Friday, June 29, 2012

Missing London

Hard to believe its been a whole month since we got back from London!

Between the Jubilee and the upcoming Olympics buzz, I'm having a hard time accepting the fact that my trip is over and I won't be back for a while.

Like this new art display that is popping up all over London. I *SO* want to go on a red phone booth scavenger hunt. :(


And they recently raised the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge.

 And installed a sky ride over the Thames.

London is definitely the place to be this summer!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Our Week of Soccer

This past week the boys headed to soccer camp.
 We decided to add a little more soccer into the week, and sandwiched two home games for the Austin Aztec on either end of the camp. The games are so much fun to watch, and the boys really dig watching the "pros" play.

 We also had a soccer ball cake for Father's Day, which helped start the week off well.

Still... the boys weren't in love with this soccer camp. If we do soccer again next year, I need to find an indoor only camp.

Because Team Danger was HOT at 12:00 p.m. every day!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What a Swim Meet!

I'll probably post more on this later, but I can't remember the last time I was so proud of my boys.

Alex had his best meet EVER, winning first place in three events: the medley relay, the freestyle relay, and his individual 25M freestyle. He came in 3rd place in his other two events.

 Ryan was a heat winner, as well, and came in 4th in his relay, and 6th, 7th and 9th in his various individual races.

What's really exciting about this meet is that Alex won points for his team. We've never really won points for the team before this year, and for the past few meets, we've won a  few each time. But Alex won a LOT this time - 16 points total - and that is significant (5 points for each of the two relays 1st place, and 4 for the individual race, as well as 1 point for his two 3rd places).

This was significant on so many levels, but especially because Alex's cousin's birthday party started in the middle of the meet, and he made the decision that he would honor his commitment to the team and stay through to the end.  It would have really sucked if he sacrificed much of the party for a poor performance.

And to make my day even better, I was the tent parent for Ryan's group, and we won the tent decorating contest, supplied entirely by myself and Nicole. We won two big buckets full of cake pops for the 6 & Under Boys. Yay us!

Friday, June 22, 2012


The boys are having a great swim team season this year. Look at the haul of ribbons from last Saturday's meet.

Ryan came home with six: two Time Improvements, for his Backstroke and Freestyle, and four place ribbons: 7th place for freestyle, 6th place for backstroke, and 5th place for butterfly, along with a 3rd place for his relay race.

Alex earned five ribbons: one Time Improvement, for his 50M Freestyle, and four place ribbons. 10th place for his individual 25M freestyle, 4th place for his 50M freestyle, and second place and third place for his two relay races.

This year is going sooooo much better than last year. Who knows? We might even go for a 4th summer next year on Swim Team after all.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Art Camp: Success!

What a great week at art camp. The boys declared THIS to be the best camp yet, and topping Cub Scout camp is no small feat.

They actually did two separate camps - a drawing camp in the mornings, and a mixed medium camp in the afternoons, both put on by their art teacher.

The first project in each camp was to make water bottles they could refill during the week.

And since they did two camps, they made two bottles. :)

And several amazing works of art came home with them.

They are especially proud of these big paper mache characters.

I'm wondering where one puts them.
Ryan's Dragon:

Alex's dragon:

The last day, they made still life paintings from objects of personal significance. Ryan is super proud of his, featuring Waddles (a stuffed penguin he bought at Sea World), one of the little LEGO baby food jars we made for his birthday party, and on the left side, part of the London Olympics bear we had brought him from our trip.

Alex brought in a few more items (and more complex ones, to boot), so he is still working on his painting. But you can see (left bottom to right) his "Heat Winner" ribbon from swimming, the tool box he had made at Cub Scout camp, a stuffed Captain America doll, his Batmobile from the Pinewood Derby, and the Union Jack flag, also a souvenir from our trip.

And then there were the black and white charcoal drawings.

And the colored pencil fruit drawings.

Scratch art. You start with a pencil drawing, and then it gets "scratched" on to the black scratch paper. They LOVED doing this, and I've had many requests to make the scratch paper so they can do more at home.

By Alex:

By Ryan:

And this was just some of what they made at Art Camp last week!

I'm thrilled they are continuing with their art at home, too. We celebrated a good week at camp with a trip to Hobby Lobby to get the correct acrylic paints so Alex can finish his painting, along with a new set of chalk pastels and colored pencils.

Now my only problem is deciding which items to frame and display in the house...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Blitz Through London: Europe, Part II

 During our four nights (and days) in London, we saw a variety of different sights.

I had three main goals for this trip: the Chelsea Flower Show, visiting the brand new Harry Potter Studios outside of London, and making sure Carl enjoyed himself more than the last trip. I *think* I accomplished all three goals, but the Harry Potter Studio Tour might have put him over the edge. ;)

Our first day was spent walking around our home base for this trip, Kensington and Chelsea (but without our camera, if you can believe that!!). Its a wonderful area of London, where the Victoria & Albert museum is located, along with Diana's home, Kensington Palace, and the Kensington Gardens. and it has the added bonus of being the home of the Chelsea Football Club, also known as Ryan's soccer team. Alex's soccer team, Arsenal, is also a London football club, but they are based in north London. Chelsea and Arsenal fans are similar to UT and A&M. People always looked at us like we were crazy when we were souvenir shopping and had to buy items for both teams. The day before we arrived in London, Chelsea had just won the European World Cup, and there was a HUGE parade through Chelsea. I was bummed we missed the parade, but we did pick up a souvenir newspaper for Ryan.

The next day, we started early. I made it a point to take the tube to Westminster, and the moment when you alight from the underground and turn around and then, all of a sudden, magically, the Houses of Parliament are there.

I don't think there is a more beautiful sight than Parliament sitting alongside the Thames (even on a Foggy Day in London Town ... go ahead, sing along to Michael Buble right now, you know you want to).

One of my favorite places in London are the Cabinet War Rooms. Its now called the Churchill War Rooms, and they have added a Churchill Museum to the war rooms. Its odd how they insert the Churchill museum in the middle of the War Rooms - I wish  they would have added it before or afterwards. It interrupts the flow of the War Rooms. Still, it was an interesting, modern exhibit, and full of information on Churchill and family.

I first visited the Cabinet War Rooms when I was in school at Sussex, studying women in World War II. During the War, Churchill moved the cabinet offices underground for safety. Everything was left exactly as it was on the day the war ended. They simply turned off the light switch and walked back upstairs. (OK, they've added a few odd wax figures, and I assume done something to preserve some of the papers, but... you get the idea).

I'm a history nut, and I LOVE places that make history come alive for you. This is one of the best places I've ever been at accomplishing this goal.

While we were walking from our tube stop at the Houses of Parliament towards the War Rooms, I noticed a whole lot of red and black in the distance. We walked a bit further, and lo and behold, it was the Royal Horseguards, all gathered together at the back of St. James' Palace.

After asking some of the very nice bobbies perched on horses nearby, we found out that this was a dress rehearsal for the Jubilee's Trooping of the Colour.

Wild horses couldn't have dragged me away (unless we are talking about the police on the horses). ;)

After the War Rooms, we walked through Westminster. Carl wanted to see 10 Downing Street. Its now barricaded off, so you can't really get a good picture like you used to be able to do. :(

Then we headed towards Trafalgar Square. One of my favorite churches, St. Martin in the Fields, has free lunchtime concerts. We arrived in time to eat lunch down in their crypt. Its nothing fancy, but it does have good sandwiches and salads in a fun setting. The concert was wonderful - good music in a beautiful little church, and we had more of a chance to rest our tired toes. This church has very little stained glass, since most of the windows were destroyed during the Blitz. They replaced it with all clear glass, fairly unusual for English churches.

Across the street from St. Martins is the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. We spent our time at the Portrait Gallery. It houses all the famous paintings of kings and queens, plus those of other notables. The only confirmed Jane Austen portrait, for instance, is here. I love this place. Its so much fun wandering around and imagining the lives of the people who lived here before. I found one duchess, The Duchess of Queensberry, who lived quite the exciting life, and is reputed to have died from eating too many cherries.

Yes, that's right.

Death by excess of cherries.

Considering my obsession with cherries (who can stop??), this is a good lesson to have learned.

 I also loved looking at this group from the seventeenth century. They were called The Kit-cat Club, so named because they often met at Christopher Cat's tavern, and often ate the mutton pies known as Kit-cats. The description in the gallery said they were a group of influential Whigs, but just looking at the room, there has to be more than politics to them. I've added several new books to my TBR pile after seeing the room of paintings dedicated to them.

We then headed up towards Leicester Square, to see what shows we could get discounted tickets for that night. After some debate amongst ourselves, we ended up with The 39 Steps. Its a comedy based on the Hitchcock film, and I think the fact that it was set around World War II helped make it the chosen one in both our minds.

Next up was walking around Piccadilly and a visit to Fortnum & Mason's, my favorite store in London. They also have one of the best afternoon teas. I was a little overwhelmed to find four different restaurants in Fortnum &Mason's offering afternoon tea - I only recalled one choice in the past. Tea was lovely, but its hard to go wrong with scones and clotted cream. We also did some shopping here, and I stocked up on my favorite tea and jam to bring home.

Have I mentioned how much I LOVED the fact that Britain was all decked out for the Jubilee??!!

Carl was getting a bit cranky at this point, so we headed back to our hotel to rest before our show started at 8pm. We weren't there for long, though, before the fire alarm went off! We had to walk down 12 flights of stairs, and after standing around for some time and watching a frighteningly large number of fire trucks pull up, we decided to just take off for the theater and walk around Piccadilly for a while. We did more souvenir shopping, saw the show, and then had a late dinner before heading back to the hotel, which, happily, had not burnt down in our absence.

The next morning, we headed to the Imperial War Museum. This was our Chelsea Flower Show day, and we had lunch plans to meet up with my friend Sally. Sally had graciously used two of her Royal Horticultural Society members-only tickets for us to get in to the show on a members day. I felt a bit like we were making some sort of illicit drug exchange when I handed her my pound notes in exchange for two valuable garden show tickets.

I picked the Imperial War Museum for the morning as a peace offering to Carl for the Garden Show. I'd never been here before, and we walked up and saw giant artillery shells and a giant gun outside the museum, I thought, this is going to be a looooooooonnnnnnggggg morning.

The collection of tanks and other weaponry in the foyer did nothing to make me feel any better.

However, to my very pleasant surprise, I loved this museum! I quickly found a special exhibit on Families in Wartime. It was all about families (ie, the women and children) coping with the Blitz and rationing and other issues facing Londoners in WWII. This was not what Carl was here to see (no guns to be found) so we split up. 
 Other highlights of the museum for me: the two floors dedicated to the Holocaust - its one of the most moving exhibits I've seen on this subject matter; the huge section on World War I, including the Trench Experience, where you walk through a reconstructed trench, and the World War II section. I would have loved to do the Blitz Experience, where you can get "bombed," but the school groups all had priority admittance and we couldn't get in. :( The other main highlight for me was the floor dedicated to MI-5 and MI-6. Its sort of a tour through British secret agents in the 20th century, but the artifacts related to the people who parachuted into France during World War II was unbelievable. My thesis in college was on women in the French Resistance, and just seeing the clothes that some of the agents wore, their forged papers and identity cards, and the briefcase one woman carried that still has some stains from her blood when she was shot fleeing the Nazis, well... I was in my element. (it sounds kind of gross to write about the blood , but trust me, its just a darker coloring and didn't seem that way at all when I was there).

Alas, the clock was ticking for us. I had thought we would spend about 90 minutes at this museum, and we were there for 3.5 hours! I had hoped to squeeze in the London Eye after the museum, but as it was, we had to race to make it to our lunch spot with Sally. The Eye would have to wait.

After lunch, it was time for the Chelsea Flower Show! "Crowded in like sardines" does even begin to do justice to describe how many people were there. It was beyond packed. We went on a members-only day, which is considered to have "small" crowds. I can't imagine what it is like on the days when it is open to the public.

I could tell the goodwill I had gained from Carl for the war museum was quickly going away. It was hot, the sun was out, and it was wall to wall people. So there went a lot of the shopping I wanted to do. We focused on the showpiece gardens, and one of the huge tents full of exhibitors.

Its amazing what people can do with flowers!

And vegetables...


Even QR codes!

My favorite exhibit was not one of the gardens entered into the contest, but one put on by a florist advertising their wares.

A take on Monet's Water Lillies, which Carl and I would soon be visiting in France! Everything was made of flowers, from the bridge to the pond to the painting, its frames, even the paint cans, paint brushes and the artist's palette.

And then there were the display gardens, the ones that are constructed on a flat site in a matter of double digit hours before the garden show begins.

It starts out looking like this...

And then two days later, it becomes this.

 Here are just some of the show gardens:

We were in awe of the whole event, and even Carl was impressed enough to say it was definitely a bucket list item.

If only so he could cross it off his bucket list. ;)

After the flower show, we rested a bit before heading out for dinner. We took Rick Steves' advice and went nowhere near our hotel, to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. The food was okay enough - fairly typical pub fare, but the atmosphere was the real reason to go here. The pub was re-built in 1667 after it was destroyed by a fire.

Yes, that's right.

RE-BUILT in 1667.

Our next day involved a trip to Leavesden Studios, to see the brand-new studio tour, The Making of Harry Potter.

 Its a bit outside of London proper, so you take a thirty minute train ride and then board a bus which takes you to the studios.

Carl isn't the biggest Potter fan (UNDERSTATEMENT) so there was a fair amount of grumbling from him about the journey this day.

Carl on the left, in the Ministry of Magic. 
Book in one hand, head grasped in the other. 
"Can't. Believe. Wife. Brought. Me. HERE."

Still, I was in seventh heaven. I mean, I got to stand on the actual Knight Bus!!

It had only opened on April 30, and we were seeing the actual sets where they filmed all eight movies, not to mention all sorts of amazing props, costumes, models, and the chance to fly your own  broomstick AND the Ford Anglia, thanks to green screen technology.

Carl even came out of his grumbly state to take a picture with me for that one.

There was a chance to walk down Diagon Alley - which we had done at Universal last year along with a few other thousand people. It was nice to have it basically to ourselves here. And indoors and air-conditioned. ;)

One of the best parts of the studio tour, though, is an enormous, two-story model of Hogwarts. This model was used for much of the filming of the movies, and is often what you see in the film. The lighting in the room changed as you walked around, which is why you can see it in the"morning," "evening," and in bright "sunlight."

Next, we headed back to central London. Carl was excited about taking a James Bond high-speed boat tour on the Thames I had found for us, so after some (okay,  a LOT) shopping for souvenirs), and a trip to Buckingham Palace and the Queen's Gallery to see an exhibit on drawings by Leonardo da Vinci (at Carl's request, I might add - I am nothing if not amenable to pleasing my husband's sightseeing desires), we headed to the boat departures.

Only to find they were all sold out for the day. :(  This didn't help Mr. Grumbly's mood improve much, but in my defense, if, theoretically, someone had been a wee bit more responsive to my requests to read the London guides and plan the trip, this might not have happened.

So we consoled ourselves with a trip on the London Eye. The Eye was built for the turn of the millennium, but it had some construction and safety problems and was closed down when we were there in January 2000. Carl's had an itch to go ever since.

The views from the Eye were incredible.

I love looking at the Houses of Parliament. Just seeing it puts me in my happy place.

And now that Carl was on the Eye, his happy place was coming out, too.

I even managed to not let my fear of heights bother me too much and actually moved about the pod a bit.

Although, seriously, they could have used a safety bar or two here. At least a LATCH. 

We then went back to our hood in Kensington for dinner and to try to get to bed at an early time, since we had an early departure time for Paris the next day.

COMING UP NEXT: Paris and Giverny



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