About Us

There are four of Them: three girls and one boy, little stair-steps all. There are two of Us: best friends, co-parents and truly in love. The Six of us have epic adventures full of laughter and love, occasionally containing tears, but always together.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Traditions

When I was growing up, we celebrated Christmas. No, not in the religious sense but in a completely secular, cultural way. In the beginning, the celebrations involved a tree and stockings; as we got bigger those traditions were observed less and less. But there were still some traditions that we held on to.

I'm not entirely sure I understand why we "did" Christmas in our Jewish household. But it's not really mine to understand. My parents made the right choices for them and I now understand that the road of parenthood is frought with tradeoffs and bitter-sweet choices. I do know that when we hold memories dear in our hearts, it is only natural to want to share those experiences with our children. And so we pick and choose what we feel we want to share and what we don't.

When Dadam and I got married we discussed and decided that we did not want to "do" Christmas in our house. We would only celebrate the day with family if we lived close to family that celebrated. We would be sharing the celebration with them, not making it our own.

I do admit, there are traditions I miss. I even sort of miss the day of Christmas itself, though I'm completely comfortable with the choices Dadam and I have made. One thing I remember fondly was that we almost always had a huge pan of homemade cinnamon rolls, hot out of the oven, for breakfast on Christmas morning. This is something I'd like to pass on as a tradition, but Judaism doesn't have any morning celebrations that would work with cinnamon rolls!

So, for the past few years, when we've been home, we've made cinnamon rolls for New Year's Day. The kids and I make the sweet dough, get all goopy putting them together and make a couple pans of cinnamon raisin rolls.

Today we made our New Years rolls. We got goopy and had fun. And we are all very excited to wake up in the new year and feast on our old-new tradition.

May your New Year be as sweet as these rolls are going to be! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

End of One Holiday and the Start of Another

Sadly, our holiday in London ended more with a whimper than a bang. On Friday it was bitter cold and so we did not do much more exploring on foot. We cached in the morning and then went back to the flat to warm up. Had a nice afternoon playing games and hanging out, then went out for some tea. Saturday we got up and went down to Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The sun was peeking out through the clouds and it was beautiful. We wandered around for a bit and crossed the river to have lunch and then head to the London Eye.

When we got over to the Eye, though, we noticed it wasn't turning and there was no one in line. We were told that it was closed due to technical difficulties and that they weren't sure if it would reopen that day. We decided to hang around a bit at a nearby playground to see if it happened to start up while we were still close, but no dice.

The kids were all very disappointed. Elie even had some tears. (They may have been partially due to the fact that she and Isaac did not go to sleep until ten pm the night previous and then were still up at the crack of dawn, but whose to say really.) I promised the kids that we would be back to ride the Eye someday and that we would try and bring GranEde and GranDude. It was so sweet to see how excited they all immediately became when I mentioned sharing that experience with them.

We had tea at a charming French Cafe. I do so love the custom of tea. Who doesn't like a reason to have tea/hot cocoa/coffee and some yummy pastry in the middle of the afternoon??!?!

Sunday we packed up and headed home on a very uneventful train ride. The kids were great, the train was speedy and we all got to sit next to one another.

Now we have another week of school holiday to recuperate. Dadam had to go back to work on Monday, but I think that he might have more of a break there than he gets at home. It has been so fun to hang out with the kids, do projects and just have time to chat.

Yesterday the kids painted a decorate-it-yourself porcelain tea set that we got them for Chanukah. As they were getting on their Nana-made aprons, Isaac remarked to me that "with this apron on, I look like a Fancy Waiter." Talia, of course, got paint on hers. I think that it *might* have been on purpose, but that would be difficult to prove. We wore the aprons again today when we baked cookies; oh they were so nice to have!

Some friends of ours from Virginia also sent presents and included was a copy of a local activity guide that had a picture of their two year old, in ballet class, on the front. Tonight at diner Isaac remarked, "She must be a professional dancer!" And Elie said, "Now we know a famous ballerina!"

We have a busy rest-of-the-week planned with cupcake making and decorating (using the silly feet GranEde and GranDude sent), first piano lesson, a New Years party and other fun activities. But not too scheduled, we do want to enjoy a bit of lazing about during our holiday, part deux!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

London Calling

For winter holiday we decided that we would like to come down and explore London. I had never been here and Dadam had very fond memories of school trips. We got extremely lucky and a high-school classmate of mine lives in London and manages her company's corporate flats. She said she could let us stay for a week for free! We were thrilled and happily took her up on her verrry generous offer. So this week we have been staying at a very posh London flat and adventuring around. It has been a ton of fun!

Sunday noon-ish we took the bus from our house to the train station into Leeds. Just getting to the bus was a bit of an excursion because there was a solid sheet of ice, down the hill from our house to the bus stop. We just ended up walking on the road, so that no one slid all the way down the hill. We got to the train station with very little trouble and had a bite to eat. It was bitterly cold that day and the train station was so cold we all ate with our coats and hats on! We quickly made our way to the train and got settled at our reserved table. Thankfully there were two seats behind that were unclaimed so we could spread out a little.

As we sat down, an older gentleman and his female traveling companion sat down right across the aisle from the two extra seats we had claimed. He had a small dog and, it turned out, a tortoise. The train started moving and he began handing the tortoise around to various other riders on the train so that they could hold it and touch it. He loudly corrected anyone who dared refer to it as a turtle AND he kept foisting it off on Adam and Leila. First the tortoise sat in Leila's lap, which was okay for a while and then she got tired of it. Then the tortoise had to sit on the seat-back tray in front of Leila. It was all quite bizarre. My breaking point came when Elie loudly yelled that she wanted to hold the tortoise in her lap. I hissed, "That tortoise is a Christmas present for a little girl. We are NOT playing pass the tortoise!" The dog was allowed to wander up and down the aisle of the train and would often lay down right next to our feet, which then resulted in it being kicked anytime any of us wanted to stand up. As if all of this wasn't enough, mid-way through our ride the train slowed to a stop for ten minutes or so and then the engineer got on and explained that we would be 40 minutes late to London because one of the front windscreens had shattered and the train couldn't drive in excess of 100mph!

We did finally make it to our train stop, get on the Tube and find our flat. It was quite an adventure already!

On Monday we had wanted to go to the Museum of London, but after doing some research we discovered that most of the museum was closed due to extensive renovations. Bah. So we opted for the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. On the Tube, down to our stop, and out to the Science Museum. It was a fascinating museum. The first exhibit hall held a history of steam power. There were some amazing steam engines there and they had original examples of some of the first steam engines ever used. The evolution of the engineering was really cool to see. The second exhibit was all about space and there we managed to catch a demonstration done by a member of the museum staff. She did a GREAT job and our kids were enthralled from start to finish. Even Adam and I found it very entertaining. After eating a bit of lunch, we walked through a fascinating exhibit talking about 100 years of science. The big three were pretty interested in looking at how tools of science and creativity have changed, but Leila could not have cared less. At one point, I heard Dadam say, "Leila! Stop it!! Leila, stop LICKING the glass of the display!" Lovely. I knew we were really loosing the kids when Elie said to Talia, "Get on my back for a horsey ride. Don't worry, it'll be safe 'cause we're on carpet!" (Never mind that we were surrounded on all sides by floor to ceiling glass display cases, with century old artifacts in them.)

It was time for a change of pace and so we walked next door to the Natural History Museum. The first exhibit we wandered into was a huge dinosaur exhibit. Lots of great skeletons, some life size models and even a few animated dinos were plenty to keep everyone interested. There was a life sized, animated T-Rex and Talia was not a fan, but Leila wanted to go back and "see it again" once we were passed that display. We looked at the mammals and the sea life. We wandered through the invertebrate and coral display. Then we had tea. The building where the Natural History Museum is located is absolutely breathtaking. It was made out of Terra Cotta and has beautiful gilded ceiling frescoes, amazing carved animals in the bricks of the walls, and gorgeous stained glass.

Tuesday we set off to see the Tower of London. On the way there we ended up taking the Tube stop that let us off right at The Monument. This monument marks very closely, the location of the 1666 Fire of London that destroyed a huge portion of the city. Isaac had just finished a unit centered around the Fire of London and he was desperate to visit anything and everything we could that had to do with it. Needless to say, he was VERY excited to climb to the top of the Monument. And so we did. There are 257 stairs to the top. And the three bigs did every.single.one. Leila got a ride on Dadam's back, otherwise it would have taken us three days to get to the top. The view from the top was beautiful and after we got back down, we found the street sign for Pudding Lane - the street where the fire began. Documentation by photograph completed, we marched on to the Tower of London.

Unfortunately, Tuesday was a bitter cold day. I think the high was -4 C. It was FREEZING. We tried to take a tour, but just standing and listening to the Yeoman Warder turned out to be too damn cold. So we broke off, got some lunch and tried to warm up. After that we headed to the White Tower and saw an absolutely fascinating exhibit about Henry VIII's armor. He had many sets of armor made during his years and it was amazing to see the changes his body went through. The exhibit also addressed what he liked to do in his spare time, other than kill his wives, and talked about the weaponry of the time. Henry was obsessed with firearms, among other things, and there were quite a few experimental firearms in the exhibit. There was a badly mangled three barreled cannon/gun and some rather interesting leather shields with guns mounted in them. The exhibit was due to close in three days and so we were very lucky to have seen it. It's the first time that all the items had been on display together.

We then went and toured the tower where the Royal Jewels are held. It was interesting to see. They are very ornate. I'm not sure the kids were all that taken with the whole thing. They are just lots of sparkly bits with pretty fabric thrown in.

We saw the Bloody Tower and read about the many famous prisoners who were there. I think that Elie and Isaac grasped that people were held there as prisoners, but I knew that much of the other information had gone over their heads when Isaac said "Now why was this called the Bloody Tower again?"

Wednesday was a much warmer day, thank goodness. We toured the Tower of London Bridge and got to see the history of its creation and the amazing engineering that went into it. It is a beautiful bridge and it was so fun to see it from the inside. Talia even commented that evening how much she had enjoyed it. "My favorite part today was seeing the bridge. It was so beautiful!" We went down to the foot of the bridge and got to see the old boilers and steam engines. They are still in working order, but due to the Clean Air Act of 1972, they were forced to switch to electricity. They are beautiful and are still running a bit, so that visitors can see how they work.

Visiting the bridge brought us to the side of the Thames where the HMS Belfast sits. She is a warship of the British Navy who fought in WWII and made voyages from the Arctic Circle all the way down to Australia. It had several different exhibits inside. There was one about life on the Belfast, another about the history of shipbuilding and a third about the voyages the Belfast had made. Unfortunately, they had restrictions on who could visit the boiler room, so we couldn't go down there. But we thoroughly explored every other section. The kids really enjoyed seeing the galley, where there was fake food set up to show what it would have looked like when the ship was on a voyage. The part I liked best was where the battle that the Belfast had with a German ship was detailed. Almost the whole battle was fought in pitch dark, as it was November and they were above the Arctic Circle! There was only two hours of weak daylight. It was the radar of the British that won the battle and saved the day.

Today we knew would be a bit more difficult to find open attractions, as it is Christmas Eve. We have been warned that the city shuts.down. on Christmas Day, and by all accounts it seems as though that is accurate. None of the public transportation runs and all the stores/restaurants/museums that we have come across are closed. No matter, we need a day off tomorrow. But today we had one last, cram-as-much-in-as-we-can day.

We started off this morning at St. Pauls Cathedral, the original of which was burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The building that stands there today, replaced the one that was destroyed and took 35 years to complete. It was a beautiful and amazing building. It is also HUGE. There is no photography allowed within the cathedral, which is a shame because it is really cool inside. We were all allowed to climb all 530 stairs to the very top of the dome, which we did. It was a long climb, but well worth it and really cool when we got to the top and looked around outside. I admit, I had two panic moments - one on the stairs and one bit of vertigo outside on the balcony at the very top. But I swallowed hard and retained control of myself. Shew. The kids did a great job and were super troopers the whole time.

After a bit of lunch, we headed off to do some uber cool brass rubbings. A nice break for the kids who got to do some hands on stuff AND get to be creative. We walked from there, through Trafalgar Square, down The Mall (which looked a LOT like the Mall in DC), and down to Buckingham Palace. The kids ran free through the park and very much enjoyed just running around and being wild.

To round out our day, we went to The Queen's Gallery, which is attached to the side of Buckingham Palace. It is a very small, but very elegant collection of furniture and art. The children were fascinated with the palace as we walked by. "Are those the Queen's cars?" - Isaac "Does the Queen go into the museum whenever she wants to, because it is attached to her house?" - Elie I think that all our favorites were the amazing collection of Faberge they have; animals carved from jade and other stones, two Faberge eggs, tiny photo frames and a beautiful collection of plants and flowers. The kids behaved spectacularly and we were both so proud of how they behaved in the galleries.

London has been such an adventure! The kids have become Tube Riding Professionals, learned to read the map of the Underground, been in museums, run in parks and had a great time. Dadam and I have also had a wonderful time sharing all this adventure with them. Of course, we are tired of asking them not to rub their faces, heads, hands, gloves etc on the display glass. And we might be a wee bit exhausted of asking them not to lay on the explanations so that other people can read them at the same time. But we are not tired of their insight and adorable questions.

Tomorrow a quiet day is on tab. We might take a stroll down to the Charles Dickens Museum, one of the only museums open in London on Christmas Day. Then on Saturday we are going to do some more poking around near Big Ben, Parliament and Buckingham Palace, with a grand finale of riding the London Eye in the afternoon!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Post Chanukah Wrap Up (or should that be unwrap?)

Just this weekend, I realized that loads of fun stuff went on during Chanukah and I didn't make the time to blog about them. And today we are leaving for a week long trip to London! I know that there will be tons of stuff that I want to blog, so I best do a quick catch-up before I'm buried under an avalanche of adventure.

Chanukah was a beautiful, fun time for our family. We had a menorah for every child and a joint menorah for Dadam and I. This made for a rather large, mostly controlled conflagration on our kitchen counter. We decided that the older three could (and should) light their own menorah's. The first night, Talia got out her shammash (worker candle) and a big drip of wax fell right.on.her.finger. BAH. She was feeling nervous about lighting anyway and that sent her right over the edge. Elie and Isaac did just fine, but after the drip incident Talia refused to light her own. The second night we helped her, though, and she made it through. Third night she did it with less help and by the end she had gotten her confidence back and was doing it all by herself!

At school the kids were learning all sorts of interesting facts and stories about Chanukah and it was great fun to hear them tell us what they learned. I made latkes the first four nights and then I had to give our intestines a break from all that fried food. You would have thought I had announced we were going to start pulling toenails for all the fussing that ensued. But we made it through our latke-less nights and still enjoyed celebrating (shocking, no?). One night, for a special treat, I made funnel cakes. They were a big hit, but I think we'll just stick to them being a Chanukah treat. Oy, the house still smells like peanut oil!

During Chanukah, the kids still had school, but there were all sorts of really fun activities. There was a make-your-own-menorah competition, which everyone wanted to participate in. Elie built a menorah out of recycled materials. She used egg cartons, milk jugs, extract bottles, cardboard boxes and some paint. It was very creative. Talia and Isaac wanted to make menorahs out of play dough, so I went online (the power of the Interwebs!) and found a homemade play dough recipe. It said it could be baked and then painted. Great! I made a batch and the kids got to work. They did a great job. Then we put them in the oven, at the temperature specified and.....they completely fell apart. It was such a bummer! The kids were very game about the whole situation and agreed to make new. I put together another batch of play dough and they made their 2.0 versions. This time I didn't put them in the oven, we just let them air dry over a couple days and then they painted them. Isaac won for his grade, but Elie and Talia did not. Elie was disappointed, but a very good sport about the whole situation. Sadly, we had not gotten the clay menorahs completely dry and the day that Isaac and Talia brought theirs home from school, they catastrophically fell apart. We still haven't thrown away the sad piles of broken menorahs due to some certain folks' separation anxiety. But we're going to have to get rid of it at some point. Maybe I can just sneak the bits off the scene.....

On Tuesday of last week, Elie came home and announced that she had another VERY wiggly tooth. Dadam was home and said "This one's mine! I'm going to pull one out FINALLY!" He went out to the car to get some stuff and Elie headed into the bathroom to "look" at her tooth. Dadam came in and Elie came out of the bathroom and said, "I pulled my OWN tooth! And now there's a thumb sized hole in my mouth." She was so excited. It was quite funny to see the giant gap.

The tooth fairy was a bit panicked because there was NO warning on this one. The tooth had been mildly wiggly for a week, but I didn't think we were anywhere close to lose-time. I had a bit of a panic, but then managed to whip up a couple of fabric bookmarks. Who knew being the tooth fairy would keep me on my toes like that?

During the last week of school, before winter holiday, the kids got to go see a play as a school field trip. They saw a show called a "pantomime". The definition of this type of show (as I understand it) is a play with some songs and audience participation mixed in. The "panto" (yes, they really refer to them as such) was "Cinderella". Dadam picked Talia up from school and asked how the show was. She said, "Daddy, Cinderella was THERE. She is real and we really saw her! She was THERE!" The three bigs all saw the same show, Elie went on a different day, and they had a great time.

Now, school is done for winter holiday. We are getting ready for our Amazing London Adventure. We take the train down this afternoon!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I Said That Because I Did

Elie asked Leila if she wanted some more Cheerios. Leila said "In American I call them O's!"

Leila has turned the corner from baby talk to full-on-kiddo chat. She has an opinion on everything, repeats stories and asks really involved questions that Adam and I can't even answer. Recently we went to the library and got a few books. Leila and I have read them quite a few times, but it didn't seem like that many to me. But I knew Leila had been paying attention when I came into the sitting room and found her "reading" the stories to herself. She was repeating lines, verbatim, on many of the pages and pages where she didn't have the words memorized she was talking about the story. I was amazed.

The other week, on two separate days, she asked me this exact question. "Mommy, when Mommies and Daddies have to go to the hospital in an ambulance, do kids get picked up by cars?" I wasn't sure exactly what answer she was looking, so at first I said "Uhhh, I don't know." Then she repeated it and got agitated, so I said "Yes, I'm sure that they do." And that seemed to satisfy her. But I still don't know what she really meant.

Even with all the talking she does, she still has some words that are adorably cute "toddler" words. She calls Piglet - "piguhwit". She can't be bothered to say radiator, so she just says "radio". Plastic is "plaskit" and ketchup is "chapup". Her fruits and vegetables are also adorable with "clowerflower" as cauliflower, "ponato" as tomato, and banana as a very British "bahnahnah".

She still is slightly obsessed with "nah-nees" (nurses). She was still nursing until June, when she sort of just petered out. But she still insists on commenting when she sees a woman, "Look, Mom, she have NAHNEES." Recently I was in the bathroom getting ready to take a shower and she said, "Mommy, I love your nah-nees." And then just last week she said, "Mommy, you still have milk in your nah-nees." Think she liked breastfeeding??

But I think my absolute favorite is when she goes in the bathroom and closes the door. When she is finished using the toilet she will yell and holler until we come and wipe her. As we enter the bathroom, she will often announce "I closed the door for pwivawy because I did." "Pwivawy" = privacy

Which brings us to another hilarious linguistic pattern that Leila uses all the time, circular logic. We have many sentences that follow this form: "I did (blank) because I did." I always giggle to myself when she says this.

The other day I asked her where she came from. "I came from American and got on a big boat. Then we drove here and stayed at this our house."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wet, wild and wooly

It was another Saturday where we had no plans. I said to Adam, "Pick some place with a good hike and some caches. Let's go do something." So he looked and found a nice circle of caches, out on some public footpaths. It ran along a large river and we would get about 8 caches, if we managed to find them all.

Of course, it took us much longer to get ready and so we arrived to where we thought the start of the circle was and it was lunchtime. We started to eat lunch and it started raining. Off we went. We looked for the first cache, no luck. So we moved on to what we thought was the second. We skirted the river, walked through a sheep pasture and kept on walking and walking and walking - away from the cache. Finally it became clear that we were not, in fact, walking where we should be. By now, it was pouring, though it wasn't terribly cold, so we were alright.

We decided that we should just keep walking because a bridge back across the river to where the caches actually were, couldn't be far. Right? WRONG! We got so concerned that Adam pulled out the iPhone to look at GoogleEarth to see where the next bridge was. We also had foolishly NOT brought the Ergo to carry Leila, so poor Adam had her on his shoulders. After crossing the bridge, and walking on the other side for several miles - through more rain and some sunshine - as the sun was setting we crossed back over the river and found our car. We walked about five miles, got soaked to the skin and only managed to find two caches. Bah....

Fast forward one week to Adam's birthday. The temperature dropped five degrees or so and the wind was blowing madly. We decided that we really wanted to grab the giant circle of caches we had attempted the week before and so we went out again!

This time we knew where the start of the cache circle was and so we drove there to try and park. No dice. 20 minutes later we were back across the river where we had parked the week previous, but now we knew where to go to start the caches. We ate lunch and headed out.

It was just sprinkling when we got started, but as we are came out of the bit of wooded area we had been walking in, it started to pour. At that point we had only grabbed a couple of caches and the promise of seven more lit up Adam's face, so we pressed on.

These caches were on "public footpaths" which are paths that the public right to use superscedes the right of land ownership. So, landowners are required to keep the paths open and accessible to anyone who wants to walk on them. It is a completely foreign idea to Americans and it is very awkward and strange for us to do, but we are getting used to it. Probably the most interesting part is that the paths often take hikers right through livestock paddocks and grazing areas!

We came to a part of the footpath that went right through someone's parking lot and barn yard. I must have asked Adam 15 times if he really thought it was okay for us to be there. Then we came to a horse paddock. Where there were two ponies. I got a little nervous.

I am a suburban girl. I've not had much contact with farm animals and what little contact I've had hasn't been enough to give me much confidence in dealing with them. I can do nature, but large animals are another story entirely.

We stood and debated for quite a while whether or not we should get into the paddock with the ponies. Was there another way? Was this *really* the way the footpath went? We just didn't know. To add to my nervousness, as soon as we put Talia over the fence, the ponies took notice and immediately began to trot over too us. I made Adam retrieve Talia immediately. The ponies were very friendly and just wanted to see if we had any food on us, which we did not. They watched us intently, though, the whole time we were walking through and only went back to grazing when we were all safely over the wall and away from them.

By now, we were on top of the hill and the wind had picked up. It was getting very cold. The kids were wet and really starting to feel tired. I was starting to be worn out too. But by now it was just as far to continue on as it was to turn back, so on we went.

After a bit more walking we turned to go downhill and came upon another paddock to walk through. Only this one had cows and lots of them and some of them had horns. In my cold and worn out state, I felt like we were certainly going to land in some big trouble. And I was scared.

I made Adam pick up Talia, I had Leila in the Ergo on my back. Then Elie held my hand and Isaac held Adam's hand. We started walking into the field and the cows started trotting towards us. Bah! The footpath followed the stone wall, but as we started walking, one of the cows with horns was between us and the wall. Adam and I were both concerned that he would feel cornered and try to escape through us.

This seems so silly as I write it down, but it was really scary. Those animals are MUCH bigger than people and really dumb. And here we are, a group of city-slickers, traipsing around farming country with our babies! in tow!!!!

Mommy instinct took over and I made my "eh-eh-eh" noise, the one I use to get the kids's attention when they are doing something they shouldn't, and the cows stopped in their tracks. We continued on through the pasture and out the bottom gate.

The sun started going down and the wind picked up even more. We stormed through six-inch-deep mud and down the hill in to the valley. Adam picked up five more caches along the way. When we got to the car, the kids were so cold, they were blue. But we stripped them out of their wet clothes and got them bundled under the fleecy car blankets and they were fine.

All in all we got nine caches, which is a record day for the whole family. And we really did have a great time hiking and adventuring. But it sure was an adventure, which I suppose is half the fun.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Through the Reading Glass

Talia can read! That is right, #3 is reading. And she is excited, motivated and picking it up quickly. Yee HAW!

Since the British school system begins a year earlier than the American system, and it is full day school from the start, they have loads of time to teach each child to read. During the orientation for parents program that our school did, they made it clear that they expect every child to be reading by the end of the year AND they would be able to write full sentences of dictation. We were ecstatic to have a ton more support from school than we had with the older two.

I was a little nervous at first because Talia had been slow to identify which letters of the alphabet were which. It is now my opinion that her "not knowing" was an act because she has been quickly picking up letter sounds and putting them together to make words. The school uses a cool phonics "scheme" that puts together the sounds of the letters with hand/body motions making learning a lot of fun and something that makes a big impression on the little brains.

I love how enthusiastic she is. She is trying to sound out everything. Unfortunately, she has two older readers who haven't quite picked up on the fact that they shouldn't yell the answers out. Isaac is especially hard up to "help" her all the time. Elie has learned that she should keep quiet, but still has a hard time sometimes. I also love that it is another completely different experience; Elie had to be encouraged to learn, Isaac picked it up through osmosis, and here is Talia enthusiastically working hard. Learning to read is a beautiful thing!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wuv Twu Wuv. That Dweam Wifin a Dweam....

Today in the car, on the way home from school, Isaac said to me, "Mom, did you know that I'm in love with someone in my class?" He was completely matter of fact and not at all embarrassed. I swallowed my smile, lest he hear it in my voice, and asked him who he was in love with. "Anushka." I asked some questions, "How do you know you are in love with Anushka?" "Because Anushka told me we were going to get married." "How does it feel to be in love?" "Good."

All the while he is calm, cool and collected; not a self conscious smile or giggle in sight. He explained that he had picked the letter "k", which had a picture of a king on it, and she had picked the letter "q", which had a picture of a queen on it. Through this Anushka had decided that they should get married because, of course, kings and queens are married. (Apparently the picking was random, so this is a pretty funny outcome.)

Later, he and Dadam were discussing the upcoming nuptials. Isaac posited that if she were going to be a teacher she would be Mrs. D. Dadam said something about women usually taking the man's last name, so she would be Mrs. W. And Isaac responded, "Or, I could be Mr. D."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wiggle Teeth

(I have added pictures to the Edinburgh post, so go back and take a look!)

Elie has been wiggling her teeth a lot lately. And Leila is enamored with "wiggle teeth" as she calls them. "Mom, I am not big for wiggle teeth." she says. Or when I see her with her hands in her mouth and ask what she is doing. "I'm checking for wiggle teeth."

Yesterday morning Elie came to me and said, "Look, Mom, when I bend this tooth back there's a hole!!!" (Barf, I thought to myself.) Out loud I said, "Come here and let me pull that tooth out."

This tooth had been loose for ages! Years ago, Elie had fallen and managed to hit that tooth on the ground. It had turned grey for a while and since then had always been just a bit wiggly. Recently it had gotten quite wiggly and for the last week or so, it was hanging down a good 1/4 inch longer than the rest of her teeth. But she would absolutely not hold still for me to yank it out. Every time I gave a test pull, she would wince and dance away.

I did tell her that I thought there was a good chance she would eat the tooth, like she did her second tooth, and sort of talked her into letting me pull. It was out before she knew it (and before we had to leave for school)!

Last night the tooth fairy came and left two pair of verrrry fancy socks. They have glittery stones on them and what looks to be hand-made ribbon ruffles around the tops.

And now MissElie has a GIANT hole in her top row of teeth. And she whistles when she speaks.

Monday, November 23, 2009

All By Myself

When I take the kids to school, they all have separate entrances to go to. Each Year has their own cloakroom, where the kids switch from outdoor to indoor shoes (this I don't quite understand, but it is the system nonetheless), take off their coats and head inside. Elie has been walking herself to her cloakroom since the second week of school, when she assured me she could get in by herself. After giving Elie a kiss and seeing her off, we deliver Isaac to his cloakroom, give him a kiss good bye and then Leila and I walk Talia to her cloakroom.

Before the last two days, I would come in to Talia's cloakroom with her, watch while she took off her coat and changed her shoes; then after giving her a kiss and a hug, she'd go into her class and we would head home. But on Friday something changed.

She told me she didn't want me to come in the cloakroom! "Can I go down to my classroom by myself?" she asked as we were walking towards Isaac's cloakroom. I was a bit uncomfortable with sending her alone, so I asked if I could walk her down, but not come in the cloakroom. "Okay!" she said.

Then today she did the same thing and I was relegated to standing in the courtyard, waiting for her to wave goodbye. And we did and Leila and I went.

I'm actually okay with this. It means that Talia is comfortable and happy. It means she feel secure in the knowledge that she can do these things for herself and I will still be there. It means she asked me for some space and I can respect her by giving it to her.

But it is a little cold standing in the courtyard. Maybe it was just the wind that caused my eyes to tear up as I waved goodbye through the window.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


The school year here is set up very differently than in America. We start about the same time, but we only have a five week summer vacation. This means that the vacations are spread out throughout the school year. Every six weeks, we get one or two weeks off. Half-term holidays are one week; holidays in between terms are two. I really, really like this system for a few reasons. One of the biggest is that it gives us lots of chances to take trips and spread them out over the year. I also enjoy spending time with my kids and its nice to have concentrated breaks to look forward to.

Our first holiday was the last week in October and we decided we wanted to head up north to Scotland. It's only about a four and a half hour drive to get to Edinburgh and we decided to focus on that for this trip. We did have a few concerns about being cold and wet. The cheapest route for accommodations was to camp, but did we really want to camp in Scotland, in the end of October?!?!? Since we are crazy, we decided the answer to that was "yes". We have good gear, we reasoned, and we know how to stay warm, so let's do it! After a day to load up the car and get gathered, we headed out to Alnwick (pronounced "Annick" Castle. This is a castle that is still lived in park of the year, by a Duke, is lived in by exchange students from a Minnesota college, and has been used in many films, possibly the most famous of which are the "Harry Potter" series. We missed the "magical tour" where they give you the insider scoop on the movies, but it was still cool to wander around the place, see where the Duke and his family live when they are there, and take in the gorgeous countryside.
The castle is in amazing repair and we had a fantastic time. We got to "walk on the walls", go in the dungeon, see the dining room, sitting room, drawing room and library that the Duke's family use. And it only rained on us a little bit.
We were a bit slow arriving at the castle because we had walked through some botanical gardens where they had a kids construct project going on. For one pound, we purchased a paper cup of nails and "rented" a hammer. The kids were allowed to pick through many pieces of wood that had been pruned from trees in the garden and then they set to work creating. It was a bit difficult to hammer the small discs of wood with the largish nails we were given, but after a few split pieces of wood we abandoned some plans and made new. The kids had a great time and it was so fun to see what they created.

The castle was closing and so we wandered into the town to get some dinner. After a bit of a walk about we landed at a fantastic Italian restaurant. Bellies full, we headed back out to walk to the car. By now it was well into nighttime. We tried to go through the Botanical Gardens back to our car, but found it was closed. No matter, we walked around the other way and navigated back. As we approached the car park we noticed there were no.lights.on. None. It was really very dark. There wasn't even ambient light from the town. The second, more important issue, was that as we walked by the exit, we noticed the gates were locked. So we knew we couldn't drive out that gate. I became a little concerned that we wouldn't be able to get out the other gate either. After walking across the pitch black parking lot, with four nervous kiddos, we got to our car. The kids were very concerned we'd be locked in, but Adam and I figured that there would be some way out. Whoever locked the gates, couldn't have neglected to notice that there was still one car in, right? Thankfully, they hadn't and we drove to the gate and let ourselves out. Shoosh. On to Scotland.

Our first stop in Edinburgh was to see the last royal yacht, Britannia. It is now docked in Edinburgh, where you can tour it. The ship is unchanged from when it was retired in the late '90s. And it is beautiful. They give everyone a hand held audio tour and they have one aimed at kids, as well. Elie, Isaac and Talia were engaged the whole time. Leila was less interested and by the end, she was ready to be done. It was an interesting tour though and we had a good time. It was an amazing ship.

Day two we woke up to rain. Lovely. We drove into the city, which was a huge mistake, found parking after a long struggle and walked to the National Scottish Museum. It was amazing. We saw jewelry that's thousands of years old. We saw Viking graves and stonework. We saw two ancient harps, of which there are only three surviving in the world. I could have spent all day there. Unfortunately, the children had a difficult time. We did wander around the first two floors, there are FIVE, but it was really hard to keep the kids engaged. They really enjoyed the discovery section of the museum and so we spent a bit of time in there. My favorite part was the huge, over one hundred year old, still working steam engine. They only operate it for five minutes every hour, but we got to see it. It was amazing.
(3/4 of the children enjoyed dressing up in costumes provided by the museum. We have an Englishman, a Roman and a Viking. Talia "didn't want to.")

Night two - there was a gale. For those of your who don't know about British weather, it sucks. There's lots of rain and grey days and wind. And they wrap this all up in a spectacularly rainy, extremely windy (gusts up to 60 mph), weather pattern called a gale. Gales can go on for one day or four (we just had one last week that went on most of the week and is causing massive flooding). It's not fun if you are in a house and a lot less fun if you are sleeping in a tent!! Happily enough, the three older kids slept right through the horrendous noise our tent was making. Sadly, Adam and I were up most of the night with Leila in our sleeping bag. Ah well, morning came and we saw - gasp - the sun!
Back into town, this time wisely on the bus which only cost 3 pounds for us all to ride. We decided to tour Edinburgh Castle. In the center of Edinburgh there is a castle, on a dormant volcano. It is a beautiful and amazing sight. Even more gorgeous is when you climb up to the top and tour around. They have found evidence of human settlement on the top dating back 2000 years. As we approached we were all in awe. It was amazing. Once we got inside we spent five hours wandering, reading, exploring and enjoying. We saw the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son. We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels, scepter and other royal Honours. And, at the end, we got to see the sun set from atop the castle. It was a glorious day.

(No, we do not know why Leila is flashing the peace sign. She's a nut.)

Thursday brought more rain. A trip to a museum to see some fun optical illusions and light shows. That museum also has a camera obscura and that was really interesting to look at, though not as fun on a cloudy day since it needs the sun to be really amazing.

Friday we decided to pack up and head home. We were tired of the wind and rain. We can't wait to go back to Edinburgh, though. It is a beautiful city and we had an amazing time touring around. I think we won't camp next time, though - too much wind and rain!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Games We Play

All of these day trips have resulted in lots of driving around for us. We don't have a yucky DVD player in the car and so this forces us to spend lots of time chatting, bickering, whining about who did what to whom and when we will arrive at our destination, as well as asking complex questions, laughing and trying to entertain ourselves.

One of the most popular time-passing-activities is to play a game called "guess the animal." One person starts the game by saying, "I'm thinking of an animal that....". And they finish the sentence with one attribute of the animal, ie "has four legs", "lives on a farm" or "lives in the desert". Then the rest of us have to ask yes or no questions to try and figure out the animal. Whoever guesses the animal first, gets to be the start for the next round.

Hilarity ensues.

Elie and Isaac pretty well understand the game, but still have some difficulty with various animal designations, like "mammal" or "omnivore". This often will cause much confusion when Adam or I ask a question and the response is "no....well, ummm, what is that?" or "yeah, wait, uhhhh no uhhhh I don't know!" But pressing on, we will eventually get to the answer. Elie and Isaac also think it is very important to ask questions about where the animal is from, even though they have a rudimentary grasp of global geography. Or they will guess where the animal is from and then ask a question that has absolutely no chance of being yes based on where the animal is from. Talia is just barely to understanding. For a long while she would get to start, say she was thinking of an animal and then, no matter what animal the first person guessed was, she would say that was the animal she was thinking of. Now she seems to understand that she has to think of her own animal, but she almost always picks a cat. Leila doesn't understand the game at all. And so she says, "I'm thinking of an animal and it's a kitty!" Then we have to ask, "Is it a kitty?" And she says YEAH!!! Adam and I take part as well and for the longest time, I wasn't allowed to guess Adam's animal because every.single.time.I would guess what animal it was straightaway. It was very funny. My streak has been broken though and I'm back to being a mere-guessing-mortal.

We play this game in the car, while waiting for dinner, in lines, at the park, while hiking. You guess it. The kids love it and it is hilarious to listen to them guess.

Recently, Talia decided to introduce a new game to the rotation. She told us she had learned it at school and that it was called "Apple Pie". She carefully told us the instructions. She told Dadam that she was going to close her eyes. Then he was to say "apple pie" in a disguised voice and she was going to guess who said it. Dadam and I were laughing so hard we were wiping tears from our eyes. Gamely, Dadam told Talia to close her eyes and then he said "apple pie." She guessed it was him right away.

Now that we've got the rules fully sorted out (ie, you need more than two people to play), this game too has been added to the rotation. It's a bit tough to play in the car, as it is clear(ish) where a voice has come from. But it's great for hiking.

I don't think I could have ever imagined how fun it is to just be with our kids. And it makes the drive go by a lot quicker!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Storm the Castle, Anyone?

It was a weekend and we wanted to go out and do something. But the weather looked threatening and we weren't sure about going out anyway. A friend of ours who lived in England for quite a while had given us this advice before we left: "If you wait for good weather, you'll never do anything." And so, following this advice, we packed up and headed out.

We had decided that we were going to go to Skipton, where there is a really cool intact castle and fun surrounding town. While we were driving the weather turned from threatening into a full-blown gale. And I do mean full-blown; when we were walking into the wind, Adam and I could hardly stand up straight!

On the way to Skipton we were scouting caches and spotted one in a cool nature preserve called Ilkley Moor. We got out of the car and walked towards the rock formations, all the while being pelted with rain and fiercely blown about.

In America, in that sort of weather, most places would be desolate. Not so here! The boy scouts were having some sort of rock climbing activity and there were people everywhere. The parking lot was full by the time we got back into our car.

We continued on to Skipton, after Adam had finished gathering what he needed to complete the earth cache. Thankfully the rain died down as we were arriving in the town. After securing parking, always a challenge in small British villages, we walked down to the open air market and wandered about.

It didn't take long to get through the market, as the fierce weather had dissuaded some merchants from attending, and so we were quickly back at the castle and ready to tour around inside.

Skipton castle is still lived in, though not by any royalty. In the late 1940's the last of the family passed away and the castle was not in great shape. The will of that family member said that the castle should be kept open for the public to enjoy, but the Skipton City Council and the National Trust did not want it! So the estate went up for sale, with the caveat that part of the property had to be available for people to tour. Finally, there was a family interested in purchasing it and they bought it and created a fund. They still live in part of the castle all of the year. The rest of the castle is open for people to tour.

Skipton was originally a Norman castle that was then partially dismantled and rebuilt during the Tudor years. There are parts where you can see the original four foot thick walls and then other parts where you can see how the original walls were dismantled to create the *new* Tudor walls.
I think the most interesting part for the kids, was when a docent taught us where the phrase "sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite" came from. The kids each got to pretend to be a bed post, on a four poster bed, and I was the chamber maid who tightened the ropes on the bed (holding up the mattress, they didn't have slats yet), smeared animal fat on the bottom of the posters, put bowls of blood on the floor under the bed and drew the curtains on each side of the bed. Whew! The kids got a big kick out of it AND it really made an impression.

After touring the castle we did a multi-cache that took us on a beautiful hike around the canal that runs behind the castle and through the town. It ended up being a beautiful day and an exciting adventure!

This is the courtyard of the castle. The tree was planted in 1659!

Towards the right of the photo is the area where people still use the castle as living quarters.
Here is Ilkley Moor, where we made our first stop. You can see it was CHILLY in the wind!

Yet Another Abbey

In mid-October we took a beautiful fall day-trip to another abbey, called Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. This one is north of Harrogate and boasts a huge wild deer park, as well as Georgian water gardens, hiking paths and intact Mill.

The Abbey was huge in its heyday and the ruins are still quite impressive. There are places where the second floor is still intact AND places where you can still see large portions of original tile floor. The architecture is amazing and incredibly beautiful. The mill is still in use, but now as a source of electricity as opposed to a grinding machine. The Cistercian monks used the mill for grinding corn in the 12th century and it has been in use since then.

The kids really enjoyed participating in an art program sponsored by the abbey called "The Big Draw". Free clipboards, writing/drawing utensils and paper were supplied with the instructions to draw whatever they saw that caught their eye while roaming the Abbey grounds. Elie filled a page with little drawings of anything that caught her eye. Isaac and Talia stuck to drawing the abbey ruins and Leila worked on her abstract interpretations of the world around her.

After touring through the abbey, we did a hike around the woods and through the water garden. It was getting towards evening, so we didn't go and hike through the wild deer park, we'll have to go back and see that another time!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Outstanding Natural Beauty

(Unfortunately because we managed to get a nasty, nasty illness that I am fairly sure is H1N1 in our house, we did NOT get to go and do anything at all fun this weekend. Now that I am able to function once again, I can work more on getting caught up on past adventures. Here's hoping we can get the kiddos through the gross before it is mid-term holiday next week during which we are planning - fingers crossed - to go to Scotland!)

In August we took a bus tour that is offered through the base. It wasn't all that amazing, but it did give us a nice tour of the Dales and give us some great ideas of places to visit later. One of the suggested places was Brimham Rocks, a collection of rock formations in a beautiful location at the top of a dale. It is located within an area designated, officially, as an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty." Ah British Formality.

The rock formations were made by erosion from glaciation, water and wind and are made of a very interesting rock called Millstone Grit. It has really neat rocks of varying sizes embedded in it. Quite cool. Brimham Rocks really does live up to its designation and we had a marvelous time hiking around and exploring the rock formations.

The most interesting part, for the kids, was that there are no restrictions on scrambling or climbing. This means that anything is open for all sorts of exploration. I was totally expecting some of the formations to be off limits, so that they could be preserved, but that was not the case. Of course, the current limits in the park allowing only people on foot, strollers and wheel chairs is an improvement from the '50s and 60's when people just drove their cars right in and parked amongst the formations!

After we finished scrambling around the rocks (and doing an earth cache), we headed out to some other rambling paths to do some caches. On the second cache we ended up walking about a mile through a heather fen. It was amazing to be storming through the fen, waist deep in heather, the only ones out on the moor as far as we could see.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ancient History Revisited

Of course, I've gotten totally behind in my adventure posting (again - and like this will be the last time). Come to think of it I'm totally behind in most of my posting. Eh, anyway, here's a bit of catch up on the adventures we've been having around Northern Yorkshire. (Oh it feels so lucky/amazing to write that!)

Before school started, we took a Sunday afternoon and drove about ten minutes from our house, down into Kirkstall. There we wandered through the ruins of a beautiful Cistercian Abbey, aptly called Kirkstall Abbey. It was completed between 1152 and 1182.

They had a fabulous information center, built inside the old reredorter. The kids got a big kick out of the fact that a reredorter was the bathroom for the monks. One of the neat hands on exhibits that was available, were blocks that were shaped to create different types of architectural arches. It was really cool to be able to try and balance the blocks to create the four different kinds of arches that were used when the buildings were built. Of course, the kids did manage to drop the wooden blocks on their own fingers, so that wasn't so cool, but it didn't keep them from trying to create the arches. They also had quite a few costumes for the kids (and grownups) to try on and a wig with the monk haircut.

There was also a really nice history of the monks, what they believed and how they kept the abbey running while trying to remove themselves from the world. There was quite an amazing system of abbeys in England and for a while they were very successful (and got pretty large).

Unfortunately when the monks were disbanded some of the abbeys were treated pretty badly. For a long time, a main carriage road ran right through the main chapel at Kirkstall and the reredorter was once a tea house! Now they are taking good care of it and trying to protect the ruins as much as possible. It is a beautiful ruin and completely worth the free admission and an afternoon worth of time!

(In the last one, we are standing in the library. It was an amazingly tiny room. The monks were instructed to spend an entire year reading one book!)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Report Card

We are now in our fourth week of school. I can't believe how time is flying! I also can't believe how well the kids have settled in. Well, I can believe it, but I hadn't let myself hope that it would go this well. I'm so pleased/relieved that it has.

Elie is doing fantastically in her class. Her teacher has quite high expectations for the students and their behavior. As a result, many of the students think she is quite strict and some even call her mean. But we have had a very positive relationship with her from the start. Elie is doing wonderfully and really rising to the challenge of learning a new system for everything, in the middle of her primary education. All of the other students, save one, have attended this primary school since nursery. They are very familiar with the schedule and terminology and the general way the school is run. Elie has had to learn on the run and is doing a fantastic job. We are very pleased with the type of educating they are doing. They are very creative and interactive and employ lots of different education strategies to allow the kids to learn in the way they learn best. Assignments are open ended, allowing the kids to brainstorm and be creative in the way that suits them.

I was a bit nervous about how Elie would do, after all, these children have had one more year formal education than she has. But, as her teacher told me this evening, she is very bright and is not afraid to ask for clarification when she doesn't understand what is going on. To top it off, she is making friends left and right and is loving that. She is self-confident without being overbearing and has apparently made friends with many other students in the school, both her age and older. I found out this evening, from a teacher at the open house, that she has joined the Lego Club at school and been participating in that once a week. She didn't mention it to us, so I'm going to ask her tomorrow. I think it's cool the school even has a Lego Club! I do wonder why she hasn't told us, I hope she doesn't think we would disapprove. I am so proud of her. She is really doing wonderfully.

Isaac is also doing amazingly well. He is fitting right in, age and maturity-wise. He has a bit less adjusting than Elie does to the school side of things, because Year 1 is the first "structured" learning year. So everyone else in the class is figuring out the same things he is. We were a bit concerned that he would be bored because he is reading at such a high level, but the teachers noticed his advanced skills directly and are actively working with him one on one! YAY!!! He has caught on to soccer and brings a ball everyday to school. Which always draws at least two or three other Year 1 boys to play with him. He loves his teacher, who is male and another fantastically creative teacher.

Isaac is feeling a bit of strain about being "different". This past weekend he cried for about 30 minutes, telling me all about how he is so different and how the kids all ask him about America and how he misses his friends. I am sure that the other children are not being mean. I am sure they are just curious. And I know that Isaac's angst is because of his perception that he is so "different". I have talked to a couple of the other moms of Isaac's classmates and there are many bilingual families in the class. Yesterday I talked with Isaac about how they are "different" too. And he said "but they don't sound different!" So he is struggling with that, but I know he will find his way and sort it out. In the meantime, he doesn't seem too bothered and is always excited to go to school and excited to share with us about his day.

I was really, really nervous about Talia. She has always been soooo clingy and I just wasn't sure how she would handle such a long day at school, buying lunch, a new system, etc etc. And for the first three weeks, she did smashingly. There was nary a tear, she would change her shoes and head in for her day. The teachers are wonderful and reported how impressed they were with how she just found her place and was fitting right in. However, this week has not gone so well. Sunday she was sick, but Monday was feeling a bit better. Tuesday we got to school and she began to sob! She clung to my neck and would not let go. I did manage to get her calmed down and she was just fine the rest of the day. When I picked her up she was enthusiastic and happy. Last night she threw up again and so today she didn't go to school, but when it came time for me to go to the open house, she began to sob and cry. Dadam was here and staying with them, but Talia just wanted Mommy. I'm not really sure what is going on, but I hope we can get over this uncertainty soon. I know she likes school and likes what she is doing there. I am really pleased with the phonics reading program they are using and I really LOVE the freedom they give the kids to guide themselves. It's really quite a Montessori type learning atmosphere. We'll go again tomorrow, now that she is feeling better, and hopefully we can get the day going without any tears.

As for MissNoodle, she is doing alright. She desperately wants to begin school. (In fact, she and Elie packed her a backpack complete with snack, water bottle, two babies and a teddy bear, which she then carried around for the rest of the day.) I think that nursery is in our near future, she just wants to be big like The Bigs. And really, who can blame her?

So, it's a big thumbs up from us about the school. I'm so relieved that everything is working out and thrilled that we made such a good choice. It certainly seems like it is just what we wanted for our kids!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now We Are Six!

Dear Isaac,

Last weekend was Rosh Hashana. You were lucky this year because your birthday fell in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, so you got to celebrate by doing *normal* birthday things instead of going to synagogue all day. We had gone to services and you insisted on wearing your suit, replete with vest, tie and coat. After we got home, Dadam sent you upstairs to get your clothes changed so we could eat lunch. Time passed and you were very quiet, so he went upstairs to see what you were doing. He walked into the bathroom and there you were, pants down around your ankles, shirt unbuttoned with tie, vest and coat still on, squatting down and putting together a puzzle on the floor. My guess is that you had been staring at the puzzle while slowly getting undressed and when you noticed two pieces that went together, you were unable to resist squatting down and putting them together. Then you noticed more pieces and got lost in the puzzle, forgetting entirely about getting your clothes changed.

This story illustrates so much about you and I never know whether I should laugh or pull my hair out. You are so incredibly smart and curious. You are constantly asking questions and observing; I know you keep a mental list of EVERYTHING that goes on around you. You read anything and everything you can get your hands on; recently you read "James and the Giant Peach" in one weekend. And not only do you read it, but you ruminate on it, digest it and share it in completely random situations! On the other hand, you seem to have a complete inability to focus on anything that is banal. You haven't quite figured out that you have to do the ordinary stuff before you can go on and do the stuff you really want to do. And I suppose this is totally normal for a 5/6 year old boy, but it probably makes me crazier because you *can* be so motivated.

I do get irritated, though, and part of me thinks you don't fully understand it. You have grown into such a happy-go-lucky kiddo, willing to do just about anything and go anywhere. And you can't fathom why I have worked myself up into a froth just because I've asked you to put your shoes on and walk in to find you with one sock on and kicking a ball.

In fact, I think there's a lot about other people you don't understand. You have an innocence about you; you can explain and understand so much (especially what you've read about), but sometimes you just don't understand why people act the way they do. Because of this I do worry a bit (moms always do, you know) that the other kids (particularly the boys) will bully you or influence you into behaving differently. However, I've lately observed that part of your strength lies in the fact that you can't/don't understand aggressive behavior and you don't like being around it, which means you're not really interested in adopting it.

All that being said, your innocence has not caused you any problems fitting in at school. I was a bit concerned about how you would react to the huge upheaval that moving across an ocean and into a different culture would be. But you have taken it all in stride, with your happy-go-lucky self, and inserted yourself right in. You have taken up soccer with a passion and bring a ball with you everyday to school. You are learning the slang left and right and "practice" soccer outside when we get home after school. When I go to drop you off in the morning, there are always other kids calling your name and asking you play with them. You seem like you've always been there, an American kid in the midst of Yorkshire.

You continue to be incredibly tender towards your sisters. You and Talia now have lunch recess time together and during the first week of school she couldn't find you on the playground and became hysterical. Another student helped her find you and you told us that evening that you "gave her a big hug, until she stopped crying" and then you "tickled her." And in the shower the other day you tenderly and gently helped her rinse the shampoo out of her hair when she didn't want my help. I love watching you love your sisters.

You are funny and observant, intelligent and kind, physical and impulsive and just right. I only hope that I can keep answering your random questions, "How did plants and animals and trees and people grow on earth? Did we really all come from the same stuff?" (which was followed by a series of questions about prison and if apologizing for what you did got you released) and to try to take a deep breath when you can't focus on the banalities of everyday life. I can hardly believe that you are six already. I was so afraid when you were born, so concerned that I wouldn't know how to raise a boy. But here you are, growing up before my very eyes into one very cool person.
Happy Birthday, Isaac!
I love you so much, my beautiful, precious, brilliant boy!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pump Room Museum

Waaaay back in the beginning of July, the first week we were here, we took an afternoon adventure to a fun museum in Harrogate. I never did write about it and so I guess I better catch up!

Harrogate is a spa town. In the late 16th century a very large number of mineral springs were discovered near the town. Many physicians began to prescribe mineral waters as a way to cure many ailments and so towns like Harrogate drew huge numbers of people seeking treatment from the waters. The popularity of drinking extremely gross smelling and tasting mineral water faded and towns like Harrogate had to come up with other ways to draw people in. Nowadays, Harrogate is known for its fabulous shopping and the Stray. It is a beautiful town.

The main pump house has been turned into a beautiful little museum. It talks about the history of Harrogate, the pumps and the treatments (and treatment facilities) that depended on the medicinal waters.

The museum was very interesting. There was a section about Egyptology because many upper class Brits became very interested in it and had large collections of Egyptian artifacts. There was a worksheet that Elie and Isaac got to fill out that helped them learn about what they were looking at in that exhibit. Elie did it all with relish and Isaac lost interest about halfway through. While I was doing that with the older two, GranEde and GranDude took Talia and Leila down to the dress up section. They got the chance to try on quite a few different outfits and looked adorable! When Isaac and Elie were done, we went down and they got to try on the costumes too.

(Isaac refused to put on the *boy* costumes and was pretty much only interested in wearing this.....and holding the parisol.)

At the end we all took a swig of the gross, ahem, strongly flavored mineral waters. We were burping sulfur for quite a while after that. Blarg. Anyway, it was a very nice afternoon learning a bit about the history of Harrogate!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

School Daze

The kids have now had three full days of school. They are, from all accounts, loving it. Today we did start to see some exhaustion creeping in, though and so it will be interesting to see how much of a mess they are by the end of the week.

Talia has been settling in very nicely. She was a little hesitant to let me leave on the first day and not at all hesitant today or yesterday. Today she was exhausted by the time I picked her up and so she promptly burst into tears as soon as she saw me. (The given reason for the tears was that her extra orange from snack had disappeared, but I knew she was just plain old tired.) But she still wanted to go back tomorrow, which is a good sign.

Elie and Isaac are making friends and learning their way around very quickly. I think Isaac is feeling unsettled because it is different, but he also is enjoying himself. He doesn't really do change all that well and so I am unsurprised that he is a bit sad that school is different here. All that being said, he felt comfortable enough to raise his hand during a school wide assembly and answer, in front of everyone, a question the head teacher asked. So I think he feels fairly comfortable. And Elie is just doing smashingly. She likes her teacher, enjoys the other girls in the class and really is settling in very well.

We've had nothing but good reports from each of the kids and that makes me feel very relieved. I've also had assurances from the teachers that the kids will be assessed and given the proper set of challenges in reading and maths. I have high hopes that this year will be a lot less worksheet oriented and much more hands on learning. We'll see what happens.

Leila and I are doing just fine. She definitely notices that the big kids aren't around, but she has been enjoying the concentrated mommy time that she's getting all of a sudden. She is also thrilled when we go to pick them up in the afternoon. I am getting adjusted to not having them home with me. The house is awfully quiet, but I have been getting a *bit* more done than I had been. As in all things, it's bittersweet and all about trade offs.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

This is the Way We Go To School

Tomorrow Elie, Isaac and Talia all have their very first day of school! OH.MY.GOODNESS. I have gotten them their uniforms; blue skirts/trousers, white button up shirts, blue sweatshirts, ties, black shoes, socks/tights, the proper gym kit (or uniform) and the requisit bags. I have labled everything. We've been working with Elie and Isaac on learning their Aleph-Bet so they won't be too far behind and they have done smashingly. And now the big day is finally here!

They are all so incredibly excited, they are almost beside themselves. Everytime anyone mentions school all three of them start up with such an amazing noise! The expression of said excitement usually contains, but is not limited to: singing, yelling, dancing, screaming and the occasional clapping of hands. It is quite impressive. I think Talia may be feeling a little more nervousness than she lets on in public. She'll be going to school full time for the first time (and a year younger than she would have been in the US). It is quite a big transition. But the excitement of the older two seems to have carried her quite well. And I am sure that once she gets there and gets settled into a routine, all her reservations will evaporate.

Elie had a bad dream that her teacher got mad at her for not remembering the teacher's name. Isaac is just excited to have a man teacher! Talia isn't too sure about changing for gym, but is very much looking forward to buying lunch and being able to sit in the same big room as Elie and Isaac.

I am feeling quite nervous myself. I don't know how Talia will do. I feel quite afraid that she will be upset, but I hope not. Is she really big enough for this? Will she be alright? Is this the right choice for her?!?!?

Thankfully, Adam will be with me tomorrow as he gets the day off. Each kid has to go to a different door in the school. They change shoes and leave their gym kits in the cloak room, everyday. So we'll all go together and that will be very nice.

But poor Leila is so sad. Anytime I get out any of the uniform stuff for the big kids, she says "Where mine? I go to school! Where mine for school?!?!" And when we went and picked up the school bags, she started crying that she didn't have one just like theirs! We may have to let her pack a backpack tomorrow morning and hopefully that will avoid a meltdown. I don't know what she is going to do with herself. She and Talia have been fast and tight as of late. They are always together and always coming up with incredibly inventive, intricate, imaginary storylines. She is going to be completely lost when they are not at home with her all day long. Come to think of it, I might be lost too.

Monday, August 31, 2009

ABC, Easy As 123

Today marks the end of our first full month here in the UK. What. a. ride. Our household goods have been delivered, Odz (our minivan) arrived, we are somewhat unpacked and settled and we've done some sightseeing in amongst the chaos.

Before Odz showed up, the kids and I were mostly housebound. Well, we could go where we could walk, but when you are two your legs aren't very long and you can't/won't walk very far. We did discover where the local library is and also discovered we could walk there. (The way down is fine, the way back is a killer about halfway through. "Mommy, pick me up now please. Please pick me up now, Mommy. Mom-mom please pick me up.") So we took some trips to the library. We discovered the playground next to the library and spent some time there too. Other than that, though, we had to wait until Dadam got home with the car to do anymore exploring.

And now Odz is here and we are making regular trips to the grocery. Whee. Oh wait, and IKEA and HomeBase (a strange combo between HomeDepot and Bed Bath and Beyond). I haven't gotten my butt in gear to take the kids and do some activities during the week, yet. And I'm running out of time because school starts a week from today!

I do still feel like I'm getting my feet underneath me, as far as navigating around physically and culturally. At least once every time we are out, I have to ask someone to repeat themselves because I didn't understand them. I'm still learning where stuff is stocked in the grocery (tapioca is in the pasta aisle) and that occasionally the checkers will bag your groceries for you, but only if you have four exceedingly obnoxious children with you. The trolleys (grocery carts) are designed so that all four wheels are on casters that rotate all the way around. This makes turning corners an amazingly difficult task. They don't really like tofu here, the groceries hardly carry any of it and practically no restaurants serve it. But you can go to a restaurant and get pizza AND Indian in the same place! Non-biological wash powder (laundry detergent) is for those with sensitive skin, but even almost all of that variety comes with a scent! People will often open a conversation with "You alright?" But they don't really want an answer, they're just saying "Hello". "Cheers" is used as a thank-you, but sometimes you also say "thank-you" and "cheers". But I haven't yet sorted all that out. Apologizing is not something that waitresses, cashiers or stockers do. They may express a sort of concern, but they don't say they are sorry. There are only a handful of radio stations, literally. And one of them is always playing news/interviews/dramatic readings. And one of them is always playing classical. The other radio stations play the strangest mix of R&B, dance music, oldies, American, British, popular and rock that I have ever heard.

Although, driving on the left side of the road is much, much, much easier for me now that Odz is here. I don't have to process *quite* so much different input and I find it a lot easier to get around. This isn't to say I haven't gotten confused, but the two times it's happened while I was driving, I was in a parking lot. The unspoken rules of the road are also something that I am still getting used to. It is quite common, if you are turning right across traffic, for an oncoming car to flash their brights at you and slow down so that you can turn in front of them. If there are cars parked so that a two lane road is only accessible by one car, the car that got there first gets to go, but you should move over in to a space to allow the oncoming car the opportunity to go if you get the chance. This would never work in America, where we would drive straight in and expect the other person to move for us. No one likes it if you don't drive the speed limit, but very few people go over. There is very little patience for timidity at a roundabout. Don't dawdle, just go! Oh and for heavens sake, never, ever, never hang out in the right hand lane when driving on a motorway. That lane is for passing ONLY!

People have been, for the most part, unfailingly polite, even when I accost them in the supermarket and ask questions about, say wash powder. Often they are a little, erm, well, embarrassed that a stranger is asking them questions. Most people who've had questions for us, just ask them, but some people just quietly stare.

Someone asked me recently if I feel homesick and I said "no, not at all." But I do feel a bit homesick. Although I'm still talking regularly to my parents and sister, the time difference is now eight hours instead of just three. And I can't just call up my girlfriends in VA and ask them if they want to hang out or come over or meet at the park. I do feel like I miss *something* about being in America, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

None of this is to say that I'm not enjoying life here. It is beautiful and interesting. There are tons and tons of things to see and do that I've never gotten a chance to experience before. I can buy the BEST cheese, right in the dairy display at the grocery. Wensleydale right there!!!! And it's delicious. The Indian sauces section is ginormous and they are all delicious (at least the ones we've tried are). All in all, it's a fantastic success. And I can't wait to learn more.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Best. Birthday. In a LOOOOOONG Time!

Yesterday was my birthday. And my wonderful husband got really creative and made it a GREAT day. It was incredibly relaxing and together and connected and laid back and happy.

Dadam decided that he would take the day off work! It was a surprise and boy was it nice. He let me sleep in and that was marvelous. When I woke up, there was a "Birthday Restaurant Menu" waiting for me at my bedside. It instructed me to order from the menu and use my phone to text my order downstairs to him, where he and his "team" would put together breakfast in bed for me! Such a fun idea! So I texted my order and laid back, feeling pampered already. In a short while, he and the kids brought up breakfast for me and my birthday cards and prezzies. Oh it was so fun! I shared my pastries with everyone and we laughed and had a great time.

After I was done eating, we all got ready and went for a caching-hike. Dadam knew of a local area that had nice trails and some caches, so off we went. While we were hiking there were tons and tons of blackberry brambles and so we stopped and picked a huge amount of blackberries. (We hadn't brought any containers, so Dadam dug out a plastic shopping bag and we picked into that.) The scenery was amazing, we were on the top of a hill, and so we took lots of pictures too.

By the time we made it back to Odz, it was well past lunchtime, so we marched across the street to a fantastic pub and had a delicious lunch. The pub was on the other side of the hill and so we got to see some more beautiful scenery, watch airplanes landing and taking off and sit next to a pasture full of sheep! The sun was shining (intermittently) and we ate outside taking full advantage.

When we had sated our hunger, we came home. We threw the kids in the bath; I gave Dadam and Isaac hair cuts. We made a delicious dinner and then Dadam surprised me with an ice cream cake!

Oh it was a marvelous birthday. I truly enjoyed every minute of it! My family is AMAZING!!! And I love them.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Funny Bits of Yesterday

"If my necks gets cut open and bloods come out, then I will get a new neck." - Leila

"Abra-da-raga" - how Leila says Abracadabra

"I'm a girl and you are....spiderman. I'm girl spider." - Leila
Isaac said "Do you mean spidergirl?" "Yeah! I am spider girl!"

Elie, Isaac and Talia have all gotten back into telling knock-knock jokes, but none of them make sense (or are funny, for that matter). But they think they are hilarious. Except when one of them tells a bomb and no one laughs and then one of them says "not funny" and quickly moves on.

Yesterday we went to the west coast. It was a glorious day, full of sunshine. The beach where we were has a very gradual slope and so it does not have severe undertow. We took the kids' pants off and let them splash around in the sand and surf. They had a great time! And Adam and I really enjoyed just watching them enjoy the ocean.

Friday, August 21, 2009

By the Sea, By the Sea, To Sewerby

(I'm going to attempt to do a blog post about every place we visit. It won't be a ton of information, but at least it'll be sharing what we do. I didn't post about this first outing, so I'm going back in time and writing a post about the first family trip we did. There is one more outing that we took with my parents and I'll write about that another time!)

We decided to drive to the "east coast" on Sunday, August 2nd. Dadam looked through our tour book and found a cool old estate (built in 1714) that has parts of the original house still open to walk through. The estate is called Sewerby Hall and it now has a small zoo, large play area, beautiful gardens, golf, putt-putt and is *right* on the ocean. The day we picked to go there, they were having a family picnic day with puppet shows, musical acts, face painting and other especially family friendly activities. It sounded like it would be lots of fun.

The drive was beautiful and we did a couple of caches on the way, stopping and doing some caches that gave us the chance to ramble (a term the British use to describe taking hikes on public footpaths). We got to Sewerby and toured the zoo and the house. The house was amazing and it was really cool to enter the hall and see that the marble entryway and giant staircase were original to the house! We were standing on stuff that was built over three hundred years ago. (Way cool!) They had some exhibits about the house, unfortunately they haven't made the kitchen open to the public, but they had pictures. We also saw some interesting history about Sewerby Hall itself.

After we were finished with the inside, we went and walked through the flower gardens. They were really beautiful. There was a smaller rose garden and then a larger garden that had shaped bushes and groomed flower beds, with gravel paths running through it. There were tons of butterflies and beautiful blooms.

We took a brief stop for some ice cream, which was delicious. Apparently the Brits feel like buying delicious ice cream at the grocery and having it at home, to eat whenever, is too extravagant. But it seems to be okay to have delicious ice cream when on an outing. One wouldn't want to overindulge oneself. ;-)

Post ice cream, we took a walk down to the ocean. Sewerby Hall sits a short walk to some beautiful cliffs and we feared that we wouldn't get to walk down to the water, but we found some stairs and climbed down. It wasn't a sandy beach, it was a white chalk rock beach, but the kids were just as happy to stand and throw rocks in the water as they would have been to sit and play in the sand. As we were walking down the stairs, Isaac said "Ooooh, it smells just like the beach in Oregon!"
It was really a glorious day and fun to go out and explore. We were lucky to have no rain and beautiful sunshine most of the day. A great start to our adventures!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Old York is New!

Yesterday we took a fantastic trip to York. Some friends of ours (Prospero and MissAuFait) from DC, who also have four children, are here on holiday. Prospero grew up in Coventry, or in "the south" as many of the people up in "the north" refer to it. So they are here visiting friends and family. We were lucky enough to be here and be settled when they decided to come.

One of the cities both Prospero and MissAuFait enjoy is York and so they invited us along for a day of exploration and adventure. We happily took them up on it because we'd not explored much in York at all, plus we *really* wanted to spend time with them and their family. Their kids and our kids are all about the same age and they all get along really well. We also share similar parenting styles, world views and thought processes. It's always so much fun when we get together.

We met up at York at a really cool museum. It had so much to see and tons of exhibits. There is a walk through a Victorian era city street. There are some kitchen and dining room exhibits showing how those rooms evolved from the 1600's onward. We walked through a toy exhibit, a games exhibit, a prison exhibit (a bit too scary for the kiddos for us to spend much time there, but very interesting). One part we spent quite a bit of time looking around was an exhibit about life cycle events from the Victorian era onward. The kids had a great time!

(Here they are trying out a Victorian era school house.)

After we had tooled around the museum for a good long while, we headed over to the York Minster. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe and it took over 200 years to complete!

We are not typically church visiting folk. It's not that we don't respect Christians, its just that church architecture isn't something we are all that into. We lived in DC for four and a half years and never went to the National Cathedral. (They weren't ever hosting anything we were so interested in.) But MissAuFait wanted to go and see it. So off we went.

I am so glad that we all trooped along. It wasn't a spiritual experience, it was actually sort of sobering. The history of churches in Europe is not entirely a pleasant one. But it was an AMAZING building. I am sure that if I worked as hard as common folk did (and my life was as difficult) in the 15th century and then I was allowed to pray in a place like that on Sunday, I, too, would think that this awe-inspiring building *must* have been where god lived. (Thanks to MissAuFait for putting that thought in to those words.) It was incredibly beautiful and breathtaking. Even more awe-inspiring was the fact that it was built before modern day advances in machinery and engineering. It really is a beautiful building and a marvel of engineering and architecture.

The kids, of course, had ants in their pants. They had done really well at the museum; looking, asking questions and staying really engaged, but the minster was just a bit *too* much for all eight of them. We looked around a bit, found some interesting, kid friendly aspects (the dragon that was built to be a pulley and some mice carved into the bottom of the pews) and then we headed out.

During our walk around we tried to explain the differences between Christianity and Judaism. We talked about the sepulchers and memorials in the floors and walls. I'm not sure that much of it sunk in. All of those things are fairly complicated issues and keeping them simple is a bit difficult. I do want to go back, though, because there is a tour of the tower in the York Minster that one can take. But it has over two hundred stairs to climb and they don't allow children younger than eight to go on the tour, so I don't know if its in the cards for us or not.

Anyway, it was a faboo day in York with our friends. The exploring was superb, the company marvelous and everyone was happily exhausted from our day of historical exploration!