Jul 30, 2006

Over the Pond, Days 11-13 -- Not the best of endings (but at least I'm home)

Provocative title, right?

After another day of wandering through London, I boarded a train and headed for Manchester for my flight home. (I had a neat experience at a little Anglican church that I'll post about later.) I was getting more and more impatient to be home with Billy and Miranda, and actually tried to get an earlier flight home. But after a decent night's sleep in a loud hotel, and almost sleeping through my shuttle, I arrived at the airport to find my flight delayed over 3 hours. Still enjoying my last bits of solitude, I read and did sudoku and watched movies until we landed at JFK, where I waited for my bags... and waited... and waited, for over an hour. Then I tried to find the shuttle to LaGuardia for my flight to Lexington... and went to terminal 2... and couldn't use my visa... and the ATM was broken... so I dodged traffic and went to terminal 3... and couldn't find the ATM... and missed the shuttle... and finally got to LaGuardia to find my flight cancelled, along with most of the others. Tried in vain to get another flight to Cincy or Louisville, anywhere within driving distance -- no luck. So, going on 20 hours awake, I went downstairs and began to battle with all the other strandees for the few remaining hotel rooms... finally found one -- too expensive, too far away -- and hung up the phone to find my computer bag gone.

Please, please, please don't let this be happening.

After a fruitless search around the area, to "lost baggage" and to the police to see if they had suspected it as a bomb, I started crying, cried all the way through the taxi queue, to the hotel, and through an episode of "Deadwood." In addition to the loss of my new laptop, I realized what else was in that bag: my breast pump, my passport (with all the cool stamps from my honeymoon and our trip to eastern Europe), presents for my parents and my sister-in-law, a whole notebook of notes on several aspects of my doctoral work, my jewelry. Particularly devastating, even more so than the expensive Dell, was the opal ring that my father gave me on my 16th birthday, 20 years ago this fall. And now it's on its way to some New York city pawn shop. Damn it, damn it, damn it.

I can recover almost all the lost schoolwork -- I can re-download all the pictures of Miranda (although I don't know when I'll find the time!), we can save for another laptop. I'm trying to keep this in perspective. (I keep thinking of an acquaintance whose laptop was stolen just after his twins were born, losing irreplacable footage of their first days.) It's OK, I know that, plenty of worse things have happened. But it still sucks, and I'm still depressed.

Oh well.

BUT... after all this, I arrived home to my sweet hubby and my little girl. And it was so easy to forget about all the crap and just watch her smile that smile I'd been imagining for days, as she realized who was sitting next to her in the car. I tickled, she giggled, and we headed to the best place of all, home. I had a great time, and will look forward to another trip next spring, but for now, all I want to do is hold, snuggle, nurse, bathe, rock, love my little Miranda. And snuggle her daddy, too.

Thanks, everyone, for joining me on this journey! Keep watching for the sequal, set for release sometime in spring 2007.

Jul 26, 2006

OTP -- epilogue to Day 8 (anti)highlight

Happy reunion, courtesy of Royal Post.

Over the Pond, Days 9-10 -- Lounging in London

London is really, really hot right now, but still a ton of fun. Yesterday I slept late and lazed around the house with Rachel and the kids, then babysat while Rachel went out for the evening. Very relaxing. Today, I headed into the city for sightseeing and wandering. I visited Covent Garden, where I watched a man juggle hatchets while atop a 15' unicycle. I wandered down Charing Cross Road and found the "street o' rare bookstores" -- anyone want to buy a 1st edition Alice in Wonderland for £200? I put my feet in the fountain at Trafalgar Square (which was so deliciously cold!), and listened to all the folks around me (most of whom were tourists and weren't speaking english). I wandered through the National Gallery and especially enjoyed the iconography from the 12th-14thc. It's amazing how pictures told stories, something we could stand to recover in the church today. I visited the Tate Modern -- always a great time with their quirky exhibits -- and arrived at St. Paul's Cathedral (where Princess Di and Charles were married) just in time for Evening Prayer. I wandered for an hour or so, visiting Aldersgate Street where John and Charles Wesley had some significant experiences. (I'm headed back tomorrow for noonday prayer at St. Paul's and a sermon series at the little Aldersgate chapel.) I ended up at Oxford Circus and people-watched for a while while eating frozen custard, then concluded the evening by visiting a little Tandoor restaurant that Billy and I found on our trip in 2004, heading home to Hackney around 9. All in all, I'd say I got my money's worth out of that £4.90 travel pass.

In a word, today was relaxed. It was such a treat to just wander around, exploring little side streets and taking my time. I realized that I don't often get the chance to just amble. So often, life with Miranda involves so much planning, structuring of time, and being intentional about every minute, that today was deliciously free and easy.

All the same, it feels very right to be gearing up to return home. I'll spend tomorrow morning finishing up the tourist thing, then take a train to Manchester for the night before flying home on Friday. As much fun as I had today, it's time to rejoin the family -- I miss them more and more. Billy sent some pics that indicate a few new teeth, and she's taking more and more steps around the house. She even looks different in the pics he's sent! That's it, party's over -- everyone grab your stuff and head home.

Jul 25, 2006

OTP, Day 8 -- (anti)highlight?

Realizing you've forgotten something at your friend's house in Harrogate. Calling your friend's friends to ask them to mail it to you in London. Having the following conversation with the husband, who's the only one home:

me: I'm afraid I've left something behind.
him: No problem at all, I'm happy to post it to you. What have you left?
me: Part of my breast pump.
him: ... pardon?
me: Part of my breast pump.
him: Um, right. No problem. Happy to send it on.
me: Thanks so much. (Gives address.)
him: Now, where will I find it?
me: On the drainboard, by the sink.
him: Will I know what it is?
me: Trust me, you'll know.

Between the fact that I've never met this man, the nature of my request, and my lack of familiarity with traditional English reserve, I'm not sure how embarrassing this conversation actually was, to either of us!

Over the Pond, Day 8 -- resting (ie lazing around) in Harrogate

On Sunday, I left Northumbria and took the train south to Harrogate to stay overnight at our friend Pete's house (same one as below). This was another good step in the process of decompression which I've undergone since leaving home -- that is, it was nice to just be alone, really alone with nothing to do and no agenda. I fixed a sandwich and watched TV and drank tea and read, then went to sleep and woke up and repeated the process. Heaven. Since I couldn't get the DVD player to work, I spent several hours flipping channels on a modest British cable package. Lots of BBC news, sports, VH1 highlights of the 80s, a few good movies. I settled for some shows about childbirth, then Lethal Weapon, plus reread parts of George Orwell's Burmese Days.

After an equally relaxing morning, I caught the train and came to London, where I'm staying here in Hackney with our friends Andy and Rachel Turner and their great kids Jess, Millie, and Eve. They are our friend Geoff's dearest and oldest friends, and we love them. They're the best at easygoing hospitality -- no muss, no fuss! I arrived in time to help prepare teatime, and after a great meal and some fun with Rachel ("Maria, you've used far too much soap for the washing up!"), the kids went to bed, Andy studied, Rachel went out and I watched "Notting Hill" and "Angela's Ashes". Another quiet night. Will keep everyone posted.


1) Getting to watch my absolute favorite episode of the original Star Trek ("Devil in the Dark") -- what are the odds??? ( I actually read it in paperback, buying it at that newstand place on University where we'd stop after church on Sundays and get papers and gum -- remember?)
2) Looking at pictures of Miranda and Billy on the way to London
3) Seeing Andy and Rachel, and being amazed at how much their kids have grown in the 3 years I've known them. And not feeling like I'm intruding, but welcomed.
4) Not having to Harrogate today to get the thing I left at Pete's house (see above).

Over the Pond, Days 5-7 -- Northumbria Community and beyond

Well here I am in London, after being offline for a few days. Thanks for all the comments; they've definitely helped me feel connected to my life at home. Let's see...

At the last post, I was wrapping up my work in Durham on Friday. It concluded on a good note, still processing the Aquinas paper but with a much clearer sense of where it's going and its key contributions. Add that to the progress we made in outlining the rest of the thesis, and it's been the most productive trip to date. I've come to realize just how invaluable these trips are for my clarity and momentum. Working on this project back in Lexington can be quite isolating, but these periodic times of concentrated study somehow generate enough energy to keep the process moving. It's amazing how many ideas come from just discussing the material, at least for a verbal processor like me.

Plus, I just love Durham. There's really nothing quite like it -- the presence and history of the cathedral, the steady nature of the daily services, English breakfasts with good tea, walking along the river Wear with people rowing past, the little pub where I always eat, Bimbi's fish and chip shop, Durham Market. It's great to arrive on the train, and before you even pull into the station, you can see the cathedral rising up over the town. It's one of my favorite places. Until next time...

Friday afternoon, I left Durham and traveled north to the Northumbria Community, a small group of folks committed to living a contemplative life together. Their days consist of praying the daily office, working at the innumerable tasks related to keeping up a large, old house, working the garden, cooking and cleaning, traveling to speak about their community (and other things, I'm sure). It was quiet, peaceful, and just what I needed after concentrating on school. I slept, and read, and drank tea, and weeded the garden, and washed dishes, and ate good and simple food, and slept some more. (One morning I didn't emerge until almost noon; they were about to come looking for me.) I'm thankful to our friends Pete and Catherine for introducing me to this place, and I'm looking forward to returning, as it's only an hour from Durham. Then I took the train south to Harrogate to stay at a friend's house on the way to London.


1) truly beautiful weather in Durham and Northumbria, lovely rain and cool temps
2) weeding in the lovely soil - not clay like we have in Kentucky, but a rich, light, crumbly mix that makes weeding a breeze
3) curried cauliflower soup, fresh cabbage salad, rhubarb crumble and ice cream
4) sitting in a squishy armchair underneath a window, reading and drinking tea, and watching the house martins feeding their babies in the nest at the top of the window. I spent a LOT of time in this chair.
5) drinking a beer and playing cards with three young folks from Scotland, on the train from Durham

Jul 21, 2006

OTP, Day 4 -- slightly revised state of shock

Ok, so I looked a bit closer at the comprehensive schedule for my work, and realized that I'll be finished in March 2011, when I staretd in October 2003. So, it's only 7 1/2 years total, instead of 8. I feel a little, little bit better.

And then, I'd forgotten to account for this year of semi-maternity leave (working about 1/4 time, instead of 1/2 time). So... in actuality, my degree will take me about 7 - 7/14 years to complete, part-time. The shock is continuing to fade.

But I still won't be done for almost 5 more years! And that's without another bambino! Lord, give us strength, and money for our fabulous babysitter.

Jul 20, 2006

Over the Pond, Day 4 -- Aquinas, Aquinas, Aquinas...

And more Aquinas. I'm so tired of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and so glad that this paper will be (largely) completed tomorrow. I'll have a few additional articles to incorporate during August, but the bulk of it will be submitted. Hooray! Then, on to Augustine.

I'm still pretty tired, as I arrived exhausted from travel and have been working pretty late to finish this damn thing. Overall, though, my time with my advisor, Robert, has been excellent. He's very encouraging and gracious and very knowledgeable. We constructed a good working outline for my thesis (in England you write a dissertation for a masters, and a thesis for a doctorate -- I always get them confused), as well as a timeline for its completion. It will only take me... 5 more years.

What???? That means I will have spent 8 years (ok, part-time, but still) on this project. I feel faint.

But upon reflection, it makes sense. This took Robert 5 years, fulltime, no spouse, no child, no job. And this field is fairly different from my previous studies. Ok, I feel better now. A little.

I'm off tomorrow to spend a couple of days at the Northumbria Community up near Scotland. I'll rest, read, and join them in praying the Daily Office. It should be wonderful. Then, off to Harrogate for a day or two. I'm not sure when I'll get back online, but I'll do what I can. Thanks for joining me on the journey!

To close, the daily highlights:

1) Spending several great hours with Robert, his wife Margaret, and their kids Iona and Jamie tonight over dinner. It felt just like family, especially when 4 1/2 yr old Jamie made me read a western Veggie Tales book with my genuine Texas accent. That was fun!
2) Ummm.. more good tea and orange marmalade at breakfast. Honestly, that's all I can think of today.

Jul 19, 2006

Over the Pond, Day 3 -- still settling in

Today was a nice rhythm of study, food, and rest. It's taken a little while to get used to the solitude, not having to listen for Miranda or be continuously aware of her. I'm sure I'll be missing her more in the days to come.

One thing I'm trying to do regularly (other than sample the local brews at the Market Tavern) is to attend the Anglican Daily Office at Durham Catherdral. Check out these pics of the Cathedral; it's just amazing. The Office includes Morning Prayer, Midday Communion, and sung Evensong, which give an opportunity to re-center myself throughout the day. It's also a practice of the Northumbria Community, where I'll be staying over the weekend.

Ok, have a big discussion of my paper on Aquinas tomorrow, must return to writing. But before I go, the daily highlights:

1) the refreshingly cool weather of northern England (although London is supposed to top 100 soon)
2) a big, fattening batch of fish & chips, drenched with malt vinegar
3) a really good pot of tea this morning at breakfast, and orange marmalade for my toast
4) listening to some really funky, old-school 80's rock while eating dinner at the tavern -- selections included "Take on Me", "Too Shy" and the somewhat more obscure "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off (To Have a Good Time)" -- I actually owned this on extend-play 45 record! At a British pub...?????
5) 2 naps today!

Over the Pond, Day 3 -- early highlight

Finding batteries, finding relief.

Jul 18, 2006

Over the Pond, Day 2 -- Freedom, Choice, and Change

I am trying to finish my paper on Thomas Aquinas, but I keep sneaking peeks into one of my books, The Handmaid's Tale. It's a sad, scary, fascinating look at a possible dystopic future in which women are under strict societal control. One woman says of a movie theater in a previous time:

Women went there, women on their own, making up their minds. They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone. These women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. We seemed to be able to choose, then. We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice.
It was interesting to read this as I sat alone, away from Miranda for the first substantial time since she joined us. Yesterday felt a bit surreal, being apart from her and being unable to check in (as Billy, Miranda and Tracey were flying to CA). I really missed them.
Yet I am having such a very good time. The fun hustle and bustle of a busy airport, watching people come and go. The quiet of this beautiful little university town, walking out of my advisor's office and seeing the cathedral rising up in front of me, where it's maintained its presence for almost 1000 years. The satisfaction of making significant progress with my advisor (and regaining the energy for the work). Taking a walk around the palace green and through the graveyard in the cathedral yard. Taking a nap. Having bangers and mash and a beer in the market square pub. Billy said, "Drink it in!", and that's just it. I feel like I'm drinking deeply after 12 months of just taking sips, of having just enough to keep me going, but not enough to be really refreshed.
But, I think the reason that it's so enjoyable it because it's a treat. This is not the tenor of my life anymore, and that's as it should be. My freedom, my choices and available options are entirely different than they were 12 months ago. This trip is like savoring a box of candy, perfect in this small dose, but no longer an everyday option. And that's OK.
In our society where we have more choices than we even realize, there's something settling and humbling in recognizing the limitations that accompany our lives. And that recognition makes the treats, when we get them, all the sweeter.
On that note, off to an early bed and a good, long sleep. To my crunchie, may God bless you and keep you.

Over the Pond, Day 2 -- possible anti-highlight

Realizing that for some reason, the breast pump isn't working (some incompatibility with the British power supply?). Realizing that you can't get any batteries until tomorrow morning. Realizing that the pint of beer you just enjoyed will probably stimulate milk production.

Pray for me!

Over the Pond, Day 1 -- some highlights

1) eating some good sushi and drinking a real Coke (ahhh!)
2) getting an unexpected upgrade to first class (sort of -- roomy seats but no fancy schmancy beverages or anything)
3) watching "Kinky Boots" on the way over -- it's a really funny movie
4) reading, bit by bit, a couple of good novels

And the #1 anti-highlight of yesterday...

Sitting in the women's bathroom at Kennedy airport, pumping milk while kids stared and adults attempted not to stare. That's right, the cord wouldn't stretch to any of the stalls, so I sat by the sink. Lovely.

Jul 17, 2006

Over the Pond, Day 1 -- Freedom!

The adventure begins! I'm at Kennedy Int'l Airport, enjoying a 12-hour layover. At 8:30pm I'll take off for the UK and, 7 hours later, hit the ground running for 3 1/2 days of schoolwork in Durham. I'm tired, as packing and a great conversation with my SIL Tracey kept me up until... well, very close to when I had to leave for the airport.

Did I say enjoying, as in layover? I did. What once would have been an insufferable "delay" now unfolds as a gift, an almost forgotten luxury of me-time. To begin with, this airport is filled with interesting folks, most of whom aren't speaking English. (NYC is just generally cool.) And, I'm just sitting here... alone. Without family or friends (although with homework), with several good books to devour while I'm away (Lisa Samson, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card), and what appears to be some good sushi across the food court. Do I get a Coke? A Diet Coke? A large coffee? All three? (My poor kidneys are shaking with fear even as I type; better refill the water bottle while I'm at it.)

I'm not sure how Miranda is doing, as I left before she woke up and haven't been able to reach Billy. He, Miranda, and Tracey are headed to LA today for a working vacation and some family time. Leaving Miranda is a post unto itself, to which I'll return.

I haven't blogged in a couple of weeks (sorry Joy!), so I'll try to keep a little journal of sorts while I'm gone. Better sign off and head for my terminal to check in and find a plug to rejuice the computer.

PS -- I just bought a pen from a man offering them around. It says, "SMILE. This good article is the courtesy of a DEAF AND DISABLED PERSON. PAY ANY PRICE YOU WISH. Thank you for your help." It worked; I smiled.

Jul 3, 2006

Second of July fun

Who says you have to wait until the 4th? Billy, Miranda, John, our neighbor Mike, and I went over to the Red Mile racetrack last night to watch the Quarter Horse racing and the fireworks. It was great to see all the cowboys hats, Wranglers, and big belt buckles. I felt like I was back in Texas at the horse shows. John was very kind to share the Miranda-toting duties, which is harder than it used to be!

Billy and Mike also hit the jackpot, winning 2 single bets and a trifecta on the last race.

Miranda was more impressed with her first taste of ice cream.