prague, vienna and budapest

Happy New Year to you all (yes, I’m late–it’s already March for Christ sakes)! This late winter/early spring has been tough for me medically and we’ve had lots of life challenges to plow through. Charlie had her tonsils out after being sick much of the colder months and my health hasn’t exactly been stellar either. But as we wrap up our 2-year stint here in London I’m finally finding the time to look back upon some of the most incredible moments. My head is slowly coming above water and I have been wanting to share our most recent trip, so here goes.

The day after Christmas we packed up our cold weather clothes and headed to the airport, flying to Prague on a short 2-hour flight. I still can’t get over the fact that a short flight will take us to some of the most amazing European destinations–it’s definitely the biggest perk of living in London.

Note: for the photos below I rented an awesome lens (a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM) from Lens Pimp. It’s a great way to try out new gear without breaking the bank. Overall I was really happy with it–I’d never played with a super wide-angle lens before and it was so fun. 

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And then we were in Prague. It was magical, albeit cold.

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The Christmas markets were still running which provided much-needed stops for food and drink. Traveling Europe around the holidays is tricky as many places are closed (restaurants and otherwise) and don’t exactly advertise their hours on websites. Many restaurants don’t even have websites.

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But that didn’t stop us from trying the local cuisine. Above are the traditional “trdelnik”–sometimes called ‘chimney cakes’ in English-speaking countries. They’re a buttery sweet dough baked in swirls around wooden rods until puffy and golden. Then they’re usually sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or smeared with Nutella. Let’s just say I ate more than one.

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You can tell in this shot how wide the angle is on the lens–it’s basically the widest you can get without going fish eye.

The Christmas markets were probably the highlight of Prague–there was one at every turn and we often found ourselves in the middle of one, sampling the sausages, sweets, dancing and checking out the handmade gifts.

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When we weren’t there we’d wander around the city, taking in the gorgeous views.

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Above is the main square of Prague, containing the most famous site: the astronomical clock built in the 1400’s. Every hour on the hour it chimes and sends a parade of Apostles round and round. It was quite a site, though difficult to photograph as tourists jostled and bumped me, trying to get a better view. It’s definitely worth the crowds, but get there early to stake out a piece of ground front and center. The poor kids couldn’t see at all!

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The best way to experience the city (and most cities, as we’ve found out) is getting the lay of the land from a horse and carriage. Though our guide didn’t speak great English (and us even worse Czech) we were still able to see the important sites in about 30 minutes and get a better idea of what places we wanted to visit and what to skip. If you do this close to first thing on arriving to a city, it helps enormously. Yes, it’s touristy and everyone gawks at you. But besides being endlessly fun for kids it’s also a really good way to find out more about the place you’re visiting.

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Our last day in Prague we rented a car and drove to the fairytale city of Cesky Krumlov. Driving in a place where you can’t read the language and don’t know the rules of the road is…interesting, to say the least. Luckily Dave was my navigator and helped me every step of the way. It was the best decision we made the whole trip.

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Tiny, winding roads swirl between ancient, red-roofed buildings. I half expected Beauty and the Beast to pop out from behind a chocolate shop.

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If you visit, hike up the hill to the top of the castle. The most breathtaking views can be gained from there.

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This view isn’t too bad, either.

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Our next stop was Vienna which was even colder. Above is the Schönbrunn Palace, a 300 year-old palace and gardens which the Habsburg monarchs used as a summer residence.

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We were lucky enough to catch the tail-end of the Christmas market here, too.

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It was a cold day, but crisp and clear. The line to see the interior of the palace was miles long and we didn’t think to book in advance. If you go make sure not to repeat our mistake.

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The market entertained us for the afternoon, though, but I mostly spent my time keeping Charlie’s sticky paws off the hand-painted ornaments. Beautiful, but very tempting for a 4 year-old.

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Hand-painted gingerbread was also big here. Lebkuchen is has a much more distinct gingery flavor and is more heavy on the spice than American or even other european gingerbread. Not unpleasant, just different.

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But the mother of all sweets in the Austrian Christmas markets was the krapfen (and try saying that out loud to your daughters without laughing). They’re huge, sugar-dusted donuts filled with your choice of chocolate, vanilla or apricot.

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Charlie chose vanilla and it was–quite literally–bigger than her head. But so damn delicious that between the 4 of us we managed to polish it off.

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You can’t leave Austria without having a schnitzel or two and we found an amazing restaurant famous for its Tafelspitz (basically a slow-cooked beef in a rich broth, served with apples and horseradish). If you’re in Vienna book a table at Plachutta and give it a try.

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Last stop: Budapest. Which, I must plainly say, is the most child-friendly city we have visited in Europe so far. All of the restaurants–even the posh ones–had little areas for the kids to hang out while the adults sipped a drink and relaxed. Hungarians are so nice, too, and friendly.

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It was also one of the most breathtaking cities we’ve seen.

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It was so cold here (-10 C, roughly 14 F) that we only ventured out of our Air B ‘n’ B during the warmest parts of the day.

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The girls enjoyed it no matter what. I think kids are oblivious to cold.

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After 10 days we headed back to London. I want to go back to Budapest sometime and explore when it’s not below freezing. You can find more photos of our trip on my Instagram @rainydayjenny.

Next up–in 2 weeks–the polar opposite of trips (quite literally): South Africa. I’ll be renting another lens for safari and hopefully will get a post together about it that’s not two months after the fact. I’m lazy/busy/ill like that.

Love to you all xxx

Jenny

A Chronic Pain Patient’s Christmas Wish List

Welcome! If you are here from The Mighty, you may want to catch up on my story from the beginning, starting here

This morning, on his way out the door to Oxford Circus, my husband asked me the loaded question: “What do you want for Christmas?”

I thought about it for about .005 seconds and replied, “No more pain.” I’ve suffered chronic pain for over three years now after a surgery that went awry. No one can tell me if it will ever go away; no one has a cure. My pain suddenly disappearing would be nothing short of a Christmas miracle. But it’s unrealistic. So I decided to expand my Christmas wish list.

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I have all the stuff I need. No jewelry or gadgets under the tree for this girl. I’ve also got a loving husband who understands me and supports me, and two amazing daughters who will one day conquer the world. All I need are things that money can’t buy. But here they are anyway.

  • No more pain.
  • Okay, something more realistic: less pain. Especially in the mornings when I’m trying to get the kids off to school. Or at 3 in the morning, when I’m trying to sleep.
  • How about just a short break from pain? Like a holiday? Just a short hiatus (preferably in the Caribbean) so I can remember what it’s like to feel normal.
  • No more drugs.
  • Or, more realistically, better drugs. Drugs that don’t make me sleepy, nauseated, grumpy or have weird bursts of energy at inopportune times (like at 3 in the morning, when I’m trying to sleep). Drugs that don’t make the pharmacist treat me like an addict.
  • Pharmacists that don’t treat me like an addict. I have enough going on, thank you very much, to be given the third degree by a old crank in a white coat who doesn’t even know one tiny part of my story. I am not the drugs I take. I am a patient, just like anyone else. If I had a bald head and the distinct pallor of a chemo patient, would you treat me like this? Just because you can’t see my pain doesn’t make it any less real.

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  • Energy.
  • More realistically (maybe?), a clone of me. The science is up to par in our grandly technological world, right? So let’s make a clone of me. One that doesn’t have pain and can toss her kids in the air, play soccer with them, cook amazing, healthy meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and doesn’t tire. One that has the energy to talk through her day with her husband at 9pm instead of flopping into bed and watching Netflix. And can we make clone-Jenny’s hair a little less frizzy, please?
  • Friends who understand what I’m going through. When I say “I’m in pain,” I don’t want a recap of the latest study on yoga reducing inflammation or how you have a great naturopath. I want to hear, “That sucks. That just really f-ing sucks, my friend.” I want a friend who will watch TV with me when I can’t bring myself to leave the couch. I want a friend who will understand when I cancel for the umpteenth time because I don’t feel well. I want that friend to stop by with chocolate chip cookies and tell me that everything will be okay. Even when everything goes pear-shaped and is far, far from okay.
  • Chocolate chip cookies. Because they’re freaking delicious.

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  • A village, i.e. “it takes a village.” I live far away from my village—across the ocean, to be exact—and I haven’t found a new one yet. It’s really hard to create a village when you live thousands of miles from your nearest and dearest. I want someone I can call when I’m feeling like shit and need some help collecting the kids from school. Someone who can pop by, play a game with them and let me have a nap. Babysitters are great, but I miss my village. My people. My mom and dad, aunts and uncles, brother and cousins. The people who know you inside and out, backwards and forewords. I miss my best friend bringing me chocolate chip cookies and telling me everything will be okay. Even when it won’t.
  • Chocolate chip cookies. Because you can never have enough.
  • A doctor who can cure me.
  • Except we live in the real world in 2015. So how about a doctor who doesn’t take one look at my file and say, “we’ve got to get you off these drugs”? Assume I’ve tried everything else (I have). The drugs get me through the day without curling into a ball of pain on the bathroom floor (and even with them it sometimes happens). Assume I need them—because I do—and don’t pressure me to get off of them. Because without pain killers, there would be pain. So. Much. Pain. If I could re-wire my brain I would. But I can’t. That’s where you come in, Doc. Help me through this. But don’t assume, like that cranky old pharmacist, that I’m a drug-seeker. Believe me, it’s the last thing I want to be taking. But here we are, Doc. You and me. Let’s figure this out together, with my input and yours, and figure out a plan that’s workable and doesn’t make anything worse.
  • A do-over. Let’s wipe the slate clean, go back in time and take back the one surgery that made this all happen. Let’s borrow Dr. Who’s Tardis. That’s not too much to ask, is it Santa? David Tennant lives round the corner; I bet he has an extra we can borrow.

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  • My final wish is for no one to ever, ever have to deal with chronic illness. It’s a bitch. Someday we’ll get there, with science, with medicine, with miracles, with blood and tears and sweat. With whatever it takes.

But until then, I wish each and every one of you—the cancer patient, the special needs mom, the alcoholic trying desperately to stay sober—the gift of being seen. Seen for what you are, for who you are, and for all of your extraordinary strength. I see you. And I think you are doing a kick-ass job.

This story originally appeared on The Mighty

holiday gift guide

It’s that time of year, folks. The time when your wife/mom/girlfriend/grandma says, “I don’t want anything! I have everything I need right here.” And then she gives you a hug and a kiss while in your mind you’re silently calling “BULLSH#$”! But you don’t want to say it because what she really wants is for you to surprise her with the perfect gift without her telling you exactly what she wants. Right?

Not that I do this. No, not at all. I don’t expect my husband to be a mind reader…ever.

So I’m here to give you a few little tips. Everything on this list I own and love–things that I use everyday that are both useful, pretty and practical. These are gifts you can get in both the UK and the US, whether online or in a shop. They’re sure to please every lady on your list who expects you to use Jedi-mind-force in order to conjure up the perfect holiday gift.

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COS Cashmere Hat, $49

I’ve owned this hat for about a year now, and not only does it look exactly the same as when I bought it (hello, wool caps that pill in about 3 minutes flat), it’s light and small enough to toss in my bag for when that chilly wind picks up. It’s also just warm enough, but not overly hot, and super stylish–simply the perfect hat. Plus, it’s cashmere. Cashmere. Meaning the softest, most luxurious knit you can buy. It comes in a variety of colors but I love this soft grey shade–it matches all of my jackets.

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Rebecca Minkoff Bowery Tote, $165 

I have a serious handbag addiction. Since I found this beauty, though, I haven’t bought another in months (some kind of record for me). We ladies are always searching for the perfect black handbag, one that’s chic enough for nights out but practical enough to hold all of our everyday crap. Last night at a Christmas fair this tote held all of my essentials plus my daughter’s coat, a present, water bottle, two pairs of gloves and my hat (above). It looks great with everything and the leather is super plush but durable. Definitely a keeper.

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Laura Mercier Candleglow Luminizing Palette, $58 

I’m nearly through this perfect palette, full of subtly shimmery shades that keep my face glowing all year long. It contains four different eye shadows, one blush and one bronzer, plus a handy little card that tells you how to apply them for day or night. Once I’ve polished off the last of it I’m bound to get another.

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S’well Water Bottle, $25-$45 

To say that this bottle has changed my life is an overstatement. But it has gotten me to drink more water, which makes me feel better. The insulated design keeps cold drinks cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 12. Plus they come in all sorts of pretty designs from this metallic to crocodile prints to colorful arty designs to plain old black. (If you really love her fill it with some hot mulled wine for all that Christmas caroling around the neighborhood.)

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Orla Kiely Purse Kit Set, $16.99 

I purchased this Orla Kiely set in a (now discontinued) print just before we moved to London, along with a few matching makeup and toiletry bags. Orla Kiely anything is pretty pricey here in the UK (though you can find her whole line at most John Lewis stores), so I love her affordable line from Target in the US. They’re honestly one of the most handy and versatile items that I own and I use them for absolutely everything: my daily meds in one, bandaids and first-aid in another, lipstick, a small brush and mints in a third. For travel I’ll switch the contents out to passports, sunscreen, snacks, art supplies–whatever. They’re so easy to wipe clean and they contain spills if you use them for lotion or shampoo. They also make switching purses so easy–just toss in and go.

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Kate Spade phone case, $39.99 

If a new phone isn’t in your budget, get her the next best thing: this gorgeous Kate Spade iPhone case. My phone is ancient and it makes it feel fancy and new again. I love the sleek striped design and, since I tend to drop my phone on concrete at least once a day, I can testify that it is totally protective.

Now, ladies, share this post with your significant [b]other and know that what’s under the tree will be fab, beautiful and something you’ll use day after day.

Cheers, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and all the rest. Enjoy the season…xx Jenny

In Bruges

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Now that summer is over (at least here in rainy London) and school has started, I’ve had a few moments to look back over my photos from the last few months. We went to the US for most of July, spending time with family and friends and driving my car to Target to my heart’s content. Then for the rest of the summer we tooled around London, taking a long weekend in late August to travel to Belgium.

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And let me just say…Bruges is a fairytale town. Our itinerary included two days in Bruges and two in Brussels. But if we had to do it over again, we’d skip Brussels and spend the entire magical weekend in Bruges.

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Why is Bruges so amazing? First of all, it’s entirely walkable. Or bike-able. And if your feet just can’t take one more step, a couple of Euros will buy you a bus pass you can use all day long.

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Secondly, the entire town is encircled and intersected by a series of canals. It’s like Venice but not nearly as touristy and much more charming and clean. Walking along the canals from the hotel to the center of town just made me smile. Water does that to me. Still a Seattle girl at heart, I suppose.

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Thirdly, it was incredibly kid-friendly, from the food (what kid doesn’t like fondue, waffles, french fries and chocolate?!) to the accommodations to the activities, it was all in one place and all lovely.

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Did I mention it is super charming? All the streets are made of ancient cobblestone. Most of the residents  use bikes to get around. There’s not a chain store in sight (except for the staples of every European city: H&M and Zara), the people are friendly, and there are no peddlers trying to sell you selfie sticks at every turn (hello every other Western European city we’ve visited in the last 14 months).

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Did I mention chocolate shops? There was one block in which–quite literally–every other shop was a chocolatier. It made for a very tasty and calorie-laden trip.

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It’s also just plain beautiful. Most of the buildings are several centuries old (it’s the “best preserved” medieval town in Europe) and the architecture is fab.

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Now that I’ve convinced you to go, let me tell you that it’s also just three hours by train from London. If you’ve traveled Europe with kids you know that train rides are vastly preferable to airplanes. No muss, no fuss.

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We did the standard touristy things like carriage rides and chocolate tours. But we also spent much of the time just exploring the city on foot or by bike, taking in the views and stopping for a chocolate-dipped waffle smothered in Chantilly cream. Yes, you read that right.

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It was a favorite for the kids, too, because it wasn’t overwhelming. There was no trouble navigating this tiny town and we didn’t feel we had to rush to see everything as you do in a bigger city like Rome or Paris.

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I’ll say right now that Brussels was not pleasant. It was dirty, smelly, and didn’t feel particularly safe. I’ve never not liked visiting a large European city until I met Brussels. I wish we had stayed in Bruges.

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And so did this little lady, who fell in love with the town as much as I did. “What a beautiful walk, Mom!” and “Can we stay here forever?” were common refrains that weekend.

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And now, back to reality. My two little ones are back at school and I’m back at home, managing my health and their lives as best I can. I want to write more, to tell you about our other amazing trips and give you tips for travel. My small London kitchen isn’t ideal for cooking or photography right now, but I’ll do the best I can with the few recipes I’m working on and hope to bring you soon.

Until then, happy autumn!

Love,

Jenny

what i miss most about the U.S. (Seattle vs. London)

Come summer we will have officially been expats for a year. It’s been wonderful and terrible, joyful and full of tears. We’ve seen new countries, met new friends, and experienced amazing things I never thought we would. We’ve grown closer as a family, become more self-reliant. I wouldn’t trade the last year for anything, but I also deeply miss my home, my friends, my family and my beautifully green hometown.

West Hampstead--our old neighborhood

West Hampstead–our old neighborhood

To an American, you wouldn’t think Britain is a “foreign country” as they speak the same language (although more correctly and articulately) as we do. Or at least on a scale of foreignness it’s lower than say, moving to Pakistan. But I’ve found that the customs, way of life, social stigma, and way of looking at the world are completely different, at least coming from a very friendly, compassionate city like Seattle. Here I’ve come up with a list of things I miss most about daily life in the US and how my daily routine differs living in a place like London.

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Watching the changing of the Royal horse guard

1. Being nice to strangers

Yeah, I surprised myself with this one since sometimes in Seattle I wish I were invisible. In Seattle you say hello to another human being passing on the street. Cars stop for pedestrians whether you’re in a crosswalk or not. When I was pregnant I had more strangers’ hands on my belly than I could count. You know your neighbors and it’s (fairly) easy to make new friends.

But in London (though not everywhere in the UK) people keep their heads down and thoughts to themselves. You DO NOT speak to strangers on the tube. You DO NOT make eye contact on the tube, or anywhere else for that matter. This distance between strangers makes for super awkward interactions when trying to get to know someone. My closest Brit friends I’ve only seen outside of school say three or four times apiece, and that was after months of “courting”: getting to know them in small, brief conversations in passing and deciding if we had enough in common to see one another outside of school. It’s a lonely way of life.

Captain Charlie

Captain Charlie

2. Ease

Everything was easy in Seattle. Grocery store? Hop in the car, load up the trunk. Furniture? Go pick it out and borrow Dad’s truck. Want to meet up with a friend? Text them and load up the kids. Date night? Great! My friend recommended a really good new babysitter. But here we don’t have a car, and I’m not convinced if life would be easier if we did since there is nowhere to park. Yes, public transport is amazing, but you can only haul four bags of groceries on and off the bus in the rain so many times before it starts to get annoying. And on the friendship front, see number one.

Borough Market--my favorite London farmer's market.

Borough Market–my favorite London farmer’s market.

3. Green

My allergies back home would be in full swing this time of year. But in London I haven’t popped so much as a Zyrtec. Why? Trees and greenery are reserved for parks. The rest is cement-covered, smog-soaked streets and brick buildings. When I blow my nose there are always little black specs in my snot (TMI, sorry, but gross!). I miss the water, the mountains, the lakes and rivers and trees that surround Seattle. Yes, the parks here are amazing. But on a sunny day if you want to go stretch out on a piece of grass, so does everyone else in London. Good luck finding a spot next to someone who isn’t puffing a cigarette.

Yeah, we shouldn't have gone to Borough Market on a sunny Saturday

Yeah, we shouldn’t have gone to Borough Market on a sunny Saturday

4. Space

I’ve gotten used to living in smaller and smaller spaces, and that’s fine. I don’t miss the space of our house (in fact it will feel huge after we get home) so much as I just miss the comforting familiarity of our house. But after a while, London just starts to feel crowded. Being jolted by a backpack on the tube, crashing tiny shopping carts at the grocery, dodging clueless tourists as they meander down Baker Street—it all just feels claustrophobic. I miss walking down empty sidewalks and cruising down the spacious aisles of QFC. Even a trip to the farmer’s market here is a full-contact sport. Trust me, I have the bruises to prove it.

Sunny (cold) day on Primrose Hill

Sunny (cold) day on Primrose Hill

5. My support network

I no longer take for granted my amazing family and friends. Back home if I were having a bad day I could call up my mom and bitch about it. Or if I needed a break from the kids—some adult time—I had friends who could come over for a playdate, coffee and a good old gossip session. I miss bumping in to my bestie at Target and randomly seeing friends at the park. This isn’t just a London issue (though as in #1, meeting new people has been hard), but an expat issue. The 8-hour time difference means I can’t call people back home anytime I want. And when it’s the end of the day and I’m beat, I don’t always feel like a Skype session while the girls tug at my arms begging to watch Play-Doh videos on YouTube and whining “get off the computer, mom!” First world problems, I know.

Lieutenant Lucy

Lieutenant Lucy

One more year and we’ll (likely) be back home. I’m trying to savor every moment we live in Europe because it’s such an amazing experience (that and Charlie has a little British accent that is too cute—I’ll try to post a video soon). But on long, wet days, I yearn for my own home, my own bed, a hug from a friend, and the comforting smell of Seattle after a long rain.

Next up: a post about the things I love about London. Yes, I promise I do actually enjoy a lot of it!

xoxo

Jen