Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Touring Houston

Yesterday morning our relocation specialist took us around our new neighborhood and helped us set up bank accounts and a cell phone service for me.  It was nice to get things done quickly and she helped keep the kids occupied while we worked through paperwork and other forms.

After naps we got to go see our new house.  I think it's going to be a great place for us to live after a few small matters have been cleared up.  We saw Big Boy's new school and the neighborhood amenities. 

Today I took the kids to the park and for a walk and when my husband came home from work we did some much needed grocery shopping.  

That's us for now....Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Hiltons

During our last two weeks in the UK we stayed in two Hiltons.  The Hilton Treetops in Aberdeen and the Hilton Metropole on Edgware in London. Despite these hotels being in the same category, in some ways they could not be more different!

The Treetops is an older hotel that has been renovated, but our room showed no recent signs of renovation.  The room cleanings were suspect. When we arrived, I looked under the bed (I would not recommend this) and saw, among the dust bunnies, someone else's sock. That sock did not move for our entire visit!  The bathroom was small and cramped with an ice cold toilet seat.  You had to run the water for at least 10 minutes to have a reasonable temperature for a shower. 

The Treetops room was actually two adjoining bedrooms but it still managed to be cramped. The room was freezing or stifling depending on whether you slept next to the radiator. 

In contrast the Metropole is modern and airy. The room was very large and temperature control was not an issue. The bathroom was not huge but we could easily find the space we needed. I had a peek under the bed each day - no dust bunnie or unfriendly socks. The water was a reasonable pressure and temperature as soon as your unread the shower knob. 

Despite these differences, the hotels had nearly identical breakfasts. The tea/coffee centre in the room was the same and the shampoo/conditioner/lotions were identical. 

Both hotels also had an issue with "replacement". This is not uncommon in hotels. When you want your towels changed for clean towels at a hotel, they usually specify where to leave the dirty ones to signal that you want them removed or replaced. The problem is they almost never replace everything they have removed.  So usually you are down an item or two each day. On Boxing Day in London none of the towels that were remove were replaced so I had to either call down for some or go find some on my own. At the prices charged by the Hilton, that is not acceptable. 

There is a similar problem with the coffee/tea station. If a guest uses a certain coffee or tea item, it should signal that it is an item the guest enjoys and the it should be replaced. Both Hiltons had a problem with this. They remove the dirty coffee or tea cups but don't bring extra tea bags to replace the ones that we used. 

This problem seems to never extend to the shampoo and conditioner bottles in the bathrooms.  They are always replaced or extras are brought in despite us not using the ones we have. 

In the Treetops I left a note asking the cleaner to bring us more cups and glasses. The room had two of each and as we were living there this was inadequate. The cleaner either did not understand or did not want to fulfill my request - we were given replacement items for the ones we used only.  It was our last day so I did not bother seeking out more.  

But, at the price point it is always annoying to not have what we need at our fingertips. And I hate calling down to ask for stuff. It can be confusing (in Toronto at a different hotel we requested a crib and got a fridge) and I always get the sense that we are putting the staff out.  Plus I actually have to do something and I have enough to do without people creating extra chores for me.  

The Journey

We are in Houston now - we arrived yesterday. Our travel day (December 28) was largely uneventful.  We had breakfast at our hotel and packed up.  Then we took a taxi van to the airport and checked in our bags. It was odd.  Including 2 car seats and a stroller we had 10 pieces of luggage to check in.  Our baggage allowance was 3 for my husband and 2 each for me and the older boys plus one car seat per child and stroller allowance. If we only had one stroller, we could have potentially checked in 13 pieces. The clerk asked us how much baggage we had and when we answered "10 pieces to check" she acted shocked.   This was at least 3 pieces under our limit so I'm not sure why she was surprised.

Anyways, we wanted to check in our stroller so that it went into the bottom of the plane with the baggage instead of the gate check hold.  We have had bad luck gate checking our buggy and we never really use it in Heathrow so we wanted to just get rid of it. The clerk would not have it.  She forced us to keep it - there was simply no saying "no" to her.  When I grumbled that, I really didn't want it to her and showed her how awkward it was to drag around and complained about security, she said we could check it in with the oversized baggage even though it was labelled for gate check.  This seemed like a terrible idea to me...it would be asking for trouble to put an item that was essentially mislabeled into the complicated baggage system in Heathrow. 

We kept the buggy and dragged it around Heathrow.   We put Little Boy in it just to avoid carrying him and the buggy around but we really didn't need or want it.  When we arrived in Texas it was a hassle to get it from the plane - no one seemed to have any idea where the attendants would bring it and I ended up taking the boys to line up for customs and immigration without my husband while he waited for it.  What a pain!  I was so annoyed with the forceful clerk.  Sometimes we actually know best even though we are "just" the customers. 

So, back to Heathrow.  We let the kids play at the gate A7 playground and then when our gate was announced we got on the plane.  Our plane was old, dirty, and nothing worked properly.  We had 4 sets of headphones for the entertainment system and 2 barely worked while the other 2 didn't work at all.  There were not enough washrooms to accommodate the large group of travelers on the plane without waits.  Our steward was surely.  The other travelers were rude or clueless.

The flight was 10 hours and they served us a meal early on.  The choices were chicken tikka or macaroni cheese.  I hate chicken tikka so I had macaroni cheese.  It was fine but I was starving and the portion was inadequate.  My husband had chicken tikka and it made him ill.  He ended up feeling poorly for the rest of the flight.  I felt sorry for him but he was also not much help with the kids.   Thank goodness we ordered kids meals for the kids!

The kids used their the flight time watching movies and napping. I spent the time taking care of Baby Boy and becoming annoyed with my fellow passengers.

Near the end of the flight we were all give a sandwich - Coronation chicken, which I also hate.  I was starving but not hungry enough to eat it. The kids got sandwiches that they liked. Around this time, Little Boy had an accident right as they were bringing drinks and taking away the bassinette.   It has been ages since he had an accident and he sure picked an awkward moment - it was difficult to get him to the washroom because of the service carts and I had to attend to the bassinette removal instead of him.

We landed in Houston and dealt with the buggy and customs and we picked up our bags.  We found our driver.  We were supposed to be picked up in a van but apparently it was broken so he brought a party bus.  By this I mean a bus with a sectional sofa in the back, disco lighting, and mirrors on the ceiling.  The big boys thought it was amazing!  The party bus drove us through the dark to our temporary apartment accommodation.

Our temporary apartment is nice but not particularly child friendly.  It has 2 large bedrooms and the older boys each get their own bed.  The one baby item I requested (a high chair) has not yet materialized.  I wonder if it will. 

We started getting the boys settled in for the night and then the smoke alarm started to chirp. My husband tried to fix it but it is not a simple battery model and he could not get the wired in portion to stop making noise.  We called the 24 hour help line.  No one answered and the machine did not accept messages.  The website was also down. We went to bed, and slept because we were all so exhausted.  But a couple of hours later the chirping woke us and we could not get back to sleep.  My husband fiddled with the alarm until he managed to silence it.  I hope we are safe.  

A few hours later the baby woke up (at 5 a.m.) and it was obvious he was not going back to sleep.  I decided to make some coffee and when I pulled the glass carafe out of the coffee maker, it shattered.  This, of course, woke everyone up. 

 We did laundry and tidied up until 7:00 a.m. and then we got ready to go out.  I was disappointed to note that our accommodation has no hair dryer.  So today I was tired with ugly hair.

Once we were ready we took a walk through Bison Bayou to my husband's work. We went up to see his new office and then we bought some groceries.  We went back to the apartment and made brunch before napping.  

After naps our friends came over and we had a visit with them.  How nice to see old friends in a new city!  This apartment complex has extensive common rooms and we let the kids play on the common patio and then got coffees in the common kitchen.  

Once our guests left we spent a couple of hours forcing the kids to stay awake in the hopes that they will sleep tonight.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Rainy and Cold Day in London

Today it was rainy and very cold.  We still went out and looked around but when the rain came pouring down suddenly (which it did from time to time) it was very unpleasant!

We walked down Oxford Street to Reagent Street this morning and looked around for a bit.  During a rainstorm the kids and my husband sought shelter in Hamley's (how convenient to find a massive toy store when it is raining!) while I had a coffee with Baby Boy. 

We walked back toward our hotel and had a late lunch in a pizzeria off Oxford. After a nap and some packing we ventured out to Winter Wonderland, a large temporary amusement park and fayre in Hyde Park. The kids used their £10 gifts from Grandma and Grandpa to buy ride tokens and we spent a couple of hours taking them around to rides and then looking at various displays. 

Big Boy was proud when he went on big boy rides and Little Boy just wanted to go again and again. I was surprised to see how big the fayre was. 

We had dinner and the off to bed - another late nght!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxing Day

Today was another great day here in London.  After breakfast we started the day with some shopping in Oxford Street.  As we expected, the crowds were extreme.  It is fun walking around when you are not too stressed about shopping. We did see some women arguing loudly - we walked on before we saw if they got into a fight!

After shopping we walked down near the theatre and had a sandwich lunch. Then we walked over to the St. James theatre to see "The Snail and the Whale" - our gift from Santa.  The play was wonderful!  All three boys watched intently the whole time and at the end Little Boy wanted to go back and see it again!  The play was a production of the Tall Stories theatre group.  We have seen a few of their shows and they have all been great!

When Baby Boy was sick last night I thought I might have to miss the play. I'm so glad he was feeling better. 

We walked back to the hotel after the play and after supper, Big Boy and my husband went out to see the Lion King. I can't wait to hear about the show!

Christmas Day

We had a lovely Christmas Day here in London. 

The kids woke at a very civilized 7:30 a.m. and we let them open their gifts.  While Santa did come, their gifts were pretty meager compared to other children.  We don't have the space to carry around large gifts and they don't need new things. 

This year Santa brought some small toys (including a really neat "London City in a Bag" toy for Little Boy) and tickets for the whole family to see a show on Boxing Day. The kids loved what they got and both of the older boys were excited to give gifts to their brothers. 

After opening gifts we made our way to a very crowded breakfast at the hotel. 

We left in the late morning on a walk and the walk got longer than we expected!  We walked for hours.  We went down Edgware to the Marble Arch. Then we walked down Oxford Street to check out some of the amazing Christmas shop window displays.  My favourite was Selfridges but the kids liked John Lewis. I took pictures and I will put them onto my blog in a later post.  

Next we walked down Reagent Street and through Trafalgar Square. Here we stopped to look at Christmas decorations  and eat lunch at a restaurant. We walked on to see Big Ben and the London Eye. It was a grey day and this made Big Ben look very golden. 

Next we walked through St. James park past Buckingham Palace.   There were so many people out for a walk!  Last we walked back to Marble Arch through Hyde park past Winter Wonderland. 

After this long walk we arrived back at the hotel nearly at dinner time.  We grabbed some sandwiches for supper and the kids spent the evening playing in the hotel room. It was lovely and relaxing.  We even watched the Coronation Street Christmas Special.  

It's a good thing we had a relaxing evening because the baby was ill during the night and we didn't get much sleep!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

Happy Christmas Eve everyone!  We had a great day today. 

We woke up and got ready for the day before eating a lovely breakfast in our hotel.  After breakfast we headed out to walk to Harrods. 

In October, I booked us in to see Father Christmas at Harrods today!  The Christmas Eve bookings are coveted and I was fortunate to get one as they booked up quickly. 

We got to Harrods about 10 minutes before our allotted time and made our way to the Christmas Grotto. The store is somewhat of a maze and very hot (Why do they make stores so warm in the winter?  All of the customers have a coats on and it is really uncomfortable.). 

We found the Grotto and we lined up to see Santa.  The line was set up for a long queue, but we barely waited at all.  There were wonderfully dressed performers to entertain the children during the wait.  The kids were given passports to collect stamps in while we walked through the decorated waiting area. 

After a very short wait, it was our turn to see Father Christmas. Baby Boy was scared of him and would only relax if I held him but the older boys chatted preasantly with him. Big Boy decided to ask for something we could not have anticipated!  (But we were able to contact the elves to make arrangements for delivery.)  Little Boy was shy but pleasant.  

Santa asked each boy if they had been good.  Both said "yes."  Later we asked Little Boy if he had been good and he said "no."   Then we asked if he lied to Santa and he said "yes."   Now he is stressed out about whether he will get a lump of coal!

We all sat for a photo with Santa because Baby Boy would not sit without me. Our picture turned out very well and I bought it - a precious souvenir in its red velvet frame. 

As the children left, Father Chistmas presented them each with a story book, pin, and chocolate.  It was a great experience - very well done by Harrods. The kids were well behaved and I am proud of them. 

After our Grotto visit, we wandered through the Disney and toy departments before leaving Harrods. 

We walked around a bit and the headed back up through Hyde Park. We ate lunch and napped at the hotel. 

My husband woke up the older boys and took them for a Christmas Eve treat - they went to see "Frozen" the new Disney film.  Apparently it is a great movie - they loved it and chattered about it all evening. 

We had sandwiches for supper and headed to bed after a story and some Skype time with my family. Little Boy was very eager to go to bed so that Santa could come....we are all waiting to see what happens!

Sick Kids

Little Boy and Baby Boy have been poorly over the last week.  Baby Boy had his vaccinations last week and he had a reaction to one of the shots. The result of this reaction was itchy eczema skin for days as well as a reaction on his skin surrounding the injection site. 

Little Boy had a cold and fever and he managed to pass it on to Baby Boy. Little Boy had been eating almost nothing. We were invited to dinner and he ate only a single potatoe chip!  He had been running a fever and was listless and tired.  Finally, the day before we left Aberdeen his fever broke and he is currently getting back to normal. 

Baby Boy has a similar illness but is in earlier stages. He started getting a fever after the vaccination.  That lasted a couple of days, then he had no fever but then it came back with this new virus. 

The day before we left Aberdeen, my husband went back to our old house to sort some things out and left me alone in the hotel with the kids. Baby Boy was coughing and threw up. I decided to give him a quick bath to clean him up and then he pooped in the bath!  Nothing like having a lot of problems to deal wth when you are short handed!

Both of the younger kids made it through the flight to London without issue but Baby Boy has thrown up once today.

Of course this morning I woke up with a sore throat!

I hope everyone is healthy soon!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Goodbye Aberdeen, Hello Christmas (er London)

We left Aberdeen today and it finally feels like Christmas time!  Our packing and goodbye-ing are all over and now we can focus on the festivities of my favourite holiday. 

I was sad to leave Aberdeen but I will discuss that in a later post.  I don't have wifi and I'm posting from my phone so I will keep this brief. 

We spent the weekend walking back and forth between the house and hotel in Aberdeen doing laundry and taking care of clean up.  On Sunday we met friends to see Santa at Hazelhead Park followed by an unconventional fish supper in our hotel lobby. 

Seeing Santa was a bit odd. Santa was preceded by a piper piping "Amazing Grace"....very funereal. 

On Monday morning we took two taxis to the airport with all of our bags and caught a flight to London.  The landing was sickening....there was a windstorm and our plane was tossed about as it descended. 

We were picked up by a hire van for a death-defying trip through London to our hotel.  I was very happy to have a night in relaxing with the kids!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Goodbye Parties

We have been saying "goodbye" (or "goodbye for now") to our friends here in Aberdeen over the last couple of weeks. On the last day of school Big Boy's class gave him gifts and a special presentation.  After the Christmas show at Playgroup, Little Boy's teachers and friends bid him farewell. 

The last few nights have been late nights where we socialized with friends. 

On Thursday night we went for dinner at My husband's former boss's house. At dinner it felt like we had come full circle.  When we first visited Aberdeen, we went for a meal at the same home.  It was a lovely evening and we were happy to be able to thank them for everything they had helped us with over the years....from finding our rental home, to rescuing us in our broken down rental car and helping me with a flat tyre on the truck. 

Last night we hosted an "empty house party" at our house. Our friends brought their families over for a potluck meal and the kids played.  We used up some old fireworks and wine. It was great fun and we managed to get rid of some of our possessions that we could not keep.  It's tough saying "goodbye" but I do think we might see our friends again as we all move around through the same locations. 

We are all tired out and we have no vehicles (my husband sold the mini yesterday) so I plan to rest today!

Things are getting crazy in this hotel room!

So, when I was at the store a few weeks ago I saw some "Science Museum" kits on sale.  These are generally pretty nice kits that guide your kid through making a small science-based toy.  I picked out 2 and bought them.  They are normally about £12 and I paid £1.50 and £0.50. 

Today I decided to build the bubble blowing robot with the kids.  We bought the 4AA batteries and brought them back to the hotel room. 

I started assembling the robot with Big Boy's help and the baby decided to start crying loudly.  We finished the assembly up to the point of being able to test the motor. I put the batteries in but the robot didn't work. 

It was nap time and the baby was still crying so I put the kids to bed and put the robot into the hotel desk. Once Baby Boy was asleep I went over to the desk to pour a glass of water.  I could smell something burning.  I touched the robot and it was fiery hot!  Three of the four batteries had popped out and they were really hot too. I took out the last battery and disconnect all of the wires. Once the robot cools off he will be sent to a bin bag grave. 

I'm clearly not cut out to install toy electronics today!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Packing Up

Our focus this week has been on packing up our home here in Aberdeen.  It has been a rough week so far, both physically and mentally.  We are missing the comforts of our home!   Here is a run down of our week. 

We spent the weekend preparing for the packers.  The moving company did not provide those handy stickers for sorting our possessions, so we tried to sort them into different areas of our home depending on whether we wanted to move them by sea or air or donate them. We also packed up our suitcases for the next few weeks including our hotel stay in Aberdeen, our Christmas holiday in London, and the first couple of weeks in Houston.  The kids each packed a carry on bag with all of the books and toys they wanted for the next month.

On Monday morning the movers arrived and instantly the house changed from our home to just another house.  The air was filled with the sweaty smoky smell of the movers and everyone started wearing their shoes indoors.  

Just after the packers arrived I had to leave with the children to take Little Boy to playgroup.  It was his playgroup Chrismas party and he had a great time!  While Little Boy partied, Big Boy, Baby Boy and I ran errands. We picked up our health records, school records, drycleanig and lunch. It was a whirlwind!

About 20 minutes after I left the house to take Little boy to playgroup, my husband texted me to let me know that they had already broken Little Boy's bed. This was incredibly disappointing because it is his new "big kid" bed and in the shape of his favourite comic character car.   My husband had words with the packer (or yelled at the packer, depending on how polite you want to be). 

After playgroup, the kids and I ate lunch at the house and then basically killed time until the movers left and my husband came home.  We went for a very chilly walk and an even chillier trip to the playground. It was a long afternoon with no naps because the beds were all disassembled/broken. 

After my husband got home we went to check into our hotel. Our room was really far from the front desk and the minute I walked in I knew it was not adequate for our long-ish stay.  It had a double bed and a love seat.  The love seat could fold out into a bed but no bedding was provided and it was not folded out. The room was tiny and roasting hot. 

I told my husband there was no way we were staying in that room.  He went to the don't desk and got a much larger room that consists of 2 bedrooms. Much better!

By the time we got our "real" room it was late so we went out for a quick supper at Sainsbury's and then back to the hotel to bed. My husband headed back to the house to sort our possessions for the movers, who were struggling with no sticker labels. 

The next morning we got up early and put on smart clothes before heading to breakfast at the hotel. We drove to our house and were surprised to find a police car parked right in front. The police were not around so we went inside and got to work.  After a while we chatted with the policemen. It turns out that people had been trying to enter homes on our steer the night before. Our house was fine - thank goodness!

We let the packers in and then I took Little Boy to playgroup while my husband headed to work. At 10:30 we all headed over to playgroup to watch the Christmas show.  I was so proud of Little Boy who played Joseph in the Nativity!  He did a lovely job despite holding hands with a Wise Woman instead of Mary. He was the cutest thumb-sucking Joseph I've ever seen. 

After the show our friends came over to see the packing and my husband went back to work. Then my lovely friend took the two older boys to her house for lunch and an afternoon play date.  It was wonderful, Little Boy had a proper nap and Big Boy got to spend time with a friend.  Even better, when I picked the kids up my friend treated me to home made cinnamon rolls and a hot coffee with gingerbread syrup - yum!

We had a quick supper of sandwiches and then took the kids to the hotel pool.  Baby Boy had his first swim!  He has never been in a pool before because we were worried about his skin but he did well. The kids had fun and - more importantly - the swim wore them out. 

Wednesday morning came earlier than we would have liked. We headed back to the house to let the packers in to inventory our items. They had finished the packing but now had to count stuff. 

My husband took the truck and the kids and I stayed at the house. The kids did crafts until our friends arrived for a play date. We had planned to head outside but it was miserably cold!  We let the kids play hide and seek in the closets while we had a nice snack. 

About mid-mornig my husband texted to let me know that he had sold the truck but had to give it up immediately. This meant that we were down a vehicle and had no car seats at the house - so I would have to take a taxi for the rest of the day. I was excited because we were suppose to sell the Mini on Monday but the buyer failed to show up.  At least one car is settled. 

The movers and our friends left around noon and then I took the boys to our high street to have lunch in the cafe.  The kids were getting tired but we still had another errand. We walked to the surgery where Baby Boy was vaccinated. Poor little guy had 3 needles!!

After that we took a taxi to the hotel for naps.  Then we went to a friend's house. Our husbands walked over to the pub for a drink and a chat while we ate dinner and watched the kids. It was a late night but a fun night. 

That brings us to today, Thursday.  We once again went to the house to let the movers in.  My husband headed to work in our Mini while I entertained the kids with crafts.  The movers loaded our things into the container that will be loaded onto the ship. 

The movers were unfortunate enough to finish up when I was the only adult at home. They asked (as they always do) me to sign a set of documents that basically indicate that I know all of our items were placed in the container and were handed over in good order.  The paper is silly because there is no way for me to know that.  I always have to amend them before I can sign them and it always drivers the movers nuts.  It would have even much easier for them if my husband had merely signed.  When I started waffling about the wording the mover told me to just sign it. He said it would be OK because he would leave a copy with me that I could read later.....as if!

Anyways, I brought up the issue of the damage to Little Boy's bed and I was told they didn't do it. The bed just fell apart when the first screw was removed.  Uh oh....Little Boy's bed has no screws.. they must have broken Big Boy's too!

Even after clarifying which bed, all I got was denial. I phoned my husband and he got really angry because he spoke/yelled at the person when they broke he bed. A series of angry emails followed.  I hope this is not too hard to resolve once we get our goods in Houston!

After the packers left the kids and I went downtown to meet my husband at the bank for some paperwork.  Then we had lunch and popped into Marks and Spencer before taking a taxi to the hotel for naps. 

Throughout all of this chaos, Baby Boy has been practicing standing.  He is trying to stand independently and has started to shuffle walk along furniture and windowsills. He has been demanding to use the toilet and recovering from his vaccinations. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Coming to America

I've had a break from my blog for a while and I used that time to sort out the next step of our lives.  We have news.....we are moving to America (as they say here).  We are moving to Houston, Texas to be specific!

We have been working on this move for months.  As our time here in Scotland was coming to a close we looked at different options for our next location and our best option is Houston.  My husband has rented a house for us to live in and we are excited about making a new life in our new neighbourhood. I am very happy to be moving to the hometown of one of my best friends in the world....it is a comfort to know I have a friend already!  I also know so many people from Big Boy's school that moved back to Houston....it will be exciting to see them all again.

The last piece of the puzzle for this move was getting our Visas.  The process of applying for and obtaining the Visas was stressful beyond belief and none of this stress owed to the actual Visa office!

A few weeks ago we submitted online applications for our Visas.   This process took hours since each member of our family of 5 required a separate application, but thankfully we could link the applications at the end.  After submitting the applications we booked appointments for the Friday before last in London for our Visa interviews.  We then informed the lawyers that were assisting with our application of the timing of the appointment.  They had asked for 2 weeks lead time and we gave them exactly that.  Then we booked our flights and a hotel - the plan was to fly out on Thursday night and return on Friday after the appointment.

The next step in the process was that certain documents would be sent from Houston and we needed the documents for our trip to the Visa office.  Problem is, between my husband's office and the lawyers, the documents were not immediately sent out.  He contacted everyone the Monday before our (Friday) appointment and they then started working on the documents that we needed for our appointment.  After a series of issues sending the documents out, they were sent at the latest possible moment via courier.  The courier was guaranteed to arrive at our hotel in London by 9:00 a.m. on Friday.  This was cutting it fine - our appointment was for 10:30 a.m. and the Visa office was located about 10 minutes away from the hotel via taxi.

On Thursday morning we found out that there were flight delays on flights heading to London because of fog and wind in London and a storm in Aberdeen.  We were not sure if our flight would still go, but we headed to the airport according to the plan.  Our flight was delayed but not cancelled so we waited a few hours in a crowded airport with other disgruntled passengers but eventually flew to London.  We were fortunate.  Many other flights were cancelled.

We landed in London hours later than expected and took the train and then a taxi to our hotel.  We stayed at the Trafalgar just off of Trafalgar square and on our way to hotel they lit up the Christmas tree!  We settled in at our hotel and then headed out for dinner.  We decided to take the kids to the Rainforest Cafe because it looked like it would be fun.  They had a great time!  At the restaurant we checked the tracking status of the package and we were thrilled to see that it was already at the courier depot in Stansted (which is in the greater London area).

With renewed confidence we went to bed hoping that our Friday would go as planned.

On Friday morning we woke up, got the kids dressed in smarter-than-usual clothes and headed downstairs for breakfast.  After breakfast (at around 8:50 a.m.) my husband went down to the lobby of the hotel to wait for the package (then showing as "in transit") and I stayed in the hotel room with the kids.

We were all packed so the kids didn't have much to play with in the hotel room.  I put on Cebeebies for the kids to watch and Baby Boy was practicing his standing using one of the hotel chairs.  I went into the diaper bag to pull out something and I heard him thunk to the ground.  He didn't cry, so I didn't think much of it.  When I had finished with the bag I turned to look at him and there was blood all over the place!

I couldn't tell where he was bleeding from exactly but I knew it was his mouth.  He still wasn't crying so I got a damp washcloth and started daubing around to see what was wrong.  Turns out he got a small cut on his gum (like a paper cut - probably from chewing on a piece of paper).  Unfortunately it was bleeding fast.  I took off all of his smart clothes and my smart clothes and sat him in the bath and gave him a quick bath while the bleeding clotted.  Then I cleaned him up and changed him to new clothes and put my clothes back on all the while clock watching and hoping my husband wasn't back soon.

I had nothing to worry about....my husband wasn't coming back anytime soon.  I texted him when the baby was cleaned up and the package had still not arrived.  He called to check on the package status at 9:20 a.m. and they told him it would be delivered by 10:30!  What kind of service is that?  It was guaranteed by 9:00 a.m.

My husband came back to the hotel room with this new information and we decided the best thing to do was for him to take Big Boy and Little Boy to the Embassy with the documents we did have while I waited with Baby Boy for the courier.  Once it arrived I would join them at the courier office.

We checked out of the hotel and I started my wait in the lobby.  They left and Baby Boy and I found a spot to sit where we could see the front desk of the hotel.  My husband emailed me a few minutes later with the copy of my personal appointment slip in case I needed it to get through security.  Then he texted saying that I should leave my phone with the rest of our luggage at the hotel because there were no phones allowed in the Visa office and he had to take his phone to a locker at a nearby pharmacy.

I waited for the courier.  I waited inside the lobby of the hotel and outside on the street.  I stood, I paced and I fed the baby applesauce.  I chatted with the staff and I worried.  I watched the clock.  Time marched on....10:30 a.m. came and went with no package.  I wondered what was happening with the rest of my family (I will catch you up on them later).

At 10:30 a.m. I made my first call to the courier company to try to get some idea where the package was.  Unfortunately I realized during that call that I didn't have the tracking number.  The operator would not give me any information because the package was in my husband's name and I didn't have the tracking number.   That was frustrating.

A few minutes later I called again and I made a bit of progress, but at that point my phone cut out because I ran out of credit.  You see, the courier company phone line is a "for charge" number.  So I talked to the hotel staff and they let me use the hotel phone.  That was the start of a very long phone call.  During that call the operator could not assist me so I asked for a supervisor.  The supervisor could  locate the package and the tracking number but could not locate the delivery person.  She promised to phone me back on my phone.  This was about 11:20.

I had no idea what was going on with my family.  I was half expecting them to come back to the hotel or I thought that maybe they went in and got Visas without me.

At about 11:30 the courier company supervisor called me back.  She told me that she had reached the driver and he would be at the hotel in 20 minutes.  I asked her to confirm that he was making my delivery next before any other deliveries.  She could not and she said it was not reasonable to ask that.  I told her that I was now the priority and my package should be next.  I had waited all morning and it was now 11:30 a.m. and my guaranteed by 9:00 a.m. package was still not there!  I must have been speaking loudly because other people in the hotel lobby were looking at me.

The supervisor told me she would call the delivery person back and then call me back.

At that moment (at 11:35 a.m.) the courier walked into the hotel lobby.  I picked up the baby and grabbed the package.  All he said was "are you the one who's been calling my company?"  no "I'm sorry your package is over 2.5 hours late, etc., etc."  I turned to him and said "what time do you call this?  I'm an hour late for an appointment because of you...."

Then I was cut off by a member of the hotel staff who had a taxi waiting for me and I jumped into the cab.  I gave the hotel staff member my phone.

The taxi driver knew where the embassy was and that there were roadworks along the way.  He avoided them but dropped me off on the wrong side of the embassy block.  I gave him an enormous tip and skipped the receipt to make my exit faster and then ran around the block to the entrance of the embassy with the baby in my arms.

When I arrived at the security entrance they would not let me in.  I didn't have my passport or an appointment form.  I begged and pleaded and finally the security guard agreed to take my driver's licence and check my name against the list of appointments.  While he was checking I had to wait outside.  I looked around the corner and saw the rest of my family walking.  They had given up and had gone back to the pharmacy to retrieve my husband's phone.

At that moment the security guard found my appointment.  My husband ran back to the pharmacy to check his phone and me and the kids went through security with out passports.  We inside security but outside the office for him.  He ran back and then had to line up for security again and then he was back inside with us.

At that point we were inside the secured area, but we had a big problem.  The Visa office admissions are supposed to close 1/2 hour after the last appointment of the day.  We had booked the last appointment of the day (10:30 a.m.) and the admissions were closed at 11:00 a.m.  It was 11:45 a.m.

My husband and the kids had been chatting with the admission staff and they thought we had a chance of getting in so we went to the desk.  They let us in!

We went into the waiting area and I asked what had happened with them....they looked a wreck!  They had been waiting outside the whole time and it was cold outside.  The kids had been good but it had been a couple of hours and everyone was tired, hungry, thirsty and needed the washroom (unfortunately all of the snacks and distractions were in my bag!).  After we had a couple of minutes to catch up we were called up for our appointment.  Everything at the Visa office went smoothly and we left about an hour later.  The Visa office staff were polite, courteous, and efficient.

After our appointment we walked out of the Embassy and retrieved my husband's mobile.  We wanted to eat quickly (we had depleted the snack supply).  Most of the restaurants right in the neighbourhood were sit down places so we walked a bit hoping to grab a sandwich at a local sandwich chain.  The 2 locations of the restaurant we visited were packed and we could not get a table so we walked on.  We ended up eating at McDonalds.  The McDonalds was crowded but a staff member asked some loitering customers to leave so we could have a table.

We went back to the hotel to retrieve our things and then headed to the airport.  Of course, our flight was delayed!  The kids made good use of the time by playing at our favourite airport soft play.

We returned home much later than expected and had a quick pasta supper.  

At the end of the day, once the kids were fed and playing quietly, my husband and I sat down.  We were both mentally and physically exhausted.  The day and the week preceding it had been an emotional roller coaster and we were both tired.   I could have (literally) slept for about 48 hours.  Unfortunately, at that moment our house guests arrived from a trip away....we loved having them visit but we were tired!

Now we have received our passports and visas back and we are getting packed up.  Tomorrow the movers come and our house is no longer our home but a series of "packing zones."  Tonight we will have our last sleep at this house before moving to a hotel.  I bought the kids' favourite ready meal (the Asian box from M & S) for dinner.  

What bothers me most about our experience is that since it "worked out" there are no repercussions.  The courier eventually delivered the package, so no-one will be bothered by their massive service failure and the stress it called.  The documents were eventually sent so the delays by my husband's company and the lawyers will be ignored.  We had to worry and stress and run around to fix these issues, but no one will care about inconveniencing our family because it all worked out.

By the way, in case you are interested, the courier was Fedex. I am so disappointed in their service.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cairngorm Reindeer

Today I took the boys and my parents to see the Cairngorm reindeer at Big Boy's school.  This year there were 5 reindeer and they looked much better than the ones last year!  They were plump with full fur and robust antlers.  No scraggly deer this year!

Big Boy did not believe that last year's reindeer could really belong to Santa because they were a bit scrappy.  He thought that Santa would have much nicer reindeer.  I don't think he will have that problem this year!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Happy Third Birthday Little Boy!

Little Boy turned 3 today!  I can't believe how quickly he is growing up.  He is a poised, mature, sensitive, and thoughtful young boy. He is rough and tough but at the same time gentle and loving.

We celebrated his birthday by having a great day.  We started the day by going out for a traditional Scottish breakfast, complete with a babyccino for Little Boy.  Then he had fun playing in my parents' rental car (really!). After a quick lunch we headed downtown to the Aberdeen Arts Theatre to take in the pantomime.

The panto that we watched was Aladdin.   The kids loved it!  It was lots of fun to watch them participate by shouting at the stage and dancing.  They thought the man dressed as a lady was hilarious and they loved all of the low brow humor.  But they are boys....the more potty jokes the better!

After the panto we came home and opened gifts.  Then we had a birthday supper of pizza (Little Boy's request). I had a special surprise after supper.  We set off fireworks outside before coming in for cake and to sing "Happy Birthday". 

The cake was wonderful.  I had baked a plain 2 layer cake and my husband decorated it with green king and a lady finger "road".  He then covered the cake with "Bob the Builder" toys that were his gift for Little Boy.  Both Big Boy and Little Boy were delighted!  They spent the rest of the evening playing with the new toys. 

Happy Birthday Little Boy!