Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Totally random, in no reasonable order or comprehensiveness...OurGrandTour Anecdotes

This might just serve as my ongoing (for me - for you it will appear at once) of quirky or funny observations or happenings.

- In Iceland I was marveling at just how different everything is there. It was the first country and I was super jet-lagged so the thoughts weren't super deep. But as I walked by a coffee shop I looked inside and happened to see the computer screen of the guy sitting at the table near the window. He was shopping on Amazon.com. There's nothing new under the sun. But they probably don't have 2-day shipping to Iceland, huh?

-As we exited the elevator at the top of the Eiffel Tower we (almost) all experienced what could be equated to emotional endorphins. We had been holding in all our stress and pent up energy and despair over the wait and hunger and need to pee for FIVE HOURS in close-quarter lines with strangers from around the world. The only breaks from lines were climbing up over 700 steps to the elevator because...we are that cheap (and the lines to climb the stairs were shorter. Go figure. So when we burst forth from that elevator door with the stream of BO-having humanity we were all feeling on top of the world, not just on top of Paris. Cece, unfortunately, is afraid of heights so wasn't experiencing the same emotional release as the rest of us as we stepped out. "Thomas, today you're Joy and I'm Fear." Inside Out once again comes to the rescue in complicated emotional moments. How did I ever cope emotionally before that movie?

-How bout that time John said, "Merci Beaucoup" and I heard, "She has to poop."

-Or the time that we saved $200 by staying in a hotel that had large amounts of large Middle-East men roaming the halls in nothing but their boxers banging and shouting at each other through the doors until well after 11pm. At least they were boxers. If they'd been French they would have been speedos. And then the power to our rooms kept going out? And the only bathrooms were down the halls and I was having lady times with "supplies" that I was super unfamiliar with? TMI? Yup. It was an expensive savings. It cost many harsh words and some tears.

-Also, French people jogging. Hilarious. Keds with black socks and cut off black jeans. Or maybe holding your arms out to the side so far that it looks like you are taking off. But going so slowly that my three year old passed you walking backward? As John puts it: it's like jogging has never occurred to them before. They just woke up and thought, "you know what? I think I'll have a jog..." Very enjoyable.

And how about the shining moments? (I'm going to NOT write down the many uglier and less flattering moments. Not because I want to be "real" or honest but because my own bad moments are mine to share but not my children's or my husbands. You'll just have to take my word for it. I have to be on the lookout for these good moments - otherwise I will be overwhelmed by the weight of the bad ones. Raising a family is hard work and there are some very upsetting moments along the way.

-I was crying earlier because we got fined 135 Euros because we didn't put pictures on the bus passes. It was a mess. A very frustrating mess. I HATE wasting. Wasting time (thankYOU Eiffel Tower!), wasting money (Here's looking at you, London - who do you think you are, the Queen?), etc. I mean, I hate it. Like, break down in public crying for ten minutes hate it. The kids, and especially Thomas, were so so so sweet towards me while I was upset. He held my hand for a half hour (at eight he generally does not let me hold his hand - he's way above it) and rubbed my back on and off. He pushed the stroller so I could more easily hold the umbrella. He gave his coat to his sister when she was cold and tucked it in. He even instigated a picture in front of Notre Dame when I was so demoralized I couldn't care less. Usually I have the HARDEST times getting him to stand for a picture so I know for sure it was because he loves me and wanted to make me happy. I'm learning to feel so valued. My people love me. They want me to be happy and they care when I'm sad. How blessed am I to have 7 other people in Europe who want me to be happy and will even pose for a picture to help me bounce back? It is the very best, I tell ya.

-Strangers have been unfailingly helpful. And not grudgingly so but genuinely helpful. They see us struggling to get luggage up a flight of stairs, they help. They see me stuck in a bank because I can't even read enough French to understand that I need to push a green button to get out? They push the button. My card gets declined because...well, who the heck knows?! I don't know why this keeps happening! They patiently leave my groceries on the belt while I run down the street to the ATM (which by the way has an "Error", thank you Google Translate and that is why I get stuck in the bank, released and then finally find another ATM) and then ask if I need another bag (for free!). Or, when we are stuck behind some, apparently suspicious, looking people at Eiffel Tower Security a lady in the next line over waves us (all 8 of us!) in ahead of her. I'm telling, you. People are people and there are always a couple of grumps here and there but I can say that bringing a lot of kids to Europe hasn't been at all the intimidating in terms of judgementalism (yet!), these folks have been as kind to us as I could hope. Even when we clear them out of their morning supply of croissants.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Build Up in Pictures, Pt. 2

We are back from Alaska. Vacation is over. We are now prepping. Prepping, prepping, prepping. An old saying attributed to Ignatius of Loyola is, "Work like everything depends on you and pray like everything depends on God." A trip like this is similar. To get the most out of it we need to prep and plan like we can control our trip and then when we are actually in the middle of it we will need to be as flexible and ready for adventure as if we'd done nothing and have no expectations. After spending most of today just trying to put one foot in front of the other to fight off stress-paralysis I'm not sure that revisiting these old plans and pictures is a good idea or a bad idea. On the one hand it's nice to see that we've actually made progress - on the other hand it reminds me of the immensity of this experience. Overwhelmed is my middle name. OK, time traveling back to December.

We bought two umbrella strollers for the Cath and Glo for Christmas. It was a lot of reviews and research and we have been using these strollers for the last 7 months and they are fantastic! 

Christmas Day Stroll.

The girls received the Madeline books for Christmas from Grandma.

Did you know that Madeline went to London? Who knew?!

James is never one to let an opportunity for a toast go to waste. To John's new book and to the year abroad! Cheers!

The ever-growing pile of research. I LOVED Take Your Kids to Europe and Europe Through the Back Door. The DK Family Guides to particular cities seem great. I'll let you know more in a few weeks if they are worth the $$$.


We took a trip in March to an exhibit of St. Thomas More's relics that were on exhibition at the John Paul II institute in Washington DC. We saw this as a dry-run. It's not that far a drive for us and we remembered that the Tower of London doesn't let you see the cell that Thomas More was kept in. There's a little information about him on the tours of the Tower but not really enough for us. So the weekend before we went was watched A Man for All Seasons with the kids. They all watched it! They all enjoyed it. There was a fair amount of pausing and explaining but it still held their attention. That's just a parent to parent FYI. I was surprised that they had to good taste to see that this is a SUPERIOR movie.
As a dry run of what we hope to do for six weeks straight (road-tripping with stops at awesome sights) this was excellent. It was excellent because it was so real. So less-then-ideal. Don't get your hopes up - it wasn't a total disaster (that has it's own charm eventually) it was just annoying and mildly disappointing. Still glad we did it but really. It wasn't awesome. It's not Alaska, afterall.

As you can see from this picture. We immediately had to stop at The Wal because a half hour from home we realized that SOMEONE

wasn't wearing any shoes.

THANKFULLY, because of this unscheduled stop we were able to obtain the food with a local flair.

It was appreciated.

Not ten minutes further down the road a different SOMEONE had (haaaaaaad!!!!) to go to the bathroom.

And another one.

And another one.

And another one.

But we got down to our great country's great capitol. John worked here for a year between his Masters and Licentiate degrees. He was working there when we first started the conversations that led to us dating. I'd say that he was working there when we first fell in love but that sounds awkward. I don't really use those kind of words.

I couldn't take pictures in the exhibition. It was really, really cool. We got to see a nightcap that Margaret has embroidered for St. Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey's breviary, and some of More's clothes. I only know that because I snatched glimpses of plaques as I chased REALLY wild, REALLY disobedient highspirited children through the halls. Even though they loved the movie and were objectively interested in what we were seeing they were just in such a state. I have no idea why.
Maybe it was a result of that local Walmart food.

Still trying to eek out something meaningful for them out of the trip, we took them to our beautiful National Basilica that is just down the road. It seemed like a good idea to visit our own nation's National Basilica in our capitol before we go see everybody elses. Also, the year that John and I got engaged we used to attend mass in the mysterious and dark crypt regularly. I was so excited to show them. Surely, this would put them in a more meditative state. They will love the various shrines to to the Madonna from all over the world, surely.

In reality it was very difficult to find a way in with the strollers and then there was Mass so we couldn't spend any time there. Also, the cafeteria smelled really good but wasn't serving any food. So the kids were unable to think about anything except being hungry. OH WELL. That is real life. I'm glad that it went so mediocrelly. It brought my ideals and expectations down to a manageable level. Europe will not make magically well-behaved, engaged and pleasant children. Or parents.

Human's are rarely able to live up to to awesomeness in front of our eyes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Alaska, Day 6 and 7 -Ketchikan and my birthday

Back last year when I got the itinerary for our cruise I was delighted to see that we stopped in Ketchikan. I knew (thank you Facebook) that one of my Household Sisters from FUS had moved up there. So we got in contact and she met us in her cute cute town. It was such a blessing in the middle of this cruise to visit a home and have the local gym, library, middle school pointed out. People LIVE in Alaska - not just visitors! We also got a great tour of the Catholic School (the only Catholic school in the diocese of Juneau). Even though Ketchikan is another town that you can't drive into  - only by plane or boat it is still important to have Catholic education available for the diocese. My old pal is the principle of the school and is doing a tremendous job. It was inspiring to see her in her place and working to bring Christ into this somewhat isolated place. She is doing such a good work there.

Alaska is as filled with animal skins and heads as you might imagine.

Ketchikan was small enough that we could return to our ship to eat lunch for free. It's also nice to visit the ship on a port day - it's so empty!

They have a cute canal bordered by wooden walkways up against the mountains.

The view from my friend's deck where she is sometimes woken up by the whales spouting. Apparently they are quite loud! And they are RIGHT THERE!

Ketchikanians use cisterns to gather their water. with rain 300 days a year they don't seem to run out. There year round average temperature here is in the 50s. Thanks to the temperate rainforest. It's significantly more mild an existence then we have in MD (as I write it is in the mid-90s with nasty humidity). They get less snow then us too.

We stopped to see this (most likely female: "how do you know it's a female?" - "The girls have big butts") bear fishing in the stream near a salmon hatchery. 

Earlier in the day my friend's husband had been mowing the lawn and the looked up to see a mom and triplets in his yard. Apparently their bear-dog only cares to warn about bears presence if the girls are home.

This was the second bear we saw haunting the same stream.

Thanks, Nicole for the family picture!

As we were eating dinner on the ship we finally saw just a tad of the famous Ketchikan rain.

Getting ready for bed with with Gran. Thomas is hanging from the berth that comes down out of the ceiling and Gran is sitting on the couch that turns into another bed. 
This is the room without the berth lowered down or the couch turned into a bed. There were four sleeping spots per room so we had adjoining ones.

A nautical mile is just over 1 regular mile.

Singing "Let It Go" and RUNNING for breakfast. The best part of some people's days.

The last day - our Day At Sea sailing back to Vancouver was also my birthday! I had an Alaskan birthday!!! Dream come true.

The kids swam. I sat shivering on the side. But they claim all the water is heated. 

AND watching Frozen on the big screen while swimming. Obvi.

She was MIRACULOUSLY tall enough to do the big water slide. Finally, things are shaping for little Cath.

Over. And over. And over. We had to drag her away eventually.

Warming up in the Quiet Cove Cafe (grownups only :)) while still enjoying the scenery. 

"Let me take a low quality picture of my food and text it to people who don't care." - Jim Gaffigan.
However, this calamari was the best I've ever had. And it was my birthday so I get to do this.

John's mom and brothers wrangled the kids for our last dinner on the ship so that he and I could get a massage (our first, hopefully not our last) and then go to dinner at the grown-ups only restaurant on the ship. It was such a lovely gift. A little charge-up for both of us before returning to all the prep of moving across an ocean that we are in the middle of here at home.

I turned upper 30's. But he'll always be older, at least there's that. 

Post dinner movie on deck for them.

Post dinner Alaskan sunset for me. Happy happy birthday!!!!!
In conclusion, I can't thank my ever-generous, ever-optimistic, ever-energetic Mother in law for this gift enough. It was the fulfillment of a major bucket list item for me and absolutely lived up to my expectations. I only wish that I could go longer, farther and take everyone I know! Alaska forever!!!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Alaska Day 4 - Skagway

Skagway was the first time we actually set foot on Alaskan soil. It's a tiny town that has 862 full-time residents (swells to 2000 residents with summer workers) and has over 700,000 visitors visit every summer. We got to be 8 of them. 

The town is mostly owned by the National Park Service. At least the first several blocks.
This was John's 49th State! Hawaii - here we come?!

Two youngest taking care of each other down the gangway. 

Skagway was old fashioned wooden sidewalks reminiscent of the Klondike Gold Rush town that it started as.

We began our time in Skagway by shopping - as any good tourist would. 🙄 Unfortunately I don't wear bikinis since having 6 kids otherwise I'd be all over this. John was uncomfortable with the speedo but we are headed to Europe afterall soooo...

Fur is in abundance.

The kids all got sunglasses in Skagway and the boys immediately stopped smiling for all pictures. Sunglasses = impenetrability. 

Perusing the 3-D White Pass Rail Pass that we were able to take later in the day. We climbed over 3000 ft. The views were...wow.

The train that we took up a few hours later. 

Skagway is where Jack London visited and was inspired to write his Alaskan novels!

The girls forgot to be detached and cool. At this point the group split up and Thomas and Rosie (on the ends) went the Gran and Uncle Colin and Traci to zipline. Thomas was apparently ever the eager participant. Always listing and ALWAYS first in line. When asked what his name was and where he was from he enthusiastically answered, "Thomas! Maryland, USA!" So for the rest of the adventure they called him, "Thomas Maryland USA!" They LOVED ziplining but I wasn't there to get pictures - preferring my heights to be confined within the walls of a train.

I think we were still in the rainforest climate at this point.

The White Pass Rail. Oh my gosh. Easily the most beautiful this I've ever done. With the possible exception of what we did the day before. It's just glory to glory in Alaska. We climbed 3000 ft over an hour and half. We passed through four separate climates: temperate rainforest, sub alpine, alpine and sub-artic. Even though we basically had an 90 minutes on the train the terrain just kept changing and being a whole new experience.

Standing outside the rail car to get the best views. A little wobbly feeling but it moved slowly enough to be OK. Well, to be honest - I sent the 4 year old back in because I just didn't like the look of the gap on the floor. But again, Alaska! It was my choice to risk or not risk. 

Either alpine or sub-alpine.

Those pointy mountains to the right of the background range are the Sawtooth Mountains.

If you zoom into this picture you can actually see our ship docked in that tiny bit of water in the middle of the picture.

This is the Alpine climate zone.

Not the most inspiring picture but this was the border between Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. Because this climate at the border is Sub-Arctic and receives up to 70 ft. of snow (!!!) during the winter both countries actually set their customs building back 7 miles from the actual border where the climate is considered "Alpine" and receives a lot less snow.

This was part of a 3-mile long glacier lake which was 150 ft. deep at some points. 

At this point we were pretty solidly in the Sub-Arctic climate zone. Things started to look a little Mordor-y to me. Minus the lava and smoke. The small, shriveled trees in the background of this picture are up to 700 years old! They grow super slowly and never get big and can thus survive the winds and snow that come with their homeland. The wind up here was significantly colder. We dropped at least 10 degrees over the course of the ride.

These telephone poles are non-functioning now but were part of the US effort during WWII to have a radio option to contact Australia. They were successful! John and I both have grandfathers who were stationed in Alaska during the war so I was excited about these signs of human life way up here.

Re-entering the Alpine climate zone.

The girls spent most of the time climbing all over their uncle. Good sport!

This was Fraser, BC - the end of our route. We went through customs up here (not bad scenery for those customs officials, huh?, boarded our bus and drove back down. 

Roadtrip AND cruise. All the best worlds.

More of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Gold panning at a cheesy Gold-mining camp. I don't recommend this one except for the youngest of travelers. And even then...

FROZEN Sail-Away Dance Party as we pulled out of Skagway (see the great and fearsome Elsa down there in the middle?) Much joy for the 3 and 4 year old. 

11:15 pm.