Dear London: Thank you

AFTER my mom died, London was the first place I turned to for solace. I was 27 and newly married. Two months after the memorial service, my husband accompanied me on the trip from Chicago to a quiet and January-cold London.

People say nothing prepares you for death, even when you know it’s imminent. Waiting at my mother’s bedside through the final days of her living with stage four cancer were the longest hours of my life. I wasn’t thinking clearly, if at all, in those last moments with my mom. Though I felt a heavy pressure seeming to crush my chest, I was numb. My senses were dulled by the relentless effects of her illness and although our family wanted a better outcome, we were realists. We knew death would be her final resting place.

London was not an escape from grief. It wasn’t a distraction or a refuge. London was an acceptance of life — hers and mine. Having just witnessed a 56-year old beloved woman’s final breaths leave her body, I was shaken by the fragility of life. I was spooked but it only fueled my desire to devour the world and take all I could from it while time was on my side.

I felt embraced by London, consoled by its rich culture. Even in my mournful state, London brought out the best in me. I found inspiration in the city to live in the present — with intention. I felt challenged to wake up with purpose and greet each day with opportunity. I felt my senses coming alive, as well as passion for discovery and learning.

I cried upon seeing Canova’s Three Graces at the Hayward Gallery. Its precise anatomical beauty overwhelmed me. I couldn’t stop looking. I studied Matisse and his influence on Russian art at the Royal Academy, fascinated by his interests in eastern Europe. I attended plays at The Old Vic which had me crying one minute and laughing another. I allowed myself to be swept away by movement and story lines. I tasted the depths and layers of Indian spices that left my eyes watering and tongue panting for more flavors.

Perhaps most important, I visited the house where my mom lived as a teenager and diplomat’s daughter in Chester Square and imagined her strolling the neighborhood thinking about all the possibilities that lay ahead.

My mom and I never visited London together but whenever I return I play a running conversation in my head. The sound of her voice and her soft gestures are vivid in my mind.

“I loved living here,” she says. “I have the fondest memories of London.”

“Yes, mom,” I answer gently,” you always tell me.”

“I love the gardens and flowers. Walking through the open parks. It makes me so happy. My favorite times were roaming around with your Grandpa who appreciated the little things. London was good to us.”

“Yes, mom,” I say, “I know.”

London appealed to us in different ways. For my mom, it was the traditional and aristocratic London. She grew up with privilege, formalities, and decorum, where manners and appearance were expected and praised. She attended a private all-girls school in the ‘60s designed to prepare a girl to be a lady of society and find a rich, handsome husband.

I was always drawn to London’s modern sensibilities with its punk vibe and rebellious spirit. While my mom preferred high tea at Fortnum & Mason, I was content with samosas on Brick Lane, washed down by a cider at the local pub.

While our memories and desires of London differed, my mother and I possessed a shared passion for its diverse offerings. London was a city large enough to accept our diverse perspectives and cultural identities. In many ways, and in the days to come, London will always be that intersection of past and present between my mom, myself, and my now three-year old-daughter.

On my last visit to London we celebrated my daughter’s second birthday. We found ourselves on a spontaneous playdate with Prince George at Diana’s Memorial playground in Hyde Park. Nanny, Prince George, and Princess Charlotte were visiting the huge wooden pirate ship. My daughter and young George ran around on the ship and took turns on the slide. My daughter grabbed Prince George’s shoulders and directed him to wait while she moved around the quarter deck.

My mom met Princess Di back in the ‘80s at a diplomatic state dinner. Who knew that their two future grandchildren, whom they would never meet themselves, would somehow come together in a sandbox? That’s London. Our London.

Best Airbnbs in Scotland

I’ve selected some of the best Airbnb options in Scotland. These have been chosen because they showcase the rich history and culture of the Scots, our Celtic heritage and the magnificent Scottish landscape.

$54/night, Forgandenny, Perth and Kinross

Photo: Airbnb

Located 5 miles outside of the city of Perth, this hut sleeps two and has wondrous views of the Perthshire countryside.

Photo: Airbnb

$132/night, The Gatehouse of Ayton Castle, Ayton

Photo: Airbnb

Many of the stately homes and castles in Scotland offer accommodation in stables, gatehouses and other external buildings. Ayton Castle located in The Scottish Borders, one of Scotlands most diverse and beautiful regions.

Photo: Airbnb

$142/night, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Photo: Airbnb

This apartment is located within ten minutes walk from Edinburgh Castle and would be a perfect place for first timers to the city.

Photo: Airbnb

$161/night, Southside Glasgow

Photo: Airbnb

This renovated church near Queens Park in Glasgow sleeps six people. If you are looking for a unique property in the city with history and character this will serve well.

Photo: Airbnb

$127/night, The Tower, Thornton Castle, Aberdeenshire

Photo: Airbnb

The Thornton-Kemsley family rent the wing of the 16th-century Scottish tower in Aberdeenshire. The castle dates from the 13th century. The family have updated some of the fixtures but original features remain.

Photo: Airbnb

$173/night, Balmaclellan, Dumfries and Galloway

Photo: Airbnb

You can rent this 16th-century watermill in Dumfries and Galloway for little to nothing and it sleeps ten. The building is surrounded by fourteen acres of rivers, waterfalls, and woodland. Galloway is well-known for being one of the better regions in Scotland for stargazing. Out here, there will be no the glare of streetlights or other buildings.

Photo: Airbnb

$33/night, Coulter, South Lanarkshire

Photo: Airbnb

This bothy is 1.5 miles south of Bigger, has a wood burning stove and views up to Coulter Fell and Tinto. A bothy was traditionally a home for people who worked the land. Many have been converted into rental properties. It’s a really lovely way to get to know Scottish culture and landscape.

Photo: Airbnb

$220/night, Kilmartin, Argyll

Photo: Airbnb

Kilmartin Castle was constructed in 1550 for John Carswell, Rector of Kilmartin Glen and later Bishop Of The Isles. At one point it was occupied by the Campbell Clan, before being abandoned for 200 years. There are three bedrooms available, each decorated with a blend of original and modern fixtures.

Photo: Airbnb

$114/night, Fort Augustus, Loch Ness

Photo: Airbnb

At the south end of Loch Ness, the former St. Benedict’s Abbey has been renovated into apartments. This one-bed unit was once the secret ‘writing room’ of the monastery. It’s an ideal place to rent if you are exploring the landscape around Loch Ness.

Photo: Airbnb

$67/night, Pitlochry, Perthshire

Photo: Airbnb

This farmhouse is a perfect option for a stopover if you are driving through Perthshire. When in Pitlochry be sure to visit Loch Tummel, a narrow loch that sits north-west of Pitlochry and Kinross. There are splendid views of the surrounding landscape. Also, visit the Edradour Distillery for a wee dram of single malt.

Photo: Airbnb

10 must-do family adventures in England

ENGLAND is the perfect vacation destination for families. The country offers a wide range of activities for visitors young and old, from big city fun to quaint small town charm. To help plan your next visit, we’ve put together a list of the 10 must-do family adventures in England.

1. DreamWorks Tours: Shrek’s Adventure

These tours are in London, where kids can take a virtual trip to the Kingdom of Far Far Away with Donkey. Visitors will meet characters such as the Muffin Man, the Ugly Stepsister, and Sleeping Beauty while trying to escape from Rumpelstiltskin and witches. No visit would be complete without posing for pictures with Shrek. This is great for younger visitors.

2. Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

Located in Burford, it’s the perfect spot to spend an afternoon with the kids. A mix between a zoo and a safari park, the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens houses over 260 different species of animals. The enclosures blend well with the natural environment and provide plenty of space for the animals to roam. You’ll find white rhinoceros, Chapman’s zebras, Lemurs, Parma wallabies, Humboldt penguins and more. You could easily spend a leisurely half day here at the park visiting the animal areas, watching the animals being fed, exploring the gardens and giving the kids time to run and play at the large playground.

3. Roman Baths


This ancient bathing and socializing complex is in the city of Bath. The venue does a great job of catering to children. with a free audio guide tour designed specifically for young visitors. Make sure to pick up one of the family activity trail, such as “Meet the Romans” from reception when you purchase tickets. The trail guides children through the museum and teaches them intriguing facts along the way. Kids can also complete a craft at the kids’ activity center and chat with costumed characters about life in Roman times.

4. Sudeley Castle

Located in Winchcombe, the castle was built in the 15th century and is the burial place of Queen Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. The castle itself is lovely and well maintained, but the highlight for kids is the massive play area on the castle grounds. Young travelers can climb through the fort, complete an obstacle course, and ride a zip line while parents take a break at one of the many picnic tables.

5. LEGOLAND

Located in Windsor, LEGOLAND will be a hit for younger kids. What child wouldn’t want to spend the day enjoying 55 LEGO rides, shows, and attractions? Kids will be excited to visit the Land of the Vikings, Kingdom of the Pharaohs, LEGO City and Adventure Land. The new LEGO Ninjago World will open in May 2017.

6. Leacock Abbey

Located in Wiltshire, visitors can see Harry Potter filming locations for scenes such as the Mirror of Erased and Professors Snape’s & Quirrell’s classrooms. A hands-on feature for kids is the junior detective program where they can solve the case of Bizarre Beasts. It’s an engaging way to keeps kids interested and begging to explore the Abbey and grounds. The trail will lead kids from the Inspector’s office, through the weeping willows, the creepy cloister, serpents’ thicket and more. Children get a sticker for solving the case.

7. Blue Reef Aquarium

Located in Newquay, kids will enjoy the 40 themed habitats. The aquarium is home to a giant octopus, Black Tip Reef Sharks, other species found on Cornish coasts — as well as a cool underwater tunnel.

8. Tower of London

The ancient tower is located in London. Your children can see the Crown Jewels, explore the fortress, and see what life was like in Medieval times. Pick up a free family trail guide to complete activities and quizzes while learning fun facts. A cool new feature for families is the digital missions app where kids can meet historical characters, complete challenges and win badges.

9. Natural History Museum

Located in London, even children will be impressed with the beauty of the building. If you’re short of time, be sure you start your visit at the Dinosaur gallery with its towering T-Rex and the skull of a Triceratops, as well as at the Earth Hall with its escalator ride through a giant metallic globe.

10. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter

Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss this magical experience. Learn the behind the scenes secrets of the Harry Potter films. You’ll see Hagrid’s motorcycle, Hogwarts Great Hall, Platform 9 3/4 with the Hogwarts Express and get a chance to try Butterbeer.

The best way to explore England is by car. Yes, the public transportation system in England is excellent, but you’ll miss out on some of what makes the country so great — the off-the-eaten-path villages. These ten must-do family adventures in England will take you on an exciting tour, visiting cities both big and small while providing entertainment for the entire family.