30 August 2011

French toilettes. . .

Apparently it is completely normal for men to be wandering around the women's bathrooms.  Sometime the bathrooms are truly unisex, but mostly they were Dads helping their daughters.  But my girls were a little confused. . .Mags even went back out and checked the sign on one of the doors to make sure we were in the right place!

And another new thing at the train station public toilettes:


Our first pay toilet!  It even had a ticket booth and turnstiles to walk through!  There was a woman mopping the floor and monitoring the bathroom, but I think it is a little ridiculous that we had to pay almost $1.00 each to use the bathroom!  I have never liked the whole concept of tipping the (usually singing) women who offer me strange lotions and hard candy in bathrooms in the US either.  And they are never at fancy places where it might be expected--it's always at places like the Sandwich Fair or the Wildhorse Saloon, etc.  Oh well, when in Rome (or Paris). . . 

I had been warned by a few different people that French bathrooms are never very clean, so I am glad that we were at Disneyland for our first experience.  Disney is immaculate no matter where you are in the world!!

17 August 2011

Legoland Windsor. . .

This year for Maggie's 5th birthday, we decided that it was too short of notice to plan a party and instead offered some other options to celebrate the day.  She decided on Legoland near London in Windsor.  Maggie and Hannah had been to Legoland in Chicago with Mom and Dad, and they had both really enjoyed it.  So I booked the trip, with an overnight stay and plans to head to Windsor Castle the second day.

OF COURSE, after weeks of dry, sunny weather, it poured that weekend.  For anyone who watches golf, it was the weekend of the British Open in Sandwich (about 2 hours away), so you saw the rain.  And to make matters worse, even though I am an obsessive planner, I missed one very important detail: I assumed it was an indoor facility like it is in Chicago. . oh no, it was more like Great America. . .a full-on theme park and all outdoors.

Even though I had not dressed the kids for chilly and rainy British weather, we still managed to have a good time through the chattering teeth and the obnoxious ponchos (pronounced "panchos" by the Brits).  The sun even managed to show its face in the afternoon.  And most important of all, Maggie was satisfied that her 5th birthday had been done justice.  Here are some of the pics:
Not the greatest picture. . but the only one from the train.

The birthday girl takes the wheel!

Charlotte enjoying the playground. . and looking way too much like a big girl!

Miniature golf in the rain!

Such a great daddy!  Keith braved the water slide with the older girls!


Hannah decided "Heck with it!" and headed for the fountain & water playground!

People dryer. . .thought this was a great idea.

LOVED LOVED LOVED the Lego scenes!

Buckingham Palace--we went there the next weekend and this is spot on!

Big Ben, Thames, etc. .

Maggie's usual "cheese" face. . is Hannah posing?. . .and Charlotte at the beginning of her ice lolly stupor!

The two offerings from the States.  .JFK Space Center and a launch pad below.

I think this one was my favorite--it looks so real!

16 August 2011

Small victories. . .

One of the things that has been on my list since we moved here was joining a gym.  The hotel that is just down the road has a "leisure center," but they don't have a creche (nursery) for the kids.  My other option is the community Leisure Center in Hinckley--great facility. . lots for the whole family, but the creche is only up to age 5.  So I either have to beg the older girls to sit quietly and patiently while I am in a class or go when they are otherwise occupied.  Today I chose the latter.

When Hannah was big enough to be taken to the gym, I eagerly signed up and dropped her off.  Those were the marvelous days when I had only one pregnancy and had quickly returned to pre-baby shape just from breastfeeding and walks.  And I only had one baby to take care of.  (Really--what did I do with all that time?)  She was so easy; she loved to go to the gym--didn't really notice when I left, or if she did, she wasn't concerned.

Now my Maggie was another story.  When we moved from Illinois to Tennessee, she was 15 months old. . .certainly old enough to go to the nursery at the gym for a little while.  This time I was still carrying around some of pregnancy number two, so I was ready to go!  Alas, I soon discovered (through the concrete walls) my girl was that baby--the one who threw her little body against the half-door that I had just exited and sobbed "MA-MA" ferociously until they finally came and got me.  She still has that spirit. . .and thankfully it only took a few weeks to get her used to going to the gym!

Now it is Charlotte's turn.  Even though I worked out almost to the end of pregnancy number three, anyone who has been in my shoes knows that it is a "bit" harder to bounce back. . .in fact you don't have the time to even think about bouncing, much less the energy.  And throw in a trans-Atlantic move and all the stress and exhaustion from that, and it's not pretty.  But I am determined to get back into the gym--I am a better wife and mother when I am going regularly.

I have been stressed and unable to find the resolve to go through the "getting a kid used to the gym" phase.  But, today we went.  I thought, give her 30 minutes.  They assured me they would find me after 15 if she was upset.  We got to the creche and signed in--she watched kids while I showed the lady her milk, etc.  Then it was time for me to leave.

I kissed Charlotte, who continued to watch the other kids.  I slowly stood up and backed away from Charlotte, who continued to watch the other kids.  I said in a bright, cheery voice "Mommy will be back soon, I love you, have fun!" to Charlotte, who continued to watch the other kids.  Off to a good start, I suppose.

After 30 minutes I came back to a smiling Charlotte, who was adamantly protecting her turn on the little car ("MINE!").  She lit up when she saw me, but then went back to playing.  The ladies commented that she had done fabulously.  I signed her out, and told her it was time to go.  She looked at me and said, "NO!!!!" 

It seems like Charlotte might enjoy these chances to spread her wings and be independent.  In terms of my ultimate goal of getting her used to going to the creche, it's a victory for today!

But, I have to say, a small part of me wished that there had been just a few tears and wailing of my name! :)
 Charlotte's yogurt-goatee look!

15 August 2011

Is it reallly summer?. . .

After living in Tennessee for the past three summers, I can't get over how mild it is here--I am currently wearing pants and a long-sleeve shirt.  Here it is, mid-August, and the warmest day we have had was almost 82 degrees and there was nice breeze, so you wouldn't have known it.  Most nights are still in the low fifties and most days are in the upper sixties, low seventies.  So different than the miserable, relentless heat of summer in the South (and the Midwest, too).

Understandably, there aren't many outside pools--all of the leisure centers, etc have indoor facilities.  There are some water parks here and there.  In fact, a group of moms from Maggie's class was headed to one today.  The text said "be sure to bring swimsuits and towels."  I then looked at the weather forecast which calls for a high of 70 degrees today. . .it would have been in the mid to upper sixties during the time we were there.  It is new to have a reason unrelated to my thighs to avoid swimsuits!!

The mild weather does make for some beautiful flowers, etc. . .here are some gladiolus I cut from our back garden.

I am not complaining about the weather. . .in fact, it is nice to have it be so pleasant everyday.  It is just that it doesn't feel as much like summer.  The kids don't smell like sunscreen and chlorine, I haven't been sunburned yet, the grass is still soft under our feet. . and of course, no fireworks on the 4th of July!

14 August 2011

Kedleston Hall. . .

On one Sunday trip, we decided to go to Kedleston in Derbyshire, which is about and hour north of us.

After walking through the field turned parking lot full of sheep dung, we hit the antique fair that had originally been the reason we had headed north.  But if there is a castle or something old to be seen. . the Brummels are there! :)
But, first, we had to hit the important stuff. . Charlie thought she was hot stuff getting to have an ice lolly of her own like the big girls!

After snacks, we walked to Kedleston Hall.  Finished in 1765 as a residence, it was modeled after Roman designs and was intended for "grand entertaining and to be a temple to the arts."  I would hope so because I can't imagine a family living comfortably in most parts of it!
This is a flying staircase--which was completely unsupported by pillars.  Of course, I was the one standing there when Hannah wanted to know how that would work--couldn't have been the parent who would have a good explanation!!  Luckily, I pulled something out about the pressure of one step on the next, the girls were convinced, and on we went. . Keith only laughed at me a little bit.
 This is the Marble Hall--and it was.  20 columns of local marble, each 25 feet tall.  Impressive to say the least.  The girls had a kids' guide, and they were letting us know what we were looking at.

The floor in the Marble Hall was Maggie's favorite part of the room (and I think the whole place). . she spent a lot of time walking up and down the design and sat in the middle looking up at the ceiling for a while.  She was having a conversation with herself the whole time, so it must have impressed her in some way.
The statues in the niches of the Hall were Hannah's favorite part.  And you know, we didn't get one single question about why they were naked.
 This is one corner of the Music Room. . this room was the everyday sitting room.  Yeah. . everyday is what pops into my head.
 In the library, we saw this unique reading chair--meant to be sat astride like a bike with your elbows on the arms and papers/books on the adjustable stand.  Thought it was a pretty cool piece.. . not sure how comfortable it would be. . and I am sure it was not intended for the ladies of the period.

 And this is an ancestor of the Igloo. . a trough made out of Sicilian jasper that would have been filled with iced water and bottles of wine during dinners.  It is also the picture that I took where my flash set off the alarms in the room.  That was fun.
Last stop was All Saints Church--constructed in the late 13th century, it is the only survivor of the medieval village that the owner of the house demolished to build Kedleston Hall. 

10 August 2011

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. . .

Mom and Dad just came for a visit (more details coming soon). . .they brought some stuff over for us that we can't get (easily) here in the UK.  Airport security had fun with some of the items--the four sticks of deodorant and three bags of chocolate chips raised some eyebrows at O'Hare.  To clarify, you can get deodorant in the UK. . .just not my brand. . and the chocolate is NOT the same here!!

Here are the girls enjoying one of their goodies. . it seems like forever since I whipped up some mac and cheese!

09 August 2011

Nottingham and Sherwood Forest. . .

I have to start this entry by saying that every time I think about this day trip or Keith and I talk about it, that song from the opening of the Disney Robin Hood is stuck in my head for the entire day. . any one else hearing it?  Dee-duh-dee-doh-doh-duh-doh-doh. . or something like that anyway!  Silly rooster!  Love that movie, though!

4th of July weekend we took the girls up to Nottingham (a little under an hour's drive from here) to the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve/Country Park.  Most local people you talk to don't necessarily go there because they went as kids and it isn't a place that Brits would drive an hour to go back to.  But, Keith and I are all about seeing as much as possible while we are here, so off we went!

We told the girls where we were headed and Maggie's immediate response was: "That doesn't sound very exciting!"  We were off to a fine start!  Then there was the diversion (detour) that our Tom-Tom did not handle very well.  She had us driving in a field; luckily Keith had us drive down this much more scenic road (which we thought looked a bit like an Illinois back road):
The weather was beautiful--upper 60s and plenty of sunshine.  Sounds like every 4th of July, huh?  We got to the park and our first destination was a walk in the woods to find the Major Oak.  This tree is about 800 years old and the legend is that it gave shelter to Robin Hood and the Merry Men.  The girls spent pretty much the entire walk asking if every large tree in this very old forest was the Major Oak.

In actuality, the Major Oak would have been a sapling at the time of Robin Hood, but looking at it makes it easy to imagine a tree being able to house men.  It is 33 feet around and its branches spread over 92 feet. Here's a couple of shots of it:

Next up was learning how to shoot a bow and arrow.  Hannah was the only one of us, including Daddy, to hit the pig that was our final target.

After our lesson, Keith, the girls, and I spent the rest of the day running through the forest ("jumpin' fences, dodgin' trees and tryin' to get away. . ") shooting imaginary bows and arrows--ducking behind trees, crouching behind fallen logs and rocks--it was really fun!

We finished our walk and hit the Robin Hood exhibit; it was pretty kid friendly and the girls did some crayon rubbings, etc.  

Then we walked over an amusement park (really just a little carnival).  On the way we passed a cricket game in progress.  Keith really enjoyed watching that--someday soon we will have to figure it out since there aren't any baseball games in our immediate future!

I couldn't resist!

 Then we walked back through the woods again and saw some really cool trees:

After Sherwood Forest, we stopped at Rufford Abbey on the way to supper.  It was built around 1170 and is the best-preserved remains of a Cistercian abbey in England.

Our last stop was dinner at a pub called, appropriately, the Robin Hood.

This day was a great day. . we only had a couple shaky moments when Charlotte threw up the apple she was choking on at lunch and the big girls needed a sassy pants time-out!  It was just one of those days when it is easy to count your blessings and be happy with all that you have.  I always try to remember that not only do I have this incredible chance to experience so many new things, but I have an amazing family to share it with!   Thank God for days like this one!

On the way home, on this tremendously beautiful day, holding my husband's hand while we listened to Zac Brown and Bob Seger, I just kept thanking God for His goodness.  And when I overheard Hannah tell Charlotte: " holding her hand is exactly what a big sister is for" --I just had to thank Him for the three angels in the backseat!