Category Archives: Transitioning

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.

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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.

 

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

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.  

Exploring Richmond

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

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

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

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

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

Some kids like to start a photo shoot…

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

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

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