Thursday, June 27, 2013

Scotland, 4 Teenagers, and Swearing

By Kristy McCaffrey

The Ring of Brodgar, Orkney Islands
My husband and I recently took our four children on a family vacation to Scotland. My goal was to see the Ring of Brodgar, a neolithic rock henge in the Orkney Islands and one of the most well-preserved prehistoric monuments on the British Isles. (See my previous blog post “The Earth: Power Points and Ley Lines.” These standing stones are located on a ley line.) My husband’s (Kevin's) goal was to visit the church where his great-grandparents were married, and to not hear how much this was costing him. The goal of each of my children varied. Ben (17) hoped to drink lots of beer in local pubs, which is allowed as long as he’s also eating. Katy (almost 16), our budding photographer, anticipated endless opportunities to add to her portfolio. Hannah (13) packed 3 sweatshirts with the goal of purchasing more, aided and abetted by my faulty memory, hindered further by jet lag. Upon our return home I found a total of seven in her suitcase. Sam (19) tried not to mope in misery at being away from his girlfriend. He succeeded half of the time. Our solution was to urge him to drink beer.
Edinburgh Castle

We began in Edinburgh, exhausted from an overnight flight and our inability to check into our hotel rooms. This would be a recurring problem throughout the trip—my propensity for booking early morning flights that left us without lodging until the afternoon when the rooms were ready. Already my family was loving me. Not. So a little swearing ensued, mostly from me. I will admit up front that my Irish temper (maiden name Kearney) gets the best of me at times and my children have learned most of their swearing from me. Never mind that my husband works in the steel industry and the kids have often eavesdropped on phone conversations he has with customers. I’m not pointing fingers.
Katy at Edinburgh Castle

Rosslyn Chapel
We have a nice time exploring Edinburgh Castle. Scotland is so different, with old buildings, overcast skies, and funky accents. Smashing! We visit Rosslyn Chapel, just outside Edinburgh, made famous by the book and movie “The Da Vinci Code.” It’s worth a look. In fact, if you check out Hannah’s Instagram account you can see illegal photos she took with her phone while inside. The building is very different than portrayed in the movie and as opposed to the hypothesis that Mary Magdalene was buried within, one theory suggests it was built as a reliquary to house the skull of St. Matthew, apostle of Jesus and gospel writer. That said, you’ll never see the inside of a chapel that looks like this one. The barrel-vaulted roof is covered with stars in relief, the faces of the Green Man (an important character from British folklore) peep at you from all sides, large pillars are wrapped in spiraling vines, everywhere are strange masks, dancers, musicians, and characters from the Old Testament.
Hannah on the train to Inverness
Photo by Katy McCaffrey
Loch Ness
Sam, Kevin and Ben (back)
Katy, Kristy and Hannah (front)

We leave Edinburgh by train to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. This is the Scotland I imagine—rolling mountains amidst green farms, sheep, cattle, and that mist. The faerie mist. Why does Scotland make you believe in magic? Maybe it’s because it never gets dark here. Night falls from 11pm to 2am. If we don’t draw the shades we can’t sleep. It confuses further our already confused internal clocks. We tour Loch Ness, which I love. The story of the Loch Ness monster is over 1500 years old, the recent hoopla simply a marketing cash cow. Urquhart Castle, dating back to the 13th century, sits on the lake’s edge and is one of the most visited castles in Scotland.
Urquhart Castle
Ben, Katy, Sam and Hannah
Kevin and I at Urquhart Castle

We fly to the town of Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands, in a small propeller plane. While the Orkney’s are now a part of Scotland, prior to the 15th century they were governed by Norway. This is Viking country. Perhaps this is why my children come to blows here. At each hotel we have three rooms—one for my husband and I, and one each for the boys and the girls. But Sam, who has so far resisted our beer-drinking attempts, is fed up with Ben. He swears too much, Sam says. Sam is sick of it. (Not to defend Ben’s colorful language, but in addition to having me as his mother he has also attended an all-boys boarding school for the past three years. Within the span of a week he began speaking like a sailor and hasn’t stopped since.) Turns out Katy is also unhappy with her roommate. It would seem that Hannah has been known to fling an invective at her sister from time to time on the trip. Sam wants to room with Katy and begins negotiations in earnest. I frown. Should brothers and sisters be sharing rooms? But teenage logic prevails. This is a philosophy coined by my husband to explain the smart, insightful decisions that teenagers make, such as claiming that 90mph on a motorcycle is a perfectly acceptable speed, or showing genuine shock when a window is broken after playing lacrosse in their bedroom, or wondering why the competitive team never called after repeatedly blowing off soccer practice.
Maeshowe, Orkney Islands
In Orkney we visit Maeshowe, a neolithic chambered tomb built 5000 years ago and lined up to the winter solstice. What’s intriguing about this one (a similar mound, Newgrange, exists in Ireland) is the Viking graffiti, carved about 1000 years ago and comprising the largest collection of runic inscriptions found outside Scandinavia. With witty one-liners like “Otarr carved these runes” there are also more vulgar descriptions. I have an epiphany. Vikings must have been teenagers. We’re in good company. Swearing spans the ages.
From atop Stirling Castle
Hannah, Kristy and Katy

My husband at
St. Joseph's Church in Blantyre
We finish the Scotland portion of our trip in Glasgow, taking a very touristy bus ride around the city. We return to the University of Glasgow twice because Hannah really needs another sweatshirt. In the suburb of Blantyre we find the church where my husband’s great-grandparents, Robert Gaitens and Jeanie Dobbin, were married in 1897. Well, kinda. This church was built in 1908 so the original is no longer standing. Close enough. The purpose for my husband visiting Scotland is complete. We take the kids to Stirling Castle, north of Glasgow, perched on a high volcanic crag. With unimpeded views in all directions of the countryside, it’s no wonder this was the seat of Scottish kings and queens for centuries.

The final leg of our journey takes us to Dublin, Ireland. Ben, with true teenage logic, plans to apply to Trinity College (aka the University of Dublin), because, well, it’d be so cool to go to college in a different country. So one afternoon we have a nice chat with a professor from the Computer Science Department. We also take the kids to see the Book of Kells, a lavishly decorated copy of the four gospels in Latin, likely produced early in the 9th century. I have another wonderful teenage interchange with Katy.

“Why are we here?” she asks.
“To see the Book of Kells,” I say.
“Just tell me why we’re here.”
“To see a book.”
“But what is it?!”
“It’s a BOOK!!”

Just as I’m on the verge of swearing—what part of this does she not understand?—my husband steps in. He points out that books are no big deal to her generation. Ahh. Okay. I explain to her that back then tomes such as this had to be hand-written and were few in number. This is one of the most beautiful works ever created. She still seems unconvinced and blows through the exhibit. I purse my lips—it’s so unattractive if I stand there uttering profanities to myself—and attempt to enjoy this wondrous presentation while calming my blood pressure.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
On our last evening we dine together at the hotel restaurant. It’s not often we’re together as a family. It’s one of the reasons I planned this trip, why I spent my husband’s hard-earned money, why I endured teenage griping about everything from the weather to why we had to visit yet another old church. As my children have grown, one of the best aspects is getting to know them, to hear their viewpoints, to watch their intellect blossom. When they were toddlers family conversations often turned to poop and farting. It’s rather comforting to know that as teenagers their repertoire still encompasses poop and farting, only now there’s a nice dose of cussing in the mix. As the conversation becomes littered with colorful language my husband decides he’s had enough. He sends everyone to their rooms—boy and girl, boy and girl. I can’t stop laughing. I’m tired of living out of a suitcase and eating hotel food, I’m glad I don’t have to flush another Scottish toilet (seriously, I could never get them to work), I’m glad I can stop waiting and waiting for the check at the end of a meal (a waiter feels it’s rude to bring the bill, you must ASK for it), I’m glad to know that lemonade is code for 7-Up (can’t they just call it 7-Up?), and I’m glad that soon I’ll be able to find a nice glass of ice tea (nonexistent here). Still, I’m sorry to see the trip end, swearing and all. It’s the stuff of memories.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Houseboat On Lake Powell

By Kristy McCaffrey

Last July my husband and I took our four children, mostly teenagers at the time, on a houseboat trip on Lake Powell for seven days. Located along the Arizona/Utah border, this unique area is an outdoor and boater’s paradise. The lake, created by the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, offers breathtaking views of buttes, pinnacles and natural arches, encompassed by towering walls of red sandstone. Naturally all of the kids complained that this wasn’t the vacation they wanted. There would be no cell phone service and no internet. How could they possibly last an entire week without texting or Facebook? I secretly smiled, but even my husband worried about no connection with his work contacts. We rallied forward anyway.
Upper deck of the houseboat
We arrive on a Wednesday morning to check-in at the Wahweap Marina, just north of Page, Arizona. Several hours pass before we’re ready to launch our 75-foot rental houseboat. A palace on the water, it’s replete with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large kitchen with a full-size stove, microwave and dishwasher, a dining area with a big-screen tv, and a hot tub on the upper deck. The kids—Sam (18), Ben (16), Katy (15), and Hannah (12)—are awed by the accommodations. We all are really. After a lengthy orientation on how this floating mansion works we’re set loose. Thankfully my husband has a working knowledge of circuit breakers, generators, and how to deal with septic tanks, as well as a dose of “this thing doesn’t scare me” because we soon realize that driving a giant boat on a lake crowded with other giant boats is not a task for the faint of heart. Sam follows us from the marina dock driving our 19-foot Bayliner boat while towing two rented jet skis. We were told not to drag any additional watercraft behind our houseboat, despite the fact that everyone else on the lake is doing just that. Once out-of-sight from the marina, my husband ties each jet ski off the rear of the houseboat, to give the Bayliner back the speed it was losing while hauling the smaller craft. This turns out to be a mistake.
To gain access to the interior of Lake Powell we must traverse a narrow, shallow inlet. Let’s just say there was traffic and it’s never a good idea to hit reverse while pulling anything. If the rope on one of the skis hadn’t snapped (after wrapping around the starboard propeller) we would’ve crushed the watercraft beneath the back deck. Instead, it drifts away, forcing myself and Ben onto the remaining jet ski to retrieve it. After that fiasco we feel relieved that nothing really catastrophic occurred, but soon the houseboat experiences steering problems. We discover power steering fluid leaking, quite a bit actually, and are forced to an early campsite to await a mechanic from the marina. Feeling sheepish about the jet ski incident, we hope the two aren’t related. The mechanic, who must do the repairs in two trips, lets us know we can pull boats and jet skis behind the houseboat, just make sure the ropes are long and the knots tight.
My husband and I and Katy. Photo by Katy McCaffrey.
The following day we drive deeper into the central canyon of Lake Powell, the red sandstone cliffs dominating the landscape, lending a postcard quality to the desolate surroundings. I feel almost gluttonous enjoying the view from the luxury of a traveling hotel, imagining how difficult it must have been for early explorers. Major John Wesley Powell, for whom the lake is named, first came through the region in 1869 using wooden dories. He and his comrades spent over three months exploring and mapping Cataract, Glen, Marble and Grand Canyons, and his writings are still read and respected today.
We park ourselves on a beach at the mouth of West Canyon, having covered about 27 miles since our launch. We discover that wide, sandy coves don’t always make the best anchoring spots—the next morning we’re stuck. Fortunately we use our Bayliner to pull us free but our neighbors aren’t so lucky and must call for help from the marina. But getting farther away from Wahweap means less traffic and we enjoy wakeboarding and jet skiing on calmer waters.
The next morning, once we free ourselves from shallow waters, we head for Dangling Rock Marina, a dock only accessible by boat. This marina, open April through October, is entirely supplied by barges. The workers live all summer in housing powered by solar panels. We must get gas and $700 later our tanks are filled. Our energy consumption would never make it on solar. We like being near the local mini-mart so park our houseboat not far from it, at the mouth of Wetherill Canyon, among a rocky inlet, thus avoiding those sandy beaches. Another bonus is that we occasionally gain line of sight with Navajo Mountain, southeast of the lake, and with it spurts of cell phone reception. Sam and Katy clamber all over the sandstone boulders in search of  “Can you hear me now?” We stay here for three nights.
My husband and I at Rainbow Bridge
On Saturday we set out in our Bayliner for a chance to view Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural spanning bridge in the world. Four of us embark first thing in the morning (two of the kids decide sleeping is more important than seeing natural wonders). Located fifty miles from Wahweap it’s the farthest into the lake we’ll go. There’s a dock, park rangers, and well-marked paths. We take many pictures and my husband teases me for carrying a pack filled with food and water since the roundtrip hike is only about 1 ¼ miles, hardly enough to break a sweat. Many Indian tribes have long held this place to be sacred and it’s only through an agreement with the Navajo Nation that tourists are allowed to visit. It’s requested that no one walk beneath the bridge out of respect for these spiritual beliefs, but this can’t be enforced. We decide not to venture under the thick arch.
Hannah and Sam wakeboarding
We spend our days at Wetherill Canyon exploring narrow slot canyons (this is where jet skis come in handy), wakeboarding, water skiing, visiting the marina for candy and milk, and watching movies (I brought dozens of DVD’s). We enjoy the water slide off the back of the boat and all overcome our fear of dropping into the lake ten feet. Katy and I sleep on the upper deck one night, huddled in our sleeping bags while rain sporadically pelts us. We take a fabulous family photo with the lake and sandstone behind us that later graced our Christmas card. We feed pancakes to three ravens stalking our campsite and realize that the bats we witness each evening actually live on our boat, in the canopy up top.
Our fabulous family photo. Photo by Katy
McCaffrey and her tripod.
On Monday morning we move the houseboat 30 miles back toward Wahweap Marina, in anticipation of ending the trip the next day. We find a beautiful placid cove in Warm Creek Bay but it soon turns into a nightmare of chop when the wind kicks up to such a degree that we think we’re on the ocean. We spend the night trying to sleep on a seriously rocking boat, messing with our equilibrium so much that it will take us three days after the trip to stop feeling the ground move beneath us. My husband resets the anchors several times, fearing we’ll unhinge during the night, but thankfully we’re still in place come morning.

Despite having gained valuable experience all week driving our behemoth lodging, we request a worker from the marina to board our boat and drive us into dock. We already fear our hefty deposit won’t be entirely refunded, so best to cut our losses where we can. We send Sam and Ben off in the Bayliner to retrieve vehicles and deposit the watercraft onto trailers for transport home while the girls and I clean up the houseboat. Okay, while I clean the houseboat. It’s enough that they gather their belongings. Soon they’re off to the marina gift shop for ice cream and souvenirs. This wasn’t the vacation the kids wanted but, if only for a few days, those phones and computer gadgets were replaced with deep red chasms and towering cliffs, all amid an endless water playground.

Katy and Hannah