Five months in five days?

Time to pay the piper

Time to pay the piper

Much as I’d like to blame my blogging lapse on something dramatic and interesting– like an extended backpacking trip in the Himalayas with no satellite uplink for blogging.  Or perhaps an amnesia-inducing, but otherwise injury-free fall from a scenic overlook in Scotland?  Or more realistically, British Telecom and Virgin media internet services were down… for FIVE months!  Could happen, you know.

But no.  It was just me.  I checked out for a while.  I don’t know why, exactly, but every time I sat down to write (which was, admittedly, not that often), I could hardly finish a paragraph, let alone write a coherent blog.  Please hold your thoughts on whether I am ever really coherent.  With encouragement from a friend (you know who you are), I am back.  And I’ve set myself a challenge:  to summarize the last five months in five blogs over the next five days.  I don’t know if any of us has the endurance for this, but here goes…

Edinburgh in October

Edinburgh Castle from across the Princes Street Gardens

Edinburgh Castle from across the Princes Street Gardens

The Scottish countryside above Edinburgh.

The Scottish countryside above Edinburgh.  Nearly at the top of Arthur’s Seat.

It only takes a little more than a 4-hr train ride– part of it shockingly gorgeous, with the North Sea on one side, and the vast, rolling, sheep-dotted Scottish countryside on the the other– to get to Edinburgh, Scotland from London.  And what a great city it is!  We spent a glorious weekend there at the beginning of October: sunshine and architecture and history and bagpipes and castles and hiking to the top of Arthur’s Seat, an enormous bluff (or crag or small mountain or something) at the edge of the city.  And haggis and whisky, of course.  One must have the whisky to get past the thought of what is in the haggis…(hint: comes from a sheep and is cooked in a sheep stomach! I know, ewww!)  Maybe once was enough for the haggis, but we will definitely head back to Edinburgh again.

With Madeline and Bo near the University.

With Madeline and Bo near the University.

Added to the fun was seeing Chloe’s good friend (and our family friends), Madeline and her dad, Bo.  Madeline is a student at Edinburgh University now, and her dad was in town for the weekend.  Seeing old friends in a different part of the world always gives me a comforting sense of continuity despite all that has changed in our lives in the last two years.  Kind of a reminder that those years in Massachusetts are part of who we are, and we carry with us the experiences and friendships from those days.  Nevertheless… we had breakfast with our friends, and then we left them to their time together, and we went off to explore Edinburgh.

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The Firth of Forth in the background… no, I don’t have a lithp! Maybe I should just say it’s a bay on the North Sea.

An Edinburgh street...

An Edinburgh street at dusk.

A doorway into a courtyard bearing one of our family names:  Jollie.  The city is a warren of little courtyards and alleyways, and even old ruins of streets and city under today's city streets.  Fascinating place!

A doorway into a courtyard bearing one of our family names: Jollie. The city is a warren of little courtyards and alleyways, and even old ruins of streets and city under today’s city streets. Fascinating place!

The city is a fascinating and lovely place.  I’ll spare you the history lesson this time, but we can’t wait to go back there!

Arthur's Seat looms over the city, and makes a lovely afternoon hike if you want to feel like you're in the highlands.

Arthur’s Seat looms over the city, with Holyrood Park and its walking paths, which make a lovely afternoon hike if you want to feel like you’re in the highlands.

View over the city.

View over the city toward the castle (elevated in the background on the right).

Regatta in a Hurricane

Team meeting by the tent-- Chloe is in the royal blue shirt.

Team meeting by the tent– Chloe is in the royal blue shirt standing back by the boat trailers.

Just a couple weeks after our Scotland getaway, I jetted off to Charlottesville to spend Parents’ Weekend at the University of Virginia with Chloe.  When we booked the flight shortly after leaving Chloe at school last summer, we didn’t know that she would make the UVA women’s rowing team, which would mean she might be traveling to New Jersey for the “Princeton Chase” crew race.  So, after landing at Dulles and learning that she had made the roster for this event, I drove the two hours to Charlottesville for a late dinner with Chloe on Friday night, then took her early the next morning to the boathouse for her bus to NJ, then jumped back into the rental car by myself later in the morning for the 5-hr drive to Princeton (okay, it was a 7-hr drive if you factor in my pit stops at the US Postal Service and at Target, where every American expat longs to visit!).  My Parents’ Weekend experience at UVA was about 12 hours long, and I was only on campus in the dark!

Though I’d been feeling sad that the change in plans meant I would see a lot less of Chloe than I’d hoped, I was excited to see her row.  But then I kept hearing more and more about some incoming storm called SANDY (heard of it?).  Fifteen minutes with the Weather Channel early Saturday morning was all it took to classify me officially freaked out.  As I drove into New Jersey Saturday afternoon, big flashing signs in the highway medians read:  “State of Emergency Declared.”  Not a good idea, really, to drive into a state of emergency.  “Hmmm,” thought I, “I was under the impression there were some pretty smart people at Princeton.  I wonder why they think it’s a good idea to have a boat race in a hurricane?”

Okay, everyone.  There's a hurricane coming, so let's get these boats in the water!

Okay, everyone. There’s a hurricane coming, so let’s get these boats in the water!

I did get to hang out with Chloe some that evening in Princeton, and she spent the night in my room (which was right down the hall from her teammates).  After she left for the race, I put in more time with the Weather Channel, and then some quality phone time with United Airlines– trying to figure out if there was any chance my 11pm flight would actually make it out that night, and looking for anything earlier, or flying from any city I could possibly reach with a direct flight to London (Boston? Chicago?).  All to no avail.  They did offer me flights for the following Wednesday with no ticket change fees!  I decided to stay on the 11pm flight; but, envisioning panicked evacuation scenarios on my way back to DC for the flight, I did stock up on water and snack bars, and I even bought a mid-Atlantic map in case highways were jammed or closed and I needed to navigate without the highway-dependent GPS.  Then, hoping for the best, I went to watch Chloe row.

Chloe post-race.  So proud of her!

Chloe post-race. So proud of her!

What an atmosphere!  The river and the boathouse were gorgeous, and all the teams (a Who’s Who of prestigious universities) had tents cooking barbecue and serving food and drinks for their rowers and fans (mostly parents).  It was a thrill when I finally found Chloe with her team.  I couldn’t believe our little Chloe was part of this!

But despite the big race excitement, there was also a distinct feeling of foreboding in the air.  Everyone knew the hurricane was bearing down, and many of the people there had a really long way to go after the chase.  I heard a couple of the rowers worrying about it in the breakfast line at the hotel (“OK, this is not funny anymore!  I want to go home.”)  Chloe’s novice class race was almost the last one, and by the time it started the wind was beginning to pick up, though the rain held off.  I walked down to a bridge near the halfway point and fell in with some UVA varsity parents who were really nice (well, one guy was a crew snob who didn’t deign to talk with me because my daughter was only a walk-on– why do people act like that??).  What a thrill to watch Chloe’s eight approach the bridge, glide under, and be off!  All in a matter of about two minutes.  But still.  I am SO proud of her for stretching and daring to try it!  She is amazing.

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Just through the bridge. Chloe is in royal blue, near the front. My other pictures had the blades in better sync, but this one is the closest photo, so that wins over form!

A Travel Tale

After a sad goodbye (because Chloe had to return with the team), I hurried off to join the evacuating masses– which turned out not really to be masses at all.  Traffic was fine, and it didn’t even start raining until I was well into Maryland.  I made it to Dulles much faster than I’d thought I would, returned the rental car, and went into the terminal to see just how many flights were already canceled.  The answer?  MOST!  But mine was still on, so I somehow circumvented the massive lineup of people trying to rebook their canceled flights, and got myself checked in.  Then I sat down to wait.  Here’s where it gets interesting.

Some of you may know I have a severe case of “line anxiety”– I am extremely afraid I will be in the wrong place and miss something, or people will all stream around me and I will be caught out, or… I don’t know, maybe I might starve waiting at the end of a poorly disciplined line?  I hate it that I’m that way, but it’s deeply, painfully ingrained from way back in grade school– remember? “No budging!”  You should have seen what a mess I was when we would go to the movies in Paris– where they do not understand what a line is!  At least the Brits are brilliant at queues… even if they are useless at sauces and vegetables.  Tradeoffs…

Anyway.  For some reason, I was able to calmly find a spot and sit down to kill some of the 4+ hours before my not-yet-canceled flight.  I had that surplus of water bottles I hated to just throw out before going through security; and it seemed like a good idea to get my phone fully charged– just in case I ended up waiting out a hurricane in the airport, or elsewhere, without power.  I watched some families waiting nearby, and it made me miss mine.  Chloe called to say she’d made it back to campus.  I decided to work on my Bible study homework for the following week.  Guess what the topic was?  Trusting– really trusting– God.  I read and answered questions, and finally said, “Oh, all right then, God!  I’m honestly going to let go of all this worry and trust You to get me home.”  I meant it.  And then I closed the book, feeling like it was time to go through security to my gate… four hours early.

So I did that.  I stopped at the flight monitor screen just outside the cluster of gates from which my flight was departing.  As I looked at the screen, it suddenly penetrated my consciousness that my flight was being called to another gate way on the other side of the terminal.  So I sped all the way across to that gate– hoping, hoping– and sure enough, they put me straight onto the 7pm flight that had been overbooked just hours earlier when I tried to switch to it.  Apparently people don’t like to fly into hurricanes.

Not only was the flight no longer overbooked, it was practically empty.  They seated me in a window seat with an empty seat beside me (bliss!).  I hadn’t had time to get a water bottle before boarding the plane– no problem, the flight attendants brought water around at least twice before we even took off.  Though the woman sharing the row with me was freaking out about flying into the storm, I felt perfectly peaceful and, I hope, helped her feel more peaceful.  We finally took off some time well after scheduled departure– and we were the last London-bound flight (possibly the last flight at all) to leave from Dulles before Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S.

I felt bad for all the people who were about to get pounded by the storm– while hoping, of course, that it would not be as bad as they were saying it could be.  But I was so happy to be on my way to my younger kids instead of stuck in a soggy airport for three or four days.  As we bounced through the initial turbulence climbing to our altitude, I fell sound asleep and I didn’t wake up until it was time for breakfast over Ireland.  Even then, the nervous lady in my row had to give me a gentle shake.  I have never slept more than a couple of hours on a transatlantic flight.  Nor have I ever landed at Heathrow feeling fresh and rested!  Oh, and passport control/customs was a breeze, because there were no other flights arriving from the East Coast.  It was the easiest flight and arrival I have ever experienced.

I’m pretty sure that’s how it works when you stop worrying and put your trust where it ought to be (would it be inappropriate to say ‘when you put your trust in that Great Travel Agent In the Sky’?)

5 thoughts on “Five months in five days?

  1. So incredibly excited to read a new post! What a harrowing, yet wonderful experience at Dulles. Please keep going with the updates. We eat them up in Ohio.

  2. Ben Franklin said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
    You have done both. More, please.

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