Edinburgh…or Edinboooo? + The Trossachs and Beacon Hill

Day 12: After a quick breakfast in Alnwick we drove to Edinburgh… I mean Edinboooo. Granted, I wasn’t there long, but from what I saw I can say I’m not a fan. It’s just not that interesting, everything is grimy, it’s crowded with partying people (reminds me of Vegas that way), and we haven’t even met or heard anyone Scottish. Not even any of the museum, hotel, or restaurant employees are Scots.

Rob wrote, “My general impression of the city is that the main downtown area is just full of tourists and we didn’t see or hear many locals. It is very grimy and dirty and this is something I actually very much liked about the city…as I’ve been known to take photos of trash.”

To get off the streets we visited the National Museum of Scotland and that was really fun. It was more of a general museum, not solely Scottish, but it was big and had tons of interesting things to see.

This printed WWI(?) handkerchief is pretty awesome.

Rob happily went back out to explore and take photos that evening, but I was happy to sit in our awesome hotel room and relax with the kids. I was hopeful that the rest of Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland made up for what Edinburgh lacked.

Day 13: After eating a huge and delicious free breakfast at the hotel we went to the Royal Botanical Gardens (since we missed the Hidcote Manor Garden in the Cotswolds). It was nice.

Our favorite plant was the “Hankie Tree” from China because the one-petaled white flowers are as big as handkerchiefs and hang down from the branches. When the petals fall, they float down and cover the ground. It’s pretty interesting to watch.

Cara didn’t feel too well here so she took quite a bit of coaxing to get through the grounds. She has a super sniffer and was barraged with the various plant scents the entire time. It overwhelmed her.

We then drove through two little neighborhoods in Edinburgh that are old and picturesque. They kind of are, at least. I don’t know, Edinburgh might be fun if you pub crawl, but otherwise it’s a pretty big letdown. We drove over the Firth of Forth on a triple cable stay suspension bridge and Rob loved it.

We stopped at another ancient village on our drive across southern Scotland (we didn’t have time to drive north). This one was tiny…only one street, but really cool. The girls loved playing on the playground while the rest of us took turns walking around and taking pictures.

We ate in Stirling on the way to our cottage. Still hardly heard any Scots within earshot…where are they? They’re in Glasgow and London.

We finished the day driving up to our cottage for two nights in The Trossachs National Park. Upon arriving and exiting the car, the midges attacked. We barely made it into the house before they bit us to death!

Day 14: We finally ran into a few people with real Scottish accents on this day. Cool.

We did a couple of walks. The first was to Bracklin Falls. The water was low but it was cool enough.

The second walk was to Finnich Glen (aka Devil’s Pulpit). We climbed down into a deep, jungle-like gorge and slot canyon area. The water is red, like blood. The green moss and ferns contrasted so well with the red mud and water. It is a stunning scene…a very, very cool spot.

Rob wrote, “Perhaps my favorite outing of the entire trip was the walk and descent into Finnish Glenn and the Devil’s Pulpit. The hike down was treacherous on the moist and degraded steps placed so long ago…no one knows when! It was like being in a different world. The walls were so green with plant life and the water had a red hue due to abnormal mineralogy in the water. Being with my family in such a cool place will be among my most treasured memories with them.”

We then drove over the mountain back to our cottage. Rob made the mistake of stepping out of the car by a lake for a picture. Yikes!! The midges here are atrocious! They were unbearable, even with bug spray, except at Devil’s Pulpit ironically.

After stopping to visit the highland cows and buy souvenirs we pretty much saw and did everything we came here to see and do! I’d call it a success!!

It looks like neither of us had the energy to write about Boston before now, so I’ll try and remember the highlights.

We only had a few hours in this cool city so we spent it in Beacon Hill. Boy, am I glad we stopped here. It was so beautiful, just as beautiful as any European town. I love classic style and there is nothing more classic than colonial brick. We wandered the streets, visited a few parks, and sat on a dock by the river before heading back to the airport. It’s definitely a city I’d love to explore more…maybe on a couple-only trip. That way, we’d really be able to soak it all in.

As a side note, during this trip we managed to lose:

  • 1 hat
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 2 jackets
  • 1 beloved stuffed leopard
  • 5 toothbrushes (later found)
  • 1 credit card (had to be cancelled)
  • 1 wallet (this one was later recovered when the airline manager brought it to our hotel. Sooo nice of him).

Well, at least our luggage was a lot lighter getting home. Sheesh!!

Here are our final thoughts on our British Isles road trip in one sentence from each of us:
  • Rob: “I loved experiencing wonderful and amazing new sights every day, spending time with my family, and just exploring constantly.”
  • Julie: “My family is amazing and I love that we can be adventurous and hardy explorers together through these incredible journeys.”
  • Nate: “I liked exploring Snowdonia because it was really pretty.”
  • Madeleine: “It was very fun and adventurous and I enjoyed it very much.”
  • Caroline: “The castles are scary and McDonald’s is fun.”

Through to Northumberland

 

Day 10: We drove through the Peaks District on more windy roads through wildly beautiful scenery. Peaks is a overstatement as they really seemed more like foothills to me. Despite that it was very lovely.

We walked partway up Mam Tor and stopped in Castleton to wander.

It was funny to see just how much farm cows creep out Rob and the kids. We made our way down a very cool pass (used to be a circle reef) but it was supper short and had no place to park.

Can you tell we were getting short on clean laundry?? It was funny to see how many people though Cara’s clothes to be very odd.

York is a really cool town. There aren’t too many places in the area that would keep our attention for more than a day but York would.

We walked through The Shambles after all the other tourists left for the day. These are very narrow 1400s medieval cobblestone streets lined with crooked houses and shops. It looks very Rumpelstiltskin-esque.


We overnighted at another YHA hostel family bunk room with en-suite bathroom. It was quite nice and cleaner than any of the Holiday Inn’s we’ve stayed at here.

Day 11: Slow start to the morning as it took 45 min to drive 5 miles through York to breakfast. The luscious 2 eggs Benedict with prosciutto for $6 made up for it!

We tried more tide pooling and again didn’t have much luck. Nate was really looking forward to this activity but there just hasn’t been too much to find even though all my online research said otherwise. We found an eel, a few hermit crabs, and one normal crab but we were definitely hoping for more. Right place, right time of day, but wrong time of year?

The girls didn’t like walking on and crunching all the snails underfoot so we mostly stayed ashore.

I led the family out to the most incredible beach in Seahouses. It was insane. We loved playing here.

We saw little piles of extruded sand all over the beach. They were everywhere along with perfectly round holes. We are guessing they are related to some kind of crab movement. Can anyone tell us exactly??

The moss / seaweed growing on the rocks in this area was nearly luminescent in the light of golden hour.

We hopped from rock to rock and played for a couple hours. We found some flat and nearly transparent fish swimming in the calm water. They resembled a few specks of moving sand. Even after catching a couple we could barely see them swimming in the water.

Another night at a YHA hostel in Alnwick and it’s perfect. More people should try these when traveling in the UK. They’re super clean, affordable, and convenient.

On our way back to Alnwick we happened upon the castle viewpoint. This is actually Hogwarts, minus the CG graphics. They filmed all the outdoor courtyard scenes here. Rob was quite struck but the castle in the lovely light.

Tales of Wales

Day 7: We walked across Pontcysllyte Aqueduct in Wales.

We drove through Snowdonia National Park (we came to claim our land!) and, wow, it did not disappoint. Splendor around every curve.

We stayed in a little bunk hut in a forest across from a lake. I thought it was awesome, but some others thought it was creepy, especially after finding a spider in a bed. Rob then slept in his full clothes, including belt…just in case. They all still not-so-fondly remember it as “The Spider Hut”. I thought it was darling and a treat.

I struggled a bit today with feelings that I’m pushing the kids too far out of their comfort zone and ruining their vacation because it’s not an easy, relaxing time. We are driving and hiking and exploring and it’s often quite tiring. But, If I think of this time not as a vacation, but as an adventure, then somehow I feel a little less guilty.

They are enjoying themselves, but I definitely see a completely chill vacation next time. One that doesn’t include laundromats, miles of walking, and different beds each night. Maybe I was a bit selfish when planning all of this. They are learning and growing and seeing and experiencing a ton, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. At least I know they’ll grow to be hardy travelers. Heck, they already are! I hope that’s good enough.

We love hearing the Welsh language! It’s really cool sounding and impossible to impersonate. We tried and couldn’t get even close. One reason we specifically chose to visit the northwest of the country was because it’s still very Welsh here, not British.

Day 8: We hiked up to a little lake behind our cottage in Snowdonia. Ooh La La!! The views! The hills are alive, people! Climb every mountain, everyone!

One funny thing, we had to walk through a meadow where all sorts of herded beasts roam. Madeleine didn’t enjoy this part. She called it Pooplandia.

We played at Squeaky Beach (actually called Whistling Sands). The kids really thought this was great. In fact, they all said it was one of their favorite things of the entire British Isles. When you walk on the sand, it literally squeaks! This is due to the unique shape of the sand particles. Such a silly little thing brought so much joy. Funny. I guess this also happens at a beach in Alabama. Shhh! Don’t tell the kids!

Cara decided she absolutely HATES the feel of being wet and sandy. She stood here for 45 minutes refusing to budge because of the wet sand that wouldn’t brush off of her legs. Fun times.

We slept in a camper van surrounded by sheep and cows. Luckily, the breeze must be in our favor because we don’t smell them. We woke up to birds chirping and sheep bleating.

Day 9: We tried to do a beach again, but the one close by wasn’t nice so we drove to Caernarfon to go crabbing. This is very much a working class town on an inlet to the sea. Both men and women are pretty burly and not much here is prettified for tourists, so that was kinda cool to feel this side of Wales.


We were definitely clueless when it came to trying our hand at fishing for crabs so a local who was walking by stopped to get us going. He was very broad and tough looking but very kind. He hopped right over the dockside ladder and climbed 20 feet down to fill our bucket with water. He showed us what to do and right away Nate caught a big one. He ended up also catching a small one but the rest of them fell off each time he tried to bring up the line.

Next up was Conwy castle. Definitely imposing. Very nice view. Cara did fine here even though she hates castles. She got through it by talking about how she is glad we aren’t royalty because then we’d have to live there. Besides, how did the princesses walk up and down the small, windy staircases in their poofy dresses? That’s what she wanted to know.

The middle part of the day was rough. When packing, I assumed Rob brought his debit card. He assumed we didn’t need one.

We’ve never used our credit cards for a cash advance before so we had no idea what any of our PIN numbers are for them. One bank let us get cash out anyway and we got a little out thinking we’d be able to get more whenever we needed it. However, when the time came, none of the other banks would let us get money out.

Our internet has been super spotty so accessing online stuff and email has also been super spotty. We called two of our credit card banks and one didn’t help us. The other finally did. Also, doing laundry is so annoying because laundromats are not conveniently located.

Another annoying thing is that it seems like we are feeding these little buzzards every hour on the hour. They’re so hungry all the time. It seems like we just drive, eat, drive, eat, drive, eat. They can’t seem to keep their bellies full!

Next vacation = short flight, one big suitcase, no laundry, easy easy easy!! Although I did tell this to Nate and he said, “Why?” I replied “Because I work more on vacation than at home. If we do an easier trip, we’d have way less stress.” He said, “Yeah, and way less fun.”

At the end of the long day we experienced a tender mercy when we needed to find a grocery store. The one in Maps ended up just being a tiny gas station convenience store. We drove away, turning around the wrong corner to get back on the main road.  Lo and behold, a giant super market sat right in front of us (NOT the one on the map. In fact, it didn’t even show up on my map when I searched a couple of minutes earlier).

We felt grateful and relaxed for the rest of the night in a cute little apartment.

The Seven Sisters & The English Countryside

Day 4: We picked up our rental car and hit the road. Rob drove from the Bloomsbury area straight through the center of London over the Thames and straight out.

Our drive out of London was unnerving! …and looong! There aren’t any freeways until waaay outside the city so it was like driving down Main Street in bumper-to-bumper traffic with a stop light every 20 feet for an hour. Then another hour of suburb stop-and-go traffic. Then another hour on the freeway. It was a tough drive but we finally made it to Eastbourne. Rob said, “It was exciting, terrifying, boring, and horrible, all at the same time!”

We are staying in a lovely sea-front Victorian mansion B&B but Cara thinks it’s creepy. I asked why and she says because “it’s an old house and we are the only guests! It seems like they’re going to trap us in the attic.” Man, this girl should write novels.

Rob and I had one of the best pasta dishes ever. Wild mushroom egg fettuccine with cougrette slices (still have to look that one up) and olive oil and pesto with tomatoes and pine nuts and goat cheese (best quality we’ve tasted).

Day 5: When someone found out we were from Utah, he said, “Yeehaw!”

One of the coolest places I’ve been in my life, is the white cliffs at Seven Sisters Country Park (a stand-in for the White Cliffs of Dover in all the movies). Wow. We were nervous going in because there was so much fog we couldn’t see much. I mean, we came from around the world and I’ve always wanted to see these ladies! Luckily the fog actually added to the ambiance rather than took away from it.

First we walked down to the base of these beauties. How cool! There are chunks of actual chalk from the cliff that you can use to write with on the stones.

Next we went to the top of the cliffs. We each took turns laying on our belly and scooting to the edge to look straight down. The entire scene was ETHEREAL in the mist!! It was like I could walk right off the green earth and straight into heaven.

From Rob, “I was quite nervous about this as I knew the rest were planning to look over the edge. Heights make me nervous and cliff faces make me even more nervous. Nothing I could do about it!! We each (except Cara) laid on the ground and looked over the edge. It was actually incredibly serene and calm in the misty and foggy air. Very unique!!! I felt better back away from the edge.”

After that Rob and Nate did the Harry Potter studio tour. They had been looking forward to this for so long!

Day 6: We hired a boat and punted ourselves around a river in Oxford. The first 20 minutes downstream were fun, the second 20 minutes cross stream were somewhat pleasurable, the third 20 mins in the faster upstream current were an exercise in keeping our language clean. Oh, and did I mention Cara almost got decapitated when another boat came right over the top of ours? Luckily she is small and just ducked down, with about an inch of clearance.

Rob: “We took turns with the pole and paddle and both struggled to keep the boat straight. The last bit was pure torture and we barely made it back. There was all kinds of crashing and we could log keep the boat straight to save our lives. We were both really trying!”

We ate a late lunch in Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswold region. Yorkshire pudding, turns out, is just a puffed bread pastry and tastes nice.

We didn’t have time to stop at the Hidcote Manor Gardens which is where we were going to play croquet. So I was disappointed.


We did have time to stop in another Cotswold town, Lower Slaughter, and it was a dream. There was a little stream through town that the kids played in and the tiny roads lined with cottages and English gardens were straight from a storybook.

The kids tried very hard to catch some fish in this little stream. It was so serene and we all loved it.


I love driving through the tree tunnels that line all the narrow country roads. What I don’t love is their 60 mph speed limits. Sheesh! Rob only dares to go 45mph on these country lanes but it still feels like we are flying!

Everyone’s accent is so proper and sing-songy that Rob and I literally sound like cave men while in conversation with anyone. It makes me cringe.

Day 7: We stayed at an older, yet very British hotel at a golf club community with very woodsy interiors and a whiff of high class. Rob got some angry looks in the hotel lobby because he was not wearing my shoes. If there is anything we aren’t, it’s high class.

We started out the day with a swim in the hotel pool.  It was pretty funny because, as Nate said, “We are the only people in here under the age of 84.” We had a fun time snickering/admiring at all the older British men swimming laps in their almost Speedos. I reminded the kids that these were all darn tough men in their earlier days. We then gave the steam room and sauna a try and none of us liked it. It was too hot to breathe.

We walked around the medieval market town of Ludlow with some “black and white” building from as far back as the 1300s. Nate and Rob bought some cheddar cheese to snack on and it was tasty. We played around a castle…no big deal (insert sarcastic wink).

As a side note: How do so many travelers/instagrammers always look so amazing in their travel photos? Holy cow, I can barely get a hat when we are off and away!

London Days

UK Day 1: Flew overnight to London. Most of us didn’t sleep a wink.

Day 2: Sleepy…arrived at hotel and slept for two hours then explored Oxford Circus area, Princess Diana playground, and part of Hyde Park. We ate butternut squash and goat cheese pie with Irish mash and onion gravy. Pretty good!

 

We love red double-decker buses! Much more civilized than regular buses. Nate said, “We can see the top of people’s heads…a rare event!”

London’s new nickname: The Land Where People Still Read Actual Newspapers!

Also, quite a fun city. Nice neighborhoods (of course, we are staying in a nice area so that helps…) and everyone is super friendly and not in an annoying way. Way more pleasant and helpful than New Yorkers and Parisians.

 

 

Day 3: I woke up at 2:30am and was wide awake until 5am Madeleine and I shared a bed…not going to again. Sleeping beside her is like sleeping with a species that requires movement to stay alive…jellyfish? She spreads out like a starfish, kicks me, slides her hand underneath my pillow and moves it around, and likes to stay on my side of the bed.

Jet lag has hit us pretty strong today, I was a little nauseated all morning, we walked much further than I had anticipated (7 miles), and the Tate was a huge letdown…one nightmare inducing “art” piece right after another. We all know they will come back to haunt us at some point while we sleep. The building was an old power station and they used that to their advantage. In some of the creepiest exhibits they even dropped the temp 10 degrees and dimmed the lighting just enough to put you in an uncomfortable state. Rob loved taking pictures in the creepy spaces because that he likes creep photos.

Here we are doing some stretches in one of the exhibits.

 



Big Ben is shrouded in scaffolding and the muggy crowds were not great. Other than those things, it was a great day!








The Borough Marketplace was good. British strawberries aren’t quite as good as French, but still about ten times better than American crunchy non-ripe, dyed-red versions.

 

We took a rest at the hotel, got pizza to go, and then played in the and chased pigeons. Next up, more sleep!



Day 4: Feeling pretty close to normal today. Yay! Went to Buckingham Palace and saw the tops of black fuzzy hats as they paraded past us at about 1,000 ft away. Loved seeing goslings and played at the park for a bit.

The funniest thing is despite their age our kids still love to hit a good park, see the wildlife, and play on the playgrounds. I’m always shocked at this and St. James Park was lovely.

Tried haddock fish and chips. I don’t like fish but a bite of this wasn’t bad at all. Even Madeleine offered to try it for the promise of her own Fanta.

Overall? We really liked London. Didn’t love the crowds and streets of never-ending shopping, but other than that it’s a cool cat of a town.

A Monchau Feeling

Well before we left Monchau I knew it would be my favorite stop in Germany. The architecture and the colors completely grabbed me. We visited the medieval town center dominated by narrow streets, the Rur river, and the half-timbered buildings (structural timber frame is visible on the outside of the structure with plaster, brick, or stone infilling). I love this type of construction because the structural elements are exposed rather than hidden away and are often used to great artistic effect. I’m hoping to see a lot more of these types of buildings on our British Isles trip that is coming up right around the corner!

Monchau is nestled into lush and green hills. I can’t imagine a more appropriate and charming setting for a medieval town. I was smitten. We were caught in a little rainstorm while hiking up a hillside of the town. Under normal circumstances we might be a little annoyed to be wet. However, it seemed so appropriate to rain here that it simply added to the ambiance and our enjoyment of the moment.

I’ve prepared a couple photos that capture a little of this Monchau feeling.

This photo captures some of that medieval timber construction, the Rur river passing between buildings in the midst of the town, and the green hills outside the town. It was taken handheld on May 12th 2017 in Monchau, Germany using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 18mm, 1/250s, f/7.1, and ISO 800. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square the architecture and slightly adjust the white balance.

This photo captures some of German shingle work that I noticed in many of the cities and towns is a favorite detail of mine. Just look at the patterns; the are fantastic! Throw in a little grunginess and I’m as happy as a clam.  It was taken handheld on May 12th 2017 in Monchau, Germany using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 37.4mm, 1/250s, f/8, and ISO 320. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square grunge the photo up a little.

This photo was taken as we were walking back down the hillside into Monchau!

This photo is a great little example of the small and narrow streets in Monchau.

This one is of Julie and the kids taking in the scenery.

We didn’t do anything out-of-the-ordinary…but that doesn’t mean we did nothing extraordinary

We didn’t do anything out-of-the-ordinary…but that doesn’t mean we did nothing extraordinary.
This spring, we:

Celebrated life at 38 years old…

Explored the world…
We watched the Olympics Opening Ceremony and found ALL the represented countries on our map.



Appreciated fine workmanship…

The BYU Museum of Art hosted two wonderful exhibits simultaneously. One was E.C. Escher (famed “Impossible Constructions” artist) and the other was Tiffany stained glass. Nate’s a big fan of the illusions and I’ve always been a big fan of these lamps.
The kids and Rob were studying this display of different glass and I was elsewhere. Nate asked Rob to choose two favorites. A couple of minutes later I came over and Nate asked the same of me. 
Guess what? Out of all these samples, I happened to choose the same two favorites that Rob chose. Match made in heaven, we are!
Were awestruck by nature’s resilience (and OUR OWN!)…

Worked hard and went for it…

Visited the House of the Lord as an eternal family…
Played a prank on mom (who HATES PeeWee!)…

Expanded newly discovered brain cells…
Played at the Happiest Place on Earth in Utah…

Nate doesn’t look quite as happy here as he did on Cannibal.
Snuggled our peeps…


Created joy through craft…

Can you see Nate in his tank (with working gun)?
Every so often we clean out the fridge/freezer and pantry and let the kids “cook” 
with all the throw-away ingredients. They get such a KICK out of this tradition! It started when Nate was a wee lad of 2 and I caught him “cooking” in the kitchen with food he found.
  
Now he’s making stuff like this!
And we basically just keep growing up way too fast!
These are extraordinary days that will be cherished forever.

Our Ballroom Babe

Madeleine joined the school’s ballroom team this year. She loved every minute of it! With her mix of choreography memorization skills and theatric pizzazz, she wowed Rob and I every time she got on the dance floor.

She went to practice twice a week before school and practiced in our family room every afternoon. She loved going to competitions and really enjoyed being part of a team.

Her team did really well and went to state (which is where Rob and I had our first encounter with a real dance mom…Scary and yet so hard to look away!).

We are so impressed with her instructors and are grateful that they work so hard to give these kids an amazing experience.

Madeleine had quite the birthday this year. She decided months earlier that she wanted to use her present and party budget (and saved her own money) and stay overnight in a hotel with her cousin. We had a lot of fun! Since the hotel was mostly paid for with points, she was able to choose some fun activities to do including going to Classic Fun Center, a movie, and Build-a-Bear.

When we arrived back at home, she found her sister had made a surprise for her…rice krispie treat hedgehogs!

 

Although her celebration had already been a blast, Rob and I decided to throw her a surprise party anyway…at SWIG! It was a swinging success!

While we are on the subject of Madeleine, I have a funny story:

Madeleine and I had a dentist appointment this week. She has a cavity and I have one from a couple of years ago that needs to be redone. She really wasn’t looking forward to it. The day came and I was still congested and getting over a cold. I decided to reschedule and when I called they asked if I wanted to reschedule Madeleine’s as well. “Why yes, let’s do that,” I said.

Madeleine came home from school and immediately started crying because she was so nervous. I broke the good news to her and said we were going to sneak away to go shopping together instead. Well now that cheered her right up, of course! So off we went to the Outlets.

She requested mini pretzels and we sat down on a bench in the lovely sun eating them together. I remarked, “This is nice!” She responded,

“Yep! I would be sitting in a chair with a weird man hovering over me,

but instead I’m sitting on a bench…eating pretzels…

like a BOSS!”

I laughed pretty hard and told her I love how funny she is. She says “I know. It’s one of my great qualities.”

Sure is!

Not a Sit-Your-Butt-On-The-Beach-And-Don’t-Move-It Kind of Trip

I’ve been trying to decide which topic to write about this time (how vulnerability rather than strength allows us to connect with each other, or, musings on why so very few of our friends and family members “like” or comment on my blog posts, or, the enormous blessings that have resulted from therapy and a lot of hard work, for example) but I just wasn’t feeling any of those this time. Over the years I’ve learned that my best writing happens when my brain starts racing, sentences begin to form in my mind, a spurt of energy comes, and I feel a sudden rush of urgency. I’ve tried following those cues to guide me when it’s time to put thoughts onto pages.

As I was thinking about the above topics, I just wasn’t feeling any of these physical and mental signs this time. But what else is there to write about these days? Then, as soon as I started thinking about documenting our upcoming trip, all those feelings came. So that’s what I’m going to focus on today and I’m excited!

In a future post, I’ll go into specifics about my process of financing and planning our trips…because it IS a process! This time, one that’s taken 9 months to fund and 4 months to organize. However, since I finished all of that and am now in the waiting game (6 weeks to go!), I want to focus this post on the more fun side of things and just tell you want our plans entail. Eeee!! We are so excited!

Great-Britain

Through the sometimes arduous task of deciding where we go next (dependent upon airline and hotel point availability, easy flights, season and weather, where I’m not susceptible to getting sick, etc.) we settled on a road trip through parts of England, Wales, and Scotland. Ireland was included originally but it quickly became apparent how much we’d have to cut out of Great Britain to make it work. Something had to give. Actually, LOTS of things had to give. There are just too many amazingly incredible places to visit in these countries! We had to do a lot of focusing and zeroing in on the places we ultimately felt we would enjoy the most.

Here’s rundown of our itinerary, subject to any needed flexibility when we’re actually on the ground:

  1. Fly nonstop red-eye from SLC to London.
  2. Take the train to our hotel in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London. After resting up, we’ll take a double-decker bus to Big Ben and Kensington Gardens. We’ll walk through the gardens to the Princess Diana Playground.
  3. Ride the River Thames ferry to the Tate Modern Museum and eat our way through Borough Market. We’ll also walk across the Jubilee Footbridge when it’s lit up at night.
  4. Explore the Mayfair and Marylbone neighborhoods (or Notting Hill?). Head to St. James Park to watch the Cavalrys Parade and Changing of the Guard. Then we’ll pick up our rental car and head out of town to Eastbourne, a Victorian seafront town on the south coast.
  5. Go see the white cliffs at Seven Sisters Country Park, walk along the beach, and do some rockpooling (tidepooling). That night, Rob and Nate have plans to do the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour. The girls and I will relax at the hotel.
  6. Rent a punting boat in Oxford and do a self-tour. Drive/walk through a couple of the Cotswold villages and play croquet at Hidcote Manor Garden.
  7. Stop at Ludlow (medieval town) and walk across the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct on our drive through Wales to Snowdonia National Park.
  8. Play on the beaches of the Lleyn Peninsula (most Welsh part of Wales).
  9. Try our hand at crabbing and visit Conwy Castle.
  10. Drive Winnat’s Pass to Castleton in the Peaks District and on through to York.
  11. Stop at Hadrian’s Wall and wherever else suits our fancy on the northeast coast.
  12. Visit Edinburgh’s Old Town and Royal Mile.
  13. Explore more Edinburgh, Culross, and drive to The Trossachs National Park.
  14. Hike through the forest to see Braklinn Falls and Devil’s Pulpit.
  15. Fly out of Glasgow (possibly stopping at the Necropolis on the way) back to London and catch our late afternoon flight to Boston.
  16. Walk Beacon Hill and maybe Boston Common or Feneuil Marketplace. Fly home!

Oh! One more thing I want to do while there…keep an ongoing list of all the new words/slang we can use in our speech once we are home. Their verbiage is so great and it’d be so fun to sprinkle it in whenever we feel like raising some eyebrows!

Half of our lodgings are normal Holiday Inn type of places, but I did book us in a few gems:

  • Victorian seaside row house B&B
  • YHA (youth and family hostels)
  • Mobile home by the beach
  • Hut in the woods of Snowdonia
  • A vestry (little apartment attached to an 1800s church)
  • Stately luxury hotel on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
  • Converted manor house garage apartment in a mountain village

Animals we are endeavoring to see:

  • Shire or Clydesdale horses and Shetland ponies
  • Lots of starfish, crabs, etc.
  • Puffins
  • Highland cows

Food we are endeavoring to eat:

  • Fish and Chips
  • Scones with jam and clotted cream
  • Banoffee pie
  • Norfolk crab
  • Blakewell pudding
  • Hot cross buns
  • Rarebit
  • Jacket potatoes
  • Various cheeses
  • Sticky toffee pudding
  • Aberdeen angus beef
  • Scottish eggs
  • Lobster roll
  • Cod

That’s it! Easy peasy! Haha, don’t worry, I’m not daft. I DO realize that this itinerary (and menu) is NOT for the faint of heart or for those who actually like to RELAX on their vacation. This is more for the family who likes to see and do (and eat) as much as they can because they wonder if they’ll ever return to this part of the world again. This is for the family who loves the drive through the landscapes and towns as much as the destinations at the end of the road. This is the stuff that gets my blood flowing and my mood high. Ooooh, I LOVE it!

Maybe our next trip will just be a sit-your-butt-on-the-beach-and-don’t-move-it kind of trip…but I doubt it.

T is for Twelve, Temple, and Tourette

**I had a heart-to-heart with Nate in preparation for this post. I wanted to make sure that, since he is getting older and everything, he is still okay with me blogging about him and his experiences. I want to respect his privacy. He thought about it and told me he really is fine with it but if he ever changes his mind, he’ll let me know.**

This birthday was a big one. Nathan Robert turned 12! All he wanted to do was take his friends to see the new Star Wars movie so that’s exactly what went down. What a fun, great group of boys surrounding him! They learn a lot from each other and always enjoy hanging out and being typical boys. Personally, I’m grateful for these boys’ parents who are raising fine young men. Nate is very blessed!

Nate graduated primary. Although not required, he decided to work and earn his Faith in God certificate by developing his talents, serving others, studying and journaling, and teaching his family about some of the principles of the gospel.

For his Aaronic Priesthood ordinance, my parents and Rob’s parents came for the occasion. After the ordination blessing, the bishop gave the grandparents an opportunity to say a few words. Our dads said some nice words and helped keep the spirit in the room. Then it was my turn. Nate and I both got emotional as I told him that I don’t expect perfection from him, that we will both make mistakes through this new “teenage” phase of our relationship, and that we will keep loving each other no matter what. It may not sound like much, but since I know my son and I know myself a little better these days, it was exactly what needed to be expressed. We had a special mother/son connection happen in that moment and we both felt safe, accepted, and loved. It’s a memory I will never forget.

The next Sunday he passed the Sacrament for the first time and it’s been awesome seeing him take on that responsibility.

Next up was his first trip to the temple to do Baptisms for the Dead. Rob and I have been using the Take a Name LDS Family History app which searches for missing ordinances in your family line. It’s found quite a few for us so we had some family names to do. Nate chose to go to the Draper Temple. Rob stood in to baptize and confirm him. It was a great experience. Afterward, we went out for Utah scones.

Now, for the Tourette Syndrome portion of the post (most people say Tourettes with an S, but technically that is incorrect). I noticed Nate’s first tic when he was around four years old but just recently took him in to be officially diagnosed. A tic is an involuntary, repetitive movement or vocalization. Now, Tourette is usually recognized as bursting out swear words uncontrollably. Yes, that’s possible, but only in the most severe cases and is not very common at all. Here are the more common tics, all of which Nate has had over the years (Little Cara is also developing her own tics, including face and eye movements and arm jerks):

  • Throat clearing
  • Sniffling
  • Repetitive eye blinking
  • Stretching eyes wide open
  • Nostril flaring  
  • Stretching mouth open
  • Crunching face
  • Tongue clicking at the back of the throat
  • Different breathing patterns
  • Overemphasized (almost violent) head shaking
  • Stumbling repeatedly over the first few words of a sentence

Each of these tics come and go and he experiences at least two of them simultaneously. Each phase lasts a couple of months before moving on to the next batch of tics. They get really activated by stress, fatigue, excitement. They calm down when he’s relaxed. At their worst, he tics a couple of times per minute for a couple of weeks straight. This is the hardest time because it’s harder for him to concentrate, gives him headaches, and is exhausting both mentally and physically. As he’s reached puberty they have really kicked into high gear, which is normal. If his tics get too obtrusive or the social implications get worse as he goes through junior high and high school, medication is an option. Although he will always have this syndrome, the more noticeable tics usually slowly fade away in severity until adulthood.

The cause of Tourette Syndrome is unknown, but genetics play a clear role. TS commonly co-occurs with a number of other conditions, including ADHD, OCD, anxiety, sleep problems, etc. Nate has some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but they haven’t been too serious and we’ve been able to manage them just fine.  

Nate is fairly easy-going with all of this (unless his tics give him a headache). He understands that everyone has “something” that is “different” about them and this just happens to be his “something different”.

I have to give praise again to the parents and teachers in this neighborhood. Nathan has NEVER been made fun of for his tics, even when they’ve been at their worst at school. All the kids in his classes accept him just the way he is and that has made his life with Tourette so much easier on him. I’ve meant to thank some of you personally, but just know that you have touched my mother heart. Thank you, thank you for teaching your kids and your students to be kind.

Nathan has always pretty sensitive, but through our own emotional immaturity, Rob and I used to push him to “buck up” and not feel things so deeply. Through heaven’s help, we’ve learned how unfair that can be so we’ve done a bit of a 180-degree turn on that way of parenting. Now, it’s fine if he feels sad or upset over something…even if we don’t understand why. Now, we listen. We hug. We empathize. We try to understand and help him to understand his own deep feelings. This approach has been incredibly rewarding for all of us.  

I find myself saying, a lot lately, “He’s twelve now…” This is my way of reminding myself that he can make more and more of his own choices. He gets more freedoms but also more responsibility. It’s also a way of “pinching” myself that my little boy is not so young anymore. As I look at his pictures and videos of past years, I just can’t believe his intelligence, kindness, and humor. This boy is MY boy and I love him so dearly. He’s really close to all of our hearts.