Monday, March 06, 2017

Finding My People

This is not really about our family, but more about me personally.  The last many months I have felt very lost.  Most of last year was filled with uncertainty as we pondered our future and explored new job opportunities.  We were going to London, then we weren't.  Then we might be.  Then we were. And once the decision was made, there was a tidal wave of new decisions to be made about where to live and schools and houses and all sorts of other things.  Though I could do a lot of research and planning, there was so much, like visas, that was totally out of my control.

In the midst of all of this I had a new baby.  For anyone who has had a baby, you know that in this process you are kind of giving up your body for a time.  Sacrificing it to grow the baby, birth the baby, feed the baby, stay up with the baby . . . there is just a period surrounding having a baby, at least for me, during which I hardly feel that my body is mine at all.

Shortly after announcing our move, our Bishop released me from my calling as YW President.  I was extremely grateful.  With so much else to think about because of the move in addition to having the new baby, I would not have been able to be the leader the YW needed at that time.  But this had been such a huge part of my life the past 3 years, that with the release I felt another piece of me was taken away.

One thing that has always kept me grounded during the whirlwinds of life is running.  I can control it - wake up to my alarm, put on my shoes, and go.  The time to either run alone, or with a close friend, for miles on end, has brought me sanity over the years.  I can talk through challenges, or laugh about the craziness of motherhood, or listen to General Conference talks, or just think.  But at the end of 5 or 10 or more miles I feel strong and proud and ready to take on life.  Running, particularly the last many years, has been my happy place.  My sanctuary.

Unfortunately I sustained a minor knee injury during my pregnancy when I pushed myself too hard the last mile of a half marathon.  Pregnant and postpartum there was not much the doctors could do since ligaments looser during these periods.  I tried to get back to running a bit, but usually ended up discouraged because of pain.  Instead of running feeling like a sanctuary, it brought me frustration and hopelessness.  It was impossible to believe I was the same person who had nearly qualified for the Boston Marathon only a year earlier.  I did some other activities like Crossfit and walking to try to stay active, but none filled the void of running.    

On a slow walk with my running buddy, I lamented that I felt like I didn't have any of myself left - I wasn't volunteering in the kids schools because of the pending move, I didn't have a calling, my body was a mess from having a baby, and I couldn't even run.

Of course Matt jumped right into running when we got to London.  He quickly found weekly park runs, city trails, and even a running buddy to go exploring with on Saturdays.  I was hesitant and afraid.  And tired from adjusting to everything else.  So I just didn't go.  I didn't do anything for an entire month.  Nothing.

Finally a couple Saturdays ago I found my running shoes calling.  Matt hadn't pushed me to start. Nobody had asked about it.  I just knew it was time.  Matt watched the kids in the morning and I went.  I alternated running and walking and tried to listen to my body and see what it could do.  The weather was sort of nasty. And I was hard on myself because of how insanely slow I was.  I was glad I had gone, but still felt a bit defeated.

But the next Saturday I wanted to go again.  And I knew if I didn't try again and again I'd never get where I wanted to be.  This time I didn't go with any expectations of speed or distance - just to enjoy the morning and the time alone.  1 minute walk, 1 minute jog.  1 minute walk,  2 minute jog.  I explored the woods near our house.  I enjoyed park trails I hadn't been on.  I soaked up the views of our new city.  I listened to some relaxing tunes.  I thought about all we'd accomplished these past weeks of living here.  1 minute walk, 1 minute jog.  1 minute walk, 2 minute jog.  This time I focused on what was going right, instead of what I was lacking.  I noticed the flowers.  I noticed my breath.  I noticed my knee, though still in slight pain, felt stronger from all the walking I'd been doing.  I noticed the cafes just opening up.  I noticed my heart rate, a bit faster than it had been in a while. And I noticed the people.  The thin middle aged woman plowing strongly up a hill.  The man and his preteen son running after him.  The older, heavier man who was just focused on one step after the other.  The woman with her muddy dogs.

View from Alexandra Park
Spring Crocuses

These are my people, I found myself thinking.  This is me.  The early Saturday morning runners. The get up and get the job done people.  Most of them were not particularly fast or super intense.  But they were up enjoying the morning, moving their bodies, finding themselves, getting outside on the trails, breathing hard and sweating, soaking up the views.  And somehow as I found my people on this Saturday morning, I found a bit of myself again.  Tomorrow is not Saturday, but I think I will lace up my shoes again.    

Boxes of Stuff

Tomorrow the movers arrive and deliver our sea shipment.  After more than 6 weeks since having it all packed, I cannot remember everything that is in those boxes.  It is funny how you adjust and get used to what you do have.  I'm sure there will be things I'm happy to see, and others I wish I'd gotten rid of.  There are some things I have definitely missed though, and others I have not.

I have not missed . . .

  • TOYS -  We have had an excess of toys the past few years and I've discovered the last month how much better the kids play when there is less.  They are more imaginative and creative in their play.  And there is less mess and stress.  Clean up is a cinch.
  • CLOTHES - We have all been getting by just fine with the clothes from our suitcases.  I truthfully cannot remember what other clothes are coming nor why I needed them.  With a smaller washing machine and uniforms, we just won't need as many clothes.
  • ARTS & CRAFTS SUPPLIES - I think because I was a teacher I feel this need to buy new school supplies every fall.  This has resulted in a surplus in our house of crayons, markers, glue, scissors, etc.  But as it turns out, we really only need one set of each and we get by just fine.  The more we have, the more clutter it creates.  
  • TV - Matt and the kids may disagree, but I have really not minded watching TV and movies on our computers and tiny DVD player.  

Family Pizza Movie Night

I have missed . . . 
  • DRESSERS & LAUNDRY BASKETS - Though we don't have tons of clothes right now, we are struggling greatly to keep them organized.  I feel like there are just piles of clothes on the floors everywhere.
  • PIZZA CUTTER - It's just so convenient.
  • DISHES - We packed the bare minimum, and I'm totally done with IKEA plastic bowls and plates.  
  • REAL TABLE AND CHAIRS - I'm so over the camping table and chairs.  I think we've had a spill at 2/3 of meals because of the table getting bumped. 
  • PILLOWS - We packed a few, but I'm ready for my usual pillows.
  • BEDS - Though Matt and I have had a bed, I'm looking forward to my kids being out of sleeping bags and in real beds again. 
The next few days and weeks will be interesting as we fit all of our furniture & boxes of stuff into our new home.  

Introducing Ringo

Before moving to London we went back and forth quite a bit about whether or not we would want to have a car while we were here.  Public transportation here is amazing, and many of the families we talked to about living here said they never had a car and didn't feel like they needed one.  A difference is that we have 4 kids, and most of them did not.  Also, as we were deciding where to live, we felt more comfortable living outside central London and further north.  Public transportation is still readily available, but having a car is also more feasible because there is better parking options and less traffic. Ultimately we decided we would want a car for getting to church, larger shopping trips (like IKEA and Costco), and weekend getaways (like Warwick Castle).  Though trains and buses are always an option, and we still use them frequently, we have enjoyed having the car.  Sometimes it is just quicker and easier.  

The first month we were in London, Amazon provided a rental car for us.  As the end of the month neared, we knew we should start looking for a car.  Driving and parking, particularly around our neighborhood, is on very tight, narrow roads, so we wanted something small.  However, it needed to be big enough for our family of 6.  We had been told by ward friends that finding the right car can take a while, so we started a search online the week before we had to return the rental.  

To our surprise, finding a car did not take us long at all.  We found a VW Touran on Gumtree, UK's equivalent to Craigslist, the first night we were looking.  Though a 2004, it had low mileage and the price was right.  As a bonus it was the exact same color as my first car.  We test drove it the following night and decided to buy it.  After working out insurance, Matt drove the car home the following day, less than 48 hours after first looking online.  After being in our family a week, we decided to name him Ringo.  

Introducing Ringo, our new 2004 VW Touran
The previous three car purchases in our marriage have been brand new vehicles.  Since we will not be here a really long time it just didn't make sense to buy a brand new car and we wanted to spend as little as possible since we really don't drive around all that much.  But it is a strange adjustment to drive an older, used vehicle.  Though Ringo test drove just fine, I'm discovering he certainly has his little quirks.  The interior is worn and aged, I have to pump the gas a bit to get him started, he struggles to make it to the top of Muswell Hill, and he gets a bit shaky if we go over 50mph.  But he sure tries and so far he gets us everywhere we need to go.  We are hoping Ringo can survive long enough to take our family on some adventures over the next several years.  

I get by with a little help from my friends . . .
Going to try with a little help from my friends.

One Month . . . What I Love About Living in London

This past week marked one month of living in London.  A friend emailed this week asking what I loved about living in London.  With only one month behind us, I still have a lot to learn and a lot to fall in love with, but here are a few things I love about living in London.

  • Public Transportation.  It is readily available, on time, efficient, and fantastic.  I hope it is still fun to ride on the upper level of a double decker bus and hop on the tube after living here for over a year.  It is still fun for me every time now. 
  • Walking.  People just walk here.  They walk their kids to school and walk to the market and walk to the tube and walk and walk and walk.  It's fun to see people out and about and feels more friendly than driving everywhere.  It seems to slow down the pace of life a bit, at least for me.  And though it can be rough at times walking with all the kids, the exercise has been great. 
  • Grocery delivery.  I already raved about this in a previous post.  But I am totally in love with this.
  • Diversity.  Bellevue is an extremely diverse community, so I am used to seeing and hearing different types of people and cultures.  But it is a different diversity here - instead of hearing and seeing Korean, Indian, & Chinese I hear and see Russian, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Indian, Scottish, American, & British.  It is fun to hear a different mixture of languages and ethnicities.  
  • History.  It still blows my mind how old everything is.  Our house is over 100 years old.  So many of the buildings and day to day things we see are hundreds and hundreds of years old, some even thousands.  It's fascinating to see such depth of history.
  • Challenges.  It is fun for me to have to figure out new things.  This can be frustrating at times, but I also love having to think about something in a different way, explore new systems and ways of doing things, and making my brain adjust.  Just because something is what I'm used to does not mean it is the only way or the best way.  And when I finally succeed it feels so good (like learning how the parking systems work here! Hooray!)
  • So much to explore.  London is just such a HUGE city.  There are endless parks, museums, shops, theaters, bridges, palaces, towers, etc. to explore.  SO MUCH.  What I love about living here is that I can take my kids to school in the morning, then explore something new during the day, and be back to pick my kids up after school.  And the things I can explore are thousand year old statues, or artwork by the masters, or vast city parks.  I also love living here, because we don't have to rush to explore everything at once.  

A couple recent days illustrate what I am loving about living in London.

Just over a week ago our dear friends from Bellevue, Marie & Jim Davidson, were in London visiting their daughter.  After I walked the kids to school, Abby, James, and I walked the rest of the way to the tube station.  We went downtown and met Davidsons for hot chocolate and visited for an hour or so.  
Meeting up with Davidsons at Trafalgar Square - totally forgot to get a photo of all of us together!

They went on their way, and we headed to the National Gallery.  I wasn't sure how Abby would do, but I wasn't stressed about time.  The National Gallery would be there, so even if we only spent 15 minutes, it was OK.  We wandered in with no agenda and I allowed Abby to pick which rooms to explore and which paintings to linger at.  We played games counting the animals in certain paintings or trying to find hidden items or talking about what the people were thinking.  I nursed James on a bench in a larger room while Abby looked at the paintings a bit more.  It was pleasant and fun.  

Looking for different fruits in the fruit basket.
Running back to tell me what animal was in the stream in this painting. 
The museum got a little busier as school groups arrived, and AJ started to get a little more restless.  It was only 11:45.  So we called Matt to see if he wanted to meet for lunch.  We caught a train and met up at Borough Market, an outdoor market comparable to Pike Place Market, under London Bridge.  

Lunch at Borough Market 
Matt had to hurry back to work, but Abby and I wandered around for a bit longer and picked up some goodies at a bakery to share with the family.  We took the tube back and walked to Muswell Hill.  We still had an hour or so before the kids needed to be picked up from school so we browsed our local shops - tried on shoes for James, looked at scooters for Abby.  At 3:15 we made our way back to the kids school to pick them up, then walked home with the neighbors.  Still time for homework, reading, dinner, baths, and bedtime at home.  Hot cocoa with friends, artwork by masterpieces, lunch with dad at an outdoor market, walking with the kids and neighbors . . . a lovely day indeed.
Bedtime reading

Then this past Sunday was Stake Conference at the Hyde Park Chapel in downtown London.  We left the house about 8:45 since we would be taking the train.  Stake Conference was from 10-12 and we heard a nice broadcast from Salt Lake City.  Then we met with the stake president and Matt was set apart for his new calling (Matt just got called as Elder's Quorum President). Afterward we walked over to Kensington Gardens and found the Peter Pan Statue.  We were blessed with 30 minutes of sunshine, just long enough to enjoy the picnic Matt had packed and feed the ducks and swans.  
Peter Pan Statue - I have a photo of myself here in 2004 when Matt and I first visited London as Newlyweds.  If you had told me then that I would be living in London with my 4 kids someday I'd never have believed it.

Danny took this shot of a blue heron in the Long Water.
Rain clouds rolled in, and we made it to the Victoria and Albert Museum just as it started hailing.  We wandered into the museum and Matt shared his favorite artwork in there - the cartoons (essentially blueprints) that Raphael had made for tapestries that were in the Sistine Chapel.  They were beautiful depictions of Christ and different apostles.  Also in this huge room was a large panel depicting scenes about St. George.  I stayed in this room and fed James while Matt and the other 3 explored a bit more. While James nursed, I read up on who St.George was since none of us knew, then when the rest of the crew returned I shared the legend of St.George Slaying the Dragon.  We all learned something new.  The museum is huge and we hardly scratched the surface, but we had seen enough for the day. 

Kaylee fascinated by St.George
Looking at Raphael's depictions of Christ and the Apostles
We walked back to the tube and made it home by 4:00.  I worked on dinner while Matt played with James and the other kids entertained each other.  After dinner we got the littles to bed, and still had time for a board game with the older two.  Church, outdoor family time, inspiring artwork and legends, family dinner and games . . . a fantastic Sabbath.   

These two days illustrate what I love about living in London.  There are still things I am adjusting to . . . driving on narrow roadways, figuring out where to buy cilantro, knowing which different household cleaners will actually work, plumbing and water pressure that isn't quite what we're used to, finding out how to get supplies for little household projects.  And there are still things that are incredibly hard . . . Matt not making it home until after the kids were in bed 3 nights in a row because of work & calling related duties, Abby throwing a tantrum about a coat right when we need to walk out the door to go pick up the big kids from school, pushing a stroller uphill in the wind & rain, listening to the kids complain about walking, not having a lot of good friends yet, dealing with James not sleeping through the night since moving here . . .  

It is not all charming and wonderful all the time, but there are great moments like these two days full of exploration and family time.  Interspersed between hard or monotonous things, there are little gems of joy where I have to pinch myself to believe we really live here.  Between the challenges and hardships and exhaustion that come with moving a family of 4 across the world, I am so grateful for these kind wonderful days that fill me up with amazement and wonder and I know there will be many, many more.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

A day away at Warwick Castle

After a few weeks in London we were ready to explore a bit further out.  On Friday night, however, I was feeling pretty ill and both James and Abby seemed a bit under the weather.  Nothing like our first week in London, just minor cold symptoms.  We went to bed unsure who would be making the day trip to Warwick.   In the morning Matt decided he would take the older two, and at the last minute I decided the rest of us would go as well, sickness or not.  A long day at home alone with two mildly sick littles didn't sound very fun. Matt packed picnic breakfast and lunches for us and we were in the car on our way by 8:20.

In a fun reversal of roles, I drove the 2 hours.  I've been driving here more often and feel a bit more comfortable on the roads than Matt, plus I did not have the energy level to pass out food and calm needy children while traveling.  Matt kept everyone happy and I remembered to stay on the left side of the road.  My only driving hiccup was when we arrived at the largest roundabout we've seen yet. I made it out OK, but on the wrong road. . . . eventually we got back on track.

Despite a foggy morning, we enjoyed being outside the city and seeing fields of sheep and hillsides and quainter villages.  Eventually we arrived at Warwick Castle and had a fun day exploring.  The morning was chilly, but we did a maze, watched a show with one of the largest trebuchet's in the world, and saw a birds of prey show with different varieties of eagles.

Outside the maze in front of the castle.  A thief and a drunkard.
Huge trebuchet in the background.  It was impressive to learn the history and see it launch a huge ball.
In the afternoon we explored the interior of the castle.  Not surprisingly Danny was most impressed by all the weaponry - quite a collection.  Kaylee liked the fancy gowns on the wax figures and the interesting decorations.  Later we split up.  Matt and Danny climbed the walls of the castles and were able to watch a Bowman show from an interesting perspective.  The clouds cleared a bit making it a beautiful day with some excellent views.  

Atop the castle walls

Beautiful views
A church tower in the town of Warwick

 The girls (and James) and I went to a princess tower for a special performance.  It was Disney-esque with a set-up where the children had to help rescue a prince who was trapped in a painting.  Sort of silly, and certainly not historically accurate, but the girls had a fun time and both were able to participate in special ways.
Kaylee winding the clock to midnight to free Guy Warwick from the painting.

 In the end, we were glad we all went together.  The kids used allowance money to buy souvenirs.  Danny - a book and stuffed dragon.  Kaylee - a longbow & plastic arrows.  Abby - a foam sword. On the drive home the weather stayed clear and we enjoyed even more views of the countryside before making it back into the city.  We made it home in time for dinner and baths.  Which still makes me pinch myself - our whole family can go spend the entire day exploring a castle that is over 1,000 years old and still be home for bedtime.  Love it!    

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Half-Term Break

School is a bit more year round here.  There are three terms, and each term is split into two 6 week half-terms.  Between terms there is a two week break and between half-terms there is a one week break.  So after one week of their new school, the kids had an entire week off for half-term break.  We made the most of the time off.

We found our neighborhood library.  In addition to an entire upper floor devoted to children's literature, the girls were thrilled to discover the library had a huge box of dress up clothes for children to play with.  The library seemed archaic in some ways - no computer systems to check in or out books - they stamped the books with the due date!  But the kids all found a few books and Kaylee and Danny got new library cards at our Muswell Hill Library.  
Muswell Hill Library
We had a Valentine's day breakfast.  French breakfast puffs, sausage, OJ, and fruit.  I had packed Valentine plates and decorations in our air shipment and it was fun to be a little festive even though we didn't hold to all our usual Valentine traditions.  The kids were excited that I'd stashed away some conversation hearts. 
Feelin' the love on Valentine's Day
We found Poundland (translation: dollar store) just a 10 minute walk from our house.  Maybe because a pound is worth more than a dollar, but I was truly impressed.  There was a lot of fantastic stuff that I will actually definitely use!  It's good Poundland is at the top of the hill or I may go every day.  I let the kids each choose a little prize for Valentine's day.  
Tiny army men for Danny, a chalkboard for Kaylee, and a scrapbook kit for AJ.

 James started experimenting with solid foods.  He could have started several weeks earlier, but we were holding off until we were a teensy bit more settled.  It's pretty messy business learning to eat solid foods.  And sometimes the bib is more tasty then the mushy peas.  Luckily, he still cleans up pretty well.
Rice cereal and carrots and mixed veggies and a tasty bib. 
All cleaned up and so dapper.

Matt found out about a free children's festival in central London so the kids and I ventured down there one day while Matt was at work.  The kids enjoyed listening to a storyteller, climbing through a wardrobe into a magical fort (which sounds awesome, but was actually underwhelming since the fort was just 4 brown sheets), watching Disney's The Little Mermaid powered by kids riding bikes (including Danny with a hand cycle), face painting, and a LEGO project where they created new additions for a city.  I thought we may stay for a couple hours, but we ended up staying all day.  It was a fun adventure for all of us.

The girls requested "Frozen" facepaint 
Abby's people with a dog, Danny's bike trail//dog park, and Kaylee's horse trail
This moment right here, anticipating the magical land, was the highlight.

We also enjoyed some down time at home.  A few days were sunny enough for the kids to run around and play in the close. This will be a lot of fun as the weather warms up more.  I took this shot looking out James' window.

 We are looking forward to more adventures on our next term breaks. 

Sunset along the Thames with the London Eye, Parliament, and Big Ben

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Day at the Park

In 2013 Matt and I came to London together.  He had a business trip and I tagged along.  While he was at work, I spent time wandering museums, shops, and parks.  It was a fantastic trip and I fell in love with the city even more than I had during previous visits.  I have discovered in the past few weeks, however, that London is very different with an entire family.  It is much easier to navigate without children and that there are pieces of the city that are more charming and romantic when it is just two, not six.

On Valentine's Day we decided to meet dad downtown for lunch since the kids were on break anyway.  I'm getting better, as are the kids, but we are still quite the show walking to the bus stop, getting on the bus, then maneuvering our way up and down stairs at the tube station and on and off of the trains. One adult carrying a heaping diaper bag, a folded stroller, a baby in the bjorn on the front, and a stubborn toddler who refuses to walk.  And two other kids who are kind of helpful with the diaper bag and stroller, but kind of not since they usually end up swinging them around and hitting people.

We made it to lunch and were excited to see Dad.  He even had flowers for me.  :)  But lunch was more complicated because the menu was just a little unfamiliar and some kids weren't as happy with the options and we had to haul the stroller up and down more stairs and then there was disappointment that I hadn't ordered what they thought I'd ordered . . . and on and on.  So even our fun, happy lunch with Dad in the city turned out a little less idyllic than I'd hoped and certainly lacked some of the London charm I always imagine (except for the flowers Matt surprised me with - that was charming).

But I persisted with my next plan, which was to go to Kensington Gardens.

When I was in London in 2013, there were so many things that were easier and perhaps more enjoyable by myself.  I could glide in and out of the tube station quickly and I could walk all over the city without carrying anything except a few pound coins in my pocket and an Oyster card.  No children needing diapers or snacks or whining about tired legs or thirst.  Just me.  I could stay as long as I wanted at one piece in one art gallery or pop into a church that was having a free lunchtime orchestra concert.  But during my solo trip wandering, I discovered the Princess Diana Memorial Playground and wished I had Danny and Kaylee with me.  It was the most magical playground I'd ever seen, and I was only allowed to peek in from outside the gate.  I longed to someday take my kids there.

Fast forward four years and 2 kids later, back to Valentine's Day.  Another short tube ride to Queensway Station and we were almost there.  I found a public toilet on the edge of the park, so we made quick use of that so as not to waste playtime once we were in the playground.  Again - quite a complicated endeavor with 4 kids of mixed genders and stairs to go down to the restroom and 50p to use the restroom - all of this would have taken 3 minutes by myself, but with our entourage it was another 15 minutes.

Then, with the playground literally in view, Abby had an exhausted meltdown.  She didn't understand where we were going or how wonderful it would be and just didn't want to go any further.  I picked her up and carried her there.  And finally.  Finally.  We made it.

And you know what?  It was as magical as I had envisioned in 2013 - my children running and exploring this incredible playground with all its winding pathways and brilliant climbing structures and slides and swings.  Their whimsical smiles and giggles filled me to overflowing.  And I had found a new, wonderful piece of London that my children and I could love together.

The Elfin Oak just outside the playground, which is mentioned several times in our neighbor's book, Rowan Oakwing.  Danny was giddy to find carved into the wood the very fairy from the story.

Big smiles.
Happy climber.

Huge pirate ship.  Danny is in the blue shirt in the middle, swinging from a rope.  The kids loved climbing up to the crows nest as well.  

This picture doesn't quite capture the fun of the climbing structures, but Abby Jo loved finding every different slide and going on them again and again and again. 

Happy Abby with Kaylee exploring in the back. 

Camping out in teepees.

Some boys about Danny's age found him and asked him to join their tag/hide and seek game all over the playground.  Here they are doing some type of "bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish" thing to figure out who is going to be it. 

One of the many, many hidden, winding paths. 

James rode in the Bjorn and enjoyed watching everyone else play.

On a rock tower, that has fountains in the warmer months.  You can see the whole pirate ship behind.  We are excited to come and play some more in the summer when the fountains are going. 

We played and explored and explored and played.  And it was a glorious, glorious day.

Of course almost as soon as we left the park reality set in again.  Kaylee fell hard on the gravel and skinned her knee (note to self, bring band-aids in the diaper bag).  The younger two fell asleep before we even got to the tube, and navigating the stairs with a sleeping toddler in a stroller was a bit complex (thank you kind strangers who helped me out).  


So. So. Tired. 

It was still a glorious, happy, fall in love with London, magical, charming kind of an afternoon.  I'm glad we persisted.  And we even made it home in time to make a Valentine's feast and chocolate chip cookies for Dad.

Monday, February 13, 2017

First Impressions

Last week the kids started at their new school.  I interviewed them about their first week.

What is the name of your new school and teacher?
K: St James  Miss. Bosinket
D: The school's name is St. James and my teacher's name is Mr. Malcom.

What is your teacher like?
K: She is nice.
D: Mr. Malcom is very nice and helps me with almost everything.

Who are your friends?
K: Merium? Scarlet? Sephie?  (I'm not sure why she put question marks)
D: My best friends are named Burley and Lukas.

What do you like most about your new school?  Why?
K: I like the swings cuse we don't have them that much. (There are these really cool net/tire swings on the playground, but because there are only two different grades get to use them on different days so they don't get too crowded during recess.  Kaylee is always happy when it is their turn to use them.)  
D: My favorite thing is football because my friends play it as well.

What surprised you most?
K: That kids can't play with kids in a different class.  :(  (Kaylee was told by a peer that this is a rule, though I haven't followed up to see if it is true or not.  Our neighbor, who Kaylee is friend's with, is in a different class so Kaylee thinks they aren't allowed to play together at school).
D: How large the playground is.

Is there anything you don't like? What? Why? 
K: You have to change in your classroom.
D: I. Hate. Changing. In. Front. Of. EVERYBODY!!!!!  (On days the kids have gym, they change into different gym clothes.  This makes sense with the uniforms they wear daily.  They just all change in the classroom though - boys and girls all together.  This is the total norm here, so for the kids who have lived here their whole life it is really no big deal.  For my kids it was a big shock.  Luckily friend's had told me about this ahead of time though, so I was able to prep them a bit.  We got Kaylee little under shirts so she feels more comfortable and Danny is getting used to it.) 

What do you miss about Eastgate Elementary School?
K: Everything.  :(
D: Everything. :(

What are some of the differences?
K: Double Decker Buses (I'm not sure why she wrote this since we don't take buses to school . . . )
D: You have to change in front of everybody.

Is anything the same?
K: Yes, some things are the same like P.E.
D: Yes - they have a library! :)

What are you looking forward to about your new school?
K: I am looking forward to art!
D: Library and P.E.

What do you do at recess?
K: random stufff
D: I play football and flyers.

Both kids are settling in better than I expected.  A few things I am adjusting to with the new school:

  • Walking the kids to and from school everyday.  The walk itself can by hard since I am encouraging the older two to walk quickly while also wearing James and pushing Abby in a stroller.  I do love seeing so many other parents out doing the same thing though, and it is fun to arrive at school and mingle with parents a bit while the kids play before the bell rings.
  • Less communication between parents and teachers.  Though I met each of them on the first day, I haven't received any direct communication from either of the kids' teachers at all yet.  I just found out there is a teacher drop in hour each week though, where you can chat with the teachers after school, so that will be good to find out how Kaylee and Danny are doing.  Danny had swimming the first week of school though, and it was a stark contrast to what I would have had in the US.  I didn't even get an email telling me the class was going swimming, let alone a list of necessary equipment or a liability form for the pool or the bus to go to the pool.  Danny told me they were going and a classmate clued him into the necessary equipment (speedo, swim cap, goggles).  In the states there would have been a permission form and an evaluation of the child's swim level and an email stating all the needed equipment.  I'm somewhat enjoying the level of trust between parents and the school though - parents drop the kids off and trust that what needs to happen will happen.  It is a big adjustment though, so I'll see how I feel about it as the year progresses.
  • Religious Education - The kids school is a Church of England school, though it's still a public school, not private, so religious education is part of the curriculum.  They say prayers every day and the motto of the school is Learning to Live, Living to Learn, Learning from Christ. The kids seem to be enjoying it, and it's kind of interesting to see a mash up of church and state.  We are happy to have the values and beliefs we teach at home being reinforced at school. Since all schools are applied for here, nobody would be forced to go to a church school that didn't want to - there are many schools that are totally state run with no religious influence.  But this school was close, had openings, and we liked the idea of trying something new.  
  • Year round school - I think I will like this.  6 weeks on, 1 week off (half term break), 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off (term break) for 3 terms total.  The kids went to school one week, but now are on half term break.  Their school year doesn't end completely until mid July, but there are more breaks throughout the year.  We will see how it goes!
I'm looking forward to continuing to evaluate a different school system both as a parent and a teacher and will be interested in how our impressions change as time goes on.  So far, so good though! 

Wonderful Discoveries

There are certain things we expected when we moved here that while different and unique, were not surprising.  Riding on double decker buses and the tube, wearing uniforms to school, smaller fridges, doing laundry more often, visiting museums, walking to parks, etc.  There have been other things, that have been unexpectedly, amazing and wonderful.  Here are a few . . .

IKEA - I suppose IKEA in and of itself is not a surprise.  But the amazing thing about the IKEA here is that not only do they have all the usuals - meatballs, play area, a million things that you want to buy - but they also have amazing delivery service.  AMAZING.  After a 6 hour day at IKEA (including lunch and dinner), I finished up my order and paid.  I did not have to go to the self-check area - I just told them which larger furniture items I wanted.  It was 6 PM.  By 11:00 AM the next morning it was all delivered to my house.   All of it!  Amazing!

The kids with a few special items each for their new rooms.  And 3 new huge dogs.

CLOSE - We knew we were moving into a close, a residential street without through access, and in the center of it was a green space.  What fun when my kids discovered this fantastic, huge bush in the center of it.  They immediately made it into their fort and rearranged sticks and rocks and twigs within it.  A couple days later they were happy when some neighborhood kids were out playing football and climbing as well.  They taught the kids how to climb to the top and stick your head out of the bush.  We are looking forward to enjoying the close even more as the weather gets warmer.
Our favorite climbing bush in the close.
Everyone has a branch to hang from.

OCADO - Before moving here, I'd reached out to some other mom's who had lived in London inquiring about what they did for groceries.  All replied quickly and dreamily, "Ocado."  I finally tried the online grocery service myself, and it was a total game changer.  I will never, ever, ever venture to the self-check-out line with 4 children and 15 items again.  I just order all the groceries I need online, and they deliver them during the hour time slot of my choosing.  I can change my order up until about 8 hours before they come, so if I realize I do or don't need something it's easy to adjust.  They bring the groceries right into the kitchen in color coded bags.  Prices are as cheap as the other grocery stores for most items, their selection is huge, and with a family of 6 it is easy to spend the minimum for free delivery.  When they deliver, they hand me a receipt with all the food they delivered, listed in order of expiration dates.  It is heaven.  Seriously.  If we need groceries in heaven, there will be Ocado.
Heaven on earth = Ocado Delivery 

Happy delivery man.  Happy kids.  Happy mom.
NEIGHBORS - One of our most fervent prayers before moving, was that Kaylee would find a friend. We were blessed to have wonderful neighbors in Bellevue, in particular Kaylee's best friend for the past 3.5 years.  She is a bit shy and it can be hard for her to make new friends.  When our next door neighbor here stopped by to introduce himself, we were almost speechless when Ed told us they had 2 daughters, Miriam, who is Kaylee's age, and Rose, who is Abby's age.  We have since enjoyed walks to and from school with Ed and his wife Rachel and they are the epitome of lovely British neighbors.  When we asked to borrow a cutting board, they gifted us one as to welcome us to our new home.  They found out we were sleeping on air mattresses and happened to be getting rid of a futon, so hauled it over to our house for us.  They've loaned us hammers, held packages for us when we were out, and gave us their extra milk when they left town for a holiday.  We have enjoyed reading Ed's book and highly recommend it.  Yes . . . he's an author who also works in film & TV production. So we are delighted to have wonderful, interesting, kind new neighbors.  And most importantly, Kaylee has a new friend.        
Ed's book - he's currently working on a sequel
Kaylee and Miriam having a snack in their box fort. 

We are looking forward to many, many more wonderful discoveries during our time here!