Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Things I Have Learned

January 27: Catching Up

While going through paperwork this week, I came across a list that I wrote ten years ago at the completion of my first year of full-time teaching. I taught middle school that year, with a student roster of 200+ kids. I was out of my depth and completely overwhelmed.

Here's what I wrote in very precise penciled block letters at the end of that year:

1. Leave no loopholes.
2. A loaned pencil is a lost pencil.
3. Seventh graders have the worst breath.
4. Teachers don't work for the paycheck.
5. 75% of the work for the day's lesson should take place before the lesson. (I would now bump that percentage up even more.)
6. Parents are the root of almost every evil.
7. We don't teach a subject - we teach a child.
8. Don't ask a sarcastic question unless you want a sarcastic answer.
9. Wear comfortable shoes. (If you are a guy, you probably do this anyway.)
10. Never seem intimidated.
11. Beware of the button-up dress. (These are out of style now... and probably were even when I wore them, come to think of it.)
12. Keep a bottle of static guard in your bag. (Also band aids, mouth wash, and wipes.)
13. Use every second. "Fill the unforgiving minute," Kipling. (Yes, I included the quote. I was pretentious even then.)
14. Use the summer to work ahead.
15. Nap on Sunday afternoon.
16. Keep a journal of ridiculous things students say. (Do this! I often forget to jot things down and then wanted to kick myself later.)
17. Don't get dressed in the dark. (Still haven't learned this lesson.)
18. Always maintain self-control. (Pray!)
19. Do not ignore the annoying student.
20. Invest in air fresheners.

Things I'd add now:
21. Eat a good breakfast and pack a good lunch. The importance of these cannot be underestimated. Low blood sugar makes every problem feel insurmountable. (I'm much better at accomplishing the former than the latter.)
22. Return all calls and emails promptly, especially the ones you dread.
23. Don't be afraid to forestall some student questions. Responses like 1) "we're getting to that later in the week," and 2) "that's a really good thought, but a little bit too off topic," and 3) "why don't you look it up and let us know tomorrow what you find out," are perfectly acceptable. If you do put a question off to the next day, put the burden of bringing it up again on the student, not yourself. Say, "If you remember to ask that again tomorrow towards the beginning of class, we'll discuss it." Using #3 puts off the students who just like to use questions to side-track you.
24. Try to recruit a local business owner to sponsor your class: provide magazine subscriptions, $ aid for field trips, or even out-of-classroom experience. Depending on your subject matter and the local business available to you, this can be very beneficial. (It has not been super helpful for me, but I have seen other teachers pull it off.)
25. Remember that the first year is often an emotional low for many teachers. Don't make emotion-based decisions if you can avoid it. A few weeks of summer vacation will do worlds of good for your equilibrium; however, nothing will give you proper perspective on your first year except for successive years spent in the classroom.
26. Laugh at yourself. The kids are going to do it anyway.
27. Not every teacher can discipline the same way, but whatever your style, be consistent.
28. Bear in mind that the longer the project, the more you will have to grade.
29. Don't fall into the bribing-them-with-goodies trap. Make your rewards non-tangible. For example, if the kids are especially good one day, reward them by using a few minutes at the end of class to tell them about an amusing dream you had the night before or to share with them a personal anecdote from your childhood. (This will only count as a reward if you don't waste class time doing this whenever things of that sort pop into your head.)
30. Don't friend your students on Facebook, Twitter, or Myspace. They are not your friends, and you will want distance from them when you come home at night.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Hurricane Rita, originally uploaded by alpoma.

All Floridians know what June 1 - November 30 means: Hurricane Season! And this year, what with one thing and another, I have put off getting ready. Renting an apartment, we have less to do than actual home owners (maintenance takes care of putting up our shutters, for one thing) but there are still several things we need to take care of ourselves.

What Needs to be Done to Prepare:
1. Stock supply kit with bottled water, non-perishable food items, flashlight, duct tape, etc.
2. Buy batteries for the mini portable TV.
3. Find mini portable TV.
4. Keep stash of cash on hand in case of bank closures. (Note to self: DO NOT SPEND ON CHEESEBURGERS!)
5. Re-stock candles and matches. (Don't forget candle holders this time. Remember the Great Wax Gobs of '05!)
6. Find flashlight(s).
7. Find portable radio.
8. Attempt to force sister to sit down and help make our Family Plan.
9. Endure relentless mocking from said sister.
10. Resist the temptation to eat food from the supply kit until hurricane season is actually over.

What I have done so far:
1. Listened to Hurricane Preparedness public safety announcements on the radio.
2. Made the above list.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Sustenance, originally uploaded by Jeremy Snell.

Our sense of perception seemed to be tuned in to a different and clearer reception, and we smelt, saw, and listened to everything around us as if we were tiny children witnessing nothing but miracles. All these little things were everyday matters, such as a little drop of water shaping up to fall from the tip of a green leaf. We let drops spill from our hands to see them sparkle like jewels against the morning sun. No precious stone polished by human hands could shine with more liveliness than this liquid jewel in the flame of the sun. We were rich; we could bail them up by handfuls and let them trickle by the thousands through our fingers and run away, because an infinity of these jewels kept pouring out of the rock. The melodious dance of the little stream below us, formed of this treasure, tempted us to shake pink hibiscus flowers from the branches and let them sail away, rotating and leaping down the tiny rapids between the smooth boulders. They were messengers to the sea, the magician's kettle that gave birth to all life, the perpetual purifier that cleaned the ugly village water from the river's mouth and sent it skyward and back to the hidden birthplace of our little spring.

Humanistic overtones and youthful idealism aside, I'm very much enjoying Thor Heyerdahl's Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature, an account of his one-year stay on an island in the Marquesas group in Polynesia.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Things Are Looking Up

This view never gets old

As if I weren't already enjoying my summer to the fullest - lounging around the beach, reading books cover to cover, drinking iced tea all day long, etc. - I am suddenly alerted that things are even more interesting than they appear on the surface:

Things Are Looking Up

(And this had better not be referring to my bald neighbor with the weird beard who wanders around outside in his boxer shorts, talking loudly on his Bluetooth. Or that pudgy tenor in community choir who gives everybody the stink eye.)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I do believe that although she is no longer young, this summer still has adventures aplenty in store.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Reading

I apologize for not keeping up with my book posts. Here you'll find May, June, and part of July. Check back at the end of the summer for the rest!

* * * * *

I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar: A Collection of Egregious Errors, Disconcerting Bloopers, and Other Linguistic Slip-Ups, Sharon Eliza Nichols
The featured mistakes are humorous, but the editorial asides often less than witty. Also, an overabundance of apostrophe errors -although highlighting an obvious flaw in our cultural understanding of our own language and providing a troubling commentary on the failure of our educational community as a whole - tends to foster a slight feeling of monotony after the first few chapters. I find Nathan's "Proof That We're Getting Dumber" collection both more varied and enjoyable. 3/5

Fair Blows the Wind, Louis L'Amour
I don't mind flashbacks, but this one felt overdone. Still, one can always count on Louis L'Amour for a decent story with lots of action, detail, and just enough emotional texture to lend depth to the tale. Worth reading, but not his best ever. 2/5

The Cherokee Trail, Louis L'Amour
I actually picked this one up forgetting that I'd read it before. About thirty pages into it, the story clicked, but I was having such a good read that I kept at it and slurped the entire thing down in a day. The story's good enough to stand a second reading: lots of action, humor, and intelligence. It's one of my favorite L'Amour books, and unlike his usual fare, actually has a woman as the central character. Oh, and Temple Boone? *fans face* 4/5

Agent to the Stars,
John Scalzi
Protagonist Tom, a Hollywood agent, takes on the mind-boggling task of making a race of smelly, gelatinous aliens presentable to the world. Witty, biting, well-plotted, and extremely entertaining, with just enough substantial subtext to give the story value.

One caveat: true to the setting, the characters' language can be rather appalling at times. I advise discretion for more conservative readers. 4/5

Blackout, Connie Willis

According to the customer/reader reviews, people either love it or hate it. Me? I LOVED it. Guided by the sure hand of Connie Willis, readers experience all of the tension and drama that we've come to expect along with subtle touches of humor and pathos that lend so much humanity to her writing. I'd say it's a must-read companion to her other time-travel stories in Doomsday Book, "Fire Watch," and To Say Nothing of the Dog. Can't wait for the companion volume to be released this fall! 4.5/5

The Kane Chronicles, Book 1: The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan

As excited as I was to get my hands on this new offering by Rick Riordan, I certainly took my time finishing it. Part of the delay was a result of a VERY busy weekend, but I'm sorry to say that the other part was just a general lack of interest on my part. All of the elements that made Percy Jackson a hit seem to be there (the humor, the mythology, the awesome chapter titles) but for some reason the story just didn't seem to jive for me. Oddly enough, one thing I actually LIKED was the dual-narration, and that's generally something that I do NOT care for in a book. So strange. At any rate, I will be finishing the series and although this did not live up to the extremely high expectations that my love for the Percy Jackson series had raised, I will say this is much better than the majority of what's out there in children's fiction. 3/5

Shakespeare's Sonnets, William Shakespeare

Second time reading these all the way through, although of course some of them I've read time immemorial. (I'd like to blame that on school, but I really can't.) The three things that struck me this time through were as follows:
1) Shakespeare gives me a little nod in #132. Thanks, buddy!
2) He plays around with "foul" and "fair" quite a bit throughout the sonnets, which makes me wonder if those concepts were part of his focus all through his career, of it those particular sonnets happened to be written around the same time as Macbeth (in which "foul" and "fair" are running themes. I suppose this could be researched, but I'm just not up to that level of scholarship).
3) I don't remember noticing before that he uses his own name in several wordplays. I suppose where there's a Will, there's a way! (Sorry!)

Favorites: #23, 27, 36, 42, 60, 116, and 139. Favorite quotes would be too many to share! 5/5

The Want-Ad Killer, Ann Rule
The stars are for the writing, of course, (which with Ann Rule is always superb) but certainly not for the story, which was tragic! Am astounded not only at how long it took investigators to pin the murders and rapes on Harvey Carrigan but at just how twisted and mentally ill the man actually was. 4/5

Trial Run, Dick Francis
Borrowed from Bethany while we were on the road (as I left my other true crime story on a coach bus). Not at all displeased with my first foray into Dick Francis. Writing passable, humor fair to moderate, plotting interesting. Nothing stellar, but a good solid read. 2.5/5

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
I honestly don't understand why this is one of his lesser-known works. The plot is of course rather intricate, as most Dickens plots are, but not impossible. While I will admit to having trouble keeping up with all the characters in some of his longer novels (Bleak House being one), I had no such difficulties this time. The characterization is absolutely stunning, with characters like Pancks, Young John, Mrs. Finching, and Mr. F's Aunt absolutely leaping off the page. Everything about this book charmed me: the chapter titles, the original illustrations, the mind-bogglingly complex sentence structures seamed together so flawlessly, and of course the tender sweetness of Little Dorrit soaring over it all. 5/5

Henry IV: Part 1, William Shakespeare

Watched a performance of this at The Globe when we were in London earlier in the month, and decided that a read-through would be the way to get everything cemented well in my mind. I must say, having read and studied Henry V out of sequence, the scenes regarding Falstaff's death will make MUCH more sense to me now!

I absolutely adore the ridiculousness in the beginning (the double theft of Prince Hal and Poins) and the play-within-a-play feel in the middle when first Falstaff then Hal pretend to be the King. Hotspur's melodramatic pronouncements had me in stitches, and the only disappointment here would be the relative static quality of the small female roles, although in a play of this nature that is only to be expected.

All the seriousness of war sobers the later acts and, along with the gravity of the first scene, bookends the play nicely. 4/5

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe,
Bill Bryson
I've finally read the end of this one (as I left my copy on a plane earlier in the summer) just today, standing in the aisle at Barnes & Noble. I only had the last chapter left to read anyway: a short little bit about Istanbul.

When it comes to hilarious travel bumbles, absolutely stunning descriptions, and delightful verbal manoeuvrings, nobody does travel writing quite like Bill Bryson. 4/5

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, Bill Bryson

After reading this book, I can certainly sense a difference between his earlier and later writing: not just the style has changed, but the overall tone and perspective has changed as well. For the better, of course!

Here in The Lost Continent, young Bryson comes across as difficult to please, truculent, and eager to judge/insult. Although this lends humor (especially during his visits to small Midwest towns) it does become a bit wearing after a time. 3.5/5

Shadow of the Lynx, Victoria Holt

Victoria Holt, how are you so awesome? You make the central characters seem sympathetic even when I don't particularly like them; you keep me on the edge of my seat in wicked suspense; you make me wonder if happy endings are possible, then make me wonder if I even want a happy ending. VH, you have ruined all other Gothic suspense novels for me, probably forever. In short, thank you for being you! (It's almost enough that I'll forgive you for everything you wrote as Philippa Carr!) 3.5/5

Light Raid, Connie Willis

Third complete read-through of this ridiculously enjoyable futuristic spy thriller. 5/5

Jingo, Terry Pratchett
Good times, convoluted plots, and laughs aplenty. I would like to point out that were Carrot real, I would hunt him down and wed him. (Also, have the strange feeling that I'm missing a lot of back story, having read none of the books between this one and Guards! Guards! Must make up for the lapse.) 3/5

Dragon Keeper: Volume 1 of the Rain Wilds Chronicles, Robin Hobb

When it comes to creating fully-developed worlds with well-expounded histories, cultures, and social mores, Robin Hobb reigns supreme. The ideas both of delving further into the Rain Wilds (and beyond) and of exploring dragon/Elderling lore intrigued me, and I must say that the novel lived up to my expectations on those fronts.

This series follows the way of the Liveship books when it comes to grit. Not to be too explicit, but I'd say one particular storyline took to the same tune of one that set me slightly against the Liveship tales; actually it's the same tune in a slightly different key, if you get my drift.

That being said, I respect Robin Hobb's ability to build suspense, tightly interweave her threads of conflict, expose human nature, and win my concern and sympathy for a wide array of characters, even the those of doubtful morals and lifestyles.

I don't think anything she'll ever write will live up to the standard she set in the initial Farseer trilogy, but I am willing to keep reading along just in case she does. 3.5/5

Dragon Haven: Volume 2 of the Rain Wilds Chronicles, Robin Hobb
Tore through this one in fewer than 24-hours less out of infatuation with the storyline than the sheer drive to overcome the suspense of how it would all turn out in the end. Even when I come to despise a fair number of her characters, the drive to push onward through her tales cannot be denied. One thing I will say for Robin Hobb is that she's never failed to be gripping. Failed to be morally satisfying, compassionate, lyrical and restrained? -Yes, of course. But boring? -Never. 3.5/5

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

UK Travelogue Part 14: Our Final Act

Friday, June 11

The first time I woke up, the feeble (and grey) light of morning had been attempting (and mostly failing) to penetrate the thick curtains which we had most decidedly pulled the night before. The second time I awoke, it was to hear the bells chiming the eight o’clock hour.

Ah, the bells of St. Paul’s . Even my soul could feel them chiming.

Millenium Bridge Jump!

Neither of us felt ready for an early start, nor did we feel the need, what with the object of our morning -- the Cathedral -- within a stone’s throw of our hostel. At nine o’clock, we rousted ourselves from the room and trotted across the street. The cathedral actually opens to visitors at 8:30, but we had definitely beaten the rush.

And oh, my soul! The mosaics, the marble, the statues, the dome. All beauty, beauty, beauty. Of course, there are to be no pictures taken by guests within the cathedral, and since I am at heart a rule follower (shocking but true) you'll have to content yourself with this virtual tour. Be sure to put a bib on first, though, in case you drool.

After spending a respectable amount of time gawking, we first descended down to the crypt (to gawk some more at the massive monuments to Wellington and Nelson). Then we ascended… and I do mean ASCENDED. I climbed only as far up as the Whispering Gallery. Not too shabby at 259 steps. It's said that the Whispering Gallery is so named because due to its construction, a whisper against the wall on one end can be heard on the other end by anybody willing and able to place an ear against it and wait. We failed to test this theory in part because when we arrived I was out of breath, Bethany was zealous to reach the top, and most of all we didn't know this pertinent detail at the time. So we'll save whispering insults at one another from the inside of a massive, circular dome nearly 100 feet in the air for next time.

As previously hinted Bethany persevered all the way to the Golden Gallery, where she treated herself to dizzying panoramic views of London. (You can check that out on the virtual tour as well by clicking "View from the Top.") Although visibility was decidedly sketchy due to the rain, Bethany came down glowing with joy, babbling of the "bracing wind" and epic sound of the bells letting it rip what seemed like two inches from her head. I'd forgotten to lend her the camera, of course; hence no photographic proof.

Meanwhile, while Bethany had been clambering around the outer Golden Gallery 280 feet in the air, I'd been creeping around the edges of the Whispering Gallery, occasionally peering over the hand rails in horror. Oddly enough, I found that looking up at the dome from that level produced almost more of a whooshing feeling in my stomach than looking down. I sat back against the wall of the dome, marveling once again at the quirkiness of life (my life, anyway) and attempting to eavesdrop on the conversation of five enthusiastic Chinese college students who were rushing around the Whispering Gallery excitably. Judging by the volume of their conversations, they must not have known about the whisper trick either. (Then again, Chinese is a difficult language to speak quietly. At least for some.)

Once I'd tired of this, I tiptoed back down the oodles of steps to wait for Bethany at the bottom. She returned in due course, full of vigor and babbling a lot of nonsense about bracing winds and sweeping views.

We made below stairs for the café and shop that adjoin the crypt.



Some may find sitting within spitting distance of a grave a bit of an appetite killer, but those people have probably never experienced the sort of famishing and lightning-strike hunger that often accompanies Jet Lag. Although it was still technically morning, we split a chicken salad sandwich whilst guzzling our caffeinated beverages of choice: cappuccino and Coke.

Shakespeare’s Globe became our second outing of the day, conveniently placed within walking distance just over the Thames via Millennium Bridge. We acquired tickets for the night’s show -- Henry IV, Part 1 -- then toured the Exhibition and, of course, visited the shop.

Globe Exhibition

Bethany's contribution

My Homeboy

With several hours to kill before the show, we hopped the Underground and made for the Victoria and Albert Museum.

At the Victoria and Albert

For one thing, we’d been wanting to see it. For another, it had been a while since Bethany had been able to get in a good ride on the subway. This would be one of her last chances. I thought it might be fitting to commemorate the occasion by singing a few bars of a little something while waving our travel cards over our heads.... but of course I was alone in this idea.

But whatever.

Dinner turned out to be a bit of a fail. Acknowledging that we'd pretty much eaten Italian food the entire trip, we stopped in at a local Fish & Chips place.

Fish & Chips

We realized belatedly (after ordering) that all of the food had been precooked and was sitting inside glass cases, just waiting to be scooped out and ladled onto plates. Sort of like a buffet without the doubtful pleasure of dishing up your own food. My chicken and potatoes had good enough flavor, but alas, had been under the lights for an indeterminate amount of time. Bethany fared somewhat better with her bangers & mash.

(And before you ask why I I didn't get the fish and chips, I'll head you off at the pass: I don't like fish, okay? No, I really don't. Some people don't like fish. Some don't like peanutbutter. It's a weird world.)

But so what if my chicken was a little less than fresh. Who was I to complain? I was on a two-week vacation, in London, with an awesome sister; I had food to eat, money in my pocket, and a ticket to see what promised to be some excellent evening entertainment. Taken in perspective, a little rubber chicken wasn’t enough to dim the glow.

We made it back to the hostel with just enough time for a shower before tripping merrily back across the Thames to line up with the other groundlings outside the Globe.

Going to Henry IV

And may I just take a moment here to say how pleased I am that whoever runs things over at the Globe (and I really should know who, since I spent all that time lolling about over at the Exhibition earlier in the day) has held to Shakespeare's ideal: that cheap, standing tickets should be kept part of the program. Now, the tickets cost more than the penny that they did in Shakespeare’s day; however £5 is cheap enough that a good show - excellently acted, I might add - stays available to the masses.

And my word, did we have a good time!

She thought I was crazy

Shakespeare's Globe

The acting? All top-notch. The music? Well-done. Harry/Hal? So expressive, and funny, which I didn't expect. Falstaff? An absolute riot. Hotspur? Amazingly dramatic & hilarious, probably my single favorite contribution to the experience. The Douglas? Well, Bethany nearly passed out.

And at the end, instead of taking traditional curtain calls, the entire cast danced around on stage.

We loved it.

After the show, when our feet were tired of standing and the muscles in the smalls of our backs seemed to have been replaced by a lot of knotty walnuts, we spent the quick walk back to the hostel congratulating ourselves on our good fortune in being able to see such a play in such a place in such company.

At the Globe

* * * *

Nothing remained but for us to pack up, spend our last night in the UK, and make for the airport the next morning.

I shall spare you the trials we had with AirEuropa (and yes, there was even more drama on our way home) because I'd like to end this travelogue on a high note.

How could I end it any other way?

The entire travel experience surpassed our expectations, and but for the AirEuropa debacle (and perhaps the general lack of sunshine and other minor Fails), this trip might well have been considered just about perfect.

Which is why almost as soon as we'd arrived home, Bethany immediately began plotting a return trip.

* * *

Thus, Alert Readers, endeth the Travelogue 2010.

*moment of depressed silence*

Now I'll need to find something else to blog about for the next eleven months.


* * *

Tune in next summer for The Great American Road Trip: From San Diego to DC: Ruth, Alissa, and Friends Take on the Middle States. (Live somewhere in the Middle? Want to host us in your home or arrange for a drive-by meet up? Shoot me a comment! Want to come along? Forward me your SSN, approximate IQ, recent bank statements, a professional head shot, and current credit score to begin the vetting process!)

Remember: it's a great, big, beautiful world. Give God the glory and get out there and see it!

Monday, July 5, 2010

UK Travelogue Part 13: Burning Daylight

Day 13: June 10

Our overnight coach from Edinburgh to London pulled into Victoria Coach Station around 6:30am, and the Tube ride to the St. Paul’s exit took less than half an hour; hence I’m guessing that it may have been coming on 7:00am when we arrived at our hostel, looking and feeling a bit worse for wear. I wasn't exactly paying strict attention to times, what with the general difficulty I seemed to be having keeping my feet going.

“We’re here to check in,” I informed the desk worker once we'd arrived at the front desk of the youth hostel - just in case he had any doubt as to the purpose of our arrival - giving my name while considering how lovely it would be to rest my head on the counter.

“You’re a bit early,” the attendant pointed out dryly, referring to the the standard 3:00pm check-in time, but as we’d booked a private room, and it blessedly had been unoccupied the night before, we qualified for early check-in. I have rarely ever been so happy about anything in my life.

A shower and a nap apiece did much to bring us back up to snuff; although considering how all I'd been thinking about the past night on the coach had been how wonderful it would be to finally stretch out and lie down, my sleep turned out to be less restful than I expected. For one thing, the bells of St. Pauls kept bonging, reminding me that we lay literally within only a few hundred yards of all that (as yet unseen) glory: the marble, the mosaics, the underground tombs, the Whispering Gallery, The Light of the World...

View from our hostel

For another thing, although my body needed rest, my mind knew we were burning precious daylight at the tail end of our trip.

Around 11:00am, we rolled out of our bunks and stumbled around the corner from the hostel to the Pizza Express that we’d spied earlier on our trek in. Pizza Express had become one of Bethany’s new favorites. (That and the Underground.) We’d obviously beat the lunch rush, as we found ourselves the only people in the restaurant and had our choice of tables in the deserted dining room. We chose one near the window with an impressive view of St. Paul’s and happily tucked in to some quality pasta dishes.

Our plan had been to see St. Paul’s, but a fortuitous peek at my guidebook reminded us that as the Royal Mews would be closed Friday, that day would be the only day available for us to visit -- which of course we promptly did.

I found an adorable group of preschool girls on a field trip, holding hands by twos and chattering excitedly, much more fascinating than the coaches and carriages:

On a field trip

The only thing missing is Cinderella

Since we were in that part of the city, we also walked up to the Wellington Arch and took a tour inside.

Wellington Arch Jump!

View from the Wellington Arch

Rather intimidating

We'd considered stopping in at Apsley House, where Wellington himself had lived for a time, but since rain clouds seemed to be building over Hyde Park, we thought it a good time to take the Underground elsewhere. (Besides, we couldn't very well see everything on our very first London trip. If we did, what would be the point in coming back?)

Beef had been wanting to buy a few trinkets and gifts at a stall she’d seen over by Tower Bridge, so a quick stop there rounded out our afternoon. We just beat the evening rush back on the Tubes, arriving back at St. Pauls just as dribbles of rain started to fall. I put up my rain hood and waited on the steps of the cathedral while Bethany dipped over to Marks & Spencer to forage for supplies.

We sat on the steps sharing fruit, nacho chips, and Coke. We really do owe the steps of St. Paul's a huge Thank You because they provided some excellent fodder for people watching: groups of schoolchildren, with harassed-looking adults attempting to corral them; shiny young women posing for pictures in a slightly inappropriate manner, considering that they were on the steps of a church; young couples who surely must be newlyweds, clutching hands and looking up at the dome; an Indian family sitting down nearby, the dad quietly unpacking a tasty-looking lunch packed in Tupperware; an older man with a young Asian wife, obviously living the dream.

And dearest of all, a set of students giving oral research reports right there on the steps. I swelled with pride at the thought of all the awesome teachers everywhere who work hard to make their students' educational experiences meaningful and exciting.

Oral Report on the Steps of St. Paul's

It was also at that point that Bethany noticed that someone had decorated a nearby statue with bagels.

Bull's Eye

Both of us still a bit tired from the previous night's journey, we decided on a quiet evening in. Books, photo uploads, and a bit of laundry seemed just the thing, especially since the weather - in true London fashion - seemed less that sprightly.

Thus we found ourselves on the eve of our final full day in London, having seen neither the inside of St. Paul's Cathedral or Shakespeare's rebuilt Globe Theater. "We really have to be smart about how we use our time tomorrow," I spoke in the general direction of Bethany's bunk, but found my admonition greeted with silence.

She was already asleep. I flicked off the light, shrugged myself down under the covers, and listened to the bells of St. Paul's as I dropped off to sleep.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

UK Travelogue, Part 12: Stay You

Wednesday, June 9

After our whirlwind two days in Glasgow, we would gladly have slept for the next week. Actually, we would have settled for sleeping in to, say, noon. Unfortunately, this would not be possible for several reasons: 1) We had to check out by 10am, and 2) several very noisy girls in the hostel dorm were apparently checking out even earlier than we were.

After showering, packing, checking out, and stowing our things in a locker, we strolled our way through a farewell tour of Edinburgh.

A token foot


Signs of life

The inside of Christ Church

Alas, poor Yorick

On arguably the coldest day we’d spent in the UK thus far, I of course had given the temperature situation no forethought whatsoever, dressing myself in a t-shirt and the only clean pair of bottoms I had left: a pair of denim capris. My double-jacket move kept my top half warm enough, but it wasn’t long before I realized that my head-wrap would need to readjusted to accommodate the ice chips that were my ears.

Poor, cold, homeless waif

Due to general tiredness, we took it slowly. We returned the travel bug that Bethany had been unable to plant in Glasgow, then spent a few hours warming up in the National Gallery. After we’d overloaded on oils and canvas, we went back to the Word of Mouth café for a late lunch and some hot tea. (A little face time with our favorite adorable waiter did not go amiss, either.)

Cold hands + Hot Tea = <3

One thing that we knew we could not avoid was a very important phone call: a birthday call to our dear mother. Mid-afternoon, we whipped out the old International calling card (brought expressly for this purpose) and dialed her up.

Two of Mom's Favorites

In true mom style, she was suitably shocked, delighted, and horrified that we were spending our money to call her. In fact, she kept trying to hang up on us so as to save our “minutes.” So dear. She’d jumped the gun on us and had already seen pictures of the Glasgow Adventures, prompting the following dialogue:

Mom: So, you must have met Colin. I saw his pictures on Facebook.

Me: Yup. [insert ramblings about having fun.]

Mom: So.... you got to hear his voice?

Me: Of course not, mom. What are you thinking! He didn't speak the entire two days put together.

(Okay, truth.... that's not actually what I said. It was her birthday, after all, and she was to be humored.)

Me: Well, sure.

Mom: Oh. I'm so jealous! I want to hear his accent.

I had no idea this has been a cherished dream of hers. I’m certain I can arrange something for her: it’s not like he’s never posted any audio clips of himself…. (doing accents and silly voices and such… the possibilities are endless, really).

After the call to Mom, we saw something utterly and completely unexpected: the sun had come out. There was nothing for it but to make for the top of Carleton Hill and jump around in the sunshine.

Holyrood Jump!


After our climb, we wound our way back to take our things out of the locker and await our overnight bus back to London.

While we waited in the reception of the hostel (sipping hot chocolates and reading contentedly) an entire contingent of German teenagers arrived with their teachers. If I had to guess, I would say there were at least fifty very boisterous students, all wound up as they checked in and made their way to dinner in the hostel café. I slyly watched the interaction between students and teachers out of the corner of my eye, noting the sternness and volume with which the teachers seemed to use on the students, yet how little attention they really seemed to be paying them for all that.

At length one of the young male German students came down wearing a kilt, the entire dining room exploding in delighted whoops and riotous applause. He seemed to be a favorite among the kids and the teachers alike, creating a happy moment of camaraderie that was a pleasure to witness.

A bit later, after the German kids had cleared off, a young Scottish woman who seemed to be a bit special (if you know what I mean) wandered in to the lobby, worried lest she miss her favorite evening programs on TV.

Glued ardently to the inane banter and shallow plotlines, she laughed, gasped, burped, and talked freely to anyone who would give her eye contact (often simultaneously). I found her delightfully endearing.

Eventually, the time came to leave Edinburgh.

No worries there

We were quite delighted to see that we had the same set of drivers back on the 596 coach service back to London. One of the drivers in particular was especially a dear.

"You again," he greeted us, asking kindly how we liked Scotland and if we’d made it over to his home town, Glasgow. We happily reported that yes, we had, and that we’d enjoyed ourselves immensely. I'm always excited when people remember us (and not just the cute waiter at the Word of Mouth, either. I mean other people, too) but Bethany popped my bubble of joy by remarking dryly that he probably just remembered the head wrap. Either that, or the freakish contortion in which I'd found myself sleeping on the drive up.

But whatever! Negative attention is better than no attention, as any egocentric worth her salt will tell you. We had made ourselves memorable, and that was enough.

That turned out to be the last real happy feeling either of us experienced until we arrived at Victoria Coach Station.

The rest of it was all twisted neck muscles, thrashing about, itchy noses, wailing babies on board, and back cramps. Oh. And a very strange cross-the-aisle fellow passenger who set an alarm clock to go off at 5:30am. Now I ask you!

Between the two of us, we only had a few hours of sleep, ensuring that the Tube ride over to the St. Paul’s youth hostel where we’d booked a room was a quiet one indeed.

I'm sure the morning commuters were grateful.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Something Awesome This Way Comes

I learned recently that one of my sisters cherishes a secret hope of one day finding herself called upon to bring a panicked, hysterical individual back to his senses by means of a slap to the face, followed by hollering "PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!"

Fortunately for her, she is related to me.

I'm guessing it's only a matter of time...

UK Travelogue, Part 11: Nothing Says Glasgow Like CRM

Tuesday, June 8

Although we’d been too tired for girl talk the night before, Bethany, Nma and I did have a nice chat over a lovely breakfast of fruit salad and croissant. We shared family stories and Nma gave us a brief history of her furnishings: unlike our living room at home, hers contains some original art, hand-made shelving, and some lovely color-coordinated pillow/sofa/carpet combinations. (Had she been hanging out with us and asked the history of our furniture, she would have gotten some very different responses, ranging anywhere from “Uuuhh, someone at church gave it to us” to “I think we found it alongside the road.” Or perhaps, "It's not orange... it's burnt UMBER.)

But I digress. (Again.)

Colin arrived spot-on at 9:00am -- a time he had set, by the way -- and started off nearly immediately by saying we were already running late. Before giving us the opportunity to protest the injustice of this, we found ourselves trundled into Nma’s car and whisked into a rainy morning.

The plan was to pick up Seoras on the way to the Loch cruise; however it became apparent rather quickly that there would not be enough time for this. Much debating and iPhoning back and forth finally resulted to changing the original the reservations to another cruise early in the afternoon and heading instead straight toward Plan B.

Plan B involved Colin’s favorite artist and architect, Charles Rennie Macintosh (hereafter CRM).

Now as you may recall, Colin had previously denied his adoration for the work of CRM; however, the signs are undeniable: 1) Nearly from the first, he started in on the architecture of CRM. 2) He took us to a CRM-themed tea room. 3) He took us to the CRM-inspired Home for an Art Lover where he hogged the audio tour the entire time. Lost in a haze of his own, he wandered about gazing up, taking pictures, studying floor plans, and critiquing the lines of each room.

Grampy Campbell enraptured by the audio tour

Meanwhile, the rest of us wandered about gossiping, mocking the lawn furniture, playing around, and just generally having a good time. Oh, and (in some cases) nearly getting stuck after attempting to hide inside the depressed portion of a wall. (All except Seoras. He merely had a good time. Quietly. While thinking Deep Thoughts.)

Home for the Art Lover

Nma in the corner


Home for the Art Lover

Head and Foot

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

We’d planned to lunch in the tearooms downstairs; however, as they would not be serving lunch for another hour (something I personally would be infinitely grateful for shortly thereafter), we settled for some hot drinks and involved conversations about college days, test scores, and several other ridiculous (possibly pointless) topics that escape me at the moment.

Outside, we found much fodder for good Jumping pics, but were slightly hampered by the rain, which began coming down in earnest just as we got into the rhythm of Jumps. This did not stop us from one or two poses, and the slick grass only added to the hilarity as first Bethany and then Colin found themselves in less than dignified positions. I would have liked to mine their talents further, as Nma and Seoras show promise as excellent jumpers. The weather did not cooperate, alas!

From the Home for the Art Lover, we anticipated about an hour of driving up to Loch Katherine through the countryside, undeniably gorgeous even in the rather soggy weather. The first half I recall with fondness: chatting, laughing, story-telling. The second half is a long blank of resting my head on the seat in front of me and trying not to hurl. Colin blames it on the S-curves in the steadily-uphill road, but we all know the truth.

(The actual truth is that I have developed a rather terrible and annoying problem with motion sickness. Given more than one bend in the road in under a mile, I will feel ill. Riding sideways or backward might make me feel sick even on a straight road. As soon as a plane begins its initial descent toward the runway, my eyes cross and I grope for the paper bag - which is generally full of chewing gum and used tissues, I would like to point out. Yes, motion sickness is yet another burden to bear. That, coupled with general spinal issues and a mild fear of heights makes my obsession with travel a bit of a head-scratcher. But there it is.)

We did eventually arrive, thank goodness. The fresh, misty air did much to revive my queasy spirits. At first, the thought of getting immediately onto a boat made me want to cry, (I almost asked to be left in the car), but by the time we’d walked down to the boat, dubbed The Sir Walter Scott, I felt more or less myself again.

On board the Sir Walter Scott

And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Even in the mist and clouds, the views were beautiful. Someone had brought along hot chocolate, which we shared as we chatted.

When the stiff breeze had nearly frozen our ears off, we repaired below decks to entertain any who cared to observe with a word game called Mallet’s Mallet. (I would just like to point out that when I say that some people seemed to enjoy smacking others with the mallet a bit too much, I may or may not be referring to myself. And when I say mallet, I mean a laminated London map. So nobody panic.)

Only after being promised a smoother drive on the way down after the cruise did we get back into the car, and I am happy to report that that proved to be the case. Either that or everyone allowed me to talk about myself so much that I felt to happy to realize that I was feeling carsick. Either way, we arrived at some length at Seoras’s flat, where we all attempted to converse intelligently, but instead fell into differing levels of sleep. Nma and I dozed on the couch, Bethany zonked out on a comfy chair, and the guys vanished into back rooms.

Eventually, Seoras came out and asked if anybody wanted to take pictures of Colin sleeping with his teddy bears. Blinking heavily and picking at crusties in our eyes, we seemed suspended in a state of no response brought on by the a waking-dream state. Seaoras again disappeared into the back room, from which then emanated the sort of whumps and thumps typical of brothers everywhere.

We arrived at our dinner spot to find Mark already ensconced at the table with his hat and newspaper, for all the world like a retired gentleman of leisure. Except he had shaved off his man beard and looked quite younger without all the scruff.

Dinner proved to be a fancy affair, with little tiny menus, separate courses, and options like liver pâté and fig chutney. As far as I can remember, I settled on pork belly for starters, followed by stuffed chicken with delicious mashed-potatoes, well slathered in butter and garlic.

Of course we were not to be trusted to find the bus station on our own: all trooped down to see us off, including Mark (with his blisters from just having completed the West Highland Way days earlier) and Nma (who had begun to feel poorly back at the restaurant).

At the bus station came the first Fails of the visit: we Failed to get good group pictures and/or group jumps!

No worries: we'll take care of that when we return the favor. Remember what we said about Florida!