Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Day 1 (June 29): And we’re off

After a whirlwind week (David traveling to San Francisco and on to Chicago, kids last day of school, Coxsackie virus, work and paper corrections), we spent Friday getting everything ready.  This meant conference and finishing patient notes, packing, returning library books, finding things, and cleaning up. At 4pm we took off for the train, backpacks on our backs. We had decide to see if we could just get by with backpacks which meant a limiting ourselves to the essentials.  Kindles were essential to this plan and the boys had to choose games wisely. Our flight from Boston to London was a 6 hour overnight flight. We made it to the airport in plenty of time, got through security without a bag being stopped, grabbed dinner, and played a few games before it was time to board.  It was our first trip on a 787 which made for an exciting start. Some of us slept well and some of us didn’t sleep much but everyone was still tired when we landed in London the next morning.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day

Last week was a bit crazy with David out of town and lots of work to be done.  As the 4th of July fell on a Tuesday, we ended up with a 4 day weekend (a rare event only Thanksgiving can match) so we were looking forward to a relaxing weekend!

On Saturday, the boys were up early and clamoring for special breakfast (those breakfasts that don't fit into the schedule on our normal mornings).  They worked together to make peanut butter chocolate chip pancakes - delicious.

The rest of Saturday passed in a blur of grocery shopping, cleaning up, Despicable Me 3, BBQ with friends, and time at the park.

Sunday was supposed to be hot so we decided a beach day was in order.  We headed up to Wingaersheek in Gloucester, a great beach with rocks to climb, tidepools to explore, sandy stretches to build on.  We stopped to buy a sun shade and a few other supplies and then got stuck in traffic.  When we finally got there the parking area was full and they were turning people away.  Turns out others had the same idea for a hot day!

Not to give up, we decided we'd try Singing Beach which we hadn't been to in years.  Still crowded but David was able to drop all of us off and find a parking spot a 20 minute walk away.  The boys spent the afternoon on engineering feats as the tide slowly came back in while David, Mr. 14, and I played frisbee and read in our new shelter.  We even found a crazy sea millipede!

We arrived home for dinner and showers, more time at the park, and ice cream on the porch with our neighbors.

Monday we decided it was time to teach our 5 year old to ride a 2 wheel bike.  It was a year late due to our unfortunately park closing and unfortunately Mr. 5 had outgrown our starter bike in that time.  Not to worry, Craig's List to the rescue.  We found a new bike just the right size the next town over and David and Mr. 5 went on a Costco run and then picked it up.  And then it was off to the park.  He got the hang of it pretty quick and was quickly going 8-10 seconds on his own.  His record was 13 seconds!

One of the purchases at Costco were new shelves for the basement.  As David was moving things around down there he came across our kites.  It turns out we have some expert kite-flyers and Mr. 12 and Mr. 8 had a grand time and Mr. 5 played on the park with his neighborhood posse.

On to dinner (grilled pizza), dominoes, and star gazing.  We haven't even gotten to the actual 4th and have managed a pretty amazing weekend with plans to finish it off with fireworks.  Happy 4th!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Our town

This weekend was Town Day.  It starts Friday night with fireworks and continues with Town Day on Saturday where they close off the center of town and everyone is out with booths for everything in town - local restaurants, community organizations, etc.  I needed a little town spirit after having our playground closed all summer and no work being done so this was just in time (playground renovations are now fully underway but the summer loss is still a painful memory).

Friday afternoon Mr. 7 went home with friends and Mr. 5 and I played on the school playground for quite a while after school.  Mr. 11 called to tell me he was almost home so we walked and met him.  After a brief stop for a snack he was off to a friend's house, piano books in hand, to spend a bit of time before his lesson which is 2 blocks away.  Mr. 5 and I went and watched Mr. 13 run in his first cross country meet.  It was fun to see him run and Mr. 5 shared in the after race snacks while I chatted with a few parents I knew.

We left Mr. 13 with his Shakespeare-themed snack so he could go to the drama department social and headed back to pick up Mr. 7 from his playdate.  I had thought that Mr. 11 would be home at this point but he never reappeared.  Turns out he'd gone straight back to his friend R's house and was happily hanging out (and didn't hear his phone) which I had thought was likely the case.  We chatted with R's mom and offered to get pizza for everyone before fireworks.  The pizza place was crowded and the pizza took way too long but we finally walked home with our pizza in time to meet Mr. 13 who was dropped off by a friend and have pizza with Mr. 11 and his friends and walk to the fireworks together.

The fireworks were amazing and everyone ran around in the dark with glow sticks after.  Despite an unfortunately altercation between Mr. 7 and a friend of Mr. 11 and R (Mr. 7 got angry and hit him with a glow stick and the young man was pretty sure that constituted assault - happily he was talked out of discussing it with any law enforcement and it was actually more comical than serious), it was a fantastic night.

Town day started with muffins for everyone with my baking assistant.

Mr. 5 had soccer and he actually did all the drills and even played in the scrimmage without too much coaxing which is a huge improvement!

Next up, Mr. 7 had cello lessons so David took the other 3 by bike to Town Day festivities while I managed lessons.  The library book sale is one of our favorite events and I had asked David to limit his purchases this year because we honestly just don't have enough space for our bibliophibians.  Mr. 5 headed immediately for the cookbook table and picked out an Alton Brown cookbook and was very please with his selection

After cello, Mr. 7 and I went to meet up with everyone for lunch at Town Day. We had to park a bit far and as we were walking we passed the Episcopalian church who were hosting a "Sisters in Stitches" quilt showing in tea.  We told them that we were meeting our family but maybe on the way back.

Lunch was a crowded affair and sadly Mr. 13 set his phone down and then walked away and it was missing by the time we returned.  Everyone was feeling a bit tired and grumpy so I walked back to the car with Mr. 7 and Mr. 5 while David took the other boys home by bike.  As we were again passing the Episcopalian church Mr. 7 stopped and told me that I had said we were going to go and he really wanted to see the quilts.  Mr. 5 was starting to lose it and I tried to talk him out of it but he was really insistent.  So in we went.  We found our way to the church hall in the basement and they had all the quilts displayed with the quilters on hand to answer questions.  There was also a lovely tea set up with fingers sandwiches and desserts.  It wasn't crowded but there were people admiring the quilts.  The boys looked at every quilt and talked about what they liked and how beautiful they were and then we had some treats with Mr. 7 offering Mr. 5 more snacks and even a sugar cube because he thought he would really like it.  It was such a sweet time (although I did have to stop Mr. 7 after one sugar cube each).

While we were there we got a call that someone had turned Mr. 13's phone into the police so we walked back to the center and picked up his phone.  We really live in a great place - we love our neighborhood school and walking to our favorite bakery.  We have a bike path at the end of our street and the librarians recognize us.  Having lived in the same place for 9 years has made us a part of the community and it's a great to feel that connection.  So when we grumble about being on top of each other in our little space, it's nice to remember that there's a whole town right outside our door to enjoy!

And hopefully the park will be back open soon.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

First day of school

All 4 boys started school the same day this year.  It was great to jump in with both feet but it did start things off with a bang.  I took the older 2, dropping off Mr. 13 so he could set up his locker and then taking Mr. 11 over to his school before going back for Mr. 13's convocation and parent meetings.  David took the younger 2, getting Mr. 7 to school and then taking Mr. 5 to kindergarten open house.

One of the sweetest moments was when Mr. 11 came back from school.  There were 4 different end times for our 4 kids so David took the day off.  Mr. 11 was the last to come home.  He takes the bus back to our street and then walks the rest of the way.  Mr. 5 was waiting for him and ran to greet him with a big hug and told him "you're the best friend".

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

South Africa - London Epilogue

We took an overnight flight to London and settled in for the night.  After a nice dinner (food on international flights is still rather decent) I quickly fell asleep and my charges soon followed.  I was woken up by David tapping me.  “They asked for a doctor.”  Trying to wake my sleeping brain that was also a bit groggy from back pain and medication, I rang in and volunteered my services.  I did what I could (which was not much – there’s only a blood pressure cuff and a glucometer and she actually wasn’t that sick – there were other issues) and they gave me a bottle of champagne for my services.  The kids slept relatively well but no one got a full night sleep. 

Day 1 in London
We landed at Heathrow with a very cranky Mr. 4 who wanted only to seat himself in the middle of the long passport control line and work on his sticker book.  I was trying desperately to find the address where we were staying while trying to help David maneuver 4 tired kids (one of whom refused to move).  There were 2 older Americans behind us who were really rather horrible, eventually cutting in front of us in line and telling us how rude it was that they had to stand behind us.  We were holding up plodding movement of the line but it didn’t actually change anything as we just ended up moving in large burst rather than a few steps every 10 seconds or so.

Finally through (with Mr. 4 giving his name as Bonzo the Bear yet again), we headed for the Underground.  A bit longer than the alternative Heathrow Express, but no changes and we would be there.  All went well until we went to get off at our stop.  The door didn’t open immediately and then Mr. 13 got off and the doors closed right behind him.  I called for him to wait there as the train whisked us off to the next stop.  Mr. 11 was panicking (he panics well) but we managed to stay calm, get off at the next stop, switch to the other side (lots of stairs with lots of luggage) and then back to our station where Mr. 13 was waiting.  A lovely station attendant had helped him and he did just the right thing but it made him very wary the rest of the trip that we would get separated on the train.

We collapsed into our apartment which was incredibly lovely.  Two big bedrooms, one of which had a pull-out couch and slept all 4 kids comfortably.  A big living room with a rolling ladder.  Mr. 13 had gotten a newspaper and did the crossword and sodoku with help from his brothers and everyone seemed happy to relax.  Mr. 4 pulled out his trusty sticker book (best purchase ever) and both David and I had hot showers.  And then we mustered the troops to try to explore London.
We decided on the Tower of London as our first stop as Mr. 4 was keen to see castles (ideally with a King, Queen, and Princess).  We bought tickets online avoiding the long line and gathered for the tour with the Yeoman.  We met a family from St. Louis also there visiting while we waited.  It quickly became clear after the tour started that it was not going to work given the crowds and our boys – Mr. 13 was very attentive but Mr. 7 and Mr. 4 couldn’t see or hear much and quickly lost interest.  So we headed off on our own.  We saw the crown jewels and Mr. 7 and Mr. 11 completed the kids scavenger hunt (a wonderful addition to almost all the sites we visited).  We ate our sandwiches in a doorway after in the rain and wondered what to do next.  An indoor activity seemed best given the persistent rain.  We decided to see the armor in the original castle and then head by bus to the British Museum.  Everyone loved the armor and the rain had slowed as we ran to the bus.  We easily caught the first which dropped us at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  No one seemed as excited as David and I did to see it, and the next bus stop was missing.  There were signs that said some routes had been diverted, but it wasn’t clear if ours was included.  After wandering for a while, we decided to take the train instead.  It was a bit of a walk to the station and the end was in the drenching rain but we made it and arrived at the British Museum soggy and our overnight flight beginning to show.  We had teatime in the great courtyard (which David and I had done in the past and felt very nostalgic about) and the sugar seemed to brighten everyone up.  We then did a bit of a whirlwind tour – the Lewis chessmen, Egyptian mummies, Samurai armor, Assyrian siege of Lachish and the lion hunt, the Rosetta Stone, and the Greek temple.  Time and energy ran out and we emerged to a bit of sunshine for our walk back to the Underground.  Mr. 13 and I stopped and got groceries for dinner while the others headed back (Mr. 4 sang “Home on the Range” the whole way home, in case anyone wasn’t sure if we were Americans), and he practiced his British accent for me on the way back.   A bit of dinner, hot showers and baths, and Danger Mouse, and everyone fell into bed.

Day 2 in London
After later sunrises in Cape Town due to the winter, everyone was up bright and early with the summer sun.  Only one day and lots to see.  We emerged from the Underground to sunshine and found ourselves right in front of Big Ben.  The boys posed for pictures with the prime minister statues and saw Jo Cox’s memorial and Nelson Mandela.  We started at Westminster Abbey (convincing Mr. 4 to come only because it was a “castle museum church”) and everyone loved it.  There were kings and queens for Mr. 4, a scavenger hunt for Mr. 7 and Mr. 11, and an audio guide for Mr. 13.  One of the docents(?) was only too glad to take a break from crowd management to explain the heraldry in the chapel to David and Mr. 4.  The boys left with gold chocolate coins for their work (the scavenger hunt prize) and we headed down Whitehall toward Trafalgar Square.  There was quite a crowd at 10 Downing Street (That was the day Theresa May took over was PM) and we could see lots of reporters on the street but not much else.  Pictures with the lions and it was clearly time for lunch.

 We ate at an old favorite – the basement cafĂ© at St. Martin in the Fields and were the youngest by years.  Getting to the table with food proved difficult and we were a very grumpy crowd at lunch with everyone mad at each other.  Mr. 4 had not been easy since the near the end of Westminster and my back was still bothering me so I couldn’t carry him so that made things difficult.  We were a bit cheerier after eating and I convinced everyone that we could walk through St. James Park to see Buckingham Palace.  Nothing much was going on although the flag let us know that the queen was in residence.  Suddenly one of the guards yelled loudly at Mr. 7 to “get off the fence” and we realized that he had climbed rather far up (because he climbs everything and is a bit of a monkey).  We quickly gathered our brood and decided to get some energy out at the playground.  Mr. 13 had loved the Diana Memorial Playground in 2005 with its pirate ship and we thought it would be a wonderful break.  Unfortunately, it was quite a distance and everyone was tired.  We found a bus that went close but got on it going the wrong direction and realized at the same time our oyster cards were out of funds.  We got off and found the right bus but he wouldn’t let us on due to the cards so we trudged grumpily to Victoria station to fill them.  It was supposed to rain all afternoon and the sky was quite dark.  At that point it didn’t seem worth it to try to make it to the playground so we went to the Science Museum instead.  And it was every bit as wonderful as we remembered.  We started with a quick tea time (coffee for those who needed it) and then found Babbage’s difference engine, Stephenson’s Rocket, and a Cray Supercomputer.  Science revives everyone and by the time we left everyone was in a much better mood and the sun was somewhat shining so we decided that we would brave the 25 minute walk to the playground.  It was glorious.  Mr. 4 picked up sticks and ran in Hyde Park, Mr. 7 chased pigeons, and Mr. 11 and Mr. 13 were deep in conversation.  The parks in London are really wonderful – even better than the Common or Central Park.  They make a city vacation possible for our little troop.  The playground was a huge hit and the boys spent over an hour there before it was time to gather everyone up for dinner.  Every time we grabbed someone, someone else would disappear and it was another 20 minutes before we were walking again. 

We couldn’t leave London without eating in Wagamama.  Yes, there is one in Boston (3 actually) but we ate at Wagamama for the first time in 2001 when David was working in London and I had flown over to see him.  We ate there 4 times in 2005 when we were in London with Mr. 13 and Mr. 11 (then only 2.5 and 6 months) and they gave little Mr. 13 a t-shirt because he was so cute slurping up his noodles.  It’s a bit of a tradition.  And so we found ourselves at the Wagamama at High Street Kensington and everyone happily gobbled up dinner.  Mr. 13 with his traditional cha han, Mr. 11 also with cha han (no prawns for him), Mr. 7 with noodles and tofu, Mr. 4 with his own yaki soba and David and I with yasai katsu curry (no aubergine) and yaki soba to share.  We ambled back to our little flat, stopping to buy ice cream along the way, and enjoyed ice cream and a little Mythbusters before turning in.  In the end, Mr. 7 and Mr. 11 had a rather epic fight and had to be separated but it was a great end to a rather amazing vacation.

Travelling with 4 kids is not easy and we weren’t sure how it would go.  We learned that it’s possible and fun but there are battles along the way.  Everyone can carry their own luggage and we made it without checking any bags.  The boys are really not interested in souvenirs and need lots of time outdoors.  They can be incredibly polite and kind with each other and the world and then will completely clothesline someone or close the door in someone’s face because they are deep in conversation.  They are messy and loud but also love history and science.  We have kind and understanding friends who were very good to us but having our own space in London was really nice too.  Homeaway or VRBO is much better for a family of 6 than any hotel room and being able to grab a few groceries and head back when people are tired makes a huge difference.  The boys will happily hike up a mountain but complain about tired feet when they’ve been walking around a city for too long and then forget how tired they are when we hit the park.  Getting yelled at by a guard isn’t the worst thing and Mr. 4 made it through passport control in 2 countries despite telling everyone he is Bonzo the Bear.  We’re excited to be heading home to our cats and will have to think about our next adventure.  There are so many exciting possibilities.