Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pictures and Poetry. Not my poetry. I wouldn't do that to ya'll.

We are back to school here. But even with lesson plans, math reviews and diagramming sentences, my mind still roams back to London and our lovely lovely adventure. Luckily, I can call it school as the triplets are taking a British Literature course!!

I am still poring through the 2,525 photos I snapped. I still haven't seen them all but am struck -- as I warned I would be -- by my obsession with the Queen Elizabeth Tower (that houses Big Ben) and Parliament. Our hotel was right across the Westminster Bridge from these breath-taking sites and I may have snapped a photo with every single coming and going. So when the kids and I opened our poetry books yesterday to discover a sonnet written on the Westminster Bridge, I really did feel like we were right back meandering through the many (many many) tourists to get to the other side. We've deduced that the Mr. William Wordsworth obviously didn't have as many tourists on the bridge with him...it being 1802 and all....but I have to share! (Besides, it gives me a great chance to share a few of the dozens of photos I took from that very bridge!)

Our first glimpse.

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, 
September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:

A rainy view from the London Eye. (That is Westminster Bridge!)

This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theater, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep,
All all that mighty heart is lying still!!
--William Wordsworth 

Thank you, Mr. Wordsworth. Thank you.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Even Mama Ducks get confused in the rain.

When we travel, we each have our roles. It simply wouldn't work otherwise for us to gallivant around the country (and even the globe) with all our special needs. But Team Shrader has a system and from Phoenix to Starkville and even all the way to Argentina and London, the system has served us well.

My crew heading for Trafalgar Square!

My role is non-negotiable. I couldn't change my role if I wanted to. It is who I am and what I do. I herd. I corral. I bring up the rear to make sure there are no lost little ducklings. From the moment we brought three tiny babies home from the hospital, I have worn my Mama Duck hat with pride. I can count heads and put my eyes on my crew at fifty paces...and beyond. I snapped photos of my border collie skills all over London! They just make me smile.

Of course, I could smile bigger if my herding skills had not gone so terribly awry one evening. Terribly terribly awry.

London experienced rain every single day of our stay. Every single day. But for desert-dwellers, even rain is exciting so we didn't mind at all. Besides, we had timed it perfectly the entire trip. Only needing to walk in slight drizzly conditions, never an all-out downpour. Until our last night.

Parliament and Queen Elizabeth's Tower (housing Big Ben!).

After the cobblestones at the Tower of London were such a bear for the wheelchairs to navigate, we decided to re-think our trip to old Canterbury scheduled for Monday. We were getting mixed information about the accessibility of the town and the train tickets were going to cost the price of theater tickets to another show!

My crew barely thought about it for 15 minutes, another show? Yes, please. And so we booked more theater tickets and decided to use the free Monday exploring another park.

The gate at Buckingham Palace.

We dressed up and headed out for an early dinner, to be followed by our last theater show of the trip. The skies looked threatening but we were only mildly concerned.

Checking in with our tour guide Dad for directions!

Right up until the moment the skies opened up with very little warning! We rushed under a tree (another novelty for these desert dwellers) and hoped to wait it out. (In our experience, showers in London were short-lived.) When we realized we would have to walk in the storm if we were to make our dinner and theater obligations, we pulled out the ponchos and umbrellas and set off. 

Tower of London!

Darling Claire was pushing Mason and led the charge. Dad and Cate shared an umbrella in the middle, while I tried to protect Benjamin and his electronic wheelchair, under a big umbrella the hotel had lent us.

Leaving the Dr. Who museum involved lots and lots of walking to find an accessible tube station!

Reaching Trafalgar Square and the multiple cross-walks it took us to get to the point where our restaurant stood, I realized I couldn't see Claire and Mason anywhere. Not anywhere. Dad assured me they were at the restaurant already, probably getting us a table.

Westminster Abbey!

Except they weren't.

I am pretty sure I turned a violent shade of green. I knew the crowds at Trafalgar square were enormous. How could we have lost them? How would we ever find them? Wade took one look at my face, and said "Sit here with Benjamin and Cate. I will find them."

I was praying for them to not be scared. I was praying for ME to not be scared. I kept standing up to go find them myself....but Cate would look at me and say, "You can't leave us, Mama." And so I would sit back down.

What felt like hours -- but Wade assures me was mere minutes -- later, Wade came in and said he had found them.

Unfortunately, there were TWO restaurants in Trafalgar Square with the same name....they were getting us a table at the other one.

Mature teenagers taking charge of the situation. They got out of the rain and were even getting our table and ordering beverages.

I wanted to strangle them for their responsibility that took them out of my line of sight.

I wanted to hug them for not being lost -- and for being so responsible.

In the end, I just took a deep breath and ordered dinner. Fish and chips can solve any dilemma.

So, maybe I am not a good herder in the rain....or maybe I need to accept that three of my crew are growing up and need less and less herding from me.

Or maybe, just maybe (and oh, I like this option this best) I should turn around and head back to London to practice herding in the rain a bit more!! Who's with me??

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Don't Save the Sugar Rations for Another Day.

We walked almost six miles today. My feet are a bit sore. I miss my bed. And we all really really miss our Pluto! But I have this story running through my head:

Winston Churchill refused to leave the city when World War II was looming large on the horizon. Rather, he insisted on building secret war rooms under an unknown building where he could work, live if necessary and could manage his staff as they planned, plotted and worked to stop Adolf Hitler.

The rooms are a fascinating tour -- offices, bunk rooms, a regal dining room for Churchill and his wife to host dinners if they were trapped underground, map rooms, and a secret room that even his staff thought was his private water closet but which in fact was a telephone room where Churchill could conduct very private phone calls!

When the war ended, the rooms were closed and left undisturbed for years. When they were re-opened in the late 1970s a packet of sugar cubes was found on one of the officer's desks. The packet contained this officer's sugar rations. No doubt he was saving them for something special. He had, after all, placed them safely in the envelope and even put his name on them. And yet what stood out to me is the fact that he saved them so long he never used them at all. At all.

I don't want to waste a moment imagining something different around the corner. I don't want to save my energy for another day -- I want to walk, and see and do and experience everything we can before we leave London in a couple of days.

As as we do just that: we are cramming as much in as absolutely possible! We have toured the Tower of London -- the history fascinates me and we savored every story the Beefeater (Yeoman Warder) told but I have to tell you that wheelchairs and cobblestone are a rough combination. Poor Benjamin's teeth were rattling!

Volunteers are placing ceramic poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower. One red poppy to represent each man who lost his life in World War I.

The Tower Bridge.

Bulldogs!! (Ok...totally the wrong colors but they make us smile!)

Cate as a guard? Hmm...

After the tower we grabbed a couple of taxis and handed them the address for The Who Shop (You know...Dr. Who!). We probably should have worried when both drivers were concerned for how we would return to London. We were way way way out there and unfortunately being Dr. Who fans did not mean the Tardis could help with transport.

Mason going into the Tardis....the Dr. Who museum...because you know...it is bigger on the inside!

We walked through some interesting parts of town to get to the closest train station with wheelchair access. We walked a long long way through those interesting areas. :)

Our trip is winding down but we still have a bit more to see. My hope is that when we return we will have a whole new motto -- not just "mind the gap" or "Keep Calm and Carry On" but I hope we learn to eat the sugar rations each day -- not save them for a special occasion!!!

Sunset through the London Eye.

Carol - The Blessings Counter