Away with the waves.

Sorry for the radio silence! We’ve been out of reach of the internet for a week. We spent it in a pleasant escape from real life – straddling the border between cool, dark woods and one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world.

The first few days were cloudy and windy – the water had waves almost as tall as the kids! Both jumped right in. I forced myself to hang back a little, though I was very ready to grab a child should a wave smash them down and start to pull them out. Ah, but much like my own young self, they took to ‘wild’ swimming with aplomb. M was knocked down a few times (he went so deep, so quickly! Six hours of wave battling the first day!), and the first felt like an eternity until he found his feet and stood up, quick to check behind him to see if another wave was coming.

We had eleven pm dancing on the deck, only glow sticks and Christmas style outdoor lights to illuminate us. It was our family and my parents, and it was glorious.

We’re back at my old home today, my mother’s current home, the place I grew up that looks oh so different these days. Suzy was dropped off at the airport yesterday. As I type, she is probably fast asleep in Bristol, jetlag ruining all her plans to clean and organize and just be alone.

Me and the kids have six days left here, and I believe this week will hit temperatures high enough to make all my prophecies about how hot America is come true. We have no set plans, but I am going to try to force myself to relax about not ‘wasting’ any time. I feel like I should visit every place, suck all the marrow out of all the Michigan bones, live wild and free and crazy. Rich and dripping.

In reality, Grandma’s House is probably as exciting to the kids as many other things we could (and some, which we will) do. Yesterday after the airport, we visited my grandmother’s youngest sister. She and the kids hit it off straight away, which made me only mostly happy, with a hint of sadness for the relationship they may have had with the woman I tell them stories about. My aunt pressed three dollars into each of their hands – and it was like watching a little me, getting cold hard currency from her, from my grandparents, from other relatives no longer with us. She told them to spend it, to buy whatever they wanted, to not save it.

So my mom took them to a dollar store. For those not in America, it is just as it sounds. A store where everything is a dollar. And it’s not ALL cheap shit. I swear.

S was careful. She knew she could only get three things. Then my mom said, no, it’s okay, you should each get five. Then ten. Then the phrase that will long live in their young minds – get whatever you want!

You can see why S declares each day that we have here ‘the most awesome day of my life.’ It just keeps getting better.

Giant American play structures in good old fashioned English rain.

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Being a family from Britain, we were well placed to be the only people at the playground this morning…before 8:30. Jetlag meant we’d already been up for hours, the ‘cool’ temperature of 68F, the complete cloud cover, the rain.

No, we felt right at home.

From sea to shining sea.

Last September, my children were ‘due’ to start full time school, mere days after turning four years old. Instead of going to school, we went to Italy.

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We ate a lot of gelato, learned a bit of Italian, and explored the always wonderful Boboli Gardens. I’d been there years before, alone with Suzy, and it was a curious experience going back with our children. So much the same – things unchanged that had been so for hundreds of years, but interacting with them in new ways.

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We wandered small alleyways, rode tall busses, ate even more gelato. We stayed in a big old amazing, secret wonder of a place with twisting hallways and low ceilings. It was lovely.

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That first week of official school time was spent immersed in another country, melodic words flowing around us, chatting to people and touching old statues.

We are now approaching what would have have been their last week of the school year. We’ll be spending that time in America. We’re here now, awake since 3 am, in that curious black space of nighttime jetlag. Lightening strobes the sky, thunder has been rumbling for six hours. I don’t know what this trip will bring, but I know it will add to our lives more than any other thing we could have been doing with this time.

What an amazing blessing. Starting this ‘school’ year in Italy, exploring England and Wales throughout the months between then and now, and ending things here, sitting at my mother’s kitchen table.

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Straddling the borders (of acceptable pronunciation)

I grew up on the border of America and Canada. So a lot of my cool childhood memories involve being in Quebec, Ontario, etc.

My kids are growing up on the border of England and Wales. So a lot of their cool childhood experiences involve being in Wales.

I grew up seeing signs in French and English, they are growing up seeing signs in Welsh and English.

There’s no real point to this except to say that I noted the parallel the other day and thought it was sort of cool. And that the accent of my children leaves no doubt they are not Welsh, but my accent means that every British person I meet asks if I’m Canadian.

(In other semi related areas, I’ve never met a British person who couldn’t pronounce ‘Chicago’ correctly, yet I’ve never met one who said ‘Michigan’ the right way. It’s Michigan with a Chicago shhh sound people. The way people say MITCHigan sets my teeth on edge.)

Sinking mud: Britain’s answer to the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, and other natural wonders of the world.

A childhood in the UK is uniquely placed to offer children the chance to explore being on the edge of sinking mud. Halfway between joy at the ultimate mud experience and terror that you will legitimately need to call out the rescue services.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like floodmas.

When we first moved to this house/city, we had one week of blistering sun and heat. Then it rained for seven straight weeks. It was kind of awful. I didn’t have a car, we didn’t know anyone, and we didn’t live close enough to anywhere to walk. Busses were available, but in the steady, driving rain the walks to and from bus stops seemed less than appealing.

Last week it started raining. It rained every single day, aside from the day we got in the car and it refused to start. That day we did use our feet, romping along the high street, playing in the library, and soaking up vitamin D. It’s been raining every day since then.

Rain in the winter seems particularly glum to me. I’m from a part of America that gets days off school and work because it gets too cold. Yeah. Sure, they get their snow days (having one right now, if my gleeful Facebook feed can be trusted), but sometimes the air is so cold that warnings are issued not to go out with any bare skin for more than a minute or two, and not to let livestock out.

That is winter to me. I don’t remember ever being too cold. Or this rain – rain, rain, wet wet endless rain. We had SNOW, bitches. Feet of snow. I learned to drive when there would be two tire tracks cut into the snow, and you’d had to go slowly and use your car as a snowplow to push the build up of snow from between the tracks aside.

The kids obviously have grown up here. They’ve been in Michigan once for winter, but at a resounding four months old, it’s safe to say they have no memories of that sort of weather. Yet they keep asking me if it is really winter without snow. How Christmas could have existed without snow. These are kids who are happy to believe Santa can enter our house through a fake fire – they create all these worlds, yet they are still somehow hardwired to wonder where the snow is.

We tend to get one or two days of snow a year. It hangs around for up to a week (in other parts of the UK, they get more snow, but still not comparable to Michigan!), and we typically have a day or so to pull sleds through four inches of snow. To freeze our feet off, to have hot chocolate, to make clumsy snowmen with plastic yogurt pot hats.

I wish we had snow today. It makes staying in more cozy, more acceptable, more inevitable. Because I tell you, folks, the nineteen year old me who lived outdoors with no electricity in a tent/wooden room with screens for windows, the one who could live and play with forty kids outside all day long no matter the weather, she is gone. She has been replaced by a woman who packs crazy amounts of outer gear for a simple outing.

Heavy raincoats, lightweight raincoats. Winter coats, fleeces, boots, shoes, hats, scarves, and on and on and on. Because I don’t know what the weather is going to do. Even though it is ALWAYS OKAY no matter what I do or do not pack (except that time I may have convinced someone to pee a la fresco, promised them I’d not let it get everywhere, and it ended up soaking their clothes), I still cram everything we could need into the car….if I manage to talk myself into going outside in inclement weather in the first place.

Rain in the summer is one thing. It’s warm and seasonally appropriate.

Rain in the winter, when your fingers are already tingling and halfway to falling off (yes, it is radically warmer here than Michigan – a day in the lower 40s F feels freezing to me, whereas at my mom’s house it’s been -20F without windchill this week), and then getting soggy? SO miserable.

And the thing about cities is carparks. Carparks and rain, or nowhere to park and rain, it’s gross. All of it is gross. I need to find some places outside of the city to go explore in this weather. We like quirky museums – seriously spent a good chunk of time at a horse and carriage exhibition museum at our last place, not to mention thrice weekly trips to a Royal Air Force museum. Tell me where you people go!

And don’t say the woods.

I love the woods, and when I see my friends’ pictures on facebook of their kids dressed in full body rain gear, riding horses or building dens or whatever the hell adventures they get up to, I sigh. We are in pajamas and I keep casting glances at the windows. I have slippers on, the kids are making magnets, asking to bake cake, playing some elaborate game in their pop up castle.

While I don’t want to go outside in bad weather (lest you think I exaggerate, our city has been flooding for the past few days!), I get so tired of being inside. Luckily, the kids like being at home and have endless ideas of stuff to do. If only they can put up with the edging-towards-middle-aged woman in the corner, looking up winter raincoats on ebay while wrapped in a fleecy blanket.

 

Happy Halloween!

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S was a baby kitten who was also a witch – except her witch’s hat was too big. The skeleton thing is incidental…I was informed earlier in the month that witches only wear pyjamas, so we bought Halloween pyjamas. M is, of course, Enderman – though at the last minute we were informed that he is REALLY the red angry bird (the costume he has wanted all along, until a few weeks ago when Minecraft entered our lives) dressed as Enderman. His head looks misshapen here because it is thrown back!

Halloween was a jumble of excitement and tears.

My sister recently moved to London, much to our joy and my mother’s distress. The kids were bouncing off the walls from the moment they woke up…and their faces were a study of concentration and barely controlled excitement at the train station.

We headed over to Suzy’s mum in the afternoon, ate some Halloween treats, then got suited and booted for the big mission. S began to cry and complain of being freezing about 28 seconds before it was time to get her costume on. I touched her belly and she was on fire.  Nevertheless, she didn’t want to miss trick or treating.

Here in the UK, Halloween is very different than the US. My sister was totally blown away that we had to hunt for houses with lit pumpkins outside or in the window, or other obvious ‘we welcome trick or treaters’ clues. Maybe one house in fifteen had them. M has developed a very British outlook, exclaiming, ‘This is brilliant! We found two houses!’

We managed a few more, then Suzy took S home as S really wanted to finish as she was unwell. Erica and I stayed out with M, who was totally into hunting for Halloween houses.

The evening ended with S in a daze on my chest while everyone ate, then swapping over to Suzy while I ate. She passed out, M bounced off the walls, we came home.

All in all, probably the same sort of experience that happened in families across the country! (Including the illness bit. Don’t they always get sick when it is a really bad time to do so?)

Our house is still standing.

Well, our flimsy scarecrow is still standing.

I was unable to sleep last night in expectation for the storm, but finally succumbed around three am before waking up at six. Our area wasn’t hit too badly, though apparently 7000 homes in the wider area lost power. I slept through the storm.

It’s still happening now, in London, which is where my sister lives (her Facebook statuses are rather bemused and focusing on the fact that it just seems like ‘a normal windy day’). A tree was just downed by winds in South London, causing a gas line rupture and explosion. I hope the picture of the house tweeted by the London fire brigade was empty, because it is gone.

One fourteen year old boy who was playing in the sea was swept away last night. They have given up the search. This morning, a seventeen year old girl was killed by a tree falling on her static home, where she was sleeping.

Wind speeds of 99 mph were documented in certain areas of the UK. Flooding has happened (and with the rain currently chucking down here, I would suspect it will get worse) and lots of tree branches have been blown off.

So, that’s the summary. A few really awful things, including loss of life, but by and large the UK suffered minimal damage. I hope all of you, and your friends and family, are okay. We all slept through what was the worst of the storm and a glance out our windows shows nothing out of the ordinary. I know other areas weren’t so lucky.

The great storm of October 2013?

For the past few days, all I’ve been hearing about is the storm that is about to hit this evening/tomorrow. Multiple reports from good sources predicting hurricane force gusts, localised flooding, etc.

The American part of me quietly rejoices – of course I don’t want people to get hurt, buildings to get blown down – but I miss storms. Some of them, anyway. At the same time, I find myself skeptical.

In what now feels like another lifetime, I lived and worked in the woods. As a camp director at a large summer camp in the middle of nowhere, I found myself addicted to checking hourly weather predictions. This one website would say a storm would start at 3 pm, and at 2:58 black clouds would roll in. I took to printing out a little forecast for every day so we could adjust activities accordingly – though life at camp went on pretty much as normal unless it was a prolonged thunderstorm, severe thunderstorm, or tornado.

You see, I grew up in a part of the world where we were hit with severe thunderstorms multiple times a summer…often more than one per week. The winds were strong enough to uproot massive, old trees, leaving six foot craters behind. Hail was heavy and large enough to break windows and cause bruises. I personally knew one child (though this did not happen at camp, thankfully!) who was struck by lightning and had both kneecaps blown out at the age of five.

Thunderstorms, even severe ones, were my secret delight – especially at camp. Elsewhere, you had a chance to just enjoy booming thunder so loud your teeth would vibrate in your head…for hours on end. At camp, as a part of the supervisory staff, we rode golf carts around, wildly careening to make sure each and every child was safe in a building or basement. We tied down tent flaps to try to save possessions. One on memorable occasion, I went into a platform tent that had a downed tree on top in order to get the kids’ stuff out.

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Tornados were another matter – they hit the area I live a good few times each summer, leaving more uprooted trees, damaged buildings, power outages for days. It was just part of my life to notice when the skies went green, when the air went deadly still in the middle of a howling thunderstorm, when the leaves on the trees flipped upside down to reveal the silvery undersides.

I spent hours of my childhood in the basement of our family home. Where I’m from, you see, every house has a basement. While they have evolved into awesome rec rooms, extra lounges, and storage spaces – they exist because of the severity of the weather. And it should be noted I’m not from a part of America that gets totally destroyed by tornadoes.

One of my earliest memories is being shoved in a cardboard box under the stairs with my baby sister, my mother throwing a mattress over us and lying on it to hold it in place.

One year while I attended camp as a child, a tornado hit my neighbourhood. My sister and birth father were locked out of the house, holding onto the handle of the door in the garage that led into the house, and they were literally lifted off their feet and almost sucked into the tornado. The large RV parked a foot from our house was lifted, and twisted like a wet cloth being wrung out, before being thrown hundreds of metres away in a neighbour’s garden. A huge tree was thrown through our roof and my parents’ bedroom was full of leaves and branches….a real live treehouse.

So you can see why I am a bit skeptical about the UK. This started my first year here, with snowfall. I lived in South London, and we had less than a centimetre of snow AND THE WHOLE CITY SHUT DOWN. My father in law was scared to drive, workplaces were closed, and I was just amazed. A few years later a ‘bad’ snowstorm caused people to be trapped on a motorway for hours, and food and water had to be airlifted in.

I don’t wish to minimize people’s suffering. Certainly a country that has year round moderate temperatures (compared to where I grew up, which was much hotter in the summer and MUCH colder in the winter, with snowdrifts that seemed miles high) and minimal experience with severe weather cannot be expected to deal efficiently with bad storms. Of course people who hear thunder MAYBE twice a summer get excited about the ‘thunderstorms.’

The storm predicted for tonight/tomorrow seems to consist of gusts of gale force  and heavy rain. Like many in the UK, we have cleared the garden of (most) toys in preparation. Unlike other people, we have not bought extra food, batteries, candles, etc. I don’t doubt severe winds could cause absolute upheaval in the UK – and I also imagine a power outage would take a considerably long time to repair, compared to America, where we had storm related power outages around the year. But I can’t imagine a storm so bad that we’d be trapped at home for days, unable to get supplies if needed.

I don’t want anyone to get hurt, to lose their roof, for a flood to damage a business. But I wouldn’t mind some real storm action.

We’ve planned to stay in tomorrow, to wear pyjamas and watch films and play. To basically hang out and watch the rain and wind.

If the storm is as bad as predicted, much of the country will be facing what the UK terms as severe weather. I hope those of you living in this country remain safe, your homes and loved ones secure. Suzy will be going to work tomorrow in all likelihood, a half hour drive on narrow roads along massive drops, up and down hills. I secretly hope the weather is obviously bad enough for her to stay in and play with us, as I will be genuinely worried during her drive to and from work.

But assuming we all stay safe….well….the truth is, I wouldn’t mind a big storm. They are one of the things I get homesick for.