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Great Expectations: Our First English Christmas

No unspoken expectation, can be an expectation.

It is the morning after Christmas and our house is silent. I am laid back in our living room recliner with a cup of coffee and my computer in my lap. Its chilly and the sun is peeping through our led glass tudor-style windows illuminating the remnants of yesterday's celebrations. Bits of paper, and toys, candy wrappers and tiny bits of glitter are scattered across the oak floors. Zac calls glitter "the herpes of crafting supplies," so when he gets up he will most likely pretend he can't sit on the furniture for fear of death. The silence makes me think. Right now, I would be frantically cleaning, packing and prepping breakfast. I should be getting in a quick work out before brewing a cup of coffee to bring upstairs to carefully wake up Zac. It's a delicate business to wake up Lord Levée. We are polar opposites, he is slow to rise and I wake up like I was fired from a cannon. On this very day, I should be trying to contain that lump of excitement and anticipation of travel, but instead I am quietly surveying my house which looks like the aftermath of a 5 year old's frat party. So I am sitting... a thing I rarely do, and rarely enjoy.

We had grand plans for Christmas. Grand plans! We had invited two other American families over for Christmas day dinner and festivities. If you know me, you know this is like hitting the jackpot. I love hosting people in our home because I am a total "acts of service" kind of lover. I use to fight this because I thought it made me dull and simple minded. I mean who gets off by putting on an apron and cooking, decorating and cleaning ? I do. "Hi, My name is Baileigh and I am a recovering Betty Crocker Wannabe." This would be the first time the Cherry Tree Cottage would welcome guests, and so I wanted to go all out. I purchased tablescape supplies for not one, but two tables. One for the kids, themed in a kitsch Christmas motif. This child inspired table was made most gaudy with silly glasses, colored poppers, hot-chocolate mugs, candies and a playing board to keep them entertained while they ate. The adults table was what the English would consider "high-brow." I planned to layer the table top in whites, silvers and pale golds, composing a most classy Christmas impression. Each adult place setting included a personalized bottle of silver champagne wrapped in a gold crown, a pressed linen napkin and a white coconut crusted truffle. The details and the garnish are so important. If you don't think so go drink a Bloody Mary without the garnish. It sucks, it is basically tomato juice. In the nights leading into Christmas break, I spent hours researching cocktails, new recipes and group games. I could not wait to see how it would all come together on Christmas. Managing the details and setting the scene for a great time is like a dying art form. I was meant to live in 1950. It's so much work but I never regret it. The hard part is always in the timing and organization. I happily mapped out my meal preparation. My vision was to have both traditional British and American foods to give our guests both something new, and something comforting. This would be my chance to crack out all my cookware in my much larger kitchen. But because I only have one small oven and this sort of half-microwave-half-oven-thing I had to be careful in my timing, meaning the blessed turkey needed to be in by 7 am. If you think this displeased me, it didn't. The thought of an empty kitchen, hot coffee and music on Christmas morning sounded like a southern girl's dream. I love it.

Oh, but our plans get better! After a magical day of hostessing, cocktailing, games and gifts we were set to travel to the Cotwolds. In fact, I found a cargo roof box for Zac's Land Rover and installed it while he was in Norway so that packing his vehicle with my oversized suitcase would not make him quite as frustrated. The Cotswolds, we heard, is magical at Christmas time. Famous for a scattering of picturesque villages, gentle hills, peaceful pastures and winding rivers. It is the home of the "oldest inn" (987AD), and the third largest protected landscape in England. It is like a Thomas Kincaid painting brought to life. I plotted out a loose schedule of hikes, restaurants and sights to see making the trip both relaxing and exciting which seems to be our winning formula. Zac and I told the kids this was their big gift this year as they have become our eager adventurers. Even though we would not be able to see our family we miss, we were going to make this Christmas a memorable one for our little family.

Zac arrived home from Norway starting the countdown to Christmas and our vacation. Then what I would call, "The Big Christmas Expectation Melt Down."

Our viking home from Norway.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an emergency broadcast. After discovering a second strain of the Corona Virus deemed a "super-spreader" they would have to increase restrictions and introduce a Tier 4. No longer did we have the 5 days of relaxed restrictions for Christmas, a support bubble and travel. We were asked to behave as if we HAD the virus. No mingling, no travel, no gatherings of any size. Zac and I just sat quietly for a bit and let the sound waves pass through our ears. I think we both needed to process what this meant. Dumbfounded, I busied myself as I do in times of crisis, working on my embroidery while he sipped a jack & coke and watched mindless television. Then he quietly said, "Babe, we need to cancel it all." I knew he was right obviously but I needed to hear him say it. We had no choice and yet in a weird way we had a million choices. While we had no choice but to change plans, we had about a million ways in which we could spin this for ourselves, and our kids. Our sweet kids were so excited to go on a road trip. Our last little adventure had been such a bonding experience for them and so letting them down their first

Christmas in England sounded about as fun as a fart in space suit. I did not want to have to tell them no: no trip, no friends, no adventure. The same recliner I am rocking in this morning, I rocked in, and cried in a little that night.

When the sun came through my bedroom window the next morning I rolled over and I prayed. God give me the right words to say to these babies, oh and make me not feel like such a brat. Yes, I have to say brat because when I take a step back I know that while this felt big and disappointing, it could have been so much worse. We had each other. We had the gift of a wide open space: no appointments, no schedule, no things that had to get done. It was a whole different kind of freedom. Not really a lockdown but a lock-in. Anyone remember "Lock-Ins" from being a kid? Your parents would drop you off at a gym with your sleeping bag and it was some poor adult's mission to keep you alive for 24 hours? I don't remember the premise, but I remember it was fun. Also please realize, I had to dig deep for a grateful attitude because I naturally love a schedule, appointments, checklists and things to get ready for, so I had to fake it before I could make it. My heart wasn't completely on board when I walked downstairs to the coffee pot. After a silent cup of coffee, stewing over what would not come to pass, I went to the dinning room and chucked every bit of the tablescape supplies in a closet. Crazy-lady style. It felt so good to just throw a tantrum like an unruly teenager without the eyes of three kids watching me and mentally tallying the experience for their therapist. After the kids woke up and Zac had time to get in a coffee and slowly come alive we broke the news.

When I say "we," it was mostly Zac. Something about his brown robe, old man slippers and coffee mug that reads, "It's hard being King" puts us all at ease. He packages it like a ninja-therapist-car salesman. "So guys, no travel or company but we can do whatever we want! I think we should do a family Olympics, it can be a new tradition. We can do different challenges every day. You can come up with some." Genius. Our first Christmas in the Cherry Tree Cottage, just US, in the cottage. I chime in, "We can make whatever we want for Christmas Dinner, your choice, a favorite or something British, whatever!" Zac's mind tricks have me on a high. So I keep going, "Oh and you can do sibling sleep over every night if you want." (This means I make a huge pallet on the floor and they all get to sleep, or not sleep, together at night.) Of course our kids are like squirrels, and they are now over the lock-in and on to coming up with games we can play. It was actually easier to convince them, than me. When I say attitude is infectious, it's infectious. Just like that, the lock down wasn't going to get our Christmas spirit down.

No unspoken expectation, can be an expectation.

A very wise counselor once gave this sage advice to two young twenty year olds trying to figure out how to do marriage, but I think it applies to so many things. If you are in my family, have worked with me or asked for my advice, THIS IS MY MANTRA. First, because communication is so important and second because I believe what you say has power. This lock down only proved the point. Zac set the expectation for fun, and we had a blast. On Christmas day we lounged in pajamas, opened gifts, sipped Bailey's coffees and played all morning. I didn't put on a stitch of makeup and I set up the most gaudy kid's themed table for us to enjoy. We made a hybrid of British and English Christmas dinner favorites and I gave a short history lesson on where and why each item is popular. I always like to bring an element of learning to the experience, it's so uncool of me. We face-timed with friends and family and watched Harry Potter Movies in sequence every night. Every day Zac and I schemed and set up crazy games to play with the kids, mostly, so we could act like kids. The triple A's got so into it the Olympics they would check our makeshift bracket board for correctness. (Math is not my strong suit, spelling is not Zac's strong suit, as you will see on my onesie he lovingly gifted me: hoe hoe hoe, I mean ho ho ho.)

Back in the rocker again, my coffee now cold, and my mind racing to get my house back in order after Christmas. This was a fun lock-in, but I'm ready to start looking ahead and hoping for the opportunity to see more and do more. A nice country walk may be in order today. I hope everyone across the pond had a very Merry Christmas, we are surely missing home. I think a nice pot of gumbo may also be in order today too!

Stay tuned. I have big news for the next year. Want to see a small town southern girl with NO computer background try to build a startup in her spare time? This should be good, you're going to want to watch this.

Like, Share, Subscribe if you know someone that needs to hear that setting expectations is giving power to your words.


America wins. Closing Ceremonies.
Zac can't spell. Santa says, "ho, ho, ho"

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