Out at Oxford – {August 2014}

Oops – this post is out of order.  I’m so behind on blogging that I forgot about our trip to Oxford the last weekend in August, but it was so fun, I don’t want to forget it!

Now that we’re back in London and have seen most of the city sights, we’re venturing out a little further to try to see as much of England as possible.  Oxford was first on our list.  A quick train ride and we made our way out to the historic, architecturally rich university town.

We chose to do the hop on/off bus to get around the town since it’s too large to walk through.


The city of Oxford, or the city of Dreaming Spires, was founded in 1096 and consists of many universities or colleges with amazing architecture and history.

Our first stop was Christ Church where the boys spotted a field of cattle and had to interact. It’s always the little, unexpected things that end up being the highlight.  I think the boys could have hung with the cows all afternoon, but we had to say goodbye and move on with our tour.




The grounds of Christ Church were beautiful.  It is unique as the largest college in the University, but also has the smallest cathedral in England.  It is also where Charles Dodgson wrote the famous Alice in Wonderland stories.



We stopped to see the pretty War Memorial Gardens.



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The bus looped us around the city, showing us all the major famous buildings and well-known people who studied there.

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The University Church of St Mary the Virgin – Oxford’s largest parish church.


We strolled through the main city center and ate street food, stopped in cute little shops and listened to local musicians.  The kids loved checking out the Harry Potter store and had to buy the nasty Jelly beans that taste so horrible, they were daring each other the rest of the day.

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My favorite stop was the Fudge Kitchen, where we got some really delicious treats!

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A few more stops along the way.  I wish I could remember all the stops.

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The Sheldonian Theatre – Sir Christopher’s Wren’s second major design in 1664 used for concert, lectures and ceremonies.


The Radcliffe Camera – a reading room for the Bodleian Library.


The Bodleian Library – Oxford’s main research library.


Hertford Bridge – much like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, or a mini Rialto Bridge.


On our walk to the Museum of Natural History, the boys spotted a few “Hobbit houses” and wondered who lived in such dwellings.


The Museum of Natural History had some cool dinosaur exhibits and many other extinct animals.

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Since the boys were pretty well-behaved along the tour, we treated them to a stop at their favorite candy store, Hardee’s.  They each picked out a goody and we headed back in to London.

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Despite the boys’ worries of being bored all day, they actually had a fantastic day out in Oxford!

Discovering Dover – {Sept 2014}

This year we plan to fit in as many weekend excursions around England as possible.  Today’s trip was to discover Dover and the White Cliffs.  Zipping down to the southern coast on a high-speed train, we were there in about two hours.  England’s scenery is so varied and beautiful, it’s always fun exploring new places and learning the vast history of each one.

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The little city of Dover was pretty quaint and quiet.  We lucked out in the weather department with clear blue skies and sunshine!

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We quickly found a taxi to take us up to the cliffs since the boys were anxious to hike around.  The white chalk cliffs have a steep, dramatic drop overlooking the English Channel with views to the French coast.  We took the narrow pathway along the edge, where I trailed behind the boys with great anxiety as they neared the edge and threw little rocks over the cliffs.  It was such a beautiful view, but hardly stress-free trying to keep this bunch in line!  The pictures don’t do the height and drop off justice!



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The vast castle grounds weren’t far off and we were ready to check them out.


We stopped to check out the port and see the cruise ships along the way to the castle.


Dover Castle – known as the “Key to England” has an elaborate 2,000 year old history, the site believed to be a fortress during the Iron Age.  Set high above the White Cliffs, the castle has been a strategic asset in guarding England from invasion in many wars and battles, especially since it’s only a mere 21 miles from France.  The grounds are expansive and all surrounded by a massive and thick curtain wall.









The Great Tower is the heart of the castle. Inside, we learned all about the various royalty that once walked these halls.  It’s surreal to imagine we’re retracing the footsteps of so many historical figures.


Cade made a buddy.


The boys loved pretending to cook in the large kitchen and had even more fun sitting at the King’s table to dine.





Jace matter-of-factly declared, “When I grow up I want to be a King!”



Winding through countless steep stairwells to all the rooms, it was strange to imagine nearly a century of royalty that passed through these cold halls.  They must have been exhausted just getting around.  The boys enjoyed seeing how these people might have lived.


Finally making it to the steep rooftop overlooking the compound, Jace was so proud of his hiking accomplishment.





The secret wartime tunnels fascinated the boys as they learned how the military used them to provide protection as an air-raid shelter in WWII, as well as a command center.   Over three miles of tunnels are carved into the white cliffs back in the 1200s and beyond, some of which are undiscovered.  There was also a hidden hospital underground that was interesting to check out.  It’s hard to imagine the 2,000 soldiers that occupied this space during the war.



This is at the exit of one of the tunnels, overlooking the ports.


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Wandering the grounds, the boys were delighted to spot some sheep on the hills that they desperately tried to lure down with no luck.

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What boy doesn’t love checking out canons and artillery?

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A few good grass stains before heading home.

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Every outing must end with a nice dinner out.  Tyler’s always convincing us to try the oldest pub he can find.  This boy never tires of fish and chips.


Today was a perfect day out – we loved exploring Dover and learning about it’s amazing history.

Mother’s Day Weekend

It’s not technically Mother’s Day here in England today.  That happened back in March, but we decided not to celebrate it then since it fell on Nathan’s birthday.  Plus we were all really sick.  Well, Lynn went back to the states for a few weeks and we realized he’d be gone over Mother’s Day after he had left.  So the boys were on their own.

Cade was so concerned about making it a special day for me that he went out shopping all by himself (thankfully you can do that right outside our door) and used all his money to surprise me with gifts, flowers and chocolates this morning.  He had Tyler join him to make sure all the boys could get me something and they were so sweet picking out my favorite coconut lotion, earrings, and other things.  They couldn’t wait to have me open everything before church, which made us really late.  Oh well.

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I was so touched and amazed at their thoughtfulness.  They knew all I wanted was homemade cards and really good behavior for one day.  I now understand why my mom used to ask for that too.  We’re serious!  They even managed to make sure I got a nap this afternoon. I should give my husband credit for teaching these guys well.  I love these boys of mine with all my heart.  Even when they’re driving me nuts and draining all my energy and patience, I’m so blessed to have them in my life.  When I think they’re not listening to a word I’m saying, often I’m surprised that they’re taking in so much more than I could imagine.  My heart is overflowing with gratitude for the joy and love they bring me.  Being a mom means everything to me.

At least Lynn is back home able to see both our moms this weekend.  I’m jealous.  We have two incredible moms we love and honor so very much!  Living this far away brings a new perspective to how magnificent and important their influence is in our lives. Our kids have been blessed to have such devoted grandmas live so close and we are feeling their absence here.  We miss them dearly and can’t wait for a few short weeks to see them both!

Friday night I decided I wanted to go to a show so we lucked out and got second row tickets to Wicked at the box office.  The boys hadn’t seen it, but it had been a few years since I had in Seattle.  I was completely blown away at how good it was!  I think it’s my new favorite show here.  Being so close to the stage made it that much more powerful.  The facial expressions, music, costumes and set drew us in.  We learned the lead who plays Glenda the good witch actually goes to church at our building.  She was fantastic!  She just finished filming the new LDS bible videos as Mary.


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I was worried it might not appeal to my boys, but they all loved it.  Jace tried his hardest to stay awake to see the tin man and fell asleep on my lap right before he appeared at the end.  Poor boy was so wiped out after his long week at school.  All the performers were phenomenal – if you’re in London go see it!

Saturday I took the boys out to the aquarium.  We’ve attempted to go several times, but the lines have all been ridiculously long.  Though it was packed, we all had fun seeing the sea life.  It’s such a beautiful building with some great exhibits.  Of course, the boys loved the sharks best.

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Jace pretending to be freezing in Antarctica


The penguins were so cute.  Nathan said, “Mom, I can control them!”  And he made the penguin’s head follow his hand’s every move.  They felt sorry for the lonely looking one in the back that just stared at the wall forever.  He misses the glaciers, they guessed.



The lonely penguin

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They dragged me into the arcade for a few minutes to play a couple of games.  Cade and Tyler rode the simulated roller coaster as their worried little brothers watched them on the monitor.


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This past week the little boys have been attending their new school to get used to it. Since they’re not on the shuttle bus yet, I’ve had to take them out there each day, which takes an hour traveling by bus, then coach, then taxi.  And then and hour back, the same way.  Oh how I miss my Suburban.  It was worth it because they can’t wait til fall to return to friends and fun there. Four hours of travel time to and from every day has worn me out, so it was wonderful to get to spend a fun-filled weekend together with the boys who made me a mom.  I will cherish these days always because they’ll be grown before you know it.

Wishing a very Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms and mother figures who impact the lives of all those around you!  You inspire me daily.


The new school


Trina’s in Town!

Two days after Crystal and Kevin left, we were happy to have another visitor – Lynn’s sister Catrina.  The boys were excited to see her!  She came bearing gifts of Legos, books, a frisbee for the park and candy for the boys.  She was so generous to fill her suitcase with some American food we’ve been craving and can’t seem to find (or refuse buying at such ridiculous prices!).  Peanut M&M’s, Oreos, Kraft Mac n Cheese and Hidden Valley Ranch Mix – yes, nice and healthy I know.

Amazingly, Trina didn’t display a drop of jet lag so we were off and running!  I took her down to Westminster to walk around Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and all the traditional tourist sites there.   We met up with Lynn and got dinner at our favorite little French restaurant nearby.

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Nathan spun around 50 times while waiting for the tube without getting dizzy!


My dad had his brain tumor surgery the day before she arrived and I still hadn’t heard the results given the 16 hour surgery and time difference.  I was so anxious for him to wake up and know he was okay.

Having the love and support of family has helped us feel closer to home during this incredibly stressful time.  I’ve never been so relieved than to hear how successful his surgery was and the positive prognosis for the future, though the recovery would be long.  We are grateful for technology that connects us across oceans and lets us see each other.

Day 2

Surprisingly, we’ve never been inside Westminster Abbey so we loaded up the kids and took the tour.  It was extremely packed, but absolutely incredible inside.   We were greeted by a delightful and accommodating man, Martin, who was happy to lead us on a little personal tour to find an ancestor Tyler had recently discovered in our family line.  Somehow we are related to the first Duchess of Gloucester and were shown her tomb in a special room.  Tyler had all sorts of questions, which Martin was pleased to answer and welcomed him back to the library for more genealogical research.


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I have learned to look up when touring any old structures in Europe.  It’s simply fascinating to see the intricate, ornate and beautiful ceilings.  These photos from the web display a small peek inside this fascinating structure.  Westminster Abbey is the tradition place of coronation for English royalty.  It’s difficult to take in so much visually at once while learning the elaborate history as you go along.  A few interesting things I learned was that King Edward the Confessor began its reconstruction, formerly known as St. Peter’s Abbey, as a grand burial site for himself.  One week after its consecration in 1066, he died and was buried there.  It took another 25 years to be completed.  Also, the saying “robbing  Peter to pay Paul” refers to money donated to St. Peters that was diverted to pay for St. Paul’s Cathedral.

This is where all coronations of Britain’s kings and queens have taken place for the last nearly 1000 years.  In most recent history, it is where Prince William and Kate were married–only a very small handful of royals have that privilege.  Over 3,000 notable people are buried there as well, including many monarchs, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles, Dickens, Charles Darwin and many, many others.


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We went to the Chapter House there which was encased with amazing stained glass windows, each telling a story.  We loved seeing the windows about the discovery of America.  Below the windows are a series of special paintings from the 1400s that are the best preserved example of “International Gothic Style” in England.  Though quite worn, they once displayed 96 scenes or visions of the Apocalypse from the book of John.  Descriptions of each scene were once labeled on parchment beneath them, now gone.

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The little boys knocked on Britain’s oldest door (from 1050), but no one answered.


We walked all around the Westminster area, trying to avoid the crazy demonstrators that were picketing the area.

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With fantastic spring weather, we trekked over the bridge for some lunch.  Trina was introduced to her first Bento Box.  We all had one and loved it, the kids’ were the best I’ve seen.  I miss Japanese food from home.

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Next up was Trafalgar Square where we stopped for Tyler’s favorite historical artifacts shop.

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We walked around Picadilly and shopped at the Swatch store on Regent Street for some souvenirs for her kids.

The night was finished with delicious crepes in South Kensington.

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Day 3

Sunday morning was spent at church.  After lunch, we left the kids for a bit to head down to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  The doors were open so we went in to check it out.  They were preparing for an evening service, but we had a few minutes to stare in amazement at the grandeur and awesomeness of everything.  I can’t even imagine how, or who, could have painted the ceiling of the dome so high up at its construction so long ago.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most well-known sights, as the church of England’s cathedral that dates back to the design of Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century.  For 250 years, it was London’s tallest building, once the same location as the original church dedicated to the apostle Paul in 604 AD.  It is definitely a place that needs to be seen to appreciate.  Incredible.  Many notable events have taken place here, including Princess Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth’s II Jubilee celebrations, funerals for Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and peace services at the end of world wars.


Crossing the bridge to Southwark, we stopped in at the Tate Modern Art Museum with high hopes of being amazed.  Art is definitely in the eye of the beholder.  While there were some nice pieces, we saw a lot of unusual displays such as this galvanized metal construction that reminded me of something I might see in my garage.

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Once they move the Tate to their newly constructed building, I will give them another chance to impress.

We stopped in to show her Lynn’s office and made our way back to the kids.


Day 4

Changing of the Guards is always fun to see if you’re new to London.  With crowds of people, and many warnings of pick pocketers from police, we squished together to catch what we could see of the royal guard marching in.

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We lucked out with front seats on the double-decker bus headed back to Kensington.  Jace wanted to show Aunt Trina his favorite dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.  We checked out a few other exhibits before heading out for lunch.

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We had to show Trina the Aurora Collection – all of the world’s natural colored diamonds and how some glow in the dark, since her husband is in the diamond business.

Cade watched the little ones so Tyler could take Aunt Trina to a true British pub from the early 1800s right around the corner from our flat, named Britannia.  Of course we had to show her traditional fish and chips with mashy peas.  Tyler loved his bowl of mussels and can’t wait to return to his new favorite pub.

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Now it was Cade’s turn to come to Kensington Palace with us for a little tour.  This is where Princess Diana raised her boys for the most part and where William, Kate, baby George, Harry and others live today, in a separate part of the building.


Seeing some of Queen Elizabeth’s and Princess Diana’s dresses they wore years ago was my favorite part.  I remember loving this low-waisted, blue dress on Diana and getting a similar style for my 6th grade graduation.  Completely 80s.  Cade asked me, “Why would you want to make your legs look so short?”  Good question.

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The most depressing part was reliving the anguish of Queen Anne’s heartache as you walk through rooms learning about her 17 unsuccessful pregnancies and the boy she lost at 11 years of age who was in line to be King.


Queen Victoria’s family once lived in the palace as well, and we learned more about her large family and the adoration she had for her husband, Albert.


A stop by Harrod’s was a must.  Cade helped pick out a souvenir for his cousin in the Lego section of the elaborate toy department.


Trina and I had a girl’s night out at a show.  We had so much fun at Mama Mia, I’ve never been to such a high energy show where everyone is on the feet dancing and singing along at the end.  Now I can’t stop singing all my favorite ABBA tunes!



Day 5

Since the boys and I had our oil painting class, Lynn had Trina come out to his office to meet up for lunch.  He took her down to Borough Market where they ate and explored.  We shopped a little more and hung out with the kids.

We finished off the night with Lion King.  We’ve been wanting to see it for a while and finally got the chance.  The costuming and sets were so creative and captivating.  The kids loved all the animals and music.

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Day 6

Tyler and Trina left early so he could show her around the Tower of London.  It’s his favorite place here.


We met up and switched off so Cade could take Trina to lunch at Nando’s, his favorite place nearby for spicy chicken and endless frozen yogurt.

With drizzly weather, we adjusted our plans to see a castle and opted to go on a boat tour to see the city from a different view.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to see much since the kids wanted to stay dry inside the boat.

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The boys had to point out their favorite ship – the HMS Belfast


It’s always hard to see family go.  The time flies way too quickly.  We absolutely loved spending the week with Catrina and making unforgettable memories.  Thank you to her awesome family for making it possible for her to come out to see us!

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!

Grandma and Grandpa Smith’s visit

How exciting to have Grandma and Grandpa Smith come visit us!  We were feeling a little lonely for the holidays, being used to large extended family gatherings on both sides, that we were thrilled they could come spend some quality time with us.


We asked each of the boys what they wanted to do with their grandparents.  Jace was eager to take them on the top of a double-decker red bus and Nathan wanted to go feed the ducks and swans.  We loaded up on the bus and took them to Kensington Palace and Gardens with crackers and bread.  The boys are getting pretty good at attracting the birds to land on them; Nathan even made a few feathered friends.  We enjoyed the unusually warm winter weather, walking around the park a bit before heading back.




Trying to set a record for bird holding


Finally, Nathan figured out how to attract the birds


Kensington Palace


Lynn and I had his work Christmas party that night so the kids got to spend the evening with tired grandparents.  We were grateful they were there to help out and felt bad leaving so quickly.  The party was fun, even if we were the only ones not decked out in “roaring 20’s” attire.  Boy, they really got into it with rented costumes and everything!  It was great to meet so many co-workers and spouses there too from all parts of the world.


That next morning, Tyler got his pick to take grandma and grandpa to Portobello Market.  He’s been dying to go and we’ve held off until they arrived.  It’s an extremely crowded antiques market with a mile long road of everything vintage you can imagine.  We’re really not sure where Tyler’s obsession with old things comes from, but he could have spent all day there.  He has his eye on some old pocket watches.  Nathan found a 100 million year old fossil rock to add to his collection and Jace fell in love with a little soldier bear.  Cade, as usual, didn’t want a thing.


Tyler’s in heaven looking for antiques



Jace loves bears just like grandma!



Nathan’s fossil from Madagascar


This was a brave moment for Jace!

Tyler also wanted to show them Blackfriars, where our first apartment was.  He’s determined to eat at this pub before we go back to the states.  It’s so small and always so crowded.


We barely made it in to St. Paul’s Cathedral to hear an evensong and prayer.  I need to make sure we come for a Christmas choir while we can.  The acoustics are so powerful.


St. Paul’s Cathedral

Lynn wanted to take his parents to the new office, which the boys always love.  It was a beautiful night on the roof.  On our way down, a filming crew was wrapping up and Lynn’s mom said, “I recognize that voice!”  Sure enough, it was Maggie Smith, Britain’s most recognizable actress who played the witch McGonagall in Harry Potter (and is also in Downton Abbey, which I have yet to see).  She was clearly not in the mood for fans, but we found out they were filming the sequel to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing that.


A view of the Shard

Our next adventure was to take them to see all the Christmas lights on busy Regent Street and Oxford.  A sweet English lady sat next to us and was our own personal tour guide of the city.  I love how knowledgeable and friendly people are here in sharing their city’s history with us.


After church and a quick nap, grandma had a special project for the boys.  They each got their own gingerbread man to decorate.  Keeping the candy on the cookie and not in their mouth was the hard part!  We haven’t been able to carry on our normal holiday traditions here so this was such a treat for them to do!



Gingerbread boys


Taking sugared-up kids out, we ended the night with Cade’s choice– to take his grandparents to Big Ben.  We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather, considering how freezing it is back home too!  Parliament was lit up with Christmas trees and lights everywhere.  I love this time of year!  Nearby was Nelson Mandela’s statue with a memorial for his recent passing.




Grandpa took the older boys to Holland Park while Grandma, Jace and I went shopping.  It’s dangerous living in the midst of so much retail!!  I haven’t had the chance to really shop (having all the boys with me all day), so it was wonderful to get out and see what’s out there.  It’s a mix of familiar stores (even if their names are a little off—TK Maxx) with unique European ones.   A trip to Harrod’s was necessary and we had a lot of fun.  We got some ornaments to add to our tree and to send to family back home.  I’m pretty sure getting lost in there is their mission.


Shopping at Harrod’s


For family night, we went to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland.  What a crowd, it was massive!  We looked through the small Christmas market for gifts.  Once the little boys spotted the rides, they wanted tickets.  I ended up going on the double-decker bus ride and Jace was brave and went on a few more by himself.  Somehow Tyler and Cade talked me into going with them on the most extreme ride of my life.  I can handle just about any ride, but I wasn’t prepared for the intense thrill rides of Europe!  What was I thinking, having a fear of heights?  We got strapped in by rushed Germans with no patience, and I had no chance to back out.  Within seconds we were whipped up incredibly high above the park grounds, which would have been a spectacular sight, had we not rotated 360 degrees as we raced down nearly skimming the ground and back up, flipping upside down at alarming speed.  Over and over—it got faster each time.  I was so terrified, I wasn’t even nauseous.  I squeezed my eyes shut and begged for it to end.  After a little panic attack as we were stuck high above the ground while they unloaded the others down below (because the boys were swinging their feet and teasing me), I could have kissed the ground when we got off and vowed to never do anything like that again!





Warning–this is more terrifying than it looks!

The park was huge and extremely packed, not the place for Lynn’s headache so we ended the night early after a few treats and games.  Cade tried to earn £20 by climbing to the top of a rope ladder, but didn’t quite make it.   Nathan bought powder that turns into fake snow.  It’s pretty cool, although I’m sure we’ll regret the mess!



Another fun night spent together was going to see the new musical “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”  It’s one of the few shows I’ve seen that encourages eating candy while watching the production!  We thoroughly enjoyed it, adults and kids alike.  The sets and special effects were exceptional.  It was a bit of an updated version from the original, but not in the creepy Johnny Depp kind of way.  It stayed true to the classic storyline with humble Charlie and his poor family (loved the grandparents), but the other kids who win golden tickets are more modern, annoying characters you’re glad to see swept away. The boys favorite part was when this bratty boy got sucked into a video game and his mom pulled him out of the tv and he was this little miniature squealing boy.  Still not sure how they did that, but it was cute.  If you get the chance to see it, I highly recommend it.



A night out at the theatre


Covent Garden near the theatre


The kids loved having grandma and grandpa come to see and experience our new life here. We spent the next day getting ready for our holiday trip to Munich Germany.  What an adventure that was.  Details to come…

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.


St. Margaret’s Church



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!


Our first weekend here

We all slept in pretty late today.  It’s a combo of jet lag and non-stop exploring.  We finally made it out of the house at 2:30 and surprised the boys by going down to Regent Street to check out the big car show.  There were cars from the 1800’s to today.  Tyler has a deep love for cars and goes to all sorts of car shows with my dad at home, so you can imagine his delight.  It was incredibly crowded, but we made our way through and saw some amazing old cars that had less horsepower than our lawnmower. Jace & Nathan were more excited about the balloons they got than looking at the cars.  Jace was pretty devastated when his flew away.  There was no way we were going back in the sea of people to get a new one.

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Regent Street is so unbelievable with it’s incredible buildings and fabulous shopping.  They’ve already started decorating for Christmas and I can’t wait to see it lit up at night.  It will be spectacular for sure!  I’m told each street has its own Christmas lighting ceremony with celebrities each night so we’re looking forward to catching some of those.

We hopped on the bus and decided to stop at random places to see what was there.  We really haven’t had time to research where everything is yet, so we’re learning as we go.


Getting familiar with this tube stop by our apt.



We ended up at Hyde Park and checked out the Royal Artillery Memorial of WWI.

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We happened upon the cutest ice skating rink and carousel in South Kensington.  They’ve made it into a winter wonderland.  The boys chose riding the horses over the ice, so I’ll have to wait until next time.  A perfect Christmas event for later.

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Right around the corner, we found the church building we’ll be attending on Sunday and met the sweetest sister missionaries, one of whom who knows my sister-in-law from back home in Utah.  Small world.  They had a really neat visitor’s center and we’re excited to meet the ward members soon.  The grounds where they built the church was a bomb sight in WWII, which Tyler had to hear all about.

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After a quick dinner at the Noodle House, we made a few more stops in Victoria and .. and made a bad call taking the buses back home.  The Saturday traffic here is insane.  There are so many people out and about all day.  It’s a learning process, but the kids were troopers.  On the bus ride home, Jace found what he believes is his long lost balloon and was so happy!!


Hooray for finding the lost balloon!


No sleeping in today.  Church starts at 9 am which meant we had to leave for the tube ride by 8:15.  We were welcomed by the friendliest members, most of whom are Americans with the most interesting stories of why they are there.  We are in the Hyde Park 2nd ward.  I love that church feels the same no matter where you attend.  It was a lovely service and we met so many wonderful people who gave us all sorts of advice and tips.  I’m so happy to meet other moms and get involved in playdates/museum outings with other families.


The kids all went off to Primary and had to start practicing for the primary program that will occur in 3 weeks.  We just had ours back home, so they’ll get to do it twice.  We’ll see if Jace is brave enough again.  Nathan met several friends (one named Jace from Africa..there’s now 3 Jace’s in the ward) and Cade met a few boys in his class from Tacoma, WA.  Go figure.  We were so happy Tyler had a 16 year-old boy from WA D.C. to go to class with, who moved here 3 weeks ago.  He’s doing BYU highschool online too, and they’ll be able to go to early morning seminary together with the few others that attend.  He’s already lined up with lots of activities this month in the Young Men’s program.

Tyler’s hatching a plan to convince us to stay until next Halloween .  He learned a ward member’s son is friends with Paul McCartney’s grandson- and McCartney was disguised this Halloween in a Frankenstein mask handing out candy at his grandson’s in St. Johns Wood.  He wants to dress up as a rock star with a guitar and just so happen to ask for his autograph.  Keep dreaming!

We had to get the kids out of the apartment, so we went back to Hyde Park.  I will be spending a lot of time here.  I love it.  It reminds me so much of Central Park.  We went to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground and snuck in right before closing.  What a wonderful place for kids.  This is where we’ll be doing recess since it’s walkable from where we will be living.IMG_3092IMG_3073IMG_3085 IMG_3065

A few steps away was Kensington Palace, where Prince William, Kate and baby George live.  We need to get tickets to tour it soon.  I was surprised at how open it is to the public. What a beautiful place!




“Mom-I want to talk on this iphone!”

By the time we made it back home, Jace begged me to put him to bed.  Music to my ears.  He didn’t even bother changing out of his clothes, he was that tired.  I think we’re pushing his limits of stamina.  What a weekend, I’m exhausted too!  Hope I can pull of our first day of home school tomorrow…