Tuesday, September 29, 2009

London, Inside and Outside

Many moments in London I felt overwhelmed with a mix of feelings both old and new:

-Walking, walking, walking, walking:

In London I was as fit as I've ever been. I had no gym pass, didn't kill myself at Neil's gym like I do now, but I walked everywhere. All the time, rain or shine. We all did, and I think we walked more than most locals. When we arrived in London I learned school was about to start, and there were no guaranteed neighborhood schools. You had to find your place. I went to the Internet cafe, looked up children's schools, and mapped them out. The next day, Steve and I put the kids in the stroller and walked to every school on the map. St. Michael's Church of England School was farthest away on the map, and our last hope. We were exhausted by the time we got there. I clearly remember buzzing the door, and introducing ourselves to a woman who said she was into geneology and knew about Utah. She had just had a student leave the country for visa issues, and thought she could find a place for us.

Anyhow, the point of my story is that we walked a mile and a half each way to Jasper's school each day, there and back. Even in the city, that's a long way to walk--we crossed three different London neighborhoods! There was a bus that got you near there, and we took it when we were freezing. But the walk was definitely the most convenient and quickest and most direct way to go. None of the parents at Jasper's school could believe we came so far. They especially couldn't believe we came so far for an inner city school. But St. Michael's didn't disappoint in any way. Jasper's teacher, Miss Leah from Australia, was wonderful. And no uppity school could beat the education Jasper gained from having students of 200 countries at his school. His friend Abdo was Muslim and his mother picked him up in a nearly-full Birka. Asha was a second-generation Barbados Brit whose mother worked at the Charles Dickens House Museum. Sophie's dad was a "copper" on the streets of London.

Five years ago when we walked Ruby was in the stroller. We had a very nice double. Jasper could make it a good two miles at age 4, but when he was tired or slow we plopped him in the stroller, too. Visiting London this time, I was very concerned about walking with older kids whom I couldn't plop in the stroller. Sure enough, they whined and whined, and we walked and walked. But they got used to it. I was really proud of them. When they were really dead, we let them walk with their ipods. It felt really good to walk till your feet hurt every day, and hit the bed dog tired. That's how I felt most of the year we lived in London.


-The Bus:

I used to have a love/hate relationship with the bus. I loved when it would finally come and rescue me and my kids from the biting cold. I loved to rest my burning feet. But I hated to fight my way on with the stroller, sometimes just to be met with glares. This time, I hopped on with my children and we rode upstairs in the top deck on the front seat every single time--Ruby insisted. It was her favorite part of the whole trip. So we loved those old double-deckers again this trip.

The Complicated British-American relationship:

I think most Americans would agree that living as an American in the UK you feel both a part of and apart from the people around you. At least I did. On the one hand there are no two countries more unified than the US and the UK. There is virtually no where else abroad an American could feel more comfortable. When my grandparents were missionaries in Africa and were offered a two-week hiatus to recuperate, they chose to go to London.

On the other hand, both Americans and Brits, when in the presence of each other, seem to define themselves by taking pride in their differences. I guess this is normal. But sometimes it gets in the way. Steve and I must have looked like locals again this time, because we were asked for directions several times again, just like we were five years ago. We fit right in, and felt annoyed with the noisy Americans on the tube (there are a lot of hotels in our old neighborhood), and laughed at how you could pick them out. But then we weren't British. There were times, like in November of 2004 when Bush was re-elected, when I was afraid to open my mouth for fear of people hearing my accent. And again, I had that experience where someone is smiling at you, being friendly, and then their expression drops and their demeanor changes as soon as they hear me talk. Either that, or I call attention to myself and mark myself as American by saying excuse me too often--being too openly friendly.

All of these feelings were brought back to me in the London Transport Museum on Sunday. This wondeful museum is largely geared toward children, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a very distinguished-looking elderly gentleman viewing the exhibits. Later on as we finished the museum, I caught up with Steve and the kids in a room with a fake train light flashing overhead. Two little British girls were running back and forth, trying to stay in the light, and Ruby joined in. I was confused to hear a loud voice yelling, in a perfect Oxford English accent. I suddenly realized this disembodied voice was yelling at us, at the children. Then this same distinguished gentleman appeared at my back, yelling even more, "ignorant, ignorant! If they do that now how do you what do you think they're going to grow up to be??" Not wanting to offend the man, but not being able to get a word in edgewise to apologize, I opened my mouth and said, "Come on, guys. Let's go." I forgot I would be so recognizable with so few words. The old man began berating us with renewed vigor, this time about Ignorant Americans, and how of course we think it's OK for our children to run around and behave like that here, in their country. Sure, as long as it's on somebody else's turf.

As we walked out of the museum I was crestfallen--almost on the verge of tears. I knew it was silly to let this one encounter get to me. I guess it just brought me back to reality. There were a lot of hard times in London. It was often cold and grey. I often felt like an outsider. No matter how comfortable I became, I was still an American living in England. I knew this all along. I didn't ruin my experience, and it doesn't ruin my memories. It's just every chapter of our lives: good and bad, black and white, sunny and grey, happy and sad, inside and outside.

London, Old and New

Five good days, and I was off the wagon. That's not even enough to get to your first weigh-in--if you're starting a diet, like I have so many times. But I had a good excuse for not posting for the rest of our time in London. AT%T went out of its way to let me know that I was paying a fortune in data fees for using the Internet on my phone. I knew phone and texting rates were different, but I didn't expect my data plan to be so drastically affected by being overseas. So, no more blogging from the iPhone. There is a great little Internet cafe in our old neighborhood, but we kept ourselves so busy I never had a chance to get there. Maybe I'll just give a few snapshot updates.

.................................

Much to my relief, our visit to London was lovely. I was very worried it would be a huge disappointment, because I've waited so long and gotten carried away with my memories of it. Perhaps I worried just enough to temper my expectations.

Our days were a natural mix of visiting our old haunts, and exploring some new ones.

Highlights of the Old:
-Walking to our old flat
-Visiting Jasper's old school
-Shopping at our crowded old market
-Playing at Coram's Fields and the Pirate Ship Park

Highlights of the New:
-Visiting the old Clink Prison Museum
-Visiting the Transport Museum
-Eating at a bustling, hip Brunswick Centre, which used to be the blight of our neighborhood

Friday, September 25, 2009

No Comment

As an Internet user, I am a taker, not a giver. I always feel a bit guilty about this, but--obviously--not guilty enough to change.

I depend on online help forums to help me solve problems and answer questions about everything from computer issues to adoption issues. But I never go back and answer any questions, or post a thank you. Similarly, I have never been one to post comments on blogs. I enjoy reading them, but something stops me from posting a comment online for everyone to see.

I'm learning my lesson. I'm very grateful to all of you who take the time to leave a word of encouragement, or just to let me know you get what I'm saying (or don't). Especially now. Thanks.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We're Back!

This is Steve:
After a very long journey (20 hours door to door) we're back in our beloved neighborhood of Russell Square.  It's wonderful to be back and see how things have changed while staying the same. But first, here's a bit about our journey. 

Our neighbor Belinda took us to the airport and we made it in great time for our 3:00 pm departure.  Emily sat by Ruby and I sat by Jasper. After lots of nerves about this trip, the kids seemed to relax once we were inside the airport.  Both kids were thrilled to be travelling by plane and Ruby was particularly enthralled with the view from the sky. She seemed to be talking incessantly from where I sat in the row in front of her. Thanks to first grade, she knew all about the Great Salt Lake and they both loved being able to look out on the billowy blanket of clouds below us. 

The flight from Atlanta to London was another story though. It was crowded and the ability to sleep was nearly impossible. Ruby slept the best as she was leaning on Emily. The worst thing was that they kept the lights on in the cabin until about 2:00 am which did not help. It must be said that Jasper was a real trooper. He was across the isle in his own seat. He was in the isle seat with a man next him, and he's just not a little kid anymore. His only option was to try to sleep uncomfortably sitting up like the rest of us. It was sad to watch him struggle with it all night. We were really impressed he didn't complain once.  After a pretty miserable night and deplaning, we were greeted with the longest customs line even regular travelers here said they had ever seen. We Probably waited for over an hour to finally get through and Jasper was getting grumpier by the minute. But after getting a sprite and sitting down to wait for a shuttle to our hotel, he cheered up a bit. 

Driving through London for the first time in four years was just wonderful. We'll need to get driving on the left side back into our brains since we're renting a car next week. We again feel that draw that if we could figure out a way to live here we would. I even ran into a fellow Wells Fargo employee in that customs line who was travelling here to talk with one of our London money managers.  Life is long so who knows what the future will bring. 

Checking in to the Hotel Russell was like meeting up with an old friend. This was the place that "took us in" when we were here without a place to stay. During our first few days here in 2004, we gave up the flat Steve had pre-arranged. We knew we just couldn't stand it for a whole year, and we've moved enough to learn to trust those feelings unless you want to ruin your experience. We wandered around with all of our luggage, spending one miserable night in an LSE dorm room, while looking for another flat. We had passed the  beautiful Russell several times because we were looking for a flat in this neighborhood. Miserable after the dorm night, we decided to come into the Russell. They were under construction, and so offered us a small room for the reasonably good price of 100 GBP. We took it. Then, because that room had problems, they moved us to a nicer, bigger room. We were so grateful and miserable we nearly cried. We stayed here for two or three nights before we found our flat (then our flat wasn't ready, so we had to take an impromptu  vacation for a few more days).  Tbe point is, we are emotionally attached to this hotel. It's a beautiful, grand old piece of architecture we walked past almost everyday during the year we lived here. It feels like home. 

The kids were starving by the time we checked in at 4:00 pm, although Emily and I could hardly even see straight after staying up until 6 am after the night before our
flight.  Nonetheless we went to high tea in the hotel bar and had some delightful sandwiches and scones with some of the best hot chocolate the kids said they had ever tasted.  I tend to agree.  That hit the spot and since we were so bleary-eyed and Emily completely falling asleep in her chair, we convinced the kids to let us take a short nap. Thankfully, they let us sleep for almost two hours while they played with their Nintendo DSs and iPods that we got for this trip. 

That made a huge difference.   We were able to go out walking and it was just like old times, except that Ruby can walk now instead of needing to be in a stroller. We walked to our old building, Brunswick Mansions, and peered through the mail slot to see the carpeted entry  where we used to pause before heading up the three flights of stairs to our flat.  The most shocking thing was to see the transformation of TheBrunswick Centre across the street from our flat. While we were here before, it was a run down cement mixed-use housing complex that was only interesting to architectural students who would cme to study this building that was ahead of it's time. Now, however, it has gone through the most amazing transformation and was filled with people all sitting out at tables eating at upscale restaurants amid high end shops. The difference from when we were here was astounding. 

We stopped in at Tesco Express and picked up some fruit and ready-made pasta dishes for a late-night snack (because "every little helps"). We had forgotten how delicious the flavored rice pudding yogurts are here!  After eating our fill, we convinced the kids it was time to turn in at about 10:30 even though their bodies thought it was only 3:30 in the afternoon. They eventually dozed off  as we listened to the BBC news and their great world coverage. Again, this is very reminiscent of our last time here as we watched the Olympic coverage of the 2004 Greece games every night on the BBC after our absolutely exhausting days of searching for a suitable flat and while I juggled my classes at LSE. Those were such wonderful days although I wouldn't have said that at the time I'm sure.

It's very late here now at 12:30 and more adventures await for tomorrow, so on behalf Emily and the rest of the family, I'm going to sign off for now. This post is brought to you by the letter Z, which I'm hoping to get plenty of right now. 

Cheers, and Goodnight. 
  

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wheels Up

Just about to take off for London from Atlanta. Things to feel good about:

Radu says he's going to get us an early appt at the embassy for fingerprints.

All the help offered and given by neighbors.

Watching Ruby's delight at take-off.

This post is
brought to you by the letters x and o. As in, xoxoxoxoxoxoxo.

I Forgot to Say That This Post Was Brought to You By the Number 0. As in, what's left of our finances after this trip.




This is the pits. It's 4:47 AM the night before we leave, and I'm still up. I feel like a failure. My whole goal this trip was to start early, plan ahead, and NOT be up packing all night the night before.

I have worked pretty much round the clock for a month now getting ready for this. I know it sounds impossible to spend that much time, but consider this: there's getting the house ready for two new kids and a stressful year ahead--buying new beds, bedding, switching kids' stuff from one room to another, cleaning the house, and trying to finish house projects that can't just be left undone for the next few weeks, not to mention finding an Amharic translator. Then there's the 5-week, 2-country trip to prepare for: that's researching and booking several different flight itineraries, multiple hotels (many who can only respond to your emails in cryptic English in 2-day turnaround), car rentals (all on a tight budget), getting us all travel shots, taking everybody to the dentist (you hate to have a tooth break in a third-world country, and I would have had that very nightmare if I hadn't gone in), getting extended meds arranged, packing for 6 people (4 here, and 2 there) in limited luggage, packing orphanage donations, finding and packing all your camera and electronic gear, filling ipods full of audiobooks to keep your kids entertained for at least 5 of the 50 hours of flying ahead, letting your husband work late so he can leave his job in some semblance of order, going to Target over and over for all the things you forgot (like enough protein bars to stave off the whining if your kids hate all the foreign food they taste), and--for the past 7 hours--filling out 2 of every government immigration form and assembling copies of all the supporting documents (why didn't we buy that printer that could send through more than one page at a time?!)

Yes, Dad, I KNOW that is one enormous run-on sentence made worse by too many parenthetical references and my ever-present over-use of dashes. I wrote it that way because that's how my last few weeks have felt! Like a race from one thing to the next, with constant interruptions and tangents to follow.

Then, to my great delight, at about 1:00 AM I discovered in some fine print that . . . OUR FINGERPRINTS EXPIRE OCTOBER 9TH!! That's 10 days before our embassy date, mind you. I knew you had to adopt within 18 months of your USCIS approval. They tell you that all the time. But I have never heard ANYONE mention this fine print--that you only have 15 MONTHS before your fingerprints expire and your adoption can be denied. Sounds like an absurd contradiction, right? Yes! I know. At this point Steve was at the airport mailing our final 7 shipping business boxes before we leave, so I was left alone to fume at our adoption agency--they are supposed to alert you and keep track of these things! ARGH. I started searching online for my local Homeland Security office to head in first thing in the morning, only to find that since I was last there they have instituted an appointment only policy, and their first appointment is not until September 28. They don't even list a phone number because that might actually encourage someone to CALL THEM FOR HELP.

So, when Steve got home at 1:30 we conferred and decided that since it was the middle of the night here, our best option was to spend the next 1/2 hour on the phone with the US Consulate in London (thanks, Elliot), and the US Consulate in Addis Ababa (you, too, Debbie). Boy, they really do sound like they want to HELP Americans--help US. What a pleasant surprise! (Of course, now I'm imagining them all to be like the WWII embassy characters in The Winds of War, or Julia Child's wonderful embassy husband in Julie and Julia.) No resolution to that situation yet, but we've decided to put all our eggs in the Consular basket and fly away tomorrow with faith they will fingerprint us.

We still have a short list of things to do tomorrow, but I think they're manageable enough for us to go to bed now. Ruby woke up crying a bit ago, needing some comfort from her mom. I had a twinge of guilt about bringing another girl into her life, so close to her age. This was worsened by the fact that I had to find our original home study tonight, and re-read where it specifically says we want a boy and a girl. Of course the feeling is much worse because I'm exhausted. I know I've had more than one confirmation about taking these girls, and these girls in particular. But for a moment tonight I remembered how I purposely had my kids far apart so I would have plenty of time for a strong one-on-one relationship with each of them. I didn't want it to be just Mom and the Kids. I feel like I'm undoing that. And what about the fact that I always wanted and thought I'd have a family of boys? I'm definitely undoing that. I feel sad. But I guess that's normal, because I really haven't felt much fear or anxiety up to this point and I was due. It's this kind of thinking that reminds you it's time to go to bed.

I'll sign off with some pics (above) and video of the whole preparatory affair. Wish us luck! (Especially with the fingerprints.) In the lovely photo gallery you'll see, 1) my living room packing station 2) my pile of government documents 3) all the protein bars in Steve's suitcase.

And here's a little video of our lovely Sunday afternoon protein bar taste test. Those things are expensive and my kids are picky. Steps had to be taken to avoid disaster.




video

And now it's 5:44 Am. What idiot blogs for an hour after a day like this? I guess I'm just trying to get myself committed. Not to an institution. Just to blogging.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Share and Share Alike

Last night I was up until after 3:00 AM prepping for our trip. This morning I was up early to get the kids off to school, and dive right back into the packing. After hours again at that, I was getting really sick of it all. It seemed there weren't enough hours in the day, and I just want to be done, already! And gone, already! But then I had the unexpected pleasure of whiling away an hour or so with a dear old friend. Boy, was that hour worth it--it was the most "productive" hour of my day.

Betwixt the talk of gray hairs, and sagging boobs--and the never-ending naming story in which I never-endingly search for the one, perfect name for our younger new daughter (we've already named the older one)--Kellie reminded me that people really care about what we're doing. They want to be supportive, and involved, and have ownership in our adoption. I needed to hear that. One of the reasons I have trouble blogging is that I tend toward the opposite of narcissistic: rather than loving to talk about the things in my life, I am hobbled by a fear of being self-absorbed, thrusting my life onto others. Growing up I prided myself on being the one who could take care of herself. It's hard to shake that personal expectation. This is not always a good characteristic--you miss out on a lot of good moments with people when you underestimate their interest in you. (Right now a few people in my life, like my sister Sara, are probably begging to differ about my reservedness with details. I mean in GENERAL, guys.)

I want to share more details about our adoption on this blog, and I want people to feel involved. It's just hard for me to do it. Also, I worry about exploiting the girls. But I'm going to try (to share, of course--not to exploit them!).

So here it goes, Kel! Not that we're counting anything in particular, but let's just say this blog post is brought to you by the number 2. As in, comes after 1 on the way to a hundred. And as in, A.M. Ugh. Goodnight, already!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

E! E!

So I feel like I should update my blog but I'm exhausted. So here it goes-- "UPDATE!" Hmm. Didn't work. Let's try again:

We're now T-3 and counting. Yes, Wednesday we embark on our grand E-E Adventure. Though it may surprise you (who is 'you' when you're writing a blog?), I'm actually equally excited for both E's. Yes, our two weeks in Ethiopia will be life-changing and we're very excited to meet our girls. But right now the preps have us plumb wored out. Frankly, two-and-a-half week's in the first E--England/the "Tight Little Isle"/the Mother Country--sound absitively posolutely superbbbbb.

To understand our attachment to the British Base, you must understand that our year in London (2004-2005) was one of the greatest years of our lives. Yes it was hard, but it was wonderful--it was healing. It brought us from a dark year into the light. We tightened our bond and spread our wings as a family all at the same time. For me, individually, it was a time of hunkering down and feeding the soul--I read, I walked, I saw, I studied, I talked endlessly with my children on our endless travels. I cherished my sister. Even at the time I knew it was a unique and precious time in my life, one that must nurture and steel me for the hectic and difficult years to come. Boy, was I right!

Yes, I remember the long, dark, cold and dreary winter. I remember the tiny flat, the mice, the foot fatigue, the being alone. But more than that I remember a feeling so strong that a longing for it brings tears to my eyes almost every time I think of our year there. That was my life before--my life before my little kids got big, my life got hectic, and my baby died. It was my life after the dark time of upheaval in Colorado. It was Sara and Dave. Their names say it all. I have always felt I abandoned my little sister in England (though I know she never needed me). I vowed I would return within a year. Here I am--5 years later--finally returning to visit. To bask in the noise and smell and grey of London, and then retire to Sara and Dave's little old cottage: Home Farm Cottage, in Besselsleigh. Once again, I'm off to the "tight little isle," to nurture and steel myself for the adventure ahead. The first E paves the way for the second E.

This post is brought to you by the letter E. E for England, Ethiopia, Evermore.

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video

This video of Jasper is a good snapshot of our year in London. It is very late at night, and Jasper has just returned from the West End (London's Broadway), where he saw "The Lion King" with Uncle Dave. He refers to it as a "on play with real people," who apparently employed extensive use of "stilt sticks." The fact that he considers his Slush Puppy straw the highlight, fell asleep halfway through, and then had to wake up and walk all the way home perfectly sums up what it's like to try to enjoy the offerings of a world-class city with little kids in tow. (You also get a glimpse of our cramped flat--this reception room served as family room, dining room, guest room, and everything else.)