Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mira Feels Homesick

Mira had a major bought of homesickness the other night. The girls and I were curled up before bedtime reading a book. Suddenly Mira decided she wanted her "brown teddy with the smiley face," and became quickly inconsolable. In my pragmatic manner, I tried to ease her upset by calmly telling her that her bear was safely packed away in a box in Canada. Now, truth be told, I have no idea what or where the "brown teddy with the smiley face" is - likely went out with one of the many goodwill bags months ago! However, I didn't think THAT information would help the situation.

Mira's fixation with the bear quickly escalated to desperate cries of "I want to go to my Canada house right now!" The poor thing! I think she finally realized that this isn't a vacation and we aren't going "home" for awhile. I felt so awful. All I could do was cuddle her and try to console her. But really, I was struck once again by how much like me she is. I remember, as a child, feeling that desperation, just wanting to be back in my own bed, my own room, my home! Stan thought she was just being sucky, but I knew she was really and truly feeling awful.

The good news is that she woke up just fine the next morning and we found a playground that is great fun and literally around the corner. For the moment she is feeling "at home" again.

Friday, July 24, 2009

British Reserve

I met a lovely father in the playground the other day (yes, I found a playground that doesn't require a bus to get to!) and I knew within moments he wasn't British by origin - he actually chatted with me for more than 36 seconds - that counts him out as a Brit right off the bat. It turns out he was Polish and brought his family here four years ago to work and save some money - the EU opened that door for many Eastern Europeans. While our children played away, we had a chat about living as a foreigner in the UK. His observations, based on four years of life here, were much the same as I've sussed out in four weeks.

While Brits are very friendly and often stop to give directions and exchange pleasantries, they almost immediately revert to politely ignoring you. If you do try to press into an actual conversation, you most often get a dazed look and walk away feeling as though you have a third eye. It makes me wonder what the historical and social reasons are for this reserved demeanor - any thoughts anyone?

On to other things...

The girls started camp this past week. They love it. More importantly, I love it! I was in dire need of a little me-time (selfish cow that I am :-) Seriously though, they needed to be around some kids of their own age, doing the things kids do without me nagging at them. We've settled on sending them three days a week for 5 hours - should work out perfectly!

Stan told me the other day that I fit right in here - that I look just like a Brit. My response was to ask whether that's because I'm pasty and overweight. It was fun to watch his face while he figured out the "correct" answer to that one!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Team Tolan visits Oxford

Mira tries out Matthew's scooter.
At the museum.

Hannah makes a new friend!

The kids had a great time at Pitts River Museum.

Another punting trip - this time we chose the paddle boats!

Mira, Matthew, Hannah, and Joe in St. Mary's.

Team Tolan made their way down from Manchester this past weekend for a quick tour of Oxford and a visit with their long-lost Canadian pals. The kids reunited as though they had never been away from each other. We spent our time wandering around the town, went for a quick punting trip and ate far too much cheese! It was so lovely to spend time with our friends - we've missed them since they left Canada. We can't wait for our first trip up to Manchester.

Hannah and Mira feeding the ducks.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Once you've had a car... can you ever go back?

We have been in Oxford for almost exactly two weeks and we have already found ourselves perusing the auto trader! Yes, we are considering buying a car. As much as we have embraced the bus (and the service is quite good here), I'm not sure it meets the standard of convenience that having an automobile has programmed us to expect.

The buses in Oxford are clean, comfortable and efficient. Fares are slightly more than in Toronto, but not markedly so. To get from our house to the city centre is a pleasant 5-10 minute trip. However, to get anywhere beyond the city centre involves transfers or multiple transfers, incurring time and expense. For example, to get to a playground that would have been no more than a 10-minute drive, It took us two buses, $7 in fares and about 40-minutes. Then we had to turn around and do the same to get back an hour later. It seems a lot of family-activities are on the outskirts or in neighboring villages. Having a car at our disposable would make getting to these things much easier!

And as for cycling... well, the girls have bikes. Stan has a bike - he's using it to get back and forth to work. Does Dawn have a bike yet? No. I'm not sure it's true what they say about never forgetting how to ride a bicycle. We went to the bike shop yesterday and I was on the bike all of 3-and-a-half seconds before I started having heart palpitations. I haven't ridden a bike in about 10 years and am not sure I really want to for another 10! I took it outside for a quick try around the block and, while I managed to stay on it and avoid colliding with anything, it was far from the relaxing, healthy experience I anticipated. Man, bikes are wobbly! And that seat hurts your butt! Now, no doubt, with persistence and a little practice I'm sure I can conquer my fear and become a somewhat proficient cyclist. But, as for the romantic visions of myself cycling along country roads, the breeze softly rustling my hair, a wicker basket in front replete with a picnic lunch... ain't happening!

So, will we get ourselves a car? You'll have to stay posted. In the meantime however, I think I will keep my feet safely planted on the ground!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Punting and Exploring

Chaos beneath Magdalen Bridge.

We spent our Saturday exploring Oxford and seeing some of the sights. Stan tried his hand at punting - the girls and I sat in a long, wide boat while Stan used a pole to push us through the canals - next time we'll bring some wine and snacks!

The Liu Family in front of Christchurch

Friday, July 10, 2009

School Adventures and Mushy Peas

Today we visited the girls school for the first time - what a lovely place! New Marston Primary School is about an 8-10 minute walk from the house and is situated on private grounds that are set back from the road. It's a sprawling, single-storey building that houses about 250 pupils. Such a large space for a relatively small student body! We were led on a tour by some cheerful and chatty year four girls who had nothing but lovely things to say about their school. It seems to be a friendly and inclusive facility. All our worries abut finding the right school have been put to rest.

Mira will be starting in the Foundation Year - our equivalent of kindergarten. We were led through the Foundation space impressed by the creative learning centres and an outdoor play space that would put an amusement park to shame! Mira's teacher is warm, friendly and was chuffed (note the deliberate use of British idiom ;-) when I told her I would have time to help out in the classroom.

Hannah will start in Year 2 in September. She'll have an opportunity to spend a morning at the school next week to participate in the year 1 class so she can meet some of her classmates.

On our way back from the school we stopped at our local chippy for lunch and discovered that mushy peas really are tasty. I didn't want to believe it, however it is true! Mushy Peas rock!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Supersmall" Me

We have arrived! (actually we've been here for a week now, but as we just got real internet access yesterday, I feel as though we have only now settled :-)

Our house is small! The question is one of how to fit a large North American life into a small, English house? This is proving to be a difficult process. I'm learning that while I feel as though we've brought next to nothing, we still have way too much! Where to put our stuff... the basement? Oh yes, there isn't one. The closets? Right, there aren't any. Under the bed? ahhhh, there's a start! A visit to the Ikea in Milton Keynes on Monday helped me get a little creative with storage solutions. Just when I thought we had moved on, we are right back into an Ikea lifestyle! Oh well, cheap and cheerful as they say.

The house has three bedrooms (not the four I had originally thought - turns out the forth was actually our living room), a small bathroom, small kitchen and decent sized living and dining rooms. There is a large yard out the back and a rickety, little shed. There is also a large loft space - only catch is that one needs to climb a ladder to get into it - still, good for storage though! It's actually a lovely little space - not quite what we've become accustomed to - but clean and bright just the same.

I suppose there will be an upside to this small-size living. It will prevent us from accumulating needless stuff - something we are way too good at in Toronto.

Oxford is a beautiful city. Everything is lush and green. Graceful spires point up toward a sky filled with fluffy clouds. I can't believe I haven't taken a single photograph yet! Today I will, so there will be some photos to come.