Cheers. xx

Dear America,

Hiya. It’s been a while. I’m writing to say that as I readjust to life within your borders, there are a few things you could kindly do to make this transition a little easier for me. I will enumerate them below. Thanks in advance for your consideration.

1. Please drive and queue (line up) nicely. It’s nice to be organised.

2. Serve cream teas (English breakfast tea + a scone with clotted cream and jam) everywhere. A rodeo, garden center or Jiffy Lube? All good occasions for tea. Because let’s face it … every occasion is a good occasion for tea.

3. Don’t shoot me if I forget and think it’s OK to go for a walk across your privately owned land.

4. Laugh if you like or ask for a translation, but please don’t correct my Brit speak every time I use a foreign-sounding word. My friend Matthew would tell you that the British way is the right way anyway … they had it first. ;)

5. Forgive me if I consider voting for the queen as a write-in on my presidential election ballot. I mean, have you seen her? She’s brilliant.

6. Please don’t think I’m strange or forward if all my texts end in Xs. They’re easier and better than smileys, and more affectionate. Thanks. xxx

Cheers,

Grace xx

Hey, pickle.

Hey, pickle. I realize we only just met, but I really feel like this is the real thing.

It’s too bad I didn’t realize it sooner.

My friends Clare and Gem and I had a sandwich assembly line going the other day for a group of girls we were having over, and we finished the ham ones.

“What’s next?”

“Cheese and pickle.”

Cheese and pickle. I’m not gonna lie. I thought that sounded straight-up nasty.

Imagine my surprise when she pulled out a brown squeeze bottle, squeezed and spread it around on the bread.

Once again, the British definition bested me.

In the States, I always gave my pickles away, and I didn’t think pickle could have any meaning other than the obvious (pickle |ˈpikəl| a small cucumber preserved in vinegar, brine, or a similar solution).

Turns out here … it’s awesome.

Check out the two main definitions of the word in the motherland:

1. a relish consisting of vegetables or fruit preserved in vinegar or brine: cheese and pickle

2.British informal, used as an affectionate form of address to a mischievous child.

(Hey, pickle.)

I know you’re judging. Trust me, it’s awesome … and I’m coming back to the States with about eight bottles in my suitcase.

Two years in blogs.

As my time in England is finishing up, I’ve been thinking back over some of the biggest milestones and things I’ve learned whilst here … and here are a few, with links included …

Looking for blood. One of the strangest days of my life. I ate chocolate and, after I’d watched the first time, tried to avert my eyes. I really just wanted to yell at them to run away.

When it comes down to seconds. I’ll never forget the day I sat beside a friend near the epicenter of a devastating earthquake as she rocked the infant son of a man killed in a tea shop when the shaking started. The day after we left the area, another earthquake brought down the hotel around the corner from ours. It opened up a lot of questions about God’s timing. It kept me up at night then, and I still think about it sometimes now.

Enduring catcalling for Christ. I’ve wrestled a lot with what it means to give everything up for Christ and the Gospel. Before this trip, I never imagined that might mean constant male attention, of the unwanted kind …

Vampire teeth. Try to go through airport security with a bag full of them. Just see what happens.

For the love, tell me what to do. This one’s pretty much baring my soul from a period in time when I wasn’t sure how to get back to God.

Little town of Bethlehem. Not just a song. I got to meet some people here, and it was nothing like I expected. For one thing, I didn’t realize it was walled off from the world, and not with an ancient Biblical times looking wall, either …

I slept through a bunch of earthquakes. Nobody else did. It made me question how much I must already be shaking from caffeine overload. But it also made me question other stuff.

I met John. He got kicked out of the funeral club, but it was so worth it.

The ostrich ride. 2012′s only new year’s resolution = done.

Life in Olympics land.

“That guy was wearing a onesie. A Union Jack onesie. Zipped all the way up the front.”

“Aw, that’s cute.”

“He was about 12.”

“Well, it is the Olympics, y’know. Anything goes.”

And indeed it does.

The past couple of years have been endearingly filled with overcast skies, light jackets, cups of tea and rolling green hills, into which I occasionally inserted some British nationalism at a level shocking to the natives.

But in the past couple of weeks, something pretty extraordinary happened.

Britain discovered the wonder of all-out patriotism … of the most dignified kind.

Despite the fact that London’s been working on the transportation system for a zillion months to be ready (see poster at the top), the rest of England kind of careened into the Olympics at the last minute. You see, we were all about celebrating the Queen up until June, after which there was Wimbledon, and then, right … now there’s the Olympics.

Bring it.

(You win.)

I heard someone say today that Olympics cities are usually either trying to gain status in the world or maintain that status … and London didn’t need to do either. (Fair enough.) So with that in mind, we all embarked on a mission of enjoying ourselves. A very British opening ceremony and an equally British closing ceremony.

And then we cheered for everybody.

All the tickets sold out, and while everyone went all out for Team Great Britain, the Korean who got thrown off of his horse at the Modern Pentathlon got just as much cheering. The Egyptian guy whom no one had heard of but also didn’t provide any drama got plenty of fanfare, too. I mean, why not?

(Running and pistol shooting? Sure.)

The Olympics are the most peaceful event on the planet. We don’t live or die by handball, but it’s in our backyard, so let’s watch everything and cheer for everybody … the Iranian canoe lady, the Kazakh horseman.

I love that.

A few more quick points of note:

1. “Summer” Olympics … or so they say.

I wore two coats.

2. The evidence of the bike race is still on the route I ride often. That’s fun.

It lends itself to some encouraging graffiti …

… and some hilarious graffiti …

… not to mention some cool landmarks.

(On Box Hill.)

3. I got to see Ryan Hall! Twice!

At the marathon! That was fun. But the bad news is … we were supposed to see him pass six times. When he didn’t show up the third, we found out he’d had to drop out with an injury. That was sad.

4. I learned the dignified silence of a stadium full of British spectators watching show jumping.

Never thought I’d be in a crowd of 50,000 at a sporting event and think, “Wow, I’m really crunching my ice cream bar too loudly.” It happened.

5. “The Games will last longer than you think.”

It’s possible the commuter crowd and the 70,000 volunteers who spent their days famously pepping and high fiving the crowds felt that way. But the reality is … it ended.

Like all good things this year, it closed epically … but it still closed. And now, on the heels of Britain’s year of stacked festivities, we’re all wondering what to do with our inflatable hands and ridiculous homemade hats … and slightly more expensive celebratory gear …

What a cuppa can’t fix.

I got this email today from a friend.

A good cuppa. I spend so much of life with a steaming cup of English Breakfast in my hand that my dental hygienist may never be able to turn her frown upside down again.

And I’m not alone. This from the BBC:

As any self-respecting Brit will tell you, there is not a lot that a cup of tea can’t fix. Rough day at work? Put the kettle on. Broken heart? Pour yourself a cuppa. Alien invasion? You’ll be ready for an apocalypse as soon as you’ve had your brew. The British relationship with tea is so important that employers have traditionally allowed their staff tea breaks to enjoy some alone time with their beverage of choice. We even have a mealtime named after it. So you see, tea is more than a drink to us Brits – it’s a way of life. Phew, I’m feeling rather emotional after that – now, where’s my mug?

It can get you through some hard days better than a Kelly Clarkson scream along (yes, I said it) or even a good, long run.

But there are some things it just can’t fix.

And leaving Britain is one of them.

In the last couple of days, it all started feeling official. Two more months until it all goes back in two suitcases and goes back to America … with me in tow. Yesterday I had tea with my good friend Bex, and I think I spent a lot of it staring into the cup and attempting to be buoyant. (She’d probably tell you it didn’t work.) It’s not the first time I’ve faced a day like this with a cuppa and failed at buoyancy.

But there’s still a lot of tea in my future. My girl mates here and I have turned it nearly into a competitive sport recently, and I don’t plan to stop. One thing that makes it easier here is that nearly anything has tea involved.

Lavender farm? Lavender tea.

Strawberry farm? Tea there, too.

After Pooh Sticks at Pooh Bridge? Piglet’s fairy cakes at Pooh Corner.

This island’s a pretty unique shape, and the Britain-shaped hole in my heart isn’t going to be filled with fried chicken or Mexican food anytime soon. I’m going to miss this place, its countryside, its tea shops … and these girls. It’s been a blessed two years.

My cuppa’s running over.