Monday, December 5, 2011

Thanksgiving with an Irish Twist

Ashford Castle, County Mayo
The greenest place we've ever seen. We flew out of Gatwick on Thanksgiving morning to Shannon, Ireland.  Our destination was The Ashford Castle and we were all really looking forward to this trip...even Nick...he wanted to find a mischievous leprechaun.  We stayed two nights here and it was incredible.  The castle was built in the 1200s and the views were spectacular.  We all tried "falconry" and learned a lot about it's history.  We walked through trails with two falcons, all the while they flew on and off our arms.  Definitely a first for all of us, but really had fun.  The kids were fascinated.

Ireland's Falconry School



Next, we left County Mayo and drove three hours to Ireland's
capital city, Dublin.  The ride consisted of long, narrow, windy roads where we saw plenty of sheep, stones, Gaelic signs, and the
greenest pastures ever.  A truly picturesque ride to say the
least.  Upon our arrival in Dublin, we headed straight to the "Home of Guinness".   We had scheduled a tour and Kyle wanted to taste Guinness at it's birthplace.  We were taught all the beer ingredients, the art of pouring, and of course enjoyed the taste testing.  The top floor of the plant, "Gravity Bar", is where we saw 360 degree views of Dublin.  It was there that we poured, drank, and enjoyed our perfect pint...Slainte! (Slaan-cheh...which is the Irish toast to "good health"...and as you can imagine, it is said often here! 
Dublin was a busier city than I expected.  I guess the most well known street we visited was Temple Street.  Lots of Irish music and pints poured here.  So many pubs...all in a row...and all busy!  We basically did a walk through, but the kids were able to see & listen to Ireland's customary traditions.  Kyle conveniently had to use the restroom when we happened to be standing in front of "The Temple Bar" we all went in to check things's known to be the "friendliest watering hole" in Dublin.  I can still hear the Irish band playing and those Irish accents :)...
We were running short on time and had to move on.  We walked to Trinity College Library where we saw the Book of Kells, a 9th century gospel manuscript famous throughout the world.  We continued our walk around the city (...and Nick's quest to find his lucky leprechaun.)  Such a fun place and nice people.
Although, we were only in Ireland for four days, we certainly saw a lot of new sights.  We wished we had a few more days to explore other areas, but unfortunately work and school await.  It was a cold week, but the bonus was all the holiday decor and lights.  A memory made as it was definitely a unique Thanksgiving for our family.  We'll have our pie when we return to the States!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Georgia Friends and Holiday Fun

Diana & Dodi Memorial at Harrod's Dept Store

Southern Girls take on London

Visitors arrive from our hometown.  Robin and Amy came for the week of Thanksgiving and we were so happy they took us up on our offer!  These ladies were up & out every morning and toured the entire city by day and by night!  They were quick to learn the train and tubes, and set off to see the sights.  They definitely got their exercise, along with a few new purchases and souvenirs to take home...these ladies do love boots! 

Midweek, Kyle & I brought the kids to Hyde Park to visit London's "Winter Wonderland". I later hopped a taxi to meet Robin and Amy at Harrod's...a department store where every woman needs to spend plenty of time and money, especially at Christmastime.  Thanks for all the shopping & the fun night out girls!
Glad y'all had fun visiting London and the pleasure was ours.  We'll see you both soon.

November Update

Wow!  Time is flying.  On November 5th, we learned about an English tradition -"Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night".  It was basically a plot, by Guy Fawkes, to blow up the English Parliment, which later failed.  Every year, the English celebrate this with fireworks and parties...very similar to our Fourth of July festivites.  We were a caught by surprise seeing all the crowds, bonfires, and fireworks.  It didn't take us long to figure things out & join in the fun...after all, we did miss celebrating the Fourth of July over the summer.

Next, all three kids were playing soccer (football to the UKers), but the season has come to an end.  All was the boys' first time playing and they had a LOT of fun.  The important part was they met new friends and jumped into something new.  And now basketball is right around the corner. 
Kate's arm still hasn't healed completely, so she'll continue to be out for awhile...  

Kyle and I met a friend, Everett Fernald, from Rhode Island in London for dinner.  He was returning from visiting his daughter in Turkey, also doing an expat thing.  It was a nice night out and fantastic to see him again. Happy we had the chance to catch up, although we missed you tons SueB!

Lastly, a big thanks to the Simpson Family for sending Jack a very cool "War Eagles" t-shirt.  Jack was so happy to receive it....his old team just finished up a terrific season.  It was a tough one for him to miss, so you can imagine the smile on his face when he received it.  He immediately put it on and slept in it.  Very kind guys, thanks.  The candy didn't hurt either...:)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Are You Ready For Some Football" Wembley Stadium?

NFL Football in London?  Yes, it happens once a year and it is actually a big deal here.  The Bears and the the Buccaneers played last Sunday, October 30th at Wembley Stadium.  Jack and Kyle were lucky enough to score some tickets and enjoyed the day, along with 79,000 other people.  :)
Chicago Bears won 24-18.
Proud to be an Great Britian.  Goo Goo Dolls were a bonus too.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tenerife, Spain

Mid October brought us a "holiday" from school, our first week off.  (Remember, there is no Labor Day, Columbus Day, half days, in the U.K.)  We chose to head seventy miles from the west coast of Africa to the Canary Islands, which are surprisingly, part of Spain.  We found a terrific hotel on the island of Tenerife and hoped for a great R&R vacation...the beach, sun, and just lazy outdoor days.  Selfishly, we figured it wouldn't hurt to get our last burst of warm sunshine before the cold England winter hits...after all, it'll be here before we know it.  
Turns out it was all that and more.  We had the sunshine, terrific pools, and continued our quest to see new sights.  We took a day trip to Pico del Teide, the highest mountain in Spain and the 3rd highest volcano in the world.  Our rental car took us to it, followed by a cable car/gondola lift.  After that, we were free to hike around and explore.  Something worth was freezing at the top.  It often snows here in mid summer.  Unbelieveable, especially since we had just come from the beaches below!  Our next day trip was to Loro Parque, where we saw dolphins, sea lions, and killer whales put on amazing performances.  I guess it is similiar to Sea World back home.  The kids loved it and each had their favorite animal.  :)   Other fun things were parasailing while at the same time looking below and seeing wild dolphins in the ocean.  I swear they were meant to put on a show and make people smile! 
To sum it up, it was a terrific family getaway to somewhere we would never have chosen from the States.  Just too far.  In fact, I think it was the farthest the kids have been from the the US and needless to say, we were just about the only Americans there.  Bonus though, we enjoyed the food much better there, than in our area of London.  We ate well, and the sangria wasn't bad either.:) 
One last detail worth mentioning is that our kids got their first taste of "European bathing suits".  As soon as we arrived they ran way ahead to check out the beaches and came running back, all saying the same thing in unison..."the bikinis here are missing the top piece!"  Nick now has a whole new vocabulary...most of which he made up himself and is decriptive to say the least.  Seven year olds can really charm "el senoritas"!  Winthin days, it was just reality and much less of a culture shock.  I must say that I couldn't help but laugh looking out to the ocean seeing my kids swimming beside ladies and their tatas!  Oh well, part of the whole educational process I suppose...I'm sure they all will remember Spain and all it's beauty.  I know Kyle will...:)

Hibachi tonight at" Kamakura"

Friday, October 7, 2011

First October weekend...Sunny & Blue Skies

The weather this week has been gorgeous.  27 degrees celcius....that converts to approximately 80 degrees farenheit.  We can switch the math fast now...experts no less, and we'll take the sunshine anytime.  :)
Two things made this week unique...first you'll notice Kate's sling.  She had a horse riding accident and fractured her arm by her right shoulder.  She's okay now, just cannot play soccer, write, or take PE...and of course, riding is out for at least 7 weeks.  We at least figured out the nearby hospitals, and local doctor offices...getting our first taste of National Healthcare.  On a more positive side, Jack's birthday was Friday!  He turned 11.  He had a birthday cake at school and home, and spent the day with his friends after school.  Happy birthday bud!

On Saturday we decided to visit the medieval Warwick Castle in Warwickshire, England.  It was built in 1068 by William the Conqueror.  Many prisoners were held in the dungeons.  The largest catapult in the world sits toward the back of the castle along the Avon River.  It was about a two hour drive and the kids were able to see falconry, warfare, defensive towers, archery, & visit 'The Dragon Tower'.  

Below are pictures from our crop picking day...we went for pumpkins, but also came home with strawberries, rasberries, and corn.  The kids had a quest to find the perfect shapes and colors.  Many were eaten before they hit the basket...just a fun day.  Strawberry shortcake tonight...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The line between two hemispheres

Kate's 4th grade class took a field trip to Greenwich, England to see the Prime Meridian of the World.  Longitude is 0 degrees.  Every place on Earth is measured in terms of distance east or west from this line. The line divides the hemispheres...pretty cool for a nine year old to step on!!  Hopefully a memory (& concept) she'll hold onto.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An English pastime...



Meet Henry and Nutty, horses.  Kate and I decided that since we're here in England, we like to learn to ride horses.  There are, of course, differences in saddles...English vs Western.  Overall changes here never truly seem to end.  Is anything standard?!  (All I knew was that there were only reins to hold, no horn.  I hoped to just stay on and not fall off...pathetic, I know. :)  I was just out for an afternoon "hack" as they said when I signed up.  The trainers assigned me to "Nutty", not my first or second choice due to her name only.  Yes, I was judging before I even knew her.  With a name like that I wasn't sure what I had in store. Maybe it was because she was chestnut in color...yup...I was going with that. :)  Anyway, it turned out to be an incredible morning through Great Windsor Park.  We passed deer, sheep, and the Royal Herd.  Very picturesque and I'm glad I went and tried something new.  My adventure was only for one day.

Kate has been taking lessons at Berkshire Riding Center, also in Windsor Park.  She always rides "Henry" and he's a sweet, gentle, old horse. He has no idea just how much he's talked about every week.   Kate counts the days, looking forward to seeing him each & every week.  He's come to expect his apple from her.  Again, this is a new activity for her and she is loving it.  

Monday, August 29, 2011

A fresh, new start...Tasis School, England

Tasis: August 24, 2011

Off they go...


So the big day had finally arrived, and the kids were ready for their first day of school.  Tasis, an American school, follows a close curriculum to their school at home.  Jack heading to 5th grade, Kate to 4th, and Nick starting 1st.  Obviously the uniform thing is new for us and even though it's August, the sweatshirts have to be least until they can ask permission to take it off.  Rules, rules.  Nick left his in the class on his first day...good thing I bought two. :)  The boys struggled with wearing socks and shoes, oh yeah, pants too.  They prefer their year round shorts, tees, & sneakers...oh well, there's no choice so they'll adapt.  
You can see their transportation (no big, yellow school bus)...and pickup at the that's nice.  He'll even wait if we're running late? :)   Now, that's something we all can adjust to.   
First day down, and all survived.  Happy faces and they said they'll go back.  Only time will tell...but we'll take it for the time being... 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Just like home...

"King & the Castle" Birthday toast

My sister's family left, and then Jeff & Paula landed at Heathrow from Atlanta.  This visitor thing is working out well...:)  They flew through the night, took a power nap, and we headed out to nearby Windsor for dinner.
We couldn't wait to spend time with them to catch up and show them our life over here.  Jack, Kate, and Nick were excited to see them as well. The only ones missing were their kids. Maybe next time...

We only had a brief time with them before they headed to the city for the week to sight see and visit Paula's cousin (also doing an expat assignment).  Full agenda!

We can't tell you how great it was to see you both.  Really, our time spent was so much fun and felt like the old days...we thank you for the time we shared. Happy birthday Paula
and happy anniversary too!! 
As they say here, "Cheers!"

Morgan...Kate loved her card and sweet birthday earrings.  She'll be in touch soon. :)  The gum & candy were perfect choices as well.  She misses you!! We were so grateful to spend your mom's birthday with her.  Ask her all about Jack's apartment...she liked it up there. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

very special deliveries...from very dear friends...

Thanks Hadley!!!

Thanks Zack and Carolyn!!

Wow!!  It's nice to have friends in the States who are both
thoughtful and giving!!  These special deliveries were a kid's dream...
Oreos, PopTarts, M & M's, etc...all from two amazing families,
The Calzada's and the Bates.  The care packages also included notes from their kids, pictures, and even Nick and Kate's swim trophy.  We all talked and talked about how nice it is to be thought of even though we are so far away.  It's true that "wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world".  My kids got to see first hand just how much a kind gesture can mean to someone.  We've been so fortunate to have friends do so much for us during this journey and the months leading up to it...we can't thank you all enough.  Honestly, it's meant so much.  It's nice to have a little bit of good old America arrive at our front door, even if it is sugary, cavity causing junk food!!...Our kids signed their name with pleasure to accept each package from the States.  Needless to say, they were overjoyed as they dug through the was like Christmas morning all over again!!  (Did I mention the postal carrier delivers the mail via bicycle and tosses it thru a tiny slot in our front door?  I still jump everytime...and then it scatters all along the foyer...what's up with these folks?!!!  Btw, this is one of Nick's top five favorite things about London.

Breakfast of Champions awaits tomorrow morning...:)  Thanks guys!!

Also, I must mention Katherine, a close friend since childhood, sent me a book and card that was "my equivalent" of PopTarts and Oreos...not to be redundant, but it was the same sort of kindness aimed at just me.  Nice. Very much appreciated Kath as I'm sure you"re tracking Hurricane Irene this moment....:)  Stay safe.   
Last, but certainly not least, a shout out to more dear friends...The Quigley's who sent us delicious fruits and chocolates on the 4th of July.  A nice patriotic gesture from one American to another, separated only by distance.  Note that I actually feel more American here, than I ever have.  Also, I feel more pride in being American as well.  I suppose it's because I never had to think much about it before, and here we all kind of stand out as we learn to adapt to a new culture.  Not to worry, we're trying to make our best impressions along the way... 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Royal Visit...

Masks that couldn't be refused...& all sorts of fun :)  Can you guess who's behind Harry?!  

The anticipated visit from my sister's family of five had finally arrived on August 8th.  Our kids were so excited to see their cousins from Boston, MA.  It was their first family trip overseas and we had ten days to share England with them.  We had a very full week needless to say.  We took the train several days into London to see the sites...Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, London Tower, London Bridge, etc...  We even took an adventure to find the oldest pub in London...our destination was the "Cheshire Cheese" built in 1538.  We made it an added bonus, as well as by accident, we passed St. Paul's Cathedral on our way...:)

We toured Windsor Castle, complete with a horse drawn carriage ride down the queen's two mile driveway, picnicked on the lawn, and biked along trails.  Then we took the group to Legoland, also part of Windsor.  The kids liked the famous world buildings and creatures built from tiny Legos that were displayed throughout the park. The amusement rides added enjoyment too...We all wondered just how long all the Lego figures took to build...
Other attractions we took them to were Chessington World of Adventures (an amusement park) , Go Ape...a fun rope course from where we have exceptional video & stories of certain individuals zip lining...ahem!

All in all, we had a terrific time with the Solomons!!  (Other than hearing all the unfortunate news about the rioting in the streets of northern London.)  The dinners, the laughs, the everyday adventures were a blast..  We are so glad for their visit and for sharing part of their summer with us.  The quote of the week was, "Every thing's different".  It makes me laugh as I remember one of them pointing out something odd or different than the US way of doing something...EVERYDAY!!  Toilets, food, driving, hot water, mail, laundry, plugs, was endless.  Does that mean WE have somewhat adapted to the UK way of life?  Ha Ha...I guess we're slowly getting there.  Don't get me wrong though, things definitely take time to get used to...quite awhile in fact...we'll continue to adapt...

To the Sea...the South Coast of the UK...

I've been a bit delayed in adding to our blog, but it is the end of summer here and we've had guests who have kept us busy.  Yes...that's an acceptable, exceptional excuse, right?! :) 

As July came to an end, we decided to take a drive (yes, the driving is getting better with time) to check out the beaches in the area.  Our destination was an area known as Poole and Bournemouth located on the southern coast of England.  The drive was a few hours of vast, endless countryside...very pretty and exactly what I pictured England to look like.  Very green.  After arriving to a beach town called Poole Harbour, we drove our car onto a ferry called "Bramble Bush Bay".   This took us directly to Bournemouth Beach, where we were all ready to see the coastline.  Nick's idea was to first purchase shovels and pails, hit a few carnival rides, eat lunch, and head to the beach.  Great suggestions, because that's exactly what we did...and the beaches surprised us...we expected rocks and pebbles, but instead found sand.:)  There we relaxed, played catch, and dug some deep tunnels in the sand (good thing for Nick's new shovels...).  We walked the pier, ate ice cream, and called it a day.  For some reason, our drive was much shorter going home than it was getting there...Kyle, did you make some adjustments...? :)
Our next beach trip will be south to popular Brighton Beach which is known as "London by the Sea".  I guess we had better head there quickly as fall will be here before we know it...

Our daily life here in Sunningdale continues to consist of taking walks to the grocery store, train station, post office, and the bank.  It's nice to able to walk to lunch, dinner, and other town like places.  The kids really enjoy bike riding to Windsor Park which has now become part of our routine.  The trails, polo fields, flowers, gorgeous deer...(I can't tell you just how neat they are to watch..), horses, and gorgeous greenery are all to be admired.  I'll bring my camera soon so I can share some animal sightings.

Otherwise, like the British said during WWII (and by the way...we see signs of this everywhere) we continue to "Keep Calm and Carry On"...Our daily life challenges are becoming less and less of a struggle.  The things that were a nuisance or inconvenience before, have become a bit less visible and bothersome.  Funny how that happens...I'll remind myself of that the next time I continuously drive round and round the "roundabouts" while deciding which exit to take...all the while getting beeped at by others.  I'll figure it out somehow, and hopefully which lane to be in as well. :)  Deep breaths...

The kids play outside and have become friends with the other kids around our home.  It's quite a diverse group...often I look outside and laugh to life has changed so much, yet kids are all the same.  Nick has a pal who speaks with a British accent but is from Sri enjoy kids...that simple.:)

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Okay, so here is the ongoing list that Kate is creating.  It's many of the different words that are commonly said here in the UK.  It's funny to see the kids catching on and saying "car park" or "Where's the lift?"  I imagine the list will continue to grow as our stay continues.
The second photo is Nick in the "American" aisle in Budgen's Grocery Store.  Look closely to view exactly how America is represented...Lucky Charms, Betty Crocker, Goldfish, etc...I guess our comfort foods?  And the stores make it all possible...for a price $$.  Anyway, Nick's attempt at the buying the PopTarts failed at almost $12 a box.  (And that's for the small box.)  Seriously, is he/they kidding?!!  He can wait until our Christmas trip back home, but you can't blame a kid for trying!  He left with a croissant that he dropped on the street.  I foresee another grocery store with a similar occurrence in my near future.  Depending on the day, I may ultimately give in...

A quick hello...

Kyle's friend from CT stopped by for a quick visit.  He works for LandRover and was here on business.  We'll blog our visitors as it's so nice of them to visit.  Thanks Ryan for the packages of "Oreos" from the States.  If you've ever been to England, you realize this was a BIG treat for all of us!
Great to lunch with you in Windsor Ryan! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Precious Little Place...

Kate and Jack in the Mediterranean

A view of the Amalfi Coast


Cliff Climbing

Our anticipated trip to Positano, Italy had arrived!  The year had it's challenges with all the travel and separation, so can you imagine how ready we all were to start our overseas adventure with such a trip.  It was our light at the end of the to speak.   We flew from Gatwick Airport via EasyJet to Naples...just over a two hour flight, taxied over an hour, and finally arrived at La Fenice...our B & B in Positano.  Ahhh.. breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea from every window, deck, and even rooftop.  Positano, being on the Amalfi Coast, has roads high, high, high above the sea that hook & corksrcew on the edge of nothing.  Vespas and motorbikes everywhere.  When looking out at the views, you can't really tell the difference between the sky and the sea.  That blue.  See the picture below of Kate. 
Down 200 steps, the pool was carved inside the cliffs.  Here we enjoyed caprese salads and native wines.  Down 200 more steps was our private beach that included kayaks, tubes, and natural rocks that became instant diving boards for the kids.  Bonus...clear blue water & monster yachts anchored ahead.   
Two different days we were picked up by boat at the beach and taken to a restaurant, Da Adolfo.  This eating place is on it's very own beach (Laurito) and is only accessable by boat.  Waiters are casual and run up and down serving in bare feet.  Everything fresh and fun, needless to say...peaches served in wine carafes.  Lunch is a special time of day in Italy where people relax and share a meal together.  I could get used to this...
A highlight and my favorite day, our boat trip to Capri.  We had an amazing two hour tour of the sea with our guide Alfonso.  He brought us all around the island showing us neat, natural rock formations...some that resembled animals and he showed us tucked away caves.  The highlight was seeing the blue and green grottos.  Wonders of the World.  We spent the day walking around Capri, and taxied up to Ana Capri.  I was told I could find the "real sharks" up here...$$$!!:)  Once in Ana Capri, we took a sky lift to the top...very close to a chairlift in skiing.  The views were simply gorgeous and peaceful.  It felt as though we were as high as the sky.  So glad we made this trip...oh yeah, I forgot to mention on the return boat trip to Positano, our captain threw out his anchor so we could take a dip in the sea, popped a bottle of champagne, and served us biscuits...pinch me I said...again, and again.
The next day we took a bus to the city of Amalfi.  At midday, I tried an expresso macchiato and a homemade biscuit..I think I was starting to blend into their culture.:)  Then we took a convertible van to a place called Ravello...up, up, up along hairpin bends and a gorgeous, scenic ride.  This place is known to have the best view of the entire Amalfi coast and was recommended by Constantine, our B&B owner.  It truly is a must see. 
Pompeii was the next city to tour...the kids were excited to see a real volcano...Mount Vesuvius.  It errupted  in 79 AD and destroyed the city of Pompeii.  We were able to walk through the destruction as it happened 2000 years ago.  During our tour, you could really get a feel of how the people lived every day so long ago.  Amazing to see they had running water, public baths, and gathered socially for wine and spirits.  Not so different than we live today.  There were even perfectly preserved bodies that were entombed in ash from the day of the eruption.

Fun in Pompeii

The last two days were spent like a vacation should be...swimming, boating, eating, drinking, talking, reading, taking walks, and sleeping.  We tried to roll off Italian words from our tongues...per favore, grazie, anguria, spiaggia, and of course sbrigati! (hurry up:).  Nick became a favorite among the locals as he frequented his usual places...the grocery store, beaches, etc... They called him "piccolo bellisimo" - little beauty.  Did I mention he wanted to stay here forever with or without us? :)
I must also note that Kate celebrated her birthday while we were there...lucky nine year old, right?  Buon Compleanno!
We won't forget the charming place we visited and hope very get back there.  The gelato, wine, margarita pizzas, towers, pasta, sunsets, lemons & limoncellos, cameos, flowers, rocks, cliffs, caves, sea glass, etc...will always remind us of this precious little place. 

 Kate turns 9 in Italy