Changing lives one cup at a time

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ninth Birthday Interview With Mr J

What are some of the things you want to do when you are big? 
Be a farmer and play football [soccer]

What are some of your favourite things to do now?
Play football [soccer] and Lord of the Rings

Which books are your favourites?
The "Shoot" football book and Lord of the Rings

What are your favourite things to play with right now?
I like to play with my Legos, and my toy swords

What is your favourite colour?

What's your favourite animal?

What do you like about dogs?
They're fuzzy and fun to play with

What are the names of the people [!?] that you enjoy spending time with?
Righty, Lefty, Coo, Mummy, Daddy, my stuffed toy dogs

What do you like to eat?

What makes you happy?
Thinking about getting a dog

What makes you sad?
Thinking about never getting a dog

What do you like to do with Lefty and Righty?
Play Lord of the Rings

What do you like to do with Daddy?
I like it when we watch movies, go to the Cherryghost [coffee house], and get secret snacks!

What do you like to do with Coo?
Play shop and Lord of the Rings

What do you like to do with me?
Play games like Uno

What do I do all day?
You cook and make soap, and when you have time you play with us

What does Daddy do all day?
He learns maths and science with us, reads, works, and plays with us

What do you do all day?

Mr J's birthday interview from last year can be found here.  The birthday interviews we do are an idea from Lauren, who blogs at Sparkling Adventures. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fifth Birthday Interview with Coo

What things would you like to do when you are big like Mummy?
play with my kids

What do you love the most?
chocolate cake

Which books are your favourites? 
books about Stella, and Alfie

What are your favourite colours? 
pink, purple, red, and every single colour

Who are some of your favourite people?
Mr J, Lefty, Righty, Hannah, Sydney, other Hannah and James

What do you like to eat?
cucumber, bagel with Nutella, walnuts and raisins, biscuits [English biscuits-- cookies]

What makes you happy? 
eating chocolate biscuits

What makes you sad?
doing difficult things

What's your favourite thing to do with Righty?
play with bubbles and have tea parties

What's your favourite thing to do with Lefty?
play tea party

What's your favourite thing to do with Mr J?
play doctor and nurse

What's your favourite thing to do with Daddy?
play paper dolls and go to Starbucks with him

What's your favourite thing to do with me?
painting and colouring with you

Do you have a favourite toy?
my tiny fairy doll

Where is your favourite place?
my house in England

You can read Coo's fourth birthday interview here.

The birthday interviews that I do with our kids are an idea from Lauren, who blogs at Sparkling Adventures.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Machynlleth (from 19 October 2013)

(The first in a series of posts from last autumn that were never published due to our move.  Enjoy!)

This is one of our favourite places in Wales.

Machynlleth is a historically significant town, nowadays full of unique shops, yummy cafes, the best fish and chips ever, and Mr J's favourite sweet shop.  The sweet shop owner remembered the boys from our trip in August and offered to send them sweets from Wales even after we've moved to the States!  They were beside themselves with gratitude.

It's always lovely to be back... a little bit like having one of those "going home" feelings.  At the local park, which looks out over hillsides dotted with faraway sheep, Coo learned to use the monkey bars.

Machynlleth was in the news last year for a difficult reason, but it's a place with an incredible sense of community; because of that I still think of it in a positive light rather than a negative one and hope that others do too.

We love the Quarry Cafe and all the treats it has to offer.

We even found a hobbit house door! Time for the hobbits to go on a great adventure, so we're saying goodbye to the Shire Machynlleth, for a while...

Friday, April 11, 2014


I'm finally back in this little world, after such a long absence! First, I'll catch up where I left off.

Our final week of living in the UK was without a doubt the most hectic time of my life, so far.  It doesn’t even begin to compare to moving into our home more than a decade ago.  I thought that was crazy!  With two busy babies who were not yet a year old, moving our possessions from a flat into a house a few carloads at a time seemed like a big deal back then.  I can look at my twenty-three-year-old self and laugh a little bit.  Not too much, because it wouldn’t be fair to her.  

But this!  Our house was crammed with busyness, constant activity, people.  Last minute meals with friends, frantic sorting out of belongings, throwing away things I never thought I’d throw away, giving even more away — literally encouraging people to leave my house with their arms full of our possessions.

We went to Wales for a final weekend, with Nanny and Grandad.  Then Mr J began to complain of an itchy head.  I did a rushed check, and found nothing more sinister than his usual cradle cap-like dry scalp.  In a more thoughtful, slower time I would have massaged coconut oil into his scalp, and continued to do so until the itchiness cleared up.  Thoughtful? Slower?  These days were anything but that.

Our last family day out before leaving had been planned for ages: a trip to Birmingham, to see the new library together and visit the Botanical Gardens.  Armed with Pizza Express vouchers, we crowded round a table at the restaurant and enjoyed a meal in the bright sunshine together before heading over to the Botanical Gardens.  Finding myself sitting in light so vivid I could barely see, I moved to the other side of the table to escape the glare, holding Mr J for a few moments on my lap.  Absentmindedly, I stroked his hair, and suddenly spotted something tiny moving on his scalp. No!!!!


Instantly I knew that both Coo and I would have them, too.  And I was right.  Somehow, Dan and the older two boys totally escaped the scourge.  

So our last week at home was filled with the craziness of an international move, as a shipping company arrived to pack our remaining belongings into their boxes, and brave friends gathered round to help me cut and comb out my dreads.

In spite of the fact that the bugs could probably have been eradicated and my dreads saved at the same time, I didn’t feel able to complete our move into my parents’ home in the US with a question hanging over my head —ahem, hair.  Nope, they had to go.  My friend Hannah cut them. She and my neighbour friend Beckie, along with other friends here and there, spent hours helping comb them out.  It was a tedious, unbelievably long job, but I wouldn’t trade those last few days —not for anything.  We laughed, talked, and watched the house empty out around us.  

I wish I could have taken photos, documenting for posterity those last seven days.  However, true to the chaos around us, my camera was dropped and broken on that fateful day in Birmingham, and I have no photos.  

Of course, grabbing a few moments to blog, here and there, would have been helpful too.

But the morning of our day out in Birmingham, I poured an entire cup of hot coffee all over my seven-year old, previously well cared-for Macbook.  Not purposefully, of course, and I can’t even really explain how it happened.  It just did.

And I was the person who always felt myself above managing to ruin my technology with spilled drinks or food.  Talk about eating humble pie.

Dan’s Macbook would have been available for us to share, had the motherboard not inexplicably died the day before mine drowned in coffee!  

I think it would have been less bizarre if we were accustomed to destroying our things; but we're not!  We only update and replace if we absolutely have to, so this forty-eight hours of total destruction was unprecedented.

All at once, possessions we took for granted were gone, like the proverbial slate being wiped clean.   

Five months away from the insane changes of that last week, here I am blogging again on a laptop that was recently gifted to our family by some wonderfully generous people.

Life goes on.  My hair is growing longer, the kids are taller and eating even more than usual, my youngest brother has left home and gone to Australia, and we are here now.  

Now for us is a multitude of different things.  I've been doing quite a bit of sewing, and am replacing my stock of cold-process soap supplies so I can start making soap again soon.  The kids run wild in the woods, finding out about new birds and other wildlife every day.  Dan is busy exploring work options, and together we're trying to get to know people here, a world away from where we've been.  

As soon as I possibly can, I'll be replacing our camera, so I can blog photos that give you an idea of what our now looks like.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Everyday vs Different

I push my way through the slog of normal everyday life.  Making breakfasts and lunches and dinners for a few of us or many, cleaning up messes both substantial and miniscule, washing clothes and dishes and small people's hair, reading aloud, thinking aloud, talking loudly, speaking softly. All these things I've done for so long, here in this place, standing still yet so busy.

But my thoughts are occupied in trudging through a long, slow goodbye to all I have known and grown to love in the last thirteen years of my life here in Britain. My normal is changing. Not just that gradual change of passing time, but the all-encompassing change that a move brings.  And not just a move down the hill, or across the city. This is a move to the other side of the Atlantic: a "big" move.  Culturally --yes-- but literally, too. This is going to be something Different.

I've written before about how it feels to think of returning to the culture in which I was born and raised. Today, I'm thinking about how it feels to be leaving this one.

So many thoughts, all sketchy but infused with feeling.  I remember the day I stepped from the plane onto British soil for the first time, sixteen years ago.  Late August sun blazed bright, but the air was fresh and crisp. I fell in love, totally enamoured, with the velvety purple colour of the heathered hillsides.  Blinking in that sunshine, watching the cloud shadows skim across the moors of the Borders, everything seemed new and invigorating but also somehow familiar. I felt as if I was returning to a place that had once been home. 

After that first year, I returned, this time to England, two years later.  I spent many years settling, easing, establishing, learning.  It was much easier than I'd imagined, as if I was slotting my self into a place that was waiting for me.  So much of it fitted with me, with who I was as a person, just as if I were returning to a faraway home.

But now, all feels different.  Different is not knowing when or if we will be back.  Will it be as a family, or one by one, or not at all?  Righty is already saving money to visit New Zealand someday, and Lefty is currently [this week] considering a future career with MI5 when he's not storm-chasing.  I have a feeling that my wandering feet have been gifted to my children, too.  

But someday I will return, even if alone, retracing steps to the places I love.  I will go back to Figsbury Ring, on the Salisbury Plain, and remember.  I will stand in the biting wind and look for my children, my friends, my father and mother, my sister and brother, my husband, there once more. The grassy mound will be empty, apart from myself, but I will see them as they were when we went there together.

I will return to this town, this grubby bustling Midlands city that so many seem to hate, and search for familiar faces.  They will have disappeared, but I will remember.  The familiar treks and paths will open again to me and the past will be there, waiting for me.

I'll go back to the north, to Scotland, where I first arrived.  I will see myself as I was then: seventeen, breathing in everything that was fresh as the cold sea-salt air, new and exciting, and wonder where the years have gone.

It's a weight, this responsibility as a parent.  Which culture to choose for our children?  Because, unlike many, we can choose. We take our own with us, I know, but as parents we're not everything to them.  They will soak up their environment with us, the beautiful as well as the ugly, but the further culture will wash over them too and become part of them. Their accents will change and their horizons increase. Their days of riding round in tiny muddy circles on little bikes in our pocket of a back garden will expand to include gravel roads and grassy fields and bigger bicycles, and something Different. Our car trips and adventures to National Trust homes, our train journeys, the hours spent walking around our town, will all be exchanged for something Different.  I'm capitalising Different because for me it is like the personification of the new.

I don't want to fear Different even though there is so much to fear, because in reality I have no idea what Different will look like.

I only know what I will miss right here, right now, in this Everyday.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Library of Birmingham

When building work for Birmingham's new library commenced in 2010, I hoped that we would still live in the Midlands by the time it was in existence.  

After a few delays, the new library actually opened in September. We've often viewed it from the outside through many stages of building, but to finally walk through the doors today was so exciting!

It is phenomenal: a real work of art.  As we rode up the escalators through the central rotunda, we were surrounded on all sides by books. Floor after floor, bookshelves curving and definitive.  

Another library visitor stood in front of me on the escalator and I couldn't help overhearing his conversation.  "You could spend all day here," he said to his companion.  "Especially if you wanted to read books."

I couldn't help laughing.  All day?  I could spend all YEAR in there reading books, mate!  

There are two outdoor garden spaces. The Discovery Terrace, on the fifth floor, includes fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  [as well as Righty and I, silhouetted against Birmingham's skyline]

The Secret Garden, on the seventh floor, has many benches and seats and there are fantastic views of the city from there.  We discovered landmarks on the horizon that helped us pinpoint the location of our house, miles away.  

After climbing up nearly one hundred stairs [Righty didn't want to use the lift] we reached the Shakespeare Memorial Room, on the ninth floor.  This room was originally in Birmingham's old Victorian library; when that building was demolished, the room was dismantled and packed away.  It was mind-blowing to walk through the light, glass spaces of the modern library and then suddenly step into the darkness of the Shakespeare Room.  Wooden panelling and ancient shelving define this room and the difference was striking. Apparently this collection is one of the two most important Shakespeare collections in the world, containing 43,000 books, including a copy of a First Folio 1623 and copies of the four earliest Folio editions.

We ran down the stairs after that, all the way down, humming "Far Over the Misty Mountains" from The Hobbit movie.  The acoustics in the stairwell were perfect for it.

We both felt reluctant to go; it was as if we'd just stepped into a vast world of fascination and imagination and had to leave it too soon.  I'm hoping we have a chance to return just once; a day would be sufficient to fully explore the building while, sadly, ignoring the books for lack of time.

Later, upon reading more about it, I found out that the new Library of Birmingham is "the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe, and the largest regional library in Europe." [Wikipedia]