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Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Window Onto the World

And a glimpse of history, too!  One man's trash is another's treasure. Those who think this looks a little bit junky will heartily agree that it should have kept going on its way to the "bin." But I am thrilled the man I bought it from rescued it from certain demise. Especially now that it can be my dining room window treatment!

The Mister took off for a few days to another country. Let's see how long it takes him to notice this treasure upon his return!  I mentioned I'd spied it recently and his first question was "how big is it?" This is a learned man. Experienced in these matters. He knows that I made an over 5 foot tall stuffed giraffe the centerpiece of a nursery for a baby not yet arrived in a townhouse already too small.

But how fantastic is this vintage 1937 banner from King George's coronation? How could I resist? What if I told you it was actually meant for his brother, Edward (Queen Elizabeth's uncle)? You can see the original ER printing through the back with GR clearly whipped stitched over top (think Girl Scout patch) when it Edward abdicated the throne. A piece of history that happens to fit my window exactly.

I'm sure the current taping up with duct and masking tape and a few stitches, too won't be a permanent solution (altho I very much hope it will hold until the Mister can spot it over breakfast! I also hope he doesn't get a play by play report from Baby Sister of how I hung it. She was outraged at my standing on the furniture. Mental note: dust footprints off sideboard before company comes this weekend.) but I'm determined this is the right place for this fantastic banner and I was terribly impatient to see how it would look.

I'm pretty sure I heard some of those pie birds below chirping their delight.

Wait 'til the kids see it! Just as they love to plan themed birthdays (and some have even been known to sketch cake ideas! Hooray, my tiny apprentices!) they have begun to adopt my quirks in collecting. Some, though claim not to be terribly enamoured by my funnier "old" things. The Mister wasn't a huge fan of the box of vintage underwear that was nailed in our last powder room. Big Brother goes so far as to have an aversion to ivy covered houses because "they look SO OLD!"  (As if that is a bad thing...?). But the boys sure appreciate my finding old bus blinds for their walls and Big Sister loves her old Girls Annuals.

The kids can be understood in thinking this frog Pelham puppet is creepy. I am a little scared of it myself. I thought it was about time he hopped off the top of the secretary (where his legs dangled over the side and he seemed to leer at us sitting on the couch) to take a special place in the dining room. Have I mentioned that I am a frustrated window display artist?  I have begun a collection of things (in the trade they're "props") for countless events, seasons, and holidays that are a bit quirky. Maybe someday they'll fill the window of a store but until then, I have my own props arrayed on my sideboards. As soon as Easter is over, stand back for All Things Queen's Jubilee. I suspect our beloved Irish handyman may not want to visit us this summer. He'll have fair warning starting with our door decor.

All this treasure hunting and displaying is contagious. Following Our Sweet School's Easter Fayre yesterday, I saw that someone had tucked a teeny prize chick next to a domed cloche on our sideboard, keeping my giant chick company!

This is another part of my job these days. Feathering our nest. With antique banners, dozens of pie birds, and puppets of questionable intent. A collection of sorts. Just like us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In House Genetic Stew

It is a continual fascination of mine to see differences and similarities in our brood. Who has freckles, who has food allergies. What's attributed to nature v. nurture, pink brain v. blue brain, and always, birth order? All of it is so interesting to me.

I've always thought that if we'd put Biggest Brother and Big Brother in a little pot and stirred in a dash of long, blonde hair we'd get Big Sister. It is so true. She is a blend of their appearances and personalities, making her a very special little girl. Uniquely Big Sister, but clearly part of a coordinating set.

It is so interesting to me what the children do and say alike and how they differ, too. They have all mispronounced the same words just the same - without having been old enough to hear their siblings say them that way. For instance, our toddlers all say something like heckalopter and nocketers for helicopter and binoculars. Which is comical to hear when we'd forgotten all about it. They all call leaves flowers when they are tiny. They all call grapes blueberries. None of them have had "lovies" (except yours truly) even though they love their toys, dolls, stuffed animals, and each other.

But somethings they of course, do very differently. They hit baby developmental milestones across a spectrum of early, average and later than most. Two or three liked pacifiers (AKA "ninkies") and one preferred a little thumb (and no naming names here as some habits are hard to break...).

Three of them have had pretend friends. All of those have enjoyed talking about them at great length and get very tickled to know we're all in on the joke. As in, none of them takes their play friends terribly seriously. And if we do, they remind us that they're pretend!  How funny is that?!

Big Brother is the only one who didn't make up playmates. He was likely too busy being enthralled by his brother and before long, the tiny little girl who was to be his constant companion. But Big Brother distinguished himself not by introducing us to new people, but to new words. One of our most verbal babies (maybe pushed out of that by Baby Sister who also absconded with his title of Biggest Baby and Earliest Walker), he called things entirely different words than what we did. And for some reason, we picked up on his terminology. Waffles are still called "budgies" around here some days in a lasting tribute to Big Brother's early verbalizations.

These are all stages I see so much more obviously in recollection. The charm of them is enhanced when I know how quickly they disappear, too. That even now some days Baby Sister defaults to saying "iced lollie" instead of struggling with "potstickle."

So maybe that's part of why we're especially tickled these days to hear what all Baby Sister is doing with her little pretend "gurl" named "Cessa." It reminds us of Biggest Brother's co-worker "Jace" and that Big Sister lived in a pink house in our old neighborhood with her friends "Anna and Lisa" (which clearly was a tribute to a dear family friend named Annalise.)

Oh - all of these stages! I see them all so clearly now and am delighted and grateful that the children repeat them so faithfully for me, one after each other.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am so, so happy that they continue to be each others' best buddies. There was a time when the tiny boys played so nicely together and otherwise well meaning folk would caution things along the lines of, "enjoy it now" -- implying that their camaraderie and devotion to each other was sure to wane in time. So far, blessedly, that's not the case. They are best friends, built in playmates and confidants, undoubtedly enhanced by our moving.

It has been reported to me by more than a few school staffers that the biggest three hug and kiss each other when they run into each other at school! Oh, to be a fly on the walls at Our Sweet School. That, my friends, is the sweetest dessert of our little genetic stew.

Monday, March 26, 2012

In Defense of Betty Draper


I cannot be the only one who finds Betty less than wicked, right?

I think she is a little girl thrust into an adult world without the right tools and with an inability to lean on her girlfriends. Or anyone. She struggles mightily. Her family (and likely everyone in her immediate radius) suffers as a result, but for that she is also terribly pitiful to me.

It is too easy to vilify her. Matt Weiner is too clever to create her as one dimensional as people make her out to be.

And this is not just because I covet her wardrobe. Or hairdos. Or figure.  There is something very dear and vulnerable about Betty to me. Maybe it is that no mom wants to be (or raise!) a Betty Draper (I'm not using Francis yet in hopes someday she and Don can pull themselves together and reunite. It is fiction -- a girl can dream and I love a happy ending neatly tied with a bow!)

Maybe it is just that she needs to be mothered and nurtured herself. Or that I am just so very distraught about having to read about the Season (here is is "series") Five online without the aid of any video.

Anyone more technologically savvy than I who can suggest how I might view it all in London somewhat soon (with only Freeview ever coming into my flat) would be greatly appreciated. Are there such things as vcrs anymore?  I sure could use one now!

It is a far cry from our watching David Attenborourgh's Frozen Planet - Spring (Big Sister said, "Bad dreams, brought to you by Nature!") for Family Night last night, but we're missing Mad Men here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

You've Come A Long Way, Babies

It is already Friday and I've not yet told you how nice our last weekend was. We had a weekend-long celebration! First that the Mister returned from California (bearing lots of goodies - mostly American candy), then over tea with girlfriends for St. Patrick's Day. And most of all, that we've lived in London for a year! Hooray, us!

So we set off to celebrate our anniversary at the pub down the street Saturday night. We continue to be delighted that our corners of London feel way more like Sesame Street than we'd ever imagined for life in a giant foreign city. Family dinners at our pub are a great example of that. We adore the pub's proprietress and are always warmly welcomed by the staff. Even (maybe especially?) when we arrive in tiaras.

Since the weekend I've been thinking so much about how far we've come. And reflecting on those early days, too. Some of those were very, very tough. There was the jet lag. The first day in the hotel when the kids were all anxious for dinner, only to fall asleep shortly before it was delivered by room service, and then awake hungry again at midnight. There was the endless cycle of setting up all the banking, virtually any means of communication, grocery delivery, school uniforms, and countless things that seem simple until you've tried to accomplish them. They're not. Those are all arduous tasks that require much chicken and egg paperwork and processes.

There were plenty of days when we broke things or cried in public or shouted at each other for getting in someone's way or crossing the street while looking the wrong way. It was hard. And we came here willingly, with great joy. Moving is so hard, even when you want to go, when the job is great, and the place exciting. If it is hard to move when everything goes your way, I often think of the challenge facing families who move when or where they don't want to go. When we were struggling to settle in, I prayed extra for those who move somewhere or sometime that makes them unhappy. How they do it is beyond me.

This wasn't our first big move, but it was our biggest to date in that it was our first abroad. At least this time wasn't as naive as when we set off for Illinois. Don't ask me what I was thinking, but then I was completely caught off guard to discover it was in no way like Christmas morning opening those boxes. Really, that's pretty much what I had in mind for what it would be like when we arrived at the new house: "This is so exciting!  What's in that box? How 'bout this one? Great!  All done!" No way. There were hundreds of boxes. Seemingly in the kitchen alone. And I felt very strongly (I was indeed pregnant and nesting) that most of the things inside those floor-to-ceiling boxes needed washed before using, wearing, displaying, or even putting outside of our new house. I had no comprehension that in our last move (when the Mister, infant Biggest Brother and I moved into a townhouse from the Junior League apartment) we had significantly fewer belongings and furniture, not to mention 2.5 fewer people, than we would we when set off for La Grange.

On this, our first anniversary of being here, we're more savvy about moving and settling in to a new home, school, and life. I see the kids, so urban in their ways (even those who long for a yard) and worldly in their thoughts. And even more, I see them in these pictures below, only 12 months ago and see how far we've come.

I am so proud of them for becoming city folk, making new friends, learning new languages and cultures, exploring the world, and most of all for enjoying the experiences with their very best buddies - each other.


So, happy, happy anniversary, Lovies! London called and we answered.

Having a great time!  Wish you were here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

Remember that pretty song about favorite things?  You know, "girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes..."? My dad really loves that one. Also "Turn Around" which talks about a little girl growing up so quickly. The latter is fodder for another post another day. Or maybe the subject of time with our smalls racing by me is one I've mentioned plenty.

Anyway, thank goodness for both of us that I won't dwell on that today, but rather that I've been thinking of my favorite things. Of course, my real favorites are the people I am lucky enough to live with. They're pretty special. None of us is perfect but we're perfect for each other.

I'd like to think I was much less captivated by material possessions than I apparently am. I thought I was about a year ago. We put most our belongings into a container on a ship that December, our life's collection to date weighing in at something like 12,000 pounds (what, you've heard about that, too? So repetitive, this blog!). However heavy it was, I made note that we were under our weight allowance, which I took as a green light to load up on treasures from London. Anyway, a few weeks into our stay in an Illinois rental house with just the basics and a bit of rental furniture, I honestly couldn't imagine what all was on that ship. I knew for sure that if we didn't miss it, we didn't need it. I felt that way when I heard one of our crates arrived at the dock in England having been breached and with water damage. So very zen I was about it all. Just things. Who needs them? (I still feel that way when I talk about our charitable adventure. Just throw 6 outfits in a duffel, a few bandanas, paperback books, crayons, and we're off! Right?!)

Then I arrived to a big flat in a foreign country. Where everything was a bit bizarro. Things that shouldn't be difficult to translate seemed unintelligible. And I was speaking the native language. Fortunately, because we'd shipped our belongings ahead and lived without for a few months (that's just how it happened because of our extraordinarily quick house sale and extraordinarily long visa process), within a matter of days, once we were here, so was everything we owned. While I'd not like to replicate the stresses of that part of our move exactly, we have learned that living without in a place you know is pretty easy. So much so that I'd willingly send our shipment ahead early on our next move.

And truly, although I'd caught myself unawares thinking "Hey, it's gonna be like Christmas!" when we'd moved the last time, this time it was honestly joyful discovering what all was tucked in those mountains of boxes here. It didn't make the unpacking less daunting, but it was delightful rediscovering our belongings. I found that I really do care about our "things" and that they bring me much happiness. Mostly because the most special things come with a story. They tell the story of us.

So as part of storytelling, these are a few of my favorite things. I'll bet you have a few of your own, too.

Old Secretary.
When the Mister and I were first married, we lived in the headquarters of the Junior League of Richmond. That deserves an entire post. But for now, know that we rented the top floor of a beautiful mansion for mere dollars. It was huge. And the roof was pitched which meant we had mostly curved walls. And wedding gifts that we were eager to unpack. My parents were kind enough to contribute money for an antique secretary that served as our china cabinet. It fit perfectly in the little nook that didn't have a curved wall. New to the concept of antiques, we chose it because it was lovely. We thought it cost a fortune (it was to us then) but now I'd say it was priced fairly for its well loved condition. We thought "empire" sounded great and we didn't know it wouldn't be long before some of the glass would break, the wood peel off, a leg threaten to collapse. A few times. We couldn't imagine then that it would one day hold games and puzzles for 4 little children. We thought we loved it then. Now we'll cobble it together forever to keep it in our home.

Flowered Chair.
This was one of our first purchases for our first home. We were finally ready to return the borrowed wing chairs and buy something of our own. This required thumbing through lots of fabric books. The Mister and I (we blessedly usually agree quickly on these things - although don't get me started on the process that was selecting wedding flowers or everyday dishes. Nearly 15 years later and I can still recall those conversations verbatim.) fell in love with this print. We asked the salesman if he happened to have it on a piece of furniture in the store so we might see it in person. He looked a bit horrified and said (with great relief it seemed!) that he'd never seen that pattern. On anything. What did he know. It is pretty. At least to us. And it is still one of my favorite things. It makes me feel grown up and a bit brave to choose such a giant colorful pattern.

Kitchen Table.
This was an old display table from Marshall Field. I stumbled on it when looking for a dresser for yet to arrive Baby Sister at a beloved antique store in La Grange. We both loved it and snatched it up quickly. When house/flat hunting in London, not surprisingly, no other homes we saw would have come close to fitting this monster. Our agent advised us to choose the right flat and consider putting the table in storage. Hooray that we didn't have to as our table fit perfectly into our new home in London. As always, it was meant to be. I adore that it came predistressed and has been the perfect table for our last two homes without eat in kitchens. It is where we eat, play games, do homework and messy art and science projects. It is only getting more distressed. It has hosted big family gatherings, heaping buffets and 15 little boys for a LEGO party. It is generous. What's not to love?

Pineapple Bed.
This is one of a pair of beds from my mother's side of the family. They were in her home when she was growing up and where my sister and I would sleep when we stayed with my grandparents when we were little. My sister has one at her house and I have the other. Big Sister knows it is very special, just like she is.

Boys' Dresser.
We bought this for not yet born Biggest Brother. When I was hugely pregnant and we weren't sure who was going to have a job when the baby came and every penny mattered. Even more than it does now. When we probably shouldn't have spent anything. But I was nesting and it didn't cost much. We put a changing pad on the top and viola! we made a nursery out of a big closet! I have fond memories of my first baby smiling at himself and us in the mirror (which isn't here...we hope to discover it in storage when we're Stateside again) while the Mister and I changed him. It took two of us to change a diaper in those days. I'm planning that precious newborn's 10th birthday party. Ten years on, his dresser is solid and true. Just like he is. (To the untrained eye, what looks like a mess of LEGOs underneath is indeed an entire train village stowed not so carefully. And did you spot the "Baby Sister on a Stick?")

Like us, none of these is particularly fancy or high end. But all have lots of character, are well loved, and are a special part of a humble little collection. These are a few of my favorite things.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Jar of Goodness

We make great use of glass jars at our house. Really any sort of glass container will do. And by this I don't mean glass cloches, although they are a near obsession of mine. That would require a whole 'nother post. One of my favorites is a glass milk jug from the dairy near us in Illinois. It represents so much to me, that jug. It reminds me of the milk door in our old house and that you could still get milk delivered in that sweet town. Anyway, I fill glass jars with most everything. Fruit and snacks on a buffet, seasonal decor, party treats, flowers, ceramic balls with numbers and letters.

We have a summer tradition of filling a glass fishbowl with our summer plans. (RIP, Flippy. You were greatly loved. All 10 days you spent as our first family pet.) One summer, The Chicago Tribune printed our idea in a column:

At our house, we know exactly what is still on our summer to do list.  Our "to dos" are written on strips of paper in a fishbowl on our kitchen counter. In the spring we made a long list of things we wanted to do this summer ("go fishing", "go to Springfield, IL", "visit an animal shelter", "find a new park", "take a hike", "learn the Our Father", "jump in puddles", "take cookies to the firehouse", "have a lemonade stand" and much more.).  The first day after the boys were out of school we cut the list into strips and put them into our bowl.  Every morning we have a little meeting where we talk about the day's weather and calendar, sing a song, and most exciting...draw from the fishbowl to find out what we're going to do that day!  You should hear the squeals of delight!  
Some ideas are simple ("look at things in a magnifying glass") and others are more ambitious ("camp in the backyard").  It has been an exciting way to ensure we have a little structure, creativity (we chose "go to the beach" on a day already scheduled with a doctor's appointment and birthday party so we took our sand buckets to Naperville's Centennial Beach at dinnertime), and the best part of summertime - family togetherness.  We've even started keeping a little journal so at the end of summer we'll have a treasured record of our many adventures.  I'm secretly hoping we'll have a few strips left over to do together this fall -- that just might make back to school days a little less bittersweet.

When something works for us, it bears repeating. So for Lent, we are also drawing out of a jar. This year I jotted simple good things to do on purple strips of paper. Someone chooses one at random over breakfast and we strive to complete our task by bedtime prayers. It gives our Lent a bit of shared focus on good deeds. We keep the Oberweis dairy jug on the same tray to encourage our alms giving. Tasks already completely stay out to remind us of the good we've done.

The strips are varied but simple in their direction: "Send love to a cousin, do something kind for someone with your initial, help a teacher, smile at someone you don't know, be kind to the Earth, try to act like Jesus ALL day, donate something," etc.

It is a delight to hear reports of how daily Lenten missions were accomplished. Reports given throughout the day remind us all to keep to our tasks. Sometimes we work together. Last week we had way, way too many carrots (it is so hard for me to order online groceries in kilograms. You should see the enormous block of cheese we got, too!). We donated a giant bag of carrots to the Hyde Park Stables and in return, had the pleasure of seeing beautiful animals up close. The bravest of our bunch fed the grateful horses.

It has been great fun to see the effort and creativity with which the children complete their task and gives me a focus for the day.  Good deeds, brought to you by Lent, lots of purple paper, glass jars. And my very favorite little people.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Did You Get Here?

"Did you ever wonder how you got here?"

Biggest Brother asked me that today under Marble Arch. We were having a Pret picnic. So glad to be out on a perfect spring day, we were watching the girls chase. Big Brother happily munching his sannie next to us, Biggest Brother and I sat side by side quietly like old pals.

All of the smalls are currently felled by a bug or two so I called an audible. A do over of sorts. Short of having a do over of a weekend, we got a beautiful Monday together to recover. To nurse everyone back to health, rest, disinfect. Finish homework. Begin celebrating Science Week with a science show in our pajamas on the couch.

I always tell the kids when it comes to fighting off illness, that I'd much rather it be me. But being down and out together is bonding. A siege mentality sets in. Us Versus Them. The smalls know I'll rise to be their Nursemaid Extraordinaire and they seem to be genuinely appreciative.

We've had plenty of together time to ruminate. About important things like the marital status of "the Professionals" (single) and how "Phineas and Ferb" got Perry (animal shelter). We've finished reading a mystery together, shared a few dramatic readings of favorite lines from new books, and had fits of giggles just because.

His question came out of nowhere. I wasn't expecting to have an existential conversation with a 9 year old over a salad and BLT today in the middle of London.

Biggest Brother went on to say that sometimes he looks out his bedroom window and sees black cabs and double decker buses and wonders "how did I get here?" Kind of a "why us? why me? what's next?" sort of thinking.

Probably not entirely comforting, but true - I told him I feel that way lots. He knows this so I didn't go into these details, but sometimes I catch them and feel like I must have missed a few years because they've changed before my eyes. Big Sister has long, thin legs where gushy ones were mere minutes ago. Her body is that of a little girls'. Baby Sister plays baby because we all know she's not one anymore. She is older now than her siblings were when they became someone's big brother or sister. There is no leaning or crouching down anymore when Biggest Brother and I talk. Despite his penchant for striking muscle man poses, Big Brother is comically skinny where his delicious belly was just protruding.

How indeed, Biggest Brother.  How did we all get here? (And as always, back to me...) How did I get so blessed?  How are you all mine? How is it that we're on this adventure together? Where will it lead?

It is hard to say, My Lovey. Impossible, really. I hope though, that you'll always tell me your questions, I hope that you'll always whisper secrets and giggle with Big Brother at night, I hope that you'll always play absently with Big Sister's hair, and I hope that you'll always gladly hoist Baby Sister (as you did so often this weekend!) whenever she announces she wants to "hold you!" One day she won't call it your "wap" but she'll likely always want to sit on yours. I hope so.

Yours is a great question shared by so many. I do know this: Life is a mystery. Daddy and I seem to think lots of it makes sense in retrospect, but often seems a bit fuzzy in the present. I think that's where faith comes in. I wanted to listen to you more than talk today, but someday I'll tell you about how all of us were so lovingly knit together. Over generations of family and friends.

You are such a special part of this world, Biggest Brother. You've been the king of our castle since you arrived and you are gracious about that. You are loving, kind, gentle, funny, talented, sweet. You are greatly loved. I'm thrilled we're going places together.

You arrived into our family because we were just that blessed. That you see the exciting world around you, and at 9, wonder which part of it is yours is very dear to me. And I've been your biggest fan since I started writing to you in 2001. Here's another love letter.

PS: I'm not just writing this because Daddy was away and we quite literally would have never made it out of the house to get to the park (which we needed so desperately) this weekend if it hadn't been for you. You tied small shoes and zippered little jackets, then had your siblings line up on one side, their vehicles on another while you directed one lane into the lift and another down the stairs! You crack me up!

You can be a little man in so many ways. But you'll always be my little boy. No matter how you got here. Or where you're headed next.

Friday, March 9, 2012

New Friends. Fresh from the Oven

I was so tickled to be invited to meet other London bloggers for a lovely brunch that I decided to bring my new friends little cookie favors. Baby Sister was sweet company and a big helper in making these easy gingerbread Queen's Guards. We used our project as an excuse to take a field trip to SW3 and Jane Asher Sugarcraft, a bakery and baking supply store.  Some of their cakes were so pretty that Baby Sister declared they looked like "toys." The shop is as delightful as any toy store could be. Baby Sister likes Sloane Square (it's where the smalls get their hair cut. Fancy them! I go across the street from our pub. Next door to our dry cleaners.). As always, I spent most of my time craning my neck looking for Middletons.

Step One:

Come to "work" dressed the part in an apron and one of Momma's tanks (aka "vests") worn as a dress. And always, heels.

Step Two:

Roll out gingerbread men. Add elongated heads by attaching Easter egg cut outs to support their hats. Just like making "slip" in clay projects, attach with a bit of water.

Step Three:

Dust work surface with powdered (icing) sugar. Roll out and cut uniform parts from colored fondant. Ice cookies with a thin layer of buttercream to attach. I got a bit carried away with the Playdoh-like consistency of this batch of fondant and focused on appearance versus taste. Ideally it would be rolled thinner.

Step Four:

Use damp pastry brushes to "paint" away the excess sugar. This also creates a pretty sheen on the cookies. Allow plenty of time to dry. Pipe details. We experimented with an edible marker and didn't like the look as much.

Step Five:

Eat reject.

Step Six:

Wrap and embellish with ribbon and a Union Jack card: "How sweet it is to be together." Enjoy with new friends!  Baby Sister gave one to her sweet porter friend in exchange for the many pieces of fruit, kisses, and sunny smiles he gives her.

Step Seven:

Kiss the cook!

More on our on our adventures in brunching are here.  Enjoy! Happy baking. Don't forget your purple heels.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Changes. Caught on Tape

I got about 4" cut off my hair and it seems like I've started a little in house (in flat?) trend of changes! Big Sister wants her goldilocks cut, too and now even the boys are noodling through new styles. I'm not sure I'd recognize the guys without their surfer/skater mop tops anymore but confess that seeing more of their sweet little faces has an appeal.

We watched home movies (including one of Big Sister's tearful first haircut!) for Family Night on Sunday. Shades of watching slide shows when I was little, Baby Sister is clearly under represented and not just because she's been with us the shortest amount of time. It will never be the same for all of them but she'll be fine.

We must take more movies of all of them. Of us together. They are precious time capsules. To be able to revisit the children who change every day, to hear their voices when they were tiny, it is all incredibly dear.

We each picked a disk and watched our life completely out of sequence. There was little mewling infant Big Sister on her first Christmas Eve while chubby brothers in matching flannel tiny man button up pajamas put carrots out for reindeer.  There was Baby Sister, seconds after she arrived, being weighed. (9 pounds, 1 ounce. In case you forgot. I haven't.) The first time the smalls met Baby Sister. There was tiny Big Brother with a xylophone mallet clenched between his baby teeth. He seemed to wait interminably in the wings while Biggest Brother gave a guitar solo dressed as a cowboy, until finally announcing (to a roar in our flat!) "I'm smoking!" There was Biggest Brother singing without a care to crowds waiting to see the Liberty Bell. And moments later, standing in front of said bell, asking us completely innocently whether he might be allowed to ring it.

The children are honestly each others best friends and I am lucky enough that it is my "job" to get to see that in person every day. And to be there to soothe the tears when best friends squabble, too. At our parent conferences, teachers commented on how apparent their affection is for each other at school. How they cheer so much for each other and seem to delight in being together. That the novelty of their being buddies isn't wearing off.

I see that most days, but there was something uniquely wonderful about witnessing and reliving how that all began when they were babies and toddlers together in a way I could pause. To see Big Brother showing Baby Sister what all the Easter Bunny brought her. The kindness with which they touched each other even then. How wide eyed Big Brother watched and listened to everything Biggest Brother said and did. (Still does.) All of it caught on tape. When they were so tiny. And I know in a matter of months, I'll look back on movies and photos of them from this week and wonder why I thought they were so fully grown and big now. Already pictures from last summer of the 4 of them look so dated.

My favorite movies were of really nothing special at all. Of the boys eating "al fresco." Big Brother wearing a sun hat and sitting in a high chair under a freebie (Richmond Braves giveaway!) umbrella made into a sunshade. We took note of what they were eating (portions of grapes!) and wearing (tiny polo shirts over diapers and undies!) and revelled in the everydayness of the moment. We tickled at quizzical baby Big Brother hearing birds above that big umbrella and being confounded by the noise. The boys' adventurous obstacle courses set up in our tiny dining room. The everyday brought back to me in full color. I could do everything but smell their baby smells. Video you'd only want to watch if they were yours. And they're mine. It is a wonder I'm not playing the tapes again right now.

Everyone was noticing all the many, many changes we've witnessed in each other and in ourselves, too. What are a few inches, dozens of pounds, and all shades blonde and brunette (those last 3 changes being mine alone!) between loved ones?

I know I can't keep any of us from changing. (Although I'd be happy if I could keep this hair color without spending another dime. Or investing what I do in various face potions.) But I am newly resolved to documenting - especially on video - the children and our normal life together. It is too precious not to.

The boys are talking about crafting a guest post on the blog soon. Maybe they'll unveil newly shorn little heads. Maybe you'll be even able to see their ears! Stay tuned.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Starring Chips the Fish

Recently we were treated to Big Sister's (Reception) class assembly concluding their study of "under the sea."  Big Sister had a starring role as "Chips the Fish." I was reminded again how much school has made us feel at home in London. How blessed we are to be there, how grateful we are for the welcome we've received and that we are home at school.

Assemblies at Our Sweet School are a way for each class (the school has just one class per grade) to present what they've learned over a half term to the rest of the school and adoring parents.  The assemblies are amazing. Children as young as Big Sister perform 20-30 minutes of singing, dancing, and scripted lines in sweetly simple costumes, all while covering a multitude of subjects. How the teachers come up with the programs is astonishing. I am always struck by how much the children present and how beautifully it all comes together. Each half term their topics are studied across all of their subject areas so they are completely immersed in the ideas. They know their stuff and they're proud to show it.

Big Brother's Africa assembly included masks they'd made in art, a drum piece they wrote for djembes with their music teacher, and power point slides that provided the back drop to their acting out African folk tales. He was Anansi the Spider. And darling in my black turtleneck. Minutes earlier he'd had lots of extra legs attached.

Biggest Brother's last assembly included 3 films the children had written, directed, and filmed. With special effects.

Assemblies are in the school's "hall" (the big room that serves as lunch room, indoor PE space, dance floor (and bar!) for family discos, talent show stage, gathering place for fayres, and sanctuary for Mass). Our school is so small that saying "hall" is likely giving you the wrong impression. It is sweetly cozy. I so wish you could see it and hearing 200 little British voices singing and praying together. It makes it impossible not to cry most times I am in that hall.

Without a doubt the assemblies are great learning experiences for the audience, too.  Baby Sister is still singing the catchy tune of "Ancient Egypt Embalmers!"  Much to her delight, when she went to Big Brother's room (Class 3) with me last week (to give a Thanksgiving lesson as part of their study of celebrations) they serenaded her with it as a "thank you for coming" treat!  She'll assuredly start school in the fall with lots of big friends. That is a fair trade for being carted through lots of volunteering, committee meetings and what must seem like an endless cycle of dropping off and picking up of siblings.

The assemblies always begin and end with a prayer. One child from the class welcomes their guests and is greeted by a loud chorus of children who ALL know his name. Basically, I'm saying I want to be a student at Our Sweet School.  But I'll gladly settle for being a parent and seeing my family embraced by students, staff, and other families. It was love at first sight (and sound) for the Mister and me and for our Real Estate consultant, too.

My heart will forever be in that hall and part of that dear community of families. It was meant to be in the way that our old house was. I'm sure of that. There are too many "coincidences" that made it all work for us.

I dream of the families we play with now reuniting on other continents in other decades. Of the children remaining friends forever.

When I was looking for a preschool for Biggest Brother and again when we first moved with school children, I asked dear and trusted friends what to look for when I visited schools. What I should ask? What metrics should we rank above others? They all gave great counsel in suggesting we would know the right school by how it felt to us. By how orderly yet happily the children conducted themselves. By the looks on the faces of the students. In that regard, Our Sweet School cannot be beat. It is a big leap to find a school when moving to a new country. A leap of faith.

So it goes without saying that I'm in love with Our Sweet School. Also very much in love with Chips the Fish, Anansi the Spider, our resident filmmaker, and their best little audience member, too.

And Chips the Fish, well she loves her costume designer right back!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Did I Miss That Day?

I prefer simple things in life. Like crazy winter hats and costume jewels. Ribbon, paper, fine tip black felt pens, plain white gift bags. Actual letters in the mail. A newspaper delivered first thing in the morning. Real books.

But we're surrounded by technology that claims to make our world smaller, faster, easier. I clearly don't move as quickly as the times change. When I think about it, it wasn't terribly long ago that I was in an office hearing the telltale screech of a dial up modem. When I travelled with colleagues we shared a laptop computer. One of my favorite people scared more than a few coworkers by throwing a computer mouse (remember those? approximately the size of a potato?) so hard that it shattered noisily against her office wall. These aren't ye olde time stories. These are actual occurrences that have happened while I've owned the same LL Bean luggage, Levis and countless other wardrobe staples that don't seem to have become outmoded.

To the best of my knowledge, in all this time, I've been an otherwise engaged member of society. But I somehow missed a few updates.

Despite a healthy eBay purchasing history, a huge appreciation for all that Amazon can bring to my door, all day hysterical text banter with the Mister, and even blogging, so much of technology has left me behind. Or rather I left it in 2002. When there were still curly piles of thermal fax paper (Go ahead. I'll pause here so you can Google it.) strewn about offices. Remember it piling up overnight from fax spam? Could you spell facsimile? Uh huh. Then why isn't it called a fac machine? Can't stop now to noodle that through because time's a wasting just keeping current.

Somehow since then, so much has changed and I apparently missed a day. Or a decade. I must have been building one giant wooden train track the day it was announced that it is no longer forbidden to touch the screen of your phone. In fact, that's how they work now. What? You'd already heard?

Well, then maybe you know what happened to "Ask Jeeves." That was SO good. I saw a commercial for some ridiculous "app" (don't get me started) that demonstrated people asking questions into their phones and having their phones provide an answer. Yes. I am familiar with that technology. It is called "Ask Jeeves" circa 1997. Only now with audio. On a cell phone.

Lots of people have told me the countless things I could do with an iPad or most anything beginning with lower case "i." But i'm not entirely convinced i am missing much. It is heresy in some circles to admit, but I'm not a member of the Apple cult. I'm tapping this out on a mac but don't feel any devotion toward it. I avoid the Apple store but am intrigued (there's that sneaky little "i" again) by the fixation on what they sell, service and promote. Intrigued in the same way that I'm intrigued by snake handlers, clowns, and vegetarians. I wouldn't want to sign up for the life myself, but there is clearly a big appeal for lots of people.

And those white pixilated squares that have seemingly popped up everywhere overnight? Absurd. You know the ones begging us to find out more about their store, brand, product? Apparently lots and lots of other people are eager to get information this way. Not me.

Maybe those people can also explain this: if we're supposed to touch the phone screens now, shouldn't the tiny, slippery faces be made for actual human fingers to manipulate? (Baby Sister, who zips through most every function - the camera, calculator, and on occasion the actual phone with errant calls to our handyman - would gladly demonstrate that the screen is perfectly sized her her teeny hands.) Maybe the folks who design phones are testing whether evolution really works and we'll develop little styluses where our digits are now.

Has anyone considered much technology of late could be a joke? Some days I have a sinking feeling that Allen Funt's offspring are lurking around the next corner, just about to burst with the news that we've all been big, giant rubes in thinking this silliness was all for real. "Play the tape again.  Watch those girls sticking their phones up against that sticker in cosmetics! Hysterical!  Now watch them do it again at Starbucks!"

Why in the world would I want to follow most any business or product on Facebook or Twitter is beyond me. And if they have something to tell me, presumably it won't be needed to be decoded. If we're going to operate on this code system, I say bring back the decoders tucked in the bottom of specially marked boxes of Cap'n Crunch (waiting again for the Googlers to catch up.). At least that way we'd be decoding over bowls of orange milky sweetness.

Is it possible to be a Luddite blogger? If so, it's what I'm going to put on my next business card. Hurry, and make room for it in your Rolodex. I'm running them off on my risograph now.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meet Sam, Max and Olivia

What could be better than not having to wear your uniform to school? How about dressing as your favorite book character?

How much do I love this?! Honestly, I wish we'd do this more. As a child, I didn't dress up nearly as much as my children do. The only way that would have been possible was if I'd been a professional actor who worked in flagrant disregard of child labor laws. I only remember dressing up for Halloween, my one ballet recital, and in my mother's nightgowns (when I was supposed to be napping in her room) pretending I was at a cocktail party on the Love Boat.

But dress up our smalls do. They pull together some creative combos. Baby Sister must put on 30 outfits a day. Usually a mildly tarty mix of a swimsuit, fairy wings, gobs of accessories, absolutely ANYTHING belonging to Big Sister, play high heels, and always a purse slung over her tiny shoulder. The boys take the cake for their very detailed costuming of law enforcement professionals. Biggest Brother's newest interest is MI6 (sorry, Ponch and John, we've gone British!).

Without further ado, I present:

Biggest Brother as Sam 
from The Trumpet of the Swan

Understandably, he was not keen on (my good) idea of bringing the stuffed swan to school.  Perhaps it seemed a little teddy bearish. But he agreed to have it peek out of his "rucksack" so it didn't look like (jeans and t-shirt and all) that he'd opted out of all the fun. We really love this book, read it together in La Grange, and give it as a gift all the time. I first heard it when my 6th grade (I think) teacher read it to my class in Virginia. One of my new friends (a lovely Irish mother of 6) asked me about the book at the school gate. Lucky her! I had 2 copies in the sideboard (I KNOW. I'm so grown up!) waiting to be given out!

Big Brother as Max 
from Where the Wild Things Are

One of my best and oldest (in terms of duration of our friendship, not her age!) friends gave this book to us when one or both of the boys were little. The daughter of a retired kindergarten teacher turned school librarian and a huge proponent of literacy herself, she was outraged that I'd not read the book until then. Now I can see why! It is a favorite and was the subject of a play the kids staged in house in La Grange. I still have their set decorations because it is one of my fondest memories.

Big Sister as Olivia

You should know she went to school in her uniform. Apparently in protest. Not quite sure what she's protesting these days, but I'm beginning to fear her teens. She happily wore the pig ears to breakfast (and hasn't taken them off all afternoon) but moodily went to school in her uniform after refusing to wear the costume she'd chosen. Mother's intuition found me packing it up for her and without her knowing, I gave it to the Reception teacher at drop off. Big Sister change changed seconds after I walked away and much to her brothers' delight, she was Olivia for their morning school assembly. Apparently we weren't the only ones in a backstage drama as similar issues were reported at the playground this afternoon and even in the Times today. Big Sister makes a particularly adorable, sassy Olivia. They have a bit in common. Bringing this whole conversation full circle, Big Sister is wearing the very tutu I wore in my once-ever ballet recital, circa 1976. Thanks, Mother for saving it and carting it around in your countless moves!  It has held up pretty well.

So much of this makes me happy. Thanks to those who gave us great suggestions for this adventure. We'll save the extra ideas for next year. Maybe then we can coordinate all 4 costumes. (A mother can dream, right?!)  Hats (and pig ears!) off to the many people in our lives who have flooded our home with books through the years. We've downsized our possessions with every move, but it is rare that we part with a book. I am a master of book repair, hoping that we'll have these treasures forever and the kids will read them to their children. And why not. The smalls read lots of books that belonged to the Mister and me when we were little.

Our school library in La Grange had a policy that the students could check out books as often as they liked, which meant Biggest Brother was there most every day, and in the process we fell in love with our school librarian. She was kind to us when (on more than one occassion) I offered cash (and baked goods) to repair or replace books that had been exhuberantly enjoyed by Biggest Brother's tiniest sibling(s).

Sam, Max, Olivia and their stage hands and cheerleaders send their love and best wishes from London!  Happy World Book Day and even more, happy reading.