Summer has FINALLY come to London

So I wore shorts today for the first time since…last August. Not exaggerating. I have a new appreciation for why Brits have the bad rep of being extremely pasty (sorry for the people I blinded today). In conjunction with¬†my personal understanding of the pale Brit stereotype, I also have a new awareness of how precious the sunlight here is. Brits (and all of us expats, too) cherish their sunny days and squeeze what they can out of every ray of sunlight. Which means¬†the 7-day forecast for a heat wave has put a summer spring in my step, not the least because 4th of July is in that 7-day forecast. I’m really interested to see what¬†the 4th is like in England…it’ll be an experience, I’m sure. ūüôā

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My heart on the 4th. Thanks, Zazzle, for the accurate depiction.

¬†One thing that has¬†become increasingly charming for me since moving to London is to just enjoy¬†an afternoon in the park. It’s a very European (or rather, non-Midwestern) thing, I think, because in the Midwest usually the only people you see lounging on blankets in a park are families enjoying a picnic. But here, if the weather is above 60F/15C, you’ll see all sorts of people lounging in the park–families, couples, friend, and even people enjoying some¬†solitude. I think it’s due to various¬†reasons: ¬†perhaps because yards are much smaller if not non-existent, the weather is much more mild so when we get a nice day people want to enjoy it and on the other side, it almost never gets unbearably hot here, people are allowed to enjoy adult beverages in public and the legal drinking age is 18 (hellooo Sunday funday), there is a significantly higher number of parks in London than anywhere else I’ve lived, and people simply live in much closer contact here than in the Midwest so getting together with friends isn’t necessarily the drive-across-town production that it can be in the States. And for me, spending time in green spaces is a way for me to feel closer to home when I’m missing the Heartland.

Whatever the reason, it’s one thing that didn’t make sense to me when I first moved here but after¬†a¬†year¬†I fully appreciate the charm¬†of a day spent lounging with friends in the park. And now that the sun is here to stay, the park is calling my name. ūüôā

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Enjoying St. James’ Park. And studying. Also, didn’t know you had to pay to sit in those chairs. Word to the wise: bring a blanket for your lounging pleasure, those are free ūüôā

Takeaway Tidbit: London teaches you to appreciate the finer things in life, on so many levels.

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Entrepreneur boot camp and fun at Hampton Court Palace

I spent Saturday with my LUIP Ambassador friends, first at Kingston University and then exploring Hampton Court Palace. Our time at Kingston was wonderfully impelling because we were led through an entrepreneur boot camp by Dr. Martha Mador, the head of Enterprise Education Strategy. Dr. Mador began by explaining the entrepreneur process:

  • A successful¬†opportunity for entrepreneurial pursuit can occur at any point on the continuum¬†of¬†discovery, evaluation, and exploitation;
  • In order to be successful, there must be a healthy balance of creativity (the generation of new ideas) and innovation (the successful exploitation of new ideas–ideas being accepted in a marketplace);
  • Dr. Mador further clarified that innovation is not just a product or invention, and it’s not necessarily a new idea nor a ‘light bulb moment’. It is a combination of finding novel solutions to peoples’ problems.

After her thought-provoking explanation, we spent the next hour or so working through the entrepreneurial process ourselves. We split into groups, were given photo cards, and told to brainstorm a list of problems based on the pictures we had. The pictures were quite nondescript– a woman running through a field, a row of wind turbines, a person helping another climb a rock–but from those pictures we generated 10 general problems that could be fixed.

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We could even write on the tables…I was awed. English majors don’t get to write on much, other than notebooks.

After generating a list of problems, we chose one and brainstormed solutions to the problem. From there, we created a viable solution and developed and pitched our service to the group. My group decided to focus on the lack of work-life balance¬†for many professionals. We developed¬†a company called Stress Less, a consulting agency that businesses could hire to help convert their offices so that they promoted a more healthy work-life balance. Our pitch even had a jingle, set to the tune of ‘Call Me Maybe’. We won the ‘Best Brand Name’ award…go Team Stress Less!

After boot camp we headed over to Hampton Court Palace, the¬†palace of King Henry VIII (the one who created the Church of England, and had 6 wives in his attempts to have a son. He also fathered Queen Elizabeth I, who is by far my favorite English monarch.). The palace was beautiful, but I was much more enamored¬†with¬†the grounds. The gardens were absolutely stunning, especially the ones along the bank of the¬†Thames. And I was impressed by how successfully lost we became while wandering through the maze. Most of all, I couldn’t have chosen a better group of friends with whom to spend the afternoon.

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The English love their roses. Especially those Tudors. ūüôā

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Kim and her band of merry ambassadors. Photo Cred: Divi

Being¬†guided through the creative process of identifying and developing a business was unexpectedly motivating. I left boot camp feeling like I could actually create a viable business–on paper, anyway. I started brainstorming ventures I would be interested in and that might actually work. However, after my original elation wore off, I realized I would have some serious work to do on the numbers side of developing a business. Let’s be honest: although I find an odd satisfaction in getting the correct answer on a math problem I am nowhere near confident enough to trust a business’s finances to my numeracy¬†skills. Creates a nice opening for a partner, though. Any takers?

“Park”ing in the city

One of the most unexpected parts of living in London are the parks. They are everywhere, and they are lovely. I never appreciated all the green space I had in the Midwest, but walking around London you realize that “yard” when used to describe the green space around houses is a magical word used in far-off lands. Much further lands than the southern suburbs of London, anyway. Due to the fact that family houses are the size of two-bedroom apartments in the Midwest and stacked next to each other like sardines, the combined area in front of and behind any given house is about the size of a one-car garage, and that’s being generous. In my ‘burb-y neighborhood lawns don’t exist. The 1 x 3-meter front patios are usually paved, but even with the small size most owners do an impressive job of incorporating green into their shoebox patios. Potted plants, hedges, and tiny landscaped flowerbeds are the law of the residential land.¬† Although the shrubbery does a good job to keep neighborhoods looking residential, grass, room to run, and mature trees don’t stand a chance.

Enter: parks. Thank the Lord for whoever had the foresight to keep those intact. The parks here are almost overwhelmingly large, in a good way. The first few times jogging through my neighborhood park required GPS to figure out how to get back home. The trees are old and beautiful, the grass stretches for kilometers (okay, maybe just one or two. But that’s a lot when it’s the only grass around), and the benches are tastefully placed along the walkways to enjoy an evening and a view uninterrupted by buildings or buses. Usually I see at least 8 different workout groups in the park on a given evening, on top of all the sports practices and pick-up games happening during my jogs through the park. And just in case I ever get bored, there are two more parks to the South and West. I haven’t even begun exploring those.

blog5 (2)View from my evening jog through the park.

As you get closer to the city center the miniscule landscaped patios disappear, but residents compensate by keeping flowerbeds out of their windows. In my opinion, the window flowerbeds are probably one of the most picturesque parts of an urban city. Paris has them too and I become noticeably more happy walking down any floral street I find. As far as public parks in London proper, there are five Royal Parks which used to be royal hunting grounds but are now open for public use (there are eight total, but three are in the suburbs). I’ve only been to three of the eight so far, but it’s fun walking through them imagining royalty trotting through with their hounds. A lot of businesses in the city also create green space near their building to allow their employees a change of scenery. Those are much more frequent, but less picturesque.

801.jpg St. James Park (Royal Park)

8Green space as part of a business center in London.

One of the most sneaky things London city planners have created are small squares of greenery throughout the neighborhoods, which are landscaped and well-kept (perhaps as an oasis for cinderblock-weary travelers to revive them on their journey through the city). The first time I saw one I walked up to the gate and as I opened it I read the posted sign. Unfortunately, entrance to most of these squares is reserved for nearby residents only. There was no one inside so I defiantly walked in and sat on one of the benches for a bit, but then got nervous and left after a minute or two. I will appreciate them from outside the gates nonetheless.

Takeaway Tidbit: Enjoy your yards. If you don’t have one, find a park.