A selection of not unusual days over the past couple of weeks:
We have recently been doing a lot of little road trips and travelling. Here’s just a few of the places we’ve been in the last few weeks – we definitely recommend visits!
Sand Bay, near Weston Super Mare
This is one of our go to haunts. It’s got a bit of woodland, a bit of rocks, and a whole lot of beach. There are mini sand dunes to explore, a nice firm sandy beach, and rarely other people. There’s even a little pub opposite the beach.
We have actually been here twice in the last week or so. We stayed well past sunset to see the elusive tide come in, and every second was worth it.
Stourhead National Trust property
This place is overflowing with magic. Yes, actual magic. The trees are what really do it for me – so many different kinds, all growing a little bit crooked, all old abs magnificent. You can climb them, slide down them, do bark rubbings, or just take endless pictures.
It’s also got little pagan temples scattered around, watery grottos, amazing flowers, a big lake, and an excellent pub courtyard to get ice cream at.
Caerphilly Castle, Wales
A truly fab castle to visit. It’s got a giant dragon statue (complete with smoking nostrils!) emerging from the ground, an oddly challenging children’s trail to follow, an unexpected statue man holding up a turret, and a film you should not let younger children – or sensitive ones – get within a mile of. There are also tonnes of Canadian geese outside in the large and free park.
Of course all castles in Wales are free for home educators – I’ll have to write a post explaining how to access that!
St. Fagan’s, Wales
This is officially called the National Welsh Living History museum. Or something like that.
It’s a bunch of very old buildings – thatch roofed cottages, a gazillion year old church, stables, etc set in a gorgeous, huge outdoors space. (Free to enter for all, barring carpark charges.) You can easily spend all day wandering and playing – and still not see everything.
We particularly like the village green, bordered by ye olde shoppes and businesses.
Near Birmingham and Coventry. And other places.
Flipping fantastic!!! We had a mini trip to Birmingham for a few days, and hit up this castle on the way home. Largely ruins, but with an excellent, kid friendly visitor centre museum place. Lots to see and explore – our kids were absolutely wowed by a massive hill at the rear of the castle. This is the steepest, highest hill. Pictures cannot do it justice.
They climbed and rolled and played for literal hours on the thing while Suzy and I sat at the top and watched as the sun set. Pretty near bliss, I’ll tell you.
We have been a few others places and done a lot of other stuff, but that’s all best left for future posts, perhaps.
Hopefully this post has given you some ideas of places that are great days out….and please, if you guys ever go anywhere fabulous, leave a comment! I’m in the mood for new places.
About a week ago, a friend said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Spain with us?’ A couple of days after that we were on a plane with her and her adorable kids.
Today’s our last day here. After a few days of sun and heat, it’s cooler and windy. Obviously we feel at home on cold beaches. Ha.
It’s been a joy. A time out from normal life which has reminded me a bit more of what I’d like normal life to be like, what it once was before all the classes and clubs and meet ups.
A little bit slower, a little bit more joy and instinct led, a little more flexible.
Of course, excellent company helps. So does Spanish sunshine and water with lemons picked fresh off a tree.
Perhaps the biggest lesson (and reward) in these past few days comes from the reminder of how good it feels to say a resounding YES whenever you can.
I have done some cool shit.
I’ve spent time teaching in a well known school for the Deaf, totally immersed in American Sign Language and Deaf culture. One of my most proud moments still is when two 17 year olds thought I was Deaf – a real relief as spending eight hours a day communicating in a language I was not born to was intimidating. But amazing.
I’ve worked at an American summer camp for years and years, culminating in an excellent time being the Director there. Summer camp is sort of like you see in the movies, only deeper and funnier and harder. It helped me discover who I was, to celebrate that, to be loved for nothing more simple than just being me.
I spent one memorable winter season living alone at that camp, 400 acres of potential axe murderers and demons at my beck and call. Many hours spent hearing voices outside the window, running like hell through the woods to my little cabin, keys shaking in my hands as I pictured the hounds of hell just about to disembowel me.
I’ve been part of the editorial staff of an international magazine. I never knew how mundane something so seemingly glamourous could be. I loved it. I loved the giant proofs of each new edition, I loved the weird pressure of my work being checked by people just as geeky as me, I loved the odd man who gave me lifts out of London.
I moved across the world to another country, practically sight unseen, for love. I learned how to navigate the most effed up city ever, fell in love with that city, lived in a tiny studio flat with a toy lobster hanging from the bathroom light pull. After a year of staying up all night on the phone to Suzy, waiting for the mail to come each day, what a miracle it felt like to live with her.
I had two years of therapy; it was a requirement for my course, and what a gift it was. I spent hours sitting on a couch across from a woman who showed me such love, such understanding, such humour. How profound it was to be seen, to be known. If I offered a quarter of that experience to the many humans I worked with as a counsellor, I consider that a job well done.
I’ve been inside some notorious psychiatric hospitals, many while volunteering as a mental health advocate. One particular night of trying to get off a locked ward, then out of a locked outer containment zone, then out of endless maze like corridors that all ended in locked doors stays with me still.
I’ve been pregnant with two children, and spent an entire summer on the couch, looking out the window at white fluttering butterflies. Every year when I see those butterflies I am reminded of movement deep within, of my huge, curved belly, of the heat of that endless time of waiting and wondering.
I’ve done cool shit.
I’ve shaved my head, dyed my hair every colour of the rainbow, pierced my tongue. Met many ‘strangers off the Internet’ in a time when that just wasn’t done. I won national awards for acting when I was a teenager and was still so stupid and so brilliant. I achieved a distinction on my Master’s dissertation, and have gone back to teach other MA students.
I’ve written a book or two. Or three. These moments were among the most joyful and fulfilling of my life.
I’ve had sloppy teenage kisses and made messy teenage mistakes. I experienced true love at a very young age, and those memories still sometimes creep into the nighttime landscape of my dreams. I’ve kissed boys, and girls, and my own arm before I was confident in my abilities when lips met lips. All those things led me to here – married just about fifteen years. Safety, laughter, ease, contentment, love.
I quit teaching right before starting a plum job that was hotly fought for. I dropped out of my PhD programme to pursue a career in counselling. I qualified as a high ropes course instructor despite spending three hours crying in a tree, trying to work up the courage to step off a twenty foot high platform. I’ve been in more Halloween haunted houses, haunted woods, and haunted hayrides than you can imagine – and wet myself in fear on more than one occasion. I’ve also wet myself lavishly while laughing.
I’ve survived hard stuff. I spent two years in a wheelchair, unable to walk. My grandmother’s death led me to what, looking back, I can only class as a breakdown. I had a very unstable parent, with many problems, and my choice to cut all contact troubles me still.
I spent time in the room where Anne Frank hid. I’ve stopped my car to let a bear cross the road. I lived without electricity or walls five months every year. I’ve seen meteor showers, I’ve survived tornadoes, I’ve danced in the rain at the tail end of Florida’s hurricane season. I’ve swum naked in a lake filled with dubious creatures. I’ve found friends who feel more like family. I got a qualification as a sexual health worker with young people, and had some of the most…interesting…conversations of my life as a result.
All these things I’ve done, and more, crept into my thoughts while I was driving home today. And I wondered: where is my cool shit now? Ten years from now, will I be able to add onto this list?
I’ve done cool shit. I want to do more.
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.