Thursday, December 31, 2009

things that make a perfect vacation seem like it never happened

1. 5am wake-up call at airport hotel

2. 5:15am begging and pleading with a 7 year-old to get up and get dressed

3. 5:35am check-out at said hotel, 5 minutes ahead of scheduled shuttle to airport, only to find out shuttle is running late

4. dreaded 6am arrival at Delta check-in counter (read earlier post on my current feelings about Delta check-in agents)

5. 6:05am discussion with Delta man (while still in line) about the toy bow Mac bought at Warwick Castle. It was too big to fit in a suitcase so I intended to carry it on the plane. It's wood and string. The arrows, which have a suction cup tip, were packed in the suitcase. It is clearly not a weapon of mass destruction. After conferring with all Delta agents on duty at 6:05am, Delta man decided Delta would allow me to take it as long as the airport security people let it through.

6. 6:10am -still in line waiting to check in when some overly cheerful Delta man with a ponytail comes through the line telling people that the only carry-on baggage allowed is a handbag or briefcase. This means that all the stuff I'd packed in the little wheeled suitcase had to be stuffed into my bag. Epi-Pens, fever medicine, allergy medicine, wet wipes, kleenexes, that handblown (breakable) Christmas ornament we bought in Cirencester, etc. All put into what became a VERY heavy carry-on bag. But not to worry - they'd allow me to check that carry-on suitcase for free. Which just shows how much excess baggage room they must always have if they were able to suddenly take a couple hundred extra carry-on bags. But I'm glad they got their $50 for the 13 pounds extra I carried on the way over.

7. 6:20am meeting with the British version of the surly Delta agent we have come to know and love (?). This woman was a piece of work. I had one suitcase that was 2 pounds over (but another that was 10 pounds under) and she made me move 2 pounds from one case to another. Okay. I asked her why the check-in bag policy change had not been announced on the website. She said that the policy changes happen so quickly that they can't keep up with announcing these things on their website. W-H-A-T? (For the record, I have just checked the Delta website and there is still no mention of this policy from Europe.)

8. 6:30am run-in with British version of TSA guy who tells me under no circumstances will the bow be allowed past security.

9. 6:33am - we go back to Delta to ask if they'll stick a luggage label on the bow and send it Charleston. I'm told by yet another Delta agent that because I've already checked my luggage, no. I tell her in my most upset voice to just throw it away then and we walk off.

10. I really dislike Delta more than you can imagine by this point and vow to not use them again if I can help it. We have used Delta as exclusively as possible for the last decade (to the point of fighting the US Government to fly Delta instead of other US carriers), but no more.

11. 6:45am - we are through security and enjoying a lovely cappucino which is really the higlight of the entire day.

12. 7am - we head to our airport gate even though the flight isn't scheduled to leave until 9:15am. When we arrive at the gate, there is already a line. Why? Oh, because they're patting down everybody. That's right. So we wait and wait and wait. Mac will hopefully be empathetic one day when his wife has to wait in much longer bathroom lines than he does. There were far fewer men on the flight than women so they were all called up as soon as they got in the queue. When we finally got near the front of the line, the irony of this security debacle unfolded. As they were patting down everybody, going through every single thing in handbags and briefcases (down to opening up wallets), there was a full-length fur coat laying over the railing at the start of the line. As the line moved forward, nobody claimed the coat. Finally the coat was brought to the attention of the head screener, who started asking around if the coat was anybody's. Now what I love is that you hear these public announcements in the airport every 3 minutes that say "keep your personal belongings with you at all times" and to "report any suspicious items", but when a personal belonging is left unattended not five feet from the security person, they miss it. They were so busy checking to make sure you didn't have explosives sewn in your underwear that they really missed the forest for the trees.

13. 10am - we finally take off (a little late but not as late as I expected) and surprisingly, the Delta flight attendants are as friendly as they can be. It used to be that we could count on the attendants to be the surliest people in the whole experience, but Delta seems to have told the flight attendants to take their happy pills and to share the ugly pills with everybody else.

14. 9 hours and 2 minutes later, we land in Atlanta. Mac never shuts his eyes to nap nor does he get up to use the bathroom. I decide he's part camel. We watch movie after movie and eat when we're offered food.

15. Back on American terra firma, we make record time going through Immigration, only to wait and wait and wait for our bags. With bags finally in hand, we go through Customs, recheck our bags, and go through security once again. We share a snack of Gardetto's Chex Mix and a Coke (and a smile) and board the plane for Charleston.

16. 6:10pm - we land in Charleston on an uneventful flight. Mac naturally falls asleep 5 minutes before landing. We get three of our four checked bags.

17. 7pm - We get in the line to file a claim for the missing bag. I take note of one angry customer whose bags are missing and how the Delta woman is basically ignoring her and the other customer, a very nice young man who's pleasant and clearly vying for Mr. Congeniality and how the Delta woman is being so nice to him. I decide to assume the latter role. When it's finally my turn, I turn on my uber-polite charm, she enters something in the computer and tells me that my bag is already loaded on the next flight that's coming to Charleston and that the bag will be delivered later that night. Since the bag actually was delivered last night, I can now tell you that it was nice that it was "lost" temporarily because Mac has a hard time pulling two suitcases and he would have had to pull two all the way out to the parking lot had they all come.

18. 8pm - After going through the Chick-Fil-A drive-through for dinner, we arrive home. Mac is sound asleep and doesn't want to get out of the car.

19. 9:30pm - The missing bag is delivered.

20. 9:55pm - after a shower and reading about 2 paragraphs of The Hemingses of Monticello, I zonk out.

After a day that started at 12am EST, it was a long 22-hour day. Mac and I have decided we're not traveling anywhere that requires an airplane anytime soon!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

what an afternoon

We have just returned from the children's service at the 15th-century St. James Cathedral. The church was so beautiful, the organ played BIG music (meaning loud, which I love), and the service was lovely with all the traditional Christmas carols sung. The village children assumed the roles of sheep, the donkey, shepherds, angels, and wise people (as the rector pointed out, not "wise men" because they had some girls). They even used a real baby. There were at least 40 children in this production so there was a lot of movement and noise and funny "bloopers".

The highlight of the service for us was the Christingle portion of the service. I've never heard of this tradition but it was started by the Moravians in the mid-1700's. The rector called all the children up (and of course, our young shy Mac went forward as soon as he saw the first child go forward) to receive their Christingle, which is an orange that's had an X cut in the top. A candle is inserted into the X, a red ribbon is tied around the orange and toothpicks with gummies are stuck around the orange. According to the song we sang after the children had received their lighted Christingles, here's the symbolism:

the orange - the earth as created by God
the red ribbon - bloodshed and pain which led to forgiveness when Jesus was slain
ripe fruits (or gummies in this case)- when God hands out the gift of His creation, it's meant for us all
candle - the light of the world, Jesus

It was a lovely and meaningful service and I'm so glad we went.

On our walk back home, I stopped to take a photo of this beautiful house that was decked out with wreaths and trees and lights. Well this older woman stopped and said something about it being a lovely home and wouldn't I love to go inside. I got excited for a minute that she owned it and that we were getting ready to be invited in for the family dinner. But alas, she wasn't the owner.

Anyway we talked for a few minutes and as we were wishing her a happy Christmas, she told me I was "life-enhancing" (her words, not mine), had a positive outlook and a warm smile. Do you think she recognized me as royalty?

We're re-grouping now before we go to our Christmas Eve dinner at the Eight Bells Inn (so named because they stored the bells for St. James Cathedral in the inn at the time of construction).

We hope that wherever you are and with whomever you're celebrating this special holiday, you feel the love and joy and promise that is Christmas. Merry Christmas from us to you.

because I am too dumb...

to figure out how to respond to comments, I'm leaving a new post for the comments left from yesterday's post.

Pam and Belle - Vera nor Mathilda are doing it for me. I'm waiting for the right vibe. In the meantime, I'm over-using words like shant (or is that shan't?) and mustn't.

Belle - tell Mason we went a couple days ago to Broadway and had a delightful pub lunch followed by shopping on High Street. The highlight was visiting the Broadway Deli where we bought our second piece of this most delectable French cheese called Comte. We discovered it first in London at the Burrough Market and were thrilled to find it again in Broadway.

Cirencester - we bought the bracelet at Donnell's (I think that's the name), an only jewelry store in town. We looked at the jewelry at the New Brewers Art Centre and while I saw A LOT that I could have bought (including this silver bracelet that had little silver rings around it - bad description but I can see it in the glass case as vividly in my mind today as I did in the shop yesterday), this bracelet (made by a guy in Bath) just jumped out the window at me. We did, however, buy the Christmas ornament from the glassblower in the art centre and it is phenomenal!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

follow-up to yesterday's random musings

1. Jimmy's traveling name is Nigel and Mac's is Nicholas. I still don't have mine and time is ticking.

2. We spent a lovely day in the town of Cirencester where I got a beautiful early Christmas gift (not opening until Friday morning, though) of a gorgeous silver bracelet that says "love conquers all" in Latin and made by a local silversmith. We also went to an artists' cooperative where we got this exquisite Christmas ornament made of handblown glass. It will be a nice contrast to the ornament Mac picked out in London, which is very big and very shiny and features the British flag. It will not be missed on our future Christmas trees.

3. Unless you happen to be in the neighborhood of Stonehenge, I wouldn't recommend riding 1.5 hours out of the way to see it, especially if it's raining and it's about 33 degrees. Soooo not worth the money we paid to take 2 photos in the freezing cold, driving rain. If you do choose to ignore this advice, don't wait until later in the day to go to Stonehenge in the near-freezing temps because when it's time to turn around and drive home, the temperature will most assuredly drop below freezing because the sun sets by 4:30pm, the roads will get dangerous and the snow (really a blizzard for somebody from South Carolina) will start to fall. The long trip home becomes even longer, which isn't so much fun with a 7 year-old in the backseat constantly complaining.

4. We hit a farm stand on the way home that was FABULOUS. We are cooking a traditional British meal of some sort (I don't think a traditional Christmas meal, but maybe Sunday lunch) for Christmas. I have my order in with the village butcher to pick up a rack of lamb tomorrow, and we bought all the veggies at the farm stand today. We're having potatoes, parsnips, brussels sprouts, and carrots, all roasted in goose fat (which we bought a jar of in Cirencester). Our friend Donald makes the best roasted veggies of all time and he (and the man in the Cirencester market today) said that goose fat is the way to go. We also bought our yorkshire puddings and the ready-made gravy with which to drown the said puddings. Oh and we bought those cute Christmas crackers that you pull apart and out comes a paper crown and prize. I can't wait! I just hope Santa finds us here.

4. Tomorrow afternoon we're going to the children's church service at St. James Cathedral here in Chipping Campden. This cathedral was built in the 15th century. Can you imagine? My only concern is whether they'll have heat. I want to wear my fancy sweater but that requires heat. Let's hope.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

random musings from England

1. We have all assumed fake British accents that we think sound marvelous. Don't worry that we're offending actual British people. We only use the accents among ourselves. Now we just need to come up with our traveling British names.

2. British people are so much more polite than Americans. Highway signs in America say things like "No Shoulder". British signs say things like "Please take caution if you pull off on the side of the road because we have interfered with your driving abilities and removed the shoulder on this little stretch of road. We are so sorry and truly hope we don't cause you any inconvenience."

3. I know why British people are generally pasty white except for a small oval around their eyes. It is so cold here that you have to be covered up complete with scarf wrapped around your head, thus creating an opening to the elements only around the eyes.

4. I haven't actually done any research to support this, but I think a higher percentage of the British population (as compared to, say, the Hawaiian population) must suffer from rickets because I don't think that little aforementioned oval opening around the eyes is sufficient for Vitamin D absorption from the sun. They do have awfully good and fresh milk here, so maybe they get enough of the vitamin from that.

5. When we arrived at our cottage on Sunday afternoon, it just appeared magical. Except in my dreams, "magical" is more hot than cold and this cottage was cold. Turns out they have the thermostat set on a timer that only comes on TWICE A DAY. We obviously had to remedy that because it's been below freezing more than above, and I would have died, literally. I do not suffer the cold well or quietly. Jimmy assured me we'd just pay a heat surcharge if necessary, which gave me the permission I needed to flip that little thermostat button from "Timer" to "ON". It's so lovely and toasty warm in here now. We have a fire going for ambience and I don't have to wear my coat, hat and gloves in the house nor do I see my breath when I exhale.

6. Now I'm not British, despite my new accent, but I think any self-respecting British cottage should have a tea strainer gadget in the kitchen. Monique and Donald gave us this lovely basket from Fortnum & Mason that had all the fixings for afternoon tea. So I decided to make afternoon tea today and couldn't find a tea strainer thing anywhere. I don't really know how those work anyway but I know I need one for loose tea. So I made the tea in the French press that we've been using for morning coffee and it was excellent. Maybe that's how the modern British people do it?

7. We went to Warwick Castle today that has the most impressive medievel fortress in all of England, along with this fabulous castle. Let me tell you this place was amazing. Parts of this fortress were from the year 900 and something. WHAT? The cottage we're staying in was built in 1710. WHAT? Our cottage was built nearly before the first colonists came to the US. That is so crazy. And it's just one building after another like this. It's one giant history lesson.

8. We visited Stratford-upon-Avon yesterday and toured Shakespeare's birthplace and Anne Hathaway's cottage. Anne, as you'll recall from high school English, was Shakespeare's wife. I believe a trip to England to see these places should be requisite for all students studying Shakespeare because your appreciation level goes way up. I might just take up studying Shakespeare again because I've been so inspired. (Do they still sell Cliff notes?)

9. I learned at Warwick Castle today that Winston Churchill's mother was courted by and later married a man much younger than she. The man's name? Thomas (or James or something) Cornwallis West. As some of you know, my maiden name was West and I do believe this means I'm a direct descendant of Churchill's mother's husband. That means Winston Churchill and I are step-relatives of some sort. In fact, I think this makes me almost royalty, but let's just call it genuine royalty. Jimmy said this makes sense since I grew up near Queenie Road. Now I just need to get people to treat me as such.

More to follow...

Friday, December 18, 2009

we have arrived

After a much-anticipated battle with the Delta agent over overweight luggage (I knew we were overweight and wanted to pay the 3rd bag charge of $50 without having to actually move 13 pounds of goods into the 3rd bag and she said no. To which I said, "this makes no sense at all. Doesn't Delta want to save the space taken up by the 3rd suitcase?" To which she responded and I quote, "Delta isn't concerned with space, they only want to make money." To which I stalked off to the car, leaving my 7 year-old boy in the airport guarding 113 pounds of suitcases plus 2 carry-ons plus 2 backpacks. He was playing with his DSi so anybody could have hauled off all our worldly possessions and he probably wouldn't have noticed.

But I digress.

We have arrived in London. And we were met by Jimmy at Heathrow who, as his first Christmas present to us, shaved off his Grizzly Adams beard. Wow, what a treat. He says it was a Christmas gift to us, but you and I know it's a Christmas present for himself because he gets more kisses from his favorite people (that's us) when he's sans Grizzly Adams beard.

Then our second Christmas present was splurging on a cab to haul us and all our worldly possessions back to the Maynard's house, where we're staying for a few nights, instead of taking the bus and then a shorter cab. Riding in a black London cab seems so civilized.

Then our third Christmas present was getting to catch up in person with the Maynards, who we know from Brasilia days. The Maynards are some of the funniest people I know and it was a fun evening of seeing them in person instead of talking via Vonage or Facebook.

Our fourth Christmas present came in the form of snow last night. Oh my goodness. Georgia, the Maynard's oldest daughter, came flying down the stairs and yelled that it was snowing. Well we acted like a bunch of South Carolinians do at the first flake spotting. We all ran outside, without proper clothing on. Mac had so much fun. They threw snowballs and made merry. Not surprisingly, we were the only people out on the street at 9pm in the snow. I guess people accustomed to snow know it's just more of the same. We, however, had to make hay while the sun was shining, so to speak.

Today, Mac, Jimmy and I went to the London Dungeon, which is scary as all get-out. It's listed as a good kid's attraction, which I imagine it would be if your child likes haunted houses and blood and guts and things of that nature. I was scared to death. We have a very good photo that I will post later but it shows the fear and angst and horror that we all felt by the end. After it was over, Mac declared it the most fun ever. I define "fun" otherwise. But I'm trying to play my cards right so that this will "earn" me a shopping trip or high tea somewhere.

Afterwards we went to the Burroughs Market which was delightful and delicious and fun, until we all got so cold that all we wanted to do was come back home and get warm. So now Jimmy and Mac are playing the Wii, and I'm typing. Sort of a normal winter's afternoon scene. And just what we wanted for this vacation.

More to come...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

i'm dreaming of a white Christmas


Forecast for London (where we'll be until Sunday morning)

Thu Dec 17 Rain / Snow Showers 39°/32° 40 %
Fri Dec 18 AM Snow Showers 37°/31° 30 %
Sat Dec 19 Partly Cloudy 37°/31° 10 %
Sun Dec 20 Rain / Snow Showers 38°/31° 40 %

Forecast for Chipping Campden (where we'll be from Sunday afternoon for a week)

Sun Dec 20 Snow Shower 33°/26° 40 %
Mon Dec 21 Scattered Snow Showers 33°/26° 30 %
Tue Dec 22 Scattered Snow Showers 36°/31° 40 %
Wed Dec 23 Few Snow Showers 37°/32° 30 %
Thu Dec 24 Rain / Snow 39°/33° 60 %

The forecast only goes out to Christmas Eve at this point, but I think my boy's going to see some snow on this little jaunt even if it's not falling on Christmas Day.

Mac and I leave tomorrow night and arrive on Thursday at noon. If all goes well for Jimmy, he'll arrive tomorrow night. It's going to be a jolly Christmas for the Storys and we hope it's merry and bright for you and your family as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

P.S. on random musings

1. The geese are back. When I ran out to do errands this morning, I had to wait for the geese to cross the street. See below:

2. I just checked for the next ten days in both London and Chipping Campden (yes, that's the name of the village where we're staying). How accurate can the 10-day forecast really be BUT GUESS WHAT? They are calling for snow showers in both places. Monique and Donald, I don't know what favors you called in, but keep calling them. It's working!!!

random musings

1. When I got home from Chicago on Friday night, I was delighted to wake up on Saturday morning to the honking of geese. The Geese of White Gables. How fairy tale-ish does that sound? Mac and I have taken great pleasure in counting them every morning in the pond in front of our house and again every afternoon after school on the way home. We listen for their honking early in the morning and again at night.

I heard them this morning but they were nowhere to be seen when we drove to school. Where have the Geese of White Gables gone? When I came back from dropping off Mac at school, I saw a handful of them but nothing close to our normal population. I am devastated if they've taken off for parts farther south (or even other ponds in White Gables). Maybe they've just taken cover for this windy, possibly tornadic weather we're going to have?

2. Speaking of tornadic weather, Mac had a field trip scheduled for today to Middleton Plantation and I was going as a chaperone. Sadly, because of bad weather here, they canceled the field trip. Which is a good thing, of course, in the event that we do get this awful weather. And a good thing in terms of the number of things I need to do before WE GO TO ENGLAND IN ONE WEEK! But not such a good thing, I'd imagine, if you're the teacher who now has 16 disappointed children.

3. Speaking of more bad weather, I am so glad I'm back from the Midwest with that awful blizzard moving through. I loved the light, big-flake snow I saw falling in Chicago last week and don't need to see a foot of snow dumped. Two photos from my trip last week (left photo shows the incomparable Gisele and Flavio (and the comparable me) at Navy Pier before the snow came in ) and the second is taken of the snow blowing around from inside the Cheesecake Factory at the Hancock Building).

4. Speaking of snow, I need our dear friends Monique and Donald, who are gracious enough to let us camp out at their house in London before and after we go to the Cotswolds, to arrange for snow in London but preferably in the Cotswolds because I might have told Mac I was positive we'd have a white Christmas. He even told the pediatrician at his well-child checkup yesterday that he couldn't get a flu shot before the trip for fear he'd have a sore arm that would hinder his snowball-throwing ability.

So Monique and Donald, the pressure's on you. Stop global warming in the next week, rent a snow-making machine for us, import some snow from Switzerland, lay down a lot of white cotton balls. Whatever it takes, it doesn't matter. I need snow. For heavens sake, if we'd gone to Dubai (which was our initial Christmas plan), we'd have had snow at that indoor snowskiing mountain they've got there. Surely if Dubai-ians (or whatever they're called) can see snow on Christmas in the desert, my kid can see snow on Christmas in rural England.

5. I think the best Christmas commercials on tv right now are the Target commercials. Those ones before Thanksgiving of the "perfect woman" doing stuff like pulling two full shopping carts up a hill in training for Black Friday made me laugh out loud. I know you don't care what I think about Target marketing, but I would shop there just based on the ads. Good thing for Target I'm already a loyal customer and already spend an inordinate amount of time and money there.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

another blow

Pinewood has this Gingerbread House with all sorts of low-cost gift options where students can buy gifts for parents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc. Mac came home yesterday with the slip that said his class was going to the Gingerbread House on Thursday. The note was attached to an envelope where you're supposed to write who the student can shop for and how much money he can spend.

When the note came home yesterday, Mac decided he wanted to buy something for Jimmy and me, so he wrote Mommy and Daddy on the envelope. He was willing to spend $20 of his allowance on us. WOW. I was flattered.

I should have sent the envelope with his money in today because this afternoon he announced he only wanted to buy Daddy a present.

That kid obviously does not know on which side his bread is buttered.

have you seen our Christmas holiday countdown to the right?

We're under double digits before we see Jimmy in England. I don't know who's more excited out of the three of us. It's going to be a fabulous holiday.

from Macy's to Moncks Corner in one short week

Before I go further into this post, let me tell you that I'm not picking on Moncks Corner. Jimmy and I are proud of being from Moncks Corner, we have never ignored our background, and we always tell people we're from Moncks Corner (even the Secretary of State as noted a few weeks earlier).

On Sunday afternoon, I took Mac to the Moncks Corner Christmas parade. He has never been to a local hometown Christmas parade (or any Christmas parade for that matter) and as this was something from our childhood, I thought it necessary to share this with him.

I haven't been to the parade in the 20 years since I graduated from high school and it's entirely possible that I haven't been in longer than that. I can't remember my last Moncks Corner Christmas parade.

Mac had a marvelous time. He had pocketsful of candy by the time the parade ended, and he loved the floats; seeing the newly crowned state high school football champions (the Berkeley Stags for those of you not in the know); the fire trucks from every little community in the county, all blaring sirens; Santa Claus; all the Boy Scouts and little league football and baseball teams; etc.

Perhaps if we hadn't just watched the iconic Macy's Thanksgiving parade in NYC the week before, it wouldn't have been so funny to me. In case you didn't know (or guess!), there's a big difference between the Macy's parade and the Moncks Corner parade!

Our viewing party in the Subway parking lot (Mac and I went to my mom's church on Sunday morning - to make it a full Moncks Corner sort of day - and I got a great tip there to park in the Subway parking lot. It's near the start of the parade, so you can get out faster afterwards, but you have to get there early to get a good spot!).

the state champion BHS football team "float", courtesy of the local electricity coop

they have it all from karate experts to cloggers

a heating and air conditioning company's float. Can you see the smoke coming up near the back of the trailer? That's from a firepit they had right on the trailer. This is funny to me on a number of different levels.

the little-known caped Subway crusader

one of several vehicles from this hillbilly group.

See this line of fire trucks? This would have been an arsonist's dream day. He could have set fires all over the county because all the trucks were in the Moncks Corner Christmas parade. Now imagine the sirens on each of these trucks all blaring. Horrible.

And finally, Santa, with that darling boy Mac waving at him

At the corn maze, we're always looking for new marketing strategies. I have decided we should have a corn maze float next year. The timing is off (unless they move the Christmas parade to September), but never mind. We could use a hay ride trailer and decorate it with the winning scarecrows from Scarecrow Alley that we dress up with Santa hats and scarves. And we could crown a Miss Corn Maze 2010 and sit her on a hay bale (maybe with a live fire going) and let her wave at the crowd and throw candy at them. There were antique tractors in the parade, so we could even pull the hay ride tractor with a real tractor for an authentic experience. I think it's brilliant and we could hit all the area parades as they're all on different weekends. Look for us next year coming to a parade near you!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009, New York, in photos

the arrival
they say the neon lights are bright on Broadway
two children with an overwhelming supply of Berkeley County blood scaring the Central Park squirrels
my bffs, Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith
to infinity and beyond!
Tavern on the Green for Thanksgiving Dinner
Rockefeller Center after Lester Holt from the Today Show shook Mac's hand
Who is that masked man?
resting with the dinosaurs (the real dinosaurs, not Aunt Carla and Uncle Matthew) at the American Museum of Natural History
lunch at Carmine's
Radio City Music Hall for an afternoon with the Rockettes
from the top of the Empire State Building
a trip to the Build a Bear Workshop, aka bribery payoff
can there be too much sun on a late November afternoon at the NY Botanical Garden?
St. Patrick's Cathedral, one of the many gorgeous displays of NY architecture made entirely of natural materials, on display at the holiday train show at the NY Botanical Garden
We hope your holiday season is off to a joyful start!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

10 things I loved today in Chicago

1. Oatmeal with cranberries, toasted walnuts and brown sugar for breakfast from the Corner Bakery Cafe. I could eat that everyday.

2. Enjoying the Navy Pier with nobody there. The last time I was at Navy Pier was at the Chicago Marathon "after party" when I could hardly get my legs to move and there were what seemed like a million people there. It's much nicer sans the crowd and with appropriate motor function.

3. Browsing at Whole Foods a block from my hotel room.

4. Lounging in a comfy bed with all these fluffy white linens. Do you know how fast fluffy white linens would get disgusting in a real house with a little boy?

5. Enjoying a leisurely lunch with Gisele and Flavio (not so long after a leisurely breakfast with Gisele).

6. Museum gift shops. The museums are sometimes lost on me, but I LOVE museum gift shops. They inspire me to want to appreciate the museum contents better.

7. The possibility of SNOW tonight.

8. Getting inside in the warm after being out in really brisk cold weather. And did I mention I'm in the "windy" city? 30-something degrees with wind blowing off a lake the size of a small European country is bitter. I got my hair cut short a couple weeks ago and my little ears have been frozen.

9. Christmas lights in a big city.

10. Going up to the 94th-floor observatory at the John Hancock Building. Wow. What a view of the lake, the buildings, the city. It was breathtaking.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

just a little catching up

After I get home on Friday, I'll post about the NYC trip, but let me just tell you it was fantastic. We had great weather (that wasn't predicted), we had reasonable crowds (that weren't expected) and we did everything (and more) that we wanted to do. We all agreed that if we tried to re-create this trip, it would never happen as well as it did this time. Thanksgiving in NYC v. 2009 was one for the books. But more on that later.

On Monday, Mom and Mac flew back to SC and I flew on to Chicago to meet my best Brazilian gal-pal Gisele and her husband Flavio. Flavio had a medical conference to attend and Gisele and I had a retail therapy conference to attend.

Fortunately, the SC-bound flight got off on time. The Chicago flight was delayed nearly two hours because of bad weather. Finally when it was time to board, everybody gathered close to the gate entrance. It was at that point that I noticed TSA agents flanking the doors of the gate and talking to the gate agents. Was this standard protocol for the Newark airport? I glanced around at other gates that were boarding and didn't see one other TSA agent. Clearly something was up. We got ready to board and still the men were there. When it came to be my turn, I handed over my boarding pass which was scanned and handed back and I entered the gateway ramp. At that point, a TSA agent was exiting and I heard an agent at the gateway entrance ask "did you find her?", to which the exiting agent said "she wasn't in there".

Ummm. What?

Who is "she" and did you check all the bathrooms for her? Any other ideas where she might be?

So it's a 2 hour, 1 minute flight from Newark to Chicago and I kept one eye opened the whole time watching out for "her". All's well that ends well. The flight was uneventful and for that, I'm eternally grateful.

And now I'm here in Chicago which really might be one of my my favorite cities in the world. My first trip here was in 2000 when Jimmy and I ran the Chicago Marathon with my best friend Caroline. Allow me to tell you there are better and less painful ways to celebrate your 30th birthday, but we spent a great week in Chicago (most before the marathon when we could actually still walk) and a love affair was begun.

My second trip to Chicago was with my dear FDIC friend Brenda. We escaped young children (she has a daughter who's 3 days older than Mac) for a girls getaway when the children were nearly 3 years old. As a first-time mother who'd been tethered to her young child (in those nearly 3 years, I'd only spent 1 night away from Mac), a few days in Chicago was a gift from the heavens above and the love affair with this city continued.

Now I'm back in a different season altogether. Both a different season in my life (a geographically single mother with a very active 7 year-old all-boy boy) and a different season of the year (Christmas with all the lights and decorations and festive feel) and the love affair blossoms.

Today has been lovely. After the grit and dirt and smells of NYC (and I LOVE NYC so don't misread anything here), Chicago seems downright clean and sparkly. There aren't nearly the crowds that descended on NYC for Thanksgiving weekend, plus I'm not hanging on to a young boy, terrified that he'll get swept away from me by the crowd. The weather has been beautiful today -about 50, brilliant sunshine, blue skies - so that didn't hurt anything either. They're saying Friday's high could be 29. My blood isn't that thick and this could definitely hurt the love affair. Good thing I'm departing Friday morning!

And if you come to Chicago and are looking for a great hotel, I can recommend the Hotel Felix. It's about 5 blocks off the Magnificent Mile, so it's convenient to all the action, but when you get in your hotel room, it feels like a peaceful oasis. The Felix is an eco hotel, so the carpet is made out of something recycled and the key card is made out of corn and other biodegradable products. I'm not an eco-freak, so all this environmental friendliness guilted me into not leaving my towel on the floor to signal I wanted a clean one after just one use. That's the only negative as far as I can tell. To make up for that, the bath prodcuts are WONDERFUL, the bed linens are FABULOUS and the color scheme uses these lovely, calming earth tones. I could live here forever in room 214.

I will close for now, but promise to post more on NYC and Chicago, especially after I get the photos downloaded. Hugs from the Windy City to you from me!