The London Film Festival: View from a 7 Year old

The Days I Went to the BFI London Film Festival

by Sebastien Delorme

I went to the London Film Festival on Friday, the 7th of October and Saturday the 8th of October. On Friday, I saw Trolls: Behind the Scenes. On Saturday, I saw Trolls: the Movie.

At Trolls: Behind the Scenes therimg_0142e were the producers and directors of Trolls: Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn, Gina Shay, Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Sonia. They told me that they broke every Disney Princess rule to make the character of Princess Poppy and and that their computer didn’t know what glitter was.   They asked us questions about Dreamworks and their movies, and I answered one so I won a prize. It was a poster of “Trolls”.

The next day I saw Trolls: the Movie. I liked the movie. I went with my friends and I had a great time. My favourite parts were when they were in the pot an
d they sang “True Colours” and when they were in the castle and they sang “Can’t Stop the Feeling”.   I also like when you see Branch’s past.  At the end of the movie, I asked the producers and directors what gave them the idea of colours fading away when the trolls didn’t have any hope. They said that the idea of the song “True Colours” gave them the idea


It was a fantastic experience. I would love to go back to the London Film Festival

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Visiting Lapland: Home of Huskies, Reindeer and the Aurora Borealis

(This is the article by my son wrote that I promised to post in my last entry.)

By Lucas Shaw Delorme

Our family travels a lot. This time we took a special trip. We went to Lapland, which is in the Arctic Circle. While we were there, we visited huskies, went on a sled pulled by reindeer and saw the Northern Lights.

Visiting a Husky Farm

IMG_6996Mom decided that we should take a bus to a Husky farm. There we saw at least 100 racing dogs. On one side of the Husky farm, there was a sled with wheels!!! It was hilarious when they were attaching the last dogs to the sled because the dogs were barking, chewing, even running….knowing that they couldn’t run because the front of the sled was attached to a tree.   Once we were on the sled, the dogs were unleashed and dashed off. They had to pull heavy weights for at least 200 km before they would calm down. After that, we went to the puppy kindergarten. There were two dogs I liked, one was named Butch, and the other didn’t have a name. So soon after that I named him “Snow” because he was white.

Reindeer Riding

IMG_6962The next day we went to a place that offered sled rides pulled by reindeer. The guide said reindeer live until they become 12 to 15 years old.   The name of our reindeer was “Crazy Man” or “Hillbilly” in Finnish. The reason was that he was always full of energy.

Northern Lights Safari

When we saw the aurora borealis, it looked like a green fog. The guide said that the aurora borealis was formed by the solar winds and the earth’s magnitism. The guide also said there was a myth about the northern lights. It was called “The Legend of the Firefox”, he said that it was very rare and whoever saw the firefox would go mad. When the firefox danced it created the aurora borealis by striking it’s tale on the snow.

Finland was great. I loved it. I’d love to come back and I don’t think I am the only one.

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Visiting Lapland For Christmas: How to Avoid Being Mugged by Arctic Santa


Last year, around August, I got the proverbial bee in my bonnet about doing THE Santa trip. You know, the one to Lapland where they can meet Santa in the Artcic Circle. (Warning this is the start of a rant) Surprisingly, I had quite a few people respond with eye rolling when I told them I was planning this. Said folks thought it was cheesy and not hip, I guess. But I have found that people who obsess about being hip, fashionable or trendy are generally their own worst enemies. They spend so much time worrying about the perceptions of others that they forget to actually experience anything or have any fun.   So, if you are one of these people, let it go. (Cue annoying music and end of rant)

The truth is that you have a limited amount of time to do certain things with your kids before they become teenagers and hate you. ( And believe me, you will NEVER be hip enough to impress your own teen. OK OK I’m done.) They will only enjoy a trip to Disney with the family for so long.   Soon enough they will simply tolerate family vacations, rather than looking forward to them.   And their interest in Santa is even more short lived. You probably are looking at a top age of 9 or 10 for that…and that’s pushing it.   So, if you want to have that magical experience of seeing Santa in the Arctic Circle, then you should do it when your children are between 3 and 7. These are the ideal years.   So what would stop you from packing your bags this Christmas and hopping on over to Finland? Let me guess it in 2 words: THE COST.   Thus, the aforementioned allusion to mugging.

Can You Avoid the Mugging or is it Inevitable? :

When I first started looking at taking the plunge and heading to Lapland, I started with the Internet…as one does. What I found was a plethora of organized trips by large and small travel companies.   Despite this plethora of options, there were lots of down side. As previously mentioned the first and most prominent was the cost, which was astronomical with all of them. Some were offering a 1 day offer that was £2400 for a family of 4.  Let me say that again. This was a trip suggesting going to Finland for ONE DAY. Would you go to Athens for just one day? No. It’s about the same flying time. Only a real masochist, or someone with a system full of dopamine, would take this on. Of course they did have options for more days which was a bit more economical on a daily basis but was just this side of having someone steal your credit card.

That was the biggest downside, but it wasn’t the only downside.   I also found that all these trips, as is true with most organized tourist trips, were packed to the gills with activities that you may or may not want to do. As I hate to be herded around like just another sheep, and I have authority issues anyway, these are not the sort of trips that appeal to me.   If you like a cattle prod kind of experience, then this might not bother you but be sure about it before you take the plunge.

The last downside was an availability of dates. Most of the offers fell at times that just didn’t work well for kids in school. It was hard to find Friday, Saturday, Sunday options, or Saturday, Sunday, Monday options.   For parents, that’s difficult, as schools are unlikely to balk about your kids missing a day of school, but get more uppity about 2 or more days of unexplained absences.  This puts parents in the unfortunate situation of either getting adversarial or making up illnesses, deaths or a number of other creative lies.

But all of this is NOT necessary because there is an alternative to the purchasing an organized trip, which is simply to do it yourself. This is a lot easier than trip organizers would have you believe. In fact, it’s quite simple. The easiest option is the one most of them offer, which is going to Rovaniemi, Finland..the home of the Santa Claus Holiday Village.

So how does one do this?

Step One, you book a cabin at the Santa Claus Holiday Village at a time that IMG_8167is convenient for you and your children’s schedule.   These are wonderful little cabins, complete with sauna, that are actually in Santa Claus Holiday Village.   You can book this online. There are a number of packages available but if you in early December you can get a decent deal. In fact, you can get a cabin over New Years for £900 for 3 days which includes free Airport Transfer, buffet breakfast and half board dinner.

Step 2, book your own flight.  If you do this, you have the option to use air miles or points or whatever.  We didn’t have anything that worked for this route so we simply flew with Finnair.  Airfares can be reasonable if you are willing to do a little research and put in a  little work. For example, we went on the last weekend in November, and we paid around £850 for the four of us.

IMG_8078Step 3, take the hotel’s airport shuttle directly to the cabins.  This is easy and impossible to screw up.  They meet you at the airport in elf suits with big signs.  If you manage to get lost in the tiny Rovaniemi airport with several elfs waiting by the front door with a big sign saying “Santa Claus Village”, then you should never walk out your front door.

Step 4, book your own activities directly through the hotel.  This way you can choose your own schedule and only do the things that everyone really wants to do.  We booked several activities directly with the hotel, but there is an attached report from my son Lucas coming later, which will explain more about that.

Final Cost.  Once we factored in everything, including the purchase of souvenirs, the trip ended up costing us around £2600 for 3 days.   Sure, it’s still not cheap, but you have more control over your activities and you feel less like you are getting mugged. So when Santa comes to your cabin to see your kids, everyone is happy to see him, including the adults.

IMG_8154I have said a lot about cost here. But I feel like I should spend a moment on something other than cost. This was a really magical trip for our family. This place is close to nature.  Even with the lights and the kitsch and the roads, nature is still in charge here. The air is so pure that it feels almost like a different substance that what we breath on a regular basis. The same is true for the water.  The magic for the kids went way beyond Santa.  The novelty and excitement of being able to see the line that delineates where the Arctic Circle begins is not to be underestimated in its’ kid appeal. We also sat out in by a fire in the darkness, drank hot berry juice and later watched the Northern Lights flicker in a place with no light pollution. It was a once in a lifetime trip that the kids decided would have to be more than once in a lifetime. In fact, the children loved Finland so much that we went back to Finland the following April to ski in Levi…and without Santa.

So, to give you the good stuff, the next post will be my 9 year old son’s view on his trip to Lapland.


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Top 6 Most Amusing Excuses Used By Installation, Service and Delivery People in London

This morning I have been at home awaiting the delivery of a new washing machine by John Lewis. As a result, I am pretty sure I actually woke up with high blood pressure. Why? Because, while there are many really wonderful things about London, home delivery or repair of ANYTHING is not one of them. In fact, if you tell people that you will be at home waiting for a delivery or a service person, they will give you a look of pained concern that is similar to one they would give you if you told them that you’re suffering from a serious gastro.

So far, since living here, we have had to replace 3 major appliances and


Our new coat stand, hat rack and hall table.

coordinate repairs for plumbing and blinds. The majority of these things took weeks to sort and some took months. I have to admit that the actual reason why it takes this long is still a bit of a mystery to me. There is always a lot of finger pointing that goes on. The drivers blame the stores for not giving them enough time to make deliveries. The stores give you soupy apologies and allude to the fact that the delivery guys aren’t very competent, but apparently they aren’t incompetent enough to fire.

But what is really funny is the excuses that you get for their inability to do their jobs.   So, just for a laugh, I thought I would list my six favourite in reverse order.

Number 6: We Can’t Get There On Time Because of Traffic: I hear this one every other week. “We’re late because it’s really congested in your area and we couldn’t find a parking space.” I live near a bloody tube stop on one of the busiest roads in London, you couldn’t have seen this coming? So, I could excuse someone who doesn’t live in London or drive in London for not knowing that it will be congested where I live. But really, a delivery person who doesn’t know the congested areas in London? I think not. What makes this particularly annoying is that you are usually given a “flexible window” of time for your delivery. With everything except food, this “window” is likely to be from 8:00-17:00. Let’s be clear here, this is not a “window” it’s a “day”.   So it’s a bit hard to blame traffic for your inability to get somewhere at some point during a whole day.

Number 5: We Didn’t Bring The Right Equipment, So We Can’t Do The Job: I would be ok with this if the repair person realized that he or she needed something really bizarre that they could not have suspected…like an antelope horn to remove grout. But most of the time the equipment or part that isn’t brought is something that is either completely obvious or fairly likely if considered by someone with even a toddler level of perception. For example, when we first moved to London, we had guys come out to check the automatic blinds. These came with the flat, mind you, as we would never choose the automatic, and therefore likely to break, option when a manual option was possible. As we could have predicted, the remotes didn’t work… meaning we could neither open nor close blinds. Those who live closer to the equator won’t understand the unbridled horror of this. In the UK this means is that your children won’t go to bed until 9:30 pm in the middle of summer because that’s roughly when the sun goes down, and they will wake you up at 4:30 am because that’s when the sun comes up. Now you see the importance of working blinds for your parental sanity. Kudos to our landlady, who I believe is from an even more northerly location, because she immediately called out the “blinds specialists” to assess the situation. But that was where the efficiency ended. Said blinds guys didn’t bring a ladder. They also didn’t think to ask us or the building manager for a ladder. By the time I noticed that they were just sitting around staring at things and asked them the problem, they were “late for the next appointment” and had to leave. They returned no less than 5 times to the house, each time without something they needed. Finally, they decided that we needed to replace all the blinds with regular ones, but the manual ones weren’t in stock at that time. This was going to cost £2400. After 6 months of phone calls and waiting, and a “white summer”, my husband decided to get a ladder and take one of the blinds apart, just for giggles.   It turns out the sensors for the remotes had simply not been removed from the packaging. They had never seen this because they could never be bothered to bring or borrow a ladder. So, we went around to all the blinds, pulled out the sensors, and voila, blinds that work. This moment saved our landlord £2400.   I guess I can now apply to the “blinds union” (see below).

Number 4: We’re Late So We Don’t Have Time: John Lewis is particularly bad for this one. The number of times that groceries have not been delivered or washers have not been installed because “we are already running 2 hours late, so we don’t have time” is actually fairly shocking. This one also makes you feel really valued as a customer. Its like they are saying, “So, we suck at time management, but you aren’t very important so we’ll just make up the time with you so as not to inconvenience the much more important people after you”. Once, I actually had a delivery guy tell me that, because of having to deliver my dryer, he was running late for delivering a refrigerator to a little old lady who needed to keep her life saving medicines refrigerated. No, I’m not kidding, he actually tried this excuse. Unfortunately, my tongue engaged before my filter and I said “Well, it’s taken you so long that she is probably already dead, so it shouldn’t be an issue anymore”. The guy didn’t much like me to begin with, but he liked me much less after that. Que sera sera

In all of these cases, the delivery guys blame the store for their time crunch, saying that they are only given a short window of time to deliver and so they can’t be held responsible for either a) not delivering something or b) not installing the thing they delivered. I’m actually starting to get used to have things like washing machines and refrigerators sitting in my living room for weeks at a time. Maybe it can be worked into some new home decorating scheme.   Unfortunately, in my house these things just provide another surface for my kids to dump things on. We had an old refrigerator that Curry’s refused to take away that sat in our living room long enough that the boys to start putting their shoes in it. I really hope that ended going to the dump and not being fixed and sent back out… as I know how bad Lucas’ grungy shoes can smell!

Number 3: We Can’t Install The New Machine Because We Aren’t Allowed To Take The Old Machine Out.   I can buy this excuse under one scenario. If you are calling up to buy a new machine, and you don’t tell them that this is to replace an old machine. If that’s the case, I can stretch logic to see how they could feel like they shouldn’t be required to have to take something away. After all removal takes a bit of extra time, energy and truck space. And, seeing as how there is probably some little old lady with medical needs in line right after you, you don’t want to cut into their schedule. But this usually happens when you have actually told them that you have an old machine, and have specifically asked for removal.   What never fails to happen is that the delivery person shows up, takes one look at your appliance, then looks at like you like you are either a) intensely stupid or b) spawn of the devil and says “Oh, we didn’t know it was THIS kind of machine”.   “This kind of machine” could be any number of things: too old, too new, too big, too small, too fat, too skinny, the wrong color…you name it. They are quite creative about this. And they almost always use it in tandem with either “We Don’t Have Time”, “We Don’t Have the Equipment” or ….

Number 2: We’re Not With The Right Union : I love this one. Until I moved here, I had no idea how many unions there could be…and I lived in Paris for a few years.   I first learned about it when we had to get a new refrigerator. The delivery people were supposed to take out the old fridge and install a new one.   Of course, they said it had to have been defrosted and food free for 24 hours, cleaned, groomed and had its’ nails clipped.   We did all this, so I felt like we were on top of it. After the blind’s guys, I thought I was ready. But I admit, I made a classic blunder here. As we were buying a refrigerator with exactly the same dimensions as the existing one, it didn’t occur to me that I would need to measure the kitchen doorway. But, apparently, they must have built the original refrigerator directly into the wall before there was a kitchen door. For that matter, it must have been brought in piece by piece through the window because it only fit into the lift by removing all the packaging. But this was where things got interesting.   The guys took one look at the situation and said “Oh we can’t get it the old one out the door without removing the kitchen door, so we’re just going to leave the new one here in your hallway”. My husband got fairly irate at this point and I got on the phone with the dispatcher to explain the situation to the owner, who was less than helpful. So my husband and I talked them into waiting a grand total of 3 minutes for us to remove the kitchen door. Well, the old one still couldn’t go through the door without removing the refrigerator doors. But the installation and removal guys could not do this because apparently there is a “Refrigerator Door Removing Union”. No kidding, according to them, this exists. And apparently, Jimmy Hoffa’s heirs migrated here and are running the thing because it’s so powerful and scary that they could not even let us remove the doors while they were there.   So they just left. Once again we had an old non working fridge in the kitchen and a new non working fridge in the living room. On top of that the owner called and yelled at me for keeping his people for 5 minutes over the allotted 10 minutes they were supposed to spend on this. Oh, and he swore at me, and I hadn’t even sworn at him…yet.   It turns out that the owner was in litigation for fraudulent practices. I considered joining the lawsuit but couldn’t make the time because I was dealing with trying to get a working refrigerator.   This was where I discovered, who have since become my go-to people for dealing with house related service issues that are messy..mainly because they are competent, which brings me to my last and favourite excuse.

Number 1: You Didn’t Specify That You Wanted The Competent Installation & Delivery Guys When You Scheduled Installation & Delivery: I didn’t recognize that you actually have to request competent delivery specifically…but apparently you do.   When the delivery guys came to remove our old washer and deliver our new washer, they took one look at the fact that the washer was sitting “under a cabinet” and freaked out. They said that they couldn’t do it because it was an under the cabinet washer. Now, I had pre-emptively spoken with the Bosche repairman (a whole other story) as to exactly what type of washer would work under the cabinet. Measurements were taken, weight was assessed and it was concluded that a free standing washer would work just fine in this spot and that that they just needed to push it back under the cabinet.   When I explained this to the installation guys, they told me that it wasn’t an issue with the machine it’s that they didn’t have the appropriate training to push said washer back into the cabinet.   They told us that we would have to call John Lewis back and request the guys who actually knew how to install a washer.

Whenever I tell these stories, my expatriate friends chime in with worse stories. My friends in the U.S. respond with “that’s terrible, you should complain”. For the record, I can, I have and I do. But it doesn’t have any impact. You usually get a lame “so sorry” from the stores but that’s as far as it will go. The next time you order something, it will be the same. The best hard earned advice I can give is to develop a sense of humour about it.

So, for everyone reading this, you can consider this a heads up. If you
are expecting a service person or delivery in the near future, you might want to consider some of my mistakes and don’t make them. Oh, and you can also come up with some witty retorts to the above excuses. It won’t change anything, but it’ll make you feel better.

Have I missed any? Is there another lurking excuse that I should be aware of before it presents itself at an awkward or inopportune moment?
I am happy to hear about it!

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6 Reasons to Take Your Kids Sailing in Greece

6 Reasons to Take Your Kids Sailing in Greece.

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Supporting Greece’s Tourist Trade: 6 Reasons to Take Your Kids Sailing in Greece

My husband is a sailor. He loves to sail. He sails competitively. He sails for leisure.

IMG_7288Honestly, I think he would sail in puddles were that possible. I, well, I am of another mind. For years my response to his suggestion to take the family sailing was something like this. “You want me to get on a tiny boat, with no real shower and no actual tub, to take the kids out on to the ocean where I will spend my entire week stressing out about them drowning and developing a case of TMJ while I am at it. Yeah, that sounds fun.” As you have probably gathered, I am not really an outdoors girl. However, after years of persistence, my husband finally sucked me into trying it by showing me pictures of the Greek Islands and making lots of references to mythology. He got the boys by connecting all of it to Percy Jackson. He’s sneaky this way. Anyway, to make a long story short, we decided to go.

I spent weeks looking up yacht charters. After a bit of a search, I discovered one on TripAdvisor that had nothing but stellar reviews. That’s unusual because even the best of places will usually get at least one snarky high maintenance person who gets annoyed because he got constipated on his trip and somehow blames it on whatever vendor. So, I am always a bit suspicious of a company that has nothing but positive reviews. I always assume said reviews are being written by friends, family or people who owe them money. But after a few emails back and forth, I felt a bit more comfortable.

Our sailing adventure began in Poros.  From there we sailed to Hydra, Nafplio, Dokos and Astros. Each little island had it’s own personality and ambience. Some islands felt completely Greek; on others there was a strong Italian influence. Some were more touristy, others were less so. But, with the exception of one, I would gladly go back to all of them. But enough rambling…on to the list.

6 reasons to Take Your Kids Sailing In Greece


Demanding Pizza Customers

1) Greece is Kid Friendly: A consistent and wonderful aspect of all the little islands that we visited, as well as Athens itself, was the fact that everyone was very comfortable with children. We live in London, and no matter how well behaved your kids are, people will glare at them in the Tube….just because they are kids. And HEAVEN FORBID that your child happens to be seated when some 20 year old has to stand. Somehow this is considered a deadly sin in London. Go figure. Not so in Greece. At all of the stores, restaurants, and shops people were very warm and kind with the kids. When my youngest got eaten alive by mosquitos one night (my bad for not bringing “Off”) people at restaurants were offering us antihistamine cream. We went to a pharmacy in Poros and they immediately called a doctor to look at him because he had 192 bites. She soothed him about it by saying that was just because his blood was so “sweet” and then tickled him. She then gave us some stronger antihistamine that did the trick. Another example of the “kids are king” Greek attitude came at a restaurant, when the owner overheard my kids asking why there was no pizza on the menu. I explained to them that we were in Greece, not Italy, so they should try to expand their little palates and eat some Greek food. The owner then came over to the table and said “Of course we can make them pizza. I have kids too!”. I must say he gave me a bit of a “how cruel you are” look and immediately went away to whip up a pizza for the boys. Like I said, very high on the kid friendly scale as a country. Probably more than I am.


Squished face of Agamemnon

2) Proving to Your Kids that Mythology is Not Something Only Found in Percy Jackson Books: My boys love Percy Jackson. I love Percy Jackson. But I have to say that it was very rewarding when we sailed to a port that allowed us easy access to Mycenae. The fact that it was supposedly founded by Perseus was a big draw for the boys. But the stories of Agamemnon, the Trojan War, patricide and human sacrifice to the gods quickly outshone the Percy Jackson books…at least for the course of this trip. There is nothing like a story of blood and gore to get a boy’s attention. My youngest still remembers the Mask of Agamemnon. This is probably because Lucas said it looked like someone sat on his face…but we take what we can get.


Lu giving the other boat the evil eye, as they intrude into “our” cove.

3) Breakfast in Your Own Private Cove: There is something quite magical about going to bed in a boat under stars… and then waking up in your own private cove with only your family and the fish for company. You just can’t do this unless you are privately wealthy and own your own beach, or you rent a boat. One such morning, we awakened to a cove with water so clear you could see straight to the bottom. My oldest snorkeled all morning in the cove. We eventually had to drag him out of the water to prevent permanent “prunedom”..and he still resisted. As I am writing about swimming, I should also mention that having a skipper around was excellent in that he was as neurotic about kid safety as I was. It’s a relief to know that there is another set of eyes watching to make sure your kids don’t injure themselves. It’s also helpful to have someone on board who understands how to create a makeshift waterproof glove just in case one of you, perhaps the mother, stupidly slices open her finger on the lid of can and has to find out how to swim without oozing blood into the water. One does not want to become an advert for tampons while on vacation. (Yes, that was a reference to the infamous “shark tampon” advert)


Enjoying the Beach at one of our “unexpected” stops.

4) Making (and Breaking) Your Own Schedule: One doesn’t have many opportunities to just “go with the wind and the weather”, but renting a boat allows you to do that. Renting a boat with an experienced skipper allows you to do this with confidence. We changed our schedules almost daily based on the wind and tide. As a result of this, we ended up in a few places that we hadn’t planned on…but that is the beauty of this type of vacation. It also teaches not just the kids, but the adults, what it was like before there were motors. It helps you imagine what it must have felt like to be vulnerable to the whims of the air. Suddenly that whole human sacrifice thing becomes a little more understandable…not saying it’s good or anything…but understandable.


“Roughing it” at a restaurant in Nafplio.

5)  Chartering a Boat in Greece is Less Expensive than Many Large Cruises:  The boat with a skipper cost us about 2900 EUROS, that’s euros NOT pounds.  A fairly cheap Mediterranean Cruise at the same time of year would cost you 700 pounds per person for a 7 night cruise.  When you factor in tipping alone, this comes to around 4300 Euros.  You could argue that on the big cruises all your food is paid for.  Still, on most big cruise lines you have to pay for bottled water, alcohol and many port activities.  For us, the cost of big cruises is usually double the stated cost when all is included.  So that means about 8000 Euros.  The cost of our entire Greek Sailing vacation was around 5000 Euros.  This includes airfare, food and activities.  And we were not trying to be tight with the purse strings on this one.  We ate out a lot.  We bought stuff.  We could do it much cheaper with a little restraint on our part.  I am in no way against big cruises.  For whose who know me, you know I am a huge fan of the Disney cruises.  But it is a different experience.  You know what you get and you pay for it.  There is little surprise or adventure in it.  It’s relaxing and really fun, but not very natural.  Renting a boat feels more natural.  It’s definitely more of an adventure.  And, all in all, it turns out cheaper.

6) The Opportunity for Kids to Push Parents from the Boat: How often will your IMG_7077kids get the chance to push you off a boat? Or, perhaps more accurately, how often will they get the chance to push you off a boat without fear of reprisal? This will probably be the only chance. They will love you for this and they won’t forget it.   One word of warning, if you throw them from the boat, they will consider it a declaration of war and all loyalties be damned.

As a final note, one of the criteria I set for taking this vacation was being able to  have a skipper on board. My husband is a great sailor but I am not. Let’s face it, I still have close to zero knowledge of a boat. So I wanted to make sure that we had an extra pair of hands in case the weather got rough, Julien got tired, or something went wrong. We had friends who were sailing by themselves in the same area and got “caught out” by high winds. No one in the family was hurt and everything was ok, but their nerves were rattled nonetheless. The skill of our skipper meant we didn’t have to deal with this sort of thing. Even if you are an experienced sailor, like my husband, there is a danger if you don’t know the waters or the area. Personally, I prefer my family vacations danger free…or as close as I can get to that and still have fun.

IMG_7284So, this year it is actually me trying to squeeze a week of sailing time into our summer.  We were a bit hesitant about this, given the Greece crisis but as things have settled down a bit, we decide to go ahead and try to book it.  And let’s be honest, the Greek economy needs all the tourist trade it can get these days!

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In Search of A Carrot: An Expat View from Maslow Level 1

After our family moved to Hong Kong, I got a lot of comments from friends in the US and France that go something like :  “Have you visited any of the monasteries yet?” or “Have you discovered any new restaurants?” or “Wow, it must be exciting being in a new culture?”.  I didn’t respond to these questions because I didn’t want to sound rude, but the answer was emphatically “No” to all of them.  Why?  Because of where our family was in the ”expat life cycle”…..that being “Maslow level 1″.


My version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

For those who have purposely blocked out the information on Maslow that you learned in high school, I will now torture you with a reminder.  Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who developed a “hierarchy of needs“.  His general idea was that you can’t even think about fulfilling “higher” needs until you have fulfilled “lower” ones.  For example, “fighting world hunger” will not likely get much attention in your brain when you, yourself, are poor and hungry.  Some people have scoffed at this chart but any serious move, particularly an international one, will make you a believer.  Particularly as you watch yourself go up and down this chart.    And during the first 3 to 6 months, your direction is usually “down” …to Maslow level 2 or 1.

Level 1 needs are those that, when you are deprived of them, translate into visceral discomfort.  You are in level 1 if you are asking things like  “where do I find a bloody grocery store where I can read the labels?” or  “how do I get my son’s school supplies when said school has given me a list of supplies written in French that I must now purchase from a store owner who speaks Cantonese?” 

During the course of this “adjustment” period, one also encounters questions from uninitiated others that, however nicely phrased, boil down to “If the kids are in school, what do you do all day?”.  And, to be honest, this question makes me want to claw people’s eyes out.   So, in the interest of education and a less violent tomorrow, I thought it would be useful to type up a typical day for one expat spouse (that being me)  during the first 1 to 6 months of an assignment.  Stay with me on this one, because at the end of this I will need your help with the “carrot” part of this article.  So, here we go…

Typical Day:

3:30 am–  Awakened by youngest child who is still a bit jet lagged and unsure of where he is.  Spend 30 minutes or so getting him back to sleep.

6:30 am– Re-awakened by either a) perky children whose idea of “good morning” is a headbutt or b) whining children who had that bad dream about clowns again ( what is it with clowns?!?!).


Chocolate sugar plus vanilla sugar equals what exactly?

7:00 am– Pull lazy self out of bed, head to kitchen where unnaturally happy morning person husband and / or somewhat bleary nanny are putting a cornucopia of cereal boxes on the table….as there are never too many ways to consume large quantities of high fructose corn syrup first thing in the morning.

7:15 am– Make mental vow NOT to let offspring watch the Ipad before going to school.  Said device turns normally cheerful 6 year old into a sulky 13 year old in less than 5 minutes.   Said device also turns normally cheerful husband into a snarling bear in same amount of time.  Make mental note to analyze the pattern here.

7:30 am– Break mental vow after 3 year old begins to adamantly insist that he will NOT go to school...never…never…never. Mentally anaesthetise him with “Team Umizoomi”,  so he can be clothed with minimal resistance.   Watch 6 year old slip into a glazed stupor and spill milk all over table while being sucked into the whirling mental vortex that is the Ipad.  Swear to self to make a greater effort to hold out on Ipad for 15 extra minutes tomorrow.

8:00 am–  Manage to wrangle both children into clothes.   Unfortunately, clothes not completely weather appropriate clothes, as we are still living out of suitcases.

8:15 am– Decide to take older son to school first, as it is easier for Dad to get younger son out the door to school across town if Mom is already gone.

8:20 am– Wait for taxi near bus stop.  All taxis with “light on” seem to be going other direction.

8:22 am– Change sides of road after 4 taxis go by in other direction.  There must be some sort of taxi conspiracy going on because taxis now appearing only on side of road that was just departed.

8:35 am– Finally get taxi.  Get oldest son to school a bit late.  Perky teacher is all smiles but issues reminder of still needed school supplies.  Hands over list, which is written in French.  Steel self to go again to the Cantonese speaking stationary store where they have previously just looked at me blankly when I showed up with the aforementioned list.

8:45 am: Cannot find taxi back from school, so walk.  People stare as if I have grown additional appendages.  Must be doing something wrong culturally, but no idea what it is.

10:00 am–  Sit down at computer.  Swear will finish piece on Cosmetic Surgery in France.  Write a couple paragraphs.

10:15 am: Phone rings.  Call from wrong number.  Takes 5 minutes to get the message across that “You have the wrong number.  No, I am NOT Dora.  No, she does not live here.  Yes, I am sure.  Honestly, I have not kidnapped her.  No, I don’t want a ransom. “.

10:17 am: Second call from same wrong number.  Identical conversation ensues.  Person on other end sounds extremely suspicious.

10:25 am: Phone rings.  Refuse to pick up.


Just a smattering of the 144 cans of Cream Soda

11:00 am: Get Diet Cream Soda from the fridge.  As I accidentally ordered 144 cans rather than 1 on our last Park n Shop order, I feel a need to consume as many as possible during the course of the day…just to make more space in the kitchen.

11:30 am: Grand total of 3 paragraphs written.   Someone rings at door.  It is someone from the apartment complex who has come to look at the dishwasher that isn’t working.  He looks for a few minutes and then states that the problem is that it was over filled with dishwashing detergent. This is said with an attitude of condescending indulgence.  I respond, as pleasantly as I am able to muster, that I don’t think that this is the problem.   I ask him to try to run it.  He tries.  It doesn’t work.  He grumbles and messes around with it for 30 more minutes.  He then tells me that someone will come to take it away tomorrow morning.  When asked when a new one will be brought in, he suddenly looses the ability to speak English.

11:45 am: Swear to self that I will consume a healthy lunch today and not another can of Heinz Macaroni and Cheese.

12:00 pm: Eat can of Heinz Macaroni and Cheese.  Feel momentarily guilty, so get another can of Diet Cream soda to generate some sense of accomplishment.

1:00 pm: Call agencies for a helper. (In Hong Kong, this is the equivalent of domestic helper in the U.S. or Femme de Menage in Paris.  The difference is that they are paid roughly 1/10th of what you pay them in Paris, or less.)   After some effort, discovered that husband had actually already registered.  But all agencies claim to be still “looking”.

1:30 pm: Register on a few additional agency sites.  Helper needed as husband is getting tired of fighting his way through empty Diet Cream Soda cans.   Consider sending SMS’s but, as cell phone is still not working, this is not possible.


Obviously an elaborate attempt to get their PCCW mobile service to work

2:00 pm:  Begin Sisyphean challenge of getting mobile phone to work.   The attempt the night before consisted of calling Orange in France, who insisted that SIM card was NOT blocked and that Apple should be contacted.   This was followed by contacting Apple who INSISTED that the phone was blocked and that I should call Orange.   Call patient hubby at work to make a phone call BACK to Orange to discuss this in French.  Orange agent once again swears of life of mother that phone is NOT blocked.  During this time, get email from PCCW agent tasked with helping us with our mobile phone service, and who is already charging us for a service that doesn’t work.  She suggests (with lightning acuity) that I should try turning the phone off and back on ( twitch, twitch, twitch).  This morning, actually manage to talk to Australian guy at Apple who is merciful and finds a way to over ride the “regional” block that Orange had put on the phone.  Guess someone’s mother is forfeit here.   But mobile phone working!  At last!

2:15 pm: Celebrated too soon.  Discover that while phone works, there are still no data connections on phone.   As major need of phone (outside of calls) is GPS, this presents a problem.

2:30 pm: Nanny heads out to pick up youngest from school.   Use time alone in apartment to get bath…with accompanying Diet Cream Soda.

4:15 pm: Have bathed and written roughly 1 page of article on Cosmetic Surgery in France.  Feel grand sense of accomplishment.  Get another Diet Cream Soda.


Walking may have gotten some stares but we always got nice pictures on the way home.

4:30 pm: Go pick up eldest son from school.  We walk home and once again people stare.  When asking about his day, get answers regarding the relative values of particular Pokémon characters.  This assessment continues for the entire 20 minute walk from school.  Guess we all have our way of coping.

5:00 pm: After dropping off books, go with oldest son to take and pick up husband’s dry cleaning.  Of course, forget ticket for said dry cleaning.  Dry cleaning lady remembers me and allows me to pick up dry cleaning….. but only after I can tell her my home phone number.  As my Iphone is now out of batteries, remembering this becomes an exercise in mental gymnastics.  Leave shop with clothes and a mild sheen of perspiration from mental exertion.

5:20 pm: While shopping with son at Park and Shop, must refrain self from manslaughter.  Get in line at grocery store standing next to two women with carts who are, for all the world, just standing there gossiping…and blocking the isle.   Maneuver so that I can get in line with son.   Just as we are about to get to register, one of aforementioned women pokes me and says “Uh, we were waiting in line you know”.  To which my mouth responds before I can stop it “No, actually I didn’t know.  It looked like you were just gossiping and blocking the isle to me”.   In truth, I wouldn’t have been this snarky if she hadn’t poked me.   Anyway, she shut up and we left without further incident…mercifully.   Must make note to self to contain urge to kill hapless strangers.

5:45  pm: Back home.  Try to order Microwave from Wing On, using gift card given upon move in.   Gift card does not work.  Get annoyed and try to pay with bankcard.  Bankcard does not work.   Call phone number on Card from Wing On.  Am informed by male Wing On associate that MR. will need to call to authorize cards, as it comes from MR.’s work.  Mentally lecture self for jumping to misogynist conclusions.  Resolve to collect more data before a future phone evisceration of Wing On associate.

6:00 pm: Email very nice relationship manager at bank, who is also part of an “international program”, to help resolve bankcard issue.  She responds immediately and sets up meeting for us for the following morning.  Feel urge to kill fading.

7:00 pm: Have phone call with project manager for Disney Paris App I am creating.  Project should be completed today.  After looking at beta, and coming up with 8 pages of corrections, decide that it is not.  Project manager asks if I am OK if they go ahead and send source code to Apple.  Surprisingly, she acts offended when I say “no”.  Normally, I like this woman, so make mental effort to try to stay polite and grind teeth instead.  Resolve severely tested when she states “the developers have already put in a lot of hours on this”.   Blood pressure is not helped by the fact that 3 year old has become bored with what he is doing and pounded on door for last 5 minutes of meeting.

7:30 pm: Make dinner consisting of ginger beef and chicken with rice.  Boys and nanny blissfully play with cardboard packing box still in living room.  Consider if we should send these back or keep them as toys.

7:45 pm: While eating dinner, get email from PCCW woman who suggests I resolve mobile phone problems by calling Orange or going by the Apple store.  Twitch twitch twitch.  Get additional Cream Soda to calm down.

8:30 pm: Put children to bed.  Get lots of hugs and kisses from both boys.  And lots of “I love you, Mom’s”.  When boys are asleep, feel regenerated enough by this to email PCCW woman about lack of data connectivity.

8:45 pm: PCCW woman actually sends USEFUL email that allows me to data connect.

9:00 pm: Husband returns from work and asks how day was.  Respond “fine”.


Walking the River on the Kowloon side became a bit of a carrot for us🙂

So, I will now get to the “carrot” part of this article.  After having multiple days that were some variation on the above, I began to feel myself getting despondent.    It wasn’t really the menial tasks that were bothering me.  It wasn’t the fighting to get things done.  I actually like a bit of a fight every now and then.   It allows me to vent pent up aggression that I have toward people at whom I can’t actually vent.   It’s not the writing part.  I like writing, even if I procrastinate on it.   After a little thought, I realized that what I was missing was a reward system.  With day after day of this kind of thing, one needs something to look forward to.

In Paris, I had a whole list of ways to reward myself.   I could go buy a cheap scarf.  I could take a walk to Invalides.  I could take the 80 bus to Rue du Commerce and window shop.  Or take it the other way to Montmartre.  If I felt extravagant, I could buy lingerie.  Or I could just get a coffee and a pastry somewhere.    I even came up with a list of the 10 things you must purchase while in Paris.  So, worst case scenario, when I felt down, I could just buy a small something from that list.  But it took a while to learn all these things…at least a year.  Which is ironic because by the time I learned them, I didn’t need them as badly.

And so, when you first move somewhere and desperately need a reward system, you can’t find one. You don’t know the “carrots”. So, this is where I ask for advice.  For those of you who move, what are your “carrots”?  How do you reward yourself in your particular country?  What can you get here, that you can get no where else in the world?  What makes you feel special here?  What lifts you up and what calms you down?

All comments and ideas are graciously accepted.   So, Diet Cream Soda anyone?

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