Seven up…

At long last it was April the 13th and Olive turned seven. I could write a whole essay on how quickly those seven years have passed  but I know all you parents out there get it. In the blink of an eye you go from cradling a wriggling squawking newborn  to watching a beautiful and confident young girl taking on the world.

The smile of a newly minted seven year old.
The smile of a newly minted seven year old.
Birthday love from little sis.
Birthday love from little sis.
There were many lovely gifts for the birthday girl - some had travelled all the way from New Zealand.
There were many lovely gifts for the birthday girl – some had travelled all the way from New Zealand.
Edie wanted to give Olive something handmade so we made an art satchel for her - you can read more about it on my make page.
Edie wanted to give Olive something handmade so we made an art satchel for her – you can read more about it on my make page.
Dad set up a treasure hunt for the big present. The girls had great fun deciphering the clues.
Dad set up a treasure hunt for the big present. The girls had great fun deciphering the clues.
After being instructed to put on her helmet, Olive was lead to this gift - her own camelbak...mmm...wonder what the big present might be?
After being instructed to put on her helmet, Olive was lead to this gift – her own camelbak…mmm…wonder what the big present might be?
Scouring the garden for more clues.
Scouring the garden for more clues.
A mountain bike! Not hard to guess who was in charge of that surprise!
A mountain bike! Not hard to guess who was in charge of that surprise!

Like Edie, Olive chose to celebrate with her friends at the gymnastics club where the girls have been taking lessons. It was a great afternoon – lots of fun for the children and minimum effort for Mum and Dad 🙂

Diving under the parachute.
Diving under the parachute.
Bouncing around with Edie.
Bouncing around with Edie.
Beam action.
Beam action.
Flying into the pit.
Flying into the pit.
Edie took flight too.
Edie took flight too.
Woo hoo!
Woo hoo!
Blowing out the candles on a very simple cake - all Olive asked for were the colours of the upcoming apple blossom festival - pink and green.
Blowing out the candles on a very simple cake – all Olive asked for were the colours of the upcoming apple blossom festival – pink and green.

It was a very special day – Olive proclaimed it the “best birthday ever” – but she says that every year!

Two years old...
Happy Birthday Olive! Here’s to the next seven years xxx

I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)…

As I write we are coming to the end of our first Valentine’s Day celebration in the United States, and celebrate we have. To be honest it is very hard not to celebrate Valentine’s Day here, surrounded as we are by so many references to it.

Even though he was in New Zealand, Richard made sure I was not forgotten by Saint Valentine.
Even though he was in New Zealand, Richard made sure I was not forgotten by Saint Valentine.

All the advertising we have seen of late has been saturated with hearts, love, flowers and cupids; many of the homes in our neighbourhood have been flying Valentine themed flags; a whole section of Target was dubbed Valentopia and filled with Valentines paraphenalia; popular candy brands released special edition Valentines candy – pink and red m and m’s, raspberry flavoured Hershey kisses; even our supermarket was overflowing with heart balloons, flower displays, enormous boxes of chocolates and valentine making kits.

Hearts were everywhere - even in Olive and Edie's hair!
Hearts were everywhere – even in Olive and Edie’s hair!

Whilst Valentine’s Day doesn’t pass by unnoticed in New Zealand, it is very much taken to a whole new level here. One of the biggest differences is the way children here really get in on the celebrations. When I was teaching I never once had my class take part in any Valentine themed activities and there was never any exchanging of Valentines. I have been out of New Zealand classrooms for some time now so things may be changing, but in American classrooms Valentine’s Day is a big deal. Both Olive and Edie had a day of treats, Valentine activities and of course the big Valentine exchange.

Despite the huge assortment of ready made Valentines for sale, I got the girls to make their own. Once again the Martha Stewart craft line came in very handy.
Despite the huge assortment of ready made Valentines for sale, I got the girls to make their own. Once again the Martha Stewart craft line came in very handy.
All sealed and ready to go - the extra big one is for Olive's teacher.
All sealed and ready to go – the extra big one is for Olive’s teacher.
Both girls took some treats to share with their classmates - could not resist these super cute cookie cutters.
Both girls took some treats to share with their classmates – could not resist these super cute cookie cutters.
All the children were encouraged to wear hearts and the colour red.
All the children were encouraged to wear hearts and the colour red.
The perfect skirt for Saint Valentine.
The perfect skirt for Saint Valentine.

I helped out at Olive’s class Valentine party in the afternoon. The children played heart bingo, listened to a traditional Valentine’s folktale and shared their Valentines with each other. They were also asked to tell the class something that they loved or really liked. There were many answers along the lines of “my bike”, “angry birds” and “my nintendo DS”, but when it came to Olive, without pausing she said, “my sister”. Had to blink a few tears away after that!

Check out our Valentine's stash!
Check out our Valentine’s stash!

And so our first American Valentine’s Day was both lovely and full of love, and even though Richard wasn’t with us in body, he was very much with us in our hearts. I’ll leave you with a quick peek at the gift I bought for him. A few lines from the beautiful poem by American poet E.E.Cummings, which my mother read at our wedding…

Happy Valentine's Day :)
Happy Valentine’s Day 🙂

PS quick quilt update if you are interested over at my How to make an American Quilt page.

Gatecrasher

Ok todays unofficial guest blogger – actually crashing Chrissy’s blog – is her husband!
I figured seeing as she had such a generous PDA ( public display of affection) come my birthday, it was only fair that I should post on her birthday.
I can happily report that we have just had a fabulous weekend, which I expect Chrissy will have blogged on by the time I get this up.,and indeed I will leave it to Chrissy to describe the Weekend , though the highlight was indeed her getting underway as a skier and now owning more ski pants than I do!

What I hope to do here is confirm what many of you know, many others will have suspected and others like me will have felt it almost from the first meeting.

There’s something about Chrissy.

Fortunately, not exactly from when we first met, but more particularly from when we first met and something was possible we recognized in each other an amazing and implausible possibility, which 8 years later we continue to bring to life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I thought Chrissy was beautiful when we first met and without a doubt I can confirm she is.

In my 1st draft I had a very long list of attributes, I then decided I didn’t need to illuminate anyone. Her family, her friends and her casual acquaintances will all know and understand what I mean.

What I have learnt most from Chrissy is that it is not sufficient to understand someone, you must both understand and accept.

If you think you understand and yet don’t accept the person as they are, you only invite constant disappointment – the picture in your mind never matches the reality before you,and each becomes disillusioned with the other.

To accept someone you do understand is to embrace all that they are and be there when they feel a little less and be there also when they want to be a little more. To accept that their imperfections makes them who they are as much as their ‘perfections’. To enjoy the constantly evolving picture. To be patient, to always see the light and not simply let it flicker but to always believe and encourage that it burns warmly within.

I assure you all I am a constant work in progress and Chrissy has been there for me always. We accept each other fully for who we are – I couldn’t ask for more.

So here is to Chrissy, a great big happy birthday and a special wish.

May all your dreams come true, as they will – everything is possible, and you’ve shown that, may your glow continue to warm you and those around you.

Edie and Olive love you completely…and more than anything I love it when you smile

Richard

Santa’s Workshop

The girls and I spent this morning with our neighbours at the country club. Each year the club hosts a Santa’s workshop, where the children can take part in Christmas activities and meet Santa. It was lots of fun and the girls loved the opportunity to get all dressed up and meet some new friends.

Very festive doormen.
Very festive doormen.
Making a Christmas necklace.
Making a Christmas necklace.
Edie very pleased with her efforts.
Edie very pleased with her efforts.
Next they made some Christmas tree ornaments.
Next they made some Christmas tree ornaments.
Olive's ornament.
Olive’s ornament.
We've seen a lot of pretty trees over the past couple of weeks.
We’ve seen a lot of pretty trees over the past couple of weeks.
Hard at work making more ornaments.
Hard at work making more ornaments.
The big red fella popped in to see how everyone was doing - ho ho ho.
The big red fella popped in to see how everyone was doing – ho ho ho.
Olive the other reindeer!
Olive the other reindeer!
Edie the snow princess.
Edie the snow princess.

The festivities continue tomorrow afternoon with our neighbourhood Christmas Carolling party. The girls went out on Friday afternoon with their good friend M and did a wee bit of practise. Fortunately they struck some very patient households as they song they used to practise with was The Twelve Days of Christmas – every verse!

Better go and warm up my vocal cords! Take care everyone. Sending you all our love.

Trick or treat

Like pumpkin carving, the practice of trick or treating can be traced back to the Samhain festivals of Ireland and Scotland.In addition to carving turnips to ward off harmful fairies and spirits, people wore costumes to disguise themselves from the spirits. This tradition became known as Guising or Mumming. Often people went from door to door in their disguises, to collect food for the Samhain feast.

Finding the right attire for guising was the subject of much discussion and thought in our house almost as soon as we arrived in early October. The girls pored over the hundreds of costumes for sale on Target’s website and after much debate and discussion they settled on the two gorgeous creatures below…

Olive aka Frankie Stein from the Monster High series.
Edie aka Bloom from the Winx Fairies series. She was not happy with me when I insisted on the leggings and long sleeves underneath!

At about 6:30pm we joined our neighbours and began our march around the neighbourhood…well actually it was more of a sprint. The girls were so excited that they dashed from house to house, got their candy, blurted out a quick thank you and then dashed onto the next place. As I watched them I was struck by the thought that they had no idea why they were doing what they were. They are all too familiar with the visible traditions of Halloween but completely clueless when it comes to the history. I vowed to myself to make sure that next year we will do some talking about just why everyone dresses up, carves pumpkins and goes from house to house.

Hitting up Dad for our first treats.

I had planned to take many more photos but I was somewhat shaken up after Edie, in her furious attempt to keep up with Olive and M, tripped and fell head over heels down a set of concrete steps. Despite the fact she was sobbing and sporting a blood nose nothing could stop her from seeing out the rest of the night and, as it was the one night when a bit of blood on one’s costume  is almost the dress code, we valiantly continued. (After watching Olive pass out a few days earlier after having an immunisation at the doctor’s office, Edie’s tumble was just about the last straw! I very much wanted to run home crying to Mum!)

Some of the decorations we saw on our travels.
We saw a few of these!

We straggled in the door just after 8pm with very heavy pumpkins. Richard’s night had been on the quiet side. The doorbell had rung about twenty times and now we were left with all the candy I had bought in an effort not to be the clueless new nieghbours who ran out of candy.

Fortunately Olive had a wonderful idea – statistics with candy!

The girls diligently sorted every piece and then the next day we made a tally chart. And then the next day after that I put everything in a box and hid it!!
A few American classics in there.

As we tucked the girls into bed that night they were already asking when it would be Halloween again – I suspect we will still be eating this year’s candy haul when next Halloween rolls around.

Trick or treat!

PS I’ve finally added photos from our Summer holiday to my Flickr account. Click on the link and you can see what we got up to in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Trieste and Engelburg.

Welcome

Just over three weeks ago we touched down at Dulles airport in Washington DC. It was dark and late and we were all pretty shattered. After a very long wait at immigration our shiny new visas got the once over and as Non Resident Aliens – gotta love that label- we  took our first steps towards our new life. Richard’s steps were actually more of a sprint as he had to get to the rental car company before it closed it’s doors. Let’s just say it was one of those made it by the skin of his teeth situations. We all piled into the behemoth vehicle that was to be our car for the next wee while – I was already having nightmares at the thought of having to drive something so enormous, let alone on the wrong side of the road. We hit the road to Winchester and by midnight were browsing the frozen food aisles at Martin’s (our new supermarket) in search of pizza. And so our first meal in our new home was eaten out of a cardboard box whilst we were surrounded by cardboard boxes waiting to be unpacked.

Three weeks later there are still unopened boxes but we are slowly starting to make our new house feel like home. And we have been very warmly welcomed wherever we’ve gone. Towards the end of our first day we met our neighbors who as luck would have it, have a seven year old daughter who had heard all about the two girls coming to live next door and was very excited to meet them. Olive started school at John Kerr Elementary on our second day. She was so excited that she was prepared to get on the school bus by herself but I of course was having none of that. We took her to the bus stop – metres from our house – so she could meet the driver and see what happened, then we drove her up to school. There she received a rapturous welcome from the principal and all the office staff, “Oh Miss Olive, we’ve been waiting and waiting for you to come. How y’all doing?” You need to imagine the southern accent that accompanied this – it’s very warm and inviting. I accompanied Olive to her class and met her teacher, she was swamped by all the children – only 15 of them – and she barely batted an eyelid when I said I was leaving. She rode the yellow bus home that day, absolutely thrilled by everything that had happened. Edie started Apple Valley Montessori the following week. (Cultural note – apples are very important to Winchester and lots of things have apple in the title.) We were also very warmly welcomed there. So much so that they rang a few days before Edie started and asked if she could please come down and be included in the class photo that was being taken – “she’s part of our class and we must have her in the photo”.

I’ve also been very warmly welcomed to the neighborhood. Our neighbor, whose daughter is now BFF’s with Olive and Edie, had me over for coffee and yesterday took me out for coffee with two other women from our street. Two other women from the street around the corner knocked at the front door one afternoon with wine from Australia and chocolates from Belgium. The real estate agent who helped us find our home hosted a party to welcome several new families to the neighborhood and we got to meet new and longtime residents of Winchester. And we have been Boo’d – read on – the boo story gives a good insight into the spirit of our new neighborhood.

Around eight o’clock one night the doorbell rang. Surprised to hear it ring in the evening, I opened the door to find nobody there. Looking down I saw…

Mmmmmm – this looks very interesting.

I got the girls out of bed and together we investigated the contents of the mysterious pumpkin bag.

First we found this letter explaining everything we needed to know about being boo’d. Basically under the cover of darkness you need to leave a treat for one of your neighbors on their doorstep – the goal being to get everyone in the neighborhood boo’d by Halloween.

The most important part of the task was putting the phantom in our window so subsequent booers would know that we’d already had a visit.

Ok everybody. We’ve been boo’d!

The it was time to explore the contents of the pumpkin bag.

Check out our loot. Halloween decorations, Martha Stewart Halloween crafts, stickers and of course candy!

The next day after school the girls and I roamed the aisles at Target collecting goodies to pass on to one of our neighbors. Fortunately their BFF next door hadn’t been hit by the phantom so it was an easy choice as to which house to pick.

I could write pages about the preparations for Halloween that we are observing. the displays and decorations in some of the front yards are amazing. I’m hoping to get out with my camera to capture them before Halloween is over – the definite down side of being in a car as opposed to being on my bike – less photo opportunities!

I’m going to stop there as I’ve been very aware that it’s taken me so long to start writing about our experiences here and I wanted to get something up tonight. So much has happened in three weeks that I could go on writing all night. Just know that we are all doing okay – the girls in fact are thriving. Richard is super busy – he’s in Belgium this week – but very much enjoying his work. As for me I find myself often humming or singing the lines from that wonderful song by Mr Gordon Sumner or as we all know and love him, Sting. “I’m an alien. I’m a legal alien. I’m an Englishman in New York”. Okay so I’m not an Englishman and I’m not, unfortunately (!) in New York but I do relate to the sentiment. I do feel very alien and it’s tempting to try and make myself try and be like everyone else. Then I remember the other lines in the song “be yourself no matter what they say”. And that is where I will leave you…doing my very best to be myself!

Love hugs and kisses to you all. Especially to my new nephew Alfie. We miss you all terribly xxx

Croadworks ahead!

If you’ve stumbled across this page – welcome. I’m in the process of creating a new blog about our family’s move to Winchester, VA in August 2012. Check back then to start sharing our adventures.