Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Letter 2006

The Neil Family News

December 25, 2006

Uroru Gos tu Afriku
Annika has started first grade, at age 7 as they do in Sweden. Taking after her mother, her favorite subject is math. She completed her first short story, "Uroru Gos tu Afriku" (Aurora goes to Afrika) in which the heroine manages to fly on an erplan, meet Mark (who wus veri smart), get marid and of course they livd hapli evur aftor, written in creative but phonetical spelling.

In addition to violin, tennis and figure skating, she has started horseback riding and loves it. She spent a week of all-day riding in Switzerland in a throw-them-on-the-horse-and-go school, and then started at the local stable in the mom-has-to-lead-the-horse variation. Despite precautions (and mom’s lead), she still managed to get thrown, proving the merit of investing in safety gear, even at the entry level! She is back in the saddle again, and feels that she is one step closer (one fall closer?) to becoming a "real rider".

She would very much like a horse for Christmas, but understands that Santa requires parental approval (which is not very likely).

The Food Chain
Benjamin is a charming 5-year-old, and has just started mini-hockey, which he loves. Though he really has very little clue what he is supposed to do with the puck, and the facemask is mostly to protect him from the other kids’ sticks, his skating has improved immensely, and he can’t wait for the next class.

Despite his mom’s current occupation, he rarely plays with toys, preferring couch cushions and blankets, as he builds forts and houses – clearly a future real-estate professional. When not consumed with construction, he is setting up for a party or a store, or pretty much anything involving consumption of cookies.

Benjamin spent the summer learning to swim. After a couple of weeks of splashing around with no progress, he mastered the art of swimming forwards, and now looks remarkably like a fish in the water.

His most recent interests have been in the food chain and in understanding real and imaginary. Questions range from, "What do dragons eat?" to "Is Pooh real?"

Benjamin would like for Santa to bring him an ice cream machine so that he can expand the offerings at his cookie store.

I NOT Little
Christopher is a big 3, and the biggest insult you could deliver would be to suggest that he is little – which results in immediate tears and an insistent statement, "I not little – I big!" Of course, his constant companion is still Baby Two Rags, a blue teddy bear and two (or more) burp rags.

Not willing to be left behind, he tried skiing last spring (at age 2 ½). He LOVED it, going straight down the hill, held back only by the ski reins. He managed an hour or so at a time, before tiring so much that he put his head down on the snow to rest, like a tiny tripod. He is now ice skating as well, and enjoys it as long as he isn’t expected to do what the rest of the group is doing – Mr. Independent!

With all our travel over the past year, Christopher is now premier on United, probably one of the younger members, and one of the few who likes to take a bath with his silver card.

Cash Flow Crisis
David’s property business, Genesta, is doing well, and keeping him traveling to Finland and Baltics. At least there, nobody expects him to speak Finnish!

Leigh has now dived into internet retail with her toy store, ABC Leksaker (A, B & C after the children, and Leksaker meaning toys). The business is growing, and the inventory is expanding even faster! ABC is still a one-person operation, and Leigh is feeling a bit like Santa’s elf, packing and shipping over 1600 orders, 400 in December alone!

Unseasonably Warm
In a country where everyone complains about the length of the winter, we are surprised at the number who are now complaining about the lack thereof. It will be a green Christmas in Sweden, save for the lucky family who manages to win a truckload of snow in a newspaper lottery.

The warmer temps have not harmed our seasonal activities – skating in all its forms. We now spend three hours at the rink every Saturday with hockey, figure skating and beginning skating. However, the mud content of the kids’ clothes has even led us to dream of freezing temperatures - and snow!

Sad News
Last year, we were called back to the States right before Christmas, and last year’s Christmas letter never got sent… or even written. Leigh’s father was not doing well, and we expected the worst. His condition improved, and we celebrated his 75th birthday with him in Lubbock in May. However, he passed away in July, and luckily we were there with him. We miss him greatly.

We wish you a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year!

The Neils

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Mysterious Uncle Benny

In Swedish dagis, the kids do lots of crafts and gifts, especially around Christmas time. They usually wrap them and take them home to be given to various family members. Imagine our surprise when we received a package labeled "Merry Christmas Uncle Benny from Christopher". We racked our brains, trying to imagine who he could be. Christopher's uncles are Mark (Mak), Doug (Duk) and Rob (Wap), but nothing even approaching Benny or even two syllables.

Of course, Annika should have prepared us... One day when she was about 2, we were looking at an IKEA catalog (as one does in Sweden) and she started pointing at the pages and saying "fuck". Given that that particular four-letter word doesn't make up a large percentage of David's and my vocabulary, we wondered where she could have picked it up. I asked at dagis, and they were as mystified as I was, until we realized that the place for all their papers is a FACK, with a very long Swedish A-sound. Of course, we haven't met any French seals yet... (foque)

So back to Uncle Benny... we finally realized that Christopher tends to drop a few letters in various words. His word for "everybody" ranges from "eh-be" (which I mistook for Eva for a while) to "eh-biddy", and somewhere in the middle, the dagis must have heard Uncle Benny.

Christopher and language will be interesting. He is very talkative, and demands his share of attention. Many car journeys are made with his insistent "Mama, tak ME!" repeated over and over again. Benjamin gets so frustrated because Christopher's demands for air time interfere with his thought process, not to mention sibling peace.

Christopher has learned that most people understand him even if he speaks English. Every morning he starts the day being greeted with a "God morgon - hur mår du?" to which he replies without fail, "Good." However, many of his words are not so clear. Benzie and Aka are his siblings, "Piss" is fish and milk is a two-syllable word (me-yulk). Anything beginning with an S gets pretty creative. "Kwong" is strong, "bleepy" is sleepy, and snow is just plain "no".