Archive for November, 2006

Day 6

I’ve still been preoccupied with school stuff so I’m going to hand the reigns of the website over to the hubby, Rich.  (Let me just tell you how thankful I am that he has the day off tomorrow and will be around to help make the school decision).  Anyroad, here he is:

Cheerio all from Mr. Mum!

I guess am to write my first ever blog entry today, which as you can guess goes against most of my manly beliefs.  Work goes smashing over here in the U.K.  The wide range of people I work with makes the work day a lot of fun.  The Scottish accent is my personal favorite.  They sound so excited and interested in every topic mentioned. 

Now, as for the English cuisine.  It does leave something to be desired……most meals come with two servings of ‘vegetables,’ but this really means two different forms of potatoes.  And for someone who is trying to eat a low carb diet, this can be very difficult.  And as gross as it sounds, the black pudding (blood sausage) is acutally quite good! 

So for the question that everyone is asking, “Are we going to move to England?”  Good question.  Still don’t have a good answer for you all….. sorry. 

Cheers,

Richard

Day 5

Bloody ‘ell (as they would say here), I just received some crazy news this afternoon.

I already knew that Connor would be entering into Foundation (kind of like Kindergarten but they start 1 year earlier) at a regular school in the fall.  What I didn’t know is that the extended deadline (for pity cases such as ourselves who are moving into the area, etc.) for putting in on choice of school is due THIS FRIDAY AT 4PM and that the good schools are already filling up.  How do I pick a school before I’ve picked a place to live?  If I get Connor in to the school of his choice, will there be a home for us available nearby?  It is hard to choose a good neighborhood when here in the UK I wouldn’t recognize one if it hit me in the face.  It is like the chicken/egg scenario but with much more at stake. 

If the school I choose is over-subscribed (too many parents have chosen it), then they use subscription criteria to determine which children get in.  They are:

1) children who the state is their guardian (’looked after children’) get top pick

2) children with special educational needs get second priority

3) children who live in the catchment area who have a sibling attending the school

4) other children living in the catchment area

5) children living outside the catchment area who have a sibling attending the school

6) if a religious school, children outside the catchment area whose parents are practising members of the church

7) other children living outside the catchment area, measured by straight line measurement.

They are fair, valid criteria.  But unfortunately for us we fall into category 7, and technically our ’straight line measurement’ would be 4,800 miles (give or take).  Yep - we’re doomed.  I plan on using the Inn as our hotel, however it is a little bit out of town so most likely I won’t fall into the catchment area of my choosing.  Luckily I get to put down my top 3 choices, and we’ll hear our results by mail on the 19th of January.

My plan:  pick 3 schools, then hear our choice, then pick a home right afterward and if all goes according to plan we’ll be able to move in by February.  Just without any furniture.

Enough about my anxiety attack.  Let me share with you my day today.

We’ve heard that the proprietor of our inn is interested in buying up homes for the sole purpose of renting them out to us poor Americans.  We haven’t actually spoken to him about the idea, but word has it, from several sources, that basically you pick a home and he buys it for you, furnishes it if you wish, and rents it directly to you, making a profit of course.  Since the plan is for us to be here only for a couple of years, this seems like the perfect scenario for us.

This morning I got up and drove into town to take a look at some new home developments in the Bridgwater area.  I was really impressed with one - Churchfields in Wembdon, which lies on the Western edge of Bridgwater proper.  Wembdon is an area of nice, large, quiet older homes and a couple of new developments.  There is a walking path along the main road which I would no doubt make use of.

Here I should mention that a typical modern British home is considerably smaller than what we are used to seeing in the States.  Their largest home for sale is just about the same size as our house in Richland, which is the smallest home in our neighboorhood at just over 1500 square feet.  Also, modern British homes are not as open and airy, which is something we would have to get used to but may have some benefits (we would have more privacy).  All the homes I have seen have only one living room, which has shutting doors to all the adjacent rooms.  One thing I really like about the homes I saw were that many of them had a conservatory, which is a bit like an enclosed screened porch you might see in the Eastern US except it is made entirely of glass windows.  What a great way to enjoy the outdoors even when the weather is wet.

It is really hard to say what our price range will be, but homes here are EXPENSIVE by our standards.  Prices seem to be right around 200 pounds a square foot, which computes out to 400 dollars a square foot.  This is FOUR TIMES what we are used to paying.  Since we have a family of four, I’m not sure we’ll be able to skimp on square footage much.  I would say that food and other living expenses is in the same price point.  Luckily Rich will be getting his salary plus a travel allowance for each day we live here.  Needless to say we will have to sell or rent our home back in the states.

I’ll try and post some snapshots of a typical British model home I took later tonight if I get a chance.

After touring the neighborhoods and homes, I went over to the primary school in the area.  This is a Church of England school, but it is public and would be paid for by the state.  I was hesitant to check out a CofE school as I do believe in the separation of church and state and we are not regular church goers ourselves (but do consider ourselves Christians although we have a very liberal sense of what that means).  However as 25% of public schools in the UK are CofE and the other 75% have christian-based religious education included in the core curriculum, I wanted to check at least one out.

I was floored.  This is an incredible school.  The building was much nicer than any of the other schools I’ve seen so far, and the headmaster and teachers were warm and kind.  Children in Reception class spoke to me kindly and shared the projects they were working on at the moment for an anti-bullying art contest.  There was a quiet room for children who wanted to take a moment to rest or do something else.  An entire room was dedicated to IT learning with probably 30 computer terminals and two electronic white boards with overhead projected monitor.  The playground was huge and the school has a great reputation for football (soccer) having won 8 of the 9 area championships.  A separate mobile music class where children as young as five start learning to play instruments.  I got up the courage to ask about religious education and his answer couldn’t have been better - they spend a good deal of time discussing the world religions but the majority of time is spent on the Christian faith, with love and community being at the core.  No fire and brimstone, I was assured.

So I’m pretty sure I’ve found my top pick for a school.  The question remains, will I get in?  The answer is probably not.

Can American English be qualified as a special need, or do I need to turn Connor over as a ward of the state?

I’m only half joking.

Day 4

Today I accidently slept until 11 am or so - so although I’m getting a full night’s sleep, obviously the jet lag is still somewhat in effect.

After a shower I drove straight to the village of North Petherton - a large village right between Bridgwater (where Rich will be working) and Taunton (the largest town of Somerset).  It has a very highly rated infants’ school (ages 4-5 through 7-8) so I wanted to check it out and look at the local area especially since it would be so convenient for us.

I liked the school.  I don’t have anything to base it on seeing as it is the first one I’ve toured but I would be happy if Connor ended up here.  Although he will not be entering into full-time school for another year, I thought it was important that we check it out since chances are we’ll be here for longer than one year.

Afterwards, I went across the street to the childcare center - also highly rated - that has a preschool session.  I got the assurance that preschool is publicly funded for 3-4 year olds up to 16 hours a week.  Yippee - there goes 125 dollars from our monthly budget! (not that England isn’t expensive…)  The childcare center was a very nice place.  I really liked the school’s owner, and the ratios are very good.  However I get the feeling it is a little less structured than what Connor is used to and I have no idea if this is a British thing or just at this school.  Although it has sessions, it is also a full-time child care centre and I would prefer it be only open for preschool (or as they say, playgroup).  The school is very highly rated through Ofsted and it seems they follow themes and there was a lot of interaction with the teachers and students.  I think it is a good choice for Connor, however I need to look at a few more schools before I decide.  And who knows where a rental (letting) will be available for when we need it.

After the school tours, I went for a little walk around North Petherton.  I saw several new neighborhoods and young families, which is a huge plus for us.  The houses looked nice, and there was a big field with some playground equipment like a slide, etc. in the middle of it.  I’ve included pictures of the schools, neighborhood and park below.

My growing muffin toppers and thighs are thanking me that tonight we went to dinner somewhere else.  The Plough is a nice pub right down the road from our inn.  The proprietor was a Canadian and we were at a table full of Rich’s American workmates - all very nice people.  There was one Scottish fellow and no, I didn’t tell him his accent was “thick”.  Lots of stories were told and we had a great time.  I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of these folks in the (weeks?/months?/years?) ahead.

Playground in North Petherton

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This nice large field a block from the neighboorhood above and a couple of blocks from the school has play equipment in it. The sign reads, “No Dogs or Animals Allowed in Playing Field” - sorry Zoe…

House for Sale in North Petherton

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This is a typical new home - most newer homes in Somerset look almost identical to this. This particular one is across the street from the open field in the former picture.

New Neighborhood in North Petherton

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As you can see there is a block in the middle of the neighborhood that is open field - no playground equipment here but still it could be a nice place for a family picnic and for the kids to run around.

Dolphins Childcare Centre

Dolphins Childcare Centre Playground

North Petherton Infants’ School

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Will Connor be attending this school next September?

Day Three

Last night we had dinner and spoke with a very nice middle-aged English couple which was fun.  The conversation turned into after-dinner coffee.  I managed to have my first American English vs. English English misunderstanding.  Apparently if you refer to Scots as having a “thick accent” it doesn’t mean the same thing as in the states - “thick” apparently means “stupid”, as in thick-skulled.  Oops.  Thankfully they weren’t Scottish!

I slept very well last night although Rich tells me he was awake in the middle of the night for 45 minutes or so.  Hopefully tonight will be the lucky night for him.

In the morning, Rich hooked up with Roy, his workmate, and bummed a ride off of him.  That meant that I had the car to myself all day.  Yippee - the open road!

But first I had myself a short walk.  I hiked up the hill behind our inn and down the historic road and had a look around.  It was truly beautiful, and I was kicking myself that I forgot my camera.  Hopefully soon I’ll repeat the trip (although the mud did a number on my brand new tennies) and I’ll take some pictures to share with you.

I first went up to Minehead, a coastal resort town.  Apparently most coastal resort towns in England have a bit of a shoddy reputation, so I wasn’t expecting much.  But it was a very nice place!  However the population there seemed a bit older and the services were more in line for the tourist vs. a resident, so I doubt it would be a good place to call home.

I moved on to Glastonbury/Street, which is a nice area.  Glastonbury is an important place in several religions including paganism and christianity, and is a pilgrimage site for both.  Along the main streets are many organic/vegetarian resturaunts and hippie clothes, etc.  It is a fun place and reminds me a bit of the Seattle U-District, or maybe parts of Portland, so I was comfortable there.  Street (a suburb of Glastonbury) is much more mainstream and is home of Clarks Shoes and the neighborhoods there felt comfortable.  It has an excellent school.  I really like the area but on a no-traffic day it took me 25 minutes to get there from Bridgwater (plus it has no railway -a necessity for England).  I’m thinking it might be a great place for us to visit and dine (fresh organic veggies!) but probably out of the way for us to live.

I had some extra time in Glastonbury and went to the famous Glastonbury Abbey.  It is an old pagan site, and legend has it that Joseph of Arithmea (I’m sure I butchered that spelling) who was Jesus’s Great-Uncle made Glastonbury the first Christian church in England right here.  It later became an important abbey and was burned down in the 1500s.  Glastonbury is also famous in King Arthur legend.  Find out more in the Flickr photos I hastily took before it started to rain.  I wanted to climb the Tor (the famous pagan/christian hill) but I was too cold and wet.  The Tor will have to wait for another day.

After Glastonbury I made my way back to the Inn and had a chance to relax before Rich came back from work.  It sounds like his day was fairly productive and they are making him useful already.  The BNG offices are very nice and he did a wide range of things.  He says to say that he is feeling the way you would expect him to feel for anyone starting a new job - a little overwhelmed with how much there is to learn - but he is enjoying it.  And he also says to say that he is missing American food (I have to interject here that this might be because we’ve eaten at our inn for the last 3 nights in a row and need to branch out a bit.  And that I am suprisingly not minding British food in the least.  Our chef at the Inn is fabulous and the food here is really first-rate.)

Check out the photos.  Hopefully more tomorrow!

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