Saturday, September 14, 2019

Gentle Travels in Britain: The Beginning

Every trip begins with a dream: a kernel of desire, hope, mystery, excitement. My summer trip to Great Britain began as a dream: just two friends, sipping tea, and wistfully imagining what it would be like to travel to England and Scotland together. We sat with the dream for years. But there comes a time when a dream either needs to grow old and retire, or it needs to be acted upon.

Of course there were obstacles. Plenty of obstacles to work out: the needs of my family, the cost of the trip, timing, etc. Obstacles are like beautiful but heavy doors -- they take some pushing on to gain admittance. And sometimes pushing on the obstacles proves to show the dream was not meant to be, or not meant to be in its present form. But sometimes pushing on the obstacles opens the door for a dream to come true.

 Being in my early forties, and having fairly recently lost a life-long friend to cancer, I've begun asking myself, "Why put this off?" to some dreams I have. For some of us there may not be as far distant of a future as we imagine. That's not to create an anxious sense of urgency, rather, I think it should foster a profound gratefulness for each experience, for every dream we are privileged to realize. But each realized dream comes from a decision that was made. A decision to take the risks a dream entails and make it a reality.

At some point, a decision was made. We stopped dreaming and starting planning. And that is the part that I find so fun. I like having 9-12 months to prepare. That gives me enough time to research and plan, to read a hefty amount of books on the subject, and to enjoy the experience of looking forward to something. It is almost (but not quite) possible that I drew more joy from planning this trip through a very difficult winter than in actually living it out. I'm beginning to think the best way to get through a winter is to have something waiting on the other side!

Here are some practical ways I plan for trips:
-- buy an atlas of the country I'm going
-- check out tourist guides from the library
-- scan the library system for novels set in the area I'm visiting, biographies of famous people who lived in that area, movie set in that countryside, etc.
-- find a few hashtags on Instagram pertinent to where I'll be traveling. I get some seriously good ideas for places to eat and visit from random Instagram posts.
-- set up a Pinterest board if I'm in a Pinterest mood
-- read reviews of restaurants and overnight stays on TripAdvisor
-- create a document where I post information pertinent to each day of the trip

Having our airline tickets locked in the dates for us, and gave us the border pieces to the puzzle that was our trip. Carefully we turned the puzzle pieces this way and that until we managed to work each piece into a way that fit the whole. We would start in Glasgow, drive to the Lake District, spend a few days in Oxford, make our way slowly north to the Cairngorms in Scotland, and then end our trip in Airdrie, my old "home town." We would stay in rented houses, bed and breakfasts, and homes of friends. I would paint, my friend, Janet, would knit. I would drive, Janet would photograph. I would suggest daring, Janet would urge sensibility, and every time I took a wrong turn Janet would say, "It's just a long cut, and long cuts are good."

We left on our journey at the insane hour of 3:45am, in order to catch our 6am flight to New York City. One of the ways I overcame the obstacles of this dream was to use frequent flyer miles, and frequent flier miles often require crazy flight times. (Better at the beginning of the journey than the end!) So we had a day to spend in New York City, no matter that we had to drag our carry-ons and shoulder luggage, a camera, and purses with us. We tramped our way from Newark, NJ, to central Manhattan and then way up to the very top of Manhattan to see my NYC friend Christy, and spend the day in her happy places.

I think this was my seventh trip to NYC to see Christy. Ten years ago I would never have imagined myself being able to say I'd been to NYC to visit a friend seven times. I distinctly remember when I made the decision to go for the first time. It would have been very easy to have never made that decision. It was riskier to take it: to invest time and money in myself and in a friendship. The investment brought returns (no pun intended) far greater than I could have imagined. I'm quite sure it also led to me having the courage to attempt the kind of trip I took this summer.

So there we were -- two of my friendships melding as we sat in the place we always go when I visit: the New Leaf restaurant at the Cloisters, tucked into the trees and whispering of Europe. Janet to my right and Christy to my left -- the funny thing is all three of us grew up
in the same square mile in Indianapolis (okay, I only spent a few of my teen years there), the streets and building names so familiar to all three of us. We walked in the Heather Garden which is a pilgrimage we always take, and introduced Janet to the beauties of the Cloister grounds.

A few quick hugs for Christy's boys as they got out of school and then Janet and I were off on our journey back to Newark and the night flight to Glasgow.

As we sat in the United lounge sipping our soda water and eating the free dinner our little passes allotted us, our smiles could hardly have been bigger. Just a few more hours and we would be back in Scotland!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

September Update

I have the pictures ready, but no time yet, to start posting about my summer travels. Instead life has been happening full speed around here. The kids are adjusting well to the school year and I am very thankful. I needed room to breathe and it came just in time. School sports are filling up the after school hours and eating up tank after tank of gas. But it's probably the only season I'll have all four kids in sports, and we did actually "choose" to do this, for important reasons.

The colors in my neglected garden are just incredibly gorgeous right now: jewel-like tones. I can't stop staring at the flowers when I'm sitting in the living room. And the sound of the crickets outside -- it's one of the most comforting sounds I personally know. It makes me feel relaxed and calm.

Random things have popped into our schedule: a trip to Chicago last week to visit friends who blessed with a vacuum we needed (and then more things like blue and white china and an oil painting), helping family with various needs, our first family bike ride on Labor Day(!), trying to get a tennis racket re-strung and then again, daydreaming about the building our church is about to lease after 13 years of looking, ordering book after book from the library for "London trip research," teaching a young friend to knit, daily going over the schedules of who goes where at what time and with what car and which parent, being given homegrown pears, celebrating a son's 17th birthday.

Life is a daily choosing to rest, mentally and physically, in the midst of real dilemmas, joys, heartaches, and hard work. Every day is a challenge in this way!

It's time for me to pack up and head out the door. I'm looking forward to those trip posts, when the time appears!