28 September 2015

8 Ways to Battle Expat Homesickness

Every now and then I get an email from a prospective expat that is peppered with all the questions I was asking before we moved to London. But one of the questions I've always been surprised by is, " How do you deal with homesickness?"


I'm embarrassed to say that I've been pretty dismissive of these questions in the past. Before the last year, the only time I can remember feeling homesick (as an adult) was in the first two hours at university. Thinking it was social anxiety rearing it's ugly head again, I swallowed it by grounding myself in something that made me feel safe. I've travelled the world and never once felt it again.

That is until about eight months ago, when I was hit with some serious yearning for home.

MY STORY

About the time we bought my ticket for Matt's wedding, I started to feel really homesick. It was the kind of I-can't-get-out-of-bed-because-I-wanna-be-home kind of longing. We went to the wedding, then came back with Jon's family's entire collection of home movies. I basically bathed in nostalgia all day every day for six months while I digitised everything and worked on our film festival. Finally, we went back to the states for both our Young and Bingham family reunions, and by the time we got back to London I had learned some very valuable lessons on how to deal.

So to answer all of your earnest questions, here are the 8 ways I've learned to battle homesickness as an expat:

ANCHOR YOURSELF + FIND FAMILIARITY

First, it it important to realise where homesickness is coming from. Most of the time, it is because we want to feel safe and happy, and not alone and afraid. Newness, especially for expats, is scary... it usually means the places and people we love are far away.

Perhaps your trigger is the nervousness of your new job, or a really painful cultural flub. When you feel that panicky, longing feeling of just wanting to be home,  stop and ask yourself what you are really looking for.  Do you just want to feel safe? Do you just want to feel loved?  Do you want the ease of familiar things? Get to the root of your feelings.

Once you've identified the cause, look for a way to anchor yourself. Maybe that means snuggling up in bed with popcorn and movie, maybe that means writing in your journal in a special spot, or maybe that means making a friend that can calm you down and make you feel safe. Find your triggers, then anchor yourself.

STAY IN TOUCH WITH FAMILY + FRIENDS

I think the biggest reason I've avoided homesickness (prior to this last year) was because I talk to my family ALL. THE. TIME. I seriously talk to my mom every other day.

But it doesn't just have to be with Skype or Whatsapp, you can actually call (for free) though your phone as well! Staying in touch with the people you love is one of the most important ways to feel close to them. Technology in our age is such a blessing-- don't waste it!

DON'T BE ALONE + FIND COMMUNITY

In a very practical sense, being Mormon has lots of advantages. Wherever you go in the world, there is a built-in community of people that share similar beliefs and that will be there to help you and integrate you.

So, if you are religious, check out your local church. If not, find like-minded people through a meet-up group, work, or school.

If you are moving to a new country alone, I highly recommend getting roommates. They not only help bring rent costs down, but also can give advice and a mate to run around with.

EMBRACE CULTURE

Get out and try new things! When we moved to in Queens, I was not a fan. In fact, NYC just seemed like this dirty, crime-filled city that I had the misfortune of being stuck in. However, when I started organising photoshoots, and get out and look for photogenic spaces and people... it suddenly opened my eyes to the beauty and glory that was New York City. I fell in love with it.

In most expat situations, you probably won't be in your current country/city forever.  Make use of your exciting time abroad and see, taste, touch and smell as much as your brain can handle.  The more you learn about a place and people, the more you usually love it.

FIND YOURSELF A GOLDEN THREAD

A friend of mind once described a herself as having golden thread tied between herself and heaven when she prayed. I've always thought that was the most beautiful visual metaphor for for prayer and meditation, which I have found it very helpful in my own life.

Even if you aren't particularly religious, what do have to lose, really? At the very least, hearing yourself discuss your needs and desires out loud could give you a new perspective.

MAKE NEW TRADITIONS

I have noticed that homesickness comes around quite a bit more around the holidays. Whether that is Christmas or Thanksgiving or Independence day, Jon and I usually have our wistful wouldn't-it-be-great-to-be-home-right-now conversations when we remember traditions that we loved as kids.

Fortunately, we have a planet full of traditions! No matter where you are in the world, there are new customs and practices to be discovered. You'll learn new ones to add to your own repertoire, and get a better understanding of the country you find yourself in.

GRATITUDE

When all else fails, express gratitude. For me, this comes in the form of a journal, for Jon this is usually expressing it to someone or saying it out loud. Being conscious of the good around you can be so beneficial to feeling happiness and safety in your new space.  Dwell on the positive, not the negative. 

VISIT HOME

There are times when you just got to see your mama. With my spout of homesickness earlier this summer, I know it was cured by simply spending time with my family. While I think this should be a last resort, it is definitely one that deserves a mention, because sometimes it is the only thing that will do the trick.

What do you do to combat homesickness? Let me know in the comments below!

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26 September 2015

War Rooms and Clouds

This week has been so busy. Fortunately, it has been filled with lots of family, which we tend to have a shortage of 'round this part of the globe. 

Earlier this week, Mike and Debi (Jon's aunt and uncle) came into town! We all went out to eat at Macellaio's (along with Auntie Claire, Debi's parents, and their friends). We just dropped in for something small but were faced with fairly comprehensive menu (including basically every cut of meat from a cow in various forms). We indicated that we were looking for something light, maybe like pasta or soup. But the waiter was quick to insist pasta would be too heavy, and that we should opt for a multi-kilogram meat option for the table to share. This was either the perfect example of the differing American to continental European dining attitudes... or an attempt to get us to spend more. We'll never be entirely sure.
As we've mentioned before, Auntie Claire was Jon's (biological) aunt Mary's missionary companion. But she was also good friends with Mike, when he was going to Oxford. While we were riding the tube to the Churchill War Rooms, we decided to reenact this classic photo from almost 25 years prior. 


Unfortunately, just about the time we reached the War Rooms, I got hit with a massive wave of I-Feel-Like-I'm-Gonna-Passout grossness. But I couldn't miss the chance to go through the rooms where Churchill was bunkered down and fighting WWII. I really learned so much.

The rise and scare of Nazism felt much more real... especially when compared with the ascent of ISIS today. Of course there are some large fundamental differences, but it FELT similar. I noticed it particularly in the way the politicians were speaking and the reticence of the UK and US to fully engage. It was so compelling (and more than a little frightening) to feel those similarities. 


My favourite Churchill quote from the whole exhibit, "My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied by the best." What a guy.


It was so nice seeing all these beautiful people. Debi is so sweet and loving (the perfect person to have around when you feel ill, as I definitely did), and Mike is one of the sharpest guys you'll ever meet. I'm so glad I get to call them family.


Later on in the week, Claire and I met up at the Breakfast Club to get some of their legendary pancakes. We were in line for a solid hour! But it was worth it.


Look at those things! MMMMmmmmmmmmm.... The pancakes were thick and cakey and topped with a artery-clogging dollop of vanilla clotted cream and berries. I was one happy camper.


Now, if the pancakes and smoothie weren't enough to put us into a sugar coma, we decided to pop around the corner to the SOHO Hummingbird Bakery to get Jon a red velvet cupcake. 


Afterwards, we meandered toward Waterstone's at Piccadilly to do some book perusing and eventually landed at Fortnum and Mason for tea.  Golly, I love that place... everything inside it is beautiful-- from the packaging to the shelf stockers in tails. It feels like Christmas.


Later that night, we went out to eat with our friends Kate and James to celebrate (can't say what yet-- but no, I'm not pregnant). Celebrations in this house almost always mean Shake Shack in Covent Garden. Right now there is a massive cloud-like installation piece their by Charles Pétillon called, "Heartbeat." 
Afterward we went with Kate and James to the YSA dance. Jon and I love to dance, so that was great, but I have seriously never felt so old. I didn't even know half the songs. And there were a whole gaggle of girls that that I use to be the Young Women's youth leader for, rocking out on the other side of the room.


But I didn't let it get me down! Jon, James, Kate and I had a blast dancing like there was no tomorrow. Finally we left, sweaty, happy and full of food. It's been a pretty great week. 

23 September 2015

Bingham Family Reunion 2015



When we were back in the States this summer, we spent the second half of our trip with my family up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. This part of Idaho is like twelve kinds of gorgeous. We basically spent the whole trip out on Hayden Lake and it was incredible.



We started the reunion out with a trip to the Spokane temple and afterward went to Manito park. It was a pretty brutal day outside and by the time we made it through the park we are all dying to get in the water. This happened to be pretty perfect as we just happened to have a lake (well, several) nearby.

Manito Park
Manito Park Cactus

Lovely Daniel and Sika, or are now MARRIED! Pretty sure their babies are going to be the cutest things on the planet.

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My Grandma and Grandpa Bingham came over from Missoula as well. It is pretty much tradition that my Grandpa make homemade rootbeer for us, and he didn't disappoint.

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We were playing some pretty hardcore scrabble and Uno (with some major house rules). I won, naturally Jon expressed decent and accused me of cheating (what?! I never...), but in the end was forced to accept defeat.

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I can't even say how lovely it was spending all day out on the water with the family. We went tubing, boating, jet skiing, wakeboarding, swimming and I don't think we'd ever get tired of it. At one point we went out to this little sand bar and threw the football around (well, I didn't... as a matter of personal safety for all present) and drove past Bing Cosby's old mansion.

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I surely do love this boy of mine...

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Hayden idaho lake

It was an incredible couple of days with great bonding and lots of love. Watching our video back makes me miss the mountains and all these wonderful people buckets. Lucky to have been blessed enough to be born into a family like this.


21 September 2015

What One British 5-Year-Old Taught Me About the Syrian Refugees

The other night I was stunned into complete, dumbfounded silence.

It was Saturday evening and I was watching Tilly, one of my former students. While she was brushing her teeth, I swiped my phone on to check my messages. A photo of several Syrian refugees popped up from an article I had been reading earlier that day.

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"Who are they?" she asked, toothpaste suds spraying every which way.

"They're refugees... Do you know what a refugee is?"

She shook her head.

"Hmmm... Well, they are people that have to leave their homes because it's not safe. They usually have to go some place far away."

"Why aren't they safe at home?" she asked.

Fair question. But as I considered how to respond, I realised I was at a cross-roads. What would her parents think of my introducing the ideas of ISIS, war, death and displacement into their sweet, five-year old's head? I decided to approach it the way I had always wished adults would have answer my questions-- with gentle honesty.

Using the most child appropriate version I could think of on the spot, I explained that there were some people in a place near Egypt (she loves Egypt), called Syria. The people were fighting all the time. It has become such a dangerous place that all the mummies and daddies have had to take their children and run away, without any toys or clothes or anything. They pile into tiny boats and have to cross the sea to get to Europe, where it is safer. But, there are usually too many people in boats. When big waves come it can be quite scary.

"Do some people drown? she asked, eyes widening at the prospect.

"Sometimes yes. It's very sad."

"But if they get across the water then they are safe from the baddies?"

"Yes, but the problem is that they don't have a home or food anymore.... so, even if they get across they are still in trouble."

"Why doesn't everyone help them?" Good question.

"Well, there are so many refugees coming, people that already live in Europe are worried. Where will all these people live? How can we pay to take care of all of them?  It's a big problem"

Tilly looked down at her teddy bear. It's her most prized possession and never more than 10 ft from her when she's home.

"I think I need to give those refugee children my nallebjörn." Nallebjörn is Swedish for teddy bear.

Knowing how much she loves that thing made my heart wince a little bit. Would I be willing to give my camera or my computer away to a group of refugees? The answer is most decidedly no.

I told Tilly that it was very kind of her to offer, but I thought her teddy bear should probably stay with her.

For the rest of toothbrushing time she mentally inventoried her clothes, toys, books and even the kitchen cupboards for things she could send to the children.

Finally she hopped into bed and we sat down to read some much happier, lighter bedtime stories. After answering another flurry of refugee-related questions, I turned the lights out and sat next to her while she fell asleep.

She was still for several minutes. At last, I thought she'd dozed off.

Then suddenly she turned over and said, "I feel really bad for all those people in Syria, but I think I feel most bad for the ones that are hurting people."

Surprised, and thinking I'd misheard her, I responded with a neutral, "Why is that?"

"Well, I think the ones that hurt people don't really understand that what they are doing is wrong, and that makes me really sad for them."

Good grief.

Despite a half dozen humanitarian-centric trips, and over a quarter century of weekly Sunday school lessons, the idea of feeling pity for the inflictors of this whole great travesty had never even entered my mind.

Yet here was a little blond angle, who-- in the space of a half hour-- had offered her dearest treasure and her whole heart to not just the victims, but the "baddies" as well.

Now I'm well aware of the complexity of this issue. I know it isn't as easy as just giving love when we have a mounting geo-political confrontation on our hands. But, in thinking about Syria, let's not forget that we are all a part of humanity.

Imagine if we could avoid the "otherness" of hate, but instead look toward those that we dislike (or fear) with compassion and understanding. Surely if we could all do a little more of that, there would be less war, more love, and a great deal more security. Let's all give it a go, shall we?


If you are interested in making a donation to the Syrian refugee relief efforts, I've done a great deal of research into this and would recommend donating to the following:

LDS PHILANTHROPIES

This is my favourite humanitarian charity because:
1) 100% of the money goes to humanitarian causes
2) Workers oversee the full distribution of goods (ie their are people on the ground watching the moms receiving the diapers in hand) and
3) Charity work closely with local, established non-profits and NGOs to know what is most needed (as oppose to just dropping off a bunch of stuff Westerners THINK refugees might need).

SAVE THE CHILDREN

This is one of the most highly regarded charities and I think it is a great option for someone that really wants to make sure they money goes directly to the children (especially if they'd prefer to not donate to an ecclesiastically based charity like the no mentioned above). I like them because:
1) 85% goes directly to the children - This is very high for a non-volunteer organisation.
2) It is one of the UK's oldest NGOs
3) They are very transparent with where their money goes and how it is spent.

20 September 2015

Hanging With the Paces

Sometimes the universe blesses you by dropping amazing people in your path. I met the Pace family at our New Canaan wedding reception three years ago, but had no idea really who they were or how we'd stumble into each other's lives over the next few years.

Left to Right: Kayleigh, Ashlyn, Lanaea. Kristen, Mwah

The Paces have a house here and visit every summer. Kayleigh, the beautiful blond above (the one on the far left) was about to head off to university for photography, and since that is my field of expertise we knew we had to see each other. After one of their trips fell through, I got to spend a whole week with these incredible people.  Check out our vlog:


As I've mentioned (probably more than once), Camden is one of my favourite parts of London. Unfortunately, I haven't had success taking anyone there that has been as thrilled with it as I am. Luckily, the Pace girls didn't disappoint. It is quite possible that their love for it even surpasses mine, which is really saying something. 

We started our Camden trip with breakfast at the Cereal Killer Cafe-- which serves pop tarts and every sugary American cereal imaginable. This is a pretty novel things for Britons, whose breakfast cereal selection is significantly less diverse. But they also have a few options that are really special-- like Jon's fav Rice Krispie Treat cereal, which (if as you can see if you click on the link) is pretty freaking expensive over here. 


Below is Kayleigh's selection-- Unicorn Poop. It was a pretty cool concept restaurant. You sit on toddler beds with 80s and 90s cartoon bedspreads and pop culture for my childhood was everywhere. It was a mega helping of nostalgia and anyone in their 20s and 30s would love it.


Pretty sure Kristen secretly wants to be a Spice Girl... 


Besides Camden, we also went out to eat, saw art exhibits, and had a living room picnic/game day. I taught the girls Bang! which they loved and then we went for a killer round of Heads Up. 


And what trip to London would be complete with a day of being fancy and going out for tea? We went to the Criterion restaurant in Piccadilly Circus.


We had booked a "Champagne Tea" which is a typical British tea that comes with a glass of Prosecco. Being Mormon, we were about to ask the waiter for a non-alcoholic alternative. However, seeing that we had teenagers among us, he preempted our requests, and arrived to the table with a single glass of bubbly for Kristen (who politely declined) and four Shirley Temples. 

Now, as grateful as I was for this, I think it should be pointed out that the legal drinking age in the UK is 18. So, apparently, I look 17. 

Guys, I was a week away from my 27th birthday. 

I know, I know... someday I'll be grateful for this. But right now, I'd like to look old enough to vote.


These gorgeous humans are not back in the States now and I miss em! Can't wait to see them again next summer. In the meantime, I'll continue to scheme about ways to get them in the family... they are all too fabulous to not have them legally bound to us for forever ;) One way or another ladies!

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18 September 2015

Kale Spaghetti Genovese Recipe

I love Italian food. That that cheesy, carb-filled deliciousness is sheer perfection.  

Fortunately, for the health-conscious among us, there are ways of enjoying the glory of the Mediterranean cooking, by tweaking it slightly, so that it is more nutrient dense than the original. 

Traditional Spaghetti Genovese is made with refined white pasta, potatoes, and pesto-- which is like holy carb-tastic! This version swaps the spaghetti for whole wheat, removes the potato, and adds fistfuls of kale to the sauce (I found this recipe in a market leaflet, and adapted it into a slightly healthier version-- the nutritional info at the bottom also reflects that). The great thing is that the flavours are nearly identical!

I think this recipe is great on its own, or served with an entree of your choice. At the butcher's there were some beautiful  rainbow trout, so ours was served a la pescatore. 


 Kale Spaghetti Genovese 

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

 Ingredients 
  • 1 1/2 cups (50g) kale, with stalks removed
  • 1 cup tightly packed (25g) fresh basil, just leaves, no stalks
  • 3/4 cup (75g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano (plus extra for serving) 
  • 1/2 cup (100ml) extra virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • Grated zest and just 1 lemon (I prefer the juice of just half the lemon)
  • 300g whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 large fistfuls (200g) trimmed green beans

 Instructions 

1) Place, in a blender or food processor, the kale, basil, toasted pine nuts (I leave a few out so I can add them in whole later), cheese, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and zest. Pulse until completely smooth, adding more olive oil if needed. Set aside.

2) Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling water according to the pack instructions. Add the beans to the pan for the final 2 minutes of cooking time. 

3) Drain the spaghetti and beans, return to the pan and toss through with a few tablespoons of the pesto. Serve in bowls, topped with a little extra grated cheese and grinding of black pepper. 

 Nutritional Info  (per serving, minus fish): 473 calories | 21.5g fat | 4.3g saturated fat | 52.4g carbs | 3g sugars | 6.3g fiber | 14.5g protein | 0.2g salt (using half of the pest for full recipe)