The American Paris

The American Paris is a 7th Generation Californian making her way in Germany. She is accompanied by her family, 3 degus, and a cast of thousands of fascinating friends and acquaintances.

Dec 262015
 
Crackers

“Crackers” are little tubes of cardboard with small trinkets inside. Usually there is a paper crown and then the sort of items you would get in a cereal box. If you pull firmly on the two sides, a tiny charge of black powder goes off, making a CRACK sound.

Seasonal Stories

For those not familiar with the tradition, Boxing Day is a British holiday celebrated on the day after Christmas. Origin stories vary, but the most commonly told one involves upper class families giving out gift boxes to their workmen on this day each year. Whatever the case, it is both a holiday and a big day for retail, apparently.  Just like in the US, After Christmas sales start today at most of the big retailers- but, we have discovered that a lot of the smaller shops are still closed for the holiday.

More Medical Observations

Unfortunately, I have had occasion report a bit more on the British Medical System.  Christmas eve I got up as usual and set about getting my Festive going.  I started making bread for our evening meal, played with the puppy, finished last minute wrapping, etc.  Then, I sat down in the the workroom for a break annnnnnddd…. started to faint.  Knowing that I might be able to salvage it if I got my head lower than my knees, I went for the floor.  David caught me as I crashed.  The same thing had happened a couple nights before- at the time I thought maybe I was having some sort of ear issues, but nothing really evolved.  There had been a couple other little symptoms that might have been nothing, but might have been something.  So, this time we decided I really couldn’t pretend I was fine without checking in with a doctor.  David called our GP and after I was able to stand, we walked the 1/2 mile to the clinic….. in the rain.  At least it wasn’t snowing!

My poor loaf of bread was about to be left rising on its own for far too long.

The doctor saw me right away.  Took my info, consulted with her boss and decided I should probably go to the ER.  It was perfectly possible that nothing scary was going on, but there were enough scary possibles that she didn’t want to wait getting me set up for all the tests she thought I would need, and the ER would be able to handle them quicker.  Before we left, she offered my a “flu jab”, which I accepted.  Of all the pokes and prods that were coming up, that is the one that hurts the most today!

(Side Note: ER is the US term, here they call it “Accident and Emergency” or “A&E”)

A & E

CIMG2686

After a day on his own with DS, Galahad may have been feeling a bit ornery.

So, back out we went, this time to catch a bus to the hospital.  But, in all the hubub I had managed to leave my bus pass at home.  You cannot pay with cash, nor can anyone else double-swipe their card to let you in.  But, you *can* use a Contactless Credit Card.  Basically, most cards here have a feature where you can just hold them up to a scanner and pay up to 30 pounds without typing in a pin or signing anything.  It feels very weird to me, but in this case it came in handy.

The hospital is big and it took us a while to find the right place to be.  First you check in, then they do an Assessment, then you get whatever first tests they need (blood, urine, etc), then you see the doctor.

While I was waiting for my assessment, I just about passed out again.  This time I laid down with my feet over the rail of the chair and my head in David’s lap.  Mo went and told the attendant, but no one came to check or help me, which I thought was odd.  I sort of expected them to put me on a gurney or something at that point, but nope.

Soon after I recovered, I was called in to the assessment.  Christine (from Ghana) took my info and ordered a blood test, urine test and an IV access.  Then we were told to wait in a different area.

This zone was fascinating.  Industrial grey metal backed-benches were lined with people waiting their turn and their family and friends.  An old man with a bandage on his scalp complained at a passing nurse “I have been here over two hours!” he said.  “No one has been here two hours,” she replied peevishly, “Now go sit back down!”  A man absorbed in his smart phone didn’t bother looking up, but raised his hand and called out “I have!”  Several of us stifled chuckles.

An enormous old black woman with swollen ankles sitting in a wheelchair started praying out loud and talking directly to Lord Jesus who seemed to be standing in front of her.
“Lord Jesus, No one has been waiting that long, they say!  Hmph!  Me here, an old lady in pain, just wanting to know what is happening!  I pray for relief for all these people!  Heaven on High, hear my prayer!”  She went on for a minute or two, then sat back, seemingly satisfied.  An orderly passed by and she grabbed him- “Young man, will you please do me a favor, I need hot water in this mug.  There is coffee at the bottom, but it is cold, so just add some hot water!”  The young man promised, and returned quickly.  As we sat, several of the staff stopped by to greet her by name.  Beatrice is apparently a regular.

The man sitting next to her had wrapped fingers.  “Oh, did you hurt your fingers, honey?”  He nodded sheepishly.  But, a few minutes later a doctor came from him, and I could tell his injuries were far worse.  He held his side like it was cut open.  The man with the cell phone went with him.

A woman with a gorgeous African dress and intricate head-dress came in with a man who was clearly acting as her guide.  An older couple sat across from us- their son arrived shortly after and set out to get them food from the cafe.  They spilled coffee on the floor, but seemed pleasant enough.  The lady had a series of tests and was sporting an IV and several other holes.  Another family came in, the Uncle was ill, but everyone was done up in the Christmas Eve best.  The whole place was what my dad would call “a great people watching trip”.

Blood Letting

After some time (not 2 hours), I was called into a little room to have my blood taken.  This was an unnecessarily chaotic event.  My phlebotomist told me that she and her colleague had been called over because it was so busy.  Indeed, as I sat there, people raced in and out demanding things from the tray where she sat.  But, I seemed to be the only patient in the room. David, very wisely, asked whether it was necessary to give me the IV Catheter.  He explained that my veins are not good because of the chemo, so we would like to avoid pokes whenever possible.  She promised to look, and then ask.  She pretty much instantly saw the problem.  It took her two sticks and an inordinate amount of talking to get the blood draw.  “Oh, you DO have small veins don’t you.  Hmm… this one doesn’t want to bleed.  Is this what usually happens?  Hmm, let me try this one over here…..  Move it like this… No, don’t move!” etc.  Eventually she got it, I did not faint, and she got permission NOT to put the catheter in.  I owe David big time, for that one!

The Doctor

Tabs

There are an impressive variety of these EKG tabs on the market…. I have had at least 4 different kinds in the last year!

After the blood draw, I was sent back to sit in the grey benchairs.  Eventually, a young doctor called me back.  He took my history and then set about to rule out any number of issues.  He did a lot of nerve checks, EKG, looked at my blood results, listened to my heart, looked at the back of my eyes, tested my reflexes, looked in my ears.  Everything checked out fine.  But, in this case, it wasn’t entirely good news.  Without an obvious cause of my symptoms, they had to think of possible nastier causes.  The only way to rule those out was with a CT scan.  We had already missed lunch and it was looking like we well might miss dinner, too.  But, the doctor had a trick up his sleeve.  He left to talk with the person in charge of the CT.  And within a couple minutes he was back, guiding us up to the scanner!  “I may have fudged a few things to get you in so quickly, but I think it is important that we have a look” he said.  Within 10 minutes the scan was complete.  I have never had any major test go that zippily before!

We were ushered back downstairs to the A&E and within just a few minutes the doctor called us back again.  He showed us the inside of my head (spongy!) and said it all looked perfect.  I had not been having strokes, nor did I have any tumors from metastasized cancer, which were the two biggest concerns (after they ruled out heart).  The bad news, he said, was that I definitely have something going on and he doesn’t know what.  Right now his best guess is that it is inner ear-related, so the next step is to see the Ear, Nose and Throat specialists.  He prescribed an anti-vertigo medication, told me where I could fill it, then wished us well.

And, finally we could get back onto our Holiday Celebrations!

slug bread

This is what happens when you leave a batard rising all. day. long.  Big, flat, slug.  I reshaped it, let it rise again and baked it up.  Not perfect, but passable nonetheless.

The Holidays!

Christmas Eve

Christmas in England is a 3 day event.  Christmas Eve (when everyone scurries about trying to finish up last minute shopping, and folks visit and share special meals); Christmas Day (when Father Christmas has left items in stockings, just like in the US, and families get together and exchange presents); and Boxing Day, when you recover from the festivities of the other two days- and maybe go shopping.

Non traditional Christmas FonduFor Christmas Eve, we usually have a special meal.  I will often make turkey or a roast or something Fancy.  But, this year with all the hustle and bustle of things that we have been dealing with, we opted for something a little more streamlined: Fondue!  After our trip to the A&E, we stopped at the corner market and picked up some crusty loafs of bread and a nice Comte cheese, added those to the Emmental cheese and apples and nice Chardonnay we already had, and made ourselves a more than serviceable merry meal :-)

Next, we opened out traditional Christmas Eve 1 gift.  I got a lovely Dough Mat from my son.  That was an excellent gift, indeed!  Soon I was off making cinnamon rolls for the following morning’s traditional meal.  Then, finally, it was time to completely collapse after one of the longest holiday days I have had in a very long time!

Christmas Day

After that doozy of a Christmas Eve, we all opted to keep things relatively quiet on Christmas, which turns out to have fit in well with everything else we saw.  Even the wild toddler next door was quiet for most of the day…. it is possible she may have been off visiting Grandparents.

Honestly, it was a lovely day.  We exchanged presents, sipped cocoa, ate stocking chocolates, and got our new items set up and functional.  I got my first Smart Phone, which should be very useful for navigating around town.  DD got a TV for gaming.  DS got some starter electronics supplies, David got some Badminton rackets, and everyone got nice games and fun bits and pieces for their hobbies.  Here are a few photos, just for the sake of sharing:

Happy Elf All the presents Scottish Pancakes Limbo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also decided to try out one of several local traditional Christmas Desserts.  Yule Logs are a chocolate cake spread with filling the rolled up and coated with chocolate.  I got ours at a fancy retailer, so I had high hopes.  But, turns out it was just SWEET.  very, very SWEET.  Might be good with ice cream.  But, next time I make my own and make it with more flavor!

Log Slice

Slice of Yule Log Cake

Yule Log

Yule Log Cake

I did not opt to buy any of the various Christmas puddings that are available, but, they ARE available everywhere.  Little fruit filled cakes, often meant to be soaked with booze and set alight.  And mince pies.  Those are all over the place, too.  Actually, mince pies seem to be readily available no matter what time of year, but for the holidays they take on special importance.  They come in both sweet and savory varieties and I suppose I will have to check them out at some point… though, frankly, they scare me a little!

Boxing Day

After Germany, we are grateful for any store that is open either on a holiday or a Sunday.  So, we were thrilled to find out that many stores would be celebrating today with a sale.  Not that we wanted to be out shopping, but, Galahad had developed a dislike for one of his puppy foods- the one we had left, of course- and we were out of Pee Pads.  So, we really needed a Puppy Supply Run!

We caught an over-full bus into town and tackled the full, but not crazy, mall.  95% of the shops were open- but not the pet store.  Oof.  Next, we tried a food store we knew had a good supply of dog stuff.  But, no love there… 1/2 a mile walk afforded us a view of their empty parking lot.  So, back into town to the more mundane supermarket- and a score!  They had some serviceable puppy food and over-priced pee mats, but we were desperate enough to take it!  Finally, back home on a much mellower bus.  And then, dear readers, here to report to you!

Next Up, Visa Warriors

So, now that all of that has been dealt with, it is time to finish up with our last super-pressing issue of the move: Getting Morgaine’s Visa.  After 3 months of daily struggle, we are finally ready to make the final push.  She and I will be traveling to the US for a whirlwind Paperwork Event.
The plan goes like this:

  1. Fly to the US
  2. File the formal application online as soon as we are out of the country, and set up our appointment at the processing center
  3. Go to the bank and request the paperwork that they have thus far failed to provide.  We are really, really, hoping going in person will help us with this.
  4. Pay to have the process expedited
  5. Attend her appointment and turn in forms and support documents
  6. Pray
  7. Receive the completed and authorized visa
  8. Return triumphant to the sound of trumpets and the song of Victory ringing in our ears
  9. In time for her to start school on the 7th.

Wish us luck, please!!!

In the mean time, I plan to eat donuts and drink iced-tea and do nothing else in particular for a few days while we await our verdict.  Knock wood.

Dec 162015
 
Close Up
Bromley Nativity

Bromley Town Nativity in a Box

What We Have Been Learning and Doing

Alright, we have been here almost 2 months.  Long enough to get a feel for the place.  But far far from feeling like we know what we are doing!  If you are looking in terms of Big Strokes, living in SE London is very similar to life in the US.  You live in a house, go to work, go to school, have doctors and markets and all that sort of thing, and of course, everyone speaks English! But, there are enough changes to make the culture shock here, perhaps even more acute than it was when we moved to Germany. It’s the little differences…. alllll together.  Plus, the fact that we speak the language means we catch more of the subtle things that we might be missing….  Those sub-textual, cultural-literacy items that we knew we didn’t know in Germany are suddenly an issue here- because we still don’t know them, but other people expect us to!

For instance, my doctor’s office called.  The lady asked me if I could get there in 10 minutes because they had a cancellation.  I replied, honestly, that we live 15 minutes away, so the soonest I could get there would be 15 minutes.  I expected her to tell me that either that was close enough, or wouldn’t work.  Instead, she repeated pointedly “Can you get here in 10 minutes?  I am offering you an appointment because we had a cancellation”.  I had the feeling that she might be trying to tell me that I should say “yes”, but I wasn’t sure, so I clarified that I needed 15 minutes to get there.  She told me to call back tomorrow, with the tone of someone who was thinking “well, I tried”.  I hung up wondering if I was expected to lie, run, or something else.  Things like that happen all the time.

Here are a few experiences we have had over the last few weeks that remind us that we are in a new place.

Pets- David and I are both committed to pet adoption through shelters or rescue agencies.  So, when we got here, we started looking for a dog we could adopt.  Our requirements were pretty simple.  We wanted a dog in the 1-3 year old range to maximize the time it would be in our family, who was medium to small in size (our yard isn’t huge), and who wasn’t “too poodley” (David was bitten by a poodle as a kid).    That was pretty much it… beyond that we were flexible on everything.

Close UpWhat we discovered, though, is that England doesn’t really have the same sort of stray issues that the US has.  In fact, there are so many people wanting to adopt, that they import strays from other countries.  The biggest shelter in the area actually charges admission for people to visit it!  And the rescue agencies can afford to be extremely picky.  They tend to have a very limited supply of dogs, and they won’t hand them over easily. “Tell us what your daily schedule would be like with Barksley”, “Tell us how you would maintain his training schedule”, “Check here to accept that representatives from the shelter may check up on you at any time after the adoption”.  And, all of that is *after* the home check.  We tried to adopt a couple of dogs, but failed to be chosen.  Finally, we decided that perhaps there wasn’t such a pressing need for adoption here.  So, we went through a private breeder and got Galahad.  He is a 10 week old Pomeranian x Jack Russell Terrier and, aside from arriving with a nasty case of roundworms, he is pretty much puppy-perfect.  Adorable, too-energetic, very smart, snuggly, and did I mention adorable?

Paramedics- So, we have narrow, steep stairs.  Really narrow, steep stairs.  I am a clutz.  I fell ambulancedown them once a few weeks ago and wounded my pride.  Saturday I fell down most of them and wounded my ever-lovin-bum!  OWIE!  Unfortuantely, ever since the chemo, I seem to faint really easily.  After I fell, I popped up to show everyone I was fine, and wound up collapsing in a faint in David’s arms.  I then did this 3 more times in a row.  Even with his Stephanie Experience, David decided it was time to call in the experts, and Morgaine successfully summoned an ambulance with paramedics.  *4* paramedics.  Who stuck around for 2 hours!  They checked my neck, took my blood pressure every few minutes, checked my blood sugar, temp, and even ran an EKG.  (Hours later I discovered two electrodes still attached under my socks)

The team consisted of a very young man who was apparently their driver.  The lead seemed to be a woman in her mid-30s, and there was a younger woman in her mid-20s who we guessed was finishing up her training.  Then there was a bearded man around 30, who seemed to be of middle-eastern origin.  At the end, they went out to the truck to “consult and finish their paperwork” but warned me they would come back with their recommendations in 15 minutes.  I took the opportunity to change my clothes and drink some water.  By the time they got back they were comfortable having me check in with my GP on Monday.  But they told me to alternate Ibuprofen and “Paracetamol” (acetaminophen) every two hours to keep the pain and swelling down.

The Bromley Labour Party Headquarters and Social Club, at the HG Wells Centre

The Bromley Labour Party Headquarters and Social Club, at the HG Wells Centre

Politics-  You know how in the US they don’t even want some citizens to vote?  Here, our local councilman came around to check and see if our “fly tipping” (trash dumping) neighborhood problem was better.  We told him we were new, from America, and that we hadn’t ever seen anyone dump trash.  He thought this was great and encouraged us to get signed up for the next local elections.  What?  Yeah, that is right, once you are here 3 months, you get to vote in local and regional elections.  Still not in the Federal ones, but dang!   We later found out this was also the case in Germany, but since our language skills were so poor, we never realized it.  Go Europe with the Democracy thing!

Taxes– The English tax withholdings come at 3 rates.  0% on your first 10,000 pounds, 20% on income up to £31,865, and then 40%  on everything more than that.  Quick and easy.  That’s it.  There are a couple other little twiddles.  Spouses can give 10% of their 10k allowance to their SO, if the SO doesn’t make over a certain amount.  But, really, things stay pretty straight-forward, at least on the front end withholdings.

Christmas Holidays–  I will write about this more later.  But, for now, I will say that things

Tell me you can look at this tree and not hear Vince Guaraldi's

Tell me you can look at this tree and not hear Vince Guaraldi’s music playing

here are a bit more like the US than Germany, so far.  There are a few little booths and rides around the Mall for the season (Mulled Wine, Donuts, wreaths, etc).  But, not really a Christmas Market.  I am told there is more in Central London, but still not quite as much as in Germany and France, for instance.  The decorations went up smartly as soon as Remembrance Day was done in early November.  Stockings are readily available, as are trees and wreaths and decorations and lights of all kinds.  We got another Charlie Brown Christmas Tree and have put up some of our other ornaments, but it does feel rather low-key.

Medical– So, how does English Medical measure up?  Well, I can say that compared to German medical, so far, Germany wins.  Compared to the US, I need more time to think.
So far, I will say that the English system seems a bit stodgy, but functional.  Everyone is covered, and you can expect your basic needs to be met free of charge once you are enrolled in the National Health Service.  The ambulance assured us that transport to the hospital would not cost us anything if I wanted to go.  I haven’t been charged for any medical visits I have been to at all.  There is a charge for prescriptions, but apparently there are programs to defray the cost on some of those, so we are still learning.  David may get his diabetes meds at a reduced cost, for instance, which could really help.

There is quite a learning curve on getting incorporated into the system and figuring out how to work it.  My first experience trying to get my Zoladex injection is a good illustration of that.  First I tried my local medical center, they told me I needed to see the nurse, she told me she was too busy and I should go to the hospital, the hospital told me they had No One Who Could Give An Injection (Whah?) and tried to send me to a sexual health clinic 45 minutes away!  Called our doctor back and he agreed to give the injection, but was clearly put out by it, and didn’t really know what he was doing.  So, we switched clinics.

Next place was easy peasy.  Doctor understood exactly what needed to be done, the nurse gives this sort of injection “often” and knew right what to do.  No problems at all.  Lesson learned- when you don’t like your service, change providers.

What To Do When You Don’t Know– Here is a response that we have discovered is endemic to England.  Ask someone professional a question that they *don’t* know the answer to.  In Germany, the person might look sheepish and explain they don’t know, probably offering to help you find out.  In the US, you might get someone who is defensive, but probably they will get suggestions on how to find the answer, or the person will call around trying to help you find it.  In England?  Well, you might luck out and get someone who will give you some suggestions.  But more than likely the conversation will go like this:

Me: I would like the Chicken Donburi, Please.

Clerk: We don’t have Chicken Donburi, we have Chicken Teriyaki.

Me: I am sorry?  It is on the menu…  It is a chicken and rice bowl?

Clerk: No, we don’t.

Morgaine: (showing him the menu in question) Here, Donburi- it is a whole section.

Clerk: (annoyed) Oh, well Donburi just means chicken with rice.  It could have been chicken curry or Spicy chicken, then!

Me: I would like the Teriyaki Chicken Donburi, please.

Clerk: (rolls his eyes, shouts that there is a take-out order and disappears never to be seen again).

[another store]

Me: Hi, I am hoping maybe you can help me.  I am trying to find Lactase.

Pharmacy Clerk: (blank stare)  What?

Me: Lactase, or in Germany its called “Laktrasse”?  It is the enzyme that helps you digest milk.  For people who are lactose intolerant.

Pharmacy Clerk: (starting to look uncomfortable) I don’t think we have that.

Me: Can you think where I might find it?  It is in different places in each country, but it is usually available.

Pharmacy Clerk: (starting to get annoyed) I am not sure, I will have to ask my pharmacist.  (busies herself with other work, saying nothing about when her pharmacist is expected or anything else).

Me: (waiting politely)

Another pharmacy clerk arrives.

Second Clerk: Can I help you?

Pharmacy Clerk: (sighing) Eh, yeah, have you ever heard of something called Lactasomething?

Me: Lactase, or in the US it goes by the brand name Lactaid?

(Clerks exchange an annoyed look)

Second Clerk:  Well, I don’t think we have it here.

Me: Any ideas where I could look?

Second Clerk: It sounds like a digestive aid.  Go to a Health Shop.

(both clerks stare at me…. time to leave)

The same sort of thing happened with my first doctor.  He didn’t know how to handle a cancer patient from Germany, so he got evasive, defensive, and annoyed.  When we were calling around to schools trying to get information about DD’s visa, 2/3 of the clerks and schools we talked with simply shut us down.  No help, just “I don’t know, how dare you ask, go away”.  Non-British friends report this sort of dynamic happens to them constantly, as well.  It isn’t that there aren’t very helpful people here.  But, there seem to be a remarkable number of folks who are very uncomfortable when faced with unusual or unexpected situations.

There are also a large number of bureaucratic gatekeepers who seem to exist just to prevent you from accomplishing your goals in a reasonable fashion.  Every country has them, in my experience.  But, this country has so many more- and they are so well trained!  Even the French cannot compete with the Brits on officious intractability.

Visas– Nowhere have we experienced this bureaucratic maze and defensive attitude more than in dealing with trying to get our Visas.  For most of us, this was a few weeks of headaches.  For poor DD, it has extended for months. By the beginning of this month we thought we were completely on track, finally!  We had found her a school that would both sponsor her visa and get her into Universities next year.  Then, David took some time off work to go down and get the final info we needed…. only to run into exactly this sort of gatekeeper, who suddenly decided that DD could *not* actually attend their school, or get a visa, and she should just go back to the US!  David, I am told, remained remarkably calm through this conversation, all things considered, but managed to walk himself up the food chain until he was dealing with the woman actually in charge of the whole department.  Today I went down to talk with her, and as far as the school is concerned, we are now, knock wood, On Target.  YAY!!!! HUGE relief.

BUT,

Now DD has to jump through the same governmental hoops the rest of us had to do- actually more, because she has to show financial statements in a particular format, prove who her parents are, and several other things the rest of us didn’t have to do.  And, of course, she is not allowed to do this from within England.  Because that would be way way too easy.  Her current visitor’s visa cannot be transformed into a Student visa until she leaves the country.  The school wants her up and running by the start of next semester.  So, we have 3 weeks over The Holidays to get this done.  GO!!!

CIMG2601Dryer–  How are dryers different?  Well, most places are not set up to have vents.  So, condenser dryers are The Thing.  Basically, the machine gathers all the water from your clothes into a tank that you empty after each wash.  David and I gave each other this lovely black dryer for our romantic holiday gifting this year.  Yes, we are that sick of having damp laundry.

Buses– Oddly, the London buses don’t allow you to pay in cash.  You must purchase what they call an “Oyster Card” and use that to pay for your fares.

ATMs— All the banks in the UK have an agreement to share ATMs.  No one charges “foreign atm fees” here.

Word of the Week- Joint
In the US a joint might be a marijuana cigarette or the dive bar down the street, or perhaps the place where two things/bones join together.  Here a “joint” is a roast.  Technically, according to Cambridge it is “a large piece of meat cooked as one piece”.  Oddly, it does not necessarily have any joints in it, nor must it even have a bone.

Nov 272015
 

Happ DD

Being 18 and an American Paris in London

Do you remember being 18?  So much promise!  Maybe you started college, or your first *real* job.  Maybe you got a car, or a person to steadily date.  Whatever your personal path, 18 is typically a time of huge growth and maturation.

I think I have mentioned before that we have a tendency to live our lives on Difficulty Level David.  In most video games, you can choose your difficulty level.  These are things like “Novice, Medium, Hard, and Impossible”.  David, always loving a challenge, tends to gravitate toward the top level settings on all his games.  It wasn’t until a few years in that we noticed that our *lives* sort of followed that trend, too.

—“Pfah.  College is too easy, I know, how about facing a life-altering medical condition (juvenile diabetes) as soon as I arrive?”

—“What the heck is this, David’s career is way too easy.  What say you,  let’s jump into the least-well-paying, toughest-to-get-into corner of the tech sphere!?”

— Hey, living in suburban California is boring and we know way too much about the ways of getting things done.  How about we all move to a country where we don’t speak the language (or that other required language, either) and start fresh?”

Not wanting DD to miss out on the trend, we lined up something super special for her on our move to London: No Visa, and no school to sponsor one!  WOot!  That is just how we roll!  So, this was what DD had to deal with at 18….

The Key Points:

  • DD is 18 and cannot be legally allowed into the country based off of David’s visa.
  • Once we arrived, she got a 6 month Visitor’s Visa.  At that point the timer started.
  • If she leaves the country without having her student visa in the works, there is a strong possibility that the Powers That Be would not let her back in the country because the rest of the family is here on David’s Work Visa.  They think she is likely to overstay her welcome.
  • That is why when we all had to go to Berlin, DD had to stay here, in a brand new country in a brand new house all alone for almost 2 weeks.  Like I said, “Difficulty Level David!”
  • DD needs a visa through a program called “Tier 4”, which means she is sponsored by a private educational institution.  She is not allowed to attend a non-private High School because those are government funded and we haven’t earned the right, yet.
  • Oof.
  • DD wants to attend University next year, which makes perfect sense.
  • Private High Schools not only cost 15000-20000 pounds per year, but their pre-university A-Levels programs are 2 years long.  Plus, most students start them when they are 16.  We talked with many of them and the only ones who might consider accepting her all wanted her to take 2 years in their A-Levels programs.
  • For University admissions, you need to have earned a high school diploma and passed certain exams at a certain level.  Since this is Europe, there are charts showing which exams from which countries count for which university programs.
  • Junior Colleges exist, and can often bridge any gaps for people who have had their education interrupted for whatever reason.  BUT, most of them stopped being valid Tier 4 sponsors 2 years ago when regulations were tightened.
  • ugh.
  • DD wants to study Mathematics at University.  None of the schools we found which had a Maths program also had Tier 4 sponsorship.
  • The school we took her out of in Strasbourg has a sister school here in Culham.  They proved useless on all fronts and gave us quite a stern talking to when approached.
  • Her old school in Strasbourg was very kindly willing to bend the rules and let her back in.  But she would have had to literally leave that week and find a place to live, figure out how to get everything set up NOW, figure out what she had missed, and live on her own in Germany/France for the rest of the year.  After some serious deliberation, we all had to admit it just wasn’t going to work.
  • Some universities, including one of DD’s top picks, Bristol, have “Access” programs, designed to bring students up to proper level for University work.  We got them to basically say they would accept her.  BUT, it costs 18,000 Pounds AND doesn’t start until September.  Without a new visa, DD gets deported in April.
  • Oy.
  • Luckily, David had had some positive conversations with one of the closest Community Colleges to our home (still 50 minutes by bus, but closer than most).  They *can* sponsor a Tier 4, but they don’t have a Maths program.  They do have a Science program taught by a Physics professor from Bristol, though.  And he is willing to help prep her for Maths A-Levels (which would flesh out her applications for the Maths programs).  Would that work?
  • YES!  Yes, it will!
  • We hope.
  • She had to pass an interview and a couple of placement exams, but that didn’t prove to be much trouble.
  • Odd things about Tier 4: In addition to the paperwork hoops, there is a pretty dissuasive financial one.  You are expected to have the entire year’s tuition (5k pounds in this case) plus money for the students’ upkeep set aside in an account for a full month before the visa is issued.  For students living on their own in London, upkeep costs are about 1200 pounds per month.  For students living with a “host family” (like us, we hope!) you need about 600 pounds per month (times 9 months).  We have received some assistance on this one from a Purple Fairy Grandmother.  Which is very very appreciated because even for a small Community College all that adds up to over 15000 US! 
  • It took us a full month of dedicated research (literally hours each day) to get this far.  I am starting to think that England itself is Difficulty Level David- at least for those not born here.
DD with her school visitor bag

Wearing her “Visitor” pass for the college.

DD started classes yesterday.  It is mostly folks a bit older than she is- “Returning” students.  But, what the heck.  Actually, some of the students there sound a lot like the people she went to school with in Strasbourg.  For example, people who have traveled so much they don’t really have a “home language” anymore.  But, there are also people returning to school after starting a family.  Or wanting to change careers.  The school seems to have some active clubs and such that DD is curious about, so maybe there are more opportunities there, as well!  It is about an hour bus ride each way to the part of the campus where her classes are.  But, she is handling it all with aplomb.  Very proud of our kiddo!


Random Factoid: Black Friday Weekend is totally a thing here, even though Thanksgiving is not.  The whole mall is plastered with Black Friday sales posters, etc.


Strange Foods Report

CIMG2378Ok, well, one of the more accessible ways to explain cultural differences is to check out the local food scene.  Every country definitely has its own cuisine- and also its Market Quirks.  For instance, I managed to find Cranberry Jelly for Thanksgiving here- but it isn’t in the canned fruits section, nor in the jellies section, or even in the American section- it is in the “Table Sauces” section.  Which, makes sense, but I wouldn’t have thought to look there if I hadn’t been standing right next to it and just happen to notice the jar right next to a jar of Mint Sauce.

So, just as in Germany, I will make an effort to seek out and report back on unusual (or particularly typical) examples of foods we find here.

they are MEGA Dose MarshmallowsMarshmallows: I ordered the Mega pack of marshmallows for delivery from the store.  I had expected a large bag.  I had NOT expected baseball-sized marshmallows!  The can in DS’s other hand, by the way, is breadcrumbs.  I guess they are not used in quantity here.

Chinese DeliveryChinese delivery: Cheap, and delicious.  Way better than any generic “Asian Food” we got in Offenburg.

CIMG2368

Pumpkin for the pie proved HARDER to get than pumpkins in Offenburg.  Though, one store claimed they would deliver 2 cans of Libby’s, they swapped out cherry pie filling at the last minutes.  And even though we have markets everywhere, only the one specializing in Caribbean foods carried a pumpkin.  That greenish white one.  I will roast it later.

Lyles logo

Molasses: Almost impossible to find, BUT, Black Treacle is almost the same thing, and that is everywhere.  I will save the technobabble.  Just trust me.  Close enough.  Also, have you ever looked at Lyle’s logo closely?  Take a glance.  “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”…. nice, until you realize it is a swarm of bees on a dead lion.  Ew!

Stocks

Canned or cartoned stocks and broths aren’t really a thing here.  I have found a can of consommé (for 3 pounds!) but that was it. Instead you are expected to buy these dealies.  Concentrated stock pastes and cubes.  I expected the cubes to be super salty like bullion, but it was actually more rich like stock.

Bonus Weird of the Week: Korean Fish Shaped Cake Snack

David’s work has a tradition of folks bringing in food to share when they make it through their 3 month probationary period.  This was an offering made this week.

Korean Snack Cake Fishy Cake Chocolate filling

The filling was chocolatish, and the cake tasted vaguely almondy.  Not bad, but not a favorite.

Nov 072015
 
Winlaton House

Winlaton House

Lots of folks have been asking us what it is like living in London.  Honestly, we are just at the very beginning of our adventure here, and many of our experiences have been colored by the frustration of our Visa situation.  However, after a fortnight, it seems as if I ought to be able to at least give a few thoughts and tidbits.  Here, in no particular order, are some observations, notes and experiences I can share.

Hot Water

This is, indeed, a hot water heater! It is used to both heat the house and provide us hot water for washing.  Since it goes on whenever we use any water, I am still not sure if it holds hot water in the tank or just heats on demand.

CIMG2317

This is the control panel for the hot water heater. To the left, you select where the water goes (radiators, faucets, both or neither), the mid section is how hot it goes. And the left dial there lets you turn the radiators off and on by timer.

Unlike the Germans, who are understandably exceptionally uncomfortable with Nationalism in any form, the British love, love LOVE Britain, the UK, England and all its wonderful Anglo-exquisiteness with not the least bit of irony or sheepishness.  Everything loudly proclaims its point of origin if it happens to be in the UK.  A few examples from the kitchen.  In case you were concerned, that isn’t just any old flour, that is BRITISH FLOUR you are sifting, there, lady!  Best of British British Flour Eggs from British Farms English Butter Scottish Salmon Union Jack Milk

Some things are acceptable to get elsewhere, however.  For instance:

Cali Red

Cab Sirrah for the win…..a little acidic, maybe, but good for the sauce it made.


Weird English Phrase of the Day: Dessert here is “Pudding” or “Pud” for short.  All dessert.  The Cornish Clotted Cream I bought proudly declares that it will “Crown Your Pud!”


 

Milk-products here are AWESOME.  EXCELLENT.  FABULOUS.  The BEST I have ever had- and I am a foody.  Butter, cream, double cream, milk, cheese, butter, clotted cream, yogurt, butter.  Seriously, you guys.  SERIOUSLY!!

Caveate: The ice cream is a bit variable.  Most stores have very limited supply and assortment.  I maybe just haven’t found the right places to look, yet, but a line in Good Omens makes me think perhaps this is just SOP for England….


He brightened up. “Do you know,” he said, “my cousin said that in America there’s shops that sell thirty-nine different flavors of ice cream?”
This even silenced Adam, briefly.
“There aren’t thirty-nine flavors of ice cream,” said Pepper. “There aren’t thirty-nine flavors in the whole world.”
“There could be, if you mixed them up,” said Wensleydale, blinking owlishly. “You know. Strawberry and chocolate. Chocolate and vanilla.” He sought for more English flavors. “Strawberry and vanilla and chocolate,” he added, lamely.

—  Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett


When I was a kid, we lived in a beach cottage built in the 1920’s by its owners.  It had clearly been someone’s Do It Yourself project on many occasions.  While at that age such things meant little to me, I remember my parents discussing the various idiosyncrasies of the house often.  Baseboards didn’t line up.  Black Mold everywhere.  Dry rot. And nothing level in the whole house.   This place makes that place look well planned and immaculately maintained.  Here are just a few of the quirks:

Why staple a bleached washcloth to the wall

Why would I staple a bleached out washcloth to the wall?

VENT

Because these vents are everywhere….. The house has clearly had some issues with fungus and damp. And at some point they decided the best way to deal with it was to simply drill large holes through the walls, cover them with a bit of mesh and call it done. Actually works ok in the bathroom. NOT so good in Audric’s Bedroom.

Shower Angle

Notice anything about that shower? Like, perhaps that the angle it points is roughly Wallward? To shower, you have to hold it in your hand.

Multi Caulk

Why use one color of ineffective caulk, when you could just smear on two?

Linen closet

the Linen Closet…. Fresh!

Older Bits Doorframe and window

Windows were replaced with double-pane throughout the house, but not the ones on the inside….. That is some old school glass, that is.

Drunk Painters

Pretty sure they hired a team of drunk 12 year olds to paint the bathroom

Door framing

Wasn’t room for cornice allll the way to the wall, you see.

Sink- Nailed It

Nuff said

Darkness is mold

Hard to tell, but the paint doesn’t actually cover the layer underneath it- which was made primarily of fungus that has already been creeping through to cover the wall. I have been mopping the shower ceiling daily with bleach.

Toilet Pipes

Mom and Dad sing along with me: Who’ll be sitting on the toilet when the floor finally falls through, who’ll be sitting on the toilet when the floor finally falls through? Who’ll be sitting on the toilet when the floor finally falls through? You know it could be you! (lyrics by my Mom, HB Hall, tune- Battle Hymn of the Republic. Circa 1980).

All that said, we are making progress in getting the place livable and workable and even somewhat cozy…. Not there *YET*.  For instance, I am currently sleeping in Audric’s bed, he is sleeping on his sister’s floor and David sleeps on our floor:

David Bed

One more week before our bed arrives.  EVERYTHING takes longer here, from what we can tell.  It just… does.

Dwarf Paper Towls

It may TAKE longer, but that does not mean it IS longer.  That paper towel roll is on a standard paper towel dispenser from Germany.  This is the LARGE roll here- the tube next to it is the standard size for paper towels in England.  The mop and broom are, oddly, similarly proportioned.  Brits clean with miniature supplies…… Why?

Choir Greeted Us instead of Taxi

When we arrived at Heathrow, the car company failed to show up. However, we were greeted by a full a capella choir trying to raise money for charity.

CIMG1831

There have been non-stop local fireworks since we arrived. Largely, we assume, due to this shop. We rather thought they would stop after Guy Fawkes Day, but…. nope.

This is how you buy your gas and electric here. You can choose whatever vendor you want, then you go down to the local mini-market and refill your cards. Pre-pay. There is a meter in the Harry Potter Room under the stairs that shows what is left. Voila.

This is how you buy your gas and electric here. You can choose whatever vendor you want, then you go down to the local mini-market and refill your cards. Pre-pay. There is a meter in the Harry Potter Room under the stairs that shows what is left. Voila.

This made me crack up. I might have been tired.

This made me crack up. I might have been tired.

CIMG1817

What does the fox say? http://sounds.bl.uk/environment/british-wildlife-recordings/022m-w1cdr0001493-0900v0 And they say it outside the bedroom vent at 3 AM! not creepy at allll… nope…. (ok, yeah, it is, but it is also cool)

Other frequent visitors:

Squirrel

Big Dove

And, because I am always fascinated how various places express this sentiment:

CIMG1840

Next time, more on our quest to get my medical care set up, and various other adventures.

Nov 072015
 

 

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Apparently there is nothing lazy about London.

Today marks 2 weeks in London and we are just starting to get into the swing of things.  If, of course, by that you mean “are able to eat and take showers and get to the grocery store”.  If you mean “got the kids in school, can get medical needs dealt with, and know how to speak the local lingo”, we are pretty much not swinging at all.  The pendulum is stuck and glaring at us.  And it just handed me a stack of paperwork to fill out.

By means of illustration, allow me to present you with two anecdotes: One involves my day’s activities.  The other, David’s.

At 1 PM David left the house for a quick run into town…. 

He planned to check out some new routes, look for some tennies, and pick up some items from the bigger market located in the Town Center.  He took Audric with him, just for the male bonding and brute strength carrying force (very useful when carting groceries across town on a bus).

4 hours later, they returned.  They had most of the groceries.  But, no tennis shoes.  David’s feet were very sore, and he was cranky.  For three hours, they had tromped from shoe store to shoe store.  At first they were daunted by the prices- shoes at the mall seemed to start at 80 pounds ($120) and go up from there.  But, eventually they found some basic black ones for 50 ($75).  But, David didn’t know his British shoe size.

“Can you just measure, please?”

“Oh no!  We don’t have the equipment for that!”

“???  You are a shoe store right?   Hmm, ok.  Well, how about we just try converting European sizes.  I am a 44.”

And so it went.  Unfortunately, the EU size conversions weren’t working well, and all the shoes were either very small or very large.  *None* of the regular shoe stores had a measuring tool!  Finally, they sent him to a high end men’s store, which was rumored to have just such a mythical device.  David feigned interest in a pair of loafers and the attendant dutifully pulled out a large bench-like contraption attached to what David described mostly a normal foot measurer, but with the addition of some rubber bands and straps.  The measuring process was “remarkably intimate”.  But, in the end, he got his size: 8.5.

Good enough, but, this store had no shoes that were anything like what he needed.  So, back they went to some of the other stores- including Reebok, Foot Locker, and several local variants.  But, NONE of them had a simple black athletic shoe in an 8.5.  (He discovered early on that saying “tennis shoe” scared them, but “sports shoe” got the idea across).

At the Foot Locker, they were having a sale, and the salesman had a Can Do attitude rivaling that of Cinderella’s sisters.  He didn’t have an 8.5, but he did have a 9.  And, here, if you just stuff the toe with some paper- see!  Perfect!

David left with no shoes and no good leads on where to find some.

At 1 PM I went online to find the paperwork we needed to get Audric into the school system here….

At first the website was down.  But, eventually it came back up and I printed the application- 8 pages.  But that was just the start.  In addition you also must attach birth certificate, visa and passport, a copy of your local tax bill, and an officially stamped form letter from his last headteacher describing the number of days he was absent and a variety of other bits and pieces of information that they deemed interesting.  Plus, even though they will assign you a school, you must designate your top three preferred schools in order of desire.

That is where things got tricky.  On the seconday schools website, there are 17 schools listed.  But, they make no effort whatsoever to group them by location, or tell you whether they are private schools, religious schools, specialty schools, etc.  And, in fact, many of the schools themselves make determining this information difficult.  So, for the next 2 hours, I pored over the entire list of local schools in our zone, comparing them to our location on a map, and digging through their web sites to find out just the most superficial information about them.  Here is what I found out:

  • Abbey Manor College- for “unconventional” students who have been unsuccessful in normal schools.
  • Addey and Stanhope Secondary School- Speech and Language Hub for the area (A note on special education in London– unlike the US where the experts travel from school to school, instead, here, they seem to like to sort kids into schools where the experts stay.  So, Addey and Stanhope here has all the Speech and Language therapists.  Other schools have specialties in Autism Spectrum, Severe Learning Disabilities, etc.  Many of these schools are primarily mainstream, but have special supports built into their structure.  Others, like those supporting more severely challenged kids, are specialty facilities just for them). I figure that with his dysgraphia there is a chance they will want DS to go here, but we are hoping not…
  • Bonus Pastor Catholic College- Catholic.  Alas, because it is on our street.
  • Conisborough College, a Colfe’s Associate School- Close-by and looks possible!
  • Deptford Green- WAY to the North
  • Forest Hill-  Local, but all boys
  • Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College- Music and ICT (computer) Focus school, fairly distant.
  • Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights Academy-  Close by, but a Sports focus.
  • Prendergast Ladywell School- only goes to age 16, and all girls
  • Prendergast School- Co-ed from the 6th form (next year I think), but a bit distant
  • Prendergast Vale School- linked to the two above, also a little distant.  The boy on their website cover looks very much like he will join a fraternity in a couple years.
  • Sedgehill Secondary School- Local basic highschool
  • St. Dunstan’s College- “Independent, Forward Thinking”  I learned “Independent” means “Expensive”.  This one is 15k per year.
  • St. Matthew Academy- Catholic
  • Sydenham High School- Girls only and Independent (also 15k per year)
  • Sydenham Secondary School- (same as above)
  • Trinity Church of England School, Lewisham– yeah, it is CofE.

So, of all those schools (and a couple more I found on the map), there are really only 2 that seem a possibly good fit.  About the number of high schools you would expect to find in your area, really.  But, wow was it a lot of work to figure that out!!!  Once I get the form back from his old school, we have been told it will take 20 days for DS to receive information on his assigned school.  Then we get to buy him his uniforms, and away we go!

Figuring Our Schools

Figuring Our Schools


http://www.leathersellers-federation.com/193/chair-of-governors-welcome

The Leathersellers Company’s involvement in Lewisham dates back to providing the original site for Colfe’s School in 1634 and the original site for Prendergast School in 1890. The Leathersellers then funded Prendergast’s move to its current location in 1995. As one of the oldest livery companies (or trade guilds) of the City of London, charity has long become our main raison d’être, and education has become an increasingly far-reaching activity. Many of our members volunteer for governance work. This commitment to governance is singularly the most important part of our role in Lewisham. We are often cited by senior figures in Lewisham as having made a significant contribution to education in the borough. You can be sure that that commitment will remain for many future generations of children.


 

Next up- a bunch of photos and words on our set up here.

 

 

Oct 212015
 
The remains of The Wall at Checkpoint Charlie

The remains of The Wall at Checkpoint Charlie

Yesterday we took a taxi to our appointment with the Visa Filing business.  They were remarkably unable to answer simple questions (we are not visa officers, we are not allowed to answer), but, we are fairly confident that we provided enough documentation for what we need, knock wood.  After that, we are pretty much just cooling our heels waiting to be approved.  So, why not enjoy the city a bit?  Honestly, I am still not able to do long walks without paying a pretty significant physical price.  We crossed my limits a couple times this week already. But, as long as we give me breaks, I do alright.  Knock more wood :)

So, here are a few photos of things we have seen recently.  Today is a Recovery and Work Day.  But, tomorrow we hope to go see at least one of the museums on Museum Island.  Because, yes, Museum Island is totally a thing!  So, until then, here is some random public art and a few other tidbits.

 

Oct 182015
 
21646380714_f2972afac5_o

Looking down at the back yard

You know how when you are planning out a big project, you think about all the contingencies.  What if water buffalo stampede our camp site?  What if the Imperials intercept our droid and overrun our rebel base?  What if the baby grows a moustache and Santa can no longer recognize him?  You know all the silly stuff that almost never happens, but you should plan for anyways?  Yeah.  Our percentage is WAY up from the norm.  BUT.  No water buffalo, rebel bases or baby moustaches were harmed in the making of this London Journey.

So much has happened in the last week that I am not even sure where to start.  What seemed like minor disasters last week are barely blips in looking back.   I am fairly certain that if we had not been through the process of moving to Germany, we would have fled for the hills by now.  On the other hand, there are so many cool little details that I want to share- the stuff that makes this whole Adventure thing worth doing.

For instance, once the temperamental Polish movers had finally settled their labor dispute and taken all our stuff, there was literally no place to sit in the old apartment except for the toilets.  We all took turns taking a break as we cleaned, cleaned, cleaned.

21647928223_03567a776e_o

DS enjoying a well earned break.

British people are incredibly ready to stop and give you directions, even if you only seem a little bit lost.  Sort of nice.

British roads are typically horrible.  You might think that main arteries through one of the most major cities in the world would have more than 2 lanes.  But, you would be mostly wrong.  Driving 6 miles to the Ikea in the next big town over took us 40 minutes of screaming horror.  The backwards driving stuff, of course, makes everything more tense.  But, it is the aggressive British drivers, tiny roads, which become one lane when cars park at the sides, and the complete impossibility of figuring out what road you are on that make it hellish.  Our rental car came with a GPS which saved our bacon more than once….. It also, though, frequently deposited us in back alley-ways and dead ends and construction zones with no clue how to get out…  Seriously, if you don’t HAVE to drive in London, DONT drive in London.

Ah, but maybe I should share some of the MAJOR events. 

First, the good news.  David was approved by the British government for a slot in this month’s immigration pool.  YAY.  This means that we are now going through the process that I outlined last time.  David, Audric and I are in Berlin, filling out paperwork and cooling our heels until we get the all clear to head back to London.

HOWEVER, We discovered that Morgaine CANNOT come into the country under David’s work visa because she is 18.  She has to get a visa of her own.  For now, she is under a visitor’s 6 month visa.  But, we need to get her set up with a private school of some kind because she needs a student visa and cannot get one through the public schools (nor is she allowed to attend them).  Also, if she leaves the country before she gets set up with a sponsor, for instance for our little Berlin jaunt, they may think she is trying to pull Shennanigans and deny her access.  We could literally get stuck in an airline terminal like Tom Hanks.  All this was laid out to us about 24 hours before we were scheduled to fly out to Germany.  So, we kicked it into high gear.  We unpacked enough of the house to be functional, bought enough food to get her started, had keys made, got her a bus pass, set her up with local contacts for emergencies and support (THANK YOU FLORIAN, Once again!), and generally did everything we could to make it possible for DD to spend a couple weeks testing out her Grown Up wings at home…. our new home… in a new country.  Yeah, not exactly the way we hoped for that to go, but, we know she is a capable young woman.  So far, from what we can tell, she seems to be doing great.  So proud of everyone for doing what had to get done.

The other major event was not so easily handled, I am afraid.  When we arrived in Berlin, we learned that my Step-mother, Connie, had been in a serious car crash.  She literally lost all her blood, broke her pelvis and an arm and had major internal injuries.  Latest word is that she has been stabilized, but has a long road ahead.  She has been through so much, and it just seems incredibly unfair for this to happen now.  But, we are encouraged by the most recent reports.  It is incredibly hard being unable to be with the family, especially my dad, right now.  For all those affected, please know love and light are pouring across the Atlantic as I type.

So, I guess now I will share a few more photos and a few more tidbits.  Unfortunately, we have had some major technical and internet issues.  This hotel has much better internet than the last one, but for some reason, I am still unable to easily upload photos.  It took me an hour to grab the ones I am sharing today.  I have many many more, but we will need to share those when we figure out how to do it.

 

Our new house has a larger fridge/freezer, yay!

Our new house has a larger fridge/freezer, yay!

New house has a large shed for storage, but it is missing windows.

New house has a large shed for storage, but it is missing windows.

New kitchen sink drains directly out this white pipe into an open drain outside..... ummmm

New kitchen sink drains directly out this white pipe into an open drain outside….. ummmm

looking down the front steps

looking down the front steps

one of the neighborhood foxes-- which are TOTALLY a THING!!

one of the neighborhood foxes– which are TOTALLY a THING!!

Old greenhouse at our new place, landlord came yesterday to clean up the broken glass.

Old greenhouse at our new place, landlord came yesterday to clean up the broken glass.

DS on a bench outside the Dali museum

DS on a bench outside the Dali museum

Not even sure what this building is. Berlin is full of places that look this way!

Not even sure what this building is. Berlin is full of places that look this way!

So, just to finish catching up, we are currently staying in a nice Best Western in the old Eastern side of Berlin, very near Mitte, Checkpoint Charlie, etc.  We have our appointment with the visa folks on Tuesday, and then depending on how that goes, we will be here between another 10-15 days.  We are trying to eat cheap, because this whole process is insanely expensive, so we have stashes of bread and snacks and such in the wardrobe of our hotel room.  Classy, I know, but you do what you have to do.  We watched a BBC report on the Refugee crises last night and were seriously grateful that we have this lovely warm place to stay and a lawyer to help us get through what we need to get through.  But, I have to admit, this gives us a whole other perspective on what those folks are experiencing.  I cannot imagine fleeing war, but the frustration with the coldness of the harsh bureaucracy is vivid.  Sorry, your 18 year old must forge her own way?  Too cruel.  Families don’t work like that.  We have family friends who immigrated to the US from Africa and family members trickled across over the course of years and years.  The sacrifice and separation of people just trying to forge a better life is awful.  When folks like the people coming from Syria are actually fleeing for their lives, it takes on a whole other dimension.  We need to do better, world.  We really do.

Ok, well, I do have more stable internets, so hopefully I will be able to post more regular updates again- with or without photos.  Please send your good thoughts and prayers to Connie.  And, if you can spare a few more, to Morgaine, and the rest of us, too.

Oct 082015
 

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SO…. you know how I reported that this last couple weeks each day has been filled with more things than fit into a day?  Multiply that by a factor of 12 and you get our last 36 hours.

Wednesday morning David got up early to pick up his prescriptions from his diabetes doctor who had been out sick for the past week.  When he got there, the office staff informed him that his doctor had just died.  That was the auspicious beginning of David’s Very Bad No Good Terrible Day. 

I will skip the details and hit the highlights.  By the time I got home from my errand running for the day, I was greeted with “I finally heard back from (our HR guy).  He wrote me and said ‘Don’t Come Yet, the visa paperwork isn’t done!'”

Wanna repeat that for me?  One more time?  What did you say?  I am not sure I understood you correctly.  WHAT?!

I am told David’s exact response to that email was “Motherf–“! Which seems appropriate all things considered.

Ummm..  Yeah.  That was 5 days before we were expecting to be on a plane.  Main Movers arriving Monday morning.  Car going back to the dealer Monday.  Apartment returned to the landlord Monday.  We are pretty much down to packing the kitchen and our actual luggage for the trip.  And suddenly, no?

I am told there was some raging at that point.  There was a bit more later.  And a whole lot of “what the heck do we do now” thrown into the mix.  Contingencies upon contingencies.  Questions upon questions.  Bosses were contacted, VPs were looped in.  Phone calls were had.  To their credit, the company hired an immigration lawyer.  By today, we were talking with him directly, scanning and sending paperwork, and basically trying to do everything from a 2 month process in 2 days.  Folks were definitely working to correct the situation. But, it is still a huge big ball of crazy-making absurdist bogglitude.

In the end, if we are lucky, this is what is going to happen: 

  1. We are headed to London, as planned Monday.  This is necessary because we need to take possession of our house and our moved-stuff.  BUT, we cannot stay there.  You can’t convert a tourist visa into a work visa while in country.  In fact, we have to get special paperwork saying that we are only there for a couple days as tourists, won’t work during that time and will leave.  Apparently the English government is worried people will show up on a tourist visa and look for work while there. And apparently that would be a Bad Thing.
  2. We get confirmation that David has been approved by the government for this month’s allocation of work visas.  That should happen in the next couple of days (PLEASE).  It is a quota system.  He *should* get priority treatment because of his job skills, but there are questions about how the paperwork was handled prior to the lawyer’s involvement.  If this part goes south, I am not sure our next step.  So, if you are the praying sort and feeling like giving us some help, this would be where to concentrate your energies.
  3. Once that is confirmed, we have to go to one of the three cities in Germany that has a consulate (still not sure if that is an American or British consulate).  We picked Berlin because it is less expensive than the other two (Dusseldorf and Munich), and because we have actually never been there!
  4. We stay in a hotel in Berlin for about 2 weeks filling out forms and waiting for our paperwork to be ready.
  5. Assuming it all goes through (PLEASE), we can then return to London and start living and working there as planned.  Well, not quite as planned.  David won’t get to work until probably at least a week after his scheduled start date.  And that will, of course, make the move in process trickier.  But, we are just gonna roll with it at this point.

There are more than a few monkey wrenches even in this scenario (the delayed start date, our rental car has already been paid for for 2 weeks, we won’t be there to set up our cable, etc).  But, at least now we have a lawyer smoothing the way, and the company will pay for our travel and hotel costs in Berlin.

So, we are trying to look at it as a Partially Paid For Berlin Paperwork Vacation!  Woot!

  • As for everything else, we are chugging along.  My Physical Therapist practically wrapped me in Kinesio-tape in anticipation of having to move without a therapist to help me recover.  I look rather like a blue-green mummy when viewed from the left side.
  • Our Hausmeister gave me a big unexpected hug good-bye.
  • The little old lady I talk with at my PT’s office gave me guardian angels- as did my PT.  Apparently this is the thing one gives acquaintances going on journeys.  We can definitely use their help!

    Angels

    Guardian Angels

  • Friends came today to help move out stuff to the dump and take a few of our items that are being re-homed.

    Morning Group

    The Morning Moving Group

  • In practice this means that our bed and couch are now gone.  I will be sleeping on Audric’s bed.  He and David will both sleep on the floor.   It is like camping!  Only, you know, more like sleeping on floor.

    Camping

    Camping In

  • We arranged to get British Pounds from our bank.
  • We got the kids’ school records.
  • We said good-bye to almost everyone (Kerstin, will come by Sunday :-)
  • I cried.  More than once.  Since- Good-bye!
  • And, as said before, we are down to packing just the stuff we use day to day.

We have some more cleaning to do.  We have to check out from the City government (you do that here, tell them you are leaving before you go).  We need to change our address with the bank (who won’t let us until we check out).  And we have a few more little paperwork and phone check-offs to complete.

Since we will have 2 weeks instead of 2 days in a hotel, though, we need to consider how/what to pack.  For instance, I will need to take some of my work materials with me.  And, we will need to be a bit better about layering as the weather changes.

Also HOLY EFFING MOTHER OF DARKNESS WHAT IN THE BLEEPITY BLEEPING EVERLOVING CRUDMOKEYS JUST HAPPENED!?

ARRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Ehem.  Sorry.  That was about as far as I could get without that seeping out.

So, Apparently this little blog will have a little detour in the coming week.  Knock wood.  Stay Tuned!

In the mean time, we are all pretty much tethering our sanity to our wrists like a run-happy toddler at Disneyland, because those puppies are just looking for a crack in the fence and Away They Go!

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Oct 022015
 
The Growing Pile of Evidence

The Growing Pile of Evidence

 

Howdy all.  This is just a quick check in to say that YES, we are still planning to move to the UK in 10 days, and YES, there is mounting evidence that we are making progress toward that goal.  And HOLY CRAP we are moving to the UK in 10 days!  The real emotion of it is starting to set in as we continue our list of finals.  Final day at David’s work.  Final day at the kids’ school.  Final visit to this shop, that doctor, etc.  There really are many many wonderful things about our lives here that we will miss terribly.  On the other hand, we are starting to get more concrete ideas about what life in London may be like, and that is both scary and thrilling!  So many things to learn and explore!  Plus, doggability.  This is all good, but I won’t lie and pretend I am not shedding a few tears this week, as well.

As for the prep work…. We have packed 20 out of our expected 50 boxes (Mostly, David).  We have driven all over town dealing with paperwork and jumping through hoops (also mostly David).  We have researched the heck out of our new area (mostly me).  And we have made plans, enacted plans, changed plans, and made back-up plans on many things.  Highlights include:

  • Finished up DD’s braces and filed paperwork to get money back from the German Government because she went all the way through (they do that here!  How cool is that?)
  • Negotiated with the car dealership for a reasonable deal returning the car (Yay David!)
  • Re-negotiated with the movers to get that all tacked down reasonably, as well (Also Yay David!)
  • Payed what is hopefully our final speed-trap-camera ticket from Germany (David had to go to 5 or 6 different places to get this one dealt with.  That is highly unusual, but we won’t be missing theses at all!  For the record, this was a ticked for going 34mph in a 31 mph zone (56 kph in a 50 kph)….  yeah, they MEAN it when they put a number on a sign.)
  • Started making the Good-bye rounds with friends (mostly DS)
  • Identified and contacted several universities that DD may apply to, and started to establish what path is best to take to get from HERE to THERE- not exactly a gimme when you consider how different the British System is from anything else we have dealt with before.  And we have dealt with school systems in 3.5 countries already!
  • Found homes and potential homes for several large pieces of furniture we will be unable to bring with us.
  • Determined the general lay-out and room sizes for the new place and compared those to current floor plans and contents.  Realized we need to streamline a little bit.  (Right now we have a very-large great-room, and the new place has two medium-sized rooms as replacements- also only one bathroom which is oddly located upstairs.  Whassup with that London?)
  • Running, re-running, checking, re-evaluating and re-checking finances repeatedly and often.
  • Filled out finalization paperwork with several businesses and worked on finishing up several more.
  • Arranged to make arrangements with our landlord to check out what we need to do to get our deposit back.
  • Arranged for flights, rental car and hotel stays.

Oh yeah, and we also all had about a week of being sick with the flu.  NOT part of the plan, but, I suppose not unexpected.

So the march goes on.  Hopefully next time we will have a few more scintillating bits and pieces to share.  But, didn’t want you thinking we were being too quiet!

Sep 182015
 
Winlaton House

Winlaton House, I totally want to Rustoleum that fence!

SO much has been happening so fast!  We set em up, knock em down, and then run to fetch the ones that got away.

The Good

We found a house to rent!  Much much thanks to Florian for boarding the bus day after day and vetting properties for us.  It was a harder process than we expected, but I am looking forward to our new home, and that is saying something!

Our new home is a semi-detached house (only one shared wall) in a community called Lewisham (Lewis-ham?  Lewish-um?), which is just to the north of Bromley- about a 10 minute bus ride to David’s new work, close to shopping, close to schools (depending on which one we get into), and with all the normal low-crime, decent infastructure sorts of things one looks for in a neighborhood.  Knock wood.  The house itself has three bedrooms, 1 bath and two “reception rooms”, which are basically designed to be a Living Room and Dining Room, but which are currently being used as bedrooms in a house-sharing arrangement.  We don’t yet have the dimensions on those, so we aren’t yet entirely sure how we will use the space.  But, it looks like it will give us options, which is good.  Especially because the third bedroom is quite small- not Harry Potter’s Closet small, but “Room for bed and a dresser and not much else” small.  This, we have discovered, is quite typical for the area.   The house also has a large (for London) yard (they call it a garden) with grass and a patio and a shed.  And they will definitely allow us to have pets!  YAY!  As we got further into the vetting process, we realized how important that was to us.  We *really* want to have a dog!    So, here are a few pictures from the place:

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Bathroom, not a bad green

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Yard is meant to be cleaned up a bit before we arrive.  The kids will need to learn how to mow!

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Master Bedroom, with a wee closet

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Pretty sure this is the entry hall

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Second bedroom- the third one is very small

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Kitchen. We are told there is a fridge. Note the washing machine on the left. Also, anyone know what the white thing over the counter on the left might be?

Other good things: we managed to jump through all the hoops of distance-renting a house from a different country.  Glitches included things like: our bank account doesn’t use the “sort code” expected by British banking, our German landlord thought the inquiry the agent sent him was English Spam and deleted it, all 21 pages of the signed and initialed contract needed to be scanned and emailed back.  Took me an hour, but we have, in fact, leased this house!

Also good: Many check-marks showing up in many boxes. We are finishing up all our medical Stuff.  DD just got her braces off, DH almost has his full replacement tooth done, I have all my medical records (actually a small number of crucial ones) and am scheduled for a few tests before I go, just to make sure I am clear while insurance gets set up.  Hogwarts is cooperating in trying to help DD get set up for college applications before we leave.  DS is having a lot of social time with his friends.

The Problematic

Now we are facing a slew of problems that managed all to hit at once, as such things are wont to do.  First and foremost is the saga of the car.  As I mentioned before, we found out that we will not be allowed to take our car with us to England because it is prohibited in our auto-financing agreement. After 40 minutes of being swapped back and forth among different departments of VW financing (neither Leasing nor Loans wanted to claim us), David was finally told just to go in to our dealership and discuss the hand-off there.

When he arrived, the dealer told him that, yes, we could return the car 5 months early, but then we would be responsible for the depreciated value of the car.  David had already looked up blue book values and realized that the car is now worth roughly $7,000 less than our loan was for.  In short, the dealer wanted us to eat this depreciation.  David, much to their surprise, simply said “No”.  He pointed out that as we currently had possession of the car and were about to move to another country, our negotiating position was not really weak.  I had to giggle.  I definitely would have been looking for another solution, but just staring down a sales-guy with a flinty “No” is not my typical skill-set.  More the power to the Husband!

“What,” DH mused, “would happen if we took the car, that we were currently ready to surrender without fuss, to the UK?  You could repossess it, sure- but what would we care?  We are ready to turn it in now.  What would happen, if, instead, we just left the car here for 5 months before returning it?  In neither scenario do we pay $7,000 for depreciation, do we?”

The dealer blanched and offered to find a better solution.  [Note, we don’t actually want to play shenanigans.  Not our style, at all!  On the other hand, though, we aren’t prepared to pay $7,000 for the privilege of returning a car 5 months early.  The one big benefit of leasing is that you *don’t* have to absorb the market depreciation of a vehicle beyond your payments, since, well,  you don’t actually own it.]  Currently, the proposal is that we will bring the car in on Monday and they will evaluate the damage–we will be liable to pay for that (as we had already agreed) and then they will file new paperwork for us to return the car in October instead of March.  All of which, seems reasonable… but we will see.

Complicating that mess further was what happened yesterday.  As I was waiting to pick the kids up at school, parked in the Pick Up lane, the woman in the car in front of me acquired her daughter (a girl in DD’s class, as it happens), started her car and backed up 1/2 a car’s length right into my bumper!  “I didn’t even look!” she said.   Yeah… I had a suspicion.  Talk about your awkward introductions.  She gave me her information and I reported it to our insurance.  There isn’t a lot of damage, but our license plate would serve as a pretty good gutter, now…. concave, it is.  The German dealership is pretty picayune about the damage they note on their forms (is that scratched paint over the wheel well?  Here, use my magnifying glass!), so we know we will need to deal with this.  It just got tossed onto the pile.

Let us just say that was the capper on a pretty rotten day, yesterday.

The other currently problematic issue: Movers.  We used a website that allowed movers to bid for your move.  After receiving bids, we selected one.  Before hiring them, we double-checked out inventory list, and I realized that with the Washing machine in the kitchen of the new house, we would not need to bring the washer/dryer.  I went to the list and removed those two items.  Satisfied, we clicked the appropriate buttons, made the appropriate payment, and hired our movers.  But, when the paperwork arrived, David realized that there was something wrong.  ALL of our 50 boxes and some-odd bags were missing from the list.  Poof.  They had vanished when I made the change, apparently.  So, now we had hired a  company to only move 1/2 of what needed taking!  Crap.  Luckily, David’s take is that these guys are not trying to be jerks about it.  Unfortunately, they had only scheduled a small truck for our move and think they need a larger one or two trucks now….  That probably means more money, and scheduling headaches.  They are supposed to call us back Saturday with proposed solutions…. If it is too spendy, of course, we just have to eat our deposit loss and hire someone else.  But, UGH.  So, stay tuned.

The Unfinished:

Everything else.  We just got disturbing news from our HR team at the new company: they are complete newbs and have NEVER done a UK Visa before!  Oh gawd.  Ours is a little complicated, too, because we have to be filed under priority work designations, etc.  Not an emergency now… knock wood…. but we have fears that future headaches may be to come.

I wrote to the closest school on our list to see what steps we need to get DS enrolled.  They referred me to the equivalent of the District Office.  This office only had email forms that indicate they will “get back to you within 10 business days”…. it has been 3… we shall see!

Once we have the movers tacked down, we can arrange for getting our plane tickets, rental car and hotel booking.

The apartment is slowly getting organized, packed, cleaned, etc.  We have almost a month to finish that, so no pressure yet.

SO there you have it.  A snapshot of our current efforts.  Hopefully by next week some of these trickier things will be resolved and we can get down to the job of organizing, packing, dumping and selling our Stuff.

T- 24 and counting!!!

Did I mention Bromley has a Krispy Kreme?  It is seeping into my daydreams now….

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