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She’s making a break for it

June 7, 2011

Taylor walking out of the PICUWow – things have happened so fast.  Taylor is doing amazingly well and we are adjusting to our new version of a normal life.  She was released from the hospital on May 26 in time for her birthday party on May 28. She couldn’t have been happier.  She had the whole thing planned – if they didn’t release her she was going to make a break for it.  So she figured she’d use her God-given talent and charm her way out of the hospital.  It worked 🙂  Here’s how it went down…

Her first embolization procedure was on May 24.  She spent a very restless night in the Pediatric ICU (PICU) with Rick, recovering from the procedure.  She was able to keep her blood pressure down and responded really well to the treatment.  I arrived in the morning to relieve an exhausted Rick.  By morning she was up and around.  By mid-morning, she was walking around the PICU – not something that usually happens as most of the patients are bed-ridden.  This was her first step of her “charming” strategy.  The Physical Therapist came to visit around lunch time – another opportunity to do some charming.  So off we went on a walk around the 3rd floor of Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, and then for fun, let’s try some stairs.  At this point the PT was having a laughing fit as she rarely gets to work with patients like this.  Much fun was had by all as they planned Taylor’s escape route.

Back we went to the PICU and were told that we had been released to the normal floor – yeah!  We got hugs and cheers of encouragement as Taylor walked herself out of the PICU – again, not something that happens very often.  I was so proud of her.  When we got to her room, there was no bed!  Normally patients from the PICU are wheeled up in their bed…oops!  They got a bed brought in quickly, to which Taylor quite strongly informed everyone “I’m not sleeping in that bed.”  Her doctor, Dr. Edwards, arrived in time to hear this.  She asked him very slyly “Do I have to sleep in that bed?”  Another clear tactic in the war to charm her way out of the hospital.  “I feel great. And that bed makes me feel like something is wrong with me.” (batting her eyes and making a pouty face).  Dr. Edwards told her she could sleep anywhere she wanted, to which Taylor said “Ok. I want to sleep in my bed in my room.”  Everyone laughed!  But she was serious. She slept on the couch/bed and I slept in the hospital bed.  And I gotta tell ya…I don’t blame her.

The next morning the paperwork was ready and waiting and we were discharged before 10:00 am – very rare we were assured by the nurses.  Dr. Edwards stayed late to complete the paperwork so she could be discharged first thing in the morning.  We saw all the Docs on their rounds in the morning, said our goodbyes, got our marching orders and we were “outta there”…Taylor was almost running to the car.

We got home to streamers and balloons, meals provided by friends and hugs from everyone.  It reminded Rick and I of bringing Taylor home from the hospital when she was born.  It is a long story, full of drama (of course) but when we finally made it home, we walked in the door with Taylor in the infant seat.  Not knowing exactly what to do with her, we sat her on the dining room table in her infant seat.  And left her there….la de da…hmmmm….now what?!?!

We had the same feeling this time.  What should we do? Not do?  Is she ok?  Should she be doing that?  Good news is that we’re figuring it out – together as a family.  Riley has been a trouper – supporting her big sister and doing what she can to keep us laughing, which doesn’t take much since she’s hilarious.

Taylor’s last day of 5th grade is this Friday – she will start middle school in the Fall with all her friends. This week is full of parties and fun and a big transition for our little girl.  Her next embolization procedure is scheduled for June 27.  Fingers crossed that everything goes as well as it has so far.  We’ll be dealing with this for 2+ years as they work towards total removal of the AVM.  So, as I said initially, we’re adjusting to a new normal.  We are truly blessed with wonderful children who continue to amaze and inspire us every day, family we couldn’t live without and friends who would do anything for us.  Thanks to you all.



Things are looking up!

May 23, 2011

Classic Taylor…..never one to see the negative in anything, she has embraced everything that LPCH has to offer….including PROM.  She started school today at the hospital and was told that they are having a Prom next week.  Where she got this dress I’ll never know.

Anyway, her first procedure it tomorrow morning.  She has asked for an In & Out Burger for dinner cuz she can’t eat or drink tomorrow.  Fingers, toes, eyes…everything crossed that tomorrow is a great day!

Life is like a box of chocolates…

May 22, 2011

You NEVER know what you’re gonna get.  Amen…..

The past week has been a whirlwind of activity…none of it expected, all of it scary.  Let me start at the beginning and bring you all up to speed.

On Sunday 5/15 Taylor woke up in the middle of the night with a massive headache and vomiting.  I thought she had a migraine given my history and the fact that she has had two in the past.  I gave her Ibuprofen and she tried to sleep.  On Monday the headache was just as bad and she was still vomiting, so I took her to the pediatrician.  He agree that it was probably a migraine and prescribed some anti-naseau medicine and ibuprofen.  Nothing helped.  So Tuesday morning I called the pediatrician and he said take her to the ER.  We expected that she’d get a shot of Imitrex or something similar for migraines.  When we got there they did an MRI and the results were devastating.

Taylor has what is called an AVM (arterial vascular malformation).  It is something she was born with.  It is not a tumor, not cancer. It is a jumble of arteries and veins that didn’t form properly in-utero.  She could have lived her whole life with this and we never would have known.  The AVM had started bleeding which is what was causing the headache and vomiting.  The ER doctor told us what they found and immediately called Stanford Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital.  They sent down a pediatric transport (think ambulance with two ICU nurses). They took us, lights and sirens, to Stanford.  We were immediately taken to the pediatric ICU where Taylor stayed until Friday.  In the ICU they did another CT and an Angiogram to identify the size and formation of the AVM.  It is 4×6 cm (pretty large) on the left side of her brain.

The good news…..she is fine.  The bleed didn’t cause any damage, her neurological functions are perfect, she is talking, walking and being her normal self.  They know exactly what these tings are and how to treat them.  Once it is gone it won’t come back.  These are the best Dr. in the world for this.  She is in great hands.

On Thursday afternoon she got another major headache while in the ICU.  The Doctors weren’t sure  what was causing it and they feared the AVM had started to bleed again.  So they rushed her in for another CT to see if the bleed had grown. Rick and my Mom were with her as I had gone home to shower and change.  My girlfriends had asked me out to lunch and right when I got home Rick called me and said “you had better get back here.”  I called Karla and she came back immediately and drove me to Stanford.  On our way, we had a flat tire on Hwy 85.  Yes…ridiculous, but true.  My friend Lori swooped down and picked up us from the center median on 85 and whisked us up to Stanford.  When we got there they had confirmed that the bleed had not returned.  It was just a headache… something we are going to have to get used to.

Taylor is now out of ICU and on the regular floor.  She is taking this all really well.  She’s had to miss some really fun stuff and will have to miss more.  That makes her sad, which makes her cry, which gives her a headache…sigh.

The hard part – well, actually, all of this is “hard” – but the struggle for us is that her treatment is going to take a while.  They need to stop the blood flow to the AVM so they can remove it.  To stop it they need to do several procedures similar to Angioplasty, but on the brain.  She will have several of these over the next few months…maybe years…that’s the challenge.  We have no idea how long this is going to take.  They will do as much as they can do safely during each procedure.  Then after the procedure we’ll see what the next step is.  We have a vision of what will happen but no specifics.  As you can imagine Rick and I (two virgos to our core…) are rather uncomfortable with this.  But….it is what it is.  She is fine and we will get through this.

Rick’s sisters, Deb and Marilynn, are both nurses and have been amazingly helpful as medical translators.  They have been with us in all the meetings and rounds with the Doctors.  My Mom and my sister, Pamela, have been here to drive everyone around and stay with Taylor while we’re talking with Doctors.  Our friends have been so supportive.  We don’t know what we’d do without you all.

My plan is to keep you all informed thru the blog.  Feel free to comment and Rick or I will get back to you when we can.  My sister Pamela and our neighbor Karla are acting as the central points of contact.  So if you have questions feel free to reach out to them.

Thanks for your positive thoughts and prayers.  We love you all.

Goin’ Home

September 17, 2010

One More Long Plane Ride...but What a Year It Has Been!


34,000 ft above the Shetland Islands

It is officially over…the dream, the chance of a lifetime, the adventure, whatever you choose to call this past year, it is now over. We have stayed in our last cheesy hotel room, eaten our last over priced airport sandwhich, bought the last “Norfolk Sheep” snow globe at the tourist kiosk. All that is left now is to get home.

To be sure, the “adventure” will continue for us over the next few weeks / months as we re-adjust to our “normal” life at home…a life that involves working for a living, the school play, and eating meals on the run. But the real “meat” of this dream has come to a close. As Laura and I talked about this over a cup of coffee this morning in the Dusseldorf airport, in a paper cup…with a plastic lid…we both share the same the same vague emotional response…not one of sadness as we are returning to family, friends, and a very comfortable life, but one that embodies the realization that living this dream has changed they way we look at our lives… what they are, and what they will become.

We have had conversations with the kids about what our life will be like when we get back…moving back into the house, seeing our friends & family, starting school, going back to work…but both Laura and I have had the same thought that is lurking in the back of our minds, a thought that is at the same time frightening as it is alluring. We both fully expect that we will rapidly re-enter our old lives with a sense of comfort and ease. Eating ethnic food whenever we want…morning conversation with our friends in the local coffee shop…talking shop on the cell phone for the entire 1- ½ hour commute home from work…you know, a “normal” life.  But the frightening / alluring thought is that within a year… year and a half max, we will be jonesing for another adventure.

Travel can become an addiction. I can see clearly a future where driving to work on the same traffic congested road, responding to yet another inane e-mail, worrying about who has the field set up for Saturday’s early morning game, will just not have the ability to hold my interest the way it once did. We have seen and experienced so much this past year that we may simply not be able to go back to the comfort and security of our old lives….like I said, it is a thought that is as frightening as it is alluring.

We also talked about how much our kids have grown and matured over the past year. They are comfortable speaking confidently in 2 languages as they demonstrated this morning as they conversed easily with the Spanish shuttle driver … in Germany. They are experienced travelers who, at 8 and 10, know to separate their liquids before going through security and can navigate their own way in any international airport. They are not intimidated by the prospect of having to ask “where are the bathrooms?” in Turkish…or Spanish…or Italian…or Croatian…or British for that matter. They have far exceed our expectations for this year and we are both so proud to see them growing and developing into the confident, adventurous’ and “worldly” people we hope they will become. Well done Girls!

We have also used this year to formulate our next “5-year plan.” It involves working for the foreseeable future, but then buying and developing our “15 year” home in the Sierra foothills. Our dream is to become the “gentleman farmers” of Murphys. A great hacienda style home overlooking the vineyard, and orchard with a wide variety of fruit trees, a garden, my shop to satiate the eternal tinkerer / artist in me, and integrating into a locally produced community. This plan has an offical “start ate” of 8 September, 2015…my 55th birthday. We’ll keep you posted on the progress as we plan this next adventure.

After that, who knows what other adventures this life will bring, should I be so fortunate to continue to enjoy good health, enough to eat, and the mind to greet each new day with a sense of  joy and wonder. I read, just this morning on the plane, an article that discusses the well-planned life vs. the summoned life (international Herald Tribune, August 3, 2010). We have lived the well planned life (see above description of the next 5-year plan..por ejemplo) but the counter point to the well planned life is the life we enjoyed over the past year, the summoned life. In the well planned life you set goals, creat a plan to achieve them, monitor progress, evaluate all available options and adjust the plan based on exogenous shocks…a very Harvard Business School way to live your life.

In the summoned life however, the life we experienced and enjoyed very much this past year, you live your life based on what is happening around you. You move in a general direction towards “self-fulfillment” but the course flows and ebbs, twists and turns all based on the events that are taking place around you. This seems to embody the mediterreanean culture we have experienced and it doesn’t seem like a bad option to us…if we could stand the uncertainty of it all!

To put the 2 in context, the well planned life is like swimming in open water. You see the opposite shore in the distance, calculate the current, the water temperature, the distance and then jump in and start swimming. Periodically you lift your head, set your sights on the shore, grab a breathe and then put your head back down and keep swimming. As the journey progresses, you monitor the progress, make adjustments, but with the goal clearly visible and un-changing.

The summoned life however, seems more like floating down a river that is going somewhere, but you’re not exactly sure of the ultimate destination. So you grab an inner tube, a cooler full of beer and you jump in and go with the current. If you chose, you can paddle with your hands towards something on the bank that interests you, if not, you can pop open another beer. If you see a riverside bar or a  restaurant you can stop for bite to eat …or not. If the river dries up, you stop and wait til next season’s rain. If it is flowing to fast, you can chose to ride the rapids or “eddy out” until the flow becomes more to your liking. Not a bad way to live if you ask me.

Both options obviously have their advantages and dis-advantages. Laura and I have lived the well-planned life so far in our 13 plus years together, and have lived it well, but we have also now tasted the summoned life…and we liked it. For us, the future is a blank sheet of paper. We will choose to fill it with either the account balances, speadsheets and critical path schedules that we so love, hoping that they will lead us to a happy life. We may also choose to paint it with watercolors in a slightly blurred, multi-hued vision of what the rest of our lives should look like. But, what ever we choose to do with the future, this past year has been like living in a dream. It was a dream that many many people have, but only a few are brave enough, confident enough, or crazy enough to actually realize.

But that is us baby, The Lowell Family,  Livin’ the Dream.

The End

51 weeks later...we lived the dream!

Protestants, Pubs, and Puddings

September 15, 2010

Our Cottage in the Cotswalds

Ebrington in the Cotswalds

In Spain, it is the “Catholic Guilt” that gets the faithful out of bed and off to church on Sundays. In Turkey, it is the call to prayer blasted over the loudspeakers on the minarets that starts the day. In jolly old England it is the peal of the church bell that awakes the Protestants and shakes them out of bed. This morning, we heard the bells …and answered the call. Yes, this good Lutheran boy and his eldest daughter decided that this Sunday, we were going to church.

I discovered, the other day, that our small village of Ebrington has a wonderful old church that dates from the 12th century, complete with a very scary looking, leaning tombstone laden graveyard, and still has a congregation that holds weekly services. The church was an architectural marvel to behold from the outside, and truthfully, I wasn’t even really sure exactly what denomination this church was…so I decided to go have a look-see.

So this morning as we awoke to the sounds of the church bells calling the faithful to services, Taylor and I elected to get some religion. Laura was not really awake yet and there was no way I was getting Riley anywhere near a church, protestant or not, so Taylor picked out her mos t appropriate churchgoing outfit and I put on the only long pants I brought with me…a pair of more than well worn black “fuzzy wogger” style sweats and off we went …to church…on Sunday morning…in a small village in England! And who says I am not a good Dad?

Our 12th Century Anglican Church

As we entered the churchyard, I could tell Taylor was taken back by the gravestones. They were a bit erie as they are old…really old…like 14th century old! The oldest date I could find was from 1642 but many of the stones were sooo old that the stones were wearing out. Literally, they were so worn and eroded and overgrown with moss and lichen that most were unreadable…now that’s old when even stone wears out! But she conquered her fears as we approached the church building.

As we approached the door, the church elders were preparing for the service and welcomed us inside. Now I am not sure if it was that I was raised as a protestant or if it is something else but I really felt welcomed in this church. The people were genuinely friendly and interested in Taylor and I…where we were from, why we were here, in Ebrington, what we thought of the village, of the church…really nice people.

As the gentleman showed us around the church, it was noticeably different from the catholic churches we have becomed accustomed to in Spain. Where those churches were dark and brooding with graphic imagery on every wall, this Anglican church was filled with light. The walls were free from the saintly images, all looking down upon you. There were no dark, richly colored paintings at all…no huge crucifix on the altar, no beautifully rendered stained glass images of the martyrdom of Saint Someone. It was actually quite refreshing.

As the service started we sang a few hymns, we listened to a few short readings from the bible…no “fear god or you will suffer a terrible torment” style messages here like I had read in the Qu’ran…all good passages that contain a clear, relavent, and actionable message. The Vicar presented a great sermon on the 5 powers that can enslave a person: Greed, Power, Revenge,  Self Preservation, and a 5th one that I cannot remember for the life of me…it may have been Memory but I have forgotten what it was…anyway it was a lovely service that really inspired me to strive to be a better person. In the end, isn’t that what religion should  really be all about?

I was also impressed that Taylor enjoyed the service too. Yes, they did have juice and brownies afterwards but she loved the conversation and was attentive and engaged in the whole process. We both said a prayer and tied a ribbon on the “prayer tree” that they had set up on one side of the church. She was able to pick out the “tree of life” symbology from the 17th century wooded pulpit and relate it to the same symbol we have on our Islamic prayer rug we purchased in Turkey last week…and who says she’s not paying attention. We both had a great morning and she was so excited to tell Momma and Riley all about it when we got back to the house…a great way to start the day. So that was our day with the Protestants of Ebrington, and a good one it was.

Sunday Pub FoodOur next activity was to enage in another very British custom: The Sunday Roast. Now I have never spent much time in Britain so I have no idea exactly what a “Sunday Roast” is, but I am a fast learner and picked up on the concept quite quickly. Growing up in our house, it was called “Sunday Dinner” but somewhere along the way, we lost the tradition in our family. Aparently, the British, being very fond of and respectful towards tradition, have not forgotten.

As it was explained to me, Sunday Roast is the early afternoon, after church, big Sunday meal. It usually involves some sort of roast meat product (hence the name), gravy, potatoes, a few veggies thrown in for color, Yorkshire pudding, a pint of warmish beer and then a coffee to stave off the food induced coma that would naturally follow. But we are traveling and our cozy little cottage in the Cotswalds, while quite well appointed, really would not support cooking a Sunday Roast at home, so we headed out down the road to the Ebrington Arms Pub, just a few doors down the road from the cottage, for our Sunday Roast.

The Ebrington Arms was voted “Ebrington’s Best Pub” in 2010. Having been here for a week I can now understand how it came to such fame…it’s the ONLY pub in town. In truth though the food is delicious and we have had 2 great meals here. For Sunday Roast, Laura and Riley split the ribs, with Taylor and I choosing the pork loin. Both were fantastic and Laura and I have decided that the Sunday Roast concept is one that we will revive and bring back home with us. Anytime you have an excuse to cook a good meal and share it with your family, it is a good thing. So let’s here it for Sunday Roast…in our neighborhood Pub!

Thus sated, we had one last activity on the daily docket…pudding. Yes pudding, but not the empty-the-cardboard-box-in-a-bowl-and-put-it-in-the-fridge kind of pudding…no this was different. The back story is that there is a restaurant in the nearby village of Mickelton called “the 3 Doors” and has become famous for it’s dessert puddings. The concept of pudding here is a very rich dessert consisting of a thick gooey, sweet cake like baked product slathered with what they call a “lashing of custard.” The restaurant has a 3 month wait for reservations and the meal consists of a very small main course followed by 4-5 samplers of the various puddings de jour. You have to love a restaurant with such a respect for dessert.

Enjoying Pudding at the Pudding Club

Well, today, they were hosting an open house and we stopped by to check it out. We were not disappointed. The event had the feeling of a small town wine and cheese festival, but instead of wine and cheese, they had dessert. We waited in a short line and approached the table of earthly delights with anticipation as we could smell the wondourous treat well before we could actually see it. As we reached the table, Laura and I both chose the “Sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce with a good lashing of custard.”

OMG…this had to be the best dessert I have ever had in my life! The cake like product was like sticky toffee mixed with a bit of flour to hold it together…just enough so you could call it a cake like baked product. Then, the cake was drenched in gooey caramel and then “lashed” with creamy yellow custard. I wanted to lick the plate…then lick Laura’s plate…but I didn’t as that would appear unseemly…and I didn’t think it would be appropriate to take both plates with me to the restroom. But this was the best dang thing I have ever tasted and I would  not rule out a trip back to England, back to the cozy little cottage in the Cotswalds, just to have another tasting of the “sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce and a good lashing of custard”…it was that good!

So there you have it! A wonderfully jolly good day in old England filled with Protestants, Pubs and Puddings!

A Cheesy Little, not-so-close-to-the-Airport Hotel

September 12, 2010

After the adventure, buying a new cable in the Staples Parking lot so we can find our way to the cottage

Epington, England
I am tired of the sun! I am currently un-naturally tan (think George Hamilton), I am un- naturally hot, and I am un-naturally tired of being in the sun. Yes, it is true that only a few short months ago, I was lamenting the 42 continuous days of rain…but that was then and this is now. I am hot, tired and sweaty. I want to go somewhere cool…say England…yes, England…land of the pasty white people, bad fatty food, and cool grey weather… at this point in the adventure, this sounds perfect to me, so let’s go!

But first we have a couple more hours in Istanbul and a carpet to buy. Much like Morocco, it is a requirement to buy a carpet every time you visit Turkey. They sell carpets here much like we sell coffee in the US. Just like Starbucks (of which there are several in Istanbul) every street corner has at least 2 carpet shops. You can buy carpets in the grocery stores, in the gas stations, they even have vending machines that sell carpets. It appears to me that carpet sales must make up a very high percentage of the Turkish GDP. So, before we leave Istanbul, we must buy a Turkish carpet.

My sister Deb and her husband Colburn bought theirs a few days back from a guy named Mike ( a good Turkish sounding name if ever I heard one) who came recommended from Robin, who owns the really cool apartment we’re staying in. In fact, they bought 1 carpet, a donkey bag, and a few small, finely knotted pieces from an old baby crib. After their purchase, the Wall Street Journal reported that the value of the Turkish Lira took a noticeable swing upwards, probably due to an inexplicable and sudden jump in the carpet export sector of the Turkish GDP…oh right, the Shindell’s were in town. Any correlation? You decide.
But now it was our turn to contribute to the Turkish GDP so off to Mike’s shop I go with my wife, high expectations, and a large “available credit” balance on our Mastercard…a dangerous combination. Mike was not disappointed. After about 3 hours and many cups of tea, we walked away from Mikes with not 1, but 2 very nice old carpets…like I said, a dangerous combination. We are now the very proud owners of:

–    A beautiful prayer rug with the “tree-of-life” motif
–    A slightly smaller red, blue & black carpet from the Beluch region of Afghanistan
–    A significant amount of Lowell Family sovereign debt

But, we rationalized to ourselves, this is a once in a very long while experience, and we don’t want to regret not buying this carpet or that carpet, and it’s good for the economy, and it’s something we can hand down to our kids…well, the list of rationalizations could go on for a while but suffice it to say that we bought 2 nice carpets, paid waayyyy too much money for them, and now have to carry them back home through several large airports on many small planes. I am hot, tired swe,aty, and am now carrying a rather large and quite heavy, satchel of old Afghani carpets…let’s go to England and cool off…please!

We say goodbye to Turkey after a wonderful 3-week tour through the western part of the country. Our overall impressions of Turkey are fantastic. The history, the people, and the “vibe” of the place are amazing. In my mind, Turkey is a country with a future, with or without the EU membership. Outside of Istanbul and Cappadochia (the 2 major tourist destinations in the country), we did not encounter a lot of foreign tourists. We feel as though we actually got to see a bit of the countryside, we got to meet some of the people, and Turkey gets “2 thumbs up” from our group. But I am hot, tired and sweaty…let’s go to England and cool off…please!

England…ahhh England! It is green, cool, and cloudy! It is also the land of narrow, dark, and scary roads. For our week-long stay, we have rented an adorable cottage in the Cotswalds (Laura just loves saying  “cottage in the Cotswalds” in her best British accent). But, since the “cottage in the Cotswalds” is about 2-1/2 hours away from the “airport in the Stansted” and our “flight in the airplane” arrives very “late in the night”, we have wisely opted to spend our first night in England in a cozy little “cheesy hotel near the airport.”

Only too bad for us. As it turns out, our cozy little “cheesy hotel near the airport” that I rented on the internet turns out to be nowhere near the airport. In reality, it is about 45 minutes away from the airport. To make matters worse, our flight that was originally scheduled to arrive in England at 10:00 PM was an hour late. To make matters worser, the queue (British for “an interminably long, slow moving line) for the passport control was at least an hour long. But, to make matters the worstest, we were missing a cable!

A cable, a cable, my kingdom for a cable! As we completed the transaction for the rental car, Laura retrieved our faithful traveling companion / guide Tanya and brought her electronic, satellite-based brain to life. But as she tried to find her place in the world, she became confused. Laura said to me “Honey, Tanya is not booting up properly.” Words that struck terror into my poor, sweaty, and now tired traveler’s brain. “We’re screwed” was my immediate response as I had run through the entire problem in my brain in less than a second. Tanya would not boot up properly, we were not going to be able to use her to guide us to our not-near-the airport cheesy hotel. And we were now, officially screwed!

Here’s why. When we packed up and moved out of our house in Spain, Laura carefully selected and set aside the various and assorted electronic devices, chargers, cords, cables, and connectors we would need for our adventure. We had transformers, adapters, connecting cables, car chargers, power supplies, batteries etc coming out the wazoo. In general she did a great job. She even remembered to bring a very special cable that goes from a USB port on the computer and connects to Tanya so we could manage the various and assorted maps we would need for our trip.

The only problem, as we discovered in our first hotel in Turkey, was that the cable she brought for connecting Tanya to the computer would not work! It fit fine but would not allow the connection…who would have thunk? But in rides Colburn, gear head extraordinaire, to the rescue. He has another cable that both fits and works! We successfully load up our map of Turkey and Tanya guides us through the most remote mountain passes with only a few minor detours.

But we are not in Turkey any more. We are now in the Stansted airport in England. England is not in Turkey. We need to change Tanya’s map from Turkey to England. Colburn, and his cable that works, are on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic. No cable, no change the map from Turkey to England. I am tired, hot, sweaty and soon to become hopelessly lost on the aforementioned dark, narrow and scary British roads. Did I mention that, in Britain, they drive on the left side of the road? Did I mention that I do not drive on the left side of the road?

I panic. The nice gentleman at the rental car agency, with a very thick accent tries to calm my nerves by offering to print driving directions from the airport to the cheesy hotel which is not near the airport. After a few minutes of the printer whirring and clicking away with a brief interruption so he can change the ink cartridge, he hands me a sheaf of papers. “Sir” I said in my most accommodating voice, “I did not ask for a copy of the 2011 US Federal budget, complete with supporting footnotes, I merely asked for the driving directions to my not-near-the-airport-hotel.” “Jolly good, right-o mate..’ere ya go” he sings as drops the sheaf of papers on the counter with a thud as he motions the giggling gaggle of Koreans standing behind us up to the counter. It was my signal to leave.

No joke, there were at least 4 pages of instructions like “go 400 meters and bear slightly left on the 67th exit on the 4th roundabout…then proceed 25 meters and take the A8976 towards Chipping Not on the Green Upon Cuckhold.” I began to hyperventilate until Laura handed me an only slightly used airsickness bag to breathe into.

Well, we were now really screwed but we had to at least try. Laura suggested we stay at the L 900 a night Raddison hotel which was, in fact, near the airport but I huffed off the suggestion. We should have stayed at the Raddison and simply forgone the kids college tuition. We got lost getting out of the car park. We then drove 3 – 4 times around our first round about until we finally got off…going the wrong direction. We got honked at a few times and Laura polished the sidewalls of the tires a few times on the curb, the girls started to get “ooopy” (their description for being only minutes from hurling the bad airplane food all over the back of the small rental car), but we managed to get on the right road heading in generally the right direction.

Now we did also have a map from the nice gentleman at the rental car agency, but it was a map of Great Britainin it’s post colonial entiriety with our route showing up as a 1 inch line from the airport to our not-near-the-airport hotel. We vainly searched the map for landmarks. We peered into the inky blackness for any glimpse of a road sign. We feared for our lives, driving on the “wrong” side of the road. We pressed on into the dark night.

The British road system in this part of England was quite obviously developed from an ancient and primitive system of donkey cart paths that have been little changed over the past 1,500 years. No Eisenhowerian system of interconnecting highways to improve transportation efficiency here. We were driving on one-lane paths through 2-3 house villages in the dark, without a map, or even a general sense of direction. This was the Croatian experience all over again, but at least this time we had a full tank of gas. We pressed on.

At one point, we rounded a curve on the dark one-lane donkey cart of a road only to find ourselves staring directly into the high beams of a huge over-the-road hauler type semi truck. We stopped. He stopped. Laura wisely assessed the situation and backed up off the road into the weeds and the ditch that passed for a shoulder. The truck driver got out of his truck and walked towards us. In a thick Russian accent he queried us “Dyoo jew no whhher Buckinhamshire on the Avon at Stafford hillshire eees?” Too bad for this guy as he managed to find the only lost American tourist family in this whole part of the country and we were less than helpful in being able to provide him with any sense of direction, being lost ourselves.

As we parted company with our Russian trucker I swear I saw some of the boxes that we had “shipped home” on the back of his truck! I now hold out even less hope that we will ever see those things again as I am sure he was heading towards some English “boot sale” where they sell all the items that unsuspecting foreigners have “shipped home.” We pressed on.

To my utter amazement, we were actually navigating our way across the English country side, in the dark, without a map and only the most inaccurate and cryptic directions. The directions would say something like “drive .65 miles and bear left at Gamenshire lane.” We’d drive about 5 miles but, lo and behold, we’d see a sign that said “Gamenshire Lane.” My negativity was only overcome by our lack of other viable options. At each intersection, the roads seemed to get smaller and darker and further away from any signs of civilization. We did not pass a pub, store, gas station or house for at least 30 minutes.

But to my amazement, after negotiating the winding, narrow, dark and very scary roads, we actually saw some lights in the distance. Ahead we saw a sign for a town I could find on our map. Next we spied a main road…with cars on it. I was dumbfounded as we broke out of the wilderness onto to none other than the road where our not-so-near the hotel was located. We had found our hotel! It was 2:00 AM, I had been up since 5:00 AM, we were beat.

But we were now safe and we had, once again, defied the odds and found a warm safe place to spend the night, in a cheesy hotel, not very close at all to the airport.

We were all very happy in our beds! Tomorrow, a cozy little cottage in the Cotswalds!

Boppin’ Around the Bosporus in an Istanbul Kind of Way

August 31, 2010

WOW...The View From Our Balcony


Istanbul, European Side

When I was a kid, I was something of a nerd. Ok… Ok, I can hear it now from my family…”What do mean “was”” I used to love to read the National Geographic every chance I got. I would dream about looking for adventure in far off destinations…destinations like..well.. like Turkey for one. So here I am, sitting on my balcony in Europe, looking across the Bosporus Straits at Asia! I really can’t believe it ….but it is true. I have read the stories of the silk road, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Constantine, The Byzantines, the Turks and they all happened right here, on the Bosporus. Way to cool for words, but I’ll try!

Getting here from our little adventure in Goerme was a bit of a mini adventure that involved a long bus ride (Lucia Barfed). A mad dash by taxi, baggage hanging out the back-end, to see if we could catch the last few minutes of the Turkish National Museum in Ankara only to have Riley refuse, once again, to go anywhere near the entrance. Watching 3 adults, 4 children and a very well intentioned, yet somewhat helpless Turk try to figure out how to cram 12 pieces of luggage into 3 small luggage lockers at the train station. Playing game after game of Yahtzee on the floor of the train station with the kids (Riley got 5 Yahtzees in one game). Looking at our train tickets and staring blankly at the huge information screen in the train station, trying to figure out which train / track was ours. And finally getting on the Ankara Express for the night train ride to Istanbul in the sleeper section. You know just another ho hum day livin’ the dream with the Lowell Clan in Turkey.

Tha Ankara Express

The night train provided some welcome relief and we all loved it! Never having traveled by train, I had no idea what to expect so it was with a sense of adventure that we piled the crew onto the creaking, steaming and diesel fume infested sleeper car. Our “room” was super cool, in that really tiny, yet fully functional, European kind of way. There was a bench seat, some luggage storage space, a small sink and a fold up bunk bed. The space was very private and comfortable to sit in but since we were all beat, we had everyone in their bed as the train pulled out of the station.  I really felt like putting on my red velvet smoking jacket, heading down to the club car for a cigar and some port and then catching the murderer / jewel thief / international spy that simply had to be hiding out on the train. But instead I went to bed with the kids and fell fast asleep to the clickety clack of the rails, speeding our way to Istanbul. Catching the bad guy will have to wait til morning I guess.

After a perfect night’s sleep we wake up in Istanbul at 7:00 AM, just as the city is starting to shake off the night before. As we knock the cob webs out of our heads and collect our bags, our driver is there waiting to take us to the apartment we have rented for the next few days. We pile everyone in the mini van and head out into the thick of the morning traffic (Lucia barfed). Did you know that, with almost 13 million people, Istanbul is the 5th largest city in the world? I didn’t and was stunned by what we saw driving in. Tower after tower of apartments, homes spilling across the hills, people and cars and mosques as far as you could see in every direction. I was blown away as I had somehow always thought of old Istanbul, romantic as it may be, as some kind of “has been” old world city. Boy was I wrong!

Since we were in town early, our apartment was not quite ready yet so we were forced to sit at a sidewalk cafe down the street from our place and have breakfast and a few cups of coffee..damn the bad luck! Once the previous group had left, our driver came and got us and took us to our home for the next few days. The apartment itself was OK…not knock your socks off WOW, but it was good and we were happy. But the view…now here’s a WOW view with a capital WOW! No joke, we are about 400 meters from the water on a cliff overlooking the streets below with a 180 degree view of the Bosporus from our balcony. The barges, the ferries, the huge tankers and container ships, small sail boats criss crossing the straits,absolute  chaos on the water…and we can take it all in right from our balcony!

So we drop of our bags, get a bit settled in as the place still needed to be cleaned, and we headed out to see what we could see. 4 days later, it seems, we returned, worn out, over saturated in history and culture and stuffed to the gills with kebabs, doners, fish sandwiches and stuffed peppers, it was time to head for home. Truly, the whole 4 days in the world’s 5th largest city went by in a blur. Obviously 4 days in a place such as this is simply not even close to enough time, but we managed to take in some of the high points and we all felt like we really got to see a bit of the city and got a taste of Istanbul. In a nutshell, here;s what we saw.

Walking in Istanbul...the Blue Mosque

First was the requisite boat tour on the Bosporus (Lucia barfed…3 for 3 in less than 24 hours). On the water, wind and salt spray in your face, Ottoman era Yalis (old wooden mansions that line the straits), ferries, yachts, kids swimming in the very dangerous looking tidal curents…we took it all in while staring in disbelief at the sheer volume of humanity surrounding the water. We did the red bus tour to see the sights (Lucia barfed). We had a private guide show us the sights in old town and explain some of the details and rituals that take place in a mosque. We saw the blue mosque, the spice bazaar, the grand bazaar, and a local market. We rode the metro tram, the old electric tram and walked far enough to get us half way back to the US. We climbed the 217 steps from the tram stop to our street up on the cliff …many times. We drank so many vodka tonics that we burned through 2 bottles of vodka…or was it 3?? We spent about 2 year’s salary on a couple of rugs. In short we had the time of our life in Istanbul.

Of course, with any adventure of this type there are sure to be a few things that make you stop and laugh…after the trip is over. Like desperately trying to find ice in Istanbul for the aforementioned cocktails (there was none to be found…anywhere). Colburn and I cheating death by crossing the metro tracks to get on the “right” tram, only to have it turn around and take us in the wrong direction. Sweating profusely…all the time. Trying to gain consensus on the day’s activities with 4 hot, sweaty and slightly hung over adults and 4 exhausted kids, only to spend the day painting postcards and watching the ships sail by. But all in all we had a remarkable stay in Istanbul and in Turkey in general.

By the 4th day we were done. We had walked the 217 steps up the cliff too many times. We had eaten too many chicken and “meat” doner sandwiches (none of us were brave enough to try the “roasted intestine” doners although they looked really “interesting.”  We had made our last foraging trip to Carrefour for more vodka. The trip, for us, was done and now it was packing up and saying goodby to Debo, Colburn and the kids as they were heading out to Cape Cod for a week and we were heading out to the Cotswalds for a week’s R&R in the cool rainy english countryside.

Turkey...A "Must See" Kind of Place

Traveling with family proved to be a great call as we had more fun with my Sister and her family than we had thought possible. The kids were great, we had some alone time, lots of together time and even some quiet individual time. Our kids were grateful to have their cousins to play with and I really enjoyed catching up with my sister…a year apart really is a long time. So my advice is put Turkey on your list of must see places. The country, the history, the food, and the people make this one of my favorite places I have ever been. Laura and I had some vodka tonic induced discussions along the lines of “We could live here.” We all know how those discussion go in this family. But for now it is adios Istanbul as we are off to jolly old England and the last leg of the adventure.