Confessions of an Older Sister

When you grow up as one of the oldest children in a large family, it changes your outlook on life. People always say, “Your mum must be incredibly organised,” and I always think, well, she is, but she’s mostly a good delegator (a skill which I have inherited but which is, unfortunately, of little use at the moment. For some reason Jared doesn’t like it when I try to delegate things to him! Little Rascal will certainly have to enjoy it, though.)

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My background as an older sister has, I think, made motherhood a different experience for me. When JQ was first born, everyone said, “It’s so much different having your own baby, isn’t it!” But it wasn’t, not really. Everything just felt so familiar, like I’d done it before, which, of course, I mostly had. (Besides breastfeeding. It would just be weird to do that as a big sister.) But diaper changes, clothes changes, holding him, soothing him: I’d been doing that since I was 6!

 

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Taking pictures of him, however, is definitely a learned skill. Most of them are blurry because he wants to grab the camera!

 

Signs you may have been the oldest of many:

  1. Your main worry when you become a mother is that your child will be understimulated and have no one to tend to him.
  2. You wonder how you’ll fill all the hours in the day with only  ONE baby to take care of who can neither walk nor talk and sleeps a lot (answer: you sleep, mostly).
  3. You over exaggerate just how horrible sleepless nights are going to be until you’re just about sure you’re going to be a zombie forever. You will be a zombie, especially when at the hospital (I spent much of my time there thinking of stunning retorts to the plethora of signs forbidding me to sleep with my baby in bed with me when there was nowhere else he would sleep and I had not slept in years and was considering dying). But not forever.
  4. In spite of all the advantages, when you’re actually the parent, there’s a lot more responsibility on your shoulders. When you’re just a big sis, there’s always someone else to hand the baby off to, but when you’re the mum, that’s it. You’re it.
  5. When you go and visit family, however, you find yourself conspiratorially siding with your child (“Grandma doesn’t let children eat chocolate–let’s eat some chocolate!”) like you did with your siblings when they were younger.
  6. On the other hand, it’s so much easier to sooth a  baby when you’re the baby’s mother. He’s not always crying for someone else–he wants me, and I can pretty much figure out what he wants most of the time. Being the “second mommy” just isn’t the same thing, and the baby knows it.

What do you think, other older children? I’m sure I’ve missed several points on the wonders (or otherwise) of being a big sister.

Winter in Oregon

This is winter in Oregon.

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Far-off hills wrestling with fog

As the sun says goodbye.
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This is winter in Oregon.

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Tall grasses bend with the weight of the wet

Red-bellied roundness beside them.

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Crystal-fire, of raindrops on rosehips

Clear water comes dripping to earth.
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This is winter in Oregon.
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Tall bearded trees reach into the water

Holding the sunlight prisoner.
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Colors are dying and growing old,

Fading in the wetlands.
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This is winter in Oregon.
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This message was brought to you by a few moments of silence from this cute little face. I’m sure you’re all thankful.
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Fall in Colorado

It’s fall, and it’s gorgeous. I’d forgotten just how gorgeous Colorado falls could be, and I’m definitely enjoying it while I can, because who knows how long it will be until I get to see a proper fall again!

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I may be biased, but I think Colorado scenery is some of the prettiest for fall. Blue mountains, blue sky, and blue lakes contrast so nicely with the yellows and reds of fall.

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So even though I’ve traveled all over recently (it feels like it, at least!), it’s been so nice to come home.

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Sadly, the leaves left quickly when a giant windstorm came up and blew them all away. But we sure enjoyed them while they lasted!

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There’s just something about the mountains that is so beautiful against the sky.

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I hope you’re enjoying fall wherever you’re at, though I’m guessing it’s not as gorgeous as this!  Now if I can just pack in a little snow before I move to the tropics!

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Culture Shock

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Cute baby picture just because

This time around, coming home was definitely more of a culture shock for me. Last time I was too busy being pregnant (and honestly just glad not to be in China any more) to really notice culture shock. Although it was a bit strange to be able to look at menus and not have to summon up my little stock of Chinese to try to order something and figure out what I was eating, that quickly passed and I figured out how to order in English again.

But maybe because in a lot of ways England is a lot like America–they’re both rich countries, speak English, Western, and have similar lifestyles, I found I noticed the differences a lot more when I came home. America definitely has its perks (like family and friends), but there are a lot of things I’ve been missing about England.

  • Food quality and prices

I don’t miss the restaurant food: that was pretty nondescript and mostly too expensive for our budget anyways. But just regular grocery store food in England seemed much higher quality and was so much cheaper. I don’t even know how to shop here since so many of the things I got used to buying and cooking over there are suddenly way out of my price range. So here’s hoping Singapore has Cadbury chocolate and custard creams! Also, American grocery store eggs are nasty. They’re so pale and flavorless.

  • Walkable cities

American cities (at least the few I’ve been in) are so poorly designed for walking. They practically force you to drive places just so you don’t get run over while trying to walk somewhere. In most of Europe, though, we could walk 5-10 minutes and be at a grocery store without endangering ourselves by trying to cross ridiculously busy highways without crosswalks. I know it’s the American way of life to have a giant car and always drive everywhere, but maybe if cities were planned better more people would be able to walk!

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  • Not knowing which way to look when crossing the street, and not knowing which side of the car is the passenger side or driver’s side

It’s not so much of a problem now that I’ve been back a few months, but for the first little bit of traveling through Europe and coming back to America, I was terribly confused as to which way I should look when crossing the street. Eventually I just gave up and looked both ways twice to make sure no one was coming. It didn’t help  that in Europe they don’t print helpful messages on the pavement for which way to look!

And I had the same problem with knowing which side was the passenger side of the car. I didn’t often ride in cars in the UK, but apparently I rode in them enough to thoroughly confuse myself. Why don’t they just standardise these things?

  • People talk to you in trains

When we got back to D.C., so many random people would just start up conversations with us. They’d ask about the baby, talk about the weather…and didn’t seem to have any idea that you just don’t talk to people on trains! In London, no one ever talks to anyone else on the tube, except maybe to offer someone a seat. It’s just one of those things that Is Not Done.

  • Light switches

One of those things you’d never think of but is actually pretty confusing are light switches. When I got back home, I would constantly search for the bathroom light switch on the outside of the door, only to realize it was on the inside. (People who put light switches on the outside of bathrooms must never have had little brothers, is all I can think.) Not only are light switches located in different places, but they also move backwards, which has led me to hit the switch several times just trying to figure out which way is on or off.

  • Language

One of the biggest ways I felt like a foreigner in England was my accent. When everyone else is speaking in nice posh British tones with all kinds of rounded vowel sounds and without “r”s and all that, I felt like my American accent stuck out a mile. It’s pretty impossible to blend in when every word you speak loudly proclaims you a foreigner. Of course, this was even worse when we traveled around France and Germany and couldn’t even speak the language (every time I thought about German I would come up with Chinese instead!).

  • Getting used to friends and family being in the same time zone again.

When you’ve only been able to call your friends in the afternoon for a year, suddenly being able to call or text during any waking hours is slightly strange. I often waited till the afternoon to call just out of force of habit! It’s awfully nice to live in the same time zone, though, and not have to worry about waking people at 3 am or so.

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There are a lot more things, such as grocery delivery, beautiful giant parks (definitely the best part about England), and not having any plugs that fit in the sockets when we came home, along with location restrictions on Netflix (some of the shows we really enjoyed are way too expensive here) and strange dinner hours in Europe.

It was a great year, England: thank you for having us. Now on to ever newer adventures–I’ll keep you posted as to what Singapore is like!

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes!

 

The Life of a Tramp, part 2: Cumbrae Island

Of all the places we visited, Cumbrae Island was definitely one of our favorites. We stayed at an adorable little village in Scotland called West Kilbride, and our hostess recommended we see Cumbrae island.

So we headed off early in the morning on the ferry and hoped it wouldn’t be too chilly since I’d gotten rid of all my jackets. That’s what happens when you put all your stuff in one carry-on sized suitcase.

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But even though it started off cold and gray, it became beautifully sunny when we got there. And I have a ton of pictures to prove it.

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When we got there, we thought about being cheapskates and just walking all the way around the island (about 10 miles), but decided to take a bus into the town of Millport and rent bicycles.

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It was an adorable little town (and super cheap housing prices!) and we were almost convinced to buy a beach house there for summer vacations.

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It was so much fun to cycle around the island on the most beautiful day ever and feel the fresh air and see the gorgeous scenery. I might have enjoyed it a little.

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We stopped and ate lunch overlooking this view.

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JQ sat on a rock and supervised.DSC_0907

Then it was off for more cycling and enjoying the view.

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What can I say, except that it was gorgeous and you should go there if you ever get the chance?

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The Life of a Tramp, Part 1: Edinburgh

We’re now officially homeless. Hooray?

Ten months ago, we came to this empty flat with nothing but our hopes and dreams, four large suitcases, and an even larger belly (yes, with a baby in it). We left a week ago with one very wiggly 9-month-old, three small bags, a backpack, and lots of good memories and friendships made. It was a good ten months, London–we’re sad to go!  DSC_0800     All moved out and nowhere to sit.

So now we’re living it up and traveling around. First stop? Edinburgh. We loved this city: so much Old World charm, and in such a gorgeous location. We stayed at a charming AirBnB not far from the city center, and had so much fun walking around and seeing the sights.

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First, we went to the beach. JQ instantly decided the water was much too cold (we dipped his big toe in) and the sand was his jam. He even ate a couple handfuls, to which Jared said: “I feel like a real father now, watching my baby eat dirt!”

What can I say? We have low standards.

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Note to self: make sure the baby has been thoroughly washed after any encounter with sand, especially before going to bed. Otherwise you will be fighting sand for days.

The next day, (which was sunny and warmer, of course), we walked around Edinburgh and saw the castle and some of the other sights. And took about a million pictures, so excuse me while I dump them on you.

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I loved all the buildings–they’re nearly all made out of the same kind of stone, which looks so grand and imposing. There weren’t any skyscrapers either, and no post-industrial blight. You know the sort–dying factories, ancient chimneys, rotting warehouses that should have been torn down decades ago.
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Of course there was the usual assortment of fish-and-chip shops, off-licences, and betting houses. It wouldn’t be Britain without them!

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Once in the castle, we enjoyed some fabulous views looking over the Firth of Forth and the city.

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The castle itself was pretty picturesque too!

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I was very glad I wasn’t one of the brave band of Scots who scaled the rock cliff to attack the castle and retake it from the English. Cliffs are not my cup of tea, to put it mildly.

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JQ agrees.

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Speaking of cliffs, the next day we climbed up Arthur’s Seat, which is a huge hill (or collection of hills? I couldn’t quite figure out which). Besides nearly making me have a heart attack it was so high and steep, it was beautiful.

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I had never really thought of Scotland as being volcanic before, but seeing these massive hills of volcanic rock really emphasized it!

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I also decided I was not cut out to be a Highlander. Running around on steep hills all day gets tiring pretty quickly. Although I’ve got to say it’s much easier to walk up (or down) hills like that without shoes!

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Anyways, ya’ll have probably had about enough of seeing craggy cliff faces and hearing me blither about Edinburgh. If you get a chance to visit, though, you definitely should!

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So long for now!

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Let It Go

One week from today, we leave.

This small flat where we eagerly expected the birth of our first child, the place he came home to from the hospital. Family and friends have visited. Life has happened. We’ve filled it with memories in less than a year.

But now our flat is looking bare and new again, minus all the stuff that’s sitting around everywhere. Let’s say it looks as bare and new as a place that looks like a tornado recently went through it can look.

We’ve started getting rid of everything, moving on, letting go. Those tiny baby clothes we brought expectantly, our furniture, the evidence that we were here.

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I don’t want to move on. I want to freeze this moment in time: this still-small baby (who is sometimes a bear), this messy apartment, these sunsets over the river. I want to hold them in the palm of my hand and never let go.

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I don’t want to surrender a known present to an unknown future. If it were up to me,  I’d give up unknown joys and sorrows in exchange for these familiar ones. I’d freeze time, holding onto to what I know.

Sunset over the Thames

But it’s not up to me. I don’t have a choice. Life must be lived even if it’s uncertain, even if it means giving up the familiar for the unfamiliar, the known for the unknown. Unknown goods are no less good because they are unknown. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyways.

Otherwise, I’d be like my still-learning baby: endlessly grasping for something I cannot reach but not wise enough to give up and move forward to the things within my grasp.

So on we go–it’s time for the next adventure!

Updates and Anniversaries

I decided it was time for an update on what’s been going on over here while I’ve been doing everything but blogging. So here are the things that have been keeping me busy recently.

  1. The first one, of course, is JQ monstering.

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Don’t be fooled by that cute little face and angelic mop of blonde hair. This little man, who is currently eight-and-a-half months old, rarely sits still and always wants to be getting into something. Vying for the spots of top most fascinating things are computer cords, computers, cellphones, and drawers. So far he’s completely destroyed one drawer in the house and taken the contents out of many more. His motto seems to be, “What can I get into next?”

2. In June, we celebrated our third anniversary. Of course, like the bad blogger that I am, I’ve been trying to write a post about it for a month. This is me giving up and saying no post shall be written. But at least we got (a very bad) picture of us wandering around London on our anniversary.
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It’s been a great three years in three countries, Jared. I’m looking forward to the next year (and the next country!).
3. The third thing that’s been keeping me busy is. . .I got a job! It’s teaching English online to Chinese people, mostly kids. The transition was a little rough on JQ (since he obviously can’t “help” me and has to go in the other room), but I’ve taught a lot of fun students. And I’ll be able to take it with me when we move. . . which is a plus.

4. Which brings me to: we’re moving, again! We leave our current house on July 25 (sniff, sniff), and are going to travel around for a bit before heading off to Singapore in January. Not looking forward to Singapore’s weather, but kind of excited to know where we’re going next and maybe having a bigger flat there too. What I’m not excited about, though, is packing, a.k.a. getting rid of everything we own (again). I always feel like we’ve done a great job of not accumulating stuff until it’s time to pack it all up–and then it takes five times longer than it should to go through everything. But at least we won’t have much to carry when traveling!

5. But before we leave here for good, we’re doing a bit more traveling around the country. We have Scotland and Ireland booked for the end of the month, but for now, we’ve just made a last-minute trip to Gloucester and a day trip to Cardiff from there. Lots more beautiful scenery (and cute baby pictures, of course).

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We’ve been loving the gorgeous English gardens and all the greenery everywhere.

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We had a great time walking around Cardiff as well and seeing the castle and the bay. It was perfect weather too!

6. Besides going places ourselves, we’ve also had other people visit us. After my friend left, my sister came two weeks later. I haven’t persuaded either of them to write a blog post yet, but perhaps I might still. It’s amazing how much more popular living in London has made us!

7. Other than all the busyness described above, we’re just enjoying what has probably been the coolest summer I’ve ever spent. I don’t think it’s ever gotten past 80 degrees (yes, that is Fahrenheit) yet and it’s July. Feel free to be envious, those of you roasting in America. Have I mentioned we’re going to miss England?!

Well, I think that about covers our summer so far. What have you all been up to?

For more, head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Yorkshire

You guys. Yorkshire is amazing. And I have a few hundred pictures to show for it.DSC_0448

Maybe it helped that we went in spring, so everything could be green and blooming.

 

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But still–the combination of green hills, stone fences, and picturesque cottages made for some great pictures and good memories.

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The clouds cooperated and did their bit for the making of good pictures too.

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I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing the countryside till I left London for a couple days.  It was so nice to get a break from traffic and houses and people and be able to look further than a couple hundred feet in any direction.

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In other news, my adorable sweet immobile baby has suddenly turned into an attack monster. Everything–from doorstops to computer cords–is fair game, and will get grabbed and put into a slimy little mouth.

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In fact, he’s gotten so adept at crawling his way into everything that we’ve decided he gets a verb of his own: monstering.

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“If you’re going to monster,” we’ll say, “you can start in this corner so it’s harder for you to ruin another computer cord.”

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Thankfully, his monstering skills hadn’t quite developed on this trip to Yorkshire, so he was happy to (mostly) stay put in his carrier.

 

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But now he’s grumping at me (yes, that is also a verb here, in case you were wondering) and saying it’s his bedtime.

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He would be attacking my computer, but that’s not very conducive to any actual blogging, so he’s climbing me instead and pulling my hair.

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Unfortunately, I still have quite a few more pictures to show you. It’s kind of a trial of judgment, because I want to include them all. But looking at a million pictures of other people’s travels is kind of boring after the tenth picture or so, so I cut a few out.

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In spite of the terrible problem of having too many pictures, our main regret was not having the time to see more. One day felt kind of short!

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And I’ve run out of things to blither on about, so before your start monstering, now that you know such a thing is possible, I will let you look through the last five hundred pictures on your own.
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And you can envy my self-timer skills on my camera.

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And the sunshine on the river.

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And the stone bridges 

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And peaceful cows.

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And…ok, I’ll stop for good now. Maybe I’ll come back and write another post soon. And maybe I will just decide that I like sleeping better. Who knows?

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DSC_0649Bonus points if you can name the poem this made me think of!

Photo Bloopers

Here I am, breaking radio silence for the first time in about two months, to bring you the best of Annika’s photography skills. And I tell you, these are some incredible pictures.

First up, we have this thrilling number taken courtesy of the self-timer on my camera. You’re welcome.

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I had never known before I saw this just how much I look like a cartoon character when I run with a baby on my front. Now I know. And I can never un-know that fact. It will haunt me forever.

Next we have this beautiful view of fields and hills in Yorkshire…until you look to the right.

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Yes, that is a finger pointing. No, I don’t know what it’s pointing at.

And this one…well, there’s nothing wrong with this one. It’s just a cute baby picture I thought you’d want to see.
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Have you ever seen such a cute little laughing bear? I thought not. If you look at that face long enough, you should start smiling too!

Have a cheery Friday, and maybe I’ll show you some more of the (better? hopefully?) pictures soon!