Wednesday, December 30, 2015

England Day Ten: London

We woke up at 3 am and left Anstruther. I couldn't sleep anyway most of the night because the wind was shaking the house, so we drove on to London!

We arrived right before lunch and checked into our hotel, The Town Hall. We're only staying here one night but it's nice and comfortable. Eric dropped off the rental car and we took a taxi (I swear the drive looked exactly like Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey) to The New Globe Theatre. We stopped at TAS Pide for Turkish pides (boat-shaped bread filled with meat and egg). We loved it!

When we got to the Globe Theatre, we almost bought tickets to see Cymbeline in the candle-lit inside theatre, but the only two tickets they had left weren't near each other and we didn't want to split up. So instead, we took a tour of the outdoor theatre. Our tour guide was great and kept directing his comments to Portia, who was the youngest person in the tour.

Afterward, Portia and I took the underground back to our hotel to swim, while Eric and Bianca went shopping at Picadilly Circus.

In the morning, we took a taxi to Gatwick Airport and flew home. We arrived home on New Year's Eve.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Scotland Day Nine: St. Andrews

Today is our last day in Scotland. We have absolutely loved it here and wished we had arranged to spend more time in Scotland. We'll have to come back someday. After breakfast, we went to the water again. The wind had died down a bit and the sun was out. It was gorgeous!

We were going to visit Kellie's Castle but we kept missing the turn—the signs weren't so helpful—on our 10-minute drive to St. Andrew's. Another beautiful city! The waves were crazy, like 20 of them curling to the beach at once, and the ruins overlooked the sea. Portia wanted to stay near the water, so I stayed with her while Eric and Bianca explored the castle. We met back up after we explored the cathedral ruins and the historic harbour. We stopped at a bookstore (of course!) and then headed back to Anstruther for lunch.

We took the girls to our fish & chips place we loved so much. I got the hot smoked salmon & prawn salad with chips & curry sauce. That places is truly amazing!

After lunch, Eric and I walked into town and it turned windy & cold again. The waves were crashing so violently against the stone walls, it was spraying the people on the street. We stopped into a couple gift shops and ended our evening by playing Monopoly, then packing up as we leave again in the morning.

Scotland Day Eight: Anstruther & Edinburgh

We love Anstruther! It's windy—really windy—but so charming and quaint and beautiful! We walked down to the rocky beach first thing after breakfast. Then drove to Cowdenbeath, where Eric's grandma Peggy grew up before she came over to the US when she was 16. We walked around the cemetery looking for family names but didn't really find anything interesting.

Next we drove on the Edinburgh. We were starved by the time we got there, so we had lunch at a restaurant called The Wedgewood. It was so good! I had the potato & leek soup, gnocchi and for dessert: parsnip brulet with thyme ice cream! Sounds weird but tastes divine!

We walked all over Edinburgh—to the royal mile, up to the castle, and then did some shopping.

We went into the most amazing bookshop called Armchair Books!!! And we walked by a Cat Cafe but couldn't go in because it was all booked. Portia thinks we should start a Cat Cafe of our own and call it The Cat & Cocoa Cafe and serve gourmet hot chocolates. Bianca says Edinburgh is here favorite city she's even been to.

When we returned to Anstruther, Eric and I went to a Fish & Chips place near our place, where we walked along the ocean to get there. Still windy, but lovely. I had some salmon & dill fish cakes. What a lovely time we had!

Monday, December 28, 2015

England Day Seven: Warwick, then on to Scotland

This morning, we left Stratford and went to church in Warwick. After sacrament meeting, several people told us we must stop at Warwick Castle before we head out of England. They said it's the best castle in England, so we did! It was still completely furnished and all the ceilings were simply amazing! I'm obsessed with cool ceilings and doors and there were plenty to see!  The library was full of antique books and the whole castle was decorating for Christmas with beautiful trees and lights everywhere. Very beautiful!

Then we began driving to Scotland. There was tons of traffic and it ended up taking a lot longer than we hoped. Ugh! We ate at McDonald's on the way (how is it we always end up at McDonald's while we're in Europe?!?).

We finally arrived in Anstruther, Scotland, around nine o'clock at night. But we LOVE our little place here. The girls each get their own rooms; Eric and I have our own suite in the attic. And it's clean and big and decorated like a beach house. I can hear the ocean out there but haven't yet seen it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

England Day Six: Hay-on-Wye

Today we actually got up early and drove to Wales. On the way, because we were on a lot of backroads, we actually ran right into Elgar's (the famous composer) birthplace. It wasn't open because it's Christmas break (in fact, today is Boxing Day), but we stopped for a bit, then drove on.

When we arrived at Hay-on-Wye (the book capital of the world), the town was congregating to leave for a big hunt. They were in their hunting outfits, sitting on their horses, and all the town was gathered. Someone made a speech about the government trying to take away their right to hunt before they left.  

Sadly, because it was boxing day, many of the bookstores (the reason we traveled there) were closed. There were a few, however, so I did spend a couple hours in a bookstore, then we ate at a pub called The Blue Boar, which was wonderful! So I bought some books, we walked around a bit, then drove back. The early morning took a lot out of me because I slept on the way home. Eric's so good to stay awake and drive on the left side of the road!

Tonight was our last night in Stratford, so we did a little laundry and packed our bags.

Friday, December 25, 2015

England Day Five: Christmas Day

I've definitely never had a Christmas like today. We all slept in until 11. We had no presents to open, but the souvenirs we placed under the tree (to remind us that we were actually getting presents). Instead of buying presents, we gave the girls a set amount of money they're allowed to spend while we're here.

We lit another fire and the girls opened their Christmas Crackers Eric had bought. After they "popped," there were little toys and jokes in each one. We played with the mini cards (that was one of the gifts in the crackers).

We decided at the last minute to drive to the closest beach, which was a two-hour drive to Weston-Suer-Mare. At least the beach can't be closed on Christmas Day! We stopped by some interesting castles on the way, then arrived while it was still light outside. It was rainy and windy, but we walked along the beach anyway and watched the lighthouse blinking from Cardiff.

We drove back to Stratford where we had dinner reservations at Bamboodle (a Thai restaurant) only to find out they had no chef and decided not to open. Lovely. We had nowhere to to go and I was frustrated that we didn't take that last available table they had at The Swan. Thank heavens for Indian restaurants! We ended up at Avon Spice and made the best of our situation. We all love Indian food so it worked out, although that's definitely not a typical Christmas meal. We went back to the park near the Avon River and fed our leftover naan to the swans and geese and ducks.

I don't think we'll ever forget this Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

England Day Four: Christmas Eve in Stratford-Upon-Avon

Today was windy and rainy in Stratford-Upon-Avon. We got off to a late start and then went to Shakespeare's grave, which is inside a church. We kind of jumped onto a tour that was happening and listened to the guide. He said something interesting about Psalms 46 (46 words into it is "shake" and 46 works from the bottom is "spear.") Some people even thought Shakespeare helped translate the King James version of the Bible, but I'm not sure about that.

The girls wanted to sit for a while so they stayed at the public library to read, while Eric and I walked to the Avon River and nearby park to check it out. We saw swans, statues, trees wearing crochet sweaters. It was nice to be walking around just the two of us for a bit.

We picked up the girls and went to Benson's for afternoon tea. We had sandwiches, salads, fruit cake, scones & tea. One of our favorite things is having the tea experience while we're abroad. We also did a bit of shopping, then came back to our little house.

Eric and I went back to Shakespeare's church for their nativity in the evening, then built a fire at home and turned on "Little Women," ate shortbread cookies and some LemonLime with Mint soda we found at the market. We read from the Bible about Jesus' birth, then shared and listened to our favorite Christmas hymns. It wasn't a huge deal but our Christmas Eve was nice.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

England Day Three: Bath

I've been having a very difficult time sleeping in this bed. I don't mind the uneven floors but an uncomfortable bed is hard to deal with. But the floors creak and the house groans at night. Everytime someone gets up in the night and creeps down the creaky steps to the water closet (and it really is a water closet, nearly an outhouse as it's outside the main doors of the house), it wakes the whole house up.

We slept in until 9 this morning, then had our breakfast of fruit, toast and cocoa all scrunched up at the table. After finally getting ready, we headed off to Bath. It was a bit of a drive so we didn't arrive until noon. First, we walked through the University.

We also walked around some public parks.

Next we visited the Jane Austen musem, which Eric was a good sport about. Jane Austen had lived in Bath (and set two of her novels there) so they're trying to take a little ownership of her. I'd recently read Northanger Abbey (Austen's first novel that also takes place there), so it was fresh in my mind and made it even more exciting and interesting. She died at 41, that's like me dying next year. Kind of a sobering thought. We got to eat plum cake (Austen's mother's recipe) and put on Austen-esque clothing at the end. The girls used the ink & quill.

Next, we visited the Roman baths that make Bath "Bath." The girls wanted to put their hands in the hot springs, but it wasn't allowed. We did drink some of the water though, but it was very mineral-ly and not so good. Maybe it will make this cold go away.

After a teensy bit of shopping (they had an Anthropologie!), we wanted to get some dinner. We had a hard time finding a good place to eat. It gets dark around 4 o'clock around here, which makes us all even hungrier. And more frustrated when we can't agree upon a place to eat, and when we finally did, they were booked for the night. We ended up at a pub near our cottage called The Four Alls. Probably my least favorite meal of the trip. Meh.

Doors of the Day:

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

England Day Two: Stratford-Upon-Avon

So the bed isn't very comfortable—again, part of the whole experience! But still, we all managed to sleep in until 11! We stayed in Stratford today, starting out at Anne Hathaway's house. The Tudor-style house is very similar to the house we're staying in. The tour taught us all about William Shakespeare and Anne's courtship. My mom would have loved this, with all the history. I found it most interesting the they would light fires in their houses on the ground with no flue or chimney—can you imagine all the smoke?

We also went to Shakespeare's birthplace and childhood home, which the tour ended with a little performance at the end (Bianca asked for The Taming of the Shrew). 

It gets dark around 4 o'clock here and then it started raining. We stopped at a coffee shop for hot chocolate, did a little shopping, and had dinner at a pub called The Olde Thatched Tavern. I didn't love it as much as last night's dinner. We were stopping around looking for a place to reserve our Christmas dinner so that took some time. And we stopped at Waterstone's for some bookshopping. 

Doors of the Day:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

England Day One: Arriving in London

We hadn't spent Christmas away from home since Portia was born. This year, we found a good airplane price to London and decided to spend Christmas in England this year. The plane flew out of Las Vegas, so we drove to Las Vegas, Eric went to the BYU football bowl game (BYU v. U of U), we spent the night in a hotel, and then go on an airplane the next morning. Eric's dad even flew in from Dallas to watch the game with Eric. I won't mention the ridiculous night I spent in the Las Vegas Emergency Room worried I was having an appendicitis. Anyway, we all did get on an airplane the next day (after a quick lunch at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville) and watched movies & slept.

We arrived in London in the morning to rain and cold, as expected. We had to carry our suitcases up stairs in the subway (not sure we thought this through), then Bianca, Portia, and I waited at a park near the Tower of London while Eric went to pick up our rental car. I don't know how he does it—driving a manual transmission car on the left side of the road—but am just glad I don't have to! We slept while Eric drove to Stratford-upon-Avon. Rose Cottage (where we stayed) is near the Anne Hathaway house (Shakespeare's wife). The house where we're staying is sooo old, nearly as old as Anne Hathaway and Shakespeare's childhood home and may have been built with the same timbers! The walls and stone floors were cold (and a little lopsided) so it wasn't the most comfortable place to stay, but we were definitely getting an "experience." It's cute and authentic for learning all about Shakespeare's time.

Here are some pics of our little cottage. They had even put up a Christmas tree and decorated for Christmas!

We unpacked a bit, then went to The Bell (a pub nearby) for dinner. It was a really cute, laid-back place with really good food. I ordered lasagna and it was actually amazing! I wanted to eat there every night, but we didn't get back to The Bell sadly. Here's Portia eating the ice cream that came with her meal.

We stopped by the supermarket on our way home to pick up milk, bread and fruit so that we can eat our breakfasts at home. We mainly unpacked and settled in before bed.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

First Day of School (2015)

Here's our annual first-day-of-school picture of the girls. Portia is in Mrs. Black's 3rd grade class, while Bianca starts ninth grade (but technically she still has to go to Timberline Middle School one more year, so it won't feel much like high school).

 It's going to be another great year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A couple weeks on the Oregon Coast

After Bianca returned home from Indiana, we spent two weeks on the Oregon Coast, as a final hurrah before school started. I don't think I mentioned that in February, Eric and I bought a little vacation rental house in Lincoln City, Oregon, that we use a management company to rent out, but part of the allure is that I want to have a reason to get to the beach more often. So even though I couldn't take all the time away from work (I worked half days remotely), and Eric had to get on some calls as well, but we made it work. We were finally together for some good family time. First, here's the cute little house we bought:

It sits on this little island that's completely surrounded by the canal that feeds into Devil's Lake, as well as the D-River (the world's shortest), which then feeds right into the ocean. 

In fact, we can kayak right from our property and we got two kayaks that came with the house when we bought it.  I love the bright, beachy kitchen!

Another plus for us was that the house came completely furnished, including the pictures on the wall, sheets on the bed, TV, and plates and cups. Of course we had to buy some extra stuff to get it fully stocked for renters, but it was the perfect house for us. And here in the cozy living room is the pellet stove, which runs warm and is super efficient. One of my must-haves was a fireplace or stove, so this house ended up being perfect for us! Not too big, but just comfortable for our time at the beach.

We brought Tigger and Skippy (who loved exploring outside all night long—we joke that he was fishing in the canal).

And we spent TONS of time at the beach. Portia wanted to go there at least 3 times each day and since we're less than 5-minutes walking, we went—a lot! She liked building little sand cakes and she'd always scoop me a little chair and pillow with her shovel so I could be comfortable while she kicked in the waves or played in the sand.

We also walked along the beach. It was cold and windy (as usual) which I don't mind at all because then I can make a fire and warm myself—even in the middle of August!

Usually, Eric and I would work in the morning, while the girls practiced (of course we brought instruments since we were there for two weeks). Portia liked playing out on the deck for the group of ducks who hung out back there. I worked out here a lot too.

We went to Siletz Bay often and saw the harbor seals. We also saw whales on three different occasions. It still makes me so happy every time. And Portia and I saw something one day in the waves I still can't explain.

I love the fog and mist we had most days. It makes everything so beautiful. We also took a lot of day trips. One of our favorites was to Neskowin.

We went kayaking several times.

And since Eric and I celebrated our anniversary while we were there, we went to Blackfish (quite possibly the best seafood restaurant I've ever eaten at). Yep, that's my salmon and Eric's plate in the background.

One more pic of our house (on our little island) as seen from the beach.

While we were there, we got a call from HGTV and got to come back much sooner than we thought—during fall break to film for the show we're going to be on! Here's a little sneak peek:

And here we are, finding our first glass float on the beach.