For twenty days in March, the husband unit and I took Mei back to the States to visit with family. It was also the first chance that my husband had to visit with his family in just over two years, so it was a rather exciting and important visit!
Part of the fun of making a transatlantic journey in one day is switching from the regional and cultural differences. Throughout Heathrow airport, we were going on “holiday” to the States, we had a British breakfast with bangers, toast, bubble & squeak, tea and coffee. Our flight attendants were a good mix of Americans and Brits, offering us things throughout our flight in their respective regional phrases. Once we landed, we were “going on vacation” to visit our family – even though everyone would “welcome us home” – our home is really in England. It feels like we are on our own episode of LOST.
After a very long day and a half of flying, three accidents requiring change of clothes mid-flight, we were very happy to see my mom, throw our luggage in the back of the car and settle in for a rather short car ride to grandma’s house. It was just the start of our marathon-like visit and while we were thrilled to be in the States again, we were absolutely exhausted.
Up until now, Mei has been sporadically sleeping “through the night.” Often, she would take a nap between 7pm-9pm and then stay up until 1am, sleep for about twenty minutes or so and then be up again until between 3-5am before she would “settle down for the night” and sleep about 8-10 hours after that. For me, it meant staying up until between 3-5am every day, rushing to get up in the late afternoon before things like the post office closed so we could run errands and start our day. Understandably, we were interested (and somewhat concerned) in how she would sleep that night; especially since she really barely slept before we got her up at 4am to start our journey to the airport, on the plane and halfway across the world before we would expect and pray for her to sleep through the night. It was nearly 2am, Pacific time, in Seattle and my husband and I were exhausted – laid a rather confused Mei in bed between us and we all fell soundly asleep. At about 9 am, two of us awoke, looking amazed at the child -still sleeping between us. This was the first time in a long time that this had happened! We just crossed our fingers that later that evening, she would repeat this amazing feat of sleeping through the night!
Here’s the thing about our visits back to the States – I salivate, making mental notes about places I want to go and eat and places to shop and what to get while we are back for months, leading up to the very first day of our visit; all aside from the number of people we would visit and coordinating our visits between time off, weekends, work schedules, traffic, etc. We even brought the absolutely bare minimum of clothes, no toiletries, and other “essentials” with us, so we could nestle extra suitcases inside each of the largest ones and fill them with our “finds” and other things we would buy on our trip – including new clothes for all of us. This was important, since we only bought three outfits each (well, Mei had a few more…) so that we could get new clothes, maternity for me since I’m now bigger than when I was when I delivered Mei last year, larger for Mei since we really don’t have anything in her size or for the summer months, new for the husband unit who has a love affair with his hole-y jeans that I insisted he replace with the non-hole-y variety, and anything cute and on sale for Mei’s little sister whose arrival was imminent.
Back to the food for a moment, one of my all-time favorite places to eat, no matter what the weather, and up to three times a day – if at all possible, is Red Mango. It is the BEST (in my humble opinion) soft-serve frozen yogurt place a person could go. They offer three, rotating choices of yogurt flavor every month and a variety of toppings. It is very much like Coldstone’s, but healthier. Their mix-ins include a variety of fresh, diced fruit, granola, cereals and some chocolate bits for those die-hard chocolate fans. The largest tub you can order is the same size as the largest tub Coldstone’s offers but no matter the toppings, you cannot break 300 calories. Not to mention, it has active yeast ingredients that regular yogurt has that is very good for women’s health. It’s basically an awesome, refreshing dessert. Last year, during our visit, they had introduced these little balls that looked like caviar but they were either mango or strawberry flavored and had the respective gel inside each one so that once bitten, it would ooze a very flavorful, fruity gel inside. Stress balls I like to call them. Why stress balls? They ping around in your mouth if you eat a spoonful of them with the yogurt and you have to capture them between your teeth to burst and eat them. It extends the experience of each cup of awesomeness and it’s just like playing pinball… or trying to eat them! It was on my list to go daily and we sadly were only able to fit in one visit. But look at the beautiful cups!
While on our trip, we enjoyed all of our shopping – although, we only really got the opportunity three or four times to shop at our leisure, mostly squeezing trips to different stores in between lunch dates and other visits or running out after dinner just before stores closed to hit sales and “browse.” So it is absolutely amazing how much stuff we were able to find on our limited trips!
I brought home a melange of cooking magazines, some seasonal, some “special editions” that are just not offered in England and printed in the States. You know how some girls just have to have their Cosmo? I just can’t pass up a good cooking magazine! I even have subscriptions to Food & Wine (primarily for the Top Chef articles…), Saveur (‘cuz it’s just damn good!), and Lucky Peach (a great one if you haven’t picked up a copy) which were waiting for me when I got home to add to my little collection of kitchen love.
The best part about these cooking magazines? Tabbing the pages of recipes to try, tricks and tips to apply to recipes that I tend to make often and boy did the Cook’s Illustrated special edition magazines have so much to offer! The articles before the recipe were in-depth, detailed accounts of how the recipes were improved upon which are processes and tips that transfer to other “problem recipes” that I have made and just need some tweaking. I used to buy post-its for school in mass and now I buy them just for my monthly magazine perusal! It’s the best! Mei even enjoyed coming home and in our first couple days of un-packing, learned how to pull the post it off the stack and press it onto the page (not anywhere close to where I needed it) but it made her happy to help me flip the pages, pull off a post-it and affix it to the proper page (or place on the page… )! Another thing for us to do together, and we had a rather large stack of magazines to go through, so she was pretty happy for a while since it took us a good two or three hours to get through them all.
Next up? ELMO!
Mei LOVES Elmo.
Period. If you want to get her something, she appreciates any card – seriously, her birthday was in January and the cards she received are out on the coffee table and she reads them daily. Still. And it’s April.
She loves puppies. And baby chicks. She does this laughing dash hyperventilating thing which makes her seem unhappy to most people but she makes this noise when she sees puppies on TV or at the market or wherever she might spot a puppy. They just really make her happy. While we were in Idaho, her grandmother took us to a farm supply shop that happened to have these large feeding troughs filled with various baby chicks for purchase to raise into full-size cocks and hens and we spent an hour and a half one day just going from bin to bin and beckoning at the chicks, watching them chirp and stumble all over themselves. She giggled and learned to click to get their attention and she had one white chick, the only one of its kind in that particular bin, that would follow her up and down the length of the bin as she walked, peering over the side, clicking and beckoning at them. We almost bought that one. Would have been a rough trip home to England though.
Lastly, she LOVES Elmo. It’s not just a passing love, she very intently watches Elmo’s World when we put it on TV, or if she brings us a DVD case and asks us to put it on. If you get in between her and the TV when Elmo is on, she is very vocally angry, loud and waves frantically for you to move. She doesn’t smile or talk to anyone when she watches Elmo as she does for other shows and limits her sippy cup drinking and eating when Elmo is on. Basically? Elmo is GOD in our house.
So I might have gone a little Elmo nuts when we were back in the States. Elmo items are hard to find here, especially clothing meant for a girl, so anytime we saw something Elmo, we bought it. Especially if it was a Sesame Street toy that was intended for her Sesame Street playhouse she got for Christmas. We bought all the trucks and characters to complete it – well most of them, at least the ones we could find. She got any Elmo clothes, silverware, cups, bowls, plates, little toys and even a little backpack appropriate for her size! Literally, these are all things that we couldn’t find here if we tried. But they are great for her entertainment and she is very proud to show anyone any of her Elmo things.
She even brought us her Elmo pajamas the other night, pressing them to her skin and pulling it on her head to try to dress herself so that we could help her change into them. Her obsession with Elmo is not a small one and not a quick, passing fad. One of her grandmothers bought her an Elmo balloon to greet her with when we arrived and the other bought a very soft, fluffy tickle-me-Elmo – each making her arrival to grandmother’s house very agreeable and giggly.
Jo-Ann’s was probably the best trip for Elmo items ever. We wandered around, Mei in the cart, pulling any bolts of fabric that had promise to a future project, project that we are gathering fabric for but haven’t started (how many of those do you have?) and any bits that we could add to Mei’s one-year quilt (that I probably won’t get done til she is nearly five… God, I hope not, but who knows…) when we came across the ELMO FABRIC! There was a billowing bolt of bright green Elmo fleece, and a couple of bolts of Elmo fabric that were fleece-cotton blends. I put the fabric across the push-bar and she threw herself on them, making coo-ing noises and giving Elmo hugs. We picked out a nice, rich red fleece to make a large fleece-tie blanket out of her Elmo fleece and took everything to the cutting counter where she insisted on sitting on the counter and supervising the movement of each bolt of Elmo fabric. Needless to say, she was very pleased with our purchase that day and after waking from a nap on another day, lounged in her new, fleece-tie Elmo blanket!
One of the things that I returned to our families prepared to do was to bake bread. LOTS of bread. Between the shopping, eating and visiting … and sleeping… of course. At my mother-in-laws, I probably baked over a dozen loaves of sandwich bread, a batch of spicy, cheesy herb foccacia, pizza dough that we turned into calzones enough for a dozen, hungry pizza eaters and scones. I even left the recipes behind so that our family could continue to bake up these little gems long after we had returned to England. These were hits with everyone we baked loaves for, working our way through almost 40 pounds of bread flour!! The most flour I have purchased at one time on any occasion! I did enjoy sharing my little hobby with the masses though, I rarely get the chance to bake bread for others outside from the extra loaves that I gift away each time I bake a new recipe; although with Mei’s interest and love of fresh-baked bread, I doubt we will have much bread to give away in the future.
The last thing that made our vacation, or holiday if you prefer, memorable was the weather. It wasn’t particularly warm in the days before we left – it was cool enough that we dressed Mei in layers and wore heavier coats than a normal spring would dictate – but not our winter clothes. When we arrived in Seattle, it was cool but much warmer than it had been in England and SO windy – it was like we landed in Chicago instead of Seattle! By the time we reached Idaho, it would snow at least three inches each morning and we went and bought Mei a nice, warm puffy jacket and dressed her in perpetual layers. Upon our return to England, we all had to strip down to the least number of layers as we could get away with as it was over 70F the day we landed and the next few days after. Although our house was an ice-box! We had to turn on the heater and go to the grocery store to warm up. In fact, Mei and I sat in the driveway while my husband unloaded the car of our suitcases so we could stay warm! Within a week of returning “home,” the temperature dipped to the low 30s (F) and we were back to wearing layers…. it has been a truly unusual spring!
This late, cold spring has even halted our gardening plans. We bought a few starter plants and just pretty little tulips, sweet peas, daffodils and pansies to plant in our hanging baskets and “pretty up” our garden but it’s too cold for them to be successfully planted outside. So for now, they adorn our bay window, set over a heater and sitting in the sun until it is time for them to go outside. Then we can start all of our veggies from seed and see how our veggie garden turns out this year. Since this is our last year with this garden, we are planting all the veggie seeds we have left – including a few we have ordered…. Watch for the garden posts, they will be abundant and pouring out all sorts of gardening goodness soon!