A Tale of Two Countries — Day 3: The Lewis Close

Such a magical day! We took the bus to Oxford, where we met up with our dear friends MariAnne and Gail at Christ Church’s Tom Tower. After a quick tour of this astounding college town (which I’ll blog about next time) we grabbed sandwiches and dashed off to catch a bus to nearby Headington, where the renowned author C.S. Lewis lived with his brother Warnie and others.

On the bus to Headington we met a charming 85-year-old gentleman with a hat and cane. He gathered that we were going to the Lewis Close and told of meeting C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien years ago when he was a student at Oxford and was misbehaving with his classmates at a pub called The Eagle and the Child.

Evidently Lewis commented on how unruly he and the other boys were behaving. The gentleman chuckled about that experience and went on to say that his own property is adjacent to the Lewis Close. He added that his late wife is buried only 15 feet from C.S. Lewis in the Trinity Church graveyard. What an interesting chap! He brightened our day with his friendliness, stories, and delightful English accent.

At our stop, we got off the bus and took a very short walk to the Lewis Close.

As MariAnne had suggested, we ate our tasty baguette sandwiches right there in C.S. Lewis’s garden. I truly cannot think of a lovelier spot for a picnic.

Afterward we stepped inside the house for a fantastic tour by our guide Rachel, an Oxford student who resides in the house.

This is the study upstairs where Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia in the 1950s. I love that the desk is situated so that he looked out the window, which was dressed with scratchy World War I army blankets for curtains. From this desk, Lewis had a clear line of sight to the attic room, where the children he cared for during World War II would often play.

Lewis smoked a pipe and wrote his books with pen and ink.

Thankfully, Lewis’s older brother Warnie very kindly typed up the stories, enabling them to be published and enjoyed by all of us.

This door leads into the attic room where the famous wardrobe was. I won’t share my picture of the attic room itself. In case you visit someday, I feel I must leave it a bit of a mystery for you.

This is the only original doorknob in the home, and all the aspiring writers on our tour were encouraged to touch it. So we did.

Those of you who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will appreciate the significance of this dish of rose and lemon flavored Turkish Delight.

Like Edmund, we could not resist the temptation.

Next we trekked on to a spot not far beyond the house called the C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve. This area was part of Lewis’s private property and includes a large pond and woods, which they say he wandered about while he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia.

The Nature Reserve felt a bit magical, I must say. It obviously creates quite a scope for the imagination.

He might have been there, but we did not encounter Tumnus the Faun nor did we find the lamppost. But nonetheless, the entire visit to the Lewis Close was most magical and memorable! Special thanks go to MariAnne who coordinated this special tour for us. We loved it!

More of Oxford itself is coming up next time.

 

 

 

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A Tale of Two Countries – Day 2

On Day 2 in London, we set off to Kensington Palace wearing raincoats and carrying an umbrella. But the rain didn’t begin until we were inside the palace, and it only lasted a short while because the sun came out by the time we made it outside. Brief rain showers are not uncommon in London, I’ve learned.

My favorite room on the tour was the room where Princess Victoria (who became Queen Victoria) was born on May 24, 1819. It became her childhood bedroom, and on display are her doll house, dolls, and other toys, along with many portraits of her as a child.

My girls enjoyed rummaging through a toy box of antiques in this room.

Several of Queen Victoria’s frilly and flowery dresses are on display. She was tiny and measured 5 foot tall.

Before becoming queen, Victoria was required to be escorted down these stairs as a precaution because she was heir to the throne.

This staircase is where young Victoria met her cousin (and future husband) Albert for the first time in 1836. She wrote: “Albert, who is just as tall as Ernest but stouter, is extremely handsome; his hair is about the same colour as mine; his eyes are large and blue, and he has a beautiful nose and a very sweet mouth.”

This table is in the very room (The Red Saloon) where Queen Victoria’s first privy council took place the day of her accession to the throne in 1837. In the background is the 1838 painting The First Council of Queen Victoria by Sir David Wilkie, which portrays the noteworthy event.

Another famous resident of Kensington Palace was HRH Diana, Princess of Wales, who lived here 15 years. A grand collection of her elegant dresses — along with sketches by her fashion designers — is on special display in the palace this summer.

I was surprised by how tall Diana was. At 5’10” she was a full 10 inches taller than Queen Victoria!

Stepping outside, the gardens at Kensington overflow with a breathtaking array of blooms in tribute to Diana.

Not far from the entrance is the Round Pond, where dozens of water fowl and pigeons gather.

This swan glided along with quite a majestic air about it.

A short walk from Kensington Palace is St. Mary Abbots church. This particular structure was built in 1872, but Christians have been worshiping at this site since the 12th century. Isaac Newton was among them.

Our exploring continued beyond Kensington as we took the Underground (aka “the Tube” train) back to Westminster Station. Look kids, Big Ben!

There we boarded a clipper/water bus on the River Thames. Because why would we travel underground like moles when we can go by boat instead?

Here’s the clipper coming in to dock, and that’s the London Eye across the river.

We traveled the river to Bankside, where we hopped off to see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, reconstructed in 1999. Later in the week we returned here for a full tour of the theatre.

Up next is Oxford and the C.S. Lewis Close — one of our most memorable days of the trip!

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Countries – Day 1

After years of daydreaming about it — not to mention enduring my husband’s countless business trips to Europe and elsewhere overseas without me — I finally crossed the pond and visited England and France a few weeks ago. An extra delight was that our daughters were able to join us for this very educational trip.

It was fascinating to visit palaces where kings and queens lived, to see ancient castles on distant hillsides, and to humbly enter majestic cathedrals where so many notable saints have worshiped — all the while pondering the centuries of history that each of these places called to mind.

On our first full day in London, we toured Buckingham Palace. It was quite a tour that included the State Rooms, the Throne Room, the Ballroom, the Drawing Rooms, and the Picture Gallery.

Getting to see Queen Elizabeth’s carriage as well as a very lovely tribute to HRH Diana, the former Princess of Wales, made up for the fact that the guards outside were not wearing red uniforms or bearskin hats. On special display were Princess Di’s desk, trunk, typewriter, pointe shoes and several other personal belongings chosen by her sons to honor her as England marks the 20th anniversary of her tragic death.

Another favorite part of the tour for me was seeing Queen Victoria’s piano as well as the painting The Royal Family in 1846, which is a family portrait of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their five oldest children created by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. It was huge!

As you may have guessed, pictures were only permitted on the exterior of the palace. This rule helps boost sales of the palace’s official souvenir guide. (Yes, I bought one.)

Not a long walk from Buckingham Palace is Westminster Abbey, where coronations take place, where kings and queens are married and buried, and where other notable Englishmen, such as Isaac Newton, are buried. We arrived just in time to attend a beautiful Evensong service, which featured a choir from Michigan.

The Parliament buildings and Big Ben are also quite near Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. We didn’t visit those but I did have to take a picture and say, “Look, kids! Big Ben” as we walked back to the train station.

Up next is Kensington Palace, which I thought was actually a much better place to tour than Buckingham because the crowd was remarkably smaller. And as a bonus, Kensington allows pictures inside!

 

 

 

 

 

April Snowflakes

One way to cope with April snowflakes is poetry. So here’s a little poem I wrote a few years ago for “Poetry Day” in our homeschool.

Winter’s Last Kiss

Winter came back for a kiss good-bye,
Tossing snowflakes in the April sky.
‘Oh my, oh my!’ little children cry!
‘No, not again,’ frowning grown-ups sigh.

But the joyful birds – steadfast to sing,
Tweet, chirp and trill – such sweet songs they bring.
Robin, finch, and blackbird with red wing,
Add voice to the glad chorus of spring.

Let’s send off showers of April snow,
Thankful for a cup of hot cocoa.
Farewell, winter! Far away you go!
Green grass, green leaves – come and grow, grow, grow!

Books for Ballet Lovers

My voice mail greeting explains to callers that I’m busy chasing ballerinas.

The ballerinas, however, say I got it wrong. They say they’re only ballet dancers. They say they aren’t yet worthy of the title of ballerina.

But then I say – as the dizzy one driving them around and around, dashing to and from the dance studio umpteen times a week for the last eight years, dashing off in search of yet another pair of tights, another pair of flats, or another tube of hair gel  – I say they’re mine. And if they look like ballerinas, I’ll call them ballerinas if I want to, thank-you-very-much!

Ballet is, of course, what they do when they aren’t reading, playing piano or drawing. They speak French terms to each other, they make lovely poses, and they then flutter gracefully across the kitchen floor, often counting to eight under their breath. “What was that?” I ask. I never pretend to understand it. But because they are 11 and 14 and still twirling around the house daily, it is ever-so precious to me, and I thank God for those moments.

Then onward to the dance studio I drive. I love to watch them practice when they invite me. It’s always lovely and beautiful and sometimes smells like sweaty feet. (But don’t tell the ballerinas I said that.) They work super hard, and then they smile big toothy smiles, move ever-so gracefully across the floor, and somehow make it look as though it’s not one bit of trouble.

Dancers inspire me. They remind me of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8, “…whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”

Maybe you have a trained dancer in your family, too? Or a little girl pitter-pattering on tip-toe throughout your home? Or maybe a quiet girl who paints or writes or just daydreams of beautiful things? If so, grab this list of lovely books about ballet and twirl right on over to the library or bookstore!

Chasing Degas by Eva Montanari – This is a gorgeous picture book with a lively story and illustrations inspired by Impressionist paintings. Images of such paintings by Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and others are included at the end.

I Dreamed I was a Ballerina by Anna Pavlova – Another beautiful picture book, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features Impressionist artwork by Edgar Degas and the words of prima ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931). Pavlova is best known for her role as the Dying Swan in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals.

Ballet Spectacular by Lisa Miles – With breathtaking photographs, this book is a treasury of all things ballet – history, famous ballets, ballet school, life in a ballet company, and a glossary of ballet terms. It’s a lovely guide for young ladies interested in dance.

Tallulah’s Tutu, Tallulah’s Solo, Tallulah’s Toe Shoes, Tallulah’s Tap Shoes and Tallulah’s Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer and Alexandra Boiger – Sweet illustrations with a bit of sparkle make this delightful series of five easy picture books just perfect for little girls. Simply adorable.

The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple – This is a stunning treasury of captivating ballet stories along with thorough details about each dance and a concise history of classical ballet.

A Child’s Introduction to Ballet by Laura Lee – Ideal for younger readers, this book includes simple illustrations and ballet stories along with a music CD featuring a track for each story. It also has a glossary of ballet terms.

Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela DePrince and Elaine DePrince – With easy text and a mix of illustrations and photos, this autobiography features the endearing story of Michaela DePrince, a well-known ballet dancer who starred in the 2011 documentary First Position. This is a Step-into-Reading Level 4 book.

The Nutcracker Ballet retold by Deborah Hautzig – Easy text and sweet illustrations make this a great fit for beginning readers. It is a Step-into-Reading Level 3 book.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – First published in 1937, this chapter book relays the charming story of three orphans in England who become part of the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training.

Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – This chapter book is an interesting tale about two orphaned sisters involved in theatre and the Royal Ballet. It was first published in 1957.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Sandpipers

“My Sandpipers”

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Along the water’s edge

Toward the shallows they run

With long and graceful legs

Chasing the waves and sun.

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Then away from the waves

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They turn and sometimes fly

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Playful in their searching

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Sand, shells and sunset sky.

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“The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises… What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” -Ecclesiastes 1:5, 9

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11 Great Picture Books for History

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Nearly every time I try to sit on our living room couch, I can’t actually sit. That’s because of the trail of two or three wide-open chapter books left on the cushions by my 11-year-old. She really loves being a bookworm, but she has yet to learn the purpose of a bookmark. Sigh.

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I suppose this is a symptom of her book obsession. She reads all sorts of books — classics, biographies, historical fiction, children’s fantasy, devotions and poetry — and usually has several in progress at once. One book I frequently try not to sit on is The Racketty-Packetty House, which she is in the process of converting into a script for a play she hopes to direct this summer. That seems like such a grown-up endeavor!

To my great delight, though, this dear bookworm has not yet outgrown the ritual of curling up on the couch with me to enjoy a lovely picture book from the library. I really don’t know what I will do with myself if she ever does outgrow such a ritual because I have a serious weakness for picture books.

My favorite read-alouds for this upper elementary age are historical picture books that bring the past to life. It’s always delightful to read well-illustrated, factually accurate books about real people and real events. Here’s a list of books in this genre that we’ve really enjoyed reading together as part of our homeschooling adventures.

1. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick is the best new book I’ve read in this genre.

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I fell hard for it immediately because it is a sweet, well-told story as well as a beautifully illustrated work. You may have guessed this: it features the real bear who inspired A.A. Milne’s much-loved character Winnie-the-Pooh. But it’s also a great World War I story about Canadian soldier Harry Colebourn. I simply adore it.

2. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff is another fabulous book I’ve come across in this historical picture book genre.

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The book, which features Ben Franklin and Franz Mesmer, has mesmerized my whole family. The eye-catching typography and magnificent illustrations make it exceptionally fun to read; plus the fascinating story could easily count as a read-aloud for science as well as history, not to mention a tiny French lesson, too!

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3. Lily: The Girl Who Could See by Sally Oxley and Tim Ladwig is a lovely book about English artist Lilias Trotter, who faithfully served the Lord as a missionary in North Africa in the late 1800s. After you read it, consider watching the documentary film about Trotter’s life: Many Beautiful Things, which is available at manybeautifulthings.com.

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4. A Bear in War and its sequel, Bear on the Homefront, both by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat, tell the bittersweet stories of one small stuffed bear, Teddy, and a family’s experiences during World War I and World War II. You can see Teddy at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

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5. A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan is about the first international flight by balloon in 1785. It includes fantastic illustrations by Sophie Blackall, who also illustrated Finding Winnie.  The Frenchman and the English-American in this notable crossing of the English channel did not get along, and the author uses that angle to make this telling of the event quite interesting. Disclaimer: A wee bit of what you might categorize as bathroom humor appears in the text and illustrations, but only because it’s a true part of the event. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end to clarify where some liberties were taken.

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6. Fly, Cher Ami, Fly! by Robert Burleigh is about a truly heroic carrier pigeon that helped rescue a lost battalion of soldiers during World War I. The illustrations are quite captivating, and the tale is a memorable piece of American history. This remarkable bird can be seen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

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7. Stubby: The Dog Soldier by Blake Hoena tells the story of another animal from World War I that’s also on display at D.C.’s National Museum of American History. Stubby braved the battlefields alongside soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 26th Division.

A few other favorites in this genre that we have checked out from the library are:

8. Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan

9. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

10. Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Ferris

11. Papa is a Poet: A Story about Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober