The Clinger’s Visit

Timing is a funny thing.  Wanting to return home immediately upon hearing about my dad’s health, and being advised not to, I was grateful that my sister Crystal and her husband Kevin were able to carry out their plans to come out to see us.  It felt like a piece of home with them here during this rough time.

This was both their first time to England and we decided to pack as much in as we possibly could. The weather could not have been more glorious all week, blue skies and sunshine near 70 degrees!   With Jace now having an ear infection and horrible cough and Cade still on the mend, they stayed home to recuperate for a few of our outings.


First up was Big Ben of course!  It’s a must to get pictures in the perfect spot with the telephone booth, even if we have to wait in line a bit.

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We walked all around Parliament and arrived just after they closed the doors to Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church, but admired it from the outside.  There’s no way to capture the magnificence of the architecture here, it needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate and grasp its scale.

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With jet lag kicking in (at least with Kevin!), we forced them to stay awake a little longer and took them on a stroll through Green Park.  The park was absolutely beautiful.  I’ve heard how lovely spring is here and I can see why now. Tyler attempted to make friends with a nearby goose, nearly losing a finger in the process!  We got double ice cream cones and made our way to Buckingham Palace.

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Because the changing of the guards schedule didn’t jive with our plans, we decided to just show them Buckingham Palace without all the fan fare.  It’s definitely not as exciting and easy to see why the Queen loves Windsor Castle in comparison.


We briefly showed them Trafalgar Square before the sun set and walked down Oxford and Picadilly.  I think they crashed pretty quickly back at our place and caught up on sleep for another packed day.



Crossing the Westminster Bridge over the Thames River has the most spectacular views.  I just started my first oil painting of this very scene, I love it so much.


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Clear skies made our view from the London Eye perfect.  Inside the largest ferris wheel in the world, we were able to see a magnificent skyline!  We’re still learning what the majority of the buildings are, but it’s so vast and beautiful just to take it all in at such a height.  We felt on top of the world up top!

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The London Dungeon tour was not as good as it was hyped to be.  We were herded through the depths of smelly, dark spaces to experience the recreations of gruesome stories of London’s history with Jack the Ripper, Guy Fawkes, beheadings of Henry VIII’s wife and the like.  Tyler thought it was great, but I think we adults would like those 90 minutes of our lives back!


Sometimes you stumble on the greatest finds. All Bar One for lunch was a nice surprise of modern British food.  Kevin experienced the fish and chips with mashy peas and we all loved our meals, which is rare at a British joint.

It’s not easy deciding on a show here, but the vote was to see “Once” again since they heard how much we loved it the first time.  What we didn’t know was nearly the entire cast had changed and they had a fill-in for the lead lady so it wasn’t nearly as good,  but I still loved the music.  On our way there, our taxi driver pointed our Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh (and husband to the Queen) in his car next to us.  I was astonished to learn he is 92 years old, not looking a day over 70 in my eyes!


They headed out early Friday morning to Paris for Kevin’s birthday and spent the night right near the Eiffel Tower.   I think they had fun doing the tour bus and seeing the major sites there.


Saturday afternoon, they returned and we celebrated Kevin’s birthday with his new favorite cookies from Ben’s Cookies.  They really are so much more delicious than they appear!


Since Portobello Market is only open on Saturdays, we headed there to explore and shop.  They found some fun things for their four girls.   Low and behold, we bumped into Tyler, Cade and their friend Mike who happened to be there too!  It’s Tyler’s favorite place on the planet.  He may be the only teenage boy to truly appreciate antiques I know.

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We walked down Kensington High Street and stopped in St. Mary Abbot’s church on the corner which we’ve always wanted to do.  You could spend hours in just about any building, reading all the rich history of days and people long past.

Hyde Park was full of people.  This weather really brings the locals out.  They checked out the grounds of Kensington Palace.  Our favorite duck pond was under construction, so no feeding the birds today.


Unfortunately our favorite little Italian restaurant was booked  for dinner so we chanced it going to a different one we knew nothing about.  Sadly, it disappointed but the company was nice!


They were able to explore inside the Tower of London and see a few other sights on their own.

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We all rode the double decker bus to church.

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Later that night we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral, showed them our first flat, and walked along the passenger bridge to Tableau to show them Lynn’s office.

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Monday was spent at Windsor Castle again.  Cade wanted to see it this time, but unfortunately Lynn had meetings and was unable to join us.  Guess we’ll have to go back yet again.  The Queen was there again, and we watched her caravan leave and the flag change.

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This time we made sure we went in St. George’s Chapel and were not disappointed.  King George IV began its construction in 1475 and it took nearly fifty years to complete.  It was built as a chapel for the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Britain’s highest order of chivalry.  It’s considered a masterpiece of Late Medieval Perpendicular Gothic.  It was an overload for the eyes to take in everything at once.  I am constantly amazed at the beauty of the ceilings in such places, in awe how they were constructed such a long time ago given their tools and technology.

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The Quire area is impressively built with medieval wooden-carved stalls  with banners overhead where the knights of the Order assembled.  Seven hundred 700 engraved brass plates of former knights attached to the backs of the stalls. Prince William became the 1,000th knight of the order in 2008.  Here’s a few pictures courtesy of the web.

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Ten monarchs are buried in the Chapel including Edward IV himself, Henry VIII with his favorite wife Jane Seymour, Charles I, George V and Queen Mary and George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.  Several notable weddings have taken place there as well, including many of Queen Victoria’s children’s.

Our grand finale evening was a night out to dinner and Les Miserables.  The show did not disappoint with spectacular voices, special effects, creative sets and powerful music.  The songs have been stuck in my head for weeks now, which is okay because I love this music too.


It was sad to say goodbye, the time flew way too fast!  Thanks Crystal and Kevin for making the trip out and experiencing life out here with our crew.  Great memories!

Aboard the HMS Belfast

It didn’t take much convincing to get the boys excited to tour the Royal Navy HMS Belfast stationed in the Thames right by the Tower Bridge.


I wasn’t sure they’d make it in dry once they raced to play near the fountains on our way in.  Although it looks like they’re drenched, they gratefully just got their feet a bit wet so we were ready to board the ship and  explore the inner vessel.


My boys have toured quite a few ships in Seattle, Bremerton and Pearl Harbor, but this was the first British one that was very unique for many reasons.  For one, they allowed tours throughout the majority of the ship – going deep down into the depths of the boiler room and even the punishment chamber. We also loved how they showed what life was like for the hundreds of seamen years ago.  Life-like scenes were displayed throughout with different scents for each area.

The kitchen had guys peeling potatoes, with copper pots full of fake food.  The bakery section smelled of baked bread and showed how they made hundreds of loaves aboard.


The sick bay had a sterile hospital smell with injured guys in gurneys being cared for.  The boys kept revisiting the operating area to see the man with his chest cut open.  They even peeked under the blanket to see his wounds.  Boys.


The clove scented dentist room had a drill running as the dentist repaired a terrified man’s teeth.  Washing machines smelled of fresh laundry and the crew’s washroom had a clean, soapy scent.  The boys ran back and forth intrigued by it all.  They ended up asking a crew member how they did it and were shown essential oil diffusers in the rooms.


I was amazed to learn that in peace time this ship required 650 crew members just to run the controls since none of it is automated.  In wartime, they needed over 900.  We were shown how they strung hammocks for beds in tight rows wherever they could find a spot.  The hallways would have been covered near the ceiling, requiring those on board to duck as they walked throughout.


The most exciting part for the boys was climbing up into the gun turret and reliving the action from the battle of North Cape on Dec. 26, 1943 when the HMS Belfast and other Royal Navy warships sunk a German battle cruiser.  As the movie plays inside the cramped turret, the guns explode with smoke, vibrations and smells that felt like we were right there.  Jace was pretty freaked out, but the older boys thought it was so cool.


We spent several hours examining the nine levels from front to back.  They all loved pretending to be Captain.  Something happens when they dress up—the suddenly have a need to pose in distinguished ways.


Tyler loved asking loads of questions to the friendly man on staff.  I’m constantly amazed at his knowledge when it comes to history.  The HMS Belfast was used in WWII and reportedly fired one of the first shots at D-Day protecting the landings there.  It was also used in the Korean War to support the American and South Korean troops as they retreated before the ship was retired in 1963. He learned that scout troops are allowed to sleep over on the ship and is now working to make that happen.  He’s not a big fan of my blogging or picture taking, but he said this was one event he wanted recorded!



Seeing the beauty of the Tower Bridge lit up at night as we exited was spectacular!  It just never gets old.  I love looking at all the architecture in this area.  It’s such a mix of historic and modern buildings that make for an amazing skyline.  I love this place!

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Moving Day Weekend


November 9th, we packed all our seventeen bags up again when we got the good news that the apartment we chose was ready for us to move in to.   Lynn & Tyler got a taxi for all the luggage while the younger three and I raced during rush hour to pick up the keys, which we only had forty minutes until closing to retrieve.  Just our luck, the tube had a major backup due to an earlier fire and we had to wait and wait. I’ve avoided traveling the tube at this time of day because it is so uncomfortable, but this snafu made it so much worse.  I think I was the only one there crazy enough to have kids with me.

The first train that arrived was so packed, we tried shoving ourselves on, but couldn’t all fit.  I was so stressed that Lynn was going to show up at the apartment and I wasn’t going to have a key and we’d be homeless over the weekend. I didn’t have my UK phone yet, so I couldn’t contact him. We now had ten minutes to get from Black Friars to High Street Kensington, which is about 7 stops.  And still find the office with the keys, which I had never been to.  When the second train arrived equally packed, we pushed with all our might and squeezed in, just in the nick of time.  I felt so horrible for Jace and Nathan being trapped in a sea of legs hardly able to breathe.  Why did I have to wear my wool coat and scarf, it was boiling!!!  Jace and Nathan decided to argue and push each other right in the middle of all this.  It was the worst 10 minutes of our lives here so far.  I felt like Elaine on Seinfeld when she just wanted to scream on the subway.  Get me out of here!!!  We arrived a minute after 6:00 miraculously.  Thank goodness for Cade for running up the street, finding the office and getting the keys.  He saved the day!

We couldn’t have been happier to move into our new place.  I’m so grateful it all worked out and we were able to get this place, after the dozens of apartments we considered–this was the clear winner!  It was one of the few lateral ones and was completely furnished with great usable space that won’t make us feel cramped with school here.  What sealed the deal were two rare features for London apartments: a full-size fridge/freezer and a King bed in the master.  We’re living in Wynnstay Gardens in High Street Kensington-just a 5 minute walk from the tube stop.  The building was built in 1883 and we’re on the top (5th) floor.  The lift is probably the smallest they make, fitting only 2 people, but we sent all the bags up in numerous loads and took the stairs.  The apartment has been totally refurbished and is very clean.  We love this area, we can just walk outside and be in the heart of great shopping, parks and museums.  The only real drawback to this place is the dreaded washer/dryer combo in the kitchen.  Don’t even get me started on how frustrating laundry is here.  There’s so many other things to love about being here though, I can deal.


Our new stomping ground


Welcome home


Wynnstay Gardens





The tiny 2 man lift. They usually race down the spiral stairs to beat it!


Master Bedroom


Master bath. Love the towel warmers in England!


Cade’s room – to double as the guest room


Cade built a castle to decorate his room with.


Tyler’s room with a desk for his schoolwork


The little boys’ room. Didn’t take long for Legos to be scattered.


Main bathroom


View from up top.


Dining Room – lots of space for school


They couldn’t resist checking out the creepy attic – original brick walls.


Ended the night with a little fireworks show out the family room window

We had our first meal at McDonald’s that night and it blew us away how nice it was-the atmosphere that is.  The boys had fun ordering things unique to England like a 1955 burger (with the hugest patty, prosciutto and creamy bbq sauce), a sugared donut and mud pie mcflurry.  We ate downstairs in a club-like area that even had fresh flowers on the table!  The french fries (or chips) were gross, but that’s probably a good thing, we won’t eat them.

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We stayed up really late getting settled, which meant we got a late start on Saturday and missed the huge Lord Mayor’s Day Parade.  I really wanted to go see all the pomp and circumstance of this event, but it was raining and we didn’t have the energy to join a half million other people ring in the new female mayor of London.

Somehow we ended up at the Gap (because they’re everywhere) and outfitted the boys in some London gear.  Tyler traded in his Nike shorts and tees for a wool coat and scarf.  I never thought I’d see the day!  The rest of the guys got scarves and some coats and we left realizing it was the first time we’ve ever shopped with me being the only one not to get anything.  Oh well.  The shopping here is amazing and I’m sure I’ll get my turn.  We spent the rest of the day doing errands and I got my new phone, which is one more thing I have to learn.  Nothing here is user friendly I’ve decided.


Saturday night we found a perfect spot on the bridge to watch the biggest fireworks show of the year, commemorating the new mayor.  We met a great family from South Carolina next to us and watched the beautiful show on the river.

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We were so close to Lynn’s office, we took the boys over to play the wii.  They’re missing their videogames from home badly since we don’t have anything here.  Nathan’s DS decided to stop charging the day we arrived, so they’ve been going through withdrawals.  Without internet at the apartment yet and nothing on tv, it’s been a bit boring which encourages us to get out of the house.  Not a bad thing!


Next up was the Christmas street lighting at Regent Street.  We didn’t get there early enough to see the entertainment and singers (Ty Burrell, better known as Phil Dunphy from Modern Family did the honors), but we made it just in time to watch the lighting and more fireworks.  It was so incredibly packed, but beautiful and made me excited for the Christmas season.  They really know how to decorate for the holidays here!

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I love Sundays here.  We really like Hyde Park 2nd Ward and everyone is so friendly.  It’s also the one day each week we’re all together without distraction and a perfect time to explore.  After a short nap, we ventured out to Westminster Abbey to see the Veteran’s memorials.  The Royal Family had been there earlier that day to place beautiful wreaths of remembrance on display.  The Poppy Project honors fallen heroes and the lawns were covered with poppies and crosses with names on each.  It was so impactful and meaningful for the boys to see, especially watching some of the really old veterans there.

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Westminster Abbey – where William & Kate married



St. Margaret’s Church was open right there for us to view.  They didn’t allow photography, but it was incredible.  Inside are countless memorials of people spanning generations along the walls and on the floor.


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This sight will never grow old lit up at night

We finished off the night at the Tower Bridge.  We stumbled upon the strangest playground right across the street from the Tower of London.  It was completely dark, but the kids wanted to play and we wanted to rest, so we went with it.  Tyler was enthralled with a wall there that the Romans built back in 400 that was still standing.  Lynn and I laughed at this bizarre situation.  You never know how the day will go here or what you will find.

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The Tower Bridge was absolutely stunning, especially with the clear night and moon above.  The whole city is gorgeous at night and there’s something to see around every corner.  These are the moments burned in my mind, just being together on this wild experience together taking in the majesty of historic beauty.

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By the end of the night, we were completely wiped out!  Which is how we feel just about every night here.  Time to get this crew to bed!