26 April 2013

A Brief History of St James's Park

St James's Park is
the oldest Royal Park in London,
the first Royal Park to be open to the public,
and it is one of the most visited parks in Europe today
The park is surrounded by three palaces
- St. James's, Westminster, and Buckingham -
and often has beautifully landscaped borders

Originally the park was a marshy meadow
where the River Tyburn often flooded on its way to the River Thames
Pigs grazed the land with farms and woodland in the area
In the thirteenth century, a leper hospital for women opened
(and gave the park its namesake)
Like the conversion of Hyde Park,
King Henry VIII turned the land into another deer park in 1536
with a hunting lodge that later became St. James's Palace
Later, King James I brought minor changes to the park
including keeping exotic birds, camels, crocodiles, and an elephant in the park
King Charles II acquired Green Park so he could walk
from Hyde Park to St James’s Park without leaving royal soil


Then in 1827 the Prince Regent (later George IV) commissioned
John Nash to design the park in a naturalistic fashion which included
winding paths, converting the canal into a lake,
and replacing Charles II's formal, French-inspired plantings to something more fashionable

The landscape design has changed little since Nash’s time

Earlier trees were burned for fuel or
accidentally burned due to out-of-control fireworks,

therefore, many of the plane trees (in the Sycamore family)
you see today in the park were planted during the 1827 redesign

In 1837, the Ornithological Society of London gifted the park various birds
The position of bird keeper and cottage (below) remain today

And those fabulous pelicans?

In 1664, the Russian Ambassador gave pelicans as a gift for the park

Just last month the City of Prague gave the park three Great White pelicans,
increasing the pelican population to six

They can be seen feeding between 2:30p and 3:00p daily

It's reported that there once was a naughty pelican
who would fly to the London Zoo to steal fish for lunch
and then return to the park

This one looks a little suspicious

all photos by me
(an unsponsored post)

23 April 2013

Day Out With The Girls

A friend and I had
the perfect day with our daughters
last week

I'm not a fan of musicals,
but Matilda is the best one I've seen EVER

Based on a Roald Dahl story,
this musical oozes talent and creativity

About a girl who is mistreated by her parents and headmistress,
this dark story has a happy ending 
with snappy tunes, amazing sets, and delightful choreography along the way

We started our day off right at Sanderson Hotel
with their Mad Hatter's Tea

Complete with marshmallow mushrooms, 'Drink Me' juice, and other fun (and delicious) bites,
my daughter had a hard time deciding if she liked the musical or the afternoon tea best

I'd say it was a tie

Such a great day!

- all photos by me -

Laura Porter's review of Mad Hatter's Tea here
(an unsponsored post)

19 April 2013

Spring Daffodil Days

This has been a tough gloomy winter
but we are now being rewarded
with 'sunshine on a stick'


Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

- all photos by me -

13 April 2013

UK History In Film

Perfect for a rainy day,
why not grab a blanket
cup of tea
warm the fireplace
and watch a good film

Such an easy way to learn a little UK history
Just pick your time period :)

I've complied a list of films
listed in chronological order of film setting

Braveheart (1995) 
is a historical drama war film portraying William Wallace
13th century Scottish warrior who led the Scots 
in the First War of Scottish Independence 
against King Edward I of England
Starring Mel Gibson 

The Other Boleyn Girl (2001) 
is a historical fiction film loosely based on the relationships 
between Anne Boleyn, her sister Mary, and Henry VIII
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) 
is the sequel to the 1998 film Elizabeth and loosely based on events 
during the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England
Starring Cate Blanchett 

Anonymous (2011)  
poses the question, 'Was Shakespeare A Fraud?' 
in this political thriller and pseudo-historical drama
Starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave 

The Madness of King George (1994) 
tells the story of George III's deteriorating mental health
and the Regency Crisis of 1788
Starring Nigel HawthorneHelen MirrenRupert Everett 

Becoming Jane (2007) 
depicts the early life of English author Jane Austen 

and her posited relationship with Thomas Langlois Lefroy

Starring Anne Hathaway

Amazing Grace (2006) 
is a biographical drama film about the campaign 
against slave trade in the British Empire in 1807
Starring Ioan Gruffudd  

The Young Victoria (2009) 
is a period drama film depicting the early life and reign of
Queen Victoria and her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Starring Emily Blunt 

Miss Potter (2006) 
is a film about children's author and illustrator Beatrix Potter 
Starring Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor

Titanic (1997) 
is a fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic
One of the biggest blockbuster films ever
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet 

War Horse (2011) 
is a war drama film set before and during World War I

It follows the story of a boy and a horse during the war 

(Oscar nomination)

The King's Speech (2010) 
is a historical drama featuring King George VI (Colin Firth) 
who sees an Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to cope with a stammer
Also starring Helena Bonham Carter 

Hope & Glory (1987)
is a comedy drama war film 
based on the producer/director John Boorman's
experience of growing up in London during the Blitz during World War II
(Oscar nomination)

Made in Dagenham (2010)
dramatizes the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968 
that aimed for equal pay for women

The Iron Lady (2011) 
is a biographical film based on the life of Margaret Thatcher
the longest serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 20th century
Starring Meryl Streep

The Queen (2006)
is an historical drama film, starring Helen Mirren
who portrays Queen Elizabeth II after the death of Princess Diana in 1997

Calendar Girls (2003) 
is a comedy and true story of a group of mature Yorkshire women who produce
nude calendar to raise money for Leukemia Research in April 1999
Starring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters

Do you have a favorite?

Info & Images: Wikipedia
(An unsponsored post)

10 April 2013

The Lambing Season

One of the dearest things to do in Spring
is visit a farm during the lambing season

And if your timing is right,
you may see one being born

Thanks to ultrasound,
the farm sorts the pregnant ewes into different pens
according to how many lambs each mama is expecting (usually 1 to 3)

The more babies she is carrying, the more help she may need to deliver safely

Once born, the mama and babes are painted with a number on their backs
so the staff can keep the family together

More going on at the farm

Definitely the season for newborns,
lots of other babies are seen on the farm

With sun, blossoms, and the lambing season
England is at its best right now :)

Have a great week!

- all photos by me -

06 April 2013

Raising Second Generation Expats

Ever wonder what it would be like to live abroad with your family?

In my last post 
I interviewed four American expat moms
who described what it was really like 
to live in a foreign country when they were kids

- the good and the bad -

Next I posed the question 
'Did you want to raise your children abroad?'
Here are their responses

Miss C (Raised in 4 European countries, now in England) Absolutely!!  It's a gift that they, once they are adults, will fully appreciate and treasure for the rest of their lives.

Miss S (Brazil as a child, Japan as a teen, now in England)I didn't have a preference per se but my husband and I knew if the opportunity arose, we certainly would consider it. I'm glad my kids live abroad now. It makes them different. They are truly citizens of the world. They have family in Africa and America, and they live in England - but to them that's normal. How crazy is that?!

Miss G (England as teenager, now in India): I absolutely wanted my kids to live abroad, and longer than I got to. I came away from my own experience thinking that living abroad was an essential part of a person’s education in life.

Miss L (Costa Rica as teen, now in England)Both my husband and I were eager to live abroad with our children.  Because of my experiences in Costa Rica, I saw the benefits of living abroad, but I also hoped to move where there would be a lot of activities for our children - our current school and England certainly provide that.

What insights or advice would you have for parents new to the expat life? 
What words of wisdom would you have for their kids?

Miss C: Don't try to live your "old life" in your new location. Open yourself up to your new culture and embrace it, experience it. Expose your children to as much as you can - make them realize that the world is vast and interesting.

Miss S: Laugh. Things will go wrong. If you're lucky to know the language where you are an expat, there are still nuances, jokes, sayings, signs, measurements, and mannerisms that are different. Ask questions. You're a foreigner and people know it. Usually, people are willing to explain things and if you say something silly or out of place, just blame it on your ignorance because you're new!

When we first moved to Brazil, my mom would go to the supermarket and try to speak Portuguese. She wasn't very good at it, and she only knew whole numbers. When she asked for cheese at the cheese counter, she only knew how to say "1" so she would come home with 1 kilo of cheese. That's 2.2 pounds! I did something similar when I first moved to London and ordered groceries online. I got my gallons and litres mixed up and ended up with about 4 gallons of milk in my first order. That's about 15 litres of milk! Whoops.

For the kids - you're never the 'new kid' for long in an expat community. Once you start feeling like you've got it, look around for someone who isn't quite there yet. They will be eternally grateful just as you would have been if someone helped you in your early days.

Miss G: It’s harder to live abroad than at home, harder and richer. In other words, it takes work, but it’s worth it. As a mom, my primary concern is getting the kids settled, and I think it’s really helpful if one parent can focus on just the kids for the first 6 months of a move. Setting them up to be comfortable and with activities they like and one or two friends before you start your job (if you have one) will make the rest of your stay much more comfortable. 

I have tried to be lenient with my kids as moving and being someplace new is stressful for them too - I try to allow them extra treats (an ice cream now and then when you don’t have a friend yet really CAN help!) and lots of listening to them and playing with them. Remembering that they are nervous or homesick or stressed just like you are can help focus your energies on helping them through it. One specific trick that has worked for us: one of my two kids doesn't like change and we have found that keeping his room roughly the same wherever we go makes a huge difference to him. It’s a kind of familiarity that we can provide – when all else is novel.

We also have found that a lot of preparation before you move can really help the kids. I found YouTube videos of the cities we were moving to, to show the kids what it would look like, and we watched together, focusing on things we couldn't wait to see for ourselves or try. We bought coffee table books with big bright pictures of the towns and cities, books of the local folklore and children’s stories also helped engage them. We also had the opportunity to take photos of their new schools (and some of the teachers and kids!) to bring back for the kids to see. Our kids really poured over all this before we moved them and they knew, to some degree, what to expect when we left the airport.

I have found this sort of preparation helps us a lot on our travels as well. Since we've been living abroad (Ethiopia & India), we've taken our kids on vacations to 10 different countries. To engage them before we go, we talk about where we’re going and what we’ll see and do and eat; buy activity and story books when possible (there are great ones for Egypt and China) and make playdoh structures out of the amazing buildings we will visit. After a kid has tried to build the Eiffel Tower out of playdoh, he is even more excited to try to climb to the top when you’re actually there. Putting in the prep time with the kids BEFORE we move or travel has really engaged them and made our travels a lot more fun.

Miss L: Before moving here, we moved quite a bit in the US, and I quickly learned that no matter where you live, there will be things you don't like very much and things that you absolutely love. And that is certainly true to living abroad, only on a bigger scale.  But we've always said, "Just focus on the things you love", and that always seems to work. There is definitely an adjustment period to any move. It takes a while to figure out things and to find your niche socially, but it always gets easier and better as time goes on.  

I would suggest getting involved as much as possible because you'll enjoy it even more. We absolutely love our school - it keeps us very busy and productive - but some of the things we enjoy most are the local activities (sports, church, our British neighbours). My boys have been really happy here, almost immediately, and I keep telling them, "You've learned that you can be happy anywhere". It's a good skill and a good mindset for them to develop.

Anything else you would like to share?

Miss S: I think if you live abroad it's really important (and a lot easier) if you have a safety net. We always went with a big corporation who looked after us, took care of all the logistics, schools, housing, gave us trips home, etc. Living abroad without that safety net can be very difficult. If anything really bad happened, we knew we had a way "out" and would be taken care of. 

Miss G: I have been amazed how clearly my kids mimic my husband’s and my feelings about a move (or a trip). If I am excited and happy about it, then they are too. If I am nervous and homesick and feel out of control, then they will follow suit. Putting your most positive attitude into this adventure will come right back to you. Finally, having the opportunity to live abroad with your kids is a special privilege, and I would encourage anyone interested to embrace the adventure!

Wow! I love all the wonderful insights
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer all my questions, girls!

Great tips for vacationing with kids (love the playdoh idea, Miss G!)
and loads of good advice for families moving anywhere, not just abroad

Plus just a lot of sound advice for raising a family

Good stuff!

- all photos by me -

Related posts: 

03 April 2013

Reflecting On An Expat Upbringing

Due to an overwhelming response on my post 'Where Are You From?',
I decided to write a follow-up from a different angle

Handmade by Jane Foster

Wondering how my children may reflect upon living abroad,
I posed questions to four American expat moms who lived in foreign countries
when they were younger

Here's a quick introduction to these 4 lovely ladies
who took the time to answer my questions (thank you!):

Between the ages of 4 to 18, Miss C grew up in four European countries
Now a busy mom of 4, she is fluent in French, and her husband is German
They live in England

Meet Miss S who lived in Brazil for four years when she was little
and moved to Japan during her teenage years
She has two kiddos and a South African husband
With US/UK dual citizenship, Miss 'S' has lived in England for 8 years

Miss G spent one year living in Oxford, England as a teenager
She, her husband, and 2 children recently moved from Ethiopia to India

Miss L spent two of her teenage years in Costa Rica
Now a mom of 3 children, she lives in England

Here's a few of my 'wonders', and their responses:

While you lived abroad as a child, what did you think of the experience at the time?

Miss C: Once in an international school system, you get used to kids coming and going. Therefore, our moving every few years was the norm as everyone else was doing it too. However, that doesn't mean I didn't cry my eyes out when we left Switzerland and Belgium, but the adjustment was quick and easy once our new school began. 

Miss S: We were in Brazil when I was 2 - 6 years old, so I didn't know I was an expat. I knew and understood we were different and lived far from family. I remember my mom stocking up on all the things she couldn't get in Brazil. There were no limits on weight and number of suitcases, so we literally traveled with 12 huge suitcases. At the time there weren't many toddlers on planes, so we received lots of attention. Whenever we left for Brazil at the end of the summer, my extended family would cry hysterically as they waved goodbye. From our point of view, we were off for another year of adventure.

When I was 13 years old and living in the US, my parents told my sister and me that we were moving to Tokyo. I cried and tried to convince them to let me stay behind with my best friend. I didn't want to leave my American school or friends. But my sister and I quickly found friends at our new school in Japan. Since all expats have been new at one time, they all know what it's like and were quick to introduce us to other people and give us pointers. We stayed for two years, and boy, did I cry when we had to leave Japan! 

iPhone case by Arete on Etsy

Miss G: I was very excited for the adventure and eager to try something new but living in England for that one year turned out to be a difficult experience for me. The girls in my all-girls school weren't very nice to me for at least half the year. I was one of only two foreigners in my grade, and it wasn't cool to be an outsider. My mom worked very hard to keep me happy, including taking me out of school often and going on little trips with her. 

Miss L:  It was really difficult for me to move to Costa Rica, as I was about to start high school. But it was a great experience, and for the most part, I really enjoyed it. The down side for me was that I attended a very small international school (the only English-speaking one in the area), and there were very few extracurricular activities there. We only had about 30 students per grade. Back in the US, I had been very involved in a variety of sports and choirs, plus a lot of church and social activities, and there wasn't much of that in Costa Rica. There were no sports for girls, and I was in the only choir in the school, which was very mediocre. 

Also, because it was an international school, we were very spread apart, so getting to other friends' houses was challenging. None of us were old enough to have a driver's license, but we did find ways to get around and do things. We had great monthly dances, which were a lot of fun, and I found a phenomenal jazz dance class outside the school where I went 3 days a week, so that improved things a lot.

Now through adult eyes, what do you think about your time abroad when you were a child?

Miss C: I absolutely loved it; it's an experience I wish everyone could have. As a child, one doesn't fully understand the scope of it, but as an adult one realizes how fortunate and lucky one was. Children who have these experiences, especially in high school, create bonds that last a lifetime. I'm very close with my high school friends as we share such a unique experience.

Miss S: I think my experience abroad made me the person I am today. Of course there were days that were challenging, but overall I learned a lot, including to laugh more, to ask for help when lost, and to appreciate people of different cultures. 

However, I quickly lost touch with what was happening back home. I didn't get their jokes as much, I wore different clothes, I didn't know the TV shows, and I picked up mannerisms and inflections that made me seem different to them. Some people incorrectly took it that I was leaving my past behind or acting stuck up.

Vintage art by Cirque De Art

Miss G: It was a great experience for our little family - being abroad pulls a family together and forces you to really lean on each other because you don’t have friends and other family around to go to. It was likely a pretty challenging year for my mom, as one of her four kids (me!) wasn't very happy, and I’m sure it took a lot out of her to work with me. The only real disadvantage I can see is that coming back into my old school was a bit rocky. My US school didn't really know how to judge all the different classes I took in England, and I think I ended up a bit behind in the US system. In the long run, it didn't matter at all.

Miss L: As an adult, I see it as a fantastic experience. I learned to speak Spanish fluently, and it certainly broadened my perspective in major ways. Our church asked my dad to oversee the missionary work for our church in Costa Rica and Panama (he left his career for two years to do it), so we traveled a lot to tiny and remote parts of Costa Rica, Panama, and even Guatemala, and I got to experience life outside the sheltered expat community. I saw poverty and different cultures that I had never experienced in the US, and I also met a lot of great people and families who, in so many ways, were a lot like me. 

How did the experience change you?

Miss C: It made me more versatile, flexible, accepting, and open minded to cultures, religions, and people - not just because of the schools I attended, but also from the travel that went along with living abroad.

Miss S: I don't know if it changed me, it's just me. I just lived my life and happened to be living in a foreign country. My first experience abroad was when I was so little, so it has always been a part of me. 

It is easy for me to talk to people from other countries, as I'm curious about them and what it's like to live in their country. Perhaps my experience made me marry my husband - he's British but born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa. I think we connected because we both lived in other countries as kids. We like to joke that even though we are both white, our kids are 'African American'.

For sale by Evka Photography on Etsy

Miss G: Even though it was a rough year, I learned I could survive. I could handle being the new kid and manage new situations. I liked all the stimulation of being in a place that was new to me and sort of got “the travel bug” from this time abroad. I also learned that there are other ways of doing things and living. The American ways of doing things were just ONE way, not the only way. This excited my imagination. You could say, the experience opened my eyes to the greater world around me.

Miss L:  My school in Costa Rica was extremely rigorous academically, so I received a great education and learned how to be a successful student.  It also helped me feel entirely comfortable in foreign, non-English speaking countries, and it created in me a desire to travel and see more of the world.

Describe what it was like when you 'repatriated' (returned home)

Miss C: I went back to the US for college, which is a new beginning for everyone, so it's hard for me to answer. Any transition period I had had more to do with being at a university than being back in the US. I was excited to live in the US and learn more about the country I was from. To me, the norm had always been to be viewed as a "foreigner", the one speaking English in a non-English speaking country. To be in the US and viewed as a ''native'' was a strange concept to me, and still is. To this day, I absolutely hate the question "where are you from" as I don't have a good, or short, answer. So I tailor my answer depending on who asked the question :-)

Miss S: I was 6 when we moved back to NY from Brazil, and I can recall going to 1st grade and telling people where I moved from. None of the kids knew what Brazil was but then again they probably didn't know New Jersey either. I remember someone asking me if Brazil was a cookie? I have no idea why, but that always stuck with me.  

You quickly learn that while the experience of living abroad is so dear to you, no one else really cares. My mom always tells the story that when we moved back after 4 incredibly exciting years which included amazing trips, her friends only wanted to talk about their new Mr. Coffee machines which were all the rage in 1978!  It was quite a shock and I guess that's what leads to "reverse homesickness". She quickly learned to keep her stories to herself, but we would retell them over and over at family dinners.

LondonJeff's Havana photo available via Etsy

Miss G: I remember feeling a bit disappointed and bored. I felt I had changed in so many ways and really grown, but everything at home seemed exactly the same.

Miss L: It was definitely an adjustment moving back to the US. Part of it was because I went to a different high school than the majority of friends I grew up with in elementary and junior high school, so it was almost like moving to a new place socially. I also had changed and grown in so many ways, but it seemed as if so many of the kids in the US were just the same. That said, I was thrilled to be back in a school where I had so many opportunities outside of academics, and I quickly got involved in a lot of things. I was really glad I had both experiences in high school. 

I find these insights to be incredibly fascinating,
giving a broad spectrum of emotions and perspective

Did they wish an expat life for their families?
What advice do they have for expat parents?

Answers revealed in the next post :)

(an unsponsored post)

Related posts:
Where Are You From?
Raising Second Generation Expats