Bee stings, shrink wrapped strollers and wrestling with Lent

Babies in Scotland don't cry. 

...or at least not when they're shrink wrapped in their strollers.  It took a few days of me being jealous of all these adorably old-fashioned prams, before I realized I was not only jealous of the cool stroller but also of the apparently perfect child contained within.  Andria and I would see these magical wee things on the bus and wonder if maybe they were American Girl dolls all bundled up or something.  In all seriousness, we never did figure it out.  My theory is straight behaviorism. The babies learn fairly quickly that if the pram is buttoned up in plastic then they can't cry or they'll get soaking wet in the rain.  Perpetual sunshine may have its downsides.  

My babies do cry.  And then when they don't cry it makes me nostalgic for when they did cry. I don't mind it when someone tells me to "enjoy this stage while it lasts", much the same way I don't mind it when someone says "have a great day" or "Tatties o'er the side" (just one ever said that no matter how closely I listened for it).  It's all ritualistic bee dancing to keep us connected.  One of my children came in and informed me he'd been stung by a bee. Normally this is a big ordeal that involves many tears and much angst, so it was with some alarm I checked for signs of sanity and went to go get tweezers.  He'd already beat me to it though, pulled the stinger out himself and smashed the flopping bee.  Well alrighty then.  Later, I caught the same child digging at his hand with a knife and needle...this time removing splinters from tree climbing gone wrong.  Again, usually my kids are allergic to needles and the word "splinter". It's an odd feeling not being needed to kiss, soothe and bandage.  

As amazing as St. Giles Cathedral was for the last two weeks, there's nothing like stepping back into your own "parish" with your own people and pastor.  There may not be ancient flagstone floors or gothic stained glass windows in our church, but it's a little easier to clean up with baby wipes when your kid smears buttercream all over the wall. 

I've been trying for years to figure out what I think about Lent (which turns out to perhaps be rather Lentish in and of itself).  On one hand, I grew up in a fundamentalist culture that put fasting on an unhealthy pedestal. But then fasting came back in style with Paleo so it seems everyone is doing it (and Lent) again. You can even do Lent if you're not religious at all! Everyone likes to talk about what they're giving up for Lent which seems like it should be against the first rule of Fight Club.  Also, there are levels to Lent like Dante's inferno or Mario Bros.  Except that each level gets you closer to God or something instead of farther away.  The Ulster-Scot, American, Protestant, Puritan and Presbyterian in me has serious historic and cultural reticence about such a thing.  Eating fish on Friday is level up Facebook is level 327. 

In all of my obsession with cognitive science lately though, Leithart hit a nerve when he said "Lent is the season of blood and guts and flesh. It is the supremely anti -Gnostic season." I think we have to remember that we're not just rational souls with this complex ability to reason on an abstract level (which some of us do more poorly than others). We're also physiological beings with bones and muscles and a chest that goes in and out as we suck in oxygen.  Giving up something for Lent (or conversely starting something for Lent) forces your actual body to grapple with life, the gospel and sin. The key is figuring out the balance... not making either the tangible or conceptual into an idol.  I appreciate the paper being bent back one way, while recognizing that it can probably safely course correct in the center a bit?  Like I said... still wrestling.  


Zucchinis, paper airplanes and "quilts"

It only took twenty hours, two planes, two cars and human kindness to get home, but we made it.  Fortunately, Andria lucked out in the uncle department and we got picked up from LAX in rush hour traffic and ferried to his house (where our car was) for albondigas soup and tortillas (bless them).  I've never been so happy to see a zucchini.  I was equally happy to see the jalapeno, but I think my stomach may have preferred the Scottish level of spice (which is to say "nil").  From there we only had to stay awake and not flip the car in what turned out to be an epic amount of rain and water on the road.  I have to say I think the weather was less wet and cold in Scotland.  We pulled in long after the kids were asleep, but that didn't stop me from waking them up (or trying to).

Tuesday is our Classical Conversations day and I briefly considered getting a sub but decided, in the end, I would rather be distracted and working, than at home crabbily trying to fight jetlag. By the time dinner came around though I'm pretty sure I was in a full on REM cycle every time I blinked.  Truly, I actually kinda like jetlag and always have.  I feel like the Pacific Time Zone is a strategic win if you're traveling East because sleeping in late on vacation is acceptable and I love the bounce-out-of-bed in the morning feeling you get when you get home.  Well, that's all great when you're going to and from your in-laws in Ohio, but a little more drastic when it's the other side of the Atlantic. Tuesday morning found me up in the wee hours working on my thermodynamics and paper airplanes lesson for CC.  I had printed the instructions for three different types of paper airplanes and I thought I should make one of each as a model for the class. My spatial recognition IQ is not going to qualify me for Mensa any time soon, but on this occasion, I whipped through the instructions so easily I figured I must have just picked really easy airplanes.  Wrong. It took a legit engineer and much reverse engineering to figure out how to follow the instructions in class.  And this is why I love jetlag...fleeting moments of rare brain functioning in the middle of the night.  If only I could figure out how to replicate it on a more continuous basis.  

I got all of the kids kilts, and they loved them, but Charlie thinks they're truly inspired. For a kid who doesn't like to be hampered by restrictive clothing, I could see why he appreciated the freedom (ahem) they bring.  I may need to get him several more.  I didn't get them the leather sporran's that go in front because there was no way I was fitting them into a backpack that had to be shoved under an airplane seat, but now Jamie has printed off patterns and researched leather making so I guess leather working is in my near future. Any tips?

Besides everyone looking so good I could put a spoon in them and eat them up, William does the dishes now (this is not a perk), and Robbie keeps asking me to put his "quilt" on him. lol  It's good to be home.  


Day 11 (last day...crossing fingers)- Church, Harry Potter and a picnic

We arrived at church this morning a few minutes late and out of breath because we underestimated how much time it would take to hike "up" the city, instead of "down". The doors were shut and an imposing minister stood guarding the front turning away tourists.  "Are we too late to worship?" we asked, "of course not" he said, opening the wardrobe drawers and letting us into Narnia.  

The church was once split up into four churches with walls partitioning the different sections. While technically you were a member of only one parish, people often popped into whichever sermon they were most interested in hearing that week.  The partition walls came down later during a restoration project, but it stands to show the thread of change that goes through history.   St. Giles was John Knox's church. He'd been banished during the persecution of protestants, but came back when James VI was a baby after the drama with his mother (I think? Assuming I'm not mixing things up).  I have complicated feelings about all of the great reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox...etc). And I think the key word is "struggle".  People want things to be so black and white. But the real progress comes in the back and forth. The "rows" so to speak. It's hard to hold all of the things in your hand, but after spending hours and hours in Edinburgh's version of the Smithsonian I can safely say that today's politics have got nothing on its predecessors.  In the same way the 19th century military and culture was over the top and romantic with lots of bells and ribbons and good intentions, so it seems to repeat itself. 


On a more prosaic note, I've been working on a Classical style sunday school curriuclum (for fun or my own family), and I love these little medallions from parish schools rewarding good learning. Proof we've long used a reward system for teaching kids. 😎


Last week we tried to go to the Elephant House coffee shop where JK wrote Harry Potter, but it was so crowded we ended up at the French Bakery next door.  I think everyone this morning was hung over from the rugby match because we got right in and made our way with our coffee to the back where JK wrote. Andria listened to The Hobbit and I worked on my book while we watched the rain fall in Grey Friars graveyard.  On a side note...Tom Riddle is buried there. :P



From there we went back to the aforementioned Scottish National Museum.  I'm pretty sure you could spend a lifetime in there and eventually your ghost would just be wandering around trying to piece everything together.  Physiological beings that we are though...our stomachs eventually growled loud enough to drive us out in search for food.  I blame it on the immense energy expended carrying all of our earthly possesions. We were like gypsies or tinkers, backpacks, bags, shoes, jackets and waterbottles all hanging and clanking around as we took out unsuspecting victims every time we tried to turn around.  Eventually our shoulders couldn't take it anymore and we piled all of our stuff up on the floor and moved it in front of us from room to room after taking long periods of time to geek out over everything. 


We picked up some pasties from the Piemaker shop and some beer from the market and made our way down to Princes Park to enjoy our vittles.  I'm sure Scotland does indeed get some mighty gales, but at least for our trip, the rain was just light and steady...with random wind and sunshine (not counting the snow in the highlands). Before we left,  I asked an elder at our church (who was once stationed in Scotland) if I needed an umbrella and he said no one really had one because it was too windy.  He spoke the truth.  We saw very few umbrellas. In fact, even coats were somewhat optional.  I kind of liked it because everyone just embraced the wild hair, a fashion statement I can definitely get behind.   


I feel bad I've given mental space and airtime to Burns, Scott, Gabaldon, Tolkein, Lewis and JK, but not to Sir Terry Pratchett which is a shame because you can't walk through Edinbourgh without feeling like you're in Ankh Morpork.  These pasties were a perfect example.  Each one filled with unidentifiable meat that tasted different with every bite (corned beef? sausage? pastrami? it was impossible to tell).   

And now we're safely ensconced in our hotel next to the airport. We're checked into our flight, our boarding passes are printed, and the alarms are set.  Lord have mercy and see us home.

Day 9 (bonus day 1)- Arctic storms, drunk Uber drivers and anniversary dinners

The following is a guest introduction from my stalwart traveling mate who was finally driven ((by the insanity of this day)) to put pen to paper):

 Today began with a surprise. Traveling across the globe comes with some challenges, one of which is storms. We have come incredibly far in our advances and have overcome many insurmountable obstacles.  Nevertheless we haven't conquered the almighty power of wind, rain, snow and sleet. As we awoke from our restful slumber Esther made a fateful sound, "uh-oh". 

I replied groggily, "what?". The conversation was brief and our minds began racing. One flight delayed and the other canceled....  

Yup, we jinxed ourselves. We didn't want to go home, and now we CAN'T go home. There is/was (apparently) some almighty storm traveling over Iceland (I'm assuming it's the same one that nearly snowed us in the Highlands) and they canceled all incoming and outgoing flights.  No problem, they'll just put us on a different flight going through London or New York or something, right? 

Oh how very naive we were.  WOW airlines is blessedly inexpensive but also tiny and sporadic. They don't have partnerships with other airlines, and they only fly every few days.  Which means our options were either forking over a credit card with a high limit to the clucking "I told you so" British Airline people, or sucking it up and staying in Edinburgh until Monday.  Making matters oh so much more fun, it was nearly impossible to get ahold of the airline because we and everyone else was trying desperately to get ahold of them. There are no WOW representatives at the Edinburgh airport, but thankfully sympathetic airline personel let us stand at their counter for hours and use their landline.  Andria and I could run a country we're so dang efficient.  She navigated the land line while I googled and researched as new information came up. We got new flights for monday (Lord have mercy) and booked a hotel near the airport.  

All was fine (I just feel supremely chagrined for my husband and children) , but I have an annoying habit of remaining perfectly calm in all of the controllable parts of my brain, while some other irrational part of me wanted to throw up in the nearest trashcan. 

So  we're all good to go, but by this point, I'm done dealing with people and systems and decide that even though it's dark and 30 degrees outside, I wanted to walk to our hotel 2.3 miles away.  Andria however, gently reminded me of the North Sea walk of terror and I quickly agreed we should probably take a bus or call a cab.  Everything in life is always easier said than done. The bus would only go halfway and the Taxi line was backed up around the corner, snaking through the terminal.  My hands were shaking from the cold as I tried to download the uber app and give myself a crash course in ubering (what can I say...I'm always with someone else who's ubering). 

 There are no available ubers (of course...what else would I expect from this day). So we started walking.  Except it was dark and freezing and not terribly safe feeling, so we pulled our weary traveling selves into the shelter of a Double Tree Inn and tried uber again.  SUCESS!  Our knight in shining armor was 8 min away....then 10 min...then 4 min....then 12 min.  We watched our poor man Ibad zig zag back and forth all around us, turning down every single airport cranny except for the correct one.   

This is where things go all Craigh na Dun on us. Andria (who doesn't have any cell service) walked up ahead of me to see if she could find him.  I was looking at my phone, mesmorized by the tiny little picture of a car going back and forth, back and forth, up the street and down.  I looked up and realized I could see him in the trees on the road next to the hotel.  Headlights driving one way...turning around...turning around...turning around.  I assumed Andria was already over where he was so I walked over to put our Uber driver out of his misery.  I was desperate to find some food and shelter and hunker down for some hardcore processing (you can only go so long without a mental download).  I saw Andria talking to our Uber driver who had by now pulled over.    

...except that it wasn't Andria, it was just a random pedestrian.  I looked everywhere around me, but she was nowhere to be found so I hopped in our Uber and asked our driver to go back around to the front to see if she'd walked back.  That's when I realized Mr. Uber Man might be better off letting me drive.  He scraped the curb, then careened over to the wrong side of the road, and then careened back, almost missing the roundabout. I didnt mind, I was too busy freaking out that Andria had been kidnapped or murdered. Seriously, where could she have gone?  Meanwhile, the driver almost ran into a light pole and my brain had divied itself up into sections.  Each one going all red alert over a different thing. Jump out of the car! Call the police! Could I take a nefarious person out with a good swing of my backpack? 

Curb Crashing Ibad broke into my thoughts at this point with "Is she that lady with a brown jacket?"


I saw Andria burst forth from the front doors of the DoubleTree and if I ever doubted she loved me, I was surely assured of her undying affection as she yelled "ESTHERRRRRRRR" like a mother looking for a lost child (she'd been just as worried about me when she walked back to the DoubleTree and couldnt find me).  The problem was, I couldn't figure out how to roll the window down and Ibad was hell bent on tearing onward and so I pounded on the window and yelled "Annnnndria" like some sort of comical movie.  Assured that this must in fact be his missing passenger, Ibad grudgingly pulled over and let Andria slide in next to me.  I've never been so glad to see someone (she'd crossed the street and gone down another road which is how we missed each other).  

Our hotel was only two miles away, but there was no time to catch our breath before Ibad made two wrong turns and nearly hit a volvo. We tried to talk to him,  but instead of answering he turned the music up.  Sweet.  Time to shut up and pray.  

I'm not sure he was familiar with UK driving, because he crashed into the center of a roundabout and I thought surely he'd broken an axle or tire, but the car was working well enough to keep going around and around the roundabout.  That's when I realized I should probably pull up Google Maps on my phone.  You know that deadly calm voice you use when your kids are being awful and you're about to lose it? I summoned it forth in my best immitation of Siri and hollered out the directions.  It felt like an hour, but was really only four minutes before we pulled up in front of the fanciest hotel we've stayed in yet.  Thank you WOW. 

Dinner and breakfast were included in our hotel reservation, so we dragged ourselves into the hotel restaurant and plopped down only to find it was actually a super fancy gourmet restaurant with food that looks like this.  

I'm pretty sure the couple across from us was out for their anniversary, so Andria and I toasted the 9th day anniversary of us surviving the UK, and the 1 hr anniverary of nothing crazy happening.     Cheers.  

I'm pretty sure the couple across from us was out for their anniversary, so Andria and I toasted the 9th day anniversary of us surviving the UK, and the 1 hr anniverary of nothing crazy happening.   


Day 10- Rembrandt, Big Brother and Tatties

It's hard. I want to be home so badly.  Consquently part of me wants to sit somewhere and be miserable, but the other penny pinching part of me doesn't want to waste time and rescources sitting around feeling sorry for myself. Jim says he's doing fine with the kids, and I talked to and saw them on google hangouts today so that helped...a little. 

Its different being in Edinburgh after a week of crawling through castles,  churches and museums all through Scotland. It was like getting a crash doctorate (Andria and I keep testing each other, we may or may not know the Scottish monarchy almost as well as all of the US presidents).  Now when I see things like the sign "Flodden's Wall" I don't just see a sign tacked onto an old stone wall, I can picture Queen Margaret's room at Lenlithgow.  I remember sitting on the floor where she sat waiting and waiting for her husband (King James the IV) to come home (he didn't).  

When I was here last Saturday, I took lots of pictures of the actual physical city. This week I took more pictures of life in the city so one could see how crazy it is to see modern people living in a city that looks like a time machine.  


During the Jacobite years (Outlander) the castle housed the biggest cannon you have ever seen (it's there now, having been returned recently from London). Bonnie Prince Charlie took the town and Holyrood Palace from the English, but couldn't take the castle on the hill. After the rebellion, the townspeople lived in holy fear Big Brother would come crashing in (literally) if they stepped out of line.  Living in San Diego I can't imagine waking up every day to that silhouette watching over the whole city (and I say that as someone who loves the castle).  



These are the Scotsman steps. If there's one thing I've learned it's that the Scottish people like to discuss everything at great length.  These marble stairs were a compromise that connected the old city with the "new" city (which is now also very old).  

There is no end of things to do in Edinburgh so we rallied forth this morning and set out to drown out our woes in bigger things that reminded us of the grand scope of time and God over small things like airlines and storms.  And that's how we ended up at the Scottish National Art Gallery.  

Now I'm not really an "art" person. I try to appreciate it, and I do better if someone is around to explain it to me, but the written word is my poison of choice.  I'd much rather be in a stuffy garret somewhere with Jamie and a printing press (this one printed Ivanhoe and Waverley!) than in a salon somewhere with a paintbrush.  


We've been many times to the art museums in San Diego and LA, so I was expecting something similar.  So imagine my shock and surprise when the first painting is a Rambrandt, and the next one, and next one...and next one is too. There's Bottecilli...Raphael...everyone.  THE REAL THING.  And they aren't behind glass and the frames are real and cracked. There isn't a line you have to stay behind without someone in a uniform barking at you to stay back.  You could almost put your nose on THE ACTUAL BRUSH STROKES of Gainsborough and Durer.  Maybe this is not big news to anyone who's been to the Louvre? (I have no idea)  But it felt insane.  I also was familiar with a lot of the halls, palaces and places they once hung and for what people.  It truly was like looking at the world as though it was happening right in front of me in the 1500's or whatever.  I now have a small list of copies I need to hang in my house (Lisa, help?).  

There was one thing I didn't get to try (food wise) this trip and it was baked tatties (potatoes).  They're everywhere and on almost every menu, but they have ominous words like "mayo and chippers" next to them which makes ordering one a bit risky.  So when we left the art museum I googled "best potatoes in Edinburgh" and it took us to a place called "Tempting Tatties".  It was like Subway for potatoes.  The server was patient with us as we painstakingly tried to figure out what all of the mystery toppings were.  I got some sort of chicken chili thing that he claimed was spicy but was in actuality less spicy than Doritos. It was amazing.  I spent a lot of my childhood (and current life) eating baked potatoes for breakfast with whatever I can find in the fridge thrown on top, so this was my happy place.  I could eat there breakfast, lunch and dinner as long as I got an occasional bowl of soup thrown in.  It was in between lunch and dinner, so our server kindly chatted with us the whole time and gave us directions to the Water of Leith Walkway.   

It was more like Wonka's chocolate river (and flooded) which made navigating the walkways a bit tricky but fun (and it flows through the heart of the city!).  


All in all it was a lovely (if a bit introspective) day. There was also a rugby match between Scotland and Wales and it literally felt like we were in the World Quidditch Cup with Ron and Harry.  And yes, they do just randomly break out into lusty song here.  


Day 8- Nessie, Castle Leoch, Game of Thrones and Clan Ramsay

Winter is coming.

Overall the weather has been super mild and lovely here. They say if you don't like the weather in Scotland, wait fifteen minutes. I've never liked that saying, because lots of people say that about where they live (except Southern California, where we're pretty sustainably warm and sunny).  The fifteen min quote though, is absolutely true about Scotland.  It can go from sunny, to foggy to raining, then back to sunny again before I can decide which coat to take off.  Today we threw snow into the mix for good measure.  Even though I grew up in the mountains (which gets way more snow than Scotland) I'd never witnessed the physical snow level dropping. We were crawling around the Urquhart castle ruins at Loch Ness when we stumbled across a fine elderly gentleman who was as anxious to find someone who wanted to chat about Picts and bards and McDonalds as much as we were anxious to listen. It was a match made in heaven. So there in the crumbling castle kitchen where some fine Mrs. Fitzgibbons type had once pickled fish, we stood in the freezing sleet and talked and talked and talked.  It was there I witnessed the snow on the opposite hill start out at the top and slowly creep down like white chocolate on a sundae.  Ive never seen anything like it. We eventually had to tear ourselves away only because we had to get over the mountains and  back to Edinburgh before we were stuck up in the Highlands. We do sadly have to go home. 



On a side note, I'm so glad we came in February. The weather has (until now) been everything a CA girl could ask for, and I would much rather share the castles with a little snow vs thousands of people. It's hard to really listen to the insides of a place with lots of people around.  



Andria drove like a champ through the snow. If you live in San Diego, imagine driving on the 67 with no shoulder, barely enough room for two cars, snow, and people driving 70mph and you'll have some idea of how our (albeit beautiful) three hour drive was. Roads in the US are huuuuge compared to roads here. Pretty much your heart lives in constant assurance that you're about to be hit, but your brain has resigned itself to the fate. The margin for error seems so small, but nobody seems to think anything of careening along a rock wall in the snow with a semi truck coming straight at you.  All a day in the life.  

We stopped at Doune Castle on our way in which is Castle Leoch in Outlander! (and where they shot Winterfell in Game of Thrones).  Jamie Fraser (Sam) narrates the audio guide and you can just picture Angus and Rupert having a drink in the kitchen while Claire pounds herbs.  Unfortunately, you can also picture the Starks happily existing there before everything happened.  

(see? this blog app is possesed)    It would be hard to top all of that, but the real highlight was pulling up to Dalhousie Castle. The seat of the Ramsay Clan. It's in great condition apparently because Ramsays know how to hang on to their stuff and their castle wasn't conquered and taken from them multiple times like other places. They've turned it into a bed and breakfast, so at this moment I am sitting in a stone room with my back up against the same wall Jim's ancestors (potentially) sat against.  I can barely take it all in.   I wandered around exploring and promptly got lost. So many staircases and hallways going everywere. If the kids were here, we'd never see them again.   

(see? this blog app is possesed)  

It would be hard to top all of that, but the real highlight was pulling up to Dalhousie Castle. The seat of the Ramsay Clan. It's in great condition apparently because Ramsays know how to hang on to their stuff and their castle wasn't conquered and taken from them multiple times like other places. They've turned it into a bed and breakfast, so at this moment I am sitting in a stone room with my back up against the same wall Jim's ancestors (potentially) sat against.  I can barely take it all in. 

I wandered around exploring and promptly got lost. So many staircases and hallways going everywere. If the kids were here, we'd never see them again.   


It was the perfect way to end this trip. We head home tomorrow, and while I've loved every second of it, I'm ready to give up the ghosts and hug some real flesh and bones.   

Day 7- Sword fences, buzzing stones and stinky cheese

I wrote everything from yesterday up and posted it, only to have my blogging app somehow eat the whole things and fart it out into the interwebs somewhere.  But maybe it was for the best because I'm not sure how coherent I was last night anyway, so I'll try again with the more prosaic version.  

We started out at Culloden (the battle that marked the end of Scotland's fight for independence). Scottish history is so intervowen with Englan'd's that it's hard to tell where the good guys begin and the bad guys end.  If you've read or watched Outlander, then you feel like you witnessed it first hand and it's particularly sobering. I managed to so overwhelm the gift shop cashier with questions, she snagged on of the historians on his way to lunch and the poor man answered all of our questions.  Here's my tidbit from today. Clan tartans and kilts didn't exist until the Romantic Era when it became legal again for Scots to wear them. In fact, I'm not sure the tradition would be so popular today if Scotland hadn't spent a galling centry and a half with tartans forbidden.  There's something about being told you can't do something, that makes you value it even more. The government should have known better.  But after Culloden, the townspeople were forced at gunpoint to bury the three day old field of dead bodies. They separated them by clans and buried them in mass graves.  The grave locations were passed down generation to generation for a hundred years until they were allowed to put up a gravestone for each clan.  How did you know who was in which clan though if they weren't wearing clan tartans? The answer is they pinned sprigs of greenery on themselves that identifiied which family they belonged to, but truthfully they're probably quite a bit mixed up.  Grizzly business.  

English officers gathered up all of the Highalnder's swords and took them to London and used them to make this fence for their garden. 



After soup and coffee, we headed over to the Craigh na Dun (the stonehenge type standing stones that transport one through time).  Of course they're entirely fictional, except there is an old Bronze Age burial ground nearby that has standing stones and a druid forest planted around it, so we headed there to try our luck.  (I won'der what THOSE ghosts thought about their old dwelllings being appropriated by a bunch of book fans. ahem)





After that we went to Ft. George (the oldest peserved fort in Scotland), but we couldn't convince the grounds lady to let us in, so we slid down grassy hills and crawled around cannons until we got cold and trekked over to a local dairy for some fresh cheese.  The cheese was delicious and the conversation even better, but we packed home our extras and phew...the next morning we each wondered if the other had smuggled a dirty diaper into the car.  Intense.  



After that we made our way back to Inverness to our first real hotel in days.  It was like the Ritz Carleton in comparison, sitting under the shadow of the castle and cathedral sporting fancy things like hot showers and no patchouli and weed smell.  We're getting spoiled. 


One day left to go.  



Day 6- Painted vault bosses, Jamie's distillery and Sassenachs

You know that chest pounding feeling you get when you're in trouble? Either you know you've screwed up, or worse you have no idea what you've done and you're frantically trying to race through all of the possibilities. When I walked through a side door and stepped up the well worn and grooved stairs in the ruins of Elgin Cathedral (circa 1215)  my mind was admittedly mostly focused on trying to shove my flying hair back into my hat.  But then I realized where I was...the circular chapter house of the cathedral where decisions got discussed and handed down, and discpline was decided.  I went back and looked at the well worn slope in the step. I walked slowly back in (properly this time).  The administering bishop sat on the highest chair, with others spanning out by rank. It must have been terrifying and otherworldly in maybe the same kind of way we look at sci-fi.  In fact, the round church court almost could have been a set piece from Star Wars, a reminder that the threads of history still weave their way into current culture in all kinds of ways?



Continuing with my hypothetical ghosts, this area had its own Ramsay Snow. The Wolf of Badenoch, bastard son of the King's brother.  The curator told us he was married to a lady who was very prayerful but not exactly "bonny in the face". While they both probably resented their marriage, she took to praying to saints and he took to spawning a lot of children as he rampaged through the countryside tormenting everyone with his corruption and debauchary. The bishop (in the aforementioned cathedral) finally had enough and excommunicated our Ramsay Bolton...who responded by burning down the cathedral.  It seems Cathedrals around these parts had a habit of burning down every fifty years or so (always to be rebuilt).  Until the Reformation when it wasn't fire that destroyed the place, but cold hard pragmatism.  The lead from the roof was taken to pay soldiers their salary and the wood was chopped up for firewood during a particularly harsh winter.  Without a roof, the cathedral crumbled in short order.  A giant lego set of untold thousands of man hours...gone.  I think I need to read Ecclesiastes again. 

I could go on and on about the cathedral, but I still have to get to the distillery, so I'll leave off with one last tidbit. Their were carved faces at the meeting point of each structural center. They were called vault bosses which to my American ears sounds like a stone gargoyle mafia. And I know I'm probably the last person on the planet to know this, but castles (and cathedrals) were painted! Like glazed easter eggs instead of the somber gray stone we see these days. 


After saying our respects to all of the Knights (and babies) buried at Elgin. We headed over to the Glen Moray distillery (don't ask me how to pronounce "Moray". It's not "Mor- aye" , they say it like "Murray", but whenever I say it like that, I get corrected. I finally just told the tour guide to call me a Sassenach.  He obliged.)

After we left Glen Moray we went to a historic distillery Dallas Dhu (whose grandson settled and named Dallas TX).  Scottish whiskey is verra serious business and drinking it is practically a national occupation (Also, Jim is definitely in the wrong business.)  It was so cool to crawl all over the old historic distillery after learning all the nuts and bolts over at the modern one.  I could so picture Jamie and Fergus shoveling grain with wee Germaine helping. Did you know it comes out clear and only gets its color from the barrels? (hash tag...more things I probably should have already known).  


We're in Inverness now in some sort of little hole in the wall hostel. But it's clean(ish) and doesn't smell of patchouli and weed, so I'm counting it a win. It's also smack dab in the center of town which makes walking and eating easy (two of our favorite pastimes).  We had venison sausage over stilton mashed tatties and steak pie.  Yum.  Took us several laps around the city in the rain to walk it off.   

Day 5- The Highlands, fishing village and no shoes in the house

We were hoping to find our own "Mrs. Graham" here in the Highlands, and it seems we found ourselves in a whole commune of them {with maybe a strong spattering of Geilles}. In researching our trip, I found through AirBnB you could stay in "wee whiskey barrel" on the North Sea.  Sounds creative and adventuresome, right? 

Weel, hell slap it intae ye.  It was perhaps a might more than we reckoned for.  

Don't get me wrong, the day was great... woke up to a traditional Scottish breakfast.  Downed some black pudding and coffee so strong it would put a Louis La'Amour cowboy to shame (the pudding was great...the coffee needed several small pitchers of cream to get down).  Thus fortified, we went hiking...saw some Scottish "coos' and sheep.  Climbed up a waterful and cut across some fields (tangent...they grow Brussel Sprouts here!).  



It was my turn to drive, this time up through the highlands.  It was...well...breathtaking. I kept picturing scene after scene of Gordons, Grants and Chisolms warring, raiding and trekking up and down the hills that I was flying over at 70mph.   



What could go wrong! Our car GPS had been possesed of a devil since the beginning, so it's been quite fortiutous that my phone has unlimited international data. We've been using the all knowing Google Maps with satisfying results, so we were confused when it led us way out of the main village where we thought we were staying.  We were even more convinced it was wrong when it dumped us into an odd conglomeration of trailers, sod houses and other "unique" dwellings. But no, no...we caught sight of an outcropping of whiskey barrels (they're hard to miss) and went in to meet our host Shanti. In short order we got the double sided stack of laminated household rules "absolutely no shoes and please don't use the TV unless you're lazy", and a wee old neighbor lady who I'm sure couldn't understand why it took two lassies so long to figure out how to back the car out of her rubbage bins (the parking break is a schizophrenic button and reverse is in a weird place).  Speaking of, they turn the wifi off at midnight for the health of the household, so I've got ten minutes to finish this up.  

We had planned on exploring some old cathedral ruins and a distillery, but since we were so far off the beaten path, there wasn't enough time before the sun went down.  No problem, our ever gracious host reccomended we walk the beach to the local fishing village.  He said to follow the path through "The Foundation" (what this place is called) and there was no way we could get lost as long as we kept going straight because eventually we'd run into the north sea where we could cut left to the fishing village.  Well, these aren't exactly San Diego beaches and we did get hopelessly lost in the dunes and trees before being rescued by a nice lady with her horse.  I'm assuming the North Sea inspired a fair bit of Norse mythology because there was no doubt this was Odinn's domain and he wasna terribly pleased to two interlopers from the sunny lands.  We got a nice facial exfoliation and had to walk at a near ninety degree angle in order to walk up the beach without being blown out to sea.  Just when we'd given up hope of ever seeing civilization again we came across "Kimberly's Inn" where again, time had stood still for the last several hundred years and we were welcomed into a fire, ale, and fresh seafood "Buckie caught it himself this morning".  Nothing ever tasted so good.  



By now it was dark, rainy and there was no way we were ever going to survive the several mile trek back through the dunes unless Thor himself showed up to escort us.  Our host had said that it was an easy walk the front way around from the fishing village to "The Foundation"  (when we told the Mistress at the Inn where we were staying she made that distinctly scottish sound at the back of her throat and said "Ye'll be fine, juist keep yer heid doon.".  Good to know.   

The north shore of Scotland at night may be the scariest place I've ever been in my too short of a life. The wind wasn't just freezing and fierce, the trees here are these knobby twisted things with long arms that twist down in the wind. Throw in a penchant for stone walls and walkways, no streetlight and rows of abandoned looking houses (Do people actually vacation here?) and you have a general idea of our thirty min walk home.  

That's right, THIRTY minutes of Andria and I clutching each other like some sort of scene from Stranger Things as we stumbled our way home with my trusty phone guiding the way and her phone acting as flashlight.  We did make one wrong turn down an abaondoned driveway with a big stone arch and gate (you can't make this stuff up).  My phone chose this particular moment to shout out "turn left in three hundred feet" and Andria and I both screamed and peed our pants.  Literally (well at least in my case).   

We were never so glad to see our hippie commune and whiskey barrel.  

I'm not sure our hearts have slowed down yet, but we've locked all of the windows and doors (and checked them twice) and have got to get some sleep before our vegan breakfast in the morning and then it's off to more ghosts and castles (but hopefully not any more wrathful Odinn nights).  



Day 4- When everything is so good it hurts

We made it out of Edinburgh and up to Pitlochry without running over anything.  I took several turns driving our car and it was mostly ok (although Andria may disagree) ahem.  The concept wasn't difficult for me to grasp (so far...knock on wood). My brain switched easily to roundabouts and wrong sides.  The hardest part for me was knowing where the edges were on the car. It feels like you're driving into incoming traffic when really you're doing the opposite and hugging the sidewalk...or other lane full of cars.  It wouldn't have been so bad if it was just one thing, but in this case it's like driving in San Francisco (hills and windy streets) with a stick shift, on the wrong side of the road and car.  Pedestrians, buses, delivery vans...insane. Once we got out of Edinburgh though it was much easier.    

Our first stop after church was Blackness Castle where all of the "Fort Willam" scenes from Outlander are shot.  The custodian was so very nice to show us his little album of pictures from when the Outlander crew was there.  I can't imagine how they got all of those trucks and cranes in on those little back farm roads. The neighbors must have thought they were building a space shuttle in their backyard.   


Next we went to Stirling Castle which was three times bigger than Blackness, but was trying maybe a bit too hard to be touristy whereas Blackness castle felt stark raving intense (I'm sure it had nothing to do with picturing BlackJack Randall there) .  Still, I feel like I learned the most about Medieval life at Stirling Castle and I took lots of notes so hopefully my Emilie book will have a ring of authenticity.  

From there we wandered around Falkirk looking for Braveheart ghosts (noticing a theme? shame).  We were totally in the wrong spot, but we did stumble upon the last vestiges of a Roman wall.  It was the far north border of the empire, so here we are standing in Ancient Rome on the cusp of barbarian land.


We did end up finding the real battle of falkirk a la the Braveheart scene with Mel Gibson...we actually drove almost right over it on our way to Stirling Castle.  The problem with Scotland is that for such a tiny country, they pack in so many awe inspiring moments I don't have time to emotionally recover from one before being thrust into another. I ran into a little boy at the top of a stone spiral staircase who said mournfully to his father "but I don't want to know anymore about my history".   

For my husband and any Ohio family, Pitlochry is about half the size of Poland Village.  We're staying at one of those hotels that's a restuarant on the bottom and rooms on the top. The restaurant is full of non ironic Lord of the Ring's sounding food, and after we finished our fare and curled up in front of the fire listening to Scottish folk songs, I told Andria not much has changed since the days of travelers stopping at inns for a bit of stew, ale and a bed to sleep in for the night. 


I felt like the opposite of the Grinch. The music and people got to me, and my heart felt two sizes too big for my chest.   

Church this morning was even better, but I won't even attempt to describe it...I could never do it justice.  St Giles is the big cathedral in Edinburgh and the "mother" kirk in the Church Of Scotland.    It was a catholic church, then briefly Episcopalean I think and then Presbyterian.  Since I'm also a (late to the game) Presbyterian, I cried as soon as I heard the opening call to worship and it was the same that my own pastor would be saying in a few short hours across the globe.  I've always loved the timeless echoes of songs and scripture, but standing in that old church made it all too real. It was like being in Narnia and Rivendell and Hogwarts all at the same time...but real. 


(This one from google)  

I so badly want to bring my kids on a trip like this.