Crossword Puzzles and Her Royal Highness

I found an entry I began in September, and I’m only now finishing it. I’m ashamed. There the post sat, collecting virtual dust, hoping for its purpose to be fulfilled someday, while I went off on my adventures, roaming around Texas, Kansas, and the UK. Events have happened, people have changed, I’ve changed. I am no longer 23, and I have not been for some time. My grandmother had a stroke shortly after I shelved this post, and while I did not record much of my trip with her, I am grateful to have some of the memory preserved in writing. I’ve added to and edited this entry, so now it covers from August to February. Poor entry, you have waited long enough! Your dreams of being posted have come true:

Back in my day…

I find myself saying this phrase though, sadly, I am only 23. This is what happens when you work with teenagers and when the college students roll in during the summer. They make you feel ancient. “Mom’s here!” “Mom’s back!” I realized they were talking about me when I turned around and saw no one behind me.

That’s also when I noticed my first forehead wrinkles…

What?? When did this happen? And when did these lines appear underneath my eyes? I’d curse the sun, but I’d hate to see it go. It does bring me much joy even though my face is starting to resemble a tree. (I’d never exaggerate.) Hats and sunscreen have, over the last few years, become my constant companions in this incredibly sunny and hot state of Texas. Oh, Kansas, I miss your four seasons. (Side note: one vendor said the other day, Texas has four seasons, but the seasons are really just different degrees of hot. I’d agree. I miss snow, but I am  wondering if this constant exposure to heat is preparation for Africa. Okay, God, you win. You always do. I’ll stop complaining.)

Anyway, I have been badgering my mother for months about our family history on her side because while over the years she has told me stories, I had never SEEN anything to tell me about our genealogy…what were the names of our ancestors? How did they get to America? Were they servants, were they rich? Were they business men and/or farmers? Who are my people, ma! Who am I!

In August I had the privilege to be a part of a little reunion between Granma and (Great) Uncle Dode and (Great) Aunt Marjean. They are in their later 80s, so as we arrived I imagined myself to be a part of a moment that would prove to be historically enlightening for me considering my lack of detailed knowledge about our ancestors.

I positioned myself perfectly across the room as if I was Barbara Walters in a 60 Minutes Session ready to influence the flow of conversation the way I desired it to go. My Uncle Dode leaned in toward my Granma and said, “So, Eloise, do you need help with the crossword of the day?”

Ha! 88 years old knowledge and wisdom in the room, and we’re going to talk about Sunday’s Crossword Puzzle. I love my family.

After a series of well placed questions by yours truly, conversation did eventually arrive to “Back in my day” stories; we talked of the book The Help and the Civil Rights and my grandmother’s experience with the “colored people” who worked for her daddy. Everyone used to come to the backdoor except the mailman; then during the Civil Rights, the “colored people” started coming to the front door just because they could. Now I particularly loved that bit. You can read things in a history book, and biographies are great…but it’s nothing like hearing from the mouths of people who experienced this kind of change in society. (I’m using quotations around “colored people” because it’s a specific phrase used during conversation and not one I would use in conversation myself.)

I asked my Uncle Dode how our family came over to North America; apparently one of the Postons, whose first name I cannot recall right now, indentured himself on a ship in order to pay for the trip to the New Land, around Jamestown time.

After we returned home, I picked up one of the books with my grandma’s family history in it; it focuses on the Ballew family and traces us all the way back to the 1060s. This is when I made an important discovery- well, the person who wrote the book made the discovery, but I rediscovered it. My family is connected to the monarchies of England and Castile, which I’m fairly certain was a part of Spain. We are descendants of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, daughter of Ferdinand III, the Saint.

I’m not one to hold glory in riches and status, but this is pretty cool. There are plenty of rulers you do not want to be related to, and unfortunately, after reading about Edward I, he was one of those rulers depending on where your ancestors are from. When Katie and I went to Scotland and Wales, I kept my mouth shut about being related to Edward Longshanks. Despite keeping my relations a secret from those around me (except to the one tour guide in Gloucestor (pronounced like gl-ow-ss-ter) who called Edward I a baddie), it was amazing getting to walk around the UK and see my ancestors names on plaques.

We walked into the Gloucestor Cathedral, which is absolutely breathtaking, and discovered that Edward II, my ancestor’s son and possibly a great uncle, was there! Also, we ran into one of Katie’s ancestors, so it was like a small family reunion. William the Conqueror’s eldest son’s body is buried somewhere there, but the tour guide said people weren’t sure of the exact location. We did get to touch his wooden effigy though! It’s ridiculous that these things weren’t roped off.

There was one castle in Abergavenny that Edward I laid siege to, and while Katie and I were climbing on the ruins, I said, “This could have been one of my castles!” I say that, but I’m glad I was not a woman in the 1200s. One of my relatives, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is not a perfect role model exactly, but she is a pretty fascinating part of history. If I had to be a woman during that time, she would have been interesting to be similar to, but I am grateful for the rights I have as a woman in this day and age.

Walking through Westminster Abbey blew my mind away. Eleanor of Castile and Edward I are buried there. I stood in front of Eleanor’s (Great x 37 ish Grandma) tomb and stared. I love history and to see a connection between a country I love and my own personal history is wonderful. It can make one feel small, but I also feel so special. These people had no idea that almost a thousand years later, their descendants would be spread across the world (if they did, they probably thought it’d be because of an empire.) It makes me wonder about my relatives in 1000 years time. If I ever have kids, will they stand before my grave and get goosebumps like I did before Eleanor’s? Will they see how wonderful our Creator is to have a plan for each one of us? That God used my life to bring them into existence? If there is an earth as we know it in 1000 years, I hope so. I do not need to be famous for life in this world, but it would be wonderful if my life’s experience did not disappear once I left this world for Heaven.

I guess I’ll have to make sure I tell a lot of “back in my day” stories to my relatives as I get older to preserve the memory of me. Oh, and because of my new found relations to the monarchy, feel free to call me Your Royal Highness.

Live long and prosper!

HRH, Lauren


Across the Pond

I’m feeling homesick for the UK, so while I drink my English Breakfast Tea I shall share some picture from the England trip with you.  If I went into detail on the trip, this post would be 500 pages long, so I’ll try to keep it brief!

This was on the flight to England.  We woke up groggy, from both the jet lag and the Benadryl that was still in our system and when we looked out the window we saw SNOW! Glorious snow!  I had to fly all the way across the pond to find some snow!  Obviously it made me very happy.

Once we arrived in London, we wandered around for an hour trying to find Buckingham Palace.  We were unsuccessful.  So we hopped on a Greyhound bus and drove to Southampton.  The plan was to hop off the bus, look around, get some dinner at The Hobbit pub, and then take the train to Bath.  But as we were soon to learn, sometimes things didn’t go as planned. 

This is at the train station in Southampton.  We learned that despite what AAA might tell you, you can’t just print off train tickets at the kiosk if you don;’t have a card with a pin and chip on it.  So we spent a harrowing several minutes trying to figure out how to get to Bath and by the time we got it sorted, we only had time for a short dinner and then we were on our way.  So, until next time, The Hobbit….until next time. 

BATH.  It was so wonderful to be back in Bath.  It is a small town, but it is so beautiful and full of history.

This is inside Bath Abbey.  It is stunning.  It is breathtaking.   It is peaceful.  We spent quite a long time inside, reading the grave markers that line the sides and the floor.  It makes for a fascinating read.  The rest of the afternoon in Bath we toured the Jane Austen centre, walked to her old house, and spent time hiking up to the Royal Crescent Hotel. 

After Bath, we made our way to Oxford for a couple of days. 

These are two Harry Potter pictures.  The top is in Christ Church College, and these are the stairs that sweet first years Harry, Ron, and Hermione walk up before being sorted.   And the Ceiling is cool.  The second is what I have dubbed, “Draco’s Tree”, because it is the tree he sits in while yelling at Harry in Goblet of Fire.   The tree is at New College and we may or may not have snuck in before visiting hours. 


This is Addison’s Walk.  It is a beautiful little path in the Magdalen Gardens that Tolkien and Lewis used to stroll together.  Which is awesome. 

This is probably the greatest snowball fight I’ve ever been a part of.  We dubbed it WWIII because of how many different countries participated.  L-R : Dean-Australia, Owen-South Africa, me-USA, Denise-Germany, Lauren-USA, Rohan-Australia, and Cherry-Taiwan.  It was so much fun.  I dubbed it my birthday party and would like to do it again next year please. 

We left Oxford, quite sadly, and proceeded to travel to Abergavenny, Wales.  Along the way, we stopped in Gloucester to visit the cathedral there.  It was huge.  It was so stunningly beautiful, and the history behind that cathedral is mind-blowing. 

Ta-da! I told you it was beautiful.  It is also made up of 3 different styles of architecture, which also shows how old and chucked full of history it is.

This is a hallway in the cloisters of the cathedral.  Harry Potter was also filmed here!  Our guide told us that it was used for may of the random hallway scenes and that in Chamber of Secrets, the girls toilet exterior was filmed here, and the troll also strolled down this hall in Philosophers Stone.

Now.  We misread our train tickets while we were here and we ended up missing our train to Wales by maybe a minute.  We were going from Gloucester to Abergavenny, and we had to change trains in between.  Well after looking at the schedule we realized that we were going to miss our connecting train to Abergavenny by about 20 minutes and there would not be another train for us to catch.  So we tried not to panic, prayed about it, and tried to come up with a plan B.   We got to the connecting station and I asked a train man (train men know EVERYTHING about trains btw) if there was a train to Abergavenny.  And he said, “There is one over on that platform; you can make it if you hurry, love!”  So, off we ran, suitcase banging up the stairs, over the walkway, suitcase banging down the stairs, and down the platform to our train.   We made it.  By the grace of God our original train had been running late!  So we jumped on the train and headed to Abergavenny. 

Abergavenny is gorgeous.  It didn’t seem like a real place.  The grass was perfectly green.  The sky was brilliantly blue.  The people we so friendly.  You could climb around on the ruins of Abergavenny Castle.  It was perfection.

See?  Everything about it is perfect.  That is the new part of the castle which is now a museum. 

After Abergavenny, we were off to Nottingham!  We made a brief stop in Worcester for lunch, but then headed north!  We got to Nottingham late, I had to pee, the street signs were different from anywhere we had been, and our hostel was a ways from the station, but aside from that rough start, I really liked Nottingham.  I need more time there next time, so I can visit Sherwood Forest and experience more of the Robin Hood legend. 

Speaking of!  This is the Robin Hood statue.  It’s located just outside the castle wall and around the corner from Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub, supposedly the oldest pub in Britain.   

Robin Hood and Little John, walking through the forest, laughin’ back an’ forth at what the other’in had to saaay.

This is looking up towards Nottingham Castle.  It’s so beautiful, even with the snow and ice! I would love to see the gardens when they are in bloom.  I’m sure they are stunning.

After Nottingham we made a stop in Leeds as we continued north. 

This is the old post office in Leeds.  We ate lunch out here and Lauren forgot bread and a banana.  Left them on the bench for the birds I suppose.

Ah haaaaaaa.  I left my purse at Yates the night we got there, and as we were getting ready to explore the city I realized that I did not have my purse.  PANIC.  Lauren, trying to make me feel better, decided that we had gone out that night and I had thrown my purse in the river and we had no memories of it for whatever reason.  We went back to Yates and thank God, some honest person had turned it in to lost and found.  I almost fell over in relief when I saw that they had it for me.

After Leeds, it was time to head to SCOTLAND!  It was a long train ride to Edinburgh, but the view was amazing and we got to see the sea!  It was exciting.  When we got off the train, there were bagpipes playing.  Couldn’t have been more perfect. 

This is the Royal Mile.  All the shops are located along here.  That cathedral on the right is St. Giles, another ridiculously amazing cathedral.   If you kept walking down the mile, you would dead-end into Holyrood House, which is where the queen stays when she is in Edinburgh.  We walked down there and explored the gift shop for a bit.  We also took a haunted tour which was terrifying and cool all at once. 


These are a couple different views from Edinburgh Castle, which is at the other end of the Royal Mile.   It was a blast to explore and there was a war museum on the inside that was very, very cool.

We ate at The Elephant House for dinner which is where JK Rowling came to write Harry Potter back in the day.  The toilet in The Elephant House rendered me speechless.  The walls, door, and ceiling were all graffitied with Harry Potter quotes and notes to JK Rowling.  I truly hope she has seen everything in there because I was extremely touched by it and I am just a fan. 

After spending time in Edinburgh, it was time to fly back to London to spend about a day and a half there before flying home.

So, I’m in my map….We went to Westminster Abbey and spent a good 4 hours inside.  It was really crazy to think that Will and Kate had just gotten married there, not even a year ago.  The history behind the Westminster, and knowing how many prolific kings and queens are buried there made this history nerd a little excited to say the least. 


We walked from Westminster to Buckingham Palace, and then from Buckingham to Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, and ended at Big Ben and the London Eye.   It was a very eventful day, but we needed to cram as much into it as we could.  We woke up super early the next morning to catch the train to Heathrow, and from there we flew back stateside.  It was a wonderful trip full of wonderful memories, and I can’t wait to do it again!

This blog wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to Cafe Nero, who never let us down.  Love you Nero!

Mischief Managed

When Friends Text: Beorn or Aragorn…. or Hagrid??

Let’s all give a big warm howdy to today’s contributor Mandy! Since she shares our love of The Lord of the Rings and many other wonderful things, it is only fitting that the conversation I had with her today be shared in our “When Friends Text” category.


M: “I’m rereading The Hobbit and the excitement for the movie is almost too much!!”

MD: “I’m re-listening to it on my drives to and from TopC! It’s going to be so wonderful come December!”

M: “Just sayin’, I might dress up and be one of ‘thooose’.”

MD: “LOL I would totally join you.”

M: “And I’m thinking we should all get together to watch it or something…”

M: “Beorn or Aragorn?”

MD: “You’re dressing up as Beorn or Aragorn? I would love to! Hopefully it will work out that I’ll be able to come to KS around then.”

M: “LOL Big hair dark Beorn! That’d be quite the look.”

M: “No, not to dress as them, but who would you choose? Haha Bear man is just so cool!”

MD: “LOL Aragorn! He’s way hotter.”

M: “LOL Very true. Yes, I’d have to go with him too or book Faramir.”

M: “If I went to the movie premier all decked out in big hairy man gear, I could start singing ‘If you wanna get rid of your wizard lice, listen to ol Hagrid’s sage advice’ to which all the Ringers would probably yell and curse at me in Elvish ‘Wrong movie you idiot!! Go back to the shadows from whence you came and die as one of them or we’ll shoot you in the dark!! You bring great evil here.”

MD: “LOL don’t worry, I’d support you. I’m team LOTR and HP!”

M: “You would join me and not leave me to my fate? Oh bless you! Bless you.”

MD: “I will help you bear this burden, Monica O., as long as it is yours to bear.”

M: “I wouldn’t get far without my Mandy.”