how things are here and there

I know there are other things to write about than novel coronavirus status at the moment, but it’s hard for me to write about them without doing the update first. It’s top of mind for millions upon millions of people around the globe.

I live in New York State in the Northeastern United States. Our state is very hard-hit right now, although the majority of the cases are down near New York City, about 150 miles (240 km) from Broome County, where I live. As of this moment, there are 32 known cases in the county and three deaths. The health department is trying to quarantine contacts, but we are seeing community spread.

B is working from home and will continue to for the foreseeable future. We are staying at home, other than for walks in the neighborhood, during which we keep our distance if we happen to see someone else out, and for necessary food and supplies shopping, which is usually my job. I haven’t shopped for a few days, but the last time I tried to do weekly shopping I had to go to several stores. There aren’t real shortages of anything; it’s just that some people are still panic buying and the stores run out of categories of items until they can get their next shipment from the warehouse.

The biggest change in the last week is that we aren’t going to Paco’s everyday. Because my dad lives in a senior community – in other words, a collection of people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 complications – we are trying to restrict our visits to only the most necessary ones. Even though I had tried to set up things so that Paco can manage with just telephone reminders, it is difficult not to be able to be there. I’m afraid, though, that it will be many weeks before it is considered advisable to visit frequently.

Meanwhile, daughter E, her spouse L, their daughter ABC, and L’s parents live in one of the global hotspots, London, UK. They were all exposed to the virus the last Sunday that people were allowed to go to church. E and L have both been sick with something that, symptom-wise, could be COVID-19, but they don’t know because tests are only being run on people sick enough to be hospitalized, which, thankfully, they are not. Once this outbreak calms down, E, at least, will probably have an antibody test to confirm if she has had the virus, because she will be having a baby, most likely in August. (This is what is known as burying the lead.)

We are all very happy that there will be a new member in the family. ABC will be three by the time her new brother or sister arrives. We had hoped to visit this spring and then again after the baby’s birth, but all travel plans are on indefinite hold because of the virus and travel restrictions.

It will certainly be very different than having ABC living with us for her first two years, but at least E, L, ABC, and Baby will in the same country and under the same roof. I’m sure L’s parents will enjoy having so much time with the new baby, as we did having ABC on this side of the pond when she was little.

Wishing everyone good health and safety in these difficult times.

Harry Potter Studio Tour!

When we visited London in December, E got tickets for us to go to the Warner Brothers Studio – The Making of Harry Potter tour! The Harry Potter books and films were very important to our family, so we were thrilled to be able to go. We went on a weekday when our son-in-law had to be at work, so we were a party of five – my spouse B, our daughters E and T, our granddaughter ABC, and me. E was the only one who had been there before.

The Studios are outside London, so we needed to use trains and buses to get there. The last segment is on special studio buses. One of the first things you see after entering is a very large dragon in flight. We weren’t sure how ABC, at two and a half, would react to such things, but she loves dinosaurs and accepted dragons as a dinosaur-variant. (T is holding ABC in the foreground.)
HP flying dragon

Because so many people visit, the start times of the tour are staggered throughout the day. There are some introductory remarks from tour guides and a short film before your group is ushered into the Great Hall. Because we were there in December, everything was decorated for Christmas, including, of course, Christmas crackers at each place at the table.
Great Hall

You can see little details of the set, like the tree-toppers with flying witches…
HP XMas tree-topper

and the wreath around the crest on the fireplace.
Great Hall fireplace

After the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is self-guided, laid out in a uni-directional way. There are lots of sets, like Harry’s Gryffindor bedroom,
Harry's bedroom

costumes, like these from the Yule Ball,
HP costumes Yule Ball

and props, like this display of wands.
HP wands

There were certain displays that ABC did not like, such as these disembodied hairpieces.
HP wigs

Sometimes, context mattered. For example, we rushed ABC out of the dark Forbidden Forest Set with its spiders because she was not a fan, but, later, when we saw the huge model of Aragog, Hagrid’s former pet giant spider, which was several meters wide, mounted on a wall, ABC decided to sing “The Eensy, Weensy Spider” to it.

As a big fan of trains, ABC enjoyed the Hogwarts Express.
Hogwart's Express

Even better, we got to walk through the train cars!
Ada on the Hogwart's Express

For some reason, I had to rush ABC through the grand Gringotts Bank set, because she did not approve.
Gringotts

The destroyed Gringotts was much more to her liking! She insisted on watching the scene multiple times. It must have been the attraction of the dragon…

The last part of the display before the obligatory exit-through-the giftshop was the model of Hogwarts used for the external shots. ABC was a big fan!
J and Ada at Hogwarts model

It was a beautiful model. Because it was winter, we got to see it with snow which made it look even more magical!
Hogwarts model

We all had a lovely time. I hope we will be able to visit again in the coming years. It will be fun to see how ABC reacts over time. Warner Brothers also continues to add new displays, as well as having various limited time features, so there will be new things to see each time.

Eventually, ABC – and any future siblings – will be able to read the Harry Potter books and see the films. Perhaps, E and L will embark on our family tradition of reading each book aloud as a family.

Maybe, B and I will be able to join in via videochat…

Family time in London

One of the great things about going to visit family living in a historic and dynamic city is that you get to experience non-touristy, neighbourhood life. (I hope all my UK and Commonwealth friends will appreciate my remembering to put the u in.) L, E, and ABC live with L’s parents in Plaistow. The row houses there remind me of ones that you see in some US cities.
Larry's parents' house in London
L’s parents love gardening. The weather in London is mild enough for flowers outdoors in the winter. There were definitely no flowers co-existing with Christmas wreaths at our house in upstate New York!

We were surprised to see a tree full of parakeets! Apparently, escaped parakeets have led over the decades to thousands of these birds flying about London.
parakeets in London!

We learned that while most of the utilities are underground, the phone lines are not. Londoners get a lot of use from one utility pole!
London telephone lines

While we sometimes went in a family car, we most often got around by train or bus. Never having lived in a large city with good public transportation, I appreciated the extensive network of routes. While people in the US tend to think of double-decker buses as tourist vehicles, they are the common bus on most routes. They can carry twice as many people as regular buses and there are definitely a lot of people on the move.
London bus station
ABC loves to go on the buses and trains, especially when she can sit in the front of a train car or the top level of a bus. She likes to pretend she is driving.

Another advantage of being with Londoners is that they can direct you to phenomenal neighbourhood fish ‘n chips shops that a tourist would never find. We decided on haddock and there was so much food it overflowed the plates!
London fish 'n chips
It was also great to have so many home-cooked meals, especially when we had Filipino dishes. Given that most of us came down with a cold, it was especially great to have homemade soup.

More in London

Earlier, I posted about the beginning of our trip to London. Continuing on…

sign for London slide
Why, you may ask does London have the “world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide”?

Olympic torch-slide
Answer:  Because the Olympic torch structure was very, very tall and curvy.
When we watched the 2012 London summer Olympics, we didn’t really appreciate the scale of the torch, but we certainly did standing near its base and looking up. We did not go on the slide. It was very windy, damp, and chilly the day we were there. Maybe on a future visit when it is warmer.

Parts of the Olympic Park are open for walking, biking, etc. There are gardens from the different continents, which were interesting to T, who has a master’s in conservation biology of plants, even though it was winter. The former Olympic stadium is now home to the West Ham football (soccer to US folks). Interestingly, the old West Ham stadium used to be next to L’s church. That site is now being redeveloped as housing and such.
West Ham stadium at Olympic Park

I’m sure you notice the crane and construction site in the foreground. Much of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park area is under development. (It’s good to be the queen! You get lots of things named after you.) Most of the new venues will be cultural and/or educational. In the future, there will be museum space, a theater, the London College of Fashion, the BBC music studios, and more, including a hip hop academy.

There are already many stores open near the Park. We spent quite a lot of time at Marks & Spencer, a London-based chain of stories that combines a department store, grocer, and cafe rolled into one. Here is ABC sharing her grandpa’s chocolate cake. We think she may have eaten more than he did! ABC was also rockin’ the ever-expanding dinosaur section of her wardrobe.
Ada and chocolate cake at Marks & Spencer

We also visited E’s favorite chocolate shop, Hotel Chocolat. They offer lots of yummy treats, including vegan chocolates for the lactose-intolerant segment of the family and white chocolate for me, who, sadly, can no longer eat cocoa. It was a fun place to shop for Christmas chocolates to bring home. Just in case you needed a reminder of how long it has taken me to roll out London posts…

 

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
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travels

I am not a seasoned international traveller.

My first two visits to Europe were tours with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus, one to Sicily and one to Slovenia. Everything was organized and arranged in advance, so I didn’t need to think about much of anything, other than a few meals here and there. We had our own charter buses, so we didn’t even need to navigate in the places we visited.

At the moment, I am in London, visiting daughter E, granddaughter ABC, and E’s spouse L and L’s parents, with whom they are living. My spouse B and other daughter T are here, too.

Given that this is my first trip abroad that was not an organized tour, I am finding the nuts and bolts of travel a bit daunting. We flew from Newark to Heathrow, two large and totally unfamiliar airports. We took a train to Paddington Station, where E met us to shepherd us to another train and then a walk to their home. Later in the day, when our hotel check-in time arrived, it took both of L’s family’s cars to get us and the luggage the two-ish miles (3km) to our hotel.

Most of our to-ing and fro-ing has been by bus or train. London has a very comprehensive system of public transit, which is great because it is such a huge city.  Unfortunately, I am a) not used to having public transit available and B) intimidated by large cities, so I am grateful to have family with me to keep me on the right track, at least most of the time.

As in our trip to Slovenia, B is acting as the photographer, so I hope to share some posts with photos in the coming days.

Stay tuned!

(I promise not to be in central London near Parliament on election day, December 12. That could become entirely too exciting for someone like me who isn’t used to raucous crowds.)

silver linings

There are some silver linings of not having a 2-year-old in the house.

  • Not crashing into the gate at the bottom of the stairs while trying to navigate at night
  • Being able to open cabinets without fiddling with a latch
  • Fewer smudges on the windows
  • Not having to juggle vehicles to make sure one with a car seat was available at home for outings
  • Cutting back on energy usage with fewer laundry loads, lights, electronics, etc.
  • Not having to wrestle with doorknob guards on the basement and linen closet doors – they were hard for little hands to open but also for my petite grown-up hands
  • The opportunity to sleep more, although this is only theoretical
  • More flexibility to travel, write, exercise, etc., although this, too, is theoretical
  • A break from watching some part of Moana, which ABC called “Ocean”, and/or Frozen, which ABC called “Snowman”, every day, although I might sneak a peek at them now and then because I appreciate the theme of love of family, especially grandmother/granddaughter and sisters

Of course, I would trade it all in a moment, if I could, although I know ABC is where she needs to be, settling in with her mom and dad and London grandparents and enjoying the amenities that only a big, historic city can provide. We had a chance to videochat with E and ABC over the weekend and to make arrangements to visit in December. It will be exciting to see everyone and all the places they go! It might be a bit too exciting, though, as we will be there for the election on the 12th…

 

Two-year-old ABC

Having our granddaughter ABC living in our home has been a privilege.

Now 26 months old, she is energetic and tall enough to climb onto furniture that used to be out of reach. She is still petite for her age, but she is similar to her mom in that regard.

Her bangs are almost long enough to tuck behind her ears.

She loves imaginative play. Lately, she has been running a pretend ice cream shop. She also has been loving eating ice cream, sometimes with sprinkles on top!

She is adding more and more words to her vocabulary and making longer sentences. She will also now address each person in the room when she is saying hello or good-bye.

It’s still a wonderful feeling when she snuggles near you, although if she suspects you are trying to get her to settle down to sleep, she is more likely to squirm to get down and starting running and jumping around in order to stay awake. Her mother used to do the same thing!

She has a new appreciation for books and will sit long enough for you to read each page, instead of just zooming through looking at pictures.

She loves to sing. She takes after her parents, who are both accomplished musicians. She sometimes devises her own codas to songs that she knows or comes up with her own little tunes. It is incredibly cute!

Among her new obsessions this summer, besides the aforementioned ice cream, are sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and riding the carousels. Our county has several historic – and free – carousels in our parks. Sometimes she will ask for dog – pig – cow, because one of her favorite carousels has a dog and a boar among the horses. The “cow” is actually a black and white paint horse that does resemble the dairy cows around here. Another park has all horses, but still has its original organ rather than using recorded music all the time as the other carousels do. This park also has a more accessible playground, which is easier for a small 2-year-old to navigate. Her favorite horse there is a palomino she has dubbed “yellow horse.”  When she asks for dog-pig-cow-yellow-horse, we take it to mean that any carousel will do!

And this will all end soon, and not just because summer will come to an end.

Some time in the coming weeks, E’s spousal visa will finally come through and she and ABC will move permanently to London to join their spouse and father L.

We know they will be happy to finally live together full-time, instead of just transoceanic visits.

But it will be so hard to have them so far away after having them so close for so long.

return

So now my daily participation with Just Jot It January just got more challenging by a factor of two, but I couldn’t be happier! Daughter E and granddaughter ABC arrived safely yesterday evening after four weeks in London. Given the long day and the five hours of jet lag, they are both adjusting to being back quite well.

ABC was away for her nineteenth month and grew another inch while she was gone. She added more words, including a couple words of Tagalog. She is also pronouncing some of her older words more clearly. She clearly remembered us and the house – and her toys. She has been in quite a good mood, especially given that not only is there jet lag but she is also just getting over a cold.

The house is undoubtedly livelier than it has been. With more demands on my time, I’ll have to re-double my efforts to continue to post every day.

Can I do it?

Stay tuned…
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Household reorganization

One of the promised catch-up posts…

Over these last months of spending additional time dealing with Nana and Paco’s needs, I have been spending less and less time taking care of things at home.

Happily, spouse B and daughters E and T have stepped up to deal with the bulk of the shopping, planning, cooking, and cleaning so I don’t have to worry about it.

A bonus has been that E and T have been trying new recipes and expanding their kitchen expertise, which will be good preparation for the time when they each will have to manage their own house or apartment again.

It was also nice that when E’s spouse L was able to be here for three weeks in August, E, L, and one-year-old ABC were able to get a taste of what it will be like when they are able to have a household of their own.

Just before L returned to London, he and E prepared tea for us, featuring finger sandwiches, homemade scones, Coronation chicken, and a Victoria sponge for dessert. Of course, there was also tea!

Maybe late next year, they will be together in London and B and I can visit them together and have tea there.
tea

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