Thursday, April 21, 2011

London Eye

We got to hang out with Steve, Cookie, and Madie again after Tim got off work today. We went to the famous London Eye. Just a few tube stops from Canary Wharf.

Every tube station looks different and I thought this one was particular fascinating looking. This is the stop by the London Eye.

Going on the Eye during sunset was perfect. You could still see ALL of London and soon after we got off it was an amazing evening setting. Isn't that an amazing view of Parliament and Big Ben?? Yes, it is.

Steve spoiled my children and catered to Marisa's wishes. He took them on a merry-go-round ride that went really fast and were treated to ice-cream afterwards! Natalie kept calling Steve "Grandpa". (Which is Grandpa's brother, so, almost!) I think she recognized the spoiling. ;)
I don't only want to show you the wonderful, amazing sights of London on my blog, but I also want to show you the quirky, funny things of living here. So, right next to the ride is a litter bin that had a specific hole to put your gum. haha Funny, but smart, though!

Like I said before, familiar faces are so nice even this early into the game. Who's next?? Seriously! I'm saving some good shopping and high tea for my your flights girls!!

P.S. My girls have public transportation down so well that they are even sleeping like Londoners on the tube. ;)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

first taste of my new life

We haven't been able to sight see at all since we arrived, because of trying to get settled in permanently, until today! And luckily our paths crossed with familiar faces because Steve and Cookie and Madie (Tim's uncle and aunt and cousin) arrived this past weekend to stay in London for a week to watch soccer games. Unfortunately, Tim started work today, but me and the girls got to play. :)
I had to take the DLR by myself for the first time this morning to meet them at their hotel which is right across from the Tower of London. How cool is that? I know I tend to be a little dramatic, but I still lectured my girls before leaving our apartment that they needed to really behave this morning and I may have bribed them with candy to eat on the way. ;) It is so easy to get there actually and it went perfectly.

Side note: taking the tube is a pain in the a with two kids and a stroller. You would think getting off and on a train would be easy right? Wrong. There are no lifts on most tube stations so Steve saved my life and carried the stroller up and down every flight of stairs on every tube station we were in. It is nearly impossible to do by myself with two young kids.
If I just had to worry about one child, the child in the stroller, then yes kind of a hassle, but whatever it's do-able. But having to make sure Marisa stays close to me among the HUGE crowds zipping past me in every direction, (and not to mention she is my sensitive, scared of everything child), and carrying a stroller and a child in it (and not to mention this child is not scared of anything and would prefer to run rampant with not a care in the world), plus my bag and whatever else is in the stroller by myself?? Forget about it.

To give Marisa credit though, we had a week to prep ourselves on the know-hows on public transporation here, so Marisa was great this morning, knowing to walk to the lifts, wait behind the yellow lines, mind the gap, sit in a seat, get on the escalator by herself with me right behind her holding the stroller backwards (that was the most impressive because she is so scared of escalators) and jump off the escalator by herself! Those are all small but HUGE helps. Looks like the pep talk about being a big girl and being mommy's helper before we left helped.

Anyway, first stop, Buckingham Palace. I know, we don't start small. I guess, nothing would be small here, huh?
We wanted to see the changing of the guards but it was SO crowded. We then realized we would just settle with seeing the horses come in. The girls loved waiting on the side of the road and would have gotten a good view if it weren't for people suddenly filling the middle of the road where cars were waiting!!! Marisa was not happy about that.
I don't have a good picture of the palace because of where I was and the crowd so I promise an amazing picture in a future post. For now, this is what we saw.

(This is a classic picture of Natalie. She is telling me, "Don't touch!" I'm not exactly sure why, other than the fact that she likes to boss me around.)

After that we walked to Hyde Park. (Note to self: next time take the tube.) We got a little lost but along the way we found this little treasure...

I've always wanted to do that! Expect this year's christmas card to be something similar.

Hyde Park is beautiful! Loved it. It was a very lovely day so it was literally picture perfect. Natalie took a nap in her stroller while Marisa played on the playground and the rest of us ate lunch.

We also fed some ducks and rather large geese! They were not shy and I thought for sure any second they were going to attack Natalie to grab the huge loaf she had in her hand! They were way bigger than Natalie.

Marisa wanted to walk through this really odd looking tree on our way out of the park.

After that we went to Picadilly Circus. It is like the Times Square of London. We just sat and enjoyed the ambiance of it all. The noise, the crowd, the great weather. We did some souvenir shopping there where I got a cute red telephone booth keychain for my new house keys I'll be getting in a couple of days. Woo-hoo!

Lastly, we went to Trafalgar Square and watched some street performers and ate strawberry icecream while sitting on a ledge.

For me, it is all about the simple pleasures of life. That moment was so perfect. Sitting, eating, and taking in the fact that I now live here...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Marisa!

4 years ago I was in Orem, Utah giving birth to our first child. Fast forward 4 years later and we are singing "Happy Birthday" to our same baby girl in London! Amazing what can happen in such a short amount of time.

Since we already celebrated Marisa's birthday with friends and with family before we came here it was funny to see Marisa's reaction when she woke up and I said,

"Marisa today is your real birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"
"Yes, it is April 17th!"

hahaha I guess she was over it?? But as the day progressed she got a litle more excited. Especially when we pulled out the pink cupcakes she picked out for her special day. It is fun for Tim and I every so often today to ask, "Marisa how old are you?" And she just smiles real big and says, "Four!"

This morning we got ready to venture out and travel to church and go to the ward that will be our own ward. Today was also the London Marathon and it started in Blackheath, which is basically where we will be living and where church is, so we weren't quite sure how that was going to pan out with the trains and everything. Also, the route for the marathon literally went right past our windows here in our temporary apartment in Canary Wharf. We got to see the leading ladies run past. Here is a pic of the leading pack from our window in the living room.

The girls thought it was so neat.

Church was great of course. It is so comforting in so many ways to know that the church is the same all over the world. It is also comforting to know that we have a built in support system where ever we go.
We were instantly, warmly, welcomed and the help and advice came pouring in without even asking. There is a small group of young families with kids all under 4, (perfect), that welcomed me into their circle already, and a couple of the women are actually American but their husbands are English so that is why they live here. Cool!

Because expats come and go quite often in the ward they told me not to buy ANYTHING because they have a ton of stuff that just rotates from one expat family to another. One sister said, "Just make a list of what you need and we will get it for you." Great! AND they are already going to set me up with getting things in and ready for schools for Marisa. A HUGE help because that is a big hassle here. Not easy like the states. I mean, really, what. a. blessing.

Coming back from church in Canary Wharf was also fun because the rest of the runners were now coming down our street.

We saw a tiger, a rhino, a star, spider-man, and many, many other odd costumes running in the marathon. Why would you run a marathon with extra baggage on your back, anyway?

If you walk down and out of our building this is how close I am to the street.

At home, Marisa grabbed her birthday card that plays music from Papi and Nana and held it by the window so the runners can listen to it while running. How thoughtful. ;) Do you think they heard it 20 floors up?

We then sang "Happy Birthday" to Marisa and celebrated by eating pink, (of course), cupcakes.

I can't help but reflect for a moment on Marisa on this special day of hers and mine. When she was turning 3 I had a hard time accept it. I told her she can stop growing and be 3 forever. It is unevitable though that our children grow so quickly contrary to our desires. Marisa is growing up to be such a fun, sensitive, sweet-natured little lady and it is so neat to see her blossom intellectualy and spiritually.
It has been such an honour and privilege to be your mother, Marisa. You are such a blessing to Mommy and Daddy and we are so lucky to have you in our family. Thank you for being an amazing daughter and teaching us to be better people and parents with your sweet spirit. May you always know that you are a special daughter to us and to your Father in Heaven. Thank you for reminding me to love my divine role here on earth as a woman and as a Mother. I love you!

Friday, April 15, 2011

first week of london

Wow. We are finally here!

And I finally have the time and energy to write about our first week in London. Sorry for the late update. I promise from here on out, it'll be different.
Honestly, looking back at this past week, it is kind of a blur. Jet-lag is the pits. No, let me rephrase that, jet-lag is the worst. thing. in. the. world. Officially my worst enemy. But I'll get to my hatred for it in a bit.

Almost a week ago we were anxiously awaiting to head to the airport for our major adventure over here. Our flight didn't leave until 9:15 at night last Saturday and during the whole day we were so excited. It was still completely surreal. It didn't really feel like it was happening. We have been talking about moving for months now and yet, it still wasn't registering that we were picking up our whole lives and little family and moving to a different country for two years. What???
We had 4 suitcases, 4 boxes, 4 carry-ons, and a stroller to take to the airport. I know it sounds crazy and it looked crazy arriving to the airport, but if you think about it, it is only 2 suitcases per person. For a family of 4 moving internationally for two years I think we did really good!

Anyways, arriving to the airport and getting on the plane was smooth sailing. Our flight on the other hand, not so fun. The girls were amazing on the flight and have been amazing this whole week in fact which I am so grateful for because let me tell you, it has NOT been easy. Imagine a 3 year old and 20 month old having to sleep in way uncomfortable positions on a 10-hour red-eye flight with two parents who had maybe 1 hour of sleep total, then waiting in a long line at passport/customs, and then having to completely switch their night and day, and continue to try to adjust while being dragged on taxis and trains with minimal sleep looking at flats in a foreign city for two days?? Exactly. But I'll get to all that later.

But honestly, although it was rough on all of us it went as easily as it could. The girls never threw tantrums or majorly fussed when they would have been 100% justified in doing so. Heavenly Father was truly watching out for my family.
The only thing that went wrong was that during the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel/apartment I felt so sick from not sleeping in 24 hours and just traveling in general that I almost threw up in the taxi. I fought the urge during our 45 minute drive across London until I arrived to the hotel lobby, found the nearest bathroom, and threw up. Lovely.

So, Tim's work, KPMG, put us in a temporary apartment for two weeks until we find a place of our own and it is really nice. Here are a few not so good pics, but I wanted to capture it right when we arrived and since the sun was going down I didn't have the greatest lighting.

3 bedrooms, two bathrooms - 3 floors inside the apartment, 20th floor in the building, we are literally the very top apartment, overlooking London with a really good size patio...

The first floor. Far right is the front door, then the downstairs bathroom, then the 2nd bedroom where Natalie sleeps, then far left the 3rd bedroom where Marisa sleeps.

Natalie's bedroom with big floor to ceiling windows and great view of Canary Wharf...

1st floor bathroom, or the girls' bathroom...

Marisa's room...

When you walk up to the second floor, to the right is the living room and dining area. You can see the door to the back porch.

Our living room from the dining area. The tv is not shown in the pic but it is on the right wall next to the dining room...

Our patio. The room above is the Master bedroom. (Or here it would be called the 1st bedroom).

The view from our porch starting from the left going to the right side. Half of Central London...

Canary Wharf...

South East London. The green area on the left side of the picture is Greenwich where our new home will be.

The kitchen. I don't remember why, but I didn't take a picture of the view from the kitchen window. It is the best one in the house. You can see all of London. Even London eye really clearly.

The door that leads to the staircase...

upstairs on the third floor there is a small loft area to the right...

our bedroom with an amazing view of Canary Wharf. I love the large windows...

This room is surprisingly huge...

Finally, our bathroom. (Each bathroom has a towel rail that heats your entire towel...divine.)

On Tuesday/Wednesday we spent each day looking at flats after flats. Looking for a place to live here is an annoying process. It is not like the states where you can just walk up to an aparment complex and say, "Hi, I want to live here", and then sign a lease and be done. No, that would be way too easy.
KPMG set us up ahead of time with a letting agent (to let means to rent) that would set up appointments to view flats each day. The agent had talked to us prior to moving here to get an idea of what we were looking for and what particular areas we were interested in. Thankfully I have a handful of friends who have lived in London so I feel like I was able to really know ahead of time what to expect and what I wanted.

Anyways, we had 10 flats to look at the first day in the SW area and 6 flats to look at in the SE area. Each appointment was scheduled at a particular time because at each one we were meeting with another agent who was going to show us the place. What a hassle, I know. Also, letting, or renting is not like the states. It is not a set price. The price is negotiable just like buying a house. So if we saw a flat we liked we have to put in an offer and wait to hear back. They can either accept, or put in a counter-offer, etc. Now that is annoying too because it could take awhile or you can get beat out by someone else's offer, etc.
To add to the annoyingness? of it all, housing is crazy here. Things go fast. Everyday flats are going up or taken off within a day.

We only saw 1 flat we liked in the SW area. We were really getting discouraged because money does not go far in London and we saw some crappy places. We put in an offer immediately after walking out of the one really nice flat we saw and by the end of the day we had to put our final and best offer because there were already other offers put on it that day too. (And that flat was put on the market that very day!)
My only thinking at the end of this particular house hunting day was that there better be good places in Greenwich the next day or we are screwed.

Luckily, during our second day of house hunting we saw several we liked. Phew! In fact, Greenwich proved to be more of what we were looking for. Tim walked out of the tube station and said, "This is what I like." Greenwich is a lovely village. It is really green and has that small London town feel to it. It is a town in London that is booming with growth. It is more suburb feeling for sure than SW London, but we are both so ok with that. Honestly, living in "the city" was too chaotic for me and money does not go far there.
Well, we sure got offer happy in Greenwich and we put in more offers. Of course, we were competing with other offers on all of them.

I have never felt culture shock or felt like this adeventure was too hard until I had a minor sob session of my own in the middle of the night Wednesday night. I was worried we weren't ever going to find a descent place to live, I was worried about schooling for Marisa (schools here are so different than the states and a whole other issue in of itself I'll get to in another post), I was worried about using the NHS here the next morning because Marisa had a Urinary Tract Infection (something that I wanted fixed before we got here but the nurse in California didn't see anything. And now the symptoms are more noticeable and more severe), I was worried about customer service because I heard it sucks here, I was major jet-lagged still...sigh. Like I said just a little stressed and needed a moment to cry it out.
I have said many prayers that night that whatever house comes through or doesn't at all, that it was meant to be and that the Lord would lead us to where we need to raise our family for the next two years.

The next morning while at the doctor's office (surgery as it is called here) we get a call from our agent and our offer was accepted on Tim's favorite flat from the whole two days! Prayers answered. We can move in next Thursday! (By the way, the doctor's visit went as smoothly as possible. It was fast, I believe because of the severity of what Marisa could have, the people were really helpful and nice, and it cost me nothing. Visit = free and children's medicine = free. I probably looked like an idiot when the lady gave me the medicine and I asked, "How much do I owe you?" Her reply, "Nothing. Children's medicine is free." "Oh, cool!" haha But essentially, it isn't free, because taxes are out of this world ridiculous here.)

Yesterday and today we just took it easy. Still trying to adjust to jet-lag which is the absolute hardest part about moving to London. Everything else hasn't been exactly the easiest, but nothing compares to jet-lag. Nothing.

During the week and looking back at the week, I can honestly say that again besides the time change it hasn't been a HUGE shock. And I think for many reasons. First, meet Shannon. I'll probably be talking about her a lot because she has been my life saver. We met in California at church, she has recently lived in London for two years, and is now back in California for the past 8 months or so?? When we heard we were moving to London I immediately contacted her. We spent hours on the phone and many emails back and forth feeding me ALL kinds of info. From housing, to grocery shopping, to clothes, to travel, to schools, to areas to live, to laundry, to weather, to phones, to tranportation, to different words used here, to everything necessary to know about living in London. She has mentally prepared me a lot for everyday life here for awhile now and continues to answer my many and even dumb questions. Plus, I am such a lucky girl that I know two other people who have lived here and have friends/family who have lived here or have served missions here (senior missionaries). I know that had I not talked to her or my other friends, I would be crying everyday here because of the shock of it all. haha Even Tim one day when I was using words like, biscuit (cookie), lift (elevator), buggy (stroller), rubbish (trash), toilet (bathroom) with the girls was like, "Whoa, look at you!" I mean really, I have to! Marisa is going to go to school this fall and I don't want her to have no idea what is going on.

Funny example, at the doctor's office the doctor leaned over to Marisa and said in her british accent, "You need to wee for Mum, ok?" Marisa just looked right at her and said nothing and I knew she had no idea what she said. "You need to pee for Mom, ok?" (She needed a urine sample.)

Plus, something Shannon said to me that was told to her is that you need to leave your American ways behind. Live like a Londoner. Forget about finding the Costco here or whatever. Grocery shop like the Londoners, etc.

I know this post doesn't have exciting pictures and doesn't really contain anything exciting. Just all the mundane logistics of moving that have to get done. I promise from here on out the posts will get better once we start real life here and explore the UK and Europe. I just wanted to update you on our crazy, busy week. Cheers!


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