More Social Media? You can now find me on Instagram

I’ve been avoiding Instagram on purpose (although I did create an account at some point because I already had one when I went to set one up… go figure?), mostly because I don’t need more things to distract me from what I want to do. But when I found myself in England taking hundreds of photos of flowers and couldn’t think what to do with all of them? Instagram!

Here I am:

First Night in Sheffield and an Experiment in Packing

After picking up our car in Manchester, we drove straight to Sheffield to check into our hotel. I had high hopes for Leopold Hotel – a former school that was converted into a hotel. I liked the reviews and pictures, and I loved that they had a Nespresso machine in the rooms. Our room was quite large with a loft bed, and the girls loved that it was so big and had stairs, and they ran upstairs and down making lots of noise like the hooligans they are. The Nespresso machine hit the spot, and the hotel won the girls over with the chocolates on our pillows at night. Who knew it was so easy to please them? Another nice touch was a couple of bottles of still water and sparkling water – in glass bottles! I loved that Leopold didn’t use plastic. In summary, the hotel was clean, the location was great, the furnishings and carpet a little worn, but overall, we were happy.

Sheffield was suitably English. Beautiful old buildings, learning to look for cars that were coming from the wrong direction, lovely accents, tea with milk and sugar over coffee. I was thrilled to be back in England. And I was excited to start our National Trust/English Heritage/FancyHouseCastleHall adventures early the next morning. There was a lot to look forward to!

The packing method I used worked out really well. I always pack for myself and the two girls, but I normally pack us in separate suitcases. In a rare moment of precognition because we weren’t going to stay in any one place long enough to unpack, I could see the girls having tantrums over what they would wear each day, unzipping each suitcase, digging through piles…ugh, no thanks! This time I had a revelation – I didn’t want to deal with the nightmare of dealing with multiple suitcases every day…so, I developed a new system:

Zip locks bags.

I packed all of the clothes and pajamas for the three of us in ziplock bags. When we got to our room, it was easy to pull out one bag of pajamas for the evening and a bag of outfits for the morning. Three sets of pajamas per bag, and three sets of outfits per bag. There was no fighting over what they were going to wear, no digging through suitcases, and no trying to figure out where things were. It worked brilliantly.

I did have to fine tune a few things to make toiletries more accessible, but that was more because I’d packed them in a separate checked bag to avoid TSA and London’s stringent liquids policy. I straightened that out fairly quickly, and everyone got to bed relatively easily considering our day started with a delay.

A Delayed Start and Keeping Kids Happy When Traveling

A delayed flight put us into a frenzy before we even left. The delay meant we would miss our connection, so we were furiously working with American Airlines to find an alternate route and ended up switching from Phx-Chicago-Manchester on American to Phx-Heathrow-Manchester on British Airways. Although I liked the routing better, I have to say British Airways Business paled in comparison to American. But, we all got a few hours of sleep and arrived in Manchester in decent spirits.

Our girls are great on trips, and this one was no different. The real secret to keeping them happy is to limit screen time leading up to the flight (easy for us because we rarely let them watch TV) and download movies and TV shows they haven’t seen and want to see. Luckily, I downloaded a bunch of movies and shows they hadn’t seen. Kora got a lot of Super Why and Juliet picked out the ones she wanted. It was lucky I had learned my lesson on not relying on the in-flight entertainment for the girls, because British Airways entertainment for kids was abysmal. The small selection and the old fuzzy screens that were hard to see did not impress my girls, and they didn’t watch any of the movies offered on the flight to London. They both opted for my fully loaded devices. Because they slept for part of the way, I didn’t need to charge the devices–but I had my extra battery with me just in case.

For the layover, the girls had a snack and played in the kid area of the British Airways lounge at Heathrow. But I also packed on-the-go scratch art, like this Melissa & Doug Fairy Tales scratch art, and Crayola Color Wonder markers and coloring pages. Juliet packed her own books.

Although we were supposed to arrive early in the morning and have a full day of sightseeing, we had to skip the first two stops on the itinerary because of our delayed flight (arriving in the afternoon instead of in the morning). Originally, we were going to stop at Cannon Hall and then Nostell Priory and Parkland, but we couldn’t make it in time and will have to try them on another trip.

From the Manchester airport, we picked up our car and drove straight to Sheffield. The drive was uneventful.

Touring England with Kids

There’s so much information on the web about traveling and traveling with kids, but I have a hard time finding sites that resonate with me and the way we travel. We are heading to England for a two week trip, and I’ve done a crap-ton of research, as evidenced by the next few posts I’ll be doing.

We are a family of four, and the girls are 5 and 9.  We fly into Manchester, and from there we overnight in:

– Sheffield
– Cambridge
– Augill Castle
– Newcastle
– Edinburgh
– Manchester

While I was researching, I had Juliet, 9, read the Blood Curdling Box of Books – Horrible Histories Collection. Kora, 5, got to watch Secrets of Great British Castles. I mapped out all of the sites we want to go to – two sites per day. I hope the girls don’t hate me by the time we’re done!

Of note for now, a lot of the properties are National Trust or English Heritage, so I researched how to become members as Americans. Without membership, the entrance fees can be high, so it was important to us to become members.

For the National Trust, membership is through the Royal Oak Foundation. I purchased it about two weeks in advance and got the cards in plenty of time.

For English Heritage, we can get a 9 or 16 day visitor pass, and we can purchase that on site at an English Heritage property.

We are staying at a few hotels, Augill castle, and a couple of apartments. I’m particularly excited to stay at the Leopold Hotel in Sheffield – I believe they have a Nespresso machine in the rooms, and that makes all the difference for easing into a long trip. Of note for hotels in England, like in Europe, it is very difficult to find a single room for a family of four. Most places allow no more than three to a room, and there is an upcharge.

But the thing I’m most looking forward to is our stay in Augill Castle. A real castle! It looks beautiful and has great reviews. I’m sure I’ll be adding a great review myself when we’re done.

I’ll do my best to update as we go. Here’s to trying my hand at travel blogging!

We all have hangups… this is mine

It’s a little too easy to put my personal goals aside for family commitments and volunteer work, and I’ve been putting off my personal goals for too long.

My newest news is…after putting it off since December, I finally sent my first pitch for the parenting humor non-fiction piece I finished last year. This is only the first pitch, but I’ve broken the ice!

I had put hours of research into the query and the agent I wanted to pitch first, and I read and re-read and read and re-read the query letter itself, but I could never bring myself to write the Author Bio and send it off. This was my hangup. What do you write when you spend most of your time on parenting and politics and the thousands of pages of documentation you’ve written over the years don’t have your name on them?

This week, with a little push from a friend, I’m happy to say that I overcame my hangups. Now to get the next query ready to send and wait for the rejections to start rolling in… or to think positively about this being my year. Come to think of it, I’d rather do that. Wish me luck!