Category Archives: Humor

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 🙂

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…..com’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!

 

Fencing!

 

 

 

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 🙂
Pizza!

 

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.