Apr 8, 2014

Primrose Hill

Last month, the Saturday forecast was 70 degrees and sunny, so we trekked over to Primrose Hill for a picnic. It was the nicest weather we'd had since we moved here in September, and it was the nicest weather we've had since that day! It was a warm weekend, flowers blooming from the earth and on the trees. It turned cold again, and it's been in the 50's and 60's for the past few weeks, so I am glad we took advantage of that fleeting sunny day when we had the chance! Primrose Hill is the most beautiful spot of earth, looking onto Regent's Park with amazing views of central London. Not the easiest place to get to, but I like to make it even more difficult of a trip by swinging by St Johns Wood for bakery and produce items from the famous Bread Shop and nearby gourmet grocer. It's a beautiful area and if we move anytime soon, I wouldn't mind living close to these sweet little spots in London. 

Apr 4, 2014

Paris on Valentines day

I thought it would be fun to spend Valentines day in Paris, so we booked last minute eurostar tickets (Henry travels free) and used Marriott points to stay at the Vendome Paris Renaissance for 2 nights with its great location right by the Tuileries gardens. We spent the 48 hours bouncing between museums and restaurants. The weather was typical for Paris winter - cold, rainy, and gray. Similar to London! But without the bad dreary rap - how does that work? :)

We did the Louvre on Wednesday night, getting lost in the Egypt wing and we didn't bring Henry's stroller because of all the staircases, so we were carrying him and all generally exhausted by the time we left. But we saw the Mona Lisa! And Napoleon's apartment! And so many things. Thursday we spent the morning eating and shopping our way through the Marais - breakfast at the Legay Bakery, early lunch at L'as du Fallafel, ice cream at Berthillon on Ile St. Louis, quick walk through Musee Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, and finally, metro back to Bastille for our only fancy dinner at beautiful Bofinger where Mark ordered the whole ocean and I ate a tender buttery Dover sole. And Henry was a gem.

Ice Cream at Berthillon

The beautiful atrium at Bofinger

Thursday we walked back to the Marais for breakfast in the Merci cafe/library, 5 euro for toast - ouch! Afterwards, we did a little shopping in the Marais - Mark purchased some new waterproof boots, I window shopped, then we had lunch at the sweet little Breizh Cafe for crepes. I'm still dreaming about them. We decided to walk to the train station, and walked to the best bakery of my life, Du Pain et des Idees and shopped some of the cute childrens shops in the Canal district.

Breakfast at Merci

Crepes at Breizh Cafe

 Pistachio snail pastries at Du Pain et des Idees

A few thoughts on traveling with toddlers in Paris: compared to London and even NYC, it's much harder to travel with a stroller. Many of the museums we visited did have elevators but they were often small and cramped and had long lines. The two fancy/non-bakery places we ate at (Bofinger and Breizh Cafe) were kind about letting us leave the stroller in the entrance, as there was no official place for them. The metro is a joke - so many stairs, so be prepared to carry the stroller! Everywhere we ate, especially Bofinger and Breizh treated us really well. We made early reservations so we were the first ones in and first ones out (done with dinner by 8:30), and our waiter at Bofinger even brought Henry a complimentary juice cocktail! It was really thoughtful, and as road-weary parents we appreciated the gesture that our toddler was welcomed to be there. We bought him a little travel case and put new notepads, crayons, pens, stickers, and cars to play with, so it was a special treat every time we ate out. If we go back to Paris, I think it's worth it to eat somewhere nice at least once, so this is a good way to do it. We found Paris to be open to toddlers, but definitely not as baby-friendly as other places we've traveled to like Rome or Costa Rica where they just fawn over the kids!

Mar 26, 2014

This month

March, you devil. I really had high hopes for this month, but it turned on me somewhere at the beginning and entered a downward spiral until a few days ago, when I was finally able to come up for air. Mark's arms are still busted and nothing has happened around the house with me taking care of the family and also being sick this month, too. But don't feel too bad for us. We called in the reinforcements and Papa arrived last Friday, bright-eyed and ready to help us patch things back together! I'm so grateful he is retired and such a giving soul to leave his life behind for a few weeks to help out his family. I admire him so much and I'm paying close attention while he's here to pick up some Papa tips to make life better.
Tip #1: Get window planters. It will make you feel happier to take care of something and feel better about being a good neighbor.
Tip #2: Say hello to everyone you pass on the street. Even if it's not the English way, it's the American way and don't forget you are American, Julie. (We've been on the receiving end of some funny looks from Brits not used to people exchanging greetings!)
Tip #3: Let Henry eat all the candy. Wait...I'm not listening to that one.
Tip #4: Be spontaneous. Have a picnic in the backyard. Book a cruise if you feel like it.
Tip #5: Don't let your dishes sit around, just clean them as soon as you use them and then your kitchen is always clean!

Those are just a few I've picked up so far. It's nice to have Papa here to help us all feel a little happier and remember how to let loose and have a little fun in life!

Mar 6, 2014

4 years

Happy anniversary to my love. Four years! I'm loving this new chapter of our lives in London. We've faced many ups and downs, especially in this past year, but those moments where it just got to be too much just strengthened us. Life is beautiful, but it has its moments of - "I can't!". I'm so lucky to have someone by my side who loves me unconditionally even during the hard times and who, it turns out, is also one hell of a father. Jackpot. If someone would have told me that after marrying Mark we'd be going on one adventure after another and have a little Henry to tag along with us, I would have married him the moment I met him when I was 20 years old!

Mar 3, 2014

Catching up

Blogging has been the last thing on my mind lately. Survival is pretty much the name of the game these days. I should be thanking my brilliant genius for making us go to Paris last month, because it will be awhile before we roadtrip again! Let me recap the 3 things that have left me a little unhinged:

1. We got back to London from Paris on a Friday night and Mark left for Tokyo Saturday morning. He was gone for a week, and during that time I totally killed it. Did some job research, meal planning, started reading 2 different books (The Invisible Man and Nora Ephron's Heartburn), and planned a fun activity every day to do with Henry. It was a good week, but I was ready for Mark to come back on Friday evening and be my husband and Henry's Dad. :)

2. The following Monday, Mark was a little late getting home from work, and I hear a knock at the door. I open the door and it is Mark with his bicycle, and blood and scrapes on his legs, hands, and arms. He'd crashed his bike in the rainy commute home, and after a trip to the emergency room, found out he broke his right thumb and his left arm. So. That was about a week ago. He had surgery on his hand on Friday. It's basically been a crazy mess around here for the past week. Henry always reminds him - Dada fall down, Doctor fix it. Mark couldn't even open anything or dress himself or feed himself the first few days, but his arm is slowly healing (luckily it was just a radial head fracture, and not the radius itself) and he's devised some funny ways to feed himself and brush his teeth. I admire his tenacity and creativity, I really do.

3. The biggest and dumbest thing of all: I've been talking with Henry about giving his pacifier to the baby animals at the zoo, or the baby fishies in the river (he is 27 months old and we try to just keep the pacifier to naps and night night time only, but he's been more insistent about it lately during the day and has lots of tantrums all the time. I'm over it!), so Thursday morning when we were standing in front of the Globe Theatre watching boats pass by us, and he chucked his pacifier right into the Thames. And I thought, well this is it - it's time to get rid of Henry's baba. He used to go straight down for naps and sleep for 3 hours, but now there is weeping and wailing and down to only about 2 hours of nap time. And night night time has turned into an epic excuse factory to keep him from bed, and I basically have to put him down laughing or he will be too sad and just cry cry cry. It breaks my heart! But we are 5 days in now, and there's no turning back. It's getting better now.
Whenever he asks me for his baba, I ask - where is your baba?
In the river! Threw it off the bridge!
At the zoo with baby animals!
It doesn't help that my dad has totally laid the guilt trip on me for taking it away from him - comparing it to someone throwing my iphone into the Thames. Rude.

Anyway, it's been a crazy past week, and I'm ready to turn a page. I have a few things on my radar that are just for me, which help me feel more like a human and less like a caretaker with nothing left to give. Taking care of a toddler and a broken husband is a lot of work and I have not taken care of myself at all the past 2 weeks. I really need to learn the art of balancing taking care of others and not letting myself fall by the wayside. It is a complete mystery to me.

Feb 17, 2014

Getting out of the city

This photo is about 15 months old, but I couldn't be happier to have stumbled upon it while looking for other photos tonight. WHO STOLE MY FAT CHUBBY BABY AND PLEASE GIVE HIM BACK TO ME. Ugh, time is such a thief.

It also makes me miss our besties, the Hamills, who took the photo and were our partners in crime on this weekend freezing camping trip in the Shenandoah's. You know - the one where Henry slept in the car in his carseat because it was too cold for him to be outside? Didn't really think that one through other than - but, the memories!

I keep thinking we need to wait for the Spring to come to get outside and explore the greener parts of England, but after a whirlwind trip to Paris last week, I think Mark and I are both feeling the need to get out of the city already and be at one with nature. The closest I've come to nature recently was when I opened my door the other night to take the trash out and a fox was at the bottom of our steps. We stared at each other for about 10 seconds, until someone walking down the street scared him away. I was completely frozen, holding my carton of food waste, knowing that the fox would probably want to eat some of it - should I give it to him? Will he attack me before I can finish this thought? He didn't seem scared at all, or maybe he was just wondering when I was going to give him the food in my hands already. Anyway, if the closest I've come to nature in the past 5 months is an urban fox at my doorstep, it's time to hop on a train to a far off place. I'm thinking Cornwall...the Lake District (I really want to explore Beatrix Potter's former writing inspiration)...where else?! My UK travel pinterest board awaits...

Feb 5, 2014

Henry, the Gentleman.

Honestly, I've never met a more delightful human being than this little guy right here. He is the perfect blend of silly, happy, and opinionated. The only way we can get him dressed most Sunday mornings is with a cookie in his hand, and you know what? I can't blame him. The other day I was cutting up some vegetables for dinner and I hear from the living room...H, I, J, K, LemmoP...all the way to Z. I looked in at him and he just smiled back at me while he played with his cars, and I asked him to please sing it again for me, and of course he wouldn't. But I heard it! All 26 letters, give or take an M and N, he knows his alphabet. I'm calling it, at 26 months. Another achievement I want to log here is he can count to 10 and we are working so hard on his colors but he just doesn't care to learn them. With Henry, he will hardly ever willfully repeat something you ask him to, but when you least expect it, he'll demonstrate his knowledge. On the way home from church this past Sunday, I heard him singing from his stroller Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And when he finished, he clapped and said YAAAY! And I need to capture this on video because it's too funny, but every time he hears a song with a good beat, he smiles and looks at me and starts bobbing his head up and down and swaying side to side. It's a really good dance that I can't see improving too much over time. It's the perfect dude dance.

Jan 31, 2014

Getting to know Highgate // Waterlow Park

The first month we spent in London was near the financial district (Barbican), and I knew I had to take advantage of being in a prime exploration location. We took full advantage - trips to museums, historical sites, cathedrals, markets, restaurants, etc. You name it, we did our best to get there. Now that we are officially North Londoners, and on that pesky black Northern Line on the tube that can sometimes be a little temperamental, we are now shifting our focus to exploring North London. And I'm ecstatic about it.

One of the great things about Highgate is the parks! Within a mile of our flat we have our choice of 4 really great parks. The first one we found, is one of the sweetest little parks - Waterlow Park. Equal parts manicured to wild, there is no shortage of beauty and good people watching here. About a 10 minute walk from our house, we like to hit the playground first for some swings and merry go round action. There's a small playground (with swings for King Hen), a nice cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, some fountains and even a sundial. Lots of dogs playing fetch and that sort of thing. It's a really lovely spot. We go there a couple times a week.

I'll be posting about the other Highgate parks over the next month, and some other topics about how we're transitioning from DC to London, if you're interested. It was hard to find much information about what Highgate offered besides green space, so I hope this might give some insight into what it's like to live the expat family life in Highgate.

Jan 30, 2014

The view from 2014.

With hindsight being 20/20 and all, I really screwed up that last half of 2013. I let fear, anxiety, and unfamiliarity eat me alive and reduce me to a shell of myself. Moving is stressful, and moving to a new country without knowing anyone or anything really did a number on me. Six weeks back at home, letting others help me through life for a bit, revisiting my childhood and bits of my previous life in DC, really gave me something I was lacking: perspective.

When we moved to London, I was excited for the adventure of it all. But once things settled down and routines kicked in, it seemed like less of an adventure, and more of a new, mundane life that just felt unfamiliar and empty. I felt that I had made a mistake moving to London and we should have stayed in DC where life was pretty good. It was an awful feeling, especially because I had lobbied so hard to get us here in UK. But, perspective does funny things to a person. Being home for six weeks, around family, friends, Target, and mexican food was absolutely soul-restoring. We did a few things and we got to spend time with people we love. 

Hannah and cutie baby Rhoda 

Henny and sweet cousin Iris on Christmas morning

 Trains at the Botanical Gardens (someone was excited)

Tickling the ivories

My Dad got this disney band for Christmas and Henry played with them all day, every day. It was super cute, but after about 2 days of that, I had to hide them to preserve sanity.

Ronan and Henry at the museum

Sometimes he remembers he has pockets

 The sea lion stared at Hen like this for 2 minutes straight. I had to take the apple away from him because animal cruelty is no joke.

Lots of racing up and down these stairs with cousin Lincoln

Papa teaches Hen how to catch snowflakes the right way

And as much as I love all the above mentioned things (and I do), and the familiarity of it all, it just didn't feel like it used to feel. I drove through our old neighborhood a few times, and even by our old Linden Place house, and it just felt so different. My life - my husband, my books, my bed, my kitchen, the parks we love - are all here in London now. Being home in DC/VA made me realize that we've not only moved, but we have moved on somehow. And whatever life we made elsewhere is carried on with us. I know this might sound so obvious, but I just had never internalized it before this month. I love our life here. I'm excited and thrilled to call London home, and live - not just the adventurous days, but the mundane routines of the day, too. Because my home is here. My family is here, and so my heart comes along, too. DC will always be "home" to us, and we may move back someday, but for now I really love this current stage in our life in London.

Being away from Mark for a month was hard and stupid, but the perspective I've gained restored faith in myself, and I think now we can really get down to just enjoying our new life here. I think 2014 will be our best year yet, and plans are already underway to make sure of that!