Monday, December 31, 2007

Day 355: Cow 'n' down

So as British ex-pats living in the US but currently visiting in the UK, do we wish you a Happy New Year on the basis of midnight having passed here or not? Let's say not and save that for tomorrow.

We went for a nice walk this morning with friends who missed the gathering yesterday. These unusually-located Highland cattle seemed to have a rapport with Exile #3 I'm not sure why. Caption suggestions welcomed...

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Day 354: Gotta catch 'em all

...and thanks to our friends who organised and hosted this gathering of friends, we're doing quite well. Of course thanks to this blog, we had no news for anyone, but it was nice to catch up on some of theirs. The girls disappeared as we arrived to play with the other similarly aged children, for the most part only reappearing when hungry. E5N1 behaved very well with all these new acquaintances, just as well since two of the couples are expecting first babies during 2008, so he was an ambassador of baby-kind.

This morning we said goodbye to my sisters and this evening we returned to a much quieter house, with just the five of us and my parents here now.

Don't forget to get your pop pun pop quiz entries in. I will acknowledge all email entries received, so if you do not get a reply to your entry please let me know so there is no chance of my missing it.
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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Day 353: Stumped

Today was full of traditional (for us) Boxing Day activities (although it was only Boxing Day in the sense that yesterday was Christmas Day again). These were: 1) catching my uncle leaving and forcing him to the goodbyes he was trying to avoid; 2) 'Christmas tree' presents; 3) cold turkey with mash, bread sauce and pickle, 4) excavating huge stump in back garden.

OK, so the last one isn't really a family tradition, it was ground- (and nearly back-)breaking work for a greenhouse as a birthday present for my Mum for next year. Satisfyingly it included wielding an axe at six-inch think roots, a heavy hammer at some concrete foundations and pulling 10-foot long pieces of metal out of the ground. Less satisfyingly we didn't even get close to moving the stump. Later we measured the plot with an old tape measure that reported the plot as 1 pole by 2o links. Fortunately, the other side of the tape had feet and inches, so we're only 15 years out of date now. It also means that we don't have to get the stump out.

Before the party started breaking up (a process that will be virtually completed tomorrow morning), I summoned everyone for the traditional group shot.

This evening we played a famous-name-guessing game. In the third and final round (with the same names used for the previous rounds) the describer is permitted to say just one word. At one point my Dad picked up 'Popeye' and chose to say 'spaghetti'. There were some blank faces followed by falling about laughing. Nobody guessed it. He meant to say 'spinach' of course.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Day 352: Yule be back

We had a little re-run of many of the Christmas festivities today. We exchanged presents with my parents and my sisters and their families,
had Christmas dinner,

then went out for a walk.
Thanks to the small children we had an excuse to visit the playground. However in the end, the slightly tipsy adults had just as much fun - this angled circular walkway rotates making it hard for anyone larger than my seven year old nephew to get very far up it.

We discovered that if two of us walked at the same time in opposite directions, it was possible to prevent it spinning - of course, that still leaves the issue of passing each other at the top so as to both complete a circuit. If that wasn't enough fun - how about this: one of my sisters and my Mum on the swings?

After we got back, many of us joined those who had stayed at home in a little armchair nap. The cousins have all played together really nicely and it has been great to catch up with those we saw in the US in the summer and those we didn't.
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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Day 351: Down tools

E5N1 has been quite enjoying this little (borrowed) play-ring. It prevents him losing whatever he's playing with across the floor out of reach. As you know he's not really mobile yet. Of course not really mobile is not the same as not mobile at all.

Some time later we came in to discover this...

Then this...

And finally this...
This afternoon we went to visit a former colleague and family, including their "Dog is for Christmas not just for life" acquisition Alfie, who did his best to out-cute E5N1 (now on his best behaviour of course). This evening my sisters, nieces and nephew arrived as well as my uncle, so we're all set for a Christmas Day replay tomorrow. Watch this space and don't forget to get solving the pop puns in the great PPPQ.
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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Day 350: Smiles away

All the Exiles are well trained at this now. I gathered the family on the the sofa / couch / settee, balanced the camera and set the timer. I usually say "OK, smile now!" as the picture is about to be taken and they usually do. I got up to have a look, "I'd better take one more". Having repeated the process, while I was looking at the picture, Exile #3 said "Stay still everyone" She knows I regularly need more than two attempts to get a good one of these group shots. This is, however, the second and final shot from today's 'session'. Even E5N1 seems quite content to be photographed - of course he hasn't known me without the pressure of a daily blog post to write.

This was after lunch today just before we left Exile #2's parents' house (many thanks for a lovely stay!). We spent the middle of the afternoon driving to my parents' house where we are now safely installed (with most of our UK road miles behind us) and waiting for my sisters and their families to arrive tomorrow.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Day 349: Happy Christmas

We have had a very nice Christmas day. We were at church again with Nan where Exile #3 had a starring moment when she was the only volunteer to unwrap a 'present' - the last candle for the Advent-crown and then light the five candles. We also saw one of Exile #2's old friends now a once in a couple of Christmas services acquaintance.

All those present including E5N1 enjoyed Christmas dinner, although he bowed out before pudding - no-one else did. We missed Exile #2's sister-in-law who died unexpectedly this year. It is the first time that I have been somewhere where I would have expected to see her and I miss her moral-support as an outsider.

We unwrapped presents after lunch - as you can see Exile #3 has some new cold-weather clothing (ear-muffs included). Exile #4 has some cards to burn during the winter to keep herself warm (just joking of course - they won't give off enough heat to keep her warm). Of course each gift is potentially the straw that breaks the back of our transatlantic luggage so we may need some creative thinking on how to manage transportation on the way back.
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Monday, December 24, 2007

Day 348: Oldest friends

I suppose when it comes to friends of the family, C & B are vying for position as our oldest. I first met C aged 11 when on my the first day of secondary school, weird northerner (me) met weird southerner (him) in the middle of the country. I first met B on the first day of college in similar circumstances. C was my Best Man and they are Exile #3's Godparents. So it was great to catch up with them properly today and to let them make E5N1's acquaintance.

We met some other old friends there briefly this morning and were introduced to their son. Number two is already a few days overdue, so we wish them a happy and peaceful Christmas. We also had a really nice walk in the park, where the girls loved helping to find pine cones. At the end of our visit, we took this picture which was a near-repeat of one we took 363 days ago when we stopped in to see them and say our last pre-Exile goodbye on Boxing Day last year.

When we got home, our Christmas gathering was complete with the arrival earlier in the day of Exile #2's brother. We have just put the girls to bed with all the normal (but quiet) excitement of Christmas night. They both enjoyed their new stories (Christmas presents from C & B opened just before this picture was taken) - Exile #4's is a retelling of A Christmas Carol featuring the Mr Men, Exile #3's is a really lovely take on the Nativity story - she loved it, but Exile #4 fell asleep part way through - fortunately in her own bed, so there was no need to disturb her.
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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Day 347: Motion, poetry and songs

Here is E5N1 trying to will the block closer to him earlier. I think he realises that the real trick is to move himself closer to it, but his efforts mostly result in rotation on the spot or the occasional shuffle backwards rather than the forward movement he desires. He was very patient with it for some time today - even though I was taking photographs rather than helping.

Later, after a minor argument with Exile #3 about something I bumped into Exile #4 as she retreated upstairs to the comfort of her towel to calm down. After she told me the error of her sister's ways, she was lying on the floor 'snuggling'. I picked up a copy of a book of the nation's favourite poems and started reading some to her (from Shakespeare sonnets to Betjeman and plenty in between). She seemed to quite enjoy it, sometimes asking me to repeat one, sometimes requesting a different one. After a while she requested a Winnie-the-Pooh story which was fine too. Apparently she mentioned this little Daddy-time to Exile #2 during bedtime - I suspect that it takes being away from home and a break from the normal routine to make these things happen sometimes.

The reason I missed her bedtime was that I was at a Carol Service with Exile #3 and her grandparents. Exile #3 had been very keen to go after our family trip to the morning service there this morning (in which the girls had stood-in as last-minute Magi in the Nativity). She did very well despite being falling-down tired by the end.

From time to time I look to see what web-searches have resulted in visits to this site. Some are as expected, but there are surprises - recently I suspect this site had disappointed searchers for "words with multiple a's" and "hel'la translation". So I apologise to you if you came here searching for the words of the Poet Laureate and have had to make do with mine.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Day 346: Intercontinental playdate

We had a little drive today from current base with Exile #2's parents for a late-arranged visit to Dave Funkypancake and family. Last time we saw them Kezia (centre) and Exile #3 (right) were small enough to fit in a couple of baby-carrier backpacks for us to go for a walk so it must be about 4 years ago. Thankfully the internet has kept us in contact (sporadically) over the intervening years.

We had a great time catching up with the FPs in person and introducing Exile #4 and E5N1 to them for the first time. Even more pleasingly, Kezia and her older sister Esther played so nicely with Exile #3 that it was sad to part them at the end of the day. I think that Exile #3's willingness and ability to get on and play with children she doesn't know, and especially older children is a great tribute to the education she is getting in the US and to the inter-grade interactions they encourage at their school. Exile #4 was in a slightly strange mood, but had a nice time too.

So in tribute to our hosts, I offer a little picture of them and an shot of E5N1 (albeit dummy-less) from an FP-ish angle.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Day 345: Pop - the questions

We had a quiet day today - several of us, myself foremost are feeling a bit off-colour so it has been nice to take it slowly. A while ago, one of my regular comment-posters challenged me to write "The Square's Guide to The Exile". I thought about it, but then I thought it would be more fun for you all to write it, so instead, I offer you the DIY square's guide part 1:

The "Exiles in New York" Pop Pun Pop Quiz

Here's a fun game for you to play with all the family this holiday season as you look back over 345 days of your favourite blog (well I can dream!)...

Solve the pop puns!

RULES (small print):
1) Entries by email only to the address at the bottom of the blog's main page. You've got to solve that one too.
2) No answers in comments please, but feel free to leave a comment to say you're planning to play and/or how you're getting on.
3) The first to get me a complete correct solution will win, or if one does not arrive I will announce a date for the end of the competition and award a prize to the highest scoring entry received by that date.
4) Each answer is artist + song title. Kudos for additional comments, but they will have no effect on the competition.
5) The decision of the_exile will be final. No cash equivalent for the as yet unnamed prize.

So, here they are - the posts and comments (and the text below) contain many clues also there was a summary to date on Day 93 and an explanation for how to solve them on Day 112.

Happy punning!

In total you should have 40 artists and 40 song titles.

Day 344: Going fishing for a while

This morning we all went into the local market town to do a bit of odd-and-ends shopping. When we returned, we waited outside for Exile #2's parents to drive in ahead of us. They pulled into the drive, then Exile #2's mum got out to open the garage door.

"There's Nan!" said Exile #4. That's right. "What's she doing?" Opening the garage door. "Why doesn't it open itself?"

We told her that this sort of garage door doesn't have a motor to open it and she was clearly confused. We never had a garage before our departure for the US and since then she has got quite used to the automatic variety.

This afternoon, Exile #2 and I went up into the loft (for US readers: we mean attic - there are boards and a light, but otherwise this is just roof-space - not a swanky in-roof apartment). Accessed by ladder, and full of cardboard boxes and cobwebs it may be, but it is also a treasure-trove of childhood 70's and 80's childhood. We found Lego, Action Man, loads of Annuals of various types a model airport and (amazingly) a model motorway service-station amongst many other things. We claimed some games suitable for our young children, some Sindys (a UK version of Barbie - if you like) and some Playmobil. There were several complete sets, played with no doubt but still in their boxes, including this deep-sea diver. Exile #3 decided that he was fishing down there. Well why not? It looks like it's working.

It's pop pun 41 for title watchers. I've got nothing left to lose. I'll listen to anything.
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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Day 343: End of the road?

Exile #2 and I took E5N1 into Oxford city centre for some late Christmas shopping today. Until seven years ago, Oxford was our nearest city and we were quite used to the traffic. Not any more.

The first (and lesser) shock was the pedestrian traffic in the middle of the city. One of our new acquaintances in the US told us that the problem with the Northeast was that it was overrun. Well, certainly the places we go (and some - such as the mall - that we generally avoid due to the crowds) have nothing on Oxford's city centre. We saw it with new eyes:

Why did they put the parking lot here?
Where do we go now we've parked?
This staircase smells like a bathroom.
Quirky wall-art!
Ah a mini-mall.
Why would they put the stores on the sides of a busy street?
Why are there people one foot away from me in every direction?
How does anyone get anywhere?

However, this was nothing to the shock on leaving the car park after we'd finished - we aimed to get out before the rush-hour, but failed. After half and hour or so we had gone less than half a mile and saw this sign. Did they run out of ideas after inspired and exceptional or did they really want to say these are the final surroundings? It brings a new resonance to the British tradition of calling 'last orders' at the end of the night.

In the next half an hour we managed another mile or so. After that, we probably averaged 20 mph or so. All in all a 7 mile journey took about 70 minutes and apart from the time of year there was nothing exceptional. That's right - no accidents, no road work(s), just commuting traffic in a land built for much less traffic than it has today. We knew it was like this, but it's still hard to believe it on experiencing it anew. At least where we live now they are geared up for the amazing number of car journeys that happen every day - and that's just as well as there is no real alternative there.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Day 342: Housecleaning in the...

OK, I was going to name this post after a game we have played as an ice-breaker with bells-on in a few different groups. The missing word starts with 'n' and rhymes with prude. I suddenly thought of the Google hits that might end up coming my way and couldn't do it.

The game actually involves no removal of clothing but is about things that various people like doing (or in advanced rounds don't like doing or have done). Someone at some point chose "I like - housecleaning in the..." and the game was renamed from its previous more prosaic (and unknown to me) name. The aim is to see who agrees with you - history does not record the result of this particular proclamation. I can guess though.

Anyway, we've safely arrived at our next port of call after an uneventful journey on Britain's motorways. We stopped for lunch at a service station and found out that customer service is sometimes every bit as good here as in the US. Exile #2 took the rest of the family to sit down. I had out food on an overflowing tray and the only place to pay was the coffee counter. "Would you like any hot drinks?" I'll come back I haven't really got room. "I'll help you what would you like?" I gave my order and let him know that we had two free children's meals coming (in case he needed to put them through the till). He carried our coffees over to the table for us. A few minutes later he saw the lady from the food counter coming with the girls' meals and realising who they were for, took them from her and brought them over. Unlike the US there was no way he could be hoping for a tip. He was new to the job and Italian though I think - maybe they have higher standards where he was last.
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Monday, December 17, 2007

Day 341: History sis'

At end-of-school time we went to see Barry, Emma, Hannah & Rosie. Hannah and Exile #3 were born within a couple of days of each other and at the time we were members of the same church and mothers and daughters in particular became very close. Rosie and Exile #4 came along a couple of years later, a year after that the older girls were finally at school together and four months later we left the country.

We had such a nice time there today. The girls got on with life as if they'd hardly missed a beat although of course there were huge gaps in our shared experiences. I imagine that feeling comfortable enough to relax and open up with someone (let's call it friendship) is more about trust than about shared experience - and although the intervening year had affected the latter we were largely able to pick up where we left off. As for what made it easy for the girls, your guess might be as good as mine - maybe they're not so different from us in their way.

We left, well fed but getting tired, to complaints amongst the kids and a some sad faces. For my part I am happy that 11 months seems shorter looking back than it seemed looking ahead.
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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Day 340: Something old, something new...

Exile #2, E5N1 and I went to our pre-exile church this morning for the first time in over 11 months. We left the girls with my parents because Exile #4 had shown some signs of having a tummy-bug (stomach-flu?) and we though better of either causing an outbreak amongst the children at church in the week before Christmas or trying to take Exile #3 and leave her on her own.

It was really nice to catch up with lots of old friends. Some of whom were kind enough to say that they look at this blog from time to time. It's funny - in the early days it felt very much like a letter home to the UK, but now that we're over here what is it? A letter home to the US perhaps. We certainly spared a thought or two for our storm-oppressed friends over there today.

We went on to a shop (yes - not a store!) where we picked up a changing-mat. For a long time they had eluded us in the US - despite, as you would expect, masses of baby products being available, nobody seems to sell them over there - except for the odd travel-bag including one and the large furniture-based changing-stations. We did find one in the end, but couldn't spare luggage space for it, so we now have a little UK travel-sized one as well.

Between church and the shop, we were very grateful to borrow a few baby things from friends who are expecting their first and have been collecting donations but have no use for them at this stage. One was this rather nice bath-seat that E5N1 was delighted with. We had toyed with the idea of using it as an interim high-chair but in the end decided to pick up a little travel-friendly booster seat that has a tray so that he can practise his rapidly-developing finger-food skills. A few of you will be pleased to hear that it's blue.
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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Day 339: The long haul

Every picture tells a story. It's not necessarily a true story though.

The girls are actually asleep here, but it did not stay so peaceful for long. They slept right through the meal service, but then woke up and spent the rest of the journey interrupting whatever I was doing (sleeping, listening to Mark Ronson, watching 30-Rock, etc.) to ask me to load the next episode of whatever they were watching. Eventually I realised I could make a list of favourites and get them to play in turn without interaction, but by then any thoughts of sleep had passed.

The flight was uneventful - about the best you can hope for. I did witness a priceless exchange at the desk while we were waiting for it however. A female crew member arrived at the desk and said something to the agent there that I didn't catch. He pointed to the cabin crew across the room, "The crew are over there". "I'M THE PILOT" she replied. "Oh (sheepishly opening the door to let her through the gate)".

We were lucky enough to have a seat for E5N1 who did very well and slept soundly for a good deal of the flight and was engaging and charming for most of the rest of the time.

It feels like this is the second post of a very long day. In fact it is late afternoon on the day after the last one. I'm still wearing the same clothes though. Nice.
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Friday, December 14, 2007

Day 338: In transit

We are one flight down, one to go on the outbound leg of our grand adventure. So far we have come south of the snow line on a delayed flight but we are still here in good time for our onward journey.

The day was a bit manic - I had a short presentation to do at a company meeting and had to choose our enrollment options for medical insurance etc for next year. Meanwhile, Exile #2 and E5N1 went with the girls to school for a special assembly. As far as I can tell, the whole school did something. Exile #3 had to define 'peace' in one sentence and Exile #4 sang some songs with her class.

Early this afternoon we started packing ourselves into Albaniana's SUV (many thanks!) and were at the airport in good time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Day 337: A Fall fall

They love their weather statistics here - average precipitation (are we ahead or behind for this month?), record high and low temperatures for every day of the year. The weather forecasters and news anchors also love to mark the seasons with comments on sunrise and sunset times and the equinoxes and solstices. As far as they are concerned here, winter will not start until the Winter Solstice on December 22nd. So, it's still Fall/Autumn at the moment - "Although the calendar may say otherwise, it certainly felt like winter today" said the news anchor this evening.

According to my never-proved-wrong wooden spoon measurement technique, we had 8 inches of snow at Exile Central today. Incidentally, I happen to know that as of yesterday we had had one inch of snow since Thanksgiving (seven inches less than average). Albaniana's husband and I had a safe but slow and at times difficult drive home from work. It started with brushing, scraping and shoveling before we even got into the car. We saw at least two cars that had slipped off the road into ditches, a huge pickup truck proudly displaying its winter-friendly '4x4' status as it snaked and slid along the road, a car stuck (temporarily) in a pile of snow as it tried to turn off one ploughed road into another. In the end I had to drop my passenger off at the end of his road leaving him to trudge down to his temporary residence (ours last winter) because the snow-plow had left a bank of snow across the end of it and I didn't have full confidence in the ability of my little car to break through especially since we were approaching from an acute angle. Apart from that, the car with its new all-season tires coped very well with what were generally accepted to be quite bad driving conditions.

I was delighted on getting home to find that half the driveway had been shovelled by Exile #2 so I could drive straight in to the garage. I did my duty by shovelling the other half and the path to the front door. An hour later than usual Exile #3 arrived home on the school bus. I managed to disguise my relief at having her home safely I think, and she chose her first words well as she walked up the drive: Wow, did you do all this? I did of course give my wife her share of the credit. The shovel deserves a good deal of credit too - I think that the whole drive-clearance probably took less effort than just getting through the pile across the bottom of the drive last winter using a garden spade.

Apparently E5N1 greeted his first real snow storm with a lot of excited Oo-oo-ing. Quite right too-oo-oo.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Day 336: Weight of the world

Exile #4 was calling this inflatable globe a 'beach ball' this morning. She was also complaining that it was too heavy for her to carry down the stairs. Then again, the other day she asked when we would have a new house because we'd been in this one for such a long time. So much for worrying about putting her through too much disruption.

In fact, I think the various life-changes of the last year have probably hit her the hardest of all of us. Not only has it been a momentous time for her personally - out of nappies, into school but she has also had to cope with being displaced as the baby of the family (not that she'd admit to wanting to be that). All that on top of the house moves and culture-shock we've all been dealing with. For the most part she's coping well. Sometimes she gets a bit clingy, other times a bit bolshy. I suspect she spent most of last night in bed with us, I'm not really sure what time she arrived, but she was still with us in the morning.

Tomorrow's weather forecast is predicting significant accumulations of snow for the first time this winter. If it comes as predicted it will be falling during the afternoon and evening. I just returned from a colleague's house where his brand new snow thrower is awaiting its first run out. It's basically the same here - but I'm not quite so excited to put my shiny snow-shovel to the test.
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Day 335: Locks down

Here are the girls getting ready for the party on Sunday. Exile #4's expression makes me laugh every time I look at it. Tonight at bedtime she shunned her normal bedtime song (Twinkle Twinkle with a custom second verse which usually rhymes 'circle' with 'purple'). Instead, she gave us a very lively rendition of "Sally on a bicycle" which eventually (5th time round) dissolved into more giggling than singing and nearly resulted in injury when her excited bouncing around nearly saw her topple off our bed.

Although Exile #3 was extremely pleased to have enough hair to put up like this at the weekend, she and I had haircuts yesterday evening. Her efforts to grow it have not been thwarted however, she just had a fringe (bangs) -trim and a tidy-up. Mine was rather more dramatic. In an effort to avoid twirling her hair into knots with associated detangling requirements (and threats of enforced short-cuts) she has taken to carrying around a small doll and twiddling her hair instead. Long may it continue!

This (not entirely original, but still funny) sign is in the shop at the museum. I'm happy to report that our supervision was good enough to avoid these weighty consequences.

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