Jorvik Viking Festival

Hello? Is anyone still reading this? Aksel wants to know.

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Just in case the four month hiatus from blogging didn’t turn you away, perhaps this series of incredibly dorky photos will do the trick.

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Over Valentine’s weekend, we took a quick trip to York for the Jorvik Viking Festival. Since we arrived late Friday evening, we did a quick run into town for dinner at House of the Trembling Madness per Trip Advisor’s recommendation. The storefront reminded me of a 7-11 filled with beers and glasses. But upon climbing the staircase, we were in for a massive treat. Animal heads, horns and skins adorned the walls of this medieval drinking hall and we found a spot in a small alcove just next to the bar. The place was packed so we sidled up to a shared table with the other patrons and proceeded to devour some absolutely delicious bar food. Jason was in heaven as they have over 600 ales in stock and had a tough time narrowing down his selection. I think we came home with about 14 bottles; not too bad considering all the options.

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I surprised my “people” the next morning with some little treats and V-Day cards in bed. Lena has been on a Rio kick and since Jason loves anything Pez-related, she thought Daddy just HAD to have this dispenser. The owners of the guest house we stayed at even put out some chocolate roses for us which I thought was quite sweet. As you can imagine, it was all very romantic with the four of us sharing a double bed.

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After a proper English breakfast, it was off to the festival. Lena insisted on wearing this helmet the majority of the day much to the delight of both me and the majority of the people who saw her. First up was Clifford’s Tower. It was originally built by William the Conqueror, burned down twice and then rebuilt by Henry III in the 13th century. Jason took Lena to the top of the wall and then quickly returned as he claimed he was about to pass out from fear of heights. I also took this opportunity to take a family photo in full Viking garb. You’ll notice both my children are hiding their faces from embarrassment. I have succeeded as a mother.

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Below Clifford’s Tower was a small viking camp where actors? viking? … people were demonstrating Viking crafts and living. Just as we were learning all about cooking and woodworking, the procession showed up, ready for a fight.

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There was lots of yelling and awkward dialogue and I was giggling hysterically because I basically can’t get enough of this stuff. It fascinates me to no end that grown adults will play make believe in public and let me take photographs. It’s the best. If the feigned Scandinavian accents weren’t enough, the Thrifty van in the background really lent an air of authenticity to the entire production.

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After the husky Viking won the battle by castrating the last man standing (yes, seriously), we did a bit more people watching and then headed towards the Shambles.

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There was another Viking camp set up here showing the animals Vikings would have kept as well as some of the wares they created or traded.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t make it into York Minster as the lines were incredibly long but I did get some shots of the exterior. It was massive and imposing and really beautiful. I handed my camera to three different sets of people in order to get a family shot and none of them actually took a picture. This made me unreasonably angry for some reason and Jason had to calm me down. But seriously, how hard is it to push a button? Apparently, I’m still not over it.

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Also, I think I was hangry because after this, we stopped for a crepe and all was well with the world again. Lena declared it to be disgusting and refused to take a bite. And then she saw there was Nutella on it, changed her tune, and ate the entire thing in three bites. She obviously gets that from her dad.

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On our way to the Treasurer’s House (a National Trust site), we happened upon Holy Trinity Church dating back to the 15th century. It was very simple but beautiful especially with the irregular box pews and some Medieval stained glass.

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We finished up with lunch at the Treasurer’s House; the first house ever given to the National Trust. The remains of a Roman road were found in the cellar and supposedly, there were ghost sightings of legions of Roman soldiers here.

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Also worth noting is that we did manage to go on a date Valentine’s night at an absolutely delicious Italian restaurant called Little Italy. However, we had both kids with us so they seated us basically underneath a staircase and at the far back of the restaurant. I thought it was hilarious while Jason was braided about disturbing the other guests. Eventually, Aksel started crying a bit though nothing major so we made a quick meal of it. I would just like to say “you’re welcome” to all the young couples in the restaurant. I hope that seeing us hidden beneath a staircase with whiney children reminded all of you to make wise decisions as you carried on with your romantic evenings!

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Easter 2015

Before each midterm break, Lena’s school hosts a “Stay & Play” where parents can come in with younger siblings for a couple hours of themed activities, contests and treats. We got an email asking everyone to make an Easter bonnet for the school competition and since I’m never 100% sure the translation is correct, I actually googled the term. And before you think I’m crazy, let me just give you a few examples of words that are different between British English and American English.

  • crisps = chips
  • chips = fries
  • biscuit = cookie
  • nappy = diaper
  • dummy = pacifier
  • pants = underwear (this one gets really awkward when you want to compliment someone on a nice outfit)

Anyway, you get the point. Plus there are all sorts of traditions here that I am still learning so I didn’t want my kiddo to be the only one not in-the-know. So, I got to work making an Easter bonnet and since I was totally stressed out over Jason’s work schedule, I went completely overboard and turned it into a massive art project. Lena was ultimately unimpressed but it did help calm me down and she looked awfully cute wearing it. So I’m calling it a win.

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On Easter morning, I woke the kids up with requests for bunny ear pictures and mentioned it looked like the Easter bunny had left some stuff downstairs. Lena was giddy and happily posed for photos which will likely be made fun of in her future. Aksel was a bit more hesitant but as he lacks the coordination to pull off the ears, he got to join in the fun as well.

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I hid an inappropriate amount of eggs around the house and had the kids’ Easter baskets set up on the table waiting to be discovered. Lena doesn’t quite fall into the advanced category when it comes to looking for things so the “hiding” places were more like “exposure” places. There are few things more aggravating than watching a three year old attempt to find an object right in front of their nose. It’s like their brains shut down and their hearing is cut in half. It truly is baffling.

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Also, because I was not in the mood for a sugar meltdown (and also because I’m a little cheap and lazy), I purchased no candy for said Easter eggs. Instead, I got creative. Borrowing from last year as well as Lena’s piggy bank, half the eggs were filled with small coins. A few were stuffed with stale candy pieces from her school party only because I knew she wouldn’t eat them. Two large eggs had “sprinkles” (also known as small packets of Chia seeds). And finally, there were rocks from our garden with a few fancy polished stones thrown in for good measure. I think this idea was both genius and hilarious particularly when she told me, “Mama! This rock is matching to the rock from Mormor’s house!” Yes, yes it is, my child.

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And before you call someone about my terrible (I would say genius) parenting, I did make her a nutritious breakfast served up on Very Hungry Caterpillar dishware. You know it’s a special occasion when you get to eat on a real plate.

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After listening to the Easter story at church, we had another egg hunt and this time, there was chocolate involved. Lena and Dylan were maniacs, hunting down all the paper eggs and trading it in for a couple massive Cadbury eggs. I’m still amazed that I can get Cadbury products year round here in England. As a kid, I would eagerly anticipate Springtime knowing the delicious chocolate ovals would soon be mine for the eating. Just another reason the UK is a great place to live, I suppose.

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The kids also helped plant an Easter garden with the help of Mummy Kathryn. Surprisingly, no one got dirty or fell down which might be a record of some sort. I also think this may be one of the only photos of us together. My goal this year is to get more pictures with my friends and I think I’m off to a pretty great start with this capture. Then the kids jumped off some tombstones, as you do.

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I really couldn’t help myself and dressed up my little monsters in coordinating outfits. There are way more photos of this duo than I’ve posted here and by the end, Lena’s sarcastic side came out in full force. I have no idea where she gets it from.

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Bath – Roman Baths, Buns, and the Abbey

After our day in Lacock, we drove into Bath and checked into our hotel. It was in a great location just outside the city center but did require a four story climb up some steep stairs just to get to our rooms. I guess that’s what you get when you travel with a three month old. No one wants to listen to a crying baby at night.

Speaking of babies, don’t let this happy face fool you. This kid decided his first stay in a hotel was just too exciting for sleep and proceeded to keep me awake all night long. So I was a bit of a zombie the next day and almost opted out of walking through the Roman Baths but decided to just suck it up. The weather was beautiful and the temperature was fairly mild and I hoped all those things would help to perk me up.

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I gave Jason the camera for most of the tour and he was kind enough to snap this lovely photo of me and my youngest child. This was the state I was in for most of the day. So the Bath trip is a bit of a blur as I’m not entirely sure which parts I hallucinated and which parts were actually real. Welcome to motherhood.

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And here are some of the sights. Super informative, I know. But you get the idea. If you want a more thorough explanation, here are the recaps from our last trip when I only had one child and a larger percentage of my brain was functioning: Bath Assembly Rooms, Bath Fashion Museum, and the Roman Baths.

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Since we’d been to Bath before, I wanted to check out a few things we hadn’t done the first time and had read about the famous “Bath Bun.” We stopped for lunch at the similarly named tea shop where Jason found nothing of interest on the menu and so ended up with a cream cheese, celery and grape sandwich. Meanwhile, Lena made loud noises and Aksel pooped which was convenient since I had to change him in the hallway due to the lack of a baby room. In other words, we were totally appropriate. But the Bath Bun was tasty and we’ll likely never see any of the diners again so there’s that. Also, I don’t ever think I’ve looked so tired in my life.

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We browsed a few shops before ducking in to the Abbey before it closed. It was absolutely beautiful and the light was amazing so I had fun shooting tons of pictures. All the walls and floors were adorned with memorials and tombstones dating back hundreds of years. And the stained glass windows were massive.

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Lena found this small little alcove and I caught her just as she was kneeling down to look at a poppy that had been laid on the memorial. It was apparently dedicated to fallen soldiers from various wars.

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Finally, we had dinner at Rustico Bistro – a place we had visited on our last trip to the city. Jason and I kept trying to figure out where we knew our waiter from then finally realized he looked like Hank from Breaking Bad. Except he had a thick Italian accent and was much more jolly. He kindly snapped this photo of us; capturing my utter fatigue and Lena’s general attitude about the entire trip. Buon appetito!

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The Village of Lacock

Wanting to make the most out of her two week stay, we decided to take a little road trip while my mom was visiting. We settled on Bath as our ultimate destination with a stop in the village of Lacock on our way there.

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The entire village is a National Trust site and dates back to the 13th century. With timbered and stone houses everywhere and lots of crooked architecture, it has been a popular site for many films including Pride and Prejudice, Moll Flanders, and Emma. Parts of the Harry Potter films were shot here as well but we’ll get to that later.

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After a three hour car ride, we were happy to just stroll through the village without any particular destination in mind. I was in photography heaven.IMG_2305IMG_2307IMG_2309

The village was actually much smaller than we had anticipated and many of the shops were closed for the winter season. This shop, however, was open and as soon as we walked in, I started drooling over all the pretty displays. It was called Quintessentially English and I’m not sure what I enjoyed more – the organic handmade bath and body products, or the funky old building with tiny rooms just waiting to be explored.

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By this point, Lena was starting to get hungry, so we had lunch at the Red Lion before continuing on our explorations. I would highly recommend this pub as they had the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten. Even Lena, with the pickiest pallet on the planet, devoured the fried fish. That’s an honor reserved for only the finest cuisine.

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Our last few shops in the village included a ceramic shop, the Saxon church of St. Cyriac and the 15th century tithe barn. Loads of history and beautiful details.

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Then it was a short walk over to Lacock Abbey and the main attraction I had hoped to see during our visit. The national trust museum documents William Henry Fox Talbot’s contributions to the beginnings of photography and had some amazing old film equipment and prints. I would have loved to spend some time in here, reading all the displays but the demands of a certain toddler trumped my desires.

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So, we headed outside towards the country house and the views were amazing. The house itself used to be a monastic nunnery. Over the years, various additions were made in a plethora of architectural styles. Unfortunately, the house itself was closed for the winter so we didn’t get to browse the rooms but the parts that were open did not disappoint.

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Up until quite recently, this was actually a family home. Can you even imagine inviting a friend over to hang out and rolling up to this estate?! I’m fairly certain that if you took the square footage of every home I’ve ever lived in, you still couldn’t match this space. It was impressive.

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After picking my jaw off the ground, we walked around the side of the house and found the cloisters. This is where my brain exploded and I took approximately 8 million pictures. It was absolutely stunning and thanks to the posted signs, we were able to get an idea of how the nuns would have used this space thousands of years ago. There were built in book cases, burial nooks, all sorts of awesome and somewhat eery details.

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And since I did mention Harry Potter above, this is where parts of the blockbuster were filmed. Admittedly, I have never watched nor read anything Harry Potter so I have no idea what significance this place plays but it apparently means something to HP fans. And no, I have zero plans of educating myself on Harry’s adventures as I would rather read a user manual for a vacuum cleaner. Sorry, it’s just not my thing. But, this place was incredible so I would recommend a visit even if you suffer from Hogwarts aversion like me.

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So that was our day out in Lacock. Short but sweet and definitely worth a visit on the way to Bath or Bristol!

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Antiques and Tea in Ely

With big L in town, I thought it would be fun to spend a day in the nearby town of Ely. Knowing her penchant for copper kettles and porcelain dishware, a stop at Waterside Antiques was in order. With three floors packed full of treasures just waiting to be discovered, my mom was in heaven. Lena did surprisingly well, managing not to break anything despite picking up a few precariously placed items.

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The copper selection was on point and after much deliberation, my mom decided on a large kettle with a hand-stamped decorative design. We also found a pewter muffin warming tin. I didn’t get a picture but as soon as I spotted it, I knew my mom would love it. An added bonus is that I liked it as well and as my mom loves to remind me, someday all of these purchases will be left to me and my brother to fight over.

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Check out the glow of pride radiating from this body. This is the face of a satisfied hunter who has struck a bargain.

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We promised Lena she could go visit the ducks if she was a good listener in the antique store and since she delivered, off we went to hang out with this flock. I think this guy was plotting something sinister. That is one of the sketchiest bird faces I’ve ever seen!

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The late afternoon light was gorgeous and I could almost remember what the warmth of the sun felt like after a long and cold British winter. I definitely miss the heat from my days living in Arizona and North Carolina but the trade off is that there are virtually no bugs here and low humidity. Also, there’s afternoon tea which wins in my book every time.

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And speaking of tea, after such a strenuous afternoon of antiquing and dodging shady fouls, we were famished. Luckily, Peacocks Tearoom sits right next door to the antique shop (it’s like I planned it or something!), so we ducked in for some “widdle treats,” as Lena would say.

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Every time I’ve visited Peacocks, the staff has been amazing and so welcoming of me and my little monsters. It’s super kid friendly but still feels like a relaxing retreat at the same time. The decor is quaint, with tea paraphernalia littering the walls and shelves. My mom was salivating over this giant copper teakettle – surprise – and wanted to make sure I got a picture. Here you go, Mummy dearest. There was also a wall of knives with carved handles that she liked so I’ve included that for your viewing pleasure as well.

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Then it was on to tea and scones for us and a massive bowl of ice cream for Lena. Please disregard the tired faces. Between jet lag and late night nursing sessions, we weren’t the most well rested group. That didn’t diminish our enthusiasm for the delicacies set before us, however, as you can see by Lena’s very accurate Chris Farley impression below.

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Having overeaten to the point of misery and sugar comas, we began the process of bundling up again to venture out into the cold. This was not before both my children decided to leave their mark on the restroom, however. They suffer from a genetic condition called Caspersenism which causes them to have massive bowel movements in public restrooms. The smaller the bathroom and more obvious their offense, the better. It’s super fun.

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After all her hard work, Lena passed out in her stroller, giving us about an hour to browse a few more shops and take a peek at the cathedral. Not a bad afternoon at all!

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January 2015

So apparently having two kids means twice the work and half the free time! It’s hard to believe Aksel has been with us for three months already. Life is more or less back to normal now with Jason back to work and Lena back at school. I have no idea how I would have even gotten to this point if not for Jason; he really is the most selfless human I know. For the first month after Aksel was born, he basically took care of everything and that’s not even a slight exaggeration. We had hot meals and snacks throughout the day (many times served to me in bed), the house was kept clean and tidy, laundry was done and put away, Lena got more one-on-one attention than she could even handle, and he still found time to take Aksel so I could shower and catch up on sleep. All of this on top of working full time and going to school. And if he knew I was bragging about him like this, he would be horribly embarrassed which makes him even more lovable. I am just the luckiest! Also, check out the lashes on this guy – he passed them down to both my babies and it makes me simultaneously melt and turn green with envy. IMG_2123 copy

Aksel is an angel and if I could clone him, I’d take 50 more. Aside from being ridiculously cute, the child sleeps. Like legitimately sleeps; sometimes for five hours at a time. For the first couple years of Lena’s life, I was waking up every two hours (minimum) to either nurse her or console her unfounded crying. Thank you Jesus for taking pity on my sanity as I’m not sure I would have survived another slumber terrorist. Lena is still completely in love with her little brother and is adamant about being his second mama. If he’s crying, she’s quick to give him cuddles and shove (yes, shove) a pacifier in his mouth. If he spits up, she tries to wipe his face though many times, it looks more like a suffocation attempt. And if he needs a diaper change, she will loudly proclaim, “Oh Aksel! You stink! Peeee-youuuu!” Not too bad for a little girl whose world just completely changed!

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Living in a completely different country as the rest of our family means we don’t get to see everyone as much as we’d like. The cost alone to fly to Europe is insane so it makes sense that we didn’t have grandparents and cousins knocking down our door once Aksel was born. However, my mom’s flight attendant benefits mean she can fly for a fraction of the cost and luckily, she is crazy enough to want to spend her vacations “visiting ” us over here. When I say “visiting,” I really mean that she turns into a personal servant despite me telling her she doesn’t need to do anything. Here she is, in her element, doing a deep clean of my kitchen. She told me to delete this photo so obviously I’m sharing it here.

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On top of continuously cleaning the kitchen after each meal, she probably did 50 loads of laundry during her two week stay, walked Lena to school each morning, helped out with Aksel, and tried to pay for every single outing. Hopefully I can live up to her legacy and someday do the same for my babies. Though I would just like to let them know they are never allowed to move away from me (children, take note).

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Since Aksel is so easy going, we were actually able to make it out of the house quite a bit and go on a few adventures. I’ll save those for future posts as we saw some pretty cool things. My mom had never seen the winter gardens at Anglesey Abbey and I could go there every single day and not get tired of it. If I had any clue when it comes to gardening, this would be my dream. However, my house seems to be a horticultural graveyard so that’s probably a pipe dream. I even manage to kill succulents. Seriously.

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Now that Lena’s a bit older, she has the memory of an elephant. She remembered that Mormor likes chocolate (I think addiction is the proper word but I don’t want to label anyone). So when my mom showed up with two giant ziplock bags full of gourmet treats, Lena had basically found her soulmate. The amount of chocolate those two consumed would likely put the average person into a diabetic coma. After every meal, including breakfast, Lena would announce they should have a “little treat.” Ridiculous.

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For the duration of her stay, Lena snuggled up in the guest bed with my mom each night. Hardly a vacation, as I mentioned, especially when Lena wet the bed in the middle of the night; soaking both of them. I’m not even sure she’s ever done that before so it really was a special treat just for my mom. Lena also talks/screams in her sleep; a fun little habit Mormor got to experience several times a night. So Mama, thank you for taking one for the team. We love you!

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Christmas 2014

Jason had been up until 2am building Lena’s Christmas gift and Aksel had fussed at me through the night so Christmas morning was slow to get going. We finally headed downstairs around 9 am where all the presents had been carefully laid out in front of the tree.

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Lena immediately spotted her prize – a vintage style kitchen. Her face lit up as she came into the living room and told us, “I sure like that pretty kitchen, guys!” When the grandparents had asked what to get for Christmas this year, we mentioned we were doing a cooking theme. They went overboard outfitting our little chef with everything from felt food, pots and pans and even a Lena-sized apron.

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While Lena got down to business “cooking” for Jason and Aksel, I made BoBerry Biscuits from scratch. They were even more delicious than last year and I loved that we had continued our little tradition from the year before. Adding to our special breakfast, we drank milk out of the mugs we had picked up at a German Christmas Market in Birmingham. Lena loved that it was little and had pretty “dars” or stars on it.

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After stuffing ourselves full, it was on to stockings. As always, Santa had filled our stockings with oranges, candy, socks and undies and a special magazine for each person. Lena was pretty excited about Aksel’s magazine as it had some Thomas the Train toys on front so we let her read to him. She actually had picked out the magazine earlier in the week but somehow didn’t remember much to my surprise as she has the brain of an elephant.

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Wanting some family photos, I set up the tripod Jason bought me last Christmas and used the remote control to capture us in all our pajama glory.

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We had planned to have a very small Christmas with just a few gifts – we actually bought only the kitchen and a little tool set for Lena. Jason and I had agreed not to buy anything for each other but luckily, I knew better than to believe him and picked up an electronic kettle for him at the last minute. Of course, he had bought something as well – an iPod adapter for the car – despite his claims to the contrary.

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One of the most random gifts was a pack of Frozen Band Aids from my cousin, Laila Eva. Lena went crazy for them and I am probably going to steal that idea for future kid’s gifts. It was super practical but also fun (Lena thought they were stickers and asked that we put one on her ankle) and the styles are endless so they could work for any age.

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A big thank you to all of our family for sending such generous gifts. Everything from clothes to books and plenty of toys – we are truly spoiled and loved. We wish you all could have been here to enjoy the holiday with us and see Lena’s excitement over everything. Hopefully these photos captured some of that for you! We love you all and look forward to all being together sometime soon!

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