Baby Boy is a month old today. He is growing and becoming more aware of his surroundings every day. He is still ours and it is fun to see him grow out of clothes that fit him just a few weeks ago. Clothes he was once “swimming in” fit him just perfectly now. He is such a long, little boy. He uses those long legs to his advantage during a diaper change.

It is still difficult to imagine that one day he may be taken from us. This realization becomes harder to accept with each passing day. Amanda and I are his parents. We feed him, we clothe him, and we love him like he is our own.

Baby Boy and I have some good weekend “chats” as he lays on my chest in the morning. Of course, I am the one doing all of the talking. He just coos, grunts, and puckers his lips as he listens. I hope we can continue these “chats” for quite some time, as they help me relieve stresses of the week. Baby Boy is a good listener.

In those quiet moments of the morning he and I sometimes listen to music. He will be a Beatles fan some day, he just doesn’t know it yet. I think I’ll wait to introduce him to other favorites of mine later. Listening to Jimi Hendrix in the morning may not be as calming as the acoustic renderings of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Hopefully, Baby Boy is still here once baseball begins. There would be nothing better than introducing him to a game that I love. While I am not holding out much hope for the Cubs this coming season, it is always a joy to see Wrigley Field on the television. It would be a thrill to be able to take him to his first game there. The sights, sounds, and smells would have us both enthralled.

Amanda and I still have no idea how long Baby Boy will be with us. It could be a few days, a month, a year, or even longer. In the month that he has been, he has already left his fingerprints on our hearts. Our hope is that he is ours for a long time to come, but we know that may not be the case. In the meantime, he is ours to love, to teach, and to guide. God give us the strength to do all of those things.

London Calling – Part 7 of 7

After only a day and a half in Ireland, we flew back to England to spend a few days with a couple of friends who live in Southampton, a city about 80 miles south of London.  While in Southampton we stayed at a hotel called the Botleigh Grange.  Built sometime in the 17th century, the Botleigh Grange was originally a private country home.  It is said to be haunted, but I think the only ghosts we saw were the old men that were drinking in the hotel’s lounge one evening. 

The Botleigh Grange

While in Southampton we were once again treated with warmth and kindness.  Our friends Lesley and Stuart shared their time with us and showed us more beautiful and historic sights.  We saw where the Titanic set off on its fateful voyage, and we took a ferry across The Solent to the Isle of Wight.  This was another place I had always wanted to visit, not only because it is mentioned in the Beatles’ song “When I’m Sixty-Four,”  but also because it was the sight of one of the last concerts that Jimi Hendrix ever played.  I guess you could say I am a little obsessed with the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. 

The Isle of Wight
Statue of Jimi Hendrix commemorating his appearance at the “Isle of Wight Festival” in 1970

Because this trip was not all about me, Lesley and Stuart also took us to the home where Jane Austen spent the last several years of her life.  The gardens around her home were so vibrant and it was nice to see how well everything had been preserved.  We then spent some time in Winchester, which is where Jane Austen died and is buried.  Her final resting place is inside Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. 

The flowers in the gardens around Jane Austen’s home were beautiful.
Jane Austen’s writing table.
Jane’s Austen final resting place inside Winchester Cathedral.
One of the many ornate ceilings inside Winchester Cathedral. I could have spent hours in all of the cathedrals we visited just staring at the intricacies in the architecture.

After being welcomed with open arms it was difficult to leave Southampton, but all good things must come to an end.  So, we hopped a train back to London where we spent one more day and night before flying back home. 

Oh, and that wheelchair, well we were supposed to leave it at the hotel we stayed at our last night in London. The service from which we had rented it instructed us to leave it with the front desk staff of the hotel where’d we be staying our last night in London, so that they could retrieve it the morning of our departure. However, when we explained these arrangements to the front desk clerk upon check in he told us that the hotel would not be held responsible for it.  So, I called the company and let them know this, but I never heard back from them.  We even called them twice the morning of our departure, and we still heard nothing.  So, we asked the ticket agent at the American Airlines check in desk if we could leave it with them.  Once again we were told they would not be held responsible for it.  So, we parked that chair outside security and made our way to our flight. 

A few days after we arrived home the wheelchair service called us and asked us about the chair.  I explained to them where we had left it and explained how we had attempted to contact them about it before we left.  They were never able to locate it, and to this day it remains a mystery as to where it is.  When I think about where it might have ended up, my mind instantly goes to the final scene of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Maybe, it was packed away in a crate in much the same way the Ark of the Covenant is at the end of this film and was wheeled into a storage room somewhere deep in the bowels of London’s Heathrow Airport.          

London Calling – Part 6 of 7

The airport in Liverpool was such a fun experience, as we got to soak up some of the culture of the city while we waited to board our plane to Dublin.  One of the things that made this part of the trip so special was the airport attendant who helped us at our departure gate.  The airport in Liverpool is quite small, so passengers have to walk out onto the tarmac and board the plane by walking up a flight of stairs to the plane. 

Since I was in a wheelchair, Amanda and I were personally escorted out to the plane by a man with a very thick Liverpudlian accent.  We both enjoyed listening to this gentleman speak.  As he walked us out to the plane, he told us briefly about his work.  He then wheeled me to an area where a lift would get me onto the plane.  It was fascinating to get this perspective of an airport. 

After using the lift to get onto the plane, I was wheeled to my seat and we were off to Ireland, a place that I had wanted to see for many years.  When we arrived in Dublin, we were greeted at the gate by two men who would use the lift to get me down out of the airplane.  These gentlemen reminded of some characters from a movie called Waking Ned Devine.  They both were very kind and seemed the type that would buy everyone a pint of Guinness at the local pub after a hard day’s work.  These two men escorted us inside the airport and showed us to customs. 

We were greeted warmly by the customs agent and then it was time to find the rental car agency, which was only a short walk from customs.  Amanda and I were both quite anxious about driving in a foreign country, especially one where we would be driving on the opposite side of the road.  Amanda did a fine job getting us to our hotel, despite that fact that it was dark and the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car.  It is quite difficult to retrain your brain to drive a car that is configured so differently, while also driving on the “wrong” side of the road.  Fortunately, we made it to our hotel where I think we both were relieved to be out of the car.

The next day we were off to the Guinness brewery.  Unfortunately, it was also my turn to drive.  On the way to the brewery I had to keep reminding myself to stay on the left side of the road.  It was almost like a mantra that was running through my head the entire drive – “stay on the left side of the road, stay on the left side of the road!”  I can’t tell you how many curbs I hit, as I was trying to stay as far over in my lane as possible.  This is because the streets are only about as wide as our sidewalks here in the United States.  It was a good thing that not many people were out walking along the street, or I may be in an Irish jail today. 

Thankfully, we reached the brewery before I ran over anyone.  However, as I parked I hit yet another curb!  It is only by the grace of God that we did not total our rental car on this trip, as we both hit plenty of curbs and nearly sideswiped rock walls along the sidewalks that the Irish call roads. 

The highlight of the Guinness tour was the tasting room, which had a 360 degree view of Dublin.  It was such a beautiful, sunny day and you could see for miles.  From here we were able to spot Trinity College, and many other famous landmarks throughout the city.  It was a place where we could have sat and just taken in the view for hours.  However, we had plans to drive across the entire width of Ireland so that we could see the Cliffs of Moher. 

The tasting room at the Guinness Brewery. I could have sat here all day and just looked out over the city.

Amanda started out in the driver’s seat for our three-hour journey across the Irish countryside, however, about an hour into the drive, I was just too anxious as she kept crossing the center lane while on the highway.  So, I asked her to pull over while I took another turn behind the wheel.  I then proceeded to cross the center line as well for the next hour or so until I just grew tired of driving.  Graciously, Amanda agreed to once again do the driving and we continued on our way. 

If you want to test the strength of your relationship just go on a drive through a foreign country where the roads are as narrow as a bike path, the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car, you are forced to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, and everything is marked in kilometers.  It made me wish I had paid more attention in math class as we worked on converting miles to kilometers. 

After stopping in a few small towns along the way, we finally made it to the Cliffs of Moher.  When we got out we realized that our walk up the cliffs was going to be a windy one.  Also, as the word “cliff” suggests, we were in for some rather steep inclines.  Being a person with a rather strong upper body, I thought I’d probably be able to make it up these inclines in my wheelchair.  Sadly, this was not the case, as the grades were just too steep and the winds were just too strong.  At the point I was ready to admit defeat, a group from North Dakota miraculously showed up to help me up the paths to the top.  There were three men in this group that each took turns pushing me up a different section of the path.  I believe that God had a hand in providing these men to help me, as he had provided people all along this trip.  As you can see from the pictures below, the views from the cliffs were breathtaking. 

These are the famous “Cliffs of Insanity” featured in the movie The Princess Bride.
Such a windy day, but such a beautiful place to be.

Ireland is a place that Amanda and I would definitely like to visit again.  The people were so friendly, in fact they even had vests with my initials on them as you can see in the picture below.  I wish we would have had more time to spend in this strikingly beautiful country.  When we do go back I need to get myself one of those vests!   

I need one of these “RTB” vests to wear around. it would come in handy for a nighttime bike ride.

London Calling – Part 3 of 7

That infamous wheelchair, which I mentioned in part two of this story would prove quite valuable during our first full day in London, for we were off on a walking tour of some of the sites related to the history of the Beatles.  Our guide for this tour was a man by the name of Richard Porter, who makes his living showing Beatles fans around London.  Richard was an interesting man, to say the least.  He resembled Richard Simmons and had the energy to match.  Were we going to be “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” or merely taking a leisurely stroll through London’s Soho?  Fortunately, it was the latter.  Richard had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Fab Four, so our tour led us to some very interesting places.  

Richard Porter – “The Walking, Talking Beatles Encyclopedia”

Our first stop along the way was Paul McCartney’s office building.  Richard said that Paul can be spotted at times coming and going, but we had no such luck.  We then stopped in front of Trident Studios.  This is the studio where the Beatles recorded much of the White Album, along with one of their last singles, “Hey Jude.”  Many other legendary musicians have recorded here as well, such as David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, The Rolling Stones, and Frank Zappa.  From Trident Studios we headed to Carnaby Street, an area well known for its fashion boutiques that catered to many of the popular bands of the 1960’s.    

Next, we found ourselves in front of the London Palladium, the theatre where “Beatlemania” is said to have begun .  Unfortunately, as you can see from the picture below, the only thing happening this day was a concert by Rick Astley. 

Richard giving me the history of the London Palladium and its place in Beatles lore

From the Palladium we ventured on to a club called the Bag O’ Nails.  This is a club where the Jimi Hendrix Experience played one of its first live shows.  It is also where Paul McCartney met Linda, his first wife.  Loving the music of both the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, it was a thrill for me to see these places that I had only ever read about in books.

Then, as if this day could not get any better, it was time to see one of the places that looms quite large in the legend of the Beatles, Apple Studios at 3 Savile Row.  This is where the band played their legendary rooftop concert on January 30, 1969.  Sadly, this was to be their last live performance as a band.  After spending a few minutes taking pictures and soaking in all of this wonderful history, it was time to move on to our next two stops. 

The brown brick building with the four windows at the very top is 3 Savile Row, site of the Beatles rooftop concert.

The first of these places was the Scotch of St. James, another very important landmark in the history of 60’s rock and roll, as this was a club that saw many legendary performers play.  In the same square where the Scotch of St. James is located also stands the building that once housed the Indica Gallery.  The Indica was an art gallery where John Lennon was first introduced to Yoko Ono.  Oh, if only John had stayed home that night!

To end our day of Beatles sightseeing, Richard, Amanda, and I caught a train that would take us to Abbey Road Studios.  This is a sight that I thought I would never get to see in person.  As you can see below, I was able to roll across the famous crossing where the Beatles were photographed for the cover of Abbey Road, which is my favorite album of theirs. 

The famous crossing just down the street from Abbey Road Studios.

After a very long, but exciting day, at least for me, we rode the train back to the heart of Westminster.  This is where Big Ben and the Houses or Parliament are located.  I had waited years to visit Big Ben, and to my dismay it was obscured by layers of scaffolding!  However, that wasn’t the biggest problem I’d encounter this night. 

One thing that became more clear as the night wore on, is that public restrooms are few and far between in London.  Having grown up in the United States, where you can stop at almost any fast food restaurant or gas station and use the restroom, I was shocked to discover that this was not the case in London.  This realization almost became a disaster as I spent nearly an hour looking for a place to use the restroom.  Then when we found one, we had to find a person to unlock it for us.  I’m not sure if they were worried someone was going to steal the toilet paper or run off with the commode, but as we found out later there is a secret to these restrooms! After the restroom saga came to an end, we looked for a place to eat.  We settled for an interesting pub across the street from Big Ben.  

Big Ben hiding behind all of the scaffolding.

As we were eating we began to speak with the couple seated next to us and found out they were from Chicago, which made for some enjoyable dinner conversation.  It was fun to share stories with them and just soak in the culture that surrounded us.        

After a very eventful day, we took the train back to our hotel and settled in for the night excited to see what the next day would bring.  Oh, and that wheelchair, it made it through the day as well, but it too was weary.  I wonder if it has ever been found, but more about that in the next post.

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