Friday, April 13, 2018

Rogue Walks...with Intention

Recently, I was presented with the opportunity to take a trip unlike any I've ever taken before. This trip took absolutely no planning on my part other than to be available.  Everything was taken care of... the flight, the rooms, the transportation, the schedule, most of the meals,  and last but not least....the cost.  A free (sorta) trip to London and Paris.

Hello, London Tower Bridge

Bon nuit Eiffel Tower
We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch/trip, so there was a catch.  I would be going on this trip with my daughter and nine high school students from her school... as a chaperone.  Going on any trip with my daughter is a treat and adding the students made it nine times more fun.  It was only one week from the time I found out I was cleared as a chaperone (yes, I passed the security check) until the departure date.  Not my usual months of planning and anticipation.  I took that one week to get into the proper frame of mind.  The frame of mind that says there will be no lingering in sidewalk cafes sipping tea in the morning or wine in the evening, watching the world go by on this trip.  There would be no spontaneous diversions when something interesting caught my eye.  There would be no trying to blend in anonymously.  I was going to have "tourist" emblazoned on me as we moved through all of the sights "en mass".  This was a trip for the students.  It was their first trip to Europe and I was so excited that I spent a whole week romanticizing all of the possible scenarios for my week of chaperoning.  It was all going to be great, I just knew it!

Our informative and humorous (British humor...the best!)guide in London 
who instead of saying to walk quickly
told us to"walk with intention" as he led our group.
Sometimes I get lucky and life actually mimics my imagination.  I need to imagine bigger!  I imagined the students would be fun. I imagined they would be interesting and curious.  I imagined they would experience moments of awe.  I imagined we would share inside jokes ("walk with intention" with a British accent) and stories.  I imagined everyone would get along famously.  I imagined seeing my daughter shine in her teacher role.  I never imagined it would all turn out as I imagined... but it did.

Seeing my daughter as Ms. Mahoney ...priceless!
I arrived many (at least 7) hours before the rest of the group and sat in Heathrow airport conjuring up even more perfect situations.  I never would have conjured up the situation where group is diverted to Iceland on their way to England.  The group could now add one more country to their list of countries visited on this trip.  How many of you can say you have been to Iceland?  After their unscheduled trip to Iceland, they arrived and I finally met the nine new people in my reality.

Since they arrived many hours later than scheduled, we had to catch up to the rest of our tour group.  We managed, with the help of one very tired woman whose job it was to meet us and hook us up with the rest of the group.  So far, I was not buying into the "group tour" bit, but the students seem pretty great.  The day progressed as expected.  Put a group of tired travelers, two frustrated tour guides, crappy weather and 40 strangers together and what do you get?  A recipe for disaster?  It could have been, but it wasn't.  Adrenaline and Harry Potter to the rescue!  Give kids who love Harry Potter anything Harry Potter and you are a hero!  After planes, trains, buses and buying all the Harry Potter garb they could afford, the first day finally turned into night and we all wearily found our rooms and slept!

Our fearless leader....finding out where to meet our bus!
After almost two days of being herded around London, my daughter and I took our group after dinner and went rogue.  Most of the rest of the larger group consisted of middle school students and many parents/teachers/grandparents.  We were with nine students who were all juniors and seniors in high school.  We needed to get out and see the world.  It is much easier to move through a city as 11 people instead of 40 me on this.  Our tour guide realized that we were quite capable of navigating through the city and gave us permission to wander and directions back to our remote hotel.  We were giddy with freedom!

One view from our rogue walk.

Sadly, it was closed for repair.  Still
worth the walk along the river!
Our students really liked our post dinner walks.  I think the very best one came on our first night in Paris.  When our guide found out my daughter had lived in Paris, she was more than comfortable setting us free after the daily schedule was completed.  Paris is stunning in the evening!   The Seine and the views of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Hotel de Ville were well worth the extra steps we put in that day.  We closed the evening by letting the students shop until they dropped in the souvenir shops and topped it all of with an ice cream chaser.  They LOVED buying souvenirs!

Their feet may be tired but they can still shop!
Views like this kept us going!
Every night after dinner our students would ask if we were going on another adventure and our guide would get us up to speed on the plans for the next morning and release us.  We had spoiled a good way.  Their curiosity had been peaked.  There were a couple of night "the chaperones" were whooped but if the students asked, we indulged.  One night led to crepes for dessert.  One night led to dancing on the sidewalk to an awesome street musician who greatly appreciated their enthusiasm.  One afternoon walk led to Luxembourg Gardens and the Sorbonne where I am sure several of them now want to study for at least a semester.  Our job was done!
Dreaming of their semester abroad?

Everything the tour planned was great and well worth seeing and doing.  It was especially nice to have tickets purchased ahead of time and go to the front of many lines with our large group.  "Sorry" to people we passed up in line!   Our free time and walks together made the trip special in my eyes.  This was the time the students would ask questions and talk to us and to each other.  They were able to express their interests and maybe see or do something they wanted that was not included in the broader tour.  This was the reason I was there!

On the last night, which was the Eiffel tower extravaganza and river tour, my daughter and I bought some postcards and made little awards for our students.  We did not see much of the sights on the night cruise while we filled out our awards but the students were enchanted by the city of lights.  So to close this long post I give you the names...they know who they are!

-Most likely to have an awesome play list for whatever country he visits.
-Most likely to conquer her fears and hesitations in the name of adventure.
-Most likely to navigate through any city she visits.
-Most likely to actually get a good night sleep and dream about K-Pop.
-Most likely to attempt to learn the language wherever she travels.
-Most likely to be where he needs to be, when he needs to be there!
-Most likely to speak to Chinese tourists... in Mandarin.
-Most likely to come home with new clothing from every place he visits.
-Most likely to be the only one to board the train through Platform 9 3/4.
We will always have Paris!
Ms. Mahoney and Momma M.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Airport Games

You can't get home from here
It was both the longest and the shortest flight delay I have ever experienced.  After a perfect ski trip with the Red Solo Cup Crew we headed to the Hayden/Steamboat Springs airport.  The snow we wished we had on the slopes decided to fall as we were leaving...perfect.  Luckily, we showed up at the airport at least an hour before our scheduled 2:50 departure time just like good travelers.   Bags were checked, boarding passes were in hand, security had been cleared and we waited. 
The 7 of us heading to the airport... 
skis in the bag over my head, suitcases behind the guys and snow gently falling outside.
We waited dutifully for our plane to arrive in Hayden.  The visibility was limited at best.  Our plane passed once, twice...three times and headed back to Denver for refueling...among other things as we would find out MUCH later.  We were officially "delayed".   So we waited. 

Some of us read our books.  Some of us watched the stuff we had downloaded for the flight.  We watched it snow and waited.  Eventually, we got hungry and since the airport is small, we ventured outside of security and snagged a couple of tables at the only restaurant with a full bar and ordered drinks and lunch.  We ate, we played cards, we drank, we watched the updates on the flight status.  It was not encouraging. 
I am not exactly sure what "recovery" is....
but things were not looking good.
Meanwhile, we were holding court in the restaurant playing a lively game of "Oh Heck!" and keeping our waitress entertained and busy.  She sadly informed us that the restaurant was closing at 4 p.m.  4 pm!  What is up with that??  We stayed until they ran out of wine glasses and started serving wine in Stella Artois glasses.  Yikes!  After we finished our generous portions of wine and our Oh Heck game we were forced to go back through security and wait on the other side.  The other side was crowded and smelled like bacon.

Wine and cards...that's what you do during a delay.
With our flight still not officially cancelled we listened for updates and anxiously waited to hear that our plane was on its way from Denver.  Since it was the night of the Oscars we sat down at a table in the "bacon restaurant" and watched the Red Carpet.  We played Wisk.  We did not eat bacon but I think everyone else did!  As the day turned into night and our plane did not arrive, the inventory at the "bacon restaurant" dwindled.  The only food left was a few random bags of chips and day old yogurt parfaits....ewww.  The airline kept wheeling out carts with candy, chips, cookies and water as a consolation for the "delayed" flight. 

This one says it all!
Read the monitor, look of disbelief, check the weather and the flight status on your phone.
By now it was getting late.  We were getting a little punchy and were well past our lunch buzz and moving closer to our bedtime.  Our flight was the only group still at the airport waiting for a plane.  All of the others had either been cancelled or were in the air.  Many of us were making alternate flight plans for the next day just to cover our bases.  We were still all in fairly good spirits though, considering.  If you are going to be stuck in an airport for up to ten hours at least we were stuck with six of our good friends.  As the night wore on we finally heard that our plane had left Denver and was headed to Hayden/Steamboat.  There was joy and celebration all around! 

In anticipation of boarding an actual airplane we tried to stay awake by playing Heads Up.  You know...that game using your cell phone with clues you put up to your forehead and others give you clues and you try to guess who you are.  As we played, some people who may or may not have been trying to sleep by this late hour frowned and others joined in the fun.  What a hoot!  Two sisters who will now be known as the Super Fun Sisters joined in the Heads Up game.  We played many rounds!  It was the most fun I've ever had in an airport during a flight delay.  Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the snow, maybe it was the six friends, maybe it was the was fun. 

Our plane finally made it to Hayden.  Passengers disembarked.  Some of them were friends of some of our friends and shared that the reason for the delay was mechanical.  Hmmmm.  We waited to board the plane.  And waited.  The bleary eyed pilot came into the gate area and announced there was a mechanical problem and by the time someone came and figured out the issue and fixed it, the flight crew would be timed out.  Bottom line...we were not getting out of here tonight.  Goodnight folks....see you tomorrow....good luck finding a ride back to town at midnight....or a hotel room....want some bacon?

This is when it is nice to have friends with a house in the area!  One smart person raced to the Avis desk and was able to rent one of the few large vehicles for the night.  There was a lot a scrambling going on in the airport all of the sudden!  People making sure they had a way home the next day, people trying to find transportation to town and accommodations for the night.  It was midnight!  The Super Fun Sisters were among those scrambling and ended up with us.  So now we were nine people, with luggage and a ski bag in a minivan heading back to Steamboat for the night.  The ride back to the house was hilarious...unless you were the driver steering our ship of fools home!

We made it back to the house and unloaded.  As a vacation home owner, the only thing worse than closing a house when you leave is having to close it twice in two days.  Many thanks to our hosts!  We all remade our beds, set up the Super Fun Sisters for the night and settled in for some well deserved rest a mere 13 hours after we first left.  What a day!

Red Solo Cups and Super Fun Sisters ready for departure!
We optimistically headed back to the airport the next day.  Yes, our flight was delayed...again.  Yes, we all sighed....   Fortunately, the delay was only hours instead of days.  We were all pretty much over the airport fun and games by this time.  We just wanted to get home... and we did....30 hours after our originally scheduled arrival. 

I will say, I have never laughed so much in one day in my life!  We played a lot of cards, we laughed, we read, we watched, we waited, we ate, we drank, we met some very nice sisters and we made friends.  We never really stressed out about our situation or got mad about it, we were with friends.  The airline compensated us for our inconvenience and the staff was more than pleasant dealing with over 100 unhappy travelers.   Life is what you make of it and I think we made the most of it that day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Harbinger of Spring

Hello Houston!  It's springtime!
At the beginning of March the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo rolls into town through chilly, sometimes rainy, late winter weather and three weeks later, when it leaves, Houston is in full bloom!  Three weeks of roping, riding, mutton busting, amazing live entertainment and pollen.  It's a pretty big deal....just ask the over 2 million people who attend every year. 

A couple of weeks ago my photography class went to the rodeo BBQ cook-off  and while I was stalking photo ops through the puddles I was reminded of those days back in Katy when the kids were young.  Even though we aren't cowboys and cowgirls, everyone can put their boots and jeans on and pretend for three weeks in March.

Back in Katy from 1986-1992 our kids were in grade school and they always celebrated the beginning of the rodeo with Go Texan day.  Everyone would wear their boots and hats and dress in the nearest thing to western wear we could scrounge up around the house.  The trail riders made their way into town a few days before the first Saturday of the rodeo and we would take the kids out into the windy side streets to watch the riders on their horses and wagons.  Seeing the trail riders made us feel so Texan!  If you don't go skiing or to the beach, the rodeo is the place to be during Spring Break.

Going Texan!

These March showers will bring in the azaleas, bluebonnets and greenery
Another event that signals the end of winter is our Red Solo Cup ski trip.  We usually go the last weekend of February or the first one in March, depending on schedules.  When we leave Houston spring is just beginning to show its shy face.  After enjoying our last taste of winter on the snowy slopes, we return to a city that has exploded with life.  This year's ski trip was one for the books and definitely deserves its own post!  Tonight the Red Solo Cup Crew is heading to the rodeo, yee haw!
Enjoy this spring!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

It's Been 10 Years!!!

In January of 2008 we moved to Toronto and in February that year I started writing The Canadian Chronicles.  TEN years ago!!!  I never expected it to last this long.  Frankly, there have been times in the last few years when I considered abandoning the blog.  The closer I got to ten years the more I knew I could not quit.  This anniversary deserves a little walk down memory lane.  Put on your reading glasses, get a drink and enjoy my walk.
This is where it all began
February 2008
In the beginning my stats were fairly accurate so I have a good idea of what the most read posts were but then something happened and the stats went crazy.  I'll try my best to choose the most read posts plus I may also have to throw in a few personal favorites.  I can't say they are like my children because unlike my children, there are blogs I love more than others.  Maybe they are like pieces of art (in my dreams), some are masterpieces, some are sketches, some are self portraits and others are merely exercises.  They are all pieces of my soul in one way or another.  Writing this blog over ten years has been a pleasure, sometimes a chore, occasionally a challenge, definitely a growth experience, and a personally enriching activity.

2008-This was my very first blog post in February of 2008.  I've come a long way since then.
My most read post in 2008 was this post.  It chronicles among other things the day I became a "known wine smuggler".  Also in 2008 I wrote the post that in my mind started it all.  It was one of the most traumatic days in my life and the day I gained tremendous perspective.

2009-  The most read post this year embodies much of why we enjoyed our time in Toronto so much.  We knew we were not going to live there forever so we vowed to explore as if we were tourists.  I tell myself I should have that attitude about life in Houston and things would be more interesting around here.

2010-  The shore has had a very prominent position on the blog over the years.  Every summer I write at least three or four posts from the shore about life at the shore.  This post was the most read post in 2010 by a landslide and continues to be one of the most popular posts.

2011-Two posts were notable this year.  The first brings back some very good memories.  The second introduced a "character" to the blog who has appeared a few times over the years.  Who knows....maybe you will see her again one day!  I love her!
Thanks to these two for bringing Scotia Woman to life!

2012- If I had only loved beer in 2012 this would have been nirvana!  This was my most read post and it was when I discovered readership really increases when people share my posts.  Thanks for sharing!

2013- One of the all time favorites and most read posts is this one!

2014- Another example of a post being shared (for good reason) and becoming the most read post for the year.  These two are celebrating their 4th anniversary and are welcoming their second child in September!   It was definitely a fun wedding.

2015- This was the year my stats started going crazy.  I think there is a robot in France reading the blog, so I have no idea which post was the most read post.  The bot seemed to love this post and this post!

2016- According to the blog roll on my homepage, this is the most read post of all time...for some reason.  I think the French bot love it!  I think this is the best post in 2016!

2017- When you only write 20 posts in a year it is a little easier to choose the most read or my favorite

Through the years my frequency of posting has definitely slowed down.  I keep wondering if I've said it all and then every once in a while I get another idea.  I guess I haven't said it all...yet.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Swimming in the Deep End

I must write while it is fresh.....
I am attempting something I have attempted to do several times in the past.  I have attempted to push myself outside my comfort level, creatively and/or academically.  I am neither creative or academic but I can fake my way through both.  Tonight I may have finally pushed myself outside my comfort/ability level.

In a moment of boredom and need of getting out of the cul-de-sac I signed up for a Street Photography class.  I have walked on many streets around the world and always want to take better, more interesting photographs.  Why not take a class and learn?   Hey...I just visited the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and feel all cultured and artistic so maybe I can do this.
I've seen cool photography...maybe I can produce cool photography!
Tonight was my first class....I am so out of my league.  Of course, it is my first class...but from the introductions and conversations in and my Sony a5000 are out of our league.  There were names flying around the class that I had never heard of and others were nodding and saying, "Oh, yeah...".  I was saying, "??? gotta Google that one!"  The learning curve in this class may match the curve in my Spanish 2 class.  Only problem is...I can't look up "how to take awesome street photos with my dinky camera" in a book or online while I could just study my brains out and learn Spanish.

My insecurities are raring their ugly heads tonight I tell you folks! 
Stay tuned for street photos from the rodeo...give me strength!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Have you ever done something so stupid you just wanted to kick yourself?  Other than in high school, because we all did some stupid stuff in high school.  High school was long ago but I am still young enough to have my wits about me so this stupid move can only be blamed on....nothing.  I am still kicking myself.

It all began about a month ago when I was making my bed.  I pulled the comforter up and in my haste I ripped a hole in the fabric.  I knew it was old but had not realized how threadbare it had become.  Upon closer examination and a realistic assessment, I came to the logical conclusion... it was time for new bedding.  No problem, January is White Sale month.  I figured I would take advantage of a sale somewhere over the next month.

I scoured the stores.  I searched the Internet.  I spent more hours shopping for this bedding than I did doing all of my Christmas shopping.  I himmed and hawed (maybe I have commitment issues).  I finally made a decision and ordered my beautiful new bedding and anxiously awaited it's arrival.  I looked at my choice several times again, assuring myself I had made the right decision.  Yes,  I really liked this look.

My new bedding arrived!  I opened the box and it was just as lovely as I had anticipated.  I started ironing the pillow shams.  I ironed the bed skirt...the entire king size bed skirt.  I noticed the comforter was a bit wrinkled from being scrunched in that box so I put it in the dryer for a few minutes on "fluff" thinking a little ride in the dryer would relax the wrinkles.  WRONG!

I opened the dryer, began to pull my lovely comforter out and my heart fell into my stomach.  The comforter was ruined!  RUINED!  Cooked to a crackly crunch.  Hard as a rock.  Cardboard. The fluffy filling was solid in sections.  I am not a cursing woman, as a rule, but there were words coming out of my mouth that I seldom use.  I should have just thrown a few hundred dollar bills into the dryer and left.  Did  I feel stupid?  You bed I did!  Was I mad?  Furious!

After the reality set in I decided to just go buy an inexpensive solid colored coverlet/quilt and use it with the coordinating pillow shams, bed skirt and pillows.  It looks OK but is not nearly as warm or cozy as the comforter would have been.  Ugh!

For the time being, I'll be needing a back up blanket
to keep me warm.
On one of my daily walks I was still beating myself up for the stupid move and had a thought.  There may be a way to re-purpose the comforter.  What if I rip open the comforter and cut the ruined stuffing out of it and then fill it with something else?  It is still sitting crumpled up in the bag, it is not doing me any good there.  Plus, every night I go to sleep feeling just a little chilly with the lightweight replacement quilt instead of my puffy comforter. 

So, now I have a craft project which will require a lot of seam ripping and some very powerful glasses!  I'll keep you posted.

Friday, December 22, 2017

'Twas Three Sleeps Before Christmas

Tomorrow morning, at dark thirty, we head to the north pole for Christmas!  Not quite the North Pole, but it will feel like it!  Our house is eerily quiet. The opposite of what life will be for the next week. This quiet anticipation is luxurious!  I sit with my hopes and expectations in my heart.  I look forward to the joy and energy of our three grandsons.  Christmas through a child's eyes is the best!  I look forward to spending time with three of my own children.  I don't remember the last time we had Christmas with our son, this will surely be a treat! 

I am mostly packed, have tidied the house, bought and sent (well technically it was Amazon) my gifts except for the ones crammed in my over-packed suitcase. I have my long underwear packed, a bit of fleece and my wool coat ready for our departure.  I feel like a kid on Christmas eve!  I am also very sure I have forgotten something big!  I guess I won't know...until I know.

This Christmas season has been very enjoyable.  We have been to just enough parties to make us feel festive and connected.  Had just enough cold weather to get us in the spirit.   Done just enough shopping to feel the spirit of giving but not so much that we feel the spirit of stress and pressure.  I think it is a lot easier this year because I am not the hostess, for which I am eternally appreciative!  I am looking forward to our visit in Madison!

I hope all of you are able to take some time this week and enjoy your family and the blessings of Christmas!  Enjoy those quiet moments and those crazy moments!  Enjoy the smiles of children!  Enjoy the family meals and the special treats we only have at this time of year.  Enjoy being the giver and being the receiver.  Make some good memories!  Merry Christmas everyone! 
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