Happy Birthday to Me

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On birthdays there should be Big Thoughts. You should of course ruminate on how old (or not) you feel, how much more mature (or not) you could be, how you’ve failed in your aspirations for the last x amount of years, how you’ve completed your aspirations in the last amount of years, what you hope to accomplish in your next however many years. (I’m afraid my Dickens is showing–forgive me!)  But on my most recent birthday, I accomplished few Big Thoughts.

I did, however, manage to make a cake in our new (much larger! so nice!) toaster oven that is actually big enough to bake something in without the top burning long before anything else is even warm.
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And while it almost melted in the Singapore heat in spite of being stored in the freezer whenever it was not being built, it tasted great. Although anything with four layers of homemade lemon curd covered in lemon cream cheese frosting would probably taste great anyways.

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Did I ever imagine that when I was 25 my main accomplishments would consist of making a cake for my birthday and not getting mad at the baby (and doing dishes, of course–one can always do more dishes)? I don’t really know. I’m not one of those people (like Jared) who was born ambitious. When I was ten I had a breakdown when I had to write an assignment about what I wanted to be when I grew up, because I had no ambitions to be anything! (I finally settled on teacher as the least bad option…and now I’m a teacher. So maybe 10-year-old me knew something after all?)

What I’d like to think is that one doesn’t have to accomplish great things for life to matter. I try to comfort Jared with this platitude when he’s feeling especially down after only reading one million books instead of stopping wars or advising world leaders; somehow he doesn’t particularly appreciate it.

But I think of it this way–if everyone was busy doing great things, who would have time to stop and comfort the baby, or to make a lemon cake for all to enjoy, or to teach English to small children? Who would be involved in the business of helping the little ones become great?

We need great men and women. But we also need the homely sorts, the ones who contribute the less obvious comforts, like lemon cake. So even though I’ve accomplished little to speak of in my life these past twenty-six years, I think I may have contributed some good to the world in spite of myself.

 

 

 

Last Week in Titles: A Saga of Sickness

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Unrelated flower picture because you don’t want a picture of the actual happenings!

One week ago, I had high hopes. We had just returned from touring Sri Lanka for a week, everyone was glad to be home, and there were All The Things to do (namely, laundry, grocery shopping, and other elements necessary for survival). And did I mention everyone was glad to be home? Surely I could crank out some blog posts as well.

But then disaster struck. On Saturday evening, Jared began to feel unwell, and on Sunday morning we were awakened by him vomiting loudly and forcefully all over the bathroom. This day was titled “Thank Goodness it’s Probably Food Poisoning,” because, like the good wife I am, I’d rather stay healthy and take care of everyone than get sick myself.

On Monday, things were a bit more back to normal, though Jared was still feeling a bit green and not eating much. JQ, however, had decided it was his duty to scatter as many of his toys over the house as he could, resulting in blocks and legos covering approximately 3/5 of the living room floor. Any attempts to pick up said blocks and legos were met with protests and immediate rescattering, leading me to wonder, “Why Are Toddlers People Too???”

On Tuesday, there was a premonition of disaster when I got JQ up from his nap to take him to his babysitter’s and he vomited all over me when I put him on my back. I, of course, wrote it off as just one of those random things babies do as he was happy otherwise and not a grouch, but should have known I was “Living in Denial.”

By Wednesday, things were feeling decidedly blue and may have culminated in a few bouts of crying as I wondered if I would always be “Living in Solitary Confinement with a 1.5 Year Old,” which, in case you’re wondering, really is that much worse than living in solitary confinement by yourself.  But really, Singapore, why do you have to be so far away from everyone (and so hot)? And why does the rest of the world sleep so much during the day?

On Thursday, things were fine as I woke up and ate breakfast, until, at 10:00 a.m., I felt a twinge of “things aren’t quite right”. Jared immediately told me I was not allowed to get sick, then went to the store and got some traditional Chinese medicine as he’d been reading about all the values of traditional cultures and how much they know about everything. The stuff tasted awful, like dirt mixed with Swedish Bitters (which Jared apparently was never forced to take as a child), and had millions of little round balls which would not dissolve in water and had to just be swallowed. Oh, and it tasted terrible coming back up. A word to the wise: “Never Take Chinese Medicine When You’re Coming Down With the Stomach Flu,” or maybe, “Don’t Trust the Old Ladies at the Herb Store.” Once I categorically refused to even SMELL any more of the stuff, the day got a lot better, though it was perhaps marred by throwing up in the middle of a class.

By Friday, I had the energy of a sloth that’s been hit by a train and was just glad I only had to teach 5 classes instead of my usual 8 as I’d had the foresight to close any open slots the day before. You could call this day, “Lounging Is Too Much Work.”

On Saturday and Sunday, I was feeling better enough to pick up all the blocks and legos that had been scattered around the floor for the whole week (while JQ was in the other room, of course!). Then I figured my work was done and mostly rested, other than going to church since no one was actually throwing up anymore at this point.  “What Are Weekends for, Anyway?”

And now it’s Monday morning, the dishes are exploding out of the sink, the floor hasn’t been mopped in who knows how long, and we’re back at Solitary Confinement with a 1.5 Year Old. But at least there aren’t blocks all over the floor (for now)!

Why I’m Glad I Don’t Have a Dryer

I just realized today that I’ve never told you  about our laundry situation in all the various countries we’ve lived in. Have you ever been missing out!

For the past three years, we haven’t had a dryer. And for the most part it’s been ok. It was a little hard in London when we only had a teeny tiny flat and it took clothes two days to dry because cold and damp weather is not the greatest for laundry drying (and also a significant reason we didn’t cloth diaper exclusively!), but really, in a family this size, it’s pretty easy to go without a dryer. Of course, when I was growing up we hung laundry on the line and I felt like it took all day. Probably because with 12 people in a house, there’s always more laundry to hang. But here, I actually kind of like it. Here’s why.

    1. I’m lazy and if I had a dryer clothes would sit in it for days and then they’re all wrinkly and gross. So much better to just get it over with all at once.
    2. It eliminates the step of putting your clothes in the dryer, taking them out, and then folding them. I do exactly none of those steps.
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Don’t your towels have feet?
  • When you hang up your clothes as soon as the washing machine is done, all you have to do when they’re actually dry is move the hangers to your closet. That’s it. No extra hanging, no folding, no wrinkly messes that sit in the dryer for a week.DSC_0474
    • Even matching socks is easier. Of course, that could be because only one person in this house currently wears socks. The rest of us (me, and by extension JQ) can’t stand having sweaty feet on top of (underneath?) sweaty everything else and so we either go barefoot or put on sandals when the looks of disapproval and the questions become too much. But still–no dryer to eat your socks? It’s a win.
    • If you can dry your clothes outside, they will smell like you’ve dried them outside, which, in my opinion, is a nice smell for clothes to have. I’ve never been able to stand the reek of fabric softener and fake smells. If, on the other hand, you live in a small flat in London and only have a bathroom to dry them in….well, they will probably smell like mildew and you’ll go around wondering who’s bringing that weird smell with them. Don’t worry–it’s just you.

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    • It keeps you on top of your laundry. There’s nothing quick about hanging your clothes to dry, so if you know you’re almost out of clean towels or shirts or socks, you have to do laundry that very minute so it can be dry in 24 hours when you actually need it. I start getting complacent when I have a dryer around, because it only takes 4 hours or so for the clothes to be ready to wear again. But it’s really a lot better for my sanity (and Jared’s) to get the clothes washed a day or two in advance of when I REALLY need them so that we actually have clean laundry.
    • On the other hand, it’s kind of annoying, when you only have one blanket for your bed, to have to wash it first thing in the morning so it can be MOSTLY dry by the evening. I suppose I could overcome my cheapskate tendencies and, you know, actually buy another blanket, but SPENDING MONEY ON NONESSENTIAL ITEMS (i.e. not food)!

    And that’s why, in spite of having lived without a dryer for the better part of the last three years, I’m actually kind of happy that I have. Sure, a dryer is awfully convenient, but it’s better for me as a person to actually plan and act on things I know I have to do. Sometimes convenience can be sneaky and look like a friend, but often it’s actually the enemy.

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum to see more posts!

JQ: 17 Months

So this little man is already 17 months old, and I can’t believe how fast the time is going.

I’ve been kind of hesitant to write a post about him, since I can’t imagine that very many people (with the exception of his relatives, who do probably make up a good 50% of my readership) are that interested in knowing that yet another baby is doing cute things with the portion of his time that isn’t spent doing annoying things.

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Now forgive me, since I might be biased, but a lot of the things he does are awfully cute. He definitely doesn’t suffer from a lack of self-esteem either–anytime he does anything “remarkable,” like pushing a button and turning something on, he claps for himself with a self-satisfied smile.

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He loves figuring out how things work, and especially loves taking things apart. One of his favorite pastimes is taking eggshells out of the trashcan and crumbling them up on the floor. I figure if we just call it a Montessori activity, we can ignore the fact that the eggshells were in the trashcan and assume that he’s wiring some good things into his brain. Besides, when he’s done crushing them up, he goes and gets the broom and dustpan and sweeps them up again (which is also so cute that you can pardon the fact that when he tries to empty it out the contents go all over the floor again). Yeah, he didn’t get that clean streak from me. Must be some long-dormant gene coming out or something.

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Our daily walk outside to the playgrounds in our complex pretty much makes his day, as he can chase birds and watch them flutter away, find the random cats that haunt the place and are taken care of by the old ladies, and climb all over and hang from the playground equipment. So far the swings are his favorite.

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Unfortunately, he’s turning into a bit of a daredevil. Tap-dancing on the table is almost a daily occurrence, as is climbing onto things and then hanging dangerously over the edge or riding the back of the couch. I think he just likes hearing me gasp when he’s put himself in a particularly dangerous situation because that always evokes lots of giggles.

And oh yes, did I mention he’s a tease? If anything is kept from him for any reason, like phones or the remotes for the AC, he plots ways to get his hands on them and then giggle madly when we realize what he has. He usually even waves it around in the air to make sure we notice.
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One his most maddening tendencies is sitting down on the sidewalk whenever you try to get him to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go. There are few things more annoying than walking along when suddenly your companion decides he has to nearly pull his arm out of his socket and sit down RIGHT THERE because you didn’t let him push the elevator button and he really really WANTS to push the elevator button. These standoffs usually culminate with me asserting my dominance and carrying him the rest of the way kicking and screaming. I’ll leave it up to your imagination who’s doing (most) of the screaming.

In spite of his more annoying traits, he’s also beginning to show a more affectionate side and loves giving kisses and hugs, usually followed by a headbut or three that nearly break your nose. Then he’ll hand you his favorite blanket and make sure it’s bunched up just right before settling down to sleep.

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I’m sure there’s a lot more cute things he does like babbling nonsense “sentences,” bleating “Maamaa?” every time he wants anything I want to get anything done, and getting upset when we don’t stick to his routine, but I’ll spare you so you don’t think he’s Wonderbaby. For that, you can wait for the Christmas letter in three years when I’m sure he’ll have won a prize in an essay competition, created his own line of specialty toys, and developed a new way to rip books apart without his daddy getting mad at him. And of course he’ll have already read Thucydides and the complete works of Charles Dickens. Who do you think we’re raising anyway?

 

 

 

 

Seven Quick Takes

  1. We finally got wifi this month, after a month of frustrating bureaucracy, and it’s been really nice to feel somewhat connected again and be able to work. I’ve got to admit it’s also nice to be able to watch a movie without finding it in advance and downloading it too (I know, spoiled millennial here!). Netflix here has most cartoons dubbed in Chinese too so occasionally we let JQ watch one for 5-10 minutes in the hopes that he’ll pick up on some Chinese. Easy bilingualism, right? wouldn’t necessarily learn Chinese in five minutes three times a week, but kids’ brains are supposed to be porous so I’m sure he’ll get it in no time.

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    He thinks so too, and is wearing Chinese
  2. Of course, it should help that JQ has started getting babysat for three hours a day, five days a week, while I teach. We’ve asked his babysitter to speak Chinese around him so he’ll pick up on it–but it’s still a little early to tell whether it’s working yet as his go-to word is still “Maamaa” in various forms. He seems to be enjoying it (as in, not screaming the entire time), though he has been a little more clingy when he’s at home. Hopefully it won’t take him too long to adjust.
  3. It’s been interesting living in a basically bilingual country. Kids on the playground switch between English and Chinese without thinking; they study both in school and probably hear both at home. It does lead to some rather thick accents (it’s really hard to figure out what people are saying!), and their English is definitely colored by Chinese-isms (like using “lah” at the end of every sentence). It also makes for some humorous moments, like when the Singaporean man at Bible study gravely started explaining the spirit of peas (he meant peace) and how it could only be explained by the love of the cross.
  4. I haven’t taken any pictures recently because we haven’t really gone anywhere in the last few weeks, but I still have some neat pictures of downtown Singapore that I haven’t shared here.
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    This is the piano that Lang Lang played on….maybe on a visit to Singapore? I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but it got its own exhibit. Shiny, huh?
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  5. I’m finally figuring out grocery shopping/cooking here and remembering how to cook without an oven. We got spoiled by having an oven in England! Now it’s back to stovetop and toaster oven cooking, although the previous residents of our flat left us their rice cooker, so I’ve been experimenting with one-pot meals to the tune of–chopping up ginger, garlic, and yellow ginger (turmeric), throwing in rice cooker with rice and water and any other vegetables I feel like, putting a fish on top, and cooking away. Jared loves it and it’s awfully easy, though rather uninspired. It also stains my fingers and cutting board a bright yellow so I look somewhat jaundiced on my left hand.
  6. We got our boxes yesterday! So nice to unpack all the things we packed up in England–just like sending a present to ourselves to open in six months. Untitled Now we have a couple pictures to put on our walls and more stuff to clutter up the house with, like books..and…well…more books. UntitledAnd we still have most of our books packed in boxes in the U.S. When we finally move back, I’m not sure I’ll even know how to deal with multiple (as in, ten or so) shelves full of books any more–I’m already envying my future self.
  7. Around where we live, there’s very few white people, so JQ’s hair and skin draw lots of looks and admiring comments. They’ve also prompted several old men to start conversations: “Where you from? You American?”

“Yes, we’re American,” I reply.

“What you think ’bout Trump?  How could so many Americans vote for him?”

“Well, it was a hard election,” I say, evading the question. “Neither candidate was exactly great.”

“Well, I think Bill Clinton’s wife should have won. She’s much more experienced!”

And delivering this zinger, he walked away. Many Singaporeans feel compelled to state their opinions on American politics, and they all think I should have something to do with changing them. Sorry, but democracy doesn’t actually work that way.

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Just Love that Baby

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Since we still don’t have wifi, and I still have no friends here, I’ve had some time to have Grand Thoughts. Mostly, it turns out, on the subject of parenting, since that’s what I’ve been doing by myself for about 12 hours a day. Yes, life is exhilarating right now. Why do you ask?

I know it’s not the Done Thing for people who a) are under 30, b) have only one child who isn’t even two yet, and c) have no track record of reliability for their Grand Thoughts to hold forth on the subject of parenting, and yet, since I have a blog and am feeling the compunction to post since who else am I to talk to about anything serious in my 12-hours-a-day conversation of “Please don’t scream!” and “No! You can’t pull your dirty diapers out of the trashcan!” and “Would you like to play with your cars?”, I am writing about the subject of parenting anyway. Besides, Done Things are overrated.

Some days (ok, most days), I want nothing more than a set of prescriptions to follow which will make my kid behave perfectly and ensure that nothing I do will wreck him for life. At this moment, I think being the parent of a one-year-old is an exercise in futility, as it takes the millionth time of saying “no” for it to finally sink in—and for most things, we haven’t reached that millionth time! But while I may not have attained to much wisdom yet in the few years I’ve been on earth, I have learned this much—there are no set rules of how to deal with people. Ever.

In fact, there might be only one rule, and it’s one my parents repeated often: you can only change yourself. Your attitude, your behavior, your reactions.

But even though this lesson was drilled into me so often, I still assumed there was a right way to parent, a way that would at least almost ensure that a kid would turn out and have good behavior. Just do these things, show off your mad ninja skills when your lovey numbkins is having a tantrum at the supermarket, and everyone will be in awe of your wonderful parenting.

Strangely enough, it wasn’t having a kid that shifted my paradigm on parenting (I mean, I half raised 3 or 4 by the time I was 20, so of course I thought I had it all down), but simply growing up and reading different viewpoints in the process. If you’re strongly attached to an idea, the least you can do is read the other side’s arguments to see if you’re missing out on something crucial.

The first was an article somewhere or other (probably posted on Facebook) about how “parent-ing” is a new concept. We don’t talk about “wifeing” or “husbanding” or “daughtering” (which looks kinda like “slaughtering”) or “sonning”—it’s only this one relationship, between parent and child, which is talked of in this way, like something to do instead of a way to live. (We do have kidding, though, for what it’s worth.)

Thinking about the relationship between parent and child as any other job, like “housekeeping” or “dishwashing” not only begins to make children into things, but also puts more stress on parents to be the perfect parents. If it’s a job like any other, surely it can be done right, like any other job can. There must be a right way to soothe your child’s tantrums and definitely a way to prevent those embarrassing things from ever occurring, most especially in public where we need to exhibit the fact that we have it all together.

The second was an article published in The Atlantic, which, despite its rather misleading headline which seems to guarantee that with this new info from a child psychologist no child will ever again misbehave (sardonic laugh), still puts the focus where it ought to be—on parents’ behavior. It’s not a power struggle or a fight to the death for mastery, although some days it certainly feels like it. Instead, let’s treat this relationship the same way we treat all our other relationships: as a way for us to become better people, to be sanctified.

This is not the easy way out. Yelling comes to me much more easily than calming down and taking time to evaluate my own behavior. As parents, we have to die to ourselves nearly every minute. Babies are so needy, and they never. ever. shut. up, and they’re awfully fond of feeding me half-chewed oranges. My natural response is not one of warm fuzzies.

I can change my response to JQ, but I can’t change his response to me. I need to look at myself first and make sure my attitude is a good attitude, since what I’m modeling is even more important than what I say. (I’m still fairly certain, however, that he’s never had pulling diapers out of the trashcan modeled to him. That came out of his own little head.) I think we lose sight of this in the struggle to do everything right with our children and make their behavior what we want. Unfortunately, yelling at a kid for screaming is like eating a whole chocolate cake when you’ve just finished reading about the dangers of sugar. It feels so good, but you know it’s wrong—and won’t even get you the results you want!

These are things I want to remind myself of later, when JQ is more than a baby who toddles around drunkenly and giggles at being naughty, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and want only to control behavior. Parenthood is a relationship, not a job: our children are more than objects whose behavior we can control. They’re people who we need to love and teach.

My goal for myself, in 2017 and beyond, is to treat JQ with the respect he deserves as a child of God, and to make sure my attitude and behavior are right instead of yelling at him.

So go ahead, eat that half-chewed orange, giggle at that ridiculous thing he’s doing, keep telling him “no” for the millionth time. These are relationships we’re building, with people who are growing up to be men and women. Soon he’ll be all grown up—and then, I’ll finally be an expert on parenting. Too bad you’re reading this now.

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.

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.

How to Travel London Like a Pro {Guest Post}

Today’s post is brought to you by my sister-in-law Mara, who visited us in London for a few months. I’m making it a tradition that if you visit, you have to write up a blog post about your time here. Sadly, she just left us for the greener pastures of Oregon. . . where things are a lot less hectic. 

Looming skyscrapers, double-decker buses roaring down the wrong side of the road, seas of rushing people, zooming trains—it’s all a bit much for Alaska-born, small-town-raised, me. Well, it was at first. Now, I am as much a Londoner as anyone from here, or at least I like to pretend I am. I’ve figured out the meanings of knackered (think exhausted), squiggle (“squiggle up the queue”), squidge (squishy!), and dodgy (Brits’ favorite word meaning sketchy) and I know what bin lorries are (just plain old garbage trucks). I know how to get anywhere, and often find myself giving lost people directions.

Visiting Sherlock

. . .like how to get to Sherlock’s house!

The trick to getting anywhere, even if you can’t pronounce where you are going and you aren’t sure where you came from, is to look confident. If the signal on your phone fails, or your trusty Piccadilly train line workers go on strike for the third time this month, just flash a British guy a smile and ask how you get to x (I don’t recommend this advice for guys). “Sure love, you just . . . ” is the usual response. These British men know how to be gentlemen (not referring here to the ones that say f*** every other word).

Speaking of striking, it’s a favorite pastime for train workers and everyone else. Six months paid leave for having a baby (which you just had at the hospital for no cost to you), paternity and adoption leave, paid public holidays, plus six weeks paid vacation for everyone, workable healthcare that doesn’t cost so much that you have to live in your car. . . the conditions are so abominable that if I lived here I’d be striking every other week too.

Apparently, some places in the world still celebrate Good Friday–it’s a national holiday here, which means trains and buses have different schedules, or sometimes don’t even run. I found this out the hard way when I was left waiting an hour for a bus at the train station 4.5 miles from my appointment and a taxi driver was kind enough to tell me that the buses were not running that day. Unfortunately, he just wanted to drain my bank account. I walked. I did contemplate hitchhiking, but I didn’t want my mother getting wind of it and having a heart attack.

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Or you can just climb a twisty old oak.

If you really want to give your mum a heart attack, just take a trip to Rome. End up dreadfully sick, realize you better go to the hospital (before the housekeeper discovers you dead on the bed), find the hospital where no one speaks English, nearly stop breathing, get pumped full of oxygen and meds and spend the next week barely able to get out of bed with bronchitis, coughing, throwing up, and cooking with a fever. [Ed.: it takes a real fever to be able to cook with it!] If that doesn’t scare your mummy, I don’t know what will.

If you prefer to not have such enervating adventures, I found the circus back in London was a much more relaxing option. The lion tamer, I mean house cat tamer, and his ferocious beast put on quite a show. Never mind that the lion’s roar sounded more like “meow.” I considered getting my Exceptional Talent visa to be the circus unicyclist as they didn’t have one. But after watching the knife thrower tie up the poor circus girl and nearly take off her head, I decided I didn’t want to get roped into any such ridiculousness. I’m kind of attached to my head too.
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Museums are also a great way to spend your free time. If you really want to become one of those obnoxious museum snobs, just spend the day looking at all the dinosaur bones in the Natural History Museum. After making great friends with the T-Rex, go over to the British Museum where you can chill out with the freakishly real-looking wood/wax Huns, then nip over to the Victoria and Albert to examine all the fine dishes, dresses, and couches while getting overwhelmed with gold things. Still want more? That’s okay, there are about a billion museums left to see.

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My Hun friend at the British Museum

And if you get tired of dusty museum history, you can always go over to Hyde Park or Greenwich Park, where you might still find history but in a more natural setting. But be careful–if you’re bad, you might get tied up to Queen Elizabeth’s Oak overnight as a punishment.

Now that my senior thesis on the History of British War and Police Dogs is finally all researched and written, it’s time for me to attend graduation, get a job, pay off loans, and do all the general responsible adult-ish things. So now, I’m headed back to the skyscraper-less grass fields of home, where a traffic jam means six cars behind a tractor. But a piece of my heart will be left behind in beautiful, diverse, adventure-filled London, in the church-turned-flat, with Brother and Annikins and Baby Bear.

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Seth Goes to the Big City

It’s me, Seth, again!  As many of y’all know—or don’t as the case may be—I am Annika’s (pronounced: A-Naka [ed: don’t you believe him]) little bro-ski, and in that official capacity I was able to biff off and visit sizzors in London a few months ago. The official reason I was sent was to see sister and Jared and JQ, but the real reason was because mother wanted to go, but she needed me to go with her and keep her from getting smashed by a double-decker bus or a bin lorry.

Anyway, having never done much flying, the nine-hour flight had already soured me on London before the plane even touched down. The flight wasn’t that bad; it was my lack of ability to sleep that made me completely miserable on this first flight of any duration (the flight back was lovely and Morpheus closed my eyes more than once for an hour and a half nap, which made  quite doable and even enjoyable). Upon my exit from the plane I was at once introduced to that famous damp weather that apparently London has a monopoly on. This did little to ease my sleep deprived mood. Next, we had to pass inspection by the border control personnel. This accomplished—after I cleared up some misunderstanding having something to do with them not getting some joke I made about coming to the British Isles to cause a ruckus at #10 Downing Street—we made our way across the city to Annika and Jared’s flat, which, I was surprised to see, was actually quite three-dimensional and very lovely. By this time I was ready for lunch. While I was still extremely tired, this in no way affected my ability as a trencherman. In short order I was cracking the chicken bones and sucking the marrow out of them, which was slightly odd because Annika had served us roast beef.

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By this point in time, my tiredness had become acute, and I was quite relieved when Mum and Sizzors biffed off to the other room to examine the stuffs mum had brought Annika and JQ from the states, and Jared biffed off to continue his studies, leaving me alone to take a nap. Well, not quite alone: JQ was there too. This presented complications as he was asleep on the only suitable piece of furniture there was to take a nap on: namely, the couch. I have often observed that babies have perfected the art of taking up the maximum real-estate they with their small size can muster, and I would not be surprised if some scientist discovered that the square footage a baby requires could expand into the double digits. I settled into the small corner of the couch left for me, and soon found myself desiring a more comfortable position. Being stretched out on the floor was no better, and soon I found myself coveting JQ’s spot on the couch. In short order, I found myself comfortably ensconced on the couch with JQ lying in the crook of ma’ arm. This worked quite well, and we both got quite a long nap.

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By the end of my time in London we were quite good friends and he even began copying Uncle Sethy.

When I awoke, London was looking much better. Anyway, over the next nine days we walked all over and saw lots of interesting things. The first major sight Annika took us to see was Tesco. It was absolutely amazing—it was there that we were introduced to British culture right where it counted; food, clothing, house goods, etc… and the admission seemed to be quite reasonable. To sweeten the deal, they even gave us a few heavy sacks full of various things to take to the flat. From there we walked around the square of the Woolwich Arsenal—for the cheapskate readers I would recommend the square because the admission price is a quite a bit less.And to make it an even better deal they only made one take a sack of fruit; apparently these British tourist destinations have so much stuff they can’t wait to pawn it off on helpless Americans. (ed.: Tesco is a British supermarket, and the square is the British equivalent of the American farmer’s market, but I did not want to let on to Seth that I knew this mostly because he would have balked at the idea of wasting sightseeing time to shop…)

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The next day Annika was beginning to get that look in her eye that one sees a welder develop as he realizes the shower of sparks and slag coming from his arc are finding their way inside his glove, and me and mum figured the prudent thing to do would be to get out of sister’s hair. Which is almost impossible to do in a two room flat. So we found ourselves exploring London solo. We continued this daily pilgrimage for at least a few hours every day and saw many strange and wonderful things, of which I shall only mention the highlights.   Jared took us around his college, and in the vicinity of the college we found this little shop, which Mum, being a Dickens buff, had to enter.

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But the final laugh was on her, as it was only inhabited by a grumpy Asian man selling shoes.

After we got over our disappointment, we took a cruise on the Thames and went to the Greenwich Observatory grounds and saw the laser arcing through the fog to show the meridian. We saw the maritime museum, several old important buildings that some guy named Parliament built, and next to them a big honking church built for some guy and gal named West Minster and Abby respectively. We went to famous London preacher C.H. Spurgeon’s church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for our Sunday morning service and heard a rousing sermon by Dr. Peter Masters. We also went further afield and took a trip to Gloucester to see friends, and had a delightful lunch and tour of the grand old town. I for one was glad to get out of the city for a bit and cool my heels in a place where it was not so easy to lose mum. The last notable place we visited was Dover with its white cliffs, and all the rest I shall leave without comment except to say that Mushy Peas look and taste exactly like they sound.

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Everyone but me on Dover Beach. I’m sure ya’ll are quite relieved that I am on the proper end of the camera.

In our many jaunts around London I was given to wonder why I had always wanted marry a spirited Lass. Mum is among one of the most spirited adventurous women I have ever met and at times it was with the utmost difficulty that I kept from losing her as she would move with the crowd to get on the bus or train—the wrong bus or train, or even worse when she would begin to cross the road having looked the “wrong way” and almost get smashed by an oncoming bus. I especially pondered this question as mum would duck into many little shops to examine small things (flowers, parks, paintings, baby clothing etc…) as I wanted to go look at bigger, better, more interesting things.

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Like this dredging bit. . . for some reason mum found its charm elusive.

I came to realize that it was for the same reason that the cat goes and eats grass when it is sick; namely, because it knows what is good for it. I dare say I would not have had a hundredth of as good a time if mum had been less adventurous. In fact I probably would have been content to sit in the flat bugging sister and holding JQ. Thus, the moral of the story is, always take along a spirited woman when you set off to see the world—or else you probably won’t see it, although look at it you might.

I found it fascinating to watch the inhabitants of London who, despite their many differences, all seemed to have one thing in common—they are always in a hurry! Secondly, it struck me as slightly disorganized in its general layout, and for the most part, a hodgepodge collection that had evolved into its present state over a long period of time, which, while not providing for the rapid assimilation of the American tourist, did lend a particular je ne sais quoi to the overall mystique of the city, and aids the adventurous in finding new roads. Thirdly, I had to marvel at the transportation directors and their splendid work in organizing the publick transportation for so many millions of persons every day, so that even a backwards American farm boy could get around quite easily . Lastly, London struck me as a place where I would not like to live—as I far prefer open fields and the clean air of country life. But for all that, London is a fascinating place full of great history and well worth a visit.

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Home sweet home on the Colorado Plains