Cool stuff, check.

I’ve been mindful of wanting to both do more cool stuff, as well as appreciating the things I experience that are cool.

The night glow at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta:

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Everything about the fiesta is fun, but this was our first night glow. It was also our first time attending with a camp friend – and her daughter accidentally knocking my daughter’s tooth out!

Tape exhibition, Cardiff:

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This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s an interactive art exhibit – a treehouse/tunnel/otherworldly place suspended between trees….and made of nothing but sticky tape. The time inside this thing felt like a little bit of magic.

Arnos Vale Cemetery:

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Despite living so close to this place, we’d never been before last week. It’s a Victorian cemetery and woodland. I’ve been to old cemeteries thst have been reclaimed by nature, but this took it to the next level.

Graves are interspersed into old woodlands, with dark paths twisting around. I swear we saw a Leopard Cat, but I accept it may have actually been a Bengal.

Barleymow’s Maize Maze, Chard:

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I LOVE MAZES. And this one went on long enough to freak out both my father in law and son. All us women were laughing rather cruelly and helplessly at their worry we’d never escape.

The kids then climbed and conquered a mountain made of hay bales, before whizzing down the attached steep slide.

Gromit hunting!

A couple of summers ago, Bristol gave us an amazing gift: Gromits all over the city, and beyond. If you don’t know who Wallace and Gromit are, please google them now; you’re missing out. Aardman Animations is based here in Bristol, and they agreed to using Gromit’s image in statue form – 80 of the large ones, and many half sized. Gromits were painted by artists, musicians, writers, charity groups, and beyond.

We spent much of that summer clutching maps in our hand, hiking around to find different Gromits.

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Gromit hunting led us to explore places we’d never been before – and to appreciate ones we had.

We marched around the city centre in swimming costumes after finding many Gromits and playing in the fountains. And then we found a suitably themed one in the aquarium!

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We were thrilled to find a ‘mystery’ Gromit in a well established, quirky market (that sells nut free vegan chocolate cake! Hurrah!)

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We got to board a boat we’ve admired many times from shore.

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While we had a fun and colourful summer looking for these amazing statues, they served an even more astonishing purpose: every person involved in the project did so with the knowledge that at the end of the summer, the statues would be auctioned to raise money for our local Children’s Hospital.

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Each Gromit sold for unbelievable sums of money – some over fifty thousand British pounds. These eighty sales, plus sales of half sized Gromits and assorted memorabilia, raised millions for the hospital. We have personal links to the hospital, and know firsthand how wonderful it is. The outpatients waiting room is one giant play area! Downstairs features an art gallery of things made by patients. They have dedicated play workers who bring joy and light into little lives.

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We spent that summer dancing in the front hall of a music venue to the jazz music built into one Gromit. We were lucky enough to have my parents visiting and get to see some Gromits with us – including a very early morning viewing of the one in the airport, before we flew to Italy. We met people we wouldn’t have met otherwise.

We watched YouTube videos on the project, including movies on individual statues being painted. We visited Aardman Animations to peek at all the mini replicated Gromits. We waited five hours in a queue to visit all eighty Gromits in a grand museum exhibition at the end of the summer. We printed many copies of Gromit outlines and coloured our own designs. We even painted our own:

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All in all, it was one of the best summer experiences of my life.

We get to do it all again this year, with another Aardman character: Shaun the Sheep. We got our map of locations last night, and I can’t wait for another summer of sunset visits to huge old parks, people walking all over the city with huge smiles on their faces, and the thrill of seeing giant colourful sheep everywhere we go! Best of all, the money raised this summer goes to Children’s Hospitals around the country.

If you live near Bristol, I cannot recommend coming to hunt down a few of these statues enough. We’ve not yet got around to making a huge picture collage to commemorate our summer of Gromit hunting, but I know the memories will stick around, anyway.

Best of (the areas surrounding) Bristol! Jet Age museum, Gloucester.

We’ve been talking a lot about World War 2 recently, mainly sparked by M’s interest in fighter jets. I asked on our local Facebook home ed group about places to go see jets, and Jet Age Museum was recommended by a few people. It is only open weekends and bank holidays, though it apparently will open for booked visits of home ed groups during the week! Admission and parking are both free.

It’s worth mentioning that this place is right next to an airport – the sort of airport with loads of small planes and helicopters constantly taking off and landing. We accidentally found the airport first and hung out there for a few minutes, which was one of the happiest mistakes we’ve made in awhile!

Parking at Jet Age also borders airport fields, albeit from a bit further away. There’s a nice vantage point and picnic tables!

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This is another smallish museum…though it’s worth noting it’s only a ten minute drive from Gloucester City Museum!

It features old jet planes….mostly indoors, but a few outdoors. A couple of the cockpits are open for children to sit in – and it’s here I must say that half of the charm of this place are the volunteers running it. They are on hand to discuss each jet in detail…and in our case, to tease the kids about backwards helmets, provide a hunt for letters, give out fantastic posters, etc. Just so friendly and knowledgeable, which might really appeal to someone with an older child very into old fighter jets.

The highlight (which sadly I missed, as I can’t climb ladders!) was Suzy and the kids going up for a tour of a Vulcan – a 28 foot climb from ground to cockpit. They sat in the various seats of the five in the plane, learned what job corresponded to each seat, and spent a good ten or fifteen minutes exploring the cockpit in detail. As such, there was a bit of a wait for this – and a minimum height restriction. Both kids and Suzy adored it.

All in all, I’d recommend this place. But if you have an hour drive to get there, do google other local things as I don’t think you could spend more than a couple of hours here. (Unless you went to the little on site cafe, which we didn’t on this occasion.) I’d also recommend a donation….this place is a local labour of love, and I like supporting that.

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Best of (the areas surrounding) Bristol – Gloucester Museums times three!

We’ve been away from blogging for awhile – namely because we are saving money to buy a proper desktop, and until that thing enters our lives, typing with two fingers on an iPad mini leaves a bit to be desired!

In the last couple of weeks, though, we’ve been to some new to us localish places….all of which were so good, I wanted to share in case other local families might want to visit.

First up, Gloucester! There is a LOT there.

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We first visited Gloucester City Museum, which was a small yet fabulous museum. It also has the best ever gift shop – good stuff for very reasonable prices…and a gorgeous cafe in situ. The museum is largely focused on the Romans. There’s access to see part of the real Roman wall surrounding the area (you can see more in the pedestrianised high street), a Roman kitchen, Roman coins, etc.

There’s a photography exhibition on the second floor with some excellent pictures from around the world, a smallish dinosaur area with skeletons (and ore, if your kid likes Minecraft!) and play dinosaurs. There’s a toddler play area with a few soft toys, as well as the star attraction – this tiny wall thing with windows. Kids shine torches in to see what sorts of animals prowl on the night, and it makes scary ass noises. This was a major hit with our little group, comprised of 2-7 year olds.

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It also had an exhibition of ‘caveman art’ made by local children. I only mention this as S recently made a spectacular piece of similar art in her pottery class very recently, and she was concerned the museum would want it.

Now, this museum is fab but the day only entrance price isn’t great. We ended up paying £14 for a two adult, five children year membership to this museum and Gloucester folk museum, which was more than fair!

The folk museum is crammed with trails your kids can do – worksheets covering various areas of the museum. S did the ground floor one, which involved drawing a cow, and writing the answers to some questions based on exhibits. M chose to complete a spot the difference on old fashioned motorbikes one once he realised a cool, free button for his backpack was the reward. This museum was great. Again, small, but fun. Bits on the war, loads and loads of brass plate rubbings to do, local Gloucester stuff largely revolving around a taxidermy cow (I jest not!), etc. Lots of little exhibits of particular interest – swords, old dress, a retro kitchen, etc.

The real draw here was the back garden, which had an unobtrusive little shed filled with ye olde fashioned children’s toys. We were in the garden for over an hour playing with steel hoops, skittles, hobby horses, etc. There was also an Anderson bomb shelter, weirdly enchanting owl statues, and little nooks filled with benches for the worn out adults to rest on. Ha.

The other museum, situated between the two mentioned above and down the most painfully picturesque alley was the Beatrix Potter shop and museum – shop downstairs, museum upstairs. The staff were super friendly; the museum, really consisting only of one small room, but full of stuff Beatrix Potter fans would like to see – old books, figurines, memorabilia, etc.

Next time we want to visit the Cathedral, and perhaps some crystal shops….there were a few dotted around, and to be honest, I’d love to have a little adult only time in some of the more esoteric shops. The whole city was much nicer than I anticipated – and even when mentally beating my sat nav up as it tried to force me to drive across bridges cars were not allowed on, we ended up at the docks as our turnaround spot and got a fantastic look at all kinds of large boats.

Gloucester is definitely a place we will return to!

As I go down to the river….

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On a friend’s recommendation, we braved the freezing temperatures and went down to the river/woods to hunt for ice. And we found it.

I just didn’t realise that a large portion of the ice would be MY BODY. I’m glad we all had fun, but my god. I may never thaw out.

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Mega minecraft maze…ostensibly built for the children…

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Just made the kids something fun to find tomorrow! Not sure I will keep the rules section as is, but for now I’m pleased. Lots of little nooks and crannies to discover – a house, several gardens, mini art gallery, swimming pool, cheddar cheese area, snowman corridor, lookout platform, survival station, chicken farm, etc.

The plan is to add new stuff to our Adventure World map until we have a whole world of awesome – can’t wait to see what the kids build!

Have I mentioned I LOVE minecraft?

Alone with the rain.

It’s been so long since I’ve been alone in the woods. Sunshine filtering through thickening clouds, pooling on the path in green puddles. The river along one side of me, wide and peaceful. The trees on the other, verdant and ripe and smelling like the richest part of summer.

Me in the middle, long strides, stopping occasionally to take a picture or two. Smiling at the very rare people I cross paths with, sitting on benches, touching the thick, rough bark of trees tall enough to hold a lot of history.

Then the rain came. Light mist. I stayed on my bench, I smiled. I sniffed. The rain does odd and incredible things to every landscape, making smells deeper and older.

It’s been so long since I embraced the rain instead of putting my face down toward the ground, scrambling for a raincoat, dreading getting soaked. So today I stepped out from the trees, tilted my face ever so slightly upwards, and opened my palms to the quick, fast drops. It ran down my bare arms, made the earth beneath my feet damp and dark brown, hit the leaves of the trees and amplified the sound until it reached a crescendo when the wind joined in, sounding for a half second like I was by the ocean.

I smiled.

The smile stayed on my face when I got back to my car, walking slowly all the way, and the rain pounded the roof and blurred the windows. I put on a slow, pulsing song and I’d be lying if I said my smile didn’t get bigger. The rain was so heavy that even with the wipers at their fastest, manic pace, the windows were blurred and water collected in small streams and giant puddles along the road.

Thank you, I whispered. To the rain, to the leaves, to the earth. And to myself, for remembering it was okay to honour myself with this time and space, just me, alone with the rain.

Away with the waves.

Sorry for the radio silence! We’ve been out of reach of the internet for a week. We spent it in a pleasant escape from real life – straddling the border between cool, dark woods and one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world.

The first few days were cloudy and windy – the water had waves almost as tall as the kids! Both jumped right in. I forced myself to hang back a little, though I was very ready to grab a child should a wave smash them down and start to pull them out. Ah, but much like my own young self, they took to ‘wild’ swimming with aplomb. M was knocked down a few times (he went so deep, so quickly! Six hours of wave battling the first day!), and the first felt like an eternity until he found his feet and stood up, quick to check behind him to see if another wave was coming.

We had eleven pm dancing on the deck, only glow sticks and Christmas style outdoor lights to illuminate us. It was our family and my parents, and it was glorious.

We’re back at my old home today, my mother’s current home, the place I grew up that looks oh so different these days. Suzy was dropped off at the airport yesterday. As I type, she is probably fast asleep in Bristol, jetlag ruining all her plans to clean and organize and just be alone.

Me and the kids have six days left here, and I believe this week will hit temperatures high enough to make all my prophecies about how hot America is come true. We have no set plans, but I am going to try to force myself to relax about not ‘wasting’ any time. I feel like I should visit every place, suck all the marrow out of all the Michigan bones, live wild and free and crazy. Rich and dripping.

In reality, Grandma’s House is probably as exciting to the kids as many other things we could (and some, which we will) do. Yesterday after the airport, we visited my grandmother’s youngest sister. She and the kids hit it off straight away, which made me only mostly happy, with a hint of sadness for the relationship they may have had with the woman I tell them stories about. My aunt pressed three dollars into each of their hands – and it was like watching a little me, getting cold hard currency from her, from my grandparents, from other relatives no longer with us. She told them to spend it, to buy whatever they wanted, to not save it.

So my mom took them to a dollar store. For those not in America, it is just as it sounds. A store where everything is a dollar. And it’s not ALL cheap shit. I swear.

S was careful. She knew she could only get three things. Then my mom said, no, it’s okay, you should each get five. Then ten. Then the phrase that will long live in their young minds – get whatever you want!

You can see why S declares each day that we have here ‘the most awesome day of my life.’ It just keeps getting better.