For awhile they took turns using the sliding seal to go around the ice, with Richard trying to keep them all on their feet, but then one of the employees informed me that the kids could ride on the seals too. What a discovery!
Last year we went ice skating at the rink they had set up in Canary Wharf, but Simon was too young so Richard and he just observed. This year I wasn't going to go out on the ice, so I asked Simon if he wanted to try it and he said he did, so he laced up with the rest of the gang. Which put Richard in charge of four completely amateur ice skating kids. An exhausting task indeed. Thank goodness for the sliding seals!
For awhile they took turns using the sliding seal to go around the ice, with Richard trying to keep them all on their feet, but then one of the employees informed me that the kids could ride on the seals too. What a discovery!
After we finished ice skating the kids begged to go to Wahaca for dinner. Richard and I can't really ever resist Wahaca, so that wasn't a tough sell.
The kids really wanted to go back to the sand dunes, so we did that first thing on Saturday morning. Once again we let them play until all of our legs felt like rubber from hiking up the dunes. This time we let them wear their swimsuits and figured they could rinse off the in pool/ocean. I didn't want to mess with my camera in the sand or at the beach so these are mostly taken with my phone. (But honestly, as much as I love my nice camera, sometimes I swear I can't tell a difference...)
We decided to get some food at the grocery store for lunch and take it back to the bungalow. We ate, and the kids being the gluttons that they are, wanted to swim in the frigid pool again...
After we finished our lunch and chillaxed a bit, we headed to the beach, and spent the rest of the day soaking up the sunshine, hopping around in the waves, and playing in the sand. It was absolutely sublime. I even went out as far as I could and floated along with the waves. I forgot how fun it is to swim in the ocean.
There was a lot of interesting people watching to be done at the beach too. It's one of my favorite things about traveling. People. Since it was Spain, we had a little chat with the kids about how they would probably see some women without swimsuit tops, and maybe even some men and women altogether naked. No one seemed bothered by it, and to be honest I didn't mind my kids seeing what real bodies look like, as opposed to what the marketing and media industries would have them believe bodies are supposed to look like.
In the early evening we went home and showered and dressed and found a nice restaurant to eat a nice sit-down dinner. Richard had I had this amazing meal that sort of resembled the hot rock steak at Barbacoa in Boise. They brought out a selection of raw meats (including kangaroo, what?!) and sauces and you cooked the meats on the hot rock. It was really yummy. It was a quiet restaurant and the kids were so well behaved, it was really just the perfect ending to the perfect day. It is so rare to have such a smooth and obstacle free day while traveling, and I'll never forget this one.
The next morning we packed up and cleaned up and shoved our sandy stuff into plastic bags inside our suitcases and caught the bus to the airport. We ran into the Haribo bear, and then we waited in a long line to board our flight. Then another long delay on the tarmac, another long flight home, another really cold walk from the terminal to our car, and then at last we were home in drizzly London.
When planning for this trip I wanted it to be really relaxing, so I just chose one "excursion" and decided to leave the rest of the schedule open. The one place I chose was Palmitos Park, a zoo more or less, but with performing animals. Who doesn't love performing animals? (Don't answer that. #blackfish.)
We caught the bus first thing in the morning, which was just around the corner from where we were staying. It was really nice not having to worry about a car on this trip. We did a lot more walking and some bus riding, but we didn't have any trouble getting where we wanted to go.
The bus ride up to the park was it's own kind of adventure, the views were scenic and the roads slightly resembled an amusement park ride.
A few weeks before our holiday Eli had written an essay about parrots. The essay topic asked which animal he would be if he could be any animal, and he chose the parrot. (Because they can talk and fly, obviously.) Around that time he became obsessed with parrots, and Palmitos Park specialized in exotic birds, so I knew he would appreciate it. As a bonus, they had a performing parrot show, that was possibly the highlight of the trip for Eli, and the highlight of the day for the rest of us. (Well, in close competition with the dolphins.)
The parrots were hilarious. Apparently Eli knew that parrots are really smart, but it was news to me. They rode bikes, did puzzles, rode a scooter, went down a slide and many other adorable miniature things. It was really cute and entertaining.
Another one of the shows featured birds of prey, and this bald eagle, "Yukon" stole Simon's heart. Every bald eagle for the rest of his life will now be called "Yukon" I think. It was neat to watch them fly down the canyon, then circle up higher and higher until they flew right back to the trainers.
After that we saw a few more birds, ate lunch and then made our way to the dolphin pavilion.
The dolphin show was so fun. When it was over we all agreed that we would happily sit there and watch the entire thing all over again. Maybe it was the warm sunshine, or the fun music, or just the impressive tricks of the brilliant animals and their engaging trainers, but we couldn't get enough.
We caught this guy and his buddy right at feeding time. He would hang there with one arm and feed himself with one foot, while letting the other arm and foot just dangle, as if to say "Ain't no thang." He was also fighting with his buddy for the mangos, and you could tell he was the more assertive one.
We saw a boa constrictor eat a couple rats on our way out, but I was in no mood for taking pictures. Bleck.
The bus ride down the valley went quickly and the kids were itching to swim in the pool that we shared with a few surrounding bungalows. We had it all to ourselves, which made sense because it was SO COLD. It was colder than the ocean water. We all got in, but not for long. Mostly we just laid in the sunshine will the kids dipped their toes.
After swimming we dressed and walked back down to the beach to find a restaurant for dinner. We tried some tapas and had a nice relaxing meal. By the time we finished dinner it was dark, so we stopped again at the grocery store for breakfast food. We put the kids to bed and then Richard and I listened to the first episode of the second season of Serial, and reminisced about being in Hailey on the day that news broke that Bowe Bergdahl had been released. We were sitting in a cafe eating breakfast and watching the faces of the locals as they saw the news on the T.V.s on the wall. In spite of everything that lead up to that moment, it's hard to forget what it meant to those people.
We knew that once January came Richard would get busy at work, and then in March or April would be the baby, so we decided to take one more big holiday. Last year in December we went for snowy winter, this year I wanted sunny beaches. The Canary Islands are really the best warm-weather climate for Europeans in the winter, and Richard still wanted a Spanish experience, so we picked the south coast of Gran Canaria.
It was all a surprise for the kids, which is great for some kids, and stressful for others, but I think they were all pretty excited when we woke them up early and drove to the airport in shorts and sandals. (It was a cold walk from our car to the terminal!) Unfortunately, all of our excitement waned a bit when we sat on the tarmac for almost an hour. It was a long flight too, much longer than the quick flight over to the European mainland that we were used to. The Canary Islands belong to Spain, but they are pretty far south, off the African coast of Western Sahara and Morocco.
By the time we arrived in the early afternoon we were all ravenous so we bought some quick snacks and then jumped on the bus that would take us from the airport south to Maspalomas. It was so warm, it felt sooo good.
We checked into our bungalow, which was was really great but I didn't get any pictures. It had three bedrooms, and a great patio, with lots of windows and skylights. Richard was getting lots of practice with his Espanol, and the kids were all really impressed.
After that we found an Italian restaurant just around the corner and we got the kids favorite, margherita pizza, and I had gnocchi which Eli tried and fell in love with. Then we went for a walk to explore.
We walked for a long time, just enjoying the sunshine and weather. I really wanted to see the sand dunes, but I didn't expect the kids to really love them, so I suggested we do that to get it out of the way. My mistake, the sand dunes turned out to the be the highlight of the trip for the kids, and every day they begged us to go back.
I took a lot of pictures...
When are legs felt like jello from walking and hiking and jumping and playing in the sand we made our way toward the beach. The temperature was cooling off, but that didn't stop Mim from getting in the waves, then of course all the other kids followed. By the time we made it back to the boardwalk they were all soaked with sand in every nook and cranny on their little bodies.
We had eaten such a late lunch, and we had leftover pizza back at the house, so we just stopped at the grocery store and picked up a few things for breakfast and then we went home. The back patio was the perfect place for the kids to undress and leave all their sandy clothes before jumping in the shower. It had been a long day and we were all anxious to go to bed that night.
Miriam's birthday was one of those days that was going to be amazing in my head (and hers too) but then really just turned into a frantic and chaotic mess. I'll spare the details, but I was at least successful in taking doughnuts into her class at school, per her request.
She chose Giraffe (super kid friendly) for dinner and our server completely spoiled her when he found out it was her birthday. No doubt she enjoyed all the fuss. We gave her a purple scooter, and she had a couple gifts from Baca to open so we did that at home, along with cake and ice cream.
Miriam is still our paradoxical little girl, a blend of sweet and sour and tender and tough.
Turning six seemed to be the milestone she needed to moderately commit herself to stop sucking her thumb. She has been trying so hard not to do it outside of the house (on the bus or at church and school) but she still can't help herself when she has her blanket while she watches T.V. or at bedtime.
She is really social, she loves being invited places and she loves going out with just Richard or me. At school she seems to be friends with almost everyone in her class, but I know she has her moments where she can be unkind to other kids. She is pretty honest about this, and it is usually the result of having her own feelings hurt.
She can have serious attitude, she loves to roll her eyes at her parents, but she is also fiercely loyal to Richard and me. She says nice things about us to other people and she loves to sit with her dad during movies or at church. She is definitely the most sensitive of our children, but also the most violent. She loves her brothers dearly, but she can also be really aggressive with them.
Mim loves Frozen, her brothers have made her into a Star Wars fan, and she loves watching cartoons. She's become a voracious little reader and she's happy to read alone or to read to Simon. She also loves time to herself, to play alone in her bedroom or in the bathtub.
The other day she and I were walking to see some friends who had invited us over for birthday cake, and she was chatting and singing and just being purely delightful and I was overcome with feelings of love and gratitude for her.
Nimmi and I had talked for a few months about taking the girls out for afternoon tea in the city, and Mim's birthday seemed like the perfect occasion. So the Saturday after her birthday I made a booking at Bea's of Bloomsbury and we had tea and sandwiches and all kinds of tasty treats. Nimmi and I were shocked (and maybe slightly annoyed) and how Miriam and Svana didn't seem to appreciate all the yummy pastries placed before them, but they seemed to have a great time anyway.
Right from the beginning of the term one of the staff members at the kids' school, Miss Sasha, told me she wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving this year at Lucas Vale. She got Miriam and Cameron involved straight away, and Eli jumped on board as it got closer. She arranged for the kids to do a presentation at the school assemblies about Thanksgiving, she asked the school chef to order turkey, and she talked to other teachers about incorporating some other American Thanksgiving traditions.
It's been really satisfying for me to see the cross-cultural things my kids have learned while at their school, and I have always appreciated the efforts of the school to inform and engage the kids in holidays and celebrations from the various countries represented by the students. To have it be our turn to share our holiday traditions made the kids feel so important, and thereby made me feel really grateful.
So when Thanksgiving day came around I went to the school and watched the kids do their presentation, then I ate a turkey feast with them at lunch, and watched Cameron make a valiant, but mostly unsuccessful effort to teach the kids American football at playtime.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving we had a proper American Thanksgiving feast with our friends Rob, Challyndel and their girls. Their last name is Slaughter, which made for a Bird-Slaughter Thanksgiving. Couldn't be more appropriate if you ask me.
I didn't take a single picture! (*Insert crying emoji*) But we had a really good time. The food turned out great, and there was plenty. Challyndel is American, but Rob is British and he did make a joke about my sweet potatoes tasting more like a dessert than a veg, but that's just so American isn't it? Taking something healthy and covering it in a starchy, sugary sauce topped with marshmallows. So worth it.
We played Ticket to Ride and even watched an American football game. We had pumpkin pie, Challyndel made a cinnamon pie which was new to us but loved by all and there were leftovers for days. Expat holidays are never quite the same, but still completely wonderful in their own right.
Once again this year we opted for experiences over things at Christmas, so our Christmas budget for the kids mostly went to two things. 1- Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and 2- The Lion King the musical.
Last year when we went to Winter Wonderland we had a good time but it was a Saturday and there were so many people it stressed me out. When I heard about the preview charity night, I wanted in. On the Thursday evening before Winter Wonderland "officially" opens, they host a charity event, where you buy a wristband and you can have unlimited rides. I bought wristbands for everyone but my pregnant self, and focused all my attention on the delicious carnival foods.
The kids had such a great time. There were virtually no lines, so on their favorite rides they could just run right back up to the gate and get on again, and again. I had such a good time watching them have a good time. I think that Richard might have been disappointed to be the only accompanying adult, which meant he went on more than his share of silly rides whilst I ate doughnuts, but otherwise he had a really good time too. And the kids were all relieved that since I was pregnant I wasn't going to go on anything that they perceived as a threat to my life. (See here.)
I've heard people say "Why take your kids to Disneyland when they are too young to remember it?" To which I respond, "Because even if they don't remember what a good time they had, I'll never forget what a good time I had watching them have a good time."
In fact, there was one ride that the kids went on a couple times with another little girl, who from the looks of it had been riding repeatedly for some time. She giggled delightfully through the entire thing. Every time. Richard and I were so amused, and we were equally amused at how amused her dad was. I doubt he'll ever forget those minutes he spent watching his little girl feel so happy. It makes me teary just thinking about it! (Doesn't take much for me to get teary these days.)
We lucked out on the weather, it didn't rain on us at all and it wasn't even too cold. Cameron's feet got wet walking through the park to get there, so his toes were cold, but otherwise I think we all stayed plenty warm. We stayed until everything closed for the night and bought some "candy floss" (cotton candy) for the ride home.
It was the perfect kick-off to the Christmas season and I'm so sad we can't come back next year.
In the beginning of November all over London there are firework displays commemorating Guy Fawkes Day/Night and the foiled Gunpowder Plot. Last year we went to the fireworks in Battersea Park, which was mostly a rainy mess.
This year we opted for the Blackheath Fireworks which are just walking distance from home and we could go with friends! Mike and Cindy and the boys came over in the early evening and I wanted to cook an "American" meal for them so I made chili and cornbread.
We bundled up the kids and we were lucky there was no rain this year. And I mentioned this last year, but the great thing about fireworks in the winter is that it's dark early, so they started at 7:30 and we didn't have to keep the kids up too late. The weather was really not too bad.
The walk to exciting events with kids is always the easy part, especially with friends; they have plenty of hype to energize them (the walk home is always more tedious...) So the walk to the common went quickly and when we arrived the kids lit sparklers to pass the time until the show started. Cindy brought the sparklers, she wins the mom prize.
The firework show was even better than I expected and the kids of course were mesmerized.
In the States when we watch fireworks we love to spread out a blanket, make ourselves comfortable and stuff our faces with junk food. That wouldn't really work here because 1- November=muddy ground, and 2- London=so many people. But it's probably healthy for us Americans to try some traditions that don't involve diabetes-inducing snacks.
We had a really good time, as we always do with Kayden, Tyler and their grownups.
After we crossed over the bridge we drove into the town of Portree, which was the most charming little seaside town. I wish we could have spent more time there. We stopped in the Tourist Information office to find out about the best places to see and/or possible hikes. It was a really rainy day and they gave us some good tips accordingly. We grabbed a quick bite of lunch and off we went!
The signage was pretty inadequate so a lot of times we didn't know what we were looking at and taking photos of. (We shared photographing responsibilities.) But we just knew it was all so beautiful.
One of the recommended hikes was up into the rocky garden of the Old Man Storr. It's a geological wonder worth exploring, but Adri knew she could do it a lot faster without my prego self so I contentedly sat this one out.
We saw so much around the island before we found our way to the fairy pools, but because of the rain and other factors we didn't always take the camera when we left the car.
We spent a long time hiking around the fairy pools. They went on and on, we just kept hiking higher and higher, and it was a chain of beautiful turquoise pools connected by waterfalls and tiny little pools in the hallowed out rocks. Of course the photos don't do it justice, but you can see more professional photos here.
We left the fairy pools just as the sun started to go down, and we made the drive back to Inverness.
I had only brought one pair of shoes and they were completely muddy and ruined from the hiking so as soon as we were back in town we stopped at a Next so I could buy some new shoes. We had dinner along the River Ness at an Italian place, and then hit up Tesco for breakfast items one more time. I was so tired by the time we made it back to the bed and breakfast, I fell right to sleep. Then an early flight the next morning and we were on our way back to London.
When Adri was planning her visit she threw out some ideas about where the two of us could take a mini-trip. When I went to Scotland last year with my parents we didn't make it up into the highlands and so when Adri suggested that I jumped on it.
We got an afternoon flight out of London on Sunday, which was nice because we could take our time getting to the airport. We flew to Inverness, picked up our rental car, and had a couple hours of daylight to explore the Culloden Battlefield. We were even lucky to have some sunshine.
The Battle of Culloden took place in 1746 between the Jacobites and the government. It was part of the Jacobite rising, an attempt to overthrow the House of Hanover and make "Bonnie Prince Charlie" the king. The history is interesting, you can read about it here, but it was essentially the end of the Scottish clan system.
After we left the battlefield we made the most of our final few minutes of daylight by taking a walk in the woods on our way back into Inverness. Adri said it reminded her of Utah and it reminded me of Island Park.
Once it was dark we drove back to Inverness and ate dinner in a cozy pub, classic British comfort food, with sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Then we checked out the Inverness Castle, walked along the River Ness, and popped into a cathedral to do a little Sunday worship. I didn't take any photos because I'm a terrible nighttime photographer, but it was all really pretty. I borrowed a few from online...
We made our way to our Bed & Breakfast. (Sadly we wanted to get an early start on Monday so we missed the Scottish breakfast part.) It was such a tight squeeze getting the car into the parking lot behind the B&B that I convinved Adri we could just walk to the nearest Tesco to get some things for breakfast. It wasn't too far...
We were up and gone before sunrise on Monday. We drove southwest and crossed the bridge to the Isle of Skye, but I'll save that for a separate post.
Last year on Halloween we were traveling so the kids completely missed out, and I didn't want to do that to them again this year. (Although none of them ever said a word about it.) Adri & Charlie were here so we decided to do some trick-or-treating in St. John's Wood, in northwest London, where a lot of Americans live.
A lot of wealthy Americans I might add.
It's a really nice neighborhood, and it was the most American interaction I've had during our whole time in London. There were even basketball hoops in driveways. Driveways! And some of them were handing out actual American Halloween candy. (Halloween candy here is a total let-down.) One woman said her husband had bought bags and bags when he was in the states on business. Mmm mini Snickers and Nerds and Laffy Taffy...
Earlier in the day Richard had taken the older boys to the Tower of London and Adri and I just killed time with the littles. I put baby powder in Mim's hair to make it look more white for her Elsa costume. (Handmade by my amazing seamstress mother.)
We met back up at London Bridge, the boys changed into their costumes, and we took the tube up to St. John's Wood. When we got there it was still light outside (around 4:30) and pleasantly warm and not crowded at all.
It was completely delightful when we first started out. We talked to the expat families. We had the sidewalk to ourselves. We nibbled on candy. Then as soon as it got dark, like ants pouring from a burning log came the children...
It got so crowded so fast, it was hard to keep track of who was where and there were so many kids and parents that the people in their houses handing out candy never had to close their door.
We persevered for a little while but the kids burned out pretty quickly once the darkness and crowds came. Things got scarier for Simon and Mim's feet were hurting. The older kids didn't offer any resistance when we decided to call it a night.
We took the train home, ordered Nando's take-away and ate candy. It was still a British Halloween success.
**I made two New Year's Resolutions. Get caught up on my blog by the end of January. And practice being more present. I went for both extremes, a really specific goal and a really vague goal.
Adri and Charlie's flight came in on Monday morning, the week the kids were off of school for half-term. We did the same thing we do with all our jet-lagged guests on their first day, and walked up to Greenwich Park. It was a gorgeous fall day and the kids played football while Adri and I made sisterly conversation under the vibrant chestnut trees.
We spent a couple hours in the park and then popped into the Maritime Museum for a bit before the children started to get hangry. It's a short walk to Goddard's Pie & Mash and we filled our bellies with cobbler and custard for dessert.
We came up with a pretty good system for the rest of the week. Adri and I would take all the kids out in the morning, hit a museum or some landmarks, and then I'd take the kids home (or at least the littles) and Adri would be home-free to explore London on her own. Just a few places we hit...
On Day Two we also went to Sports Direct so the boys could look at every football kit for every team in England and around Europe. After that we had fish and chips at the Golden Union and then visited Hamley's before calling it a day.
The Museum of Natural History is a popular children's museum and since it was half-term it was crowded. We had to wait in a rainy queue to get in, but we did get to see the dinosaurs and the animal collection. And the kids had a mini "where babies come from" lesson in the Biology exhibit. Then it was crepes for lunch at the Kensington Creperie after which Adri took the older boys to Kensington Park.
Finally when Saturday rolled around and we could leave the kids with Richard, Adri and I went to Borough Market, then Portobello Market, then back to Borough Market again before meeting up with the rest of the gang at the Tower of London. Richard took the older boys through the Tower and Adri and I took the littles to the South Bank to kill time before Halloween Festivities. (Which I'll save for a separate post.)
The last thing that must be documented was Charlie's three day experience at school. Adri and I planned a trip to Scotland while she was here, and there was a day that the kids would be back in school while we were away. Originally Richard was going to work from home and keep an eye on Charlie, but then I had the idea to ask the Headmaster if he could come to school with Cameron. She was really accommodating and said that Charlie was welcome to come as long as he wanted to. I talked to Cameron's teacher and she was on board, and it was all arranged. He had such a good time that he went the next day (while Adri and I spent some more time in the city) and the next day after that, even when given the option to visit Oxford with Adri. When I went to pick up the kids from school on Wednesday everyone was saying good-bye to Charlie, he was the American celebrity.
I'm sad that WIll didn't get to come, but I'm so grateful that Charlie had this chance, and that WIll staying in Vegas meant Adri and Charlie could have an extra-long visit.
Author and creator of this weblog; phase two of my internet chronicles of just your average middle class, "married with children" family life.