Birthday celebrations

I had my birthday off, which was very kind of the family. I woke up to some lovely happy birthdays from the family which made me feel good to be remembered. I then Skyped with Cailin and the rest of my family after. They were headed out for a meal at an Italian with George and Barbara, family friends. This made me miss being able to celebrate with them, but I knew I was going out later anyway. Then I Skyped my gorgeous friend Jenny. This was a new phenomenon for Jenny which was amusing, but she got the hang of it quickly. It was so lovely to see her beautiful face and chat to someone I love so dearly.

Then I practiced driving before going to Stanford Shopping Centre. I am so glad I went there as the sales were fabulous. Normally I can’t afford a thing! I bought some delightful hand soap (Frozen Blackberries) and some hand cream. Then I was excited to go into Bloomingdales since it’s so famous. I found some beautiful Ralph Lauren earrings for $30. I had needed to get some earrings since I didn’t bring any with me and I was afraid my holes would close. The shopping centre is outdoors and it was lovely walking in the glorious sunshine looking at beautiful things. I went into Abercrombie and Fitch where I bought a gorgeous new jumper. It’s a soft white, woollen jumper, slightly on the big side and so comfortable. And it was a bargain! I was so happy with my purchases. I quickly had lunch and drove home.

We went to a fondue restaurant, but they could not accommodate us. Anya’s negotiating skills got her a $125 gift certificate, so we will go back another day. We instead went to a steak restaurant called The Sea. They gave me a birthday card which was a nice touch. I had mini crab cakes to start. They were slightly spicy but quite tasty. I was sat between Elizabeth and Ira. The family’s friends had joined us and everyone spoke Russian but me so I did not have much conversation. But I enjoyed myself just the same. Ira and I had the same starter and the same main. We had New York steak. It was huge and came with cuboids of potato-like things with a tomato sauce. It wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had but I did enjoy it. For dessert I had 4 ice-creams – pistachio, peppermint, honey and coconut. The coconut was the best: so creamy and fresh. They also brought me a dish saying happy birthday from the restaurant with a raspberry mousse and a chocolate and vanilla mousse. From the kids I got a nice card and from Anya and Ilya I received a card containing $100. They are very generous towards me and they did what they could to make my birthday special and memorable. I am very grateful.

Birthday 2014

Christmas away from home

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Well everybody loved the soup and I expect I will have to make it again! I haven’t had a single soup that I’ve tasted before since I’ve been here so it was nice to have something as familiar as tomato soup. I made gingerbread with the children. They loved baking with me and I got the feeling they hadn’t done it before or had gingerbread before!! I did not enjoy it as much as them as it was sooooo sticky!! I found it so difficult to work with. Saying this, I loved seeing the children having a good time. It was a bit of a failure trying to cut out the shapes before baking so I decided to bake and then cut which worked fine, plus there were scraps to eat which everyone loved. I can honestly say it was the best gingerbread I’ve ever tasted! But I won’t be making it again in a hurry! The best part for the children was decorating. Elizabeth was so funny with the sprinkles and Daniel was sweet enough to let me have a go. I will definitely bake more with them. It was slightly too tempting for Elizabeth as it was so good she did not want to stop eating, which is not good since she’s diabetic, but it was nice for her to take part and taste something different.

We went to a Charlie Brown Christmas concert at the San Francisco symphony hall. Daniel and I loved it! It was arrangements of Christmas songs performed by an orchestra, as well as a choir and a famous opera singer, during the first half. The second half was an amusing performance of a Charlie Brown story which was very entertaining. Daniel particularly enjoyed singing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ at the end.

I have also been to two restaurants recently with the family. I have not exactly broadened my horizons food-wise so they took me to a Chinese restaurant. All of the food was served in the middle of the table for everybody to try. I tried all kinds of things, from fried shrimp, to crab, to duck, to sea-bass (too oily), to frogs (which I actually enjoyed!), to shrimp dumplings and so much more. It sounds like a sea-food restaurant from what I’ve described but they must be the things that stood out most. Anyway, I was so intrigued and happy to get to try all of this new food and was so surprised at what I liked, which was most of it! We also went to an Italian restaurant, much to my delight as I would be able to eat my king of food, pasta, again. It was Luba’s leaving meal since she is going back to Estonia (she is Russian but lives in Estonia) because her 90 day limit was up (Estonians do not need a visa for 90 days but she could not obtain a visa to stay longer and she has a family in Estonia). Once again, Ilya suggested ordering for everyone and having everything in the middle to try, however, I asked for a particular pasta and so had a bowl to myself which I was pleased about. I had meat ravioli with a meat and tomato sauce which was very good. Then I was encouraged to take some of the other food (there was so much) to try. There was a buckwheat pasta which I did not like (in the house they eat buckwheat a lot and I am not a fan at all!!). There was a lovely squid ink pasta which turned Anya’s mouth black. There was wild boar which was absolutely delicious. And, of course, Daniel had asked for pizza which I enjoyed tasting very much.  I also drove to and from the restaurant which was good practice. I’m finding it very strange driving here.

Anya’s parents arrived this week so there are a lot of people in the house. They are nice and very Russian. I received a wooden bracelet from them when they arrived. One of Elizabeth’s gifts from them was a gorgeous white fur coat – so splendid. I was pleased to meet them but the dynamic of the house changed when they came which was another adjustment for me and, of course, more Russian speakers means less English speaking which as left me out at times. They are staying for 3 months so I will have to get used to them. They shared a bedroom with Elizabeth and Daniel slept in his parent’s room wile Luba was here. Elizabeth rejected me for her grandmother, which is understandable, but she is coming back to normal again now and wanting to play with me again. I feel slightly intimidated by Ira, the grandmother, I think because she keeps telling me off in Russian. It is difficult since we don’t understand each other and do things a bit differently. But I do like Ira and Sergei and Sergei is always trying to get me to eat.

We had a party on Christmas Eve with lots of guests. I had been asked to watch the kids before dinner which was fine. However, some of the guests started talking to me and I talked and watched at the same time. Ilya came and asked me to watch them more closely since they were getting a little out-of-hand. I felt like I was not doing my job so quickly went and stayed with them until dinner. I felt overwhelmed since there were several children and I had no idea exactly what they were allowed . At first I stopped a sword fight and tried to take a sword from Elizabeth after she hit Daniel but I was told off by Ira. So I let it be and she put down the sword anyway. There was one boy who was very boisterous and unruly and led Daniel into running and play fighting. He was my target and I told him sternly not to go into the kitchen as it was dangerous. With me watching intently, he soon calmed down. Then a game of hide and seek broke out and the children were upstairs before I could think about whether they were allowed or not. It was at tis point that Ira came to check Elizabeth’s blood sugar. Of course, the kids were running wild trying to hide and she told me to look after them. Another failure! I then ushered everyone downstairs and a more sophisticated game followed. I felt a bit left out since the guests were all having fun, but I was soon gotten for dinner.

There was so much food! We had salad and cold meats to start. Then eggplant with mozzarella. Then duck and potatoes. Then Yule log and pound cake. Then pears in red wine sauce. I was stuffed!

Christmas day was not much of a Christmas day and I was really sad to be away from family and friends. The best part was that I made Yorkshire puddings, which were a huge hit and everyone wanted more. I will have to make them again. Luba wanted the recipe. The downside was the mess in the oven that I had to clean.

Today Luba left an she is a massive loss. I don’t know what things will be like without her.

Nutcracker

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Today I went to a performance at Daniel’s school. The hall was decorated with gingerbread men and candy canes hanging from the ceiling. It started with the older children coming in dressed in white and singing Santa Lucia. Then each grade sang two songs, one old and one new, which was the theme. Daniel’s class came up somewhere in the middle. He looked so smart in his uniform and sang is heart out, making his parents proud. Afterwards, Elizabeth said (in Russian) “Daniel, you sang so well! You’re such a good boy Daniel!”. It was sooooo cute and lovely to see her with him. She was dressed in her silver princess outfit and he got changed into a smart suit. We were headed for the Nutcracker!

We drove to San Francisco: Luba, me, Anya, Daniel and Elizabeth. I was feeling really sleepy and hoped that I would be able to stay awake for the performance. We arrived in the city and the magnificent town hall stood before us in glittering gold splendour. Unfortunately, the car park was full so Anya dropped us off and went in search of a parking spot elsewhere. We tentatively entered the opera house with our tickets. We found our seats but one was on a different floor and I volunteered to take it. We went to the bathroom then waited for Anya. She arrived just on time. I went upstairs on my own and it was dark in the theatre so I had to be shown to my seat. The performance started and it was magical. The costumes were so beautiful and took my breath away. Unfortunately, I was so sleepy during the first half and had to literally pinch myself to stay awake, which was inconvenient as I wanted to much to be alert to watch the performance.

During the interval the lady next to me spoke to me. Her name was Miriam and we found each other very interesting. Anya, Luba and the children moved up to my level which I was glad of. The second half was even better and I adored the costumes and the dancing immensely.

The kids fell asleep in the car and plans to do homework with Daniel and make gingerbread vanished. Instead, I made tomato soup for us to eat tomorrow. Hopefully everyone will like it. Fingers crossed…

Settling In

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My home here is beautiful. I have a nice room with the softest sheets ever and I feel so lucky to be in such a spectacular and gorgeous house. Most of my meals are cooked for me which is new for me. And all of the food is new to me too. We have a lot of Russian cuisine (of course, since they are a Russian family). We have porridge, pancakes or something similar (I don’t know what I’m eating some of the time!) in the morning; often there is some kind of soup for lunch; and meat and vegetables for dinner. Anya (host mum) is worried that I am starving myself as she thinks I do not eat enough. I am eating plenty but a lot of the foods are very new and so I have small portions, or I don’t like the food so I try to get away with eating less of it. Luba, the nanny, does most of the cooking. She is wonderful: so kind and helpful. She’s very motherly and will not let me do anything, but instead does a lot of things for me. I feel lost not having to do everything for myself but I am enjoying it. I am determined to contribute to cooking soon though. We also have cleaners who come every Saturday so I don’t even have to change my own bedding! I am definitely living in luxury.

At the weekend, we decorated the Christmas tree. This is the first time I’ve ever properly done this!!! At home we have a small fiberoptic tree and my nana usually as hers decorated by the time we visit on a Saturday. The family here bought a real tree (also my first experience) and we decorated with beautiful ornaments. I also added the stockings I bought for the children which have their initials on them.

The kids are wonderful and they keep telling me how much they love me and want to give me hugs and kisses all of the time. Elizabeth (3) is slowly picking up bits of English, and Daniel (6) became enthusiastic at doing English with me (he normally hates working!). It is challenging at times, since Elizabeth and the nanny speak Russian, and Daniel really does not like working, eating, going to bed or getting up in the morning!

I had my first driving experience today. After my trip to the social security office (it takes 10 days for my card to come – everything here is so slow), I had a driving lesson. This really built up my confidence for driving over here and I am so grateful to my host parents for setting it up. I can drive on my international driving permit but I will be taking a Californian driving test when my social security number comes. It is much easier than the British test. I also have to wait for the parents to get me a car. I will then be able to drive Daniel to and from school.

I hope everyone at home is well. I miss you x

Settling in

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I met some lovely friends in New York who I feel I will stay in touch with. On the Thursday we had a great tour of the city in the evening, where we saw and learned about the major sights of New York. I was disappointed that I did not bump into Taylor Swift, but I had an amazing time all the same. We saw the Statue of Liberty at dusk, which was spectacular. I was also hit on twice! A very uncomfortable experience I might add, once by a man selling CDs and once by a man selling hotdogs! I was glad to be with other girls that’s for sure! We saw tower number 1 and the fountains where the twin towers once stood. This area is now a beautiful reminder of a tragic event. Times Square is unbelievable with its bright lights and busy streets. We went to the Top of the Rock and saw the city from above which looked beautiful in the dark. We also saw the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree which I was excited about. The ice rink is disappointingly small compared with the movies however!

The next day we left for the airport at 9am after saying goodbye to our new friends. This was early for our flight at 4:30pm. Arriving at the airport at 10:30, we managed to check in with no problems at this early time. We prepared for our long wait. There was no wi-fi in JFK airport!!!! This sucked for us all as we could not communicate with home or our new host families. After hours of waiting we then discovered that our flight was delayed by 5 hours! I was the designated spokesperson as the only native English speaker among the au pairs on my flight and I rang the Cultural Care people from a borrowed cell phone. We got on the plane at 8pm and it took off after 30 or 40 minutes. Unfortunately on American airlines you have to pay for everything including movies and food so it was a long flight. We arrived late at night, 2am in NY time and 11pm SF time. The little boy was not able to meet me because of the time so he was disappointed.

I saw the host parents easily and we hugged and discussed the flight etc. They are Russian but speak very good English. They are really lovely and have welcomed me into the family. The children were so excited I am here and wanted to spend all of their time with me on Saturday. We went to a Christmas party. It had a French theme and so we ate a French lunch. After lunch we went to the main house. It was very beautiful, filled with Christmas trees and ornaments and gifts. We could select things to buy from every room.

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We had duck for dinner and we had some dinner guests over. This was my first experience of duck and I did enjoy it have been trying a lot of new foods and even eating some vegetables! The family keep feeding me and I am not always hungry! I have not liked all of the food that’s for sure, but I am trying my best and discovering new tastes and likes.

Yesterday I went for a walk with my host mum and the 2 children. They were on their bikes. The girl was confident and rode her bike which had stabilizers but the boy was scared. His mum tried hard to teach him and persevered with him despite his crying. He slowly improved with her holding him up. I stayed with the girl. On the way back I helped the boy and he managed to cycle without me holding the bike. He said I was magic and he loved cycling (a complete change of opinion from when he set out). It felt great.

Last night was our first au pair meeting. We went ice skating and had pizza. It was nice to have something which tasted familiar 🙂 and Lena, who travelled on the plane with me and lives nearby, was there and it was good to see a familiar face. I met some nice people there too.

The real work starts this week and I look forward to being busy and helping these delightful children.

Au Pair School

The au pair school is lovely and I have met a lot of great people. We have classes and training. Tomorrow is our tour of New York, which I am really looking forward to.

The showers here are communal. They have curtains but you pretty much just see each other naked. This is not something I am used to! But I have decided to embrace it as we are all equal and naked and so there really is no reason to be embarrassed. Hey ho!

The food is different! I missed pizza night due to the flight time :(. We had rice and fish for lunch yesterday and everyone agreed it was not nice. We did have cheese burgers tonight though which were edible.  I am really trying hard to try everything and have been very good at eating things I would not normally eat. The rice was too much for me though!

I send my love to everyone reading and miss you!!!!

Arriving in the USA

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The day had finally arrived! I was going to America! I could scarcely believe it. I awoke early after little sleep and got the Metro to Newcastle Airport after a sad farewell with my nana. My first flight was at 12:15. The plane was lovely. It smelled of leather as the seats were black leather and I had a whole row to myself. I was able to get a little sleep during the flight.

I arrived at Heathrow with no problems. I was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the terminal compared with Newcastle. I checked in but had to wait to check my bags as I was so early. I read Jane Austen’s Persuasion on my new Kindle. It turned 15:00 and I was able to check my bags. I went to the desk and was served by a very lovely gentleman. I then headed towards security. The queue was extremely long and I waited in line for an hour. I finally got to the front of the line and got my passport out of my bag. Oh no!!!!!!!!!!! My DS-2019 is gone! (This is an important document that goes with my visa and need to travel to America.)

Panicking, I tell the man at security and empty my bag out on the desk. It is not there. I raced back towards where I checked my bags. The last time I saw it was in my passport as I handed it to the man on the desk. He helped me look for it but to no avail. I retraced my steps but still no luck. I checked my bag 20 times in hope only to finish in despair as I broke down in front of the check-in man. He assured me that everything would be fine as my visa was in my passport and made me feel a little better. He then fast-tracked me trough security.

Feeling stressed, I called Jenny and she helped calm me, which I needed as there was nothing I could do now. I then called Effie from the au pair agency and she said the document was important and worried for me, as well as contacting the American office to let them know they would need to issue me a new DS-2019. I felt more rushed than I should have having had so much time at the airport. Eventually, I boarded the flight to New York which left at about 18:30.

This time there were no leather seats. It was a very long aircraft with cubicles for those in first class and lots of room. I moved towards 44E, a seat in a row of 4 in the centre of the plane in between strangers. The lady next to me was an American medium. We had some really interesting conversations on the flight when she wasn’t asleep. She had been on holiday in Greece and it sounded fantastic. She also told me about a Greek Orthodox Monk whom she had sat next to on the plane who looked like a bearded George Clooney. I watched several movies on the flight; 22 Jump st, Bad Neighbours; Maleficent and A Fault in our Stars. Maleficent was my favourite.

When we arrived in New York we did not move very far before joining a queue of about a million people. Our flight arrived 21:00 local time and it was 23:00 by the time I got to the security booth. I anticipated that this might not go smoothly as I had lost my DS-2019. When the security officer asked for it I explained the situation and he typed in his computer very slowly and said I should follow him to the office! He walked so slowly thought that time might stop! He asked me to leave my bag and told me to take a seat and wait for my name to be called. I sat and silent tears ran down my face as I looked at the room and the security officers. I was terrified. Finally my name was called and I explained the situation again. Then I was passed onto someone else who I explained it to again. Fortunately this man was very nice. He overlooked it to save me from being detained. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “It was in your bag this whole time. You will get another one very soon. Otherwise you would have been here all night as the paperwork was sorted”. I thanked him fervently and collected my bag as tears streamed down my face. I headed for the exit and scanned the signs looking for the pink one which was for me. I couldn’t see it (as unobservant as I am) and waited in the foyer. A man offered me his cell phone so I could call the agency which I did. As I did so the driver came up to me. Phew!

It felt like a long drive to the university and I drifted in and out of sleep after being up 24 hours. At the university we saw 2 deer and a racoon on the road. We received our orientation then headed to bed. My roommates were asleep and I was as quiet at possible, which of course was very loud.

Today I met my roommates and the other au pairs. They are friendly. I am the only English person here! I am amazed at all of these people who speak more than one language. The classes are ok. The university is beautiful and has a large campus and lots of wildlife. I also received a gift from my host family which was so lovely and touching.

I’m hanging on and looking forward to the rest of my time in New York…