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Greetings From Harrogate...
Friday, 30 November 2007
Catching Up
Topic: The States

(Click on the above slide show to view as a web album.)

It was exhausting getting from the airport to Larry's mom's house. We had to do all the usual things, like wait for luggage and go through customs. We then had to wait an unusually long time for the shuttle bus from the airport to the car rental, then renting the car took quite a while. It was a long drive from LAX to Indio. It's amazing we didn't fall asleep on the road. Once we were there and settled though, we had an enjoyable visit. It was tough getting over jet lag, with Ryan waking up at three and four in the morning. However, we expected it, and knew it was temporary.

The weather was sunny, and almost hot for us after being acclimatized to England's weather. However, it was a good feeling. It was fun being able to go for a swim at night!

The best part of course, was seeing Larry's mom, Joyce, and her husband, Norm!

After a couple of days, we headed out to Las Vegas to see Larry's dad, grandma, and uncle. We had reservations at Arizona Charlie's, a hotel/casino just around the corner from Larry's dad's house, but once we saw the room, we decided to go elsewhere. (Larry and I have stayed in some funky places, but this place was dirty and had bugs on the walls.) We wound up at Texas instead, which was definitely better!

It was great seeing Larry Sr., and Grandma Gen, and Larry's uncle Barry. It was particularly enjoyable to see how much fun Ryan and his grandpa had playing together. It was hard to tell who was having more fun, Ryan, or Larry Sr.! Ryan had the best time shaking little boxes of TicTacs, and playing with a planter that was shaped like a car. Nevermind that we'd brought some toys with us! Smile

One of the nights we were there, we visited Greg and Toya, and their kids,  Bethany and Byron. We had a really good time catching up. Ryan seemed to especially have fun with Byron.

The last full day we were in Vegas, we had some time to kill, so we went over to see the big cat enclosure at the Mirage. That was really neat! The enclosure was huge, and there was even a glass tunnel you could walk through to view the kitties from underneath.

We also walked over to New York, New York, since Larry had never been there. It was fun to take in the sights. We even played a few games in the huge arcade they have there.

We spent our last night (Thursday, Nov. 15) in Nevada at Buffalo Bill's in Primm. Larry had a long day of driving ahead, since he would have to drop me and Ryan off in Palmdale, then drive to LAX to catch his flight to Maryland. We figured it would make the trip less onerous to start from State Line.

I have to say, that through all the craziness of staying in a different place every couple of nights, and sometimes every night, Ryan was a trooper and a champ. He took it all in such good stride.

It was good to arrive at my parents' house, and know we finally weren't going anywhere for a while.

The next morning was beautiful, so I took Ryan and went for a walk. I hadn't had Jamba Juice since my visit out here last year, so I headed there. I wound up running into my friend Manisha, whom I hadn't seen in several years! It was great to reconnect. I love it when serendipity brings friends together again.

The rest of my first full day in Palmdale turned out to be eventful, as well.  My parents and Ryan and I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant ever, Ernie's Jr. in Eaglerock, Ca. Yum! In the late afternoon/early evening, my mom and Ryan and I went to an open house the the Antelope Valley Winery. That was fun! For $5 you get a wine glass with the winery's logo etched on it, and 12 tickets for wine tasting. I did my best, but only made it through seven of my tickets! Tongue out My mom and I bought a few bottles, of course.

From there we went over to the mall, where they were having their first ever Christmas tree lighting ceremony. It was fun! The Lancaster Community Orchestra (which I hadn't been aware existed until then) played Christmas carols, then the Mayor of Palmdale read the poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Next was a fireworks display - by far, Ryan's favorite! I had just as much fun watching Ryan's face as I did the fireworks! After the fireworks, the tree (which was actually fairly small) was lit, immediately followed by a shower of snow - fake snow... in 60 degree weather! Tongue out It was a wonderful incongruity! Ryan got a kick out of it!

The Coffee Bean had been giving out coupons for $1 cups of hot chocolate, so we definitely took advantage of that. Mom got beverages and yummy goodies to snack on during the festivities.

We also saw my friend Teresa's dad, Ray. He was photographing the event. I tried to get his attention, but wasn't able to. My mom embarrassed me by yelling his name! It did the trick though, and he came over and we said hi. Smile

That night, JoAnna came by and picked me and Ryan up. JoAnna and I had wine and cheese and crackers and had fun catching up. We stayed the night at her house. I had to laugh because we'd only stayed one night at my parents' house, and here we were, staying somewhere else! Ryan was used to it all by then, so he went right to sleep, once I put him to bed.

Tuesday the 20th, I got to have a little girls' only time! Ryan was napping, so my mom watched him while I went to lunch with JoAnna at the Olive Garden. That was nice.

Wednesday some of my stuff arrived from the UK. I had the jogging stroller, some of Ryan's toys, and a few odds and ends sent here. Ryan was happy to have some of his things, and I was happy to have the jogging stroller!

Thursday was Thanksgiving. My parents and Ryan and I drove to Indio and had Thanksgiving with Joyce and Norm. It was a beautiful day. We ate outside! We had a really great, enjoyable, relaxing time. It was great to spend some more time with Joyce and Norm, and I can't help but mention that the food was great!

The next day I got to see my friends Kris and Teresa, and their kids Abby and Joshua. They were staying with Kris' parents in Palmdale for Thanksgiving. (I got to see Kris' mom, Jan, too.) It was great to see them! Ryan had a lot of fun playing with Abbey and Josh. Jan has a play set in the back yard, which Ryan loved, of course!

I have to say, it's a good feeling to know I don't have to try to rush to cram seeing everyone in, before heading back across the pond. It's also a good feeling to know my friends are just a short drive away, not an arduous plane ride!

Saturday the 23rd I took Ryan and walked to Panera (one of my favorite places to lunch). I hadn't been there in a year. As I was getting my food, I hear someone behind me call my name. It was a friend from high school, Amy! I hadn't seen her since we graduated. That's what I love about the AV - you run into people!

Later on in the afternoon, Mariano, a dear family friend, came up. It was great to see him. The last time I saw him, Ryan was taking his first steps at Mariano's birthday party down in Diamond Bar.

Mariano hung out and worked on our computers, while we all chatted and generally had an enjoyable time. Mariano brought wine, my mom made dinner, and a good time was had by all. Smile

Monday the 26th I ran for the first time since my last run with the Harrogate Harriers. Even though I felt sluggish (no surprises there), it felt wonderful to run again. Having my running stroller makes it a lot easier to get out and run.

Also on Monday, Ryan made cookies for the very first time! We made sugar cookies, and Ryan helped. Smile He added ingredients and stirred. His favorite part though, was rolling out the dough, and using the cookie cutters. (Although he definitely enjoyed shaking on the sprinkles.Wink)

Tuesday I went for a much longer run than I originally anticipated. I thought I would run to a nearby park, let Ryan play, and run back. It took me nearly half an hour just to get to the park. Ugh! Oh well. I can always use the exercise!

Wednesday, Ryan pulled his first wishbone, and won!

Thursday, Ryan finger painted for the first time - and loved it, of course!

Later in the evening, we went to a Lia Sophia party JoAnna had invited us to. Lia Sophia is an in-home sales jewelery company. I did wind up buying some things, and my mom and I got roped into hosting a party! (That will be in January, if anyone is interested!Laughing)

Holy moly! Am I really caught up? Yay!!! Tomorrow I will be launching my new blog. Stay tuned!


Posted by hkvlayman at 7:52 PM GMT
Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007 4:23 AM GMT
Rain
Topic: The States

It's raining this morning. It's actually raining!

Funny thing, that. If I were in England right now, I'd probably be depressed thinking, "Oh God, it's going to be dark and wet and dreary for the next several MONTHS!!!" I would lament the loss of any hope of sunlight anytime soon, and start lighting candles around the house in a vain attempt to add some light to my surroundings.

However...

I'm in the desert, and here rain is cause for celebration! (Well, except for those nasty landslides, deadly flash floods, and rash of car accidents - but I'm not going to let that get me down!) There's something about rain in the desert that is special. The way the desert smells after the rain is unique, and almost indescribable. It's the scent of rosemary, sage, and juniper. It's the smell of parched earth finally quenched. It's the cool, slaking, deep draught of water that will sustain the desert's living things through the next drought. It's an earthy, musty smell, yet fragrant and clean. It's the scent of life.

The rain is precious here because it is rare.


Posted by hkvlayman at 5:51 PM GMT
Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007 10:32 PM GMT
Saturday, 10 November 2007
We're here.
Topic: The States

Hello! Larry and Ryan and I made it safely to California. We got up around 4am UK time, and after 25 hours of traveling, got into Larry's mom's house in Indio, Ca. We went to bed around 9:30pm (CA time), and were up at 3am. Well, Ryan was up at 3am, so we were, too!
It's surreal to be back here. I still kind of can't wrap my brain around it!
I miss my Harrogate/Menwith friends, but am looking forward to seeing family and friends here, too.
Keep in touch, and I will keep you updated on what we're up to, and where we finally settle.

ps - I'll write more in detail about my last day or two in the UK, and our trip a bit later.Smile


Posted by hkvlayman at 9:50 PM GMT
Saturday, 24 February 2007
Florida Part II
Topic: The States
Florida Part II

On Jan. 6, my parents took me and Ryan to LAX for our flight to Orlando. I was in the security area, where you go through the metal detectors and have all your junk inspected. There was a big African American security man with a loud voice who kept repeating, "Not now, but right now..." (make sure all your belongings... etc. etc.) What got me was how he kept saying, "Not now, but right now..." It sounded so strange! I wanted to say to everyone else around, "Is anyone else hearing this???" The man was making the announcement in the sort of way one who doesn't think anyone is really paying attention does. I couldn't help but wonder if he was choosing that phrasing to see if anyone would notice (which would tell me either he's got twisted sense of humor, or is really bored), OR if he was completely serious. For the longest time I had it stuck in my head: "Not now, but right now..." It had a distinct cadence to it. The funny thing (or sad, depending on how you look at it) is, I don't remember a thing he said after that. I know it had something to do with carry on luggage, but obviously that's not what stuck out in my mind!

Unfortunately, Ryan didn't get to sleep until 1am! I know I've mentioned it in my last two Stateside catch-up posts, but Ryan really reached the end of his rope somewhere in Vegas, and things didn't much improve until we'd been back in the UK for about three weeks!

The next day we got off to a pleasantly late start. Paula brewed a pot of some wonderfully expensive coffee by the name of "Bad Ass Coffee," complete with a drawing of a donkey on the bag!

Once we got ourselves together, Paula, Olivia, Ryan, and I drove to Daytona to meet a good friend, and colleague of Paula's, Gillian. Gillian is a lovely, worldy lady from the UK. I met her and instantly liked her! We all went to Daytona Beach, where Ryan and Olivia had a wonderful time splashing in the water. We were blessed with a warm, sunny day, and the water happened to be decently warm. Hitting the beach in January! Gotta love it!

After a while, Ryan started turning blue, so we decided to dry off the kiddos and head back to Gillian's. We had a very relaxing, enjoyable time drinking tea and chatting while Olivia and Ryan played.

After our visit with Gillian, we hit a SuperTarget on the way home. I'd never been to one before! It was amazing! It's things like SuperTargets that blow my mind after spending an extended amount of time overseas. I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed. Unfortunately I had a mildly annoying experience with the cashier. I was buying a bottle of wine. The man ringing me up (who definitely looked older than I am), took a look at the wine, then a pointed look at me, then continued to ring up my purchases without saying a word. It wasn't the fact that he didn't card me that I found vaguely offensive, it was the way he looked at me - lacking in any subtlety or tact whatsoever. Oh well.

The next day, we had another leisurely start. (Isn't that what vacations are all about?) We went to the Daytona International Speedway, where Robert works. It was fun to look around the actual track, and to browse the gift shops. I got Ryan an adorable sweater.

Afterwards, we went shopping for roller skates at the Sport Authority. (Paula is involved with roller derby.) We went to Barnes & Noble, but Ryan decided to be loud and obnoxious, so I had to take him outside. He managed to calm down and we were able to take a spin through World Market, an interesting store I'd never been to before.

That day I managed to finish my first sudoku puzzle! For some reason, I'd had a mental block with those before. I really think part of it was the book of puzzles I'd been trying to work. They were really hard! It was such a relief to finally be able to complete a puzzle, and enjoy the sudoku craze.

My last full day there, Paula indulged me and took me to a place I'd been curious about, Casadega. It's a colony of various new age, spiritualist type people. My hat is really off to Paula on this one. I didn't realize it at the time, but those sorts of places are well and truly not her cup of tea. So the fact that she put that aside for me really means a lot! We perused the bookstore, and drove around the small enclave. I really enjoyed our visit. (Unfortunately I don't think I can say the same for Paula!)

Next, we went on a holy quest for a particular item to keep Ryan busy on our flight to the UK. There was a Dora the Explorer magna doodle type toy in the car that Ryan really took a shine to. I thought it would be great for him to have on the plane. Unfortunately it took visits to two different WalMarts to find one. After that, we had dinner at the Cracker Barrel, one of my favorite restaurants. (They don't have them in CA that I'm aware of. They're more of a southern thing.) On our way out, we hit a geocache located in front of the restaurant. (Apparently there are caches at all the Cracker Barrels.)

During our stay at Paula and Robert's, Robert and Ryan had a little game they would play. It started out innocently. Ryan usurped Olivia's booster seat at the dining table. Ryan was trying to get down out of the seat, when Robert said, "You need some help?" For some reason, Ryan got back in the seat. From then on, every time Ryan would make to get out of the seat and Robert would say,"You need some help?" Ryan would get back in his seat and start laughing.

Also while we were there, Paula cooked some yummy food. One of the things Paula is famous for among family and friends, is her pumpkin rolls. These are rolls made with pumpkin bread and cream cheese. Paula walked me through making them, and I wound up carrying one on the plane! It actually survived all the way back to Harrogate.

On Jan. 10, Paula took me and Ryan to the airport. Luckily, my flight was later in the afternoon, so we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn like last time. On the way to the airport, Paula asked me what all we have in England that we have in the States. Here's a list off the top of my head:

Borders, IKEA, Toys'r'us, KFC, McDonald's, Domino's, Pizza Hut, TGIFriday's, Blockbuster, Woolworth's, Starbucks (of course!). I know there's a lot more, but that's all I can think of at the moment.

We discovered at the airport that friends can sometimes get gate passes, at the discretion of the individual airlines, for friends to help passengers. There wasn't really time for us to go back and get one for Paula, but it's definitely good to know for the next time.

I was sad to leave. I had such a great time with family and friends in the States. I was also enjoying the wonderful weather we'd had in CA, NV, and FL!

We had a short flight to Atlanta, and of course Ryan only really slept during that short flight! From there it was straight on 'til morning, literally.

We landed in Manchester to high winds and rain. Ugh. Welcome back to the UK. Things didn't go all that well once on the ground. First, I discovered that Ryan's stroller had been sent to baggage claim, instead of being brought to the gate. The reason? They didn't want it to get wet. Hmm. Let me think here. This is ENGLAND. It RAINS a lot here. You would think they would have come up with a system of getting people's strollers to them at the gate without getting them wet. Oh well. So this means I have to somehow get Ryan, the car seat, and two pieces of carry-on luggage the very long trek to the baggage claim. Next I'd discovered that I hadn't filled out enough landing cards (to get into the US, you just need one for the whole family, while in the UK each person has to have one). So I get through customs, only to find that the elevators down to baggage claim aren't working. Luckily, some kind strangers helped me down the stairs with all my stuff. I finally get the stroller and a cart for all my luggage. I've got everything together, and exit the baggage area out into the passenger pickup area. Larry is nowhere to be seen! I actually laughed out loud - quite mirthlessly - because that was just in line with how the rest of my return to England had been going. I guessed - correctly - that Larry had simply heeded a call of nature, and he appeared about five minutes after we had.

It was weird to be back. I had no idea it would take Ryan so long to readjust. However, we're fine now. Since Larry is going to be gone so long, people have asked me if I'm going back to the States. Hell no! :) The next time I'm going back to the States, it's going to be for good. The transitions are just too hard, both for me and Ryan.

I will miss living overseas when our time here is done (which will probably be sometime in early December). However, it will be great to be back on the same continent with most of my family and friends!


Posted by hkvlayman at 10:42 PM GMT
Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007 11:29 PM GMT
Thursday, 22 February 2007
Back to Palmdale
Topic: The States
Palmdale Part II

 

So it's almost two months later... I am bound and determined to catch up on that Stateside visit! :) To that end: On Jan. 3, Ryan and I drove back to Palmdale. The next day, my Mom and I took Ryan for his very first haircut. In the humid climates of the UK and FL, Ryan's long hair wound into cute curls. Unfortunately, in the dry air of the desert in CA and NV, his hair looked more like a rat's nest!

I found a place called Castle Kid's Kutz. They specialize in kiddos. It was pretty neat. The whole place is decorated like a medieval castle. They had lots of toys in the waiting area. The chairs the kids sat in looked like cars and trucks. Unfortunately, the only open one for Ryan's appointment was pink and purple! The lady cutting Ryan's hair was really nice - and quick! The clippers she used looked like a peanut. There were plenty of toys to distract Ryan while he was getting his hair cut. He did really well, but was getting antsy towards the end. The whole time, my Mom and I took pictures like madwomen! :P

At the end, I got a certificate with a lock of Ryan's hair. It's a nice keepsake.

From there, we met up with my Dad for lunch at the Texas Cattle Co. at the mall.

I have to say, with his new haircut, Ryan went from a baby to a little boy! He looked so different. It was strange, but good.

I only had a couple of days in Palmdale with my parents, and they went by in a blink. We got in a nice drive, and of course a stop at my all time favorite Mexican restaurant, Ernie's Jr., in Eagle Rock, CA.

Unfortunately, Ryan's sleeping troubles continued. It got to the point where at bedtime, he wouldn't even stay in our room. I think everything got to be a bit much for him. I can't blame him!

I left for Florida on Jan. 6. I really enjoyed the time with my parents, and was sad to leave. However, I was heading back to Paula and Robert in Florida, so I was definitely looking forward to that! (To be continued...)


Posted by hkvlayman at 4:35 PM GMT
Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007 11:27 PM GMT
Tuesday, 6 February 2007
Vegas
Topic: The States
Geocache and Vegas

(Please click on this photo to see the whole album.)

Hello. Here is my next installment of my travels in the States!

On Dec. 30, my parents and Ryan and I caravaned to Las Vegas. They were on their way to Laughlin, and Ryan and I were on our way to Larry's Dad's house in Vegas. It was really nice to have company on the road most of the way. We each had cell phones in our cars, so we could communicate back and forth. It definitely made the long drive go back more quickly. That is, until we hit the mother of all traffic jams.

I knew that close to New Year's is always a bad time to try to drive to Vegas. However, we thought we might be able to get away with it if we left early enough in the day. We didn't count on an accident that would back things up for miles... and hours!

We were (I think) about twenty five miles out from Baker. Traffic was stopped. What really blew my mind, was the atmosphere on the road. People were getting out of their cars - to look around, to let their dogs out to pee, to let their kids out to walk around. Across from me there was a caravan of three cars, and they had busted out their red plastic cups and were starting their party right on the road! (These same people had been making friends with Ryan, earlier!) The atmosphere became that of a huge street party. I even let Ryan out to stretch his legs a bit. I'd never been in a traffic situation like that. My Dad wandered out to the center divider to see what he could see. Someone in a vehicle traveling the other direction shouted, "Turn around!!! Go back!"

Traffic could be seen far enough ahead, so when it started moving again, everyone jumped back in their cars like at the end of a Chinese fire drill. Ryan was NOT happy to be rushed back into his car seat. It was all for naught though, since everyone made a mad rush to travel only a few yards. Things quickly came to a stop, and people were out of their cars again.

It'd been like this for a while, and people were starting to get antsy. People were trying to drive on the far right side of the road (my Mom gave a passing car a telling off to be proud of!), and down the divider. To the right of the road, there was a barbed wire fence separating the highway from a service road. My parents and I noticed a couple of people trying to look casual as they walked to the fence. One enterprising person had a pair of wire cutters. They made short work of the fence. What to do, what to do. Cars began literally pouring through the newly made gap, and onto the service road. I saw my Dad turn and go through, so I did too! My Mom called me on the cell and said, "If anyone asks, we've been on this road since Yermo!" :P

There was still heavy traffic to contend with once back on the interstate, however, I do believe the detour saved us a decent amount of time.

We stopped in Baker, per usual when driving to Vegas. My parents and I said our goodbyes, since we'd be going our separate ways from there after a few miles.

My parents left the interstate somewhere before State Line, and Ryan and I were on our own. Everything was fine, until somewhere not far outside of Las Vegas. It was dark. There was stop and go traffic. I'd been on the road for about six hours. I thought I was paying attention when suddenly I realized I'd rear-ended the car in front of me. Luckily, there was no real damage to the other car. The people were really nice. The first thing they said to me was, "Are you alright?" We exchanged names and numbers and they moved on. I sat there and cried. No one was hurt, but I was shaken up. I couldn't believe I'd let that happen. I felt awful.

I managed to get to Larry's Dad's house ok. It had been a very long day. I have to say that Ryan was great. He did really well being in the car that long.

It was great to see Larry Sr., and Grandma Layman! Ryan and I were there from Dec. 30th until Jan. 3. We also got to spend time with Larry's uncle Barry. While we were there, I took Ryan to two different playgrounds. I was starting to think of our trip to the States as Ryan's Whirlwind Tour of Playgrounds! I took him to eight different ones during our Stateside visit! Luckily, the weather in CA, NV, and FL was such that we could do that. Ryan is such an active boy, that he needed to be able to run around. He seemed to enjoy the playgrounds!

While in Vegas we mostly just relaxed and spent time with family. We got to visit our friends Toya and Greg, and their kids, which was great!

I took Ryan with me and went to one of the outlet malls in Vegas. I always have to hit the Nike outlet, and now of course Carter's. :) I fell victim to another member of the Eastern European Salesmanship Hit Squad! I wound up buying some cute nail design stuff that I have yet to actually use. Oh well!

Unfortunately, towards the end, Ryan was starting to have difficulties. We co-slept, since the bed in the room we were staying in is huge, and I didn't want to take the big cushion we were using as a bed for Ryan with me to Vegas. That may have been a mistake. It got to where Ryan would NOT sleep unless I was in bed with him. That was rather inconvenient! If I put him in bed, he would stay there, but he'd just cry and cry. I thought he'd eventually fall asleep, but he'd keep it up for quite a long time. After a while, I'd give up and either bring him back out to the living room, or simply go to bed myself.

Other than that though, we had a very nice visit!


Posted by hkvlayman at 12:09 AM GMT
Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007 4:20 PM GMT
Thursday, 25 January 2007
Palmdale Part I
Topic: The States
Palmdale Part I

Back to catching up... Ryan and I really enjoyed our visit with Joyce and Norm. I'm really glad we got to meet some of Norm's family. They are very warm, welcoming, wonderful people, who made me and Ryan feel a part of the family.

Joyce and Norm very kindly loaned me one of their cars for the drive to Palmdale (and for my trip from Palmdale to Las Vegas). The trip went smoothly, and on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 17, Ryan and I arrived at my parents' house. We were finally home.

Unfortunately, Ryan, my Mom, and I all wound up getting sick. Ryan and my Mom had colds, and in the wee hours of the morning (why is it always in the wee hours???) I got hit with a 24 hour stomach flu - the fun kind where you camp out on the bathroom floor. I would always rather have a cold for ten days, then have a stomach malady for 24 hours. (It would turn out that I would get to have both. Yippie!!!) I'd forgotten a few things at Joyce and Norm's. My parents - bless them! - took Ryan with them to meet Joyce and Norm to get my things, so I could have some rest. It definitely helped, and was hugely appreciated!

I felt better the next day, much to my relief. Ryan's cold left him pretty sedate. While on the one hand I of course don't want Ryan to feel bad, but on the other, I can't complain that he wasn't his normal rambunctious self! (He was again, soon enough.)

Dec. 19 was my birthday - 29 for the 5th time! :P My Mom and Ryan and I went to the mall. Ryan's at the age where he loves those coin operated "rides." The funny thing is, he doesn't like them if they're actually operating. Fine by me! We don't have to worry about running out of quarters!

As we meandered through the mall, we came to one of those kiosks selling fake snow. I have to admit, the stuff is pretty  *cough* cool. I wasn't going to buy any, but then my Mom and I were accosted by the Eastern European Salesmanship Hit Squad. This wasn't a new phenomenon for me, but it sure was something I never expected to come across in Palmdale! We wound up leaving with two packages of snow, my Mom assuring me she'd planned on buying some all along.

My Mom got me a manicure and pedicure for my birthday. Ahh... very relaxing! Mom kept Ryan entertained at the mall with fries and Orange Julius while I enjoyed my pampering.

Even though Ryan had a mild cold, he still seemed to need to burn some energy. So after the mall, we took him to Marie Kerr park. The area for kiddos his age wasn't very big, but Ryan still seemed to enjoy himself. The slide is definitely his favorite!

Later on, my parents and Ryan and I had an early dinner at the Olive Garden. Yum! That was nice.

The next day my Dad and Ryan and I went geocaching. The first couple of caches we tried to find were a bust. However, we were finally successful! The cache wasn't one we could drive up to. Since Ryan had fallen asleep in the car, my Dad and I decided that we'd take turns finding the cache, and staying with Ryan.

I went first. I walked right to it! I was really excited, because this was the first cache I'd ever found well and truly on my own. I went back to the car, giddy with my accomplishment! My Dad went next, and of course found the cache as well. We definitely had fun!

On the 21st, my Dad and I took Ryan to Lancaster City Park. The play area is a lot bigger and there's a lot more for kids Ryan's age to do. Ryan seemed to have a blast! After a while, an amazing thing happened: I was telling my Dad that we were going to have to go to the car soon. Ryan heard me, stopped what he was doing, and ran back to the car! What amazed me, was that he remembered what car was ours (we'd only been driving this particular one for a few days), and where we'd parked. I was also amazed that he left voluntarily (that may have been because it was pretty cold that day). Usually we have to take him home kicking and screaming.

The next day we took Ryan to the park again. This time my Mom came, too. It was warmer out, which was nice. Unfortunately, when it was time to go, Ryan did his normal thing of throwing a fit. Oh well.

In the evening I got a call from JoAnna. She wanted to know if I wanted to go shopping. I thought she was crazy, but it actually turned out pretty well! It was great to see her. We went to Target, and she got all her shopping done there. I was surprised that it wasn't even that crowded. Ryan did pretty well, but I did wind up breaking down and buying him some Thomas Christmas edition die cast trains. I figured, what the heck, it's Christmas! :)

On Christmas Eve day, Ryan and I visited Teresa and Kris and their two kids, Abby and Joshua, at Kris' parents' house. It was wonderful to see them! We had a nice visit.

When Ryan and I got home, my parents and I decided to get something for a late lunch. Panera sounded good. My Dad and I went to pick some up, and realized we'd missed the store closing by half and hour! Oh well. We went across the way to Togo's, and just made it before they closed.

In the evening, we went looking at Christmas lights. This is one of my favorite holiday traditions. This year we saw something I'd never seen before: a light show synched to music. It was really neat! It was a residence, with a sign in front saying to tune to a specific fm frequency. Somehow, they had synched the lights to the nuances of the music. I really, really enjoyed it!

On Christmas day, we opened presents and had gooey, yummy muffins for breakfast. I was really happy to get to spend Christmas day with my parents. We had a good time relaxing and enjoying being together. The weather was nice, so during the day we took Ryan to the park. (He needs lots of exercise every day, or he gets stir crazy!) I was surprised at how many other people were there, too. It was good to get outside. (Most of the time Ryan and I were in California, the weather was great!) I think we may have gone for a walk in the evening. Many of the evenings we were there, my parents and Ryan and I went for walks. I really enjoyed that. It's something we used to do a lot when I was growing up.

The next day, my Aunt Jean arrived from Oklahoma. It was great to see her! We got to have another Christmas with her. She was only in town a few days, but we had a very good time while she was here. We went out to eat and shopped, and just enjoyed being together.

One particular evening stands out to me. We went out to eat at Johnny Carino's. Right after our food arrived, everyone was sharing bites of their dinner; forkfuls of tasty food crossing the table this way and that, everyone tasting, talking, laughing. In that one moment, I was truly, thoroughly, content and happy. For most people, it may have been a throwaway moment, something not remembered, let alone given a second thought. For me, it captured the essence of family, love, happiness... life. This is what it's all about: being with those you love, sharing with them, enjoying each other.

On the 28th, my parents and Ryan and I took Aunt Jean on her first geocaching expedition. The first cache we looked for was supposed to be at the top of a fairly big hill. I say "supposed to be," because when my Dad and Ryan and I finally got to the top, the cache was nowhere to be found. That was a disappointment. However, getting up and down the hill was in and of itself an adventure. I had street shoes with no tread - not the kind of thing you want to go hiking in. Also, I had Ryan with me. Making sure he didn't take off and fall down the hill to certain disaster was interesting. I think he had fun though, and it was definitely good exercise!

We drove to another cache, one not involving an arduous hike! My Mom stayed in the car with a sleeping Ryan, while my Dad, Aunt Jean, and I walked to the cache. I had the GPS at first, but upon good natured ribbing from my Dad and Aunt about my directional skills, I turned it over to my Dad. Ironically, it was my GPS-less Aunt who saw the cache first. We had fun looking inside and signing the log. Geocaching is definitely a lot more to do with people than alone. All the times I tried (and failed miserably) to geocache in the UK, I was alone or with Ryan (whom I love, but isn't a whole lot of help geocaching). It felt good to finally find some caches.

My Aunt left on the 29th. My parents and Ryan and I went to lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Ernie's. On the 30th, my parents and Ryan and I left for Las Vegas, which I will write about in another post... :)


Posted by hkvlayman at 3:06 PM GMT
Friday, 19 January 2007
Indio
Topic: The States

Paula dropped me and Ryan off at the airport (MCO) in the early hours of Dec. 12. Ryan and I got through security in a wonderfully short amount of time. However, that left us with quite a bit of time on our hands before our flight boarded. There just happened to be a Starbucks right there... :D They had a maple latte on their menu board. I'd never had one, so I went ahead and tried one. Not too bad. At the very least, it was something different.

(Just a little segue on the comparative availability of various Starbucks beverages: The SBUX (the stock market abbreviation for Starbucks) at MCO is the only place I recall seeing the maple latte during my entire Stateside visit. The SBUXs in England (that I've seen) had the big three Christmas drinks: peppermint mocha, gingerbread latte, and toffee nut latte. However, they did not have the pumpkin latte, or the caramel apple cider. Interestingly, the UK SBUXs had and still have Signature Hot Chocolate (with caramel and hazelnut varieties in addition), which I didn't see in the States. Finally, Stateside SBUXs replaced their Christmas drinks with the cinnamon dulce latte. Yum! Such an animal does not exist in the UK.)

The flight went pretty well. Joyce and Norm picked me and Ryan up at LAX. Joyce suggested we take Ryan to a nearby beach to let him run around. This was an excellent idea! We went to El Segundo beach - not exactly one of SoCal's nicer beaches, but after being cooped up on the plane, Ryan had a blast running free, which was the whole point!

From there we had lunch at IHOP, then stopped in the Diamond District. Joyce had an errand to run there. It was interesting to me, since I'd never been. I had no idea so many jewelry stores could co-exist in one spot! :) After that, it was the long drive back to Indio, with a quick stop at WalMart before heading to Joyce and Norm's house. Joyce and Norm really made their home welcoming for us. Joyce put up an adorable Christmas tree covered in peppermint candy themed ornaments. There were also toys and books to keep Ryan entertained.

Joyce and Norm live in a Del Webb community, which is gated, private, and very nice. They have a golf cart to tool around in. It was a nice evening, so Norm took Ryan and me to go feed the ducks at a nearby pond. There was a bag of stale Cheerios for the ducks. We opened it up, and showed Ryan how to throw Cheerios to the ducks. Ryan, with a very intent look on his face, reached into the bag, looked at the ducks, and shoved a handful of Cheerios into his mouth! We just could not get him to throw the Cheerios for anything! We figured he must have been pretty hungry to eat stale Cheerios...

Later on in the evening after I got Ryan down to bed, Joyce and Norm and I took a dip in their pool. That was nice and relaxing.

Ryan slept pretty well, but his tossing and turning kept waking me up. We'd gotten him a ReadyBed, one of those all-in-one inflatable mattress/sleeping bags. It would have been perfect, except that Ryan tends to sleep all over the place, and being zipped up (even a little) in a sleeping bag was too restricting for him. Oh well. Hopefully next year... Joyce improvised by taking a huge cushion off a chaise lounge style couch, and making a bed for Ryan on that. That worked pretty well. (We wound up taking it with us to my parents' house.)

The next day, Norm very kindly watched Ryan while Joyce and I went to lunch (Islands!) and shopped. God bless Norm! He took Ryan to the park, fed him lunch, changed a very dirty diaper (happily!), and took Ryan back to the duck pond (where Ryan finally decided to share the Cheerios with the ducks). I was thrilled that Ryan seemed to bond with Norm right away, and it was great to have a nice afternoon with Joyce.

In the evening, we brought Ryan into the pool with us. (The pool was heated!) Ryan loves the water, and has a very powerful kick! He had a great time splashing around.

On the 14th, we took Ryan to two different parks, both of which he really enjoyed. The weather in Indio was great! It was sunny and very warm, almost hot. In the evening, we took Ryan to get a picture with Santa at the mall. Ryan still is not crazy about Santa. I wound up having to get in the picture with him. Afterwards, we went to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. They have to-die-for avocado egg rolls. Yum! After dinner we went looking at Christmas lights. I always enjoy that, and I think Ryan did, too.

The next day, Joyce had an appointment, so she dropped me and Ryan off at the Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert. http://www.cdmod.org/exhibits/tour.php It was a really neat place, with lots of interesting things for kids of all ages. I was quite frustrated at first, because all Ryan wanted to do was run around, and I had to chase him to keep track of him! After a while he settled down a bit though, and then we both had a fun time.

Later on in the afternoon, Joyce and Norm watched Ryan so I could have a bit of time to myself. That was wonderful! I went to Old Navy and got some things, then went over to the mall. I went to my favorite store, New York & Co., and got three pairs of jeans and a belt for $69! They had some great sales, plus they give discounts to the military. After that, I made a mandatory Starbucks stop, then got a 15 minute chair massage. All in all, a very enjoyable and relaxing afternoon!

(That afternoon was the first time I'd driven a car since I got to the States. It was weird for literally only about ten seconds. After that, it was just like I'd never left.)

In the evening, we all went to the Living Desert to see their light display. We went last year and had a good time. It was neat this year, too.

Saturday the 16th was my last full day in Indio. Joyce and Norm and Ryan and I met a bunch of Norm's family for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. It was a fun time! At the end, a Mariachi gave Ryan a personal serenade!

Ryan and I had a great time visiting Joyce and Norm!


Posted by hkvlayman at 9:39 AM GMT
Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007 3:31 PM GMT
Tuesday, 16 January 2007
Something New
Topic: The States
Florida

First, I'd like to wish Dalia and Ashraf a happy anniversary, and Savannah a happy birthday!

I'm trying something new with posting photos. To view the album for this entry, just click on the above thumbnail. It should take you to Picasa web albums. I like this better, and hope you do, too.

I believe I left off on Saturday, Dec. 9, watching the Shuttle take off. The next day, Paula hosted a Pampered Chef party at her house. Those are always fun! Of course I had to pick up a few things...

Monday the 11th, Paula and Olivia, and Ryan and I went to Blue Spring state park to see the manatees! They migrate to the springs in the winter, since the water is a constant 72 degrees. I don't know why, but I love manatees. I really enjoyed seeing them relatively close up, in their natural habitat.

Later on in the day, I successfully completed my first geocache. Yay! It was conveniently located nearby Freedom Playground, a really neat playground Ryan and Olivia had a great time playing in.

That night I stayed up way too late to get up way too early to catch a flight to CA. (Thank you Paula, for taking me at that ungodly hour!) I couldn't believe I'd been in the States a week already. Time does fly when you're having fun.


Posted by hkvlayman at 12:01 AM GMT
Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2007 9:17 AM GMT
Saturday, 6 January 2007
If this is Saturday, it must be Orange City...
Topic: The States

This is Paula! - my wonderful friend and host for the next few days. :D (I took this picture just a little while ago!)

Ryan and I made it safely to Florida. The flight went well and was relatively painless.

I have just finished a glass of Lambrusco (with a strawberry in it). This is the life! :P


Posted by hkvlayman at 12:01 AM GMT
Updated: Sunday, 7 January 2007 4:46 AM GMT

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