Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Our amazing free vacation

Last week was our long-awaited radio prize holiday at Lochgoilhead, and it was fabulous.  How did we win a holiday on the radio?  Earlier this year, I heard about a contest that Real Radio Scotland were running which was basically an essay competition in which entrants wrote in and explained what is it about Scotland that makes them proud.  I told my Scottish husband that he should write an essay explaining that he has a foreign wife and that it makes him proud to show me everything that's great about Scotland and how nice it is to be able to rediscover his own country through my fresh eyes...or something like that.  Sure enough, my super husband wrote the winning entry and they gave us a week at Drimsynie Estate at Lochgoilhead as a prize!  We've been waiting for this week to come since we heard the news in January and last week was finally our time.  We didn't really know what to expect, so we were pleasantly surprised to find such comprehensive facilities and a great range of organized activities - it was almost like being on a cruise.  We had an unforgettable week of swimming, bowling, ice skating, table tennis, badminton, miniature golf, nature walks and good food.  Here are a few pictures...

The village across from the estate where we stayed.

Fallen leaf on the beach.  The colors were gorgeous at this time of year!

It was a wonderful and much-needed break in so many ways.

We tracked a seal at the head of the loch for quite a while until I got this shot.  Hello, Mr. Seal!

No holiday is complete without two cats.  Alvin has been overgrooming, so he spent most of the time in his cone, poor fellow.

Gorgeous hydrangeas 
Alvin had a little un-coned moment to take in the misty morning air. 
Loch Lomond

The day after we got back, it was just me and my husband again and we didn't want that holiday feeling to end, so we drove up to walk to the top of a hill we'd never climbed before.  It's called Duncryne and though it's steep, it's not a long climb and there's this fabulous view of the southernmost bit of Loch Lomond to be had at the top.

Now it's back to the regular old rhythm of life and though I'd much rather be back up at Drimsynie, it feels great to have been able to enjoy an entire week of relaxation and unforgettable scenery.  We'd all like to go back next year.  Guess we'd better start listening to the radio again...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The next level

Well here I am for my biannual blog post...or at least that's what it looks like.  There's a cool mosque in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, which archaeologists have discovered over the course of several excavations is actually a bit of a layer cake.  The current street-level building is a mosque, but directly below its foundations are a synagogue, a Buddhist monastery, an older mosque and a Zoroastrian fire temple.  This is what my blog has become: something constantly rebuilt on the foundations of what was there before.

It has been a busy summer and touring season, which is probably why I haven't posted since March.  I returned home from my last tour two weeks ago and I'm still trying to pick up the pieces.  There are letters to write, expense reports to finish, inboxes to clear out and a US presidential ballots to complete and return.  Guess I'd better get to it...

Friday, March 30, 2012

A weekend away

I'm off to Italy this afternoon to seek out a bit of mental space.  I hear they have a lot of it there.  It's not quite Seattle, but it's what I can manage in terms of time and money right now.  So Milan and Venice, here I come.  I'll be back Monday night, hopefully refreshed and out of my funk.  Funk the funk, that's what I say.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An illustrated 40-question mental check-in

A friend sent me this link the other day to a blog post with 40 photos, each of which has a question to spur on a bit of self-reflection.  The pictures are lovely and many of the questions are great for a little peek at your own mental state.  This one really got me:

Make that 4,500 miles in my case.  And bearing in mind that the text says "thing," not "person," I'd have to say the thing I miss most right now is Denny's.  Yes, Denny's...but really, any anonymous 24-hour diner will do.  Bonus points if it's in a strip mall parking lot.  

What I miss about Denny's is that it's an anonymous haven where I used to be able to go to get a temporary change of scenery and collect my thoughts.  I would go to study, to be around people without having to interact, and heck, sometimes I even liked whatever soup was on offer that day.  But there's nothing like it here in Scotland.  There are pubs, but I wouldn't go to one alone now that I'm married (isn't that weird?  In my old life, I used to have no problem wandering into a bar alone), and the all-night diner landscape is pretty bleak here.  Other than the hospitals, the only other 24-hour establishment I know of is a big grocery store and that's just not the same.  Aimlessly wandering the aisles of the supermarket at midnight just because I need a bit of mental space is rather depressing, whereas at a 24-hour diner, mental space is exactly what's on the menu - it's right next to the chicken fried steak, and they never run out!

I'm planning on going home for a visit in November, and until then I will do my best to bring Denny's to me somehow or another.  No, I'm not going to open up a Scottish Denny's franchise (though if you do, please drop me a line with the address), but I'm just going to do my best to find little thinking spaces wherever I can.  Because every stepmom needs a bit of room to sort out her thoughts from time to time.  And if these thinking spaces come with bottomless coffee, all the better.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Happy Mums' and Stepmums' Day

Today is Mothers' Day in four countries, including my adopted home, the United Kingdom.  So I would like to wish a very Happy Mothers' Day to all you British, Irish, Nigerian and Bangladeshi moms (or mums) and stepmoms.  And may the rest of you have a beautiful day.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An unexpected running partner

One of my 2012 New Year's resolutions was to become more active...much more active - I would like to say by the end of the year that I am in the best shape of my life.  I've been good about working towards that goal so far, but I slipped a bit recently; I've been so lazy this week and I felt a bit worried about falling off the exercise wagon completely.  I just didn't feel like running or any other exercise, despite making grand plans to get a good workout or two in at the gym.  Yesterday afternoon, I had planned on going to the gym before my elder stepson came home from school, but I didn't do that either...lazy, lazy, lazy!

Somehow or another, I finally found my motivation about an hour after dinner last night.  The gym is close to where we live, so I decided to run down there and have a punishing workout, arriving back home just before the guys' bedtime.  I announced my intentions to my family and my elder stepson immediately begged to go with me.  Both of my stepsons are too young to use the gym, even supervised by an adult, so I couldn't let him come with me for my weight circuits.  Rather than just say "no," I suggested a run instead - a quick one to the gym and back.  He eagerly agreed and within minutes, we were out jogging together under the street lamps.

My elder stepson is 13 now and, like most boys at that age, he's already starting to break away from who he was as a child to forge his own personality as a young man.  We see him less than we used to because he spends more time doing his own thing these days.  While this is definitely good and healthy, it makes all of us grown-ups a bit wistful because we see that he's not a little boy anymore.

When we reached the gym, neither of us were tired, so we kept going...and going, and going.  Next thing we knew, we were more than two miles from home and still feeling quite robust.  I was very impressed with my stepson's stamina.  He's obviously much younger than I am and a lot of that energy is effortless, but I've been training since November to be able to run this long without stopping and he still did it like it was no big deal at all.

The two of us had some good chat out there, and we planned out routes we'd like to take on future runs.  We arrived back home just before the guys' bedtime, feeling quite tired but proud of ourselves.  We both agreed to do it again the following Wednesday evening, which is the one night that nobody in our family has any scheduled activities.  I dropped to sleep exhausted not long after the guys did, feeling very much back on the fitness wagon.  My husband mapped our route on Google Earth and it turns out that we ran 4.66 miles.  I felt great about that, and even better about having a new activity to do with a certain young man in our house.

If I could wrap this story up with a moral for those of us with kids in our lives (especially those of the adolescent persuasion), it would be to remain open to connecting with them in a variety of ways.  When my stepson asked if he could join me at the gym, I could have easily said "no, you're too young" and gone off to do my own workout.  But instead, I tried to make room for him in my plan and was hugely rewarded for it.  Sometimes the answer really is "no," but if the kids are wanting to do an activity with you, it's probably in your best interests to turn it into a "yes" somehow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Something to pique your Pinterest

Is anybody out there on Pinterest?  Though I didn't know what to make of it at first, I am now a regular user and I love the site.  People use Pinterest in all kinds of different ways; some treat it like a photo sharing site, some promote their own websites or products, and some go just to get home decorating ideas or inspiration for recipes or crafts.  As for myself, I use Pinterest mostly as a visual representation of my bookmarks.  I've accumulated so many websites in my bookmarks menu that I refer back to at various times, but they can be hard to organize or recall when looking at nothing but a long series of links - i.e. your standard bookmark menu.  Pinterest lets me build a collection of the sites I enjoy and organize them into themes.  What's even better is that I get to choose a picture from the website as a preview photo to jog my memory about why I bookmarked that page in the first place.

I have at least a dozen boards on Pinterest, but the one I would most like to draw your attention to is my "It's a Stepfamily Affair" board.  This is my collection of stepfamily websites, books, blogs and other resources.  Please take a look at it and let me know if something should be added to the board, including your own blog.  I would like this little garden of stepfamily resources to continue growing, so feel free to send some links my way.  Thank you!  And on that note... Pin It