One of the fun things I enjoy about writing a romantic suspense series is doing research. Research doesn’t get much better than when you get to go on field trips. Much of the time while I was in the UK, and throughout Europe, I was tucking away sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and experiences, which I look forward to pulling out for my book series. The setting of Book Two in The Ranfurly Mysteries will partly take place in the UK.

Our family set out on Day 3 of our trip to Warwick Castle, Warwick, UK. We took the direct train from London to Warwick out of Marylebone Station. If you plan to do this, keep in mind, there are 2 stations in Warwick. Make sure to get off at Warwick Station, and not Warwick Parkway. Warwick Station is a mile from the castle.

Our hotel was about 10 miles from the station, so we were thrilled to find a taxi office as soon as we walked off the train platform at Warwick Station. It was between 12 -15 pounds to take the taxi to our hotel from the train station. Another thing to keep in mind if you decide to take the train from Warwick back to London Marylebone, you have to walk a few blocks from the Warwick Station to get to the platform. Be careful about that one… there are signs posted, so pay close attention. We nearly missed our train because we were waiting at the wrong platform.

Warwick Castle was a bit crowded in August, as all of Europe goes on holiday that month, but in comparison to a theme park in America, the crowds were small. Also, the weather was glorious, and Warwick Castle has so many things to do and see. It delivered.

This castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068, and has weathered the many storms of war through the centuries. It played a vital role as a stronghold in the War of the Roses and the English Civil War. Last century, it was sold by the 8th Earl of Warwick to the Tussauds Group in 1978, as maintaining the old place was costly. The Tussauds turned the place into a museum, and more recently, a theme park.

The inside tour gives guests a real experience of the castle’s history from 1068 AD up until the early 1900’s. While the way the Tussauds Group turned the place into a theme park might disturb the R.I.P.’s of the late Earls of Warwick, and might upset the neighbors of the castle (I actually met someone in a laundromat who lived on the castle border when he was a kid who told me this), the castle is a real treat for tourists. Tourists like us! 😜

The Great Hall – Armory Display, Warwick Castle

If you aren’t familiar with the Tussauds Group, you should be. Here is a little backstory for you. Marie Grosholtz (who later married and became known as Madame Tussaud) was born in 1761 into a family of executioners. Her mother was a widow and housekeeper for the famous anatomist and wax maker Philippe Curtius. He taught Marie all there was to know about the art of wax sculpture.

Turned out Marie had a knack for it, because she got invited to work in Versailles for King Louis XVI. She sculpted many wax figures of people during that time, including Benjamin Franklin. But, if you know the history, Marie would discover all too soon that it was not going to be a great time to work in Versailles for long. The French Revolution happened, and Marie’s employer, King Louis, along with his wife, Marie Antionette, and all the aristocratic leaders of the day, were chased out of their luxurious lifestyles, and eventually beheaded.

Marie escaped the terrible fate of her employers, but was sent to prison after the take over. On her release from prison, she was forced to prove her allegiance to the Revolution by making death masks of the nobles and her former employers, the King and Queen.

After prison, Marie married Francois Tussaud, and inherited Philippe Curtius’ wax business and sculptures. Marie, who then became known as Madame Tussaud, left her husband to tour the British Isles with her wax figures and masks. Eventually she settled on Baker’s Street in London, where she opened Madame Tussaud’s Wax Figures with her sons. The Chamber of Horrors was the name of the famous room where she displayed her masks of the beheaded. The Madame Tussaud Wax Museum remains in London to this day, and is one its top attractions.

Her craft was passed on to future generations, and many of these wax figures are now on display at Warwick Castle. I included a couple for you to see below!

Madame Tussaud’s Wax figures in the Music Room of Warwick Castle

A Victorian Era Music Lesson and the wax figure of a famous singer during that time, Clara Butt, who was 6 feet tall, is in the music room at Warwick Castle.

Wax figure of Clara Butt, a famous singer who was 6 feet tall, on display at Warwick Castle

Another part of the fun was the outdoor attractions the castle offered. There were a few shows for entertainment on the castle grounds, including a performance with a working trebuchet, an impressive Birds of Prey show, and a reenactment of The War of the Roses that included jousting, sword fights, and great horsemanship.

If you have youngsters, the castle is a wonderful and hand on educational place to take them. Kids can practice archery and learn to be a knight. You can download a Warwick Castle app and see the layout of the grounds and castle before you go, plus check out all the shows and attractions. (I did.) If my kids were little and we lived in the area, we would become regulars at this place, for sure.

We finished our day off with a night of entertainment within the courtyard of the castle. The Dragon Slayer show featured local performers who were very talented, and a whole lot of pyrotechnics, a firework show, and action-packed fun. We stayed the night at The Holiday Inn Express in Stratford, which was lovely, and affordable. But it is an Uber or Taxi ride away, and we had trouble getting online to order an Uber after the show. I ended up flagging down a taxi which drove past us in the town of Warwick, but it took awhile to find anyone available. You can probably find places to stay in walking distance of the castle, right in the town of Warwick. I found and booked all our hotels through booking.com.

We also spent some time strolling the town of Warwick after the castle closed and while waiting for the evening show. We ate at The Chip Shed, which had yummy fish and chips! My daughter was able to order something gluten free and dairy free, and we all enjoyed the food. Although, there were food trucks inside the castle, and we could have just stayed there to grab a bite. We wanted to explore the town of Warwick, though. So we got our 25,000 steps in!

We had a jolly good time in the UK. I personally would have liked to have spent more time in the charming town of Warwick, to explore the book shops, stores, and more of its streets. But alas, we were only there a day, and we had reserved seats on the Eurostar to Paris waiting for us.

My only regrets: A few more days in the area would have been nice: a day to drive through the Cotswolds, which weren’t far from there, a day in Oxford, and a day to spend in Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare lived. The other regret is that we could have afforded to bring our two younger kids, who stayed behind in California with my parents. We hope to return to the UK with them in a few more years, once they graduate high school.

A Day in Dover 

Read more: A Day in Dover

At last! I have seen with my own eyes the magnificence of the infamous white cliffs, as sung about in the lyrics of the song, “The White Cliffs of Dover.”

I also have a better idea of what Rhys Bowen described when she wrote about the area in one of her Royal Spyness books. (I love those books!)

In addition to the breathtaking cliffs, we had an amazing experience trekking through Dover Castle. Our oldest son, Nathaniel, has been obsessed with our family genealogies for the past five years, and in his research discovered that Alain de Buckland is one of my mom’s ancestors who served as High Sheriff and lived in Dover Castle in 1067 AD.

Above is the Throne Room in Dover Castle, and there’s my husband hamming it up as King Rob with our two oldest children on each side of him. My son says he would have happily lived in that castle. My daughter says she would rather be a peasant than a noble. I suppose I would have been the one painting the portrait, since there weren’t cameras or iPhones to shoot photos back then.

Pictured above is the oldest structure at Dover Castle, the Roman Lighthouse. This is about 2000 years old, and it would have guided the Roman fleets into the harbor.

There were so many eras of history to explore, and I would like to return one day to spend more time exploring the many tunnels, and listening to the recordings of people who lived during World War II.

The views looking out over the English Channel are breathtaking, the castle is a must-see, the charming town of Dover is easy to walk and offers some great little spots for fish & chips, and tea & scones. My son loved to find my mom’s maiden name practically on every corner!

I hope to return to this wonderful seaside town and to spend more time walking the beaches next to the great white cliffs, and exploring more of the castle.

Watch Your Back in London 

On our recent trip to Europe, our first stop was London. I had only been once before, when I toured with a singing group back in 1988. Back then, our special trip to London lasted a whole whopping four hours. I somehow picked the group that wanted to spend that time at the Hard Rock Cafe. That and a stocking shop, and a double decker bus ride was the height of my London excursion.

Need I explain that this time I had a few things on my bucket list I wanted to see in London. My top priority was to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Second, to see The Tower of London. My son wanted to see Westminster and the Parliament Buildings.

Read more: Watch Your Back in London

I booked a hotel within walking distance to Paddington Train station and Buckingham Palace. We needed something affordable that offered three beds, two twins for our adult children, and a double for Rob and me. The Cleveland was a good choice. It wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t divy either. It worked for us. Although, sadly, upon leaving and walking the .4 mile back to Paddington to catch a train to Dover, we saw a woman get robbed across the busy street.

I’d read that pick pockets were a problem in London, Paris, and Rome, the three cities we planned to visit. I receive an informative newsletter from an ex-diplomat in France, and she warned of the many different scams people use on the streets to rob people. So we kept the easy to access zippers in our backpacks filled with dirty underwear. Our passports and valuables were in a purse that was strapped to me, zipped, and in front of me where I could keep my hands and eyes on it at all times.

When I saw the elderly woman across the street, pulling a large suitcase on wheels, with a backpack on her back, my first thought was, “I’m so glad all we each brought was a small backpack. I’d hate to pull a suitcase around these streets and onto trains.”

Then I noticed there were a couple of people with her and she’d stopped for a moment. I didn’t realize what those people were doing, nor did I see them, until they suddenly ran and it looked like one of them was holding something in their hand. They were two Arab men, probably in their early twenties, and they were laughing as they ran off with something that belonged to the woman. I yelled across at her after I realized they must have robbed her. “Are you okay?” I called across the street.

She looked at me confused and yelled “I can’t hear you!”

We were all the way across a busy street and heading the opposite direction, and my family was far ahead of me, so I walked on. But I felt horrible for the woman. I didn’t really know what I could do to help. I turned back again to look at her. She had stopped and pulled off her backpack, and saw that the men had stolen out of it and left it unzipped. I only hoped they didn’t get their hands on something too valuable, like her passport.

This was the first horrible crime we saw during our trip to Europe. It is a good reminder that scammers and pick pockets abound. It was sad for my kids to see how rotten people can be.

A little reminder: If you travel to any city, keep your valuables locked and in front of you, hidden and out of reach. If wearing a backback, keep only clothing and less valuable things in your backpack. Try to pack light. If you do plan on taking a rolling suitcase, take an Uber or a Taxi rather than risk walking with too many things, lest you become easy prey for a picker! And make sure it is a legit taxi! (I’ll get to this one in a future blog, it has to do with yet another experience we had during our amazing adventures in Europe.)

Also, this woman was alone. I’m sure she had her reasons, but if you can, travel with a companion.

New Adventures All the Time! 

I started this blog as a way to share about my yellow lab’s puppies. That was back in 2021. Since then, Rainier has been spayed. We kept the pup with the green collar (aka Green Arrow). My youngest daughter renamed him Milo. He is nearly as tall as a miniature horse, and has the frame of a champion, a very handsome fellow.

While we made sure Rainier would have no more puppies, we haven’t neutered Milo. Living on ten acres, our neighbors don’t all have fences for their dogs. When Milo was a year old, one day a little six month old yellow female lab named Mae came for a visit. It was our next door neighbor’s new pup. She became a regular at our house, and eventually, her and Milo became more than just friends. It was obvious they had done the deed when 1. we saw them getting it on several times 2. we saw the bump develop on Mae’s belly. You can guess what we were thinking. More fur coats were coming!

Yes, more puppies, but this time it was my neighbor who had all the fun. She sold every one of the adorables. Mae had a mix of yellows, blacks, and 1 chocolate. She kept a yellow male which they named Hunter. Hunter is now about five months old, and he has one of the best demeanors I’ve seen in a lab. He is a beautiful boy, and I’m so happy he visits us every day.

Hunter adores tackling his big Daddy, Milo. He also loves playing with his tough granny Rainier. Our neighbors have an older black female lab named Joy who loves humans, but isn’t as fond of other dogs. Still, she ventures over once in a while. Altogether, they are a pack of five labs. I suppose you have to be a lab lover to want to pay us a visit.

While I love my dogs, things are hopping around here. We’ve got football life, homeschool life, college kids, travel adventures, navigating how to take care of ten acres, writing books…oh just way too much going on. So this blog is moving forward from seclusively a puppy lovers blog. I’m now going to share with you other adventures. I hope you’ll come along!

Goodbye Mama, Hello Forever Family! 

The sleep deprivation led me to wonder if things would ever be normal in my life again. But alas, I have been a Mom of infants four times over, and I have bred a Chocolate Labrador 14 years ago, so I know the reality is that each season eventually comes to an end.

Now, here I am, saying goodbye to the little fur tots one by one, as they leave with their forever families. But each family has been so perfectly wonderful, and I do feel good knowing that these fur babies who I poured 7 weeks of my life into are going to have some wonderful adventures with their new families.. I am certain that these are going to be incredibly happy puppies. A few weeks ago I said, “never again” and now I am rethinking it. Maybe just one more time, in a year, or two, right about the time my 18 year old son needs college tuition, Rainier can be bred with another AKC registered Labrador. Hmmm. Just Maybe.

Pinkie Pie , the last available female who I now call Black Canary, and Green Arrow, the last available male, are still waiting to find active families who will give these two puppies lots of attention and exercise. With training these could be excellent hunting dogs. Violet (female) and White Knight (male) might possibly be available, but there are some interested families coming to meet them this weekend.

The SUPERPUPS met Dr Fay! 

Today was an exciting day of FIRSTS for the SUPERPUPS. They took their first ride in the car and had their first well puppy check ups, first vaccinations, and 1st deworming! They got to meet the wonderful Dr Fay and all of the amazing nurses and staff at Riverbend Pet Center and Veterinary Service. Oh my!
All the pups checked out in super health and the Doc gave us a thumbs up on these adorable little chubs. .

Now the real fun begins 

Yesterday was the 4 week birthday of the SUPERPUPS! It was like they knew it, too. They ate more food than ever before, and seemed to grow immensely overnight. As they grow, so does their curiosity. They are ready to get into all kinds of mischief.

Pinkie Pie figured out how to get her collar off. She didn’t like it too much when I put it back on her. They are all teething and now is the time I am introducing chew toys to them,. I also gave them mini tennis balls, which they seem to enjoy.

Today they got their first mix of dry food with the puppy formula, and they devoured it eagerly. I am happy to report that they all enjoy mealtime and are healthily eating and growing!

Gobble-Goo Delicious 

Wow, are these fur babies growing fast. Today, Green Arrow and Violet managed to climb over the kiddie pool wall. My favorite thing to do is watch them wrestle and play with each other. It is the cutest thing ever! Big Boy Blue always manages to step into the food bowl, and then after they all finish eating in the kiddie pool, they lick the food off of each other. Yesterday, Big Blue was lying belly up while Green Arrow, Violet, and Sparkles (Roxas) licked the food off of him. Wish I had the camera at that moment!

The Weaning Has Begun! 

Yesterday the puppies turned 3 weeks old. For the past few days, their teenage Mama has not been too excited about laying around feeding her pups. So to wean them, I took them one at a time and introduced them to a goats milk puppy formula. Each one had an interesting response. Little Boy Blue knew exactly what to do when I placed the bowl in front of him. That little runt is so smart! He lapped it up eagerly, as did his equally smart sister, Violet. Sparkles (Roxas-strong willed pup) and Big Blue (a mamas boy) were resistant at first, but a little milk on my finger did the trick. After a short time those two gobbled it up and Big Blue is definitely all about feeling his food… paws in, head in, that boy wants the full experience.

Silver Moon, Green Arrow, White Knight, and Nosey Neon also caught on fast. Little Pinkie Pie ate it, but she wasn’t too thrilled. She isn’t as excited about food as the rest of the pack. She would rather be snuggling up to her Mama.

Their Mom still feeds them at night and once in the afternoon. But I give them 2 servings of puppy gruel, a combo of 1 part goats milk, 2 parts warm water, and 1 part soft wet Pro Purina Puppy food, grain-free, blended in a blender and served up on a silver platter! Well, maybe it’s stainless steel and a bowl made for a litter of pups, but close enough.

The goal is to have them on Pro purina FOCUS for large breeds dry puppy food by Week 6. Mom has been eating that brand throughout the pregnancy. If you are a future parent to one of these puppies, I recommend purchasing a 30 lb bag on Amazon, using the subscription option, and you will save around $20 on your first delivery.

Fire Lilies - Out of the Ashes is a Women's Bible Study written by Kim Krenik, available in paperback and eBook. The eBook includes links to original songs.