My mom's twin sister, my Aunt Sandy, and her husband, my Uncle Michael, are just such a couple. Their oldest son, the student, along with his wife and their daughter, live in Glasgow, Scotland. Their only daughter, a secretary for a lawyer, and son-in-law, and their daughter live in Wyoming. Their police officer son and his wife and daughter live in West Virginia. And their "baby" the Marine, along with his wife and their son, have been in Hawaii for the last few years. Keeping up with kids and grand kids presents challenges, but it also affords them (currently) a dozen reasons to travel across the country and even across the pond.
Curious about their recent travels, I asked Aunt Sandy some questions about those opportunities and obstacles.
Sandy: Walking shoes (or shoes that I can walk in). It’s hard to do anything, or even be pleasant, if your feet are sore and/or blistered. For me, comfortable shoes means having a pair of sneakers and a pair of beach shoes, rain boots, or hiking shoes, depending upon the destination. AND, they have to be broken in. New shoes can be a disaster.
To get to your destination, do you prefer driving or flying?
Sandy: I generally prefer to fly, because you can get where you are going faster, and can spend more time at your destination. However, I’m learning to really appreciate the joys of quaint, out-of-the-way places and the everyday people who live there. Driving affords more of those opportunities.
Speaking of small towns, besides seeing family, what is your favorite thing about Wyoming?
Sandy: The obvious answer would be Yellowstone, and we enjoyed that. But, as beautiful as it is, the park made us a bit sad because the literature, programs, and guided tours all tout evolution’s tenets as fact. To us, Wyoming’s biggest attraction is that its vast natural beauty remains largely intact, merely dotted with little pockets of modern civilization—a few cities and lots of little towns. Traditional small-town events—parades, heritage days, etc.—are important, and people know each other.
What is the most interesting animal you have seen in your travels?
Sandy: Yes, in Wyoming we saw bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer (right in Laura's yard), and lots of antelope--they are ubiquitous in Wyoming. And in Scotland, we saw lots of sheep as well as red stags-- deer about the size of elk, and shaggy Highland cows, which they pronounce as "coos." The stags and Highland cows are symbolic of Scotland.
But in Oahu I had some interesting encounters with ghost crabs. These guys are about the same color as the sand, so they are hard to see. At times they just pop up from their hiding spots beneath the sand, or they ride along on the remnants of a wave, land close to your toes, and then scurry away. When they want to disappear, they can dig a hole and vanish very quickly. They are rather disconcerting to watch; you never know which direction they will move, and their protruding eyes seem to look right through you.
What is one travel experience that was frustrating at the time, but funny when you look back at it?
Sandy: Driving on the left side of the road in Scotland. Left turns are easy, but right turns can be tricky. Roundabouts are functional, and relatively easy to navigate once you know the etiquette involved and have practiced a few times. Initially, though, driving is a bit of an emotional roller coaster—moments of relative calm punctuated by a few seconds of sheer terror. Your Uncle Michael tackled the driving; I clung tightly to the door.
What was the most adventurous thing you did in Hawaii?
Sandy: We kayaked to an island and then snorkeled in a quiet little cove. It was lots of fun, and so very interesting to see all the creatures. The water was barely shoulder high in most spots, yet the fish and coral were varied and beautiful.
Having attended Penn State University, what fond memory did visiting the State College area bring back for you?
Sandy: Michael and I met in State College, so the whole town is full of memories. We wandered the streets recalling our first date, (a showing of Casablanca on campus), the buildings we frequented as students, our favorite places to eat (Ye Old College Diner -- aka "the Diner" -- for grilled stickies, the Corner Room for a meal,) and of course, Beaver Stadium where we cheered the Nittany Lions. We didn’t know each other when we attended the games, but both of us went several times, so we share the experience.
Sandy: Scotland’s long history is filled with the struggle to keep its land and its freedom. Military castles were key strongholds designed to protect against invasions, and Scotland is dotted liberally with them, with the ones along the coast being particularly well-fortified. We visited three (Dumbarton, Edinburgh, and Stirling) while we were there. They weave a story of centuries of struggle that Americans can’t really appreciate.
The Scots like their coffee. I think of the United Kingdom as the land of tea drinkers, (you know, “tea and crumpets” and "high tea”) and there are lots of tea shops and tea varieties. However, coffee drinkers like your uncle and me feel right at home in Scotland. Starbucks has a presence in the cities. There is also a British chain called Costa Coffee that rivals Starbucks and has lots of locations throughout Scotland.
Have your kids introduced you to any new types of food that you would not normally have tried or any new recipes you would not normally have cooked?
Sandy: We have not tried many different foods. We opted out of the luau in Hawaii because of the price, which may have been a mistake. We discovered a great seafood truck along the north shore of Hawaii. In Wyoming, where wild game is a staple for many people, we learned that wild game (mule deer, elk and even antelope) is very tasty if you know how to prepare it. In Scotland we discovered that you can eat VERY cheaply if you focus on Brussels sprouts, and root crops such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes (1-lb bag of mark-down sprouts or 5-lb bag of NICE potatoes for 9 pence=15 cents) One thing we didn’t enjoy was Scottish “toast”, which Aaron describes as bread fried in grease and then deep fried. I am not sure that’s exactly how it’s made, but that is what it tastes like.
Sandy: During the trip, I try to keep a daily journal. I miss some days, but I retain many more details than I would without the journal entries. Afterward, I make scrapbooks. I received (from your mom) a lovely scrapbook that now contains lots of pictures and memorabilia for trips in 2013 and 2014. For recent trips, I have used Shutterfly to make online scrapbooks. They are easier for me and less time-consuming than the traditional book. I prefer the hardcover variety. I also purchase the plastic pocket which I put inside the back cover and fill with ticket stubs and other small keepsakes.
What technology have you appreciated most in keeping up with your children and grandchildren when you aren't visiting them?
Sandy: Everyone except Laura and Josh has an iPhone, so FaceTime is big with us. Aaron and Sarah can’t text, but the rest of us communicate frequently via text. And of course Facebook and Instagram let us all see pictures and read updates. We use Facebook Messenger for Aaron and Sarah when we want the basic equivalent of texting. Our biggest challenge is the fact that each of the children lives in a different time zone with an 11-hour total difference (12 hours during DST.) Conference calls aren’t viable, even if everyone had the means to join.
Sandy: We hope to get back to Scotland this summer or fall. We visited at Christmas time and loved the country and its people. However, there were only about 8 hours of daylight. We’d like to see more of the countryside, and also at least briefly visit some of the rest of the United Kingdom.