Friday, May 30, 2014

A Near Perfect Day

It has been more than 2 weeks since I sat alone in St. James Park (across from Buckingham Palace in London) eating prawn cocktail crisps and basking in my solitude. As I sat there switching around from writing in my journal, taking photos, watching people, and enjoying the beauty, I took several opportunities to close my eyes and take it all in. I wanted to ensure that when I returned home, I would be able to remember the sounds around me. I also looked upwards at the blue sky and wondered if when I returned home I would be able to imagine the spot of sky above my house was no different than the spot of sky I was looking at.
(I actually took this photo quite by accident. But I LOVE it. The blue sky, my bag of Skip crisps and that trusty London Tube map.)

The (now almost 3) weeks since returning home have been VERY busy. I have rarely had a moment of solitude, let alone doing something for a whole day that I CHOOSE. It has been filled with end of school craziness, and we have found ourselves running more often than not. It has been quite ridiculous actually, but I'm optimistic that I can now really find the time to finish up my blog posts about my time in England.

Last week I helped at Field Day at the elementary school, as I sat in a lawn chair waiting for the next rotation of children to come and my job cutting Otter Pops to resume, I found myself looking up at the blue sky. I recalled my time alone in St. James Park and looked up and tried to recall the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings I hoped so desperately to remember. It didn't exactly work. The sounds of 100's of children surrounding me enjoying the second to last day of school just didn't quite compare...

Tuesday morning, my first full day in England I traveled to London alone. My dear host, Karen had to work on Tuesday and so my plan was to enjoy London by myself for a few hours before I met my friend Anne for the bus tour. I would then meet up with Karen after work and we'd spend the evening together. That Tuesday was one of the most blissful days I have spent in maybe forever. I had zero responsibilities and obligations other than to meet Anne Parry at 2:20pm in front of the London Eye.

Having visited London and its beautiful historical sites a fair number of times in my life, my must-do list was quite short...Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, shopping, and of course seeing my favorite site of all time, the Tower Bridge goes without saying.

Enough rambling. I remember what's important, and my journal details my inner-most feelings, but for posterity sake (and an accurate end of year blog book) here is a summary of my day alone in London.

I quite literally stumbled upon the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and ended up with a front row view to the band and the soldiers. (I couldn't help thinking about visiting Windsor Castle as a child and my brother and cousin trying their hardest to make a soldier crack a smile or laugh. My brother was the king of telling jokes when he was a child but he didn't succeed in having a soldier/guard think him funny.)
(I was so busy recording video of them marching with the guards to the palace, that I only have a couple of still photos.)

I remember visiting St. James Park (maybe for the first time?) when I was about 9 years old and spent a day in London with Auntie Sheila (a very close family friend). Since then, it has been a must-do on every visit to London. I remember eating cheese and tomato sandwiches with my BFF, Melanie during a visit there, Megan as a 2 year old getting bitten by a duck, eating ice cream there with Mike, Megan, Luke and my dad, etc. etc. etc. But my time alone there a few weeks ago will certainly stand-out too. It was a very surreal experience enjoying it absolutely alone. I'll waste no more time trying to describe that beautiful, picturesque park that Buckingham Palace overlooks.

My favorite London site is the Tower Bridge. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. Karen's office at work actually overlooks the Tower Bridge and the Thames River. For that reason, I call her job "fancy." I mean, the view as I type this isn't exactly horrible out my window, in fact, I really like the view from my family room but it does include a goat, and a chicken coop. Not quite comparable to the River Thames and Tower Bridge.

Before I left for London, Drew was obsessed about me seeing "the tower clock", meaning Big Ben. Every day I talked to him in Paris, he'd ask, "When are you going to England?" He was very anxious for me to get to England and see "the tower clock." At 12 o'clock noon as I was exiting St. James Park I heard Big Ben chime 12. I immediately thought of Drew, and so when we passed by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament later in the day on my bus tour, I basked in the actuality of seeing it, rather than securing a good camera shot.

Karen and I enjoyed the view and a drink from the Shard. One of the newest buildings in London. Although a beautiful piece of modern architecture with stunning and amazing views, I think some of the "new" buildings interrupt the skyline of old towers, bridges, cathedrals and abbeys. The skyline from Mary Poppins is no longer the same.
My photos from the Shard aren't very good, and somehow I didn't get a good photo of it from the outside. Oh well. Least I got a shot of the Tower of London. Ode to William the Conqueror.
(To think I went to the Tower of London on a field trip in 6th grade! A field trip??? Awesome.)

Having spent my time in Paris doing strictly cultural things, my visit to London was the complete opposite. I thoroughly enjoyed them both in completely different ways. While shopping and exploring London alone, I noticed this statue and took a photo of it for no other reason than in honor of my mother-in-law so she could be assured I did do something cultural and educational (?) while in London. Because taking a photo of a statue of Shakespeare is absolutely considered educational and cultural, right?
I became a pro at the London Underground throughout the day. Of course I have done it plenty in my lifetime, but after the horrible Metro in Paris, I was concerned I'd lost my touch. Not so. I navigated through that city as though I was a real Londoner. Although my large Union Jack souvenir shop bag probably spoke to the contrary.

My mind photos from that day include Mike calling me as I walked the streets of London--he having just woken up--me just about to eat a sausage roll for lunch. The "Mormon" from Colorado that came up to me to ask for help with something. Standing outside the train station waiting to meet Karen. Karen and I eating a 99 Flake cone on the banks of the Thames. The sounds and sights of London streets. My recognition of road signs and thinking of Mike and me playing Monopoly. Oh I have so many! I hope I remember them ALL.

Oh London, how I adore you.
 (Westminster Abbey taken from the top of a double decker bus)

(Trafalgar Square)

At this point, the adrenaline from the trip that lasted the good first week or so after I returned home has gone. Now when I see these photos, I tear up. It makes me sad that this place I love is so far away, and I can't visit more often. Mike tells me I should try to go every year (isn't he AWESOME?), but that isn't really the most realistic aspiration. I love England. I love London and I will forever be grateful to Mike for providing me with such a rich opportunity.

"Don't cry because it is over. Smile because it happened."

PS-I have two more posts to do about visiting England. One about the personal side of my visit, and one about my dear friend, Karen.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Old School Friends

It is hard to put into words the experience of moving to a new country as a teenager. There are so frequently times when I am with my peers and friends now when things from childhood are brought up and I have no idea what they are talking about. There are also times I try explaining parts of my childhood to my friends or even Mike and my children, and they have no reference point to understand my story or experience.

So it was quite joyous to sit down in a pub on the evening of my first day in England with 2 friends from "elementary" school and talk about things we all could relate to from our childhood!We attended Cheam Park Farm Infant and Junior school together for many years. Our classes stayed the same from 2nd-6th grade, and so the friendships formed were fairly consistent over the school years.

Of course we all went our different ways, but with Facebook, I reconnected with many of these friends several years ago and I have loved Facebook for that very reason since I joined in 2008! Two of my favorite Facebook friends from my younger days are Wayne Boys and Clair Layton. I had not seen Wayne since July 1986 when we left the junior school to start "high school". I did see Clair during a visit to England in 1991, but that's still a long time ago!

When I walked into the pub and saw those two standing there, I think I almost ran into their arms! Oh my goodness! I wish more of the "old gang" could have come, but these two were a delight to be with!

We sat around that table talking about just about everything! There was NEVER an awkward moment of "What shall we talk about?" or "What do we have in common?" My life is as different as night and day from their daily lives, but our childhood commonalities have united us in a way that brings tears to my eyes just thinking about.
(Wayne, Tiffany, Clair)

For all the slack social media gets, I love that Facebook has reconnected me with so many people I would otherwise have absolutely no contact with, especially old friends from England.

After Cheam Park Farm Junior school, I attended Nonsuch High School. (I left towards the end of the 2nd year/@8th grade.) For several years now, I have been friends on Facebook with a friend Anne (Dinsdale) from my Nonsuch. I wasn't quite sure if we really would meet up while I was in England, but I did mention to her that I would be there. She immediately replied that she would love to meet up with me, and a few days later she sent me an invitation to join her on an Afternoon Tea Bus Tour. She insisted on treating me to such an extravagance. Tuesday afternoon, as I sat at the base of the London Eye to meet her (having not seen her since March of 1988), I could not believe I was there having this opportunity. Sometimes, my life in England seems like it wasn't really real because of the stark contrast to the life I have now and the experiences of my children's schooling. (It's very hard to explain, I'm not going to try.)

Anne and I spent just about 2 hours together, and it was a definite treat to reminisce about some fond memories of my time at Nonsuch, although for the most part, my time and experience at Nonsuch was anything but fond. (Which is interesting to note, Anne said that not long after I left, dynamics, attitudes and behaviors really changed there. (Not anything to do with me leaving, simply the timing of it.) I have found myself several times since returning home from my trip to England, filled with a tremendous amount of gratitude that I didn't have to attend that school for any longer than I did.)

It is hard for me to look at this photo and really think that I had a whole different life from my life now. Yet from the wonders of Facebook, I feel as though I have a "new friend" when really, she is an old friend. Our lives are very different. She is very intelligent,  has a fancy job, and 2 young children (and a husband) living in a London zip code. I have little intelligence, no fancy job, 5 children and enough animals in my backyard  that would make living in a London zip code impossible. Yet, we both have strong, opinionated minds, tender mother hearts, and I thoroughly enjoy my Facebook friendship with this friend.

Sorry-I got off subject--back to the Bus Ride...


A perfect way to spend a sunny London afternoon.
Much obliged Anne. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Birthday to Remember

I believe every birthday should be a birthday to remember, but I think there is something about Ellie's 10th birthday (today!) that she will remember always.

About a week ago, Ellie came to me with a notebook page, color co-ordinated and decorated in a very typical almost-10-year-old-girl way, with the events of her birthday spelled out. She had shopping, dinner at Village Inn, and cake and ice cream all time mapped out for her Tuesday afternoon/evening birthday celebration.

Last Friday morning, Mike called me. He had just gotten off the phone with my brother Casey, and as soon as he told me that, I knew the combination of him talking to Casey, and the timing of the American Idol season that it probably meant one thing. (Remember last year?)

Casey had "tickets" to the American Idol final singing competition, Casey no longer lives in California, but that didn't stop Mike from ever pausing to question whether or not he was going to go. (Last year Mike and Casey attended the actual finale.) As soon as Mike looked at the date and saw the tickets were for May 20th, he declared Ellie his travel partner. Yours truly had to drop all of her Friday morning plans and errands for the sake of finding flights for them. Mike invited his cousin and her daughter to attend with them. (It was going to be dads and daughters, but Mike's cousin's husband couldn't attend, so he went with his cousin instead! Fun-wish I had a photo of all 4 of them.)

I LOVE that Mike flying to LA, now 2 years in a row, with just days notice is so NOT him, but so him. I love that Mike is frugal, a workaholic, and organized and well-planned, yet he has now followed a particular passion of his twice and temporarily thrown all those traits of his out the window. Enough about Mike, it is Ellie's birthday.

Mike told Ellie on Friday night that she was going to go to American Idol with him. She was very excited, but a part of her wondered/questioned/worried about "missing" her birthday.

Even Luke mentioned a couple of days ago, "I love birthdays, even other peoples. I'm sad we won't have balloons, and presents and cake." And today, Drew mentioned, "Is it really Ellie's birthday? I don't like it."

Mike and Ellie flew to LA on Monday night, and will return early on Wednesday morning. I have to say, it has been a very strange day today. I LOVE birthdays, and it has been odd to not see my child on their birthday. But on the flip side, receiving these photos throughout the day, have made me smile.
(Waiting in line with Cousin Katie to claim their tickets on Tuesday morning.)
(Cousin Karena took the girls to Starbucks to get a snack while Mike held the place in line. Apparently, Ellie got a free hot chocolate and a cake pop!)
(I wish I had a photo of Ellie holding up her sign. We could see her blue sign being held up right after Jena's performance! So cool. Side note to remember: On Sunday night when Ellie was making her sign, on one part of her poster she wrote, #americanidol. Mike came into the room and asked, "Why have you written number American Idol?" He got all sorts of negative feedback from the three oldest children, "It's a hash tag Dad, haven't you noticed that on all the American Idol shows you've been watching this season?" #mikesisnotintosocialmedia)

We can do a pretend birthday tomorrow, but I think today will remain the highlight! At least we think...Ellie isn't one to show a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. 

Happy 10th Birthday Ellie!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sarah and Susie

Back in February, when I first began considering adding London to my Paris trip, there were a few friends I sent a message to, to see if seeing them would be a possibility. As much as I love London and England, I knew in my heart the reason I wanted to go was to see people, not places.

Sarah and Susie were among some of the first I emailed. I mainly communicated with Sarah, and couldn't believe at one point that Susie may not be able to join us. You see, Sarah and Susie or Susie and Sarah, just kind of go together. They are two sisters, whom I have known since I was a young child. We attended church together throughout our childhood, and many fond memories of Epsom Ward (our LDS church congregation) include them.

(My 8th birthday and baptism day, October 1982. Sarah and Susie are to the right of the photo. Aren't they darling? They look the exact same still today. And just so happens the girl next to me is my friend Karen who I will be writing about soon too.)

Back to 2014. It just so happens the stars aligned, and Sarah and Susie were the first familiar faces I saw when I arrived via train in London on Monday, May 5th. Within 15 minutes of each other, my train from Paris arrived at the same station their train from up north arrived.

I can not describe the happiness and joy I felt as I hugged each of those girls. I've seen them a handful of times over the years since our youth, but sitting and eating lunch with them at a pub across from King's Cross Station was absolutely delightful.

We sat at our table visiting for almost 3 hours, chatting about everything and anything. It was as though having lunch together was the most normal thing in the world. At one point during the lunch, I excused myself to use the bathroom. While I was in the bathroom washing my hands, I could NOT believe I was really with Sarah and Susie. It was one of those surreal moments I really felt as though I had to pinch myself, it truly felt as though I were dreaming.

Sarah and Susie are some seriously top-notch ladies! Although we keep in touch a fair amount via social-media, being able to sit and talk in person with them is hard to put into words. Those ladies are some deliberate, strong, faithful mothers! I meet a lot of mothers and women in the stuff I am involved in, but these two are truly some of the best!

Who knows exactly when we will see each other again, especially just the three of us alone eating lunch in an English pub talking about everything from motherhood to childhood memories. What a fantastic afternoon! I count eating lunch with some of my dearest friends almost 5000 miles away from my home a definite blessing. The thought that our lunch can't and won't be duplicated anytime soon, causes a small pang in my heart, but these ladies are friends for far more than this life while we're separated by an ocean.

Love, love, love Sarah and Susie.
(Tiffany, Sarah, Susie-May, 2014)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mothers Day 2014

This year Mother's Day felt a little bit different than other years. I think it is because I hardly felt like I could justify a "day off" after I had barely been home 48 hours from 9 days off! Mike was pretty funny on Saturday night, and you really have to know him to not take his comment the wrong way, but I quote him... "I feel like I just spent the last nine days honoring you while you were gone, and I have to spend another day doing it tomorrow?"

It was nonetheless a wonderful day. Actually, I think I'm not remembering it as clearly as I should. There was one point Mike and I sat on the couch in the front room and looked at each other with that occasional look we do. No words are ever exchanged but it has come to mean, "What in the world have we gotten ourselves into?" It usually includes deep huffs of breath from one or the other of us, and lots of eye rolls.

I'm pretty certain, Mother's Day ended with each child getting in bed after having been lectured by both Mike and me. There may or may not have been a few raised voices too.

Some days are like that. Mother's Day or not.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Nothings Yet Everythings of Paris

It wasn't just the opportunities to see some of the great sights of Paris that made the trip there so fun and fulfilling. The company made up a big part of it...

Laurie and Kristin (Mike's mother and sister) are fun travel companions. While anticipating the trip, I wondered if we would really laugh as much as we did in Boston last year. Oh my goodness! We laughed more than I could ever have imagined laughing. These ladies and I make a pretty good traveling trio, and I look forward to more trips with them.

As with my real life, I spent time in Paris recognizing the little things. My personal mantra, "Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you'll back and realize they were the big things" held true for me as I basked in each day we spent in France. Our time together was filled with plenty of touristy things to see and do, but there was a lot of time spent simply building memories. And even though not as many of those times were captured in picture, they were mind photos I hope to always have...

Laurie and I differ on what food should be deemed edible or not. These cheese slices that she brought with her all the way from SLC, and then subsequently sat in a hot car in Normandy all day were deemed edible by HER on the train ride from Normandy to Paris. I on the other hand wouldn't have touched them with a 9 foot pole.

Hmmm so yeah... right around the corner from our apartment was this view. But we, well I didn't realized that at first. And so upon our first little venture out, as we turned the corner, I saw a French Patisserie (bakery) that of course grabbed my attention and I ran across the street to stare into the window longingly at all the baguettes and pastries... Only to be hollered at by Kristin and Laurie about what I should have noticed first.
Many a laugh and memory were made in this apartment...
Kristin and I used our cell phones as cameras, and we were each found guilty of taking selfies of ourselves in various locations. (I think I had taken maybe 2 selfies of myself in my life until Paris, and Megan requested me send her selfies of myself in various locations.) Often, when Kristin or I would hand each other our cameras to take photos of us, the "selfie setting" would still be on, and so of course we had to take a photo of ourselves on each others phones.
When you plan your next trip to Paris. Don't visit on May 1st. It is May Day, and most things are closed. So don't run out of toilet paper in your apartment. It becomes a true mayday situation. Just sayin'...

Speaking of mayday as in distress calls...there were several moments together in France that we clearly recognize as tender mercies:
  • The nice man in Bayeux who helped us find a public toilet to use. (Usually it was Laurie or Kristin that needed to go to the toilet, but this little town found me needing to empty my bladder and there was NOWHERE to go. Everything about this man from his body language to his closing up shop to come and find us (he'd originally given us wrong directions) felt like he was a little angel in disguise. I have a secret crush on that liquor shop owner now.
PS-I say "toilet" because we were in Europe. No restrooms, or bathrooms, they are toilets.
  • The taxi that literally arrived out of nowhere. Sunday evening found us a fair way from our apartment. We had spent much of the day wandering and walking around various sites, and when it came time to return home we had just exited the beautiful Luxembourg Gardens and realized we were quite far from the Metro station or a Taxi stand. Laurie's feet were tired (she is a trooper and doesn't let her feet issues stop her from traveling and living!), and although Kristin and I could have walked much further, Laurie was in need of a taxi, yet we were far away from the "taxi stands". I know Laurie was beginning to feel discouraged and literally, within seconds a taxi pulled up to the sidewalk. It wasn't a coincidence.
  • Laurie made friends with the lady across from the apartment from ours, and she graciously loaned us two rolls of toilet paper. We returned two pink (yes, pink) rolls of toilet paper the next day along with a KitKat bar.
  • The lady who we dealt with for our apartment, wasn't the easiest to work with. Yet by late Sunday night, her change of heart about charging us 50 Euros to meet us at our early necessary check-out time was quite miraculous when she declared she would let us drop our keys in the post box instead. (A long story, but suffice it to say it was a great relief to us.)
Also another long story...but Laurie (and Kristin) ran out of cash and none of our cards would work in an ATM. Yours Truly became the group hero when I made a phone call to American Express ("disguised" as Laurie) and was able to obtain an emergency/one-time use pin number. Laurie's excitement over finally getting some cash was perhaps slightly marred by the fact I was able to answer both of the security questions the American Express lady asked. (Laurie however, would have been unable to answer one of them. ha ha)

Each night at dark on the hour (beginning at 10pm) the Eiffel Tower sparkles for 5 minutes or so. On one of our nightly adventures to see it, we stopped and enjoyed a Nutella Crepe. I can't even remember what was so funny (yes I can now, but "you had to be there") but we laughed hysterically while enjoying this delicious taste of heaven. (My first taste ever of Nutella. Wow!)

I don't have a photo of my lovely cheese board I ordered at a nice little restaurant we ate at. Ahhh-I still find myself occasionally dreaming of that assortment of cheese and baguette.

Mother-in-law to the rescue! I do have a photo now!
Speaking of baguettes, I ate my fair share while in France. In fact, by Sunday evening I may or may not have had any desire to eat another one anytime soon.
I'm proud to say that I encouraged Laurie to take her first selfie while standing by the Eiffel Tower. I handed her my cell phone and gave her instructions. She insists it was her first and last, but we shall see.

The door to our apartment was a nightmare. It had three locks (and three keys) and I never successfully unlocked the door the whole time we were there. I think Laurie ended up being the pro at opening the door, but it still took her a few attempts each time. The combination of the difficult locks, the need for at least one of us to use the bathroom, and the auto-shut off of the lights in the dark hall, made for some funny laughs. Although I think there were a few times we wanted to swear about it instead.
Kristin and I went out to do some shopping and forgot to take the keys with us to get back into the apartment. So in the nice, peaceful, quite courtyard stood a girl hollering "Laurie" up to the open window on the 5th floor. (Other people looked out their windows at us. Laurie did not.)

We almost had a near miss on returning home from Normandy to France. It was a 21/2 hour train journey, and missing it that late in the evening would have been disastrous. I will forever have a memory of Kristin running across the street to the toilets and yelling "Laurie!" into the doors. I had visions of Laurie sick on the floor somewhere (she had previously been feeling carsick from our journey to the train station). Kristin and I were near panic-state as the train is ready for departure and we suddenly hear Laurie yell FROM ON THE TRAIN, "Kristin, Tiffany, get on!" It was an obvious relief, and I think Kristin and I could have both wrung Laurie's neck, but all was well.

That train journey home stands as a stand-out to me of the time spent together in conversation and discussion. I really love these ladies. My father-in-law wrapped it up well last Saturday while Mike and I were at lunch together with he and Laurie by saying, "It's all great that you had such a good time together in Paris, but what I really am happy about is the relationship." It's true. It hasn't always been this way, I assure you.

The journey to Normandy however is a blur. Laurie gave me a motion sickness pill that she swore didn't make one drowsy. I'll let the photo speak for itself.
We spent many a time in the back of taxi cabs. For the most part, we loved our drivers. But one was mean, and when we exited the taxi Laurie called him a not-nice name, and I called him something worse. We didn't let it damper our views, and the next morning we had the best taxi-driver of all. Those taxi memories will stand out in my mind for a long time.

The pedi-cab was a good way to get from a to b, even if they are probably designed for 2 bums not 3.

On the last afternoon, I stole away from the garden statues and enjoyed sitting in the sun eating some chocolate. It was our last day in France, and I spent a few minutes basking in my solitude feeling blessed with my opportunities. I felt grateful for my physical body and its ability to let me do what I was doing.
 Early on Monday morning, May 5th, Laurie, Kristin and I took our last taxi ride together. At the bus stop at the Opera House, Laurie and Kristin got out and we said our goodbyes. They were heading to the airport to return to SLC, and I was continuing in the taxi to the train station to take me to London. As I hugged them goodbye, the reality that our time in Paris was over hit. It was a wonderful 5-6 days together...days and memories together I will never forget.
(Spent a few hours alone at this train station awaiting my train to London. Wasn't the highlight of my time in France but on the bright side I got rid of quite a bit of my french coins to all the sketchy people wandering the station.)

I love Paris. I love Laurie and Kristin. And I love Mike who makes all of this possible.
I am very blessed.

(And yes Kristin and Laurie, count me in for Italy in 2016!)


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