Sunday, November 21, 2010

Around the house

Many of you are probably wondering what our house is like! I'd love for you to stop by for some tea (its much better than the instant coffee that's so popular here, believe me!) so that I could show you our little neck of the woods. I know this isn't really possible, (unless you live in the UK and then you are more than welcome to come by!), so here are some pictures of our house as its coming together.
This is our bedroom (well, a bit of it!). The end of our bed (with clothes that I hadn't put away yet), the chair that I will most likely be spending a lot of time in, the crib and dresser.

This is our eating area/clothes drier looking out to the backyard. I didn't put the table in the picture because it was a mess, but we do have a table and chairs, thanks to a wonderful family at our church!

 And here is our kitchen with our huge fridge (really, it is big for the UK!), and brand new appliances (amazing!) and kitchen. We really have a nice kitchen. There's not a whole lot of cabinet space, but I don't even use it all because I haven't purchased all the kitchen items (i.e. baking pans, slow cooker, etc.) that I will be using in the future.

This is another view of the kitchen. You can see our washer/dryer in the corner. You in America (or those of you with wonderful machines - no complaining!) It would take me 5 hours to do a load of laundry - washing and drying for it to be completed. Most of the time, I just use it for washing, and then I hang our clothes up to dry (like in one of the pictures above). Also, you can see our state-of-the-art dishwasher. Known as the kitchen sink and dish drainer.

This is a picture from our living room. This is the final couch that we got this week - a half-price purchase second hand. It is really in great condition, and although its not the most comfortable thing, it has lots of space (probably 3 people easily) and looks pretty cute in our room.

This last picture is Dave's office/guest room. The couch folds out to make a bed, so we will be putting our guests in here.

The good news is that all of our major purchases are done! On the downside, we do not have any decorations up yet. I did bring a few pictures with us to remind us of our home in the States, but we don't have nails or screws, so they aren't hanging up. We have lots of empty walls still around the house, but I'm working to slowly make our place feel more like home - and its working!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Births in the UK

I know a lot of my last posts have been baby or food related. Those are just the top two items on my mind these days :-)
I'm terribly sorry if they're boring, but you get another one of them today

The whole birthing experience is quite different in the UK, compared to the US. I've decided that the best way to describe it is that in the UK, because of the NHS (National Healthcare System), the hospitals/doctors/government are all concerned mostly about cost. In the US, because of private healthcare, they can be more concerned about comfort.

First, the good:

- During the actual labor (from what I've heard), the midwives push you to do as much as you can without any drugs, especially without the epidural. Depending on your point of view, this can be a good or bad thing as you can have a more "natural" birth experience with a birthing tub or ball. (which are much cheaper than drugs and more medical doctors). And if you decide you want drugs, they may not be available as there are limited doctors at the hospital who can give you these drugs.
- They are very unlikely to induce labor here unless there is a major problem. They won't talk about it until you're at 41 weeks.
- The rate of c-sections is fairly low, compared to the US. This can be attributed to the low induction rate and probably also the lower rate of epidurals.
- The midwife visits you at home several times in the week following the birth. This is also a cost-cutting measure as new moms are less likely to run to the hospitals with questions or call the doctors office in the days following the birth.

The not-so-good
- Hands-off mindset: I really think this comes down to cost-cutting. It is cheaper to have midwives verses OBs. Also, it is better for the government to provide fewer ultrasounds and tests (such as the Glucose test for gestational diabetes and the Group B Strep test towards the end of the pregnancy). In the US, they do everything they can to prevent something from happening. In the UK, they wait to see if there is a problem and then they will treat it if one arises. 
- The lack of testing worries me a bit. I did not get tested for GBS (or Group B Strep). Its a infection that can come and go in women and can be passed on to the baby during delivery. This can cause higher rates of meningitis in babies (and then possibly death). They do not test for that here, although you can order tests online and do it yourself and send it in for the results.
- I have heard multiple stories of women who's waters break (some even early - around 32 weeks!) who go to the hospital only to be sent home because they are not in active labor. In the States this is unheard of because they are worried about infection.
- I've heard that some of the hospitals are rather "dirty" or old by American standards (The doctor at my local clinic told me this!)
- Husbands do not spend the night at hospitals. Even if you're in early stages of labor, they will send the husband home with a promise to call if you make progress. Also, after the baby is born they will send the husband home an hour or two after the baby arrives. Also, you can be discharged up to two hours after giving birth if you are able to go home.
- You rarely see the same doctor twice. This is a pain because you have to explain who you are and why you're there. The doctors do not talk to each other - so the person examining me at the hospital will not know the person who did the ultrasound or the doctor in my local clinic. I carry my own medical notes around, and they look at that when they need information.

I do have more thoughts on the NHS as a whole (not just relating to births) but I will save that for another time.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Week in Review: Dorking

A few weeks ago, Dave had a work conference in a city half an hour south of Wimbledon called Dorking. Actually there was a little "town" closer called Wotton, but it consisted of a bus stop and a pub. We stayed at an old retreat centre by the name of Wotton House. It was the house of the novelist John Evelyn (if you know who that is, ahem, mom...)

We took the train down to the city of Dorking, which was quite a feat. The train and tube stations here were not designed for anything that has wheels - wheelchairs, strollers or suitcases. And, since we were still technically homeless, we took four suitcases with us. The rest of our belongings were at two different hotels awaiting our return. The first feat we managed was taking the bus down to the train station with our four large suitcases. We only got a few dirty looks.

Then, we had to get on the train. The station has a ramp up to the first platform. Very nice, and although it was a long (and steep!) ramp, very do-able. Then, we had to cross the platform to get to the other side. Of course it was only stairs. So, up we started. Dave would take up two of the suitcases a few stairs, and then come down to get the third one while I took the lightest of the bunch and slowly made my way up. Then, we had to go down. Without thinking, I just pulled the suitcase down the stairs behind me, bouncing all the way down. I have to say we were very lucky that none of the electronics (such as laptops) broke!

The same sort of thing happened once we got into Dorking. Again, we had to cross platforms, and again there were only stairs. So down we went, dragging the bags behind us, and then (finally!) a nice man stopped and offered to help me carry one of the bags up the stairs! 

Anyways, we got a taxi and took it to the Wotton house, arriving to this spectacular view. It was so beautiful on the property, and I got to enjoy it fully while Dave and his co-workers had meetings every day.

I have to admit that the service was less than stellar. Upon arrival we had to ask for two keys (they thought we'd share one room key!), had to wait until 7pm to eat dinner. We got kicked out of the dining room because we were there too early! They had a pool/fitness area that I thought I'd use one day, so I went by the front desk to ask about it, and the only way to get a key to the fitness area was to give them my room key in exchange. I had to beg and plead for them to give me a key without taking away my room key. I told them I was going to come back in my swimming suit and I think that scared them :-)

One of Dave's co-workers who had a car was able to take me to the city of Dorking one of the days that we were there. Unfortunately I didn't take my camera because I was planning on spending several hours there and wanted to carry one less item, but it was very charming.
I did take plenty of pictures of the Wotton House though, so if you'd like to see them, you have some options, well, one mainly. 

Since we had such a difficult time reaching the retreat centre, we rented a car for the ride home :-) I have to say that Dave is getting very good at driving around here. He still likes to ride the left curb and stalls every once in a while, but I feel pretty comfortable in the car! And that's saying a lot....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Dave says I'm not putting enough pictures on the blog. Too much writing. So, here you go!

As we are in a waiting pattern, Dave and I have been trying to make the best of our time as a family of two. I have drug him out of the house, promising Starbucks, in exchange for spending time in the cold outdoors. 

These are some pictures from the last few times we've gone out. We caught a bus near our house and took it up the hill to Wimbledon Common area. 

Sorry about the raindrop on the lens... oops. That's what happens when we have no umbrella with us. 

We ended up getting off the bus too early and then had trouble finding an entrance to the park, so instead we walked through some of the more "posh" neighborhoods. It was a cooler afternoon and we had some sprinkles as we started the walk (unfortunate because I forgot the umbrella). 

But, it did clear up pretty quickly and then the sun peaked out just for a bit. It really was a beautiful evening. 

This is the name of the borough we live in. 

Here's a picture of me... I am around 37.5 weeks here. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vinegar and HSBC

They do not sell vinegar in the UK, at least not at the 4 grocery stores I've been to, or the others I've looked at online. Poop.

Its not that distilled vinegar (without spices or malt, thank you!) is that much of a necessity. Really. I'm pretty sure I can get by without it. Its just the annoyance of trying so hard to find something and not being able to find it. Anywhere.

They do sell vinegar - malt vinegar (in many different colors), pear vinegar, balsamic vinegar, vinegar for canning, and any other type of vinegar you can think of. Just not the plain, clear, white one without malt flavoring.

I don't use it all that often - I do like to make my own buttermilk. Add it to some milk, and pretty much instantly it becomes buttermilk! We save a fortune when I make pancakes and waffles because I don't have to buy buttermilk. But I can buy buttermilk. I'm not opposed to it... Its just that for the price of a can (or jug) of buttermilk, you could get two or three jars of vinegar. Although you have to admit that buttermilk tastes better than milk + vinegar.

Dave was a little annoyed that I was getting so worked up about it. Until I found a recipe for Carne Asada (we'll talk about Mexican food another time....).... One of the ingredients you add to the marinade was vinegar. And then, he felt my pain.

.   .   . 

Banking is a whole new ball game. Nothing about opening a bank account and figuring out payments and direct debit has been easy. Nothing.

Dave checked, and our rental payment that was supposed to go out on Friday had not gone out of the account... So our rent was overdue. We had filled out a form asking that they just automatically take it out of our account every month. This was the first month and so I first tried calling our housing manager who told me to try calling the bank.

So, I called the bank. Mind you, this is an 0800 telephone number. If you were in the states, it would be no big deal. But here, you get charged (not just minutes by your phone company... also get charged for the call itself!) when you call one of these numbers. And like a significant amount. For my phone call today, it'll probably cost around $7. So, not cheap.

Back to the story.... The computerized voice asks me to put in my account info, my sorting code, and then asks for my date of birth. I put mine in, but it says it does not recognize it. So, I try Dave's. It works just fine. In the States, this is not a big deal! We have a joint account, both of our names are on it, and we both have credit cards from the same account. So who cares if I'm using his date of birth or mine?!

When the call finally gets answered, the lady proceeds to tell me that I've locked Dave's account. In order for him to access it, he has to go into the nearest branch (which is NOT in our town.... its a bus ride away) and have them re-open basically his part of the account. She continues that she can help me, since my "part" of the account (of our JOINT account - do they have a different meaning for the word here????) was still active. But, because I had not set up a password or pin number in my own name, I would have to prove who I was. No problem. Date of birth, full name, number of my credit card. Then, the last question threw me - I had to tell her "something" that had taken place in our account over the last 7 days. So, if we'd made any purchases using the account, I would have to state the exact amount, the place purchased, and the date. If I were to get it wrong, I would lock my part of the account.

So... I spent a full 10 minutes on the phone with her, trying to find a receipt from something in the last week. But of course this is the week that we've switched to using cash, rather than our debit cards. And I ended up hanging up the phone, rather than tell her something inaccurate and screw-up our account further.

Dave and I take a trip into the bank to sort everything out. First, they have to re-set his part of the account so that he can use it. Then, we have to add my information (i.e. date of birth) so that I can call the bank without feeling like a thief. Then, we try to figure out why our direct debit has not begun to work. They have a copy of the form we've filled out in their computer system with our authorization of the direct debit.

Ah hah.

Dave's signature doesn't match.

Yup. They've become the signature nazis over here.

Someone, somewhere decided that Dave's signature on the direct debit form did not match his signature given to the bank when we opened our account.

The bank has been calling us the last week to try to sort it out. BUT... because of the laws and regulations they have, this is what the call goes like:

"Hi, this is your bank calling (they can't even say the name of the bank because of privacy laws). Can you give us your phone number and account number to prove who you are and then we'll tell you why we're calling?!"

And Dave hangs us because he doesn't give his information out over the phone.

So, its been a headache.

I think Tariq at the bank might become the baby's godfather. That's how much he sees us.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Differences: food

Last night while eating dinner, Dave told me, “Your cooking has gotten so much better - I don’t mind eating at home all the time!” haha..... I told him it was that his options (i.e. eating out) were not that good, making my food seem even better. And then, yes, after thinking about it for a while, he amended his statement, “I can’t think of anything that we’d go out and eat that would be better”

People in America, eat an In-n-out burger for us tonight.

The first complaint about food here is that it is impossible to eat for less than 10 pounds (for the two of us), which is around $16. And that is a cheap meal. At In-N-Out (which we frequented too often), we could eat for $7. Easily.

You wouldn’t think that there were that many differences in the food here. But you would be wrong.

Ranch dressing is obsolete. They do have other dressings by Kraft.... just not ranch. And the Cesear dressing here is the “real” stuff with anchovies. Eiw. The closest they have to ranch is “garlic and parmesan” which is like eating a spoonful of mayonnaise with bits of herbs in it.

Mexican food consists of Old El Paso taco and fajita kits. Either that or Spanish tapas are pretty popular here. And I guess people here think the “Mexican” is too spicy because they just launched the “Very Mild” version of Old El Paso. On the topic of Mexican food, corn tortillas here are only partially corn and then mostly wheat. Not good for a glutard like Dave. We’ve had to buy Masa so that we could try making our own corn tortillas. The best salsa we’ve found is the one made by Doritos.

Pickles here means something that has been “pickled” which is usually onions or beets. Do people just eat canned onions? I find that hard to believe.... They have very limited quantities of what we would consider pickles. I have yet to find the ones you can put on sandwiches (the sour variety).

I’ve been missing fall foods. And I will be missing them for a few years. Pumpkin filling (for pies or breads) does not exist. Well, I haven’t found it yet. So no pumpkin pie this year :-( On the subject of pies, I don't think I will be able to make Pecan pie either. The "Karo" syrup is not the same.... we'll give it a try though.

If you know me well, you know I enjoy my morning cereal. The good news is that there is Kellogs and Nestle (which I believe is the same as General Mills). The bad news is that they only sell about 10 different varieties of cereal total, and that includes Coco Puffs, Frosted Flakes and Honey Cheerios (yes, its different from Honey Nut Cheerios). They have some cheap imitation of shredded wheat, but its a soft cereal, instead of the crunchy that it should be. I miss my American Cereals. What I would give for a bowl of Quaker Oatmeal Squares right now.

Don’t get me started on chips. Instead of flavors like chive, or cheddar, they have “roast chicken” and “prawn cocktail”. I’ve heard they’re actually good, but with names like that my appetite is ruined.

Its a good thing I like to bake (thanks Dad!) because their selection of boxed cake mixes are very limited. Actually, I’ve seen two or three total: Devil Food cake and maybe a vanilla. They are low on the baking supplies I'm used to. Karo Syrup and Molasses syrup are things that are difficult to find. Also, Crisco is also non-existent.

Velveeta is non existent here, too. What am I going to do when I want a grilled cheese? It just isn’t the same with cheddar.... you need that velvety cheesy goodness.....

Can anyone tell I’ve been missing American foods????? I think they need an American section in their grocery stores. Or a store that sells American brands of foods. They have pretty much every other type of food here.

Don’t even get me started on their obsession with beans - only baked beans. It is impossible to find canned pinto beans. Refried beans cost about $2 a jar. AND.... they eat these baked beans for breakfast!  How does that rhyme go? Beans, beans the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you..... well.... you get the idea

That is the plus side - if you want a really good Indian curry, some decent Chinese or even Korean, you’re able to find it very easily. Just not American.....

If you’re English, or you like English food, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to offend you. Just go to America and try the food there. Its transformational. Like change your life good.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

We have a compromise....

When we get back to the States, I have an opinion that we will probably need a mini van (or at least something bigger than a car) to lug around kid(s) and everything that you need when you have kids.

Dave has been vehemently opposed to that idea.

Until today.

He found this online.

A swagger-wagon. Stretch-limo mini van.

His actual words, "I would drive that!"