Friday, April 4, 2014

28 years later...

I had a birthday in March and enjoyed all kinds of messages, posts, notes, packages and surprises making it a stellar day to +1 to my age. Two of the best surprises were packages from my old roommate Lauren, now studying to be a dentist in LA, who sent me tons of mouthwash and floss samples, and Christi who had special gluten free chocolate cupcakes delivered to my door by a nice old British man from a bakery in Bath! That was amazing. I went about things as normal that day, but I did celebrate by making pupusas. Around 6:30 my doorbell rang and my neighbor kids surprised me with homemade cards and a pineapple––possibly the best gift of all. It was so succulent. Of course, the cards were really cute too.

Baby Rachel was so flexible. Baby pictures at birthdays are a favorite family tradition. Here are some my parents sent me as they reminisced about what a great baby I was.

I'll probably make this same face when I'm 90. It's also possible that when I'm 90 I'll have neither hair nor teeth. The circle of life.

I love this picture. Baby Dan and Lizzy are so excited I was born!

Dan is now less excited, Lizzy loves a good photo-op, and I'm always trying to get people in on the joke.

The face that says, "I have teeth to eat this cupcake, but let's be honest, I don't really need them."

My visiting teacher gives me the best cards. Cat on fringe carpet.

Christi Costello cupcakes! So good. I had to share them.

Homemade salsa, curtido (cabbage slaw), and queso y frijole pupusas.


A week ago my ward had a talent show put on by the missionaries. It was a huge hit, and my friend Arushi even performed a jazzy Indian dance with the Sisters whom she had dressed in saris! Two other friends from Uni were there to watch too. It was really neat to see my Uni and church life intersect like that. Almost everyone that I'm friends with at Uni has either come to church or met with the missionaries.

This is Lucy. She has an usual issue for a 5-year-old. The boys on the playground keep asking her to marry them. She sang a duet with her sister Sophia from Les Miz at the talent show.

Arushi is from New Delhi, India and is doing a MA in Neuropsychology. Sister Karyan on the left is from Armenia and Sister Steffansen is from Norway. You don't often get a chance to let loose like this as a missionary.

Arushi was working those pants.

When I saw this, I thought, why hasn't our church thought of this?? I can't wait to see Noah. I don't care what people say. Once a Russell Crowe fan, always a Russell Crowe fan.

Just thought I'd share my toast's feelings about getting eaten with eggs for breakfast.


Now that it is April, I've embraced spring, as England seems to have, and went exploring yesterday around Corsham Court during my lunch break from class. Here are some beautiful sights I stumbled on:

Sheep are very strange animals. They were just sitting and chewing incessantly. What a life.

Crazy naked tree. Its been weird hazy/foggy weather.

All is green and all is blooming right now.

Looks a little like Downton Abbey, but its Corsham Court. Daffodils pop up everywhere in the spring.

These are some ginormous trees and would be so fun to climb on.

Nice place for a wedding. 


Sunday, March 9, 2014

To the City of London

My course had a mandatory field trip led by Tracey Hill, our fearless 17th century/walking expert, to the City of London to explore some of the sights, smells, and sounds of ye olde towne. We had been reading Stowe's Survey of London, which goes through many of the areas of the city back in the early 17th century describing the layout of the city streets, the businesses, the people, the river, the trade, and the politics of the time. Liveries, not guilds as some believe, controlled a lot of the commerce and brought in huge amounts of wealth to the members and the city during this time. Many of the groups still have their headquarters functioning today and can be distinguished by the crest hanging outside their hall and their chandelier just inside the entryway.
    Trevor, Verity, Percy and I dutifully galloped behind Tracey much of the way around the city, but she never led us astray and even fed us tea and snacks. Upon arriving in London, we headed straight for Farringdon tube stop to start our tour.

Check out the program's blog where Verity wrote a great post on more details of the trip. Pictures too!



The remnants of the old City of London are nicely integrated with the new, so it can be startling to realize that, like this old entrance to the city, 17th century and older landmarks are still around and functioning as part of the cityscape.

One of the old gates into the city. There were many along the border of those districts.

The garden inside St. John's.

Creepy skeletal tomb.

So Thursday, since I had prayed fervently for nice weather, turned out really beautiful. Cold but sunny. We'll take it.

The Queen is never pleased. Especially with this weather. Outside the Museum of London.

A lovely sunset on the Thames.

Percy snapped this while we explored the shore of the Thames just below a pub called The Banker. This is on the edge of the city of London and out of sight in the water are old wood pilings dating back to the 17th century.

The Shard, one of London's newest skyscrapers.

The lights changed colors. St. Paul's beyond.

All the busy Londoners going home from work. Tower Bridge in the background (we are on London Bridge).

Our first night was a bit rough because of a mishap with scheduling our hostel. So, we had to walk all the way back across the river late that night to find a Premier Inn. I was so cold and feeling very sick so I took shelter in this Hobbit hole.

Probably the only thing that got me up this morning was the hope of going to Paul's for a Valentine's Day almond croissant. I was really sick, had a sore throat and was mildly feverish. And it was still cold and rainy, but I'm all smiles. 

I'm madly waving my plastic bag at Verity to move in front of me to catch this bus behind me going by. I'm crazy.

When we came into this church, Tracey walked up to this and patted it lovingly and said "hello John, good to see you" as if she were greeting an old friend.

So many attempts to get this picture. Poor Verity.

Guildhall, I believe the Mayor of London has offices here.

Trevor, Tracey, Verity, and Percy admiring the Guildhall square.

My valentine's day card from London this year.






Sunday, January 26, 2014

Harry Potter Studio Tour with the Jests


Kimber surprised me with my combined Christmas and birthday gift of tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in north London! I took a train to Reading Friday afternoon, the day after I had finished my second and last final paper. It was perfectly timed to celebrate the end of my first trimester in my grad program and the start of a new year in England. We hung around the house Friday getting excited for our tour the next day. Julian drove us the next morning about an hour north and east to Leavesdon, the town with the giant studio lot. Seeing the big posters on the sound stage walls was enough to get me pumped to go inside. We had an entry time of 10am, so we had arrived 30 minutes early to get our audio guides and wait in line with the medium sized horde of other people. In good form, the moved us through the line past Harry's first cupboard under the stairs into the waiting presentation room. They showed some awesome clips from press releases covering the release of the films, and from the stars themselves. Then we entered this theatre to watch a short film covering all eight of the movies they had made and as that finished the screen lifted to reveal the door to the great hall!! I was more excited than the 8 year old boy next to me. So we actually started the tour in the great hall and then moved onto sound stage J with tons of different sets and stations. The audio guide was really useful because it had short videos at each stop with interviews, gallery images, and little known facts. I watched every single one of them on all 30 stops, so probably well over 150 little videos. It was brilliant. It wasn't terribly crowded, but well populated I would say. It definitely got busier as the day wore on. We spent over 5 hours inside. Totally got our money's worth. About half way through we went to the backlot to try Butter Beer, which was so delicious and tasted like magical cream soda, and ate soup and crisps. Then we headed back inside to finish stage J before moving to stage K. See the pictures! And be grateful I took so few, another friend who went a few weeks before took 700... but this should motivate you to go yourselves. Only if you are a true fan and grew up reading the books like I have.

The Great Hall!

The tour guide for this part, who looked like Voldemort.

Snape's costume didn't change for all 8 movies. How boring! Except when he fled in the 7th they lengthened his hem. And his wig wasn't greasy at all.
Wigs are sort of gross, especially close up. But it turns out so many characters wore them! Even ones you thought had their own hair like Hermione, Ron, and Harry.

I thought it was neat that Harry wore Uniqlo jeans (my favorite brand) in the 7th movie.

The boys dormitory with their tiny beds that never got bigger, so they just had to curl up in them to make it look like they fit.

Elf armor from the prop cage. Support S.P.E.W.!

Entrance to Dumbledore's office. Lemon drops!

So many cool things in Dumbledore's office. All the paintings were real by the way, the artists team were all classically trained.

Just a random trophy for Gnome Racing.

Like Owen's hat? On the Knight Bus on the backlot.

Try to slip a letter in for the Dursley's at 4 Privet Drive.


I wish Doby lived. This is his very life-like corpse.


I bowed to the Hippogryph as is custom. He bowed back.

Puking pastille anyone? Weasley Wizard Wheezes!

Diagon Alley! Kimber and Julian there on the right. Gringotts Bank is at the end.


Next to Madame Malkin's Dress Robes for All Occasions. Kimber in the foreground.
This was the coolest model! Used for all the movies, it was added to as more parts of the castle were revealed from the books. It has snow on it for winter, but during the summer it is green.
They used real rocks and leaves and bushes for part of the model. The little turrets had tiny shingles--over 1,000 for some of the roofs--that were individually glued on by hand.



The very last part of the tour is walls of about 4,000 wand boxes, each individually made with a name on it from someone involved with the films over the 10 years it took to make them. I found a couple of special ones...

Edward had such a great start as Cedric Diggory.

Had to have the full name on there, or else we wouldn't have known it was "THE" Maggie Smith. She was perfectly cast and when I read the books as a 14 year old, I pictured her as Professor McGonagall.

This is the entrance lobby with big pictures of the cast from when they started and when they finished.

Also one of the flying Ford Anglia's.

After finishing, our overjoyed faces and it was super windy/stormy and we drove home in a downpour.

The cute Jest family! Owen loved it.

I always look for a pole to enhance any picture. Harry would've really enjoyed my company on the Knight Bus. 

The cupboard under the stairs right behind us. We are about to start the tour with our audio guides.

Our best Harry and Ron faces.

If you can spy Owen's little bald head, he actually has control of the steering wheel.

I had to wear my official Gryffindor scarf. I saw many that day, but mine was actually the nicest. Thanks Diddams.

Learning proper technique for casting spells.

The stunt guy was giving us the video tutorial and we could watch ourselves in the mirrors.


The kids in line behind us were jealous of how accurately we held our wand hands. They were also under the age of seven.