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Lockdown 2020

So it’s a strange time all right!  Lockdown 2020.  Hopefully not something I’ll experience again in my lifetime… although you will see from the photos below that there are some silver linings and perhaps during this time we are all reflecting on what’s important.  I ran a workshop last week at work and the last two questions were: what are the things we want to carry forward from working remotely vs. what aspects do we want to leave behind?  I am sure we all have some thoughts from this experience.

Before I turn to the nitty gritty of lockdown, I’ll mention the major milestone which occurred after returning from Florida and before lockdown commenced… Morgy’s 6th birthday of course!  Here he is with his new electric train set (he had mentioned this was an unfulfilled Christmas request so we made up for Santa’s shortcomings!):

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He had his party at Spit and Sawdust, a quirky indoor skate park with all the boys from his class:

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They had a blast and the tank cake was a major hit:

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That was March 14th and at that point, here in Britain we were still being told just to wash our hands (whilst singing Happy Birthday twice) and to isolate ourselves if we were feeling ill.  By the following Wednesday, I was taking my monitor, keyboard, mouse etc from work and by Friday, March 20th, schools were closing.  Here’s Morgy on his last day of school:

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Aled and I decided it would be better for me to have my desk up in the big front bedroom so the boys could take over the dining room for school work and projects.  So we moved our clothes cupboard out of the front room into the middle bedroom and set up this other table.

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So I have been working from the front bedroom now for just over two months…

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…whilst Aled continues his project from the middle bedroom in between schooling Morgan:

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Aled is doing a great job with Morgy.  His reading and writing have really come on, in particular his penmanship:

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Now Murphy’s Law has been in full force with regards the weather as it’s been wall-to-wall sunshine here in Cardiff since lockdown started.  This has been simultaneously wonderful and infuriating after one of the wettest winters in British history.  So while I am very grateful it has been sunny, it’s also seems just a teensy-wheensy bit unfair not to be able to go further than our immediate neighbourhood to enjoy the glorious sunshine!

Thankfully, we have been permitted to leave our homes during lockdown.  I can’t imagine what life would be like in places like Spain where people weren’t allowed outside for several weeks.  In March and April, we were allowed to go outside for 30 minutes of exercise and the laws were changed so that police could actually fine people if they were out for “non-essentials”.  This meant we’d go out for a walk once a day as a family in the nearby parks with Morgan on his bike.

Spring was absolutely beautiful this year, and we were treated to a lovely blossom display.

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At one point, the cherry blossoms even turned the grass pink!

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We celebrated Easter with an egg hunt and a roast dinner:

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And then, well, there’s been lots of playing at home and in the garden…

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Fear not — we have a great method for dealing with lego chaos.  Simply ensure it’s all on the carpet, roll it like a burrito and tip it straght into the box!  E voila!  Tidy living room.

Battleship has become the game of choice, with Captain Morgan (the second) actually starting to beat us fair and square!

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I ordered these tiny bead things that you make patterns with and then iron to stick them together (a favourite from my own childhood):

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As well as puzzles…

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Other highlights from early lockdown include watching some butterflies hatch and then fly away:

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And making patterns with flowers:

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Lockdown has been a surreal time, where you’re safe and snug making flower patterns in the day, but then hearing the apocolyptic news in the evening once Morgy is in bed.  It’s hard to reconcile the two realities, especially if you are healthy and well-fed at home.  The workers in the ICU all over the world are experiencing the nightmare first hand.

Luckily for us, the major challenges have mostly just consisted of getting our groceries safely, as we haven’t been able to get slots to have our groceries delivered.  Sainsbury’s also put limits on how many people could be in the store at once, making it difficult to know how long it would take to actually get your groceries.  This was stressing me out a little bit as we were also seeing news reports of empty shelves at supermarkets across the country.

So as our supplies were starting to run low in April, I asked my boss if I could pop out after lunch one day and do a shop, thinking I’d avoid the morning rush.  When I got to Sainsbury’s, I was shocked to see about about 35 people queueing so I turned right back around and came back at 7:40pm that night.

Unbeknownst to me, Sainsbury’s had changed their store hours and were closing at 8pm so what ensued was a mad “supermarket sweep” type exercise during which I managed to procure about 180 pounds worth of groceries in less than 15 minutes.  The Corona was going cheap (!).

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Luckily we get our organic fruit and veg delivered every Wednesday and have a small corner shop where we go to pick up milk and cheese as required so I have only been to Sainsbury’s twice.  The corner shop only lets two people in the shop at one time.  Right next door is the local post office, which I have only visited once because I ran out of stamps (too many overseas birthdays!!) ;)

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I don’t know about you but something that keeps my spirits up in lockdown are the hilarious memes that are going around on social media. These are two of my favourites — apologies I don’t know who to credit these to — thank you very much for keeping us laughing:

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And this one…

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And so lockdown continues…  like Groundhog Day really… most weekends we get on our bikes and take a longer bike ride than the daily one around the parks… here’s Morgy in Waterloo Gardens:

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Look what beautiful flowers:

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Then we head up to Roath Park Lake, where they’ve instituted a one-way system clockwise around the lake to reduce people breathing in each other’s faces.  Nine times out of ten we cycle past our good friends and neighbours, Sarah, Ed and the boys who are also out for their daily cycle.

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About a month ago, we discovered the “Wild Wood” at the top of the lake.   Hilariously I cycled past this forested section of the park for about 3 years when I worked up at Cardiff Gate business park but never bothered venturing in… it’s quite nice actually and you can’t believe you are in the middle of a city when you are walking around it.

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It’s become a weekly tradition to throw those sticky plants at each other whilst in the Wild Wood (I have no idea what they are actually called — they stick to clothes like velcro).  Here’s Morgy running away from an inevitable counter-attack…

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Back at the ranch, there’s lots of Skype, Whatsapp and Zoom calls with friends and relatives all over the world.  It’s been lovely to connect with everyone and hear how everyone is coping.

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All in all, family and friends are mostly ok but there are some really hard aspects, such as my sister having to leave her kids with my parents while she and Anthony go to work in NYC.  The news coming out of New Jersey and New York is frightening and I keep you all in my thoughts and prayers.  When I think about the scale of this situation and how much are lives have been impacted I get emotional — the good old “Coronacoaster” — so I will move swiftly on to some of our other lockdown adventures.

A few weeks ago we put up the tent which Santa brought us last Christmas.  The first test was to see if it would actually fit in our tiny garden…

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The answer was “yes just barely”!  Morgy and Aled spent the night out there while I was in in the nice big bed upstairs :) But this doesn’t mean I got off easy.  Morgy came into see me at 5:45am!  We ended up leaving the tent up for a few days just for a change of scenery.

On the early May bank holiday, we had a lockdown lunch in the back lane with our friends and neighbours, Paul, Anurag and Sandra:

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It felt like we could get in trouble for this but by week 7 of lockdown, we were dying to speak to friends!  It was lovely to see them and once again reminded me how much life has changed in 2020.  How much I have taken for granted!

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In the second or so week of May (sorry can’t remember, the days and weeks are all blurring together!) lockdown in Wales was relaxed somewhat so that we could exercise outside more than once a day as long as we maintained social distancing.  There were rumours that the kids might go back to school in June but that isn’t looking likely.  Last week England relaxed its lockdown and 300,000 people turned up at beaches on the South Coast.  Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are watching the experiment…

And so the schooling at home continues… Morgy and Aled are doing some art lessons…

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Of course Morgy chooses his favourite subject matter:

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I will end with one of my favourite creations from lockdown.  Aled’s creativity really knows no bounds with a loaf of wholemeal bread in the shape of an ammonite!

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Next week, he’ll start work back at Hodge Bank, so we’ll be joining those other parents who are both working whilst juggling home-schooling.  Pray for us please!  And please take care everyone in this crazy time.  Huge hugs from sunny Cardiff XOXOX

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Early 2020

Well what can I say! It’s an absolutely surreal time! We are at the end of our third week in “lockdown” due to Coronavirus, or Covid-19 as they officially refer to it. Lockdown in the UK means that we are only allowed out of our houses for essentials (food, medicine) and for 30 minutes of exercise each day.  Morgy has also been off school during that time while I have been working from home. By miracle, it’s been absolutely beautiful weather so we’ve been able to potter around in the garden and go for our daily walk/cycle ride in the nearby parks.

I will save my thoughts on “life in lockdown” for another post, preferring to use this post as a way to reminisce about “the good old days”, when we could leave our homes and travel by airplane! It’s mind-boggling to think how much life has changed in a matter of a month, and how much I took my own freedoms for granted!

Anyways back to January 2020 — typically one of my least favourite months of the British year.  As I had committed to starting my new job on the 20th, I spent a lot of time at the gym, taking countless classes, swimming and using the empty studios to do some ballet. Let me tell you — David Lloyd was regretting letting me in the door — and it was great to have the time to get fit again.

In late Jan, we got out on a sunny weekend for a walk with Sarah, Ed and their boys up by Castle Coch — I think this is called Caerphilly Mountain. Here’s Oliver and Morgy near the top where you can see Ollie doing a great mountain climbing pose!

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On 31 Jan 2020, Britain left the European Union, after nearly 4 years of frustrating and tedious negotiations.  We voted to remain back in 2016, so this wasn’t a particularly happy moment in our household, but it’s a historical moment so I felt like I should put it on the blog.  This was the countdown projected onto the front of 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives.

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A couple of weeks later we made a quick trip out to Pembrokeshire to visit my in-laws who had recently returned from a six week trip to New Zealand to see Gwyn and Nicole and kids in Northland.  Here we are down at Porthgain after a lovely Sunday lunch at the Sloop Inn.

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A few days later, Morgy and I were on a plane to Florida, whilst Aled remained at home to work on his software development project and look for a contract in Cardiff.  My parents had rented a house in Naples for three months and we were joined by my sister and family too.  Here’s a pic of the house in a very nice resort/house complex:

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There’s always so many pictures to share from our trips to America — I will do my best to post just the highlights!  …starting with lizard catching!  The boys never tired of catching these little creatures out by the pool:

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We spent one afternoon on a pirate ship cruise, which was absolutely hilarious and very well-run.

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After all my years on tall ships I was expecting quite a rickety boat, with crappy brown paint peeling off the deck planking…. oh no!  This was a fully re-furbished, state of the art pirate ship, equipped with salt water cannons and a comfortable poop deck to keep parents dry.  Not to mention a drinks and snack bar for parents too.  These are truly twenty-first century pirates!

Once out at sea, the dingy was launched and the kids were taunted by this pirate — who subsequently got drenched by the cannons.

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It was funny to watch and the boys absolutely loved it!

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Back ashore, we had a nice lunch and got the only picture from the whole trip of allof us  together.  Getting all three boys to look simultaneously is just about impossible!

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Another day, there was a trip to the beautiful Tiger Tail beach, which was covered in millions and millions of shells.  This beach can only really be accessed by wading across a river, which was a bit of an adventure with small kids and lots of beach gear.  Luckily the tide wasn’t too high so we easily managed it — and because it was in the 80s (my favourite!), we dried off in no time.   Here’s Grampa and Jack returning from a shell finding mission.

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And a crazy flock of white birds called ibises poking in the sand.

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Another highlight of the trip was the fan boat ride down in the Everglades.  We did this when we were in Florida last time and it was so awesome we decided to do it again.  Here’s Karen, Anthony, Jack and Joey on their fan boat.

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And Gramma and Morgy on our fan boat.

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It is amazing how quickly these boats fly around these narrow waterways!  You’ve got to admire the skills of the drivers, both from a vessel handling and a navigation perspective as all the mangrove passage ways look the same (to the untrained eye)!

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In one of the breaks in the open spaces, we spotted this raccoon family out for a morning stroll — so cute!

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Afterwards, we went through Everglades National Park to spot some other wildife.  What’s a trip to Florida without seeing a crocodile?  These creatures look so sinister!

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And an anhinga spearing his lunch:

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The rest of the trip was spent down at Lowdermilk beach, where lots of digging, swimming and relaxing was done.  It’s amazing how long the boys could spend amusing themselves — they loved it and we loved it!

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Gramma, Morgy and me

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Me and Dad

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Karen and Anthony posing in front of an $18 million house in the background – crazy!

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There was also a fantastic pool in the complex which we loved:

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…where Morgy’s swimming improved a lot despite an ear infection which kept him out of the water for about 3 days near the beginning of the trip.

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And then it was off to Orlando for a trip to Sea World.  Here’s Gramma and the boys at the penguins (whilst Mommy and Uncle Anthony were on the Manta Ray rollercoaster — LOVED IT!)

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And later at the dolphin enclosure:

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Here we are at a fantastic dolphin encounter, where we got to pet and feed a dolphin.  The temperature had plummetted overnight from 80F to 50F, so we had to put on all the layers we had!

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What an amazing experience for the boys — thank you Gramma and Grampa!

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I’m sorry if some of you feel it’s immoral or unethical to keep these animals in captivity.  I personally come to terms with it by thinking that the number of dolphins at Sea World is a tiny portion of the global dolphin population (several million), and that many dolphins in captivity live longer than their peers in the wild.  I also know that getting close to dolphins at Sea World when I was young was a life-changing experience, and believe that educating people about wildlife is the best way to raise awareness of human impact on the wider ecosystems they inhabit.  However perhaps after enduring our own Coronavirus captivity, you may see me demonstrating outside Sea World once we’re finally released!

So that takes me up to the end of February 2020.  I will leave you with one last photo of the boys at the beach.  I think it’s important to expose Morgy to all things American when we are there — irrespective of the nutritional value.

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Stay safe everyone!  Lots of love from Cardiff in these crazy times.

The last of 2019

Happy new year everyone!  Any good plans or resolutions for the new year?  Or the new decade?  I will turn 40 later this year which seems a little bit surreal, but otherwise I haven’t made a 2020 to do list.  I did join a gym in December during my time off and am loving it.  I got pretty unfit with all the commuting in 2019 so I’ve been kicking my own butt to get back into shape – swimming, spinning, pilates, yoga, dance fitness — and I’ve just got an orientation to all the gym machines which I typically avoid because they look like medieval torture devices!  Today my pecs and hamstrings are particularly sore.

I start a new job next Monday at the Wales Audit Office as a project change manager.  I was intending on having a little break but as soon as I turned on my job alerts in December this role came up so I applied.  It seems a really good fit for my skills and is just 2 miles from the house with good flexibility and holiday leave.  I haven’t worked in the public sector here in the UK so am interested to see what it’s like and am excited to embark on another new adventure.

So let me just catch up on some of the happenings in the last couple of months in 2019… I left off in Wiltshire… the following weekend we met Estelle in Bristol at the SS Great Britain, a fantastic museum/exhibit!

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According to wiki: “She was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Steamship Company’s transatlantic service between Bristol and New York.”  “She was the longest passenger ship in the world from 1845 to 1854… and was advanced for her time.”

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One of the reasons this was such an awesome exhibit is because you could actually walk under the waterline to see the hull, propeller and dry dock where the ship was built.  If you look at the picture above, it looks like the ship is in the water, but it’s an illusion.  They built a glass shelf around the ship which holds about 6 inches of water and a set of stairs that gives you access to the temperature and humidity-controlled space below!  It was super ingenious… just like Brunel himself apparently.  Until I came to this exhibit, I hadn’t heard of this man but he turns out to be a really famous British engineer, responsible for many civil engineering projects which are still in use today.  You should read about him on Wiki if you are interested in the history of civil engineering (maybe one or two of you?!).

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Here’s Morg on deck — annoyingly no sails to set but never mind.  Below decks, they did a great job restoring and depicting life aboard, complete with crew quarters and a galley full of pots, pans and food they were likely to eat.  It was a really fab day out — a great meet up with an old friend and plenty to keep us all entertained and interested!  Thanks Estelle for this suggestion.

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A few weeks later we were carving pumpkins with Morgy’s good friend Zeke and his dad Mat.

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Mat and Zeke did an awesome Batman pumpkin which I sadly don’t have a photo of.  We went a bit nuts and carved three this year, including one of those tiny pumpkins.  I had never attempted a tiny pumpking carving but Morgy suggested it so we gave it a try.  He was very cute but we couldn’t leave his “hat” on otherwise the tea light would have burnt it – ahh the hazards of Halloween!

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And then it was work, work, work until the end of my contract in November — as I mentioned in my previous post I really miss my lovely colleagues at the QAA!

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Just before I finished up, we took a weekend trip to London to meet up with Hefin, Emma and Elis (family who lives in Norwich) and to see some of the touristy sites.  First stop was the Tower of London to see the crown jewels.  The boys loved trying on the armour:

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…and seeing the guards marching back and forth.

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Afterwards we walked across London Bridge:

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And enjoyed “bottomless pizza” at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant close to the apartment we rented.  The boys devoured cheesecakes for dessert.

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In the morning, we happened upon St. Paul’s just at mass time, which we managed to stay at quietly for a full 15 min ;)  The dome on this cathedral was absolutely amazing, both inside and out.

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We walked over the Thames again towards the Tate Modern…

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And then hopped onto a river taxi up towards the Houses of Parliament.  Big Ben is currently under scaffolding but the houses themselves are still very impressive buildings.  Dull day though, I know!!  It’s been a very wet and dark autumn and winter.  In any case, great to be in the capital to see some of these historic sites and great to catch up with Hef, Em and Elis!

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November ended with a lovely Thanksgiving celebration at our house with neighbours and friends (from left Aled, Ed, Sarah, Paul, Anurag, Beth, Mat).

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And of course the children pulling faces – Morgy, Oliver, Zeke and Tom…

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…heralding the beginning of this year’s silly season!  In our house this means bringing in the Christmas tree from outside, with all it’s spiders and other small insects ;)  We are proud to share that this tree has been sucking in (a very small amount of) carbon dioxide for three years now.  A good Maori quote to describe this: Ahakoa he iti he pounamu (although it is small it is a treasure).  :)

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After I took that photo, unbeknownst to me a number of other photos were taken which I discovered only when I transferred them all to this laptop…

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Yup Morgy got hold of the camera and took 100 pictures in the dining room.

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…and showed us the xmas tree from a different perspective!

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I am including this last one purely so I can mention the British election on 12 Dec 2019 in which the Liberal Democrats (whom Aled helped campaign for) and the Labour Party got absolutely thrashed by Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party.

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For Remainers, this was a dark day.  For me, it marked 3.5 years of ongoing political turmoil here in the UK which is accomplishing nothing productive at all.  In my opinion it’s resulted in the UK being distracted from real issues such as the NHS (the public health service) and climate change.  As this issue is debated over and over, the country is going backwards in global perspective.  A famous quote from Mikail Gorbachov: “If you are not moving forwards you are moving backwards.”

We cheered ourselves up by making our wreath at Roath Park Pleasure Garden — one of my favourite pre-xmas activities:

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Onwards to Christmas!  This year we were joined by Aled’s parents and brother Hefin and family.  Here are Nanna and Hefin on Christmas Eve.  Nanna and I enjoyed an afternoon at the theatre — we saw Les Miserable at the Millenium Centre down in Cardiff Bay and it was fantastic.  I absolutely love that production and know every song by heart!

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The boys made out like bandits on Christmas day:

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Look at the delight!

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Naturally there was some “present envy” going on — these two photos demonstrate it perfectly:

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“What have you got?”  Hilarious!

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The weather was beautiful on Christmas Day so the boys were able to try out their new things — a new bike for Morgy and some roller skates for Elis!

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Morgy really loves the new bike!

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Then it was time to get cooking — we went non-traditional again this year with a lamb leg:

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With plenty of help from my father-in-law Steve on the veg chopping, Auntie Emma’s amazing help in the kitchen, Nanna on table setting, and dads on child-distraction-present-trying duties, we turned out some delicious meals!

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Here’s a lovely pic of Emma and Elis:

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It was a wonderful holiday – thank you everyone for all the lovely presents and cards from around the world!

…and just before new years… the last highlight of the Christmas period… we caught up with an old friend from Wellington who is originally from Birmingham… that’s right folks, Rob and family!  By now he and Naomi have two little sprogs — the oldest one Mabel pictured here with Rob.  It was so nice to see them albeit briefly!  We miss you guys!

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So that was 2019!  I wish you all the very best for 2020!  Enjoy it but please also if you could do something to help save the planet, I’d really appreciate it  XOXOXOX

 

Early autumn 2019

This post is long overdue but what can I say? I’ve been working so hard this year, in particular since returning from America in mid-August.  I was asked to stay on as an interim Programme Manager at the QAA to oversee the delivery of its membership outputs and line manage the Membership, Quality Enhancement and Standards team whilst a new director was recruited.  It was exhausting but a good challenge for me and I’m really proud of what we managed to achieve.  I finished up there in late November after a 5 week handover to the new director.

The QAA is full of lovely people and I really miss my colleagues there, as well as my lovely landlady Claire, whose house I lodged at a few nights a week.  I couldn’t have managed the commute or the time away from the boys without her hospitality, moral support, and delicious Monday night dinners :)  Cheers to you Claire!

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I will also really miss the Gloucester Cathedral, a building that truly inspired me and which I never tired of photographing.  Here is the cathedral on a beautiful sunny morning.

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And here in the early evening… seriously how did they do this a millenia ago…!  Go ancestors!  Thank you for this amazing workmanship.

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So now back to late August, to share the happenings since returning from the USA… first stop was the National Museum in central Cardiff to see the snake exhibit.  Snakes literally give me goose bumps but that’s sort of irrelevant when you are the mum of scientist!  Check this crazy snake out — desperate to find a way out!

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And here’s Morgy and Aled – note outstretched tongue on small blond snake!  Highly dangerous!

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Later we wandered up into the galleries and came across a really cool exhibit by a British artist named David Nash.  He makes all sorts of sculptures out of wood, including this awesome tower made out of cork bark!

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We headed out to Pembrokeshire over the August bank holiday weekend and enjoyed some really fantastic weather.  Here we are with Nanna at the pub down in Pwll Gwaelod.

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The major triumph of the weekend was getting both my inlaws in our inflatable kayak!  Here’s Nanna in the kayak with Aled at Pwll Gwaelod — Taidi went out the following day from Cwm yr Eglwys beach on the other side of Dinas Head.

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Aled and I also enjoyed some rare time to ourselves on a hike up Dinas Mountain at sunset and had some beautiful views of the cliffs:

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The following morning we went out for a kayak from Cwm yr Eglwys and I was SO MAD I didn’t have a camera!  The scenery was really spectacular, with emerald green water swirling around some impressive sea stacks and some amazing geological folds in the cliffs.  Really beautiful.

Back in Cardiff the following week, Morgan started Year 1 at Marlborough Primary School.  This is the only pic Aled got of him — annoyingly eyes closed!

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Outside of work and school, we went on some adventures in September and October.  First was a short trip up to Symonds Yat for a hike in the Wye Valley, a lovely part of the world.

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We hiked down to the river, passing a tree that had thousands of coins in it — just like in the Lake District!  What a strange phenomenon!

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And then by the riverside, we had a butterfly photography competition.  Morgan had become fascinated with butterflies over the summer, especially after Taidi gifted him with several caterpillars in August.  They are now in a jar on the bookshelf, safe in their little chrysallises (sp? unsure of plural ha!), awaiting warmer weather.

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That weekend we also stumbled upon a Mini convention down in Cardiff Bay!

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Next was a local outing led by our neighbours Paul and Anurag – up the tower at St. Margaret’s church on the edge of Waterloo Gardens, one of the parks near our house.  (I will add here how delighted I am to see the flower beds growing after two summers without them whilst the flood defences were being built – humph!)

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I don’t actually have a picture of the church from the outside but if you are desperate, you can read about it here.  In any case, the tower is only open once or twice a year and we’ve all been meaning to climb it — so thank you Paul and Anurag for paying attention to when it was open this year!

First a shot of the lovely mosaics at the bottom…

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Here we go, up a very small spiral stair case…

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Some beautiful light streaming through as we near the last ladder…

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Nearly there…

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And here we are!

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It was cool to see our neighbourhood from above — certainly a different perspective of Penylan.

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And then it was my birthday — one more year til 40 yikes!!  Where does the time go?

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In October, we headed east to visit Aled’s eldest brother William, Claire, Owen, Alex and Dylan in Wokingham.  The weather was pretty horrible but it did not deter us from getting out and exploring Windsor… by boat!

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That’s right folks, when you’ve got torrential downpour, don’t fight it — get on a duck tour!  Fun was had by all!  Here’s William, Claire and Dylan.

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…and Dylan, Morgy and Alex.

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All the pictures of me, Aled and Owen were blurry :(

Here’s a picture of the famous Windsor Castle — look at this miserable weather!  (Why do these people cling so stubbornly to this rainy rock?)  Weather aside, it’s great to connect with our British family here and Morgy loves playing with his cousins.  Thank you William and Claire for a lovely weekend  as always XOXO

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On the way back west, we took a small detour south to pop into Nic and Liz who live in a beautiful village in Wiltshire.  Look, their roof is thatched!  Isn’t it awesome!?

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Their village is so picturesque!

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And they’ve got a new, adorable puppy named Arthur who was just bursting with energy — so cute!!

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(Thanks for a lovely meal guys!)

… I am getting a bit tired so will stop here for now and pick up where I left off in the next post… a fantastic outing to Bristol to see the SS Great Britania with Estelle! XOXOX

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.  ;)

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 ;)

 

Spring 2019

Now before I post about the rest of spring here in the UK, I’ve got to re-wind to before Easter… somehow I completely forgot to share a pic from a highly spontaneous and totally unexpected visit from an old friend from high school…

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Some of you may recognise Ben N from Ramapo High School who emailed me two hours before he was flying to the UK from Seattle — and lo and behold he was going to be in Bath the very next day — which happens to be an hour’s train ride from where I am currently working… so I added another train journey to my week and had dinner in Bath with Ben. :) It was great to see him in person — just wish I had been able to hang out for longer. The last time we saw each other was in Seattle in 2002 when I had just boarded the tall ship Europa when I was on my Watson Fellowship.  That was just under 17 years ago– yikes we are getting old!! Anyways great to catch up!

Right… so jumping back to early May after my parents and sister returned to the East Coast… we welcomed visitors from North Wales — Ceri, Angela, Kate and Rachel! I don’t have many good pics of the visit but we enjoyed an afternoon at Roath Park Lake and then the following day a visit to Tredegar House in Newport a National Trust property about 20 min from our house. If you look very closely in this pic you can see 3 rascals running between various sculpted hedges…

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By the time we caught up with them they had already made it to the second floor of Tredegar House, the big mansion on the property… mild heart attack there for a minute… but hey ho you have to applaud the independence?!

Another highlight of early May was a hike up Pen-y-fan, the highest peak in South Wales.  This time we went “up the backside” — meaning not the touristy route we took Morgy up last year.  This route is longer, much quieter, and more scenic.  We didn’t make it all the way to the top because Morgan was going so fast on the way up I could barely keep up with him at times!  We knew at that pace he would totally crash on the way down and we wanted to ensure it was still an enjoyable experience.  He did great though and it was a lovely day!

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Three weeks later, it was time for yet another British school holiday!  For non-British readers, you may be surprised by how many breaks we’ve had this year.  The British school year is obviously different to the American one.  It’s split into three terms: autumn, spring and summer.  Each term has a half term break and there’s a break in between each term.  So approximately every six weeks we have a break of either one or two weeks in length.  The summer vacation though is much shorter than the American one, with Morgy’s last day of Reception this year on 19 July 2019.

Anyways I digress!  Over the May half term we headed north to visit the Lake District, a very beautiful part of the country on the west coast of England, a couple of hours south of the Scottish border.  We were joined by Aled’s parents, Ann and Steve, for the first half of the week.  This is the lovely house we stayed in, not far from the shores of Lake Windermere:

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The weather in this part of the country is notoriously pretty bad and we didn’t have great luck with it while we were there.  That said, we still managed to get out and about on most of the days and enjoy the beautiful sights in the area.

Naturally, we engaged in a lot of boating activities, including a little cruise to various points around Lake Windermere on a lovely boat called “Princess of the Lake”.

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After a short stop in Ambleside for a coffee and a look at the Roman ruins, we hopped back aboard to go to Wray Castle.

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The views across the countryside were beautiful.

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On day two, we took an excursion northwards to see an old friend of Ann’s who she hadn’t seen for nearly 60 years!  Wow.  I don’t have any pics of the visit but it was lovely to meet Gwenda and family and Morgan enjoyed playing in the yard with their grandchildren.  Afterwards, we did a tour of the northwestern Lake District which was gorgeous…

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…albeit a little bit wet!

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We learned that in the Lake District you just take your umbrellas everywhere and just get on with it!

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The highlight of the trip for me was the day we spent on Ullswater, a lake about 30 min to the north of Windermere.  The trip over the pass afforded beautiful views…

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…and we found a lovely sail boat to rent on Ullswater.  By now I haven’t been sailing for about 10 years so I was a bit nervous to see if I would remember what to do!  The people at the boat club were awesome — they just threw me and Aled in for a trial run and with a nice gentle breeze we were off!

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It all came back instantaneously and I loved being back on the water under sail power!  So after a quick little spin we came back to the dock to pick up the rest of my motley crew…  little did I know Ann and Steve had never been sailing before!

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Here’s the next Captain Morgan in training!

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I loved it — and am now dreaming of buying our own sail boat for trips out of Cardiff harbour.  Thanks Steve for this awesome idea!

After our sail, we enjoyed a nice pub meal in Ullswater followed by a walk to the Aira Force waterfall.  The forests in the Lake District are magical.

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Here is the waterfall itself:

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And here is a view of the bridge at the top:

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Now the next day was Aled’s birthday and the weather looked ok in the morning and terrible in the afternoon.  So we headed down to Lake Windermere first thing with Aled’s birthday present, an inflatable kayak.  Skeptical as we were about the whole concept, we actually thought the kayak was pretty comfortable and fine for a paddle on a calm day.  (We also don’t have room to store a fiberglass kayak in our current house (no garage!) so this was our best option for getting Morgy out on the water locally.)  Hurrah!

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In the afternoon, I managed to get a lunch reservation at a very fancy restaurant in Ambleside to celebrate Aled’s birthday and Ann’s birthday — and while we were at it, why not throw in Ann and Steve’s upcoming 50th wedding anniversary?!  So we went for a 5 course tasting menu which included some amazing dishes such as this lamb main:

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Morgan went a la carte with the braised beef for main and elderflower cheese cake for dessert.  Here is Ann showing off her “Happy Birthday” cheesecake plate — I can attest to the fact that there was not one chocolate letter left on that dish in the end!

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It was an absolutely fantastic meal — hats off to the team at the Old Stamp House — best meal we’ve eaten in a very long time.  I definitely recommend it if you are passing through Ambleside but you had better book ahead!

There are too many pictures to share so I will just add one or two more highlights from the last days… first the steam gondola on Lake Coniston…

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And the Beatrix Potter house and garden which inspired the Peter Rabbit stories:

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We hadn’t read many Peter Rabbit stories before coming here (although Morgy sometimes watches the Peter Rabbit cartoons on TV) but Morgy picked out a a great little book at the gift shop called “The Tale of Tommy Townmouse” which had some nice metaphors for real life.  And somehow having been in the garden which inspired Potter’s stories made me connect with it more.  I also loved reading about the author herself — an independent-minded woman who bequeathed much of her estate to the National Trust when she died.  My list of inspirational British women is growing (see previous post on Cornwall and the Minack Theatre).

Of course this one isn’t on that list:

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As I am now starting round 3 of my British immigration process (a process made significantly more difficult by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary) I can’t say I felt much sympathy.  GOOD RIDDANCE.

 

Easter 2019

Over Easter, we welcomed the Americans to Cardiff! Mom and Dad arrived by train from Heathrow on the 12th, just at the start of Morgan’s two-week school holiday. After a laid-back Saturday in Cardiff to recover from jetlag, we started our adventures in England…

First stop was Tyntesfield, a National Trust property south of Bristol. We were here last year with Nic and Liz and thought the parents would like it too. It’s a pretty place!

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I had to work in Gloucester on Monday so those guys carried on down to Cornwall and I went home… but drove down Monday night after work. The view from the house we rented outside Newquay was awesome….

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A highlight for the boys was hiring a red Morgan car for the day — isn’t it cool?

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We drove it down to the Lizard and enjoyed a nice lunch overlooking the water before going for a walk around the headland.

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The scenery in Cornwall is absolutely beautiful — there’s some really gorgeous coastal views!

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We spent another great day down at Watergate Bay where Aled got to go surfing (hurrah!).  Morgy played on the beach while I read a book and the parents went for a walk.

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And then by chance we got a table at Jamie Oliver’s “Fifteen” restaurant which was really delicious!  What luck!

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We were super lucky with the weather that week and enjoyed an absolutely perfect day down at Porthcurno, an absolutely stunning beach.

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Perhaps the highlight for me was the Minack Theatre which is an open-air theatre overlooking Porthcurno.  Most impressive is that it was created by a woman named Rowena Cade over many decades.  There are pictures of her in her 80s carrying stones down the hill!  What an inspiration!  As I mentioned in my Lanzarote post, I am really inspired by these sorts of creations — and in this case even more so because this one was led by a woman.

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With our last day in Cornwall we were torn between the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan but opted for the latter.  It didn’t disappoint, with beautiful spaces created all over this estate.

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I think we also timed it well with some gorgeous flowers in bloom.

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We also happened upon an egg competition in the barn area which was a first for me!  Look how many eggs there are…!

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And then it was back home to Cardiff for Easter and Easter egg hunt — organised by the experts, Gramma and Grampa.  It’s funny being on “the parent side” of the holidays.

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Easter itself was another perfectly sunny day so we organised a canoe trip down the Wye.  It was a fantastic day for it…

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…and fun was had by all!  I would definitely recommend this activity and it’s really easy to organise.  You sign up with a company out of Symonds Yat — they drive you 10 miles up the river, drop you in with a canoe and you just paddle down for a few hours back to where your car is.  Great fun!

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On Monday, Karen, Anthony, Jack and Joey arrived to add to the fun.  Morgy loves hanging out with Jack and Joey and wow — what a lot of energy they have together!  By now Joey is 6, Morgan is 5, and Jack is 4 and they are hilarious together.  I have no idea how my in-laws managed 5 boys.  Three was plenty for me for one week hahaha!

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Here we are on some “pedalos” on Roath Park Lake. (Row boats all taken :( )

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On their first full day, we headed up to Dan yr Ogof to see the caves — but poor little Jack got car sick and puked all over my car :(  So the others continued up while we headed back to base.

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Here they are at some iron age forts.

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Karen, Anthony, Jack and I met them in the afternoon for a ride on the good old Brecon Mountain Railway.

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The normal black engine was out for servicing but we still had a nice ride in this red steam engine.

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And then the good weather ended — just in time for our tour around Cardiff Castle.  Well hey, they had to get a taste of the real Welsh weather at some point right?!  ;)

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Inside the castle, we visited the war museum section and read some really interesting British viewpoints of the American revolutionary war.  This was my favorite quote: “Meanwhile in America they were faced with a less formal style of warfare.”  LOL.  Just say it: you lost guys!

The boys enjoyed dressing up in old soldier uniforms:

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And then it was off to the Cardiff Museum… and after that, up to Castell Coch.  I’m telling you — these Americans are not joking around when they visit other countries!

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On Thursday I had to go back to work, Mom and Dad flew back to New Jersey.  K&A spent a couple of days in Cardiff before heading off to Windsor Castle on their way back to Heathrow.

It was a great visit and really nice to see everyone in Cardiff!  Thank you for coming all this way and we hope you had a nice time!!  Big hugs Morgans — I miss you!!! XOXOXXO

PS — apologies friends in Cornwall and Devon — there was too much going on to coordinate a visit this time around!  Hope to see you again soon in your neck of the woods or ours XOXOXO.

PPS Will blog about Ceri & Ang’s visit in the next post.

Winter 2019

Hello and thank goodness it’s nearly spring!!  Winter be gone!  I’m totally ready to ditch my winter outfits and scarf and move on with life already!

So the past 3 months have gone so quickly — that’s because I’ve been working really hard at my new job.  I’m on contract at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education as a business analyst on another change programme.  The QAA quality assures the universities here in the UK and the headquarters are located in Gloucester, a small city about 60 miles to the north east of Cardiff.

On a holiday, or very late at night, you can make it from Cardiff to Gloucester in about an hour.  In rush hour though, it can take two :(  This is one of the joys of living in the “M4 corridor”…!  Down below is a map of where I drive — thank goodness for google maps which helps me determine the best route with traffic info.  By now I’ve been on nearly every single possible road between Gloucester and Cardiff.  My favourite for speed is the M4 to M48 (over old Severn Bridge) to M5.  Of course the A466 along the River Wye is beautifully scenic – but after about 1.5 hours I DON’T WANT SCENERY. I WANT TO BE AT HOME WITH MORGY AND ALED!

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Because it’s a very long drive, I couldn’t possibly do it every day — so I’ve found a lovely house share in Gloucester with a lovely lady named Claire.  She lives in a giant house made in the same era as our house in Cardiff so it’s like “home from home” as they say here in the UK.  Even the stairs are on the same side as ours and the tiles are like ours too:

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There are two other “lodgers” in the 6 bedroom house — I am the youngest.  They are all working professionals who “work away” in the week.  So everyone is asleep by 10 as we’re all so exhausted from our drives — mine is the shortest.  John comes from Liverpool and Steve comes from Cornwall.  On Monday, Claire is lovely and cooks us dinner:

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So typically I am here on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights, driving home to Cardiff on Wednesday and Friday.  I miss the boys a lot of course but I feel proud that Aled and I are figuring out a way to earn a decent enough living to give him time to work on his software idea.  So Aled obviously does all the school drop offs, pick ups, and homework and, while Morgy is at school, works really hard on his project.

Gloucester meanwhile is an interesting little town. It’s at the top of the Severn River and its historic dockyards are located just across the street from the building where I work. At some point I will have to visit the National Waterways Museum.

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The docks are a nice place to sit on a sunny day at lunch time and there are a range of nice boats to look at.  To be honest they just make me want to sell up and go sailing again!

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Gloucester is also very famous for its beautiful cathedral which is only a few minutes’ walk from my office.  I have been a few times now — it’s a very awe-inspiring place.

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Here is the inside:

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So that is what is happening work-wise — my contract goes until early May but it may be extended until summer, we’ll see.

Back at the ranch…. we’ve been up to our usual gallivanting on the weekends.  In January we took Morgy for his first ice-skating adventure which he seemed to enjoy:

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And also went for a walk near Castle Coch with his buddy Zeke and fam. It was very, very cold that day!!

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In early February we had two sets of visitors: Estelle and Nic and Liz.  Unfortunately I haven’t got any good photos of the visitors so will just say how lovely it was to see them all!  Thank you for coming to see us in Cardiff dear friends!!  You significantly brightened up an otherwise gloomy time of year.

In late February, there was a mini-heatwave in the UK and we took full advantage of the sun and warmth. Here we are at Southerndown with Sarah, Ed, Oliver and Tom, friends from the neighbourhood and school.  They are another international family with Ed being from Australia.  Ed and I have been known to share a grumble about sunshine levels in our current abode!

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By miracle, the February school half-term coincided with this wonderfully warm (yet scary for February!) weather and even luckier still, Aled and Morgy had organised train tickets to visit Nanna and Taidi out in Pembrokeshire.  Morgy was absolutely delighted to be on the train!

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They took various walks around the lovely Pembrokeshire coastal path, soaking up plenty of that sunshine.

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Here is Morgy out flying our favourite kite:

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And then it was mid-March and it was Morgy’s 5th birthday!  We had some small celebrations at the house on the actual day but then went all out for a party at Mambo, a gigantic indoor play area.  I was so busy talking to the other parents that I barely got any good photos — Aled got a great video but it’s too long to post.  So here is a picture of the crazy volcano cake we made… a transportation nightmare I might add!!

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Now although I’ve mostly turned this blog into a family posting sort of thing, I feel it’s necessary to say something about the political mayhem that we’ve all been enduring here in Britain…. yes that would be Brexit folks!  WHAT A MESS!!

Brexit is a never-ending saga which has totally divided and paralysed the country.  By now, irrespective of how anyone voted way back in 2016, everyone just wants it to be over and done with.  It has turned into the biggest waste of time, effort and money ever… and for someone who has spent over a decade solving business problems it’s particularly infuriating because it’s clear that we are working on a solution for a non-problem.  Meaning: many of the people who voted for Brexit were frustrated about various things happening in this country — the failing health service, wage inequality, and frankly a racist attitude towards immigrants.  Very few (if any) of these problems were a direct result of Britain’s EU membership.  So here we are, three years (!?!?) later, scrabbling to find a way forward.  The politicians are having a hard time doing that because all the solutions proposed are not going to solve any of the actual problems in Britain… and leaving the EU is likely to make the country economically worse off than we are now, which will in turn only exacerbate Britain’s domestic challenges (such as its crumbling infrastructure).  GREAT PLAN GUYS.

In past I may have concluded with: “yoga breathing required”.  Today I feel like we need something more than yoga breathing: revolution required…?

I saw this billboard a few weeks ago on Newport Road, just around the corner from our house.  If you zoom into this pic you can read: “Plan. Adjust. Innovate” and its Welsh translation above.  It’s an attempt by the government to get people to realise they have to prepare for Brexit.  The problem is — even days from leaving, no one still knows what’s going to happen!  It’s causing unprecedented uncertainty for business, for central government, and apparently contributing to general anxiety levels in the British population.

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I saw this on a lady’s desk at work the other day and felt it described British politicians quite well:

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Depressing times in all our countries of nationality :( Of course we were saddened by the news of the terrorist attack at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand a few weeks ago.  Our hearts go out to everyone affected — such sad times and I can only imagine the shock to the national psyche.  Kia kaha friends.

End of political section… I will end with a nice last moment of March.  We spent last Sunday in Cardiff and it was a lovely day. Look at Morgy that little rascal! It’s hard to get a good pic of him.

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I got the boys dressed up because we had vouchers to go to the orchestra (thanks Ceri, Angela, Kate and Rachie!).  But first we managed to rendezvous for lunch at Miller & Carter with Aled’s cousin Sian and her husband Geraint who were down in Cardiff for the football match.  These guys are always a laugh – it was great to see you XOXO

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And then it was off to the theatre for the BBC Family Orchestra concert:

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I really enjoyed the music but Morgy was a bit squirmy during parts. Hopefully I’ve sown some seeds of culture… (?)

Well that’s all for now folks — hope everyone is doing well in your various corners of the earth!  Big hugs from Cardiff  XOXOX