Exploring English Estates // England with Kids // Part 5

IMG_1985 Hello again! The past few days we’ve been in the mountains of France (more on my Instagram if you’d like to see) and we haven’t had a strong internet connection. We’re in Aix-en-Provence, France, now, and I am back to sharing some photos that I edited while still in the Alps.

I am having so much fun blogging as we go, and I think it will be harder to blog when we are home again, so here we go!

IMG_2023 Back to where I left off in Sussex in southern England. We were house- and pet-sitting for some folks we found through Trusted Housesitters, and we enjoyed spending a lot of afternoons exploring National Trust estates nearby. If you want to enjoy rural England, I highly recommend getting the overseas National Trust pass (good for a week) and visiting these beautiful old estates and gardens! These visits were the highlight of our time in England.

IMG_2019 This particular day, we visited Nymans, an estate that was owned by the mother-in-law of Princess Margaret (if you’re into British royalty!). The gorgeous old home was partially destroyed in a fire — hence the lack of roof on some of the house.

The gardens were magnificent with so many azaleas and camellias and magnolias in bloom. These two flower photos are not touched up or edited at all.

IMG_1983 IMG_2022 I loved this flower-arranging station inside the house at Nymans.

IMG_2024 At a used bookshop on the property (because how perfect is that?!), we picked up a couple of British reads: The Casual Vacancy for me and White Teeth for Elliott. After receiving so many negative reviews from friends here, though, I decided to continue reading The Man Who Was Thursday instead.

IMG_2027 Before deciding that, though, I read some of the book on a bench under a cherry tree, and the petals kept falling around me like snow. Forest napped quietly in the Ergo. What a lovely afternoon!

IMG_1996 When he finally woke up, he got lots of snuggles before we headed home for the day.

IMG_2012 IMG_2017 On another gorgeous day, we visited Rudyard Kipling’s old home, called Bateman’s. This was probably our favorite National Trust property to visit.

IMG_2036 As we ate a picnic lunch, Lena and Gil played a version of horseshoes with a couple of English girls. They made friends and played games with children wherever we went. It was beautiful to see!

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IMG_2209 Afterwards, we explored Kipling’s beautiful old home.

IMG_2208 IMG_2061 Lena and Gil were doing the scavenger hunt to earn a chocolate Easter bunny. Cadbury was collaborating with the National Trust that week during the Easter holiday, so our kids joined many happy children at all the sites doing the hunts and earning their chocolate bunnies!

Below is the study where Rudyard Kipling wrote his books.

IMG_2067 IMG_2068 If you must have a bathroom without plumbing, this is quite a beautiful bathroom to have!

IMG_2076 Afterwards we explored more of the gorgeous grounds, including the pond filled with tiny tadpoles and the unbelievable “Wild Garden” behind the formal gardens.

IMG_2211 Again, not edited at all!

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IMG_2206 IMG_2191 IMG_2046 Later in the day, we headed to Bodiam Castle, a nearby National Trust property.

IMG_2199 IMG_2196 When we walked out, a visitor was feeding bread to the ducks, and she gave lots to Lena and Gil. They had so much fun, but were a little overwhelmed!

IMG_2197 Elliott the veterinarian had other designs on the ducks, though… as usual. Lena got to feel his webbed feet!

IMG_2175 A photo to help me remember my littlest one and my own self at this stage of life, and how content we are being snuggled together.

And one to help me remember how our two older children love climbing in trees and hanging on branches… with castles in the background!

IMG_2202 IMG_2201 We stopped at this gorgeous hotel and pub to eat dinner. They had tables outside, which was perfect for our noisy and tired crew.

IMG_2192 IMG_2194 And then, on the long ride home, Forest and Lena were playing and he kicked out her loose tooth! It had been a topic of intense conversation for weeks, so we were all thrilled it was finally gone. Gil, meanwhile, tried to pull out his own by tugging on his socks… hmm. Bedtime for everyone.

More to come soon, I hope!

3 :: in family, pretty places, travel

Windsor and the English Countryside // England with Kids // Part 4

IMG_1929 After our gorgeous day in Oxford, we had a hearty Saturday morning breakfast with our friends and then said goodbye. We were on our way to a new home away from home: pet sitting in a small English village.

On the way there, we visited Windsor Castle, a place that none of us had seen before. Because the Royal Standard (instead of the Union Jack flag) was flying from the top of the castle, we knew the queen was home for the weekend! How cool is that?

IMG_0152 IMG_0104 Free audio tours were included with admission, and so we got the “family version” for the kids as well. They were a huge hit! The tangle of headphones and wires were not as popular with us parents, especially when Forest reached out of the Ergo at every opportunity to grab them off my head, but…
IMG_1791 … well, how can you resist this cuteness anyway?

IMG_1928 We stayed at Windsor and even attended evening vespers in St. George’s Cathedral. Afterwards, we happened across this pretty little street with a view of the castle, and we decided to stay for dinner.

IMG_0156 What a lovely setting for a pint of cider and a pizza!

IMG_0157 Windsor is beautiful, Queen Elizabeth. We can see why you love it.

IMG_1788 Finally, we turned our wheels towards Haywards Heath, the little town where our petsitting job would be for the next week. We couldn’t appreciate the house in the dark, but here are a few pictures I got the next morning:

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IMG_0166 IMG_0165 We found this house- and pet-sitting opportunity through TrustedHousesitters.com, a site that I think is more popular in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand because that is where most of the listings are. (We actually we about to go to New Zealand instead of Europe and had a great house/pet-sitting opportunity there, but ultimately decided our children were too young this year for all the driving that a true exploration and appreciation of New Zealand would require.)

We are staying here for FREE, and the family (who are on holiday in Spain for Easter break) are getting house sitters for free, and so it works out well for all of us! They have two cats, one of whom is very sweet and one of whom has given us some gray hairs because of her desire to live more outdoors than indoors. Ultimately, it’s been an amazing experience. A huge, five-bedroom home in an English village for a week for free! Not a thing to complain about — only thanks.

IMG_1794 The next morning we visited a cafe in the village to get some much-needed coffee and breakfast. Lena is making animals sounds for Forest and Gil is annoyingly tapping them with coffee stirrers… typical.

Afterwards, we put off grocery shopping for a little longer and visited Borde Hill, a privately-owned estate in Sussex with magnificent gardens in full bloom. We ate our picnic in this field of daffodils!

IMG_0174 IMG_0173 IMG_1930 There was an Easter scavenger hunt going on in the garden, and the kids were rewarded with Cadbury cream eggs and face painting afterwards!

IMG_0128 IMG_0127 Looking for newts in the pond!

IMG_0129 All the magnolias are blooming.

IMG_0124 IMG_0133 IMG_0136 Hard work complete, now pick your prize. When the “bunny” offered an egg to Forest, Elliott and I happily claimed it instead. No shame.

IMG_0137 SO. EXCITED.

IMG_0142 The property included a wonderful playground, and the kids played on that for another couple of hours after the Easter scavenger hunt.

IMG_0145 Meanwhile, an exhausted Forest fell asleep in the Ergo, and so I walked through this meadow for over an hour, making loops and thinking and praying and reading articles on my phone. Such a perfect afternoon.

IMG_0187 Elliott and the kids explored the stream below and then made flower crowns in the meadow while I walked with sleepy Forest.

And that was the end of a lovely day in the English countryside! This is definitely the pace our family needs, with plenty of time outdoors. And now, home and to bed.

4 :: in family, travel

A Day in Oxford // England with Kids // Part 3

IMG_1645 One of our favorite places in the world is Oxford, “the city of dreaming spires.” I visited my friend Laura in Oxford when she was a student there, and then I returned as a summer university student about 10 years ago. Elliott has also visited twice, and we each have our own memories and our own favorite places around the city.

Also, has anyone else read A Severe Mercy, part of which takes place in Oxford? We read it together when we first started dating, and it is a book that we reference often as our inspiration for a tender and adventurous marriage.

We decided to go to Oxford on our second day in England, on Friday, April 8th. We stayed on our feet almost all day and managed to see a lot of this beautiful place!

IMG_0039 First stop: the local library. This was unintended; we got off the bus at the wrong stop — whoops. But we needed wifi in order to orient ourselves. (Later that day we bought SIM cards for our iPhones and now have U.K. phone numbers and data. We’re European locals again for a few weeks!)

IMG_0076 Found these two cute prisoners at the Oxford Castle. We could definitely use one of these at home — hah!

IMG_0040 IMG_0078 IMG_0079 Magdalen College and Magdalen Street (pronounced “Maudlin”) are everywhere in Oxford! Our little Magdalena (nicknamed Lena) loved that.

IMG_0082 At The Eagle and Child pub for lunch with my own littlest child.

IMG_0083 We enjoyed following in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and the other “Inklings” to eat and talk at this pub, but we found more Americans here than anywhere else in Oxford. It’s more of a tourist attraction now, I suppose… oh well.

IMG_0043 Around the corner from the pub is the Ashmolean Museum, where the kids saw their first Egyptian mummies and enjoyed the beautiful children’s section.

IMG_0084 IMG_0096 IMG_0085 We adults paid £2 each to go inside the private grounds of Balliol College, one of the many colleges that make up Oxford University. The gardens were in gorgeous spring bloom! It was a perfect spring day, and we ended up staying for over an hour, exploring and then relaxing on the grass. Visiting Balliol is one of my favorite memories of our trip so far. These are a few of my favorite photos (out of about 100!).

IMG_0048 Reading the hymnbook in the Balliol chapel. They’re both beginning readers, so they have been trying to decipher signs and books everywhere we go on this trip.

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IMG_0058 After Balliol, we walked across the street to visit Blackwell’s, a huge and incredible bookshop. When I was a summer student, I spent many hours studying and reading inside the Classics section or the cafe there.

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IMG_0091 IMG_0090 IMG_0092 We walked on to Christ Church Meadow on our way to visit Magdalen College. The kids were enjoying a precious hot chocolate that Elliott had purchased for them in Blackwell’s. He rarely buys them anything sweet, so they were savoring every sip!

IMG_0062 A view of the Christ Church Cathedral from the Meadow.

IMG_0063 IMG_0064 IMG_0065 IMG_0066 Approaching Magdalen College now. All the trees in bloom…!

IMG_0068 Inside the cloisters of Magdalen College. Years ago I went up to the top of that tower with some friends. The key to enter was about 10 inches long.

IMG_0101 The deer park in Magdalen College.

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IMG_0073 We walked through the grounds to the meadow behind the college. The story goes that Lewis and Tolkien used to walk together around the meadow here, feet crunching on the path as they discussed faith and life.

IMG_0070 This beautiful old house reminds me of Toad Hall from The Wind in the Willows!

IMG_0071 IMG_0072 I used to come back here to the meadow and quiet gardens behind it as a summer student to read and study. What a gloriously beautiful place!


IMG_0074 If you are in need of grit, Magdalen College has some.

IMG_0075 Magdalen College’s boats being gathered up for the night. I wish we could have hired a punt boat and taken the kids around the River Cherwell in the meadow; I have fond memories of doing that with friends as a summer student. We’ll have to save that for next time… maybe when they can all swim!

And that was the end of our lovely day in Oxford. Have you been? Which little nooks and crannies are your favorites?

7 :: in family, travel

Jet Lag and Farm Parks // England with Kids // Part 2

To see Part 1 of this series, click here!

IMG_0020 Jet lag is no joke, and it is especially rough when your kids are waking up right as you parents are just ready to go to bed. Ugh. However, I shouldn’t complain, as the kids crashed at their usual bedtimes, and Forest and Gil only caused trouble between 10pm-12am. We all slept in late the next morning!

IMG_0022 Our friends have a wonderful playroom for their young son, but even more wonderful was this gadget…

IMG_0019 … their amazing coffee machine which made me a cappuccino each morning! Or maybe more than one cappuccino, hah. I now know what I would like for Christmas, dear Elliott.

IMG_0144 My friend also had bouquets of gorgeous spring flowers all around her home, and more carefully nurtured blooms in her garden outdoors. What a gift to enjoy such generous and beautiful hospitality from old friends!

IMG_0024 While Elliott worked from home and Forest napped, Lena, Gil, and I walked into the little town of Gerrards Cross, admiring the gorgeous homes in the neighborhood along the way. They all had such English names and windows and gardens.

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IMG_0023 After a requisite stop in the town’s bookshop, we walked home and decided to go to a nearby “farm park” for the afternoon. This turned out to be one of Elliott’s greatest ideas ever, as it was just the right level of activity for the kids, low-energy activity for the parents, and cuteness all around.

IMG_0036 We need farm parks in the States! This one had a barn with adorable newborn animals to meet and feed, three huge outdoor playgrounds, a crazy indoor playground, delicious cafe, maze, tractor/hay ride, mini tractors and go karts for kids to drive themselves, and even a mini golf course. We stayed for 5 hours and could have stayed much longer!

IMG_0038 IMG_0025 IMG_0026 IMG_0027 Not so sure about the chickens. He cried every time they moved!

IMG_0028 IMG_0029 He seemed to like the Silkie chickens best, just like his dad does.

IMG_0034 Sheep in the background!

IMG_0030 I laughed out loud when I saw this photo because this is exactly how I felt about this time. We were sitting in bleachers waiting for the kids to give baby goats bottles of milk (!), and I was literally falling asleep on my feet, swaying slightly and catching myself just before losing my balance. Yikes! Where’s the cafe and a giant cup of coffee?!

IMG_0031 I am sure this is why Forest has a runny nose now… ugh. But how could I resist letting him try out an old-fashioned ball pit, and how could he resist a taste?

The older kids were off on a massive indoor playground, like a Chick-Fil-A indoor playspace x1000. If you want to see Lena taking on a slide with a 15-foot vertical drop, check out this video. I had sweaty palms while watching her!

IMG_0033 Falling asleep in my arms… one of the sweetest moments for a mother at the end of a wonderful day.

More to come. :)

4 :: in family, travel

Three Kids and Three Weeks in Europe! // Part 1

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This month, my little family is on the trip of a lifetime: three weeks in Europe!

We’ve been looking for a way to use Elliott’s extra vacation time, and so in January we started looking at airline tickets. Elliott found a phenomenal deal to Europe on Norwegian Airlines. For less than $1100, he purchased roundtrip tickets between LA and Europe for our entire family! We jumped on the flights, and now, in early April, here we are in the U.K.

The days are flying by, and I want to record them in real time if I can. I share a few photos a day on Instagram, but I don’t want to post too much on there. Besides, there is so much more to record and remember!

IMG_1305 Right before we left, our dear friends came to stay in our house and take care of our pets. They have two kids that are close to Lena and Gil’s age, and the four children had so much fun together! We were sorry to leave!

IMG_1310 Forest helped with packing. I’m hoping to write a list of what we packed soon. We brought 4 carry-on suitcases and didn’t check any bags, except for free-to-check baby items: umbrella stroller, baby bed, and narrow car seats and booster seats for our European rental cars.

IMG_1311 And we’re off! We left on Tuesday, April 4, and we had to drive 2 hours to LA first. We parked our car in long-term parking and then took the shuttle to the airport. By the time we got through security, we felt like we’d already run a marathon! Packing, organizing the house, driving, and dealing with the airport had made for a very full day.

IMG_1315 We were super early to the airport, which I loved and Elliott begrudgingly accepted — hah! We have access to certain airport lounges thanks to one of our credit cards, so we headed there for a couple of hours before our flight.

IMG_1317 Lena had turned 6 the day before, so she was eager to break out some of her birthday presents!

IMG_1340 Time to head to our gate! The rolling suitcases took a little bit of figuring out…

IMG_1342 … but this makes it look like a breeze. For those who are interested, these are the suitcases we purchased after comparing tons of them. They fit the carry-on size requirements for all European airlines.

IMG_1345 On the flight, we were seated together, but I requested to move when I saw there was an empty seat in front of the bulkhead, which had the attachments for a baby bassinet. They let me move to that seat, and I was so thankful. However, Forest was really too big for the bassinet (he’s 30 inches long and weighs 20 lbs), and so he only slept comfortably in it for a few hours.

After that I had a terrible time getting him back to sleep; he just wouldn’t settle in the Ergo, the bassinet, or my arms. Finally we both fell asleep with me sitting down and him in the Ergo.

Elliott had a slightly better time with the older kids. Thanks to my move, they each had two seats to themselves! He also gave them melatonin, a natural sleep aid, which was new for us. I purchased this melatonin right before our flight, and our pediatrician friend recommended doses for them based on their age and size. It seemed to work well, as the kids slept off and on for about 7 hours. On a 9.5-hour flight, that is solid gold!

IMG_0017 And finally, many hours later, we landed at London’s Gatwick airport. The kids were still wearing their pajamas when we disembarked… oops!

IMG_1359 And here we are, ready to head out to our rental car. I didn’t plan it, but they are totally matching their suitcases.

IMG_0018 And now in the rental car! I did a lot of research and decided to get Diono car seats for Forest and Gil because they are so narrow and so safe. Thankfully, a mom I trusted in my neighborhood was selling two of them for $40 each, and so I purchased them for this trip and for Hawaii, and I plan to resell them or give them away afterwards. For Lena I purchased a Bubble Bum inflatable booster seat after hearing about it from more trusted pediatrician friends. It is also super narrow.

The Car Crash Detective’s “3 Across Guide” was helpful in determining which configurations of seats would probably fit into little rental cars. We rented a small Skoda Octavia station wagon, and all our luggage fit easily in the back. Now I am wondering why we have a minivan?!

At last, with everything and everyone securely in place, we left the airport. Unfortunately, by now it was 4pm and prime rush hour, so we spent the next 2 hours on the M25 highway around London, exhausted beyond belief, telling the kids “just a little bit longer!”

We finally arrived around dinner time to my friend Laura’s house in Gerrards Cross, a lovely neighborhood outside London. I’ll pick up our story again soon with the details of our first few days!

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12 :: in family, travel

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