Joseph, Gabriella, Julianna, James, and Elora

Joseph, Gabriella, Julianna, James, and Elora

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"This Realm, this England": Day 3

So, I've finally gotten around to talking about the third day of my trip - my first full day of sightseeing in London! As it was Sunday, I was planning to get up and go to morning church service at Westminster Abbey! It was lovely dream, but between the jet lag and my lack of skill in navigating around this gigantic brand new (to me) city, I didn't make it on time. I finally got ready and decided to take the Number 10 bus, which was the easiest form of transportation, as it stopped right outside our hotel. Our hotel was really neat, but the one disadvantage was that it was located kind of far from the central part of London, so it took a pretty long time - and a lot of complicated maneuvering - to get to any of the major sightseeing locations. Navigating the baby and the buggy, I decided the bus was my best bet. I went out to the bus stop, waited for the bus for a while, got tired of waiting, and decided to stroll up and down the street a bit. Then, of course, by the time I got back to the bus stop, I'd missed it and had to wait for the next one! Oh well, it was a nice little walk anyway. The weather, by the way, was absolutely fabulous! I'd heard/read about foggy London, where it rained every day, and come all prepared with my umbrella and raincoat and warm tights, and I was a teensy bit disappointed that it never rained! It was extremely warm and sunny for September in England - not really for NM, but definitely warm for England! I ended up wearing 3/4 sleeve sweaters and skirts with my tights and short boots, and I only wore my rain jacket one day. Not that you all care about what I was wearing on my trip....sorry, back to England!

Anyway, the only problem with the Number 10 bus was that it stopped on nearly every single street, so it took almost an hour to get to the central part of London. I got off at Grosvenor Gardens, which was exciting because I remembered it from The Importance of Being Earnest. I was starving, so I located the nearest food source - a little sandwich shop called Pret a Mange - bought myself some lunch, and ate it in the park. It was just too cool to be sitting there casually eating lunch in the middle of a famous place in London.

 This was a funny statue in the park that I liked. I'm dying to know why he's standing on his head.

Another statue in the gardens

The famous Grosvenor Hotel

 I bet you can tell why I liked this pub

After lunch I decided to go into Victoria Station and look around a bit (and also find a public restroom). Here it is from the outside:

 Victoria Station

It was quite pretty inside - but I was also surprised to find it was kind of like a giant shopping mall as well as train station! I guess we don't really have trains much here in the southwest, so maybe it's like that back East too, but I found it interesting and different.

Inside Victoria Station

 I looked around a bit and then had to find some change for the loo. In a truly horrifying turn of events, you have to pay to use public restrooms there - and have exact change! I ended up having to change a £10 note in order to get the necessary 30 shillings, so I had a lot of extra change! And before I could go in, I saw an Italian couple chatting away together, trying to figure out the British money, so I stopped and showed them which coins they needed. The woman was almost pathetically grateful. I love you, England, but making people pay to use the restroom is cruel and unusual punishment! The funny thing was that my tiny act of kindness in helping her actually ended up giving ME a huge boost in confidence in my ability to navigate and handle things sightseeing around London. Silly, I know, but it made me happy!

Took this picture of the train for James

After I left Victoria Station, I went in search of Buckingham Palace, which several signs informed me was nearby. This was a pretty sort of hanging garden covering a building along the way.

I started to walk along a big long stone wall, still looking for Buckingham, and then I saw a small side entrance with a sign inviting me to come pay 22 pounds to see the Queen's furniture and art in Buckingham Palace. 

Not exactly what I expected

I was quite surprised that I had just walked right past Buckingham Palace without realizing it! Where were the beautiful gates? Where were the guards? Where was the...grandeur and spectacle?? I decided to keep walking and see if things got any more exciting. It's a good thing I did. I rounded the corner and there was the main entrance, which more than lived up to my expectations!

The Queen Victoria monument outside the Palace

A close-up of the gates
 The whole gorgeous palace

And another angle

 A view of the Victoria monument from the park right next to the palace

It was at this point than my camera battery died! Heartbreak! You will just have to imagine the rest of the things I visited as I do my best to describe them. After walking around the palace a bit, I walked into Green Park, which is right (literally right) next to the palace. It was a beautiful little park, full of huge old trees and birds and squirrels. I sat on a bench and nursed Jules and thought about Lewis and Tolkien, two of my favorite English authors. Somehow it felt like the kind of place they would have loved. I wondered who else those trees had looked down on over the years - what famous Brits had sat under them and loved them and been inspired by them. Then we meandered through the park, watched an adorable little curly-headed toddler chasing squirrels, walked around some war memorials, and finally found myself in Hyde Park, which is an enormous - simply enormous - park with all kinds of lovely sights. I meandered through rose gardens, ivy-covered archways, giant trees so massive that groups of children were completely hidden under their branches...past duck-filled lakes and fountains and elaborate bridges...down paths with dancers and roller skaters doing incredible maneuvers...past playgrounds and horse trails and bike trails...I spent several hours in the Hyde Park and I barely covered a quarter of it! I kept thinking how much I wished my children were there to enjoy it with me. If we lived in London, I would take them there every day! (Or maybe I wouldn't. It's huge....if they ran out of sight, how would I ever find them again?!) Around four o'clock, which as everyone knows is Official Tea Time in Britain, I went into a little tea shoppe (yes, they have tea shops in Hyde Park too!) and got myself a cup of tea and a muffin, and had tea out in the courtyard. Unfortunately, one bad thing I noticed about London is the number of people who smoke. Everyone seems to smoke - and since they're not allowed to smoke indoors at all, I believe, the entryways to buildings were always filled with a crowd of people surrounded by a smoky haze. Blech. So the smoke was enough to make me hurry up my cup of tea and move along to a new place.

After leaving Hyde Park, I wandered in the the direction of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I stopped in a little shop that looked sort of like a natural pharmacy - the sign was in Arabic, which was kind of interesting, and the man who initially tried to help me find cough drops didn't speak much English. I finally was able to make his supervisor, who was English, understand what I wanted ("throat lozenges" is what I should have called them ;-). After studying my map, I discovered I was still pretty far from the Victoria and Albert Museum, but very close to Harrods department store, so I decided to go in and look around. I knew it was a fancy/expensive store, but I had no idea just how expensive until I actually went inside. It was amazing! In some ways it was more like a museum than a store. The entire first floor was dedicated to jewelry....delicate, ornate, sparkling under lights in glass cases. There were no price tags. If you have to ask, you probably don't want to know! The second floor was gloves and scarves, purses and shoes. I thought I'd buy something, just some little thing so I could say "I got it at Harrods," but there was nothing even close to what I could afford! The third floor had long, gorgeous formals and elaborate hats with famous labels. And unlike much of what you see in the Hollywood red carpet photos these days, these were actually pretty and classy-looking. I skipped the menswear floor, but the fifth floor was children's clothes and baby's layettes and furniture. Most of the baby clothes cost more than I have ever paid for any article of my own clothing! And the most crazy thing of all - wandering through the children's section, I discovered that there is an entire Disney store inside the department store! Crazy! 

Right about this time, Harrods was closing, and I was supposed to meet my dad outside Buckingham so we could go to dinner. This was when things started to a bit....wonky, as the Brits would say. I decided instead of walking all the way back up Brompton Road, up Knightsbridge, and then up Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace, I decided to take a side street that seemed to lead right toward Buckingham. This, obviously, turned out to be a huge mistake. Unlike Albuquerque streets, the streets in London are not laid out in nice, neat, N-S and E-W grids! Instead they wind and meander all over the place. Long story short, I ended up lost - very lost. I was wandering around a bunch of tiny little side and back streets and couldn't seem to manage to find a main one again. Dad kept calling me and trying to help me navigate back via the map on his phone and I kept looking at my map of London, trying to figure it out, but I just couldn't find my way back. My feet were killing me and I was exhausted and Julie was extremely fussy, and of course there were no benches to sit on to put her to sleep. Finally I managed to find my way back to one of the walls of Buckingham Palace grounds, a landmark I actually recognized! The only problem was, it was the wrong side of Buckingham....and I ended up having to walk all the way around it to make it back to the front gates and the Victoria Memorial, where Dad was waiting! Oh, my aching feet! The grounds of Buckingham are absolutely enormous! Also, this is what the wall looks like the entire way around:

 Those are some serious spikes protecting the royal family! Yowzers!

At long last, I met up with Dad and we got someone to snap our picture in front of Buckingham Palace:

Then we made our way over to Soho, where Dad's friend was playing in a jazz club. We were supposed to eat dinner there before the show, but unfortunately they wouldn't let Julie into the club. I guess their laws are pretty strict about kids under 14 in certain places, like bars. They were really nice about it though. So we ended up going to a little Italian place right across the street. It was so delicious - the second best Italian food I've ever had in my life! (The best ever was in Jena, Germany, made by an Italian immigrant, but that's another story.) Even our salads were magnificent. 

Who knew beets, feta, and asparagus could be so delicious?

 The waiter was really nice, and an authentic Italian - from Napoli. He was incredibly nice about the baby too. (She's asleep in my lap in this picture of us.) The Italians are generally very family-friendly, even in nice restaurants. We ate outside on the patio - the weather was beautiful.

After the meal, we took a quick picture outside the jazz club, Ronnie Scott's, and then Dad went inside to watch his friend play and I took a taxi home.

I was pretty much beat by this point, so I went to bed. But not before I took this photo of London nighttime from our hotel room window:

Goodnight from London!

Friday, December 19, 2014

"This Realm, this England": Day 2

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands ---
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."
Richard II, Act 2, Scene 1

You know me - if we're talking about England, the first person who comes to mind is Shakespeare!

Sorry yesterday was so boring - all travel related. Today gets much more exciting because we're finally in England!

We landed at about 11:30 local time, which is eight hours ahead of Albuquerque. A few minutes before the plane landed, Jules woke up from her amazing sleep and we were both getting pretty antsy to get off the plane! The real problem was that I had been sitting for 8 hours, which meant no standing, which meant no bathroom breaks...I was really starting to get desperate by the time we made it to our gate. Of course, they have this brilliant system for loading people onto airplanes in small groups so it isn't chaos, but deplaning is a ridiculous free-for-all! EVERYONE stands up the second the plane ride is over - and I don't blame them - but it just causes a massive traffic jam for about 20 minutes. I don't understand why they don't announce "now rows 1-10 may disembark" and so on down the plane. Anyway, I was at the back of the plane AND in the window seat, so I just sat and sat until every other person had left, and then I begged the airline staff to let me use the restroom before getting off the plane so I wouldn't have to wait until after customs, because I was pretty sure I was gonna die! They were super nice about  it and one of them even offered to hold Jules for me. 

Finally off the plane and on English soil (hooray!) for the first time in my life, I now got to wait in the huge enormous customs line. I figured it was going to be hours but after only a few minutes a lady told me to follow her, and gather up a few more people with babies/small children, and led us to the front of the line! (I'm telling you - you should TOTALLY travel with a baby. It makes some things inconvenient but you get to move to the front of every single line. It's terrific. ;-) Got our passports stamped and tried not to grin ridiculously at the passport official simply because he had a British accent. Everyone had a British accent. I was surrounded by them. It was heavenly!

Went to collect my luggage and had a bit of trouble collecting my buggy (that's stroller for you Americans), since it came out in a different place, but I finally found it and there I was, loaded down with an enormous backpack, a rolling suitcase, a baby, a sling, and a stroller, and sadly, still only 2 hands. This would be the most challenging part of my trip, as I had to navigate myself, Jules, and all our stuff alone onto the Heathrow Express, a train that goes from Heathrow Airport in London to Paddington Station, where I was then supposed to get a taxi to take me to Dad's hotel. I bought my ticket and got on board the train all right, with some ridiculous maneuvering of all my luggage, and sat for a few minutes. I was chatting with the lady next to me, who was from Japan, and then she and all the other passengers got off the train. I stayed because I knew I was supposed to go all the way to Paddington and we were still in the airport. After just a moment, she came back onto the train and told me I had to get off because this was the end of the line for THIS train and switch to another to take me to Paddington. Yikes! I don't know what I would have done without her help; she not only came back for me, but helped me with my luggage and showed me where to go to switch trains. I was so blessed by her kindess! 

FINALLY on board the correct train, I stared eagerly out the window, but couldn't see much of the countryside; it was mostly industrial-type buildings and nothing terribly exciting yet. At last we pulled into Paddington, and I managed once again to maneuver all my luggage OFF the train onto the platform (sadly, not 9 3/4, but that comes later), get it all adjusted, and set off on the final stage of my journey: to find a taxi. I had never ridden in a taxi before, so that was exciting in and of itself, but to have it be one of the London "hackneys" was even cooler.

Okay, so this not the exact cab I rode in. My hands we too full to take a picture at that moment!

I have to confess something a little embarrassing here - ever since watching Season 1 of BBC's Sherlock I have been kind of terrified that the cab driver was going to murder me. Stupid, I know. Still true. So I was a bit nervous about climbing into a taxi in London, but I'm writing this, so everything was obviously fine. Unfortunately I happened to pick the only taxi driver in the entire city who was returning from a 6 month leave of absence and really had no idea where my hotel was - and I, of course, wasn't prepared enough and just had a hotel name, not an address or cross streets or anything. But eventually he figured out where he was going, and meanwhile I got to see London whizzing past in all its glory out the window! This was the first moment of my trip when it truly hit me that I was actually in London and despite being quite exhausted from being up all night, I got a rush of adrenaline and became extremely excited. Whoosh! And there went the Tower of London. Whoosh! There's Big Ben! Whoosh! The Eye of London. Not to mention the red double-decker busses and the taxis everywhere and all the little back and side streets with buildings that I knew nothing of, but radiated centuries of was all overwhelming and wonderful and fantastic. (I know, I'm running out of adjectives. Sorry.) After a little mix-up with another hotel of a very similar name, the cabbie finally found my hotel and I tipped him (way too much, I found out later) gratefully, made my way to my room, and was finally hidden from strangers' eyes for the first time in over 24 hours. Whew! 

Dad was still at his conference, and I had to will myself not to just collapse onto the bed and take a nap, but I knew that the best way to survive jet lag is to get on a "normal" schedule with your country as quickly as possible. So instead I took a shower while Jules had a nap (her schedule was totally messed up and she spent a LOT of time sleeping, I think in protest of the whole strange phenomenon, but that was good for me!) and then I had a cup of tea. One thing that was really interesting about English hotel rooms is that each one had an electric hot water kettle, two teacups, and a basket containing a selection of teas, sugar, creams, and a few little biscuits or cookies. That way each guest could observe four o-clock tea everyday! I quite enjoyed it - it made me feel even more "British" than ever, and their tea is much better than ours! Their tea baskets did have instant coffee, but it was terrible; Dad drank it, but I stuck with tea. ;-) About this time, Dad came back to the hotel room - this was a relief since the biggest flaw in our plan was how to communicate once I finally arrived! After he changed, we set out for our first evening exploring the city! 

Our hotel was in an interesting part of the London - the Docklands, an area in east and southeast London that once made up the Port of London. Goods were shipped via the Thames, so the Docklands was an important center of trade, although now its mostly residential and commercial district since transportation is less dependent on the river. But in order to get to the main part of London from our hotel, we had to cross the Thames via ferry. The hotel had its own small ferry to take guests back and forth across the river. Something I didn't know about the the Thames before my trip was the it is an outlet to the sea, so it is actually affected by the tides. The first night I was there, we crossed at the really high tide and the whole ferry was rocking back and forth violently. It was pretty exciting!

A view of our hotel from the ferry. It is literally ON the Thames.

Grandpa with Jules. That's our hotel in the background, on the opposite side of the river

Some old warehouse buildings in the Docklands area, a strange contrast to the tall modern buildings in the background

Once on the opposite bank of the Thames, we boarded a "water taxi" like the one below, which took us down the river and past many of the major landmarks in London. It was one of my favorite ways to travel. Not only was it the easiest to get on/off of with a baby and a buggy, but also a great way to see everything and a pretty quick way to travel.

The water taxi

It took us under the Tower Bridge

Past the Tower of London

Past the Globe Theater (I'll be seeing you again soon, good friend!)

Past the Eye of London, the only modern piece of London architecture I actually like

We disembarked near Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and took a walk along the bank of the Thames, stopping to look at anything that interested us. I was pretty much giddy with excitement (and possibly a lack of sleep), so that was nearly everything! 

I believe this was a WWII memorial 

And this was from WWI

I was so excited to see the traditional red phone booth!

Even their benches are beautiful!

Finally we went up a flight of stairs and there it was, right in front of us: Big Ben! Probably one of the most iconic symbols of Britain, right before my very eyes! 

Side note - Big Ben is actually the name of the clock inside the tower, not the tower itself. The tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. I felt sure you all needed to know that fact, in case you ever find yourself on Jeopardy...;-) 

Right next to - and I do mean right next to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament is Westminster Abbey, one of the places I was most excited about seeing. It was closed for sightseeing by the time we arrived, but I most definitely planned to come back another day! Just seeing from the outside was an amazing experience. I confess I may have cried looking up at it for the first time.

Dad and Jules in front of the "little side entrance" of Westminster 

Jules and I with both Westminster and Big Ben in the background

Here I am in front of the main entrance. Yes, I'm the tiny pink and black dot at the bottom. It is truly immense!

After walking around admiring Westminster, we sort of wandered down Whitehall Street, looking around and searching for a place to eat dinner.

Statue of Churchill

We passed Number 10 Downing street, where the Prime Minister lives. 

I'm fairly certain this is the entrance to #10 Downing

We ate dinner in the upper floor of a little pub along Whitehall. Babies seemed to be kind of discouraged, if not absolutely forbidden, in the bottom level of the pubs, where most of the "just stepped in for a pint" people were, but were allowed in the second level where more people were eating. I had a ploughman's lunch, which is basically just a sandwich, and it was okay but not great. Then we walked past Charing Cross, through Trafalgar Square, and then on to Piccadilly Circus. I must confess, Piccadilly was the only part of the London I truly didn't enjoy. I had always read about it, but didn't entirely know what it was until I got there, and frankly I'm still not sure what the allure is. But apparently it is THE place to be on a Saturday night in London! Everybody in the whole city seemed to have congregated there, to just talk and "hang out" on the steps on buildings and memorials. There were street performers and loud music and giant billboards covering the beautiful old buildings, which offended me greatly. :-) It was kind of like Times Square in NYC, from what I've heard, although I've never been there myself. Anyway, it just wasn't really my "scene," if you know what I mean.

Trafalgar Square

Cool horse fountain in Piccadilly

Atrocious billboards covering beautiful old buildings in Piccadilly
But we left there and wandered through Chinatown and finally made our way down to the Piccadilly line of the London "tube" or subway. Dad and I had both bought Oyster cards, which enabled us to travel the tube, the buses, and the DLR (that's Docklands Light Railway, an above-ground train), as well as a discounted rate on water taxis, for free. Well, not free, but you know what I mean. One price for all public transportation. The tube was really crowded, especially at Piccadilly, on a Saturday night, and it was tough to navigate with the baby and buggy as it involved flight after flight of stairs. Then once we got to the right stop, we caught the #10 bus, which stopped right outside out hotel. Whew! Transportation in London is complicated, and that's not even taking into account the whole driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road thing, which we didn't do until after we left London. But we finally made it back to our hotel and I absolutely crashed into bed in contented exhaustion.

Sorry this post was SO ridiculously long. I'll try to speed things up tomorrow!   

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"This Realm, this England": Day 1

I found this post that I started writing back in June and it made me ashamed:

"I've decided I need to give up looking at Facebook for a while. Why, you ask? Because it's June, and everywhere I look I see pictures or posts about all my friends' amazing vacations - to Europe, to Disneyland, to the mountains or the lake or the seashore. My own family members are at the top of that list. One sister just got back from New York City and is now in Colorado hanging out with our other sister. My parents and youngest sister are in New York for a different musical event. My brother and sister-in-law are on a cruise in Europe. And me? Want to know where I'm going this summer? Yep, that's right. Nowhere."

 I didn't finish it because I couldn't figure out how to say what I wanted without sounding extremely self-centered and whiny and pathetic, which is exactly what I was at that moment, and I was ashamed of it. I had no idea at the time but my Heavenly and my earthly father had both been planning something amazing for me that made me even more ashamed of my self-pity. My dad had a business trip to London coming up, and he invited me (and Jules, of course) to come with him and spend a week there! I was completely floored.

I write this as much for my own benefit as anyone else's - so I can remember every second of that wonderful trip! Apologies if it is entirely too detailed.

Friday morning was spent trying to cram half my wardrobe, all of Julianna's clothing, a mountain of diapers, wipes, jackets, umbrellas, guidebooks, two extra pairs of shoes, and a myriad of other miscellaneous accouterments (most of which I didn't end up using) into a medium-size suitcase and enormous backpack. I was trying to keep my luggage to a minimum because I would be flying out by myself and had to navigate airplanes, airports, trains, taxis, and every other form of transportation alone. Dad had to be in London a few days before me, so I had to get myself, Jules, and all our stuff from the airplane to the hotel. Having never traveled alone in my life, I was a bit nervous. (Okay, truthfully, I was terrified!)

Saying goodbye to the kids was one of the hardest things I have ever done. They all drove off cheerily, smiling and waving and excited about getting a WHOLE WEEK of "sleepovers" at Grammie's house! I held it together and did NOT cry when they left, so it wouldn't worry them and they would be happy and not miss me too much. I was fine all the way up until Robert and I got to the airport, and then I realized I forgot something minor, and the tears started to come! BUT I managed to push them down and recover my calm, and even be excited for my trip! There was a brief moment of panic when I started to check in and they told me Jules was supposed to have a ticket, even though she was a "lap baby" for the trip, and they had theoretically mailed it to me, but I had never gotten such a thing. I saw my whole trip slipping away before my eyes and boy, would the tears have ever flowed then! But fortunately they were able to reprint her ticket there at the counter and then I was set! Robert and I hung out for a bit, had a coffee (a TERRIBLE coffee - possibly the worst coffee I've ever had! Don't ever drink the coffee at the Albuquerque Sunport!), and tried to evade for a few more moments the inevitable goodbye. A kiss, a smile, a few tears, and then I was facing my second great obstacle: Security. I am one of those people who, although I have always been a responsible law-abiding citizen, suddenly find my knees knocking together when faced with uniformed authority figures. Seriously. Every siren I ever hear has me convinced they're coming for me....although I'm not exactly sure why. Combined with the horror stories I've read about TSA searches....well, let's just say I dread those checkpoints for more than just the long line. But fortunately it was very painless. Then it was simply a matter of waiting for the plane to board. Unfortunately Jules took umbrage with the long wait and got extremely cranky and tired. I tried to calm her, but by the time we boarded, she was one big fuss. I boarded amid a few sympathetic looks from fellow passengers (and probably a few annoyed ones as well), and found my seat - a window seat, which was good from a privacy/nursing standpoint. And then anxiously waited to see who my fellow passenger would turn out to be. This may sound strange, but I had been praying ever since learning about my trip that I would be seated next to someone who liked babies; someone like an older grandma or a fellow mom, someone who would be kind and understanding and not get annoyed if Jules fussed the whole trip. So when it turned out to be a young, collage-age boy, I was quite disappointed. "Oh dear," I thought, "he's going to be the one who is annoyed most by us."

The next two hours I spent trying to get super tired, cranky Jules to go to sleep without kicking the poor boy next to us. I failed on both counts. He was pretty nice about it, though. He put in headphones and watched movies during the flight and responded with "no problem" to each apology for her kicking. And the silly baby just wouldn't sleep. We finally landed...and then a long long taxi to the gate and a wait. The landing part was interesting, though, because I had never been to Minnesota before and as we circled down, I could see setting sun reflecting off the "thousand lakes" below us. It was beautiful! Someday I would like to go back to Minnesota and see more than the airport for a four hour layover.

It was a long four hours. The airport was enormous - the biggest one I've ever seen, or at least navigated all by myself - so after finding my correct gate, I stuck to my own concourse. Got some dinner, bought some water and snacks for the plane, and then mostly just followed Jules around as she crawled around all the seats in the waiting area. I figured she should get as much "floor time" as possible before the flight, since she would be stuck on my lap for the next eight hours. There was a another mom with a little girl, about three years old, in the waiting area too, and she and Jules really hit it off. They were from England, returning on the same flight as us, so the little girl had the CUTEST British accent. She kept taking photos of Jules with her tablet and they chased each other all over the waiting area.
Jules "cruising" the seats in the waiting area. Sorry, it's the only picture I have from the first day

Finally, shortly before boarding, Jules got sleepy and went to sleep in my arms. It made boarding a little tough, but with some help from a kind gentleman, I was able to get my backpack stowed and settled myself and my sleeping baby into our seat - window seat again - and went through the same anxiety about my seat-mate, especially since this was a MUCH longer flight! Turned out to be a young woman, probably a few years younger than me, who hardly spoke a word to me the whole flight, but she wasn't unkind or anything. She just didn't really invite conversation. I had kind of been hoping that I would be seated next to someone from England and we could chat about our respective countries throughout the trip, Instead that was the person behind me, and he and the girl he was sitting next to had an interesting conversation (upon which I eavesdropped shamelessly) throughout the flight. So there we were - settled in and finally on our way! And then the most amazing thing happened. Jules slept for the ENTIRE flight. I couldn't believe it. I thought I would just let her sleep as long as possible, because she was sure to wake up and then I'd have to entertain her...but she just slept. And slept. And there I sat, for 8 hours, unwilling to get up or even move too much because I was afraid of waking her. I tried to sleep, but unfortunately the only part of me that was able to sleep was my lower extremities. It certainly wasn't a very comfortable flight but it was much better than I had expected or even dared to hope. I know it was God's grace that enabled her to sleep and give me such a (relatively) easy time; it was only the first of many such times I saw His grace demonstrated to me throughout the trip.

I will say this - transcontinental flight has gotten much nicer/more comfortable since my last trip overseas, which was about 12 years ago. The seats have more legroom than domestic flights, and each seat has its own entertainment system built into the back of the seat in front, with a selection of movies and music and tv shows and games...all kinds of stuff to pass the time. The stewardesses/flight attendants (not sure which they prefer to be called these days!) serve a seemingly constant stream of food and drink, it was all pretty good (the coffee was 10x better than that airport swill, surprisingly enough!), and they pass out hot towels to wipe one's hands. It is always a strange feeling to stay awake all night, without falling asleep at all, because one is never quite sure when one day has finished and the next began. But after that long, strange, quiet night of waiting and watching and trying not to wake Jules and failing to sleep....the sun finally rose and there, out the window, I could see it: "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England!" (Richard II)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Exercise with "Helpers"

I have been dealing with some pretty bad back pain over the last month, and it has left me frustrated and uncertain as to a cause/remedy. It's possible that Julianna has just gotten quite heavy and lifting her is harder and more of a strain; it could also be that I am just that out of shape...:-( I have been to my chiropractor four times in the past two weeks, and he has been able to help re-align my spine and manage my pain, but my back keeps going out. Finally, after going to the chiropractor on Friday and then having my shoulder start wrenching/spasming on Saturday for no apparent reason, I'd had enough. I decided I had to start stretching/exercising again, and determined that first thing Monday I was going to bite the bullet and start doing yoga first thing every morning.

Things started off auspiciously enough. I managed to go to bed on the early side, set my alarm for 7, and awoke after a (rare) decent night's rest. Jules half-woke and decided she was hungry, so after she finished nursing back to sleep it was 7:30, and I was ready to get started. Gabriella came in as I was putting on my exercise clothes and ran off to put on HER "exercise clothes." She returned wearing a pink leotard that's way too small for her, striped red and white tights, a pink tutu, and her beloved red cowboy boots. It was hard to enough to keep my composure at THAT ensemble, but then she proceeded to start her "exercises." She put her legs together, turned out her toes, lifted her arms above her head, and began bending and straightening her knees, saying "cliché....cliché..." each time. I stared at her in utter bewilderment before I finally realized what she was doing: "plié....plié..." Well, I lost it at that - burst into laughter at her sheer cuteness. (She was quite offended. Sorry, Gabs.)

Um, yeah...I SO do not look like this! I think it's more like this:

I finally composed myself enough to find a yoga video that I thought I could handle and started attempting to do the stretches. Attracted by the sounds of the tv, the other kids all came in the room. Joseph immediately started his own version of "exercise," which involved running through the house at his fastest possible speed to prove just how "in shape" he already was. Gabs was still "cliché-ing" and James and Elora, stark naked (they had been in the bath), sat on the couch to watch me do yoga. Well, I was giving it my best shot despite all the distractions when my "audience" decided to chime in. They began critiquing my form:
"No, Mom, the lady on the video has her arms bent more. Bend your arms MORE, Mom!"
"No, Mom, she said to turn your feet parallel to the mat. PARALLEL, Mom! Come on!"
"Focus on your breathing, Mom. The lady SAID to focus on your breathing. FOCUS! How's your breathing, Mom?"

Mom's breathing at this point was practically nonexistent because she was laughing so hard. It is SO easy to relax and breathe and do yoga when naked people are shouting at you from the couch and your son is racing top speed through the entire house and your daughter is "cliché-ing" in cowboy boots and the baby just woke up. I decided at this point that yoga was futile and turned off my video. But I had made it through about 15 minutes and I actually found myself feeling a lot better throughout the day, so I determined to keep up with it. Today was much harder, not because of the distractions, but because I didn't get any sleep, so I was a lot tireder and less desirous of actually doing anything...but I persevered and did it, and once again physically feel better. This is quite encouraging! Hopefully I will not be spending so much time with my chiropractor in the near future!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Happy Six Months, Julianna!

Sweet little Julianna is six months old today! It's hard to believe the time has gone so fast. I guess it's true what they say about motherhood - the days feel long, but the weeks and months and years fly by!   


I know one should never have favorites among their children - and I don't - but I do have to admit to liking certain children better at various "stages." (For example, Joseph was my first baby and I was absolutely crazy about him...but the child would not SLEEP as an infant!! He would stay awake until 3 or 4 in the morning and just fuss and fuss and cry...I didn't really know what "colic" was at the time and I thought that was just what all babies were like. Oh, my, was I relieved was James was born and he was not like that! ;-) So far, it is hard not to be incredibly prejudiced in Julianna's favor because she is SUCH a sweet baby! She has been a great sleeper from the very beginning, hardly cries, and is sooo snuggly! She's just a happy, happy baby most of the time and so much fun to be around.

It's also quite interesting that she is the first of our babies to really show a marked preference for her Daddy! She has been "Daddy's girl" from the very beginning. I mean, she loves Mommy and wants me plenty, but she will sit with her Daddy for a very long time, perfectly content, and her little face just lights up whenever he's around! It's so very precious to watch, and I think Robert gets a huge kick of it because I'm sure it can be hard to always play second fiddle to Mommy! She's also the first baby he's been able to put to sleep on a regular basis.


About a month before she was born, we took the kids to see Frozen and they became absolutely obsessed with it. (Still are, in fact. If I have to hear one more rendition of "Let It Go" at the top of their lungs...) So when I asked Elora what she wanted to name the baby if it was a girl, she immediately said "Anna!" We had been talking about Julianna anyway, so I thought "oh, how cute - we can nickname her Anna!" (When asked what we should name the baby if it was a boy, Elora's suggestion was "T-Rex!" It's a good thing she was a girl.) However, somehow the nickname "Anna" never managed to stick. Sometimes we call her Julie, but everyone's favorite nickname for her is Jules or Jule. I love it because I think of her as our family's precious "jewel" - she is so loved and cared for and adored by her big brothers and sisters! They squabble over who gets to play with her, hold her, pick out her clothes, and even change her diaper! And she loves all the attention and just basks in the adoration (most of the time...unless it's all a little overwhelming.) 

She is a blessing to our whole family and none of us can remember what we did without her. Happy Six Month "Birthday," Sweet Jules!