Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Week 11

The thing is, if I continue to publicly bare my soul on this blog, I am not being completely honesty until I confess:  in addition to loathing Okra Ikea and despising Halloween . . . yes, I have a bone to pick with Christmas as well.  This must not come as much of a shock really.  “Lighten up, Chick,” you must be thinking, “is there nothing in this world you enjoy?!”  Believe me, I have caught myself thinking the same thing actually.  I wasn’t always this way.  As a child, of course, I fully subscribed to the magic and fun of all of these things (aside from Ikea, which I’m pretty sure I never enjoyed).  I won’t bore you with another self-indulgent diatribe on overdone holidays (see my post on Halloween for that) except to say, as an adult, the garishly commercial presents presence of Christmas suddenly seems to be all I can see what with the gnawing responsibility of forming something as enormous as, oh I don’t know, a child’s belief system.  So when we travelled to Prague last week in Keegan’s self-proclaimed search of not so elusive Christmas, I was quietly relieved when we realized we had neglected sufficient due diligence and found ourselves touring the city exactly one week BEFORE the festivities and infamous Christmas Markets arrived.  Herein lies the irony, however.  The one holiday, gobble gobble, I actually do enjoy (which in turn Keegan scoffs at, another subject entirely) is the ONE holiday I had completely forgotten due to current location until my NYC friend said, “What are you guys doing for Thanksgiving?!”  “Oh crap, Thanksgiving is this week?!  I guess we aren’t doing anything . . .”  I couldn’t get off the phone with her until I accepted the warm and generous invitation of dinner at her place and Liam and I spent an intimate late afternoon with her and her hubs, her parents, and the kiddos.  We enjoyed a scaled down version of the classic Thanksgiving spread, complete with our contribution of Pumpkin Pie.  

And by the way, regardless of my grumpy and cynical sentiments towards all things completely fantastical to a child, I do manage to put on a happy face for Liam’s benefit and more often than not, his excitement is so freaking contagious anyway, it’s not always an act.  In fact, I even felt a slight authentic twinge by our plans to take Liam to “Winter Wonderland” in Hyde Park this weekend and do a bit of Christmas shopping together on Saturday date night, wishfully thinking perhaps here would be different given every holiday since I have arrived in this country has been the complete opposite experience from home.  Alas, by the end of the weekend, however, Scrooge had returned to his mighty throne upon my left shoulder, whispering into my ear bad, bad thoughts regarding Santa and his eight reindeer.  My intention was to have beautiful, emotive photographs of ice sculptures, twinkling lights, and Liam’s angelic face as he saw “snow” falling from the sky.  Instead I have a mostly empty camera and my British Life in Instagram (a fun change of pace for me to create photos so freely on the spot with the I-phone) to share for now.  I have great hopes for photographic genius this weekend as we have planned both the annual Anderson Family Self Photoshoot with tripod and camera (why I have not hired a professional for this over the last few years I cannot explain only to say that stupidly, I continue to think I can manage it on my own) and a day trip to Cambridge (squeal).  More to follow . . . 
Week 11-4 Week 111-1 Week 112 Week 113 Week 114 Week 115 Week 116 Week 117 Week 118
That's what I'm talking about . . . . nice and simple . . . a couple of turkeys and some pumpkins.  Bah Humbug.
IMG_2855-2 IMG_2862-2

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Week 10

Once upon a time, a young man travelled far away from home to find experience, culture, people, cuisine, beauty . . . in a word, life. Along the way, he crossed paths with a young woman who left her own home in search of the same thing. Together they embarked upon a journey that changed their lives. They returned to their own land, hand in hand and began an even more exciting adventure together as husband and wife. Thirteen years later, small child in tow, they traveled yet again across the ocean to relive for themselves and gift to their child that incredible feeling of seeing the world.

If someone told me back in 1999 when I met sweet yet quirky Keegan in Copenhagen of all places that we would get married, have a beautiful child together, and then bring that little guy on the same journey living abroad we embarked upon together years ago, I would have never believed it. It finally sunk in this weekend on our mini-getaway to Prague, Liam, although on a smaller scale, is going through some of the same amazing things Keegan and I went through when we lived in Europe for a semester in college. Living in London has been an adjustment yes, but in a way, really just feels like home away from home. Far away, albeit, but home nonetheless. It’s not until you step out of a plane and realize you cannot understand another word anyone around you is speaking that you truly feel in a “foreign” place, both literally and figuratively. To me it is such a rush . . . . not only of panic and emotions, but also of adrenaline and excitement . . . like you are turning the very last pages of Twilight a really good book and cannot wait to find out what will happen next. I will say, we continue to find many challenges in traveling with a “particular” four year old (read: picky, emotional, defiantly independent one minute, rolling around on the ground in a fit of “I CAN’T DO IT...” the next minute, tiresome while trying to get out and see things, tireless the minute we are trapped behind hotel doors, etc) Oftentimes it is just downright exhausting trying to keep him happy: apparently wandering aimlessly about a city taking in the sights is NOT entertaining, mummy is a massive clot for not carrying obscene amounts of peanut butter sandwiches tucked inside her hat like Paddington, the gloves he cares for as much as he cares for the broccoli on his dinner plate suddenly become the only thing that would make a visit to Prague even remotely enjoyable when one is lost, and scootering on cobblestones is actually not conducive to traveling afterall. I suppose, as I am writing them, these challenges are not much different at home on a daily basis. Regardless, the overwhelming feeling at the end of a long day in a new city (after Liam is sleeping so angelically and Mummy and Daddy have beverage in hand) is we feel so blessed and often downright giddy to be able to share things that mean so much to us both as individuals and as a couple, with this little tiny sponge, our tiny little sponge. Perhaps someday he will forget many if not all of the details of living in London and the countries we have visited (and no doubt we will conveniently forget the whining, pouting, and bickering . . . most likely just after I finish this post) but Keegan and I can rest easy knowing we have had the opportunity to expose Liam to many different people and many different places and have, at the very least, planted a seed. We can only hope the seed will one day flourish into a passion, empathy, and care for this world.  

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” - St. Augustine IMG_2676 Week 101 IMG_2693 Week 102 IMG_2703
Sweet yet quirky Keegan:
IMG_2698 Week 103
Of course, it's not all grumbles and frowns . . .
. . . there are afterall traditional Trdleniks (Czech pastries) on the square for the little ones . . . 
Week 109 Week 107
. . . and mulled wine for the adults!  A welcome break from the touring.
We finally wisened up and realized in addition to the sweet pastries, we needed to find ways to keep Liam entertained, happy, and most importantly engaged in his amazing surroundings.  We came up with:
a photo scavenger hunt . . .:
These are the things Liam found and took photos of (Czech flag, a clock, a dome, his favorite statue, a tower, stained glass window, flying buttress, and something very old!)
Week 106
. . . and mandatory playground stops!

Prague has many wonderful things to offer its adult tourists as well such as:
Smoked Meats.  Yes, please.

Beer and more smoked meats.  Yes, please.

Week 104
More smoked meat and lovely candlelit cellars in which to eat said meat and drink said beer.  Yes, please.
Week 108
And last but not least of course is the endless eye candy for avid photographer.  Yes, please.
Week 105 IMG_2816 IMG_2803
That would be Beer for $1.45.  Yes, please.
Week 1010
Week 1011

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Week 9

Nothing motivates a movement to clean, organize, and get the ducks in a row more so than a visit from the in-laws.  With a mad last minute dash to Okra Ikea, a good scrubbing of the bathrooms, and a general sweeping of all loose ends still dangling into any empty drawer we could find, we were able to welcome Keegan’s parents into what felt like some semblance of a home complete with decorative pillows and brightly colored throw blankets (something Ikea is good at).  We kicked off the visit with a trip straight to the pub (how else would you make someone feel at home in the UK?!) for a Sunday Roast and some cask beer.  Keegan took his mom to Jersey Boys for her birthday then we snuggled our weary jet-lagged visitors into their newly constructed bed.  Liam, of course, woke bright and early to acclimate his guests to Greenwich Mean Time and I shuttled him off to school while my in-laws then merrily commenced an extensive, week long tour of the city on foot.  Given their plans to check out some of the major sights I haven’t had the chance to see yet, I had every intention of joining them to play tourist in my own city.  As soon as we collected Liam, however, I realized my four year old’s stubborn independent ideas of how we should spend our afternoons would quickly snuff my excited head of steam and for the most part Grandma and Grandpa were on their own.  All the same, somehow we managed to coerce him into joining us at least on Monday and we headed off to Westminster Station.  To me, this is a quintessential introduction to London.  As you alight the train, minding the gap of course, where you have been crammed in between passengers like a sardine, you feel mostly sweaty, but somehow still exhilarated by the fact that you actually deciphered the electrical circuit drawing Tube Map and by some small act of God, found your way here.  Momentarily and in a panic, you try to reorient yourself, but you get swept up in the crowd and quickly decide to surrender to the masses of people who all seem to know where they are going rather than swim upstream.  You see the escalator, confidently forging ahead experiencing a fleeting moment of relief as going up can only be a good thing, but your confidence is squelched by the booming voice from a hurried businessman behind you, “Move aside.  Stand on the right!!”  As you continue to get bumped and shoved up the remainder of the escalator, light is visible.  You hurry now, the soreness from being elbowed in the ribs fading, the excitement of the tourists at the top of the stairs palpable.  You finally emerge onto the bank of the Thames River, beautiful countless bridges soaring across, and Big Ben looming majestically overhead.  You try to play it cool, to be a “local,” but you cannot suppress the smile twitching at the corners of your mouth.  This is London.  I am in London.  London is my home.  I AM a local.  

After we stopped drooling over Big Ben and the Thames, we headed up the London Eye for the ever so thrilling bird's eye view of this amazing city and concluded the in-law's first day (and my only day with them as it turned out) with a boat ride as the lights came on in the city.


Week 91 IMG_2557 IMG_2556 Week 9
IMG_2604 IMG_2596 Week 9-1 Week 95 
Liam and I went about our typical routine for the better part of the week while my in-laws tirelessly continued their major sightseeing attempts.  I was so impressed with their get up and go attitude and  willingness to take on public transportation around London on their own.  We celebrated the end of their trip in style as Keegan and his father went off to a Football match and Keegan's mom and I took our favorite little gentleman to Afternoon Tea.
Week 93 Week 94

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Week 8

With a visit from Keegan’s parents suddenly and unexpectedly postponed due to Hurricane Sandy, Liam and I were left to our own devices this week.  We had lots of down time to giggle, stay in our jammies, watch cartoons, work on his Halloween costume, and reconnect as he had the week off from school.  The school calendar in the UK is set up into three terms of 14 weeks each so that after six full weeks of attending school, students are released for a 1-2 week holiday every term.  While Halloween may be a complete nonevent in the local British neighborhoods, Half Term Holiday is, on the contrary, quite another phenomenon altogether.  A force to be reckoned with really when venturing out into the endless queues of tourists and their offspring.  We made three outings throughout the week and everything, including Okra Ikea, was completely mobbed.  In the process though, we developed what I felt to be the beginning of a sweet tradition to temporarily replace the annual trip to glorified mud puddle, aka Pumpkin Patch.  The day before Halloween, Halloween Eve if you will, we headed out West a bit to the lovely Royal Botanic Kew Gardens, a massive 121 hectare (thank you Wikipedia) piece of land with gardens, multiple glasshouses, ponds, art galleries inside and out, and the very cool Treetop Walkway.  The place is so large, there is a hop-on, hop-off bus that runs around the perimeter if you don’t want to miss any of the “attractions.”  At any rate, Liam and I had a wonderful time walking around and soaking up all of the Fall colors we’ve missed over the years living in temperate California.  At the conclusion of our trip, we walked back through the very quaint little town of Kew and stopped in at The Kew Gardener, a small horticultural and landscape maintenance shop.  The handful of pumpkins in the window front and spilling out the front door caught our eye and we decided to forgo the $3 grocery store variety for the $20 (yikes) beauty growing out of the sidewalk because somehow, the fact that it was from a garden store and sitting in a pile of hay made it more authentic.  Somehow.  That was what I was telling myself on the twenty minute train ride home with a 30 pound pumpkin in my lap anyway. 

And so that brings us to the big nonevent: Trick or Treating in London.  A fellow mom and expat from Liam’s school invited us to join her and her 2 boys and she and I were emailing back and forth all day about our plan of attack for the boys, our Little Mini Fearless Superheroes.  We finally settled on taking the bus to St. John’s Wood, an expat neighborhood about 2 miles down the road from us.  Super Union Jack Man, i.e. Liam, and I headed out around 4 pm for the bus stop and found ourselves completely underwhelmed by the feeling of ghosts and goblins in the air.  I had been told by SecurelyBe that if a house was not decorated, do NOT expect to find tricks OR treats there so don’t go a’knocking.  Our street:  quiet, dead, barren, and definitely not decorated.  I gave our humungous bowl of candy waiting to be passed out at home a fleeting thought, elated I went with the crappy $1 bag of lollies that would find a new home in the rubbish bin when we returned.  We passed child after child unadorned.  For once, my child IS in a uniform and we are still getting looks from other parents.  I can’t win.  My Superhero was not to be deterred.  We kept on truckin‘ and as we rounded the corner to the St. John’s Wood, it was as if we stepped off a British Airways plane and landed in the middle of any old white picket fence American neighborhood well into their typical Halloween celebrations.  3 words:  American Halloween Motherload.  The Superheroes had brilliant fun of course, but for me it just made the whole tradition seem even more bizarre.  Who are we to come invading into another country, thousands of miles away, with this weird spectacle?!  When we returned home, we lit our jack o’lantern anyway and Liam made some comment about doing all of our decorating work for nothing because we wouldn’t get to hand out any candy.   He barely finished his sentence when the doorbell rang and Liam greeted a whole slew of British Trick or Treaters.  I heard one of them ask how many candies he could have to which Liam enthusiastically replied, “Take as many as you want.”  Within minutes, the bowl was emptied and my Halloween was complete.  To top it all off, on Friday we went into Central London and witnessed the opening of Christmas Ice Skating outside the Natural History Museum and fireworks have been randomly going off 5 nights straight (no joke) for Guy Fawkes Night?? (My British audience, help me out here)  No Halloween?  No Thanksgiving?  No Problem.  Just light fireworks and start celebrating Christmas 2 months ahead of time.  The perfect Bizarro ending to my imperfectly Bizarro week.

Kew Gardens:
Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway, every bit as cool as it looks.  Incidentally designed by Marks Barfield Architects, the same Architects that designed the London Eye.  
Week 82 IMG_0186 Week 8
David Nash at Kew Gardens.  Liam liked his work because he used a chainsaw to carve trees from the Garden that had come to the end of their life.
Week 81
And the ever so complicated pumpkin picking begins.  On the right is the pumpkin he had his eye on.  Seriously Buddy?!  I have to carry this damned thing back on the train.  Try again.
Week 83
Liam progressively went from THE largest pumpkin possible, to the next largest, to the next largest, until he finally drew the line on the one on the right.  I am not leaving this place with anything smaller than this one, Mommy.  How could I say no one more time to that face?!
 Week 84
Urban Pumpkin Picking in Kew - our new Halloween Tradition
And NOW . . . introducing . . . SUPER UNION JACK MAN!!!
Hween Hween1 Hween2 Hween3 IMG_2514
My Superhero makes it all worth it.  
Cheers Super Union Jack Man!