England Rules!

...for two reasons: no snow, and a plummeting exchange rate coupled with holiday sales! More on that in a moment.

So my beastly rhinovirus, or whatever the hell my particular stomach nasty is called, has started to abate. Yesterday I ate food--yay!--and the whole lot of us went out to Windsor for the afternoon. While it was fairly peopled with tourists of all varieties, we at least managed to snag two parking spaces in the town centre, which would be impossible in the summer season.

Windsor is as big as I remember. Huge, in fact.

The girls were pleased with seeing a real castle, because they're obsessed with all things queen and princess and pretty, so I found it fun to watch their reactions to the real deal. Ilsa was far more impressed than Juliette, but that just proves everyone's getting back to normal: Ilsa all sunny and easily pleased, and Juliette testing my patience with her impatience and occasional lack of gratitude.

I haven't been in the estate rooms since 1997, before the big fire, so it was amazing to see everything so artfully and flawlessly restored. The castle provides portable handsets to take an audio tour as you walk through the rooms--should do, with the price of admission. (Thanks, Trev & Linda!)

But they also provided "family" versions aimed at children, complete with funny voices and sound effects. So the girls enjoyed punching the buttons at each tour stop and listening along. Ilsa became methodical about it--what's new?--and insisted on listening to each one as we came to it, so we wound up falling behind. But she was learning quite a bit, dragging me from one place to another in any given room to point out features. "Mommy, which one's the Princess Elizabeth?" and "Look, mommy, it's the England flag in the rocks!" (A seal of St. George's cross inlaid in the floor.) It kept Ilsa, at least, from getting bored.

Last night, we did a present exchange with Steve and Silvia since they left very early this morning to spend Christmas with her family in Italy. They'd already gone birthday shopping on Saturday while I was laid up on the couch. Ilsa stuck with what is sure to be the theme of this season, namely ponies, and Juliette picked out a beautiful plaid drop-waist jumper dress.

Steve and Silvia gave them lovely Christmas presents too, including beading and bracelet-making sets, Charlie & Lola books, a dinosaur discover kit, the new JK Rowling fairy tale book, and honey bubble bath complete with little Tigger and Winnie the Pooh dolls. They bought Colonization for Keven, which is scary because he'll only be able to play it on my computer once we're home. We'll have to establish some sort of time swap arrangement! And they gave me a wonderful spa collection of pampering face products and hand/nail treatments.

I didn't mention earlier, in the hubbub of leaving, that we also opened our gifts from Karen & Art and Jenn & Jas. We decided to do it in the States so as not to cart more stuff back and forth across the ocean. Karen raided my paperbackswap wishlist for ideas, which was exceedingly clever, and Jenn bought me a mug covered in Shakespearean insults. Now I'll have ideas to call people when something ticks me off! They also bought winter-fighting board games for the girls, which we'll explore in more detail when we return. All in all, we've been doing quite well for ourselves so far! Big thanks and love to you all.

Oh, I forgot. Keven's godparents gave the girls each £20. They have no idea how much that's worth, but with the exchange rate in flux these days, I'm not exactly sure either. (Less than last month, I'd guess.) So when we went shopping on, um, Friday, they were charged with looking at the price tags in Marks & Spencers and budgeting their own presents. Juliette chose this wildly furry dark purple vest, and Ilsa chose slippers and a jewelry box. Did you notice something there? No toys. They sort of glazed over the toy section and found much more to get excited about in the clothes department. So it begins. They were also quite keen on these beautiful plush robes, so Keven and I bought those too. Practical, durable, and desperately on sale. Can't be beat.

The weather here is lovely. Well, not lovely. It's about 45 and dreary, but it's lovely compared to any news I see from home. I'll leave you with two pictures, both from Library Square in Kenosha. Until the first week of December, the girls and I walked by this church every day on our way to and from school, so it's quite amazing to see it suddenly blizzarded over. The second is the Abe Lincoln statue in the Square. The girls say "Hi, Abe" every time we pass him. Now he's both seasonal and utterly snow bound. Can't say I'm not extremely pleased about our timing this year, stomach bug or not.

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