Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tag goes to the Temple

Today seven of us (plus Tag) bundled into the car, and set off for the London Temple an hour away.

We'd packed a lovely picnic, but this being England it was raining heavily, so we had to eat our picnic in the Visitors Centre.

Luckily the rain stopped for a few minutes, so the children and our non-member friends were able to have a quick walk around the Temple grounds while we were in the Temple.

It started raining again while they were outside, so Tag looks a bit bedraggled in these photographs, but despite being cold and wet he enjoyed checking out the exhibits at the Visitors Centre.

After three hours at the Temple we drove to Lakeside, one of the largest shopping centres in the UK. It was raining a lot all the way and it was very difficult to see where we were going. Tag was very glad he was in the passenger seat and not driving.

But on the way we did pass through Dartford Tunnel which you may recognise from the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Harry and Hagrid go through it, mostly upside-down on Hagrid's motorbike.

Lakeside is one of our favourite places to shop and eat because it has lots of American food stands. There are only four Cinnabon outlets in the UK and one of them is at Lakeside. There is also a pretzel stand which we haven't seen anywhere else, and one of only three Taco Bells in the UK. Guess where we went for tea!

Then Hari and Ceri went to the Apple shop and had lots of fun playing with the computers.

Tag loved looking at the giant biscuits at Miss Millie's cookies, and meeting the bears who live there!

What a fun day we all had! Pity about the weather, but this is England, and it rains a LOT. Better get used to it, Tag!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

On Tuesday we took a trip over to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, about 30 minutes from our house. Behind us is the main greenhouse, which also houses the Butterflies Alive exhibit- a huge room with hundreds of live butterflies! (No pics of that- dealing with kids freaking out slightly about butterflies.) You might notice some extra kids in the portrait- the one with the hat in the back is my nephew (the kids’ cousin) whose mom got us into the gardens with her membership, and the blonde one behind the stroller was visiting with us while his mom was at Girls Camp.

 Charmin takes a rest on a stone toadstool outside this cute little cottage. He said it reminded him a little bit of home.

Charmin watched the kids enjoying the splash pad. He would have gone in too, but he didn’t have a swimsuit. 

That is a 100-year-old magnolia tree! The kids had a lot of fun climbing on it- and Charmin did too! 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Learning About Nature

On Saturday Tyson had an archery tournament at Rockwood Park, a county park about 20 minutes from our house. 

In the U.S. there are national parks, state parks, and county/city parks. We are fortunate to live close to several county parks, 1 state park, and we have a national park about 2 hours away (Shenandoah National Park). 

While Tyson was shooting, I took the girls and Charmin over to the park’s Nature Center to look at the animals and exhibits. (The girls were getting restless and Teeny kept screeching, which was distracting the archers.)

Charmin with a stuffed owl, who doesn’t seem thrilled about having his photo taken.

Charmin reads all about the role of deer in Native American culture. 

“Mmm! HONEY!” 
Yes, those are real bees in a real hive. I wasn’t too keen on getting close, but Charmin loved it.

Charmin makes some new friends.

The girls pose with Charmin by a little pond (it had turtles in it) and some stuffed fowl. 

Charmin learned a lot about Virginia wildlife.

We caught the end of Tyson’s shoot. We don’t know how he did because it was a mail-in tournament for USA Archery (the same organization that sends American archers to the Olympics!) but he was very pleased with his score. Charmin thinks he might like to try archery sometime. :-)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy National Flip Flop Day!

Leave it to us crazy Americans to create national holidays based on footwear!

Okay, so the only reason I remembered that it was National Flip Flop day was because I saw it on Facebook. And because it means free smoothies.

 Here Charmin and Teeny take a peek through the window to watch the smoothie magic happening in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe kitchen.

Our local Tropical Smoothie Cafe always celebrates Flip Flop Day by giving out free smoothies to everyone wearing flip flops! They also use their free smoothie event to raise money and awareness for Camp Sunshine, a free camp for kids with life-threatening illnesses and their families. 

We thought Charmin should get the chance to help out the kids so we made a donation in his name.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any flip flops that were Charmin’s size, but Audrey generously shared her smoothie with him.

There’s an extra set of feet in this photo- the one with the plaid pants there is my friend Roseanne who joined us for our flip flop smoothie adventure. I actually got the idea for the Great International Teddy Bear Exchange from her and it was her idea to do this cute photo with Charmin and everyone’s flip flops. Good times!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

An American Bear in London

Tag has had such an exciting day today! I (Anna) had to go to London for a business meeting and my boss's farewell celebration (she's retiring soon) so Tag came too. We caught the train from Benfleet station. Here's Tag on the train.

It was less than an hour before we arrived at Fenchurch Street station, and Tag was immediately impressed with the grand and beautiful buildings like this one.

We also caught a distant glimpse of the Tower of London. Lots of people were imprisoned and killed here, including Anne Boleyn. Tag said that being across the road from it was quite close enough. He didn't want to be locked in the Tower!

We took the Tube (London Underground) from Tower Hill Station. Here at the station entrance you can see The Shard in the distance, one of London's newer famous buildings.

Tag was very careful to "Mind the Gap" as he got on the train.

Here he is on the underground train. He is on an unusually quiet district line train. The district line is green on the tube maps, so the inside of the train is green too.

He found some English bears!

He got off the train at Embankment station, and we walked over to the Embankment so that he could have a photograph with the London eye and the River Thames. There were lots of memorials and statues on the Embankment, and we enjoyed looking at them. There were also lots of joggers, cyclists, and tourists from all sorts of exotic places (like America).

Tag found some red phone boxes! There aren't many of them left now because everyone has mobile phones these days.

Here's Tag at Westminster, with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Did you know that Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the tower?

The Houses of Parliament are guarded by friendly policemen. Police in the UK don't carry guns, but their headquarters, Scotland Yard, is very near here, so they can have lots of backup very quickly should there be a problem. Luckily, no one has tried to bomb parliament since 1605.

Here's Tag outside Westminster Abbey, which is right next door to the Houses of Parliament.

As we walked through St. James's Park to Buckingham Palace we could hear the drums and instruments from a ceremony taking place in front of the Palace. I think it was probably the Changing of the Guard. But by the time we got there, it had finished. Here's Tag outside Buckingham Palace. As you can see from the crowd, we probably couldn't have got close enough to see it anyway.

After my meeting. Tag came with my colleagues and I to the famous Fortnum and Mason for afternoon tea. Fortnum's was established in 1707 and has a Royal Warrant, which means it provides products for the Queen. Can you see Tag?

Finally it was time to get back on the Tube and the train and go home again. Tag is worn out after that adventure. Here he is back at home with the leftover Fortnum and Mason cakes in their beautiful box.
Phew, what a busy day! There was so much to see in London. I think Tag's next excursion should be to somewhere less exciting.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fun at Wally World

Today was GROCERY SHOPPING DAY! It’s something mundane for us, but we thought Charmin might get a kick of seeing how we crazy Americans buy our groceries. 

This is Walmart, aka, Wally World. It’s about 10 minutes from our house and has everything from toothpaste to throw pillows to lawn fertilizer and toilet seats, so it’s a one-stop shop.

 Charmin helps Tyson pick some tomatoes for our tacos we had for dinner.

 Audrey looks like something out of a horror movie in this photo (and I mean that in the most loving way) as she holds the grocery list and the rest of my kids are nuts as well. Welcome to the bread aisle! 

Christine and Charmin look wary. I included this pic so you can see all those aisles stretched back as far as the eye can see. And I also like the fact that we’re standing next to the eggs and the man just behind Teeny has a filing cabinet in his cart. “Honey, could you pick up some eggs on your way home from work? Oh, and while you’re at it- grab a filing cabinet, too.” 

 Charmin gets a turn pushing the cart.


He insisted on stopping and trying on this t-shirt. We told him that sorry, yes, it did make him look fat. 

These sunglasses, on the other hand, were quite flattering on everyone. 

Can you spot the British bear among the American Independence Day decorations? 

Uh, oh. Looks like someone’s conked out on the bag of cotton balls.  

After a brief nap he perked right up again and jumped into this Skittles display. Mmm...Skittles... 

Taking a ride on the conveyor belt through checkout. 

Back into Teeny’s arms as we head for the door. So long, Walmart! 

So, where do you guys shop?