Travel Woes


Last night we got home from a long weekend in Stuttgart, Germany and it was really great.  This was our sixth country in the last year and we are all really getting good at navigating unfamiliar places, trying out phrases in new languages, and sampling new foods. 

But we’re also learning that not every trip can go well.  Our weekend in France in May was our first real experience with a major travel snafu, and we’ve been really lucky in the last 15 months that we can point out just ONE time that things got messed up pretty badly.

Last night would be time number two.

Flight delays happen all the time.  We’ve experienced them more times than I can count.  But sometimes they just really, really suck.

Our flight home was scheduled to leave Stuttgart at 8:50PM on Sunday night.  We got to the airport reallllllly early because we wanted to eat a full dinner before getting on the plane, not just an airport snack.  We had almost three hours from the time we had checked our bags and gotten through security to the time we were supposed to board the flight, and that was largely by design so we could sit and eat at a restaurant in the airport without any stress about making it to our gate.  We ate slowly and leisurely, even getting coffees and hot chocolates after the meal, and walked to our gate without incident about 30 minutes before we were supposed to board.  And then, about 15 minutes later, they made the announcement that the flight was delayed an hour and ten minutes, putting our new estimated departure at 10PM.

It’s no big deal to have a flight delayed.  Sure, it’s annoying, but it happens.  For this particular trip, though, we were flying in and out of an airport on the opposite side of London from where we live.  Once we landed, we’d have to take a train from the airport into London, transfer to the Underground to get to Kings Cross station, and take another train out to the station near our house where our car was parked.  In total, it took us about 2.5 hours to get from our car to the airport on the way out to Germany.  That’s a long time to travel tacked on to the time you’re already spending in the airport. 

We bought the tickets from the further airport because the prices were so good — half the cost of flying from the airport closer to our house.  And though we’d never flown out of this further airport, we knew people who did use it and it seemed like no big deal.  Unfortunately, we didn’t take into consideration the toll it would take to travel for so long with luggage and the four kids, transferring trains, waiting on platforms, hoping to find seats, managing bathroom trips, etc.  It was fine, but it meant we basically left home at noon to just make it on time for a 5:40PM flight out on the way to Germany.

Now we were sitting in Germany facing a flight that wouldn’t leave until 10PM and even once we got to London we’d still have 2.5 hours of travel ahead of us to get home.  Suddenly the good deal on plane tickets didn’t seem so good anymore.

In addition, because we’d be arriving so late we had to determine if there were even trains still running to get us where we needed to go.  Matt searched the timetables and found the schedule for the airport express into London.  The last train left at 12:15AM.  We should be able to make that train, then we’d have to switch to the underground and get to Kings Cross to make the final train out toward our house, which would leave the station at 1:35AM and arrive at our destination at 2:50AM.  Then we’d have to drive the 15 minutes home.  At best, we’d get in at just after 3AM.  At worst, we’d have to get hotel rooms in London for the night and then make the trek during Monday rush hour with all the kids and the luggage.  I could almost see Matt’s skin crawling with the thought of that.

To complicate things, the flight was delayed another hour, with a new estimated departure at 10:49PM.  We realized that if we landed by 11:15PM (London is an hour earlier than Germany) and could get through passport control, customs, and get our baggage, plus make our way from the North terminal of the airport we’d land in to the South terminal where the train station was located in 45 minutes, we could get the last train into the city.  Basically we’d have to hope the passport lines were quick and we’d have to run for it. But if we were late at all, there was simply no way to make it to all the connections and get home that night.

As we sat in the airport in Stuttgart after a long three days of walking and exploring and the clock ticked later and later, the kids started to nod off.  Quinn fell fast asleep.  When we finally got the word to board, he was simply out cold and wouldn’t be woken up, so I had to carry him onto the tram that took us across the tarmac and then up the flight of stairs onto the plane.  He never woke up.  In fact, he slept through the whole flight.  The rest of the kids fell asleep within minutes of take-off.  I knew though, that we had HOURS of traveling ahead of us, so although I closed my eyes and dozed a few times, I couldn’t fall asleep because I felt like that would just be worse.  It’s easier for me to power through than to get some sleep and then have to wake up and run again.

When we landed, we woke up all the kids because they’d have to be able to be awake to get through passport control.  We speed-walked to the baggage claim, got our bags right away, and made our way as fast as possible to passport control, but the lines were already long.  As we stood there watching the minutes tick by, Matt went and checked with one of the agents to be sure we were eligible, and then went online and registered for priority clearance — which we had to pay for — so we jumped out of the long line and into a very short line.  We probably saved 30 minutes of standing in line, but even still, at that point we had less than 10 minutes to get across the airport to the train station, buy tickets, and get on the 12:15AM train that was the last express into the city.  We RAN.  The kids, exhausted and groggy, were absolutely awesome.  We made it literally by seconds, dashing down the escalator into the open train doors just before they closed.

Then we had an hour train ride into Victoria Station, where we’d transfer to the tube, get to Kings Cross, and finally head home.  The kids crashed out on the train, sitting on their luggage and sleeping with their heads leaned up against each other because the train was full and we didn’t have seats.

We made it to Victoria Station, but realized that the Underground had already stopped for the night.  It was 1AM, and we stood outside the station with our four kids and all our bags and saw the taxi line of people in similar situations waiting to get in cabs.  We knew we wouldn’t make it to our train in Kings Cross if we had to wait, so instead of getting in the cab line, we walked out to the main road and called an Uber.  Our driver was 7 minutes away.  When he arrived, we explained that we had to get to Kings Cross to make the 1:35AM train or we were stuck in the city — and he was so great about trying to get us there in time.  I watched the ETA on the Uber app on my phone — it literally had us arriving at Kings Cross at 1:33AM, then went up to 1:36AM — TOO LATE — and back down to 1:32AM again as we drove through the quiet late-night city.  We still had to unload our luggage from the Uber and buy the train tickets, too, so even with 3 minutes to spare we were cutting it close.

As soon as we pulled up I grabbed my suitcase which had been by my feet in the Uber and ran into the station to get tickets as Matt unloaded the rest of the bags and got the kids.  He checked the platform on the departure screens — which was easy because it was the only train still listed, the last of the night — and got the kids running toward the correct platform while I hit the ticket machine.  A guard at the station saw me frantically trying to get the right number of tickets and yelling to Matt and the kids to keep going and I would get there, and asked if I needed help. 

“We just need to be on that 1:35 train!” I gasped.  I didn’t pay much more attention, but I do think he called over to the engineer on the platform.

I finally got the tickets ordered; they printed individually, painfully slowly, and I flat out sprinted through the deserted train station to catch up to my family. 

Matt and the kids were climbing on to the train as I ran down the platform.  I looked up at the clock at the end and it said 1:34:32 as I jumped through the doors.  The engineer on the platform blew his whistle as I climbed on board, and the doors instantly closed behind me.  We had made it with less than 30 seconds to spare.

The kids fell asleep again almost instantly, but I was so adrenaline fueled, it took me a little while to calm down.  We made it back to our station, woke the kids again with some difficulty, trudged out to our car and loaded up the bags and drove home, pulling into our driveway at 3:10AM.

This will become one of those family stories, I think, that we tell again and again — at least this isn’t as bad as that one trip home from Germany! — but it is not something I want to repeat.  We’ve learned that a good deal on flights isn’t always a good deal, because we have to take a lot of other factors into consideration.

We also learned, though, that when we’re in a tight spot, we can make things work.  To be honest, I would probably have given up on trying to get home while we were standing in the passport line with 10 minutes left to get on the last train into London.  But Matt SO did not want to spend a night in a hotel, which would have cost hundreds of extra pounds because we always need two rooms with our big family, and then make the 2.5 hour train trip home on Monday morning during rush hour with luggage and children.  He really, really needed to try to make it home.  So we all rallied and ran and weaved through crowds in the airport and lugged suitcases down escalators even though we were exhausted and the kids were dead on their feet.  At one point on the train from the airport into London, Owen just stood there crying silently because he was so tired he just wanted to lie down and go to sleep.  But he pulled it together, wiped his eyes, and made the last bit of the trip without complaining.  I was really proud of him and of all of us.

Matt and I have learned a lot in the last year, about ourselves, our children, our strengths and weaknesses, about traveling and down time and how we want to shape our lives.  Last night was just another lesson.  Even though it sucked while we were in it, it was also a victory because we did it — WE MADE IT HOME!

But next time, we’re flying out of the close airport, even if the tickets are 5x more.

Also, our terrible initial arrival in London a year ago.





It was never my intention to let writing here fall so far to the wayside, but in the balance of my life, something had to give.  Summer vacation with four kids home all day, travel back to the States, a new school year starting, birthday after birthday after birthday after birthday, planning more travel (Germany here we come!), trying really hard to maintain a schedule where I work out regularly, actually working at my job for which I get paid, and just generally taking care of my children and my home.  There just aren’t enough hours in the week for me to do everything I want to do. 

On top of all that, I am writing a book.  Actually, I am in the process of writing three books, but have focused my attention on just one until it’s done.  It’s about the schools here in England, how they differ from the school system in the States, and how some of the best parts of what we’ve seen here could be applied to public schools in America.  I’m about 1/4 of the way in, I think.  My goal is to finish it by February.  Most of my spare time, my writing time, has been focused on that — and will have to be, until it’s done.  I feel like I have a lot to say and that it’s important to say it.  

I hate not being here on this blog too, though.  Regardless of how busy I am, this space is a record of my little family, our adventures and our milestones.  I’m trying really hard to find a way to fit it all in.  Sleep isn’t that important, is it? 

This morning was another big event: we sent B off on a school trip for three days to Paris. It’s really weird to send your kid off to a different country for a few days.  In reality, she’ll be closer to us than she would be if we were in D.C. and she were in NYC, but since she needed her passport on this trip, it seems like a bigger deal.  She is so excited though.  And hopefully her trip to Paris will be drier than our last one.

Our lives here in England have become second-nature-normal now, and a few weeks into the school year it feels routine and comfortable.  It’s good to settle in.  Now I just need to find a way to balance all the things I want to do, and I’ll really be happy.  It’s a constant struggle though, the push and pull and need to fit it all in.  But the truth is, if it’s important, you find a way. 

I have lots to catch up on — our trip home in August, Owen’s latest running achievements, travel plans we have coming up, and lots of thoughts on travel in general that have been running through my head lately.  I want to get it all down here so I can remember it.

I’m working hard to make it work.  Here’s hoping!


Ten, Baby


My gorgeous green-eyed boy, you are ten.  Although, to be honest, you’ve been saying you’re ten for at least two months now, so it’s a little bit anti-climactic.  And no matter how many times you said it, only to have your sister immediately correct you, you persisted in calling yourself ten.  Literally since July.  But today, for real, you’re finally ten.  It’s official.

You are now, as you always have been, the most guileless and open person I know.  You are not shy, you are not reserved, and you are not worried about what other people think.  It is so lovely to see you openly excited whenever something good happens.  Like during the first week of school when you dashed out to me as I stood in the middle of a conversation with another mom, and with a flushed face and shining eyes you exclaimed that you’d made the top set in maths and flung your arms around me in a bear hug.  You were so, so proud and so didn’t care if it was cool to be that happy about it.  And my heart could have burst with pride and happiness for you. 

Your school over the past year has been a considerable source of happiness for you, from last autumn when you made the A-team in football (soccer), to the winter when you made the A-team as the goalie in hockey (field hockey), and then into spring when you made the A-team again in cricket (baseball skills translate, apparently).  You made the swim team and the cross country team as well. 


You told me not too far into the beginning of last school year that you absolutely loved your new school because “you matter there, you make a difference”.  If there’s something better a child can say to his mother, I don’t know it.  Knowing that the place where I send you off for 7+ hours each day makes you feel like you matter is about as much as I can ask for. 

Aside from your successes on the sports field, you also embraced everything else this new school had to offer, as I knew you would.  You joined the choir and loved being part of the school production of Wind in the Willows.  You joined an art club.  You ran for school council.  Your willingness to put yourself out there sets a great example for your siblings, most of whom are slightly less gregarious than you. And you just love being involved.  I love that about you.

On Sports Day in the spring, a day of serious and impressive track and field events, you cemented your mark on the school in a way that I know truly made you proud.  Your only goal that day was to beat the school record for your year in the cricket ball throw and get your name in the school record book.  I was quite proud of you for setting a goal like that.  The distance to beat for your grade was somewhere just under 45 meters. And you got up there and you chucked that ball with everything you had, with that lovely throwing motion your dad has ingrained in you since you could hold a ball, and everyone watching gasped out loud as the ball sailed over all our heads and past the judges, who had to unroll the tape measure to check your distance.  You hit 49.7 meters.  You smashed it.  And you joyfully but quietly celebrated your accomplishment, cheered on and congratulated by your friends, all of whom were truly happy for you.  It was a pleasure to watch.

Although I think the cricket ball record was a highlight for you, my proudest moment came a few weeks earlier at the school awards ceremony when you received the Most Improved Award for your class.  I saw the work you put in last year to catch up in maths, handwriting, English, and all the plethora of subjects that are taught so differently here than they were at home.  Your grades improved every single term.  You put your whole self into it and I was so grateful that your efforts were recognized. 


We have reached another turning point this year, you and I: we now have the same size feet.  Given that I am a still several–at least 6–inches taller than you and not small-of-feet myself, we’ll just say you have large feet and leave it at that.  I sort of imagine you like a puppy with giant paws and I am just waiting for the day when you grow into them and, therefore, tower over me.  I also discovered a few days ago that a pair of your jeans was neatly folded in my pants drawer because I had assumed, when I picked them out of the laundry basket, that they were mine.  All this is to say that I don’t think it will be too long before I am looking up at you.  I’m already planning to steal your cool new turf shoes as soon as you outgrow them.  So, like, next week probably, at the rate you’re growing.

Although you are getting quite big and quite mature, thankfully you still give me a kiss every morning at school when we say goodbye.  Even if it’s only because you know I’ll make a scene if you refuse, you pause and hug and kiss me, no matter if you’re with your friends.  I love you for that. 


In this year of adventure, you’ve seen some really cool places, from Edinburgh (where you tried the haggis!), to Stonehenge and Cornwall, to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  But my favorite trip with you was to Rome; you had studied Ancient Rome in history not too long before the trip and were so excited to see it in person.  As we took our tour of the Colosseum, you gleefully and correctly answered the tour guides questions and were so proud that you were able to contribute.  At the Vatican museum, you hung on every word as our guide described the images painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and when we got home from our trip your history teacher told me that you’d shared all that information with your class — even pulling up an image of the painting on the smart board in class so you could point out specific details.  I love that you soaked it all up and remembered it and were interested enough to think your classmates would love to know about it too.


You are full of candor and joy, friendliness and humor, hard work and pride.  You are a leader that people want to follow because you take charge with humility and natural grace.  You are a rock star in every sense of the word.  You are simply awesome.  Never change.


Now, on your tenth birthday, I celebrate with gratitude a decade of being the mother to a young man I am so proud to call my son.  Happy birthday Gabey-Baby.  I love you to the moon and back!

Also, Gabe’s 9th birthday and his 8th birthday!


Matt’s Birthday


We’ve got a steady string of birthdays in our house this time of year and sometimes I feel like Matt’s gets lost in the shuffle of the kids’ birthdays surrounding his.  Friday was his birthday, though, and I want to make sure I don’t completely ignore it when he most certainly deserves some attention and celebration!

I got lucky when I married him.  We balance each other out and he’s still, always and forever, the person I want to spend all my time with.  He’s the reason we’re able to go on adventures, both big and small.  He’s the reason my kids are good athletes and fierce competitors.  He sets the bar high, and honestly, he looks good doing it.


“Reliable” isn’t exactly the most romantic of adjectives, but it should be.  Reliability is hot.  When Matt says he will do something, I know he will.  I know I can count on him.  Other people know they can count on him.  He doesn’t ever, ever let me down.  That’s more important than most other personality traits, and it makes me love him more every day, even if it does sound boring.


We had a quiet day celebrating him on Friday, and a fun weekend full of friends, sports, and football on Sunday.  Basically all Matt’s favorite things.

So even though I am a few days late, happy birthday to my favorite person.  XOXO

Also, last year was the big one!



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