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Mama Got Her Mojo Back

January 2017 has been an out-of-the-comfort-zone Ladies Day season. Deep powder, ice, high winds snow storms, white-knuckle driving. We joke that If it is Thursday and if it is Ladies Day, there must be a storm. Today was supposed to be sunny but I woke to 2 inches of snow to shovel at my house.  Four for Four.

I had begun to doubt my skiing abilities even wondering if I lost my mojo after a skiing accident last season. I spent this week working on my motivation doing soul searching and asking friends to suggest motivational videos to watch, hoping to get inspired.  My concerns even worked their way into a deeply spiritual conversation with my boss about what we are able to do with God’s help.  I don’t even know my boss’s religious affiliation and never expected such a conversation by Skype while listening to an online webinar.  It was kind of surreal.

But God moves in mysterious ways. And something in that conversation clicked inside of me.  God uses things that are tough to do to teach us that we can move beyond our limits.  When we trust in Him and ourselves, we are unstoppable. I felt God telling me, “Get out of your own way.  You got this one.  You are powerful.” I began to see a way back to my mojo.

So I looked forward to today with new hope,  encouraged by my recent insights into my potential inner strength.  When I woke to 2 inches of new snow, I bucked up my courage, thanked myself for buying a 4×4 and headed out with the girls.  I made sure my chick-power songs were playing: Unstoppable, Woman Up, Fight Song, you know the types of songs.

But, when Sadie said her goal was to get us skiing a Black Diamond today, I was a bit overwhelmed. She sensed my concerns and asked what I felt like I wanted to do.  I wanted to have a confidence day—I wanted to get back my mojo.  She agreed and said we’d work on that.

Conditions were not perfect.  We still could not see the valley from the top and the winds whipped while the snow fell. But something clicked.  I could feel it.  I could feel my mojo was back.  This was not a bluebird-groomer day but it was a kick-butt day with my snow sisters.  We skied with confidence and worked on getting ourselves in better form.   I felt so happy and exhilarated!

To top off a great day, Sadie suggested we take a black diamond on our way back to the base.  After having an amazing day of confidence, I worried that this would end badly.  The run was connected to a run where I had taken a huge fall my second year (almost ending with me going off a cliff).  But with my Snow Sisters, I wasn’t going to say no.

It was definitely not the most beautiful run I have ever taken. I fell twice in the chopped-up powder, but I made it in one piece.  Being the last one of the group, I was cheered at the bottom by my friends.  They encouraged me to take the chance even when the run was incredibly scary and steep.

To celebrate conquering the black, we synchro skied all the way down to the base. We must have been a site.  Esther Williams on snow (It was Sadie’s dream).

So, the moral is you are going to get knocked down in life.  Conditions are not going to be sunshine and rainbows every day.  You are going to face things that scare the absolute crap out of you.  That’s OK.  You’ve got this.  If you lost your mojo, it’s not the end.  Don’t quit.  Maybe you will get your inspiration from a middle-aged bald guy chatting with you via Skype when you are supposed to be paying attention to work, but take your inspiration where it comes.

My mojo is back! And Ladies Day, I am coming for you in February—even if you are snowy every week.  I got this!  Come ski with me!

#sundance #sundanceladiesday #chicksonsticks

Amanda shares skiing with her daughter!

 

 

 

Melissa shares skiing with her son

Neighbors skiing together!

Sticks Where the Sun Don’t Shine

It’s Thursday.  It’s Ladies Day. So, it’s snowing at Sundance. We can’t catch a tiny patch of blue sky on a Thursday this season.  The sun shines most other days. As we line up for class, we all joke that it’s Thursday so another monumental storm has to hit the mountain.  Today is slated for 4-7 more inches.  I am thinking of renaming Chicks on Sticks to Sticks Where the Sun Don’t Shine.  

But, it’s all good.  Why?  Because Snow Sisters can do anything.

It’s snowing sideways. I never would have gone up the mountain today without my clan and our fearless leader. Sadie looks like she is 19 (btw: she has 19-year old twins).  But somehow when she says, “We’ve got this,” I believe her.  She’s one of us—a mom with the same life stressors and challenges, a mom with other things to do, a mom who knows how to conquer her fears.  She’s a woman who has done what we want to do.  So, we put our faith in Sadie and head up to the Back Mountain through the powder I respect now, but am not sure I want a long-term relationship with.   Remember, Nancy, it is just snow.

Was it a glorious ski day?  No and Yes.  I am still a groomer girl at heart so being pelted with snow isn’t my first choice. I long for the sun and pristine conditions.  On the other hand, this season has been all about challenging myself and bonding with my Snow Sisters.  Nothing like pelting snow to get four women on a lift to get closer.

Take a look at us.  We are standing at the top of the mountain at the point that usually has an amazing view of the Valley below.  Nothing like that today.  BTW: Sadie is the one in Red and Black–the right colors since we keep losing her in the low visibility.

Can you see the Valley?

So, I remind myself that I want to be an active verb. I heard this phrase when I was a teen.  Hypatia, a female character in George Bernard Shaw’s play Misalliance says: “I don’t want to be good; and I don’t want to be bad: I just don’t want to be bothered about either good or bad: I want to be an active verb.”

To which her male counterpart, Lord Summerhays, retorts: “An active verb? Oh, I see. An active verb signifies to be, to do or to suffer.”

Hypatia answers: “Just so; how clever of you! I want to be; I want to do; and I’m game to suffer if it costs that. But stick here doing nothing but being good and nice and ladylike I simply won’t.”

Stick here doing nothing, I simply won’t.  I am going to put my Sticks where the Sun Don’t Shine (Sundance on Thursdays) and be an active verb!  Remember, Nancy, it’s just snow. OK, a lot of snow.  But, it’s just snow. 

P.S  Look at this totally awesome Sundance Swag! Got to love the retro hats.  They were supposed to be for me, but they got absconded the minute I came in the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.P.S. If this post reminds you of the post I wrote about my daughter and wanting her to be an active verb, you are right—it is repetitive.  I guess it has been on my mind.  If you haven’t read it, here it is.

 

 

Chickadees on Sticks

My mom was one of those women who did not sweat, she glowed. And she never seemed to do that even in 114-degree heat in Las Vegas. So, she never really pushed me into athletics. It wasn’t the lady-like thing and I wasn’t naturally driven to sports. The idea of running appealed to me about as much as getting my teeth drilled at the dentist’s office. I did play a few team sports with my church and I did take a few dance classes (very lady-like). But most of my extracurricular activities were focused on music or theater. I never really saw myself as the athletic type

I didn’t want the same for my daughter. I wanted her to experience the world in all its glory. I wanted her to be an active verb, as George Bernard Shaw said. I especially wanted my daughter to feel the empowerment of her body in action.

Lessons at Sundance have been an integral part of my daughter’s active life. She sees herself as someone who has physical prowess and power. She is active all year around. She participates in a sport that takes guts as well as physical training. She feels her body responding to the challenge. She is an active verb.

But it has done more than get her active—it gets her out of her comfort zone. She feels the aggressive stance needed for skiing and that translates into her everyday life. She can face challenges the way she faces skiing down a black diamond.

It also gives her a chance to bond with other girls who are skiing. She and her best friend take lessons during ski season and it has been a great experience to ski together. Sometimes, I take a group of girls to ski together and they have such a fun time bonding and enjoying the challenge. There is no caddy conversation, no back-biting. The time is filled with encouragement for each other and challenge for each person.

I am lucky enough to be able to take my daughter out of school and have her in ski school during the Sundance Ladies Day that I participate in. Ski lessons are a very educational experience and worth the days she misses at school. We make sure she keeps up with her assignments and tests. But this makes her a more well-rounded person.

Last week, the girls spontaneously made up a song about their wonderful day skiing powder. Take a listen. They are amazingly cute. They are chickadees on sticks!

 

Float Not Carve

There are actually skis somewhere under there

This season, Sundance Resort has been blessed with crazy amounts of snow.  Every day, it seems that there is another 6-10 inches of powder.  For a self-professed Groomer Girl, this is a challenge I wasn’t sure I was ready to face.

But, you can’t disappoint the ladies.  So, I put on my big girl snow pants, braved the nasty roads, thanked myself for buying a 4×4 and headed up the mountain. As a girl who grew up in Las Vegas, weather and road conditions like yesterday can really put the fear of God in me.  A personal triumph even before I got to the resort.

We look nervous

When we gathered for class, I could see the fear in my snow sisters’ eyes. Those of us in the intermediate groups (there are 4 groups this time) were visibly worried.  Most of us ski only on Bluebird Days and pristine conditions and leave the resort at the smallest hint of a challenge.  Only the advanced black diamond ladies group was excited about the powder.  But, since we were all there together under the watchful eyes of amazing instructors, we took the plunge (literally) into the powder.

Powder is different than groomed snow.  You can’t dig in like you do on packed conditions.  You have to float on top of the snow.  Everything I have learned is counter-intuitive to powder skiing.  It’s a good metaphor for life: when the conditions are right, sometimes you just need to float, not carve.  Go with the flow, work with the snow.  Don’t get too aggressive and let the snow guide you.  For a control freak, that’s hard.   

Of course, I fell (doesn’t hurt in powder) when I tried to control the snow and carve.  Then I had to try to get a ski back on (impossible in powder) while my class watched me from 100 yards down the mountain.  Of course, my thighs burn today because I didn’t stay in Home Base well enough (a term from Sundance’s award-winning ski program).  Of course, I had a hard time getting over my need to control. But, I am proud I got out of my comfort zone and tried something I never would have on my own.

Being with other women really motivates you to try something new—try something that makes you stretch.  And that is the only way to make progress and learn.  Sometimes floating teaches you more than you expected. Our instructor, Sadie, is a mom like us with kids ranging from 19 to 13.  She understands us and pushes us just enough where we are learning but not endangering ourselves.  We trust her and that is what we need to conqueror our fears and try something new.

Lisa after 25 years! She looks great!

Yesterday, I experienced a different kind of floating.  Each Ladies Day session, I am amazed at the women I meet and how much our lives mirror each other’s.  The group is very cohesive and we become instant friends.  We see friends from past years who float back into our lives even if only for a few weeks. I saw Rachel from Australia yesterday—she’s in the black diamond group now.  I saw my friend Amanda with her daughter.  I saw other ladies that I don’t remember their names but we are Snow Sisters so who cares.

But yesterday was special.  I met a woman named Lisa who I had met 25 years ago in Moscow, Russia.  How amazing is that? To sit on a lift and discuss your life only to find that you had known each other in another time, another, country, another hair color. We floated back into each other’s lives after so many years. In Moscow, we shared living in a country in a time of great transition in moving from Communism to a free market Socialism.  And now we share a transition that is maybe not as radical, but sure feels like it:  moving from groomer girls to powder princesses (almost).

To all you ladies who are hesitant to ski powder or get back on skis after your child-bearing hiatus, I say “Come Join the Snow Sisters!  Be a Chick on Sticks!  Be a Groomer Girl or a Powder Princess!” The mountain is your oyster.  Sundance is the place.  Ladies Day is the way.  Can you tell I love it?

Float not Carve, Float not Carve. The mantra for the week!

#sundanceresort #sundanceladiesday #chicksonsticks

Why Did I NOT Do Squats?

Today was day one of Ladies Day 2017 at Sundance Resort.  The drive up was a bit hairy as it snowed all night but at least half of the ladies scheduled for Ladies Day made it.  We had a huge group!  Of course, we were divided by ability but since today was the first day I have skied, I know my form was not good.  Oh Well.   

Sundance has been blessed by the snow gods for the past few days and has a 60 inch base with 22 inches of new powder since yesterday.  I am NOT a powder skier yet.  I freak out when I can’t see my skis and I hate skiing through the messed up crud left behind by the guys who love it.

But, today, that was the lay of the land (or the mountain).  So, I embraced it.  And I did fine.  So did the six other women in my group.  A couple of them were from my group last year (Hi Stephanie and Kara!) and I made four new friends while we plunged ourselves into the powder! As always, we had an excellent instructor–Hi Sadie!

As I talked to the ladies I was skiing with, I was struck (as I always am–you think I would get used to this) by how similar our stories are.  These women have either learned to ski recently to be with their kids or are returning to skiing after their kids are all in the able-to-ski age range.  April came back to skiing after her youngest turned 10 (6 kids, ladies).  She did not want to be the only one left home!  I get that.  It is why I started skiing too.

There really isn’t anything like skiing with women.  Don’t tell my kids, but I actually prefer it because there is no competition and we all have the same fears and issues–things like worrying about getting off the lift or being afraid to try the powder (yea that was me).  But doing it together helps.  We support each other and make it OK to be nervous.  No male intimidation factor.  And besides, instead of saying that we need to point our belt buckle down the mountain to remember to keep our upper body still, we can say “point your boobs down the mountain” and laugh about it.  Those are some good friends and some good times.

But I have to ask myself: What Were You Thinking?  Six weeks ago, I thought I should start doing some more lower leg work.  And did I do it?  No.  I got a raging cold and laid around.  It took everything in me to drag myself through two birthdays, Thanksgiving, and family visiting so I ignored the voice telling me I would be sore on that first day.  Today, I paid the price.  Ouch!  My quads burn (which means I did not ski into my boot–I can hear Sadie in my head telling me that my quads will burn if I sit back too far on the skis).  And . . .I got a cramp in my buttocks.  No joke.  I am sure you feel sorry for me now!

So for a first day with fresh powder, weak quads and first-time fears, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I can see squats in my future this week AFTER I can walk again.

Social Media and College Applications

Admissions offices are now checking your child’s social media accounts when they apply for college.  But before you think of this as a negative, it can actually be a positive.  Right now is the time to create your child’s brand.

According to TeenSafe:
What might be surprising is that you don’t have to rush online to start scrubbing your teenager’s Instagram feed, lest colleges find a trove of pictorial tomfoolery. “The fact is, colleges and employers simply don’t care if they find pictures of you having fun (or too much fun) on the Internet,” say the social media consultants at Social Assurity. “But, increasingly, they do care that the claims on your application reflect the realities of who you truly are.”

Melissa Davis is the CEO of GoEnnounce, which teaches students in grades 7 to 12 the importance of creating a positive digital footprint for college readiness. “Admissions aren’t searching strictly to police students, they are also searching for things that validate and confirm what a student is putting on a college application,” she says.

Make sure that your child’s social media feed includes activities that back up what they put on their admissions form.  And use that space to sell them as a great candidate.

Check out the article on TeenSafe and our discussion for more details.

 

Henry in Australia

Shelly discusses what it was like for Henry to move to Australia as a two-year old.  During this important time in his life, this change could be either very helpful or detrimental.  Shelly discusses how she managed the change to make it a positive experience for him.  For moms in any situation where there is big change, she shares what worked and how she kept the bond with people back home alive.

Cousins

In our society, we underestimate the power cousins have in our children’s life.  The power could come from their presence or their absence.  If you are lucky enough to have great cousin relationships for your children, there are some amazing benefits.  If your children do not have a close relationship with their cousins, we discuss how to create one and why it could be critical for your children in the future.

One Mom Builds Playground for All Abilities

We have been busy getting kids in to school, coming back from Australia, AND building an all-abilities playground for our friend Presley Gleason.

Check out some of the photos.  And we promise we will post new shows ASAP.

They show the power of 1 mom to make a difference in the world.

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Day 1

 

 

 

 

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Day 2

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Day 5

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Day 7

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Day 7

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Nancy and Shelly Day 7

Shelly Twelve Months to Live

We are so excited to have Shelly back from Australia.  She spent the last 12 months living down under.  Here how her experience changed her family and tips for every family–even those not as fortunate to have twelve months to live in Australia.

Mom Champions

Katherine discusses her experience with her daughter who has autism and how she has become her daughter’s champion.  Even if your child is healthy, you are your child’s champion.  We discuss neuro-medical options and how parents keep searching for the right answers when they have a child with special needs.

Making History Come Alive

When traveling in your state, the nation, or the world, you can make history come alive for your kids so that when they study history in school.  Learn the tips to help your kids connect with the places you are seeing and the history. It doesn’t matter where you are at, you can create connections that help your child understand the world.

TIP:  Prep for the trip by having family night discussions that explain where you are going and the history of the place. 

From Nancy’s Recent Trip, here are the historical places she and her kids visited and learned from:

  • Churchill War Rooms gave us an incredible opportunity to see where Winston Churchill ran the British experience in WWII. The incredible Winston Churchill and his example was a great example for my kids. 
  • Greenwich is a great opportunity for sightseers interested in science since this is the location where modern clocks and other tools of travel were created. Heard of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)?  This is the place that the whole world’s time is set.
  • Tower of London is a great place to learn about the history of kings and queens of England and how quick the tide can turn on the leaders.
  • British Museum includes pieces of history from many times and countries.  In one museum, you can see Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and British history. From Mummys to Greek Gods, this place gives you a chance to discuss human history.
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Theater provides an opportunity to understand the greatest writer in history.  See a play while there.  But remember to prep your kids either with a synopsis or by watching the play on a video before you go.  If they understand the play before they get there, things will go better.
  • The Medieval Banquet was a great way to experience and understand the medieval era in an enjoyable way.  My kids LOVED this dinner and show  It was one of the highlights of the trip for them.
  • Stonehenge takes you back in time over 5000 years.  Tours from Antiquity  provided the most amazing tour with an archeologist who shared his findings in the area as well as those of others and the theories they currently hold about the culture that created Stonehenge as well as other henges and burial mounds in the area. 
  • In Copenhagen, taking the Bus Tour and River Cruise helped us get a feel for the city and the history.  We also visited the Round Tower and the Changing of the Guard.

Even though Nancy’s trip was to one of the most important historical cities, you can create the same experience in local trips.

Helping Friends in Times of Sorrow

When those around us struggle with huge burdens: death, loss, stress, divorce, What can we do? Nancy and Tricia discuss from personal experience how to help our friends.

Here are a few tips:

  • Listen more/talk less
  • Don’t try and tell them you have been through it unless you have
  • If they seek your help and advice, be careful unless you are a therapist
  • Find concrete things you can do to alleviate stress (dishes, laundry, picking up kids)
  • Don’t ask what you can do, tell them what you are going to do
  • When all else Fails, Chocolate is a good option

Listen to our podcast on Dealing with Death.

What Parents Fear and Need

Claire Lerner, Senior Parenting Strategist, shares the findings of a Zero to Three survey that yielded new insights about the challenges parents face, what they do and do not understand about early childhood development, and what they want and need to be the best parents possible.

One of the most interesting findings in the report is the changing role of the father and how they want to participate more but are not always allowed to by their partners.

Additionally, parents underestimate their child’s development.  Clair discusses things that parents could do better to help their child’s development.

Check out the survey at www.zerotothree.org/parent-survey for more in-depth information on the survey results including videos of parents discussing their concerns and hopes. 

Teaching Kids to Give Back

We talk with Lilly Yeh who started Little Loving Hands in hopes to provide an option for parents to start shifting a focus on teaching kids about empathy and giving back.  Every month, they spotlight a different charity and send out all the materials needed for a child to learn about who they are helping and create a beautiful gift that is sent back to the charity using a pre-paid envelope. To date, kids all over the country have directly helped support sick children, the homeless, and the elderly. 

More information can be found on our website: https://littlelovinghands.com and you can see a little video on how it works here

Big Trip Tips

Planning a big trip? Nancy shares the tips she learned while planning and taking her big trip.  You don’t have to go out of the country to learn from her experience.

Some of the tips covered include:

  • Rent a Flat/Apartment/House–It is cheaper and helps a family have space and comfort
  • Get Groceries to save money and to understand the local food culture
  • Meet Locals–go out of your way to talk to people and learn about the place you are visitng.
  • Get a City Pass or Tour Bus to orient yourself and see a lot of the city quickly and easily. In London, we used Big Bus Tour and River Cruise and the London Pass which gave us entrance to almost major sites.  In Copenhagen, we used Stromma Hop On which included a River Cruise
  • Prep the kids for what they are going to see before, then explain during the visit to the site, and take time to review things seen after.  This helps create hooks that the kids can hang their experience on.
  • Plan your trip and create a written plan.  You can enter this plan in your cell phone with appointments that contain the  details to keep on track.
  • Make sure to plan flexibility in the schedule.
  • Plan times for relaxation in your sight seeing (River Cruise in the middle of a lot of walking; time in the park)
  • Make sure to do things each person wants to do.
  • Make a master folder with the itinerary and all the tickets, etc you need to get into the venues.
  • Use Google Maps to plan your path. Google Street view let me see all the way to the door of the flat.  But it failed me because we only had 3G in London.
  • Check your cell phone coverage. Does it work where you are going?
  • Figure out a money strategy ahead of time: Will your debit or credit card work? No longer need to use a money exchange
  • Plan your souvenirs ahead of time—think about who you want to buy something for and what might be unique. Tell each kid they can pick one thing for themselves.
  • Give the kids money they can use as they want. If they have a finite amount, they think about what they want to get.
  • Look for local shops instead of the tourist places to shop for memorable items.
  • Leave a slush fund for those times when you just need a treat or something unexpected happens because it will
  • Plan food that is kid-friendly.
  • Forget about fashion—go comfortable and take less (Walking shoes/Backpack/ Scarves, money belt, layering)
  • Find the Bathrooms and use them even if you think you don’t need to

 

Imaginary Friends

New research shows that imaginary friends continue longer into childhood than previously thought. Claire Lerner, Senior Parenting Strategist at Zero to Three, discusses why older children may have imaginary friends.  She also discusses what an imaginary friend can do for your child and how you should react when your child tells you that she has an imaginary friend.

London Calling

IMG_1198This show focuses on Nancy’s recent trip with her kids to London.  Listen to hear the amazing experiences they had.  Since there could never be enough time to discuss it in one podcast, here are more details to consider (some will also be covered in more detail in later shows).

NOTE: For more personal reflections, see this post (no podcast). 

Rent a Flat! London hotels are incredibly expensive and rooms are very small.  You can rent a flat for the same or less money.  We paid about $190 a night for a 2 bedroom flat near a Tube stop.  Having a kitchen allowed us to skip eating out for breakfast and gave us the option to take lunch with us.  It also got us to go into the local grocery store to try different British foods (do not miss Cadbury Chocolate or Hob Nobs–chocolate covered oatmeal cookies).

To locate a flat, check out HomeAway.com but make sure you check the source.  I filtered through about 40 different flats and about 9 different companies.  Some companies/flat owners did not reply, others were just sketchy.  I googled each company and checked reviews on Trip Advisor. I finally went with Ivy Lettings.  They had a story written about them in the London Times, good reviews on Trip Advisor, and they had a phone number on their site as well as a live chat.  The person I chatted with was able to help me find the best flat for our family.   There were a few problems when we got to the flat and Ivy Lettings was good to fix them quickly.  I’d rent from them again.


IMG_1534Ride the Tube!
One of the amazing thing about London is watching the people from all over the world.  There is no better place to have that cultural experience than public transportation such as the London Underground.  You don’t have to worry about sticking out as an American because you will probably be a minority speaking English.  I heard Russian five times a day, Italian, French, German, and a slew of different languages from the African continent.  It was so much fun to try and guess the languages.

You can just purchase a one-way ticket each time you use the Tube or a bus but if you plan to use public transport as your mode of transportation, there are ways to save money.  Thanks to Bob Hanford, a dedicated blogger whose site–London Toolkit–focuses on everything London, I was able to figure out the best option for my family.   Check out his blog on Oyster vs. Travelcard.  For us, it was better to Get a 7-Day Oyster and a Youth Oyster.  Bob patiently answered all my questions and even gave me suggestions of things to see near our flat and around London.  Thanks Bob for the great advice–even advice on getting to Heathrow early in the morning.

Take a Bus Tour to Orient Yourself  London is a huge city but the main tourist area isn’t that big.  Things are quite close together.  Taking a hop-on-hop off tour or another type of tour is a great way to get your bearings.  We took the Big Bus Tour and loved it.  Opt for the tour with the live guide.  It was so much fun and the one time we got on a bus with the taped guide, we switched to a different bus after one stop.  Big Bus Tour included a 48-hour ticket, a night tour, and a river cruise.  We were too tired for the night tour but we loved taking the river cruise.  Actually, the kids asked to take the tour a second time toward the end of our time in London.
IMG_1139One of the fun things about a hop-on-hop-off bus is the ability to get off when you see the unexpected.  A friend had suggested going to Hamley’s toy store so when we saw it on the tour, we jumped off and spent an enjoyable 45 minutes in the store.  Alex also wanted to take a picture at a certain Piccadilly Circus Underground sign and we saw it on our tour and jumped off to capture his photo.

Suggestion:From th  If you are in London on the weekend and can schedule your bus tour on Saturday or Sunday, do so because the traffic during the week really slows down the tour.  We were on the tour on a Friday and getting through the financial district was like watching paint dry (except for the great scenery). On Saturday and Sunday, the roads were clear and the tour would have been much quicker.


Get Down Under in London
 One of the newer museums in London is the Churchill War Rooms.  These are the actual rooms where the British Empire strategized its moves against the Nazis in World War II.  Nothing like being in the actual Map Room to bring history to life.  The tourChurchillWarRooms

includes an audio guide to help you get a feeling for what was happening below ground complete with stories told by the people who lived and worked in the rooms.  The impact of seeing the table where Churchill sat to give his address to London and the World during the war while hearing the actual speech was very impactful for my 14-year old.  His world history class will have a very special feeling when they discuss the war.

IMG_1581Lay Siege to the Tower One of the kids’ favorite day was spent at the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.  It’s not everyday you get to walk in the courtyard where queens lost their heads and see the crown that sits on the pretty head of the current queen.  Tip:  Get there early–even before they open because the line to get in is long.  Then, when you enter, head right to the Crown Jewels before anything else.  The line to get into the Jewels can be so long that the interior of the Jewel House is more like the line labyrinth that snakes up to a Disney ride complete with pictures of what you are going to see and history tidbits to keep you interested while you wait 45 minutes to see a few rocks.  Since we were first in the Tower and first in the Jewel house, we were out in about 10 minutes.  That is enough for kids.

IMG_1619Make sure you take the Yeoman Warders’ Tour.  They do an excellent job and give a glimpse back into the gorey pass of the Tower mixed in with humor and facts about the buildings.  Not to be Missed.

Tower Bridge is easily the most famous bridge in London. Now you can experience the Bridge in a startling way–a glass floor that looks down on the traffic below.  Having walked on the glass bridge at the Grand Canyon, I thought I was prepared for the experience, but it was a bit more intense for me.  The kids loved it.

Ho Wench! One of the most fun experiences I had as a teen when I toured the UK was to go to a Medieval Feast.  There is nothing like pounding your fits on the table and saying Hey Nonny Noony  or yelling Ho Wench to get more mead (aka apple juice for those of us not imbibing).  The Medieval Banquet in London was fabulous! The food was plentiful andIMG_1512 the entertainment excellent–think court entertainment like singers, acrobats, jugglers and jousting.  We were each assigned to a House to which we pledged our allegiance and cheered for our knight in battle.  The kids loved every minute of it.  It isn’t cheap but if you have a London Pass, there is a discount.  And you have to remember that you get a great meal and entertainment.  It is cheaper than theater tickets and more fun for the family.

Get Bawdy with the Bard  We attended Shakespeare’s Globe and saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Before we went to London, I had my kids watch the Kevin Kline and Michelle Pfeiffer version so they would know the play.  There is nothing like sitting Globe–nothing.  And I have never seen a version of Midsummer like that one.  It was a modern interpretation wiIMG_1504th an Indian flare.  Think Shakespeare meets Cell Phones meets the Sitar and Rap Music.  I can’t even begin to explain how the song Major Tom ends up in a Shakespeare play but it WORKED!  The way the language and mood was interpreted (there are tons of ways to interpret Shakespeare) made the text and the concepts very accessible to my kids.  I had to cover my 10 year old’s eyes a few times and happily she doesn’t understand the sexual references in Shakespeare, but other than that, the play was a great experience (even with a pole in my way).  If you can go to a play, do so.  It is worth the cost.

GIMG_1251o Back in Time A bit off the beaten path, Greenwich is a great opportunity for sightseers interested in science.  Greenwich is the place where the Prime Meridian that divides the East and the West is located.

The site also hosts several amazing museums that cover topics like the history of how time was agreed upon (you might have heard of Greenwich Mean Time—yep it is that Greenwich), British Maritime history and so much more.  The views of London are also great from here.  You can see the huge size of the city from One Tree Hill (I can hear U2 singing).

IMG_1289Greenwich has so much to see that it would take a full day to see even a part of it.  For us, the Royal Observatory and The Cutty Sark were the two best museums.  Be warned that the Royal Observatory is up on One Tree Hill and there is no bus to get to the top so you need to walk it.  But you will be walking in the footsteps of amazing scientists like Sir Isaaic Newton.  Just about everything in our modern life works because of the men who worked at the Royal Observatory (clocks, calendars, map coordinates, and so forth that make travel and cell phones and just about everything possible).  The Cutty Sark is an amazing museum that allows you to see one of the great sailing vessels ever built.  The museum has interactive opportunities for kids and parents to learn more.

IMG_1326Cruise the Thames  One of the best ways to see the city’s most famous sites is to take a Thames River Cruise.  We took the cruise from Greenwich to Westminster Abbey.  It was a bit rainy and blustery, but the cruise offered some needed relaxation for tired toes and the first mate gave a great tour of the sites.  Not sure it was all true, but it was very entertaining.  The descriptions of the different bridges along with his comments on politics and history had us all laughing.  Remember that if you take Big Bus or get the London Pass, the cruise is included.

 

We Will Rock You IMG_1705
Stonehenge is less than 2 hours from London.  There are dozens of tour companies that can take you there.  But I wanted the experience to be something the kids would remember and learn from.  So, we went on a tour with an Archeologist who actually works on digs at and near Stonehenge and other prehistoric sites around London.
This isn’t aIMG_1707 tour for little kids but it worked for my 10-year old and my 14-year old learned a lot. If your kids are interested in archeology and history, this is a great option that gives them amazing access to information and insight into the pre-historic cultures that created the henges (no Druids or Aliens needed).

Our guide Edward was so excited to share his knowledge that it was infectious.  Being able to ask questions of an expert was also great.  Check out Tours from Antiquity for various tours.  We chose the Stonehenge, Avebury, Salisbury tour.

Sing with the Angels It can be quite expensive to enter St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. However, they are working churchesIMG_1495 and have services at specific times of day and on Sundays.  These are times when you can get into the churches for free.  The bonus to this is that you often get to hear an amazing choir and a beautiful sermon.  The minus is that there are areas of the church that are off limits and “touring” the church is not allowed.  However, if you want to sit and stare up at the beautiful surroundings and listen to angelic choirs, this is a superb experience.  Sometimes, you can even sing with the choir.

We attended St. Paul’s on Sunday and arrived a few minutes before the service started.  We found great seats and while we waited, I explained the history of the Cathedral and why old churches were decorated the way they were as well as the significance of various parts of the church and what would happen in the service.  We are Christian but not Anglican so the experience was very different from our church experience and was an amazing cultural opportunity for the kids.  During our service, we sang along with the choir as we read the liturgy.  It was a chance of a lifetime to lift our voices with the St. Pauls boys choir.

IMG_1479Check out the Markets for Lunch London has several food markets that offer both fresh vegetables and hot food.  These are great places for families with diverse tastes because you can each find something you like.  We ate at Greenwich Market, Borough Market, and Kerb at Southbank.  The food was quick, excellent and not too expensive.  We were each able to get something we liked and share with each other without the time and expense of a restaurant.  The only drawback is limited seating.

IMG_1483Kerb was the best market with all sorts of middle eastern dishes and picnic tables.  Alex had a lamb curry burger and I had the most amazing kebabs. You will have to plan your schedule so you end up at the markets at the right time of day. Some of them are only open at lunchtime, others are only open at night.  Then, each of them have a day in the week when they are not open.  It would be horrible to have hungry mouths looking for food when the market is closed.  Camden Market is supposed to be great but it’s a bit off the main tourist map.

Give Me a Break!  This should have been obvious but it took us more time to get going when we got up the first day.  We landed at 1pm and stayed up until 9pm to adjust to the time in London.  But, it still took us more time to get going in the morning.  So, cut yourself some slack the first day and don’t plan anything with a specific timetable.  Everything we had planned for the first day was flexible within a few hours of time.  Having an Oyster Travel Pass also added to the flexibility because we could get off the bus tour and take the Tube to the location we wanted to be.

Consider a City Pass In the past, we have suggested purchasing city passes. These are tickets that give you entry into multiple museums, tour options and so forth.  The London Pass also includes Fast Pass entry into some of the most popular attractions.  We used this to get right into the Tower of London without the line.  It saved us a few hours time. The London Pass isn’t for people sightseeing for one day unless you are a crazy power-sightseer.  You can’t see enough in one day to make it worth the cost. If you have multiple days to see the city, check out the site and see if the museums and other sites you want to see are listed.

IMG_1554The Fast Pass for Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and Tower Bridge, along with the bus tour and river cruise make it a good deal if you are there in the height of tourist season. The cost of getting in to places like Westminster Abbey also makes the card a good possibility.  And if you want to go to Windsor Castle or Hampton Court, there are travel benefits in addition to the admission and Fast Pass.

If you are in London in the off peak season, Fast Pass probably isn’t important.  And, if you know the dates you are going to different locations, you can purchase tickets online for a discount. Do some calculating before you go. If you want flexibility, then the London Pass works well but may cost more.

Note:  The London Pass includes a different hop-on-hop-off tour that we did not take.IMG_1247

Make Time for Personal Interests One of the benefits of travel is seeing how something you love to do is done in another country.  Alex loves
skateboarding so we spent time at a few skateboarding venues.  It gave the rest of us time to rest our toes.  Anna wanted to ride double-decker busses so whenever we rode a bus, we went up to the top.  A few times, she got the front seat and was able to see out the window.

Plan Purchases Before You Leave Home  Instead of spending our money and time shopping for souvenirs, we planned what we wanted to buy before we left. Of course that was easier since I lived in London a bazillion years ago.  But you can still decide if you want to get t-shirts or teddyIMG_1681 bears.  Harrods is a must stop for teddy bears so we bought these for friends.  I had been wanting a Union Jack pillow for my couch and I found a fabulous one at Harrods.

We also shopped Primark–a H&M type store that has a larger variety of goods (not just clothes).  This was on my shopping plan because I had heard they had great UK themed goods.  My kids got  underwear with the Union Jack, journals with the flag, and t-shirts for $2.  Planning helped us save money and spend less time shopping and more time sightseeing.

Plan Your Expenses You no longer have to go to a money exchange bureau to get cash in London.  Check out your bank and credit card companies to see if they allow you to withdraw from ATMs in London.  We found that Barclay’s Bank allowed us to withdraw for a very small fee and our bank at home did not charge fees.  Also, using Visa cards with chips is very convenient.  I love my Capital One Venture Card because it allows me to pay for trip expenses with the miles I have saved on the card and it is easily used all over Europe. Plan your expenses and know which things you will need cash for (street markets and quick treats) and which things you will use the card for.  When all else fails and you have too much cash at the end, buy chocolate to bring home!

Give Up! Give In! Give Yourself Over Really, there is no way to see everything in a city like London.  Some of the things you want to do will be closed the days you want to see them (we learned that the hard way);  you may encounter long lines (like at the Platform 9 3/4 photo site); or you may be just too tired to see that site (the British Museum fell victim to our tired feet and we spent less than 2 hours there). Give up trying to get to everything.  Give in to whatever falls in front of you–especially if it is delicious food.  Give yourself over to the experience of being in the city and spend time talking to people rather than seeing dead people.  One of the most delightful experiences was speaking to the guard at the British Museum.  Our 30-minute conversation gave my kids a glimpse into the life of a Londoner.

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Kids asleep on my during the ride to Stonehenge. Can’t get any closer.

Get Closer My goal for this trip was to get closer to my children.  I think I achieved that in more ways than one.  You be the judge!

 

 

 

 

Itinerary  Here is the itinerary we followed in case you are planning 6 days in London:

Thursday

  • Arrive in Heathrow
  • Take Heathrow Express to Paddington Station
  • Buy the Oyster Card 7-Day and Oyster Youth 7-Day
  • Take the Tube to Ladbroke Grove
  • Get Money at the ATM
  • Eat Fish and Chips at the place across the street
  • Take a Tour or Go Shopping for groceries
  • Bed at 9pm

Friday

  • Take lunch with us
  • Big Bus Tour Hop on Hop Off Bus
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • Eat Lunch in St James Park
  • British Museum (open til 8pm on Fridays)
  • Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station (the lines are long–take time)
  • Kebabs and Fish and Chips

Saturday

  • GreenwichRoyal Observatory 
  • Greenwich Market for Lunch
  • The Cutty Sark
  • Thames River Cruise to Westminster
  • Walk Houses of Parliment
  • Attend Westminster Abbey at 5 for Evensong (you get free entry)
  • KERB food market at Southbank for dinner

Sunday

  • Church at the Hyde Park Ward
  • Church at St. Paul’s Cathedral (listen to choir)
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Play
  • Medieval Banquet (Opens at 5:15 and closes at 9:30)

Monday

  • Tower of London (it opens at 10 on Mondays–we were first in line because we arrived at 9–oops)
    • Tower Jewels first
    • Yeoman Warder tour
  • Tower Bridge and Tower Bridge Experience
  • Borough Market for lunch (seating is very limited)
  • Free time and shopping (skate shops and Harrods)

Tuesday

Personal Reflections on London and Denmark

IMG_1326I recorded a few podcasts about our trip that will post over the next few weeks.  The first one is located here.  But since the podcasts are meant to educate listeners about travel, it is hard to include the feelings I have about our trip.  So, this post is an extra one about my impressions and reflections.

My goals when I planned this trip were:

  • Show my kids the places I have lived and loved
  • Introduce them to other cultures and people
  • Allow them to experience life in another country–not just see the sights
  • Expose them to the people and places that changed history
  • Get closer to them and help them get closer to each other

Preparing the Invasion  Having lived in both London and in Odense, Denmark, I thought it would be easy to take the kids to these cities and feel comfortable in them. After all, I had spent significant time in both places.  But, I have to admit, two days before the trip, I had an overwhelming panic attack. Did Patton have that feeling before the invasion on D Day?   What was I thinking taking my kids across the world?  What about terrorists and so forth? What if we got separated?  What if, what if, what if?

I had done so much planning and strategizing.  I had an plan that would make both General Patton and Rick Steves envious.  I knew what sights were in the same area and how to get to them.  I knew how much time we needed for transportation and with the help of Google Street View, I knew details about the neighborhood we stayed in.

To calm myself, I reviewed my plan over again and plugged every detail into my phone.  It made me feel better. Until we landed.

Places I Lived and Loved: London  I thought it would be a great idea to take the Heathrow Express Train into London.  It was faster than a cab and much cheaper.  We flew Carry-on only with Backpacks and rolling bags so it was supposed to be simple.  Not so much.  But, we found our way to the Train and into the City. Google Maps is the trip planner’s best friend.  It gave me timetables and options for the Tube as well as Street Views so I knew how to walk from the Tube Station to our Flat–right to the door which was behind the building.  Phew.

IMG_1118IMG_1115When we reached the flat, it wasn’t quite ready.  Lucky for us, the best fish and chips shop in London was literally right across the street.  Never having been in a tiny fish and chips shop, the kids were overwhelmed with the fast pace.  They both opted for the Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas.  Mushy Peas did not go over well.  They are kind of like pea soup without the soup.  Not too bad if you added a bit of salt and pepper and ham.  The kids also got fizzys–that is what the Brits call sodas.  We sat on the street watching the hustle and bustle around us. Being from a quiet town, this was an experience for all the senses. Big cities move at a fast pace.

After dinner, we had a few hours to kill before bedtime and the kids opted for a trip to Oxford Street–the famed shopping street.  It has changed since my time in London over 20 years ago.  The more posh stores have been replaced with H&M and Primark and many American stores.  Maybe for the Brits, this is great but it was a bit disappointing for us.  However, we did join the masses of Londoners in Primark and buy a few things we needed as well as a few cheap souvenirs.

Lulu and the Loo Then, came the reoccurring problem we experienced the entire trip: Lulu needing the use Loo. She must have the tiniest bladder of any human being and the worst timing too.  Just after we leave a place with a free toilet, she needs to go.  REALLY BAD.

NOTE:  According to Bob the Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, you can’t call it a bathroom or restroom in England because, as he was quick to point out, you don’t take a bath there and you don’t rest there.  So we spent the rest of our trip not trying to trip over our tongues when we said, “Where’s the toilet.”  Sounds so vulgar to my prissy American ears. 

Thank goodness for the Golden Arches and Starbucks. They saved our bacon more than once.  By the end of our 2-week trip, we finally remembered to go to the toilet before leaving any location with a free toilet.  I really should have taken pictures in each Loo.  I could have started a new blog rating them.  I think my favorite was the toilet at the Tower Bridge.  It could have been in a designer magazine. Marble countertops and gleaming faucets, modern toilets and excellent lighting.

IMG_1873The funniest Lulu/Loo experiences we had were in Denmark. The first public toilet in Copenhagen is in the Round Tower.  We had discussed this building during our family home evening prep for the trip.  Dad had explained that the Tower had a chute that people pooped into. After a few years, it got so filled up that they had to clean it out.  We joked that it was a Crap Shoot as to who got that job.  Anyway, we found the Toilet in the Tower. And guess what they built right next to it?  A modern toilet.  We had a great laugh and a few photo moments and thought fondly of Dad who wasn’t with us to see it  Ah, Shoot!

IMG_2088Then, we found this sign for the toilet at a Danish castle called Egeskov.   Conde Naste Travel Magazine voted it one of the most beautiful places in Europe and they were not kidding.  But the sense of humor and the family charm well exceed anything in any other castle in Europe.  It really was the best castle experience I have ever had.  More about the castle itself later.

Meeting the Rainbow of Humanity London truly is the most ethnically diverse city I have ever seen.  The first time I visited London in 1981, it wasn’t that way but today, you see people from every continent, every country, every ethnicity, every religion.  We live in a pretty homogenous part of the US.  But in our small part of the world, we have diversity.  On my street, there are families from five different countries and our kids go to school with a diverse ethnic group (very surprising for Utah Valley). But I am not sure we were prepared for the array of languages, clothing, and beautiful faces we met on the Underground.

From Burkhas to belly-piercings, the array of ways people dressed was incredible.   We heard different languages everywhere we went.  Some I recognized: Russian (of course), Czech, Spanish, German, French, Danish, Swedish, Hindi, Arabic, Swahili,  Chinese, Japanese and of course American (the really loud people on the Tube).

IMG_1222Alex had an assignment to meet and talk with local people.  That was a great experience for us to learn more about London and its people.  The woman who let us into the flat had recently arrived from the Czech Republic told us a bit about her reasons for moving to London. The guard at the British Museum, Kenneth, explained what it was like to live in London and his decision to move to a suburb so his kids would have better schools. A woman making bracelets from tires at the Greenwich Market explained that she had come to London from Hungary for a better, more vibrant life. Gary at the skate park discussed politics, religion, and travel with us. And Edward, our archeologist guide to Stonehenge explained about his life as an archeologist and his new assignment to write curriculum for British schools teaching the kids about their own pre-history.  These are some of the things my kids will remember most.

When you meet the SEA of humanity and SEE that they are not to be feared and that you have more in common with them than you have differences, you gain a different view of the world and its problems.  If we all understood how interconnected we really are, it would help end the violence.

Experiencing Other Countries One reason I wanted to rent a flat was so that the kids got the feel for what it is like to LIVE in London.  Our Danish cousin working in England, came to London to visit us.  IMG_1310Maria gave the kids a perspective on their experience.  For the kids, the flat was a tiny, cramped space.  It was smaller than 1/6 of our home.  But when Maria came in, she was so impressed with the size and told the kids that it was huge for a London flat.  Going to the grocery store was also an adventure.  Seeing different foods, the small size of the store and even having to pay for the plastic bags was eye-opening.

Alex has always thought he wanted to live in a big city with public transportation and bustling life.  He enjoyed London very much.  He told me it was his favorite city and he was going to move there.  Then, we went to Copenhagen and his favorite city quickly changed. The day we were in Copenhagen was unusually hot (we were not dressed for that having come from rainy London). In the Danish fashion, the short skirts came out to celebrate the weather.  Danish women are very pretty and Alex enjoyed the view.

In the end though, he kissed the ground when we reached home and said that he loved home most.  I did the same thing after my first trip in 1981.  Then, I went back again and again and eventually moved to Odense and then to London and Moscow.  Maybe he does have the world traveler/citizen of the world gene in him. I’d live in another country in a heartbeat.

Making History/Living History In Europe, just about everything you see is older than just about anything in the United States–much of it older than the country itself. Especially in London. Starting with William the Conqueror in 1066 and his fortress that turned into the Tower of London where all those beautiful ladies lost their necks to St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster and all the Victorian edifices build by the most industrious queen, London is awash in historic buildings mixed with the modern.  There are plaques on even seemingly normal buildings telling you of the famous people who lived there or the important events that took place there.

When we visited Salisbury Cathedral, we saw the Magna Carta written in 1215 which limited the power of the king and which is considered a founding document for modern democracy.  While viewing it, an American woman next to me turned to the docent and said in a Texas accent (and I am not kidding or exaggerating), “Well, this is older than our country!” I could not help myself and replied, “This document is one of the reasons why we have our country.” I wanted to say that the floor she was standing on, the cathedral she was in, the town she was located at and even the dirt she kicked as she walked was older than our country.

IMG_1707Speaking of Old, one of the most fascinating things we did was to take a tour to Stonehenge with an archeologist.  I let the kids choose what they wanted to visit outside London for a day excursion and they chose Stonehenge.  There are several tour companies taking sight-seers to Stonehenge, but I wanted more than a distant glimpse of some big rocks (you can’t get up close and personal like I did in 1981). So, we went on a tour with Edward from Tours from Antiquity.  Edward spent the time it took to drive to Stonehenge as well as other henges and Salisbury explaining the Pre-History of the area. His research dates human activities back to 5000 BC and he explained the types of cultures creating henges all over the countryside.  I learned more in 20 minutes with Edward than I had learned the previous three times I had visited Stonehenge.

Note: If you are ever at a cocktail party and someone begins to discuss the Druids and Stonehenge, you can let them know that the Druids were about 3000 years too late to the Stonehenge Party.  And there is no evidence for aliens even though I kept trying to get Edward to confess that there was–especially when I saw the crop circle in the field nearby.  He tried to tell me that it was just a farmer turning his tractor around, but those of us who grew up near Area 51 know better.  Diverging question:  Why are they called cocktails anyway? Well the answer to that is also almost older than the US. 

IMG_1231In our time machine, we went back in time and visited many amazing sites and met with incredible people who changed the world.  Bill and Ted would have been proud of our most excellent adventure.  At the British Museum, we saw the Rosetta Stone written in 196 BC and used in the 1800s to understand hieroglyphic writing.  We visited the Parthenon by viewing the friezes from its facade.The friezes are called Elgin’s Marbles because Lord Elgin, a lover of all thing Greek, found them laying around on the ground and loaded them in his ship in the 1800s and brought them back to London.  They served as dual purpose as balast for his ship.  We viewed Egyptian mummies and fist bumped with Amenhotep III.

IMG_1580We learned about British kings and queens: how they lived, loved and died.  The Tower of London was an incredible journey back in the bloody history of London–the battle fought by William the Conqueror, the prison for the famous and infamous and the location that for so many beautiful necks to lose their heads.  The Tower is now besieged only by tourists.  I guess it is arguable which raging horde is worse–the invading Normans or the invading Tourists.

For me, one of the most important historical figures we met was Winston Churchill.  The War Rooms where Churchill and his generals strategized the battles against Nazi oppression are now open for everyone to see.  These rooms located in a bunker under a government building in Whitehall remained virtually untouched for decades until they were turned into a museum in the 1980s.  When I lived in London, I had never heard of the museum.  For a student of history, the War Rooms were a tactile journey back in time.  Seeing the map where the battles were planned and troop positions recorded was incredible as was listening to the speech Churchill gave to the British people while standing at the table where he gave the speech on the BBC.

But all history and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  So, some history has to be experienced in a fun atmosphere.  The Medieval Banquet in London was a fun romp back to the gastronomical lives of kings and queens.  Complete with jesters, knights and wenches, the evening was pure fun.  Pounding the table, singing Hey Nonny Nonny, and calling out Ho Wench were so much fun.

IMG_2141The other fun romp in history was in Denmark at Egeskov castle.  Touring the castle itself takes about 30 minutes at kid speed and about 2-3 hours at adult speed. But we spent the entire day there with our Danish cousins enjoying the amazing grounds with a zip line, a tree walk, bungie jungle gyms, hedge mazes, secret alcoves, music gardens, automobile and motorcycle museums and (wait for it) Segway Jousting! Not even kidding–maybe exaggerating.  The kids rode their trusty Segway steeds through the course.  Alex got fancy with his ride. Check it out.  Besides all the fun, the view at Egeskov is incredible.  Built in the middle of a lake on the oak timbers of an entire forest, Egeskov has the ultimate moat.  I could not take a bad picture that day.

IMG_2007Places I Lived and Loved: Odense Growing up as an only child was lonely so my mom decided to have an exchange student come live with us.  Lene was from Denmark and was also an only child.  We became very close during the year she lived with us so I decided to live with her for a year after high school graduation.  Her parents, Hans and Hanne, opened their home to me.  Going back to Odense was a real mental time warp.

Not much changes in Denmark. Everything looked the same as it did 30 years ago.  Taking my kids to the house I lived in, the school I went to and the city streets I walked was fun. Attending Church with people I had know 30 years ago was incredible.  And beginning to remember my Danish was a real brain-bender.

IMG_1948Odense is the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen but it is also the birthplace of some of my greatest adventures and fondest memories.  It might not be as exciting as London in terms of sights to see but it is filled with great memories and family that I love.  We are so close that we are sisters by choice if not by blood and our children are as close as they would be if they were really cousins.  That is the great gift I received in Odense.

Getting Closer My biggest hope after being safe IMG_2644was that my kids would grow closer to each other and to me.  I think we achieved that.  Before we left, we talked about how we had to be a team while we traveled and watch out for each other.  We talked about how we needed to put our petty differences aside and not allow the tiny annoyances to ruin the experience.  The kids were great!  They didn’t fight the entire trip (besides a few minor scuffles) and we all got to be together in a place where we had to stick together.  Even though Alex would not let me say it out loud, we were the Three Musketeers. I loved watching my kids open their eyes to the big world, to take in history, to understand their place in the sea of humanity.

IMG_2671We did not only get closer to each other but we also got closer to our Danish family.  It was the highlight of the trip to spend 5 days with Lene and Kurt and their amazing kids.  It would not have mattered what we did in Odense.  Just being together with them was everything wonderful and then some.  Our kids just love every minute together. It was fun to see Alex having his hair braided by his older girl cousins.  It was fun to see Anna learn to play football (yes–soccer) with her cousin even thought she got the mother of all grass stains on her new pants.  It was amazing to see Hanne again and go back to the house I lived in the 30 years ago.

I was also able to reunite with our other Danish exchange students, Steen and Kim.  Thanks to Kurt, we drove to Arhus and met them and their families and enjoyed an amazing day just being together.  In 3 seconds, 30 years of time melted away and it seemed like we had talked only yesterday.  The day weIMG_2393spent together was actually the day Steen and I had graduated from Western High School 30 years earlier.  Kind of poetic.  I loved their wives and their kids and they loved my kids too.  I can’t wait until they visit us in the States.

What Does it All Add Up To?  You travel to see new places–or old places as it turns out.  But in the end what you really take home with you are the people you meet and the time you share together.  Travel is about getting to know yourself and others in the context of a different environment. It’s about reuniting with friends and making new ones.  It’s about returning to places you lived when you were a different person and introducing your kids to your past self. It’s about riding a bike and playing a game of SKATE with a famous person you didn’t even know was famous. It’s about getting to celebrate your 10thIMG_2600birthday in Denmark with your family singing to you in Danish.  It’s about tasting chocolate from four countries, sharing your favorite cookie (Hob Nobs) and your favorite pastry (brunsviger) and trying liver pate for the first time. It’s about banging on tables and drinking a soda in a pub in the middle of an ancient henge circle.  It’s about leaving the comfort of your routine to enlarge your view of the world.

And even then, you can’t explain what happens to you when you travel.  It’s all that and so much more.  No travel log can describe the feelings I have after this trip. People ask me if I had a great trip.  Of course, I answer that it was wonderful.  Then they want me to tell them about it.  I can describe some of the places and some of the experiences, but I can’t put into words the feeling and the change that was wrought in me and my kids and in our relationship with each other and the world.  That is the souvenir I bring home.

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Worth a Thousand Words and Better than Mine

LONDON

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DENMARK

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