Monthly Archives: December 2012

On Being Thankful

I suppose it may be my imagination, or just wishful thinking, but I’m sure our girls were different this Christmas. Perhaps it was simply a maturity that comes with getting a little older, or maybe it’s just that they knew they couldn’t ask for anything that wouldn’t fit in the suitcase (although that didn’t stop one of them from asking for a piglet), but they all seemed more thankful, more gracious somehow. They exclaimed on many occasions that they couldn’t believe how much stuff they got. They thanked everyone profusely and sincerely for any gift, no matter how small. One even said she felt guilty at having so much when others had so little, and wondered if you could send actual stuff to World Vision or did it have to be money.
There was no mention whatsoever of the items on their lists that they did not get, no wishing they got something else. And in reality, they got less than they usually do, and a lot of what they got was simply replacing things that were lost in Europe – clothes, journals, books, swim goggles, and their precious stuffed toys. Santa somehow managed to find the exact same ones, and although these were newer models, they seem to have brought great comfort. The little one maintains hers is the best gift she got, and that thinking about the robbery doesn’t even make her sad anymore. And she’s the materialistic one! She asked for an iPod touch or a Nintendo 3DS, neither of which she received, but now that she has her teddy back, it doesn’t matter.
I am really proud of them, and I’ve told them so. We had a wonderful Christmas, but I’m not concerned that they will be “spoiled”. I feel like even just the tiny little bit of the world they’ve experienced has been valuable to them. They have seen a little bit of a life that is not as easy as their own. They have witnessed poverty and hardship in the places they have visited, as well as the contrasting luxury that is available to so few. No, they have not been to the third world, but at least they know not everyone has it as good as they do.
So, again, maybe I’m clutching at straws here and trying to find a positive effect (since they have yet to directly express one) of their travels, but I’m going to go with it.
I see no other way to explain a certain child’s generosity of spirit and lack of jealous tantrums.


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Sometimes You Just Need a Field Trip.

Symptom: kids don’t want to do schoolwork
Diagnosis: too much bookwork lately
Remedy: field trip

We haven’t had many field trips since returning to England; I think we were all just tired of being on the road, especially the girls, and we were content to stay around “home” most of the time. We did have a morning in nearby Tropical World last week, but otherwise, we’ve been trying to catch up on some of the schoolwork that kind of requires sitting at a table. And the girls have claimed to be fine with that, but recent minor behavioural infractions made us think otherwise; they needed some variety. But even last night, when we announced we were going to have a day out, there was much reluctance.
They are still wary of going anywhere in case we get lost, or there are pickpockets, or the car will be broken into, or just that they will be dragged around for hours on end against their will (especially the little one). As if we would ever do that.
Anyway, Liah came round a bit when she remembered that our chosen destination had an old-fashioned sweet shop, and she was allowed to take her tooth-fairy money, so off we went to Haworth, a village about an hour northwest of us.
After wandering around the shops a bit, having lunch, and accumulating about a pound of sweets between us, we went to the Bronte Parsonage Museum, despite Liah’s quiet protestations. I wrote my honours essay on the Bronte sisters when I was doing my BA, and am a huge fan, so I was excited to go to the museum; I hadn’t been since I was in my teens. The girls haven’t read the books yet but Mairi has read an abridged version of Wuthering Heights, so she, at least, is a little bit familiar. On our way past the Black Bull pub, I commented, a little smugly, that it is the very pub Branwell Bronte used to drink in. I barely had this I-know-more-about-the-Brontes-than-all-of-you statement out of my mouth when Mairi pipes up, “And he got his opium across the street at the Apothecary”. Naturally, I demanded, “How do you know that?”, to which she replied, ” I read it at the apothecary”. Bam! Put me in my place.
Anyway, we continued to the Parsonage which everyone enjoyed. Liah thought it was fantastic, and said how glad she was we went. With the remainder of her tooth money, she bought a wooden toy soldier because that’s what the Brontes played with in “the olden days”. The other two were inspired by the tiny books the Bronte children created when they were similar ages to them, and they bought quill fountain pens to write their own.
I was, once again, amazed by the depth of their natural curiosity and love of learning that is so often missing when they are sitting in front of the books. I didn’t have to point anything out, or try to interest them in anything.They took their guide books and off they went. And as usual, I was done before the older two had finished poring over the Victorian artifacts, partly because I was so often prematurely dragged along to the next room by Liah – “Come in here. You have to see this – it is so cool! You’re gonna love it!”

For more on Haworth, check out my article at What Travel Writers Say




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beautiful Bruges, Belgium

I just thought this very succinct post on Bruges by my lovely and talented daughter was worth reblogging.

Mairi on the Map

Here’s my theory on why Bruges is one of the best places ever:

Bruges is full of chocolate (and not just any chocolate – Belgian chocolate) it’s literally in every second shop. So because there’s so much chocolate, the people who live here are always eating it. And when people are always eating chocolate, they are always happy, because that’s what chocolate does.


Because the people are so happy, they feel like treating their environment with respect and being nice to their animals. That’s why the buildings in Bruges are so beautiful, the swans are so clean and the horses so proud. When the horses are proud and happy to be doing what they are doing, they do their work well, which pleases the people.


Now the people are all happy, so they all feel like making chocolate. . . You can guess what happens next.


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Sometimes School Might Suck.

There is nothing like another day of trying to teach stuff to your own kids to bring you down from the high of an awesome night out. I knew this would be tricky, this roadschooling business, just based on previous frustration levels when I’m helping the kids with their homework. But I guess I didn’t realize how tricky. Flashback to my “osmosis” theory where we just provide the opportunity for learning, and then it happens naturally….but, in the immortal words of Jim Royle, “Naturally, my arse”.
I know for sure my kids are unfailingly respectful in the classroom. In fact, too much so sometimes, to the point that they are afraid to ask for help or express an opinion. And that’s not what I want, but oh, how I sometimes wish that were the case in this classroom with this teacher. Because if it were, nobody would say things like this:

I’ll write, but I’m only writing one page.
Ugh, not this again. I just did five questions exactly like this. Why would I do more?
If you give me a chocolate biscuit, I’ll read that.
What is the point in learning division if its “exactly the same as multiplication”?
No, I would never say that to my teacher, but that’s because my teacher would never ask me to write something stupid like this.
Argh, would you just tell me the answer!?! I don’t need you to explain all that stuff!
Well, I suppose I’ll do it, but it doesn’t make any sense so I don’t see why I should. Why do you round up when it’s five? Five is in the middle, so why wouldn’t I round down? It’s just stupid.
I was wrong about this homeschool thing. I thought it would be fun, but it’s just boring old work and “do this, do that”.

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Since this is actually supposed to be a travel/education blog, I am desperately trying to think of an angle which will allow me to blog about a concert. I had to travel by car for an hour to get to said concert? I stayed in a hotel for the night?
Whatever. I’m going to blog about it anyway, because it was Mumford & Sons, and it was amazing. And it reminded me of some things. It reminded me of the importance of going out and having fun with your significant other without your smaller significant others. It reminded me that even an hour away can be a vacation. It reminded me that all things should be approached with wonder. It reminded me of the power of music, and the emotional responses it can evoke. Especially when it’s loud and really really good. It can make you smile – constantly, in that weird Cheshire Cat sort of a way that I usually find disturbing in a person. It can make you tingle all over. And at the risk of sounding like a total flake, it can make you feel like you can fly. Like you could just soar out over the crowd, soaking up the surprisingly beautiful sound of 25,000 voices singing in unison, as if they are trying to drown out the very voice of the man they paid to listen to. It can carry you away, so that you are somewhere else.
There. I have probably crossed the line now. The one that separates the sane from the not-so-sane. The reasonable from the melodramatic. But I like to blog about things that move me in some way. And this super-talented foursome did that. So, here’s to Mumford & Sons for providing the inspiration for my flakiness.

Music washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life. Berthold Auerbach

After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible, is music. Aldous Huxley

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Somewhat Odd Christmas Traditions

So, tonight we went to a pantomime.
Oh, no, we didn’t!
Oh, yes, we did!
Oh, no, we didn’t!

Obviously, if you’re not British, you will probably be somewhat confused by that, but it is one of the audience participation lines so unique to this bizarre form of theatre, and there is, I am certain, nobody in Britain who would be unfamiliar with that line, or any other one! I do remember this classic British Christmas tradition from when I was a kid, but I can’t honestly say I’ve been to the “panto” since I was about four. So, I was a little apprehensive taking our kids to one because it is such an unfamiliar format and I wasn’t quite sure what they’d make of it. As the first bad guy took the stage, and the audience started booing and hissing, Liah looked up at me in bewilderment, “I didn’t know you were allowed to do that,” says she. But by the end of it, she was booing and hissing with the rest, and having a good laugh over the fact that Mother Goose was a man dressed as a woman, another “rule” of pantomime.
Apparently there is always a “dame”, usually the oldest female character in the cast, a principal boy, usually played by a girl, and at least one “baddy”. The shows are based on classic folk or fairy tales like Dick Whitington, Alladin, Little Red Riding Hood, and Mother Goose, and are ever present this time of year in large professional theaters as well as village halls and churches. It seems most Brits indulge in panto in some form or another over the Christmas period, even though there is really nothing especially Christmassy about it. For the Canadians among you, the best way I can think to describe it is a cross between musical theatre and dinner theatre. Without the dinner. But with the audience interaction. And with the singing and dancing.
Ours was a small local production at the village church hall, and I am happy to report that the kids loved it. Obviously an incredible amount of work went into it, and it was, indeed, thoroughly, yet oddly entertaining. One of the unique things about the panto is that you never quite know what time it will end because it changes each time, depending on several factors – the level of audience participation, the number of lines forgotten, prop failures, or costume malfunctions (all part of the fun and expected by everyone), and the amount of ad-libbing on that particular evening. Mother Goose, I think, was just the right length, and I believe it was almost a sell-out at every performance, which is quite an accomplishment for a community production. Such a classic is the pantomime that in 2008 the Royal Mail Christmas stamps were based its classic characters!
So, there you go, Christmas in the UK. Mincemeat tarts, plum pudding, and a couple of drag queens in sparkly costumes. Go figure!


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