My last two full days in England were very full. I had planned the week to spend as much time as I could with 'the boys', and I had stuck to the plan.
Monday morning Steph was going to take Ollie to the farm with her friend, who has two daughters. Ollie was quite excited to see me first thing in the morning, and announced that he had finished his breakfast, and was going to get dressed. I sat with Jamie in my arms and watched him get ready without any resistance. However, when he realised that daddy was not coming, and that I had not come to merely look after his brother while he went out with both parents, the attitude changed. Richard tried to convince him that he was going to have fun, but he was not happy. I felt like the villain of the peace!
Eventually, everyone went on their scheduled trips. Richard and I took Jamie to the mall. After we had taken care of some things Steph had requested, we went to the Lego store. Richard's passion as a child, was Lego, and he has not grown out of it. "Do you have a VIP card?" asked the lady. "Why yes, I do", I replied. Richard found this to be rather amusing, but immediately asked how he could obtain one of these coveted prizes. Within a minute, he was signed up, and he felt as if he had won the jackpot! The young lady at the desk found it all quite comical.
I treated my son to lunch, and we arrived home just before Steph and Ollie. It was a beautiful day, and Ollie took his box of Lego outside to built it in the garden. Anyone who is familiar with Lego will understand that when you are a child, there are no rules. Despite being given a sheet of instructions, you can build anything, no matter how bizarre. Parents, however, want to keep the buildings in one piece. I remember watching Richard break down an amazing construction, and build another only to repeat the action. Richard helped Ollie to construct his pizza restaurant. Once it was completed, Ollie started to pull it apart, much to his father's dissatisfaction. "No. Why!!" I just sat and laughed. Another generation of Lego builders, and another generation of despairing parents! Richard went inside for a while and when he returned, Ollie and I were just making a big block of nothing. Richard looked, almost confused. "You should try it sometime, it is most liberating!" I told my son, as I placed a brick on top of a chair, on top of an ice-cream.
After playing in the garden for a couple of hours, I sat with my elder grandson as he had his dinner, then held my younger grandson and fed him. I was exhausted by the time I went back to mum!
Tuesday was a very special day. My niece and great-niece came to collect me, and we went to Parent's Paradise, a 'soft play' palace! Richard, Steph and the boys arrived a few minutes later, and Ollie took me into the maze of tunnels, ropes and slides. After going down each of the three slides, I dragged my niece into the maze. Without the children, I took her through the paces, and eventually down the steep slide, which caused her to scream louder than any of the children! Steph was at the bottom with her phone set to video. Ollie took me around again with his friend, who had arrived while we were there.
We lunched at Costco and I shared an ice-cream with Ollie, while Jamie was the centre of attention, with everyone cooing over the three week old baby, as his mum gave him his lunchtime bottle.
I was sorry when my last evening came around, and mum and I went to Richard's for dinner. I bathed Ollie, sat with him for a while before he went to bed, and received a great big hug from him which was precious. I fed Jamie and then held him until it was time to leave. It was rather emotional, but I was so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my family.
Packing was rather interesting. I had bought Samantha several Easter eggs, and one case was full of chocolate, sweets, and tea. Although I had not planned to buy the usual 'survival pack' shopping, the chance to buy Easter eggs could not be missed. I probably bought a few too many, but it was a rare opportunity
Wednesday morning came around too soon. I gave mum a hug and told her I would see her in a few months. I think that because it had been an impromptu visit, the emotions were kept in check a little more, as I would be returning sooner than usual.
My trip to the airport took over an hour, but I dropped the car back without a problem, and negotiated security rather quickly. The lounge was not particularly busy, and I enjoyed a hearty breakfast. Sausages, eggs, beans, mushrooms, and hash browns, with a small croissant. After all, I was going to have lunch on the plane! I did not want to 'over do it '! I had a couple of glasses of juice and a cup of coffee.
The plane was on time. I boarded and noticed that there were little teddy bears on the seats I wondered if this was something that was now an 'extra' or if it was a one time deal. I asked the flight attendant. She said that they were actually a promotion as they had officially launched their new system and they would only be given away this week. I felt myself pout. "So I wont be able to get one in August? Only I have two grandsons .......", and tailed off, wondering if someone would discard theirs, and I could retrieve it when deplaning. The very pleasant attendant told me not to worry. The front of the plane was not fully booked, so she would find a spare! She did! I was very grateful.
I do understand that everyone has a bad day. I also understand that occasionally, flight attendants have bad days. What I don't understand is why there is always one having a bad day when I am on board! The female staff were delightful. One of the male attendants was not happy to serve. Each time he had to either pass me something, or collect something from my space, it was an effort. I am always overly polite, as I have good manners! I was served my tipple of champagne and cranberry juice. The little bowl of cashew nuts arrived, and then the salad and smoked chicken appetizer. My main course was a rack of lamb with potatoes and beans, followed by cheese and biscuits, and then, just in case I was still feeling a bit peckish, I had an ice cream sundae! My neighbour slept through lunch, and was oblivious to the glutton sitting next to him. I almost enjoyed a glass of port with my cheese, but the inclement steward took it away before I had finished.
The flight was not as long as I am used to, as we were landing in Dulles, which is housed by Washington, DC. I had to make the most of my time on the shorter flight, and watched three films. I did get up to walk around, and noticed the trolley with snacks. As I still had some room to fill, I took an orange, a bar of chocolate, and a bag of crisps. It was the least I could do to lighten the load of the flight crew. After all, they would have to clear it all away if I had not taken it to eat!
My neighbour awoke before 'tea time' and was offered the 'shepherds pie' snack. He accepted. I was not offered the delicacy, although I knew all I had to do was ask. My stomach, however, warned me not to take advantage of the offer, as it would probably rebel in a violent manner, and I was, after all, thirty eight feet above the earth, and although the front cabin was not full, it was full enough! I obliged! However, it relented when 'afternoon tea' came around, and I was asked for my choice. Unfortunately, Mr. Inclement was on duty, and when I queried the choices, he pointed to my little booklet, and told me that everything was written down! I chose to act slightly dumb, and asked, "Does the deli plate have meat?" It was a showdown. Who would crack first? I stared at him. He stared back. I raised my eyebrows; he squinted. I cocked my head to the right (with eyebrows still raised). He lost! "Yes!" Then I would have the chicken with couscous. It was probably not a wise choice. I do not like the salami they serve up with the cheese, but I do like the cheese. The chicken dinner was a full meal, and whilst I did not finish it all, I did a good job of clearing most of my plate.
We came into land, and as usual, I rolled out of the door. I was now in need of the Parent's Paradise soft play area, to dislodge some of the energy I had stored!
We had arrived early, so I would have time to go to the lounge and use the facilities. We deplaned, and I followed the instructions of the ground staff, and went towards immigration. The queue was quite long, but split into several lines. Once I had tackled the machine, where I had to put my 'green card' on the scanner, and have my picture taken, etc, etc., I received my slip of paper, and the queue was split again, depending on 'status'. The line moved very quickly. I came up to the desk, and handed over my passport, slip of paper, green card and customs form, and said to the officer, "Here, you take what you need, and I will remove my hat so you can see it's me!" He smiled, and said, "Why thank you, Miss Tracie. Not many people know to remove their hat. I usually have to ask". He then looked at my papers, and said, "Welcome back, ma'am". Yes! There is something about that sentence that is so special. Much as I do not want to make any disparaging remarks about my native country folk, the most I usually get at Heathrow is a grunt!
My bags had already been taken off the conveyor belt and were sitting beside it. That was rather quick! The process was far shorter than that at Houston, and I always have to wait for my bags there. Presumably there is less traffic at Dulles, but I was already liking the airport. However, the longer big flight, and shorter connection is preferable. I found a trolley and followed the signs to the 'connections'. "Bags ma'am", was the request. I looked for the lines with the customs officials sitting on their thrones at the top. They were not to be seen. Instead, there was an area where some people had been asked to enter. Like Heathrow, I assumed they knew whom they were looking for! "Passports and tickets", I was then asked by two uniformed officers, who scanned my documents and sent me into another line. Security was completed, and again, unlike Houston, there was a 'pre TSA' line. I had three hours to kill.
I made my way to the lounge, and had a cup of chicken tortilla soup, and a banana. I had not eaten for about thirty minutes, and my stomach thought my throat had been cut! I spoke to Samantha for a little while, checked my emails, and then made my way to the gate. It was a long walk, which was good because I needed the exercise! The flight was on time, and due to land early. The announcement that pre-boarding will take place in a few minutes was a joy to everyone. I was beginning to enjoy this route. "We are sorry, but we are a crew member missing. This flight is now delayed until we can find the crew member". The silence was deafening. "We are sorry, but the crew member is on another flight. We shall have to wait for another crew member. She is due in at 7pm". It was now 5:15, and our flight was due to take off at 5:40. "Your flight will now take off at 7:30pm". Again, deafening silence. How can you lose a crew member? The crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot and two cabin crew. Surely someone noticed that one was missing before now? I asked the lady at the desk if there was any possibility of the flight taking off earlier, as I would return to the lounge, and as it was a fair walk, I didn't want to 'set up shop' only to have to pack everything away again, and run to the gate. She assured me that it would not be the case, and apologised for the delay. I told her that I was not perturbed. "It is what it is", I said, using the phrase that I have come to use so often. She appeared grateful for the attitude.
After explaining the situation to the lounge staff, they said they would keep 'an eye' on things, and let me know when boarding would begin. I sat down, had a cup of coffee, without anything to eat, and set up my laptop, then called Samantha to let her know what was happening. No sooner had I got everything set up, did they call to say the flight was boarding. Apparently, they had found another crew member and were going through the checks. I packed up everything, left the lounge, again, and ran to the gate. I met the desk lady along the way, and she told me not to worry, they weren't quite ready for boarding yet. In fact, they were not ready for boarding at all! The pre-boarders had been led off the plane, as the 'spare' crew member was not well versed enough on the doors of this particular aircraft and, in case of an emergency, she may not be able to handle the situation. Of course, they were not suggesting there would be an emergency, but just in case....! "Please take a seat!" I chose to stand. I was third in line, the flight was full, so overhead space was at a premium, and I was not going to gate check my bag. I had to stop myself from becoming one of 'those' passengers, but failed!
"Good thing this is the Austin flight", said the lady behind me. I agreed. Most of the passengers were presumably returning home, and were more laid back than those from other areas of this continent. Most took it in their stride. A cart was called to collect the attendant from her incoming flight to ours. Her arrival was announced by the gate crew lady, and I commenced the round of applause, in which everyone took part! She headed towards the plane, and within a couple of minutes we were ready to board.
"Baileys on the rocks, please", I replied, when she asked what I would like to drink. "And would you like the pepperoni pasta or chicken salad?" I don't like pepperoni, although in retrospect, I could have just set it to one side. The salad contained a large portion of chicken. "Can I get you anything else?" I was asked. "No", I clucked! Anymore chicken and there would be a dozen eggs left on my seat, I was sure!
I could not 'download the app' on my surface computer, so I watched a movie on my phone! The screen was of course small, but the sound and quality was surprisingly good.
We arrived in Austin earlier than expected, despite being two hours later than originally planned. I got home a little before 11, and left the unpacking until the morning. My husband was glad to have me home, and I was glad I made it. The alternative route was taken from the list of 'reasonable'.
Thursday morning before work was spent unpacking, and Samantha was delighted with her mountain of Easter eggs. I left chocolates (in a box) on Dana's pillow, together with a tube of white Toblerone. Considering that he did not know what Toblerone was a few months ago, he now has a preference in variety!
Work was mercifully slow on Thursday, but picked up on Friday. The lunchtime walk were needed, but tough due to the heat. Saturday saw normal activity resumed, and I fell back into routine with ease.
My week 'at home' was wonderful, and I will cherish every moment. Although it was not long enough, it was as good as a feast. Spending time with 'my boys' was very special, and although I have returned to my life here without any regret, it is sometimes tough to be that Englishwoman abroad.
With storms and bright sunshine making up most of Sunday, I am resuming my regular agenda, and shall return to work tomorrow full of vigour. The Legislative Session is in full swing, and I may have to take the reins a few times over the next month or two. We do not have any extra time off over the Easter weekend, but I am used to that now. I am already looking forward to a return home in the summer, and shall in the meantime surround myself with pictures and memories, and shall always be ready for .......... another story!