trip reflections

Over the past three weeks, I’ve posted frequently about the trip spouse B, daughter T, and I took to London to visit daughter E, her spouse L, our granddaughters ABC and JG, and L’s parents, with whom they live.

Here at Top of JC’s Mind, I always try to be truthful, so I must say that the best word to describe the trip as a whole is complicated.

It featured: L’s bout with Omicron that began several days before we arrived; delayed COVID test results that kept B and T in Newark overnight while I flew alone to London; bad colds for B and me; flares of chronic health conditions among several of us; a couple of bad backs; booster shot side effects; a lot of restless nights without adequate sleep; teething; upset tummies; a couple of strained backs; the news of the death of a friend back home; a badly swollen nose from JG throwing her head back into the person holding her, as toddlers are wont to do; a dearth of alone time for the introverts among us; the inadvisability of going to church for Christmas, Sundays, and Epiphany; JG’s reluctance to let us hold her if her mom was in the building; and a dead battery in our van after we flew back into Newark.

Despite all that there are many thing for which I am grateful:

That we were able to go at all, despite Omicron running rampant on both sides of the pond, and that the UK didn’t impose restrictions on private gatherings as they had done earlier in the pandemic. We appreciated the high level of compliance with masking and distancing and avoided crowds. I credit that, along with being triple vaxed with Pfizer/BioNTech and testing, for keeping us COVID-free.

Our Airbnb in E’s neighborhood, only a couple of blocks from their house. Being so close meant we didn’t need to go on public transport to visit. It also gave us the opportunity to have sleepovers, including having E, JG, and ABC overnight on Christmas Eve, just as L was able to finish up his COVID isolation period. It was fun to have Christmas stockings and breakfast with them at our place before going over to their house for Christmas dinner and presents. Four-year-old ABC was also thrilled to have some solo sleepovers with her Nana, Grandpa, and Auntie T, including our last night in town. ABC even got to help with making some Christmas cookies in our kitchen, reminding us of her days helping Grandpa in our kitchen back home in New York when she and E lived with us for over two years before E’s spousal visa came through.

Getting to have a lot of family meals together. Most were cooked at home, but we also were able to do some by delivery, including some yummy London fish and chips.

Walks in the neighborhood, in the parks, and to ABC’s school. She was on break most of the time we were there, but did have three days of school during our last week there. E and T even got to have a special sisters outing to a botanic garden. It was strange, though, to see some flowers still blooming, including roses. London was having an oddly warm spell. We did see quite a lot of holly and ivy, though, bringing to mind the traditional British Christmas carols.

Television and Internet. While we couldn’t go to church in person for fear of Omicron, we were able to watch Lessons and Carols live on Christmas Eve. I was able to watch recordings of liturgies from my local parishes back home on my laptop. We were also able to enjoy some children’s programming with ABC and JG. I especially like Bluey, an Australian series which is part of the CBeebies (BBC’s children’s television channel) line-up. ABC was also watching Frozen II and Encanto quite frequently, both of which were new to us.

The chance to renew bonds with ABC, who can remember us from when she lived with us. The opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to JG, who we met for the first time when she came to the States last August, just after she turned one. We are hoping that she will be able to realize who we are now when we videochat so that we aren’t starting from scratch again as strangers when next we meet, but it’s difficult to know if that is possible. A few months between visits is a significant chunk of a lifetime to a toddler.

Seeing E. Even though we were both tired and stressed, I appreciated the snatches of conversation we were able to have. I remember what it was like to be responsible for two little girls under five, with a lot of that time being solo. I sincerely wish I could be there more to help but that isn’t in the cards right now. The ocean is a big barrier, except for my love, sympathy, and empathy.

E will always have my heart.
*****
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SoCS: Christmas food

Linda extended Stream of Consciousness Saturday into Sunday this week, giving those of us celebrating Christmas a bit more time to post. She also gave us an easy prompt – yum – so, of course, I am going to write about all the yummy food we had yesterday.

I am in London UK to celebrate the holidays with daughter E and her family, so we ate differently than most Christmases. When E and T were growing up, they usually sang at our church Christmas morning, so we developed the tradition of having lasagna on Christmas Day because it was easy to prepare ahead and then bake after church. It was also a nod to my mother’s Italian heritage.

This year, we did have a bit of Italian heritage by having panettone for breakfast, but our main meal was an amalgam of British and Filipino dishes, as E’s parents-in-law are immigrants to the U.K. from the Philippines. We had pancit, mushroom stuffed puff pastry cups, bacon wrapped sausages over stuffing, a clove-studded baked ham, glazed carrots, and shaved Brussels sprout salad. Everything was yummy!

We had great desserts, too! December 25th is also E’s father-in-law’s birthday so there was a decorated applesauce cake with appropriate singing, of course, and two pies that we had made in our rental flat, one pumpkin and one apple. All of them were yummy. Of course, I had to sample all three!

I did have a very traditional evening snack. Spouse B had made shortbreads from his family’s recipe and gingerbreads from a recipe he made every year with E and T as they were growing up. It was a bit of a challenge adapting the recipes from US to U.K. ingredients and measurements but they are still familiar and yummy!

I hope that everyone, wherever you are and whether you are celebrating a holiday or not, is blessed with some yummy food in your life this weekend!

(Now comes the part of the post where I try to do a pingback to Linda’s blog. I’m uncharacteristically writing this from an app so we’ll see if I can manage it. I’m definitely not trying to copy in the SoCS logo this time around! /https://lindaghill.com/2021/12/24/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socss-dec-25-26-2021/ )

One-Liner Wednesday: holiday wishes

Wishing good health and safety to travelers this holiday season and good health and safety to those who stay close to home.
*****
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B

Christmas tree 2020/21

It’s January 12th and our Christmas tree is still up.

We are lucky that fresh-cut Canaan firs are so resilient. It is not shedding needles and is still exuding a lovely scent.

It is still adorned with our usual assortment of ornaments – glass, ceramic, wood, metal, cloth – many of which were gifts or handed down to us or collected on our travels. There are LED light strands, which are great because they don’t use much energy, don’t get hot, and don’t dry out the needles. The angel I made with the help of a friend years ago is perched on top.

Ordinarily, we decorate our tree in mid-December and take it down at Epiphany. This year, we put it up in early December. It was the first time in several years that I actually wanted to decorate the tree, after several stressful years, although I admit that my energy to do so flagged mid-way through, sapped by memories of loss.

Still, it was nice to have it all decorated and glowing near the living room window.

And then, an avalanche of things happened.

Everyone knows about the horrific toll of the coronavirus around the world and particularly in the United States. The single day death toll topped 4,000 deaths for the first time on January 7th. More virulent strains are spreading. The vaccine rollout is too little, too late to tamp the spread for the winter, although it is offering some hope.

Everyone also knows about the precarious and dangerous political situation in the United States. The breach of the US Capitol by insurrectionist followers of DT and the destruction, violence, injury, and death they caused, coupled with the craven complicity/opportunism of dozens of Republican members of Congress, have thrown us into the most dangerous situation of my lifetime. I think the best course would be for both DT and Pence to resign, giving Nancy Pelosi the powers and protection of the presidency for a few days to try to stabilize the government before the January 20th inauguration. I know this is another exercise of my penchant for political fantasy, but I think it is perhaps the least dangerous of the possible paths, given that both Pence’s and Pelosi’s lives were threatened by the mob on January 6th.

While both of those situations are sapping my brainpower and motivation, the biggest factor in not taking down the tree is that I am spending a lot of time in trying to get my father settled into his new unit in assisted living without being able to physically go into the building to tend to things due to COVID restrictions, while dealing with cleaning out his apartment in independent living and handling all the nuts and blots of changing contact information with all the businesses, doctors, insurance, financial institutions, etc. [I have also been dealing with the aftereffects of my second shingles vaccine, which, while not as severe as after the first, are still bothersome.]

I was so proud of what I accomplished yesterday and had hoped to get more done today. Instead, I’ve had to spend most of the day so far on the couch. I can’t even wrap my head around making the string of phone calls waiting for me.

Tomorrow, I’ll need to get back at it, especially with the apartment packing and such. B, T, and I are hoping to have everything cleared out by the end of the long weekend for MLK Day.

The tree?

Maybe we’ll get to it over the weekend, too.

*****
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another day

So, as I write this, it is December 25th which we celebrate as Christmas, but 2020 is very different.

I haven’t been able to post much this month, in large part because we have been dealing with some health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He spent five days in the hospital and, earlier this week, was admitted to the skilled nursing and rehabilitation unit in the senior community where he lives.

Because of COVID restrictions, no visitors are allowed but we have been in touch by phone. Before he went to rehab, we did have a family early-Christmas celebration, but we sent a couple of small gifts to his room so he would have something to open today.

We hope to videochat with daughter E and family in London UK this afternoon, which will be evening there. They have already posted photos of granddaughters ABC and JG in their holiday attire. Last night, we were able to watch the Christmas Eve mass from their church. While it is sad that we were not able to see them at all in 2020, technology does help.

Spouse B, daughter T, and I are spending the day at home with scaled-back gift exchange and lots of our family favorite foods, fresh-baked date nut and cranberry breads for breakfast and lasagna from Nana’s recipe with homemade braided herb bread for dinner and apple-blackberry and an outrageously good brown-sugar and maple pecan pie for dessert. B enjoys cooking and baking special meals, so he is taking the lead with all this while I act assitant. It’s nice to have familiar things in such a topsy-turvy year.

Unfortunately, the huge snowstorm we had last week that dropped forty inches (one meter) of snow on us has set us up for flood warnings today. We got about three inches (8 cm) of rain yesterday and overnight, which, coupled with at least another couple of inches from snowmelt, has led to flooding. The Susquehanna is expected to crest tonight at major flood stage level in our town. While our home should be okay, we are concerned for our neighbors who live closer to the river.

I know for many Christians around the world, this Christmas is very different than the usual celebrations, but the underlying message of peace and good will to all is still there to bring comfort to us in these troubled times. I share wishes for peace and good will, for good health and love with all of you; whatever your personal faith or philosophy might be, these gifts are universal.

SoCS: cards

Over the past few days, I have started to work on my Christmas card list.

Well, Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, or whatever anyone is celebrating list…

Sending greetings this time of year is one of my highest priorities of the season, so I am determined to get things in the mail to my list. There are a number of people that I am only in touch with at this time of year – and a number that I haven’t seen in person in decades – and some that I haven’t heard from in decades, but it is important to me to send something to them.

These past few years haven’t been exemplary for me, though. There were years that I sent letters only instead of cards because I couldn’t bring myself to the extra work of choosing and signing cards. I’ve accepted help from family members with addressing and sending. Last year was probably the most difficult. I couldn’t bear the thought of following up “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!” with “Not sure if you heard the news that my mother died.” I wrote a letter to my friends in November and left B and T with the task of sending cards to the rest of our list.

But this year, I’m trying to get back to something closer to what I used to do, choosing cards, signing and hand addressing envelopes, adding Christmas seals, stamps, and return address labels, enclosing a letter and photo when appropriate.

So far, I have about half the cards written and envelopes prepared, but none of the enclosures yet.

I did do a step that I have skipped for several years, going through last year’s cards received and marking them in the appropriate box on my list, which is written in a special holiday card list booklet. (Actually, this list has also become my de facto address book. I used to keep a separate address book but haven’t updated it in years.) This has been poignant because many of the notes on the cards include condolences for my mom and often reminiscences on the loss of people’s own mothers.

I haven’t quite figured out what to write about 2020. How to sum up a year that has been marked by such universal fear, loss, grief, and sadness, but that has also seen such blessings in our lives, such as the fact that B’s job is able to carry on from home and the safe arrival and thriving of granddaughter JG, even though we can’t travel to London to meet her.

I’ll work on it.

Later.

After I’ve gotten the rest of the list finished with cards chosen, signed, addressed, with envelopes open and waiting.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “list.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/12/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-5-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

Sightseeing in London

Last month, my spouse B, younger daughter T, and I made our first family trip to London to visit daughter E, her spouse L, our granddaughter ABC, and L’s family. After almost three years of waiting, E’s spousal visa finally came through and she and ABC relocated to London in October.

Yes, I am horribly late posting about the trip. I came home sick and had a hard time shaking it and there were holidays and technical issues – I am notoriously bad at dealing with photos – but I’m hoping to get out a few posts in the coming days.

We arrived in the UK on Saturday and did central London sightseeing on Sunday, after attending mass the church where Larry serves as organist and director of the adult choir. We had bought advance tickets to ride the London Eye, also known as the Millenium Wheel.
London Eye

It was nice to see some of the historic London landmarks from above. Here is the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets. You can see the clocktower which usually houses Big Ben shrouded in scaffolding as part of the ongoing restoration project.
Parliament

Two-and-a-half-year-old ABC was much more impressed with the boats on the Thames than the buildings!

After our ride on the Eye, we grabbed some lunch and went on a walking tour. On future trips, we may try to tour some of the buildings. We anticipate many trips to London in the future!

Because daylight hours are short in London in the winter, as we walked in the area of Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, we were able to see some of the holiday lights.
London holiday lights

In Trafalgar Square, we were drawn to the sculpture on the Fourth Plinth, part of “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz, a US artist of Iraqi ancestry. It is a replica of Lamassu, a protective deity from the gates of Nineveh in 700 BCE which was destroyed by the Islamic State in 2015. This sculpture is made from 10,500 empty date cans; dates were once a major part of the economy in Iraq, but 90% of the 30 million date trees have been destroyed in the long years of war. Rakowitz is trying to recreate all the art that was stolen from the museum in Baghdad or destroyed at sites across Iraq.  The art on the Fourth Plinth changes every couple of years and this sculpture will be replaced in 2020, so we were fortunate to have seen it.
Lamassu sculpture in London

As we were walking in the Piccadilly shopping district, I was delighted to see this building with Advent calendar decorated windows. It is Fortnum & Mason, a fancy department store. We went in to browse a bit, but it was so crowded we could barely move. We are definitely not used to that!
Advent calendar F & S

It was fun to see some of London with holiday lights. While we expect to visit frequently in the coming years, I don’t know how often we will be able to go in December. Time will tell…

Photos courtesy of B
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/27/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-27th-2020/

 

 

SoCS: 2019/2020

Some years stand out in memory as more difficult than others.

For me, 2005 was one of those years. Within a few months that year, I lost a close friend and my father-in-law to cancer. At the same time, our long-time parish disintegrated, just at the time when we needed spiritual comfort the most.

2019 has also been one of those years.

We dealt with the final months of my mom’s struggle with congestive heart failure and her death in May. Then, there were the many facets of dealing with her death for me and our family, the practical things like funeral arrangements and mounds of paperwork and the personal things, learning to navigate in a world without her.

This year also saw the bittersweet re-location of daughter E and granddaughter ABC to the UK after E’s spousal visa finally came through. We love that they are finally able to live together full-time as a family, but miss having them here on this side of the pond. It was a privilege being here to watch ABC grow from a tiny newborn into a rambunctious, talkative two-year-old. We appreciate being able to visit London in person and to videochat, but it is still a big re-adjustment.

With the losses, celebrating the holidays has been difficult for me. We made lasagna for Christmas using a recipe from Nana and used one of her relish dishes for serving olives. There are ornaments that came from both sides of our family on the tree, as well as some baby’s first Christmas ornaments commemorating ABC’s birth in 2017. We appreciate our memories of Christmas celebrations with Nana and Paco (my parents) and Grandma and Grandpa (B’s parents). I smile thinking about the year that L proposed to E on Christmas morning while visiting here. I remember how, last year, the lower half of our tree was all unbreakable ornaments in deference to ABC who was then 18 months old. Now, there are fragile ornaments scattered throughout all the branches. Christmas this year was very quiet, with just Paco, B, T, and I here for the lasagna and Christmas cookies, which has been our tradition since the years when E and T were young and participating in Christmas morning liturgy for children and families at church. Lasagna was great because you could prep it the night before and bake after church to have dinner at midday.

Of course, all of the personal struggles come at a time of great upheaval, socially and politically, in both the US and the UK. We are all living in a world struggling to deal with present and future climate change and trying to marshall personal and political will to make the changes needed to addresses the causes and effects as best we can.

I know that some people feel a lot of positive energy when we enter a new year and a new decade. I admit that I am not generally one of those people, seeing January first as the day that follows December 31st and not as some shiny new beginning. I don’t know if this change of year will feel different or not. I certainly am feeling the need now to try to take stock and re-arrange the way I use my days, perhaps managing to be more deliberate, now that there are not quite so many factors in my life that require changes of plan and quick reactions to shifting circumstances and priorities.

Perhaps, what I really need is time to rest and take stock, like a sabbatical or a year of Jubilee as it is described in the Hebrew Scriptures. Or maybe not a whole year, but a few months. I will have to ponder…

Sometimes, writing stream of consciousness stays in its own little stories. Today, though, it feels more like travelling.

As we draw close to the beginning of 2020, I wish that the year will take each of you where you most need to go.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “year.” Please join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/12/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-28-19

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley! https://www.quaintrevival.com/

holiday greetings

Brent's Christmas Chelsea Buns

We’ve all been trying to recover from our colds and get ready for our increasingly simplified Christmas celebration. My talented-baker-spouse B felt well enough this Christmas Eve morning to be up early and baking. He made these awesome Chelsea buns based on a Paul Hollywood recipe. They are delicious! Bonus: There are so many buns and so few of us that we will have them for Christmas morning, too.

May the light and hope of Hanukkah and the peace and good will of Christmas settle on people of all nations, tongues, and beliefs.

SoCS: this time of year…

Stream of Consciousness Saturday works like this. Linda puts up the prompt on Friday for us to write without editing and post on Saturday. (Confession – sometimes I write on Friday and schedule the post for Saturday.) Linda’s prompt for this week was to write about a word that has “ingle” in it any way we like. As soon as I saw the prompt, I thought of this word that I am about to use and my (very stuffy) head hasn’t been able to think of anything else since – and, yea, verily, it is Saturday morning where I am right now.

When we were visiting in the UK, our granddaughter ABC sang long bouts of continuous choruses of “Jingle Bells”.  Often, she would also be dancing/running around, unless, of course, we were on the bus or train. Anyone who has been around a two-and-a-half-year-old knows that it is possible for a child that age to do, well, just about any activity repetitively, but it was revealed that Lolo, her paternal grandfather, had been encouraging this particular activity. Given that ABC, our daughter E, her spouse L, and L’s parents, whom I will call Lolo and Lola here as ABC does, all live together, there was a lot of time for encouragement. (Lolo and Lola are the common names for grandparents and those other family members of that generation among Filipinos, which is ABC’s heritage from her father’s side.)

We have been back in the US for almost a week, so I’m not sure if the “Jingle Bells” loop is still continuing with ABC or if she has tired of it, but I’m sure her little voice and legs and brain are busy with something!
*****
Join in the fun of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/12/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-21-19/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley! https://www.quaintrevival.com/

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