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!


Settling In

It is amazing what a difference a week can make.  Having overcome the worst of jet lag, illness, and early culture shock, this past week was SO much better than the last.  With the kids starting at their new school, there was even a sense of normalcy to the flow of the week.

So here is a typical day from our new normal.

6:30 Matt and I wake up
7:15 Matt wakes the kids up and gets them breakfast
7:45 Matt leaves for work either by bike or running in while I help the kids finish getting ready for school and start laundry (yes . . . I must do this every day since the loads are miniscule and take quite a while to wash)
8:15 All 4 kids and I get jackets and shoes on and head out the door to walk the 3/4 mile to school.
Ready to head to school at St. James CofE Primary School
8:40 The kids play on the playground until the school bell rings
8:50 Abby, James, and I head out on some errands either by walking, car, or bus.  Sometimes this includes a stop by a local bakery.
11:30 Return home for lunch.
Rice Cereal . . . delicious!
12:30-3:00 - Quiet time, nap time, playtime, chores, etc.  On the perfect day, Abby and James will have naps that overlap for a while, leaving me with 90 minutes of quiet.  I think it's happened once.  ;)
Dog Dancing to Trolls 
Pony Palace

3:00 - James, Abby, and I load up to walk back to school.
3:30 - The kids are done with school.  We may stay so they can play on the playground for a bit and I bring them a small after school snack to eat on the walk back. Then they eat a huge snack when we get home (they've been hungrier with all the walking).
4:30-6:30 - Errands if necessary, or just playtime and chores at home. The kids didn't have homework the first week of school, though this will come, and we have plans for both of them to start into some after school activities in the next few weeks (football, art, chess, piano).
6:30 - 7:00 - Dinner prep
7:00 Matt gets home, eat dinner together
8:30 Bedtime for the kids
11:00 Bedtime for the grownups

It was a better week because it was such an exciting balance of feeling settled and normal combined with the new adventure of it all.  The week included . . .

  • Going shoe shopping with the kids after school one day - a totally familiar outing.  Finding uniform approved, but still comfortable for walking to and from school every day shoes, was new however.  It was fun because we were able to do this on the walk home from school, just swinging by our local shoe store on the high road.  The kids were able to get measured to new UK sizes and everyone found shoes they were happy about.
  • A trip to Costco.  There were still samples and many favorites like tortilla chips, skinny pop, Kirkland brand items, and great produce.  We even ended the shopping trip with hotdogs and smoothies from the cafe.  But we also discovered Costco size editions of Cadbury chocolates, Haribo gummies, and all sorts of international baked goods - 6 pack of McVities Digestive biscuits?  Yes, please.  And individually wrapped french chocolate crepes . . . absolutely yes.  I may have had a few unnecessary impulse buys . . . 
  • Singing time with my littles at a local church.  It felt familiar with a big group of toddlers and their moms (mums), but even some of the familiar nursery rhymes and songs (like Town-O) had a new twist to them.  We are excited to return and learn new British nursery rhymes. 

  •  A mom's group.  A new friend from church invited several people over so our kids could play and we could all chat.  The company was friendly and brunch delicious - Brazilian cheese bread, British sausage, French crepes, American salad, and lots of fresh fruit.  I was reminded that though we may be from different backgrounds and cultures, moms are moms wherever they are.
  • A walk on a trail.  We tried a different route home one day and walked on a wooded trail.  It was not quite as woodsy as our favorite neighborhood trail in Bellevue, but it was certainly as, if not more, muddy.  And the view of London, where the trail came out, was quite spectacular. 
There are certainly more challenges ahead, but it is a beautiful thing to start feeling settled and at home here.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Reality Check

We knew when we chose to move our family across the world, that there would be challenges, but this past week was really, really hard - much harder than either of us could anticipate and just a whole lot of exhausting work.  Like childbirth - it's what you want, and in theory you know it will be hard, but then you find yourself in the throws of pain and difficulty and wonder, "What was I thinking!?" Because being in the midst of it all is so much harder than you can imagine ahead of time. Fortunately, along with the pain of this past week, there have also been victories and unexpected highs.

LOW: Abby and James were both still sick at the beginning of the week and understandably had the hardest time adjusting to jet lag.  Here is AJ at 2 AM, when we were coloring pictures together because she couldn't sleep.  I think on this day she finally fell back asleep at 6 AM, on a morning I had to get all the kids downtown by myself.  The sleep deprivation from the 2 kids being up night after night felt like having a newborn again.  Abby decided she liked our late night activity and snack routine, and was frustrated that I didn't keep up this charade for many nights.

HIGH: Finally a bribe of donuts (with sprinkles) helped convince her that she could stay in bed all night.  James took a few more nights, but after 1 full week in London both are almost entirely back to their routines and happy selves.  
2 AM Abby

Finally our happy Abby Jo returns! 

HIGH:  I managed to take all 4 kids by myself to meet Matt and get our ID cards downtown, something we had to all be present for.  Mind you, this was after Abby (and therefore me) had less than 4 hours of sleep.  Matt had offered to try to work from home so we could all go down together, but my stubborn pride got the best of me and I insisted I learn how to do it myself.  We walked from the house to the bus stop, then took the bus to the tube.  Then took the tube downtown.  Then followed the winding streets until we found Matt and got our ID cards.  By the time we got to Matt, I was spent, but also proud that I'd done it.  And I would do it again . . . with a less tired Abby.

LOW: At one point in the tube station I asked AJ to walk since I needed to carry the stroller up some stairs.  She refused, looked at me with exhaustion, and just melted to the floor.  So I carried James in the bjorn, Abby in my arms, and the folded stroller over my shoulder.  Danny and Kaylee stayed close and helped by carrying the diaper bag.  After getting our cards we had tacos for lunch and Matt could tell that on this day I probably would not survive the return trip by myself.  He left work early and helped us get home, then finished his work day from home.  He is a good man.
The family that tubes together stays together. 

HIGH: We anticipated being stuck at the house the entire day on Tuesday, but our deliveries all arrived by noon, so I decided we could venture out to find uniforms.  Not only did I find where they were, I was able to drive there without trouble.  Each day I'm getting more confident behind the wheel here!

LOW: What I didn't anticipate was that parking would be such a challenge.  I literally circled for about 20 minutes (good driving practice) as the kids lost their patience.  Finally I noticed a sign for an Aldi (grocery store) parking garage.  BINGO!  We found our way there, found a parking spot, unloaded everybody, and went to pay at the parking meter.  Then discovered it was cash only, which we did not have, so we had to load everyone up and circle around more until we could find street parking.  The street parking was labeled "Pay by Phone" which I tried.  But you had to have a valid UK bank account to link it to, which we are still in the process of getting so I could not pay by phone after all.  Another sign said said you could pay by cash.  Which I didn't have.  Luckily this time I noticed an ATM close and we were able to park.  Finally after about an hour of parking shenanigans we made it to the uniform store and quickly found what we need.

HIGH: A new ward friend clued me in to ordering the majority of the uniforms online to save $, so I did not spend a fortune at the uniform store.  

HIGH: Next door to the uniform store was a McDonald's.  The kids could not have been more thrilled, particularly after there eternal car ride circling around for parking. 

LOW: Because we stayed and ate at McDonald's, it was dark by the time we were heading back to the house and it had started to rain and Abby had reached her threshold and was screaming with exhaustion.  

HIGH:I discovered I am capable of driving in the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road in the dark in the rain with a screaming child.  I felt exhausted, but also empowered.  

LOW: The last day in our Air BnB all I had to do was haul the kids and last couple pieces of luggage to the car.  But for some reason that task was miserable.  Despite planning ahead and having Matt take most of our stuff to the house the night before, it still seemed to take an eternity to haul a duffel, a pack and play, and a backpack down 3 flights of stairs.  I suppose I also had a car seat, stroller, and 4 kids so I should give myself some credit.  During the morning I definitely lost my temper more than once.  I realized during one of my moments of frustration that I had been with all 4 kids 24/7 for the last week with almost no adult interaction other than late evenings conversing with Matt.  I was tired.

HIGH: To celebrate finally getting everything and everyone out of the Air BnB, we went to the local bakery for brunch.

LOW: 2/3 of the kids looked around and said they weren't really hungry and didn't see anything they'd like anyway.

HIGH: I ordered what I thought they would like anyway (chocolate croissant, chocolate chip scone, cinnamon swirl bun) and got myself a quiche.  Lo and behold they ate.  And we were happy and smiling and content as we munched away on delicious, fresh baked goods.  

LOW: After brunch we decided to run to get a few groceries, no more than a dozen items for the next few meals.  The kids thought it would be better to do self-check out.  It was not.  The system was just slightly different than what I was used to, enough so that it kept getting stuck and the manager would have to come assist.  Additionally Abby kept leaning on the scale prompting it to say "Remove item from the bagging area," and again, often requiring manager assistance.  I think it took us almost 15 minutes and my eyes were welling up with tears by the end.   "All I want to do is get a few items for lunch and dinner today.  That's all.  Why is this so, SO hard!?!?!"  I consider myself a fairly competent person, and the looks from other patrons and the managers made me feel like a complete idiot. 

HIGH: The tears did not fall, and I did not yell at the kids who were fairly patient, and we made it out of the store.  Danny reminded me about a bookstore he'd wanted to poke his head into and we all went in for a moment of tranquility.  I'm so glad we did, because it was seriously so charming.  We made it back to our new home in better spirits. 
Abby Jo sweetly reading . . . you'd never know we had just escaped the self check-out experience from hell.

LOW: Since much of the week we had spent shopping or waiting for deliveries at the house, I decided we'd do something fun and check out the huge park near our house in the afternoon. Alexandra Park is right across the road, but the play area is on the opposite side of the park.  I ended up carrying Abby on my back the whole time, while pushing James in the stroller.  Uphill.  And it was really, really cold.  And Kaylee slipped in the mud.  And the kids didn't really like the lunch items we had picked out so they were once again hungry.  And cold.  With 3/4 of a mile to walk back home.  

HIGH: We found this little gem on our walk.  I'm glad we named that little guy James because it's fun seeing his name everywhere.

LOW: Abby's blanket had acquired a great deal of dirt from being hauled everywhere the past few days.  I decided it was a good opportunity to test out our new washing machine - a washer/dryer combo.  But the user's manual made absolutely no sense.  So I just went for it - I started the load before we left on our park outing.  When we returned home, it was still going.  I pushed several buttons trying to end the cycle early, and ended up starting a new cycle.  And the door locks until a cycle is done.  Again with the tears of feeling totally incompetent at such a simple task.  I stood here staring at all these buttons and knobs and screaming in my head "All I want is to wash my daughter's favorite blankie!"  But it was sopping wet, locked in the washer.  Eventually (I think after 6-7 hours) the cycle (2nd cycle actually) ended and the door unlocked.  The blanket was clean, though not entirely dry.  I had to use my hair dryer to finish the job, because I certainly wasn't going to risk pushing the wrong button and having it stuck in the washer/dryer at bedtime. 

So many buttons and knobs, but all I want to do is open the door and rescue pink blankie!

HIGH: We like to have family pizza movie night most weekends, and decided this would be a great way to break in our new house.  I had found frozen pizzas that would feel like home, figured out the oven, and improvised without a pizza cutter or cutting boards.  We laid out a blanket and busted out the mini-DVD player and were ready for a fun family evening.

LOW: The kids fought about the movie.  And argued.  And bickered.  And fought.  So I got to choose and then there was even more whining and moaning and tears.  So maybe I should have just called it off, but we really needed this fun night together.  So I ignored the tears and put on my choice.   "Little House on the Prairie" season 1 episode1.  

HIGH: The kids loved it.  And Danny watched another one later in the weekend - this time his choice.   
Caught watching and loving "Little House on the Prairie"

LOW: Matt got home later than planned.  The longer commute and demands of his new job mean he is usually not getting home until almost 7:00, a huge adjustment after not only a short commute in Bellevue, but also so much time off with paternity leave and holidays.  We had to start pizza movie night before he got home.

HIGH: Through texts, Matt knew just how rough my week had been.  He showed up Friday night with a box of macaroons from Laduree - a Parisian bakery we had eaten at (in Paris) earlier this year.  He knew I was not as totally incompetent as I had felt all week and he appreciated all my efforts to make a smooth transition for the family.  And they were super super tasty.  

Macaroons from Laduree at the end of a really rough week. 

We capped off a really, really hard week by doing something fun.  We took our kids downtown to see celebrate Chinese New Year with Dim Sum and see some sights.  
China Town after eating delicious dim sum for lunch.
Trafalgar Square with Nelson's Column and Big Ben in the background. 
Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

Recently opened LEGO Store

Abbey Road at M&M World

Even that day of fun had it's highs and lows (waiting 40 minutes to get into the LEGO store, Big Ben being underwhelming for the kids who thought it would be much, much bigger, crazy protests and crowds).  But at the end of it all, we had survived an adventure together and made some new incredible memories.  And most important of all, we were together.  I'm looking forward to the adventures ahead and am learning to find joy in the highs and lows of this journey.