Saturday, December 6, 2008

Santa Brought a Tricycle!

Yes, I know it's still 19 days until Christmas. But since we're flying out early next Saturday, we decided to have a mini-Christmas for our family today, with the presents we weren't going to pack along with us on our trip back to the US.
And the biggest of those was...Madeline's first bike! Okay, trike, but still, it was exciting. Thanks to Murphy's Law, the camcorder was inexplicably not working, so all we have are some photos, but that's better than nothing.

The tree (yes, we need to get a star for the top of it)...

The trike...

First sight...


Hell's Angels, watch out?!?...

And here she is, all ready for her first ride outside. She has a lot of fun making the horn honk, and it's very, very loud. Sigh. At least we bought a trike with a parent handle, since she has yet to learn the finer points of pedaling or steering! All things with time and practice, right?

So, one final funny story about our "Christmas" day: We used Madeline's nap this afternoon to get everything ready (assemble the trike, put the presents out, etc.) since we've told her Santa brings presents while you're asleep. When she woke up, Bill was busy finishing up a project outside, so I told her we had to wait upstairs for Daddy, since Santa had come while she was sleeping. Well, she decided she did NOT want to go downstairs. Eventually I figured out it was because she thought Santa was still down there! So I told her that Santa wasn't there any more: he'd gone bye-bye, but had left the presents for her. Then she was all ready to head down the stairs and check it out. Evidently, while she's all about Santa Claus in the abstract, or in photos, or TV, she is not so sure about hanging out with him in her house, face-to-face!

A New Way to Get Clean

Yes, that is my child trying to climb into the washing machine. I have absolutely no idea what prompted her to do so, but then, she's been full of strange and unpredictable ideas lately (i.e. "Let's smear large quantities of lip balm all over the pictures in my room while Mommy's cleaning the bathrooms").
Thankfully, although she really was trying awfully hard, she's just too big to actually fit into the drum, let alone get the door shut behind her, so I was able to simply stand back, watch, snap a few photos, and have a good laugh!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Family Outing

Bill decided to take the day after Thanksgiving off, since he had one day of vacation left over, and would lose it if he didn't use it. I planned to use that weekend to get him to get all the Christmas decorations and the Christmas tree, etc. down from the area above the garage so I could decorate. He found a new and creative way to side-step "honey-do" lists: propose a family outing instead!
We drove a little over two hours to the area of Stoke-on-Trent, where there is a hotel with a water park inside it. The hotel is part of Alton Towers, which is an amusement park here in England.
Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the weekend, as photography was not allowed inside the water park, and there didn't seem much point in taking a picture just of our hotel room. Sorry!
We had a very good time, though--Madeline loves the water just as much as her daddy does, so she got to do lots of "swimming". She really has no fear at all, so we were grateful for the lifejacket-type vests they make for kids these days! The kiddie water slide in particular was a big hit. My only complaint was that they didn't have the place heated quite as much as I would have liked, so we had to stop to warm up a little too often. But it was still a fun weekend. And Bill and Madeline humored me by letting me have a few hours on the way home to stop at Spode and Wedgwood for a little browsing!
Oh, and we did still get the Christmas decorations down that weekend after we got home, so I guess Bill's little trick didn't work after all...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving, a Little Early...

Today was our annual ISE Thanksgiving dinner. It was SO different for me than last year's! Last year, we'd been here for all of two weeks or so. I knew almost no one. We didn't have any of our stuff (our shipment hadn't arrived yet). I was so homesick, and so overwhelmed, and it was so hard listening to everyone talking about how they were all going home for Christmas, when I knew I wouldn't be going home for over a year.
This year, I knew nearly all of the people there, and many of them are good friends. We're about as settled into this country as we're going to get, and I'm leaving to go back home for Christmas in three weeks! Needless to say, it was much more relaxed and much more fun for me than last year.
So, I am thankful for: the new friends I've made in the past year. Having our own furniture, etc. and not having had to pay to get it here ourselves! The opportunity to go home and see our families soon. Being used to living in England, even if I do still like the USA better. :-) And, of course, all of the other blessings we have, even if I am too lazy to type them all in here.
I didn't take many pictures, but here are a few to give an idea of just how many of us there are--I think they said there were about 130 people there today.

I know it looks like Bill's glaring at me for taking a picture, but really, he's not! Those are our friends, the Dobberfuhls, across the table from us--Lana, thanks for smiling so it looks like someone, at least, wanted this picture taken...

And this last picture was taken/made by one of our ISE friends whose hobby is photography. Thanks, Laurie! If you click on it to enlarge it, I think you'll find it's pretty easy to find Madeline...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Here's our fairy princess all dressed up and ready to go trick-or-treating!
Halloween isn't quite as big here as it is in the States, but our friends and fellow ISEs Corrina and Kevin had invited a bunch of us over to a party and some trick-or-treating in their neighborhood, since they knew their neighbors would be handing out candy.
Bill and I had really talked Halloween up to Madeline in an attempt to prepare her for the new experience, especially as she REALLY doesn't like masks and most costumes on other people. So she was super excited to get to "Corrina's house" and go "trick-or-treat"ing to get "candy"!
Murphy's law, naturally, came into force. The drive that should have taken about 15 minutes took us well over an hour, because there was an accident on the road, so we just sat there at a dead stop for a long, long time. Made even longer by having a frustrated two-year-old in the back seat, who didn't understand why Mommy wasn't taking her to the party like she'd promised! By the time we finally got there (and met Bill, who'd just gone straight there after work), the rest of the party had pretty much finished trick-or-treating.
Luckily, it was Madeline's first time truly taking part in Halloween, so she didn't really have any expectations. So Bill and I took her around to about 5 or 6 houses by ourselves, and she didn't know that she'd missed anything!
So all's well that ends well, and we had a great time at the party. Thanks to Corrina and Kevin, for throwing a terrific bash! Sorry I don't have any pictures of the actual event--I was a bit frazzled when we finally arrived, and forgot to get the camera out of the car...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Our Lil' Punkin

Well, thankfully the British equivalent of Wal-Mart (Tesco) did indeed have pumpkins.

Although I have since learned that the pumpkin festival we went to actually DID have pumpkins for sale. They were just in a really hard-to-find location and there were no signs anywhere to tell you about them. If we had managed to find them though, and bought pumpkins, we could have gotten free entry to the farm, which would have saved us money. Sigh. But I digress...

On Saturday we initiated Madeline into the joy that is pumpkin carving. Daddy helped Madeline with her pumpkin while Mommy did the other one. Needless to say, Daddy and Madeline's pumpkin turned out best. Madeline even helped design the face for her pumpkin: Bill drew several sets of eyes, noses, and mouths, and let her pick the ones she liked best. She wasn't super sure about helping to pull out the seeds, etc. at first, but it didn't take her too long to get into it. We've put our pumpkins outside on the wall by our driveway, and we have lots of fun waving to them every time we go by. Thankfully no one's smashed them yet--I don't want to have to try to explain that to Madeline if it happens. She's rather fond of her pumpkin, as evidenced by the photo of her kissing it!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Pumpkin" Festival

I must really have bad karma when it comes to food-themed festivals. It's getting to be something of a family joke.
It all started with the infamous "Cherry Festival" right after we moved to Illinois. There was not a single cherry in sight. All it was was a really cheap carnival.
Today the trend continued. As a big fan of Halloween, specifically the beautiful fall colors and pumpkin farms, I was excited to see that a local farm was having a "Pumpkin Festival" today. I promptly put it on the calendar and informed Bill that he was taking Madeline and I to it. I told Madeline we were going to a farm to get her a pumpkin. She was really excited, and talked about getting a "pumpkin for Madeline" the whole way there. Never make promises to a toddler if you don't have total control over the outcome...
It wasn't quite as bad as the Cherry Festival. There were a few, small pumpkins. They had a pumpkin sling shot, and at specific times (none while we were there) they had pumpkin carving. But we did not see a single pumpkin for sale ANYWHERE.
Now, it wasn't a total waste of time and money--Madeline actually did have fun seeing, holding, and feeding all the animals. And there was play equipment. And the weather was great. All told, we spent about two hours there, in fact.
But we came home without a pumpkin for Madeline.
I told her I'd buy her one at the grocery store. Sigh.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hardy Visit and Trip to Ireland

I know I'm a bit behind in posting this, but as you may have gathered from my previous blog, I kind of had other things on my mind...

We recently had the chance to spend some time with Bill's parents--they came over here to visit us, and then we all went to Ireland for a week together. It was wonderful (though admittedly a bit stressful with a two-year-old)! A big thank you to Corrina for helping me to plan the trip to Ireland--I couldn't have done it without all your great advice!

I've decided the easiest way to cover everything is to do a day-by-day recap. This means it's going to be a really long posting. It should probably be more like 7 separate blogs. Consider yourself warned. Oh, and a note on the pictures: even after trying to just keep the "good" ones, I still have about 300 pictures from the trip. That's what you get with three cameras going at once! If any of you really want to see them all, let me know, and I can send you a link to see them on a photo website.

So, here goes:

Bill's parents arrived about lunchtime on Friday, September 26th. In an attempt to keep them awake so they could adjust to the time change quicker, we went to the park with Madeline in the afternoon.

Saturday there was an "Autumn Faire" in our neighborhood, so we went and checked that out.

Sunday was a bit more relaxing--just church and then a bit of a birthday celebration that evening--Bill's birthday was the next day, and Madeline's was the coming Friday.

Monday we drove out to Woburn Safari Park. It's about an hour and a half from here, and it's loads of fun. We'd been there before, but it was nearly a year ago, so Madeline got a LOT more out of it this time. Oh, and the really good monkey shots were taken by Bryant (Grandpa) with his fancy new camera!

We also found an honest-to-goodness Mexican restaurant in the town near there so Bill could have his favorite food for his birthday supper!

Tuesday was mostly packing and preparation.

Wednesday the 1st of October we packed up the "MPV" (a.k.a. minivan) we'd rented for the trip, and were on the road by about 8:30am. We drove about 4 1/2 hours to the ferry port in Wales, and then the ferry itself took about 2 hours. Driving about 2 miles through Dublin once we got to the other side took about as long as the entire ferry crossing had! Hooray for Bill, who did all the driving on the trip. I'm glad it wasn't me.

Thursday we got up and went to the Dublin zoo in the morning, mostly for Madeline, though it is a rather good zoo, even if it is still partially under construction.

That afternoon we took a guided bus tour of Dublin, and went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. I missed most of the bus tour, because by then I was holding a sleeping Madeline in the back of the bottom of the bus. She was not interested in being in a stroller any longer, but really needed the nap! So the pictures of most of Dublin are courtesy of Bill's parents, who were on the top of the bus.

Friday we left Dublin and headed down to Waterford to see the Waterford Crystal factory. This was one of the stops I'd really been looking forward to. We took the tour, which was really interesting, then poor Bill got to "entertain" Madeline while the rest of us shopped!

After Waterford, we drove to Cobh. This was the port that a lot of Irish emigrants left through, especially during the famine years, and was also the last port of call for the Titanic.

That night we had Madeline's birthday celebration, complete with a candle on cake at supper and lots of presents to open! Happy second birthday, kiddo. I promise one of these years we'll actually let you celebrate a birthday at home... (Last year we were on our house-hunting trip before we moved here).

Saturday we started out the day at the Blarney Castle. This was one of my favorite stops on our trip. Bill, Grandpa, and I kissed the Blarney Stone. Grandma didn't want to, and although Madeline did, she wasn't quite big enough. You may not all know this, but to kiss the Blarney Stone, you have to lay down on your back, and scoot backwards while the gentleman who works there holds onto you, then grabbing onto some iron bars, you kiss it upside down. So Bill found Madeline a "big Blarney Stone" on the side of one of the walls, and she got to kiss that one! Also, big kudos to Bill for carrying Madeline both up AND down the hundreds of teeny tiny, curved, steep, slippery steps to the top of the castle. I seriously don't know how he did it. I was holding on with both hands as it was, and I wasn't also trying to hold a squirming toddler... The grounds of Blarney Castle are gorgeous, and worth the visit for that alone.

After Blarney, we drove to Killarney and tried to go to the Muckross House Traditional Farms--a farm set up as it would have been in the 1920s/30s, before they had widespread electricity. Despite all information stating that it should have been open, and specifically timing our trip to be there on Saturday, since that was the day it's open, they'd closed a month early this year. Sigh. The Muckross House tour was impressive, but more than a little lost on Madeline! Although she did like the wool that the spinning demonstrator gave her...

Sunday we drove the Ring of Kerry, and we had absolutely gorgeous weather for it. I think this was the highlight of the trip for just about everyone. And the best part of the Ring of Kerry for us was a little island called Valentia that we took a small detour to. It's not on the main route, and tour buses can't go there, but it has some just spectacular and breath-taking scenery. Thanks to Stephanie (Grandma) for making the decision to go there! Pictures really don't even come close to doing justice to the beauty of the area.

Near the end of the Ring, we stopped at Torc Waterfall, which I'd wanted to see the day before when we were at Muckross House, but the weather had been too wet. I guess it made for an even better waterfall when we finally saw it!

Monday we went to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, near Limerick. The castle is decorated from the 1500s, and the folk park is more 1800s, so that was a little confusing at first, but it was worth the visit. I think the Folk Park would be better in the "high season" (summer tourist time), but the castle (and really, a lot of the places we went the whole week) was probably better during the off season. It was nice not to deal with crowds everywhere (especially on the steps in the castles!).

Unfortunately, after lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse. We did actually go to the Cliffs of Moher (despite a ridiculously confusing detour due to a closed road), but literally couldn't see anything. In fact, I ended up staying in the car with Madeline, since it was so cold and wet and she was half asleep anyway. When Bill got back to the car, he told me it wasn't worth getting soaked for. Stephanie took a picture for me to prove it, and I have to admit it's one of my favorite pictures of the trip, just because it's so ironic! For those who don't know, the Cliffs of Moher is supposed to be one of the best views in all of Ireland, and I'm sure it is, on a clear day!

Since the weather was so nasty and we were a little behind schedule anyway, we decided to skip the rest of our plan for the day (a drive through the Burren) and just went to our B&B for the night. Incidentally, that B&B--the Springhouse, in Tipperary, was the best one we stayed at on the whole trip. I'd definitely recommend it.

Tuesday we went to the Rock of Cashel. It was really impressive, and had a somber and mysterious feel to it. At least it did to me, if that doesn't sound too corny. Some of that may have had to do with the weather--it was another gloomy and wet day. But I shouldn't complain: two wet days out of seven in Ireland in October isn't bad at all!!

I should probably explain that last picture: The inside of a chapel that was part of the Rock of Cashel had been painted with religious murals. During the time of the Reformation, they thought that those types of art were idolatrous, so they whitewashed over it all. They're trying to uncover and protect the old art, but it's obviously a painstaking process.

Unfortunately we didn't have time for our last planned stop of the trip. We were going to go to Powerscourt Gardens on our way back to the ferry, but we just didn't have the time, even if the weather had been nicer. I guess we'll just have to go back someday!

We got in to Wales at about 8:30 that night.

Wednesday, the 8th of October, we drove the 4 1/2 hours back home. Madeline was super happy to be home. Poor kid, she really was a trooper, but two-year-olds thrive on routine, and a "routine" of getting up every morning to leave and go somewhere else just doesn't cut it! Not to mention putting in over 1000 miles of driving (meaning being strapped into her car seat) in one week!!

Grandma and Grandpa left the next day to get to London. Their flight out of Heathrow was early enough that they decided to spend their last night in a hotel rather than try to get from Peterborough to London in time. Madeline misses her Grandma and Grandpa, but she had a lot of fun with them while they were here, and so did we. I'm glad I can now say I've been to Ireland, and it really is a beautiful place; well worth the visit.