Archive for March, 2009


img_2511Whenever I wonder whether we did the right thing by moving here, I think of this photo.  It was taken in late February, which is a beautiful fact in itself.  There aren’t a lot of places I’ve lived where you can be outside, dry and reasonably warm in February — certainly not the UK, where we lived until November.  

During the dead of winter in London, the sun started going down before 3 PM, so soccer (ie football) would not have been an option in the late afternoon.  That makes a difference, because my husband can catch part of the class on his way home from work.

As a Brit, he is a big football fan, so he is especially enthusiastic about our daughter’s interest in soccer.  The coach told us that she handles the ball well for a two-year-old. True, he probably would have said the same thing to any parents — especially because we hadn’t paid for the classes yet, and hadn’t decided at that point whether we were going to — but it was still thrilling to hear.

She calls it Soccball — a fusion of “soccer” and “football.”  I think she might be onto something — a new language that unites British and American English.

Which Economy Are You In?

We are looking at houses that seem to be over-priced, even for a normal market. A newly-renovated house, admittedly big (five bedroom), which is on a busy street and overlooks a somewhat seedy apartment buildings carries a nearly one million dollar price tag.

My husband was annoyed that we even bothered to look at it.  I explained my plan, which was to submit an offensively low bid. It was explained to me that by our realtor that this would not fly.

Of course, the realtor has a second agenda.  And a career that until the past year has been quite lucrative.  She drives a Jaguar and a Lexus. I suppose she could be forgiven for trying to hang on to the glory days.

But I am confused about why, amid sweeping layoffs, huge stock market dives and several local foreclosures, house prices still seem to be inflated.  

The near-million dollar price tag on the house we saw was a *newly reduced* price.

We’re Not in London Anymore…

I am no longer a true Londoner.  I realized this when I was on the tube during a visit to our old city last week.

Headed east on the Circle Line, the tube driver announced that we would not be stopping at the next stop — Great Portland Street. That was my stop, so I was irritated.

But then, I grew anxious. As we passed through the station, alarms blared. A monotone recorded voice droned: “Exit the station immediately.”  

Our driver repeated that we would stop because of a “security alert.”  

Was it a bomb threat? A terrorist attack? A mad gunman? I swore under my breath, and looked around the carriage.

No one even batted an eye. People yawned, turned pages in their newspapers, even slept.

And I realized, by panicking, I reacted like a tourist. Londoners experience these scares every day. They’re completely immune, like I used to be.

I never found out what the issue was with Great Portland Street. Like most of these alerts, it probably was nothing.

House Hunting

Looking for a house in this market is enjoyable. I had heard that in order to make your house more palatable, you should pull a batch of cookies out of the oven just as the prospective buyers come in.

One of the owners of a house I saw today did even better — she offered up those freshly baked cookies to me and my realtor.

Rather than the scent of baked goods, I smelled desperation.

At another house, a woman was baking a lasagna. It smelled delicious. But it was 3:00 in the afternoon. Who really bakes a lasagna at 3 PM on a Tuesday?

Someone who really wants to sell their house, I think.

House Affairs

People here in Atlanta love their homes. And with good reason — most I’ve seen are beautiful. They are freshly painted, with manicured lawns, cute lanterns adorning front doors, often set off by faux Roman columns.  They are filled with massive appliances, and every imaginable convenience: from room-to-room intercom systems to fire places that create fires with the flick of a switch.

So as we search for a new rental house, we are not surprised to find that people are moving, but renting out their old house simply because they want to keep it in the family.  But it makes me wonder whether their emotions will render them unable to leave the premises.

At the house we viewed on Friday, the father stroked the built-in stair gate and explained how they put that in themselves when they first bought the house. Never mind that their children are now too old to require a stair gate.

And a framed photo on their refrigerator showed how the house looked 15 years ago when they first bought it, before they extensively renovated it. Their basement was filled with so much junk (an empty jar; a string of light up jack o’ lanterns; reams of packing material) we didn’t think they’d be able to move, even if they wanted to.

They explained that they wanted to be closer to the children’s school, which makes sense.  But they, like the owners of another house we saw, were willing to pay two mortgages so that they could hold on to the house for sentimental reasons. 

It’s a touching concept, and one I never experienced in London. Most people were flat ashamed, rather than house proud. We only had one closet in the flat we own in London, so we found storage wherever we could.  Moving to a place with more space was a relief.

And yet, I do find that I miss that flat sometimes.  Even the ruckus called by the trains that raced by on the tracks adjacent to the building.  So if we had had a massive house with all of bells and whistles, I would probably love it too much to ever leave.

An Auction of Good Will

We went to the annual auction for our daughter’s preschool last night, and were impressed by the explosion of good will. A bidding frenzy exploded over a painting which included dots created by one year olds sticking their finger into paint, and placing them onto a canvas. It went for almost three hundred dollars.  A man physically restrained his wife to keep her from bidding again.

I really admire the enthusiasm Atlantans have for school fundraising. A woman told us that the playground at her son’s elementary school was lacking. You might hear a similar complaint in the UK, but it would be followed by a closing comment, such as: “Doesn’t that suck?” and then the subject would be changed. 

This woman explained that she was on the board of the committee that would raise money and manpower to remodel the playground. 

We left the auction with a footstool, painted with the footprints of our daughter and her classmates (only $80 — we clinched it early in the evening, before cocktails loosened the bidding hands), hand-made burp clothes for $20, and the warm fuzzy feeling of having helped the school.

Back to London

I just got back from a week long trip to London, where we visited my in-laws, saw lots of friends, and tried to hunt down my wedding dress, which appears to be well and truly gone.

The one bright spot out of that whole mess is that it looks like the dress did not end up in a landfill in East London, as I had feared; rather, it appears that the dress was stolen. The fact that the dress might be worn again makes me feel a bit better — even if the new wearer is a thief.

London is always a great place to visit.  But it’s an odd feeling to return after having lived there, and to feel like you don’t really belong there anymore.

But we’re not sure we belong here either — we returned to a note from our landlord, saying that her lender is foreclosing on her house, and we need to move out in the next two months.  Welcome home, indeed….

Language Barriers

While my husband and I speak the same language, we still find little discrepancies between British and American expressions. Even after nearly five years of marriage, I still find myself explaining such cultural phenomenons as opposite day, which came up during last Thursday’s episode of 30 Rock.

Apparently, kids in the UK don’t play the hilarious game of saying to friends: “I’d like to hang out with you…if it were OPPOSITE DAY!!”

Then he described playing “Tig” during recess at school, instead of “Tag.” Who would have thought that such a random word would have a different translation in the UK?

Other words, like garden (yard), estate agent (realtor), nappy (diaper) he’s grown accustomed to saying.  Now in that we’re in the South, I suppose we’ll have to start saying “Y’all”….

An Ode to a Dress

My wedding dress is officially gone. After a week of harassing our contact at the estate agent’s in London, we found out that the new tenant remembers seeing the big beige box containing the dress – and throwing it out.

She claimed she thought the box was full of papers. True, the dress was wrapped in tissue paper. Perhaps she could have looked a little more closely, but of course, we shouldn’t have left it behind.

I called the local government office, the landfill, and the porters, and they all said the same thing: “There is no hope.”

I found a spare set of spare keys to our old flat, and briefly considered using them to get into the flat when we visit London, just to make sure it isn’t there. My Dad, who is a lawyer, said this would be considered breaking and entering. I disagreed, telling him that because I have a key, I would not actually be breaking in. Obviously, if I got caught, I would use a different lawyer.

As exciting as a stealth non-break in would be, I am starting to realize that the dress is gone for good. It served me well. I wore it to two weddings: our official one in New York, in October, 2004, then again at a reception for our British friends and family in Birmingham, England.

Luckily, the dress was one of the cheaper ones for sale at Kleinfeld, the bridal emporium, back when it was only in Brooklyn. This loss might be a bit tougher to stomach if I had broken the bank. I wonder if there are any Vera Wangs in the landfill in Essex….

It was the second dress I tried on. I knew it was the right one, because both my mother and my maid of honor burst into tears when they saw me in it.

But I’ve never a huge dress person. When I told the Financial Times’s Fashion Editor I was engaged, she replied: “What are you wearing?” It took me a moment to figure out that she was talking about the dress I would wear to my wedding, and then another moment to say: “I don’t know.”

Kleinfeld cunningly cuts out brand tags so you can’t look for that same dress elsewhere. After that embarrassing interlude with the FT editor, I did some homework, and discovered: it was Pronovias, a Spanish brand, which features old school, billowy dresses that aren’t too cream puff.

While I wish my mother were here, so I could talk to her about this whole episode, I am glad for her sake that she doesn’t have to go through the emotional turmoil. Or a possible trip to a landfill in East London…..


A Prayer for Childcare

We interviewed a nanny yesterday, and asked her our standard question: how do you effectively look after two young kids, who are just 18 months apart, at the same time?

She paused, then replied: “I pray.”  She explained that she will ask God to keep the children safe while in her care.

While I admire her religious devotion, I worry that she might think that prayer takes some of the responsibility for the kids’ safety off of her.  I imagined coming home to find one of the kids injured, and hearing her say: “It was God’s will.”

Maybe I’m overreacting.  If she had mentioned prayer as her third, or even second option for helping her to watch over the kids, I would have felt a bit better. But as the first response, it made me think that perhaps we should look for someone who relied more on themselves, rather than their God, to help look after our kids.