[Dave] We moved to America on 22 July, 2014, 3 years ago and aside from my two day work-related visit a couple of months ago, we haven’t been back to the UK since the big move.
It felt like something we needed to do – we probably should have done it sooner, but other family events elsewhere as well as restrictions on our travel based on pending green card applications meant that this Summer was going to be the best time to do it.
We booked flights with WOW Air, an airline based in Reykjavík, Iceland. Their flights are comparatively cheap and they offer a ‘stopover’ option where you fly to Iceland, spend a few days there and pick up your connection flight. We decided on a stopover of a day and a half (2 nights).
The flight to Iceland was great – there’s always a bit of trepidation when flying with 5 kids, but the children were great and the fact that it was an overnight flight meant that we were able to get off to sleep pretty soon after taking off.
We arrived in Iceland on Friday afternoon, picked up a hire car and headed for our AirBnB in the suburbs of Reykjavík. We dropped off our things and set off for the famous Blue Lagoon.
The Blue lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavík, not far from the Keflavík Airport. We loved it – you get changed in a large modern facility, then walk out into the freezing cold in your swimming costumes. The cold is so uncomfortable that it makes wading into the lovely warm water all the more satisfying. The temperature is around 100 degrees, so it felt like a hot bath. The color of the water is amazing too – a cool pale blue/green that looks otherworldly, especially set against the salty, volcanic rock and Icelandic landscape.
On the way to the lagoon, the kids needed something to distract them from tormenting each other in the car, so I told them the tale of the creature from the blue lagoon (it’s actually the black lagoon, but that didn’t work quite so well for my purposes). “It’s not real, Dad, you’re just pretending”… “ask Siri, Dad, prove it!”. So I did a quick image search on my phone and was able to show the kids ‘the creature’. This made Charlotte a little nervous.
The kids are pretty confident in the water, they recently completed another round of swimming lessons in California and are doing well. Even Olive was able to be independent in the water with her mandatory inflatable armbands.
We took the opportunity to put face masks on, which was fun. I’ve had a few people compare my smiling face to that of the Joker from Batman and with the addition of the face mask, I concede that they may be onto something!
After a blissful hour or two in the lagoon, with no sightings of the creature, we returned to our accommodation for pizza and a good night’s rest.
One thing we hadn’t anticipated was the lagoons mystical effect on hair. Not so much an issue for me, but for the rest of the family, the properties of the water had dried out their hair, leaving it anything but ‘soft, shiny and manageable’. You’ll see from the photos that the frizz from the blue lagoon lasted for days, in spite of the generous and repeated application of conditioner.
The next morning, while we were waiting for Heather to finish de-frizzing her hair, a sword-fencing tournament was held in the living room of our accommodation.
We then headed into Reykjavík for lunch and had a wander around the city.
Iceland’s football team were about to kick off against Switzerland, so there was a gathering of supporters in the city square waiting to watch the game.
We got these ice cream cones that were like soft serve ice cream dipped in melted chocolate and then rolled in dime bar like chocolate balls – amazing.
Sadly, just a few seconds after this photograph, Olive was making a fuss about her ice cream and as I bent down to help her out, my ice cream fell on the pavement – gutted!
One of the things we enjoyed (most of the time) was simply driving around. We would come across waterfalls, glaciers and little colorful buildings in the middle of nowhere.
While driving to Skogavoss waterfall, we came across some other waterfalls and decided to stop to take a look.
We first saw Skogavoss from the road – it’s a huge, powerful waterfall with a trail leading up the side of the hill to the top of the waterfall.
As we approached the foot of thew waterfall, the spray became more intense, which makes photography a bit of a challenge – we would cover the lens with our hand until we were ready to take the shot, then quickly take it before the lens was completely misted up.
I decided to get quite close to the waterfall – the spray didn’t feel too bad, until after we’d taken a few pictures and I started walking back. It was then that I realized that my clothing was actually completely soaked.
We then headed for the black sand beach near Vik, catching some amazing glacier views along the way.
Black sand beach is amazing. It would be worth a visit just for the sand, which looks amazing next to the white surf. However’ there’s a lot more than just the sand to enjoy – on both sides of the beach, there are cool rock formations, then along the back of the beach there are huge caves and geometric rock formations that reminded me of giant’s Causeway in Ireland. As if that wasn’t enough interest for one location, after half an hour on the beach, we looked up and saw hundreds of puffins on the hillside above the rock formations.
After a while on black sand beach, we realised that it was after 11:30pm. Because it doesn’t really get very dark this time of years in Iceland and because our bodies were still half-thinking we were in California, it just didn’t feel that late. It dawned on us (excuse the pun) that after driving the 2 and a half hours back to the accommodation and packing our things, it would be time to leave for the airport! So while the kids managed to sleep in the car and had an hour in bed at the AirBnB, Heather and I just didn’t go to bed that night! It was well worth missing out on a nights sleep in order to pack in the experiences we’d had on our brief Iceland stopover.
This past Christmas, Santa brought the kids wetsuits and on 30 December, we had the opportunity to head down to Carmel with Uncle Tom and Auntie Kate to try them out.
The temperature was pretty decent for a December day and the light was amazing. The kids donned their new wetsuits and had a great time bodyboarding into the evening…
We stayed for a few hours until the sun started to set, playing frisbee and enjoying the beach. It’s amazing how you can enjoy the beach all year round in California, even on 30 December…
One of the things Heather asked for this past Christmas was a large wooden ruler for marking the children’ height as they grow. We hung the ruler between the family room and the kitchen back in December, but didn’t actually mark it until the night before the kids went back to school in August (2016).
We’re looking forward to keeping track of how the children grow over the years…
One of the challenges of having a large family is making sure that each of the children feel appreciated as individuals. We try to have ‘special days’ in which one of the children have a full day with either Heather or myself and do an activity of their choosing (within reason!). Our goal is to dedicate one Saturday each month to this, meaning that each child should have at least one special day with me and one with Heather each year.
Charlotte chose to go camping with me. We found a campsite and I got away from work a little early on the Friday. We headed up to Boulder Creek, an old-fashioned mountain town in the Santa Cruz hills.
We stayed in a simple campsite in a redwood grove, with an (freezing cold) outdoor swimming pool.
We popped our tent up, inflated the airbed in the bathroom and settled in for cuddles and made-up stories.
The next morning, we went into Boulder Creek for breakfast. There was a lovely little diner in the town, the ‘Old Mountain Inn’. We had bacon, eggs and pancakes and Charlotte took away a slice of chocolate torte for later.
After breakfast, we went for a dip in the pool. We had it all to ourselves as the campsite owner kindly let us in a little early. After a swim and play around the pool, it was time to pack up the tent and head back home.
It was so great to have some time with Charlotte – she’s such an energetic, fun, happy little girl and great to be around and I’m proud to be her Dad!
Heather’s brother, sister and mother have been lucky enough to spend the last couple of years on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii (Tom and Kate are studying there and Lyn is a missionary, volunteering at the Polynesian Cultural Center).
It’s been a few years since we have seen Lyn and a few more years since the whole family has been in the same place, so we wanted to take the opportunity to have a family holiday over there.
We chose to go at a time when Tom was graduating and Lyn was concluding her mission. Joshua also just turned eight and we were able to have his baptism take place in Hawaii with family present. So this trip was not only a chance to see Hawaii, go to the beaches and experience the culture, but also a time for meaningful family events.
We stayed in two houses, one through Airbnb and the other through VRBO. The first place was up in the hills of Hau’ula and the highlight, at least from the kids’ point of view, was the Koi pond in the garden, which was home to a number of toads. The kids spent hours out there in the hammock and by the pond. Just before we left, Lucy reached down into the pond to pick up one of the toads and fell right in, getting completely soaked!
Here are a few highlights of our visit…
Temple Beach & Laie Temple
A lovely beach with warm turquoise water within eyeshot of the Laie Hawaii Temple.
We played in the sand and went bodyboarding at the beach. We spent some time in the beautiful temple grounds – later during our visit, Heather, myself, Lyn, Tom jr.and Kate would get to go into the temple together and do some temple work for our family.
Ancient Ceremonial Site
We took a walk around a former Hawaiian temple/ceremonial site with a view to the beach below.
Kate has been learning traditional Island dancing and had a performance as part of her studies. For one of the dances, she got Eve and Lucy on stage to try the dance.
Turtles & Turtle Bay
We visited The Ocean Fest at Turtle Bay, where the kids shaped surfboards, tried Hawaiian shave ice and learned about caring for the ocean. We also visited the beach here, which was great for snorkeling. A little further along the coast there is a beach known for spotting giant turtles, so we went there to take a look.
Dole Pineapple Farm
A pineapple farm with a pineapple maze, pineapple ice cream, pineapple varieties on display and many other pineapple themed novelties. The kids wore appropriate pineapple themed clothing for the occasion.
Seven Brothers Burgers
We met with our friend Mason Baird, who is also studying at BYU Hawaii and tried a local burger restaurant. It was great to see Mason again and meet his friends.
Polynesian Cultural Center
The PCC is amazing – it’s a kind of a theme park that celebrates Island culture. You can travel by canoe to authentic ‘villages’ representing different islands; Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Aoterra etc. In each village, there are shows, demonstrations, games and things to try like starting a fire with two sticks (I got smoke!), making animals out of coconut leaves, hula dancing and twirling Poi balls. Each village is staffed largely by students from the respective islands.
In the Samoan village, Josh was chosen to go on stage and try some fresh coconut water. He was given a basket woven out of coconut leaves as a gift.
In the Tongan village, I (Dave), along with two other unsuspecting tourists, was invited on stage to put on a skirt, shout, slap my chest and face and play some Tongan drums. Obviously, I nailed it.
On the Friday evening, we went to the Night Show at the PCC; more drums, dancing (including fire dancers), singing – a really good show. The King and Queen of Tonga(!) were visiting the PCC, so they were seated in the centre of the auditorium and sat clapping and being fanned by their servants.
Another highlight was Waimea; a beautiful nature reserve, botanical garden and waterfall that you can swim in. This place was like the Garden of Eden – so lush and fertile with all sorts of trees, plants, flowers etc. When we reached the waterfall, we put on life jackets and jumped in. It was so cool to be in there with all of the kids.
We drove down to Waikiki and spent an evening there; at the beach, on the pier, watching street entertainers. There was a guy playing acoustic guitar and singing – he was pretty good, so we stopped for a while and Olive and Charlotte had a dance, much to the entertainment of passers-by.
Tom’s graduation at BYU Hawaii was a cool experience, much more energetic that the comparatively solemn British ceremonies. After receiving their degrees and hearing a few speeches, the graduates filter out onto the packed lawns and streets around campus where among hundreds of balloons and banners their family and friends are gathered to greet and congratulate them. The Samoans had staked out a section of lawn and put up banners. When their friends emerged, they turned up the music and started whooping and dancing. The Maoris did the ‘Haka’ in their gowns and caps. The graduates are presented with leis; the traditional floral kind, as well as more creative home-made varieties made with dollar bills or packets of M&M’s and Reeses peanut butter cups.
Tom graduated with a degree in Social Work and has loved his time here. As the minutes passed, he was given more and more leis by family and friends and ended up with quite the display around his neck. We had to de-lei him after a while because he was overheating in the Hawaiian sun!
The highlight of the trip was Joshua’s baptism. Josh was baptized on Friday 10 June in Laie. The event went really well with family members giving talks, readings, scriptures. I was able to baptism and confirm him, with Uncle Tom and the local Bishop, William Mahoni, assisting. We’re grateful to the local church leaders We’re so proud of Josh!
Valley of the Temples
We stopped off at the Valley of the Temples, which was a beautiful spot with 6 or 7 temples from various faith traditions. We parked and took a walk around the Japanese temple where we fed the Koi, sounded the gong (by swinging a huge log at it – see Josh in action above) and enjoyed the view.
Mokolii, or as the locals call it, ‘Chinaman’s Hat’, is a nice little island off Kaneohe Bay… yep, we’re hilarious.
Hanauma Bay is one of the most popular snorkeling spots in Oahu and for good reason. We rented snorkels and I went in with Eve, Josh and Lucy. It was amazing – so many tropical fish swimming around the coral.
We first snorkeled in Turtle Bay, but then did it again an Hanauma Bay. Both times it was amazing, but Hanauma had the edge. I’ve never done this before and was amazed at just how easy it was to see scores of tropical fish, including the national fish of Hawaii; the kids’ favorite, the Hummahummanukkanukkappuu’a. We also saw Convict fish, a huge parrot fish and Moorish Idols.
Snorkeling with the kids made me think about how fast they are growing; it’s not just paddling in the waves and building sandcastles any more; Eve and Josh were both swimming and snorkeling unassisted – it was cool.
Heather and I stole away one evening while Opa was watching the kids. We drove to Sunset Beach, a well-known surf spot to watch the sunset while sipping on fresh mango otai. The light was amazing and was surpassed only by the company…
Although the kids loved the other activities we did, every day, they asked one question “when are we going to the beach?”! Other beach visits included Kailua and Hukilau.
North Beach Taco
We went here for lunch after Tom’s graduation and took a few shots while waiting for the tacos to arrive…
After 11 days in paradise, we packed our bags and got on the plane home. The kids managed both flights really well and saying goodbye wasn’t too hard, as Oma and Kate would be joining us in California in just a few days time.
It’s funny over here. America loves a Holiday. Halloween, as we have previously posted, is mental. At Christmas, our little corner of suburbia is creaking under the weight of lights and decorations. On Valentines Day, the kids take cards and gifts for every member of their class at school. St Patricks Day sees everyone wearing green hats and clothing, building leprechaun traps and generally celebrating in a way that probably outdoes the Irish.
Easter however, isn’t as big of a deal here in the US of A as it is back home in England. Of course there’s a lot of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks kicking around in the shops, but the Holiday isn’t recognized by employers – we work Good Friday and Easter Monday, whereas in blighty, of course, those days are beloved Bank Holidays.
The other downer is the Easter Eggs. They don’t really do them here. OK, they do have the smaller ones, including “Cadbury” creme eggs (manufactured by Hersheys in Pennsylvania), but the big, hollow eggs with a bag of Dairy Milk Buttons inside are sadly nowhere to be found.
We made the best of the situation by carrying on a few good British traditions, starting with decorating hard boiled and blown eggs.
We took the boiled eggs to a local park and did a bit of egg rolling. Heather was the victor, with her flower-decorated egg going a good 30 metres without cracking.
On Sunday morning, the kids donned their bunny ears and had an egg hunt in the back garden…
We like to take a photo of the kids with their bunny ears and baskets – mainly to cause some embarrassment for them in years to come – here’s a few from the past few years…
We had bunny pancakes for breakfast, made by Charlotte (Shout out to Pinterest). We went to Church, where the kids sang ‘Gethsemane’, which was lovely. Heather rounded off the day with an amazing dinner.
Happy Easter to our friends and family wherever you may be!
We decided to make the most of Martin Luther King weekend and headed down to Los Angeles for a few days. We eventually set off on Friday evening after I finished work and arrived at our hotel around 2am!
The next morning, we got up early, had breakfast and headed into Disneyland, which was just over the road from where we were staying.
We had thought that having just one day in Disneyland wouldn’t be enough, but we found that we got to do quite a lot of the things we wanted to.
Here we are on the first ride of the day ‘It’s a Small World’.
We had beignets and listened to live music in the New Orleans quarter…
…blasted some aliens…
…met some Disney characters…
…took a few selfies…
…and rode on Splash Mountain.
There were a lot of Star Wars themed events following the release of The Force Awakens. This pleased Joshua in particular who had concerns about too many princesses etc!
Eve, Joshua and Lucy enrolled in the ‘Trials of the Temple’ Jedi Academy. They were trained in the ways of The Force and the use of a lightsaber, then they put on a live show in which they raised the Jedi Temple using The Force and battled with Darth Vader, Darth Maul and the Seventh Sister.
I’d like to introduce you to the latest graduates of the Jedi Academy:
Qui Gon Josh
We saw this parked by the Jedi Temple…
We finished the day off by watching the evening parade and firework/light show.
Heather is a bit of a genius and a fantastic mother, so she had this idea to write her phone number on each of the kids’ arms, so that if they got lost in madding crowds, we would get a phone call. Well, we put the kids straight to bed on the evening and it seems that Josh must have slept resting on his arm, because the next morning, he looked like this…
The road trip also involved lots of swimming…
…a visit to the LA Temple…
…a picnic in Lake Hollywood Park…
…and a stop in foggy Santa Barbara…
We finally hit the road from Santa Barbara back up to San Jose, having had a brilliant long weekend.
Now in Portland, we took a trip to Mount Hood, an inactive volcano that looks over Portland. Heather and the kids hadn’t seen snow since moving to the States, so the excitement began to mount as we approached Mount Hood and saw miles of pine trees dusted with snow. The snow became deeper the closer we got to the mountain and we stopped off a side road in a small clearing. We got wrapped up and played in the snow – snowball fights, snowmen, snow angels etc.
We all loved it and stayed until it got dark.
Thanksgiving dinner with the Thatchers was fantastic – they were great hosts and it was cool for us to see such a nice family with children a little older than ours. We had lots of questions about how they managed to raise their kids into such well turned out teenagers! We learned about the first Thanksgiving and enjoyed a delicious meal.
While in Portland, we visited the OMSI (Oregon Museum for Science and Innovation), where the kids learned about earthquakes, played with a van de graaf generator and Dave enjoyed the guitar exhibition which included the world’s largest electric guitar!
Our friend Jared works in central Portland and was kind enough to take us along to his work Thanksgiving party where we were able to watch the city’s Christmas tree light being turned on from the 25th floor.
We also visited the Portland Apple Store, where the Holiday campaign that I’d been a part of was in Store.
We then visited the ‘Zoo Lights’ exhibition at Portland Zoo. It’s a great idea – they install festive light displays all around the zoo so that visitors can wander around, have a hot drink and a pretzel and enjoy the atmosphere.
After a fantastic few days in Portland with the Thatchers, we set off for home. We didn’t make as many stops on the way home, but one stop we did make was Crater Lake; another extinct volcano – this one now has a lake within its crater (if you hadn’t already guessed from the name!) – the deepest lake in the USA, in fact!
We drove up to the rim of the crater and had a look around. And another snowball fight.
And that brings us to the conclusion of our road trip! Hope to do this one again!
The next stop on our road trip was Florence, Oregon. The journey offered some particularly impressive coastal views, so we’d stop every now and then to take a photo.
We made our way to the Sea Lion Cave, a coastal tourist attraction where you take a lift down into a cave where scores of sea lions can often be seen. During our visit, we only saw one solitary sea lion riding the waves as they crashed into the cave, but the visit was still worthwhile for the dramatic views of the coast.
The visit also yielded what is probably my favorite photograph from the road trip; a cute moment between Heather and a bobble-hatted Olive:
Next was a dune buggy ride. The Oregon Dunes is a 40 mile-long stretch of sand dunes along the coast – the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America (thanks Wikipedia). We all went for an hour-long ride on a large dune buggy that took us on a bumpy journey over and through the dunes, down onto the beach (which can only really be accessed in this way), then back again.
Despite the very bumpy ride, Olive fell asleep halfway through.
As the ride was coming to an end, it started to rain, then hail. There was nowhere to shelter, so we just put our hoods up and dealt with it. The kids were all good sports and for the most part, kept smiling. When we arrived back at the car, we were drenched and freezing and grateful to take off our coats and put the heating on.
After the buggy ride, we completed the last stretch of the journey to Portland, arriving at our friends’ house in the evening. It was great to see the Thatchers again, catch up with them and see how their kids had grown. The next day, the Thatchers took us out to visit Multnomah Falls, a huge waterfall just outside of Portland. We got some great views of Mount Hood and other scenery on the way…
Multnomah Falls is a 189 meter year-round waterfall. We took some photos at the bottom, then made our way up the path to the bridge. The older kids (Eve Lucy and Josh) went with me, Jared and his boys to the very top, while Charlotte and Olive waited half-way up with Heather and Anna. There were some spectacular views on the way up the narrow, steep path. I was really proud of the kids for getting as far as they did, as it was hard work.