Sunday, December 28, 2008

Beautiful historical England!

Leeds Castle in Southern England

Ken and Barbara at the state apartments at Windsor Castle

Dover Castle

Beckstroms and Neumanns at Leeds Castle

It is hard to believe that it has been a full year since we left home on the 31st of December of 2008. It has been an eventful year, which in some ways seems short and in other ways feels like a long time since we walked down the stairs and out the door on that cold winter day last year. We have met some amazing people, had many awesome experiences, and seen many wonderful places in this historic land of our forefathers. I think the most memorable of all of these experiences has been getting to know people of so many different ethnic groups and to learn about their customs, food, habits, and the things that they hold dear. South London is truly a melting pot where many people who are new to England come to settle and start a new life.
We have also thoroughly enjoyed being able to do some traveling and view many of the historic castles, historical spots, cathedrals, and stately homes in southern England. While our children, Brooke and Ben and their family, were here we visited Dover Castle, which is on the southeastern coast of England and overlooks France, just 19 miles away. This castle was a strategic spot during both of the World Wars and for many other wars before that. Secret tunnels were dug into the white cliffs where surveillance, communication, and strategies were carried out by English army personnel. It was fascinating to walk into those tunnels and see all of the activities that took place there. The Castle at Dover has been there for centuries and was used by William the Conquerer as early as 1066 AD when he invaded England from France.
We also visited Windsor Castle just west of London, which is the oldest and largest continually occupied castle in Europe. It is still used by Queen Elizabeth II on weekends and for state occasions. We were able to tour the state appartments because the queen was not in residence on the day that we were there. They are beautifully decorated and very impressive. On the grounds there is St. George's Cathedral where many of the Kings and Queens of England are buried.
Leeds Castle is my favorite of all of the castles that we have visited. It is about halfway between the temple here in Surrey and the portside city of Dover, on the southeast coast of England. It was built in about 1000 AD, but has been constantly updated and cared for so that even today you could live in it comfortably. It was bought back in the 1960's by an American heiress and one half of the castle was completely redone with indoor plumbling, under floor heating, etc. She and her family lived there until the last member of the family died in 2001. It was then turned over to the National Trust who runs and maintains it to this day. It is where many of the official functions of the British government take place. There are 43 bedrooms and bathrooms and several large convention rooms that are use regularly by various governments throughout the world for meetings and conventions. A large group of government leaders throughout the world
convened there when the Camp David Accord with Israel was being discussed and worked on. The castle has large windows that look out upon the gorgeous countryside and the huge moat that still surrounds the castle completely. It is a beautiful place to visit. The grounds are well manicured and many birds from across the world swim in the moat and the lakes there on the grounds. Their mascot is the beautiful and rare black swan. They swim majestically in the lakes that surround the castle. We are living in a rather dark, cold world here right now. It is dark by about 3:30 PM and the sun does not come up much before 8:00 AM. The days are short and the sun is just a distant orb in the south side of the sky. It comes up in the south eastern sky and sets in the southwestern sky and never really comes up high enough in the sky to warm it up much. We spend long days at the Visitors' Centre, walk, eat, and sleep. That is our reportoire! We
look forward to longer and warmer days as we inch forward into spring. Hope all is well with you. We love to hear from you and how your lives are going.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas to you all from Jolly Old England!

Christmas decorations in the visitor's centre and the temple

Christmas at the temple

Angel Moroni peering out from the scaffolding

Just a quick note to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We have been very busy at the Visitors' Centre. Everyone in the temple district seems to have brought their families to the temple to view the Christmas lights, the Nativity scene, and the decorated Visitors' Centre. We have decorated with poinsettias and red garland. It looks very pretty with the Christus Statue looking out through the large glass windows. We have showed many Christmas movies, as well as "Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration" movie to many, many people. Most of the English people who live and work on site here will be going home for the holidays, but the Americans will be staying to celebrate a different kind of Christmas for most of them, this year. We will be going in to London to stay with our friends, the Perrys. We hear that the Christmas decorations in uptown London are phenomenal. We are looking
forward to it. We will be up tonight (actually in the morning for us) at about 4:00 AM when our family gets together at a family dinner in Utah and opens their presents from us. We will be joining them and watching on Skype, a program on the computer that allows us not only to visit for free, but also to see all of their beautiful smiling faces. This program has been a godsend for both of us. We have been able to see the new babies and all of the older ones, too, every week for a year now. What a blessing it has been. We think of all of you often and pray that you will have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones, We will look forward to that next year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

And I saw an Angel flying in the midst of Heaven!

Moroni in the crate

Barbara and Elder Ard touching the Angel Moroni

Almost vertical

Up, up, he goes!

All lined up!

Wow, what an exciting day we have had here today. We have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Angel Moroni and his placement on the spire of the Temple. Today it finally happened. At about 1:00 pm this afternoon, a Alloette helicopter arrived above the buildings and landed in the middle of the green in front of the manor house. They attached a large rope to the top of the angel and lifted him from the crate. He was suspended from the rope and lifted into the air. They flew across the grass and up, up, up into the air. It took about 10 minutes of delicate maneuvering for the helicopter to drop him carefully into the slot made just for him to balance and sit on. A great cheer came up from the large crowd as he was finally set into place. These saints here in England have waited a long time for Moroni to arrive, 50 years to be exact. We understand from what we have been told that the Church was turned down originally because of radar issues at Gatwick Airport. They reapplied recently and finally after an appeal, they received approval to put the Angel up on top of the 160 foot spire of the temple. He looks out to the East over the green, verdant fields of Southern England. Everyone here is so excited about the prospect of having this beautiful icon on the temple and overlooking the A22 as it runs right in front of the Temple property. It was quite a day with the national and local press here having a briefing in our Visitors' Centre. We hope many good things will come out of this event.

We are well here and keeping very busy as we approach the Christmas Season. We will be spending Christmas in London with our friends, the Perrys. We are looking forward to doing some small service projects for some of the good people that we have learned to love here in the past year. Hope this is a great holiday for all of you. We will miss seeing and visiting with you all. We think back on great memories of this time of the year with wonderful friends and family. We love you all. Love and best wishes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

An American Thanksgiving - with an English twist!

The men siitting around after Thanksgiving Dinner - Donald, JP, Ben, Ken

Cleaning up after dinner - Hanna, Roma, Adam, Jo

Christmas in Bourton-on-the-water

We have just spent a wonderful two weeks with our daughter, Brooke, and her family here in England. It was a whirlwind two weeks, but so exciting. What a great time we had with the sweet little girls, Ady and Emma. We saw so many marvelous sites in England and spent so much time together. It is always a little bit of a let down when it is all overwith. Oh well, now we have only about 6 more months to go until we return to the good old US of A!

We had a very American Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, November 29, at my cousin, Judy's, home in Lechlade-on Thames with all of the traditional foods, many of which were foreign to our English cousins. We had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams and apples, fruit salad, rolls, cranberry sauce, veggies, jello salad, and pumpkin ice cream dessert. We set the date six months ago with all of my cousins for this Thanksgiving feast day. They were all there and with anticipation we enjoyed the morning cooking, visiting, and reminiscing about our families and memories of the past. Before the dinner began, we held a beautiful family prayer and Kenneth explained the reason behind the Thanksgiving feast each year in America. They knew a little about the story of the pilgrims coming to America in 1620, but not all of it. They were very interested and impressed with the significance of this very American holiday. I then had to explain a little about how the foods worked together. They were very intrigued by the fact that we eat fruit salad with the main part of the meal. Everyone ate and ate and by the end of the day not one scrap of food was left for leftovers even though we explained that the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers that everyone can eat for the next few days, making it so that Mom does not have to cook again for several days.

We then went to a small Cotswold Village and did a little Christmas shopping. The small village is called Bourton-on-the-Water and there is a miniature village there that is exactly built to the specificatons of the real village. It is amazing. We had fun visiting and shopping at the many and very popular Christmas shops there. We found some amazing Nativity Scenes that we all like to collect so much.

It was a magical time for us and I know that my mom must be very pleased. These long lost cousins just feel like family. They are so pleasant and have many of the same likes and dislikes that we have. We truly do have a grand time when we all get together.

We also visited Dover Castle on the Southeast coast of England while Brooke and her family were here. It is here that you can look across the English Channel for just about 20 miles and see France on a clear night. We could truly do that from the hotel that we stayed in there. It had a sea side view and you could see the lights of France right across the channel. My mom actually lived in a house on the castle grounds as a young girl as her father was a Major in the British Army over the artillery guns at the castle. We were able to visit the church where she went as a child and saw the area where the home she lived in once stood. It is no longer there, but the foundation still exists. I could just imagine what it must have been like to have lived in a place such as this as a young child. We were also able to tour the Secret Wartime Tunnels that exist under the castle. There are 6 levels of tunnels that were used by the English during World Wars I and II and some were even used for surveillance and secret operations as far back as the Napoleonic Era. There was a fully staffed and equipped hospital, radio equipment, telephone switchboard, facilities to house over 2000 men, etc. down there in the dark dank tunnels.
It truly has been an exciting two weeks and now we wait with anticipation for the Angel Moroni to go up on the top of the temple. That should happen any day now. The Christmas lights are all turned on here on the temple grounds and the Visitors' Centre is decorated with poinsettias and red garland to commemorate this remarkable season. Life is good and we are very busy and involved here. Hope you are all well and happy this holiday season. We think of you and home often. We will miss all of you this Christmas time, but will have warm memories in our hearts of all of the good times we have had through the years at this most special time of the year.