Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No vacancy

My father in law, who has been here visiting for the past five days, left at 8:00 this morning. His sheets were still warm and his towel still wet as I swept them up and tossed them into the washing machine the second the door shut behind him. Two hours later, I found myself offering more cups of coffee to our newest set of travel worn guests, trying to forestall their need to shower and rest until I could get their linens tumbled dry.

The friends who arrived this morning with their two kids in tow are some of our favorite people, and all four of us were particularly excited about their arrival. We're looking forward to being their London hosts through this weekend. But they're also the third set of house guests we've hosted in the past two weeks, and as much fun as their visit is bound to be, I'm getting close to my limit of gracious hostess tricks.

"Come and visit us in London," we told friends and family. We meant it, and we're incredibly touched and excited that so many people have taken us up on our offer. Visitors bring a bit of comfort and familiarity from home, and their presence here is a powerful reminder of all that we love about our life in the States. At the same time, we take a certain pride in our life here by now, and sharing it with people we care about is a true pleasure for us. We are more than happy to serve as a London B&B for any and all who wish to visit us here. Truly. But... did everyone have to take us up on our hospitality offer at once?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The girl is mine

It's been a long day and I'm tired and not 100% on my game. So when I instruct Evan for the 50th time to find and put on his clothing after he's taken a bath, I'm not really thinking about my words. I mean to say "Evan, where is your underwear," but somewhere along the way, I forget my train of thought and end up coming out with the grammatically cringe-worthy "Evan, where is your underpants?"

Julia doesn't miss a beat. "Where ARE your underpants," she corrects me instantly. The response is so automatic that she doesn't seem to even realize she's said it.

I smile as I run off in pursuit of my still unclad son. I may not be able to influence one of my children to dress himself with any degree of consistency, but I've clearly had an impact on the other one.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

So you're thinking of living in London

I get emails on a somewhat regular basis from Americans who are thinking of moving to London. They've found my blog via a Google search or a link from an expat site and they're looking for advice or information or maybe just some kind of a cosmic sign that will tell them whether they should pack their bags or abandon this silly idea of living abroad.

I recognize these people because they are me -- or at least the me who spent all of last summer trolling the web for real estate listings and school information and practical advice about an undertaking like moving to London. When we were in the process of making our move, I reached out to anyone and everyone I could find who could give me some sense of what it would really be like to live here. The more people who told me what had worked or not worked for them, I figured, the better chance I had of making this work for us.

I'm incredibly grateful to the strangers who were willing to take the time to answer my emails and my phone calls and my endless stream of questions. Some of them eventually became my friends and others were simply short term correspondents, but all of them impressed me with their willingness to help out someone who they didn't even know. "I've been there," every one of them told me. That sounded a little simplistic to me then, but I get it now. It is because of the difference that all of those people made in my own move that I am always willing to return those "I hate to bother you, but..." emails which show up in my inbox periodically. What goes around comes around, and now it's my turn to be generous with my knowledge and experience.

Sometimes, however, I feel like I'm answering the same questions over and over again (probably because I am!). So if you're thinking of moving to London and you're looking for some information, here are a few links in which I may have already said what you want to know.

My family moved to northwest London in September of 2006. You can read about our experience with renting and furnishing a flat here and if you're curious about the place we ended up renting, you can see pictures of the outside and inside of our flat on the blog as well. We love the area we've settled in and feel fortunate to call it home, but I must admit that there's a flip side to our expat housing stipend that I hadn't anticipated which still sometimes throws me for a bit of a loop.

If you're a parent wondering about how your kids will fare in London, I've documented my early impressions of British education here and my thoughts about the differences between American and British children here and you can start brushing up on the British version of nursery rhymes here. My kids are relatively young, but on the whole, I've found them to be remarkably adaptable... often more so than me.

If you're interested in how your household might run over here, you might want to read up on the things we eat here or our laundry challenges. If there are certain American items that you simply can't live without, you'll certainly want to be forewarned about the wrong way to get them here. And you can also read about how we solved the car dilemma (though I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that despite my bravado when I wrote that post, it's my husband who does all of our car club driving these days... I'm still too damn chicken to get behind the wheel).

I was pretty lost and overwhelmed when we first arrived in London a year ago. I floundered for a while, wondering if this place would ever feel like home. And now it does... not a forever kind of home, but a place where I'm comfortable and happy and one that I know will always be a part of me. I love living in London and I wholeheartedly recommend this experience to anyone who has the opportunity to do something similar.

This is a personal blog. It's filled with stories about my kids and recaps of our travels and musings about life which are probably not interesting to anyone other than me. I'm certainly no expert on expatriation or life in London and I only know the ins and outs of my own small section of this huge city with any degree of confidence. But if you know where to look in my archives, you can get a decent sense of this one family's London experience. If you showed up here hunting for that kind of information, I hope that you found some of what you were looking for. And I hope that your London experience will be every bit as life-altering and wonderful as our is proving to be.


Monday, August 13, 2007

The Somewhere Over The Pondies

No less than four months ago, Liesl over at Come, Mommy tagged me for the Real Moms meme. The idea of the meme was cute; participating bloggers were supposed to write about something they find themselves doing as real moms -- presumably to dispel some of the need for perfectionism and increase the feeling of solidarity among parents. I love reading about Liesl's family's exploits in my home state and appreciated the shout out from her in this post. I didn't mean to blow it off per se. But I've never been a huge fan of memes and awards and other such Internet chain letters, and so I just... set it aside for a while. (Ahem.) A long while.

Around the same time, Dana of Angst du Jour fame very thoughtfully presented me with a Thinking Blogger Award. I was touched (and immediately emailed her to say so); Dana's one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking people I've ever come across in my ever-expanding blogging network, and this award meant a lot coming from her. As much as any "blog award" could mean, of course... I mean, we're essentially talking about a big ole' Web game of tag and "no, but you're so great" here, right? So yeah, I said thanks -- and I meant it -- but I didn't rush to pass the award on. (Sorry, Dana!)

Fast forward a few months to July, when Iota of Not Wrong, Just Different bestowed the Rockin' Blogger Award upon me. Iota's one of my very favorite bloggers at the moment; her experiences as a British expat in the U.S. never cease to make me smile, and her hybrid of American and British spellings and expressions reads like my own mind at work. I love her writing, love her impressions of American life... it's a big fat love-fest. How flattering to see that she felt the same way. I should really acknowledge that, huh? Except, see above.

Finally this week, my fellow London expat blogger Amanda of London Southern Belle awarded me with the Nice Matters Award. Now they've clearly thought of everything (whomever "they" might be), right? The Nice Matters award??? But Amanda's a talented writer whose work I really enjoy and it was sweet of her to think of me and even sweeter of her to consider me nice when I'm clearly a bit of a snarky bitch at times and my God, how could I just leave all that niceness dangling there?


As much as I enjoy blogging, I'm not much one for gratuitous reading or commenting on other people's blogs. There are a limited number of hours in the day, y'know? And there are a lot of blogs out there. So if I take the time to read and occasionally comment on your blog, that pretty much means I think your writing is good and your perspective is interesting. I think that you're a Thinking Blogger. I think that you're a Rockin' Blogger. And hell, I even think you're nice. So if you are so inclined, please help yourself to one of the pretty buttons below. You've earned 'em more than I have. And if you are not so inclined? Trust me, I won't be insulted...

And with that, Liesl, I hereby complete the meme you tagged me for so long ago that you've probably completely forgotten about it. Real Moms... we may break the rules a bit, but we eventually get the job done.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Funny at 3 (though less so a dozen years from now, I'm sure)

We are at breakfast in our Stockholm hotel, a big smorgasboard affair offering abundant food spreads and yet precious little to eat. Evan is unbelievably squirmy, unable to sit still for more than two seconds. He has requested half a dozen food items, none of which he's eaten much of, and seems to be making eyes for even more delicacies which I am quite certain will go untouched.

"Evan, who are you?" I ask in mock exasperation as he uncharacteristically shifts in his seat for about the gazillionth time. Evan smiles with satisfaction as he reaches for his large mug of chocolate milk (no doubt the source of his fidgety behavior).

"I'm a drinking kind of man," he proclaims.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Stockholm: Ja!

Here's a fun travel tip. If you really want to get to know a city, accidentally leave your stroller at home. Even if your 3 year old is a good sport in the airport and gamely keeps up the pace for a while, he's bound to lose it completely and demand a place where he can rest eventually. When this happens, you can frantically search online for local stroller dealers, try to communicate with non-English-speaking stroller vendors via phone (slowly speaking English with a heavy fake Swedish accent is less than effective, for the record), and then navigate the city's subway system and side streets in search of an inexpensive (ha!) buggy. By the time you've wheeled your "wait, we just paid how much and the wheels aren't even steady?" purchase out of that darling, overpriced little baby shop and back through the "isn't this charming... I could totally live here if only I were tall and blond and skinny and capable of pronouncing 82 consonants at once" area, you will feel OK about hightailing it back to the local tourist traps (where everything is easy and everyone speaks such nice English...).

Our little stroller snafu notwithstanding, we had a fabulous time in Sweden. Stockholm is truly a beautiful city. It's small enough that it can easily be learned in a short period of time, yet big enough that there's plenty to see and do. Everything is incredibly kid-friendly (with the possible exception of food offerings, which were a little dicey for my non-herring-appreciative offspring) and the proximity to all that water gives the city a relaxed, laid back feeling which we loved. I could feel myself instantly unwind in the archipelago, but then quickly adapted back into the faster pace of the city as soon as we hit dry land. Definitely a "something for everyone" destination (including my kids, who predictably gave Stockholm a big thumbs up as soon as they spotted their first ice cream stand).

I must confess, Sweden was never especially high on my mental "must see" itinerary before I started researching and planning this trip. In fact, I commented to my brother after our home furnishing extravaganza last fall that we could cross Sweden off the list now that we'd spent so much time in Ikea. I'm glad to have been talked out of this folly. Stockholm was everything we look for in a city break and more. I highly recommend nearly everything Swedish (even their furniture, which I must grudgingly admit is holding up reasonably well 11 months later). Everything, that is, except their umbrella strollers. If you go to Stockholm with young kids who are less than enthusiastic about hoofing it all over creation for hours on end, do yourself a favor and remember to bring your buggy. If you come to visit us in London, however, you can leave yours at home. We've got just the (slightly unsteady, but it gets the job done) loaner waiting here now. God knows it might as well get some more mileage for what we paid...

Photos are up on Flickr for those who want to see!