Updates and Anniversaries

I decided it was time for an update on what’s been going on over here while I’ve been doing everything but blogging. So here are the things that have been keeping me busy recently.

  1. The first one, of course, is JQ monstering.

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Don’t be fooled by that cute little face and angelic mop of blonde hair. This little man, who is currently eight-and-a-half months old, rarely sits still and always wants to be getting into something. Vying for the spots of top most fascinating things are computer cords, computers, cellphones, and drawers. So far he’s completely destroyed one drawer in the house and taken the contents out of many more. His motto seems to be, “What can I get into next?”

2. In June, we celebrated our third anniversary. Of course, like the bad blogger that I am, I’ve been trying to write a post about it for a month. This is me giving up and saying no post shall be written. But at least we got (a very bad) picture of us wandering around London on our anniversary.
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It’s been a great three years in three countries, Jared. I’m looking forward to the next year (and the next country!).
3. The third thing that’s been keeping me busy is. . .I got a job! It’s teaching English online to Chinese people, mostly kids. The transition was a little rough on JQ (since he obviously can’t “help” me and has to go in the other room), but I’ve taught a lot of fun students. And I’ll be able to take it with me when we move. . . which is a plus.

4. Which brings me to: we’re moving, again! We leave our current house on July 25 (sniff, sniff), and are going to travel around for a bit before heading off to Singapore in January. Not looking forward to Singapore’s weather, but kind of excited to know where we’re going next and maybe having a bigger flat there too. What I’m not excited about, though, is packing, a.k.a. getting rid of everything we own (again). I always feel like we’ve done a great job of not accumulating stuff until it’s time to pack it all up–and then it takes five times longer than it should to go through everything. But at least we won’t have much to carry when traveling!

5. But before we leave here for good, we’re doing a bit more traveling around the country. We have Scotland and Ireland booked for the end of the month, but for now, we’ve just made a last-minute trip to Gloucester and a day trip to Cardiff from there. Lots more beautiful scenery (and cute baby pictures, of course).

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We’ve been loving the gorgeous English gardens and all the greenery everywhere.

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We had a great time walking around Cardiff as well and seeing the castle and the bay. It was perfect weather too!

6. Besides going places ourselves, we’ve also had other people visit us. After my friend left, my sister came two weeks later. I haven’t persuaded either of them to write a blog post yet, but perhaps I might still. It’s amazing how much more popular living in London has made us!

7. Other than all the busyness described above, we’re just enjoying what has probably been the coolest summer I’ve ever spent. I don’t think it’s ever gotten past 80 degrees (yes, that is Fahrenheit) yet and it’s July. Feel free to be envious, those of you roasting in America. Have I mentioned we’re going to miss England?!

Well, I think that about covers our summer so far. What have you all been up to?

For more, head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum.

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Yorkshire

You guys. Yorkshire is amazing. And I have a few hundred pictures to show for it.DSC_0448

Maybe it helped that we went in spring, so everything could be green and blooming.

 

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But still–the combination of green hills, stone fences, and picturesque cottages made for some great pictures and good memories.

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The clouds cooperated and did their bit for the making of good pictures too.

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I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing the countryside till I left London for a couple days.  It was so nice to get a break from traffic and houses and people and be able to look further than a couple hundred feet in any direction.

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In other news, my adorable sweet immobile baby has suddenly turned into an attack monster. Everything–from doorstops to computer cords–is fair game, and will get grabbed and put into a slimy little mouth.

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In fact, he’s gotten so adept at crawling his way into everything that we’ve decided he gets a verb of his own: monstering.

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“If you’re going to monster,” we’ll say, “you can start in this corner so it’s harder for you to ruin another computer cord.”

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Thankfully, his monstering skills hadn’t quite developed on this trip to Yorkshire, so he was happy to (mostly) stay put in his carrier.

 

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But now he’s grumping at me (yes, that is also a verb here, in case you were wondering) and saying it’s his bedtime.

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He would be attacking my computer, but that’s not very conducive to any actual blogging, so he’s climbing me instead and pulling my hair.

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Unfortunately, I still have quite a few more pictures to show you. It’s kind of a trial of judgment, because I want to include them all. But looking at a million pictures of other people’s travels is kind of boring after the tenth picture or so, so I cut a few out.

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In spite of the terrible problem of having too many pictures, our main regret was not having the time to see more. One day felt kind of short!

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And I’ve run out of things to blither on about, so before your start monstering, now that you know such a thing is possible, I will let you look through the last five hundred pictures on your own.
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And you can envy my self-timer skills on my camera.

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And the sunshine on the river.

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And the stone bridges 

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And peaceful cows.

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And…ok, I’ll stop for good now. Maybe I’ll come back and write another post soon. And maybe I will just decide that I like sleeping better. Who knows?

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DSC_0649Bonus points if you can name the poem this made me think of!

Photo Bloopers

Here I am, breaking radio silence for the first time in about two months, to bring you the best of Annika’s photography skills. And I tell you, these are some incredible pictures.

First up, we have this thrilling number taken courtesy of the self-timer on my camera. You’re welcome.

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I had never known before I saw this just how much I look like a cartoon character when I run with a baby on my front. Now I know. And I can never un-know that fact. It will haunt me forever.

Next we have this beautiful view of fields and hills in Yorkshire…until you look to the right.

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Yes, that is a finger pointing. No, I don’t know what it’s pointing at.

And this one…well, there’s nothing wrong with this one. It’s just a cute baby picture I thought you’d want to see.
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Have you ever seen such a cute little laughing bear? I thought not. If you look at that face long enough, you should start smiling too!

Have a cheery Friday, and maybe I’ll show you some more of the (better? hopefully?) pictures soon!

How to Travel London Like a Pro {Guest Post}

Today’s post is brought to you by my sister-in-law Mara, who visited us in London for a few months. I’m making it a tradition that if you visit, you have to write up a blog post about your time here. Sadly, she just left us for the greener pastures of Oregon. . . where things are a lot less hectic. 

Looming skyscrapers, double-decker buses roaring down the wrong side of the road, seas of rushing people, zooming trains—it’s all a bit much for Alaska-born, small-town-raised, me. Well, it was at first. Now, I am as much a Londoner as anyone from here, or at least I like to pretend I am. I’ve figured out the meanings of knackered (think exhausted), squiggle (“squiggle up the queue”), squidge (squishy!), and dodgy (Brits’ favorite word meaning sketchy) and I know what bin lorries are (just plain old garbage trucks). I know how to get anywhere, and often find myself giving lost people directions.

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. . .like how to get to Sherlock’s house!

The trick to getting anywhere, even if you can’t pronounce where you are going and you aren’t sure where you came from, is to look confident. If the signal on your phone fails, or your trusty Piccadilly train line workers go on strike for the third time this month, just flash a British guy a smile and ask how you get to x (I don’t recommend this advice for guys). “Sure love, you just . . . ” is the usual response. These British men know how to be gentlemen (not referring here to the ones that say f*** every other word).

Speaking of striking, it’s a favorite pastime for train workers and everyone else. Six months paid leave for having a baby (which you just had at the hospital for no cost to you), paternity and adoption leave, paid public holidays, plus six weeks paid vacation for everyone, workable healthcare that doesn’t cost so much that you have to live in your car. . . the conditions are so abominable that if I lived here I’d be striking every other week too.

Apparently, some places in the world still celebrate Good Friday–it’s a national holiday here, which means trains and buses have different schedules, or sometimes don’t even run. I found this out the hard way when I was left waiting an hour for a bus at the train station 4.5 miles from my appointment and a taxi driver was kind enough to tell me that the buses were not running that day. Unfortunately, he just wanted to drain my bank account. I walked. I did contemplate hitchhiking, but I didn’t want my mother getting wind of it and having a heart attack.

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Or you can just climb a twisty old oak.

If you really want to give your mum a heart attack, just take a trip to Rome. End up dreadfully sick, realize you better go to the hospital (before the housekeeper discovers you dead on the bed), find the hospital where no one speaks English, nearly stop breathing, get pumped full of oxygen and meds and spend the next week barely able to get out of bed with bronchitis, coughing, throwing up, and cooking with a fever. [Ed.: it takes a real fever to be able to cook with it!] If that doesn’t scare your mummy, I don’t know what will.

If you prefer to not have such enervating adventures, I found the circus back in London was a much more relaxing option. The lion tamer, I mean house cat tamer, and his ferocious beast put on quite a show. Never mind that the lion’s roar sounded more like “meow.” I considered getting my Exceptional Talent visa to be the circus unicyclist as they didn’t have one. But after watching the knife thrower tie up the poor circus girl and nearly take off her head, I decided I didn’t want to get roped into any such ridiculousness. I’m kind of attached to my head too.
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Museums are also a great way to spend your free time. If you really want to become one of those obnoxious museum snobs, just spend the day looking at all the dinosaur bones in the Natural History Museum. After making great friends with the T-Rex, go over to the British Museum where you can chill out with the freakishly real-looking wood/wax Huns, then nip over to the Victoria and Albert to examine all the fine dishes, dresses, and couches while getting overwhelmed with gold things. Still want more? That’s okay, there are about a billion museums left to see.

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My Hun friend at the British Museum

And if you get tired of dusty museum history, you can always go over to Hyde Park or Greenwich Park, where you might still find history but in a more natural setting. But be careful–if you’re bad, you might get tied up to Queen Elizabeth’s Oak overnight as a punishment.

Now that my senior thesis on the History of British War and Police Dogs is finally all researched and written, it’s time for me to attend graduation, get a job, pay off loans, and do all the general responsible adult-ish things. So now, I’m headed back to the skyscraper-less grass fields of home, where a traffic jam means six cars behind a tractor. But a piece of my heart will be left behind in beautiful, diverse, adventure-filled London, in the church-turned-flat, with Brother and Annikins and Baby Bear.

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A Lovely Spring Boat Ride

We decided to switch things up a little the other day and catch the Thames Clipper, since we live so close. It was a lovely spring day, though a little chilly on board ship, and JQ decided to break his nap strike and actually sleep a little while he was on board (of course only while in his carrier).

Pro tip–to get the best looking pictures, try balancing the camera on top of your baby’s head while you try to get the best shots. He’ll wiggle and possibly even squeak at you, leading to the best crooked pictures you’ve ever taken. (I’m well on my way to teaching a photography course!)

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I did end up getting few good pictures without millions of heads and the backside of the boat in them, however. This one of Tower Bridge, for example.

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And the battleship whose name I feel I should know but can’t remember. DSC_0428

There were also some people out enjoying the river

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And we saw a lovely view of the dome of St. Paul’s looking rather incongruous next to some newer apartment buildings. But at least they’re not Soviet style architecture.
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Oh, and London Bridge too. I think most Americans assume that London Bridge must be some fabulous looking bridge that’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever seen. Well, it’s not.

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Just kidding; that’s not actually London Bridge. It’s Waterloo Bridge. But the principle is the same.

And just in case you’re wondering what the backside of a boat looks like, here you go. You can thank me later.

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Cambridge

I’m not going to be the best tour guide of Cambridge, since there were so many colleges and they were all so beautiful I look at the pictures now and think, “Which one was that?” Maybe it’s because we have the lamest approach to sight-seeing ever: we get there and we walk. A lot. And stop to take some pictures of cool buildings and feed my baby when he gets fed up with walking around in the rain/sleet that can’t decide if it is or isn’t.

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If we think something’s really neat, then we might look for a sign as to what it is and maybe use an app to find out a little more about it. But that’s it. Tours and maps and planning what you want to see are for the weak. Or the highly organized. Let’s just pretend it’s because we’re strong.

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Annnd it appears that I still haven’t quite gotten my camera lens clean after the great baby spit up debacle. So don’t look too closely at any of these pictures.

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We were being cheapskates on this trip too, and didn’t want to pay for admission to any of the various colleges. Which is sad because Jared might (big might) end up going to Cambridge if he can come up with some form of funding, and I wish he could have seen inside one.

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Anyway, we had a lovely day walking around Cambridge with Jared’s mom and sister, who were visiting all the way from the good ol’ USA. By the end of the day we’d clocked around eight miles and I’d worn a hole in my sock.

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As I mentioned earlier, the weather couldn’t make up its mind whether to be sunny or rainy. So on one side of the river, you get blue sky with puffy white clouds in a pastoral British scene and on the other, you get this angry dark sky above the Gothic towers of Christ’s College. (I think. Don’t quote me on that if you find out it’s really some other college!)

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Right after I took that picture, the heavens opened and it started sleeting on us and JQ said he was decidedly not pleased about it. So I carried my screaming baby to the sanctum of Cambridge University Press bookstore (which I didn’t take any pictures of because of said screaming baby), and fed him while Jared acted like a kid in a candy shop. He pored over the stacks, pointing at every other one, “Oh, I own that. I’ve read that one. Got that one on preorder from Amazon but it hasn’t come yet,” ad nauseam. You haven’t seen excitement until you’ve seen Jared in the Political Science section of Cambridge University Press.

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So, old buildings, great bookstore, weird weather, cool trees. You should make it to Cambridge if you have time. And I won’t judge if you take an actual tour.

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As a fond farewell, I leave you with this budding beauty. Spring is truly coming, ya’ll!

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Gloucester

Every time I tell people I have a blog, they say, “Oh no! What have you written about me??”

We stayed in Gloucester with a super sweet old lady who met my parents more than 25 years ago on their honeymoon. When people asked how we knew her, I had to confess that this was actually the first time I’d met her!

Her whole family was so kind to us–driving us around, showing us the sights, inviting us over for meals. It was the perfect little vacation. I guess it pays to keep up those 25-year-long friendships!
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Gloucester is a beautiful little city. At the center, of course, is Gloucester Cathedral. And I took about a billion pictures of it. . .so, sorry?

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The sun even decided to shine for us for a few minutes so I could get some pictures with blue sky.

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This house has apparently been standing since the Tudor era.

And, of course, the obligatory inside pictures too.
DSC_0127 The cloisters, as always, were simply beautiful. It’s worth going to see Gloucester Cathedral just for that. DSC_0128

And then there’s the massive East window, the first of its kind. Apparently somewhere on it is the first representation of someone playing golf.
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Continue along the cloisters, and you’ll see a doorway into a courtyard. That was Jared’s favorite place.

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Anyways, enough with the cathedral pictures. Let’s see some countryside, starting with a quintessential country church.

DSC_0151   A little village called Painswick, made almost entirely of Cotswold stone, was another sight we saw. DSC_0155

This little planter was one of the cutest things ever.
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And it wouldn’t be complete without at least one photo of those green British fields. So beautiful.

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Southampton Photo Dump

So after Oxford, we visited Southampton. Our method of choosing places to visit was extremely scientific–we looked at the map of England on the Megabus website, figured out which places were only a couple of hours away and had inexpensive tickets, and decided to go there. So we didn’t really know what awaited us in Southampton when we went there.

First of all, it was cold! Since it’s a port city, there was a nice cold wind blowing off the ocean. We were glad for our nice little attachable heater (otherwise known as a baby) and our nice warm coats!

The city walls still surrounding a lot of the old city were definitely interesting. They also made for some good photo opportunities with the self-timer.

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It was so neat to walk along the walls, although unfortunately there was only an ugly construction site right next to them. It kind of took away from the idea of resisting the attacking Frenchies and all.

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These walls looked so much more English than the Xi’an city walls. I guess as an American you might think of all city walls being the same, but these were the kind of thing you might see in Robin Hood. And they weren’t nearly so thick, either.

 

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Don’t look down!

Apparently some parts of the city walls used to be merchants’ warehouses that were conscripted to keep the city safe after the French attacked and stole some stuff (this is why I’m not a historian). So they had some really cool arches and doorways.

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I love the framing and focal point of this picture.

 

One thing we hadn’t really known before we left was this little factoid. As Americans, you’d think we’d know this kind of thing!

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In fact, they even named the park right next to the ocean Mayflower Park. And yes, Jared almost lost his hat there.

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There were also some really cool ruins we went and explored, with fun little arches and doorways to peek into.

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The most interesting of these ruins was this old church, called Holyrood Church. It was bombed in WWII, so now it’s been converted into a memorial park of sorts.

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The inside was beautiful–it kind of reminded me of the Lord of the Rings and the dead white tree.

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After we got too cold and it started raining, we decided that was about enough sightseeing for the day. Unfortunately, our train tickets couldn’t be changed, so we had to hang around for another several hours with not much to do.

Then, when our train finally (finally!) did come, it sat on the track for two hours in the middle of nowhere because there was a signal failure further down the line. Let’s just say we were extremely glad to crawl into bed that night around 11:00 when we got home.

And that was the end of our adventures in Southampton.

And since there are so many photos and I’m sure one of them has a focal point, I’ll link up with California to Korea. 

 

Christmas in London

One of the downsides of living in London is that it’s awfully far north. Meaning, of course, that it’s dark for much of the day. The sun doesn’t rise until about 8:00, and it sets about 3:30.

All this, however, makes Christmas that much more cheery. When you walk along and see the decorations and the lights, it reminds you of warmth and hope and coziness.

And even in all the darkness, living in a northern country is a good reminder of the One who is the light of the world.

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Santa Baby. . .

Merry Christmas!

Grading, Spit-up, and Decorating

It’s been kind of quiet around here lately. Yes, even where I live, even with a baby. Though for a couple days last week, he broke his “good baby” streak and got a little crabby as he was sick. No, I won’t rub it in for those of you who have babies who cry every evening for four hours without fail. Two days of that was plenty for me, thank-you-very-much.

Other than baby getting sick, I’ve mostly been grading essays. Last year, I taught six writing classes and had six sets of around 120 papers each. I could usually get them all returned by the time the next class session rolled around–and I thought I was a pro at grading papers. But mix in an international move and a baby, and suddenly those papers don’t move so fast off the desk. Now, as soon as I start grading I’m interrupted by baby waking up or wanting to eat or needing a diaper change, and my concentration is gone like that. I’m ashamed to admit how long it’s taken me to grade only 32 papers. But finally, finally (probably feels like forever to my students) I’m  done with one set–now on to the next set of 32! (And then they turn in one final set this weekend, so it’s not over yet.)

I’ve also been monkeying around with Photoshop the last few days, watching YouTube tutorials and all that. I figured out how to do that black-and-white with a pop of color thing, see?

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Pretty snazzy, huh?

Now I can mess up my pictures for the blog here, and ya’ll can be tortured by them.

Now what you’re really here for–the Christmas decorations. This is how we decorate for Christmas:

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Red bowls? Check. Pretty flowers? Check. Red flowery glasses? Check. Baby? Check.

He adds a certain flair, don’t you think?

In case you don’t like the baby in the window option, I have option number two for you:

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Introducing: the baby as the dinner table centerpiece. The piles of books and papers are essential for completing this look. They help to ensure that the baby won’t go anywhere. (Ignore the food–I take really bad pictures of food, as we all know. )

And, you know, I mentioned spit up in my title, so I’ve got to talk about it for a minute. Not that there’s much to say about spit up, except is it one word or two? And it lends its unique smell to everything it touches, which, as of now, is everything. I consider it a good day if my shirt has only been spit up on once. Jared considers it a good day if his hair doesn’t get spit up in it. He’s considering patenting a new conditioner–after all, they make soap out of goat milk, so why not regurgitated breast milk? Makes your hair smooth, shiny, and strong!

Oh, and a few pictures of London for you too. We were on our way to church yesterday and kind of got lost on our shortcut through the park when we ran into this view:

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It’s pretty amazing to live in a place where you can find a view like that just getting lost (it’s from the Greenwich Observatory, by the way, and our church meets in one of the buildings in that square down below).

I tell my students they need to write good conclusions that neatly wrap everything up, but how do you wrap up something so random? Maybe a pithy phrase will do it: have a good week, and may the spit up stay out of your hair!