Author Archives: rothljen

Happy Birthday Roman!

This year for Roman’s birthday I was determined to have a party! It was really the first time in our childrens’ lives that we’ve been in a living situation that would allow us to host a significant number of guests, and we were excited to have a big social event.

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The main entertainment was a bouncy castle that just barely fit in our front yard. We offered a simple lunch of hot dogs, watermelon, and assorted side dishes to satisfy both children and adults. I had every intention of decorating, but in the end we just blew up a big bag of balloons and let them scatter throughout the house, which was perfect–two-year-olds don’t have high expectations! We had several friends and their families over and had a wonderful time chatting and eating. Roman had a great time at the party, and after the guests left he got some more solo time on the bouncy castle before it was picked up.

On his actual birthday, the following Monday, we had another chance to celebrate. I had people over at our house for a Visiting Teaching activity. The grown-ups, all mommies, had manicures and pedicures. It was perfect, because the kids had so much fun playing together, and we still had lots of food that I had stockpiled for the party but hadn’t needed, so we had plenty for lunch. Several of the little girls had their nails painted and after one girl got up, Roman saw his chance and jumped right in the chair for his turn. We didn’t want to disappoint him on his birthday, so we helped him pick out a lovely green, which he loved!

In the evening we had another round of opening presents, these ones from family, and ate the last of the birthday cake. It was a wonderful way for Roman to commemorate being years old. We love you, Roman!

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Have Kids, Will Travel

We arrived in Stuttgart, Germany on Sunday afternoon, and that evening drove around the city to help me feel a more oriented when I would have to navigate on my own the following week. Despite some some doubts, I woke up the next morning with my courage renewed and a plan for action.

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The kids and I headed to the tram station for a ride to the train station, and then on to the zoo downtwon. There was one hiccup along the way, which did require me to purchase a map (money well spent!), but overall I was quite proud of myself. We bought our tickets and in we went to look at flamingos, kangaroos, penguins, and Elena’s favorite: deer–strange, I know. We had bratwurst and fries for lunch at a zoo cafe, then spent the rest of the afternoon looking at polar bears, giraffes, elephants, camels, and all kinds of monkeys. The kids especially enjoyed the small play areas scattered all over the zoo, which gave me a chance to sit down occasionally. The zoo also has some beautiful botanical gardens with lily ponds. Roman, the water lover, walked right into one of them. One shoe and pant leg up to his waist were soaked, but he just had to air dry because I didn’t bring spare clothes! He didn’t seem to mind. When it was time to head home, we were at the opposite side of the zoo from the entrance. The kids were exhausted and I knew it was going to take forever to get them to the gate and onto the tram, to get to the train, to get home. I took a chance on a tucked-away side exit in the hope that we would decrease our walking distance. It seemed lucky at first; there was a tram station very close, but then we got on the wrong tram more than once and ended up walking a mile back to the hotel. The kids were so tired, but they were troopers! I felt victorious in our first day’s adventures!

The next day we returned back to the center of Stuttgart to explore a large park that advertised rides on a miniature train and a petting zoo. It was not the bustling center of activity we had envisioned. After walking, and walking, and walking some more we finally found a play area. Nearby there was a large penned-in area with goats grazing and horses. You could reach through the fence and touch the animals, so maybe that was the petting zoo? The kids played on the playground for a couple hours and we had a picnic lunch. When we were starting to head back, we saw that the ride along train was in operation, so we hurried back and had a fun ride on the train before leaving the park.

On Wednesday we tried to find a place to do a load of laundry, but were unsuccessful. Instead I did some by hand. We met Mark for lunch and then headed to the museum and factory of Ritter Sport, a a favorite German chocolate brand. This time there was no train, so I drove and was proud to find our way without difficulty. I thought there would be more to do than shop for discounted chocolate in their factory store, but that was really the main attraction. We made the most of the opportunity and stocked up for our long car ride back to England.

On Thursday, I decided to take the kids to Sensapolis, an elaborate playhouse on the outskirts of the city. I should have driven, but I wanted to get my money’s worth from the three day “Travel Stuttgart” pass I bought on Tuesday. It took us about an hour to get there, including a train trip, bus ride, and long walk. We were already tired when we walked in the door! Things went from bad to worse when they wouldn’t take my credit card and there was no ATM nearby, but in the end they gave us a “distressed tourist discount”. The place really was amazing! It had a huge spaceship, a three story castle, giant slides, a science center area, and even a high ropes course with a zip line and a climbing wall. The kids had a blast! They wouldn’t hardly touch the lunch I brought because they were too busy playing. Eventually it was time to go, so we started back towards the hotel, but the trip home was anything but routine: confusion led to bad decisions, and it took us two and a half hours to arrive at the rendezvous point we had arranged with Mark. It would have taken 30 minutes if we had driven! We were exhausted, but headed straight to a dinner with the group Mark had been teaching that week, which turned out to be quite pleasant.

It was good that we were leaving on Friday because the kids and I were ready for a rest! I let them watch German cartoons while I packed the car, then we picked up Mark, ate lunch and said good-bye to Stuttgart! We had a great time!

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Getting Jewel to England

Jewel has been part of my life ever since she showed up as a small kitten on my father’s lawn when I was staying with him after my college graduation. After diligently searching for her rightful owner and coming up empty handed, I decided she should be my kitty. Jewel has lived in a surprising number of places for a cat: Washington, Virginia, Texas (in 5 different apartments), Maryland, and now she can add England to her list. After missing her for the six months last year that we were in England, I knew we couldn’t come back unless she made the trip with us.

As our plans began to fall into place, Mark and I investigated the rules for bringing a pet into the UK. They were not as clear as we would have hoped. We spoke to people who had brought pets previously; several indicated they had run into problems along the way. The memory of our stressful travel day to England last year was vivid in my mind when I decided to call a pet shipping company to see if they could take care of it.

Blake, the pet shipping representative, spoke with me several times over the ensuing weeks. He assured me that everything would be fine, we would get everything taken care of and that it was perfectly reasonable I was stressed out about getting my cat overseas. I purchased the correct transport crate, made vet appointments, and gathered the required paperwork.

In time it became clear that Blake’s company was only familiar with getting pets to London. We ran through several different scenarios on how to get Jewel to Harrogate, about 3 hours away from London, but each seemed overly complicated or overly expensive, when using a pet shipper is already not cheap. My anxiety level was quickly rising! With ten days to go before our departure, Mark convinced me we could bring Jewel on our flight as an accompanied pet, and that the rules would allow her to go through customs at our arrival in Manchester, so that we could then take her with us directly to Harrogate.

I stressed through Jewel’s final vet visit (eight days before we left) and stressed waiting for the vet to fill out the several forms I needed. I worried about overnighting the paperwork to the USDA office for endorsement, thinking that maybe I should drive the four hours each way to the office to make sure everything was okay. I checked the UPS online tracker incessantly the day the paperwork was supposed to arrive back, but hardly relaxed when I had it all back in my hands. When we took Jewel to the airport cargo check-in point, it took two hours to get her set and I worried the whole time they would look at the paperwork and decide it wasn’t correct, or reject it for improper penmanship, or because it wasn’t dark enough on all six carbon copies (we had heard of all these things happening to others). But then they took her away and it was time for us to check in ourselves. It was very reassuring to find we were sitting over the cargo bay loading area on the plane. At first, it was just nice to see our bags being loaded, but then we saw Jewel’s carrier being escorted towards the hold by the same friendly pet handler that had taken her at check in. It was nice to know we were all on the same place! Twelve hours later, we saw Jewel emerge from the cargo bay in Manchester-she looked like she had a few things to say about being shut up on that airplane for so long!

Even though clearing customs took longer than we thought it would, we were finally able to get Jewel and all travel together to Harrogate for the start of our new UK adventure. We’re so glad to have our kitty here with us!

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Hershey Park

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As our UK departure date drew closer, I realized I would not be able to fit in one more trip to visit my Mom in Virginia, in spite of my original plans. I was worried and anxious about getting everything done–in particular Jewel’s travel arrangements and cleaning our townhouse–not to mention all the small things that kept coming up. To my delight, Mom called and said that she could come up and help me with all the odds and ends I was working on for a few days just before we left. She and Mark came up on Thursday afternoon, one week before we left, and stayed until Saturday. They helped me to finish cleaning the townhouse and run many errands.

At one point, I had thought I would need to drive Jewel’s health inspection paperwork to Harrisburg, PA to get signed by the USDA. Mom and I had decided to take a side trip to Hershey, which is not far from Harrisburg. When plans for Jewel were changed and I no longed needed to go to Harrisburg, we decided we still wanted to go to Hershey. So off we went on Friday morning, first stop: Hershey’s Chocolate World. Even though we were there on a weekday, there were lots of school age kids, but we were able to see the exhibits we wanted to quickly and with no waiting. First, we took a train ride through a mock Hershey factory, breathing in the wonderful chocolatey aroma, learning about where cocoa beans come from and how they get transformed into yummy treats. Next, Elena and Roman donned factory hats and helped to package some Hershey kisses. And of course, we spent some quality time in the Hershey Store, where we bought Mark giant Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They had other fun activities, like creating your own candy bar and a chocolate testing adventure, but Roman and Elena were too young. For lunch, we headed a short distance to Cafe Zooka at The Hershey Story. This cafe had been recommended by some friends, in particular for the Country of Origins Chocolate Tasting, a selection of shots of drinking chocolate, each containing a different percentage of cocoa. It was fun to try chocolate from different parts of the world and taste how different they were–I was on a chocolate high after that!

We had to say goodbye the next afternoon, but we were so happy that Mom and Mark came up to not only help with our final travel preparations, but also to have fun times!

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Dancing Girl

Mark and I have spoken about getting Elena in dance classes several times. In January, we finally decided to get serious about it. And once I told Elena our plan, there was no going back–she started asking every day about when her class would be.

After several phone calls to different dance studios, Elena and I headed to one last Wednesday for a preliminary class. We walked into the waiting area of the studio to find several other little girls waiting with their moms while the previous class finished up. When the blaring music behind the door stopped, the teacher came out and invited the young girls in. Elena had been hanging on my leg since we walked in and I became concerned that she would be too shy to go with the teacher. But, as soon as the other girls went into the large dance room, Elena went right in too, running with the other girls as if she did this every week. She didn’t even look back as I called a goodbye to her.

I felt a bit awkward as I sat in the small waiting area, while the other dance moms talked on their phones and discussed upcoming events at the dance studio. I read my book and tried to make friends with the 2 year old girl sitting next to me on her mom’s lap playing on an iPad. I spoke with the studio manager and collected details about the remaining schedule and associated costs. The last five minutes of class, the instructor called the moms into the practice room where we all gathered around the edges. The girls were poised in the middle and as soon as the moms were settled, they performed the dance they had been working on. Although Elena looked like maybe she wanted to do her own dance, she followed a lot of what was going on and looked to be thoroughly enjoying herself. At the end she came running over to give me a hug and tell me how much fun she had! I asked her several times if she wanted to come back and dance some more and each time she enthusiastically responded that she would.

The next morning, she woke up and quickly got dressed on her own and came down to find me in the kitchen feeding Roman. She started twirling around the kitchen and declared she was ready for another dance class! We’re excited for Elena’s new adventure!

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Buckingham Palace

Touring Buckingham Palace has been on my to-do List ever since I found out it was an option 11 years ago when I was studying at Lancaster. The problem was that the tour is only available in August and September when the Queen is at her palace in Scotland, so it was first on the list this time around. We had to wait until the appropriate time of year and after that we thought it best to wait until the Olympic and Paralympic crowds left town. I was so excited when I went to finally make the ticket reservations I almost cried when it said they were SOLD OUT! Didn’t they know how long I had been waiting for this? Luckily, it was just one tour company that was sold out; there were plenty of other companies selling tickets–all for the same tour and at the same price.

I booked the tour for mid day to allow time for: sleeping in, getting lost, eating, child meltdowns, parental meltdowns, etc. We arrived with plenty of time, got our tickets and had a quick lunch before heading in. The security to get in is pretty similar to airport security: long lines, metal detector, x-ray machine and all.

After security we picked up the audio tour (there was even a children’s version for Elena) and off we went into the Queen’s house. We entered the palace through the diplomatic entrance. The inside of this working castle is truly indescribable. It was amazing to walk into each room and learn the history from the audio tour. Although we didn’t go anywhere near the private apartments, they did get pointed out when we were learning about the inner courtyard. There was a special exhibition for the Queen’s Jubilee that featured several of the Crown Jewels. This part was almost impossibly gridlocked, but it was amazing to see the state diadem, which the Queen wears for official ceremonies.

About half way through the hour tour, Elena lost interest and Roman fell asleep in Mark’s arms. I tried to entertain Elena by talking to her more about the pictures and items in each room, but ultimately she did what she always does when she gets too bored–she pulled the trump card of needing to use the restroom. Sadly, using one of the Queen’s potties was not an option, but by hurrying through the last four or five rooms we were able to find accommodations outside.

To get back out to public space, we walked all through the Queen’s backyard. It was big, with lots of walkways and ponds. It took a good 20 minutes of steady walking, and there was even a place to stop and get ice cream in case we were too weak to carry on. We distracted Elena as we passed it. Overall it was immensely enjoyable, everything I have been looking forward to for the past 11 years.

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Back to School

Elena started back at preschool, although here it’s called nursery, the first week in September after the six week summer holiday. She was so excited to go, she asked me every morning the week leading up to the first day if that was the day she got to go to preschool. She has decided to wear dresses to school every day that she goes, which is usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There are several other girls there that I frequently see in dresses, so I think that has influenced her current fashion. We’ll see if she stick to it as the weather is starting to turn quite chilly!

She still loves school. Her teachers have commented how uncommon it is to integrate right back in after being gone for the summer break and other holidays we’ve been away on. With the start of the new school year there has been one sad aspect of preschool: several of her friends that were a year older have gone to start real school, called reception, which they start attending here at age four. She had one friend, Sam, in particular that she spoke about all summer and when she went back, she learned that he was off to reception. But there are lots of kids to be friends with and she seems to like everyone, both children and adults!

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Happy Birthday Roman!

In his first eight days of his life Roman lived through an earthquake and a hurricane. With such an exciting beginning to things, we should have predicted a first year full of all kinds of adventure and excitement. In fact, it included:

  • Being born and living in Maryland,
  • Living in Washington State,
  • Living in England,
  • Visiting Portland, Seattle, and London,
  • Learning to sleep in his Pack-n-Play–all night long,
  • Traveling to France,
  • Attending the Henley Royal Regatta, the Tour de France, and the London 2012 Olympics.

Recently, he has

  • Learned to sign “more,” “food,” “all done,” and “water,”
  • Become a walker instead of a cralwer,
  • Started to wave hello and goodbye,
  • Had his lower front teeth come in,
  • Showed his love for ice cream, ducks, and anything that resembles a ball,
  • And demonstrated that he knows how cute he is!

Roman is social and likes to engage others with his smiles and inquisitive eyes. He loves his big sister Elena–and anything she is playing with. For all the trouble we had getting him to sleep during the first nine months of his life, a mom who was watching him for us one afternoon recently said she had never known a baby to go down for a nap so easily. It’s been a crazy year and there were certainly some days (and nights!) that were hard to get through. But, here we are, with this little boy who is happy and loving learning more every day! We love you Roman! Happy Birthday!

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Fairy Magic


Elena loves books. Even back in Austin before she could talk, I knew she would occupy herself for at least 45 minutes if I just let her take all the books off her bookshelf. She was gentle enough with them that I could leave her in her room alone and just poke my head in periodically to make sure the bookcase wasn’t about to fall over on her. She would look at some and stack them up and just enjoy being with her books. These days she would happily have me read to her all day long if I would agree.

In April, when we visited Powell’s Books in Portland, I made a point of speaking to a staff member in the children’s section to ask about books for Elena. Mark and I needed her to move on to new reading material, as we were getting tired of reading the exact same books over and over. The staff member asked a few questions and then headed over to a wall of beginning chapter books and pointed out the Rainbow Fairy series. They’re real big-kid chapter books, but still have drawings on almost every page. We bought two, read them quickly, and didn’t think any more about them. Not long after we moved to England, while I was browsing in one of the thrift shops I saw more of these Rainbow Magic books and bought a few for her. Over the next two weeks I looked for these books in every thrift shop we passed and bought any of them that i could find. I’m kind of a sucker for buying her books and she knows it, so she made sure to remind me to look for them. The books have all gone to live in my room and are very effective incentives to encourage proper behavior (some might call this a bribe). After she earns a book, it becomes hers and lives in a small storage bench in the front room, which we call her Book Box.

She frequently pulls the books we’ve read back out of the box and studies each one, examining the pictures page by page and pretending she’s reading. Almost every day she pulls all of the books out and lines them up on the couch and floor. She likes to look at each cover and she’ll ask me to remind her of each fairy’s name. Recently, we’ve found this series at the local library, which is good since I cleaned out the the thrift stores. With more than 60 books in this series, I think it might take us to the end of our six months here to get through them all.

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Plaits


We’ve let Elena’s hair grow long since she was born; it’s only been cut once. I’ve tried to get her used to having it brushed and pulled up into a ponytail, but for a long time she resisted even that level of maintenance. Although she is only 3 and 1/2 years old, we’ve gone through many hair stages. We started with me being in charge and Elena learning to sit still. Then there was the stage where she wanted pretty bows and clips in her hair and that motivated her to sit through a hair-do session. Around the time Roman was born, she was very much into not having her hair touched–at all. She didn’t care if it was in her face, or if it had half a container of yogurt in it, just as long as I was not touching it. But since we have come to England, she has decided that she does not like it in her face when we are out walking around. One day I offered to put a braid in and ever since she has been requesting braids. Her hair is long enough that it’s been quite enjoyable for me to touch up on my braiding skills!

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