Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle has been on our short list of places to see.  We didn’t pass up the chance when a sunny Saturday presented itself a few weeks ago, and headed out on the train with some friends.  Lynn stayed back with Cade, who was recuperating from bronchitis and an ear infection.  We made sure to get our passes stamped so we can return at leisure throughout the year for them join us.

Our friends, the Hintze’s invited us to join them along with a classmate from school.  I expected it to be further away, but in less than an hour we arrived in the quaint, adorable town of Windsor.  Before cars, it would take a day’s march from the Tower of London to get to.  The streets are lined with inviting little European shops and cafes.



The grandness of the castle is apparent right as you enter the town and trek up the hill to its entrance.  We all got audio guides to teach us the unique history of this oldest working castle in the world.  It was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1066 and has been inhabited, renovated and altered ever since by subsequent heirs, beginning with Henry I.  Today, more than 500 people live and work within its walls.



The grounds were lush and beautiful with hints of spring blossoming.  I’ve never seen such perfect grass in the courtyard area, which is closed to the public since it is inhabited regularly.  The flag atop the Round Tower indicated Her Majesty, the Queen was inside, which we learned was a regular occurrence on the weekends.  I can see why she loves it here compared to Buckingham Palace.


We started at Queen Mary’s dollhouse exhibit.  This interested me after spending many hours with my own beloved dollhouse as a girl.  However, mine was nothing like this one!  This was a gift given to the queen, wife of King George V in the 1920s and was never played with.  It was fashioned after an aristocratic family’s home with real silver plates, a vault with real miniature jewels, running water, electricity, a flushing toilet, working lifts, real wine in cellars and a working vacuum.  No detail was forgotten.  Even the tiny books are written by real authors and the paintings done by real artists.  All four sides are filled with intricate, detailed furnishings with cars in the garage underneath and a garden out back.   They don’t allow photography, but I found a few pictures on the internet someone took which really doesn’t do it justice, but gives you a small idea of it.


The rest of our time was spent winding through the castle looking at all the fascinating weapons displayed, collections of china, armor, artifacts and artwork.  This is the first castle that we’ve been through that uses some of the very rooms the public is allowed to view.  St. George’s hall has space for an enormous table that seats 162 people.  They showed how they use a ruler to set each place setting exactly uniform.  We saw all sorts of King’s and Queen’s drawing rooms, King’s bedchamber, dressing rooms, audience chambers and other grand reception rooms filled with priceless art,  painted ceilings and royal collections.  We weren’t able to photograph anything inside, but it was impressive and lovely.  Here is a picture courtesy of the web that shows what a dinner in the St. George’s Grand Hall would look like.

St George's Hall, Windsor Castle Photo: EZM

We learned that Queen Victoria’s family spent most of their time there and her husband Albert died in the castle of typhoid.  During WWII, the royal family secretly stayed there, blacking out all the windows and reinforcing their rooms.  It wasn’t destroyed due to Hitler’s plans to own it for himself.  The boys were hoping they’d see the Queen peeking out her window, but had no such luck.  However, they did get to see the guards march in to protect the royal residences.


A massive fire in 1992 destroyed much of castle, but it has been restored to its original beauty.  I’m amazed how many fires have engulfed this country.

The boys loved finding all the cannons and seeing the castle walls built with sharp flint to keep enemies from scaling them.


Of course we had to get a picture with the guard on duty.  I’m not sure how he’s able to see with that hat on.


Though we didn’t go inside St. George’s Chapel, we walked all around it marveling at its architecture.   Started by Edward IV in 1475, it took fifty years to construct.  It is the Chapel of the Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest order of chivalry founded by Edward III in 1348.  We’ll have time to go back and take a look inside since it’s full of rich history and the burial site of 10 monarchs, including Henry the VIII.



A quick trip inside the gift shop for treats and souvenirs, and we were ready for lunch.


Trusting the guards’ recommendation for lunch, we dined at The Carpenter’s Arms.  Tyler was thrilled to be eating at a restaurant from 1518.  They seated us downstairs right next to a dungeon looking space that was once used to smuggle things back and forth from the castle.  All the boys thought this was the coolest thing ever, until I shined my phone’s light inside and they were completely creeped out by all the spiders and questionable slime on the stone above them.  That was the end of that.


However, the food was great.  Tyler scarfed down his royal double burger and we shared the sampler platter of British food, which was surprisingly good.


With a few minutes to spare, we strolled around the town looking at all the quaint shops and signs.  We spotted the Crooked House built over 400 years ago that reminded us of the nursery rhyme.  It is now a cute little restaurant.  We finished off with gelato (which happened to be the worst we’ve ever tasted) before boarding the train back home.


I will never forget this day.  Though it was lovely and memorable, it was also the day I received the news that my dad had a brain tumor.  The original news was bleak and terrifying.  Not being able to talk to him immediately because of the time difference was agonizing.  The rest of the weekend was indescribably difficult waiting for more results and praying for a miracle.  It also happened to be the weekend our family was asked to speak in church.  Oh how I wish our talks had been written before this news.  Cade, Tyler, Lynn and I spoke about the blessings of obedience to the prophet’s counsel.  While it was so hard to even concentrate, I actually felt a peace and calmness that I may not have experienced by going through that process of study.

My dad is amazing.  He was the one to calm our fears, along with my mom, that all would work out.  It wasn’t until later the next week that we learned it wasn’t cancerous and he would undergo immediate surgery to remove the tumor.  Nearly all my life I have lived a short distance from my parents and have been so blessed by their support, help and love.  Being this far away during their time of need was, and continues to be, one of the hardest experiences of my life.  I can’t express the gratitude in my heart for the outpouring of love, service, prayers, well wishes and friendship that has been extended to our family at this time.  I can feel it even though I’m thousands of miles away, so thank you dear friends!

Back in Britain

It was risky flying solo with the four boys, but they did surprisingly great.  We left Seattle around 11 am and flew direct to arrive the next morning at 9 am.  The boys didn’t sleep a wink again so they were all messed up.  We attempted to take a little nap once we reached the apartment.  I thought surely one of us would wake up in three hours time, but no.  We all slept nine hours and woke at 5 pm, right in time for Lynn to come home and crash from his jet lag from Asia.  We felt like walking zombies, taking nearly all week to get back on the time zone here, but eventually we got caught up.

How strange it felt to be back.  Familiar yet foreign.  My focus was getting the kids’ schoolwork back to normal.  It’s been so sporadic fitting it in when we can.  We still need our daily outings and made it to a few playgrounds and museums throughout the week.

Princess Diana Memorial Playground

The weather was surprisingly wonderful for this time of year so we ventured out to the parks daily to burn off the boys’ energy.  They love Hyde Park and the Princess Diana playground.


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My eye caught a familiar face, even though she didn’t have any makeup on–and sure enough we saw Adele and her little boy playing right next to us.  It was clear she didn’t want to be bothered.  Her body guard shooed away a curious man so we didn’t try.  But Tyler snuck a picture.  She was really sweet sitting right in the sand with her little boy.


Holland Park Adventure Playground

Our other favorite park is Holland Park because they have a unique playground for all ages.  No celebrity sightings here, but it was packed with plenty of people wanting to enjoy the outdoors.

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Tyler was excited to be back with his buddy here.  They discovered a ladder outside our front door in the ceiling that takes them up to the building’s rooftop.  They felt like James Bond, climbing across the building tops.  He and Cade had some friends over to play guitars up there one night under the stars and looking out at the city lights.

British Library

On Saturday, we decided to check out the British Library.  I was hoping we could get library cards and check out some books for the kids.  Little did we know, it was more like a museum.  I don’t even think they have children’s books here.  And the process to get a card is much more intense, I don’t think we’ll bother.  Hopefully we can find a more usable library, however this one was interesting to see.  They liked checking out the rare stamp collection, old books, and vintage printing presses.



Along the way we were impressed with the St. Pancras  Renaissance Hotel.  Wow!  I’m astounded how many times we’re surprised by such architecture, many times in the least expected places.



Cutty Sark Tea Clipper

We finished off our first week with a field trip to Greenwich.  What a beautiful area!  We will definitely go back since we couldn’t fit everything in we wanted to.  First up was a tour of the world’s only surviving tea clipper, the Cutty Sark.  The boys were anxious to tour the ship and learn its history.  It was originally built in 1869 to transport tea to China and there were many exhibits showing exactly what it would have been like, including a seat that swayed like sea motion.  It was the fastest sailing clipper in its time, transporting all sorts of cargo, including wool to Australia.  She eventually was retired to the faster steamships that were more reliable.  The boys liked seeing what the crew ate and pretending to be captain for a day.













The ship has been preserved and restored as a museum ship for visitors now.  Suspended 3 meters above the ground, you can see the entire hull of the ship and view the world’s largest collection of ships’ figureheads in the gallery below.



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National Maritime Museum

Next up was a tour of the National Maritime Museum which happens to be the world’s largest.  We explored the vast collections of British history at sea.



The little boys pretended to be explorers on the high seas in all the different boats.  Through the icebergs and the battles, they imagined grand voyages afloat.





The older boys learned all about Admiral Lord Nelson and the Battle at Trafalgar viewing many of his personal items that brought to life what happened so long ago.  Of course Tyler loved learning about all the warships and seeing the battle displays.




The museums here are so incredible and geared towards hands on learning for kids.  We love them.  It’s been a wonderful way to enrich their learning and education this year beyond what they could have learned in a classroom.   




Driving the ship simulator and making it successfully to port was everyone’s favorite.

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What beautifully intricate replicas of various vessels throughout the museum.  Truly impressive!




Happy are we to be back to continue our journey in this great land.  Still so much more to see and do…

February at home and in Mexico

It’s hard to believe we’re half-way through our time here.  We decided to head back home to Redmond for a few weeks with Lynn having meetings there and wanting to see family and friends.  It was our first time flying British Air and it was very comfortable.  The boys did great watching way too many movies and didn’t sleep a wink.  It was strange leaving at 9 am and arriving the same day at 11 am.  Within a couple of hours, Nathan and Jace were out for the night without anything we could do to wake them.  Adjusting to new time zones is a killer for kids. Good thing they don’t have much of a schedule to stick to right now.

Of course the first order of business for the boys was reuniting with their dog, Lily.  She jumped up so high in excitement when she saw us and ran out to our car ready to go home.  We’ve been so fortunate to have such sweet friends taking good care of her.  She’s been spoiled.  The boys couldn’t stop loving her and were so happy she hadn’t forgotten them.



Tyler used his new iPod touch to film the reunion and didn’t realize until the next day that it got lost in all the excitement.  After hours of retracing his steps and searching high and low, he never found it.  Thirty days were all it lasted.  Not a happy mom. Grandpa J. came over right away to big hugs from the boys.  We’ve lived near both our parents for the past 15 years so it’s been hard being so far away.  Grandma J. was in Texas awaiting the arrival of Diane’s baby.  Little did we know baby Cora would arrive 9 days after her due date   She’s my 18th niece and it’s killing me not being able to see her.  She’s precious!

It was a whirlwind of jet lag and reuniting with loved ones and re-exploring familiar territory.  Somehow the house seemed gigantic.  The little boys ran all throughout the house in amazement, remembering all their old toys and special things.  We’ve missed the beautiful greenery of the northwest.  Driving for the first time in 3 months felt so weird but liberating.  I couldn’t wait to shop at all the stores I’ve missed.  It didn’t take long to fill my cart high at Costco with all our favorite items.  You can’t really buy anything in bulk in England and it was so wonderful to fill the fridge and pantry for a full week or two!  Going to brunch and lunches with dear friends was so fun to catch up and see everyone.  It’s been a little lonely and I’ve truly missed the amazing friends I have here.


My dad took the boys to the annual boat show in Seattle to check out the latest stuff.  They always enjoy their outings with him.  He took them over to Century Link field where the Seahawks had just played.  They loved being right down there on the field.  Unfortunately, when they tried loading up to go home, the car wouldn’t start.  All the electrical power was out on a car less than 6 months old.  They were stranded downtown until I came to get them.  Poor grandpa had to wait for the tow truck.  Not a good ending to a great day.


Sunday was extra special because Cade was ordained a Deacon at church.  We’re so grateful for family nearby that came to be a part of it.  Jace was especially excited to see his best buddy cousin, Grant.  We had a big lunch and enjoyed reconnecting.

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We timed it right being home for the Superbowl.  What an exciting game–the boys and Lily were so proud of the Seahawks!


Jace was able to go to his former preschool for a few days and loved seeing all his friends and favorite teachers.  He joined the Chinese New Year march in the freezing cold. IMG_9183

Tyler spent a lot of time with his friends and Cade loved having loads of neighbor boys to play football in the park with daily.  Nathan dumped out all his Legos and had fun with friends too, especially seeing the Lego movie a few times!


We spent the next couple weeks going to all the places we’ve missed.  Mod Pizza, Yogurtland, Taco Time, Pomegranate Bistro, and Daniel’s broiler – because it’s not easy to find a good steak in England. IMG_9264 IMG_9268

Lynn and I were able to slip away for some sun down in Puerto Vallarta for a week.  This was our 8th President’s Club trip with Tableau and I didn’t think we’d be able to make it this time.  We lucked out getting a great nanny to help out – who the boys fell in love with because she built massive blanket forts and had Nerf gun wars in the dark.  I don’t think they missed us a bit!

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We stayed at a favorite resort of ours, the Grand Velas, which pampered us with delicious all-inclusive food and fantastic service.  It was heavenly.  Reconnecting with so many amazing people was great – this group is really something special.  It’s been incredible to see such growth from our first club trip of eight to around 200 this time

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Some highlights were boating out to the Marieta Islands to see the spectacular volcanic islands and wildlife; snorkeling around the islands and through caves to see turtles, eels, manta ray and lots of tropical fish; watching baby whales jump alongside their moms; and my most favorite activity of  all–sitting in the sun reading or falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean.




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While we were basking in the sun, it snowed back at home.  The boys and Lily loved playing in it for a day before it melted.  Thankfully it was gone by the time we arrived!


We returned home re-energized and finally got to see my mom.  We were scheduled to head back to England the next day, but at the last minute, I decided to extend our stay another week.  We just didn’t get our fill and Lynn was flying out to Singapore for the week anyway, so I figured we may as well be at home than alone in the apartment.  Poor guy flew all the way to London on our scheduled flight, only to fly out to Singapore 8 hours later.

This gave us a chance to hit the ski slopes!  Cade and Tyler have been watching all the Olympic coverage and wanting to ski all winter.  Thanks to grandma for watching the little ones, we drove up to Stevens pass and had an awesome day together.  The boys had a little private lesson to brush up on their skills while I skied some of the harder runs.  The visibility was so  horrible and I ended up flying off a huge jump I didn’t see and bit it pretty hard.  At least no one witnessed it, but I was sore for days!  They didn’t want to leave, but I was worried the pass would close again with all the fresh snow of the day.

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It was time to say goodbye again, which seemed a little harder this time around.  It’s a bizarre feeling to be living in two completely different settings and feeling the pull of both.  We have been blessed to love where we’re at when we’re there.  At least when our European adventures are over we will look forward to returning home to the place we love!


Jace enjoying his kid’s meal


Happy birthday Cade!

Cade turned twelve in January.  It was the first birthday we’ve celebrated here and it felt weird not to have family and friends.  Not knowing what he wanted (this is a difficult age to buy for), we knew we’d get some ideas at Hamley’s.  It’s the oldest toy store in the world with seven floors of kid’s dreams.  They all loved getting big bubbles made for them and he added that to his wish list.  The little boys had a hard time focusing on gifts for Cade when they saw the Lego section.  Luckily we got what we needed without him noticing and were ready to wrap it all up.


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He wanted to go go-cart racing, but the course nearby didn’t allow child drivers, even though the web site said they did.  We’ll have to make a special trip out further to make that happen.  We ended up going out to dinner to one of his favorite local spots, The Spaghetti House.  They have the best kids meals–he always gets the chicken tenders and pasta carbonara and loves having leftovers for lunch the next day.  It’s the one place Nathan cleans his whole plate too, always going home with a tummy ache.  


We ended up having a little family party instead.  He picked out a delicious Chantilly cream and berry cake from Whole Foods.  We sang to him and he made his wish.  No – you’re not getting a little dog here!

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Tyler got him a bow and arrow that shoots plastic Nerf-like bullets.  Just what we needed here. At least they don’t hurt when you’re shot!  He had fun shooting it down the hallway making the suction bullet stick to his room’s window.  I was glad he chose to take it back to Redmond and keep at home.


Nathan got him one of those desk toys he really wanted (for some odd reason).  He can play with it when’s he’s bored I guess.


Jace got him a cup full of candy for his incessant sweet tooth and some airplane gliders they like to throw out our 5th story window to their brother below, who catches it and sends it back up the lift.  I’m pretty sure he lost both in 2 days.



He also got the set of magic balloons he saw on display and has been making the largest bubbles you’ve ever seen.


What he wanted most was a hockey stick he saw at a sports store.  I didn’t even know that’s what it was given its peculiar shape, and I’m not sure what he’ll do with it considering he doesn’t play, but it made his day.  He loves it.


We are so grateful to have Cade in our family.  Time has flown and it’s hard to believe he’s already twelve.  He started out as the cutest little bald, round-faced baby boy who loved to snuggle to a handsome, athletic, easy-going guy that we love.  Homeschooling has been a major challenge (for me), but he has stepped up and been so responsible in getting his work done independently and helping out his little brothers.  I know he misses being in middle school with his friends and playing football, but I know the experiences he’s having here will impact his future in positive ways.  Happy birthday Cade!!