Finally British!

YAY! After 6 long years of paperwork, fees and uncertainty, it’s official. They can’t kick us out anymore!
In mid-October (after a couple months waiting), we finally received confirmation that our application for UK citizenship had been accepted. Of course, we were ecstatic to no longer have the process hanging over our heads. And, with the Eurozone still in tact (for now), citizenship means we are now free to move and work about the region at will. Long live the Eurozone!
Yesterday, we ventured to our borough’s town hall for our official ceremony, overseen by a very boisterous female mayor with bright technicolour red hair who seemed more suited to pop up from the pages of a Disney book than within the chambers of the Camden council; she was refreshingly informal. For this we were thankful as we had W in tow and though it was a formal occasion, he just couldn’t resist making a few interjections. And would any such occasion be complete without a toddler interjecting ‘tractor’, ‘moo’, ‘mommy’, ‘daddy’ and other such non-sensical additions? Thankfully W was easily distracted by raisins and taking photos, and in good company as it was a family event and there were ~10 children of various ages amongst the ~100 attendees.
We took the day off to make it a proper family celebration day in honour of the milestone and attended the ceremony, reception and then allowed ourselves a few British indulgences to mark the day. G, W & I drank champagne (and non-alcoholic raspberry fizz) at the world’s longest champagne bar (located across the street from town hall in St Pancras Station), ate fish and chips and mushy peas, and went for a relaxed pot of afternoon tea with Victoria Sponge. And, in fitting with the milestone, after months of searching and beginning to lose hope, we may have FINALLY found a couple suitable new boroughs of London to call home. It was a very good day.
So, now the question turns to ‘what next’? So far, we’ve gotten married, bought a house (sold it), moved abroad, earned masters degrees, traveled about the world (though there’s still much more to see), started a family, and rediscovered the pleasures of personal fitness. What now? Buy a house (again) and plant the garden? Not sure…we’re certainly open to ideas, without something new in the works we’re (a hmmm…K is) certain to get bored…quickly.
And, finally, what’s with the ridiculous ‘momentos’? As UK citizens, I can’t help but think we would be better served for our life here by a healthy dollop of English wit and charm rather than the useless paper weight we received. [Oh, dear, with that bit of moaning done, we must well and truly be British :) ]

Posted in Life in London, Moving to London | Tagged , | Comments Off

The Olympics are Golden

The Olympics have been spectacular. From the Opening Ceremony, to the exhilarating competition, the amazing photo and video coverage, the smooth logistics, the additional entertainment and activities around the city, and most notably the kindness of the volunteers and British people across the city. London 2012 has been a real success for London and the nation, and it has been a lot of fun to be a part of it.

Last Sunday we went to the Olympic Park to watch the water polo. We got our tickets over a year ago in the ticket lottery and were the only ones of our friends to get any — so we felt pretty lucky. A part of our strategy was to select events that we thought would be less popular and thus better odds. It worked :-) . And we lucked out with the session that we saw. Hungary came back from behind to win in a close finish against Russia, while Australia won in a thrilling penalty shoot out to beat China. We really got into it, cheered hard, and saw some amazing goals.

We spent a bit of time in the park as well looking around. It was fantastic to be there and be a part of the experience. We were super impressed at how organized everything was. We were through security (run by the army) in seconds and they were so much more polite than security at the airport. There were volunteers everywhere to help direct, encourage, or just take group pictures for you with your camera. They even had people doing silly skits and antics to help entertain the crowds and set a festive mood.

Then this Sunday we headed downtown to see the marathon — the classic Olympic event. Once again, the preparation was thorough to the last detail. We found a spot under Waterloo Bridge and waited patiently to see the runners rush by. It was very different from the London marathon as there were far fewer runners. But it was also on a loop, so we were able to see them pass by multiple times. The crowds were super enthusiastic cheering for all the runners — and a little louder for Team GB. It was great to see London out supporting the games.

One of the great things about the Olympics is that it has spurred a real since of pride and patriotism in the nation. Americans are naturally patriotic, so this wouldn’t be so unusual in the States. But here people are typically more reserved and this is the most patriotism we’ve seen since moving here six years ago. Not only has London done a fantastic job with hosting, but Team GB has performed well making this Olympics a source of pride for the country as a whole and not just London. Not only has it been exciting for us, but we’ve enjoyed a bit of pride and patriotism ourselves as we are only a rubber stamp away from becoming British citizens.

It has been interesting talking to some of the native Londoners about the Olympics. There was a lot of skepticism and grumbling about the city being invaded, the overloaded public transport and roads blocked off only for Olympics officials. The warnings about transport really played to the English psyche and most natives stayed home or left for holiday. It turned out the transport really wasn’t that bad (I had the best two weeks commuting ever). In the end, the skeptic natives were all won over. By the time the Olympics finished, they were proud of London and Team GB. As a result, there has been a mad rush for tickets for the Paralympic Games next month and organizers are now predicting the first sell out in history!

For me, I never really thought that I’d experience a ‘home’ Olympics. Even when we moved to London six years ago, it seemed so far away. We never thought we’d still be here for the Olympics. We feel fortunate that we’ve been able to take part and have such a wonderful experience.

Posted in Life in London | Comments Off

London: Polished for Guests

London in summer. It’s radiant green. Birds are chirping. Primrose Hill is chock a block. Flowers are cascading. And Pimms cups are overflowing. It’s the best place to be on a sunny day.
Though much of our summer has been a bit wet and dreary, the last couple weeks have been heaven. So, W and I have been venturing out on our days together to make the most of the loveliness. And this year, given the Olympics, there’s more going on than ever before.
There’s a giant sandy ‘Beach’ atop the Roundhouse in Camden. An underground cork lounge by the Serpentine Gallery (perfect for ensuring little W bounces back up again when he falls ☺). Kensington Palace has been polished and reopened. Olympic rings adorn many bridges and photo opps across the city (in front of St Pauls along the Thames, the bridge along the Serpentine, Tower Bridge, etc). And perfectly manicured lawns await in the city’s parks just begging for picnics galore.
It’s a lovely time to be in London.

Posted in Life in London | Comments Off

We’re Going to Hawaii!

I’m going to admit a troubling insecurity. Most of our friends are more widely traveled Stateside than we are. This is especially true for K (Me). And, to make things worse, this statement is true as compared to both our Stateside AND European friends. We often find ourselves in conversations to the tune of Friend says, ‘San Francisco is my favourite American city.’ To which K says, ‘Oh, I’ve heard it’s lovely…’ This is becoming a bit embarrassing. So…

K’s never been west of Colorado.
G’s been a bit further west and south, but has never made it to the Pacific coast.

There. We’ve said it. It’s true. We both put our toes in the Pacific for the first time while visiting Japan in 2006. And, again, when visiting Costa Rica this year. We’re more widely traveled in two other continents than in the continent of our birth.

So, imagine our surprise when A&V announced that they’d like to celebrate their 40th anniversary Hawaiian-style with the whole family next Winter/Spring. Looks like we’ll now have our chance to go a bit further west and south (if Hawaii counts?).

Given your collective travel experience Stateside, any pointers on which islands to visit and what to do there? We’ll have a week for independent travel as a family of three in advance of a collective 7-day cruise about the islands. Any tips?

And rest assured the Pacific Northwest and Northern California are on our list for future travels, as well :) We must give our home country a bit more love and attention. [But it will be a difficult choice as it's so expensive as compared to Vietnam, Cambodia...and Venezuela!]

Posted in United States | Comments Off

A great time to become British

Imagine it. Four or five years ago, g and I were walking down our street in London talking about what the future may hold. Moving? Children? Jobs? Then, I added another…dual-citizenship? G bristled a bit and said ‘no, surely we won’t be here that long’ and we agreed to disagree. A few months later, g reopened the topic and the rest is history. So, here we are 6 years on, and it seemed somehow fitting that we submitted our application for dual citizenship on the eve of the Olympics’ opening ceremony. I won’t say that we felt as though it was in our honor…but it did make us proud to be almost British.

So many stateside friends have written to check on us this week and to see if we have tickets. Thank you! And thank you to the IOC for their months of warnings regarding the anticipated crowding problems during the games. Want to know a secret? For us, traveling now is actually more pleasant than traveling in the tube or overground just about any other time of the year. I’m sure some are affected, but we haven’t been. We’re still scoring seats!

Why? How? I have a theory. The British are lovely and oh so polite. So, when given the prospect of having their city taken over by others who are not quite so lovely or polite, they decide to leave town. As they have now. Christmas is also one of our favourite times in London because it is extremely quiet. We feel as if the cafes are our own. So is the case now with the games in town.

And, we did manage to get tickets. We’ll spend next Sunday afternoon at the games, we’ll see water polo in the Pringle chip aquatics centre and are excited for it.

My only lament about the games is the way in which ticket sales were handled. The chances of getting tickets in last year’s lottery scheme were minuscule. We were the only ones (so as we know) of our friends to score tickets, despite many applying. Now, to see the stadiums 1/4 to 1/2 empty makes me sad. How this happened, I don’t know…but it’s a real shame. Alas…we’ll go Sunday, stay tuned for photos!

What did you think of Friday’s opening ceremony?

Posted in Life in London | Comments Off

Bees buzzing happily in the lavender fields…

It’s true. The bees are happy in Provence this time of year.

Many of you will remember that we visited Provence for the first time 7 years ago, it was May. We fell in love with the area’s charm (not to mention the food and cheap wine) and vowed to return during the lavender bloom ‘someday’. My 34th birthday (also Bastille Day) was the day.

G had planned the trip this spring, so imagine our surprise and worry when 2 mornings before the trip, w’s eye was a bit pink. Then, the next afternoon, he began to run a temperature. And, finally, the morning we were meant to leave, he vomited. Should we, or shouldn’t we go?

We called the nurses hotline and turns out it was a reaction to his mmr vaccine taken the week before. His molars and incisors were also raging to break through–making it all seem more severe, but there was no real threat that he was contagious or likely to be in need of emergency medical. So, after much discussion, we decided to go.

Probably not our best decision in life because we now know traveling with a sick child is not fun. For anyone. But, stepping aside from this life lesson, Provence was stunning–again.

We stayed in a tiny little town perched atop a tiny mound, Sault. Apparently, the centre of lavender country as the valley below is a sea of swaying purple. Sitting with drinks in Sault, we felt as if we were the king and queen (and prince) in a fairy tale…the type illustrated in bright watercolour where trolls live beneath bridges an the bunnies talk. Though, in the story of Sault, the bees would do the talking.

While we had planned to hike about the lavender fields by day, we soon realised it wouldn’t be fair to w with a 40 degree (104 degree) temperature, so we opted, instead, for a drive about the region. And upon stepping out amongst the fields of lavender for the first time, there was an overwhelming sound like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Imagine a movie with a swarm of killer bees–if that movie were to be made, they’d get the base soundtrack from Provence during the lavender bloom. Mind you, these bees were a friendly sort. Likely drunk and dazed on the lavender nectar to the point of having no aggression toward anyone or anything. (Though I’m sure the place would still be nightmarish for folks allergic to bees).

The smell was lovely. But, I think the bees and the swaying of the lavender when the wind blew we’re my favourite bits. I suppose I always romanticised the fragrance of lavender, but upon experiencing it to such a scale in Provence, I’ve now realised that it just smells like soap. Nice soap. But soap just the same. So, as olfactory daydreams go, I think I’d prefer a field of roses, lilac or honeysuckle to a field of lavender. Or maybe even that bread smell outside Subway restaurants (though it never seems to taste so good as it smells, that’s another matter). But, I suppose all this is subjective.

We had picnics under shade trees at the edge of country lanes. Had goats cheese with lavender honey and French wine by the glass as we watched the sun set over the valley. Accidentally spoke Spanish instead of French more times and we can count. Ate one of the best pizzas of our life, purchased from a food truck with a brick oven installed. Watched a 15 minute firework show to celebrate ‘my birthday’ (we shall forever spend my birthday in france ;) ). Rambled around corners Bond-style trying to find one last photogenic spot before racing back to the airport to make our flight home. And we made time to take photos amongst the lavender fields, of course…though you can easily see that our usually happy w wasn’t charmed by the experience.

We’ve now experienced fields of poppies (Tuscany), tulips (Netherlands) and lavender, this brings our floral checklist to an end, for now.

Posted in Europe, France | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Sunny times on the east coast

Family time can be lovely. But, living so far away from our families, we often feel that we need to cram 6 months or a year’s worth of ‘good times’ into every visit. This means that expectations are at an all time high. So, a disastrous dinner or dull afternoon’s activities fuelled by the previous night’s sleep deprivation can take an emotional toll. Too often, the ‘pressure is on’…

Despite years of practice on this front, we still don’t have the recipe down. But we learn with every visit…and having W in tow now, it’s all become a bit easier. W provides the entertainment…no pressure on us, then. :)

So far, here are a few things we’ve learned:
-No gifts. We haven’t a clue of what to buy people because we’re so seldom in town. Whatever we buy is a waste…
-No TV. We don’t have a TV in the UK and have grown to appreciate the conversation and interactions that not having one facilitates. There’s nothing worse than flying thousands of miles to simply watch a screen in the presence of others.
-No set schedule, limited to do list. We used have lots of things we wanted to shop for and do while we were in town visiting family. Now, to limit time lost traveling to and fro, we’re very selective. Our list most often includes activities like ‘go for ice cream’, feed the donkeys, go for a hike on the farm, or visit the lake beach 10 minutes away rather than travel to the store or petting zoo 30 miles away.
-Let company come to us. It all seems very selfish…and truth be told, it is. But, since we’re making the longest bit of the journey, our friends and family most often travel the shorter leg–coming to us at our parents’ houses rather than us splitting our time across multiple bits of the states.
-Limit driving. W hates the car–and so do we. So, whenever possible we opt for ‘play in the backyard’ over commuting to some place slightly better further afield–w’s more at ease without so much commuting about and we’re able to have more quality time.

So, we’re not perfect. And these are our until now, unspoken rules. So, given the pressure of limited time, drama has been known to erupt from time to time. So, we were elated during our visit in late June/July when everything ran smoothly. There was no stress. No drama. We all had a lovely time. And w got to know his family so much better.

So…what did we get up to?

While visiting K’s family, W spent days riding about my family’s house and garden in a little red car and wagon being pushed and entertained by Aunts, Uncles, Parents and Grandparents. He could be found swinging in the trees for a couple hours per day, playing in the sandbox on the covered porch, eating ice lollies and devouring just about everything in sight. His days would start at 5 and 6am with a few hours on the farm with grandparents (so g and I could sleep in and catch up on our jobs in London). They would feed the cows and donkeys, keep their eyes open for deer, turkeys and turtles. And W would gorge himself on fresh blackberries picked from the vine. Then, we’d sometimes venture out to the public beach on our local lake (Smith Mountain Lake)…W loved every minute of it and played for hours and hours every time. Other times, we’ve visit with K’s grandmother or other aunts, uncles and cousins which came to call. Then, at night and on the weekends, K’s siblings came to visit. It was one of our best visits of all time.

Going north to Annandale to spend time with G’s family, the daily routine was slightly different, but still very relaxed. W played with his cousin, Eric, who’s 5 months older than he. They became true playmates and passed the hours splashing in the bird bath, playing in a kiddie pool and generally tromping about the garden. A storm had passed through DC cancelling most of his grandparents’ plan for the time together, but perhaps this was a blessing in disguise as the boys had plenty of time of uninterrupted play–they truly enjoyed one another’s company by the end of the short visit. So much so that W gave Eric an unsolicited hug at the airport. This visit was exactly what family time should be. Low key. Quality. Uninterrupted. Low stress. Close to home.

We all had a wonderful time. And given this experience, we’ve arrived at the list of things which helped us to achieve a great visit, included at the start of the post. With this list in our minds, may every visit be such a success.

Posted in Life in London | Comments Off