Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Boo! A Halloween Vlog

Happy Halloween! Again... Anyway, I couldn't resist linking up to Mama Kat's vlogging workshop, a spin-off of her writer's workshop, to demonstrate my new found obsession with vlogging. New found since yesterday.

Regardless, if you're not familiar with Mama Kat, you should be, so go visit her blog right after you watch my vlog.

The prompt I chose was #4: Record a video of yourself scaring someone. It took me several attempts to get a decent one and it didn't go as planned, but what the hay! You have to just go with it sometimes. Also, I can't quite figure out how to cut out dead space yet and I need to straighten up my office, but you'll have to deal with it and watch me grow as a Vlogger.. Enjoy.

Don't forget to visit Mama Kat! She's my bloggy idol.

Happy? Halloween

My Standard H'Ween Outfit
Happy Halloween everyone. My kids are off this week for half-term holidays. Since school here in England goes through the end of July and the only long break is in August, the kids have shorter breaks more frequently than in the US.

Because there isn't any school, my kids don't realize that today is Halloween. I haven't advertised the fact due to circumstance. The car is stuck at my husband's office as he couldn't get it started last night after work. So, I can't take them to the place I had planned to today.

We live in a small village and it is very dark now by 5:30pm. I don't know whether this area does much in the way of trick-or-treating and I don't really want to be wandering around in the dark with three kids in unfamiliar territory.

And most importantly, due to the car issues we have faced of late, I haven't even taken Nature Girl or The Boy to choose their costumes. I picked one up for my younger daughter (the day before the car went wonky) for her Halloween Disco last week at school. And of course, due to a few unexpected bills (who knew you needed a license to watch television or that a phone call to my MIL would cost a pound a minute!) and a budgeting error on my part, cash is very tight.

I'm a bit perplexed as to what to do. On the bright side, yesterday the girls took it upon themselves  to color and paint numerous Halloween themed drawings and coloring pages and hang them all over the house for decoration.

I make it a policy to be as age-appropriately honest with my children as possible. I suppose it is time to fess up and give them their options. If my payments come through this week from a few sponsored posts and other writing and editing, then I'll be able to take them somewhere fun this weekend to celebrate. In the meantime, perhaps we'll have to walk down to the store for cookie baking supplies (butter and orange icing!) and then have our own party. Dressed-up in whatever we have, bobbing for apples, making paper pumpkins and dancing to some spooky music!

I should be thankful, and I am, that my circumstances do not involve our health or safety, like so many in the midst of the hurricane. I wish those of you on the East coast the very best!

What are your plans?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Firmoo Sunglasses Review

Hello friends! It's my first vlog! Watch, enjoy and then scoot on over to to get your first pair FREE! You just pay shipping. What an amazing deal!


 Be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Mothering Milestone: Diaper Free Forever!

That's it. After 7 1/2 years of diaper changing I am finished! No more diapers! The Boy, as noted in the past few posts, decided underwear were his thing at a rather inconvenient time, but it was time nevertheless. He's in one at night, but he's staying dry until the very early morning, so I know if I stay motivated, he'll be out of them completely within days.

I realized last week that it was my own lack of motivation holding him back and that I had to encourage him more. It was if that realization sent a message to him without words ever being spoken. It's a little miracle... but not really. He's been ready for a while; he just needed a push and I did too. Getting down to the last two diapers when I was having car problems and no access to cash was the motivation I needed!

This truly is a mothering milestone. It feels like a rite of passage somehow. No more babies, no more diapers. Just three children who are growing at breathtaking speed and are somehow turning out beautifully amid my myriad mistakes. Three children who make me proud and happy and crazy. Three children who, no matter how tall they grow, will always be my babies.

My "Babies" and Me

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Except, It Wasn't The Battery

The saga continues.

After the day I had yesterday (read part 1 and part 2), I was ready for an easy fix. Keeping things in perspective, this is hardly a bump in the road, but it is a little bump. And it is tiring and frustrating.

The plan was to take the train then bus to go to the auto shop, get the battery changed, take the bus to the car and drive away. Except, it didn't happen that way.

The girls were picked up for school and The Boy and I headed out shortly after. I wrote down the address this time, charted my route online and noted which bus I'd need to take. It was blustery this morning. The raindrops had a distinctly frozen flavor to them and that first smell of winter filled my nostrils. It smells the same here as in Michigan. Cold.

Back on the Train
Photo Credit: Mark-Hobbs via Flickr
The train was late; nothing new. After we arrived in town we dashed into the mall to withdraw cash for the bus (thanks again, Mom) and made change with the purchase of granola bars and water.

The bus was late. Nothing new there either. I asked the driver if he stopped at my stop to be sure I was getting on the right bus. Yes. Good. Could he also please tell me when we were there? Yes. Good. They are so helpful and friendly here. In my former life in the US I was afraid to ask anyone anything. I don't know why. I have this unfounded fear of asking simple questions, especially over the phone. I guess I've suddenly recovered from it, because somehow in one day, several weeks ago when I decided to figure out the bus lines, I asked so many questions and had so many wonderfully helpful people answer them that it cured me. Mostly. 98%. (I still don't like to call and ask questions; I'm more of a face-to-face person).

We got off at our stop. There was no clear sign of any garage, but I chose the direction the bus had been heading and found it a block or so up the street. This garage had the battery, but they couldn't put it in for me since only authorized Renault service whatevers can. Two doors down there was a place who could do it.

Excellent. The attendant was busy, so I took the opportunity to take The Boy to the toilet. He was given the option to wear a diaper this morning, since I didn't know how long we'd be out or away from toilets, but he chose his underwear, so I went with it. My kid rocks.

Once out, it was my turn. The guy working the counter had one bright blue eye and one socket without an eye. No patch; no glass eye. That's confidence. In the movies, he would have been scary, but he was really quite nice. I told him what I needed. He said they had it. Then just paused. Uhhhh, "Can you change it for me?" I asked with a smile. Yes. Great then.

Except, it wasn't the battery. The key is dead. Nothing happens when he changes the battery; it still doesn't work. He says not to worry, just disengage the alarm and then use the key. I explain that it isn't the alarm, it's the immobilizer. I explained this to you in yesterday's post, so I won't repeat myself.

He says we might be able to deactivate the immobiliser. Where is the car? Hah. At school, friend.

So, now. I have a car. It works. The key doesn't, so I can't drive it. I am so ticked!!! Weeks of no car and now we're right back there! I guess we got what we paid for, but this is ridiculous. Why did we buy an old used car, you may ask? Because we have no credit here in the UK and therefore can't get financed. Same story, different country.

We'll have to have the car towed (100 pounds not covered by insurance) to a garage that actually can't do much for us. To get a new key takes 75 days!!!!!! Yes, 75! And 150 pounds. And then you have to have both key and car at the garage to be programmed together. So, 250 quid (that's slang for pounds, like "bucks" for dollars) and 75 days to have my car back and working. Seriously? Where are the hidden cameras?

I don't have the budget for that at this point, nor the time. What am I going to do without a car for another 3 months? I want to cry. Thank goodness the kids have mid-term break next week and I don't have to worry about getting them to school. Thank goodness my man will be home tomorrow (our 12th anniversary) so I can cry on his shoulder (though he'll be too exhausted for me to actually do so).

Thank goodness I have supportive readers and amazing children. The boy and I decided just to stay in town instead of taking the train back and forth again. He successfully used several public toilets today and I am confident we are now completely out of diapers during the day. Always find the positive things to focus on, right? And, with the money I saved on further train and bus rides, I arranged a taxi to pick us up from school and take us directly home. Which is why I had the time to write this while the meat for dinner defrosts.

Now (well, after dinner), I'm off to search the web for secret ways to bypass the most (insert bad words of your choice) anti-theft system EVER! I will reward you if you find one for me that works. Free proofreading and editing for a year or anything you want that I have the capability of providing!

Friday, October 26, 2012

What A Day! Part 2: The Plip Key and the Immobilizer

I hadn't bothered with the garage (read Part 1 here) between drop off and pick up, of course. I just parked in the driveway. I woke the boy, he pottied on the toilet (yes!) and we set off, confident we would be home in 1 hour, the soonest he should need to tinkle again.

I'm driving a used 1998 Renault Scenic. It's passed the test needed to certify it road-worthy, but it needs a bit of work... or something. It screeches like a banshee when it starts up or I accelerate. I may drive it around late on Halloween just to scare young children and others who frighten easily. The fan to defrost or heat only works on the passenger side of the vehicle. To keep my windows from fogging over completely when it is misting (a better descriptive term than "rain" for what it does most days here), I have to run the fan on high (it only runs on high) and crack my window slightly. Otherwise, I'm looking through a sort of reverse mushroom cloud.

Furthermore, the clever French have devised an anti-theft system that requires you to use the key fob to lock and unlock the doors prior to starting the car. Otherwise, when you start the car it immediately stalls. That is called the immobilizer (immobiliser for those of you who prefer the UK standard). A little red light blinks on the dash to demonstrate its engagement.

The key fob (I hate that word), called a "plip key" in the manual, has been touchy from the start and it takes a few tries at different angles to get it to work. A few days ago we noticed a little red light and assumed it was time to get the battery changed. We only received one key with the car, so there is no spare to fall back on if necessary. Like today.

Photo Credit: Images_of_Money via Flickr
I meant all week to go to the auto place to get the battery replaced. Yet, I didn't really want to do it so my subconscious conveniently allowed me to forget the address each morning. I certainly wasn't going to head back out and stick The Boy back in the car for an hour just for a battery. Plus, it was working just fine. As fine as usual, that is.

We get to school, hugs all around. I thought we'd pop into the little corner store to pick up the milk and night-diapers we needed and then get home to finish off the home-made pizza that was on the menu. Right after school is not the time to go into that place. It was crazy crowded and the aisles are as narrow as the side roads. My stroller (push chair or buggy, if you please) barely made the turns!

Nevermind, we'll hit the supermarket on the way home. A different way home, but one with only two minor roundabouts that I managed the other day without dying.

I used the key fob to unlock the doors. Once everyone was safely buckled up, we were on our way!

But not quite.

It wouldn't work. It wouldn't work. And. It wouldn't work. I stun myself with an insane level of optimism (or perhaps it is really just insanity) and try again and again. I let each of the children try. I try from outside of the car - it worked a few minutes ago... I try from behind and on both sides. Nature Girl suggests banging the key... wonder where she learned that trick?

Nothing works. The kids are remarkable in their patience. I swear we sat there aimlessly trying for 30 full minutes. Then I gave up. The bus would come soon and we'd better catch it to be home before dark. GPS, insurance and registration in my purse; car seats (all boosters now for my big kids) in the boot (trunk for you Americans ;) and children and their belongings in, on or around the stroller.

As we walk past the pharmacy that is next to the small grocery, I say, "Let's just stop in and grab the wipes and diapers." After a minute of perusing the selection I look out the window and see our bus coming. I know which number from those couple of weeks without a car. Knew that would come in handy.

I have never been more impressed with my little travelers. The girls high-tailed it out the door and ran to the stop with the boy and I close behind! I was sure we would miss it, but bless the elderly, they take their time getting off the bus!

We made it. Ahh. A relaxing ride to Town Centre. I know we won't make the next train, so we'll have time to go into the supermarket across from the train station. I know that I have exactly 20 pounds on my US bank card. The only local bank card we have is in Germany... with my husband. I had 5 pounds in cash. 1.90 went to the bus driver.

I don't pay much attention to the amount I'm spending, I'm confident I've stayed around 15. We added the store's freshly made pizza as we would be far too late for homemade anything at this point.

Off we go to the train staition across the street. We have to take the maze created for strollers and wheelchairs instead of the straight shot up the stairs. In the door and into queue. It is 4:53. Our train is at 5:07. There are 4 people ahead of us. No problem.

Our turn. It's about 5 pounds 50 for our tickets. My card is declined. Twice, thanks for trying. Oh lordy. I have 3 pounds left in cash. The card passes for 2.50. Thank you.

The children know the station well. They know the buttons to press on the lift (elevator) and which platform to go to. We make it to the platform with 5 minutes to spare. It's windy and cold and misty, of course.

A helpful chap assists me lifting the stroller onto the train and the girls cheerfully follow. Children are resilient and amazing when you least expect them to be. The ride is easy and thankfully short. It's then, sitting on the train halfway to our stop that I realize The Boy is wearing underwear. No diaper.

I look at him. He smiles his gorgeous  I-love-you-mommy-smile and says earnestly, "I'm holding it, Mama." He is awesome.

A 10-minute walk (the girls skipped) through the misty dusk and we're home. The boy proudly pees on the toilet. He says, "I'm a big boy now!" Then, thoughtfully, looking up at the light-switch, "Well, I'm not really a big boy. I can't even reach the light switch. I'm still a teeny-tiny boy." He makes me joyful.

I haven't told you about the oven... it cooks unusually fast. We once roasted a duck in 45 minutes.

I burned the pizza.

Oh well. I think sometimes the Universe just wants to remind us to appreciate when life runs smoothly and to keep us humble. The girls have a ride to school in the morning (thank you, Miss T). My mom (best mom ever) dropped some cash into my US bank account so I can get the key fixed before pick up and I'm off to bed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What A Day! Part 1: The Garage Door

The day started out beautifully. Having gone to bed minutes after tucking in the children, I awoke refreshed and renewed... after hitting snooze just twice. The children woke with ease and every one got ready within reasonable time.

The boy surprised me with his ability to open the car door and get himself into his booster and his sisters followed suit soon after. Well, except Nature Girl. She likes to be the garage opener in the morning.

I haven't told you about the garage yet.

Though it is an automatic door, there is no mobile door opener, so I have to open it, pull out the car, run back inside and close it by again pressing the button on the wall. I have to wait to make sure it actually closes because it has a tendency to pop back open. "An historic problem," the letting agent (rental company) tells me, but the owners have been reluctant to fix it. Then I run through the house and out the front door to get into the car.

Not my garage door, but it's green, so close enough. 
Photo by CaryWaynePeterson via Flickr
Today, as I was buckling my younger daughter, Nature Girl hit the "open" button and after a moment there was a terrible crashing sound, as if a glass door had just shattered. I turned sharply with the expectation of seeing shards scattered over the garage floor, but it was just a spring. Well, a very big spring; the one that opens the garage door. It had snapped off the door and made that terrible clatter. The door was open a few feet, but hardly enough to get the car through.

I regarded my clean hands for a moment, then pushed on the mud-splattered door. It wasn't easy, so I tried the button once more to see what would happen. It closed. Good. I pressed it again and it began to open. It stopped in the same place. I approached it again wondering how the he&& I would get my children to school. I pushed it with vigor this time and managed to get it all the way open. Perfect.

With the method I previously described, I got it closed, got in the car and got the kids to school on time.

Great then! The day went on, I emailed the agent and the garage will be attended to, finally. I laundered the British way, discovering that those heated towel bars work brilliantly on sheets if I crank up the heat! I can hardly wait to snuggle into clean, fresh sheets tonight. But wine first. And I'll go on. In my next post...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's Lonely on the Playground

Empty Playground.
Photo by Revgar via Flickr
I love England. I really do and I feel blessed to have this opportunity. But, I must admit, I'm a bit lonely. I miss seeing familiar faces at school drop-off and lingering on the playground just to chat with a friend. Or getting there a few minutes early in the hopes of setting up a coffee date or to let The Boy play for a few minutes before his sisters get out.

Now, though the faces are becoming familiar, I am neither greeted nor greeting anyone with casual smiles and hellos. I know I could make the first move, but they all seem to be set in their groups. Adult cliques, if you please. There's one "mum" with 3 kids all about the same ages as mine, one of them is in class with my younger daughter. The girls appear to be on the way to bff-hood. But when I try to make eye-contact with her mother, there is no response. She doesn't speak to anyone but her kids. She hardly looks up.

I remember when I was a newcomer in Singapore. I didn't have any children yet and I forced myself out the door to join the American Women's Association (which was only about 51% American/Canadian and the rest a wonderful mix of cultures from all over the world).  I often thought how much easier it must be for parents to make new friends because of their schoolchildren. I suppose it probably was there; Singapore has a huge expat community.

Here, I haven't met another American since the plane from Paris to London. Not that I need to, of course. I'm just ready for a friendly face. Someone who smiles when they see me approach... aside from the beaming faces of my lovely children, I mean. Time to Skype with my mom, I think. Skype is great. My own bff has gone back to work after 6 years of SAHM-ing, and now our schedules conflict. A 5- hour time difference makes an impact in the evening. PMS and a traveling husband isn't making it any easier.

Well, I tackled the taxis, the buses and the trains. I've managed without a clothes dryer, hair-dryer or steam mop. I'm getting comfortable on the other side of the road (swear I'm going to blow a tire hitting the curb one of these days), lived through a few roundabouts and giant house spiders. It's time to find a social group to tackle until approachable faces pave the way back to a warm and comfortable friendship.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

These Boots Are Made For Walkin'

This past Sunday was possibly the very best weekend day our family has had together... well, possibly ever. We walked the grounds of The Vyne, a historic (an historic in UK English) Tudor mansion on something like 14 acres. Morgaston Wood is the beautiful forest that encompasses much of the landscape. Along our nearly 5-hour walk we discovered a variety of wild mushrooms, conkers, a huge swan along with other water foul, and heard the calls and songs of numerous birds.

Another discovery was that it was incredibly muddy. The kids were all set in their wellies... After nearly two months in England, I'm starting to pick-up the lingo. Rain boots are Wellingtons, Wellies for short. However, my husband and I were not so prepared. In the 10 suitcases that moved us over, shoes were heavy and bulky, so we each brought only two pair and neither of us included boots for messy weather.

So, I've gone "window" shopping... virtually. Now, I'm not normally shoe crazy, I rarely own more than 10 pair to cover all the seasons, but upon yet another discovery, that of, I think I've got a mini Imelda Marcos brewing inside of me! They have shoes for men, woman and kids. Want to see what I'm crazy about?

I started with the Wellingtons, of course; but couldn't stay focused. What I really, really want are these:
Clarks Majestic Way Calf Boot
Then, I got back on track; who knew rain boots could be so cute?!!

These match my jacket... 

These would work better when I want to wear my black jacket, purple hat and matching scarf.
But then again, so would these. What's a girl to do?
And of course, since I left all my heels behind and have every intention to hit the London theatres...

Now, I'll need a sassy dress and bag to match...
 And I do a lot of walking even in mild weather on average days...

These go with everything from jeans to skirts...

 And these are just really cute and fun! And listed in the "comfort" shoes section!
I have a thing for red...
That was the most fun shoe shopping I've done in years!! All while The Boy naps. I had to stop because it's nearly time to pick up the girls from school! My husband is on his own.

I love technology... and apparently shoes! Obviously, I'll have to narrow it down to a pair of boots and then one cute pair of shoes. Which would you choose?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Morning Cobwebs on the Brain

Well, it's 12:33 in the afternoon in my part of the world and I am finally beginning to wake up. Perhaps it is that I'm finishing my third cuppa or that I've just given my body fuel in the form of food, who knows. What I do know is that many of us suffer from Monday morning brain malfunction as we attempt to get back into the swing of things.

Since I can't seem to focus on one thing for any length of time on Monday mornings, I have decreed Mondays as my official comment response and blog hopping day. What better thing to do when your brain hops from one thing to the next anyway? Today I'm hopping over at Naptime Review. She has a stunning number of blogs linked up! Go visit.

Mondays = a brain full of cobwebs
Photo by Ollie Jay via Flickr
However, the morning has passed and I'm on to the second thing that will assist me in having a relatively productive week: making my to-do list. This includes scheduled posts and generating ideas for more (posts about gigantic house spiders, school uniforms, gorgeous places to visit in England, etc), school-related things I need to remember, budgeting and bill-paying that need attending to and menu-planning. Get the list done today and I need only review and revise it for the rest of the week. Do yours now, too.

I know that as an (occasionally) aspiring domestic goddess I should love meal-planning, but I don't. I have found, though, that it makes for gloriously easy lunch-box packing in the morning and dinner prep in the evening. I've got the lunches down and I'll share my menu with you later this week. Now, I've got to tackle dinners!

As the last of the cobwebs clear from my brain, I'm excited to announce my first vlog! This week I'll post my vlog review of some groovy sunglasses I received from I'll also be posting my first printables and I'll attempt to clean up my blog a bit. I think I need a full redesign, so if you're a designer looking to feature your services, I'm willing to use and review them!

Have a wonderful Monday and we'll talk soon! Speaking of talking, do you use Skype? It's my new favorite thing. It's so much better than a phone call!

Oh, and if you haven't already, go sign up to win two great books by Victoria Simcox.... thanks!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don't Let Your Children Share a Room!

Let me be blunt, because I'm tired and need more coffee, bedtime has been a pain in the bum for the past 3 years, ever since my fateful decision to have my young daughters share a room. There was a good reason, of course, their brother was coming soon and we had the standard 3-bedroom house.

At the same time, I shifted her from crib to toddler bed (a matching set for the girls). When two children share a room, the magical boundaries of the big kid bed that I wrote about last week cease to exist. Sharing a room becomes and exploitative journey for children who previously thought bed time actually meant going to sleep.

They're faking.
They discover, instead, that it is an endless playtime away from Mommy's prying eyes. As long as they do so quietly, they could play dolls, read books, dress-up and whatever else little children do until they fell over exhausted with the light on high (tip: always install dimmers on your children's light switches).

However, mine never did so quietly. They did so very loudly. Right above the room in which their papa and I were trying to relax and converse. We tried many tactics over the next couple of years to get them to go to bed and stay in bed and just-go-to-sleep-would-you?!!

Some examples:
- Putting them to bed 30-minutes apart... didn't work. My younger daughter would endlessly pop out telling us she was scared to be alone (baloney).
- Threats of no screen time the following day (or days, depending on how many times I had to come back and tell them to be quiet)... sometimes worked.
-Yelling at them insanely... usually worked because they cried themselves to sleep, but the mommy guilt wasn't worth it and I eventually stopped shouting (mostly) at them day or night.
-Other various threats... sometimes worked, especially their loveys. Not nice. I know. I was desperate.
-Positive rewards; i.e.Getting to stay up late on Fridays, earning good behavior points redeemable for toys/screen time/whatever. Sometimes worked:

Once when my older daughter (then nearly 6) wanted to get her ears pierced she bargained with me for 7 nights of peace at bedtime - she would go to bed and stay quiet until morning (ignoring her sister when asked to play) and if I had to go back in her 7-nights started all over. I accepted her offer! She got her ears pierced 10 days later.

Now, after 3 years, I have easy, breezy bedtimes again. This is, in part, to the kids spending 3-weeks at Grandmas. She would say, "Go get ready for bed," and they would. Then she's tell them to get in bed and they would. Then she'd tell them to go to sleep... and they would. All in 20-minutes or less. I'd been spending an average of 30-minutes per kid. Grandmas are awesome!!!

The other, even more vital part, is that they now each have their own rooms again. They are small, but they are their own. And the girls are older (and well-trained by my miracle mother) and I can simply say, "Go get ready for bed; take your brother and help him, too." And they do. Then they all get to come back downstairs for a few minutes. The Boy gets a 5-minute cuddle with Papa and the girls can engage in a quiet activity, usually drawing or writing, for 15 to 30 minutes.

I put The Boy to bed, we argue for a few minutes about his light (Him: I want it higher! Me: No, you need it dark so that you and Thomas can get your rest. him: Nooooooooooooooooooo, I want it higher. Me: it's like this or it's off. him: Nooooooooooo. Me: There, then (I turn off the light). Him: Turn on the liiiiight! Me: Lay down, be quiet. Him: OK. Me: (I turn on the light very low) Sleep well. I love you. Him: I love you, too.)

I send the girls to their rooms, come up a few minutes later and sing them each their song, give them kisses, maybe have a brief conversation and then I am finished. It is brilliant. I get to relax and enjoy my husband and a glass of wine, a quiet dinner and enjoy peace at last. 90% of the time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Shard by Victoria Simcox - Review & Double Giveaway!

Last spring I had the opportunity to review an enchanting story, The Warble, by Victoria Simcox. It left me wanting more of the magical world of Bernovem and fortunately, with The Shard, we get to go back! Better yet, you have a chance to win both books!

In The Shard, we once again meet Kristina, the chosen one, who is still grappling with the irritating Hester, Davina and Graham, but this time at summer camp. Older now, the 15-year-old Kristina hardly remembers her adventure with Prince Werrien to get the magic warble back to its proper resting place. It seems like it must have been just a dream. The other teens apparently don't remember it all.

When the girls, along with Graham play a nasty trick on Kristina, they all go tumbling back into the world of Bernovem and practically land right on top of Werrien. Another adventure ensues, this time with Kristina being tormented by an old hag and a mysterious illness. It is exciting, at times a little scary (too much so for my 6-year-old, but not at all for my 7-year-old) and pure entertainment.

When I finished the first book, I didn't know there would be a second. It was perfect on its own, but I was beyond thrilled to learn of the second and have the chance to step back into the marvelously magical world Simcox effortlessly creates. I was eager to see what Kristina would be like, how she had evolved and what might develop between Werrien and her now that they were old enough for a little romance!

The romance is G-rated, but still had my daughters getting squeamish! I imagine a tween or young teen would easily identify with Kristina at this age and her feelings toward the handsome prince! I loved how sweetly the author handled Kristina's feelings and found myself remembering the sparks of first love and first kisses!

This novel certainly has more twists and turns than the first and a very surprising ending, which left me clamoring for the next installment, which is still being written. I had a love-hate relationship with Davina by the end of the book, but never found any affection for Hester or Graham.

Kristina is still a likable character, if not as strong and focused as in the first book. I loved that 12-year-old girl and found her to be an excellent role model. In The Shard she's dealing typical teenage insecurities in an atypical situation. I look forward to seeing her get back some grit in the third installment.

With Christmas around the corner, this is the perfect gift for your child (or yourself!). I recommend ages 10 and up. Buy it at or on Amazon.

Or, better yet, WIN BOTH BOOKS! One winner will be chosen and awarded both books in digital format. This giveaway is open Internationally, so everyone can enter to win! Good luck!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Getting Comfortable on the Road and a Life Insured

I am getting more comfortable on the road, thankfully. I've taken practice runs (drives) with The Boy every day this week to and from school. This afternoon I'm finally going to take over the school run for my girls. Even though it may rain... 

Writing that post the other day really did get me thinking about life insurance. It's something I've only ever had if a company  my husband or I worked for offered it. But life is different now with 3 children and driving along narrow streets on the opposite side of the car and the road. 

It seems the older we get, the more difficult it seems to be to get insured at reasonable rates, but I've recently discovered Modex provides instant quotes for life insurance. There are many sites like this around, but I found two things about Modex to be superior: The first, and most important, is that they don't sell your email to a zillion third parties. They are actually insurance agents that help you find the best policy by comparing them for you. You will not start getting calls and emails from twenty people a day for the next 5 years! 

The other great thing is that it doesn't matter how whether you're 20 or 70 years old. Specialized agents at Modex work to get life insurance for seniors at the best rates possible. That's a wonderful thing. 

I plan on living until I'm 103, so my life insurance will likely benefit my grandchildren, but the important thing is that I have it. Insurance is assurance that they'll be taken care of and I can have a proper goodbye party. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Do You Give for a 101st Birthday? Flowers, Of Course!

Have I mentioned my love for flowers? I love seeing them, smelling them, growing them, getting them and I love giving them! I haven't lived near enough to anyone to hand deliver flowers for decades, so sending them has always been my method. My beautiful 100-year-old grandmother has been the recipient on many occasions and will be yet again next week when she turns 101!!! Can you believe it?

This year I'm using a Vancouver Flower Delivery service because they have such a fantastic selection and they don't just deliver in Canada, but also anywhere in the US. My flowers are headed to Michigan! Straight to my Grams.

Basking in the warmth of my own little sun room (called a conservatory here in Britain), I explored the website looking for just the right selection. I could almost smell them! The conservatory smells like a greenhouse when the sun is shining and it is a gorgeous day today. I always look for a beautiful bunch of flowers that will put a smile on my recipients face and at a great price. I found the perfect item.

It is bright, beautiful and  reminds me of a ray of sunshine - just like my Grams. I can already hear her delighted laugh and see her smooth pink cheeks lift into a huge smile.

Don't you think she'll love it? And after the blooms fade she'll have a cheerful cup for her coffee and the daily reminder that she is my favorite person in the world. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

I'm Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road!

After 5 weeks in the UK we finally have a car! Several hours of trains, buses and my own aching feet are behind me at last. However, with the relief comes... terror. I have to learn how to drive all over again. When I first learned in the US, more than 20 years ago now, my mantra was always, "If you're on the right, you're in the right." Left side of the vehicle, right side of the road. That mantra will get me killed over here (note to self: check life insurance rates!).

Yesterday morning I took my new (old - 1998 Renault Scenic, holding up well for its age, but still a senior citizen in the motoring world) car for my very first spin. I am not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road or doing so on the right side of the car. I've done it only once in Australia and I kept hitting my hand on the door each time went to put the car in park or drive.

But, rewiring my driving brain is a necessary and worthwhile challenge. It was vital to drive alone at least my first time out, lest the distraction of my children break my concentration for even a moment. With my trusty GPS on the dash, I decided to attempt a route I was relatively familiar with - from home to school. After 5 taxi rides I was comfortable enough to ignore the GPS at the start and take the way I wanted.

I probably looked crazy, talking to myself and giddy with anxiety. "I'm sitting on the right, driving on the left." I kept repeating this. Driving in a straight line was easy enough, turning left was a breeze, but turning right scared me. I was sure I would turn right and then continue on in the right (which is the wrong) lane. But I didn't. And for whatever mistakes I made, there's a big "P - New Driver" decal on both the front and back of the car to explain them. Embarrassing and comforting at the same time.

I don't think my heart ever left my throat. It's back there just writing about it. The roads are narrow, there is usually a curb and plenty of speeding deterrents, so you really have to pay attention. I've got pretty good spatial awareness, but not from that side of the car! It just feels strange.

Yet, I made it without incident (OK, I hit the curb once, but no damage done). Today I went out again with The Boy and I messed up a confusing roundabout, but didn't crash, so there. Roundabouts are huge and terrifying, but fortunately there is only one simple one on the way to school and I make the first exit, so it is easy enough.

There's this part of me that shudders at every new challenge, who wants to just run and hide and give into my hermit tendencies, but it's shrinking. There's this other part of me that is growing, blooming with confidence with every "new" thing I tackle. I was nervous to take the train with the kids by myself, but I did it; I was scared I'd get on the wrong bus or get off at the wrong stop, but I tried anyway and I succeeded; and my confidence grew. Now I'm learning to drive in a whole new way, in a completely different environment and it feels amazing.

What do you sort of want to try, but avoid because of fear? Go do it. If you fail, at least you tried. If you succeed you'll feel so good!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Life: Are You Living in Pain or Pleasure?

Sunset - a gift to our senses * Photo via Flickr by NeilsPhotography
After an intense post yesterday, today I thought I'd share something much happier! Yesterday, I Skyped with Michelle from Peaks of Possibility. She is a certified Passion Test facilitator, which I am going to become in a few months.

If you haven't read The Passion Test, you should; it is an amazing book, but now that I've actually run through the test with a facilitator it has become an exponentially more powerful experience for me. I can hardly express the absolute joy that I've been filled with since we ended the call. It cements inside of me the absolute truth that our feelings are the compass for our lives.

When you feel, in your heart, that something is right, then you are clearly headed in the right direction. When you feel, in your heart and often in your body, that something just isn't right, you are right! It's time to step from that path. We are on this earth not to experience pain, anger or frustration. We are meant to LIVE a life of joy and purpose. Why would there be any other reason? Why look further than that?

Why would God, or whomever or whatever you ascribe as your guiding force, give us the amazing gifts of our senses if not to fill them pleasurably? Not narcissistic or hedonistic pleasure, but the pure pleasure that comes from the warmth of the sun on our skin, the smell of lilies in bloom, the taste of a fine piece of chocolate, the sight of a glorious sunset and the sound of a beautiful song taking flight?

He (or she!) wouldn't. Life is a gift meant to be filled with joy. I have discovered that is indeed one of my top passions in life. Want to know them all?

As of yesterday (passions are not static, but ever changing, so I'll do the test again in a few months),

When my life is ideal, I am:

1. Abundant, alive and free, on all levels
2. Completely fulfilled by living my purpose: helping others to live a joyful, passionate and fulfilling life
3. Confidently experiencing life
4. Enjoying an open-minded, expanded circle of friends
5. Joyfully interacting with others on a daily basis

How about you?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chasing The Cyclone - A Riveting True Narrative of International Child Abduction

Several months ago I was approached to review a book called Chasing The Cyclone, by Peter Thomas Senese. It's a book I almost passed on because of the subject matter. Since becoming a parent, I have steadfastly avoided giving my attention to any news, programs or publications with harm to children as the topic. It can't be avoided completely, since it seems there is something terrible happening somewhere every minute, but I do my best.

After thinking about it for a few days, considering Mr. Senese's message and his mission, I decided to take on the review. Doing what is right isn't always comfortable. That's a message I want to pass on to my children and to teach it authentically I have to live it. So, here goes.

Chasing The Cyclone is the story of a father who will do whatever it takes to find his son when he is cruelly taken from him. Paul Francesco has a painful relationship with his ex-wife. The child they created together keeps them bound together and Paul and his 7-year-old son, Alex, remain close and have frequent visits even though they live far apart. It's a complicated story of a citizenship, custody rights, shifty attorneys, inadequate courts and communications between a US father and a Canadian mother. It's also riveting.

I read this on my Kindle device and to be honest, for the two or three days it took me to read it, that device rarely left my hands. Senese brilliantly conveys the heartbreak Paul feels as his attempts to reunite with his beloved son are repeatedly blocked. Soon, Alex is not just over a border, but on the other side of the world before he, his mother and her boyfriend disappear altogether.

It's a frightening, frustrating tale, but the fact is that it is a true story and something that happens more often than you can imagine. Thousands of children disappear over borders and seas at the hands of a parent each year and only a handful are ever reunited. Paul's experience, you might guess, is closely based on the author's own. You will turn page after page to find out if he and Alex make it back to the daily life of parent and child that most of us happily take for granted.

You can learn more about quietly growing epidemic at and right here where I'm privileged to present Peter Thomas Senese and the I Care Foundation's educational series on International Child Abduction

When you're a parent to one, you're a parent to all. Educating yourself is but one step you can take to save a mother, father or child from ever living through this kind of terror.

Are Your Children at Risk of International Child Abduction?

 Peter Thomas Senese & the I CARE Foundation
Release Educational Film Series on International Child Abduction Prevention
Every Parent Is Suggested To View
As Parental Abduction Cases Dramatically Increase

In his capacity as a best-selling author producer, child advocate, and founding director of the I CARE FoundationPeter Thomas Senese has shared that in order to stop international  parental child kidnapping, raising awareness and providing accurate information to others is critical.

In order to help other parents protect targeted children Mr. Senese has created the 'Chasing Parents' educational documentary film series that is shared here.

With 125,000 American and 20,000 Canadian children anticipated to be internationally abducted over the next decade, parents must realize that they are only 3 degrees of separation from having this impact their life.

Peter Thomas Senese is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Chasing The Cyclone that shares a story of a parent's dedication to his child.  Along with Mr. Senese's ongoing financial support to help targeted children of abduction, Peter Thomas Senese continues to donate 100% of his book proceeds to the I CARE Foundation.

International parental child abduction is a serious issue that we all need to be aware of.  Please take the time to educate yourself.

                                                                      CHASING PARENTS 
                   Educational Documentary Series Produced and Narrated by Peter Thomas Senese

                   Part I - International Parental Child Abduction Overview by Peter Thomas Senese

       Part II - Warning Signs Of International Parental Child Abduction  by Peter Thomas Senese

             Part III - International Parental Child Abduction In Progress by Peter Thomas Senese

                               Part IV - Reunification and International Parental Child Abduction
                                                                  by Peter Thomas Senese

                  Part V - International Parental Child Abduction Overview by Peter Thomas Senese

              Part VI - New Laws, Policy Modification & Reforms Needed To Protect Children From  
                                International Parental Child Abduction by Peter Thomas Senese

                                           Part VII - The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and
               International Parental Child Abduction and Human Trafficking by Peter Thomas Senese

Please visit the I CARE Foundation's website to learn more about the foundation's work.

Please check on the official website of Chasing The Cyclone or the official website of Peter Thomas Senese for more information.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Magical, Invisible Boundaries of the Big Boy Bed

There’s something mysterious going on in my 3-year-old son’s bedroom; more specifically, his bed. We've just moved overseas and for nearly 5-weeks he shared a room with either his sisters or my husband and me. He was taken from his comfortable crib and confined to the small space of a travel cot. But now, he has his own room again and for the first time, a big-boy bed. It’s not a toddler bed, or a converted crib with the rail to make him feel safe and secure. It’s just a regular twin-sized bed in his very own room.

The mysterious part is that he stays in it when I tell him to. He’s 3, remember? Usually when I tell him to do something he answers with a firm “no” or an “I don’t want to!” Yet, when I tell him to stay in bed for his “resting time” or at bedtime, he usually does it without argument. Only once in two weeks has he actually left the room. Every other time he wakes, he calls for me and asks if he can come out. How wonderful is that?

I would love to chalk it up to my superior parenting skills, but that would be plain silly. It is, simply put, magic. The magic of little imaginations, I think. I remember the very same thing happening with my first-born. We converted her crib just before her third birthday in celebration of her departure from babyhood.

I was prepared for nights of frustration, returning her to bed repeatedly just like I’d seen on SuperNanny. But to my delight and surprise, she never got out. She would sing or play in her bed, but she stayed right on it, if not in it. It was as if a magical border rose up when I left the room that could only be seen by her.

That same magical border now keeps my son safely in bed even as I write this. I am filled with wonder at how simple this potentially daunting transition has been. This is magic I hope both my son and I will continue to believe in for a very long time. 

Have you made the switch? How did it go for you and your child?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Learning to Launder (the British Way)

English Rain
Photo by Mrs.Timpers via Flickr
I'm sitting here, with hot coffee, reveling in a typically British day. It is misty, often drizzly, but as I don't have to step foot in it today, I'm enjoying it. My daughters are off to school without me, thanks to a wonderful woman who lives near us and works at the junior school my eldest attends. Heaven!

I hear the boy quietly, but obsessively, playing with his motorized Thomas the Tank, a gift from his third birthday a few weeks ago. We actually rode Thomas! More on that in another post.

Domesticity has altered slightly in this new land. I have to get used to a new set of tools, do without some old favorites and attempt to put a routine back into place. As it is Monday, I've got to get the house back in order from the weekend, though I got a jump-start on it yesterday by tidying one daughter's room and marveling in the oldest (7-years-old) doing her own!

It's the laundry that's got me in a bit of a conundrum. I have no dryer. I have a drying contraption that is anchored outdoors - where it is raining and where it rains nearly at least once a day. In the apartment we stayed in for the first two weeks I had a machine that was both washer and dryer. Brilliant British efficiency! It didn't dry very well, but it gave heavier items a good start and I hung them to finish them off.

In the two weeks we've been in the house, after one useless attempt at hanging clothes to dry outdoors, I've gone to draping socks and undies (pants, as they're called here - I've had to train myself to call dress-pants "trousers" so as not to inadvertently talk about underwear in public!) over heated towel bars and radiators and hanging dress shirts, jeans and trousers directly in the closets, doors left open, to dry.

I suppose I'll get the hang of it eventually, no pun intended. In the meantime, I'll be scouring Craigslist and sales adverts for a dryer!

Any tips from dryer-deprived readers?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hello Again! Inspired by a Comment

Well, there is nothing like an excellent comment to get me motivated to post. I was wavering back and forth this morning as to whether I should jump back in to the blog or just go vacuum, but The Bean Woman's comment on my last post (written exactly one month ago today) has pushed me from the utility closet and into the office... at least for a few minutes!

It's been exactly one month since I wrote last; exactly one month since we set off on this new adventure. It has been a very busy time. Two weeks with 5 of us stuck in a tiny service apartment and the past two weeks spent in our lovely English home. Two days since finally getting my Internet installed and getting back online.

Our Usual Morning Ride
Photo by BazzaDaRambler 
via Flickr
Today is the first day in weeks that I've been able to stay home with my little guy and send the girls off to school like reasonable people! Normally, I'm spending time and money in taxis and on buses and trains, with a 2 1/2 hour round-trip commute to a school that is just 10-minutes away by car. But, then, we don't have a car! Yet. Soon. Fortunately, Nature Girl's teacher hooked us up with another teacher who lives near us and she collected my daughters this morning and will drop them at my doorstep tonight, bless her! She's saved me 5-hours and $30 (a day!). You have no idea how grateful I am for this!

Now that I'm back, in the very near future you can expect a few book reviews, tales of Thomas the Tank (we rode him!), my views on faeries, dryers, accents and public transport as well as a informing you of a serious issue of international child abduction - scary, something I try to avoid thinking about, but that real people have to deal with every day. And so much more!

Finally, a question for my readers: do you feel that my blog title and writing focus are too disparate? Should I shake it up and change the name to something more in line with I actually publish? Do you have any suggestions? I'd appreciate hearing from you!