2017: A Photo Tour

I have a hard time telling a story when I don’t know the ending.

I don’t usually plot out stories from start to finish. I’m not one of those writers who knows what happens on page 112 before I even begin writing. But I always have at least a vague idea of the main thread. I know the big twist. I can see the movie poster in my mind. I know the questions I want discussed. I just don’t know the details. On my current project, I didn’t know what my main character did for a living until I started writing. Meanwhile, I painted a mock cover for the book almost as soon as I had the idea.

The book cover (fan art?) gave me context, and I like context. I don’t have to know the bits and pieces, but I like to know the packaging. This extends beyond writing. We all need the punchline before telling a joke. That makes it difficult to talk about 2017.

I don’t know how to package a year like this. In many ways, it feels like a year in the middle. A combination of things big and small and great and bad. A year of questions without total answers.

I had a professor in grad school who said that the first step in storytelling was creating glitter. Plotting, then, was placing glue on the paper and throwing the glitter at it to see what sticks. I’ve been trying so hard to put into words what this year in the middle has been, but I don’t have the glue for 2017. So I’m not going to package this story, not yet. I’m just going to share a little of the glitter.

Here’s a photo tour of my year. Strap in because I took way to many pictures.

January

Winter struck me differently this year. It was my first back in Indiana, and I’d forgotten how barren and stark and sharp everything looks.

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Writing Project #1: I edited my book about hillbilly robots.

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Indy, 2001-2017.

February

Then: “I love my new hair!” Later: “Can we just fix the front?”

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Trip #1: Dallas, TX. I met the cat that makes me wish I were a cat person.

March

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We created blackout poetry in English 12. March was the month thought that I was really starting to get the hang of teaching. (It should be noted that I only had students for two weeks due to Spring Break.)

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Trip #2: England and Scotland! You can read the long version here. In short, I loved it.

I took pictures of my outfits so that I could choose clothes quickly, but Mom made fun of me for it, so I’m sharing that shame with you. (Run-on sentences don’t count in blog posts.)

Not pictured: Getting ultimately rejected from every agent EVER or so it felt. The meltdown from this. The rise from this.

April

I became obsessed with creating all of the delicious foods from the UK trip. This faded slightly when I spent hours making scones only for them to turn out as biscuits. However, I’m a master at clotted cream and hot cross buns, thank you.

I went roller blading, which quickly turned into realizing that I can’t really roller blade. But I can work the camera timer on my phone!

Baseball season began. Someone had to eat all the hotdogs.

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Am I stepping on that duck’s foot? Maybe. These were the “first” ducks. Yes, there were second ducks. I’m not ready to talk about it.

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Trip #3: We went to Megan’s Dallas Pets Alive! photography show and spent a total of 16 hours in Texas.

May

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I chaperoned prom, but my hair still thought I was in Texas.

School came to a close with a pie in the face and a teacher-of-the-year award. I decided that if you don’t cry at every graduation you attend, you don’t have a heart.

I became the person I always want to be during the first days of summer break. This person loves dogs and crocheting and fishing and is a general ragamuffin.

June

Running again. Writing again. Everyone knows: selfie or it didn’t happen.

Writing Project #2: The grandma screenplay that was so. much. fun.

More baseball.

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The “second” ducks.

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Trip #4: Westerville, OH. Katie and I laughed and talked and wrote and got tatted. Her tattoos were much cooler and less ridiculous than a millennium falcon.

July

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Professor Hilary

Someplace old (Bloomington), someplace new (Mooresville’s lavender farm), somethings borrowed (library books), and something blue (that July sky!!).

Writing Project #3: Othello Novel

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I decorated my classroom and got excited for school to start.

August

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Too excited.

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Trip #5: Cape Cod, MA, for Rob and Jill’s wedding. I loved my flower crown. Can you tell I loved my flower crown? The last picture is me in pajamas and my FLOWER CROWN.

Now you might be distracted from the flower crown. You might actually be thinking, “Hilary, a bathroom selfie? Really?” I’m not proud. I’m not proud, I say!

The blurrier the photos, the better the time. Seriously. Jill‘s wedding was personal and lovely and there’s just nothing like watching someone you love marry their person.

September

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U2!!

This was an actual outfit I wore to school, and it took me until lunch to realize the state of affairs.

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I chaperoned the dance, which really meant spending the dance taking notes on ridiculous teenage behavior and going home with an entire pizza.

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I attempted to capture the space station. (It turned out to not be a strength of mine.)

October

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Okay, so I was very proud of myself for getting the crockpot full of chili in the car without spilling, especially considering I did it in the dark. I drove to school, got out of the car, and was greeted with this mess. Me, to myself: “Oh, honey.”

Trip #6: Fall break in Los Angeles, CA. I expected to feel sad going back to California, to feel like I was missing out, but honestly, I was just thankful–thankful for the time I had there, thankful that it still feels a little like coming home, and thankful that I got to laugh and hug so many dear friends.

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I became this person for about twenty minutes.

November

I traded in Indianapolis Indians baseball for old movies at Franklin’s Artcraft Theatre.

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“Mom, will you take a picture of me with my popcorn?”

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I found a lesson planning approach that works for me. It is in no way practical and in every way fulfilling to the deep parts of my soul.

Writing Project #4: Rom Com novel.

December

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I need you to know that this exists in the world.

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Sigh. Christmas, at last!

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Trip #7: Destin, FL. I’m still here, actually.

I’m here and enjoying the glitter of these “middle” moments. Loving them, really.

And now we’ve made it. To be honest, I wanted to give up in April, but by golly, I persisted (even if it did take entirely too much time).

Happy New Year!

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Day 10, 11, & 12: Omega

(Start at Day One?)

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Day Ten:

Me leaving Edinburgh:

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I don’t know how I feel about that GIF since she’s leaving Ireland and not, erm, Scotland, but I think it’ll do.

Bad Things on Day Ten:

  1. We left Edinburgh.
  2. We spent the whole day on a train or in a train station, which isn’t as romantic as it sounds, especially after an hour.
  3. I came down with a cold.
  4. I had what can only be described as a total mental breakdown.
  5. The mental breakdown was induced by a rejection on my manuscript from a top agent. You see, I totally went for it and queried a bunch of literary agents before the trip, and THE DREAM AGENT requested a full of my novel. On day ten of the trip, I got a rejection from that agent, and it hit, hard. And maybe it was my cold and traveling too, but all I wanted to do was cry and eat and sleep.

Good Things on Day Ten:

  1. Mom discovered luggage trolleys, making us look more sophisticated and less sweaty.

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  1. Mom, sensing the total mental breakdown, brought us Chinese food.
  2. My mom makes everything better.
  3. Supervet was on television.

Day Eleven:

We go back to Raison D’etre. Why did we ever leave?

When we get there, the tables are full except for one that says it’s reserved.

“Hello, sweetie. Good to see you.” It’s good to be back with this charmer.

“Looks like you’re busy this morning.”

He points to the table. “No, reserved for you.”

The total mental breakdown is mostly forgotten.

Tube to King’s Cross. We’re actually pretty good at this whole metro system.

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King’s Cross Station.

Future job: running Platform 9 3/4.

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Mom and I planned this really wonderful last day in London, which included a seeing a play at Shakespeare’s Globe. From what we’d heard (and read) seeing a play at the Globe was a harrowing experience. The seats are uncomfortable, and since it’s an open-air theatre, it’s super, super cold.

No fear! Mom and I packed layers for the occasion. I wore long underwear under my dress (see the photo above for evidence), and I brought my winter coat and scarf. Mom was dressed in a similar, multi-layered outfit. We spent the day being very hot in our multiple layers. No matter! We’d be warm during the play!

We arrived at Shakespeare’s Globe and were ushered into an adorable, quaint playhouse. An indoor playhouse.

Surely, we were in the wrong room.

It was supposed to be an open-air theatre.

Then, someone explained that this Jacobean-style, INDOOR theatre is used during the winter to avoid the weather.

Because we had non-adjacent seats, Mom and I had to endure the shame of this misunderstanding separately, sweating in our several layers next to perfect strangers.

Outside of this mishap, Othello was lovely. Emilia! The woman who played Emilia made Emilia the kind of character I always want to see in a play. Emilia!

Anthony Bourdain has a list of “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.”

Over a year ago, Jill and I ate at number thirteen, Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue in Kansas City. I didn’t know about the list until then. I still think about the food at Oklahoma Joe’s, so it made sense then, to spend our last night eating at Bourdain’s recommendation in London, the number one spot, St. John.

Unfortunately, we didn’t know all of the details before we made reservations. (Are you noticing a pattern? Is there some sort of diagnosis for being a slight idiot? I’d like to call it Bridget Jones syndrome if I could.)

You see, St. John is a “nose to tail” restaurant with an emphasis on offal. Sounds great, we–who suffer from Bridget-Jones-pox–said. We arrived to discover that “nose to tail” was less of a whimsical tagline, and more of a literal philosophy. We also found out that offal is another name for organ meat.

Basically, St. John believes in using every part of the animal, which is really great until your choice of starter is bone marrow or duck heart.

Despite this minor hiccup, Mom and I were able to find foods that we could deal with. I’m sure that in the world of St. John, we ordered the equivalent of chicken fingers and fries, but to us, it felt adventurous-ish. (Adventurish?)

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(A note on offal. Please don’t misunderstand. I’d like to think I’d eat entrails if it were truly necessary, but aside from a bite of braunschweiger ball at Christmas to be polite, the occasion has never really called for it. Please see photographic evidence for braunschweiger here.)

Day Twelve: The Longest Day in the World

We fly into Chicago on a plane full of teen girls going on a ski trip to Colorado. Many of them have never skied before. I have a couple of things I want to say about this:

  1. Are the Rockies really the place to learn how to ski? As someone who couldn’t move her arm for four days after falling on a bunny hill in Southern Indiana, this concerns me.
  2. Aren’t the Alps a lot closer?
  3. That’s all.

We spend the next 26,000 hours trying to get back home. Eventually, we do, and I’m stuck between loving the feel of my own bed and missing someone asking me if I’m “in the queue” and answering back in a fake British accent. (I only did it once. Okay, twice. WHATEVER IT WAS VACATION.)

And that folks is the end of my vacation, posts. A little–cough–late on updating (considering we got home in April and it’s July), but we got there.

For never was a story of more hysterical laughter & people acting a bit dumb 
Than this of Hilary and her mum.

Arthur’s Seat Hike

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I never imagined that hiking would be my sport of choice.

I’m still not sure it is.

But if there’s a place where I can go and be still and come back a different and slightly better version of myself, that place is on a hike.

I’d rather have my place be a Chipotle, but some things choose you, you know?

Hiking chose me in California. Before then, hiking was most definitely not my place. Hiking in girls scouts meant me at the back of the pack, struggling to keep up, and generally tripping over my own feet. Hiking as a young adult meant fearfully clutching my shaking legs and saying, “No, you guys go on. I’m good here.”

Then, I went hiking by myself in Malibu, and it was wonderful: peaceful, relaxing, exhausting, and life-giving.

Other people are the problem is what I’m saying.

When we planned our trip to the UK, I knew I wanted to do some munro bagging. If you don’t know what munro bagging is you obviously haven’t been doing your civic duty–that duty being following Sam Heughan on Instagram.

I built it up in my head that I was going to go to Scotland, be a badass, and bag myself a munro. (I’m slightly confused on the nomenclature.)

But time constraints meant that I had to settle for a large hill instead. I’m sorry, Sam!

So on a morning when I reaaaaaally didn’t want to go to “my place” and become a better person because I was pretty good with being the person who slept in, I strapped on my sports bra and… realized I did not bring appropriate footwear. No matter, I was going on a hike.

The hike was lovely. At first.

The grasses and hills distracted me from the sense that I was quite possibly on the brink of dying due to my general (and surprising) lack of physical stamina and the steep edges of the trail. I took as happy of a selfie as I could manage in case I died, so my mom could have one last picture of me, forever etched in her mind:

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Close to the top, I slipped, and this gentleman–who was not struggling–stopped to watch me scramble up the rock face. When I got to the top, he said, “Well done.” I’m mostly indifferent about this encounter… I should probably delete this paragraph because who cares if a guy watched me scramble and I’m so boring boring boring.

(I’m just going to leave all of that messy editing business there because guys, sometimes we are just not very nice to ourselves. (And also, it makes me laugh, even if it only serves to confuse you. #PersonalBlog))

And then, I was there. At the top.

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I think something really wonderful happens when we do something we don’t think we can do. We get to be a little better than we are, even if it’s just for a moment.

But not so much better than we’re above asking someone to take our picture.

I stared out at the waking city and the sea and the hills, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my life, for that moment. I got to be here. I’m quite often not thankful for where I’m at. I’m usually too obsessed about where I’m going to be thankful for where I am. I fill out my planner and set goals and troll social media and I fantasize. I wish I were somewhere else most of the time. Wouldn’t it be great if…

I love that about myself, just to be clear. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to set goals and go after them. I love imagining possibilities.

But I also think that spending my time without any thankfulness for where I’m at equals a life that’s a lot less joyful than it could be, than it should be.

In that moment, I was really, really thankful for my life. And it wasn’t just because I was in Scotland (though, okay, duh, a little of that). It was because my life really is pretty great, warts and all, and I like it.

There. I said it. Doesn’t that seem almost a foreign attitude? I like my life.

I like my life now as I sit on an old couch in Indiana with seemingly few hikes to conquer. I still want so many things in the future. I could get lost thinking about them, but I’m also content right here. I’m thankful for right here.

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So I left the hill with a shot of the medicine that is gratitude, and this enormous joy overwhelmed me. So much so, that I had to dance:

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Walking down the mountain like a lady

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Well, how do YOU walk down a hill?

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Hiking. I think it’s my place.

Day 8 & 9: We Are Not Fancy People

Read from Day One here.

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How do I accurately convey how I feel about Edinburgh?

Do I tell you that I spent every night in Edinburgh and many nights after reading about the Ph.D. in Writing program at Edinburgh University?

Do I explain that I when I was there I read an email where one of my students asked me a question and somehow I got that question to relate to five paragraphs of bragging on how great this city was? (I didn’t send the email. I realized at some point that it was the work of mania.)

Do I say that Edinburgh felt like a hometown? Like, the kind of city we all want to live in where people are kind and funny and there’s history and culture and families?

Do I tell you that somehow for this introvert, everyone in Edinburgh felt like a potential friend?

Yeah, I loved Edinburgh.

I loved the cobbled streets and little cafés and fearless humor and charming accents and antiquated buildings and the sea and hills and the actual castle that is in the middle of the freaking city.

London was rushing. Rush to see the sights. Rush to catch the train. Cram cram cram. Edinburgh was slower. It was moseying along and taking the trail without looking at our phones. It was not knowing exactly how the day was going to go. Relax relax relax. It was lovely.

 

I’m stopping myself now, but if you also love Edinburgh, please send me an email (hillymillerblog@gmail.com). Let us gush and squeal together.

Day Eight

Both Sides Now: Breakfast at Mimi’s Café

Clotted cream and jam light as air
And sun streaks through the window there
And delicious coffee everywhere.

I’ve looked at breakfast that way.

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1: How far is the castle?

2: Six blocks…

1: We can do that.

2: … Uphill.

1: I’m really full.

2: Me too.

*Eye contact is avoided. She opens her phone. She pulls up Uber.*

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I didn’t even say, “Have fun storming the castle!” #MissedOpportunity

We shopped on Princes Street and ate the most delicious Indian food and slept for two hours and ate pizza. Life is good.

Day Nine:

I could make my morning hike its own post. Heck, I’m going to just do that, okay? You have my word. By the end of the day tomorrow, there will be a post about hiking Arthur’s Seat. Prepare yourselves.

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Breakfast: They made a sausage patty out of barley. I think that tells you everything you need know.

We are not barley people.

Also, I know we’re Americans and therefore trained to think JUMBO-SIZED is normal, but this is some sort of sick joke, right?

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Shopping!! You mean the kind of shopping you did yesterday with plastic keychains and teapots that you hesitated to buy because who knows if they have lead or mercury in them?

No no no.

This is NICE shopping: handmade afghans and glass jewelry and breakable ornaments.

What’s that? A Scottish wool sweater? TAKE MY MONEY AND GO.

Afternoon tea at the Dome.

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1: This is so fancy.

2: Soooo fancy.

*Attempts to eat tea sandwich. Attempt goes poorly.*

*Drops spoon.*

WE ARE NOT FANCY PEOPLE.

Room service for dinner with my new favorite soda. We are not difficult people either. EDINBURGH, DON’T GO!

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Read about Day Ten here.

DAY SIX & SEVEN: On the Road Again

Read from Day One here.

Oh, you thought I’d fizzle out and never return to these posts?! You were almost right.

A Man with Yellow Teeth (a poem in-progress)

A Man with Yellow Teeth
Never stopped talking a beat.
He sat in front of us
On the bus,
And made us realize
That even England could become nightmarish.

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Warwick Castle was everything you’d expect from a castle owned by the same people who run Madame Tussauds: gimmicky and touristy and wonderful.

The Greville family owned the castle for generations and threw massive parties with medieval set pieces. Imagine going to a 1975 rager at a medieval castle where liquor is served in a forty-gallon, cast-iron pot. If anyone knows of a good book about this family, just like a prayer, take me there.

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Stratford-Upon-Avon,

or as our tour guide would probably call it, Heaven.

Our tour guide was an acting school graduate who retold this sketch beat-for-beat. He also gave the “to be or not to be” line ten times, putting the emphasis on a different word each time. You know when a comedian (or a sibling) does something funny and then they do it enough and it becomes super annoying and they press on until it becomes funny again? That was this guy.

Also, once you’re in the room where Shakespeare was born, you’re kind of like, well, this is a bit gross, isn’t it?

Cotswolds.

For the first six times I listened to Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill,” I thought he was saying, “We watching the sunset over the Cotswolds.” Of course! Ed gets it. The magic of the Cotswolds! The wool churches! The hills!

It’s “the sunset over the Castle on the Hill.” That’s the name of the song. (You all knew this, huh?)

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Where the Inklings would meet NBD.

Like so many places we’ve visited, I could spend weeks (months?) in Oxford. I get this pang when we visit because Oxford University used to be my DREAM college. I spent ages 10-17 convinced that I was going to go there. So, what did I do fall of senior year?

That’s right. I didn’t even apply.

And I remember this when we we’re walking those cobblestone streets and seeing Hogwarts buildings, and it isn’t regret exactly that blooms in my chest. Instead, it is this immense sense of responsibility–a responsibility to go after life with all that I have in me. There’s so much we can’t control.

Seriously, there is so much we can’t control.

But we can turn in the application. We can always try. We have a responsibility to try.

Another pub. Another dark beer. Another wonderful day.

Early morning. I’ll get delicious hot cross buns before we leave! It’s only a mile away!

*Walks there*

*Realizes upon arrival that businesses aren’t open at 6:30 am on a Saturday*

*Takes selfie to document idiocy*

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All-day train to Edinburgh.

“Is this our stop?”
“Maybe this one.”
“This one?”
“The next one.”
“This one? Oh, this one. Hurry!”

Mom and I have the most lovely hotel experience of all time, which is to be expected in the most perfect city of all time. More on that later, but look at these photos for now:

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Mom and I walk up the Old Town street past bagpipers and magicians and street performers.

“Oh, the Museum of Childhood. We’ve got to go in there, right?”

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“Let us never speak of this again…”

We see the sight of my future wedding (half kidding), St. Giles Cathedral, and we sit and marvel and admire.

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Dinner: The World’s End Pub.

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A couple of beers in, without food…

Waiter: What would you like?
*I look at Mom. She looks at me. I look at the waiter whose face is right by my face.*
Me: I’m sorry.
Waiter: That’s all right. We can just stare at each other, if you’d like.
Me: Oh. HAHAHHAHAHA. I think we’re lightweights.
Waiter: What?
Me: When you can’t hold your liquor.
Waiter: You’re Americans. Are you Chiefs fans?
*I look at Mom. She looks at me. I look at the waiter whose face is right by my face.*
Waiter: American football.
Me/Mom: Ohhhhhhhh.

I’m going to like this place. I definitely like the haggis.

Read about Day Eight here.

Day Three: Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath

(Back to day two? Want to start at day one?)

“Please be back on the coach at the time requested. We will leave you if you’re not back on time. Be here on time.”

Okay, Norma. We get it.

“And no hot foods. Cold food only.”

What? Norma, you’re out of your mind.

Norma was our tour guide. I’m fascinated by the idea of being a tour guide. It’s a very unusual kind of life. The people you work with are constantly new. You have to be nice to them even when they’re idiots. You go to the same sights weekly (daily?). And you perform the same jokes on people over and over and over. Maybe this isn’t unusual. Is this kind of every job? Are we all Norma?

Windsor Castle.

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St. George’s Chapel. Do we walk on the graves or…? Okay, people are walking on the graves, so I think it’s okay. Oh, gosh. I just stepped that one. I don’t feel good about it. I’m sorry, sir–er, Your Majesty.

I’m over the walking thing and would now like to be buried in St. George’s Chapel, preferably next to George VI (who I can’t get to not look like Colin Firth in my head).

I could’ve spent all day in St. George’s, but Norma had us on a tight schedule. We wanted to see the State Apartments, so I was forced to mow down school children on a field trip to rush through Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House to get to the coach on time. I wish I were kidding. I didn’t knock kids over, but I did knock them out of the way.  I didn’t see a problem with this until now and all I can think about are their cute school uniforms and gleeful accents and I’m the worst.

The State Apartments were cool, I think. Norma really put the fear of God in us, I guess. We BOOKED it. I call it the Chandelier Run. Come back next year for our Painted Ceilings 5K.

Stonehenge.

Oh, this is so cool and strange and in the middle of nowhere. I think the best picture is from the other side, don’t you? It really smells here. Very farm-y. What was that? Did you feel that? Norma talked about “vibes,” but I swear I just felt something. Oh, that’s wind. Oh, wow. That’s really windy. It hurts my face. Is that sleet? Oh, gosh. It is. It hurts. It hurts everywhere!

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Okay, one thing I found really interesting about Stonehenge is that there are mounds for miles around the rocks that are burial grounds of prehistoric people. In Indiana, we have Native American burial mounds. Not kidding. I find this fascinating and strange. People are people no matter where they are, you know?

Bath.

 

After the speed-walking disaster at Windsor, Mom and I flew through the museum portion of the Roman Baths to get to the actual bath (which is at the end of the tour btw). It’s neat. I’m sorry that I don’t have more to say about it. To be honest, I felt I was looking at a giant green pool straight out of National Lampoon’s Vacation. On the upside, I’m apparently cured of all ailments after tasting the purified version of the magical healing spring water. Still waiting on my bacne to get that message.

So, we saw the big pool. Woo. Our clothes were soaked from the sleet/rain at Stonehenge and Norma wasn’t allowing us hot foods/drinks. It’s no surprise that we felt we needed a beer.

The Ale House was a gem of a find. It was the kind of place I imagined getting lost in on a UK vacation–an old pub full of regulars with approximately four tables. Mom and I got our beers and made friends with the man next to us. He was waiting for his daughter to come back from class. We laughed with him and had a really good time, and when he left, Mom said, “Do you think he really has a daughter?” And I said, “I thought the same thing.”

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Me [while buying pork rinds]: I feel bad buying these after seeing all of those piggies on the way here.

Bartender: Oh, don’t worry. It’s just their skin deep fried!

I’m sorry, Norma, but in order to appear complicit with your crazy rule about hot food, I did, as you suspected, lie to you. The bag was full of hot food, not a souvenir. It smelled like shepherd’s pie because it was shepherd’s pie. I’m sorry, but in our defense, Mom made us wait until we were back in our hotel to actually eat it. I think I know what you’d say: The only thing better than hot food is cold food!

Day Four