Monday, December 26, 2016

Another year down!

We’ve survived 2016 (well, nearly there anyway)! Here’s an update from the four of us.

In terms of the day to day, it’s admittedly not been a great year of cultivating grown-up hobbies, but we’ve gotten out around town on the weekends with friends, usually friends with kids, to parks and pubs (if it’s not raining) or museums and pubs (if it is). Most of the museums in Oxford are free, and we’re making full use of them. This year we’ve enjoyed teaching Tor to ride a bike, celebrating a slew of children’s birthdays, participating in church events, and attending school concerts and plays for both boys.

Tor is nearly six and in the UK equivalent of first grade, Year 1 (which kids go into a year younger than in the US). He has complicated, ever-changing relationships with the kids at school, but mostly they stay positive and he’s looking forward to his sixth birthday party at the local bowling alley with several little buddies. His biggest challenge this year has been to focus on the more curriculum-based kind of learning he’s being asked to do, compared to the play-based nature of last year’s class. This year he learned how to swim 5 meters without help, began reading simple books, discovered Pokemon trading cards, and played out countless imaginary scenarios with family and friends (most frequently with Col, and lately involving an enormous stuffed bear). Here is Tor telling us about learning a Christmas song at school (with a cameo by Col eating a soft-boiled egg).

Col keeps a sunny disposition most of the time, though he’s started to assert his own desires much more this year and can cross over to the dark side in the blink of an eye when disputing whose turn it is with a toy, who gets to lead the way into preschool, or where he’ll sit at dinnertime. After about a year of halfhearted effort, he finally conquered toilet-training shortly after his third birthday (October 15)—just in time to switch to a new preschool on January 4, so fingers crossed there’s no backsliding in the strange environment. He worships his big brother and does his best to imitate whatever Tor does, for better or worse. He sings the ABCs loudly and proudly but can’t yet recognize many individual letters. When we put him to bed, he asks for “a big cuddle…now a little cuddle…now a big cuddle” and will carry on that way until we say “last time.” He’s speaking in full sentences though the pronunciation is still touch and go. Here he is singing “Feliz Navidad” (practicing for his Christmas concert). The non-traditional line he throws in there is, “Now in English!” 

Elissa continued at Oxford University Press this year, still overseeing the UK team in charge of outsourcing academic book production, which grew to seven people in 2016, and also heading up a new team of four responsible for manufacturing all of the new academic books coming out of the UK office (about 1600 titles a year). It’s been a year filled with new things to learn and chances to think about better ways to get from submitted manuscripts all the way through to finished products!

Lars worked this year to further establish his lab and research group, which now consists of three Master's students, two PhD students, and one postdoc. Two years of work culminated in the first experiments on Lars's new rock deformation apparatus, squishing rocks at 2500 degrees F. Expect pictures next year of all sorts of tortured rocks!

This year we said goodbye to our much-loved Dendro, who joined our family in 2001. We were fortunate to be able to visit him at Karen and Andy’s shortly before he passed. He had a good long life, and we’ll see him on the other side where we’re confident he’s now able to catch Frisbees and chase cows once again.

A highlight of the year was a couple of family trips. In February we headed to Austria for a week, where we met up with Norm and Charmaine and Tor’s godparents, Josh and April. Charmaine hung out with Col while the rest of us skied, including Tor, who spent five days in the ski school and came out eager to return next year. Then in August we took two and a half weeks to visit family on the West Coast, including Lars’s cousin Morgan’s wedding; a relaxing time with Andy, Karen, Tim, Caitlin, and Mormor; and an epic Disneyland trip with Norm and Charmaine—the kids were the perfect age to feel the Disney magic!

Merry Christmas to all and a joyous New Year!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Seems so long ago...

You know you're delinquent at updating your blog when all your posts start with comments on how long it's been since your last post. This is a new record for me, though--nearly four months. Turns out I had the below draft sitting from June, and most of the pictures are from May, so this is a little outdated, but to be followed with pictures from later summer. (We just got back from 2.5 weeks in the US and are collating photos from multiple sources! Also, Tim and Caitlin came to visit us!)

Scene: Bedtime
Me: OK, I'm going to put on some music for you.
Tor: What is the music about?
Me: It's just piano music.
Tor: Is it about somebody kicking people?

Scene: After school
Tor: Do you know what we're going to make in our class?
Me: What?
Tor: Tea towels. Each class is going to make one and we're going to put our pictures on them. So I drew a picture of my face. The teachers will put it on the towel and print it out. And you can buy one because they'll be for sale.
Me: Sounds like a good project. We will definitely buy one if they're for sale.
Tor: And Mrs. Varpur said they last forever, too.

Tor's final school presentation? Put a bird on it!

We went on a hike with our Cambridge-based buddies the Lascus to celebrate Ioana's and my shared birthday. It was the one day of the year that it snowed.

Off to catch dinner

Even better!

Practicing for his Jungle Book audition

I have no idea where this hat came from. Seriously

Playing hairdresser in the tub

Lars and Tor put together Tor's first robotics project, complete with Tor accompanying DaDa to the store to pick out all the necessary bits and pieces. This was notably also Tor's first soldering project.
The result: a teeny scorpion that turns to keep moving whenever it walks into a wall. So basically a Roomba. 

A rare moment of unity when waiting for the bus

"Driving" said bus

Brace yourself, Col

Teddy bear tea--sans parental prompting

Post-tea-party parallel Lego play

"Sun's out, guns out" was actually Oxford Castle's original motto


Spotted: on a treasure hunt at after-school club

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and other stories

We're enjoying an un-English warm and dry stretch of weather this week and celebrating by toilet training! Here is an ironically unappetizing reading of the children's classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar as told to a 2.5-year-old trying to eliminate. (Spoiler alert: no actual elimination takes place in this video, despite Col's claims to the contrary.)

While I'm at it, here are a few more photos from the past six weeks (!) since I've updated the blog.

March: Easter!
Separate egg hunts this year minimized stress and maximized eggs per kid                            

That crazed, glazed Easter chocolate look

Moving too fast for my shutter speed

Rocking the Easter finery for daycare

Lego action at the Good Friday children's carnival

Aaaaand pulpit action


Enjoying delicious "agar jelly" at a science-themed b-day party

How Oxford's one BBQ joint lost its pig

Hogging the church steps as usual after the service

I swear this idea had nothing to do with me

We'll call them simply "Hansen"


First nice day out!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Because Photos Don't Do It Justice

Finally posting a few videos on YouTube from the last several months. Here are three from December 1, 2015, and another three from the final day of Tor's first week of skiing, February 19, 2016 (featuring Pakka as guest narrator).

Every day with the boys

Col, laser pointer. Laser pointer, Col's mouth.

Decorating the tree

Short slalom I

Short slalom II

The big hill

Friday, March 11, 2016


There is no US equivalent to this time off of school: whereas US kids sensibly get a week off for spring break, UK kids get a week off in February, then two weeks off over Easter. It is a childcare nightmare.

So we decided to forego the logistical headaches for the February week and take the entire family on vacation. And where better to go than somewhere with elevation and snow, the two qualities most notably absent from Oxford?

Avid readers may remember Hinterstoder, Austria, from our summer vacation there. It was sleepy in the summer but in the winter it buzzes with skiers. It's had a mild winter, and for a few days it was wickedly foggy, but the snow felt good and we were outside--and it's been a goal to get Tor into ski school, so we ripped off the bandaid there.

The view from the top

Joining us were Ahbee and Pakka and the Siglers, happily (at least for us). We had a night in Vienna on either end and six nights in Hinterstoder itself, the latter in the same hotel which featured a downstairs with Legos and a train set as well as a tunnel connecting to a neighboring restaurant. (We ate there a lot.)

Vienna: Ahbee escapes the dominion of midgets


Arriving at the hotel . . . with iPad

In one of history's great acts of generosity, Ahbee volunteered to hang out with Col while the rest of us skied. The relatively mild winter let them stroll around the town, and of course they spent plenty of time reading, singing, playing with all manner of toys, and coaxing Col to nap. The first day, they came up the mountain with the rest of us to check out the slopes, riding the same gondola that we took last summer.

100% covered in hand-me-downs

We'd booked Tor for all-day ski school before arriving: two hours of skiing in the morning, 1.5 hours for lunch, then two more hours of skiing in the afternoon. Keep in mind this was his first time on skis. Ahbee and Pakka got him some sweet ski outfits, so he was warm in the snow and amped to get out there.

Facing day 1 head on

Tor stuck it out like a champ on days 1 and 2. He was tired in the afternoons, but not too tired to want to show us his new skills after we collected him from the kids' area. This led to repeated magic carpet rides and short, shallow-sloped runs that alternated between Tor making some legit turns by focusing on his pizza and Tor bombing down the hill on his French fries. (Those are technical skiing terms.)

Magic carpet in action

Pizza at work

Child-free skiing--this may not happen again for a good decade

On day 2, the instructor told us that Tor wasn't keeping pace with the other newbies, so she recommended he move to a half-day course plus lunch. Frankly this suited us fine, since we'd been getting pretty tired by the early afternoon and were willing to pick him up then and head down the hill. (One of the days he even talked us out of putting him in the lunch program, since "I can't understand anybody and I'm lonely." First solid experience with a language barrier: check.)

Hot chocolate: the best reward

On day 5, Tor's class had a slalom "race" where each kid got to make their own run and get timed. This was followed by an award ceremony where all the kids got medals. Tor came in third because he missed every gate--clearly disqualification was not an option for these long-suffering teachers.

Still smiling after a long day

Recovering from his sprint down the hill

"Third place and didn't hit a gate, suckers"
Hitching a ride
On day 5 we skied all the way down the mountain with Tor instead of taking the gondola. It took about an hour, and he melted down a few times, but a very patient DaDa and continuous encouragement from Josh and April held him together in the main.

Following the leader
While not skiing, we filled our hours by visiting nearly every restaurant in town, the local mountain museum, and the very chilly playground, and of course by simply chilling at the hotel together.

For our final night in Austria, we drove back to Vienna (well, Pakka drove--a 9-passenger rental van). We took the afternoon/evening to explore Stefansdom, a huge cathedral, and the Prater, a public amusement park where you pay per ride but the grounds are open to all. This included a ride on the Riesenrad, Vienna's famous ferris wheel.

Traveling in style

Clowning at the cathedral

"View, shmew. Check out this bar!"

The bell did not ring.

"How much is that doggie in the window?"

Round 2 of 3 on this particular attraction

The most froufrou sheets they'll ever sleep on

Highly impressed by Viennese public transport

Toddler's first headphones: the Heathrow bus back to Oxford

Home! and slipping into something more comfortable