28 March 2014

Adventures in Socialized Medicine: NHS Signup ● by Jess


As an American that has never been without health insurance, the idea of using the NHS (National Health Service- aka UK's socialized medicine system) has been... daunting. And I'll tell you what, it has already been an adventure. 

About a month ago, I called to make an appointment with my General Practioner. London is like NYC, where you don't actually go to hospital, instead, you go to one of several smaller doctors offices around the city. 

I was turned down from the first three-- relatively highly ranked-- places as they were not in my zip code (though technically closer to where I live). I had to settle for a very sexy 2 out of 5 star medical center a ways up the road. 

My first appointment was actually an appointment to make an ACTUAL appointment…or "pre-appointment" and even that was two weeks away!

When I get to my pre-doctor meeting, I was given a small form by a group of very grumpy secretaries and told to go to the end of the hall, down the stairs and sit. This is what that sitting area looked like:

My view coming down the stairs. The sitting room is just a stairwell with no one else there. 
My view from my chair-- an excellent assortment of random bits of stuff carefully crammed behind the stairway.
Eventually someone came for me and the actual signup process was incredibly thorough-- much more so than any I'd had in the US. The lady that helped me was so nice and chatty. I walked away thinking… 'this NHS stuff is actually pretty awesome!' So, we booked my next appointment.

This morning (two weeks after my pre-appointment) I go to my first official doctor's visit and, after a half hour of waiting, they call my name.

I'm ushered back into a room with a female doctor. I sit down, and-- without any pleasantries-- she asks, "So, why are you here?" emphasizing the word "here" as though she were posing the question existentially. 

My brain went blank for a moment. Its not that I need my GP to wine and dine me, but c'mon sister! Give me a "hello" at least! Finally, I fumbled out my reasons for coming. 

What followed was like a Gilmore GIrls meets a Law and Order interrogation-- a rapid fire of probing questions that come so fast you barely have time to process the loss of dignity. 

In the end she handed me a slip so I could get a blood test and said that she planned to refer me to a specialist for one of my other concerns. I asked if there was anything else she needed to give me, she said no, and I left. 

The meeting lasted less than four minutes. 

Shell-shocked, I went back to my favorite group of secretaries-- all of which I'm certain have some sort of medical instrument deftly lodged up their nether regions. 

True to form, when I got to the front of the line, my secretary looked at me irritably as I gave her my blood test slip. I told her that I was fasting, so I'd like to take the blood test today. 

"You have to schedule an appointment."

"Really? The doctor said I should be able to do it today."

"You have to schedule an appointment."

"Ok… when is the next available date?"

"… April 4th, 9am."

"Ok… great. Also, the doctor said she was going to refer me to a specialist, will that information be in my file?"

"Um, I don't know."

"… ok, is it there now? She was typing information in the computer when I left the room…"

"That's something you'll just have to figure out when you come back on April 4th."

"Are you serious? You can't just look right now?"

"Ma'am there is a long line behind you and I'd like to get to everyone. You can ask the secretary when you come back for your blood test on April 4th."

AHHHHHHH! 

So, all in all, I'd say it was a mixed bag of good and bad.

The best part: I don't have to worry about deductibles or co-payments.

The worst part: (besides the secretaries from Hell) It takes so long to get anything figured out. A month + two appointments later and no one has told anything new about my health. 


Stay tuned for more adventures soon...

Also, if you are in need of a little good Karma, we're trying to get our blog seen by the expat community here in London. So, if you have a second, just hop over to ExpatsBlog and write a positive comment at the bottom of the page, it would be so helpful :) Thanks!

24 March 2014

Evensong at St. Paul's Cathedral ● by Jess

In most larger cities, you find that all the big pretty buildings cost lots of money to get inside. Often this includes cathedrals, which is really frustrating! Shouldn't churches be free?! Anyway, we've been wanting to visit the inside of St. Paul's since we got here and recently realized (this seem obvious to everyone else), but they can't charge you to worship, we've started touring churches on Sundays!

The great thing about this, is that if you go to specific services, you get a gorgeous choral experience as well! This Sunday we went to St. Paul's Evensong (at 3pm-- got there early and got front row center seats!). 

You get to just sit and marvel at this enormous dome with all these insanely gorgeous mosaics and woodwork and masonry. There is choir made up of adorable little boys that sing scripture in phenomenal harmonies. When we went, they inducted a new little boy in that looked like a blond Harry Potter. It was awesome. 
    

A not-technically-allowed shot of the inner dome, which definitely does not do it justice. I had to snap it when the ushers weren't watching, which resulted in the left half of the image being a really sexy shot looking straight up my nose. I cropped it to spare your eyeballs. You're welcome. 
 

After the service, we found this awesome building just across the street that lets you go up to their roof for one of the most incredible city views I've ever seen in my life. So beautiful... Definitely an amazing way to spend a Sunday. 


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19 March 2014

Amsterdam ● by Jess

This past weekend, Jon and I took a day trip up to Amsterdam. Here are all the happy moments:



Now, for the honest to goodness truth: getting there was a nightmare.

I had this brilliant idea about a month ago, after learning that Megabus (which is a super cheap bus service) goes to Amsterdam on an 11 hour-overnight drive. 

'Perfect!' I thought. 'We'll get on at 9:30pm and wake up the next morning in Amsterdam!' 

What I didn't know is that 1) the space between the seats is much smaller than in the US 2) You are required to get off the bus for the very cold ferry ride over to channel and 3) the loud speaker comes on ever hour and a half when we stop in a new town for passengers to disembark. Basically, we got zero sleep. 

But, despite being zombies, we had a really fun time exploring and getting to know the city.

Amsterdam is such a beautiful city-- laid out with rows of canals which is why it is often called the "Venice of the North."



Jon and I have this plan to buy something for our future house from every country we go to. Sooooo, we went this fabulous antiques market where I discovered beautiful tiles (white ceramic with blue glaze is famous in Holland-- the province of the Netherlands that Amsterdam is located). We ended up purchasing a very rare multicolored tulip tile from 1640 (SERIOUSLY ITS OLDER THAN AMERICA!) for only  n. 

Because it was damaged (majors cracks running through it), collectors were't interested, otherwise it would be worth thousands of euros. But it has some really awesome historic significance and we don't care about the wear and tear (truth be told, I actually like it better this way!). 

After shopping and running around, we were totally beat so we went to the library and Jon napped for several hours before we had dinner. All in all it was a pretty successful trip and (fortunately) the ride home was much, much better than the ride there. 


12 March 2014

Traumatized by Tea ● by Jess

One thing I've definitely learned since moving here: Brits love their tea -- like love, love their tea. They drink it all day, everyday-- it is clearly the national beverage of choice.

This would be much more exciting if I hadn't vowed to hate tea forever when I was fourteen...


Roll back the clock to over a decade ago, and you'd find me on a week-long class trip to Moab, Utah. 

My friends and I, with our too-cool-for-the-closer-outhouse puerility, managed to lock ourselves in a handicapped toilet on the far side of the campground. Yes, it gets better... We locked ourselves in there because we'd been chased into it by a drunk-- who proceeded to circle the shack for several hours. It was traumatizing... And, we were quite certain we would die.

Eventually, our teachers found us and (I'm sure with their eyes rolling) ushered us back to camp.  Being somewhat hysterical tweens, we were definitely in need of something calming.... Enter chamomile tea.

With such frayed nerves, I had expected something earthy and sweet-- something that was warm and golden and soothing. 

However, what came from that mug was the single-most vile thing I had ever tasted. What the heck TEA??! I barely made it out of the tent before spraying it back on the hellscape that had, not only held me captive in an outhouse for several hours, but had actually produced a cup of liquified nightmares for comfort. I was then certain that my future would forever remain tea-less.   

The thing is, if you've been raised as a devout Mormon, their are certain flavors that you never experience and thereby never develop an appreciate for. Basically all these flavors are in the bitter realm-- things like coffee, green tea, alcohol. They just never find their way to the palate. 

Instead, we [Mormons] overcompensate for this by making all of our vices unduly sweet. My childhood, like many a LDS youth, was filled with several dishes of *ahem* dubious nutritional value-- things like a frothy concoction of jello and cool-whip, something that my parents actually called a "salad" and fed us for dinner. Its mildly horrifying, but true, and it's probably the reason Jon and I can barely go a week without chocolate. 

Fortunately, where tea is concerned, Britannia has an answer! 

Shortly after moving here, someone introduced me to the Elderberry. I'm still quite puzzled as to why mainstream America has yet to discover this little guy, because let me tell you, it packs a very sweet punch. It does have a slightly different flavor, but it is delicious enough to make a girl wonder why anyone would opt for Earl Grey when they could have Elderberry?

Since this discovery, tea has actually become quite a normal and pleasant afternoon ritual. My favorite is a cup of Raspberry-Elderberry with a spoonful of agave. It is glorious! (though if I'm being honest, it is basically one step away from being juice). Pair that little cup of heaven with the *amazing* shortbread they've got here and somehow, it all makes me a feel just a bit more authentic, and ever so slightly more British.

10 March 2014

Cousin Mike ● by Jess

 Sometimes life surprises you, in a really good way. Jon's cousin Mike had to land his plane (he's a pilot in the military) for repairs in Cambridge, which meant he got to spend the whole day with us!

First we had an Indian food picnic on our floor (our table barely accommodates 2, so picnic was really the only option). 

Then we showed Mike London. From Big Ben to St. Paul's to the fish and chips, it was one of the best days we've had yet here. These two boys are hilarious together-- which was really fun to watch. Since he left we've been trying to figure out how to get Mike, and his wife Aimee, to move here.  


We discovered these tiny little paintings on the Millenium bridge. They are intricate paintings done on old gum. We checked it out later and found out they are done by a man named Ben Wilson.

 And what is London without a traditional English dinner-- fish & chips and ham-- at a pub in the City. Then it walked over to Covenant Garden to get shakes.


Basically, it was the best surprise visit ever! Can't wait to see you again Michael!!

04 March 2014

The Time We Almost Moved to Africa... But Then Didn't ● by Jon

I don't write posts very often on our blog, but I promised Jess I'd write about how we recently almost moved to South Africa…. its a pretty exciting tale. 


One of the best things that has happened to me career-wise in London (and anywhere, for that matter) has been the opportunity to transition from Deloitte Audit to Transaction Services in Deloitte Corporate Finance. 

In the midst of interviews for the new position, suddenly I received this random message on Linkedin:

I would like to discuss career opp for you as intl financial analyst with NYSE listed U.S. foods/agribus corp in their Joburg offices, covering 12 Africa country subsidiaries. Lots of autonomy, position reports directly to VP of Finance in U.S.. Expat package value gross $150,000 equivalent.

Financial analyst? 150 G's??! I usually don’t go for this kind of thing, but I was intrigued. What followed was a whirlwind of emails, calls, interviews, research, stress, confidentiality, and excitement! Turns out that the offer was legitimate, and it was so high because housing, taxes, and car were all subsidized by the company as part of an expat deal. 

The ideal of moving from London was, at first, unfathomable, but the more we did our due diligence on the whole experience, the it was hard to NOT get excited. But Christmas came, Boxing Day came, New Year’s came, and they all went without word from the company or the recruiter. 

What was the deal?! 

Finally,  I made the executive decision to call up the VP of Finance (the guy making the decision) and ask what was happening. We discussed various positions in different African countries, and by the end of the call he seemed sure I was a good fit for their company. 

Still weeks continued to roll by as we waited for the next interview (as well as official word from Deloitte about the Transaction Services job-- seems like no one would give us an answer!). 

In the next interview, I learned things had slowed because they already had a top candidate. Fortunately for me the top candidate had dropped out (ironically enough, Deloitte South Africa had made him a better offer), and so I was still in the running. I was not initially considered because it was a controller position requiring about 6 years’ experience. I had three.

… And a half. 

Maybe. 

However, they liked me, and that, combined with mobility meant that we all explored the idea of where I could fit. 

Poor Jess. She was being emotionally dragged through London to South Africa to various third world African countries and now back to South Africa! But she was wonderful through the whole thing while we held out for this final controller position in Johannesburg. 

In the end, the official offer came back as a developmental position in Kenya, which we knew immediately was not the decision for us. It’s family time, and Kenya would mean postponing that. So, so long, Africa! Perhaps we’ll meet again someday. 

Two weeks later, I was unofficially given the Transaction Services position! Time to party!



We are so lucky to have wonderful friends that want to celebrate with us -- Brian and Annji, and Jim and Jen are really great people with cute kids and great attitudes. They were so excited for us that they threw a pizza party to celebrate the new position! It was a ton of fun and we are so grateful to know them.