About Us

There are four of Them: three girls and one boy, little stair-steps all. There are two of Us: best friends, co-parents and truly in love. The Six of us have epic adventures full of laughter and love, occasionally containing tears, but always together.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Summer Holiday

This year, we didn't quite get ourselves organised enough to take An Epic Summer Holiday.  So, at the last minute, we scrambled together a four day vacay to Windsor.  I had heard lots about how fun Lego Land was and we were looking forward to taking the kids there and introducing them to roller coaster rides.  We had also seen the other Royal Residences and I did want to go and see Windsor Castle. 

Windsor is about 3.5 hours from where we live.  It's not a bad distance, but we thought it might be nice to split up the drive down and see something else on the way.  We decided to stop in Birmingham and see a large aquarium that is there.  We were smart enough to pre-buy our tickets, but we weren't smart enough to consider how busy it would be on the weekend!  It was packed.  There were loads and loads of people.  But the exhibits were neat and we had a really good time looking at the fish.  There were several amazing shark tanks and a really cool final tank that had TWO massive sea turtles. 



Birmingham is a beautiful city and after the aquarium we took a walk around the canal system (and did some caching, of course). 

(Here are some of us having a snack and holding flat Uncle - I'll explain him in a different post.)

While wandering around Birmingham we got caught in a large and sudden thunderstorm.  We had been searching for a place to have tea and a treat, when a large black cloud came over the city.  All of a sudden there was lightening and thunder and the rain started pouring down!!!  We made a mad dash for a small coffee shop and sat in the glass ceiling store and watched the fantastic weather show.  The kids were happy with delicious cupcakes and Dadam and I refreshed ourselves with some coffee. 

The next day, having made our way down to Windsor, we went to an amazing science exploration museum and hiking park.  We thoroughly combed through every bit of the museum, doing every hands on experiment at least four times.  The kids had a fantastic time.  After our picnic lunch, we took advantage of the myriad hiking paths and did a few caches while enjoying the beautiful weather. 



The paths were hiking and biking paths.  It was nice to see so many people out and about, but the bikes were moving and we did have to pay attention to keep out of the way.  It was a nice day, none the less. 

The next day was LEGO LAND!!!  We planned to be there as the gates opened because we were using some coupons and other offers that couldn't be used to pre-buy tickets. We had a quicky breakfast, packed our lunch and got moving.  Everyone was very excited and we were among the first in the parking lot!  We had decided to walk to the farthest rides from the entrance, hoping that it would give us the best chance to ride some of the more popular rides when there was no line.  Our plan worked, but there was one snag.  Only PrincessE was tall enough to ride the rides by herself.  Everyone else needed an adult with them on the ride.  So we discovered we had to wait in line, get up to the ride and then rotate through the children and adults to make sure that everyone had a go.  I was slightly nervous about leaving PrincessE and The Boy-child to wait, but they were allowed to wait where everyone was exiting/entering and the park staff knew they were there. 

We first tried out a small roller coaster.  PrincessE was the only one who was a big fan.  Then PrincessE and The Boy-child went with Dadam and tried out the biggest roller coaster at the park.  It was a pretty mild "big" roller coaster, but The Boy-child was not.a.fan.  PrincessE really liked it and she and I went back and rode it again.  We pulled out our map and tried out the spider spinner (tea cup ride), viking boat (just the big kids and a grownup) and some other little rides.  The kids were desperate to go on the "driving school" track and so we headed over there.  There was a small oval track for the little kids, Lulu and Noodle.  And a big track, complete with stop signs, roundabouts, working lights and a gas station for the big kids!  I think the most interesting part of the ride was that there was no central bar to keep the cars on course.  Even Lulu and Noodle had free reign over where their car was going!  They each crashed in to the curb a couple of times, but for the most part they stayed on course.  PrincessE and The Boy-child had a fantastic time, from all reports and LOVED driving all by themselves! 

We headed out and had lunch, then went back in for more rides.  The lines got really long after lunch and we only got through a few rides.  The low point of the day came when we were on a water ride and PrincessE lost her favorite hat.  I don't know what Dadam and I were thinking, we didn't tell her to take it off before she got on the ride!  She was heartbroken and began to cry even before she got off the ride.  She sobbed, "This is was my favorite ride, before my hat flew off into the water!"  I felt so bad for her and so incredibly stupid.  Dadam and I knew better and should have remembered to have her take her hat off.  Bah. 

We wandered, had a snack, stood in line some more and then grabbed some dinner.  The park was definitely quieter in the evening hours, but we took full advantage and did the drive your own boat ride and a cool computer animated racing ride.  We really enjoyed the lego models; they were amazing! 

It was a great day at Lego Land and I definitely think we'll have to go back.  There were quite a few rides that we never got the chance to go on.   I think that spending a couple days there, with two more adults and possibly NOT during school holiday is probably the best bet for enjoying the rest of the park. 

The last day in Windsor we planned to visit the Castle.  We've seen the other royal residences and wanted to experience this one too.  (It is said to be the Queen's favorite!)  I purchased tickets ahead of time (and some extras for us to take the Great Kitchen tour).  I was so happy we had gotten tickets ahead, as the lines were already out of the castle by the time we arrived for our tour!  We got super-star treatment from a FABULOUS customer service rep, who got us to the head of the pre-purchased-tickets-check-in-line and personally saw us through the security.  We did have to run a bit to get to the place where the special tour started, but it was well worth it.  There was one other three person family on the tour with us and it was AMAZING.  We got to see the main kitchen for the castle (been in use for hundreds of years) and some of the discoveries that were made after the fire of 1992.  Super cool.  Highly recommended.  I think the kids were a bit let down, after the previous day's excitement of Lego Land, but they were good sports and very well behaved.  They did admit they enjoyed seeing the huge kitchen and giant mixers, soup cookers, walk in refrigerators and other super-sized kitchen equipment.  One of my personal favorites was seeing a Victorian Era bread oven that is still in use! 



We took a walk through the royal apartments (the historical ones, as the Queen's apartments aren't open) and around the outside of the palace.  Noodle and The Boy-child had their pictures taken with some gaurds. 



It was a fabulous holiday, proving it doesn't have to be epic to be good!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dr. Feel Good?

While searching around for a day trip, I stumbled across a local medical museum.  I have been sort of wary of medical museums because, though I find them infinitely fascinating, I think that they can tend toward the gory.  I don't think that I should hide things from my children, but perhaps age appropriate exposure is an okay thing.  I should have stuck with my policy and avoided this one too! 

The website (see above) is brightly colored and enthusiastic.  "A great day out in Yorkshire!"   I looked through the pictures and it looked less medical history and more interactive exhibits about the human body.  That seems cool, right??

I would like to first let the audience know that the oldest child with us on that day was eight.  The youngest was three.  (We were with another family, but they have a child the same age as Isaac and another the same age as Talia.) 

As we entered the museum, we were asked to read through biographies of some people from the mid 1800's.  Everyone was supposed to pick a person and follow their story, as we walked through a life size representation of a poverty stricken Victorian close.  It was poorly lit, had authentic smells and sounds and was a bit scary.  Add to that, every.single.one. of the characters had been exposed to some, extremely common, but completely life threatening illness!  Then we walked through a section that described the medicines, health care and costs associated with those two things.  At the end, we were informed whether or not our character survived.  We got to the end and Elie yells, "I picked the nine month old baby and she DIED from too much medicine!"  Okay, not the most pleasant illustration of how lucky we are to live in the country/time period we live in, but not the worst thing in the world. 

Next exhibit was about fake joints.  That was fun because someone we know has a fake joint.  (Hi! GranEde!)  The kids were incredibly excited to actually see what a "new knee" looks like.  There were drawings of the surgery and real-fake-knees that they could manipulate and feel. 

Moving on we encountered a whole history of surgery, that opened with a movie that was a dramatic retelling of a story about a young girl (nine or ten) working in a factory who had gotten her leg caught in the machinery.  The leg needed to be amputated to save her life.  Elie and Isaac would not be dissuaded from watching.  They didn't show any gore - per se.  But there was some screaming and it was intense.  (Elie recently admitted she had been having some nightmares from the video, in which she has to get her arm/leg/body part amputated.)  There was also a video, from the early days of motion pictures, that demonstrated how fast a surgeon would have worked before anesthetic.  It was on repeat and the kids were just standing there watching it over and over.  We hurried through the rest of the history of surgery, breezed by the history of obstetrics and finally ended up in the brightly colored, learn about your body section of the museum. 

They all had a great time measuring how much they weighed, how high they could jump, how far they could reach and how tall they were.  They read and looked, built and took apart.  It was a really cool set of exhibits, with little experiments and skill tests. 

I don't think I'm sorry we went, though it wasn't what I was expecting.  Perhaps it was a little pricey for how long we were there, but it was really interesting.  They don't seem *too* scarred by the whole thing....but I don't think we'll go back in the near future.   

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We're Men (Men in Tights)

About an hour south of where we live there is a forest called "Sherwood National Forest".  Yes, it is that forest.  The forest made famous in the story of Robin Hood; a place where giant oaks grow and a band of merry men steals from the rich to give to the poor.  Unsurprisingly, the forest hosts an annual celebration of Robin Hood, replete with shows, people in cosutme, living dioramas of what life in Robin Hood's time may have been like, archery contests, parades and jesting contests.  (Yes, jesting not jousting...probably some health and safety nonsense.)

It turned out to be much like a Renaissance Fair you'd find in the States, just smaller and with a lot less stuff for sale.  There were shows, one for kids and the rest with higher (or lower, depending on your definition) comedy for the adults.  We saw a sword eater and a fire breather.  There was a wandering town fool and people dressed to represent all of the major (and some minor) players in the Robin Hood story. 

The first show we saw asked for children volunteers.  The adults running the show would wisper stage direction and their lines to the kids and the kids did the show.  It sounds clunky, but it was quite cute.  Isaac and Elie were so excited about the potential of participating that they raised their hands with vigor everytime they asked for volunteers.

 

Isaac got picked to be the Black Knight.


He had a fantastic time.  He got to pretend he was riding a horse and then have a (very safe) sword fight.

When that show was over, we wandered into the main part of the festival.  We sat down right as another show was starting.  It was a combo juggling/drumming/humor show.  And Isaac got picked again to go up on stage.  This time he was just supposed to search around, in the bottom of a very large burlap sack, for some sort of "fierce" animal.  He wasn't going to be fooled into getting scooped up into the sack and so he cautiously reached in.  It was quite funny to see the showman thwarted by Isaac, though I think it may have ruined some of the jokes. 


Here he is cautiously reaching in.


And here the guy finally convinced him to get in the bag, but he was doing it on his own terms!


We wandered around the forest for a while and down to the main event area.  There is an amazingly large oak tree in a clearing.  The oak is said to have been *the* tree that Robin Hood and his gang would meet under.  (The tree is massive, but it is a type of oak that tears itself apart the larger it grows.  In Sherwood, they have prevented this self destruction by rigging the tree with loads of metal supports and guide wires.  It took a bit of the mystique out of it.)  Of course, all these stories are nice, but the history turns out to be much more interesting.  It seems that all of the characters from the story did actually exist, just never within the same time span or location.  Up here in Yorkshire, there was a man who shows up in historical court papers as "Robin Hood".  He was in trbouble for stealing for the poor.  The first record of his name is in the 1300's!!

We sat down and watched another couple of shows.  One was about the history of Robin Hood and how he was an original eco-warrior as well as campainging for social justice.  Hmph.  It was a little too heavy for something where bawdy was the rule of the day.  The next show was much lighter fair.  We laughed a ton and Talia (and her friend we were with) got picked to be volunteers at that show!  They were supposed to act scared, while the two funny-men acted like they were going to brain them with rubber clubs.  I'm not sure that they *really* understood what was going on, which made it slightly funnier. 


Here they are, doing their part to look scared.  The guy next to Talia is holding a chocolate bar that they used to bribe the girls with.  It was all quite funny. 

The next part of the show involved fools on stilts (quite literally), silly fake tricks and fire eating.  Leila did NOT like it and we had to get up and leave.  Talia and Isaac also thought it was very, very frightening.  Fire is something that the safety officers in our house find extremely scary.  So it was REALLY freaking them out that someone was PUTTING FIRE IN THEIR OWN MOUTH!!!  At the end of the show, Isaac was sort of upset and so I took him to the fire eater and we asked to see his mouth.  I thought that if Isaac could see that the mouth of the fire eater looked just the same as any one elses, it might help him to process.  The guy was really nice and dramatically stuck out his tounge, buggy eyed, with his mouth wide open.  I think it helped Isaac, but he was still a little goggly eyed about the whole thing.

We watched a bit of the archery competition (pay 2 pounds to get your name entered in the drawing to compete) and then walked back to the cars with our friends.  Traffic was horrendous and so we hung out and had some picnic dinner, played frisbee (or skimmer as it is called here) and some footie.  Maybe Robin Hood and his Merry Men are just a myth, but it was fun to visit anyway. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

PreserveNation







Last summer when we arrived, it became clear we were going to miss the u-pick season. The one thing I did manage to get were some lovely apples from a coworker of Adam's who is renting a house on a farm. The kindly landlady had told them they could use as much of what was growing in the garden of their house as they wanted. And they shared with us.

This summer I definitely wanted to go picking and make preserves. The kids and I picked a dry morning, gathered our plastic buckets and headed out to pick some raspberries and whatever else we wanted.

(Side note: I would LOVE to do some sour cherries, blueberries and peaches BUT they don't grow here!!!! All the blueberries are grown in France and the peaches as well. The cherries only come in very expensive and sweet and are all the way from Oregon!!!)

We ended up struggling to find as many raspberries as we wanted. They were very picked over. Because so much looking was involved, the kids lost interest fairly quickly. I did manage to convince them to use their proximity to the ground to see ripe berries that had been missed, but that involved cooperation and was short lived. We managed to pick a fair amount and headed back to pay.

As we were walking back, Elie asked me to point out where the rhubarb was. I didn't see any and so we asked at the weighing stand. It turned out to be a fair walk back in to the fields, but they wanted to go. So off we went. We found the huge rhubarb plants and picked a fair share. Back again to the weighing station and home with our soft treasure.







They were professional helpers when we were processing the fruit. And they really loved seeing how much juice was drawn from the rhubarb when we left it over night with the sugar on it.

I think we'll go out again for more rhubarb and some black berries. Hopefully I'll be able to solicit more help from the munchkins next time!







Thursday, August 12, 2010

Maize Maze

Last week the kids and I went to a well advertised corn maze not far from our house. I wasn't too sure what to expect, but we took a picnic and met some friends. We ended up spending all day there!

There was a large playground; one section was sand and climbing structures and the other was just climbing structures. There was a giant bouncing pillow, which was like a trampoline but shaped like a big pillow. An inflatable maze and two giant inflatable slides rounded out the inflated entertainment.

Of course, there was a huge themed maze, cut in to a field of corn. This year's theme commemorated when Great Britan was attacked by the Nazis. The maze was in the shape of a spitfire and British flag. Every year they choose a theme, usually it is historic, and they have a picture history of every maze since it began.

To make the maze a bit more challenging. (Or to add some motivation so that people actually finish the maze.) There are a series of questions posted in the maze. The questions are posted on the bottoms of tall towers that each have numbers. Before the maze begins, there is a posted question. To find the correct answer, maze goers are supposed to find tower number one. At that tower the answer is posted and question number two is posted. If you locate all the towers, you'll have a number letter code which can be used to open a box. There you drop your completed forms to be entered in a drawing for a prize. Who knows if we'll win, but it was fun to navigate through the corn to find the answers!

We took a bizarrely themed hayride with some "escaped monkeys" tormenting the hay-riders by squrting them with water. But we skipped the pig races and animal feeding. (Everyone was more interested in the inflatable slide.)

The kids really enjoyed the maze of optical illusions. There was a load of shrieking and laughter at the crazy mirrors.

We did get rained on, but this seems to be the price one pays for doing out of doors activities in England. Everyone had a great time and we returned home tired and muddy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

AquaPhotos


Outside the aquarium was a huge shark sculpture.  (Also a virtual cache.) 
It is very difficult to get all four children to hold still at once. 


I think we could have sat here all day.  They loved watching the fish.

The IU sea star. 

A small girl enamored with glowing invertebrates. 

Elie Verne

Isaac Verne

Talia Verne

Daddy Verne

(Leila Verne got bonked by the helmet, as it was quite heavy, and then refused to put it back on.  Even after Daddy Verne offered to just hold it while she stuck her head in.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Deep in The Deep

Yesterday we took our first day trip in a very long time and drove over to Hull to an aquarium we had heard good things about.  It was a quiet drive and once we found the aquarium, a great day out. 

We got to see some amazingly large sting rays, nurse sharks and brain fish.  There were interactive exhibits and all sorts of aquatic life to see big and small.  We even arrived at the large tank in time to see feeding at the shallow part and the kids really enjoyed that. 

Talia was probably most enamored with the civil ceremony wedding that was due to take place in front of the large tank.  She must have asked fourty questions, all about weddings and wedding ceremonies.  It was hilarious.  She even wanted to stay and witness the proceedings, but we were done with the aquarium and it was still 30 mins from happening so we vetoed that. 

I think Elie and Isaac really liked the huge tank.  As we were leaving, the stairway back up takes you right by the tank.  And you can stop at each landing and stand and watch.  Most people were opting for the lift that carries you through the tank, but I think walking turned out much better for us because then we could dawdle and watch for as long as we wanted. 

Leila was most taken with the jellyfish.  She sat in front of the round opening, head pressed to the glass, and stared at their backlit invertebrate bodies dancing in the dark water.  She tried to "catch" them by holding her hand against the glass.  Then she stared some more. 

I was fooling around with the camera and not looking at the tank, when all the kids started raising a ruckus.  I said "Why are we all screaming?" and looked up.  And gasped, because right in front of the window was a huge sting ray swimming flat on the glass.  Everyone giggled. 

Ah, it's nice to be out and exploring again.  More on the agenda for next week!  Plenty of adventures to be had.