Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 31, 2013 - Year's End

One of these years, I am going to plan properly in advance and do some kind of awesome blog post to close out the year (like Erica@tothesea).  But until that time, I am stuck in a cycle of last minute reflections to squeeze in before the ball drops.

Best of 2013: We had an amazing visit with Rasmus, Jytte, Josefine and Nikoline last Easter with an incredible safari, including the hot air balloon ride of my childhood dreams. We found out about the BBG.  We (just) found out that we don't have to move in 2014.  For me, I finally made friends here in Dar...not just acquaintances, but actual true friends (even though I had to say goodbye to one of them when she moved away).  

Other Stuff in 2013: In addition to substitute teaching, I took on meaningful work on the Board of Grace & Noah's school, which certainly keeps me busy.  I enjoyed a lot of time with Grace and Noah, but also wish that I had prioritized "me time" a bit more (note to self:  do that in 2014...you know, with a newborn!).  We came closer towards signing a contract with a literary agent for our children's book and really hope to seal the deal with him to kick off the new year.  So 2014 could FINALLY be the year for our Santa.  Grace and Noah grew and changed and developed so much this year.  It is a great joy to watch them play together, be best friends (and occasionally worst enemies), love and look out for each other as they do.  In 2013, we said goodbye to Oldemor/Mormor/Karen.  She will be missed this coming year as we welcome a new baby into the family, but she left us with so many happy memories and handmade family treasures that we will surely pass on to the BBG as well.  It was special for us that we could at least tell her before she died that the baby was coming, and we know that she was very happy about it.  

Hopes for 2014: It goes without saying, but I am hoping and praying for a sweet, healthy baby come April.  If we get that, than nothing else really matters.  But for icing on the cake:  the other two kids will sleep through the night and not be wearing pull-ups at night anymore either.  Kristoffer will thrive at work and be happy with the new kind of work his new position offers him.  And I will not be sleep deprived for the whole year because our baby will be a good sleeper who does not have any enlarged adenoids (remember, Noah!)!  I really hope to see Noah grow in his own independence, Grace grow in her own confidence, and me not completely fall apart when she trots off to proper kindergarten in August.  I hope that Kristoffer and I will find ways to stay sane and connected to each other when we have three kids..the first year of a baby is always hard, but I am hoping this time around we've learned a thing or two from the past.

Kristoffer says:  I hope to spend even more time with the kids, to become a better sailor, to pursue innovative ideas towards reducing poverty in Africa, to be an energetic father of three, and to test new dietary pursuits for healthy living, to get our Santa book published already! 

Grace & Noah: have no attention span for talking to me about this past year or the coming year.  I've tried three times in the last two days.  They always go off topic and starting talking about birthday parties or something else unrelated like dragons.  The take away from this is that in 2013 and 2014, they really love birthdays! And I do know for a fact that they are VERY excited for the arrival of the BBG (see photos below).  Noah is asking if the doctor can take the baby out pretty much every morning when he wakes up. He has even told us that we have many knives at our house and could probably just do the job here.  (creepy...but sweet, right?  Note to self:  never turn your back on Noah!)

Finally: To close out 2013, today we purchased some gently used baby items from a departing expat. As you can see, Big Sister Grace and Future Big Brother Noah, were totally psyched.  We now have to put the items away or surely they will no longer be in good shape by the time the BBG needs them.  But this is a picture of our future - cheers to what and who 2014 will bring into our lives!


Monday, December 30, 2013

December 30, 2013 - Winter Staycation

(Also - our 800th blog milestone!  Wow, it's been a long 800 blogs...but where did the time go?!)

For the holidays this year, we have taken the very easy, potentially boring route of staying home.  While most expats here get out of dodge the second they have the chance, we are saving Kristoffer's precious days off of work for the arrival of the BBG.  And with that big trip looming, as well as the one we just took to Denmark in September and the one I took to America in November, days and dollars did not allow us to venture very far off of this little peninsula we live on.

But Kristoffer did take one day off work, Christmas Eve, and then was given the 25th, 26th and 27th off anyway. So for the price of one day, he didn't have to go to work for six days.  Not bad!  For our staycation we spent a lot of time in the pool and at the beach.  We've had many playdates with lots of friends, ate at the few restaurants in town that are actually still open right now (almost everything closes down for two weeks...not reopening until Monday January 6th!), and spent a lot of time coloring, building Legos, playing with our new Christmas toys, and having Far build crazy forts for us wherever and whenever possible.  

Scenes from our staycation looked like this:

(yes, I brought supplies for s'mores back from America and tried to get everyone to do it by candlight in our air conditioned house...but they did not enjoy it at all - can you tell?!?! I loved the results but admit that the experience was not quite the same as being outside over a campfire!)

And our big milestone during this staycation was that Grace has been having swimming lessons almost every day and she can swim without her wings on now!  Just in the shallow end for now, where she can finally touch on tippee toes - but that gives her just enough confidence to practice her kicks and strokes without her wings on.  She has come a LONG way in the last year in terms of her fear of water (and getting her face/head wet, especially) and we are really proud of her.  She LOVES it and is working hard to get better at being independent in the water.  Woo hoo!
The kids are actually not back to school until Monday the 6th (when everything else on the peninsula reopens as well!), which is when our staff return from their holiday trips to their home countries...so our staycation has also included a LOT of washing dishes and hanging out laundry and sweeping the floors.  A good reminder that we are able to do these things for ourselves - but in the super hot season and getting more pregnant by the day...well, let's just say I will be very happy to welcome our staff back in the new year.

Kristoffer has Wednesday off so on Tuesday night we are going to push our luck and try to stay awake until midnight to see fireworks over the beach while the kids are with a backup babysitter.  Being tired at the start of the new year is certainly great foreshadowing for our new life with a newborn in April!


Sunday, December 29, 2013

December 29, 2013 - Catching up on Conferences

I've been meaning to blog about Grace and Noah's parent-teacher conferences at school for weeks.  And now with only three days left in the year - and my OCD desire to reach 100 blogs this year - it seems like a good time.  (P.S. about that...I feel a little sad to only have 100 blogs, if I make it before Wednesday, but I suppose (and hope) that not enough time to blog means I was busy living my great life, and that is not something to feel sad about!  With the arrival of the BBG in April, I think we should expect a spike in cute baby photo blogs, right?)

I met with Noah's two teachers and two of Grace's teachers in November after I came back from the US for their annual conferences.  In both cases, it was overwhelmingly lovely to receive detailed, honest, and interesting feedback about our kids from adults who so obviously know them well and care about them a lot.

About Noah: He has progressed in leaps and bounds since last year.  His language is coming along really well: he speaks in both English and Danish, using English to help him if he can't say something in Danish, and even though he does not speak Norwegian or Swedish he does understand his teachers who speak those languages to him. This year he has been able to bond and develop friendships, primarily playing with his two best girlfriends or hunting down Grace and her friends across the playground.  Lately he has been branching out and playing a littl more with the other two boys his age, and he really seems fascinated by the very little ones (18 months old).  Even though in January he will be old enough to move up to Grace's class, we will keep him where he is until August when she will be starting formal kindergarten anyway (no need to add more changes to our spring!). The teachers say that he is sweet and loving and does not usually have behavior problems...he has gotten much better at sharing, waiting in line for his turn to do things, and using his words to communicate his feelings and needs (last year there was a biting phase which we are happy to be out of).  He needs to work on being a little bit more independent...sometimes he doesn't even want to try do things himself (like dressing himself) before whining for help, which we also notice at home and are trying to improve. He is a very good eater at school, which is great since eating well at home remains a challenge. In general, the teachers enjoy having him and love his happy,smiling, loving nature.  They say he LOVES anything to do with nature or being physically active (riding bikes! running! tumbling! and especially climbing!).  In other words, he is a great kid, and we're so lucky he's ours.  I was really flattered and appreciative hearing these words about our son. 

(from their Lucia show at school)

About Grace: Grace has been going to this school for almost two years now, and her teachers know her really well.  They have seen her blossom from being the shy, new girl to being the "big kid on campus".  I was really surprised when they told me that she is incredibly popular with all of the other children who really want to play with her.  Her teachers said she is a girl who is always very welcoming to new children or new teachers or visitors.  Her greatest strength is her gift of language:  she is completely fluent in English and Danish and has an advanced vocabulary in both languages.  I am told her Swedish is also very good for her age (and for not being Swedish!), and while her Norwegian is not as advanced she is conversational in that language too. She is a bit emotional in her friendships...we had tough period of time in the fall when her best friend felt smothered by her (she is a really intense friend!) and started to push her away (to which she did not respond well).  She had to figure out how to play with different people and to share her friends with others.  She was really stressed (I think it was related to her four close girlfriends from last year all leaving at the same time) and had to work her way through it, but on the other side now she has broadened her friendships and does not take rejection so badly.  She is better able to cope with balancing more than one good friend at a time and not being so intense.  She is generally much more flexible now.  Her teachers told me that she is one of the most loving kids they know...greeting all of the teachers with a hug everyday and eagerly sharing news of her life and family with them.  She is easily able to bond with kids and adults, and articulates her feelings and needs well.  She loves anything to do with learning letters, numbers, writing, making art projects...she even eats well at school, which totally blows our mind (but thank God, because she is still really low weight for her age and height right now). They think she is quite ready for formal school and that she will handle the transition well in August, although they will miss her happy, loving personality quite a lot.  Once again, magical words to hear from adults who so obviously love and take good care of our daughter. 

So three cheers for ending 2013 with such positive reports on the school front.  For us, having the Nordic School in Dar is one of the biggest highlights of our life here and these conferences always remind me of how happy I am that (even though it is a very different system from American preschools) our kids have been able to attend.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December 25, 2013 - Christmas Day / Big News Part 2

And then it was Christmas morning!  The children were VERY curious to see if Santa paid us a visit.  
So downstairs we went at 6:10 am...
...and this is what they found...

They were very cute sitting and opening up their presents from Santa.  They each got a "surf" (boogie) board, some new Legos, a new dinosaur and then Noah got new goggles and Gracie got a new water bottle (their cool new castle from Nene and Pops, featured in the background below).
They also loved opening up their stockings full of interesting stuff (new underwear, toothbrushes, band aids, combs...did Santa have a theme?).  But then came time for the BIG reveal...and Grace proudly did the honors of reading us the news!

A BBG (Bonus Baby Girl!) for Christmas!  How wonderful!

By 8:00 am we needed something to do so we headed off to the pool with some of our new gear.  Grace got to show her Far that she can swim without wings now (it's been one week of her new skill and she is still so proud and excited!) and we enjoyed a not-too-hot morning in Dar.  At home again we played with new toys and watched some new shows.  We were just gearing up for our brunch at Dar's Hyatt Regency (The Kilimanjaro) Hotel.  It was a bit of a stretch with two tired kids and a big jump in super hot temperature outside - but WOW the food was good.  And the BBG enjoyed a wee bit of champagne as well.

Good thing we brought the iPad though! It was needed in the end, and allowed Kristoffer and I to really enjoy our meal before heading home. 
  The rest of our Christmas day was spent playing and playing and playing, and talking to most of our distant loved ones on Skype or Facetime to share the good news of the BBG and wish them a Merry Christmas. Our two tired kiddos were sound asleep by 6:30 pm...now THAT'S what I call a Christmas present!   

Our family has really enjoyed and appreciated this holiday together, and we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!
With love from Dar,
Lisa, Kristoffer, Grace, Noah and the BBG
(and Tanzanian Santa too)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

December 24, 2013 - Christmas Eve / Juleaften / Big News Part 1

Our Christmas Eve/Juleaften was AWESOME.  We started by having breakfast with Grace and Noah's good friends Freya and Helena (and their parents, our good friends Mabel and Soren).  We all ate together really delicious food and the kids played and the parents talked and laughed and we had a great time.  They exchanged their first gifts of the holiday and it was a really great morning for all of us. Wish I had a picture of the grown ups!

We went home for mandatory naps - ALL FOUR OF US - and that was pretty awesome too.  When we woke up Kristoffer started to make traditional Danish rice porridge for dinner and I baked chocolate chip cookies for Santa Claus (and, you know, the rest of us).  Grace and Noah also delivered Christmas doggy bones to our security dogs before dinner.  

After dinner we finished watching the Nissebanden Julecalendar before it was time to light the Christmas tree, sings songs and dance around the tree, and open gifts (all but the ones from Santa Claus).  After all these years as a couple - more than 10! - I can still say, that one of my favorite "new" things that Kristoffer brought into my life is the beauty of a candle-lit Christmas tree. It never gets fails to just take my breath away - even a tiny, fake Christmas tree like ours.  

Grace and Noah opened many wonderful gifts (of which there are almost no decent pictures) including a wooden castle that they were instantly playing with, new dragons, puzzles, two new DVDs, and great new reading material.

But Noah's favorite, favorite, favorite gift was/is his REAL tools from Farmor and Hans.  Last night he even slept with the (real - honestly, not plastic) screwdriver!
And one of Grace's favorite gifts was her Lego "Friends" car, also from Farmor and Hans, that she put together with Far last night. He was very impressed with her skills at following the directions!
I think it was one of their latest nights ever - Grace and Noah didn't leave out Santa's cookies and milk until almost 9 pm...

and fell asleep even later than that because they were so wound up and silly (in their new Christmas/beach pajamas)!

 Kristoffer and I got new iPhones for Christmas this year so we didn't have a lot going on in the gift-giving department.  But he did give me something that I can FINALLY share here.  His contract has officially been extended past February, which is when it was due to end.  We have been waiting and waiting and waiting and HOPING AND PRAYING that we wouldn't have to move in February (jobless, homeless, no health insurance...) because that would be really bad timing with a baby on the way.  We found out two weeks ago that his extension and transfer to a new sector within the Bank was approved, but he did not get the official letter until this week and then apparently saved it for me to open for Christmas.  He is now a Water and Sanitation Specialist with the World Bank and we can stay in Tanzania for a possible three more years.  Job Security as our family expands = MERRY CHRISTMAS!

The first part of our Christmas 2013 was so lovely!  I am so grateful for a day of great friends and really wonderful memories for our little family.  Couldn't be more blessed!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December 18, 2013 - Christmas Spirit

I have been meaning to share a bit more about our Christmas activities around here but our internet has been supremely uncooperative (and we hope to be solving that problem this weekend).  It definitely feels weird to people who grew up in very cold and/or snowy places in the winter to be in Dar for Christmas, where it is just plain middle-of-the-summer.  It is really, really hot right now.  We’re back to the season of taking a few cold showers a day OR not leaving the air-conditioned house (which is tough!).  But with little kids who do not have a long history of wintery Christmases, there is no problem celebrating Christmas here for them. 

First we had to address the issue of how Santa Claus will get into our house. With Grace’s and Noah’s letters to Santa (see below) we sent him a special key to come in with their presents since we do have a lot of security and no chimney.  This was of great concern to Grace (thanks to all my Facebook friends who suggested the magic key for Santa!). 

We’ve decorated our (very) little tree to be quite pretty despite its size.

We have our nativity set out and an African nativity advent calendar growing each day as well.

The kids have been watching an old Danish Christmas calendar on DVD – one episode every day.  Danish TV does a story every year where each day in December there is a new episode leading up to Christmas, and Grace particularly loves Nissebanden i Gronland (circa 1989) that Farmor sent us to watch. They have also been opening up a Christmas/advent calendar where they each get one small (in cost, if not in size) gift each morning leading up to Christmas.

We made our gingerbread houses, as you’ve seen.  And there are little nisse/elves all over the house, with our stockings are hanging on window bars by our tree.

The kids had their Lucia celebration at school, along with making lots of Christmas decorations and other celebrations there with their friends.

Kristoffer and I have even been to two – soon to be three! – Danish Christmas lunches (Julefrokost); Grace and Noah even came to the one at the Danish Ambassadors house.  So we really have been in the spirit of the season, despite having summer weather.   Grace and Noah are getting super excited for Santa’s visit (despite worrying about him being overdressed for the Dar heat…and of course alternating every day between “naughty” and “nice”).

On the 24th, which Kristoffer calls Christmas and I call Christmas Eve, we will have a brunch with our friends in the morning before having an afternoon/dinner/evening/dancing around the Christmas tree/exchanging gifts on our own at home.  If I can come up with a Catholic mass to attend that will not be completely miserable (no fans or A/C, no seats, hundreds of people) then we will go to church (that would be a Christmas miracle, I think!).

On the 25th, which I call Christmas, the kids will open their treats from Santa and we’ll have a cozy morning at home before going to a lovely brunch at one of Dar’s nicest hotels…probably followed by some afternoon naps and maybe a trip to the beach.  We expect quite a few Skype or Facetime calls to America and Denmark – especially with the news of Bonus Baby being opened Christmas morning.  THAT will be awesome and I do feel a wee bit like a little kid anticipating the opening of that secret envelope. 

We’re mixing new and old traditions, still working out what a Welsien Family Christmas looks like since it is only our third time being “alone” without our either of our families for the holiday.

Despite missing our families, there is something a little bit WONDERFUL about not dealing with international holiday travel (oh God, the snow storm in Amsterdam last year when trying to get to Denmark!) and lugging so much STUFF everywhere!  There is also something sweet about having one special Christmas on our own as a family of four before we become a family of five.

Christmas is in the (very hot, humid, muggy) air in Dar for sure!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

December 14, 2013 - Christmas "Lordag Slik"

Kristoffer grew up with the tradition of having "Lordag Slik" (Saturday candy) as a kid. This meant that he didn't get sweets or anything during the week, but would also get candy or some kind of treat on Saturday.  It is something we try to do with our kids too, which not only limits them asking for cookies and ice cream or candy during the week, but gives them something special to do on Saturdays when we go to the store and they can pick something they want.  We do make exceptions now and then, but we try to stick to it.

And today we had a very special kind of Lordag Slik because we made "gingerbread" houses! I think my mom started this tradition when my oldest nephews were very small, and she still does it every year with whichever grand kids she can get her hands on. Making these houses involves using graham crackers, frosting and tons of candy.  Totally awesome! Last year Grace loved doing it with her cousins at my parents' house and she has requested doing them before Christmas several times since then. 

So when I went to the US I stocked up on supplies which Grace and Noah have been watching and waiting for these last several weeks.  And we decided that today was the day...so it was sort of like Lordag Slik on speed :)

What I liked best about the process was that our family sat at the table having fun together for more than an hour, listening to Christmas music, getting a huge sugar high and being super silly.  It was awesome. There were definitely challenges though...such as the melting frosting making it pretty difficult to STICK anything and the somehow stale graham crackers being pretty soft and breakable. But hey, we are surrounded by development challenges on a daily basis here so perhaps it was just fitting that our houses felt a bit "East African" anyway.  It was messy and fun for all of us.  Grace wanted our team to copy a lot of what Far and Noah were doing so they were more the idea team, but ours turned our a little bit neater and more organized (if I do say so myself).  Noah was very serious about unwrapping all of the different candies, and eating them!  Grace was hoarding her unused stash for later and was concerned with decorating the whole "compound" with  an external (candy) wall, just like all of the compounds here.

Such a fun family tradition that we all enjoyed, and we briefly Facetimed with my mom so she could chime in, which made her feel close even though we are so far. Happy Holidays!