A Year? Really?

I guess time really does fly when you are having fun.

In the way only a professional blogger can mean it:  I think about writing posts several times a week.  Really super interesting thoughts and observations on politics, national and international affairs, parenting, cooking, travel, and other very compelling topics.  Insert a witty aphorism about good intentions and paving roads here.  ;)

To quickly catch you up:

We are expecting a baby boy in 6-10 weeks.  SURPRISE!

JU is baby crazy, talking in 2-3 word phrases, and is a joy.

AU is smitten with her role as big sister, telling me that a rectangle has 4 sides and 4 points but circles have no sides or points, and we began our homeschooling adventure this past week “for real”.

Mr. T is doing some career soul searching and trying to decide on staying where he is, going for a 3rd round of grad school applications, or pursuing a different career.

As for me, I hope to be doing more blogging about the super interesting topics listed above…soon.  :D

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Catch Up (again!)

Once again I fail to maintain…

Where were we? June! Yes! Let’s see…in June I threw a tea party for some friends. We spent a leisurely afternoon sipping tea, eating various tiny sandwiches and scone. I forget how tasty a cucumber sandwich really is!

Then my birthday was also BFF and my 10 year anniversary. We are fortunate that we know the day we met. She gave me a hilarious poster sized image of she and I making duck faces in our bathing suits at the beach. To say it is hideous is not giving it the comedic credit it deserves. I laughed until I cried.

Poor BFF though she spent the end of June and most of July with a nasty tick-borne something. I spent July visiting my grandparents for the 4th, taking the girls to the pool, and getting ready to start homeschool preschool in the fall, and visiting my grandparents for my Gramma’s birthday.

August found us throwing together a baby dedication for Ju and then sitting at the hospital due to Grampa’s pneumonia. I do not feel like my summer had a satisfactory ending at all! No final pool trip or hot dog roast. Instead, the season changed while I sat with the rest of the family in the ICU.

He did recover and was able to move back to Indiana to a rehabilitation center. Unfortunately, two weeks later he passed away. We traveled to Indiana for the visitation and funeral. After the funeral we had a picnic in the backyard under the apple trees that was one of the most idyllic times I can remember outside of my many fond childhood memories. The weather was perfect, the food was good, there were lots of great grandchildren running around, the setting sun ushered in sparkler time. Sigh.

We returned from a trip to Disney the day before Grampa passed. We had a great time with Mr. T’s family–his parents, his aunt and her family including two of his cousins, and one of his brothers and his family were able to join us. Highlights- our room adjoined Mr. T’s parents so in the mornings the girls would visit while we got ready, good weather for the Halloween party parade, and trying out a waterpark (Ju laid back in the center of a raft sleeping soundly), and taking Au on her first roller coaster (Fun! Like a big slide! Up, up, up, and then wheeeeeee!).

September also ushered in a big family change with me returning to work more than full time in the field. To say it has been chaotic is an understatement. Mr. T is a great Dad but a horrible housekeeper. I am a good Mom but a horrible housekeeper. This new situation has exacerbated that horribleness tenfold.

This change also meant abandoning homeschooling this year. Au started at a Montessori program on October 1. She loves it and we love that a family friend of ours is her teacher. The long commute to her school is a schedule changer though. Her being gone in the morning and then napping all afternoon has been a heartbreaker for my new schedule as there are days I see her for less than half an hour awake.

My schedule is temporary as I have ads up looking to hire. Hopefully the right person will come along quickly as I really feel like I am missing out on my kids. It will be okay short term but I am ready to find someone!

And here we are, October. I am frantically working, getting through each day one at a time until wham! Appendicitis. I spent all day yesterday at two hospitals, talked to two surgeons and am now sitting on my couch uncut and fully appendixed. I know. That is not a word. Luckily, I got well somehow and did not wind up having surgery. Thank you Jesus! I did have a bajillion vials of blood drawn and get my abdomen palpitated by four different strangers. Cool.

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FreshTech

I interrupt this long delayed trip report to tell you about my new toy.  http://www.amazon.com/Ball%C2%AE-FreshTECH-Automatic-Jarden-Brands/dp/B007CRHPNY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369269604&sr=8-1&keywords=ball+jam+and+jelly+maker

It is the “Ball Jam and Jelly Maker” FreshTech machine.  Yep.  I bought a small appliance.  I need another small appliance like Au needs more candy.  But BFF was not fulfilling her role as budget minder and instead was filling in at the enabling department.  I can justify it though because I found it at my favorite way below retail outlet. 

The indiscretion (purchase) happened Monday.  Today is Wednesday.  I tried it out for the first time.  Here is what happened.

—————————-

Cost of machine $25

Cost of Sugar $3?

Cost of Fruit  $10

Cost of Juice $5

Cost of Pectin $7

=======================

Total Spent  $50

Mr.T’s favorite jam is $4 a jar.  He eats about a 6oz jar a week.  For the past 3 years I have made him homemade strawberry jam for Father’s Day to substitute for his favorite (super expensive) jam.  It is hot, laborious, and although I feel proud and triumphant when I am done, it is a labor, out of love, yes, but labor none-the-less.

Today I tried out my new machine.  Ahem, I mean, toy.  I washed the thing and followed the directions.  I began with low sugar strawberry around 3:30pm.  The most difficult part was hulling and smashing the strawberries.  That took, whoa, about 10 minutes to do all 4 16oz containers.  By 4pm I had jam.  Yep.  It was about as easy as typing those sentences.

I ladeled it into 2 6oz jars, 1 8oz jar, and had a bit leftover.  It tasted pretty good spread on a toasted English muffin.  For once, I had jam that set.  (The previous 3 years I had a lovely, thick strawberry syrup.) 

I did have to wait 30 minutes between batches because the machine has to cool.  With the next batch I decided to do regular sugar strawberry jam.  At the last moment I decided to pour some vanilla in and make strawberry vanilla jam.  WOW.  It was amazing.  Oh, and just as easy.  So, by 4:50pm I had another batch done, didn’t even break a sweat.  That batch produced 2 8oz jars and 2 6oz jars.  More sugar mant more product I guess.  Although neither batch had the yield the recipe stated (4 8oz jars). 

Finally, for my last trick (I only stopped because I was out of pectin.  I would have made jams and jellies all night otherwise!) I decided to make grape jelly.  I only had half the amount of pectin needed so I made a half batch.  I think it turned out fine (tasted amazing) but there wasn’t enough liquid to cover the stirrer and the evaporation rate of half a batch is different than a whole.  So, I pulled it off early (a little more than halfway through the cycle) and then had to restir it in the jars to get a consistent consistency.  I know I have already said this but it tasted amazing.  That batch yielded 1 8oz jar and 1 6oz jar.  I finished just before 6pm. 

So, in summary, I spent $50.  I yielded 5 6oz jars and 4 8oz jars for a total of 62oz of jam/jelly.  It took me 2 ½ hours, of which an hour was spent waiting for the machine to cool, and an hour and 6 minutes were spent with the machine doing it’s thing.  So, I actually spent 24 minutes actively “working”.  Mr. T’s jam is 66 cents an ounce.  This jam/jelly is 80 cents an ounce but includes the cost of the machine. 

Next go-round (since I just ordered lots of pectin from Amazon I’m fairly confident there is going to be some exciting developments like jalepeno pepper jelly, peach jam, blackberry, raspberry, and of course, more strawberry) won’t have that cost factored in so it will be closer to 40 cents an ounce.  (Although I just realized I put down $5 for juice but only used a cup and a half of it not the whole container.  Oh, well.  I am satisfied with the mathematics of the situation.)  I have to confess that I am thinking of people to give jam to so that I can make and try more varieties.  I cannot in good conscience plunk down $4-8 a jar for gourmet stuff but I can sure spend a buck or two trying out exotic flavors like peach melba or pomegranate.  Yum!

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Days 7, 8, and 9!

In the morning we head to town center to pick up some things from the outdoor Saturday market. We decide to go play at the park as well. Then we decide to have real tea for lunch.

We head to Brysons Tea Room. This will be my first real tea in England despite previous visits. We order a “tea for two” and I laugh when Mr. T says he might need to get a sandwich too because he is really hungry. The tray comes with 2 sandwiches (ham and cheese, egg salad with cress), 2 slices of plum bread, 2 large fruit scones, 1 large lemon petit four, 1 carmel bar, and 2 dessert plus a pot of hot tea. Even with AU doing her best we do not finish it all by a long way.

After our tea we head to the cottage for naptime. Everyone naps and then we watch a little television, do laundry, and make french bread pizza for dinner. I am quite proud of my ingenuity when I realize we have salad but no dressing. So, I use two cooked slices of bacon leftover from breakfast, OJ, and maple syrup, pepper to make salad dressing. It is very good!

After dinner we do more laundry and walk down to the lake hoping to take an evening cruise. No luck. They only offer them in July and August now. Shame. i really enjoyed my previous cruises. We walk around by the lake some, AU chases sheep. We managed to stay out of the car for 24 hours!

The next morning we have breakfast and head out for a Rick Steve’s car hiking drive trek around Lake Windemere. It is spectacular! It is cold and rainy. We are pleased to be driving and not walking. We stop for lunch at a place he recommends.

It is truly a hole in the wall place…perhaps a subterranean hole in the side of a hill place or maybe just a former barn. Two young adults sold us some soup and toasties with lots of interesting chatter- the woman was a painter, the man hopes to walk to Everest basecamp later in the year. While we are there two other groups come in making the cafe full to capacity. Definitely wouldn’t have discovered it on our own!

We return to Keswick and stop at the grocer for dinner. We had discussed going to the Dog and Gun pub but decide with the rain to stay in. Having a cottage is nice for keeping out of the rain! The girls nap, Mr. T dries clothes at the laundromat. Our cottage has a washer but not a dryer. Some of our stuff has managed to dry on the drying rack but not all. I watch BBC. Fascinating!

Mr. T and I do not watch much television at home so this was a treat! I watched a show about the Queen, a program about unusual or maybe historic homes in the UK, and then the drama The Village. There are only 2 more episodes in this season! It was riveting. I highly recommend it.

We shower AU and hit the hay. Tomorrow we are off to Hadrian’s Wall and the east coast of England. Hopefully the weather stays as gorgeous as it has been.

In the morning we pack up and head out of town via the Castlerigg Stone circle. It is grey, windy, and rainy but we drive out to it and walk around. Something like 70% of the UK or maybe England’s stone circles are in this region. This is a grand one, situated on a hill that probably has a lovely view at sunrise and sunset. The national trust though has done a terrible job with the information podium/placard. It essentially says, “here is a stone circle which we have zero information or clues on, enjoy!”

On our way to Hadrian’s Wall we go by two more stone circles. The first is Long Meg and her 69 daughters. It is the third largest circle in the UK in size taking up a field with a road going through it. It is well kept and has not been defaced/torn down too much. Some of the stones are worked with circular carvings.

The second circle which is just a few blocks away we do not find. It is Little Meg. According to my guidebook although the stones are also worked this circle has been badly damaged so I am not too disappointed we cannot find it.

We head over the mountainous hills to Hadrian’s Wall. On the way we stop for lunch at this mountain/hill top summit. I believe it was Hartside Hill. The cafe looks like a cinderblock cafeteria except they have hung really jolly pastel fabric bunting and painted the walls bluey turquoise. Then you turn around and see this breathtaking view of the valley. The national trust sign says, “top of the world” and it certainly feels that way. Also, it feels cold outside, with the wind blasting, but pleasantly warm inside. We have lunch and appreciate the view.

We stop at Housesteads Fort after driving much of the way along what is left ofHadrian’s Wall. Along the way, Mr T gets out at one of the outposts and hikes the short but extremely steep hillside to look around. The sleeping kiddos and I stay in the warm car. At Housesteads we all get out and start the half mile hill trek to the fort and museum. After a few screaming blocks JU and I turn back for the warm car (and the pacifier I accidentally left). AU insists she wants to go with Daddy.

JU falls asleep and I work on my travelogue. Over an hour later a beleaguered Mr. T and a peppy but runny nosed AU come back to the car. Several key things- AU flips out crying each time Mr. T tries to put her in the Tula, each time the wind blows her hair, which is down, into her face she cries and asks to be held. Thus a tortuous cycle is crated. Mr. T winds up carrying her almost the whole time including the half mile down hill and then back up hill walk to the car. They still had a good time. Oh, and the camera with its special rechargeable battery dies. Charger? In Nashville.

(Standing at the edge of the Empire is a very contemplative experience. The Romans consolidated their holdings in Britain by building a 20-foot wall across the entire island. They put a fort at every mile along the wall — that’s 80 forts — and a watchtower between each one. Imagine being posted on that frontier. Unlike Roman roads, which run straight as an arrow, the Wall follows the contours of this hilly terrain to maximize its defensive value. Both the fort and watchtower I visited had a commanding view in all directions. Even to the local auxiliary troops, this post must have seemed like the Edge of the World, and how much more so for those from other parts of the Empire. Trajan expanded the Empire to its largest extend and his successor, Hadrian, consolidated Rome’s holdings. After that, there would be good emperors and bad ones, and a lot of mediocre ones, but it was all a long, long downhill slide. One day, our culture will be no more. Indeed, I think we may be in decline already. What will remain of our civilization nineteen hundred tears from now? What will the people who stand on our ruins think of us?

Teacher told us
The Romans built this place.
They built a wall and a temple
And an edge-of-the-empire garrison town.
They lived and they died,
They prayed to their gods
But their stone gods did not make a sound.
Their empire crumbled and all that was left
Were stones the workmen found.)

We had booked into a bed and breakfast just outside of Holy Island, via internet, before leaving Keswick. We were excited because it was going to have a king size bed! Mr. T and I and JU had been sharing the tiny double beds that most places have. I was ready to stretch out!

We did not expect this glorious, gorgeous beachside haven though! Wow! We were probably 100yards from the beach, spectacular views of Holy Island and Bamburgh Castle, plus a large room, big bed, couch for AU, and a great shower. We eat a picnic dinner of bread, cheese, and ham before setting out on an evening walk. We find a herd of cattle, sheep, and the biggest wild rabbits (hare?) I have ever seen. We walk down to where the ocean would have met the land except the tide was out so we walked down to the marsh. Have I said it was lovely? It was lovely!!!

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Days 5 & 6

 

In the morning we enjoy breakfast and head out for neolithic monuments.  We also slather ourselves with sunscreen because the surprise pink cheeks from yesterday cannot happen again!  It is mild but the sun is out so better to be safe than guilty I sunburned my kiddos.  It is then that we realize our late starts happen because breakfast at 8:30am with a dawdling toddler takes a good 45 minutes, then we pack up, then nursing and bathrooming all around puts us out the door around 10am on a good day and 11-12pm on really slow ones (you can take the family out of Tennessee but you cannot take the slow as molasses out of the family!).  That has put us at our “morning activities” usually around 11-1pm which isn’t exactly great because then it is lunch so we stop, eat, nurse, restroom.  THEN finally we see what we came for!  
 
But back to Thursday…we head for Avebury via chalk white horses and roman ruins.  Both of which we find and see successfully.  We did not ever find the chapel that was on the map but that is okay.  The roman ruins are worth the side trip.  One of the best mosaic floors of its type that I have seen.  Also, one of the larger villas with out buildings that I have seen.  The chalk horse was interesting too.  
 
Avebury was awe inspiring as always. One of Britain’s many stone circles, this one’s claim to fame is its sheer size.  The circle’s circumference is large enough that there’s a TOWN inside it. I didn’t see any information about how many stones make up the circle, but I’d be surprised if there was a stone circle anywhere with more. If the site was used for astrological functions and calendar calculation (as they say these things were) you have to wonder what the folks at Avebury were up to that needed so much more real estate than your average henge, which is usually big enough to house a Boy Scout troop. It took a driveby and turn around for us to get on the processional road the correct direction but that is alright.  Mr. T seemed suitably impressed.  I was hoping AU would Tula nap, instead she Tula fussed.  That was alright.  We got to feel smugly superior to the dopes carrying their strollers as their toddlers ran hither and yon.  Neolithic sites are not particularly stroller friendly!  She did like touching the stones and seeing the sheep (oh, and she is now saying, “More farm animals please!” which really cracks me up, when we go a minute without seeing the ver present sheep or cows.).  She also liked the bites of ice cream we enjoyed as snack on the way to the car!
 
She and JU slept while we headed south toward Salisbury.  I remembered en route that in 2006 when I was here the plan was to build a new road and educational center near Stone Henge so that you could not drive by it.  I decided not to say anything until I saw for sure.  Due to the road construction it took 3! tries to find stone henge.  They were omidproject, scheduled to be done in the fall.  We took some pictures from the road but did not tour because the girls were sleeping.  We headed to wood henge.  Both girls woke up, AU with shrieking (which eventually lead to her sitting in the car by herself while Mr. T and I discuss our plans for the weekend) and JU with crying.  We were all hungry and tired.  We decide that the priority is filling bellies so we head into Salisbury to a Rick Steve’s recommended pub.  
 
It reminds me of a place I would have enjoyed as a 25 year old backpacker.  In fact, there are youth with their backpacks scattered amongst the locals who were just off work.  10 years and 2 kids removed from that type of scene I felt out of place and old.  The food wasn’t that great either.  It was curry special night (did you know that the English are the highest consumers of Indian food outside of  India?) and neitherof us prefer curry so we ordered off the regular menu.  
 
I run upstairs to see how much a room would be for the night (lots of pubs are inns with rooms upstairs; this was one) but ultimately due to not knowing about our parking spot for overnight decide to head out.  We wind up staying at the “premier inn” which seems to be a Baymont/Red Roof Inn equivalent.  Just a basic but clean place.  We pay an extra 5 pounds to get AU a bed because we have not done more than sink laundry and her sheets were soiled by her sister the night before.
 
We are thankful in the morning that there is a hairdryer in the room so we can ensure all sink laundered items are dry.  Meanwhile, Mr. T and I use the 30 minutes of free internet to see if it is possible to rent a cottage in Keswick, Lake District, for 3 days.  Surprise!  It is! Plus, it is on sale for being last minute!  We decide to head that direction and decide at lunch if we were for sure going to do it/make it.  An almost 6 hour drive is not lightly undertaken with a 2 year old and an infant.  
 
We set out, still discussing whether Cambridge/York would be a better choice. We made coffee in the room to take but stopped at a farm shop for some breakfast bites.  Mr. T wanted baked goods which seemed like a no-brainer for a farm shop but alas, they had none.  So, we enjoyed the first toasties of the trip.
 
A toastie is a hot sandwich made from special “toasting bread” with toppings of cheese and ham typically.  The bread is toasted first, then the toppings are put on and the slices are put under the broiler to melt/heat up.  Then two,slices are put together.  It is different entirely then a grilled cheese or even cheese toast.  It is sort of a hybrid of the two.
 
We drive forever.  We encounter our first rain drops.  A few sprinkles is all, not even “rain” really.  The traffic gets difficult.  We get hungry for lunch.  We stop at their version of a rest stop.  It has 2 separate facilities–a gas station with a burger king, and a grocery store with a coffee shop and food court.  We pick the latter.  
 
In the grocery it takes a while to navigate all the sandwich and salad choices.  We sit in the food court and eat.  As in the States there are big screen TVs showing commercials and news.  The news reports that M62 is closed and Bangladesh is having strife.  AU and Mr. T go outside to play on the playground while I get on the internet to book our cottage.  We have decided!  Keswick!  
 
While playing AU slides down a slide (English slides start out wide and narrow at the bottom.  Then the bottom instead of ending like in the US the slide continues with a straight part (for stopping safely I guess?).  Most kids would slide, wind up with their feet on either side, put their feet down and stop.  AU who is a “fast” slider winds up feet on either side, unable to stop, face first into the ground.) and winds up skinned and bloodied.  Poor thing!  We use the restroom and stop into a book/CD/connivence shop to buy a book on tape–Dick Barton Super Spy, a BBC radio show.  Then we set of again.  We are only 2ish hours from Keswick.  Easy peasy!  
 
We leave the car park, come round the corner of the on ramp, and stop. Then  we look at the map.  M62 is about 30 miles north.  Ah, that explains the bad traffic.  England only has a few interstates and the one we are on heads north with the M62 shooting off of it north east.  So, the closed highway is causing the one we are on to also back up.  Excellent!
 
We enjoy our book on tape and the girls sleep.  It only takes us an extra 2-3 hours to get there.  It rains and rains but we are in the car so it doesn’t matter.  We wind up eating dinner in the grocery store cafe before buying groceries for eating in a few meals at the cottage. 
 
 At the grocery we discover on the toy aisle kids magazine/workbooks prepackaged with stickers and toys for around 4£.  We buy one to entertain AU with and are very impressed…ours is “spring” themed with plastic ladybugs, a bug catcher net, a box of 3 miniature cars, and a frog catapult with the magazine/workbook and stickers.  AU is in love and keeps busy for hours.  
 
After finding internet to get directions to the cottage and entering the secret code to obtain the cottage keys we are finally, finally arrived!  Only 12 hours, not bad!  We unload and collapse into sleep. 
 

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Additional Information

Mr. T’s thoughts and comments are in parenthesis.  Enjoy!  

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Day 4

Breakfast is another formal affair with china and full fry.  Everyone is again gaga over JU and barely acknowledges AU.  This has happened repeatedly, multiple times a day, which is a different cultural experience then we have back home.  At home AU  is fawned over and talked to while JU is largely ignored except maybe a “Oh, do you have a baby sister?” at the end of a conversation.  Here , lots of talking to JU and then, “Is this your big sister?” at the end of the interaction.  AU doesn’t care so it isn’t a problem, just an interesting observation.  We have seen very few babies about (even at playgrounds) so maybe that is why.  
 
After breakfast we pack up and are told to wait to leave because they will be driving a flock of sheep across the road and through the farmyard where we are parked.  AU thinks the herd of sheep racing by is terrific fun and says, “more” as soon as they pass.  She and I go down to the lambing barn to say goodbye to them as “more”.  
 
Our plan is to go to Blenheim Palace and picnic and tour.  We picnic next to the miniature train tracks in a hurry to get to the palace.  AU continues eating sparsely.  She is working on 3 of her two year molars.  She is also working on being 2 and only eating cheese and cookies.  Good thing there are grownups around to offer apples and peas.  
 
(Blenheim Palace was given to John Churchill — 1st duke of Marlborough and the most famous general you’ve never heard of — by the Crown as a reward for winning the Battle of Blenheim — the most important battle you never learned about. The battle was in Bavaria against the French in a conflict called The War of Spanish Succession, which may explain why it’s a bit daunting for American public schools to cover. To put it in context, though, it was the battle that turned the tide in a long struggle against the Sun King and started the British Empire. At least, that’s how it’s presented at Blenheim Palace, and considering how impressively large and beautiful it is, the King and Queen at the time probably wouldn’t consider that an exaggeration. Oh, and if you recognized the Duke’s last name, it’s because Blenheim Palace is where Winston Churchill was born and raised.)
 
We take the train to the palace and load the girls in the Tulas.  AU stays awake on my back looking at things until about half way through the first floor.  Those rooms are a history of Winston Churchill.  Then we see the apartments and talk extensively with a docent/guide about the plaster wall paintings in the dining room (which is in the process of being laid for Christmas!  AU is still awake, just long enough for us to talk about the princess parties that happen here and she falls asleep) which were done by a french painter and include images of north africans, far easterners, and the like which evolves into a discussion about current world affairs and islamists.  She even joins us in the next room to tell us about the tapestries depicting the Battle of ??? which  ended? the War of Spanish Secession.  
 
We finish the first floor and decide to go upstairs to see the rooms we were told wouldn’t be good because of the children.  Since they were both asleep it seemed fine to us.  Unlike downstairs, which was a lot like touring Versailles, this is more like an educational version of The Haunted Mansion.  We get about 2/3 of the way through before both girls awake so we head ahead of our group (we were told by a docent it was okay!) and on out.  
 
We ride the train back to the pleasure gardens where we let AU down to run about.  We quickly do the hedge maze and then off to the playground.  We wind up by going through the butterfly garden which is steamy hot and has the largest butterflies i have ever seen.  
 
We get to the car around 5:30 and decide to head on to Oxford for the night. We quickly change plans when traffic, poor maps, bicyclists, and lack of information and a closed TI prove difficult.  We decide to head back out of Oxford.  First, though we grab dinner from McDonalds.  Yes, we were “those” people who travel halfway around the world to windup eating gross food we could get for less money back home but almost never do.  With the tired and hungry we figured we would be setting ourselves up for misery taking AU into a restaurant to eat and we were in a hurry to find a place to sleep for the night.  
 
We wind up staying at a Best Western to cap off our “things we don’t do in America” portion of the trip.  It isn’t bad or expensive and puts us closer to Avebury and Stone Henge for the next day.  I wash clothes in the sink because there is not a laundry.  (This would prove to be a portent of things to come, as if Oxford put us behind schedule not just today, but for days afterward.)

 

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