Sunday, November 25, 2012

Joyeux Thanksgiving!

Honestly we were extremely bummed this week as we were missing out on one of our favorite holidays. Watching Facebook and seeing all our family and friends enjoy the holiday really made us home sick. The one thing that helped to give us some hope of being happy was that we were going to celebrate our Thanksgiving on Sunday!

We were extremely excited about the holiday and somehow in the midst of everything we invited over 23 people (12 adults 11 kids). Needless today we were a full house. This is only half the room, but our whole living room was full of tables and a lot of people. We invited over all our American friends as well as some of our Luxembourgish friends and we had a really great time. It did make us appreciate how difficult it is to do an American holiday outside of America. We had to special order our turkeys from the American Women's Club and trying to figure out how to make traditional dishes here was just a little challenging. But in the end E and her friends made an awesome dinner and it was really nice to sit down and share a Thanksgiving day meal with all our friends.

Mr. L loves the turkey legs and it was really funny this year to watch him share his turkey leg with his other friends at his table. They kept passing the turkey leg around and took turns biting the leg...

Here's to hoping that none of the kids get sick!

So to feed 23 people we needed a ton of food. In the end we ate 3 turkeys, 4 different pots/types of mashed potatoes, 8 different desserts, side dishes as far as your eye could see, and finally drinks in abundance. We all enjoyed ourselves and it was great to have some of the homemade treats that are associated with the holidays.

Ms. H loved just hanging out and watching what was going on. She didn't eat very much, although she loved the drinks (surprise) and she did seem to be able to muster the ability to down some peanut-butter chocolate pie.

E says she looks worried in this picture, actually she is, because she ran out of pie!

Of course what is Thanksgiving without a visit from Snow White.

After all is said and done, while we didn't have Thanksgiving on the exact day, we did learn that it is more about spending the time together than its about what day you spend the time together.

Our first four months in Luxembourg have definitely helped us learn and understand how much we love and are appreciative of the life we had back in the USA. Although, the time here so far has really made us come out of our comfort zones and really grow and learn to be grateful for the time that we have here. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, Miss A!

I'm a little behind in getting this written, but I still wanted to do it, so better late than never, right?  A couple weeks ago, on Nov. 9, we celebrated Miss A's 6th birthday.  Hard to believe it's already been six years since she made us parents, but at the same time, it seems like she's always been here and I can barely even remember what life was like without her.

Our little family the day after Miss A was born

K and I have been doing a lot of reflecting and evaluating lately on this whole parenting thing.  We've been making some changes around here in the way we're trying to parent and teach our kids.  We're trying to be more purposeful and take better advantage of small moments to teach.  At the same time, we're really working on trying to teach our kids to be more responsible for themselves and to think about the consequences of their actions- whether they be positive or negative.  I know this is something that most all parents are constantly working on, but it's been a big topic of conversation between the two of us lately.  And it's it's been on my mind a lot.  In talking and thinking about these things, we've also been spending a lot of time talking about each of our kids individually- their strengths and weaknesses, the individual needs that we see in each of them.

Miss A is our oldest and she shows a lot of qualities of a first born child.  She is independent and strong willed and has been from Day 1!  Even as a tiny toddler, she was incredibly independent and learned to do things for herself at a young age, just because she wanted to.  As time has passed and I have developmental milestones of other children to compare her to, I realize even more how independent she was!

Miss A at 12 months

Over the years, she has learned how to make sure she gets what she wants or needs, but she is also learning to look out for her brother and sister.  Being the oldest is tough because the expectations are high- be an example to the younger ones, share, give what you have to someone else, and on and on.... It's not always easy, but she's developing the ability to think of others and trying to work on putting others' needs before her own.

She is a good friend to everyone.  I have never heard or seen her be unwilling to share any of her things with anyone we have over at our house, or anywhere else.  Although she can be shy around adults, she loves to spend time with other kids and is always wanting to invite someone over to play.  This has been a challenge for her since we moved to Lux.  In Illinois, we had lots of friends with kids her age and many of them lived very close.  She almost always had someone to play with.  That's not really the case here.  Even at Church, there are very few kids her age.  She's in a Primary class with a bunch of boys that are a year or two younger than her, and I still have never heard her complain about it.

3 1/2 years old

At school, she is the only kid in her class that speaks English.  I can't imagine doing what she does every day.  Every day I send her to a classroom where no one, other than her wonderful teacher, speaks her language.  She is expected to learn and make friends with a whole classroom of kids that she can't even talk to.  Although  her teacher is fabulous, her focus is on teaching Miss A the language, so even she speaks very minimal English to her.  I think if I had to do that every day I would feel so overwhelmed and just not want to go.  We talked to other families about their experiences with their children in the school system here.  The other American families told us to expect it to be hard on her for six months.  They all told us that their children cried almost every day for six months and then suddenly, it was okay.  We anticipated that Miss A would have a really hard time with school past Christmas, at least.  She has absolutely amazed us!  Her attitude is incredible!  She started school in mid-September.  The first week was fine, the second week she cried almost every day and I started to get really worried.  By the third week, she was fine again and she's never looked back.  She tells me about her new friends, points them out to me on the playground, and tells me what languages they know how to speak.  And then she tells me that you don't really have to speak the same language as somebody to be friends with them.  What an example this child is to me!  She has been so strong during this whole experience!

This morning as I was walking the kids to school, I was telling them that today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  I asked if they remembered Thanksgiving last year and what we did to celebrate it.  Miss A remembered it all, of course.  We'll be having our Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday- the rest of our weekend is pretty packed with Presidency and Bishopric meetings at Church, so we'll be doing it Sunday afternoon.  I'm looking forward to spending the time with new friends that we've made here.  Miss A got sad for a minute and said she wished we were celebrating Thanksgiving today.  I told her I understood and that I was feeling a little sad about it too.  Then she said she just wished it was Thanksgiving here so she could have a day off school.  We talked about what a good experience we're having and all the things we're learning for a minute and that was it.  We walked into school and she was fine.  I will linger on my sad feelings all day, but I'll be fine too.  I just love her resiliency and wish I could be a little more like her in that regard.

At six years old, I'm realizing that my little girl is not quite so little anymore.  She still likes to snuggle, but she's definitely our big kid.  I'm seeing so many grown up, big kid traits in her.  In the family I grew up in, we joked about "Mommy Books".  My mom's mommy book was Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  Even when we were teenagers, my mom couldn't read that book without crying.  I thought it was really sweet at the time, but of course, I didn't really get it.  When Miss A was four days old, we had to take her back to hospital for bilirubin testing because of jaundice.  There was a big book fair set up in the lobby of the hospital.  With my four day old baby sitting in her car seat on the floor beside me, I picked up Just In Case You Ever Wonder by Max Lucado.  I started reading it, and I started bawling like a baby.  I figured I was just hormonal, but I also knew I'd found my "Mommy Book".  Over time, as the hormones have faded (and raged), I still have yet to read this book without crying.  And now, I get it.  My kids mean everything to me.  And there's so much I want them to know.  It's a constant struggle, and I feel like I fail miserably some days, but we're all in it together and we're trying every day.  Mostly, Miss A, I just want you to know that you're a pretty special kid.  We're so grateful that you're in our family.  "If you're feeling sad...come to me 'cause I love you.  And I always will, just in case you ever wonder."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Le Mont Saint Michel

After we spent a day on the D-day beaches, we spent the next day at a town called Le Mont Saint Michel.

If it looks a little familiar, it may be because Disney modeled the castle in Tangled after this village. See...

This place has quite the history. The castle and surround village is actually a monastery and village. The village is situated on an island that during low tide has no water around it, but during high tide is completely surrounded by water. It is very dangerous to go walk around during low tide as there is a lot of quick sand and when the tide does come in it comes in extremely fast. It has been around since the 8th century and has a really interesting history.

A pic showing how far out the tide goes, the ocean is way out past that plateau on the left.

This is one of the cannons that was used by the English in their failed attempt to overtake the island during the 14th century.

Inside the walls it really is pretty cool. It has an old castle like feeling and you walk around and around in all these little shops and restaurants.

The kids really had a fun time just wandering around and checking everything out.

The kids were convinced this cat belonged to Rapunzel.

Did we mention there were stairs... Who needs a stair master! Of course Ms. H had to do all the stairs by herself.

Here's a picture of the Abby at the top, we asked Ms. A if she'd rather pay 20€ to go in and see it or if she wanted to buy Tangled. She picked Tangled.

In the end we loved Le Mont Saint Michel, we will definitely go back and visit! One more thing, if you are a rainbow lover, well the Normandy region is for you, we saw rainbows everyday we were there and after talking to some locals it is a very common occurrence.

Ms. A was dying to run out in the field to find the pot of gold! There were two pots with this double rainbow.

- K & E

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Price of Freedom

After spending a few days in London, we continued our week-long adventure in Normandy.  We rented a house in a village called Athie and used the home as a base from which we went and visited numerous sites within the Normandy region.  The first sites that we visited on Thursday were all related to D-Day and the various beaches and campaigns launched here in the Normandy region.

We first made our way over to the American Cemetery that maintains over 9,300 soldiers’ graves.  It was very overpowering to see all the headstones and how they just kept going for what seemed like forever.  The location of the cemetery is such that it overlooks the Omaha beach that the American troops landed on and fought to take from the Nazi troops stationed there.  It is very humbling to think that a lot of the men who are buried here were actually killed trying to take back the very ground that they are now buried in.  Both E & myself were quite taken aback by the historic feeling that was in the air throughout the whole region.  It was really odd to see all the American flags flying around and see so many people leave such kind thoughts in the guest book concerning the sacrifices that America made in liberating Europe.

 This is a picture of just a section of one of the 10 areas of graves within the cemetery.  It was like a sea of headstones...


The cemetery overlooks a section of Omaha beach and if you look behind the kids you can see just how rough of terrain the soldiers had to face in order to come and attack the Nazis.

When you compare this terrain to the terrain of the nearby Utah beach you can see how much of a real obstacle the Omaha beach front played for the troops.  We took a tour through the nearby visitor center and it was really interesting to see all the various exhibits and the numerous films that discussed the sacrifice made by so many.

Ms. A was very intrigued by the small dummy paratroopers that were dropped by planes prior to the invasion.  The dummies helped to confuse the Germans as to where the invasion was really set to occur.  When a dummy hit the ground it had a small bomb in it that would go off and it made it sound like it was firing bullets at the German troops.

The kids on the beach front of Omaha beach.  It was really sad to think of how such a pretty area saw such massive destruction.

This is the Les Braves monument that the French had made to commemorate the sacrifices and efforts made by the soldiers who stormed Omaha beach.  There was a quote from the artist who made the monument which explains the three different shapes of the sculptures used.

The Wings of Hope
So that the spirit which carried these men on 6th June 1944, continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to change the future.
Rise of Freedom
So that the example of those who rose up against barbarity, helps us remain standing strong against all forms on inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity
So that the surge of brotherhood always reminds of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves.  On 6th June 1944, these men were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.

Once we had finished the tour of the American Cemetery, we headed over to see a site that for the most part has been left untouched since the invasion took place.  The site is called Pointe du Hoc and it is situated above the cliffs that were scaled by American Rangers as they attempted to disarm and destroy a pair of very large guns that the Germans had on the beach front.  It was really eye-opening to see how deep the craters from the shells and bombs actually were.  I don't think that I ever imagined that a shell could do so much damage to the ground, but some of the craters from the shells were literally 20-25 feet deep.

Here some pictures the cliffs that were scaled by the Rangers as they fought to overtake the Nazi gun position.

The monument place at the Pointe du Hoc by the French to commemorate the sacrifice of the Rangers in taking the Pointe.

Around the whole area there were still the original/intacted Nazi bunkers and gun housings.  The walls of concrete on these things were almost 2-3 feet thick, you could tell the Nazis were expecting a big fight!

Ms. A & Mr. L inside one of the bunkers.  It was pitch black and there we no windows anywhere.

The kids standing on top of one of the many gun housings.

 After all was said and done, it was a very patriotic experience for everyone.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend the time talking with my kids about how great sacrifices have been made by those before them to ensure that they have the freedoms that they now enjoy.  It was also very special to actually be able to walk in the same place where so many brave men/women laid down their lives in the name of freedom.  Throughout the whole time I was there, I couldn't help but think about Moroni and The Title of Liberty.

"In Memory of our God, our religion, our freedom, and our peace, our wives and our children."

-Alma 46:12 The Book of Mormon

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Hey Mom & Dad... They speak english here!"

Ms. A & Mr. L have mid-term break this week so we decided that we would take the opportunity and see a few sites.  We decided that we would visit our cousins who are in London doing a tour much like K.  We headed out Sunday morning and had a nice drive up with the kids.  We drove through Belgium and into France and took a ferry from Calais France to Dover England.  The ferry ride from Calais to Dover was quite the adventure for the kids and it was fun to see them so excited to be riding on a big boat for the first time.  They were especially excited to drive the car inside the boat.

Once we were on the boat we went ahead and ate some dinner and the proceeded to wander around the boat looking for anything to keep the kiddos entertained.  We went outside for a little bit, and Ms. H & Mr. L were enthusiastic for about  2 minutes mainly because the wind was CRAZY!!!  Ms. A, loved it though.

She's definitely going for the wind blown look...

 The boat passes right by the cliffs of Dover and if you're not familiar with them, they are very white.  Ms. A thought it was very cool...

Once we got off the boat, we headed to K's cousin's house and needless to say K was very nervous given that everything in the UK that relates to driving is backwards.  We had to turn off the radio and keep the kiddos quiet for a few minutes while K's brain switched from right to left...

The next morning we woke up and headed off to see the sites, it was a very pretty city and Ms. A was always stopping and saying , "Whoa, Mom, look at that...".  It was funny, while we were in London Ms. A discovered scarfs, and has become a dedicated scarf enthusiast, what do you think of her new looks!

As I'm sure you can tell by the fact that we had to wear scarfs and winter coats, it was pretty cold the entire time that we were in London.  But that didn't stop of from carting all the kids around the city to make sure that we were able to see all the "Big" things to see in London.

We really wanted to see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, but it is funny, for a military group, they sure are not very regular and scheduled.  Based on the information posted by the palace, every odd day at 11:30 the guards change, BUT, according to all our friends who live in London, every time that they've tried to watch the changing, the can't see it because it has been cancelled.  Of course, as luck would have it, it was cancelled for us as well, but we were still able to watch the 2 guards posted outside the palace march around and make loud banging noises with their guns.  Ms. A & Mr. L, thought it was very cool that they actually were guarding a queen. 

We also passed by Mr. Big Ben, it is probably one of the prettiest things in London (in our opinion), and it was really easy to pass the time, no pun intended ;), watching the clock and looking at all the architecture around it.  A few random facts about Big Ben 1) It is one of the most accurate large scale tower clocks in the world, 2) Only UK citizens are allowed to go inside the clock and see how it works.

The Tower Bridge, which both E & K agreed was the prettiest bridge we'd ever seen. Pictures really can't do it any justice.

Our gaggle of kids posing/playing with the famous red telephone booths.

We rode around on the Tube quite a bit throughout the day, and this was one of the highlights of the trip for Mr. L.  He loved getting on and off the trains and also watching the trains come down the track.  We had to constantly remind him though to "Mind the Gap"!

We took the kids to St. James's Park which is just right across from Buckingham Palace for lunch and there was a great playground right next to where we ate.  The kids to advantaged of the playground, and the pigeons definitely took advantaged of the hurried manner in which the kids ate their sandwiches.  Anything that dropped on the ground was gone in 5 secs flat...  No time for the 10 second rule here!

After seeing so many things, we finally decided to just hop on a double decker bus and let it take us around the city for awhile.  We didn't hear any complaints from the kids.  They loved being so high up.

We had a very packed full first day so we went home and enjoyed the rest of the evening and got to bed early because we had another busy day coming up.

The next day we went and visited one of K's friends from BYU who is working here in London, and after lunch, we took the kids on the London Eye.  The London Eye is a huge ferris wheel that is located on the River Thames.  It's 443 feet high and you can see everything once you get to the top.  It is a 30 minute ride all the way around and we really enjoyed the view.

Where is Ms. H in the picture above?  Well, she was pretty tired so she decided to just sleep off the entire ride.

Did we mention that the ride is a full 30 mins?  Isn't amazing that even when you ask a child 5 times if they need to go potty and they tell you 5 times (almost ready to scream at you on the 5th time) that they don't need to go, that as fate always has it, they have to go with 15 minutes still left on the ride! Mr.  L had such an experience and we are sure that he is one of the few lucky people to have answered the call of nature at the top of the London Eye :)  E was thrilled...

We went home after visting the London Eye (the line to buy tickets and then to actually get on the ride is a few hours, so it basically took us the whole day to do it), and had a nice dinner with the kids and went to bed.  We were sad because we only had 2 days in such a wonderful city, but here's to hoping we can come back for some more!

The next morning was actually Halloween, so thanks to our wonderful hosts we had a very festive and fun Halloween breakfast. 

After breakfast we headed out to catch the Euro Tunnel train back to France so that we could get down to Normandy where we spent the next three days of our vacation.  The kids really liked driving onto the train and seeing the train move.  The train actually goes underneath the English Channel and the ride is incredibly quick.  It took us approximately 30 mins to cross the channel on the train versus 1.5 hours on the boat.  E wasn't so sure about the whole experience and it was quite a claustrophobic feeling at times.

We safely arrived in France and were off to Normandy.  Our time in London was really nice, and we're very happy to have spent just a few days there just so that we could wet our whistle.  In the end we had a lot of great memories, and it was really a nice change of pace to not have to worry about trying to speak French with everyone on the street.  It made us definitely appreciate our favorite language English.  Cheers!

--K & E