we live in london?

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been living here for two months. The time has gone by so fast and we’ve done so much, and yet we’ve only put a tiny dent in what this city has to offer. But we’ve been so damn busy in this enormous place that I’m exhausted.

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London is massive. You don’t realize it until going a small distance on the tube takes a half hour, and a long distance takes an hour, and when you pop back above ground you’re still well in the city limits. For how huge it is, it’s also massively efficient. Tubes, buses and trains can take you anywhere you want to go. Sure there’s walking involved. Sometimes a lot of walking. But your legs get used to it to the point where they just go on autopilot and you hardly notice anymore. Until you wear your new Boden plimsoles and your little toe starts to blister. Then you goddamn notice.

Nose pickin' and hair braidin' on the overground.

Nose pickin’ and hair braidin’ on the overground.

These two have been troopers. They have learned to walk miles and miles with only a little bit of whining and the slightest bit of carrying. They have scooters now, like true London tots, and glide all over the city like it’s their own. I have had several heart attacks when Charlie brakes too close to the street (those black cabs don’t stop for anything), but she’s getting better at staying close to me. Other than that time when she was still learning to brake and went gliding down the longest hill on earth. I went running after her like a screaming lunatic, yelling to people on the street, “stop her!” They looked at me like I was nuts, and Charlie found her brake, stopped, and turned around and gave me a thumbs up. Heart attack #26 living in London. Little bugger.

Lucy in her proper school uniform.

Lucy in her proper school uniform.

This big girl–my how she’s grown!–is in “Year 1” at school, and boy that’s different than kindergarten back home. She’s learning to read, spell, write in cursive, add, subtract, play sports, swim, and has joined the school choir all while navigating a new world of friends and culture. She’s done brilliantly. Her teachers are helping us to help her at home since her class learned to read and write last year. We’re catching her up and she’s learning quickly. And by “we’re catching her up” I mean getting super frustrated doing homework with a 5 year-old who has already been in school for 6 hours while all she wants to do is play with her mermaid Barbie.

Charlie on her first  day of school. No uniform required for her...yet.

Charlie on her first day of school. No uniform required for her…yet.

And my baby…is not a baby anymore. She’s in the “Nursery” class at the same school, but how grown up she is with her book bag and lunch, marching right into class hardly saying goodbye. She loves school, has made friends, and I’m sure will be the same Charles in Charge there as she is at home. She just needs to get a bit more comfortable first before she can take over the class.

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And me? When I’m not Mom and Homemaker (i.e. unpacker and cleaner) I wander around in awe of this city. Just simple things like this pretty little pub and its flowers make me smile. At 5:30 it will be swarming with people, inside and out, having their after work pints.

Yes, a lot of things about this city irk me, like bagging your own groceries as the checker stares at you, willing you to get your ass out of there. There’s no customer service–that’s a foreign term. People don’t pick up their dog’s poop. There’s litter everywhere. Out of nowhere you’ll walk into a pocket of the most abhorring stench; that deep, damp fetor that is London’s core. Either that, or someone had sardines for tea and the bin has been sitting uncollected for weeks. Both are equally possible, and probable.

Lucy painted her interpretation of Monet's "Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies" last year in preschool. I sent this photo to her old school: Lucy in front of the painting itself at London's National Gallery.

Lucy painted her interpretation of Monet’s “Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies” last year in preschool. I sent this photo to her old school: Lucy in front of the painting itself at London’s National Gallery.

But then a lot of things I love. You can go see some of the world’s greatest museums, art, and artifacts for free. There is history everywhere you look, even in the house in which we live–it began as a coach house and once hosted the Beatles for a party. People are generally helpful with children, offering seats in the tube and assisting them with the gap (“Mind the Gap” is real, and scary for little feet).

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At Buckingham Palace in the Royal Mews, squatting for a photo (thanks, Sadie!) in front of the Queen’s coach.

I love how people speak. My grocery delivery man calls me “sweethaaart,” the old woman on the street calls me “love,” and though people keep to themselves there is a general sense of taking care of one another. If you drop something, a stranger will pick it up for you with a smile even if they’re in a hurry.

One quick story before I go about our trip to Buckingham Palace. We toured through the Royal Muse and stables, and Lucy got to see the diamond jubilee carriage and meet the royal horses. Highlight of her London life so far, save for the Crown Jewels. After lunch we waited in the queue to tour the Palace itself. Charlie was a little sleepy, and I knew it might be a bit of a challenge. She was wearing her favorite red dress-up dress, to be fancy for the Queen, that’s too big and too long. Our rule about the dress is that we tie it up for tubes, trains, buses, and especially stairs.

A horse fit for a Queen.

A horse fit for a Queen.

We passed the headset booth and grabbed one for each of us. The sea of people started flowing through the palace quietly, attuned to the guided tour on their headphones. As we approached the stairs I had the usual talk with her about tying up her dress and made a knot…and that’s when the screaming started.  “I DON’T WANT YOU TO TIE UP MY RED DRESS!”, over and over again. The Queen could have heard her from Balmoral.

The quiet crowd stopped and stared. I tried to calm her down. I tried untying her red dress. But it only got worse. It turned into a high pitched scream, “IIIIII DON’T WANT YOU TIE UP MY RED DREEESSSSSS!” I could quickly see that it was not going to stop. I picked her up and swooped us over to the nearest guard.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee carriage, plated in real gold. Oy yoy yoy.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee carriage, plated in real gold. Oy yoy yoy.

“Can we get out of here?”

“No, Mum. I’m afraid you’ll have to go through the Palace.”

“This,” I pointed to the red-faced wailing Charlie in my arms, “is not going to stop.”

“Is there something wrong with her we can fix?”

Oh, man, I though. Let me count the ways. “No. We need to get out.”

He radioed for another guard who took us through the velvet ropes and out the back entrance into the garden. Charlie calmed down outside breathing the fresh air and having her dress free-flowing down past her toes. And I had a migraine. But that, my dears, is the story of how we were escorted out of Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace from the gardens, the only real view of the damn palace that I got to see.

And onto the next adventures we go.

xoxo Jenny

a weekend in paris

After having just settled down to life in a new country, getting used to a new culture, new food, new customs and a new sort of “language,” what do you do? Travel to a different country, of course.

Dave surprised me with a trip to Paris for our 6th wedding anniversary. How lovely is that? I had never been to Paris. Or London. And the truth is, it wasn’t so much of a surprise as a, “Hey, I have this in the wings. Are you settled enough to take off and leave the kids for a weekend?”

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My answer? Oh hell yes. Because after traveling across the world with 2 small children, switching our body clocks 8 hours ahead, handling the tantrums and the “this [insert British food here] is yucky!” and the endless walking (sometimes carrying), I was ready for a break.

As I mentioned in the last post, our lovely friend and nanny Beki came with us out of sheer luck and happenstance. She moved into our apartment for the weekend and off we went. The girls were fine. Happy, in fact. A whole weekend with Beki? Hooray!

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Notre Dame from across the River Seine

One bag, one tube, one train and we were there. I’m still amazed at how easy travel is in this little (big) place we call Europe.

What did we do in Paris? Tried the local cuisine. Tried the local cuisine again. And again. And again. There is a reason Paris is famous for its food. We had the best meal of our lives (for serious) at a small spot called Rossi & Co. We stumbled upon it on a Saturday night, having no reservation to speak of, and perusing Open Table or whatever the French equivalent is. I have no photos because the whole meal was spent with my eyes shut, savoring each bite, trying to remember it forever.

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I drank coffee. Lots and lots of delicious coffee, because I have yet to find a spot in London that will make me an Americano. They either stare at me blankly or say, “No, but we can make you a latte or an espresso.” Because apparently they don’t have water behind the counter. Sometimes I stare right back at them until they notice what idiots they are, and sometimes I just ask for an iced espresso and then ask for some water to pour into it. Then I ask for a little milk. Then I ask for a little sugar. Then they kick me out of the coffee shop.

I forgot more and more about London coffee shop quarrels with each café a lait in Paris. Because that’s what you drink in Paris. I still dream about it.

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“Lovelocks” bridge which spans the River Seine. No, we didn’t put our own lock on and toss the key in the river. But it was entertaining to watch others!

We crossed the “lovelocks” bridge and wandered around Notre Dame. When it got hot we’d take a break at a cafe or hop back to our apartment for a siesta.

Now I’m just totally culture-crossed. Maybe I need to re-visit Spain to have a nice long siesta.

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Paris is just as beautiful as everyone says. The streets, though dirty, unkempt, and littered with cigarette butts, are lined with the most quaint buildings and lovely shops. The French, we found, are hilarious. They look like they are fighting every time they speak with their hand gestures and rapid river of words gushing out of their mouths. It’s entertainment in itself to watch them and figure out whether they’re talking about the weather or arguing over who gets Grandpa’s estate.

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A fromage vendor at Bastille Market.

We found the beautiful Bastille Market and perused its tents full of cheeses, meats, fruits, fabrics, and everything in between. We sampled the fromage and the melon, laughed at the random vendors selling €1 tube socks, and sat by a fountain to catch any mist that we could. It mixed with the sweat on our faces and we sat there, happy and hot, delighted just to be sitting in a market in the middle of Paris.

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When we had seen all there was to see at the market, we followed a stream of locals, not really knowing where we were going but knowing it was in the general direction of our train. Turns out they were going here: Boulangerie 28. They were coming to pick up baguettes to complete their shopping. We scooped up some sandwiches for the train home (delicious) and an eclair caramel that I will never forget.

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At the base of the Eiffel Tower we asked a stranger to take a photo of us. He got down low to the ground and quickly snapped one shot, indicating to us in his native language (Czech?) that it was good. I doubted him, naturally, since I usually take multiple shots and choose the very best one. But it turns out it was perfect. It’s now my favorite picture of us.

Now we’re back to day-to-day life in London. Entering week three I’m starting to know my way around. The girls know exactly how to “mind the gap,” however large or small it may be. We signed a lease on a house and can move in later on in the month. I’ll share more about London later, but for now, I’ll leave you with thoughts of Paris: the most perfect pain au chocolat, sipping a cafe au lait, and sitting outside a little boulangerie on a hot summer morning.

Ta for now,

Jenny

the millers take london

Well friends, we made it to London, though our journey was precarious and I still feel as though I am narcoleptic.

Pre-flight

Pre-flight

Our flight departed from Seattle at 2pm our time. Nine hours later, neither girl had slept…until the last 10 minutes of descent and landing (*fork in eye*). London is eight hours ahead, so when we arrived it was 7am local time. What could we do but forge ahead? We all had to get our bodies adjusted as quickly as possible.

Post-flight

Post-flight

I had no idea what to expect on the drive in from the airport. But our driver gave us a treat, whether on purpose or not I still don’t know. We drove past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, hugged the Thames and took in amazing views of the Eye and the city beyond.

Sunrise over Big Ben

Sunrise over Big Ben

The girls then fell asleep. Again. This time just before we pulled up to our apartment (are you noticing that they have impeccable timing for this sort of thing?). We pulled them from the car and put them to bed for a few hours. When noon arrived we decided it was time to wake them or there would be no hope of a semi-normal bedtime later that evening. So we tried to wake them. And tried. And tried. No dice.

Our temporary home lies in this building, above the most amazing grocer. Waitrose is like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods had a gorgeous, delicious baby.

Our temporary home lies in this building, above the most amazing grocer. Waitrose is like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods had a gorgeous, delicious baby.

We’d pull them to different spots (couch, chair, lap) and they’d stir for a moment, then pass right back out. What finally worked was singing at the top of my lungs, “When ayyy was one ayyy had some fun on the daayyy I went to seeea! I jumped aboooard a pirate ship aaand the captain saaaid to me…” You know the song? Top. Of. My. Lungs. While stomping and clapping. It made them pissed as all hell but it woke them enough to stay awake for 5 minutes, and then they were awake enough to walk out the front door, and then when the sun hit their faces they were nearly almost awake.

Dave and I, semi-awake, on the tube.

Dave and I, semi-awake, on the tube.

That first day (it was only saturday, but it feels like about a week ago) we walked a lot, which will be our new habit here in London. We toured the London Museum, decided that the Brits don’t know how to make chocolate milk, and abandoned all hope of finding pizza, much to Charlie’s dismay . We rode the tube and counted double-decker busses, decided that the water tastes awful, fell in love with a grocery store and walked some more. That night the girls went to sleep at 7:30, woke off and on from 12-4, then slept soundly until 10:30 the next morning.

In this tiny playground we heard more different languages being spoken than in our entire lives in Seattle. I love how multicultural London is!

In this tiny playground we heard more different languages being spoken than in our entire lives in Seattle. I love how multicultural London is!

Day 2. Yesterday. I was itching to see their school–at least the outside and surroundings, since it’s still closed for summer. We had a slow start with some of the most bizarre children’s shows I’ve ever seen (apparently the British actors love to make asses of themselves in the name of children’s programming), rehydrated, and finally got enough coffee in me not to feel like the walking dead. Then we made our way to Swiss Cottage, the name of the neighborhood in which their girls’ school is situated.

Lucy on the front steps of her new school. I think she likes it!

Lucy on the front steps of her new school. I think she likes it!

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Charlie was enthralled with the soccer…ahem…football games going on.

It is cuter than cute. White town houses go for blocks and blocks, leading to parks, cute little cafes and (cha ching!) a “leisure centre”, which is basically a community centre (oh my gosh, I spelled it that way naturally…they’re having their way with me already!) but way nicer than in the States. For a small monthly fee you can use the pool, gym, children’s play area, spa, etc. It seemed to be the center for the neighborhood, surrounded by a soccer field, playground, community center cafe, large grassy knolls and fountain. I could surely get used to living nearby.

The fountains just outside Swiss Cottage leisure centre.

The fountains just outside Swiss Cottage leisure centre.

Swiss Cottage/Belsize Park neighborhood.

Swiss Cottage/Belsize Park neighborhood.

Today Dave starts work. From now until September 1st I’ll be on my own with the girls along with our wonderful nanny and friend Beki, who out of sheer luck and happenstance also moved to London for a short while. In that time we need to find a permanent place to live, get the girls uniforms and other school necessities, find doctors for me, remember to look right instead of left whist crossing the street, and figure out what the hell “spotted dick” is, among other quirky British menu items. It’s all an adventure.

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Just one of the bazillion pubs where you can have a pint and a bite outside. And kids are welcome in pubs! Amazing.

Stay tuned, friends. Love to you all!

xo Jenny, Dave, Lucy, Charlie, and London