29 November 2009

Home Sweet Temporary Home

Last night we arrived home after a few days in London. I absolutely adore London. It is always wonderful, however, to be back to the quiet, slow pace of the island after the frenzy of the city.

Our trip started with a bumpy ferry ride. Bumpy is putting it mildly. They should have had a thrill ride sign at the ticket office with one of those height requirement measuring sticks. The captain told us it would be rough because of the choppy seas and big swells. This was an accurate description but he failed to mention the feeling of being airborne that we encountered. Poor Miss Judy had such a look of terror on her face while Elise clung to my arm. Anne and William, on the other hand, had their arms in the air yelling, "Look! No hands!" and were squealing with delight. We were so thankful when it finally calmed down but William turned to me and said, "I wish he would make it go again." The ride was so rough, Emme got sick.

Once in London, we were quite a sight maneuvering through the Tube and crowded streets. There were eight of us with three suitcases and assorted backpacks. We had booked rooms on and had gotten a good price so there was no telling what we are getting ourselves into. We were pleased with the results. The rooms were small but the place was clean and the location was decent. We ignored the rain that began to fall and trudged ahead. Thankfully, it was only a passing shower and the kids were able to enjoy the Diana Memorial Playground again. It is the BEST playground in the WORLD! The designers took the park in Kensington Gardens and added other elements of nature to give the kids' imagination a boost. No bright plastic. Everything is wood, stone and plants. Next, we squeezed in a quick tour of Kensington Palace. This is the palace Queen Victoria lived in as a child and Diana also lived here. After that, we headed to Harrod's, another playground of sorts. The kids visited their favorite departments which in addition to toys, include the amazing bathtubs, the pianos, the Pacman machine you can play for free and the 24-carat gold bars for sale.

On Friday, we took the train about 35 minutes out of the city to tour Hampton Court Palace which has been home to several monarchs, most notably Henry VIII and William III. The latter is better known to us Americans as the William of William and Mary. There are five palaces in and around London that make up the Historic Royal Palaces. We have been to the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and now Hampton Court. They all do a fabulous job of making your visit enjoyable and educational, especially for families. We toured the apartments of both Henry and William using audio guides geared towards the kids. They enjoyed it and we, the adults, learned a lot as well. The rooms as well as the gardens were stunning. It boggles the mind to think that such historic figures walked the same ground. The shops have anything and everything you could imagine with the likeness of Henry VIII, including a Russian doll set of him and his six wives. I didn't check to see if they had their heads or not. Might be a scary way to teach kids this bit of history.

Saturday morning, we went to the playground one last time. The last visit we arrived just 30 minutes before closing so the kids had been asking for more time to play. We headed home via the Waterloo train station. I was thrilled when I realized that one of the two shops I wanted to visit was just minutes from the station. It is called I Knit London. With my new found hobby, how could I resist? I bought a book about knitting toys and some yarn to make this adorable gingerbread man. Just before we got on the ferry to head home, Elise said, "Mama, I not going on the ferry." I think Miss Judy felt the same way. Thankfully, the ferry ride back was smooth sailing.

Today, we spent the day packing up Mark and Miss Judy. Mark is going home for some meetings so we are taking the opportunity to send home as much stuff as possible. He was able to coordinate his trip home with his mom's leaving tomorrow and his brother's coming next Monday. We are sad to see Miss Judy go. We had such a great time, despite the rainy weather. It is nice to know another visitor won't be long.

Time to hunker down with the kids, clean the house and get as much school work done as possible. It could be a long week, if it rains. Wish me luck.


PS. I tried and tried to upload a photo but it was taking forever. I will add photo albums of Austria and this London trip to Facebook. Check them out, if you get a chance.

27 November 2009


I am really disappointed that the picture wasn't showing up on the blog. It was a turkey wearing a Saints helmet. It said 10 and 0 and Happy Saintsgiving. Oh well, I tried.

We have a nice time in London so far. Being in a hotel room with seven people is NOT conducive to writing a blog. I know you wouldn't want me to stress myself out for your reading pleasure so I will wait and tell you all about our trip when we get back to our cozy little island tomorrow.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!


24 November 2009

No Catchy Title...

I am just not up to it. Since my last post, I brought Elise to the doctor in Austria, ran out of gas in Belgium and had a small chunk of my tooth come out. I saw a funny mug today that gave me the chuckle I needed. Remember the slogan I shared a few weeks ago- Keep Calm and Carry on? Well, they turned the crown upside down and added the quote- "Freak Out and Fall Apart".

Don't worry about me, though. In the midst of all that stress, we picked up my mother-in-law. You know, that is a funny statement. For some, that may add to their stress, but for me it is wonderful. I am blessed to have a fabulous mother-in-law who I have missed very much. It is so much fun to have her with us. I treasure getting to share our life here, walking through the quaint town, riding the bus around this beautiful island and relaxing together in our house. I thought her ears may fall off the first few hours after she arrived. I'd like to say that was the fault of the kids but Mark and I had just as much to share.

We really wanted to go to Lisieux to see the home and convent of Saint Therese. After trying every possible option, we decided it was too much, both money and time wise. Instead, we will spend a day or two in London. We will probably be there on Thursday which will be just another day here in England. We will be missing turkey and stuffing as well as our family at home, but we will be happy for so many blessings.

Thanks for the way each of you blesses our family.

Now, on a more serious note, I'll quote my friend who said it best- Happy SAINTSgiving! :-)

17 November 2009

Mozart and Lederhosen

Ahhhhh…Austria. It was definitely worth the stress I was feeling as we prepared to leave. When all the hotel options we found were going to be cramped and expensive, I googled “large family accommodations” and found a fabulous place about an hour outside of Salzburg. We drove through France and Germany spending a mere $75 on tolls. We arrived in Austria at dusk and had to find our way to this small town in the dark, up a steep, winding mountain road. We were helped along the way by an angel, disguised as a customer at a local grocery. She over heard me asking for directions. She spoke English and knew exactly the resort we needed. She was heaven sent because we were exhausted and quite stressed.

Arriving in the dark had an upside. It was like being led to a surprise wearing a blindfold. The next morning it was such a treat to open the blinds and peer out at the snow topped mountains and stunning surroundings. We spent a leisurely day strolling through the small town. I felt like I was in a fairy tale with the quaint houses and shops. The architecture had me on the look out for Hansel and Gretel who I was sure would be around the next corner. We stocked up on groceries, which is a favorite activity for us all. We love looking through all the aisles but especially the dairy section, chocolates and cookies. After lunch at home, the older kids went for a swim in the pool, sauna and spa complex. They were in heaven with the place to themselves. Their imagination had them performing spa treatments for one another. In the evening, what more can you ask for than Hannah Montana and other Disney Channel favorites in German?

We started Sunday morning with Mass at the local church. It is amazing to think that these people, thousands of miles from New Orleans, pray to the same God and profess the same Creed. It is a comfort to find the same images of our Beloved Mother Mary and her Son, so far from home. Many of the gentlemen were wearing the traditional Austrian jackets and hats. Our guidebook said, in Austria, the folk dress is still accepted as formal wear.

After Mass, we headed to Salzburg. Without internet access, it was harder to prepare for our visit and I had left much of the planning to Mark. We found our way without much trouble and arrived at the Schloss Mirabell, the gardens of a former archbishop’s residence. The gardens were made famous when Julie Andrews and the children sang Do Re Mi here, in the Sound of Music. We saw the birthplace of Mozart and the Hotel Sacher, which is famous for the Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake with a thin layer of jam beneath a thick, smooth icing. Delicious! We wandered the quaint, pedestrian-only streets enjoying the window shopping and listening to the many languages being spoken around us. We conceded to an Italian restaurant after much pleading from the kids. Happily, there was Weiner schnitzel and potato salad on the menu for me and we ended the meal with an apfelstrudel. It was authentic enough and everyone was full and happy. We visited the childhood home of Mozart and saw his violin and locks of his hair. Standing in front of that violin gave me goose bumps. There were several original pieces of music in his own hand. There was a child-friendly guide that made the visit meaningful for us all. There were ups and downs, including getting turned around when exiting and ending up in Germany before we realized it but all in all, it was an enjoyable day.

On Monday, we took on the daunting task of visiting Vienna, which is over 4 hours away. In true Zelden style, we started our day at 7 am and ended it at 11 pm, with about 9 hours of driving and 5 hours of sightseeing in between. We enjoyed some sausage (wurst) and Wiener schnitzel for lunch, saw the Hapsburgs’ Palace with the beautiful horses they imported from Spain, the Stephensdom an immense Cathedral at the heart of the first district and did lots of window shopping in the pedestrian-friendly streets in this elegant part of the city. We only got a taste of this amazing place but enjoyed the little time we had to spend there.

Today we are swimming and taking it easy. Tomorrow we head home and it will be a long day of driving to get close to the ferry. On Thursday morning, we take an early ferry across the channel then head to London’s Gatwick airport to pick up Mark’s mom to bring her back to the Isle of Wight.

Thanks for all the prayers. We can feel them helping keep us safe and happy all the way across the pond. Be assured, you are in our prayers as well.


12 November 2009

Almost there

Wake up on time, CHECK! (3 am, ugh)
Make it to the ferry to mainland, CHECK!
Find our way to Dover and the ferry across the channel with hardly any time to spare, CHECK!
Debit card working, CHECK!

So far, so good. Bonus of free internet in our room tonight in Germany. No compatible charger so I need to finish before the "juice" runs out!

Off to the Mercedes-Benz museum en route to Austria in the morning.

Funny note: My friend told me that mutterallergie means allergic to mother. Two lessons in one. Don't rely solely on a computer translator and handy word for those teenage years when you have to drop them off blocks away so as not to be seen.

Hope to write again soon. Internet access and charger willing.


11 November 2009

Surviving Austria

Tomorrow at 4 am we leave for Austria. I love to travel. I am usually adventurous and am willing to figure it out as I go along. I often scoff (not out loud, just in my head) at people who aren't willing to take risks. Well, now I know how they feel. Maybe I know too much about all the difficulties one encounters visiting another country. Maybe I have grown accustomed to knowing exactly how convenient or inconvenient little every day things will be. I understand the outlets. I can dry my hair and charge my cell phone. I have internet access. I have finally learned all the British coins. Okay, I need my glasses and a few minutes to sort out some of them. Now, we are leaving the comforts of a fairly settled existence to cross two bodies of water and 3 countries. Why, after dragging my entire family across the ocean, does that scare me so much?

I want to be excited. I have been to many countries in Europe but never Austria. I want to be the enthusiastic tour guide for my kids I usually am. I want to frolic through the hills with Julie Andrews and each and every cheesy remembrance of the Von Trapps. I just don't know if I can muster up what it will take. We have the car, booked both ferries and all the accommodations, so I guess I have no choice.

Traveling with five kids feels like an episode of the Amazing Race- always thinking on your feet, while in constant motion. It takes lots of teamwork. The couples that weren't in sync were dead in the water. I hope Mark and I can get in sync before too long because, in the planning stage, it just wasn't happening .

I don't mean to sound ungrateful but I also want this blog to be a real description of our experience- the ups and downs. I am hoping that all the little things will fall into place, making the trip manageable. I am also hoping I will magically learn German over night because we haven't faced the language barrier yet. With Sam's nut allergy, that makes me nervous. I did manage to translate every nut I could think of into German. Here's a list in case you are brushing up on your German:

haselnuss= hazelnut
walnuss= walnut
pekannuss= pecan
erdnuss- peanut
pinienkern= pine nut
mandel= almond
mutterallergie= nut allergy

Should make for some interesting posts so stay tuned. Not sure about accessing the internet but I will try. If not, auf wiedersehen, until next week!


06 November 2009

A Little Lull

Well, the bus pass is done so it is back to going only places our feet can carry us. Today that was the library and to play tennis where a group of senior citizens beat us to the courts. By the afternoon is was drizzly so we haven't done much of anything. Sometimes that is nice. Sometimes it just grows old. Too much together time and not enough to do has me feeling "blah"!

I had been trying to get the kids into school and we found out the other day that none of our choices had room. Time to hunker down and get to business with home schooling. I have been doing work with them here and there. I resorted to workbook pages out of desperation for activities at the bed and breakfast when we first arrived. The idea of going full force, however, has been stressing me out. Now I realize why.

I got one of two responses when I told friends and family about considering home school- "Better you than me!" or "Oh, that will be easy for you because you were a teacher." I guess reality lies somewhere in between. I realized recently that being a teacher actually makes it more difficult. I was thinking about short term and long term goals, thematic units and lesson plans with lots of song and dance like I would do in my own classroom. I mean, if I went to that much trouble for mere strangers, to what lengths should I go for my own children? I realize this is the perfectionist in me coming out to stop me in my tracks. Who can even start when the bar is so high? I do the same thing with house cleaning, Christmas shopping, and even writing this blog. The other day I found a math workbook for Anne at the bookstore. I bought it and used this as a jumping off point. I will keep the goals short and sweet. Math and reading everyday we are at home with a project like a book report thrown in once or twice for good measure. Just dive in and do it!

I applied that to another project I have been putting off - coloring my hair. I would peruse the hair color aisles, every chance I got. Oh the choices- brand, color. What's a girl to do? Come up with a lame excuse why she couldn't commit, that's what! Finally, I realized how ridiculous this was. I mean, I decided to move to another country in less time than it took me to pick out a hair color! I grabbed a color and didn't look back. I am pleased with the results but even happier that I was able to just get it done!

This may be a little lull but there are lots of fun things on the horizon. Mark will be in London Monday and Tuesday for meetings. When he returns we are preparing for our trip to Austria. We leave next Thursday to visit Vienna and Salzburg. On the ride home, we will pick up Mark's mom in London. We are SO excited for her visit.

Time is flying by. Guess that's good and bad. I am trying to live in the moment and be happy where I am. Just be. That is always a challenge.


03 November 2009

Oh What a Night!

Well, my plan worked. Mark and I got to bed early Monday night and got a few hours of sleep in before the alarm went off at 1:30 am. I hauled myself out of bed and called my mom on Skype to watch the Saints game. She turns the computer to face her TV (or should I say tele, like the Brits) and we can see the game. Mark eventually joined me. It wasn't a problem to stay awake because the game was a nail biter. At 5 am we crawled back into bed for another few hours. All that trouble was worth it to see Ronnie Lamarque sing "When the Saints Go Marching In" not once, but twice!

Our "Freedom Pass" for the bus has been fun but in a way it is actually a slavery pass. If you spend the money, you feel the need to go somewhere every day. This morning, Mark was headed to London for a meeting until it got postponed. Energized by talk of the Saints victory and the change of plans, we quickly got dressed and headed out the door. Was it a particularly nice day? No. Was it in fact a pretty nasty weather day? Yes. When we arrived in Newport and were waiting to change buses in a light rain, Sam asked, "Exactly why are we out in this weather?". That's when I coined the term "Slavery Pass" in my mind.

We were headed to the west side of the island to see The Needles. Don't ask me what they are beyond some interesting rocks and one of those "must-sees" on the island. I hadn't seen them before taking the 45 minute bus ride there and still haven't seen them. It was such a windy day, they couldn't allow people on the road to view them. In the end, it didn't matter. The blustery weather made for an interesting ride perched high atop a hill in a double-decker bus. I thought we would topple right off. The English Channel was churning with waves and it was a dramatic sight the way they pounded the steep cliffs that make up that side of the island.

Although we couldn't see the Needles, there were a few things to amuse the kids including a glass blowing studio and candy shop. I was all ready to watch the candy making and turn it into a great lesson for the kids. Oh joy! We arrived at the point in the process when he was cleaning the equipment. Oh well, we moved on to the sweets shop for a math lesson of how many candies can we shove in this bag before Dad runs out of money. It was such a fun place with bin after bin of candies of all shapes and colors- fizzy cherry cola bottles, candy straws, miniature toasted tea cakes, sugar coated toffee balls- to name a few. Glad the weather was bad. Now we have an excuse to go back.

It is such a treat to ride around the island. Just minutes out of town there are rolling hills and acres of green farmland dotted with horses, cows and sheep. Every few miles you come to another quaint village with thatched roofed cottages, tiny churches and shops. Towns with names like Brighstone, Totland and Hulverstone have a fairy tale look about them. The kids enjoy the ride and Elise ends up catching a quick nap along the way.

Guess that is all for now. It is getting late and that Saints game is catching up with me. Besides , I am enjoying Emma by Jane Austen and have committed to reading some every night because I have a very ambitious list to complete by January. After Emma, I already have a quick, fun book picked out then I want to read a novel by Charles Dickens. My mom suggested David Copperfield. After that, I am determined to tackle a Shakespeare play. I loved reading his work in high school and college and hope I am up to the task without a teacher to guide the way. Wish me luck!


01 November 2009

Photoless, Creative Halloween

It is a rainy Sunday morning. We are all in our pajamas, except Mark and Sam. It would be a perfectly cozy day IF- 1) We did not have to WALK to Mass. 2) We could watch the NFL on TV even though the Saints aren't playing 3) We had more groceries on hand.

Mark and Sam are dressed and gone because Sam is playing the organ today. I am so disappointed that I won't be there to hear his first public attempt at the instrument. We decided that seven people and one small umbrella wasn't a pretty picture. The girls and I will go this evening. Hopefully, Sam will do well enough that they will have him play again so I can be beaming with pride in the pew.

Our life here is very simple- no school, outside commitments, no car, not even much TV. In some ways, it is fabulous. We spend more time together, read more, get more exercise and are more creative. Sometimes it is really hard for exactly the same reasons- no school, etc. I do enjoy walking everywhere but after a while our pleasant little town can seem claustrophobic. Mark thought about renting a car for the day. When he compared the price of a family bus pass for a week, we decided it would be a good option. We are now the proud bearers of a "Freedom Bus Pass". Actually, we have two passes because their definition of a family is 2 adults and 3 kids. Guess we are more of a tribe! For seven glorious days we can visit lots of places on the island and shop in the bigger towns.

On Friday, we went to Ryde to shop at the UK equivalent of Walmart. We picked out Halloween treats and supplies for our party. We had to keep to the bare necessities because everything is expensive and we had to carry it home with us on the bus and up a hill. We ate at McDonald's and were served by a lady from Kentucky. That took me by surprise. We took the scenic route home just to see some of the island.

Saturday, we took the bus to Newport, the largest city on the island. We shopped until we were starving then had to walk to three restaurants before we found one that took credit cards. We ended up back at the Pizza Hut where we spend about $65 on lunch last month. We decided with prices like that it is not a hut. We are calling it "Pizza Manor". We were much smarter in our choices this time. Almost a third of the bill last time was the drinks! We opted for water this time.

At home later that afternoon, we prepared for our little Halloween party. I figured the kids would miss our New Orleans traditions and I wanted to make it fun for them. They do celebrate here but we are on a street with few homes which are all set back from the street. The newspaper even had a sign you could cut out and put in the window saying- No trick or treating here. Not knowing many people, we opted for a night of family fun. Emme decided we should trick or treat at each others' bedroom doors. Splendid! We let the kids decorate their rooms with cobwebs, rubber rats and the like. They were quite creative with few supplies and it was great to see how resourceful they were. The girls took bottles from the bathroom and made fake labels for lizard blood, moth tears and other potions. Sam played creepy music on his keyboard when we entered the boys' room. They were even creative with their costumes or "fancy dress" as they call it here. They pulled out scarves, belts and other accessories as well as my make-up bag to become a pirate, zombie, vampire and witch. Mark and I wanted to dress up too and wanted it to be something the kids would love. I decided we should dress up as each other. I looked pretty silly in Mark's shoes, shirt and tie with jacket and pocket hankie but Mark stole the show in my skirt and MAKE-UP. I think the only reason he was so willing is because he knew the camera is broken and there could be no evidence. The kids thought it was hilarious, especially Elise who kept giggling and saying, "Daddy is Mama and Mama has Daddy's shirt!". We played a rousing game of Halloween charades and ended the evening with a silly scary movie.

It is a challenge to do without things like Walmart, Target, cheap stuff, a car, family and friends but amazing to see just how resourceful we can be!

Hope you had a fun Halloween, too. Here's hoping for a fixed camera soon. We can't possibly go on without one. :-(