Saturday, 6 November 2010

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Zoo

Today, I took my girl to the local wildlife center: the Hamerton Zoo.

We saw belligerent tortoises, a kookaburra, meerkats, maned wolves, a Bengal tiger, and operatic gibbons. 

 And she learned all of their names.

We were the only two visitors there during the first hour!

 We had the park to ourselves.

And it was wonderful.

Monday, 1 November 2010


We are officially halloweened out. Three days straight of Halloween: a party, a carnival, trick-or-treating, and village bonfire night. We even opted out of two other things we had originally planned for Sunday! Anyway, Halloween was very fun this year. 

Isabella went as a garden gnome. I made her little skirt, the hat, and the beard. I threw in a black belt and her little boots and the look was complete. As for myself, one day I was Cyndi Lauper and the next I was a 50's teenager with a poodle skirt. Pedro was a swarthy viking.

For the first time in my five years living in England, I got trick-or-treaters at my house! I was unprepared and they ended up getting Isabella's candy from our special trick-or-treating on an American base the day before. But it was very exciting for me (and Isabella too).

Bonfire night was great too. November 5th is the official Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes holiday), but our village decided this year to combine it with Halloween. I had originally planned to enter Isabella in the costume contest, but was feeling particularly rotten with my cough and we only made it to the actual bonfire lighting and fireworks later on in the evening. Last year it was freezing outside so we were prepared this year with hats, mittens, down coats, blankets, hot water bottles, and hot toddies for the grown ups. And the weather ended up being....very pleasant! Of course, the day I'm over-prepared is the day I don't need to be.

Halloween plinko - her favorite from the carnival - she used almost all her tickets here!
All in all, it was all good, but I am ready to pack it up. And the next holiday will be spent with family! We're getting ready for another trip and mini-family reunion with both sides of the family in two more weeks. It's going to be a good Thanksgiving.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

MORE Pumpkins? Yes, More Pumpkins.

We picked our own pumpkins at that same PYO farm we went to for berry picking this summer. They had a vast field full of lonely pumpkins, each of them begging to be taken home. The surrounding field also had more autumn vegetables like gourds and squash, so we picked a few of those as well.

It was cold! out on those fields, but the sky was clear and the early evening was beautiful. We went with some friends and all the kids were besides themselves with pumpkin joy. 

Once we chose our pumpkins, we dropped them into these holes for measurement. Isabella kept sticking her head into the holes saying, "Where's the ladybird?" (Ladybird is Britspeak for ladybug.) It was a random question, but one that demonstrates what is usually on her mind - she loves ladybugs.

Finally, on a rainy day, we decided to carve this pumpkin up into something "very scary," at Isabella's request. She helped me scoop out the seeds (which we toasted with salt and sage, of course), and carved it!

An awesome jack-o-lantern sure to scare the goblins away from our doorstep.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Onward to Halloween

candy-filled pumpkin parcels a la MarthaStewart
Isabella and I have spent an awful lot of time with Halloween decorations this year. I searched through every box in the shed and garage trying to find all five of my old Halloween decorations, but to no avail. So I invested in some cheap homemade versions instead. Halloween is fun and it's a pity that it's not celebrated  in the same over-the-top way we do it back home. So no trick-or-treating outside the American community over here, but I'm working on a deal with my neighbors...

The garden is beginning to go to seed - my runner beans that are still left on the vine have gotten hardened outer pods and the seeds inside have turned...magical! They're purple! We have serious plans to start a beanstalk. "Bella and the Beanstalk" - it has a nice ring to it.

And of course, it is again baking season - the time of year that I get stingy with the heater but very generous with running my oven. These spooky treats were inspired by my Creative Director, Isabella Aida, who really wanted a ghost with glasses and a happy face. The glasses wouldn't fit, but he is quite happy as you can see.

And lastly, I have been making a bigger effort to write down all the funny things Isabella says at this age. Unfortunately, most of them get missed, but here are a few (mind you, these are coming from a two-and-a-half-year-old with a cute little high-pitched elf voice, and just a tinge of baby accent left):

"I like my orange hair."

"This is AMAZING!" As said after taking her first bite of dinner, and a clue that my constant hyperbolic speech is rubbing off on her.

"That's a FINE pumpkin, Mama." Evidence of more accrued British culture and speech.

And my favorite from last week: I had gone into her room to get her out of bed and she looked to the window and said, "The sunshine is ready!" Beautifully put.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Hike to Harvest

Our neighbor's tree out front has just started turning yellow. Isabella is with her second cold  in two consecutive weeks. We are using our heater twice a day now. And dinner tonight is a hearty, hearth-y moussaka. Autumn is really upon us here in England. I feel we have to spend as much daylight hours outside as possible, before the sun goes down at 4pm by the end of December, and the days begin to wane dramatically by 2pm.

the donkeys and horses from down the road
So Isabella and I have begun to collect even more wild berries, apples and other edibles to use such efforts as an excuse to be outside. We have even started taking the dog down to the creek for regular baths, instead of a hosing.

footpath to Southwick and the giant crabapple tree

But today I'm definitely feeling the indoorsy vibe. My attention has turned from various scattered clothing and gifting projects to projects of the house: what do I really want to look at between these four walls for the next 6-7 months before spring beckons us out again? So I am putting together a few boxes of things we no longer use or need to sell in my first car boot sale - the equivalent of a garage sale, except various people in the village get together in a parking lot and sell their wares from the trunks of their cars.

last stop at The Swan from our recent hike
This weekend we are also planning a big family hike with some other friends and their kids. It will be a kid-friendly pub crawl from one village to another - with good food and drink at both ends - absolutely the best way to do it.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

More Early Autumn Energy

"So you're not sleepy?" "No, it's just I hungry." And she's also eating like a teenager again. I got comments about it on her first day at playgroup. They marvelled at how much she ate at snack time. Parents get just as proud of how much their toddler eats as they do of their grades when they start school. I'm almost sure of it.

"Be careful, Isabella. There are a lot of pokies [thorns] around the blackberries." "The pokies tickle me." Then later after getting stuck, "Pokies, you don't have to hurt me." This was yesterday, when we took Spartacus for a swim down at the stream. This outing ended up being a hour and a half long hike, and by the time we made it home we were rosy cheeked and ready for hot chocolate! Isabella's first hot chocolate. It was a bit anti-climactic: I was expecting her to go bonkers over milk with loads of warm chocolate swirling around in it.

This week the days have been very full. It's not even 4p.m. but since we've been so active outside, it feels like it should be bedtime. Today we took a long bike ride to another village, then hiked up an old castle mound to see the panorama. I missed my camera every step of the way. Because she fell asleep on the bike on our way home, I missed out on a nap time break. But she has been letting her imagination run wild, and so has been entertaining herself very well.
behind her is the partially sanded table I hope to paint and stencil for her - yet another project

This week I also bought her a grab bag of toys at our Oxfam charity shop - only 99p. My investment in that cheap bag of Happy Meal cast offs and random bric-a-brac is turning out dividends in the amount of time she has spent playing with each new piece of junk. Sure, it makes for a huge mess but it buys me time to get other stuff done around here :).

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Late Summer Happenings

that was my teddy as a kid!

Last month we finally decided to move Isabella into a toddler bed. It was just the right time. Now I can squeeze into her little bed for a book before bedtime or just lay by her side for a few minutes to cuddle when she needs it (or I need it - which is actually most of the time). Of course, she often plays in her room now when she should be sleeping, but the transition has made mornings much easier for me. Now she can show up at MY bedside to say "good morning to you!" instead of frantically screaming at me from her crib. It makes a big difference in my usually anti-social morning mood. 

With each passing day, Pedro and I swear that she is getting either clumsier or bolder - most likely the latter - but either way, she ends up with innumerable little bruises on her legs, bloody lips, and even a bruised nose. Last week was just terrible, and she fell badly twice in one day - once while playing around in her little plastic lawn chair (teeth to the coffee table), then she tripped on a new rug I bought and almost broke her nose on a dining chair.


We have put a strict stop to her cuddling with the dogs after Tracia clawed a deep gash in her cheek when Pedro's parents were here. But still, she tests the limits.

I plan to put her into playschool for one day a week this fall/winter. It will help me get errands done while she learns things from people other than me. When she turns three next February she will be entitled to school five days a week (half days), but I'm not sure how long I want her away. I do so like her company, and I have already learned how quickly these days pass. 

Monday, 23 August 2010

Strawberry Picking

pick your own
This post is a bit overdue. At the end of July, some of my friends and our little ones all went to a nearby farm and did some berry picking. This was a ritual my family performed almost every year where I grew up - my brothers and I would help pick gallons of berries and my mom would fill every free space of countertop preparing them for preserves or freezing. I did the same when I got home too. 

getting ready
 This, of course, wasn't Isabella's first foray into berry picking. We've been picking edible stuff around where we live since she was old enough to walk.  It was, however, her first time at a real vegetable farm. The kids were all so happy just to get together - we certainly didn't need a gimmick to get their attention. But once they saw the strawberry fields, and the rows upon rows of redcurrants, blackberries, tayberries, and raspberries, they began "working" in earnest. Isabella ate every single berry she laid hands on - and they were so candy-sweet, I couldn't blame her.

covering each other in hay 

The girls have been friends since Isabella was 6-months-old, so every time we see each other there is a lot of hugging involved - they're practically sisters. This time, when the two of them hugged goodbye - they embraced each other so hard that they both fell over, mid-hug. They got hurt and there were some tears, but it was so ridiculously cute my heart practically burst in an overwhelming sappy mom moment.  

While the parents took turns paying for the loot, the kids all took off to the park and burned what little energy was left. I hope to go back to the farm very soon to repeat the experience. I love the idea of making these sorts of traditions with her, and I hope that she looks back on these times with the same warm and fuzzy feeling I do.   

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Monday, 16 August 2010


"esa nena tiene fuerza en las manos!"

a BBQ and a tea party all in one day

rainy days ain't gonna get us down! (idea per madebyjoel)

how she managed to stand in these, who knows?

We may be experiencing our last days of summer. We have had a couple of very chilly days: days that if the calendar had read October I would have happily turned the heater on - but I object to using the heater in August! We wore wool sweaters instead - which now sounds at least as bad.

Isabella had her 2.5 year development checkup last week - but she doesn't actually turn 2.5 until tomorrow. (I refuse to let her grow up too fast, even a day - so today she is still 2.4999999!) She did great - here in England one of the big tests is whether they can properly play with a tea set - a game she has had down pat for months. Most afternoons we do a "tea time" following her nap - I have a cup of coffee and she gets some diluted chamomile tea - the proud grown-up look on her face during this little game motivates me to try to do it every day. Anyway, she passed all the little tests administered by the health visitor, was weighed and measured and is growing and learning most excellently.

At this stage, Pedro and I are blown away by the power of her memory - she can repeat the most random, offhand comments we make days after they've been made. Yesterday, she saw the ice cream man pass us on the highway and asked where he was going. I told her he wasn't selling ice cream then but was on his way home to see his family. When she heard the music of the ice cream van today, she told me he was just on his way to his home to be with his kids.

She has times of completely fluency with her speech, but some days she gets caught up on words. Every bit of it is so amazing to witness.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Thursday, 15 July 2010

South Wales

Pembroke Castle

This year Pedro's annual birthday trip involved a foray into South Wales. We wanted to take his 4X4 vehicle on its first roadtrip through somewhat rugged territory. Our plans were a bit spoiled by a brakedown that lasted almost three days and extended our trip by an extra day. But despite the car troubles, we did a bit of hiking along the coast and probably sat around a bit more than we would have otherwise.

Pembroke Castle moat

When we got restless we took taxis. The villages are pretty close together so it wasn't too bad.

Welsh cheese: Caerphilly, Welsh Brie, Red Devil (spicy!), and Harlech (with horseradish)

We stumbled upon a gourmet food shop in Pembroke; it had a huge selection of Welsh cheeses so I had the lady behind the counter put together a little picnic selection for us.

We stayed at a self-catering cottage (no-frills country house) in a village called Freshwater East. The local pub had delicious food (local fish, mussels, and pork) and put together a special ice cream sundae for Pedro. Plus, they had a huge fish tank that kept Isabella absolutely transfixed.

We only managed to get in a good coastal hike once - and it was absolutely stunning. Pedro had Isabella on his back in the child carrier and we hiked up and down the rolling hills along the coast from Freshwater. There were spectacular views. The scenery reminded me a lot of Cornwall, and also of how much I want to go back!

Our last day was spent wandering around in the village of Tenby - in the rain. Thank goodness the child carrier closes up like a little capsule and keeps Isabella out of the wind and the wet. To matters more uncomfortable, the place we were staying had closed, so we couldn't even go back just to get out of the rain. After enduring too much frustration from the mechanic ( who could never give us an estimate of when the work would be done), we decided to take a taxi to the garage and give them the evil eye until they got moving.

In all, the trip had plenty of high points and at least we were never at each other's throats! I'll post a slideshow in the margin soon.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Isabella the Flower Girl

We have been planning my good friend Kathryn's wedding for the last year. My role as a bridesmaid included making the flower girl dresses so that they would match the bridesmaids gowns. So I sent swatches of fabric and Pedro's mom was able to find just the perfect material in Puerto Rico.

Kat and I made the crowns for the girls and the end result was totally adorable. They looked like two little fairies flitting about the church and the field where the reception was held. My friend Amanda graciously offered to do my hair, even though she was dealing with a house full of boxes only one day after moving.

Instead of a traditional wedding cake, the couple opted for a cheese tower, using traditional British cheeses. Isabella kept robbing it of its grapes throughout the reception. We were experiencing one of the hottest days of the summer and this cheese tower got pretty ripe before the night was over.

It was one of the most beautiful weddings I have been to. The weather was unbelievable. Isabella was a perfect flower girl - she spent over three hours dancing on the dance floor, up WAY past her bedtime, but happy the entire time. Seriously, we couldn't have asked for a better experience.