Thursday, April 19, 2012

Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease (AKA Bring Out the Pushy American!)

I am sitting in our flat, for the last time, on a RAINY British day and waiting for a delivery that could come anytime between 9 AM and 5PM. Really? You couldn't narrow it down a bit? In fact, I am not even sure what is even being delivered...something from our bank so either a credit/debit card or checks. I am taking advantage of packing up our stuff (for the last time hopefully!) and getting a quick blog post out!

The big news this week, besides moving day tomorrow, is that the kids started school yesterday! The whole process is similar to the States' public school system. You chat with the school district of your area, give them the proper documents and applications proving your address, etc... and they find a school for you. I started this process when I cam in mid-March, filled out the applications, sent copies of passports and visas and did a few tours of the primary and secondary schools (where Henry will go next year in the Fall). The only glitch was we needed to prove our address which meant we needed to show a formal copy of our signed lease. Easier said then done. They had to reference check us first, which meant getting documents from the bank proving we had an account set up. As you can see from the above "waiting for the mystery package" statement, you can't just request a bank statement. You both have to go the bank, request a statement and then it takes 8-10 working days for it to arrive. It didn't help that we had moved from one flat to our current flat and had two different addresses.

 So long story short, it took a good couple of weeks to get a signed copy of our lease to prove residency to the "borough council" (school district). Throughout all of this, the staff at the council knew what was happening and that we wanted a specific school - Polehampton Primary. But Polehampton only had room for Henry and not May. They had ample time to contact them but they ended up waiting until the school was closed for two weeks during Easter Break. So come this past Monday, I called the borough council to check the status as I knew the staff was back from the Easter Break and kids were returning on Tuesday. Out came the PUSHY AMERICAN! "A couple more days and we will sort it out, blah, blah, blah!" Not acceptable!!  So I popped in to  Polehampton, knocked on the door and spoke with the Head of School. She was very nice and suggested the kids come back on Tuesday to see the school in action with the kids back. On Tuesday we got a tour from the Assistant Head who indicated they did indeed have room for May and Henry so she made the call to the borough council and finished things up. I got a call about 20 minutes after we left for the Assistant Head asking if want would like to start the next day and could we come back and get some school "jumpers" for the kids and fill out some paperwork! Yes, they were in! As of today, Thursday, I still have not heard from the borough council indicating that we could start at Polehampton. I sent them a very nice email, thanking them for all their help! It sounded sincere, but deep down it was all SNARK!

That afternoon we furiously shopped for uniforms, shoes, lunch boxes and pencil cases! The kids started yesterday and had a GREAT day. They were each assigned a buddy and Henry came home with several phone numbers and Xbox Gamer Tags. May's class is studying China this term and her Year learned a Chinese dance yesterday and performed it for the entire school that afternoon! Apparently, Henry's year is learning how to clog dance on Monday-that will be hilarious!

 First Day

 Post First Day tea, milkshakes and caaakkkke!

Second day and off they go. Rainy and looks just like Sunny Hills!

I dropped them today and as soon as we got to the playground, both kids had several kids come up and say "hi" and "let's go". All the "years" are put in houses (aka Harry Potter and Griffindor), so Henry and May chose the Loddon/Blue house (siblings stay together). The Loddon River runs through Twyford and right through our neighborhood in fact! Apparently the houses compete against one another throughout the year - races, bake sales/fundraisers, spirit, cohesiveness, etc... At the end of the year they have a big SWIM GALA/MEET against each other because they have an outdoor pool at Polehampton. Swimming becomes part of their PE 2x a week starting in May. Awesome!

I am sooo proud of my kids!! They have rolled with the punches throughout this entire transition with grace, flexibility and humor. They were calm, cool and collected yesterday. So amazing.

Next hurdle to tackle is the BIG FINAL MOVE. Our sea and air shipments have arrived, cleared customs, and will be delivered tomorrow and unpacked on Saturday. It will be great to get out of this flat, get some space, sleep in our own beds and organize our stuff. My FAVORITE part is unpacking and getting organized! I will post some pictures once we are settled and organized!

Oh and apparently, Pete is worried our king sized bed (the top mattress) will not fit up the stairs to the 3rd floor master bedroom, so sleeping in my own bed MAY not happen.

 Now off to Costco to buy a TV and probably some other things as well!


Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter in the Cotswolds AKA How Friggin' British is This??

So, Pete informs me last Monday that he has Good Friday and a Bank Holiday (also known to the Brits as a "boondoggle" of a day off) on the Monday after Easter. Understandably, I go into panic mode thinking "There is no friggin' way the 4 of us are staying in our flat for 4 days over the LONG weekend!" -- so I was off planning a little mini-break. The parameters were: semi-close by and drivable, so we picked the Cotswolds, just Northwest of London. We had heard all sorts of horror stories about traffic on Easter and always loads of traffic on a Bank Holiday. We decided to go for two nights and return on Easter in the afternoon. Knowing we could check in early to our pub/inn accommodations, we left on Friday morning around 10 AM and whipped our way up to the Cotswolds in just over an hour!


 Sweet Shop #1

Burford Church

We checked into the Bull Inn in Charlbury and were quickly off to find lunch and stroll the town of Burford. To say the landscape was charming and idyllic is an understatement. The Cotswolds are famous for their rolling green pastures, their wool and their buildings made of limestone. Think light-colored buildings, overgrown with nearly-flowering, twisting wisteria, daffodils, tulips and newly-born lambs. Quaint and truly English. And overcast - which didn't bother us since, well, you know - we are from Seattle! We strolled and shopped with the masses and stopped in at the Mermaid at Burford for a pub lunch. We quickly decided that the tween/teen age acne years will not be kind to Henry if he continues to have fish and chips for every meal! Pete went full force for the bangers and mash with gravy, I wolfed down the Stilton and broccoli soup and May opted for the good old ham and cheese ploughman. More shopping, a stop into Orvis for some fly fishing tips for Pete, a stop into the Sweet Shop and the afternoon was complete. We drove to a little village, parked the car and went for a Death March (with Frisbee for Frisbee golf) through fields of blooming broccoli and yellow labs.

For evening entertainment, we ate dinner at our "inn" (we were the only guests staying there)...goat cheese and caramelized onions in phyllo dough, rabbit stew and rack of lamb with a nice glass of red...YUM! The Bull Inn is over 600 years old so you can imagine that Pete was on high alert to Mind his Head! After dinner we watched "Bend it like Beckham" - fun movie to watch in the UK!

The next morning we had a FULL English breakfast - tea, scrambled eggs, sausage and amazing bacon! Even May said that she needed to lay off the bacon...our stomachs were slowly starting to s-t-r-e-t-c-h! We needed to walk it off so we drove throughout the Cotswolds to the "Venice of the Cotswolds"...Burton on the Water. Charming town within a town, canals of creeks running everywhere and tourists galore! We needed to get out of there so  we set off on our 5 mile ramble to Lower and Upper Slaughter, through fields of horses, sheep/lambs and their new babies. May was in heaven!
 Lower Slaughter

 Lower Slaughter

 Upper Slaughter

 Bloomin' Broccoli

 Wisteria taking over about to bloom

We made it back to Burton on the Water and were desperate for lunch. Everything was packed and there were people everywhere. We finally found a dumpy tea room that had surprisingly good food but no charm (shockingly the kids had BLTs)! A local Brit recommended we hit the Cotswold Animal Farm which is like a mini-Remlinger Farms without the rides. That was all May wanted to do-feed the baby lambs. Long story short, we got lost. Those damn narrow Cotswold's roads got us all turned around-picture a couple on the Amazing Race and that was Pete and I tersely discussing which was the right way to go. And we had our cell phones with mapping, as well as the navigation system in the car. We finally found it, but we had missed the bottle feeding and it was about an hour til closing so we bailed out and decided to go back the next day.
 Heaven on earth for May

 Future Streaky Rashers

 Pigley Butt

Pierced Piggy

We ate dinner at the Bull Inn again but wanted to go light...ha ha. So we ordered the cheese plate for an appy (usually served as dessert but we are American...we like our cheese first, thank you!)...there was a Cornish Blue which had been voted Best Blue Cheese in the "world" which we were highly suspicious of and had to try. I am happy to report that Pt. Reyes Blue is WAY better! Henry opted for lighter fare...smoked salmon and salmon mousse with crackers and a fish cake...that boy can eat!

Easter Sunday brought colder temps and a return to the Cotswold Animal Farm. Guess what? We got a little lost. But we eventually found it and May got her wish. She was in heaven and there were oodles of baby EVERYTHING...piglets, bunnies, guinea pigs, chicks, lambs, and calves. She could have stayed all day and we had to drag her out of there as we had bought tickets for Blenheim Palace. It was really well done we would go back there next Spring for the lambing in a heart beat.

Off to Blenheim Palace - Sir Winston Churchill's place of birth and home to the current Duke of Marlborough (who is now on his 4th wife FYI). Beautiful grounds and stunning inside. We did the self tour as the guided tour was jam-packed. The grounds were gorgeous and we would definitely go back on a sunny weekend day to scooter/bike and walk around...over 2000 acres! Spent some time in the Pleasure Garden (sounds naughty but it wasn't) went through the hedge maze, in the Butterfly House and climbed all around on the ancient trees that dotted the parking lot! We zipped on home in under an hour and still had the entire evening to chill. Pete hooked up his new UK Xbox and we are able to watch quite a few US Mad Men Season 5!
 Blenheim Palace

Today was rainy and blustery-a perfect Bank Holiday to have a "lie-in" and chill (and write this detailed blog post). Quick trip into London via automobile to pick up my "new" Dyson vacuum I bought from an ex-pat moving back to the great state of Texas! Pete was a champ driving through Richmond (went right by your house Dina!) and we are now proud vacuum cleaner-owners! Just need a house now.