Urban Farmers

A farm in the middle of the city of London? That also features an Italian cafe? Now this I had to see.

On Friday, E and I hopped on the bus up toward Shoreditch to check out Hackney City Farm. It ended up being a little disappointing overall. It was very small, as I could have guessed, and E was dismayed that there weren’t any animals she could pet. I hadn’t promised her that, but I guess she’s been to too many places that let you pet the farm animals. (She’s especially fond of brushing the goats at the Maryland Zoo.) The whole thing could kill about half an hour, and I needed to entertain her for a lot longer than that.

When you keep chickens in the city, sometimes you end up with an imposter

There were chickens, pigs, a couple sheep and goats, and a donkey.


The cafe was really nice, actually, and the menu looked great, though I wasn’t yet hungry for lunch. We waited out the brief rain spell in there with a slice of banana bread, amidst all the other mums and their little ones. Then I dragged her to another furniture store nearby, ha.

On Saturday morning, the whole family headed over to our new house to meet the relocation agent and collect the keys and do a walk-through. I can’t wait to be moved in and getting settled. We spent the day exploring our new area a bit more, and it’s just such a better place for a family to live than where we are now. We spent some time at our local playground, walked along the high street checking out some shops and the Saturday market stalls, and had a delicious brunch. We then hit just one more furniture store before heading up to Battersea Park.

Battersea Park is a lovely place to spend a summer Saturday afternoon. I’m planning to take E back there soon for the children’s zoo. This time we rented bikes and rode around for an hour. We’re considering getting me one of these big tricycles with the kiddie bucket on the front, since I won’t have a car, and it would be a way I could get around a little faster with the kids than on foot. I am concerned about pedaling it up hills, though. I’ve tried them twice now, but both times the terrain was pretty flat. So I’m still undecided.


This morning we bussed back up to Shoreditch to check out the famous Columbia Road Flower Market, which is only on Sundays. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning to be outside and the flowers were stunning, and very reasonably priced! I lamented not being able to buy some of the enormous hydrangeas for my house yet.


But we did get a pretty little flower box and a couple potted violets to go in it, which I will now do my best to keep alive. There’s no quick or easy way to get from our house to the Columbia Road Flower Market, so it’s not someplace I will be hitting up often. We’re trying to take advantage of where we are now and do things that are more convenient to the City than to Clapham/Battersea.

After a stop at the Columbia Road-adjacent playground, we walked to the Pump Street Food Market for some lunch. It looked and felt exactly like a food cart pod in Portland. Fewer hipsters, though.



After E FINALLY finished her parent-mandated number of bites of lunch, she got her reward: an entire pineapple, freshly juiced, complete with twisty straws and umbrella-toothpick garnish.

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Hot Child in the City

Our temporary flat is in the part of the city called, well, The City. It’s London’s busy business district, and mostly people come here to work and live in other areas. So all the shops and restaurants and so forth are geared toward 9-to-5ers, not families with young kids and dogs. It’s primarily coffee shops, lunch joints, and some shops that close by end of business day. Practically nothing at all was open on Sunday, except for Starbucks. (There’s that American business ethic, good on ya, Starbucks!)

The view out our sitting room window

I’ve had to do some research to find places to take E to play during the day. The closest playground is a 17-minute walk from here across London Bridge (pass your 14th Pret a Manger, turn right at the 12th Starbucks), and we’ve been there twice this week. They don’t allow dogs there, but I’ve brought Wren anyway because it’s got one of the few patches of grass I can find for her. Around 9 a.m. and again at 5 p.m., our street and the connecting ones are just a sea of people all walking to and from their offices. We step out of our apartment building—sandwiched between a coffee shop and a lunch place—and try to merge our wide load of stroller + dog + pregnant lady into the mass amoeba. (Psst, Americans are all at their desks well before 9 a.m., EUROPE.)

As we let the crowd carry us across London Bridge this morning, a street performer said to our dog, “You’re the only one who’s got a smile on ‘is face.” If I even could have stopped, I could have said, “That’s a look of sheer terror,” but alas, we were carried along.

Heading across London Bridge

She got her reward on our return trip, when we wandered through Borough Market and I surreptitiously slipped her every cheese and sausage sample I could find.


We’ve also taken the tube to other parts of the city for 3-year-old entertainment, returning to some places that were a hit when we were here last month. The Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens is the crème de la crème of playgrounds, and the Science Museum is E’s favorite place to go in London (she has now been four times), and both are free. However, I didn’t count on this now being school holidays for British kids, as well as peak tourist season. So those places were much, much more crowded than they were just a few weeks ago.

She calls this the “carwash” and it’s her favorite


Fortunately, there are plenty of options for kid play, you just have to do a little research in advance and plan to make a good half-day of it. Most of the time you need to allow at least half an hour for transit to get anywhere. M and I have been using the CityMapper app, which we highly recommend for figuring out how to get around.

 

Furniture Shopping With a 3-Year-Old

Is challenging, that’s for sure. We have a pretty long list of things we need to buy for our new house, beds to sleep on as soon as we move in being the priority, but dragging a 3-year-old from one furniture store to the next isn’t the ideal way to shop. Yesterday we went to Tottenham Court Road, which is THE road for furniture shopping. E actually liked the part where we got to try out beds/mattresses. And somehow she didn’t break anything in the showrooms and stores with small breakable items everywhere, so that was a win. We celebrated with gelato at the end of the excursion.

Apparently our London aesthetic is “mid-century modern,” which is usually not my style, but it’s working for me here. M really likes it, and hey, I pretty much picked out everything in our American home, so why not let him make some of the choices in decorating our London home? It feels very masculine to me, and reminds me a little of my paternal grandparents’ stuff.

So far, we picked out this bed and dining table with bench from West Elm:

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and this sofa, in a lighter “duck egg” blue color (the swatch draped over the back):

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M also loves the idea of getting multicolored chairs for around the kitchen table. It’s fun–it’s like we’re picking out things just for a couple of years, not for our “real” house, so we can be more whimsical than we would normally be.

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I can’t wait to sleep on our new mattress we also picked out. I’ve been waking up in pain from the one in the temporary flat, because I’m forced to sleep on my side right now, and this mattress is somehow hurting my hips when I do that. I practically fell asleep in the mattress store, and that’s how I knew I wanted That One.

We haven’t had great luck yet in a bedroom set for E, so I’m going to brave taking her to some more stores tomorrow on my own, and see how that goes…

Arrivals

Well, we made it to London. And so did all eight suitcases, and, more importantly, our dog, which was my biggest concern. We all landed before 10 a.m., but she wasn’t delivered to us until 5 p.m., so I worried all day. Fortunately, she doesn’t seem too worse for the wear after her journey.

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Reunited and it feels so good…

Wren is definitely nervous in her new (temporary) very urban environment. There really aren’t any patches of grass at all where we are staying for two weeks in The City, so we have to walk her down very busy roads to find somewhere for her to go to the bathroom. The nearest place with any grass at all is a lovely old church by Sir Christopher Wren, so that is where our Wren finally released her long-held American pee. It was quite poetic, I think. And also probably not allowed.

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I’m anxious to get moved in to our house and get settled, for Wren’s sake, especially. The temporary flat is fine, I guess, but it still feels like we are living out of suitcases, and it’s very noisy (it’s warm out this week–for London, anyway–and there’s no A/C so we have to keep the windows open all day and night, so the street noise is extra loud), and there’s the issue of nowhere for Wren to go. It is very close to two tube stations, however.

Some of the "welcome pack" items waiting for us in our temporary flat
Some of the “welcome pack” items waiting for us in our temporary flat

In other exciting arrivals news, my new nephew was born in Portland this morning. So it’s a happy day!

Cheerio, Baltimore

This move is trying to kill me. Tuesday morning we were up past 1 a.m. and up again at 5 to get ready for Day 1 (of 3) of the movers packing up all our stuff, and then my solid-wood dresser full of clothes fell over onto me. Fortunately, I walked away with only a bruised calf and a broken jewelry dish, so maybe it wasn’t mortal peril, but in that moment I knew it was me vs. the move, and the move was winning.

People make international moves all the time, so I realize I am probably being overdramatic about how hard this all is, but it IS hard, in many ways. For months, I’ve had about a dozen different move-related To Do lists that seemed to just keep getting longer and longer. Now that we’re in our final week, they are finally looking shorter. (Except for the one titled “To Do Once We Arrive in London.” That’s still growing.)

But apart from managing the myriad logistics of moving two adults, a 3-year-old, a dog, and all our stuff from Baltimore, Maryland, to London, England, there’s also the emotional component of saying goodbye to our life here. Even if it’s just for two years and then we return to the same house, which is the plan, saying goodbye is difficult. And when you’re 24 weeks pregnant and hormonal on top of everything else…

I have lived in Baltimore for 11 years now, way longer than I ever expected when I moved here from the Pacific Northwest at the age of 23. We have made so many truly fantastic friendships here, and Baltimore is small enough that we run into people we know everywhere we go (locals call it Smalltimore), and thinking about starting over in a new place where we don’t know anyone is daunting, to say the least.

There are many things I don’t love about Baltimore, but despite its faults, it does have many charms I do love. And it’s the only home our daughter, I’ll refer to her on here as E, has ever known. She’s only 3, but this move will affect her, too, in ways we can’t yet know. A friend of mine once said that Baltimore is like a little brother. You love him no matter what, but then he goes and does something stupid again, and you’re like, GET IT TOGETHER. I very much have a love-hate relationship with this city.

Some people (strangers, mostly) have made comments to me along the lines of, “London, I wouldn’t want to go there right now,” implying that there’s too much terrorist activity happening across the Atlantic. I keep my response purposely neutral, but what I’m thinking is, Have you seen the local and national news here lately? Mass shootings of innocent people happening all over the place, and the country is thisclose to electing Donald Trump as president. It actually seems like a good time to get out. Look, the world is a scary place, and anything can happen to you anywhere at any time. If you live in fear, you’ll never go anywhere or experience anything, and that’s not how I want to live my life.

We were in London just a few weeks ago, and on the plane back to the States, the song “Story of an Immigrant” by Civil Twilight came on my playlist, and I started thinking about what it means to be a true immigrant. We don’t even think of ourselves as that, do we? Americans living in London call themselves “expats,” not “immigrants.” There are so many people who move to a new country not by personal choice, and they don’t speak the language, and their culture is extremely different, and they don’t have any help, or much money, or a job or a place to live. In fact, my own grandfather came to America from Germany with his family in 1923, when he was 12, and their moving experience couldn’t be more different than this one.

We are some of the very lucky few who have the choice of where we live, and I need to remember to be grateful for that. And when I get overwhelmed about how “hard” this move is for me, I need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. My husband’s company is doing so much for us, and making the move as easy on us as it could possibly be. Moving to a new country could be so, so much harder.

My grandparents and their parents worked incredibly hard their whole lives in order to give their children a better life, an easier life, and they succeeded. I hope it would make my grandfather proud, that I am taking this opportunity that was handed to me, and expanding my horizons to experience more of the world.

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As I sit here in my kitchen, surrounded by boxes and empty cabinets and rolled-up rugs, I’m feeling nostalgic, and a little sad, and am wondering what’s ahead of us. It’s not the first time I’ve up and moved far away to a new city where I don’t know anyone. I did it when I moved across the country to go to college; and again when I studied abroad for a year in Bath, England; and then I did a summer grad program in Denver and then moved to Seattle… and finally moved to Baltimore to be with M, my now-husband. Each time felt a little daunting, but exciting, too.

For better or worse, we made the decision to move to London for two years, and it’s going to be a Great Adventure for our whole family, which deep down in my gut I feel good about. I’ll do my best to chronicle our experiences here, to share with our family and friends. In the end, two years is really not that much time, and it will go fast. Before we know it, we’ll be looking back and saying, “Remember that time we up and moved the whole family, with another family member on the way, across an ocean? That was so crazy!” I can’t know what the future will bring, but I’m pretty certain I haven’t had my last crab cake from Koco’s Pub or ice cream cone from The Charmery.

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So let’s not say goodbye, let’s just say Cheerio.

(And please, come visit!)