Monday, September 2, 2013

The Wild West

We have just spent two and a half weeks in America, visiting my husband's sister and brother in law, who are river guides during the summers in Idaho, on the Salmon river. We have long heard of these fantastic trips and were waiting for our 9 y-o to be old enough to enjoy and remember the experience.  So this was the year, and it was a truly amazing experience.

I must admit I have always preferred travelling to less developed, less Western countries, but either it's middle age, having children in tow, or perhaps the experience of living in developing nations for five and a half years, but I found myself relishing the American experience. I think I viewed it the same way I viewed going home for summers in the UK  in that I enjoyed a degree of comfort and convenience I wasn't used to in Sri Lanka or Albania. 

I have been to America  about 4 times, but for some reason it bowled me over this it me just how friendly and helpful everyone was. People bent over backwards to help us, people stopped and chatted to us. It made us realise what suspicious old Brits we were as it took us a little while to realise people were just being friendly, with no ulterior motives, and people weren't stopping to tell us off, move us on, ask what we were doing, they just wanted to chat. I imagine this is because we were in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming; generally more rural and slower paced.  On one occasion, we had stopped to have a picnic lunch off the main highway and an old couple on a huge motorbike stopped and said hello, which I confess,initially we felt was a bit odd, and wondered if they were checking out what we were doing. Anyway we had a really nice chat, & as he left he pointed out his house, saying if we needed anything to just pop by and ask. 15 minutes later he came back with a map of Montana which he gave to us to use for our road trip.

We flew standby as usual. No one who hasn't worked for an airline or flown standby appreciate the stress of this way of travelling. As my husband puts it, "Staff  travel (retired staff in his case) is always fantastic in hindsight." During, however, is almost always a very different matter, especially when you are flying during school holidays. We got on the Seattle flight, then got offloaded at the gate. We were booking, unbooking & rebooking hotels for our first night. Finally we got on a flight to Denver. However our luggage didn't. This has happened to us many times before, pre children, but this time, despite having been told it was a priority, as we were going on a river trip, our luggage  didn't arrive during the FOUR days before our river trip started. It was there by the end of the river trip six days later, but how many of those ten days it took to arrive, we are not entirely sure. So thank Heavens for Walmart. We each bought shorts & t shirts, and swimming stuff and 'river shoes'. Our13 y-o chose some very  fetching stars n stripes swimming shorts which he loved and the Americans on our trip were very amused by. They seemed surprised he had actually chosen them.  The worst of it was I didn't have  my contact lenses with me, so I had to wear glasses and buy those 'clip on' sunglasses. Very attractive. And not ideal for a river based trip. I also bought a strap to keep my glasses on and tried not to capsize! Fortunately for us, because our sis & bro-in-law work for the rafting company, we could borrow their gear, mats, and sleeping bags, clothes etc etc.  The funny thing was the friend who had packed clothes for me because my sister in law was already on the river, decided  i needed cute little dresses and skirts to wear at the camp each evening on the river, so whilst I had not a single t shirt and only a very itsy bitsy pair of shorts, I did have a different dress to wear each night at the camp.......

And it was magical. We rafted class 3 and 4 rapids and lesser ripples in rubber rafts & paddle boats and inflateable kayaks, called rubber duckies down a beautiful stretch of river. 100 miles in 6 days - a wilderness area with no roads at all, about 5 or 6 settlements tops; mostly old homesteads once farmed by pioneering settlers or failed gold diggers living incredibly  remotely, now in disuse, or caretakered by people with a similar adventurous and reclusive spirit.  But slightly more modern conveniences....  we saw bald eagles and golden eagles. Some of our group saw mountain lion. None of us saw bears, or rattle snakes for that matter.

We slept out under the stars, gazing sleepily at the sparkling embroidered cloths with the gauze veil of the milky way trailing across it, listening to crickets and the rush of the river. We were fed like kings. The guides used dutch ovens which they placed on charcoal and then placed some charcoal on the lid, and so they could bake! They made brownies, cornbread, huckleberry pie out in the wilderness on these dutch ovens. They also had coolers assigned to each  day which they didn't open till that assigned day, so everything stayed fridge cold.  We were in a fantastic group of people. Our son has added about 12 friends to his Facebook profile, ranging from 23 down to 13 yr olds. They loved his accent. And his shorts....

Our daughter sat on the gear boats for the first few days, the guides called it the 'princess boat', because you sat up high and just kicked back & enjoyed the view, without having to paddle and the rapids were less frightening from there too.

Our son took to the Stand Up Paddle Board and used that mostly. My husband, after being in the paddle boat for 2 days, on day three and the day of the first class 4 rapid decided to try it in a rubber duckie. He managed it fine.

I am very envious of my husband in that he is afraid of nothing. Whereas I am afraid of lots of things. And it seems to get worse as I get older. I used to be much more gung ho and dare devil ish, though never a big risk taker like him. I realised this afresh on this trip. He didn't worry about falling out in to a class 4 churning rapid, (whereas I have fallen out at the top of a nasty class 4 rapid in Chile and it wasn't fun). He didn't worry about sleeping in grizzly bear country, he wasn't at all concerned about hiking through bear country, he rode a jet ski later in the holiday, getting it up to its maximum speed of 50 miles an hour, managing to get flung off it three times at high speed because he was turning it so tightly (Our brother in law said it was almost impossible to flip them & they were so stable they were very hard to come off too) So you can see what a 'girly woos' I feel in comparison to him...But I still do everything, I'm just scared doing (some of) them & hubby isn't!

Yellowstone. I guess being British I just couldn't get used to the idea that you camped under a flimsy piece of nylon quite happily in GRIZZLY BEAR country. I mean, we Brits are just not used to large, dangerous mammals roaming the countryside freely. I couldn't work out why people were so relaxed about it. After all, warnings were everywhere about being 'Bear Aware'. We had bear lockers at each camp spot and instructions nailed to them about what we could keep in a tent and what we mustn't. Every loo, every shop, every parking area had Bear Warnings.  What to do, what not to do. You were told never to hike alone, to make a lot of noise when you did hike, (clapping, shouting, carrying a bear bell though please note they also add about the latter "This is NOT enough", to carry Bear Spray ($50 and works once, though obviously once would be more than enough. I doubt you would go hiking again after also encounter with a Grizzly) I realised that most bears would be afraid of you, and are more interested in your food. Even so, you do have to assume a degree of confidence to sleep in an area with your food near by up a tree, with only that thin bit of nylon between you & a bear hug.  But also if they are used to people camping and hearing people's noise and seeing humans around, that means they get more used to them & correspondingly less afraid of you. And they are carnivores too, of course....

I did one hike, with just the children, whilst M went back for the truck. It was late afternoon and there was no one on the trail, which was a main one near the Old Faithful geyser area. It was also through pine forest. We didn't have our bear bell. So we clapped and sang & chatted loudly. After about 15 minutes of walking, we met another family in front of us and stuck with them all the way back. At the end of the trail there was a sign which said 'Mother grizzly with cubs frequenting this area. Proceed with caution. Be alert. Make a noise."  Can't say I would have proceeded at all had I seen that notice at the start of the walk.

So, summer in the Big Country. Big distances, big cars, big breakfasts, big hospitality & big animals. To coin a phrase, "it was awesome."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Where Did The Time Go?

Ok, so it's 11 months since I last posted. I need to change my name, my blog header etc. I know. I need to start again basically.  I am just going to write a couple of posts to round this off and then publish it with one of those 'Blog to Book' packages, as a record for our children and family of our experiences overseas.  That's why I started it after all, 7 years ago.  Then I will think about reinventing myself, if I can think of a new raison d'etre for my blog.

I have loved blogging, I have just found life so busy since moving back from overseas. I didn't want to buy back into the whole frenetic rat race thing, but life just is fast paced & all consuming here. I simply don't seem to have time anymore.

We have family here, a wide circle of friends, the children have far more activity options & school clubs, they get more homework, I have no cleaner, we own our own house, so suddenly have gardening & endless DIY chores to do.  I could go on. 

Oh & we have had a few major events/life changes too.

Since I last wrote, here's what happened:
1. Sept & Oct last year I spent editing a theologian friend's bibliography for his latest massive tome on Romans.  I loved doing this & even got paid for it, but it took all my computer time.

2. Out of the blue I got a part time teaching job (through my supply agency) starting Nov 1st. It necessitated a return journey of 50 miles, four days a week. This made me very busy.... But I needed a job, and the students are lovely. The school, well that's a whole other blog post.  This post has now been made permanent. And the CRB check was a walk in the park for some reason.

3. Oh yes and did I mention we moved house? We found somewhere that's a perfect compromise between town & country.  On the edge of the city, but near a country park.  We moved 4 days before I started my new job. Timing crazy, house purchase miraculous really. We had been searching for a house for about 2 yrs from when we first knew we would be moving back to the UK. Everything got snapped up very fast, we couldn't decide where we wanted to be, couldn't find a house in our price range. We seemed to have hit a dead end.  We had found one house we liked but, though it was with an estate agent, it wasn't on the market yet and was too expensive. If we offered lower, we knew they would just wait till it went on the 'open market'. An impasse.

Then one night at 10p.m a note was pushed through our door. I wrested the paper from the eager jaws of our puppy and was about to throw it away assuming it was an advert, but something (sheer unalloyed nosiness probably) made me look at it. It was a letter from a family asking me if we were selling our house as they were interested in it. My husband told me not to get excited as the chances were very slim that it would work out. Neverthless I emailed that night (Tues) They came to look at it on Wednesday, asked to come back on Thursday. On Friday they made us a full price offer, we accepted it and on Saturday we put an offer in on the house we liked (which was rejected) However, the vendors agreed to meet us half way between ours & their price. So in five days we had bought and sold a house!

4. We are now in the throes of a 'Forth Bridge' of a decorating project, trying, and failing probably, to balance the house's demands with our children's needs, in terms of time spent on both.

5. We are having a kitchen extension done. This also seemed to be a dead end scenario. Our builder, most inconsiderately, told us in March he couldn't do our project after all, because he was retiring to become  a farmer. An original excuse at least. His previous project had taken far longer than expected.  So, suddenly we had to find a builder during the busiest time for building - over the summer. We tried all our personal recommendations; had 2 ridiculous quotes, 3 builders who said they were too busy to take it on. An impasse again it seemed. Then one Tuesday (again) as it happened an architect friend emailed to say her builders were looking for work for August & September. They came the same day, we got a quote on Wednesday, rejected it on Wednesday and told the project manager what our original builder was going to do it for. On Thursday she accepted that price and they started on the Friday!
The builders are Polish and boy do they work hard. 6 days a week, from 8-5p.m. I must say they make me feel very at home in a nostalgic way; being surrounded by concrete dust, building noise, my ears filled with the familiar sounds of an East European language. The men are all in their 40s and 50s, grey, pot-bellied and smoke constantly.  And they are phenomenally strong. My husband has been dishing out ear plugs to them because they drill with no ear protection.  So in 4 weeks the project is nearly finished.  Trying to keep up with them in terms of research has been a struggle. I hadn't realised were SO many decisions involved in such a project. It's taken Choice Anxiety' to a whole new level.

So that is why I haven't had time to blog. Instead I am marking books, preparing lessons, walking our dog, cleaning our house, keeping up with friends & family and trying to learn how to juggle with at least 10 balls. And I've never been very co-ordinated on that front....