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December 2016

{If you would like to start reading from the beginning of the year, click here to find January!)

I shall let this picture inform you of the reason for our most tardy Christmas cards:

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My sister and her family w/ our family on THIS side of the pond!  At Wimpole Hall!  They called just as we returned from Bath and told us they were coming – stayed for ten wonderful days (well, except for the days when the kids were sick . . . but you can’t have everything can you!?)

So with our warmest wishes, we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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November 2016

Last year we had a horrible trip to Bath.  While no one was injured or lost, the day involved more drama than is necessary for one day trip – wrong directions from the GPS, horrible weather (we know now that we should have expected such, living in England and all), a carsick child, not a single place to park our van in all of Bath (again, we know now that we should have expected such a thing, living in England and all!), too little time to see the things we wanted to see (what with all the driving around to find a car park and all), and finally siting on the closed motorway for 2 hours on the way home.  And to top it off, our British friends laughed at us when we told them that we tried to go to Bath for a day trip.  Out loud, they laughed.

What we learned: Things that would be an easy day trip in America are not so here.

What we did: We planned another trip to Bath this year, same weekend – different plan!  This time we booked a place to stay – a church built in the 1700’s, graveyard garden, stained glass windows, and all!  We planned a much more leisurely pace, and we had a grand time!

Day 1: We drove to Bath, avoiding the roundabouts that caused the carsickness on our previous trip, parked in the Park and Ride outside of town, and once in town toured the Roman Baths:

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Day 2: Visit the Cathedral & shop the Christmas Market.

Day 3: Sleep in then drive home the long way, stopping at Stonehenge along the way!

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Ah! Much better! (But our friends still bring up the ill-conceived day trip to Bath as proof of our American-ness.)

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October 2016

As I have mentioned, Cambridge is so close, yet in more than a year, we had not managed to do a tour there . . . so we fixed that this October.  A friend used to give tours, and he was kind enough to give a tour to our little home ed group.  He did a “Christian History Tour of Cambridge,” and it was amazing – learned so much about the reformation and people in the history of Cambridge.  It is breath-taking to think that our lives today have been directly affected by the things that went on in these buildings and in the places that we walk by on a regular basis.

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One of the things we miss most about living in the mid-west is the you-pick farms.  We love having fresh, local produce – local as in we picked it, local. We love being able to can or freeze loads of fresh strawberries, peaches, and homemade applesauce.  So when we found this little treasure last fall, we were all delighted!  We found this apple orchard that is open on weekends in October.  It is up on a hill and has beautiful views of the surrounding areas, and the sky seems to stretch on and on forever!  We visited again this fall and were again delighted.

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The apple varieties are different here.  In the big groceries we can get granny smith, gala, pink lady, golden delicious and a few other familiar varieties.  In general, they are okay – probably shipped from afar.  But several of the local markets and our little gem of an orchard carry the British varieties that are new to us.  It seems to us that the British prefer a more tart apple, and most of the varieties we have tried here are full of flavor!  We tried Spartan apples for the first time this year.  They are dark, dark red on the outside and bright white on the inside – picture perfect and super crunchy.  The quintessential cooking apple here is the bramley.  They are laughably large – think softball size, maybe a bit larger!  You can literally make a pie with two, maybe three, apples!  They are mostly green and super crisp and tart!  When baked they hold their shape but become soft . . . and super yummy.  I might be ruined.  We’ve already decided that we’ll have to grow bramley apples when we move back to the States!

The last half of October brought us visitors from seven times zones away!  Handsome’s parents visited; oh, it was so good to see family and to get to show them around our new home!  Below: some of us went out for a cream tea!  It was yummy!

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Handsome and I celebrated 20 years of marriage this year!  Hard to believe! Handsome’s parents watched the kids for a day while we took the train to London.  We started our day at Borough Market, where we wandered up and down each row marveling at the stores and stalls, the bread, cheese, fruit, veg, spices . . . and so much more.  It was a feast for all the senses.  {For a few of you family members who got spices for Christmas, this is from whence they came!}

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And once we had exhausted Borough Market and all of it’s goodness, we took the Tube to Covent Garden, below.  This was one of the places that jen really enjoyed when she studied in London, so it was great fun to get to take Handsome there. We finished up the date with a walk through Chinatown and dinner at a little candle-lit Italian place upon which we stumbled as we wandered.

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We took Handsome’s parents to the Cathedral at Ely.  My favorite part of the day: watching the kids decipher the pictures on the ceiling, trying to figure out which Bible story each picture was.

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Some friends here recommended a trip to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle; after looking at it online, we scheduled a trip as soon as we could – it worked out so nicely that we were able to go while Blake’s parents were visiting!  It turned out to be such an amazing trip!

Lindisfarne is a tidal island, so after checking the tide tables a billion times, we journeyed across to the island by car at low tide, were we were “trapped” until the tide went back down six hours later.  We did not lack for things to do – what a magical place it was!

We visited the ruins of the abbey on the island where keep-away was the game,

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toured the castle and the nearby lime kilns where the kids had a great game of tag,

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played on the rocks at the coast – as the tide came in, we spotted sea anemones opening up, coming back to life!  (so cool!), and left just after the tide was low enough to allow us to cross.  You can see that some of the road was still covered, but really, Mom and Dad, it was safe!

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Then we spent a day at Bamburgh Castle.  This is a picture of Bamburgh from the beach below.  We all agree that this is our favorite castle from the outside – so magestic!  (For what it is worth, our favorite inside is Dover Castle.)

 

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The place we stayed was right on the coast of the sea, and because daylight hours are so short, we didn’t have to wake up early every morning to see the sun rise over the rocky coast.  It was stunning!  One morning there was a pod of dolphins playing in the water just off the coast!  And one morning the tide was low enough that we were able to carefully pick our way down to the seaweed covered rocks and explore the tidepools (called rock pools here.)

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September 2016

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We opened September with a trip to Oxford.  Highest on the priority list for our bookworms was a tour of C. S. Lewis’ house, The Kilns.  We were so, so pleased when they were able to accomodate our last minute-ish request.  The tour was long but super interesting, and it was so fun to see the home of a family favorite.  We also visited the Bodleian Library, part of the University of Oxford.  Oh, how it makes me wish to go back in time and study at Oxford (I considered it for a while), just for the opportunity to study in such a beautiful place!  The Divinity School is pictured below; Harry Potter fans may recognize this place, as it was featured several times in the movies.  Such a remarkable building and surrounded by other amazing buildings as well.  Oxford did not disappoint!

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Above: another Oxford stop, the Eagle and Child, which Tolkien & Lewis fans will recognize as the home of the Rabbit Room.

Below: The final stop on our Oxford tour, Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill . . . and most importantly to some of our children, home of one of the world’s largest hedge mazes.

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Busters’s birthday wish was to hang out in the trees of Thetford Forest, and so we did.  And we all survived!  A couple weekends later found us in London to see Buckingham Palace which is only open to the public in the summer, when the Queen is in Scotland.  We toured the Mews where they keep the horses and carriages, some of which are really over the top; as in, yes, that is real gold all over that carriage in the picture below!  We also toured the Palace which was amazing, though I think my favorite part may have been the beautiful garden – right there in the middle of London!

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Our littlest started nursery this year at one of the local schools.  Children start nursery at age three here; most kids attend for three hours a day, some only a few days a week.  The next year, students go all day at age four.  I won’t go into my whole educational philosophy, but I don’t fully appreciate the idea of sending three year olds to school and starting all day school at age four.  BUT early childhood education here is really fun – think mud puddles and gardening and playing outdoors – even in the rain, lots of books, and friends.  Also, this homeschooling mama was tired!  So we decided to enjoy the free nursery year; he goes a couple mornings a week. We love, love, love his teacher and his school!  It has been such a good experience!  Oh, and the uniforms – so. darn. cute.

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August 2016

{Click here, if you want to start reading at the beginning of 2016.}

Funny thing: August doesn’t exist on our picture files, but it was an insanely packed month; it was just all stuff that didn’t afford pictures.  Bubba started the month at camp – her first sleep away camp and a glorious success!  Gus & Buster left for camp the same day that Bubba returned home; they also had a most-amazing time.  All the kids forged good friendship at camp and learned a ton of British-isms!  Just after Gus & Buster returned, our church held their Holiday Club (English for Vacation Bible School); all of our crew was involved in the running of that, and it was another amazing week!  We love our church here, and we all enjoyed serving the community with our church!  (More than half of the kids who come to Holiday Club are not regular church folks, so it was a great opportunity to love on our community a bit!) That same week, Bubba was at horse camp where she spent the week getting dirty and riding horses or maybe getting dirty riding horses, not sure.  But the amount of laundry that I did in August was epic!  (see: not picture-worthy!) Once holiday club was over, and Bubba was collected from horse camp, the kids started a week of sailing at one of the local lakes.  They finished the first two levels of the sailing course, loved it, and would like to learn more!  Sailing is a fairly common thing for kids to learn here – again, living on an island has some great advantages!

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July 2016

Living on an island, albeit a large one, has some great advantages.  One of our favorites: proximity to the beach!  We planned a long weekend, picked a random beach location totally based on where we could find accomodations for our large family, and had the best time!

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This was our first time on a rocky beach, but we all loved it.  There was enough sand that those who wanted to make sand castles were able to, but the stones were just amazing!  It was so fun to hunt for pretty stones along the edge of the sea.  The stones also made the most amazing sound as the waves crashed against them.  We felt like we hit the jackpot in finding this place to stay – our accommodations were great – including the huge garden (English for “yard”) where the kids played all sorts of games, the town was small and easy to get around, and the neighboring town was just amazing!  There was shopping for those of us who wanted to shop, really yummy local ice cream, a fish & chip shop worth several thumbs up (fish & chips by the sea = bliss!), and miles and miles of rocky beach!

You might notice that we are looking a bit cold in the above picture; it is true.  It was July, and highs were in the low 70’s with a “breeze” befitting of the North Sea.  Totally normal for here. But the sun was out, so we called it good and enjoyed the time.  For the record, some of the older kids (ahem, Gus & Buster) did actually get in the water . . . they were forewarned that they would be cold and should not complain after getting wet.  They didn’t.

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We closed out July at a concert.  Andrew Peterson gave a concert in a barn, a huge barn.  We sat on hay bales, and the hosts even had burgers and sausages for the crowd when the concert was over.  So. fun. and free.  Did you get that?  Free.  Crazy place we live.  (Crazy good.)

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June 2016

June turned out to be the month of castles and other great adventures!

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Warwick (pronounced War-ick) Castle – Bubba’s birthday wish.  This is just part of it.  This is the fourth or fifth castle that we visited and by far the most “commercialized.” There were characters playing their parts as the lady of the house and knight, a falconer showing off his birds, a HUGE trebuchet from which they launched firey things a few times a day, a class for knight-wanna-be’s (see below), a maze, a very well preserved castle, and so much more.  We were busy from open until close!  Kind of like a medieval Disney.

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Mid-June we took off on a cheap flight for a week in Germany.  We stayed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a lovely (albeit a bit touristy) town in Bavaria.  Our first night there we stuffed ourselves silly-full of German food – oh, schnitzel, how we love you!  The rest of the trip was amazing and punctuated with trips to local bakeries where we made sure to try real strudel and everything else amazing!  Germans know how to do pastry.  It’s a good thing that our budget airline was not weighing US on the trip home!

Side note: travel in Europe is not what it was when I backpacked here as a student. Budget airlines have made flying the new way around.  But, ironically, it all comes at a cost: everything gets weighed and charged.  The drinks are not free, and snacks are not free. Checked luggage is not free. Picking your seat is not free. Even carry-ons are not all free. It all makes for some great opportunities and some great comedy.

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Above, the view from Neuschwanstein Castle. Bavaria is stunning!

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A view of Neuschwanstein Castle.

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A day later: We rode the ski lift UP the mountain – in summer.  Was fun to see the waterfalls & such on the ground.  But the main attraction was not the ride up . . .

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It was most definitely the ride DOWN!  We strapped ourselves into one of these babies and roller-coaster-ed down!  Not our video, but someone posted what the ride is like!

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And the next day: We went to Partnach Gorge – Wow!  We have tons of pictures and none of them do it justice.  River below & waterfalls above!  Sounds of rushing, roaring water and dripping rocks.  The change in temperature was remarkable; it was probably above 90 degrees outside of the gorge and in the low 50’s in the gorge.  Below, you can see our children being dragons!

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The picture below is taken looking up from the path in the gorge.  It was so dark and cool in the gorge, but the sun shone so bright up above!

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We had a day or two of resting/relaxing, then off we went again.  Do we have the right to say we visited Austria, if it was only for 30 minutes or so?  Here is picture proof:

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We visited Austria on our way to Italy, where we toured this small castle. . .

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and visited this most picturesque town where we had lunch and scored big on some amazing gelato. After living in temperate England, the mid-80’s felt incredibly hot, so eating gelato in the shade was a great “win” for the day!

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We ended the month back at home, where all the kids took up their regular activities.  School here goes from September until mid-July.  There are three terms with two week breaks between terms, at Christmas and Easter.  They also take a break in the middle of each term, aptly called the mid-term break!  So when we went on our holiday in June, everyone else in England was still working away, and activities were continuing without us!  It is nice to be able to go on vacation when everyone else is in school – hello, cheaper airfare!  BUT I will admit that we all really like the English schedule and have adopted a bit of it.  There are always fun activities at museums and historic places during the mid-term breaks.  While we don’t take a whole week off, we have been able to participate in some of these fun activities, workshops, and one day camps.  It is also nice to get a bit of a break; I think we all feel more energized, though it did mean that our school year went later.  We didn’t finish until mid-June this year.

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Above: Bubba riding one of her favorite horses here, Rocko!  (Ironically, riding English saddle is different in England than it is in America!)

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