Bayou Country

It was a long, hot drive to Louisiana, and my first as the sole driver, but Eleven proved a masterful navigator and commander-of-phone and Eight remained cheerful and unsick in the back seat.

We left Austin in torrential rain which made for slow progress in the first hour, but that soon gave way to sunny skies and by mid morning we were negotiating the spaghetti junction of Houston’s highway bypass system and looking forward to reaching the state border a little later. Then we got a phone message from the sister of the owner of the bayou cottage we had rented for two nights in New Iberia. I had been looking forward to staying here as it’s right on the Bayou Teche and the property had once been owned by the grandfather of James Lee Burke (this author is much of the reason I’d been drawn to the town). It wasn’t going to be luxurious but it had a canoe we could use and a porch upon which to laze in the hot afternoon. Alas, it was not meant to be. It turned out the owner was on her deathbed and the cottage was to be used for visiting family. I felt terrible for her, and also slightly anxious that this was the second person in two days who had nearly pegged it as we approached (was it something we said?). As I was cruising along at 80mph when we discovered all this I had to have Eleven, usually rather useless in the arrangement making department, get on TripAdvisor and subsequently the telephone to make us a reservation at a hotel in New Iberia instead which was surprisingly tricky as almost all the decent places were booked. Our favourite McChain hotel, The Hampton Inn was sold out (!) so we ended up at a Holiday Inn Express in a King Suite which sounds much posher than it actually was, but it had a/c, a pool, and a free breakfast so we didn’t complain. Actually all things considered, it was SO FUCKING HOT I was rather glad we were in a corporate, air conditioned box with a pool rather than a quaint, non a/c cottage with a snake and gator infested river. The kids were desperate to cool off by the time and so was I.   so we had to scramble to find somewhere else to stay which proved more tricky than you’d think.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. To add to Eleven’s brilliance at booking a hotel room (and negotiating a AAAdiscount, no less) she found an AMAZING restaurant on D I’s Cajun Restaurant,


that was literally in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana,  for us to eat lunch. They were incredibly nice in there and could hardly believe that a) we’d found them and b) we’d never tried gumbo or fried frogs legs before. Actually we weren’t brave enough to eat the frogs legs but the gumbo was amazing.


We arrived in New Iberia at about 3pm and immediately roared off for a tour of the Tabasco Factory

tabasco factory which is charming, and then to Jungle Island where we saw this guy

alligator, beautiful birds of all sorts, and the most heavenly trees.

I would have spent more time walking around if it wasn’t so BLOODY HOT. But it was. Brutally humid and boiling. One wilts as soon as one gets out the car.

We ate supper at a traditional Cajun restaurant that night with a band and a crawfish buffet which featured boiled crawdads and about a million fried things, each more delicious than the last. But looking at the other patrons I noted that it is not possible to stay a healthy size and eat this kind of food more than once in a very rare while.

The next day we toured the Koniko rice factory (fascinating),the Bayou Teche museum (also charming), took a little stroll down Main Street, and I do mean a little stroll because it was SO FUCKING HOT, and we stopped at an antique shop where we were given a most interesting lecture on early phonographs by an enthusiastic collector and I bought a vintage bamboo stair basket which is such a genius thing I can’t believe I’ve lived without one before.

Later on we went to the carwash (the fun never stops) and then on to see Inside Out (SO GOOD – we howled) and then to Duffy’s Diner where we ate more fried food and milkshakes. Ahh. I see new clothes in larger sizes coming my way.

The following morning we took a swamp tour in the bayou which is quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen before. So peaceful and beautiful with stunning birds, lotuses, trees steeped in water, and some more ‘gators (getting blasé about these). We also got  got VERY VERY HOT.


After this we jumped in our car and headed off to New Orleans.

Here it is also VERY HOT, but we have consoled ourselves with beignets which are a sort of fried doughnut and cafe au lait, and listened to some wonderful jazz. We’ve also visited a cemetery and wandered through the French Quarter and eaten lunch in the Garden quarter and after a much needed cool-off in the a/c of our lovely hotel, we wandered off to Frenchmen St where we listened to more jazz, went to a night market and bought some jewellery, and came home to bed. Tomorrow we are hitting the road at 6am and heading for Memphis, Tennessee.

I’m going to Graceland.


All my Ex’s live in Texas

That’s not true, of course (would they fit?), and I’m borrowing the phrase from George Straight for those of you who aren’t familiar with the song,  but I love so much music that comes from this state that it feels true. Sort of.

We left Santa Fe two days and several centuries ago at dawn and, abandoning the SatNav for a good old fashioned paper map, took the beautiful back roads and old country lanes heading towards Lubbock, Texas, home of Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely and many other notable good ol’ boys and gals. My dad and I had c0mpiled a Lubbock-bound playlist on Spotify, heavy on the Buddy Holly, and to our delight and amusement Eight loved the songs and commented that he particularly liked how Buddy could change the tone of his voice.

Our first stop was the Buddy Holly museum which is small but rather wonderful. There is a sculpture of a giant pair of spectacles outside upon which we posed for photos, and inside lots of Buddy information and memorabilia including a very interesting timeline of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. I took some notes to pass on to my students next year. There were a few of Buddy’s guitars on display, interesting if you are a guitar nerd, but the one that intrigued me most was one that had been given as a personal gift by Buddy to a British friend and then donated back to the museum after his death.

That friend? Can you guess which ROCK ICON it was?

No. You’re wrong. Whatever you guessed. You’re wrong.

He gave it to Des O’Connor.

*slight slip of respect*

Anyway, after that we took a stroll down the Lubbock music wall of fame and posed for photos next to a huge statue of Buddy Holly.

Eight: He must have been REALLY REALLY TALL!




















We ate lunch at the next door restaurant, The Cast Iron Grill a local Lubbock favourite with smiley waitresses in cut off jeans shorts, tight pink t-shirts and cowboy boots. Its slogan was “Boots, pie, and chicken fry”.

After lunch we still had four hours driving to go until our planned overnight at the Hampton Inn in Abilene, Tx. We didn’t have anything in particular to do in Abilene, but we needed to stop and this hotel came up as the best option there. I have to say, we’ve stayed at a couple of these in the chain and actually they’re pretty good – reasonably priced, clean, comfy, free breakfast that the kids love, free food at happy hour, pools, fitness rooms, and guest laundry rooms. I rather like them, even if they do sit on the highways like giant McMansions.   We ate dinner at the fanciest place in Abilene which had steaks as big as my youngest child and various animals the owner had personally murdered on the walls.












The next morning, we had planned to go and see some ancient native American cave drawings at Painted Rock. However, as we approached the property and called ahead to the owners of the farm on which the paintings dwell, the elderly lady who answered the phone told us we couldn’t come as she had to take her husband to the ER.   One of the things that travel always reminds me is that there are so many people on the planet, each of us living our lives, with our separate problems, dramas, feelings, passions, life events, etc. And none of us are actually that important in the grand scheme of things, yet each of us is so precious to the ones we love and life must be valued at every turn, even in the mundane and every day.

We drove on, reaching Austin, Texas by mid afternoon and checked into our downtown hotel. The kids had a swim, we ate a late BBQ lunch, and then headed out to Congress Avenue bridge to see the famous bats who shelter under the bridge to raise their young and take off at dusk in their thousands. It’s supposed to be amazing and unmissable and the children have been talking about it for weeks. We had miscalculated sunset and arrived much too early, spending nearly an hour hanging around the bridge waiting for the bats.


The bridge slowly filled with tourists waiting for the big event, though we were entertained by a man dressed in black with a bat on his hat (not a real one, obvs) and a batman t-shirt who had appointed himself an unofficial guide to the bats and kept banging on the railings and whistling at us (he was a deaf mute) to show us the best place to stand. He gave the children badges with ‘the batman of Austin’ on it and a card showing the alphabet in American Sign Language and we posed for photos with him.

IMG_0032 - Version 2Good thing he was there to entertain us because by the time the bats came out it was nearly dark and we could hardly see them. Also, as Eleven said disgustedly, they didn’t come out in a huge sheet as promised, but “they just fly around in circles like they don’t know where they’re going”.

Verdict: BATFAIL.





We consoled ourselves with another Texas sized meal at a lovely restaurant where I had a few glasses of prosecco, Eleven ate peanut butter mousse cake as her main course (protein! she said, not unreasonably) and Eight fell asleep in his chair.

The next morning my dad left us to go back to DC – he has a wedding to attend, and the children and I got into the car at 8am in torrential rain, heading for Louisiana on another long day’s drive.

Texas, it’s been real.




Four Corners, Santa Fe, and the Very Long Drive

Yesterday we traveled for twelve hours.


It was exhausting.

We left the lovely Rose Cottage at 6am with a packed breakfast (my golden rule of no-food-shall-ever-be-eaten-in-my-nice-new-car having lasted just over a month, so that’s quite good really) and set off towards Four Corners Monument because it is one of the places that Eleven has been desperate to see ever since we started planning this trip. Eight has not read any Harry Potter yet so we decided to listen to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (narrated wonderfully by Stephen Fry). It’s very long as an audio book and perfect for a journey like this one.

If you are not familiar with Four Corners, it is literally just a place in the middle of seemingly nowhere that the state lines of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet and it is on Navajo land. I can’t say it was somewhere I particularly wanted to see but it’s important that the kids had some say in the route and it wasn’t too far off the way to Santa Fe so off we went.

Driving from Kanab, the route took us past the Vermillion Cliffs, and on to long, straight roads with scrubby, dry bushes around and the odd farm here and there.

open roadBut along the route the scenery changed quite quickly becoming more hilly in places, greener in others and then, in Arizona again (how does it keep changing so mystifyingly?) back to dry and bare.

After about four hours we arrived at Four Corners.

The place itself seems pretty bleak; you turn off a smallish road on to a dirt track, pull up to a ticket booth where an extremely grumpy Navajo woman charges you $5 per person (free for the under sixes, but no dogs of any kind including service dogs so if you’re blind or deaf, tough luck). You can see a number of flags flying beyond a row of breeze block buildings and the day we arrived they were all at half mast due to the recent death of a Navajo person of some importance. The monument itself is literally a circle of flags around a concrete floor which has a compass written into it and a place where you can stand with your feet in all the four states.


Enclosing the circle of flags are forty or so local Navajo vendors all selling jewellery, arrows, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. My dad bought Eight a knife made of buffalo rib – quite beautiful and absolutely lethal if one were to wish to stab open a letter, and Eleven a necklace with (predictably) a horse on it. The man who made the bone-knife told us he was also the local medicine man which was interesting. Could he cure wounds inflicted by his own weapons? Disappointingly the fry-bread stand was closed so we were denied the opportunity to buy something delicious that would also make us feel sick in the car minutes later, but you can’t have everything.  I wondered later if the dead person of importance was also the fry-bread baker although this might be a little farfetched.

We drove on for an hour or so, hoping to see the cave dwellings at Mesa Verde, but we didn’t quite realise that once we arrived at the parking lot, it was a further hour to drive to the dwellings and another hour back. Then we’d still have four hours to go until Santa Fe. By this time we’d been in the car for five hours so we decided, reluctantly to skip this sight and I will go back and look at it another time.

Over the next four hours, Harry, Hermione, Ron et al. got into various scrapes and thrilling escapades while we drove through the lush meadows and alpine hills of Colorado, and back into red rock and dusty scrub of New Mexico, and I was very, extremely glad to pull into our lovely hotel, The Drury, in a renovated old hospital in the heart of historic downtown Santa Fe.

The hotel itself is very pleasant, with extremely warm, friendly staff, big rooms with comfy beds, a pool, a hot tub, and an outdoor patio. Here is the view from there.


Included in the rate is breakfast and what they call ‘kickback’ which amounts to free drinks and hearty snacks from 5.30-7pm which was most welcome when we arrived at 6pm, starving hungry. In fact both nights we ended up not eating supper out but getting full at kickback’ and then treating ourselves to ice cream on a walk through town.

Santa Fe itself is very beautiful. We admired its lovely adobe buildings, pretty Mexican style square, much like the zocalos I remember from Merida or Oaxaca (only smaller) and it has a crazy number of art galleries. I’m sure in the non-touristy part of Santa Fe they have normal shops but I liked being a tourist in this part. Today we also walked down to the train depot which not only has trains still running, but museums, a lovely park with a play area for children, restaurants, a farmer’s market, and an old locomotive that you aren’t really supposed to climb on but I did anyway, scandalising my children and worrying them that I might be arrested.

I have few pictures of today because I forgot to charge my phone yesterday (DUH). I am hoping at some point to get some from my dad but until then you will have to make do with my paltry descriptions, hampered by tiredness and snoring small boys.  We leave tomorrow at 6am for Abilene Texas by way of Lubbock, where many of my favourite Texan musicians come from (Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett) and we have prepared an appropriate Lubbock playlist with said artists for the journey.

I’ll check in again in a couple of days.

On a totally random side note, we managed to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones tonight. Anyone else find it a bit meh?

Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon

*Warning – long post alert – it was a MEGA couple of days*

Eight had been complaining of feeling overly sleepy from the dramamine so we decided to risk not giving him one yesterday as an experiment. We left Death Valley at about 8am, stopping briefly to look out at Zabriskie Point of Antonioni movie fame. It is seriously weird and post-apocalyptic looking. Eight was thrilled by the oddness of the landscape and wanted to run out into the desert like a mad dervish but we stopped him, fearing we might never see him again.Zabriskie Point







We drove on for a couple of hours, out of California and into Nevada where Eight spotted a Dennys (what IS it with that child and that place?) and begged that we stop for breakfast. No sooner had we got inside the restaurant than he bolted to the loo and threw up. He did recover fairly swiftly and wolfed down a large plate of pancakes with a side of motion-sickness pill, but the lesson here is do not ever let him in the car undrugged again.

d lost his debit card which nearly sent him into the slough of despond, not least because when he phoned it in, the lady on the other end of the helpline, presumably in the Philippines somewhere kept asking him to identify himself via his debit card number and there was quite a lot of barely repressed shouting of

This could have gone very badly wrong but my amazing new car came to the rescue by finding us a branch of his bank within a mile of our location and on our route, and within 30 minutes we had a physical replacement for the lost card and were back on the road. I love modern technology (the car and the bank. Woohoo!)

The next few hours were spent pleasurably listening to an audiobook of The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber. If you have children (or even if you don’t) I recommend this book for its delightful poetic language, dark humour and fantastical turn of event. It features an evil duke who likes to slit people from their guggle to their zatch. What’s not to like?

By 2pm we were at the approach of Zion National Park.

A short break here to boast of my UBER EFFICIENCY in having purchased in advance an America the Beautiful parks pass for $80 which entitles one, plus every person in one’s vehicle to free entry into all of the National Parks. Otherwise it’s generally around $25-$30 per park for a seven day pass so you can see why this is a good bargain if you’re going to visit more than a couple over the course of a year. They did ask for ID, interestingly, so you can’t just buy one and pass it around to all your friends. 


I hadn’t particularly meant to go here, but it was sort of on the way and both Husband and Father had insisted it was worth seeing. I am SO glad we did.  We stopped and played with tadpoles in a stream on one side of the red mountains. The children got filthy and muddy (their favourite state) and even I poked around in the water with my bare toes.

zion mud

Then we got back in the car for a terrifyingly winding climb up the mountains. I’m not brilliant with heights and exposure and after a mile or two I had to hand the keys over to my dad and let him drive. I’m glad I did. The next thing we did was go through a mile long tunnel which is 4000 feet up in the mountain, but when we came out on the other side the scenery had changed subtly. Still the same red rocks and flat top mountains, but more green and gentle foliage around us, and then we saw these guys!


Ooh, the excitement! I love goats. Unfortunately they weren’t nearly as interested in me as I was in then and soon pushed off. I feel this has happened to me quite often in life, though admittedly more often with attractive members of the opposite sex, but I digress..

We drove on to Kanab,  Utah to our rental cottage (we stayed in The Rose Cottage) which was quite charming and much better than I had hoped it would be. Three bedrooms, a fully stocked kitchen, a cosy living room with fireplace, and a back yard with a gas bbq. And it had its own laundry room with laundry powder already there. You have no idea how much I loved that part. I spend a stupid amount of time worrying about how to get clothes clean. I HATE having dirty clothes and hair. It’s on the point of obsessive.  Dad took the children to the hotel pool around the corner and I bought food for supper which we ate looking at the red mountains in the distance from the patio. It was blissful.

The next morning we got up early and headed for the north rim of The Grand Canyon. This part is far less populated than the heavily touristy South Rim as there is hardly any accommodation nearby (thus our 2 hour drive from Kanab). The only lodge at the North Rim gets booked up a year or so in advance by people more together in their planning than me.  I have to say I never had much desire to visit The Grand Canyon (hereafter referred to as TGC). I’d seen photos. Ok. Big crevasse, I get it. I’m scared of heights. I don’t like to be too hot. I loathe crowds. I don’t like to commit to too much time in a place that’s hard to leave or is far from a decent cup of tea (!) So again, I hadn’t particularly planned on this being part of my cross country trip but I felt a bit guilty at sort of passing by and not showing it to the children.  Turns out that guilt was a good impulse. It’s completely amazing. I don’t think I quite took in that the layers of rock that make up the edges (is that the right word) of the canyon represent literally millions and millions of years and totally different eras of our planet.


Unlike the way we tend to regard America as a country – new, hilariously short-historied as opposed to Europe, full of plastic toys and cartoon mice etc, this was so ancient, so awe-inspiringly mighty, that I felt quite humble and worshipful in a pagan, nature-loving sort of way. Does this sound mad? Perhaps. It’s late and I’ve done quite a lot besides hiking uphill at 8000 feet elevation including laundry and making multiple sandwiches.

We are back in Kanab tonight but tomorrow at 5am we leave for Santa Fe, New Mexico by way of Four Corners (thank you, Eleven, for this obsession) and Mesa Verde. This means nearly nine hours in the car so a long day ahead of us. I’ll check in in a few days. Feel free to say hello in the comments.

Into the Valley of Death

Day 1: Death Valley

We left home at 6.30am with the car packed full and a trusty travel mug of tea at my side. My father had arrived the night before from a work trip in Seattle and was all ready to take the first part of the journey with me and the children. The outside temperature was 60 degrees fahrenheit.

I gave Eight a precautionary dramamine which sent him back to sleep almost immediately and Eleven sat quietly in the back, probably in shock from having to get up so early. Dad and I chatted companionably and we made good time getting out of Santa Barbara and into the inland of California. The time sped by as the scenery changed. The landscape became flatter, more agricultural and less pretty, and we passed a lot of ugly strip malls and dull highways. After about 3 hours driving we hit the small town of Mojave, (I say town, but really it’s a strip of road with a few commercial establishments and a railroad station) . By this time everyone was quite hungry so we stopped for breakfast. We looked for somewhere local but were intimidated by the blackened windows and empty parking lots of El Jefe  and thwarted by the distinctly closed look of The Desert Inn, so ended up at Denny’s which had a reassuringly familiar menu and clean bathrooms. I can’t believe how many pancakes my children can pack down their small gullets!

As we left the parking lot we spotted an Army and Navy store which we couldn’t resist having a poke into. It was like military surplus vintage heaven. All sorts of uniforms from all eras and areas, including a vintage Bobby’s hat (how did that get here?) and a WWII machine gun (not for sale). Eight bought an army cap to replace the one his aunt’s boyfriend, who is a proper soldier, had given him and that he had tearfully lost on a field trip, and was only narrowly dissuaded from spending all of his savings on an axe (I have decided not to think through the implications of this particular desire).   Intriguingly, the pink haired lady behind the counter old us she used to live in London. I wondered how she reconciled that with living in Mojave, town of two dusty streets.

We set off again after filling the car and drove through Red Rock canyon which was quite beautiful and extraordinary but by the time I thought of taking a picture we were past it. This happens to me a lot. Consider it a MIRACLE that I have taken any photos at all.  By this point we were quite high up, an elevation of 3000ft, though I hadn’t noticed a significant climb, but from here on the road got steeper. We went up and up to 4000ft quite quickly and stopped at an overlook with a spectacular view. Here we met some Harley-riding septuagenarians  who engaged my father in an enthusiastic conversation about obscure 70’s rock bands. I observed with interest, that no matter your culture  or creed, the music of your youth unites you with your peers and this does not fade with time.

From this point (see picture to the right)  the road grew windy and steep going down and within 20 minutes we had dropped to below sea level and there was nothing green to be seen. Eight woke up from his second dramamine induced nap of the day and announced that Death Valley was the lowest point in North America. The things he knows!

We pulled into the lovely Furnace Creek Resort at 2pm and checked into our rooms which were thankfully air conditioned. Outside it was 113 degrees. Ugh. After eating lunch in the restaurant where, to our astonishment, we met a waiter who had lived for two years in a street literally around the corner from where my family lived when I was in nursery school, my dad took the kids to the pool while I sank into a much needed deep sleep for a couple of hours. I love naps.

When I woke up we drove another 17 miles to Badwater which is literally the lowest point in North America.

It’s a dried up salt lick. You are walking on salt and other minerals and it is strangely beautiful and weird.   On the way, we passed a young coyote who was hanging out at the side of the road, looking like he wanted to hitch a ride. Cute, but dangerous (this is how I like to think of myself, too..)


We came back, had some drinks on our balcony, another swim and a late supper in the restaurant. We were all too tired for more than a quick look at the incredible night sky before we sank gratefully into our beds.

It’s been an amazing first day of the trip and I’m definitely ready for my beddy-byes. More in a day or two when we move on to Utah


We leave at dawn on Friday. Nobody except me is glad about the hour of departure but I love getting up early to make long drives and getting a good three hours in before stopping for breakfast. I’ve started to pack clothes for myself and the children, trying to strike the right balance between packing light and not having to wash out the same pair of knickers and t shirt every night, and I’ve acquired a number of essential items (at least that’s what I told myself whilst gleefully pressing ‘One Click Order’ on Amazon) to ensure road-tripping is a pleasant and streamlined experience. In as much as it can be with a tween, an eight year old boy and blistering heat. Here is what I have so far:

A travel kettle (this is America. They NEVER have them in hotels)

A teapot and teabags

A cooler for the car that runs on 12v power and has an adaptor to work on A/C

A mini clothes line you can string up anywhere

A bottle of bourbon for my dad

A first aid kit

Bottles of drinking water (driving through the desert!)

A roll each of loo paper and kitchen towel

Wet wipes

A thermos, for tea. (notice a theme?)

Every kind of pill for every kind of conceivable ailment. Just in case.

An inflatable mattress and sleeping bag for when we just don’t want to share a bed with one of the kids.


I will report on the usefuless of toting these items with us as I go. If you have any essentials to suggest, please do!
I’ll check in again once we’re on the road




On the Road

I have neglected this blog for so long I haven’t even looked at how many months it’s been. Too many.
I must admit, between writing my book, teaching music in school, wrangling the children, now eleven and soon-to-be-eight, and a suddenly rather full social life I feel  I’ve hardly had a minute. Plus once I’ve put in three hours of novel bashing in the morning I can hardly bear to look at my computer for the rest of the day.

HOWEVER, I am going to revive MTFF, if only temporarily, to document our Great American Road Trip upon which we are embarking next Friday.  I am beside myself with excitement.

I bought a BRAND NEW CAR (ooh! shiny!)

which is approximately eight times the size of my previous vehicle, and I’m packing the children and my father into it and heading across the country to see what we can see.

I’m not bringing any iPads or similar electronics for the kids.

Yes. You read that correctly

I would like to claim that it’s because I’m so extremely above that sort of digital entertainment for my progeny but actually my son pukes as soon as he stops looking out the window and he can’t be trusted not to watch Eleven’s device in the back so that is that. We have lovely audiobooks to listen to and Sirius radio (please God protect me from Hits 1 and the never ending cycle of Ed Sheeran and Ellie Goulding). Between that and looking out the window there might be some brief respite from the I’m-boreds and the are-we-nearly-there-yets. Right?Right?

We set off from Santa Barbara and head to Death Valley, then the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe,  then Lubbock and Austin, Texas, where my dad will jump ship in order to fly to a wedding (so he says. Maybe a week is all he can take?). Leaving me to take the children from there to his house in Virginia via Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia and we will rest there a spell until Husband joins us and we head back west, taking a more northerly route via Chicago, South Dakota (Little House on the Prairie!), Mount Rushmore, Jellystone National Park (eh, Booboo? a pic-a-nic basket?), Utah, Vegas, and home again home again jiggety-jig.


I hope this will be entertaining for you as well as us, and I promise to post photos and recommendations along the way. If you have any to share, please do so in the comments!!


Amazingly, still alive

Dear Reader (s) (?)

Firstly allow me to apologise for not writing a post in forever. I have been consumed by life. Or rather I have been consuming life. That doesn’t sound quite right but I’m sure you know what I mean..

Since I last wrote, much has happened. I have been busy penning my novel which has now expanded itself to over 90,000 words and needs a good edit. Hurrah! Sort, of.
I have also become, somewhat mystifyingly to myself, at least, the music teacher at my children’s school which is both more gratifying and exhausting than I thought possible. I am genuinely thrilled by the enthusiasm of the kids – their little excited faces remind me of why I spent so many years pursuing a career in music, but some of the smaller naughty ones – and there are quite a few of them – are extremely vexing and not only do I pace around sedately with my hands behind my back, but I find myself saying things to seven year olds like,

“Ah, Mr. Smith (not his real name). Given that you’ve shown a clear preference for falling off the steps of the stage to singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’, I must ask you to remove yourself to the office and spend the remainder of music class considering whether this is a good use of your time.”

Child “Huh?”

Me: “Go to the office. Now.”

Jesus. Next thing you know I’ll have a mortarboard and Molesworth will be in my class.

My darling offspring are now aged 7 and 10 respectively, the latter so tall and beautiful that she both terrifies me and borrows my shoes (is that the same thing?)

I work two days per week at school and the remaining five I am spending as much time as I can writing my book as well as the usual shouting at children to finish homework, put on their shoes, take off their shoes, turn off the BLOODY iPad, have you washed your hands etc. I’m still spending a lot of time wondering what to make for supper although it’s true that people will eat more interesting things than they did a few years ago.

Today is one of my writing days. I have been feeling rather guilty that despite spending nearly five hours sitting at the computer (minus forays to FB and the news) I have only managed to drag about 400 words out of my sluggish brain. I think this might be because I had a horrid migraine last night and although I haven’t got any pain today, I still have a sort of hangover from it. Do any of you get that? I believe it’s called the postdrome. A sort of draggy, stupid feeling accompanied by guilt that one hasn’t managed to achieve things and also feeling too stupid to catch up or prevent one’s child from watching unsuitable things on Youtube. And writing meandering pointless posts on defunct blogs.

Still, I thought I’d say hello, and on a random note, what are you buying your children for Christmas? Mine want a pony and a ‘mote control anything, neither of which they’re getting. Suggestions gratefully received.

Simple Math Equations.

I read yesterday that fewer Americans truly believe that hard work = success than they did five years ago. Still, I think that the general willingness of the citizens of this country to be happy for those more fortunate and wealthy than themselves, believing that it’s a goal that is equally attainable for all is quite astonishing. I’ve never understood the logic of people living in poverty blindly worshiping the rich to the point where they’re willing to vote for tax breaks for billionaires over minimum wage increases for themselves. Even those of us who are fairly comfortable yet squeezed by rising costs and stagnating wages will frequently defend the rights of the superrich to use immoral, if not illegal means to keep their spoils firmly to themselves because of the off-chance that we could join them at the trough one day. This perhaps naive lack of envy, or questioning fairness has always baffled me slightly, though I do admire the generosity of spirit that underpins it. I just don’t subscribe to the hard work equals success equation. I’m sure it’s quite difficult to be financially successful if you just sit around doing nothing unless you inherit a shedload of money (as many wealthy people do) but to quote George Monbiot,

“If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. ”

And so would teachers. Because, God knows I don’t have the mettle to be one, though I’m not afraid of work and I love kids, and I challenge every Goldman Sachs employee to spend a year working in an elementary school classroom and see if he or she is up to the task. I’m betting no.

Mondays are always a bit of an awkward day for me. I spend Sunday night planning out my week (in my head, at least) and it’s always full of goals and good intentions regarding writing, exercise, and various other achievements I wish to make but by 9.30 on Monday morning I’m so exhausted that I often do nothing else of much note for the rest of the day until I slope off to dance class at 6pm.

The reason for this is that I (somewhat foolishly) volunteered to teach maths in Six’s class for an hour every Monday morning and, quite frankly, it nearly kills me. I don’t know how the real teachers stay there all day and still retain their sanity.  Honestly, they are a special breed. I do like being with the children, most of the time, but they also drive me a bit bananas and I have to say I now have quite a bit of sympathy for my own teachers. I was that annoying child who was more than capable of understanding the lesson but preferred to stare out the window and daydream, thus missing the crucial point, although that didn’t stop me from making multiple trips to the teacher’s desk in order to have long division explained to me individually. I wanted to know what we were learning, but on my own timetable. Most of my classes contained around thirty five children and one teacher with a short temper who would not hesitate to slap us over the knuckles with a ruler or send us to the headmaster if we misbehaved. I didn’t get smacked much – I was polite and well-behaved, if inattentive –  but I know I taxed their patience and was the recipient of many an exasperated sigh or sharp comment. I always thought my teachers were (in Six’s words) Big Fat Meanies but now that I spend time in the classroom on the other side of the desk, as it were, I find myself spouting their words almost verbatim when my group begin to lose the plot.

“Sit on your bottom!”

“Stop rocking back on your chair, you’re going to have an accident.”

“Pay attention. Eyes on me. Now!”

“I’m sure you had a very interesting weekend but right now we’re talking about place value so why not save that for recess?”

and, worst of all,

“You two keep talking so I’m going to have to separate you.”

I have a lovely group of eight or nine wiggly six and seven year olds each week. I know them all quite well by now and understand their personalities, their differing academic abilities, their quirks, the different ways to get them to work and pay attention and I have to say it’s quite the juggling act. They’re all good kids with big hearts and I am very fond of all of them although it can be like herding cats to get them to do the most basic of tasks. I always have Six in my group which is lovely although he insists on sitting next to me and it’s quite hard to keep him in his seat, partly because he’s always jumping up to hug me (adorable but disruptive). This is a clever strategy on the part of the school, though, because of course one is committed to helping in the class if one can be with one’s child. That’s part of the incentive, right?Now, three of my group are extremely quick and good at math. They understand concepts almost immediately and they whip through problems very swiftly with almost no mistakes. They’re very bright, vivacious kids and they’re full of ideas about all kinds of things, not necessarily and usually not related to maths,  so it’s important to keep them occupied and focussed so they don’t chatter loudly and distract the others. You’d think it would make sense to put them next to each other but I have discovered this doesn’t work as they just wind each other up and we end up with people jumping out of their seats to perform impromptu theatre or displays of ninja style. However, you also can’t reliably place them next to the two or three ‘solid workers’ who are very capable but might need a bit of time to get to where they’re going with their work because my bright sparks expend a disproportionate amount of energy trying to coax the solid workers into mischief once they’ve finished their own problems which they do almost before you hand them out. I could probably handle this easily but, to add to the mix, I have my challenge kids. I have an English-learner who needs extra time and explaining because of the language barrier. There are a surprising number of words in their maths books. I have sympathy for this child. I sometimes see an effort being made, but I can also see a sense of personal defeat present in its eyes (forgive non-gendered pronoun, but this is to protect identity). As if it is already accustomed to not getting things right because this is the way it is, and will always be. I do my best and sometimes I get through, but once the kid in question signs out and decides to faff about, the best I can do is limit the affect this choice has on the others. My other challenge child has a learning disorder that, quite apart from making it hard for it to take things in, renders the little person terrifically grumpy and aggressive which can be hard to deal with first thing Monday morning. I really want to help this kid, I do. I can see that when it applies itself, it completely understands everything and is very bright. I’ve been told to be firm and keep said child on task and remind it of our expectations that big first graders step up and do their work, but inside this poor kid’s head there is clearly a maelstrom of thought and emotion that gets in the way of this. And when it’s not on top form, the coping mechanism is being endlessly demanding, distracting to the other children, making itself as unpleasant as possible, and zoning out.   I’ve been told I can dispatch any non-compliant kids to the teacher, but I don’t really want to. What would be the point of having volunteers if they didn’t actually do any of the difficult work?  It would be lovely, I’m sure, to have a group of perfectly behaved little geniuses every week, but these kids are who they are, they have the needs that they do, and I see it as my job to do whatever I can within the confines of my hour and my ability. But wow, I can only do it for an hour. Then I’m spent.

I come back and although I honestly mean to pack up my things and go to the library (where I cannot get internet access and therefore have very productive book-writing sessions), I just can’t. I’m too knackered. It’s all I can do to scrape myself to the grocery store (that’s on a good Monday) and sit staring uselessly at my computer before the children come home from school where their teachers have been cooped up with them ALL DAY.

Our school board recently voted for yet another less-than-the-increase-of-cost-of-living pay increase for teachers. Several of the board members actually have children at the school and are quite put out that the greedy thieving educators actually want to be paid not-less (in real terms) than they were a couple of years ago. There will probably be a meeting about this but I am going to do everyone a favour and not attend in case I explode in rage, talk too much, and am branded a FUCKING SOCIALIST (this has happened before). Because, you know, I think that entrusting our kids all day every day with people who love them, even when they’re awful, who teach them things they might not be completely willing to learn, and would quite possibly take a bullet for them if the most awful scenario were to unfold. Well, I think these people might deserve a raise in line with inflation, cost of living, and experience.

Is that really so radical? I don’t think so. It’s just basic decency and common sense. They do a great job, let’s keep them incentivised.  I know there is a shortage of funds in education general, but taking it out of the teacher’s already meagre pay might not be the best reallocation of funds. I don’t know, I’m not an accountant but maybe the school board could consider other means to find the money. I could give them tips on running their own ice cream sale, for instance. Or we could vote to take money from other stupid programs like tax breaks for people who don’t need them and give a small raise to those who deserve them.

And you know what? Go ahead and call me a dirty commie or a crazy socialist. I don’t care. I’m not worried about whether I make six figures or drive a BMW. I just want to know that all the people doing the real day to day hard work are not gypped by the system. That my Six and Nine and all your four through eighteens continue to be taught by motivated, fairly-compensated people who stay in the profession for the same reason they joined it – they care about kids and education. It’s a simple math equation*. All the problems, in the end, are simple math equations.



*Once we’ve done that one, I have some very solid suggestions for redistributing the Koch billions to the hard working women of Africa


Sick and tired

We went on a holiday to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. It was in Florida, the weather was mostly nice, it was sunny and warm (though not particularly sunnier or warmer than home), and a good time was had by nearly all for most of the trip. There were twenty people present, including six of us under ten, and many of us had come from Europe or similarly far away (us, from California) and the birthday boy was suitably amazed and surprised to see us all there as he’d been swindled into thinking he was having a weekend at a boutique hotel with his partner.

There were the four of us, of course. My half sisters came, battling the storm on the East Coast and multiple plane cancellations but made it nonetheless. There was the aunt and uncle from London who brought three of their grown sons, one bringing his lovely wife,  toddler, and 4 month old baby. And also my pretty, slightly scatty cousin whom I haven’t seen for literally years came all the way from Ireland, bringing along her two delightful little girls and a giant dose of the plague which they generously shared with the rest of the family.

Actually, we were fairly lucky during the trip and escaped the worst of it. That was until the last day when Six and I came down with a fever and ceased being interested in living anymore. My fever was a paltry 101 which was unpleasant enough, but his was just over 103 degrees. He lay beside me shivering and boiling and I lay beside him like a limp rag, unable to believe we had to get on a 10 hour plane journey later in the day.

But we did, because there’s nothing worse than being ill and not being at home.

That was a LOOOOONNNNGGGGG flight.

When we got back I thought we’d be better in a couple of days.

But we weren’t. It went on and on and on. And then Husband and Nine got it. All four of us in bed, wishing for death, snotty, sweaty, running out of food and drink and barely able to get to the door let alone the supermarket.

It’s taken over a week for me to get back to I won’t say normal, but perhaps functional. I still feel subpar. Six has recovered and is disgustingly bouncy but Nine is still in bed and has watched so much TV in the last 7 days that I think she could actually direct her own show by now. Husband is shuffling to work in a mournful, Eeyore sort of way and I am wishing I could go to a spa for a month or some other restful vacation.

I think I won’t be going on one of those big family trips again anytime soon, though.