Saturday, 5 November 2011


 On the second day of our trip, we travelled north into glorious Scotland. We drove four hours further northwest, deep into Argyll, on the west coast. As you drive further north, the roads begin tapering off and you start to feel that startling sense of isolation the Highlands possess. The land varies from tree-lined to barren, and the peaty areas around Glen Coe are so sparse, that it feels other-worldly.

Our cottage was located on a teeny tiny, single lane, pot holed road, directly on Loch Awe (the lake that boasts the the title of longest freshwater loch in Scotland). Meeting another car on the road meant backing up, or pulling perilously close to the edges. That country isolation is cool, but as day trippers coming and going each day to see other things, it was a bit much. The cottage was a great bargain, and even had breakfast in the nearby hotel included. So we tried haggis (not good, friends) and smoked kippers (delicious but extremely bony!) and enjoyed incredible views in the conservatory dining area.

On the third day of our trip, we drove a short distance to Inverary Castle, current home of the Duke of Argyll. Of all the castles I've seen in England, I've never been in one as homey and welcoming as this one. They had all of the fireplaces going and fresh flowers were everywhere - the place was filled with yummy smells coming from the kitchen mingled with the hearthy smell of wood burning fireplaces. Half of the castle is kept private for the Duke's family, but the other half is open to nosey tourists like us. The castle caretakers were friendly and each one spoke like Sean Connery. If you love that, go to Scotland and be delighted by it daily.

On another day we traveled to Scottish Sea Life, a seal pup and turtle sanctuary and rescue center. Isabella loved it. I loved it. They had a flotsam and jetsam exhibit, artfully showcasing all of the trash that is washed onto the shores of the sanctuary alone. Sadly, all of it was cheap rubbish that we regularly buy and throw away. Despite all of the amazing animals at the rescue, I will probably remember that tiny exhibit the most.

On our way back from the sanctuary, we saw a sign for Ben Cruachan Falls. We dismounted and began to climb a very steep and windy path up a mountain searching for the Falls. We had to turn around before we could find the waterfall, but the climb wasn't a bust - I discovered that Isabella is a very good climber. I am so proud of her - she takes to heart everything I say. As I said before, we were more worried about the dog than her!

The day before we headed back south, we decided to return to Glen Coe, a place we had shortly visited on our last trip. I was so happy that we did. Glen Coe has a magical power; it's like stepping into a monastery, or some holy place, that dazzles your senses with its vastness. We hiked as far as we could safely go with the dog (a huge klutz, Isabella does far better climbing than he does). Then we decided to follow the river a ways, watching as our boots would get sucked deeply into the peat - some spots are like floating sponges.

After each excursion, we would head back to our cottage on its solitary road, get the heating started, and head over to the nearby hotel's lounge and pub. Pedro tried local ales and I sampled some whiskies while Isabella feasted on ice cream. We sat on big leather chairs, surrounded by heaving bookcases filled with an eclectic mix of abandoned books from former guests. Some of the nights, the place got so packed full of people, we wondered how on earth they all got there. It just felt like such a remote spot at the end of a treacherous little road.
where we had to leave the dog tied to a tree!
 On the final morning of our time in Argyll, we packed the car back up and headed south. Only then did it begin to rain in earnest. It continued to rain until we crossed the English border and decided to keep driving down into the Lake District. Our last day of travel was one of the best.

a typical Sotomayor family scene

Monday, 17 October 2011

Hadrian's Wall

We took a full week to travel up to the Scottish Highlands this past week. Pedro is starting a new job and had a week of leave to burn from his previous employer, so we decided to take the outdoorsy trip we've been putting off for the last three years and head up to an area we fell in love with when Isabella was just starting to move in my tummy. To break up the very long eight-hour drive, we decided to stay one night at Hadrian's Wall, a third visit to the Wall for us.

hiking up the other side of the cliff, Steel Rigg
We drove up through the Yorkshire Dales - an area of rolling hills, grazing sheep, and crumbling fences that grid up the landscape. The further north you drive, the more out-of-time you feel; it's a place that has changed very little over the centuries. When we arrived in Corbridge (an absolutely picturesque little town;  we almost didn't want to leave), a tourist centre found us a cozy B&B to stay the night. It was right across the road from the Roman ruins themselves as well as the inn where we and some of our friends from Puerto Rico had stayed over five years ago. We squeezed in a hike before it got dark, and made it up Steel Rigg but not further.

a portion of Hadrian's Wall, right

The place retains such a feeling of being on the edge of civilization, like you're at a very distant outpost with little touch with the rest of the world. Imagine how the Roman soliders must have felt, being away from the balmy climate in Rome and instead roughing it in the cold, wet and windswept north of Britain. But being here again made me wonder if we shouldn't have just decided to stay the whole week and walk the Wall. After our walk, we headed over to the Twice Brewed pub and inn for a meal and the best sticky toffee pudding I've ever had. We may travel to a lot of different places, but there is something to be said for returning to the spots where you've felt most at home.

That night, Isabella excitedly climbed into her twin bed - just like the big girl she has become, still thrilled about all the little bits of the day. She was asleep within minutes, totally exhausted by all the wind and walking. I got to stay up late on the lodge's red velveteen couches, reading about the quirky and bizarre in English Cottage Interiors. In the morning, we breakfasted on smoked salmon and eggs and chatted with our lovely Yorkshire hostess. She let Isabella feed her chickens....and I think Isabella couldn't have been more excited had she been given a kitten to take home.

With that, we gassed up for the first time and crossed the border into Scotland. Just after leaving Carlisle, we passed under a spectacular full rainbow. It truly was a sign of good things to come...

Saturday, 8 October 2011

vegan meal one: sepia spaghetti noodles and sauce - major hit with this one

the derelict Old Mill in Elton

the "echo" bridge

clumsy dog + wagon

making her entire breakfast - scrambled eggs and nutella toast
It's just been the girls at home all this past week. Pedro took a trip to the US to renew his driver's license and we anxiously await his return so that we can begin a much put-off trip back to the Scottish highlands. With him away, it always feels like the "grown-up" is gone and we get to stay up a little later and skip school. Ha. I kept her out of playgroup one beautiful day of the Indian Summer we were having and we did a long walk with El Dogo and the wagon. We also had a couple of vegan meals, which was a challenge I wanted to see if I could pull off - being a huge milk, butter, and egg fan. But it's definitely do-able and certainly makes you more conscious of what you're eating, in terms of how many animal products we use. I think I am going to incorporate more tofu into our lives!

As for next week, we have been craving a good Scottish outing - full of remote places and beautiful scenery. Even though Scotland is directly above us, the drive there is so long and painful - as driving in England just is. All of the big cities are much closer together and roads are often choked with slow trucks, caravans and commuters. Plus, when there are problems on the road, the police typically just shut everything down, which leads to incredibly long and uncomfortable waits in a cramped car with no toilet. But! We're braving it now, in the off-season, hoping for decent weather - no gale force winds or upflowing rain, please. Castles, ruins, and vast countryside await - I hope to get a bit muddy, very tired, and fill up on piping hot pub meals before tucking into our simple cabin each night.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Once a month, I volunteer with the Angler's Monitoring Initiative - in short, it's just a group of fisherman who care about the quality of the local streams and do basic testing for pollution to make sure the fish thrive. When I go, I almost always take Isabella with me. The fisherman are very good with her and she loves getting her hands dirty. As a result, my three-year-old knows the names of bugs that I didn't learn until I was in college. Yesterday, we took a bucketful of bugs and small fish home with us so that she could bring it to playgroup today for a bit of "show and tell." It was a moderate success, and Isabella was certainly the most excited one of the group - she was the last one standing and put up a fight when it came time to clear up.

 Playgroup this term has been going very well for her. It was only last term that I still had to promise treats and surprises for her to allow me to leave her there. But with the older four-year-olds now in reception, what the Brits call kindergarten, there are only the littlest kids left, which has been a big boost for her confidence. I also prefer it because there is more one-on-one time with the teachers/playleaders. She is also very much into art now and brings me home more drawings and pictures than I know what to do with. What do other parents do with all of the art that accumulates with kids?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

First Movie and Gratitude

Once upon a time I kept a running list of things I wanted to blog about, and was good at putting them down on a regular basis. That ability is now gone - so either I've gotten better at living in the moment, or have lost my ability to remember things well.

It's another weekend, and the end of another full week. Pedro is down with a cold and our plans for camping seem to have gone out the window along with the forecast for good weather. No matter though, we had a good week -  I took Isabella to see her first movie in a theater yesterday. We saw The Smurfs, and I surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it. I was bored for the whole first 30 minutes, but once the Smurfs made it to Manhattan and the double entendres started, I found something in it for me (any by the way, the set/interior designer for the New York apartment...very cool)! We bought popcorn, and true to form, Isabella dumped half of the bag while wiggling in her seat. Then she commented on how dark the theater was and how they needed to turn on the lights and kept talking about this until we were both startled to attention by the cinema's sub-woofers and lack of volume control. It was such a cool experience with her - it was another true first and I kept feeling like I was getting away with something by being at the movies in the middle of the day.

My reverie burst when we walked out of the theater, and I could see my car in the middle of the parking lot....with the driver's side door wide open. Wide open and even touching the car right next to it! Apparently, I left my door open when I ran to the other side of the car to prevent Isabella from wandering away from the car and didn't bother to close it. Nothing was missing - but nobody bothered to close the door either - it was so weird. Like the time I left my handbag on top of the car and no one stole it. Again, I felt very lucky - because as we saw during the early August riots in London - English people aren't always honest and polite. I've had a string of minor misfortune lately, dealing with an unfair parking ticket, a dog who peed on a neighbor's foot, dead appliances, and other small things that can wear away at morale.

But life is good, truly. When much of the world faces down war, natural disasters, economic collapse, corruption and injustice...I am so grateful for our spot of tranquillity. I didn't have any theater photos, but these pics I took earlier in the week of my girl feeding "Teddy Pedro" water from the dog bowl will have to do.

just a spoonful of sugar...

feeling better already

Monday, 29 August 2011

Sunday in the Park

We had some fun with this. Ferry Meadows is a nature park we just discovered this past weekend. It's so close and so cool that it's almost a shame we didn't know about it until now. Nevermind. Though the playground is mostly featured in this video, there are a couple of small lakes and a lot of green space. If I get my way, we'll eventually have a kayak of our own to paddle around!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Growing Up with Grown-ups

After not having blogged for so many months, it's a lot harder to come back to it than I thought. I've been working on a post that just doesn't seem to be going anywhere - probably because I'm trying to summarize what's gone one for the last four months (it feels like way more). But as I was looking through photos on my ipod, I found a few that were worthy of a post all their own.

I cannot complain that having a child has held me back from doing anything I've wanted to do - going out with friends, travelling, or even getting a coffee. If there is something going on we simply bring Isabella - living so far from family, we have no built-in babysitters. There are limitations, of course, such as trying to bring her into London needing a nap or trying to get the baby buggy up and down the steps of the Underground. And certainly, we go into the city far less than we used to because of those reasons. But Pedro and I are fortunate not to have that lost look some parents have, because Isabella is so well behaved and cool. Without a doubt, she is my sidekick and I like it this way.

All of that said, Isabella spends a lot of time with grown-ups. It is starting to show, I think. When we went to see our friends Ed and Cevin, who just moved to London, we barbecued on their massive balcony in St. Johns Wood all day. Isabella spent her time chatting with us (alas, they are kid people with no kids), playing with their iPad (filled to the brim with kiddie games), and taking the following pictures with my ipod. 

The photos were very telling. Make no mistake, she had a blast when we were there and didn't want to come home (there was also a trip to the park that day - a big highlight). But the following week she told me, "Mama, I need more kids at my house." Man, that made me feel lacking. We see a lot of our friends with kids during the week - especially now that we are on British summer holidays - school and playgroup are out. But with the two little girlfriends she has had since birth, she is noticeably the third wheel when they're all together. It's like they're just old enough to want exclusivity. The two sisters next door even play more with each other than with Isabella when they're together. She doesn't seem to notice this quite yet, and her innocence is heartrending to us.

My good friend from college, Rebekah, and her family drove down from the Leeds area to spend some time with us this week. Her kids, Graham and Josephine (5 and 3-years-old), really hit it off with Isabella. Seeing the three of them engaged and her really involved with the activity was restorative. Of course, they live three hours away. As a parent, especially with only one child, you tend to overthink everything (this post being a prime example). The clichés make the truth no less true: all you want is the very best for your kids. But in the end they have to figure things out all on their own, especially friendships. 

I'm off now - I hear some lovely music drifting down from her bedroom. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Come Back

Isabella has been asking for a baby brother or sister (actually, pretty much demanding a new sister) so it prompted me to show her the blog from its early days....her growing in my tummy and her first day in the world. That was last Sunday and I haven't been able to shake those images, nor the feelings they brough up in me, from my mind. Looking back at the blog shook me up a little bit, but mostly made me really thankful for this chronicling of her early days, pre-Facebook. So I have decided to pick it up again - I'll still post photos and small bits to Facebook, but I would like to keep this record for all of us. Facebook is an immediate fix, but really isn't a good substitute for what this blog was to our family and friends.

I'll be back.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter 2011

Isabella woke up this morning to a little basket by her door. She stepped over it and continued on to our bedroom for her usual morning cuddle. This girl needs time to wake up, just like her parents - maybe even more so. Anyway, I had to walk her back to her room and point it out. Then, we went downstairs and the hunting began in earnest.

The Easter Bunny was pretty generous this year. Two little baskets, lots of hidden eggs, little toys, and just a silly amount of sweets and chocolate. When I brought out some of the Easter stuff this year, I found almost all of last year's candy! Luckily, she doesn't have a crazy sweet tooth - the marshmallow peeps will probably become dried little toys and the jelly beans are unlikely to be touched, only played with as she hides and rehides those eggs.

After finding all sorts of goodies inside the house, we discovered that the Easter Bunny had hidden stuff out in the garden too! Such a crafty character, that bunny.

Later on today, we are headed over to some friends' for smoked beef brisket and more surprises. Happy Easter to all!

Thursday, 24 February 2011


My friend and I took our girls to see Thomas the Tank Engine, for his limited visit on the Nene Valley Railway today. Early on, we really encouraged her to like Thomas - kids get into what you yourself get excited about, for the most part. Anyway, I wanted her to subtly know she could like a "boy" thing.

So this early encouragement probably explains why she loves taking the train - be it the underground (subway), trolly, or tram. In fact, our trip to the London aquarium was interrupted multiple times by requests to go back the "the track." As in, "Mama, when are we going back to the track?" 

She has already learned that the journey itself is just as good (maybe better) than the destination.

As she retold the tale of Thomas to Pedro this evening, she reminded him that Thomas is a "really useful engine." Of course, I had to tell her to stop causing "confusion and delay" this morning as we were trying to jet out of the house. She didn't get my joke.

It was a fun morning for all.

Monday, 21 February 2011

3rd Birthday!

 Isabella turned three last week! Look at her go on her new scooter! She also got a fish tank! We put it in her bedroom and she absolutely loves it. This is year she was showered with all kinds of cool toys from her friends and family - we are very fortunate for such generosity and thoughtfulness. She's got lots of new art supplies, books, and cute outfits and accessories to last her the next year.

A few days later, we had her Peppa Pig themed party at our village hall. It was a smallish affair, only eight kids (most kids parties we go to have up to 20!), but the decibel level was pretty high! I worried that the kids wouldn't have enough to do, but those worries were totally unfounded. They all went nuts. I am starting to think that Isabella may be an introvert, like me, because at one point she got into one of the tents with some stuffed animals and started playing by herself. If there is a lot going on, she does tend to withdraw from the action - I am hoping that she doesn't become super-shy like I was. 

Her party was also meant to be a dress-up party, as in re-use your Halloween costume - but Isabella didn't want to put hers on! And the rest of the kids abandoned theirs shortly after walking in the door. Isabella had a robot costume that was FUNNY! Hopefully, I can get a  photo of her in it before she can no longer squeeze into it - her legs are growing miles a day.

Happy 3rd Birthday, my Sweet!

Friday, 4 February 2011

November and December

We have been so busy lately, it's hard to keep up with everything. Ever since the vacation and cruise in Puerto Rico I have been playing a big game of catch-up. Catching up with projects, catching up with Christmas, with friends, with family...and someone is always inadvertently left out. I remember hearing my mom complain that there weren't enough hours in the day and I'm afraid that I'm saying the same things now. As a "stay-at-home mom", I feel this shouldn't be so. Most days, I feel like I'm working full-time with a 15 tasks going at once. And yet, when someone asks me what I do....I never know quite what to say.

So here I am, playing a bit of catch-up from the past few months.

Our trip to the Caribbean was wonderful. We were celebrating our ten-year anniversary and decided we wanted to include as much family as could be there. We did a cruise with my mom and her partner Steve, Pedro's parents, and my cousin Dennis and his fiancée. By day we relaxed, and by night we relaxed too - so I guess it's the universe piling all the stuff on me now to balance out all the relaxation I had then. The food, the sun, the people - everything went off without a hitch and we discovered that a cruise is a really great way to get together with family. After the cruise, my mom and Steve stayed four more days in PR since she had never visited the island before. So we did all the rounds to Pedro's family, introduced them to my favorite Puerto Rican dishes, and showed them some of our favorite beaches.

There are a lot of really great things to say about this trip, but since a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, I made you a video. Enjoy - and please leave a comment if you watch it - I'd love to hear what you think.



Sunday, 2 January 2011