Expat Life

Christmas in Memphis, Tennessee

We celebrated Christmas in Memphis, Tennessee over the holidays, and this being our first trip back to the US after moving to London, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I get there and realize I missed Tennessee too much to return to London? Would anyone treat us differently? Would I wish I hadn’t come back at all? Those questions were weighing on my mind a lot the week before we left, and now that we’re back I feel like I have a firmer grasp on my feelings about this, but I’ll save that to share at the end. For now, let’s move on to a lighter subject – our Christmas.

In fact, it’s a Christmas miracle we even got to Tennessee at all. Our flight from London to Atlanta was uneventful, but about ten minutes into our flight to Memphis we started experiencing some major turbulence. Now, I’ve been on my fair share of airplanes and know what regular turbulence is, so don’t even try to wave me off. This was not normal. After 45 minutes of continuous shaking and rocking I wanted to throw my arms in the air and scream, ‘Just crash already!’ so it could be over. The flight attendants had to remain seated for the flight, bottles and all sorts of trash were rolling around at our feet, and I was gripping an airsick bag so tightly my knuckles were turning white – then I look over at Lexie and she’s cool as a cucumber, completely lost in her book. At least we know which one of us would have died with dignity had the plane gone down. We survived, obviously, and found out once we landed that our pilot had flown through a major storm system. After that ordeal, I will never again express irritation at an airline when they delay my flight due to weather.

Luckily, the rest of our trip was pretty uneventful. The first thing I did after we got to my parents’ apartment was give this girl about 11,000 kisses. I had a lot to make up for, and you can tell from the look on her face that she just loves it.

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

Or maybe I love it, and she tolerates it. Whatever.

We were in town for eight days and got to see most of my family. We had family come in from east Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Colorado. My aunt and uncle even drove six hours to bring my grandfather to Memphis so I could see him (and them!) and then they drove back the same day. Now that is my kind of Christmas present.

I can’t even describe how good it was to see everyone’s faces on something more than a FaceTime call, especially my sister who I hadn’t seen since February and rarely get a chance to speak to since our schedules are so off. Time differences are the bane of an expat’s existence.

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

On Christmas day we celebrated with presents and then breakfast at my grandmother’s house. (Everything tastes better at Mawmaw’s. If you haven’t had the good fortune of enjoying her cooking, then you have my pity.) And then we spent the rest of the day on the couch watching The Sound Of Music, which really means everyone else watched the movie and I got up every fifteen minutes to do something completely unnecessary. (I have problems sitting still for any longer than twenty minutes, even if the movie is one of my favorite classics.)

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

We also tried to take a family picture that night that never had any chance of turning out nicely because someone (I’m not going to specify who, but for once it wasn’t me!) decided it would be funny to toot and clear the whole room out. This, unfortunately, is normal behavior for us. Our 2013 Christmas picture is one for the album, for sure.

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

Other than getting a haircut that was seven months overdue (I still haven’t found a trustworthy stylist in London!) and shopping for supplies to bring back with us to London, this trip wasn’t any different than the one we make to Memphis every year. It always centers around two things – food and family. We cook together, eat together, and even wash the dishes together. I’ve never known it any other way, and it was fun to see that some things never change when you move away.

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

We even found a little time to play tourists in our own hometown and visited Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion, and Sun Studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others started their careers. Memphis’ musical history makes me so proud of my hometown. (Goodness knows Memphians need something to be proud of considering the city has a recurring spot on the Top 5 Most Dangerous US Cities list every single year!)

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

So to answer the questions I posed at the beginning of this post – going back to Tennessee did make me miss it more, but not so much that I wasn’t ready to return back to London after eight days away. Tennessee will always hold a piece of my heart and I plan on returning one day to rejoin it, just not right now.

Did people treat us differently? Yes and no. Our situation is different now, we are different now, so I think it’s completely normal for there to be some amount of change in relationships as well. I am referring mostly to friends here – our families are forced to love us no matter what we do or where we go. My mother lost a best friend after we made our move to Singapore years ago and a part of me has been afraid the same would happen to us. Granted, many of our best friends live in Nashville and we weren’t able to visit them in person on this trip, but I was able to call and catch up with some of them and it felt like we picked right back up where we left off. Hopefully the same can be said next summer when we spend a week there with them!

And finally, of course I don’t wish I hadn’t gone back at all. It was a wonderful trip and I am so grateful to Cory’s company for making it possible for us to fly back there. It meant the world to see, embrace, and laugh with all the people I love and miss. Plus, I got to spend plenty of time with this sweet girl. And who could turn that face down? It was a lovely Christmas, and I can only hope yours was as full of love (and good food) as ours was!

Christmas In Memphis, Tennessee

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  • Mrs. Match
    January 16, 2014 at 6:21 AM

    I’m so glad you got to go home for Christmas! Your puppy is so cute. Love that sweet little face. My family is the same way: all activities center around food. It’s just the way we operate, and I love it. Even if I have to work extra hard at the gym after visiting them! Ack, that turbulence sounds like naught,are. I’ve been stuck in a storm before, and our plane circled the airport for an hour. It was hell! I am so grateful for good weather on our trip this past weekend. Can’t Maine turbulence with a baby!

  • Katrin
    January 10, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    I am glad that you were able to visit your family! Your dog is so adorable. I am in love! Sorry about the stupid flight though. That can be really annoying! Glad you are back in London!

  • Anna
    January 9, 2014 at 8:33 PM

    It looks like a beautiful Christmas. So nice that you got to go back home but not that you felt that you didn’t want to come back (way to many negatives to make sense of that sentence). That’s how I felt with London. The situation with friends does always change a bit doesn’t it? But as long as both appreciate that it’s going to be different, not necessarily bad, but different, it can all work out ok.

  • Claire
    January 8, 2014 at 6:12 AM

    Wow – as a nervous flier, I had actual butterflies in my tummy reading that first paragraph – glad you survived okay!! I know what you mean about feeling weird visiting home: there is something surreal about everything being so familiar, yet different because you’re seeing it though eyes forever changed. After three years abroad, I only now feel settled enough to fully enjoy a trip home without feeling weird about it – it took its time!

  • Liz
    January 8, 2014 at 5:57 AM

    Oh yay!! It looks like such a fun trip home!! I can only imagine the many emotions you were {and still probably are} feeling. I do not think you are exaggerating at ALL about the turbulence. The worst I’ve ever ever experienced was on a flight from New York to London, and it was BAD. Bad like I was sure we would crash. We were told after we landed that we had maneuvered through one of the worst storms the pilot had ever seen. Awesome.
    LOVE all your photos! I’m just so happy you were able to be with family for the holidays :)

  • Ashlee - I'll Love You Forever
    January 8, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Aw, so very glad that you were able to eight days at home! The pictures say it all… happiness. Glad it was such a wonderful time. Xoxo

  • Natalie
    January 7, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    I’m so glad you were able to make to the states for Christmas and that it was a successful trip! I would have been so nervous about the plane too!

  • Jenn Bowers
    January 7, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Had to laugh about your family picture! That is SO my family. Especially with 3 boys! Loved reading about your Christmas back in Tennessee.

  • Sara Louise
    January 7, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    It’s so wonderful that you got to go ‘home’ for the holidays, that really is the greatest thing. And getting to see your grandfather… 100% pure wonderful!!! x

  • Amy | Club Narwhal
    January 7, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    Sarah, first of all–I am so glad you made it through that plane ride! Nothing says welcome home like that :) Second of all, I am totally with you on the bittersweet nature of going home (especially after a long stint abroad). It looks like your time in Memphis was rejuvenating and lovely. Can’t wait to see what’s up for you in 2014!

  • Diana Bockus
    January 7, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    Love this post! It’s so nice to go home but sometimes it’s a solidity of knowing that our choice to move away is okay. So happy that you had a great time at home. A little jealous you went to Sun Studios – that’s the only thing left to check off my list in Memphis! Glad you had such a great trip!

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 7, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      It was a really great tour! You’ll love it when you go! What else have you done in Memphis? I’ve got a list of things I’d like to do next summer, too!

      • Diana Bockus
        January 8, 2014 at 5:08 AM

        Peabody to see the hotel and ducks is a must! Rendezvous BBQ and Beale Street. Gibson also needs to be on my list so I guess that’s two things and I know there’s just a ton of other history in that town (even though some areas are questionable). Check out the blog Ten Feet Off Beale, she lives in Memphis and captures some awesome places and views!

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    January 7, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    I love that you got to play tourist at home. It’s always tough that first return visit – my hubby secretly panicked the whole time we were in NZ the first time.
    Urgh, that turbulence sounds utterly horrible!

  • Sammy @ Days Like This
    January 6, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    Your posts always make me so happy. It sounds like you had a lovely time, it must have been so good to see your family. I actually laughed out loud when I read the bit about someone ‘tooting’ hahaha!

  • Ashley | Domestic Fashionista
    January 6, 2014 at 10:28 PM

    Glad you had such a lovely trip! And that you were able to make the trip in general. That farting photo is too funny! :)

  • Emmymom
    January 6, 2014 at 8:19 PM

    Glad you made it there safely. I was on a flight once where most of the flight everyone had to be strapped in, it was not fun. That clearing the room picture is too funny

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 7, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      Strapped in?!?! Oh my gosh! I don’t think I’d ever fly again if I’d been on that flight. What kind of plane were you on?

      • Emmymom
        January 7, 2014 at 2:33 PM

        Whoops didn’t mean it to sound that dramatic- I just meant everyone had to be seated with their seat belts including the flight attendants, so a regular plane but yea even the flight attendants had their seat belts on

  • Jo
    January 6, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    Lexi is so tall! wow! Glad you had such a lovely time at ‘home’! There is just something about spending Christmas with family!

  • Keith Wynn
    January 6, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    Looks like it was a wonderful time :) I am going on my first ever plane flight in March (Germany) and I hope the turbulence isn’t too bad!!

  • Melanie Fontaine
    January 6, 2014 at 12:09 PM

    Wow, I had no idea Lexie was that tall already! Soon she’ll be towering over both you and your husband! ;) It’s great that you got to home to US for the holidays – I think Christmas can be a really tough time for many expats, so seeing your family must have been a great experience! :) But, oh my, had I been on that flight I would have freaked out! I hate flying and often have minor cases of flight panic before boarding, so that seems like a version of my personal idea of hell. But I’m certainly glad you made it! :)

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 7, 2014 at 10:39 AM

      I was pretty nervous when we got on our plane to head back to London. I was afraid we’d have Round 2 of what we had on our way to the US, but luckily everything was fine. Hopefully I won’t panic every time we fly from now on!

      Lexie is even closer to my height than she looks in that picture – I’m wearing boots with heels. She’s 5’2″ and I’m 5’3″ so she’s only an inch away! I’m about the be the shortest one in the family. :o(

  • Jenn
    January 6, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    Sounds like a great Christmas :)

  • Dannielle @ Chicadeedee
    January 6, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    I didn’t know Memphis was meant to be so dangerous! I’ve been to Nashville and Chatanooga (my old babysitter lives there). Is that your sister? Lexie has the same smile as her! I’m always terrified of turbulence on planes too, but thankfully I have never had it that bad, yet. It’s bound to happen.

    • Sarah Shumate
      January 7, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      I grew up in the safer areas of Memphis and never had a problem, but there are definitely parts of Memphis you want to steer clear of! Nashville and Chattanooga are much safer cities to live in. {And prettier, too!}

      Yep, that’s my sister! Lexie has always looked a little bit like her. :o)

  • Jamie | The Healthy Passport
    January 6, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    Such precious moments :)