A Weekend in Wales

We snuck in a last minute trip over the Fourth of July to make the most of our last weekend in the UK.

We booked a “secluded log cabin” along Snowdonia National Park and drove the boys to Wales.

Barmouth Beach

We took the kids to the beach at Barmouth in the rain the day we arrived, because, well, we had to do something. They loved it. Unfortunately we parents turned our backs for 20 seconds and found our little guys sitting in a chilly beach puddle, smiling at us with that “heh-heh, I know I’m not supposed to do this” look. Our lovely trip to the seaside was cut a bit short. As we left town we said, “I’m sure it’s lovely in the summer!” then remembered the date.

Driving through Snowdonia

Thankfully the rain cleared over night and our morning mountain view was bathed in sunshine! It set the mood for a great day. We drove through the terrifyingly tight winding roads of the southern portion of the park. It was the stone walls, see, they were built right up to the road. That we didn’t scrape one with our sideview is nothing short of a miracle.

View from Snowdon

We rode a steam train up Snowdon. Woolly sheep mostly ignored us as we chuffed to the highest point in England and Wales. The boys enjoyed waving at the hikers, whose trek to the top *may* have required as much exertion as keeping both of them happy for the two hour round trip.

Barmouth Beach

We went back to the beach and played in the sun and sand. You really can’t beat that.

Johnny Trashed

As we walked across a level crossing in search of dinner, we heard a Johnny Cash song ringing through the streets. Weird enough hearing country music in Britain; weirder still that Wales speaks its own language. Walden danced. Then we found ourselves a delicious dinner (with loads of VEGETABLES, thank goodness) at The Captain’s Table.

We didn’t have internet at the cabin. We did have a 1988 edition of Trivial Pursuit, made in the UK, of course. We didn’t have the stamina to finish it. The first pie piece was won on a question that asked about what the weather in London was like on a day the Queen took the throne or something. (Raining. I mean, honestly.)

Aside from the dead baby rabbit next to our doorstep after missing our turn approximately 14 times, it was a perfect weekend. Make the getaway if you get the chance!

 

And We’re Back

Boys in MN

Helloooooo America!

OK, so we’ve been here nearly a week already. But Hello anyway. The general rule of thumb for overcoming jet lag is that it takes one day per time zone to adjust, so we’re just now coming out of that zombie-like state that comes with transatlantic travel.

Our 18-hour travel day went as well as can be expected. Bertie fell asleep for an hour on takeoff from London. Walden fell asleep for about 30 minutes en route. We crashed the USO at O’Hare and were able to fly standby on an earlier flight to Minneapolis. There weren’t any irrecoverable meltdowns and all of our luggage arrived with us. An overall win in my book, with bonus points for hopefully being our last departure from Heathrow until the boys are big enough to carry their own bags onto the plane.

Minnesota summer is unbeatable. The weather has been incredibly mild, which has helped us acclimate gently to summer-like temps. We’ve visited the Minnesota Children’s Museum, mostly to unleash our jet lagged children on the Thomas & Friends’ Explore the Rails exhibit. We visited the Minnesota Zoo. Play grounds, parks, cousins, Legos (SO MANY LEGOS), bike rides, walks along the creek, burgers, bagels, farmer’s markets, Target…and lots of iced coffee.

We’ve set up new phones, we’ve found a car. We’ve made plans for a date night, an REI shopping trip and a Twins game, and I’m excited that one of my sisters-in-law is taking me to a show tonight. Time is flying!

Next week we visit my family in Indiana and hopefully consume our weight in fresh, delicious sweet corn. Then we’re off to Alabama to wait for our stuff to arrive and send the big guys to school. We’re so fortunate that we’re able to load up on most of our family after being overseas for three years.

Also, summer in the Midwest should be on everyone’s bucket list. Have you been?

The Final Countdown

Whelp, our stuff is packed in crates somewhere out there and we’re officially living out of suitcases. I appreciate any and all wishes for our household to arrive in Alabama in fewer than 3 months (unlike last time)!

This post is pretty scatterbrained. We’ve had a very busy few weeks, full of preparation for the move, last minute sight-seeing and keeping the kids happy. I regret that I wasn’t more dedicated to posting when we arrived in England. (Or since. Sigh.) So with that I’m just dumping it all right here before it’s forgotten in the hot, hot glorious sun of American summer. Anyway, I’m sitting in a dark hotel room in London while Albert naps. I’d nap too, except for that lunch time latte. (Sleep hasn’t been abundant these days).

With it being summer in Britain, stuff is actually going on and happening. It all gets concentrated in the June-August timeframe. Then you’re left grumbling about the rain and slugs and cold for the rest of the year.

Sports Day

Walden had his first foot race at his school “sports day.” He said, “Are you going to watch me win, Mom?” I guess he doesn’t count the kid who won as part of the competition?

Boulogne sur Mer

I took a day bus trip to France with a friend. Boulogne-sur-Mer. Heard of it? No? I’ll tell you about it one of these days.

The Berts

Bertie’s front molars are all here!

Country Show Collage

We took the boys to the West Suffolk Game & Country Show. It rained (SURPRISE), but we got to see our first Punch & Judy Puppet Show. It was performed in a classic 1860′s style with wooden puppets made in 1934. Call me a modern woman, but I wasn’t crazy about the domestic violence/child abuse/cop beating perpetrated by Mr. Punch. Just sayin’. HOW is it OK for this show to be performed?

There was a steam traction engine parade. I don’t know what we’re going to do for fun when we live somewhere that doesn’t have loads of steam relics to entertain my husband and preschooler. (Maybe we should buy this place?)

Wales Collage

We went to Wales over the weekend of the 4th. It was fantastic and I’ll tell you all about it, too. One hint: there was a steam train (SURPRISE). Also: 1988 UK-produced Trivial Pursuit.

Goodbye

Walden’s teachers made a good-bye card, with a blue steam locomotive on the front. (See what I mean?) Honestly, receiving that was the most emotional part of this move. At least with my friends from the squadron we really mean it when we say, “See you later.”

Our landlord thanked us for taking such good care of our house. It’s funny, because I’m a horrible house keeper, but I get some satisfaction in knowing that I can fake it well enough.

And finally, temporary lodging is surprisingly more luxurious than when we first arrived three years ago. Don’t get me wrong; nothing has changed. It’s just that… air conditioning! A dryer! A garbage disposal! Never mind that it’s as large as the space we actually used in our house. I no longer have to brave A1101 to get to the commissary.

Tomorrow we fly. I’ve reminded myself of my own advice for making a transatlantic flight with a 17-month-old. We’re lucky that Walden is an A+ traveler/iPad-player and we don’t have to sweat entertaining him on a plane. (The Chuggington game I downloaded yesterday is a sure-fire win. I can only hope he’s always so easy to please.) Best of all, there are grandparents waiting for them at the finish line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyon, France

We stopped in Lyon en route from Barcelona to Paris.

The winds tried their best to blow us off course “vent violent!,” but I refused to allow anything to sway my opinion that the south of France is gorgeous. The Pyrenees! The Mediterranean! Vineyards galore! Plus, we were headed to The Gastronomic Capital of France (I had heard).

After quite the faff of unloading our carful of stuff at the hotel and finding parking for our 4Runner in the old town, we hustled out the door to dinner with the boys. Restaurants don’t open until 7, which is a problem when your kids go to bed in the 7-8 timeframe, but maybe not if you’ve jumped a time zone?

Yeah. No. Have I mentioned that my kids suck at napping in the car?

Our request for a tasty family-friendly restaurant was met with a scoff. You just don’t do Lyonnaise dining with small children. So much for the bouchon meal that enticed me through the entire drive. Our hotel attendant suggested Hippopotamus, a chain grill restaurant found in France. We scoffed at the idea.

We zipped up, crossed the Rhône and sauntered through some magnificent plazas as we followed our nose to Rue Mercière. GoodNESS it smelled delicious there!

Since dinner at a bouchon was out, I was determined to eat a quenelle, a kind of fish dumpling served in a rich cream sauce.

We picked a restaurant with a children’s menu. It was sea-themed and called something like The Wench. We ordered a kir to toast our grand adventure and our first proper dinner on the town. Bertie kicked mine off the table. The glass shattered to bits. My champagne bled everywhere. My husband inhaled his beef carpaccio first course. Then we waited, which is Parentese for “kept our children from smashing more things/pulling pictures off the walls.” For what felt like an eternity.

My quenelle was totally worth all of the drama. SO GOOD. Everyone should have ordered one. Side note: every kids meal in France seemed to be a hamburger – “steak haché,” like, a patty, no bun – and fries. We learned that Albert loves (LOVES) French fries. Walden doesn’t want to see another bunless hamburger ever. I was disappointed that my youngest refused (fiercely) a bit of crème brûlée. Ingrate.

So. Dinner was delicious chaos (at least for me, and somehow Walden didn’t fall asleep in his ice cream) and we decided that dining out in the evening in the future will require simple one-course meals.

Lyon, France

The next morning we drove up Fourvière Hill to see the great basilica of Notre-Dame that keeps watch over Lyon. We meant to find the funicular train station at the bottom, but there was absolutely no useful information anywhere about it. Also, our French sucks. The kids fell asleep by the time we reach the hilltop basilica parking lot, so I just hopped out and took a photo of the city.

The view was stunning. (Though I might say that about every view over a city?) Really, though. There’s something magical about having a bird’s eye view in peace, overlooking a beautiful city without the interference of the bustle below. To step out of it and enjoy the bigger design, the entire effect that a place has on its landscape.

As we drove down past the Roman amphitheaters (which we could see from the car and that was better than waking up the kids), I decided that yes, yes I do want to visit Lyon again. With much older children or a babysitter. Or maybe no kids. Definitely with a big appetite.

 

Motoring Down A1101

 

There’s a road – yes, one – that connects my town to my husband’s base. Americans aren’t allowed to pass other drivers on this road, unless the driver is a farmer in a tractor driving slower than 30 mph. (In the fall, you want to pass them so you can avoid being pelted with root vegetables that bounce over their too-full wagons.) I’ve declared several times that locals must purposely drive 40 mph in the national speed limit zones when they see an American spec vehicle in the rearview.

A1101

Most of my peers think I’m a lunatic for driving that road instead of taking a convoluted route around it via the highway. Maybe I am; maybe they’re just haunted by the tragic tale we all heard at driver’s orientation, of the family whose van slipped off the icy road into a full irrigation ditch (on the other side of base, mind you). I certainly can’t argue with them when the fog is so thick you can eat it and/or you can’t see quite see the giant white “get over, fool!” arrows painted on the road.

There is no shoulder, by the way.

It’s a bit windy, full of fast-but-not-so-fast-just-yet-ok-NOW-NO-no-30! speed limit variations. You pass through thatched-roof stone-walled towns with perfectly British names like Hengrave, Flempton and Icklingham, where the old buildings are so close to the road that double decker buses always cross the center line. Despite the inevitability of a car parked in the road or the shocking number of cyclists without helmets, I can’t bring myself to pull over for photos. I just don’t have it in me.

Luke of Lackford has fresh eggs and hand-cut flowers for sale nearly every day. I’ve stopped twice to deposit my pound-coin in the open wooden box for a bright (if buggy) bouquet that’s best suited for a mason jar.

After grazing hedgerows with your side view mirror, you pass pastures of sheep, sometimes horses, sometimes cows, sometimes goats. If you’re lucky, you’ll drive behind another American or a BusinessPerson who has no interest in impeding your progress. Then you can fly over the small hills in the straight-ish segment for that floating stomach effect. Whee! But when you hit the shady tunnel of forest, you know you’re approaching your doom: Five Ways.

Let me start by saying that I like roundabouts. Conceptually. I prefer them to piddly four-way stops and often useless stoplights that interfere with your getting from here to there. There’s something about the constant state of motion and the twirl of cars shooting off in all directions that appeals to my sensibility. However, there are times and places when roundabouts have no place in this world. Next to other roundabouts, for one. Most of all: at the intersection of A11 and A1101 and A1065, where I find myself at a standstill for far too long far too often. Five Ways surely exists as some sort of practical joke, a big F.U. to the Americans who are otherwise so graciously hosted in the region. The English have the technology to build a tunnel UNDER the North Sea, but they can’t figure out how to avoid this clusterf*ck of everyone’s commuting nightmare? Does. Not. Compute.

[Actually, there's a massive construction project underway that, I think, is supposed to remedy this situation. We won't be here long enough to know.]

ANYhow, Five Ways is unavoidable no matter how you slice it (except for back in the day before the massive construction project, when you could risk your life zig-zag darting across the A11 on B1112, which closed about a month before my second son was due). As such, I prefer my quintessentially British scenic route most days. I’m a bit of a sentimental sap like that.

 

Montserrat, Spain

I’m going to make a confession: we’re not very good city tourists. While I do get a charge from a day in a creative and energetic metropolitan area, I’m much more comfortable next to the sea, a lake, or the mountains, surrounded by trees or plains or dunes. My husband would agree.

The trouble is other tourists. The lines, the bustle, the rudeness that comes with long days of battling for the best view or for entrance to the world’s great sights. It’s all a lot to endure with two small children to look after, too.

Monastery at Montserrat

We were looking forward to a drive up Montserrat from Barcelona. However, we didn’t expect to be stopped for an hour behind a long line of traffic just a mile or two from the legendary mountain-top monastery.

Driving to Montserrat

(It looks a bit like the mountain is giving us the finger, no?)

Not visiting the abbey wasn’t an option after committing so much time to it. We turned around to take the cogwheel train up instead.

Train to Montserrat

It felt quite crowded for a Wednesday. (It wasn’t until our disappointing dinner that we realized it was Labor Day in Spain.) We used up a good hour waiting in line/eating at the cafeteria when we finally reached the monestary. By the time we finished, the kids were totally spent. My husband took them to a playground while I looked around.

View from Montserrat

Entrance to Montserrat Cathedral

Montserrat Altar

The monastery was founded more than 1,000 years ago and is an important cultural site. And that’s about all I had time for. The kids were such a horrid mess of exhaustion from the previous days (in Barcelona and on the road) that we decided to skip a ride to the summit on the funicular train and head back for a low-key, relaxing evening.

This day trip was sandwiched between our first day in the city as a family and the day I toured Barcelona by myself. Quite frankly, at this point we were convinced our grand road trip to Spain was a complete disaster. There might have been a moment later in the night when I decided to embrace all of the ridiculousness and consider it part of the adventure.

After three days in the Barcelona area, we headed to on to Lyon, France. We were ready for a new variety of ridiculousness.

Lately

Flurry? Whirlwind? Cyclone? I’m unsure which weather feature best describes our current state of existence.

Bertie in Shades

June is half over. More than a month has passed since our epic road trip, which I’m still hoping to detail here. (I’m really only three days in. We were gone for 12. It might be a while.) We’ve celebrated Walden’s half-birthday (that’s 3.5 if you’re keeping track), our ninth wedding anniversary, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Bertie’s 16 month birthday, Father’s Day… surely something else. My husband drove a train? The movers arrive a week from tomorrow. We have just a few weeks left in England. Can you believe it?

The Guys at the Air Show

My husband’s work has been bonkers lately. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper overseas PCS (that’s milspeak for permanent change of station) for us if his work didn’t suddenly become overwhelming. Pile on the extra appointments and errands associated with the PCS, then break a car, and you suddenly have no time for nothin’ at all. (Not lately, at least.)

Speaking of work, I was contacted about an amazing job opportunity that set my heart aflutter. It’s logistically impossible given our current situation, but it lit that spark I’ve wanted to feel about going back to work. Now I can’t get the idea out of my head. Somewhere on my To Do list is something like “get your professional act together and find a fulfilling job.”

Summer collage

I’ve been selling our old baby stuff and random items that just need to go. Sorting, organizing, strategizing which items will come on the plane with us, which will go into an “unaccompanied baggage” shipment ahead of our full household goods shipment. (You may recall that our HHG took three months to arrive getting here…). The whole process makes me wish there were no Things to deal with in the first place. Especially considering that this next assignment is for one year and we have no idea where we’re going next.

We’re researching the best way to get from Chicago to Minneapolis, new cars, washers & dryers, Internet providers, swim lessons and play groups, and how to pay for it all. (At least we have preschool booked.) There are utilities to cancel and set up, a house to clean for vacancy, a car to prep for a month on a ship, mail forwards and holds… and children who demand attention and food and butt-wipings.

The Boys

All things considered, the boys are really great. By which I mean, if you overlook the teething whining and clinginess, Bertie is quite endearing. He dances, he cuddles, he loves animals and added “flower” to his five-word vocabulary the other day. He also climbs and has no fear of falling (as evidenced by a recent dive off the neighborhood play structure, from which he was saved by my surprising agility). Walden has become such a little person, often times reasonable, with a grand imagination and deep thirst for learning. He can write his name, spell and recognize a handful of words, play independently, and – most impressive of all, because I can’t help but be that obnoxious braggart mom – ride a bike with pedals and no training wheels.

They’re both SO BIG! (I mean, not BIG big, but big to us.)

Where has time gone, I ask you? How does it get gobbled up so quickly, without warning that it’s just disappearing forever?

So, in a nutshell (but not the Nutshell pub, the smallest pub in England, which I haven’t visited yet although it is in town, and now is another thing on my to-do list): things are a bit hectic here. That said, I feel pretty well on top of things (thanks to our shared Google calendars and the binder I’ve started). Except for the dumb shit I keep doing, like putting the iced tea pitcher in a cabinet, or re-paying for Bertie’s nearly empty container of Puffs.

Overall, though, it seems that getting out of here takes less effort than coming over (thank goodness), but perhaps just having a bit of experience is making it seem that way.

Regardless, see you in less than a month, America!

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

Spain has called to me for a while. I can’t pinpoint why. “The Sun Also Rises,” maybe? There’s something about the sunshine and the attitude that just called to me.

La Sagrada Familia

When I decided that Barcelona “seemed” like the place I most wanted to see, I asked around to learn of what I couldn’t miss. Everyone I talked to told me that I had to see La Sagrada Familia, the legendary unfinished cathedral (well, not technically a cathedral because a bishop isn’t seated there) by the modernisme architect Antoni Gaudi. Quite frankly, cathedrals aren’t something I get excited about. I enjoy the feeling of awe in approaching one and walking inside, and I usually find something inside to marvel at, but, well, I don’t really have a proper appreciation for them. At least, I’ve seen some magnificent cathedrals and don’t know what it might take to knock my socks off. Maybe I’m jaded on the Gothic style.

Well. La Sagrada Familia showed me.

My husband and I agreed that everyone would have the best time if he stayed at our rental near the beach with the kids while I took a day to sight-see on my own. (We had learned our lesson the first day.) Having distraction-free time to enjoy my visit really felt like a luxury!

Quite frankly, I struggle to find the words to describe La Sagrada Familia. My jaw dropped when I emerged from the Metro. I have never seen anything like it. Never, in real life or my dreams. I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe once in my visit.

La Sagrada Familia

It felt enormous upon approach, perhaps due to knowing that it’s not finished. Only eight of the 18 planned spires exist, and the other 10 will be even taller! I couldn’t get far enough away to get a photo of the entire building.

La Sagrada Familia Passion Facade

The art of the Passion (west) facade was striking and far less ornate than the carvings of the Gothic cathedrals I’ve grown used to seeing. I was captivated.

La Sagrada Familia Nativity Facade

I had pre-booked my ticket, which helped me avoid an hour-long wait and forced me to the entrance on the opposite side of the building. The east facade, or the Nativity facade, was finished in Gaudi’s lifetime.

La Sagrada Familia Nativity

This facade is a stunning collection of vignettes surrounded by his signature “dripping cake in the rain” look (a fitting description which I think I read in a Rick Steves book).

La Sagrada Familia

The interior filled the spectrum between the starkness/busy-ness of the two facades. There are elements of nature, beautiful displays of sunlight, remarkable architectural features, and a kind of playfulness that makes La Sagrada Familia inviting and unlike any other place in the world I have visited.

La Sagrada Familia Stained Glass Light

La Sagrada Familia Ceiling

La Sagrada Familia Stairs

I wasn’t able to prebook a tour of the towers on my timeline, and I regret missing the view over the city. But there were so many details to admire that I certainly can’t call the visit a loss.

La Sagrada Familia Door - Jesus

Plus, it’s unfinished. I’ll just have to go back again one day! To see a completed La Sagrada Familia will absolutely justify another trip to Barcelona.

A Barcelona Walk With Tinies

Barcelona

This being our maiden double-digit-hours-of-driving road trip as a family of four, we didn’t have much experience under our belt when it came to planning our itinerary.

We totally screwed up Barcelona.

After 21 hours in the car over two days, super-late bedtimes, missed naps and all, my 3- and 1-year-olds had no interest in or energy for sightseeing. At all. A hot, crowded train ride from our rental in Cabrera del Mar to Placa Catalunya was the last thing the wee one was up for. There were a lot of tears. Our plan for the day was pretty much the worst. Rather than recount everything that was miserable about that day, I’ll tell you what we should have done.

1. Parc de la Cituadella

Arc de Triomf

We should have gotten off the train at the Arc de Triumph and enjoyed the grandeur of the short walk to Parc de la Ciutadella.

Parc de la Cituadella

There are some beautiful sculptures and fountains. There’s a zoo! It’s a lovely place for the children to run off pent up energy. We could have grabbed some lunch there or headed to…

2. Barcelona Cathedral

DSC_5034

From the park we should have taken the metro to the Juame I stop, with a short walk to the Barcelona Cathedral (though the walk from the park isn’t terribly far and can pass the Picasso Museum, should your kids be passed out in the stroller and your tickets prebooked). We didn’t bother touring the cathedral, because our experience in Gothic cathedrals in England indicated a general lack of interest and respect on their behalf. But if your kids are cool, go for it!

Place del Rei

Then we would (and did) let the boys rock out to a busker in the Placa del Rei. [We were so delighted to see the boys smiling and having fun that we bought this guy's CD.] On the right day, we would take in the Sardana dancers (which we didn’t get a chance to see). Surely the toddler would be ready for a nap in the stroller by then, right?

Barrio Gotico

So why not load him up in the stroller to Placa Sant Juame and on through Barrio Gotico to Las Ramblas?

3. La Boqueria

La Boqueria

I LOVE a good market. So it was inevitable that, upon reaching Las Ramblas, we would wander to La Boqueria for fresh fruit or juice, and maybe some marzipan, maybe some ice cream. There is some lovely architecture en route, as well as street vendors and a ton of tourists. Embrace it!

Fresh Fruit La Boqueria

Push around the crowds in the market to gawk at the vast selection of meats, seafood and produce. Grab something to take back to your rental for dinner, why not? Then head up Las Ramblas to Placa de Catalunya.

Placa Catalunya Fountain

The plaza boasts some beautiful fountains and sculptures to cap off your day in the city.

4. The Beach

Boys at the Beach

We really liked staying outside of the city near a beach. We didn’t visit the city beaches, but our rental was a five-minute walk from the beach in Cabrera del Mar. It was a great end to the day, letting the boys play in the sand and soaking up a bit of sun by the sea. You don’t want to miss a chance for that.

I wish I could report on a great restaurant to take the kids to, the best place for paella and sangria, but, well, I can’t. Our timing was disastrous for discovering this on our own, and we weren’t really acclimated to the Spanish dining schedule. We grabbed lunch on the go and aimed for dinner back at our house, partially for our sanity, partially to attempt to operate under some kind of a budget. (It didn’t always go so well.) Though let me be clear: this is far from a comprehensive look at all there is to do in Barcelona.

Barcelona Side Street

I was fortunate that my husband recognized how little of the city we’d actually get to see if we went in as a family, and that our rental had a play room and walled garden WITH TOYS!!. It was pretty easy to decide that I would go into Barcelona on my own one day to really soak it in. (More on that to come.) Mostly this post is meant for other parents who haven’t yet discovered that Rick Steves’ walks don’t give two seconds of thought to exploring with small children. It’s a lovely introduction to the city, and how I wish we would have planned it.

Have you been to Barcelona with children under 4? What did they love?

This Memorial Day

Sally B B-17

Yesterday we took the boys to the D-Day 70th Anniversary Air Show at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. I’m not a war buff by any stretch of the imagination, but my appreciation for World War II has grown since moving to the east of England three years ago.

Plus, Normandy was the last stop of our big road trip. Our visits to Pointe du Hoc and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach are weighing on me this Memorial Day.

The history of the world runs much deeper than the great wars of the last century, I know. It’s just that I find it difficult to comprehend the scope of the loss that comes with war. The relics of ancient battles seem so…ancient. We’re so often shielded from the devastation of modern war in other parts of the world. We see examples of war in movies, which make the horror at once real and unreal. Very few of us, in terms of a percentage of the US population, actually witness it (and thank you to our service members for that). Standing on the grounds of a world-changing battle helped me to understand ever so slightly the reality of war.

Pointe du Hoc

Pointe du Hoc, atop a 100-foot cliff between Omaha and Utah beaches, was fortified by Germans in the second World War. Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to seize the position on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Here’s where my ignorance will shine: I don’t have more details to offer than that. There are many people who have dedicated years to the study of this day who can state the events more eloquently. You can read more here.)

Pointe du Hoc

The area has been relatively untouched since, with abandoned bunkers, stripped artillery and now-overgrown bomb craters left behind from the assault. For the first time in my life, I registered that I was standing on ground on which a battle occurred. I could SEE the depth of the craters. I could see the rubble of a bombed casement. Men – husbands and brothers and sons, most younger than me – rode boats through choppy waters in the cover of night to initiate an attack here from wayyyy down below those rocky cliffs.

Omaha Beach

Following this assault was a massive storming of the area beaches by Allied forces, 156,000 total including 73,000 American troops. That day alone nearly 14,700 sorties were flown by Allied forces. Estimates of casualties reach 10,000, including more than 4,400 killed.  In one day. By air and sea. Battle continued for 76 days. I mention the numbers because I find them absolutely astounding. Don’t you?

American Cemetery Normandy

Our time in Normandy was rained on and we were chilled by the wind. But you have to be a special-in-the-wrong-way kind of person to complain about a little lousy weather when you’re overlooking Omaha Beach at the American Cemetery. Thousands of Americans approached this beach feeling pretty certain they would never return home. Yet they summoned up all of the bravery and courage of the world and charged off those boats, despite their fear, to end an era of horrors to which few of us can relate.

Yet there are still men and women agreeing to do such things on behalf of our country today. These are the things we must not forget this Memorial Day.

To all who have given everything on behalf of our nation, thank you.