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By the way, I’ve started blogging at which is getting updated a whole lot more regularly than this one since I can post to it from my phone. That one is mostly photos, videos and cute or funny things that Elisabeth says. So if you’re looking for that sort of thing, you might want to be following that blog. I expect I will still occasionally post here but it may well continue to only be every 3-4 months. Just FYI…

We celebrated Elisabeth’s second birthday on December 4th with a lovely party – lots of family, godparents, friends and three of her little friends & their parents. The house was full to bursting, and it was very fun.

I think the most noteworthy thing about Elisabeth at two years old is her verbal skills. She often speaks in long and compound sentences. She is doing remarkably well with tenses and grammatical correctness. She’s very good at communicating what she wants. And she still often has a running commentary about everything that’s going on around her.

Other than language & verbal skill, probably the most notable knowledge acquisition in the last four months (since I last wrote an update) has been her repertoire of songs she knows (which is huge) and learning her colours. She can now correctly identify orange, blue, green, purple, pink, white, black, red and yellow. (She learned them in approximately that order.)

Elisabeth is slowly becoming a little less timid, although she’s still very quiet when she meets new people or is around strangers. It no longer takes a long time for her to warm up when we talk to Oma & Opa (or other US relatives) on Skype now, though. And she’s slightly more willing to perform when asked to. She definitely has to be in the right mood, though.

She only shows fairly sporadic interest in toilet training. Occasionally she’ll ask to take her nappy off so she can do a poo on the potty. She doesn’t usually manage to actually do anything on the potty, though. I’ve told her that once she does all her wee and poo on the potty, she can wear pants, so she sometimes asks to “do poo on the potty, wear pants.” And then I have to explain that it’s not just a one-shot thing. Which, of course, she doesn’t quite understand yet. In any case, we’re still taking a fairly relaxed approach to it all. I at least am hoping that she moves herself more in that direction as she approaches 2 1/2. We shall see!

Sleep is generally good. She sleeps through the night most nights, although it’s not uncommon for her to cry out in her sleep sometime between 4:30-5:30. On days that she’s at home in the afternoon, she’ll usually take a 2 to 2 1/2 hour nap. She still usually naps at nursery as well for at least an hour. She’s also a little better at coping when she doesn’t get a nap at all, although that does still occasionally lead to meltdown at bedtime.

She’s still miserable at eating – except at nursery. It seems that she eats whatever food they put in front of her at nursery, which on the one hand is great and on the other hand makes it even more frustrating that the range of foods she’ll eat at home is still minuscule. I think she would happily exist on crisps and biscuits and milk if we let her. (At least there’s the milk…) She is pretty good with fruit, and she does eat hummus and eggs. So there’s a little variety of nutrients in her diet. Veggies and meat are still non-starters, though – except, again, at nursery. Thank goodness for nursery!

Speaking of nursery, for the most part Elisabeth still seems to enjoy it a lot. She often says “Izzabeff no go to nursery, stay at home” when we tell her it’s a nursery day. But once we reminder her of all the people she likes who will be there – especially her favourite teachers Sevda and Kate – she happily acquiesces. And her log book always says, “Elisabeth had a very good day today,” or similar.

Favourite activities include writing/drawing (especially with mommy & daddy’s pens); cutting – either cutting paper with scissors or cutting play food with a play knife; pushing her “babies” around in her doll buggies, often with a bag hanging from each arm; related to that: pretending to go shopping – usually to buy bread; singing & making music; playing with playdough; playing with water – she loves standing next to the sink and playing with the water coming out of the tap – and watching TV shows or videos on YouTube. Her favourite TV shows are Tweenies, In the Night Garden, Zingzillas, Charlie & Lola, Chuggington, Waybuloo and Timmy Time.

Elisabeth has a defiant streak – like pretty much all two-year-olds – but for the most part she’s still our very sweet, good-natured, happy little girl. She’s developing a rather hilarious sense of humour. So far having a two-year-old is loads of fun!

Since Helen from Cheeky Wipes was so kind as to drop by my blog and leave a tip about warming up the wipes, I thought I would put up a little advertisement here.

About a month ago one of my friends from our NCT class sent around a link about Cheeky Wipes – re-usable wipes that you wash rather than using disposable ones that end up in landfills. Being a person who tries to live a conscientious and eco-friendly lifestyle, I thought this sounded like a good idea, so I ordered a starter pack.

I have to say I’ve been very impressed. Helen has put together a great product! The starter pack includes a pile of cloth wipes, two tubs – one for clean wipes and one for mucky ones, two different types of essential oil – one for each tub, a mesh bag to line the mucky wipes tub that can then be lifted right out and put in the wash, and two bags to take wipes on the go – one for clean wipes and one for mucky ones.

Everything is of a high quality and incredibly convenient to use. Also, part of Helen’s philosophy of business is to treat the customer as she would want to be treated, and she certainly succeeds in providing excellent customer service. Plus her website is very nice and easy to use. If saving the planet is this easy and this nice – not to mention much more cost effective over the long term – why wouldn’t you do it?

Two thumbs up for Cheeky Wipes. Highly recommended.

The previous entry is a fairly detailed and lengthy description of Elisabeth’s birth. I’m happy for family and friends to read it, but because of the personal nature, have made it only viewable with a password. If you would like to read it, please contact me for the password via email, Twitter dm, mobile, Facebook… or leave a comment here (with your email address) and I will send it to you. Thanks!

We’ve had so much going on in our lives lately and so much to pre-occupy us that it didn’t even occur to me to blog before today about the fact that we had an offer accepted on a house a week and a half ago. While this is happy news, it means something quite different than having an offer accepted on a house in US. In England, an accepted offer is not legally binding, and it’s only the beginning of a long, drawn-out, complicated process. The house survey was done on Friday (another thing different from the US – this is primarily for the bank’s benefit, not the buyer’s) and we’re just waiting to find out dates for exchange (exchanging contracts and paying the downpayment – at which point the agreement to purchase becomes legally binding) and completion (taking possession). It could take two or three months to get to the point where we can actually move in.

The house is South Tottenham, and is about 3/4 mile northeast of where we’re currently living. It has a lounge, dining room and kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms and a large bathroom upstairs. The garden (i.e. backyard) is fantastic – it’s the feature I’m most excited about. It’s not huge, but it has a little patio, veg and flower beds on either side, and a shed and tree at the end. I hope we get in the house early enough to be able to enjoy most of the summer in the garden.

The other big news is that I am an aunt! My sister Dana gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl, Leah Marnae, on Saturday, May 3. About a week before she was born, my siblings and parents and I all gave our predictions for what day the baby would be born and whether it would be a boy or girl. I was the only one to predict May 3, but I said it would be a boy. So I was half right. (And I think picking the right day gets more credit than picking the right gender because with gender, you get a 50/50 chance!) I won’t get to meet Leah until our trip to the US at the beginning of August (for my brother’s wedding) and am counting on getting lots and lots of pictures in the meantime (hint, hint).

Reading last week’s Observer Magazine, a climate change-themed issue edited by Thom Yorke, I was finally convinced to make a commitment that I’ve been pondering for a while: for the rest of 2008, I’m only going to buy a brand new item if a) I can’t get it used or b) I am buying it directly from the person who made it. That includes clothes, shoes, furniture, kitchen stuff, etc. Given that we’re planning to move house in 2008, that could end up being quite a challenge, but I’m going to do my best.

I didn’t have to work last Friday so I decided to use the day to explore some London charity shops and vintage clothing stores. Helpfully, the issue of Time Out that had arrived on our doorstop three days previous had a feature on where to shopping for used clothing bargains in London. I picked out six of them, plotted my route, grabbed my A to Z, and headed out on my thrift shop adventure.

I started at the Salvation Army store in Princes Street just behind Oxford Street. They pack a lot of clothes into a smallish space! The selection was decent and prices were dirt cheap. Most items I looked at fell in the £3-7 range. I had the delight of overhearing an older gentleman ask the clerk why a particular men’s suit was priced quite a bit higher than the others on the rack. She pointed out that it was Christian Dior. That didn’t seem to mean much to him! I didn’t buy anything at the Salvation Army this trip, but it’s definitely one that I will be returning to.

From there, I walked up to Marylebone where I stopped at Barnardo’s in George Street and Cancer Research UK in Marylebone High Street. Both of them were — as you would expect in Marylebone — quite posh and a good bit higher priced than the Salvation Army. Cancer Research UK in particular seemed to mostly be stocked with designer duds. I wasn’t really looking to spend more than £10 on any single item, but if I had wanted to get a pair of Carolina Herrera pumps for £30, that would have been the place to go! Most of the clothes were small and medium sizes, so not that much there for me anyway. It was fun to explore, but unless I’m specifically looking for designer frocks on the cheap, I’m unlikely to go back.

I walked up to Baker Street and jumped on the tube, exiting at Bayswater from which I walked up Queensway to Westbourne Grove, my destination being the Westbourne Grove branch of Traid (an acronym for Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development). Here, I hit the jackpot! They had a sale on: every item in the store was £2, the exception being coats and jackets which were all £6. This was another store that was absolutely packed with clothes and shoes — high street fashions, designer wear, and a good selection of vintage. I had a great time sifting through the racks and ended up taking quite a stack into the fitting room. I left the store with a couple of bags of clothes including: a short-sleeved heather grey cable knit jumper, a black cowl neck sleeveless jumper, chocolate brown corduroy jeans (Miss Selfridges label), a blue striped v-neck empire waist long t-shirt (also Miss Selfridges), a wooly rust-coloured scarf, navy blue yoga trousers, a bright pink knee-length lightweight coat with gorgeous floral lining, and a vintage sleeveless dress with a pleated skirt in a coral and white floral pattern. (I’m hoping to add to the dress a short-sleeved lightweight black cardigan, a wide black patent leather belt, black patent leather flats, and a black bead necklace — all second-hand of course — and wear it at my brother’s wedding in August.) The total bill at Traid? £20. Rock.

After a brief stop for lunch at a little Italian cafe, I walked down Pembridge Road to Retro Woman, part of a cluster of renowned Notting Hill second-hand stores. This is another store packed to the gills. I enjoyed perusing the masses of designer label shoes and accessories in locked cabinets, mostly priced around £20-£50. Tucked between Retro Woman and Retro Man is a store where everything is £2. If I wasn’t carrying two bags of clothes, I might have spent a little longer digging through the racks and would surely have been rewarded with some great finds. I will definitely be going back to those stores as well as Retro Home.

By the time I left the Retro group of stores, it was late afternoon. I took a quick look around Dolly Diamond vintage shop in Pembridge Road and Trinity Hospice in Notting Hill Gate before heading home, very satisfied with my day of shopping. I had been planning to stop at Marie Curie in Highbury but that will have to wait for another day.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had spent an afternoon sniffing around some great East End vintage shops including Absolutely Vintage, Beyond Retro, and Rokit Vintage. Absolutely Vintage is a treasure trove of vintage shoes and bags. And Beyond Retro is just enormous. Rokit Vintage has shelves and shelves of cowboy boots, and lots of seventies fashions. All of them are definitely worth future return visits. I’m also looking forward to checking out the East End Thrift Store.

Shopping for vintage and second-hand goods requires a lot more patience and persistence than shopping at high street and big box stores. But the thrill of landing a great bargain makes it worthwhile. And while only buying used goods isn’t going to save the planet, it’s a step in the right direction.

So I started an entry about our trip to the States just after Christmas but, frankly, it was boring. So rather than go into much detail, I’ll do a quick summary.

Spending time with my family in DeMotte was wonderful and weird and difficult and all those things that family are. It was treasured time together as “just us adults” before the first grandchild arrives in April. We’re still navigating the dynamics of having added brothers-in-law (and a sister-in-law to be) to the family, though. And one thing the time with them made me realise is that especially now that we live in London, I can be such a snob – I live in the big city and I’m so sophisticated and cosmopolitan. I need to watch out for that.

The three and a half days in Nashville were as wonderful as they could have been. Arriving at Trevor and Jenna’s felt like coming home. And being loved and cared for by the Hendersons and Darks was just what I needed. We had a totally rockin’ New Year’s Eve party at the Hendersons’ and a wonderfully chilled New Year’s Day at the Darks’. And adding Steve to the number of dear friends that we so eagerly anticipate seeing on visits to Nashville was a joy beyond words.

I could have stayed in Nashville much longer, but other friends in Grand Rapids were awaiting our arrival there. It was wonderful to see those friends, but being in Grand Rapids was weirder than weird. Even though we had been gone for seven months, it didn’t feel like it had been that long, but in the meantime, people’s lives had moved on and so much had changed. I’m glad that we got to see as many people as we did while we were there even if all the running around to see them got a bit mad. I hope that future visits will be more comfortable, when we’ve been away longer and we feel more like visitors than people who have just been away from home for longer than usual.

The last two and a half days of our trip to the States was spent in Chicago where we had the great delight of meeting up with our dear friends Kate and Nathan for lunch. They moved from Grand Rapids to Philadelphia in August of 2006, and we had debated whether to try to fit in a stop in Philly on this trip in order to visit them. In the end we decided that it was too much to squeeze in, so imagine our delight when we discovered that they were going to be in Chicago that weekend for a wedding. We rearranged our plans a bit in order to get to Chicago in time to meet up with them before their flight out. It was just a treat to see them. It was also delightful to spend a bit more time with my sister Dana (5 1/2 months pregnant at the time!) and her husband Pete. We’ve imposed on them frequently over the years since they live in the fabulous Chicago neighbourhood of Lincoln Square, and we’ve always appreciated their hospitality.

Perhaps the best part about the trip was coming home to London. I realised how much I have totally fallen in love with this city. I love living here, I love working here, I love being surrounded by tall buildings and big green parks and people – always so many people! – so many of whom don’t look like me or talk like me. The energy and the rich diversity and the incredibly history – all of it has completely captured my heart and imagination. My life in Grand Rapids was great and my time at Calvin shaped much of who I am today. But I’m so glad to be a London girl now.

My photos from our time in Nashville on Flickr.

James’ photos from our trip on Flickr.

What am I looking forward to most this Christmas? Two words:

The Doctor

Oh yeah, and spending time with family and stuff… 😉

Well, my second experience with the NHS was hardly better than the first. I finally reached the point where I could no longer put off registering with my local GP. So on Monday morning I walked around the corner, went on into the surgery, and told the receptionist that I needed to get registered. She gave me a form to fill out, a vial for a urine sample, and a paper listing my appointment time as 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday, the 12th of December.

And so this morning I filled out the form, and collected a sample, and I left work early to go get my health checked and get registered with a GP. I turned up just before 2:20, gave the receptionist (different one from Monday morning) my appointment sheet, and was sent to an upstairs waiting room which wasn’t so much a waiting room as a few chairs arranged in a small corridor near the lift. And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. For an hour and twenty minutes I waited. Finally a doctor who had gone past quite frequently while I was waiting asked who I was waiting for. When I told him, he said, “I think she left.” So he brought me back down to reception to try to figure out if the nurse I was meant to see was, in fact, gone for the day. “Oh yeah – she left a while ago,” confirmed the reception staff. Apparently, another woman who had an appointment for Friday at 2:20 had showed up and the nurse who was meant to see me saw her instead and, thinking she was done with her appointments for the afternoon, left to go home. Why the reception staff didn’t notice that the woman who was seen instead of me was there on the wrong day and why they didn’t put me in their calendaring system when I showed up are both beyond me. But the fact that I could sit there for almost an hour and a half without anyone realising that I had been forgotten doesn’t make me all that thrilled about being a regular patient there. Even more troubling was that only one of the four reception staff had any interest in apologising and taking any sort of responsibility. The attitudes of the other three made it quite clear that they thought it must be my fault because how could they possibly be in the wrong? For that matter, they didn’t even really seem to have the time of day to figure out what had gone wrong and, more importantly, how to remedy it. They were more interested in talking about their own aches and pains.

Funnily enough, while I had been waiting, I had perused the results of a patient survey that they had posted on a notice board in the waiting area. The doctors in the practice, the facilities, and the ease of scheduling appointments all got very complimentary remarks, and the greatest complaints were reserved for the reception staff. In the “what we’re doing about it” section, there were notes that they would have some in-service training for the reception staff. It seems that they either haven’t gotten around to it yet or it didn’t take.

After rescheduling for the Friday before Christmas, I went home and had a couple of hours to cool down (and finally have lunch) before James and I got the bus to Moorgate and walked over to All Hallows for their special Wednesdays on the Wall Advent/Christmas/Epiphany service. It was a lovely service which included meditations led by Malcolm Doney on some of the icons that are part of the just-ending Wallspace exhibit. (Sorry if you missed it. It was quite something!) Also as part of the service, Garth Hewitt read some words from Canon Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian who Garth had interviewed earlier this year when he was visiting Palestine. I transcribed that interview as part of the work that I’ve been doing for Amos Trust, and it was nice to be able to experience a little of the fruits of my labour! The visual focal point of that part of the service was the Walled Nativity. (Please do follow that link – and this one too – to find out about it if you’re not already familiar with the concept!)

After the service there was mulled wine and mince pie, and then the folks who were still there gathered around the piano to sing some more Christmas carols. The acoustics in the church were just fantastic, there were some very talented singers involved, and all in all it was just brimming with loveliness.

The previous night had held plenty of loveliness of another kind: we went to the Royal Albert Hall to see Crowded House with Duke Special opening and ended up in a backstage dressing room afterward hanging out with many friends – old and dear ones and lovely new ones including Pete (aka Duke Special) & his wife Heather, Paul (aka “Paul Pilot”) & Rachel Wilkinson, Ben Castle, Beth Rowley & her brother John, Matt Hales from Aqualung, Jayne McConkey (a surprise visitor from Belfast), and Jude Adam who is one of the loveliest people on the planet and if you don’t know her, well, you’re missing out.

And the Christmas loveliness is really just begun. Lots of work parties, family gatherings, carol services, etc. yet to come. Two weeks from today, we’re off to the States for a visit. It’s almost too much loveliness to bear.


In the past couple of weeks I have often been asked how I like living in London and if I’m homesick. My usual answer has been, yes, I really like living in London and no, I’m not really homesick. For one thing, I’ve just been too busy to even think about being homesick. And besides, I’m someone who usually likes change and newness. Last night, however, one song (“Laughing” by The Winterpills) sent waves of homesickness crashing over me. I desperately missed our wonderful, beautiful, character-filled, BIG house on Auburn NE. I missed our tree-lined neighborhood. I missed the Fulton Farmer’s Market. I missed living a block away from Kirstin & Rob and lingering over a bottle of wine on their front porch. I missed being in a very familiar setting where I knew where to get a good latte and a terrific sandwich. (We really miss Marie’s!!) I missed knowing exactly where things were located in the supermarket. (Shopping at Sainsbury’s down the street takes me a loooong time.) James was appropriately sympathetic and did manage to cheer me up after a while. He also pointed out that it’s probably good and right that occasionally I really miss the good things about our life in Grand Rapids.

So far, though, life in London is pretty good. There are a few lows: not having a job is starting to get a little frustrating as it causes the days and weeks to feel a bit shapeless. Sleeping until 9:30 or 10:00 every morning has it’s nice points, but it does make the days feel awfully short too. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like and new things to discover everyday. We’ve been doing a lot of travel around the city by bus which is a great way to get to find out where things are located that aren’t within easy walking distance and how things fit together geographically. We’ve been going to church at St. Luke’s where a number of our friends are already members, and I think it will be a really good church home for us for now. We live about ten minutes walk from our friends Matt & Clare and have seen a good bit of them already. We’ve actually been able to see quite a bit of our London and Oxford friends which has certainly eased the transition. We’ve been to some good gigs and have quite a few more on the horizon. And we’ve been to one amazing exhibit at the Hayward Gallery.

Our flat is very nearly to the condition we want it, and even though it’s less than half the size of our Grand Rapids house, it’s sufficient for the time being. We’re learning a lot about what we want and don’t want in a place when we come to buy, something we hope to do within the next 6-9 months. I definitely need a place that has a garden or balcony. Our current flat doesn’t have any space where I can be outdoors at home, and I find I feel a bit claustrophobic at times even with all the windows thrown wide open. We live near several really lovely parks, but it’s not quite the same. We also need either a three-bedroom place or a two-bedroom place with a much larger second bedroom than we currently have, especially if James continues to work from home. I also need a gas hob/range in the kitchen. Our electric one is driving me crazy, and for someone who is as into cooking as I am, it simply will not do long term. When we were looking for a flat, I told James, “I can live just about anywhere for 6-12 months.” Knowing me as he does, he didn’t quite believe me (and he was right), but we’re both learning to make do and are working to shape our living environment to our needs and preferences where we can. It helps that the location is about as ideal as it could be for now.

I’ll close this post by noting for those who have been wondering, my first Greenbelt was all I had hoped and more. The festival was blessed with absolutely perfect weather – it was warm and sunny for most of the weekend and didn’t rain at all. I met so many delightful people – many of whom I had been hearing about from James for a long time. Singing backing vocals for Sarah was just a treat. There was so much good music (if you haven’t checked out Duke Special yet, you are missing something spectacular!) and many more interesting talks than I was able to get to. Camping with Team Fury (the Belfast-Nashville gang) was a rockin’ good time made even better by Padraig’s camp stove haute cuisine. All in all, it was a really terrific weekend, and I can’t wait until Greenbelt 2008! (For now, don’t miss James’ Greenbelt photos.)