Thursday, May 19, 2016

Walking Around Oxford and the Cotswolds

May 13:  
Today we started the day with a walking tour of Oxford University.  
Oxford was in Glen's mission and although he never served there, It's something that he was really excited to show us!  At first I didn't really get why a university could be so exciting, but once the tour started it was very clear that Oxford University is a unique and historic place.  Founded nearly  1000 years ago, it's the oldest university in the English speaking world!  One of the interesting aspects about it is its college system.  There are 38 colleges within Oxford, and if I understood the guide correctly, each college has its own section of campus--including its own cathedral!!   The way they were described to us, they seemed like a cross between a college of business (or other some subject) at a regular university and being divided into houses (like in Harry Potter).  We could be totally off in our interpretation of how it works, but suffice it to say, it is a unique place. 
The buildings are old, architecturally interesting, and beautiful!  I was also fascinated to learn that most of the teaching at Oxford is not done by lecture, but by one on one mentoring.  
And speaking of Harry Potter, Ellie was also pleased to learn that this tree and courtyard were both used for a scene in the Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire movie.

After our tour, we ate a late lunch at Oxford and then headed to the Cotswolds.   We picked Bourton on the Water for our destination, but had to fight horrible traffic to get there.  By the time we got there we were a little frazzled and totally not prepared for what an unhappy place to visit it was.  It was odd how grumpy and unfriendly everyone was--the visitors and the residents.  It was mostly older people there and it seemed like kids were not a welcome sight, especially in the stores.  One shopkeeper literally yelled at Ellie.   When I heard him scream, "DON'T TOUCH THAT!" I expected to see her picking up a porcelain doll or other fragile item, not a floral print backpack. We left that store quickly, but found a similar  reception in most of the other stores.  It was a charming looking town at least; sadly though it was only a skin deep charm.  

Our GPS took us the long way home to avoid traffic and we soothed our nerves by eating up this view on the way back to Matt and Karey's house!  
Afterward we let Cami and Emma babysit all the littles, and we went on a grown-up only double date (a rare thing on vacation) with Matt and Karey.  We ate at an Indian place--Shezan-- in Cheltenham (delicious), then walked around town for a bit! 


PS I'm still blogging from my iPhone, so please forgive typing errors, disconnected thoughts, weird formatting, etc.  I know I will probably be horrified when I finally see it on a computer screen! 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Castle, Bath, and some Birds!

May 12: Cathedrals and abbeys dot the landscape here in Europe.  It's amazing to think of how much money and effort was put into building  these beautiful places of worship, that almost every town seems to have.    Some are more ornate and well-kept than others, but each is beautiful in its own right.   

Today we went to Tintern Abbey in Chepstow, Wales.   Wales was a new country for us (although you don't get a passport stamp arriving from the UK), so we were extra excited to be there.  The Abbey is now in ruins, but even still it was a sight to behold! It was clearly once a very grand building and it inspired awe in us even in its ruined state.  The surroundings, with the green rolling hills, were quite lovely too! 

We ended up eating lunch here. 

We also visited nearby  Chepstow Castle while we were in Wales.  Castles aren't quite as run of the mill as cathedrals in Europe, but again it is amazing to think of how many resources were used to create these grand buildings, which were essentially meant to be a show of power.   Like Tintern Abbey, Chepstow castle is also in a ruined state, but it still proved to be an interesting place to roam for a couple of hours.  The castle started being built in the 1000's and was built section by section in piecemeal fashion over the course of the next few hundred years.

These beautiful wooden doors have been hanging continually (even in its ruined state) since the 1100's! 

These little cubbies proved to be the perfect backdrop for one of my favorite recent pictures of Glen and I!

I loved this postcard we found in the gift shop near the Abbey.   It was a beautiful little glimpse into welsh culture. 

After Chepstow, we headed to Bath (England)!  Not to take a bath, but to visit the ancient Roman baths and learn about the significant influence of the Romans on British culture. 

But first we stopped at the Bath Abbey! This was another stunningly beautiful (and well-kept) building, that also was the one that did the best at sharing the good news of their gospel beyond just having the biblical artwork and stained glass on display.  
They distribute a pamphlet to everyone who comes, which essentially bears powerful testimony of Christ and was a touching reminder to me of the ultimate purpose of these grand buildings--to worship God. 

Next it was on to the baths!   Up until this point I had no idea the extensive influence of the Romans on British history and it was fascinating to learn a little about it.  In their height of power (around 60-70AD), the Romans  initially started building a temple near a natural hot spring and  dedicated it to the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, and the British goddess of nourishing and healing, Sulis--which they conveniently combined and called Minerva Sulis.  

Over the course of the next 300 years they built up this entire bathing complex for the everyday people to use.  

Romans valued health, fitness, and cleanliness, so essentially this served as an ancient health club.   It was not only a place to bathe, but to exercise, worship, and socialize.  
It was absolutely amazing to see the extensive   waterworks and structures that they had created for these baths to function, basically for 2000 years. The power of the archways they built, that are still standing 2000 years later, is a testament to their ingenuity and ability to organize! 
After being educated and amazed in the baths, we walked out to the streets of Bath and were met with some levity!

A "bird charmer" (essentially an eccentric man bedecked in a suit with pockets of birdseed) would place pigeons on people's head to get them to laugh.   He would help arrange the birds to provide for the perfect photo opp, then as people snapped pictures he would hint for a tip.  We actually very much enjoyed it and were  happy to tip him afterward.  

Since I know it's the question you're all thinking....Only one of them received a little "gift" from the birds.  


Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Best Part of Waking Up

May 11:  What's the best part of waking after a really long day and  not getting to bed until after midnight? 

Waking up with a cute baby cousin in bed with you! 

Seriously!  I need to work on getting one of those (to borrow) at our house!  It made wake-up time so much more pleasant! 

After a slow morning playing with cousins, we took off for nearby Gloucester cathedral!  Wow!  What a beautiful place that they see nearly every day!
Inside the cloisters of the cathedral  is where some scenes from Harry Potter were filmed.   A couple of my kids were quite excited by this fact.

Next we went to Gadfield Elm, which was the first LDS chapel in the world.  I have an ancestor who attended there. 

We were the only ones there, so my kids enjoyed reenacting a church meeting. 

Next we went to the cute little town of Tewkesbury.

We explored the amazing Abbey and walked up the high street.

Afterward we ate Karey's delicious lasagna soup and went for a walk in the beautiful countryside near their home. 

It was lovely to feel a touch of home again.  


Friday, May 13, 2016

A Day of Hiccups

May 10: Glen served his mission in London and as such had lots of ideas of how the 28-hours we were spending  here should go.   

His plan for Tuesday was: 
1.  Eat a quick breakfast at the hotel
2.  Go on a duck tour around town 
3.  Go in the  Tower of London to see the crown jewels
4.  Take a tour Saint Paul's cathedral 
5.  Visit Buckingham Palace (if there was time) 
6.  Pick up luggage from hotel
7.  Visit Preacher's Corner in Hyde Park (if time)
8.  Pick up our car at 6:00pm and drive to my brother's house

It was an ambitious plan, but he knew his way around and he was confident that we could all the big stuff done at least.    

Here's what actually happened:   
1.  Breakfast at the hotel was overpriced and gross looking, so we left without eating hoping we would run into somewhere easy and fast to grab a bite.  We never found one. 
2.  It took us a while and quite a bit of extra walking {without any breakfast} to find the right location for the duck tour.  It was pouring rain, the tour guide was a bit boring, but we did have a good time seeing the sites from the tank. 
3.  After the duck your, we finally ate a little something and made it to the   Tower of London, but got discouraged by how expensive admission was and by the long lines to get in.  So we just walked around the outside  and headed on to our next destination. 
4.  We arrived  to Saint Paul's cathedral only to find out that it was closed early for an event.  
5.  We arrived to Buckingham Palace just as a tea party was starting.  Weirdly we were not invited to join them, so we watched the stream of people entering into the palace for a little bit then headed back to our hostel.    
6.  We picked  up our luggage.  We all packed in backpacks for this trip to make it easier to tote around, but it was still heavy!
7.  We walked and walked and walked and walked {with all of our luggage}and never found Preacher's Corner in Hyde Park.  Our backs and feet were all killing us by the time we decided to give up on our quest.
8.  We ran into the Hyde Park chapel and stopped in the visitors' center for a brief respite. 
9.  We headed to the train station to pick up our rental car, but didn't arrive until 6:15, which was approximately 15 minutes after it had closed.  

So we had no car and no where to stay in London and all of  our luggage on our backs. 

It was not our best moment.  

But while Glen was making arrangements with the car rental company, we found Platform 9-3/4 {in Kings Cross station}.  

It was literally a dream come true for Ellie!  

After a few magical journeys into brick walls, a dinner of British pasties from a stand, a whole lot of finagling on Glen's part, and an hour and a half train ride back to Heathrow we finally got a car and drove to Matt and Karey's house.

It was after midnight when we arrived, but we were finally there ready for some western England adventures.  

Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Exhausted in London

May 9:  After not arriving into our hotel at after 11:30 last night, our wake-up call at 4:30 for our flight from Reykjavik to London the next morning  meant that we started the day exceedingly short on sleep. 
The flight was relatively short, but It was a long process getting through passport control, to the city on the train,  and eventually dropping off our luggage at our hostel.  Yes, we stayed in a hostel and liked it! 

 Eventually we ate (because we all get hangry when we don't eat) and we were excited to get started exploring the city.  

Taking a ride on the London Eye in the pouring rain meant that our pictures were marred with raindrops....

But the views were still spectacular and it was a great way to get our feet wet (figuratively and literally) in this bustling city! 

That night we watched a show on the West End, called Stomp.  It was very lively and fun, but due to our severe lack of sleep (combined with a good dose of jet lag) we all struggled to stay awake! I'm sure the people seated around us were amused by our head bobbing snooze fest.  

Fun fact:  Glen served his mission in the England London South mission about 25 years ago!   He LOVED being back here!

PS excuse any styling or grammatical errors.  Blogging from my phone has proven to be a more challenging task than I expected. 

Church in Iceland

May 8:
Blogging from my iPhone is proving to be a challenging task, so I'm just covering tidbits for now.   Last night we had noisy neighbors who were up carousing until 6:00am, which meant that we didn't sleep well again.  We checked out of there as soon as we could and headed into Reykjavik to explore the city!  (More details and pictures to come later) 

At 1:00 the Reykjavik Branch started and we went to our very first church meeting in Icelandic!  
We wore headphones while a missionary translated everything for us.  It was interesting to be a part of a Sacrament meeting in such a tiny branch, but the gospel instruction was sound and we were happy to have gone.  They didn't have any youth or primary classes, so we left after sacrament meeting.  We loved meeting some of the members and talking with the missionaries. 

Here are a few random facts we learned  about the church in Iceland:
1.  There is a full size Christus in the lobby of the church. It was sent to Iceland for some kind of event and then afterward they decided to just let them keep it rather than sending it back.

2.  There are only 10 full-time missionaries serving in all of Iceland.   They get called to the Denmark Copenhagen Icelandic speaking mission and spend their entire missions in the two tiny branches (and one "sacrament group") in all of Iceland.  

3. A lady had just gotten baptized that weekend and the missionaries were so excited, because  it was the first baptism they'd had in Iceland in over a year! 

4.  Icelanders in general love genealogy, so some of the senior couples there are called just to work with the national archives of Iceland to digitize  their records  for Family Search. 

After church we went on an amazing hike  ( one of our favorites ever), but I will save blogging about that for another day when I have an actual computer and access to all of my pictures. 


Monday, May 9, 2016

Takk Fyrir

May 7:  
We have arrived in Iceland!!!

And we are LOVING it!  

The weather was absolutely gorgeous {by Iceland standards} and also my brother is randomly here too.  

It's too difficult blogging from my iPhone, so I will leave it simple and  blog in more detail later about Thingvellir, Gullfoss, Geysir, meeting the missionaries, the best omelet I've ever eaten, the freshest ice cream in the universe, blown up hot dogs, and going to the top of Hallgr√≠mskirkja church.  

Takk Fyrir {for reading this blog}! 


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Flood, Gift, Trip

May 6:  We started this day with a whole bunch of running around to pick up fans from people.   Our basement is sloooooooowwwwwwly drying out. 

Then Cami made me an early Mother's Day breakfast and presented me with this beautiful gift!    I LOVE IT!!!

The rest of the day was spent cleaning the house like crazy and packing--only one backpack per person! 

Then eventually we left the fans blowing and headed to the airport...

...for the trip of a lifetime!  We've been planning and saving for this for many years and we couldn't be more excited! Stay tuned for many adventures to come! 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Snaking the Clog Away

May 5:  
Today while we finished up our end of year testing, the pipe behind our washing machine became clogged and started spurting water everywhere.

It was a gross mess and I decidedly did NOT take a picture of it.

Luckily the plumber was able to come somewhat quickly and for a small fortune snaked the clog away.

Tracking down fans and pulling up carpets was definitely not something I wanted added to my already monumentally long to-do list tomorrow,  but, hey, on the bright side...we did have a great mutual activity tonight.  

And Cami has awesome friends who all three received full-tuition scholarships for after their missions!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Wildflowers on a Gloomy Day

May 4:  We took a short break from being productive today to go on a little walk while Emma was at voice lessons.  It's been gray and gloomy lately, but  the beautiful wildflowers along the way brought us a jolt of color and beauty to our day.
 I am grateful for the springtime, for Cami being home, and for the joy that is all around when we pause to notice it.

by Lara, age 17

The sky is azure blue, the grass is green.
The hyacinths are peeking through the ground
The hibernating animals are lean.
The sounds of songbirds echo all around.
The golden sunshine bathes and warms the earth;
A gentle shower washes dirt away.
The rain gives nature and the world rebirth,
And a radiant rainbow arcs its way
Over the mountain and into the trees,
Reminding the world of a promise made;
Never again would that gentle spring breeze
Be drowned in a flood, for a price now paid.
Spring will always come in life giving cheer;
Just remember who made all we have here.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Will E. Makeit

May 3:  
Tuesday was spent making final preparations for our trip, including ordering a few last minute items, which will hopefully make our trip a lot more pleasant.

I've been VERY distracted lately with trip planning and the house is an absolute disaster, however it is my optimistic (and hopefully not too unrealistic) wish that I will still be able to get everyone packed, finish administering their end of year tests, and get the house clean before we go.    Will it actually happen?   Let’s look at my next book title and find out….

“Some Experts Doubt it,” by Will E. Makeit


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