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Archive for the ‘Life in London’ category

Ever since Elisabeth was 13 days old, we have been bundling her up in her snowsuit, tucking her into her buggy, sling, car seat or – more recently – Baby Bjorn, and taking her out and about. Some places Elisabeth has been in her 7 1/2 weeks of life:

St Luke’s – we first took Elisabeth to church when she was 16 days old. It happened to be the Sunday of the kids’ nativity play. Elisabeth was very cuddled and cooed over after the service, and a number of people commented that in three years time, she might be up there as one of the sheep (which were played by the congregation’s three-year-olds). We were just glad that we hadn’t agreed to have Elisabeth play the baby Jesus this year when we saw how the four-year-old Mary yanked around the baby Jesus doll.

Mamas and babies group – the couples in our birth preparation classes really bonded over the course of the seven weeks that the class met and since then, the mothers from the group – and babies as they’ve been making their appearances – have been meeting weekly for lunch at a cafe in Crouch End. I really enjoy having a group of other new mothers to get together with regularly, and it’s fun to see how the other babies grow and change from week to week.

All Hallows & the Greenbelt offices – I am administering the talks programme for Greenbelt this year and so have had quite a few meetings at All Hallows just this month. One of them was on Inauguration Day, and when I arrived they had all the lights off in the Greenbelt office and were projecting the Inauguration ceremony on the wall. That was a great way to watch it! I kept telling Elisabeth how significant it was and how cool it was that she would never know a time when there hadn’t been an African American president. She seemed more interested in eating. Oh well. Some day she’ll get it.

Our local pub, the Salisbury – When Elisabeth was just a few weeks old, our good friends Matt & Clare (who are also Elisabeth’s godparents) phoned us up and asked if we wanted to join them at the pub for a pint. Since it’s just down around the corner, we put her in her snowsuit and James just carried her there. She had a drink at the pub too (of mama’s milk, not beer – not for 18 years yet, please dear).

Cambridge – On December 19th when Elisabeth was 15 days old, James’ parents came and picked us up and drove us to James’ grandad’s flat in Cambridge where we were joined by James’ Uncle Louis, Aunt Martha and two of their sons, Daniel & Christopher, Martha’s mother Carol, and James’ Uncle Alex. We had a lovely lunch with all of them and they all very much enjoyed meeting Elisabeth. Martha, who was in a back brace due to a bicycle accident, still managed to spend a good bit of time holding Elisabeth. She was still only about 6 1/2 pounds then so it wasn’t too hard. Delightfully, we were able to take a photo of four generations of Stewarts.

Hampton-in-Arden (near Solihull) – James and I were supposed to go to his Aunt Sheila and Uncle Ian’s house for the Ganjavi family Christmas gathering on Saturday, December 13th. Those plans had been made when we thought it unlikely that we’d have a baby yet on that date. Whoops! Since Elisabeth was still just nine days old on the 13th, we decided to stay home and try to get together with the family at a later date. A gathering for Baba’s (James’ grandfather) birthday on January 2nd proved the perfect opportunity. Again James’ parents picked us up and drove us to Hamton-in-Arden. As with the trip to Cambridge, Elisabeth slept in her car seat almost the whole trip. The Ganjavi family loved meeting Elisabeth as well, and this time it was Baba who spent the most time holding her.

Tunbridge Wells – After the day with the Ganjavis, James’ parents drove us to their house in Tunbridge Wells where Elisabeth had her first overnight away from home. On Saturday I got to do a good bit of shopping in town while Elisabeth’s Nana (James’ mum) watched her. I came back from shopping expecting to find a baby girl wailing with hunger, but she wasn’t even there! She was out for a walk with Nana and quite happy about it apparently. On Sunday we took Elisabeth to James’ parents’ church where she was introduced a lot more people who oo-ed and ah-ed over her. To get back to London that evening, we were driven to the train station, then took a train back to London Bridge, then a bus back home. Elisabeth slept pretty much the whole time.

The bowling lanes at Shoreditch House member’s only club – our friend Beki Bateson had invited us to help her celebrate her birthday on January 20th at Shoreditch House. Did we let having a seven-week-old baby stop us from joining the party? No way! Elisabeth spent most of the time at the party cuddling with our friend Gill who has a number of grandchildren herself and thinks babies are the best.

Hackney – We have lots of friends who live in Hackney and we end up spending quite a bit of time there. We regularly join our friends the Turners for their Monday evening open house suppers and took Elisabeth there for the first time on January 12th. They were thrilled to bits about meeting Elisabeth and she got lots of cuddling that evening as well as some adorable shoes made by Burmese craftspeople and a stuffed elephant from Sri Lanka. We were back in Hackney – just up the street from Turners – on the 18th for Sunday lunch with our friends Joe & Annabelle. They are expecting their first baby in July, and we are excited for Elisabeth and their little one to grow up together!

We are very much looking forward to Elisabeth’s first airplane journey which she will take on March 8th when we fly to Nashville. We can’t wait for her to meet her American family and lots of friends in the States!

The last week has been great for getting out in London and taking advantage of the fact that we now live in a big city with lots of stuff going on all the time.

Last week Friday night, we tried to see a Brazilian parade around Covent Garden, but the parade never showed up. (Not sure if it was too cold or got delayed or we had the wrong date or what…) But since we were in that part of town anyway with our friends Matt & Clare, we went over to the National Portrait Gallery – which is open late on Friday nights with free entry – and browsed the Photographic Portrait Prize 2007 exhibit. From there we went back up to Stroud Green and had great Italian food at La Porchetta. Following dinner, we grabbed a late drink at The Larrik before calling it a night.

On Saturday afternoon, James and I headed over to Broadway Market in Hackney. There are so many great Saturday markets in London, and I’ve been wanting to check some of them out, but since Saturday is our only day of the week to sleep in and not hurry off anywhere, we tend to laze around most of the day until it’s too late to get to any markets. So last week we decided that come Saturday, we would actually get moving and get to a market. Broadway Market is easy for us to get to since we can take the 254 bus from Manor House to Westgate Road very close to the market. The ride itself was very entertaining as we went through Stamford Hill right when the synagogues were getting out and the place was swarming with Hasidic Jews in their fantastic costumes.

Line of olive oil The market itself was well worth getting up for. Within about five minutes of arriving, I said to James, “I think I’m in love!” There are stalls selling artisanal cheeses, breads, chocolate, and olive oil; free range and organic meat and eggs; fish and game; organic produce; gourmet coffee, tea, hummus, curries and spreads; Ghanaian stew; crepes with all manner of fillings; “The best burgers in the world”; etc. It’s a foodie paradise! In addition, there are lots of stalls selling vintage clothes, handicrafts, etc. We came home with three different kinds of Italian cheese (cut and wrapped for us by a gal from Oregon whose mother and grandmother went to Grand Valley State University), pheasant & pear sausages and a whole pheasant, Vietnamese coffee and the little filter for making it the Vietnamese way, and amazing baked treats from Violet made with Valrhona chocolate. It’s a place I hope to go back to many Saturdays and will be a wonderful place to take friends who come visit us in London. (Hint, hint!) You can see my photos of the market here. Flower stall

Sunday afternoon and evening were for resting as we had gotten up at 5:00 a.m. in order to be at church at 6 to help with the homeless Night Shelter breakfast shift. On Monday night we were out again seeing our friend David Bazan who played at 93 Feet East. Before the gig, James and I and our friend Matt took Dave for a curry in Brick Lane and had a great time catching up. The gig was terrific, and we were delighted to meet up with our friends Iain & Miriam, Phil & Gabi and Rachel at the gig too.

This afternoon James is headed out to Cheltenham for a Greenbelt strategy meeting. Since he’ll be there overnight, I’m joining my friend Clare and heading out to Staines to stay overnight on our friends Steve and Lorna’s houseboat. So far I’ve only seen photos of the boat and have been very eager to see it in person, so I’m glad the opportunity has finally come round. So I’ll be partying on the boat tonight. Sweet.

The Rugby

(Yes, two blog entries in one day. Do I get a gold star?)

It’s been almost impossible not to get caught up in rugby fever these days. Against great odds, England is playing in the Rugby World Cup final this Saturday against South Africa. They are the underdogs for sure, and even if I don’t actually get around to watching the game itself (although I think I just might…even though I don’t really understand it yet) I will be pulling for them. And if they win, I will be cheering as enthusiastically as if I were actually English. Heck – it’s not like they have any American rivals, so who else would I cheer for? 🙂

So here I am, nearly at the end of week 2 of my new job, and I realised I hadn’t blogged about it yet! (Did you catch the UK spelling there?) Most people who actually read this blog will have heard about my new job via other sources of information (hooray for Facebook!) but in the interest of using this space to log significant milestones and events in my transition to life in the UK, I’ll add it here.

The job search process certainly had its frustrating moments. I applied for about a dozen jobs that I saw listed online, mostly at (jobs in higher education), and Some of them I felt more qualified for than others. But from most of them I heard back not a peep. I did get invited to interview for jobs with Westminster Theological Centre and University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business London Campus. But before either of those hiring processes finished, I was offered a job by Ann Pettifor of Advocacy International. James worked with Ann back in 1999-2000 on the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt campaign. When he ran into Ann at Greenbelt this year, she asked him to stop by and chat with her about website help. I tagged along and ended up getting a job out of it!

Technically, I’m doing two different jobs at Advocacy International. I’m working 2 1/2 days a week for Operation Noah as Logistics and Operations Officer. I’m doing things like helping get them set up as a registered charity, hiring new staff, and helping with various other administrative and HR bits. I’m also working one day a week for Advocacy International and will be working on keeping track of contracts with our clients, finding new office space, and who knows what else.

Ann’s goal is that eventually I’ll be working full time on various campaigns that AI is managing, but to fill in the other day and a half per week currently open in my schedule, I picked up some short-term work for Greenbelt. (That’s job #3.) It will only last a few weeks, but hey – it’s another bit of income that I wasn’t getting for sitting around the flat. And it will help pay for our plane tickets back to the States over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Hurrah.

I’m enjoying my work so far. I have terrific colleagues. I’m doing a lot of different things. And I’m discovering that I have indeed picked up a lot of useful knowledge and skills from my past work experience. I am, however, looking forward to getting to the point (a few months down the road, I’m sure) where I actually feel like I know what I’m doing most of the time and am not just making it up as I go along. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the 9:30-5:30 workday (with an hour lunch break), the government-mandated 4.8 weeks of holiday (as of 1st April, 2009, it will go up to 5.6 weeks), and making money in pounds (even though I haven’t actually gotten a paycheck yet).

It’s good to be employed.

I tell you what, folks: if you are negotiating for something, you want to have James Stewart on your side. The man drives a hard bargain! (If you are negotiating a handbag purchase in Vietnam, you want to have Sarah Sahr on your side, but that’s another story entirely…) Despite the fact that Foxtons (estate agents) were incredibly annoying and frustrating to deal with, we have ourselves a flat in London.

We arrived in the UK on Friday, the 3rd of August, and by Monday the 6th we were in London looking at flats. We looked at four flats on Monday and another six on Wednesday, four of them with an agent from Foxtons. A couple of them really appealed to us, but only one had the ideal location going for it, and in addition it was £15 per week cheaper. So on Thursday afternoon, we went in to Foxtons office and put in an offer for £5 per week under the asking price. Our offer was accepted, and on Friday afternoon, we signed the contract and agreed to Monday as move-in day. Oh, if only it were as straightforward as that…

We had heard from a number of our friends that Foxtons can really be a pain to deal with. They give the appearance of being service-oriented, but when it comes down to it, their underlying agenda seems to be to get as much money out of you as possible and to make your life difficult in the interest of… well… we’re not even really sure in the interest of what. They wanted both James and I to submit an employer reference, a former landlord reference, and a bank reference along with a deposit for the equivalent of six weeks rent and the first month rent up front. James went back to them and said that landlord reference requirement was ridiculous given that we’ve been homeowners for the last three years, and the work references would be difficult to obtain since he’s self-employed and my former employer is the U.S. And bank reference? Really? What the heck? So they said we could forego those with a guarator letter (which James’ father was happy to sign), three months of bank statements, and six months rent paid up front. (!!) James said, six months seems a little much, how about four? Which they then accepted. (Note that all of James’ interaction has been with a Foxtons agent who supposedly is bringing our proposals to the landlord, but we’re not really sure how much of it actually went back to him and how much was just made up by Foxtons.) However, when James asked how much money we needed to bring to the contract signing (deposit + rent up front + Foxton’s fees), he realized that when they agreed to four months rent in advance, what they meant was four months + the one month that’s regularly part of the contract. In other words, we were really paying five months up front. Grrr.

That wasn’t the worst part of it, though. All along throughout our interactions with Foxtons we expressed our desire to have a six-month break clause in the contract given that we are hoping to buy a place soon. The way the housing market is going here, each month that goes by means that we’re going to be paying more when we come to buy. Ergo, we don’t want to be stuck in a twelve-month rental contract. So we wrote the six-month break clause into our offer for the flat, and since we didn’t hear any objection via Foxton’s, we expected that to be written into the contract. Au contrare! Apparently Foxtons was just ignoring that bit and hoping we wouldn’t notice it wasn’t in the contract. In the end, the landlord agreed on a nine-month break clause, but still. That was totally sucky and deceitful of Foxtons. We’re not impressed. It would be lovely if we could just say that when we come to buy a place we’re not going to look at Foxtons properties at all, but alas, they have quite a few properties in the area, and they actually have one of the better websites for looking at properties. But if it comes down to two places that we really like and one of them is represented by Foxtons, that would be enough to push us to the other one.

Despite the ickyness of that process, we’re really delighted that we found such a great place in just a few days. We’re eager to get settled and start our life in London. Now we just need the rest of our belongings to actually put into our new flat. As far as we know, it’s all still in customs limbo. With any luck we’ll have it before Greenbelt (which starts on the 24th) but we’re not holding our breath. Watch this space for updates…