Posts Tagged With: challenges

Stormschooling

blizzardSo, we know about homeschooling, and we have extended that to roadschooling, but we’ve got a new one this year – stormschooling. Definition: the act of trying to supplement your children’s education while you are buried under 12 feet of snow.

For us, with our youngest daughter, this has been a bit of a blessing in disguise. She has been struggling to work at the same pace as her class in math, as many children do, and although we have been trying to work with her daily at home, we often find we are playing catch-up. After an unsatisfying performance on a test, we work on the skills she hasn’t mastered yet, but by the time we get to that, the damage to her self-esteem and her confidence with math in general, has been done. Also, the daily schedule of extra-curricular activities and homework makes it hard to fit “extra” math in. So, storm days provide us with an opportunity to do some focused math work in areas where we know she really needs it, and it can be spread out over the day so it doesn’t get too exhausting. It takes me back…

She is in the same grade our middle daughter was in the year we were on the road. We used lots of different tools in our roadschooling – lots of iPad apps, as well as online tutorials like Khan Academy, games, as well as more traditional drills, and even text books. It’s interesting to see what she responds to most, compared to her sister. Lots of the tools are still good, but I find myself having to search for more exciting ones as well, or just different ones from those her sister enjoyed/tolerated. We are finding motivation a bit off at times.

So far, the best motivation has been “math prizes” – Dollar Store purchases that are bestowed upon her periodically, not just for doing the math, but for doing it with a positive attitude. That’s the trickiest part. The fact that, as far as she’s concerned, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not the teacher, and am I actually aware that place value was weeks ago?! My clever response, “Place value is every day for the rest of your life,” does not seem to provide the motivational boost I require.

A three dollar Webkin, however, combined with weather conditions that do not allow easy escape, seems to work quite nicely. Bring it on, Winter!

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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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Sometimes School Might Suck.

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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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Sorry, Paris is Closed Today.

I have blogged before about the frustrations of getting used to the different hours of opening in Europe. And we have been more aware of that lately, and have tried to plan around it. So, some Paris museums are closed on Mondays, others on Tuesdays. The palace at Versailles was closed on Monday. The famous ice cream parlour, as we discovered yesterday, is closed Monday and Tuesday…you get the idea. We thought we had it all figured out, so here was our plan for today. Get up and go to the Catacombs (which we took a few days to get psyched up for, making sure everyone was ok with it, building a little spooky excitement, and all that), then head to an actual destination for lunch (a recommendation from our Paris Guru) to avoid a fiasco like yesterday’s, and then go down to Champs d’Elysee and end up at Arc de Triomphe (and go up it for a great view of twilight Paris). We are excited. My only reservation about the plan is the number of steps it involves – at least another 1000 – because my calves are pretty sore from yesterday’s steps.
So, out we go this morning and head to the subway. I have checked online to make sure everything is open. All good. We have to take two lines to get to the Catacombs, for a total of 23 stops, so we have some time to chat about why the bones of 6 million Parisians are actually stacked down there, and what it might be like. We eventually come up from the Metro and walk aimlessly for about 10 minutes looking for the entrance, which I know from my research is tricky to spot. We ask someone in the street, and we are there within the next five minutes. We are greeted by this sign:

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Part of me is really disappointed, and part of me thinks God is trying to protect me from all the steps. We decide an early lunch is the cure for this, and get back on the Metro for another 16 stops to reach Saint-Denis. It’s a good thing the Catacombs weren’t open or we would have been having lunch at supper time. It took a while, but we had an interesting walk around the neighborhood. We found it in the end and sat down for a good meal, and tried to get warmed up by drinking a little red wine with it. I don’t think we drank enough, because we were still chilled when we left.
OK, it’s off to the next destination. We have a little time to kill, so we decide to walk down to the Louvre and just look at the outside. Then we are freezing again, so we hop back on the Metro and get off closer to the Arc de Triomphe. We try to sneak past the Disney Store when we get off the train, but it’s just too bright and inviting in all its Christmas finery, so we have to go in for twenty minutes or so. Not all that cultural, but a fun time for the kids. Out for another walk, and then when we get cold again, we slip into Jack Wolfskin for a bit to feel the warm cozy fleeces and try on hats and mittens as if we intend to buy them.
Finally, we make it down to the Arc, take a few pics, check out the eternal flame, and head for the entrance so we can go up to the top and see what the “etoile” is really all about. Here’s the sign this time:

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I’m starting to think I may have inadvertently jinxed the day by complaining about my calves, because there goes the other attraction with the many many steps! Someone clearly didn’t think I was up for it!
The kids are a little disappointed and we are all really tired, so we get back on the Metro and end our day on our familiar Moulin Rouge corner, do a little souvenir shopping, and grab something for supper.
We still had a great day, but it was not quite what we expected, and I think Paris was pretty successful overall. Even Liah didn’t hate it.

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Time to Move On

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If it wasn’t already obvious that we’ve all been using our little mountain house as a bit of a crutch, it is glaringly so now. The kids are sad – they don’t want to leave. We are all pretty grumpy, in fact. And the long and the short of it is, we had a bad experience, and this place has been the embodiment of security since we arrived. It is tiny, safe, and we were here long enough for it to become home, and therefore, comfort. It was just what we all needed to recover and regroup.
And now it’s over and we’re going back on the road tomorrow. The little one is scared of things going wrong, the big one doesn’t want to go to any big cities, and the middle one doesn’t want to leave her dog friends, who have been the real life replacement for the ones she lost in Rome. This tranquil village has reminded them of their own home, so that makes it harder for them to leave too. You know when you go on vacation, and you have a great time, but when it’s over, you’re just ready to be home again? It’s like that, only they aren’t going home, and sometimes they get kind of mad about that. And sometimes I do too.
Obviously, I’m not looking for any sympathy here, and I haven’t forgotten how unbelievably lucky we are to be doing this. It is the experience of a lifetime, and even if it doesn’t feel like that every single day, especially for the kids, it is. As a friend and travel-with-kids veteran told our girls, “you may not appreciate this trip right now, but when you’re older you’ll realize how cool it was of your parents to do it!”. And I guess that there are days when we all need to hang onto that one. Because sometimes we are homesick, sometimes we are tired of our own company, sometimes we are scared, sometimes we really miss our family and friends, and sometimes we really just want someone else to figure it all out for us.
Because, you know, as great as it is, it can be pretty exhausting. And I’m sure if you’re reading this after getting in from an eight hour work day, you’re scoffing contemptuously right now, but I’m all about the honesty of this experience, and I’m telling you, it’s not all raindrops and roses. Most of it is, but not all of it.
So there.

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Hiking The Pyrenees in Flipflops is Not Recommended

Before I begin this post, I want to point out that I am aware there may be children viewing it; therefore, there will be no swear words in it. I am going to leave it up to my readers’ own judgement to insert appropriate swear words where they deem it necessary.
So, let’s start at the beginning. Due to the Roman Robbers (directly before “Roman” would be a great place to insert expletive of your choice – just so you get the hang of it), the only footwear I currently have is flipflops. We have been in the mountains, 1600 meters up (where, interestingly, mosquitos cannot survive) for 72 hours and my mountaineering husband is chomping at the bit to get us out hiking. We have had a couple of little walks, but nothing you would need a map for, so they don’t count really.
Anyway, we have spent the first couple of days settling in, recovering from our long and traumatic journey here, and just getting the lay of the land. But today, we must hike.
So, we set off to the ski town of Font Romeu, where there are a smattering of outdoorsy shops, so I can buy some walking shoes (on the way to Lac de Bouillouse where we will hike).The fact that it took me 3 weeks to find a pair of sneakers before we began this trip should have been an indication that this would not be an easy task, but to be fair, we had briefly checked the stores out yesterday, and I knew there were lots I liked, so I thought it would be fine.
Until I realized it was 11:36, and all the stores in France close from 12-2.
Needless to say, I did not get any shoes. But today was a hiking day, so hike we must. We drove up to the Lake where “we” decided on a shorter route than was originally planned, and headed out. After the first ten minutes (which was more of a steep scramble than a walk), I knew this was not going to be a hike for my flipflop-clad feet, but onward we pressed. Our “guide” was sure this was the steepest part. And it was. But the rest was rough rocky terrain, very little of which I would actually refer to as a path. The girls thought it was great. The two younger ones pretended to be on horses the whole time, and Misty and Sky were often racing ahead of us searching out the little yellow route markers to blaze the trail. The oldest walked along checking the map with her dad, commenting often how beautiful the hike was.
I wouldn’t know. I was busy with my eyes on the ground, painstakingly picking out every step to insure I didn’t lose a toe on a particularly sharp rock or break an ankle as my feet slid around my flipflops. Both eyes on the ground also served the purpose of enabling me to avoid eye contact with other hikers as they passed by with their mountain boots and walking sticks. I can just imagine what they were saying in Spanish or French (I don’t even know for sure what country we were in) about the crazy lady in the flipflops.
After an hour or so, we decided we’d better turn back. It wasn’t quite as sunny as it had been when we started. It was, in fact, 11 degrees and starting to rain.
For those of you who have ever tried to walk in flipflops in the rain, even on a flat surface, I don’t really have to explain to you what it would be like trying to get back down the steep scramble as your feet attempt to find some way to grip the bottom of the sopping wet flipflop so they don’t slide out entirely. I probably would have been better off trying to do it barefoot. Lucky my gallant “guide” was there to support me on the really treacherous parts. Even Misty and Sky struggled with those!
Despite the trials, we made it back in one piece. Toes and ankles intact. I don’t think we’ll be doing anymore hiking until I get some new shoes though.

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Greek Tragedy Act II

So we finally found our hotel, and instead of letting our kids crash like they wanted to, we had to drag them out again because of the one and only chance to see The Acropolis and all that. It’s now 2pm. I ask the vague front desk guy how we get there, and he shows us on the map how to get to the Metro station, informs us we should get off at Monosteraki, and assures us The Acropolis is “very close”. Well, after getting off the train, we walked around for 10 minutes looking for signs or maps to guide us, but no luck, so we just started walking. We could see it, but it was not “very close” and it was very high up, and there didn’t seem to be any clear path.
I would say we waked about a mile, winding in and out of little streets lined with taverna and people selling their wares – all for half price apparently. But no signs. And the ones we did see were so completely covered in graffiti they were impossible to read. In fact, almost everything was covered in graffiti in Athens.
Anyway, after a couple of hours of circling The Acropolis, we had still not found a way in, and every time I asked someone, they just gesticulated and said Acropoli, like, you can’t miss it…
As you can imagine, the kids are starting to lose it. We haven’t had a meal since the previous day, they were exhausted, sticky, hot, and thirsty. So, we basically gave up, sat down at a street cafe, and shared a big Greek taster plate. The kids said they wouldn’t eat, and we didn’t even feel hungry – too hot I think. But when it came, we ate! It was delicious, and it revived us enough that we were able to trudge back to the subway and get back to our hotel.
Turns out, The Acroplolis closed at 2:30 on that particular day. A fact nobody bothered to tell us.

And the hotel air conditioning didn’t work. We had a few tears that night. They wanted to go home. And who can blame them? What a frustrating, soul destroying kind of a day. Mairi called it The Greek Disappointment.

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Greek Tragedy

It is currently 4:30am and so stinking hot I’ve decided to write instead of continue my futile attempts at sleep. We arrived in Athens today, by plane from Rome. So much quicker than the ferry alternative, and according to any online quotes I managed to get, about 700 euro cheaper than the ferry alternative. We knew our window for seeing Athens was small, so we had decided to take a taxi from the airport to our hotel in Pireaus to save time. When we arrived at the taxi stand we were informed that there are no taxis for five people in Greece, so our option was two taxis (about 100 euro) or the bus (about 22 euro). We chose the bus. Which would have been fine except that it took an hour and twenty minutes, and then the driver put us off at the wrong stop, and we couldn’t find our hotel. So, it’s 1pm ish in pireaus on a Sunday. Streets are deserted. Everything is closed. And all the street signs are not just in a foreign language, they’re in a foreign alphabet. We are dragging our luggage around. It’s about 40 degrees in the shade. The slight breeze feels like a hair dryer. And the kids have been up since 5:30am. I know I don’t need to use any descriptive words to explain what that was like.
And that was just the beginning. More later.

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Sat Nav Shenanigans

So, for those who are not aware, a sat nav is a gps system, you know the ones that talk to you and tell you when to turn, what lane to be in, and generally lead you straight to your destination once you plug the address in.
We’ve never actually used one before, but on the way down to St Ives, we tried out the one Dev’s brother had lent us, and by the time we got through the motorway confusion at Birmingham, we were sold! The girls named our sat nav voice “Josie Porgie” and Josie quickly became like part of the family. We praised her constantly, and she got us to Plymouth, then Swanage, without incident. Right to the doorsteps of the places we were staying. Fantastic. We even joked about the sat nav in the Picasso and pretended to be Bryn talking to Nessa….(you’ll understand that if you’re British and you’ve ever watched Gavin and Stacey).
So yesterday morning, we left for France feeling pretty confident, and ready for our 10 hour drive. Josie was fully charged and ready to go. But I wasn’t sure I really liked the way she got us out of Swanage – wasn’t the quickest way. So, we lost an hour there. This should have raised suspicion, but I think she may have been lulling us into a false sense of security. And you know how the rest of that day went if you read my last post…
Then when we finally got to France, Josie kept trying to get us off the highways onto little roads. Little roads that would only add time to our already arduous driving schedule. I started to get cross with Josie and turned her off from time to time. But I forgave her each time for her misdemeanors, and when we were finally able to get her to accept the name of the town in which we had booked our hotel, we went back to full reliance on Josie. Even though the route she was taking us was not the same as the one on the iPad. Which again, should have raised suspicion. But we still trusted her (although not as much, it has to be said). So, when she announced, at 10:30pm (which was already an hour and a half later than we were supposed to arrive), that we had reached our destination, we were very relieved.
Until we realized we were at a motorway service station. With one guy working. Who didn’t speak a word of English. Then I wanted to swear at Josie.
Turns out, she took us to the service station because it was sort of close to where we were going. On the map. But unfortunately, there was no exit to get to it. So after three very stressful attempts at communicating with the guy in the services, during which I realized how bad my French actually sucks, we figured out that we had to drive another 12 km down the highway and then double back on a parallel road to get to the hotel. Meanwhile, I had managed to contact the hotel, and a very stressed and tired sounding woman informed me that reception closed at 10pm (it was now 11), but that she would come back when we got there. When we got there, it was 11:53. Which made the grand total of driving time 14 hours, with three short bathroom stops. This was no sat nav misdemeanor. This was a full on felony.
Josie has been disowned. I turned her off today and shoved her in the glove compartment. If she had been ours, and not on loan, I would have shoved her under the tire. Right before we drove off.
Bitch.

On the up side, when we woke up this morning and ventured outside our hotel (Hotel Arts et Terroirs – which I suspected at midnight last night may mean Arts and Terror, and wondered why I would ever book a place with a name like that), we were deep in the Burgundy region. The little walk down the street to find a bank machine for euros, a post office to pay the toll fine we incurred last night when the toll booth would not take a credit card, and a patisserie for some breakfast, we were greeted with right-out-of-a-movie vineyards as far as the eye could see. It was really beautiful, and we regretted having to rush off so quickly to begin today’s driving adventure.
And another upside to the day was confirmation that we have the three best kids in the world. What other kids would quietly endure 14 hours in a car, making their own sandwiches along the way, and silently panicking as their parents flounder until 11:53pm?

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Ugh.

So today is slightly stressful for me. I can’t seem to control everything. Well, I cant actually control anything!
First of all, we stayed at a B&B in Swanage last night, which was wonderful, don’t get me wrong. That’s not the stressful part. We had a fabulous full English breakfast, our hosts at The Castleton were lovely, and the weather was glorious. There is so much we would have loved to explore there. We managed to get to Monkey World, an ape rescue centre the girls had been dying to go to, and we saw Corfe Castle, a spectacular ruin on top of a hill that literally makes you gasp as it appears on the skyline. We also had a great dinner at la Trattoria, a family owned Italian restaurant. This was all good.
The part that gets a little stressful is that we enjoyed our breakfast from 8:30-9:30, so we were much later getting going than we would have liked. Then everything seemed to take much longer than we thought. We did not make the best route choices, so we were delayed even further by that.
Then when we eventually got to Folkestone to board the Chunnel, went in the wrong lane, had to get out of that lane, only to find out our ticket would have been a LOT cheaper if booked in advance. So then we had to go into the terminal to buy a ticket instead of going straight through. Consequently, we missed the crossing and had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. Then we went into the wrong lane to actually get on the Chunnel, and had to go back and start over. Oh, wait, forgot to mention that when we got to passport control the passports were in the trunk in the bottom of a suitcase. “Who planned this trip?” said the passport officer with a little shake of his head. Hmpf.
So, now, we are finally on the thing (which, if you didn’t know, is a tunnel under the ground under the ocean, as Dev keeps enthusiastically telling the children). So it’s hot and claustrophobic in here, and my ears are popping, and I keep thinking of the fact that we are under the bed of the sea…
Oh well, we’ll be out soon. Then it will be about 4pm, and we will have 6 hours of driving to get to the hotel I booked us for tonight. Excellent. OMG. I forgot we now have to go back to driving on the right. But in a lefty car. And it’s not even 4pm because we just entered a new time zone. It’s 5pm. Crap.

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