This time last year, we arrived in the US. We approached Dulles through a massive storm cell, and I really thought we were not going to make it, it was that bad! The first night we had to go to CVS to buy emergency umbrellas, as it was absolutely throwing it down!
We had a fabulous weekend in Washington D.C, introducing ourselves to the culture and traditions of this great nation we were lucky enough to be calling home.
The man in the chair. Abraham Lincoln, the man who restored the Union. He was on Tom's things to see list, and to see him in real life is so awe inspiring, and fitting for the Father of the Nation.
The Capitol, the heart of government. It was probably quiet in there, seeing as it was a weekend. But you know there are always going to be people working away behind the scenes ;)
Then we flew down to Jacksonville. The humidity hit us as we got off the plane! It was like walking into a sauna, and it was 7pm! A sign of things to come.... Two weeks of car buying, lease signing, shopping, shopping and more shopping, and we finally moved into our new home.
The summer was filled with trips to the beach, and the pool. More shopping. And lots of painful admin - literally in the kids case, as they needed more immunisations to complete their certification for school requirements. Driving tests and licenses. Military IDs for everyone. School enrollments and open days. Meeting lots of new friends and neighbours. BBQs and dinners. And 4th of July :)
Our neighbourhood had a parade, full of fire trucks and police cars, and of floats, golf carts, boats, cars all bedecked in the red, white and blue. America does national pride very well, patriotism is evident all around, and not just of the 4th of July :)
Then, in a flash it was August, and back to school time. The kids had a longer summer break than they were used to, and they were ready to get back in the classroom. They didn't know what to expect. We didn't know what to expect. But I am SO PROUD of my kids, they got stuck in, they didn't complain, they got on with it. And they have excelled. Tom has been on the Honor Roll all year, with straight A's on his report card. Jemma has found it harder, but has accomplished so much, and has been recommended for an Honors program when she starts High School in August. They made friends quickly, and although they stand out for being different, they have used it to their advantage. Many times ;)
We made it through the Autumn, emjoying the spectacle that is Halloween. WOW, the costumes!! There were 2 huge shops that opened purely for Halloween. As soon as November came, poof!, they were gone LOL. Thanksgiving was a first for us, but we spent it with good friends eating our body weight in food ;)
Christmas was quiet, spent making new traditions with neighbours, and then having a small get together with some fellow Brits on Boxing Day, to keep those traditions alive :) The New Year was seen in after some competitive Kinect playing, and dodging fireworks from gung ho neighbours LOL.
We have visited Orlando - Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks, plus SeaWorld, and have been to Busch Gardens in Tampa. We dipped our toes in the Mexican Gulf at Clearwater. We went tubing down the Ichetucknee river, and swam with manatees at Crystal Springs.
Mark is fully trained and working hard at the Naval Air Station, flying several days a week and getting stuck in with training students. He was awarded a Commendation, which now sits proudly on the wall next to his other one - a matching pair!!
This year has been a steep learning curve. You think you know what to expect when you arrive. You think you know America - we've seen it on TV shows and in movies. But living here is different. You see their patriotism daily. The kids learned the Pledge of Alleigence pretty quickly, as it is said every day at school. They play the national anthem at the start of every sporting activity - from an NFL football game down to a fun run. They fly the Stars and Stripes from their houses with pride. They defend their constitution fiercely. Their right to bear arms is part of who they are. It's literally in their DNA makeup. They may not all own guns (and alot do), but they all see it as given that they could bear arms if they needed to. They grieve with their fellow Americans, near and far, when tragedy strikes.
Living here reinforces the view that we are 2 nations divided by a common language too. The kids, obviously being exposed to Americans every day at school, have picked up a tiny twang, and use American words (candy, soda etc) with their friends. I tend to translate on the fly, sometimes saying things that get a puzzled look in reply before I realise it. And everyone just "loves our accent"!!
It no longer takes me over 2 hours to do the weekly grocery shop - I have worked out what substitutes for what, and I have a few places I can go to if I am craving something British. Our local Publix supermarket has a great wee range of Brit foods, and I always head there if I am having a bad day to get a Mars Bar fix ;)
And the best bit? (Apart from the large choice of craft shops of course) THIS is the best bit...
Waking up to this every morning. My little pond. There is always a choice of wildlife to spot. And, no, that does not involve any alligators ;) But we have fish, turtles, and a huge array of birds that visit our little bit of water. The sun doesn't always shine, and the sky isn't always blue (shocking I know, this is Florida?) but the locals are friendly, we have a roof over our heads, a reliable (if a bit battered) mode of transport, and food on the table. Life is Good. As long as we are healthy and looked after, I could live anywhere in the world. And for now, that is here in Florida, which is an added bonus... And one that I am eternally grateful for.