All posts by Jessica Abrams

On this women’s day…

I remember making the transition from a high school student living at home to a college student living on my own.
It was a big transition, moving from a familiar and protected home out into the unfamiliar world. I was introduced to many different people, different situations and different ideas which were both scary and exciting. There was a pressure, a good one, to make some decisions about myself and my life. Outside of my parents’ home, how did I want to treat people, how did I want to interact with them? Outside of a pre-determined set of high school studies, what did I want to do with my life? What did I need to do to get there. Outside of family priorities, what were my priorities?

These were big questions, and finding the answers was messy, but good. Some would say that you should know who you are and what you want to do with your life when you get to college. And some people do. But in my experience, I needed time to figure these things out. Some would call this delayed adolescence, devalue and degrade the time of searching and finding out how you want to fit into the world. You might be called irresponsible- for jumping from job to job until you find one that suits you. You might be deemed flippant for challenging the status quo and trying out new ways of thinking and being. You might be called reckless and immature as you make mistakes in judgement and suffer the consequences. You may be called all of these things because there is a certain discomfort with not knowing, not having composure and not having maturity. It’s messy and not many people like that sort of thing.

But I assert, that this whole process is actually good and necessary. It’s necessary to make a mess, make mistakes, try out new thoughts and ideas and to wrestle with the world around you until you understand how it is that you want to fit into it.
I was in the process of doing this when I met my now husband, Luke, and when we started attending Mars Hill church. I had never been to church before and had relatively neutral feelings about it as I attended my first service. What I heard and saw was rather refreshing. A man who said that religion wasn’t about appearances or whether or not you drank alcohol, or danced, or had tattoos, but about who you thought God was and if you revered him and his writings about life.

We began to attend church regularly, making friends and participating in the services. The content of sermons focused a lot on the roles of men and women -what it looked like to be a godly man and woman. And we heard the familiar comments that I mentioned above about delayed adolescence, irresponsibility, recklessness and immaturity. In fact, there was a fair amount of ridicule handed-out from the pulpit (Mark Driscoll) toward anyone in the congregation who would occupy one of these categories. Before I started attending church, I had heard similar things. But it didn’t change my actions because I had made a decision that all of this exploring of life was good. But in church, there was new power added to these criticisms and new pressure to change as this immaturity was equated with sin and being ungodly. If you really loved God, you would live a different sort of life.

It gave me a strong impression of what I shouldn’t do, but also brought me back to where I had begun upon leaving home – who am I and how do I want to interact with the world? I think that is a very vulnerable spot to be, because you are like a dry sponge, looking for something to absorb to help you answer your questions. Another new element shaped how I responded. Not only was I wanting answers, but in church, we also learned that those answers could only be found in the Bible and ideally, in our church, that most influences outside of that were probably wrong, misleading and dangerous to our faith. So rather than looking to the outside world and interacting as I had been with my community, I became more isolated, trying to answer these questions from a very narrow source. Our pastor spent the next few years detailing among other things, what it meant to be a godly man and woman, not just from the bible, but also from his personal assessment. Rather than challenging us to ask these formative questions of ourselves, he filled in the blanks and gave us the answers. And in accepting these answers and trying to conform to this very specific image of what it meant to be a godly woman, I gave something valuable away. I gave up the messy task of wrestling with life and finding myself through that and gave myself over to a tidy answer that sounded good.

What was I taught about the image of a godly woman? She prays, learns the bible, submits to her husband, running most decisions past him. Her life is dedicated to God, her husband, children and if there is time, other interests. She cooks, cleans, supports, encourages and serves. On a whole, she is entirely non-offensive. She doesn’t stir the pot, doesn’t speak out of turn, always weights her opinions against those of her husband and church. This was my experience.

She is, in essence, in the background, out of the way, playing a supporting role in the lives of others. This is called, by some, godly and good.

So the question is, how is this woman going to make an impact with her life, mobilizing her unique passions, abilities and insights, if she has passions and talents outside of the home, but is cast in a supporting role?

After moving away from our church and away from our country, I’ve had time to reflect on all of this. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but at least here in London, I have seen a different option for women. They are empowered, passionate, shaping and pursuing both the health and well-being of their family and society using their passions and talents. They have a voice beyond their own church and home, and that voice benefits the community around them. They are operating in a system and culture that not only allows this but also expects it. And it’s beautiful.

Observing this different culture has caused me to reflect on my own.
In my opinion, the impact of the woman I was called to be was limited within it’s definition. And that is a big problem.

It’s a problem on many levels.

On one level, it is a problem because it sets up a system where the relevancy of her opinion is dependent on the approval of a male. I don’t think men are bad or that they are completely in the dark about women, but on a certain level, they do not understand women just as on a certain level, we don’t understand men because neither of us have walked in the other’s shoes.

It also set’s up a spiritual hierarchy wherein men are more capable of discerning whether or not something is good or beneficial.

On another level, her fundamental dignity and worth as someone who bears the image of God is being suppressed.
Let me hash that out a bit.

The Bible (God’s word) contains many passages that ask us to stand in awe of creation. To recognize how the variety and beauty of creation reflects the variety and beauty of God himself. If every tree looked the same, if every sunset was monochromatic, if every person looked the same, spoke the same language and was good at the same things, there would be no awe, only monotony.

Likewise, if every woman occupies a very pre-defined role, she too becomes less vibrant and beautiful than intended. Just as if trees could only be green, flowers only yellow, sunsets only orange.

Stifling the unique attributes of God that are expressed in each individual is sad for all involved. On a meta scale, the world misses out, as women who have passions and talents from God in all manner of areas have a very limited opportunity for expression.

Let me be very clear. I am not suggesting that women who desire to be at home with their children are doing anything wrong. So long as you occupy a role that actually represents you, there is no problem. In fact, it is a beautiful expression of who you were created to be. But in the above scenario, the world misses out on experiencing the variety and beauty of God because it’s expression is being suppressed.
Her children, husband and friends also miss out. They don’t get to fully know the real person that she is because she is trying to be a certain type of person and not herself.

Friends, I hope you understand that this is my opinion based on my personal experience. Doubtless you’ve had a different one…maybe very different, maybe quite similar. My overall goal in writing this post is to say something that I hope can benefit you, no matter where you are in life, whether or not you go to church, whether or not you are a wife and/or mother. Don’t give your identity away to some neat preconceived notion of what a woman should be. These come in all forms, not just from the church.

You were created with a very unique set of passions, gifts and talents that in my opinion, you were made to express. Pursue those, wrestle with them to figure-out how to live life in light of who you were created to be. And please, never let anyone else define that role for you. It is folly, this I know from personal experience. The world needs you to be who you are in order to appreciate the complexity, uniqueness and beauty of creation. The world needs you as a critical component of loving, supporting and improving humanity itself.

Reflections

A month ago I celebrated my 36th birthday here in London and I felt kind of quiet about it.  Not because I’m afraid of my age, or because I was feeling modest, but because after a year of so much change for our family, my birthday registered as an opportunity to reflect.  What I’ve concluded isn’t ultimate, and I’m sure with time some of my thoughts will have changed.  But I wanted to record and share these, if for no other reason than to remember who I was and how I felt at this time.


I feel a certain degree of sobriety about my age.  Before, I had often looked at life and its opportunities rather casually, where I would delay opportunities because I could always, “do that later, when things are less busy.”  Or I would dismiss passions or desires because they would take away from my primary role as a wife and mother.  Some of this was borne out of necessity- when you’re raising 3 children, especially when they’re young, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else because of how time consuming it is.  Some of it was what I believed I was supposed to do based on teaching from our church- that a woman’s primary role and focus was to be her family and that desires outside of that were secondary, less worthwhile or less important.  But upon reflection I did something in these circumstances which I now regret and hope that my children don’t do: I sidelined my personal desires and wants believing that being a wife and mother meant giving these up so you could take on those desires and wants of your family.  I believed that this process was good.

I want to thread the needle of this thought carefully, because I am not trying to suggest that sacrifice isn’t needed or good in marriage and parenting- in many ways sacrifice is necessary, good and joyful.  Likewise, it is good to prioritise elements of your life.  My family will always be of first importance to me.  Rather, my regret is viewing things in such a black and white way- that my only options  in life were to either completely surrender all of myself to my family or be completely selfish and not budge.  It’s a very extreme way of thinking, but there it is.  

Being in London and around a new culture and community of people, I realize that the actions of others are often governed by their response to a very simple question: “what do you want?”  And I realize now that when I made the transition to Christian, wife and mother, I felt inclined to stop asking this question in certain areas of my life.

Now, of course I was always responding to my wants and desires for my children and husband, and for myself on some level.  This wasn’t bad.  What I stopped doing was asking myself what I wanted personally. What was I passionate about?  What excited me?  What were the elements of myself that were true and abiding and how could I feed those?

I don’t want to sound like a martyr here.  The last 15 years have been very good and I’ve had the opportunity to do many amazing things, the best of all investing in and enjoying the lives of my husband and three wonderful children.  But I lost sight of who I was outside of my role as a wife and mother.  The Jessica that existed before this knew a lot more about herself and what drove her than this one.  


This became clear to me on New Year’s eve of this year.  Our family was returning home from a lovely dinner with friends when on the way, we walked past a local pub with music playing a people dancing.  Now, what happened next was a little ADD of me, but that’s OK…I have ADD.

With my purse and a bag full of empty serving dishes in tow, I said to Luke, “I’m going to go and see if my friend is in there, OK?”  Luke looked a little caught off guard but wished me well as I ran across the street (with all of my stuff) and into the pub.

My friend wasn’t there, but there were people, and they were…dancing! 

I felt overcome by this intense urge to not only dance, but dance with everyone in the pub.  Now normal things I would consider in this moment- like not knowing these people, feeling shy in new social situations and poor Luke who was probably hoping for me to come home soon- didn’t register.  Instead, what I wanted, just what I personally wanted, took over, or rather, I listened.  And the result was me approaching almost everyone in the pub (young, old, male, female, couples) and dancing with them.  I felt so alive at that moment, like I was removing one of many filters from a light.  It was, life changing.  So the moral of this story is- dancing at pubs in life changing!  


… just kidding 😉


Actually, it was life changing because it caused me to reflect on what other areas of myself I had stopped listening to, what other filters were still on the light (so to speak).  Reflecting on that is what has made feel so sober at this moment.  With more time on my hands than I’ve had in years (all kids are in school) I’ve been prompted to ask this question, “what do I want to do?”  And in many ways, I’m not really sure.

The passion that I am currently reacquainting myself with is a desire to connect with people through food.  I’ve felt this passion ever since I was a teenager visiting my great Uncle Alby in New York.  He was so kind, so loving and generous.  During that visit he ignited this passion in me by taking me into his kitchen and cooking with me.  He not only fed me, but taught me to cook and connected with me on a level that I didn’t know was possible.  And since then, I’ve had this passion.  I’ve pursued it through cooking for family and friends, but pursuing it in a professional capacity always seemed unrealistic. 

Now we are in London, the kids are all in school full-time and I’m asking myself, what do I want to do?  

I want to work, I miss the joy that I get from interacting with people and doing something productive outside of our home.  It would be very practical for me to start teaching again.  There is always a need for a science teacher.  But what I really want to do is to connect with people through food.  In this area, I have no real qualifications that could go on a C.V. (resume).    And I’m 36, haven’t worked in 8 years and am having to make a decision based on what I want.  Do I want to start over and pursue this passion?  Do I want to just continue teaching in secondary schools? Even if I could pursue my food/people passion…what would that look like?  Are there classes for that?  Is there a food/people degree?  Is it too late to even start working toward this?

I don’t know.  

I’m finding that sometimes asking what you want results in instant joy ( i.e. dancing in a pub) and sometimes, it’s more complicated than that.  Sometimes, you may know exactly what you want and have to face the possibility of not having it.  

Maybe that’s why I stopped asking in the first place, because life changed so much with church, getting married and having kids, that asking that question and coming to terms with some of the answers was hard.  Maybe I thought it was better to stop asking rather than face disappointment.

Well, there will be no pity party here, because if there’s one thing that marriage and children have taught me, it’s persistence.

I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t even feel completely connected to myself and all that I desire.  But I do know that now is as good a time as any to take hold of life and all that it has to offer.  I want to figure out how to walk that fine line between pursuing what you want while also considering the wants and needs of others.  I want to navigate the choppy waters of desire realized and desire unmet.  Because I feel more alive doing so than if I never asked at all.  And I want to show my kids that it is indeed worth it ask yourself what you’re passionate about and to pursue it, even if along the way you are disappointed.  Because you are more alive in doing so than if you had never tried at all.

 

Jumps Season

Today to we attended a British cultural institution: The Ascot Races!
I would like to introduce you to this phenomenon because it is very fun, very fancy and very British!

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Initially, we didn’t know if we’d be able to attend due to the very severe storms that have plagued south-west England since January. The weather has been pretty terrible, with very high winds (80mph) and severe flooding. So whether the races would continue today was unknown. But honestly, this is a pretty hardy set of folks here. I watched the BBC news yesterday where an 80 yr. old woman was being interviewed about flooding in her area. She is still living in her home, and has been for the last week despite 6″ of water on the floor. Her response to the news-man’s prompt about how she is coping? “Well, we just live on the upstairs floor and try to pump water out of the main floor.” Very matter of fact, news-man moves on to other stories.
So, trains were operating today and the races went on as well. Off to the races!

Now, before I continue, we need to establish how to pronounce Ascot. You may want to pronounce Ascot as “ass-cot,” and that’s fine. But the locals call it “ass-ct.” And we wanted to sound local, so I made sure the kids were pronouncing it correctly.

We departed Richmond and arrived in Ascot about 40 minutes later. The station in Ascot comprises the actual train station, a pub and the entrance to Ascot raceway. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the style and age of the building. So many things here are older than the United States. But unlike most other buildings, the Ascot raceway building is pretty modern and what you might expect from a sports stadium…well, except that there are these very lovely and dapper gentleman in bowler hats and black jackets with flowers in the lapel that will advise you on where to go and what to do. I wanted to get a picture with one, but I’m pretty sure that’s not proper.
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Speaking of proper, there is a dress code for Ascot. I am borrowing the text from the Ascot web-site and pasting it here because I think you will enjoy reading it, and also because it took Luke and I about 4 read throughs to decipher what exactly it implied.
JUMPS SEASON (NOVEMBER TO APRIL)

Gentlemen usually wear a jacket with a collared shirt and tie, and ladies like to dress as for a smart occasion. Whilst this style of dress is preferred in Premier Admission during the Jumps season, it is not compulsory.

Please note that fancy dress, novelty and branded or promotional clothing is not permitted within Premier Admission”

Ok, so we were pretty clear on the upper half of the gentleman (Luke and Mac) but not so sure about the bottom half- denim, khakis, suit trousers? Also, I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a smart occasion. I mean, I graduated college and wore my cap and gown, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what they were implying. So I just went with trying to look like Princess Kate. Seemed like a safe bet. Not that there are many similarities between us, but I could at least copy here dress style. And by copy, I mean that I imagined what she would look like and then tried to copy it. If I were a princess in England, I would sit in front of a fire and read Sherlock Holmes while drinking wine.

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Actually, I used to ride horses when I was younger. Here’s a fun picture from the past:

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Back then I was very consumed with riding and jumping horses. So much so that my mum got me this beautiful necklace with my birthstone for a birthday. I had the opportunity to wear it to the races today.

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Did I mention that Mac “had” to wear a suit coat 😉 He’s normally not that inclined to have his picture taken, but when I told him I just wanted a picture of his LEGO creation, he complied:

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…Back to the races!

Upon entering the building, I saw that we had done well and fit right in with the other race-goers…though their style looked effortlessly British, whereas ours was labored over and timidly chosen, hoping to not get rejected at the ticket booth. Their style was very “smart” indeed! Men sporting suit coats in all manner of wool plaid print, fantastic derby hats toping ruddy faces (Whiskey is popular here). The ladies were also smartly dressed in semi-formal dresses, stockings and not so practical shoes. I had so much fun analyzing their dress. As for the kids… well, in a building containing about 2,000 people, our kids comprised 50% of the children in attendance. No one seemed disturbed by them, in fact, they were quite a novelty.

We were hungry and thirsty and tried to find sustenance, seating, and someone who could explain how exactly you bet on races. Not the easiest thing to do. First, and I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but the food in most non-boutique restaurants in London is pretty bad compared to what we had available in Seattle. I don’t mean it will give you food-poisoning, it’s been cooked far too long for that to be even a remote possibility! Just very bland, somewhat not-fresh (I’m trying to be kind here) and lacking in the fruit/vegetable food groups. We did purchase food, and we did try the food, but 2 hungry adults and 3 hungry kids rejected all but the chips (fries) from our meal. That’s OK though, the bland food encourages another British pastime, drinking alcohol. The food may not be good, but you can be sure that there is wine, whiskey and beer readily available. In fact, on our train ride to Ascot (remember, ass-ct!) two older women boarded the train and proceeded to take out two plastic wine glasses and a small container of wine, pouring a liberal amount into each glass and imbibing as we journeyed to our destination. Before moving to London, I may have thought poorly of these women, but having been here almost a year, what I really wanted to do was join them!

Where were we? I started writing about drinking and then…it gets blurry 😉

Let’s talk about betting. I’ve been to a casino once in my life, on a lay-over from Seattle to Oklahoma, where we gambled nickels on slot machines in order to get free drinks. Hence, I’m not the most seasoned gambler. I tried to ask a few people how to place bets at the betting counter and the transaction that happened is one that I will heretofore refer to as the “happy non-native.” The happy non-native asks questions, but doesn’t want to inconvenience people, so upon hearing their answer to his or her question, smiles, nods, says thank you and walks away still trying to figure-out what they were saying.
At a loss for what to do after these interactions, I opened our race book and asked the kids to pick their favorite horses. Some of these selections were based on the amount of pink/purple/stars in the jockey’s uniform. Some were more thought out after careful inspection of the manual (Mac).

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Bets were placed and the day was pretty seamless after that. Out of 5 races, we picked 4 horses that placed in the top 3, which won us back about 40% of what we spent. But that’s not the point. The point is that it was really fun. Not just for us, but for the kids. They took awhile to warm-up to the idea of spending a day at the racetrack, but watching these horses run two miles and jump over numerous fences in less than 8 minutes, was beautiful and exciting. I hope that they remember this experience, I know I will.

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Started in Seattle now we’re here. Started in Seattle now my whole family’s here, sir.

Hello everyone!
This is our Christmas newsletter!  But before reading it, you might want to get in the holiday spirit- London style.  Here are a few suggestions for your consideration:
1. It would be good if you were drinking, and had been everyday: lunch, dinner and dessert for about a month.  If you haven’t been indulging as the British do at this time of year, your liver thanks you.  But seriously, most social events involve lots and lots of drinking.  And since today is Christmas, if you really want to do it right, do as our watch repair man suggested and drink so much that you’re passed out by about noon.  Wake up a few hours later, eat and drink more, pass out again.  Repeat the next day.

2. Turn down the volume on any bright or loud Christmas decorations.  Here, there is a much more natural feel to Christmas décor.  In fact, I recently walked past a house which was modestly decorated with lights and reindeer with my English friend.  She was surprised to see such a thing and exclaimed, “they must be American.”

3. Eat Christmas Pudding (also known as “pud”).  Now, there’s really no American equivalent to Christmas Pudding, which is a cake that is made with lots of dried fruit, prepared anywhere from a month to a year before Christmas, all the while being routinely basted with Sherry, Rum, Brandy or Cognac.  To approximate, I’ve provided a recipe that just might work in a pinch.  First, get a fruitcake and baste it with Cognac, Brandy or Rum- better yet, all of them!  Then get some cream and infuse that as well with Brandy and sugar.  Steam your fruitcake for 30 minutes, then pour some Brandy (if you have any left) over your fruitcake and set it on fire before eating it.   The finished product should look something like this:

4. Sing Christmas carols British-style, where the words are the same, but the melody may be different.  Feel free to add additional syllables to any word to make the lyrics work and remember, coal rhymes with all, grass rhymes with cross and plain rhymes with again.
So by now you should have a meal that is about 80% alcohol and be in a sparsely decorate room with your carols. 
Let’s begin!
This year has been full of change for us and accommodating those changes has necessitated a lot of adapting.  Some of this process has been difficult and some of it quite enjoyable (are you still drinking?).
I am very proud of our kids for how well they have adapted to our new life here.  In March they said good-bye to all of their friends and family and left the only house they’d ever know to journey with us to London.  This required some extreme downsizing of their possessions, living in a semi-furnished house for a few weeks, and putting up with Luke and I as we scrambled to get ready for our trip.
When we arrived in London, they had further adapting to do.  We do not have a car, so there’s been a lot of walking, long rides on the tube and constant comments from mummy to be careful.

After 2 months in temporary housing, we moved again to a more permanent home.  This came with its own set of disruption, as you may remember from my previous post about getting settled.
Then, the kids were in school for the last month of summer term.  There were new expectations for dress (uniforms), new food (British school lunch), new sets of expectations for learning (cursive handwriting, spellings and maths) not to mention the change in pronunciation.  I know we all speak English, but there are many times when we completely don’t understand what someone is saying. 

Given all of the new and different of London, the kids have responded admirably.  It hasn’t always been easy, but they have worked very, very hard to adapt and because of this are now enjoying school, new friends, walking/scootering …they even like to eat British sausage and mature cheddar cheese, both of which have a very different taste than what they were used to.  I’m grateful for them and it’s been a joy to see my children’s perseverance in the face of many challenges.  Below are some pictures of major events for them this year.
We’ve celebrated two family birthdays since being here- Mac and Pearl’s:
We celebrated Mac’s birthday in May.  He is a wonderful boy full of lots of energy, silly stunts and affection for his family.
We celebrated Pearl’s 5th birthday in November and had the good fortune of having Grandma here for the celebration- a double treat!  For her birthday, we ventured to high tea at a fancy hotel in London.  It was very fun and proper, although at times we got a bit silly.  Pearl is so very outgoing, and has become our social liaison here in London- approaching strangers to tell them about her shoes, or fancy dress, or plans for the day.  She’s also adopted an accent of her own making which is kind of British, but also just a lot Pearl in it’s fanciness and dramatics.
The kids began their first full year of school in September.  I am still so enamoured by the uniforms and how cute they look each morning heading off for school. 
This year, Mac has been challenged to learn cursive and memorize spelling words- something we did not get to in the States.  He has risen to the occasion and been diligent to practice and perfect what is expected of him.  He has also joined Chess and Football (soccer) clubs after school and enjoys this very much.
Eva is very popular according to her teacher, which she attributes to the novelty of her being from the States.  It was a great relief to see her make friends so quickly.  She also has had her share of catching-up to do in regards to school.  This year she has learned her cursive as well and memorizing her spellings.  And like Mac, she has shown an eagerness to do so.  Since improving in her reading and writing, she has also begun chronicling various events in her life through stories that she writes.  I love reading each one and hope that she continues to write and draw as these are things that she truly loves to do!
Pearl is a little firecracker at school.  If ever a social butterfly existed, it is Pearl.  Everyone at morning drop-off is greeted by her, often hearing the latest news of what she ate for breakfast, what she is wearing, etc.  She too is working very hard in school and though she is just 5, all students in her class are expected to be reading.   She and Eva have both taken part in dance classes after school.  It is a jazzy dance class, so we are often privy to elaborate shows in the evening full of spinning, jumping, rolling on the floor and posing. 
The kids each participated in Christmas plays for the school.  Here RE, or religious education, is compulsory, so the result is a very Christian celebration at the school.  This year, Pearl was a star in a Nativity play, Eva was an Angel in her own class’s play, and Mac a sort of snow-flake.  This may go without saying, but 2 out of 3 of our kids loved this.  You can examine the pictures to see who was not so pleased to be participating 😉
We had some rather silly moments this year as well.  I’ll begin with Mac, who, as it turns out, is not very impressed by bridges themselves (see: Literally, not knowing where you’re going) but loves to stare at the bottom of them.  It also turns out that when we’re on our 5th trip to IKEA, Mac reverts to a silly state where rubbing his head into carpet samples somehow soothes the monotony.

Eva still loves climbing as much as ever, and we’ve had the privilege of not only climbing play structures and Uncles (thanks Uncle Dan!), but also National Monuments:

Pearl sees the world as an opportunity for performance art, and what better location for said performances than Waterloo Station (major transportation hub)?  As we ventured home late one night, she decided it was a good place to perform her dance moves to “Walk Like and Egyptian.”
  

Luke has also had a very eventful year.  Upon moving to London, he began work at Skype which has been a great experience for him.  I think he’s learning a lot from those he works with, not withstanding an education on the London style of dress.  It turns out that his Redmond Microsoft office was a bit more…let’s call it casual…than here.  For the first time since I’ve known him (excluding our wedding) Luke wore a tie!
He’s also had the opportunity to travel this year for his job, with many trips to Prague.  One included a hot air balloon trip with his team, complete with a ceremonial dusting with soil and dousing with champagne on the heads of all balloon goers.  These are cultural experiences people!
In addition to the adjustment of working here, moving and adapting…Luke also underwent a major surgery in October to repair a collar bone injury from this childhood.  The good news is, we had a world-class specialist in collar-bone injuries perform the surgery and his recovery has been rapid, with his back immediately feeling better hours after surgery.  The not so good news is that English medicine is a bit more conservative than in the States, so 24 hours after re-breaking and setting his collar bone, Luke was sent home with Tylenol and Ibuprofen.  We were assured that this was a very powerful combination of drugs for post-operative pain, but pushed to get something a bit stronger, to the dismay of the medical team.  Though I didn’t hear it, I’m sure there were murmurings of our American-ness.
Luke has been a consistent trooper in this move, working hard all day and arriving home to a sometimes overwhelmed wife with always energetic children.  As things settle here and as he recovers, we look forward to a less eventful schedule with lots of trips to the park (pub).

I’ve had an eventful year as well.  Events include moving here, entertaining the children for a few months while they were out of school, adapting to life without a vehicle (which by the way has been great!), furnishing our home, etc.  I caught myself having a rather surreal thought around October, which was, “Wow, this has been a lot to deal with, I had no idea I could juggle so much.”  It turns out this was a bit of foreshadowing on behalf of my brain because after Luke’s surgery, the composure that once got me through all of this change was exchanged for the feeling of being extremely overwhelmed.  I can now accurately state that my ability to adapt ends with surgery on someone I love.  There were a few moments of emotional meltdown, combined with a bit of encouragement from our doctor to “worry less.”  But we’ve made it.  Moving, new schools, new food, new house, new friends, shoulder surgery…we’ve got through it and I am feeling quite relieved writing all of this because the hardest parts seem behind us. 
There were many encouraging elements to this year for me.
In June, some dear friends visited me in London.  We had experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life, including trips to Oxford and Hastings, both in England.  It made the pain of missing home a bit less severe to have them here.  And now when I walk around London, I feel that it is more my home since not only I but my friends have been here.

We also had a wonderful visit with my brother Dan and his girlfriend Hong this summer.  They were the first family members to visit us and it was a welcome respite from the foreign-ness of life.

In October, Luke’s mum (mom) Barb visited us to both see the family and also to provide the crucial support we needed with Luke’s surgery.  We had such a wonderful time with her, and her help and support made it possible for Luke’s surgery to be successful, not only for him but our family.
I have a friend and her name is Kathryn.  She is also from the States and has moved here recently, so we have a lot in common.  While Barb was here, we all went to visit Windsor Castle which was a highlight for me.  I am now quite enamoured with Victorian history.  Although, to be fair, all that was required for this was a little, tiny nudge. 
Luke and I have been regretful of all of the concerts we’ve missed since being here, so we finally made it to a Vampire Weekend concert a few weeks after his surgery.  It was fantastic and also happened to be in Greenwich. 

Finally, but very importantly, I got to meet one of my favourite actors of all time- Nathaniel Parker.  If you are not familiar with the name, he is the star of a very good British mystery called Inspector Lynley.  I have watched the show for years and never thought I would meet him. But by chance he was performing at an event that I attended.  I think I behaved in a rather embarrassing manner, but I got a picture and a kiss on the cheek, and he was lovely and very kind.  To meet one of your favourite (fictional) detectives and not even have to be murdered, or a suspect…priceless!

This ends my update.  I will leave you with a few pictures of our day today, Christmas 2013.  We are enjoying our time here but miss our friends and family very, very much.  We hope that you’ve all had a wonderful year and that the next will be full of joy!

Getting settled

Hello, Friends!
I am happy to inform you that we are still alive and still living here in London, despite my lack of communication.  
I find that I am learning a lot about myself through this adventure.  For example, when we first arrived, everything was new and exciting and and I wanted to share all of this with you!  Interesting signs, funny stories about navigating a new culture and of course pictures. I had the adrenaline rush of just arriving, of everything being new!  
Then things got a hard when days in temporary housing turned into weeks, when the kids and I were fatigued from another day of tube travel and “foreign” food, when finding housing became daunting.  And I still wanted to share, because it helped me to process all that was happening.
Then, we moved.  We moved for the second time in 3 months, first out of our house in Seattle, then out of our temporary housing in London.  And I realized that when things are really stressful and hard, instead of sharing, I prefer isolation, burrowing, and true to form for any such creature, a nocturnal schedule.  When things are hard, I don’t really get tired, I get quiet and full of restlessness.  On a side note, the nocturnal schedule also means I get caught-up on a lot of TV episodes 😉
Not that these are all great qualities, but this may explain my lack of communication with the world for the last 2 months.  
After 8 years of parenting, I know that some natural tendencies are good, and others need to be tempered for our own well-being.  On this note, I am writing again.

Where to begin?

We moved to Richmond.  Here is a map! 
The blue squiggly line is the Thames, the city of London is in the middle and we are in the southwest corner.

Image borrowed from: http://www.guidetorichmond.co.uk/london-borough/

Much of London is very urban, but Richmond is a nice departure from this in that it is more green and sub-urban.  The streets are less busy, night time is quiet and there is abundant wildlife.  I love it here, it reminds me of Seattle.

In Richmond we live about .3 miles from the train station on a passage called Albany Passage.  In an area that is already much quieter than most of London, we are tucked away even more- on a long, narrow sidewalk lined with very old houses.

This is our house: 

When we arrived in London, I was confused about where to live.  London is such a big and amazing city.  I admit that I felt a bit wrong after deciding to live in a quieter suburb of such an cool city.  But after being here for 2 months, I am so very glad that we can live in this quiet area.  The city is good for visiting, and for us, the suburb is good for living.  

So 2 months ago, we walked up this very peaceful passage to our very cute house in Richmond.  I was so relieved to finally have a place to call home.  
But home on paper and home in practice are two very different things.  Home on paper is an address, a place where you receive mail, pay bills, etc.  Home in practice is a place where you sleep, rest, cook meals and raise your family.  
The great divide between the two is what has consumed all of our time and energy over the last two months.  
In the first few weeks, we accomplished a lot.  We received and “unpacked” our shipment of goods from Seattle.  We made a few trips to IKEA to get necessities like beds for the kids.  We purchased many new appliances (US appliances are not compatible with UK wiring).  We enrolled  Mac and Eva in school and hurried to gather all of the required uniform components for their first day.  Here are some pictures of Mac and Eva in their school gear: 

 

 



 I’m sure that each of you has moved at least once and knows how unsettling this can be.   Even though we had accomplished a lot by this time, things were still really unsettled.  We were still eating dinner at a small folding table, still trying to all fit on a two seat couch to relax, still dealing with piles of books, sheets, clothes, etc waiting to be sorted and still adjusting to a new place and new schedule.  By the end of the first few weeks, I was feeling the weight of all this chaos and desperately wanting just one room of our house to be settled.  I thought, “if I could just walk into one room and have it sorted, everything would be OK.”

The room closest to completion was our living room.  All that was lacking was a couch. We ordered one from IKEA the first week we moved  but had to wait few weeks for it’s arrival.

Finally, it was delivery day!  I received our 6! boxes of couch, asked (bribed) the delivery men to take away our small couch from the States … and a few hours later the police arrived….  
Let me explain 🙂

Things are pretty neat and tidy here in London.  No matter where you go, the citizens  of London have homes and yards that are well tended.  The city also does a good job of keeping streets clean and orderly- everything is quite proper. The images of London seen in pictures and postcards are not upset by actually being here.  It really is THAT beautiful.

Moving is not pretty or neat or tidy.  Nor is a couch from IKEA that comes in 6 different boxes and arrives at a house that has just been moved into.  
On the day our couch arrived, I collected the kids from school, brought everyone home, and began to assemble.  The reward of having a place to sit and a completed room overcame any common sense that would have said to wait until the kids were in bed to undertake such a feat.
So at 3:30pm I began assembly and the kids began to get creative with the ample cardboard that accompanied our couch.  Mac was a real help.  When the girls were hungry, he made them sandwiches and brought them water.  Alone in the living room I was making excellent progress toward completion of our couch, and I continued to work away as I listened to the kids having a terrific time with the boxes in our entryway/front yard. 


I didn’t really know anything was off until Luke arrived home at 6 pm.  He walked in and asked if everything was OK (in the way someone would if you had just inexplicably dumped a bowl of soup on your head).  I gave him a thumbs-up as I lay curled-up on our new assembled couch. Without a word, he turned and got our camera.
Here are some pictures of what was going on outside of the living room: 

 

 

 

 

 


It turns out that things had gotten a bit…messy?  
Then I heard a commotion outside.  Conversation, then laughing.  
Then Luke came in and said, “Someone called the police because they thought someone broke into our house…so I took a picture!”
So here are the friendly Richmond police, called by our neighbors, who saw the untidiness of our home and thought it had been broken into.  


They came by, asked if we were OK (like you would if someone had just inexplicably dumped a bowl of soup on their head) and then smiled nervously and left as Luke snapped a picture.

It’s enough to make you want to burrow in a cozy little corner till things are settled, yes?

This whole experience has got me thinking about the word “settled” and how briefly it actually applies to anything.  Some words, like cold, or wet or young last awhile once applied.  The Arctic is cold and has been and will be for a long time.  The oceans are wet.  My kids are young. They won’t be young as long as the Arctic is cold or the oceans are wet, but longer than anything in our lives is actually settled.  It’s so funny to think of all the work and anxiety on my part that’s gone in to getting this one word to finally apply to our lives here.  Or how paralyzing it has felt to not have things settled.  It’s strange to think how one word, one state of order, can feel so good.  And it only lasts moments.  You finally move.  Your new place to live is settled, but now you need to unpack.  You finally unpack, but now you need places to put things.  You finally have places to put things, then you get more things.


In our adventure of “(not) knowing where you’re going” I thought that as time progressed, I would be able to chronicle increasing order in our lives.  And this isn’t completely wrong. We went from temporary housing to having a home, the kids are enrolled in school, I am sitting on a couch 😉    I am grateful for all of this.  But each moment of relief has been met with a new area to get “settled.”  It’s hard to enjoy what is good when a new issue to resolve sits on the horizon.  

So from now on, I hope to adopt a different point of view.  It’s not of my own creating, I forget who first mentioned it to me, but thank you whoever you are!
Recently, I am striving not for settled, but for better.  I am trying mentally to move the “mark” from perfection to just a bit better than before.  Because the truth is, everything is a bit chaotic.  Even the neat and tidy gardens of England.  And believing that anything I can do will truly get things to a state of being settled is silly.  But I can do little things each day.  The table may not be clean, but I can make it cleaner.  We may not have all the furniture we’d like for our house, but we’re closer.  
Settled is such a mean word, I suggest that we move to referring to things as settled-er. And here, things are moving in that direction 🙂

Therapy is expensive

 

Hello, and welcome to my blog post about spiders and the fear of them.  
I am writing to you from an insect tent in our living room.
 
We recently moved into a house in Richmond which I am super happy about.  Great area, great schools, and really cute 200+ year old house.  I can’t believe we are actually here!
But one thing that sobers me as I delight in the beauty and charm of our surroundings is Spiders.  
I chose not to research the types of snakes, insects and spiders present in London before we moved because I wanted to spare myself the anxiety of knowing what to expect.  And for our first two months here in clean temporary housing, all was well.  I think I saw a tiny fly once.  No problem.
 
We moved last Thursday.  It has been crazy.  Like a few 6 hour trips to IKEA via 3 or 4 trains with the kids crazy.  But we are getting settled and I am aggressively trying to unpack and set-up shop for the next two years.
So for the first few days of unpacking, I saw no spiders despite the seriously gigantic holes in the floor.  The floors are charming, but also more sieve than floor in some spots…a sieve meant to withhold bigger things like …I don’t know… rats, but totally designed to let through gigantic spiders.  yay 😦
Two days ago, Luke casually mentioned that he found a spider in our bed.  That’s cool, I’m just going to do some quick (4 hours) research on how to get rid of spiders.  A sleepless night ensued due to the worry that spiders were going to crawl on me.
Yesterday, I found another spider.  Today, I found 4.
I feel it relevant to mention that this place was professionally cleaned before we moved-in.  Also that I meticulously vacuumed today and sprayed the only deterrent I could find locally all over the house.  It is mint oil 😦  Doesn’t pack the punch (death) I was hoping for, but it’s something.
 
So I kid you not, tonight, I am sleeping in a spider-proof tent that I packed in our luggage for our journey to London.   I know that sounds crazy.  Laying here while the rest of my family sleeps completely unprotected from said 8-legged creatures does sound a bit…ridiculous.   
 
Luke helped me set-up the tent, and  is putting up with my phobia because as he puts it, “therapy is expensive.”  


 
And by the way, do you know what the treatment is for arachnophobia? 
“Exposure”  …as in:
 
Therapist: Hi Jessica, welcome to our therapy session where I will show you pictures of spiders and then bring real ones into the room for you to enjoy.  I am certain this will help.
 
Me: I don’t like spiders.
 
Therapist: I know, but if you’ll just look at them and let them crawl all over you I’m sure this will change.
 
...and then later….
 
Friend: Hey, what are you up to today?
 
Me: Nothing much, just got done with a therapy session to help me not be afraid of spiders.
 
Friend: Spiders are gross!
 
Me: I know, but apparently if you look at them and let them crawl on you in a “therapy context”, they’re not gross or creepy anymore.
 
Friend: You’re paid for this?
 
But seriously, if you knew there were big, bulky, potentially poisonous (delivery man informed me of this nice fact today) spiders in your house, could you sleep?  
Also, if you think I am strange for feeling this way, let me ask you something: 
What creature would you feel comfortable with crawling all over you at night?  My guess is cat or dog, not spider.  
 
So friends, tonight I am sleeping in my spider-proof tent.  And tomorrow, I will call the pest control people because therapy is expensive, pest control is cheaper, and sleeping by yourself in a tent in the living room is not a good long-term solution.  But for tonight…I will actually sleep 😉
 
Spider-proof tent

Signs

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 🙂