And . . . we’re back!

We had a great vacation.  We saw some new (to us) places in Austria, had some amazing experiences (including one of the most fun things I’ve ever done — sommerrodelbahn) and actually got a chance to relax and recharge as a family, for maybe the first time.  (We’ve vacationed before, but I don’t think we’ve ever really achieved “relaxation” before as a family.)  It was truly a fantastic trip, and I’m going to write all about it, very, very soon (not like last year’s vacation, which I’m still working on writing about . . . and which I will also get back to soon).

But, for today, we’re back, we’re on a new schedule, and I suddenly feel like I don’t know how to be a stay-at-home parent anymore.

In retrospect, planning a pediatrician appointment for today, our first day “back to normal” (and it’s a new normal) was not the wisest plan.  But, we were gone the last two weeks, our pediatrician leaves on Friday for her vacation, and this is one of those things that we wanted to get done during the summer, so here we are.  (We also have a dentist appointment on Thursday, and at least 3 other doctor’s appointments to try to get in this summer.)  Besides the pediatrician appointment, though, I just feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m home, with the kids, just me & them all day.  And though I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for almost 6 years now, I suddenly feel like this is all very new again.  How does this all work?  How do I get things done?  How do I shower?  How do I go out for a run?  How do I get the groceries?  How do I manage both boys safely at the playground?  How do I fold the laundry, go to the bathroom, or prepare a meal without someone getting hurt?  I used to do this all the time — why don’t I remember how to make this happen???

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But, of course, the challenge is that it’s not the same as it’s ever been before.  Liam was never in school before this year, so this is the first time I’ve had him at home full time since he’s gotten used to that schedule.  B isn’t napping anymore, so this is the first time I’ve tried to get Liam down for a nap while B is doing other things.  Both boys are bigger and more energetic.  They both have more need to expend their extra energy and more ability to injure each other while they’re playing.  While they’re old enough to reason with (more or less) they’re also old enough to require a bit more substantive mental stimulation.  And, for the first time, I’d gotten used to having some time on my own every day, so the loss of it is uncomfortable for me.

It’s fine, though.  We’ll figure it out — we always have before.  And I know that I’m not alone in this feeling.  Parents everywhere are suddenly faced with the same dilemma — “Why is my house suddenly overrun by these short, demanding people, and what am I supposed to do with them?!?”

The end of the school year . . . and the end of preschool for B

20140627-165102-60662588.jpgYesterday was the last day of school for my boys this year.  For B, it was his last day at this school entirely, and his last day of preschool.  For Liam, it was the last day of his very first year of school.  A big day for both boys!  Actually, a big day for all of us.

Next year, B will move on to elementary school.  He goes right from half-day preschool/kindergarten to full day first grade.  That’s going to be a big change, but he’s excited about it (and, therefore, so am I).  Mostly, I think he is beyond excited that his school next year will be in English and that he’ll be able to express himself really well.  (He’s also looking forward to learning more math.)  Liam will get to come back to his same class and teachers and friends next year . . . which also means we don’t have to completely say goodbye to any of the teachers at the school.  (I already have plans to stop by B’s old class next fall to pick up some pictures.)

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20140627-165102-60662064.jpgIt’s been a busy week — lots to fit in before the end of the year.  B’s class celebrated his birthday with him on Tuesday.  I’m so grateful that he got to do that one more time before leaving this school.

And B commemorated the occasion of the end of preschool by losing his first baby tooth the night before his last day.  (Just in case there was any question about how grown up he really is getting to be.)

Now we’re on our summer “vacation”.  (I say “vacation” because summer means having both boys home, which is wonderful, but not exactly restful.)  It has been a long (but very good) preschool journey for B, a great first year for Liam, and a busy week for all of us.  Now it’s time to enjoy the summer!

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Customary

Before I moved to Austria, I had only ever lived in a single culture.  As such, I believed the rules of etiquette to be fairly ironclad.  Allowing for differences between generations, and different class and social backgrounds, there are certain customs and behaviors that I just believed to be GOOD, RIGHT, and POLITE, in an absolute sense, and those that were not.

It’s been an uncomfortable adjustment to realize that’s not true.

The issues that a society emphasizes as polite are pretty arbitrary.  Well, probably not entirely arbitrary, because I’m sure they have a history and come from something, but they are incredibly subjective.  Things that at home would be incredibly rude, like cutting in line or spitting on the sidewalk, are commonplace here, while things we take for granted in the US as acceptable, like running late for an appointment or wearing yoga pants to the grocery store, are gauche in Vienna.

The little things like that you adjust to quickly (I haven’t worn my yoga pants outside of the house in years — not even to walk the dog), but there are other things that are tremendously difficult to let go of, even though I know they make me weird.

For example, earlier this month, B was invited to a birthday party by a kid in his class.  Liam was not.  We RSVPed that B would be there (which is weird enough — Austrians don’t really RSVP, and if they do, they don’t feel bound by it, nor any obligation to inform you if their answer changes either way), but didn’t mention Liam, because he wasn’t invited.  The party was for the child who last year came to B’s birthday party … unexpectedly (to me) accompanied by his older brother who we had never met.  Part of me really wanted to assume that this probably meant that Liam was supposed to be invited to this party, too, but I just couldn’t.  Though by Austrian standards, it was probably a safe assumption, I just couldn’t let go of my deeply ingrained reverence for the intention of an invitation.  The issue became irrelevant when Liam busted his lip open the day before the party, because he certainly couldn’t attend a McDonald’s birthday party an open wound on his mouth.

But, as it turns out, he WAS “secretly” invited.  Well, secret from my perspective.  The hosts asked where he was and had a goody bag ready for him.  I’m quite certain that an Austrian mom would have read the situation correctly (and, if she hadn’t, no one would have really cared, because while bringing an uninvited child to a birthday party in the US would be a faux pas, it just isn’t a big deal here).

Another example came up this week.  It was B’s last week of school, and after 3 years in the same class, I wanted to do something special to thank the teachers.  I agonized over gifts (Dan finally helped me think of something good) and spent at least an hour composing heartfelt notes to each teacher in German.  But … I don’t think they really do that here.  B’s teachers have kind of gotten used to me with the Christmas gifts and the year-end thank you gifts, but I’ve definitely gotten the impression that, although the gesture is appreciated, the strangeness of it makes it a little uncomfortable for them.  I’ve checked, and it’s not forbidden or anything that they receive gifts from the parents . . . they just generally don’t.

I give the gifts anyway.  I know it’s odd the way I do things, and it’s certainly not my desire to be weird or to make anyone uncomfortable, but I can’t let it go — it’s all I have.  I know (reasonably well) how to be polite and gracious as an American.  I have very little idea of how to be a polite Austrian.  So if I were to stop doing my weird American things, I would JUST be a slightly rude person by Austrian standards.  This way, I’m STILL slightly rude by Austrian standards, but I at least get comfort by being reasonably polite by American standards, even if no one else here really gets it.

Dino Lingo

So first, in the interest of full disclosure, I want to mention that Dino Lingo provided me with their product for free in exchange for a review.  I went into this to do an honest review, trying to maintain the perspective of a paying customer.

I’ve never done a sponsored post before.  But this product was so perfectly suited to our family (and to my blog audience) that I had to give it a try.  Also, the links to Dino Lingo on this page are affiliate links.

094Dino Lingo is a language learning program for children.  I had never heard of it, but the first thing that impressed me when the company contacted me was the excellent customer service.  Every other time that I’ve gotten a message from someone asking me to review something, it has come as a generic form email (which is a lot of the reason why I’ve never followed up before).  In contrast, Kathryn from Dino Lingo had done her homework — she had read my blog, and understood why this would be a good fit for us.  And the excellent communication and customer service didn’t stop there.  Once I decided to give it a try, we had several thoughtful conversations about which language program to choose.  We decided against German, since my boys are already pretty experienced with it, and the Dino Lingo program is intended for beginners.  I eliminated Spanish for the same reason, and French because, though the kids don’t speak it, I know enough that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to gauge the effectiveness of the teaching in the program myself.  We decided to try something completely new to the whole family — we went with Russian.  (I was impressed by the range of options available.  I expected a fairly standard French/Spanish/German/Italian/Mandarin selection.  It is much more extensive than that.  They have over 40 options.  Our final choice came down to Gaelic and Russian.  We went with Russian because the boys often encounter Russian children on the playground, and they can’t communicate with them, which is always a bummer.)

104So, our choice was made and we waited.  We didn’t wait long, though — our package arrived just 8 business days later, which is impressive for an international shipment.  The boys didn’t know what was in the package, but they were so excited to find out!  (Dino Lingo very kindly included a second stuffed dinosaur toy, which kept the opening of the package from spurring a fight, earning them even more bonus points for me.)

Our set included 5 DVDs, a set of flashcards, a coloring book, a vocabulary book, posters, a progress chart (with stickers), a music CD and 2 dinosaur toys.  The kids were immediately intrigued, and, after running around for 5 minutes with the dinosaurs, wanted to put on the first DVD.  So we did.

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We put the first DVD on . . . and I was initially a little concerned.  My kids are so used to interactive apps on the iPad and the iPhone, and TV shows with really slick presentations.  This is a DVD based program, so it isn’t interactive.  The graphics are cute, but I wasn’t sure they’d capture the boys’ attention.  I was worried that they’d get bored with it quickly and lose interest.

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I was wrong.

Not only were they completely captivated by the characters and the graphics, they were totally wrapped up in learning the language.  They were sitting on the floor, talking back to the video, right from the start.  And when it was over, they asked to watch it again.  And again.  By the end of that first night, we were all talking about the Russian we’d learned already.

123Liam loves the flash cards.  He doesn’t play with them in the conventional way (which is probably good, because he’s learned more than I have, so I couldn’t quiz him).  Instead, he spreads them out on the floor, picks up the ones he knows, and tells me the words.  In Russian!  His favorite is “monkey” (обезьяна).  The flash cards would be more useful if I were doing a better job of learning Russian myself (or if we had a native speaker we could work with).  But he’s figured out a way to be quite entertained.  (And hey, he’s 3, and basically teaching himself Russian, so I can’t criticize.)

We received our program about 6 weeks ago, and with the end of the school year this week, and all the craziness that leads up to that, we haven’t used it all that much in the past couple of weeks.  But the kids are STILL talking about it.  They still remember what they’ve learned.  Remarkably, their interest in learning Russian outlasted their interest in the stuffed toys that came with the set.  I honestly didn’t expect that.  They want to learn more, and they’re so proud of what they know already.  We only recently got in to looking at the printed materials (aside from the flash cards) — most of our use has come from the DVDs.  But the kids are starting to get interested in the posters, too.  (They’re quizzing each other on the words associated with the pictures.)

(Actually, after our time with the program, I have only one criticism.  On the first DVD, there is one graphic of a happy face turning around and showing its backside while giggling.  It’s not egregious, but slightly rude, and it’s one thing I wish my kids hadn’t learned from the DVD!)

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We didn’t buy the set, so we’re extra lucky — it came to us as a gift.  But, I can honestly say that I *would* buy it.  I wish that we’d had something like the Dino Lingo set in German before we’d moved here.  It would have been a leg up, and a great start to our overseas adventure . . . for all of us.  I’m truly impressed by how much my kids have learned, and how much they’re enjoying it.  It’s been more effective than I expected it to be.  Way to go, Dino Lingo, and thanks for sharing your product with us!

Summer schedule

Most of my time as a parent has been spent either feeling overwhelmed, trying to figure out how to get a handle on things or being pretty certain I’m screwing everything up.  (I do other stuff, too, that’s just in the background.)  This is a part of parenting that I didn’t anticipate before I became a mom.  I knew that the early days with a new baby would be hard (though I didn’t know how hard), but I didn’t know that I would never really get things “figured out” – that I would never get past feeling like a rookie at something I’d been doing for years.  The thing is, this game is constantly changing.  Every time I emerge from the tunnel of confusion brought on by new schedules, preferences, temperaments, questions, developmental stages, personality changes, and just life in general, I get knocked sideways by a whole new, different set of circumstances that requires a completely new approach.  I’m always behind the curve because the rules are always changing.  That’s just how it is.  Although it’s tough, the upside is the knowledge that however hard a particular stage as a parent is, it will be over soon.  The downside is that when things are finally smooth, they’re guaranteed not to stay that way for long.

We’ve been in a surprisingly long period of stability around here recently.  Liam has mostly adjusted to school, outgrown his phase of night terrors (more or less — he no longer gets them every night) and it has become almost possible to reason with him sometimes.  B has gotten the potty thing mastered, and has gained a surprising amount of independence lately.  Most of the time, a family outing no longer requires a stroller, and dinners don’t always end with something being thrown, worn, or dumped on the floor.  We’re able to brush teeth at night without major fits (occasionally) and the boys require only constant reminders (and not being chased through the house) to get ready for school.  Things have been pretty easy around here for a little while (and by “a little while”, I mean since sometime after Easter).

So, of course, everything is about to change.  Today is the first day of the last week of B’s time in preschool.  Starting on Friday, I’ll have the boys home until August.  And when they do go back to school, Liam will go back to this same school, while B starts at a new school.  In the meantime, B, who still takes an afternoon nap most days, needs to get used to not having one, because he starts full-day school in August.  But Liam, who turns into Mr. Hyde if he doesn’t nap (and whose night terrors come back if he sleeps too soundly at night, which is well mitigated by not going to bed over tired), still needs a daily nap.  And, their shared nap time has historically been when I get a lot of stuff done every day … like writing this blog … so that’s going to require some rethinking.  (And, as demonstrated by the fact that I’m still blogging about last year’s summer vacation, taking an extended blogging break doesn’t work too well for me.)

So, later this week, everything changes.  (Again.)  We’ll go on vacation for a bit, come home, and sort out a summer schedule for the 6 weeks before school starts up again.  I’ll convince Liam to nap even though B won’t be, keep B quiet but busy so I can get a little done around the house and sort out an hour or so each day to find time to work on this blog.  It might be a challenge, but, in exchange, I get to have my guys home every day for a few months, and that’s going to be great.  It’ll be a bit overwhelming, but I’ll get it sorted out.  It always is, and I always do.

Lippizaner tour — Vienna

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There are only a handful of things left on my wish list of Vienna experiences for which I would kick myself if I didn’t do them while living in Vienna.  But, until last weekend, one of the biggest ones was still on that list.  Before I moved to Vienna, I saw a performance of the world famous Lippizaner stallions once when they toured in the US, and I saw a performance at the Spanish Riding School here in Vienna when I came to visit in 2010.  I’ve walked past to see them being cared for in their stables and visited the mothers and foals during their summer turnouts at the Burggarten.  But, as a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, I really wouldn’t have wanted to miss the “behind the scenes” stable tour.

20140618-155134-57094330.jpgMy friend, Elaine, was kind enough to join me — these things are always more fun with a friend, and though the kids are technically old enough for the tour (no children under 3), I didn’t think they’d enjoy it, so we left Dan with the kids and had a grown up afternoon (which is an exciting enough prospect for me, with or without major equine celebrities).

We started with a stop for soup, cake and coffee at the iconic Cafe Central, which was truly lovely.  (Seriously, the Viennese know how to make a piece of cake.)

But after that, we were on to the tour!  (In English — there is also a German-language tour.)  There was some kind of construction going on, so apparently our tour didn’t follow the typical route, but that was ok with me, because we got to start with the very best part — the horses themselves.  We weren’t 20140618-155135-57095275.jpgallowed to take pictures in the stables, which was a shame, because the horses are all so beautiful.  We couldn’t pet them, either (for safety reasons) but we were right in the aisle of the barn, peering into the stalls.  Our tour guide gave us lots of information — I was the obnoxious person who knew all the answers to the questions that the tour guide asked.  But although I knew the significance of having a bay horse in the barn (for good luck) and why each horse has two names (each horse’s name follows the same convention — they’re named after their father and their mother), I did actually learn a lot, even while being distracted by visiting with the beautiful horses.  I learned that the horses work for 2 months and then get 2 months off . . . plus vacations.  I learned that each horse has only one rider and that each horse only knows one of the advanced moves for which the Spanish Riding School is famous.  I now know that although the 20140618-155135-57095623.jpgvast majority of the horses are “white” (actually light gray, and they’re all born dark — that part I already knew), they used to come in many different colors until one of the Austrian emperor decided he preferred the white and bred them for that trait.  Now only about 1% of Lippizaners stay bay as they grow.

After ogling the horses for a while, we moved on to the tack room, which was not quite as thrilling as hanging out with the horses, but equally fascinating.  We saw the racks of practice and performance saddles and bridles, and learned that you can predict whether a horse will do one of the “airs above the ground” in a performance based on the color of the saddle pad he wears.  We learned that the performance saddles are individually made for each horse in Switzerland out of buck leather, and that they’re very expensive.  And we saw an enormously fat cat.

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We finished our tour with a stroll through the courtyard and past the world’s largest automatic horse walker on our way into the Winter Riding School with its fantastically elegant chandeliers.  There, we learned more about the process of becoming a rider for 20140618-155136-57096787.jpgthe Spanish Riding School — including that strong riding skills are not a prerequisite and that they accept only about one rider per year (fewer than .3% of the applicants) even into training — and the first two years of that consist mostly of cleaning tack and horse stalls.

It was great, and absolutely worth the €16 for the tour.  I did get the impression that our guide was a little out of sorts due to the change in routine caused by the construction, but I wasn’t able to get an answer when I asked what was different about the tour we got.  Regardless, I am so glad to have been able to go, and really grateful for Elaine’s company (and her patience with my constantly whispered commentary).  I had such a good time that I may just have to go back again to see the “regular” tour!

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Party at the UN!

20140617-153635-56195779.jpgWe’ve had quite a lot of memorable and interesting experiences on this adventure.  We’ve travelled to beautiful and culturally important places, seen beautiful art, had unusual experiences, faced challenges and met many, many kind and lovely people.  I love taking pictures of these moments.  Looking back at them always brings a smile to my face, and looking back at them as a collected set is pretty stunning.  Still, most of the time, when I’m taking a picture, I’m simply capturing the moment, not thinking of the greater impact it will have when viewed later.  Sometimes, though, while memorializing those moments, I’m aware of what it will be like to look back on it later — how it will feel as a part of our familial history.

20140617-153636-56196182.jpgLast Friday, Dan’s work had their annual company party.  It was a nice one.  We’ve attended many work functions over the years (in several different industries) but we’ve never managed to get to one of these IAEA-wide events before (one year, I think we were in Paris, and the other time, I think one of us was sick).  Some work parties are more indulgent than others, some are more formal, some are a chore, a few, over the years, have been genuinely fun.  This was one of the best we’ve had the chance to attend.  Families were welcomed, there was live music plus a good DJ, there were (free) drinks and lots of good food (to buy).  There was socializing and dancing.  The party went from 3 in the afternoon until 10 at night, and the employees were encouraged to attend during work hours.  It was a real treat, for all of us, and everyone else there seemed to be enjoying themselves, as well.  20140617-153636-56196611.jpgDan joined the party in the afternoon, but the kids and I didn’t arrive until later, after nap time.  We had dinner, chatted with friends, the boys had ice cream, and Dan and I even got in a few dances.  It was a good time.

But this is the IAEA, so the party was held in the central courtyard of the UN.  This might have just been Dan’s summer work party, but it was also a party at the UN.  And taking pictures of the boys dancing under the circle of flags, I was very aware that this is one of those cool things we’ve gotten to do.  It was fun while we were doing it, but I think it will always feel just a little bit unreal when we look back on it.

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Loose tooth

The other day, as we were sitting down to lunch, Benjamin was complaining that there was something stuck behind his tooth.  I took a look, and indeed there was — behind his lower front tooth, another new tooth is growing in.  Upon closer inspection, I also found that the baby tooth it will replace is loose, though B hadn’t yet noticed that.  There’s no denying it — my little guy continues to grow up.

Of course he does.  The milestones have been flying by lately — just last week he had his preschool graduation, and he’ll start first grade (!) in August.  He’ll be 6 in just over a month, so of course there have been many changes along the way — solid foods, walking, talking, potty training, writing, riding a pedal bike.  I would have thought I’d be getting used to the idea of him growing up and changing by now, but I was surprised at how much this one got to me.

Discovering that little sliver of permanent tooth poking through his gum line really did surprise me.  First, it’s legitimately a little ahead of schedule.  But, more significantly, it feels like the training wheels are coming off — for him, for us.  He’s getting his grown up teeth.  The same ones that will be smiling in his high school graduation pictures, in his wedding pictures, maybe even in pictures of him as a dad one day.  Practice time for teeth is over.  If he doesn’t take good care of his permanent teeth, it could lead to lifelong problems, so now it’s show time for great dental hygiene.

It’s also a reminder that all of that is getting to be true for more than just his teeth.  As parents we (thankfully) get a bit of a trial period — a phase where it’s likely that our kids won’t remember every mistake, every bad moment, every time our tempers are lost.  But they get bigger, and the practice period ends, and we get into that part of parenting that goes on our permanent mental report card.  If we drop the ball now, they’ll remember.  We’ll still be talking about it in 30 years at Christmas dinner.  (And that freaks me out, too, because I’m still making plenty of mistakes and having more than enough bad days.)

Even Dan, who is usually sympathetic but uncomprehending in the face of my wistful moments of Mommy sadness as the boys grow up, was more than a little shocked and emotional about the loose tooth.  Getting that first big tooth is a big day, and I’m not sure that either Dan or I was really ready for it.

But B is just so excited.  He can’t wait for it to come out so the Tooth Fairy will come and bring a coin.  He feels big and proud and grown up.  I feel those things, too … but I also feel shocked and sad and freaked out that time passes so quickly and nothing ever stays the same.  I like my kids just as they are.  And though I know that I’ll continue to like them as they grow up, I do miss each stage that they pass through as we leave it behind.  It’s hard to let go of where they were as they move on.

What I said though, was, “Wow! That is so great!!! I’m excited, too.”  Because I am.  But I’m still in disbelief that he’s big enough for grown up teeth.  He’s still my little boy.  But, truly, he is leaving babyhood behind him and becoming, without question, a big boy … who isn’t really so little anymore.  My guy is growing up.  Finding that tooth made me take a step back and look at him in a way that I haven’t before, and it made me realize that he actually stepped out of babyhood a while ago.  I just wasn’t ready to see it.

Graduation

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It began like this.  And, in less than 2 weeks, it will end.  B’s time in preschool (Kindergarten) has taken him from crying, timid and not wanting to participate to happy, enthusiastic, and the best German speaker in our family.  We have had a wonderful experience with his school and teachers, and I will be very sorry to see his time there end.

20140613-090052-32452486.jpgThis week, to celebrate the end of the school year (unofficially — since it’s a preschool, it’s open year-round) and the passage of the Vorschulekinder (preschoolers) on to elementary school, B’s class had a big party.  Each of the graduating kids got to stand up in front of the class and receive a Schultüte — which is a big paper cone full of fun and practical stuff.  In this case, the teachers made and decorated the cones themselves.  Inside, they included sweets and useful things for school next year — new markers, pencils, colored pencils, and a new pencil sharpener.  And then they all went out for ice cream (B had strawberry).

20140613-085942-32382890.jpgB was so proud of his Schultüte, and so proud of himself.  He carried it all the way home, and opened it in complete delight.  (Poor Liam had a little breakdown — it’s so hard to be the little brother, especially when the big brother gets something cool and you don’t.  B shared a little of his candy, but it still was tough.)

But perhaps the best part of the graduation celebration came in a little bunch of paper, loosely and precariously attached together.  In it, the teachers had compiled a scrapbook — of Benjamin’s time at school, of his writing practices and art projects.  There were drawings, painted handprints, and pictures from field trips.  Just regular preschool stuff, but all collected together.  They had been keeping some of these things from the very beginning of his time there.

20140613-090052-32452882.jpgI think teachers are generally amazing.  While I sometimes struggle to manage just my two, the teachers at my boys’ school (and all teachers, everywhere) manage 10 times that many, with a patience and authority I sincerely admire.  They have reinforced polite manners, practiced taking turns, taken them on adventures and kissed their boo-boos.  They’ve helped see us through potty training, introduced our whole family holidays and traditions we’ve never seen before, and taught B an entirely new language.  And they have done it all with a tremendous amount of love.  The book they put together for him was further evidence of that love.  It is an amazing gift.

B will go on next year to elementary school.  But I don’t think he could have been given a better start than he got at this school.  He has been fortunate to have had some wonderful teachers.  I feel lucky that Liam will still be at this school, so we don’t really have to say goodbye quite yet.

Closing the loop

I’m picking up again on the missing pieces of last year’s summer vacation (my goal is to finish these stories before this year’s summer vacation … which is in 2 1/2 weeks, so I wouldn’t count on it).  The next major part of our trip was our time in Ireland (including one of my favorite days ever in my life so far), but there are two little pieces of the trip in England that I’ve missed, so I’ll share them here.  (Looking back, I realize that there are actually LOTS of little pieces that I missed — the day we spent in England getting lost on purpose, dipping our feet in a lake and wandering through an unfenced field of free range sheep; the sheer entertainment of literally not being able to understand anything a native Glasgowian said at full speed; the pleasant afternoon we spent wandering around Fort William in Scotland and shopping for Scottish shortbread.  I’m sure there are more.  I’m a little horrified at how many little moments never made it to the blog, and which now probably won’t because I’m already struggling to catch up on this trip . . . 10 months after we took it.  I think I’m going to have to rethink this idea of not blogging on vacation.)

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I don’t know how I missed writing about these particular moments.  (Chronologically, this piece goes between here and here, more or less.)  Our first time in the Lake District, we had an unfortunately early end to a drive we were taking when we got a flat tire.  We’d been in the process of driving a long loop through parts of the less crowded 20140528-154917-56957688.jpgnorth and west of the Lake District (the route came from Rick Steves’ UK guidebook).  I really wanted to continue and finish the tour, since we’d loved the first part (pre-flat) so much.  The landscape was just beautiful, and we’d had great fun making an impromptu stop along a lake.  So on this second trip, we bravely set off again.  This time, instead of stopping for a wade in a lake, we stopped for a quick hike at the top of the Newlands Pass.  We worked our way up the narrow track until it became too muddy and slippery, and we had to turn back.  The boys were impressively enthusiastic about it, though — I think they would have climbed to the top of the waterfall if we’d let them!  We continued our drive around the loop, passing (with crossed fingers) the scene of our flat tire last time, and found ourselves a little place to stop for lunch, with a yard full of toys for the kids.  It was one of the few times I can ever think of that we’ve been able to sit outside in the shade and enjoy a meal while the kids played mostly independently.  The boys stopped by every so often for a quick bite of a sandwich, and then were off again to play some more.

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After lunch, we diverted from the path to try and find a river swimming/wading/splashing spot recommended by our innkeepers.  We did find it, eventually, after driving down a muddy and rutted path that may not have been intended for cars and which was well marked with “no trespassing” (the problem was that once we started down, there was nothing to do but continue), and at whose end Benjamin refused to leave the car (Liam and Dan did enjoy a bit of splashing time, though).  After that, though, we were all very worn out, so rather than finish the loop, we returned by the direct route to the inn for a nap, some tea, and a walk to feed the resident donkeys (which ended in a sprint home to beat the impending rain storm).

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If at all possible, though, I really wanted to finish the loop, because we’d so enjoyed all the pieces we’d explored so far.  But, we were fast running out of time in England.  On our last full day in England before we drove north to Scotland, it was rainy and chilly and kind of dreary.  In the morning, we’d been to the Castlerigg Stone Circle (so, chronologically, this bit should go between here and here).  But it was still early in the day and we wanted to explore a bit more.  So, we drove out and again picked up the loop roughly where we had left off, and continued our exploration.  We took a side trip up the “hill” (they have impressive hills in this part of the world) away from the lake.  It was a steep and narrow journey which first brought us to a tiny stone bridge over a roaring creek and then, suddenly, around a corner to an amazing view of the lake (Derwent Water) below.  That vista alone was well worth the journey.

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We continued on to the surprisingly remote and tiny town of Watendlath, high up in the hills, but with a lake of its own.  After our journey up into the hills and then back down to the lakeside, we did, finally, finish the loop we’d been working on over two summers. We finally finished the whole “hour-long” drive.  It only took us a year.

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