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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dear Transport For London

Transport for London Lost Property Search Request
Item Lost:  LL Bean lunchbox.
Description: black, vinyl, rectangular, zipper pocket on front. Filled with yummy lunch, heart shaped sandwich and love note. Thanks for looking while I make another one!

I should have known something was amiss when we were out the door and chatting in plenty of time.  I'd even managed to give Big Sister and her goldilocks and shampoo and blow dry.  Some days I think I'm less stay at home mother and more sherpa. Since we've stopped using our buggy for the school run, we're often loaded down like mules with rucksacks, PE kits, lunches, water bottles and various warm weather gear. Baby Sister carries fists full of dolls and random toys.  She is still irked that I won't let her push her shopping trolley to the school gate. I cannot imagine time standing still could move slower.  We might have to leave now to make it for Thursday. Afternoon pickup.

Well. We are all carrying things except Big Sister.  She doesn't carry anything but she gets out the door in a uniform for a long school day so I try not to comment. Very often. Today, though, I noticed she could hoist an entire Barbie for "Treasure Tuesday" (sadly she didn't pack the Lilly Pulitzer one).

I know what you're thinking.  Barbie - not such a high brow sharing item, but Big Sister is happy at school. She went from 2 morning per week preschool, then my homeschooling, to all day school all in a year. So if she wanted to bring in a piece of toast I'd tell her it was the best toast ever and that her friends were going to go crazy for it.  Last night asked me to make a "Momma on a Stick" which is a photo of me affixed to a popsicle (lolly if you will) stick.  That's derivative of Big Brother once asking to bring in very Baby Sister to share in class. I thought that might be disruptive, so instead I made him a nearly life-sized "Baby Sister on a Stick" to take instead.  Big Brother is the same little guy who asked if he could bring Biggest Brother for show and tell.  Their very nice teachers coordinated and in a celebrity appearance, Biggest (Third Grade) Brother visited Big Brother and his First Grade friends at the appointed time.  Fun was had by all.  But the Momma on a Stick got nixed at the last moment for Barbie.  I get it.

The lunch isn't the first we've left something on a bussie and surely won't be the last.  Just last week we left a big white (you know the type) paper handle bag of chocolate chip cookies. Loyal readers, you know that look some effort to compile that here. The chocolate chip cookies and my signature white handle bag, too. The cookies were for the school talent show (where beer and wine were also served!). Fortunately, it was one of our favorite drivers that day and he happily let me dash back on where a kind man handed me the gift bag with huge gold star and "TALENT SHOW!" adorning.  It happens.

So today I was carrying Big Sister's things and Baby Sister sometimes, too.  The boys had their rucksacks and PE kits, hats and gloves, but must have left a lunchbox on the bus.  S'alright!  No worries.  I can't fuss at Big Brother about it. He's been so cheerfully ready and organized in the mornings. They've all been great students of becoming urban.

And I walked out the door without my keys.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

You Dropped Your Teat

It has become shorthand around here to say, "everything is different" and it is absolutely true in countless, maybe endless, funny ways.  I'm not at all convinced that anyone who said to us before we moved, "at least they speak the same language" had even been to the UK.  This is being said by a woman who was utterly and naively stunned (no exaggeration) to stand in a London grocery store and not recognize lots of what was being sold.  You try finding chocolate chips here. Or cookies. Go ahead, ask someone about "a pudding." 

Sure, with a twist of fate, I could be in India or Uganda (although there no one would be all over my case about the kids not dressing warmly enough.  To which I want to say, "THEY'RE NOT THE LEAST BIT COLD. WE JUST CAME FROM CHICAGO.  THIS IS DOWN RIGHT SUMMER FOR US.  ZIP IT." Thank goodness no one here had to endure my barefoot babies.  I don't believe in shoes until our children are really, really able to walk and even then, that they really need them.). This is by no means the Third World, but it is VERY different, England. In most every (even if it is now absolutely delightful) way.

That goes for language, the cursive ("joined writing") font, and kazillion things you would never. ever. imagine. could or would be different.  The Mister somehow just discovered last week that school crossing guards are called "Lollipop Men." The stop sign sticks they hold look like lollipops.  Which are of course, different from iced lollies, which we would call popsicles.  Circular arguments, all.  And don't even get me started on my children saying they have to "go to the toilet." For reasons I'm still not entirely clear about, parents here are way more sweetly diplomatic and kind to their children in making requests versus demands.  My British friends sound so charming when they ask their smalls sweet things like, "Shall we get ready to leave the park now, Darling?" when by contrast I am yelling, "I SAID TEN MINUTES AGO! WE ARE GOING HOME!  GET YER STUFF!"  Foreign.  All of it.  I am not making that "Darling" part up.  They are that nice.  They certainly must think I personify militant American toughness.

I had to pantomime "mop" during the Oxford Street riots in order to purchase one (NO, I didn't mean "map," so envision me making mop-pushing actions). Also had to learn to say "leeks" with my hands when showed an onion by the charming Waitrose produce staff. I started pulling my arms apart in a way that certainly would be recognized in ASL.  Mr Tumble, is that the right sign?  Mr Tumble - notice I didn't punctuate Mr. - is a children's television personality who teaches, among other things, sign language, to viewers.  You are learning SO much just reading this! Hooray, you! This make us positively "brilliant" which is what the British say for "super" or "great" and I now absolutely love that word!  If you're read this far, I deem you BRILLIANT!  Anyhow, back to leeks, which should you need to know, are salad onions here. But this, most importantly, is all about teats.  I think some of you should consider reading this blog Continuing Legal (or Other) Education. Leeks, Teats, You Name It. This is higher education of one kind or another.

Anyway, not long after we arrived and when Big Brother and Big Sister were still enrolled in my glorious home school with Baby Sister tagging along, we were about to cross at a "zeb-brah" (zebra for those of you not yet conversant in British English. C'mon!  Keep up! We need you to be bilingual on this blog!) crossing which is one of the very few places pedestrians are supposed to be able to cross safely. Bonne chance to you if you believe that.  You take your life in your hands at every intersection.  Young, old, small.  Cross at your peril and look both ways the entire time (even if Big Brother INSISTS on continuing a lengthy explanation of heaven knows what because I was doing my darndest not to have Baby Sister run over so just yanked her by her coat hood). 

Anyhow, when we were still very new here, a man passing us on a bicycle while we crossed at one of those perilous "zeb-brahs" apparently noticed Baby Sister drop her pacifier out of the stroller (aka buggy) and shouted merrily as he rode by "YOU DROPPED YOUR TEAT"! 
Thank goodness he was riding at a good clip because I burst out laughing.  

Being a woman of a certain age who has nursed (still going, you should know. And not always mutually willingly.  I'm close to sending you a hostage note. Or at least a proof of life photo. The Mister will certainly be pictured, too) 4 children, I glanced first to my shirt, then to the ground, not knowing what part(s) of me might be embarrassingly exposed to my new neighbors.  We soon discovered he meant Baby Sister had dropped her ninkie.

Baby Sister has since given ninkies up, but Big Brother can still manage to occasionally find ways to announce that we nearly lost/dropped/or that he's just found a teat!  It is all different here.  Even the teats. 

Now off you go.  To find your salad onions.  Just over there, passed that zebra, Darling.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Where Are You From?

Such a simple question, right?  We get it a lot.  I know it is our accents.  Folks here are always so happy to chat about where everyone is from.  Especially at our school, few have short answers. I am never short for words. What? you've noticed!?  Imagine what it is like to be the Mister! Sometimes that poor man's only reprieve is falling asleep. Not that that's always foolproof. And there seems to be no quick way to answer where we're from.  I answer something along the lines of our being Americans, Virginians who just moved from outside of Chicago (must get credit for enduring and then thriving in that weather and we loved it there so).

I think the question also can be a bit of "do you live here or are you on holiday?" (Alert: I will from here on out always refer to being on vacation as going on holiday. I love it. You may think it is pretentious but be warned that I'm sticking with it.) We don't get asked about being here on holiday as much now that I can work my chip and PIN card (coming your way, rest of the world!) and we have mostly stopped crying in public out of the frustration of being new. The first week we arrived we broke something (usually glass) in public for 7 straight days.  Mazel tov!  It was a bit uncanny and on occasion triggered the aforementioned public crying.  Europe is so compact for my family and in those first few weeks we seemed to have sprouted several extra children and each a few wayward limbs.  You've heard of the new book "French Kids Don't Throw Food"?  This was "Big, Noisy Americans Don't Control Their Bodies or Heaven Forbid Their Kids."  Conversely, this is why we were all positively giddy in a Target in October on our first trip back to the States. We could have pushed shopping carts 4 abreast. That felt foreign.

I'm thrilled to say that we're Americans who live here. I also am eternally grateful for everyone who has made us feel at home in London. I am eager to tell them how much we love it all.  I am positively indebted to the many, many people who have made us feel welcome wherever we land.  This wandering won't last forever but meanwhile, we pride ourselves in being good at being new and making our home wherever we are together.  We are from our home.

After sending all of our furniture and nearly every bit of our things ahead on a ship and living without for a few months, I thought I was very zen about possessions.  But reuniting with our things was great medicine and solace for nursing some heartbreak for having left and the trickiness of being new.  Our things are important. They've become our home.  It is the collection of our life story. Not fancy, but ours. The well-loved secretary was originally a china cabinet in our first apartment. We bought the boys' dresser at an antique store when we really shouldn't have because we weren't sure how jobs would pan out when (baby) Biggest Brother arrived. But I was hugely pregnant and nesting and it was still cheaper than buying one new. Our dining room table was an old display table from Marshall Field.  These all make up our home.  I didn't realize, though that our things could look like where we're from.  I'm telling you, this experience has made me think of everything differently and see even our belongings through fresh eyes.

Recently I hosted an American playgroup at our flat. One of the moms got teary leaving saying she felt like our home was "so American."  (The Mister said it was that most of our dining room wall is a giant old railroad map of the US.)  Our Greek landlord described it as "very Ralph Lauren!"  (Hey, folks at the Ralph Lauren on New Bond Street!  Need a hand doing your windows?  I keep hearing we have the same taste.  I understand from the proprietor of one of my favorite Portobello Road shops that you'd been in for store displays.  I'm willing to bet you had a bigger budget but can't brag for having found vintage lawn balls with Big Brother's monogram.).  If our belongings and our home look American I can only be happy.

No one has come over and said it looks Canadian. On occasion though, folks have asked if we're Canadian. That always makes me feel bad in a second fiddly sort of way.  I see the Canadians shuffling their feet, looking down and muttering, "No. We're neighbors. Sound a bit alike, though, 'spose?" while mentally chalking up another gripe against the red white and blue.

If where we are from is tricky for me to answer, it must be even more so for the kids. I am thrilled they are becoming so worldly, but eager to instill in them that they're Virginians first. Deep down, I know they all would understandably have slightly different answers about where they're from. Biggest Brother is the only one with clear memories of our life in Virginia and the 3 big kids are tied to our amazing old town in Illinois.  We all are, and that's fodder for another long entry.  And Baby Sister, despite having the pedigree of being born in a Midwestern hospital in a very chi-chi town, will have her first memories as a Londoner.  They play "shop" in "pounds" while pushing "trollies."  Big Sister, learning reading and phonics from the British, sounds the most British all of a sudden.  I envision someday asking patience of stateside teachers. The children may need time to drop the British spellings they're working so hard to learn as well as the countless funny words and phrases that have become their norm. Not to mention my insufferable notes when I wish them well on holiday. I pity those poor teachers suffering through my long winded explanation of where we're from.  Maybe I'll invite them over and show them that we're from our home.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Ran So Far Away and Charity Begins at Home

I went running this weekend.  To Buckingham Palace. If you've visited us, I suspect you're saying, "Uh huh. Then where?"  It is admittedly not far, but felt so good to move like that.  Good for the soul.  Also soles.  And solo!  Hooray, all.

The Mister and I ran a marathon together when we were newlyweds.  We ran what's called the "World's Friendliest Marathon" and that was hugely helpful. To be extra sure I'd finish, I told everyone I knew I was doing it.  We loved it.  It was a fantastic shared experience and became our shorthand in delivery rooms years later ("What mile are you on?").  Even though I've bounced between gyms, classes, various workouts, and nothing at all, it has been a long time since I've run.  And just not after a wayward toddler.

I went running because I could and because what started as my 40th birthday knocking softly has turned into a more incessant pound. And have you seen how amazing Elle Macphearson looks at 48? Here I should mention that every single one of my girlfriends and relatives who has already hit that milestone has never looked better.  Tough acts to follow and inspiration from all corners.  Fresh air in my lungs, sun on my face, legs going, mind free, it was great fun.

At first I had to train myself to ignore calls of "Mum!" in the park knowing they weren't for me, to not fret over whether every little errant dog was missing from a worried owner, and steel my eyes ahead so as not to be helpful to others. I wasn't planning the children's liturgy for Mass on Sunday, serving as the homework helpline, my family's ambassador or crossing guard. I fear that sounds terribly nasty and selfish and much worse, ungrateful of my many blessings.  But boy it felt good.  No one saw me.  No one talked to me and that was fine.  It was super.  I was in a cone of silence and invisible to the world.

On the way, I saw a Number 9 bus to Trafalgar Square which is always a treat.  It is one of the routes that still uses the very old style and has become a family favorite. Alone in front of the palace for the first time, I felt myself smiling at my good fortune. Buckingham Palace is a matter of steps from my door!  There's Big Ben popping up over the trees! Over there!  The London Eye!  The guardsmen in their winter greys (even if they do spook me a bit looking so Wizard of Oz-ish)! Look! A newly married couple taking lots of great photos! This is great!

Next I climbed the steps to the Victoria Memorial and was struck by the piece that faces the palace. I've since learned it is called both Charity and Motherhood. (sigh.) Although it is missing a member of my brood to be complete, it really speaks to me. Baby at the breast, one tucked under her free arm, another snuggled in the folds of her skirt.  No wonder her eyes are a bit downcast.  She's dozing. Or trying to catch a glimpse of the Times. (Especially on the weekends when it comes with no fewer than 3 must-read magazines!)  She looks peaceful, content, encircling babes in her arms.  Her heart and mind are probably as full.  She personifies what people often say when they pass me: "Your hands are full" to which even the smalls now join me in responding cheerfully, "happily so!"

On the way back through lovely streets and then the park, I was near tears admiring the nooks and crannies (my favorite thing about London) and feeling a bit overwhelmed by how much more we have to do.  Just in London.  And all over Europe.  Just how impossible it will be to take it all in even if we are here for a lifetime. And devoted ourselves to the study of a tiny corner of the city's beautiful buildings and charming streets.  Even before we'd really dug into restaurants, shows and museums.  A lovely problem to have to be sure.  A blessing of riches indeed.

I was busy thinking of my little people the whole time, and not just in getting moony over the statue. Turning toward home, I was pumping my arms while planning to have a big surprise art afternoon this week and "Alphabet Month" for February.  The running freed me of countless nos and made me think more creatively about our time together and enjoying it all.  As I neared the park, I was only walking and caught the eye of 4 tourists in search of their hotel.  After my time alone, I was grateful to chat with them and tickled to know my new city well enough to set them on their way.

I was tempted to tell them to drag their suitcases a bit further and go see the palace.  They could witness Charity before they'd unpacked.  Unless she'd dashed off for a quick run.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Precious Car Go

I love cars.  Always have.  Apparently one of my first phrases was "putt putt car" to describe a classic MG.  The Mister and I always went to auto shows. My primary objective for my first real job was to buy a car. Success came in the form of a white used Mazda Miata (!) after a long summer answering phones.  I hoped to always own convertibles and a couple I did. One of my favorite memories is being hooted at by my gang of girlfriends as I left our annual weekend away, ragtop down, sunglasses on. (Never one to take a compliment too seriously, I shouted to them to remember that a breast pump was stowed in the tiny trunk!)

Convertibles took a hiatus when I fell in love with my station wagon and then a series of Suburbans.  Four children, two drum kits and several budding sport stars made this the world's perfect car for us.  Rights of passages all of those cars.  I remember looking in my review mirror in the station wagon, seeing a pair of children strapped into carseats and wondering how this all happened to me when I still felt 8 years old.  When the boys were little and the Mister in graduate school, I used to drive them down country roads long after dark in the summer, windows down, all of us yelling the words to Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic."  You can't do that on the 274 to Lancaster Gate.  At least without causing a stir.

I have cried saying goodbye to every car we've owned.  Cars are like houses to me.  They are part of our family, part of the story of our life.  So I am truly surprised that I don't miss a car.  Our life now is traveled on foot or by bus and there are countless lovely things about that.

We hit the ground running here.  Big Brother majored in bus routes and all things Transport for London before he started actual school this fall.  The kids are old pros at hailing buses and cabs, swiping my Oyster card and endearing themselves to bus and cab drivers.  I've adapted, too.  Having really never understood the need for a diaper bag, I found myself purchasing something very similar to one shortly after we arrived.  I am in love with my "purse" as it holds basically what my Suburban did (minus soccer uniforms).  I keep an umbrella, rain hat (we do live in London), bandana, various cosmetic and medical supplies and the essentials for the 6 of us.  It has special clips to attach to our buggy and a long strap for when I want to wear it like a messenger bag.  I take pride in helping strangers with the goodies stowed inside.  And my ever present scarf doubles as child wrap, picnic blanket, and towel.  So, car? Who needs it?  I'm modern urban mom.  My errands are steps away.

But sometimes I do miss driving.  I long for impulse antiquing, knowing treasures could be tossed in "the way back."  It can be lots of work running an evening errand with the kids on foot.  Lots of effort to get everyone to walk.  And follow me.  And cross safely.

Sometimes we walk out the front door of our building and the children seem to walk in 4 different directions.  The Mister says he misses strapping little people in and going.  There was less negotiating required.  I miss reading the Sunday paper, hoarded catalogs, and everything else while being driven on weekend errands.  I miss driving with NPR on.  I miss this American Life and Morning Edition stories so good that I idle in the driveway waiting for their conclusions.  The kids miss our old 1920s detached garage which was more clubhouse, toy storage, and impromptu theater than a garage.

We've rented cars on trips which has been great fun. And funny.  Especially on our trip to France. Unless you are the very grumpy gendarme who wordlessly reached through the driver window to get our rental car into reverse when were stuck making a u-turn. The kids were breathlessly asking if the Mister was about to be arrested as he approached, his puffy pants tucked into tall boots.

I have no doubt that we will drive and own cars again. But because that likely means we'd be saying goodbye to our London life, I don't want to hurry it along. Cars will be there when we're ready. Meanwhile, I'm hoping somewhere engineers are busy perfecting the hybrid Chevrolet Suburban.  I'm hoping they'll consider a convertible model.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dear Sunday Times Magazine

Sent to the magazine's "What Are You Wearing?" Column:

The youngest of 4 children, Baby Sister has lots of "vintage" finds to choose from, to include treasures her parents once wore.  She favors an eclectic mix of her big brothers' black Converse hi tops with her big sister's fairy wings and always manages to pull it all together with a grosgrain ribbon bow in her hair and her own special panache.  On this rainy day en route to the school gate to pick up the big kids, Baby Sister paired a cable knit jumper and old flannel pants with tiny black wellington boots - as usual, worn on the wrong feet. (She is the 5th owner of these boots, purchased at Walmart circa 2001). Crowning the look is her sister's pink tutu and a vintage raincoat. With bacon and eggs printed all over.

An American living abroad, she embraces the London style - mixing the High Street and Oxford Street, Portobello Road, charity shops and giveaways.  Just follow a crumbled trail of crackers and Cheerios and you're sure to be walking in the path of style and fun.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Only In My Dreams

Growing up, my mother had a policy of not letting us tell our dreams.  Although I've not attempted to regale her with any in a few decades, we'll see if she reads this post.  I however, love hearing the kids' dreams and am fascinated by my own.  It is like going to your own little show every night.  What fun! Usually.  I used to fly in my dreams lots.  I noticed that often stopped when I was pregnant.  I would fret to the Mister that I was even too big to fly subconsciously.

So this blog post discusses a dream or two.  And not the aspirational kind.  If you are like my mother, feel free to skip this and know I'll be onto another subject in a few days.

Just like in the movies, last night I woke from a nightmare gasping, sitting straight up.  (Only I wasn't in full makeup, cashmere jammies, casually tousled hair and a flattering soft light.  In fact I had a ratty ponytail and a face smeared with a combination of Clearasil and various Olay wrinkle potions.  And no, my blog is not sponsored by either.  Yet.)

In my dream the children and I were on a bus on the way to school.  I looked at Big Brother and realized he was wearing feet pyjamas under his school coat.  I asked him if he'd even showered.  He claimed to have but I knew pjs wouldn't fly with the Head Teacher. And up to this point, this is entirely possible in real life.  Big Brother would gladly go to school this comfy.  It is nearly miraculous that he wears a tie every day. So this part could absolutely happen to me.  It is the next bit that woke me in fear.  In the dream I told the boys we'd have to hop off the bus, go home, and get Big Brother changed.  We quickly got off at the next stop with Baby Sister on my hip.  I turned around to gather the boys and cross the street for the return stop, only to discover Big Sister was still on the bus.  As it drove out of sight into the darkness.

I know why I dreamed it. Yesterday was a strange day of lots of odd comings and goings.  The big kids all went in different directions after school while Baby Sister slept in the stroller.  Biggest Brother came back late from a field trip, Big Brother went to Holy Communion class, and Big Sister went to a friend's to practice for the talent show.  For about 3 hours, there was lots of crossing busy London streets and checking my watch being sure I was in the right place at the right time, dropping off and gathering children.

Later I dreamed my landlord was hosting a party in our flat.  And changing my decor.  That creates in me my own special fright, but not enough to awaken me. It is so pitifully obvious what my subconscious is busy working through:  keeping track of my children on city streets, paying attention to one at the peril of another, and being a good hostess.  In that order.  I am not complicated.  Even in my sleep.

In terms of aspirational dreams though, I've started down that path.  I have begun to put out feelers for creating and installing store window displays.  I cannot imagine living in a better place to learn the trade and am hopeful that my immigration status (dependant visa) prohibiting me from earning money will make my insistence on volunteering a plus.  My ultimate goal would be even holding the staple gun for a designer creating a window at Selfridges.  The commute would be super.

Today is just the kind everyone envisions for London winter.  Grey, dark and wet.  A good day to take Baby Sister back under my covers after lunch and lure her into a long nap in my arms.  Filled with sweet dreams.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wii Still Dress Up

There was a lot of hand wringing at our house over electronics appearing for the first time on their wish lists for Santa.  This was new ground for us. We feared video games would stifle their creativity.  We were afraid their eyes would become affixed to various screens and their faces begin to take on a pallid glow.

Never fear.  This cast of characters is always a moment away from dressing up.

They get dressed in costume according to what is being played.  The arrival of an NFL (they ARE still American) game meant they raced to get into jerseys and helmets before opening the box.  Boxing is done in a white robe and shorts.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What We Wore to the Pub

We had to run out after dinner which meant my children left looking somewhat like circus clowns. Which is a bit insulting to the style sense of clowns. Honestly, that they are so uninhibited and confident in their appearance is enviable.  It was a lovely evening and they rallied to have clothes on at all, frankly.   Once home after school they mostly prefer to be "in their tummies" but this was a critical mission in public so clothes were required.  With a broken dryer, we've relied on the laundromat up the street to fluff and fold (I'm very sure that's not what the British would say...) mountains (and countless pounds) of clothes until John Lewis mercifully makes a new one appear in our flat.  And a handyman comes to install it.  We're a week in with no end in sight.  Things move slower here.  You adapt.

So, back to esprit de clothing.  Here is what my smalls were wearing in Central London tonight:

Biggest Brother:  waffle tee shirt, guardsman pajama bottoms, roller blades, helmet
Big Brother:  very normal.  Bless him.  Someone had to be.  Fleece, fatigue pants, "trainers"
Big Sister:  frog pajamas, polka dot jacket, blue bow, 2 purses, yellow puddle stomper boots
Baby Sister:  Big Sister's swimsuit coverup, winter coat, purple feather topped play high heels from her secret cousin

Out the front door they bounded, creating an impromptu parade.  Big Brother scootered ahead up the hill, Biggest Brother followed somewhat tentatively on his roller blades, Big Sister swinging her purses next and Baby Sister marching in her heels bringing up the rear.  Like caged animals released to the wild or students in the movies on the last day of school.  They've never been more gleeful than to escape our flat tonight into the springlike darkness.

They didn't see the humor in their wardrobes but they tickled more than a few people.  Including me.  Most folks wanted to comment on Baby Sister and her amazing grace in heels.  She had quite a strut going and I'm fairly sure people heard her coming and mistook it for horses.  (Which is a thrilling everyday occurrence on our street.)

Our laundromat is 2 doors down from our beloved pub.  The kids are very at home in our neighborhood so they stopped to see the pub proprietress while I picked up sacks upon sacks of our clothes.  Suzy is a lovely young Spanish woman who lives above the pub, runs it like her home, and is adored by our smalls.  Us, too.  Walking back, I looked through the window and saw the four of them holding court literally in the middle of the pub chatting with Suzy and room full of patrons.  Helmet, swimsuit coverup, pajamas, feathered heels and all.  

When I told Big Sister (who celebrated turning 5 at the pub) that I'd waved to Suzy through the windows a few times this week she said, "Did you tell her I love her?"  Of course, I reported that to Suzy tonight.

So if you are living in another country, four small circus clowns drop by your home and workplace to visit, and one of them professes her love to you, you will adore everything about those clowns.  Including their costumes.  And I will see them through your smiling eyes.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What is Really the Best

As you know, I love to get mail.  Packages are even better.  So it was a really big treat to come home to a large box waiting outside our door today.  Would you believe it was filled with a huge bouquet of white tulips?  There are too many to count.  Enclosed was a sweet note from my lovey who is on travel this week stateside where it is warm and sunny.  In addition spending some time at Target completing our wish list, he is apparently finding time to do all sorts of important and good work.  And missing the smalls and me.  And finding time to send me love and cheer.  Did he remember my saying that bunches of tulips would look great in my new bowl?  I know I didn't tell him that I had dozens in my hand the other day at Waitrose and put them all back when I thought through that I couldn't possibly carry them and groceries, too.

As usual, while the Mister is away I have been keeping all sorts of immature hours.  I am just one long business trip away from needing a nutritionist and admission to sleep study clinic.  Did you read that recent Washington Post article about mothers who garden and string Christmas lights in the middle of the night?  I want to befriend them all.  Leaving a meeting late one night a few years ago, a new friend confessed she was headed home to paint her bathroom while her husband was away.  I knew then we'd become dear friends.  My kind of girl.

We miss the Mister terribly and are looking forward to welcoming him home.  So, today's best is dozens of white tulips filling the huge bowl Big Sister and I discovered at a New Year's Eve display sale.  The best part about the lovely bouquet is that they remind me of my best friend.  If you know him I know you're nodding in agreement.  Not at all in this order, he is handsome, silly, smart, loving, faithful to God and kind.  He is a great drummer, a wonderful father, a geographic savant.  He has a keen sense of style and amazing hair.  That is going beautifully salt and pepper.  And he is ours.   HE is the best.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Best of Our Days

They are best friends.  And always open to new ones wherever we land, too.  And good to their sissies. They invited Big Sister to a slumber party in their room last night.  She took the top bunk while they were in the bottom one.  That must be the best.

Inspired by another's lovely blog, for new year's we started a little daily practice of telling each other the "best of our days."  I have a calendar for just that and bought the kids' their own calendars with the hope of writing it down each day. But that quickly became another "to do" and I wanted everyone to look forward to talking about the best each day.  So some days we talk it over on our walk home, at dinner, or during bedtime prayers.  It is very revealing what can make it to the be considered the best.  A wonderful exercise making yourself think of all the good that has happened in one day (and to set aside the day's frustrations, slights and disappointments) and choose one special enough to be considered The very Best of the Day.

One day last week Big Sister reported that the best of her day was the new boy in class receiving a Head Teacher's Award.  How lovely that her day's best feeling was seeing someone else succeed.  I think she feels a special kinship for him as she is no longer the newest in her class.

Last night Big Brother said the best of his day was receiving a game he ordered with Christmas money. Always judicious with funds, he got it second hand on ebay and was tickled when it arrived days earlier than expected.  Equally sweet as he his frugal, he also mentioned everyone who made his game and helped it along the way in the post in his special prayers.

I think the best of Biggest Brother's day might very well be his success in easing Baby Sister out of her morning grumps with his charming and loving ways. She rewarded him later by asking to hold his hand on the way to school.

Riding the bus this morning with them all high fiving each other for a stress-free and on time departure, I was tempted to announce that the best of my day might already be charted at 8:15!  Arriving at school I watched them all hug and kiss each other farewell - especially the 3 who will be tripping over each other at school all day today.  Then my newly European boys kissed me goodbye. On both of my cheeks.  (How funny is that?! Who kisses them that way that they've already picked that up?)  And later as my arms were loaded from errands and Baby Sister wanted to join the packages in my arms to be carried home, she assured me I could hold it all and gleefully announced, "Momma!  You are Superman!" Could that be better than her telling me the other day that I was "yummy?"

Would Baby Sister consider it the best that Big Sister lent her a ballerina costume for their daily dressing up yesterday?  How about getting to wear it to bed, too?  Sometimes it is a hoot to see what Baby Sister wears to breakfast. One day last week it was just slippers.

It is good this cataloging of good things.  It is the best.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New LEGO "Friends." No Friends of Mine.

There is so much more to say about LEGO's new series for girls.  Among countless other issues, there are no minifigures, but rather small dolls.  With breasts.  How is it possible that LEGO's thinking was more modern in 1981 when they promoted "What it is is beautiful" with a sneaker and jeans wearing little girl proudly holding a jumbled creation of bricks? Hard to imagine.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wouldn't You Like To Be Her Neighbor?

I was worried that Baby Sister would be sad that the kids were going back to school today.  I tried to start the day with cheer by parking the pig on the dining room table.  He was wearing a party hat in school colors. What isn't funny about a giant pretend pig in a hat? How many kids found that at their breakfast table? I got a few smiles demonstrating how hard it must have been for him to hoist himself up with his chubby little legs while we slept.

I knew Baby Sister would miss the constant hum of exciting games, dress up, pretend, and ever present pals.  Even before she was dressed, she snuggled up next to Biggest Brother on the couch, maybe hoping he was in his school uniform for fun.  But ever steady, she marched out the door with them and insisted on carrying her own (empty) lunchbox.  She was cheerful.  Even when Big Sister was so happy to see her teacher again that she forgot to kiss Baby Sister goodbye.

The rest of our morning included meeting a friend for coffee and running the errands we didn't want to do as a pack of 6.  So off we went to the post office, library, dry cleaners, news stand, and our whole itinerary of Sesame Street-like stops.  We were moving at a leisurely pace. It was sweet it was to hold her chubby little hand and really hear her chatter.  We gathered sticks and stomped in a few puddles. Getting closer to home, I reflected on how so many of our local storekeepers have become our friends and neighbors.  I probably didn't imagine that when moving to a big city. We ducked our heads into more than a few shops and waved through windows at even more to wish our friends a happy new year.

I didn't need to worry about Baby Sister.  Our neighbors took great care of her this morning.  Not knowing she was missing her best buddies, they all brought her (and me, too) such cheer.  The Metropolitan Policemen guarding a certain former Prime Minister's home near us fussed over her more than usual.  At our news stand, the kind husband and wife surprised her with a little pencil case filled with school supplies.  A few doors away, a dress shop owner waved as we went by, then opened the door to chat.  Then she gave Baby Sister a pretty leaf she was using to decorate her store window and a tiny jewelry bag, too!  (What will Big Sister say about all this bounty?)

We walked along to the cleaners and to visit our building's porters.  Neighbors all.  Waiting on the building porch was our neighbor from across the hall. He announced that Americans are all friendly.  I'm so tickled he thinks so.  I'm grateful for the friendliness of our new neighbors who made Baby Sister feel so busy and special on her first day home alone.

Monday, January 2, 2012

And a Happy New Wreath

So out with the greens and jingle bells and in with a wintery look to herald the new year.

STEP One:  Gather supplies.  I'd been researching lots of pretty felt wreaths.  Some of my favorites are absolutely covered in colorful felted wool balls. Adorable.  Also pricey.  Maybe if I'd not bought acres upon acres (should I say kilometers?) of ribbon and a giant (huge. I think I could bathe Baby Sister in it) glass bowl from a store's display sale when out with Big Sister, I could justify one.  But DIY is more fun anyway.  It is sort of like catering a party (not that I see that in my future).  I'm just not sure how you could take pride in it.  But that's also because I can't cook and thus don't really throw dinner parties.  If you do, and they are catered, by all means please invite me.  I won't judge while I gobble up the professionally delicious goodies and I'm sure you will have done lots of things to make the evening special.  In my defense, I do make yummy appetizers, love to bake themed cookies and aspire to a wedding cake.  Also the Mister is super in the kitchen.  If you are one of our smalls or invited to dinner at our flat, chances are he'll feed you.  I'll serve you mulled wine and send you home with a clever favor.

This season seems to be filled with lovely felt pretties.  For the first time, the children drew names to purchase each other presents.  Big Brother surprised Big Sister with a felt ladybug (her nickname.  It is a "ladybird" here.  Of course even Big Sister's nickname is different in British English) purse from a German Christmas market.  Without knowing what she was getting, Big Sister bought Baby Sister a felted mushroom purse from another market!

And I have it on good authority (with amazing pictures to prove it) that the Obamas had lots of felted Christmas decor in this year's White House. Including a felt version of their dog, Bo.  Also marshmallow, button, and licorice Bos.  That is cuteness in ascending order.  I have to just pause, catch my breath, and maybe take a knee, in honor of the adorableness of projects involving felt, marshmallows, buttons, and licorice.  You know that was someone's job to come up with those ideas. And some very fortunate teams of people got to put them on display.  I am almost overcome with envy, only made better by my girlfriend sending me the photos and sharing the great ideas.

My.  So back to the wreath.  That is not part of the White House.  Second to the felt ones, the yarn wreaths I saw seem so cozy.  Like a favorite sweater. So I bought a few balls of fluffy grey yarn (one skein will do.  I bought 3, so here's hoping a knitter will browse my favorite charity shop next week!), finally found a wreath form (for the love of Amazon), and nabbed a few sparkly snowflakes from the tree before we took it down.

STEP Two.  Gracious.  Are you still reading?  Did you doze there and come to only to discover I'm only on the second step?  Apologies.  Grab some coffee and press on.  It will go faster now, I promise.  Wrap wreath form in yarn.  Best to have some company to chat with for this step.  It takes a bit.  The fluffier the yarn the less particular you have to be about keeping the lines straight.

STEP Three.  Have sweet niece and nephews send you precious yarn wrapped ornaments that you can't bear to put away with Christmas decor.  Keep the star one out and make it the centerpiece of your wreath.  Use painter's tape to hold it to the wreath hanger.

STEP Four.  Risk upsetting the Mister by glueing favorite snowflake ornaments onto wrapped wreath. I thought briefly that since the fluff of the yarn gripped the sparkles in the ornaments that maybe I could do without glue but think the motion of the door would be too much and knock them off.  That would be annoying and we'd likely step on the ornaments strewn on the floor.  So glue.

STEP Five.  Impress little ladies.