Our day of brilliant weather in Vienna happened on the Tuesday, which was nice as it was the one day that the bloke had off from the conference. We took advantage of it to go on a boat ride down the Danube. Granny, Humuhumu and I had done this together a couple of years before, but the others had never been before. Keiki loved it. He sat upright and alert on my lap for two straight hours, watching and commenting on everything and occasionally bursting into song.

Most of these photos were either taken by the bloke or Humuhumu.

[I had meant to add more commentary but this entry has been sitting half-finished in my documents for weeks so I figured it was best to just post it before it got any more out of date.]

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[Me smiling at the camera, with Keiki on my lap, riding at the front of the boat down the Danube. Photo taken by the bloke.]

+11 )

On disembarking from the boat, we discovered that one of the city’s fountains had been turned on in honour of the nice weather.

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[Humuhumu in her green Kenyan dress, shrieking as she runs through the fountain.]

+2 )
nanila: wrong side of the mirror (me: wrong side of the mirror)
( May. 1st, 2017 08:27 pm)
Happy May Day
[Humuhumu wearing jeans, t-shirt, pink fluffy dress, feather wings, new blue crocs, a tiara and a wand, jumping for joy in our garden.]

Hello, hello neglected journal; I send my apologies. We returned on Saturday from a fantastic (and also sleep-deprived, for Keiki and me) week in Vienna and plunged straight into bank holiday weekend activities. I have been keeping up with curating photos but not with arranging them into journal entries. I'm hoping to catch up with that this week.

I hope all is well with you all. The photo above neatly encapsulates Humuhumu's feelings on the subject of the recent week and a half with her parents, I believe. <3
nanila: wrong side of the mirror (me: wrong side of the mirror)
( Apr. 13th, 2017 11:49 am)
All photos taken with my phone - we brought no luggage apart from our rucksacks & I didn't have space for the dSLR. Quality is variable, especially since Aviary on Flickr is still not working so everything is SOOC.

Last weekend, Humuhumu and I had our first mini-break together.

I picked her up from nursery slightly earlier than usual and we took the train to Birmingham International. We had our tea in the airport. The server behind the counter took a shine to her since she asked ask so politely for her hot chocolate, and presented her with an absolute mountain of whipped cream. Apart from that, her dinner consisted of an apple, carrot juice and an oatmeal bar.

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[Humuhumu eating her dinner]

Slightly unbelievably, we ran into some cousins who live in Cheltenham and were flying to Mallorca for their Easter holidays. Humuhumu was growing tired – it was nearly 8 PM – so spent a lot of the conversation cuddled up in my lap with her blankie.

We boarded the plane. Humuhumu’s disappointment at the lack of films on the plane (it’s a 45 minute flight) was mitigated by being given free reign over the tablet.

Once we’d landed in Dublin, it took about 30 minutes to get through a second immigration check. While we waited in the queue, we were treated to a rant on the subject of unhelpful security measures by the elderly Irish gentleman in front of us, who was fervently pro-freedom-of-movement. It was rather lovely.

We skipped through the airport and into a taxi. The taxi driver was listening to a programme called “Leap of Faith”, to which Humuhumu promptly fell asleep. I listened quietly as they discussed the results of a survey on the church-going practices of Dublin-dwellers. I giggled when they thanked the 2,130 respondents who said they belonged to the Church of the Jedi Knights. The taxi driver said, “Oh, you were listening, were you?” in some surprise. “This isn’t the same country I grew up in, I tell ye.”
“And is that a good thing?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” he said. “It is. The way it used to be, with the church…” he shook his head. “Too many young lives ruined.”
He got a disproportionately large tip.

[personal profile] emelbe met us in the lobby. We headed promptly up to our room, as Humuhumu was blearily trying to process 10 PM. While she snuggled down into her bed, [personal profile] emelbe and I exchanged gifts.
“I brought you tea and whisky,” she said.
“I brought you tea and whisky,” I said.
We celebrated with wine.

The next day dawned bright, sunny and warm. We went down to the hotel buffet and discovered they had a magical pancake-making machine. Pancakes with Nutella and maple syrup were duly consumed.

We headed outside with the Leprechaun / folklore Museum in mind as our destination, via parks and playgrounds. It took us over an hour to reach the Museum, where we were told (and good on them for it, too) that it was not suitable for children under seven. Having failed at culture, we opted for shopping at the Penney’s mothership, where we discovered sproingy hair bobbles and Finding Dory colouring sets.

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[Humuhumu in the hand of the giant at the Giant’s Playground.]

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[Humuhumu clambers over the dog-insect-thing]

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[Humuhumu inspects the flower beds in a park.]

We walked back over the river Liffey and into Temple Bar so we could go to Gallagher’s Boxty House for lunch. Humuhumu had the “child-sized” portion of fish and chips. It was enormous. I had the stew and [personal profile] emelbe had the boxty.

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[Humuhumu colours in Dory before our lunch arrives.]

We waddled outside an hour later stuffed to the gills and headed through the Saturday 3 PM crowds (who were 9 PM levels of drunk already) to find our route blocked by a large protest about water tariffs. Detouring around it, we arrived at our destination: the Natural History Museum, aka the display of truly alarming taxidermy. Humuhumu: “It looks like the scary lady’s room in Paddington!” (Scary Lady == Nicole Kidman’s character, who wants to stuff Paddington.) We investigated the displays for about 45 minutes whilst [personal profile] emelbe went to buy whiskey and to the Archaeology Museum to get postcards.

Displays of taxidermy varying from innocuous to MY EYES MY BEAUTIFUL EYES )

We returned to the Giant’s Playground. Thorough sun-baked and tuckered out, we meandered back to the hotel, where we flopped out until dinnertime, which ended up being smoothies at the hotel bar because we were still full from lunch.

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[Inexplicable corporate art is also for playing on, yes yes?]

Humuhumu went fairly easily to sleep in my arms, as did I. I managed to rouse myself briefly to taste the bourbon [personal profile] emelbe had brought for me to sample, but bedtime was still pretty early.

The next morning was significantly cooler and cloudier, conforming more to expectations of Dublin in April. We took our time in rising and going to breakfast, checking out at the last possible moment. Even with that we were still too early to check into the canal barge where [personal profile] emelbe was to spend the rest of her holiday. We strolled up the quayside and stopped off for a pastry and tea at Il Valentino before going to the docks.

As soon as we met the barge owner, I knew I'd made a tactical error in going to the hotel. I had been afraid to stay on the water because Humuhumu can't swim. It turned out that the barge was both firmly affixed to the docks and could be locked securely. Also, there was space for Humuhumu to play, and games and toys for children. Lesson learned.

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[Panoramic view from the back of the barge.]

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[Humuhumu pointing out the seagulls.]

We spent the afternoon playing and talking. [livejournal.com profile] omniana, whom I haven't seen in 8 years, came by. We drank tea, ate apples and caught up on one another's lives while Humuhumu and I coloured in Finding Dory pictures.

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[Lounging on the barge.]

Hours flew by and then it was time to get back in the taxi to the airport. After the short journey back to Brum, we were met by our sunburnt boys at the airport. Joyful reunification was swiftly followed by sleeping in the car.

Verdict: Daughter is A+++ traveling companion, would mini-break with again.
I've had a heck of a week. Keiki was off nursery Tuesday and Wednesday. I looked after him on Tuesday. I flew from Birmingham to Noordwijk on Wednesday and the bloke looked after Keiki. I was at an all-day meeting on Thursday at ESTEC (ESA centre in the Netherlands). I flew to London on Thursday night. This morning (Friday) I went to a four-hour meeting (at which I gave a presentation) and then ran over to another building to give an outreach talk to a large group of teenage girls about what it's like to be a spacecraft engineer.

At least I did it all whilst looking rivet af.

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[Me in my Noordwijk hotel room, wearing Docs, purple tights, my black wool coat with the fluffy collar and my engineer dress from Svaha.]

My week in photos )
[continued from here: DW/LJ] After a rather bleary start to the morning, the adults having stayed up a little too late companionably drinking wine together in front of the fire, the out-laws returned from their room over the road at the Shoulder of Mutton to pick up Nephew, who had slept over very nicely with Humuhumu. Sufficient coffee was poured into the grown-ups to get them motivated to drive to Richmond to see the castle. (North Yorkshire is not the place to be if you have an aversion to ruined castles.)

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Walking down the very steep hills of Richmond. I had Keiki on my shoulders and he was crowing delightedly over his excellent vantage point.

+16 )

We strolled back down into town after a trip to the gift shop. (Nephew: Knight outfit. Humuhumu: large purple feather quill pen. Keiki: Squishy purple dragon, which he now sleeps with.) We were all a bit peckish but the out-laws needed to head back to Leeds, so a quick stop at a Greggs for some pastries and a sit-down in the middle of the town square by the clock sufficed to revive everyone for the drive home.

As mentioned previously, I had carried Keiki around on my shoulders as much as possible all morning. It was the first time I’d tried it. The bloke talked me into it since I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to carry him in my arms. It worked a treat and I was able to do it much more easily. After lunch, though, I definitely needed a lie-down. Fortunately, so did everyone else, and we cuddled up together for a luxurious two-hour nap.
[continued from here: DW/LJ] Once we were done perusing the church, we hopped into the car for a short drive to Barnard Castle, which is not just a castle but also the name of the town. On the way in, we glimpsed an amazing stone ruin perched on a hillside so we stopped to have a look.

It turned out to be Egglestone Abbey, founded in the 1190s.

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This is the bit we could see from the road to Barnard Castle. From the floor plan on the sign, I believe it’s the church. Those windows must have been spectacular with the late morning light streaming through them, given that they are even in ruin.

+12 )

Having worked up an appetite with all that jumping, we resumed our journey into Barnard Castle for a quick lunch. The caf we chose was off the main high street. I picked it when we were searching for a parking spot. It had a hand-drawn sign advertising hot chocolate out the front. Also, a full English with double servings of everything for £5. What’s not to like?

It wasn’t a large place, but it fell completely silent when we walked in and the occupants subjected us to a long hard stare that let us know you are not from round these parts; what are you doing off the high street, interlopers? The server, clearly anxious to compensate for the stony greeting of the other patrons, bustled around us smiling, and brought Humuhumu a hot chocolate with a pile of whipped cream on top that doubled the height of the mug. Breakfast was good too.

The children and I went back to the car and caught some Gen 2 Pokémon whilst the bloke ran in to Morrisons to pick up supplies. We returned to The Old Grammar School to meet with the out-laws. We strolled around the church again and had quick drive out to Ravensworth Castle, a lovely ruin which we discovered was inaccessible due to being firmly surrounded by barbed wire. Eventually we twigged that the automatic gunfire we were hearing was not from the start of the zombie apocalypse, but from the MoD firing range on the other side of the valley. Deciding not to argue with the logic of preventing inattentive ramblers from wandering into live fire, we retreated back to Kirby Hill and went down the pub.

Up next: Richmond Castle.
[continued from here: DW/LJ] Since the church was about a thirty second walk away from The Old Grammar School, we stopped by on Saturday morning before heading out and were pleased to find it unlocked.

My perusal of the visitor’s books (which stretched back to 1975, the lengthiest set of log books I’d encountered on our LT holidays) on the previous evening had told us that there were more Thompson mice to be found in the church. We went on a mouse hunt, but could only locate six of the eight that were allegedly hiding there.

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Humuhumu found the first mouse near the altar.

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And the second, behind the pews.

+7 )

Bonus photo: Our local, the Shoulder of Mutton Inn, was just over the road from the church. You know that feeling you get when you walk into a pub that’s been done up just a bit too much? Where you want to shout, like Bernard Black, “Why does everything have to be fancy? I just want sausage, mash and a bit of cake, not twigs fried in honey or a donkey in a coffin!”

This place was exactly the opposite of that. We stopped in on our first evening and every night subsequently. Worried about whether or not they took cards, we scraped together £7.40 in cash.

“That might not get us a round,” he said.
“This is Yorkshire,” I replied. “If they try to charge us a tenner for two pints of booze and two halves of lemonade, I’m leaving, because we’re clearly in the wrong place.”

As it happened, £6.40 got us a pint of very lively cider (crisp, citrusy, refreshing), a pint of tasty ale, the aforementioned lemonades and a packet of peanuts. And lo, we were grateful not to be in London.

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Humuhumu and Keiki enjoy lemonade, while the bloke & I enjoy our pints of ale & cider respectively.

Up next: Egglestone Abbey.
Since this was our fifth stay in a Landmark Trust property for the bloke’s birthday, I think I feel safe in calling it a tradition.

On Friday last, we gingerly loaded up our newly repaired car and crossed everything in the hopes that it would make it through the 200-odd mile drive from our house to North Yorkshire to stay in The Old Grammar School.

Kirby Hill is a beautiful grey old stone village, set around a green. The Old Grammar School [TOGS] was such from its establishment in 1556 to its closure in 1957. An average of 30 local boys aged 10 to 18 were taught there, though many departed aged 14 to go to work. The ground floor schoolroom was converted into the village hall, while the first and second floors were converted into the flat that one can now book through the Landmark Trust [LT] for holidays. LT properties are carefully furnished and kitted out with libraries that are specific to the property and to the history of the place. For instance, I read Goodbye, Mr Chips, which is a heartwarming fictional biography of a schoolmaster, while we were in TOGS. LT properties also deliberately don’t provide televisions or WiFi. In fact, my phone signal was so bad that I couldn’t even get the 3G to work.

We arrive late in the afternoon and were pleased to find that the previous occupants had left us sufficient firewood for that evening.

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Our first thought on entry was “tea”. Thoughtfully, the housekeeper had left a complete tea service ready for us and a small jug of milk in the fridge.

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The bloke pouring some milk for Keiki, who’s standing on a dining chair. The window seat, which features in subsequent photos, is to their right.

+12 )

Up next: visiting the Kirby Hill church (St Peter and St Felix).

Quick note about the photos: I have come to rely on Aviary in Flickr to do colour correction on my photos. It’s quick and convenient and its algorithm seems to be pretty good. Except at the moment, it’s not working. To those who care about white balance, my apologies.
A visit to the California Academy of Sciences, located in SF’s Golden Gate Park needs no excuse other than the place itself. However, in this case, there is a story behind our trip there.

We chose our temporary place of abode in SF based on the accessibility it afforded to the park. The N-Judah tram line stopped a mere block and a half away, and dropped us off about as close to the front door of the Cal Academy as it’s possible to get if you’re not already on foot.

On my previous trip to San Francisco in December of 2013, I was privileged to be shown around the Cal Academy by [personal profile] emelbe, who volunteers there regularly. [personal profile] emelbe drew my attention to the book Pierre the Penguin and suggested I take it home to the then-13-month-old Humuhumu. I did.

I have read Pierre the Penguin to her, and then to Keiki, at least once a week ever since. She has the book memorised.

Pierre is an African penguin who lives at the Cal Academy along with 19 other penguins. One day, Pierre moulted as usual. Less usual was the fear he developed of going into the water, a necessary step to stimulate the re-growth of his feathers. He stayed bare. The other penguins began to pick on him. Aquatic biologist Pam tried a heater and medication to get Pierre back into the water, but it didn’t work. Eventually, she hit on the idea of making Pierre a tiny neoprene wetsuit. (The wetsuit is on display in the Academy bookshop.) Not only did this keep Pierre warm in the water, it also made him appear more like a feathered penguin, which stopped the other penguins from bullying him. He was able to resume diving and a few weeks later, his feathers had regrown.

When we told Humuhumu that we would be able to visit Pierre on our trip to the USA, it became her main focus. Every day she would ask, “Are we going to see Pierre?” Finally the day arrived when we could say yes.

It was a tremendous joy to watch her tear from one end to the other of African Hall toward the penguin enclosure, crowing, “Pierre! Pierre! Pierre! Pierre!” If I ever forget to be grateful, I need only remember this event to recall the level of privilege I’m able to afford to my child: to travel from one side of the globe to the other to visit a penguin she’s been reading about since she was one. OK, so that wasn’t the only reason we made the journey, but to be able to include it was still remarkably fortunate.

If that weren’t enough, we got to see Pam (nb: I think it was actually an Amy, but never mind) pop out of the hidden door in the sky-painted wall with fish in her pail, and feed the penguins (twice a day without fail).

On the day Humuhumu returned to nursery, her key worker asked her who she met on her trip to the USA. Her first answer: “Pierre!” The nursery staff asked who Pierre was: perhaps a member of the family? She shook her head. Who is Pierre, then? “A penguin!”

They thought she was joking and asked me about it when I picked her up, so I got to explain to them that yes, Pierre is literally a penguin and yes, that was the highlight of her trip.


Penguins!

Picspam, +25 )
I’ve wanted to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Northern California since [personal profile] emelbe first introduced me to photos of it, which was at least 10 years ago. Knowing the aquarium was there heavily influenced our decision to stay in Pacific Grove once the Santa Cruz portion of our trip was done. We ended up going to the aquarium twice and spending most of the day there both times. It’s huge and beautifully set up and there are so many interactive things for the children. Nearly all of the second floor is splash pools and mazes and tanks on their level (e.g. the floor) and activities.

It was also a rather good Pokéspot because free wi-fi + 5 Pokéstops with lures going almost constantly + gym + historical spot next to the ocean == many, varied and frequent Pokémon appearances.

All of these images were taken with my phone. I brought my dSLR and nice telephoto lens, but they proved too much of a faff to deal with when chasing around two active children. I’m a bit sad I didn’t manage to get a good shot of an otter or from the shore bird enclosure (they come to within inches of the humans and there are no barriers) or of the Great Wave exhibit where you stand under a glass ceiling and the water crashes over you. I guess we’ll just have to return again, though my advice to anyone else contemplating a visit would be to avoid Labor Day weekend. Our first visit was on the Saturday and it was heaving. The Tuesday visit (with my aunt + cousin) was much calmer.

An aquarium specialty is truly enormous tanks. Below is a portion of a floor-to-ceiling one that, when walked through, gives the impression that the fish are circling around you.


Many sea creatures. A few land creatures, too. )

Finally, Humuhumu and the bloke discovered an interactive in the ¡Viva Baja! exhibit where you could colour in your own fish, e-mail it to yourself and then view a 3D version of your fish design swimming in the ocean. Here is Humuhumu’s vibrant fish.
.