Monthly Archives: February 2013

London is Not Calling

20130228-000145.jpgI have just realized that despite the fact that one of my most recent posts was about making your kids do stuff even when they don’t want to (the character building and all that), we have just let them write off our trip to London. I think I am a hypocrite. Or I’m just being lazy. Or smart. Or all of the above.
The story is, we were planning a little trip to London, just three nights, one day to do The Globe and a few other bits, another for the bus tour around the cities main attractions, and the other at the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. Then the kids got wind of it, and although they wanted to go to the Studio, they whined about the rest. Which they often do.
Now, normally, we don’t care about the whining. We try to ignore it, and go anyway, and they either tolerate, or actually enjoy, whatever it is we are doing. We are doing these things for them, after all.
But this time, we just caved. The gist of our decision making conversation centered around the fact that we were spending a lot of money to go down there for three days, and they were just so done with cities, they had no interest in going, and it really was for them this time. We have been before. In fact, we took our two oldest down for the Olympic triathlon in August, so even they have been…etc etc. So, we just ditched. We are still driving down to do the Studio Tour since our tickets were already booked, but no overnight. And no Big Ben. Or Buckingham Palace. Or Globe Theatre. Or Picadilly Circus.
I feel hoodwinked somehow. Like I just didn’t notice what was happening here. We gave in, and it is a slippery slope. Good thing I noticed now so I can avoid such blatant manipulation in future. This trip is not about the kids having a good time, after all, it’s about forcing them to do stuff they don’t want to do. Or they don’t think they want to do.
Oh well, we will be in England again in the future…maybe they will appreciate it more when they’re older…

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Lakes and Literature

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

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Although it’s still a little too early for the daffodils, having recently spent some time in England’s Lake District National Park, it is not hard to see why its inhabitants have produced some of the finest poetry ever written. The Romantic poets of The Lakes, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to name a few, were clearly inspired by this stunningly beautiful area of England. While the glorious fells (mountains) and shimmering lakes define the landscape here, there is so much more – tumbling waterfalls, green valley floors littered with sheep, and separated by dry stone walls, beautiful little lakeside towns and villages, and ancient stone circles. This is a place where the rain doesn’t matter. And that’s what you need when you are in England, because let’s face it, it does rain a lot.
I don’t really know where to begin to blog about The Lakes, and I’ve been putting it off for such a long time that the thought of trying to fit it all in overwhelms me somewhat. It might suffice to say that on this trip, where we have strived never to go to the same place twice, we have been drawn back here not twice, but four times. The first time, we hiked Aira Force, a beautiful walk that takes you past three waterfalls, through an old deciduous forest, a pretty little village, rolling farmland hills, and down a bubbling stream.

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During our visits here we also hiked around Derwent Water, just outside the gorgeous town of Keswick, and several of the many other lakes in this remarkable area. We did stop to visit the old-fashioned sweet shop in Keswick a few times too!
Well, not a few really.
If I’m honest, I think we went every day. There’s just something so magical and nostalgic about buying bulk sweets right from the jar, and eating them out of the cute little paper bags…but I digress. This post is supposed to be about literature, not sweets. But to be fair, the sweets make the literature so much more appealing to the kids. Especially the little one, who will venture on even the most arduous hike or trail around the most boring museum if there’s the promise of a sweet shop at the end of it. So, it is relevant really.
Naturally I myself would rather focus on the literature than the sweets. Ahem.
One of the most beautiful villages, and lakes, we visited while we were there was Grasmere, and Dove Cottage where Wordsworth himself lived and wrote. He is buried there in the little churchyard so aptly full of spring daffodils. And at the risk of going back to food again, they also make the famous Grasmere gingerbread here in a tiny little building which used to be the schoolhouse where the young Wordsworth studied. This stuff is amazing, and not like any gingerbread you have ever tasted before. In fact, the recipe is kept in a guarded vault and people have literally died trying to duplicate it!

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But again, back to the literature. Since the kids are still a little too young to appreciate much of the romantic poets’ work, they were more interested in another famous Lakeland author who they could remember from their own childhoods. There are probably not many children who are unfamiliar with the works of this writer, although there won’t be many who know where she is from. Beatrix Potter, the author of such children’s classics as Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck, and Benjamin Bunny lived much of her life here in The Lakes. You can visit Hilltop, the farm she bought in 1905 in Sawry, near Windermere, or you can visit a gallery of her drawings at Hawkshead, near Ambleside, in the building that was once the law office of her husband. Her farm became the setting for many of her books, and the scenery of the area can be found in all of them.

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This place is so beautiful and inspiring, that one of our own daughters has since written several stories with Lakeland settings, and the last time we went, she started writing as soon as we arrived at our cabin. If you are naturally inclined to write, or be creative in some other way, the Lakes just pulls it out of you. It seems to create a need to somehow record it – make it tangible. For some of us, that has meant taking photographs, and others sketching, painting or writing. But each of us has felt this place, and fallen hard for it. Maybe someday we’ll have our own little Wordsworth inspired by the very scenery that started him on his literary path.

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It’s in Their Genes.

You know what’s cool? My husband and my oldest daughter (and her cousin) just got back from Scout Camp. Dirty, stinky, exhausted and exhilarated. But that’s not the cool part. The cool part is that my husband went to this same camp as a scout about 30 years ago with his dad. He was a scout with this same troupe for most of his childhood, and his old Scout buddies are now the leaders. So they all got to go camping together.
Sometimes, we take these things for granted – these moments in our lives where we get to share a piece of our past with our children. But if you don’t live in the same place you grew up, this kind of experience is pretty special.
So, we’re not travelling as much as we had hoped at the moment, but look at what our kids are getting by staying in this one place for a while. They are getting to know life here. They are developing relationships with cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, and great grandmas that they may never have had. Not to mention quality Nana time! They are experiencing some of the people and places of their dad’s childhood, and their mum’s too. They are having family time, and extended family time. And not just the rushed, sometimes forced, two-week-vacation kind of time. The real life time. The kind that is interrupted by school, homework, swimming lessons, and doctors appointments. The kind that is just hanging out and being a part of people’s lives. Taking the dog for a walk, putting the garbage out, walking across the road to visit a relative…going to scouts with your cousins and listening to stories of when your dad and uncle used to go. Stories of their mishaps and adventures. Only now you have your own stories of scaling and gutting fish, and cooking them on the campfire. Or playing tug o’ war across the stream. Or your cousin cutting her eyelid open on a barbed wire fence while playing survival games in the dark, only to be told something like that was bound to happen because “it’s in her genes” (her dad was often transported from scout camp to the nearest emergency room). These are important experiences to have. Maybe more important than the Eiffel Tower, the Roman Colosseum, or Buckingham Palace.

Someone reminded me recently that it’s not about where you travel to, or how far you go, it’s about making memories wherever you happen to be. And I think we’re making some pretty good ones right here.

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It’s Character Building.

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We woke up this morning to bright sunshine and 8 degrees, so we abandoned the math, packed up a quick lunch, and headed out to the Peak District for a hike. We’ve been having a bit of outdoors withdrawal since coming back from the Lakes…well, most of us have. The littlest one hasn’t. She put on a skirt and tights this morning and declared that her and hiking don’t match. She thought she might rather go shopping with Nana, but being the rotten parents we are, we made her come with us. Because we knew how fabulous it was going to be.
The Peak District is amazing, beautiful little villages and stunning scenery, and Dev has been itching to take us to walk Mam Tor and the Great Ridge for a while now. It’s a five mile walk up and along a ridge offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, rounded hills and gritstone “edges”.
Turned out, it was hard for us wussier members of the family to appreciate those beautiful views because of the biting wind in our faces and the fact that we had to pick every step carefully due to the unanticipated snow and ice on the top of the hill, combined with the slimy mud. Yes, I know I sound like a whiner. I can be like that sometimes. And I was today, along with two out of three of our children (the other is delightfully agreeable all the time and speeds ahead with her father incessantly discussing Harry Potter and Tolkien). The other two trudged along behind, slipping periodically in the mud, soaking mittens and staining coats, complaining quietly under their breath.
Anyway, it was hard work, this walk. And if you hadn’t guessed, I wasn’t finding it particularly pleasant, and I was probably feeding the dissension of the other two, one of whom stated, “I don’t know why we even do these walks anyway. What is the purpose?”
To which Daddy answers, “It’s character building”.
Anyway, because it is such rough going, after an hour or so, we decide we won’t be able to complete the circular route, so we split up. Dev turns back to go get the car, and instructs us to “carry on down this hill, along that path, and when you come to a road, follow it to Castleton.”
So, we set out. But the path is more a stream than a path, really. And it has very steep banks covered in snow and mud. Kind of gorge-like. So we are trying to keep out of the water, but we run out out of room on the bank and decide to forget about staying dry and just walk down the rocky stream. As we clamber down the bank, we hear a little cry.
It is me. As I slide down the muddy banking on my ass.
The kids haul me up, and, covered in mud, we carry on, and thankfully, we soon reach the road. Phew. Onwards and upwards. We round the first bend feeling much better, quite proud of ourselves actually, and starting to have a few giggles over the state of us (especially me). Then we spot something on the side of the road, and the kids run over to it excitedly. It turns out to be the first badger we have ever seen! So exciting! Except that it’s dead. And its eyes have been pecked out by crows. It is clear that it has been hit by a car, but it is right next to a low section of crumbling dry stone wall, positioned as if it was almost able to get to it and into the field beyond, but not quite. And then the kids look over the wall and see the entrance to the den. What if there were baby badgers in there? The trauma.
After a makeshift wooden cross is lain beside the badger, I am able to convince them we should carry on. Let’s see what’s around the next bend. Hopefully something more cheerful.
Turns out to be a bubbling brook with two playful grey squirrels chasing each other along the banking. Then a small farmyard on the roadside with a ewe and newborn lamb in it. This is the first one we’ve seen and it evokes many oohs and ahhs from all of us. It is adorable!
We finally make it into the village and follow the signs to The Visitor Centre where we are meeting Dev. The kids practically knock him over in their eagerness to tell him everything we’ve seen on the last leg of our walk, and I obligingly turn around to display my muddy backside to illustrate their story of my fall. “I thought she broke her back!” says the little one.
We crack open the thermos for hot tea, which tastes so much better than it would have if we were sitting on the couch drinking it, and settle in for the drive home. The kids chatter and laugh about the walk, and even apologize to their father for whining. Because, of course, he was right. It is character building. And the more arduous the task, the more rewarding the successful completion. As I think back to many of the things we’ve done over the past few months, I am reminded of how much more pleasant a long car journey is if you’ve just worn everyone out with a five mile hike, or how much better a bed feels after a day of tramping around an unfamiliar city, how much sweeter the gelato after climbing a dusty mountain in 29 degree heat. It reminds me of why Aldous Huxley’s utopia fails in Brave New World; it is impossible to feel content unless you have experienced some discontent. And even if the discontent makes daddy want to give in, and never take all us whiners walking again, he should persevere. For the sake of our characters.

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Highland Legends

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There are lots of reasons to visit the Scottish Highlands: the beautiful and plentiful lochs, the stunning mountain scenery, the climbing and hiking opportunities, the cliff-top castles, and just the magic in general. There’s something about it…
And we had our own special reasons for wanting to come up here, specifically to Fort William. Partly nostalgia – Dev and I came up here this time of year back in 1996, before we got married. Before we were even engaged, in fact. We brought some Canadian friends up here because it was one of Dev’s favourite places to climb, and we ended up climbing Ben Nevis. In sneakers. In the snow. No gear. A bit of leftover Christmas cake and some orange juice in a rucksack. -20 degrees. And we actually made it to the top. That alone has to be some sort of miracle.
We have spent the last couple of days telling the kids all about this adventure, the fact that it was dark and very cold on the way down, that one of our friends fell and broke her arm, that we spent the night in a cold hostel without even a cup of tea to warm us. I told them how I insisted on a hotel the next day, despite the fact that we had very little money, because I needed a hot bath so badly. And how I could barely even get down the steps to the pub at Nevis Sport because my legs were so sore. I showed them the sticker we bought to stick on Janet’s cast that said I Climbed Ben Nevis. They loved all these tales, but to be fair, the most surprising part for them was that their mother actually got up the mountain at all. And they laughed their heads off when Dev told them he wouldn’t have married me if I hadn’t made it to the top, because he would have known I was a dud! We have had a great time sharing our reminiscing with the kids.
Another reason we came up here is for Mairi. This is where her name came from, and we have always told her about how we saw a shop in Fort William called Mairi MacGregors, and liked the name so much that we decided to give it to her when she was born. We couldn’t find that shop, but there was still one with her name on it, so she got her picture taken under the sign.
And it wasn’t just her name that made her want to visit this place – as an added bonus, there’s also a pretty significant Harry Potter connection, and so, naturally, we had to explore that too! The train journey to Hogwarts in the movies is actually filmed on the Jacobite steam train between Fort William and Mallaig, over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and other scenes were also filmed in and around the Glen Nevis area. Obviously, the movie-makers recognized the magical quality of the location, too, and used it to help create new legends.
And speaking of legends, another of the reasons for our visit was Nessie. I’ve never been, but I remember being fascinated as a child by the legend of Loch Ness, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to see. We went today, and I’m glad we did, but it wasn’t quite what I imagined. First of all, the loch is so huge! We drove along it for a good twenty minutes and I don’t even think we were half way. We had decided to go to the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, which also was not what I expected. We got a discount, thank goodness, because it was over-priced, dated, and a bit boring, to be honest. And it’s not even on the Loch. It would have been far better to learn about Nessie on youtube, and use the money we saved to go into the grounds of Urquhart Castle, and get a really good look at the loch from there. Or even take a boat tour. The whole thing was a bit of a non-event really, but it was fun to find Nessie in every ripple of the water as we drove along. It’s not hard to imagine seeing something monster-like in there…
Oh, and our other reason for visiting the Highlands is because that’s where Merida is from, and she and her clan add just a little bit more magic to the area for the younger kids. If you don’t know, Merida is Pixar’s latest heroine from the movie Brave, which is packed full of Highland magic – stone circles, witches and spells, will-o-the-wisps, and even a castle based on the real life Dunnotar Castle. Merida is Liah’s favourite girl, so that further motivated us to make the trek up here.
Not that we needed any further motivation. It really is stunning. And as Darragh pointed out yesterday after snapping a quick picture of the sun setting over Glenfinnan Loch, “Up until this year, I would have only ever seen a picture like this on a calendar, and I just took this one on my iPod”.
An excellent point, Darragh.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct

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Nevis Sport

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I forgot to even mention these amazing Highland Cattle!

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Urquhart Castle

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Edinburgh Myths Debunked

This is our third night in Edinburgh, and despite the chilly temperatures and the driving winds, we have clocked a fair number of miles walking around this beautiful old city. We started off on our first afternoon with The Potter Trail, a ninety minute magical walking tour of the city featuring locations which inspired scenes and characters in JK Rowling’s books. We met outside Greyfriar’s Bobby’s Inn, and before we even started the tour, our robed guide, Will, started the debunking of local myths by telling us that the tale of Greyfriar’s Bobby was not actually true. It was made up to attract tourists. It worked, and obviously still is working judging by the number of people taking photos of Bobby’s statue, and the flowers and little doggie figurines that are still being placed on Greyfriar’s grave. The story is that the little dog sat on his master’s grave for years after he died. Until he himself died, in fact. Very touching. But completely fabricated.
Anyway, the tour was a great introduction to the city as well as a great way to engage the Harry Potter mad people in my family. We saw lots of cool things, including JK Rowling’s handprints in the sidewalk, and the cafe where she wrote the first book. And the cafe that claims to be where she wrote the first book. Second myth debunked. Despite the signs outside The Elephant House claiming it as “the birthplace of Harry Potter”, it is, in fact, a place where she wrote bits of the second and third books, but not the first. We did have to return there the following day, though, for an expensive coffee, because of the bathroom. The bathroom walls are covered in what might normally be called graffiti and scrubbed off, but this is special graffiti. This is Dumbledore’s Army. Almost every inch of wall and door space is covered in names of people from all corners of the earth who have been mesmerized by Rowling’s tales of witches and wizards. But there was still room for our three to squeeze their names on there!
The magical and mythical are what Scotland is all about, really, and the theme continued as we toured the magnificent castle. One of the highlights there was seeing the Honours of Scotland (the Crown Jewels), and the Stone of Destiny. Which is another one of those tales that may or may not be true…but don’t we just love to believe them?
Today we visited The Camera Obscura, the first purpose-built tourist attraction in Edinburgh. It’s amazing that this place is 150 years old and it can still draw a crowd! The kids loved the fact that they could spy on unsuspecting castle visitors from five floors up – and from inside a building! And then we grown-ups almost threw up from the mirror maze and the freaky tunnel thingy.
We’ve had busy days, but it has been great to walk back to Brooks Hotel, knowing our cosy room and comfy beds await us. There’s something so special about staying in a nice hotel that makes all that tramping around in the cold worthwhile. It’s like your reward at the end of the day! And we leave tomorrow – looking forward to that last Scottish breakfast in the morning. Maybe I’ll actually have the haggis this time!
But probably, I won’t.

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Blogger’s Block

I have not been blogging on a regular basis. In fact, I’m having to make myself blog, which is highly unusual. So, I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. I don’t have much in the way of theories, but I’m hoping something will come to me as I pen this post. Not really penning, am I? Never mind. If I just keep randomly writing, perhaps my Blogger’s Block will just sort itself out as part of the process. That is my hope.
So, let’s explore the possible causes of this affliction. Is it because I have had nothing to discuss? Doubtful. I generally have far too much to say about everything, so surely that cannot be it.
Is it because we haven’t been anywhere? Well, we have only been in England since before Christmas really, so we haven’t been “roadschooling” exactly. But when you think about it, we are not at home (which means we could consider ourselves on the road), and we are still teaching the kids on a daily basis. So, why am I not writing about our experiences? We have been to The Lake District twice since Christmas, and we are, at this very moment, in Scotland. Which definitely qualifies as on the road. So, what’s the hold-up?
I have noticed in the past that I tend to blog when an experience or place really moves me in some way, when my emotions are heightened. Often, the emotion which precedes the blogging seems to be frustration. But sometimes it’s not. It has been wonder. Excitement. Anger. Fear. But if I look at the Tag Cloud on the front page of my blog, the word challenges leaps out at me as one of the biggest.
Perhaps there haven’t been any challenges lately? Ummm…nope, that’s not it. We have recently had to abandon the Central American part of our adventure due to lack of funds, so that has certainly been challenging. That could be it – we’ve both been struggling with this decision quite a lot. It’s weird, but it almost feels like we’re selling out somehow. Like we are not fulfilling our potential or something. We have both had feelings of regret, I think. And for me, part of my discomfort about the decision is that in many ways, I feel relieved. Relieved that I don’t have to plan another, even more intense, journey to an unknown place. Relieved that I don’t have to convince the kids that this is a good idea. Relieved that I don’t have to put myself through the worry and stress of…well, of many things, actually. And I don’t want to feel this way. But sometimes I do. Because it is exhausting. Mentally. Emotionally. And even physically at times.
On the other hand, I feel like what if we haven’t done enough? Have we really made the most of our year off? Because obviously this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Will we regret not sucking up the extra debt and just going for it? Shouldn’t we be on safari in Africa? Snorkeling a barrier reef in Belize? Touring the tombs in Egypt? After all, when will we ever have the chance again? It is a dilemma.
So, why have I not been blogging about this one? Maybe because it has been a little too raw. Too close to my heart. Maybe I don’t want to feel like a failure when all these people keep saying how brave we are. And while we are on the topic of bravery, that one has made me feel a bit uncomfortable too, I must admit. Because I spend quite a bit of my time not feeling very brave at all. In fact, a whole lot of this year has made me feel frightened. More so than I would ever want to admit. So, am I brave? Some days I think not at all. And other days, I think, hold the phone – we did sell our house, take our kids out of school, and leave our home for ten months. We are going back to build a house while living who-knows-where. This is brave, right? Right. So, even if I feel scared, I’m still doing stuff. Perhaps that does qualify as brave.
I still can’t help thinking I will wake up one morning in a year’s time and think, “Why did we not do that thing we wanted to do?’. And I don’t want the answer to be that I was too afraid to make it happen.
My friend and guru Kim has a theory about my happy little life on my idyllic little Island with my idyllic country house. And my idyllic little daughters. Hmm. And my idyllic husband. Hmmmmm.
Anyway, her theory is that it made me “go to sleep”. And I can see that she’s right in so many ways. I’m not as fierce as I once was. Or as fearless. Or as adventurous. And perhaps I was never any of those things by some people’s standards, but I have certainly been less so over the past number of years. So, have I done enough to “wake up”? I guess that’s the big question.

What the hell is this blog post supposed to be about, again?!?
Oh, yes, Blogger’s Block. I think we can probably all agree that it doesn’t seem to be a problem any more. It seems like perhaps the opposite is occurring. Random Ramblings might be a better title for this post.

Anyway, I will attempt to re-commit to the blog. Now that I have shared my innermost secrets, perhaps I will feel more free to share the less complicated goings-on of the Roadschooling Claytons. Like our visit to Edinburgh Castle today. And the over-priced coffee we bought at The Elephant House so our kids could join the graffiti-loving Dumbldore’s Army in the very cafe where JK Rowling wrote parts of the second and third Harry Potter books. And the haggis we tried in Auld Jock’s Pie Shop. And so many more little tales and tidbits I’ve been keeping all to myself lately.

Yes, there really is lots to talk about. And I’m way behind!

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

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