Monthly Archives: September 2019

New Jersey 2019

… a 5 hour flight from Reykjavik later and we were in New Jersey!  I won’t bore you with the details but it took 2 hours to get through customs at Newark Airport — a truly infuriating experience when all you want to do is give your parents a big hug after arriving in one’s home country :(

Anyways that trial endured, we were welcomed home in Wyckoff and had a really nice time at Gramma and Grampa’s!  Morgy, Jack and Joey love the pool — and I love this pic.  A very American scene with an inflatable gummy bear making an appearance — fantastic!!

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As always, there were lots of wonderful family gatherings and it was great to see you all – thanks everyone for coming to see us! Here we are in the pool at the cousins gathering:

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In the next picture you’ll see Josh and Rachel on the left who are expecting their first child (any second now!).  Then Karen, Anthony, Jack, and Joey, Aled and Morgy, my cousin Chris with Vivi and Alejandro, and me.

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Here’s my Mom and her sister Aunt Carolyn with their grandkids – we’re teaching them to do our classic “funny face cousins picture”.  So cute!

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Here we are with our close family friends, Lou and Andrea:

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And here with my parents, Aunt Elena, Uncle Charlie, Uncle Doug and Gramma Arizona celebrating Uncle Charlie’s birthday with an ice cream cake:

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Later in the week we also got to hang out with Rosemary and Sam, longtime family friends (no pic of Sammy sorry!).  Here is Rosemary reading Morgy a book about trains– thank you for all the presents!  The water balloons and mini-sloth were a major hit.

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No trip to New Jersey is complete without a visit to the Jersey shore where my Mom grew up and where my Gramma and Uncle Doug now live.  We all love being down by the ocean, even though Aled prefers the more varied Pembrokeshire beaches.  I love all beaches, as long as it’s sunny and warm outside and the beach is free from jellyfish, sea weed and trash :)

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I certainly couldn’t complain about the temperature when we were in New Jersey.  In August it was consistently in the mid to high 80s (30C) with humidity.  That sort of heat is typically too hot for British people but as long as there’s a pool or beach nearby, I absolutely love it!  It’s a heat that gets into the bones and gets me through the colder times of year (that’s my theory anyways!).  I think I’m like my Gramma though — we love the sun.

Here’s Aled and Gramma Arizona, now 88 and still refusing to wear sun tan lotion!

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And the boys by the waves with Uncle Doug on life guard duty:

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Morgy found plenty of tiny creatures in the sand, including this crab which he shared with Gramma:

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Then down to the Boardwalk for some rides!

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It’s nearly impossible to get a picture with all the boys looking but I try it every year!

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One important aspect of bringing Morgy to the United States is to expose him to all things American.  After a huge piece of pizza at 3 Brother’s on the Boardwalk I also got this delicious funnel cake!  Can’t remember the last time I had one of these…!  Fried dough with powdered sugar on top – yum.  Typically I try and hold back with all the unhealthy treats you can get your hands on in America — not this time!

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We had two really interesting outings in New York City on this trip.  Morgy hadn’t been to the Big Apple prior to this trip and I thought it was time to show him a really tall building, as we don’t really have that many in the UK.  (A quick google reveals that the highest building in the UK is the Shard in London, at just over 1000 feet.)

I was stuck between the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower, the sky scraper that was built to replace the Twin Towers.  In the end, we opted for the Freedom Tower because it is the highest building in America at 1776 feet tall — it is also the 7th highest building in the world.

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I haven’t considered going down to this site since the disaster in 2001 — mostly because I wasn’t ready to face it — and I certainly wasn’t going to explain to Morgan how this amazing tower came to be.  So I sort of compartmentalized the whole thing (as best as one is able to ignore a generation-defining catatrophe) and just focused on the engineering feat that reached high into the crystal clear sky on this glorious August morning.

The view was spectacular:

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And impressed us all:

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I kept it together pretty well until we got back down to street level and walked towards the memorial fountains.  The tears welled up as Morgy ran ahead towards it to see the water cascading down into what appears to be an endless abyss. I remember there being lots of discussion and debate about the memorial’s design and I have to say I thought the concept, shape, and form evoked the right response (endless grief and deep contemplation).  Contrasted with the stark white skeleton-like shape in the background, the reflection pool brings a mess of emotions, feelings and thoughts to the fore.  As ever, New York City’s scale and boldness never fails to awe the on-looker and this monument is no exception.

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Design ingenuity aside, I coudn’t really bear to read the names chiselled into the sides — it was just too heart wrenching.

Onto less tragic photos… we headed down to South Street Seaport for a look at the boats…

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And shared a New York City treat, the giant pretzel, another first for Morgy:

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One of the last adventures we went on was to Yankee Stadium.  Thanks to my sister Karen for getting the tickets and to my brother-in-law Anthony for help with the parking!  Here I am with Morgy and Jack with their popcorn.

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I think that’s what Morgy mostly remembers from his time at the ball game – munch munch munch!

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As always it was a great visit stateside — thanks everyone for such a nice time XOXOXO

PS – I only had time to see one old friend this time around, so sorry if I missed anyone. That was Lisa T from high school and for the third year running, I’ve managed to come back to the UK with no photographic evidence.  Shameful.  ;)

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Iceland 2019

So!  I am desperately trying to catch up on the summer blog posts but I’ve been stymied in the past few weeks because I’ve been busy studying for the “Life in the UK” test.  This is just another wonderful aspect of the UK immigration process where I’ve got to answer all manner of insane questions about the UK to get a little certificate to add to the £3,000 ($3,750 USD) “indefinite leave to remain” application.  By far the most enjoyable part of preparing for this test has been quizzing British colleagues, family members and housemates and shouting “deport” every time they get a question wrong.

How hard can it be you wonder?  Here, let me give you a little taste of the topics covered:

1. How many members are there in the Northern Irish Assembly?

2. What happened in 1485?

3. What was the name of Henry VIII’s first wife?

4. Who plays in the Ashes?

5. Who is the patron saint of Scotland and what day is he celebrated on?

6. What is Skara Brae?

7. How many boroughs are there in London?

Luckily it’s a multiple choice test so after a few weeks of practing with an app it’s not too difficult.  I took the test yesterday and passed — in under 6 minutes — yes everyone I am still the nerd you know and love!

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Anyways back to late July… after the boys’ week with Ann and Steve in Pembrokeshire we prepared for our trip to New Jersey via… Iceland!  Aled and I had always wanted to go to Iceland and with Morgy’s interest in all things volcanic, it made the perfect stopover.

We found a great place on Air BnB in the middle of nowhere…

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That is our lovely log cabin about 1.5 hours east of Reykjavik, in the middle of the “Golden Circle”, an area known for a handful of Iceland’s most famous geologic sites.  It was a few minutes’ drive from a tiny settlement called Geysir.

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It doesn’t take a genius to guess what was there: a geyser named Strokkur which went off every five minutes.  We’ve mostly got videos of Strokkur and all of them are refusing to upload so here’s a view of the area from our deck…

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We never tired of watching Strokkur and the geyser became a sort of friendly presence in our holiday as the week progressed.  It was nice to be able to watch it at different times of day and in the evenings when all the tourists had gone.  There were also some nice geothermal pools by Strokkur which reminded us a lot of the ones you can see around Rotorua on the North Island in New Zealand.

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Not far up the road from our house was another highlight of the Golden Circle, the Gulfoss waterfall.

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Not much to say here except WOW THAT’S A LOT OF WATER!

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On day two, we went to pingvellir National Park, where you can see the mid-Atlantic ridge (the place where the North Atlantic and Eurasian tectonic plates are separating).  Here it is… Morg is running right up the centre!

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You can see quite a few tourists in this photo can you not?  I’m afraid to say that we were, at times, a bit unimpressed by the high number of tourists at the famous sights.  Busload after busload sort of starts to detract from the enjoyment… but with our rental car we were able to get off the beaten track and find some very quiet spots to relax…

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… for five seconds ;)

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Over the next few days, we explored  other parts of the Golden Circle and I have to say it reminded me a lot of our road trips in New Zealand.

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It’s not surprising… both Iceland and New Zealand are small, relatively remote islands with small populations and beautiful landscapes.  There were definite similarities in the attitude towards conservation and a strong sense of national pride in the natural beauty.  I also felt extremely safe in Iceland like I used to in New Zealand (from people sort of danger anyways).  Our Air BnB host joked that the last time a house was broken into in our area was 1979.   Another interesting tidbit I learned is that geothermal water heats about 90% of Icelandic homes — fantastic!

Back to the sights…  Off the main tourist routes, we came across some quirky spots, such as “the cave people”, a little house built into the mountain where a family lived in the early 20th century.  You can see it if you look past the Icelandic flag in this picture:

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We visited an awesome crater called Kerio (actually it’s spelled with an Icelandic character that looks a bit like a “d” but I can’t find any fancy character symbols in this blogging tool)…

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Look at these amazing colours!

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Here’s a close up of some of the rocks– some incredible colours and textures!

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We also enjoyed some very delicious ice cream at Efstidalur Farm in Laugarvartn.  (There were two flavour choices that day: vanilla or strawberry.)  Morgy was making some very funny faces which are not representative at all of what he’s eating – this photo just makes me laugh!

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For me, the highlight of the trip was definitely the drive along the south coast.  We passed a number of absolutely stunning sights, starting with Seljalandsfoss waterfall:

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You can walk behind this waterfall:

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If you carry on past here, you see some absolutely gorgeous coastal scenery:

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Then you come to another stunning waterfall called Skogafoss.  It looks surreal from afar:

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You can hike up the side of it:

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Or walk straight up to it:

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Carrying on along the south side, we came to Solheimajokull glacier.

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Annoyingly children had to be 8 years old to don crampons so we just walked straight up to it and had a look.  The shapes were pretty awesome however given the state of the planet there were also some depressing aspects to this stop when we saw how much distance lay between the “danger – don’t walk on the glacier” signs and the actual start of the glacier :(

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Onwards to the black sand beach at Reynisfjara where you can see some really impressive basalt columns.  Cool right?

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I just want to make you aware of how tricky touristy photos are… this is what you can’t see in that photo above…

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…the 100 other tourists wrecking the view of that fantastic sea stack in the background!  Honestly this beach was freaking amazing but there were just too many people on it.  But do you blame them?  There were puffins in the water too!

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And so ends a beautiful day on the south coast — one last iconic pic of this area:

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So that was nearly the end of the holiday in Iceland except for the somewhat anti-climatic whale-watching tour out of Reykjavik — although I do love these cold weather jumpsuits!  Perfect for the cold-blooded lizard I have become!

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See the minke whale on the horizon there?  You may have to squint a little bit I’m afraid!

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A few fins were spotted closer to the boat later on in the trip but by then we were sick of trying to photograph the shy minke whale.  Clearly the experience was not as spectacular as the Elding brochure (credit: Elding Whale Watching). ;)

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So that was Iceland folks!  Hilariously when we ask Morgan what his favourite part of the trip was he says “the jacuzzi”:

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Noted for next time darling!

UK Summer 2019

So…where has the summer gone…?!  Is it really the first of September?!

Back to June… on the way back from the Lake District we called into Ceri and Angela’s in North Wales for a short visit on the way back down to Cardiff. We took the kids on a hike and I think these photos sum up what it’s like taking 4, 5 and 6 year olds on a hike:

“Come on guys, we’re almost to the top!”

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“Don’t bother those sheep!”

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“We want a snack!”

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“Wait for us!” [Nervous laugh, they’re so far away I couldn’t catch them if I tried!]

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Back at the ranch the parents enjoyed some beers with a classic Ceri BBQ of course!  And then back to Cardiff the next morning.

Not long after returning from the Lake District, we welcomed Hefin, Emma and Elis in Cardiff on their way back from Pembrokeshire.  We had a great day out at the Dan yr Ogof National Show Caves up in the Brecon Beacons:

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After exploring the caves we headed down to the farm animal play area where we also played some mini golf which was a riot with Morgy and Elis!

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Nice view of the gang with the mountains in the background:

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As always it was great to see everyone — just wish we all lived closer so we could hang out a bit more! :)

Two weekends later, our good friends Eva and Ross were over from Sydney and we combined their visit with some other good friends, Charlotte, Pete, Sophie and Jack who were over from Arizona.  Aled, Charlotte and Eva are childhood friends from Pembrokeshire.

It was a bit rainy which the visitors from Arizona actually loved — it turns out that the summers in Arizona are so unbearably hot that Charlotte and Pete (who work at the University of Arizona) spend nearly every summer away.  For me it was an interesting perspective to see how delighted the British expats were to be in the rain — Sophie and Jack were really fascinated by puddles and rain drops on cars.  Of course Morgy loves jumping in puddles too but I realised that for kids growing up in a desert, a puddle would be a true novelty!  The things I take for granted ;)

Here I am with Eva in the playground by the Penylan library, where we went to keep the kids occupied so the adults could actually have a conversation.

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Here’s Ross and Pete:

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And Charlotte, Aled, Morgy and Jack… Sophie not in view I’m afraid!

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Eva and Ross are embarking on a really exciting adventure — they’ve given up their law jobs and have bought a vineyard in Martinborough, New Zealand!  I am so excited for them and can’t wait to taste the wine they produce.  I also hope to go down for harvest one year and help.  Good luck guys!!  It was so lovely to see you all — thanks for taking the time on the trips back to see us :)

There were a couple of odd occurrences in Westville Road this summer which must go in this post.  First was a really crazy storm in late June — the sky turned a very dark purpley gray and then the torrential downpour started.  The water from Kimberley Road comes straight down the alley where our blue car is parked and almost turns into a small river in the back lanes.

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Then it started to hail!

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As if that wasn’t crazy enough, a week or two later, the boys sent me this picture via Whatsapp:

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One of the neighbours had accidentally driven his car up onto the brick wall!  This caused a lot of commotion that evening, including the arrival of a fire engine which was completely unsuccessful in resolving the situation.

…The weather improved as June turned to July and we started to enjoy some very warm and beautiful days in the garden.

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In July, the kids were counting down for the end of school.  The British school year goes until about the 3rd week of July and boy were they ready to go on school holidays!  They had one last big project which was to create an underwater scene in a shoe box.  Morgan and I had started this task in early July but when Aled saw some of the examples coming into school he took over the project and made some vast improvements.

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Yes that is an anglerfish which has also been wired with a small LED light via a switch at the top.  Aled purports that, in addition to getting a lesson on deep sea creatures, he has also imparted some knowledge on basic circuitry.

In other fun news… Aled and I went out one evening with Paul and Anurag to see Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream at Cardiff Castle.

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It was a super fun evening and Paul and Anurag made some amazingly delicious picnic food — fig and goats cheese tart were my fav!  Thanks guys — it was a fab evening!

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I realise that much of what I post on this blog are the highlights of what we get up to in our spare time.  I should also note that Aled and I have been working really hard in the weekdays and that we have settled into our neighbourhood more and more.  We’ve made some really good friends with some other parents at Morgan’s school, most notably Sarah and Ed down the road (Oliver’s parents) and Mat and Beth (Zeke’s parents) a few blocks over.  It’s infrequent that we photograph the day to day I’m afraid! (I also realise as I’m writing that we had a lovely visit from Nic and Liz who live over in Wiltshire this summer — but I don’t have any pictures of this…!)

Aled continues to work non-stop on his software idea whilst Morgy is at school (and also late into the evenings once Morgy is in bed).  I am still on contract at the QAA in Gloucester.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve worked so hard as I did in July 2019 — the organisation has been through a massive change and with a very small project team we were working incredibly hard to get all the work done.

Although I was brought in as a business process analyst in January, as the months progressed I was asked to take on the business change lead role too.  My contract has since been extended until late October and my title is now “Programme Manager Membership Services”.  I am splitting the director role with the outgoing director until a new one is appointed.  Despite the challenging circumstances, I am (for the most part) really enjoying the work and the varied nature of my responsibilities.  I have found everyone at the QAA so supportive.  It’s been wonderful to have such nice colleagues and it spurs me on to do as much as I can for the organisation.  Can you believe they even thank me for my work?!  A novelty :)

I will take this opportunity to post a picture of the Gloucester Cathedral which I walk past on my way to work (when I take the train).  Although the tiny “city” of Gloucester seems to have fallen on hard times, with a suprising number of homeless in the city centre, the cathedral itself is an endless source of inspiration for me.  I am literally awestruck by the craftsmanship — it’s nearly 1000 years old!  How did they do it?!  I was further delighted to hear that it’s the oldest building in the world with solar panels, installed in 2016.  Fantastic!

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In the bigger picture, the British political insanity carries on…

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…with Boris Johnson being chosen by Conservative Party members to become our new Prime Minister just as school holidays began.  The fun continues as he’s just suspended Parliament for September ahead of the new Brexit deadline of 31 October 2019.  By now I think everyone is so sick of hearing about this that no one cares anymore what happens.  We just want to hear about something else on the news — like, I don’t know… a real problem?

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Anyways, as soon as the school hols began, we headed out to Pembrokeshire to visit Nanna and Taidi.  The weather was a bit cold that first weekend but warmed up for the boys when I went to back to work.  The time was filled with outings to beaches such as Aber Bach:

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…where Morgy, Aled and Taidi went hunting for “creepy crawlies”:

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… and slippery creatures such as this blenny:

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A visit to good old Pentre Ifan, an ancient burial ground just outside of Newport:

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There was body-boarding with Dadda down at Newport Sands:

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And more beach time with Charlotte and Pete and kids — here are Morgy and Sophie getting buried in the sand!

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With such nice weather, there were trips in the Wolseley:

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And hikes up Dinas Mountain:

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And finally, in our attempts to help clear out the barn, the boys helped put together this swing:

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As you can see, it was a great start to Morgy’s summer holidays, and lovely to see Nanna and Taidi.  Look at this boys… so lucky to have all this time together!

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….Sometimes I fear we are not preparing Morgy for real life ;)