Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jet Lag Hangover

I am sitting in our cozy kitchen sipping tea and eating a scone while Emma frosts fairy cakes and Anabel shops for books on the Kindle.  Greg naps in the bedroom while Wyatt watches the mind-numbing Ninja Warriors on the "telly" in the sitting room.  Time has slowed as we suffer from a jet lag hangover that has lasted for almost a week.  But I planned it this way.

With plenty of travel experience from this year alone, I know that arriving in a new place gives you a burst of energy.  We turned and burned for two days in London (See London Day 1 and Day 2 blogs) and ran on energy reserves to navigate the British and Scottish rail systems, only to succumb to exhaustion once we were tucked into our apartments in Helensburgh.  

So I planned a seven day stay in one place to rest, relax and get to know the town before we are off to Inverness- where we will undoubtably make history when we spot and capture on film the legendary Nessie.  We will need our rest to handle the press and paparazzi since our photos will upstage the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. (This is our kids' fervent wish!)   After two days at the Loch Ness Lodge, we travel to Edinburgh for a five night stay with much to see in the city centre along the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.  Then, we return for nine days to our adopted hometown of Helensburgh where we have already been charmed by its delightful people, and will have more time to get to know them.

Our schedule for the past four days has been filled with sweet nothingness... the magic of filling the time with desired occupations not necessities.  This is a first for this year!  With good intentions for rest and rejuvenation during our sabbatical year, we, instead, filled every minute with whirlwind trips, homeschool requirements, rental business responsibilities, and publishing deadlines.  Oh, to be like a character in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway where we are all "companions in the art of living."  To break our American pattern of needing to either work or be entertained, we have strictly adhered to the following Helensburgh itinerary:  

Sometime between 8 AM and Noon - Wake and enjoy tea and toast.
Sometime between 10 AM and 2 PM - Walk into Helensburgh Central and shop for Dinner
Sometime between  1 PM and 3 PM - Luncheon (Egg and Cress or Liver and Bacon Sandwiches)
Sometime between 2 PM and 5 PM - Nap
Sometime between 3 PM and 6 PM - Walk/ play along the Firth of Clyde
Sometime between 5 PM and 8 PM - Cocktails in the garden
Sometime between 7 PM and 9 PM - Dinner (Leg of Lamb, Cornish Pies, fresh salmon)
Sometime between 8 PM and 11 PM- Knitting by the Telly, Bath and Bed.

I think I could get used to this.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Scottish Relaxation and Imagination

Helensburgh, Scotland
Soaking in the tub with a whisky in one hand and a Poirot mystery in the other, I felt myself really relax for the first time in weeks.  Listening to a small garden party just outside the bathroom window, trying to decipher the words hidden in deep Scottish brogue, the realization that we were here finally sunk in.

Anabel and I love the "too cute" laundry room!
The kids adore cooking in our new kitchen.
Our view over the River Clyde
Scotland is unbelievably gorgeous!  I wished my sister were here so we could wax on about the rolling hills, the lonely cry of the sea gulls, the tiny gardens with their wee flowers, the efficient laundry room overlooking the garden, and the cooker (sadly, no aga, but I would never know how to navigate one anyway.)  Isabel, the owner of Tolsta Self-Catering in Helensburgh, Scotland, met us just after we got off the train and showed us around our flat.  We were delayed by 2 hours so she kindly offered to drive me to town to run in a shop for a few supplies.  She took me to the farm co-op which was stocked with all things local.  Scottish butter and eggs!  Fresh thick sliced bread!  Wyatt helped me gather our few things for dinner and the next day's meals while Isabel patiently waited by the check-out; she even helped bag our things. After the exhausting day of travel on the National and Scottish Rail, how comforting to be welcomed so warmly!

While the kids explored our cozy three bedroom apartment, Greg and I enjoyed a whisky (grabbed at the co-op) while our British Hunters' Chicken (they also had ready to cook items) roasted in the cooker. Anabel said the blessing as we sat around the table of our first meal in Scotland around 9 PM.  

We retired around eleven, opening our windows to the sea breeze.  I fell fast asleep, but woke around 1 AM.  I tossed and turned for a while, and then, decided to go to the WC (short for water closet which is the British term for toilet.)  As I opened our bedroom door, another door slammed shut.  I froze.  Was that an apparition standing in front of my children's door? Had I really traveled all this way to have my kids attacked from the hereafter?  I swear I stood there believing in ghosts and cussing every writer of all the ghost stories I had ever read.  My mind was actually envisioning the wispy specter from my favorite ghost movie, The Uninvited. Why, oh why, had I watched that over and over with my niece and nephew?  What is entertaining at 8 PM is down right scary at one in the morning.  Somehow, I found a light, which revealed.... nothing in the passageway.  I crept to the bathroom, splashed my face and willed myself to be rational.  The only solution I could come up with to combat my imagination was a giant bowlful of chocolate Krispies.  It was the perfect antedote for wakeful imaginations; it put them where they belonged: in my nightmares.

Aren't imaginations fun until they take control? When Emma served me Earl Grey and toast in bed this morning, all the night terrors faded to a silly memory... unless they return tonight. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

London Times - Day 2

Day Two went exactly like this (Sleep makes a HUGE difference!):

We woke at 9 AM (Yes, we slept over 14 hours!) and breakfasted at Café Rouge in Euston Station.  We had excellent ham and cheese croissants, smoked salmon and cucumber baguette, cappuccinos and juice.  Anabel enjoyed a full pot of English Breakfast tea all by herself, and consequently, talked a mile a minute the whole tube ride to the Tower of London. 

We began our tour of the Tower with a very witty Yeoman Warder (the keepers of the Tower also known as Beefeaters.)  He regaled the crowd with tales of blood and gore, thrilling the kids and making us laugh.  Who wouldn’t laugh at the thought of what must have been floating in the moat with the polar bears that ate the refuse and died of cholera?  Or at a detailed description of what it exactly means to be hanged, drawn and quartered? Those peace-loving English knew how to get the job done!  While hearing of Scottish hero Sir William Wallace’s fate after he was brought to the Tower via the River Thames through the Traitor’s Gate, one person actually fainted, temporarily ending our guided tour, and making the saying "not for the faint of heart" apply to the Tower tour.

Ever calm, the Beefeater just said, “It appears someone has fainted.  I’m afraid you’ll have to carry on without me.”  We thought this was part of the act and stood around smiling in disbelief until another Beefeater appeared with a stretcher.

Before we left Fripp Island, we had viewed as a final Social Studies assignment, “The Tower,” a BBC documentary series full of insight and historical recreations of the major events of the fortress and prison.  We learned there used to be a small village with workers, tradesmen, and families living within the Tower walls.  Everything needed for the King and Court was available.  The documentary helped the walls talk and made our self-guided tour more interesting.   

In the White Tower, we learned about armory of the Monarchy, specifically focusing on medieval weaponry.  The hands-on part of this exhibit included stations for kids to try pulling the string on a long bow, feeling how heavy swords and maces are, and seeing what it looks like through the eye slit of a knight’s helmet.  As usual, our kids could have spent hours trying each of these experiences.  But we had to push on…

In the Crown Jewels Tower, we saw the splendor of the Royal Family in just the few items on display. (Many items had been moved to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee exhibit at Buckingham Palace.)  There were many coronation paraphernalia from crowns from Charles I to Elizabeth II to the solid gold spoon for anointing the head of the newly crowned monarch.  Emma’s favorite was the golden coronation punch bowl that was large enough for her to swim in.  Wyatt liked the royal scepters ; imagining how he would look sitting on a throne with two large golden sticks, I’m sure.
Execution Site

We jumped back in a guided tour just in time to hear more gory details at the execution site on the Tower Green.  Here, two queens (Anne Boylen and Catherine Howard- the second and fifth wives of Henry VIII) lost their heads in the name of love, or lack thereof.  While Queen Anne died with one swift slice of a sword, one unfortunate gentleman was hacked five times in the shoulder before his neck was hit and survived three more blows before going silent, as the very detailed record books show.  He refused to pay his executioner believing his sentence would be reversed.  What he saved in gold, he paid for in pain.  (Did I mention the Yeoman Warders really love their jobs?  With no prisoners to torture these days, they have a whack at giving nightmares to tourists.  Being a little masochistic, we loved it!)

We ended our tour in the Chapel where those executed lie without stones or markings.  Somewhere near the Altar, lies the body of Queen Anne Boylen, mother of Queen Elizabeth I.  I was surprised that she did not move her body to greater stature like King James I did with his mother.  I guess being an unwed female sovereign made her unwilling to take such political risks for the dead.

Seeing an unintended part of the Thames
From the Tower, we climbed aboard a clipper boat heading north up the River Thames for Westminster.  As the boat turned south, we realized our mistake and quickly prepared to get off and switch boats at the next pier.  We can’t blame sleeplessness for misdirection this time.

The boat ride to Embankment was gorgeous!  We caught glimpses of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern, sailed under the Millennium Bridge without a Deatheater in sight and arrived at our destination with another view of the London Eye and Big Ben.  The boat journey was worth the extra £14.

In Westminster, we picnicked in St. James Park and sauntered up the Mall to Buckingham Palace.  Surrounded by workers assembling grandstands for the Jubilee celebration, the palace literally glistened on this beautiful day.  Though the Queen was not in residence, we enjoyed watching the guards march to and fro using our imaginations to pretend the Royal Family were waving to us from the balcony…. At least, that’s what I was pretending.  Greg was listening to a band in the park play “Mustang Sally” and the kids were imagining what ice cream they could get. 

Finally back at the room, the kids were exhausted.  They dined on take-out pasty and noodles from nearby shops while Greg and I headed to cross off one of my bucket list items: Seeing Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in London’s St. Martin’s Theatre. 
Eating a Cornish pasty like playing the harmonica...
The play is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee along with the Queen as it is in its 60th year run and is in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest running play in history.  Did I mention it has only ever played in London?  Agatha Christie gave the rights to one Theatre Company only so if you want to see the play, you must go to London.  Being a HUGE Christie fan, this has been on my bucket list for ages.  At the end of the performance, the audience must swear not to reveal the solution to the crime.  I’m not about to break a 60 year tradition; Let me just say, I solved it just after the intermission (Greg can verify that...), but enjoyed every minute of it.

Greg and I ended our London date night with an Indian meal in the hopping West End.  These two days in London have been “bloody brilliant,” but we can’t wait for some Scottish relaxation.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

London Times - Day 1

What can a family see in just two days in London?  A Heck of a Lot!

Day One went something like this (I was a bit zombiefied so not sure if we saw all this or just hallucinated it. ):

Photos of today are still sleeping... stay tuned.
We landed at Gatwick Airport (30 miles south of London) and took the Gatwick Express train.  {Budget Break: We had booked tickets online for only £59 for 5 tickets.  This was a fantastic deal as we learned at the train station that regular individual tickets cost around 20 pounds each.}  The train almost lulled us to dreamland after our sleepless 8-hour flight, but luckily, it was only a 30-minute ride.  Though extremely exhausted, we navigated customs, the national train system, the tube, and checked in to our hotel near Euston Station within 3 hours of arriving in the UK.  {Budget Break: We stayed at a Travelodge, which is slightly above a youth hostel.  Needing only a quiet place to sleep for two nights, they provided a small, but clean room with double and sofa beds and a private bath for £225 total.}

After fighting the urge to collapse in the room, we lunched on bangers and mash and fish and chips, and then headed for Westminster Abbey.  Again on the Tube with our handy one-day travel cards (£20.40 for 2 adult’s, 2 child’s, and Emma free) we exited at the Westminster station coming up with Big Ben looming directly above us.  Seeing this icon of London restored our energy.  We strolled along the Thames with incredible views of the London Eye and Houses of Parliament.  As we walked towards the Abbey we dodged many people, Londoners and tourists alike, enjoying the beautiful 80º day.
At almost a thousand years old, Westminster Abbey is not to be missed.  Its medieval architecture and iconic carvings are enough to entertain a visitor for hours, but combined with the history of the building, we found ourselves wandering from room to room in a state of silent awe.  Tickets (£38 for 5) included a handheld audio tour.  Hypnotized by Jeremy Irons’ calm voice directing us to each important vestry or statue, we viewed Queen Elizabeth I’s grave, complete with death mask, and Mary, Queen of Scots’ final resting place in the tomb opposite.  Although beheaded for treason by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, Mary’s son (James I) became king at Elizabeth’s death.  He then erected a tomb for his mom as large as her executioner’s.  He who laughs last…  This is just one of hundreds of stories from history that are housed in Westminster Abbey.  Anabel and Emma were more interested the resent event of Will and Kate’s wedding that took place in the Abbey on Anabel’s birthday last year and Wyatt and Greg loved listening to the ongoing choir practice near the narthex.  I couldn’t believe we were actually here!

After spending almost three hours touring the Abbey, we drifted out to the street heading towards Victoria Station hoping to make it to the room before we keeled over.  We took the number 73 bus instead of the tube so we could continue to sightsee as we traveled.  Sitting atop a red double decker bus, we spotted many of the preparations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee- Union Jacks everywhere, crowns atop lampposts, and crowd-control barricades.  We rode through the City of Westminster up to our temporary base of Euston Station.

We ended our 33 hours without sleep by going to bed without supper and crashing in our room at 6pm.  Did any of this happen or was it all a dream? (Strangely enough, our camera did not work on the pictures with us in them... cue Twilight Zone music...)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Going With the Flow

Love you, Wendel Family!
While winging our way across the Atlantic, on our way to Mother England, I reflected on the whirlwind of the last three days that I still can’t process without the ensuing panic attack.  Not the fear of flying panic. Once I climb onboard, I realize I’ve given up all control so it’s easy for me to let go. My panic attacks come from too much control and responsibility; in short, I panic when I have too much to do.  Between packing up our temporary home on Fripp Island in preparation for the summer rentals (which included packing up our home school, our dog, and our love of the low country) and temporarily shelving Greg’s new business plans and my curriculum book ideas, we were eager to let someone else take the wheel and just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

As most travelers know, preparing for a trip overseas is an overwhelming venture.  As most home owners know, preparing your home for guests, much less paying guests, is enough to send wannabe Martha Stewarts into the fetal position.  Combining the two would normally have seemed an insurmountable task, but if this year has taught me anything, it’s that “All things are possible through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phillipians 4:13) Though wanting to collapse, Greg and I had hatched a plan months ago of finishing our field trip year in the United Kingdom and we were determined to see it through, “Come hell or high water,” as my grandfather used to say.

So we, once again, packed up all our belongings.  I had piles and piles, which only a mother could possibly know their meaning: This pile goes to the UK, this pile- the basement, the storage closet, the Canton House, Florida, and Goodwill.  As I culled and delineated, I was living for the moment we would pull out of the driveway, being clairvoyant enough to know it was coming, but completely daunted by the prospects.

When we finally drove off the island at 8:25 AM, Tuesday morning, I had two questions running through my mind,:  Do I have everything? and How long do I need to talk to Greg while he is driving before I can fall asleep?  (For the past week,, I had averaged 3 hours sleep a night.  Not a good start for jet lag.)  By the time we dropped our beloved dog, Ginger at the Dempsey Farm, I felt the weight of preparation lift and the exhilaration of  the journey engulf my mood.  Like Jack Kerouac, I felt the thrill of luggage packed and was ready to go to London via… Tampa.

Being ever budget minded, I had searched the Internet for the best fares to the UK.  I varied my entry and exit points, but between the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics, tickets were at a premium.  It became apparent that airfare was going to break our budget.  Thinking of a bonus visit to my cousin Wendy’s home, I searched for airfares out of Tampa, FL and struck gold.  For a family of five, we could save $2000 flying out of Tampa rather than our hometown of Atlanta.  Taking a chance, I messaged Wendy on Facebook about our plans just moments before booking our flight.  She was family right?  Surely, she would take us in…

Cut to a lovely home in Semiole, FL that has (unknown to me) just sold after being on the market for seven months.  My cousin didn’t convey her mixed feelings (at least not to me…) of having to vacate a house the same week we asked to spend a one-night layover between Fripp and London.  Being the well-bred Southern girl, she messaged me back, “Come on down; We can’t wait to see y’all!”  (Between you and me, I think arriving on her doorstep at such a time may be the rudest thing I have done this year.)

Best Laid Plans... Again.
But arrive we did.  After a seven and a half hour drive through low country landscape and a classic Florida thunderstorm, we pulled into her driveway between a Packrat’s self storage container and a sold sign just as our power steering blew.  It was a miracle the family Truckster made it!  Without flinching, Greg and Wendy’s husband, Donny, determined the problem and the solution.  A year ago, we had lost our cool after breaking down on the way to Disney, but this year, we rolled with the punches. 

Comfy Cousins in the Condo

Relaxing later, we felt right at home sitting and talking among boxes filled to the brim and counters covered with dishes.  I apologized for our spontaneous (and uninvited) visit, but Wendy said that packing the house actually made it easier on her because she didn’t feel the need to clean or have the house “just right.”  Sometimes things being out of control can be good. Thanks to letting go and “thinking outside the box,” I finally reconnected with a cousin after years full of good intentions, but no follow-through.  And our kids got to know each other faster than two dogs in a park; however, no bottoms were sniffed (to the best of my knowledge.)  One of the lessons I have learned while moving around the USA was to let go of trying to control everything; going with the flow can open up endless possibilities. 

It didn’t take Wendy a year to learn this lesson; she had called to see if they could move in to their temporary rental condo early and received a resounding, yes!  You never know what is possible until you try…

Like spending a month on the other side of the Atlantic with your family.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Southern Family Goes to London...

Thanks, Shannon, for the cool pic!
Today is my birthday.  Normally, I would spend it with a fun family outing to the Atlanta Zoo or nearby park enjoying a gorgeous spring day.  This year, it is cloudy with a chance of rain and I am inside planning our last big family field trip to a place that is usually "cloudy with a chance of rain": the United Kingdom.

Planning has taken on a life of its own.  I've learned through traveling the USA with three kids that planning makes or breaks a trip.  Organizing an oversea's adventure has become my full-time job.  But what an exhilarating occupation!  When you get hooked on traveling, just making a reservation can give you a contact high.  I've always enjoyed having something to look forward to and planning a vacation or party is a huge part of that enjoyment.  But nothing beats the real thing.  When we land in London next week, we will be prepared for a once in a lifetime family experience.  All I have to do now is pack...

So my birthday gifts to myself are to spend the afternoon finalizing our tickets, confirming accommodations, packing for UK weather (did I mention it will most likely be cloudy with a chance of rain?) and arranging transportation for London... no "riding on a pony" for this family, and to spend tonight celebrating our trip and the end of our long stay on Fripp Island with our new friends in Beaufort County.  How is it that you can be sad to be leaving and happy to be going at the same time?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Homeschool's Downside

Pajama Math 101
Homeschooling three kids in three different grade levels while traveling the country is a great idea, but the words that have popped in my head all year are:  What was I thinking?

Having taught school for 15 years, I actually thought homeschool teaching would be a breeze.  Reading my earlier posts about rolling out of bed around nine to start the school day in pajamas, hands-on science and social studies lessons and creative arts and crafts, I realize I conveniently left out the downside.  And there is definitely a downside.  For all the laughter and lighthearted fun we've had educating our children, I'm not sure it outweighs the mantel of responsibility constantly around our neck; there is no one to turn to or blame, but yourself, if they are behind in school, and there is the shame of admitting that missing your children is part of the enjoyment of being with them.  I have no regrets about our great experiment, but I know that I am a one-year-homeschool-teaching-mom.

Okay.  Just writing these thoughts down makes feel me racked with guilt.  Let me explain...

Stress - Structure = No Fun
I think I've established that I love my children and I love being with my children.  But I used to look forward to being with them.  I always planned special outings or activities that I thought we would enjoy together.  Holidays were the best with sharing traditions and decorating the house with homemade crafts.  I could sit for hours putting glitter on snowflakes or cutting out pink and red hearts.  I perused Martha Stewart Living and Disney's Family Fun magazines looking for the perfect item to make, bake or recreate with my kids.  Each month's delivery of those magazines had me dropping everything to turn the glossy pages feeling certain our creations would look just like the art department's airbrushed production.

Try cutting up a cardboard's a "Good Thing."

Nurse's station 
But with the weight of homeschool, our special creative time has fallen by the wayside.  We spend hours together differentiating between a proper adjective and a predicate nominative or fighting over the correct way to find the circumference of a circle.  When we are finally finished with reading, writing and arithmetic, no one, parents and children alike, is interested in attempting Martha's latest "Good Thing" or Disney's 7 Little Things that mock us with their weekly emails.  Homeschool may have free tuition, but it definitely has a price.

Not gourmet, but it makes a mess just the same.
Then, there are the dishes.  Home schooling means home cooking which leads to home cleaning.  When I contemplated the implications of homeschooling I never considered the amount of daily cooking and cleaning required.  Cooking two to three meals a day plus snacks and beverages translates to a lot of dirty dishes.  During our regular school and work years, we ran the dishwasher every two days.  This year, we average two loads per day.  Thank heaven for a dishwasher!  Hand washing would have had me tied to the sink or completely deplete of cash from doing as Miss Yvonne did on Pee Wee's Playhouse: 

"Once I let the dirty dishes pile right up to the ceiling!"
"What did you do then, Miss Yvonne?" asked Pee Wee.
"I bought new dishes." 

Hands-on Science

Six Mile High School

Learning Debris

We are now in our final days of home school.  Knowing all these petty life details will fade into a distant memory, I feel the need to share my honest thoughts while fresh in my mind.  I have no doubt that I will reflect happily on each moment of our year spent together- our year of family unity and security- without too much of the outside world's opinions and restrictions.  Next year, when our family is knee deep in project assignment due dates, nightly homework, baseball practices, friends' sleepovers and dance recitals, I will laugh that I ever complained about dirty dishes and NOT missing my kids.