December 13, 2014

End of Michaelmas Term

As much as I love having my big girls home for the Christmas holidays, I am sorry to see this school term come to an end.  Since last June I've been telling myself that we have two terms left.  Our departure from England is still far away.  But with the end of this term comes the harsh realization that the next term is our last.  We're on our way out of Europe.  Probably forever.

Every time I think about it I experience a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  So I'm not going to think about it until January.

Whew.  Deep breaths.  In and out.

Michaelmas term concluded with all the lovely English celebrations we know and love: the children's Christmas card exchange, minced pies and mulled wine for grown ups in the dining hall, nativity play, Christingle services, and more.

Our school's nativity performance is always an entertaining take on the Christmas story.  This year they put on The Amazing Christmas Recipe in which the children explored all the elements necessary to make Christmas merry and bright.  From Baby Jesus and Father Christmas to fairy lights and robins (so very English!), I think they struck upon a recipe that is a keeper.

Kate's class dressed up as Father Christmas and Mrs Claus.

Mrs Claus in action.
We gathered in the school chapel to celebrate with a Christingle service.  The combination of fire and kids ages 3 to 7 seems insane to me, but this is our third year and we've not experienced an emergency evacuation yet.  Perhaps these Brits have it sussed.  :)

Gathered in the school chapel.

Kate and her fellow Singing Squirrels carol merrily.
At the Prep School the Christmas celebrations are a bit more minimal.  Ella sang with the junior choir in a carol service on the last morning of term, but the rest of us were unable to attend.  I was so sad to miss the one Prep School Christmas activity, but I simply was not up to dealing with Annie in a two-hour reverent candlelit service.  

And without further ado, the Christmas holidays have officially begun!  Bring on the hot cocoa and candy canes!  Break out the craft projects and crank up Christmas carols!  These five PJ's are ready to celebrate our last Christmas in England!

December 12, 2014

Acts of Kindness 2014

This is our third year of Advent-tide acts of kindness, and I'm please to report that we seem to be getting a little bit better at it.  Which is to say that the kids are little more enthusiastic about doing things for others.  But let's face it, there was no where to go but up after last year.

Just in case you've gotten the idea that my kids are Yuletide fairies dispensing random benevolence on the good people of Cheltenham, you couldn't be more off base.  There is absolutely nothing random about our acts of kindness.  I'm asking them to give of themselves in very small ways that are targeted, specific, and immediate.  I believe that my girls are too young to imagine the impact of random acts.  They need to see it, feel it, be right in the middle of the experience.

I like to think that these acts of kindness during Advent teach Ella and Kate about a very important aspect of the season.  Giving can get overlooked during this gorgeous, exciting time of receiving.  My hope is that they at least get a glimpse of the power of purely unselfish giving.

Acts of Kindness — 2014

We're only about halfway in, but so far so good.  

Day 1: Practicing Patience
The girls planted paperwhites.
We'll enjoy their beauty in 3-4 weeks' time!

Day 3: Litter Bugs
They were SUPER excited about this one.
Who knew picking up someone's discarded Costa cup could be so thrilling?!

A smile that big for an old piece of plastic.

Who knew giving could be so much fun?!

Day 7: Giving Generously
Bitzy selected presents for a 7 year old boy.
I was blown away by her conscientious gift selection.
She got him everything on his list and stayed within her budget! 

And Mo-mo picked out presents for a 4 year old girl.
She only asked if she could get something for herself once.  :)

Day 10: A Kind Friend Indeed
Affixing candy canes to her classmates' Christmas cards.
I love this British tradition!

These very un-random acts of kindness are small, but Ella and Kate are so excited about them.  It's one of those things that gets a little better every year.  Maybe the exercise of giving is like exercising a muscle and it gets easier — and more fun! — the more they do it!

One thing I know for certain is that encouraging my kids to give makes me more generous too.  This Christmas season try to practice a few acts of kindness in your community.  Do just a little more than you would normally.  Look for opportunities to show kindness and love.  They actually are all around.  :)

December 3, 2014

Wrapped in Red (and Gold)

Our primary Christmas tree is decorated in red and gold.  I've been collecting ornaments in this particular color scheme for twelve years now, and it's never been a problem...until this year.

Ella and Kate were extremely disappointed that their homemade ornaments from the last few years are not allowed on my red and gold tree.  They were distressed when some of their favorite ornaments (the green and blue snowman, silver baby's first Christmas cup, brown Christmas pudding, etc) were relegated to the back side of the tree.  They fussed about it a bit, but in the end we struck a deal.  They put the homemade ornaments on the tree in their bedroom and I convinced them that the back side of the tree is truly a place of honor since that's what people see from the outside.

Being a control freak is hard work, gang.

Let me tell you what else is hard work: keeping a very determined one-year-old's grubby paws off my treasured red and gold ornaments.  My plan was to impress upon Annie the importance of only touching the three ornaments on a pre-approved list (the kitty cat ornament, the jingle bell ornament, and the Annie ornament).  It is failing miserably a work in progress.

Giving kisses to the kitty cat ornament.
It's on the approved list!

Helpers in their Christmas jammies!

How can a cardboard box bring so much joy?!

Craft projects have begun!
Santa and Rudolph masks were a big hit.

Window glass is a very exciting thing in our house.

Acts of Kindness are plotted out and underway!
The only way to keep Annie's paws off the tree is to fill both hands
with other things (today it's an elf and a string cheese).

I found this little runt crawling around under the tree.
I'm fighting a losing battle over here.

We've still got a bit more decorating to do this weekend, but we've made a good start.  It's probably a good idea to decorate incrementally anyway.  There's no limit to the amount of havoc Miss Annie can wreak!  :)

November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Ah, Thanksgiving in England.  It's a little bit different celebrating on this side of the pond.  Last year I moaned about how much we miss our families, the hole in my heart created by the absence of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the scarcity of ingredients critical to traditional holiday food, and more.  But this year we sunk to an all time low.  There was no Karo syrup to be had.  The American commissary was completely sold out and Whole Foods (which definitely had Karo last Thanksgiving) opted out of stocking it this year.  My pecan pie was just not the same, friends.  I was devastated.

But I refuse to focus on the negatives.  After all, this is my last ever Thanksgiving in the UK, and I want to keep in mind all the things I love about giving thanks in England.

1.  I love that all shops are open and you don't have to fight other shoppers for tins of pumpkin and bags of french fried onions.  The things we miss (Cool Whip, Karo syrup, etc) are things we at least know better than to expect shops to stock.

2.  Everyone else has to work and/or go to school, but we're at home cooking, crafting, and snuggling in our pajamas.  It feels like you're privy to an awesome secret.

3.  We don't have to juggle holiday schedules.  This is the so-called "up side" of the huge down side of having no family to celebrate with.  I'm reaching here, people.  But while we miss the excitement, chaos, and laughter of a larger family gathering, we do get to focus 100% on our nuclear family.  Our kids are our only concern, and we do our best to impress upon them the importance of giving thanks.

4.  My little family has had the time and space to create some lovely Thanksgiving traditions.  From our Thanksgiving Tree to our tremendous bacon-centric Break-FEAST (this was our first annual, but it's a tradition that is here to stay!) to our morning of crafts and activities, we have created exciting events that our kids look forward to.  I don't know if we'll have time for these things in years to come, but I would like to try.

My three ladies in front of our Thanksgiving Tree.

Little Chef kept putting on my oven mitt, touching the oven
with her ungloved hand, and saying, "Hotttt hotttt."

Carving our briney bird.

Kurt oversees the spread.

Max entertains Kate with a story.

Kate, Ella, Anne, Max, Alex, and Elena.
I love all six of these kids so much I could eat them up!

A quick photo at the end of the night with Laurie and Kurt.
We love you guys!

November 23, 2014

Annie Update

The month of November has been big for Annie.  She's totally nailed this walking thing, she shopped for her first pair of real shoes, she received a very special gift from her Poppa, and she experienced a vocabulary explosion.

Annie is fearless.  She's a climber, a comedienne, and an extrovert.  She is as sassy as all get out.  She thinks she owns us all...and she might be right.

This video was taken just before her first birthday.  It gives you some idea of the general sass and attitude we deal with on a daily basis.

Below is a video from the month of October, back when she was still a bit unsteady on her feet.  Less than a month later, the child is actually running.

And here's a final video of Annie saying some names.  I lucked out by capturing the first time she called herself "Anne" and the first time "dada" switched to "Daddo."  Nowadays she's saying about 25 words, but much to my middle daughter's consternation she still cannot say Kate.

I have almost forgotten how quickly toddlers change.  In no time flat their physical abilities completely change, they communicate differently, even their appearance alters almost daily!  I'll wrap up the post with a few snaps of our littlest girl from the past month or so.

Annie posing proudly with her A painting by Poppa Jim.

She loves to get the keys and "unlock" the front door.

She also raids the Halloween candy at every opportunity.

A girl has to document her first trip to the shoe shop.

Annie is always up for craft time.

She's also always up for an Ella's pouch.

Baby Wolverine.

Can I just take a moment to talk about THAT HAIR?!  The girl has long, thick, curly light brown hair.  It only took me three tries, but I finally have a little girl that looks at least a little bit like me.  :)

November 17, 2014

The Return of Uncle Nate

Just about this time last year Uncle Nathan made a business trip to the UK and stopped off in Cheltenham for some time with his bro, his sister-in-law, and his three nieces.  We were totally over the moon when he said he was making a repeat visit this year!  Once again, it was a bummer not to have Aunt Mary and cousins Berkeley, Addison, Sam Marshall, and Reagan here too, but we'll take what we can get!  

Living far away from family makes you appreciative of any scrap of time with anyone who shares your DNA and/or life story.  Ella and Kate were in school for the majority of Uncle Nathan's visit, but they made the most of the short time they had with Uncle Nate.  Fortunately Annie had ample time to get reacquainted with her awesome uncle.  

Annie obviously enjoyed herself with Uncle Nathan!

These two bros have SIX daughters between them.
How lucky can two guys be?!

Once again, these soccer lovers headed out to catch a match.  This year they travelled to London's Wembley Stadium to watch a European Championship qualifying match.  It was England vs Slovenia, and England won 3-1.  

Bros trip to Wembley.

Nate, Nick, and Matt taking a selfie at the match.

In true dude style, Nick and Nate don't talk every day.  Sometimes a month will go by without much more than a few hilarious photo stream comments.  This is hard for me to comprehend since I have a sister who I talk to pretty much every weekday.  As you can imagine, it absolutely makes my heart sing to see these two pick up right where they left off every single time they are together.  The bond between siblings is something so incredibly special.  I am so happy that my hubs has such an amazing brother.

But enough about my husband, I'm happy for me that Nathan Marshall is a part of my life.  Nate is just good peeps.  He has a heart of gold and a brain that is always thinking two beats ahead.  Nathan has an incredible insight into what makes people tick.  Whether we get to chat for days or just a half hour, I always come away with so much food for thought.  He is a remarkable person.  How many people can say they absolutely adore their bro-in-law??  

And it's not just Nathan.  I had no idea when I married Nick that I would gain a whole branch of a family tree.  These people made me feel welcome from day one, but after almost a dozen years they actually are my family.  I love them as though they were mine.  

We cannot wait to live closer to Uncle Nathan, Aunt Mary, Berkeley, Addison, Sam, and Reagan!  Good times will abound when all ELEVEN of us get together!!