Sunday, November 18, 2012

Experiencing Ireland

Continuing on with our adventure over the summer in Ireland...

Wednesday/Thursday, June 27-28, 2012

On Wednesday morning, Steven, Nicole, David and I left the kids and Brenda and Dewey at the Cliffhouse in order to drive to the train station in Galway for an overnight in Dublin!  It was an early morning, so we were all pretty tired on the trainride into the city.  But four hours later, we had arrived!  I have to admit, I wasn't as excited about going to Dublin as I had been to see the parts of Ireland that we were staying near.  Friends that I had talked to had told me that it really isn't that much different than any other big city over here, and we had been to plenty of those.  But I couldn't imagine being in Ireland for a week and not going to Dublin, and I am so glad we did! Guinness, anyone???

After a long walk to the hotel to drop off our bags, we started our day with a pub lunch in the city centre.  We were originally going to take a walking tour, but we were all pretty tired from all the cycling on Tuesday and the early morning, so we decided to take an open top bus tour of the city, instead.  We listened to the live guide as he told us about Dublin, and got to do a drive-by of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin Castle, the Jameson Distillery, and of course, the Guinness Storehouse.

That night, we went on The Gravedigger Ghost Bus Tour.  Anyone who knows me should know well enough that this isn't the type of thing I would normally choose to do.  I am not a fan of scary stuff, things jumping out at you, etc etc.  But the tour was so much fun and our guide was hilarious.  It is basically just like going to a show or comedy night.  The double decker bus with the blackened windows and smoke machine took us around town, and our guide told us about "his" time living in Dublin during the Plague.  We stopped at several spots around the city where he and the other actor on board told stories of strange occurrences and creepy tales throughout the city.  Then we made one last stop at John Kavanagh's Gravedigger pub.  What a fun experience!
On Thursday, we ate breakfast at the hotel and again boarded the city tour bus (thank you two day passes!) to take us to the Guinness Storehouse.  David has been to several breweries before, but I have never been, so I was excited to learn about how they make the perfect Guinness!  We learned about how important the water is that is used to make the stout.  Guinness is available pretty much everywhere now, and is brewed in many different countries.  But depending on the site where the water for it originates, the flavor and taste can be altered.  Only Guinness brewed in Ireland with water from the Wicklow Mountains is exactly how Guinness is meant to taste!

In college, when we used to go to Molly's to "Ride the Rail," I always used to trade my Guinness for the cider.  :o)  I always hated it!  But we got a tip:  Guinness is not meant to be sipped.  You should take a nice long drink of it, to get the true flavor.  And let me tell you, it worked!  Our self-guided tour ended with a pint up at the top of the Storehouse, overlooking all of Dublin.  I drank the whole thing, and half of another!!!
On Friday and Saturday our little family of four broke away for some alone time. First, David and I took the kids on a tour of one of the caves around Doolin, Aillwee Cave.  We walked down into the ground and got to experience what real darkness is!  No natural light, no artificial light.  Our guide even made sure everyone put their cameras and phones away.  It was really spooky.  The cave was only discovered in the 1940s by a farmer who followed his dog, who had been chasing a rabbit!  The farmer didn't tell anyone else about his discovery until the 1970s, and even as recently as the early 1990s were areas of the vast cave still being explored for the first time.  But even with its "newness," the cave is still probably the most famous of all the thousands of caves throughout the Burren.  Inside there was an underground river, a waterfall, and lots of stalactites and stalagmites.  (Do you know the difference???)

After the cave we went to the Burren Birds of Prey center, and got to learn about owls, hawks and other birds of prey.  David and I even volunteered to go up during the talk to have a hawk land on our arms!

Saturday morning we left early and took the kids back to the beach near where we went on Monday.  There was an aquatic centre there, so even though it was super cold and rainy outside, we got in some swimming practice indoors on our holiday.  After swimming, we went horseback riding.  All week, Darian had been saying that she wanted to ride a horse, and Maxwell very adamantly said that he did not.  But when we finally got to the pony rides, Darian was too scared to go, and it just ended up being an adventure for Maxwell and Mommy.  It was really fun, and he did great!  My horse was not a good listener.  He kept stopping along the path to eat a snack, and each time he bent down to get a bite to eat, I thought I was going to fall right off!

Maxwell and his guide
Me and my hungry, hungry horsey

We met back up with the rest of the family for one last pub dinner before heading back to England.  And although we left Ireland behind, David has still been drinking Guinness often when we go out!
Last night in Ireland

For the full (out of order) album from this leg of our trip, go here.

Éirinn go Brách!

A few years ago, David and I wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise.  We sent out emails to friends to see if anyone would want to go with us.  At the time, Brenda said that she and Dewey wanted to take us all on a trip for their 40th wedding anniversary, so she asked if we would wait until 2012 to take the cruise.  Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought that we would be living abroad in 2012!

I was pumped at the prospect of a Mediterranean cruise instead, but then in early 2012 before we started making our plans, the Costa Concordia cruise liner sank off the coast of Italy.  After that, I knew there was no way we were going to get Brenda on a cruise!

Luckily for us, there are so many beautiful and amazing countries right around the corner, just waiting for the Ingham Family to explore!  David did his usual research, and we all decided on Ireland!  Éirinn go Brách!

Sunday, June 24, 2012
    Happy Anniversary!  
Brenda and Dewey:  40 years!!
After an early morning wakeup call, a bouncy bus ride, a quick trip up and down in Aer Lingus, a car rental debacle, an hour car ride, and a quick grocery run...we were finally at the house!  The Cliffhouse in Doolin, Ireland.  It was gorgeous and it was a wonderful way to spend the week on the island.  After getting settled, we drove back into town to have a pub dinner.  The first place was way too busy; it was so much fun to see firsthand all the fun, energetic (rowdy?) Irish men and women, drinking their Guinness and having a ball.  Just another Sunday night in good ol' Ireland!   When we walked into the pub where we ended up eating, there were musicians playing traditional music.  It was awesome!  We had a yummy dinner while we watched some football (soccer) and then headed home to get settled into the house.

Remember when I saved Maxwell's life on the bobsled in Prague?  Well, apparently that is now a theme during our travels.  Let me back track a bit...

On  Monday morning we all left the house and took a scenic drive to the Cliffs of Moher.  We all hiked up the hill to see the amazing view of the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean.  If only my eyes were strong enough to see thousands of miles across the sea, we could have waved to Terri and Randy in Rhode Island!!  :o)
Atop the cliffs, there is a tower called O'Brien's Tower.  The tower is more than 175 years old, and from the top you can  look out and see the Aran Islands (where we traveled to on Tuesday).
After the initial hike up and then back down, Dewey went to rest and the rest of us hiked up even farther on the other side of the cliffs.  We came to this sign...
...but we are rebels and we kept going.  (Hey, everyone else was doing it, too!)  We walked quite far up the clifs, and there was no fence or gate between us and the side.  Scary!  When we got to a point where we thought we had seen enough of the view, we all stopped and were about to turn around.  Nicole was carrying a sleeping Darian in the ergo, and her newly potty trained little body couldn't wake up to tell us she had to pee.  Poor Nicole! Poor, wet, pee stained Nicole!!!  Maxwell told me he had to pee, too, so rather than have three wet pee stained bodies on our hands, I grabbed his hand and went to take him behind some rocks to pee.  Unfortunately, there was also an electric fence between the rocks and the green space!  Maxwell grabbed the fence to steady himself, and we both received a bolt!!  He cried (rightly so), and I was totally scared!  It felt like someone had punched me in the chest; as if my heart had stopped for a second and then threw itself inside me to start back up again.  My whole body felt tingly, especially my hand where I had been holding onto Maxwell's.  And it was hard to breathe for a few minutes.  CRAZY!!!  I can't even imagine what his little body felt, knowing what I experienced just from holding his hand.  He seemed fine, and I convinced myself that the jolt went through him and I got the most of it.  Let me believe that, okay?  The alternative sucks!

Originally Dave, Steve, Nicole and I were going to take an hour long surfing lesson.  But the weather was gloomy and cold, so S, N and I ganged up on David and convinced him it wasn't a good idea. :o)  Instead, we went to the beach and had lunch and played on the nearby playground with the kids.

We had an early start on Tuesday, in order to get to the port where we would take a short boat ride (over choppy waters, I might add) to the Aran Islands.  Once we arrived in Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands, Brenda and Dewey set themselves up with a bus tour of the island, and the rest of us went to rent bikes.  I figured that I get enough of toting the kids around in the trailer on a regular basis, so this time David got the pleasure of hauling that load!  It was a misty, cloudy, cool day, but the view was spectacular. Limestone rock fences, grazing horses and cattle, and the  North Atlantic, stretching out as far as the eye could see.  It was a hilly climb, and occasionally we had to stop and rest and/or walk our bikes up the path, but it was well worth it to travel that way.  

Nicole had since moved away from
the potential spit bombs
We reached our destination, Dun Aengus, and parked our bikes to hike up to the fort.  After all the cycling, those steps were not my favorite part of the day!  The prehistoric site is one of the most famous forts, with a breathtaking view.  I parked the kids well away from the edge of the cliffs while the rest of us took in the sights.  It was incredibly windy, and quite scary on the edge!!  Steven, Nicole, and David decided to lie down on their bellies to look over the edge, and David tested the wind by spitting over the edge, only to have "it" come back up and nearly hit Nicole in the face!
About as close as I wanted to get!

The bike ride back to the boat was SO MUCH FUN!!!  As hard as it had been to cycle up the hills to get us to Dun Aengus, the hills going down made it totally worth it!  The kid in me came alive as I let go of the handle bars, put my arms out, and screamed a mighty, "Woooo hooooo!" as we glided down to the bottom of the hill.

To see the full album of pictures from this part of our trip, go here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Summer Fun

The summer of 2012 will certainly go down as a busy, adventure packed time in our lives.  All the tails in this house were busy, busy!  Although, it seems like that is the nature of this entire living abroad adventure!

We all logged lots of miles in the car, in the air, across the sea, along train tracks...I believe there was even a horse or two involved in our travel over the past several months!  But the best part was, we got to have in person hugs and kisses from some of our favorite people.  We had visits from Gaga Brenda, Papa Dewey, Uncle Steve, Aunt Nicole, and Nana Paulette!

And as you can imagine, there are TONS of tales as all those tails made their way across Europe, and more photos and videos than I can even contemplate at the moment.  So...

The littlest tail is back to preschool this week and is already thriving in her new but familiar environment.  She understood that her big brother was going to big school, but she was still sad to be walking through the nursery door alone.  Big brother will be scooting his little tail off to Reception next week!!  Kids start Reception, or Foundation Stage, the September after they turn four here.  It is the equivalent of Kindergarten.    His teacher came by the house yesterday for a visit to prepare him (and us!) with what to expect on Monday, and he is super excited!!

All that being said, when those little tails are both off to school next week, Mommy is going to bust HER tail to get those pictures downloaded and write some Travel Blogs from Summer 2012!  So keeping watching back to read about our adventures!!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Finishing the week with a few bruises...

Remember that time when I saved Maxwell's life on the bobsled?  No?  I haven't told you that story?!?  Well, you'll have to wait because it happened on our last day in Prague.  If you are reading this blog and haven't read the first two, go back!  I am writing these in order of events, but blogspot posts the most recent one first.  This is the third and final Prague blog.


When we began this adventure abroad, I told David that I wanted to see some historical sites while we were in Europe, like perhaps places that were ruined by war or a concentration camp or something.  I always hated history, but I love seeing places in order to learn about the past.  David set up a tour for us to go on to Terezin, Czech Republic.  Terezin is a walled city, with a fortress that has held many uses since its construction.  It was first a military fortress, then a prison camp, and during WWII, a concentration camp and prison.  The city and prison were not a death camp, although many people did die there due to the horrible living conditions and overpopulation.  The kids enjoyed the bus ride to the town and were really good once again throughout the tour.  It felt very strange to be walking through this place that has such a horrible history.  It is a town where people live and are trying to thrive, but it has a sense of despair and quiet that just can't be erased.  The prison is now a tourist attraction, which is so hard to wrap your head around.  There are lines of restrooms with really nice facilities, and a restaurant/cafe WITHIN the prison, where all of these people were held as POWs and died horrible deaths.  I was glad to have experienced it, but I hated it at the same time.  

After arriving back in Old Town Prague, we stopped at a mall to walk around and look at the different shops.  In the square there was a dance competition going on with all these little girls, from about 5-10.  It was a fun little pit stop to watch them dance and people watch in the square (and I picked up my souvenir egg).  Even in the middle of all the other tourists, there were all these locals celebrating, drinking, and having a good time watching their kids.  It was cool!


It was raining when we woke up on Thursday and the forecast called for it all day, so after breakfast David took the kids swimming at the hotel, and I went to the hotel next door for a massage.  It was wonderful, as always.  I feel the same way about massages as David does about pizza:  even if it isn't great, it's still good!! We decided to take advantage of the rainy day and headed back to the mall that we found the day before.  We had lunch in the food court, at a place called The California Cafe that had dishes named after cities in CA, but were Czech meals like fried cheese steak and wiener schnitzel.  Weird.  Then we found an indoor play place and let the kids roam for a bit.  Maxwell and David really liked the ball guns.  I love my husband, but he is a dip.  It's all fun and games until your toddler (and his mother) get a ball launched right at his face.  He had a quick recovery, and was able to be the big man and a good big brother when Darian got trapped at the top of the play area and he helped lead her down the slide to the bottom.  

The week was beginning to take its toll, so we went back to the hotel to take a nap.  We had big plans for a late night, so I wanted to have the kids at their best.  Daddy went out to pick up an easy Chinese food dinner that we ate in the hotel room before out big night.  We were testing the kids:  we took them to the theatre, for a show that didn't even start until 8pm!  I gotta say, we got some dirty looks from the people around us, who were probably thinking, "Oh, great. Toddlers.  Our night was just ruined."  But as always, the kids were FANTASTIC! It helped that the show was amazing.  :o)  We went to see Afrikania, a black light theatre production.  It was all music and dance, where the dancers had these amazing costumes in front of black backgrounds that just glowed when the black lights came on.  It was mesmerizing and the kids both loved it!  Darian really like the first dancers, the butterflies, and Maxwell liked the zebras.  
After the show we walked to the Charles Bridge to see the city at night.  It was a long day with a lot of walking again, so I have to admit I was a bit crabby.  I was kicking myself for not bringing the Ergo to Prague, and wishing that we could have brought the stroller.  But the city was ablaze at night and it was well worth the midnight stroll.


Our last full day in Prague, David had quite the experience planned for us.  After breakfast we took the metro to a different mall, where there was a dinosaur park on the roof!  It was a very cool exhibit, with realistic looking dinosaurs who moved and had sound effects. It was very "Jurassic Park," and even the font for the signs was like the film.  Maxwell (who loves dinosaurs) was a bit freaked out by the two huge T Rex's at the entrance who were moving and roaring at him, but he warmed up and was eventually running up and down the pavement to look at all of the dinos.  The tickets to the park included a 3-D movie back inside the mall, that was in Czech and was actually quite gruesome.  Maxwell didn't like that at all (oh, my timid little man) and Darian, as always, was up for anything.

After lunch at the mall and a bit of shopping to find a birthday present for Aunt Nicole (my new tradition.  Her Christmas present was from Spain, bday from Prague. (o: ), we went back to the metro to travel to our last big adventure.  And let me tell you, David saved the best for last.

Remember that time I almost died?

Yep.  BOBSLEDS.  We walked for about a mile to get to the park and restaurant.  David said that Maxwell and I should go first, so I went for it.  The track is about 1km or a little over half a mile.  I was nervous but excited!  There wasn't anyone else at the park right then, so there was no one ahead of me in line.  I asked the man who was "directing traffic"  how to stop the sled, and he said (in broken English), "Stop.  Down."  Easy enough, right?

Maxwell was sitting in between my legs and we were both holding the brake.  There was absolutely no support on the sled, either for my back or legs.  I figured it would be best to start off slow before I learned how to manoeuvre the thing, so I pressed the brake flush to the floor of the sled.  We started going down, and I couldn't believe how fun it was...or how fast!  This is at full break?!?  NO WAY!  When we started going towards a turn in the track, I realized that I would have to lean my body  against the curve in order to stay upright.  It was the scariest thing I have even done in my life.  I was sitting in this thing that felt like it was flying, and I had my baby boy on my lap without a helmet.  We did a couple more turns like that, and on the fourth one I couldn't hold my body up enough to keep us up.  My feet and legs couldn't hold on and the flailed a bit, and my right shoulder hit the wall of the track.  I was digging my heels into the track best I could without cutting my feet off, and my right arm/shoulder kept riding the rail.  I seriously thought we were going to fall off.  I was able to almost slow to a stop, and we came to another turn, where there was a sign with a picture that said (in English, thank goodness!) "Break!  Stop!"  and it showed pulling the brake TOWARDS you.  Oh my goodness I am a dip.  I was so pissed at the guy that said break down!!!  I pulled it up and we stopped and I was able to reposition us on the sled in order to get back down.  The rest of the ride was uneventful, and when we started getting brought back up the hill, we were all smiles.  David didn't even know that we had almost crashed!    Maxwell didn't have a scratch on him, and he was totally fine. Nothing like knowing that your kid feels totally secure and safe in your arms!!
"I. AM. SPEED!!!"

When I was showing David what happened, we realized that there was a burn mark on my jacket, and my arm was all red and starting to bruise.  One small bruise, one huge victory for Super Mom!!  I saved my kid, and he went right back down the hill with David a few minutes later, yelling, "I AM SPEED!"  (Cars/Lightning McQueen reference)


We didn't have much time before the ride to the airport, so we didn't plan anything for Saturday.  We had a nice last buffet breakfast at the hotel, and then David kept the kids occupied with the blocks and games in the lobby while I went upstairs to pack.  It was really easy to get through the Prague airport.  We were about ready to go to the gate when we realized that we had never been through security.  But wait...we had been through the duty free shops, and had lunch at a cafe.  How can they not have security?!?  Turns out they had two small lines right at the gate.  We went through, and then were ushered to a bus that took us to the plane.  We had priority boarding since we had the kids, but it wasn't really a luxury on that flight, because there were two full buses of families!  It was the most chaotic flight I have ever been on in my life!  The kids were loud, crying, screaming, one point someone threw a stuffed animal at my head.  It was quite an eye opening experience that really made David and I look at our kids in wonder at not only how well behaved they were on that flight, but how well the behaved all week.  They really are awesome.  I love that we have a routine when we are at home, but I am so glad that they are easy going enough to be cool with it when we aren't.  We only had naptime once or twice all week, they were late to bed at night, we were either doing tons of walking or they were strapped into the stroller for hours and hours...our kids are just amazing.  

When we got back to the airport, we didn't have the best time getting the car back from "Stress Free Parking" company.  It took an hour and a half, and had we not valeted but parked on our own, we would have been home in that time.  A strongly worded letter later, David got a partial refund, and all in all, regardless of the yuck of that moment, our week in Prague was one of the best weeks of my life.  We explored, experienced new foods and culture, spent real, quality time with each other and made amazing memories.  No words can describe how lucky we are to be living abroad and have the chance to take these amazing trips.  Like I said in my first post, I am still on a Prague High!!

To see the full album of this part of our trip, go here.
With a smile on my face, because this is one trip I will NEVER forget!!
This was on Sunday night, about 48 hours later.  I really should have taken a picture of what it looked like on Tuesday.  Believe me, it got WAY worse!!

The Easter Rabbit Found Us!

I really am getting quite good at packing for our holidays.  David was shocked to see everything that I was able to bring along in just two bags for the four of us for a week!  Including goodies from the Easter Bunny.  Or Easter Rabbit, as Maxwell corrected me.

Our first full day in Prague was Easter Sunday, and what better way than to wake up to an egg hunt in the hotel?  Maxwell woke up, and very quietly came to my side of the bed and said, "Mommy!  The Easter Rabbit left eggs and treats all over the hotel!!"  We had fun looking for all the eggs and then got ready to really start our vacation.

Note to readers with toddlers: It is SO worth it to splurge on breakfast at the hotel if they offer it.  We were able to start each day with a nice, filling breakfast, with plenty of options so we were sure to find something the kids would eat.  As a stay-at-home mom, I feel like oftentimes I just go from meal to meal...make breakfast, play, get them a snack, play, make get the idea.  When you are out of your home for days at a time, the idea of providing all of that food on the go is a bit daunting.  After trial and error (mostly from our trip to Barcelona last fall) David and I learned that filling the mini-fridge with Maxwell and Darian friendly food, packing a lunch and sometimes dinner each day totally makes our adventures easier!


It was very cold this day!  We got all bundled up and headed out towards the river, where we were taking a water taxi to the Prague Zoo.  We have been to a lot of farms here in the UK, but we haven't been to a zoo since we moved here.  And the LA Zoo isn't really all that great, so we were excited to see all the animals!  I definitely recommend going to the zoo when you are in a new country, with or without kids.  David and I really enjoyed seeing all the new animals, specifically birds, that we had never seen or heard of before.  The Prague Zoo was huge and had such a variety of animals.

My favorites were the ones we saw at the end of the day:  the polar bears, penguins and wolves.  But this tiger was awesome.  They had the male and female separated (I think this is the female; there were cubs on her side).  The male was pacing back and forth on his side and growling, and then when we got over there to this side, she jumped up onto this log and was "talking" to him.  It was so cool to see them communicating like that!
It was so cold that it actually started snowing quite a bit while we were there, and Darian was not happy.  She perked up a bit when we rode on the chair lift, but it was a long day for the little one.  We took a bus/metro combo to get back to the hotel for a swim.  Then we finally experienced our first Czech dinner.  We ate at a pub called Pivovarsky Dum, and the food was delicious!


It was still quite chilly on Monday, but the sun was shining and it was a wonderful day for a walking tour.  After breakfast we walked to Wenceslas Square again, and headed to the Old Town Square.  There were lots of Easter Markets buzzing with activity.  We heard lots of different accents and languages about, but our ears were always drawn to the Americans.  We decided on a "free tour" in case we had to leave it early if the kids weren't behaving.  Our guide was great, and there were about 6-8 other people on the tour.  We walked through Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, over the Charles Bridge, into Lesser town and then up a huge hill to Prague Castle.
At the wall overlooking the city from Prague Castle.
All of the architecture and sights were just beautiful, and we really covered a lot of ground.  The kids were AMAZING!  Darian fell asleep for a bit, but Maxwell was so content, just sitting in the stroller and enjoying the views.  At one point David's blackberry did have to make an appearance in order to keep him from whining, but otherwise the kids were fantastic.  The tour was a good three hours or more, so once we got back to the hotel we were pretty tired.  No swimming this time.  That night we had another yummy Czech meal at a pub by our hotel, U Graffu.


 It is always nice when you don't have to get up for anything specific when on holiday.  On Tuesday we woke slowly, let the kids watch some Sesame Street (dubbed in German, I think) and Dinosaur Train (dubbed in French!).  We took the metro to Subway.  Wait...what?  ha ha  We wanted to get sandwiches for ourselves that day, so we took the metro to Subway.  Why is that confusing?  :o)  From there we took a tram up to Petrin Hill.  Atop Petrin Hill is Petrin Tower, which looks a lot like the Eiffel Tower, but smaller.  But since it is built on top of the big hill, I think that the observation deck is actually "higher" than the Eiffel Tower!!  We took a funicular up to the top of the hill.  The kids love those.  They must be a European thing; I had never heard of one before, but now between Barcelona and Prague we have been on several.  The kids spotted a playground, so we stopped for a little while to play before we ventured onto our big climb.  Maxwell was adamant about taking the stairs, so he and David left Darian and I waiting for the lift and started their climb.  When we met them at the top, I was shocked to find out that Maxwell did all of the stairs but the last ten.  289/299!  What a big boy!
Tower and grounds
Panoramic view from the observation deck of Petrin Tower
After the tower we went into a small building that had a Hall of Mirrors.  The kids LOVED it.  Entry fee to Hall of Mirrors:  £5 for the family.  Sounds of giggles and BONKS! as Maxwell rounded the corners too fast and ran into himself?  PRICELESS.

Tuesday night we went to an amazing restaurant for dinner, Vytopna Railway Restaurant.  (That is a video of it!)  Maxwell had a love/hate relationship with this place.  There are mini rails all throughout the place, and they deliver your beverages on a train!  Maxwell spent the entire evening standing up in his chair, waiting for the drink to go by.  He was so restless.  When one would come by, he was so excited.  But as soon as it would leave he would turn around and ask David and I to hurry up and finish our drinks so that we could order more!

To see a more thorough album of this first part of our trip, visit here.

Prague High!

You would think since the Ingham Family Tails has been silent for almost three months that not much has happened around here.  Quite the contrary!  Yet since we have been so busy, finding time to sit down and write is a bit of a challenge.  As for our recent travels, I MUST get this blog posted today (May 31).  Tomorrow it will be June, and at the end of June we are going to Ireland.  I cannot put off this Prague post any longer! 

Quick Kid Update:  Since our last post, Darian has settled into nursery school with flying colors.  She loves it, and has made lots of new friends.  Maxwell loves having her there, and is such a good big brother to her.  Maxwell is really excelling with his reading and maths.  He is "quite keen" as his teacher puts it.  :o)

March was a busy month for us all.  The kids finally started swimming lessons again.  Darian is in a Mommy & Me class and is doing fantastic.  Maxwell, on the other hand, doesn't really like being in a pool without us, but hopefully as time goes by he will warm up to the class and the teacher.

Maxwell and Mommy on Mothering Day
The Birthday Boy

We had that big 4th birthday in March.  We had a nice, small little pizza party here at the house with our friends, and Maxwell had a great time.  March in the UK is also the month to celebrate "Mum's Day" or "Mothering Day," as we saw on many signs around town.  David and the kids made it a very special day, and I had a blast.

Back to our travels...
When we decided to go away during Maxwell's week off school for Easter, my vote was to go somewhere warm.  I had been in serious need of some sunshine and temps above 50*!!  In our research though, there wasn't really anywhere in Europe that could guarantee anything more than 60 or 65, so I told David to just go wherever he wanted and to surprise me.  I just wanted to show up.  No planning, no research. I just wanted to get away, and since my job here at home is to be prepared and ready on a daily basis to keep the two littles entertained and fed and everything, the vacation part for me would be not having to worry about all that.

David came through with flying colors!  When the time came, I knew that we were going to Prague, and he had run a few ideas by me.  But when it really came down to it, I did not know anything about the city, what to expect, or what he had in store for us.  Being away from his office and all the calls and emails is a holiday for David, but for me traveling with the kids is still my "job."  David is an amazing trip planner!  Like I said...Prague High! I am still all giddy from our trip, and we have been home for more than six weeks! We had the best. week. EVER!  (Sorry about all those exclamation points, but it really was a fantastic week).

We left Saturday morning pretty early in order to get to the airport.  David arranged for us to valet park so that we didn't have too far to get to the terminal.  Our flight was easy and uneventful.  All this traveling has made the kids pretty used to road trips, flying, hotels, etc.  They were great!

When we arrived at the airport in Prague, there was a gentleman with an "Ingham" sign, ready to take us to the car.  How posh!  :o)  It really worked out great though, because we didn't take car seats and planned on using public transport all week.  The airport runs are the only hiccup in that plan, and David found a company who provided infant seats.  Nice!!

We were quite early for check-in time at the hotel, so after dropping off our bags we went for a walk to explore a bit of the neighborhood.  We walked to Wenceslas Square, where David was pleased to see his favorite European thing:  markets!  Pretty much the same as Christmas markets, except these were Easter markets so there were lots of stalls with souvenir eggs, rather than Santa's.  In fact, a hand-painted egg from one of the markets was the only souvenir we bought that week (we prefer to take home pictures and memories!!).  Our first Prague food experiences were not Czech, unfortunately, but they were delicious nonetheless.  We stopped for a pizza lunch and went to a local grocery store before heading back to the hotel.   Grocery shopping in a new country is one of my favorite things to do.  With two picky toddlers, we have learned to pack a picnic style lunch (and sometimes dinner) for the kids each day when we are traveling.  Eating out is expensive, and half the time they won't eat anything at the pub.  I LOVE perusing the aisles at the market, finding the right bread, fruit, searching for snack foods the kids will eat.  It is so fun!!
Wenceslas Square, Prague
After stocking up on groceries, we headed back to the hotel for a swim.  The heated pool was actually quite chilly, so Darian didn't last long.  But Maxwell had a blast and was doing great with his new floaties.  Now if only we could get that same behavior at his structured classes.  Hmmm...

Dinner on Saturday night was quite a treat for us.  Margaritas and Mexican food from a very authentic restaurant, Banditos.  Experiencing Czech food would have to wait until the next day.  That first day was very low-key, but exhausting because of traveling and getting up so early for the airport.

To break up the descriptions a bit, I will end this one here.  Many more Prague adventures to come!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

School Days

For the past couple of months, David and I have been going back and forth with deciding whether or not to put Darian in nursery (pre-school) a couple mornings a week.  We knew it would be good for her, so of course David wasn't the one having reservations.  He misses the kids while he is at work no matter what they do during the day.  But leaving BOTH my babies behind while I sit at home by myself???  I really struggled with the decision.  David left it up to me, and finally I decided to just go for it!  I knew that seeing other children her age besides Maxwell (without me around) and receiving instructions from other adults besides Mommy and Daddy would be good for her.  I thought that being in that environment would help her language development, social skills, independence, etc.  

So today, Darian had her first day of preschool!!  She is with Maxwell at a Montessori Nursery here in Oxford.  We really like this school , and for the last six months Maxwell has really thrived there.  Originally we thought we would send her to the other Montessori that the principal runs.  We wanted them each to have their special place, to make their own friends, and to have a few hours a week where they didn't have to share everything.  But the other nursery had children from 1-5 years old, and part of the reason to send her a couple mornings a week would to be around other kids and learn by example.  I decided that spending those hours with all those babies may distract from that.  And of course, it is a lot easier on us to have them dropped off and picked up at the same place!!!

Darian had a great first day!  She was so excited to go this morning she barely ate any breakfast.  She wanted to put her new school shoes and backpack on right away!  Maxwell was really excited to have her go, too.
When we got to school they held hands down the sidewalk and walked in together.  Once inside she knew exactly what to do, having watched Maxwell get dropped off so many times.  She took off her coat and put her indoor shoes on like a big girl.  Then she was ready to go upstairs.  Maxwell was so excited to show her everything, even though she sees it everyday, that he hadn't put his shoes on yet.  She was standing on the stairs saying, "Come on, Maxwell!!" 
It was awesome.  Upstairs he got her set up with a puzzle and the sat side by side to play.  Seeing she was fine David and I said our goodbyes.  They both waved and blew kisses as we left, and Mommy held it together until the door closed behind me until the tears came.  It was hard to leave him the first day, but I had her to go home and play and cuddle with.  Today was hard to leave my baby girl behind.  

But then I went grocery shopping BY MYSELF, which I have done maybe 5 times in the last four years!!!  :o)  I washed and vacuumed the car and then had coffee with my friend Debbie.  When I picked them up, they were sitting nicely side by side in the kitchen singing songs with their teacher, Rose.  They both got up when they saw me and ran over for hugs.  Darian had a huge smile on her face and said, "Mommy I go to school!"  What an awesome experience for her!!

The teachers said that she did GREAT for her first day and that they were surprised at how happy and quickly she just jumped right in to do everything.  Rose was pleasantly surprised that Darian already holds her pencil correctly and seemed interested in writing.  :o)  We do a lot of that around here.   About halfway through the morning, when they were outside to play she got a bit upset and cried for me, but Maxwell came to comfort her and they were able to distract her and then she was fine.  We are so proud of our big girl!!!  She had the orange plate at dinner tonight to commemorate this special day!!!

(To see a few more cute pictures, go here)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Guest Blogger: Daddy Weekend

Jennifer has been saying for a while that she would like a weekend to herself. Being with the kids all the time can be a little draining, and even though she loves it, needs some time away. Also, Jennifer likes saying that I don't know what it's like to take care of the kids all day, implying that if I tried I might lose one (or parts of one).  So we finally decided to address all of these things and the kids and I went off for an overnight!  We selected Belgium since it's close and we needed to go shopping there anyway (mommy needed Speculoos Spread and daddy needed beer).  :-)

We started early on a Saturday morning and drove to Dover to catch the ferry to Dunkirk, France.  The kids were very good on the 2.5 hour drive, but they did alternate between wanting to listen to the Glee CD (Maxwell) and their Monkey Music CD (Darian).  It's a cliché that kids want to listen to and watch the same things over and over, but they really do, and it's cute at first and then annoying shortly after.  We got on the boat without incident and the kids proceeded straight to the play area where they stayed the entire time.  They played with a couple of French kids for a while and it was cute to watch them 'talking' to each other.

Do you see her all the way in the back?
'I'm on a boat!'
5 hours and 2 countries into the trip and I still had 2 kids with 10 finger and toes each.

The first stop was at a monastery/brewery less than an hour from Dunkirk.  It has just snowed the day before so we carefully drove through Belgian farmland, dodging tractors on small back roads until we arrived at our destination.  Along the way we passed a few bread vending machines that were in farm towns too small for a shop.  I guess the bakery fills the machine every morning so the townsfolk don't have to make the long drive to the next town.  At the monastery we had a beer (me) and ice cream (the kids-although the ice cream was made with some of the beer), before playing in the snow.

The brewing facility.

Maxwell and Darian

Playgrounds are great even when covered in snow.
After the kids were sufficiently frozen from playing in the snow (Jennifer almost was right, we barely survived frostbite) we were off to our next destination....The Hotel!  We were staying in a town called Ieper/Ypres, a town destroyed during WW1, but was rebuilt immediately after. After a pizza dinner we messed around the hotel room.  

Nice face Darian.

That's better.

Shower cap monster!!!
(guess who took this picture)
In the morning we had a great breakfast (Darian ate the frosting on top of an eclair and Maxwell had a pain au chocolat) before going to the supermarket for our shopping trip. I always like doing normal stuff in a different country.  It's one thing to go to tourist locations where you just see other tourists, but a grocery store is a different experience.  Also, here I was not in a tourist area and away from major cities, so English was not very prevalent.  But a grocery story is a grocery store, so even though I didn't know what the lady was saying I just imagined she was asking me for my club card and if I had any of my own bags, normal stuff.  In the end my chip and pin card worked so I left with my beer (case and a half) and speculoo spread (12 jars). 

We then made our way to the final stop, a small beer distributor on the French/Belgian border to get a few more cases.  Darian slept through this part and Maxwell liked the owners dog that was roaming the aisles.  

Hop Farm near the store.
After a quick lunch we drove back to Dunkirk and boarded that boat back to England.  Maxwell and Darian played the entire time again, and wore themselves out.  However, we did have a significant loss, Maxwell's stuffed airplane 'guy' was left on the boat to forever travel the English Channel.  On our final approach to Oxford we again switched between the Glee and Monkey CDs, and came home to Mommy waiting patiently for us...happy we were gone, but ecstatic to see us!  She didn't count their fingers and toes, but believe me, they were all still there.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Speaking English

Since we have been here for nine months now, I think I have gotten the hang of the differences in my American English vs. English English.  Or at least I thought I had until the other night when I rode my bike to the store for some milk.

There were three cyclists in front of me; two were going my speed, one was very slow and wobbly.  The two fast people passed the slow guy, so I did the same.  Except when I went to pass him, he yelled at me!  And you wouldn't believe what he said:  "You wiley cu**!  You almost ran me over!"  Now, at first I was pretty shocked to be called this, but then I realized the wobbliness was because he was drunk (pissed!) and looked like he was probably homeless.  It made me wonder if he had just "acquired" that bike recently.  Anyway, I came home and told Dave that story and he busted out laughing.  I am wondering if in England the term is more common?  Like calling someone a bitch in the US isn't really all that insulting anymore??

Then for some reason, something has changed in Maxwell this week.  He has slowly been developing a bit of an accent for months, but this week we have really noticed a difference.  You can really hear it in the inflection when he asks questions.  It's not something I can express with the written word, so I am going to do my best to capture a video of it!  And of course because I spend all my time with him or other moms, teachers, and kids, I am starting to do it, too.  Dave thinks it is hilarious and makes fun of me, but also thinks it is awesome because I don't even realize I am doing it.  And for some reason I only do it when I am talking to Maxwell or other children.  The biggest changes in Maxwell's vocabulary are that he occasionally now says wee and toilet (instead of peepee and potty), rubbish (garbage), bin (garbage can), bit (piece), as well (too), and biscuit (cookie).  He is also saying today and story weird.  Today sounds like todah, and story is suddenly stor-ay.  And of course, much to my dismay, I get the occasional Mummy.  Yuck.  Of course, these words always sneak up the most the couple hours after I pick him up from school, and on the weekends he doesn't do it much.

Then there is my spelling.  I bought my laptop here so it is set up to UK English and the keyboard is all weird.  I think I am getting used to it.  When I first got it I always had ## at the end of everything because that is now in the place by my right pinky where the enter key should be.  It is weird seeing words that I know I am spelling correctly get underlined all the time, though. Color?  No, colour.  Neighbor?  Nope.  Neighbour.  Favourite.  Favour.  What's with all the extra "U"s?  And apparently I am only supposed to hit the spacebar once after I finish a sentence, although I was taught to use two.  Hmmm...

So, just in case you come to visit or call us on the phone or skype, here's a quick reference guide to some of the new words we are using, due to the fact that if we don't people look at us like we are a little dumb.  :o)

Garden = backyard
buggy or pushchair or pram = stroller
nappy = diaper
pants = underwear
trousers = pants
lorry = truck
trolley = shopping cart
motorway = highway or freeway
slip road = exit on the motorway
queue = line
cinema/film = movie theater/movie
ring = call on the phone
call = visit your home
diary = calendar
boot = trunk
holiday = vacation
proper = actual or real.  I used this a couple weeks ago on my Facebook page without realizing it.  "David and I went on a proper date."  ;o)

These are the terms that have crept up into our vocabulary over the last nine months.  There are a TON more differences!  It took me years of living in California to start saying soda instead of pop, so I am pretty surprised that these changes have happened so quickly.  Do you think we'll all have accents by the time we move back to the States??

Man.  I just heard that last question in an accent in my head.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

And We're Off!

When we found out that 1) David got a lot of time off around Christmas and 2) Marie was coming to visit us for the holiday, we decided that we should go somewhere for a few days.  At first I wanted to go to Paris.  I have this idea in my head about Paris at Christmas..I think I watch too many movies!  We started to plan for it, but then Marie told us she was going to France in January, so we figured we should show her part of Europe that she may not go to on her own while she is living abroad this year.

David's favorite European city (so far?) is Brussels, Belgium.  When David and I went to Belgium in 2007 we also fell in love with Brugge, but since we were only there for a few hours during that trip, that is where we decided to go this time.  I thought it would be fun to surprise Marie with the trip.  Our plan was to say on Wednesday night, "Pack a bag for two days...we're taking you somewhere tomorrow."  And then just cousin-nap her away.  But when she first came to town she babysat for us and then she went to Bath and London with her Aunt Terri and cousin I started to feel guilty that she wasn't going to be able to explore Oxford much at all.  So I told her on Tuesday night that we were going somewhere so that she was at least forewarned a little bit, but our destination was still a surprise!

Thursday, December 22 started bright and early.  We had tickets on the 9:15 ferry from Dover, England to Calais, France so we had a two hour + drive ahead and had to get everyone up and out the door by 630am!  The kids were excited about the road trip with Cousin Marie in the backseat to play with them!

The ferry ride was cool, and it had a pretty amazing view of England as we sailed away!

The white cliffs of Dover, England
The ferry ride was a lot of fun for the kids, and the adults all enjoyed the views.

Once we landed in France, we had a quick hour or so drive to get to Brugge.  We all agreed that the countryside in France looked quite similar to Illinois!  Very flat, empty fields and plains.  It was strange for David to be driving our UK car (driver's side on the right) in France and Belgium.  They obviously drive on the right there, but they still have round-abouts.  Being on the right side of the car while also driving on the right was a challenge for him!

When we got to our hotel the room wasn't quite ready, so we stashed our things and parked the car in order to go for a walk and explore.  In the main square in Brugge, we found the usual European Christmas markets (mmm...waffles and mulled wine) and an ice rink!  We told Maxwell about ice skating and he said over and over that he wanted to go.  David and I know our kid well enough to know that it wasn't going to happen, but we went with it.  David bought two tickets and got this far with him before the freak out got too bad to continue:
Then since we had already paid for two, Marie stepped in while the kids and I watched!!  It was very warm out and the ice had a good 1/2 inch of water across the top of it, so David and Marie were very careful not to fall!  And they didn't!  Good job, guys!!!
David and Marie, trying hard not to fall!
Jen and kids, enjoying just watching!
 Brugge is such a beautiful city.  The buildings are like a fairy tale land, and with the bridges over the canals and the is just so magical.  It was wonderful to see it all done up for Christmas.  The markets are really cool.  There are stalls with food, crafts, clothing, beer, ornaments.  Anything and everything.  We even found a section of one that had some games, so we stopped for the kids to play!

We had a nice dinner out that first night and then walked around some more.  Once we got back to the hotel and got all settled in with kiddies in bed, David and I took advantage of our travelling companion (Marie!) being there to stay with the littles while we went out and got a drink.

Friday arrived with the wonderful news that the kids had slept in...late!  The hotel had awesome blackout windows (must buy those for this house) and we all got some much needed zzzz's.  After a quick breakfast we loaded up for the day and headed to the train station to Brussels.  It is really interesting trying to take public transportation in cities where you don't speak the language.  Interesting.  Luckily, we made it to our train and were ready to have an awesome day!
Our stops in Brussels before heading to the town centre were really, really cool!  David did a great job of planning our day.  First we went to the Atomium, a structure that was built in 1958 for the World's Fair.  Hard to describe, so here is a photo:
Crazy long escalator tube!
5 or 6 of the spheres are open, connected by ginormous staircases and escalators.  They have art exhibits, a restaurant, and one of them is dedicated to the construction of the structure in 1958.  We watched a video of these guys hanging from the thing, tightening nuts and bolts with their bare hands.  It blew my mind!  I couldn't believe this amazing piece of architechture was built in the 50s without scaffolding, cranes, etc., and then that made me think about ancient creations like the pyramids and from there I had to stop myself because no good can come of me letting my mind go like that!  (Dave, Mom and Shelly know what I am talking about!  Ha!)

Anyway, after the Atomium, we popped over to the rest of Europe to see some of the sights.  You know, the Eiffel Tower, Acropolis, leaning tower or Pisa, Big Ben, Stockholm Cathedral, Mount Vesuvius, Arc de Triomphe.  All the normal things that you would see in  a day, right?  :o)  We went to the coolest exhibit:  Mini Europe!  Set up almost like a mini-golf course, the path led us through more than 25 country's greatest architectural sites.  It was really amazing, and now after seeing the miniatures, my list of places to visit while we are here has grown even more.
Marie and Jen at the Eiffel Tower
The whole time we were at Mini-Europe it was drizzling and cold, so we decided to pack up and head somewhere warm.  We made our way back to the tube and took a train to the Grand Place, the main square in Brussels city centre.  In the center of the square there was a giant Christmas tree, and all the buildings were lit up and there was a light show set to music.  Not a great photo opportunity, but very cool to watch.  We had a not-very-Belgian dinner at an Italian place and then walked around the markets.  Marie and I had waffles for dessert and David and Marie enjoyed a hot mulled wine.  All in all it was a great day!

On Saturday morning (Christmas Eve!) we realized that a lot of things we could potentially do that were a bit touristy were closed.  We took our things to put them in the car and the car wouldn't open!  The ceiling light had been left on in the backseat (for TWO DAYS) and the car doors wouldn't even open.  We were able to open the driver's side door with the actual key, but the car was totally dead.  David was about to head back to the hotel to call someone, but I suggested seeing if there was anyone working in the garage.  There was, he was able to go pick up a portable battery and cables and give us a jump.  So I saved us a couple hundred Euro.  :o)  David stayed behind to take care of the car and Marie and the kids and I went for a walk around town.  We fed some ducks in the canal, got another waffle, did some shopping.  It was such a beautiful day, that we really just took advantage of our surroundings and really soaked it all up.

When we parked the car on the ferry for the ride home, we pulled up right behind a car from Greece that had an Illinois State sticker.  How cool was that!?!  I felt bad taking a picture of the car with the driver still in it, so I waited until he got out and asked if it was okay.  He was a really nice Greek guy who was VERY proud of the fact that he had gone to ISU.  He was so surprised to hear that Marie and I were from IL and had gone to school there, too!

Our quick trip to Belgium was absolutely amazing.  I love that country.  I just love Europe.  I am so glad that Marie came to stay and that we were able to show her a part of the world that she might not have thought to visit on her own.

To view the complete album of photos from our trip, please visit my Facebook Album.