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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Falling Leaves and Giant Penguins

Day two of our first "half-term" break of the school year!  Hooray, a holiday. No better time to get ready for dark afternoons (our clocks went back today) and watch the Christmas preparations begin in earnest. Without Thanksgiving, the twinkling of lights and Christmas greens are a welcome sight in November.

But for a few more days it is truly fall and such a beautiful one. The leaves on the trees in Hyde Park are just a few days beyond their peak and the ground is inches deep in huge fallen leaves in spots.

Even though the idea of kids in class until the end of July is admittedly strange, I really, really like our school schedule here and think that it will be hard to readjust to the American one. The Mister, a former lifeguard who is devoted to summer evenings and weekends at a neighborhood pool, completely disagrees!  In general terms, the smalls go to school for 3 terms from September to July. Each half term is about 6-8 weeks and is separated by a nice, long (week or two depending upon the season) break. When we go back to classes again the kids will be in until Christmas break. There are rarely long weekends or days off. When you're in school you are on a schedule and focused. After 6,7 or 8 weeks of that, you're ready and so deserving of time off. Your mother is thrilled for a break from the to and fro, spelling lists, and piles of "rucksacks" and uniforms. The kids will start a new round of topics when we go back in November and their homework for the break gets them to start thinking about it in fun and creative ways.

There are lots of exciting Christmas events already on their calendar and this is the best part of being somewhere the second year. A treasured the chance to repeat activities. They'll sing carols and busk for charity at St Christopher's Place, sing in advance of the Marylebone Lights On (think Grand Illumination on our favorite High Street), and Baby Sister will be in her first ever assembly at Our Sweet School. Our little angel might very well be dressed as one!

Still ahead, though is Thanksgiving with 2 West Springfield Spartans and their families. I am noodling through how to add the boys' desk to our big table to ensure there's no kids table. Mass seating with a kraft paper "table cloth" with lots of crayons is the plan. This year we're sorted on the turkey planning. As the last Thanksgiving with the 14 of us living in London, it promises to be another special part of our "Senior Year" to be sure!  And I'm hosting an even bigger Thanksgiving coffee this year. I am beyond thankful for my girlfriends in London. I am grateful, indebted and insistent that they visit us when we're Stateside.

The party planning goes on because maybe even more exciting is that we're planning Big Sister's birthday party. That merits a whole 'nother post. How is Big Sister about to be 6? She's going to host a Mary Poppins party for a gaggle of tiny girls. Oh my gracious!  How much do I love Big Sister? And this theme? And my fantastic Richmond girlfriend who researched ooodles of grand ideas because she quite possibly loves birthdays and themes even more than I do? This "Mary Popp" party might be both the simplest and cutest party we've ever had. I think if you looked around your house you might be able to pull off a Mary Poppins party this afternoon. Think about it: you could dress like Mary in about 2 minutes: white blouse, black skirt, red bow @ the collar. Tack a few flowers onto a black bowler, grab a brolly and you're soooo set!  Maybe I just gave you a Halloween costume, too. Who knows what you'll find in my ramblings.

You're assured to find poor quality snapshots, a random comments drenched in sentimentality, words strung together and puncutated as jumbly as my thoughts -- today's post is SO representative! I'll quit here, but before I go I have to show you my favorite find for the party. With a vacation and lots of entertaining ahead I did pledge to keep Big Sister's party simple (and am proud that most of the supplies came from Poundland) but I couldn't resist this larger than life penguin. He's going to sit in the middle the table at the party!  Can you stand it?!  The Mister thinks my decor is increasingly "Silver Spoons" and there's some truth to that.

So spit spot and off you go!  And off we go to a Practically Perfect in Everyway holiday!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Rave Reviews

I'll keep this one short (imagine!) but a quick note to say that my favorite dj had a ball on Friday night and won high praise for his new gig at Our Sweet School. How he managed to keep a 2.5 hour play list and his good humor rolling with Baby Sister on his lap, the boys and their friends shouting out requests, and surely not enough fuel is beyond me.

And in the benign neglect files, Baby Sister wore two right foot Mary Janes to Nursery today.  I am so proud and grateful that she dresses herself in the mornings (sometimes with the help of Big Brothers who also blessedly shower her, too!) and that I only really "do" her hair (and last week I even managed to delegate that to our guest!) and breakfast. Bless her heart. When we were all settled on the bus, I looked down and spied two same sized/same foot black patent shoes. She was befuddled about why we thought she was curious, funny, and pitiful. So we assured her she looked great and ready to hit the ground running on a Monday!

It is surely a bit of an axiom that if we leave our flat in an orderly manner on time that something unforeseen is amiss. Today it was those tiny shoes. Baby Sister didn't mind and her teacher promises me she doesn't consider her the least bit neglected. Still, I cannot help but to remind myself that people with much larger families than ours manage, and even more, that Biggest Brother never left the house in mismatched shoes.

But on those days, I am also reminded that Biggest Brother didn't have the benefit of a big, loving, built in cadre of best buddies. This is what I found the other morning as I was hightailing my way to a shower. And here I have to note that ever my mother's daughter, I try to leave the house with our beds made, rooms picked up, and a load going in both the dishwasher and washing machine. So racing toward a shower and finding this was blissful.

My smalls gathered on my bed in their tiny school uniforms. Biggest Brother was braiding Baby Sister's hair and they were reading and playing together. They had the entire flat to themselves and they chose to be in the same few inches of each other. Makes my heart sing.

And while we're all very much enjoying our last year in London (which one of my dear girlfriends who lives in London so aptly refers to as "our Senior Year!"), talk about where we're headed and that we'll move next summer is happening. Big Sister said last night, "I don't want to move. It will be so sad." We all agree. We know, too that being together and going en masse will be a big help wherever we land.

We know we'll have each other, great music, a handsome dj, and lots of little shoes. Most of which make perfect little pairs.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I'm With the DJ

Gracious, this blog needs levity -- and quick!

Missing children, drug deals, woe is me. And I promise you that's not even close to how it feels here these days. Fun is in the air! This week we've been enjoying visits from Virginia friends, a late night w/some of my favorite West Springfield Spartans, beautiful fall weather, horse riding in Hyde Park, Big Sister being the Queen in her class assembly, the approaching end of half term, and today, a big infusion of American candy graces our kitchen!

After all the fanfare, this weekend calls for great music and lots of R&R.  I've got both coming in short order but will have to wait until later in the weekend to fill in all the details.  You see, the Mister (fresh off a week in Tulsa! and an overnight flight!) is on tap to be the dj at tonight's school disco.

Oh, the school disco. You'd love it. It promises to be a packed house of little people and parents grooving in the school hall. And there will be tables of Pimms, wine, and loads of food. It is all different here.

So, more soon, friends!  I'm off to (or really, back again) Our Sweet School.  I'll be shamelessly flirting with the dj all night.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wild Life. And a Few Animals, Too

The leaves are turning and I still haven't told you about one of the last things we drew from our summer jar in August. Even if pumpkins and skeletons are on the sideboards now, you can be sure that at our house, nothing says back to school like a pig on the breakfast table. My pig is surely my favorite animal.

Before that first day of school, and in those last days of summer, my little urbanites and I ventured to a city farm to see real live animals. We wore our wellies and explored.

Pigs, ponies, ducks, sheep, roosters. All in the shadow of the Gherkin and the Shard. 

We're all so suburban and city, too. You should have seen us hooting and hollering over the farm animals. Anything without headlights and wheels seems foreign to us lately. We stood for a very long time admiring the donkeys and ponies. 

The hairiest part, though wasn't the animals, but the walk back to the tube station. It wasn't a good scene. With good intentions of communing with farm life, we'd found ourselves in a rough neighborhood. Much worse, we'd just interrupted - or more accurately - relocated - a drug deal. Eeegads, friends. This wasn't exactly the lesson I was aiming for in setting out on our adventure. Nor was speed walking what we'd pulled from our jar that day, but we managed. 

I'd like to think we're smart city dwellers and have become fairly accustomed to our surroundings, which often change block by block. But sometimes in the city, the people are what is really wild.

While we were at the farm, we decided to "adopt" a pony with a contribution. We received a darling photo of him in the mail the other day. I couldn't help in adding a voice over of "Thank you for adopting this sweet pony. Perhaps parting with that money kept you from being mugged on the way out!  Cheers and hurry back!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

So Says Baby Sister

I'm having a love affair with my smalls. Our smallest person is pretty sweet.

She said, "I wish there was a mom school and a dad school. Because then I could see you." I know whatcha mean, Baby Sister. Some of our greatest times are spent together and when we're apart, we're thinking how we'll explain it all to each other.

Maybe, though that is the great beauty of our life. It is surely my favorite part of being a family. The intimacy, the shared experiences, the inside jokes of sorts. It is all the what we know because we've seen it, done it, experienced it together.

I couldn't agree with you more.

PS: I'm also terribly proud that you got a medal of sorts with your siblings at Our Sweet School yesterday from the local library for "reading" so much this summer. You can be sure I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall to see you four accept any sort of award together. Bless your hearts. And also bless you for making our fabulous Virginia friend so welcome in the flat this week.  Keepers, the whole lot of you!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lost In The Crowd

Oh my gracious. I owe more than a few of you return emails and actual pen to paper thank you notes and letters, but meanwhile, I want to tell you about my day. Do you remember that nightmare I had about leaving a child on the bus?  Something all too similar happened on our 94 today in real life.

Today is dark and wet. A greyness hangs over the city, making everything clouded over, fuzzy, a bit lost. Oxford Street was jammed. Tourists, shoppers, workers, strollers, brollies, rain. Our bus crowded, too.

So I didn't take much notice of the two women with children getting on ahead of Baby Sister and me as we made our way home. People shuffled to their seats and these two Italian tourists were sorting their fares, a buggy, packages, handbags, coats, umbrellas, small hands. We pulled away from the stop when they started talking very frantically to each other in rapid-fire, gesticulating Italian. Panicked searching and tense conversation ensued. Trying to alert the driver, looking upstairs, and in every seat on the bus. Something precious was clearly, desperately missing. Everyone was in high alert and maybe even more, wishing we could speak their language.

It soon became obvious the young mother was missing a child.

It became sickeningly silent for a moment. The driver hadn't understand the chaos, the bus rounded yet another corner and we cruised to the next stop. Clutching Baby Sister on my hip, I hopped off with the crying mother who was pushing a woefully empty stroller back the way we'd come. Hopped off so quickly that a kind passenger got off with us and handed me Baby Sister's school bag (I'd left it on our seat in my rush to comfort this mother!). I was a link in a chain of helping hands.

The mom, who turns out does speak English, was grateful for the company and confused about where we were now. Which way back?  Where to go?  This way, I encouraged, reaching out to her.

As we raced the agonizing blocks near where she'd last seen her girl, she recounted that the two women had been juggling children back and forth all morning. She confessed that she couldn't be sure if her daughter was in a shop or at the bus stop when they'd been all together last. And that her girl didn't speak English.

I tried to keep her chatting as we sped up more but I could see devastation and fear building in her eyes and her heart beginning to break. I assured her that corner of London is filled with lots of kind people and that I was quite sure her girl was fine. But I blessed myself in prayer when she wasn't looking. What I was thinking is how truly dicey that area can be, how there I steel myself against the daytime drunks, the vagrants, people who are disordered, those up to no good. I prayed while I was thinking of a girl gone missing from outside her rural home in minutes last week.

As we finally got to Oxford Street, I tried to catch every shop employee's eye knowing that if they were looking for a mother missing a girl they'd be right out front. Everyone seemed oblivious to the emergency. Scanning the block ahead for the tiny red coat she was to be wearing, I saw nothing but crowds of grey. No one seemed little today. Just hulking, threatening, big.

And then there she sat. Tiny. Alone and terribly wide eyed. Her mother raced to her and held her too hard.

There but for the grace of God go I. There we all go, right?

Here's hoping, though that if any of us are ever taken to that edge of fear that we won't go alone, that we'll have some company. I feel sure that's why despite not getting through my long list of seemingly important "to dos" this morning and thinking how woefully behind I would be all afternoon, I changed from our normal routine today when I got Baby Sister from school.

We were meant to be there. Not to find someone, but to hold the searcher's hand, to hug her tight.

I don't think it was an accident that I'd set aside my priorities and treated Baby Sister to a snack on our way home. Then not wanting to wait in the rain, we took a different bus and got off at another stop to connect to ours. There we missed the first bus, and got onto the second one that came. The very one missing one precious girl. No fewer than 5 twists and turns in our normal routine that brought us there. And then.

All's well that ends well.  Keep your school bags close and your smalls closer. I know I'm going to.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

We Really Do Live Here

We spent lots of our weekend at the Transport for London Museum depot's open house. Just the getting there - double decker bus top seats - was an adventure for our transportation lovers. The Mister and I were mostly smitten with the gobs of industrial salvage on display and in catalogued storage, just out of reach. The actual vintage TFL fire buckets, tube signs, bus blinds, zebra lights. Oh, the houses we could decorate. Between us we'd kitted out more than a few kitchens, playrooms and study rooms.

It was super. The miniature steam train ride, antique train cars, old buses, the lot of it was fascinating. No wonder we were there all day.

And special note (not your actual thank you letters which are en route!) if you are our favorite uber-talented and generous knitting librarian, you should know that they ALL adore your beautiful hats. Both the boys wore theirs on our excursion and shared with their sisters who'd not thought to pack their darling pink and purple ones. Can you see Baby Sister holding Big Brother's?  The hats have become their signature wear when not in school uniforms.

We're a bit in between these days. It may be why the Mister and I were feeling desperate to obtain some of the London memorabilia on display. It already feels fleeting, our time here and we want to grasp something. Somethings. Some proof that we are and were part of London. The kids' accents won't hold and they'll forget some of the everydayness of it. Word is getting out amongst our friends here that our clock is ticking and I'm already in denial. It's why I feel so keenly the poignant emails between Biggest Brother and his friend unpacking boxes in Poland. That will be us in a way soon. Before we can blink I fear. What will they all remember? What will they treasure? Can we hold it all a little longer? Forever?

Before we moved to Richmond we put out word we had no friends in town and there we made lifelong, dear friends. Friends who have followed us around the world and godfathered our children. Loved us from afar, opened their homes, visited and kept us close. In going to Chicago, we prayed for nice neighbors and we got them in spades. Then the same moving here. We are truly blessed but also terribly heartbroken whenever and wherever we go. It is the downside of being good at moving.

Maybe I put off an overwhelmed vibe a few weeks ago when I started tallying the kids' after school activities and the mid-day school pick up for Baby Sister. Or maybe it was my telling friends I planned to pitch a tent in front of school and asking them to bring me coffees when the weather turned. But as if by magic, or providence, girlfriends came out of the woodwork to offer to ferry and watch my smalls right and left. I will miss that. I will miss them all terribly. The world is so big and yet so small. Despite my pledges and threats that my people and I are so good at remaining in touch, I know how expensive it will be for all of us to cross the Atlantic to be together. I am having faith that life will bring and keep us together.

It is just that sort of happy circumstance that will bring 4 West Springfield Spartans together for dinner next week in London. Three of whom live here. Who saw that coming in 1989?

For now, though, I very much happily and proudly live in London. I helped lost tourists outside our flat this morning. Through Hyde Park and to Harrods. Godspeed and directions I passed along in pantomime/Italian/English. If only they'd been nearer Our Sweet School where dozens of Italian friends could have helped them on their way even better. Those friends would have also certainly offered to watch various children. It is that lovely being here. Not entirely sure I want to leave!

Every time I think and say that, though, our plans are bolstered by Year 6 families who are enduring an application and acceptance process for secondary schools which I don't envy and frankly, hold in abject fear. Achieving a secondary placement for a (particularly boy) child in central London is perhaps akin to getting them into a very, very prestigious university in the States. And that doesn't even begin to consider the finances. Extreme pressure, lots of testing, years and late nights of tutoring, interviewing, crushing disappointments, absurd commutes. Untold costs all. Completely foreign to us to be sure. And one I suppose you can sense we've developed some opinions about.

A few people have asked us if we won't be going back to the same sort of process in the States for finding schools for the kids. Well. Not really. At all. We'll find lovely schools (and now my public school-educated heart is so bound in the parochial schools, I must say. Discuss.) and then find a house we like nearby. Search over. Mission accomplished.

So this year, we live here and very contentedly so. Plans are being made for playdates, birthday parties, a bigger Thanksgiving dinner, another Thanksgiving coffee, out of town guests. It is already taking on a poignant urgency. Poignant, sentimental feelings heightened by the Christmas lights being strung on Oxford Street. If there isn't Thanksgiving to celebrate and dark, cold days beckon, you, too would welcome such festivities!  Bring on the Winter Pimms, I say!

It isn't just the moving around that is hard on the sentimental, it is the great appreciation of being somewhere, too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It All Adds Up or 1+1 = 6

This tiny girl was elected a Treasurer of Our Sweet School's School Council. Hooray, Maths! Hooray, Big Sister!

And speaking of maths, these two counted 13 years of marriage over the weekend.

We have a tradition of having an Indian dinner on our anniversary in celebration of eating at a favorite Indian restaurant on our wedding night. For the first time it was dinner for six at a fantastic spot near Marble Arch. There were heaping plates being passed around our table over Matchbox cars and Barbie dolls. Plates of naan, basmati, lamb, chick peas, curries. Yum. And the company even better!

Big Brother, ever the sweetheart, dressed up (maybe more than we did) for dinner - his tiny wing tips and all - and was a darling little conversationalist. He asked, "What year do you think was the hardest...?" and I gulped. Boy, Big Brother, I wasn't really thinking of discussing relative marital woes over a celebratory dinner...seems so deep. But then he continued, "To buy for?" Ha! And whew!

The Mister and I always follow the traditional gifts for each anniversary and it sure makes the shopping and festivities that much more fun. The first year was paper, then iron and bronze (apparently fortification is essential in the early years!) and this one was lace!

I love the Mister. Not just because he's the new dj at Our Sweet School. He's my lovey, my best friend. And lace made such sense for this year. So appropriate. The pretty and delicate weaving of fine threads to make a beautiful and intricate pattern.

One you can count on.