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31 December 2009

Back Again!

It has been a whole week since I posted. Not sure, but that may be a record. I would have to check the dates to be sure. Well, Christmas Eve was lovely. We all got dressed up and had a little party. I bought fun, frozen finger food and a cake. We sang "Happy Birthday" to Mark and played games like charades. We sang Christmas carols while Sam accompanied us on his keyboard. Then we watched G-Force which Uncle Kale and Aunt Dimi sent us.

Christmas morning was the usual. Lots of paper everywhere and the kids all excited. William was disappointed that he didn't get a game for his Nintendo DS. How could I explain that I couldn't bear to pay $50 or more for a game (when you factor in the exchange rate and absurd taxes) when I knew in a few weeks we could get it from Target for much less? After all, Santa doesn't buy the toys, Mom. He MAKES them! After a little while, he was happy with what he got. I assured him there were still presents to get from his grandparents. After Mass, there was more time to play and relax. I cooked a ham in Coca-Cola and it turned out great. We had a late lunch then a movie fest. The next morning, Anne told me, "I wish we could re-live that Christmas one more time." I had really tried to be sure this English Christmas would be a happy one for the kids. Anne's comment made my heart smile.

The next few days, I had gotten into such a lazy mode. I guess you could call it a funk. I was tired of always being chilly, having to walk to town for anything. I kept thinking I would be happy to NEVER leave the house again until it was time to go home. We were in this no man's land- able to count the days until we go home but if we really did nothing, it would be quite a long, miserable stretch of time. It didn't last very long because we would rally and watch a movie together or play cards. The kids would start their own game and I would relish hearing them giggle and enjoy each other's company. It was a welcome relief to the "stop bothering each other!" ranting that goes on occasionally.

Yesterday, Emme and I were invited by a mom and her daughter that we met at church to visit Osborne House, Queen Victoria's home on the island. It was a gray, dreary day (Did I mention I am sick of those?) but we headed out, bravely. Osborne House was beautiful and we learned quite a bit about Queen Victoria and her family. She and her husband, Albert, had nine children. Unlike other monarchs, they took an active part in raising their children. They seemed to have a nice family life and Queen Victoria, although mourning the loss of Albert for many years, was blessed with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren in her old age. They loved Christmas and are considered the reason behind many British customs to this day. Albert was German and although he isn't credited with introducing the Christmas tree to England (Queen Charlotte, wife of George III- I believe was the one), he and Queen Victoria popularized the custom. She is the longest reigning monarch but Queen Elizabeth only has a few years to surpass her. She died at Osborne House in January of 1901. Her story is truly amazing. There are two good movies you may enjoy- The Young Victoria with Emily Blunt and Mrs. Brown with Judi Dench. The latter was filmed at Osborne House so I am quite interested to see it.

After a cold, damp walk in the gardens, which Albert designed himself, we headed to the cafe. Hot chocolate has never tasted so good! I could drink hot drinks here all day. I have a beautiful Crabtree and Evelyn tea set at home which I am excited to use when we get back. I think an afternoon "cuppa"- very English term- is a tradition Mark and I will keep going. As a matter of fact, we have been talking a lot about what we will miss and what British things we will incorporate. I know many things will fade away once we are out of this context but one thing I know for sure, I will never make a grilled cheese sandwich again. It will always be called a cheese toastie. We just love that name. We will miss "lovely", "splendid" and "brilliant". We will miss having tennis courts in our backyard and the amazing view of the Solent from the front yard. We will miss the Cowes library. We will miss London. We will miss trying new biscuits, crisps and puddings. BUT...

We are excited to be going home to the Saints in the play-offs, Mardi Gras and king cakes. We are looking forward to playing in Audubon Park and going back to Holy Name. We can't wait to have Christmas dinner with both the Soulants and the Zeldens. What a treat! Not to mention, muffalettas, Hubig's Pie, Barq's root beer and snowballs. By the way, sunlight and warmer temperatures are very underrated. Looking forward to soaking up both.

Mark explored many possibilities here but nothing worked out. For now, it looks like God's plan is for us to be in the USA. We didn't sell our house, so we will be living there. Part of me is disappointed and sad, then I picture myself like a child who can never get enough. Instead of whining about how I wish I had more time, the only thing to do is be satisfied with what we have been given- an amazing adventure, regardless of the duration. Happy and grateful, that's me.

Two requests of you, my dear readers. First, please keep in your prayers Mark's client and friend whose son died in a car accident. They will bury him today and my heart aches for them. Second, please pray for safe travel for us next week. The recent terrorist attempt doesn't sit well when you are facing a transatlantic flight. Hope to post another time or two.

Happy New Year!
Dina

24 December 2009

Let the Celebrating Begin


We are starting Christmas Eve by celebrating Mark's birthday. It's the big 4-0! Thanks for allowing our family to live "outside the lines". We love you!

23 December 2009

Blessings Abound

We are feeling quite blessed these days thanks to the Christmas cards and treats that have been coming our way. Each one feels like a hug from across the pond. My mom sent us a big box of Christmas crafts. It has provided lots of decorations, cards and endless hours of fun. I even came up with a way to use the Christmas stickers to practice multiplication with Anne and William. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!

My aunt and uncle sent us beautiful, monogrammed ornaments. Our little tree could never hold them up so we have them hanging from the glass shelves in the living room. They make the room look festive and remind us just how much we are loved. This morning another treat arrived. My friend, Linda sent us a Christmas king cake from Manny Randazzo's bakery. Wow! It doesn't get much better than sitting in England, biting into a piece of New Orleans.

We have enjoyed lighting our little handmade Advent wreath this season. With just two days left, I'd like to share with you a prayer we read each night:

Dear God,
Be the flame to light my way through the dark times, when I sit and wait for Jesus to come near.

Dear God,
Be the flame to warm my soul through the cold times, as I sit and wait for Jesus to come near.

Dear God,
Be the flame to spark and sing through the silent times, as I sit and wait for Jesus to come near.

Dear God,
May Jesus be with me this day and every day: my light and my salvation.

by Lois Rock



Much Love and Thanks,
Dina

22 December 2009

Guilty Pleasures

I am sure all of you are way too busy this time of year to enjoy my posts. Since, however, I only have two weeks left in England, I am going to write anyway. Catch up when you can.

I have been feeling guilty lately. Most Facebook entries by my friends have been about cooking, shopping, decorating and traveling- all that make up this crazy pre-Christmas season. This holiday is completely different for us. It is quiet, simple and refreshing. What a blessing. Not that I don't love the craziness of the season. No matter how we all complain, we would be sad without it. It is just nice, occasionally, to do without all the trappings. Of course, doing without the stuff that is annoying also means doing without the things, I guess what I really mean is people, that make it special.

I have been hosting the family Christmas party for the past 10 years. My mom is one of eight so our house was always filled to the brim. We exchange gifts with all the kids- cousins, first cousins and so on. The evening is a frenzy of gifts, relatives and food. This year my cousin is hosting instead and we won't be there to share the fun. That will be hard, but doing without something or someone makes you appreciate it more. The nice thing is we will have a quiet night with our small family. We will light our advent wreath, decorate cookies and wait for Santa. It will be boring yet lovely.

We have been having a debate for several weeks about a serious subject- the Christmas tree. Do we really need one? What size? How much should we spend? How would we decorate it? Most important of all, how do we get it home with no car? Initially, I was adamant that we have some kind of tree. As time went by, the thought of the bus ride to get it and walk up the hill to get it home, wore me down. My resolve was waning. The other day, I went into town to do some Christmas shopping and finally got to check out a store that had me laughing since I saw it months ago. At home, I like to pop into Dollar Tree every so often. You never know what you will find there. Well, here they have a store called Pound Land to go with their currency. It is exactly the UK version of ours. Lots of junk with a few treasures to be found. I stopped in and was thrilled to find a two foot tree in my choice of green, white or pink. After a quick phone conference with Emme, I decided if you are paying one pound for your tree, you may as well go "fun and funky" so I bought the white one. I also bought a box of plastic star baubles (that's what they call ornament), a box of candy canes and lights that are balls with Santa faces. I was thrilled with my purchase- small, cheap, lightweight and unique. The kids were equally happy.

Saturday night was the Carol Service at our church. It was our one holiday activity and we were really looking forward to it. Sam played his keyboard and all the kids dressed as part of the Nativity. Emme played the angel Gabriel while Sam, Anne and William were shepherds. After the service, we enjoyed mulled wine and mince pies in the church hall. How very British! When we came home, we decorated the tree which took all of 5 minutes. We found a Union Jack tea towel to use as our tree skirt and called it our British tree. We decided it is worth packing to bring home. We will set it up ever year and remember our English Christmas.

Besides the simple holiday, yesterday there was another guilty pleasure. Emme and I spent the day Christmas shopping in London. It is a day the two of us will always remember. It was a treat to maneuver the city with just the two of us. We found our way around quite easily. We found lots of great gifts and really enjoyed ourselves. We stopped by Covent Gardens. This area was initially a flower and produce market. It is the setting for My Fair Lady when Professor Higgins first meets Eliza Doolittle. We splurged on eating at Harrod's pizzeria. We took our time and didn't get home until 10:30. The ferry, bus, train and Tube rides were all worth it!

As always, there is more to say but I'm glad you took this much time out to read and I am pooped. Still recovering from the 15 hour day yesterday. Lately, we have noticed a twist on the traditional "Cheers" so often used by the Brits so I will sign off with...

Cheers, then!
Dina

16 December 2009

Man Down

I have been thinking about how fortunate we have been in regards to our health. I resisted mentioning it on the blog because that would be tempting fate. Besides Elise falling and giving me a little scare, we have all been fine. Now Sam has a cough. I mean a constant cough. One where you are almost as tired of hearing it as he must be of doing it. This meant a trip to the pharmacy which is always amusing. I have gotten pretty good about knowing what medicine treats which type of cough. I know the difference between cough suppressant and expectorant. I know what works best for each child. In England, that is all out the window. Luckily, I have met a sweet lady in the pharmacy who takes the time to help me figure things out. I was looking for Tylenol a few weeks ago. The first person I asked looked at me like I was crazy. I didn't ask for Tylenol, mind you. I knew to ask for acetaminophen but she just stared at me blankly. The sweet lady took the time to figure out the English equivalent which is paracetamol. I was happy to see her working today and quickly scooped up the three choices of cough syrup and brought them to her. One she quickly ruled out because it didn't have any drug in it. Imagine that! It sounded like they were selling sugar water under the guise of cough syrup to soothe your throat. We weeded out another to arrive at what she thought was the best formula. This formula included ethanol which I mentioned to her, sounded more like something I would put in my car than in my son. She checked with the pharmacist who reassured me with a "silly American, please go away" smile. Okay, I thought to myself, this isn't Bangladesh. It's England for goodness sake. It will be fine.

The cough medicine seemed to work for all of an hour. On to the Benadryl to clear up any drip in his throat. Still coughing his head off. I actually suggested to him that he try to imagine relaxing his lungs and throat and try to stop coughing. I was getting desperate. I knew neither of us could make it through the night like this. Mark, on the other hand, would sleep like a baby regardless. Thankfully, the pharmacy didn't close for another 30 minutes. Back into town for another try. Same lady. Still helpful. This time she produces a cough medicine from behind the counter. Guess that's where they keep the stuff that actually works. I go home determined that this will work. Then I notice chloroform as an ingredient. All I can think of is some random movie scene where they douse a rag with this liquid and cover the victim's nose and mouth who then passes out. Okay, same argument. It is England. It will be fine. The medicine smelled like paint thinner and I am amazed Sam got it down. He has the worst gag reflex. Finally, success. Sleeping like a baby from the chloroform. Uh, I mean medicine.

Hoping for a good night's sleep for us all.

Dina

14 December 2009

Time for Ketchup

Just kidding. I mean CATCH UP! There is so much to tell, I have been putting it off but finally realized I need to jump right in.

Let's see... Where was I?

Oh, yes! Stratford-Upon-Avon with Uncle Josh. Friday morning we had the breakfast we were happily anticipating and our host Pascal was as funny and talkative as ever. I think he is the first Parisian I have found endearing. Of course, the fact that Parisians aren't endearing is exactly what makes them so, but that is another topic all together.

We braved the gray, cold day to wander around the town. We saw Shakespeare's birthplace, the house where he lived until his death and his grave. We wanted to see the house of John Harvard but walked right past it without realizing. It was fun to see what they could think up to peddle in the Shakespeare themed gift shops. My oh my, people are creative. The merchandise ranged from tasteful to delightfully tacky. Somehow we managed to overcome the temptation to buy Shakespeare as a stuffed toy, on a t-shirt, and in pewter as cuff links. I just couldn't resist the Shakespeare's Guide to Abuses and Affronts. Here are some that had Sam and I laughing the hardest:

"Out of my sight! Thou dost infect my eyes." - Richard III

"More of your conversation would infect my brain." - Coriolanus

"He has not so much brain as ear-wax." - Troilus and Cressida

"Thou cream-faced loon. Where got'st that goose look?" - Macbeth

If the temperature reached 40 degrees, we were lucky. Walking the town had us chilled to the bone so we stepped inside a pub which was recommended by Pascal. It is the pub where the actors from the Royal Shakespeare Theater go after performances. It felt absolutely DELICIOUS to enter that pub with it's roaring fire and cozy atmosphere. With hot chocolate for the kids and the same for us with a touch of Bailey's to get us extra toasty, I didn't think it could get any better. Then the bartender threw some fresh orange rind on the fire. Wow! All our senses were completely satisfied.

Sadly, we had to move on. We grabbed lunch to eat in the car so we could start our journey to London. The ride in was smooth and we found our way to our friend's flat without much trouble. It was interesting to arrive in London by car this time. I kept waiting for the city to overwhelm us, like New York does. Miles outside of NYC you feel the pace of life quicken. Your pulse responds and everything seems to move faster and loom larger. London is not like that at all. New York is over the top, bold and brash. London is elegant, understated and refined. I love both places.

That evening, we had pizza at our favorite neighborhood restaurant. Mark took Josh and Sam to a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the Anglican church in Trafalgar Square. They walked the city a bit to take in the sights since this was Josh's first visit. The rest of the kids and I stayed home and enjoyed some cable tv, knitting and computer time. If you remember, we are in tight quarters at this flat and now there was another adult with us. Poor Mark slept on the floor with Elise with several comforters we had brought from home. In the morning, we were no worse for the wear and ready to take in more of the city.

We decided to visit the British Museum. It is one of the most comprehensive collections of art and artifacts in the world. One of the most famous pieces in the collection is the Rosetta Stone which led to the deciphering of the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. We started here and moved through the Egyptian artifacts which included mummies of both humans and animals such as baboons, cats and crocodiles. In some cases, you could view the bones, hair and lungs of humans that had been mummified. William was both fascinated and frightened. There were massive sculptures from the tombs of pharaohs and pieces of walls with intricate hieroglyphics. We also saw Roman jewelery, vases and busts. The exhibit on the history of money was fascinating. Sam was especially interested because he has been intrigued with foreign currency since our arrival. We were tired but pressed on to a lovely neighborhood called Marylebone. Window shopping was fun at the boutiques and shops that line the streets, each beautifully displaying their goods. That night, for yet another time, we headed to Harrod's. They have a Wizard of Oz theme to their holiday displays. Since our last visit, they added giant ruby slippers on the witches feet. It looked as if the entire store had caused her demise instead of Dorothy's house like in the film. What a sight! One last night in our cozy flat then up early to drop Josh off at the airport.

Thanks, Josh for a great visit. We are blessed to have you in our family.

Dina

10 December 2009

On the Road Again

As usual, trips are stressful and tiring but fun. Last night we finalized all the details and were off this morning about 8:15. We took a different ferry this time we meant we had to go to EAST Cowes. We live in West Cowes. The towns lie on either side of the Medina River. The shortest and quickest way to travel from one town to the other is across the chain ferry bridge. It is one of only five left in the UK. It is hilarious that you wait in line and pay 1 pound 50 pence to cross a mere three hundred yards or so to the other side. The ferry crosses on a bridge of chain links under the water. Off to the larger car ferry to cross the Solent to the mainland of England. So far, so good.

This is our first time traveling the mainland. We headed north to Warwick. Uncle Josh read about the castle there and suggested we make a visit. On the way, we take a small detour to Stone Henge. You know, that big pile of rocks standing upright. Well, that's the way the kids described it. It is amazing and you certainly can't be within a few miles and not stop to see it. We couldn't manage to convince the kids that it was an awesome feat for the people to move the stones here and arrange them this way. After some quick photos, we continue the drive to Warwick.



We arrived at the castle in the afternoon. It was cold today but sunny for once. We arrived in plenty of time to explore all the castle has to offer. Sir Walter Scott described Warwick castle as "the fairest monument of ancient and chivalrous splendor which yet remains uninjured by time." Much of the external structure remains unchanged from the mid-14th century. We climbed all the towers you see in the photo for a magnificent view of the castle grounds, town and the River Avon. It was quite a steep, twisty walk but made all 536 steps. Another tower is called the Princess Tower. Here is where old England meets Disney-style fun. Our tour was guided by a princess who explained they were preparing for a royal wedding. We saw the wedding gown and helped pick the accessories. We played a bit of a princess trivia game which Mary Elizabeth passed with flying colors. There was a dress-up room with both princess and knight items, a royal throne for picture posing and even a frog to kiss. At the end, you could write your wishes in a guest book. I wish I had gotten a peek at Mary Elizabeth's wish.

A large portion of the castle buildings were converted into a luxurious mansion. We toured many of those rooms which had wax figures on display and explained a bit about life in the castle in the late 1800's. There were also some displays about medieval life in the castle and a scary dungeon tour which looked quite gruesome and not what our kids would enjoy. We ended at the Pageant Playground with just enough daylight to run off some energy.

Next, we headed to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We had made reservations at the Salamander Guest House which was recommended by the Frommer's guide. We made it there with only a few wrong turns and our humor still in tact. Our host at the guest house is Pascal, a Frenchman who moved to England to study the language more than 30 years ago. He said love kept him here and now he is serving a life sentence. He is a very eager host, willing to chat (and chat and chat and chat!) about the local sights and restaurants. We realized our place was in a great location as we headed out in the frigid cold for a walk to find dinner. We ended up in an English chain, pub-type place. Think Fox and Hound in America. It was warm, affordable, noisy enough for our crew and the service was prompt. What more could you ask for?

Now we are tired but happy from our successful day. We are looking forward to a full English breakfast served by our kind host tomorrow morning then we will hit the highlights of the town, including Shakespeare's birthplace and grave as well as the house of John Harvard, founder of Harvard University. After lunch, we will drive to London and are lucky to have one last stay at our free flat. We are excited to show Uncle Josh our new favorite city.

How would Shakespeare end a post?
Maybe, "I bid thee farewell."

Dina

07 December 2009

Bb is for...

Birthday and Brother!

Firt of all, happy birthday to our sweet Mary Elizabeth. Today you are eleven, although you have been a teenager since the day you were born. You are Fancy Nancy, Eloise and Olivia the pig all rolled into one. As Eloise would say, "You are tres, tres FABU!". And as Olivia's mom said, "You wear me out but I love you anyway.




Second, welcome Uncle Josh (Mark's brother)! We are so excited to have another visitor. It is always fun to share our life here with family. I'll keep you posted on what we manage to squeeze in this week.

Whew! Yesterday's game was crazy. GEAUX SAINTS!

Cheers,
Dina

05 December 2009

Ode to the Weekend

White flag, waving
Body, tiring
Mind, numbing
Kids, grumbling
Hours, counting
Heart, hoping

Mark will be home soon.

04 December 2009

Subtle Hint

Just in case anyone needs it:

The Zeldens
10 Baring Road
Cowes, Isle of Wight UK
PO31 8 DA

We got a Christmas card from our friends the Babineauxs this week and Emme said, "Now it feels like Christmas!". Hint, hint.

Yesterday was sunny! Hooray! We made a grocery run and got treats from the bakery. I splurged on a gingerbread candle. Simple things really, but sometimes it's all you need. I started knitting the little gingerbread man last night and laughed when I realized I was burning the very scent.

Looks like sun again today. Tonight we will meet at the church hall to do a project in preparation for the Christmas program. The kids are excited about participating. The church has been a big blessing for us and we have met so many lovely people.

Looking forward to another Saints game then Mark's arrival, with his brother, on Monday.

Happy Friday!
Happy Weekend!

Dina

02 December 2009

Small Victories

Although today was pretty frustrating at times, I have decided instead, to be happy for a few small victories. It began by us all waking up way too late. That always sets a bad tone for me. Before I knew it, it was after 10 and we were all still in our pj's. In the interest of reasonable shipping costs, I had to get our Christmas cards ordered this morning. Little decisions, like color and font on a card, stop me dead in my tracks. It was reaching "hair color dilemma" proportions and I forced myself to commit to a design and photos. Small victory number one.

We got dressed and brushed our teeth. Small victory number two. I know this one is pitiful but on a day like today, it counts.

For much of the day, I TALKED about all we should accomplish. And talked. And talked. It was always one small thing or another and before I knew it, the day was slipping through my fingers. I was feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and worst of all sorry for myself. Self-pity is never good. A few Hail Marys asking for grace go a long way. A video call from your mom helps too.

I made an attempt at getting some lessons done. I have to admit, I hate homeschooling. It stresses me out. I have a hard time managing everyone. It is hard enough to motivate myself, much less them and hard to teach without many resources. The kids get easily frustrating and protest at the smallest amount of effort required. I guess I will consider it a small victory, although it never leaves me feeling victorious.

Finally, we moved on to some fun activities. Before long, we had created a handmade Advent wreath. I was thrilled by our creation because we all put our heads together to make this centerpiece. I couldn't bring myself to purchase one, since we have one at home. I was determined to figure out a way to make one without many resources. I got four tea lights from around the house and placed them on the Lazy Susan on the middle of our table. Anne had the idea to add paper leaves so we traced our hands and cut them out for the greenery. Emme had the idea to put colored paper around the holders to indicate the candle color of purple or pink. I love this advent wreath made with creativity and love. We also managed to make a paper chain Christmas countdown. Definitely a victory.

We couldn't get out today because of the weather. As soon as I considered motivating myself to pull off the task of preparing all of us to go out in the cold- socks, shoes, hats, jackets, etc.-it would start raining again. Before I knew it, the chance to go while it was still daylight was gone because by about 4 o'clock we wouldn't have gotten to the library and grocery and back before dark. At this point, it just wasn't worth it. Sadly, breakfast tomorrow will be slim pickings. I decided to suck up the late fee for the two dvd's that were due. At least the kids were looking forward to watching Night at the Museum 2 again.

After dinner, we lit the Advent wreath. Of course, I would have preferred the kids to sit there like angels and discuss how they were going to prepare their hearts for Jesus. After a moment of disappointment, I realized it was not possible, especially not after a day inside with nothing to do and a mom who was just hanging on. After a small lecture, a promise was made by all, including myself, that we would rally and get through the rest of the week without yelling on my part and more help on theirs.

This pushed the reset button and the next hour was spent with them playing a game together, even if it was on the computer. This allowed me time to read Emma in front of the fire and finally find out who she loved. Best, small victory.

I was able to complete this entry before 10 pm. Last small victory. Good Night. Hoping for some sun tomorrow.

Dina

01 December 2009

Finally...

a minute to breath and to think without kids! Last night Sam and I woke up in the middle of the night to watch the Saints slaughter the Patriots on Monday Night Football. I had gotten up extra early yesterday to see Mark and his mom off so I made it through the day and got to bed early to get in a few hours of sleep. We watched the game from 1:30 until about 5 am then I snoozed for a few more. I woke up to Elise saying. "Mama, get up now. Please. please, please!".

I wore my Saints shirt today and couldn't keep the smile off my face. I am so glad I can watch the games on Skype. It is fun to hear my mom cheer and my dad whistle. They played some Saints songs and I pulled out a tissue to dance a little second line. When I saw the tissue on the floor this morning, I commented to Sam that it was from last night and Emme immediately said- Oh, were you doing a second line? Funny how these bits of culture are passed to the next generation. I was happy to know she is a real NOLA girl. For any out of town friends who are reading this and don't know what I am talking about, meet me in N'Awlins when I get home and I'll show you! You know who I am talking to and you know I'd love for you to visit.

It was so hard to tear myself away from the computer this morning which is my lifeline to sports, news from home, friends, etc. I managed, somehow and we made the chilly trek to the library as we did yesterday. Honestly, I don't know what we would do without that place. It is small but well-stocked for our needs and provides the perfect outing. It is about a fifteen minute walk. We all find our favorite spots. Elise goes to the coloring sheets to create a masterpiece. William hunts downs books on dinosaurs and animals. Sam gets on the computer. Anne and Emme browse the chapter books and I drool over the craft books and think about how I wish there were more hours in the day. Back home, we have a library less than 10 minutes from our house but have only walked there once. The kids would probably whine and complain but here there is no alternative. I know my kids and I are better for having had to walk everywhere these few months. I hope I can bring that wherever I go and not fall right back to what is quick and easy. That is difficult in America where everything seems to be quick and easy. Don't get me wrong. I like quick and easy, just not all the time. Quick and easy gets you to the end. There is something to be said for the MEANS.

I was thinking about so many different things this morning that I actually jotted down some notes. There are many thoughts I'd like to share on this blog. Sometimes there isn't time. Sometimes I am just being lazy. One thing that struck me today was the difference between writing a blog and writing a book. I love hearing your comments and knowing that there is someone out there reading, besides my mom. :-) It makes the process satisfying. Now imagine being Jane Austen. She wrote a novel with no feedback except from maybe a few people. What a long process. I guess getting the story from your head to the paper and being happy with it was reward enough. That had me thinking about when her novels were published and did she get any immediate acclaim. Maybe I should research that in my spare time and get back to you. Think about John Kennedy O'Toole who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces. He killed himself before anyone read it. What a shame he didn't get to revel in a book well received. Funny, also, to think that here I am in the 21st century touched by a novel written so long ago. Imagine if I could e-mail Jane Austen and let her know how much I am enjoying her book. Better yet, meet her at a book signing. On a side note, I am STILL not finished Emma and am dying to know who she ends up with. Don't give it away. I got another book from the library today to motivate me to finish the last 50 or so pages.

Thanks for the instant gratification of your feedback! Elise is now on my lap explaining why she should sleep with me because of the scary mouse book she "read". So much for time to breathe. Oh well! It is quite cozy to snuggle with a toasty two-year-old on a chilly night.

Dina

29 November 2009

Home Sweet Temporary Home

Last night we arrived home after a few days in London. I absolutely adore London. It is always wonderful, however, to be back to the quiet, slow pace of the island after the frenzy of the city.

Our trip started with a bumpy ferry ride. Bumpy is putting it mildly. They should have had a thrill ride sign at the ticket office with one of those height requirement measuring sticks. The captain told us it would be rough because of the choppy seas and big swells. This was an accurate description but he failed to mention the feeling of being airborne that we encountered. Poor Miss Judy had such a look of terror on her face while Elise clung to my arm. Anne and William, on the other hand, had their arms in the air yelling, "Look! No hands!" and were squealing with delight. We were so thankful when it finally calmed down but William turned to me and said, "I wish he would make it go again." The ride was so rough, Emme got sick.

Once in London, we were quite a sight maneuvering through the Tube and crowded streets. There were eight of us with three suitcases and assorted backpacks. We had booked rooms on laterooms.com and had gotten a good price so there was no telling what we are getting ourselves into. We were pleased with the results. The rooms were small but the place was clean and the location was decent. We ignored the rain that began to fall and trudged ahead. Thankfully, it was only a passing shower and the kids were able to enjoy the Diana Memorial Playground again. It is the BEST playground in the WORLD! The designers took the park in Kensington Gardens and added other elements of nature to give the kids' imagination a boost. No bright plastic. Everything is wood, stone and plants. Next, we squeezed in a quick tour of Kensington Palace. This is the palace Queen Victoria lived in as a child and Diana also lived here. After that, we headed to Harrod's, another playground of sorts. The kids visited their favorite departments which in addition to toys, include the amazing bathtubs, the pianos, the Pacman machine you can play for free and the 24-carat gold bars for sale.

On Friday, we took the train about 35 minutes out of the city to tour Hampton Court Palace which has been home to several monarchs, most notably Henry VIII and William III. The latter is better known to us Americans as the William of William and Mary. There are five palaces in and around London that make up the Historic Royal Palaces. We have been to the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and now Hampton Court. They all do a fabulous job of making your visit enjoyable and educational, especially for families. We toured the apartments of both Henry and William using audio guides geared towards the kids. They enjoyed it and we, the adults, learned a lot as well. The rooms as well as the gardens were stunning. It boggles the mind to think that such historic figures walked the same ground. The shops have anything and everything you could imagine with the likeness of Henry VIII, including a Russian doll set of him and his six wives. I didn't check to see if they had their heads or not. Might be a scary way to teach kids this bit of history.

Saturday morning, we went to the playground one last time. The last visit we arrived just 30 minutes before closing so the kids had been asking for more time to play. We headed home via the Waterloo train station. I was thrilled when I realized that one of the two shops I wanted to visit was just minutes from the station. It is called I Knit London. With my new found hobby, how could I resist? I bought a book about knitting toys and some yarn to make this adorable gingerbread man. Just before we got on the ferry to head home, Elise said, "Mama, I not going on the ferry." I think Miss Judy felt the same way. Thankfully, the ferry ride back was smooth sailing.

Today, we spent the day packing up Mark and Miss Judy. Mark is going home for some meetings so we are taking the opportunity to send home as much stuff as possible. He was able to coordinate his trip home with his mom's leaving tomorrow and his brother's coming next Monday. We are sad to see Miss Judy go. We had such a great time, despite the rainy weather. It is nice to know another visitor won't be long.

Time to hunker down with the kids, clean the house and get as much school work done as possible. It could be a long week, if it rains. Wish me luck.

Dina

PS. I tried and tried to upload a photo but it was taking forever. I will add photo albums of Austria and this London trip to Facebook. Check them out, if you get a chance.

27 November 2009

Oops!

I am really disappointed that the picture wasn't showing up on the blog. It was a turkey wearing a Saints helmet. It said 10 and 0 and Happy Saintsgiving. Oh well, I tried.

We have a nice time in London so far. Being in a hotel room with seven people is NOT conducive to writing a blog. I know you wouldn't want me to stress myself out for your reading pleasure so I will wait and tell you all about our trip when we get back to our cozy little island tomorrow.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Dina

24 November 2009

No Catchy Title...

I am just not up to it. Since my last post, I brought Elise to the doctor in Austria, ran out of gas in Belgium and had a small chunk of my tooth come out. I saw a funny mug today that gave me the chuckle I needed. Remember the slogan I shared a few weeks ago- Keep Calm and Carry on? Well, they turned the crown upside down and added the quote- "Freak Out and Fall Apart".

Don't worry about me, though. In the midst of all that stress, we picked up my mother-in-law. You know, that is a funny statement. For some, that may add to their stress, but for me it is wonderful. I am blessed to have a fabulous mother-in-law who I have missed very much. It is so much fun to have her with us. I treasure getting to share our life here, walking through the quaint town, riding the bus around this beautiful island and relaxing together in our house. I thought her ears may fall off the first few hours after she arrived. I'd like to say that was the fault of the kids but Mark and I had just as much to share.



We really wanted to go to Lisieux to see the home and convent of Saint Therese. After trying every possible option, we decided it was too much, both money and time wise. Instead, we will spend a day or two in London. We will probably be there on Thursday which will be just another day here in England. We will be missing turkey and stuffing as well as our family at home, but we will be happy for so many blessings.

Thanks for the way each of you blesses our family.

Now, on a more serious note, I'll quote my friend who said it best- Happy SAINTSgiving! :-)
Dina

17 November 2009

Mozart and Lederhosen

Ahhhhh…Austria. It was definitely worth the stress I was feeling as we prepared to leave. When all the hotel options we found were going to be cramped and expensive, I googled “large family accommodations” and found a fabulous place about an hour outside of Salzburg. We drove through France and Germany spending a mere $75 on tolls. We arrived in Austria at dusk and had to find our way to this small town in the dark, up a steep, winding mountain road. We were helped along the way by an angel, disguised as a customer at a local grocery. She over heard me asking for directions. She spoke English and knew exactly the resort we needed. She was heaven sent because we were exhausted and quite stressed.

Arriving in the dark had an upside. It was like being led to a surprise wearing a blindfold. The next morning it was such a treat to open the blinds and peer out at the snow topped mountains and stunning surroundings. We spent a leisurely day strolling through the small town. I felt like I was in a fairy tale with the quaint houses and shops. The architecture had me on the look out for Hansel and Gretel who I was sure would be around the next corner. We stocked up on groceries, which is a favorite activity for us all. We love looking through all the aisles but especially the dairy section, chocolates and cookies. After lunch at home, the older kids went for a swim in the pool, sauna and spa complex. They were in heaven with the place to themselves. Their imagination had them performing spa treatments for one another. In the evening, what more can you ask for than Hannah Montana and other Disney Channel favorites in German?

We started Sunday morning with Mass at the local church. It is amazing to think that these people, thousands of miles from New Orleans, pray to the same God and profess the same Creed. It is a comfort to find the same images of our Beloved Mother Mary and her Son, so far from home. Many of the gentlemen were wearing the traditional Austrian jackets and hats. Our guidebook said, in Austria, the folk dress is still accepted as formal wear.

After Mass, we headed to Salzburg. Without internet access, it was harder to prepare for our visit and I had left much of the planning to Mark. We found our way without much trouble and arrived at the Schloss Mirabell, the gardens of a former archbishop’s residence. The gardens were made famous when Julie Andrews and the children sang Do Re Mi here, in the Sound of Music. We saw the birthplace of Mozart and the Hotel Sacher, which is famous for the Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake with a thin layer of jam beneath a thick, smooth icing. Delicious! We wandered the quaint, pedestrian-only streets enjoying the window shopping and listening to the many languages being spoken around us. We conceded to an Italian restaurant after much pleading from the kids. Happily, there was Weiner schnitzel and potato salad on the menu for me and we ended the meal with an apfelstrudel. It was authentic enough and everyone was full and happy. We visited the childhood home of Mozart and saw his violin and locks of his hair. Standing in front of that violin gave me goose bumps. There were several original pieces of music in his own hand. There was a child-friendly guide that made the visit meaningful for us all. There were ups and downs, including getting turned around when exiting and ending up in Germany before we realized it but all in all, it was an enjoyable day.

On Monday, we took on the daunting task of visiting Vienna, which is over 4 hours away. In true Zelden style, we started our day at 7 am and ended it at 11 pm, with about 9 hours of driving and 5 hours of sightseeing in between. We enjoyed some sausage (wurst) and Wiener schnitzel for lunch, saw the Hapsburgs’ Palace with the beautiful horses they imported from Spain, the Stephensdom an immense Cathedral at the heart of the first district and did lots of window shopping in the pedestrian-friendly streets in this elegant part of the city. We only got a taste of this amazing place but enjoyed the little time we had to spend there.

Today we are swimming and taking it easy. Tomorrow we head home and it will be a long day of driving to get close to the ferry. On Thursday morning, we take an early ferry across the channel then head to London’s Gatwick airport to pick up Mark’s mom to bring her back to the Isle of Wight.

Thanks for all the prayers. We can feel them helping keep us safe and happy all the way across the pond. Be assured, you are in our prayers as well.

Dina

12 November 2009

Almost there

Wake up on time, CHECK! (3 am, ugh)
Make it to the ferry to mainland, CHECK!
Find our way to Dover and the ferry across the channel with hardly any time to spare, CHECK!
Debit card working, CHECK!

So far, so good. Bonus of free internet in our room tonight in Germany. No compatible charger so I need to finish before the "juice" runs out!

Off to the Mercedes-Benz museum en route to Austria in the morning.

Funny note: My friend told me that mutterallergie means allergic to mother. Two lessons in one. Don't rely solely on a computer translator and handy word for those teenage years when you have to drop them off blocks away so as not to be seen.

Hope to write again soon. Internet access and charger willing.

Dina

11 November 2009

Surviving Austria

Tomorrow at 4 am we leave for Austria. I love to travel. I am usually adventurous and am willing to figure it out as I go along. I often scoff (not out loud, just in my head) at people who aren't willing to take risks. Well, now I know how they feel. Maybe I know too much about all the difficulties one encounters visiting another country. Maybe I have grown accustomed to knowing exactly how convenient or inconvenient little every day things will be. I understand the outlets. I can dry my hair and charge my cell phone. I have internet access. I have finally learned all the British coins. Okay, I need my glasses and a few minutes to sort out some of them. Now, we are leaving the comforts of a fairly settled existence to cross two bodies of water and 3 countries. Why, after dragging my entire family across the ocean, does that scare me so much?

I want to be excited. I have been to many countries in Europe but never Austria. I want to be the enthusiastic tour guide for my kids I usually am. I want to frolic through the hills with Julie Andrews and each and every cheesy remembrance of the Von Trapps. I just don't know if I can muster up what it will take. We have the car, booked both ferries and all the accommodations, so I guess I have no choice.

Traveling with five kids feels like an episode of the Amazing Race- always thinking on your feet, while in constant motion. It takes lots of teamwork. The couples that weren't in sync were dead in the water. I hope Mark and I can get in sync before too long because, in the planning stage, it just wasn't happening .

I don't mean to sound ungrateful but I also want this blog to be a real description of our experience- the ups and downs. I am hoping that all the little things will fall into place, making the trip manageable. I am also hoping I will magically learn German over night because we haven't faced the language barrier yet. With Sam's nut allergy, that makes me nervous. I did manage to translate every nut I could think of into German. Here's a list in case you are brushing up on your German:

haselnuss= hazelnut
walnuss= walnut
pekannuss= pecan
erdnuss- peanut
pinienkern= pine nut
mandel= almond
mutterallergie= nut allergy

Should make for some interesting posts so stay tuned. Not sure about accessing the internet but I will try. If not, auf wiedersehen, until next week!

Dina

06 November 2009

A Little Lull

Well, the bus pass is done so it is back to going only places our feet can carry us. Today that was the library and to play tennis where a group of senior citizens beat us to the courts. By the afternoon is was drizzly so we haven't done much of anything. Sometimes that is nice. Sometimes it just grows old. Too much together time and not enough to do has me feeling "blah"!

I had been trying to get the kids into school and we found out the other day that none of our choices had room. Time to hunker down and get to business with home schooling. I have been doing work with them here and there. I resorted to workbook pages out of desperation for activities at the bed and breakfast when we first arrived. The idea of going full force, however, has been stressing me out. Now I realize why.

I got one of two responses when I told friends and family about considering home school- "Better you than me!" or "Oh, that will be easy for you because you were a teacher." I guess reality lies somewhere in between. I realized recently that being a teacher actually makes it more difficult. I was thinking about short term and long term goals, thematic units and lesson plans with lots of song and dance like I would do in my own classroom. I mean, if I went to that much trouble for mere strangers, to what lengths should I go for my own children? I realize this is the perfectionist in me coming out to stop me in my tracks. Who can even start when the bar is so high? I do the same thing with house cleaning, Christmas shopping, and even writing this blog. The other day I found a math workbook for Anne at the bookstore. I bought it and used this as a jumping off point. I will keep the goals short and sweet. Math and reading everyday we are at home with a project like a book report thrown in once or twice for good measure. Just dive in and do it!

I applied that to another project I have been putting off - coloring my hair. I would peruse the hair color aisles, every chance I got. Oh the choices- brand, color. What's a girl to do? Come up with a lame excuse why she couldn't commit, that's what! Finally, I realized how ridiculous this was. I mean, I decided to move to another country in less time than it took me to pick out a hair color! I grabbed a color and didn't look back. I am pleased with the results but even happier that I was able to just get it done!

This may be a little lull but there are lots of fun things on the horizon. Mark will be in London Monday and Tuesday for meetings. When he returns we are preparing for our trip to Austria. We leave next Thursday to visit Vienna and Salzburg. On the ride home, we will pick up Mark's mom in London. We are SO excited for her visit.

Time is flying by. Guess that's good and bad. I am trying to live in the moment and be happy where I am. Just be. That is always a challenge.

Dina

03 November 2009

Oh What a Night!

Well, my plan worked. Mark and I got to bed early Monday night and got a few hours of sleep in before the alarm went off at 1:30 am. I hauled myself out of bed and called my mom on Skype to watch the Saints game. She turns the computer to face her TV (or should I say tele, like the Brits) and we can see the game. Mark eventually joined me. It wasn't a problem to stay awake because the game was a nail biter. At 5 am we crawled back into bed for another few hours. All that trouble was worth it to see Ronnie Lamarque sing "When the Saints Go Marching In" not once, but twice!

Our "Freedom Pass" for the bus has been fun but in a way it is actually a slavery pass. If you spend the money, you feel the need to go somewhere every day. This morning, Mark was headed to London for a meeting until it got postponed. Energized by talk of the Saints victory and the change of plans, we quickly got dressed and headed out the door. Was it a particularly nice day? No. Was it in fact a pretty nasty weather day? Yes. When we arrived in Newport and were waiting to change buses in a light rain, Sam asked, "Exactly why are we out in this weather?". That's when I coined the term "Slavery Pass" in my mind.

We were headed to the west side of the island to see The Needles. Don't ask me what they are beyond some interesting rocks and one of those "must-sees" on the island. I hadn't seen them before taking the 45 minute bus ride there and still haven't seen them. It was such a windy day, they couldn't allow people on the road to view them. In the end, it didn't matter. The blustery weather made for an interesting ride perched high atop a hill in a double-decker bus. I thought we would topple right off. The English Channel was churning with waves and it was a dramatic sight the way they pounded the steep cliffs that make up that side of the island.

Although we couldn't see the Needles, there were a few things to amuse the kids including a glass blowing studio and candy shop. I was all ready to watch the candy making and turn it into a great lesson for the kids. Oh joy! We arrived at the point in the process when he was cleaning the equipment. Oh well, we moved on to the sweets shop for a math lesson of how many candies can we shove in this bag before Dad runs out of money. It was such a fun place with bin after bin of candies of all shapes and colors- fizzy cherry cola bottles, candy straws, miniature toasted tea cakes, sugar coated toffee balls- to name a few. Glad the weather was bad. Now we have an excuse to go back.

It is such a treat to ride around the island. Just minutes out of town there are rolling hills and acres of green farmland dotted with horses, cows and sheep. Every few miles you come to another quaint village with thatched roofed cottages, tiny churches and shops. Towns with names like Brighstone, Totland and Hulverstone have a fairy tale look about them. The kids enjoy the ride and Elise ends up catching a quick nap along the way.

Guess that is all for now. It is getting late and that Saints game is catching up with me. Besides , I am enjoying Emma by Jane Austen and have committed to reading some every night because I have a very ambitious list to complete by January. After Emma, I already have a quick, fun book picked out then I want to read a novel by Charles Dickens. My mom suggested David Copperfield. After that, I am determined to tackle a Shakespeare play. I loved reading his work in high school and college and hope I am up to the task without a teacher to guide the way. Wish me luck!

Dina

01 November 2009

Photoless, Creative Halloween

It is a rainy Sunday morning. We are all in our pajamas, except Mark and Sam. It would be a perfectly cozy day IF- 1) We did not have to WALK to Mass. 2) We could watch the NFL on TV even though the Saints aren't playing 3) We had more groceries on hand.

Mark and Sam are dressed and gone because Sam is playing the organ today. I am so disappointed that I won't be there to hear his first public attempt at the instrument. We decided that seven people and one small umbrella wasn't a pretty picture. The girls and I will go this evening. Hopefully, Sam will do well enough that they will have him play again so I can be beaming with pride in the pew.

Our life here is very simple- no school, outside commitments, no car, not even much TV. In some ways, it is fabulous. We spend more time together, read more, get more exercise and are more creative. Sometimes it is really hard for exactly the same reasons- no school, etc. I do enjoy walking everywhere but after a while our pleasant little town can seem claustrophobic. Mark thought about renting a car for the day. When he compared the price of a family bus pass for a week, we decided it would be a good option. We are now the proud bearers of a "Freedom Bus Pass". Actually, we have two passes because their definition of a family is 2 adults and 3 kids. Guess we are more of a tribe! For seven glorious days we can visit lots of places on the island and shop in the bigger towns.

On Friday, we went to Ryde to shop at the UK equivalent of Walmart. We picked out Halloween treats and supplies for our party. We had to keep to the bare necessities because everything is expensive and we had to carry it home with us on the bus and up a hill. We ate at McDonald's and were served by a lady from Kentucky. That took me by surprise. We took the scenic route home just to see some of the island.

Saturday, we took the bus to Newport, the largest city on the island. We shopped until we were starving then had to walk to three restaurants before we found one that took credit cards. We ended up back at the Pizza Hut where we spend about $65 on lunch last month. We decided with prices like that it is not a hut. We are calling it "Pizza Manor". We were much smarter in our choices this time. Almost a third of the bill last time was the drinks! We opted for water this time.

At home later that afternoon, we prepared for our little Halloween party. I figured the kids would miss our New Orleans traditions and I wanted to make it fun for them. They do celebrate here but we are on a street with few homes which are all set back from the street. The newspaper even had a sign you could cut out and put in the window saying- No trick or treating here. Not knowing many people, we opted for a night of family fun. Emme decided we should trick or treat at each others' bedroom doors. Splendid! We let the kids decorate their rooms with cobwebs, rubber rats and the like. They were quite creative with few supplies and it was great to see how resourceful they were. The girls took bottles from the bathroom and made fake labels for lizard blood, moth tears and other potions. Sam played creepy music on his keyboard when we entered the boys' room. They were even creative with their costumes or "fancy dress" as they call it here. They pulled out scarves, belts and other accessories as well as my make-up bag to become a pirate, zombie, vampire and witch. Mark and I wanted to dress up too and wanted it to be something the kids would love. I decided we should dress up as each other. I looked pretty silly in Mark's shoes, shirt and tie with jacket and pocket hankie but Mark stole the show in my skirt and MAKE-UP. I think the only reason he was so willing is because he knew the camera is broken and there could be no evidence. The kids thought it was hilarious, especially Elise who kept giggling and saying, "Daddy is Mama and Mama has Daddy's shirt!". We played a rousing game of Halloween charades and ended the evening with a silly scary movie.

It is a challenge to do without things like Walmart, Target, cheap stuff, a car, family and friends but amazing to see just how resourceful we can be!

Hope you had a fun Halloween, too. Here's hoping for a fixed camera soon. We can't possibly go on without one. :-(

Dina

29 October 2009

Guess Who
















I have been wanting to share this picture. Look who we ran into at the bed and breakfast when we first arrived. Guess he was "on holiday" resting up before his busy season!

I am happy to report, "he was a right jolly old elf and I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself"!

28 October 2009

A House a Home

What makes a house a home? Clearly our friend Erv knows because this is what he sent us. Thanks, Erv. You are brilliant!



I made jambalaya last night using British pork (they LOVE to advertise the fact that it is local) and prawns. It wasn't half bad and a nice reminder of home.

I noticed a flier in the window of my favorite store weeks ago. It was advertising a knitting group that meets every other Tuesday evening at a cafe in town. They are called the Cowes Knit Wits. I thought this would be a fun way to meet people. Sam said, "Mom, REALLY, you can't take up knitting. It's like saying- I give up. I am getting old." This cracked me up and has been a source of lots of teasing between the two of us.

The girl who started the group is young and friendly. She welcomed me and jumped right in helping teach me how to cast off and get started. Learning something new as an adult is refreshing. It is fun to completely occupy your mind with the task at hand. I couldn't talk to anyone much because it took lots of concentration to practice what I was doing. I did enjoy listening to all the Brits laughing and talking. One exclaimed, "Oh, Buggar" when she couldn't get a stitch and another proclaimed an idea to be "bloody brilliant!". I felt like I was in a Hugh Grant movie.

The walk home was fun because I hadn't been in town after dark. I enjoyed seeing the signs lit up, the groups socializing in the pubs and families enjoying dinner in the restaurants. It is half-term break here so the town is bustling with visitors. Half-term also means no car was available to rent for the trip we were planning. Car rentals, ferry crossings and accomodations for seven make trips a budgetary and logistical nightmare. We continue to plot and scheme. Hopefully, I'll be posting from another country soon...

Dina

26 October 2009

Treats from America!

Hooray! What a treat to wake up this Monday still reveling in an epic Saints victory to have a shaggy, bearded man appear at our door holding a box. We have been suffering through a Royal Mail strike knowing that Grammy had sent a box of goodies. What a thrill to find some of the things we miss the most tucked into this cardboard box which truly felt like a hug from across the pond. Do you think it can even last one day in this house? I am vowing to make my Hot Tamale candies last. I'll let you know how that works out.

Today was one of those days that I pinch myself and ask, "Did we really get this opportunity?". It was cool and sunny with sailboats gliding effortlessly along the Solent. Tea and scones, as well as a full dose of articles and highlights of the Saints game, started the morning off right. Eventually, we all made it out to the tennis courts in our backyard.

After lunch, the older kids and I walked through town to the library. This is one of our favorite outings and we make the trip almost daily. William wields his library card with such pride, you can't help but smile. We browse the books, read, use the computers and even roam through the Maritime Museum which is housed there.

By the time we left the library, it was getting cloudy. On an average day it might appear gloomy. Today, however, it looked down right cozy. A perfect sky for going home to make pancakes and watch Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, both of which we found in our box of treats. I didn't hear much about that movie when it came out but we rented it from the library a few weeks ago. I got sucked in about halfway through and can't wait to watch the entire film. Dustin Hoffman gives his typical gimmicky performance a la Rain Man and I am not a very big fan of Natalie Portman. I must confess to being a HUGE Jason Bateman fan and the youngest star Zach Mills gives a sweet performance. I like the movie because all the characters improve on their flaws and are better people for knowing each other in the end. Don't we all hope for the same? I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the film:

"Your life is an occasion. Rise to it."

Cheers!
Dina

24 October 2009

Lazy Days

It has been difficult to get back in the swing of things since arriving home from London. Today is gray and rainy and I just don't want to do anything. William got a Nintendo DS for his birthday so it has been a hand-held game fest around here. No restrictions! Which means the kids literally play until there eyeballs fall out. We will resume reasonable limits soon... when we have the wherewithall to enforce them.

Emme and I did manage to cook dinner using a kids cookbook from the library. We made Roasted Butternut Squash soup, chips (potato wedges) and Crunchy Apple Cake Bars. The cake bars were delicious so I am sharing the recipe. It is from Star Cooks Cookbook for Kids. Celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott shared this recipe.

91/2 oz. soft better, plus extra for greasing
9 1/2 oz. caster sugar (that's what they call granulated)
9 1/2 oz. self-rising flour
5 eggs, beaten
2 apples, diced
2 oz. sultanas (golden raisins)
rind and juice of one lemon
a pinch of mixed spice
a pinch of cinnamon
2 oz. demerara sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)
2 oz. chopped nuts (optional but not for Sam's nut allergies!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and line a large tin baking tin. In a large bowl, mix the butter and caster sugar until lightly creamed.
Gradually beat in the flour and eggs until the mixture is smooth. Gently stir in the apples, sultanas, lemon rind, juice and spices.
Pour the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly.
Sprinkle the demerara sugar and nuts over the top. Cook in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then cut into bars fro a mouth-watering treat.






Yesterday, I had the chance to scrapbook with a Creative Memories consultant. I have been a Creative Memories customer for over 12 years. The friendships I have made are as special as the albums I have created. I had lunch with several of my CM friends before I left New Orleans and was thinking about what it would be like to crop with a group of British women. Well, it was pretty much like I thought- very mild-mannered and quiet as we sipped our tea and nibbled our biscuits. That is, until I got warmed up and let loose. I had them in tears describing us maneuvering our luggage through the airport on those absurd trolleys. We talked about TV shows, music, food and language. It was exactly what I love most about this experience. Getting to know Brits one on one and picking their brains about their culture as well as their impressions of ours. They said they hoped I would be there next month. Hopefully, they weren't just being polite.

Happy Weekend!
Dina

21 October 2009

Heading Home and Happy Birthday

Happy 7th Birthday William! We hope the "force is with you" this entire year. You rarely stop wiggling or asking questions but our family wouldn't be the same without you.

Well, we are headed home this morning. Although there is always something more to see and do, we are ready to get back to our little island with its slow paced life.

Monday we went to Harrod's. Everything about Harrod's is impressive from the way the terra cotta building commands your respect by its sheer size to the dizzying array of goods. All are displayed with just enough glitz and glamour to keep your head spinning. Of course we spent most of our time in the Toy Kingdom but my favorite was the ground floor with all the decorative tins of biscuits and chocolates, the Krispy Kreme counter and the pastries. After modest purchases, we hit the crowded streets to find lunch. This proved to be no small task with the place swarming with hungry people, tourists and locals alike. Seven meltdowns were avoided when we quickly headed home and ate lunch at our flat.

After a restful afternoon, we went to Piccadilly Circus for an evening walk. We visited Fortnum and Mason which is touted as the world's most glamorous grocery store. It was nice but nothing in comparison to what we had seen earlier at Harrod's.

Each day we get going later and later. Tuesday we zipped out the door around noon! We went for a ride on the Eye which is a huge ferris wheel. Passengers ride about 25 to a pod and the trip takes 30 minutes. From its location on the Thames river you can see ALL of London. After lunch Mark took Sam and Elise back to rest while Emme, Anne, William and I visited Kensington Palace and Gardens. Our first stop was the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. This is really the best playground in the world. The play areas are inspired by the story of Peter Pan and include tee-pees, sensory trail and a magnificent pirate ship as the center piece. All are set in a backdrop of lush greenery. It truly encourages kids to use their imagination as they explore. Eventually I dragged the kids away and we toured the palace where Diana lived with the two young princes. There was a tour of the State apartments as well as a display of Diana's fashion. Everyone enjoyed it and learned something, which is the part I like.

Hope you have enjoyed coming along with us for the ride. See you back in Cowes!

Dina

19 October 2009

An American Evening in London



Wow! What a Saints victory last night. We figured out a sneaky way to watch the games and it has been a god send. It helps ease the Saints withdrawals but it is nothing like being in the city, watching all the coverage and just feeling the electricity. We ate hot dogs and Krispy Kreme donuts to make it an American evening in London. Who would have thought you could enjoy a KK donut all the way across the pond? They taste exactly the same, too!

This weekend we did tons of walking. We went to a lovely park that had a petting zoo and several different play structures. It is fun to see the different things they build for kids to play on. Most are typical but some are really neat. They had face painting available so William strutted through the streets of London as Spiderman. We had lunch at one of the kids favorite places- Subway. It is apparently a favorite of the Brits as well because there is one on every corner.

Sunday morning we walked to St. Etheldreda's which is the oldest Catholic church in England. I would have to be a poet to describe the beauty of the church, the Latin Mass and the choir. You could feel yourself ascending to Heaven right along with the incense. The best part is the kids were so well behaved, an elderly lady complimented us after Mass. I graciously took the compliment and moved on quickly before any of the kids started whining or bugging one another. :-)

We ate lunch at Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, an authentic pub that was built during the reign of Charles the II (Remember him from the story of the Tower ravens?). We had leg of lamb, fish and chips, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Food was good and the atmosphere was fabulous. Mark hard a hard apple cider that we both enjoyed. Sweet enough for me, "hard" enough for him.

The rest of the day was spent walking and getting ready for the big game. We still have Harrod's, Fortnum and Mason and Kensington Palace to cover. The sleeping arrangements are getting tough but we can manage another night or two.

Cheers!
Dina

16 October 2009

Murder, Mystery, Blood and Gore

The Tower of London holds all this and more! We spent the entire day at this landmark of the city. Her Majesty's bodyguards, also known as yeoman warders but familiar to all as Beefeaters, guard the tower. They are all men and have served in the army for at least 22 years. They are quite regal in their unmistakable uniforms. They give tours, are endlessly photographed and love to joke around and answer questions.

Initially, it was a hard sell to the kids. The tour is interesting with tons of history but not so much for the kids At one point I was wincing and hoping they weren't listening to the story of the executioner who took 5 swings to behead someone and still didn't succeed. I'll spare you the details of how he accomplished his job.

After the hour long tour, we watched an historical reenactment. Men and women dressed in period clothes explained what is was like to defend a palace. They taught so much about both attacking and defending a fortress with great humor and audience participation. Sam and Emme were picked to climb a ladder over the fortress wall to learn of the demise of most trying to penetrate a castle this way. Sam had boiling water dumped on his head and Emme had excrement heaped on hers. Both water and excrement, they explained, were cheap and readily available. I joined in the fun by helping launch a catapult. As the man explained, you have to do two things at once to be successful- pull a rope and fall on your ass. His quote, not mine. I did both just fine, especially the second part. The kids were enthralled with the whole demonstration and William couldn't have been happier if Robin Hood himself was standing in front of him. The costumes were fantastic. We took tons of pictures and William was beside himself when one of the men let him hold his sword for the photograph. The Tower of London was now officially the coolest tourist attraction in London.

They was still so much more to see and do, we decided to stop for a lunch of what else- fish and chips. It was surprisingly good and reasonably priced. There are actually two or three restaurants and as you can imagine, about four themed gift shops in the complex.

Next we move on to the Crown Jewels. When you enter the building, there is a room called the Hall of Monarchs. The coat of arms of every monarch is displayed as well as the years of their reign. It was fun for the kids to figure out how many years some had reigned, trying to find the longest ones. We also compared names, counting the most popular such as Edward and Henry. If we make a graph later at home, this could count as a homeschooling lesson! Mark pointed out that there has only been one King John. This is familiar to the kids because of Disney's Robin Hood. You may remember the thumb-sucking tiger who portrayed the dastardly, coward of a king. Do you know which number William will be if/when he becomes king? You have probably heard of William the Conqueror who was the first king of England. There have been three others so Diana's son will be King William the Fifth, should he ascend to the throne. There is also some great footage of the coronation of Elizabeth II which shows the Crown Jewels and how they are worn on State occasions. To view the variety of jewels you step on a conveyor belt to keep the crowd moving. The most famous gem in the entire collection is the Star of Africa. It weighs 530 carats and is the largest top-quality white diamond ever cut. It sits atop the sovereigns scepter and is stunning.

Next we toured some of the towers and ended the day at the gift shop. Elise was happy to purchase her own crown jewels made of high quality plastic just like the sword William chose. Emme couldn't live without a coin purse beaded with a Union Jack design. Anne and Sam were happy with stuffed ravens. Next to the Beefeaters, the ravens are the most famous residents of the tower. It is said that the tower and the kingdom will not fall as long as there are ravens in residence. To this end, Charles II protected them by royal decree. Now, they have their wings clipped, a procedure that doesn't harm them but insures they will not fly away. To honor him, they named there stuffed version Chuck. :-)

We were a happy, tired, well-educated crew by the end of the day.

Have a great weekend. Let's make Eli remember where he came from! Go Saints!

Dina

15 October 2009

LONDON!

Ahhhhh! Our first day in London. What a treat! It was worth all the stress of traveling yesterday with all the kids by myself. We are staying at a friend's flat in a nice part of the city. There are lots of cafes, pubs and restaurants right out side the door. As I sit here near the window writing this, it is pretty quiet which is nice. The flat is in a building that is kind of tucked away off the main street (Goodge). There is an Underground stop a short walk away.

We have quite a list of sights to see while we are here. It is great to be able to take things at a leisurely pace, especially with 5 kids in tow. They are pretty good travelers, I must admit and I catch many people smiling at one of the kids or the whole crazy scene of us. Elise seems to make friends wherever we go. One sweet foreign lady asked in broken English if all the kids were mine. When I answered yes, she smiled and said, "Oh, very nice!".

This morning, after a rough night, we took it easy. There is one double bed and a futon for the seven of us. Elise curled up on a chair. Hey, free is rarely the lap of luxury. :-) Anyway, we headed for the Museum of Childhood which I had read about on a website of free London attractions. It is a small museum filled with toys and other things relating to childhood. What a find! We stayed there about 3 hours and only left because we were hungry. We could have stayed even longer. It is a small museum with very nicely arranged displays that captivate children and adults alike. There were amazing examples of antique toys, some dating from as early as the 1600's. Riding toys, wind-up toys, dolls, board games, costumes, you name it, they had it! There were several toys from the seventies that brought back memories to me and Mark.

After our museum visit, we headed to Trafalgar Square and grabbed a quick lunch at a street vendor advertising "American hot dogs". The kids have been missing them so it was a treat. The weather was gorgeous- sunny and about 70 degrees. We ate in the courtyard of a famous church- St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The original church on the site dates from the 13th century but the current structure was built around 1726. Charles II's mistress is buried here and many Londoners waited out bombings during WW II in the crypt.

We made our way home via Charing Cross Road. One of my favorite books is 84 Charing Cross Road. If you haven't read it, pick up a copy. It is a quick read and such a charming book. When you finish the book, rent the movie with Ann Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins(I think). It is one of the first times, I saw a movie after reading the book and wasn't disappointed. We window shopped at several charming bookstores like the one talked about in the book. The exact address is now a Pizza Hut, I am sad to report. Now really sure how much of the book is fact or fiction, anyway.

This evening we watched cable TV, which is a treat because we don't have it at home. We walked to a pizzeria and then to bed early to catch up on the sleep we missed last night. As a matter of fact, I am keeping Elise awake because I am blogging in her bed- remember the chair I mentioned earlier.

There is SO much more I could say but I guess I will have to save it for another day. Hope you are enjoying the tour of London. Tomorrow we are off to the Tower of London, home of many executions as well as the Crown Jewels. St. Thomas More was imprisoned and killed here. Hey! There's another book and movie recommendation- A Man for all Seasons. Now get reading. Quick, because we are looking at a rail trip to Stratford-upon-Avon and the reading I suggest after visiting Shakespeare's home will not be light!

I'll leave you with a quote displayed at the Museum of Childhood: "We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing." George Bernard Shaw

Dina

13 October 2009

The Flumps

We have gotten TOTALLY hooked on this retro British children's TV show. Nothing like the Flumps to brighten a gray day. This is what pint-sized Brits were watching when Americans were learning the preamble with Schoolhouse Rock. I know it seems crazy but these- hairy rocks?! - are adorable. Happy to connect you to all the finer points of British culture.

Cheers!
Dina

12 October 2009

Our First Visitor

Hooray! We had our first visitor. George Schmitt is Mark's friend from high school. He was escorting his mom on a trip to London and Paris. We are appreciative he took the free day to spend time with us. It was no small feat considering it required a trip on the Tube (London's subway), short bus ride and a ferry trip.

Thanks, George. We had a great time! Soooo... who's next?

Speaking of London, Mark has needed to go to London several times already for meetings. A client in New Orleans hooked him up with an American living in London who lets him spend the night at his flat. He is leaving today for a long business trip and said the whole family is welcome while his place is vacant. Hopefully, you will see some London photos posted soon. Island life is great but I have been here 6 weeks and am ready to explore a little. He took Sam and Mary Elizabeth on one of the trips and they are dying to share their experiences so here goes:

Absolutely Everything from a Kid's Eye View by Mary Elizabeth Zelden
Hello, there! This is Mary or "Emme" speaking. Well I'm sure you're wondering what you are reading, because of the title, well you're reading about Harrods Department store. About a week ago my brother and I took a trip to London, home of the famous Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Harrods. I am a huge shopper and there is no mall on the Island, so I was about to faint just looking at it. It's a HUGE, 5 floor hotel looking building complete with doormen. On the side of the building is a light up structure that reads "Harrods" in large sparkly letters. So we walked in, stored our luggage and marched up to the Christmas department for a quick peek. After about ten minutes of red and green, we went up to the pizzeria for lunch. Let me tell you, Harrods is fancy, no fast food or carry out. After a coconut chocolate cupcake for dessert, we moved on to, well, everything else. There was so much to see, in so little time. We saw exercise machines, clothes, golf supplies and big screen TV's and even a Hummer golf cart! Can you guess which department Sam and I spent the most time in? The bath and shower department! And no, I'm not kidding! The bath tubs were as big as small outside above-ground pools. Well, send comments PLEASE! That's all for now!



London Town by: Sam Z.

I was surprised at how much some parts of London reminded me a lot of New York City back home. It was very cool. It was almost like being in NYC except it was rainy, and of course the small details like BIG BEN and tons of I love London t-shirt vendors. There were also some famous areas, streets, and landmarks to keep our long walk to Harrods interesting. We saw a statue of Churchill, Big Ben, and more. Not to mention the HUGE shopping center Harrods. It blew me away. It was the largest concentration of the biggest and best things you could imagine. There was a 1.8 million pound (monet, that is) bathroom. There was a pac-man machine that you could play for free, huge halls filled with every kind of food, not to mention the pizzeria with the most delicious pizza ever, and the miniature putting green with over 100 putters to try out. There was a room filled with pianos and guitars (which I loved) and a video game area. All in all.... amazing!
We also saw some of the new Darwin Center and the Royal Academy of Music. When it was time to leave we departed from London Waterloo to Southampton Central and took the ferry home. I had a lot of fun and hope we can go soon. Keep the comments coming=) . Sam


11 October 2009

My New Motto

I saw a poster like this in one of my favorite shops in town. In googling the image to share it with you, I found out that it is a copy of a wartime poster. Inspiring, don't you think? And, relevant in many situations. Yesterday, William said to me, "Mom, I miss our old life." OUCH! I wanted to start crying and sweep him into my arms and say, "Me too." I thought of this poster and it helped. I asked what he missed the most and he mentioned his grandparents Another knife to the heart because I know how much they miss him, as well. I asked if he liked our life in England for now and he admitted that he does.

Mark has always said, life is about trade offs. I have never argued with that statement but boy, am I living it now. Whenever I feel sad and miss home and "our old life" as William puts it, I know that you can't have both. I couldn't have this great experience without giving something up. The "giving something up" stops us from doing so many things. I am glad we didn't let it keeps us from this adventure. Well, the day is dawning, the sailboats are sailing and the troops are rising. Guess it is time to get into fearless leader mode. Keep calm and carry on.

Dina

09 October 2009

We Want You...

... to subscribe to the blog. I think I finally fixed the subscription problem. PLEASE sign up so as not to miss a minute of our thrilling adventure!

Have a good weekend. GEAUX TIGERS! Get some rest, Saints.

Dina and the gang

07 October 2009

A Terrace with a View



Finally! My cord arrived (thanks Mom and Dad) so I can transfer the photos directly from my camera to my computer and share them with you. This is the side of the house where the living room opens onto the terrace.




Here is the view from the terrace. The land you see in the distance is the mainland of England. The body of water is called the Solent. I have gotten some great pictures of lots of different boats that I'll share later.

In reference to my last post, if rainy days get me down, I am in the wrong place. It has been raining off and on for the past three days with rain in the forecast for tomorrow. Most of the time it is just gray and misty. We have been passing the time watching the fog roll in and out. It goes something like this:

"Hey, I can barely see the mainland."
Twenty minutes later...
"Wait, I can see it again."
Another twenty minutes...
"Wow, now I can't see it at all."
Maybe thirty minutes this time...
"Well, there it is again."

You can see this makes for a thrilling and quickly moving day, especially with 5 kids to entertain.

Mark and I had a revelation today. Our mood is measured by the strength of our wireless connection. Strong connection=good mood. Weak connection=bad mood. Monday we had no wireless signal. I am happy to report the signal was pretty good today. Tomorrow Mark is going to London for a business meeting. Guess the kids and I will be watching the fog roll in and out. Ah, the joys of life in England! I know you are all jealous.

Dina

05 October 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays...

always get me down. Any Carpenters fans out there? Yes, today was both. It was great waking to a Saints victory but the morning was downhill after that. I was feeling sad and missing everything and everyone about home. Funny how "home" means so many different things depending on the juxtaposition.

Now, a friend living in Virginia is "home" as much as someone in New Orleans. Once you are across the Atlantic, "home" is the whole, sprawling USA. I mentioned to Mark today how this was nice and everything but I would go back home in a heartbeat. He was quick to respond- Not me! It made me think about the difference between men and women and how we interact and communicate.

Today I was especially missing the kids' school-Holy Name. I miss how welcomed I feel every time I pass through the door. It is as comfortable as walking in the door of my own house. I miss the faculty and staff as well as the parents. There are so many relationships that matter to me in that one building. They are the kind of relationships that have developed over years and are nurtured not by phone calls or e-mails but day to day interactions. Each one nothing fancy or life-changing but they all add up to something special, something hard to leave behind. Most of my important relationships are this way. Chatting with my friend Anne F. in her living room until it is so late I simply must sleep over. Sitting on the stool in Rebecca's kitchen while she prepares dinner, fixing all the world's problems between the two of us. Laughing with Ann R. as one of us lingers too long at the other's door with the kids waiting in the car, restless. These moments make up my life, both personal and professional because I am after all, a stay at home mom. They can't be replaced by Facebook or e-mail.

For Mark on the other hand, the Iphone (formerly his Blackberry) and the computer are his primary means of communication. A text message or a few lines posted on Facebook are enough for him (and I assume most guys) to relate to one another. Review the scores of the weekend's games and they are done. Admittedly, most of Mark's friends don't live in the same city. This is serving him well in our new adventure.

After feeling sorry for myself a bit this morning, I decided to cook beef stew for dinner. That helped get the chill out of the house and busied my mind. This afternoon when the rain stopped Sam, Mary Elizabeth and I walked to the library. It is such a quaint walk, most of it along a pedestrian-only street lined with small shops and cafes. That walk makes me happy and I was reminded of the fact that nothing good comes easy. I know what we are doing is a good thing for all of us. I know New Orleans and our family and friends will be there when we return.

Rainy days and Mondays may get me down but not for long. After all, the rain stops and Tuesday comes.

Dina

02 October 2009

Nibs and Bits

Happy Friday! There are always so many things that come to mind for me to share. Many are just odd bits of info, really. The title for the post comes from a conversation with the gardener who mentioned going to a funeral and having "nibs and bits" afterward. I couldn't tell if he said nits or nibs but nits reminds me of lice so I am going with nibs. :-)

I finally have an address at which to receive ROYAL MAIL. That's what they call the mail service. Sounds as if Queen Elizabeth herself will be knocking on your door, doesn't it? Truthfully, I am hoping to be on Prince William's route. Just as long as I don't end up with Camilla delivering my parcels. It's a funny difference between the two countries. Here, the service is called the mail and you send a letter by post. In America, the service is the postal service and you send things by mail.

Speaking of the Queen, I've been noticing all the things that have her insignia and thinking about what a massive job it will be to change these after her reign. All the royal mail boxes have her crest. Her face is on all the money, both paper and coins. I wonder how long it will take to phase that out. How quickly do they print new money when they change monarchs? I noticed the bottle of dish washing liquid I am using has a label saying, "By appointment of her Majesty the Queen." Brings dish washing to a whole new level, doesn't it?

Here are two other bits I have been meaning to share:
We were served a dessert that possibly had nuts so to keep Sam safe, the server made something different for him. She came out of the kitchen and happily presented him with a bowl telling him it was jelly and cream. I felt sick at the thought of a bowl full of jelly and looked at Sam to see his reaction. With a half-hearted smile he thank her and accepted the bowl. After an apprehensive bite, he realized "jelly" is actually Jello.

At the bed and breakfast, the kids were watching a movie in the lounge one evening. The innkeeper's daughter asked if they would like some squash. Knowing the kids would turn down this offer, I asked her what exactly "squash" was. I had seen it on a menu under beverages so I had an idea. She explained that squash is any kind of fruit drink, like Capri Sun or Kool-Aid.

Hope you have a SPLENDID or BRILLIANT weekend! Both words are quintessentially British.

Dina
10 Baring Road
Cowes, Isle of Wight UK
PO 31 8DA