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

bon voyage

Seattle, we’ve come to the end of the line, you and I. In a mere 24 hours I’m leaving your cool, breezy hills for an equally cool, breezy (but flatter) city across the continent and across an ocean. There will be so much distance between us. At least for two years, that is. Don’t go thinking I would leave you forever!

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Sun up over the beach at Fort Worden

I don’t want you to go making any big changes while I’m gone, okay? I’d like my house to still be standing and its cherry trees to always bloom soft pink blossoms in spring. I’d like my dear neighbors to stay my dear neighbors—protect them and keep them safe from disease and old age and the lure of selling in this lucrative market.

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Home. I’m not crying! I’m not!

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Goodnight couch, goodnight chair…

I’d like my favorite coffee shop not to be bought out by Starbucks, thank you very much. I would like the crappy grocery store down the street to stay crappy, because I still want to know exactly what’s not on every aisle and the name of every ornery checker and bag boy. And while you’re at it, pretty please protect the blind woman who walks miles in rain, sleet or snow every day along 35th avenue. She’s more reliable than the postman. You can go ahead and do away with the post office, though, if you need to make any major changes, or at least rename it “Dante’s Tenth Circle of Hell: Inefficiency.” The stamps could feature junk mail burning in eternal hellfire and…

I’m going off on a tangent.

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Goodnight dog parks everywhere.

I’d like you to take a huge soft grey cloud—the kind that you’re famous for, Seattle—and wrap it around my friends and family. Keep them safe and happy but don’t let them forget me. Maybe every once in a while the cloud could whisper, “Jenny misses you…” or maybe not, because being enveloped in a talking cloud would just scare the shit out of them and make them pee their pants just a little. Or a lot. [Mental note: Jenny, steer clear of personification.]

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Goodnight Lake Union.

How about this: give them sun in summer and rain in fall (but not too much). Let their visits to doctors only be for checkups. Light up Mt. Rainier when they’re having a bad day. Make their lattes perfect each time, and let the smell of Top Pot swirl through the air on clear early mornings. Remind them to phone me regularly. But above all, tell them that I love them. All. The. Time. And that I’m going to miss them more than cherry trees and Puget Sound and coffee and the perfect chocolate-glazed old fashioned.

Until we meet again,

Your Jenny

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turning the page

Oh friends, there is so much to catch you up on! I have been absent for an inexcusable amount of time. But, with my new specks…

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I can finally write on the computer without getting a headache. It only took the right eye doctor to diagnose something that I’ve had all my life, and the right glasses to fix it. But glasses are only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg of my medical issues. I’ve had my head cracked open, tooled around with, and sewed shut (it was all peaches and cream, I assure you). And I’ve also had a needle inserted from the back of my jaw to the front of my cheek, while awake. Not fully sedated. And then a searing hot needle in the same spot (peaches and cream).

But I’ve learned a lot from these experiences. And here’s an important tip from me to you: when someone is about to pull surgical staples out of your head and they say, “This is going to feel like a little pinch,” they are LYING. It is going to feel like they are PULLING F***ING STAPLES OUT OF YOUR HEAD.

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But I digress. After my surgery in January there were lots of tears for the inability to take care of my girls, lots of anger because the surgery didn’t work. Well, it worked a tiny bit. As I told the surgeon a few weeks after, it took my sound sensitivity down from an 8 to a 6. It’s something. I can be in restaurants a tiny bit longer without hiding in the bathroom. I can put soft music on in the car for the girls. But it was not the miracle cure we were all hoping for. There are still days when I want to pull a Van Gogh. But then I realize that I would then be the girl with no ear, and probably committed to a mental institution, and still have this damn sound sensitivity and unbearable pain.

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Two months after the surgery I was recovered and settling back into life. I had accepted that this was how it was going to be; this was how I was going to be.  I had accepted it, but I didn’t like it. I was tired of the same routine and the same 4 walls. I was bored. I looked into the future and couldn’t see anything other than the same day-to-day blah. During my daily meditation I would ask the universe (you might call it God, I call it something different) for something big. Something happy. A change.

The universe answered. Shouted, practically. But I didn’t really know it at the time.

One day as I was resting in my bed, watching Call the Midwife on my iPad for the umpteenth time (amazing show), Dave messaged me: “Want to move to London?”

I nearly choked on my coffee. And if anyone can choke on coffee, it would be me.

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His company was looking for 10 Americans to help lead teams in the expanding London office. So this wasn’t just a joke: he was serious. Should he apply or not? We discussed it at length. Would my medical needs be met the UK? What would we do with the house? The car? How would we function with no family support? Where would the kids go to school? How would they react to the move?

Dave grew up a military brat, moving from place to place all over the world. A move like this didn’t faze him. In fact, it feels odd to him being in our house for so long (6 years).  But me? I’ve lived in Seattle my whole life. And when I’ve moved away for short periods, I’ve gotten homesick…to say the least. Just the thought of leaving my family gives me butterflies and makes me feel like I want to throw up but not throw up but oh, man I might…and I need a ginger ale.

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So I sat on it. And thought everything through. And then I realized something: in college I was accepted to a writing program in London the summer after my junior year. That June, my mother was diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer. I stayed home to take care of her. It was the most difficult and saddest time of my life, up until now. That was 10 years ago.

She survived, and thrived, and I would never take back a moment spent with her while she was fighting for her life. I never got to see London, and I don’t regret it.  But right at the moment when I was reflecting on the ten-year anniversary of the year we nearly lost my mom, I was also thinking about the magic of London (clearly; I was watching Call the Midwife for the 7th time!) and what might have happened had she not gotten sick; had I gone to London to write. And just then, the universe offered up the city to me, clear as day. Looking back, I don’t know how I didn’t recognize it right at that moment; this gift landing in my lap. This opportunity I needed and still need so very much. A clean slate.

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The last 2 years have been the hardest and unhappiest of my life, equal to that of holding my mom’s hand in that awful hospital room for weeks on end. London would be a new beginning. An adventure. And I had to take a leap of faith that this could be my chance to be happy once again. For so many reasons, I knew that this was a gift being given to me. I had to honor it and embrace it and, above all, enjoy it!

Dave applied and was accepted, of course, because he’s a rock star. We leave at the end of July for two years across the pond. I am frightened and excited, sad and thrilled. Now that most of the logistical details are taken care of, I’m focusing on keeping myself healthy—physically and mentally. My shrink and I are becoming fast friends.

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Someone said to me, “I guess the name of your blog will still work over there: Rainy Day Gal.” They were right. London weather is about the same. The only thing that’s changed is me. The way I look at the world is very different after I’ve been chewed up and spit out these last 2 years. I’ve grown up. I know myself better. I’m more centered, more grounded. But I’m sadly not that funny, lighthearted Jenny that used to fuddle about in the kitchen making Bacon Cinnamon Rolls and Cuban Pork. I want to get back to her. I want to find life funny again. Maybe everything is funnier in Britain. At least the people watching will be better.

What I’ll be writing from here on out will be more about our adventures in moving, house hunting, testing London cuisine, shopping for groceries the way Londoners do. I’ll get lost on the tube, get soaked to the bone with rain and meet some hilarious woman at a coffee shop and become fast friends. Because London is a rom-com, right? I want to live in a rom-com right now. That sounds nice.

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I know you all want lots of photos of everything Britain, and I can absolutely promise you that, along with our travels around Europe (France, Denmark, Spain, Croatia, Ireland, Scotland…our list is never-ending). I’ll attempt to keep you updated (most) every step of the way. And when we get settled in our new kitchen, I’ve taken a vow to start cooking again. I will, I will, I will!

Thank you, dear readers and friends, for always being here, even when I’m not. You mean more to me than I can express with words. Until next time,

Xoxo

Jenny

like a hole in the head

I came to my site this morning to find an old recipe. Reading through the post I needed, I was struck with how much I have changed in the last year: I’m more serious, less funny. I don’t write anymore. My brain exists in a cloud of medications that have made me a different person. I need them to survive, but it’s not a lively existence whatsoever.

I’d give anything to go back to the old Jenny. Starting Monday morning (January 27th), I just might have that chance.

Taken by Katie Blanch Photography - http://katieblanch.com

Let me take a step back. A few months ago, by sheer chance and a bit of good luck, a doctor spied something on my CT that no one had before: a hole. Not a hole in my head (though Monday I’ll have one of those, too!), but a tiny, microscopic hole in my superior semicircular ear canal. It’s called Superior Canal Dehiscence Syndrome, and it’s incredibly rare.

The watered-down version is this: you have three semicircular ear canals that are filled with fluid. They communicate with the brain as your head moves to keep you balanced. The canals are made of bone which encase the fluid. When a hole forms, naturally your balance–and your hearing–can get all sorts of wacky. In my case, the hole is right next to my brain, so with no bone there, only a thin membrane runs between the canal and the brain. This could very well explain my extreme sound sensitivity, balance issues, pain, vertigo, and dizziness.

Taken by Katie Blanch Photography - http://katieblanch.com

I met with the most fantastic surgeon here in Seattle and scheduled the procedure. Unfortunately, they can’t patch the canal by entering through the ear, so it is a cranial operation–they will cut out a small piece of my skull in order to access the canal they need to patch. Since it’s close to brain surgery, it comes with many inherent risks. Believe me, I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this one! After the operation is over I’ll spend 2 days in the ICU, followed by 3-5 more days in a regular room. When I’m discharged they’ll send me home with a walker so I don’t stumble around the house like a drunken sailor (but if I do I’ll be sure to take hilarious video for y’all).

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Now it comes back to the old question: am I hopeful? Unequivocally, yes. I have the best doctor, the best family and friends, and the best husband to help me through this. I believe that I will get back to my old self after all said and done. I’m thinking positive, and won’t let myself think otherwise.

Hopefully this year you’ll see a lot more of me. Hopefully I can get back to cooking, and photography, and writing, just as life was before I got whacked over the head with this illness. I want to laugh again, and cry from joy and not pain. I want to take care of my kids all day long and not get tired; not curl up in a ball of pain on the couch. I want to go out to restaurants, and parties, and play dates. I want to get my life back. And the next time you hear from me, I’ll be funny and sarcastic and cooking something weird. I’ll be Jenny again.

Taken by Katie Blanch Photography - http://katieblanch.com

xoxo

Jenny

All photos in this post © 2013-2014 Katie Blanch Photography http://katieblanch.com/

 

five years

I think it’s time I told you the story behind the dedication of my book. If you’ve read it, you’ve seen this, and maybe wondered what it was all about:

Dedication

The worm is how we fell in love, or at least how I fell in love with him.

Let’s take a step back. It’s 2007. I’m starting a fresh new chapter in life: the Masters in Teaching program at Seattle University. I make friends. Great friends, and love my new path.

In our cohort there is this guy named Dave whom I can’t quite figure out. He wears old tee shirts and flip-flops all the time; he’s always smiling and talks to everyone with ease. He left a high-paying career in software to become a low-paid math teacher. But there’s some sort of glow around him. Maybe it’s his just his rosy cheeks, I think. But no, it’s more than that—he is the type of person people are drawn to because he is so easy to be around, and that’s his glow.

Raaaaarw

One of our assigned observations is at an alternative middle school. Eight of us are sent there, and then divided into partners for observing the classrooms. I’m paired with Dave. At first he makes me feel awkward—he sits too close and his face is inches from mine when he speaks (this, I would later learn, was because he had a huge crush on me right from the start of the program). He asks me personal questions when we’re there to work. But he also makes me a little flustered, in a good way. In the I’m-developing-a-crush-too sort of way.

On the first day when the lunch bell rings, we go to the teacher’s lounge and grab our food. The rest of our cohort sits down to eat, but Dave, being the rebel and social butterfly that I am learning he is, leaves. “I’m going to eat with the kids,” he says, one foot out the door. I follow him without even thinking.

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We make our way to the playground and find a group of seventh-grade girls that offer us spots beneath their shady tree. Dave makes silly conversation that the girls adore, asking them about their favorite colors and movies and bands. “Are you going to be our teacher next year?” they ask. He is going to make a great teacher, I think to myself. And as I sit next to him, I find that my mind is drawn to him. I’m not thinking about the banter of these girls, asking me where I grew up and what kind of music I listen to. I’m spitting out robotic answers, because all I can think about is Dave.

On our last day at the school, we observe a special education classroom where children from all ranges of the Autism spectrum learn together. Their teacher is a gem, and at the end of her lesson declares, “It’s the Jenny and Dave hour! You get to ask them whatever you want.” The kids light up like Christmas lights.

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For the next fifteen minutes we’re peppered with questions from how much money we make to what size shoe we wear to what our favorite foods are. Then one boy stands up. He speaks with his head down, his face flushed, wringing his hands together and rocking from side to side as he speaks. There is an important question in his brain that he needs to ask. He is being extremely brave in this moment.

“If there is a piece of chocolate and it has a worm on top, which one of you would eat the chocolate and which one of you would eat the worm?”

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I look to Dave and Dave looks to me.

“I’ll eat the worm,” he says. “She can have the chocolate.”

From that day forward, we fell for each other. Hard. Knowing that he was the one, and him knowing that I was the one, I made him wait to ask me the question—the question that comes with a ring—for three months. A year before I entered the Masters program I had broken off an engagement that left me wounded. I had to be extremely sure that this was going to last forever; that he was indeed the one, and the only one, forever.

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Three very happy months later, we took a walk to a park near his house. We loved going to parks and sitting on the swings, talking and laughing and doing nothing. It was our thing. As I sat on the swing, thinking about how our three months were up, Dave came around, stood in front of me, and then knelt. I don’t remember the words or how I said yes, but that yes, that agreement between us that we would be partners for the rest of our lives was the best decision I ever made.

Partners. There are no better words for what we are to one another. We tackle this life together, one day at a time, with a strong-willed 2 year-old, a sweet, precocious 4 year-old, one sweet dog, and a nagging broken ear. Somehow we do it all, but there is no way that we could if we didn’t do it together.

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We wrote our own marriage vows, and recited them to one another five years ago this week: August 2nd, 2008. One line of our vows was this: “I promise to support you. I will help you when you need help and try to help even when you don’t ask for it.” Dave has done exactly that and more for me in the past year. My illness has tested our lives, our strength, our sanity. And through it all, Dave has me covered. It’s like he’s superhuman or something—he works all day, then comes home to the two wild things and takes over so I can rest. He “eats the worm” everyday, and I’d be nothing without him.

Plus he keeps me in chocolate, so there’s that.

Xoxo

Jenny