Monday, May 22, 2017


In this post...
"American high school style prom" in London!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Insider's London

In this post...some tips for making the most of living in London

Suggestions for what to do while living in London - these are not my own....this list has been passed on within the ex-pat community from a longtime ex-pat before she moved away

now we get to enjoy all her tips!

England & Scotland Trips:

Royal Ascot - if you only do this once it worth every penny!!!  It was one of the best people watching and fun days out!!!

Edinburgh - Rosslyn Chapel (of Da vinci Code fame)

Fort William & Train to Malaig - one of the most picturesque train rides and you can do it round trip in a day (Harry Potter's bridge to Hogwarts is there)
Wales - St. Fagan's open air musuem, Techniquest - kids science museum (even the adults had a great time exploring)

Glamping - Highly recommend Featherdown Farms (Warren and New Barn - we also did Gilcombe and great farm tour but owner not as organized)

Oxford - Stay at the old Parsonage Inn!!

Cambridge - you must go punting so go in good weather

Bath - we took the big bus tour and got to see part of the country side too

Cotswolds - LOVE Burton on the Water, Stow on the Wold.....and many more great long weekend trip but you must drive it

Cornwall (northern) - we did Penzance and Mawgan (near Newquay) and enjoyed both.  But Mawgan and that northern coast line is incredible - visit Tintagle too (where they think the remains of the castle belong to King Arthur)

Isle of Wight - great family trip and the entire island is interesting: roman ruins, fossils, sea side all good stuff.  We stayed at the Waterfront Inn.  We took the ferry then train and rented a car - you need a car to get around the island

Greenwich - great day trip - take the boat one way and tube the other for a day trip.  Cutty Sark has been restored and is fun for all.  The Royal Observatory and standing on the Prime Meridian.

Family Vacations:
Spain - LaZenia  we always booked a villa from  on the beach loved this area as not really touristy and only 20 min from Murcia airport

Austria - Ski vacation in Kirkdorf, the boys learned to ski in the same area I did as a child  We booked with  Great kids skiing and great runs over 4 different areas, sleighrides, toboganing  it is great!

European Adventures:

Venice and Florence

Paris is a given as it is SO easy to get to.

Brugge - the best surprise as we had no idea what to expect and it was fabulous.  If you don't have much time skip Brussles and go to Brugge!!

Reims - Champagne tour from!!  I LOVED this, but then again I love anything with Champagne :)

Carcassone France - incredible walled in city near south eastern coast - if you go on a beach vacation in the region I wouldn't miss this!

Marrakesh - we really enjoyed our trip there but with recent events make sure you check with State Department to ensure it is safe to go

Top Tips:

Join English Heritage Trust and go to as many homes and castles as you want....even just if you see then as you are driving around the country.  That's how we discovered Dunne Castle in Scotland - it is featured in Monty Python when they toss the cow over the wall!

Register your Oyster Card - never run out of money and if you lose it they replace your card at the value you had on it.  It is easy!!

Family Rail Card - only £25 per year for up to 4 adults and 4 kids (you must travel with kids) and you get 60% off or more on fares!

Descale your appliances.  I know it is a pain but they will last much longer.  For toilets I love Harpic Power Plus Tablets - gets rid of brown stains in toilet!  Even washing machines and dishwashers need to be descaled if you aren't using the correct detergents.

Order Lightbulbs from LightBulbs Direct - they keep a list of what you've ordered so you know what types of bulbs you've gotten before.  We have 8 different types of bulbs in our house and it drives me nuts!

Most castles and palaces will validate your ticket for a year so you can go back with family and friends for a year!!  I know this is the case with Windsor and Hampton Court.

Need Fancy Dress (costume)? - my favorite store is Carnival Store @ 95 Hammersmith Road, London W14 0QH

Need a cottage or place to stay in South Western England -
Need a hotel: I like the comments and rates and we had great experiences

Panto - around the Christmas holidays lots of Panto shows will be put on around London.  We don't have anything quite like it in the US.  I highly recommend taking your whole family to a Panto.  I've attached an article that Farrell Harwood did for the Embassy newsletter.

Afternoon Tea - (not High Tea which is an American term) you can do this with or without kids.  I had the great pleasure of sampling a lot of Afternoon Teas during our time in London.  Each location offers something a little different to put their unique stamp on the experience.  I love the Dorchester as a quint essential British experience.  The Lanesborough gives you strawberries and cream.  The Berkley's Pret-a-Portea is inspired by the latest fashion designs.  All locations seem to have a signature Tea and it is worth sampling that particular tea!

Favorite Restaurants in London:
Duke of Kendal - Saturday nights Gilly the pianist is there and Sunday nights the locals sing all sorts of old song with some dressing up!
Hunan - 51 Pimlico Road Belgravia
Roast - Borough Market
Le Boudin Blanc - Shepherds Market - French food
Casa Malevo - Connaught Village - great Argentinian food - love the provoletto
Grazing Goat - Portman Village, great pub food and Bloody Mary's
Taqueria - Very good mexican - 137 Westbourne Grove - Perfect if you are going to Notting Hill/Portobello Road
Hush - Lancashire Court, great outdoor seating and brasserie food
Serpentine Bar & Kitchen (west end of the Serpentine) - great for a day out in Hyde Park. Great for the whole family!

w/ kids - Giraffe and Ask

Outside London:

The Fox & Hounds in Surry - right next to The Windsor Great Park - great weekend day trip as you could do tour of Windsor Castle too 
Isle of Wight - Crab & Lobster Inn PO35 5TR - you won't find it without GPS
Florence - Neone Trattoria
Reims - Le Grand Cafe

Kiwis in London

Posting some drafts which have sat in my "draft" file and were never published.
Better late than never.....

In this post - a couple of New Zealanders land in London and go on a cultural and sightseeing binge

My sister and her boyfriend came to London in April 2014.

We felt lucky to be the first in the family to meet this special Dylan we have been hearing so much about.

The visit of the kiwis brought us joy joy joy.  We got to host them for a good chunk of April and even left them alone to tend for themselves while we went on a week long trip to Egypt.  Lovely of them to water our plants, get the mail and tend to the guinea pig!!

We couldn't keep up with their adventures - which took them to every corner of London and much beyond.  The stuff they did, well, I think they may have covered more in their few weeks than we have done in three years.  Amazing.  Becca cooked us some amazing food (as in, a meal prepared for us when we returned from our Egypt trip, wow, that is extremely gracious sister!!), we loved chatting with Dylan about anything and everything (no encyclopedias needed when he is around), hearing about their visits, shopping, food they ate, etc.  We enjoyed a fun day trip to Warwick Castle, which is another post.  If you want to see more about all the stuff they did, see her blog (which is amazing to follow too, especially if you like fashion):

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bank Holiday Weekend in Wales

Weekend in Wales - Bank Holiday Weekend 2016

In this to get away from London for fresh air, hiking and castles!

Train 4:40 from Euston
Arrive Bangor 8:30pm
Cab to Hotel Port Dinorwic

Cab to pick up rental car at Gwalia Garage Caernarfon
Park near Morrison’s Caernarfon - pick up snacks
Caernarfon Castle

Lunch at Jake’s Cafe (Hole in the Wall Street)  Super cheap simple cafe food
Walk across Pont Yr Aber to toss rocks into the sea and visit the park
Drive back to hotel
Drive to Castle Penrhyn - very quick visit, gorgeous (National Trust)
Drive to Plas Newydd to see beautiful views of Snowdonia, wakeboarding in the sea and sailing.
Drive to Menai Bridge for views
Drive to Tesco to pick up food - picnic dinner for tonight, breakfast and picnic lunch for tomorrow’s hike
Return to Hotel for picnic dinner and relaxation

Depart at 7:30 am - arrive at Nant Peris Car Park about 8am.
Sherpa bus to Pen Y Pass to begin hike
Hiked all day, intended to take Pyg Track to Top of Mt Snowdon and take Miner’s Track back.  However we found ourselves following the Crib Goch...YIKES, very advanced and dangerous “clinging to rocks” along a knife-edge ridge with cliff drops!!  

Returned about back to car park about 4pm.
Brought back the rental car, walked (dropped kids off at Black Boy Inn before hand - there is a playground right next to it), to Black Boy Inn.
Had made 5:30 reservation at Black Boy Inn, arrived exactly on time!  We were starving and exhausted too.  Great meal!!

Back to hotel to swim and chill!

Hotel breakfast - yummy

Car at 8:45 to return us to Bangor for 9:22 train back to London, arrived about 1ish and home by 2:00!!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Adventures with doggies

In this post: Joining the ranks of the dog people

Parents know it is unwise to promise anything to their children.  But we do it anyways.   We had promised our kids that we could get a dog when we moved back to Minnesota.  And so it was to be. The original plan involved entering this doggie business in the spring of 2015, because we figured springtime was the ideal time of the year to make this addition.

However, when you start thinking about dogs, guess what?  You want a dog!

After much internet searching and checking out library books about dog breeds, we remained perplexed.  How can a person choose a dog breed?  They all seem wonderful.  Many people encouraged us to adopt a dog or puppy from the Humane Society or a Rescue Organization.  We signed up for many alerts and visited the centers.  It was painfully difficult to leave without agreeing to save an animal!  The kids left in tears, despite the fact that we were very clear about just visiting and getting to know dog breeds.  Even when a dog breed did seem like a good fit for our family, that led to internet searches to see where we could actually get puppies of that breed, which often led to disappointment - often they were very far away, unavailable, or ridiculously expensive!  Finally, a great friend (JH!) mentioned that she knew two families from our church who both had a certain dog mix that they loved.  The mix checked all our boxes of what we wanted.  We decided to visit both dogs and see for ourselves.  After meeting Tucker and Pepper, we were sold.  We wanted a border collie-poodle mix for our family!!  We loved the idea of a non-shedding dog.  We didn't want too big or too small.  We wanted an active, smart, trainable, family-friendly dog.

Even though Finchley (named after Finchley Road in London, from the area - St Johns Wood/Swiss Cottage - where we lived for 3.5 years) came from quite far away in Idaho, they ship their dogs all over the US regularly and their prices are reasonable.

Finchley was a lot of work for the first month.  A LOT of work.  We had to get up with her at night to take her outside (in January in MN mind you) to pee/poo, and she had to be watched for every second because she was biting/eating everything.  After about a month she began to enjoy her crate, calm down a bit, and she was responding so well to our training (sit, stay, crate, "go potty", etc.).  She arrived on December 23rd, and on January 15th she was trained on the underground fence.  Around that time we also let her go all night in her crate without taking her out.  So by the end of January, she was happy to go in her crate, potty trained, and trained on the underground fence.  All three of those factors made our life so much easier!  We have been attending simple dog obedience classes.

Our lives have been changed by a dog.  We all adore her.  Yes, it's a lot of work - she needs to go on walks, continue with training, and cannot be left in her crate all day of course.  But we wouldn't trade her for the world.  We can't imagine our family without her!  And now we understand what the big deal is about having a dog, and why people love their dogs so much!  What a joy!!  We love Finchley!! 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What it's like to return from an ex-pat assignment Part II

In this post....lost and blurry days, weeks and months

Catch up from end of summer to December 2014

End of summer, what a blurr...

Neighborhood friends catching the Valley View Bus!!

A fun day with cousins

 End of summer - Labor Day weekend at the lake.....

We had been warned.  We had been clearly clearly cautioned.  And yet, this returning home stuff still hits you like a rock.

Here we are, almost 6 months after returning home, and I can finally write with confidence to say that we are feeling settled.

It has taken that long.  Yes, that long.

People warned us and we anticipated unrest, anxiety, and a lot of work.  And although the physical challenges of moving home (returning to a house that needs a lot of work, unpacking, trying to organize your home and get connected back into sports and activities) were expected, it's probably the emotional aspects that surprised us a bit more.
The longing to return to what was in London.  The yearning for that other life.  The clarity of things in your home culture that drive you nuts.  The sadness as your kids' hearts are breaking because all their friends are in another country.  The knowledge that it is going to take quite some time before they build strong friendships here.  Not having any connections to activities, sports, routine, schools, jobs, church - anything - it all has to start over - even if you return to where you came from.

So let me rewind a bit.  I haven't written since July.  Oooops.  All that time has been consumed in adjusting to all those challenges and more mentioned in the previous paragraph.

We spent as much time as we could trying to connect the kids in various activities, church, sports and at school over the summer.  Taking off to our lake cabin every weekend helped us get away from that unsettled life not yet established.  We all agreed that the cabin felt more like home.  Our city home was empty - container not arriving until mid-August.  We had spent summers at our cabin, the kids and I, and it became a true second home for us.  It was complete.  Our city home was not complete.

Jonah took drivers ed, Josh enrolled in soccer camps, and Ally joined a swim club.  We spent a good part of a day getting a minivan, another day getting cell phones and service, another day joining a health club, and many days running errands to get those absolutely banal things that everyone has but that we just didn't have - like a pair of scissors, or brown sugar, or a cheese grater.

Container came August 8th.  Finally - our stuff - our beds, couches, tables, etc.  How nice to greet them again!  Right when I would have loved to be in New Zealand with the rest of my family (parents and sisters) who went to celebrate one of my sisters PhD achievements.  I did not get to go because of this move. Moving a family internationally makes you sacrifice a lot of things and it is a messy, messy, deal.  I recall going over to England feeling the same way.  Everything was a mess for at least 6 months, messy life, unsettled.  And now, reverse it all!

School orientations came early.  Mid-August brought multiple trips and meetings and orientations to the three different schools the kids would be attending.  We live in a wonderful public school district, but we had been spoiled by the private school experience at the American School in London.  The academic level might be very similar, but with small class sizes and staff who have the time to spend with students, that great public school system seemed pretty overwhelming and daunting to us now.

Apple orchard with the Larsons

September - full on school schedules, many house maintenance projects, Dave started a new job, I tried to reconnect with subbing and checking on the status of my teaching licensure.  We also began the process of exploring a business launch.

ELY in October:

Halloween fun with cousins

October - for MEA we went up to stay at my sister's in Ely.  Ely is a stone's throw from Canada and nature at its finest.

Finally getting to Deedee and Grandpa's house!!

November - the cold comes early snapping projects that should have been complete before snow was on the ground (like the underground dog fence and repairing the rotted egress window).  For Thanksgiving we hosted my in-laws and went up to the lake cabin for the weekend.

Cheering at the State CC meet

Six Months.  If you are moving internationally, I would say this is how long it takes to feel like you get to "normal".  Things are feeling normal now, but it's a new normal.  We really miss London, especially the people, the great school, Dave's job being a couple blocks from our house.

It's Christmastime here.  Each Christmas in London we traveled somewhere exciting.  The first year, to Switzerland and France (ski trip).  The second year, to Tenerife (exotic and warm).  The third year, to Italy with my in-laws (Rome, Florence,  All of those trips will remain cherished memories and incredible pinch-me experiences.  Yet, we are simple, us Larsons, and this year, we will revel in the tree, the snow, the decorations now on display that had been in boxes since 2010.  Christmas songs playing continually, familiar Christmas foods, presents to exchange. We will appreciate every second we get to be with our extended families, whom we missed dearly while we were away, especially at Christmastime.

We're happy to be home.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Part 1 of What it is like to return after living abroad

In this post-assignment

all your stuff...all wrapped up

we will all be quite happy when this big ole container arrives at our house stateside!

There has been a lag in posts because life becomes messy during a move.
Whether you are moving from one house to another within the same city, or moving across the world, moving is just messy and complicated.
It's much more than changing your address.  It's changing routines, changing surroundings, changing neighbors, utilities, activities....
When you move from one country to another, you also change cultures.  For us, coming from an international and mostly American area in London, the culture shock has not been overbearing.  However, the lifestyle shock certainly is.  As in, you mean I have to get in my car in order to do anything?  Even grab a cup of coffee, or pick up milk?  Yes, that is the kind of neighborhood we live in.  Sure, we could consider moving more urban.  In London, we didn't ever own a car.  We lived in central London, and having a car is a real pain.  You can walk everywhere, take the transport, or hire a car.  Not so here in the Minneapolis area!  We have returned to the home we left three and a half years ago.  We love this house (although it is quite tired and needs a lot of work, which is a different blog entry), love our neighbors, love our location.  So, it really makes sense for us to be here.
We moved out of London on June 20th.  Our children left with my parents, who had come to help us out in the past couple weeks, a few days earlier, on June 16th.  We were able to get back into the house on June 23rd.
So, here we are.
Back home.
We've got some temporary furnishings, and our items from storage.
Our sea shipment has passed through customs and is waiting in line for transport across the US to our home.
The kids are getting involved in some activities, and I am learning to spend lots of time in my car.
All is well.
We certainly are not settled, but each day is progress, and we're getting there.  Patience, patience!!