Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Oh, yeah

Last week we also went on a little trip. Bob had Friday off, so we went up to King’s Lynn, about an hour from here, to Caithness Crystal. It is a glass making/blowing factory with a big shop and free demonstrations M-F. I’ve been wanting to go for a while, but Bob works M-F, too. We didn’t make an early start, and just had time to watch him make 2 complete pieces – a drinking glass and an elephant – before he ran out of glass. It was very interesting and I’m glad we went.

Today I took Ella to the dentist. I’d noticed a cavity in July, and called to get it filled then. But they didn’t have any appointments until we were on vacation, and then they had none last week, so this was the first chance to go. Except they scheduled for a cleaning, because the dentist has to verify the cavity first. So there we were. As last time, they asked for Ella’s Social Security Number, but I was onto them this time and said up front, “I don’t know it, and I don’t want you to look it up.” So the dentist came in and asked me to write on the record that I refused it. I wrote the same as last time, “Dental clinic is NOT authorized to use child’s SSN for ANY reason.” SO she read it and said I needed to put something about they couldn’t treat the child without it. So I wrote “I understand that you will not give an X-Ray without child’s SSN, which violates child’s right to privacy and free military family health care. That’s your choice. I will leave here soon and take child to a real dentist where I will pay for an X-Ray if they think she needs one.”
She didn’t read that one until after she was done. Ella was a pill. She didn’t want to open her mouth, and cried all through the exam. Whaddyaknow? She has a cavity. But, with the dentist’s bionic eye out of commission, she doesn’t know if there are any more cavities, or how deep it is, yadda yadda. So we discussed how to get the cavity filled with Ella being uncooperative, and then she looked at the paper before leaving. Oh, she didn’t like what I wrote. Because it’s my choice to not give them the SSN (as if that negates their choice to not do the X-Ray?), and she wanted me to re-write it, but I wouldn’t. She went around the block with me about the personal vs the collective “you,” and finally declared that she cannot treat my child, and went to get someone else to “deal” with me. Whatever. No way they would have an appointment open within the next month anyway, so I took my coat and Ella and her toothbrush, and we just left.

For the record, ALL military records are kept through Bob’s SSN; each child has a “prefix” assigned to his number, and that’s how they keep track. But for some reason, the dental clinic (only Pediatrics, as far as I know) has decided to keep the X-Rays separate from the other records, and the only way they can possibly store the records is with the child’s SSN on it. There is no billing or insurance as we are on base, so that doesn’t even come into it. For my non-American friends, a SSN is a sort of tax-payer ID that every American is issued at birth. It’s primary purpose is to keep track of how much a person has earned throughout their life, so the government can calculate how much they ought to get when they are old. Sort of a nation-wide retirement scheme. Because of its close connection with jobs and finances, it is also used for taxes and credit scores. The cards used to say on them that they were not to be used for identification, but now they simply say to be cautious.

I went to the proper website and filled out a comment card.

Bob has been working on invitations to his retirement ceremony on Sept 20.

The house we offered on had already accepted a verbal offer, so I don’t think ours will get anywhere. Who knows? We’d already been accepted at the last place when they took another offer, but we thought that was crooked. I submit myself to God’s will for us. But I liked this place! Boo hoo. My theme song is now Kim Hill’s “There’s a place for us.”

Sunday, 29 August 2010

A full week at home

Well, I finally got caught up posting about the vacation. So now we are back to real life.

We did go to Fairford for lunch, gas, and a stop in the commissary. Poor base is closing down one day at a time; the commissary is now open 4 days per week. Then we took a moderately cross-country route until we hit the A14 just west of Cambridge, and then on home. The clouds started breaking up on the way home, and we actually got hot. Must have been 70*F! (LOL at those back home who are over 100*). Everything was normal at home.

Sunday we went to church where Bob showed off his beard.

Monday we hit the ground running.
A few things we’ve done in the one week since we got home:
Got plane tickets for our flight home
Ammended Bob’s orders (the children weren’t on it!)
Sent in the VA application (Veteran’s Administration – they will pay Bob some of his retirement, based on how “disabled” they decide he is). Turns out they won’t be able to see him in Germany before we leave here, so he will do his exam and get his verdict from Oklahoma.
Sold the minivan
Sold my sofa
Got the Mini tuned up
Made a menu and went shopping
Wrapped and packed Christmas presents
Made an offer on another house
Took Taryn to the dentist and agreed to have surgery to remove her extra tooth (it is horizontal, between her two front teeth)
Took apart the playhouse
Packed one suitcase
Sorted and packed 4 tubs of outgrown clothes
Alternated between running the fans and the heater.

I know there’s more than that, but that’s all I can remember right now.

5 weeks to go.

Vacation Blog Day 21

Friday, August 20, 2010

Our last full day of vacation. Tomorrow I can begin to worry about the rest of my life – 6 weeks until Bob out processes from the Air Force and we leave England for good. I like England; they pronounce my name just by seeing it in print. I’ve NEVER had an American stranger say it right. Anyway.

We decided to pack up first, and go out later if we got our work done, so we worked all morning folding clothes, packing presents, jumping on the mattress to get the water out, cleaning out the van… We finished in time for me to wash my hair before leaving for lunch at McDonald’s (with free ketchup). After lunch we made the short drive to St. Fagan’s museum of Welsh Life. This place has a nice gift shop, about 100 buildings of various ages moved in from all over Wales, including a working farm. Admission is free, but you have to pay 3GBP to park. The thing about this museum is it employs grumpy people and has a lot of rules. No strollers in the old buildings. No touching, running, feeding the animals, reading the books in the shop, etc. It seems set up to ensure children continue to think History is dull. Another gripe I have is that the information signs for each building are across the path, or down the path from the building. Sometimes it isn’t clear to which building they refer. I suppose in very crowded times this would help each person have an opportunity to both read the sign and see the building, but it is a little inconvenient.

We were about tired of it anyway when the rain set in for good, about 4pm, so we headed back home. I had “Janice’s Chicken” in the crockpot, so all that was needed was to heat up the corn and set the table. It was a good supper, followed by “Simon Says” and more laundry.

Now Bob and I need to figure out which road to take home. We plan to pop up to Fairford for gas, but do we go back to the M4, to London’s M25, or try to cut across country? We may never know. ;-)

Vacation Blog Day 20

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Today we celebrated Ella’s birthday. She was actually born on the 20th, but she wanted to celebrate at a castle, and the 7 day pass we bought last week expires today. Also we need to pack and stuff on Friday.

She woke up to a room full of balloons, presents on the table, and chocolate chip coffee cake in the oven. After a lovely breakfast Ella opened her presents and played house with the other children. She wanted to have lunch at the castle, so we left for Castle Coch (I heard one person pronounce it “cork”) about 11:30, arriving about noon. There is a larger castle nearby, Caerphilly, but it doesn’t have a tea room. The weather was hit and miss with the rain, but it wasn’t a big deal because Castle Coch was built in the 1850’s and still has a roof on.

We went to the tea room and set about ordering. The children each got a ham sandwich with yogurt, apple, and orange juice. Bob got a Huntsman’s pie and I got Welsh Rarebit, with bacon. Bob liked his pie, but it was served cold, so I’m glad I got the rarebit. It seemed fitting to have it at least once while in Wales, and anyway it was really good. After lunch we walked around the castle, and found out that there was a castle on the site that was a ruin by the 1500s, and the present castle was built on the old foundation and was externally as authentic as possible. There was a wedding at the castle, and they had a bagpiper. She started up once right as we were walking by, and Elijah just burst into tears. She apologized and went away a little bit. The girls were all thrilled to see the bride entering and leaving.

The children were quite excitable all day, and Bob and I were having a hard time dealing with it. We were also out of water in the car. We headed on over to Caerphilly, stopping at a grocery store for water. I also saw some interesting cereal, and bought it to try. It is chocolate “pillows” with a hazelnut cream filling. Tastes like Nutella on toast. We found the castle, but at this point it was pouring rain and it would have been torture to go in. Ella agreed that one castle was enough, and we turned toward home.

We arrived at the Tesco Extra about 4pm, and went in to buy a cake for Ella and breakfast for the next 2 days. She picked out a chocolate cake with smarties (like M&M’s), Rolo, and another candy on top. After that we crossed the road to Pizza Hut for supper. This one had pizza! They told us that the “children eat free” deal was any order off the regular menu generated a free child’s menu order. So we talked and mulled it over, and finally agreed to get 2 large pizzas, and take the 2 free kid’s meals. But when we went to order she said that a large gets 2 free meals, and that would have been too much. So we got one large, with “cheese bite” crust – oh, it was good! I could eat just a plate of the cheese bites – a lasagna, and three free children’s meals. It turned out just right. Bob wasn’t crazy about the lasagna, but he got full and Elijah inhaled the rest of it (after having nibbled on pizza throughout the meal).

When we got home I sent Naysha upstairs to put some clean socks away, and when she came down she said something kind of offhand about she and Taryn would both have to sleep on the floor tonight. I asked why this was, and she informed me that one bed was a little wet. Why? Taryn had opened the window, which is actually a SKYLIGHT, that morning before we left. Remember the rain all day? Straight down on the bed. The blankets, mattress pad, mattress, and floor were all soppy wet. So we spent the next hour soaking up water, taking the bed apart, and sending linens through the dryer. Slight panic prevailed. Once we got as far as we could, we broke for cake, and then made pallets on the boys’ room floor for the girls.
I really hope it dries up. There are no fans, nor even a hairdryer, in this house. And this is the house we booked directly with the owners, so there is no vacation insurance.

Vacation Blog Day 19

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
We woke up to rain again this morning, but as we already knew what we had planned we just went ahead with it. After breakfast, showers, and some laundry, we got in the bus and headed east. Er, we went outside where the owner was working with her horses. So we stopped and talked about the horses for a minute, petted the cat, learned everyone’s name… and then got in the bus.

Our destination was Cheddar, England. Google maps gave the travel time at 1 ½ hours, and in spite of all our misgivings, that was about right (as always). We arrived at 11:30, so our first priority was toilets and then lunch. The toilets were clearly visible from the main road, so after we got parked (in the “coaches” parking area, with the blessing of the attendant) we trotted down the hill into town. We settled on a little tea shop for our lunch, as it had signs out front describing today’s special as Cornish pasties (said with a short “a” sound) 2 for 3GBP to take away. I went in and ordered 8 of them, hot please. I took the bag and we all walked down a wide footpath to a bench under a tree, where we sat and ate. The pasties were quite good and filling. Our cheapest meal out so far!

Next, we wanted to visit the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Factory, where (for 4 GBP total) we were allowed to watch a man make cheese. There was a 25 minute video that showed all the steps to authentic cheddar, and a few antique implements on display. In all, there was less to the show than at the Chocolate factory in Yorkshire, and that was free. After that we exited into the shop for free samples (this area was open to the public). Unlike the Wensleydale cheese room, Cheddar’s samples were administered by an attendant, and while they did their best, it still took longer and I felt like we shouldn’t try every single one. I did buy a wedge of cave-ripened cheddar, and a jar of onion and ginger relish. That relish is something else! One bite and I didn’t want to eat for hours.

We walked around town until 5pm, checking out the candy-making shop, the fudge shop, the other toilets, an antique shop, and a couple of gift shops. I had hoped to be able to get a small cheese for each of my family members, but it is all (even the waxed or still-wrapped) marked “keep refrigerated” and I don’t want to risk food poisoning. We drove on up to the top of the gorge, where Bob took a few pictures, and we saw “mountain goats” and heard a peregrine falcon that RSPB was out looking for. We were almost out of gas, but the two places in Cheddar were 1.19 and 1.20GBP per litre, and Bob thought we could make it a little ways.

On the way back to the motorway we took a detour through the town (village?) of Axbridge (Hi, HoJo’s!). It is a pretty place, home of King John’s hunting lodge, but has no gas stations. I had planned to go back the way we came, but Bob took a “wrong” turn, and it’s a good thing he did, as there was a BP station just down the road. It was still 1.18per litre, so he just got a half tank. We followed that road to the M5, and then after 1 ½ miles we stopped at a services area (I keep trying to think of an American equivalent; I guess it is similar to a truck stop, with convenience store and toilets. Some are more like small malls, some just have a gas station, and some have several separate buildings, often including a hotel). We had supper at Burger King. I got the Cheddar bacon Angus burger, and it was SOOOO good! After supper we bought 2 Magnum Ecuador Dark ice cream bars, which we thought weren’t being made anymore (can’t find them anywhere in East Anglia), but are everywhere out here, and shared them around. Gas there was 1.22. HaHaHa.

Where the M4 crosses the Severn Estuary, from England to Wales, you have to pay a toll. No toll coming into England, just going into Wales. We got charged as a bus – 10.90GBP!! Oh well, what are you gonna do? The trip home was a bit longer than the one out, as the M4 was closed around Newport, so all traffic was diverted to an A road, with a half-dozen roundabouts and stop lights. Then when we got to our exit we both had a brain fart and forgot which way to turn. We took a trip around the roundabout, and decided we may as well check their gas prices. 1.16 per litre, so we stopped and filled up, and then back around to our road home.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Vacation Blog Day 18

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Today started off rather rainy, with a cloud blanket that looked like it would never end. But I encouraged Bob to go for it, so eventually we left the house. He wanted to go west – the ultimate goal to reach the end of this peninsula – and visit some beaches, and maybe go up to the Aberdulais waterfall. Several sources say people surf on these beaches, and we thought some big waves might be nice to look at.

Our first stop was in Port Talbot, where we followed the signs through a very circuitous route to the seaside. Once there we realized that we should eat first, so we worked our way back to what we thought was the road we came in on, but somehow the McDonald’s we’d seen had turned into a KFC. No matter, we can eat chicken, too. They had everything we ordered in stock, and though the accents were unbelievably thick, we managed to order and get our food.

Across the road was a large grocery store, so Bob dropped me off there and I got some water and some candy. And we were off to the beach. By now the clouds were starting to break up. We got parked and unloaded the children, the stroller, diaper bag, water bottles, and sand toys (I bought a set at Poundland the other day, and it just happened to have one toy for each child – how cool is that?). We changed into our flip-flops and walked down to the beach. It was so nice there. The sand by the steps (giant concrete steps all along the length of the beach) was very fluffy and clean, and down closer to the water it was firm enough to push the stroller. The children rolled up their pants and skirts and went wading. The water was pretty cold, so I didn’t stay in. They splashed around for quite a while, and then we went back up to the steps where we sat down and they built castles. Just a few inches below the surface the sand was the perfect consistency for molding into shapes. We did see some people try to surf (it looked like lessons), but the waves weren’t big enough to do anything with.

That was great fun, but Bob had spotted a lighthouse across the bay and wanted to get closer. So we drove past Swansea and through Mumbles, which was very crowded but not as nice as Llandudno, and out to Mumbles point (or is it head? I don’t want to bother looking it up). That spot was apparently unfashionable, because the parking was free and plenteous, the playground wasn’t overcrowded, and there was no queue at the toilet. Perfect. Except, we’d overshot the lighthouse a little bit. Anyway, Bob climbed a little hill there and took pictures of a sailboat going around the lighthouse. The children played and Elijah tried to eat woodchips.

It was after 4, and I’d heard a lady talking about traffic getting bad (it was bad enough coming down!), so we talked it over, and Bob really did want to get out to the western end, so we decided to go for it. The only problem with this idea is that Wales is behind England in the modernizing of road signs, and they still have signs that point towards a town (with the name in Welch) instead of giving the road number. And half of the towns (villages, really) on the peninsula aren’t on the map at all. So we managed to turn off our A road and ended up in a parking lot. Seems like Dad and I did that once in Salisbury, back in ’94. Anyway, we persevered, and made it down to Worm’s Head after the shop and visitor’s center had closed. We paid a pound to park, and went for a walk. There was an ice cream truck there, so we each got one, even as we put on our coats because it was so chilly and windy. William dropped his ice cream, so Ella shared with him, which somehow got it all over her own back as well both of their faces and hands.
It was pretty there, and the sun was starting to set, so we dallied as long as we could stand it, and then tore ourselves away in search of food. (Being about 7pm). There were a couple of pubs down there, but I thought we’d save time by eating at McDonald’s, and we’d seen a few in Swansea. So we found our way back to Swansea, missing a turn to the bypass (again with the bad signs here!), but traffic wasn’t unbearable even through the town center.

We arrived at McDonald’s after 8pm (the children are usually in bed by this time). We ordered our food, and the guy asked if we wanted any sauces. We said “just ketchup” and he said “Ketchup mumble mumble. Do you want any sauces?” Clearly putting ketchup in a different category than ‘sauce.’ I asked for sweet and sour (great with the fries), and he rang them up at 5p each. Whatever; it IS good. So we got our food after about 10 minutes, during which I managed to get online and found it to be a good connection, but no ketchup on the tray or out on a counter where we could get it. We sorted the food and waited for the rush to die down; I took a bite of my quarter pounder and found it kinda yucky, so ate some fries and sauce while waiting. Taryn went up to ask for ketchup, and came back saying she thought he said you had to pay for it. What?! So I jumped up, waited 5 minutes to get anybody’s attention – it happened to be the manager – and asked for ketchup. He said it was 5p each. I tried to talk him out of it, being McDonald’s and all, but he wasn’t buying it. I asked if I could get my money back on my burger, because I couldn’t eat it without ketchup, and he refused that, too. He was sorry, but wouldn’t do anything to fix it because it was franchise policy to sell bad burgers and not fix it. All the McDonald’s in Swansea are owned by the same franchise. I got so upset I was trembling all over, and crying to nearly throwing up, so of course I couldn’t eat anything anyway. The children proved they don’t have to have piles of ketchup as they always claim, by eating their food dry. I got back online and posted a review of McDonald’s on Google maps, and here on the blog. It was 9:30 by the time we left.

Okay, restaurant people, (HoJo’s, Wil, ?) if a customer came to you with food that was too gross to eat, would you not offer a refund or a fix? I understand this cuts profit immediately, but how can you keep customers otherwise? And if you lose money because you are a bad restaurant, shouldn’t that inspire you to be a better one?

Anyway, in retrospect, if I’d chosen the way of peace, I could have just enjoyed my fries and soda, and been full and happy without the burger. We’d all have been better off. I think the burgers really were bad, as Bob had to stop on the way home to throw up.

On that pleasant note, I’ll end. It is high time for bed.

Vacation Blog Day 17

Monday, August 16, 2010
I didn’t wake up until 7:30 this morning! (Well, thereabouts; there are 6 clocks in this house and they cover quite a range of time.) After breakfast of Tesco cereal, Bob unleashed his plan. He wanted to take me up to Hay-on-Wye, a village known for its book stores. I was cool with that!

We left the house at 9:30, and went to Raglan Castle. We had lunch there and explored the ruins. It was really nice, and I made it up to a tower with not too much trouble. The stairs were nice and deep. :- ) We spent about 2 hours there, and then went on North-East.

At Hay-on-Wye, Bob let me out at the TIC, and he took the children to the nearby playground. He had a full time job keeping Elijah from eating everything he found. I walked up and down and shopped. Bought 3 Hentys, 2 Ballantynes, and 1 A. Conan Doyle, as well as a book on Mull and Iona. The plan was for us to call each other when we were ready to go, but the village doesn’t have cell phone reception. I was heading back to the TIC when Bob found me, and we started home about 5pm.

We stopped for dinner at a shopping center, and our first choice was Pizza Hut, but when we were finally greeted it was to be told that they only had large pizzas left. Huh? Don’t they make it on site? How can you have stuff for a large, but not a small? We started to go ahead, but Bob asked about the “kids eat free” sign, and she responded that yes, they do, but they don’t have the pizza, so it would have to be pasta. Nevermind, we went over to McDonald’s. We are getting a nice collection of glasses by now. (Free with a combo meal.)

Sorry my posts are getting shorter and shorter. There’s more I want to say about the cuteness of the children, etc, but I just don’t have the time or energy to get it out there.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Vacation Blog Day 16

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I’ll admit I’m writing this one on Monday. Any rate…

First thing Sunday morning, we regretted staying up until midnight to watch Casino Royale. So to make up for it, we stayed up Sunday night until midnight, watching The Pianist. It’s a movie about Poland in WW2, and I can’t recommend it because of the graphic violence, but one part made me laugh. The hero, a Polish Jew, managed to survive the years of German occupation, only to be shot at by the Russians because he had on a German officer’s coat. As he ran for cover he yelled “I’m Polish!” and they stopped firing. He came out with hands up, and they said, “Why the (expletive) coat?” He answered, “I’m cold.”

So between first thing in the morning and midnight, we did laundry (this place has both a tumble dryer and a clothesline), took a walk down the lane, went up to the junction for lunch at McDonald’s and shopping at Tesco. This was a Tesco Extra, and even had an upstairs. It looked HUGE to us, but I know we’ve been in WalMarts that are bigger. We got groceries, a pop-up tent, and some classic outdoor games (we’re thinking Christmas presents). Came home and cooked the lasagna for dinner, along with a most excellent cantaloupe.

While we were out, the owner mowed the grass, and my allergies kicked into high gear. My nose was running constantly, my ears even felt funny. Today I’m breathing hard and coughing. But today is another post.

Vacation Blog Day 15

Saturday, August 14, 2010
What a day! We left our cottage in Trefriw at 9:15am, and arrived at our cottage near Barry 12 hours later. How did that happen? We decided to not go to Stoke-on-Trent and look for china. I didn’t want the pressure of having to buy something after going that way on purpose, and I’d heard that the best shops are defunct now anyway. So we took the scenic route – A470 all the way from Betws-y-Coed to Cardiff, and then the short jaunt over to the cottage (including, of course, 3 miles on a single lane road).

We didn’t have any breakfast, so we stopped in Betws (which I learned is pronounced betoos) for bacon and cheese things and chocolate things at the bakery. We didn’t fill up with gas there, thinking prices might be better off the tourist route. About 2 hours down the road we were in serious need of toilets, so stopped at a place called Machinations – a sort of toy museum/gift shop/café. We checked out the animated wooden toys, the menu (pricey!) and the books, and got back in the car. Just a little further down the road we stopped at a Spar grocery/convenience store to get lunch meat to put on the bread I had. We ate in the parking lot. Just after that we stopped and filled up with gas at 1 or 2 pennies more per litre than that at Betws.

The next stop was Devil’s Bridge. It was only 30 minutes off our road. There is an old story about an old woman losing her cow across the gorge, and the devil appeared and offered to build a bridge if he could have the first living thing across it. The next morning a bridge was there, but the old woman outsmarted the devil by sending her dog across the bridge. So the devil was too embarrassed to ever return to Wales, and the woman got her dog back. At any rate, there are three bridges there now, one on top of the other, and the bottom (oldest) bridge is probably about 900 years old. We hiked, climbed, and scrambled first down the side of the mountain, across a foot bridge, and back up the other side. We got muddy all over, my knees popped with each step, and William nearly fell asleep standing up, but we made it. Elijah really enjoyed the walk, laughing all the way and getting down in the mud whenever I let him (there were a couple of safe landing spots).

We were just away from there when the torrential downpour began. That lasted about 45 minutes and had just cleared up when we took a wrong turn that took us back north and around through the road construction again… We were fairly back on our road when we arrived at Brecon, so we stopped there for dinner. That town isn’t very user-friendly and doesn’t appear to have public toilets. We found a burger/kebab place and ordered when my mom called me (hi, Mom!). She wondered if I wanted anything of Meemaw’s. Was it Donkey, Donkey that we always read there? Too late now, I guess. After dinner we asked the cook if there was a Tesco or something nearby. He said Aldi’s and Morrison’s, just down this road. SO we fetched the car, found the road again, and there was Aldi’s – closed. On down was the Morrison’s – a gas station. We used the toilets and bought a jug of water, a jug of milk, and a loaf of bread for breakfast tomorrow.

It wasn’t too much longer now. Maybe we weren’t ready to arrive yet – we took another wrong turn and were headed for downtown Cardiff on a road with no U-turns allowed. We managed to get back in the right direction, and in spite of my sudden fear that I’d written down the directions wrong, we made it to our house.

This place is looking to be the best so far, with actual soft beds, toys, rock walls, and horses. I’ll keep you informed.

Today we started counting and realized it is 7 weeks until Bob’s final out processing from work. I’m trying to not think about that, as it gives me a stomach ache.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Hey, y'all go check the illustrations to the story at www.flickr.com/photos/oliveplants You don't have to be signed in to view the pictures, only to comment. Bob would love to have you look, plus you'll get a better understanding of what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Vacation Blog Day 14

Friday, August 13, 2010

Knowing that we are moving tomorrow, we planned a short day for today.
We left the house by 9:15 and went up to Conwy. We did have a little delay on starting, because Bob thought the bus sounded funny; we stopped in at the hotel where we turn around and he put in a quart of oil.

We arrived in Conwy just in time to get a prime parking space in the shadow of the castle. A man was changing his tire, and we noticed he didn’t seem to know what he was doing, so as Bob went to pay for a parking ticket he asked the man if he needed help, which he declined. But on Bob’s way back to the bus the man called to him. He couldn’t get his jack to work at all. So Bob expertly set it up for him and helped him get the spare on. The man was very grateful, but Bob explained he was practically born a mechanic and it was no trouble for him.

Then we went over to the castle, where we deliberated in the gift shop just long enough for a whole busload of American tourists to come in and clog up the checkout lines. So we looked around a bit more, and finally made it in. Admission for just the castle was 14GBP, but a 7 day pass to any CADW property was 36GBP, so we went ahead with the 7 day pass. Conwy castle was interesting; several unique features; lots of stairs. We went up into one tower, but on the way down I nearly had a panic attack. I was on the verge of calling for Bob to come back and help me, but talked myself through it and William and I made it down safely. At any rate, I refused to go up any more stairs, so I sat on a bench with the 3 little ones while Bob and the big ones finished exploring. To explain further about the stairs: this tower is at least 5 stories high, all on a single ascent in a tight spiral staircase where the wide end of the steps is about 8 inches deep (my foot being about 12 inches), and the rope that acts as a handrail is on the inside (narrow end). I had on Bob’s camera backpack (he was carrying Elijah) and holding William’s hand. At first I had William to the inside, so I had a chance of standing on the steps, but that gave me no handhold, and with the backpack on I couldn’t lean against the wall. So after my near-panic, I made William go on the outside and I held onto the rope, and that was bearable.

We left the castle with over an hour left on the parking ticket, so we went looking for lunch. I was eager to revisit the kebab place, but Bob was less so. He found a cute little bakery/deli and after we tore our eyes away from the sweets we ordered some meat pies, sandwiches, baps, and back to the sweets. Bob picked out a slice of chocolate chip sponge cake, covered in chocolate. I got a chocolate cake with cream filling; the children wanted cream filled éclairs. It was all good, but Bob’s treat was the best.

Back to the car, where we decided to just come on home. We had laundry, packing, and baths to do; it’s 9:30 now and I’m still not done. Tomorrow we head south, if we can decide on a road to take. :- )

Vacation Blog Day 13

Thursday, August 12, 2010
This morning we took a break from vacationing. Bob fell asleep in his chair, and the children played pretend upstairs until lunch. We got things together and left the house about 12. First we went to Conwy, thinking of those yummy kebabs and the impressive castle, but we found no parking space in the whole town. So we moved on to Llandudno.

We had lunch at McDonald’s (had to wait for a table), and then went downtown. Got a parking space and started walking. We arrived in the town center at 2pm, and walked up and down the main drag until 6pm. We bought some souvenirs and some famous ice cream. We had KFC for supper, eaten in the grass in front of a church. After supper we went back to the bus and drove over to the seafront, where we got out and built sandcastles until sunset (8:45).

So that was our day. Elijah’s spots have turned rash-y looking (front and back). We remember having seen this on one of the children before, but don’t remember how it turned out.
We forgot to check email at McDonald’s.
We’ve decided the Welsh are much more reserved than the English. And they like to say “probably.” In the last couple of days we have seen “Probably the best fish and chips you’ll ever eat,” “probably the best gift shop in Wales,” and on a brochure “Wales has more castle per square mile than probably any other country.” Are they afraid of being sued for false advertising?

Vacation Blog Day 12

Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Bob sleeping on the floor didn’t work out so well. His blanket was too short, his CPAP woke him, and it was hard. He eventually gave up and went downstairs to the sofa. It didn’t work great for me either, as I tried to spread out on the bed and thus got out of the one semi-comfortable groove. At least Elijah only woke up once, so he was well rested. When he woke me up in the morning, not knowing what time it was, I just brought him downstairs to nurse him. It was only 6, and as he ate he fell asleep. So I took him back upstairs, but as I reached the top step he woke up. So I took him in the bathroom with me, and then we went into my room where I read a Hardy Boys mystery and Elijah sat beside me, looking in the mirror, until he fell asleep just sitting there. I laid him down and went out into the hall to intercept the other children as they woke up. They all played quietly in the boys’ room until Bob woke up, and then we went downstairs.

Elijah didn’t wake up until 8, but somehow we made it out of the house before 10, for the first time since moving to this house. We finally made up our minds to go south to the big waterfall, named Pistyll Rhaeadr. We stopped in Bala at Tegid lake, which has its own breed of fish, not found anywhere else. It’s also Wales’ largest natural lake. We eventually found a picnic area, and ate, threw rocks in the lake, and climbed trees. Taryn and Naysha now know how to skip rocks.
After lunch we went on to the waterfall, which was quite a harrowing drive down 4 miles of single lane road, but we made it. As we were unloading the car a bird with terrific aim dropped one right on Bob’s camera lens. No splatter onto Bob, or the camera body. As it was fresh, it wiped up rather easily. Then on to the fall, which was just a little climb. It was very pretty, and as it was on a public footpath there were no railings or rules. Bob got a few good pictures before his battery went dead and it started to rain. Back to the car!

On the way home we stopped at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which is a canal way up in the air. There is a nice walk along the canal from town to the aqueduct, and we walked it, but didn’t get our jackets and so were quite chilled. We picked the wrong side of the canal to walk down, as when we got to the aqueduct we found that our path ended, but the path on the other side went out on the bridge thing. But there was a trail down under the bridge and up the other side, so Bob was able to go out on the bridge with the older children. I was sensible enough to stay on firm ground. But as we were deliberating and taking pictures, Ella began to climb through the railings on the edge of the cliff. Some Italians on the other side of the water (about 5 feet wide) yelled to her to get back, and we looked up and called her back, where she began crying. They exclaimed “Mama Mia!” and we thanked them for being bold enough to interfere. Phew. On the way back to the bus we picked a few blackberries, which are just coming into season. Refreshing, but a little sour.

Just down the road was the town of LLangollen, where we decided to park and look for dinner. The shops were just closing as we arrived, so we didn’t buy any fudge, mugs, or lovespoons. We settled on a hotel/restaurant/pub. We were greeted right away, and they had tables for 8 and high chairs, so we settled in easily. The large TV was on Sports, so that was okay, too. Our waitress/barista was attentive, but the food was a LOOOOONG time coming. And it was less than impressive. The “garlic bread” was buttered and garlic-ed toasted hamburger buns. Riah’s fish sticks had 2 actual pieces of fish. And though 4 of us had large plates of chips, when we asked for ketchup we were given 4 little packets total. When we asked for more, we got 2. So anyway, we ate and almost got full. After dinner we went over to Spar grocery store (more like a convenience store in this town) and got some fruit and crisps. When we stopped to change diapers before buckling up, we noticed that Elijah’s belly was covered with red spots. Right. We’ll keep an eye on that. (By the way, Saturday when he had a fever, he cut a tooth. His fever was hit and miss through Sunday and Monday, and then went away completely.)

We finally made it home at almost 9pm, and crashed hard.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Vacation Blog Day 11

Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Having decided the night before to go south to the big waterfall if the weather was nice, being surprised by sunshine this morning, having a good early breakfast, and being ready to go by 8am, we of course piddled around and didn’t leave the house until after lunch. Big grin. Taryn played the piano; Bob played Twister with the children; they went up the hill and visited the sheep. I even shaved my legs. Elijah fell asleep on my lap just before 10, and slept all through lunch (until about 11:30).

Since the time was half gone we decided to stay local. First we went just into the village to the Trefriw Woolen Mills and museum. It was interesting, but the people weren’t very … outgoing. The main entrance is to the big store, and there is nothing there about the museum part – we found it just by poking around. But when we got there it was interesting. We followed the wool from the sheep to the bedspreads. In some places the machines were working and we watched awhile; in other places it was still and quiet, but we were able to read the signs.
There was a small shop out back, where a woman was spinning on a wheel, and her friend was using a hand spindle. The actual employee never said a word to us, but the woman who was just there because she likes to spin and visit her friend told the children a little about it. There was a sign on the door about trying your hand at the loom, but when Riah asked the talkative woman about trying her spindle she said no (very kindly), and no offer was made on the loom or anything else. Shortly after that they realized that they were late for their lunch break and needed to close the shop for a while. So that was quite frustrating, but the rest of it was nice.
Elijah was very fussy, so Bob took him and the others outside (they spotted a playground across the street) while I shopped in the big store. I thought they were having fun, so took my time, but it turns out the park was closed, so they were sitting in the bus. Anyway, I bought some genuine sheepskin gloves, a natural wool tie for Bob, a set of woven woolen coasters, and a lambswool duster. And maybe a couple of soft cuddly sheepdogs for the children, who have been wanting one since Yorkshire, but these were the cheapest and softest I’ve seen.

After that we headed just past Betws-y-Coed to Swallow Falls, which we’d passed at least twice before but were unable to stop at because the sign is past the parking lot. Knowing where it was this time, we pulled in and went for a walk. The area is fenced off, and there’s an old man in a booth at the gate collecting entrance fees. 1.50 per adult and .50 for children. He laughed as we walked up and Bob started counting, but gave us a deal by only charging for 4 children. There were way too many steps down and up to see the waterfall, which was very pretty and worth the fee. However, in a couple of key places the trees were growing up and blocking the view.

When we were done with the waterfall we headed toward Llandudno, as Bob had borrowed a Yellow Pages and found that this town had both a Jessops (camera store) and a McDonald’s (free internet). We passed the McDonald’s on the way into town, but Jessops was right downtown. There was an empty parking space just around the corner, so we parked and got out. Jessops was an important stop because Bob’s shoulder strap was falling apart and he was afraid of dropping his camera. We all trooped into the store only to discover they were out of straps. Well, we were in town, so went on down the street a bit. I saw a Boots (pharmacy/photo developer/drugstore) and thought it was worth a look. By the time we worked our way through the mall to Boots, the toilets, and back, we were done with being in town. Llandudno is a bustling seaside resort town. There are many Victorian style buildings, lots of shops and cafes, and many people walking up and down. It could be a lot of fun to wander around in, but we wanted a camera strap. Plus the children were quite excitable.

We had a recommendation for Cambrian Photo in Colwyn Bay, so I called and they were open until 5:30. It was 4:45 and the towns are about 10 miles apart. Piece of cake. Except that there were also lots of people trying to drive around the area, and traffic was moving very slowly. But we did make it to Colwyn Bay, and eventually (after another phone call and a couple of U-turns) found the store. They DID have camera straps – nice, if a little short – and Bob even bought one for me, since I had the old, stiff, kit strap.

Then we went back to Llandundo to eat at the McDonald’s. It was crowded inside so we snagged a table outside in the sun. Yes, sun! Today was the first day of our vacation that it hasn’t rained on us once all day. This was the best internet connection we’d had yet, and Bob even uploaded one picture to Flickr. We checked email and bank account, and I saw that in my parent’s home town the high today was 101*F. And my fingers were cold, sitting in the sun.

Back home, we all climbed the hill again and saw the sheep and the view (looked right down on our roof), and then came in to find that Taryn’s Bubble Tape had found its way into the washing machine. We double checked the clothes and didn’t see any gum residue, so hopefully that will work out.

Tonight Bob is going to try sleeping on the floor, as the bed is so bad.

I almost forgot! Once as we were driving past a lay-by (oh, you don’t know what a lay-by is? Well, periodically along almost all roads in the country there is a wide spot marked for parking, and no matter how lonely and deserted you think the road is, there is usually at least one car parked there. This parking area is called a lay-by) there was a little grey-haired lady standing at the rear of her car (on the pavement, fully visible from the road), just coming up from a squat, pulling her underwear up under her dress. Oh, yeah! As Bob says, men at least usually go on the grass side of their car, so you don’t see too much as you drive by.

Vacation Blog Day 10

Monday, August 09, 2010
Today we had “planned” to go south to a big waterfall, maybe stopping at a lake on the way, but when we got up this morning it was raining. So we hum-hawed around, and finally just left.

We went first to Betws-y-coed, which I still don’t know how to pronounce, so I call it “Betsy co-ed.” We found a parking spot at the church, and started out in search of a bakery we’d seen the day before. It wasn’t too far until we began to wonder if the bakery had de-materialized, and so stopped at a café and had bacon and egg sandwiches for lunch. Feeling somewhat refreshed, we walked on through town. Sure enough, there was the bakery. Bob went in and picked up a treat, and then we went on to the waterfall at the bridge.

When we were done there we went back to the bus and headed North West to the National Slate Museum. I’d been told parking was free there, but it cost 3GBP. Entrance to the museum was free, and it was interesting if not awe-inspiring. We left there about 4:30, and took the north route home, through Conwy. On the way to and from we saw some great scenery: waterfalls, slate mountains, sheep, clouds…

We stopped in Conwy to look for dinner, which we got at a Burger, Pizza, and Kebab place. My chicken kebab was delicious. I hope we go up there again for dinner. Afterwards we walked down to the bay and looked at the castle and boats and Britain’s smallest house. I also popped into a little grocery and got some breakfast and lunch food.

That’s about all I remember; I’ve been a little sleepy today.

Vacation Blog day 9

Sunday, August 08, 2010
Last night Elijah woke up at least 4 times. He was warm but didn’t feel too feverish, so I just fed him and put him back to bed each time.
This morning I woke up about 6, and was puttering around the house when my cell phone rang. It was my mom, calling to tell me that my Meemaw (my maternal grandmother) had passed away that night. It has been expected for some time – over a year, in fact. She was almost 94, and had suffered many things the last few years, from colon cancer to stroke. What is especially interesting in our personal view is that the day before in our family Bible Time, we’d read in the Old Testament about Elijah raising the widow’s son from the dead, and in the New Testament (purely by “coincidence” – we aren’t following any reading plan) we read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. And then, this morning for church we put in a DVD that I’d selected 2 weeks ago titled “The Person of Christ” and it was a breakdown of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul was proving that there is indeed a resurrection from the dead. So we took the news better than you might think.

“Better” or not, what with the news, the lack of sleep, and concern with Elijah not feeling well, I wasn’t feeling very happy this morning. It took a while for us to pull it together, but after lunch we went for a drive.

We had no real destination in mind, just to check out the local area and get a feel for the roads. We drove through Betws-y-Coed, but they were having both a classic car show and a Ferret Derby, so it was packed out and we just went on through. We ended up in Porthmadog and found a lovely beach where we parked right out on the sand and played and waded as long as we could stand it, watching the tide come in. We took different road home, made a wrong turn, and ended up on the beach at Colwyn Bay. We got dinner at a fish-n-chips/ice cream stand on the beach, and it was quite good (plus cheap, filling, and friendly). We then walked down to the water, and watched the tide come in again.

It was an easy drive home, where we showered all the children and got them in bed.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Vacation Blog day 8

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Today we moved. I woke up at 5:30 and continued the packing I’d started the night before. As we didn’t have a dependable dryer, I didn’t want to do any laundry with less than 2 days there, so we had 2 suitcases full of dirty clothes and one of clean clothes. We used up a box worth of food, but bought a box worth of stuff, so we had about the same amount of stuff as we had coming up.

We finally got it all together and swept the house and were out the door at 9am. I had found out that Morecambe Bay, not far out of our way, was unique in its fast tides and large salt marshes and quicksand. The children were of course VERY interested in quicksand, having seen it on The Lone Ranger once, so we planned to stop there. However, my research was incomplete, and where we stopped only had mud. We did go out quite a ways by walking on rocks, and then sea shells, but we stopped at the mud and went back to the car. Disappointing.

We pressed on to our new location- Trefriw, Wales. We did stop not far from the house at a services and filled up with gas and used the toilets and ran around in the grass. Elijah had been fussy all day, and at this point I took his temperature, which was 102.8. I didn’t have Infant Tylenol, so I broke up a children’s Meltaway and fed it to him a quarter at a time. He started to feel better soon.

We pulled up to the house about 5pm, and the owner, who lives in a travel trailer next door, was outside and met us as we disembarked. She was a bit put out at our having 7 children when we’d reserved for 5 (it was the only way to do it! Those silly automated forms won’t let you put in all the children. They are small; if the house can hold 6 adults it can hold 10 children!), but overcame it and showed us briefly through the house. This place is much bigger than the last one, and has a tumble dryer and dishwasher. But it is more “homey” than resort-y. There is a piano in the living room, books and toys in the bedrooms, and lots of mis-matched dishes. But the beds are all hard and worn out – big divots where people sit on them all the time. Yuck. It is on a 20 acre working farm, and supposedly the owners let children get up close with the animals, but we’ll have to overcome our cool welcome in order for that to happen. It is also on the side of a steep hill, so there isn’t any yard to speak of, and the advertised “parking for three cars” doesn’t exist. Parking for ONE car, and please make sure to pull up far enough to be out of the way. This is my opinion of Bryn Pyll farm cottage so far.

Anyway, after settling down a bit we went in search of food. We’d been told there are 3 pubs within 5-15 minute walk, so we started walking down the very narrow lane that leads to our cottage. At the main road is a hotel and restaurant, but it looked pretty snazzy and didn’t have a children’s menu posted, so we went on into the village. We had about decided there wasn’t a village when we came upon The Old Ship. They allowed children, and had a menu for them. I saw a large table so we went in. There was no greeting at the door, no offer of menu or instructions to order at the bar. We about decided the Welsh just aren’t very friendly. Anyway, we got our meal ordered and when it finally came it was very good, and – get this – we ALL GOT FULL. Our family motto is “I’m still hungry” so this was quite a shock.

On our way back to the house (where the lane is several feet lower than the houses on it), we were accosted by a loud snarling sound rushing towards us from a garden above our heads. I thought “German Shepherd” – the children guessed lion or bear – but Bob knew what it was. A pig. Yep, a big red and black spotted pig was bravely guarding his turf.

Vacation Blog day 7

Friday, August 6, 2010

Today we had a big day planned. We knew we wanted to fill up again at Menwith Hill, so we found some other things in that area that we wanted to see – both on my list. We planned to get an early start so we could pack up when we got home, and make a sort of loop around to Bolton Abbey, Menwith Hill, and then Brimham Rocks, taking the scenic route home.

But somehow we didn’t get out early, though it was earlier than it felt like, so we decided to take the scenic route down and skip the Abbey. As we headed to the car, Naysha began to wail. She couldn’t find her camera. So Bob looked through the house and I looked through the bus, and it wasn’t there. We talked it over and decided she must have set it down while taking off her costume the day before, at Castle Bolton. We took a little detour to go by the castle in the hopes that it would be there. They hadn’t opened yet, but opened the door when I knocked. I asked about the camera, and we looked around, and it was there, under the counter. We went on south with great relief. It was raining. We didn’t see much of the scenery because we were pretty much driving in the clouds. We debated going to the rocks first, but I was hungry and so we went to the base first. We went right past the Abbey, but didn’t stop.

We finally made it to the front gate, where we were told they still used a vehicle pass system, and the guy was trying to figure out where to tell us to park when I said they just let us in Wednesday. So he asked if we were just down to get gas, and we said yes, and he let us in. :- ) We got gas first, then went to the BX/Burger King/Shoppette. Bob made a wrong turn, and William burst into tears. Because he remembered where to turn from our trip Wednesday, and thought we weren’t going to Burger King. Stop and think about that for a minute; as a 2 year old, he went somewhere one time and knew which road it was 2 days later.

Anyway, we ate and bought Bob a new shirt since one he packed had shrunk in the wash and wasn’t quite decent anymore. We shopped around a bit but didn’t find anything else. Then we went over to the commissary for snacks and diapers. The absolute friendliness of the place began to really hit there, as someone was waiting to get into their car while we unloaded, and we took about 5 minutes to get out and they just stood there and smiled and said not to worry about it. Never would have happened at Lakenheath. Then we went in, and were picking out some Gala apples when the produce guy came over and asked if we’d tried Jazz apples before. No, we hadn’t. So he told us they were from New Zealand, and were a cross between – oh, I forget – and he cut up two apples so we could each have a quarter to try. He said they start getting the local apples in before long, and in October they get Russets, which aren’t pretty but sure taste good. After way too long shopping in that little store we checked out, and the cashier handed each child a sticker. If we weren’t getting out, I’d want to get transferred up here.

So we finished up there and it started raining again, and we headed to the rocks. It wasn’t far, but the road wasn’t straight. We got there about 12:40 (I thought! Maybe it was later than that), decided to pay for minibus parking, and hit the trails. It took about 2 minutes for the children to decide it was worth the drive and the cost. There are great rocks just sitting around in the weeds, and you can climb them and go through the caves and run and play. The rain was more of a drizzle, so we slowly made our way to the visitor center and the children climbed. At the center we bought two books – one on beekeeping and one on the history of Yorkshire. Upstairs was a free exhibition, and with the rain now pouring down we decided to check it out. Bob and I sat while the children did puzzles and read books, and Elijah crawled around and made a big stinky diaper. So I changed him, and we noticed the rain had stopped, so we went back out. We were surprised to see a “closed” sign at the bottom of the stairs, but didn’t think too much of it until we got outside and saw that the snack shack was also closing. Bob checked his cell phone, and it was 5pm!! Were we really there that long? Wow, time flies. We headed back down the trail, and it wasn’t long before we saw the shop keeper leaving in her car. We climbed some more, and finally made it back to the bus.

This time we headed for the A1 to take the fast road home. Having seen the McDonald’s in Richmond, we decided to stop there instead of the one at Bedale services. They have credit card signs all over, and have the standard McDonald swipe of chip card readers, and we even swiped and got an “approved” message on it, but the till gave another message, and the manager came over to say they don’t take swipe cards – only the “chip and pin” cards. Bob took this rather well, and headed outside to the cash machine. But it only takes Visa. So we confabbed, and he walked across to Tesco where we hoped to find an ATM. I sat down with the children and got online for a minute. Was able to check email, but unable to post a blog or get on Facebook. Bob came back with money, but by then they’d cleared our order so we had to do it all over (and I was feeding Elijah, so Bob had to remember on his own). Then they brought out the food, minus one happy meal and Bob’s fries. And some meals were fries instead of fruit, but that might have been Bob’s memory. Anyway, we were glad that we’d been to the other place on other occasions, as this one left somewhat to be desired.
While I finished up feeding the boys, Bob went back to Tesco for milk. And then we were on our way home.

I glossed over for the sake of the storyline, but this was our worst day out so far. We made about a zillion turnarounds, it rained most of the day (instead of the little showers we’ve had every day so far), and we were just on the edge of frustration all day long. But the Rocks were definitely worth a visit, and we did get cheap gas and were able to check emails.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Vacation Blog Day 6

Thursday, August 5, 2010
After the long drive of yesterday, we planned less time in the car today. Knowing that we didn’t have far to go, we took our time getting together this morning and didn’t leave the house until after lunch.

We stopped in Reeth to make a purchase at the gift shop (FatSheep?) and try to get some cash. There is an ATM inside the pub, but it wasn’t working, and the Post Office can give cash on British banks, which we don’t have, so we didn’t get any cash. Nevermind, as they say.

On to our final destination: Bolton Castle. We found a spot in the parking lot (a car was pulling out, and I stood in the space while Bob got the bus turned around) and headed up the stairs to the entrance. I noticed right away that my right knee wasn’t going to work for me, so I took all the stairs by just bending my left knee. Entrance was 20GBP and included the use of children’s medieval costumes, and several activities throughout the castle. Well worth it. This isn’t a famous castle; it wasn’t on my list of things I’d found to do up here, but it is very big, well kept (the intact parts), and lots of fun.
The first room we went in was the chapel, and Gregorian chants were playing over a hidden speaker system. A sign on the wall said that a nearby church paid to keep 6 priests at the castle to pray for the soul of the recently murdered Richard II. (As the builder of the castle was a Richard, I’m not sure if this meant his son, or the King; forgive my ignorance of history.) It gave the priests daily schedule as waking up for prayer at 2:30am, praying every 3 hours or so all day, and to bed at 7pm. In between prayers they kept a herb garden, tended the sick, and taught the noble boys how to read and write.
Next we went into the Solar – a sort of ladies sitting room, which was part of a suite of rooms in which Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned. There was a bit of info on her stay there (6 months), her attendants (over 50 people), and her activities (sewing and writing letters). On the table was an activity – make your own cloved orange. I forget what they call it. So we did that for a while, and then on to the next room, where we made nosegays, and then the next room, where we tried the stocks, and then… (I’m assuming you don’t want the details of every room. There are 5 floors or more to explore, with toilets and information and a trip out on the roof.) We wanted to stop at the tea room, but it was full, so off with the costumes in the gift shop/entrance, and out to the gardens.
There was some information on the side of the castle about its location. Said it overlooked the Wensleydale Forest, the high stone walls of which can still be seen. Well, there are plenty of stone walls around here, and some are taller than others, but I don’t know which ones are 800 years old and which were built last week. The close ties with heritage here are both constantly in view and often just out of reach. 97% of the buildings are made from local stone, so anything with plaster or siding looks very out of place; even wire fences look very odd. Anyway, there were a hedge maze, a rose garden, and a formal herb garden that were all very nice. And then we were done.

We came back home for chicken tacos that I’d made in the crock pot (dump in frozen chicken, a chopped onion, two chopped garlic cloves, a can of green chilies, salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin; when it’s done, shred the meat with two forks and return to the juices while you get the table set). While the girls and I finished preparing, Bob took the boys and the little ones across the street to a campground and played Frisbee.

Vacation Blog Day 5

I'm home!! I will try to gradually catch up.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010
There was slight deliberation about today’s activities, but Bob took charge with great insight and we headed south. Having called my friend the day before when we were in cell phone range to get directions, we found RAF Menwith Hill and filled up with gas there. (Yes, it was worth the drive to get gas at 78 cents per litre as opposed to 1.16GBP per litre – about $1.60.) As it just happened to be lunch time when we finished filling the tank, we went on over to Burger King to fill our bellies. It was with a slight twinge of jealousy that we noticed their gas pumps are electric, and their Burger King has air conditioning (ours doesn’t even have heat!). I guess when your base is so small it doesn’t even show up on the maps you have to find something to spend your money on.

Once we finally got the children to stop eating, we headed over toward York. Having tried to drive into town once before, we thought this time we’d take the park and ride. Good choice. Mom and Dad, I apologize for trying to go cheap and brave; if we’d done P&R we would have had more time in town and wouldn’t have had to run out so quickly. We got off the bus at the first stop – the National Railway Museum. We arrived about 1pm, and before we were done looking around there was an announcement about it closing in 15 minutes – 6pm! It is a massive couple of buildings, with bunches of trains (guessing near a hundred), and a few other surprising pieces, such as the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. We let the children each pick out something from the gift shop (which was also quite nice and roomy, with a good selection). I highly recommend the NRM to anybody in the York area. It was free admission, but would well be worth the suggested donation of 3 GBP each.

We weren’t completely exhausted, so walked on to the downtown area. I wanted to go down the Shambles, and told Bob anything after that didn’t matter. It was a nice street, and I’m glad we went. At the top of the street I saw an information plaque on the side of a building, and it said that John and Charles Wesley used to hold meetings in that building – the beginning of the Methodist Church. We were beginning to be concerned about making the bus back to our bus, so hoofed it on over to the bus stop (clearly marked on both the map they provided and on the bus stop sign on the street), pausing just long enough to get some McDonald’s to go. My sweat is beginning to smell like McDonald’s French fries.

Back at the parking lot, we visited a playground for our dinner and a romp. They had a giant climbing rock that was a great favorite of all the children. I also used the cell phone signal to call our next cottage and make arrangements to get the key, as recommended by the booking agency. This was really unnecessary, as they simply said they live on site and will be there when we need them. He was friendly and offered to meet us in town or whatever was needed to help us find the place.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

an aside

If you are vacationing or living or visiting Swansea and want a place to eat, restaurant, fast food, don't go to McDonald's for burgers, fries, chips, chicken nuggets, hot and cold drinks. McDonald's Swansea charges for ketchup, but won't tell you upfront, or let you order any with your food, and when you are stuck with yucky food that you would like to at least drwon with kethcup so you could maybe eat some before you get sick beacuse you've had nothing to eat for 8 hours, they will do nothing about it because it's a fanchise policy to charge for ketchup even when you order fries and nuggets. The so called manager would rather lose your business and upset every other customer in the place than 5p. He also won't give you money back on the gross food that you can't eat because you need ketchup. He already has your money so what does it matter to him? He doesn't care if your children go to bed hungry. It's franchise policy. He'll be happy to go get the franchise office phone number while you wait and your food gets cold, but won't let you use the phone to call them, because he knows the phone call costs more than the ketchup anyway.

Vacation Day 4

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Today we had a cooked breakfast of boiled eggs and jelly toast. We’d picked up the eggs at a little grocery the day before, and even after spending all day in the back of the bus they were some of the freshest I’ve ever had. The bread was marked down at the Coop for 15p, and was perfectly fine. We made a leisurely start to the day, Naysha even having a bath (after waiting 20 minutes for the immersion heater to warm up, as per the instructions).

We left right after lunch, and headed down to Leyburn to the chocolate factory. It was free admission to a little history of chocolate / how do they make chocolate film, and we could stand and watch two women making chocolates in real life. Very nice, cozy, friendly. And we saved 60GBP over going to Cadbury World. Then came the hard part – the shop. We got each child a shaped milk chocolate (car, dinosaur, etc), and Bob and I picked out a few choice treats for ourselves. Not bad. They temper their chocolate to be crispy, shiny, and smooth.

Next door was a pottery/ceramics factory, but as Bob’s Grandma has one in her front yard it seemed like a waste of vacation time to go in there. As we were leaving the parking lot I saw a violin factory, but we were already committed to leaving, so I let that pass. Our next goal was “the cheese place.” Bob had vivid memories of reading a brochure about it, but we couldn’t find the brochure. He even knew we’d been past it on Sunday, and that it was the same town as the big playground, but couldn’t recall which town that was. So we just went down the road and looked.

The Wensleydale Cheese factory is in Hawes. Tuesday is Market Day. Hawes is one of the places the tour buses go to. Can you guess what’s next? It was very crowded. We maneuvered through the village (the market stalls were up to the very edge of the street, so shoppers had to walk in the street; tour buses trying to pass each other around parked cars…) and found a parking spot at the cheese factory. Half a spot, really, as the BMW was over its line, but Bob let us all out and backed into the space, then exited through the back door of the bus. Good times! We went around to the cheese museum, but (in spite of a sign saying the best viewing time was 10-2) it was closed until 2:40. Hmmm. As there was also a sign up about reduced admission for non-production days, we thought maybe it wouldn’t be that great anyway. There was a shop, but it was SOOOO stuffed full of people we decided to go into town first.

To make it shorter, Bob bought a wool hat, and I bought a Henty novel in a used book store. Then we went back to the cheese shop where Bob, Taryn and I each had a sample of each kind of cheese, and we bought 4 flavors – smoked, pineapple, ginger, and balsamic onion. Then we drove all the way to Bedale to the McDonald’s there. We thought there might be some others around, but without internet we couldn’t find out. On the way back we took a new road through Richmond, and saw a Tesco and McDonald’s on the other side of that town. So now we know. Internet was so slow at McD’s that Bob was barely able to check his email. Anyway, safely home again and wondering about tomorrow.

Vacation Day 3

August 2, 2010
I have felt all day like this is Tuesday, but it’s not; it’s Monday. :- )
We looked through a book in our cottage about the Yorkshire villages, and decided to go visit some of them. So after a lovely breakfast of cold cereal we headed out. First stop, Reeth; just half a mile from our cottage, it is a cute little place with a parking area, TIC, and several shops. We went to the bakery first, having heard that the bread is good. But we were disappointed to find they didn’t have any of the lovely pastries we were hoping for, so we walked on. We met Keith from Reeth, an elderly man who invited the children out to the Wesleyan chapel for a sing and “nosh” on Wednesday afternoon, if it wouldn’t spoil our plans for the day.
The children played tag on the village green; we checked out the post office shop and then went over to a gift shop that only sells local products. We bought a hand knitted doll that turns inside out to change dress color, for Ella for her birthday. Bob and I sampled chocolate lip balm and non-alcoholic ginger wine (it was good but strong).

Then back to the bus where we had peanut butter crackers and hoped for more food at the next village. Muker was the next stop; they also had a parking lot. It was supposed to be pay and display, but the machine wasn’t working. We walked across the one lane bridge with no sidewalk up to the shops. There were 2 or 3 gift shops (we bought a little something for the gifts) and a teeny grocery/ice cream shop where we got a bunch of bananas and some cookies.

After that we drove on to Keld, which has a public footpath down to a waterfall on the River Swale. It was a bit of a hike, but well worth it. The waterfall was small but very pretty, and we were able to walk over and around it. Elijah went on my back in a baby wrap, and fell asleep on the way back.

From Keld we turned north on an unnamed road which loops around back to Reeth. It was a lonely road; we met maybe 3 other cars the whole way, and a good thing, too, as it was very narrow and had very few wide spots to pull over. The very first stretch had a sign indicating the grade was 1:4. One wide spot on the road, right at the crest of the mountain, was the site of an Inn – the highest inn in the UK, according to the sign out front. We stopped just beyond the inn and took some pictures of the scenery.

We made it home in one piece and decided to walk up to the Bridge Inn for dinner. The food was good, but most of us were still hungry afterwards. Thankfully the rain shower that started just after we arrived cleared up just as we finished our food, and we walked back home. Then we got back in the bus, and drove to Richmond again for more snacks and desserts at the Coop. We aren’t too thrilled with this store (the toilets close for the day at 5pm, though the store is open until 10), but it’s the only real grocery around, and with no internet I can’t order a Tesco delivery. Oh, well, it’s not that bad.

BTW, I forgot to mention that yesterday I noticed we’d lost the oil cap, so we are getting some “blow-by”, but not enough to cause trouble. It’s just a little stinky.
Anyway, it’s 10pm now so I am getting tired. Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Vacation Day 2

I'm getting started posting about my vacation. To read in order, scroll down.

Vacation blog day 2
Sunday, August 01, 2010
This morning the children used all the milk with their breakfast, and the frozen milk hadn’t thawed yet, so Bob and I didn’t get breakfast. For some reason this was VERY bad. But we are very clever people, and remembered seeing a Cooperative grocery store in Richmond yesterday. The Coop in Lakenheath is open from 6 or 7 am to 11pm 7 days per week, so I felt confident that the big store here would be open. Wrong! Opens 11 on Sunday. We first arrived there at 10:25, so we went back down the main drag to fill up with gas, and then back to wait for opening. So we finally got breakfast fixings at lunch time. Bob not being happy with the peanut butter crackers I’d brought for our lunches, we also got bread and lunch meat and cheese, and since we were there anyway we got burger buns to go with the sloppy joe meat I’d put in the crockpot before leaving.

So back to the cottage to put the milk in the fridge, and since Elijah was fussy I got him out to feed him, and then we decided to go ahead and let everyone have lunch. We ate outside at the picnic table to keep things interesting. Especially so as it started raining halfway through. I’d started yesterday’s clothes in the washer before we left, and we went ahead and got that out and into the “clothes dryer” which our cottage guide book suggested we use instead of the line if the weather was bad. It took us some time to find it, but Bob finally spotted it, folded up behind the ironing board. Yeah, a clothes RACK, not a “tumble dryer.”

So we were finally away at 12:30 (ish). We took a drive West through the Yorkshire Dales National Park, discovering, first of all, that our local village shop was indeed open on Sunday (unheard of in East Anglia). Oh, well. We followed the narrow winding roads a ways and then turned down a narrower, more winding road to go up and over the mountain at Buttertubs Pass. Bob stopped once to take pictures and I sat trembling with my eyes on the floorboard lest I encourage nightmares of falling down cliffs. About 10 minutes past the crest of the hill I was able to relax my grip on my seat a bit. It is entirely one thing to say “narrow and winding” and another thing to experience a one lane road, lined on both sides with rock walls, and chosen to be the location of both a bicycle race and a motorcycle rally. As Bob says, if a road can’t allow both a car and a motorcycle, it is just too narrow.

Anyway, we ended up at Hardraw Force, England’s tallest unbroken waterfall. It was a short walk down a muddy path, and we all enjoyed that. Well, all but Elijah. Poor boy, he just wants to get down in the mud. We took a broader road toward home, until we turned off again. This narrow winding road was more like a paved driveway – no borders or markings of any kind. It was free-range sheep country, criss-crossed by footpaths and bridleways, though I can hardly imagine walking across that bare mountain, shuffling through the heather and sheep poo, head down against the cold wind. Gives real background to some of those books I’ve read.

We passed by Bolton Castle, which was closed but will be open Tuesday, and came on home for dinner and early bed. It’s 8:45 and I’m done.
I must say, Bob’s being on vacation has enabled me to have a vacation as well. All day there has been a chorus of “Daddy, Daddy!” and I don’t have to answer all those wonderful questions. I can even go to the bathroom without worrying about anybody. Awesome.

Vacation Day 1

July 31, 2010
After the best night’s sleep in a week, we woke up early and got things ready. Hit a small snag with getting everybody showers, but still made it out the door at 8:30. We took the A11 to the A14 to the A1(M). The A1 took us into Nottinghamshire, where we left the main road for about 10 minutes to arrive at the Sherwood Forest visitor center exactly 2 hours after leaving home. Just to keep life fair (and interesting), we were allowed to park for free for being in a minibus.

I’d been to Sherwood twice before; once in January with my parents, and once two years ago with Bob and children. This time we went through the “experience” and the gift shops. The prices (and the merchandise) were quite cheap, so we bought the boys each a bow and arrow, and the girls picked out a pen, a bear, and a coloring book.
Then we walked down to the Major Oak, where tents were being set up for the Robin Hood festival which starts Monday. We were surprised to find the “have a go” archery was operating. We found a table that was mostly dry (it had been raining most of the morning), and had a picnic lunch. Then we played in the woods a bit before walking back to the shops where Bob got a mug and we all used the toilets (again) before getting back on the road. Total time there: 3 hours.

About an hour back on the road, where we were to get off the A1, we stopped at a “services” area with hotel, gas station, and McDonald’s. I thought it was a potty break/stretch kind of stop, but apparently we were hungry again, and ate almost a full meal. Elijah was desperate to get down and play, so as soon as Taryn was finished eating she took him outside to play in the grass. We finally finished up there and were back in the car by 4pm. I forgot to check the clock after that.

It was a short drive to our holiday cottage, but on a narrow winding road through the hills and dales, so it took a while. Lovely country! Free ranging sheep, little streams, rock walls… Anyway, we found the place with only one turnaround. Key in a lockbox by the door, and we were in. The place is exactly like it looked in the advertisements, except a little smaller. When we came in the front door we were in the dining room. Next is the utility room, with washer and fridge. Turn left into the living room with mini kitchen. Upstairs to the right is the girls’ room with double bed and wardrobe. To the left, is the master bedroom with a double four poster bed, or go left again down a hall with built-in bench to the bathroom, with a teeny tiny room on the right with bunk beds for the boys.

After unpacking the bus and running around and disturbing the neighbors, we drove on up to the nearest town, where Bob soon discovered we’d been before. Richmond, where we stopped with Mom and Dad on our way from Newcastle to York. This weekend the castle is having 60’s days, with an Elvis contest of some sort. I think we’ll find something else to do tomorrow. Anyway, we parked with some difficulty and found a ”family restaurant” where we ate yet again. The service was friendly if inefficient, and the food was good and generous.

After dinner we took the long road home, stopping by some sheep and an old church. Bob worked on teaching Elijah not to go up the stairs, and we all got ready for bed. The boys had the typical “he poked me in the eye” trips down the stairs, but I think they are all settled now. Bob is falling asleep to “The Matrix” (the welcome pack warns you that not all the DVDs provided are suitable for children), and I am here.

A neighbor has internet with a wireless router, but the network is secure, so I can’t get on.
Good night, world.