ENGLAND: Day 5 – A Relaxing Day in Bristol

After arriving in Bristol on Saturday, we had a few days to unwind and relax a little bit, as we would not be traveling to London until Wednesday. So on Sunday we went to my sister-in-law Ruth’s house, where the boys were able to try on their wedding suits for the first time!  Charlie sped in and out of his so that he could get back to playing with his cousins, but I was able to snap a couple shots of Henry looking very handsome, if I do say so myself.  🙂  I love the poses and faces!

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The kids did what they do best and soaked up all the time playing together. We headed out to a local park for a little bit in the afternoon.  I loved playing with my youngest nephew, Peter, especially since I hadn’t seen him since he was 11 months old!  It was so great to sit and talk with Ruth and my mother-in-law too.  That was our playtime.  🙂

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In my opinion, you are never to old for a see-saw.  Or swings.  Or basically any part of the playground.  Can’t there be such a thing as a grown-up jungle gym?

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Later that afternoon, David’s grandma came over and we got to spend some time with her.  She was one of our family members that we had not seen for four years, so it was a very happy reunion.  It was so sweet to see her meet Henry for the first time.  Ruth, Andrew, and our nephews also came over and David’s mom made a delicious dinner for us all!
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I love this goofy boy!

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My mother-in-law has a reputation for being a brilliant baker and cook, and she is not only talented but loves to serve her family by making meals special (and extremely delicious!) For special occasions such as having all of her grandchildren together, she can really outdo herself.  In addition to a mouth-watering beef stew, she made this dessert below (I think called an Alaskan roll) that is ice cream and jam wrapped inside a layer of sponge cake.  What?! I know, right?

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The piece de resistance in my opinion, however, was the squidgy chocolate pudding.  Don’t lick your screen!

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I have since tried to follow the recipe, even borrowing my English friend’s old-school baking scales (thank you, Judith!!), but alas, it was not as good.  Still yummy, but definitely not the same.  This is not the first time that has happened, either!  Perhaps it is related to the ability of the individual bakers?  Next time we go back, I know I’m going to request the squidgy chocolate pudding again!!

You can see the other days from our trip here:

ENGLAND: Days 1&2 – Traveling and Barnsley

ENGLAND: Days 3&4 – From Barnsley to Bristol

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ENGLAND: Days 3&4 – From Barnsley to Bristol

I better start posting more regularly if I’m going to write about our whole trip!  I love looking through our photos and reliving each day.  To me, each represents a special moment or beautiful place that I’ve experienced.  I think that’s one reason why I am known (and teased by some) for taking SO MANY PICTURES!  I don’t care if I’m ridiculed for it – I blame it on the fact that I’m half Japanese.  🙂

Anyway, on our last full day in Barnsley, we started by splitting up.  David took Charlie to the Barnsley football (soccer) stadium so they could watch the professional team practice.  David used to play for their youth team as a teenager, and he is still an avid supporter of the Barnsley football club, so I think this was just as much fun for David as for Charlie!

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The next day we all went to the club shop and bought some official Barnsley tops for the kids which was really fun!  Their English cousins have some too so later in the trip they all wore their Barnsley kits (uniforms) and it was so cute!

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But back to Barnsley: while David and Charlie were at the football club, I took Sienna and Henry to the town centre to walk through the open market and visit a toy store in the mall.  Wow, it felt so different walking through the town!  I loved that there were stalls set up on streets that were closed to all car traffic.  However, I couldn’t believe how much cigarette smoke we were exposed to!  David and I noticed that both here and in the center of London, we encountered more people smoking than we have for a long time.  I don’t know exactly why this is, but it was not pleasant.  I still loved being in the midst of a foreign town with such a different feel to it though.  As we walked through the streets we were surrounded by buildings much older than those in a typical American town, built in a different style, and lining winding roads that were probably designed for horses and carriages rather than automobiles.   In the air around us were voices speaking in a thick, Yorkshire accent that can be a little tricky to understand even without the numerous phrases singular to that area.

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Speaking about the Yorkshire dialect reminds me of a funny incident from that morning in our hotel.  As we entered the lobby, some women working there greeted us and one saw that Henry held a little toy car in his hand.  She said she liked his car and remarked, “That car wants mekin’ bigger, that!  So me and Lynn can go for a ride in’t town!”  Henry stared up at her with a blank expression!  🙂  Even after being married to David for almost 13 years and visiting England about ten times, I still need a translation sometimes!!

After our morning in Barnsley, we drove a little outside of town to meet David’s great Aunt and Uncle for lunch.  It was so nice to see them again after four years, and they really loved getting to see how much the children have grown and to meet Henry for the first time!

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Meeting Henry was very special for Uncle Howard, because his actual first name is Henry too.  He was named after a family member, but always referred to by his middle name, Howard.  So our little Henry is carrying on an old family name.  🙂

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Sienna and Charlie were old enough this visit to appreciate some of the remarkable talents of Uncle Howard in gardening and marquetry.  He has won awards for growing orchids and has even created his own unique types.  He still does all of his own gardening in their yard and greenhouse, and both are immaculate!  In addition, he used to create beautiful pieces of artwork using the technique called marquetry, which involves fitting pieces of wood together to form a picture.  It is much more complicated and detailed than that of course.  I love admiring the pieces he has created when we go to their house, and this time the children appreciated them as well!  Here you can see one that is flanked by some of the orchids he has grown.

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This one with the birds is my favorite:

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This is Uncle Howard’s favorite piece:

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David and his siblings always loved this one as kids.  Here is the beautiful princess….

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But she looks quite different upside down!!

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After spending some time with David’s great Aunt and Uncle, we drove over to his cousin Catherine’s house, where we were able to see Catherine, her husband, and their two kids, along with David’s Aunt and Uncle.  It was so nice to catch up with them all, as we have not seen most of them for four years!  Catherine’s daughter, Charlotte, did come and stay with us three years ago, so we had seen her more recently, but as she is now 18 she has changed so much in a few short years!  Catherine’s sister Joanne and her family couldn’t make it, but we got to see them the next week in the days around his brother’s wedding!

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Henry with Catherine’s husband, Phil.  Henry has a unique camera smile at the moment!

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Beautiful Charlotte and her mum, Catherine.  I love these two girls!

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Catherine’s son, Joseph, was so sweet with Charlie.  He played football with him for nearly the entire time and gave him so much attention!

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All in all, our trip to Barnsley was fantastic!  Each night David was also able to meet some old childhood friends to catch up with, which was so special.  He didn’t take any pictures though, much to my chagrin!  On Saturday morning we drove down a few hours to David’s parents’ house in Bristol.  His sister, Ruth came by soon after with our three nephews, and there was a joyful reunion between the cousins!!  It was the first time David’s parents have had all six of their grandchildren all together!!  Ruth’s family came to visit us in 2014, so over two years had passed since we had seen them, but the kids picked right up where they left off.  Skype really is amazing for keeping in touch!

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The youngest boys in the tent, or as Peter called it, his “spaceship.”

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Our littlest nephew, Peter, is so entertaining.  He is always telling creative stories with so much enthusiasm and plays in such an imaginative way!  Right here he has taken the sprayer from a toy fire truck but I believe he was using it as something to cure hurt feet.  Hahaha!  I miss hearing his sweet little voice!  In fact, I miss all of my sweet nephews and wish I could give them a squeeze right now!

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ENGLAND: Days 1&2 – Traveling and Barnsley

DSC_1219We were fortunate enough to spend three amazing weeks visiting England this summer.  My husband, David, grew up in South Yorkshire and came to New York as a college freshman to play soccer.  We met soon after he graduated, got married, and he has made America his home.  It has always been so important to us to go back and visit, since all of his family still live there and we are very close with them.  However, between Henry being born in 2013 and our relocation from New York to North Carolina in 2014, we had not managed to make it back for FOUR YEARS!!  In that time we did have a visit from David’s brother and girlfriend-at-the-time (now wife! Yaay!), a week with his sister and her family, a visit from his cousin’s daughter, and numerous visits from my mother and father-in-law, so we did get to see some immediate family in that time period.  But we were aching to actually go back to England and see all the extended family, some friends, and the country David and I both love.  This trip also had the joyous focus of his brother Steve’s wedding, which was one of the most beautiful weddings we have ever been to.  But more on that later!  Our trip began with a LOOOONG drive from NC to NY, since our flight was leaving out of New York.  There is a reasonable explanation for why we flew from NY instead of close by, but it is long so I will just say it saved a ton of money this time!  The drive went really well, partly because we were all so excited.  We saw an amazing sunrise on our journey!

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We stayed the night at my parent’s house, and woke up early the next morning to drive to the airport.  Then I did something I have never done before in my life.

I LOCKED THE KEYS IN THE CAR.

Actually, I like to think it was a joint effort between me and David.  Long story short, we called the police and the responding officer fruitlessly attempted to unlock the car.  He actually said, “This is the first car that beat me.”  Guys, we ended up BREAKING INTO OUR OWN CAR and rushing to the airport, praying the entire way.  God answered our prayers and allowed us to reach our gate with time to spare!  He is so good!  I’m still so thankful my carelessness didn’t make us miss our flight.

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David’s brother and fiance picked us up at the airport Wednesday evening, and we stayed the night at their house.  The next morning we piled into our rental car and drove about four hours north to Barnsley, the town that David grew up in.  I am so glad that David is the one who drives in England!  For one thing, the steering wheel is on the right.  For another, everyone drives on the left side of the road.  In addition, nearly all the cars are manual, which I have basically zero experience with, and even if I did, the stick is on the left, not the right!  Finally, there are roundabouts EVERYWHERE, which are intimidating to us Americans who rarely encounter them.  Bottom line: I am very thankful to my husband for doing all of the driving!

After arriving in Barnsley, we immediately headed to a “chippie,” or fish and chip shop.  There are many of these places in England that sell little more than fish, chips, and mushy peas!  We were going to take our food and eat in the local park, but on the way we drove past the church David grew up in, and he saw a woman he knew that used to babysit for him!  She helps run a cafe in the church now and invited us to sit and eat in there.  It was so nice for David to catch up with her, and he ended up seeing a few other people he knew who still work in the church.  One of them took us on a little tour of the school there that David went to as a young child, which was a fun and unexpected walk down memory lane.  I took a picture of the church door which I thought was cool, since it mentions the fact that an influential missionary to China, James Hudson Taylor, was born in Barnsley.

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After our satisfying lunch and walk through the church, we headed over to a friend’s house.  David met this friend Andrew because they were both recruited to play soccer at a college in New York together.  They quickly realized that they lived only minutes away from each other in England, but had never met before!  Andrew moved back to England after graduating, but they stay in touch and we have visited him and his family each time we return to England.  Him and his wife have two sweet girls and all of the kids get along really well.  We went for a walk near their house along some beautiful country lanes and then stayed for dinner.

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I love how lush and green it is in England.  I guess it’s related to the frequent rain and moderate summer temperatures (80 degrees would be a VERY warm day for England).  It was such a welcome change from our 90+ sticky, humid summer!

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Kids mark the passage of time like nothing else.  Look at how much has changed since our last visit in 2012 –

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Look at those baby faces!  Henry was still in my tummy.  🙂  It was so nice to start our time in Barnsley with good food and friends!

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New Yorkers in Charlotte

DSC_0193This summer has been flying by!  The last time I posted, it was the end of June and I was still working my way through a summer routine.  Now we are more than a week into July, and the days have been so busy and fun!  We have gone to a few great parks and museums, which I want to post about later, but today I’m writing about the fun we had this week with friends who were visiting from New York!

For anyone who doesn’t know, we relocated from Long Island, New York, to the Charlotte area in August 2014.  I had lived my whole life on Long Island and was nervous about adjusting to living in a different place, with different people, and a completely different culture.  Thankfully, we were blessed to find that we felt at home very quickly and now have many wonderful friendships, a great church, and love where we live!  We do miss my family members, who still live in New York, and our friends, though.  Which is why we were so excited when we found out some of our friends from New York were coming for three nights to visit!  They have three little ones and their oldest is Charlie’s best buddy from NY.

We enjoyed going to a local splash pad, a friend’s pool, and just laying low and hanging out at our house.  A highlight, though, was going into the city one morning and walking around.  Having lived 30-45 minutes from New York City most of my life, Charlotte initially felt like a tiny little city.  But now that I’ve been in a few times, I really appreciate its size and how accessible it is.  You can walk the streets and feel the energy of a city, but it is not costly nor overwhelming in the least.  Something really fun about our visit was that I ran into two friends.  One was visiting uptown with her kids and another was on her lunch break in the park.  It made me feel like a real Charlottean!  Our NY friends were joking that uptown is like the Penn Station of Charlotte – because New Yorkers know that you seem to always run into someone you know at Penn Station!

When we drove in to the city we easily found street parking and then headed over to the Wells Fargo History Museum.  This small, free, exhibit is located on the main floor of the Wells Fargo building and is a great spot to take young kids.  There is a little stagecoach they can ride in that has a screen along one side so it looks as if you are riding through the countryside.

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They also have a ride on horse & buggy (which I believe is supposed to move around, but was not working that day.)  It didn’t really seem to bother the kids though!

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By the way – Henry has never worn his hat backwards before.  He deliberately asked to put it on backwards after he saw the older boys wearing theirs backwards.  🙂

They had some fun interactive areas as well.  There was an old-fashioned car that you could pretend to drive and it was right next to a little teller window that another person could stand behind so you could have an imaginary transaction.

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To the left of Sienna in the above photo is a little capsule like the ones they used to have in drive-up banking before ATMs took over.  I remember as a kid thinking it was so cool when my Mom would put something inside the container and then it would go shooting up the tube into the bank, get processed, and then come back through.  In the Wells Fargo museum, you could push a button next to the capsule and it would be sent up a tube to another spot in the museum.  From there, someone could push the button to send it back.  The kids loved pushing the button and sending it back and forth to each other! –On a sidenote, see the large TV with rabbit ears in the background? It looks exactly like the TV I had in my den growing up.  And now it’s in a museum that displays old, outdated technology and methods of communication.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  🙂

There were two old-fashioned telephones they could talk to each other on.  It’s amazing how much technology has progressed!

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Another cute station was a photo booth where they could have their photo taken and printed on a fake 50 cent bill.  They loved seeing their faces on money!  They also had an actual stagecoach on display and set up a camera to take a photo for you standing in front of the coach.  This is a really nice feature, since everyone from your party can be in one photo together.  It only prints in black and white, though.

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After spending a little bit of time in the museum, we walked a few blocks over to Romare Bearden Park.  I really should have taken some photos of the park itself, which is very pretty, but I didn’t!  I found this one I had taken on my phone the winter after we moved.Late 2014 phone 897

And I also came across this picture from the Wells Fargo Museum when my parents, sister, and brother-in-law were in town in December 2014!  The kids look so much younger!

Late 2014 phone 885 Anyway, back to Romare Bearden Park.  They have a really fun waterfall/splash pad feature that was perfect for this hot day.  The kids loved sneaking behind the waterfalls and standing right in the downpour too!  For most of the time that we were there, we were the only ones.  I love that there are little fun spots like this in the city.

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After the kids were all played out, we got them changed into dry clothes and ate lunch at Mellow Mushroom, which is right across the street.  I had never been to this chain before, but it was really yummy!  I love the garlic seasoning they put on the pizza crust.  Our friend Nick said that his Jerk Chicken sandwich was one of the best sandwiches he’s ever had.  Which led to the kids asking why his sandwich had a bad word in it. Hahaha!

Have you been having a good summer?  Do you have any fun tips for keeping the kids cool and entertained?  Did the talk about old television sets and bank telling bring back memories for anyone else?  For my fellow Charlotteans: What are your favorite spots uptown?  Where do you like to go with and without the kids?  I love finding new places to visit!

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My “Inadequate” Summer Routine

If you’re anything like me, you start to get a little nervous as the school year winds down.  Although I love the idea of carefree, relaxed days of summer break, too often the end of the day comes and I feel like it was a parade of chaos, followed by mess, followed by unproductivity, which leads to late dinners, missed naps, and exhaustion!  There is a lot of fun to be had along the way (mostly by the kids), but waking up every morning and resolving to simply “go with the flow” each day does not work well for me!  So this year, I decided to go into summer break with a better plan: a rough guideline for each day so that we get to experience a lot of fun activities, but still maintain a little structure.  Then I’ll let you know how our days have really been going!

So first, we made our summer bucket list.  Yes, I know, everyone’s doing that all over pinterest and they are beautiful, filled with coordinating designs and check boxes.

Exhibit A (from DIY Home Sweet Home):

Exhibit B (from Love Bakes Good Cakes):

{FREE} Summer Bucket List Printable

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE these printables; I really do.  I highly recommend that you click on the links and print them off if they will be helpful to you.  They are beautifully designed and have lots of great ideas for summer activities.  Plus, how gorgeous is the second one with all the fun fonts and colors?

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When confronted with such a perfect list that promises a summer of fun family bonding, I am flooded with feelings of pressure, inadequacy, and guilt. I feel like there is NO WAY I can check all of those boxes, but I still feel like I should be because that’s what so-and-so is doing, and look at how much fun they’re having in their facebook/instagram/pinterest posts, and I’m that lame Mom who can only handle one big activity with the kids each day (which may be simply a trip to the local playground) and then likes to stay in the house the rest of the day – but not doing fun, interactive crafts or educational experiments, but just telling my kids to go play so I can get some stuff done!!!!  There’s a nice window into my thoughts for you – I probably should have warned you first.  Can anybody else identify with those feelings?  I just need to keep reminding myself that even if my life isn’t pinterest-worthy, it’s still meaningful and perfect for us!

So back to that bucket list – our family sat down together and threw out ideas of fun things we would like to do this summer.  Some things we couldn’t even consider, (one of the kids said “Disney World,”) but we were able to make a solid wish list of things we would like to do.  These included the zoo, aquarium, museums, parks, pools, splash pads, movie nights, picnics, a lemonade stand, walking around the Disney store, doing Mad Libs, going to the Lego store, going fishing, taking a trip to the beach for the day, and going on a hike.  From there, I did a little research on prices and distance and we narrowed the list further.

Then I had to turn my attention to our daily routine.  There are certain non-negotiables that must be done every morning.  These are the things that, if neglected, will make us starve, smell, and get rotten teeth.  I had grand plans for involving the kids in morning chores too but am still working on that.  It seems like it’s all I can do just to get them to clean up their clothes and toys from the various places they have been scattered around the house!  They do help water the garden, and the older kids love dusting, so that’s a start.

I envisioned that we would leave the house by 9, (with snacks, water, and lunches packed), for a park, pool, museum, or other activity.  Then we would spend all morning out having an adventure, coming home between 1 and 2 so Henry could have a nap.  While Henry napped, the kids could spend 30 minute increments doing different activities like their Summer Bridge Workbooks, Lego, computer time, playing quietly, reading, or watching TV.  Then they could help me prepare dinner (more family bonding!!), David would get home, and we would sit all together and discuss the highlights of our day while eating a nutritious meal.

That sounded great to me – not quite a fancy summer routine, and not very detailed, but it has a nice balance of activity and rest.  So the big question – has it worked?? Well, sort of.  As I said, I’m still working at getting the kids involved with chores (it seems like more work for me at first), and they have not helped me make dinner once (my choice, not theirs), but we have done some really fun things together.  We have been swimming with friends, gone to a splash pad, visited the nature museum, and played at a few parks.  We have also spent a lot of unstructured time in the house. BUT – I sometimes feel a lot of guilt over this, because that time feels SO unproductive!  And then I feel like a bad Mom for not having planned great activities for them.  Then I remember this blog post (“What Would My Mom Do? Drink Tab and Lock Us Outside”) that I read last year by Jen Hatmaker, and I feel SO. MUCH. BETTER.  She is hilarious, by the way, and one of those women who voices what we are all thinking but don’t want to say out loud!

As Jen says, making sure my kids know that they are loved by God and by me is my top priority.  They don’t need a pristine house to feel loved.  They don’t need alphabetized, color coded daily learning activities to feel loved.  They don’t need an intricate craft (that is also educational) to feel loved.  They don’t need me to be engaged with them every second to feel loved!  Aaaaaaah, reminding myself of those things makes me feel so much better.  I know I love my children SO MUCH and I don’t need to show them my love the same way other moms do.  I have so much respect and admiration for the moms that do all of those amazing things with their children!!  But I need to remember that not every mom sits for hours with their kids reassembling broken Lego sets like I did last week.  Or snuggle and read together on a regular basis.  Or pray every night before bed with their kids to thank God for the amazing day.  Or raise a tadpole with them because they really, really, really, really, wanted to!  It’s easy for me to overlook the things I do that show my children my love because it’s not what someone else does.  We’ve all heard the phrase:

Comparison is the thief of joy

I’m working on reminding myself of that every day.

How about you?  Do you find yourself getting stuck in a rut of comparing your average days with the perfection on pinterest?  Have you made any kind of summer bucket list or routine?  I would love to hear about it!

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