meet could come and celebrate with us.

But first, I really thought it was about time I took my wife for a drink.



The final wait.


Returning to the daily grind after the Christmas break has been just as pleasant as being at home really, only in a different way.

The fact that I come home to Her smiling face, the smells of cooking and a happily chattering Missy, working on her latest art project or giving a running commentary on a TV show, makes the day less of a drag somehow, my mood instantly lifts as I drive home each evening and the thought of sinking into a domestic routine never seemed more attractive.

Missy is properly engrossed in school now, the easing-in period of visits from Santa and Christmas parties is over and now there’s homework and gym class, a new dinner menu and “forest school” (outdoor pursuit classes), along with the much-anticipated trip to Paignton Zoo at the end of the month and a “baking and pajama party” to be earned by not receiving any bad behaviour points.
And she shows all the signs of loving every minute, making the most of her minor celebrity status as the only American in a school full of curious English children, who think her accent is “cool” and ask her about life across the pond as if she’s a traveller from another world. Which I suppose to them, she is.

As for Her, now more than ever she is keen to get out and start working, but as usual in this journey of ours, we are once again being held back by the talons of bureaucracy.
The initial “twenty working days” we were quoted by the registrar, to check Her divorce papers with the relevant authorities in America, passed sometime around New Year’s Eve, and on enquiring what was taking so long, I was informed that the lady responsible for our application was on holiday.
Not only that, but when she returned and eventually got in touch, it was just to tell us that the chief registrar was now running two weeks behind schedule and we would have to wait until their backlog was cleared.

In other words, just the sort of bad timing and disorganization that had dogged practically every step of our trip through the maze of bureaucratic beartraps and official obfuscation we’d been cautiously negotiating since September.

So on Tuesday this week I finally lost patience and called her again (despite the warning from our registrar that “head office have specifically told us not to ring for updates, as it just slows them down”) only to be told that she was on holiday AGAIN, but was back the next day and would get in touch.
And would you believe it, but she actually did.
And less believable still, our application had been processed and we could now get married pretty much whenever we liked!

Now all we had to do was make sure our chosen witnesses were available at such short notice and pick a day.

It seemed at the same time to be both the most surreal thing I could imagine and the most natural thing in the world, but one thing I was completely sure of; the thought of spending the rest of my life with Her, and the two of us watching Missy grow up together made me incredibly happy in a way that I’d never known before.

Oh, and of course there’s that one last minor hurdle of the visa exchange to make our lives unnecessarily interesting, but that seems like a mere formality.
Nothing’s going to stop us now.

Interlude: Getting to know you – An open letter to Her.

imageTo say that I’m happy with my new life would be an understatement and I hope I speak for Her and MIssy when I say the feeling is mutual.
But as with all relationships, there has to be some kind of transitional period, the accelerated emotional learning curve that helps you to really understand how to nurture that happiness.

As you know, if you’ve followed our story from the start, She and I had been friends for a long time before we realised we were falling in love. In that time we had got to know each other pretty well, considering we had spent the vast majority of our friendship nearly 4000 miles apart.
But it isn’t until you spend time living together that you find out all the things you don’t know about the one you plan to share the rest of your life with.

Oh, I always knew there would be cultural differences, homesickness, occasional linguistic barriers (the old “two countries separated by a common language” cliché) and various other adjustments to my routine and lifestyle, all of which I was only too happy to make. But the actual process of getting to know someone, well that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

At this point I should probably say that I might not be the easiest bloke to live with. Not that I’m intentionally difficult or awkward, but maybe there are facets of my personality which need some adjustment.

You can’t really predict what someone is going to be like to live with until….well, until you’ve lived with them for a while. So for the last few weeks I have been attempting to attenuate the me-ness of me, because although I’m quite happy being me, I’m perfectly well aware that others might not be so thrilled about it.
It has made me very conscious of how tone of voice, body language, micro-expressions and other non-verbal communication can affect the way others see us and most of the time I take notice of this and try to moderate myself and my behaviour, in order to not upset the woman I have fallen so deeply in love with.
And do you know what? The process of de-me-ing me, for the sake of Her and Missy, has somehow given me back the me that I most like being.
If you see what I mean.

However, every now and then I take my eye off the ball, so to speak, and a little too much of the old me leaks through.
That isn’t to say that I’m mean, rude or obnoxious on purpose, but sometimes I don’t take long enough to think about what’s coming out of my brain before I let it escape from my big mouth.

I am trying though, because there’s nothing I’d hate more than causing Her or Missy the slightest distress if I can help it.
So I can only apologise for any slips of the tongue, inadvertent snarkiness or thoughtless comments that may not translate the way I mean them to.
I’ve always known that She is sensitive and caring in a way that I’ve seldom experienced before and, despite Her best attempts at coming to terms with our time together, I feel it is my responsibility to make the extra effort, easing them both into a new and strange life that will, if I pay close attention, be the best thing that’s happened to all of us.

The love of my new life grows daily, so if I can only stop being quite so me, I think that we will all be happier than I could have ever imagined.

Getting Chris-Missy.

imageI’m not really one to “do” Christmas. Not usually anyway.

But this year has been different.

With school breaking up the Friday before Christmas and me still working until the following Wednesday, She and Missy had plenty of time to raise the festivity level of our little household several notches.
She decorated the front door with a wreath, the garden fences with ribbon-trimmed fir swags and the living room with floral displays, all using the foliage of a large conifer we’d just had cut down in the back garden, while Missy made colourful paper ornaments for our modest little tree (small enough that it could stand on the coffee table, the only available space) and I helped make paper chains and an origami star.

So when I finally finished work on Christmas eve, (with fantastic generosity, given the lack of any kind of Christmas bonus, they let us go at lunchtime) it really was just a case of checking the list, checking it twice and then, with everything suitably organised, going to the pub.
Even that was a low-key affair. The three of us strolled around a local village, where I picked up one last little gift for Her, a porcelain heart with the words “Happy Ever After Begins Today” painted on it, then we went for a quick drink and a game of pool before returning to our small but cosy and festive flat for the rest of the evening.
She made up some “reindeer food” (dry oats mixed with glitter) and, along with a couple of carrots, this was ceremoniously placed on the decking in the garden by an excitable six year old wearing red felt antlers.
Homemade ginger cookies were left out for Santa and a sneakily-purchased stocking was surreptitiously filled, after Missy had finally yawned her way to bed, solemnly saying that she’d “…go back to sleep if I hear sleigh bells at nighttime.”

As I was expecting to be woken at some highly uncivilized hour, it was a pleasant surprise to hear MIssy’s whisper of barely-contained excitement at 9a.m. telling us that Santa had left loads of gifts and asking if it was time for her to start opening them.
And so it began.

The bulging stocking was dismembered first, accompanied by wide-eyed exclamations of delight that Santa had unfailingly supplied all the must-haves of the moment, followed by a cooked breakfast and a Skype call to my mum, my sister and her kids, (MIssy’s two “new cousins” who she was so keen to meet in person) after which I took a trip in the car to pick up my old friend Chris.

Chris, (one of the people who had so generously helped us with the cost of visas) was just beginning to recover from his latest round of chemotherapy treatment and was now feeling up to spending Christmas with us, although not yet able to drive.
I had already arranged to pick him up, but had neglected to buy any petrol the day before, so I took a gamble and drove the forty minutes or so into the middle of Exmoor, sincerely hoping that his car would have enough fuel to make the return journey. The plan was that I’d take a can of petrol with us when I dropped him back on Boxing Day, refill my car and drive home.
Despite various warning lights urgently flashing at me from the dashboard for the last half of the drive, I just made it to Chris’s place and we made our way back home in bright, unseasonably warm winter sunshine and started celebrating in earnest.

More Skype connections were made with Her and MIssy’s friends back in the States, accompanied by glasses of Buck’s Fizz and the ongoing present-opening ceremony.
Missy presented me with a collage picture of Santa that she’d made and a whole box of Brazil nuts with a homemade dark chocolate and chili coating. A pair of traditional Christmas socks (emblazoned with the legend “Bah Humbug”) did nothing to detract from the happiness I felt as I watched the people I love getting to know each other and enjoy the simple pleasures of a quiet Christmas at home together.
Chris, unable to eat much more than a mouthful of solid food for the last few months, even joined us for dinner, very obviously enjoying the orange and rosemary-roasted ham and bacon-fried sprouts that She prepared for us, making my Christmas even happier.
Seeing my friend in such good spirits and such good company, after the tough year he’d had, that in itself was enough to lift my mood, Christmas or not.

Missy took to Chris immediately, practicing tricks from her new magic set on him and chattering away about how she wanted to go to his dad’s farm and pet the horses that were stabled there, something we arranged to do in the days to come.

We chatted, we ate, we drank and we laughed.
What more did we need?

The weather on Boxing Day morning wasn’t quite as promising as Christmas and we postponed the tentatively-planned horse petting visit until later in the week, choosing instead to laze around in the warm until it was time to drive Chris home, (after a quick stop at the garage, to allow me to buy a can and liberally spray myself with unleaded whilst filling it up) this time making the journey in horizontal rain, fog and high winds.
She had packed Chris off with a big tub of hearty and nourishing home-cooked potato and bacon soup, one of her specialties, making sure he also took a chunk of Her wonderful ginger cake too, already touchingly concerned about his weight loss and evidently considering it Her mission to feed him up.
Successfully negotiating the gales and flooding roads and returning Chris to his dad’s beautiful 16th century farmhouse, I said my goodbyes, refuelled my empty car and drove home to spend the remainder of the day nibbling on festive left-overs and watching TV.

Missy declared it “The best Christmas ever!” and I really couldn’t ask for a better testimonial than that.

Strangers in a strange land.


We had settled into some kind of routine now, with me working during the week and She and Missy organising the flat to their liking, making occasional trips out to the shops, getting to know the neighborhood a little and adjusting to, well, everything really.
It was fun to find that a lot of everyday goods we take for granted as being somehow universal, just…aren’t.
Orange squash for instance. Or any other flavour for that matter.
I’ve never been anywhere which hasn’t got its own local variation on the dilute-to-taste liquid fruit concentrates, but it’s apparently not a thing over in the good ol’ U S of A.
There were many other examples of this type of thing and I suspect it’s the origin of the cliché of Brits needing to take Marmite and teabags on holiday with them in fear that these will be unavailable in “foreign parts”. Her particular version of this affliction is the fact that Graham Crackers can’t be found over here, (an essential ingredient in the teeth-achingly sweet American invention called S’mores) but I think she’ll cope.
Despite the potential for culinary-induced culture shock, all this would only be an extended vacation until they began to put down some kind of roots however and the next thing to do was to get Missy into school.

Originally we’d thought that she wouldn’t be eligible for state schooling until her mother and I were married, making her my official dependant, but minimal research (my sister works as a teaching assistant and knows about such things) revealed that a child of her age was pretty much obliged to get into full time education as soon as possible.
This kind of made sense; after all, there are many people whose professions take them and their families all around the world to work and their kids need to be able to get educated whenever they find themselves relocated to some far-flung corner of the globe.
So we got in touch with the nearest primary school – actually an integral part of the housing estate on which we lived – to find out if they had an opening for a six year old.
But this late in the term, just a month before the Christmas holidays, we weren’t overly optimistic they’d have a place and sure enough the class was full up.

Our initial disappointment at discovering they were unable to take Missy at such short notice didn’t last long however, as we found that the smaller, community-based school on the estate just a half hour walk from home would be happy to take her, so we made an appointment with the headmaster and took her down there for a look round.
Missy was a little shy at first, but soon her natural inclination to talk to anyone who would listen got the better of her and before long she was asking the headmaster questions about the school uniform, (she hadn’t been required to wear one at her school in the States, so this was another new and interesting development for her) grilling him about the size of the playground and finding out which year she would start in, as she was insistent that “I have to finish first grade you know, that’s what I was doing in America”.
On the way home from our first visit she seemed slightly anxious – perfectly natural of course and something we’d been fully prepared for – but after we went back that Friday to meet her teacher, then into town to buy her uniform, she was showing all the signs of looking forward to joining her new classmates on Monday morning.

The fact that she would begin this new and exciting experience with two weeks of Christmas build-up; parties, special meals, movies and a visit from Santa, probably didn’t hurt either.
Missy even posed for Facebook photos, sent to friends across the pond, proudly modelling her new uniform, a sweater and grey cotton trousers combo that marked the very first time she had voluntarily agreed to wear anything but leggings, much to the amazement of her mum.
She and I were delighted at the enthusiasm Missy was suddenly showing and if anything, she now seemed impatient for the weekend to be over so she could embark on the next stage of her Big Adventure.

The three of us walked the route from home to school a couple of times so that She would be able to find their way on the first day. I would have already left for work by then and She wanted to have plenty of time to get Missy dressed and ready to leave.
As it turned out She needn’t have worried, Missy was so keen to meet her new friends that she was there in plenty of time, despite a small navigation problem, easily solved by asking a friendly native for directions.
And off she went, on the first leg of her own personal journey of discovery, full of new people with new accents, new ways of doing things and lots of questions about the new girl from America.

As for Her, She could now enjoy a day on Her own, completely by Herself for the first time in over a fortnight, since before the two of them had boarded that plane, nearly four thousand miles and a lifetime away, something She had been looking forward to for the last few days and I can’t say I blame Her either.
It had been quite a full-on couple of weeks for all of us.

Missy’s first impression of the English school system?
I think one particular conversation says it all.
As she was getting ready for bed on Friday night of her first week she asked; “What day is it tomorrow?” and when she was informed that it was Saturday, her next question was; “So how many days until I can go back to school?”, the same thing she kept asking all weekend.
And now, at the end of the second week, the living room wall is plastered with Christmas cards from her new friends and she even yawningly wrote a dozen or so in return on Thursday night, which she distributed on the final, ice cream and movie-filled day of term.

So that was one more thing successfully crossed off our list.
One more thing to strengthen those tentatively questing roots, another foothold on the shores of a strange land which I so wanted them to consider Home.

Giving thanks.


Our first week together will always stay with me. It was the introduction to a voyage of discovery for all of us and although it began in a small English airport, it ended with a Great American Tradition.

After the initial frenetic activity of that first day; the excitement of their arrival, clothes and suitcases all over the place, finding somewhere to put everything, exploring the unfamiliar aisles of the local Tesco and the luxury of our first night in the same timezone, it was still the simple, mundane things that gave me pleasure.
Having breakfast together, sitting on the decking in the peacefully enclosed garden, drinking coffee together in the morning, something we’d previously only been able to do (in separate gardens) by careful timing and video link, cooking for each other, showing them around the bustling town centre, introducing Her to friends at the pub, all these everyday little details could have been my own personal “few of my favourite things”, had I been able to make them rhyme.

We fed the ducks and swans on a local lake, we watched as Missy spun herself silly on the roundabout in the park, we walked in the woods and I delighted in the way She took in the beauty of Her newly adopted country and so clearly loved what She saw and we went to the beach. In November!

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday lunchtime and I’d planned to return to the ducks, Missy’s favourite excursion thus far, until it became clear the unseasonably warm weather was going to hold and we made for the summer tourist seaside town of Woolacombe instead.
They both loved it.
She instantly started snapping photos of the beautiful scenery, visible in any direction you cared to look, and Missy scampered straight for the gently breaking surf line, soon to be engrossed in the seemingly universal pastime of collecting shells and pebbles with which to weigh down all our pockets.

After an appetite-bolstering stroll along the sand, what better introduction to English seaside culture than Her first Devon cream tea and Missy’s first Knickerbocker Glory.
The excitable, and obviously American, tones of a little girl laying her eyes on the huge glass of whipped cream-topped dessert drew amused glances from the old lady at the next table and gave me the sensation that we had long ago christened “fizzy chest”, that warm fuzzy glow of contentment that comes only from true happiness.

All in all, a perfect first few days of our new shared life.
Then on Tuesday I had to go back to work.

But even that was ok, because it meant that I could come home to Her and Missy, to a flat filled with the happy sound of laughter and the fabulous smell of home-cooked food.
I could spend my evenings basking in the glow of belonging with someone and then fall asleep in Her arms.
This was what I had so patiently waited for, this was finally our dream coming true.

On Thursday I came home from work to be welcomed by cries of “Happy Thanksgiving!” and the mouthwatering aroma of roast turkey drifting from the kitchen. (She had almost been thwarted in Her culinary pursuits by the lack of turkeys in the thanksgiving-free UK supermarket, eventually having to make do with breast fillets) Missy had even made fresh cranberry sauce.

And after a fabulous dinner, one of a great many things I had to be thankful for that week, we sat down to watch The Game, (you can practically hear the capitalisation when She says it) by which I mean of course American Football.
I had made a point of recording live coverage of the Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants late on Sunday night, to replay on this most traditional of Game watching days, so She sat and watched it with evident enjoyment and gave completely unintelligible (to me anyway) but knowledgeable-sounding analysis throughout, and I not-very-convincingly feigned interest whilst writing the previous post of this blog and conducting a somewhat sarcastic commentary on The Game via Facebook.

So, a week after Her arrival and already I was voluntarily watching pretending to watch something I’d usually scoop my own eyeballs out to avoid and…and this is the amazing part…I was actually enjoying it.
Not The Game itself you understand, it’s as anathema to me as our own ridiculous national alternative, but the whole experience.

I know they will miss those that they left behind and that’s just as it should be, just as those they left behind will miss them. Both She and Missy have had moments of homesickness (how soon do you stop calling it that, when does “here” become “home”?) the scale of which I can only imagine, so any connection of this sort to Her old life is as important to me as anything else in helping Her and Missy settle in.
Overall though, I have been amazed at how resilient the six year old psyche can be and how quickly Missy has adapted to this biggest of Big Adventures.
And as for Her, I believe She has already grown to love living here, despite missing friends and being frustrated at not being eligible to work yet and I just know we are going to be very happy.

So far, and I think I can speak for all three of us here, we have an awful lot to be thankful for.



Was I nervous? What do you think?

I got up at five thirty, after eventually falling asleep about two hours earlier, got dressed, did a few last minute checks to see the flat looked as perfect as possible and drove off to meet my future wife and daughter at Bristol airport.

Of course I was nervous.

The morning traffic meant it was to be a leisurely journey and I wasn’t in any rush, so I cranked up the stereo and enjoyed the dawning of the first day of the rest of my life as I drove into the sunrise, singing along at the top of my voice.

I stopped for a coffee and a cigarette when I got within ten minutes of the airport, feeling excitement begin to finally chase away the nerves and suddenly I was in a rush. Very much so.
Arriving in the hideously overpriced car park at the exact time Her plane should have landed (I had at least learnt that much from Her last visit) I unsuccessfully attempted to stroll nonchalantly into the arrivals hall whilst my stomach played host to a gigantic swarm of epileptic butterflies.

The display board did indeed confirm that Her flight had just that minute touched down, but from previous experience I knew it’d be a while before they made it through customs and I made for the hideously overpriced coffee bar and the thankfully free smoking shelter.
Even then I couldn’t feign casualness, speed-smoking and gulping my (admittedly pretty good) coffee as I peered in through the window until I could stand it no longer and had to go and lean on the security barrier by the sliding doors, hoping each time they opened that it would be Her I saw on the other side.

And then there they were, trying to control two uncooperative baggage trollies, Her daughter completely hidden behind the piled suitcases and carry on bags that constituted their worldly possessions for the foreseeable future.
I watched Her search for me, saw that radiant smile light up Her face as our eyes eventually met and savored those very last few seconds of waiting, knowing that I wouldn’t be having to say goodbye to Her this time and wanting to etch every last detail of this moment into my memory.
Then they were through the security barrier and, after crouching to finally greet the shyly grinning little girl that I’d chatted and laughed with on Skype so many times, I stood and took Her in my arms once more.

Cramming all the luggage into my borrowed car, we set off for Home. Just the thought of that word gave me a huge rush of happiness and contentment, it had a finality to it that we’d waited so long for and now we were together, nothing else seemed to matter.
We chatted for a while, until the long night flight across the timezones caught up with them and they both slept for the rest of the journey.

I woke Her as we drove up the road towards our house, left most of the bags in the car and welcomed them into their new home.
I’d carefully prepared the first view they would get as they walked into the living room, the dining table held housewarming presents for all.
Flowers and a bottle of wine. Check.
Fairy-winged Barbie doll. Check.
Front door key on Mickey Mouse keyring. Check.

Then, exactly what I’d hoped for;
“I want to see my room!”
Little Missy was off, trying doors in turn (not that there are many to choose from) and rewarding me with appropriate noises of delight on discovering the fantasy-themed posters, dragon ornaments and lighted castle in her bedroom.
I was equally pleased at Her reaction to our family’s new living arrangements, watching cautiously as She took in the room layout and my taste in decor and feeling a happy thrill of relief as I realised She liked it.
They also both loved that we had a garden, complete with fairy lights in the trees and coloured LED spots in the decking and Missy was already planning the enchanted fairy garden she would plant here,

The rest of the day was spent unpacking, juggling space and belongings to make the most of our minimal storage and taking a brief trip to the local supermarket to pick up a few treats and snacks.

I cannot begin to describe how it felt to wake up with Her lying next to me in my our bed, sharing our morning routine, deciding what we would all do for the day, just being together with them and revelling in the surreal, dreamlike feel of the whole situation.
They were finally, actually, really here and the fact filled me with such joy that I had to keep telling myself it honestly was real and they really weren’t going anywhere, because none of it seemed real yet.
The way the three of us fell almost instantly into a natural rhythm with each other made me impossibly happy.

We were a family. As if it had always been.