Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Day 49: Life's ups and downs

Up: Going out in the garden in the snow.
Down: Failing to make a snowman again.

Up: February ending with warm (relatively) dry sunny weather.
Down: March 1st bringing an ice-storm.

Up: Making it to our church homegroup meeting.
Down: Not really knowing where or how we fit in.

Up: Exile #4 being out of nappies.
Down: Several accidents after several perfect days.

Up: Exile #3 enjoying school
Down: Four different medications a day to try to sort her ears out

Up: Baby's imminent arrival
Down: What? We're having a baby??
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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Day 48: Temperatures rising

We had some minor accumulations of snow last night as you can see - enough to cover some cars and make an impact for a few hours at least on the minor roads. However, we are really becoming acclimatized to life here (in more ways than one!). When, as it did today, the temperature peaked several degrees above freezing, we started to say things like, "No she doesn't really need a cardigan on, her coat is enough" and this coating of snow was barely worth mentioning over breakfast, beautiful though everything became once again with this fresh layer on top of the nearly-two-week-old Valentines snow.

We very nearly ventured out into the garden to make the long-awaited snowman the garden, but realised that Exile #3's snow boots etc. were at school. When I dropped her off there this morning her teacher was preparing a messy craft activity of some sort and the raw material was several toilet rolls that needed to be unravelled into a large deep plastic tray. Now Exile #3 despite really enjoying her time at school for the most part has been a bit clingy at drop-off time and I am always on the look-out for something that will engage her so that I can beat a retreat to work. Here was a golden opportunity. "Would you like to help with that?" "No." "I can't believe my ears! How many times have you done it at home and left us having to roll it all up again?" We used to claim that hand-rolled paper was a special luxury after these events. "You're not the first to say that," chipped in one of the other adults in the room. "Are you sure you don't want to unravel toilet rolls?" "Yes, yes!" and she did, and I said goodbye and left.
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Monday, February 26, 2007

Day 47: I don't be-leaves it

I offered to let Exile #2 write her own account of her Victor Meldrew day but she refused with the predictable "No I'm not taking over writing the blog just because you've got an XBOX!" :-D So you'll have to have my take on it.

This morning after I left to take Exile #3 to school the other exiles went to the social security office. The purpose of this trip was to get (if you can believe it) a letter saying that they will not give her a social security number (because she is not, at the moment, allowed to work here). The letter is required to apply for a drivers license (unless you have a social security number of course). Anyway, this slightly mad trip was made more difficult because the piles of snow had reduced the number of parking spaces and made finding one impossible. Fortunately her late stage of pregnancy and small child in the car eventually caused someone to take pity on her. After this she finally limped home with the letter to discover workmen blocking our drive with a large truck. And another large truck. And a crane.

We hadn't been expecting any such arrival.

It turned out that they were doing some tree-surgery the American way, but they paused to cut a walkway in the snow at the edge of the drive to let the residents desert the car in the street and at least walk to the house. Some time later Exile #4 attracted her mum's attention, "A tree - it's flying!" Indeed, they had pulled an entire tree out from the boundary of our house and next doors and were transferring it into one of the trucks. If only the camera had been to hand...

There aren't actually any leaves on the trees at the moment.

When I got home the remains of the tree's location had been disguised with a small fall of snow and the girls were nowhere to be seen - as you can see, but the day ended peacefully with everything in it's right place.
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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Day 46: Don't look now

The snow is still with us as you can see. Temperatures are expected to peak above freezing a few days in a row this week so it may be melting, then again, 7 out of 14 day/night slots on the seven day forecast include a chance of snow, so maybe not.

Exile #3's American accent is coming on well, although she occasionally 'corrects' herself when talking to us. To me it sounds a bit like she's imitating for comic effect and I usually have to stifle a laugh - I'm sure it is entirely subconscious though.

We visited the library today to get some more books for the girls. We also had a look around and glanced at the DVD shelves. All the items have a sticker to aid quick filing presumably. The stickers have a category and the first word of the title or the author's surname as appropriate. So the DVDs have "DVD" and the first word of the title. This makes for an eye-catching section on the shelf containing the DVDs of the TV series "Sex and The City". I suppose the title was always supposed to be at least as provocative as the actual show, so it's maybe not so inappropriate.

On the subject of unfortunate abbreviations and the like, I saw someone's email address that was slightly amusing thanks to the way that surname and initials are combined the other day and it reminded me of a Dilbert cartoon in which a new employee is in the manager's office "All employees will have first initial and surname as their email address - NO EXCEPTIONS", As she leaves looking very displeased the manager remarks "Wow, that Brenda Utthead is a real whiner!" The truest comedy is funny.

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Day 45: Yo Baby'll solve it

Here is an amazing natural chandelier created by ice ice outside our back door. Most of today was taken up with chores, putting together the cot/crib (Exile #4 immediately thought it was for her, but was quickly disuaded). Buying some cotton sheets that fit our bed, unpacking some books onto bookshelves, more filing, removing some more empty packing materials to the basement... The girls made a fantastic house/fairground/baker's shop/toxic waste accident with the Playmobil figures and had their first game of Pac-Man on the newly set-up XBOX360 (is that still called next-generation gaming?). Incidentally, Exile #2 is now predicting 1) She'll never see me, 2) The blog will cease, 3) I'll fail to get any sleep. Hopefully you will witness her proved wrong on at least one of these.

I've been noticing some popular cultural references that can pass you by when they refer to someone else's culture. For example, although we may realise that it refers to one-hour film processing, the Robin Williams film, "One Hour Photo" loses something if you are not used to seeing those words over shop entrances in every mall you visit. Some product names work much better here too such as the 'natural' yoghurt that the girls are eating at the moment "Yo Baby" which is obviously a 'yoghurt' reference, but works better when you pronounce 'yoghurt' so it rhymes with toe-shirt.

The day finished with our first hosting of some natives for dinner, a return from our first Sunday-lunch invitation. Exile #2 cooked some great food, including the British staple, apple crumble (served with Vanilla Ice-cream). It is nice to feel established enough for that to be possible although we did discover that we could do with a stereo, a CD rack and a coffee-table when we are trying to entertain in the 'formal' rooms of the house. More 'stuff' required to fill the house!

And yes, for Day 45 it had to be really, tenuous pop pun #3 for title watchers. If there's a problem...
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Friday, February 23, 2007

Day 44: Doctor, doctor...

Here is Exile #3 having a blonde moment at school a week or so ago. Today was the last day of her holiday-week and we seem to have spent most of it in medical establishments.

First, we all went with Exile #2 for an ultrasound scan where we were able to see a 3D image of the face of Exile #5/Native #1 (choosing names is so hard!). Apparently he/she is doing fine and shaping up to be a sensible weight at birth. The 3D imaging technology was only obtained by the clinic in December, so they are as delighted as the patients to try to get nice pictures.

The second visit was to Exile #3's doctor about her hearing, so she now has a fearsome regime of medication to try to get the fluid out of her ears, but it seems not to be too much of a concern. We hope that she may be starting to get a bit better by Monday as her ability to develop her friendships at school must be affected by her inability to hear half of what's said. Picking up the prescribed medicines was another adventure, as of course, they had to process our insurance before they could decide how much we needed to pay.

We ended the day with our first swim at the YMCA, Exile #3 is full of confidence (with her arm-bands) and seems very keen to enrol in some swimming classes when we can work it out, and even Exile #4, usually something of a limpet in the pool, was getting extremely comfortable and having a good time.
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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Day 43: Take a walk up the street

It's snowing again, we have had a dusting as you can see from my footprints outside the garage this evening, but if there is more (it is still falling) it might amount to 'an accumulation'. There's always a new term to learn. Temperatures are around freezing (i.e. pretty warm by recent standards) I'm still hoping it might be snowman-building weather one of these days.

We visited the local 'Y' today, somewhere equipped for indoor swimming, aerobic exercise etc. and with free childcare. The girls had a taste of it - they played (fully supervised) while I sorted out our membership. They seemed to be having a great time when I called them out to have their photos taken and when I had to pretty much drag them out to go back home.

It's not quite as the song might have led you to expect, but it was pretty tempting to answer how we heard about them with "I was down and out with the blues...that's when someone walked up to me and said...".

Tomorrow we'll go and try it out for real - assuming the accumulation doesn't stop us.
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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Day 42: Climbing the mountain

I've been wanting to use this photo, I actually took it some time ago. This was the view I had having taken the picture for Day 22's post. A long climb up a snowy hill to get back to the car. Fortunately there was only an inch or so of snow then. Uncompacted, the snow we have now is pretty heavy going.

Today the temperature peaked well above freezing for the first time since about Day 4 or 5. Some snow started melting although only slowly and as darkness fell the melt-water has frozen making things pretty treacherous (for pedestrians at least). We braved the icy side-walks in the city this evening to attend a homegroup meeting thanks to babysitting from T&S. It is great to be welcomed and to feel welcome, but belonging will take time I suppose.

Before that, I persuaded Exile #3 and Exile #4 to venture out into the backyard with me to build a snowman. It seemed that the high temperatures had made the snow packable, so they finished their tea and got all dressed up, we all went up to our knees in the untouched snow only to find that it was still too powdery (below the top layer anyway). Exile #4 promptly elected to go back inside, but her sister was in more adventurous mood, so we decided to attempt to climb the mountain cutting off the back garden from the drive and the front of the house. We discovered that deep snow is a great leveller - in more ways than one - in that both of us found ourselves sinking with each step up to our knees before the snow compacted enough to take our weight. Climbing over the pile of snow felt like a great achievement and Exile #3 was delighted to ring the doorbell to surprise the others once we had made it.
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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Day 41: Sheets and pancakes

The girls were on good form when I got home from work today. They had both enjoyed Exile #4's regular messy-play class and eating pancakes and were excited about their new floral bedding. As you can see they are sitting on a duvet, although what you mean by that may depend on what continent you are on. In the US, duvet is used to describe the cover, the contents being a comforter (often decorative and designed to be used on top of a top-sheet). Anyway, Exile #2 succeeded in ordering the right things so that the girls could have these matching and extremely girly beds.

Exile #3 also spent some time making a pretty impressive Lego house today including a computer with a swivel-chair and a baby room, where "the baby doesn't need a teddy because there is a machine that makes smells to help the baby to sleep, like flowers or chicken." Well you use whatever works I suppose. Look out for the upcoming post, "Day 100ish: Chicken smell sends restless baby to sleep at last!"
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Monday, February 19, 2007

Day 40: Happy Birthday Mr President

Not that it is the current president's birthday, or indeed any president that I know of. However, it is President's Day (or maybe Presidents Day - no-one seems sure) a minor holiday celebrating a Monday near to George Washington's birthday. As it is the first day of Exile #3's 'Winter Break' and Exile #2 had an appointment with the midwife at her OBSGYN practice, I took a day off work. So, while Exile #2 kept her appointment, I took the girls for their first US haircuts.

Now, my first haircut here was traumatic enough. How was I supposed to know what a 'fade' was or whether it was what I wanted? But at least I was the one who would have to live with the consequences, today I had the whole family's well-being on my shoulders (well that's how it felt - really it was just a haircut of course). It was also Exile #4's first haircut ever except for a few fringe trims - and I was to give the first direction to her life of hairstyling. And those immortal words? Short back and sides? Can you do a Jennifer Aniston? No. Just a trim please. Anyway, they both seem to have come out looking OK. You can judge for yourselves over the next few days.

After that, we visited CMOST (The Children's Museum of Science and Technology). Amongst other delights, the girls paddled a dugout canoe (on the carpet), pulled faces in a two-way mirror, learned about low-wattage bulbs and watched a planetarium show about the planets (something of a specialist subject of Exile #3 after her day-sky/night-sky week at school. Pictured is her using her other specialist subject - operating computers. Her ability to do the right thing without being able to read seems virtually supernatural, and says a lot for both her generation's ease with technology and the interface design that so often makes the right choice more obvious than the wrong ones.

Tonight on the local news they said "Things are mostly getting back to normal after the Valentine's Day Snowstorm that buried all of us" Well the roads are largely clear, but our garden is still pretty much impassible. I went out about four steps to get a better picture for yesterday's post today, but I wouldn't have relished the prospect of going much further.
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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Day 39: Tilting at windmills

The temperature rose to near freezing yesterday and today and started the process of melting the snow on the roof if not obviously on the ground. It has plummeted again, with inevitable results.

We are finally beginning the process of knowing and being known at our church. Today was the third visit there (and the second in a row) and we no longer felt like visitors which is really nice. The topic of the sermon touched on matters close to my heart - caring for the planet, being perceived as peacemakers rather than bigots, self-obsessives or worse. The quoting of South Park as 'one of his family's favourite shows' along with the Bible passages also gives an impression of his broad sampling of the American condition. You can read more here.

We followed church with a traditional British Sunday lunch with T&S - it is a great joy when circumstances throw you together with people you genuinely get along with. It reminded me of friends in the UK who we were thrown together with when we had our first children within a couple of days of each other. They became firm friends, much missed since our move. I suppose that all friendships can probably be traced back to some happenstance, but some seem more extreme than others. Anyway, good friendships are a valuable commodity and I hope that we will manage to nurture new and old alike as we continue this grand adventure.

When Exile #3 was younger she used to amaze us with the intensity of her imagination. I remember once when she was carrying an imaginary object, she stopped at a closed door, unable to work out how to open it because her hands were 'full'. Today Exile #4 proved that she is capable of the same level of suspension of disbelief. In the car, the two of them were playing giving each other (and Exile #2) imaginary sweets ("Who would like a strawberry sweet?" etc.). After some time we heard Exile #4, in a state of considerable distress and agitation, saying to Exile #3, "No, don't eat them all!" When I suggested that (since they were imaginary) she might find that there were plenty left for her, she put me straight, "She's got all of them!" Fortunately Exile #3, perhaps remembering her own ability to be totally absorbed in a game, offered to share her 'sweets' and all was peaceful again.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Day 38: Going downhill fast

Inspired by the large quantities of snow and our recent purchase and tipped off by a local, we found a nearby 'sledding hill'. Exile #2 decided that it wasn't sensible for her to take part, except as child-supervision at the top of the hill. Both Exile #3 and Exile #4 had trips down with me, but Exile #4 found the snow thrown into her face during the high-speed decent hard to cope with and declined further trips. Exile #3 had a great time however, and found that going on her own from about two thirds of the way up was pretty much perfect. Despite being rather busy, the hill was pretty well organised, with self- and mutual-regulation ensuring that most accidents were self-inflicted. One grown man on what looked like a beach-toy hit a large bump and did a spectacular face-plant, but a good time was being had by all.

It reminded me of our sledging hill in my youth, which was very similar in size, but had the added excitement of a ditch at the bottom in which many successful sledging runs finished. The really successful runs, however, went through the ditch and down the next field which sloped gently and was normally covered in virtually untouched snow. Happy days. I wonder if that same hill is still a reliable spot or if climate change has taken its toll.

The only casualty of our trip was our confidence in the girls' gloves that have consistently been the weak-point in their winter wardrobe. We went straight from taking this picture to the local sports shop where the skiwear sale was in full swing and found the last two pairs of kids' ski mittens. By the way, thanks for all those who equipped us with various items of warm-weather wear before our departure, they have all been invaluable over the last few weeks.
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Friday, February 16, 2007

Day 37: Life in a northern town

Matt from Mr Handyman came today to sort out some odd-jobs after being delayed two days in a row by the 'Shock and Awe' of Wednesday's weather (as Todd is calling it on the weather forecast this evening). Matt himself was of the opinion that 'the whole winter's snow had fallen on one day' - everyone seems to be interested in our reaction to it as foreigners, but when it comes down to it I don't think it was any more of a shock for us than for most of the locals.

Matt's task mostly involved the repairing of the 'drainers' in the sinks and one 'tub' (pictured). This one was of particular interest and satisfaction to him as he'd never taken one apart before and they're cool - and he'd never seen one working properly. We have now, as it kept the young Exiles' bath water in admirably this evening.

Exile #3 was back at school today. We knew the school was open by referring to the local school-closures lists that are on the internet and played in a constant loop on the bottom of the screen on the local channels. On Wednesday it seemed to take about ten minutes to list all the closures (basically every school in the area), this evening there is just one item listed on continuous display:
Very important to some I don't doubt.

In the less-normal category: Exile #4 has had her second diaper-free day today and is very pleased with herself and Exile #3 announced her engagement to one of her classmates - and was extremely affronted when she thought (wrongly) that I was suggesting that her new-future-husband might actually marry one of the other girls in the class. Sounds serious, we'd better start saving.

"The evening had turned to rain..." (no there's not much chance of that at the moment - just pop pun #2 for the title watchers)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Day 36: Snow wonder

Looking out at the garden this morning - the deep blanket of snow blown smooth by the wind, it looked like the tide had come in and quietly buried everything. The swing-bench won't be swinging for a while by the look of it. Both driveway and road had been ploughed (plowed) again this morning - unfortunately in that order - leaving me a pile between the two to clear with a heavy spade (no snow shovel). However, the journey to work was otherwise fairly straight-forward. There's little to fear in any case when the road is bounded by large piles of fairly soft snow except hitting another car that is. You can see some more pictures here.

Exile #3 had another day off school today - she is definitely leading the way as far as accent-development goes. We regularly get liddle examples of it. Today, looking at some photos from her school she was telling us the names of her classmates. Suddenly we stumbled over one: That's Carlen, "Sorry what was that?", Carlen - while we rack our brains to think of the names we have seen..."Colin?" No! Carlen. But yes indeed that is "Carlen" spelled C O L I N. At least it's not Coe-Lynne I suppose. I too have had to translate my name to have it understood. Until I do, the locals seem to think that I have some strange and exotic name and try to grasp at it phonetically (with limited success) - once they picture it correctly (as we did with Colin) suddenly it becomes straight forward. Exile #3, I suppose, is happy to take things at face-value and is not hung-up on connecting the sounds with their written forms - maybe another reason why the slower-start education system is better for her right now.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Day 35: The Valentine's Day Storm

After all that, is this all we have to show for what the news services here have been referring to as the 'Valentine's Day Storm'? In a word, no. The eagle-eyed may recognise this picture from Day 12. Last night there was virtually no snow at all on the deck, we woke to what we thought was a pretty good fall of snow. Enough to bring-out our driveway snow-clearing service again. See picture 2.

Today we stayed at home, Exile #3's school (along with most others in the area was closed) and I worked from home - because of a few inches of snow? No, because of what was coming. The snow did not stop all day - it is easing off now, having snowed for about 18 hours non-stop. The result can be seen in picture 3. About 16 inches we think with the possibility of a few more showers and then high winds that will blow this powder-dry snow around during the extremely cold night - there is already a pile of snow about 4-feet deep at the end of the drive following two visits by the snow-plough clearing the street. It will take me a long time to clear it with my small spade if the snow-clearing service doesn't pay us another visit in the morning.

And there's still no chance of making a snowman - the snow is too cold to stick together - what's the use of that?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Day 34: Home-assembly required

Flat-pack furniture, one of the mainstays of setting up in a new home. The same the world over? Of course not.

We have just constructed a filing cabinet with the fond hope of bringing order to the 'office' - the removal men did not know what a study was (or an airing cupboard - that would be a linen closet). But how does a country where customer-service reigns and if things aren't 'just right' someone will hear about it cope with the missing or misidentified parts and left-over screws and fittings that are the bread-and-butter of assemble-it-yourself furniture? The answer is pictured - shrink wrapped parts, sorted by type and exactly the number required, what's more, the large parts had numbered stickers to identify themselves and others indicating 'front', 'top' etc. as appropriate. That's all very well, but how will I build up a collection of bits and pieces, or cope with the screw that rolls under the previous bit of assembled furniture? Never fear - in a small sealed bag marked EXTRA HARDWARE are all the spare bits you could want. Now, it just may be because we have always bought cheap flat-pack in the past, but it was never like this.

Tonight and tomorrow, the meteorologists are predicting the heaviest snow storm to hit this area in 3 years. Now the Englishman in me is expecting it to blow over or turn to rain and end up being no big deal, but the TV continues to predict 18-24 inches of snow for the whole area and more in places. Sounds like fun. A day to stay in and do the filing perhaps.
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Monday, February 12, 2007

Day 33: Stop oh yes wait a minute

I couldn't resist this picture of the young Exiles singing, dancing and playing guitar - all things I have been known to enjoy - with different levels of competence.

Today I received an email from an old school friend. I only just received it as it had been sent to an about-to-be-defunct email address. We had not lost touch completely, but Christmas cards and change-of-address notifications were about all we had managed in recent years. We have moved in different directions physically and been busy with careers and young families. However, it was these same things: distance, career and a young family that led to this renewed contact. With a consciousness of my physical distance from my past I found myself looking at FriendsReunited the other day and noticed that one of my school friends had just become a father for the first time. Being a cheapskate, I managed to track him down on the internet via his job as a barrister and after we renewed our acquaintance he ended up mentioning me to the other friend, causing him to send that email.

The same technology that encourages and to some extent enables our dispersion around the world also enables us to easily renew acquaintances that in the past would have required great acts of will, organisation and/or chance. It really is a small world. Friendships are very valuable and I should really do more to prevent them disappearing through neglect, especially when the act of staying (or getting back) in touch has probably never been so easy.
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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Day 32: What's that doing there?

I'm afraid our children have got a rough break in the gene department, not only have we conspired to produce diminutive offspring, but allergic ones as well. As a result of this, we have been cautious about the introduction of some foodstuffs and in particular peanuts. The current NHS advice in the UK (for such high risk children) is to avoid peanuts while pregnant and breastfeeding and until the child is three years old. However, such advice seems to change at least annually. We had realised that it might be time to allow them into the diet of the young Exiles, but the time has never just seemed right.

Here, however, peanuts are not considered an allergen or a even a mere foodstuff, they are everywhere, and in children's food particularly - and nobody is worrying about it (or if they are they are being kept quiet by the powerful peanut lobby). They even crop up in allergen-aware food such as some dairy-free ice-cream we bought, no mention of peanuts until half way down the ingredients there is lurking peanut oil. So, what are we to do? Allow our high-risk children (both current and future) to be exposed to this evil substance or stand firm? And what about the other ingredients in food here: brown rice syrup solids, potato sugar and of course high-fructose corn syrup? What's a foreigner supposed to make of all that? And then there are the things that are dangerous here that were safe in the UK, drinking a little alcohol and/or taking the odd paracetamol whilst pregnant, driving at 70 mph, crossing the road...

I wonder what would happen if all the advisory bodies in the world got together and made a list of things that they all agree are safe - then we could finally relax and stop worrying.

For now, I am getting to eat all the peanut-based cookies (from the neighbours) and peanut-oil tainted ice-cream. What's that? One of those advisory bodies has added obesity to the things we should be avoiding? They've got to be kidding.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Day 31: A new tribe of munchkins

One of my colleagues reports that on returning for a visit to the UK, everything seems a bit smaller. Cars, roads, buildings are all bigger (on average) over here, and I can well believe that we are getting accustomed to it. It is the unexpected things that continue to bring me up short. For instance, I was prepared for some of our furniture to look smaller in house here, but was amazed by how small a picture of Oxford that had dominated a large wall in a room in our house in the UK seems on the wall here.

Talking of being brought up short, someone suggested when we announced our engagement that we planned to create a new tribe of munchkins. The girls are definitely not big for their ages, as the photo proves, but I doubt that the anthropologists are taking much of an interest.

Today one of our neighbouring families came round with a plate of home-made cookies to welcome us the the area with apologies for not having come sooner. It really does happen. Quite a contrast with the curtain-twitching when a new person moved into our street in the UK. We may try to be welcoming, but it seems to be part of the culture here rather than a reaction to it.

We are beginning to feel on top of our unpacking which is a relief, although it has taken a physical and mental toll on us living amongst and gradually processing more than 100 boxes. Once we have replaced our filing cabinet that gave up the ghost in the last few weeks before we left, we should be able to sort the last boxes we have piled up in the living-space. The ones we have hidden away will be another matter.

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Friday, February 9, 2007

Day 30: Going potty

I was woken up at 6am this morning by Exile #4 standing by the side of my bed declaring "I've done a wee" A cursory look down showed what I was beginning to fear - no nappy (or should that be diaper?). Oh dear. Show me where. Visions of wet bed, puddle, carpet flash though my mind as we make our way to the bathroom where she points at the potty "I did a big wee!" So you did.

So it seems that she has decided it's potty-training time. It was all the more impressive because the potty only appeared in the bathroom (from it's moving box) after she had gone to bed last night. Well she did tell me she was going to learn to use the potty "as soon as it arrives". She wasn't kidding.

Most of the rest of the day was spent on my feet at a job-fair telling students and recent graduates what we do, why and where and when we might be interested in employing them. It was a pretty exhausting day. Exile #2 also had an exhausting day following up on Exile #4's potty-training. I think I'll stick with attending the job-fairs.
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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Day 29: What goes around, comes around

Today has been another day with boxes to unpack. If we want to claim for anything we have to do it within 7 days, and that is approaching pretty rapidly. The packing has been incredibly variable, from the ridiculous over-packing of unimportant articles to the complete omission of protection for things. This box for example had no packing materials at all just two girls, thrown in willy-nilly! So far breakages are at the few and minor level, but starting to reach making-me-grumpy proportions, just one step away from going-to-claim-just-to-make-a-point territory.

For better or worse, this process is making us unpack more of the miscellaneous boxes than we would have done otherwise. Maybe it will make the place seem more homely, or maybe it will just make us feel swamped in 'stuff' again, only time will tell.

Today we received a book we ordered, "Birds of New York - Field Guide" so that we can start to identify some of the birds that we see in the garden and elsewhere. It's a real birdwatching for non-twitchers book with the following chapters: Birds that are mostly black, Birds that are mostly black and white, Birds that are mostly blue,...,Birds that have prominent green,... Where we find a bird that is mostly brown with prominent red I don't know but I can get it down to two chapters. Along with the book we had ordered a couple of story CDs for the girls, as they tend to listen to a few on the way to and from picking up Exile #3 from school. have therefore started to send me targeted recommendations based on this small set of data. Here was their first attempt at a CD recommendation:

Based on your purchase of "Dr Seuss Presents: Fox in Sox [Audio CD]" Amazon recommends: "Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveSounds [Audio CD]".

I'm thinking:
  1. They probably have not got all that much in common.
  2. Did they really confuse Sox and Sex?
  3. If so, what other recommendations can I expect?
  4. ??

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Day 28: The snow's coming

Not here of course, although a 'flurry' is possible pretty much any day. The picture shows Exile #3 on Saturday climbing the 'tree' that she and Exile #4 had created by sticking fallen branches into a pile of snow cleared from the drive. There has not been enough snow to challenge the normal winter clearance systems here so far (although other nearby areas have had some big falls). The roads have been clear except for during falling snow and in the early-hours of cold nights following warm days. Salt is remarkably ubiquitous, coating not only roads, but vehicles and, often, people as well. On several occasions I have had to rub a thick layer off the car headlights after wondering if they had stopped working. Suddenly the road-signs in ecologically sensitive areas of 'Reduced Salt Zone' make sense (having seen them only in the spring and summer before), not only because it is clear that all this salt can't be good for sensitive plants, but also that if salt has not been used (or only used sparingly) that could have a very significant effect on driving conditions.

Today, both Exile #3 and Exile #2 visited their separate doctors (for an immunisation and a check-up respectively), Exile #3 was reportedly very brave, but it was Exile #4 who caused the real splash when she accompanied her mother. She was deemed 'extremely cute' and the ladies in the waiting room were apparently trying to get her to say things after asking "Does she have an English accent too?" I don't know what they mean.

No, the snow is coming to the homeland where chaos will no doubt descend. Time to break out the Saxa.
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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Day 27: Or bidding?

Exile #3
has been attending school full-time since Day 9 although technically she is still pre-school age here. In the UK, she had already done a term of full-time school and four terms in total of National Curriculum education, starting at age 3. Our experience of this UK system was very positive and Exile #3 seemed to thrive on the independence and confidence she gained. So, how does it feel to be thrown into a very different system? Well, it feels very much as if things are a year behind here. Next year (at 5) she will start Kindergarten - the 'preparing for learning' year, very much like Reception is in the UK for 4 year-olds. This year is much more relaxed, feeling in nature very much like her time at Nursery in the UK last year. However, the children are not developmentally behind in terms of language, motor-skills etc., so the content is much richer than that possible at the same educational stage in the UK. To be honest, I can see the good in both systems.

Anyway, while September to December were spent learning to read and write, for the last week or so she has been doing things related to a Day-Sky/Night-Sky theme. Learning about planets, stars and the moon etc has seemed particularly interesting for her. One day she came home and said she had been on a rocket-ship ride to the Moon (although she did feel the need to tell me later that they hadn't really - more savvy than the space-cadets then). On another day she informed Exile #2 that 'The Moon has no light of its own', and yesterday she was talking about the planets orbiting the sun, except that she had never learned the word 'orbiting' before, so, naturally enough she learned it the way the children and teachers in her class say it. It's the beginning of a slippery slope and I suspect that like the toboggan (picture taken on Sunday), it will go further once Exile #4 joins in and they will both end up sounding (to us at least) pretty well Americanized(!)

(US accent pun #1 for the title watchers)
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Monday, February 5, 2007

Day 26: Attack of the boxes

Today, our simple life came to an end with a vengeance. Here is the container (left), the van of the unpackers (right) and their amazing-docking arrangement for unloading. The house is now over-run with boxes (mostly still full, although there is an increasing number of empty ones), packing paper, and of course our valued possessions.

Exile #3 and Exile 4 have been very excitedly unpacking toys and books - appreciating them like never before. Exile #2 was almost-equally excited about the arrival of our duvet. For myself, the item I couldn't do without needs a bit more thought. I'll get back to you.

It's been a rather, tiring day, and bed (whatever the bedding-type) is beckoning.

Oh yes - of course, that must-have item, shipped across the Atlantic at my express request...

Well, can-lids in the US are just not the same. Maybe this time it will find its way into the recycling box.
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Sunday, February 4, 2007

Day 25: Pick another lock

Today, we embraced winter family fun at home by going out in our backyard with a toboggan (or sledge as I called it in my youth). We all had a go down the small slope at the back and it was surprisingly effective, and just right for a first sledging experience for the junior exiles.

Earlier we had been to new church number four and once again had a great welcome, and once again felt like we didn't really fit in (sigh). At least we're not worrying about the kids eating well as we were back we visited the first couple of churches in our grand-tour.

So anyway, we finally had enough of ten-second toboggan rides and went back to the back door to get back inside only to find that it had locked behind us. Now, I have never been a fan of doors that can lock behind you leaving you without a key and I have largely avoided them since leaving college. I have been quite concerned about these ones, but since uniting door keys with both sets of car-keys this hasn't been too much of a worry, as all our outings have been by car. However, playing in the garden is not an outing and we did not have keys. The cars were safely in the garage and we were locked out in the cold. At this point as any man would I put my pride aside and looked to see who could help us. No, of course I didn't. I started making plans to break into the house, non-destructively at first then by breaking a window. Fortunately, Exile #2 was more reluctant to start smashing up a rented house and after finding her phone (mine was inside) and making a call or two, eventually went to see if the one set of neighbours we have met so far knew the owner's contact information.

By this time the rest of us were starting to get a bit cold. The picture sums up our feelings pretty well.

As you may have guessed by the fact I'm writing this, there is a happy ending, in fact a pretty miraculous one. The neighbour had an access code for the garage door-opener and we were very soon back inside.

And we know the house is pretty secure.

Unless you know the code.

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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Day 24: Pick a lock

River, waterfall... Today our tour of frozen waterways continued with a brief visit to the eastern-most end of the Erie Canal. The visit was brief because the snow was 2-3 inches thick on the ground and there was a fierce wind blowing and making it feel very cold. The open water was completely frozen, thick enough for people to be riding snowmobiles on it. The picture is of Lock 6. The locks in this section of the canal each produce a rise of about 30 feet (that's a three-storey building's worth). It's hard to get the scale from this picture, but that is a very wide and extremely deep lock (by UK standards anyway).

Today we also found further evidence that British people are seen as eccentric here. In a shop dedicated to faddish foods (ones with no artificial ingredients, free-range chicken, Feta made from sheep's milk) we also discovered such bastions of Britishness as Branston Pickle, Cadburys Flake and Bird's Custard Powder. However, the shop's British credentials may have been slightly damaged by their stocking of "Genuine Caerphilly Cheddar from England".
Mind you, Exile #2 has found herself saying that she's from England quite often and she's no more English than Caerphilly. I think she means that that's we're we've travelled from rather than being a denial her Celtic roots. It's probably an error anyway, everyone here seems to be Welsh, Scottish or Irish or have really enjoyed visiting one of them or knows someone who... Some of the places people mention that they have visited make the mind boggle - why would you go all that way and stay in (insert unlikely town name of your choice), but I can already see the conversations we'll be having on meeting an American in the UK. "Oh are you from the US? We lived in upstate New York for a while..." It may not be the most glamorous of locations, but every day so far has brought a new experience and the vast majority of them have been good ones.
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