Wednesday, June 20, 2018

10 Years

So the trip happened a few weeks ago, but our actual anniversary is today. In honor of ten years together, I hope you don't mind if I share my ten favorite things about our marriage.

1. Division of labor. It took us a few years to work it out (we had some nagging fights about who did the dishes for a while there), but I really feel like we're in a mostly awesome place right now. And while being married and having kids and owning a house has added to both our work loads, can I just say how awesome it is that I don't have to think about certain things? Like filing tax returns, or when the oil needs to be changed? He just completely manages those things, so they are off my radar (trust me, I do my share of work too!).

2. Built-in travel buddy! There's nothing I love more than traveling with this guy, he makes it so fun. He's also fabulous at planning trips and getting things booked, even when they aren't his trips (speaking of division of labor). Like when I went to Ann Arbor in March, he booked my AirBNB and plane and figured out all my connections for me! And clearly he was totally in charge of our trip to England, since I didn't even know how many days the trip was! It's awesome basically having my own live-in travel planner.

3. Trust. That he trusts me to make big, life-altering decisions for our family. Like that time I told him I felt like I needed to get a PhD, and it was kind of a really, really big ask. But he trusted me and my intuition and committed 100%, including quitting his fancy big law job to move to a smaller market and take a six figure pay cut, which sounds like an insane thing to do, and it was! But he trusted me, and we really are where we need to be right now, and we both feel that. And I love him for it.

4. Parenting together. So sure, he's an awesome Dad, and my kids are super lucky to have someone so fun and involved and supportive. But more than that, I love just having someone at the end of the day who listens to all my cute and silly or frustrating stories about the kids, and who really cares as much as I do! I love how we work through parenting issues together, talk about the kids and what we need to do for them together, and just have someone in the trenches who totally understands what the other person is going through.

5. Conversations. It's the reason I fell in love with him. He's just so easy to talk to! And I just love the way he'll listen and be interested in whatever random thing I happen to be telling him about, something I read in a book or listened to on a podcast, or whatever. He always makes me feel like I'm the most interesting person in the world! With kids around, we've noticed that it's getting harder and harder to have conversations without constant interruptions, but I love that the interruptions frustrate him, because it means he's still interested in talking to me!

6. Decorating/style taste. This one may be kind of shallow, but having worked on a lot of house projects with him in the past year, can I just say how nice it is that we don't have to argue much about colors and styles? For the most part, he just trusts my taste, but also, he cares enough to have opinions that I respect too. We are currently having a bit of a functionality vs. style disagreement over replacing the lighting fixture in our front room/library, but for the vast majority of all our projects, we are pretty in sync. (And having watched other couples nearly go through divorce over house projects, I'm grateful this area of our marriage is pretty easy.)

7. Fun. He just makes my life more fun. Whether it's playing games late into the night or telling cheesy jokes to get an eye-roll and a laugh, he is the one who brings smiles and giggles and all the fun into our family, and I love him for that. He also brings most of the music into our family, with his violin and newly acquired guitar skills and beautiful singing voice. He's just the light and the music and the joy.

8. Goals/Future Planning. Some of our favorite conversations revolve around planning for the future, and the vision of what we talk about just makes me feel nothing but excited for the life ahead of us. We sometimes talk about crazy dreams, but the more we talk about them, the more I feel like they are going to become a reality (like, that one time I brought up the PhD thing, and now here we are!). This life we've built together is already so much bigger and more beautiful than any life I imagined for myself before, and there's so much more we have planned! It just makes me excited about life.

9. Priorities. We're maybe not 100% perfect all the time, but for the most part I feel like we are working hard at prioritizing what is most important in life. I love that for him, his priorities are God, family, and at the very, very bottom, work. Obviously he's very smart and successful at providing a comfortable income, but he's not ambition-oriented, and to me, that's a wonderful thing. He'd much rather spend time home with us than be anywhere else, and he really pushes for all the flexibility his job allows to be there for us. Like I said, we're not always perfect at it, but we are working at defining what is most important for us in this life and trying together to focus our time and effort on those things.

10. Romantic. On our flight home from England, while we were talking about all the amazing things we'd done and how rough it was going to be to get back to real life, him going back to work and me going back to the kids all day, Nathan put his arm around me and said, "You know, I'm really going to miss you tomorrow!" After 10 years of marriage, I don't think there's anything more romantic than that, and it really made me swoon. I love my kids, but he's the one I want to spend more time with, talk to, be with, experience life with. These ten years have been fabulous, but I'm so grateful we have an eternity more to go!

Now, our marriage is not "perfect." I'm sure there are things we'd both like to change about the other, and we still have our occasional spats or disappointments. But those are definitely the minority experiences in our marriage, for which I'm grateful. It's true when they say that marriage takes work. Especially in those early years, we both had a learning curve on how to adjust to being together, how to meet the other person's needs, and how to work through arguments. But the longer we are together, the less like work it feels, and the more like joy. It's simply a joy to be a part of this beautiful thing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

England: London!

Okay guys, last post, I promise (if you've missed my other two posts and feel remotely interested, you can read about Days 1-3 here, and Days 4-6 here). We've got five days to get through, but we can do this. I fully intend to be as brief as possible.

Day 7

So, the plan for this day was to spend the morning exploring Oxford for just a little longer before we headed back to London. However... we accidentally left our laundry in the Cotswolds. We'd dropped some laundry off at a laundromat in Burton-on-the-Water back on day 5, and intended to pick it up before leaving for Oxford, but somehow it just completely slipped both our minds. So instead of leisurely exploring more of the university town, we were up bright and early to head back to Burton-on-the-Water. We were able to pick up our laundry by 9 AM, and planned to find a tea shop for some breakfast, but discovered that nothing (besides the laundromat) is open before 10 AM. So we wandered around window shopping for an hour.

Another picture from the series "Suzanne on an utterly adorable bridge."

Finally, after really leaving the Cotswolds for the last time, we made a pit stop at this cemetery just outside Oxford to pay our respects to one of the greats. If we'd had more time in Oxford, there was a Tolkien exhibition opening that day at the Bodleian (it would've been a madhouse, I'm sure, but we still wanted to go), and we maybe would've stopped by the pub where the Inklings met. Alas, maybe next time.

Anyway, the one bright spot of our laundry kerfuffle is that we were able to finish the audio book we'd been listening to on all our road tripping before dropping the car off in Watford and taking the train into London. We checked into our place, freshened up a bit, and headed back out to get some shopping done.

This was the building we stayed in (it was a great location, right next to an Underground stop and within walking distance of St. Paul's).

No, I did not come home with this fascinator, but I did pick up a bunch of other really cute clothes! In my limited experience, clothes shopping in Europe is such a dream. Everything feels classier, higher quality, fits better, is trendier (the Europeans are always ahead of us on trends), and is cheaper. My new discovery this trip was Primark, which had amazing clothes at dirt cheap prices, and really needs to expand the US asap. We also bought Nathan a suit, and we were both shocked at how good and inexpensive the suits were there. Unfortunately I never got a picture of him wearing the suit...

Also unfortunate was that we had to walk our whole shopping expedition because a Tube line was shut down for "suspicious circumstances" or something, so we were exhausted by the time we got back. We hit up a chain called Nando's for take-out (recommended by my sister, and a huge hit!) and crashed.

Day 8

We had a slow morning at the apartment (which was really nice, touristing is such exhausting work!) before my sister-in-law, her husband, and baby finally showed up to join us!

Tim, my brother-in-law, served his mission in England 16 years ago, so when we decided to go on this trip, Nathan invited them along (but only for the London half, as it was an anniversary trip after all!). I believe it was the first time he'd been back since leaving, so while we were enjoying the Lakes and the Cotswolds, they were enjoying their own tour of some of his mission areas. But it was fun to finally meet up in London, especially since they were traveling with their new squishy baby, and I got some auntie snuggle time in (I was missing my own kids pretty bad at this point).

He was such a trooper of a baby! My own babies would not have been this good on such disrupted schedules (my own babies also never slept anywhere but their cribs...).

Just documenting the matchy-matchy yellow.

We started the day off doing a hop-on-hop-off buss tour of the city. This was nice, in that we had an audio tour guide to relate interesting tidbits, and we got to see more of the city above ground than we would have just traveling by Tube to everything, but it was not my favorite in that it's very difficult to take pictures from a moving bus (even when we were in the open air section on top). However, it was fun to drive over the Tower Bridge (no, this is NOT the London Bridge, the London Bridge is the next one over and is very boring and un-photogenic).

We hopped off at Hyde Park and took a stroll through. Considering how lovely the weather was, this place was packed with pleasure-seekers.

Prince Albert monument. Poor Victoria.

And I believe that's Kensington Palace there. At least, the back side of it, I think. We didn't go in to tour the state rooms, but gave a passing wave to all those Dukes and Duchesses living there (Meghan and Harry would've been two weeks post nuptials at this point, and boy am I glad we missed those crowds!).

At my particular insistence, we walked all the way over to Portebello road, because I really wanted a glimpse of this famous street, and boy am I glad we made it! The shopping was fun, but I just loved looking at all the colorful houses. Do people really live in them?

Get ready for shots of "Doors from Portobello Road"

After getting a little souvenir shopping in, we had to hightail it back to our apartment for a change of clothes and to meet up with the babysitter (yes, somehow they actually managed to find a babysitter in a foreign country, the Mormon network is awesome!) so that the adults could go see a play.

There were a lot of really excellent shows to choose from. We'd originally tried to go for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but tickets for that were still a little tricky to come by, and it was a two night commitment, which was a little hard to coordinate with a babysitter. So we went to Phantom of the Opera instead, which is an oldie but very goody. Also, neither my husband nor sister-in-law had seen it on stage before, so that really needed to be taken care of.

Day 9

We started this day off being late to church. Oops.

But this Hyde Park building is really cool, and functions as a visitor center too. I love going to church in different places, it's so fun to see how different members are, and how much the same.

After Sacrament meeting, we hoofed it over to Buckingham Palace to try to catch the changing of the guards. Once again, we were a bit late, so this was our vantage point (not exactly a fantastic view of what's going on).

Luckily we were there for a special parade led by the band (actually, maybe it wasn't special? Maybe they do this every time? I really don't know), so even though we couldn't see much, we sure could hear them.

We saw a few more of them up close a minute later. I think these guys were headed back to the barracks, or whatever they call it.

After getting our fill of Buckingham Palace, we moseyed on over to the British Museum. And for being free, this place was awesome!!!!

The real, actual Rosetta Stone!

And all the Parthenon statuary! This stuff was amazingly beautiful. It's kind of incredible all the stuff the British Empire just pilfered, and they have this defensive note from the board of trustees about how they are protecting "world heritage," etc. Whether they're right or wrong, I must say since I don't when/if I'll ever be making it to Greece/Egypt/Middle East, it was nice for me to see this stuff here all in one place.

After all that walking and museum-seeing, it was time for some food! The Sunday Roast is apparently a very traditional thing (pubs offer it as their Sunday special), and we had booked a reservation at some place south of Tower Bridge with a reputation for having a good one. Unfortunately, a key Tube line wasn't running that day, and for some unexplained reason the London Bridge was shut down so our bus route was also cut off. Which meant we had to walk there, after all the walking we'd already done. Thankfully, this meal was worth the walk. Those roasted potatoes and parsnips were my favorite part, and that's a little dish of horseradish sitting inside my Yorkshire pudding (doesn't look much like pudding, does it, more of a puff pastry/roll thing, but still delicious).

Tim and Ash and the babe headed home at this point, but Nathan and I still had one more item on the agenda for this really, really packed day. We ended up walking along the south Thames shore all the way to the Globe theater!

Yep! Time for one more Shakespeare play!

A forbidden shot from inside the theater (shh, don't tell). We only paid for groundling tickets, because they were cheap, and for the experience of it (highly recommend!). They were doing Hamlet, and it was a really interesting production (they made very interesting casting decisions, and it was fantastic to get some first-hand experience of the sound/visual quality in the Globe of this play, considering I'm presenting a paper on that topic in a few months!), and I wish we could've stayed for the whole thing, but considering how much we'd both been on our feet already this day, after about an hour and half we cut out to walk home.

But guys, the walk home was incredibly beautiful! The sun was setting and we had the most spectacular light and views!

More shots of us on bridges. Who does it better?

St. Paul's Cathedral.

This might be my favorite shot of the whole trip (and I got it on my iphone, no less!). London was just showing off for us. I mean, what a beautiful city when the sun shines!

"Feed the birds, tuppence a bag!"

Day 10

Well, we got off to a fairly early start this day at the Tower of London!

It's not actually that tower-y, nor that photogenic. But really, this place is worth a visit! It's another one that's been around for 1,000+ years (again, built by William the Conqueror), and has housed all sorts of royal and non-royal prisoners through the years. Plus, it now holds the crown jewels, which are definitely worth seeing (although they are VERY strict about the no photography rule on those babies).

We started off with the Beefeater tour, and this is a must-do if you visit. They have no idea why they are called Beefeaters, but these guards sure know their stuff!

Also, there's some more of the famous royal guards here, and we got a better, up close look at them.

They were marching toward us, so we took a selfie of it, and while we were snapping pictures one of them actually spoke to us (yes, they are capable of speech!) and told us to "Stand aside." Apparently we were in their way.

Unfortunately I did not get to see the prison wall where Lord Guildford Dudley carved "Jane" into the stone while he and Lady Grey were being held prisoner here (My Lady Jane, anyone?), but I know it was around here somewhere (I should've asked one of the Beefeaters, I'm sure they would've known, even if it wasn't open for public viewing).

After getting our fill of the Tower and enjoying a nice sit-down lunch for once, we headed over to Westminster Abbey on a boat taxi (that was a fun way to see the city, and the Thames, although also not great for taking pictures).

No, that's not Westminster, that's Parliament, which is right across the street.

That's the Abbey! I had every intention of paying the outlandish ticket price to get in and see all those famous graves, but unfortunately we showed up after 3:30, which is when they close down for tourists. Fortunately, they shut down then only to reopen an hour later for Evensong, which is their daily evening service, and which is free and open to the public! So we totally got in line for that! Not only did we not have to pay to get in, we still saw most of the famous tombs (Newton, Darwin, a bunch of others I can't remember), and got to listen to the boys choir perform!!!! Guys, this was one of the highlight experiences of London, for sure! If you ever go, go to Evensong at Westminster! It's the only way to see it (and did I mention it's free?).

They have been singing a daily evensong in this abbey for over 1,000 years!!!! This just blows my mind. Like I really have trouble comprehending an ongoing tradition that is that old. Just, wow.

Had to get one of these iconic shots. Unfortunately, less iconic in that that's poor Big Ben back there, covered in scaffolding. Boo.

We were super exhausted at this point (touristing is such hard work) so we headed back to the apartment for a home-cooked meal and some game playing before bed.

Day 11

This was an unforseen extra day in our itinerary. Up until we were on the trip, I was under the impression we were only spending 10 days in England, but since my husband was the one who booked all our plane tickets and accommodations, and planned most of the itinerary details, I was surprised to realize that hi! We actually had 11 days. At this point, I was super exhausted, really missing my kids, and coming down with a head cold, so I was just ready to be done. But, we still had some souvenir shopping to do, and a few last items to check off the list. So we started off at Covent Garden, which was really cool.

Can I just take a moment here to say that London shops really know how to decorate their store-fronts:

Covent Garden was also full of street performers. This one was my favorite.

Trafalgar Square

We had one final cup of tea (well, hot chocolate for me, because it's me), but this time with scones and jam! (Why isn't clotted cream a thing in America? So much better than butter!)

Randomly passed this little sign while looking for our tea shop. Honestly, the amount of literary history you just find in every odd corner of this country is astounding!

 And that about wraps up our London experience! We headed home early so I could take a nap (like I said, started getting a cold), and ate take-out Gyros (but not Gyros, I don't remember what they were actually called) things, and went to bed. We were out bright and early the next morning, headed to the airport and home to my babies (who were having a blast at Grandma Boot Camp and not missing us at all).

I think Bill Bryson sums up m thoughts on London best when he said

“I can never understand why Londoners fail to see that they live in the most wonderful city in the world. It is, if you ask me, far more beautiful and interesting than Paris and more lively than anywhere but New York—and even New York can’t touch it in lots of important ways. It has more history, finer parks, a livelier and more varied press, better theaters, more numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets, and more courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world.” 
― Bill BrysonNotes from a Small Island
True and true in so many ways (although, I'm not sure I 100% agree on it being more beautiful than Paris...).

This whole trip was just one amazing, amazing dream come true. Going back through and writing these posts has brought back so many happy memories (even if none of you actually read these posts, it's fine, they're for me anyway).

But also, now all I can think of are all the things I need to go back and do (Harry Potter World, the Peak District, Cambridge, Bath, a Jane Austen tour with all the P&P houses, Stonehenge... there's just so much!!!!!). It was a foreign country, but one that felt oddly like home. Or at least, like heritage. 99% of my family history, all of my literary loves, and a piece of my soul are there. Some day, England, I will be back. That's a promise!