I promise I’ll quit going on about
my trip—tomorrow. But I have one last thing to say about it.
As my incredible journey has now come to a close, I find myself reflecting on the last two weeks. I know other people take international trips all the time and don’t feel the need to describe them in any detail or to rave about everything they see. I once was one of those people. But now, after a nineteen-year travel drought, this trip already gleams like a jewel in my memory.
Almost the minute I knew my kids were offering me this priceless gift, I decided one thing for sure: I would enjoy and savor every moment of this trip, no matter what happened or what the weather was. I would refuse to be discouraged or irritated by anything. (Actually I have that attitude about every trip but especially for a major trip like this.) On this trip, keeping this promise to myself was easy.
My original intent for this trip
was to visit some of my childhood friends, and perhaps use their homes as a
base from which I might engage in some inexpensive local exploration. Of all the
people I visited, I had not seen any more recently than 2004—and at least one
not since I was eleven! What I didn’t foresee at all was that each of them
would go to such great lengths to show me the wonders of their locale and to
ensure that I was treated to the trip of a lifetime. Before I left Texas, there
were only two things I hoped to see—Canterbury Cathedral and the train ride
from Fort William to Mallaig. If you’ve been following my adventures you know
that thanks to the kindness of my friends, I saw SO. MUCH. MORE.
I feel so unworthy to have
witnessed the awe-inspiring wonders I’ve seen in the last two weeks. I don’t
deserve it—but oh, do I appreciate it! Yet despite the incredible things I’ve
seen and done, what stands out most for me is the kindness, generosity, and
thoughtfulness of my friends, which I feel I deserve even less! All the things
I saw were amazing and I’m sure I would have enjoyed them under any
circumstances, but I’ve found that being with friends more than doubles my
enjoyment of any experience, especially if they have chosen the adventure to
share with me.
So here are a few lists I’ve made to
sum up this trip:
St. Giles (Edinburgh)
Other churches (an incomplete list as I didn’t write everything down):
Most of the other things I’ve done
on this trip would have been on the list too, if I had known enough to add
them! But all of those items were on my list before I left home and had been
for many years or even decades.
Most emotional moments? There were definitely several. Top of the list would be seeing my friends again after so many decades. The surprise of the male voice choir in Rochester Cathedral. The priceless Treasures of the British Library. Stepping into Greysteads Hotel and finding it was everything I’d hoped it would be. Finally making it to Scotland. The Isle of Skye. Dinner with other Sakeji alumni. Being on the receiving end of so much kindness and generosity. How blessed I am.
leave you with a few seconds of heather blossoms blowing in the wind on Skye.
Today was much less intense than yesterday, thank goodness. I went to Aldi and did my grocery shopping. I worked on some school stuff. I watched a movie with Jasper as he has to write a critique about it. And I realized I am coming down with a cold. Grrr. I don’t have time to be sick.
This morning, despite my long day
and late arrival yesterday, I was up and out the door by 6:30, headed to
Walmart where I needed to buy some groceries for today’s geography class. When
I returned home, I quickly whipped up some low-carb gluten-free coconut
macaroons and pulled them out of the oven right before leaving for my doctor’s
I waited patiently in line to check
in, only to be told that my doctor’s plans had changed and she would not be in
the office today. Grrr. I had to reschedule for the middle of October.
Back at home, I worked flat out to
prepare for Geography class and also make a Caribbean salad and some coconut
rice. We are in the Caribbean this week and next. To be honest, I felt pretty
proud of myself to get ready for the class and be up to teaching it the day
after returning from overseas, because it did take a tremendous amount of
effort. And I am aching all over from yesterday’s exertions!
Class went well. Today’s menu
included jerk chicken, johnny cake, coconut rice, Caribbean lime salad, and the
macaroons for dessert. By the end of the class everyone wanted to go to the
After class I ran a brief errand
and permitted myself a brief rest before getting going on other things. Then I
set off for my monthly ladies’ night out gathering. Today it was just me and my
friend Robin, but I was delighted to see her and hear what she’s been up to
while I’ve been gone.
Poor Walter is quite sick with a
cold and went to bed early. Lucy has also been home sick all day, which I didn’t
even realize until she emerged this evening. I cannot afford to get sick . . .
My injured toe appears to be
spreading some sort of plague to the rest of my foot. (And yes, that is a very
I decided I had better write
this and get it posted right after my previous post, because I know some people
who read that post might worry about me, and they shouldn’t.
If you follow this blog at all,
you know that I just returned from a fantastic two-week trip to the United
Kingdom, a special milestone birthday gift from my kids. I haven’t posted about
my health journey for a while, but I thought it would be appropriate to mention
it here in conjunction with the actual physical journey I’ve just taken and the
milestones it represents.
Milestone #1 was my flight to
London. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I didn’t have to ask for a
seatbelt extender. I didn’t overflow my seat or ooze into someone else’s
personal space. That was amazing. I always felt so humiliated having to ask for
a seatbelt extender. It was just as affirming to have this same experience on
my flight back.
Milestone #2 was just the sheer
amount of walking I did on my trip. Some days I walked several miles, and
although my legs did feel a little tired eventually, I was able to keep going.
This is new for me—having a body that can actually do what I want it to. What a
Milestone #3 involved stairs.
So. Many. Stairs. Three years ago I would have really struggled even to get
into some of my friends’ homes. Not now. Sometimes I find myself dreading
stairs out of force of habit, and then I realize—oh, right. I can do stairs
Milestone #4 is about photos. If I had taken this trip three years ago, there would be lots of photos of the places I saw, but no photographic evidence that I had been there. I was so ashamed of my looks that I never, ever wanted to be in a photograph. (And people rarely asked me to!) As I begin going through the thousands of photos I took on this trip (yes, thousands!) I am struck by how many photos there are of me. Me in front of cathedrals and doorways and scenic beauty. Me with my wonderful friends. I can say, “Look, that’s me in the library of Sandon Hall,” and prove I was there. This is a huge, huge milestone for me. I don’t fear the camera nearly as much as I used to.
Milestone #5 is about
perseverance, about effort, about fighting to achieve a goal. My adventures in
getting my big heavy suitcase to Heathrow yesterday were painful and
discouraging and exhausting. Yet just as with my health journey, I knew that
once I committed to the task, there was no going back, no giving up, no feeling
sorry for myself. I had a job to do and I would somehow find a way to do it.
And I did find a way, and that is the biggest achievement of all—because
three years ago, no matter how determined I was, it simply would not have been
possible. I would most likely have had to get a taxi all the way to Heathrow from
Euston station, and even then I’m not at all sure I could have succeeded in
getting the case from the entrance to the electronic luggage check-in place. So
although my body is not capable of doing what it could thirty or forty years
ago, it is much more capable of performing various tasks than it
was ten or twenty years ago—and that tastes like victory. Bruised toes and
bruised hands and aching shoulders seem a small price to pay for that much
success—and all those things will heal. The triumph will remain.
Oh, and by the way—I returned
home eight pounds lighter than I left!
So, as I already knew it would be,
yesterday was long. I woke up an hour earlier than necessary and eventually got
up and showered and finished packing.
About the packing. Before even
getting to Janis and Peter’s place, I knew I’d need to come up with a new
luggage plan, because the gifts and souvenirs I’d bought, though small, did
take up actual space and I had no more of it to spare in my carryon and
backpack. Then when I arrived at Janis’s cozy flat, she had a little tower of
gifts waiting for me—things that had belonged to her late mother, whom I knew and
loved as Aunt Jen. And Janis had a solution to my packing dilemma also—she and
Peter were willing to part with a large suitcase into which I could pack my
carryon and the other things. All the other things. Then I could
check that large case and have my backpack as my carryon.
So far so good. Everything easily
fit into the massive green suitcase. But guess what? I couldn’t actually lift
it. Since my surgery I’ve been on a lifting restriction so I am even more of a
weakling than I would normally be. Janis had a hanging scale and according to
that my suitcase weighed a little over fifty pounds. To me it felt like a
hundred! But it did have two wheels and a pull handle, and I thought that all I’d
have to do was lug it from one platform to another at Euston Station in London,
and then to the luggage check-in at Heathrow.
Oh, if only that had been true! And
remember, I have an injured toe that is quite painful inside a shoe of any
kind, so walking long distances was something I hoped to avoid. Janis helped me
get the suitcase onto the train and the trip to London was without incident.
Unless you call this amusing announcement an incident:
“Seats are for bums. Please don’t
put your feet on them.”
The scope of my challenges didn’t
begin to sink in until I arrived in London and struggled to get my massive
burden off the train platform and headed toward the Underground. There were stairs.
And then instead of leading to another part of the same station (which is being
remodeled), the signs pointing to the Underground led outside, down the sidewalk,
and across a couple of roads.
Pulling that suitcase down the bumpy
street was the most physically challenging thing I’ve done since giving birth.
Puffing and sweating, I’d drag it for a few yards, then stop to catch my breath
before switching hands and starting up again. I saw my generous time margin
beginning to dwindle.
I reached the Underground station
and had to get the case down a long flight of stairs. Each “bang” as it went
down a stair felt like a hammer blow on my hand. But I had to keep
going. I couldn’t just not go home! Halfway down those stairs, a kind young
African man showed up to help me. He easily lifted the case and carried it down
to the bottom for me. I was so grateful—but I still had a long, long way to go.
And when I had a look at the diagrams on the walls, my heart sank, because this
station was not on the line I needed to be on. I didn’t know what to do. I was
already exhausted. I also needed desperately to use the “facilities” but there
was zero chance I’d have the strength to haul the big case into and out of a
railway station bathroom!
I found an Underground employee and
asked for advice. He suggested I go to the Baker Street station, switch to another
line, and make for Paddington, where I could get on an express train to
Heathrow. My plan had been to avoid taking the express train because it is
quite expensive, but my options were dwindling and so was the time.
I honestly don’t know how I got the
thing to the platform, onto the train, then off the train, then to another
platform and another train. Stairs were involved also. I had to remove my
cardigan because I was perspiring from the sheer effort I put forth. My arms
and legs were trembling. Finally I made it to Paddington and inquired about the
express trains after struggling to reach someone who looked official. There was
one going in two minutes on a nearby platform. I looked over there and knew
there was no possible way I could get there in two minutes.
The guy I’d asked for advice took
pity on me and suggested I get into the train at the closest platform, which
wouldn’t be leaving for twelve minutes. I made it! By then several people had
stopped me and asked me if I was all right. I told them I was, even though it
wasn’t true. I was very close to something like despair, because this whole
process seemed to be just beyond my physical capabilities. Yet I had to
make my flight somehow!
Arriving at Heathrow was not the
blessed relief I had expected it to be. There were long, long distances to walk
while pulling my wheeled millstone. I had to stop and rest often because I was
so, so weary. At last I got to the automated luggage check-in. It took many
tries before I hefted that case up onto the conveyor belt—and then the thing
stopped working. Once again, I had to seek help. The case’s weight was the
issue, but I didn’t get charged excess baggage. The lady just put a tag on it
that said “heavy,” which I knew only too well!
I thought I was home free then. I
only had my heavy backpack and shoulder bag to carry, and I just had to find my
gate. Which was a long, long way away and involved another train ride and more
stairs. With the big case no longer distracting me, I realized how much my feet
hurt, and especially my injured toe. But I kept going.
I had hoped to grab a quick bite to
eat before my flight, because I knew they’d have nothing I could eat on the plane,
but there just wasn’t time. I finally made it to my gate about half an hour
before my plane started boarding. The whole process had taken about six hours!
I felt so victorious. That was by far the most physically demanding goal I’ve achieved
in many, many years.
You can imagine how delighted I was
to sink into my seat on the plane. During the long ten-hour flight, I was able
to take several naps. My shoes came off the instant I sat down and after that
my toe felt much better. The plane left late and landed late, but at the end of
it all, I had a cart to put that suitcase onto, and a husband waiting to help
me get it in the car!
We drove into our own driveway at
about 11:30 last night, and my poor husband still had to go do his cleaning job
before he could go to bed. And he is also sick with a cold. I am sorry to say I
did not wait up for him. Midnight our time is 6:00 in the morning in England!
But I am so glad to be home and to have the things I went to so much effort to
bring with me! Everything arrived intact.
Tuesday’s post, which I was unable
to post due to lack of internet.
It’s hard to believe that tomorrow
I’ll be back in Texas! This trip has been so wonderful in every way, yet I’ve
missed staying in touch with my family because my phone has not worked as promised
by Verizon. I haven’t been able to use it at all unless I am on someone’s wifi,
and that has been quite frustrating—which I wouldn’t even mention except to say
that I will be glad to see my family again and find out what they have been
doing in my absence!
Today started off with another lovely cup of tea, and then after Janis left for work I had time to do some packing and writing and staring off into space. When Janis returned, the three of us got in the car and went to pick up Janis’s sister Allison before continuing on to the Dog & Doublet in the pouring rain. We ran into the pub for a quick cup of tea and while we were there, Janis handed me a locally printed booklet on the history of Sandon (the village and the estate). I hadn’t read much before I knew I had to have a copy of that leaflet because it is inspiration gold for a writer. Hundreds of years of entertaining history. My favorite bit (that I had time to read while drinking tea) involved an aristocrat in the 1400s who tried to kill his enemy and left him for dead with his toes cut off and sticking out of his mouth. I didn’t have time to read further before leaving to keep our appointment at Sandon Hall.
Back in 1977, you see (and for many
years thereafter), Janis’s dad worked for the Earl of Sandon as his clerk of
works, and the family lived in a house on the estate. So when my family visited
them that summer, that’s where we stayed. Janis and I roamed all over the large
estate and I remember wishing I could see the inside of the stately mansion. In
fact it has been on my bucket list ever since.
So you can imagine my delight when
we drove up to Sandon Hall and were treated to a very entertaining tour guided
by a man who has worked there for thirty-eight years and remembers Janis’s
father well. The earl no longer lives on the estate and the house is mostly
used as a wedding venue now, but it was wonderful to finally see the inside and
hear some of the stories. I especially was interested in seeing and hearing
about the famous war horse, Christ Church. His head and tail are mounted on the
From there we progressed to the church, which dates to the 1200s and which Janis and I had enjoyed visiting back in 1977. Unfortunately it wasn’t open, but we could go all around the outside and through the graveyard. By then the rain had mostly stopped.
We dropped Allison back at her
house and continued back to have more tea at Janis and Peter’s flat. I spent
some time looking at some videos Janis had recorded that covered some of the
history of Sandon Hall, and enjoyed my final supper with my thoughtful hosts.
Janis and I finished the evening by watching the Great British Bake Off and
going over my travel plans for tomorrow, which is going to be a long, long day.
Is there a better way to start the
day than having a friend bring you a lovely cup of tea while you are still in
bed trying to motivate yourself to get up? I don’t think so. One of the great
things about this trip is the consistently good tea I’ve been offered
everywhere I go!
Even with the encouragement of tea,
I got off to a very slow start this morning, taking a shower and gathering up
all my laundry. This is the first time I’ve been somewhere long enough to be
able to wash things and wait for them to dry.
I had a nice visit with Janis over
more tea until she had to leave for work. I followed her downstairs so that her
husband Peter could show me around the flat he is renovating for future sale.
This old Georgian house is large and has been split up into five different
flats. Since it is a “listed” building there are quite strict requirements
regarding what they can or can’t do to it. And the layout is very quirky! But I
know it will be charming when it’s done.
I spent the rest of the morning
hanging out my wash and catching up on a few things online. And realizing I was
going to have to take some ibuprofen. Last night I misjudged where the corner
of the bed was and stubbed my toe quite badly—badly enough that the pain woke
me up several times in the night. My sandals press on just the wrong spot. So I
knew before I left for the day’s adventures I’d need to take something.
At midday Peter and I drove to pick
up Janis and then drive to the nearby town of Lichfield, where we had lunch in
a restaurant whose building dates back to 1510! And to my delight the room we
ate in was decorated with musical instruments—including an autoharp!
Janis and I limped up and down the
streets in hopes of finding some things on my list, and mostly succeeded. She
has to wear a “boot” on her foot after twisting it badly a few weeks ago. I was
limping due to my toe injury.
We met back up with Peter at the Samuel
Johnson museum. The great dictionary author was from the town of Lichfield and
the museum is in his family’s home. From there we walked through the rain to a
little café by the cathedral where we could get a cup of tea. Lichfield is my
fifth cathedral on this trip. All of them have been stunning. So much beauty in
stone! And one of the stone effigies had a dragon curled around his feet . . .
Back in Janis and Peter’s apartment,
we had more tea and prepared for guests. Janis had invited her youngest sister Allison
over and a couple of others whom we went to school with in Zambia. Pellë
had been in my grade and his wife Ruth in one of the younger grades. So it was
a very convivial group sharing reminiscences over the course of the evening.
This trip has basically been a traveling school reunion!
Tomorrow, on my last day in the UK,
I will be checking one final thing off my bucket list . . .
Okay I have corrected the typo in
yesterday’s entry. My smart aleck little brother pointed it out on Facebook
after I had packed my computer so there was nothing I could do! I also
corrected the punctuation error.
This morning when I woke up in
Dumfries, it was raining. How could I complain? I’ve had the best weather in
the world ever since I arrived on this side of the ocean. So I worked (rather
slowly) on organizing and packing my stuff. I had to add a new bag.
Meanwhile, poor Maggie apparently
had come down with a stomach bug, so while I was sleeping peacefully in her
guest room, she was having quite a different kind of night. So neither of us
went to church. She wasn’t well and I needed time to pack.
We were on our way to the station
when I remembered my cheese. I don’t think I’ve mentioned the fact that the
cheese here is so much better than any cheese I’ve bought in the USA. So
much. Better. I had bought a little chunk of cheese on Skye and Maggie and I
had eaten some of it on our last night there. I had thought I’d slice up the
rest of it and take it to eat on the train in case I got peckish. Because my
remaining time to eat British cheese is very short.
Well, here we were on the way to
the station and I had no cheese. There really wasn’t time to go back for it.
But Maggie knew a place to shop where she could dash in and dash out with
cheese! So I had cheese to take on the train after all.
Today’s train journey was more stressful than previous trips because I had to change trains twice and because I had an extra bag. Both times I felt very rushed hauling my heavy luggage through the station from one platform to another. But both times I succeeded in getting onto the correct train. And at the end of my southward journey, my friend Janis was waiting for me! I haven’t seen Janis in nineteen years.
She and her husband Peter brought
me to their lovely flat on the top floor of a house that is more than 200 years
old. We had a delicious dinner and then Janis and I visited in the living room
and started getting caught up on the last couple of decades. There are plans
for tomorrow and I am looking forward to them!
Please forgive the tardiness of
this post—I was just too tired to stay up any later last night! Yesterday
morning we woke up much earlier in our lovely little pod as we were on the east
side of the island and hoped to see the sunrise. At the beginning I could just
lie in my comfy bed and watch the sky begin to color through the glass door,
but eventually I pulled on a cardigan and joined Maggie on the deck to take
After the drama of the sunrise was
over, I went to work making our breakfast from the leftover food we had. The
bacon kept setting off the fire alarm so I cooked while Maggie fanned the steam
away from the smoke detector!
We ate our delicious breakfast on the deck overlooking the sea, listening to cocks crowing and cows mooing. We watched the cute little goats emerge from their shed and start loudly begging for their breakfast. Then it was time to pack up and get back on the road, because we had an appointment to keep.
We weren’t so hurried, however, that we couldn’t make a quick stop at Eilean Donan Castle after we crossed the bridge back to the mainland.
Eventually we made it to a little
marina on a loch, where Maggie’s dad was patiently waiting for us. He had gone
to a lot of trouble to see us as he was on a cruise, and he had to arrange to
be dropped off at this marina while the boat took the other passengers out
So anyway, we picked him up and took him to a little restaurant overlooking Stalker Castle for lunch. I was very anxious to meet him by then because Maggie’s told me so much about him over the last few days and I am in awe of all his accomplishments. Oh, and did I mention that he’s 90? He was very disgruntled over the fact that his legs seem to be giving out on him after only walking one or two miles!
We had a lovely visit over lunch and then sat outdoors for a while on a bench overlooking the loch and the castle.
Then we had to drop him off at the marina again to await pickup while we raced on to our next appointment—a brief visit with two elderly ladies who also once lived and worked in Zambia. We were entertained with tea and goodies and a very enthusiastic Cairn terrier.
Finally, we headed back toward Dumfries, but we stopped to tour the stunning St. Conan’s Kirk and despite Maggie’s skilled driving, we didn’t make it to the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond until after sunset. So I saw Loch Lomond in the gloaming.
We were hungry by the time we
reached Glasgow, but had a hard time finding a restaurant with any open tables.
We ended up eating at a very large and crowded Indian place, but the food was
fabulous. Thanks to that little detour, it was 11:30 before we reached Maggie’s
lovely home in Dumfries. And I still needed to take a bath!