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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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/04/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-4th-2022/

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.

an update and a plan

I have been posting less than usual over the last couple of months as we have been dealing with health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He had a couple of falls in June, resulting in some cracked bones, which have been healing well while he has been in a rehab program. Unfortunately, he also suffers from dementia, which has worsened, and from a number of other health conditions, which are not unexpected in a 96-year-old but which have necessitated remaining in a nursing home rather than being able to move back to the assisted living floor where he lived previously.

It has taken a lot of time with in-person visiting and inordinate amounts of time dealing with paperwork and red tape. My sisters have been coming into town to help, but I am still not finding time to write as much as I would like.

On Monday, I’m happy to report that the UK contingent of our family – our daughter E, her spouse L, and their two children 4-year-old ABC and just turned 1-year-old JG – arrived from London for a two week visit. It is our first opportunity to meet JG in person. She is adjusting to our actually being flesh-and-blood people rather than images on a screen. It’s amazing that she is able to deal with being a different place with different people after being in lockdown so much of her life, especially when you consider it took two large airports, a plane, and the longest car ride of her life to get here. Also, five hours worth of jetlag. It’s also amazing how much ABC remembers from when she lived with us, given that this is her first time back here since she moved to the UK in October 2019.

Because of the delta variant’s prevalence, we haven’t ventured much from the house over these last days and probably won’t be taking the children to many indoor spaces, given that they are too young to have been vaccinated. We do plan a visit to Paco later this week. When the weather is better, we will also be able to go to the parks and take rides on the carousels for which Broome County is known.

My younger sister is here visiting and helping with Paco and my older sister and her spouse will arrive next week for a few days. My plan is to carve out a bit of time for some posts which will update topics about which I frequently post; I’m hoping to be brief, which is always a challenge for me!

Let’s see if I manage to follow through with this plan…

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…

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