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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seeing Red

Dearest Lu,

I know this is a big thing to ask a child who has a tough time with spacial awareness, but can you please not drag the edge of your tomato-sauce-covered plate on the spotless white curtains our landlord chose for his dining room?!?


Friday, November 18, 2011

Seeing Spots

Occasionally at school the kids get a non-uniform day, ie they can wear street clothes to school. This is usually accompanied by the suggestion that the kids bring in tzedakah (money for charity) for the privilege of no uniform. Sometimes there is a theme. Today's theme was: spots.

I don't know about where you live, but over here polka dots are for girls and stripes are for boys. I also felt it was a bit silly to buy a new shirt/pair of leggings/etc for one day.

Hmmm, what to do?

Make our own! We used our surplus supply of white school shirts and a hidden stash of fabric markers to make individualized spotty shirts.

Finished product: What a dotty group!!

(Princess E did not want to make a dotty shirt and only wanted a dotty headband. Preteen, anyone?)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fitting In

The Chief Rabbi is coming to visit the kids' school in December. Yesterday at dinner they revealed that they were expected to know and be able to sing the British national anthem and the Israeli national anthem.

Thank goodness for Google, we looked them both up (Dadam and I knew the Israeli one but wanted to be sure on the words). We spent a few minutes singing them both and then resolved to practice them everyday, so that the kids would know them for the visit.

Today in Noodle's class the teachers asked the children if any of them knew the national anthem.

And only Noodle raised her hand.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Just a Test

Just needed to do a test, but thought I'd post a nice picture while doing it.  At least you've got something pretty to look at. 

ps I took this picture when we were at Hampton Court Gardens on holiday.  Blue sky!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Sunshine Coast and Other Adventures

One of Dadam's Aunts very generously said she'd like to come visit us.  "Please come!"we said, here's when the kids are off school and we can have an adventure with you.  I'm not exactly sure she knew what she was getting into, but AuntV said okay and we made plans.  Dadam and I decided with just a year left here, we couldn't just hang around our house taking AuntV to see things that were new to her but not to us.  So, we (selfishly) planned a vacation to a southern part of England to see some new and exciting things! 

We met up with AuntV near Hampton Court Palace to have another exploration around there.  We had seen it once before, but I wanted to go see it again and really spend the whole day doing the tours and seeing the sights.  The day we met up, we just walked around the amazingly large nature preserve and deer park that sits to the north of Hampton Court Palace.  The trees are planted in long rows and the grounds look much like they did when Henry VIII was king!  The FlyingWaleeties had a lovely time talking AuntV's ear off, climbing trees, meeting doggies and just expending energy. 

Next day we got up early and walked down to Hampton Court Palace.  It was a gorgeously warm sunny day and we all enjoyed listening to the tours and exploring the court further.  We saw lots of amazing things we didn't get a chance to see the first time we were there.

We toured Henry's private apartments and got to see a historical reenactment of how Henry VIII got dressed for bed. We also toured Wiliam III's public and private apartments and got some tips of funny things to watch for on the ceiling murals. Apparently the painter who did the ceilings was quite a troublemaker. If the staff got on his wrong side, by sniffing at his late parties and drunken debauchery he would paint them in as furies! The kids also took great delight in spotting a cherub having a wee over a serving platter. We went through the kitchen again and went through the maze and gardens. 

The view of the William III's refurbishment of the Palace. 

Huge, amazing ceiling (and all four walls) mural leading to William III's public apartments.  (This is the afore mentioned "cherub" mural.)

William III was also known as "William the Orange" and so he had a large number of orange trees.  Here is the Orangery where the orange trees would be brought in for the winter.  It is a gorgeous room that opens out on to the garden in the first picture. 

Courtyard inside of William III's refurbishment.  You can see the original red brick of Henry VIII's original palace.  William III wanted to knock down the entire original palace, but ran out of money.  Thank goodness he did, otherwise there'd be nothing left of the Tudor palace. 

The next day it was on to the coast.  On the way there we saw signs for Hever Castle.  We didn't exactly know what it was, but it was on our list of things to do and we had plenty of time, so off we went! 

Hever Castle is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and (after her death) ownership transferred to Henry VIII.  When he divorced Anne of Cleves, he gave it to her.  It was reportedly her favorite residence and it was easy to see why.  It wasn't a massive castle, but it was incredibly beautiful.  Unfortunately, it has been modified quite a few times (I suppose it's unsurprising, Anne of Cleves lived there nearly 600 years ago), but it was still interesting to see the inside.  Currently Hever castle has a large collection of Tudor paintings and there were even a couple of illuminated books that belonged to Anne Boleyn! 

The kids particularly enjoyed the two different mazes at Hever.  There was a traditional maze through the shrubbery AND there was a water maze, replete with water hazards and moving paths.  We also explored the beautiful Italian marble gardens and the lakeside circular walk.  It was a gorgeous day and an outing that had something for us all.  

Jam packed with fun and only our third day on holiday!  Next post:  holiday continued!


In our house we have a front door, then a small entryway (maybe 3' x 5') and then another door. The inside door has a latch that can be opened with a key, if you are in the entryway, and a handle, if you are in the house. But if you close the inner door and don't have a key, you're locked in the entryway.

Yesterday the children spent hours locked in this small space, of their own accord. Who knew being stuck in the entryway could be so much fun? Properly strange kids we have here.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Lu-Lu is shedding baby teeth (or milk teeth as they are called here) very quickly. Just this week, while we were on holiday to The South, she lost two within days of one another. She was So Excited to have two teeth to put under her pillow for the tooth fairy to take.

Thursday was the day we got home from holiday. We woke up at six in the morning, dropped AuntV (who came over to visit and accompanied us on our holiday) at the airport, and headed home. It was a very long day and we were all very ready when it was time for bed.

But Lu was wired. She had put her envelope of teeth under her pillow and could barely contain her excitement about the tooth fairy's imminent visit.

Morning arrived and Lu was up at six-twenty, along with everyone else. By seven, she had rushed in to my room and announced what presents the tooth fairy had brought. A kitty mask and some silly putty, it was a lucky stash and a seriously big hit. She proceeded to play with the putty (sharing with everyone else, too) for the next two hours.

Oh dear. Maybe the tooth fairy should start bringing boring presents? Would that encourage them to sleep in instead of waking up at o'dark-thirty?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Birthday Magic

Dear Boy-Child,
For nearly the past year you have eschewed a hair cut.  Currently your hair is longer than two of your sisters' hair.  It is quite amazing.  Recently you have been mistaken for a girl, more than a few times.  I cringe every time it happens because there are times that you can be, well, delicate.  But completely opposite what I expected from you, you have shrugged it off and not been bothered at all.  In fact, I think it may have strengthened your resolve to continue growing it out.  Either way the hair continues to surprise me, as a point of pride and individuality for you.

Since your school days began I have been concerned about your ability to be your own person.  In preschool you seemed to adopt horrid behaviors of other children (particularly little boys) were exhibiting them.  In kindergarten you moved on from horrid behaviors to poor academic choices if there were other children goofing off.  (I remember one parent teacher conference where your kindergarten teacher showed us your journal.  You had been writing rhyming word sentences, ie "The fat cat sat on a mat."  It was a big deal because it a)wasn't the assignment and b)you and another little girl at your table were in cahoots to write the same silly sentence!)  When we arrived in England, you were most concerned with looking like the other boys and doing what the other boys were doing.  You were desperate to fit in and to Not be Different.  (Of course, you've got an American accent, I know that in the beginning you wished you could go to school and not have to speak!)  But slowly, slowly, you are growing up and realizing that Different isn't so bad, that it is at worst unavoidable and at best something to choose. 

You have really settled down here.  If one could take away your accent, I think that anyone would be hard pressed to identify you as a boy who wasn't from this area.  You are well liked and well regarded by students and teachers alike.  I love how the older boys seek you out for high-fives in the morning and how you enjoy greeting most kids you see with a "hey" and a smile.  I am very proud that, in a class with quite a few trouble-makers, you have decided that fitting in is not as important as doing what you know is right.  You did recently have a run in with the Assistant Head Teacher and were made to stand outside the Head Teacher's office and miss a bit of playtime.  But the flush in your face and the look in your eyes assured me you'll be very careful not to let that happen again anytime soon! 

I know you are heart broken to leave here at the end of this year.  You cry about it every time we talk about it.  You always mournfully say what good friends you have here and how fun it is to be here.  It was hard for you to leave VA and I know it will be harder for you to leave here.  You have done so much growing up here and moving away from it will be a very bitter-sweet adventure.  But I know that you will be just fine. 

This year you have decided to go against the tide of football-playing boys in your class and strike out on your own by playing tennis.  You were very, very bored with football by the end of the season last year, mostly because the coaches would not let you play any position other than goals.  Granted, you were quite good at goals, but you weren't enjoying it.  You asked them to let you play another position (yay, for speaking up for yourself!) but they were unresponsive.  So we encouraged you to try another activity and you picked tennis.  You have shown quite an aptitude and they are encouraging us to put you in private lessons and possibly to start competing, all this after only six weeks of beginner lessons!  Dadam and I are taking it slow and making sure you are really enjoying it, you are excited to learn and progress.  It's amazing to watch you grow!

Academically you are doing really well.  You have decided that writing is something you *can* do and that has turned on for you.  You'd still rather read than do just about anything else and you still seem to have a bit of a difficult time completing the work that needs to be done.  I am unsure if you are bored or just having trouble focusing.  Either way, you've got to learn that sometimes you have to jump through the hoops, no matter how boring.  I am sure you'll get there.

You are doing fantastically with piano and enjoy picking out songs by ear.  It is lovely to hear you play.  You have certainly experienced an uptick in responsibility for yourself (you are much less prone to hit your sisters - thank goodness) and I love being able to hand a task over to you and know that it will get completed.  You are a "super-helper" (as the title goes in our house) and love to help cut up veggies and anything else I'll allow you to do in the kitchen. 

Since you have read all the Harry Potter books twice in the last six months, you are quite obsessed with them right now.  Recently you very sweetly told me that you were sure, somewhere - maybe in Mexico you said, Hogwarts was Real.  There is Magic Here.  I tried to gently let you down, there is no Hogwarts, no "magic" of the Harry Potter variety in this world.  But I think you might still believe, at least I hope you do.   

Oh, Boy-child, you are amazing to me.  I burst with pride at the growing you are doing, at the person you are becoming.  You are sensitive, sweet, intelligent and incredibly perceptive.  You are silly (the tooth-fairy brought you a joke book, which has become well-worn and much giggled at) and quick to laugh.  You amaze me with your questions and your insight.  I hope that it doesn't break your heart when we leave here, I know it has been a fantastic few years.  We'll all still have each other, though I know Sisters are not the same as School Friends.  I think, no, I know, you'll be okay with your big toothy grin, jokes and wand with spells at the ready. 

Happy 8th Birthday, my special Boy-Child. 
I love you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Just a Spoon Full of Sugar

For some reason the kids don't hassle us an enormous amount about helping out around the house. We started letting them help load and unload the dish washer when they could walk and they loved it. Now they just know it's part of the deal.

Lu discovered she could stand at the sink and reach into the dishwater. For a while she played around with the suds and the dish cloth.

She made a "cake" and some "mittens".

Then I had some dirty dishes, so I popped them in the water. And then she was so big and Washing the Dishes! Noodle wanted in on the action and so she pulled up a tall chair at the rinsing side.

Were there ever two cuter scullery maids!?!?? If only these smiley faces will always be what greets us when (in their teenaged futures) we ask them to clean up the kitchen!

The Times They are a Changin'

School is here again.  Just six short weeks ago the kids were out for summer holidays.  We went to Ireland and visited with friends and family from near and far.   All the kids had their first ever experience with summer day camp (so fun!) and just had a great time playing and reading and doing some projects around the house.  Six weeks goes by mighty fast when you are having so much fun. 

But we knew it was coming.  Not only was it coming for The Bigs, but our Noodle joined the fun this year.  Yes, four is early, but here in England, that's how they do it.  It's a play based learning year, so they are doing a majority of learning through play, but there is no doubt that they are doing lots of learning too, as they come out at the end of the year reading!! 

The week prior to school beginning, Noodle had been uncharacteristically ill-behaved.  There had been lots of crying (about nothing and everything, where did my sunny Noodle go?), she had been doing lots of attention-getting-annoying to her brother and sisters, there was even a bit of grabbing, shoving and terrorizing!!  It wasn't fun at all.  I was sure that she was anxious about what school was really like, but she just didn't know how to talk about it.  It all came to a head on Sunday night, when she began sobbing and could barely get herself under control.  She said, "Will they want me to read on the first day, because I don't *know* how to read!"  And I hugged her and said, "Oh, sweetheart, no they don't expect you to know how to read on the first day!"  She wiped her eyes and said, "I can write my name though, will that be good?"  Oh my sweet, sweet OCD child.  More reassuring and lots of patting later, she finally drifted off in to sleep. 

Monday morning we all got up with smiles on our faces and ready to face the new school year!  Yay!!  Here they all are, dressed in their school uniforms:

We got to school and got everyone settled.  Noodle was the last to go in and we got her in to her classroom, where she gave kisses all around, said "goodbye!"  And ran off to play with her friends.  She didn't even look back. 

I had a few obligatory sniffles on Dadam's shoulder in the parking lot before going in to work, but all in all I felt at peace and really okay with the situation.  Noodle is where she should be.  She's ready to fly with the other kids.  I know she's still quite little.  She's only four after all.  But she's growing those wings and doing just fine.  I think I can roll with this change. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Challenge Accepted

In our household reading is a Very Important Activity.  There is almost always at least one kid reading a book and on days when we go to the library, all four of them come home and immediately station themselves in the living room perusing every single book we've just checked out. 

In the early springtime (maybe in the beginning of March?), there had been a lot of murmuring about Harry Potter movies.  PrincessE and The Boy-child had made their way through Book One and were asking about seeing them.  I felt like it was really important to A)read the books all the way through first and B)get a little older so that they had some maturity to handle the darkness of the movies.  So we told them that they had to read all the books before we'd let them begin watching any of the films.  PrincessE and The Boy-child took this as a challenge.  And they began to plow through the books.  They have been carrying a Harry Potter book of one ilk or another for months now; some came with us to Israel (but not enough as The Boy-child finished the one he brought and had nothing else to read so he read it again), there are constantly one or two in the car, and I know that the last two came with us to Ireland as well!!! 

The Boy-child is now 1/4 of the way through Book Seven and PrincessE is almost done with Book Six.

I guess seeing the movies are in the near future.  And I thought I was being so clever.  Outfoiled again by my children. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

It's Not Fair

PrincessE has moved into the age of sleepovers. We haven't had many and we try to keep them reasonable; she is only nine after all. But they do occasionally happen and that's okay.

Tonight PrincessE is having over one of her friends who is moving to America in just three weeks. She wanted to have this friend for a sleepover before she left and we obliged.

Everyone was excited to have this young lady over; she and PrincessE play really well with the whole group of siblings. But I really felt it was important to give them the space to be together on their own. So, when nighttime came we had the two little girls get ready and go to bed. They weren't allowed to stay up and watch the movie the big girls were watching. The Boy-child got to stay and watch for a few minutes and then he was off to bed too.

Poor Lu-Lu was heartbroken. She sobbed while I was brushing her teeth and cried when she was getting her nightclothes on. As I tucked her in she became even more upset. "It's not fair. They get to watch a movie. They get to stay up late. It's not fair." Oh, Lu.

I know she was exhausted, we had a busy day. And I know she was sad she didn't get to see the movie. Inwardly, I was sad for her, while finding it ironic that she hates the movie the big girls had chosen to watch. I comforted her with hugs and kisses. She went to sleep crying.

I know life isn't fair. There's not anything fair about it. And I don't really want to protect my kids from that. But it is hard to feel like I'm giving one some
Privilege and not giving the others some too. I try hard not to show favorites and this feels a tad like I'm doing that. However, I also recognize that we expect more from PrincessE because she is the oldest and so it's okay for her to have different Privileges.

Ah the high-wire act of parenting.

It's just not fair.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teethy Times

About a month ago The boy-child reported he had a wiggly tooth. "So do I! I have a wiggly tooth. Look, Mum." said Lu-Lu. My initial reaction was one of skepticism. When something as exciting as wobbly teeth is going on, it's always somewhat imaginarily contagious. And, the older two were both seven (or at least much nearer to) before they lost their first tooth. However, when I gamely inspected her tooth it wasn't just a bit wiggly, it was really wiggly!! She was very, very excited.

Last week, before Dadam went on his trip, she was wiggling it and wiggling it. She even asked us to give it a little tug. But it wasn't ready. The Boy-child pulled his own wobbly tooth out.

(This is his hockey player impression, as the last missing tooth hasn't grown in and the two gaps line up perfectly!)

But Lu's was holding fast. It got wigglier and wigglier. I couldn't believe the darn thing was still holding on. Last night before football practice, Lu was afraid to eat her sandwich for fear the tooth might fall out!! I tried to pull it, but no dice.

This evening she was doing all sorts of Very Wiggly Tooth tricks. You know, the one where they push the tooth flat with their tongue. Or the other one where they shake the tooth back and forth. I tried again to pull it, but Lu didn't really want me to. So I brushed her teeth and then turned proceedings over to her.

She had only been brushing a few moments when she said, "Augha!". And spit several times into the sink! Thankfully the tooth didn't take a trip down the drain and we rescued it from the sink.

Lu was so excited and shocked that she began to giggle some what hysterically and shake. Once we got the bleeding stopped, she spent a good deal of time examining the new hole in her face.

She was so exited she could hardly sleep and just now when I went in to check on her, she roused up and told me how she "kept sticking my tongue in the hole and feeling it around!"

She is definitely excited and thrilled. I'm just feeling weird having three children loosing teeth at the same time!! Surreality.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I've Got To Break Free

Memorial Day I did an epic hike.  More on that a different time.  After the hike, I got super sick.  I had a stomach ache for the better (worse?) part of a week.  It was a Bad Stomach Ache.  When it first began I could hardly walk.  I laid in bed for over 12 hours trying not to die.  I thought it was something I had done to myself during aforementioned epic hike.  Nope.  No such luck.  It was a virus and I passed it on to the kiddos. 

This meant that the second week of our two week half term break, we spent hanging around the house while some child or another had a rip-roaring bad stomach ache.  PrincessE shook it in five days.  Lu and Noodle had it only off and on for four.  But The boy-child had it for a week.  And barfed on two separate occasions.  He'd feel okay in the morning, marginal at lunchtime and by the late afternoon he would be sacked out on the couch.  It made going and doing anything pretty difficult.  So we hung out around the house, doing only quick trips to the grocery.  But mostly just being quiet. 

Dadam left yesterday for a ten day trip and weekends are always the hardest as EveryParent.  I knew that I really did not want to be cooped up in the house, again, today.  And I sincerely hoped for The boy-child's sake (and my mental health) that he was feeling better today. 

Happy Day!  He woke up in the morning full of pep and wanting to eat.  By lunchtime he was chasing his sisters around the house and making scary monster noises at them.  I took this as a sign he was well on his way to a full recovery, if not already there.  It was time for some forced marching.  Okay, not marching, just a nice hike.  But if you heard the complaining and fussing that went on, you might have thought it was a march! 

Early reports from PrincessE were that The boy-child did "not want" to go on the hike.  There were also some early and frequent questions regarding approximate length of the hike. But I put on a smile and went to my happy place; thankful to be out of the house and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. 

We saw loads of fun things on our hike.  First there was a fantastic view of Harewood House, the manor whose property we were walking on. 

I know The boy-child isn't looking at the camera. 
It is So Hard to get them all to look at the same time. 

This is a close up of the "house" that can be seen in the background of the kiddo photo above. 

We saw lots and lots of sheep.  The lambs are getting big and the ewes were sometimes less than patient about them stopping by for a quick drink. 

We saw a waterfall, some ducklings and some cows. And as we came around the corner of a field we saw a man herding sheep with a dog!  Noodle was concerned and asked why the farmer was "hurting" the sheep.  I had to explain the difference between "herding" and "hurting".  The boy-child wanted to know why they were herding the sheep and I said I didn't know.  We walked up just a little ways and I saw why they were herding the sheep.  They were shearing them!!!  How I wished that we would have been able to get close to the action.  Unfortunately there were several hedgerows in the way and it was difficult to make out what was happening.  We did get to see them separating the lambs from the ewes and we saw the sheared ewes get dropped back into the field.  Boy did they look different!

As we walked on we came to the part of the estate that has a deer sanctuary.  I wasn't too sure why deer would need a sanctuary; I know they are considered pests in many parts of the US.  But the Harewood Estate website tells me that there are two herds of deer, one type red deer and the other fallow deer.  The reason they have established a deer park at Harewood is because:  there was one in medieval times.   We were all very excited to see a group of bucks lounging close-ish to the road and "posing" for us, as PrincessE excitedly whispered to me. 

We continued our walk and got all the way around, back where we started.  All of a sudden there were no tired legs any more. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oh So Weird

We are weirdos. Oh yes we are. PrincessE and The Boy- child have recently and frequently reported how strange their classmates find our family.
And why?

Because we watch almost zero television.

The kids in their classes, by and large are shocked, horrified, puzzled and pitying. You don't watch X-factor? No Britain's Got Talent? What about The Apprentice?? Poor you, they say. What do you spend all your time doing?!?!?

What do they spend all their time doing? Reading, playing, taking stuff apart, creating, pretending, drawing, putting stuff together and just being together. They use chairs as stilts and draw massive "streets" on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. They do Lego and puzzles and play board games. They help make dinner and set the table and fold laundry and clean up.  They create airplanes and model cities, they learn to embroider and cross stitch.  They read and color and imagine. 

This isn't a holier than thou post. I don't believe that all TV is detrimental. In fact, I believe that TV definitely has its place. Been a horrid day and you need 20 minutes of peace? Please, put on an educational nature show. Kiddo very poorly and just needs some chill out time on the couch? Pop in DVD after DVD, a few hours isn't going to kill them and may help them rest a bit. Even if you want to have a family movie night, I'm all for that. We've done those too.  But what I *do* believe that the 3.5 hours a day that the average American nine year old watches IS detrimental.  Three and a half hours!?!?!? 

From the very beginning, Dadam and I made a concious decision about our television consumption.  When we were first married, I'm not gonna lie, we spent most evenings in front of the TV watching random shows.  But when PrincessE was born we decided to turn it off.  We spent dinner time playing Scrabble while PrincessE nursed or slept.  I read book after book while she nursed, instead of turning on the television.  It wasn't something we needed much of in our lives and I didn't miss it at all.

And now we torture our children with a mostly-TV-less exsistence. 

I don't think they miss it at all. 

They just don't have time to sit and watch, they're too busy doing. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Warm Enough For Ya?

A heat wave here is any temperature above 70F.  At least that's the way my children seem to feel about the weather.  I feel a bit differently.  The fact that at our favorite park there is a paddling pool which regularly has blue-lipped, uncontrollably shivering children in it, serves only to prove the point that the British have a different sense of appropriate ambient temperature for outdoor water activites.  My children have adopted this sensiblity.  Water fun is just too exciting to leave for warmer days, you'd be holding your breath forever around here. 

Last week we had four days in a row of beautiful weather.  It was between 65 and 73 degrees.  The sun shone all day and there was no breeze.  I held off on the sprinkler, but they begged.  Finally on the fourth, and warmest day, I gave in.  I knew that they'd be in the water about five minutes and then be done.  73 is really *not* warm enough to be comfortable all wet, even if the sun is shining.  But I did manage to grab some cute pictures of them playing in the water before they threw in the towel.  (Or is that *got* in the towel?)

PrincessE quits the water first.  It's hard to keep warm when you have zero percent body fat! 

Noodle and Lu-lu stick it out for more sprinkler fun. 

Lu makes her own game, since everyone else has given up to go get dried off. 

We can only hope we have another few days of summer later on in June and July.  Everyone will be so excited to get in the sprinkler for another five minutes!! 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Big Girl Six

Dear Lu-Lu,

We asked you what kind of cake you wanted. You told us, nearly without hesitation, "a park cake, with a bench and a tree and a sun". There was no hemming and hawing, no indecision. I was surprised. Weeks previously, when I asked what presents you wanted, you requested "American Girl Doll stuff" and that was really all you wanted; content with your lot and happy to just be. You don't shout out what you want and because of that, sometimes I get surprised when you have such specific desires. But I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  You know your mind, you just don't feel like everyone has to know all the time what's going on in there. 

You are definitely "the quiet one".  Daddy and I have to remember to draw you out and encourage you to share, especially during our dinner-talk-about-your-day sessions.  But once you get started you do a great job sharing what's going on with you.  You still have a bit of a tendency to get lost in the middle of your stories, though I think that is fading a bit.  It can be a bit funny the way you stop talking and go somewhere else in the middle of a sentence.

However quiet you sometimes are, in this house everything is relative.  You have a wild and crazy, infectious, high pitched giggle that once begun is hard to stifle.  And you love to use it.  You often start wrestling games with your brother, just so that he tickles you.  There's hardly a game you like better than being chased wildly throughout the house, shrieking as you go.

You have come in to your own in your relationships with your siblings.  You have gotten much more vocal about your ideas for games and how you want to implement them.  If you don't like how PrincessE is bossing, then you take yourself and play a different game.  You feel confident about inventing your own imaginary games and making them your own.  It has been a magical transformation to watch.  You also feel quite free to play with anyone else.  Some days you and The Boy-child are best of friends; all wrestling and chasing.  Other days you and Noodle make an involved imaginary game of teachers, ballet, babies or mommies.  Your relationship with Noodle has blossomed since we came home from Israel.  You two will play for hours with one another and there are rarely any problems.  You are creative and love to be in charge of whatever game is currently going on.  I love watching you take control.  It's good for you. 

There is a reason that your name begins with "T", I'm pretty sure it's karma.  You have grown into even more of a mischievous child.  It's not usually serious, but you have a definite streak of troublemaker in you.  You look out of the side of your eyes to see if anyone is looking and then you begin, checking often to see if someone is going to tell you to stop.  If something is entertaining, it's almost certainly more fun if you are wilder.  But you don't want too much of a reaction.  The other day I completely lost my temper with The Boy-child and you began crying too, even though you weren't involved at.all. (Apparently my loud yell frightened you badly.)  Again, everything is relative and your trouble is small, doesn't happen very often.  And you are cute. 

You have gotten involved in organized football and seem to be enjoying it, though you have already decisively said you don't want to follow in The Boy-child's footsteps and be the goalie.  You are loving swimming and you have made great strides.  You now proudly dunk your head underwater to show us all how you can do it.  You still have a tendency to panic, usually when you are in the middle of a lap and get tired, but your confidence is growing and you are doing great.  You are also still loving piano and not only do you learn to play your songs, but you also love to sing along.  It's lovely singing, too. 

In some ways, you are still very much attached to me.  I am always the one you prefer to hold hands with and the one you prefer to take you to parties and practice and anywhere we can be together, really.  The other day I needed to take Noodle shopping and I offered that you could come along.  You signed up right away, but when the plan changed and Dadam was going to be the one going, you decided not to go.  It wasn't out you wanted, it was Mommy.  But that attachment hasn't gotten in the way of school or activities.  You don't cry when I leave you at school, you know that I'll be back.  You *know* that we Love You. 

I can't wait to see what the next year brings.  You are blossoming with your academics, just these last few weeks we've seen a change in your ability to focus and get the job done when it comes to homework.  And you are blossoming in your ability to relate to the world on your terms.  You are so different from PrincessE and The Boy-Child; sometimes I fear I'm not doing right by you and who you are.  I'll keep bumbling along, if you keep holding my hand. 

Happy Birthday, my Blue-Eyed Princess Lu.  I love you!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Up, Up and Away

I am really familiar with what life looks like with infants and toddlers. Their rhythms lead the day. Sometimes you get nothing done; they might need to nurse or sleep, they might be inconsolable or unable to self entertain, they might need snuggles or songs or book after book after book. Sometimes you might get everything done. What I'm less familiar with is life with Big Kids. But lately, I'm starting to get a glimpse. And I like what I see.

Mondays have turned in to a bugger of a day for us. All the kids have swim; some at four, one at half four. We were getting home at half-five and I was throwing dinner together in half an hour. But now Lu has football from 5:45-6:45!! It's a stress to have dinner together, but we manage.

Last week was the first week of the jam-packed schedule. We got home, snacked Lu and got her on her way to football. I started working on finishing up dinner. PrincessE and The Boy-child both needed a shower. Usually, I actively supervise them in the shower. But I didn't have time this week!! I asked them, please, to head upstairs and take turns in the shower. Up they went, no fussing, no bickering. Lovely. I finished up my immediate tasks and went up to bath Noodle. PrincessE and The Boy-child were all done and dressed.

As I was working on Noodle, it occurred to me that I had two helpers with me. And I had a bit more dinner to finish. I asked them to set the table, wash and trim the asparagus and green beans.

Do you know what?

I was half finished with Noodle in the bath and they came up and said they were finished. And they had done a professional grade job. No fussing, no bickering, everything finished exactly as I asked. I was bursting with pride. And I felt much less stressed.

I like life with Big Kids. It's a whole different world up here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, April 29, 2011

Holy Land Here We Come!

Pesach (or Passover) is a tough one for us because of the extreme dietary restrictions.  We can't eat wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oats.  This makes taking a holiday a bit of a logistical nightmare when it comes to eating out.  We had tossed around the idea of going to Israel for Pesach, thereby avoiding some of those problems because a very large portion of the population would be following the same dietary restrictions.  But, of course, we were having trouble committing. 

In January, we were chatting with some acquaintances of ours.  They are a middle aged couple with two grown children.  (I'll call the couple Mr.M and Mrs.M.)  When their children were infants they had gone to Israel, hired a company to take them out in to the Negev and done a seder; the full moon rising as they retold the dramatic story of the Children of Israel hurriedly escaping Egypt.  Whoa.  That sounded amazing.  We like camping, a seder in the desert sounded intriguing and it would be great motivation for going to Israel.  We were so excited by the idea, Mrs.M promptly invited us along!  After a bit of faffing about, Dadam and I decided we wanted to commit.  We shared the idea with GranEde and GranDude, who were both really excited about it and we invited them along too!

Preparations moved forward and it was the week of the trip.  We were leaving on a Wednesday (to avoid paying some outrageous plane fares) and GranEde and GranDude would arrive on Saturday; we'd meet up in Tel Aviv.  Tuesday, before we were to leave the next day, we got a very sad phone call.  Mrs.M's mother had passed away very suddenly.  Would camping/seder still be on?  Yes, Mr.M had decided there were too many people involved (16 others by then, including us) to just quit the whole thing.  So, everything was in place. 

Wednesday morning we drove down to London.  Kids were excited, we were nervous.  We were flying a "cheap" airline and they are very strict about the weight of the bags, so I had packed extremely lightly.  Plane flight felt like forever.  It was the first time in my life I've been on a flight where halfway through the pilot made an announcement that evening prayers would be held in the galley!  Once we arrived in Tel Aviv, it was a bit of a whirlwind.  We were all exhausted and the passport control took an hour and a half to get through.  The kids were tired, thirsty and yet very wound up from being on the plane for four and a half hours.  When we finally figured out how to get to the rental car place, we had to wait more, they charged us more money and then we got a car that was barely big enough.  We ended up having to fold down one of the seats in the back, just to fit our luggage! 

We drove north to a seaside town called Netanya, where Mr.M and Mrs.M have a family flat.  They had generously offered that we could stay there for a few nights.  We didn't know what to expect, but we were astounded when we got there.  It was beautiful and the beach was right across the road!!!!  When we got up the next morning, we ate breakfast and headed down.  It was amazing.  The water was clear and a beautiful color.  The ambient temperature was warm and the water was warm too!  I could have stayed there the whole vacation, I really think.  The kids played (I don't know why we didn't put them in their suits!) and promptly got soaked.   It was really lovely.  We walked down the beach and enjoyed the morning then had lunch at a little cafe. 

When we had arrived on Wednesday night, I was really despairing of our ability to make ourselves understood.  I really felt overwhelmed and not a bit frightened by being in a country where I knew very little of the language.  But Thursday morning, I calmed down a bit and some of my pidgin Hebrew began to come back.  I found I understood a bit more that I thought I would.  Remarkably, the kids seemed mostly unruffled by not understanding much of what was going on around them, though when we stopped to play at a playground and PrincessE heard another boy speaking English, she sort of began stalking him just to hear him speak. 

In the afternoon, we drove out of Netanya to a moshav (a planned community settlement) where some friends(Mr. and Mrs. Scribe) of ours live.  They had been here and recently moved back to Israel.  Their house is beautiful and the garden fantastic.  The children were all thrilled to see one another and we got to see the nursery where their youngest goes to school.  Here in the UK he was in the same grade as Lu-lu, so he was going to structured school, full time.  In Israel, they don't start structured school until they are six!!!  The nursery grounds were the most amazing thing I had ever seen.  Mrs.Scribe warned us that the nursery grounds looked "like a junkyard".  I thought she must have been exaggerating, but no, the nursery play ground was a junkyard.  There were skeletons of chairs, old speakers, computer keyboards, mixers, dolls, nuts and leaves from surrounding trees, a full size high chair, folding chairs, the cab of a truck, tables, an old oven or two.  It was amazing.  I was a bit nervous about the safety at first, but Noodle dove right in and was having a fantastic time.  She pretended the mixer was her sewing machine, as she grabbed a piece of fabric and ran it under the mixer arm.  She found a baby doll and began to move a high chair and crib to set up a little "house".  There was no broken glass and no sharp bits.  All wires had been safely trimmed.  I can imagine that the children would spend hours out there everyday, changing the landscape to fit whatever game they were playing, and allowing their imagination to roam free.  Something like that would never fly with our culture of lawsuits and health and safety, but there was a surreal quality of reality through the chaos of four and five year olds.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Mr. and Mrs. Scribe's beautiful home.  They live on the edge of a marsh and when we were there we sat outside and visited and ate and listened to the chorus of frogs.  It was wonderful to catch up and see their beautiful home. 

On Friday, Mr.M arrived in Netanya.  He was a bit frazzled because he was without Mrs.M.  His biggest worry was getting all the food we'd need for the two days in the desert.  I was enlisted as his aide.  We sent Dadam and the kids to the beach (oh, I was sad to miss being with them) and we tackled menus, grocery lists and shopping.  The first stop was the souk, an open air market.  It was amazing!  The place was heaving because it was Friday afternoon.  In Israel, most everything completely shuts down for Shabbas.  This means, by four on a Friday afternoon shops and main roads are virtual ghost towns.  Things don't reopen again until Sunday morning.  Back to the souk, we dove in.  Mr.M with his basic Hebrew and me with mine barely there. One very interesting thing I noticed, was the complete lack of children.  No one, and I mean no one, had a child younger than nine years old with them.  I'm not sure why.  I'd guess it's because the chaos was so great that no one wanted to drag a stroller with them or risk losing a kid.   We got fruits and veg, the smells and sounds were amazing. There was a wandering band, playing loudly and celebrating the soon arriving Pesach.  I did a bit of attempting to shop.  I even got a couple of "gifts" from a few stall sellers, for what I'm not entirely sure.  We got fabulous baked goods, I saw the largest selection of kosher for Pesach sweets I've ever seen.  There were vegetables and fruits and crates of eggs piled higher than I am tall.  We stopped off at a deli and ordered massive amounts of salads and amazing goodies.  It was a fantastic experience. 

Saturday morning Mr. M (who is a biologist) took us to a nature reserve for a bit of a hike.  He wanted to show us some soft shelled turtles that live in the area.  Alas, the park was already full of people enjoying their day off and we couldn't find any turtles.  We did see a tortoise, some parrots and lots of beautiful flowers. 

As we headed to Tel Aviv, we got a text from GranEde and GranDude that they were already at our meeting spot!  They must have flown through customs, lucky ducks.  After a bit of wandering in a GIANT city park, we finally found each other.  Hugs and kisses all around, and then we took a big walk and did some caching.  The park was also very, very busy.  It was Shabbat after all, so everyone had the day off.  There were lots of parties with loud music, charcoal grills everywhere we looked and massive gatherings of families and friends.  It was starting to feel like dinner time and so we headed into the city where our hotel was.  The traffic was horrendous and I wished I hadn't been so insistent on finding someplace in the city center.  When we got to the hotel, they directed us to their "parking".  It was an l-shaped empty space in between some buildings.  And they were cramming in the cars.  In fact, as we got there, we saw them back one car into another, knocking the bumper off!!!  I was very nervous to leave our rental cars with expensive deductibles sitting in this "parking lot".  But we really didn't have any choice. 

We got settled in and headed out to try and find some food that wasn't excessively expensive and that was open.  We finally picked a Chinese restaurant!  What irony.  It was good food and we enjoyed ourselves and the walk around the city.  When we got back to the hotel, we settled the kids down and the grownups enjoyed the large balcony and our adult beverages, while visiting with each other. 

Sunday morning we decided to get out of Tel Aviv.  One big city is much like any other.  We drove north to an ancient Roman port, Cesaria or Qeseria.  It was incredibly interesting.  There are many of the ruins that are not excavated and not protected.  This is partially due to the vast quantity of ruins.  There was a huge aqueduct that sits on the sea shore. And a couple of large ruins that are just sitting in the dunes, eroding from weather and time.  We saw a beautifully preserved mosaic tile floor, depicting a large number of different bird species, that was the floor of a massive mansion.  We wandered along the beach and found fragments of sub flooring and marble.  Then we paid to go into the national park part of things, where everything was excavated (and a bit too commercial).  There is a massive hippodrome and an amphitheater, both completely excavated.  Unfortunately, they have also built a promenade of shops and restaurants on top of the Roman-made harbor wall that is still left.  They have also made the amphitheater into a working, usable one, so it was very difficult to see the original grandeur.  But there are magnificent mosaic floors that are still amazingly vibrant and marble columns and a fascinating history as a Roman port, a Muslim stronghold, a Crusader castle, a Byzantine city and lastly a refugee settlement.

Monday morning we packed up and left Tel Aviv.  The cars were still in one piece, shew.  We drove south and as we did, the scenery changed dramatically.  Tel Aviv had been somewhat green, in between the buildings, with large palm trees and lots of flowers.  As we entered in to the desert, the landscape became dry and barren, with rolling hills and lots of rocks.  We made it to our meeting up point, met the other eight campers, and loaded our stuff in to large Land Rovers.  It was miserably, stiflingly hot.  We bumped along and then our guide, Chayim - also a biologist, stopped and we took a short hike.  He talked a bit about the geology of the area, we saw a lizard and he gave the kids a chance to try and touch it so they could see how fast it moved.  Chayim also demonstrated making fire with flint, which littered the landscape.  From a distance the flint looked like small plants growing all over the desert floor.  But it was just flint, bits and pieces, mostly fist sized and smaller.  We stood on a plateau and looked down over the Zin Valley, outside of Kibbutz S'de Boker.  More bumping later we arrived at a small wadi, a dry ravine.  Some of the tents were already set up, there was a large shade tent also set up, a port-a-potty and a cooking area. 

There was a bit of milling around after unpacking everything and getting the tents sorted out.  The flint covered ground made for a tough time finding a flat, comfortable place to put a tent.  Once we got the tents up, it was resting time.  The heat made us all want to just lay down in the shade tent and so we did.  The kids played card games with some of the other adults and there was lots of visiting and chatting.  We got a fire going, some of us tried to do it with flint.  The kids played hide and seek, an ingengious game as there were very few hiding spots in the desert!

We set up for seder and got everything ready.  The sun set, the moon came up over the hill.....and was completely obscured by the clouds.  Sadness.  Chayim had told us that there were two young women, backpacking the whole way from north to south Israel, who were also using the same camping area we were in.  Very close to the beginning of the seder, they arrived.  One of the important ideas of a seder is that we should invite in people who are "strangers in a strange land" because "the children of Israel were strangers in Egypt".  I'm not sure that I've ever been to a family seder where an actual stranger was invited, but here we were presented with two!!!  We invited the women to join us and they did.  They were really friendly and had some amazing backpacking stories.  We perservered with our seder, the kids got exhausted and all of them asked to go to bed.  We made a little bed next to us and the fire, for The Boy-child and Lu-lu.  They were asleep within five minutes.  Eventually I did take all four and bed down in our tent for the night, while everyone else finished the seder.  Unfortunately, the wind picked up something terrible and blew all.night.long.  It was a rough night. 

When we all woke up in the morning, everything was covered in a fine layer of desert dust.  Yuck.  We blearily got up, I tried to keep the chilren as quiet as possible because they, of course, got up with the sun.  Everyone else did not.  Finally the rest of the group got up and started moving.  The plan for the day was a hike.  Fine.  We knew it was a long hike, 11km.  I also knew that our kiddos were more than capable of that distance.  But from our campsite, there were just cliff faces the direction that our hike was supposed to take us.  How were we going to make it up a cliff?!?!?!  Chayim had assured us it was just a "bit of an incline" and the kids would do fine.  He was more concerned with the distance.  We set out from camp, after our guard for the day had showed up, and began walking.  We came to the cliff, the path went up, along the cliff face, had a couple of switch backs and then straight up from there. 

Dear Lord. 

We matched one child with one adult and started up.  I had Noodle and I was in the lead.  But I was having a bit of a panic attack.  We were on a cliff face.  The trail was very exposed.  My children were on a trail that had a drop off on one side, that seemed very, very steep and far to me.  I was very, very nervous.  Part of me wanted to stop and take in the view, but I was so scared about the edge and my babies that I knew I couldn't stop.  I was breathing fast, nearly hyperventilating.  I just wanted to be done.  I wanted to be to the top.  Noodle and I got up, just fine.  At one point she had to ask me to stop squeezing her hand so hard because I was hurting her.  I didn't even realize I was doing that.  Once we were up, I sat, head down, until everyone else was up.  The kids loved it.  They all had a great time.  I nearly threw up and had an accident in my trousers, all at once. 

Once that was over, the hike was cake.  The other adults climbed to the top of the nearby peak, Hod Eqev, and the rest of us hiked around the base.  We met up at the other side and walked down in to the valley and to a beautiful spring, Ein Eqev.  It was quite deep and we watched several people jump in. The water was icy cold though and it was tough to even put our feet in!  The girls and I stripped down to our knickers and went to the water's edge.  The Boy-child and Dadam kept their trousers on and just stuck their feet in.  PrincessE decided she wanted to jump in.  Since I was the adult willing to get in, I got elected.  Echad, Shtayim, Shalosh (one, two, three!), we jumped in holding hands.  The water was COLD!!!!!  PrincessE struggled to the surface, I felt like I was underwater forever.  We left the spring and hiked back around to camp.  Everyone was worn out, but all the kids were amazing.  Of course, as soon as we got back, the kids were running around and all the adults were passed out. 

We all helped to make dinner. The kids helped with some cutting and preparing food.  We had a roaring fire and the sunset was beautiful.  Happily the wind died down and the night was quiet and still.  Morning seemed to come very early and we broke camp.  GranEde and GranDude and the six of us went back into S'de Boker to continue on our trip and the other eight people went on a nature hike with Chayim.  We headed west from the desert and north a bit to the Dead Sea. 

The Dead Sea was beautiful.  Unfortunately the southern portion has been divided up in to pools for industry, so there are many leeves running horizontally, from Israel to Jordan, dividing up the water.  The beautiful part came on the northern portion, where the sea is undivided and runs flat and turqouise to the mountains of Jordan.  We got, with a little difficulty, to the zimmer where we were staying in Neve Zohar.  It was a tiny town that was mostly tourist stuff, but not huge hotels.  The zimmer was lovely, with a kitchen we could use, clean and lovely rooms and SHOWERS!!!  Everyone took long, fabulous showers, where the water sluiced off our bodies in a lovely shade of brown.  It was lovely to be clean, we all agreed. 

When we talked about coming to the Dead Sea, the kids were all very excited.  They wanted to put mud on, they wanted to float, they thought it sounded fabulous.  For weeks we told them about how salty it would be, how they needed to not scratch boo-boos so the water wouldn't sting, we tried to prepare them.  Even so, GranEde and I were of the opinion that any trip in to the sea was going to be a very quick one.  We were sure someone would put water in their eyes and then we'd be done.  We just didn't think it would be quite as quick as it turned out to be. 

Post showers, we decided to head down to Ein Boqeq, the resort town three miles up the coast from Neve Zohar.  We got our bathing suits and towels and lots of clean water, and we headed out.  We found a quiet-ish public beach and went down to the water.  Now, unbeknownst to me, Lu-lu had some rawness on her parts.  We got our stuff situated in a safe spot and walked out into the water.  GranDude was the first to flinch from the salt as he had badly cut his toe when we were camping, but he is big and soldiered on.  Lu-lu got out to where her bottom touched the water and began a horrible, piercing scream.  Her mouth was a giant O and her eyes were wide. And she screamed.  I rushed towards her and picked her up.  GranEde got fresh water out and we poured and poured and poured.  Poor Lu.  Tears ran down her face.  Soon after that Noodle began to cry and then The Boy-child (who had a rash that he'd scratched on his neck) started in too. GranEde and I ran out of fresh water after all these injuries.  PrincessE was the only one who was just fine.  Dadam took her out and laid her back and she floated.  Then Dadam and I did it, then GranEde and GranDude.  It was quite a bizarre feeling, laying in water a couple feet deep and just floating. 

Staying a long time was not really an option, with the burning parts and the sun setting everyone was getting uncomfortable.  So, covered in the slimiest, oiliest feeling ever, we climbed back in the car and got to the zimmer again for another shower! 

Friday morning we decided to head up to Masada.  Since it was a warm day and the path we were hiking was well marked, I stupidly had the kids put on their sandals.  The self-same sandals they had worn in the Dead Sea the day previously.  I had rinsed them, really I had.  But it just wasn't enough.  By the time we were halfway up, Noodle's sweating had begun to leach the salt out of the sandals and the salt was so strong that it was eating holes in her poor little feet.  GAH!  It happened to all the kids, though I think Noodle's was the worst because she has the youngest skin.  They were troopers, though and all of them made the 2.5 mile hike up the snake path, with relatively little fussing, even while their shoes were eating their feet.  Masada was amazing.  The ruins that have been discovered there are amazing.  The engineering to make the place originally is astounding and the view just can't be beat.  There are at least two palaces, one of which is three levels down the side of the mountain.  There were huge storerooms and an amazingly elegant water storage system, consisting of huge cisterns and aquaducts that run out of the mountains and down to Masada.  There were more beautifully preserved mosaic floors and even some frescos still vibrant with color after a couple thousand years.  Amazing.  We spent the whole afternoon, exploring and reading and talking.  It was fantastic to be there with GranEde and GranDude because they were just as enthusiastic and interested!  (And having two extra adults never hurt either.)

At the end we payed a bit extra to take the cable car down and save the poor kiddos feet, GranEde and GranDude hiked back down on the trail.  It was an amazing day.

Next morning we hoofed it out of there and headed to Jerusalem.  It was a bit disconcerting driving near to military checkpoints, but it seemed to be mostly calm.  Driving into Jerusalem was surreal.  As we came up from the western side we were driving right next to the walls of the Old City.  There were people everywhere, more Jews than I'd ever seen in my life.  Navigating around was a bit tense; a few times we were afraid we had lost GranEde and GranDude!  The traffic was terrible.  I was watching my watch the whole time and it was only a 20 minute ordeal, but it sure felt like a LOT longer. 

Once again we were up against the Shabbas clock.  We quickly walked to the old city, where I was hoping to find food and do some shopping before everything shut down.  After seeing what was there, we decided the best course of action would be to split up.  PrincessE went with GranEde and GranDude and Dadam and I took the rest for grocery shopping.  Hindsight being 20/20, I now think we should have scheduled a tour for under the Kotel (western wall), where they have excavated a Herodian Street, an aquaduct and other amazing, archeological features.  But I didn't do that, so we missed it completely.  I guess we'll have to do it again another time. 

We got food, GranEde and GranDude wandered through the old city and we met back up at the hotel.  Being in Jerusalem was overwhelming and strange.  And I didn't feel nearly as spiritually "lit up" as I thought I might. 

Shabbat morning we got up and went into the Old City again.  This time we were going to the Kotel for some morning prayers and then we wanted to explore.  Dressed in our long skirts and long sleeves (for the ladies) and button up shirts for the gents, we headed out.  The Kotel was beautiful, it was amazing to be there and actually witness it for myself.  The boys went in first, while the girls stayed with our backpack towards the back.  They wandered through, went to the wall and said some prayers and came back.  We walked in to the much-less-busy women's side and, as a group, approached the wall.

We all gathered around, GranEde on one side and me on the other.  We touched our faces to the wall, the girls touched it with their hands.  Noodle and Lu wanted to take the "little pieces of paper" out of the cracks.  We said Shema and asked the girls if they had any prayers they wanted to say.  And then we were done. 

The sign, next to the giant golden Menorah, says that it is the belief of Jews that the Shechinah (Hashem's spirit)  rests within the Kotel, the wall itself.  You know, is this heresy to admit?, I missed it.  Was I not open to it?  Tired from being away from home and stressed about the soldiers and our safety.  Am I a bad Jew?  Do I not have the right mindset?  Too many questions in my mind?  I believe I have felt something greater than me before.  But it wasn't there, in the middle of a city at war with itself, where too many people make claim to the same land with no concept of sharing, where there is so much selfishness and intolerance and no compromise.  There is nothing holy in the violence and hatred and distrust and betrayal. 

We went up where it was okay to take some pictures and tried to get some good shots.  Because it was Shabbas, we weren't going to take any pictures down close to the wall.  After settling down and finding a quiet place to have our maztah picnic, we began wandering through the Jewish Quarter and out into the Arab Quarter.  The difference was dramatic!  The Arab Quarter was bustling because it was a Muslim holiday as well.  We wandered through the streets lined with marked stalls.  Every adult clutched a child's hand and we pushed through the crowd. 

We made our way to the Dome of the Rock, but they wouldn't let us in.  "Muslims only today."  No problem, we said and wandered a different direction.  Somehow, we took a turn and another, and ended up on a side street.  Here there were even more people.  Suddenly a small boy pushed through the crowd and grabbed Dadam's arm.  "Muslims only.  Muslims only."  Dadam called GranEde, who was up ahead with PrincessE and we all turned around.  As we turned around to head out, somehow, panic got stirred up in the crowd.  A stampede began and we were trying to go the opposite way from the crowds of panicked people.  The crowd pushed stronger and there were some cries and muffled yells.  Quickly, each of us took our child and stepped in to a stall, out of the crush of people.  As we faced in to the shop, with a kid in front of us, a small boy leaned out to me and said, "What is going on?!?!?"  "I don't know," I shrugged.  "The Israeli man is killing Palestinians. You know?  That is what is going on."  Oh how I wanted to respond.  How I wanted to suggest that the Palestinians are in no way innocents in this situation.  But I felt that I was fairly outnumbered and silence was the best course of action. 

When things had calmed down we struggled back out and turned away from the crowds of people.  We found a quiet space a took a breather.  PrincessE complained she had been hit in the eye with a backpack and Lu reported a foot that had been stepped on.  But I felt like we were just lucky not to have been caught up in whatever problems had arisen.  And just as we were getting calmed down, 20 or so Israeli policeman came running by, each holding their night-stick, and they were headed in the direction we had just come from.  It was time for us to get out of the Old City.  Unfortunately, we got really, really lost in the warren of paths, alleyways and tiny streets.  We spent a bit of time just trying to navigate out.  We finally made our way through the Armenian Quarter, where parades and celebrations were taking place for Easter the next day.  There were bands and drums and it was loud and crowded.  Once out, we sat down and took a true breather. 

We spent the rest of the day walking around Jerusalem.  We wandered through the Russian Quarter, up to the new city center, we saw shops, played some chess on a giant chess board, and laughed.  We did some caches and just enjoyed each other.  Noodle and GranEde counted cats and dogs and there was a regular report on those.  It was a nice afternoon. 

That night we said our goodbyes to GranEde and GranDude.  We were so sad to see them go.  I was also a bit nervous about them making their way to Tel Aviv on time and in one piece.  But they are grown-ups and I knew they could do it. 

Sunday morning it was just the six of us again.  And the city was alive because it was not Shabbat and not a day off.  We wandered through the New City market.  We ate lunch out!  (I got a fabulous mint lemonade!) We went to the botanical gardens and tried to go to some museums.  Unfortunately because the next day was the last day of Pesach, and that is another no-work day, most everything was closing early.  Ah well, the kids enjoyed playing in the park and running around, Dadam got a few caches and I really enjoyed just sitting in the sun and having absolutely nothing to do.

Monday found us walking up to have a holiday lunch with Adam's cousin, who he hadn't seen since Elie was born.  It was very nice to get the two families together.  And we all enjoyed eating a proper meal at a table!  After lunch we wandered back down through the old city and back to our hotel.  Pesach was almost over.  Yippee!!

We got up the next morning and drove out of Jerusalem.  The rolling hills were beautiful.  We drove towards Tel Aviv and there was a point when we were still in the outskirts of Jerusalem, that we could see the tall buildings of Tel Aviv, across a large flat plain.  It was really beautiful.  We stopped and did some hiking and caching.  There were loads of beautiful spring flowers in bloom and the pine forest smelled amazing.  We drove up to Netanya and did some shopping, then over to see Mr. and Mrs. Scribe one last time.  They had invited us all to stay and we spent the last night there with them. 

The kids had a fabulous time, they played and laughed and ran around.  We all visited and laughed too.  On Wednesday morning, we got up and went down to the beach.  We had a hike, ate delicious food, played in the sand and the water and then headed back to get packed up and go home. 

We planned a bit poorly and were a bit close on time, as we hit rush hour traffic in Tel Aviv, but we made it.  Shew.  Once we were there we had time to sit and eat the dinner that Mrs. Scribe had packed for us.  We got on the plane with no problems and settled down for the ride home.  I didn't let the kids get any toys out and made them close their eyes.  In no time, they were all asleep and miraculously stayed that way during the whole ride home.  We got back to London and it was quite a shock!  It was so cold we could see our breath and we were all freezing.  After we got the car, we drove about an hour and slept at a base.  Then in the morning we got up and finished the drive.  Dadam and I were completely wasted, but the kids who had slept four and a half hours on the plane, an hour driving to the base, and four and a half hours sleeping at the base, were just fine.  Back to reality and real life with a thump. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Final Four

Dear Princess Noodle,

You outrageous, mouthy, talkative, full-of-energy, hilarious, personality-filled, precocious little thing.  Oh my.  I think there are many stories I could tell about you, examples I could give to prove what sort of child you are, but I think that this simple one will do.  You were at nursery on Friday and one of your teachers from last year asked if you were having a party.  "Yes," you replied.  "Am I invited to your party?" said the teacher.  "No.  But you can give me a card!" 

And that, I think, is you to a tee.  You know your mind.  You are loud and enthusiastic.  You pay attention to Absolutely Everything.  There is not a shy or quiet bone in your body.  You are friendly and happy and incredibly outgoing.  I am sure that you do not think of yourself as only four.  In your mind, I'd guess, you are at least as big as Lulu.  There's nothing "littlest" about you.

Routinely this year, you have begged us for "homework" to do while everyone else is busy with theirs.  I know that beginning Reception in the fall will be an incredibly easy transition for you.  You seem to nearly be ready now.  You've started recognizing letters.  You regularly tell me that you are learning to read.  You know most of the numbers 1-20.  You are starting to learn to ride a two-wheeled bike.  Where has my baby gone? 

I love your laugh.  I love your cuddles.  I love when you wake me up in the morning and tell me that you "love me up to Pluto, the Sun and the Moon."  I love the way you dress yourself (miss matched socks, or tights, with tie-dye shirts or dresses or skirts, all in a rainbow cacophony of colors).  I love how you tell me to have "good sleeps and good dreams" when I tuck you in.  I (mostly) love the way you constantly talk and tell us everything that is going on around you.

Just this week, three days before your birthday, you decided you were going to learn to swing yourself on the swing.  We've all been waiting for this to happen because you could be a bit of a pest when everyone else was playing and you'd want someone to "swing" you.  It was a beautiful day outside, completely blue skies and warm and delicious.  You went outside as soon as we got home, I was fixing up a bite to eat in the kitchen.  I heard you yell, "Mum.  Mooooommmy!  I'm doing it!  I'm swinging myself!"  And there you were.  Taking off.  I came out and you stopped yourself, just so you could show me that you could start again.  You were so proud and so excited.  Just like that, you did it. 

So here we are.  Our Final Four.  It's bitter-sweet, it really is.  I love the toddler years, they have been so fun and amazing with each of your siblings and now yourself.  But I know that there's more amazing adventures filled with laughter and love for all of us to have together.  This next year will see so many changes for you, I know you are ready, I'm excited to see.

Happy Birthday, my Noodle. 
I love you up to the Moon, up to the Sun, up to Pluto and back. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Birds of Prey and Longbows

Here are pictures of the kids getting a chance to see some birds of prey (a kestrel and an owl) up close and personal.

Above the kids are holding a common kestrel.  She weighed around six ounces and had been hand reared.  She preferred to face away from the camera because food and perches were on that side! 

 Here we all get a chance to hold the owl!  It was a bit heavier at about two pounds. 

Noodle, The Boy-child and PrincessE try out the longbow.  For some reason Lu-lu would NOT try it out.  Everyone else had a fun time giving it a try. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Are My Sunshine

Have we been blessed or are we just lucky? Or is our happiness the direct result of our hard work, attention and masses of love?

Weekends like this one past are so healing. I feel like I am floating around, goofy smile on my face, head-over-heels in love with my good fortune, fantastic life and amazing family.

Everyone did their homework as soon as asked. Big school projects were completed with engaged thinking and a minimum of fussing. We planted seeds to start our container vegetable garden, readied the containers for the proper soil when it is the proper time and even started some in-house herbs. The kids watched a movie; we were all together. We went to a football game and a football practice, we cleaned a bit and picked and put. There was piano practicing, playing outside and laughter. Dadam and I got dinner all readied, then we all went outside and played a big family football game. Well, most of us played. Noodle isn't really too interested in group sports yet. And there was more laughter. Lots more.

Monday, March 21, 2011

(A)bbey (B)rewery (C)astle

This weekend we had some visitors! My AuntB and UncleM stopped through on their way to a vacation in Israel.

We took the opportunity to have some fun day trips; some places we'd been and some we hadn't.

Saturday we went up to Fountains Abbey. The day started off beautifully, but got cloudy and cooled off. But we still had a fabulous day sharing one of our favorite places.

Saturday night we went and experienced an Orthodox Megillah reading, to celebrate Purim. Last year we attended the same schul for Purim. PrincessE was selected for best costume and she won a prize. But we didn't stay to collect it. This year, before the reading began, the President of the congrgation stood up and asked for the "red fairy" to come and collect the prize he didn't have a chance to hand out last year! He said it had been sitting in his office for a year and that he had wanted to get it to the child to whom it had been awarded. The kids were completely wiped out so we listened to the reading and then headed straight home.

On Sunday we went a bit further north and toured a brewery (we had been to before) and a castle (we hadn't seen before).

That's the brewery we stopped at. It's the Theakston's brewery. Unfortunately, health and safety prevents the kiddos from going on the tour. (Something that clearly disgusted the member of the Theakston's family that we had the pleasure of chatting with.). But we did take the kids inside and had some beer, played some chess and go fish, and made sure we enjoyed ourselves.

We had a picnic lunch in the car and then headed out to see Bolton Castle. Its claim to fame is that Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there for a few months. Some of the castle has fallen down, but there was still plenty to see and explore. We also got to take part in a birds of prey demonstration (and I do mean take part- we all got a chance to hold a kestrel and an owl!) and take part in a longbow demonstration. (I'll post pictures in the next post.)

We ended our day in the castle gardens, where the kids enjoyed the maze and the adults soaked up the view. I so enjoy these opportunities to share where we live with visitors AND to explore more ourselves!