Friday, August 28, 2015

New Normals

New normals are our new normal, and, as I mentioned in a post the other day, flexibility is the name of the game. Situations we could not have easily imagined a year ago seem to materialize in our lives constantly now. One example of this is our current living situation, which has us in a two bedroom trailer house, with a tiny kitchen that contains no coffee pot of any kind. We gave Ruth the diminutive extra bedroom, because sometimes a teenage girl just needs a little privacy and some space. So, all three boys are sleeping in the living room, on the fold-out couch and the other sofa. I'm not complaining, because there is truly plenty of room for everyone, and we are all finding that we need less stuff and space than we used to believe we needed. I'm simply making a point that things are different for us than they once were, and we are daily learning lessons in flexibility, patience, and creativity. Because of the close quarters and the elusive wifi inside our current home, we have adopted a new bedtime routine, which, at first, seemed frustrating but has now kind of grown on us. After baths, Jeff will bring Clay into our bedroom for a bedtime story, which will become progressively more boring until Clay (and maybe Jeff) falls asleep, while the older boys and girl read in their beds until the appointed lights-out time. During that time, I will slip out to the car, where there is a decent and fairly consistent wifi signal. I will take care of whatever business I need to take care of and soak up the glorious impenetrable silence, which, as an introvert living with incredibly loud and needy people in small spaces, I desperately need. (I also need this when we are living in large spaces, just to be clear.) When I come back in the house, everyone is enveloped in sweet slumber. I will then move Clay to his bed in the living room, having avoided the whole brothers-in-close-quarters arguing and roughhousing routine, that can easily spiral out of control at bedtime, especially when beds are being shared. It is starting to really feel like we win all the way around. So, if you had asked me a year ago if I'd like to live in a two bedroom trailer house with four kids and no internet or coffee pot, I would have quickly said, "No way, Jose!" But, our new normal really isn't all that bad, and we are discovering that there can even be freedom and joy in finding and embracing new normals. Are there any "new normals" in your life? How have you had to be flexible, patient, and/or creative as you've adjusted to them?

My "new normal" improvised coffee pot

Sometimes, embracing a new normal can be sweet!





Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stonehenge Rocks...And so does Beer

We got up early this morning and set out for Stonehenge. This was the thing Max has been looking most forward to on our trip, and he was giddy with joy all day! The rest of us were also pretty pleased with the stop, especially since the rain held off for our visit and the tour buses didn't start showing up en masse until we were leaving. What a fascinating and mysterious piece of history Stonehenge is! We were amazed to learn that Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids were being built around the same time, and we are thrilled to be able to say we have now seen them both! After leaving the Salisbury Plain, where Stonehenge is located, we made our way down to the little coastal town of Beer, where we will spend the next ten days trying to get some school and work done. We are staying in the Beer Head Caravan Park, and though our caravan is small, it suits our needs just fine. Besides that, it has the most magnificent view of the English Channel, which certainly doesn't hurt anything!

The exhibition center at Stonehenge was really interesting.

This is a replica stone, which begged visitors to try to move it. 

The kids got a kick out of the small huts at the museum,
which are meant to be similar to the huts the builders of Stonehenge would have lived in.

This boy could hardly contain his excitement!

The older two were trying to entertain the youngest
by seeing who could stand on one foot the longest.

The Watts at Stonehenge

This would have been the main entrance to the temple, with the sacrifice stone out front.

Max studied his guide seriously and shared many fascinating facts with us.

Our home in Beer is not much to look at...

...But you can't beat the view!

Another view of the Channel from the bottom of the hill

This iconic structure outside the office is not what it seems.
There is a fish aquarium housed inside, which greatly excited the boys!
(If you look closely, you can see a couple of fish just about the poster at the bottom.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Flexibility

One thing that travel gives you plenty of opportunities to do is be flexible. We have truly been fortunate in our travels that things have mostly gone smoothly. But, sometimes, they definitely don't go according to plan. For instance, the plan for today was to cross the English Channel through the Chunnel (a train tunnel that goes underneath the English Channel) on a high speed train. We weren't sure what time we would be able to get off this morning or how long it would take us to make the drive from Belgium, so we opted to buy our tickets at the terminal instead of online, which would have required us to choose a particular departure time. Only, they weren't selling tickets at the terminal today, because of some glitch in their system. So, we turned our car around and headed to the ferry terminal to try our luck there. Fortunately, they were selling tickets, and we were able to get on board and continue on to London, as planned, and only delayed from our original timetable by a couple of hours. This route brought us into port at Dover, so we were excited to see the famous "White Cliffs of Dover." We also thought it apropos that we docked, disembarked and drove to London in the midst of a fairly significant rain storm. That's just exactly the picture I have of England in my head.

The P&O Ferry Boat that brought us to England

This sweet boy had a blast on the boat, playing in the the "Family Lounge"

The White Cliffs of Dover coming into view through the rain

A close-up of the white cliffs

Looking back out at the English Channel from Dover

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Seventeen

Seventeen years ago, I said "I do" to the man I loved with every fiber of my being and who I considered to be my best friend. I couldn't imagine at the time that I could ever love him more. I was wrong. It hasn't always glamorous--I mean, we celebrated our anniversary today with all our kids in tow at a place called "Balls & Glory." And, it certainly hasn't always been easy. In fact, sometimes it has been more work than either of us thought we could handle. But, work we did (and do!), every single day, even when we don't want to. And, you know what? We are more in love with each other today than we were seventeen years ago. I am so thankful I get to do life with this amazing man! He is my hero, and I still love him with every fiber of my being and consider him to be my best friend! We had such a fun day celebrating with our people in Ghent!

Seventeen years

This is the first time in 13 years
that the kids have joined us for the anniversary outing,
and we had such a great time!

This is what you get at Balls & Glory, a restaurant focusing entirely on meatballs.
(Despite the quirky name, the food was absolutely delicious!)

I thought it was appropriate that we saw a passionflower today while walking around Ghent.

We tried this interesting (but not delicious) local candy delicacy: Ghent Noses.

The lovely castle in Ghent

Burgers on the deck of our houseboat

Weston thought we needed a cocktail for our anniversary.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Belgium

We left Luxembourg this morning and made our way to Belgium. Our first stop was the Waterloo Battlefield, where Napoleon was defeated in 1815. For our CC friends, we had so much fun singing our history song (over and over) about that event in the very spot where it occurred! Our next stop was Brussels, where our main focus was on tracking down some of the famous Belgian delicacies: chocolate and waffles. (Don't worry, we also purchased Brussels sprouts and will have them later in the week!) Finally, we arrived at our houseboat in Ghent, much to the delight of all the kids (and adults). When we asked the kids what they wanted to do the next couple of days, they all said, "Just hang out on this awesome boat!" It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a parent CAN knock one out of the park. (Thank you, Airbnb!)

Lion Mound at Waterloo Battlefield

This is not our most Napoleonic child,
but it is the one most willing to have his picture taken.

Posing with the "chocolate" elephant outside Chocopolis

We had so much fun looking in all the chocolate shops in Brussels!

Grand-Place in Brussels

Belgian waffle time!

Chocolate horseshoes 

It was super hard, but we finally narrowed it down and made our choices.

Our Belgian home

The view from my bedroom window

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Luxembourg

We have been staying at a EuroCamp in Luxembourg this week. Despite the weak WIFI signal at our cabin and being the coldest I have ever been in August, we had a great time! These camps are amazing, because they are stuffed to the gills with wonderful kids' activities, and our kids just can't get enough. In fact, I wanted to hike through the woods into Larochette (the little town at the bottom of the hill) to see the castle ruins, and we had a hard time figuring out when to do that around the kids' intense social schedule here at the campground. (But we DID find the time for it!) The kids have been swimming (in the indoor, heated pool), playing every sport imaginable, sitting in on BINGO games, getting their faces painted, attending movie nights, making a ton of friends from all over Europe, and going crazy at the fantastic indoor and outdoor playgrounds. Jeff and I planned this stop as a last summer hurrah, and it's been a good one. Within the week, we will settle into a bit of a more normal existence in the UK, and we'll be glad to have these happy memories tucked away to savor later.

Our Luxembourg home 
The Big Show, putting on a big show at the pool

On your mark...

The buried trampolines were a huge hit with the kids!

A sports lover's paradise

These two were thrilled when Zipp showed up at the playground!

Don't worry, these tigers don't bite!

Trampoline fun

Larochette Castle

One more of the castle, as seen from the town

After our nice little hike up to the castle

Resting in the woods

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A letter to Europe

Dear Europe,

We've been hanging out for a while now, and I want you to know that I really, really like you. In fact, I'd like to keep hanging out with you and see where this relationship goes. However, there are a few things I just don't understand, probably because I'm an American, and I feel that we've reached the point in our acquaintance where these things should be addressed. 

First of all, the summer season brings out a hotness in you that you seem utterly unaware of. But, trust me, you're pretty hot. I get that air conditioners are expensive to install and expensive to run, and that you probably don't need them all that often anyway. No problem. But, have you considered the fan? The occasional ceiling or oscillating fan could do wonders for your coolness and wouldn't cost you much. But even if you feel that you are cool enough in your natural state, without the use of such modern gadgets, don't you think it would be nice to at least install screens on your windows, so that the air can move in freely but the bugs (and birds!) cannot? I'm just wondering.

Also, let's talk about clinginess. I do like a good hug now and again, but I feel that I can rarely step inside one of your showers without being smothered by the plastic shower curtain. They grab at my arms and surround my legs, until I feel that I can no longer breathe or move. I just need a little space. And, you may not realize it, but that space would be good for you, too.

Which brings me to my next point: Are you avoiding the shower? Because, if so, I totally understand. The constant clinging does get old. But for the sake of everyone sharing the bus/train/cafe with you, it would be better to just go ahead and take the plunge. You can make it a quickie, if you need to. Also, I have seen deodorant for sale in many of your stores and have even purchased and used some myself. How would you feel about giving this a try?

Finally, I'd like to talk about what's going on in the bedroom. Where is the top sheet? And, why are there two twin-size comforters on my king-size bed? I want to get cozy with you in bed, but I feel that you are making it overly difficult to do so. 

There is truly so much to love about you. You are beautiful and interesting and you make me happy in so many ways. But, the things I've mentioned here have been a mystery to me, and I would love it if you could clear the air on these topics. If you feel the need to reciporcate with inquiries about my quirky American habits, I think that's only fair. 

Still fondly yours,
Mandi