New Experiences – The Levees

tankNow, I realize right off the top that this post has little to nothing to do with roadschooling or travelling, but I think we can make some tenuous connections based on the fact that it relates to new experiences, and also includes a war museum. And a person might want to take their kids to visit this war museum on a different occasion, one that does not include alcolholic beverages, obviously. And as so often happened while we were travelling, this new experience has inspired me to write. So, relevant or not, here goes!

According to Wikipedia, the definition of a New Year’s Day Levee is this: The levée is a New Year’s Day social event hosted by the Governor General of Canada, the lieutenant governors, military establishments, municipalities and other institutions.
I had never actually been to one until this year, and I really didn’t know what it was all about, except that people seemed to get all dressed up and drink a lot, neither of which really appeal to me, if I’m honest. But this year, I went. And what a strange and surreal experience it was. The first establishment we entered, I was surprised that there was a line-up of name-tagged “officials” we were to shake hands with on the way in – very much like a wake, really. Except more cheerful. And obviously the “Sorry for your loss” greeting was replaced by “Happy New Year”. After the line-up, there was a table stacked with cookies and squares and other little treats, followed by another table well-stocked with non-alcoholic punch, and very alcoholic “moose milk”. Delish. And this is about 10:30 am – not my usual moose-milk-and-square-eating time, but hey, who’s complaining?
Then, it’s off to the Armouries. Now this one was a hoot. I laughed inside my head the whole hour we were there, because where else could a person enter a large hall, shake hands with military officers on the way in, be served seafood chowder by camouflage-clad soldiers, and drink rum and coke, while listening to Eighties classic hits (like Thrilller!?!) played by a live military band? Oh, and also peruse war memorabilia in the museum while still sipping on the afore-mentioned rum and coke? Bizarre.

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The Inspiration of Stats

mapI remember way back in June of 2012, before our roadschooling adventure had even begun, I posted about stats, and how darned exciting they were. And they are! It still gives me a thrill to write for an actual audience of actual people, especially when they come from so many different places. As a kid, I used to cut maps out of National Geographic magazines and stick them in a scrapbook, just because I liked them, so when I see that WordPress map with the countries of my “visitors” coloured in – well, you can imagine my excitement. And even though I only posted four times in 2014, I received my “Blog Report” on Dec. 31 informing me that in the past year I had 2900 visitors from 78 different countries. From four posts! I need to get back at it – imagine what would happen if I blogged once a week, or even once a month. Actually, that seems like a reasonable goal – once a month. Starting tomorrow. Promise.

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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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