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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Nothing Says Summer Like Molecular Polarity. And Prosthetics.

This morning we drew "Science Projects" from our faux fishbowl. It is actually a white paper gift bag, but I'm also suffering from a peeper virus, so the "summer to dos" still haven't been typed and placed in the requisite glass bowl. 

Anyhow. We're mostly fully centered on All Things Olympic these days, but we're determined to be true to our summer projects. So today found us working through a few semi-exciting and possibly explosive (if you have little boys and mix most any substances, they are tickled pink with the prospect of bubbles, let alone potential kitchen table eruption!) science projects.  We did a lesson on "molecular polarity" and the cheeky set of directions I used suggested "molecular polarity" was a great term to use at dinner parties. My kind of witty science!

Our homemade lava lamps didn't rival those I admired in my brothers' bedroom circa late '70s/early '80s, but it was interesting and delightfully messy nonetheless.  Fun was had by all and science lessons learned, too.

But in keeping with our normal Olympic theme and life in London these days, we happened upon a Paralympic exhibit today which was stunning. Fascinating, really. It was sponsored by a company that makes prosthetics. These are highly sophisticated pieces of technology. While it is heartbreaking to know the employees felt a kinship with my big American brood because the US government is such a good customer, it was also awe inspiring to see how they have absolutely changed lives and enhanced the world for countless people who need their products. Most of whom are not competitive athletes.

My childrens' lives are rich with experiences and a general worldliness that I couldn't have imagined at their ages or even when they were born. Today I considered how different the life of a person is in 2012 because of these ongoing technological advances in science. It was great for all of us to witness such practical, life changing use of science.

I'm fairly sure that I lack the ability to articulate technological, generational leaps to the children. To explain to them how much can change in 10-15 years time. Someone without a natural leg might be able walk or run right next to them exactly as they move, and now they'll have a better understanding of how that is possible.

It was pure providence to be exposed to this "science" lesson today. And now we're even more inspired to cheer for the Paralympic athletes. Go Heinrich! Go Ottobock!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Buddy!

Oh, our sweet Big Brother!  You turned 8 during an exciting time. Half of the "C Club"/your cousins and a beloved aunt and uncle were visiting and you were a week away from finishing "Year 3," just ahead of the Olympics coming to London.  Forgive me that all that fanfare has delayed my telling how neat your birthday celebration was - high above our new city.

Big Brother played a season or two of soccer in Illinois, but living in London has lit a fire under this interest of his. So it has his admiration of luxury sports cars. The latter I chalk up to last spring when he was not yet at Our Sweet School and did the "school run" for Biggest Brother, walking through some very fancy neighborhoods four times a day. I keep telling him, but am not sure he understands, that cars he sees on a regular basis here are ones he'll likely not see again en masse outside an auto show.

But, back to "football." Playing it on the school's rooftop playground and watching the Euro2012 Finals (Hooray, Espana!) and maybe even lots of European travels have made this a passion of Big Brother's. He was the only one to be counted on not to doze during the finals as they stretched into extra time with penalty shootouts, his siblings long since tucked into bed. He sure held his own (Biggest Brother, too) playing with his Brazilian friends in Hyde Park at the Adidas exhibit last week. I can't say I saw this coming a year and a half ago, but am tickled whenever anyone here finds something to rally around.

Big Brother is the family blanket, cuddly and affectionate. Funny and sweet. Artistic and sensitive. He began as a big, quiet baby and lulled us into thinking that was going to be his demeanor, sweetly observant of Biggest Brother's entertainment, punctuated with a honky laugh. Then he became amazingly physically advanced. Big Brother walked very early and I cannot remember him not talking. But outside our house, when he was little, he was very quiet.  With the exception of family (where he seemed to talk and create in paragraphs) and with select friends, he didn't have much to say. But he's always been a keen observer and a hysterical mimic.

I'm fairly sure he didn't say anything to most of the moms I chatted with for 2 years at Biggest Brother's preschool. I remember, though asking his kindergarten teacher in IL if she considered him shy. I could see her face contorting, trying very hard not to laugh as she gently explained to me that indeed, was he not shy in school, but often he was so very busy chatting upon arrival that she had to "encourage" him to get started with the day. The following year his lunch box would often come home nearly full.  He claimed to be too busy talking to get to his lunch. Fine by me!  I'd gladly serve him a big snack if he was happily visiting with school friends.

This little lovey has bloomed even broader in London. He has a wide circle of friends and is cherished at home. He is Biggest Brother's best friend (see also: their Spain souvenirs!) and is a super playmate to the girls. He may always be Archie Bunker to Big Sister's Edith. They've been a bit of an old married couple from the day she began to screech his name.

Big Brother is a middle child, and he wears it well. Tops on his birthday list was a "Spain kit" with his name and the number 2. Following on the great idea of a baseball shirt from his godparents given years ago, he is not only content with "2" -- he shines there.

So. On his birthday, surrounded by some of his very favorite people, Big Brother chose to soar above London on the newly constructed cable cars. You've never seen such a view of our city. In a thrill to my stomach I've not felt since clutching smalls on Ferris Wheels above Navy Pier or German Christkindlmarkts, we sailed, all too quickly, over the Thames. It was made so much richer by being with my own Biggest Brother and his sweet brood. I know Big Brother felt extra special to have some of his cousins with him. A day we'll never forget. And not just because we enjoyed Chipotle later.

Happy, happy birthday, Big Brother. I cannot believe you are eight, but I also cannot imagine life before you were here. You are treasured. I'm torn between wanting to freeze time when you are this sweet age and praying to be privileged enough to see the bigger boy, the teenager, and then the man you will become. I love you. We all do!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fired Up for 2012

Yesterday, the day before the Opening Ceremonies, was called "Super Thursday" and indeed it was super. I still can hardly believe our great fortune -- the Olympic Torch Relay went right below our flat!  We draped an American flag out the window.

And we threw a party!  Lots of our school friends who've not yet jetted off for their summers came, as did our beloved babysitter and the proprietress of our corner pub. It was the perfect kind of party - snacks, great fellowship, and pitchers of Pimms. We transformed our flat to an international celebration. In keeping with the theme, we had friends from Spain, Brazil, Chile, France, Italy, Ireland, England, Portugal, and America.

With the crowds huddled around all the windows, we cheered and waved, danced and sang as the torch and all its fanfare went by!  What a thrill.  It was the chance of a lifetime and I hope the children will remember it always. I think I was celebrating a house full of friends and how much we enjoy our flat as much as the Olympics in London.

Earlier in the week I took the kids and some friends to an exhibit where they got to hold actual London 2012 Olympic torch. For Big Sister and one of her friends it was their second time to hold one. Lucky ducks they all are.

Those lucky little ducks like a party as much as I do. They were super in making these chocolate lolly favors and we're grateful for the free downloads that added to the decor. They are such my people in that 2 of them salvaged Olympic decorations (the paper plate rings and poster board torch) from school to decorate the flat AND that they happily made a favor assembly line.

This morning, like people all across the UK, we rang bells to welcome the Olympics. Big Ben rang 40 times. We rung various bells. Big Brother rang the doorbell. Tonight we're going to be treated to a flyover in Hyde Park. It is true that the city is a bit upended and lots of people have taken to saying, "After the Olympics..."as if we're all on pause for a bit, but that's really fine by me. Actually, who am I kidding? It is exciting and great with me. There is no place I'd rather be than in this spectacular front row seat with my best buddies in this wonderful city.

So, let the games begin!

Addendum: Almost forgot to mention that the hostess wore an eye patch.

In a spectacular bit of bad timing, I got a lousy eye 2 days before the party. Strange injuries and maladies know my name. It keeps me humble. This is the same woman used crutches on the sidelines of the Junior Powderpuff Game and more notably, walked down the aisle in a cast. The show must go on.

Of the many, many things to admire about Marie Colvin, is how she made an eye patch (Called an eye shade if you're shopping in a London pharmacy, should you need to know) look amazing. Not to mention that she did so while reporting from war zones. Mine had a few kids miffed that they didn't know it was a "fancy dress" (also known as dress up or costume to Americans) party!  They were all good sports and Baby Sister ended the day by saying softly, "It is okay for you to read me 'Miss Mary Mack' with your patch on your eye" and Big Sister said, "You still look pretty." Love is blind, friends. I could clearly see all the festivities and for that I'm grateful.

Back to The Games.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer. Hooray, it has begun!

Do you know about our summer fishbowl? You might know that we make all sorts of good use of glass jars all year round. Before summer begins, we list all the things we'd like to do and cut the list into strips. We put those into a glass bowl (usually Flippy's old place) and draw a day's plan each summer morning. One year our fishbowl made it into the Chicago Tribune!  Happy summer days.  It is a ritual worth celebrating and the kids love it as much as I do. They know exactly whose turn it is to draw the day's adventure and they're keen to see what is on tap.

Monday, our first official day of summer, was relatively organizational in nature and medical, too as most people still slogging through a virus and nasty fever. We did manage our first daily "morning meeting" complete with our weather song and writing down all of our summer to do items to go into our fishbowl. What will I do when my children age out of their eager willingness for my preschool activities?  I cannot even contemplate that and am so tickled they continue to like (nay, insist on keeping!) our summer tradition!

Despite the beckoning sunshine, all I could entice the smalls to do after our first meeting was to double decker bus to the most American of malls we're close to where several spent Christmas and birthday money.  Then after LEGO building, long naps and medicine, we were able to get to one of our favorite playgrounds within Hyde Park.

Day two found us at the Serpentine (also in Hyde Park which Big Brother calls "the biggest front yard ever!") Lido where we splashed, kicked a ball, and played on the playground. We enjoyed lunch along the Serpentine (that's an Olympic staff boat patrolling the Serpentine above. How cool is that?!) and counted our blesssings that this is our home. Biggest Brother said, "it is kinda neat being behind the scenes of the Olympics."  So true, my lovey!  Even those bleachers below were constructed for The Games. Big Brother speculates the purple seats are for Kate Middleton. Here's hoping she's bringing lots of friends.

Do you know about the lidos?  One of many built in London in the 1930s, the Serpentine Lido is a swimming pond and beach within Hyde Park. Our favorite part is that there is a lot of green space, a wading pool, playground, and mostly, that it is a short walk from our flat with views of Westminster Abbey, the London Eye and Big Ben along the way. I'm not taking the time to look it up now, but I think the lido featured in the hot summer book "Ladies Bathing Society" is at Hampstead Heath.

We scootered home after lots of hot and wet play, lunch, a Pimms and a round of ice cream. One particular bikini baby was so dozy she might not have made it home without the solid stance of her Biggest Brother encouraging her steps. We saw lots of exciting sights - the London Eye! A carriage ride and horses in the park! Olympic event staging! and know this is just the beginning of a summer to remember.

One of my favorite summers (our last one in La Grange) we kept a quick and easy scrapbook of our day's fishbowl drawings and related photos and notes. It is treasure. In case I don't make that happen again, I'm posting the "scrapbook" here. Apologies in advance for subjecting you to it!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Our Family Pet

We don't have pets. Except for a few sizable stuffed ones. We go for statement pieces in the stuffed variety. Indeed I made a statement of sorts when I stumbled into this thing in the dark in the kitchen the other morning. That he was wearing a jaunty cap made it no less frustrating that a rocking horse was standing between me and caffeine. The Mister sometimes accuses my home decor of being inspired by "Silver Spoons."

This beloved pal was delivered to our very small townhouse when we were expecting Big Sister. I was nesting and planning a darling palm trees and monkeys nursery. Perhaps stricken with an all-encompassing diagnosis my girlfriend coined "pregnesia," I thought a giant giraffe would be a perfect addition to our little home with way more people than bedrooms. You should know that a 5 foot giraffe wasn't on the top of the Mister's priorities. A neighbor came over to see what had just been delivered in a spectacular 6 foot tall box. I told her, "A five foot giraffe for the baby. I haven't told the Mister about it yet" just as the Mister drove up. Early. My neighbor whispered, "I'm going to stay to watch this" and stepped to the side just a bit to watch a hugely pregnant woman explain herself. Our pets are entertaining even upon their arrival.

But so far, we've not managed to acquire any pets with pulses. That's not how we saw things at the beginning. In fact, when the Mister and I were just starting out in Richmond, we used to talk about getting a Newfoundland. Again, probably somewhere deeply rooted in a statement piece, an enormous animal by any measure. We were so convinced this dog was for us. This is seriously how I remember spending some evenings: We would go to the bookstore, I'd get a coffee, and we'd browse the pet aisle, reading about this huge canine breed that was notably good with children.

In most every way, that seems like a million years ago. Maybe more.

With the uptick in talk lately about the possibility of our heading Stateside next, or at least not terribly long from now, I fear I'm about to go from international executive wife to cliche suburban mom before you can say "all day soccer Saturday." And with apologies to all my friends who love their vans, you should know that in the discussions recently, I said, "I might as well just get a minivan."

Anyway, soon to be home without any smalls even for a few hours during the week, it seems like the next cliche box to tick would be "get a dog."  Here's where what we thought would be the case starts to wildly diverge from our reality. And that's okay. Biggest Brother is allergic to dogs and cats. Although he cannot keep himself from petting them or being drawn to their presence. He, a devoted fan of the behind the scenes airport security shows, was very fretful that our luggage en route to Spain would be traipsed on by sniffer dogs and he'd have a reaction!

And if you know anything about the Newfoundland breed, or maybe dogs in general, they shed, drool, and have various bodily functions. Sometimes indoors. If you know how I at least aspire to maintain our home, these are vastly divergent ideas. International doggie quarantines and allergic child aside, the greatest single thing that will keep us from ever having an animal here is the potential messiness. Quirky and germphobic, maybe, but I'm honest: I'd have a much easier time with the various untidiness created by an infant. Still waiting for one to arrive in a basket on my doorstep. Darn security in our building!

The second summer I worked as a nanny for a boy about the boys' ages now, the family bought an adorable black lab puppy. The parents asked for my okay, too, knowing the puppy would be "mine" to care for during the day times. I have nothing but sweet memories of that tiny black ball nestled at my feet sleeping for what seemed like the entire summer.

So I'm all for puppies and dogs. But maybe growing up with animals no larger than hamsters, and having only endured the heartbreak of losing a 7 day old goldfish with the smalls, makes me fairly sure a real and furry pet isn't in our future. I can still hear Big Sister asking, "Where go Fippy?" in a plaintive notice of our beloved Flippy being found all too still and his fishbowl in the dishwasher.

That was terrible and we'd only known our beloved "Flippy" for seven days.

So. This Liberty pig. He's our pet. Maybe forever. Who could ask for more? He is sturdy, quiet, and clean. Enduring of being stepped and sat on. Stoic about being surfed on and dressed up, having wet hair drip on him and being "cleaned" by Baby Sister. This is frankly, my favorite kind of pet. And that's before I've even told you how he and his siblings have been lovingly created by a VERY small English company that positively dotes over their creations even after they've found homes.

I have promised the children that a replica of this pig will be the first house warming gift (even if for a dorm room!) they get from me. Their laughter over that prospect makes me want to be sure it will happen that way. I may need a paper route (or 4!) to make it happen but I'm gonna do it. I noted the cousins took a shine to him, too. Maybe they'll get one from me when they leave their nests, too.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Here Comes Summer. And the Torch. Where Are We Going?

I hear you. You're mid-summer or beyond. You're busy at the pool and the beach, BBQing and catching fireflies. We miss that and we miss you. And we're so behind in catching up. There is so very much to say. Finally the end of school and beginning of summer in London. The Olympic Torch is coming! Lots to celebrate in our flat and in London. Finally, finally it is summer.

The celebrating started in earnest two weeks ago when we received much lovely Stateside company to include Kappa Prep and my very own Biggest Brother and his wonderful family.  The Hyde Park summer concerts have begun and there are seemingly frequent concerts in our flat. My Biggest Brother, his wife, the Mister and I double dated for Bruce Springsteen (and Paul McCartney!) in the park. The kids finally finished the school year, Baby Sister visited her Nursery classroom before beginning at Our Sweet School in September, Big Sister had a class Teddy Bear picnic, Biggest Brother played lots of drums, and all the kids were stars in Sports Day. So much to say. So much to celebrate. Hooray, summer 2012 in London!

And we're busy saying goodbye to a few friends who are moving after this term, and others who are graduating from our school, and still more who will spend the six week summer break away from London.  Change is in the air.  Also rain with hooray, a sunny, warm forecast!  Not a moment too soon.

There's a lot going on and also an uptick in talk about where and when we'll be next.  We're not alone in that. There were lots of tears (and not just all mine) among the back row at the last school Mass of the year. The gospel reading was about the confused, worried and sad disciples being comforted by the companionship of a wise man they later recognized as Jesus. As our Pastor does so well, he related to the children (especially those about to graduate to a new school) that while it may be exciting and even scary to begin again somewhere new, that we're never alone. Cue waterworks in the back.  Then these happy children filled our tiny hall with the sounds of "Oh Happy Day!" and you can be sure there was lots of rustling around purses for tissues.

While our relocation (or staying put) is in flux, I'm dreaming of renting one of the charming cottages in Hyde Park after we ship our belongings wherever we're headed. It served us well to camp out in a rental with minimal belongings and arrive in our new environs with most everything. The Mister has pointed out the rentals I have in mind are much more expensive than our flat. Details, I say. A girl's gotta dream. It makes this in between stage a little more bearable. As I told the Mister, who is on the front lines of negotiating The Next Thing, all of this is equally "heartbreaking and thrilling -- but time passing and greater faith makes me sure the right thing will happen 'next,' whenever that might be."

Stay tuned.  And by all means, what out for the torch. Word has it one even more real than Big Sister's is heading our way!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

All My Favorites for Cocktails

When we lived in Richmond, the Mister and I hosted a party a couple years in a row to celebrate the mid-way point of the legislative session. In addition to having an excuse to make a really good crab spread, my favorite part of the party was having a big, eclectic mix of great people in our apartment.

I want to do the same thing here.  We are so very fortunate to have nice people around us in our everyday life. When you're new it is no small affair to have friendly, familiar faces nearby. But there are a fair number of folks whose company I enjoy in print or on a screen a lot. People I sort of feel like I know -- and I definitely like. I wish I could have them all over for cocktails. So in no particular order (and rounded out by my actual friends who would keep me from babbling too terribly much), I'd like to invite the following over for drinks:

Lots of the Times staff writers. Especially the folks who keep me sane while I am shouting at someone to do their homework (why, why, why must it be given out on a Friday afternoon...?) while trying to down a few coffees. Fashion Editor, Laura Craik. Mostly because she worked at Hollister for a day. While wearing Hollister clothes. Robert Crampton. His writing makes me feel like we're already friends and that I know his extended family. Also Fiona Neill, but only if she comes in character as Lucy Sweeney whose school gate sounds miserably hilarious. And of course, Caitlin Moran.

Mary Portas. Maybe she can help me edit my wardrobe while giving straight-shooting advice on my imaginary bookstore/bakery/boutique. Speaking of which, I walked by a combination beauty shop/cafe the other day. Hmmm. That makes my plans look less quirky, frankly. Certainly less prone to health code violations.

Okay. Who else? David and Samantha Cameron. International and domestic issues aside, we might all leave with a hint of what's coming up at Smythson if the conversation goes just so. Less so the Blairs thanks to Cherie Blairs recent rant against mothers toiling away at home. If you can't say something nice...

Prince William and Prince Harry, too. Of course the kiss was great, the dress beautiful and the sun shone at just the right moment, but my very favorite part of The Wedding was seeing those brothers.

The BBC's Nick Robinson. I'd need about a half-term's preparation time to study up on world affairs. Hopefully he'll bring Fiona Bruce, too and Huw Edwards even though they usually appear on different nights.

Graham Norton. The perfect combination of hysterical and gracious. Bitingly funny but never mean. He seems like he could talk to anyone. My kind of guy.

Doesn't it sound like fun?!  You'll have to come, too. I'll let you know when it gets all set.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Baby Sister is a BIG Fibber

Do not be fooled by her sweet countenance. Or the giant innocent eyes. There's really no nice way to say this, but Baby Sister is a bit of a liar. Maybe it is a stage. We can only hope. She is so very creative and enduring in her ability to create complete falsifications. I confess to forgetting some things about the other smalls, but I really don't remember this amount of creativity of excuses.

Maybe it is also that she is given a much broader circumference than the others. Less supervision, if you will. That is surely true, but that's somewhat because she sashays about here like she's 14.

Most commonly heard is this exchange, or a variation of the following:

ME: What are you doing?

BABY SISTER: I don't know.

Let me translate.

ME: It is WAY too quiet. I've had squirrelly 3 year olds before. I can be glad for a moment's peace to finish this coffee/section of the paper/online gobbledygook/something that will require Spanx at my next outing, but I'm fairly sure it comes with a price. So what ARE you up to? And how big is the mess, really?

BABY SISTER: Huh!  So you noticed!?  I'm hard at work at something I clearly shouldn't be doing but am not of the mind to confess to you right now. Also, I love you, Momma!  What are YOU doing?

The Mister and I love to talk about who and what they'll be when they're bigger. For this one, I'm thinking fiction writer. Given her cliched status already as youngest child/class clown, perhaps comedic fiction is best.