Golden Gate Park


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On Friday I had planned to visit Chinatown in San Francisco with Lina (I mostly meet up with her since she is the only other person I know who has Fridays off – I sometimes feel unsociable when I have to turn people down because I work weekends), however she contracted tonsillitis so had to stay home. Rather than cancel my plans altogether, I decided to take the train to San Francisco by myself and visit the beautiful Golden Gate Park. Although it was a little lonely taking a day trip by myself (I do enjoy going out by myself and having time to think, but sometimes you just need the company of good friends and I would have loved Jenny and Beth to have accompanied me), I had a nice time and absorbed the beautiful sights.

When I arrived in San Francisco I knew I had to find the N Muni which would take me to the park. Sign posts aren’t very clear so I walked the wrong way at first but soon found the stop. Then I asked a guy on the platform how to pay. He was very helpful and said you pay at the front of the train; he asked me where I was going and directed me to the correct platform. The Muni is the Metro of San Francisco. It costs $2.25 per ride no matter where you are going. You feed your money into a machine and the driver gives you a ticket. You have to have the exact money as no change is given – I imagine this can be an inconvenience at times but I had plenty of change and managed to get rid of the pennies I had accumulated. However, I counted my pennies carefully and am positive that the machine count is inaccurate as I had to put in an extra few cents. I decided I much preferred the Muni to the bus I took back to the train station on my last trip into the city, which seemed to take forever. It was quick and not too crowded.

It’s always a challenge going to new places without the GPS working on my phone, although fortunately I can still view the map without internet access. But I navigated the park fairly easily and there were park maps at intervals. I headed for the Conservatory of Flowers first but when I got there I discovered that it was closed for maintenance that week only! How disappointing. So I headed over to the De Young Museum of Art. I first took the elevator to the observation deck – definitely worth a visit. You can see across San Francisco, even catching a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I looked around the free parts of the museum before heading to the café for a lunch of tomato soup and a chocolate muffin with apple juice. The museum cost $26 and I just thought it was too expensive when you can enter the National Gallery in London for free!

After the museum, I went to the Japanese Tea Gardens which cost $8 to enter. The gardens are really beautiful and I enjoyed seeing the unusual trees, beautiful architecture and the gigantic Koi carp.  There was a cute little Japanese gift store which I adored. A tiny woman said she loved my jumper – “It is so cute and soft and a gentle colour” she said. I was fascinated by the tea pots and cups, as well as the gorgeous chop sticks. I bought some special hand-make chop sticks as a present for someone special, and a small leaf-shaped chop-stick holder. They had some nice paper crane earrings but they cost nearly $30 which I thought was expensive for what they were.

I was then tempted to visit the Botanical Gardens ($7) but I didn’t see anything spectacular when looking through the fence so decided against it since I was not convinced it could top the Japanese Gardens, but it leaves me somewhere to visit next time. I was also a bit miffed that you had to pay for everything, but on reflection I realise it is normal, the gardens aren’t expensive, and they need to be maintained. There is really a lot to do and visit in the park and I definitely will go back and see all that it offers, including the conservatory which I missed out on. Instead, I went to Stow lake but I don’t think I really walked far enough to see its true beauty and will have to go back to find Strawberry Hill and its waterfall in the centre of Stow lake. Time was getting on and I decided to make my way back to the Muni – my stomach was feeling upset (likely from the apple juice at lunch) and I just could not walk further with the thought of having to walk back.

Fortunately, I felt better by the time I got on the Muni to Powell Street (where they turn the cable cars – close to Union Square and Macy’s). I enjoyed looking around the stores and bought myself a face mask from Lush (the tiniest Lush store I’ve ever been in). It smells like mint and has made my face feel so soft. Also, speaking of Lush, I have been loving the shampoo bar my gorgeous friend Jenny sent me. I then spent about an hour in the Disney store! Since I was there so long, I decided to get some Easter presents for the kids, but couldn’t resist giving them to them when I got home so they are very early Easter presents. I really need to stop spending money and save up for when I come home, but it’s harder than you would think, especially since I have a week off soon when I can go on holiday.

Ah well, I’m only here once and may as well make the most of it.

Sour Cream


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This family love sour cream (possibly a Russian thing?). They have it with everything – pancakes, soup, meat etc. I hate sour cream. Fortunately, they put it on separately so I don’t have to have it. We also have soup every day for lunch. I am getting sick of soup. I miss sandwiches and beans on toast. That is all.

Making Mistakes


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When coming to a new place and starting a new job, anyone is bound to make some mistakes. I have already mentioned that I have made some driving errors since I’ve been here – I am so lucky not to have had an accident! Being in a house filled with Russian speakers and getting used to a different way of life comes with challenges. At one point I made delicious Yorkshire Puddings and the oil spilled over the tray and burned onto the bottom of the oven. I had to clean it off but did not know where the cleaning stuff was. Anya had put oven cleaner on so I took some kitchen roll and started to wipe it – I only really succeeded in wiping away the oven cleaner. Of course, at home I would use a scourer to remove the burnt on bits and I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to ask what to use – shyness or embarrassment? Anyway, Anya saw me using the paper towel and said she’d have to teach me to clean. I was so embarrassed and assured her I can, in fact, clean but she wasn’t convinced. She gave me a kitchen sponge and I got to work, eventually getting it spotless after what felt like half an hour of scrubbing (I will definitely be putting down foil or a tray under my Yorkshire Puddings next time!). This is just one example of the domestic mistakes and misunderstandings I have had with the family.

Last Friday (my day off) I had a lovely lunch with my friend Lina at the California Pizza Kitchen. We both had spaghetti Bolognese and we got a free dessert of chocolate suffle. Then we went on an adventure to Google. I had images of amazing and wonderful things – primary colours, statues, bikes, self-driving cars, robots, interactive technology and detailed maps of the campus in hologram. We came to where the Sat Nav led us, and as the sign said Google we thought, “Phew, we made it – let’s have fun”. We were a bit sceptical and thought we had arrived at the back as we only saw some small brown buildings. The colourful Google bikes were there and coloured chairs but not much else. We decided to ask but no one really knew where the cool areas were so we drove around. It turned out that the Google buildings span the whole length of Amphitheatre Way (a pretty long road) so we were driving and stopping for a while. We eventually came to some nicer-looking buildings with glass fronts and it looked like we would finally be successful in finding the parts of Google captured in the movie The Internship (if you haven’t seen it, it’s a good watch). Indeed, we did come across a T-Rex skeleton and the Android building which were cool and saw the Google sign. They also have their own volley ball court and gym, and there is free food for employees. But we were really not amazed and felt like we had wasted our time – we clearly needed a guide. I was also shocked that there were no campus maps to aid us since Google has become a tourist attraction – really they should cash in on tours but I guess to them it’s just where they work.

During this time I noticed that my host mum, Anya had called me 7 times and texted, however I had not heard my phone (I later discovered that the volume had been turned down, probably in my bag). She seemed angry and wanted to know where Daniel’s swimming things were. I tried to call back but she couldn’t talk so I texted her where they were and said sorry for not answering. She answered that she didn’t accept me not answering. She had been worried about me. I felt terrible! I didn’t see her that night and ended up just crying all night because I was so worried that I had upset her. It turned out alright and we put it behind us after I explained and apologised the next day. I really want her and Ilya to be happy with me and feel that I am doing a good job. But I make mistakes all of the time and feel I come across as dumb (though I think that’s my own perception rather than what they think). I also let Elizabeth play on the tall slide in the next door neighbour’s yard which was apparently prohibited by Anya because it was dangerous. But, I didn’t know so it’s all good and I had kept Elizabeth safe. Both of the children have improved since I came in regards to English, however, and so I must be dong something right!

I will learn a lot here I think. Making mistakes is part of learning and so I will be so much improved when I come home.

P.S. I also don’t think that I have mentioned that there are squirrels everywhere here – I love seeing them playing in the garden and glimpsing them when I walk and drive. There are black ones which are native to this area (there is a conspiracy that they are a result of Stanford experiments but who knows). I love squirrels.

Waiting

Woodside

So I just about had the longest day of my life. It seems that anything to do with the government here involves extremely long lines and extremely long waits with apparently no concern that people’s whole days are wasted waiting for something which will take 5 minutes when they get to the front. Everything involves a long queue, taking a number and then waiting for that number to be called and then going to a very official-looking window. It took me 6 hours to get my visa from the American Embassy  – there were 2 queues outside the building, then security, then a room filled with chairs where you are given a number, then a window, then more waiting for your number to be called, then another window. This should have prepared me for what to expect when I got here but I still cannot get over the absurdity of it all. Anyway, so today I went to the DMV to apply for a driver’s licence and take the written test – something which should have taken no more than an hour. I had an appointment at 12:30 and thought I would have plenty of time to pick up Daniel from school at 3:00. I would have made an earlier appointment but none were available. Of course, here you cannot simply apply online or in the mail and there is only one office nearby, which is quite small and deals with all driving issues, including renewing a licence, taking written and practical tests, changing vehicle registration etc. This in itself seems ludicrous to me.

I arrived at 10am thinking arriving early would give me an advantage queue-wise. However, I soon discovered that this was a foolish hope as I had to wait outside until my appointment time. In the mean time I could have been at the front of the none-appointment line at least 2 times in the time I waited (although I may have had to wait longer when I got a number). 12:20 came and went and people whose appointments were at 11:40 still hadn’t been called inside. My back was aching and I was starting to get anxious that I wouldn’t be on time for Daniel. I eventually got to the front of the queue by 1:00 and got my number: D099. I sat next to a woman who didn’t have an appointment and had been sat with her number for over 3.5 hours! We discussed the absurdity and disorganisation of the establishment and how the number system seemed unfair as people were called before others who had been waiting for hours. There was no apparent logic.

It got to 2:15 and I would have to leave at about 2:30 to make it on time for Daniel. My number was called and I went up but I only had 10 minutes before I had to leave. I handed my application over and paid the $33 I needed to pay and waited impatiently while the woman slowly typed and photocopied. I said I had to leave and she made me an appointment for the end of February (frustratingly the earliest available – would have gone back the next day to get it out of the way) so I could come back for the test. It was 2:35 and I had to get a photograph taken before I could leave – annoyingly meaning I had to wait in another queue. So I went over, looking at my watch and thinking that I am definitely going to be late. There was only one boy in front who let me go ahead because he could see I needed to get away. However, at this station there were two members of staff who were dealing with test takers, whose line was longer (another example of bad organisation and lack of staff). I waited and watched as the woman went to check up on some of the test takers and took her time. Fortunately, when she did come back she served me, probably seeing my constant time observing and near-exploding countenance. I stood for the photo, had my finger print taken (again) and then ran out as fast as I could.

I was so frustrated that I had spent the whole day there and yet had not achieved my goal of taking the written test. I had no time to dwell on this misfortune though as I only ad 15 mins to complete a 30 min journey. I was, of course, caught at every red light and arrived 15 mins late for Daniel. I panicked when I did not see him outside, and then again when a woman said he had not signed in to after care. The head teacher said he had seen him in the yard with the other kids an he was soon found, much to my relief.

What a day! Oh the misery of knowing I have to go back there again twice – for the written and practical tests. Wish me luck!!!

American/Russian life

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Sorry for not posting for ages! I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to say, but I guess I have experienced some things worth mentioning. First I should mention New Year. I had the evening off, which was nice, and I decided to go out for a meal with a coup20141231_201635le of other au pairs: Abril and Lina. We went into Downtown Palo Alto. By this time the family had gotten me a car to use (silver BMW!); it’s very sporty and is manual so I had to take time getting used to the gear stick being on the right hand side. Driving here is pretty simple, though I have forgotten once to stay on the right and turned into the left lane when taking a right turn. Fortunately, I didn’t have an accident! Fingers crossed I won’t in the future. Something else I am finding it difficult to remember is that pedestrians can use the crossing even when the light is green for cars to take a turn so I have almost killed a couple of people – oops!! I also sometimes forget that I can turn right on a red light but that’s not much of a problem.

On New Year’s eve night, however,  I took Ilya’s car since his was most convenient to get off the drive. It also has a GPS, unlike mine. I drove to Lina’s house to pick up Lina and Abril and then drove us to downtown. We went to La Strada Italian restaurant in Palo Alto. Despite booking, we ended up having so sit outside (we were a little late due to Abril arriving at the house late). There were heaters, but I was still freezing in my coat (it’s pretty cold here on mornings and at night).  We had a lovely waiter though, and he gave us free drinks. All of us chose pizza (I seem to choose pizza whenever I can at restaurants!). It was super delicious. We had fun despite the cold and soon finished, then headed to the Cheesecake Factory for dessert. I chose the Chocolate Millionaire cheesecake – it was so good but I had to save some for the next day because it was too big. After this yummy dessert we took a walk along the street and soon were serenaded by a beautiful voice. We stood to watch a busker who really should be famous because he was excellent. I took the others home after this and went home myself. It was before midnight and I was surprised that the family were just on the first course of their dinner and they had guests over. I sat with them and chatted with the man next to me. Most of what is said goes over my head because it is either said in Russian or is about politics, but I joined in as best I could. Everyone kissed each other and drank champagne at midnight. I then partook in the delicious desserts that they had – what a fatty!! I was eating left-over cake for days after as well!

While on the subject of food I will provide a list of some of the things I have eaten here:

Beef tongue: softer than beef but tastes the same

Buffalo: had a vinegar taste, probably more from how it was cooked than the meat

Kasha: rice porridge (I think) – I put lots of syrup on to make it sweet

Buckwheat: I avoid this at all times as it makes me want to throw up

Beetroot covering seabass (can’t remember the name but it’s a traditional Russian dish)

And much more!

I have spent my last couple of days off going out by myself. I have fallen in love with Abercrombie and Fitch and their winter sale and got some clothes there at a bargain price. I also visited the Californian Pizza Kitchen which did not disappoint. My most interesting trip was to San Francisco. I took the CalTrain. It was interesting because it is a double-decker train. I sat upstairs so I could look at the beautiful scenery on the way. I arrived in San Francisco and walked to Union Square where all of the beautiful shops are. After some browsing I took a tram to Fisherman’s Wharf. It took an hour to get on the tram as there were so many people. I was frustrated as there was no sense of speed and often people would wait for the next tram instead of getting on the one that was there. But I made a friend and so had someone to chat to while I waited. Fisherman’s Wharf is so beautiful. I went to the maritime museum and looked at the ships and the views. I also visited Ghiradelli Square but didn’t get any chocolate because the queue was too long. I went for some ice-cream from another place instead. I had lunch at InNOut Burger. At fast food restaurants here you get a ticket when you order and wait for your number to be called. They are very crowded and not really worth it. I thought food would be huge here but fast food is just as small as in the UK. There are a lot of art shops and galleries along the street so I spent my time browsing and looking at beautiful things. I refused to wait for the tram back so I caught a bus (attached to overhead lines) for $2. It took a long time to get back to the train station and I had to give up my seat for an older person when about 100 Chinese people got on. I got to the station safely and was in time for a return train that was just about to leave.

Please keep me in your thoughts as you are in mine.

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.