Friday, April 20, 2012

... not to mention, the coolest zoo ever

These have been some action-packed days! Callum hasn't been too forthcoming with the blog content, so I guess it's up to me again. Monday was Cal's Granny's actual birthday, which we celebrated with a BBQ at Janet's sister's house. More cool family times, and Cal met his cousin Milly and her daughter Ella for the first time. Tuesday, Janet and her sisters took Granny to see a matinee of The Mousetrap down in the West End, so Callum and I took a drive to Great Missenden (about a half-hour from where we're staying), to the Roald Dahl Children's Museum and Story Centre. Great Missenden is a beautiful little village, where Dahl lived and wrote for the last 35 years of his life, and the Museum and Story Centre is a really cool place, designed to encourage playful creativity. They hand out little notebooks at the entrance for kids to write down their story ideas and Cal came up with a couple of sequel ideas, like "The Twits 2: The Twits Escape in a War Plane." The cafe there had a portable ramp that they brought out so he could get up the step to get inside.Forecasts of constant rain have threatened to derail all our plans for the second half of our trip, but luckily this is the South of England and the weather is so changeable, we've actually had no trouble; instead, we get to see the lovely spectacle of the clouds parting to reveal a gorgeous sunny blue sky, several times a day.Wednesday we took an awesome trip to Mead Open Farm, where Cal got to hang out with horses, cows, sheep, rabbits, and even had his coat nibbled by a goat. He's been running a non-stop alien invasion/robot war narrative, which is occasionally mildly disconcerting but mostly entertaining and funny as he alters it to suit the real-life occasion. Janet's old friend Una came for a visit in the evening.Thursday was our big trip into London, to take a cruise on the Thames and go up in the London Eye. The futuristic architecture along the riverbank provided fuel for Cal's robot war story - patrons of the Tate Modern took in the art blissfully unaware that they were walking the hallways of a robot factory, where Callum was preparing his mechanical hordes to overtake the city. And the London Eye provided the perfect vantage point from which to survey the destruction.Here is where I pat myself on the back for driving us there and back in the thick of London traffic without having a nervous breakdown, and where I pat Janet on the back for her patience with the difficulties of this trek.Thursday night brought a nice visit from Janet's old friend Kate.And today was our zoo trip. Another day that threatened rain but came with enough warm sun to make a zoo trip worthwhile. Cal originally wanted to visit London Zoo and set the animals free, but two successive London day trips would have probably sent his parents to an early grave ... and as luck would have it, we are just a 15-minute drive from Whipsnade Zoo, which is the largest zoo in England, on a massive plot of high land in the English countryside, and which is partly set up as a drive-through safari park where the animals run free. Wallabies and Muntjacks were jumping across the road, and when we parked for our first short walk to see bears and penguins, we were greeted by a peacock, who we followed along the footpath for a while. We got super-close to Yaks and Rhinoceros, and herds of deer and antelope running free in the "no-pedestrians" area of the park. So, Cal didn't exactly get to set any animals free, but he got to see a lot of them living in the freest conditions I've ever seen in any zoo.Our internet connection out here in the country is extraordinarily fickle, and all my pictures are in my phone, which can't seem to get online. When I get a connection, I'll upload some of the zillion pictures we took.Tomorrow: the big throwdown, Granny's Birthday Party Pt. 2!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chilling in the Chilterns

After breakfast we went to the Beacon (Ivinghoe Beacon, a historic and beautiful high hill near where we're staying). It was a very blustery day and the wind at higher elevation was pretty vicious, so we didn't try hiking to the top as we had planned (there is a trail that seems like it could work for Cal's chair). But right by the parking area we were lucky to see two guys flying big remote-control planes, and one of them was kind enough to give Cal a short explanation and demonstration of his plane.
We came home for lunch and then Gill and Jim and Cal's cousins came to visit us here. Brief excitement over the Grand National punctuated a really nice mellow family day.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

England's Green and Pleasant Land

Welcome to Callum's first blog entry, as dictated to me at breakfast this morning:
"I liked the flight. Also I went in an actual plane seat. Everyone was nice to me. I got a TSA Junior officer badge. Today I am back on duty.
Cousin Emma and cousin Kate and Auntie Gill met us at the airport. Then we saw cousin Ben and Uncle Jim. I wish those guys were with us right now.
Yesterday we went to visit the sheep. Also I disguised myself to look like one to get near sheep but it didn't work. Also I was a farmer."
On with breakfast and then probably a little exploration of the English countryside!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Heading Out!

Alright, alright, another inexcusable lapse ... but here we are again! Still! With more good intentions to post here more frequently. Big news: we are about to embark on our first true family vacation, to London England, for Callum's Granny's 70th birthday. A HUGE undertaking, the planning of which has visibly aged Janet and myself by a few years ... and I don't think we'll exhale until we are actually unpacking on the other side of the Atlantic. We couldn't be taking this trip without the sponsorship of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, so we certainly owe them a shout-out, as we do to Janet's family, for rising to the occasion and helping us find a great wheelchair-friendly accommodation (and putting together an awesome birthday bash for Granny). Our plans include a trip to London Zoo (part of Cal's wish was to go there and "set the animals free" - not sure we will go all the way on this), and no small amount of chilling out in the lovely English countryside. Cal has almost no relatives - and none his age - in the USA, but he's got a ton in the UK and he's going to see them all.
I will not bitch about the difficulty of the logistics.
I will not bitch about the difficulty of the logistics.
I will not bitch about the difficulty of the logistics.
I will not bitch about the difficulty of the logistics... and I am pleased to report - and to some extent surprised to hear myself say - that the TSA has been thoroughly pleasant, kind, and professional - reassuring, even - throughout my every nervous phonecall to explain and triple-check that it's OK for us to be traveling with a 12V battery in our carry-on luggage (to power the cough-assist, should it be needed in-flight). Getting ready for this has also made me keenly aware of what an awesome resource SMAspace is. So, thanks to everyone who helped us get through the rough patches up to this point.
As for Callum, up to now: he's just got over his big Spring cold, seemingly A-Ok just in time to fly. He's been having a great time at school, which has been going better than we ever hoped in just about every way, and it looks like we're going to try doing more than one full school day per week once we're back from the UK. We are so lucky he got in to Chatsworth School; I can't think of a better situation. We all love Chatsworth and we feel so supported by everyone there ... He's going to miss some school for this trip, but we plan to Skype in with his class and he'll be doing some kind of report when we get back. He's certainly taking his first international trip at a much younger age than I did!
We are hoping Cal will contribute directly to this blog at least once or twice while we are away, so ... look out!
Very best to anyone who's still checking in -
J, J & C