Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Summer BFB

BFB = Big F____ Book

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Fat. Fun. Famous. Ferocious?

Or, you know. The other thing.

For a few years I've been using my summer as a chance to tackle big books. Classic books. Books that people I admire have read. For me, beach reading is the kind of book that barely fits in your hands and takes many a lazy July afternoon to finish. And I allow myself to destroy them. I am not being figurative here. I get them wet at the pool, I cram them into my purse and they end up with gum between the pages. I get all up in these books.

These BFBs are not always great literature, but they can be. I try to find balance -- especially when I started BFBs and I made myself read one classic for every new book. (That part has since gotten a little messy, which is fine...) They almost always fall into the category of things that I would not have time to read when I am teaching/in school/reviewing.

Previous BFBs: Gone With the Wind, The Thorn Birds, East of Eden, Middlesex, and Anna Karenina.

What's funny about looking back at those reviews is that my feelings about many of those books have changed over time. Some that I was not a fan the day after finishing have grown on me. And honestly, with things like Anna Karenina there's a nice confidence that comes later from being able to jump into a conversation about a big-ass classic and know what you're talking about. It makes me grow to love the book more than I did when I was like crap, I just read a thousand pages and I need a rest.

But the point of summer BFBs is not really enjoyment, per se. It is challenging myself in some tangible way to read more than I think I can read. It's the grownup equivalent of that Summer Reading Challenge at the library when I was 8 where I could earn points on the library wall and win at reading. The point is winning, basically.

There are no page requirements for a BFB. But it has to feel hefty. It has to be doorstop of a book. I have read all but one of my previous BFBs in actual book form. Even though I'm a fan of ebooks too, there's something about having a book that looks like nobody in their right mind would pick it up that appeals to me.

So, okay. This summer. I have actually read one BFB, and I am just over 10% through the other. The first was the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which is the basis for the HBO Game of Thrones show. It's not a literary classic (let's not argue, okay?), but it is over 800 pages. It qualifies on length alone. And in terms of how much goodwill it buys me with my fantasy book-loving husband. I just finished it this morning (I'll compose my thoughts on it soon) but I definitely have that glad I'm done feeling.

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My second BFB this summer (modeled for you on the couch next to me by Puppy) is Middlemarch. I bought Middlemarch as a joke to myself about three years ago after a conversation with my (then to be) program director, Tod Goldberg about how students in the UCR Palm Desert MFA program choose their own reading lists. "You can read whatever you're interested in," he said. "It's not like we're going to make you read Middlemarch. I mean, if you want to read Middlemarch you can, but we're not going to make you." That phone call changed my life--I found out I was accepted to my MFA program and immediately set off reading books that were not Middlemarch for the next three years. When I saw a brand new copy in a used bookstore soon after, I took it as a sign.

And I promised myself I'd read it once I was done with the program. I had absolutely no intentions of liking it, but since I know I can make myself read (and finish) anything, I didn't care about that too much.

But here's what I'm finding, and this means I am a hopeless nerd and I should just surrender any cool cred now. I am actually liking Middlemarch. Like, really, really liking it. I know you're not shocked because you already get what kind of grade A dork you're looking at, but I am pleasantly surprised. It's really good.

I decided to attack this particular BFB from all sides. I have the paper copy, and I had a copy on my Kindle from a long time ago. I bought the audio book from audible, so I am also listening to it when I walk my dog. I am never without Middlemarch, you guys. It's fabulous. I am really taking my time and trying not to rush this one, and so far it is the perfect summer book.

Any suggestions for BFBs?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

They should probably come home now.

I've been a mom for long enough that I'm often not entirely sure which parts of my identity are me and which parts are dictated by being around my kids. It's like when you've been dyeing your hair for so long and someone asks "what's your natural color?" and you press your lips together and raise your eyebrows and you're like "brown...ish?" because let's be clear: you really have no idea how much of your "natural brown" is blended for you in that little black tub of hair dye by your stylist. You can't remember what color grows out of your head, and you have a sneaking suspicion what grows out of your head looks more like those grey wires you try to tuck underneath a sly part so you don't get the urge to pluck them.

Or so I hear.

Anyway, my kids have been gone all week. They're up at their Mimi's house taking swim lessons and running all over the mountain. I miss them like crazy, but I'm not complaining. I have used this time. I'm still playing book review catch up from playing hooky in Europe for three weeks, so quiet time in my house has been a total luxury. I've tried to be good and work and also get some things done around the house, too. It's not just book time in the middle of a crazy pile.

I wonder a little if these rare times alone aren't some way to see what I'm really like, now. Like, maybe the reason I am not BeyoncĂ©-fabulous and Lizzy-Caplan-chic and Misty-Copeland-fit and Herman-Melville-published is that I have too much to do when we're four of usWhen there is nobody to ask for things or dictate a schedule or leave the bag of Lays potato chips on the carpet for the billionth time in a row, maybe it's super easy to be awesome. I can't go off of what I was like pre-kids, because at this point that already feels too long ago.

So of course like any neurotic 35 year old woman, on Sunday I decide I am going to DO ALL THE THINGS during my week alone. The list:

I am going to floss like nobody has ever flossed before.
I am going to read three books, one of which is Middlemarch.
I am going to reorganize my kitchen (see also: be a better person.)
I am going to find the floor in my closet.
I am going to eat only fresh, fabulous and mysterious vegetables because
a) Gwenyth
and b) I'm sure it's not hard to give up Icees.
I am going to probably lose ten pounds. Or so.
I am going to write like five book reviews and maybe a novel.
I am going to plan my first semester of English 9 and AVID.
I am going to write some short pieces for essay contests.
I am going to get up and dawn and run every morning.
I am going to eat hella stuff out of Mason jars.
I am going to make like five kinds of jam.
I am going to meditate, and take long, thoughtful walks.
I am going to binge watch like three new shows.
I am going to keep my house spotless.

So yeah, all that happened. Because that's who I am. See you later.

HAHAHAHA NOT REALLY YOU GUYS

I mean. I guess what I learned that week is I am not the kind of person who can do all that in one week, even if my kids are not here.

Don't get me wrong. I did a lot of stuff. Just sometimes I was a total asshole about it. To myself. Take today for example. All I did was go for a walk finish reading a review book, and my internal dialogue was not a pleasant one. I won't tell you the words I said, but it felt like it took forever to finish reading 50 pages. Neat.

It's not like I didn't know this, but in my haste to be skinny and productive and published this week, I forgot to account for the two things I was going to spend the most time doing:

1. Naps
2. Being fascinated by my pets

There have been a lot of cat pictures up in here.

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And cat talking. And weird talk-to-dog voices. And you get it.

I did some good things. Sunday I got a desk. A real honest-to-God desk so I can type there and stop having couch related laptop neck pain. It's very simple and very small and very much better than the card table I've been using.

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Plus it has bookshelves, which my forays into critical work are quickly demanding we need more of. I filled the top with books on my to-read (not for reviews) list, and I filled the bottom with books by people who inspire me.

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Oh hey, professors.

So, listen. I did read. And I walked the dog a lot. And I ate a little bit better than normal. And I did cull about 20% of the crap out of my kitchen and haul it to Goodwill. And then I did the same for my closet. And I sent reviews to editors and I kept the place pretty clean and I tested some new recipes. But that's about it. There are probably 8 or so hours each day I can't account for, and I'm guessing only about two of those hours were spend Googling obscure facts about Nicole Richie's hair color.

I didn't become an entirely new person, no matter how many inspirational pins I found on Pinterest. I was productive, but I'm probably just about as productive when the monkeys are here.

More than anything, I missed 'em.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Yesterday

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Yesterday felt long. A side effect, I'm sure, of the early waking/still not sleeping right thing. I finished a review before 6, took the dog for a run before 7, and was done dragging the kids through Walmart and the pet supply store before lunch time. After lunch and unpacking all the snacky American processed goodness I purchased at the 'mart, we swam at my mom's for a while, and we hadn't even made it to the actual 4th of July party.

But after a short visit with E's parents--who stopped by to bring me a bookshelf for my classroom and a new quilt ladder that my father in law made for me (yay! more on that soon)--we were in the car and off to see the rest of the family.

Is it just me, or does it seem like we spend a lot of time in the car on holidays?

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We had a great BBQ with E's family, most of whom we haven't seen in quite some time. We reunited with our fellow travelers from the trip, though, so it was fun to catch up about life since we'd been back.

And of course, Henry made sure we had our s'mores. For the S'moreth. They were delicious, too.


I couldn't stay awake for the end of fireworks, though, and I was almost knocked out in the comfy chair inside by the time E came in to say we were all done. I crawled into bed when we got home and somehow Addie ended up asleep there next to me. I didn't realize until I woke up this morning to an elbow in my face--I assumed it was E, but it was Miss Roo.

And now I'm trying to drink a smoothie of last week's farmers' market leftovers. For two reasons: A) use up all of the produce that was left from last week's purchases and about to go bad or get tossed. B) to atone for all the Coke I drank and marshmallows (okay, and doughnuts) I consumed yesterday.

Happy Birthday, America.

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Friday, July 04, 2014

Lumps and the S'moreth of July

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I've been home now for a week, and most of that has been spent asleep. Jet lag has been kicking my patoot, and as of last night I have yet to remain awake later than 9:30 PM. The flip side of this is that I have been awake by about 5:00 AM every day, so I've had the quiet hours I need to catch up on some book reviewing. Not a loss to sleep that much, really, and since I don't have to be anywhere right now, I can stay at home and nap myself back to normal.

Life always gets small in the summer, but this week my car died and needed to be at the dealership for a few days, so life shrunk to the size of a pinpoint. For most of the week I didn't go any farther than my parents' house so the kids could swim in the afternoons, and that's only about a half mile away.

I'm happy to be home. As awesome as it was to be away, I missed my bed and my pets and the simple joy of being home with the kiddos during the summer. We've had a great week even though Mom has been kind of a lump. The pets, of course, do not mind this lumpiness at all.

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I wasn't able to get myself into gear while I was traveling to do any reviews (or even to read for them), so I've been really busy on that front. Luckily, I scrambled to finish a bunch of them right before I left, so I think I'm okay. It just means I have to stay on my organizational game.

Will this summer seem too short? I keep wondering about that, like I'll have to pay for spending three weeks of my time traveling. I paid a little already with a stinging sunburn on Monday when I didn't think about the fact that my skin had been under cloudy European skies. It wasn't up to its ordinary June bronze. Oops.

We'll see about how long this summer feels. My garden is kind of a non-starter, since the sprinklers were unplugged for the three weeks I was gone. I might get a few tomatoes, but I don't expect anything else. And I know that there won't be any peach jam this year. The peaches ripened while I was gone and they all either got picked or fell on the ground before I came home. Sads. I'm sure I'll be making some strawberry, so it won't be a total jam fail. But it won't be like it usually is. (Strange that I measure my summers in jars of preserved fruit, no?)

I'm trying not to think too much about the end of summer, and to just be happy I'm not at work (that's not hard, by the way). Today we'll be with family for the 4th rather than all alone like last year, but Henry just asked if we can go get marshmallows to continue the S'moreth. Sounds good to me.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Paris

Paris was a whirlwind. Originally, we weren't going to see it at all. Our plan was to stay in Normandy for the entire last week. I was completely okay with this, especially before I knew that E was going to be joining me for that part of the trip. Normandy is beautiful and I knew we'd have plenty to do there. But when E decided he'd come, he said knew that being so close to Paris and not seeing it was going to be something I'd regret. So we decided we'd leave Normandy one day before the rest of our group (our train went through Paris, so the plan was to meet up at the train station the next afternoon to head back to England) and we'd try to see as much of a gigantic city as one can in 24 hours.

I was a bit nervous the morning we left Bayeux because I was still not certain the railroad strike was over. French newspapers still said things like "it is pretty much over, so 7 out of 10 trains are running." I was worried that our train would be canceled again, and worried that it would be harder to deal with logistics from a small train station like Bayeux, but our train was still listed online so we figured we'd go for it. We walked to the train station, and had a completely ordinary train ride to Paris. Just what I was hoping for.

Once in Paris we found our subway lines and transferred so we could get to the hotel. Once again I was happy we were not dragging bags behind us, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the Paris subway system is to navigate. We popped up at Saint-Michel, right next to the Seine, and I couldn't stop grinning.

Paris felt like a dream. I'm not sure if it's because we had such limited time there, or because I've never seen a city like it before. But I was happy to be the goofiest tourist, ever.  God, it was beautiful.

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First look at the Seine
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Our hotel (the three open windows on the right are our room)
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Lunch, and Notre Dame peeking through the trees behind E
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Another day, another metric ton of fromage
We arrived about noon -- the bells of Notre Dame were just starting to ring as we walked down the Left Bank. Our plan was to drop our bags at the hotel so we could explore, and we'd go back later once we could check in. Our room was ready, though, so we were able to check in. Of course by then we were starving, so we just found a little cafe and got to work on consuming more cheese.
Our post-lunch plan was to take one of those (completely nerdy--I know--but easy ways to see a bunch of things in a little bit of time) hop-on/hop-off bus tours. And it was great, especially because our time was so limited. We both got sunburned, though, because it was HOT.
At the Eiffel Tower, we got off the bus and proceeded to take our mandatory Eiffel Tower photo. Of course this means handing my camera to some random person who looks like they might not run off with it, so of course I have a bunch of really bad photos. The first girl I asked to take our picture took just our picture. I have a picture of our faces with some black bars behind us--we might as well be in Sacramento. We decided we'd walk to the other side of the Tower and try again. The second batch worked, at least.
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Paris wins. I couldn't get over it. I will try not to embarrass myself by gushing, but I was awestruck. I definitely had a moment. Well, I had a moment when I wasn't regretting my dark grey jeans. I was so, so, so sweaty.
After we got off the bus (even though I was a sweaty mess) I made E go with me to Shakespeare and Company. The original had such history for all the Americanexpat writers in Paris during the 1920s (i.e. where the Lost Generation found themselves). That one closed during WWII, but this current store (named in honor of the first) opened in the fifties and has also been an important literary site since. It felt like another necessary stop on the Heather Sees All the Literary Things Tour.
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Me. Paris. Books. Win. 
In what I am sure will be the story of my life, by about 5:00 I had overdone it, not had enough water to drink, and I felt like crap. Our plan had been to go back to the hotel to clean up and then to go to Notre Dame or maybe Sainte-Chappelle, but of course I was a giant turd who felt like I was going to get sick. I just couldn't keep going. So even though the bells of Notre Dame were ringing just outside our hotel room window, we decided we couldn't do it. It was closing at 6:00, and there was just no way.
Les sads.
But listen. When you're in Paris, you're not allowed to be sad for too long. Because you're in PARIS. So I rested a bit, showered, and by dinner time I was ready to hit the fromage streets again.

We wandered the narrow streets around our hotel and eventually settled in at a little bistro and enjoyed every touristy minute. Even the accordion player playing La Vie en Rose over and over again next to each restaurant. I was happy for another nice, slow dinner that ended in cheese.
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Notre Dame from our hotel room
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Sunset over the Seine from our hotel room
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...and Notre Dame from our hotel window, by night. All lit up. Quite a view.
After dinner I realized that my time in this country was limited; we wandered the streets and I continued to eat French pastries with an almost academic dedication. We were back to our room just as the sun was setting on Notre Dame.

Our plan the second day (or what we had of it--we had to be to Paris du Nord to meet the rest of our group by 1:30 PM) was pretty much the Louvre. We were packed up early so we could leave our bags at the front desk and walk to the Louvre before it opened. I am so glad we were there early. We were inside right at 9:00 and had about an hour and a half of seeing things almost completely by ourselves. The busiest pieces--the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc had a small crowd, each, but the majority of the museum was empty and we wandered alone in front of so many great works.

Favorites: Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix, Canova's sculpture of Cupid and Psyche, Jacques-Louis David's massive painting of Napoleon crowning Josephine, Hammurabi's Code, the Assyrian winged human-headed bulls, and Michelangelo's sculptures of slaves. But I think one of the best things about the Louvre was just being in the Louvre. Miles and miles of art and history. My one bummer at the Louvre: the one thing I really wanted to see, Winged Victory, was out for restoration.

Basically, I'm saying I need to go back.

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We walked until our feet wouldn't carry us anymore. Which was (I think?) about 11:30. Somehow we managed to see all of things we wanted to see. We had about a mile to walk back to our hotel and we needed to eat, so we ducked into a pizzeria just after hearing the the bells of Notre Dame ring for 12:00 again. Our time was up. It was back to the hotel to grab our backpacks, then onto the subway so we could get back to Paris du Nord.
It ended up being a long travel day. Our train back to England was delayed about an hour, and then once we were back at St. Pancras we had to take the subway another hour to get out to our hotel, which was by Heathrow, and even then it was quite a walk. My legs and feet were really aching by that night. we ate a hearty dinner at the hotel and collapsed.
Heathrow was a crowded, insane mess when we got there. British Airways' luggage system was down, so the line was wrapped around the building. Luckily, we found an agent who helped check us in and we were able to get to our gate early. We decided at some point that we wanted to go straight home, rather than spend the night in San Francisco as had been our original plan. Luckily, I have the best friend in the whole wide world in K, and she agreed to drive to San Francisco that night to get us. We couldn't wait to see our kids, and we surprised them that night at my parents'.
This trip was amazing and I still don't think I've processed all of it. I'm happy to be home, but I'm already thinking about the next trip.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bayeux Tapestry and Cathedral

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Our last day in Bayeux was very low key. The combined effect of taking in the DDay beaches plus racing around the region because our driver was in such a hurry the day before left us all pretty tired.

We'd decided to go see the Bayeux Tapestry first thing in the morning so the museum wouldn't be too crowded. Since you can't take pictures inside (for obvious reasons), I only have my picture in front of the museum. You can see the panels of the Tapestry here. This was one of the things I was most excited to see in France. Scholars estimate the BT was made in about the 1070s as a piece of propaganda detailing the importance of oath-keeping and William the Conqueror's victory at the Battle of Hastings. It's in surprisingly good shape today. The Tapestry (which is really embroidery, not tapestry) hung at one time inside the Bayeux Cathedral, which we visited later the same day. I can't find a picture of this online, but in the Tapestry museum they had an artist's rendering of what the Tapestry would have looked like hanging inside the nave of the Cathedral. The museum was small but well done, and even though we had museum overload by this point, we were impressed with the display.

After the Tapestry, we walked over to the Cathedral, which we had only seen from the outside. Portions of the Cathedral survive from the 1000s, which blows my mind. But it's also in really good shape (and a working church), and the Gothic portions and stained glass from the 1800s are really beautiful. I tried to go into the crypt--which is one of the parts of the church that survives from William the Conqueror's time--but the mold really aggravated my allergies.  The Bayeux Cathedral is an amazing structure.

By the time we saw the Cathedral, we were hungry. We stopped by breakfast location #1 and had some lunch, and then we spent the rest of the afternoon napping and reading. I was so exhausted by that point, and I felt like I had a bit of historical whiplash from jumping between WWII and medieval history so much. We decided to rest up for the remainder of the day, because E and I were catching a train to Paris in the morning.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What I Packed

Three weeks out of a backpack. No checked bags.

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In the Heathrow airport, headed home

For my three weeks in Ireland, England and France, I knew I'd be moving around a lot. I decided I wanted to bring a bag I could carry on the plane. And because I wanted to be even more portable, I didn't want to deal with wheels. I limited myself to my backpack and one crossbody bag that I'd be using as my purse/day bag.

The good thing about taking a backpack is that the bag itself is pretty light. I wanted to be able to carry everything myself without having to ever ask for help, and I wanted to feel more like I was in control of my stuff (no extra bags hanging everywhere or things to keep track of).

This is what I packed, if you're interested. It wasn't perfect (see notes), but it was pretty good. I read a lot of travel sites before I left (this one in particular).

THE BAGS
Backpack: Kelty Redwing 40 (E has the 44)
Shoulder bag: Baggalini Partner Backpack (could also alter straps to wear it like a small backpack)

Inside the backpack I used some packing cubes from ebags and nylon pouches from Ikea to keep everything organized. I needed to unpack and pack a lot, and that way I knew right where everything was without having to dig for it.

I washed laundry as we went--mostly in the sink, a few things in the hotel laundry service, and in the washer when we had it at our flat in London. Since it was cold/rainy in Ireland and hot in France, I tried to pack things I could layer.  If I was going to be in one climate for the whole time, I wouldn't bring as much. But I ended up using pretty much everything between the three countries. Almost all of the clothes I brought were black, gray, or white. Everything could be worn with everything else. I rolled all of my clothes inside the cubes except for my jacket and sweatshirt.

The packing list, including what I wore on the plane:

CLOTHES
Fleece zip-up sweatshirt (compressed in a gallon ziplock to save space)
Waterproof shell rain jacket
1 pair Jeans
1 pair lightweight pants (like these)
1 pair Leggings
1 pair shorts
1 skirt
2 sundresses
1 pair shorts to wear under skirts (like Spanx)
1 scarf (E's aunt bought me another one along the way)
1 pair PJ pants
2 T-shirts (bought 2 more along the way)
3 camisoles
1 long-sleeve top
3 sleeveless blouses/shells
1 cardigan
1 pull-over sweater
1 canvas jacket (like a denim jacket, kinda?)
5 pair socks
1 bathing suit (didn't use... but you never know)
6 pair underwear
2 bras

SHOES
1 pair Converse (old, so I could toss them if I needed space)
1 pair running shoes
1 pair Toms (old, so I could toss them if I needed space)
1 pair flip flops (I never wore them)

TOILETRIES/STUFF
sleep mask/ earplugs
travel-size Kleenex/ hand wipes
Shampoo and conditioner
toothbrush/toothpaste
floss
hair ties and bobby pins
medicine/ band-aids/ Q-tips
razor
nail clippers/ tweezers
brush and comb
makeup remover
moisturizer/ chapstick
contact solution and case
glasses and case
Packtowel and clothesline
laundry/body soap (This and this. They both worked fine. I used the liquid as a body/face wash for most of the trip.)
Makeup
Hair spray and curl cream
Neck wallet/ Passport/ credit cards
Bag for dirty laundry
Collapsable backpack (like this) in case I needed more space to pack on the way home (Didn't use)
Ziplocks (a big one to hold memory stuff)

TECH/ STUFF
earbuds
DSLR camera/ charger
extra camera batteries and memory cards
iPad/keyboard/ chargers
iPhone/charger
Travel power adapter (similar)
Small power strip (like this)
TSA locks/thin cable
iPad camera connector kit and USB cord for camera
copies of all important paperwork (also emailed to myself)
pen and pencil
Small coin purse

I weighed my backpack before I left and it was 18 pounds. It was full, but manageable. I measured it to make sure it fit carry-on regulations, but nobody gave me a second glance any of the times we boarded a plane. 

As we went, I ended up ditching a few things that I didn't absolutely need. I prioritized before I left and knew which things I'd ditch. I left my Converse in London on the last night. They lasted the whole time but they were ready to go. In retrospect I would have brought different running shoes. My Nike Free Runs didn't have enough support and the bottoms of my feet hurt when I wore them, which is why I ended up wearing the Converse almost every day (even with dresses). They have a thicker sole. I was tired of wearing everything by the end, but I could have kept going easily. Wash, wear, repeat.

A word about photo back-up:

I was really concerned ahead of time about how I'd make sure to back up my pictures. Since I wasn't planning to really buy very much, I knew those pictures were the main souvenirs I'd want of the trip. I brought my gigantic DSLR camera which was a pain in the ass to lug around but it takes great pictures. My backup process was to put the pictures onto my iPad every night and then when we had good wifi, to back them up to Dropbox. It worked fine as long as we had good wifi (which we sometimes didn't). I also kept them on the memory card so they were in three places. I know I'm unusually freaked out about losing files, but I didn't want to wait until I was 35 to go anywhere and then accidentally delete all the pictures. The system worked, but it took some odd cord-plugging since Apple doesn't yet make a memory card reader for the lightning plug and my camera uses the old CF cards. But I worked it out.

In my day bag, I'd carry my camera and phone and kleenex, chapstick, water, etc, but no credit cards and never very much money in case it got nabbed. When I flew to and from London, I also packed it full of my prescriptions and the ipad, just in case my big bag got separated from me. I had my passport and anything important in my neck wallet--as much so I didn't lose them as so they'd be protected.

I can't tell you how HAPPY we both were that we didn't bring bags with wheels. I knew that having a backpack would be better over cobblestones, but I didn't have a sense of just how many cobblestones we'd be looking at, and how wobbly they be. And how many stairs... And how many escalators... On the subway, being able to carry everything easily was a lifesaver. We never got stuck in a turnstile, and I never felt like my stuff was too far away from me. When we were traveling from place to place (subway, train, etc) or leaving our bags anywhere for any length of time, I locked the zippers shut.

When we got to Heathrow to head home, there was a line wrapped around the entire terminal because their baggage system was down. It felt so good to bypass that mess and get right on the plane with our stuff.

I think that's it? We're total converts to backpacks now, and packing less.

Normandy: DDay Beaches

I decided to wait until we got home to finish the rest of the posts about our trip. I'd been trying not to be too specific about E being with me for the second half of the trip (I didn't want to advertise that we were both out of the country), but I realized after the day we visited the DDay beaches that I couldn't keep that up. I also needed time to process after we spent the day visiting each of these sites. I couldn't get right into what I was feeling by writing that same night.

But anyway. We're home now, so here are the rest of the things we saw...

I started my second day in Bayeux just as I had started the first. I had breakfast at my two favorite breakfast spots. Yes, two. Breakfast 1 was in a little cafe so I could have some wonderful coffee (I was missing good coffee so bad when we were in Ireland and England) and a little protein. Breakfast 2 was at the patisserie next door. Every day. No shame in my pain au chocolat game.

Bayeux - 25

For our tour of the American landing beaches (we were only touring those, so we didn't see the British or Canadian landing areas), we had a private tour guide and car. This made our experience much more focused. We were able to ask questions and get a lot of personalized information. E's grandfather was at DDay, serving on an LST for the navy. We were able to cater the tour mostly to things that related to his service.

But before we did that, we started at the Airborne museum in St. Mere-Eglise. If you've seen The Longest Day, you know this as the place that a paratrooper, John Steele, got stuck on the spire of the church as he attempted to land. St. Mere-Eglise also has a small museum dedicated to the 82nd and the 101st, the men who liberated the town in the early morning hours of DDay.

The museum was good, but we were antsy to get to the sites related to our family. Most of our day felt rushed, which was too bad. We could have spent a long time at Utah and Omaha Beaches.

St Mere Eglise - 01
St Mere Eglise - 06
Utah Beach - 03
At Utah Beach there's a pretty new memorial to the Navy and their contribution to DDay. Our guide was really knowledgeable about each branch of the American Service and what they'd done. He was able to tell us about how the Navy was particularly successful at Utah, but that they had not been recognized as much as other branches of the military until more recently.
Utah has such a gradual slope that it is shallow for as far as you can see. And it's huge. I was really moved by not just how big each beach was, but how much area the entire invasion took up. We spent most of the day driving between spots and it's hard to really convey in pictures just how many miles this invasion encompassed.
Utah Beach - 04
Utah Beach - 13
Utah Beach - 16
Utah Beach - 25
Utah Beach - 31
Utah Beach - 38
Utah Beach - 44
Utah Beach - 62
After seeing Utah, where E's grandfather landed first (and where the Navy memorial is), we made a stop at Point du Hoc, where the craters from the bombardment are still virtually untouched. Our guide had pictures (that's what he's showing in the one below) of the men who fought at Point du Hoc and eventually found the guns the Germans had moved before the invasion.
Point du Hoc - 08
Point du Hoc - 14
Our last stop was Omaha, specifically the area of Fox Green where our information says E's grandfather's ship came in during the third wave to deliver supplies and take out wounded. This is farther East of Verville, where the worst casualties of Omaha occurred. Our guide was able to give us an idea of exactly what people on his ship would have seen at Omaha. All of this was surreally juxtaposed with the fact that many families were enjoying a swim on the beach the day of our tour. It felt more than a little weird, but it's a sign of how life moves on, I suppose.
Omaha Beach - 01
Omaha Beach - 02
Omaha Beach - 14
Omaha Beach - 16
After Omaha, we visited the American Cemetery on the hill above.
American Cemetery - 04
American Cemetery - 16
American Cemetery - 19
American Cemetery - 20
American Cemetery - 31