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.

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

E-D-I-N-B-U-R-G-H!!!!

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!