Yanks n Brits Thanksgiving

Our Brit buddies have finally embraced the Halloween spirit by carving their first pumpkins so the next step was obviously showing them what Thanksgiving is all about…food and football.

We have always gone to my grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and everyone brings a dish or two. My specialty: appetisers and desserts. You need deviled eggs? I’m your girl. Crab artichoke dip? Yup, no problem. Oh you want pumpkin bread from scratch the way my Mama taught me? Awesome. What I failed to remember was that I’d never roasted a turkey. I was hosting a Thanksgiving for both Americans and Brits and I had no idea how to work that bird!

Luckily, we have this crazy thing these days called the interwebs. I studied as many blogs and videos I could get my hands on and made that bird my bitch. She was delicious.

I’m thankful that we have a new house that feels like home, that we’re showing our teenage monkeys the world, and that we have made some rad friends here who are quickly becoming family.

The Joy of a Local Pub

pub

As American Expats in London we have completely embraced two things: walking and pubs.

In Los Angeles, we drive everywhere. Whether it’s over the hill to the Westside or across the street to a bar…we drive. So after work we’d have to strategically plan our happy hour endeavours depending on how far we had to drive home afterwords and how smashed we intended to get. Because that’s the other thing, we don’t drink calmly and socially. We go big and for no good reason at all.

But here, we love the simple notion of walking from the office to the local pub and having a pint of Guinness with our colleagues to unwind and have a laugh before heading home. There is such a surprising joy in the simplicity of walking from our flat a few steps to our local pub where the manager, Francis, knows our names and asks what new adventures we’ve been on over the weekend. Where I can walk in, grab a seat wherever there is room and hang by myself or strike up a conversation (yes, at your local pub this really can happen…even in London) or join a team for pub trivia. Our local is a fireplace and game of scrabble. Our local is finding a friend who’d also just stopped by. Our local is a decent fish n chips. Our local is good music and the guy in the corner who always sings the words. Our local is joy.

Getting the American monkeys into an English school

So after securing your great new job in London, the next big thing for any family is figuring out where your kids will go to school.  Over the year leading up to our move, I trolled through endless blogs and message boards trying to figure out how I get the process started.  What I am about to tell you is in no way an expert opinion, but that of a mom who desperately just wanted answers and all but beat down everyone’s doors trying to figure out the best way to get them into a school as seamlessly as possible.

There are a decent number of all-ages American and International schools available in London, but they are costly (generally £15k – £20k a year per child). Some links can be found here:

American Schools in London: http://london.usembassy.gov/american_schools_uk.html

International Schools in London: http://www.londonpreprep.com/2011/09/london-international-schools/

Terms I’ve learned:

  • Primary = elementary
  • Secondary = middle school/junior high/ freshman & sophomore years of high school
  • College / year 11 and 12 (this is voluntary as kids technically graduate at year 10) = junior & senior years of high school
  • University = college
  • State = public
  • Independent = private
  • CofE or CE = Church of England / Christian
  • Specialty = If a school also focuses on certain career skills (i.e., technology, media, science, etc.)
  • Borough = County

I decided to base where I wanted to live on the schools in the area, but you may decide to do it the other way around. If you want to register your child for a state school in your area, you will all need to be physically living in the borough with your visas and proof of residency. They may be nice enough to give you piecemeal information, but you basically won’t get anything until you live there. Once you have moved in, the best thing to do is:

  1. Contact the school district for the borough you are living in (i.e., I live in Westminster and the school district website is http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/educationandlearning/schoolsandcolleges/) and let them know you have recently moved from outside of the UK and you would like admissions forms posted to you. They will probably ask you for your children’s ages and your postcode to make sure you’re calling the right district.
  2. Using the list of schools in your district, do some online research on how far they are from your residence, what their website boasts of, and what their OFSTED scores are http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/ (these are usually inflated, but they’re a good start and will give you a good sense of the size and type of school).
  3. Choose 6 schools that you would consider (the admissions form will require you to list them in order of priority). They don’t necessarily all need to be in your borough, but the school district will only contact those 6 for you in order to get your children placed. I chose 3 in my borough in order of vicinity to our flat and the last 3 were good schools in nearby boroughs that I am comfortable with them travelling to.
  4. If you arrive before they break for summer, call the schools of your choice directly and request visits. We arrived during the summer so I’m banking on my research and applied for what I think I want and basically just crossing my fingers until September.

That’s what I know so far… in a nutshell. As I find out more I’ll add to this post.

Happy Expatting!

Day Trip London to Brighton

Being from Southern California where the beach is at our fingertips, I personally was about to gnaw my own arm off if the sun didn’t come out once and for all. I mean, it was early May and I was still seeing snow flurries! And while I can live through an English Winter…c’mon!!! So as soon as there was the slightest HINT of warmth, we headed to the coast 🙂 Just a quick 1-hour train ride from Victoria or London Bridge down to Brighton Station and just follow the crowd as you weave through the vinyl, kitschy and secondhand shops of North Laines, down through the pavilion and mainstream shops, and straight through the to beach and pier. It’s a perfect spot to get away from the city for a day.

Museum Island, Berlin

I topped off my personal walking tour of Berlin with a trip to Museum Island. It’s right in the middle of the city and you can buy a pass to visit all four museums in one day. Those of you that know me know I hate being by myself, but there was something so great about walking through these buildings alone all day, completely silent, and just taking it all in.

The Pergamon Museum was my favourite and where I spent a majority of the day. It houses original-sized reconstructed monumental structures from Antiquity, Islam, and the Middle East.

Berlin, Germany

T travels quite a bit for work and sometimes I’ll go along for the ride. Berlin is filled with so much history and emotion, you can feel it when you walk the streets and look up at these massive buildings. You can see it in the locals’ faces as they zoom by on their bikes. There was so much to see, but I only captured a tiny bit of it this time around.