Monday, April 21, 2014

The final blog

It's time to move on.

This blog began in October 2011 when we emigrated from the UK to the US. Initially intended as a means of keeping family and friends up-to-date with our adventures, it quickly acquired a much larger following. Each month, around 300 people from around the world visit the blog, and I have made new friends through sharing our experiences of being an English family making sense of our new lives in the States.

This blog has been about the novelties and cultural shocks of living in the US: the complicated bureaucracies of renting an apartment and getting a driving license; the significance of cops carrying guns (even the Environmental Police are armed); the quality and the cost of the health care systems; the up-beat child-focused education systems; the frequency of elections and the overwhelming enthusiasm for an active democracy. I have also written about the crazy changes in weather which brought us snowstorms, Hurricane Sandy and the polar vortex, and the experience of living in a city under lockdown while the police hunted down Tsarnaev, the so-called 'Boston Bomber'.

The plan had been to live here for a year or two, to have a few adventures and new experiences, and to then return home to our more familiar lives in the UK. But plans change and we like it here.

Museum day at Maria L. Baldwin school
Each morning, Iola skips enthusiastically to school. The education system lacks some of the content-driven rigour of the English school system, but she benefits tremendously from being a learner within a system which is responsive to students' interests rather than being as standards-driven as the English system. For example, when Iola's class were given the opportunity to research animals, she made the choice to specialize on oxen. She devised her own research agenda and research questions, built a PowerPoint presentation which she presented to parents on 'Museum Day', sculpted a pair of oxen in art, wrote a series of poems, and drew a picture of oxen which has now been included in the mural on the school's library walls. Iola is 8 years old. (She also now speaks with a Boston accent so thick that strangers sometimes ask how we are related).
Maya as Abigail M. Alcott
Meanwhile, Maya's experience of education in Cambridge has been a broad mix of learning new social skills and hoovering up state-wide awards. In June, she will be representing Massachusetts in National History Day in Washington D.C., and she has brought home trophies for best Greater Boston Middle School negotiator for Model UN and best Middle School debater for Eastern Massachusetts. While we have had concerns about the quality of her school and her experiences of being bullied, it seems that endless doors are opened daily to children in New England - Maya's National History Day work, for example, has included correspondence with leading academics in this area, personal tours of local museums, and access to private libraries to view first editions of relevant books. As well as receiving a letter from the Chief Superintendent for Cambridge schools, Maya's success in the National History Day state finals has been acknowledged in a personal letter from a Massachusetts senator. Maya is 11 years old.

Nathan's work has taken him to Texas, Atlanta, Tennessee, New York, Washington D.C., Rhode Island, Colorado, Kentucky and Florida. We know he likes what he does, because he always looks tall when he is happy! His only real regret about life in the US is that he's not allowed to grow a beard (jeans are in, facial hair is most definitely out!)

And I've been fortunate enough to be part of several interesting writing communities here in New England, as well as having the opportunity to develop my virtual community of writers through my work with Cafe Aphra. I also write a fortnightly column for the local homeless newspaper, Spare Change News, and I help manage a local community meal each week. I have made lasting friendships with a diversity of wonderful people, completed my first novel, plunged midway into my second, and acquired a new library of books (mainly from skip-dipping and perusing the give-aways people leave in local 'free libraries').

But, in terms of this blog, it's time to move on. We're not newcomers, off-comers (to borrow from Cumbrian English), or outsiders these days, and the cultural shocks now work in reverse: when I visited the UK two weeks ago, I felt more like a foreigner than I do here in North America. We've made the decision to stay, to put down roots, to see what happens next. We'll be moving into a new house in Vermont at the end of May, and I've decided to move the blog too. Please visit us at I'll be writing about our new lives at the foot of Mount Mansfield, about life in a small Vermont community, and about settling down, growing-up and keeping chickens.

And thank you for visiting this blog, and for reading these posts. Not only have I loved writing them, but I've taken real joy in hearing what y'all think.