brave enough to start

family of five who can, should and definitely will, see more of the world

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Days 54 – 57 Mount Rainier, Portland, Astoria and Ecola State Park in search of Goonies and Crater Lake National Park

By now the weather was starting to get really cold and as we drove south towards Portland we kept everything crossed that our Dodge Journey would cope with the wintry roads of Mount Rainier. Signs all the way up reminded us that snow chains would be advisable lest we should wind up in trouble. We carried on anyway and hoped for the best – after all we were already venturing up what is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, on the road to the curiously named Paradise!

The boys enjoyed their first snow since Maine and after a quick snowball fight at the top we made our way back down before fading light added to our precarious predicament, besides, we still had another 130 miles to do.

Arriving late in the evening in Portland, our three tired boys immediately perked up at the sight of a full size pool table in our latest Airbnb. Less than 5 minutes of discussion and we decided that day 55 needed to be a quiet day playing pool! We rented a copy of the Goonies, filmed in Astoria about 100 miles away, and resolved to visit the next day.

It’s fair to say that the residents of Astoria might be a little tired of tourists searching for locations from the 1985 movie!


Not to worry, we stopped by the old Jailhouse (now the Oregon Film Museum) where the SUV used by the Fratelli crime family is parked outside, still bearing the bullet holes! We then continued on to Ecola State Park where the Goonies opening sequence truck rally was filmed on Cannon Beach by Haystack Rock. There are allegedly three quarters of a million visitors to this spot each year but the rain and wind certainly kept them away whilst we were there.

By Tuesday it was time to drive south again and we had a decision to make: Go straight to Fortuna, a mere 420 miles, or take a detour to include Crater Lake making a total for the day of 550 miles.  Or to put it another way – 7 hours of driving, or almost 10…You know what we did, right?


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Days 50 – 53 Onward to Seattle: Pike Place, Pacific Science Center, Bill and Melinda Gates and some Skydiving!

Time for another border crossing in a hire car which went almost as smoothly as the last one, if you ignore the fact that Nick chose to wear his New England Patriots cap and the border control officer was an ardent Seahawks fan. It could have got nasty but our bumbling British accents helped us pass off the faux pas as a bit of Boris-esque buffoonery.

150 miles later we arrived in the home of Starbucks, Bill and Melinda Gates and the Space Needle. We stayed in another Airbnb property whilst our hosts were at the international Airbnb convention in Paris. Little did any of us know that two days into our stay Paris would be rocked by the most horrific terrorist attack in its history.  Mercifully our hosts managed to communicate their safety and eventually made it home.

Before all of that though, we made our way to Pike Place market to wander around the stores – fish, soap, Turkish delight, chocolate, clothing, leather goods, jewellery, fruit, flowers, cheese, bakery and confectionery, all manner of curiosities…What a place!  At number 1912 you’ll find the original Starbucks, still wearing its 45 year old sign and store decor, a nod to its history that helps it stand apart from its 20,000 siblings. It’s easy to spot though – just look for the queue that will be winding out of the door and down the street.

It seems as though there are Starbucks outlets on every block in Seattle and sometimes more than one. We explored the waterside, enjoyed a ride on the Great Wheel and found the Seahawks’ stadium, although as in every other US city we visited, there was no home game during our stay.

The following day Ted and I worked on our journals whilst Nick and the other boys spent the day at the Pacific Science Center. Explosions, helium balloons and some liquid nitrogen in the Physics of Bubbles live science show made for a fun filled day.

Our final day in Seattle started at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center which sets out how the foundation works to achieve its goals. Committed to the eradication of malaria and polio, as well as extreme poverty and hunger, the foundation works to improve the lives of millions of people. The boys took part in an inventor challenge, with Alex creating a teleporter – he has no problem thinking big!

Later that day we stopped by IFLY Seattle. Wind speeds up to 160mph in the vertical wind tunnel create a genuine free fall experience without the need to actually jump out of a plane.  I don’t think Alex was paying attention during the training briefing because he attempted to swim rather than fly during his turn which makes for a wonderful comedy video.  I don’t know how the crew working there manage to do it – all that spinning around constantly is enough to make anyone vomit but the tunnel was surprisingly clear of stomach contents so I guess they must like it.20151114_022416672_iOS


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Days 47 -49 Telus World of Science, Kids on the Block, Grouse Mountain and Victoria

We arrived into Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station early on a very wet Saturday morning, having booked an Airbnb apartment barely a kilometre away. “We don’t need a taxi” I said – “A bit of rain never hurt anyone…”


15 minutes later 5 drenched souls dragging 6 battered cases, 5 soggy backpacks, a cheap holdall and a couple of plastic bags for good measure arrived at our destination looking very sorry for ourselves indeed.

Welcome to the Pacific Northwest!

Our host recommended the Telus World of Science; a great indoor activity and we didn’t hesitate.  Having hung all our damp belongings out to dry we took to the streets again, hoping that our sodden waterproofs would cope with round 2.  The boys enjoyed crawling through a beaver lodge, building brick structures and creating computer photofits of themselves 30 years in the future.

We stopped at McDonald’s on our way back, only to witness an altercation turn into a punch up à la Jeremy Clarkson, rapidly followed by the arrival of a police cruiser and some swift justice being doled out.

The following day we decide to head downtown and pick up a hire car.  As usual, Nick took the lead – ably assisted by his pal Google Maps, who to be honest, lets us down just as often as he gets it right.  We amble through Chinatown and the next thing we know we’re in East Hastings Street.  Thank you Google.  If you’ve never heard of it – Google it (I know, I see the irony.)

There are no other passers by, just residents, sitting somewhat bleary eyed on the sidewalk.  A few are awake – they call out “kids on the block.”  I look at Nick. He looks at me.  “Come on kids, let’s keep going, we don’t want to be late…”

Needles are hastily put away, backs are turned and I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for their consideration.  They didn’t have to – we are in their backyard, but they do so because the kids are innocent. We decide to have a conversation with the boys about it later.  Seemingly they have noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

We collect the car and decide to head up to Grouse Mountain, where 2 orphaned grizzly bears spend their lives in a protected 5 acre habitat. The rain has stopped and we enjoy a chilly few hours exploring the mountain where next season’s ski instructors are being trained.  The Grouse Grind is in full swing and we watch the runners complete the 2.9 kilometre uphill trail.  One look from me and Nick knows not to suggest it!

For our final day in Canada we take a ferry to Victoria where orcas play in the Trincomali Channel and at last the weather is beautiful. Victoria, when contrasted with the drama of Vancouver, feels like an oasis; a peaceful haven of beautiful landscapes, serene nature and chilled out people.  I could live here.

Before we leave we catch a showing of Galapagos in the Imax – sadly not on our itinerary this year but hopefully one for the future. We don’t have time to explore the attached Royal BC museum but it’s always good to leave something for next time. Driving back to the ferry, we reflect on an incredible 3 weeks in Canada and wonder when we will next be back.

Not too long, I hope.



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Days 44 – 46 On board The Canadian

Reputedly one of the world’s greatest train journeys, I’ve wanted to travel across Canada by train for years.  It’s all about the journey rather than the destination, which is just as well given the frequent delays on account of sharing the line with the massive freight trains – when those break down, everyone has to wait. Lengthy stops are built in to the schedule and are sometimes used to catch up when there have been delays but no one really cares about actually arriving because, of course, arrival signifies the end of the experience.

I had romantic ideas of sipping champagne in the observation car, enjoying the magnificent scenery and fine dining in the restaurant car with fellow travellers although, strangely enough, our 3 young and energetic boys didn’t feature too prominently in these fantasies!

We arranged for 2 cabins to be joined together so that we shared a 4 berth space, and although not cheap, this included all meals and drinks on board, access to all the viewing cars and recreation areas and a bit more space to store our luggage.  It was also low season so we managed to get a pretty good deal and, in the end, I’d say it was worth every penny.

Our train departed late on a Tuesday evening and was scheduled to arrive on Saturday morning – 4 nights and 3 days.  It sounds like a lot. Before leaving I anticipated catching up with the blog (ha!), covering plenty of home education activities with the boys and enjoying the aforementioned champagne!  What I hadn’t realised is just how much eating there is to do.  Each morning we awoke to a huge breakfast – fruit, cereal, pastries and “would you like eggs with that?” “Why of course!” “More coffee? – please do!”

Not three hours later, we would be tucking in to a three course lunch before making our way to one of the lounges for more drinks (with fruit and pastries for anyone no longer concerned about their waistline.)  A bit of time to enjoy the scenery before back again for a 3 course evening meal. By the end it was beginning to feel like a Man v Food challenge although every bite was delicious and difficult to refuse.

We collapsed into our beds by 10pm every night, stuffed full and rocked to sleep by the train’s  gentle motion and generally woke up in a new time zone each morning!

On Thursday morning the train stopped at a very wet Winnipeg for a few hours, giving us the chance to get off and search for some wifi!  Having reconnected with the world briefly, we took the boys to the Winnipeg Children’s Museum to let them run around and burn off some energy. Given the heavy rain we weren’t inclined to explore any further than the immediate area of the station and museum but I’d like to return on a dry day.

Somewhere after Edmonton we were delayed whilst our engineers assisted a broken down freight train further up the track. This meant that our stop in Jasper was cut short to make up the time but even so, Friday turned out to be the highlight of the whole trip. There was barely time for the panorama car dome to be cleaned and then it was onward through the Rockies.  If you are only going to do one part of this journey – get on here. On departing Jasper the champagne flows and the canapes are delicious. There is a real party atmosphere for this leg of the journey and the crew seem to enjoy it as much as the passengers.

By this stage we had got to know many of the other passengers and it felt like one big family. Some had been on the trip many times before and ensured that the boys knew exactly when to look out for the most impressive views, the most famous of the mountains or the best places to spot the wildlife.

I’m certain that no matter how often you ride The Canadian, it never gets old.



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Days 41 – 43 Ripley’s, waterfalls and the CN Tower before catching The Canadian.

After a minor plumbing incident which involved a dash to Canadian Tire for a spanner and some plumbing parts we joined our friends at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Somewhat seasoned professionals in aquariums now, the boys didn’t hesitate to touch the stingrays and horseshoe crabs in the touch pools. No matter how often we go to an aquarium, there is always something new to learn – this time one of the most disturbing discoveries was the fact that baby sand tiger sharks eat their siblings in utero – ugh!

Fortunately we overcame our disgust in time for dinner and enjoyed a wonderful farewell meal with the Galea family at Turtle Jacks. The cheese dip here is to die for, certainly reason enough to consider a more permanent relocation to Canada.  I later tried the Swiss Chalet version which wasn’t quite as good but still, if you like melted cheese, this is where you’ll find your tribe.

Day 42 was a quiet day, notable only really as the day Alex finally learned to use a swing at the park without help. A big day for our littlest one.


Now into November, the weather was unseasonably warm, sunny and the skies beautifully blue so we made the most of our last day in Ontario exploring the waterfalls of Hamilton, of which there are more than a hundred.  We played Pooh sticks, ate a picnic lunch and enjoyed our last few hours in Hamilton before dropping off in Toronto the hire car we had collected in Washington DC, with more than 3500 additional miles on it.

Before catching our train in Union Station we just had time to go up the CN Tower and admire the breathtaking night views of the city.

And as quickly as that our east coast adventure came to a close. We were filled with excitement about all that lay ahead on the west coast, but first, the fulfilment of another lifetime ambition: Via Rail’s transcontinental train – The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver.


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Days 38 – 40 Teeth, warplanes, the love affair with Swiss Chalet and Halloween in the alternative universe

Day 38 began with a visit to the dentist for John.  The earache he had been complaining about since Boston turned out to be toothache and could no longer be ignored so, with the help of some friends, we found a local dentist who was great with kids. 2 hours later he was all fixed up with instructions not to eat for at least an hour, so perhaps it was a little cruel that we then went straight to lunch! Nick first came to Canada 25 years ago and remembered how, as a boy, he’d enjoyed dining at Swiss Chalet. He described it to me as a low cost chain of family restaurants famous for chicken and ribs, thus I’d imagined a sort of Canadian KFC with a mounty in place of the Colonel.  The experience though is totally different.  Here you select what type of chicken meat you’d like – do you want the white meat or perhaps you prefer the brown?  Here we got to sample the famous Canadian Poutine for the first time – chips in cheese curds and gravy, which I’m sure is very popular in large parts of (northern?) England after a heavy night out instead of a greasy kebab.  The menu also offers much healthier alternatives such as salads and soups which the kids, needless to say, gave a wide berth.20151031_011932842_iOS

Just up the road we stumbled upon the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.  I say “stumbled upon” but knowing my husband this was no accident.  There are only two airworthy Lancaster bombers left in the world. One in the UK that flies with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the other, here. Astonishingly you can get close enough to this one to touch it.  There were very few visitors to the museum during our visit but it was lovely to see a Canadian veteran being helped back into the cockpit for what must have been a very emotional reunion.P1130283

The museum is staffed by volunteers, many of whom are retired aviation enthusiasts who are only to happy to share their love of the planes with visitors.  Our guide arranged for the boys to sit in the cockpit of an Avro Canada CF100 and a Canadair CT-114 Tutor , explaining the controls and what the planes were used for.  Later the boys flew simulators, although only Daddy avoided a crash landing!

Friday saw us exploring the Royal Ontario Museum, world renowned for its collection of art, world culture and natural history and the largest museum in Canada. John and I ventured in to the Bat Cave, a dark and life like immersive experience showcasing the natural habitat of various species.  Sadly though, there was no Ben Affleck – I checked.  Twice.

The boys enjoyed digging up fossils and dressing in real chain mail so heavy that it was difficult to move their heads.  Later they found an interactive community game where players try to balance competing interests to establish a successful mining operation. ROMining gets the kids to think about environmental impact, community groups, employment levels and profitability.  Hugely educational, it kept John and Teddy engaged for over an hour.

Day 40 was Halloween and this was where my theory that I must somehow be living in an alternative reality really began to take hold. Some days earlier a friend had enquired as to whether Nick would like to take part in a charity 5K run.  It’s fair to say that we are not a particularly healthy couple.  Sure, we belong to gym but I don’t go there to break a sweat – it’s mainly for a leisurely swim and a bit of lunch. Neither of us have ever been running for the sake of running.  Nonetheless Nick decided to give it a go.  He went for practice run after the warplanes visit and decided he would probably be able to finish, so signed up.  Next thing you know he not only finished but came 22nd in his category and 322nd out of almost 1000 entrants. What??  In what world does that happen with just one trial run and an otherwise sedentry and lethargic lifestyle? Git.20151031_151753943_iOS

Later we joined our good friends Shelley and Jeremy and their family to celebrate Halloween, our first in North America.  Naively I’d assumed that the couple of small buckets we’d been given in a Burger King somewhere on the drive from Montreal would do for trick or treating.  Turns out, what we needed were pillow cases – 3 of them!  Never before have the boys accumulated so many sweets and chocolates on one occasion, it was mind boggling but tremendous fun.  The whole neighbourhood was lit up and decorated for the evening and we met hundreds of kids in all sorts of brilliant costumes having a fabulous time.  I am certain that the boys will remember this halloween night forever.

The hardest part was telling them at the end of the evening that we couldn’t keep the equivalent of Alex’s body weight in candy and they would have to leave most of it behind.

If there was one good thing to come from John’s recent dental trouble, it was that this conversation was a bit easier.









Days 35 – 37 Waterfalls, Panda Cubs and some Weird Science

Incorporating geography into a homeschooling schedule when you are travelling is easy enough, easier still  when you have the opportunity to visit one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls. We did the tourist thing and paid for a Hornblower cruise into the mist and, at less than $65 for all five of us, it was worth every cent. We took a 20 minute daytime cruise into the falls and got to feel the power of the water thundering down all around us. Standing on a swaying boat, drenched by the gossamer spray despite the plastic ponchos, our bodies reverberating with the roaring deluge, this was an exhilarating experience for us all.  Now when we talk about hydroelectric power, the kids have a very clear idea of what that means.

Perhaps it was the receding adrenaline, or the general high of the experience that allowed the kids to persuade us to have dinner at the Rainforest Cafe before we went home. They loved the fake thunderstorms and animatronic beasts almost as much as the Falls themselves and by the time we left the water was lit up for the evening. It was indeed a magical day.

Tuesday saw us heading over to Toronto Zoo to see some real animals. Nick and I first visited in 2003 but since then the zoo has become home to two Giant Pandas and, not to be outdone by Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC, their female Er Shun had given birth to twins just two weeks before our arrival. As before, the cubs wouldn’t be on public display for many months and we couldn’t help but laugh at the co-incidence. It was beginning to feel like our family could have a very positive influence on the breeding success of Giant Pandas in captivity, albeit we were destined never to see any actual cubs!

We did have more success with the hitherto elusive moose.  I’ll be honest, I was anticipating a fine pair of antlers, a la Rocky and Bullwinkle but alas, it was the wrong time of year and apparently the antlers had been shed. Still, a moose is a moose right? Certainly we’d have preferred to see one in the wild and that discussion raised all kinds of ethical questions about whether zoos are really an acceptable place for wild animals at all.  It’s a complex issue not least because many of the finest zoos play an enormous role in conservation and education. Should some animals be locked up, albeit with the best that modern zoos can offer in the way of enrichment, in order to improve the chances of other species?  Luckily that’s not a question on the primary school curriculum this year.

With a hurricane forecast, we made our way to the Ontario Science Centre the following day.  I don’t remember ever looking forward to museum visits as a child in the way that our boys have come to love a day in a science centre. These days the exhibits are so much more interactive and the kids feel like they are playing all day long.  They particularly enjoyed testing the effectiveness of an ice hockey helmet when hit at 6m/s with a sledge hammer!  If their only learning outcome is the desire to wear a helmet for certain sports then I’m more than happy with that!

We all played with the giant marble run and later got stuck in (literally) to creating a pin screen for our website.


No idea what the science behind this is but it was great fun nevertheless.