Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What Next?

What should this Brit living in the USA post about next about living in the USA?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Summer,....is hot,....and long,....really, really long.

We are approaching the halfway point between my kids finishing their last year of school and them starting their next year of school. From their last day in 4th and 5th grade to their last day of summer break before starting 5th and 6th grade, they have 75 days of summer break. 10 weeks and 5 days, or 2 months 14 days off school. I recall feeling my summer break was too long when I was a kid and I only got 6 weeks off. I think my mother would have lost her mind if I had had a summer break as long as my kids have. I guess I can sort of understand why they do it. When the days are normally in the mid 90s to low 100s fahrenheit throughout the months of June, July and August, you don't really want kids sitting around in class. The cost of running the a/c in schools would probably be astronomical. Plus there are so many summer camps around that parents, if they can afford it, can send their kiddos to day camp, week long sleepaway camp or even a month long sleepaway camp. My 2 have not had to go away to camp, yet. Mainly because I have not been working hours or days that would necessitate it. That could change though. Next summer I could be working and it may make sense to send both of them to summer camps. I am sure it would go down like a lead balloon but they will just have to suck it up. I was just saying to Z that even though he will be in middle school this coming school year, it does not mean that I would want him home alone all day if I needed to be at work, and his dad could not work from home. I am already considering the fact that we will probably need to buy him a cell phone as middle school starts and finishes at a different time to elementary school so if I am dropping off or picking up his sister from somewhere, I would like him to be able to let me know if he is on way home, or at home already. His father and I have cell phones already and, like a lot of other families, we do not have a landline. So if me or his dad are not home then he would have no way of contacting us. I guess the fact that Z is almost 12, and as a result he is a pre-teen, meaning he is going to be an actual teenager very soon, he is going to get a cell phone whether I am ready for him to have one or not!

The summer break so far has been good though. We went back to the old country, we have bought a new car (swapped out our Toyota for a Chevrolet, so we still only have 1 car), the small blonde one has been to sleepovers and 'playdates' with her friends, we have been to the beach and all of us have gotten sunburn, we have been ploughing through the summer reading requirements for school and we have got together with friends (the grown up kind) and had drinks. We still have the ladybug release to come, buying school supplies, taking kids to their respective schools to pay fees, find out teachers/schedules, get photos take for id and yearbook. Meanwhile I am still working on the set of that HBO show I mentioned before. I am also still applying for regular jobs. Although I have discovered that Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence will be filming a movie in Atlanta soon and I may put myself forward for being an extra for that. Just for a giggle.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Continuing the Adventure. I am working! Sort of.

We have been in the US for 5 1/2 years and green card holders for almost 6 months. I have had work authorisation since August 2014 and 3 weeks ago I did my first ever day of paid employment. I spent close to 12 hours on the set of a television show. A new HBO show called Vice Principals is being filmed in the Charleston area and I signed up to be an extra. I worked each of the first 3 Sundays of May and I will be working again this coming Friday on an overnight shoot. The pay is not brilliant, but I am not really doing it for the money. Don't get me wrong, it is nice to be earning money in my own right, but I honestly am doing it for the experience of working and seeing a television show being made. It truly does take a village. The wardrobe guy reminds me of J.J. Abrams. One of the props guys reminds me of Andrew Scott (played Moriarty in the BBC Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch). If I am totally honest I had never really heard of Danny McBride, the writer and star of the show, but it seems I had seen a few films he had been in.

It is not going to be on tv until about September 2016 so it'll be a while before my 'blink and you miss me' moment.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sun, Horses & Free Beer

Living here means we get to see things in person that we would most likely only get to see on television.

The Budweiser Clydesdales are traveling the country and they have been in the Charleston area over the last few days. They were at Patriots Point yesterday but it was chucking it down with rain and thoroughly miserable. We stayed home and watched Marvel movies instead in preparation for watching Avengers: Age of Ultron next weekend.

Today was a glorious day. Blue skies. Sun shining. Temperatures
nearing 90F. So, we went out to Daniel Island to see the Clydesdales as they were doing a parade and delivering cases of Budweiser to businesses along the route. They were giving away free drinks (water, coke, diet coke, Budweiser, Bud Light) and kettle corn. I found out the kettle corn was free after K ran off towards the stand to find out how much it was and came back with a big bag of it saying "it is free!"

The horses were taken out of their air-conditioned trucks and
hitched up to the wagon. They were all very calm despite being surrounded by loads of people. I wanted to go and see them because I like the commercials that are on tv around Christmas and the Super Bowl.

All of the photos I have uploaded of the Clydesdales to Flickr, can be found here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Time for a Name Change?

No, I am not going to change my name. I am considering either changing the name of this here blog or, alternatively, creating a whole new blog. The primary reason for that is simply down to the fact that in just under 5 years we can start the process to become American citizens. This blog is about being a British Expat in the US and the "adventures" we get up to and how we adjust to living here being foreign. We are still foreign but will soon be citizens. We are at the start of becoming Americans. I think I would like to document the process. Don't get me wrong I will still be British. I will still be very proud to be British. (It is quite a process you have to go through to officially renounce your British citizenship). However, I love living here and I will be very proud the day I can also call myself an American. I have already had a letter from the President, did I tell you that already?  I would very much like to be able to vote for a President. All being well that will be in the 2020 Presidential election.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Banking Makes Me Feel Old

That was banking, with a b.

When I was a kid I had my first ever bank account, a Young Saver account, with TSB. I could
withdraw my money any time I wanted to, as long as the branch was open. Actually, thinking about it, I don't think I ever actually closed that account. It probably had about 57p in it and has long since been shut down by the bank themselves.

Anyway, now that we have our green cards, yay, I feel it is time to close the kids savings accounts that they have in the UK. No point having money in a country that is theirs and they can't get to it. When I left the UK I put my mother in law in control of it so she could deposit money and receive their annual statements etc. So, I am going to ask her to close the accounts, note how much Z has an how much K has, and transfer the money over to the US. Today I decided to make inquiries at 2 banks here in Mount Pleasant to see what facilities they have for children's savings/money. As I had to go to my bank to deposit a check my dad sent K for her birthday I decided to start there. (My dad always sends a British cheque made out to me for both kids birthdays and Christmas)

So, Bank of America have Student Banking: Checking and Savings. That's right, your child can have their own debit card and checkbook! I actually asked the woman to clarify that a 10 year old and a 12 year old could have a debit card and check book. It turns out yes they can! She said obviously you could have the majority of their money in their savings accounts and say $50 in their checking accounts. That way they, and me, can monitor their spending and buy things with their own debit card. I will admit I thought kids that were not even teenagers yet would only get an ATM card. The minimum to open it is $25 and all I need to open it is their SSN and my drivers license. 

I then decided to try a Credit Union. South Carolina Federal Credit Union offer Kids Savings.  You
need a qualifying parent to open the account, you can only withdraw 3 times a month and you need to go into the branch, but you only need $5 to open it. A downside with the credit union is that they take weeks, usually around 6, to clear a foreign check. With BoA I can access money the next business day. As we get checks for birthdays and Christmas it would not go down well telling the kids they need to wait almost 2 months to access their gift. 

There are other credit unions in Mount Pleasant, and there are loads of other banks. For ease of opening either BoA and SC Federal would be the top 2 picks. I will check out the other banks and see what they offer. I know my kids are growing and they need to learn skills and how to manage their own money. They need to learn how to save and budget themselves. However, it still makes me feel bloody old! The mere thought of my 10 and almost 12 year olds with their own check book and debit card. I am now going to state the obvious, there is not a chance in hell I would let them write any checks as pre-teens!

If we are going to properly settle here in the US, we need to have all our stuff here and that includes the kids. We also plan to sell our house in the UK and buy somewhere here. That in itself will be a logistical nightmare, selling a house in the UK while living in the US. No, there won't be any problems at all doing that will there?! I think I need to go have a lie down.

Sunday, January 25, 2015



Good things come to those who wait….and don’t give up….and are as stubborn as a mule! (That would be me) 

I have been banging on about wanting this to happen since I was a teenager. It has taken a LONG time to get to this stage. There have been loads of people who have helped us, and a couple people who did not help. So many forms which have had to be completed. So many documents have had to be collected, or notarized, or verified, or have equivalency tests done on them. 

Combined I have had close to 90 texts or emails from USCIS. To go from enjoying living here but with the nagging worry that it could all come to a crashing halt, to now just being able to enjoy living here, is a wonderful feeling. Now we are done with USCIS, well, until we need to replace the kids green cards when they turn 14, and then again when we apply for citizenship. I’m not sure what to do with myself now that I no longer need to check our case status online 900 times a day, and spend time going through various websites looking for information that could help our case. Guess I should get a job…...

But of course before I do that, I think we need to have a party.

Plus, I can now start the 5 year countdown to citizenship. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Another Road Trip

Since we arrived in the US we have made a point of traveling and seeing as much of it as possible. After all, until we have the green cards in our hands, we have no idea how long we will be here. Plus traveling places in the US from the US is a lot cheaper than doing it from the UK!
This past weekend for example we drove to Florida and visited Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

We went to the beach in Jacksonville and then to the Tallahassee Museum. (Ben built their website). 

There is still a lot of the US left to visit and hopefully we will travel during the year.
A drive in the car for a few hours is cheaper than flying, and not too stressful when the kids have something to occupy themselves.

(In our case Z & K entertained themselves watching movies on the iPad and reading magazines).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Still Here


I am still here. By here, I mean America. I am still in America.

I have not posted anything on this blog since April 2014. It has been a while. Of course I am not entirely sure that anyone has noticed the lack of posts.

If anyone is interested in what I write here and would like me to continue, please comment.

I started this as a way to keep family in the know about what we were doing here. Unfortunately they didn't read it.

I have posted the odd thing on my Facebook page every now and then.

Basically since April the following has happened.

I went to Comic Con again.
Our greencard application was submitted.
I got my work authorization.
Z started learning to play violin.
K started singing in the school chorus.
We went to New York City for a weekend break.
I won 2 cool prizes from Virgin Atlantic.
Our greencard application stalled as we got an RFE.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Green Card Medical Examination Day!

Today was doctor day in the ongoing process of us getting our green cards to stay in the US permanently.
I have had problems obtaining all of my vaccination history as no where in the UK seemed to still have my medical records. The doctor in England denied having them and the doctor I went to until I was 21 no longer had any records either. I was given some sparse information before we left the UK and had to rely on that. I knew I was missing some vaccinations and that I would need to have them done again. So on Friday I went to see my own doctor for my annual well check and had her give me a Hep B shot and MMR shot. As it was part of my check up I will not be billed anything. (I also had the usual blood sugar check and cholesterol check).

This morning we checked, and double checked, all of our paperwork and got it ready to go. The kids went to school as they normally do but with a note for their teacher that we would be picking them up at 9am to go to the appointment. I had been told on the phone that it would be about 30 minutes per person, so 2 hours in total. We arrived at the office at 9:15am and our appointment was scheduled for 9:30am. For the green card medical you can only have it done with a Civil Surgeon listed on the USCIS website and there are only about a dozen in the whole of South Carolina so there was not much to choose from for us. In the end we went for the one closest to us as it was just easier. There was one slightly cheaper and that did a different rate for kids but calculating gas and time to get there and back, it made more sense to go to one closer to our home.

We went into it with me telling the kids they wouldn't need any shots and I was really hoping that I would not be proven wrong. I would have really moany/whiney/complaining kids if they did end up needing to have a blood test or a shot. Ben ended up needing to get a MMR shot also but this one would need to be paid for ($125) as the Civil Surgeon did it. As neither of us had any proof we have had chicken pox we also needed to have a titre test to check our blood for chicken pox, this is $55 each. If it comes back saying we need the shot then that will be another $175 each. Fingers crossed we don't need the varicella vaccine.

Both Ben and I had the BCG vaccination when we were teenagers, although only my records had the date for it, but we all, including the kids, needed to have the TB skin test. The kids had a regular test but Ben and I had a milder skin test due to having the BCG vaccination. K really did not like having the skin test. She. Freaked. Out. She was not a happy bunny. Z on the other hand just lay on the bed and asked the doctor when she was going to be doing the test only to be told that she had done it already.

At this point I thought we were all done. I was wrong. I had got a list of the kids complete vaccination history from their pediatrician and it showed they were up to date on everything. There was even a box checked showing they had had chicken pox and when they had it. This should be enough right? Nope. To make sure USCIS are happy with it all, I was told to go back to the pediatrician office and ask for a letter on headed paper saying that the kids have both had chicken pox and as a result do not need the varicella vaccination or titre blood test. The doctor could have just done the titre test on the kids but after K's hissy fit following the TB test the doctor didn't want to. I went to the pediatricians office and asked them to do a letter and they said they'd do one with a particular wording and would let me know when they have faxed it. I have not heard anything from them so will check up on it when I call tomorrow to get a prescription for Z's meds. We are due to go back to the Civil Surgeons office on Wednesday afternoon for the results of our TB skin test, the titre tests for chicken pox and the blood tests to see if either Ben or I have syphilis!, so I hope I get the letter sorted before then. I REALLY don't want to tell the kids they need a shot! I want to go there and be told all is good and leave with the sealed envelopes that we can send off to the lawyers. I want that to happen because then it will be done and out of our hands. We will have done everything we can do. The only thing left after that we would need to do is go for finger prints.

Keep your fingers crossed dear readers!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quiet Week

Now that Spring Break is over, it is time for a quite week.

Now a lot is happening over the next 7 days. I'm getting my hair dyed. I decided I am really not a fan of the color my hair is turning. We are getting the photos taken for our green cards. We will have the medicals for our green cards. I am going to try to convince my doctor that the information I have about the vaccinations I have, which is not a lot, is sufficient for them to put it all on my file so I can show it to the Civil Surgeon. I'm getting a new wire on my braces. Did I mention I had braces fitted? Yeah, I decided as I am nearing my 40s that it was time to straighten my teeth! The kids have MAP testing at school and are due to have their Spring photos taken. K has actually not had her Fall photo yet that we ordered. We've had her brothers photo sitting in the dining room since before Christmas! The photography studio seem to have their own time zone different to everyone else.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Getting Closer to Green Cards

Yesterday was a bit exciting. 

Yesterday Ben got an email.

He gets hundreds of emails every day but this email was very special. This email told him that the PERM application filed for him had been certified.

It has been a long 208 days since it was filed by the lawyers with the Department of Labor.

Next up is hopefully a straightforward, but expensive, process. I am not going to take anything for granted and assume it will all go smoothly, but I am going to remain positive and hopeful that soon I will have a little piece of plastic in my hand that means I can get (apply for) any job I want and we can live anywhere in the US we want. 

If all 4 of us have medical exam at same time and all adjust status at the same time, it will cost around $4,150. Just to adjust status. It will be more if any of us need any additional vaccinations, and I think I will. Plus there will probably be lawyer fees added on, unless we do the I-485 ourselves and the company only do the I-140. 

For my own sanity, and so I know what needs to happen next, I have worked out what needs to be done, what needs to be filed and how much it all costs. I think I have got it right.

I-140 (Petition for Immigrant Worker)
Fee - $580

I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status)
Fee - (over 14) $1070    (Under 14 if 1 parent also filing) $635

I-765 (Employment Authorization)
Fee - $0 if filed with I-485

Optional - I-131 (Application for Travel) In case want to leave country before GC comes through.
Fee - $0 per if filed with I-485

We need to get a medical from a Doctor who is on a list provided by USCIS. There are 14 in all of South Carolina and there are 3 near us.

1 is on Isle of Palms charges $185 per person
1 is in Charleson charges $180 per person if over 14 or $145 per person if under 14
1 is in West Ashley but there is no info on their website about cost of immigration medicals.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Science Fair

We have been in America for 4 1/2 years. (I know!)

In that time the kids have been immersing themselves in their new American lifestyle. Z has gone to school for the entire 4 1/2 years and K has gone to school for 3 1/2 years. K has done a bit of cheerleading and has a whole list of other stuff she wants to do. Both her and Z have been involved with Scouts. They have both spent more time in American schools than they did in UK schools.

Part of the school experience is Science Fairs. We didn't do anything in the Science Fair when we lived in Carmel. Actually I don't recall if they did it at their school there. When we moved to South Carolina we did start to get involved in it. Last year was the first time they participated and it was a big learning curve. K made a volcano and Z made a model of a dinosaur. They both got participation ribbons. When we went to the event night and got to see all of the other kids science projects I was amazed! These kids were either geniuses or had a lot of help from their parents. I think really a lot of the kids are clever but did get help from their parents.

This year, to help with my sanity, we decided that both Z & K would do
the same project. They would have to submit separate presentation boards but they would do the same work. We decided to do an observation project. (If Z does it next year when he is in 5th grade he will need to do an experiment).

In order to make it even easier and even more stress free we decided to do something that involved stuff we already had and we would not have to go out and buy stuff to do it. We chose to observe store bought bread and homemade bread and see which went moldy and stale first. I make bread regularly so it was easy enough to find a loaf of white bread in the pantry that I had made. We then picked up a loaf of white bread at the store on our usual grocery run. 1 piece of bread of each was placed on a plate and left out in the open. Another piece of bread was then put in a Ziploc bag and sealed. Over the following week the kids looked at the bread and made notes. We then produced some information sheets to put on their presentation board and printed out the pictures we had taken with my phone.

The Science Fair was last night.

K won the 3rd place medal for observations by 3rd graders!
Z won the 1st place medal for observations by 4th graders!

I will admit when they announced the 3rd and 2nd place winners for 4th grade I was convinced Z wasn't going to win so I was SO HAPPY when his name was called as the 1st place winner. The vice principal, who was announcing the winners, actually laughed a little just before he announced Z's name as he had just announced his sisters win in 3rd grade for the same thing. (They both had the same title obviously).

To celebrate we took them both out for fro-yo. They let me wear their medals as they said I was a winner too as I had helped them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The South is Being All Weird

When we lived in Indiana we were used to snow and ice at winter. It is a common occurrence. It snows EVERY winter. The freezing rain was a new experience for me and when the ice storm came in early 2011 I was very surprised by its impact. The kids ended up being off school for pretty much a whole week and it took us over an hour to free our car from its ice cocoon in the parking lot. We did actually hammer at the ice for a while as it was so solid. (These top 2 pictures show how thick the ice was on our car. The next 2 show ice on our front step and snow that was actually a big solid lump of ice).

I took the trash out to the dumpster one day and fell on my backside no
less than 7 times. I went to see how bad it was at the local Lions Club and had to call my husband to come help me get back as I couldn't get back up a slope that was so slight a baby could have maneuvered over it with ease on a regular day. However on the days immediately following the ice storm this was not possible for me.

Anyway, we moved to South Carolina in 2012 and were now by the beach and saw palm trees every day. When we asked people about winter they always said, "Oh it's not too bad", "Pretty mild", "Doesn't really snow here by the coast". Ah good we thought. We brought our snow shovel and have mainly used it for clearing the kids bedrooms. It is wonderful with shifting all the Lego on the floor to one corner so kids can easily pick it all up without  moaning too much. We also brought the
ice scraper for the car and left it in the trunk. It was there, in case we
needed it. I did recall seeing a news story about a time Atlanta got a little dusting of snow and it brought the city to a halt and I remember thinking 'those Southerners are wimps!'.

Well, guess what we have had! Over the last couple weeks there have been 2 instances of freezing rain and snow here in South Carolina that made it all the way to the coast.
Guess what happened. The State pretty much ground to a halt. Do I still think Southerners are wimps? No I do not. I now know that they are simply unprepared and unfamiliar with this sort of weather. There are a couple snow plows/gritters out here but there are only about 6 to cover 9 counties. I think in Carmel in Indiana they have about that for just the one town never mind the county. But the expense of buying multiple machinery to deal with snow and ice makes sense there because it is a regular occurrence. Winter happens every year and every year they get snow and ice. Due to it happening every
year the citizens of those places up North get used to driving in it and don't freak
out about it all. They just get on with it. It is also much easier to buy warm clothes that are for those kinds of temperatures. Yes you can buy jackets and sweaters and gloves here but they are for dealing with mild temperatures. Not constant days below freezing. The first winter here it was relatively mild. We even went to the beach over Christmas and New Years and only a sweater and a pair of gloves was needed to keep warm.

First the school went on a delay because it was "too cold" to have kids waiting at the bus stops at 6:50am, plus the school buses are very old and would need extra time to start in the cold temperatures. (It was about 20F/-6C but felt like 8F/-13C). I actually took both my kids to the beach and took their picture during the 2 hour delay. K said she felt like the boogers in her nose were freezing it shut. She sure has a way with words my daughter!

Next came the first instance of freezing rain and this resulted in the school being shut for 2 days. The Ravenel Bridge, among others, was closed. The Ravenel Bridge connects Mount Pleasant to Charleston and it one of the quickest ways to get down town. It was shut for about 40 hours. When it did finally open it was quickly shut again because ice chunks were falling off it and smashing into the windshields of cars on the bridge.

Now we are on our second instance of freezing rain and once again the schools are shut, we are on day 2, and the Ravenel Bridge has been shut since yesterday. Ben worked from home yesterday but decided to go into the office this morning. Luckily for him he left just before 7am and the traffic was not too bad on the I-526 heading from Mount Pleasant but as it is currently the only way to get to Charleston from here it is now very busy and has been that way since around 8:30am. I have no idea how long it will take him to get home at the end of the day. I am waiting on the call from Charleston County School District telling me what will be happening with school tomorrow. On Monday we got the call at 9:22pm saying school was shut on Tuesday. On Wednesday they made the call early and it came at 12:57pm. I am thinking school will be back on tomorrow and it will all be back to normal. The kids have their Valentines Day parties tomorrow and I have to take in 2 dozen donuts to K's 3rd grade class. (Yes I still have donut money left from the Dunkin Donuts gift cards I won). It is supposed to start a warm up from tomorrow and there is no rain expected for the remainder of today but it depends on how all the roads are I guess. By this time next week the temps should be around the 70F/22C mark and sunny. That's more like the South I know!

And to end on a silly note, we got a DVD from Netflix yesterday. Guess what made me giggle.

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