Robert Frost

The best way out is always through.

Monday, January 25, 2010

London of my dreams....it's there.

Quote from Helene Hanff in "84 Charing Cross Road": "(a friend) says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find what they are looking for. I told him I would go looking for the England (London)of English literature, and he said, 'Then it is there'"

(Thames River, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben)

Well someone who gets to the meat of the story would start at day one...not me. I just have to reflect on the decisions that led to our wonderful surprise London/Dublin trip. Last May 2009 when we were brainstorming vacation possibilities, nothing major in mind, and finding that my mother-in-law was interested in joining us, I dabbled on-line for the possibilities of stateside and international travel for our family of six. And yes, I must confess to my bloggy buddies: My name in Jenny N. and I am a travel planning junkie. I thoroughly enjoy finding the best deals, insider tips, and smoothing out Point A to Point B details. Well, very quickly I discovered that a traveling family of 6 was a pricey enterprise. And as I was just about to give up the whole idea when inspiration struck, and I found a fantastic airline deal. Dallas (with two connecting flights) to Dublin, where we would change the airline then on to London for less than it would cost us to fly Dallas to St. Louis, MO!
I ran the idea past by family and after a pause of surprise there was a definite "Yes!" My mother-in-law (MIL, Lou) had never traveled abroad and was tickled by the God blessed turn in plans. But yikes, my travel planning challenge was to get our itinerary and bookings made before our August travel window.
OUR ITINERARY: Leave for London Aug. 10th with three connecting flights arrive in London(Aug 11-14), then to Dublin (Aug 15-18) Home on the 18th. Whew. Cheaper flights mean connections are one thing: BRUTAL! But I knew my family had dealt with worse the year before, so it was important to emphasize to my dear MIL that our version of budget travel was not pampering in any way. We lugged our own luggage, traveled with the bare minimum (clothing and toiletry wise), walked a lot, and learned local public transportation. She understood....at first. So our very groggy, jet lagged arrival to London a day after we left Dallas was an eye opener for Lou, but expected...uh, somewhat. Trip Advisor was an invaluable resource along with my trusty Rick Steves, and on TA I found nice recommendations for a car shuttle service by a man named Ray Skinner. I had communicated with him via email and even a phone call (I was delighted to hear his chipper Cockney accent) and easily made our reservation and got another great deal compared to the possible costs of train and cab to our London address. We were so comforted by the sight of him standing at the exit from baggage to the transport terminal that I was tempted to run up and hug him. Just like in movies, he held up his hand scrawled sign with our name and gave us a hearty welcome to London. The ride in was about 45 minutes and he was chatty and friendly but I think if you asked everyone, we would agree that we were pretty zoned out. Once we arrived in London proper I had to pinch myself. The architecture, the pubs, the crowds of people walking around, the red double decker buses, and black cabs rushing about....it IS the picture of London from books and movies.
Then we arrived very easily at our apartment...excuse me, our FLAT. And if I wanted to I could write an entire complain-y post about the first flat we attempted to book...they cancelled on us because of all my question asking, two weeks before the trip. And I lost it (mentally speaking), then I prayed that somehow, somewhere our last minute booking would help out some apt. owner as much as us and the Lord graciously provided within a 24 hour period. The owner was understanding and helpful and the flat...oh, me oh, my, a first instance for me of our entire group having their breath taken away. See for yourself: Our view outside this living room balcony was the picture at the top of the post. The flat was on Albert Embankment and only a ten minute walk to Westminster Abbey. THE THAMES RIVER was actually right out our windows. Big Ben! Houses of Parliament! Thank you very much Mr. Sarab Monib for your fantastic flat. Okay here is another pic and then I will try to stop gushing.
We picked rooms and beds, unpacked and refreshed ourselves a bit and then hit the street to our nearest Tube stop: Vauxhall to ride to dinner. Ride what you say? The London Underground (Tube) of course. Now at this juncture it must be said that once again our crew was great on the go. I mean it can be an ordeal anywhere to travel with kids, toddler included, and all the gear (sippee, snacks, diapers, wipes, extra clothes, stroller, and incidentals for our day-long outings away from our flat) anywhere, but in a big, busy, bustling city like London in August and moment to moment unknowns, we charged ahead. And the girls even confessed to me later that getting from place to place and especially riding the Tube, were some of their most favorite times during our trip. Who knew?

But Lou, it must be said, had some trouble with the hustle/bustle. See, three days before our trip, she sprained her ankle. Yikes. She is always an"on the go" person and had looked forward to all our planned walking about Londontown (and I mean a lot of walking), but now walking was not as enjoyable. So the first evening's hoped for walk around Buck House (Buckingham Palace nick name) was crossed off and we headed straight for some traditional eats of good ol' Fish'n'Chips. We went to Seafresh near Victoria Station in central London.
It was declared "delish" by all and I liked that even though WE were tourists, we seemed to be surrounded by locals (the lovely English lilt all around) on that Tuesday evening.
See these "horseys" with Sophia...they proved to be her invaluable travel companions. At every stop they entertained her...Thank you Lord. Lou called them the trip savers. The few months leading up to the trip Sophia had amassed a hefty collection and hand-picked these nine for our exciting trip to London. And they made it home as a complete set through all the flights, stops and restaurants. She was constantly the mother "horsey" making sure each one was stowed in her pack.

After our satisfying meal, I remember that I yearned to go walking near to Buck House. But, my family was in varying degrees of falling over from lack of sleep. So odd. Normally I am the one wanting for energy. Yet, much like our trip before, my boost comes from the fact that there is so much to discover and so little time. Needless to say, we headed back to our flat by bus. David was the adventuresome one in this instance, as I was not familiar with the colored coded routes and stops. Yes, it was the double decker red bus variety and a treat. As is with our family, a nibble of something sweet and a warm drink (coffee for grown ups, tea for the young set) was necessary before we all tucked into our pleasantly comfortable beds.

I was the last for bed and noticed the one draw back to our flat was the constant din of traffic that flowed all through the night. No double paned windows it appeared....and yet.... every night we slept soundly after our long days. On this first night I worried about the noise keeping everyone restless through their needed sleep. Yet, I fell asleep to the sounds of the traffic, the river, the awe of being in the midst of London, the lovely night breeze and the slight night glow of the city that was full of life and ready for us. Ahhh.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What's next...some blog love.

London here I come. No, not at any moment soon, but me writing about it is next on deck. Right now though I have hoped each day to blog about our day to day, my favorite blogs, and some random thoughts. You know. The stuff that bloggin' is about.

Last January through April was a little hard on me. Just to share a bit, after a year of some post-baby, strange symptoms: lots of odd/random skin discoloration, random finger and toe numbness, bothersome pattern like rashes, I checked in with my family doctor (yes I had put it off for a long while) and she and some tests revealed that I have Lupus. I "exactly" have "unclassified autoimmune disorder" with symptoms of lupus/schleroderma. Lupus attacks different organs and mine attacks the skin. I feel fine, if I exercised and ate better I am sure I would feel great. There are so many out there with living with lupus that deal with so much more, so this is not me complaining.
Last January to February the pain in my fingers and hands was at its worst and what kept me on edge each day was the fact that over the holidays of '08 I had a finger wound that grew from the size of a pin head to a mushy, pink open wound the size of an eraser head. My left hand was constantly bandaged and from January to June of '09. I almost never ran my hand under water as the special bandages and the wound would not respond well to water. I am thankfully, a stay at home mom, and at the time Sophia was two and changing her diapers was always a slow process because of my wound, bandages, and general wiggling and mess. Suffice to say I was hypersensitive about my hands and stayed at home nearly all the time. My family probably never noticed a difference in my attitude because they buoyed me up during this time of self imposed home bound-ness. The Lord truly taught me so much about those that must live with chronic issues (as I said I have always "felt fine" outside of the hand issues).

Another blessing during this time was the blog world. Seems a bit odd to type it, but I know this to be true. I discovered blogs in areas of interest, i.e. travel, homemaking, faith, and family, and found daily encouragement. A number of my most favorite blogs are penned by women of faith and wonderful insight. It seemed that even across miles, while I was at home just with Sophia, and not at my best, the Lord led me to some of the best company. And for that I thank each of the dear women (whether they know it or not) for all they have shared. And the bonus of it all is that so many of my dear blog buddies are able answer comments and it is a way to be "pen pals" in the 21st century. Those of us that blog and have come to enjoy this camaraderie might find it hard to explain to everyday family and friends about our bloggy buddies. I know my dear husband who supports me in every way has taken quite a while to be convinced. If anyone has seen Julie & Julia the movie with Meryl Streep (it is great, please see it if you haven't), there is a scene that so heartfully depicts the joy of a friendship come to life from words, ideas, and feelings shared on the page: Julia Child meets her years long pen pal Avis (a woman), in a train station after they have finally planned to meet in face to face, and as Avis enters, they seem to know each other immediately, throw their arms wide and embrace each other joyfully. Such a true picture of friendship.
Now I would like to share a few of those blogs. First, I would like to attribute my inspiration for this idea to two sources: Sally Annie Magundy, who tries each Monday to share new crafty blogs for others to visit (she has such interesting crafts and resources). The other is 84 Charing Cross Road, a tender true story told solely in letters that were exchanged over 20 years between a zesty New York screenwriter, Helene Hanff and an at first formal then friendly Englishman in London who was the manager of an antique bookstore from which she made many special requests (years 1948-1968). In the book you find that each time she requested a book, he would recommend another or visa versa and her interests grew as well as their friendship.

Let's grow some more friendships:

Tongue in Cheek: Corey (American) writes about her life in Provence these 2o some years married to a Frenchman and her adventures, brocante, family, travels, all things French, and has gorgeous photos and a loving outlook. My mom now actually understands blogland because in September 2009 Corey came to an antique fair in Texas that I dragged my mom to so that I could meet this dear woman. The moment I met Corey we squealed with delight and hugged, and chatted up a storm. My mom took to her immediately (of course) and now enjoys catching up with Corey online daily.

Sister one of four and The Rogers Family: a mom and daughter (dear friends Marcia and Lindsey) write sweet family updates and encouraged me so much by being my first followers and commenters (it is such a joy), even though they live near me I have kept better in touch with them via blog and emails--see I AM a hermit.

Here's a power blog alright: The Pioneer Woman, I happened upon her blog as she was just beginning to hit readers in the high hundreds, but now this homeschooling, former city livin', cookbook writin', photographer extraordinaire, and rancher's wife, who lives on a vast cattle/horse ranch in OK blogs daily and lovingly about her life and times....I dare you not to be won over....go ahead...at least try one of her man-pleasin' recipes.
Pleasant Places: Steph is a thoughtful, dear woman of the Lord who I found when I googled my own blog because I forgot my blog address. Hee, it happens. She blogs about her latest reads, antiquing, wonderful homemade gifts and especially, her inspirations: the Lord, and her family. She started at the same time I did, is also a stay at home mom to a same age toddler, and then I noticed that she is also in Texas! and we hope to one day meet up.
Thank you truly, Sally Annie, Corey, Marcia, Lindsey, Ree, and Steph for the encouragement and goodness you add to the blog world. Cheers to all!


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