That’s Rubbish!

by | Oct 1, 2015 | 31 Letters from London

This is day two of a new series: 31 Letters from London. In October, I’m doing something a little different and writing to you about the realities of life as an expat; finding the nearness of God through random experiences with new culture. It’s important to begin here and find the collection of letters here. We’re breaking for Sabbath every Sunday.


Hello Friend,

I didn’t get a card in the mail in time for my Dad’s birthday so I wrote an email instead. Does that seem impersonal?

It takes two weeks for the mail to reach the United States from London. I was visiting France during that two week time period. I couldn’t speak the language, much less, send a letter off to my father.

Sending mail in a timely fashion has always been an issue for me but living abroad means sending cards takes some real planning. Making time to go to the post office for stamps feels like climbing a mountain. I’m not sure why I make that errand monumental but I do love receiving letters, don’t you?

Receiving mail at our new house makes me jump when I hear it push through the metal slot on our turquoise door. It sounds like a cymbal crash when the hinge snaps closed. Envelopes and adverts slide through and drop on the floor, landing like the aftermath of a hurricane. No more walking to the end of the driveway to retrieve mail here in London.

Honestly? We really don’t receive much mail addressed to us. The previous tenants get more mail than we do.

Perhaps sending us a letter feels monumental for our friends at home too. When we receive birthday cards, I know they have been well thought out. An author copy of Amber Haines new book, Wild in the Hollow, fell through one day and I knew it was an extravagant gift of generosity. I’ll never again take that for granted.

Most of our mail goes directly into the rubbish bin. Oh, that means trash can for my American friends. And dumpsters are called wheelie bins. I admit I haven’t gotten used to saying that yet.

Rubbish is a whole nother topic when it comes to living in London. We have two wheelie bins but we don’t use them like we did in the US. If we leave them out overnight, they may get stolen. And apparently, the people who collect rubbish don’t want to bend over that far to remove the bags inside. Rubbish trucks don’t have those fancy automated hooks that empty messy bins. They rely on hands and feet to collect them.

Bags are piled in front of our house the night before or as we’ve come to learn, early on the morning of collection. In the US we have dogs and bears that dig into the trash but in London, we have sneaky red foxes who scavenge for scraps.

They look cute but they’re a nuisance. Like squirrels who get into attic boxes and make a nest from the beard of your Christmas Santa.

After a few mornings of waking up to empty containers and food decorating the sidewalk (pavement, if you are British), H now piles them in a heap before leaving for work. And I won’t even bore you with how rubbish has to be sorted into specific plastic bags or tell you about our bins with automated lids. Harrison is in charge of rubbish in our house.

In all of the little things that are different for us, I’m learning that how I respond to them is a revelation as to the state of my heart.

If I am sensitive and empathetic to my surroundings instead of angry about making an adjustment, I feel God’s pleasure in mundane tasks. Living in a new culture is a privilege not an imposition.

If we say we are sent by God to serve people, then preferring others and learning from them is a posture we humbly accept.

Tell me about what you would like to know about living in London. I don’t want to ramble on too much about things that don’t interest you. You might be saying, “That’s rubbish,” like I hear my British friends say often when things don’t work out well.

Your response (in the comments) really cheer me up.

With Love,





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  1. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Ah….the post! I smiled when I read this, b/c yes, I did have a b/day card all set to send you, and no, I didn’t get to the PO in time. I knew full-well when I would need to mail it to you, but sending real mail by post (which I do a lot, actually), is not as simple as when I used to mail my overseas mail to England and Russia. I have penpals in both countries. But with our old neighborhood, the post office was at the end of the block. I just walked down our street, crossed another, and voila: I was there. So simple. But now it would take me at least twenty minutes to drive to the nearest PO, and I’m so upset that they took most of their parking lot away, making it a project to try to find parking in Clayton (do recall that location, Shelly? It’s the county business district and a royal pain for parking). For local or national post, all I need do is put my mail in our post box at the end of the driveway, stick up the red flag, and the postman mails it for me . . . but not overseas mail, which needs to be weighed. Hence, you did NOT get your b/day card, so I emailed instead! =] When I was a girl, our mail slot emptied onto the living room floor, like yours. The TV series the Munsters was popular, and when we saw the postman approaching, we’d time it just right, and when he went to open the mailbox door, we’d stick our hand through the wall like The Thing! What fun memories. I LOVE mail. Real mail. Mail with cursive and stickers and stamps. Email has its place, but their is nothing like real mail. I know you know Jennifer Lee, and I was talking to her daughter Lydia about the art of letter-writing. She is doing this at her young age, and loves it! I’m rambling. Sorry. I do that w/ a keyboard under my fingertips. Hmmm….life in England. I’d love to know about parish life, about all the churches that grace the countryside, about the cathedrals, about whether there are many believers in England in those churches (meaning, do people fill them? We often found them empty). I’d love to know about cultural things you love to do with London as your stomping ground. Also, I love hearing about the differences in word-meanings between the US and England, such as you mentioned in this post. Also I’d love to hear about the people, themselves. I found them so friendly, civil, and helpful. I’d like to know what you love most about England and what you miss most about America. There. That should keep you busy writing for thirty-one days! Ha! Love you so much.

    • Shelly Miller

      I love that imagery you just gave us of small hands wiggling through the mail slot. Makes me smile. And I’m not surprised at all that we share a difficulty in mailing letters. *sigh* Thanks for answering my question about what you are interested in learning about living in London. They are all helpful suggestions. I have more to write than I have time but I never run out of stories!

  2. Mary Gemmill

    Hmmmm… time to send you some real mail soon, methinks !
    Can you put a No Junk Mail sign on your door ?
    I am interested in anything you tell me about life in London..I always find whatever you write about interesting because you have a lovely way with words.
    I lived reading about money through the mail box to fix Murielle’s car…we all love such stories.
    God bless you all.

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh, you’ve already blessed me with your sweet thoughts coming through my mail slot Mary! You’re such a blessing. Thanks for always being an encouragement. You were included in my prayers and thanksgiving today.

  3. jillie

    Good Morning, Shelly! I’m sorry this just recently-past Summer was so busy that I didn’t get to comment on your beautiful posts! Every time I see you in my inbox, I read voraciously, simply because you are in the Land I would most like to experience for myself. In fact, I’m currently reading an older series by ‘Michael Phillips’, set in Devon during the 1st World War. Churchill as ‘First Lord of the Admiralty’ and all that. I’m loving it!
    When I consider all you’ve been through in the past year or so, I am so thrilled to read of your adjustment and adaptedness to English culture (and language.) Like Lynn, I enjoy reading English terminology, for then I can incorporate their proper English language into life around here. You see, England is my “better place”–the place I go to in my head whenever I can. Through reading & viewing all-things-England. And reading your posts and viewing your amazing photos! Loving your “new hair” Shelly! I hope you will continue posting your photos. What would I like to hear about in your 31 Days? Well, there’s your ministry there through the church, the culture, outings with friends both old & new, what you like the very best there and what you don’t. Even parenting cross-continentally. (It’s so wonderful to see your family all together in these pics.) I’d also like to learn more, and see photos of, your favourite Book Store, the one whose name escapes me at this moment. I absolutely love your photos of doorways, entrances there into friends’ homes. The gardens. The stunning cathedrals.
    I had to smile at your account of the ‘foxes’ there. My husband & I took a recent flight to our beautiful ‘Prince Edward Island’ here in Canada. (Our daughter & husband moved there just this past March.) Was my first time ever to fly–what a THRILL–and she was telling us about the “wildlife” there, not bears or moose or other scary beasts, but the FOXES who run free throughout the Island. Like they own it! We took photos of one leisurely strolling across a roadway, oblivious to the vehicles stopped to capture him on digital. We don’t see many fox where we are.
    Anyway, my dear Shelly, I look forward to more in your series from London. And I continue to turn green with envy for your new life there. How absolutely wonderful for you and your family. Guess I’ll see you in my dreams.
    Love & Prayers, jillie

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m so glad you got to make that first plane ride. And your trip away sounds lovely. What a great place to visit!! Thanks for being here when you are able, its always a gift to see you in the comments Jillie. Truly. I hope to write about some of the things you mentioned here. And my hair? I finally stopped trying to straighten my hair after 10 years. It’s so much easier just being myself. Don’t know why I didn’t think about that sooner. ha! The bookstore is called Persephone and its on my bucket list of places I like to take people who love books. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Teresa R

    Hi, Shelly! I have never been out of the continental United States, so any stories about London are good for me. I’ve always wanted to visit England, Scotland, and would like to go to Alaska and Hawaii. Sigh! One day maybe

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh, I hope you do get the opportunity to visit the places you mentioned Teresa. So many places to witness the attributes of Jesus. He’s so creative. I hope I can entice you to plan a trip after reading here this month. Thanks for following along.

  5. Devi Duerrmeier

    Oh the rubbish, easily one of my biggest first frustration with life in Sweden. Teeeeny tiiiiny bins and I had two kids in diapers. It’s definitely the little things that make the early transition days rough for me. You’re attitude is so positive and hospitable though, love that and one day hopefully mine will be more like it.

    • Shelly Miller

      The first few months, I used these horrible trash bags, the only ones I could find on the shelves of grocery stores that tear apart so easily. I’d have to use three of them at one time. And then I went to Costco and everything changed. I love that place.

  6. Janet from FL

    For some reason I enjoy reading about how you get around and where you go, like the grocery store. It is fascinating to me how much effort it takes to get around. I would also like to know any new food you have discovered that you love, and related recipes, even though I know I won’t make them, I just like reading about the ingredients. And I found out that all I need to do is read your post online instead of in my email, and I can see the pics and read it perfectly. At least that worked today. Oh and one of the reasons I love Florida so much, is that we can throw away almost anything inside anything and they will pick it up and haul it away. Love it!

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks for letting me know about the photos being wonky Janet. I accidentally had them posted at the wrong size. Eek. I wouldn’t have realized it if you didn’t tell me. Hugs.

  7. DeanneMoore

    You know I love the turquoise door! As I look back at being in London, that was the weirdest thing seeing a fox in the rubbish right out side that fabulous restaurant that I dream about sometimes 🙂 I loved the places we went together in London — your favorite bookstore, the street market. I love your neighborhood, the beautiful park there that was divine for people watching. My very favorite thing about London was the people I met, especially those at St. Barnabas. Looking forward to your letters in my inbox this month! xo

    • Shelly Miller

      I just planted some lavender, heather, cyclamen and pansies at the front door. Looks so cute and it makes me happy every time I walk out the door! There are some special people at St. Barnabas for sure, we are so lucky. xx

  8. SunSteepedDays

    Every year I intend to send all our Christmas gifts to our parents in Korea on time, and I think I’ve only succeeded once. Even replying in a timely manner to letters from friends is difficult — but I do love receiving and sending them.

    On life in London, I’d love to hear about so many things: what (your) church is like, your favorite weekend routines or getaways, words you’ve had to adjust from American to British English (I suddenly remember a story about C.S. Lewis showing a guest to the “bathroom” and have to laugh), how worship is different in English culture, local food you love or despise… oh, anything. There are some wonderful suggestions here in the comments.

    And thank you for sending these snapshots. I think waiting for your posts will not be unlike anticipating a good, fat letter in the mail. 🙂

    – Amy

    • Shelly Miller

      Amy, one thing I’ve noticed here is that people are very hospitable. I get lots of gifts when I invite people over and a thank you note in the mail shortly thereafter. Puts me to shame! And motivates me to do better. One more thing to love about living in London.

      • SunSteepedDays

        Yes, indeed! That sounds lovely. A trip across the pond isn’t in my near future, so maybe this will motivate me to spread some more epistolary grace where I am.

  9. Laura Boggess

    Yes, this would be a challenge for me too, all this planning that must go into the post! I can’t speak for others, but when I sent you that little bit of mail, I was worried it would be lost in the shuffle. Makes me stop and consider the miracle of the postal service :). Imagine the days of pony express and only ships to carry packages overseas! It’s been amazing to me to hear about all the many little things that are different over there. Even the tiniest, like ordering your groceries. So interesting! I’m enjoying traveling in my mind through your stories, Shelly.

  10. Melissa Centuori Chuney

    Somewhere in your thoughts, I’d love to hear about the type of everyday tea Londoners enjoy! When I visited England, we were usually served PG Tips or Typhoo. I wonder if that is still the standard of daily tea. I have a friend visiting at the end of the month who offered to bring some back, so any suggestions would be fun! And bags are so much more convenient…do people really take the time to use loose leaves? Just curious about a simple daily ritual. I’m sure tea from a Keurig machine is a sin!?

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