Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sabbath Day

Sundays are such a blessing.  Our only worry is getting to church on time.  This week we did just fine and got there early.  We went to church with Ian and Charity and had an opportunity to help out.  Hyrum played the piano in Sacrament meeting and I did the music in Primary.  It is a blessing to have music skills and experience in the church because it has given us opportunities to serve all over the world.

After church we were rained on a bit as we walked to the tube station only to find our train delayed by about 20 minutes.  The kids were not happy but thankfully I had packed some sandwiches.  They were for Ben so he could eat and go straight down for a nap when we got home, but no one minded a bit to eat.

We thought the tube station name kind of ironic at the moment.

We arrived home and the rain continued off and on all afternoon.  We were planning a picnic in the park with Ian, Charity, and Moses but decided to host in our living room instead.  I'm actually really glad that happened as we were able to visit for a bit about things that matter.  Sometimes a little rain is a good thing.  It was a wonderful Sabbath.  We are so glad that we've had Ian and Charity around these past couple of weeks.  It's rather comforting to know you have family near by.

Bletchley Park

What's our next move?

I have spent years hearing about the German Enigma machine and knowing just the basics about it.  Saturday, that changed when we visited Bletchley Park.  Bletchley Park is the place where computers really got their start while men and women tried to break the German code created with the Enigma machine.  This was before the days of computer engineers or scientists.  What started in 1939 as a small group of mathematicians and great thinkers swelled to around 10,000 before WWII ended in 1945.  They were credited with playing a major role in the success of D-Day, the Atlantic and North African campaigns.  They lived and worked tirelessly under the pressure secrecy.  It wasn't until the early 80's when this information became public.  It is a fascinating place with an interesting story.

One of the things I've really tried to impress upon the kids with our visit here and at the Science Museum is the need to ask questions.   If you ask enough questions, eventually you'll ask one that hasn't been answered.

Charity, pushing the kids on the awesome merry-go-round.

We didn't take any pictures of the actual stuff we saw but we did take pictures of the kids playing and our dinner.  We enjoyed some fish and chips that evening at a restaurant called Poppies.  It was quite tasty.  The fish was good but I thought the fish cakes were delicious.  It was a fun night out with our family after a good day.

Fish and Chips

Kew Gardens and the Hive!

Palm Tree House 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a beehive?  After watching the bee episode of Magic School Bus, my kids think it might be kind of fun.  Well, the Kew Gardens currently have an exhibit about bees about an hours underground ride from us so we took the opportunity to find out.  The day was beautiful and the garden was lovely.

Beautiful Roses

We got off to a late start so ate our lunch upon arrival at the gardens.  We explored the rose gardens, took a walk in the treetops and then off to the Hive!

Treetop walk

Hanging out on a downed tree by the treetop walk.

The Hive

It was kind of mesmerizing inside.  There was a soundtrack that was really quite beautiful and meant to simulate bee communication.  It was really a cool experience, though hard to describe.  At one point all of my kids were on the floor, feeling, listening and taking it all in with all their senses.  (Frankly, I wanted to lay there with them.)

Looking up through the center of the Hive.

After the Hive, we went to the playground for the obligatory "run around" of the day.  We saw a magnolia tree with a single bloom on it.  The fragrance was delicious, even my kids enjoyed it.  We found so many varieties of trees and flowers.  It was a lovely way to spend our day!

Looking through the floor of the Hive

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Butterfly Adventure

Science and more science.  We're having a great time.  Thursday we took Charity and Moses with us to visit the butterflies.  The Natural Science Museum had an exhibit at the butterfly house.  We went in and not a moment in the door we were surrounded by butterflies.  There was a particularly beautiful blue butterfly that was just couldn't get a picture of.  Finally, as Charity was leaving it landed on her skirt and Hannah got her picture.  Charlotte had one land on her head.  

Facade of Natural History Museum.  I love it. 

We actually spent most of the day at the Science Museum.  After all the neat "science" around us, the kids loved seeing this "moon machine" from Wallace and Grommit!

The Eye of London is upon you!

Clear blue skies, cool air all around and a city at our feet.  That is what it's like to ride the London Eye which is what we did together on Wednesday morning. The views were spectacular.  The kids loved seeing the sights we'd seen during the week.  We saw Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the Shard.  

After our ride on the Eye, Hyrum went to work and we headed off to the park, first for some water and then for some sand.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Tower of London

Outer wall in the morning sun.
Rise and shine.  Tuesday morning we left our flat at 7:30 am so we could get to the Tower of London before the lines got there.  There was a chill in the air but it was a beautiful morning.  We arrived around 8:30 and waited until we could get our tickets.  We found a pass that included entrance to 6 historic palaces.  We will be visiting at least one more while we here so the membership paid for itself.  Along with our membership card, the kids got buttons and a little booklet to help them learn about the Tower of London.  They were pretty ambivalent about going but once they got there and learned a bit about this historic building, I think their excitement grew.  

White Tower

It's important to understand that the Tower of London is a castle complex.  There is a central hold or keep--the White Tower ,built by William the Conqueror and then an inner wall which included different buildings, towers and the church and the outer wall added last, which was home to the English mint for a while.  White Tower directly served the monarchy until the 19th Century.

Between the Walls
We started our time there with a look at the British crown jewels.  These were crown jewels done right.  There was information about the crown jewels and where pieces came from and how long they have been in use by the monarchy.  It was amazing.  There were several rooms with a few related piece in them.  It was a simple and spectacular display.  The jewels are amazing in their brilliance but also their simplicity.  There are not a lot of pieces but I think that is what makes it even better an experience.

View of The Tower of London from across the Thames

Our next stop was Bloody Tower.  It is so named for the alleged murder of the two young (12 and 9) sons of King Edward IV.  After that a tour with a Yeoman Warder.  The tour was great.  We walked to 4 stops where he would share information about that particular location and related information about the tour itself.  Our guide was hilarious.  He was informative, engaging and certainly himself.  After that we walked through the White Tower.  There were suits of armor and weaponry.  The boys really enjoyed that.

After White Tower we stopped to eat some lunch and said good bye to Hyrum so he could go to work.  We walked down to the torture room which housed a rack and device called the "Scavenger's Daughter".  It was interesting to see that these tortures were only used for a relatively short period of time and wasn't a general practice.  We then walked along the top of the inner wall.  They had iron soldiers poised their in various positions.  It was a fun way for the kids to experience standing on a castle wall.

On the wall with a friend
After that we got some ice cream cones and waited to meet Charity and Moses for a walk across Tower Bridge to the More London Estates water fountains.  The kids loved getting wet as it was a warm day.  While there, I got alerts for the Tube line we ride and was a bit concerned about how to get home.  We ended up not having any issues and got home with enough time for some school work and leftovers for dinner.

Tower Bridge

The weather has been hot the past couple of days so the kids were a bit grumpy, and so was I and it took a bit of work to get them to sleep.  It was a full day though and I think, everyone enjoyed it.

Water time!

Reflections on a Week

Hyrum here.  I thought I'd pop in for a little guest post from the other side of things.  (Well, not really the other side, since Heather and I are on the same side, but let's just call it another perspective.)

We're a week into the 142 Days of Adventure, and quite the week it's been.  From planes to trains to busses and even the London Eye, we've explored London in a way I've never done before.  Even with delayed luggage, rain and a scary oven, it's been a great experience.  While I seem to pass through the city at least once a year, it's been a different experience to live and work here, if only for a short time.  I miss the larger space we have in Pittsburgh, but I've been grateful to realize just how little we really need to live, and to come to know London a little bit more intimately.

In spite of what Heather will say, mother's get no vacation, and she's no exception.  I've been amazed and grateful for how she's adjusted to running a houseful flatful of children in a foreign land, with different food, and in a stranger's kitchen.  Just when I find myself wishing we'd brought a game or a small toy or something else for the children, she pulls it out of a suitcase.  Heather has thought of everything, adapts when she needs to, and never ceases to amaze.

As for me, I've spent every minute not playing with my family working, largely out of Google's London office.  I've given talks, had meetings with colleagues, and also managed to carry on with my normal day job.  My desk for the week overlooks an entrance to Victoria Station, so when I need a break, I can glance up and see the streams of humanity pouring out on to the street below.  It can be a welcome distraction.

Beyond that, it's hard to believe we've only 135 days left in our European Adventure, and less that two weeks left in London.  Even though I know we're not going to be able to see and do everything, and the children may not appreciate everything, I trust we'll be back again.

London from the Eye

P-day and some other stuff

Everyone needs a day to renew and regroup every once in a while.  Monday was ours.  I cleaned the flat, we ventured to the grocery store and then started school for the year.  After school, we headed to the park near the flat.

Welcome to our classroom.

It was good to take a break from the city and get some order to our lives.  There is so much going on everyday with little time to process and really absorb it.  Our daily schedule usually means getting up early and then we head into the city.  We spend the day walking around seeing things and enjoy spending time together.  After that we go to the park and the kids run around for a bit.

Our flat is still a grungy but it's growing on me.  Thanks to Amazon Prime and my brother- and sister-in-law I've been able to get knives that chop and a few other kitchen items I needed.  It has become our home right now and I can't believe we're already a third of the way through our time in London.

This city has been a really neat place to spend time in.  It has surprised me and now, I have my next trip planned.  I can't wait to come back again.  One of the most surprising things has been how kind people have been to our family.  No one has been rude or upset over my kids and their wonder at the Tube and excitement of escalators or their habit of stopping once they step out of a train or at the top of the escalator, or when they decide to spread across the hallway of a busy train station.  (Can you sense a theme?  Riding the Tube is the most stressful part of my day but also kind of my favorite)  So many people have helped carry Ben's stroller up and down stairs or carry it out of a station for me.  They have given up seats for us on the Tube.  The other day, the guys working on the road stopped their jackhammers while we passed because one of them noticed the kids holding their ears.  This is a friendly city.  The city is also quite clean, so far the cleanest of any European city I've been to.  It has been a very pleasant experience.

School.  It has begun.  We started school on Monday and I had the kids crying within the first couple of  minutes.  Wow, is this a learning experience.  Here in London there is so much to see and do we are trying to squeeze in school time.  I had all sorts of plans for writing assignments and science experiments but I have realized these past few days that we don't have time for all of it right now.  We generally leave at 9 in the morning and get home around 4 pm.  I feel like right now, Hannah and Jonathan need to do their math and Charlotte and Spencer need to do their reading practice.  Other than that, things can wait.  We are experiencing so much and that is the point of this trip.  We'll have more time once we leave London but for now we'll soak in this great city.

Life is good.  We've been very blessed with this opportunity and we are trying to soak as much in as we can.  Jonathan loves the museums and pretty much everything.  The little kids are just along for the ride.  Hannah is stuck in that weird 'tween place where she is too old to really enjoy the stuff Charlotte and Spencer are into but too young and innocent for things teenagers would enjoy.  She also likes doing things with her hands so walking through a museum of stuff isn't really her thing.  We love her and we'll figure it out together.  She is doing a lot of reading.  Ben has gotten use to the stroller and quite enjoys it.  The stroller has been a life saver though.  He naps there and eats there mostly with a smile on his face.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A day of rest.

A day of rest was quite needful after our adventures last week.  We attended church in the ward for where we live.  it took a little while to get there and we had to ride two buses.  The kids loved riding on the upper deck.  While waiting for our second bus in the morning we had a gentleman ask us where we were going.  I responded that we were going to church and he asked what church we went to.  He was pretty surprised and kind of delighted to having met one Mormon, let alone seven.

We made it to church a few minutes late but we made it.  It was fun to hear English spoken in so many different ways, American, different British accents, Irish, Eastern and Northern Europeans.  I was grateful for the opportunity to go to church.  We met there from 10-1 and hurried home--we had to run to catch our second bus (not advisable in high heels).   Ben got his first decent nap in days. Hyrum was good enough to let me rest as well.  

I bought a gammon joint at the store earlier in the week, having no idea what it was.  Turns out it is an uncooked ham so we settled on ham, potatoes, pancakes (British-style) and eggs for dinner on Sunday night.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, we only have one frying pan so I spent a couple of hours making dinner but it was fun and tasty.  It was an experience I will laugh at for a while.  We put the kids to bed and made our Sunday night phone calls to our parents and got ready for another day and a new week. 

Feeling Prime?

Ship in a bottle at the National Maritime Museum

Today we traveled to Greenwich (spoken like gren-itch) to check out the National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark and the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory.  Our day started off with a bit of excitement as we teach our suburb-living, car-riding kids to cross the street with care but we made it safely to the bus, then the train.

National Maritime Museum

Greenwich seems like a really nice town.  We quickly made our way to the Maritime Museum since it was raining, in hopes we could wait it out there.  It was another good museum.  There was information about the East India Trading Company, Admiral Horatio Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar, and of course marine navigation.  There was a great play room for the little kids so they spent their morning playing while I watched them and Hyrum took the older kids to look around and then we switched places.

Anchors Away!

Ben and Spencer livin' it up in the maritime play room.

Charlotte playing under the sea!

On the second floor there was a large map on the ground.  The kids enjoyed pretending they were swimming in the oceans.  We talked about the Prime Meridian and the International Dateline and Hyrum and Jonathan took in the war history and the upper interactive display.  They had a lot of interactive displays, like one on making curry, and it was informative and engaging.  I think everyone found something they could appreciate.

Lanterns hanging from the ceiling. 

After a couple of hours there we headed outside to a beautiful day.  The rain had cleared and we made our way to Greenwich park for a picnic before going to the Prime Meridian.  The kids enjoyed watching the dogs playing in the park while we ate.  As we finished Hyrum, Hannah, Jonathan and Spencer went to find the Prime Meridian down where we were with the GPS.  They found it!

Going to find the Prime Meridian!

They found it.

We hiked up the hill to the Royal Observatory and toured the house.  We took our pictures at the Prime Meridian.  It was fascinating to learn about how and why the observatory came to be and why it is important.  One interesting thing we learned about was a watchmaker named John Harrison.  He was trying to solve the problem of keeping time at sea.  Pendulum clocks didn't work because of the rocking and swaying motion of the sea.  After 4 tries and decades of work he succeeded in making the chronometer which lays the foundation for modern precision time pieces.

Royal Observatory

The kid are in two hemispheres at once.

Time ball on the observatory.

After that we went to the Astronomy Center and looked and participated in several displays about the stars and space.  The kids really enjoyed that stop.  Afterwards it was back down to the river for our last stop.  We boarded the Cutty Sark, the last surviving tea clipper from the days of the British tea trade with China.  It is mostly intact with original boards and supports.  There were a lot of interactive displays and things for the kids to do.  It was a great stop to make.

Cutty Sark

It was a full day but it was a good day with our family.  We came home the way we'd left and got tuck in a bit of  traffic jam about a mile from our flat.  We hurried through dinner, bathes and our Sabbath preparations.  I was so grateful for a happy, good and full day last night when I went to bed.  I love this family of mine and I am so thankful for this opportunity.

Upper deck of the Cutty Sark, looking skyward.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

1st Party in England

Friday culminated in a birthday celebration.  Hyrum's brother had a birthday so we celebrated with him and his family. The kids loved having their aunt, uncle and newest cousin over.  It's fun to spend a little time with them and get to know them better.

Happy Birthday, Ian!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Museums, First Taste of London Rain and a Really Cool Park

Friday we decided to check out the British Museum if it was rainy and a park if it was nice.  The day dawned beautifully but characteristic of London, by the time we were ready to leave, it was dripping on us.  We donned our rain jackets and off we went.  The British Museum required good ride on the tube and a nice walk from an unfamiliar station.  It took a few tried to get it right but we were there by 11.  We quickly realized everyone had the same idea we did.

My littlest tube rider.
Jonathan really wanted to see the Rosetta Stone which is what everyone else was there to see.  We walked around to a side and I pushed him in front because there was no way he was going to get in front of all those adult strangers.  I think Jonathan really enjoyed the museum.  He was interested in what metals were used.  He found the different artifacts interesting and listened to me talk about the history bits I can remember.  We walked through a bit of the Ancient Greece portion and then headed up to the mummies.  Again, so was everyone else.

Very British row of houses on our way to the British Museum.
I was actually a bit disappointed in the exhibit.  It was just like any other exhibit just with mummies, though still really neat.  I was expecting something grand, probably because as a kid I thought mummies were really cool, actually, I still do.  I expected some awesome decor like in "Night at the Museum".  I really shouldn't "believe" everything I see on television! ; )  (Managing expectations is a huge challenge on a trip like this.)  It was also hard for me to really see anything because of all the people and trying to keep track of my kids.  The other kids also, weren't really impressed but I think it had more to do with the crowds than the actual museum.

We left the museum and it was raining pretty good so we ate our squished PB&J sandwiches and apples just outside the museum.  After lunch, the kids asked for something a little more interactive so we decided to check out the Science Museum.  This required another trip on the Tube and a rather long walk.  We went in a more round about direction and ended up walking a lot.  Spencer really wanted to go to the park and the rain kept starting and stopping so we went back and forth as to whether we were going to make it there or not.

As we walked up the street we passed the Hyde Park LDS Church building.  The kids were asking for a break so we stopped at the Visitor Center to see what they had inside.  A sweet sister missionary took us in to watch a video about God's plan for the family.  We've seen it before and it is always touching.  It was a good respite from the chaos of everywhere else we'd been.

I think this was a model of the Lunar  landing module. 

As we left the rain really picked up but we were right across from the Science Museum so we decided to step inside there and see what it had to offer.  This is a cool museum.  There were a lot of really interesting exhibits and hands on teaching.  Again though, it was super crowded.  We went downstairs to where there was suppose to be a lot for the little ones to do but there was a considerable wait to get into the play room.  We were only there for about 45 minutes but we will go back.

When we left the rain had let up so we headed to the park.  This time we made it and we are glad we did.  It ended up being a bit of a hike for the day but it was enjoyable.  The playground was the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.  It is heavily themed on Peter Pan and there is lots of sand, water, trees and shrubs to hide in and it's gated and monitored, so rather safe.  The kids were in heaven.  Ben loved the water and even though it was a cool day he splashed and splashed for about an hour until he got too cold.  Spencer sat in the sand for most of the time and just shoveled sand around.  Charlotte, Hannah and Jonathan happily ran around, explored, and imagined. Hyrum met us there after work so we could all ride the Tube home together.

Shoes off and ready to play!!

Hannah and Jonathan climbed up in the rigging around the mast. 

20 minute tube ride is a great place to get in some reading or catch a few zzzzz's.

Ben finally getting nap for the day.

Each day gets better and better as we learn out way around and become more comfortable here.

(Sorry the pictures aren't great.  These are all from my phone since it's way easier than taking the camera with everything else I have to carry around for the day)