birthdays and Jubilee

As I mentioned in this post, spouse B, daughter T, and I were recently in London, UK, visiting daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughters ABC and JG, who live in East London with L’s parents.

The main reason for the timing of the visit was that it was half-term break for ABC and her fifth birthday. We were so happy to be there to celebrate with her. Due to a number of health issues – thankfully, not COVID – and other complicating logistical factors, we spent most of our time visiting between their house and our apartment hotel. ABC was thrilled to even have an overnight in our unit.

Because ABC lived with us in the US for her first couple of years, she is very comfortable with us. For JG, who was born in August 2020, we are virtual strangers or, at best, figures from a computer screen who inexplicably appear in person. Still, she was able to relate to us better this time than when we visited last December/January. Both ABC and JG relate more to Auntie T than to Nana and Grandpa. Aunties are obviously much better playmates!

It’s also nice that JG is finally able to be out and about more in public. As a pandemic baby, she wasn’t able to go visiting or go to stores, libraries, churches, etc. for a big chunk of her life, so people beyond her household can still be daunting, exacerbating the developmental stranger anxiety that waxes and wanes throughout infancy and toddlerhood. As she gets older, we expect that she will warm up to us more quickly when we visit.

The timing of our visit also meant that we were there for Queen Elizabeth’s seventieth Jubilee. As we are crowd averse even in non-pandemic times, we didn’t go to any celebrations in person but watched them on BBC One. I saw the trooping the colour, the lighting of beacons, the service of thanksgiving, the Derby, and the Jubilee concert. There were also various block parties. There was so much celebrating that there was a shortage of decorative bunting!

It was ironic that as soon as the Jubilee celebration concluded, there was a no-confidence vote among the Conservatives in Parliament on the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson survived the vote, but the narrow margin suggests that he may have to step aside as PM in the coming months. We’ll see.

It was nice to see people being so supportive of their aging monarch, even as she, understandably, needed to pass on some of the hosting duties to her heirs. It was also touching to see the Tree of Trees sculpture that celebrated the Queen’s request to plant a million trees in honor of her platinum Jubilee.

We had a bit more celebrating to do, as T’s birthday was the day we returned home. While we could not have a “tree of trees” to celebrate her, part of her birthday gift was a donation in her honor to a project that is working to preserve the ‘ōhi‘a trees of Hawai’i. The trees are being killed by a fungal disease for which there is no known remedy so there is an ongoing seed banking project in order to restore the population after the fungal disease has run its course.

I appreciate that these commemorations celebrate the past by looking to the future. There is so much to do to secure a future for the younger generations and the planet. Our history gives us both positive and negative examples of how to react to and make change. Instead of rosy nostalgia, we need to be clear-eyed about our past and present and use that knowledge to improve the situation. especially for those who are now children, teens, and young adults.

One-Liner Wednesday: crossing

I appreciate that the pavement at a lot of the pedestrian crossings in London is marked “LOOK RIGHT” or “LOOK LEFT” to keep those of us used to traffic flowing in the opposite direction from getting hit by vehicles.
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This helpful one-liner is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays series. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/06/01/one-liner-wednesday-electronics-screwing-up/

a trip to IKEA

I know it may seem as if I have fallen off the face of the earth lately because I’ve posted less often than usual but I am still here.

Well, not my usual “here” as I am in London visiting daughter E and her family. Yesterday, E and granddaughter JG took us to IKEA for the first time. While there are IKEAs in the US, none of them are near our home. E was explaining that in some places, like Germany, rentals tend to have just the four walls so stores like IKEA offer furnishings for whole rooms as a package.

We ate lunch there. Of course, I had to try the Swedish meatballs. They reminded me a bit of the Swedish meatballs my mom used to make using a recipe from her Swedish neighbor. None of this putting sour cream in the gravy nonsense!

I’m still struggling a bit with jet lag but slept almost normal hours last night. Today is the first day of the half-term break for granddaughter ABC and for son-in-law L. We are hoping to do a bit of sight-seeing next week, although we may try to do gardens and outdoor venues as much as possible. We need to stay COVID-free if at all possible!

I’ll try to get some posts out in the coming days. I had intended to write a post about the mass shooting in Buffalo but then the Texas school shooting happened so I need to expand somewhat.

Stay tuned…

SoCS: travel

Now that it’s (maybe) safer to travel, there are a few trips that I and/or family members may take this spring.

T is going to a high school friend’s wedding in Florida in April. Arrangements are all in place so this is the surest bet to happen.

The three of us have been wanting to get back to the western MA/southern Vermont area where B and I grew up and where we still have friends and relatives. Maybe we will actually make it when the weather is better and we work through a few health things that have been annoying us lately. At the moment, it’s snowing like crazy, a reminder that spring is not here yet.

B and I also are hoping for a getaway this spring. It’s been a while since the two of us could do this, first due to caring for our elders and then still having the pandemic hanging around. Granted, the pandemic is still with us, much as we all wish it were over, but the rates of infection are finally getting down to where leisure travel is possible. My sisters gave me a lovely gift certificate to a posh Finger Lakes inn that I want to use this spring, especially because our 40th anniversary is approaching.

Speaking of 40th, my reunion at Smith College is in May. We finally got word on March 1st that it will be in person. (The last couple of years had been virtual due to the pandemic.) We haven’t started the registration project yet but I’m definitely planning to attend and stay on campus, as is traditional. Our reunion will be the same weekend as commencement; it’s always great and energizing to be on campus with the students and a fuller celebration of the traditions, such as Ivy Day and Illumination Night.

I also have my fingers crossed for another trip to London to visit daughter E and family. We are hoping for June but it’s so hard to say right now if it will be possible. Will there be another variant racing around the globe? Will there be war ongoing? It’s so painful to think of the current suffering, much less project its horrifying dimensions into the future.

Which trips will take place and which will (yet again) be deferred? I don’t know, but it’s likely that you will find out here at Top of JC’s Mind.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is trip. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/03/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-march-12-2022/

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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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/11/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-11th-2022/

sad news and shopping

We are nearing the end of our holiday visit to London. Today is our last full day with granddaughter ABC who will go back to school to begin the new term tomorrow. As a treat, ABC stayed over at our Airbnb with us last night. B made a yummy coffee cake for our breakfast. We had plans to meet up with our daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughter JG for a morning shopping excursion and lunch.

I checked my email and found the sad news that one of the long-time members of the spirituality book study group at our neighborhood church that I facilitate had passed away. We had not seen each other since our group was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic, although we spoke by phone periodically. I had sent her a Christmas card not long before we left for the UK. I tried to bring up her obituary through our online subscription to our local newspaper, but, for some reason, it doesn’t work outside the US. I wish I could be there to attend the funeral but I’m afraid it will be held before I get back to the States. We had hoped to resume class in the spring, but it will be missing a certain spark without Christine.

We were able to meet up in Stratford for shopping, quite close to the site of the Olympic Park. I went by car with L so JG and ABC could be in their car seats, while B, T, and E took the bus. Had the weather been less chilly and rainy, they might have walked. We did a bit of shopping for ABC who needed some new skirts and black shoes as part of her school uniform. I was shocked to find a pair of boots for myself; I have short but narrow feet so tend to be hard to fit. We had lunch at a pasta shop in the mall, followed by gelato and sorbetto at another shop. We navigated our way back to the house and our nearby Airbnb and are now having naptime for the children (and some adults) before meeting up later for supper together.

We have been being careful about being out in public. This was our biggest encounter in public since our arrival days, but we wore our masks on the busses and in the shopping center, except while eating. The shops open onto a covered space that is open to the outdoors, so air circulation was good where we were walking and eating. We were also able to keep a good distance between groups of people. It helps to give peace of mind that B, T, E, and I are all boosted. L is just recently recovered from omicron but will be eligible to be boosted soon. We all need to protect ABC and JG, as well as keep ourselves negative so we can fly back to the US on Saturday.
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being more northerly

Some people in the Binghamton NY area where I live have the unfortunate habit of thinking that the area has the cloudiest weather possible.

They have not been in London UK in winter. There has been very little sunshine in the nearly two weeks we have been here. This is partly due to cloud cover which is nearly constant. There hasn’t been that much rain, though there is some. It’s also quite breezy, all of which is typical of winter here.

The other reason that there isn’t much sunshine is because the amount of daylight available at this latitude is much shorter than it is in Binghamton. On December 22nd, when I arrived in London, there were nine hours and six minutes of daylight in Binghamton, but only seven hours and 54 minutes here.

One thing that is in evidence here, as elsewhere around the world, is weather weirding. It has been very warm for winter here. E has only seen frost one morning so far and the temperatures here have stayed almost entirely in the 10s Celsius (50s Fahrenheit). It’s unusual for it to stay this warm for this long in winter, which is typically, while not the cold and snow of the US Northeast, chillier and closer to freezing than what we are seeing this year. We are also having a warmer than normal early winter back home. In both places, it’s likely the climate-change induced impacts to the jet stream in conjunction with the ocean currents causing the unusual warmth.

At least none of us are having to shovel snow…
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/03/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-3rd-2022/

2022

We are celebrating New Year’s with the UK branch of the family. For New Year’s Eve dinner, daughter E and spouse L prepared Korean food. I admit that I didn’t stay up for the midnight festivities which follow the Filipino tradition of L’s parents, with whom E and L and their daughters ABC and JG live.

At midnight, they bang on pots and pans to make noise to drive away evil spirits. There were not organized fireworks due to COVID, but there were lots of fireworks in the streets – all evening and until about 3 this morning. Actually, there have been fireworks in the neighborhood for the past several nights, as though people needed to practice for the big event.

E and L went shopping for fruits as they prepared bowls with 12 different round fruits, which symbolizes prosperity for the household for each month of the year. They even prepared a bowl for us to have in our Airbnb. It’s important not to eat any of the fruits until the new year has begun. L’s family will also hang grapes above the front door, where they remain for the year. First they will have to take down the 2021 grapes which are now a bunch of raisins!


For New Year’s dinner, E is planning to make lasagna and homemade bread. This is our family’s traditional Christmas dinner which got transferred to New Year’s Day this year. It will be a nice way to remember my parents as we move into our first year with them both gone.

Wishing all of us peace, contentment, and good health in 2022!
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Linda is once again hosting Just Jot It January to encourage daily posting to get the new year off to a good start! Prompts are provided, but not required. Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/12/31/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2022-daily-prompt-jan-1/

making up for lost time

As I wrote about here, we are visiting the London branch of our family for the holidays.

The last time we were here was a bit over two years ago, shortly after E’s spousal visa came through and she and then-two-year-old ABC were able to locate from our home in the US to rejoin spouse L in London. During that visit, we were happy to learn that E was newly pregnant and started planning for spring and summer visits.

Then, the pandemic arrived.

We couldn’t travel to the UK for spring birthdays or the arrival of granddaughter JG in August. Our plan to come for the month of November 2020 was cancelled at the last minute when the UK went into full lockdown. Quarantine and travel restrictions made it impossible for us to go to the UK, but E, L, ABC, and JG were able to visit us in the US in August. We were all thrilled to meet JG in person and blessed that they were able to visit Paco just before the last, steep period of illness before his death.

I titled this post “making up for lost time” which is an impossibility, but I do feel as though a few things that I had missed with our granddaughters are being re-captured. JG was an early walker, so I hadn’t really had babe-in-arms cuddle time with her. When they visited us in the States, she was too much on the move and too unsettled by the new surroundings to want to cuddle with the grandparents she had just met. Here, in her familiar home, she has become comfortable enough to sleep nestled in my arms – at least when her mother is unavailable.

We’ve played games with ABC. It’s been endearing watching her play hide-and-seek with Auntie T with requisite giggling and improvised singing, a skill that both ABC and T share. We’ve also been able to read to ABC with the added pleasure of having her read to us. She is learning a lot of phonics in Reception this year (for US folks, think the UK equivalent of kindergarten but with predominantly four- instead of five-year-olds) and is already able to read primer books.

Last night, ABC slept over at our Airbnb. This morning, B made us all pancakes, one of ABC’s favorite foods. She also helped her grandpa bake some gingerbread cookies.

2021 has certainly been a challenging year, but I’m grateful that it is ending on a high note.

travel in Omicron time

In October, we made plans to visit daughter E, son-in-law L, granddaughters ABC and JG, and L’s parents with whom they live in London, UK for the holidays. I hadn’t shared much about our plans here for fear that we would have to cancel, as we did with a planned visit in November 2020. At the time we made our plans, vaccination rates and COVID rates looked amenable for travel for three people who had had three doses of Pfizer vaccine, due to our participation in the clinical trials.

And then, in November, the Omicron variant appeared.

Travel and testing policies changed. Everyone wanted to know how virulent it is, if vaccines are protective, how severe it is, where it is spreading – and they wanted to know right away. Unfortunately, science doesn’t work that way. It takes time to gather and analyze data.

It actually was to our advantage that there were several weeks before our trip for some preliminary conclusions to be discerned. Yes, Omicron is more transmissible than the very contagious Delta but tends to cause less severe disease and to run a shorter course. Vaccines were less effective than against other variants but having a booster greatly increased protection.

And Omicron was rapidly spreading almost everywhere.

My home state of New York in the US was experiencing a spike in Omicron on top of a spike in Delta. In London, Omicron was taking over with over 90% of new COVID cases caused by it.

Still, travel was open for vaccinated people to enter the UK, we had our required testing scheduled both in the US and the UK, and the UK had not imposed restrictions on gatherings in private homes, so we were good to go, scheduled to fly out of Newark on Monday night, Dec. 20.

On Thursday, Dec. 16, L tested positive for COVID. He had been testing at home every day before going to work in the schools and didn’t have symptoms. He immediately had a follow-up test with a medical facility to confirm, then went into isolation in a bedroom. He developed symptoms which were like having a bad cold, which seems more typical with Omicron. In accord with UK protocol, the adults in the house tested themselves every morning. If they were negative, they could go out for the day. The children would only need to be tested if they had symptoms.

Obviously, this was scary news a few days before our trip, but, being used to uncertainty by now, we decided to go ahead with our plans.

On Saturday morning, we did COVID tests at the local pharmacy. The results were supposed to be available by noon on Monday and our flights wasn’t until 10 PM, so no problem, right?

Except that they didn’t come. We headed to Newark airport, which is about three hours away, hoping to get a rapid test there, but the testing center closed early, so we waited for our results to come in. As it turned out, only mine came through in time, so I flew to Heathrow by myself. This was the first time I had ever flown internationally without being part of a group, but I managed, admittedly with a lot of helpful staff and fellow travellers who could probably tell that this silver-haired woman wasn’t quite up to snuff, especially after a sleepless night on a plane. E met me at the train station and helped me get settled – and do my COVID test that the UK required. I needed to stay in isolation until I got a negative result.

Meanwhile, B and T re-booked their flight for the next evening, stayed at a hotel overnight, and went to the airport bright and early to go to the rapid test center. They had finally gotten their negative results from the Saturday tests but, because they were now flying on Tuesday, that test was too old to meet the requirements. Fortunately, I was already checked in to the hotel so they could start their UK isolation/testing bit, too. I’m happy to say that the UK results came much more quickly, so we were out of isolation by the time we moved to our Airbnb in E’s neighborhood on Thursday.

When you are browsing through Airbnb’s site, you can’t see the exact address. We knew we were in the neighborhood, but were pleased to find out we are only about three blocks from their house. Given that we are trying to limit our exposure to crowds, it’s nice to just have a short walk between the two places. It’s also nice to have our own kitchen. We even have an enclosed back garden, although it’s been too rainy to use it.

We benefited from a change in UK policy. Instead of having to isolate for ten days, people are allowed to leave isolation sooner if they have two negative test 24 hours apart. This meant that L was able to get out of isolation in time to have Christmas Day together. (You can read about the menu here.)

In deference to the wild spread of Omicron, we are not going to church or other kinds of crowded venues, like museums, during this visit. We are pretty much going back and forth between the two houses. While B, T, and I and L’s parents were all boosted, E and L were scheduled to get their boosters on Sunday, three days after Larry tested positive. E’s COVID exposure delayed her getting a booster until Dec. 24; L can get his in several weeks. For the record, E and L were not negligent in scheduling their boosters. Rather, they were following the UK protocols, which are different than the US ones.

All of us are trying to be protective of ABC and JG, who are too young to be vaccinated. Realistically, B, T, and I also need to stay COVID-free to be able to travel back to the US in January. Fingers crossed that the travel and visiting policies stay stable so that there are no more glitches, delays, or restrictions.

But, hey, we’ve already shown we are flexible, if need be.

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