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May 2016

{If you want to start at the beginning of 2016, click here!}

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While the lion is the offical national symbol of England, the hedgehog is a much-beloved little creature here! There are little hedgehog shaped things everywhere . . . and once this little guy visited us one May day we understood why!  He was so cute!  He hung out by the front door for a couple rainy hours, snuffling around in the rocks, then trundled on his merry little way.  He was fun to watch – but NO touching!

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Wembley! We got to go to Wembley! Gus’s footie team had a day out to see the Women’s FA Cup Final.  Arsenal won over Chelsea, though we were just happy to be there!

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We finally made it to the Tower of London – what a fun day! We saw the ravens, had a great/funny tour, marveled at the crown jewels.  The best part: the kids are starting to make connections and remember how everything fits into British history!  They are loving hearing the stories of the kings and queens and the crazy goings-on of this old country!

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Same day, the Tower Bridge.

Wimpole 2016

Wimpole Hall and its surrounding park have fast become one of our favorite places on the planet!  We love meeting friends here for a long walk or touring the house; every time we have gone in we have discovered some new fun fact or treasure!  The house is especially beautiful at Christmas time!  There is also a farm where we marveled at lambing in the spring and love to see the big, beautiful work horses!  There is even a used book shop on the grounds!

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The folly was built to look like the ruins of a medieval castle in the mid-1770’s, so it is modern in the scale of things here!  We love to walk out the folly; from there you can see the whole surrounding area – it’s beautiful!

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Just outside the folly there is this huge, old tree!  We all just LOVE it – so beautiful!

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Oh! The lambs!

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the front of Wimpole Hall

April 2016

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All around the east of England, there are amazing properties that we have enjoyed exploring.  This one is Anglesey Abbey, a wonderful treasure of a house with immaculate yet kid- friendly grounds! We spent our day here ooohing & aaaahing over all the amazing plantings in the gardens, touring the working wooden mill, exploring the house (the kids got to play the beautiful grand piano – what a treat!), and playing in the huge tree house and woods!  This is a great way to spend a day!

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The oldest three kids and jen were able to take some pottery classes with a local potter.  It was great fun!  Each of the kids had a chance to throw a few things on the wheel and to do some hand-building; jen spent a whole day throwing on the wheel and loving every minute of it!

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In America, soccer is a fair-weather sport.  If it rained too hard, the match was cancelled; organizers never wanted to damage the pitches.  We were used to this; we liked this!  Then we moved here where football is an all-weather event.  Gus and Buster both play, and their teams play all year ’round, no matter what the weather.  We have stood in freezing rain and with feet submerged in puddles to watch games!  No one here is concerned about ruining pitches or uniforms or sliding in the mud.  Everyone brings hot tea, wellies, and brollies. The washing machine is never happy to see the football players on Saturday. What an adventure!

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When we moved in to our house here, the first person to greet us was our neighbor, Eleanor; she worked for the local church (see below.)  We got to know and love Eleanor.  One day I asked about the bells that we heard in town; one thing led to another and before we knew it Eleanor had hooked us up to see bell practice at her church.  We had the privileges of seeing the insides of the giant clock up close, walking up a very narrow stone spiral staircase to see the bells in their homes way up high, and of witnessing a ringing rehearsal including a mini lesson in how the bells are rung.  It is truly an art!  We came away amazed and grateful!

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March 2016

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Oh, we did get a second snow – none of it stuck, but it made all the flowers shiver a bit!

Another home ed group trip: to Bedford to see the church where Pilgrim’s Progress author, John Bunyan, served.  The picture on the left is the church, and the picture on the right is a stained glass window that is one of a series that portrays the author and the story.  They are all beautiful!

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One of our home ed friends is learning to do stained glass, and she allowed the three oldest kids to take a “workshop” and learn some of the basics.  Here you can see Gus with her piece.  They all turned out really nice!

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Yet another home ed event: We participated in a class at the University of Cambridge Engineering Department.  The kids constructed “launch pads” from paper tubes.  Then each group made a rocket to launch.  Here we are out on the Fens, launching rockets with air power.  It was a great learning experience!

We live near Cambridge, but it is a busy, hard-to-get-around-with-five-kids kind of place.  We all love going in, but it feels like an epic sort of adventure every time we take this little journey, or at least it had until this trip! There was something simple and easy about our trip into Cambridge that day; I found a car park that was clean and easy to navigate, we found our way around easily – to a new place even, the weather cooperated, and it was a fun afternoon! It is the simple things that have made adjusting to life here difficult. It doesn’t seem like small parking spaces or narrow roads would matter much, but add that to the new names for products at the grocery (Any one know what aubergine or courgette or passata is?), the very short days, the propensity for rain at any moment – though we all agree that the rain here is somehow more pleasant, all of the new things that we aren’t used to in the US (trains and tubes and busses, oh my!) and the fact that I can never remember which side of the car is the driver’s side . . . and well, we are so, so grateful when a day goes smoothly!

February 2016

{If you want to start at the beginning of the year, January is here.)

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England is a country of details!  We took a day trip with one of our home ed groups to Sudbury to visit Thomas Gainsborough’s house.  We spent part of our day touring Sudbury.  This was (admittedly not a great) picture that I took of one of the buildings there.  I am looking straight up from the sidewalk.  The carved wood was just amazing, and the whole building had details like this!  It has been tremendous fun for us to visit cathedrals, castles, and other old buildings and try to figure out the stories behind all of the statues and carvings.

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A few days after Sudbury, this was my view from the car park near where Buster was playing football (soccer.)  It’s when I pull into parking spots like this that I have to sort of pinch myself; we really ARE living in England!  Also note: Yes, those are flowers blooming . . . in February!  (As I type this up in mid-December we have flowers by our front porch and back patio and green grass in our yard.)

January 2016

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here, but we thought it would give all of you far away friends and family a peek into our lives here in England!  Over the next couple of days, I’ll post one entry for each month this year and a bonus post for a place that has become a favorite of ours on this island. We hope you enjoy!

By January, we felt relatively “at home” on our new island home.  The summer move, adjustment period, fall travels, and holiday season left us a bit “shattered” (exhausted), so we decided to stay close to home for the winter months.

So what a joy it is to say that London is just a quick train ride from our home! What a blessing!  Our first visit of the year was to visit The Churchill War Rooms.  We were studying World War II at the time, so this was a great day of learning . . . but it was also really fun!  Churchill was such a witty guy, and we had lots of good laughs while reading about him at the museum!

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Same day – We are now relatively confident navigating the Tube.  I, jen, just love being able to get around the big city easily; however, I don’t love when our family of seven times our ride poorly and ends up smashed into the cars with a billion commuters! Speaking of timing things poorly, we seem to have made it a habit of having to run to our train at the train station – dashing into the station at the last minute after a day of sight-seeing fun; I am sure we are a sight – all seven of us running in one long-stretching line! (Actually I guess, just six of us are running; one of us is usually carrying the three year old!)

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This was our one snowy day.

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As winter goes in this part of England, about 30 minutes after we made the snowman, all that was left were puddles.  Add some wellies and puddles are great fun too!

More than any other year so far – even the first – this year of homeschooling has been difficult for me.  I don’t know if it is the backlog of things that didn’t get done since my husband was deployed the first part of 2011 or adding another child to the lesson planning/attention paying/intentional time spent learning mix or simply that I am getting old or something I can’t completely comprehend, but it has been exhausting for me.  I just feel tired, and I am longing for simplicity and time to relax.  I am struggling with the very-too-long list of things to do, and I am also finding it stressful when everyone seemingly needs my attention all.at.once!  I’m tired of my house always being a heap of projects and “art” and messes.  Eek!

So when a friend asked me recently, “So how is your year going?”

I smiled carefully and said, “Terribly.”

A funny thing happened though:  As that word slipped out of my mouth, I thought, “But I don’t really want my children to learn any other way right now.”  I shared that for the first time there have been very real conversations (between Handsome and me) about whether it is time to send some of the kids or all of the kids back to school.  I was very real with what I said, but as I spoke I started to think of all the things I do love about where we are at.  So I am counting my blessings for the things that are going well this year:

551.  the spelling program that I had been putting off buying because of the price but then finally bought in hopes that it would help one of my children not only spell but read – it is helping on both counts, and it has been good for the others too!

552.  the projects that are taking over our living space are all kid-inspired, “Can we please do this, Mom?” type projects – so fun, and learning too!

553.  my co-op class has combined with another class, and I am finding it pure joy to team teach with the other teacher!

554.  We have strengths in exact opposite areas – a beautiful thing!

555.  the freedom that I am learning (in that white-knuckled, I really don’t do this well sort of way) in not trying to do it ALL (not that trying to do it all was working for me either)

556.  the learning that is taking place, because we are learning not to try to do it all – it looks different, sometimes like play or leisure, but is oh, so amazingly profound!

557.  the literature books are getting thicker around here . . . and more interesting for me

558.  One child is just finished his last phonics lesson.  He is reading many years ahead of his grade level, and it is a delight to see the joy with which he embraces books!

559. oldest child is finding her loves in life.  She’s knitting and taking an “applique and hand stitching class” where she couldn’t wait to learn to dye fabrics.  She’s riding horses and learning to care for them too.  It’s fun to see this girl grow and develop into  someone with “loves.”

560.  Speaking of loves, I just finished teaching a unit on color theory to my co-op class.  It was so much fun!  I loved it!  I think the kids had fun too.

561.  I also just finished knitting a shawl that I LOVE . . . the color is “winter wheat,” the yarn divine, the pattern amazing and fun!

562.  Thankful that that shawl is headed to a cooler climate to keep a loved-one warm; I hope she enjoys using it as much as I enjoyed making it.  It is fun to be able to pass on handmade gifts.

563.  Today a friend reminded me of James 1 – long ago memorized – God is our source of wisdom.  We need not dig it up on our own; it is generously given to us!

564.  the computer slowly but surely being taken over by the ten-year-old as she uses her typing skills to learn Latin and so many other things

565.  the amazing opportunities that we have as homeschoolers – classes like knitting and “learning biology through art” and learning about gears with K’nex and learning about design with Legos and watching a woman spin and make soap like a real colonist would have – amazing opportunity!

566.  seeing diligence pay off – I have been just amazed at all the things that the kids learn by recitation; it seems they can memorize anything.  This practice which has so fallen out of favor in public schools is a treasure to our homeschool, as we learn poetry and verses and definitions and so many other things simply by repeating them each morning!

567.  K, who comes on Mondays to do hands-on activities with the kindergartener!  What a great way to start the week!

568.  for my science-loving, over-educated husband who doesn’t sweat the small stuff and teaches science to our kids!

569.  so, so thankful for our homeschooling friends – moms on this same journey who help prop me up and really amazing, creative, fun kids with whom my own children have so. much. fun!

but my favorite one of late:

570.  I got to hear him read his first word!  A note from a friend read, “First steps, first words…. READING FIRST WORD TRUMPS them all!!!”  And you know, she was right – I did miss his first steps and his first words, but I feel so, so honored to get to teach him to read his first words and to hear him say, “Mom!  I’m learning to read!”