But I’m still American?

The excitement when I first held my red Italian passport. Standing at the airport, with two pieces of luggage and a backpack, saying goodbye to my family. To my life.

Moving to another country is a life-changing adventure. But, is it the right one?

I thought, what am I getting myself into. My great-grandparents left Europe to pursue new opportunities and here I am, returning to the start. Am I letting them down?

You think … what about friends and family members I love and cherish. All the happy memories created during high school, college. You are going to miss birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, graduations, babies, funerals, little ones growing up. I am saying goodbye to the California sunshine, lifestyle, and cuisine. Everything I have ever known.

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Pacific ocean near Half Moon Bay, California

Why am  I leaving? It’s my home, my country. Am I leaving for a better life or will I create something worse? Fear and regret. And yet, I still step on the plane.

One thing I didn’t anticipate is the in-between. While there’s no harm in returning, you’re a changed individual. Neither completely European or American. Your journey creates homesickness in your heart. I miss the heat. But, I miss the lush, emerald green of Britain. Can you belong to both?

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Raw beauty of NorCal.

Living abroad, you’re reminded that you are the OTHER. You’ll never completely understand the references, the jokes from past shows or their childhood memories. People will always question your logic and expect a rational answer; they just don’t understand when you can’t provide clear answers.

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The beauty of England

But despite all this you will feel more grounded than ever. I’m ITALIAN / AMERICAN. Perhaps my spirit has always resided in two places, but it took leaving to understand that part of myself. Why do we have to choose where we place our love? So you just stop thinking and start living and loving. You grow to accept the differences and choose to love even harder.

I love my country. I love my heritage. And I love the life I have created after two years of hard work. Soon, you grow to enjoy returning home all the more because home isn’t just one place. Home is HERE and home is THERE, equally and simultaneously.

 

 

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Relearning the Joy of Being Thrifty

So far, 2013 has treated us well. After working a year for Delphi, I’m starting a rewarding career at Oxford University. Lewis is transferring his work in another section at Jaguar, and overall, we’re looking at planning our future together.

2010-2012 were not great, financially and mentally. After graduating, I found myself unemployed with immediate student loan debt. I was able to work as a contractor keeping my various bills paid, but it just wasn’t enough to live on my own. Unfortunately around this time as well, a lot of friends were into lavish entertainment; this was their preferred adult lifestyle, which I completely understood. But this didn’t make it easy for me on a day-to-day basis. I got to choose between a) staying at home feeling sorry for myself, or b) spend a bit of money to have a social life with some great people. Some good friends knew of my situation and always offered to pay (because they are bad ass nice sweethearts). But for the most part, this was out-of-pocket expense I just didn’t have.

That landed me in a bit of hot water. 😛

Fast forward to present day and I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve slowly regained my footing, I’m making the ascent out of the slippery self-created mud pit. This nagging beast of burden has been a constant thorn in my side and I’m sick of it. It’s time to SLAY THE DREADED THREE-HEADED MONSTER.

I’ve put myself on a timescale to have almost all debt wiped out three to five years, depending on my future career with Oxford progresses. While that makes my heart smile knowing I FINALLY have a plan, that’s still a LOOOOONG time. Life gets in the way. Events will happen. How do I learn to balance life without going deep into my shell and not reappearing in a few years?

Surprisingly, it just took some soul-searching. I had to prioritize choices and goals. I’ve acquainted myself to a college lifestyle. I’ve decided to cut my spending and look at: charity shops, reuse/recycle shops and travel deals.

Charity Shops

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I found this at 70% off, for only £3.50.

In Britain, there are some fantastic charity shops absolutely everywhere. Charities like: Oxfam, Red Cross, Sue Ryder, British Heart Foundation, animal welfare. Shopping here BEFORE going into a high street shop has saved me lots of £££, plus, proceeds go to a great cause. It’s definitely been a win-win. I’ve been lucky to find some gorgeous second-hand cardigans for work, books, scarves, brand new IKEA plates/dishes and things I’ve needed for our place.

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Reuse empty coffee tins for planters.

REUSE/RECYCLE

The town “tip” (recycle garbage, for my American readers) has a fantastic Sue Ryder charity shop next door. I love, love finding hidden treasures! One of the coolest things I’ve found was an A4 sized 100-year-old large postcard, depicting the old mill in Warwick. Grand total, £3. I’ve also found glass bottles (for my plants), cookware and wooden plant stools for under £5 a piece.

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Picked up this jade plant (money tree) for FREE on freecycle.

I’ve also grown to love Freecycle.org! The people I’ve met are incredibly sweet and down-to-earth. I’ve been able to nab some free mason jars and scored an absolutely gorgeous jade plant (money tree). I almost got a king sized futon and brand new IKEA kitchen island, but sadly, someone just picked it up as I enquired. It’s all about timing with freecycle!

Traveling Smarter

Unless we’re traveling with a group of people, Lewis and I have decided against hotel room travel for just him and I. Instead, we’re going to network more with people we know globally and use travel websites, like couchsurfing.com, Livingsocial and Groupon. If we can’t find a deal, then we’re not traveling there. Hotel rooms cost a fortune, that’s money we can pocket instead.

For all its positives it MIGHT be frustrating once you’ve become thrifty. It’s so much easier going to the store to purchase things you need instead of hunting for the best deal. This is why the majority of my shopping is now also done online with vouchers, and/or free shipping.

But it’s also rewarding. I know in a few years my debt will be slashed by 50% and I’ll have a sizable amount in savings for my rainy day and emergency funds.

What thrifty tips do you have? Have you found that being thrifty is really more enjoyable? What sort of amazing deals have you found?

A few more pictures! Here are a couple of pictures of things I’ve gotten for a few quid recently:

Wooden jewelry box for £2.

Cookware for only £3.

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Gorging in London with a Side of Geek

Hard to believe that only last week I was in London for AstroFest 2013! It’s been a loooong week.

London is a harsh mistress. Whilst I love walking the city, enjoying the night life, and finding yummy places to eat, the heavy congestion is draining. And there is so much noise!!

I do enjoy the ebb and flow, my odd little London love affair. I typically enjoy my time, but feel a sense of relief living in a smaller community. Maybe that’s from my upbringing.

This was a different experience though. It came as a surprise, I didn’t want to leave at all! I felt the visit was much too short. Kensington is absolutely lovely and very central. Hell, I even found a WHOLE FOODS! WOW! As a native Californian I have been missing carnitas and burritos. Tears of happiness streamed down my face as I engorged myself with fish tacos and soft taco carnitas. 😀

But enough about me, let’s talk geek! AstroFest is truly a rockstar affair now; it’s absolutely brilliant! As a first time visitor the visit did overwhelm the senses. Sooo much to see, sooo much to do! I’m glad it’s spread into two days.

Here’s a condensed recap of the weekend!

VARIETY OF ASTRONOMY VENDORS

Walking around, I felt at home among my other nerdy peers. Astronomy NOW magazine had a fabulous booth set up: new issues, new books, and back issues for a few quid. An energetic lady at the University of Central Lancashire introduced me to distance learning astronomy courses. I purchased a few astrobiology books from Cambridge University Press, chatted with a few science editors. And, of course, I marveled at the expansive variety of telescopes for novice and advanced explorers. Truly, there was something for everyone to enjoy – child to silver-haired academic.

VARIETY OF LECTURE CONTENT

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Great Hall … Balcony viewing was by FAR the best!

I purchased tickets to all the events so we had quite the itinerary to sort through. I did miss a couple of lectures but for the most part I sat through almost all! NASA engineers discussed their lives as scientists living 14,000 feet above sea level at remote telescopes in Maui. Academics captured pictures of super massive stars, gave a preview of, what they believe, black holes sound like when colliding, and even explained plate tectonics on Mars in comparison to Earth!

It’s NERDY, but it was absolutely fascinating. Great subject variety! My brain totally hurt afterwards, haha!

EXCELLENT CENTRAL LOCATION

London may drive me crazy, but Kensington is absolutely brilliant. It was close to the tube line, and I loved shopping on the High Street for clothes. Much better variety of clothing instead of in Leamington. There was also a HUUUUGE Tescos within walking distance. We stopped there for breakfast and brought lunch with us into the convention.

SPEAKERS! SOME GREAT, SOME NOT SO GREAT

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The only fault I found was with the speakers. Some, like Lucy Hawking, were natural, talented orators. Herself and a few others made some compelling lectures, with exciting content using videos and pictures.

Others … not so good. I can understand that the academics were quite busy, I get it, but speaking 45 minutes about galaxies in the ultraviolet to the public could be shown with pictures, not extensive graphs. Touch upon math, but keep it simple! Hopefully next year the academics will make some presentations a bit more visual and less wordy.

REMEMBERING PATRICK MOORE

558007_484441584945756_672236678_nAstroFest closed out with this session. It ended extremely well. Everyone wanted to see the LEGENDS, like Dr. Brian May, discuss his fondest memories of Patrick Moore and how he touched upon so many lives with his enthusiasm in astronomy. There wasn’t ONE SEAT left in the auditorium, it was jam-packed!! I hope they continue it each year, it’s a fantastic way to honor Patrick, as well as, end the conference on a light-hearted and FUN note.

Will I be attending Astrofest 2014? ABSOLUTELY!

Christmas in Belgium

Scattered images from our trip in Brussels and Brugge.

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My favourite picture of Belguim