Labor Day in Memphis 

 

Our room at the Peabody historic hotel

  

Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel – where MLK was shot

  

Civil Rights museum

  

Hard Rock Cafe

  

The Peabody Ducks

  

Ducks with Dad

    

Baby loved Elvis!

  

First hotel swim : before

  

First hotel swim : after

  

The duck march at the Peabody

 

Hattie’s Birth Story

My office hosted  a baby shower for me when I was 38 weeks + 1 day pregnant.  It was a Wednesday and when I arrived that morning, they were already setting up the tables and decorations.  A few minutes into my morning routine of responding to e-mails, I realized I wasn’t feeling well.  I wondered to myself if  I had food poisoning or if perhaps I was going into labor.  Regardless, I decided to suck it up and power through the day.  Going home did not feel like a legitimate option, given all the time and effort that was going into the shower throughout the day.  Half and hour before the celebration was scheduled to start, I still felt queasy and began feeling intense back pain.  I called Joe and demanded he come to my office (something I have never done, despite the fact we’ve worked for the same university for more than 5 years).  Joe found me bent over me desk in pain when he arrived.  He gave me a pep talk and rubbed my back, and sent me out to enjoy the festivities.   The shower was perfect — the ladies in my office mimicked the antique lace theme I had selected for our nursery and many folks from my office as well as other departments in my division came to celebrate. The party lasted until the end of the day and Joe made it back over to help me load up all of the gifts. 

As soon as we got home, I got into bed and where I proceeded to vomit and writhe in pain for several hours.  Around 8 pm, I told Joe that I didn’t think I was in labor, but that I needed to go to the ER.  We headed to the hospital, which is only about 5 minutes from our house.  As we pulled up to the ER, I said to Joe, “This might sound ridiculous, but I want you to take me back home”.  The heated seat in our SUV had taken most of my pain away.  We headed back to our house called my Mom and sister while sitting in a hot bath.  Both of them reassured me I was most likely in the early stages of labor.  I e-mailed my boss and let her know I wasn’t going to make it in the next day.  I crawled into bed and slept incredibly hard all night without any pain. 

The next day, I felt tired, but all the pain and nausea was gone.  I felt disappointed that things weren’t progressing.  My cleaning lady came and shared that she had felt sick the day before as well.  With that, I convinced myself that I had just experienced a 24 hour flu bug.  That night, I e-mailed my boss again and said that I was feeling better and planned to return to work the next day.  I went to bed around 8 pm.  After sleeping for about an hour, I woke up in pain that seemed to localize in my upper right chest cavity.  After consulting Dr. Google, I wondered if I might have gall stones.  After a few hours of sitting on all fours in bed, which for whatever reason, felt somewhat comfortable, I told Joe that I needed to go to the ER. 

We checked in at midnight and the Dr. agreed that it sounded like I might be having gall bladder issues.  After running a battery of tests, they confirmed that my liver enzymes were off, my kidneys were engorged, and they had ordered an ultrasound to further examine my gall bladder.  All the while, I was hooked up to monitors that were tracking fetal heart rate and contractions.  I was having contractions about every 5 minutes, but I couldn’t even feel them.  I was only dilated to half a centimeter, so no one seemed to feel that I was in active labor.  Hours crawled by as we waited for the ultrasound tech. Right around 4 am, Joe climbed up on the ER cot with me and we started to discuss his plans to go to work in the morning.    Nurses peeked into our room to comment on the “how cute” we looked cuddled up in the ER.  At 5am, I felt a pop so I stood up and I felt a huge gush.  My water broke!  Joe woke up and went out into the hall to tell the nurses.  I would guess waters don’t break in the ER very often because suddenly, there were a lot of excited people rushing into the room. 

I was wheeled onto the elevator and checked in on the OB floor right away.  Joe went home to get all of our suitcases.  I was in so much pain when we left our house, I refused to wait while Joe loaded them.  Oddly enough, my first nurse was a student  that  I knew from my days working in student conduct at the university — I always encounter these kids at the most unexpected times!  We weren’t together very long since the shift changed at 7 am.  I had hoped for a natural delivery, but not having had any sort of birth plan ready, my wishes weren’t really made known. I sensed that natural child birth wasn’t really preferable to the hospital staff.  I was offered the epidural several times before Joe had even made it back with our stuff.  I was also confined to the bed in a certain position that allowed the fetal heart monitor to function correctly.  I asked to be switched to a different monitor so that I could walk the halls.  But for whatever reason, that monitor never came and they installed and internal monitor since I was having so much trouble keeping still during the contractions.  After being up all night, and facing 4 hours of severe pain, I decided to go ahead with the much encouraged epidural around 9am.  While it was administered, I was allowed to sit up, which actually felt a lot better.  Neither here nor there, the epidural was helpful.  My pain was gone, and I was still able to move my legs and toes.  By 10 am, I had dilated to 9 cm.  I was elated by how quickly things were progressing.  The next few hours were a blissful blur.  I texted friends and chatted with Joe.  I even took a short nap.  Noon rolled around, and we deducted that people had headed out to lunch.  Neither of us were really bothered by this — we were both exhausted and not exactly feeling any need to hurry towards delivery.  My nurse checked me again around 2 pm and said that I could get ready to push. A half hour later, we were greeted by a child who was purple and screaming the joyous sound of a healthy and beautiful baby girl.

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Expecting Harriet

Overall, my pregnancy was a good one. I loved experiencing all the changes, the baby’s movements, the maternity fashion, and a new topic of conversation I had to share with so many people. But as with most things in life, I experienced a few hiccups along the way.  

Ice Ice Baby!

Throughout the first trimester, my energy was really high, and I actually enjoyed the best sleep of my life. Morning sickness wasn’t much of a problem for me — I sometimes felt ill when I took a shower, but I quickly realized that I could avoid any nausea by keeping the water at a cooler temperature. Near the end of my first trimester, I had two very scary days which just so happened to lead up to my dissertation defense where I experienced some bleeding. While it was technically too late to have been implantation bleeding, nothing ever came of it, and so that’s the best explanation the doctor could offer.   

  
During the 20 week ultrasound I was thrilled to learn we were having a girl. Joe says I willed it to happen that way, but I say biology guarantees it was all his doing! Right after our appointment, we hit up the grocery store for pink cupcakes to bring back to our offices. At the end of the day we had a chance to process more of the information we’d received during the appointment. We needed to return for a second utrasound in two weeks. There was a particular brain structure that the ultrasounds techs were not able to locate. The doctor assured us that this didn’t mean that it wasn’t there, but just that they weren’t able to see it on that particular occasion. Regardless, two weeks of waiting and wondering was difficult for both of us. Brains are pretty important. Thankfully, the second ultrasound revealed that the baby’s brain was fine. Certainly this experience helped us both to recognize how lucky we were to have a healthy child on the way.

  
   
     The final trimester rang in with celebration. We had three baby showers — one with my family, one with my office, and one with Joe’s office. People’s thoughtfulness and generosity was truly overwhelming. Unfortunately, the physical impacts of pregnancy hit me hard at the end. I experienced severe edema. It started in April, mostly only showing up after long days at work. But as time when on, it got worse and worse. Near the end, I had a hard time bending my knees and ankles due to all the excess water. In fact, when I look back at my google search history from that time period, all I see is a dozen reductions of “pregnant can’t bend my legs.” With all the water came excessive weight gain. Right before delivery, I was up 45 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. I wasn’t able to find any shoes that fit my ginormous feet (in my closet or in a store, so I took to wearing house slippers everywhere, including work, for the last 3 weeks. Not willing to let go of exercise entirely, I found the only way I could comfortably move was in pool, so I walked laps at our local gym (along with many senior citizens). The other not so pleasant symptom I dealt with near the end was that the left side of my jaw popped out of place making it painful and, at times, impossible to close my mouth all the way. Apparently, the prolactin hormone that allows for your hips to widen for delivery can affect other unsuspecting joints as well. Two doctors and two dentists weren’t able to help with the issue. But, luckily, my chiropractor solved the problem with one single adjustment, two weeks after the initial dislodgment.  

   

  

  

   

 Overall, pregnancy was a joy. I spent much of my free time preparing for the arrival of our new little one. On weekends, I could be found at the sewing machine, stitching tiny clothes while listening to the baby lullaby station on pandora. I read parenting books, birth stories, and baby blogs for hours on end. And I scoured baby sales and thrift shops for great baby deals. Joe purchased a sonogram machine to keep at home so we were able to listen to the baby’s heartbeat as much as we wanted. It was a time of great anticipation and happiness.  

A Baby at Last

We didn’t rush into parenthood. We’ve been together for nearly a decade. After six years of marriage, developing our careers, traveling the world, focusing on friendships, and making regular visits home to see our families, we finally came to a point where we felt ready for a new lifelong priority.  

We weren’t sure what to expect with regard to timing. I let my birth control prescription run out in August and we wondered if conception might take a while. September came and passed. Despite high hopes and 3 pregnancy tests, we didn’t experience instant success and I felt somewhat discouraged. October was a busy month for me with Homecoming activities going on at work while I put the fininshing touches on my dissertation. As the month wound down, Joe and I were sitting in the living room one Saturday morning, as I enjoyed breakfast and coffee and Joe played with the cats on the floor. As we chatted about the week that had just passed, the topic of pregnancy came up. I distractedly commented that there was no way I had gotten pregnant that month. As the sentence came out, I suddenly realized that perhaps I was late. Joe disagreed and suddenly a seed of curiousity was planted in my mind. I got up and changed into my workout clothes, with plans of heading to the gym. Before I left, I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, but decided to go ahead and try another preganancy test. Right before I finished brushing, I glanced over at the test to see the result and to my utter shock I read the word “pregnant” on the digital screen. 

  
My heart soared at the surprise. I felt the urge to create a special moment for Joe when he learned the news as well. Not having any great ideas of how to do so right away, I decided to follow through with my workout plans and headed off to the gym without another word. As I rounded the track, an idea came to me. I used my cell phone to calculate my due date and then realized it was silly to have rushed out of the house without my wallet and I decided I would have to sneak back in and get it. Looking back, Joe never noticed, as far as I know. I went to the store and purchased a “Nature’s Majesty” calendar and marked the date of our special arrival like this:

  
Returning home, I brought the calendar inside and told Joe that someone had left it for us on the front porch (if this seems unbelievable to you, you probably don’t live in Rolla, Missouri). I told Joe I liked it and encouraged him to look through all the pictures. Right before he flipped to July, he sensed something was up, and he said, “you’re pregnant.” I whipped the pregnancy test out from behind my back and handed it to him. He smiled and laughed and pulled me down into his lap. In some ways, it was a moment we had waited for for a very long time, but in other ways, it came sooner than we thought possible.  While everyone starts out as a pregnancy, it really is a miracle to experience it for yourself.

  

  

Our Babymoon!

Happy New Year! We spent the first 4 days of 2015 on our babymoon in San Francisco. We set out at around 2:30 am on December 31st — blarg. We made it to California around 2 PM and checked into our hotel — the Radisson at Fisherman’s Wharf around 4 PM. We made a quick stop for a late lunch at IHOP (of all places — it was right next door to our hotel and we both love it!). Next, we wondered around the wharf taking in the street performers and bayside views. Sea lion’s congregate year-round right off of Pier 39, so we spent some time watching them bark and topple over one another in a large heap. We made our way into an arcade that hosts antique machines from the 1800’s up through the 1980’s. Many of the machines had a sign that said– be careful — this machine is older than you’ll ever be! But all of them worked and we played nearly all of them. A lot of the games were fun, some were odd, and others were just a little creepy! Overall, it was interesting to see how arcades evolved over time. We made our way back to the hotel to clean up and get ready for dinner. We met up with our friends Marty and Candice and their little daughter Natalie for supper at Boudin — a restaurant famous for their sourdough bread. The food was delicious and the company was even better. There is nothing better than catching up with old friends while ringing in a new year!

Antique arcade

Antique arcade

Fortune typing machine

Fortune typing machine

Sea lions at Pier 39

Sea lions at Pier 39

Ready for dinner!

Ready for dinner!

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

The next morning we slept in a little and set out for some city sightseeing on a San Francisco double decker bus tour. We looped around the downtown area, taking in the architecture and history of buildings including the Cannery, city hall, Coit tower, the ferry building and many others. We stopped for lunch at King’s House of Thai Noodles — wonder of all wonders! Joe is not really known for agreeing to each in such establishments. Back on the bus, we headed into union square — a large shopping district. I found some great deals on maternity dresses — less than $5 each! Next, we wondered through China town, an area that I have always been curious about. There was less food in the area than I expected, but a lot of interesting stores. We made a stop at In n Out Burger for supper — a California fast food chain that was founded in 1949, but never really franchised much outside of the state. It was good — and a good way to replenish after the 7.51 miles we walked that day. FitBit stat #1!

The Cannery

The Cannery

China town

China town

The second day we took a tour shuttle across the Golden Gate Bridge into Muir Woods — home of San Francisco’s redwood forest. The park was chilly and foggy, which gave it a mystical feel. The suns rays were visible between the tress which made for a heavenly aura. We hiked around for 1.5 hours before we had to return to the shuttle. I think we could have stayed a good deal longer if we had the choice. These trails were a small step above the ones we trek in Missouri! The shuttle dropped us off in Sausalito — a small bayside town known for it’s mansions and it’s bike trails. We had lunch at a cafe and wondered along the bayside taking in views of the San Francisco skyline. After a few hours, we took a ferry back across the bay and made the challenging trek up to Lombard street. San Francisco is filled with hills. Many of their sidewalks would make more sense as stairways. The walk up to Lombard street was one that required us (okay, me, the pregnant one!) to take a couple breaks. But we made it — and the view was a good one. It’s a funny site — the crookedest street in the US — constantly filled with traffic that is there for no other reason but to drive down the goofy street. Next, we made our way down to Aquatic Cove beach where we saw some crazy person swimming in a Speedo. The weather in California was cold — high 40’s, low 50’s. You might think — that doesn’t sound cold, but add in some humidity, and yes, it really is. Having lived in Southern Mississippi where January = wet cold and Northern Minnesota where January = dry crazy cold, I consider myself an authority on “feels like” winter weather conditions. Both are bad, and neither are meant for swimming! We had supper at a beachfront restaurant (more sourdough!), before heading to bed. Fitbit stat #2: 8.49 miles walked!

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

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Lombard Street

Lombard Street

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Our last full day in the city, we took a bay cruise to Alcatraz island. I wasn’t entirely sure that I would enjoy Alcatraz. High security prisons don’t really equate with “happy place” or “vacation destination” in my mind. But, on the other hand, I felt like it was one of those things you should do, if you have the chance. I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. I wasn’t aware that the Alcatraz history stretched back to the Civil War, where it served as a military fort for the Union. Later, it served as a high security prison that closed in 1964 due to high operating costs and new trends in corrections leaning away from punishment and towards correction and rehabilitation. Finally, in the later 60’s the island was inhabited by Native Americans, protesting their mistreatment by American settlers. The island views were gorgeous from the Bay Bridge, to the Golden Gate, with the San Francisco Skyline in between. We did an audio tour of the cell house, where we learned about prison life as well as the prisoner’s failed escape plans. We also learned about the many guards’ families who inhabited the island. I thought it was interesting that many admitted to never locked their doors. After taking in most of the exhibits on the island, we returned to the boat and ate lunch as we traveled back across the bay. Next, keeping with the “locked up” theme of the day, we went to the International Spy Store for a lock picking lesson. This was a Groupon purchase inspired by something Joe said on our way home from a trip to Mexico a few years ago. We’d locked our keys in the trunk of the Mustang and had to hire a locksmith. Since convertibles don’t have a trunk release, the locksmith had a really hard time getting into the trunk itself. Joe said watching someone attempt to break into his car was kind of an entertaining vacation excursion in itself. Ergo — when I saw the Groupon — I just had to get it as part of Joe’s Christmas present! The spy store itself looks cool on the outside, but it could have been set up better on the inside, in my opinion. We learned how to pick handcuffs, padlocks, and a doors locks. From what I can tell — it takes practice, but it’s not impossible for anyone who has some time. Of course — we will use our powers for good — if you get locked out of your house — give us a call! Next, we took a ride on a cable car! I can’t believe these things still exist — it seems like a major liability for a city to allow random citizens to hang off the side of public transportation running right alongside normal city traffic. But, they are certainly fun — as Joe says — they’re kind of like a wooden roller coaster. After doing a little more shopping (more maternity clothes!) we returned on the cable car, had supper (at IHOP, again — yes!) and went to bed. Our alarm went off at 2 am and we spent the day making our way back to Rolla. I have one funny travel story — but I refuse to publish it on the internet! If you see me — Katie — be sure to ask!

Arriving at Alcatraz Island

Arriving at Alcatraz Island

On the island

On the island

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Cable car

Cable car

Babymoon is kind of funny word, and from what I can tell, a new concept that probably leaves some people rolling their eyes. Traveling with Joe for the last 9 years has definitely been one of the best parts of my life. Throughout this trip, we had babies on the brain and we kept our eyes peeled for baby travelers. They are out there and soon enough we’ll have one of our very own! We can’t wait!

Labor Day Weekend in Hot Springs

Hello from Hot Springs! It’s the last long weekend of Summer 2014 and we decided to make the most of it with a little getaway to someplace we’ve never been — Hot Springs, Arkansas!

Hot Springs is a National Park that contains plenty of water, hiking trails, and some hot and steamy natural springs. Throngs of Americans flooded this area in the 1920’s in search of relaxation and the natural elixer found in the city’s many bathhouses. With the rise of antibiotic treatments, the public bathing business has taken a dive, leaving the city of Hot Springs itself with the vibe of a historic era — gone, but not forgotten.
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We hit the road on Saturday around 9 am and rolled into town around 3:30 PM. Our first stop was Garvan Woodland Gardens — home of St. Anthony’s Chapel and miles of hiking trails. We spent a few hours winding around the path, checking out the lake along with many streams and waterfalls.

Next, we went to dinner at the Bleu Monkey Grille, a casual restaurant right next door to our hotel. We both ordered fresh pasta and ate more than enough.

After a good night’s sleep at Country Inn and Suites (a hotwire deal) we headed downtown to check out the city. We went on a Duck Tour, which was a good way to get a lay of the land, but I don’t think either of us really shared in the guide’s humor. Regardless, ducks are a fun way to tour most anywhere — we saw the sights in town and enjoyed a tour around Lake Hamilton.
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Next, we did a little more hiking along the Grand Promenade — a paved walkway where well-to-do folks used to strut along like peacocks –showing off their fine fashions before or after indulging in the baths. Today, it’s still a nice nature path — filled with a variety of people in hiking gear. We stuck our hands in the HOT water — the streams steam like pots of boiling water. Stand close enough to the spring and you’ll get the same sensation you would get standing in a sauna. Perhaps it’s the power of suggestion, but I felt like my hands were extra soft after dunking them in the springs.

We at lunch at the Copper Penny Pub — an Irish bar with live music and hearty food. After lunch, we headed towards bathhouse row — a line of historic bathhouses, some of which are still in operation today. The first building hosted the National Park visitor center. In here, we both drank a cup of the spring water. The water is tasteless, but it contains large amounts of minerals including calcium and fluoride. Outside the bathouse, we noticed people filling bottles and jugs in the public spring taps. One man in particular, had a dozen 10 gallon jugs. Nice guy — he warned me that the water was hot. Hot? Really? Where are we right now?
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Anyway! The next bathhouse we toured had been converted into an art gallery. Local artists mostly focused on the city’s history. The building retained its original layout and materials, so it made for a very fancy antique bathroom feel.

Next, we entered Buckstaff Bathhouse- the only bathhouse that sustained continuous operation since 1912. I decided to give the public bathing scene a try. Joe Jackson opted to wait for me on the porch. Really, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’ve been to lots of spas in several different states, but this particular place prides itself in maintaing a historic bathing experience. Upon entering the spa, I put all my clothes in a locker and one of the attendants wrapped me up in a sheet toga style and led me to a waiting area to sit down. I felt like I had jumped in a time machine and ended up in a 1950’s hospital. Looking arond, most everything was white and there was no air conditioning. The air was humid and dozen’s of female staff scurried around with towels, guiding other sheet clad women from bathtubs to cooling tables.

The public bathing process has several stages. First, a 20 minute bath in a claw foot tub. After getting into the tub, the bath attendant covers you in a towel and then scrubs you down with a loofah. Pretty sure no one has given me a bath in really really long time — so this was very weird. And not what I expected given my other experiences in all the other spas in all the other states! The bath tubs have a metal motor that looks like it belongs in an antique store. The motor agitates the water and somehow, my towel got tangled up in it and the attendant had to come and help me get it out. Ahem — did I really pay for this bizarre experience? Yes, yes I did. Moving on. After 20 minutes, the bath is over and out you go to the cooling table. My legs were both packed with hot towels and I got an ice towel for my head. Next, you sit in a sitz bath — which is sort of like sitting in a sink. The water is hotter and it is supposed to help with lower back problems. Then, you go into a steam chamber, which is a metal box, filled with steam with a hole for your head to stick out. Finally a needles shower and a massage round out the whole experience. It’s a fun experience in that it’s historic, and relaxing, and other-worldly — people don’t do this anymore, except for the die-hards at Buckstaff who refuse to let their tradition die its potentially deserved death.

Next, we toured Fordyce Bathhouse which is the most ornate bathhouse. This building has been preserved to function as a museum focused on the heyday of bathhouses and public bathing. At the height of the bathhouse craze, Hot Springs gave nearly a million baths a year. Most bathhouses went of of business in the early 80’s. As an aside, all the bathing equipment pictured above is similar to everything I encountered at Buckstaff.
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After some snacks, we drove up a mountain to take in some scenic views. We rode up the mountain tower which had 2 observation decks. The top deck offered and open-air view and the lower deck was enclosed with a 360 timeline of the city’s history. For only 6 dollars a person, it was a steal of a deal for over an hour of fun.
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We ate supper and Perkin’s and we’re headed home tomorrow morning. Hot Spring has been a good experience — kind of like a little time capsule in the middle of Arkansas!

Back to reality

Hey all. We’ve been home for a week now — whew! The jetlag has worn off and while vacations are what I live for, it’s good to be home. Joe is already gone again –he left for Portland on Saturday. What happens in Portland? Software conferences and homework! Joe has one paper to complete for his final MBA course. He’ll be home Thursday.

I went to the Lake of the Ozarks yesterday with my dear friend Melissa. Lots of fund in the sun was just what I needed because today, I dusted off my dissertation. I’m not exaggerating — there really was dust on the literature that lives in piles on my office floor — ack! I finished about 5 pages of chapter 5.

For folks who do not have Facebook, here is the link to some of our photos from Europe: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.849859139057.1073741826.74601262&type=1&l=e030ff0623

London: Last Day!

London: Last Day!
Hello from up in the air somewhere! We are couple hours away from Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s been such a relaxing flight — after a couple really busy weeks, it’s feels great to zone out and relax.

Yesterday, we spent our final day in London. We had a great breakfast at the BnB which actually ended up lasting a for few hours — good food and fun conversation. The BnB is operated by a British woman who is a retired business executive. I would recommend her accommodations to anyone with high regard. Next, we went to tour the Tower of London, a castle which used to house Britain’s royalty and was later converted to a prison. Today, the crown jewel’s are stored there deep inside a vault which contains moving walkways for the continuous crowds who come to view these historic treasures. Yeoman wardens, also known as Beefeaters, give tours of the tower which mostly focused on executions. For me, the tour guides stories were unenjoyable — but, I have an aversion to violent stories– no matter how old or ridiculous they are!

We had a nice lunch in an Italian restaurant we later realized was a chain — oh well! It was good! Next, we took a train to the Docklands and checked out a shopping mall — this area of London felt very different. In fact, we both agreed it felt quite a bit like Des Moines, IA! Not much hustle and bustle with some nice scenic lakes.

After a little shopping, we headed back towards Central London and toured the Tate Modern museum. This gallery showcases works by Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, Monet, and Picasso. We appreciated some works more than others. A few pieces didn’t look too complicated. One in particular was just regular medicine chest hanging on wall — its significance was lost on us. But overall, I think the impressive pieces outweighed those we found somewhat questionable. We stayed until the gallery closed at 6 pm.

Wanting to take in as much of the city as we could in our last day, we walked a few miles along the river Thames. After returning to the BnB, we headed back out for a late night dessert at a pub.

This morning, we got up at 5:15, bid adieu to our BnB host and took our final ride on the underground. At the airport, we did some last minute duty free souvenir shopping and now, here we are on the plane!

Tonight, we have a 4 layover in Charlotte, North Carolina. Joe’s parents dare driving up from South Carolina to meet us for supper — yay! Then, we’ll head out to St. Louis and finally, sweet home Rolla, Missouri! By the time we get home, it will be around 10 pm, which will actually feel like 3 am. Doesn’t sound too bad — we’ll see!

London : Day 12

Today began with a 5:30 am wakeup call at sea. We spent a night on the Stenaline Ferry — sort of like a mini cruise ship. The ship contained a condensed amount of amenities — private cabins for sleeping and showering, a store, restaurant, movie theatre, basketball court and a few slot machines. After boarding, we explored the areas, but then jumped into bed in preparation for an early wake-up call. I fell asleep right away, but Joe had a tougher time — the water was really choppy and ferry’s don’t really stabilize — so lots of ocean motion!

After we landed, we took a train from Harwich into London. After stowing our luggage at the train station, we headed straight for St. Paul’s Cathedral. This tour marks our sixth and final cathedral tour of the trip and it did not disappoint! Using the audio guide, we learned all about the church’s history. This church survived the Blitz of WWII, in fact a group of 40 volunteers guarded the church as a “bomb-squad” every night — extinguishing the small bombs before they detonated. The dome of the building spires above the London sky-line. We hiked up hundreds of spiraled steps to to all three dome look-outs. The first look- out, called the whispering gallery, is essentially a ledge around the interior of of the dome. The architecture is such that whispers carry astoundingly well around and across the dome. The next two look-outs required that we hike up several steep metal spiral staircases surrounded by metal fencing to provide some additional safe-guarding. These stairs scared the be-jeebers out of me — but I found some comfort in their sacred location! The bird’s eye view of London was nice — our climb paid off.

Next, we headed to the West End, London’s theatre district, for a matinee showing of Stomp. I loved it and Joe fell asleep! This is actually pretty typical for Joe at theatrical performances, but I was somewhat impressed on this particular occasion — Stomp is not a quiet show — it’s basically two hours of garbage can percussion. There were a few times when it got so loud, I kind of wanted to cover my ears. I am tempted to share a list of other mildly entertaining occasions when Joe has fallen asleep, but I shall refrain.

After the play, we picked up our bags and headed to check into our final accommodations — the Pooters BnB. This particular BnB is quite small with two guest rooms. It’s owned by a lovely British woman named Allyson who has been a nice host so far. There is an Italian man staying here too. We haven’t caught a glimpse of him yet, but we should all meet tomorrow at breakfast!

Amsterdam: Day 10 and 11

Amsterdam: Day 10 and 11
Hello from the train tracks! We just wrapped up our final 2 days in Amsterdam. Tonight, we’re headed out to sea on an overnight ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich (England). We are spending 2 more days in London before we fly out of Heathrow on Saturday morning.

We throughly enjoyed our time in Amsterdam. Yesterday, we toured the church where Rembrandt is buried. We actually stumbled upon the building on our way to the Anne Frank House. It was a Protestant church, which (perhaps under the power of suggestion) made it feel more familiar than the other catholic cathedrals we’ve visited on this trip.

Touring the Anne Frank House was one thing I was most looking forward to on our trip. When I was in third grade, my Mom started reading parts of Anne’s diary out loud and then convinced me to finish reading it myself. The majority of the story came flooding back as we toured the rooms of the secret annex. The house is now a museum and a large and persistent crowd tours the space every day. The bookcase that hid the entry to the secret annex is completely in tact. The magazine pictures that Anne glued to her bedroom wall were also preserved, along with a map where Otto Frank had tracked the progress of the Ally invasion. At Otto’s request, the rooms were left empty of props or furniture to signify the mass extinction of Jewish life and culture that occurred. Certainly the horrors of the holocaust are not lost on many, but what is difficult for me to wrap my mind around is how recent the events actually were to my lifetime. Did you know that (if all were still alive today) Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Walters would all be the same age?

After the tour we grabbed some pizza for a late lunch (we eat meals at the oddest hours, and rarely make 3 meals a day — eating in restaurants takes a lot more time in Europe — their service is purposely slow and relaxed. It’s nice, but sometimes it’s a little stressful, when you’re hoping to make it to the next site before it closes. On this particular occasion, we didn’t make it to our next site — the Gassan diamond polishing demonstration. Oh well! We took a detour through the red light district instead. This particular neighborhood is quite small — in fact we checked our map a few times to locate it. The district hosts prostitutes, who rent out store windows and solicit business — one of the world’s oldest professions. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this neighborhood. I ended up feeling a little startled by the women knocking on the glass as we walked by. It was awkward and neither of us were really sure where to look. Curiosity brought us there and after 3 blocks, I think, I was glad I could check this item off my list as done, saw it, won’t need to see it again.

Today, we booked a day trick to see the Holland contryside. We boarded a double-decker motorcoach at 9 am and headed towards our first stop in , Zaanse Schans, a small town that still operates windmills from the 1600’s. We were able to tour the interior of one of the windmills where peanut oil is still produced today. The windmills were beautiful and the town had a real storybook quality with cute little houses, dutchman riding bikes, and the cleanest looking farm animals I’ve ever seen — sheep and goats — happily chomping on grass.

Our next stop was Voldedam, a fisherman’s village with sevearl sea-side eateries and a cheesefactory. We toured the factory and sampled several different varieties of fresh cheese. We had lunch in gorgeous little cafe and we had the place completly to ourselves. I had a salad with fresh goat cheese which was made right in town — delicious!

After lunch, we boarded a boat to Marken, another small sea-side village. Here, we toured a clog-making facotry. I thought this activity looked kind of hokey in the tour brochure, but our tour guide was very engaging. She demonstrated a pair of clogs being made from a block of poplar wood. She also told a story about how clogs used to be used for marriage propoals in Marken. When a man went out to sea, he would bring some wood along with him on the boat. He’d carve the clogs by hand and then put his name on one foot and the name of his sweetheart on the other. Months later, upon his return to the village, he would leave the clogs on his sweetheart’s doorstep. In the morning, if the clogs were taken inside, the proposal was accepted. If not, the proposal was declined. The tourguide shared that her father proposed to her mother 3 times with clogs before she accepted (the third proposal included a diamond ring from Amsterdam:)) The tour guide admitted that she wears clogs every day with a pair of thick woolen socks. Suddenly, I wanted a pair of these ridiculous wooden shoes too! Luckily, i held strong and the moment has officially passed!

We returned to Amsterdam on the motor-coach and decided to check out The Art of the Brick exhibition right next door to our hotel. This exhibition actually highlights a New York artist’s work with lego blocks. I think these pieces speak for themselves! The exhibit was so fun and it was nice to be inside — it has been in the 50s and raining throughout these past 2 days. Isn’t it July? Brrr!!!

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