Saturday, November 26, 2011

Canal Cruise and Camden Lock Market

The weather was nice last Sunday so we decided to take a water bus to Camden Lock Market. We live near an area in London called Little Venice, which has a canal running through it. There are house  boats along the banks, a boat that has a puppet theatre in it and you can take different boats to the zoo and up to Camden Lock Market. Since it's winter, we were limited to the Water Taxi, which runs year round. 

Brad and I were pretty tired, we'd gone out the night before to Soho for tapas and met a really nice couple from Pennsylvania while we were in line for a table. Yes, a line. Because the restaurants in Soho are so tiny (they could rename it So-Small! hardy har) all of them have lines forming outside to wait for a table. Once you are in the portion of line that's inside, you can order drinks and appetizers and the time passed pretty quickly. 

It's a quirky area of town, Soho is. I started keeping count of the drag queens, bachelorette parties and pairs of Louboutins that passed by. It's also the first area of town I haven't felt completely safe in. It's a little gritty and a girl two tables down from us had her purse stolen right off the back of her chair. We were sitting outside and were approached for change every 10 minutes or so.  I was glad I didn't bring a handbag or anything valuable. 

Anyways, we got drinks with the nice couple after dinner and stayed out way too late. Sarah shares my love of design blogs and good food and wine. So much to talk about. So the next morning required emergency take away lattes for 2 please. 

Charlie was so excited about riding a boat, but he kept talking about the boat going fast, so was probably a bit disappointed once we got going. It's a slow ride and passes a number of beautiful homes and pretty areas of town. Brad brought his fancy pants camera and took a bunch of shots along the way.

The market is huge, both indoors and out. We arrived at lunch time and were pretty hungry. There was so much to pick from, it's impossible not to have remorse over what you ordered when you pass other food stalls. Dim Sum, Indian, Moroccan, Greek, African, you name it. A giant whole pig turning on a spit - smelled heavenly. Also so many sweets and pastries and mulled wine and cider. I feel hungry just typing about it.

We had some falafal and other greek type yummies and the most incredible chicken and plantains from a Jamaican stall. I got some apple and cinnamon - basically cider without the alcohol. Just couldn't do the real stuff after our late night.

After we ate, we walked around and checked out the stalls with merchandise. Luggage, carpets, fabric, clothing, antiques, junk, collectibles - just about anything you could ask for or dream up. It was challenging to shop with Charlie, who kept getting out of his stroller and grabbing things. I love the kid, but it would be nice to go without him some time.

One of the buildings there used to be stables, so there were these large iron horse statues everywhere. We tried to get Charlie to sit on one but he screamed his head off and was too scared. Brad jumped up there instead.

Charlie has become obsessed with motorcycles and scooters (the motorized kind) since we got here. There are always a few parked outside our building. We were walking around and he suddenly yelled at me to STOP and TURN AROUND.

He jumped out of the stroller and hopped on this antique Vespa. He stayed there for 20 minutes. The stall had the strangest "art" and was kind of boring, so 20 minutes was about all we could take.

Eventually Charlie fell asleep in his stroller, but not before we bought him a very cute sweatshirt from a little business, Wee Clothing, that hand sews these cute felt designs on kids' clothes. We got Charlie a sweatshirt with a double decker bus since he is our seasoned public transportation expert.

I just noticed that we even made the fan page for Wee Clothing! The owner took our picture after we put the sweatshirt on Charlie. Check us out! We really are fans, I want to get Charlie a couple more things. The designs are so cute and the sweatshirt has held up beautifully in the wash.
Getting home was pretty much a nightmare. Instead of booking a round trip on the water bus, we decided we'd take the tube home. Mistake. There were a number of lines and stations down for track maintenance and we had to switch twice and go up and down all these stairs and I don't even want to think how much longer it took us.

We were so happy to get home! But of course, 30 minute nap in his stroller was the only napping Charlie was going to do that day. Brad and I had to switch off for a little shut eye for ourselves.

Hopefully we can make it back at some point, but there are some other area markets we want to go to as well. I hope the food is this good everywhere!

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Very Non Thanksgiving

Well, after yesterday, I can say that there is nothing that makes you more grateful for your family and friends than missing the heck out of them! I feel very fortunate that we are getting this time here in London, but yesterday was HARD. I was really missing my family, who were all together at my parent's house in McKinney. We did get to do some video chatting, though, and that cheered me up immensely.

It was kind of a strange day. Since I'm trying to get a few toys around here for Charlie to play with, I decided we would hit up this kid's consignment shop in Notting Hill that someone told me had lots of toys. As a bonus, Kristen showed me the most incredible cupcake shop there, called Hummingbird, and I thought we could get some of those.

The best way to get there is the bus since the tube route is so convoluted, so I got it all figured out on my computer, which bus to take, which stop, etc.

Then we walked over and got on the bus going the wrong direction! Yes folks, I am bus-stupid. Advanced college degrees and certifications have no bearing on my ability to decipher the bus system here. Not my proudest moment.

Fortunately it took me a while to figure it out and we had passed several shady areas and landed in a somewhat cute high street. We got off the bus to take the one going in the other direction and I looked around and thought we'll just hang out here!

I asked Charlie what he wanted for lunch and he said a cheeseburger. What an American request on Thanksgiving! We went to this place called Gourmet Burger Bar, which is exactly as it sounds, and had burgers, fries and a chocolate milkshake.

There were several charity shops around, pretty light on toys, but we did manage to score a giant bag of Mega Blocks, a puzzle and some books. The puzzle and two of the books are Postman Pat, which my mother-in-law Sue used to buy here for my sister-in-law Clare. Did you catch that? Anyways, it's a very British character.

Some woman stopped me in the store and pointed to the Mega Blocks and asked if I knew what I was buying because they go everywhere. Isn't that funny? Yes, they are toys and he is two so things do tend to go everywhere!

I also found a DVD of Christmas Vacation, which I plan to watch this weekend. That's a Crain family Thanksgiving tradition - time to bust out some of Chevy Chase's best work.

On the bus on the way back I noticed that Charlie's sippy cup had leaked all over my bag and soaked my iPhone. It is finally powering up but the screen is very dark - I can barely see the buttons. Such a bummer - I hope it will finish drying out and start working again!!

When we got home I attempted to make a reservation for a Thanksgiving dinner, since Brad said he could leave the office at 6. There were two restaurants nearby doing the whole turkey thing, but sadly both were booked solid. We ended up going out for some awesome Italian food. Fresh pasta and gnocchi and foccacia and prosciutto. And wine. Ok and gelato.

We will get our turkey fix on Saturday night. We've been invited to a dinner party to celebrate Thanksgiving. I'm making green bean bundles for 23 people!! That's a lot of bacon and butter. The dinner is kids-free, which is awesome, this mama needs a break and Charlie has grown quite fond of his babysitter here.

Anyways, thought I was past the hard stuff until my iPad told me the A&M score this morning and I felt sick to my stomach. What an annoying, horrible loss. UGH. Do we need to switch out coaching staff at half time??? Geez. My dad already had his A&M shirt on when we talked yesterday and I bet he yelled his head off at the TV!

Arkansas has a big game tonight against LSU. Go Hogs! Please win and perk up my week!!!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go waddle off all the Italian food I ate last night and head towards a bus stop going in the CORRECT direction. lol

Monday, November 21, 2011

Charlie's New Ride

Thank you everyone who has sent me messages and comments on the transitional problems we're having. So many great ideas! I think one of the first things I'm going to do is hunt down some more toys for him and just it make it feel more homey for him. 

We may also be moving flats soon to one with hardwoods floors that faces the garden. Right now we have all white carpet (yeah! with a toddler!) and face the street. There's a primary school across the street and the 45 minute a day estimate we were given for the recess noise was about 2 hours understated. So anyways, I thought if we move flats, maybe I can do some things to make the next room more *his* - though I'm not sure how just yet. 

Also, I think I'm going to write down an official schedule for us. This is not something I've ever done for us before, but I think given the situation it will help. I'll keep you posted on what works and what doesn't in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation. 

Wanted to post some more pics of Charlie with his pride and joy... his new helmet. LOL Seriously, I think he may like the helmet more than the scooter! He wants to wear it everywhere and has been taking it in the crib with him to sleep. He kind of likes to have the scooter near his crib/bed too, though. All the better to go rolling into Mom and Dad's room with.

We bought his scooter at this adorable kid's store in St. John's Wood called Igloo Kids. That's where I got his red wellies, too. They have insanely cute but expensive clothes, some really nice toys, disappointingly few books and they do haircuts in the basement. Funny.

Unrelated side topic: I just realized when I went to the Igloo web site that they are a small chain. That keeps happening to me here in London. I think I find the neatest, cutest little spot and think Wow! I've discovered this totally cool and original place! Then I find out there are 4 or 5 of them in London. London reigns supreme in the small chain arena. And I am never as cool and original as I hope.

So after we stopped for coffee at Gail's - another small chain I originally thought was only one awesome location I "discovered" - we went to the park for a bit and Charlie of course talked about all the scooters. That was all it took for Brad to want to get him one. 

Charlie actually already has a scooter at home, so it was kind of hard to justify buying it. But it will keep him very busy the rest of the time we are here and they are so popular that if we want to sell it for a big chunk of what we paid for it, we should have no problem. I was not able to find him a second hand one because they sell so quickly on the UK version of Craig's List (Gumtree). It actually folds down quite small, so maybe we will just take it home and he can always have friends over to scoot! 

So we went to the store, got him fitted for a helmet and he picked out the black scooter. It's technically for a 5 or 6 year old, but Charlie didn't want the blue one meant for 3 to 5 year olds. The only difference we could tell is that the one for the older kids a tiny bit heavier and the handle is adjustable for height. I'm not sure why Charlie was so taken with the black one. 

I lamented whether we were doing the right thing in getting him the version for older kids and Brad pointed out that no way was Charlie leaving with any scooter other than the black one. And he was right. We were getting it to make him happy, why make him sad to leave the one he really wanted?

Here he is outside of Igloo with his scooter and helmet:

Charlie rode that scooter the whole way home (it took forever) and he and I spent a large chunk of the afternoon in the garden watching him practice. He's getting pretty quick on it, but is still figuring out the steering. He'll jump off if he's about to run into something instead of steering around it.

He really is so proud of it though... and possessive. Of course other little kids in the playground want to check it out, just as he was doing before he got one. Once I reassure him they are just looking and it is not going home with them, he's usually fine with it. 

I think our MacLaren stroller is going to be feeling pretty lonely soon with all the attention we are paying the scooter. Once Charlie gets really comfortable on the scooter, we won't need the stroller very often at all. It's just sitting in the hall right now, feeling rejected. 

Well, if you're looking for us, we are probably back in the garden, perfecting some scooter skills and terrifying the neighbors' cats. :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I don't know why I picked a photo of Charlie standing next to two fake sheep for this post. They stand outside this very nice and $$$ butcher nearby. I think my dad would weep tears of joy if he walked in there, just meat, beautiful meat everywhere! Anyways, just felt like I need a photo of Charlie in here if I was going to be talking about him.

Just in case you thought it was all fun and games here in London, the past week-ish has been pretty rough from a Charlie perspective. I think he is having a bit of a hard time adjusting to being here. The first week was like vacation and his Mimi was here, but now we are effectively living here and it's wearing on him I think. His sleep schedule has been horrible and he's been acting out - being tired most of the time is probably contributing to that.

Our apartment here has 2 bedrooms, so Charlie has his own room, and the manager ordered us a brand new, nice sized crib for Charlie to sleep in. He still sleeps in his crib at home and loves it. He's been a very good sleeper up until now, usually 12 hours at night and a 2 to 2.5 hour nap most days. Lately we've been getting 9 to 10 hours at night and no nap. Let me tell you, it makes for a VERY long day to have no down time with such a tired toddler.

I don't know if the crib is not comfortable or if he can just tell it's not really *his* room, but he doesn't like sleeping in there. There are also 2 twin beds in the room and he will now occasionally sleep in one of those. He can easily get himself out of the crib, so it makes no difference if he's in the crib or bed - when he feels like leaving the room, he will. And does.

After getting over the jet lag, we had a few days where he would sleep until about 8 or so - about his norm. The last 8 or 9 days, though, he's been up at 6 or 6:30. We've tried putting him back down after he gets up, but he's not having it. When he's up, he's up. And therefore, so are we.

It's tough on Brad, who is working late right now. It's tough on me because I haven't felt rested enough to deal well enough with some of his tantrums and by 3pm I am just mentally done trying to keep up with him. I never realized how much I need that mental break in the afternoon even if I'm busy doing other things.

Nap time is a struggle because he just keeps getting up and throws an absolute fit at the suggestion of going back. This child back home would ASK to take a nap if he was tired. He would also happily go to bed at the end of the day.

I've had moderate luck going in his room and laying down on one of the twin beds and staying there until he falls asleep. In fact, I did that earlier tonight when we hit ten times of having to take him back to his room.

While at first his tactics to leave the room and sneak around the apartment were cute, they are getting tiresome. He'll kind of crawl on the floor into our room, I guess thinking we won't see him? I think he's copying Snoopy when he sneaks around along the ground on Charlie Brown. And now that he has the scooter, he quite enjoys just rolling into our room on that! Kind of victorious-like. Actually, now that I write that, it is kind of funny.

I've also noticed he's gotten very clingy with the lovie and little beanie baby we brought from home. Charlie has never been a stuffed animal kind of kid. He calls his lovie Bobo (like our dog) and used to barely notice he had it. He'd rather carry around a truck or Person. Now gets upset if he doesn't have it Bobo, who goes everywhere with us. All over London.

Charlie also has this beanie baby of a deer that's been in his crib since his little surgery at 1 year old. He calls that toy Odie, after my mom's dog. Odie doesn't leave the apartment (yet), but Charlie will kind of panic if he can't find him. Odie must be present at bed time.

Similarly, he's gotten very attached to his binky. He used to just insist he had it whenever he went to bed, but now he wants it all the time. I've had to insist it doesn't leave the apartment with us, but he will go find it when we are home and walk around with it in his mouth. It's not good, I can't tell what he's saying most of the time.

I guess because he's using the binky so much I'm realizing how silly it looks to have an almost 3 year old using it and that we should have taken away at 1 year like we were told. Given our other issues here, I'm not even going to TRY and bring that topic up until we are back in Virginia. Same with potty training - I bought him a trainer seat, but I'm not pushing it until we are back home.

The temper tantrums he's been throwing are very new to me - he's never been a big fit-throwing kind of kid. He can definitely be stubborn, but can usually be diverted or distracted. And those throw downs just don't happen that often. He's generally a very happy kid.

I guess as a way of asserting some control in his little life, he has become extremely stubborn and resorted to extremes to get his way. Like throwing himself down on the ground (yuck) in a busy tube station and kicking and screaming. I thought his head might start spinning during that little episode.

It was followed by another screaming fit in front of Madame Tussauds. The tourists got their own little show while waiting in line! We were meeting Brad for lunch and he had to leave the restaurant and come get us.

For the most part, when he's not making a scene, I try and just let him get it out and have his way as often as it isn't dangerous - can't do much when throws a fit because I won't let him play with the stove. If he'll let me, I'll pick him up and sit down with him or walk around with him and just talk to him in a soothing voice. Sometimes he's too mad for that, though and I just have to wait it out.

It can really make for an exhausting day when everything is a battle. He even protests putting on a diaper and clothes in the morning. I keep waiting for bruises to appear on my stomach from being kicked so much.

We were able to bring over a few little toys and books with us, but for the most part this apartment is pretty boring to him. We leave and go places for him to play every day, but the sun sets at 4:30 and we are generally back by then with time to kill until bed time.

He's bored and has started trying to play with things around the apartment - like the dishwasher, the washing machine, the DVD player, the fridge and freezer, etc. I feel like I am saying no every 30 seconds when we are home, just so he doesn't break one of the appliances!

That was a big reason we got him the scooter this weekend, even though he has a scooter back home. It helps wear him out and also keeps him very entertained, in a way no other single toy probably would. It was also a treat for a kid who is having a hard time but all in all being a trooper.

He's been talking about his friends back home more and more - bringing them up out of nowhere. He plays with the phone and calls Ben, Will and Owen and tells them all sorts of things. Tonight he was talking about preschool and his friends Grayson and Austin. He told me he wanted to go to preschool. Sometimes he tells me he wants to go home. It really kills me when he's crying when he says that.

I did not give enough thought to what Charlie's adjustment period was going to be like over here. I figured there would be one, but this is tougher than what I imagined. I thought the fun, new experiences and getting to see his Daddy every day would make up for it. I now realize that most of all he just wants his old routine.

I'm now trying to stick to a more structured schedule over here so he knows what to expect. I ordered a white noise machine for his room, which should arrive tomorrow, so it sounds more like his old room. I'm going to order some more books and look around for some more toys, maybe borrowed if I can swing it.

If anyone out there has any ideas, I'm all ears! I feel horrible he's not happy. I'm also very, very tired!! Also, I'm going to order him some new books, so if there are any that your 2 or 3ish year olds are loving lately (or loved at that age), could you send me the titles?

I need to catch up on email so bad - I know I owe several of you a message. Not to mention the blog - I have about 5 other posts imagined up, but not written and bunches of pictures I want to get loaded so I don't forget all that we did here.

Anyways, send me an email or FB message or comment here or whatever if you have any thoughts. I better get to bed, my wake up call is going to scooter into my room here in a few hours!

Oh, and some more photos, mostly for my mom and dad, who I know are missing Charlie a ton right now. These are from the park at Paddington Street Gardens where we played after having lunch with Brad. Charlie and a little French girl really hit it off. :) Wish I'd gotten her picture because she was darling, but felt weird taking a photo of someone else's kid and my French isn't strong enough to explain it to her mother.

 even the trash can (yuck!) was neat at this park. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Regent's Park

Since we are here during the winter months, most days are going to be cloudy, if not raining. In order to get out and see things and avoid the claustrophobia that comes with being indoors every day, we have to take advantage of each sunny day. 

We woke up Tuesday morning to the most beautiful sunshine and mild weather. Charlie and I didn't have any plans, so I thought we'd ride the tube just a few short stops away and visit Regent's Park.

Regent's Park is quite large, like Hyde Park, and has lots of different things to do. Playgrounds, ponds, canals, wildlife areas, cafes, trails, etc. It also is home to the London Zoo, though I'm saving a visit there until Brad can join us. 

For Tuesday I thought we'd just play on some playgrounds, eat some lunch and feed the ducks. I excitedly told Charlie about my plans, thinking he'd run to get his shoes. Except that he's in a very two year old phase right now and of course told me no, stay here, do this other thing FIRST. 

It took forever to get him out the door, even with promises of ducks. I finally suggested he bring this little soccer ball he has with us, a gift from someone at Brad's office. He carried it the whole time we rode the tube and showed everyone we encountered MY BALL!

Once we got there, we walked along the water towards one of the playgrounds. I had the bread stashed in my bag, but I was honestly a little scared to pull it out. There were SO MANY birds and they looked hungry! I thought we may not be able to handle the situation. Those geese can be so pushy.

The playground was fun, we met some other little boys about his age. In typical London style, they were from all over the world. All but one spoke English. Of course, all them spoke energetic two year old and that's really all that mattered. 

It took a while to get Charlie out of the playground to go find some lunch (do you see a trend here? It takes forever to get Charlie to go anywhere to do anything). Along the way I snapped my favorite photo of the day. Beautiful swans floating on a fall day.

We had lunch at the Garden Cafe, which has organic, locally grown type stuff. It was nice, but I'm honestly trying to forget the whole experience. While the sandwich and latte was lovely, Charlie brought about a gallon of sand from the playground into the cafe with him in his jeans and dumped some everywhere he sat - including the velvet piano bench he crawled up on while I was ordering our food. The piano was in the sit-down portion of the cafe and we were eating in the section where you order at the counter. 

The screams when Charlie found out he was not allowed to actually PLAY the piano were loud and disturbing. Then to see a big pile of sand where he was just sitting... well, I was ready to leave. From the look on the hostess' face, she was ready for us to leave too!

We headed out to the rose garden and Charlie kicked around his ball for a while. A nice older gentleman even joined him for part of it. Lots of people were out walking on their lunch hour. And my latte gave me a second wind after the attack of the Charlie at the cafe. 

We continued walking after Charlie got tired of kicking the ball and found an area without quite as many birds. I pulled out the bread and gave it to Charlie. He seemed excited at first, but didn't understand why the birds didn't behave like the poodles do when Charlie is about to give them a treat.

The poodles, after all, sit and look like excitement might overtake them at any moment or hang back, trying to figure out how to trick Charlie out of the treat without having to do anything for it. They do not head your way full force like they'll peck off your leg if you don't hurry it up already.

So needless to say, Charlie was a bit apprehensive.

This one was the worst. So pushy!

After the bread was gone,  it was time to learn all of Charlie's objections to moving on and finding the tube stop. At that point my resistance was worn and there may or may not have been a chocolate cupcake purchased outside the tube stop for Charlie. And he may remember exactly where that cupcake shop is and may have gotten upset with me today because we were in that tube station again and no cupcake appeared in his hand. But that's another post!

Anyways, a fun and memorable time with my munchkin. I hope we can go back to Regent's Park on a beautiful day with Brad and maybe a picnic. I think he'd love it and the zoo is supposed to be awesome.  Here's hoping for another sunny day tomorrow because today... was not. :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mimi and Gena Come to Visit

You are probably going to be asking where the photos of Gena were at the end of this post. Sadly, my jetlagged self did not do a good documentation job and get any photos of either Mimi and Gena or Charlie and Gena. Doh! Also got absolutely no photos of Mimi with me. Fortunately, I have picked up my photography game lately, so it's about to get all picture crazy up in here. Doesn't really help with this post, though.

My sister Meredith and one of her besties Gena came to visit right after we got to London. Like, as in, the day after. So we were a little out of sorts, but fortunately they are extremely easy house guests. For example, they show up with presents and wine and are also quite self entertaining.

Gena is living in Paris for a month and Meredith came over to visit her. They spent a week in Paris and then came to London for a few days. Witty recaps of their adventures can be found here and here

They really showed London who was boss with their sightseeing skills. I'm pretty sure I would not have been able to keep up with their schedule. Or maybe it was because I was watching it through jet lagged eyes? Not sure. They also pubbed it up and hung out with some, ahem, interesting locals.

Charlie absolutely loved spending time with both of them. In fact, the three of them were roommates. I think this was an OK situation except for their first night, which was only our second night in London. He was up during the wee hours, but I found Gena sitting by his crib, quietly reading books to him. It just melted my cold, jaded heart. 

It was a nice visit; they are such fun girls. Charlie loved showing off for them and they brought him the most adorable policeman's hat (like a real Bobby wears!). After Gena left, Charlie continued to call her from the objects around the flat that he's adopted as his phones. Now he calls both of them. :)

Gena headed back to Paris on Monday and Meredith stayed on until Wednesday. So we had a nice couple of low key days hanging out with Charlie, ordering takeout and drinking wine. 

On Tuesday we took Charlie to Hyde Park with the intention of visiting the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. We learned very quickly that Hyde Park is quite large and could stand to have some improved signage. It took us a while to figure out where we were going, but in the meantime, we walked so much and burned so many calories, there was nothing left and we were invisible. Or at least, that's what we told ourselves.

We had lunch at a very cute cafe right on the pond in Hyde Park. Of course I have no pictures of that. Don't worry Gena, the cute cafe did not make the cut ahead of you. 

Then we walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and cursed a little, and walked and walked and walked. Charlie was almost asleep in his stroller when we finally found the park. It is a REALLY neat park. It has a Peter Pan theme. Here are some fun action shots:

It was fun and we ended the day with lotso wine and Indian takeout. And a run to the store for more wine and CHOCOLATE. I mentioned how good the chocolate is here, right?

On Wednesday, Mimi's flight didn't leave until 6, so we decided to get out and enjoy the morning. We had ever intention of going to the Natural History Museum, but when we came up from the tube the sun was shining and it had turned into a beautiful day.

By the way, Mimi was quite impressed with Charlie's mad tube-riding skills:

She thinks he could hang with the city kids in NYC. He seemed excited to hear it, as he has been working diligently at Minding the Gap.

Anyways, back to Wednesday. We started walking again. And the stupid map made it look like everything was so much closer than it truly was. So we would walk 30 minutes and have made no progress. Trafalgar Square was just not going to happen, but once again, there was so much walking we ended up invisible.

We ended up on Oxford street (lots of shopping) with a very grouchy Charlie, found a pub and ordered some drinks and food. Charlie started playing with the salt and pepper shakers and got pepper in his eyes and screamed for 20 minutes. Yeah. That was fun. Exactly what the other pub patrons were looking for mid-day.

After eating and cheering up, we hit up Harrods. What an off the hook department store. I can't even explain it. It's like a museum dedicated to shopping. They have so much, it makes the Macy's at Harold Square in NYC look podunk.  I must go back and re-examine.

After that we left Mimi to gawk at the super sized H&M on Oxford Street and I got Charlie home. That huge H&M must have been an intoxicating experience (or was that the drinks at lunch?) because Meredith got back just in time to leave for her train! We were sad to see her go, but know she was excited to get home and see Lucas.

So until next time (wherever that may be)... Bye Mimi! Bye Gena!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Learning Curve

I'd like to think when I travel that I'm pretty open to new cultures and can assimilate fairly easily. But everyone likes to think that about themselves, right? Since we are in more of a living situation than a vacation, we're really getting to experience it all, good and bad. All first world problems, of course, but kind of funny or interesting.

Probably the thing irking me the most right now is our silly washer/dryer. Most flats have a combined washer/dryer unit in the kitchen. So you just leave the clothes in the machine and the dry cycle begins once the wash cycle ends. I guess it's an energy efficient machine - that's the only reason I can figure it's so standard here. We have plenty of room for a full size set.

But ugh, do I hate that machine. It doesn't hold very many clothes but still manages to be so rough on them! I am line drying everything, down to our socks, because it takes the machine so long to dry.

The water temps are of course in Celsius, which didn't occur to my jet lagged self on our second day, so I managed to ruin a new shirt of mine. I washed a bunch of Charlie's dark clothes on a very hot water temp, so anything light colored in the load is now covered in splotches. Lovely.

The oven and dishwasher both have some weird symbols on them, but are standard enough. The fridge only keeps things moderately cold, though. Europeans are just not big on very cold food or lots of ice in your drinks. Again, more energy efficient.

Our flat's kitchen is in its own little room with a door, almost like another bedroom that's been outfitted with cabinets along the walls. It's nice, all from IKEA I think. The bathrooms are tiny, but we are fortunate I think to have big rooms in the rest of the flat. It's pretty open with wide hallways - something I've been told is unusual here.

Dialing the phone here is still a bit confusing. So many numbers! Of course, I've made this more complicated than it should be by having both my phone from home (requiring the international dialing codes) and the apartment phone, which I can dial locally. At least, until I lost the handset for the apartment phone.

Kristen took me to an actual grocery store last weekend. Other than we go to the smaller local markets we can walk to. It was a little intimidating, but I figured it out. Things are organized a bit differently, not where someone from the U.S. would expect them. Obviously different terms for food (biscuits vs. crackers, frankfurters vs. hot dogs, etc.) and different measurements (metric obviously and the milk is in liters for instance) and different products.

Oh and the eggs. They are not refrigerated here. They are just out on a shelf, in the middle of a regular aisle. I bought some, brought them home and promptly put them in the fridge. Quite illogical of me.

So far I adore the yogurt and chocolate I can buy here. Sooooo much better than what we have back home. I can't really explain what's different about the yogurt, but it's delicate and not too sweet and I am having some every day. The chocolate here makes Hershey's taste like wax. Just a regular old candy bar here is an incredible treat - tastes like more expensive chocolate in the U.S.

I'm still getting used to the traffic patterns, but am getting better about not looking the wrong way for an oncoming car. Kristen actually has her driver's license and I am so impressed watching her drive. She had to take quite a few driving lessons to get comfortable with it. I would think it would go against every instinct developed driving on the other side of the road back home.

Hmmm, what else. The light switches are opposite here too. And they are usually located outside of the room they light. It seems like keys turn and doors open in the opposite direction most of the time too. So I guess you could say England! Just like the U.S., but opposite!

Charlie and I took our first taxi ride the other day, to Brad's office to meet him for lunch, and I love the taxis here. They are those old fashioned looking cars, but when you get in, you have all this floor space in front of you. Tons of room for bags, the stroller, you name it. So nice.

Still haven't ventured on a bus, but we have become seasoned pros on the tube. Charlie especially has taken to it. He gets right on the train and plops down on a seat, even if there are people on either side! That usually gets a smile or two.

Well, that's all I can think of for now. Signing off because I have to go hang up every last article of clothing to drip dry. :)

Lazy Sunday

Today was not my most productive day. In fact, it was kind of a hang around the house in jammies day until early afternoon. Mainly because I actually went out last night with other grown ups, had adult conversation, too much wine and stayed up way too late! It was so much fun. 

We went with 4 other couples to this incredibly awesome hole in the wall Greek restaurant, where they just keep bringing food and wine until you can't take anymore. It was 8 courses long and the best Greek food I think I've ever had. A pleasant surprise considering how sketchy this place looks from the outside - windows covered in old fabric, run down exterior, the sense that you just walked into someones house when you come in the door - not a business. 

The people we went with are so much fun and I haven't laughed that much in a while. We were loud and obnoxious and I would guess pretty annoying if you were sitting at one of the other 4 or 5 tables. It was a blast.... that we all paid for this morning. Some of us earlier than others, depending on how old the children were. 

We had a wonderful sitter come and stay with Charlie when we were out. I met her at the park on our second day here. She's from Pennsylvania and babysits for some other families in our neighborhood. She couldn't be any sweeter. 

After we met at the park she sent me her babysitting resume. That's apparently what they do here, but it was my first time to receive a resume from a babysitter. I think she's looking for a full time nanny position, but I will happily have her come babysit until she finds one! She's coming back next weekend so Brad and I can go out to dinner. 

Brad had to head into work for a while yesterday and today, so Munchkin and I have been having our own little adventures this weekend. Yesterday we walked to the shops in a nearby neighborhood, St. John's Wood. I've recently learned that a street of shops like that is called a High Street. Did you know that? I am probably the only person who did not.

Anyways, we had been over there Thursday with my friend Kristen and her son (also named Charlie) and I found my Charlie the cutest little red Hunter wellies. They had to order his size and they came in Friday. so we picked up his shoes and ran a few other errands and had a nice walk in the sunshine.

Today I just kept downloading episodes of Super Why on iTunes until I could no longer justify not leaving the house in the beautiful weather. We walked over to a coffee shop and then went to the private garden that our building backs up to. It's a very long, kind of narrow space - the same area where the bonfire was held.
Charlie played at the playground there for a bit but had his eye on the other kids' bikes and scooters. Besides our building, there are many single family homes that back up to the garden, so these were the resident kids. I feel bad telling him no when he starts heading for another child's toy. There was a somewhat abandoned tricycle sitting there the whole time we were at the playground, so I let him play with that for a while.

I am dying to get Charlie one of the little lightweight scooters all the kids have here. They are from this Swiss company called Micro Scooter and they make a model for 3 to 5 year olds. Once kids here grow out of the stroller they typically ride their scooters to keep up with their parents on the streets. At least once a day, Charlie tries to steal a Mini Micro - they are EVERYWHERE. They are just lined up outside the preschools, waiting for their little owners to finish class. I'm trying to convince Brad we *need* one.

Anyways, it was a gorgeous day here. I think we have a beautiful week in store before it starts raining every day.

After our visit to the garden, we headed over to celebrate a very special boy's first birthday. This is little Charlie - our friends' Kristen and Jason's son. Charles is a family name in Kristen's family as well. 
He wasn't too big on the cupcake, but took several steps in the living room while we all cheered. Party attendees were either exhausted from our big night out or under the age of 5. It was a nice gathering, but we were all a bit short on interesting conversation! 

After we left the birthday party we decided to walk and grab some dinner somewhere. We hit up The Elgin, which is a bar and grill nearby. We discovered they have movies for the kids upstairs on Sunday nights, so we ordered food and watched some of Kung Fu Panda 2. There were a couple older kids there that Charlie loved going over to talk to. They were very sweet and would just smile and nod if they couldn't understand him. 

We met some very nice people at the bar, one of whom invited Brad to play soccer. Everywhere we go here in London it seems like we meet someone new who is just so friendly. It's like Pleasantville with accents. It's very easy to just settle in and feel right at home when people are so nice. Even in Richmond, which I consider very friendly, I've never experienced anything quite like it. I don't know if it's this particular neighborhood or London in general. I'll keep you posted. 

So that was kind of our weekend. Brad has a busy work week ahead and Charlie and I are going to make the most of the beautiful weather. Have a good week!