Sunday, March 27, 2011

Random discoveries

Random discoveries from last week's vacation:

1. There is never enough time in a museum for Cooper. He could spend a week at the Imperial War Museum, another at the British Museum, another at the Louvre, another wandering the Tower of London -- and that still wouldn't be enough. He loves to read all the placards, watch all the videos, listen to all the recordings.

Cooper and Katie get as close as possible to the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum -- one of the highlights of the trip for Cooper. (I admit that when I was 9, I had no concept of the Rosetta Stone, its importance or its location.)

2. Katie likes to skim museum exhibits. She soaks in a few details, commits them to memory and then moves on. But a museum gift shop? She could spend a full day in each one.

Katie enjoys touring Shakespeare's Globe (a reproduction of the original theater) -- and this smile is before we hit the gift shop.

3. Cooper knows more about Greek and Roman mythology than I realized. He regaled us with stories as we walked among statues in the Louvre.

4. Pear sorbet with dark chocolate chips is delicious.

This flavor was one of many signs throughout London that a royal wedding is just weeks away.

5. It's not enough to know at which intersection a London bus will stop. You need to know EXACTLY where, as there are probably 10 stops at every intersection -- and "intersection" is loosely defined as a three-block area.

We spent about 30 minutes searching Trafalgar Square for the correct corner to catch this tour bus.

6. Katie is frightened of fruits in foreign lands. I explained multiple times that the bananas in London come from the same fields as the bananas in Frisco, Texas. I had better luck with pineapple. She is not frightened of desserts in foreign lands.

 Katie prepares to dive into chocolate mousse in a Parisian cafe.

7. Nothing can quell Katie's love for George Washington. (She long ago declared her love for the first president and her wish to marry him.) Cooper and I were excited to find this tribute to Abraham Lincoln near Westminster Abbey. "Well, he's not George Washington," Katie said.

8. No matter where we are, Cooper and Katie always make me laugh.

In the tiny museum at Westminster Abbey, there's a tiny sign that indicates children can dress as monks. We asked, and a nice docent unlocked a tiny closet and helped Cooper and Katie with all the layers. Cooper refused to smile for photos -- he was in character. Katie couldn't stop giggling -- perfectly matched to her own character.

9. No matter where we are, I miss Steve a little more each day. I love him a little more each day. I see so much of him in our children -- a great salve for my broken heart.

Uncle Jim helped me, Cooper and Katie re-create the Eiffel Tower photo of Steve and me in autumn 1999. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011


We were constantly on the move last week.

 We arrived at the airport via Mary Mitchell Trimble.

We flew nonstop from Dallas to London on a 767. (Jim and Betty were on our outgoing flight. We were on different flights coming home. Uncle Jim was already in Europe when we arrived.)

 We walked. A lot. (Cooper, Uncle Jim, Katie, Jim and Betty on our way to lunch near our flat.)

We rode double-decker buses. (We spent much of Wednesday on the Original London Sightseeing Tour.)

 We cruised the River Thames on a boat. (The river cruise was part of the bus package.)

We rode a high-speed train from London to Paris. And back. (We spent a quick day in Paris.)

 We took elevators to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

We walked a lot more. (Cooper and Katie explore the grounds of the Louvre.)

 We took advantage of escalators. (Cooper was thrilled to see "Mona Lisa" in person, after studying the painting and da Vinci this school year.)

We tried to escape the Muggle world for a train to Hogwarts. (This ode to Harry Potter is tucked away in King's Cross Station in London.)

 We soared over London in a capsule in the London Eye. (The giant ferris wheel stands 443 feet tall.)

 We walked some more. (We braved the rain on Friday.)

 Some of us bounced. (Katie gets her wiggles out at the Peter Pan-themed playground in Kensington Gardens.)

 Some of us braved rolling logs. (Cooper walks across the bridge at the playground, also known as the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground.)

 We watched the city from inside buses. (Katie claims she was just resting her eyes -- NOT SLEEPING -- while she leaned on Papa.)

 We walked some more. (There were three or four bus lines within walking distance of our flat.)

 We navigated London on the Underground.

We occasionally splurged on taxi cabs when our feet were worn out.

We flew home via Boston, where it was snowing Monday afternoon. (Here we are waiting on a bus shuttle to take us from one terminal at Boston Logan to another.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Westminster Abbey

St. Paul's Cathedral

Notre Dame

We visited three significant churches last week -- Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral and Notre Dame Cathedral.

In each one, we lit candles and prayed to God in memory of Steve.

I gave thanks for Steve and his family and our children and our shared memories and his love and our marriage.

 (photos from Notre Dame)

Bon voyage and welcome home

Before we left for Europe last Monday, one little tulip was in bloom.

I like to think of it as Steve saying "hello and bon voyage" before our adventure.

We came home this Monday to a lovely welcome -- many more tulips in bloom.

(photo by Liz)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fulfilling a promise

In 2008, Steve and I booked flights to Europe. We wanted to take Cooper and Katie to London and Paris. We knew Steve's time was limited, but we had faith that his health would stay strong enough for a summer 2009 vacation.

Steve's health declined severely in early 2009. By spring we conceded that we'd have to give up the trip.

Cooper and Katie were disappointed but understanding. And Steve promised them that they would one day go. He and I knew that I would be responsible for fulfilling the promise. 

Soon, I will make good on the promise.

I expect the Paris portion of the trip will be especially emotional for me -- Steve and I were there in 1999 for our five-year anniversary. Still, I'm looking forward to retracing some of our steps with Cooper and Katie. And I'm looking forward to Katie asking a real French person, "Ou est la Tour Eiffel?" (She's been practicing, with Haley's help, since August.)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Living with loss offers valuable lessons on life

From today's Briefing:

Seemingly apropos of nothing, Cooper announced this week: “I love life! I love everything about it except death.”

His enthusiasm warms my broken heart.

Cooper speaks with wisdom gained from watching his dad’s body deteriorate from the effects of cancer. From living in the same house where Steve died. From living with arrested reminders of Steve’s vibrant personality.

Cooper’s words remind me of the lessons I’m constantly learning from Steve’s absence.

Every day is worth celebrating. In the year and a half since Steve’s death, I’ve necessarily let a lot of things go (if not the guilt associated with letting things go). One day I’ll be back to my “normal” self of balancing daily survival with long-term projects, but for now daily survival wins.

At the same time, I’ve placed greater importance on celebrating each day.

I routinely keep fresh flowers in the kitchen, family room and my bedroom. I decorate the kitchen table — our main hub of activity — according to the season. This week, the Valentine’s Day placemats and centerpiece were replaced with Easter d├ęcor.

We go out for frozen yogurt because it’s a sunny day — or because it’s raining. Or because we have friends over — or we don’t.

We are tiny but still significant. A few weeks ago, when I was on vacation in Belize, I was able to clearly see the band of the Milky Way for the first time. I could see the constellations (though I couldn’t remember all of their names). I was far removed from light pollution; my view of the sky was like it’s supposed to be.

I even saw a shooting star.

After staring into space for a few minutes, I became overwhelmed with the thought of how very small we are — just miniscule specks representing an indiscernible blip in time.

But we’re significant to one another.

This week, a friend’s friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within hours of learning the news, my friend had mobilized a team of women to plot strategy. Meals. Child care. Emotional support.

They are protecting and nurturing another human — there’s nothing insignificant about that.

Nothing is guaranteed. Actually, my daughter reminds me of this frequently. In Katie’s world, it’s natural that a parent would die early — because that’s what happened to her.

So, she’ll talk about her future with certainty and my future with qualification.

Last week during a drive, she said: “Mommy, I hope you’re still alive when my kids are adults. That would be amazing.”

She’s promised that I can live with her when she’s an adult — if I’m still around. I assure her that I’m doing my best to stay healthy and make good choices. That only God knows when I’ll die but that I pray it won’t be for many decades.

She’s not pessimistic — just realistic. Steve was healthy, made good choices. Thousands of people were praying on his behalf.

Katie’s realism protects her heart. And it’s a constant reminder that we can’t afford to waste a lot of time on unnecessary drama. That we should be thankful for every sunrise — not grumbling that it’s time to get up. That we should be enjoying the life we have while we have it, even going so far as to randomly exclaim to anyone who’s listening, “I love life!”

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at