Category Archives: School

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!

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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 🙂