When wandering through a foreign location, you rely on signs to navigate, to assess the culture, to figure-out how things work.  Here is a collection of what I’ve observed: 

Sign that your child is feeling a little silly due to jet-lag: 

Sign that you are drinking super fancy water:

Northumbria…sounds pretty fancy😉

Sign that you have found an amazing high street:

If you visit London, you must venture down this street!

Sign that you are home:

Sanctum Temp. housing…this is where we live

Sign that you are in London, the tiny WC (wash closet) = toilet and sink all squeezed in to a room the size of a small closet:

Another sign that you are in London- you’ve purchased a vacuum, his name is Henry, and he is adorable!  

When Pearl was vacuuming today, she toted the vacuum around saying, “Come along, Henry!”

Sign that your are close to home, our nearest tube station:

Sign that the kids are excited to be on a double decker bus: 

Sign that you are on South Kensington high street- Lamborghini dealership:

Sign that you are about to enter an epic museum exhibit- Alan Turing…pretty rad dude!

Sign that your CD player is ancient i.e. there is a model of your CD player in the oldies section of the Science Museum:

Sign that you must stop hoarding by the end of the month:

I don’t know what to say about this one except that it’s pretty awesome and hilarious for kids that can read:

Sign that perhaps you’ve adventured a bit too much for a day:

Sign that you miss your best friend: 

Sign that you are now drinking from a British juice box- jokes that can only be understood if you say the punch-line with a very pronounced, almost Australian accent:

Sign that you really, really want to be in a home and not in temporary housing: 

Eva creating a picture of a home for us to live in

Finished product

We are close to actually having a home, hoping to sign papers by the end of the week🙂

Literally, not knowing where you’re going

I’ve been meaning to post something for over a week, but Luke left for a business trip to Prague last Monday, and since then it’s been kinda bananas.  I’ve got a few posts worth of stuff from that time, but decided I should first set the tone for Luke’s departure, starting with last Friday.

We’ve been here for about 6 weeks.  We left our home on March 29th, lived in a hotel until April 3rd, stayed with Luke’s parents until April 9th and have since been in temporary housing.

Now, this is a very fun and exciting adventure, and I’m very happy to be here.  But one difficult part of this journey has been having the kids out of school, away from friends and family, etc… for this whole time.  Each week day since we’ve been here, Luke goes to work for his own new and exciting adventures and I am here with the kids trying to create new and exciting adventures each day.  We’ve been to countless parks, seen lots of really old stuff, had nuggets and fries at many pubs, visited toy stores, a zoo and a museum.  By Friday, I was feeling a bit fatigued and overwhelmed because while being here is great, we have no real schedule outside of what I create-and the scheduler part of my brain threatened to quit.

But a nice woman comes in to clean on Fridays and for this to happen the kids and I have to leave.  So I told Scheduler that we really needed to do something, because we couldn’t very well go stand on the street for 2 hours.  Scheduler dug deep, threw up her hands, and said, “OK, let’s just go walk along the Thames, we don’t need to plan too much for that.”  
Ha, ha, ha…actually, you do

The Thames is really long and there is a lot to see, so I narrowed down one area aiming to take the kids to see the Tower Bridge.  We took the Tube to get near the bridge and upon departing the station, immediately stumbled upon St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Things like this happen all of the time while we’re exploring London.  You look to your left, or look to your right, or just turn in a circle and all around you are beautiful old buildings, monuments and statues.  Inevitably, what you set out to do gets side-tracked by exploring (sometimes climbing) these sights.  So en-route to the Thames, we explored St. Paul’s from the outside (admission is about $80/family so we didn’t go in).

 We ate lunch on the steps of St. Paul’s and then asked some locals for directions to the Thames.  They weren’t the best directions, but hey, these kids “love” extra walking.

After a few detours, we made it to the Thames- YAY!!!

Pearl has decided that each picture taken of her needs to involve some sort of fabulous pose!

 What happened next involved a map and a part of my brain that is both enthusiastic and completely wrong most of the time.  Her name is Navigator.  Navigator consults maps but mostly chooses directions based on feeling, like “I feel like there’s a gigantic bridge this way. I’ve glanced at the map for a moment and I think I’m right. Onward!”
To help illustrate this particular part of our adventure, I’ve borrowed a few characters from the toy box.  I’m the one with the backpack in hand and sword in the other.  Sword, because we’re in London and I’m pretty sure there were some Roman soldiers hundreds of years ago traversing the Thames.  Backpack, because I’m always carrying at least 2 bags of stuff.
So we reached the water and Navigator, feeling confident, pointed the sword and said, “this way!”

But after about 10 minutes of walking, I didn’t see the Tower bridge which I expected was close so I apologized to the kids (still loving all the walking) and we turned around to go the opposite direction…which I now know was away from the Tower Bridge.
Now we’re walking in the opposite direction and Navigator is still feeling a disproportionate amount of confidence despite a minor set back.  Mac lets me know, “this bridge better be worth it.”
After walking for another 10 minutes, I am seeing the Waterloo Bridge, not the Tower Bridge and I realize we’ve got a problem.
The kids no longer love walking, Mac is saying, “I don’t think this bridge is worth it,” and Navigator is now feeling a bit of panic and remembering the lesson learned over a lifetime of trying to find places – Navigator…you don’t know what you’re doing😦
So we’re on the Thames, 45 minutes from home, tired and hungry.

Then Navigator remembered that she should turn the map so that it’s pointing the direction she’s facing. 

So I turned the map around and realized that we were going the right way from the start. I apologized once again, told the kids that the bridge was actually back the other way and that mommy was looking at the map the wrong way.  They weren’t pleased.

But we carried on and walked for a really long time, because Navigator also didn’t realize that the Tower Bridge was about a 25 minute walk from where we started.

 After a lot of walking, we finally saw the bridge off in the distance.

 But we were tired and Mac was still unconvinced that our walk was worth it.
More walking and we finally made it to the Tower of London!  It looks really cool from the outside, but once again, family admission is about $80 so we opted for a quick trip to the gift shop (which always miraculously gives the kids more energy).

Then we danced and played on the carefully manicured landscaping.

 Eva even found a snail, just like home.  The kids are now beginning to enjoy themselves and forget the hour or so of walking it took to get here.

Then we crossed the beautiful Tower Bridge.  I didn’t ask if it was worth it, but I think all the kids were enjoying themselves, even Mac.

 After crossing the bridge and spending a bit of time in Southwark, we took the Tube back across the river to meet Luke for dinner.  By this time, Navigator and Scheduler are completely exhausted.  We need a break.  But first, Navigator has one more job and that is to tell Luke where to meet us.  Seems easy enough, we are at Bank station, just outside.  
Luke gets on the Tube and departs at Bank.  But there is a problem, he doesn’t see us.  
After our 4 hour adventure, the kids are tired, restless and climbing the buildings in their now soot covered clothing –  they look like chimney sweeps right out of Mary Poppins.  So while this is going on, I’m try to tell Luke where we are:

Me: We’re right outside the station.
Luke: I don’t see you.
Me: OK, we’re next to a really big monument.
Luke: (a bit exasperated) There are a lot of really big monuments.
Me: I know (now I’m getting a bit silly from exhaustion) but this one is really big and has like a golden flame thing on the top!

Fire monument

Luke: I see a horse and some soldiers.
Me: No, this one is cubical at the base and has a long column like a pillar and on the top there’s a big gold thing that represents fire for the big fire that happened here a long time ago.
Luke: Are you sure you’re at Bank?

Me: (Navigator feels offended) Yes, I got off at Bank, it says so right here on my map!
Luke: OK, tell me a business that you’re near.
Me: Boots
Luke: If I search for Boots it’s going to return a bunch of random search results…I need something better.
Me: OK, The Scottish Bespoke House of Lords Bank (I made that up, I don’t remember the name).
Luke: OK, that’s about a 10 minute walk from where I am.

So we waited 10 minutes, kids continuing to Swiffer every dirty surface on the buildings around us.  Then Luke arrived and informed me that we were at Monument Station, not Bank.  

Bank is in the financial district, which closes down almost completely after 6pm.  After wandering around for another hour looking for an affordable meal, we took the tube home, ate a quick snack and crashed.

I found a greeting card that I think best describes us.  When I look at it, I can laugh at all of the ups and downs and wrong directions that happen each day:

Bits and Bobs

We’ve been in London for almost a month!   Hard to believe that time has passes so quickly. While I’m no expert in London or the people or culture, I thought I’d do a quick post on what we’ve discovered so far- great things, curious things and not so great things.  Also a bunch of pictures of the kids- because let’s face it, watching the kids enjoy the city is pretty much the best part…and the pubs😉

I think we’ve been to a park almost every single day we’ve been here.  With no school and very little structure, it is a way to both see the city and give the kids time to wiggle.  London is huge and busy, but breaking-up all this busyness are many, many parks- and they are all awesome!
They’re awesome because: 
1. They are completely fenced-in.  Now I don’t mean a tiny little wooden fence, or a partial fence, or a fence that could be scaled by say, a 6 year old who loves to climb.  I’m talking 8 ft. tall stone wall surrounding the entire park with gated entries.  
2. They have something for everyone.  There are vast expanses of green grass for lounging and enjoying the weather (when it’s nice).  There are play areas, fountains, statues, wildlife, lots of dogs and maps to help you navigate.  
3. The play areas are completely fenced-in.  There is only one way to get in, there is a large fence surrounding the play area that is usually composed of tall iron fencing combined with a prickly hedge that no child would dare tackle.   That means that as a parent you can sit on a bench in an unfamiliar city, watch your children play and have no fear of them escaping the play area and no fear of the running into traffic.
4. Londoners take their play areas seriously.  They are amazing and creative and well kept.  Want to climb a gigantic life-size pirate ship?  There’s a park for that!  Want to play in a gigantic tree house?  There’s a park for that!  Want to climb trees with a backdrop of Buckingham Palace, there’s a park for that too!  Want to walk up to an entire herd of wild deer- yep…go for it!  Want a zoo in your park…let’s do it!
Here are some pictures of the parks we’ve visited: 

Park with a beautiful old church in the backdrop


Notice the fence/hedge
Those are real deer, there are about 20 of them, and we are really close.  Richmond Deer Park!


Buckingham Palace in the background


Canada put this installation in St. James park.  Your’re not supposed to play on it, but…’on…it’s basically a gigantic granite slide with maple leaves😉



Iron gated wall around the park.  Tried to climb, but couldn’t pass over.  Parents FTW!


Tree climbing!


Meerkat zoo at Battersea Park



Perfectly manicured lawn.  Girls stand in awe…


Gigantic bird play structure!






Jumping through fields of daffodils!

Next up: Food!
More specifically, grocery shopping.  
We are currently in Kilburn Park.  Not a source of the largest or greatest grocery stores, but an abundant source of good, fresh food.
What’s been surprising to me is how little frozen food there is here.  Even our version of a mini-mart (Tesco Express), has a substantial fresh food section.  It’s hard to find frozen food here at all.  If you want a pizza, it’s fresh.  If you want curry, it’s fresh.  If you want a sandwich, or 2 or 3 or 10, they’re all fresh!  This is amazing, especially since our kitchen is a super depressing place to cook (dark, dark, dark).  Some of the best curry we’ve have has been from the Tesco Express.  A lot of the food is also local and marked as such.  
We’ve been hungry, especially the kids.  This seems normal for the amount of walking and playing we do each day.  For awhile I couldn’t figure-out what was missing from their diet, but then it struck me.  There are no crackers here.  Ritz-no, Goldfish-no, Triscuit-no!  The snack-time staple of salty, cheezy carackers is not available here.  What you can find are aisles and aisles of biscuits (cookies).  I feel bad giving the kids what I would consider dessert for a snack, but I think that’s the direction we’ll need to go, because there are seriously no crackers!


Yummy and affordable fresh fruit and veggies!


Ditto prepared food


The Isle of Biscuits


Another Isle of Biscuits!
Tiny section of crackers😦
Doritoes-no, Lays-no…but Sweet Thai Chili crisps, Ham crisps, Chicken and Thyme crisps- YES!!!
No Ranch dressing!  Not cool London, not cool


Mac is surprised and excited to find the cake aisle🙂


Basil, where did it come from? West Sussex.  Who grew it? Stewart Ross🙂  Thanks Stewart!



Our grocery bags also have the Queen and Prince’s stamp of approval- very proper!


Now there are a few things that are sub-optimal.  Certainly not awful, but they’ll take some getting used to.  
First off, our washer/dryer.  I say washer/dryer because it is just that, a washer and dryer in one!  Sounds great, right?  Except that it has heard more swear words from me (and management) than all other appliances in the flat.  It is mean and confusing and likes to play games with me…like holding wet clothes hostage behind locked door until IT feels ready to unlock the door.  
Meet evil washer/dryer:

Washer/Dryer does wash clothes, when you can figure-out the elaborate system of buttons, and when you’ve pressed said buttons in the correct order.  If not, Washer/Dryer will hold your clothes hostage until you swear at it, push even more buttons, and eventually call maintenance so they can swear at Washer/Dryer and press more buttons.

Washer/Dryer also only holds about 2 loaves of bread and a bag of crisps worth of laundry…not nice😦

When Washer/Dryer says the clothes are dried, it’s lying.  They are not dry.  They have shrunk considerably, but are still damp.  There are not many appliances we miss from home, but our Washer and Dryer (happy, healthy, friendly, functional) are some of them.

These are a few bits and bobs.  There are many more, but these were the most entertaining that I could think of right now.  

We have been in London for almost a month and we are still just taking it all in- the food, the grocery stores, the parks, the appliances.  We’re enjoying each day for all of the fun and minor frustration that it presents and overall we’re very excited to be here.  

Exploring Richmond

Here are some photos of the kids and I exploring Richmond.

We began by riding our scooters down a lovely hill near the water. Scooters make navigating London with the kids a lot easier!

 We arrived at the Thames in search of food and a sunny spot to relax.

 We found a spot at a place called the Slug and Lettuce…the name doesn’t evoke the happiest feelings about eating, but the food was good!  Pearl took my picture here.

 When arriving at a beautiful place, some kids like to sit near the water and observe the wildlife…

Some kids like to start a photo shoot…

…and are ready to employ many different fabulous poses when given the opportunity!

 And some prefer to sit under a table so the sun doesn’t interfere with the visibility of their screen😉

 In the end, we had a terrific time.  I hope the kids remember this day when they are older.  I know I will!

I wish there were an adult here to make this decision

I don’t know about you, but for the most part I often feel like an 18 year old masquerading as an adult.  Part of this may have to do with looking younger than I am and being treated as such, but another part is just an undercurrent of feeling under-qualified and out of place in certain contexts.  For example, when Mac began kindergarten, I remember walking through the school and feeling more like a student than a mom.  All of the other moms looked way more, I don’t know, official?  Meanwhile, I just felt like, “Ok, Mac is in kindergarten, I am a mom of a kindergartner, how do you do that?”  
As I wrote recently, we are house/flat hunting and we have a relocation agent to help with this.  Whenever we meet with her, I try to have all my ducks in a row and look put together because seriously, I didn’t even know they existed before we thought about moving, and it seems like such a fancy thing to have, for people that are adults and do things like ride around in cars with relocation agents.  To add a further layer of discomfort, Clare kind of needs us to be adults and have all of our ducks in a row, because we can’t just wander aimlessly around London looking at pretty houses (though that would be lovely!).  There needs to be focus and direction.  We need to know what we want and be decisive- a weak point for me.  
I am given to distraction, I can get lost in minute details or enamored with pretty things and lose focus.  And we’re in London!  So everything is new, unfamiliar and pretty.  If you asked me where I want to live in Seattle, that would be easy.  But here there is so much unfamiliar to consider- neighborhoods, schools, budgets, etc.   And then there are timelines, like we need to move out of our temporary housing by June 6th.  There is no time to be leisurely, we just need to decide.   
After 2 days of looking for a place to live, we re-assessed priorities which I thought I was very adult thing to do (Luke gets the credit for this one).  We focused and sent poor Clare scrambling to look for places with a different budget and different size.  
On Wednesday we went out to see properties that fit these priorities and at the end of the day, I still felt very conflicted and uncertain. 
We found two places that would work:
One is a flat in Richmond, very…hotel feeling and we would have to use the furniture there and get rid of almost everything we brought with us- not much, but things that are important to us.  It wouldn’t feel like home, it would feel transitional, but it would work.  
The other is a 2 bedroom attached house that feels way more like a home, but is pretty tiny.  If we put all the kids in one room, there would be about 2ft. of space between two sets of beds and about 4 extra feet for everything else.  The house is about 800 sq. ft., a big change from the 2,400 that we’re used to.
How do I decide between these two things?  How do I quantify the importance of an extra room vs. our home actually feeling like home?  Is it superficial and snobby to value how a place “feels?”  Is it silly to want some remnant of familiar things (furniture, books, etc). We are already living in LONDON, amazing and miraculous.  Maybe we should just get rid of everything for the 3rd bedroom.
But our family has just experienced a large degree of disruption.  We moved away from family, friends, schools, church.  We’ve been in travel limbo for 7 weeks and I desperately want to provide a familiar and comfortable environment for our family, to make a new home here.  We may have a 3rd bedroom, but it will feel like a continuation of limbo.  

And it is at this moment that I told Luke that I wished there were an adult here to make this decision for us.   Like an official adult who uses relocation agents and knows what they want and doesn’t have 20 different variables swimming in their brain each demanding to be the most important. We are adults and do many adult things.  Luke is a decisive adult which is helpful.  But we make decisions together and I believe my feelings and input are critical to making a good choice- it just takes me a lot longer to arrive at decisive.  
If you’ve ever had a baby, I’m sure you can relate.  In the hospital there are lots of sympathetic nurses and family to ease the transition from being responsible for yourself to responsibility for another human being.  There is a false sense of feeling capable.  Then your are home for the first day and your sweet baby who seems so fragile and perfect is screaming and inconsolable all night, and nothing you can think of will fix it.  You look around for the nurse, doctor or expert of some sort and realize that all your baby has is you and you don’t know what your doing and their life depends on you.  Terrifying.
This is not exactly the same, but there are 3 sweet kids to think of, who are depending on us to make good choices on behalf of our family.  This is terrifying too!

I connected with a few dear friends with my dilemma who encouraged me to trust my instincts.  My instincts prefer home over hotel, so I took the kids to Richmond on Thursday, measuring tape in hand.  We walked to all of the places that we would need to from the house I mentioned, and I measured the rooms to truly assess if we could fit our family in the house.  We also spent some time on the Thames in Richmond which was lovely (photos are in my next post).
Result: 3 kids in that small room just won’t work.

So it is May 4th, and we’ve decided to keep looking.  I don’t know if we’ve made the right choice, I still feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of this, but we’re moving forward and trusting that God will provide the right place for our family. 

Plan no plan

I fully planned a terrific post for today detailing where we live, what our neighborhood and tube station look like, etc.-
(gigantic) camera in hand, we left our housing for the tube station…me snapping pictures like an overzealous tourist.
But then I realized half-way through our trip that I had no SD card in my camera…grrr!
So this will be a short post, but hopefully a bit funny!
The kids and I set off for the mall in London.  It’s called Westfields and it is gigantic!
We spent our first week and a half navigating tube stations to as many parks as I could muster.  
But today, we endeavored to go to the mall.
I think of the mall as a safe place, perhaps in a different sense than you would think.
After having babies, I would spend a few days a week at the mall.  Not to shop, not to walk-off baby weight, but because it was the next easiest place to home- bathrooms, food, play areas, air-conditioned and most importantly a little distraction from the extreme exhaustion and cabin-fever that seemed to arrive about a month after birth.  
In addition, my very dear friend, Marin, had her children at similar times as me, so we could both meet there together and congratulate each other that we made it out of the house: dressed, at a respectable hour.  

This was not my experience today.  

For us, going out does not involve a vehicle, but a series of buses, tubes, or both.  I think it’s about a 20 minute drive from where we are, but using the aforementioned forms of transport, it is about 45 minutes away.  No problem, we are walking-off excess energy and learning the ropes of transportation in London.  And I am definitely committed to public transit after years of living in my mini-van transporting children to and from school, activities, etc.  I am happy to be walking!
Anyway, Westfields is gigantic.  No problem, I have already mapped out the stores that we need to visit so I can be efficient.  What I didn’t plan on was the new experience of taking non-infants to the mall.  I forgot that I completely stopped doing this about 2 years ago.  They are now walking and talking and seeing toy stores, candy stores and cookie shops- and they are now capable of running toward them.  Additionally, hiding in racks of clothing in gigantic and unfamiliar stores is fun, and escalators are the urban play area.  So my little happy-distraction mall time bubble was burst.  
But there are small victories in this.  A large part of my role in these first few weeks is teaching the kids to be wise city kids.  Without the protections of familiar places and the mini-van, we all need to be a lot more savvy, careful and aware.  We see and navigate new places everyday, and as I kid, this is understandably fun and exciting. It’s exciting for me too!  But I am trying hard to learn myself how to navigate and be safe, and how to teach the kids to navigate and be safe as well.  
We’re learning, and it is good and hard, as is with most learning.  Today I learned that the mall is a place for adults to visit- and that if I really need something, I should order it on Amazon.  The kids learned that stores and escalators are not play areas.  They are also learning the being bored is ok, kinda normal and not a reason to complain.

Below are some pictures of previous transit adventures…and a picture of Eva seizing the opportunity to climb at the gates of Buckingham Palace- why not?

Buckingham Palace

South Woodford station, we visited last night and are considering living here🙂

More soon, as soon as I can remember my SD card😉