So, I must apologize again for not posting more often. I want our blog to be very honest about our experiences here, but there are some subjects that are simply too private to post on a website for the whole world to see. A lot of great stuff has been happening, of course, but my mind has been preoccupied these past couple of weeks with some not-so-great "private matters". Things might be looking up a bit, though...anyway, enough of that.
Once I get my head in the right place and can exercise some self-discipline, I'll start writing about the day-to-day type stuff (because I know you're all waiting with bated breath to read about me going to the grocery store). Also, we've decided to go out to a different local restaurant (in either East Finchley or Muswell Hill) each week, so you can expect some restaurant reviews/experience reports.
Also, Simone officially started school full-time 2 weeks ago. She came home the very first day and was talking with an British accent...although "accent" isn't quite the right word. She speaks with her typical American accent, but when she asks a question she uses British emphasis and inflection. It's hard to describe the difference, you'll just have to hear it for yourself. Maybe I'll post a video of her doing it. The first couple of days of school, I'm pretty sure Simone asked me about a million questions just for the sole purpose of talking in this new way. It was cute...the first 2 times. Fortunately, the number of questions have subsided (somewhat) and she is now genuinely talking this way all the time. So, that makes it cute again (sometimes).
To all of our friends and family at home, hello...from the future! While you're sitting there in 2008 with last year's haircut and a ridiculous amount of snow, it's now 2009 here in London! I'm not supposed to say much about the future, but there is a couple of things to look forward to: flying cars and robot monkey butlers. But you didn't hear that from me!
So, I guess you could say that 2008 was kind of a busy year for us. Here's a list of our biggest stressors/accomplishments in chronological order:
It's going to be a good year.
Christmas has come and gone, and it was a pretty quiet one being just the 3 of us. On Christmas Eve, we went to the children's Nativity Play at Holy Trinity church just around the corner from our flat. It's a little church surrounded by an old cemetery where the tombstones are mossy, worn, and tipping over. It's pretty cool, I plan on taking some pictures of it sometime. Anyway, Sarah was sure that the service started at 5:30, so we got all dressed up and walked over only to find out that it didn't start until 6:30! So we walked around for an hour and got colder, and then went back to the church. The kids in the play were cute, and Simone was mesmerized!
Simone got up extra early Christmas morning...go figure. She tried to wake us up, but when she was unsuccessful she went into the reception room and started peeking at her presents. Well, I guess we're getting up now! Simone got all kinds of cool presents from Santa, parents, and grandparents - including the one in this video:
Sarah and I didn't get each other anything for Christmas (or our anniversary) except some chocolates for our stockings. We had all kinds of excuses (time, money, etc), but in hindsight this was really a mistake. We have to learn to make some time for each other if we're going to make it through this!
Sarah made a turkey for Christmas since we didn't really have a Thanksgiving dinner (more excuses!), and it turned out perfect: crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. And she made up some stuffing with cinnamon and nutmeg, which was very different from any stuffing that we've had before, and incredibly delicious, and the mashed potatoes and homemade gravy had me licking the plate! All-in-all, a pretty good Christmas.
Yesterday, I took Simone to the Natural History Museum to check out the dinosaur bones. We had a great time, but it was ka-razzy crowded! So many people. We ate lunch there and then headed for the dinosaurs...that's when I saw the line ("queue" for you Brits). Yikes! The dinosaurs are awesome, so everybody wants to see the dinosaur exhibit! There's a huge diplodocus skeleton in the grand hall, and the line went back-and-forth, back-and-forth under the diplodocus. Fortunately, the line moved somewhat quickly and we were standing among dinos in under 30 minutes. The full skeletons are plaster-cast reproductions, but they're still awesome: triceratops, iguanodon, stegosaurus...and there's an animatronic T-Rex! I'd show you all of the pictures that I took, but I forgot to take the camera...whoops. I really should just start carrying the camera with me all the time.
The other night, I updated our photo gallery to make it easier for us to upload and display photos, and to make the photo viewing enjoyment much better for you! The update worked OK, but in the process I screwed up a bunch of the pictures I already had in posts. Anyway, everything's fixed now, so click on the <Photo Gallery> and prepare to be amazed! I also uploaded new pictures from Simone's birthday.
Since I haven't been posting very often, it's difficult to figure out what to write about...too much is happening! This has been a red-letter week since we finally, finally got real-live internet access of our very own! You would expect that living in one of the world's largest and most metropolitan cities, you could just call someone up and get you some internets. Not so! It took 2 full weeks from when I requested it to get our home phone and internet access...2 weeks! Anyway, expect updates more often now (really this time!).
<Simone's 5th Birthday>
We celebrated Simone's 5th birthday last Sunday (her birthday was actually Tuesday, but nothing about "Tuesday" really says "fun!" to us). We went to a McDonald's right on the Thames and looked at Big Ben while munching on fries. After that, we hit the London Aquarium right next door and then walked to Hyde Park to see the Christmas Winter Wonderland! We were expecting something quaint and Christmassy...it turned out to be just like the Spokane Interstate Fair with bigger rides, worse food, more people, and a lot colder. We did eat roasted chestnuts, which were pretty good.
<Simone in her school uniform.>
Monday was Simone's 1st day of school at Hollickwood Primary School. It's a really good school and Simone loves it, but it's about a 50 minute commute by bus which is pretty cumbersome. We're still on the waiting lists for closer schools, and we're hoping that she gets into one at least by Fall. In the meantime, check out the super-cute pictures of Simone in her school uniform!
Also on Monday, our stuff finally arrived from Spokane (we were promised that we would get our stuff in 1 to 2 weeks...it took 3 1/2 weeks). We unpacked a bunch of stuff and put it up on the shelves, Simone got to play with her toys, I got to play with my basses, and we all felt just a little bit better having our stuff around us.
Oh, and Sarah and I celebrated 13 years of marital bliss this week as well! And when I say "celebrated", I mean we said "Happy Anniversary" to each other...over the phone. It's been stressful and hectic, OK? We're probably not going to have time to get each other Christmas presents either (Simone's already covered, of course), but that's just the way it's going to work this year.
Finally, Sarah's work seems to have been going pretty good so far. She works long hours sometimes, but she gets extra days off when she has too much overtime. I'll let her tell you more about how her job is going (Sarah, this is your cue to post something).
I’m sorry that it’s taken so long to write our first post from London…but we’re here, we’re safe, and we’re…OK. We didn’t think that this would be easy by any means, but we certainly didn’t think that it would be this difficult and stressful either! These past couple of weeks, we’ve gone back and forth from simply being uneasy and stressed to thinking that we’ve made the worst decision of our lives.
First, our flat is really cute! It’s a perfect size, and is really nice. We also knew ahead of time that it was furnished, but we didn’t realize just how furnished it was! Furniture, beds & bedding, tables, wardrobes, TV, sheets, silverware, pots & pans, dishes, pictures & art, books, etc. Not all of it is really our style, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise since we didn’t have to purchase these essentials the first few days we were here. Our landlord even got us some food, flowers, and a nice card before we arrived!
Our first major hurdle was/is money. We saved plenty of cash from when we sold our house in Spokane, and our bank suggested we take out a cashier’s check to deposit into our new UK bank account. OK, cool. So we opened our UK bank account and said “here’s all our money!” To which they responded: “since this check is so large and in US currency, it won’t clear for 6-8 weeks.” Crap! Crappity-crap-CRAP!
Then there’s Simone’s school. After the school-year starts, all of the individual schools handle their own admissions. So we’ve been calling and visiting and calling and calling all of the primary schools anywhere near where we’re living. They’re all full and the waiting lists are long, long, long! I pleaded with them and they wouldn’t budge. They told me to call the Barnet School Admissions office, and the Barnet School Admissions office told me to call the schools! Helpful. We finally found a school for her…and it’s a good school…but it’s not very close. We haven’t done a transportation trial run yet, but it’s looking like it could be a 45-60 minute bus ride. We’re still on the waiting lists for closer schools, so we’ll see how that works out.
In an article titled "Culture Shock - the unseen element that can make or break your immigration experience", they list the 5 stages of culture shock. Phase 1 is the "honeymoon phase", where you're supposed to feel excited and euphoric about living living in a new country. It seems we’ve completely skipped Phase 1 and started squarely in the middle of Phase 2, the "emptiness phase" (which is supposed to take place 2-4 months after moving): loneliness, irritability, frustration, sleeplessness, lack of confidence, and accomplishing even the simplest of tasks takes longer and with more effort. Awesome...so far so good!
I’ve got a lot more to post about, and I promise I’ll post much more often once we have reliable internet access (for some reason, it takes 2 weeks to get a phone and broadband internet here in one of the largest metropolitan cities on the planet…that’ll be a whole post unto itself!).
Well, this will be my last post from America. We leave for London on Monday, and Sarah starts work December 1st! We're very excited and very freaked out. The next time I post, I can remove the "(Soon To Be)" part of the "American Family Living in London" tagline. Also, I promise to find a better solution for the Gallery so that the pictures will be much easier to navigate.
Sarah got her UK work permit on Friday. We finished all of our visa paperwork and FedEx'ed it on Monday, and it's currently sitting at the UK consulate in Los Angeles waiting to be approved. If everything goes smoothly, we expect to have everything back to us by Thursday (maybe Friday) and then we'll purchase 3 one-way tickets to London leaving probably Monday.
What does this all mean? Thanksgiving in London! It may be duck at a Chinese restaurant instead of Turkey at home, but we'll have finally made it! We're very excited (nervous, nauseous, scared, freaked out)!'
Since we should now be just weeks away from leaving, I decided to sell my car (we only need one car right now anyway). We completely cleaned, detailed, and waxed it...it looked pretty damn spiffy! I took some pictures and was all ready to post it on Craigslist, then Sarah's car broke down. Kaput.
Fortunately, I hadn't sold my car yet. All the same, Sarah's car couldn't last a few more weeks until we left?! Seriously? And the cost to fix it is going to be about half what the car is worth! This is like when our refrigerator broke that day after we decide to put our house on the market...only much, much worse.
In conclusion, the Shears family is very excited to be rid of our rolling crap-cans and relying on the London tube!'
So as we're waiting (and waiting...and waiting...) for Sarah's UK visa to be approved (her paperwork was sent to the UK Immigration Office last week), we are trying to find ways to occupy our time. We decided that we should do something “All-American” before leaving the country, and what’s more American than Ghost-Towning! Yes, I just made up the verb “Ghost-Towning”! So now, prepare yourself for a whirlwind tour of the ghost towns of Southeastern Washington (pictures in the <gallery>!
Packard was a little out of our way and, even better, not at all worth it! North of Packard stands a neat old church in the middle of a field, but it was also right next to someone’s house, so we didn’t poke around too much. But it was cool to think that 100 years ago, families in the area traveled potentially for hours every Sunday to attend services.
On the way to Paha, we stumbled upon Paha Cemetery. It was barren, overgrown with weeds, had century old tombstones, surrounded by miles of fields, and pretty spooky. In other words, awesome. There wasn’t too much else in Paha…oh, except for the scariest house on the planet! The outside of the house was in decent shape, but there was no front door, so I thought it would be a good idea to stroll on in while Sarah and Simone watched from the car. The front room was in squalor with garbage piled up everywhere, but next to it was a completely clean room with a bed and mattress. So, I wasn’t necessarily scared of ghosts in the house, but of what might be living in the house. I took a couple of pictures inside the house, but you can tell by looking at them that I was freaked out. In fact, there was a black plastic bag (now known as the scariest black plastic bag on the planet!) full of something in the middle of the front room that I took a picture of that I didn’t even know was there. I was so freaked out that I was just taking pictures and not even looking at what I was taking pictures of! Check out the video of my spooked butt going inside:
For a description of Salem Cemetery, please see the description of Paha Cemetery. This one, however, has been kept up better. It’s surrounded by a newer fence, and the tombstones are in better shape. Still lots of spooky goodness, though! Something that stood out while exploring these old cemeteries is that the early-1900s were tough times for rural farm kids.
Not much interesting in Ralston, but Sarah took some cool pictures of an empty farmhouse and barn between there and Benge. And, if I were to describe Winona Cemetery, it would sound just like my descriptions of the last 2 cemeteries, except this one was on a hill which Simone took great delight in running down. Elberton has a couple of derelict houses, an empty bank and hardware store, and an abandoned mill. The area around Cashup has been turned into a park and has a cool old empty church and old train trestle. Finally, up the perilous road to Steptoe Butte for breathtaking views!
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