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Monday, December 28, 2015

It's Christmas Time in the City

We've delighted in some wonderful Christmas days here in London-town.
The tree at Covent Garden
We enjoyed a beautiful Christmas eve service at our church followed by good fun with friends. Their 6 & 8 year old boys were particularly entertaining and it was the perfect way to spend Christmas Eve.
Even Tanner got a new toy!
Christmas morning we had a proper lie in, exchanged some nice gifts, and relaxed for the better part of the day.
The crowns from our Christmas Crackers!
That evening we were invited to another set of friends for a beautiful Christmas dinner. Everything was picture perfect and we had such a lovely time chatting with their two boys (14 & 20) and them.
Unfortunately a bad cold kept me under the weather for Boxing Day but we did manage to venture out to a very cool theater, complete with couches, foot rests and food and wine delivered to your seat, to see the latest and greatest Star Wars. Good fun for sure!
But today we managed to take in a bit more of the London Christmas atmosphere. Needed to return a sweater for Doug at TK Maxx (yes, K here not J. No one knows why, exact same concept and store) and we hadn't gotten over to the Covent Garden area of town during Christmas and Doug had given me a selfie stick for Christmas so I wanted to test it out!
An early selfie!
Covent Garden is so quintessentially London no matter the time of year but all decorated for Christmas made it especially charming. Giant clusters of mistletoe hung from the covered market ceiling and a giant silver reindeer pulling a sleigh sat watch over the entrance. Street performers, buskers, and loads of people were milling about. From there we wandered over to Trafalgar Square to catch a glimpse of the Norwegian pine Christmas tree that Norway has donated to England every year since WWII. The view from just in front of the National Gallery is so spectacular and as dusk fell and the lights on Big Ben's face illuminated, it was kind of one of those, wow, I'm in London moments! It's always a treat to see St. Martin's in the Field, a church that has long been known for its commitment to social concerns. I was fondly remembering when a good friend and I flew over to London to hear a beloved seminary professor, Burton Nelson, give a lecture there back in 1999.
So today was just a great day wandering around London with no big agenda.
I will drive my sweet husband crazy wanting to take selfies now!
That's part of the fun of living here...just being able to take in the city and sights without scurrying about trying to cram it all in in just a few days time.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve in London

December 24th is upon us once again. I am up a bit early on this Christmas Eve morning, enjoying listening to music by candlelight, pondering the day ahead, remembering treasured traditions from Sweden that are now in our past, missing my parents, looking forward to new celebrations here in London. We will have a candlelight service at 6.00 p.m. and then we'll head to some friends for some fun. Tomorrow we'll enjoy a quiet morning together and be with another family for Christmas dinner. We'll miss the chaos of the big open house on Christmas day but a slightly more relaxed celebration is also quite all right with us as well!
We have had a great time taking in all things Christmas in London. It really is quite a Christmas town with streets and stores pulling out all the stops to create a festive atmosphere.
Hyde Park hosts an annual Winter Wonderland carnival with huge rides, lots of food stalls, and an attempt at creating a German Christmas market. Temperatures were so balmy this year that the mulled wine and hot chocolate could've easily have been replaced by iced tea! I can't get over how carnival rides are part of the Christmas markets here!
Last week some dear friends from our Stockholm days, all Brits, happened to be in London at the same time. We took advantage of this rare chance to be together by having a Christmas brunch and white elephant gift exchange. The gifts were epically good and good fun was had by all.
That afternoon we ventured into the heart of London and took in Regents, Oxford and Carnaby streets, all dressed up in Christmas splendor. Oxford: Regents had these magnificent circles hanging across the street above and changing images were projected onto them. It was very cool! Store windows with extravagant decorations delighted passersby. We even ventured into Hamleys, the giant toy store. It was only a little crazy!
The Liberty House was beautiful! Floor upon floor of loveliness. It was more of a look not buy kind of place!
By far the most extravagant and fun store to experience was Fortnum and Mason. I have never seen such over the top indulgences. The displays were absolutely gorgeous. The windows filled with decadent displays. Buying something was completely out of the question but looking was free and fun! They had an entire wall of Christmas Crackers...a full-on tradition here in England! Apparently on Christmas each person has one on their place setting and once pulled apart, they pop like a little firecracker and are filled with little treasures. Each one contains a hat and a joke and usually a little prize. We did purchase (not at F&M however) some for our own table this year!
Carnaby street was just dazzling with great decorations and a wonderful atmosphere. We popped into an area called the Kingly Court and had a nice afternoon refreshment. 
I am still very much a kid at heart when it comes to taking in Christmas decorations and London did not disappoint. I only regret that we never got to a Christmas concert at the Royal Albert Hall. And we never saw carolers dressed in Dickens apparel. But our own home is cozy this Christmas even though we don't have our usual decorations. Candlelight and greens add a festive touch. And we have one another which is the best gift of all. In a year that has brought much change and loss, we remain thankful for our life together and the blessing and joy we experience in sharing the journey with one another. And of course, the central message of Christmas, that God, out of his great love for us, sent his son Jesus to come into the world to lead us out of our darkness into His light remains. We are blessed to continue to get to tell this story at the American International Church this year.
I did not get Christmas cards out so let me take this chance to wish each and everyone of you who takes time to read my little blog a very Merry Christmas and a blessed and happy new year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


For years we've spent Christmas Eve with a family in Stockholm and hence have become close to their children even though the kids left home at various stages throughout our time at Immanuel. One of the daughters lives in Oxford and attends an incredibly vibrant church there, St Aldates. She invited us to come up to their Carols by Candlelight worship service on Sunday evening so we jumped at the chance to see more of this well-known academic city. We jumped on a train after church and arrived one hour later. After settling into our fine b&b where we were the only guests, we walked 15 minutes down the road to the church. What a lovely church this was! It had been renovated and whilst you could still see the original structure, they had made very creative use of the space, creating a real coziness in a large cathedral type sanctuary. The worship service was amazing.  Helen read one of the scriptures and sang in the choir. Beautiful drums, strings, horns voices, singing of favorite carols, and readings well known at this time of year were a joy for us to behold. We enjoyed a delicious Indian meal afterwards and it was such fun to catch up with dear Helen in her home town.
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful morning on the shortest day of the year. After a big and delicious made to order British breakfast, we ventured out on a two hour walk through the venerable buildings of Oxford. Stunning is not an overstatement! Stately, magnificent, historical are other words that came to mind! I decided if I had another life, I'd like to come back as a super smart person and study literature and writing here. A girl can dream, right?!
We enjoyed seeing the Bodileian Divinity School, no longer in use except for filming various scenes for Harry Potter films. The stunning ceiling was almost mesmerizing. The entire quad that surrounds the Bodileian was magnificent.
It was easy to feel the special atmosphere surrounding the various colleges. Everything was just so lovely and every once in awhile the view just took your breath away. Those spires really are dreamy. 

In addition to the wonderful buildings that make up Oxford University, the town of Oxford is really charming as well. A covered market sells all manner of goods. The meat stalls were particularly eye catching. Almost makes me want to become a vegetarian! The cake shop was filled with incredibly artistic cakes and sweets. This rendition of Trinity College was breath-taking! Too good to eat! An old timbered building houses the most charming Pret A Manger we've seen to date! Lewis Carroll also holds a presence in Oxford. Did you know that he was a maths professor? Me neither! I loved this Alice in Wonderful themed Christmas tree in one of the shops. 

The clear highlight of the day was tracking the footsteps of C.S. Lewis.  We passed the door where Lewis is said to have been given the inspiration for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. 

Look at those fauns...Hello Mr. Tumnus! The light post in front of the Radcliffe camera seems oh so inspirational!
We ended our tour at The Eagle and the Child, the pub where Lewis and Tolkien met every Tuesday morning to solve the world's problems! A letters signed by Lewis, Tolkien and others hangs on the wall. Photographs and other warm reminders of the presence of these erudite men in this town graced the pub.
The weather had turned dodgy and we were unprepared for the chilly wind and spattering of rain that was coming, so we bid farewell to Helen and made our way to the train station. One hour later we were back in London making our way to our flat, savoring the joy of our encounter with a city we've long heard about and had now experienced first hand.