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Sunday, July 24, 2016

London Day 1

As I mentioned some time ago, we decided to make a quick trip to England this summer because two of our close friends we made in Kazakhstan were renewing their vows.  We enjoyed spending time with them, as well as other friends we made over there who also came for the occasion.  The renewal of vows was in Ipswich, but we flew into London and decided to spend our first two nights there since I had never been.

When choosing flights, we had two options that would allow us to use our frequent flyer miles:  leave DC early in the morning and arrive in London in the evening, or leave DC in the evening and arrive in London midmorning.  We decided the first option was the lesser of the evils, since it would allow us to go straight to the hotel and go to sleep, rather than having to stagger around the city bleary eyed and jet lagged.  This worked reasonably well, although getting up at 4 AM to go to Dulles and standing in line for 2 hours to go through passport control at Heathrow before being able to get to our hotel were perhaps the most challenging portions of the trip.

Since we had limited time, we decided to spend the first day (and our only full day) walking around the city, seeing the outside of a lot of the tourists sites, but not mostly not going inside.  We were lucky that the weather was very cooperative!

We headed to Buckingham Palace first.  We were there for the changing of the guards.  I don't think I've ever seen such large crowds of people at a site before.  Needless to say, I wasn't able to get too close to any of the action.

After that, we headed in the direction of some of the other sites we wanted to see, and on a whim, went inside Fortnum and Mason to see about having tea.  This was a splurge, but one that turned out well, both because it was something fun that we wouldn't ordinarily do and because the caffeine from the tea enabled us to stay up for the rest of the day.  Pro tip:  If you're going to be like me and drink a whole pot of tea at once since it is both the most delicious and the most expensive tea you have ever had, be sure you have 20 and 50 pence coins because those seem to be the usual denominations needed to use public bathrooms.  Or you could do what I actually did and just stroll into the lobby of a hotel as if you're staying there...

We saw a number of sites after that, including the parliament and Big Ben...

The London Eye...

Bridges, including London Bridge and Tower Bridge (I thought about that song London Bridge is Falling Down for the first time in perhaps 30 years)...

The Tower of London...

And some miscellaneous fun things...

We tried to walk back to our hotel after seeing the Tower of London, but only got part of the way before we decided we were way too tired and flagged down a cab.  We ended the day with dinner at an Indian restaurant near the hotel, and then with slices of cake left over from our Fortnum and Mason tea.  We would need to catch a train to Ipswich the next day, but not until the afternoon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Grandma

My maternal grandmother died this past week.  It happened while Scott and I were in England.  For some reason, having someone pass away while I'm out of the country seems particularly surreal to me--I also felt that way when my paternal grandfather died while I was in Kazakhstan. 

In Grandma's case, she was 91 and had lung cancer and dementia.  Things were not going to get better for her, and her last few days were challenging.  Though I will miss her, I feel relieved that she will not have to suffer more.

As a small tribute, I decided to write a few of the many Grandma-related memories I have.

1.  We went to a family reunion in Montana, where Grandma was living at the time, when I was 11.  When we got to her house, Grandma took me outside and showed me a lawn chair she had placed under a weeping willow tree.  She told me I could go there any time I wanted to be by myself.  I was a very introverted kid (who unsurprisingly turned into an introverted adult), and since I had been an only child for the first ten years of my life, I was used to spending a lot of time alone.  I still think how thoughtful and insightful it was for her to provide me a place to get away when I wanted quiet time.

2.  When I was 13, my mom, sister, and I went to Montana to visit Grandma.  I stayed behind after my mom and sister went home.  Grandma let me make myself a root beer float every day.  She also let me watch soap operas that I would never have been allowed to watch at home.

3.  One time when Grandma called me to chat after Scott and I moved in together, she asked me if we ever fought.  Before I could answer, she said, "You're not normal if you don't!"

Rest in peace, Grandma.  We'll all miss you.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Come To Think Of It, I Did Hear That Life Is Unfair Once Or Twice

I had a filling come out of one of my teeth last night.

Usually, when I hear about people damaging their dental work, it turns out that they were eating something tasty and sticky, like a caramel apple.  I imagine that takes some of the pain away from the toothache and the subsequent trip to the dentist.

I lost my filling while I was flossing.

I may have the most pathetic dental work story ever.  Sigh.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Art From Trash

The weather was fairly reasonable for July today, so we went to the National Zoo.  The zoo is a great place for both animal and people watching, but today I was also interested in seeing an exhibit of sculptures made from trash that had been found in the ocean,

The sculptures were even better than I had hoped--huge sculptures of different marine animals.  The attention to detail was amazing, with the trash having been meticulously sorted by color, and then small pieces individually attached to the piece with screws and pieces of wire.  I work on a fairly small scale when I make jewelry, and I cannot imagine planning such large pieces.  When the medium is trash collected from the ocean, the process seems even more daunting.

Here are the pieces we saw.  Some of them have the additional design element of strangers' kids who were drawn to them.  I figured given the sizable crowds at the zoo, it was either that or no pictures at all for me.

It's easy to see some of the individual pieces of trash on this one.

This one might be the best example of trash-sorting by color.

I love the pieces of rubber as feathers!

It may be hard to see in the picture, but they used bottle caps for the suction cups on the octopus tentacles!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Walking Miles For Entertainment

Amazingly, it was not blazingly hot here over the July 4th weekend, and we decided to take advantage of this good fortune with a long walk.  We took the Mount Vernon trail from Arlington to Alexandra.

We saw some of the most recognizable monuments from a different angle than usual...

A monument we had never seen before (the Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial)...

Beautiful willow trees...

National Airport...

And boats, as we approached Alexandria.

We had what we thought was a well-deserved dinner in old town Alexandria and then took Metro back home.  An advantage to not using a car for these sorts of activities is that you don't have to return to your starting point--you can just go directly home when you feel like it.  When we got back to Silver Spring, we saw this wonderful shark display in honor of Shark Week.

It's much hotter this weekend, so I'm glad we took advantage of the unseasonably cool temperatures last weekend.  I love going on long walks, but I think from here on out, our walks may have to be shorter (or incorporate lots of cold drink breaks) until fall.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Pocket Of Peace In My Balcony Garden

It's been another rough week for news, with horrific attacks in Turkey, Iraq, and Bangladesh, to name a few awful incidents.  I think terrible incidents seem more poignant to most of us when they happen in places where we've been.  I've been to the Istanbul airport a few times, most recently in August 2014, when Scott and I were en route to Kazakhstan for the first time.  I remember how exhausted I felt at the time, and how conflicted I was about our move overseas.  I remember trying to decide if I had enough energy to stand in line to buy a snack or bottle of water from one of the airport vendors.  The thoughts and misgivings I had at the time seemed like a big deal to me at the time, but they seem so inconsequential now.

I think we all need a measure of peace in our lives, and my tiny balcony garden provides some of that peace for me.  We didn't have a balcony in our apartment in Kazakhstan (or weather that was conducive to growing things for most of the year) so I was excited to have some plants when we came back.  The planter on the left has basil and mint.  It originally also had cilantro, but I made a tactical error in planting it between two plants with dreams of world domination.  It never got enough sunlight because the mint and basil shot up so quickly.  Eventually, I found it mostly uprooted between the two plants, perhaps as a victim of some sort of underground root warfare.  So, next year, I'll have to be sure not to crowd the cilantro.  I'm thrilled with the basil, though:  It's already provided us with two batches of pesto this summer.

The other planter contains zebra green tomatoes and eggplant.  As may or may not be visible in my photo, the tomato plant already has a couple of tomatoes.  The eggplant had a very pretty purple flower that I am hoping will turn into an actual eggplant at some point.

When I get home from work, checking on the plants is one of the first things I do.  I water them, pinch top leaves from the mint and basil, and check for new flowers on the tomato and eggplant.  On a nearly daily basis, I can observe the plants growing.  The plants give me something to look forward to, in the form of fresh food.  I'm already dreaming of a larger container garden for next summer, even though I'm not entirely sure where we will be living then.  This tiny garden, amazingly enough, is providing me with a routine, a feeling of accomplishment, and a goal in a very uncertain and troubled world.

Wishing my American friends and family a happy, peaceful Independence Day!