How the Bay Area has changed me

Next week, we move away from the Bay Area after nearly 7 years of living here. I am dreading this week…I finish my college course, I say goodbye to my beloved preschoolers, my darling cat flies home alone, we have our leaving picnic and I have my final Sunday at the church I love. I honestly want this week to be over already.

Our Californian days have very definitely been the best years of our lives. They have also been an incredibly formative period and I thought it was worth documenting those changes. This may be slightly self-indulgent and naval-gazing but I’m in a reflective state of mind at the moment. Both reflective and slightly unhinged, let’s be honest. This is going to be a tough week!!

Anyway…this is how the Bay Area has changed me and my family.

I became a runner. I’d been a runner for an 18 month period in the UK but when we moved here, I was very much a cyclist at heart. Within days of moving here, I’d been inspired by the tanned, long-legged, swingy-pony-tailed girls I saw running around San Mateo and I wanted to run again. Since we’ve lived here, running has become my addiction of choice. It’s brought me so much joy, so much self-esteem and so many friends. I’m looking forward to cycling more on the quieter UK roads but I’m super-excited to become a UK runner and to check out the UK running scene for realz.


I became a trail runner. – In all my UK running, it never ever occurred to me to run off-road. Never. Weird. Especially because we were BIG hikers. But we moved here and at the time there were plenty of wonderful running blogs set here in the Bay Area and of course many of them were on trails. I was intrigued. So one fateful day, I persuaded my boys to go to Huddart Park and hike whilst I tried running. It was literally life-changing and the trail obsession began. When we move back to the UK, investigating and joining the UK trail community is something that is getting me really excited.

Marin Trails Me

Being outdoors became part of us. – I feel like we were fairly outdoorsy in the UK. We camped (which in the UK is a sign of being seriously tough). We hiked. We cycled everywhere. But the weather here is so wonderful that it became part of our identity as a family and I really hope we continue this in the UK. We’ll need some new gear (yay), we’ll need to toughen up our backbones and face the delightful British weather but I think that this is who our family is now, and that’s wonderful.

us hiking windy

I became a cook – Let’s not lie, I’m still far from a great cook. But when we moved here I was truly awful. But I discovered food blogs, I discovered new ingredients, I discovered a couple of good, simple cookbooks and worked my way quietly through them and bit by bit, I learned to cook. There are still some dishes that I present to my family with apologies and promises not to make them again (we still have to eat them) but those nights are few and far between. Also, our diet has completely changed. Thanks to blogs like 101cookbooks or Minimalist Baker, our style of eating is totally different to how it used to be and I’m determined not to give this up when we move home.

I became a vegetarian – (Actually, an occasional pescatarian). Vegetarianism in the UK is hard. It’s a very meat-and-carbs centred diet and previous to moving here, I had NO desire to give up meat. It wasn’t even an option. The Husband and I used to give thanks that we’d not married vegetarians. But here, so many people ARE veggie and most other people don’t blink if you present them with a vegetable main course so, bit by bit, my perceptions changed. It became attractive to me and one Lent, I gave meat up as a trial and I never looked back. The Husband, a confirmed carnivore, was more than willing to cut back drastically on his meat and he eats the veggie food I serve him willingly. I am DEFINITELY not going back on this!

Tomatoes vegetables market

I became a preschool teacher. – When we moved here, I was on maternity leave from an office job working in marketing for a BIG company. Whilst I enjoyed my role and LOVED my colleagues, I knew that this didn’t make my heart happy, but I was trapped by the great wages and the perks. After five very happy years of mothering, I was ready to go back to work when the Dude started school. Two interviews later, I knew I wasn’t going back into the office. So I finally fulfilled a life-long secret hankering to teach. I went back to college a few days before my 40th birthday and nine months later I started teaching preschool. It has without doubt been the very best change to my life that California has given me. There’s such peace in finally doing the job God made me to do – and I’m grateful that the Husband earns enough for me to be able to do it, as you don’t teach preschool for the money. I won’t be teaching immediately in the UK – I want to settle the Dude into his new life for a few months – but come January 2018, I’m back in the classroom doing the job I love.

I became closer to God. – When we moved here, my life-long faith was a little fragile. I’d wandered away from God in my 20s and was just in the process of building my faith up again. This move has been amazing for my faith. I found the very best church in the world, full of lovely people who don’t judge but just welcome and love. It shaped me and built me up. Being a Christian in the UK is pretty tough – as a country, it’s very anti-faith, anti-God – and it will be a shock after the acceptance I’ve found here, but I’m ready to represent when we get back.

I became a leftie – Politically, I’ve always been pretty central, maybe slightly right of centre. But when you live in America if you believe in free healthcare for all, in a woman’s right to choose and in gun-control you’re pretty much socialist. I’ve been surrounded here by wonderful liberal friends who have made me think hard about what I believe politically. I don’t agree with them on all things but I’m definitely more passionate about political things than I was and I’m definitely a Guardian reader these days. I’ve been reluctant to get too much into the political situation here  in the US. I’m a guest here and I have not been comfortable criticizing TOO MUCH the country that has welcomed me. Once we get back, I feel much more empowered to get politically involved, particularly given the delights of Brexit. So, my future MP, get ready for this California Leftie arriving on your doorstep with banana bread and lots to talk about.

I became a blogger. – D’oh. Here we are. This blog has also been one of the best things I did in California because I met you guys. And I’m so grateful.

I became nicer. – In the UK, we’re much more guarded towards people we don’t know. We hunt in packs, outsiders are not welcome until we know them well or unless we’re all drunk together. I think I was always the outlier, I’ve always been friendlier and more welcoming than the average Brit, but within a week of living here, I realized that I wasn’t as welcoming as I liked to think. I’m planning to take that wonderful California attitude of welcome back to the UK.

I became more sober – Talking of alcohol…we drink too much in the UK. We don’t drink anywhere near as much in the US. It was quite a shock when I arrived. Whilst I still love wine, the Husband and I are nervous of returning to the British drinking culture – I know I can be easily swayed so I need to be wary.

me danville wine

We became more American – we’re so Californian now. We give high-fives, we use words like ‘dude’, we stay inside if it’s cloudy, we only camp if it’s sunny, we hate sarcasm and teasing because it offends people…we’re in for a shock.

The Husband became #Ironballz – Triathlon is now a thing in our family. Ironman is now a thing in our family. I’m working on the Husband to do Ironman Austria because it looks wonderful and because we get another cat if he does.

rich husband ironman vine man

We have a cat – Best. Gift. Ever.

Totally gratuitous photo of my favourite ginger

We raised a Californian – We brought a fat British baby with us. We take home a tall, lanky Californian with an impeccable British accent. One thing I’m grateful for is the wonderful childhood the Golden State has given him. Endless sunshine. Swimming on hot days in icy snow-melt rivers. Cycling on warm evenings on pelican-studded trails by the water. Holding injured hummingbirds in his hands. Kissing agapanthus flowers and hiking through redwoods. I’m also grateful that he’s had a childhood with such diversity. In his class of 24, he’s one of 3 caucasian kids. This won’t be the case in rural England. I hope his nonchalant approach to diversity remains.

dude hiking edgewood
Seriously! Preschoolers are the best!

So there we go…lots of changes.Lots of things to be grateful for and lots of things to be careful don’t get rubbed away by the grey skies, grumpy people and excellent sausages.

One more week. Let’s do this.

25 Comments Add yours

  1. NicJ says:

    Hopefully the UK will be better than you remember when you return – I certainly recognise some of your descriptions (although not all!) and there are some things about the UK that I wouldn’t trade for anything (teasing and gentle leg pulling – that self deprecating humour). The UK will definitely be a better place with you all living in it – can’t wait!!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Interestingly, I always forget how much I love the UK when I’m away, it’s always a welcome surprise when I come back. NO idea why. And yes, the British sense of humour is something I’ve missed very much, along with that ‘No matter the weather, we shall continue’ attitude!!! I’m so looking forward to seeing you, lady xxx

      1. NicJ says:

        Woohoo! Currently picking the fluff off the red carpet in readiness!! Xx

  2. jess says:

    Oh, Cat. I’m so glad to have been in California the same time as you. And in fact, I think I took that photo of you in Marin – we had to stop so you could buy that long sleeve SFRC shirt! This list made me tear up a bit. Best of luck on all your adventures!!

    1. Cathryn says:

      You def took that Marin photo, I was so unprepared that day! That was the day I met Kate!!! Looking forward to seeing you in VA!!

  3. Cate says:

    Wow, this is making me really miss California! Moving home is sweet though. Best wishes for your move back!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you! Plenty of room at Hotel Ramsden if you decide to run a UK race 🙂

  4. This was a fantastic post. On the sarcasm front, I as always seen as super sarcastic and a pessimist in CA, but no one would describe me that in New York because my personality is considered perfectly normal and average for a New Yorker. The earnestness and friendliness of Californians are something different (though if you really want earnest, you need to go to the Midwest).

    What you wrote reminded of this line: “Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” ( How do you feel? Like you’re leaving before you get too soft or it already happened? 😀

    1. Cathryn says:

      I think I’m definitely soft these days, although we recently hiked twice in the rain so I’m hopeful it’s not irreversible!! I think there’s a fine balance between the sometimes quite brutal humour of Brits and the Special Snowflake sensitivity of Californians, I hope I can find that sweet spot! Interesting how different personalities thrive in different places!

  5. I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years now, and I’m looking forward to reading it as you settle back into the UK. In terms of the trail running scene, maybe have a look at the Maverick races and at White Star Running. Both specialise in trail races, and WSR do quite a few in Wiltshire. If you do sign up for any of them, I might see you there as my parents live in the Gloucestershire/Wiltshire borders and I run there whenever I can.
    Hope the transition goes smoothly!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you so much for reading for so long and finally commenting! We’re prob going to be living in the Marlborough area so I really hope we get to meet at a race some time. PLEASE come and say hi, you’ll probably be my only friend 🙂

  6. paulettezf says:

    Wow, one week. It was fun reading this, and I’m really happy I was able to meet you and share some trails while you were here. Best of luck with the move!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you! I’m so glad we got to run together a few times. xx

  7. bt says:

    This totally made me tear up. I’ve missed running and my running friends as one of the biggest downsides of our sabbatical year away. Big virtual hugs and best wishes to you and your family for your next adventures.

    1. Cathryn says:

      I’m so sad we won’t see you when you’re back, we will just miss each other but I’m glad you have all these things to look forward to again! I’ll miss your lovely face xxx

  8. Ok, I got teary reading your words. I can relate. I know how hard it is to leave behind a life you enjoyed, learnt from and grew up from. I did that too many times already. So, the only thing I will tell you is: keep thinking forward and you’ll always have the Californian sunshine inside you.
    Good luck and thinking of you 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks, love!! It’s hard when you call two places home, I feel like I’m never going to be entirely content again. No matter where I am, I shall hanker for the people and the places I miss. But what a privilege to have two places you call home!!!

  9. Rachel says:

    Loved your post Cat, what an experience, the next chapter beckons! Hope I can cheer you up, vegetarianism in the UK is not hard anymore, honest (says the fallen veggie, oops). In the 80s/90s it was a mare & there are pockets of meatery holding out (like your and my husband’s home towns!) but we’re spoilt in Leeds for veggie and vegan options. Very excited to hear you’re returning a leftie, I’m taking it as a sign that there may be change coming 😚. All the best for last week, as they say ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’
    Lots of love R and A

    1. Cathryn says:

      I didn’t mean to be gloomy, there is so much we’re excited about!! Hoping there’s the odd kale salad in my world still too. We are SUPER excited about seeing you guys though!!! xxx

      1. Rachel says:

        Nobody could ever think you gloomy! Really looking forward to seeing you and your boys (wishing he ginger one smooth flight) x

      2. Cathryn says:

        Thanks! Cross your paws tomorrow.

  10. Jen says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: DON’T LEAVE ME!! I’ll be the sad, lone Crazy Cat Lady left in the Bay Area. I’ve recently celebrated my 12th anniversary as a Californian (!!), and I can relate to a lot of the positive changes that you’ve undergone here on the “Best Coast”. Not to mention, I know how it feels to have your heart be in more than one place. Can’t wait to follow your new adventures and counting down to CCLs in the UK in 2018. 😘

    1. Cathryn says:

      Oh girl, I am going to miss you unbearably!!! But the CCL Tour of Europe in 2018 is going to ROCK!!

      1. bt says:

        Umm… pretty please can I be considered as a hanger-on support staff CL without a cat for the 2018 tour?

      2. Cathryn says:

        I think you should be co-opted into the CCLs. The Dude always assumes you’re a CCL in any case so you have my vote 🙂 And seriously, get yourself on the CCL 2018 tour. That would make me SOOOO happy.

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