Friday, August 31, 2018

My Maximalist Wardrobe

Remember about four years ago when everybody started doing capsule wardrobes? I wanted to do that, too. The capsule wardrobe seemed simple and practical. There were photos of people in striped tops with jeans and skirts, and I already owned striped tops and jeans and skirts, so I thought that surely it wouldn't be that hard to do. I'd had to wittle my wardrobe down when we moved to the UK, so surely wittling it down further wouldn't be a big deal.

But then I was busy moving to a whole new country and living for a couple of months without proper furniture and many of our things, and it just wasn't a priority. So it wasn't until about 18 months ago that I decided to give it a go. I sorted everything out, ditched things that I thought I wouldn't wear, and counted what was left. It was still too much, but it was less than I had before, and that was fine. I'd start there.



About six months in, I discovered that I missed wearing some of the things I had sold and given away. There were specific situations in which these things were just the right thing to wear, and now they were gone. I put on other clothes, and I managed, but it wasn't the same. That probably makes me sound like a materialistic, spoiled brat, and in some ways I am indeed a materialistic, spoiled brat. However, my lack of things to wear had more to do with function than fashion. I had sold or given away things that were not within the current season's temperature restrictions, so it wasn't fresh in my mind what I had worn them for. I had also sold or given away dresses with pockets! I repeat: dresses with pockets. If there's one thing that functions well for me, it's a dress with pockets. I should never, ever sell or give away a dress with pockets unless it has some other insurmountable issue.

In my life, I dress for a lot of different scenarios. I dress for indoor activities, outdoor activities, activities where I am standing indoors, or standing outdoors, or sitting on the floor, or sitting on the grass, or sitting where it may be a bit wet. I may be stationary, or I may be moving around quite a lot. I am sometimes needing to wear something that looks more professional or dressed up and sometimes needing function above all else. Dressing for church when I am not teaching Sunday School, and thus sitting on the floor distributing materials to young children, is different than dressing for church when I am not. Dressing for a park meet up when it is sunny and there are benches is different than dressing for a park meet up when it is cold and damp, and I might end up sitting on the ground. Add to that the changing seasons and that I do sometimes like to dress according to my mood, and a capsule wardrobe simply won't work for me.

So I have dresses and leggings and jeans and skirts and tops for all seasons. I have durable fabrics and delicate fabrics and dresses I wear only for very particular special occasions. I have some ugly things that are incredibly functional, and it doesn't matter that they're ugly when I need to wear them. I have more than I need for the moment, but that also means that when something wears out, it's not a big deal, because there is something in my closet that will work. This last bit is one of the most important things when it comes to our budget. I cannot afford to replace things regularly at full price. But I can afford to look through charity shops and sale racks to find things that I know will work with my wardrobe and buy them when they are available.

I'd still love to be able to have a capsule wardrobe, but I think it would require having a different kind of life. The life I am living now is the life I want, and so the capsule wardrobe is just not going to happen. Maybe someday, when my children are grown and the work I do is different (and more predictable) than what I do now, a capsule wardrobe will be possible. But for now, maximalism is what works best, so I'm going to enjoy it. Who wouldn't? All these lovely patterns and colors are mine to wear, whenever I want and need to. That feels pretty wonderful to me. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Real Life: Sometimes Inconvenient

I am not a morning person, but most days I really love mornings. This is possibly because of the tableau you see above, involving coffee and a cat and no one else in the room. In my fantasies, the room would be a bit neater, but I'll take what I can get. I am allowed a few moments (sometimes more, sometimes less) to drink my coffee and read in peace, and it starts my day off well. It's a brief pause before things start to move in what feels like fast forward. I have structured our days so that this is possible, because I know that I do best with a slow start and some time to myself.

But real life means that I am not always in charge of the way things are structured. Mostly I am, but it turns out that the world does not always run on my schedule. I am not, it turns out, empress of everything. Sometimes, I get a notice that there will be a surveyor coming between 7:45 and 8:45am, in order that our landlord might get a better deal on the mortgage, and there is nothing I can do about it except complain quietly to myself.

This is what is happening tomorrow. I've already complained quietly to myself, so I'll spare you any further moaning. The truth is that I am quite lucky to have children who mostly sleep until 8am and do not require a hot breakfast. I can chuck some muffins in their direction, and they're happy. If they want a hot breakfast, Z is delighted to cook it herself. I hear of parents whose children refuse to sleep past 6am, and I am properly horrified. To me, 6am is the middle of the night, and I've been known to tell my children so. They've believed me. See? I'm lucky. Despite tomorrow's surveyor appointment during my usual coffee drinking time slot, I know that my life is relatively easy. A little inconvenience won't hurt me, at least not this once.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Benefits of Packing Early

I always pack early for a trip. It's part of who I am as a person. It turns out that I have passed this habit on to my kids as well. My husband packs the night before we leave, but the kids and I bust out the suitcases at least five days in advance. We are planning what we'll wear, thinking about what we'll need. We will leave nothing behind! Except that sometimes we do anyway.

For me, the draw of packing early has something to do with knowing that I am less likely to forget something essential or find that something I want to wear on the trip needs to be laundered than if I were to leave it to the last minute. It also is nice knowing early on that I've got everything in place for the trip to go smoothly. Because I've had loads of time to think through everything we will need and get it into our bags, I don't worry that we will arrive and have to scramble. We will arrive and be able to slip right into holiday life. But beyond that, a big part of the attraction is beginning to imagine the trip through the things I am packing.

I put my beach towel in and imagine settling on the beach with a book and some good snacks. I pop in a couple of cardigans and think of dinners outdoors in the Old Town at dusk. I drop in my most comfortable shoes and imagine walking up to the Chateau to enjoy the view. It's another perk of going to the same place over and over again - I know exactly what I have to look forward to. And when I pack, I think of all those things. In a way, I am beginning the holiday early, if only in my mind. With plenty of very boring and tedious things to do before we depart, I am more than happy to have this little bit of pre-holiday pleasure.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

This Year Will Be Better Than Last Year (We Hope)

In less than a week, we head out for a much needed holiday in Nice. Yes, again. I've written before about why we keep going back, and those reasons still stand. Nice is both exciting and relaxing. Even when E was just a toddler, as in the photo above (see her foot extending out of the stroller?) it was a good trip to make. There is everything and nothing to do. I like that. It is familiar to us. I like that, too, and so do my children. It is a comfortable trip. There's nothing wrong with adventure, but these days I like to relax when I am getting away from the hustle and bustle of my usual life. So I am very much looking forward to our upcoming trip, and partly because last year's trip wasn't all we'd hoped it would be.

Last year, on our first full day in Nice, E took a dive into the side of the coffee table at the flat we were renting for the week and ended up with three stitches in the bridge of her nose. That meant that she couldn't go into the sea and had to be careful when playing in the fountains, as her nose was supposed to stay dry. We also had to change the bandages twice daily, and there was stress at the end regarding whether we needed to try to get stitches removed in France or if we could wait until we got home. (We spoke with our own GP and waited until we got home.) This year, we are staying in the same flat, but I've got a plan for a little furniture rearrangement that will make it nearly impossible for anyone to go careening into the coffee table. Fingers crossed that it works.

We will begin packing tomorrow, and now we are looking back at what we've loved to do, and we are looking forward to doing some of those same things again. We have a breakfast we like to make which involves a particular cheese we can only get in France. We will make up for lost time and let everyone get fully wet in the sea and in the fountains. We may see about designing our own perfume. I am hoping to go to a museum - it's been ages since I've visited the Musee des Beaux Arts, but I'd happily spend some time with Matisse or Chagall again. We will get ice cream every night.

It's going to be marvelous.

Monday, August 27, 2018

24-Month Gouda Taste on a Tesco Cheddar Budget

This is one of the times of year we really feel the budgetary pinch of living in London on a single income. We're paying class fees for the term, and there are a couple of other annual expenses that come due at this time. I've been trying to earn a little money myself to give us some budgetary wiggle room, but nothing has worked out so far that suits our family needs. Our kids will only be kids once, and the priority is making the best choices for their present and their future. At the moment, that means that finding work I can do while still being the primary caregiver and educator is a bit tricky. And that's okay. I may not be able to afford the good cheese now, but someday I will be able to. And for now? There are free samples.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Accidental Gardening

I am not great at caring for plants. I do like flowers on our big front windowsill, but a lot of mine that I planted died this year in the heat, because I couldn't manage to prioritize watering them. But then a curious thing started happening. Plants started to grow! And live! And I hadn't planted any of them - perhaps this has something to do with them living? I'm not sure, and I'm not asking too many questions.

In the front, we had gorgeous tiger lilies in one of the pots in which I'd accidentally killed some ranunculus. Out back, poppies sprang up between the pavers. And then a tiny little tomato plant grew up between the square pavers and a concrete pad by the garden shed. I was really delighted by this surprise tomato plant. It looked like it might actually live, and I thought that we might get a few tomatoes out of it. Maybe I would make a salad? That seemed like a pretty lofty goal, considering my track record with plants since our children appeared on the scene. I imagined something with arugula, balsamic, maybe some goat cheese.

Well, I think we will be able to have a salad. And quite a few other things. Because that gigantic creature in the photo above is our tomato plant. I've named it Warren, because you could house a whole lot of rabbits under there, and no one would even know. I am absolutely flabbergasted at its size and health. It's like Little Shop of Horrors out there, except I didn't feed it blood. It got a little attention from my in-laws while they were here, but other than that, we've done absolutely nothing to help it out. I shoved a chair under one of the vines that was growing a lot of little tomatoes so they wouldn't lie on the ground and rot, but it became clear pretty quickly that there was no way to fully support the whole plant with that materials we currently possess. So we just let it go. And it keeps growing. I have no idea how many tomatoes are on it. My rough estimate is a whole lot.

I picked the first ripe ones today. They are slightly purplish in color and smell amazing. As far as I can tell from image searches I've done, they are black cherry tomatoes. Also according to image searches, we should have used something like lattice to support the plant. If another one grows next year, we'll try that. I am going to attempt to save some seeds, but I also have to be honest with myself and admit that I might forget where I put the seeds or I might forget to plant them. So I also intend to enjoy this accident of gardening while it lasts. It may never happen again.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Things I Do for Work

Because I am a homeschooling parent, and so far no one pays homeschooling parents to educate their children, many people say I do not work. I would like to present the photo above as evidence that I do work. And I actually...uh...oh dear. I sort of pay to do it.

I should explain.

I coordinate and facilitate a home education meet up. We meet fortnightly, and there is a theme each time. The children prepare presentations on the theme if they would like, and they have a chance to present to the group. There is a craft to do, and there are colouring sheets. Families who attend contribute to the cost of using the space, but the craft supplies have to be bought by someone. That someone is usually me. So, yeah, I am paying to do this work.

But it is enjoyable work, and it is satisfying work. Another homeschool mother started this group in another venue, and it was so valuable to us as a family that I was happy to take over when she wasn't able to do it anymore. I love that I've been able to secure a space where we can meet that serves the needs of a variety of families, and that we are a friendly and welcoming bunch of people. I love that the fee that the families pay is affordable and also helps out the charity that runs the venue we use.  I love that, as a group, we've studied the seven continents, geology, and nature in the past year. And honestly? I love coming up with a craft to do. But it's sometimes a bit stressful.

Above you will see an example of one of the most stressful crafts I ever had to create. Don't let the googly eyes fool you! This was very hard! The theme for the week was geology, and I thought it would be fun (and funny!) to make pet rocks. I imagined I could walk into the garden section of a shop I often go to on Saturdays and get a bag of garden rocks. It was near enough to spring that they'd be available, surely. Except, they weren't. There was nothing resembling a rock in any shop in the two malls I visited.

I couldn't think of any other craft to do that wouldn't involve ordering something that would take too long to arrive. I needed to make the pet rock idea work. So I bought some clay, and I proceeded to stay up late two nights in a row to use that clay to make hollow little rock type objects. I figured out how to transport my rock type objects without them breaking. I figured out how to get those stupid googly eyes to stick. And then, I had to figure out how to make a version that wouldn't break if it were dropped and figure out how to get googly eyes to stick to that version. You can laugh if you like (I did), but it most certainly was work.

I look forward to continuing to do this sort of work in the future. I'm getting really excited about the new term of our home education group. We are going to be studying themes related to the human body this term, and we are starting with cells. I'm pretty sure I know what the craft will be. And it's going to have googly eyes. Of course it is.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Looking Forward

Temperatures are dropping. It's not consistently jacket weather yet, but it's coming. Days are still comfortably long, but those early sunsets will be here before we know it. I got new heels put on my boots in preparation. I ordered jeans that fit me properly and don't have holes. I need to wash my everyday coat, but my denim jacket will do fine for awhile.

(Side note: if you are a messy/klutzy type person or take care of messy/klutzy type people, I highly recommend owning a washable coat. Mine looks like wool but can be popped in the washer and air dries overnight.)

I'm wrapping up some projects I had on a list for the summer lull. We've got the books we need to get started with our more structured homeschool work. And before all that happens, we're going on holiday! I don't want to wish the days away, but there is a good deal to look forward to in the near future. I'll be happy for the next week to disappear in a haze of to do lists and children sleeping late.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

UK vs US - The Difference at the Dentist

Today, Edith went to the dentist. For those unfamiliar, Edith is Z's doll. She's been in a lot of books, and she's famous (amongst those who enjoy a certain kind of kitsch children's literature), but as far as I know she did not ever go to the dentist before today. None of the books mention that, anyway. That's probably why she wouldn't open her mouth, and the dentist couldn't do anything. We'll have to try again in six months, when Z and E have their next appointment. The dentist is quite kind, so I'm sure she'll give it another go.

I've found that there are a lot of misconceptions and a pretty good deal of incorrect information regarding UK medical care and the NHS floating around amongst Americans, so I thought I'd clear some of this up by writing about our experiences. In addition to Edith sitting in the dentist's chair today, both my children also took their turns, so it makes sense to start with dental care since the details of the visit are fresh in my mind. There are some major differences between UK and USA dental care, so I'll address those.

In the USA, we were covered by dental insurance that we got through J's work. This insurance was an expense shared between the company J worked for and us. By US standards, it was really good insurance. When it came to dental work, exams and cleanings were free, but everything else had a co-pay and a deductible. I got a cavity and blinked pretty hard when I was told how much it would cost to fill it, even with the insurance contributing their bit. I thought I misheard, but...I didn't. Z got a couple of small cavities, and it wasn't cheap. E chipped a tooth, and it was ridiculous. Again, even with insurance covering much of the expense.

On the upside, the dentist's offices we visited were very nice. Mine was in a fancy office building with a fancy elevator. The kids went to one with a beautiful waiting room full of things to do, and loads of toys to choose from after the appointment was done. The children got full cleanings every six months and x-rays annually. It was by a Whole Foods, which was nice. They had excellent iced coffee there.

Here, our dentist's office is above a betting shop. We go up steep stairs, and the waiting room is no frills. I'm guessing the chairs are from 1992, and the desk is a bit worn out. But it's always clean, and the receptionist is kind. They have a small television on, and the kids like that because we don't have a TV at home. There are no toys for them to play with, but someone usually compliments their hair. We don't have to wait long to see the dentist.

Once we are in the exam room, she asks a few questions about tooth brushing habits, takes a look at kids' teeth, tells me what I need to know, and dabs some fluoride on their molars. It takes all of five minutes for each kid. They can have a sticker if they like, but lately they don't want one. We pay nothing; NHS dental care for children is free. This includes orthodontics. That's right - free braces.

If J or I need to visit the dentist, there are different bands for different levels of treatment. Whichever band you reach, that's what you pay, total. So if you end up with treatment that is in Band 2, you only pay that amount. You do not pay both Band 1 and Band 2 fees. And these bands cover multiple treatments - so if you need two root canals, you still only pay one Band 2 amount. It's a flat fee for however much work you need done within that Band. Thinking back to what we paid in the USA, this is amazing. At one point, I had seven cavities that I needed to have filled. I have no clue what that set me back in the US, but here it would cost £59.10. Total.

So to say that I am a fan of NHS dental care would be an understatement. People say things about socialized medicine and rationing care, but this care is much more accessible costwise than care in the US, so to me it seems like care in the US is rationed in a way that care in the UK is not, because if you can't afford to pay in the US, you just can't get dental work done. Here, in addition to the low pricing within the bands I mentioned above, those who are on income support and other benefits do not have to pay.

Frankly, the hardest part was registering with the dentist. Our dentist only takes a certain number of new patients each month, so you have to call first thing on the first day of the month in order to get registered. On the day I registered, I had to dial the number quite a lot before I got through, but once the receptionist picked up, I got registered without issue and had a full cleaning and exam within two weeks. I paid £21.60 - a bargain!

In my opinion, dental care in the UK is superior to dental care in the USA. It's true they do less than is standard for kids in the USA, but we've found that it's not necessary for the kids to have full cleanings and x-rays; their teeth and gums are healthy without the additional care. I am happy with the care we receive and the amount we pay. I am happy to climb stairs instead of going up in a fancy elevator. I am very happy that it is a more equitable system. I will gladly give up new chairs in the waiting room in exchange for quality dental care that is accessible to those who need it - including our family.

Monday, August 20, 2018

How to be a Good Neighbor (Even When It's Annoying)

Today is Monday, and one thing Monday means in our house is that we will be making a neighborly visit to a woman who lives a few doors down from us. Every Monday and Thursday, we visit her. We are steady. Consistent. Helpful, I hope.

I mentioned in another post that we visit this neighbor, and that it's not always easy. This is true, and getting truer. Our neighbor is a kind and generous person. Every time we visit, she has sweets for Z and E. She compliments us excessively. These things make it easy. But the intensity of her need? The constant necessity of setting and maintaining boundaries? These things make it hard. And that's exactly why it's so important that we keep visiting her.

This neighbor is an extravert to the max. She loves being around people and doesn't understand that not everyone enjoys this. Add to it that she has early onset dementia, and that the thing that makes her feel most safe is being with other people. Then factor in that her son, who is the person she lives with and relies on for nearly everything, travels for work quite a lot. I'm sure you can connect the dots which make a picture of a woman whose needs are not small. Simple, perhaps. She just needs to be around other people - but the solution to that is not simple at all. Because there are not enough people to fill every hour she is on her own, and the pool of willing helpers has been getting shallower.

Over and over, our neighbor has worn out her welcome at a lot of other houses. I'm sure she's not the only person who has ever done this, so I am going to tell you what happens and what you can do to be a good neighbor to someone like her. The trouble is that people say yes too much in the beginning. She will come by multiple times per day if she knows someone will let her in, and so she does. Because they welcome her in, she thinks they want her there and do not mind. But that's not the case - they just can't tell her no. Then all of a sudden, they get burned out. They stop opening the door when she knocks or answering the phone when she calls. They say they will visit in order to put her off for the moment, without intending to ever do it. She feels hurt and confused.

This is why I believe that one of the best ways to be a good neighbor is to have good boundaries. I know that, like other neighbors, I could easily get burned out. I don't want to begin to resent her and start to avoid her. So to be a good neighbor - and keep being a good neighbor for as long as she needs me - I tell her no sometimes when she very much wants me to say yes. I'll admit that in times when she is desperate to visit someone, it is hard to see these boundaries as good. But when I need to say no to her, I say no. Mondays and Thursdays are always a yes  - but on the other days, the default is no.

This doesn't mean that we never see her on other days. It just means that we recognize that we have needs also. If our neighbor's son is out of town for a long weekend, we schedule an extra visit if we are able. If the kids are done with studies, chores, and their own projects for the day and see her outside, they can visit if she invites them in. The key to being a good neighbor is that we do more for her when we can, but we are allowed to meet our own family needs as well. Sometimes those needs won't seem like needs to our neighbor, but that is not her call to make. Being a good neighbor means that sometimes she thinks that I am a bad neighbor, or a selfish neighbor.

I'll admit to being selfish. I am an introvert, and sometimes I have said no to her because I need a little time to myself. But by holding to the boundaries that I have set, I've found that it makes our visits easier. I know that the hour we spend at her house - or the shorter amounts of time she spends at ours - will be manageable. Sure, we will have the same conversation every time. She will tell me things that she has told me before, and I will respond in the way I always respond. I will check the weather on my phone for her, and we will discuss the possibility of rain. It will be boring much of the time. But there's nothing wrong with being bored. In fact, if we are helping our neighbor feel less alone, there's everything right about it.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Preferences and Necessities

Here in London, we have no need for a car. I love this. I have never liked driving, and I was happy to leave it behind. We get everywhere by walking and public transit. It's wonderful. I can't imagine a reason I would ever want to own a car again, as long as we remain in this city. And I really can't imagine many scenarios in which I would want to drive either. Which is why many people are baffled when I tell them that I'm trying to get my UK driving license. It's not something I want to use here, so why would I want to have it at all?

It's so I can drive every couple of years when we visit the United States. That's it. There is no other reason. I have no desire to drive at all, ever, except when we are visiting family in the US. It is not possible to renew a US driver's license while living abroad, and mine has now expired, and so I have to get one here or force friends and family members to chauffeur me on my visits. As much as I know these people love me, I don't think it's fair to ask them to do this just because I'd prefer not to go through the hassle of getting a license I can use.

And it is a hassle. A gigantic pain in my posterior, really. There have been driving lessons. There has been one failed test. It is not just infinitely harder to drive in East London than it is to drive most of the places I drive in the US, but it is infinitely harder to pass the test. A lot of it comes down to the opinion of the examiner, and therein lies the problem. I have been driving for twenty-six years without any major incidents, and my examiner decided that I couldn't steer. I didn't come close to hitting anything or anyone. I maneuvered around quite a lot of roadworks on narrow roads. And yet he said he felt like there was something wrong with my steering. There was no other detail. Just his feeling. And so I've got to take the test again.

I wish it were a bit simpler. But it's not. I'd prefer not to take the test again, but here I am. It is a necessity. Once it is done, it is done. And then I will get to exercise my preference to never drive in this city, ever again. Necessity first, then preference.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Creativity in the Summer Lull

We are in the middle of a stretch of three weeks I refer to as the summer lull. I thought it was just two weeks, but it is three - and then a holiday abroad! What luxury! We tend to keep learning during the summer break, but all of the kids' classes run on the term schedule, so there is a stretch of six to eight weeks with no extra classes to get to. We always fill up the first half of the term break with visitors and Z's attendance at camp (which means that I must occupy E, so we get out a lot), but after that is over, there is nothing pressing to get to. I schedule health checkups, but we keep the schedule light. My kids benefit from this time of less to do, and I do as well. I've been doing a lot of thinking, as I mentioned in my last post, but I am also afforded the chance to be creative in ways I cannot be during term time.

For me, creative pursuits require both time and mental space. When my mind is full of appointments and class schedules and homeschool group planning, there is little room left, not to mention the fact that blocks of time to use as I please are few and far between. But here we are, with nothing big on the schedule most days, and I have an opportunity to be creative.

This week, my creativity is mainly emerging in the kitchen. We've got a grapevine in our back garden, and it's gone crazy this year, so I tried my hand and making grape jam and syrup. Some of the syrup caramelized and is more like molasses, so I decided that I would attempt to use it as a base for barbecue sauce. And then there were the beans I cooked in a giant batch in the crock pot with cloves and smoked paprika, and the potato pancakes I figured out how to freeze so they can be reheated in the oven in just twelve minutes. And I'm not done yet! I have so many ideas! I have a feeling that my summer lull creativity is going to feed us well this autumn.

And then who knows what might happen outside the kitchen? We will have to wait and see.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This Time

We've got a couple of weeks during which there is not a ton to do. I'm managing to fill it up with all the things I usually want to do and don't have time for, and I'm finding that those things also give me a lot of time for thinking. As we catapult through another year, I've been thinking about the passage of time and where we have spent it, and with whom. At the end of September, we'll mark eight years with our Z. Eight years, gone in a flash! And four of those have been in London. We've now rounded a corner that means that both of my children have lived longer in London than anywhere else. And I am so grateful for that.

When we made this move four years ago, we knew instinctively that it was the right move for us. We knew it would give us some things we didn't have, and we knew it would be better for our kids than any of the options available to us in the United States. We wanted our kids to grow up around people who look like them and people who don't, people who believe similar things to what we believe and people who don't, people who come from just about everywhere. For us, London is the place we could give those things to them. But it's also so much more. We have truly found a home here. We fit.

There is no guarantee we can be here long term. As much as I wish that weren't true, it is. We hope to stay permanently, but in the end, not all decisions are up to us. Brexit came as a big surprise, and no one knows how that will pan out. The Home Office has to approve our application to remain here indefinitely. We are at the mercy of a lot of things beyond our control. And that's okay. That's how life works. We hope so much that we can stay forever, but it is simply not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that these four years we have been here have been worth it. They've been a gift to us and our children.

We've got two years left on our current visa, and hopefully by the time that runs out we will have secured indefinite leave to remain. But if we haven't? J and I have agreed that just this period of time here has been worthy of the risk we took coming here and all the work it's taken to settle here and make a life. We hope that the life we've made will be the one we continue to enjoy for many years to come. We are working toward that goal, and there's no big reason to believe things will be otherwise. But if they are? These years have been amazing. I would do it all over again, just the same.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Parental Responsibility

Last week I decided that each weekday, I would take a little time aside to write something here. I want to make it a habit to make space for writing in my life, so I thought I would quietly go about it on this blog. Then yesterday happened, and I forgot all about it. It's my fault, really, because I made a judgment call that ended badly, and I had to pay the price. But first I had to figure out that it was my judgment call that was the problem.

Allow me to explain.

My E is a sensitive soul. Those who know her might not think so, because she comes across as confident and strong and maybe a bit of a bull in a china shop, but beneath the tough exterior is a very tender heart. She keeps it under wraps until she can't, and then it does not come out as one might expect. She comes out swinging. I think this is what confuses people - but the fight that's in her is one of self protection, not of malice.

Because of her sensitivities, I've had to be very careful about what I allow E to watch. Even if things work out in the end of a story, if a lot of things have gone wrong, this troubles her. We went to see Ferdinand at the cinema over Christmas, and it was a disaster. She can't handle A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix. And much of the time, she can't handle Anne with an E - but sometimes she can. If I say yes to turning it on, I know that I am taking a risk.

Yesterday, I took a risk with Anne with an E. I asked her if she felt okay about watching it, and during the show I asked her if she was still okay. She said yes and yes. But here's the thing: she wasn't, and she isn't good at judging these things. She really wants to watch it, and she really wants to be okay. She will not say no to either of the questions I asked because she does not want to miss out on the show. It's my job to make the call, and I made the wrong one.

What transpired after I said yes was a very difficult evening, and it took me far too long to realize this and apologize to her. I asked her to handle herself when she couldn't. She is six years old. I am still in charge of making sure that she can handle the experiences that she wants to have. If I'd really thought about it, I would've factored in that we are out of our usual routine and that she hasn't been able to fall asleep on her own most nights. I would've noted that she seemed worried during the first five minutes. But I didn't. And so the fault was mine, and the behaviors that came after were my fault also.

Someday she will be able to figure out what she can handle watching and what she can't. Someday she will be able to handle the feelings that come afterward when she makes the wrong choice about something. But for now, she still needs help. It is my responsibility.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Feet Seat

I've been thinking lately of things that are part of our normal that are slowly fading away. This is one of my favorites - the feet seat. It's just a place to sit when my children are too tired to stand, and there's nothing else available. I offer a small part of myself for their comfort. But Z has mostly outgrown this - her five foot tall frame doesn't balance as well on my feet, even though they are generously sized. Sitting on my lap isn't very comfortable either. So only E takes the feet seat or the lap seat now. Oh, I know there are other ways to snuggle up to me; Z has shown me that it is possible to adapt to offer physical comfort even for big kids. But I'll miss this part of motherhood, when a little girl's whole world could be contained in the space I look down into as I wait for a train.

Thursday, August 9, 2018


The unbearable heat has passed us by, at least for now. The photo above was taken on the second to last day of the heat, the day I got a little touch of heat exhaustion and had to lie in front of two fans for three hours, nauseated and dizzy. In the winter, when I am having a moan about being cold and it being so very dark all the time, I want to remember the day that I literally could not sit up because of what the heat did to me. Then I will feel thankful to simply be cold.

The forecast for the next week looks manageable, and we've even had rain. If the heat returns before the summer is through, I have a plan. It involves not doing much. Quesadillas made in the waffle iron for dinner. Saying no to the park which has just one shade tree. Ignoring any cries of "I'm booooooored." I'll pull rank for that one - my children can be bored in order that I won't end up incapacitated. It is more than fair. I'll even order their favorite snacks when I arrange for the grocery delivery. See? More than fair. Everyone gets to be somewhat happy, if not entirely so.



Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The New Girl

Back when it was still cold, we went to see about a little cat. It had not been long since we had said good-bye to our Phae, so it seemed a little soon. And yet, our sweet Teddy was left with no one to play with (our other cat is a snob), and we had gotten used to being a three cat family, and so. We simply did what seemed to make sense. We found out about this little kitty who was needing new people, and Z and I went to have a look at her. She was cute, and we like cute, and so we brought her home. Naturally.

It turned out that she was a bit shy and more than a bit anxious. But it was also clear that she loved human attention, so we stayed the course. Even though she expressed her anxiety a few times by peeing on the sofa. This, I'll admit, was the hardest thing for me to take. It was a point of pride that I had never had cats that didn't know where the litter box was and how to use it. I think this type of situation is exactly what the phrase "pride goes before a fall" refers to.

I did wonder if we'd ruined her life. It became clear that when it said on her profile that she was good with children and could live with other cats, it might not have been exactly true. I pondered if we should find a home for her where she would be an only cat, and there wouldn't be children stomping about. But I didn't want to upend her life again, nor did I want to try to convince Z and E that it was the right and kind thing to do, so I kept trying to help her be a tiny bit less nervous. Even a little.

I started by ordering her supplements. Valerian laced treats and a flower essence blend eased her anxiety and overactive startle reflex. Moving the food and water bowls to a different location made her feel more comfortable eating and drinking. She only peed on the sofa if she her anxiety was triggered and there was a blanked heaped up there, so I made strict rules about leaving blankets heaped up on the sofa. I made note of what disturbed her. I spoke with a cat behaviorist. I was told that, actually, we were doing quite well considering that we were integrating a full grown cat into a busy household with both kids and cats present.

And I fell in love with her. She is really a wonderful little cat. She has a sweet little meow that she uses to try to boss us around. She loves to play with Teddy, and she will come and say hello to the kids if they are being quieter than usual. She comes to sit in whatever room I am sitting in. She begs for treats and pets. She bats away anyone who competes for my attention when it is her turn. She wants to be here. This is her home, and we are now her people.

We have named her Ophelia. This was one of the middle names of our Phae, and it seemed fitting that our new girl, who has the same little forehead spot as Phae, would share part of her name. She answers most to Phee, but also to "Who wants treat-treats?" She is a good little cat, and I'm so very glad she's ours.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Longest Summer

I grew up in the Midwest US. I know a few things about summer. I know about humidity and heat indexes and walking outside into a wall of heat and then walking right back inside. Because in the Midwest US, we had air conditioning. I could walk back inside my house to cool comfort. I could escape. And that, it turns out, makes all the difference.

Here the summers are usually mild. We'll have a few days that top out at 90F, enough to moan about but they are over quickly enough that we've got plenty of time to prepare for moaning about the winter rains and cold. I like this sort of summer. It's manageable. Like most people who live here, we don't have air conditioning, and those days require lots of fans and patience. But the evenings are cool, and the house cools overnight, and all is well.

Not so this summer. This summer showed up and parked itself between 85 and 96 degrees for weeks. Between May 29 and July 27, we got no rain. The earth baked into some sort of unpleasant, straw-scented pie. The park around the corner, which has exactly one small tree for shade, became unbearable. On my days out alone, I'd stand in the Marks & Spencer food hall in the middle of all the food chillers. It was the only time I felt comfortable. At home, there was no relief.

Today was the last day of this round of heat. A friend said to me that it's nice to have a break for a bit, but she would welcome another week or so of higher temperatures. This is because she has a pool, and she wants to use it. The only pool I've got is the pool of sweat I lie in at night when I can't sleep, despite two oscillating fans blowing on me. I don't want another week of high temperatures. I want autumn.

I want it now.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Four Years in London

Sometime within the past week, the four year anniversary of the day we arrived in London to live passed us by. Z is at camp, and I am trying to keep E's social schedule full since she is the more social of my two children, and this gives us an opportunity to get out and do more without exhausting Z. (Exhausting me is a whole other matter, but I have coffee. I'll be fine.) Because we are so busy (now and always) I don't mark anniversaries in as timely a manner as I used to. But here we are, four years into making this city our home.

There has been a lot of water under a lot of bridges in these four years. We have moved house and visited family and lost pets and found pets and made friends and found our place in the various circles we are part of in this city. We regularly see people we know on the bus. If I put out a call for someone to play with us, I can find someone within two hours. We are a very active part of a church parish that feels like extended family. There are all sorts of things that are normal now and that are possible now because we have put down roots here, and they have begun to grow deep.

There remain very few things to do to make this our permanent home. Really, just one thing is necessary. In a year, we will apply for indefinite leave to remain so that our presence here does not rely on a time limited visa. Beyond that, we would like to get driving licences (if only so we can drive when we visit family in the USA), and I would very much like to own our home. I'm not sure how those things will pan out - I have already failed one driving test, so we will see. But for now, what I know is we are here, and our roots are planted, and we have hope that all will go well so we can stay and allow those roots to grow even deeper.

Four years. It's been good. We are so very glad to be at home in London.