Autumn 2018

I’ve been busy as ever here in Penylan this autumn as I’ve been applying for lots of jobs — with no luck I’m afraid! It’s been an odd time  for me in that I’ve never had to expend so much effort to get work before.  From what I can deduce, I think there are a number of factors impacting my hunt including:

1. Brexit uncertainty (MOST ANNOYING SITUATION EVER!)
2. Limited opportunities for continuous improvement professionals in South Wales
3. Lots of competition for relatively few highly paid positions
4. Pedantic employers/narrow job descriptions

I had four seemingly good opportunities in October and had interviews scheduled… but then they all “vanished” — meaning a day or two before the interview had been scheduled the recruiter called to tell me the contract had been put on hold due to funding until April 2019 (post Brexit). Or in one instance, I went to an interview but it wasn’t the job I had applied for (some mix up between hiring manager and recruiter!).  Annoyingly the advertised role seemed to be a perfect fit for my skills and Welsh Water is known to be a nice employer.  On the upside I got to have a coffee with Adrian S, an old friend from the IB who I hadn’t seen for ages, who was on contract there.

In early November I had a great interview at Dyson headquarters in Malmesbury, pictured here:

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Yes that is a Harriet Jump Jet at the front door…!  When I showed this picture to Morgan when I got home I asked him what he thought the company made.  He said airplanes.  I said no, vacuum cleaners.  He looked very confused indeed.

In any case I had a really nice interview there. I thought the hiring manager was awesome, I loved the vibe of the company, and I thought it would be a challenging yet rewarding post.  The only downside was that it took me 2 hours to get home in M4 traffic and the role required frequent travel to Europe.  So I withdrew my application before the second interview because the practicalities were impossible with a 4 year old at home and/or no desire in the wider household to re-locate :(  Sob.

So I soldier on looking for a good fit for my skills, my parenting responsibilities and salary expectations in and around Cardiff.  The salaries here in Wales meanwhile aren’t anything to write home about.  If you go “over the bridge” to Bristol the salaries jump by 10-20k — but then the commute stretches to over an hour on the oft-accident-filled M4.  If you go to London it seems the salaries practically double!

So in the meantime I’ve done two courses to keep my skills current: the APMG Change Management Practitioner and the Agile BA Practitioner.  I really enjoyed the Change Management one and found it useful but the Agile one I found mostly MEH.  Fun practice exam pictured:

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So that’s what’s happening on the work side of things — hopefully something suitable comes along for me in the new year.

Onto other aspects of life as a “stay at home” mum…   Morgan has settled into school ok –there were a couple of toilet accidents in the beginning but those stopped after an ice-cream incentivisation scheme.  He also got a cold/ear infection so was off school a couple of days in late September.  Other than that I am really impressed with the progress he is making with numbers, letters, etc and he even came home with a Head Teacher’s award in October for asking good questions about snow and ice:

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Well we got on with the carpeting project — old carpet pictured here.

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The first lot of new carpet went in wonderfully in the hallway and Morgy’s bedroom so we went ahead and decided to do the two other bedrooms… and that is where things went horribly wrong.  If I thought the wallpaper not turning up on time was annoying,  you can imagine how irritating it was to have STINKY carpet installed in the middle bedroom.  Yes all carpets have a “new” smell when they are first installed which usually dissipates in a few days — which is what happened in the hallway, Morgy’s room, and our front bedroom.  But the middle bedroom smelled like there had been a smoky house party just in that room and even after airing it out for two weeks it didn’t go.  Very long and annoying story short — the middle bedroom carpet was replaced no less than 3 TIMES before it was satisfactory.

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This meant that the house was a total shambles with furniture in all the wrong rooms for over 5 weeks!  But to end this story on a positive note the fantastic decorators returned two weeks ago to put up the wallpaper and we are very happy with how everything looks now — so all is well that ends well I guess…!

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Onto more fun experiences…  we headed out to Pembrokeshire to see Nanna and Taidi in mid-October.  Here we are at the St. Dogmaels mill where you can buy organic flour milled the old-fashioned way.

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It’s right across the street from an old abbey which is nice to walk around:

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We then headed down to Poppit Sands beach for a walk and a play.  Naturally Morgy got soaked!

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On the way back to Glan y Mor we went for a nice woodland walk in an “ancient forest” — it made me want to start a tree-planting charity!

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We also took two pumpkins from Glan y Mor — one for us and one for Hefin and Emma in Norwich.

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Let me tell you about the dedication it requires to use up even one of these huge pumpkins… we had pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, and even put roasted pumpkin flesh into our bread maker…!  My in-laws are so dedicated — and god bless my mother-in-law Ann who has been turning Steve’s home-grown veg into delicious meals and treats for decades!  If we all lived like these guys we definitely wouldn’t have any problems with global warming.

Onwards… random but fun outing to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to see the Wales rugby team practicing.  There were up to 6 free tickets per family so I thought we should take Morgy and Zeke.

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It really was a test to see whether Morgy was too young and/or interested enough to warrant buying tickets to an actual game.  I therefore felt smug when I saw him doing this during the National Anthem (keeping in mind the stadium was at about 5% capacity):

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Back at the ranch, Halloween preparations were in full swing…

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… but we ended up heading to Norwich over the half term so we left our pumpkins with Paul (pictured above) and Anurag to light for tricker-treaters.

We had a lovely time in Norwich with Hefin, Emma and cousin Elis.  We went to this absolutely fantastic place called “Bewilderwood” — an outdoor adventure sort of place with lots of wooden structures, rope bridges, and slides.

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There were also plenty of fun zip lines which the boys loved — here’s Elis:

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And Morgy:

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And fun for the adults too — here are Hefin and Emma having a go on a bigger version:

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Fantastic slides:

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And in the evening there was a super “lantern parade” where the whole place had been decorated with lanterns, carved pumpkins, etc.  It was fab!  If you ever find yourself in Norfolk with kids I would highly recommend this place!

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On the way back home from Norwich we stopped at the Imperial War Museum which was super cool.  Here are Morgy and Aled in front of Morgy’s favourite: the Vulcan Bomber.  He’s watched a documentary on this plane many times with Taidi so was amazed to see it in real life.

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I was really interested to come across this plane which actually flew in food in the famous Berlin airlift in the late 1940’s.  They were called “Rosinenbomber” in German and brought much needed food to Berliners during the Berlin Blockade.

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We had lunch overlooking the airfield and watched as a refurbished Spitfire took off and circled above.

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So yes, the Imperial War Museum is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area!

Now just two more things happenings to add to this post… Thanksgiving at our house with Morgy’s two best buddies from school, Zeke and Oliver (and their families) in late November.  Here I am with the turkey — honestly even with butter stuffed under the skin the meat was still a bit dry… not sure it’s worth the effort!!  Oh well, gravy solves everything doesn’t it?

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All in all it was a really nice day celebrating and eating together:

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And the kids had fun too:

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And finally — a nice day trip out to the National Botanic Gardens in Carmarthen, a halfway point between Nanna and Taidi’s to pick up another lot of apples!  It was an absolutely beautiful day!

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Here are Ann and Steve in the dome:

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I even managed to get them both on the zip line — fantastic!!

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That’s all for now folks — gotta get on with xmas preparations!  I hope everyone is well and staying safe amidst various political, economic, and environmental disasters (such as fires in California, floods, shootings, riots in Paris, Brexit, insane tweets, etc).  Is it me or is this planet getting crazier by the day?!?  XOXOXO

 

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September 2018

September has been a busy month for Camp MAD! First and foremost, we reached a big milestone with Morgan starting school. Here he is on his first day (6 Sep 2018) —  can’t believe he is going to school!  We are so proud of him :)

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For those of you who are curious about what a British primary school looks like, here is the main playground where we drop the kids off and pick them up:

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We are really happy with the new routine — the school is a 6-8 minute walk from the house across a nice park.  Initially, we did this journey on foot but by week 3 we introduced the scooter which has made it even speedier!

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Let me tell you, neither of us misses the nursery drop offs and pick ups en route to work!  This is far more straightforward — no bike seats in the nursery shed, no rush to find a parking spot on the nursery road, etc etc.

On the way home from school, we often convene at the fallen tree for some mud excavation work with best buddies Zeke and Oliver.  It’s a good opportunity for playing after a day at school and catching up with other kids and parents in the neighbourhood.

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Aled had Wednesdays off in September so on the first sunny one we headed up for a walk in the Brecon Beacons, the mountains north of Cardiff.  It is the first time we’ve been on a hike without Morgan for well, what feels like forever!

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While we loved walking a fairly quick pace, admittedly we felt really guilty sneaking off for a walk while Morgy was at school!  (How life has changed!)  Here’s Aled at the top enjoying some sandwiches and the view:

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There were a of fun events in September, starting with Sandra’s birthday.  Sandra is our neighbour 3 doors down who has lived here for about 30 years.  It was so nice to get so many people together to celebrate!  We all pitched in with cooking but I think Paul and Anurag got the “most dedicated neighbours” award for the amazing hor d’oeuvres and salads!  Here are Paul and Sandra:

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And a rarely seen photo of me and Aled (thanks Anurag!):

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Days later our sister-in-law Angela was down in Cardiff for work so we had a mums’ night out in Cardiff!

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We started with some really fancy G&Ts at the gin bar on St. Mary’s and then had a fab meal a Bar 44 — tapas, yum yum!  Yes there are flowers in that pomegranate gin with elderflower tonic!

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On the following weekend, Morgy, Aled and I spent a very touristy day in Cardiff with an excursion from Bute Park to Cardiff Bay on the St. Katherine’s river boat.

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As you can see, Morgy loved the boat ride and it was a nice way to see the River Taff.  We had a nice lunch down in the Bay, followed by a walk along the waterfront.   Check out the houses in the background here down by the wetlands — they look very Dutch!

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In other news, we are on the home stretch with our home improvement work with the hallway redecoration project.  It doesn’t sound like it should be that difficult but it’s turned into a bit of an epic tale.  Long story short we picked out the wallpaper for the top section and the matching paint for underneath.  The decorators arrived on time and worked away very efficiently… here we are halfway through… things were looking great…

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… then late on day 1 I was wondering why the wallpaper hadn’t been delivered so I called the company to find out what was going on and lo and behold the wallpaper was OUT OF STOCK!  Thanks for letting me know…!  … and would take 9-10 weeks (YES WEEKS) to re-print.  This led naturally to a Penylan sort of mental breakdown but with moral support from all our immediate neighbours I have made it through this rough patch (first world problems!!).

Anyways Mike and Andrew the decorators were great and advised that the wallpaper was the last thing to go up anyways so everything else has since been done and they will come back when the acorns and oak leaves are finally etched by small elves somewhere in England on 80 meters of wallpaper — hopefully this side of Christmas!

Yes everyone this is my life as a stay at home mum — please God let a good contract turn up soon or I may go completely mad!

Lastly we celebrated my birthday in late September.  Milestone depicted in vegetables below as we have been instructed by the school to practice numbers in any way possible:

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Thank you to Paul and Anurag for such a lovely birthday meal:

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These guys should really open a restaurant here in Penylan — not only because they are fantastic cooks but also because we have recently been overrun by pizza restaurants! Don’t get me wrong, the newest pizza place is good — but do we really need 4 pizza places on a road that is only 200 yards long? I’m not so sure.

 

August Bank Holiday

Almost as soon as we were over our jet lag we went up to North Wales to visit Uncle Ceri, Auntie Angela, Kate and Rachel. The weather was hit and miss but we still managed to get out for some really fantastic day trips in the area.

We started with a lovely walk in the Snowdonia National Park:

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Here are Ceri and Aled:

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And a great pic of Angela and Ceri:

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I couldn’t resist putting this one in of Ang and the kids — obviously taking this walk very seriously!

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The girls took turns riding in our car to spend even more time with Morgy — here he is with Rachie:

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…en route to this beautiful lake:

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The careful observer may note that Rachie is up to her usual tricks… just about to fill her boots with WATER… AGAIN!

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Everyone got pretty soaked so soon we headed back to the house:

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…for Uncle Ceri’s favourite: BBQ!

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I purposely chose that pic to show off the amazing kitchen/dining room extension that Ceri and Angela worked so hard on last year. They have created such an awesome space — well done guys!!

BBQ in the sun with wine was also quite pleasant!

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I’m always keen to see a new part of the country so the next day we headed out onto the Llyn Peninsula to do some exploring. Here is a cute little village called Nefyn on the north coast.

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It was a nice walk for everyone along the beach with a few minor delays here and there:

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Here is Morgy at the cliff head:

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Check out these quaint views of the countryside:

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And then we headed to the south side of the peninsula to Abersoch, another popular destination on the Llyn.  To be honest, the place was crawling with people in very posh vehicles so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Nefyn.  Not to be dismayed, we headed to the pub but with three 5-and-unders it wasn’t as relaxing as perhaps first imagined.  I think this picture pretty much sums up parenthood these days:

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The next day Aled, Morgy and I headed over to Portmeirion, an “Italianate village” on the coast.

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It’s kind of hard to describe.  Wiki says Portmeirion “was designed and built by Sir Clough William-Ellis between 1925 – 1975 in the style of an Italian village.”  Admittedly it was kind of random but Aled and I thought it was a great spot — full marks for quirkiness and creativity!

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Around every corner we found some pretty snapshots:

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We hopped on a walking tour and the guide let us in on a secret: the architect made a lot of “tricks of the eye”.  For example see the boat down by the estuary… from far away it looks like it is docked…

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But if you look closely you can see that it’s built out of stone and concrete and is really just an extension of the sea wall… funny right?

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There was a lovely walk around the cliffs — unfortunately the tide was in so we couldn’t enjoy the village’s beach — and then we walked back through some nice forest towards the village and came across this beautiful pond:

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So all in all it was a very nice day at Portmeirion, complete with some fantastic gelato.  If you are passing through this area, I would definitely recommend a visit.

On Wednesday, we left the northerners in peace and headed east towards Chester, a city on the border of Wales and England where Aled went to university.  He has been telling me  how beautiful and wonderful Chester is for over a decade now so I was really excited to see it.  Chester was a Roman fort founded in 79 AD and is one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain.  Here is one of the main streets with these lovely black and white buildings:

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The weather wasn’t the greatest and by then I think Morgy and I were sick of seeing new places so we walked around some of the city walls…

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…quickly saw the Cathedral…

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… and then went to a lovely pub on the river for lunch:

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And then it was time to head home to Cardiff.  But Dadda was insistent that we make one more stop to see the Llangollen Canal, an impressive feat of 19th century industrial engineering.  Originally built around 1805, it was used to transport limestone — now it is used for summertime canal boating.

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Here are Aled and Morgy on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the oldest and longest navigable aqueduct in Britain and the highest in the world apparently…

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Now I’m not usually that bothered by heights but there was quite a drop off this one…

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So this last stop had the desired effect — I have been bitten by the canal boat bug and can’t wait to spend a few weeks one summer puttering around Britain at 4 miles an hour!

Well this post was also supposed to include September but I am too tired now… so I will stop here!  I hope you have enjoyed this little adventure of ours through North Wales!  Thank you to Uncle Ceri, Auntie Angela, Kate and Rachel for having us XOXOXO

New Jersey 2018

We spent the first three weeks of August visiting family and friends in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.  As always, it was great to see everyone, and thanks to my Mom and Dad for having us and for organizing so many nice get-togethers!

First up was dinner with the Krilov family — pictured here are Louis, Zara and Andrea, long time friends of the family.  We missed Hannah who was off in Europe studying wine-making as part of her culinary degree — it sounds awesome!

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We also celebrated Uncle Charlie’s 85th birthday:

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Here are the boys with Grampa, Uncle Charlie and Uncle Doug:

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Morgy and I traveled down to Toms River with Uncle Doug and “Gramma Arizona” for a few days at the beach.  We were pretty lucky with the weather so enjoyed 4 full days of sun at Seaside Park, Island Beach State park and the boardwalk.

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Mom, Dad, Jack and Joey joined us for a couple of those days which was really fun.  Morgy loves hanging out with his cousins!  Here are the boys in the water with Dad and Uncle Doug.

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The waves were actually quite rough at times as the slope of the beach was quite steep in places.  I should also mention that we spotted two sting rays coming in very close to shore one day which is something I’ve never seen at the Jersey Shore before.  I love rays so was delighted but wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad sign for the sting rays!

Here’s Gramma Arizona – still going strong at 87!

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And here is Uncle Doug who was a keen helper in the quest to make volcano after volcano after volcano:

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Later in the afternoons, we headed over to the boardwalk for some games and rides:

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Temperatures were hovering just under 90 F plus humidity most days while we were down the shore.   I absolutely love the heat (especially when there’s an ocean or pool nearby) but Aled would have melted instantly!  Morgy was definitely slowing down a little in the heat but we kept them all hydrated and they had plenty of fun as you can see:

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Here are Joey, Morgy and Jack in one of their favourite rides:

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My cousin Kim came over for a visit one night and we had a good catch up over a game of Phase 10.

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Back up in Wyckoff we got organized for the cousins get together.  Aunt Carolyn and my Mom did a super job cooking and preparing for this event.  Morgy loves to bake and we learned lots of great recipes and tricks from Aunt Carolyn, a baker extraordinaire:

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It was fab to see so many cousins all at once.  Pictured here are Rachel, me, Morgy, Jack, Anthony, Karen Joey, Eric, Viviana, Chris, Alejandro and Sonia!

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No cousins gathering is complete without a game of foosball in the basement.  Here’s Josh training up the next generation!

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Then it was off to Mystic Seaport with Mom and Dad.  Here we are in front of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan:

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I’ve been dying to get Morgan on a tall ship to expose him to some maritime history and give him a taste of my previous life as a tall ship sailor.  Hopefully we can go sailing on one soon.  Here we are raising a yard on the Joseph Conrad:

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One of my favourite activities at Mystic was building this model boat with Morgan which we managed to bring home to Cardiff in one piece!

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I also managed to catch up with an old sailing buddy who lives in New London.  Her name is Krista and she owns a guesthouse in the area (pictured behind her in the photo below).  She works on a research vessel in Antarctica for part of the year too and has been on some incredible adventures.  She’s just gotten married to a nice guy named Phil who I met while I was there — congrats guys and thanks again for having us!

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While we were in New London, we visited the USS Nautilus at the submarine museum which we were able to board and tour.  It was the first nuclear submarine ever built.

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Back in New Jersey, we practiced our swimming lots in Gramma and Grampa’s pool.   Here is Morgy with Gramma:

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And with Grampa swimming to “the island”:

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During our last week, we went on some great day trips to various attractions in the area including Liberty Science Center:

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… which had some fantastic activities for the kids:

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…including this crazy climbing frame suspended 30 feet above the ground:

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Here we are at Field Station Dinosaurs on another very warm day:

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Morgy also loved the budgies at Van Saun park and zoo:

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Morgy and I went up to visit Aunt Karen and Uncle Anthony in New York for a movie at the Palisades Park Mall:

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And a ride in Jack and Joey’s mustang:

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As ever, it was an action-packed trip!  In between the family visits, I managed to catch up with a few old friends from high school and college but there’s never enough to time to see all of them and they’re all getting really busy with their jobs, kids, etc.  Many of them are spread out all over the country by now too.  Here I am with one of my oldest friends from Wyckoff, Avrum Joffe who I got to see for 15 whole minutes (he is a doctor after all!):

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Here I am at Hilary Stevens’ house in central New Jersey for a quick visit with her two daughters and husband (as you can see not easy to get all the kids in this photo!):

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I also managed to see Lisa Todisco, Laura Tillsley and the Vetrano family but I didn’t manage to get any good pictures of them :(  Maybe next time :)

Let us not of course forget that Aled was slaving away at work in Cardiff while we were off gallivanting overseas!  Here he is at Bute Park on his cycle ride home sending pics of the dinosaur exhibit over to Morgy via Whatsapp:

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He took full advantage of his freedom and took a trip or two to Pembrokeshire.  Here he is camping at Abermawr beach with his good friend Nic:

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This is Aled’s favourite surf beach which looks beautiful on a sunny day:

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Aled also managed to surprise Nanna and Taidi at Glan y Mor where honey extraction was in full swing!  I hope we get to help with this process next year.  Here is Taidi with one of Morgy’s cousins from Wokingham, Dylan:

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So that was August folks!  Actually not completely… for the bank holiday we headed up to North Wales but I will leave that for the next post.  Thanks again to my parents for such a nice trip home!

 

Welsh summer 2018

Long time no post! Yes it’s been a very busy summer for us and I am only now just getting a chance to catch up on the happenings from June. The summer in Wales has been record-breaking hot and dry — wahoo! I’ve mostly loved it except that the British houses don’t have air conditioning so sleeping at night is actually not that comfortable. But hey, I love the sun and warmth so we bought a fan.  Finally — a real summer!  Hurrah!

So back to early June — I was determined that we would all hike up Pen y fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons (the national park just north of Cardiff).  This was the first time Morgan walked up the mountain all by himself.  It was slow going at times but we got there in the end and there was a celebratory ice cream at the bottom.  Well done Morgy!

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Here are Dadda and Morgy at the top – nice view right?

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Our next excursion was out to see Nic and Liz just over the border in England.   We met them at a beautiful National Trust property called Tyntesfield.

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Here are Nic, Liz and Aled in a very pretty orangerie-type building:

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The gardens were absolutely gorgeous:

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As always it’s great to catch up with Nic and Liz — hope to do it again soon!

The next day we had planned to meet up with an old friend of mine from Wellesley so we found a hotel in the Cotswolds to spend the night rather than drive back and forth.  Here we are in front of Dumbleton Hall — photo taken by a budding young photographer!

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The grounds of the hotel were super idyllic:

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And then it was off to Bourton-on-the-Water to see Katherine, her husband and her new son Jacob.  First we headed to the famous Motoring Museum:

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And then to my favourite attraction in Bourton, the model village.  It’s a stone replica of Bourton-on-the-Water — such a quirky and creative place!  Love it.

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Back in Cardiff, we celebrated Morgan’s graduation from his fabulous nursery, Acorns on Oakfield Street.  Morgan has been here since he was about 2.5 years old and I only have high praise for the nursery.

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As always, the staff put on an amazing event, complete with a short play, diplomas, and refreshments for parents and children.  Here is Morgan playing a cow in “What the Ladybird Heard”:

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I had scoured Amazon for the simplest cow costume I could find — I felt sorry for the children who were in head-to-toe outfits in the height of the Cardiff heat wave!

And here’s Morgy in his cap and gown.  After the ceremony he confided that he “didn’t like that black dress”.  But that he “did like throwing my hat in the air”.  Seeing my son in a graduation outfit brought tears to my eyes.  Now that I’m a mum it seems I cry at any possible emotional moment.  I can’t imagine what I’ll be like when he graduates university!  (A mess that’s what!)

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Closer to home, here is Morgan with our good friend Anurag who is kind enough to let our son help close the roof of his green Mini.  I love this pic XOXO

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In the middle of the month, we had visitors from California: Jesse and family.  Jesse is an old friend of mine from MIT who I haven’t seen since Aled and I drove across the US in 2007.  Jesse manages a team in London remotely but was able to work from the London office for a couple of months this summer.  It was absolutely fantastic to re-connect with these guys and we had fun visiting Cardiff Castle and Southerndown beach.  To finish off their short Welsh experience, we drove down the lanes to Maen Llwyd, our favourite country pub.  For an American driving a manual on the left and down a single-car lane Jesse did a superb job following us!

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A week or so later we were off to Pembrokeshire to visit Nanna and Taidi.  It was black currant time at Glan y Mor, which is my favourite time to help with the fruit processing.  Naturally I am improving the production line every year.  As you can see here I have already replaced older members of staff with quicker, younger models.

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It was a nice day on Saturday so we were up in the field with the Land Rover.

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Look how happy my husband is in Pembrokeshire!  He is practically jumping for joy to be back near the coast.

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However by afternoon tea…

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…we concluded that Morgan had the chickenpox :(

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At this point, I was heading into my last 1.5 weeks of work and Morgan and I were 12 days from boarding a plane to America.  Aled was also in the middle of a critical project at work.  Needless to say, I was freaking out a little bit — and I was feeling very, very mad.  If you have been keeping up with our past six months of activity, our last 3 holidays have been sabotaged by various viruses so I was really, REALLY fed up with the travel gods.

Thank goodness for Nanna who came with us to Cardiff to look after Morgan while Aled and I were at work that week.  (A million thanks to Ann for her help at this stressful time!)  And poor old Morgy — I had always intended to get him vaccinated because he’s had sensitive skin and I thought the chickenpox would be bad for him as you can see in this picture below.  I think it looks even worse with his super pale skin :(  Thank goodness for that Aveeno oatmeal bath stuff — and we also got our hands on some “chickenpox mousse”.  (Things have moved on since the 80s I think!)

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The first two days were pretty terrible but on Tuesday the fever broke and he was in better spirits (thank god!!).  As soon as the volcano drawings started up we knew he was on the mend!

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Then it was just a matter of resting up to get well enough to fly while I frantically finished up my last tasks at work.  Here I am on my last day in front of my famous session calendar.  That proved to be a super tool to initiate weekly management reporting and key metrics across the division.  (Not to mention the fun rainbow colours.)  Yay!

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Although most of the public health sites said Morgan shouldn’t be contagious, I went to the doctor’s the day before we were supposed to fly to get a letter just in case anyone at Heathrow or Newark stopped us.  Turns out I never needed the letter but hey, better safe than sorry!  Here is Morgy on the plane to New Jersey – phew!

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I will post about our trip to the USA soon.  Northern Hemisphere people — I hope you all had a nice summer!  And Southern Hemisphere people, you must be welcoming spring.  The days are definitely getting shorter and colder here.  We’ll need to get a pile of wood soon no doubt!  XOXOXO

 

Late Spring 2018

So there’s been a lot happening in Camp MAD since I last wrote!

In mid-May we joined our friends Paul and Anurag for a day of foraging in the countryside.  It was a great day for it and it was a really interesting experience!  Here we are with our guide Marlow who is giving us our first lesson about the St. George’s mushroom.

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This big, white mushroom can be found in rings in patches of darker green grass — and usually around the time of St. George’s Day (23 April).

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After crossing the meadow, we headed into the forest to search for things like wild garlic which you can see on either side of this pretty path…

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Here is Morgy with a “pig nut” which in my opinion has a prohibitive cost benefit…

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The tour was a nice experience but perhaps it was a little bit too long and contained too much information for a 4 year old… and also it went over the lunch hour with no food.  Luckily we were able to forage some leftover Bakewell tart out of my backpack!

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But the wait (and work) was worth it in the end!  Marlow turned all of our findings into a super delicious meal!

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Back in Cardiff, Morgy and I went to see the RAF airplanes — whoops sorry Air Force friends I meant fixed wing and rotary aircraft — which turned up in town in celebration of 100 years for the Royal Air Force.

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We were joined by Morgy’s best buddy Zeke.  Here they are chillin in the Sea King rescue raft.

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And then it was time for Harry and Meghan’s wedding!

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Levels of interest for the event varied here in the UK with some people emphatically refusing to watch whilst others were camping in Windsor just so they could catch a glimpse of the couple.  I take any excuse to get excited about something in Britain — in part just to rise above the constant British … understatedness?  Cynicism?  I don’t know how to describe this aspect of British-ness without insulting British family and friends — all I can say is that they express their excitement in different ways than Americans do…!  They just don’t get as hyperactive and smiley like Americans would.  There’s nothing wrong with it — it’s just a different way of “being” and you all know how these cultural differences fascinate me!

Anyways Paul was excited to watch the fanfare like I was so he came over in the morning with some chocolate strawberries to add to the champagne, cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam.  You can’t beat clotted cream, let me tell you! (Anurag was in India so couldn’t join us!)

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I thought it was fun to watch the wedding — in particular watching the British royalty as the black American gospel preacher kept yapping and yapping about LOVE.  It was probably the most animated sermon ever delivered at Windsor and the Brits really didn’t know what to make of it!  And then the procession down the steps — look at how beautiful the chapel looks with all those flowers!  And what did you all think of the dress?  I must admit I liked Kate’s better…

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Anyways as soon as they were in their horse-drawn carriage we jumped in the car to drive to Tenby for a week’s holiday.   We stayed in the exact same apartment as we did in October because it’s right on South Beach and was just awesome.   Here’s the view from the balcony over South Beach towards Caldey Island.

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Unfortunately I got sick on day 2 and was out of action for about three days :(  Seems like Aled and I are taking turns getting sick on holiday.  Sometimes I think the immune system also just goes on holiday when holiday starts.

The boys still enjoyed the beach though, digging rivers around volcanoes, boogy boarding, etc.  Here’s Morgy atop one of their best endeavours!

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Nanna and Taidi (aka Ann and Steve) joined us on Tuesday and went for a walk around town while I rested.  This is an iconic view of the Tenby harbour:

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By the time I caught up with them in the afternoon Taidi needed a nap and I needed an ice cream!

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Another highlight of the trip was catching up with Will, an old friend of Aled’s from Fishguard.  Will lives in Tenby but is a marine cable engineer so is often away in various corners of the earth laying cable deep under the ocean!  Anyways they got out surfing a couple of times and Will had us over for a lovely dinner (thank you!).  We also got to meet his son  Henry, a new arrival of only 7 weeks.  Congrats Will on joining the parent club — you looked like a natural!

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The last weekend of the holiday was a bank holiday so we headed up to North Pembs to stay at Nanna and Taidi’s for a few days before coming back to Cardiff.  On the way up, we organised a boat trip out to Ramsey Island, an RSPB reserve.

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We went for a walk around the southern tip of the island which offered some really beautiful views.

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The bluebells were out…

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… as were the thrift, a really pretty pink flower which can be seen all along the Pembrokeshire coast at this time of year.

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We arrived at Glan y Mor late on Saturday but Nanna and Taidi were at a wedding so we made ourselves at home.  The fields were looking lovely although with Taidi’s quest to allow every single natural grass to regenerate he’s also giving me really bad hay fever… but hey, the fields  look really pretty and Morgy loves running around them and picking butter cups!

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The next day we went over to Castell Henllys, a recreation of an Iron age fort.  They call it experimental archaeology which means they don’t exactly know what the round houses would have looked like or the true details of the roof construction, or how they connected beams for example, but are making educated guesses based on the bits and bobs that were discovered on the site.   I think they look amazing — but imagine spending a Welsh winter in one of these?!!  Gosh we’ve turned into wimps over the centuries!

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I headed back to work on Tuesday but Morgy and Aled stayed out in Pembrokeshire for a few more days.  This is Taidi’s favourite time of year with all the blossoms blossoming and the bees buzzing so there was no doubt lots of walking around the fields to survey the action.

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Morgy had his first lesson in thinning the plums so the branches don’t get overwhelmed when the fruit really starts to grow.

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On Tuesday, Aled and Morgy were joined by Sofie and Jack, the children of our friends Charlotte and Pete who live in Tuscon,  Arizona.  I am so sad I missed them but these expat-return-home-visits get so packed with different people to see it just couldn’t be organised… hopefully next time guys!

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Back in Cardiff, June has been speeding by.  I’ve managed to hang out with Becky and her little one Hazel a couple of times — but look Hazel isn’t so little any more, she’s just about to turn one and can now walk!  Becky is a bat expert so has been on some night surveys recently so we’ve mostly been chilling at her house or mine on a Friday afternoon while Miss Fern is at school.  (We are tired mums!!)

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At long last the boat house at Roath Lake is open for business so we’ve been out rowing once or twice — yay this is my favourite thing to do in Cardiff!

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In other big news, we have been accepted at Marlborough Primary, the school close by which had drawn us to the neighbourhood to begin with.  It’s been a long wait to find out if Morgy would get in as it’s “oversubscribed”.  Here in Cardiff you have to apply to be accepted at the state-run schools but the good ones get more applications than there are places so the council allocates kids based on physical proximity to the school and checks to see if there are siblings, etc.  So it was a long wait to find out if there was room for Morgy but we were lucky and it’s all worked out as we had hoped — yay!

There was  parents meeting a couple of Fridays ago and I was really impressed with the head teacher and the other staff who spoke — they seemed really passionate about their methodologies and for the well-being of the students so that was really positive.  I did laugh a bit about some of the forms which we had to fill in … yes that is a “playground equipment agreement” which even Morgy himself had to sign.  So funny.

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And the last pic I’ll post is Morgy and his drawing — in the past few weeks he’s just started to draw lots and lots.  I love seeing his depictions of volcanoes, apple trees, and other very far-fetched vehicles…  We do wonder if he will take after Aled in the art department.

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I think that’s all for now everyone — it’s a mini-heat wave here in Cardiff right now so we are spending as much time as possible in the garden.  This weather does mean gin and tonic consumption is significantly higher than at other times of year — and it’s best shared with lovely neighbours!

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Spring 2018

So we haven’t had a dull moment since returning to the UK after our trip to Florida in March!

First up was a really quick trip to Oxford with Morgan to see an old friend from college, Irit.  We used to do modern dance classes together at MIT when I was in my last year at Wellesley.  She was over in the UK for work and we managed to squeeze in a catch up at the Oxford University Natural History Museum.

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It was so nice to see her and her husband Chris — and to meet their six year old son Dan. We don’t have any pictures of the boys because they were running around the museum like Tasmanian devils! I feel quite lucky that we got out of there without knocking over any of these fossils… it was a very beautiful building but I didn’t really have much time to appreciate it!

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My phone died on the trip to Oxford which made navigating back home to Cardiff rather … interesting!  Amazing how reliant I’ve become on technology to get me where I need to go!  Getting out of Oxford’s old town centre was the hard part — honestly I was never so happy to see the M4 until that day!!  Anyways it was great to see these guys and I hope we see you again before another 11 years passes!

Back in Cardiff, spring has finally sprung — although it has been an unusually cold time — must be the after effects of that drat polar vortex.  The usual spring festivities took place in the garden — here is Morgy doing the annual “spread the grass seed” dance.  I think he looks like the Blues Brothers –  ha!

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In amazing local news, the BRIDGE IS FINALLY OPEN!  The Natural Resources Wales flood defense work in our neighbourhood continues up and down stream but at least they have opened the bridge so I can get to Newport Road in 1 minute rather than 5.  It’s been a long 9 months of driving around the side streets of Penylan just to get Morgy to nursery!

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The neighbourhood looks especially beautiful at this time of year, with flowers popping out all over the place:

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Spring is my favourite part of the year here in Britain as we go from miserable grey and muddy browns to lots of green, whites, pinks and yellows. Yay spring!  Here’s Morgy on a walk around the neighborhood collecting some flowers for a nursery project.  As I am related now to a botanical expert (Aled’s Dad Steve) I will point your attention to the beautiful periwinkle flower in Morgy’s left hand.  The keen observer would want to know if that was the native British blue bell or the invasive Spanish blue bell which is taking over gardens here…

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In other news — we have finally managed to get going with the upstairs bathroom project.  Before picture:

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In the middle picture:

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And after picture:

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It’s a big improvement aesthetically and I am also happy to report vast improvements in shower water pressure!  Now onto painting the ceiling and walls and finding a good mirror.  Thanks to Plumber Sean and helper John for their hard work!

We’ve taken a couple of trips to Pembrokeshire to visit Nanna and Taidi — first over Easter when it was still quite chilly.  Morgy loves climbing on rocks so here we are on Dinas Mountain, inducting the next generation of mountain climbers. Perhaps now I know how my mother felt when my Dad took us climbing on cliffs at Mills Reservation!  Proud but also a little bit nervous.

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We were out again for the early May bank holiday and had a lovely, relaxing long weekend.  On the first day we had a nice walk along Newport Estuary:

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With a lesson here or there from Taidi:

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And Nanna’s coffee fix mid-morning:

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I was on a mission to get an old kayak in the water so we dragged one out of the undergrowth behind the house and got scrubbing!

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Although it was quite sunny at my in-laws’ house, we could hear the fog horn blasting down in Fishguard Harbour and sure enough, the coast had taken on a very San Francisco-like atmosphere with cold sea temps meeting warm air masses.  It was very strange indeed — but did not deter us from kayaking at all…

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Morgy went out briefly with Dadda:

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And I had a go as well and made a very interesting discovery as I came to shore… look closely…!

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An octopus of all things!  He (she?) was looking quite disorientated so we re-located the poor thing to the rock pools at the edge of the beach.  I love octopii– they have amazing camouflaging abilities.

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Later a walk up Dinas Head — I love the colour of that water!

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And see perfectly sunny above the fog!

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The next day, Taidi took the old Wolseley out of the garage for a spin — this only happens on very nice sunny days so we were really in luck this weekend!

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Here is Steve driving with me an Morgy up towards Carningli for a hike…

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And here we all are on top of Carningli (meaning Mountain of the Angels).  I was really proud of Morgy walking up so high and all the way back down again.

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So that’s the end of this blog post — one last pic of the barn behind Glan y Mor with snail in foreground:

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Yay spring!

Florida 2018

So!  Finally a spare moment to blog about our fantastic holiday to Florida in March!  Well, it was a great holiday in many respects but Aled got that terrible Australian flu so was out of action for at least 8 days of it which was really… crap!  It’s no fun being sick on holiday — poor old Dadda!

That aside… let me show you some of what we got up to after managing to escape snowy Britain!  Yes, the plane left on time from Gatwick on Saturday, 3 March by miracle so by dinnertime that same day we were in sunny Orlando.

On Sunday we met up with an old from friend Ramapo High School… yes everyone that is the lovely Suzanne Mastrogiavonni who lives in Orlando with her husband Cody and cutie-pie daughter Kinslee!  The last time I saw Suzanne was in 2007 when I was working on yachts in West Palm Beach, Florida.  It was so nice to catch up and meet each other’s families.  Thanks for coming across town to see us XOXO

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My parents didn’t fly in until Tuesday so on Monday, Aled, Morgy and I went out to Cape Canaveral to visit NASA at the Kennedy Space Center.  I’ve only recently become more interested in space because Morgan loves planets, rockets, the sun etc, so thought it would be a cool place to visit — and I must say it was one of the highlights of the trip! Here’s me and Morgy about to enter a fantastic space ship exhibit.

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Inside, we saw the Atlantis space ship, which operated between 1985 and 2011, making 33 missions into space.  Wiki has advised that the shuttle orbited the earth 4,848 times, travelling over 126 million miles.  Perhaps the jet lag made me feel a bit emotional but seeing these feats of science in real life made me feel incredibly proud to be an American!

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Morgan absolutely loved pretending to drive shuttles…

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It was also very interesting to learn about the evolution of various spacecraft, starting with rockets and space capsules.

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We also went on a bus tour of the various launch pads where we saw huge rockets from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s Apollo missions — if you want to read more, see Apollo program on Wiki.  Look how big these things are — really incredible.

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Anyways I will stop “nattering” on about NASA and get on with the rest of the holiday!

The next day my parents flew in and we all went to Sea World which was just awesome!  Of course an ethical debate rages about keeping such large and intelligent mammals in tanks but I will put that aside for the moment.  After all, the reason I perhaps am so interested in marine life myself is because of an early trip of my own to Sea World.

Here are the amazingly synchronised killer whales (aka Shamus)…

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And then here we are watching the dolphin show…

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Later we went to see the manatees, which Morgan really fell in love with.  As a hyperactive individual, I don’t really click with the manatee to be honest.  The speed at which they chomp on these lettuce leave drives me nuts — it’s SOOO slow!

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Later we visited the penguins, a favourite shared by Morgan and Gramma…

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I love this pic so have to put it in — just magical really!

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We ended our day at Sea World with an unexpected ride on the “Manta” — a roller coaster which we were strapped into and tipped so we were horizontal to the ground before taking off and doing several loops… I loved it!!  Can’t remember the last time I was on one — thanks for the prompt Gramma and Grampa!

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So that was Tuesday.  My sister Karen and her husband and boys (Anthony, Jack and Joey) turned up late that afternoon and we all met up at Animal Kingdom on Wednesday morning.  Again, we were delighted by the amazing attractions in Orlando…

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Morgan met Mickey and Minnie in real life for the first time (cousins Jack and Joey are already old hands at encounters with the characters!).  They loved the characters and got lots of autographs in their autograph books.

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On Thursday it was off to the Magic Kingdom, which was really, really crowded.  Luckily, my sister and father had done a lot of organisation with meal plans and “fast passes” so we avoided some long lines… but at one point, Anthony, Aled and I tried to go on a roller coaster without a fast pass and it would have been a two hour wait!  The business improvement people amongst us couldn’t help but come up with possible solutions to improve “the customer journey” — Disney!  Please either double the number of rides or reduce the number of people entering the park every day.

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I can’t help but stick in a picture of an “oldie but goodie” ride — It’s a Small World — which I remember from my childhood.  It’s a little old school but I loved the boat ride through the caricatures of all the different countries and cultures of the world.  You do wonder how much of these early experiences influenced my world view!?

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And here we are with a lollilop bigger than Morgan’s head (thanks Aunt Karen!) and a super duper Mickey balloon which I impulsively decided all the boys must have — imagine my delight when I found the total for 3 balloons was $36!  All part of the Disney experience!

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Now that was the last day we really saw much of Aled — unbeknownst to most of us he was starting to feel really bad… so he missed out on Epcot the next day unfortunately.  Here’s the crew in front of the Epcot ball amidst some really beautiful flowers.

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By day 5 of attractions, I was tiring a bit of the theme parks but still really enjoyed the sights and rides.  The boys loved the Nemo ride which emptied us all out into a really impressive aquarium filled with coral, sharks, reef fish, rays etc.

All in all, Orlando is an amazing place for attractions, hotels, and spectacular shows — but definitely not relaxing for parents!  Hahaha — I will just finish off the Disney section by mentioning the Little Polynesian, the hotel we stayed at with a really fantastic pool/slide section for the little ones — see photo below — and the quality of the food on the deluxe meal plan was outstanding in the Disney parks and resorts.  By the time we left Orlando, most of us never wanted to see food ever again– but man was it delicious!

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Right!  And then it was a 3 hour drive south west to Naples, where we spent the second half of the vacation relaxing as much as we could.  Here are Gramma and Morgy by the pool at the beautiful house my parents rented to celebrate all three of the boys’ March birthdays.

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The house was a couple of blocks from the beach which we enjoyed on the sunnier, warmer days.

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It’s a popular place as  you can see but everyone loves the beach!  Yay sun and sand!

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Naples is a about a 45 minute drive from the Everglades where we went on a few excursions.  All the boys came on a fan boat tour to check out the waterways wending through the mangroves.

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It was really an interesting part of the world which I’ve been meaning to explore for years but never managed until now.  I was very interested to learn that there are no maps of these really narrow waterways — it’s all just local knowledge in people’s heads, passed down from generation to generation.  For the untrained eye though, every single mangrove passage looked the same!

Here we all are on the fan boat in one of the more open sections.

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We caught glimpses of dolphins…

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And pelicans…  what a clutzy bird!

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For me, another highlight of the trip was going kayaking in the mangroves (in alligator infested waters) with my Dad and Anthony.  (Mom had done it last year and thought once was enough — and poor old Aled was still feeling horrible.)

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The guide was superb and pointed out all sort of beautiful bird life … this one he called a “little green” — but I can’t find it on wiki so I don’t know it’s official name sorry!

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And of course what we’d all been waiting for — alligators!  Gosh they lurk in the water in such a sinister way!

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On the first half of the trip, we were in quite a wide section of water so the alligators weren’t too close.  I have zoomed in to photograph that one above .  But on the second half of the trip, we were in extremely narrow waterways with the possibility of bumping into 10-12 foot alligators.  Let me give you a sense for how close we sometimes got… see alligator in background on left.

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Here’s an amazing shot of another alligator, basking about ten feet from the kayaks!  Yikes indeed!  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find this part of the trip a little bit scary…!

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Here we are on the way back, kayaking through some really amazing mangrove forests.  Incredible!

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Right — just a few more pics of bits and bobs before I sign off for the day…  there was a fantastic zoo in Naples, complete with a boat ride around some monkey islands and then opportunities to feed giraffes…

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And we also celebrated three birthdays in Naples — I only have a good pic of Morgy’s cake.  Only in America is it possible to walk into the supermarket and nonchalantly order a volcano and dinosaur cake…!  4 years old already!  Yay Morgy!

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So we’ll add in one last hilarious photo of the boys with their coconuts.  Somehow they were obsessed with coconuts and palm trees so we bought some coconuts at the Publix supermarket and hid them in the palm trees in the front yard of the house — what a riot!

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It was a fantastic break and great to see my family.   A million thanks to my parents for their generosity -and to my sister and father for organsing so many of the Disney World logistics!  I miss you already — and would love to live in such a sunny place — minus the hurricanes of course!

 

Winter 2018

Wow — nearly Easter — and snowing here in Cardiff!  What a crazy few months we’ve had…!  We just got back from Florida yesterday and I am dying to post those pics but I want to make sure I’ve written about our adventures in January and February before I forget…!

So where was I?  Oh yes, we had just returned from Norwich after xmas and then it was down to Cornwall to catch up with Ross and Eva from Sydney.

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We met these guys in Ponsanooth, Cornwall, where Emmett, Jamie and their two boys live.  Emmett and Eva are old friends of Aled’s from West Wales and it was just so cool to be able to catch up with them (and their families!) for New Years in a fantastic barn conversion only two minutes’ walk from Emmett and Jamie’s house.  Emmett has since given birth to a baby girl Elizabeth — congrats guys (and good luck with 3 kids!)!

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We were only down in Cornwall for a few days but managed to get out for a short tiki tour of the south coast of the peninsula.  This is the view of St. Michael’s Mount from a little town called Marazion — rumour has it you can walk to the island at low tide.

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Here’s a view of the boats in Penzance, a place I always wanted to see (because I was a pirate in another life!).

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And then it was down to Land’s End, the western-most point of mainland England.  (Out of interest I had to google that last statement to check the geography — it looks like bits of Scotland stick out further to the west than Cornwall.)  Anyways it was blowing a gale that day so we only enjoyed the view for a few moments before heading to the over-priced gift shop to warm up.  No ice cream required!

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Nanna and Taidi came to visit the following weekend so we took a drive down to Cosmeston Lakes, a nice country park south of Cardiff.  Here you can see my father-in-law up to his usual tricks, getting as close to pond life as possible!

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Then we headed over to Sully Beach, which was a new spot for all of us.  It was actually a very unusual beach in that many of the “stones” were actually weathered bits of brick and other man-made bits of concrete.  Check out the giant “brick stone” in the foreground.  Truly an interesting composition.

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After Nanna and Taidi left us, we used up some frozen gingerbread to make a gingerbread house.

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Doing this from scratch was more difficult than I’d anticipated but with help from Dadda we managed it in the end!  I should write down my “lessons learned” now before I forget them — mostly so I don’t get frosting all over myself, my son and the kitchen.  Next year’s attempt will be bigger, better and tidier!!  (Apologies British folks, I am using more exclamation marks than usual because I’ve just been in America, the land of exclamation marks!)

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In mid-January, our friend Simon from Wellington came to visit with his son Alistair.  We decided to rendezvous at the Science Museum in London on a Saturday, where we saw lots of cool exhibits — here is Morgan by a very old locomotive which he most likely read about in Richard Scarry’s  Hop Aboard book (a book which he loves but drove me crazy for a good few months in 2017).

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Of course we headed to the pub afterwards — Simon this is the only picture I had of all of us — sorry your Dad looks a bit nuts!  As always, great to catch up with Simon, one of my old friends from Inland Revenue.  It makes me sad though to say goodbye and every time I see a friend from New Zealand it just makes me want to go back!  I miss you guys!!

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Anyways!  The next day, Aled, Morgan and I headed to the Natural History Museum which was pretty awesome too!

 

It was my first trip to London since returning to the UK in 2014 and we all enjoyed the train journey — only two hours on the Great Western from Cardiff to Paddington.

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In late January, I had my own work party to go to.  The IB (International Baccalaureate) is in a busy time leading up to results issue on 5 January so they hold a big party in late January instead of just before Christmas.  And because I put up a picture of Aled all dressed up for his Christmas party I thought I should add one of myself.  Morgan looks a bit scary in this picture – he’s probably wondering where his mother has gone!  Or he’s giving me the death stare because I am taking too long to put on his favourite show (Octonauts — it’s great cartoon about marine creatures by the way!).

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The next day we put together the bunk bed for Morgan’s room, in preparation for some upcoming cousin visits.  Probably not the best hangover cure but hey, we pushed through and Morgan loves it!  I am so proud of him in his big boy bed.

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In February, all six of Morgan’s UK cousins came to visit.  First up were Hefin, Emma and Elis from Norwich.  We went down the bay where I had hoped to go on a boat ride but somehow all the enclosed boats were not running.  So we braved a 20 minute open-air ride — with blankets!  Here’s Auntie Emma, Morgan and Elis (not facing the camera unfortunately!).

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Here’s Uncle Hefin with the Pierhead Building in the background (which I have just learned was built in 1897 as the HQ for the Bute Dock Company).

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The next visitors came from North Wales: Ceri, Angela, Kate and Rachel.  This time the enclosed boats were running down the bay – yay – so we had a nice little tour in relative warmth.

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And then the following day we took a short hike in the Brecon Beacons:

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The kids loved jumping in the puddles however on this occasion, Rachel got a bit more than she bargained for!  Notice outstretched adult hand on right — just out of reach so we could all get photos of this hilarious moment. Rachie was a good sport about it all — good on you Rachie — I would have been crying with that much mud in my boot!

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And then Uncle William, Auntie Claire, Owen, Alex and Dylan arrived the next weekend from Wokingham.  Everyone’s ready for the rugby!

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Unfortunately not a good show for Wales that weekend but they’ve come second overall in the Six Nations which Aled is happy with.  And then here we are the next day in front of Cardiff Castle (sorry I didn’t manage to get a pic of Auntie Claire — she is very camera shy!).

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It was great to see everyone in Cardiff — although it did turn our house into a laundromat for a spell ;)  No matter — it was lovely to see everyone and to bond with the Evans clan.  Thanks guys for coming over and for all the lovely wine, chocolates, etc!

Now before I move onto the “Beast from the East” section, I will mention a nice outing Morgy and I took with Becky, Fern, Hazel, Beth and Zeke to Caerleon, the site of an old Roman legionary fortress.  We’ve been here before and I really enjoy this place.  The kids love climbing in and around the old amphitheatre:

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…and checking out the baths which used to have underfloor heating!  Very advanced for 200 AD don’t you think?  It’s a neat little town and there’s also nice cafes for lunch.

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So that was January and February — it’s not my favourite time of year here and it’s been a tough couple of months at work.  A trip to Florida was planned for the first two weeks of March though, which kept me going through the ups and downs… it was therefore very disconcerting to watch the weather report for the few days before we were meant to leave which was forecasting 8 inches of snow for Cardiff!  All down to the “polar vortex” — or as they were calling it here in Britain — “the beast from the east” (just to help with mounting Russian tensions).

This is what our house looked like on Thursday, 28 February 2018, two days before we were supposed to fly out of Gatwick airport!  Murphy’s Law!

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As the south of the UK gets snow rather infrequently, the cities and towns aren’t equipped to deal with it.  They salt the main roads in Cardiff but I haven’t yet seen a plough yet with my own eyes (Aled assures me that Cardiff has a few!).  Even if there are ploughs, they wouldn’t fit down our narrow street.

So our office was shut on Thursday due to hazardous driving conditions and we were told to work from home.  Morgy’s nursery was luckily open and only a few blocks away so I was able to drop him off and concentrate on work until the late afternoon.  Most of the UK had come to a standstill, with most modes of transportation interrupted.  The news definitely made it out to be “Snowmageddon”.  Haha!

On Friday morning we made a decision to drive to Gatwick that day if we could, fearing that if more snow fell that day we could get stuck in Cardiff.  Luckily we had moved our car out of our street on Thursday night just onto Waterloo Road so it didn’t get stuck in the drifts near our house.

So on Friday morning we went out for a quick sledding session with Morgy’s buddy from nursery Zeke:

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Checked out the stream in the park:

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And then packed our car using ancient Eskimo techniques:

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The roads around our house were a disaster, and even Newport Road was pretty messy:

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The roads were pretty bad until we got over the Severn Bridge (the bridge we have to go over to get to England) but we just took it as slow as required in the snowy sections.  I think we got to Gatwick in about 4 hours, maybe an hour longer than it should have taken.  All things considered, a pretty decent time given the conditions.  And we were in one piece —  hurrah!

The plane took off on time from Gatwick on Saturday so we were Orlando-bound as planned.  I will do another post soon with the Florida pics — hope everyone is warm and safe (in the Northern Hemisphere — or enjoying the last days of summer in the Southern Hemisphere!)  That’s right Kiwis/Aussies – your summer days are numbered mwah-haha!  ;)

December 2017

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you had a nice holiday season! I can’t believe it’s 2018! Where did 2017 go?!

So a week after I last wrote, we celebrated Thanksgiving here in Cardiff.  In a fantastic show of neighbourly love, we split the cooking responsibilities with Paul and Anurag who live two doors down.  The more the merrier so we also invited Morgan’s best friend from nursery, Zeke, and his dad Matt (Zeke’s mum Beth is an A&E nurse so was at work unfortunately).

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In addition to the amazing food, I love Thanksgiving because I think it’s so important to pause and reflect.  Besides being thankful for fantastic neighbours, family and friends, it also occurred to me this year that I am grateful for modern day plumbing and sewage systems, our public health system, and a warm house.  And for my health.  It’s so easy to take all these basics for granted.

And after that…. the British Christmas craziness began.  I call it craziness because IT’S REALLY CRAZY!  I have concluded this is because the British don’t have that many other “celebratory” type holidays in the year.  In America, we’ve got Thanksgiving, the 4th of July, and even Halloween which gets people excited and having parties.  But here in the UK, it’s mostly just Christmas … and so (from what I’ve seen) the British really go a little bit nuts around this time of year with celebrating — lots of eating, drinking, and getting dressed up for parties…

…as you can see in this pic.  If you don’t recognise him, that’s Aled heading out for his Christmas work party.  He never gets this dressed up for me so I made sure to get a picture of him in his black dinner jacket for the record!

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For the kids in Britain, there’s the Christmas play to look forward to, which I’m learning is a strong British tradition (oh joy!).  Sorry the pic isn’t the best — you can spot Morgan in an angel costume in the middle somewhere — look for the bright blue Nike sneakers.  Like most of the little boys in the nursery Christmas play, Morgan was so distracted by his surroundings and all the parents snapping pics to really pay much attention to his lines or the songs they’d been rehearsing.  Of course all the little girls were singing and clapping as instructed which I found really infuriating ;)  Anyways I’m not sure we have a future Broadway star on our hands, but hey, as my Dad says “It builds character”.  ?

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Snow fell on the Brecon Beacons in the middle of December which was really awesome.

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We all had a blast on the sled!  I love this pic:

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Christmas isn’t Christmas without gingerbread cookies!  Here’s my trusty helper/excess dough eater:

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Here we can be seen making wreaths at the Roath Park bowls pavilion.  Many thanks to my good friend Becky for alerting me to this event — I absolutely loved it!

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Finished product:

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And here we are on the way to Paul and Anurag’s amazing annual Christmas mulled wine evening.  Those guys are fantastic hosts and we look forward to this gathering every Christmas now!  It’s so nice to catch up with the neighbours and enjoy the festivities.

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And then it was time for Christmas… annoyingly I came down with a horrible flu/cold on the 19th.  Luckily the fever and cold shakes abated after a few days but we still delayed our trip to Norwich in the hopes I’d recover enough not to pass anything on to Hefin, Emma or Elis in Norwich.  By some miracle, it sounds like they didn’t come down with anything (thank goodness!).

So here’s Morgy and Elis on Christmas Eve, leaving out some carrots, mince pies and beer for Santa.

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Christmas was fabulous — Emma put on an amazing Christmas dinner!  Here she is, proudly displaying the turkey.  Well done Em!!

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Here we are at the table, with Emma’s mum Jane on the left.

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The pile of presents was pretty incredible… unlike my own childhood Christmases in which presents were all opened within an hour of waking up, this pile was still being worked through in the afternoon!  What an amazing display of will power and civility.

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All in all, it was a very nice day, and we just want to say thanks to Hefin and Emma for such a lovely Christmas.

We stayed in Norwich until the 27th.  On Boxing Day, we went for a stroll around Norwich.  First through the arcades, which I love.  They are similar to the ones in Cardiff and are just beautiful.

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We stopped for a coffee en route to warm ourselves up. Check out these cool dudes:

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And then it was onto Norwich Cathedral, which is a really fantastic site.  I’ve just read on wiki that it was started in 1096!  Wow.  Seriously — what are we building this day and age which will last over a millennium?  Now there’s a good challenge…

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Then  it was back to Cardiff for a couple of days at home.  We celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary on the 28th and then went to work on the 29th.  I could really get used to a one day working week ;)

And then it was down to Cornwall for New Year’s but this post is getting too long so I will save those pics for the next post.  Big hugs everyone and hope you had a nice December.  Let me know if you have any amazing plans for 2018!  And thank you everyone for your cards and presents!  It is so nice to hear from you and thanks for all of our Christmas presents.  XOXOXO