Prague!

I originally posted this three days ago, when I was actually in Prague, but I was writing via the WordPress iPhone app on wifi in a hostel, so the result wasn’t great. The finished post was published and then somehow deleted and replaced with an earlier draft, and I just could not summon the strength to fight the app again and reload photos. So, here it is, again, days late. All the adorable sentiments still stand, though.

I am currently in Prague, which is yet another thing to be added to the list of “Things I Never Thought Were Possible.” This is a city of incredible architecture, awesome beer, and amazing sausage (or so I’ve been told – this vegetarian didn’t try any). And the pastry is my new best friend. (I’ve temporarily lifted the ban on sugar and white flour. I’m on vacation, dammit!)

Last summer, I spent 24 hours in Bordeaux, France, but other than that, I had never been to the continent of Europe. Oh, how much I was missing. This is all so different from all the rest of my life that my only frame of reference is Disneyland. As in, tall towers with spires and stained glass and beautiful hidden courtyards and cobblestone streets make me think of Fantasy Land instead of Real Life. This, my friends, is real life.

And it is gorgeous.

(Please forgive the Instagram filter abuse on some of these photos. I am using my phone as a camera and sometimes it needs a little help.)

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Fort Brag.

Hey! Everyone! No, EVERYONE. Gather around, because I have big news.

This is an iron that’s been in the fire for some time now, and is probably one of the major reasons my face rebelled against me recently. (Did you know that stress causes break outs? DID YOU???) It’s an opportunity that presented itself literally 24 hours after I landed in the UK, so I’ve been working to try to make it happen since my very first full day here.

Drumroll, please:

I’ve been accepted into and have been offered full funding (plus an annual stipend) for a PhD here in England! I start this fall, which is perfect timing because I will have just completed the contract on the job I currently have.

This is MAJOR, on many different levels, considering last spring, I was fully convinced I would never finish my MA and would just languish in grad school purgatory for the rest of time.

I have had the most traumatic, terrifying, embarrassing, and stressful year of my life, a year of reevaluating and admitting defeat and taking ownership of my life in ways I’ve always avoided, and yet in the midst of all of it, I’ve managed to scrape together the trappings of a pretty awesome future.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again (and again and again and again, until no one wants to talk to me anymore): anything is possible. Any. Thing. The vast majority of the time, the only person in your way is you.

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Getting Better All The Time.

This is another post that would be better filed under a “Who Cares?” folder. I’m in such a great mood right now, though, that I’m going to subject you all to this and not feel guilty about it. Deal.

So, it’s been two weeks since I began my attempt clean up my life (and, if I’m honest, by “life,” I mean “face”). I wasn’t going to post, as I am extremely superstitious and a notorious downer. However, I’m on this new zen kick, in which I’m trying to be positive and invite good things, so it only makes sense that I would let some good news out of the bag.

The good news: there is absolutely improvement. I haven’t stopped breaking out (and have, in fact, gotten a few different kinds pimples in places I usually never have any, like on my cheeks near the center of my face and small, flesh-toned painful bumps on my forehead), but in the hotspots, on my chin near the corners of my mouth, where things were getting pretty horrible, there is definite healing happening. I have one active “normal” pimple on my chin, and one, small, barely-there-to-anyone-who-does-not-have-my-nerve-endings growth on my forehead. Other than that, it’s just scarring. (The hyperpigmentation will be another beast entirely. For now, though, I’m just happy that my skin is discolored and FLAT.)

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and apparently when you “detox” your body, like say by completely changing your eating habits and starting a course of crazy supplements and altering the way your wash/make up your face, your body expels these extra toxins in overdrive. In these so-called detox breakouts, you get forms of acne you’ve never had in places you’ve never had it. I panicked about this at first, because I was doing everything right and things were actually getting worse, but it’s levelled out now and I can see where this is heading. And it’s to a place where I get my face back, which is fabulous.

I made it through approximately one week without wearing makeup, which was great as a challenge, I suppose, but not so great for my self-esteem. I started slipping into the acne rabbit hole, a place I hadn’t been since I was 19 years old. Looking at my exposed volcanic face in the mirror at my job made me feel desperate and out of control and even made me call into question how the people in my life who care about me could love such a terrible monster. (This actually happened. Like, ten days ago. Acne, for me, stirs up a lot of uncomfortable feelings.)  It made it difficult for me to focus at work and I was a bit of a depressive terror to be around. I wasn’t myself, because I was so singularly focused on how hideous I felt I looked.

This constant anxiety and stress about acne can actually make acne worse, which is a total double-edged sword. In order to stop the obsessive thoughts about how gross and unprofessional I looked, I decided that while I’m healing my face, I should allow myself the dignity of makeup. I just had to find the right kind. Following the advice of several natural living/beauty websites, I bought some Bella Pierre mineral powder foundation on Amazon and am absolutely in love with it. It has only four mineral ingredients (mica, iron oxides, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide), and the inclusion of zinc, which helps promote healing and quell inflammation, means that it actually aids in the reduction and prevention of acne. In addition, the “Ultra” shade – the lightest one available – matches my vampire skin tone perfectly, which means I don’t have to wear makeup anywhere but on the spots. (I despise subjecting the majority of my healthy, freckly face to makeup.)

In sum, things are looking up. I’ve started doing yoga at night to help calm me down and have stopped touching my face. I look in the mirror only when I get ready in the morning and when I can’t escape it (like, say, in a bathroom), and when I do, I focus on how much healing is happening and how much better I feel, not on how far I may still have to go. I am in an entirely different place emotionally than I was even just last week, and that change has been 100% mental.

I had avoided thinking about how huge this move was and how isolating this experience has been sometimes, and all the internalized stress made its way out through my poor face. Now, I’m trying to focus on how lucky I am to be here and to have the opportunities I have. Obviously, I still miss home, but now I’m making real efforts to meet new people and make friends and, alternatively, really enjoy the time I have to myself, as opposed to spending it feeling crazy and alone and desperate. I am feeling more myself right now than I have in the nearly three months since I moved to England, which is so, so, so wonderful.

I’m looking forward to being a (relatively) normal human again.

Supplemental Information.

Let me begin by saying that the experience of acne is different for everyone. My grandfather had acne, my mother had acne, and my two brothers and I had acne, and every one of us had it differently. After years of having people tell me that my skin was “not that bad” when it was crushing my self-esteem and making me quit things I’d previously loved to do (like going to the beach or running track), I’ve learned that if you have persistent, stubborn acne, it will make you feel like you are out of control, even if it’s not “as bad” as someone else’s. I realize that my skin now is nowhere near where it was when I was a teenager pre-Accutane, but that doesn’t mean it’s not taking it’s toll.

I have SO MANY FEELINGS about this, but let’s move on, shall we?

Less about my feelings and more about how I’m becoming a total herbal weirdo in an attempt to clear up my face.

Disclaimer: 100% of this is either documentation for myself at the beginning of this experiment or hopefully helpful information for other super creeps furiously googling things like “angus castus acne” while panicking about their break outs. So, if you’re not into “before” photos and aren’t curious how to regulate your hormones with herbal supplements, you can probably skip this one. It’s okay. I’ll forgive you.

In my last post, I promised I’d talk all about my fancy new vitamins – and the day is upon us! I’ve just lived my first full 24 hours taking all the supplements I’d planned on, and I haven’t gotten sick or had any headaches, which were things I’d read were side effects. I’m entirely off of sugar, dairy, caffeine (except what’s in green tea, as I’m drinking a ton of that these days), and am phasing out gluten, at least for the time being.

I’m also not wearing face makeup anymore, as of this morning. Everything is drying up anyway and putting makeup on a scab is pretty much exactly as effective as it sounds. Still, though, despite the fact that this actually means progress, today was pretty humiliating. There’s nothing quite like having the one thing you are hugely self-conscious about being on display for all to see.

Before we get to the vitamins, here’s some hard-hitting photojournalism I call “The Records of My Face”:

19, pre-Accutane, miserable:

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Just looking at these photos pains me. Seeing how much that girl hates herself is still traumatic, and I’ve been staring at these photos for years.

26, post-Accutane, on birth control:

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Accutane left me with that horrible squint line down the center of my forehead, probably because it did irreparable damage to my skin’s ability to heal and then made my eyes so sensitive to light that I squinted all the time, so I have a massive wrinkle now. Still and all, though, it’s a win, I’d say.

December 2013, 27, taking supplements and not eating sugar:

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Today, a day I went to work at my professional job:

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Lovely. That’s what my adult face looks like right now. Today was a horrifying day of meeting up with bosses and other esteemed professionals (as well as students I am teaching) without wearing any makeup on that chin.

These five gems are the healing pimples. Everything else is scarring. Again, post-Accutane, my skins heals so slowly.

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In addition to discontinuing the use of makeup, I’ve also stopped putting any acne treatments on my face. I gave up on salicyclic acid and benzoyl peroxide long, long ago – long before Accutane, actually – so what I mean is that I’ve stopped using a homemade goo made of nutmeg, cinnamon, and honey, and have ended my brief love affair with tea tree oil. I’m washing my face with warm water only.

I figure, at this point, I’ve done everything but just let my skin heal up on its own. Therefore, have at it, Skin! Get well soon, pretty please!

So, I’m cleaning up my diet, I’m not spreading pale-ghost-tone shellac on my face in the morning, and I’ve stopped spot-treating with goo. On to the supplements!

For the last week, I’ve been taking the same course of supplements I took at home in LA: a multivitamin, cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, and beta carotene. The multivitamin is mostly because, prior to cutting out sugar and only buying whole foods at the grocery store as of last Monday, I am a terrible eater and felt bad for my bones. Cod liver oil, flaxseed oil, and beta carotene (which converts to vitamin A in the body) are good for the skins.

On Saturday, I added agnus castus and burdock root to the mix. The last time I tried agnus castus (a hormonal regulating herbal supplement also known as Vitex or chaste berry), I got splitting headaches for two days and stopped taking it. After doing some research, I learned that ol’ Agnus can cause hormonal headaches if not taken with a liver detoxifier like burdock root or milk thistle, also (you guessed it!) herbal supplements. Burdock is said to “cleanse the blood” and ease inflammation. I’ve taken agnus castus and burdock at the same time for four days now and have had no headaches, so despite the fact that writing about blood cleansing herbs makes me feel a bit like a maniac, I’m inclined to say it works?

Just last night, I started DIM, or diindolylmethane, which is a natural plant extract taken from cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. It has an incredible reputation for restoring hormonal balance in people who are total messes, like yours truly. In fact, I was a bit intimidated by DIM – I’ve read such amazing stories about it’s success that I thought 1) this shit is powerful and 2) this shit could be really disappointing. (Any product with 270 ratings and four stars on Amazon is something to be loved and feared.) According to all the literature I read (and there was a lot), DIM works by detoxifying the liver and promoting the production of “good” estrogen, which aids in the balance of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.

It is entirely too soon to report on any possible benefits (or terrible problems), but I’ve been taking all of these together (with food), and thus far, I have not had headaches or nausea or other crazy side effects. This is huge, because my body is pretty prone to sensitivity freak outs (as evidenced by the fact that I’ve had acne for the majority of my adult life). In addition, there appear to be the trappings of healing happening on my face.

Despite not wanting to put the cart before the horse, because the only pills that work within 24 hours are pain relievers and narcotics, I am extremely optimistic about the improvements all this will make. I am being extremely careful about what I’m ingesting now and regardless of how obnoxious and granola all of this sounds, I really believe that there’s no arguing that what you put in your body impacts what you get out of it. I’m making a conscious effort to change the way I treat myself, and I’m hoping I can see improvement in how I feel and (obviously) in how I look.

I’m doing literally every single thing differently than I have in the past – cleaning up my diet, taking aim at the root of the hormonal issues, not touching my face or painting it with chemicals, letting my skin heal on it’s own, despite how embarrassing and unsettling it is for me to do so – and I’m hoping it makes a difference.

Fingers and toes crossed.

Skin Is In.

A lifetime ago, I dedicated lots of blog space to the condition my skin was in, because I’m generally a vain and horrible person who thinks strangers on the internet care about my acne. I’ve heard tell that the Youngs these days (you know, the spry, energetic college undergrads who use SnapChat and listen to Miley Cyrus ironically) call this day of the week “Throwback Thursday,” so I figure today I will post again about my face skin and what it’s been up to, just for old times’ sake.

When I was 19, after living for five years with persistent, permanent, and absolutely unfortunate acne on my face, chest, and back, I was prescribed Accutane. The prescription came after much begging and pleading with my dermatologist, who eventually referred me to a physician’s assistant who specialized in Accutane paperwork. (Yes, the drug is such a tremendous pain that, at least at that time nearly a decade ago, people needed to be Accutane specialists in order to feel comfortable enough to hand it over.) I left the appointment with the PA with a prescription for this acne wonder drug, a huge smile, and an enormous three-inch binder full of warnings and precautions.

I spent the next six months having routine blood tests to check that I wasn’t pregnant or dying of liver failure and watching my face dry, peel, and crack into a bleeding mess. I stopped smiling, because a genuine grin was enough to split the corners of my mouth. I stopped wearing contacts and battled sties and pink eye on the regular. And yet, I was thrilled. I’d spent years cycling through antibiotics and prescription acid creams and various face washes tens of dermatologists promised me would work. I’d been on hugely high doses of hormonal birth control, which made me feel dizzy and spacey and ballooned out every part of my body so quickly that my college dorm floor thought I’d gotten breast implants. I’d subjected my body to so much nonsense, and none of it had worked. Despite how miserable I was on Accutane, I felt I was finally doing something that would help me. I was finally miserable for a reason. (And yes, I am aware of how pathetic that sounds.) I would be done with acne forever and I could put all the pain and crushing self-hate behind me.

And I was right. I got off the big orange pill, and my skin was gorgeous. Very shortly afterwards, I fell in love and got on hormonal birth control for the second time, albeit at a much, much lower dose. I was on birth control very happily for about five years, with glowing skin. It was the first time I felt worthy of attention, and if I’m honest, of love.

I stopped taking hormonal birth control in May 2012, 1) because I was having strange chest pains and headaches and I was concerned I may throw a clot to my brain and 2) because I was planning on having a baby. Luckily, I did not die of an embolism (there’s still time!). I also did not get pregnant.

In addition to failing to die or get pregnant, I also experienced acne for the first time since I tortured myself on Accutane for the privilege of never having to see it again. For a long time, I was in full panic mode, expecting every morning to wake up with an upper body (face, back, and chest) covered in angry cystic pimples that would force me back into high-necked t-shirts and constant makeup application. I’d wake up from dreams about break outs with my hands on my face, reassuring myself that it wasn’t real the same way most normal people do when they wake up from nightmares about normal people things, like zombies or home invasions.

While things never got that bad, they also didn’t improve. For the first year post-hormonal birth control, I was also trying to regulate and get pregnant, so I was taking things like Clomid and progesterone replacements, which I figured were not doing wonders for my skin. And then, at the end of June 2013, I left home for an archaeological field school in Ireland, where despite having my face in giant dirt holes all day, my skin was perfection. Thank you, manual labor outside in the lovely UV radiation of the summer sun.

By the time I came home, however, my life had completely fallen apart. I was getting divorced, I was finishing a Masters thesis, I was leading a classroom, I was living with my parents. In a desperate attempt to gain some control over my life, I started looking into natural ways of regulating my hormonal acne, which by this time was back in full force. Having spent all my teenage years sitting in dermatologists’ offices, I had been of the mind that what you eat doesn’t influence your skin. Doctor after doctor had told me that my diet had no impact on my face, and that the only thing to do was slather on some more benzoyl peroxide and hope for the best.

However, as a person who has put every synthetic acne treatment in existence both on my face and in my body only to be physically hurt or deeply disappointed, I started to think that maybe pharmaceuticals weren’t the answer. I cut out sugar and started taking supplements like agnus castus (an herbal progesterone regulator), beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A in the body and is essentially nature’s Accutane), and cod liver and flaxseed oils. I saw lots of improvement in my skin, but I was also buried by stress and anxiety, and losing terrifying amounts of weight. I wasn’t at my healthiest in any sense.

Then, I moved across the world to England. I was tired and crazed and yet finally, mercifully, eating again. I started drinking double-shot lattes and eating delicious English cookies. I stopped taking the supplements, because my skin was better. I adjusted to a new routine, and vitamins weren’t a part of it.

Until my face starting boiling. That is the best, most evocative description I can manage. Huge, cystic pimples on my chin, that flared up, became enormous, and then healed just in time for another one or two to take their place. For a while, I thought it might have been the weather here, which is decidedly less sunny than Los Angeles, or the stress of the move. I kept waiting for improvement. Instead, it kept getting worse, until my acne was the worst it had been since I was 19 and carrying that three-ring binder.

So, I started tracking the flare ups. I’ve never done anything like that before. I am usually content to just float through my life in my body, not really taking much stock of what is causing various reactions. For my entire adult life, I have been amazed by women who can tell when they are getting their periods or if they are pregnant, just simply based on how they feel.

Now, though, I am normal human woman (physically – not mentally, obviously), so I could finally make some assessments. And the results? My skin gets worse after I have dairy, sugar, and caffeine – all things that are known to aggravate hormonal imbalances. All those days drinking at least one double-shot latte? Wreaking havoc my face.

I am currently conducting an experiment. I have not had sugar, dairy, coffee, or black tea since Monday morning (when someone very kindly bought me a latte and I drank a few sips, to be polite, okay?). I am drinking tons of green tea and eating more whole foods. I have had not one new pimple. (And that there is saying something. We were on a day-by-day basis just last week.) Those I did have are healing up and going away.

COULD THIS BE WORKING? After all this time, is it possible that what you put in your body does matter?

That remains to be seen. I think most scientific journals will require progress that lasts more than three days.

On Saturday, my package of herbal supplements and teas is finally arriving. When I get it, I will lay out all my hippie granola freakshow purchases and take photos and then tell you all about them.

Get excited.

Walk-a-ton.

I’ve collected a ton of new readers recently, which is super great, but I’m a little bit at a loss about it, because nothing about this blog is interesting anymore. I mean, I’m not talking about periods or acne or babies all that much, guys. I’m not discussing anything of note, really, except that I’ve been a massive and insufferable misery for the past seven months. And I haven’t even been brave enough to discuss the half of it. Regardless, I still feel like I should acknowledge all my new followers by saying genuinely and from the bottom of my heart, welcome, Fake Internet Profiles Who Want To Sell Me Prado Bags And Gucchi Sunglasses. I hope you enjoy reading about how much I hate walking. Because that’s what’s coming.

If you’re a follower/computer program that is new to this blog, you may not be aware that I am from Los Angeles, California, and that I am currently living in England. This move has forced me to adjust in myriad ways – most of them positive. However, one of these adjustments is making me crazy. Which one, you ask? Oh, only that I need to use my own two feet to get anywhere I want to go. I, a member of a species resting at the pinnacle of bipedal evolution, hate walking.

It wasn’t always this way. In LA, when I sat in traffic in my car for nearly three hours every day commuting to and from work, I longed for a time when I didn’t need a vehicle to get around. In the first few weeks I lived here, I loved that I was walking everywhere. If I’m honest, there are definite positives. I started eating normally again (after literally living off a handful of cashews a day for months) and haven’t gained any of the weight back, because I’m now exercising about 100% more than I did in years before I moved. My commute now requires that I am outside moving around in the fresh air for at least 45 minutes every day – it’s a “workout” that is built into my daily routine. That’s all good.

There are two things that aren’t. Namely, 1) that my poor lazy old lady bones are over the grind and 2) sometimes it would be really great to just DRIVE somewhere.

1) I made it about five weeks into my new all walking, all the time lifestyle before both my ankles and a tendon in my left foot decided that enough was enough. Then each step of the average four miles I walk a day was less about the beautiful crisp late winter air and more about a deep, intense longing for a seat in something with four wheels. For nearly two weeks, both my feet demanded days of rest, and for nearly two weeks, I just kept on walking. Fortunately, randomly, they’re better now, mostly because I think they have Stockholm Syndrome. If they must walk me everywhere, they might as well shut up about it.

2) Today, I was supposed to receive a giant package full of weirdo herbal supplements and teas in the mail, because I am nothing if not a giant California cliche (and also because my skin is frightful nightmare here and I’m going to attempt to wrangle it into submission with a bunch of crazy people vitamins I read about online. You’ll hear more about it. Trust.). Unfortunately for me, Royal Mail does not leave packages on the doorstep like the United States Postal Service does. If it doesn’t fit through the mail slot in the front door, and no one is home to receive the package, it gets taken back to the local delivery office to await pick up. I’ve had that happen with UPS shipments at home before and while it’s mildly to moderately annoying, it is decidedly less annoying than having your shipment stolen from your porch (something I have also experienced), so I accept that this extra precautionary step is a necessary evil. However, it becomes more difficult to appreciate having to pick up your very important dandelion root tea and agnus castus capsules from a Royal Mail Delivery Office when you have no car and that delivery office is two miles away through the worst part of town.

What’s a lazy, panicky idiot to do when faced with the prospect of taking an hour walk roundtrip through a neighborhood famed for its hookers and crack dens?

She plans on taking a taxi to the delivery office tomorrow afternoon. Because no.

Alone Time.

I have always been social. Even as a teenager, when my terrible skin destroyed my self-confidence, I had huge, deep, transformative friendships. In fact, when my skin got bad, I just got louder – in an effort to direct the attention from my face – and my friendships became more important to me.

I have never had a time in my life when I had no one. I suppose that makes me very lucky. I have always had people I loved around me. Until now.

Now, I have no one. Or rather, I have them – they are just eight hours behind me and more than 5,000 miles away.

In the panic and singular focus I experienced in the months leading up to this move, this loneliness and isolation is something I didn’t consider. I was so excited and had so much to look forward to and so much left to finish before I left that it never occurred to me that once I got here, I’d be without a support system for the first time in my life.

Having never left home in any real sense – college for me was 40 miles from my parents’ house – I have never had to rebuild a life from the ground up. And unfortunately, I’m not in school and I have a particularly solitary job, so I’m not meeting people the way most people do when they move across the world.

So, what’s the hardest part of moving to a new place, after having the hardest six months of my life?

Not having anyone to call on for last minute dinner plans or coffee on Saturday or moral support when something annoying or hilarious or wonderful happens.

I miss having people.

Imanut.

I’ve been asked by lots of people if I’m journaling this experience, and the truth is that I’m not. I’ve been doing an okay job Instagramming everything I see and eat (if you’re interested in seeing England through Amaro-colored glasses, follow me – I got really creative and called myself asarahcarter), but I’ve obviously been terrible at blogging. And now I feel really guilty about it. So, I’ve resolved to post more here. All my thoughts and feels. All my mini travels and huge meltdowns. I’m going to start using this as a forum for all things ridiculous again.

There’s a lot to say, and it’s Sunday, and I’m in bed and desperate for some crappy tv shows, so I’ll take this one story at a time.

Imanut, the World’s Most Well-Traveled Stuffed Squirrel

When Fiece #1 was a tiny baby, I spent a lot of time alone with her, as I would babysit for whole days. And it was during this time in her young life, when her parents were at work and she was an adorable living doll I could babble to, that I taught her to answer the question, “Who’s a nut?” by replying proudly and with a giant smile, “I’m a nut!” Fiece’s first sentence was “I’m a nut!” – which is something that will make me proud forever. For several months of her life, she thought that “I’m a nut” was my actual name, referring to me as Auntie Imanut. It was incredible. Fiece and I will share that first bit of mischief always, and I have made it a point to teach her terrible and obnoxious things for her entire life thus far, so when I was faced with moving halfway across the world from Fiece, I was heartbroken that our crazy times would come to a screeching halt. I had to get creative. And by that, I mean I stole a twenty-year-old idea from my aunt.

In the early 90s, my parents, my brother and I moved from Southern California, where literally every member of our entire family lived, 400 miles north to Sacramento, where no one knew anyone. We lived there for two years while my dad worked doing [secret government business] and then we came back to SoCal, a place I never left again before picking up and moving to the United Kingdom last month. While we gone, however, my brother and I were missed tremendously by our family, because we were so little and adorable and no one yet knew that we would grow up to be insufferable jerks. To keep in touch with us, my aunt introduced us to the Blue Bears, a pair of cobalt blue teddy bears that traveled between Los Angeles to Sacramento every few weeks. When they were coming from LA, they came with notes and photos of adventures they’d gone on with my aunt. (This was pre-email, so the photos and notes came in the actual mail.) My brother and I were blown away by the magic of these stuffed animals traveling up and down the coast of California, and we loved getting mementos of their visits to see our favorite aunt. It wasn’t until I was much, much older (too old, in fact) that I realized there were actually two pairs of bears, one at my aunt’s house and one at ours, and that our aunt and our mother had worked together to make their travels happen. The Blue Bears at our house would go into hiding in a closet when they were supposed to be in Los Angeles. Even as an adult, right now as I type this, I am struck by how adorable the entire operation was.

So, before I left for England, I decided to crib this genius idea. I bought two stuffed squirrels

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named them Imanut, gave one to Fiece for Christmas

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and packed the other one in my suitcase and brought it to England.

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Imanut has ridden on the Underground,

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gone to Stonehenge,

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visited medieval cathedrals,

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tried English cider,

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and checked out some red telephone booths.

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Most importantly, he’s gone home to visit Fiece and brought with him tons and tons of English junk food.

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When life slows down a bit and I have my feet firmly on the ground and some more free time, hopefully Imanut will collect goodies for Fiece from Prague and Venice and Pompeii and Amsterdam and Paris and Madrid, making him the world’s most well-traveled plush rodent.

If I can’t be there to have chocolate-eating contests with Fiece, I’m happy to have a tiny, nutty, sugar-fueled stuffed squirrel be my proxy. It is only fitting.

Orion.

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a bedtime. Granted, I wasn’t allowed to have chocolate-fueled ragers long into the night at ten years old, but my parents never commanded my brother and me to sleep. We just went to bed when we were tired, and for the vast majority of the time, we were tired around 9pm (which, as I’ve gathered from over a decade’s experience in babysitting, is a normal sleepy time for preteens). It was a system that worked.

However, there were nights when I was up later than usual, and sometimes on those nights, my dad and I would go out into the front yard and stargaze. He’d point out all the constellations we could see from the driveway, but my favorite was always Orion’s Belt. I loved the order of the three bright stars all lined up together, and there was something magical about how they were always right above us. Even as an adult, when I spent those months languishing in my parents’ house waiting for my life to “start” again, if I came back to the house at night, I’d look up and check to see that my lucky stars were there.

Lately, I’ve been having flashes of homesickness. It’s not an overwhelming feeling. It’ll just strike when my brain wanders, like when I’m getting ready for work in the morning. I’ll think, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen my parents/my brothers/my grandparents/the aunts/my friends. I should really go visit this weekend,” and then I realize that I can’t, because I’m not just in the county over anymore. Sometimes, I get lulled into a false sense of security by my own brain.

I was feeling this way as I was walking home late last night from a night class I enrolled in to try to meet more people. (As it turns out, the only people who take adult education night classes are retired and in their sixties. You would not believe the number of invitations to museums I received last night. You know, because they all volunteer twice at week.) I was walking alone and missing people (just a little) and I happened to notice that the clouds had parted and I could see the stars. And right above me, directly above the path that was leading me home, was Orion’s Belt, just as it has been my whole life.

And then I cried like a baby all the way to the front door.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/atomicshark/4301186946/

I didn’t take this. Click to find the Flickr source.

Top Five Things No One Tells You About Moving To England.

Since I’ve moved out of the United States, I’ve been sent tons of links to online lists of things I’ll miss about California or great ways to keep in touch with people far away or the benefits of living abroad. These are all very cute and adorable and I have loved them. However, there is a bit of reality missing from them, because, for example, I will not actually miss the fact that no one says that word “DUDE!” here all the time, and I don’t really care that I’m now thousands of miles away from all the potential tetanus shots of Venice Beach.

Because I am an eternal downer and committed realist, here I present a little peek into what it’s actually like to move halfway across the world. It’s been a bit of an accelerated learning curve for me because I moved from Los Angeles, a place with no discernible weather at all, to England, a place with all the weather all the time, in the middle of winter. In addition to all the new things I’ve stumbled across while building a life in a new country, I’ve learned things about this phenomenon called “winter,” like: if you are planning on being outside at any time, you should always plan on having an umbrella, hood, jacket, hat, and boots on your person; and if you are planning on being inside at any time, you should always plan on totally stripping your umbrella, hood, jacket, hat, and boots off your person. (As hugely important as this has been in my personal life, I cut it from the list because the existence of winter is not exclusive England. I mean, as far as I know.)

The Top Five Things No One Tells You About Moving To England:

5) Exchange rates are no joke. HOLY CANOLI, does the dollar really bite it on this one. A night class that is listed as £180 gets a little less exciting when it eats $305 from your bank account.

4) No one thinks an American accent is cute. No one. I’ve been here for less than three weeks, and have a social circle of like ten people, and still already I cannot count the number of times I’ve been corrected when I’ve said the word “to-MAY-to.” Look, if you want me to say “to-MAH-to,” you better be prepared to be around me when I say “po-TAH-to.” I am nothing if not consistent.

3) In much the same way everything in the U.S. takes up as much space as possible, everything in England is designed to be smaller than a huge American consumer could possibly imagine. Washing machines, hot water boilers, portions. Living here makes me feel like Godzilla. What do you mean I can’t wash my entire wardrobe in one load of laundry? WHY IS THIS IS SO SMALL???

2) Keyboards are just different enough that you’ll quote people as having said, @I love this jacket potato so much!@, while telling people your email address is ceeceehomemaker”gmail.com. (This might actually be the most annoying thing I’ve ever experienced. That statement may make you think I’ve just lived a charmed life. If that’s the case, I’d advise you to a) read the last few months of this blog, and then b) buy a foreign keyboard.)

1) You do not, under any circumstances, talk about that time your American mother threw a Royal Wedding tea party. Like, ever.