Friday, 26 August 2016

Tornadoes and Castles

Tornadoes you say?  Yes, tornadoes.  Welcome back to Indiana!  And a rather harsh welcome back it has been, at least weatherwise.  We haven’t even been here for a month yet and we’ve already had to deal with two fairly close tornado scares, the kind where there is definitely a tornado on the ground and heading in your general direction so seek shelter soon.  The first episode was a week ago Tuesday, dinner time, Eric was back in the UK for work (yes, already), so just the girls and I were home when my phone suddenly started blaring that unmistakable emergency bleeping that stops you in your tracks and sends you running to the TV to see what the heck is going on.  Tornado warning.  Radar suggests and one has been spotted on the ground about 45 minutes west and is heading straight in our direction.  Lovely!  As we hear the sirens going off, I grab a couple of blankets, put them by the basement door, find the flashlight and put that and my cell phone by the basement door, and all three of us put on shoes because, I don’t know, seems like a bad idea to be barefoot when you are trapped in your basement with your house on top of you.  We put dinner preparations aside, much to Leah’s chagrin because she was hungry, tornado or not.  Unlike normal children who get very frightened during situations like this, Leah gets excited and keeps running outside to the front porch hoping to see the funnel cloud.  Well, as luck would have it, luck for us anyway, said tornado passed about three miles from our house taking out most of the goals and garbage cans on the soccer field we are currently frequenting two or three times a week (they had cancelled soccer practices earlier so don’t worry, no kids were there), toppled over some trees, but thankfully didn’t cause much more damage than that as it was a rather small tornado.  Thank you mother nature!!!

But then came Wednesday of this week, two days ago.  About 2:30 in the afternoon I hear the sirens.   What the heck?  I knew there was a slight risk of storms that day, but no one said anything about tornadoes.  I turn on the TV and sure enough, another tornado, pretty much due west of us and again, heading in our general direction.  Yippee!  Here comes round number two.  But this tornado warning was a little different than the other one the week before because, you see, all the kids were still in school and they won’t release them if there is a tornado warning.  Period. End of story.  Doesn't matter if there is an actual tornado or just a warning based on computer generated meteorological models.  No children are setting foot outside of school until the warning has officially expired. Ellie was to get out of school shortly.  She was planning on staying after for a meeting anyway, but instead of going to the meeting (which eventually was cancelled because of the ensuing events), she had to assume the tornado position on the first floor in the 5th grade hallway (her locker and main classroom is on the second floor). 

If I tell you in detail how the next three hours played out, this would get to be a really long post and I’m not at all sure you are that interested in this anyway, so to make a long story as short as I possibly can, after the first, second and then third tornado warnings had expired, Ellie finally arrived home from school via the bus about 1 hour and 45 minutes late.  As we walked from the bus stop back to our house with the neighbor kids, everyone buzzing about the fact they had to stay in the tornado position for over an hour, my phone bleeps that annoying but very important ear piercing emergency sound once again.  This was tornado warning number four for the afternoon.  Now, because of the way the buses run in our school district, the elementary students hadn't even been released from school yet, so this new warning meant that all those youngsters once again had to take the tornado position in their classrooms and wait it out.  Did you follow all of that?   

Well, by that time, it was well over an hour past when the elementary kids would normally have been released from school, there was now a fourth tornado warning, and I think you can understand that I and the other parents of elementary kids on our street just wanted them home safely and sound with us.  So one of the other moms jumped in the car and headed to the school to pick them all up. 

You aren’t going to believe this, but when my neighbor arrived at the school, a 5th and what would turn out to be the final tornado warning of the afternoon was issued.  The school officials made her go into the school and seek shelter in the nurse’s office too!  Finally, about 20 minutes later, she pulls into our driveway with Leah in the back seat.  It was well after 5:00 pm.  Those poor elementary kids had to sit with their foreheads to the floor for over two hours! And those that rode the bus home didn't even get on their buses until 5:30 that day. 

Now, some of you may be thinking this sounds like a bit of overkill.  Are the school districts here being overly cautions keeping kids in school until 5:30?  Well, maybe, but if you saw the video of the Starbucks in Kokomo, Indiana, a mere hours drive north of here, being flattened that very afternoon around the time the kids would have been on the bus home, then no.  The schools did exactly the right thing keeping them inside the buildings where they would be much safer if a tornado had hit than being on the bus or walking home from school (and in case you didn't see the video, it's pretty incredible but all the patrons and staff inside the Starbucks were okay - apparently they had a really well built bathroom/tornado shelter).

Now, what the heck does this all have to do with this blog about living in England?  Well, for the past two years we never once had to worry about tornadoes or storm warnings of any kind actually.  We heard thunder exactly twice over those two years because thunderstorms are just not common at all in the UK, and while we did have a few wind advisories and lots of rain at times, that was the extent of the extreme weather we had to deal with.  But now, back to reality.  We can’t jet off to Prague for the weekend anymore, and we need to watch for tornadoes.  Hmm, can I go back to England now?

I will end all of this kibitzing about the weather with some more photos from the UK that I haven't shared with you yet.  Kind of a sharp transition in topics I realized, but man was it nice not having to deal with this bad weather stuff.   

This is the town of Conwy in Wales.  How have I not shared this amazing and very proudly Welsh gem with you yet?   

We visited Conwy almost a year ago now, back in September 2015, just after the girls had started a new school year in our little English village of Worthington.  We drove to Wales just for the weekend because like I’ve said before, everywhere seems like it’s only two hours away from where we lived.  Actually, Conwy was more like three hours, and that particular Friday night it turned out to be more like four hours.  We left after the girls were done with school and Eric was done with work for the day, but I think everyone else did too and they seemed to all be heading to Wales as well.  I know, a four hour drive really isn’t that long to us Americans, but it is when one of your children gets car sick all over herself in the back seat when you are about 20 miles from the hotel (this seemed to come on quite suddenly and with absolutely no warning), and the paper towels are unreachable in the trunk (or boot as it’s called in the UK), AND there is absolutely no room on the side of the road to pull over because they don't believe in shoulders in the UK.  That was a long 20 miles in slow moving traffic with all the windows down as we encouraged her not to move a muscle until we arrived at the hotel and could extract her from the mess in the back seat.  Fun times, my friends, fun times.  We didn't have tornadoes to deal with, but it wasn't all fun and games while we lived in England.

Well, our trip to Wales improved vastly the next day when we arrived outside the great walls that surround the town of Conwy.  Conwy, you see, is a walled market town, full of cute shops and places to eat, and sitting above the great wall that encircles the medieval town is a mighty castle.   

Conwy Castle, one of the best we visited in all of Europe, dates back to the later 1200s...

 and boy was it fun to explore.  

From the towers that thrust up high above the town, we were afforded one of the most magnificent views we would see in the UK...

the beautiful green hills of the Welsh landscape...

and the Conwy River which flows right past the castle and empties into the Irish Sea.   

Simply stunning!   

So here you go – Conwy Castle in Wales and the great stone wall that still surrounds the town hundreds of years later.  

Looks like Eric took a page from my book.  Photographing the photographer, only I'm not really the photographer in the family.  He is.  But I still like to take what I think are cools photos now and again with my camera phone.  

Like this actual 'photographing the photographer' on top of Conwy Castle.  Can you spot him?

I liked visiting Conwy so much that I went back in June when my friend Anna from Wisconsin came to visit.  She wanted to see a proper castle, and Conwy Castle was the first one that popped into my mind. Not hard to see why, is it.

Look very carefully at this photo.  Can spot the King?

Monday, 15 August 2016

There and Back Again; The Continuation of our Adventure from the Other Side of the Pond

I’m sitting at my desk typing this post with the window open.  It’s warm and a bit muggy. I can hear the pitter-patter of the steady rain as it falls outside.  I want to turn the lights on in the house because the heavy gray clouds hanging low in the sky are making it really dark and gloomy in here.  And I’m not in England anymore.  I am back home, in Indiana.

We’ve officially been back since Friday, July 29.  Sorry for the radio silence but before we left the UK, we were busy, busy, busy, and then we set out on our last European vacation, at least the last one for the foreseeable future because I suspect our travels there are not done.  Since we’ve returned to Indiana, we’ve moved back into our house, worked on restocking (toilet paper, cleaning supplies, spices, you get the drift), Eric has returned to work and bought a new truck to get him there and back again, the girls have returned to school albeit they are now at different school and riding different buses so our morning routine is very long, soccer season has started, we sign up for dance classes tomorrow, and we’ve met some new neighbors as there seems to have been a lot of change on our little street while we were away.  Good changes because they are all very nice and there are lots of new kids.  And that is why I am just now getting back to blogging because believe it or not, we still have a lot from our European adventure to share.  

So, how is being back in the USA?  Well, I’ve discovered there really is a thing called reverse culture shock.  I feel as if I’ve been walking around in a daze for the past few weeks, going about the motions of living, but everything here feels kind of strange and I’m not sure what to make of it all.  For instance, I went to Starbucks this morning.  It’s raining and a mocha was just calling my name.  I drove to the nearest location and the line at the drive thru was long, but I had no desire to get into that line anyway even if it was short.  You see, in England, there are no drive thrus at coffee shops, at least not any we saw.  In fact, they would all think we were down right crazy for getting a cup of coffee in a to go container while sitting in our car.  Where is the pleasure in that?  Coffee, tea or whatever your hot beverage of choice is meant to be drunk sitting down at the coffee shop with your hands wrapped around a proper mug, and that’s how I wanted my mocha this morning.  So I bypassed the drive thru line but after circling the building twice, there wasn’t a single parking spot available.  At least this particular Starbucks’ has that in common with the UK – lack of parking spaces.  So I left and headed to the next nearest Starbucks, and guess what?  The drive thru line was even longer AND there wasn’t a single parking spot available there either.  Ugh!  So I did what just felt like it was completely against my nature after living in Europe for two years and sat in the crazy long drive thru line, watching for a parking spot to open up but whenever one did, another car snatched it up before I could maneuver my way out of the ridiculously long line of cars. 

Now, I’m not trying to say I’m better than everyone else here in the USA so please don’t be insulted if you went through a drive thru this morning because if you want to know how this story ended, I did end up going through the drive thru line myself after all of that, got my coffee to go and am now sitting by myself back at home drinking it out of the fiber or whatever Starbucks makes their to go cups from.  It’s just that I’ve seen this all from a much different perspective now.  I got use to that different perspective, I liked that different perspective, and I miss that different perspective.  I know I will be back through the Starbuck’s drive thru again, but that cup of coffee will not compare to the one I had with the girls at my favorite café Jack’s in a little town called Melbourne just a few miles from where we lived in England where a hot chocolate is served like this...

And it won’t compare to sitting in a cozy tea room located in an old stone building with good friends on a chilly, rainy day and enjoying tea like this.   

So now maybe you can understand a little why I feel this undercurrent of melancholy.  It’s not about being back in the USA, it’s about not being in England anymore.  I miss it, plain and simple.

And that pretty much sums up what the past few weeks have been like for me at least.  The girls on the other hand haven’t seemed to skip a beat.  They are loving school, loving seeing old friends, making new ones, and couldn’t have been happier spending a quiet weekend at home with all the toys they haven’t seen for nearly two years.  Even though this moving to a different country and back has been hard for them at times, I’ve been absolutely amazed at how resilient they are. 

Now, on with the story.  As I said earlier, I have loads more to share with you over the next month or so.  We went back to France for two weeks, spent a weekend in Prague, visited Bavaria, Switzerland, Lake Como, the French Alps, and had more weekend adventures in England too.  It’s funny, as I sit here back in our house in Indiana contemplating writing these last blog posts about the rest of our adventures in England and Europe, the image of Bilbo Baggins pops into my head, the one from the opening scene of the first Lord of the Rings movie when he’s sitting alone at his desk in his little hobbit house and he writes the words “There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale” on the parchment paper about to share his great adventure with the world.  That may be a tad bit dramatic for our little two year stay in England as we never encountered any dwarves, wizards, dragons, etc., and sadly none of us found a ring that makes you invisible, and our story really isn’t interesting enough to share with the world, but none the less, it was our great adventure and I think I’m feeling like Bilbo because I’m sitting here writing about it when it’s over.  We are back on the other side of the pond again and it’s now all just a matter of reflection.  So check back in a couple of days.  With no trip planning or moving to do in the near future, I have plenty of time to wrap up our own there and back again tale.