Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hampton Court Palace for the Win

A day of exploring, history, beautiful gardens, beautiful weather, a picnic, play time, and family.  Hampton Court continues to dazzle us.  Two visits - two perfect days.  Thanks to Mindy for capturing some incredible shots.

Entering the Palace

Exploring the interior.  Grandma heading upstairs and everyone else close behind. 

A picnic, Koi fish, a pond, and sunshine. 

Formal gardens, looking outside from Henry VIII's state rooms, audio guides and viewing a play in the Great Hall,
and a pergola perfect for kissing.

Kaylee and Lander running around outside

Looking for the biggest Koi.

A glorious day indeed! 

June Visit with Grandma & Mindy

It can be exhausting have visitors, but it is also so much fun.  When Mindy's family and LaRue came in May/June, it was all of their first visit to Europe.  It was wonderful to see our city with fresh eyes again, as they were so excited about it all. Of course having cousins to hang out was a highlight for the kids.  On this day, Kaya and Mindy were both sick, so LaRue and I ventured out with the youngest 4 kids to see a few London sights.  
First tube ride!

Big Ben - You're really in London Grandma!

London Eye

Play time on the Southbank.

Beautiful view.  Beautiful family. 

Cousin Love

Cousins make public transportation so much more fun. 

Bus Time! 


At the end of May we were thrilled to have Matt's mom, sister, and her 2 kids come for a long visit. It was a full house with 10 of us for over 2 weeks, but we had a wonderful time.  A highlight was our trip to Paris together - the first time there for everyone except Matt and I.    

Not surprisingly, traveling with 10 can be both comedic and chaotic.  We were quite the caravan as we made our way via bus, then tube, then Eurorail, then bus from our house to the Airbnb.  Despite some initial hiccups getting into our flat, once we were in the place was spacious and comfortable. 

We arrived late in enough in the evening that we decided dinner at the flat would be best.  Matt was the hero and picked up McDonald's for the whole crew . . . I'm still not sure how he carried it all the way back by himself.  I think he has super powers.  Once everyone else was settled in bed, Matt and I I took a late night stroll by ourselves.  The lights around the Louvre were quite beautiful, and we really enjoyed wandering along the Seine in the cool evening.  We stumbled across what seemed to be an informal brass band gathering - 20+ standing around jamming along the shores of the Seine.  So random and fun.      

On our first full day in Paris, we split up to explore for the morning.  Grandma, Danny, Kaylee, James, and I made our way to the Musee D'Orsay, one of my personal favorite museums.  The kids and I did a few scavenger hunts while Grandma explored on her own.  Two favorite pieces were 
Imperial Prince with His Dog Nero by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, which reminded the kids of themselves with our beagles, and Francois Pompon's Polar Bear, which the kids thought was cool because of the way it portrays movement.  For lunch we met up with the rest of our group - baguettes on the Seine.  

Next it was off to the Eiffel Tower.  I walked, pushing James in his stroller so he'd get in a good nap (which he did), and Matt led the rest of the group via Metro.  Tragically, Mindy's phone was left on the Metro.  Miraculously by the end of the day, someone had found it and contacted Mindy, so we were able to retrieve it the next day.  

We met our tour guide, which ended up being a bit of a flop since she didn't share too many new facts with the large group and we still found ourselves waiting in a long queue for security and to get in the elevators up.  Nonetheless, the Eiffel Tower was a highlight for everyone.   The weather cooperated for some beautiful views at the top and Mindy and I had fun climbing down some of the stairs (between the 2nd and 1st levels, not the summit) with most of the kids.  We found a quick dinner at a kiosk below the Eiffel Tower - hot dogs, crepes, and churros - before heading back home. 


On Day 2 Grandma, Danny, Abby, and I got an early start and headed to Saint Chapelle.  The stained glass was as breathtaking as the first time I visited a year earlier.  We also wandered through the Concierge and learned more about the French Revolution and the royalty who were imprisoned there, including Marie Antoinette.  The rest of the group caught up to us at Saint Chapelle and then we had lunch at a cafe - quiche and pizzas.    

We walked together through Le Marche aux Fleurs, a flower market, which Grandma had read about. It was beautiful and charming and smelled amazing!  I was so glad she suggested it because everyone enjoyed wandering through.  We made our way to Notre Dame together, and though I'd seen it a few times before, the massiveness of this Cathedral was still overwhelming.  Matt and Danny headed a different direction to retrieve Mindy's phone and check out Les Invalides while the rest of us climbed to the top of the Notre Dame bell towers.   

We reconnected for dinner with plans to take a Seine River Cruise, but terrible weather and exhaustion sent us home earlier than planned.  Unfortunately there was Metro complications as well with trains that weren't running as planned.  Once again, Matt was the hero and led the other 9 of us on a different route and safely back home.

Sunday morning several of us went to church at a ward in downtown Paris.  Danny wasn't feeling well, so he and James and I stayed home the rest of the day while everyone else ventured out of town to Versailles.  They explored the palace and the gardens and the weather was perfect.  

After resting most of the afternoon, Danny and I met up with everyone back on the river so we could take our cruise down the Seine.  This was my first time doing this and I loved it!  What a fun new way to see the city!  The evening could not have been more perfect with the sun setting as we cruised. The kids loved being on the boat together.  And to top it all off, when we were making our next plans at the conclusion of the boat tour, the Eiffel Tower began sparkling with glittery lights.  It was beautiful! 

Monday we spent the day wandering.  Matt took Mindy's family and his mom to Angelina for the world's greatest cup of hot chocolate.  The kids and I found the Paris LEGO store.  We met up at a park and took turns visiting L'Orangerie museum.  And eventually we made our way back to the train station and home in London.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Quick Pit Stop in London

A beautiful thing about living in London is that while it is a destination in and of itself, it is also a great pit stop en route to mainland Europe.  London is also a frequent work destination for several of our friends and family members.  Of course it's fun when people come to London just to visit us (well . . . to visit the city we live in), but we are also excited when other obligations or trips draw people to London and enable us to connect with them, even if it's just briefly.

Aunt Becky & Grandma Billings were on their way to a cruise along the Iberian Peninsula and added a stopover in London.  They were here fewer than 3 days, but we sure crammed in a lot!

Welcome dinner to celebrate Cheryl & Becky's birthdays.
Seeing all the downtown sights.  I had to go pick up the big kids at school, but Cheryl & Becky did a hop on hop off
bus tour to see all of the sights.  
We found Abbey's shop at Westminster!  She was unimpressed.  
James had fun playing with Grandma on our boat trip to Greenwich. 
Western Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere as we lean across the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. 
Such a fun visit!  We also went to a show on the West End (well, part of one . . . we left after intermission), saw the kids school, and played at least one game of Rummikub.  I was amazed at how much we squeezed in to just 2 full days.  
This was Uncle Tim's second visit to London for work since we moved here.  We were able to meet him downtown for dinner one night.  The kids are always so excited to see him (especially after he let them raid the mini bar stash at his hotel).  It's funny because we've seen him more often since living in London than when we lived in Seattle!  We all hope work brings him back here again soon! 

Anne & Rex and my parents stopped by as they were heading to Amsterdam to catch a Norwegian Cruise.  Sadly, mechanical difficulties and flight delays cut into their already short visit to London.  They were with us less than 48 hours.  But this was plenty of time for lunch at Leicester Square, a hop on hop off bus tour, a boat trip along the Thames, a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, a boat trip on the Thames, and Lion King on the West End.  
Sadly, Matt got in a bike accident during their super short visit.  It was a blessing to have them there though because Anne & Rex got the older kids to school and Mom and Dad were able to take care of James and Abby all day while I took Matt to the dentist to have his mouth injuries assessed.  Anne and Rex explored on their own most of the time, but still made time for family dancing at the end of the day.

James thought Uncle Rex was pretty cool.  We look forward to another visit from them when we have a little more time together, but we were so happy they were able to stop by briefly and see where we live and get a taste of our new city. 

Work brought my cousin Michael to a city a few hours outside of London, but had him flying in and out of Heathrow.  We were happy to host him for a night before he caught his morning flight home to L.A.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner together and then Michael, Kaylee, and I went for an evening stroll around our nearby park and the High Road.  It was fun just to chat and catch up on life while enjoying the views of London.  Work also brought our friends Ryan and Mark into town, and we had a lot of fun sharing a meal and visiting with them.    

If you ever find yourself in London for a few days or just a few hours, let us know!  We always love to reconnect with family and friends.

Hong Bed and Breakfast

Since moving here, we've called our home many things.  Pemberley, Hong House, Hong Hotel, Hong End, Rookfield Estate, and The Hong Bed and Breakfast.  It has certainly lived up to its last name these past few months.  For my own records, here's what our bookings have looked like since moving here.

Jan. 27 - Arrive in London
Feb. 3 - Move out of the Airbnb and into our house
March 8 - Sea Shipment arrived
March 24-30 - Grandpa & Grandma Couch
March 30-April 10 - Cousin Isaac
March 30-April 16 - Cousin Calie
April 26-29 - Grandma Billings & Aunt Becky
May 16-19 - G&G Couch, Aunt Anne, & Uncle Rex
May 29- June 12 - Grandma Mauger, Aunt Mindy, Kaya, & Lander
June 16-June 17 - Cousin Michael
June 23 - July 4 - Mary Hendricks

And coming up . . .

July 18-20 - Gutierrez Family
Aug 2-4 - Aunt Liz & Cousin Hannah
Aug 16-22 - G&G Couch
Aug. 23 - Aunt Becky

This is only people who have stayed overnight at our house and does not include the handful of visitors we've been lucky enough to host or connect with while they are in London briefly including Uncle Tim, and a number of other friends.  

Hosting so much lately has gotten me behind on blogging all our adventures.  We genuinely love the circulation of visitors though and even have a set "Welcome to London" dinner & breakfast.  You'll just have to visit to find out what it is though.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Epic Laundry Battle

One concern I had with moving a young family of 6 to Europe was laundry.  This may seem like a ridiculous worry, but as the primary laundry manager in our household, I had fears of a house full of laundry hanging to dry and having to do laundry nonstop.  First world problems, I know.

As we looked for a home, I was always looking at the laundry facilities.  To our surprise, a few houses actually had laundry rooms or closets that were somewhat like what you would find in the USA - a washer and dryer together in a separate part of the house.  Far more common was either a washer/dryer combo or just a washer in the kitchen.

The house we picked has the washer/dryer combo in the kitchen.  Now that I understand how to run it, I'm not having the same trials I did initially (no blankets stuck in the dryer).  But the drying aspect does not work as well as a standard dryer unless the load is tiny - like 2 pairs of pants.  Abby's pants. I still use the drying mechanism on occasion, particularly if I start a small load at night so that it will be dry in the morning, but it is not dependable enough to dry all our clothes.
Our washer/dryer combo in the kitchen.
We had been warned about the inefficiency of the washer/dryer combos ahead of time, so when we chose a home that did not have a stand alone dryer, Matt made it a priority to get a condenser dryer right away.  A condenser dryer does not vent outside of the house, but instead collects all the water inside a drawer as it dries, then you remove the drawer & dump the water out after each load.  The dryer had a home in our kitchen the first month or so, then found it's permanent residence in our family room after our shipment of stuff came.  This location can be an annoyance if we are trying to watch TV because it is quite loud, but it is convenient when I just fold the dried laundry while watching TV.
Our dryer in the family room.  It doubles as an end table. And with the
decorative plant you hardly know it's there.  Ha ha! 

In the USA, even with a family of 6, I was able to have 1 set laundry day where I rotated EVERYTHING through.  Sometimes it stretched to 2 days if I didn't finish it all in one day, but I still had energy focused on laundry only part of the week.  Here, the washer and dryer have such small capacities that I do have to do laundry nearly every day. Otherwise it just gets totally behind.  I think 1 UK is equivalent to about 1/3 a US load.  Additionally, each cycle takes significantly longer than a US cycle.  I now have a fairly good rotation doing the girls laundry one day, the boys laundry one day, our laundry one day, towels one day, and then starting the rotation again.  But if we have guest sheets to wash or a bloody nose in the middle of the night that needs extra towels for cleanup and duvets washed - it just throws the whole rotation off.  I frequently end up with piles like this in the family room.
I think this is 4-5 loads of laundry.  It may have been 1.5 in the US. 

Many of our neighbors either never, or hardly ever, use a dryer.  This is quite common here because of the energy it takes to use a dryer.  So lately, particularly as the weather is sunnier and hot, I've been trying to be more European and energy efficient and air dry our clothes on occasion.  It is actually quite pleasant and AJ enjoys helping with the process.  I'm still SO grateful for the dryer, especially with how rainy and chilly it can be here (I don't know how people dry clothes during the winter here without a dryer!), but it's nice to have options.  We are also learning to wash clothes only when necessary . . . well trying to learn this.  But we are improving.

So, while the laundry is not as easy as it was in the states, it is also not as bad as I imagined it might be.  I think I am winning the battle (typed as the washer and dryer whirr away downstairs on their 4th tiny load of the day).  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Weekend Road Trip to France and Belgium

The fact that I can have that as a title is pretty cool, and one of the main reasons we wanted to move to London.  Because we can, in fact, decide on a Wednesday that we want to take advantage of the 3 day weekend ahead and drive to France and Belgium.  And that is just what we did.  

We knew the Paris Temple Open House was happening, but after our marathon of visitors and travel to Spain we were feeling quite tired.  Additionally, we already had plans to travel to Paris at the end of May when Matt's family was visiting.  So we decided we would not attend the open house and just visit the temple sometime when we were in Paris.

But then on a Wednesday night after the kids were in bed,  Matt said, "Maybe we should just go this weekend after all since it's a 3 day weekend."  We spent a couple hours researching and booking lodging and trains, and Saturday morning we were on our way! Road trip!

We drove 1 1/2 hours to Folkestone to board the Eurotunnel train.  Everything about it was easy and smooth from the passport control to driving onto the train (yes, you read that correctly - driving onto the train like a ferry in Seattle) to exiting on the other end.  It was much less exhausting and stressful than our trip to Barcelona via Gatwick Airport.  We left our house at about 10 AM and were at our Airbnb in Versailles by 4 PM (including the hour time change).    

Saturday evening we attended the open house for the beautiful Paris Temple and had a delicious dinner out.  Sunday we attended church in the morning and spent the afternoon exploring the fountains and gardens at Chateu de Versailles.  In the evening we drove to Bruges, Belgium where we stayed overnight.  Monday we explored the picturesque town and ate to our hearts content.  We left in the mid-afternoon and arrived home by bedtime.  

The trip was certainly not without its challenges, but for such a spontaneous trip it went remarkably well.  It's also become apparent that most of the trials of traveling with 4 kids would exist no matter where we are - even on a road trip in the PNW.  Overall the getaway was a huge success, and we are looking forward to more road tripping around Western Europe.  

"I love to see the temple . . ."  This was our children's first time getting to go inside of a temple.
The stained glass and architecture were beautiful and it was a special moment looking together
into mirrors that represent eternity and thinking about how we can be an eternal family.  The grounds
outside the temple with all their colorful blooms, fountains, and the statue of Christ, were equally
peaceful and beautiful.  
Matt took an early train ride into Paris to meet up with a friend for a run.  His sunrise view on the
train ride from Versailles to downtown Paris was beautiful. 
At Jardin Versailles Danny and Kaylee really loved all the citrus trees in L'orangerie.  
They were sorely disappointed I would not let them actually pick any oranges and eat them. 

Fountains!  There were so many different types of fountains and even some shows set
 to music.  The amazing thing is that the fountains remain mostly unchanged from when they
were originally put into place during the reign of Louis XIV.  

This panorama didn't quite turn out as hoped, but I was hoping to capture this particular
vantage point from which you could spin 360 degrees and see over 12 different
fountains.  Beautiful!   

As we were leaving Versailles I insisted Matt take this photo.  We had been at Versailles on
our babymoon almost exactly one year before.  I was 6 months pregnant with James on our
first visit to Versailles in 2016.  During our 2017 visit James was 9 months old.  I think it's a much
cuter shot when he's on the outside. 

Exploring Bruges, Belgium.  Beautiful canals, fountains, windmills, blossoms, and architecture.
Apparently if you order french fries with ketchup, but eat them with dainty little forks,
then they are pom frittes.  Delicious!  

Belgians don't mess around with their chocolate.  We got a sampler that we ate our
way through.  And the waffles exceeded expectations.  I would move to Belgium just to eat
those waffles on a daily basis.  SO YUMMY! 

Want to Remember:

  • ·      Coolness of driving the car onto a train to go into the tunnel
  • ·      Ease of immigration when using Eurotunnel
  • ·      Getting on a much earlier train
  • ·      Car picnic – ham and cheese wraps – in a train while traveling under the English Channel
  • ·      Driving through French countryside -  fields with bright yellow rapeseed/canola and white cows
  • ·      Unexpectedly running into our London North Ward friends, the Hagens, at the temple.
  • ·      Standing in temple sealing room as a whole family looking into eternity
  • ·      Danny and Kaylee taking photos on the temple grounds and AJ posing for Matt
  • ·      Chinese buffet in Versailles
  • ·      Overflowing chapel and church building – SO many people. 
  • ·      Sacrament passing taking over 20 minutes because of the number of people.
  • ·      The hymns Be thou Humble and Because I Have Been Given Much in French.
  • ·      Many languages and cultures.
  • ·      Unexpected sunshine as we got to Versailles
  • ·      Letting the kids pick which hidden gardens to go to.
  • ·      Frisbee and flower picking in the Star Grove
  • ·      Kids running through mazelike paths
  • ·      Picnicking at Versailles
  • ·      Finally finding a fountain with water – Mirror Pool 
  • ·      Sunshine right as the fountain show was starting in the Ballroom Garden
  • ·      Crazy fountain statue poses
  • ·      Abby racing between the fountains.  “Ready, set, go.  I’m the winner.”
  • ·      Singing children their lullabies in the hotel until they fell asleep late at night in Belgium.
  • ·      Picturesque Bruges
  • ·      Family boat ride through Bruges canals
  • ·      Best food ever in Belgium – pom frittes, chocolate, and waffles.  YUM.
  • ·      Successfully checking off Matt’s 4 “Must dos” in Belgium
  • ·      Everyone singing Sweet Baby James when he got fussy from too much time in his car seat.
  • ·      Danny and Kaylee playing with Jamesy – chugga chugga choo choo, ring clipping on and off, peekaboo
  • ·      Singing Down by the Bay as we drove into Paris – seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time off in the distance
  • ·      Deciding on stickers for Ringo – his first big road trip
  • ·      Walking crazy fast around Bruges with AJ and James to see the windmills
  • ·      Matt having 2 snuggly Sunday naps with James
  • ·      First time driving in Belgium and France – hooray for googlemaps.  And a smart driver (Matt) who remembers which side of the road to drive on.
  • ·      Playing "I Spy" while eating pom frittes
Want to forget (but will include for posterity and to laugh about later)

  • ·      Late night arrival in Belgium
  • ·      Overpriced hotel with extra charges for each kid
  • ·      Stressful McDonald’s ordering on supposedly faster self-serve kiosks.
  • ·      No quick mart at the gas station
  • ·      James waking up all night.  And Abby being afraid.  And Kaylee’s hurt leg.  Basically no good sleep. Any night.
  • ·      Waiting 30 minutes for a fountain at Versaille with no water.  And finding out the other fountains didn’t start until 5:30
  • ·      Abby meltdown about no straws for her hot chocolate at breakfast.  And how the milk and pears and croissants tasted different.
  • ·      Arguing at the reception desk with language barriers about what paper was needed to pay the bill. 
  • ·      Cold, windy morning so nobody wanted to see the North Sea.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Traveling abroad with kids is NOT easy. Just so you know . . .

Many years ago, we got a sweet beagle named Daisy.  Not too long afterward, Matt's sister's beagles had a litter of puppies.  I fell in love with the pups.  But we already had Daisy so it seemed unnecessary to get another one.  But those puppies were so cute.  As we asked around for advice, everyone assured us that we would be so happy to have two.  It would be great.  That two dogs is no harder than one.  We were told they would entertain each other and sleep with each other and really, people said, it's no harder to feed two dogs or walk two dogs.  We got another puppy and named him Dozer.

And over the years, we discovered that all those people lied.  Because two dogs was harder than one. Double the vet bills.  Double the dog poop to clean up.  Double the messes in the house.  Double the dog sitting fees.  Double the ear infections and vaccines.  I wouldn't have traded it because it also meant double the snuggles and double the fun running on trails and double the excitement when you got home after a long day away.  But it was hard.  

Before moving abroad, we talked to many people who had lived abroad, specifically in London.  It was like the dog thing all over again. "You'll love it!  It is incredible!  We'd move back in a heartbeat! BEST Experience EVER." They said.  But they forgot to mention how insanely hard it would be at times.   

In many of my posts and facebook and instagram photos you see happy smiling faces of our family traveling the world.  Before we moved here I saw those same photos of other friends and families living and traveling abroad and thought it looked pretty amazing.  And it is.  But I feel it is my duty to set things straight.  Should you have the opportunity to live or travel abroad with your children, I'm not going to be the one to blame for not warning you that it will be hard.  Yes, I'm still going to continue posting photos and blogs about amazing days and fantastic travels.  Because there are a lot of things that are amazing and awesome and incredible.  But consider this a reality check.  A warning. A public safety announcement.  Traveling and living abroad with young kids is NOT easy.

Consider the following from our past two trips to the continent . . .
  • After an exhausting day of travel, being woken by your 9 month old throughout the night.
  • Being awoken by your toddler when she has a bloody nose in someone else's home (since it was an airbnb, not a hotel)
  • Handling a tween meltdown while waiting in the hot sun for a bus.
  • Pushing a stroller everywhere and hauling it up and down steps.
  • Finding out the hotel you booked online charges an additional 20 Euro per child.
  • Filling out 6 immigration cards while going through passport control at midnight.  
  • Trying to keep track of 4 children whilst wandering through crowded city streets.
  • Driving through the beautiful French countryside while your infant screams in his carseat.
  • Making sure your diaper bag/backpack is always stocked with bandaids, wipes, water, and snacks a plenty to prevent hangry.  Hauling said diaper bag/backpack everywhere.  
  • Juggling a stroller, ergo, and bjorn amongst tired children after a long day exploring and walking.  
  • After a fun date night out on the town, being awoken at 5 AM by your child who will not return to sleep. 
  • Dealing with spit up or diaper blowouts or massive snotty sneezes while on public transportation and realizing you are on your last wipe.  

Yes, it is amazing and awesome to travel and live abroad as a family.  But consider yourself warned.
It is also really hard.