Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Amazing Ashley Allen...

Our good friend Ashley visited us last week. We had a blast visiting and hanging out. Visitors always force us to actually go sightseeing, so we also squeezed a bit of that in. More on her visit on the next post, but we had a blast. As it always is, her amazing talent is demonstrated here. For my Texas friends, look her up (! As I said last year, and the year before that, anyone who can clean up this rough crew is pretty special...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Houston is done

Well, we closed out the Houston trip successfully. Sunday was a great time. It started early with Berryhill's meeting up with Gina and drinking a cold beer. For the record 9:30am Houston time is 3:30pm London time, so it was clearly beer-thirty. After a great visit with G-money, we went to the Texans game. Without question, it was one of the best games we have been to. Down to the wire, we stayed until the end, on feet, yelling and cheering. SO FUN!

Capitol Grill was the perfect ending. I do miss a good Texas steak!

Monday we were able to get our fangs cleaned at the (greatest ever) dentist. Then we tested our newly cleaned teeth on sushi at Fish. Of course overeating was in order since it would be our last meal in Houston. Again, Scott's frequent travels paid off and we flew back to London in first class - truly the best way to fly internationally.

A huge shout out to John Kim for his generosity in letting us camp at his house. We are so lucky to have such great friends and we miss them dearly. As great as London is, it is without our friends...

Honorable mention:
Scott's godson Braden who is now over 6 feet tall!

Braden's daddy Paul

We ran into the Barrow family leaving the game - such cute kids!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Houston for the weekend

Scott and I returned to Houston this weekend for a work function for his job. We are only in day 2 of 3, but so far we have had a very busy, fun time. Our friend John Kim has graciously provided the comfort of his (beautifully redecorated) home as our base.

Last night we went to the Firm's Christmas party. It was so fun seeing so many friends, most of whom I hadn't seen in over a year. Especially fun was seeing JP Smith, who is recovering from a burn. While the injury was a serious one and has caused a great deal of pain and even a week in the hospital, the fact that a grown man was cleaning a grill with gasoline provides me a little giggle. Boys. Young or old, they see no danger...

Some of the things I have realized being back:
Houston is hot even in December and even a couple of weeks prior to Christmas. Yesterday was 75 degrees. The air conditioner needs to be on in the house to sleep comfortably. Imagine what August will be like!

There are restaurants everywhere here. All guarantee to expand your waistline so that you fit in nicely with the rest of the Americans.

It is a strange sensation after living overseas for over a year to be able to hop into the car and actually know where you are going without turning on the GPS sat nav.

We have only lived in London for 6 months, but already, Scott and I found ourselves going to the wrong side of the car and even driving on the wrong side of the road.

It is simply amazing how cheap things are here. From real estate to meals to clothing, cheap cheap cheap! I... must... not... shop... anymore...

I didn't realize how much I missed college football until we watched a few minutes of it yesterday. It is intriguing how something so simple can be so entertaining.

And unfortunately three days is not long enough to see enough of our friends. But we have still a day and a half left so we will busily cram in as many visits as we can (between the Texans football game, miscellaneous health check ups, and a few cocktails).

I miss the kids (who are in London), but I cannot imagine dragging them on the 10.5 hour flight and adding their jet lag to mine. Without question, they will only make that trip when we move back.

Now, off to play with our dear friend G-money!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another staycation near London

Scott surprised us with another mini-vacation. This time, instead of going towards London central, we went away. We drove south of London to Leeds Castle. What an amazing place to see! It was such a beautiful place. The kids enjoyed the footpath through the woods to get up the the castle. The inside was interesting and antique and fun to walk through. Perhaps the neatest part of the day was the English maze we made our way through. Finally making it to the middle allowed us to go up a small hill to see where we had painstakingly made our way through. After the hill, we went down some steps to an underground cavern which was appropriately dark and spooky and fun to walk through. I of course appreciated that this was the easy exit since we were able to walk right out of the maze this way.

The kids' favorite part of the castle trip was the incredible playground. I can't describe it adequately, but suffice it to say that it was by far the most fun playground I had ever seen.

The highlight of the very cool day was going down the street to the hotel where there was an indoor heated swimming pool. The kids wore themselves out and then we had a quick in-room dinner. They passed out. Beautiful sleeping kids. (Perhaps the most beautiful when they are sleeping!)

A nice escape to our hectic high-energy life we live. Bring on Friday for our trip back to the US for 3 days!

The video highlights:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey day 2011 in London

Thanksgiving in England worked out quite nicely. Scott of course made a giant Thanksgiving feast and we all ate too much. Our gathering was atypical in the normal American-kind-of-Thanksgiving way. It was only our family and Marisa, and then we had our two Italian friends who own the restaurant next door come by to sample pumpkin pie.

Of course we are thankful for everything: our health, our family and friends (who we can't wait to see next week), our jobs (for both of us the most demanding, frustrating and overall satisfying of any before), our homes and our overall ability to travel and see this side of the world. Indeed a successful Thanksgiving. We can't wait on the adventures between now and next year's turkey day...

Monday, November 21, 2011

So close, yet so far away...

Before Scott left for trial, I arranged a little stay-cation for the kids and me. The requirements were easy. First, it had to be close. Second, it had to have an indoor pool for easy entertainment. Third, it had to have breathing room for me once the kids were asleep. Mark one up for the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. It had it all. Bonus was that it was across the street from Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

As it turns out, Scott ended up coming home due to a continuance, so the whole family went. We swam, we ate, we drank, and we generally felt pampered for about 24 hours. The room service sushi of course helped the cause.

Of course the kids thought the actual travel to and from on the underground was as much fun as the stay-cation.

The only way it could have been better was if the break had been longer... We hope to do another one soon. Perhaps we'll venture outside of London for the next one. I always did think it would be great to stay in a castle!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

English as a second language

I have spent a great deal of time on the tube this week observing these lovely British people. While they obviously speak English, it is the "Queen's English" as opposed to American English (which is quite different from Texan English). As a side note, I heard someone ask if someone spoke English or British. It's a fair question if you ask me.

So for any friends that are considering or already planned a trip over soon, I offer here a crash course in what I refer to as British (instead of English).

If one throws their rubbish in the bin, they are throwing the trash into the trashcan.

If someone asks you for a rubber, they would like to erase a pencil mark.

They may ask what is on the telly, at which point you should know which tv shows are on and at what time.

Trousers are of course pants, but it seems harder to understand when it is pronounced like trous-ahs.

If you hear someone say (and I did) "I do believe I have been firmly slapped upon my buttocks", they mean they just got their ass chewed by someone else. This too sounds even more fun in British.

If someone would like to have a go, they really just want a turn to try whatever it is going on.

If you happen to be driving in London and you go into the congestion charge zone in your car, you best go online and pay your £10. If not you get a ticket for almost £80. The congestion charge zone is the center of town where the City is doing everything possible to discourage vehicular traffic. Just going once is deterrent enough for me.

There are several unwritten rules to mass transit as well. The most notable one is during rush hour (also referred to as armpit hour), it can become so crowded that the normal rules of social engagement and space no longer apply. It is perfectly acceptable to use the person next to you as a support during the sometimes chaotic movements of the train. Falling into the person next you happens so frequently that it is just accepted. No embarrassment, no shame, just a simple "oops, sorry" is sufficient. One thing that is not allowed is phone conversations. While most people make no eye contact (which is almost physically impossible during armpit hour), you will certainly be stared down if you dare speak on your phone.

As I slowly understand and appreciate many of the locals' customs, I am beginning to understand why there exists a certain pride in being a London girl. The city is massive, the sights are never ending, and the place seems to never sleep. It is beautiful and fast paced. Everything is here. The costs are outrageous, but I understand why people pay them. This is a great place to live.


Monday, November 7, 2011

One weekend down, three more to go.

Scott is gone for the next few weeks, and the kids and I are slowly overcoming all the things that he does everyday without ever mentioning it. The TV has already died, as has the VOIP, as has the wi-fi, as has the heater (and it is COLD out there!). I am proud to say that most of it is up (poor Netflix) and running. I did cop out and only took out the rubbish instead of also the recycling. Lazy? Perhaps, but seriously, it was a long weekend with the kids by myself!

I, on the other hand, have turned to music, work and wine to keep me running. I don't have any worthwhile stories to share, so instead, here's a great tune that keeps playing on my iPad.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Moving on up...

Caden went yesterday to a birthday party for one of his classmates. The party was held at a rock climbing facility. Walking in, I wondered who in the world thought a bunch of five and six year olds would be able to climb the giant walls in front of us. When you look at the above picture, you see his black eye that he got at school a few days ago. He ended up with a black eye because he ran into a wall. Literally. He was running and "forgot to turn" and ran straight into a wall. With that information in mind, it is clear why I questioned his ability to climb the rock wall.

However, always amazing to me, see pictures below of him scurrying up the rock wall with ease and gracefulness (two words that I have never used in the same sentence as Caden). Maybe those future chess lessons and math clubs will be traded for an occasional rock wall climb!

He's the one on the right side in the dark purple shirt and blue jeans almost to the top...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The in between time.

Before the next adventure of Scott being gone for just over a month, I thought I should share the fun stuff we have recently been up to. While we have been working ridiculous hours during the week, we have managed to do some fun stuff on the weekends here in London. In addition to going to Hyde Park (with an obligatory stop for delicious hamburgers at Hard Rock) and seeing Buckingham Palace, we have also taken the kids a few other place, including the M & M store. One of the coolest was going to a Safari Park. This ended up being extraordinarily fun. The only way I can see this having been cooler was if the monkeys jumped on our car instead of all the cars around us.

We also had an adventure and took the kids to St Albans in far north London to see some of our friends from Amsterdam that moved to London just before we did. It was really nice seeing friendly faces. While we have greatly enjoyed our stay in England, we have found it a bit more difficult to meet people that we want to run around with. Most of this of course if our problem -- too much work and not enough play.

The kids had their week out of school and started back on Monday which happened to be Halloween. We had a good time although it proved to be quite different than the proper American Halloween escapade. We had quite a lot of children show up at the door dressed up. Most knocked and then said "Happy Halloween!". This seemed fine until we knocked on a door and our kids said "trick or treat!". The man looked confused, paused (uncomfortably long), and then said, "Treat is I guess my choice." Random, but funny. The British kids were uncomfortable grabbing more than one "sweetie" at a time, even when encouraged. So polite of them. So British of them. A stark difference indeed from an American Halloween.

Mary-freaking-Poppins has been great. I finally asked her if I could use her name and pictures on this blog, and she kindly agreed. So Mary-freaking-Poppins will now be known as Marisa. The kids love her. We love her. She is an equal in our house and we no longer have three children. Such a good place to be.

Scott left this morning for the airport to go to the States for a month. I'm sad to see him go, but it will be nice to see what happens with his trial. He has lived and breathed this case for five years. It will be hard on everyone in the family, but this should be the last long trip we have.

Wish me luck as I navigate this country, this family and this next adventure without Scott!

A video of the last few weekends:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The next (not fun) adventure coming...

So everyone has been doing well. The kids are loving school and are currently out on their 1.5 week term break. The British school system is fantastic at raising the bar for expectations, but it seems like they are out of school for a week to two weeks every other month. Of course it fits nicely with the fact that most Brits get 4-5 weeks of vacation standard. The surprising bit is that they achieve so much more in terms of learning, but seem to always be out of school. Perplexing.

Scott and I had out eight year anniversary earlier this week. Of course we were both too busy to do much in the way of celebration, but we did manage to have dinner a couple of days later. We are still planning to have our big 10 year hoopla in two years so mark your calendars. We hope to have a similar party to the wedding (at the ranch) which was F-U-N.

We are gearing up now for the hard part. Scott leaves for a week this weekend, back for a week, and then back to the States for 4-5 weeks of trial. Fingers crossed for a good outcome at the trial. Fingers crossed that this household doesn't self-destruct in his absence! Fortunately Mary-Freaking-Poppins is here and wonderful.

Scott and I will be returning to Houston for three days the first weekend in December and hope to see as many of you as possible. We miss everyone terribly.

A few pics of recent:

Mom visited so we of course we did the obligatory pub visit!

Caden looking fierce in his skeleton (glow in the dark) pajamas. He likes pajama days as much as his momma!

Keali off to school. She won the school award for being tidy and polite. She is such a sweet cuddly little girl.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Music... sweet music

I have been on the road a fair amount recently. While not the typical "adventure" discussed on this blog, being on the road does have a few (and it really is very few) advantages. It gives me time to listen to new music and find new artists. The people in this group are right at the top for me - all acoustic, all beautiful voices. I can only hope the people next door in this hotel won't ask me to turn it down...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Adventures with au pairs...

So I normally post on our adventures as they relate to travel so as to keep a diary of it for the kids, but also to stay in touch with everyone back home. The travel adventures are really only a part of our daily excitement. After thinking about it, I decided that in order to keep a true diary, I need to share more than the places we visit.

Truth be told, our kids are constant source of adventures. Our most recent one was probably one more of heartbreak as well as pride. It's longer than most posts, but it goes kinda like this...

Since moving to Europe, we have a live in au pair which allows Scott and I both to work full time, but also allows us to enjoy our kids more when we aren't working. The au pair helps with the kid stuff (their laundry, their groceries, etc). It also provides a great deal of stability for the kids since we don't have a babysitter or three coming and going randomly.

When we moved to Amsterdam, we brought over a girl from Houston that had been with our family. Overall, she was able to make sure the kids were generally safe and mostly followed the rules we applied to the kids. However, virtually all other job duties were and continued to be ignored. After over a year of that simply not working out, and many talks later to hopefully improve the situation, it became apparent that the expectations wouldn't be met and it was time to send her back to Houston. The parting was amicable. I believed she was sad to leave our kids, and as she had become part of our family, we were all sad to see her go...

Another girl (from Germany - let's call her AR) who was also living in London with a family was looking for a new au pair position. AR's host-family was mean to her and treated her very badly. She wanted out of her living situation as urgently as we needed someone to come in and help us. AR was with us for a week. In that week, she had the kids exactly 1.5 hours by herself while we attended a school meeting. We came home and she was distraught and said that Caden was too "mentally strong for her" and that she couldn't believe he was only 6 years old. She didn't want to stay long term but agreed to give us three weeks to find a replacement. I was so sad. I couldn't imagine that the kids behavior was so bad that she would quit after an hour. Admittedly, I was also quite proud that he was outsmarting and outplaying a grown up...

So that's sort of where the story gets interesting. I immediately started interviewing new girls for the au pair job. I talked to so many girls, I lost count. I received over 600 applications. I finally found a girl who I really thought was a great fit. We sent many emails back and forth and it looked like we would skype for the final and formal interview and she would come live with us. Then, one night I received a note from her saying that my old au pair (from Houston) knew one of her friends who was an au pair in London. Small world. Come to find out, our au pair that lived with us for a year (and enjoyed many very nice vacations, a great deal of unearned income, and more experiences that she would ever have had in her life) had told the girl that we treated her like a slave, made her work almost every weekend, and (the worst) hated our kids.

Now since she was a very young (mentally) person, I'm fine with the slave bit (she was with the kids generally 22 hours per week and we hired a housekeeper which should have been her job) and even the weekend bit (we hired babysitters almost every time we needed weekend support which was rare). Honestly I wrote that off to immaturity, laziness, and entitlement syndrome. However, I have to admit that the "hating the kids" bit put me over the deep end. How unbelievably sad I was to hear this. I wonder how long she had felt this way and how she treated the kids when we weren't around... I only hope she didn't hurt them in anyway mentally. It has certainly taught me to be more aware and not take things at face value.

We lost the au pair that I really wanted to hire because of this. Insult to injury indeed. About four days after this occurred, we learned that the girl from Germany (AR) had moved into our house in order to escape her other family and that in fact she had another job all along which she would start October 1. We were only a place where she could stay in a holding pattern. The biggest disappointment of this was that she blamed it on our kid. Bad show. She of course moved out the next day. That was a good day for me.

So I continued on our hunt for the perfect au pair. We hired a professional nanny to get us over the hump. We were fortunate to find a girl that we liked very much (let's call her MP). She flew over for the weekend and spent the last weekend with us. Honestly, when she had described herself as Mary Poppins (MP) during one of our many email exchanges, I didn't believe it. However, when she was with the kids, she was amazing. She took to Caden immediately. Caden played with her almost the entire time she was here. I am happy to say that she is moving in next Monday (9 days away, but who is counting...).

She is a bright amazing multilingual musician/artist/dancer/Mary Poppins. I am hopeful that she will be with our family until at least next summer. I can't wait for her to come here.

In the mean time, we keep doing what I think everyone with kids does: keep on keeping on. Caden has had the best behavior ever the last month or so. I think he has only had 2 time outs in the last 2 weeks. Anyone who knows our naughty, feisty, spirited, bright and beautiful boy appreciates this as almost unbelievable! We are looking forward to the next adventure in our life!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Italia - it gets better and better every time...

Almost two years ago, we bought a week in a villa in Tuscany with several other couples from Houston. The villa was supposed to be this great big, winery vineyard which would blow our minds... So three weeks ago, my mom kindly agreed to fly to London to watch the kids, while Scott and I went on this dream adult vacation.

We were slightly disappointed to arrive Florence without any bags. No big deal...

We were really surprised to learn that the villa was double booked and we had no place to stay. As hugely disappointed as we were, we were certain that the six other couples who had flown from the States (much farther than our 2.5 hour jaunt from London) would be outraged.

Another surprise for me about human nature. Not one person was mad. No one. Of course we were very fortunate that the villa offered us our week again in 2013 (much more strategically planned in summer to avoid school issues) so we will be returning in a couple of years. Even nicer was that the villa folks were kind enough to honor the trip we would have had. They put all of us up in extraordinary hotels. The first four days were in Sienna which was great. Scott and I neither one had been there.

The last three days were in Venice. We had been there several months ago, but that didn't take away at all from the time we spent there. In fact, it was nice to see Venice without the high tides and floods.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip for us was going to a Tuscan vineyard. This particular vineyard plays Mozart on Bose speakers to the grapes 24 hours per day. It is believed to make the grapes sweeter, resulting in better wine. We tasted a few while we were there, but the cases we ordered arrived this week, so I'll know better in a few days. (-;

We met some new friends while we were there that we look forward to seeing once we arrive back in Houston. Scott and I were also able to spend some much needed stress-free, work-free, kid-free time together. We ate, we drank and we were merry! We are looking forward to the villa trip in 2013.

The video:

Honorable mention:

The bar we hung out at last time, only this time sans flood...

The bar we hung out at this time, nicknamed the Bra Bar by our crew...

I'm no fashionista, but this guy gives Americans a bad name...

This guy gives all proper beer drinkers a bad name... as he sits with his wife (and her big beer).

Legoland? Yes we did.

We finally made it to Legoland a few weeks ago for Caden's birthday. It was without question the coolest place in the world for a 6 year old boy.

We were fortunate to be able to spend a bit extra and get the Q-bot. It let us skip all the lines and walk right to the front. Super fun day for all. Probably contributing to the fun was the fact that I lost my crackberry on the first ride. Never expecting to get it back, I was encouraged by Scott to stop at the lost and found at the end of the day. Surprisingly, they had it waiting for me! Wow! So happy to see there are still so many good people in the world. Indeed it was a successful birthday celebration for Caden. Now we are negotiating everything for trips back to Legoland...

The video: