Monday, June 27, 2011

No Toads Were Harmed in the Making of this Meal: My Adventures in English Cooking

After David ran the Boston Marathon for the second time back in the spring on 2007, he decided that he was going to be a vegetarian. At the time I was mad. I don't want to be a vegetarian!! He had decided that he wanted to continue on a healthy path, since he knew from experience that after he ran a race and stopped training so diligently, he was bound to put on a few pounds. It wasn't really that big of a stretch. We were not your typical meat and potatoes, midwestern-raised type of couple. If you looked in the freezer, I maybe had a few chicken breasts and some ground turkey. We rarely had red meat in the house.

So...he did it. We bought cookbooks, printed recipes from online, and tried lots of new meals. I basically became an at-home vegetarian, which means exactly what you think: at home I didn't eat meat, but when I needed some it was always a quick stop through the Wendy's drive thru.

After about six months, I was surprised he was still sticking to it. At a year, I was flabbergasted. Shouldn't this be a phase??? As we rang in 2011, I couldn't believe he was still going strong.

Then we got word that we were in fact going to be relocated to the UK. While in New Jersey, about two weeks before he would be heading over here, David called me one night to share some news.

D: "I know it's going to be hard on you when we get to England. I think I'll start eating meat again, to make it easier on you when you are preparing dinners and stuff."


Translation: "I am already drooling and dreaming about all the meat pies and sausages I can eat in the UK. MMMMMMMMM.....beef!"

So, here I am, cozy in my kitchen in Oxford, making something called Toad in the Hole. We make a menu every weekend for the upcoming week in order to be more efficient in our grocery shopping, and I agreed to try a new English meal for dinner once a week. I wasn't so sure about something named Toad in the Hole, but...

IT WAS DELICIOUS!! It's a good thing that I walk a LOT more around here, or all this bread and potatoes slathered in gravy would certainly impede my weight loss goals. Here is the recipe, for those of you adventurous enough to try! Enjoy!

1 lb sausages (you can use any kind of sausage you want, including vegetarian! We used Cumberland, which were delish)

100g (4 oz) self-raising flour
300ml (about half a pint) milk
2 eggs
salt to taste
powdered sage

Make the batter first by sifting together the flour, salt, and sage. I'd say that I used about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the same of the sage. Break in the eggs and then slowly stir in the milk, using a whisk to make it really creamy (I used my electric hand mixer). If the batter is lumpy it won't rise in the oven. Cover the batter and stick it in the refrigerator for an hour or two (or more) so that it is ready to go when you need it.

When you are ready to cook, brown the sausages in a flat bottomed pan in a preheated oven ((230*C or 450*F). Put enough oil in the pan to cover the bottom. (My first attempt at this, I put too much oil in, so be careful of this!!) When the sausages are lightly browned (I turned them to brown both sides), pour in the batter. The oil should be hot enough at this point that when you pour the batter in, it sizzles. Put the dish back in the oven for about half an hour, but be sure not to open the door and let the air out or the batter will fall.
Gravy Granules??
Serve immediately with gravy. Over here, the best selling gravy is this Ahhh! Bisto stuff. It's these granules that you just add boiling water to. I was a little skeptical the first time I made it, but it was delicious as well. (Don't tell my Grandmas I used powdered gravy!)

The meal was fantastic, even though the first time I made it I used too much oil in the pan and it overflowed a bit. At that point I still wasn't used to our fan-assisted oven, either, so the top got a little well done. Second time around? YUM! (The finished photo above is from my second attempt.)

Served with a cold beer (cider for me) and green peas! (Eating it all outside on the patio on a sunny evening, even better!!)

More of my daring cooking adventures to come...stay tuned!

Driving Lessons!

The second weekend in town, it was time to get out on the road!

Best to start small, though. David drove us out to his office,and I was able to test out driving on the right side of the car. Granted, we barely left the parking lot, but it didn't seem that strange! I basically just worked on turning and steering, and a little bit on parking. I felt like I just wasn't getting the parking thing, and I thought that if there had been other cars in the parking lot that I would have hit them. So in order to test that, I had David get out of the car and stand in a spot and pretend to be a parked car. Come on, unlike a parked car, he could have gotten out of the way if I was about to plow into him!!! ;o)

We were working on this when a security guard came up to Dave and asked what he was doing. When he told him we were just practicing driving, the guard said we couldn't be here because it was private property. Dave said, "I know...I work here." The guard totally changed tune and wished us well and to have a pleasant day. Funny. He was trying to be all tough at first, but I bet that was the most excitement that guy has seen in months on the job!!

We also practiced the two small roundabouts by the office. THEY ARE SO STRANGE!!! I get the logic behind it; they keep traffic moving rather than having people stopped up at lights or stop signs. But what about the roundabouts that are so big they have stop lights INSIDE them? Like I said, strange. That first day we didn't go on "real" streets, partially because it was just for me to try it out, but also because I couldn't get my contacts in that morning. It is a lot more windy here than I am used to, and that has taken it's toll on my eyes (or my ability to weather out the wind with my contacts in place).

Here are some observations about driving in the UK, on the left side of the road/right side of the car: (it isn't "wrong," friends. Just different.)

*English drivers are fearless. The roads are so narrow here, and a lot of them still have cars parked on either side of the street. These drivers fold their mirrors in and even sometimes park partially on the sidewalk. But it is still a bit scary driving down these roads next to the parked cars with traffic coming towards you!

*Beyond being fearless, English drivers are extremely courteous. For example, we live on Abbey Road, which is a narrow two way street the width of a one way street, with cars parked on each side. So if you are coming down and someone is coming towards you, one of you has to pull off to the side. Not only does this happen with no hesitation, it is often accompanied by a wave and a smile. Same thing goes for when you are turning. People will just stop and let you turn; most of the time they will flash their lights or wave and just let you go. And very rarely do I hear a honk of a horn.

*Bicyclists are all over the place here, and they certainly have the right of way--and are given it! The drivers are so courteous of the cyclists. I can't get over it. Neither can I get over the fearlessness of the riders! Imagine what I said up there about the narrow streets and cars coming towards you. Now factor in someone (without a helmet, I might add) peddling along on a bicycle next to you!

*Drivers and cyclists seem to be very trusting around here, for all of the reasons I listed above. For example, in the roundabouts. Very few people use their signals, which is going to make it hard for me to learn when it is necessary/appropriate to do so. But people seem to fly right around those roundabouts with nary a care in the world, while still able to stop or change lanes when someone else (me??) is trying to figure out what the heck to do in that thing.

**Lastly, (I am sure this is just me), but I am so much more aware here. For all of the reasons already listed, I have to be on my toes. Bad driving habits accumulated over the last 17 years have been corrected as I try to get the hang of this new and challenging system! Yet when it comes right down to it, so far driving here is a lot easier than I thought it was going to be, and I seem to have gotten the hang of it pretty quickly!!!

Is a week still only just seven days?

It certainly didn't seem like it our first week in Oxford. I guess I should say, "Does the work week still have five days?" because the days with David gone seemed to drag on and on. The first weekend here in the house we had limited supplies: i.e. whatever had fit into our suitcases. We had one towel (and the one cheap one I bought at the market on Saturday), and no linens other than Maxwell and Darian's blankets. So David and I layered up and shivered for two nights, with Darian sleeping on a couch cushion in the corner of our bedroom. (I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of that!!)

Luckily, Monday morning the movers arrived to deliver our shipment, so we were only without our things for two days. Now, if you read my post about the movers on the Burbank side of things, you'll know that I didn't really have the best experience with Earl and Poncho. I joked to my friend Jamie that I was hoping the movers in Oxford would be polo-shirted university boys. She said, "Good Luck!" Perhaps it's the accent, but this wishful thinking paid off because the two men who arrived were not too far off that mark! They were clean, polite, proper and efficient. They were supposed to arrive at 10, but called at 915 to ask if they could come early. They had everything unloaded and unwrapped before 10am! After having Earl and Poncho sweating and smelling up my house for six hours, this was a very nice surprise!!

I had my work cut out for me, but my first order of business was to get the sheets and blankets out! Maxwell and Darian were both extremely excited to see all of their toys, so they were completely occupied. I got busy, and before I knew it David was coming home from work. You know me, though. I wanted everything unpacked and put away NOW. Here's the problem, though. We are renting a furnished house. The homeowners only left for six months, and they left things behind for us to use. But that also meant they left things behind that I wouldn't want/need, and that made it feel strange to try and figure out where to put things away. We ended up deciding to only use the room Maxwell is in for him to sleep. The only things in Darian's room are her crib (which we bought at IKEA later that first week) and the pack n play. And the dining room is now the storage room, or "put all the stuff we don't want to use in there" room.

After that first day home with the kids, I decided that we couldn't eat in the dining room, as it isn't attached to the kitchen at all, and in fact is a decent walk from the kitchen into the doorway to enter. With me home serving the kids 2 sometimes 3 meals a day by myself, I really didn't like the idea of being so far from where they were eating if I had to be preparing something or get up to fetch something else. So we are now all eating at a small folding table in the garden room.

Monday was hard for me. We had been apart from David for so long, and now we were in this new place all by ourselves. I felt like we didn't have any time together to explore or get used to our surroundings before he had to start work again. I had just had surgery a little over a week before, and I was still a little sore. Especially after climbing the stairs so many times and unpacking. The realization of how hard the time difference would be hit me hard. Every time I wanted to pick up the phone (which we didn't even have yet, but you get the idea) I had to stop myself because it was only 2am, 3am, 4am in California. I felt very far removed and alone. I was also feeling like my SAHM job was going to be so much more difficult here. We don't have a tumble dryer, and the washing machine took almost 2 hours to wash my first load. By the time I got it all hung to dry, it started to rain and I ran out to bring it in. Two minutes after I got inside, the sun came back out and it didn't rain again all day. That night the inevitable tears came, and David sat next to me on the edge of the bed.


We heard a horrible noise and both started laughing. The IKEA bed frame wasn't the most supportive thing so sleep on, and was in serious need of a handyman! We put the container with Maxwell's blocks under the bed, and David made me promise to ignore the boxes and go out to town the next day and explore...

The kids and I started off on our adventure. We only live about 1/2 mile from the city centre, if even that. We have a deal that the kids can walk to the end our our street, but then when we reach the busy street at the corner, they have to get in the stroller.

We explored town a bit, found a Starbucks and the Post Office, and got a few more groceries. It was great to get out of the house and ignore the boxes. Look what Maxwell found while we were out in town!

On Wednesday I tackled more boxes and was able to Skype with my friend Jamie for a while when the kids were napping. It was so great to talk to her that I forgot that I was so far away! On Thursday we went to town again, but I got sad because I kept seeing things that reminded me of my friends!
Jamie's...wish she was here to grab a bite!
Gluten free and Fairtrade? Sarah, Clementine and Annie would be in heaven!

And of course, I think of my dear friend Aine every time I hear someone here talk. I just love British accents. (Do you think I'll come home with one? I have found that the inflection in my sentences is already changing a bit. Uh oh!)

Back in Burbank, Dave was lucky enough to work right across the street. His commute was about 5 minutes. Here, even though his office is less than 4 miles away, it takes him about 35 minutes to drive home. We live very near the city centre and you can't drive through it; you have to go around. He still aims to be home for dinner at 630, and most nights he is. Yet somehow our evenings seem to go by so fast here. Dinner, clean up, a bit of playtime, baths, books and goes by way too fast and before you know it it's 11pm. Needless to say, that first week was a long one, and I still felt like I didn't get to see David much. We were looking forward to our weekends even more than we did back in CA, so that we could get out of the house and start exploring!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First Impressions...First Weekend!

Our first weekend in Oxford was eye opening! It's amazing to be so far away, to feel that everything is so totally different, but at the same time feel right at home. All it takes is a a few comforts of home and the most important thing: the smiling faces of the people you love!

After we arrived on Saturday, we immediately wanted to shower and sleep...but we had no towels or sheets! I didn't sleep on the plane and was exhausted, but I know my body well enough by now, and if I had napped during the day I would have been up all night. Best to live the day as intended and sleep at night!

First we headed out to town to get something to eat for lunch and pick up some food at the market for dinner. Our first Oxford pub experience was The King's Arms, where David had a classic roast dinner and I had a salad with butternut squash and goat cheese. YUM! The kids weren't interested in pub food, but Dave and I certainly enjoyed it!

We walked around town and just took in the sights. It is so beautiful here, and the shops are so fun to cruise around; I feel like I notice a new shop every day. We stopped at the market for necessities: bread, milk, eggs. Here is where stuff started to seem weird. We don't know any of the brands, and there is no familiar packaging, so when looking for something a little more adventurous that those items, we were lost! We settled for a frozen pizza and called it a day! (I also got a really cheap washcloth, hand towel and bath towel to get us through to Monday when our shipment arrived. With no linens at all in the house and our ignorance as how to get the broiler going for the water heater and radiators, we were actually very lucky that we had that extra five days in Illinois!!!!)

Back at home, while Dave and the kids got some much needed z's...
...I unpacked our suitcases and tried to look around and figure out how to arrange the house to best fit our needs. The homeowners left behind a lot of personal items: books, photo albums, artwork...and it was hard for me to imagine US here. The furniture and artwork are not really our style, but we are only in this house for six months, and we really lucked out with the location, price and amenities, so I am not complaining!

Our neighbors came over to introduce themselves and invited us to stop by so that they kids could play and we could get to know each other. They seemed really nice, and really genuine!

And all it took to feel like home was to see the smiling faces of our babies, happy to be wherever Mommy and Daddy were (finally!) both together with them.
(Maxwell exploring the garden room doors and garden after napping on Saturday)

(Both kiddies exploring the garden on Sunday afternoon)

We all slept in until almost 11am on Sunday, which was a much needed treat. We had a lot more exploring to do, so after breakfast we headed to town and walked around some more. Right down the street we saw this place, and got excited that we might get to have some "Mexican" food over here after all!
Hmmmm. Nope. Normal English pub fare, which I am sure we will try out sometime, but no burritos for David!

We walked around for a while and really just looked at stuff. I have never lived in a city like this before, where you can walk downtown and get all your errands done in one place, within walking distance to your house. It's REALLY cool! One of my biggest pet peeves about running errands back in Burbank was that with both kids, it was so annoying to have to get them in and out of their carseats ten times to get all my errands done. We wanted to get our bearings and figure out where things were: the bank, post office, Starbucks. :o) On the way back home, we came down a different street and found this Latin Restaurant, where we shared some yummy tacos! We may just survive here after all!
(This is the corner at the back exit of the shopping center we went to. I really like the look of this street corner, although it is a bit misleading because just a block away there are tons of people milling about; here in the back and it quaint and quiet.)

Sunday, our first day waking up in the new house, was Mother's Day and my 33rd birthday. After almost two months without David, being together with our babies without any distractions was the best gift I could have asked for! But a piece of cake would have been nice...

After naptime on Sunday we decided that we should go to the store to get some more food. But apparently this country doesn't quite operate on the 24hrs a day, 7days a week type of schedule that we've grown accustomed to in California! The store we had been to on Saturday closed at 4, as did the other shops we found online. We ended up finding a M & S that was open until 5, so we were able to get enough food to last us a couple more days, and we also grabbed the first cake I saw!

We were able to Skype with Mom, Shelly, Jill and the babies since they were all together in Irvine. All in all, it was a pretty amazing first weekend in our new home, however exhausting. The only thing that sucked was that the weekend was coming to a close, and the next day it was back to reality: David at work and the kids and I at home, fending for ourselves

A Whole New World

London, Baby! (It really works best in my head when I hear "Joey" from Friends saying it)

After months of preparing we finally arrived in England! Writing this blog after being here for several weeks, it is actually pretty hard to put myself back in that place.

David and I traveled to London together four years ago, so coming to this part of the world was not entirely new for us. He lived in London for a year in college. Yet as all parents know, it is totally different once you have kids!

First difference? Instead of waiting in line at Immigration for an hour, an attendant pulled us to the front of the line. The kids weren't even making a fuss, so this was quite a surprise (a much welcome surprise). Maxwell giggled as we lifted him up for the immigration agent to compare his passport photo to the handsome real life version, and a sleepy Darian poked her head out of the Ergo long enough to give a little grin, herself. We didn't have to wait long for our bags at all, but getting three suitcases, five carry-ons, and two carseats on two carts while pushing the stroller with Maxwell in it and carrying Darian did provide a few sitcom-ish moments. David called ahead for the car to be brought down, which would have been perfect if we had been on the right floor.

David bought us a Prius, so luckily it was super easy to put the carseats in, and if we hadn't been bogged down with so much luggage we would have been out of there in no time. As it was, the parking structure attendants had a few laughs at our expense as they watched David and I play a mean game of Tetris to try and fit everything inside! Needless to say, 40 minutes later I was sitting in the passenger seat with the stroller and high chair between my legs, which (like both Maxwell and Darian in the backseat) were propped up on a pile of odds and ends that had been unpacked from their bag and placed in random nooks and crannies throughout the car.

David first real driving experience in the UK was to take himself to the airport two weeks earlier, so getting out of Heathrow and onto the motorway was kind of fun. And by fun, I mean I was chuckling to myself as his unease. (Hey, he criticizes my driving all the time!) We were incredibly lucky to have a navigation system in the car.

It wasn't that weird for me to be in the passenger seat on the left side of the car, or to be driving along on the left side of the road, but what did get to me was the difference in my peripheral vision. Lack of sleep, jet lag, different perspective or all of the above, but I immediately started getting a headache from watching the scenery zoom past in the rearview mirror on my right. I closed my eyes, and figured I would see these sights another day...

We stopped at the letting agency here in town to pick up our keys, and before we knew it we were at the house. My first impression was that it was much bigger than David described!
The ground floor has a narrow hallway with a front sitting room and dining room to the right.
There are these interesting tree stickers on the wall!!
The door you see to the right is our sitting room/living room/office/playroom! It is very small and cramped and I'll have to get a better picture someday if it is ever cleaned up. :o) Behind the living room there is a door to the dining room which we aren't even using. It is not connected to the kitchen in any way, and for me to be preparing meals and keeping on eye on the kids, it just doesn't work for us. So right now our boxes are all stored in there, and I have a bunch of junk on the table to sort through (hence, no picture!!!).

At the end of the hall is the kitchen and there is a garden room added onto the back. There is a very small, cozy folding table in the garden room where we have been eating our meals!

There is a decent sized yard for the kids to play in, and of course a nice long clothes line for me to hang the wash!

Upstairs there is a small half-bath that also has a bunch of shelves for our linens, and then up a few more stairs is the first floor which has the family bathroom and master bedroom. Up another flight is the two bedrooms the kids are sleeping in. We really do just use them for sleeping. No toys, no decorations. Hopefully we will be able to do something a little more fun once we are in more permanent housing, but for now this is just fine!

We really like the house and the neighborhood. We have met our neighbors, the Price Family, and they are awesome! Lawrence and Debbie, and they have a five year old son, Noah and three year old daughter, Coco. Debbie has been a huge help to me in figuring out things about the area, and they had us over for a lovely lunch last weekend. The kids played nicely, and it was great to get to know this wonderful family!

It feels great to be here and start getting settled and begin this amazing adventure!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Here we GO, GO, GO, GO on an adventure!

The thing-a-ma-jigger is up and a-waaay!

Okay, so if you don't have a toddler or watch "The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That" on PBS, that heading isn't as much fun to you as it is to our little family. We just LOVE to sing that song!

And we have been singing it a lot lately, as the weeks, days, hours, MINUTES tick by before we head off to the UK.

Due to my unexpected spa vacation (hospital stay) in DeKalb, we missed our trip to Pennsylvania and ended up leaving for London five days later than planned. After saying our goodbyes in Illinois, we were on our way! The adventure seemed very far away after everything that happened in DeKalb, but this was really happening. We are going to be living in another country for three years! YIKES!

Even though David was with me this time, I was nervous about flying with the kids. This flight was going to be a LOT longer than the one from CA to IL, and I was still a bit tender from my surgery. But we made it through baggage check and security with minimal problems (they had to open my carry on and take everything out....long story short, there was too much in it and it was so haphazardly packed that the x-ray couldn't really tell what was in there!...oops!)

When we got to the gate, Maxwell wanted to check out the plane. He had Ducky with him when I took him to the window and told him that this was the plane that was going to take us to England. He then repeated it all back and explained to Ducky what was happening. SO CUTE!!!!

Darian kept the gentlemen sitting near us at the gate smiling as she danced and cooed for them. Batted those long eyelashes of hers! Man, we're in trouble!!! :o)

We were lucky to have four seats in a row all to ourselves, so with the kids sandwiched between us we started off great. Maxwell and David watched movies almost the whole flight. We had toddler meals delivered for the kids, which kept them happy and occupied for a while. The only trouble was when she got sleepy and Darian wanted to be held. She kicked me accidentally right at my surgery site. Whoa! That was rough!

But we survived the flight, David and the kids got some sleep, and before we knew it, WE WERE IN LONDON!!!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

IL to PA to UK? Nope. :o( No PA...

If I had judged what my "four days" in IL were going to be like based on the first 30 minutes I was in the state, I would have at least been prepared.

The kids did great on the plane and I was so incredibly proud of them. The flight attendants were not very friendly to us. Granted, when we first sat down, Maxwell and Darian both had a field day pressing all the buttons on their armrests. But like I said in my last blog, they shouldn't have put the attendant button on there! My kids are for sure not the first toddlers to fly on that plane! Yet after the newness of the buttons wore off, they were fantastic, so I was pretty displeased with how rude the attendants were the rest of the flight.

I waited for everyone else to get off the plane before I ventured out with the kiddos, and NOT ONE attendant offered to help me a bit. One mom, two kids, three carry-ons. Gee, thanks. Damn, and I had packed my supermom cape...

Anyway, I was already an emotional wreck after the goings-on of the last few days. And I was exhausted. Maxwell wanted to walk like a big boy, but I just wanted to get out of the airport. It was frustrating, but how could I be mad when this is what I was walking behind???

It took us ages to get to the bathroom to change diapers, and even longer to get to baggage claim. But the worst part was actually getting to baggage claim. Not only are the AA flight attendants not helpful, the guys that sit around and pretend to be security are even worse. Since I couldn't get the stroller, Maxwell with his bag and myself with my bags down the escalator, I had to go down the elevator in order to get to baggage claim, (where while all this other dawdling had been going on, Dad already managed to get all five of our bags). Yet in order to get to the elevator, we had to go through a revolving door. Um, yeah right. I looked around at about 6 guys sitting on their asses doing nothing, and then finally the guy sitting at the desk on the other side took notice of me. I asked through the glass, "Is there a normal door we can go through?"

He pointed to a sign that read, "Push button to slow doors down."

I pressed it, and it just wasn't going to be slow enough for me to handle this on my own. But we tried. Unfortunately, I had my hands so full, and the next thing that happened was like it was in slow motion. I explained to Maxwell what I needed him to do, and he walked in just fine. But then when the door started moving and closing in on him, he froze and sat down and started crying. I couldn't get to him fast enough, and the door started closing on his leg. Now, like I said, I was already an emotional wreck. I did not react to this emergency situation how I would have liked. I was screaming and crying and pulling on the door to stop it. Alarms started buzzing, Maxwell was hysterical, Darian started screaming from the stroller. Finally I got him out and picked him up and hugged him. It was terrifying. I was afraid he was going to lose his leg. You know how you read about kids getting their feet stuck in escalators and stuff? Oh, man. My heart was racing! I checked him out and he said he was okay. A little red mark, but nothing more. I think he was just so freaked out because of how I handled it. Finally, those workers sauntered over and asked if I needed help.

YOU THINK?!?!?!?!?!?!

I was so pissed!

We made it down to Dad and the bags, tears and all. At this point I was mostly upset at myself and how I handled the situation. But we had to get moving. We got to the car and I got to work getting the carseats in. Have I ever mentioned that I hate my carseats? LOL. After moving them so many times in the last two days, I was ready to throw them out onto the expressway and be done with them.

The best medicine for a cranky Mama? GRANDMA RUTH FOOD! I had totally forgotten that we had arrived on Easter Sunday by this point, and when we got to town we went straight to Grandma and Grandpa Bodda's house for dinner. It was fantastic...just what the doctor ordered!

The next day the kids and I spent the day with Grandma Dort and Grandpa Paul. Maxwell somehow remember that he watched Cars at their house (LAST JUNE!) and of course asked to do that after we had only been there about 20 minutes. Luckily, it was naptime anyway!

(He did watch the whole movie first, while Darian was napping.)

Later that night Brian and Diane came over with Christina and Elaina for dinner. It was great to talk to them and kind of pick their brains about their move to France. Finally someone who knew what I had been going through!

Tuesday was a Grandma and Grandpa Bodda day. It started out fine, even with a surprise run-in with Markie (Williams) Aguinaga at the bank! But by the time we got to Grandma and Grandpa's house, I was in pain. I have had this back pain on and off since Darian was born. It slices right into me, and I feel like I can't breathe. Normally it comes at night after a long day, I take a couple pain pills and go to sleep. When I wake up in the morning, I am fine. But this was the first time I had ever had it happen in the morning. Tuesday was a LONG day. I basically laid around at Grandma's house with the heating pad, and the pain pills were not working. We left early to get the kids in the tub and bed. I took two more pills and finally fell into a fitful sleep.

Wednesday morning I felt better when I woke up, and luckily Renee' was coming to visit! We went over to the Wheeler's to play for a few hours in the morning and to say our goodbyes...we were supposed to be leaving for PA in the morning. At this point, the pain was back, and now I felt like it was all in my stomach. When I hugged my grandpa goodbye, he joked that he shouldn't squeeze too hard, to which I replied, "Maybe you should...squeeze whatever the heck is wrong with me right out!"

Renee'and I were going to go to Eduardo's, but I didn't think my tummy could handle it. We went to VCB to get some goodies first, and then to Jimmy John's to eat. But I was messed up. We went back to Dad's so that I could lie down, but it didn't get any better. I was so lucky to have Renee' there. She agreed that it sounded like something was really wrong, and she convinced me to go to a doctor. And she offered to stay with the kids so that Dad could take me!

Dad and I went to the Convenient Care in DeKalb. Convenient, my ass. I was in so much pain, I was practically in tears. I couldn't get comfortable and I had to wait for ages. When I finally saw a doctor, he said he thought it was my gall bladder, but that they couldn't do anything there and I would have to go to the ER. Luckily, I did get in there pretty quickly. They had me dressed down and hooked up to an IV (with pain meds!) in no time. Then more waiting. Finally I went for an ultrasound (it's way more fun to see a baby on that screen), and after a while the doctor came back to tell me that I had pancreatitis and gall stones. I was going to have to have my gall bladder out!

So much for leaving for PA in the morning....

Dad stayed with me in the hospital until almost 11 that night. Grandma and Grandpa Bodda took dinner over to the kids and Renee', who got them in bed and all tucked in before she headed over to the hospital, too. I am so lucky to have such amazing friends and family!!!

On Thursday, David was on his way to DeKalb as I was getting wheeled into surgery to get an endoscopy. My surgeon, Dr. Monfils, explained that he couldn't remove my gall bladder until they got the pancreas functioning properly. He told me that when they did my blood work that morning, that the enzyme they test for was at 41,000. It is supposed to be around 200. Yeah, it was pretty bad. Most likely one of the stones had escaped and was blocking the ducts.

Luckily, the endoscopy was normal. Nothing trapped or stuck. The next day my blood work was much better, so Dr. Monfils took away my gall bladder. I had been so stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted and plain old worn out that I really needed a break. I just wasn't expecting it to come with the gown and IV. :o)

I had pretty cute visitors, though!

In all I spent four days in the hospital, we missed our trip to PA and we stayed in DeKalb for an extra week while I rested. I had to be careful, but really the recovery for this surgery was pretty nice! Much better than what I went through after pushing out two 9 pound babies!!! And the best thing that will come out of it is that I finally found out what was causing that recurring back pain.

And leave it to Erynn to remind me of another plus. This was a text exchange between the two of us the day after my surgery:

Erynn: You don't need your gall bladder anyway. If anything, you'll lose weight with it gone. What's it weigh, like half a pound?
Me: Gee, thanks. Remind me to laugh when it doesn't hurt to do so.
Erynn: Do you feel different? Did you get to keep it? I'm glad you are doing better.
Me: Gross.

I love my friends!

I have four little incision marks on my belly, but they are already fading and will soon just look like one of my ever so lovely stretch marks. Maxwell still asks me sometimes to see my owie, and when I show him he runs his finger along it and says, "Mommy, you broke yourself? You went to the hospital for surderdy?" :o) I love these kids! They make even sucky stuff amusing!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

CA to IL to PA to UK...Here we come!!!

Easter Sunday started bright and early, as we got ourselves up and ready to head to LAX. David was flying to New Jersey for work and his flight was leaving a good hour+ before the kids and I were to head to Illinois. Wonderful, wonderful hubby that he is, knowing how much I was dreading being in the airport that extra hour alone with the kids and then alone with them on the flight, he offered to call a shuttle to take him to the airport. He had to get up around 3am in order to do it, but he still did.


Steve and Nicole got us to LAX in plenty of time, but I didn't realize how hard it would be to get packed up and inside! By the time I got both car seats out and into their travel bags, loaded the cart and stroller, we were heading to check the bags just 45 minutes before the cutoff. When I finally got to the counter to do so, the WONDERFUL woman at the counter asked me if I was traveling alone with the kids and if I wanted either Steve or Nicole to go through security with me to help. Um...YES!!!!!! Yet another tearful goodbye (at least there wasn't a curb right there that time) as we hugged and said our adieus to Nicole.

Steve helped us take off shoes, fold up the stroller and get everything under the xray machine. That was the part of the airport that I was dreading most, so I am so grateful that he was able to help us! We got to the gate and were the last people on board, so we had a quick goodbye with Steven. He was supposed to be my rock, the one to keep it together, so when the tears flowed from not only my eyes but his and Maxwell's, it really was a final goodbye to California. The gate attendant helped us get everything and everyone down to the plane, just in time to get settled and head to Chicago.

I was really scared to fly alone with the kids, but the were amazing on the flight. Aside from hitting the attendant button a few too many times (it's their own fault, really, for moving it from the ceiling down to the armrest), they were awesome travelers!

While we "flew in the airplane in the clouds WAY up in the sky!" (as Maxwell liked to say), I shed a lot of tears over all the family and friends we just had to say goodbye to, all the gatherings and events that we would miss, and hoped that everyone would make good on their promised to try and come visit us!

Daddy's Home (The real Moving Day has come!)

It really was amazing how much stuff was still lying around on tables and countertops even after the movers took everything we were shipping away. I had been to Goodwill about 40 times, and the storage unit was quickly filling up. Where does all this stuff come from?????

On Friday morning, Nana Paulette came over to play with the kids while I ran some last minute Burbank errands. It was Earth Day, so picking up my free Origins face wash was top priority!! :o) I also had to take the cable box to Charter, stop by to say goodbye to Susie and Jenna, and make a couple other stops that now I can't even remember.

The biggest one? DRIVING TO LAX TO GET DAVID!!!!

It had been a long month apart, and I was looking forward to having a couple days with my hubby! As I pulled up to the terminal to get him, I started crying. I couldn't believe he was finally home!! But even better, was seeing how excited both he and the kids were to see each other. It was really a wonderful moment, and I hope they are never apart for that amount of time ever again!!!

After plenty of playtime with Daddy, a nice pizza dinner and the wonderful familiarity of our regular bath, books, and bed routine with Daddy, David and I had a chance to sit down and relax. He was incredibly jet-lagged and wanted to sleep, but there was still work to be done. I needed help going through through the pile of mail that had accumulated, backing up the computer files before we put the big guy into storage, packing up all the other electronics, and packing the suitcases (after doing his laundry!!).

David passed out around 11pm, but I was still packing and getting things ready. Around 1am he woke up and couldn't go back to sleep, so the two of us plugged away until about 4am. When we finally did get to sleep, it wasn't but a short 3 hour nap before the kids were up and we had to get moving for moving day!

Thank you to Nana for coming over to play with the kids while we loaded. Thank you to Monica and Josh, who helped load a TON of stuff for us. Thank you to Steve and Nicole for bringing tools and helping us take apart the cribs and load the rest of the truck. Thank you to Jamie and the kids for coming over to say goodbye and pick up the highchair. It was a crazy, hectic, emotional morning, but the house was suddenly empty and it was time to say goodbye. I wish I had taken a photo of the empty place. ;o(

Mom stayed around to help me perfect the cleaning job. It would have been really hard to lock the door and walk away from 3200 Riverside one final time without someone there to support me, so thank you Mom, for that and so much more.

After a tearful curbside goodbye, I hugged Mom one last time, "Until we meet again" and headed off to Corona. I was met by Shelly, Jill, Brady, Addison, Steve, Nicole, my beautiful babies and a very sleepy husband. We ate, chatted and said more goodbyes. What's with all the curbside goodbyes?? Shelly and Jill loaded up the babies and we shared hugs and tears, and Steve took me to CarMax to sell the Rav4.

Check in hand, we headed back to Corona where I packed us up one last time, and we got some much needed rest before the big day!

Moving Day (More or less)

Wednesday, April 20, 2010

The movers were on their way to pack up and take away the stuff that we were having shipped to the UK.

Back up about a week, and those who were around for it would remember that this was my Hell Week. I was so overwhelmed and exhausted. My goal was to have everything neatly arranged so that all the movers had to do was get to a pile, pack it up, and be on their way. Ever since the day I had the moving company rep over for our estimate, I was still deluded into thinking that we weren't shipping that much stuff. And if you were to go look inside our storage unit right now, you would agree. We certainly left a lot behind!
(This was obviously taken after we had moved everything out of the condo)

Yet as moving day loomed closer and closer, the piles started to get bigger. We took toiletries, clothes, linens, toys, books, a random selection of kitchen utensils and gadgets, and several boxes of "extra stuff:" picture frames and albums, office supplies, etc.

I had pretty much stopped sleeping for more than 4 or 5 hours a night. I had to stay up until at least 11pm to talk to David when he got up at 7am in Oxford. We might talk for a few minutes before he went to work, but then he had to go and I was wide awake. Cleaning, organizing, new full time job on top of my already exhausting full time job: my kids. And it was really hard to make the transition to stop using the things we were going to ship. Because obviously if they were important enough to ship to the UK, I needed them right up until we left!

The Sunday before the big move, I stayed up working on the task until about 330am. When the kids woke me up and 6:30 I just was not prepared for the day. But we had a play date to go to! We went to Teresa's house for some much needed mommy time, and the little ones got to cruise around for eggs, make crafts, and eat lots of goodies!

I had to apologize to my friends that day. I was just not myself. I couldn't stop thinking of the overwhelming amount of work I had to do, and the fact that I could never even start it until 9:00 at night after the kids were fed, bathed, dressed, read to, and FINALLY in bed. Luckily, my bestie best, Jamie, and fellow supermom caught me coming out of the bathroom, crying. The stress was getting to me, I didn't like the person I was because of it, and I didn't know how to change that on my own.

She gave me a much needed hug and graciously offered to do whatever she could to help us out. So Tuesday she brought Gwen and Grayson over to play, and my friend Annie brought Torin. Between the two of them they kept all five kids happy and occupied so that I could get to packing. We needed to transition to suitcases, as after the movers took away our things, we had four more days in CA and then a little over a week traveling to IL and PA.

Even with all the help, I was still up until 4am the night before the movers came, or the day of, I guess! Again, Jamie and Annie were superstars! The movers were supposed to be coming over between 12-2, so I dropped the kids off at Jamie's to play so that I could finish up and be at the house for the big event. Later, when Annie had to leave, Sarah and Clementine came over the help Jamie out with the kids. MY FRIENDS ARE AMAZING!!!!

Around 12:15pm, I got a phone call from the moving company saying that my movers were on their way and would be at the place by 1pm. They must have stopped for lunch, though, because they didn't get there until almost 2! By this time, I was missing my kids, struggling to stay awake, and honestly, getting a little angry.

Finally, they arrived. But shortly after they came through the door, I wish they hadn't.


They hadn't even done any work yet, and already they were leaving a trail of disgust as they walked through my house. Poncho and Earl. By their names you may unintentially get an image in your head of what these guys may look like, and you'd be right. Poncho was really hard working and incredibly sweet, but he barely spoke English. Every time I asked him a question he told me to go talk to Earl. Ah, Earl. He was huge, balding, and had no front teeth. And he was dripping with sweat before he even started a thing. But he was really nice, smell and appearance aside, I guess this wouldn't be too bad. The lady on the phone said it would only take them about 2 hours...
It was all organized and totally ready to go!

Four and a half hours later, they were done. I couldn't imagine why it took them so long, since I was so totally organized and had everything all laid out and ready for them. I was cringing with each sound of the tape gun closing a box, and I knew the contents of the package would need to be wiped, cleaned, laundered or disinfected after it was unpacked. Those guys were GROSS!

I called Jamie on my way to pick up the kids and apologized for being late. I brought pizza to make amends and told her that I was going to keep an image in my head of what I hoped the movers on the UK end would look like: Polo-shirted Oxford University boys!!! (She said, "Good luck with that!")

It was a long, exhausting couple of days, but our stuff was on it's way to the UK. I had been preparing Maxwell for a while about his toys, books and clothes being gone. Packed into boxes and shipped to our new house in England. Luckily, when we got home and he saw the empty space, all he saw was an opportunity to run around and play! be three years old!!

But the absolute BEST thing that came out of that day, was this note that I got from my friend, Sarah.

April 20 Sarah Madden
Not to upset you about today, I'm only telling you b/c I thought it was so sweet. When I was leaving & you were already on your way I told Maxwell we were going home & he said he wanted to go home & had a little lip quiver. I asked him if he wanted a hug & he put out his little arms & said "yeah" so I picked him up & hugged him. Then I asked him if it would make him feel better to hug Darian & he said "yeah". Before I even put him down Darian was walking over with her little arms open to hug him. Oh the 2 sweetest little kids in the world. You are doing such a good job. They were so cooperative & sweet today! We are really going to miss you guys!

April 21 Jennifer Ingham
Thank you so much for this. It was about time I cried some happy tears. Thank you, Sarah.