Monday, January 15, 2018

Using Playgrounds to Explore the City

So we landed Saturday morning, had that afternoon and the next day to unpack and find some groceries - and then Spouso was off to work and I was home with the kiddo. The goal was to explore the city to find the neighborhood where we will live - but doing that with a toddler turns out to be difficult. So - instead we fell into a little groove of seeking out a different playground every day in a different part of town and snapping pictures of whatever I could on the way. We started out with the closest option, and slowly moved further out each day until we hit the limit of his willingness to sit in a stroller by the end of the week.

skeptically playing in Barnard Park

really nice row houses in Islington

trying out a boat in Shoreditch

Regent's Park

more Regent's Park 

Passing by King's Cross Station

Passing by a pub in Islington

up to a big green park in Highbury

a train playground in Highbury

back to Barnard Park 

Finally - the weekend arrived. With an extra pair of hands - we could easily explore further, using the bus and trains to extend our reach. We still had to stay close to playgrounds, but snuck in some touristy stops on the way. 

starting out with St. Paul's Cathedral

adventure playground in Barnard

catching a pub for lunch

Tower of London

an evening tour of the Tower of London

Tower Bridge and checking out boats on the river

Tower Bridge

exhausted snack break

so tired after a solid 2 days of walking

first tube ride

 Quick Thoughts:
- English playgrounds are different than American ones - there aren't any rubber floors or plastic bars - things are rough and real.
- There are a million neighborhoods here. We've seen a good dozen or so - but it's frustrating to think about all the other options we haven't even thought of.
- We're getting really caught between the age-old question of being close where there are lots of great restaurants and stuff, or being further out where things are cheaper and bigger.
- This is exhausting. We're covering 20,000 steps a day - everyone wants a nap and a break.
- There is no ADA here - the tubes are not handicapped or stroller accessible - which makes everything much more difficult.
- We need to finalize ASAP and start looking at houses this week. Yikes!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Arriving and Getting Settled

So the last few days before we left were crazy - we had a million to things to pack or get rid of, with no boxes left or ways to get rid of things.  There were a million last minute errands to run, but no time to fit anything in. It was hectic and frustrating, and then we finally got to the point of putting everything in the car and arriving at the airport.

We ended up with 8 checked bags and 6 carryons, plus the stroller-- 'unwieldy' would be putting it nicely. We split up, leaving me with the bags and Spouse with the kid and the rental car. I quickly found one of the baggage guys with a huge cart, that just rolled me and all the bags to checkin, while he returned the car.

Once we got through security (which was one of the nightmares that kept me up at night), we were able to head straight to the lounge, one of the many benefits of flying business class. It was amazing, of course, and then it was time to board the plane.

watching the airplanes from the lounge

watching paw patrol and drinks in the lounge

On the plane, we each had our own pod. It was ridiculous. If I hadn't been watching him the whole time, it would've been amazing. No one slept for more than an hour or so, and then we landed. 

his own pod to watch PawPatrol

just a little sleep was had

At the airport, thankfully we had help getting all our bags in a truck and getting a ride to our new apartment.  Once we arrived at the apartment we had a quick problem with getting in- another family was still in our unit until checkout later that day. We waited very unhappily in the hall with all our stuff, thinking about the cats arriving at any moment. Eventually they found another unit in the same building and we quickly moved in. The cats arrived a few hours later, and everyone napped.

our little kitchen

living room (he's playing the harmonica)

a little dining room/office area

our room

he thinks our bathroom is an elevator

his room

We spent the weekend getting unpacked and settled. We took a couple short walks to get groceries and cat supplies. Then, as soon as we were getting a little under control, it was time for Spouse to start work and for us to be on our own. 

So far, I've only been brave enough to go where we can walk. We've explored the playgrounds within a short walking distance, swinging by the grocery stores on the way home. 

Thoughts so far: 
  • They only seem to have freeze-dried coffee. We need to find real coffee-- it's an issue. 
  • This kitchen is made for appearances only - there are knives, but no cutting board, and ovens, but no baking sheets. I would be disappointed that I can't cook, but the premade stuff in the grocery stores is pretty good. 
  • The closets are tiny - we can barely fit in the stuff we have, and our airship boxes aren't here yet. 
  • The weather is cold, drizzly, and gray - but about 20 degrees warmer than the DC weather we left. So that's nice, but not great for getting to know neighborhoods. 
  • On that note - the sun goes down around 4pm every day. 
  • The kid is still really jet lagged, so I'm hoping he (and I) can finally get turned around tonight. 
  • It's already starting to feel like maternity leave - I need to find adults/ a job. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Preparing to Move Abroad

So - now that our bosses and teachers all know - I thought it might be time to make this blog-official - we're moving to London in a couple days. For the last year and a half, we knew this might be a possibility, but weren't positive it would come together - leaving us in an awkward state of purgatory as we waited but couldn't move forward on other options. Finally, sometime this fall, the offer came together - and it became a real thing.

Why are We Moving?
Both Spouso and I had been in our jobs for a few years, and were starting to look into new opportunities, when he got an offer out of the blue. We're both excited about travel, but don't get to do much of it here. Kiddo is still young and not in school yet, making it an easy transition for him. We can stay there for 2 or 3 years and be back in time before he starts school, and at a good time for me to get a new job - so everything sort of fell into place.

Sorting through all the stuff
As soon as he signed the contract, I was overwhelmed by the mass of all the stuff we would need to move or get rid of. I started a list of all the places I knew our stuff tended to accumulate - the kitchen, garage, closets, etc - and then assigned them to each of the 6 weekends we had free. We would spend Saturdays sorting through all of the stuff, pulling out the things that were broken, unused or outgrown, creating huge piles of unwanted stuff. This worked out fine in the beginning when we were sorting the easier rooms, but because of the renovation, we couldn't access a lot of our things. So when that finally was finished, we did a huge blitz sort of all the remaining rooms. Everything got at least a quick once-over, but we didn't get to sort some things as thoroughly as I'd hoped.

all the small appliances that won't work

Getting Rid of the stuff
Sorting things out turned out to be easier than actually getting rid of most things. Obviously, we did some huge trips to goodwill for anything that could be used again but didn't have big value. We did a big trip to the dump for things like paint that couldn't be reused. We also did a trip to a second-hand construction store for house stuff, like old lights and doors that had value. Some of our bigger furniture got sold on Craigslist, and lastly we sold our car. We didn't want to store anything here, but ended up with a pretty big pile of things to be stored at my dad's house, including tools we won't need there, plants, and any small electric device (like lamps) that won't work there. We also sold our car, which was sad, but ultimately easier than figuring out how to store it.

Buying New Stuff
As we went through each room, I found a number of items we were missing, like wine glasses that had been broken, or winter gloves with holes. Since it's cheaper and easier to shop here and I didn't want to land and have to do any extra errands - I started shopping for anything we needed.  Of course this was a little contrary to the getting rid of stuff goal - but helped make me feel a little more ready.

while shopping for a new winter hat, boyo checks out the bikes.

Fixing Up the House
Our plan is to keep our house for when we return, so we needed to find a way to rent it out. We contacted a management company, but then they advised us to fix up the house wherever possible to get maximum value. So - obviously we had a major renovation going on already, but then also tried to fix up anything else, like the main bathroom and office, or general paint touchups. There were a million things on that list that I wanted to get to, but ultimately ran out of time.  We had a mad scramble to pull things together for a photographer to take pictures, and then basically considered it done.

just a reminder of the new beautiful kitchen

office finished

The Last Fun Things
Getting through all the to-do's was really a full-time job, but we tried to squeeze in a few fun things. We planned two date-nights for fancy restaurants that we'd always wanted to go do, and managed to fit in one last trip to some of our favorite museums.

a nice night out

a very nice meal out

last trip to the national aquarium

trains at the botanic gardens

checking out the American history museum

a final meal at one of our favorite markets

Family and Friends
Even though the timing of all of this was terrible in most ways, it was rather handy that we were leaving over the holidays because it gave us an opportunity to say goodbye to all our family. We had my mom for Thanksgiving, spent Christmas with my mother-in-law, and then got a chance to see my Dad and brother just after Christmas. We were even able to squeeze in a quick trip over to visit my grandfather.  We did not get to see everyone, but tried to make an effort. A big sendoff party was discussed, and then squashed, as it sounded even more stressful and chaotic after 2 very stressful months.

Thanksgiving with my mom and family

Christmas with my in-laws

2nd Christmas with my dad and brother's family

a quick stop with my brother to see our grandfather

Thoughts - 
The timing of all of this was a total mess, but completely out of our hands. Obviously, we wanted the renovation to be done much earlier so that we could actually enjoy it ourselves. Having to pack up and paint over the holidays was just terrible, and on top of that - my work got super busy at the end, leaving me to work up until the last minute instead of being able to take off earlier. None of that was anything I would ever choose to repeat - but I was thinking it would be nice to sort through all of our stuff more regularly so that things don't pile up so much. Maybe I'll try to remember that before it's time to pack up and come back home again.

What does this mean for the blog? 
Well, we're moving into rental housing, so this blog will no longer be about house projects. Instead, I imagine this will be my main way to keep family up to date on all our adventures, hopefully with lots of fabulous travel photos. Currently a group of large men are busy packing up everything we own - and we fly soon - so the next post will hopefully be after we land. Wish us luck!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Finishing the Office

So once the renovation was done - the entire house looked amazing, except for one remaining spot. The small office off of the master bedroom was now painfully unfinished. So in a quick 2-day sprint, we got it finished up. 

the office is just a collection of misplaced items

freezing cement floor

First up, I just cleared everything out of the way and painted the walls the same blue-gray as the bedroom. 
all emptied out - but still a mess

blue walls

all painted

We knew the floor had to be finished because even though we had a new baseboard heater installed to warm the room, the cement slab was just freezing. We originally wanted to do an engineered floor, but decided wall to wall carpet would be easier. Without time to order anything nicer, we just picked the best in-stock option at home depot and brought it home. In a whirlwind nap break, Spouse got the materials, put down the nail strips, padding, and carpet all in a couple hours. 

exhausted but finished

carpet is in

So lastly to make it look a little more finished, we put up floor trim. I cut it all and then glued it in place because we knew there was brick behind the sheetrock. Then I painted it and called it a day. 

trim gets held in place while the glue dries


crown molding covers a gap in the ceiling. 

So - this is definitely not our best project. It looks significantly better than before, but we didn't have the time to really do it right. I am proud to say that house projects are done for a while - any every part of this house is now officially finished.