Monday, September 19, 2016

Our Road to Oxford

Holy Moly, where to even begin. We made it to Oxford! It has been quite the whirlwind.  Moving a family overseas is not easy. I won't even mention all the stress and anxiety of packing everyone, deciding what to take, making everything fit, trying to clean up after ourselves and tie up all the loose ends we left (which we didn't do very well, by the end it was just panic mode - throw things in boxes, stuff the suitcases, forget about all the rest that was scattered throughout Max's parents basement). 
To the airport we took 5 checked suitcases, 4 carry-ons, 4 backpacks, 4 water bottles, 3 small children, and a huge double stroller. 

We flew from SLC to Oakland and halfway through the flight Jane had some sort of panic or anxiety attack and was pretty inconsolable. Possibly because she was sick, as we later found out. She kept crying and crying and wailing and saying "I wanna go home!" over and over and over. It could also have been that the trip to the airplane bathroom freaked her out. Probably a combination of all three. I eventually took her to the very back of the plan where there were a couple banks of empty seats and I held her as she cried until she eventually fell asleep. Packing up a life and moving is hard on anyone, I'm sure more so for a child. Not too much later we landed in Oakland where we had to drag everything across the airport to check in to our international flight with Norwegian Air. The two were purchased individually of each other (cheap deal) so our luggage wasn't transferred automatically. This was where, right after checking in, Jane threw up the first time, all over herself and into one of our 4 water bottles. After a split second of like pure dread we just had to roll up the sleeves and take care of it. At the airport in the middle of trying to transfer a family from Provo, Utah to Oxford, England, there's not much time to have a pity party for oneself. Wiped up the puke as best we could with baby wipes, rinsed out the water bottle - made some serious mental notes not to use that one again, and continued on our way. 
(Cleaning up puke)

Jane continued to throw up several more times into that same water bottle - she actually was really good at telling us she needed to puke and quietly taking care of her business right there in the stroller. Honestly, I knew something was probably wrong earlier that morning when she didn't eat her breakfast - that never happens. But I was too busy to give it any more than a quick thought. Luckily I found a little package of children's chewable Dramamine tablets at a convenience store in the airport. I bribed her to eat one with an M&M and then it was time to board the plane! I was really hoping that dramamine would help and we wouldn't have a puking kid the whole 9 hour flight to London. Thankfully it did work pretty well. She threw up a couple more times, just bile, but after each I gave her another tablet and she was fine for another several hours. 

MEANwhile, Claire at some point threw up/spit up and Max took her to the airplane bathroom to rinse her off a little bit. She only did it once but MAN she stank!! It happened pretty early on in the flight and so for the next 8 hours, plus an hour going through customs/immigration plus an hour waiting for our bus, plus a 3 hour bus ride, plus a half hour getting from the bus station to our hotel Claire was RANK. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The flight was fairly uneventful, aside from the vomiting haha. The girls watched "Anastasia". And then "Robots".  Intermingled with coloring and playing with other new toys. And eventually fell asleep. One child slept on either side of me, both their heads in my lap. Max sat across the aisle struggling with wiggly baby Claire, and then holding her after she finally fell asleep, trying to sleep himself while holding her. Thankfully she was never dropped! While the girls were watching movies/sleeping I watched a movie myself and finally got to see "Brooklyn", which I enjoyed. Needless to say I wasn't able to sleep much at all. Although after dozing off three times I realized each time I woke up that I'd been asleep for a whole hour! But those three were all I got. And then, sick of feeling miserably tired and not being able to sleep I decided to distract myself with the movie "Big". I thoroughly enjoyed watching young Tom Hanks pretend to be an 11 year old - very funny. As we were flying over the Atlantic while Alice and Jane were both asleep on my lap and the rest of the plane was quiet and muted with the lights dimmed, I happened to look out the window and see the peaceful beginnings of a completely pure, unblemished sunrise. Deep blue ocean fading into a beautiful lavender and bright pink. Such perfect, unpolluted colors. It was a bit surreal to see it unfold below me knowing that we were in the middle of the ocean and I was one of only a handful of humans witnessing it. Out there over the sea God's creations are all that exist. No cities or roads, telephone poles or power lines. Just the pure, powerful beauty of God - of the earth and the sun. I took it in as much as I could from the limits of my small airplane window, and was reminded again of the beauty of the earth God has given us. 

(Just sat down on our Norwegian Air flight - everyone was currently happy with their ring pops. Claire may have at times turned hers around and held the sticky gem while she chewed on the handle. I tried not to look. Sticky sticky.)
(Trying to get some sleep!)

The girls actually ended up sleeping pretty well, considering. As I said, Jane woke up a couple times, did her business, took another Dramamine tablet, then went back to sleep. After landing, right when we were given the go ahead to begin un-boarding Alice threw up! Of course. Unlike Jane, she did not do it quietly into a water bottle. It was pretty much the opposite of that. But, once again, what can ya do. Cleaned it up as best we could with baby wipes and went on our way. Sorry airplane janitors! We did our best!

(After collecting our luggage at Gatwick)

Once in the airport we then had to wait in line for probably 45 minutes at the immigration counter. That was fun with three tired children. From there we went to collect all of our baggage. Then we lugged everything through the airport and out to the bus station, where we then had to wait another 40 minutes for the bus that would take us the 2 hours from London to Oxford. Aye aye aye, lots of hauling and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. When our bus finally arrived and Max had gotten all our bags boarded underneath, we climbed aboard and settled in for the ride to Oxford. Right around 5:00pm. Perfect. Crazy London traffic nearly the entire way. Bumper to bumper, stop and go. We kept thinking we would get away from the airport and traffic would ease up a bit. But that area is just super congested with humans. So what was meant to take only 2 hours ended up being more like 3. We were all tired and hungry. Lucky for us, both girls conked out on the bus for the majority of the ride.  I tried to focus on taking in the scenes of the English countryside (as seen from the freeway) instead of focusing on the terrible traffic. First impressions: Green, green, green. Plant growth everywhere. Lovely rolling hills. Most of the highway was lined with walls of vegetation so high that you can't see past it, even from the high seat of a tour bus. Plants and moss sprout up everywhere, without any coaxing or watering from anybody. As a plant enthusiast, I'm loving it haha.

(Max pushing two luggage trolleys out to the bus stop at Gatwick Airport)
 (Waiting with our pile and posse at the bus stop)
 (I love this series of 3 photos - it looks like they just melt into exhausted sleep right before your eyes!)

(stinky (*literally!*) Claire passed out pretty quick on the bus ride to Oxford)

We finally made it to Oxford! Yay!!! Our eyes were glued to the windows as we drove through the city, trying to take it all in and come to terms with the bizarre fact that this city would be our home for the next year! First impressions of the city were, obviously, very good. Beautiful buildings and architecture all over. Clearly a town with incredible history, culture and personality. We spotted a cute little shop called Alice's Shop and found out later that it is dedicated in some way to the book "Alice and Wonderland"! Lewis Caroll wrote the stories here in Oxford! We will have to visit the shope with our own Alice and collect a few souvenirs. Eventually we made it to the Gloucester Green bus stop where we promptly unloaded all of our stuff (Max is a TROOPER) and were left their to figure out how the heck we would haul the 9 large suitcases, 4 carry-ons, 4 backpacks, 3 kids, and stroller the half mile to our hotel room! Oh boy, remembering it makes me laugh. Neither of our phones worked at this point so worked on remaining calm and accepting that we'd figure it out while Max walked down the road and found a couple taxis that agreed to drive us. Once again, he hauled everything down to where the taxis were. Then I really had to fight off panic when he jumped into the cab with all our suitcases rather than the one with me and the girls, without telling us or the cab driver Where The Heck We Were Going! and me with a phone that didn't work! Thankfully the two drivers were in contact and our car was able to figure out where we were going. Phew!

We pulled up to the Westgate Hotel where Max again hauled all the bags out of the cars, with help from the drivers, while I corralled the children. Max ran inside and got the key and then we trudged up the teeny, narrow, steep staircase (no elevator) to our room, put the key in the lock, turned the handle, and heard a "Hallooo!" from inside as we opened the door. Lo and Behold! There was already a family in room #7!! Great! So back downstairs with the kids I went to wait with our piles of luggage while Max cleared things up a bit with the hotel (more of a B&B) owner. She had definitely given someone else our reserved room, but luckily there was another family size room available on the premises so Glory Hallelujah we didn't have to drag ourselves and our massive poundage of luggage anywhere else but up the rickety stairs. And by we I mean, of course, Max. Poor man was absolutely pooped once he got the last bag upstairs. The nice father of the family that we accidentally walked in on was kind enough to help Max up with a couple bags - thank you nice Englishman!

(In our hotel room at the Westgate - everyone feeling rather frazzled after so much traveling)

I had seen a small convenience store on the corner below us so left the baby with Max and took numbers 1 and 2 to see if we could round ourselves up some grub. Bought a loaf of bread, PB and J, cheese and crackers, couple apples, and a small pack of baby wipes. Not much better than snacks and airplane food, but at this point all I really wanted were some calories to feed my children! Survival mode people!
After eating, and smearing peanut butter and jelly all over the lovely white duvets in our room (Claire and her grimy, pudgy little hands, eating whilst unconfined in a high chair = bad news) we bathed the children and finally got rid of that rank vomit smell. Everyone was in fresh pajamas and tucked in their beds. The only problem was that NO ONE was sleepy! 10pm and the girls were alllll wide awake. But we turned out the lights and attempted to sleep anyway. All of us actually seemed to settle down and sleep except for Alice. Man, I have never seen that girl so freaking antsy. I kept expecting her to stop wiggling and just settle in, get tired, fall asleep. But that moment never came! After what felt like hours, no idea how long it really was, I had Max trade her places so I could snuggle her and tickle her back while I sang her lullabies. She did quiet down for a while but as soon as I stopped the wiggling commenced again. Up and down, kicking, rolling over, wiggle wiggle wiggle. Complaining that she was hungry. Complaining that she wasn't tired. Complaining that she was bored. Over and Over and Over. After what seemed like another few hours we gave her the Kindle and let her watch a movie. Jane was also up at this point so they were back in the same bed together and watched a movie while Max, Claire and I slept. Alice ended up watching another movie after that. Then we were woken up by Jane crying because her water bottle had spilled all over the bed.  Got them all settled again. And then finally morning came and miraculously Everyone was asleep. And of course NOBODY wanted to wake up. But we had to in order to meet our letting agency to get the keys to our apartment, and then walk over to our new house to meet the landlord who gave us a tour, answered questions, etc.
(Alice finally passed out in the early morning)

Claire, our landlord, was very very kind. She was there with her partner (seemed to be her husband in every way except for officially) and their 5 year old daughter, Poppy. They had brought us a nice bottle of wine (which we of course accepted graciously without mentioning the fact we don't drink alcohol) and assured us they could help with anything we needed. After they left, the girls and I sat and relaxed while Max, for the LAST time, hailed a taxi and hauled all of our luggage down the rickety B&B stairs, into the taxi, and finally into our new apartment. 

(The girls and I relaxing in our apartment while Max left to pick up our luggage)

And just like that we were home! It felt so nice to know we had made it and wouldn't have to travel again from some time. At least like the grueling gauntlet we had just been through. The only problem now was that our house had *nothing* in it. Backup, it was furnished; dining table and chairs, two sofas and an armchair, coffee table, TV stand, two double beds, one single bed, an armoir, a desk,  a bookshelf, a tiny dresser, a couple nightstands and a couple of lamps, dishes and silverware. Which actually seems like a lot all listed out like that. But we had no toilet paper, no soap, no towels, no sheets, bedding, or pillows, and most importantly NO FOOD. All pretty essential things for a place to actually be livable haha. So the rest of that day we dragged the sleepy children around in our stroller, picking up the bare minimum that we needed to sleep at our apartment that night. But keep in mind that we could only get as much as we could stuff into our stroller and carry in our arms the mile back to the house from the store! 

(Everyone is exhausted while we're out getting essentials for our apartment)

The next several days are really a blur of jet lag, exhaustion, cranky cranky children, running errands, buying items to  further furnish our home, registering Max, and etc. etc. We were only able purchase a few groceries at a time because of the "no car" restraint so for several days my kids would say they were hungry and ask for a snack and I couldn't do a thing! For some reason I've forgotten, or maybe never experienced, what it's like to start from absolute scratch. Not a crumb of food in the house. It takes a while to get that pantry stocked! Eventually I figured out how to use the home delivery grocery system that most stores  here, which is very nice. but it's kind of difficult when everything in the grocery stores is new and different, you're not sure what it is or how big or small it is because everything is in the metric system. And it took several days, almost a week, to get me some pots and pans because of various holdups - amazon and our credit card froze our account because they thought it was fraud (lots of huge purchases made overseas), and we couldn't find the right set of pans that was cheap, small, and somewhat durable and which would meet our needs. 

Anywayyyys... our first day here we were welcomed typical British fashion with gray skies and constant drizzle. But following that we had several days of really beautiful weather and sunny, clear skies. Today it's back to the gray drizzle. I don't actually mind it... yet. I'm sure after months of it I'll tire of it. It has truly been a joy to see and experience our new home thus far. Everywhere we look is a new, enchanting scene. I've been very pleased with how friendly people have been. I had somehow gotten the impression that Brits were less kind and friendly than what I'm used to in the US but people have been very kind, gracious and forgiving of our foreigner bumbles. Maybe it helps that we have some cute kids in tow.

As we walked around those first couple days I couldn't help smiling as I heard all the British accents surrounding me. What a dream. In Utah it was such a novelty to hear but now I get to listen to it all the time. I was not prepared, however, for all the many other accents and languages I would be hearing. Oxford is truly an international city. People from literally all over the world are here. It's pretty amazing.

On Monday, two days after we ourselves moved in, we hosted our new wonderful friends, the Skinner family, for the night! That was pretty comical. They had just moved here from Arizona for the same reason, (we had met them before leaving knowing that we would all be there together) and their apartment wasn't available until the next day. So, although the place was barely livable, we squeezed 4 adults and 5 children in and had a really great time. The kids are all really close in age and got along marvelously and we seem to have bonded quickly with Dustin and Mariel - shared new experiences do that. 

Let's see, what else can I say about our first week. The kids do seem to be adjusting pretty well. They've made friends at church and are both registered in a ballet class which they both seem to be enjoying pretty well - - especially Alice! She is just made for ballet. It's so calm, fancy, pretty, poised. Perfect for her. Jane's liking it to though. They'll both be starting "school". Alice will be in Grade 1, their equivalent to kindergarten. And Jane is eligible for free part time preschool. It was a bit of a nightmare getting Alice's school figured out. After requesting or first few choices we were just assigned a random school because all the others were full. It was a mile and a half from our apartment and they don't bus for free unless it's over 2 miles away. So I'd have had to spend like 3-4 hours walking her to and from school every day haha. Which would have been a lot even with pleasant weather, but with the constant rain, and 3 small kids, no thank you! But luckily we were able to sneak her into a much closer school. We were second on their waiting list and after a certain student didn't show for the first 2 weeks they gave us the go ahead. Hallelujah!

Well, you're probably all sick of reading by now. It's been a lot for us to take in too :) I've said this many times before but I'm really going to try to do at least a weekly post. I really want to capture and document the time we spend here so we have a good record of it. So, put the pressure on me to continue next week!

The rest of these photos are scenes from our first week here. Some of them you may have seen already.

 (The Randolph Hotel in Oxford. Love those British flags)
 Eating lunch at Green Templeton College grounds while Max gets registered.
 Girls were pretty bored after waiting and waiting for Dad to finish. But the chairs were pretty cute!
 Typical tired Claire - sucking thumb and playing with her hair.

 So many pretty churches here. Don't even know what this one is.

 The whole fam bam at GTC (Green Templeton College). I realize that they're both fabulous pictures, as everyone on social media informed me. I just really wanted one shot of the whole darn tower! We'll have to go back.
 I happened upon this scene while I was out for a morning run and I just stopped dead in my tracks, "Are you Kidding me!?!?!?" I thought, and had to take a picture. Straight out of a Jane Austen novel. A peaceful, misty morning down by the river, swans and ducks gliding across the glass surface, and a horse and rider quietly, gracefully walking along the bank. With green green and big beautiful trees all around. I about died just looking at it all.
 (Another gorgeous scene from a morning run. They have a canal path that runs for 70 miles! I'll be getting pretty familiar with at least a couple of them :)

Until next time,