Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hong Hotel Open for Business

What a busy and wonderful past few weeks it has been.

At the end of March my parents were our first overnight guests.  Matt's brother had visited earlier when he was in town for business, but this was even before all of our stuff had arrived.  Anticipation of my parents visit was a wonderful motivator to get everything unpacked and settled.

They arrived on Friday morning.  As they've both been to London numerous times, their priority was seeing our new routines and area, but we managed to do some more touristy things as well.  Their visit included ice skating at Ally Pally, school drop-offs, many tasty meals at home, wandering along the Thames, brunch at a neighborhood cafe, riding the London Eye, exploring the Imperial War Museum, playing canasta, attending church 2 activities and church, celebrating UK Mother's Day with a delicious picnic lunch at Hampstead Heath and a delicious dinner at home, several DIY projects and visits to various shops, riding the tube and double decker buses, an adult date to Beautiful on the West End, a trip to the National Gallery, hot chocolate at Costa, fish and chips with Matt at Borough Market, playing with the kids, and making plans for the next visit.  
Grandma ice skating even with jet -lag
Atop the London Eye
Napping along the Thames with Big Ben in the background.
Yay for Grandma and Grandpa visiting!
Enjoying a sunny Saturday afternoon park break after exploring the Imperial War Museum
Tube Time 
Picnicking at Hampstead Heath 
Hampstead Heath Statue
Hampstead Heath Statue
Hampstead Heath Statue
A trip to the hardware (DIY) store with Dad & James
Any day that starts with DIY project with Dad and ends with a date night to the West End is a pretty good day.
Hot Cocoa at Costa beside Trafalgar Square
Super Grandpa at National Gallery
Lunch with Matt.  Yum! 

It was SO fantastic having my Mom and Dad in town.  We had all missed them a lot.  They departed on Thursday morning (yes - we did all that in less than a week) and Thursday afternoon Matt's cousins Calie and Isaac arrived.  This was both of their first visit to London, but they had no problems figuring out public transportation to get to our house.  They did a lot of exploring and adventuring on their own, but we also had a lot of fun doing some outings together.  They were also a huge help around the house tidying things up, helping with meals, and playing with the kids.  Two nights they babysat so Matt and I could have date nights.  We REALLY enjoyed having them in our home and hope they loved it so much that they will return.  And babysit again.  ;)

While they were in town we played in the fountains in Leicester Square (translation: Kaylee got soaked), visited the LEGO museum and M&M World, ate dim sum in China Town, visited Madame Tussaud's, wandered through Regents Park, strolled by 221b Baker Street, played Wackee Six, rode the London Eye (again - it's so cool! And we have an annual pass to go again and again), had a scavenger hunt at the National Gallery, visited Tate Modern, had lunch with Matt at Borough Market, visited the London Temple, wandered through Highgate Wood, played football on the close, saw the views from Alexandra Park, and spent an entire day at Hampton Court Palace.  They did many, many more things while they were here (multiple West End shows, Harry Potter tour, British Museum, shopping, Buckingham Palace, and more), but we just couldn't keep up.

Riding the bus to Alexandra Palace for a London sunset

Lego Land
A little too much fun at the fountain in Leicester Square.  She spent the rest of the day with no shirt and only her jacket.
Sherlock was also at Madame Tussaud's
The boys were more excited to meet Emma Watson
The Royal Family took time to pose with us.
Our little Eewok at Madame Tussaud's
Regents Park Fountains
MOD Pizza at Leicester Square
Getting ready for the National Gallery Scavenger Hunt 
Enjoying the London Temple on General Conference Sunday


Riding on the top of the bus is always best. 
A beautiful day at Hampton Court Palace

Fun with cousins at the Palace

It was such a fantastic visit!  Isaac went home after 10 days, but we were lucky enough to have Calie a week longer to join us on our holiday to Spain.  I don't know that we would have survived without her, but more on that later.

As you can tell, a visit to the London Hong Hotel will be full of good food, fun, and adventures along with wonderful hosts (the little Eewok is the cutest, even if he may wake you at night).  Just make your reservations early - we are already booked through July.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Foreigner

Dear person at the school or store or driving through the neighborhood,

I'm sorry for judging you.  Perhaps you were new to the area.  Perhaps you just didn't know the rules or didn't understand something completely unfamiliar to you.  Perhaps you were just confused by different systems or regulations or terminology.  I realize now that your error did not mean you were an incompetent or unintelligent person.  You were not trying to be rude nor disrespectful.  You just didn't know.  You were a foreigner.  And now that I am a foreigner too, I understand.  

When I have to ask multiple people what the school means by "voluntary donation" and after 3 separate conversations still don't really understand if they expect me to pay or not.  When my son doesn't have a swim cap because I didn't know it was required.  When I assume "parent night" means a social night out for parents, but then discover it actually means parent teacher conferences.  When I must inquire about why I am supposed to bring a chocolate egg to school for a fundraiser instead of just paying some money directly to the school.  I am not trying to be rude or disrespectful.  I just don't understand the new systems.  And now I realize that maybe you just didn't understand either.

When it takes me twice as long to find the item I am looking for because zucchini is called cougarettes and powdered sugar is called icing sugar. When I search for the eggs in the refrigerated section and discover they are instead in the home baking section, not refrigerated.  When I must ask how to find the right light bulb because there are so many different, unfamiliar options.  When I have to ask if I have the right coins in my hand before I can pay. When I mistake creme fraiche for clotted cream and serve it to my husband on scones.  I am really not totally incompetent.  It is all just new to me.  And now I see that maybe it was all new to you too.

When I am confused about what "Humped Zebra Crossing" means as I am driving.  When I slow down until people are honking because I doubt my cars ability to fit through the narrow roadways. When I can't remember whose turn it is as I zip into a roundabout and cut someone off yet again . . . I'm really not a total idiot.  I'm still learning.  And now I understand that maybe you were still learning too.

Forgive me if I judged you or mistook your errors for incompetence or lack of intelligence.  Now I am beginning to see what it is to be a foreigner and realize just how hard it can be.

With understanding and admiration,

A Rookie Foreigner
Discovery - Hobnobs and Digestive Biscuits are NOT the same thing.




   

Not British . . .

We have lived here 2 months now (WOW!!), and there are many things I feel I have acclimated to well.  I feel comfortable driving.  I've adopted some of the language.  I can confidently do my shopping and use public transportation.  I'm even in the habit of a daily cup of (herbal) tea.

But there are certainly moments when I find myself silently laughing and thinking, "Yep . . . I'm not really British yet . . ."

Bright Colors - When I am sitting on the bench of the train, I notice my turquoise jacket and hot pink shoes stand out in the sea of grays and blacks.  It's not that British people don't wear any color.  Or that Americans don't wear gray and black.  But overall, there is a much more subdued, neutrality in clothing and shoe colors from what I've seen.  When I wear my bright pink jeans people definitely know I'm not a local.

Tube Games - Other British children sit next to their parents.  My kids, still new to the tube, are fascinated by the endless games you can play with your reflection in the glass windows.  They insist on standing and making faces or stretching their arms in peculiar ways and then laugh hysterically at the results.  Of course just keeping your balance is a game in and of itself.  But on the dozens and dozens of rides we've been on, I have never seen any other children amused by the tube as much as mine.

3 Year Old Buggy Rider - From the time a British child can walk, parents begin coaching them to walk everywhere on their own.  Strollers take up space in a smaller house and can be a burden on public transit and in and out of stores.  So children must learn from a young age to use their own legs.  Abby did not have this experience.  She learned how to buckle herself into her carseat.  She does not yet have the stamina to walk on her own up to school, to the market, to the bus stop.  The British 3 year olds are riding their scooters or walking all about the town.  Our 3 year old is still in a stroller.

Loud - I have never considered my family to be loud until we moved here.  Perhaps it is because we are in row housing now, where our walls connect to our neighbors.  Or maybe it is because our noise is observed by the masses on public transportation, rather than contained in our own car.  But since living here I have a keen awareness of our noise level, and I have observed that we are much louder than the average Londoner.  Our TV seems to be louder, our kids play noisier in the close, I yell out to call my children in, or yell up the stairs to gather them in the kitchen.  We are just louder.

Bulk - I think it is a very American thing to buy in excess, particularly food.  We buy and store more than we can eat.  In general here, I see people going to stores more often, and just getting what they need for the next couple days.  People don't seem to stock up on things because 1 - there is not the storage space and 2 - there are fewer preservatives used and food spoils much quicker here.  In some ways, this is nice.  The produce does taste remarkable, and I find we are wasting much less food because we only have space for a few days worth.  However, I still find myself giddy every trip to Costco when I can stock up on granola bars and cereal and tortilla chips.  And I still buy a few cans extra with every grocery order.  





Moving Day

I have not blogged recently, because this happened. . . .


It was a happy, happy day when our sea shipment arrived.  We were fortunate because despite a 1 week delay in customs, our things arrived within 7 weeks.  It can take up to 12 if there are complications.  The movers had packed our things into two trucks like the one above.  They pulled it into the narrow close as far as they could, and then got to work unpacking.  5 movers unloading everything as quick as could be.  They didn't use any ramps, even for the piano.  All 5 movers just hefted it out of the truck (carefully of course) and then worked together to get it into the house.    

Our 3 story house, with a narrow stairway, caused some complications.  Of course the movers got a workout up and down, up and down.  Several pieces of furniture were quite tight and it took multiple movers to coach and lift and guide it around the tight turns of the stairs.  Their communication was impressive. Our queen and twin box springs would not make it up the stairway.  Additionally, the largest portion of the girl's bunk bed would not make it up.  It sat in our living room until some proper handymen were able to come disassemble it and rebuild it.  
The kids liked having the bunk bed stairs in the living room to use as stadium seating for TV watching. 
 The movers were instructed to unpack whatever I asked them to unpack.  I took advantage of this so that they could haul away the excess of boxes and paper.  They unwrapped all the furniture, and then unpacked boxes with larger items like lamp shades, small shelves, storage boxes, and bedding.  They kept most of the boxes of books and dishes and decorative items packed since I needed to decide where everything would go.  By the time they left at 3:30, the house looked like this.
 And this . . .

And this . . .
At least I can't go to bed until I do a little unpacking . . .
Which is so exciting, and also so overwhelming and exhausting.  Because now comes the daunting task of finding a new home for every item.  There is an important balancing act between making things look nice, functionality, and realistic expectations.  I wanted everything in a place that made sense and would work for our family.  As I unpacked, I immediately found things I had overpacked. Like tupperware.  And water bottles.

I will never, ever, ever use all this tupperware . . 

Our new fridge could not even hold all that tupperware at one time if it was entirely empty. 
Really?  So many water bottles (in addition to the few we already had brought with us on the plane).  Silly thing is, this is after I thinned out the water bottles before we moved.  Still too many! 
 Unfortunately, I have a hard time imagining how furniture will look until I actually move it around.  Which means the entire process of getting settled always looks significantly worse before it gets better.
I couldn't decide if I wanted the desk or shelves to the right of the fireplace.
 After 2 weeks (including a few trips to IKEA and the dump and several really late nights) I am proud to say we are mostly moved in and settled.  It helped a great deal that my parents were coming to visit - there was a good timeline for hurrying to get things done.  I'll add finished photos and a home tour in another post soon.  Hooray for being settled in!


It's Definitely Not Easy . . .

Since I'm trying to keep it real, I thought I would write about some of the harder things.

Matt has been working really hard at his new job.  With a new company comes new culture (on top of the new country culture), new co-workers, and new expectations.  He's been putting in a lot of hours during the week, and usually has 1-2 nights a week where he doesn't get home until after 10:30 PM.  He does breakfast with the kids every morning, and usually walks them to school at least once a week, and that has been great.  But without fail there seems to be a witching hour between 5-7:30 PM when Matt is still working hard at the office (or on his way home) that the kids are all demanding of me at once.  I do not think this is drastically different than Bellevue, but somehow it's a bit more lonely and overwhelming.  

James is either starving or tired or both, but I'm trying to get dinner for the rest of the crew.  Often, as I'm beginning meal prep, one of the kids will ask what is for dinner and then roll their eyes in disgust or sigh or groan.  Which usually leaves me stunned because hey, you liked (fill in the blank with a totally standard meal like spaghetti & meatballs) last time I made it.  I'm trying to teach Danny and Kaylee more about cooking, so they are taking turns being either my sous chef or cleanup crew every night.  The long term benefits of this will be awesome.  But for the moment it often means there is spilled something or a cut finger or a burnt whatever making the entire meal prep a lengthier ordeal.  Without fail at 5:50 one of my children is suddenly starving for a snack.  We have reviewed that there will not be snacks after 5:00 (we eat dinner between 6:30 and 7:00), but evidently either I am not consistent with this or they forget every day.  

Once we sit down to dinner I breathe for a moment, proud that we have succeeded in this.  But it is not uncommon that there is another complaint or a negotiation about what must be eaten.  And then my usual evening feelings of failure begin creeping in.  Why have I allowed my kids to become picky eaters?  Why can't they use utensils in a normal fashion?  How have I neglected to teach better table manners?  Why do I let them negotiate?  Why does ___ still think it's OK to eat with their fingers? Why does ____ think 3 tiny slivers of lettuce counts as a serving of lettuce?  I am totally failing as a mother.  My child is going to be at college or on a mission and eat their lettuce with their fingers.  I have failed.

Usually there is some happy conversation during dinner discussing the days events.  Then the kids disappear and it looks somewhat like a tornado hit.  Yes, they have cleared their plates.  But there is still a mess.  A mess from cooking.  A mess from spilled food.  A mess from eating.  My cleanup crew comes in to assist, but sometimes the giving of assignments is more work than just doing it myself.  

James is still unhappy.  And I realize it is now time for Abby to be in bed too, but she hasn't picked up toys yet and still needs a bath.  And I also promised dessert.  I get the baby ready for bed.  I get the girls into the tub.  I put the baby to bed.  I realize my son has been on his tablet for a long time (Terrible mom - too much media!).  Tell him to get off.  Get girls out of the bath and Abby to bed.  How is it already 8 PM?  I make the older kids pick up all the toys (even though they didn't get them out) in exchange for one show (Terrible mom - I used to have a no TV on school nights rule but somehow I forgot about it or the older kids wore me down about it).  

While the kids are watching their earned show I look at the remaining mess in the kitchen, then at the huge pile of laundry on the sofa, and I sit down and do neither for 10 minutes.  Because I am just so tired already and there are two more kids that need to go to bed.  In the end it all works out. Everyone makes it to bed and Matt makes it home.   

This witching hour and exhaustion of flying solo in the evening is not country specific. In fact this is the norm for many, many people.  But for me, it's been a huge adjustment with this move.  I took for granted Matt's short commute and was ridiculously spoiled last year to have him home 3 months for paternity leave.  Now M-F I am almost always on duty solo from 5-7:30.  It wears me down. 

The other recent challenge has been the kids.  The novelty of being the new kids has worn off a bit, and now both are trying to navigate the challenges of finding real friends.  Particularly Danny, who is an extremely outgoing and social kid, has been struggling.  At bedtime and in the mornings he tells me how left out he feels, like he doesn't belong.  He tells me he wants to move back to Washington. How he misses his friends.  After school it always seems to be a different story - he seems a lot happier and tells me about who he played with or what he did at recess.  But back in the comfort of his own room, he'll open up about just how hard the move has been on him and how much he's aching.  It has given us some teaching opportunities about being a friend and listening and praying to Heavenly Father for comfort.  But wow is it hard when your kid, particularly the one that you did not expect to struggle so much, is hurting. **** 

I feel confident in our decision to move here.  I know this is where we need to be right now in our lives.  But there are some hard, hard things mixed in with the adventure and fun of it all.


****I wrote this post in mid-March, but debated for a long time about posting it since it felt like me venting more than anything.  I decided since the blog is sort of a journal of our time here in London, I'd go ahead and post it.  Since originally writing it, Danny's experience has improved significantly.  He is certainly still adjusting, but has much more enthusiasm day to day about going to school and friends at both church and school.  We are still searching for a really good friend, but making progress.  Answered prayers for sure!   

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.