Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Origins of Thanksgiving?

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When we decided to visit old friends in Plymouth on our way to Europe, we didn’t realize it would be so full of surprises! The first surprise was that they have recently started operating a bed & breakfast in their gorgeous Cornish country farmhouse, Bulland House, so instead of sleeping on a sofa bed in the living room, we had our own cozy room complete with ensuite bathroom and wonderfully comfortable bed. The girls were quick to comment on the tv, mini chocolate bars and tea-making facilities as well. And a fabulous breakfast to boot – brilliant!
Surprise number 2 was Carnglaze Caverns, which, on the Internet looked like somewhere we’ve always wanted to go…amazing underground lakes and stalactites. But alas, closed on Sundays! One to remember, though, for next time.
So instead, we went with surprise number 3, the National Marine Aquarium, the biggest one in Britain. It was a fantastic afternoon out, and the girls absolutely loved it. The best thing about it is that they think it’s really impressive at the beginning when you are seeing all the marine life from Plymouth Sound, but it just keeps getting more spectacular all the way around until, by the end, you are looking up at a sea turtle who was washed up here from the Caribbean in a massive storm, and sharks are swimming over your head. Fantastic.
Surprise number 4 – Thanksgiving! Well, not exactly, but you know how the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock? Turns out, they sailed from right here in Plymouth. Funny how they landed in a place with the same name…anyway, we went and saw the Mayflower steps from whence they sailed. Nothing at all to do with Canadian Thanksgiving, but very cool nonetheless!
Surprise number 5, Smeaton Tower, one of only three Eddystone lighthouses in the country built in the 1700’s by James Smeaton.
So, an excellent day out, a great learning experience, and superb hospitality. And all we were counting on is a good catch-up with some old friends. Surprise!

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Messing With Macbeth

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So, before I even start on Macbeth and the incredible theatre at which we saw it last night, can you just look at that picture?!? Who would believe this is in England? They don’t call it the Cornish Riviera for nothing, that’s for sure. I took this pic from the steps of the theatre. Which sounds weird, I know, but not when you realize the theatre is outdoors, carved into the side of a cliff. I am sure there is no more impressive theatre anywhere in the world. And it is made more so by the fact that one woman, Rowena Cade, spent from 1931 to 1983 planning, financing, and building this theatre almost single-handedly. It is incredible; seats carved into the side of the rock, a stage that looks like something constructed by Romans, and the unparalleled view of the rugged cliffs, turquoise water, and sandy coves behind it.
So, imagine Macbeth here, at dusk, in this setting – King Duncan entering stage left over the rocks, regal on horseback, the cliff-side battle as Macbeth and Banquo vanquish the Norwegian foe, and the weird sisters on the other side of the stage, appearing on the grassy mound with the ocean in the background…perfect!
That’s what I wanted. But that’s not what I got. They messed with it. Macbeth had on a red jumpsuit, and Banquo was in camo gear. Macduff reminded me of an Argentinean rebel soldier. There were no witches.
Now, I’m all for making Shakespeare current. And I’ve seen lots of productions with a modern set, and enjoyed them. But when you’ve practically got a castle on the side of a cliff as your natural set, doesn’t it just scream for a traditional rendition complete with elaborate period costume? I think so. Why would you mar this visual miracle with scaffolding, pallets, and oil drums? Why?

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Dam Building and Sweet Eating: the New Math?

Real life math. I still feel like we are not that great at taking the opportunities to incorporate math into our daily lives. It’s just so much easier to weave in the other disciplines. Or at least it is for my numerically challenged brain.
For example, yesterday Dev took the girls over to a rocky area on the beach where he used to play as a child and explained to them how he and his brother used to dam the area to collect water from the spring coming down the cliff. Naturally, our oldest daughter took up the challenge, and started to create a small dam. She worked for a long time, and eventually had a nice ankle-depth pool. As it filled more, it threatened to break, so she decided to build some walls further out and prepare to release the water from the smaller dam. That was when the interest of the other two was peaked and they joined in. Well, we all did really. There were several harrowing moments and full-on emergencies where there was actual breakage, and it took a group effort to shore it up. At one point, our middle daughter pointed out that we needed to fix one of the walls on a wide part of the pool instead of trying to stop the water in a narrow channel.
Now, clearly this is hugely educational. She realized (pretty much at the same time I did, to be honest) that the water in the narrow channel exerted more pressure than that in the wider pool, so it made more sense to work on that one. So through combinations of sand, stones, and pebbles, the dam was repaired.
Here’s my problem. Is that enough? Do we need to revisit this and explain the physics behind it? If it even is physics. Or is the actual experience all that is required?
I’m not sure about this. Kind of a similar experience with a pick ‘n mix at a sweet shop today. They were allowed to buy 100 grams of sweets each. They were able to weigh as they went along as many times as they wanted. So, one ended up with 130g, one with 110g, and the last one, who weighed several times, and ended up going back for more even at 95g, ended up with 105g. Later on, they were trying to figure out what fraction of their sweets they had eaten, so we got out the scales and weighed them etc. etc. But still, shouldn’t that have gone further? It’s ok for the youngest to just find the difference, but what about the opportunities for fractions and decimals for the older two? It just doesn’t feel like enough somehow.
Good thing I’m not the math teacher for this Road School…

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The Mermaid Chair

Has anyone ever read The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd? It’s one of my favourite books, and today I went to the little church in Zennor, Cornwall that was the inspiration for the book. The legend of the mermaid of Zennor tells the tale of a chorister being lured into the sea by a mermaid, who pursued him for his singing. Apparently, she would often come to the church disguised as a rich and beautiful woman, and listen to him sing at evensong, leaving a mysterious puddle of water on the floor of the church! And then one night, as she let out a sigh at the sound of his voice, he followed her into the ocean, never to be seen again by the villagers.
Into one of the church pews, a mermaid was carved as a reminder of his disappearance and a warning to others. It still sits in St Senara’s Church in Zennor.
I can see why Sue Monk Kidd was so inspired by this legend, the beauty of the little church, and the rugged cliffs and wild blustery moorland that flanks it.
Now I have to go read the book again!

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The Sound of Seagulls

This morning, I awoke to the squawks of seagulls and the lulling sound of waves breaking on the shore. Then an early morning walk around a relatively deserted town,  and scrumptious scones with jam and clotted cream for breakfast. I feel so fortunate and thankful. This is amazing – we are staying right on the beach. I remember looking up at the windows of these beach houses when Dev and I used to camp down here almost twenty years ago, and thinking “someday…”. I feel like I have arrived. And today is going to be 23c. Life is good.

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On Our Way

Well, with the assistance of space-bags (which are like a little miracle), we are on the road to Cornwall. Packing was not that much fun, but we are all in. Hopefully, all the stuff we need is in too…
I forgot Kim’s golden rule last night while packing. The rule is that the only things you really need to pay attention to are kids, money, and passports. Kids sorted, no money anyway, so those two were covered. But, yes, I completely forgot about passports. If I hadn’t randomly opened a drawer at 10pm to find some other item, I would not have seen the passports, and therefore they would not have been in the car right now. Which wouldn’t have been as big a disaster as if we were boarding a plane, but an extra 15 hours driving to go get them would have sucked.
So, note to self, remember the rule – off we go!

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To Plan or Not to Plan

Yes, I’m still struggling with the dilemma of how much planning is too much, and how much is not enough. I haven’t really reported on the process for a while…I think I’ve been trying to take a break from thinking about it. But with the start of school quickly approaching, I feel once again a little bit of pressure to get some things carved in stone. It’s not as if I’m worrying about it all the time, or really stressed or anything, but things that were quite far back in my mind during this “vacation month” have moved a little closer to the forefront. The trip planning and the “road schooling”…
As far as the kids education, there have yet to be any formal efforts really, but the educational experiences have certainly been plentiful. And school hasn’t even started yet!
And the travelling? This is the plan so far: we head down south to Cornwall this Saturday, and then we leave for somewhere the following Saturday, ending up on the Adriatic Coast the Saturday after that. We have a great place booked in Cornwall on the beach, and another near Venice two weeks later, but there’s still that messy little week in between that has no plan. Then after the Adriatic, there is, once again, a lonely little week or so before the next landing in the Pyrenees on the French/Spanish border in early October. Then we are all set for the next four weeks.
The question is, how much more do we need? I, personally, would like a little more. But some people think that might be enough – a little freedom and spontaneity, some people say. I’m all for a bit of adventure, but I think I might just sneak a couple more definites in there when nobody’s looking. Which won’t be that hard, because “nobody” is currently at the pub.

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The Pub

It’s one of those British things that just doesn’t exist in our culture – or at least it doesn’t in mine. Walking down to the local pub, just sitting around chatting and drinking. Quite a lot. On school nights even.
People go out in Canada, and some people even have a sort of “local”, but it’s just not the same thing. I know because I went last night. Dev and his friends always used to meet at the pub once or twice a week when we lived here 15 years ago, and I know he really misses it. There was never any planning involved – you would just go and people would be there. And sometimes people’s dads. And possibly even grandads. It’s an inter-generational activity. And weirdly, it still happens – same pub, same peeps. There’s a little more communication involved now via texting, but essentially, it’s the same.
It brings back a lot of memories, being in the local pub. I experienced lots of hazy, Magners-induced flashbacks. The sound of the DJ banter as he reads out the quiz questions, the patterned carpet, the sketchy door locks and cigarette-burned floors in the Ladies…
I think about the first time I ever ordered a round in this pub when I moved to England in my twenties. The landlord asked me if the 1/2 a lager was for a man or a woman. I didn’t get it, but later discovered to my intense disapproval that women get a different glass – one with a more “feminine” shape. I remember then as well that girls only ordered halves, not pints. Unwritten rule.
Things have changed since then, obviously, and I’m not as stroppy. Well, that may not be true, but I do like to think I’ve at least mellowed a bit. It was fun last night. Mostly watching Dev almost laugh himself off his stool all night. It makes me smile. And I get why he misses it so much.
I’m not saying I like everything about the pub culture here, but there is something quite romantically “England” about it. It’s a shame to see so many of the old pubs closed down and boarded up.
Of course, if I lived here, I don’t think I would find it quite as romantic. Especially since I’d probably see a lot less of my lovely husband:)

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Making it Relevant

So here’s a tip for all you future family travellers. You know how us adults always want to go to cathedrals and castles and go on long walks in the country…that sort of thing? But as I may have mentioned before, to kids, it’s really sometimes “just another church”. And that fair enough. Because it is just another church to an eight year old. Unless of course, it isn’t. Because what if it is the church where the courtyard scenes in Harry Potter were filmed? Then it’s not just another church anymore. It’s a way to live out scenes in your favorite movie – to imagine yourself walking across the courtyard with Harry and Ron. So mom and dad can marvel at the rose window, the tower, the acoustics, the history, and the sheer magnificence of a cathedral like Durham. Everyone’s happy!
Even yesterday’s long walk at Hadrian’s Wall becomes a little more interesting when you know that the one and only tree for miles along the wall is the one that features in the opening scene of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. To be fair, the older girls are interested enough by the fact that the wall was built by Romans 2000 years ago to keep out the wild and crazy Celts, and the fact that it is actually still there! But the Robin Hood tree is added value, and acts as a bit of a buffer – a “just-in-case”.
It’s amazing to see the change in the demeanor of the kids when you can remind them of a book they’ve read that takes place here, or a movie scene that was filmed here, or even that a favorite author grew up here. It becomes relevant and real and interesting. It gives it life in the eyes of a child. And selfishly, it allows us to do many of the things we want to do without the inevitable whining and complaining that we might previously have had to endure.
Next stop, Tintagel Castle, rumored to be King Arthur’s stronghold. We are collecting books and movies now to read and watch before we head to Cornwall next week!

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