Our Own Space

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It is just over one year since we left Europe; it’s hard to believe it was that long ago, and as I reflect on that final leg of the journey, I remember being sad that the adventure was almost over, yet excited at the prospect of home. Most of our year had been spent either all cramped into small places together, or living in someone else’s space, and as much as we appreciated both, the thought of our own space again was pretty exciting (although that didn’t happen until September when we finished building our new home!).

It is interesting to think about what effect that space-sharing has had on us as a family. Our two older daughters formed an amazing bond while we were travelling, strengthened by the fact that they spent many nights in the same room, if not in the same bed! We used to lie in our bed listening to the incessant giggling, and while it did drive us nuts at times, it often made us smile too. Until about midnight. Then there was no more smiling to be done. Just a bit of yelling and threatening, generally.

This giggle-fest would often happen in the car too, as we drove seemingly endless hours through Europe. They invented entire worlds to entertain themselves into delirium, complete with characters, lives, theme songs, book title spin-offs – I would go on, but in reality, I have no idea. Very little of it was accessible to my far too sensible adult brain!

As we look at photographs and reminisce, the memories that come to them are almost always  associated with some sort of “nonsense”!

And now that we have our own space again, and they are not forced together so often,  I think they miss each other sometimes. Combined with friends, school, extra-curricular activities, phones, and iPods, all this space makes for a distinct lack of connection sometimes.

As happy as I am to be settled in our new house, and have our own bedrooms, and lots of  space in which to retreat, I do recognize that all this space can sometimes have a negative effect on family relationships, especially as our daughters become teenagers and have a more natural inclination toward friends. And not only our immediate family relationships, but our extended ones as well – we have been a bit reclusive since we moved in here, actually. I think we are so relieved to have the space, and so tired from creating the space (still a work in progress), that we don’t tend to invite family and friends over nearly as often as we used to.

We have been making a conscious effort to cultivate that time together – have some sister “sleep-overs”, and family read-alouds or movies. And now that summer’s coming, we can have some family outdoor adventures too – some camping maybe? We really do need to find ways to hang on to those bonds that were created while we were travelling. I suspect camping will work – shove us all in a tent together for a few days to recreate some of that forced closeness we experienced as we travelled! Add a little discomfort and it will be truly authentic…maybe it will rain, or the airbed will deflate in the night. Ah, then we will bond for sure!

We  are so lucky to have what we have and to live where we live. We just need to be careful; it’s easy to get lost when you have so much space and comfort.
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I’m so not happy right now!

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Says our youngest daughter on the way to school this morning.

“Why?” I ask her.

“Because I’m not in Europe! While we were there I didn’t really like it, but now I just want to be back in Monterroso – it was so cool there!”

This sudden wish to be in Europe was spurred by a visit from a friend last night who is about to take a trip to Cinque Terra. The girls were advising him on where to stay, how to find the local beach to avoid paying for the overpriced loungers, where to snorkel, the best food to eat – Nutella and breadsticks, naturally – and how he might not want to bother with the long, hot, sticky hike from. Monterroso to Vernazza. But if he does do it, he should look out for the strange cat on a table under a tree half way up the second mountain, just there, in the middle of nowhere.

I guess this visit inspired a bit of nostalgia in them.

And now, this morning, our oldest daughter headed off on a French Club trip to Montreal and Ottawa, all set to compare Paris’ Notre Dame with its namesake in Montreal, visit Parliament, The Biodome, and the Olympic Stadium where her cousin competed for England in 1976.

How things come full circle…

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Daddy/Daughter Stuff

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The other night, we went to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. I’ve been before, and these extreme adventure films usually do one of two things – they either make me feel depressed and inadequate because I don’t do any extreme adventure things and I’m not outdoorsy enough, or they inspire me to get outdoors, travel more, and spend more time with the kids.
This year’s crop of films did both, as usual, but weirdly, the one I found most inspiring was Spice Girl - a film about a little blond UK rock climber. I say “weirdly” because rock climbing is something I would never do. But I always loved to watch Dev rock climbing, and I love the places in the UK where the rock climbing happens. Almscliffe Crag, Otley Chevin, Stanage Edge, Ilkley, Malham Cove…places like these are so stunningly wild and beautiful that you don’t need to be a climber to enjoy and appreciate them.
Rock Climbing is a fascinating sport that demands such physical strength and agility, but also an incredible amount of mental clarity, stamina, and courage. Because if you fall off, you get hurt. I guess thats why it provides such an adrenalin rush, and pushes people to do things that are more and more difficult and dangerous. I really admire that in climbers. But the other thing climbing does is inspire a love of nature and the outdoors. And I want that for our kids, whatever their interests.
Anyway, I think part of the reason this film moved me so much was the unexpectedness of this hardcore traditional climber being the pretty little blond – gotta love smashing the stereotypes. And also, the relationship she had with her father through climbing. It makes me think of our middle daughter, and the relationship she could have with her dad through climbing. If we lived near any rocks. Or even a climbing wall. She has always loved the idea of climbing, and unlike her mother, she has no fear of heights whatsoever. She had a little bit of an opportunity to experience climbing while we travelled, and even a bit of what I would call “extreme hiking” at places like Carancas Gorge in the Pyrenees (when she was the only one brave enough to follow her father around a crazy ledge about 1000 feet up).
Our little Island does not offer much in the way of rock. Sandstone cliffs are a bit on the crumbly side. Don’t get me wrong – it offers many many things, and that’s why we live here, but it definitely limits any fulfillment of a passion for climbing. So, what to do? How to help cultivate that climber/climber’s daughter relationship in our own family? I’m thinking we might have to take a few road trips to The Mainland this summer! Find some rocks for our own little Spice Girl to climb with her daddy!
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Persuasion

Got this letter in the mail recently. With a stamp and everything…

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Thank You

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I remember leaving Paris last November early in the morning, taking the cab to the secure parking lot on the edge of the city where we had housed our car, then realizing that in the very rushed exit from our apartment, we had not loaded the map onto the ipad. We had no paper map, and we knew that if we didn’t get out of the city now, it would be “rush hour”, and I was pretty sure we didn’t want to be trying to navigate the spaghetti-like roads in that! We managed, though, but again, it seemed a lot more stressful than it should have been…in retrospect, we should have chilled a bit more.

Anyway, the point was, leaving Paris in such a state – we briefly considered driving straight to Brugges rather than trying to find our way to Vimy Ridge, and then on to Belgium that same day. This very humbling poem that Darragh wrote yesterday for the local Legion’s Remembrance Day Poetry Contest makes me so glad we didn’t give in to our rather pathetic impulse to take the easier route.

Thank You

Last November, I was at Vimy Ridge

As I walked up the gravel path

The huge memorial appeared through the mist

Tall and graceful yet strong and powerful it stood.

On it were precise carvings – people in cloth,

Looking up to the sky.

Names carved in marble, names of soldiers who have died for us.

As my dad lectures on about wartime, I imagine:

Soldiers crawl up the bombed trenches

Aiming and shooting

Guns fire

Mud squelches under their boots as they run

Sheltering their heads with their hands

Escaping.

A bomb drops and the earth erupts in a torn explosion

Faces.

Some dead, some wounded, some dripping with tears

All expressionless, waiting for good news.

Hope.

A soldier yells as one of his friends is taken by a bullet.

He ducks, but I can feel his tears. Feel his pain.

Rain parades onto the dead landscape

As more guns fire and bombs explode.

I look up at the huge memorial.

Strong and Proud.

A small ray of light breaks through the fog –

That ray of hope soldiers waited for and never got.

That ray of light I now look at freely.

“Thank you”, I whisper to the breeze.

But I am really whispering to the soldiers who

Saved my country and my life.

Because of them, I see this sunlight.

Because of them, I have this hope.

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More inspiration

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My Log Cabin by Mairi

Remember how I mentioned Mairi writing about the Lake District and sending it to her Nana? Well, while I’m embarking on this new reminiscing/publishing-my-children’s-writing thing, here it is; we were all inspired by this place, and the inspiration is lasting, apparently!

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Missing

missing-youI feel a sense of missing, and I’m not sure if I am missing the travel, or the “roadschooling”, or the blogging…

I think it’s a case of all-of-the-above, actually.

We have been having a few “this time last year” conversations at home lately, so that brings about many reminiscences, and it’s interesting how each person’s perception of the memory differs from the others’, or how romanticized some memories have become already…

One year ago today, we were in Sauto. I wonder what we were doing? Darragh would have been playing with the dogs, no doubt, and we would probably be heading out for a hike somewhere in the afternoon, perhaps visiting our favourite mountain river if it was a sunny day, enjoying the deep jangling sound of the cow bells as the kids try to cross jumping from stone to stone. Or perhaps Dev was “challenging” us with a more strenuous afternoon at Carancas Gorge! Maybe we stopped at Casino or Super U on the way home to pick up some pasta, or even visited our favourite bakery in Font Romeu for a box of special surprises – tarte citron, pain chocolat…mmmm. Sounds so idyllic! And it was. Except for when it wasn’t.

And then there’s the “roadschooling” – frustrating at times, and quite stressful. Wondering if we were doing enough, and if the girls would be able to manage well back in the classroom.

Of course, now I see it in that idealized way we often see things when enough time has passed to erase the anxiety. Going back to Sauto, we would have eaten our supper and our tasty bakery treats, and then settled in for a couple of chapters of Danny Champion of the World - all five of us reading and talking together, worrying together about Danny and his Dad – would they get caught or not, wondering what was really the best way to catch a pheasant. What could be a better, more authentic way to teach and learn?

Funny, isn’t it, what the passage of time does? Back in the throes of our daily life, trying to finish the house, get everyone to their dance classes, band practices, and swim meets, going to work…it all seems so hectic. We never seem to have time, and then when we indulge in a little flashback to last year, it feels like we had so much of it then. And we did. But I do remember spending much of it doing, doing, doing, or if not, planning the next thing. I also remember feeling guilty for sitting doing nothing (on the rare occasions that actually happened). I remember thinking we really needed to cram every possible experience in to every available moment.

I don’t think we value “doing nothing” enough. As a society, even. Now I sometimes wish I had spent more of last year doing just that. Because how often do you get that opportunity!?  I wonder what it would have been like to just pick a place and stay put for a few months. Live life quietly together.

Nah, we would probably have been bored!

So, back to the missing…and the blogging. I miss that, too. And I know I said I would go back and write about the places I didn’t the first time around. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. It’s not immediate enough. That’s the thing about blogging, I guess. It’s now. Present. It never felt the same going back to blog something we did a few weeks ago, so to go back to a year ago or even several months seems artificial. Unless…

Unless then becomes now somehow. Like Sauto did this week as we spent time re-reading Darragh’s memoir. Or when we got all our unused postcards out over the weekend to find something for a collage someone was making for school, or when Mairi wrote about the Lake District a couple of weeks ago because Nana is going there at the end of the month, and she was reminded how much she loved it. There are so many of these opportunities – I just need to pay more attention to them!

So, I can blog.

Roadschooling Claytons is not over.

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Long Term Effects

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So tonight, as I’m putting our middle girl to bed, this conversation happens:

Her: There’s this place where you can snorkel or dive in the Great Barrier Reef and all you need is to be able to swim and the ability to laugh at yourself.

Me: Hmmm. Really?

Her: It costs $1246 for a ticket.

Me: To dive there??

Her: No, to get to Australia from here. And if you go from the UK, it’s only a 22 hour flight!

Me: How do you know?

Her: I looked into it today. I don’t think I actually booked a flight. But you might want to check and make sure…

Me: What?!

Her: Well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t book anything. I was careful not to fill in any information about myself…you could cancel it though if I did, right?

I had to laugh as I came back upstairs and told Dev that I needed the iPad for a minute to check and see if Darragh booked a ticket to Australia or not! What’s really interesting about all that is that when we returned from our trip, the girls were pretty adamant that they wouldn’t be leaving again for a very long time, if ever. As I’ve said in previous posts, we have felt frustrated at times by their apathy about travel – it felt almost like it had the opposite effect from the one we had hoped for.

And then something like this happens. She has been talking about Australia for a couple of weeks now. She borrowed a DVD from the library about it last weekend, and has apparently been doing some pretty specific research online! I love that she did that. I’m certain that wouldn’t have happened a year ago. Obviously, I’m happy she didn’t book a flight, but I feel proud that she got to that point in her little “trip planning” adventure. I think it shows initiative! But also, it shows me that she is feeling positive about travelling again. And not that long after our return. It’s one of those moments that makes me smile inside.

And tomorrow, we will be attending the Literary Awards Gala, where she will be presented with third prize for a memoir she wrote while we were in the Pyrenees. Another smile-inside moment. I love them.

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“Pyrenees Puppies” by Darragh

Here is Darragh’s memoir of her time in The French Pyrenees – she is a superstar.

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Pyrenees Puppies

Chapter 1 Settling In

It is our first evening in the mountains; the golden sun is glittering on one side of the the peaks. This feels like a good place. It has been a hard couple of days for us since Rome. I am especially missing Cal, my stuffed dog I have had since I was born. I don’t know how I will ever manage without him. What would a robber want with him? Nothing.
I pull on my sneakers, and set out for a walk with my family to explore our surroundings. We have been walking just two minutes, when an old border collie, white with patches of grey, appears. She is beautiful, and I love her at first sight. Her big brown eyes stare at me. She follows us for our whole walk, dropping a stick at my heels. I throw the stick, she runs and gets it, and then drops it at my heels again.
I name her Callie, after Cal. She belongs up here in the meadows, her shaggy fur blowing in the wind. When our lovely walk finally comes to an end, Callie turns and goes.

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I don’t see her for a while after that, and I almost forget about her as we settle in to our mountain life.

Our little village is called Sauto. There are many towns and villages in the Pyrenees mountains, France. This is where we are staying for one month. Sauto is my favourite village. It contains only a few houses, and a little church, and it seems far away from any of the other villages. There is never any traffic, and not many people.
I am playing outside in our back yard one day, when I hear a bark. I creep over to the gate and open it. I walk to the little church around the corner. It is Callie! I fast-walk over to her and give her a pat. But she is not alone. Standing behind her is a little black dog with two white front paws, white toes on her back paws, and a red collar. I assume she is a girl and immediately name her Emily. But there’s more; behind her is a stubby brown dog. I have a bag of Chuppa Chup suckers in my hand, so I name him Chuppa! I pat Callie again. She is my favourite.

Chapter 2 Fetch

It is a misty morning in the Pyrenees. Clouds surround the huge, proud mountains. I pull on my gym-pants and walk downstairs. My little sister is pouring maple syrup on a waffle. I sit down at the table and help myself to a one. As I am pouring the syrup, Liah says, “I hope we see Callie again soon”.
“Yeah, me too,” I reply.
And we do see her soon. When I go out to the yard that morning, I hear a bark. I kneel beside the wire fence at the back of the yard, and on the road below us, I see a few houses, and in front of the houses are two dogs – it is Emily and Callie! To get to the lower road, there are stone steps. I slowly creep down them until the dogs are right in front of me. I whistle and start walking back up the steps. I hear a sound, and turn around. They are following me! I stop at the top of the dozen or so steps up to La Fougere, our house. Callie comes forward and drops a pinecone at my feet. I throw it, and Callie and Emily take turns retrieving it. After about 45 minutes of this, it is time to go in. As I reluctantly shut the gate, I can see two bright-eyed, eager faces looking back at me. It is so powerful, I can’t resist! I run out, and their faces become happy and excited. We play the game again and again until I hear a voice calling me. I HAVE to close the gate. I squeeze my eyes shut and don’t look bac
Chapter 3 The Shepherdess

The next four days are the same as the last. I go half way down the cobble steps, and Callie and Emily trot over to me. We play for as long as we can, and then I have to leave. One evening is a bit different, though.

The evening I find out everything, a rainy mountain storm has just passed. My family step outside together to have a little walk now that the weather is calmer. Everything is wet, wet, wet and the mountain peaks are topped with snow like sundaes topped with cherries. We are half way down the road when a little old woman comes up to us. She is wearing a knitted brown jacket with orange patterns, and old, dirty pants. She tries to explain to us (in a mixture of French and Spanish) that she has animals at her house, including “petits lapins”. She leads us to the house where I always find Callie and Emily. Just past it, there is a small shed and a pen full of chickens. She takes us to a hutch-type shed at the back of the little yard, and in one of the cages are four tiny baby rabbits! She puts one in each of our hands; they are so soft! She shows us the mom, dad, and three other rabbits. As we try to understand her, we finally figure out that she is telling us she is the shepherdess, and she owns Callie, Emily and Chuppa! She explains that none of them are working dogs – she says they are “gentil” (nice), but useless! I pat Chuppa on the head and we pick some vegetables from the lady’s garden. She has a kind, friendly voice, and there and then I know I will be seeing her again.

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It is very misty one evening as I step outside and I can’t see the majestic mountains in front of me. It is silent except for a few quiet chirps of birds. It is a little bit scary.
SPLASH! I jump back and look down. I have only stepped in a big puddle.
I walk over to the stone steps; they glisten with water. It must have rained, I think. I make my way down the steps, and peek around the corner. No sign of any dogs. I take another few steps and notice the shepherdess sitting on her front step. I run back up the steps. Why is she there? Where are her dogs? Is she sad? I am starting to walk back up to my house when a shape emerges from the mist. I stop and watch. First I see her face. Then her tail wagging as she comes toward me. It is Callie! She comes up to me with the familiar pinecone in her mouth. I squat down to give her a pat and she drops the pinecone in my lap. I throw it. She runs to get it and waits until I give her a pat to drop it in my lap again. After a while, it is getting dark, so I have to go in. I wonder where Callie had been before; she wasn’t working, so was she just wandering, or could she be up to something? Probably just wandering, I think. Although, I have always thought she can be a bit suspicious at times…I wonder…

Chapter 4 Laces
I am going down the stone steps again. The sun is creating a mid-fall heat, but I still have my sweater on. I start playing fetch with Callie as usual, when I hear a little padding on the pavement. Is it Emily? I turn around and look, and I see not Emily, but the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life moving towards me. His tiny legs are trembly, and his body is wriggling like a caterpillar. He is a funny little border collie puppy! He is black with a white tummy and paws, and he looks like he has dipped the tip of his tail into a bucket of white paint. He sniffs me and nips at my leg. Then he wriggles his way to Callie, who gives him a lick. She has got to be the mum! After all, she is a border collie too. I play with the puppy and Callie for a long time.
The next day, when we go to the supermarket, we buy dog treats and ask the shepherdess if we can give some to the dogs. She says, “Oui, merci”, and gives us a handful of toffees for ourselves! She is a lovely lady, and I LOVE her dogs. We name the puppy Laces because he is always chewing my laces!

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For the next few days, this is my agenda:
Wake up and go down for breakfast. Get dressed, brush teeth. Run downstairs, get shoes on, shout “Bye!” to Mum. Grab a few dog biscuits and run out the door.
I play with Callie and Emily with Laces on my lap, chewing my shoe laces. I play until lunch. Sometimes my sisters come. My older sister knows some French, so she and the shepherdess chat.
In the afternoon, we go on a hike, and when we come home in the evening, I run to to the dogs. I love those dogs. I love Callie’s gracefulness, and Lace’s fuzzy playfulness. Even Emily’s slobber. I know I will cry when we leave.
I find out that Callie and Emily are not related to Laces, but that when Laces is a bit older, he will go up onto the mountain to watch his real mum and dad for two months and then he will become a herding dog, working with the sheep.

Chapter 5 The Gift

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The weather is changing drastically here in the Pyrenees – it is almost November. It is getting very cold and frosty. Some of the leaves are already falling off the trees.It is a chilly Saturday morning, and I walk over to the window in my room and open the wooden shutters. I gasp! The ground has at least an inch of glittering white snow. The rooftops are covered too! The sun is up, and I know it will probably melt soon, so I get dressed, get my big coat, my sneakers, and run out the front door. My body slowly chills all over, as if 100 ice cubes are sinking down my back. The snow crunches under my feet as I step down the stone stairs. Callie is curled in a ball, and Chuppa barks as I approach. I kneel down and pat Chuppa’s head. Callie gets up and drops a pinecone in my lap and I throw it. It lands with a soft plop. After a few minutes, Emily trots out too. We play, then the dogs lay down for a rest while I scratch their bellies. I am really going to miss them when we leave, but for now, I just have to enjoy them.

The next day, my sister and I are sitting at the bottom of the old stone steps. Most of the snow is gone, but it is still on the mountains in front of us. Suddenly, Marie-Jo, the shepherdess, comes out of her house with something in her hands. She gives my sister a little dog figurine, and me a really beautiful bracelet. We say, “Merci Boucoup,” and leave. I know I will keep that bracelet forever. I have already been collecting bracelets, too. I put that bracelet on straight away.

The next morning, the mountains are powdered with snow again. Callie trots up to me with a pinecone in her mouth, Emily eagerly behind her. As I sit with Laces in my lap, I know I will come back here one day. I make a promise to the dogs that I will be back as soon as I can.

The day we leave, it is very sunny. We get our picture taken with Marie-Jo. We say our goodbyes and I slip on my bracelet. A tear trickles down my cheek. I will never forget Callie, Emily, Laces, or Chuppa. They helped me feel safe and comfortable again, even without Cal. I know I will come back to Sauto, and I hope my dogs will be there waiting with pinecones in their mouths.

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