Thursday, December 17, 2009


Usually our Christmas vacation takes us somewhere warm and sunny. This year we traded sun for snow and cold and headed up to Finland. We booked a 3-night adventure to Levi, Finland - 150 km north of the Arctic Circle. The northern Finnish economy is traditionally depressed, but tourism, in the form of "Father Christmas" adventures, has managed to infuse certain resort towns with some welcome Euros.
We landed in Kittila and were greeted by our personal elf, "Jingle Bells." They outfitted us in thermal gear from head to toe and we sang Christmas carols on the bus to the resort - The Crazy Reindeer - or "Hullo Poro" in Finnish.
December in Northern Finland is cold and dark - and did I mention, COLD! Temperatures dropped to -30 while we were there and we only had about 4 hours of "greylight," as they call it, as it never really gets very bright.

Mira was full of smiles at the sight of snow

We did a lot of sledding while we were up north. The girls loved tobogganing at the bottom of the ski slope. It was odd tobogganing in the dark and realizing it was only 3pm in the afternoon. My body was really upside down - unsure of when to sleep and when to get up. If I lived there, I think I'd just want to sleep all the time.

On our first full day we booked a snowmobile safari to find Santa's cabin in the forest. The scenery was amazing - we travelled across frozen lakes and through icing-sugar forests. It was spectacular. The girls were really cold though as it was -27 that day.
We hauled the girls behind our snowmobile in a covered trailer - They had a reindeer hide and blanket to snuggle in but as they were stationary, it didn't really keep them warm.

Finally we found Santa and a fire-warmed cabin.

One of Santa's helpers in traditional Lappish dress.

Santa gave us a personal reindeer ride.

This is my favourite picture of Father Christmas!

On our second full day, Jingle Bells took us to Santa's workshop. We enjoyed a second personal visit with Santa. This day was Mira's 5th birthday and Santa made her smile when he "magically" knew it was her birthday. I'm not sure what we're going to do next year? Mira always seems to experience her birthday in some magical spot - She turned 3 at Disney World, 4 on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, and 5 above the Arctic Circle. I'm hoping that 6 will be spent at home in Toronto - the best place of all!

Santa looked a bit perplexed when I requested a 5-carat diamond necklace!
Mira opens her "early" gift from Santa.

Santa's workshop was a lovely, scenic location - a photographic dream really. I wish I had brought a tripod as the "greylight" made it a bit difficult to get focused shots - I think I did okay though :-)

Hannah with Jingle Bells.

Mira and Hannah make gingerbread cookies at Santa's workshop.

Hannah spent an hour playing on the one pink sled she found among the sea of blue and red ones. She finally figured out that moving keeps you warm in the cold!

The sky in the direction of the sun was a lovely pink - almost like a perpetual sunset.

On our last night, we enjoyed a "Gala" Christmas dinner. The girls made a friend from Southampton and had an excellent time - especially at the mini-disco.

And thus we finished our journey to the Arctic Circle. Most of our final day was spent at the Kittila airport where our flight was delayed by a staggering 4-hours! The bright side was that the girls got to spend more time with their new friends and the airport had a very comfy leather sofa and lots of children's toys.
Now we're back in Oxford and actually getting a little snow here. It's a bit funny - the threat of a bit of snow and everyone is in a panic. Gatwick got about 2cm and apparently is only working at half capacity today. A friend who works in London was told to stay home due to "severe weather." But the school is open so I'm enjoying my last couple of hours of peace and quiet before the holiday begins. Mom and Dad arrive on Monday to spend Christmas with us here in the UK.
So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you from all of us!

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like... well, not really

Here we are - December already! We'll have been here six months by the time the month closes. The Christmas shopping is done. Gifts have been shipped overseas. Our eight-pound Christmas tree is up. Carols and mince pies greet you at every corner (I have a theory about those mince pies - stay tuned) . The only thing missing is snow. Most days I'm heading out in just a sweater. The temperature drops at night and but during the day it's quite mild actually. Despite the lack of cold and white we're trying to get into the spirit.
Eating Crepes in Cheltenham
We drove to Cheltenham to sample the European tradition of the Christmas market. Originating in Germany, Christmas markets have creeped their way westward and several set up in city squares across England. Turns out the Cheltenham market is quite small - just 30 or so stalls selling crafts, mulled wine and yummy crepes - but it was a nice drive into the Cotswalds. It turns out Cheltenham is a bit of a shopping mecca so we got our retail fix in the mall there as well :-)

Hannah and Mira were a bit perplexed by this statue in the Cheltenham town square. It's called "The Rabbit and the Minotaur." Inter species dating at its finest.

This past weekend we popped over to Frilford to Millet's Farm where they have a popular Santa's Grotto. Here in the UK they have upped the Santa profit by creating whole "Father Christmas experiences" packaged as "Grotto's" Our "family" ticket cost an exorbitant fifteen pounds and consisted of a walk through a plastic forest with mechanized animals, story-telling elves, a visit with a very realistic Father Christmas, and, of course, the obligatory mince pie. The girls were quite excited to see Santa and have their photo taken and were pleased with paint-by-numbers toy he gave them - me? Not so much!

OK, the mince pie theory... Mince Pies are the quintessential British Christmas "treat." Little palm sized pastries, they are filled with raisins, sultanas and goo. They appear to be everywhere here at Christmas. Visit Santa and enjoy a complimentary mince pie. Do your grocery shop between 1 and 3pm and enjoy a complimentary mince pie. Fill your tank at this gas station and enjoy a complimentary mince pie... But, does anyone actually eat and enjoy these things? Hence my theory. I think mince pies are just a way to economically be festive. If you go to the hairdressers for instance, she offers you a mince pie and you feel all appreciated and valued as you politely decline - that plate of mince pies will last her the whole season!

Hannah and Mira have found Christianity! School here isn't anywhere near as politically correct as at home. Even though their school is officially non-denominational and has a multitude of Muslim and Hindu students, when it comes to the holiday season Christmas and Christianity rule. The girls have told us all about Baby Jesus and his birthday. They can name all of the nativity figures and regale us with very traditional and religious carols filled with hallelujahs and praise. It's quite an interesting experience for a traditionally agnostic family. It will be even more interesting when Poppa comes to visit in a couple of weeks.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Pox and Visitors from Edmonton

Moira, Mira & Sue draw at the Museum

Mira shows off the craft she made at the Ashmolean.

Moira and Hannah

I'm long overdue for a blog entry - I know. It's just been such a rough month I thought any blog writing would just be me whinging away about all our woes - not to mention that there were days when even the simple act of typing would have been impossible!

It all started with my fall - you read all about that in the last entry. Well, as I was typing that last entry, there was a virus bubbling through my blood stream, slowly and maliciously popping up on my skin in the form of, you guessed it, chicken pox. I guess I never had it as a child - apparently 1 in 10 adults haven't ever had the virus. Now that they vaccinate for chicken pox in Canada it would have been unlikely for me to be exposed. However, they don't vaccinate here. There was an outbreak in Mira's class and they dropped like flies. Brits are so funny - one kid gets the chicken pox and everyone sends their kids over to play so they'll catch it too - BIZARRE! As Mira has had her vaccination she had immunity. Still, she did get an extremely mild dose - just 4 pox and no other symptoms. However, that was enough to infect mommy! And let me tell you, chicken pox in an adult is not a pretty thing! I was sick - I was REALLY sick! And, I was REALLY ugly too. Chills, fevers, aches, and worst of all, itchy pox where no pox should be! I was covered - in my ears, in my mouth, in other unmentionable places. No fun at all. Poor Stan had to play SuperDad for a few days trying to juggle the kids, the house, and some work too.

I'm still whinging, aren't I? Oh well, sod it!

Unfortunately the pox lesions in my mouth left me susceptible to a thrush infection which carried down into my esophagus and left me unable even to swallow my own saliva, which in turn, led me to another hospital visit. Then when I just got that under control, I was blessed by a stomach flu to cap everything off! The good news is, short of the Bubonic Plague, I'm not sure there is anything left for me to catch. Although there has been an outbreak of Scarlett Fever at the school, so never say never.

All that being said, I am finally - touch wood - on the mend. I'm still suffering a bit from my fall, but nothing a couple of advil can't take care of. I got back into the gym this week and even spent an afternoon helping out in Hannah's class.

We also had some Canadian visitors last weekend. We couldn't put them up here due to all the germies and junk floating around our house, but we had a great time visiting with Sue, Derrick, Moira and Jane - friends from the old hood. Moira was in Mira's kindergarten class and the kids were so excited to be re-united. Sue and her family moved to Edmonton a few months before we moved here, so it was great to catch up and compare notes on adjusting to a new culture - yes, it sounds like Edmonton is a big adjustment too. We had a lovely dinner together and a romp through the newly renovated Ashmolean museum before they headed out to Nottingham for the next leg of their journey.

Now that all the illness has cleared, we are looking forward to December. We've booked our next adventure - to Finland. We are taking a 3-night trip to Northern Finland to meet Father Christmas (in his natural habitat :-) We're staying at a northern Ski resort in Levi which is up just above the Arctic Circle. We'll do some snow-mobiling, tobogganing, have a meet-up with Santa in his cabin in the woods, enjoy a Reindeer sleigh ride, and maybe even go ice-fishing. We are very excited! The girls are over-the-moon and keep telling their friends all about their trip to the "North Pole."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bumps and Bruises

In an effort to sample all aspects of British culture, I landed myself in the local ER on Sunday night. I'm embarrassed to say that I fell down the stairs. I thought that was something only old ladies and children did - now I might act like the later at times, but I like to think I'm not the former, not yet! Our flight of stairs is painted wood, curved and slippery. I've been nagging the kids since the day we moved in to slow down and hold on. I guess my advice was somewhat ironically lost on myself. I lost my footing at the top, went down on my back and then tumbled the rest of the way. I can't quite remember being in that much pain. We almost called an ambulance, but the vain and prideful part of me just couldn't bear to be strapped down on a back board and rushed into hospital for all the world to stare at. I was fairly sure I was just badly bruised and thought I should get x-rays just to make sure. So I hobbled out to the car and Stan and the girls (poor things were so scared!) whisked me away to the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Once my hubby and girls had me checked in, settled in a cubicle, and dosed with pain killers, Stan took the kids home. You know you've made it through a rite of passage as a parent when you've spent a night in casualty alone! After all, someone needs to look after the kiddies. I was pretty doped up so there really wouldn't have been much for Stan to do other than sit and stare at me anyway.

So I had my x-rays and thankfully there was no permanent damage - just bad bruising and inflammation so I cabbed it home with my "free" painkillers in my purse. ER treatment in the UK is 100% free for all. In conversations since I've discovered that this can result in abuse of the system as people will sometimes seek treatment in the ER to benefit from the free medication, as opposed to seeing their GP and having to pay a dispensing fee. That being said, it was nice to go home with the medication I needed and not have to worry about sending Stan out to find an all-night pharmacy - I don't think one of those even exists in Oxford.

The past few days has seen me mostly lying on the couch watching my fair share of trash TV. Stan has been doing triple-duty getting kids to and from school, taking care of household duties and trying to get some work done in-between. Bless him! I think I'm through the worst of it now and while I'll be stiff and sore for a few days yet, I'm getting back to normal.

What's the moral of the story? If you come to visit - bring non-skid slippers!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Halloween isn't as big a deal in the UK as it is in North America. However, our girls still craved a Halloween experience and we didn't want to disappoint. We dragged our sick selves (we've been down with a virus of some sort) to a nearby farm that was having a Halloween event. The girls wanted to be witches so we painted their faces and they donned their costumes.

Hannah reminded me a little too much of the Wizard of Oz Witch!

Mira was feeling pretty yucky and wouldn't pose for a proper picture.

Mira makes a mask for the "Trick or Treat" trail.

To top off the day we carved a pumpkin!

While we were at the farm centre we checked out their Christmas display and came across this!