Friday, July 31, 2009


Today began at Spitalfield's Market. Don't know why we didn't take pictures there. Oh, maybe because I was too busy oohing and aahing and wanting to buy everything. I used b'day money from my in-laws to treat myself to an inexpensive but totally darling dress (I was very spendthrifty though) and then felt all happy satisfied shopper. I could have spent hours walking around and gawking at clothes and prints and jewelry and everything else but we had to move on to the glory land of white marble staircases and dark wooden shelves and stacks and stacks of paper and parchment and vellum bound between leather covers:

Nerd alert! I loved it. Like Disneyland for the Brit Lit Addicts.

The library was lovely but I didn't do any real "scholar stuff." Meaning I did not have an appointment for a reading room, so I did not have to empty my bag and wash my hands and take only a pencil and clean paper into a room with me. Instead, we shoved our stuff in a locker just so we didn't have to carry it and wandered the open exhibit, which was no BFD. You know, just a Gutenberg Bible, Da Vinci's notebooks, the Codex Sinaiticus, the Magna Carta, and excerpts from letters and journals written by Jane Austen, William Wordsworth, Viriginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, and Sylvia Plath. Among others. Also song lyrics handwritten by the Beatles. Basically, it rocked my world.

Newton does something mathematical and/or scientific in the courtyard of the library. Also, he is naked.

We left the library for lunch, intending to find the legendary (I use that word loosely) Drummond Street and get some good cheap Indian food.

An hour later, I realized why I failed the map-reading portion of the Iowa Basics test in sixth grade and why David insists that he suffers from mild dyslexia. We had no freaking idea where we were or where this alleged street of restaurants was and I was hungry to the point of homicidal.

My mom gave us a London Map Book that is super great. But doesn't include the British Library. Freaking Rick Steves recommended this stupid street o' restaurants but didn't give clear directions for reaching it from the museum. And my London moleskin book's map is woefully inadequate and breaks up maps inconveniently making them difficult to read when you have to keep flipping from page 2 to page 6.

So after walking for an hour (including a lap around a rather seedy looking apartment complex) I was starving and if David had made eye contact with me he would have died a la Medusa so I was walking very fast which meant David was always a step or two behind him which annoyed me beyond reason even though a part of me understood that he would not want to walk next to me for fear of death.

Finally I insisted that we go back to the library and eat at the freaking chain sandwich place across the street because it was that or I claw David's face off and eat that for lunch. I was that hungry.

A couple sandwiches and a bag of popcorn later I had recovered myself and buried my homicidal tendencies and we skipped back into the library to see the Henry VIII display (we're like totally into Henry VIII these days). We observed his journey from sexy young king to fat and bloated tyrant and mourned a little bit for his six wives.
David, relieved I did not murder and devour him for lunch. Also -- Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts at King's Cross Station!

Back near our hotel, we decided we wanted tapas for dinner so ventured down to Charlotte Street (word on the street has it that this is a hopping area but not yet too trendy so still affordable). The tapas place we wanted was booked so we put in reservations for tomorrow night and wandered around until we found an Italian joint with an accordion player. I'm a sucker for accordion players and D suddenly decided he was craving risotto. The place was all open-front so it was breezy and very Tuscan with dark wooden beams and white stucco walls and shiny copper pans for decoration. A big portrait of the owners was on the back wall and they were there in person-- a cute elderly Italian couple who shook our hands when we left and wanted to make sure our food was very good. D forgot about risotto and ended up ordering the Pesca alla Sophia Loren (some sort of halibut) and I asked the waiter if he recommended the rigatoni with gorgonzola or the tortellini with spinach. He smiled and shouted something at me in Italian, scribbled on his notepad, and left. So I assumed he had ordered for me... Yes, the tortellini was delicious.

Tomorrow promises to be a museum overload followed by some time wandering/lounging/people watching in Regents Park. You can't wait!

All The World's A Stage

*editor's note: This was written last night but didn't get posted because of internet issues. So this was Thursday*

* editor's note again: pictures now added!*

And today we went to the Globe theatre.

The day began with a Bankside walk. We felt lazy this morning -- up too late last night, liking the merlot/shyraz a little too much. So we dawdled around, ate a late breakfast, then headed out on the underground to The City (0fficial financial district of London -- only place in England in which the Queen is #1 and the Mayor is #2 instead of Charles being #2). We crossed the Thames (that's pronounced "Tims" for all you Americans) on London Bridge and started wandering around Southwark (that's "SUTH-uck").

Standing on London Bridge and gazing out over the Thames gave us a view of the other bridges that span it -- Tower Bridge and the Jubilee Bridge. We could see the Tower of London and St. Paul's Church and teh Tate Modern and we just stood there for a few minutes, forcing the toursits and business professionals to flow around us, while I marveled about the fact that we are actually in London.
David really likes the Tower Bridge.

Then we headed for Southwark Cathedral, where William Shakespeare was a parishoner. There is a statue of Shakespeare inside the church which really delighted me. I like the idea of religion being an extension of art -- a striving for something grander (a bit of the humanist in me, I guess). The inscription below the statue explained that it was a tribute to God in graditude for his "good gift to men in the genius of William Shakespeare." Above the statue is a stained glass window that depicts scenes from plays -- Romeo and Juliet was the most obvious -- and the seven stages of man from the famous "All the World's a Stage" speech. Quite apropos, as we saw As You Like It at the Globe tonight!

After we left the cathedral, we wandered in the Borough Market which was sort of a surprise and totally great. It was bustling and busy and colorful and noisy and smelly and once we got past the seafood booth, the smells were so delicious that even though we'd eaten breakfast late I was instantly hungry. We gawked at the vast spreads of vegetables and fruits and meats and sweets and wines and breads.



I ate a veggie burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf and David went hog wild over wild boar sausage (ha ha, I know that was terrible. But he said the sausage was good.)

Ingredients: Wild Boar. 90% Meat.

We got strawberry cheesecake to take away for dessert and ate it on the river bank, then walked by the Clink and were glad not to be imprisoned (although the jail burnt down, the basement cells remain).
Delicious Sweets!

And me in front of a basement cell of the Clink.

We scoped out the Globe theatre but didn't stick around as we were returning later for the show. We popped into the Tate Modern, which is essentially next door the Globe. It is vast and imposing and full of people. We were dutifully impressed but also overwhelmed and running later than we'd planned so we couldn't stay long. It is the sort of museum where you could spend an entire weekend so we really didn't do it justice. Next time.

From the Tate Modern, we crossed back over the Thames on the Jubilee Bridge (all muggles made it safely across this time). Some brilliant engineer thought it would be a great idea to essentially connect St. Paul's Cathedral to the Tate Modern via this bridge and it really is lovely. It never ceases to amaze me as we walk around that buildings from the thirteenth and fourteenth century (or their foundations, or replicas of them, like the globe) stand next to nineteenth-century buildings, which stand next to modern skyscrapers.

David on the Jubilee Bridge in front of the Tate Modern.

Me on the Jubilee Bridge in front of St. Paul's Cathedral

We went in St. Paul's and craned our necks to view the beautiful gothic arches and admire the work of Christopher Wren and the Victorian ornamentation that got piled on top of it. For someone who wasn't officially an architect, he did a freaking brilliant job of raising St. Paul's out of the ashes of the Great Fire of 1666. It was inspiring to think of this building suriving the Blitz.

Less inspiring was the gargantuan line of tourists and the hour-long climb to the top of the cathedral dome. Deciding that London is lessa bout the skyline and more about the view from the grount, we skipped the climb and headed back to our hotel to change for dinner and the Globe.

I was craving pizza so we went to a cute little Italian place around the corner from our hotel and the pizzas were just like we had in Italy last summer. We took the underground to a stop near the Globe and I was so glad that the weather was cooperating. It was clear and beautiful.

We got to the Globe an hour ahead of time because I bought us "groundling" tickets -- meaning they only cost 5 pounds each but we had to stand for the entire show. Just like the peasants of 1660! David was not super enthused about this idea, and after doing so much walking all day long, I was beginning to have second thoughts myself.

But we were early enough that we got a great spot leaning right up against the stage. And I have to say that it was the awesomest Shakespeare-viewing experience that I have ever had. I've never gone to a Shakespeare play that seemed so short -- and we were standing up for almost 3 hours! I would have never thought it was possible, but it was so fantastically entertianing that I never thought about being tired or uncomfortable. The stage was exactly the right height for us to fold our arms and rest them on top of it and we were literally an arm's length from the actors (in fact, the Duke's cloak brushed my face when he whirled around at one point).

Our view of the stage. We really were this close!

From the moment the show began, both of us -- and really everyone in the theatre -- was just sort of entranced. It was incredible to see Shakespeare performed so well and to imagine standing in nearly the same spot in 1660 -- under the same sky, in a nearly identical open-roof theatre, escaping the realities of life (plague, death, sewer-ridden streets) by getting caught up in the comedy. And it was seriously funny.

When the melancholy wit, Jacques, went into his speech, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players," it was another magical "London moment" that was not even dulled by the crowds because it felt appropriate to be smushed in with a bunch of other people who were just as excited about the play as I was. It is hard to explain without sounding cheesy but it was so electric and funny and exciting.

David gets used to being a peasant.

From the moment we started planning this trip, I was all about going to a show at the Globe. But even thought I like Shakespeare, I just honestly never expected to like the performance this much. I don't know if it's because we were so freaking close, or because the actors were so good, or because we were in a freaking theatre build with wooden nails and a river-reed thatched roof that opened to the night sky, but it was so exhilerating. It made humanity and comedy and theatre and literature feel so relevant and significant. In the end, David and I were both glad we got the groundling tickets and wished we had time to see another show.

We walked back over the bridge, looking at the London skyline all lit up at night, and listened to a street musician serenade us with his guitar (well, not just us -- there were scads of people on the bridge just as there are everywhere).

Now we're back in the room eating chocolates and the connection is slow so no photos at the moment. Will try to post some tomorrow.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bloody Hell, that's the Bloody Tower.

So I missed a post last night as we were out having drinks with my old prof and by the time we stumbled back to our hotel (in the rain) it was so late that all I could do was crash.

This morning we slept in and revised our schedule based on conversation with aforementioned prof, who felt that if we were going to see a show at the Globe tonight, we really don't need to shell out the 10.50 pounds to take the tour of it this morning.

But enough about today! A recap of yesterday:

Began at the Tower of London. We decided to meet up with a London Walks Historical Tour Guide as we did for Westminster Abbey. The tour was great, the tower was awesome.

Construction of this tower began in 1078 by William the Conquerer known to we of British descent as William the Bastard.

I can barely describe the feeling of walking up the uneven cobblestones, away from the ominously named "Traitor's Gate" under the archway and up the hill to the execution site memorial, following the footsteps of Anne Boleyn and many other unfortunates who got on the wrong side of Henry VIII and his desperate efforts to have a son, break free from the pope while still being a Catholic, and always have the biggest codpiece in the land.

I am so mature.

I honestly felt like we were in a movie set although Tom the Tour Guide told me that rarely are they allowed to film there and that most of the time they just recreate the Tower on a set in Hollywood. Or Toronto. Whatever.

The ravens that live in the tower. Their wings are clipped to make sure they never leave -- legend has it that if the ravens leave the tower, it and the monarchy will fall. Also the ravens bite. So we were told.

We were continually made aware of our woeful ignorance of English history (1078, er, yes... that year seemed to be important why...?) but it definitely came alive as we walked the grounds and climbed the narrow winding staircases and peered through the cross-shaped windows specially made narrow for defensive reasons and cross-shaped so as to better fire a crossbow from behind them. They had a big display of Henry VIII's weapons and armor and a display of torture devices (the rack was terrible but there was nothing quite like the torture-machine in The Princess Bride). Perhaps the saddest parts were the inscriptions made by Jesuit priests into the stone of the towers where they were held prisoner.

The execution site (or where they think it probably was) had nice little memorial constructed with the inscription: Gentle visitor, pause awhile * where you stand death cut away the light of many days * here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life * may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage under these restless skies.

We viewed Paul Delaroche's painting of Lady Jane Grey on the chopping block at the British Gallery before we headed for the Tower of London and I kept thinking of the poor teenager, blindfolded and crying, groping for the place where she was supposed to put her head to be hacked off while her ladies in waiting swooned and even the executioner looked ashamed of himself. Oh the power plays of corruption in politics.

Evidently Anne Boleyn got luckier -- she was able to request an executioner from France who used a sword instead of an axe and lost her head in one fell swoop before she was expecting it so she supposedly never knew what hit her and her lips kept moving in prayer even when her head was rolling on the platform.

David lost the favor of the king. Off with his head!

The crown jewels were beautiful and impressive even though I can't help but feel that if a diamond is bigger than 3 carats or so it just looks totally fake. The dramatic lighting in the cases makes everything sparkle and I was amazed to read that the jewels had been stored there since the 17th century. Also notable: the huge-ass diamond that was cut to make the two largest cut-diamonds that exist in the world was mailed by regular post to the Queen while a fake one was transported by ship under heavy guard so as to throw off would-be thieves. Only one attempt has ever been made to steal the crown jewels and I think that occurred in the 17th century but somehow the thief got a pardon.

I asked a guard if the jewels were stored there during World War II and the Blitz and she said no, they were taken to a secret location that is still under the Act of Secrecy.

We spent a good long time at the tower, walking along the top of the wall and peering through the battlements over the river Thames, tracing the uneven stones in the thick walls, and admiring Henry VIII's fancy armor with its exaggerated anatomy.

From the Tower, we followed a Rick Steves walk through The City of London -- mostly the financial district with the banks and the courts of law. We walked the mile and a half of the city that was ravaged by the fire of 1666 -- a fire that basically leveled London entirely but actually saved the city from losing all of its occupants to the plague. We admired the outside of St. Paul's Cathedral and other Christopher Wren churches, we stared up at the Royal Courts of London
which was so imposing that it makes every other courthouse I've ever seen look like a scrawny little shack.

We wandered through Bow Street and looked at its cute shops and saw the Twinings Tea Company which was closed by the time we arrived but you could still smell the tea through the front doors.

It was about five o'clock when we left the Templar Church (we just missed Robert and Sophie racing to Paris with Opus Dei hot on their trail) and we were looking for Ye Olde Chesire Cheese Tavern, favorite watering hole of Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Arthur Conan Doyle. It is tucked away down a charming little alley and was difficult to find but at last we stumbled upon it and wandered through the four floors of different dark wooden bars with different menus and at last ordered the house brew (Samuel Smith lager) and collapsed on a leather bench to drink our beers and rest our feet.

Thank God we found it! Never have I needed a beer so much. I am sure that Dickens had days when he felt the exact same way.

Reasonably refreshed, we hoofed it all the way from there to Tralfagar Square, pausing to take pictures of Australia House which is basically an embassy but is perhaps better known for its role as Gringotts Wizarding Bank in the Harry Potter movies. More churches, King's College, and at last the underground.

We had dinner at Fitzroy's Tavern -- fish and chips and more Samuel Smith. It was crowded and noisy with students and people dressed for work and we just enjoyed the atmosphere before going to a quiet hotel bar for after dinner drinks. Bloody hell. What a day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So you say it's your birthday...

It was a good day to turn 29 in London!

Even the weather smiled upon us -- no more rain!

We started the day at Buckingham Palace. Somehow, seeing the changing of the guard was not quite the magical experience I had imagined... I am quite sure that in the poem about Christopher Robin and Alice there was no mention of the absolute clusterf#@% of tourists in which we found ourselves mixed up today.

The poor police officers on duty were futilely trying to get the crowd to move or part or let people through if they were walking the opposite direction. David heard one bobbie tell someone that it was "like herding cats."

If cats were putting their kittens on their shoulders and waving their digital cameras above their heads and speaking at the top of their lungs every language you can imagine and wearing bulking back packs or possibly dragging a rolling suitcase or pushing stroller. Brilliant plan.

Not exactly the view I had imagined.

We finally moved away from the gates and up to Queen Victoria's monument and from there we could actually see the soldiers marching and the horses. They actually played ABBA's "Dancing Queen" which really took me by surprise and I can only assume it was specially dedicated to me for my birthday. Thanks, Queen Bess! (BTW she sends her regards to my aunt Peggy. Or we can all safely assume she does, I am sure.)

OK, that's a little better.

After cajoling a soldier into posing for a picture with me, we hightailed it out of there and strolled through St. James's Park which was green and English gardeny and full of people but they were at least a little more spread out.

David in front of an ostentatious gate we passed on our way to the tube station from the park.

From there we took the tube to Harrod's which was... shiny and perfect and plush and smelled like perfume and leather and thick carpeting and material decadence. We oohed and ahhed over everything. I fell in love with a pair of flats that were black leather with rinestones but somehow felt like I couldn't justify the 450-pounds price tag, even though it was my birthday. (I told David to guess how expensive they were. He started at 80 pounds and went up in increments of 10 and 5 and made it to 110 before I finally just told him.)

The most fun we had was actually in the toy section. The teddy bears, the legos, the trains, the cars, the dolls, and the best part -- the dollhouses. I was smitten by the dollhouses and could have marveled over the furniture all day. The best of them was the Governor's Mansion which had to have been at least 5' tall (it was up on a table, so hard to judge) and was a lovely alabaster white on the outside and beautifully decorated inside.

We are delighted by the Harry Potter figures made out of Legos! Brandon -- I think maybe this Harry Potter does sort of look like you.

Hagrid, you are so very tall.

After Harrod's, we talked about lunch and decided since the weather was so perfect we would do a little picnic. So we popped into a Marks & Spencer grocery store and bought sandwiches and chips and chocolates and wine and then walked a few blocks up to Russell Square where we spread my travel blanket and just lounged in the sunshine. We have so much more to see and do but it was fabulous to just take the afternoon to feel a little bit like "locals" and just hang out and enjoy the scenery without rushing off to the next historical monument or tourist attraction.

Tonight we saw Billy Elliott which felt like the perfect end to a perfect day. It was showing at the Victoria Theater, which was big and old and not very well air conditioned even though it had a sign in front bragging that it was air conditioned (but as Americans who are not stepping up to Europe's standards of reducing our carbon footprint, we wisely kept our complaints to ourselves).
We lurve Billy Elliott!

We had great seats in the lower balcony and we both loved the show. I've never seen the movie, but the musical seemed appropriate to watch while we're here. David was less enthusiastic at first but he ended up really liking it too. The dancing was so much fun and the little boy who played Billy Elliott was absolutely fabulous. I had to laugh at the ticket which says "contains strong language - suitable for ages 8+." I don't know what it takes to get a PG13 rating here, but evidently the f bomb is not enough because the language was definitely strong. The girl sitting in front of us complained to her mom at intermission (in a distinctly American accent) that she couldn't understand everything they were saying. And it's true that I definitely missed a word or two because of their accents but I just felt like that was part of the charm.

We strolled back to the hotel by way of the British museum and I had a "London moment" when the museum was looming at us over its black iron gates, a double decker bus was passing us, and we were approaching a pair of red telephone booths. It was like the perfect storm of Londonness and it was great. So I posed for this picture with a lion at the back entrance of the museum.

Happy Birthday to me! And I'm a Leo!
Love the dramatic lighting even though it sort of makes the lion's head disappear. Please ignore the unattractive arm bandage.
I have to say, though, that even though this was a fabulous and unforgettable birthday, I am a wee mite homesick... or at least confident that when this trip is up, I will be ready to go home. I miss the birthday phone calls and I miss my obnoxious dogs and even though I am seriously glad that we are out of the country without an entourage of high school boys, it feels a little lonely to be in this big city and not know a soul. At the same time it is romantic and wonderful to just share this experience with each other, it also makes me appreciate everyone's birthday greetings and e-mails even more. I think I feel more aware of this precisely because this city is so crowded that we are constantly sharing sidewalks and tube cars and escalators with hundreds and thousands of people without ever really talking to any of them. So I sort of move between a mild existential crisis and a comfortable sense of being a citizen of the world. I imagine that Brandon probably felt something like this in his Asian adventures?

OK. David wants to check his stupid fantasy stuff and I'm too tired to go back and check this for typos so cheerio! More tourism reports to follow... Tower of London tomorrow!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The first condition of human goodness is something to love; the second is something to reverence.

That is inscribed on George Eliot's memorial in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

I thought our whirlwind bus tour yesterday was busy but today we were on foot, hoofing it through the city and through museums. It started out rainy, but by the time we left the Abbey the sun had come out and it had warmed up considerably.

Hey Big Ben! You're the bell, not the tower! But who's that cute guy looking so jaunty with his umbrella?

We began at Westminster Abbey and decided to see the place with a London Walks tour guide. You pay 7 pounds extra for the tour guide, but in return you get three pounds off the entrance fee to the Abbey and you miss the super long queue outside. Our tour guide was fabulous. He is a barrister slash London historical guide and he was smart and funny and the Abbey was so fascinating.

We began at the tomb of the unknown warrior. Our guide explained that British soldiers in World War I were grouped by villages so they fought alongside their brothers, cousins, and friends they had grown up with, which was great for morale, but it also meant that for some towns, an entire generation was wiped out in the war.

From there we toured the rest of the Abbey -- the royal tombs, the tomb of Queen Elizabeth with her wax effigy made from her death mask, the coronation chair with schoolboy graffiti carved into it from when it was available for tourists to sit on (Can you imagine? This chair was made hundreds of years ago. Blows my mind.). We saw the coronation spot where everyone from King Henry VIII to Queen Bess has been crowned. Our guide pointed out where Princess Diana's casket had been and where Elton John was seated before he sang "Candle in the Wind."

Poet's Corner was inspiring even though female writers are sort of tragically underrepresented. The poor Bronte sisters have to share one tiny little square on the wall and Jane Austen's memorial is dwarfed by the dudes who surround her.

All the big players are represented there and it felt like an amazing concentration of talent and creativity even if they are just names etched in stones.

Lord Byron's stone reads, "
But there is that within me which shall tire Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire."

I read that and was seized by this totally poetic feeling that it represented the entire Abbey and its efforts to glorify God and the best of humankind (nevermind that most of the people buried there were simply those who could afford to it). The Abbey itself just felt so permanent and significant, especially considering it is mostly a marker of mortality.

And then I was nearly trampled by the crush of tourists wanting to see Shakespeare or Handel or whomever and I lost all poetic feeling in Poet's Corner and just tried to avoid the onslaught of the bourgeois public.

No photos allowed in the Abbey. Here we are outside. I felt like my outfit was much cuter than it appears in this picture. How unfortunate.

From Westminster Abbey, we headed up Whitehall. We had already seen the Jubilee bridge (notable for its presence in the opening scenes of the new Harry Potter movie) and the London Eye and Big Ben and the halls of Parliament on the way to Westminster Abbey so we did a little walking tour by #10 Downing Street (well, we peered at it through the iron gates). We then sidetracked into the Winston Churchill museum and war rooms.

I was far more impressed than I expected to be by this museum. It was totally worth the price of admission. Part of it was a museum that told all about Churchill's life and career and part of it was fully restored war rooms buried in the basement of the building so that it would be safe from the bombs that showered Britain during the war. Frightingly enough, they were never quite certain that the super thick layer of protective concrete above the basement would actually support the building if it were to be bombed and collapse; fortunately they never had to find out.

The included audio guide voices were really cute about leading you through the museum. They got so excited about stuff -- like the locked door that was labeled to look like a bathroom but was really a top-secret hiding place for the prime minister. All the war rooms were so remarkable -- they have all been restored to their original state, but some had been shut up as they were in 1945 and not reopened until the '70s so everything was literally just as it had been left. The maps full of pin holes that had traced every military advancement, the scribbled chalkboards, the telephones that scrambled signals so they were untraceable, the sugar cubes that were so carefully rationed.

Two views of the "map room" in the bomb-safe bunker created in London. Check out the sugar cubes on this guy's desk (near the bottom of the photo)-- they were discovered hidden away in a desk drawer when these rooms were reopened.

The war rooms were most amazing to me because all of the tiny details -- cigars, handwritten notes, the assigned seating for Churchill's war cabinet. But the museum section was great too -- in spite of some tourists with very small personal spaces and even one woman who was generally rude no matter what one's cultural bias might be. Everything was very interactive and you could watch films and hear recordings and follow Churchill's career, first from World War II to his death, and then back from his childhood and through his early political career and family life.

We spent a couple of hours there and could have spent more except that we desperately needed something to eat so we finally tore ourselves away and strolled through St. James Park on our way to Tralfagar Square where we grabbed cheese-filled croissants to take away (nobody here says "to go." Also British coins are very confusing because the pound is so small and the twopence is so big and I hate counting out in coins because I feel stupid each time -- mostly because the cash register workers are so polite and kind about it).

We sat on the edge of a fountain in Tralfagar Square and people watched and munched on our croissants. The diversity of London tourists has not ceased to amaze us and we are always trying to eavesdrop on conversations taking place in foreign languages. The funniest thing is that you can always tell what parents are saying by the tone of their voice, no matter what language they are using "Stop that!" "Come back here!" and "No!" are easily translatable.

On the steps of the National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square. That place is crazy and I am obviously distracted.

After our snack, we were refreshed enough to do a whirlwind tour of the British National Gallery of Art. Honestly we practicaly jogged through the huge museum just so we coudl see some of the major pieces before we had to go to dinner -- the medieval stuff with its gold foil halos, the Italian Renaissance with all the lounging lovelies, the major Renaissance dudes Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo (a.k.a. the Ninja Turtles), and then the uptight Protestants with their dull colors and high necklines, the flashy and gaudy and naked Baroque pieces, and some of the British nature-lovers (my favorites are the Pre-Raphaelites). We swept through the impressionists (David is a fan, I am not so much) and then gazed on Van Gogh's sunflowers (inspiration for the uber-popular mid '90s perfume and my bedroom decoration of the same era).

By the time we had seen the big things we wanted to see, the museum was closing and we headed back for the tube on our way to meet up with my favorite professor from my undergrad days who is in London researching at the British library and two of his friends. We had dinner at a South Indian restaurant (The Sev Pori was delicious although I have no idea what it is. It was absolutely divine -- sweet and spicey and savory and crispy and chewy all at the same time). It was a most interesting dinner, followed by drinks at a hotel bar, with conversation that ranged from Gilmore Girls to post-modern literary theory. Derrida was mentioned twice, but I promise not by me. It would have been pretentious except they were so earnest about it that there was nothing self-conscious about their discussions. By the time we'd all had a beer or wine we found ourselves excessively amusing and entertaining and then David got going on mushrooms being outlawed in Amsterdam and then we wondered aloud about why pizza delivery guys don't carry satellite credit card machines like the waiters in restaurants here and the cabbies here do and then we were so exhausted that David and I headed back to the hotel.

So here we are ready for bed after our third day, watching a special on Lord Byron hosted by Rupert Everett. It is both fascinating and totally rauchy. Just like Byron himself, I guess...

Tomorrow is my birthday although technically since I was born at 9:54pm Central Standard Time in the States, I don't suppose I will truly have my birthday in England until the 29th... But we're celebrating tomorrow anyway with the changing of the guards and an afternoon at Harrod's!

Not that I'll be buying anything at Harrod's. Everything here is so expensive that we are blown away by the price of even the cheap souveniers. Next time we travel to London, I'd like to do it when the dollar is strong because the exchange rate of dollars to pounds is just a punch in the sternum. We've strategized with free breakfast (included at the hotel), cheap lunch (take away pastries and today a banana for 50 pence), and then splurging (relatively speaking) on dinner and drinks. We're managing pretty well with that so far, but Harrod's might be a real challenge!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Queue up here, please.

It's nine-thirty and we're already calling it a night. I feel slightly lame, but I also feel full of beer and a goat cheese sandwich and pleasantly sleepy. And it is a Sunday night after all. Secretly, I hope we're back in the room by 9pm tomorrow night because there's a TV special on Lord Byron that I really want to see.

Today we took a bus tour to Bath, Salisbury Cathedral, and Stonehenge. We planned to leave our hotel this morning in plenty of time and David rushed me this morning so when we left I walked out without the umbrella and the water bottle I meant to take with us. I complained about forgetting them all the way to the station but David said we didn't have time to go back. Then after we entered the tube station and were waiting for the lift to the tube, David asked me if I had the tickets.

No, the tickets were in his carry on bag. He pretended he had no idea, I pretended I had told him at least a million times.

So we sprinted back to the hotel to get the tickets. And the umbrella. And the water bottle.

We still made it back to the tube quickly and as we are now Masters of the London Underground, we got to Victoria's Station and found the burger king with fifteen minutes to spare before we were supposed to meet our tour at 8:30am.

But then 8:30 came and went and we saw no one.

Because we were at the wrong effing place.

We were supposed to be at the bus station (Victoria Coach Station), not waiting at the tube station (Victoria Station) outside where there were buses pulling up. So after a conversation with (1) a man from Tulsa (2) a tour bus driver but not our tour bus driver and (3) three security guards, we ended up sprinting another two blocks (with my coffee spilling everywhere) to enter the very crowded Victoria Coach Station. I had to push my way in front of a bunch of Asian tourists to ask a lady where our tour was to queue up and she sent us to gate 4.

We made it on the bus and I collapsed in a mess of over-caffeinated nerves and almost-lost-a-bunch-of-money-by-not-making-this-tour anxiety. But it was fine. Our bus was roughly half American tourists and half Asian tourists. The tour guide told everything first in English and then again in what I think was Chinese only because it didn't sound like Japanese but really I have no idea what language it was. He told all the same jokes because half the bus laughed the first time and half the bus laughed the second time only I laughed both times because for some reason I thought the whole process was funny.

We hit Bath first but barely had time for anything. We did the tour of the Roman Baths which was lovely and interesting and then popped up the road to the Jane Austen center but didn't have time for the full Jane Austen tour, unfortunately. Next time we will spend a long weekend in Bath because I was totally enchanted by the Georgian architecture and the sort of walkability of the city. It was really super cute.

David considers bathing in the healing waters.

I got mad at David in a sandwich shop because he said a sandwich on the counter was mine but I didn't think it was but he insisted so I grabbed it and it wasn't mine and the girl it belonged to was all "Excuse me?" in her very polite British accent and I was totally embarrassed in my American accent and then I told David that when I don't know what is going on I will listen to him so if he doesn't know what is going on he needs to just shut the hell up. So that was our first (and hopefully only) spat of the trip and we made up by the time we'd walked from the cafe up to the Jane Austen center.

Hello, Jane Austen, I love you and I love Mr. Darcy too.

From Bath we went to the Salisbury Cathedral which was sort of lame actually (no offense to the Magna Carta). It is sort of mind-boggling, to an American raised to appreciate the separation of church and state, to think about how intertwined church and state are in the history of England. You can't have one without the other, so it is quite appropriate that the Magna Carta (one of the four remaining originals) was on display there in a little side room off the Cathedral. A very nice volunteer old lady with a wicked mustache was in charge of telling tourists not to take pictures in this one room. She told us that the stone carvings in the walls date back to the medieval ages but the tiles were replaced in the Victorian era copying the original pattern and I tried very hard not to stare at her mustache while she talked.

The cathedral itself was very nice but somber compared to the pre-reformation Catholic churches of Italy. There were sad little tombs inside for two little girls who died and the garden in the cloisters was green and refreshing and made me feel sorry for the monks who got ousted by Henry VIII.

Hello Salisbury Cathedral. I am sorry you are not as pretty as the Catholic Churches in Italy but you are still very nice even though I heard one British man in there complain about something and say "It's no wonder that no one attends the Church of England anymore!"

I had to laugh at the Magna Carta display because they had a sign up next to it explaining how it was written in 1215 and how it was the forerunner of the English Bill of Rights of 1688 and the United States' Declaration of Independence of [1776]. 1776 is cut out of white paper and pasted over what must have been an incorrect date printed on the sign. I found it hilarious as a sign that the Brits are so disdainful of America that they can't be bothered to remember the date on which we freaking declared independence from them! I would have taken a picture of the sign, but for the lady with the mustache, bless her heart.

From Salisbury we were off to Stonehenge where David realized for the umpteenth time that he should have listened to his wife. He wore shorts and a polo and and he didn't bring any sort of jacket or sweater on this trip at all even though I told him to several times. I promised him that next time I would double-check his suitcase or pack for him like my mom does for my dad instead of presuming that he is an adult who can read the Rick Steves packing list I printed for him.

But honestly I was in a cardigan and scarf and was still freezing -- it was sort of rainy and very very windy and we have begun to realize (with the help of our bartender tonight) that rainy and in the 60s is sort of typical for summer in London and the beautiful sunny day we flew into on Saturday more of a rarity. So now David thinks he needs to buy a jacket when he should have just listened to me and our friend Rick Steves and actually freaking packed one...

Stonehenge was awesome but the best part was when the audio guide read an excerpt from Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'ubervilles that describes Stonehenge and it was so great. I was amazed to learn that 1/3 of each stone is under ground and that it really is perfectly aligned to act as a calendar. It was quite amazing in spite of the crowds of people.

Hi, we're at Stonehenge and we are freezing. But who cares? We're at Stonehenge!

Our tour guide was nice and much friendlier after I asked questions and demonstrated interest in the sights, which is more than I can say for most of the people on the bus trip. It sort of blew my mind. I mean, you've paid good money for this resource, you might as well ask lots of questions of the bilingual tour guide who knows all about this stuff. The bus ride back from Stonehenge took a couple of hours during which I napped and then listened to a 10-year-old boy read out loud from a trivia book to his parents.

Facts I learned on the bus ride back to London:
It is illegal to go to bed in Massachussetts without taking a bath (thought Brandon might need to know).

Sharks find fish by hearing their heartbeats.

12% of Americans thinks Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

10 year old boys have shrill voices that easily carry the length of a tour bus.

There have been mega-crowds everywhere which is something that we, living in a sprawling urban area and driving our own cars everywhere like the carbon-footprinting Americans we are, are not accustomed to. We were grateful to pop into a not-very-crowded pub tonight for a pint and some pub food. We went to a place near our hotel and chatted up the bartender who seemed slightly reserved at first but ended up giving us free samples of almost every brew they had on tap and then telling us all about his recent trip to the states to visit his friend in Jersey. They took a road trip down the coast from New York to Washington to South Carolina. They were going to go to Florida but ran out of time and decided it was too hot there anyway. I asked him if he sold a lot of Budweiser and we told him we were from St. Louis, headquarters of Anheuser-Busch. He said that they do sell quite a lot of it, especially in the summer, but we didn't see anyone order a bottle while we were there.

Tomorrow is another busy day that starts with a tour of Westminster Abbey and continues my efforts to work lots of British phrases into my regular speech. Brilliant!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mind the Gap

We made it to London.

It reminds me of New York. Only people are more polite. And they have British accents. Obvy.

Today we wandered from Leicester Square to Covent Garden and a litte bit through Soho and the West End theatre district. It was crowded and exhausting. For some reason I had not anticipated how freaking crowded it would be.

There are a lot of people in the world. And a good number of them happen to be in London.

Our flight was uneventful... but as we flew out of Atlanta at 10:30 Eastern time and arrived in London at noon the next day, we got little sleep on the plane and lost half a day on our way here. Needless to say we were a bit groggy and grimey when we landed at the airport, just in time to locate an ATM, figure out where we needed to go on the tube, and then walk to our hotel. I was so glad we had packed light but saved room for granola bars. The tube system is quite straightforward. Much easier than the weekend Jamie and Natalie and I went to New York and the subway system was all under renovation or whatever so the A line became the B line and the C line was the A and B combined...

The politest part of the tube is the lady's voice who asks you to "mind the gap" as you step on and off the train so that you don't stumble between the train and the platform. I love it.

Our hotel is pretty darling. It is small -- a "boutique" hotel I guess -- and the room is clean and nice-sized and has a little fridge and a hairdryer. It is also close to the Goodge Street tube stop, although we walked a few blocks out of the way when we headed for the hotel because we had no freaking idea where we were going. We had a map but we were so disoriented that we simply didn't know which way was east and which was west. And it was early afternoon so the sun wasn't much help in determining direction.

Once we showered and brushed our teeth and changed clothes, we headed back out for our self-guided West End walking tour. I didn't want to look like a stupid tourist with my Rick Steves London book o' maps flopping around everywhere so we tried to be all discreet about map reading until we finally got too tired and too hungry and just wanted to know where the hell we were and why London thinks it's cool to put street names on the side of buildings instead of on street signs like everywhere else in the free world (and by that, I mean the United States).

Really though we were surprised by the crowds more than anything, which made navigating through a new city that much more complicated. But it made sense that lots of people were out and about since it was such a beautiful day. Highs are in the low '70s here and it was the perfect weather for wandering around. We heard a lot of different languages as we strolled around and window shopped but I didn't hear any other American accents. Interestingly, our TV in the hotel has oodles of American shows. Right now we're watching Friends.

After popping in a few shops (Hey, Pepe Jeans, haven't seen you since the early '90s! Hi, H&M, why do you look so much cooler in London than you do in Galleria Mall in St. Louis?), we had dinner at a little pub/restaurant that one of David's co-workers recommended to him. We people watched while we waited for our table. Lots of girls wearing leggings around here. Also I am totally smitten by British children and the way they talk. Irresistible. Our waitress was also really adorable and the way she said "to-matt-o bass-ill soup" was so cute. D and I split a fish sampler platter and had Grolsch beers and then slogged our way through the crowd back to the tube. Where we discovered the Picadilly line was delayed indefintely. So we then left that station and hiked to the next nearest station to get back to our hotel.

It's only 9pm here but we're both exhausted. Tomorrow we head for Bath with a bus tour.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Panic Attack

I have never had a panic attack. In fact, I have sort of scoffed at the idea of panic attacks. Mostly because they seem utterly counterproductive. I am far too rational to have a panic attack.

I like to think of myself as rational and resourceful and even though I know that I jump to conclusions and imagine worst-case scenarios like I am an accident-probability consultant, I tell myself that it is all part of having a brain that has been trained to read closely and analyze things. I image worst-cases so I can be prepared.

I have always believed that I was a mind over matter kind of person (perhaps with the exception of those challenges on Survivor where they have to eat something disgusting because gross things do make me dry heave). I don't think I am likely to just lose it; I am more likely to brainstorm a slew of possible solutions even if I am ruling them out as I go. I've just always assumed that I would be able to handle crises with some level of logic and strategy.

This theory does not apply, however, to "crises" that involve me getting stuck with needles.

I should say that my blood work today went fine. It was painless even -- the tech who did it was really really good and I barely felt a thing.

But that makes no difference.

It's not the pain that bothers me. When I first explained my needle issue to the nurse, she made note of it on my chart ("Patient is high-anxiety.") and she assured me they would numb the area before inserting the IV.

But the "ouch" of the IV is the smallest part of my issue. It's just the idea of something in my veins. Something foreign and invasive. It makes me feel sick and small and out of control and I really really hate it. I hate it so much it makes my stomach hurt and it makes my head feel light and it makes me uncomfortably aware of my breathing becoming sort of frantic and that's just from thinking about it as I type this.

So the nurse was very nice and understanding as I tried to explain all this. I told her about the wisdom teeth mishap and I was explaining that since I can't eat all morning and my surgery isn't until 1:15pm and I am going to have to have a conversation with the anesthesiologist that morning to determine whether I will be under general anesthesia or just have an "arm-block" and be awake except for the arm... basically I'm afraid that the anesthesiologist will say something about needles or blood or whatever and I will just faint during that conversation.

Which seems ridiculous and I (logically and rationally) understand that. But there is nothing logical or rational about the way I feel when the nurse is telling me in a very matter of fact voice that if I am under general anesthesia they will put me on a ventilator. "You know, to help you breathe."

Yes, I know what a ventilator is for, I am staring at you like this because I am trying not to hyperventilate.

So now I totally get how panic attacks happen. You suddenly feel light headed, you know that you need to take slow deep breaths and instead you start gulping air to keep from passing out and presto! Hyperventilating like an idiot.

I don't want that to be me.

So I told the nurse that the doctor who took out my wisdom teeth prescribed me an anti-anxiety pill to take the day of the surgery and I asked her if she thought I should get a prescription this time also.

She raised her eyebrows and nodded enthusiastically.

"Those medicines are good stuff. Definitely call and get that."

So now instead of being a rational person who can stay cool in a crisis, I'm on Xanax.

I can't wait for this scar to be removed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Let's Romp

At any early b'day celebration, two of my best buds went in together to give me this romper.

Wikipedia definition: A romper suit is a one-piece garment worn by children and sometimes women. Somewhat similar to a coverall, it is loose fitting and usually has shorter legs that may be gathered at the end. Puffed pants are particularly associated with rompers. Rompers appeared in the 1910s. They were very popular as playwear for younger children. Styles and conventions varied from country to country. In France they were for many years only for boys.[1] While primarily a play garment, we note French children wearing dressy rompers. Their popularity peaked in the 1950s when they were used by children as playwear and by women as leisure- and beachwear. Thereafter the garment has continued to be used by infants and toddlers; however, it has become less common among older girls and women, although never disappearing entirely. Since 2006 rompers have enjoyed a minor renaissance as a fashionable garment for women. Several designers have presented collections including romper suits and they are offered by many retailers.

I was thrilled, but with minor reservations. Sure I've seen the romper in magazines, but have I seen anyone wearing these in real life? I mean, here in the midwest. Is it too trendy? Can I wear it with flip flops without it looking like a swim suit cover up? And, omg, I have to take off the entire thing to pee?

But I tried it on and it was so comfortable. And sporty. And, well, sort of cute and fun looking. A fashion renaissance indeed. Oui!

So if you see me out and about in Paris next week, I'll be the American girl in the romper.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Conversations About My Burn

Kid at Learning Center: (mocking) You were wearing that outfit last time.

Me: What? (thinking, I most certainly was not wearing this same outfit last week you little freak, I think I can keep track of what I was wearing when)

Kid at Learning Center: (points to my arm)

Me: (my tone says "You are an idiot.") Um, this is a bandaid.

Kid at Learning Center: (slightly abashed) Oh.

* * *

Parent at Learning Center: Why do you always wear that thing on your arm?

Me: (my face says you are rude, my voice remains pleasant yet dismissive) I burned my arm.

Parent: Oh. I thought maybe it was covering a tattoo.

* * *

1st-Grade Twin #1 at Learning Center: What happened to your arm?

Me: I burned it. This is a bandaid.

1st-Grade Twin #1: That must have really hurt!

Me: Yes I am having surgery on it to remove the scar.

Pompous Dad of Twins: Oh plastic surgery? Who is your doctor?

Me: Eh, Dr. Thomas Tung at Barnes.

Pompous Dad: (nods knowingly)

1st-Grade Twin #2: You have a scar? I saw this girl at a swim meet once and she had scars and I know it wasn't nice but they kind of made me want to throw up a little bit.

Me: (blank stare, thoughtfully reflecting on cruel world and unvarnished honesty of first graders)

* * *

Me to my Advisor: I just want to make sure I have all of this lined up before my trip because once I return, I'm having surgery on my arm on the 11th and then it's practically time for the semester to begin.

Advisor: Oh! (looks very concerned about mention of surgery)

Me: It's not really invasive surgery. I'm just having this scar removed. I scalded myself with hot tea.

Advisor: I haven't asked about your arm. I thought it might be imprudent.

Me: (finds this odd as people I barely know seem to think it's totally appropriate to ask me about my arm, summarizes story about how it happened in coffee room downstairs, and how I am now having reconstructive plastic surgery)

Advisor: (leaning forward eagerly) Oh my! Who is your doctor? (immediately looks embarrassed for asking impruduent question)

Me: (What is it with people wanting to know who my doctor is?) Dr. Thomas Tung.

Advisor: At Barnes? I'm sure he's good.

Me: Yeah. I googled him. He put a guy's arm back together after a motorcycle accident so I think he can handle my scar.

* * *

Everyone Freaking Person I Meet: Oh what happened to your arm?

Me: I burned it with hot tea. I'm having surgery in August to remove the gross scar.

Every Freaking Person: Or you could just get a tattoo over it! Hahahahahaha.

Me: (fake laughing) Hahahaha. (Yeah that was funny the first eleventy hundred times I heard it.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I bought a new planner today.

It is one of those simple pleasures of the back-to-school season of which I never grow tired.

If anyone asks (and by "anyone," I mean Facebook surveys) I say that summer is my favorite season. And it is. Host to my birthday, D's birthday, our anniversary, vacations from teaching, vacations to exciting places, weekends at the lake, BBQs with friends, late-night dog walking, and plenty of sun tea and summer brews, you just can't beat summer.

But I love the back to school excitement of blank notebooks and new pens and pencils. One of my favorite little rituals (and do be prepared to be blown away here by how thrilling my life is) is to go through my new planner with my old planner as a reference, filling in birthdays and recurring annual events, making notes of things I already know are upcoming in the new year, and reflecting on all of the things that I've done in the past twelve months.

D has gone paperless with his cell phone acting as his calendar and his planner and although I appreciate that forests don't need to be cut down to keep him on schedule, I just can't give up the old spiral-bound planner. For one thing, actually writing things down helps me remember them. For another, I like to be able to see my whole month or my whole week at a glance. And maybe most importantly, I want to hold on to these planners as a sort of reductive version of a daily diary, a reminder of how I spent the days that seemed unremarkable but surely held a few pages of a book, a conversation with a friend, laughter over dinner, a walk to the park. No, I don't schedule or write all those things down usually. But in a strange way, the mundane things I do have to keep track of ("student conferences." "dentist appt." "return overdue books") help me remember all of the little joys that balance out the boring duties ("coffee with K." "shopping with J." "driving range with D.").

Some of the calendar notes fill me with the same feeling of tension and dread that they did the first time around ("chapter draft to Miriam," " Job search meeting") except not quite as much because I know they are over and done with.

Other dates remind me of good things that I get to repeat or new things I'm doing for the first time -- we splurged on season tickets to the Repertory Theater again, so I will soon be penciling in show times. Last summer's Italy trip foreshadows this year's London and Paris trip. This year I'm writing in not just my friends' birthdays but many of their due dates and baby showers.

One of my friends recently mentioned that this was just about the first year when she finally didn't expect a summer vacation from her job. She has at last gotten over her academic-year mindset and now buys a January-December calendar like most of the world.

I like the idea of getting a fresh start in the middle of winter, and I make and break New Year's resolutions with the best of them. But for me, the new calendar year will always start in August. When the excitement of back to school has not yet become the humdrum of mid-October or the vibrating anxiety of almost-finals. When I long to buy all the cute fall clothes in stores even though it is still too warm to wear them. When I'm not quite ready for the lazy summer days to end but at the same time I'm looking forward to the busy-ness of a more bustling routine.

This year holds so much promise for me and I can't wait to start marking it all down.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Not Much

Not much going on here.

Except for the All Star Game.

My new crush on Joe Mauer.

David's growing collection of baseball players' autographs.

The new Harry Potter movie.

Getting another chapter draft revised and handed over to my advisor.

Making more London plans.

Calling and asking the nice lady at the insurance company to explain this deductible issue to me Once more. With feeling.

Visiting my favorite almost-three-month-old, Sam, (who has the most delicious thighs) and watching him make this crazy wide-eyed face that made us laugh until Carol pulled out a picture of herself as a baby making the exact same face and then we laughed even harder.

Not much. Just enough.

Friday, July 10, 2009

5 Years

It is not possible that this occurred 5 years ago.
I must have entered some sort of bizarre time warp. Also, I was an infant bride.

5 years is a long time. As one of my friends pointed out to day, that's like a "we're really going to teach you a lesson" prison sentence. It is longer than a single presidential term. It is long enough for a baby to become a kindergartener. It is long enough to finish a degree program (PhD in the humanities excepted, obviously). It is long enough to look back on -- at all the jokes and the fights and the life-changing events and the joys and sorrows and the whole mixed bag that is five years of sharing pretty much every major moment of your life with someone else -- and ask if it were all worth it and if, knowing what you know now, you would want to go back and do it again.

Yes, I say. I would. In a heartbeat.

To be perfectly honest, there have been moments when I never thought I'd say that. Moments when something -- big or small -- had me on the verge of imagining what it would be like for us not to be together only to realize that I couldn't imagine it. (Except for knowing there would be a horribly messy custody battle over who had to take Little Mac.)

Some people have congratulated me like it really is a huge accomplishment. But I don't feel proud of us for making it, I just feel lucky. I don't know the secret to stayin' married. I don't know that we did something right that other people do wrong. I don't have any good answers except that if you're in the middle of a fight and you can make the other person laugh, that's pretty much a clear win. If you ask nicely for things, you are more likely to get them. Men are a lot of things but they are most definitely not mind readers. And really everyone just wants to feel appreciated. These aren't the answers to making a marriage work, though. I am not sure that there really are answers. I think we just got lucky and I hope and pray that our luck lasts and that marriage never stops being fun.

So here we are today and I can honestly say I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Except maybe London or Paris (I know, two weeks).

To commemorate the very special day that is today, I got a cold. Hi, it is the middle of summer. What perfect timing for a sinus malfunction. Yesterday I took a Benadryl Cold and Allergy, thinking it would get me through the afternoon without being That Girl With Two Wadded Up Kleenexes Stuffed Up Her Nostrils So Her Hands Are Free to Turn the Pages of Her Book. Instead, I became That Girl Who Regained Consciousness Four Hours Later Thinking Whoa Who Roofied Me?

Today I refuse cold medicine. It is very sexy. Happy Anniversary, honey! I am sniffling, sneezing, and coughing, and I smell like Vicks Vapo Rub and I feel like crap and kinda look like it too but we've been married five years so who cares you have to love me anyway. That's the beauty of a five year anniversary.

Also it is raining so between the crappy weather and my incessant production of snot rockets, our plans for a romantic picnic in Forest Park as we listen to a free outdoor concert... probably not going to happen.

But at least I'm married to someone who makes staying in and sniffling on a Friday night something to look forward to anyway:

He's got a brilliant mind and wicked sense of humor to go with that killer bod.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Weekend In Pictures

Although you woudn't know it from my last entry, we did more than just attend a baseball game over the holiday weekend. We also hung out with the g-rents and did a whole lot of nothing. It was delightful. For your viewing pleasure: a photo gallery of the fourth of July.

This would be dinner Friday night. I made the mistake of getting in line for the buffet behind David's grandma, who insisted that I "get my money's worth" at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Ignoring her instructions to"go ahead and take two plates," I let her talk me into more than one plate could really hold.

And this would be dessert for D's g-pa: strawberry shortcake with a side of chicken fried.

View of the lake from the homestead.

View of the homestead from the lake. As the saying goes, if you're lucky enough to live on the lake, you're lucky enough!

Sister gazes pensively at the water.

Brother loves to wade but he wasn't so sure about the choppy water lapping up on the shore.

Missouri wildflowers at the end of the road. Black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne's Lace. I think.

Doing what we do -- walkin' the dogs.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July

We spent the weekend of the fourth at D's grandparents' house on Table Rock Lake. It's a beautiful and peaceful place and it seems like the sort of place where everyone could get together and wear madras plaid and polo shirts and play frisbee and go boating and be generally graceful and attractive and Kennedy-esque.

D (wearing the outfit I selected for him, complete with my collar adjustment for effect) follows my instructions to "look classy."

Of course somehow our weekend did not quite live up to my imaginary standards of class, although there was plenty of frivolity to make up for it.

I had decided that when packing for this weekend I was going to be serious about not overpacking. I brought exactly that amount of clothes I needed to wear for three days. Plus one extra tank top. Minus three pairs of underwear.


Having recently had a conversation with a friend about how I am not always a great planner but I am usually pretty resourceful, I decided to handle this problem myself without resorting to purchasing new panties. So I hand-washed the pair I wore Thursday so that I could wear them again on Sunday. I wore bikini-bottoms for undies on Friday. That just left Saturday...

On Saturday we were going to the Springfield Cardinals ballgame. I had packed a short blue skirt to wear with my Cardinals jersey. I put this outfit on and weighed my options: feel the breeze, Britney-style, or (rummage through suitcase) wear a pair of D's boxer-briefs.

After factoring in the length of the skirt (below fingertips but well above knees) and the age of our company (three couples, all in their 70s), I went with the boxer briefs.
Can't tell I'm wearing his underwear, can you?

And it's a good thing I did. No sooner had we gotten comfortably settled in our seats then a smooth-talking guy in khakis and an official Cardinals name badge plopped himself down next to David and convinced us to participate in their tricycle relay race.

Riding tricycles.

On the warning track.

In front of one of the largest crowds of the season.

We agreed to do it, signed our lives away on an official piece of paper, and I thanked my lucky stars that I had decided to wear underwear.

(There are so many things wrong with that sentence.)

The Great Independence Day Tricycle Relay Race of 2009 was to take place halfway through the second inning. We were The Blue Trike. Our competition was The White Trike: a team of two brothers, one middle-school age, one high-school, and The Red Trike: a team of two college-age dudes, both of whom were heavily tatted and super friendly.

I was riding in leg one of the race, so I had to start out on the first-base side of the warning track, pedal like mad to home plate, leap off the trike, put my helmet on David's head, and cheer him on as he pedaled up the warning track on the third-base side until he crossed the finish line.

Three little Team Louie Dancing Girls pushed our trikes out onto the track to start the race and my competition and I jogged behind them. At the word GO, we jumped on our trikes (my "jump" was slightly more awkward than my competitors, who had the advantage of wearing shorts and tennis shoes and I was still attempting some version of modesty).

The race was on and I was falling drastically behind as I tried to prevent everyone in the stands from seeing that I was wearing my husband's underwear. I felt more than slightly self conscious as I realized I was at least ten years older than these two boys who were my competition and everyone was staring at us. Including the players in the bullpen and dugout. As if it weren't embarrassing enough to be dressed so obviously inappropriately in a mini-skirt, men's underwear, and flip flops, we each had to wear ill-fitting bicycle helmets -- "safety first!" To make matters worse, it looked like I was about to LOSE this race and lose badly.

What have I gotten myself into?

As I pedaled frantically by the bullpen, the pitchers threw water on us and my flip flop started to fall off. I was falling way behind at this point and things were really looking grim when suddenly adrenaline kicked in. I managed to get my foot back in the flip flop and back on the pedal. I suddenly found myself bent low over the handle bars, leaning forward with fierce determination, pedaling like mad. I don't think I have ridden a bike with so much intensity since neighborhood races as a little kid. Or possibly ever. Who cared if my skirt was bunching up around my hips and my ill-fitting boxer-briefs were showing? I was gaining on them! I had caught up! I was passing the tattooed guy as we rounded home plate!

OK, now we're serious.

The middle-school kid had come in ahead of me, but there was still a chance that David could catch up with his brother at the trade off. Panting, I vaulted (awkwardly again) off the tricycle, tugging my skirt down to its proper position as David jumped on the trike. I plunked the helmet on his head, and he pedaled off while I jumped up and down and screamed "Get him honey! GO GO GO! FASTER!!!"

Of course the only picture that exists of David riding a tricycle has his head cut off so you can't really tell who it is. How convenient.

Unfortunately, White Trike, the team of two brothers, came out ahead. David and I finished silver medalists.

Actually, there were no medals. The winners got a car stereo speaker system. Second and third place got nothing except a loss of dignity.

I could have really used a beer as a consolation prize, but we were attending the game with some very conservative friends of the g-rents who do not approve of any form of alcohol consumption. (It is also possible that they would not approve of a girl in a short skirt entering a tricycle race while wearing a boy's underwear, but they did not mention it.) So we returned to our seats (I was still panting) to watch the remainder of the game.

Our crew kept saying that Brooke and David were the best entertainment of the game since the Cardinals did so poorly (final score: 18 to 4).
Our personal cheering section

But there was great fireworks show at the end of the night and in spite of the underwear fiasco, and in spite of losing the tricycle race, and in spite of the Cardinals losing the ballgame, it felt like the perfect, all-American way to spend the fourth of July. We weren't yachting off of Martha's Vineyard. Instead, I was enjoying America's pasttime, looking a little foolish but having a good time riding a tricycle, making use of my own ingenuity when faced with the small problem of having no underwear, and hanging out with people of another generation whose values I respect even if I don't agree with all of them (Because seriously people, I just road an effing TRICYCLE around the warning track of a ball field. I could really use a Bud Light here.). My patriotism also got a boost from the soundtrack that accompanied the fireworks show -- tunes ranging from Barack Obama's campaign theme song, "Only in America" to the theme song from Star Wars.

It had been cloudy and even lightening a little during the game, but the rain held off until the precise moment the fireworks were over. Drops began splashing down on us just as we stood to walk to the car.

I guess that going to a ballgame is a pretty typical way to spend the fourth of July in Midwestern America. But that night made me think about exactly how extraordinary it was to be free and silly and happy and healthy, and how fortunate I was to be there at that minor league ball park, wearing a mini-skirt, riding a tricycle, thankful for everything that the fourth of July represents.

Only in America.