Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday's Memories: The Grounds of Highclere

There was an important scene in Downton filmed here.  Remember?

The trees were so beautiful.  KJ especially loved this one and had me take a picture looking up at the branches.  We were both glad I did.

The gravel path led down to the gardens.  You first walked into the Monk's Garden.

super-cool hedges

When we followed the path around the edge of the Monk's Garden we came to this sign.

I was so enchanted!  Literary references in a real-live English garden!  But you would not believe the people with accents that belonged there I heard walking by saying things like, "The Secret Garden?  Why does it say that?  It's not much of a secret with that sign up..."  Really?

It's the perfect Secret Garden entrance, isn't it?

Not long ago a friend told me there was a movie adaptation of The Secret Garden filmed at Highclere Castle.  So that explained a little more why they had the sign up.  But I think it would have worked even if they hadn't filmed a movie there.  Inside the secret garden we found beautiful flowers and the path that led to the views of the house I posted on Friday.
When we left the garden we walked across the other side of vast green lawn to reach Highclere's temple.  KJ had walked on ahead of me, and as I went to catch up with him I overheard this bit of conversation from a couple in their 20s.  I assumed they were students.

"You know, and then the Americans are all,
'I love your accent...'."

And I determined to never bring it up with the next person I met from England.  I wouldn't want to be an annoying American.

It's pretty beautiful, but the sign explaining it made us laugh.

We laughed imagining those old English aristocrats not being quite satisfied looking out at the beautiful rolling green hills from the house.  "You know, what I'd really like to look at from the library are some Greek columns."

Beautiful tree

Highclere was another place we hated to leave, but we were still hoping to make it to the home of the Dukes of Marlborough before closing time.  I wish I had more pictures to show you of the drive leading up to Highclere.  There were sheep grazing all about, and it was as lovely as you would imagine.  But my last picture from Highclere brought me a Lord of the Ring's reference from KJ.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday's Flashback: Highclere Castle

So, you've all watched this television show, haven't you?  It's all the rage.

KJ planned for us to visit the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle (pronounced "Hi-clare").  The price of admission was covered through the Great British Heritage Pass he purchased for us, plus, KJ had already watched Season 1 at this point, which I hadn't.  When we returned home and watched it together, I said, "When in the world did you have time to watch these hour and a half episodes without me??"  I think we figured out it must have been during that season of time when James was fussy before dinner, and KJ would take him back in his room to play while I fixed dinner.  That room has a television in it.  

We were really "lucky" to see Highclere since it is occupied by the current Lord and Lady and their family, and it's not open to the public every day.  We happened to be passing through on  a special open weekend, so between that and the popularity of Downton Abbey in England, the place was packed out.  There was a long, long, line at the entrance gate and another line at the door.  We had plans to make it to Oxford and another house by late afternoon so we wondered if we would have to give up this stop.  KJ said, "Well, according to this pass we're not supposed to have to wait in lines so let's see what happens."

This was good news, but I was really nervous and tried to avoid eye contact as we walked to the front of the line to talk to an attendant.  There were probably some disgruntled people.  We were told we could avoid the hour-long line wait, but we would still have to wait in line outside the house.

Thank you, British Heritage Pass!

Even with skipping the admission line, we didn't think we had time to wait to see the inside of the house.  We elected to walk around to the gardens.

one of my favorite pictures from our trip

This way to the gardens!

I needed to find a toilet, and though the main bathrooms were full, there was a sign pointing us to some port-a-loos.  Are you kidding?  That may have been my favorite British-ism.  Port-a-loo is vastly superior to porta-potty.  Agreed?  Runner up for the day?

Engaged v. Occupied 
Also, this is the classiest portable toilet I've ever visited.
They were all set up with sinks and running water,
but after all, we were at Downton Abbey.

I didn't take a picture of it, but the back lawn was set up with tea tables underneath white tents where the crowds enjoyed a repast from the tea room.  It was oh-so-very British.  There were several ladies that engaged me in conversation while waiting in line.  I dreaded the part where I opened my mouth and revealed my status as "not from around here."

The grass here was amazing, too.  It was a glorious day.

because everyone needs a kissing picture

Highclere was very beautiful.  I later read it was designed by the same architect who designed the Parliament building.  The architecture is very similar.  I had KJ stand beside it so you could see how tall it was.

We then walked back to the far side of the house to bring you this view.  As always, you can click to enlarge it.

Across the back lawn in the other direction there was a path to the gardens.  I'll post those pictures on Monday, but we followed the path through the different gardens until we came to this view.  I wish we could have seen the field when the flowers were blooming.

Very happily situated indeed.

Since coming home, we watched seasons one and two of Downton Abbey, and it was so fun to recognize and know where different shots were filmed.  We felt like we had the inside scoop.  I do wish we'd been able to go inside, but we looked in a window and saw the people shoulder to shoulder, barely moving.  It looked uncomfortable and would have taken up more time than we had to give.  We were able to look inside the library windows; there are a lot of scenes shot there.  My favorite thing was seeing inside one of the back windows and noticing a lot of baby paraphernalia, including a pack and play.  I liked knowing that in real life, there were little children growing up there.

This phrase was over each of the windows on the library side, and I looked it up a few weeks ago.  It is the family motto and reads, "One will I serve."  

If you're interested in the history of this house I read this book by the current Lady Carnarvon, and it was really good.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In the Backyard

I took James outside to play one morning last week, and he made up a new game that I call, "Run from Mommy's Camera."  The only problem with his strategy was that it resulted in the cutest pictures ever.  I love that boy.

I've been a bit sick since last Thursday afternoon when my throat suddenly became very sore.  It's now made its course to my chest, and James came down with a runny nose a couple of days ago, culminating in a little fever when I put him to bed last night.  He just woke up, so I'm about to go in and check him out and see what the day holds.  Hopefully it doesn't hold any high temperatures.  I suppose we just have some sort of cold virus.  

I'm reminded today that life is fleeting and precious.  I hope you enjoy the people in your life today.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday Morning, no wait, it's Wednesday

Last week I started this great routine where I blogged first thing in the morning, and I had all kinds of great ideas, but I am coming up empty this morning.  I'll give you a rambling update of things I've been doing and thinking about instead.


  • Of course I've been taking care of James and Luke.  For James that involves putting together Thomas the Train puzzles with him.  He LOVES them.  I found four more great wooden puzzles at Target on Saturday, and he's displaying a brilliant mind in putting them together.  Just saying.  For Luke it involves spreading out a blanket on the floor with toys because he is working his way toward crawling and spending a lot of time on his belly.  No blanket = spit-up on the carpet.  He's making great progress!
  • Laundry  I washed and folded two loads yesterday (it is a big accomplishment for me to wash and fold on the same day.) and ironed for quite a while.  I was wondering where Ella's school clothes ran off to, and I found them in the bottom of the ironing basket.
  • Reading  The Three Musketeers.  I'm reminded of why this book was the first to replace Gone with the Wind as my favorite in high school.  It's really good.  And funny.
  • Watching TV  After fixing our old television all by himself for $5, KJ mounted our new TV on the empty wall in our bedroom that has needed decoration for 3 1/2 years.  It's been the most wonderful thing.  I know some say it makes you stay up later and sleep less well, but I've been going to bed earlier and most of the time falling asleep earlier, too.  There are some nights I go to sleep by 9:45 now, and that never happened before the TV on the wall.  
  • Doing The Firm workouts again  I took up jogging over the "winter," and I really enjoyed it.  I completed a Couch to 5K plan, but since I've been able to jog for 30 minutes, I've grown kind of bored with it.  Maybe I'm just bored with my neighborhood route, but I've started interspersing it with my old Firm workouts, and since I haven't been doing strength training much since I started jogging, I am sore.  My abs hurt rolling over in the middle of the night.
  • about the summer  We're taking the kids to the beach for a few days.  James has never been, and it's our first real vacation as a family of four.  We went to Disney World when James was 3 months old, so he wasn't really a participant, and that time we were also on an entire family vacation.  This is our first time just the four of us.  I'm excited.

  • Free summer movies  Our local movie theater offers free movies for kids during the summer.  I'm planning on taking James for the first time.  I love it when my kids have "first" experiences.  It's so fun.
  • Having Ella home again Yippee!!!
  • Our story never ends.  I really love serial story-telling.  It's what turned me into a TV-watcher as well as a reader.  I was thinking last night about how much I hated it when stories end and how I hate letting go of characters and plot lines.  I thought about how all stories have to have an ending, but then remembered, Wait!  Ours doesn't.  That made me happy.
  • It's time to start the day.  I better go get cleaned up and wake up James and fix him breakfast.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Little Boys

I was the first of all my nearest friends to have a baby, and Ella was so delightful that when all my friends started getting pregnant and finding out they were expecting boys, I secretly felt kind of sorry for them.  I felt like they would be missing out, because I was having so much fun mothering my girl.

Ella at 14 months

I was by no means disappointed when I found out James was a boy.  I was happy to be having a child of the opposite sex.  I didn't really have expectations of how it would be different, but I'm finding that it's really not that different at all in terms of how I feel about him.  I am taking all the full delight in him that I took in being with Ella at this age.  As he's able to communicate more and more, he is proving such a delight, and KJ and I often wonder how we got the best kids on the planet.  It's only right that every parent feel this way about their children.  Kids need someone in their corner who think they are the absolute best and love them with unconditional love no matter what.  And the truth is, I do love them like that.  And I just had the thought...

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more shall your Father give what is good to those who ask Him!"
Matthew 7:11

That is an encouraging thought, because I love my kids and serve them daily, and though I do those things so imperfectly, it's still a lot of serving and giving.  And God gives even more to His children when they ask.  Better and perfectly.

"Mama, we go around the circle?"  
Translation:  Can we ride around the block?

After almost slamming my arm in the refrigerator door last night, 
totally unasked for...I didn't say anything about it, just kind of squealed as I hurriedly pulled my arm out...He's becoming aware of other people's feelings!

"Dragons!  Castle!"
looking at pictures with KJ last night

"I want breakfas and choclit milk."
requested after a walk around the block with KJ last night

"I sleepy..."
when I told him it was time for a nap yesterday

"Mama cute!"
seeing my picture on the computer

"I pretty!"
admiring himself in his new Thomas the train t-shirt
(big sister, anyone?)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday's Memories: Winchester Cathedral

Yes, you were beautiful, Winchester Cathedral.

Just look at that ceiling...

So many of the places we visited left me in awe at the ingenuity of man and what God has enabled us to do.  Especially in 1079.  Can you imagine how long it would have taken to turn limestone rocks into this?

The Cathedral was so long and so immense, and we kept walking and walking.  We climbed up old wooden stairs to the library where there were books so, so incredibly old.  Hundreds and hundreds of years.  Of course there was no photography allowed and most importantly, no touching!  I just looked hard and thought about how these were the books perused by monks in the 1100s. 

We saw the famous and beautiful Winchester Bible, hand-written in the 1100s.  We also saw a copy of the first Bible printed in America, translated by John Eliot into the language of some Algonquin Indian tribes in Massachusetts.  KJ said it's the most important, unreadable book in the world.  I do wish I could have taken a sneak picture of it, but those really kind British senior citizens I mentioned earlier?  They are hard-core about their posts.  There was a special "guard" in the room to answer questions and make sure no one broke the rules.

This explained the stained glass window erected in memory of Jane Austen.  The brass plaque was added later by family members since her grave stone made no mention of her writing.

We had two great houses we wanted to explore before day's end, so we headed out around lunchtime.  I ventured into the cafeteria to buy a "chicken and mayonnaise" sandwich (none of this "chicken salad" business in England).  I also found some Diet Coke (do you notice a trend in my hunting up some caffeine at every stop?).  The ice machine wasn't working properly, but the man behind the counter agreed with me that it worked out better for me because I'd get more coke that way.  When I stepped up to the counter to pay for my lunch, the lady immediately realized I was an American because I didn't have a card with a "chip."  I needed to swipe my card.  This always took a little longer, and she very kindly asked me where I had been on my holiday and where I was headed.  When I told her we were driving to Oxford that day she looked up at me and said, "Mind the bikes."  Her advice would later prove to be very well-founded.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday's Flashback: Winchester, Hampshire, UK

Day 4!  A few nights ago KJ determined how long it would take me to blog through our entire trip based on the fact that I've gone through 3 days in the past 6 months.  It added up to about 2 1/2 years, at which time he said it would be time for another trip.  But until then, I will keep writing away, because I don't want to lose these memories.  They are too dear to be lost with age, and if the internet isn't just a fad, my great-great-grandchildren can read this blog.  SO.  We begin the fourth day of our trip, another beautiful, sunny and cold morning in Hampshire.

It's definitely worth a click so you can see it bigger in all its panorama glory.

Our last stop in Hampshire was in the city of Winchester and the Winchester Cathedral.  In preparation for our trip I spent some time looking up where different people were buried, and Jane Austen was buried in the Winchester Cathedral.  When her health worsened, she came with her sister, Cassandra, to Winchester to be near a doctor, and she was here when she died at the age of 41.  Though visiting Miss Austen's burying place was the means of my learning about Winchester, I found that it was a really interesting and old city with many other claims to fame.

To the glory of God and in proud and grateful memory of the uncounted
host from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight who died for England in the great war
when serving in the navy, the mercantile marine, the army, and the air force
Be mindful of them, O Lord, and grant to their children the same faithfulness.

(Whenever I read things like that, I have a National Treasure moment where
I think, "Nobody talks like that anymore...".)

I'll tell you what I remember from the guidebook, but you'll have to do your own research if you want a more exact history.  Winchester is yet another VERY old place, where King Alfred was crowned King of England.  I think there's some legends about King Arthur in this area, and William the Conqueror had himself crowned king a second time here in Winchester because of its importance and association with the legendary Alfred.  William the Conqueror is the one who commissioned this cathedral.  He wanted it big and impressive and intimidating, and he got what he asked for.  It was absolutely breathtaking.

This is where I figured out that small F-stops create
sun flare all over the place, and it was a super-bright sunny morning.
KJ got some better shots while I went in search of a restroom, excuse me, toilet.

The longest medieval cathedral still intact
It was built in 1079.

When we walked inside I recognized the face of Hercule Poirot.  The lady at the desk told me that yes, David Suchet was a great friend of the cathedral.  He narrates the recording you can listen to while walking through, which would have been fun, but we opted out that time.  This was the place where I first experienced the kindness of British senior citizens.  They were so kind.  A man approached us when we walked in, and in his soft British accent, gave us a great history lesson about the cathedral and since we were Americans, directed us to the place where some relatives of George Washington were buried.  I should have taken a picture of that.  He really knew his stuff. He then pointed us to the reason we were there.

Remember to read the "f's" as "s's!"

I don't want to rush through the pictures I took of the inside, so I'll stop there for today.