The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Monday, December 7, 2009

Saying Hello and Saying Goodbye

We just had the best weekend! Shauna flew in late Saturday afternoon...a little detour on her way to Zurich for work. Tobi, Chris and I picked her up at the airport. The best way to beat jet lag is just to power through it, so when we got back to the house she jumped in the shower and then we took off for the Gellions to hear the guys play. I drug her around and introduced her to soooo many people. When Schiehallion finished playing we went to MacCallum's for a pint and some more music and from there to the Glenalbyn. I had promised Marion, who runs the Glen, that I would bring Shauna in while she was here. Of course, there were more people at the Glen for Shauna to meet...and more beer to consume! After the Glen we went over to McNab's where another of Inverness's local favorites was playing. Andy plays a combination of traditional music and rock. We stayed and danced until just before midnight. We wanted to take Shauna to Johnny Fox's and Inverness has a funny rule. Even though the pubs are open later than midnight, you can't get in after midnight. most are open til 1am but Fox's is open til 3am so everyone who wants to stay out late makes a mad dash for Fox's just before midnight...including us. Poor Shauna was really running on reserve battery power by this time so we didn't actually stay long but we managed to drag her to 5 pubs that night before she finally hit the wall. One of the fun things about Inverness nightlife is that everything downtown is within walking distance and whatever pub we go into we're bound to run into several friends. Shauna was just swimming in names by the time we called it a night and all piled into a taxi for home. Yesterday we just lazed around the house until the chip shop around the corner opened at 4:30p. Shauna and I went over and picked up fish and chips for ourselves and the boys and we had a fishy feast before we called a taxi to take us into town for another evening of fun.

Schiehallion plays at Findlay's on Sunday's from 5p-8p. So there was more dancing to do and people for Shauna to meet...and meet again! When the guys were done playing we hung out at Findlay's for a bit while Stuart took his equipment home and then caught a ride back into town from Sandra. When he got back we all walked over to the Gellions. I love the Gellions on a Sunday night. Andy (who played at McNab's the night before) plays the Gellions every Sunday night and the crowd is always the usual suspects. Like I said we all kind of migrate around the same few pubs. When we got to the Gellions that's when the party really started! One of the best parts of the evening (besides having Shauna here!) was getting to know Stuart's girlfriend, Lauren. I had met her just briefly one time but she doesn't come out very often so I'd never gotten to know her before. She was so much fun! Shauna and I just fell in love with her! Between the six of us...Shauna, Tobi, Chris, Stuart, Lauren and me...we had quite little party at the Gellions. Not to mention all the other friends who were there!

After the Gellions closed we brought the party back to our house where we all ravaged the kitchen. Leftover fish and chips, cereal, scrambled eggs, crisps and tequila! Then for some reason Stuart decided he wanted to juggle. Shauna looked around and found the onions! I really don't know if Stuart is any good at juggling balls but he can't juggle onions for shit! We were all cracking up as he kept throwing them in the air and they all kept crashing to the floor! When he finally gave up we could only find two onions. Stuart and Lauren made their way back to Stuart's around 2am (about 2 blocks away) and the rest of us toddled off to bed. LOL! I should have made him come back over today to sweep my kitchen floor. Onion skins everywhere! I found the third onion, this afternoon, under the couch in the sitting room.

Shauna had to fly out at 7 this morning so she and I were up at 5:15am! Amid hugs and more giggles I pored her into a cab for the airport about a half hour later. Her visit totaled 38 hours and 20 minutes from landing to takeoff and we had such a good time. I was so happy to get to introduce my beautiful little Sugarbear to so many of my friends. She was a hit...of course! Next time she visits hopefully we'll have more time and can expand our activities a bit but this was just a quick drop in. The only bummer was that Iain wasn't able to get a night off. When we were at the house he was either asleep or at work. When he was home and awake we were gone to the pub. She did get to meet him for a little bit yesterday morning after we got up and before he went to bed. But there will be more visits in the future!

On a sad note, as I'm writing this, Chris and Tobi are packing. They were only here for one semester of study and tomorrow they leave to go home. We are all upset. Even though we all just 'rent a room' in the house, we don't lead our separate lives and just share the common areas. We've made the house our shared home. We hang out together at home and in town. Sandra and I were talking one time and she laughed and said, "Oh, that's right. I forgot. You have family night on Wednesday." Iain is off on Wed and Thurs nights so we all go out together on Wed night. Tobi and Chris have become a part of our regular group of friends. At Findlay's yesterday Kenny brought it to the pub's attention that they are leaving and we all gave them a round of applause. When we went to the Gellions, Rory gave them each a Gellions shirt to take home with them. The boys wore them for the rest of the night. Chris decided he looked like staff and went behind the bar like he was going to start pulling pints! We all cracked up and had get out our cameras. Everyone knows that you don't go behind the bar, even at your favorite pub. It just goes to show how much a part of the Gellions crowd the boys have become that Rory and the staff let him do it.

I'm so glad Shauna came this weekend so she got to meet the boys before they leave. We had a really good blow out to end their Scotland experience with. We have been looking at last night's pictures and laughing all day...until they had to start packing this evening. Now we're all pretty somber. They are loading the car right now so they won't have to do it in the morning.

Tobias Waschek and Christian Herrmann, I will miss you, my friends. Come back soon......

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hey Baby! Wanna Ride?

This is so cute....


I've just recently started getting spam in the form of 'comments' on the blog. The first one was a few weeks ago for a website that sold Viagra. I just deleted it and thought no more about it. Then another spam comment for something else popped up and then another one. This last one today was for some kind of 'get rich quick scheme'. So I've turned on the word verification' setting for the blog. This means you'll have to type in the funny little word that shows on the screen before you can leave a comment. Since most spam is automated and it takes a human to read the verification word and reproduce it, this should (I hope!) eliminate the problem. If you read my blog through Facebook then this won't apply but for those of you who are not on Facebook and check up on my Journey To The Highlands directly this just means one more little 'pain in the ass' step before you can leave a comment. Thanks a lot you asshole spammers!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Little Things...

So I'm hot and heavy into this paper that I have to write for one of my classes and I found myself writing this sentence, "William Gilpin came to the Highlands in search of..." not "William Gilpin went to the Highlands...." but "came" to the Highlands! This sentence would only be written by someone writing from the Highlands! It's just one of so many little things that make me smile or tear up (or both) on a daily basis...

Friday, November 27, 2009

My First Thanksgiving In Scotland

It was a hit!

My first Thanksgiving in Inverness went really well. Some of it was a bit of a challenge, like trying to find shortening to make the pie crusts. Turns out it's called vegetable fat here. There were a couple of other things that took me two or three trips to the store to find because they are just packaged differently than the way I'm used to (like whipping cream). Other things were simply not to be found so Shauna sent me a care package from Seattle. Everything here is packaged in metric units, too, so when I bought things like sour cream I just had to eyeball it and make a guess as to how much to buy. Another challenge was that all of my recipes are in Fahrenheit and my oven dial is in Celsius so I kept having to convert all my cooking temperatures. 

Normally I get up early on the morning of Thanksgiving to get started so I can have dinner on the table by about 3pm. This year, though, I planned dinner for 6pm because yesterday was obviously a regular work day here. It was also a school day for me. I would have just skipped out on school but I was scheduled to give an in-class presentation so there was no way I could not be there (BTW, I got an "A"!) I knew I wasn't going to get home before 1pm but the turkey really needed to start cooking at noon so I got it all prepared and covered with foil before I left for school. I put it in the oven and left a note for the boys to turn the oven on at noon. When I rolled in (after one last stop at the store on the way home!) they were all busy vacuuming and tidying and cleaning the bathroom for me so I could get started with the dinner. My friend, Marie, showed up around 3pm to help with the preparations and Stuart brought over chairs about 5pm. So we were set when people started arriving an hour later.

Everyone was game to try new foods so I started them out with a yummy salmon ball and crackers, a 'to die for' starter that came from Karen Murphy a few years ago and a veggie tray that included raw cauliflower and broccoli. They are both eaten cooked over here but not raw so I wasn't sure how they would go over but evidently they were received well because there wasn't any left by the end of the evening. And I told everyone that since we were celebrating an American holiday then we were having 'chips' and dip, not crisps and dip! I tried a new recipe with dinner this year...sweet potatoes with peaches and cashews. I should have boiled them longer before baking them because they weren't quite tender all the way to the center when I pulled them out of the oven but nobody seemed to mind. There wasn't much left over. I make a dish that is not traditional to anyone's Thanksgiving table except mine. It's called Watergate Salad and it's made with pistachio pudding mix, milk, whipped topping, crushed pineapple, shredded coconut and colored miniature marshmallows. I've always said my children would mutiny if there was no Watergate Salad on the table at Thanksgiving! It's a lovely pastel green in color from the pudding powder and the colored marshmallows add splashes of yellow and pink. Of course, everyone's first reaction to it was "Oh wow, what IS that?" It's pretty sweet so it's not always to everyone's liking but it went over really well yesterday, especially with Kenny (LOL!). And, of course, everyone was very curious about the pumpkin pie. About half the folks liked it and the other half...not so much. But at least now they can all say they've tried it.

The biggest challenge of the evening was where to seat 13 people for dinner. Not only do we not have a dining room, we don't even have a table! This was originally just a 3 bedroom house, the bedrooms and bathroom upstairs and the kitchen and a combination living room and dining room downstairs. When Kenny bought the house he put up a wall to divide the living room/dining room in half so he could add another bedroom. That means that the downstairs now consists of my bedroom, the kitchen and a small sitting room that measures about 10x11. When I first came up with the idea of making Thanksgiving dinner for some of my friends Kenny wanted to know where I was going to put everyone. I said, "I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet!" So I just warned those who hadn't been here before that the house is small and we have no table so that meant that dinner was going to be really informal! I figured I could get 3 people on the couch and one in the rocking chair. We added Stuart's extra chairs to the sitting room and we also have 4 bar stools in the kitchen that sit at an open counter. It worked out fine and everyone just kind of flowed between the two rooms with food and drink. It got a little crazy just before dinner with me maneuvering around a dozen people in my madwoman dash to get things out of the oven and get the gravy made at the last minute but that just added to the festivities!

When dinner was ready I introduced them to another Thanksgiving tradition. Everyone gathered in the kitchen (ready for food!) and I asked each person to tell something in their life that they were thankful for. That was an easy one for me. I said I was thankful for all of them; that when I arrived here they all just gathered me into their little fold and made me feel so welcome. And that I was also thankful that they had all allowed me to share with them a little bit of my own culture.

Then it was time to eat!  It did my heart good to see so many of my new friends enjoying their first Thanksgiving dinner. If I had had more room I would have invited twice the number of people who were here, but I simply didn't have room for everyone! Laura and Hazel volunteered for kitchen duty and took care of all the dirty dishes before and after dinner so that I wasn't looking at total chaos when the evening was through. About 9 o'clock we called Thanksgiving dinner a success and went to the Gellions for a pint. Well, actually, Laura and Craig (newly engaged!), Sandra, Marie, Dougie, Jane and Hazel went home. Iain, Tobi, Chris, Kenny, Stuart and I went to the Gellions!

I talked to all 3 of my kids on the phone yesterday. Nikki, of course, was in Germany and Michael and Shauna were in Colorado on their way to Ruth's house with Steve and Ron. It could have been a sad day for not be with my chickens on Thanksgiving...but because of these amazing people who I am so lucky to call my friends, it was still a day to be thankful for!

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Monthly Ramblings

        I started my blog so that anyone who was interested could keep up with my adventures once I got to Scotland. During my time in PA and then in Germany I was pretty consistent about posting. But since I arrived in Inverness I've been so busy that it's been difficult to find the time for my blog! But if you check in here very often and I haven't posted for a while, it's certainly not because I've lost interest. It's only cause I struggle to find the time. I suppose I should just post shorter entries but more often. In the future I'll try that. In the meantime..............

        My last post was about a month ago and I was getting ready to attend the "Scotland's Global Impact" conference. It was wonderful! three days of listening to some of the most eminent historians in Scotland, not to mention speakers from Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada and the good ole' U.S. of A.! Some one called it an intellectual ceilidh and I think that's just about right. For those of you who don't know what a ceilidh (pronouced kaylee)  is, it's an Irish or Scottish social gathering with traditional music, dancing, and storytelling.
The highlight of the conference for me though was the day after it ended. Dr. Tony Pollard (who spoke at the conference) is from Glasgow University and he is one of Scotland's preeminent experts in battlefield archaeology. If you've followed my blog much you'll know that I post about the Battle of Culloden every year on April 16th (the day of the battle in 1746). It was a pivotal battle in the history of Scotland and the battlefield is just a few miles from Inverness. I've been there several times but the day after the conference Tony took about 16 of us on a little field trip to Culloden. I felt like I was being handed a walk the battlefield with someone who knows just about everything there is know about what happened that day according to the archaeological evidence. He explained about what has been found and what the artifacts tell us about the battle...information that you don't get by just doing the tourist thing in the visitor's center. We walked all over Culloden Moor and at one point he took us to a far corner where tourists wouldn't think to go and then said, "Now, turn around. What do you see?" "Not much." I said. "Exactly!' said Tony, and then launched into why this was a crucial positioning point in the battle. It was drizzly that day and we all got a bit wet but WOW! It was great!

        School is keeping me very busy. So far my grades are pretty good but I sure spend an awful lot of time, outside of class, working on papers and doing all the required reading for my classes. I have an in-class presentation to give on Thursday this week on the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England. It's a subject that has always interested me so the presentation wasn't too hard to prepare for and I just finished a paper on 'brochs' (pronounced sort of like brocks), dry stone tower dwellings that were unique to Scotland and built around the turn of the first millennium. It was fun to write about the Broch village of Gurness because Nikki, Shauna and I visited the site when we were in Orkney a couple of years ago. I wish I knew then what I know now. I'm definitely going back!

        My social life is as fun as ever. Inverness may be small but it's a very lively town. Besides getting to listening to Kenny and the boys play several times a week, there are a couple of other local musicians who I've gotten to know and whose music I really enjoy. One of my favorites is Kevin Fraser. Kevin drives up from Glasgow a few times a month to play gigs in and around Inverness. He always stops by the house for a cup of coffee when he's in town and I always try to make it out to hear him play. He plays just good old rock n' roll. He has a really heavy Glaswegian accent and last week he told me that I'm getting better at understanding, that I don't say "huh?" or "what?" or "say that again." nearly as much anymore. It's my goal to be able to understand everyone no matter what part of Scotland they come from. For such a small country it's amazing how many different accents there are here. People who live as little as 10 miles apart can sound completely different. I have 4 or 5 guy friends who are a real challenge for me to understand. But I'm getting better!

        My American accent has turned out to be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's a great conversation starter. All I have to do is open my mouth and anyone can hear that I'm American. Occasionally someone will guess Canadian and even once Australian! but usually they assume American. Everyone here is so friendly that they immediately want to know if I'm on 'holiday' and if so where in the States I'm from. When I tell them that I'm not on holiday, that I live here, then they want to know the whole story of why I chose to move to Scotland and why Inverness in particular and do I plan to stay and how do I like it and do I have Scottish ancestry and why Scottish History and and and....
That's all very nice but sometimes I want to just be able to talk without drawing attention to myself! I'm getting a wee bit tired of telling my story over and over and over. I sometimes think I'd like to have a recording of it so I could just hit the play button, walk away, and come back after they've finished listening to it. Then we could just get on with talking about something else! That sounds very uncharitable doesn't it? It's just people's way of being friendly and getting to know someone new. But I still wish it wasn't the automatic first conversation I have with everyone.
In contrast to that, is how comfortable it is to talk around my friends (who already know the whole story!). I get a bit of teasing now and then but my accent isn't the central theme of conversation. I can just talk freely in a group and even though I sound different they're all used to it now. They obviously still hear the accent but it's like their attitude is "Oh yeah, that's Connie. She may sound different but she's still just one of us."

        I've also been taking ceilidh dance classes. They are great fun. There are usually between 15-20 people each week. Obviously I'm the only American and I thought I'd be at a real disadvantage but most of the Scots are just as clueless as I am, and we just crack ourselves up sometimes trying to get these traditional dances right. It's a real workout, too.

        A couple of weeks ago was bonfire night. Early in the 17th century there was a plot to blow up parliament with gunpowder. The culprits were caught and the tradition of burning an effigy of one of the guys, Guy Fawkes, has evolved into an annual event all over the UK on Nov 5th each year.  So that evening Iain, Tobi, Chris and I converged on the local community park, along with scores of other Invernessians to watch the hugest bonfire I have ever seen! It was enormous and once it got going it lit the whole park up, not to mention making us all nice and toasty! After the fire then there was a fireworks display. I'm like a little kid when it comes to getting to experience the local traditions.

        Speaking of local traditions! I've been invited to attend a Burns Supper in January! Robert Burns is Scotland's most famous poet. He is known as Scotland's Bard. Burns was born on Jan. 25th, 1759 and all over Scotland his birthday is celebrated each year with a 'Supper'. Actually there are Burns Suppers all over the world each year....even in the States. I did a blog entry about Robert Burns last January. This coming January, though, I get to participate in remembering his birthday, not just write about it!

        On the same topic of traditions....this Thursday is Thanksgiving! I think I mentioned that I'm having a houseful for dinner. I was in Germany last year and Nikki and I didn't get to do Thanksgiving. Thursday was a normal workday for both of us so we just went to a wine festival that weekend to celebrate! The year before that I was in Pittsburgh and had dinner with Sherry's family, so it's been a couple of years since I've actually gotten to make dinner myself for a crowd of people, as is my usual tradition. I'm looking forward to showing my friends a little bit of my own culture. They have, of course, all heard of Thanksgiving but none of them have ever participated in our most yummy of holidays. I plan to make 4 pumpkin pies as well as 2 apple pies. Everyone is really curious about the pumpkin pies so I want to be sure there is plenty for second helpings and then some left over for later.
I finished my shopping list this morning and it occurred to me that the grocery store won't be the madhouse that we're all used to this time of year. It's probably a safe bet to say that I will be the only American shopping for Thanksgiving dinner in Tesco's this afternoon!

        Here's a funny observation.... The turkey is native to North America. Benjamin Franklin even lobbied for the turkey as our national bird. Glad that didn't work out. It wouldn't be very seemly to make a such a tradition out of consuming ones national bird each year! Anyway, you can't always find fresh or frozen turkeys in American grocery stores, with the exception of from now til after Christmas so I was concerned about whether I could get one here. No problem. They are available all year round! Obviously what I couldn't get was canned pumpkin for the pies. And don't start on me about using a fresh pumpkin! I have enough to do at Thanksgiving without carving pumpkins, too! Good canned pumpkin is just pure pumpkin that has already been cooked and pureed. Anyway, thanks to Shauna and international mail service, I have in my possession two large cans of the heavenly goop! Not to mention a few packages of Hidden Valley Ranch mix to make dip. Nobody here has even heard of ranch dip. So the first American goody they will try on Thursday is a veggie tray with ranch. Not to mention chips and dip. Chips are called crisps here and french fries are called chips. I try to remember to use the local terminology but this Thursday we are celebrating that most American of holidays so our little potato wafers will be called chips! I'm going to make them all say it, too! hee hee!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Happy For This Day

One of these days you all are going to get tired of hearing me go on and on about how incredibly happy I am. But, in the meantime....

The weather has been beautiful ever since I got here. Not to say that it has been warm and sunny every day but there have only been a couple of days so far that were continually rainy. Some days no rain at all, some with a bit of rain for a while then clear skies the rest of the day. Temps have been very mild. There have been maybe 2 or 3 days when I actually had to break out the big fluffy coat but for the most part a jacket has been sufficient, even at night.

I know winter is on its way but the autumn has been wonderful. Last Friday was sunny and balmy and, though we all had schoolwork we should have been doing, Tobi, Chris and I decided that the day was just too beautiful to waste indoors so we piled into Chris' car and drove across to the Black Isle. The changing of the colors is always amazing to see and the drive through the countryside to the town of Cromerty was a visual feast. Vibrantly colored leaves, grazing sheep and cattle, gorgeous coastline...all accompanied by sunshine and warm temps. We decided that it was very close to an Indian Summer day.

When we arrived in Cromerty we walked over to the small harbor and spent a good deal of time watching one of the fishing boats come in and unload its catch from a day out on the waters of the North Sea. Several of the local residents were there to buy their fish fresh off the boat. After hanging around the harbor for a while we decided to take a walk along the water's edge. I really enjoy Tobi and Chris' company and at one point we all just made ourselves comfy on a bench near the water to talk and watch the sea birds. We strolled back through town and stopped for something to drink at outdoor tables before heading home to Inverness. It was just a lovely afternoon out.
The boys have gone over to Skye for a few days and Iain and I miss them! We'll be happy to see them come home.

Today is not rainy or particularly cold but it is overcast. I'm working on an essay about the 13th century in the Highlands and Islands and looking forward to the next few days. I'm going to a 3 day conference here in Inverness called Scotland's Global Impact. The speakers are all eminent historians and academics from around Scotland and UHI has canceled all history classes for this week to allow us to attend the conference. They even sprung for the cost of the tickets. I'm very excited!

So, even though the sun is hiding from us and there is not much going on today, it's a wonderful day in my world!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Random Observations

I really should be working on an essay for one of my classes but I haven't blogged in so long! I'm not quite sure where to start so I think I'll just jot down a few things that have been rattling around in my head for a while.

Tomorrow is the two month mark! I arrived on August 7th and school started on September 7th. I am still incredibly happy about my new life in Inverness. I did nothing but play, play, play for the first month. This last month has been very busy, though. Besides attending classes there is an incredible amount of reading to do before each class, not to mention writing papers and doing the necessary research for said papers. The paper that I should be working on right now, instead of blogging, is about the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic period for a class called History of Material Culture. We are studying the archaeology of Britain in general and more specifically Scotland. Very interesting subject but some of the academic papers that we have to read are soooo dry and boring! Others are very 'readable', though. I enjoy the latter and trudge through the former.

Another class is called The Atlantic World 1492-1800 The Old World Meets the New. It's about European Exploration. 1492 ring a bell, anyone? So guess what we've been talking about for the last couple of weeks....the settling of North America! I have to laugh at myself. I travel a continent and an ocean to come here and study Scottish History and I'm studying the history of my own country! Columbus, Pilgrims, Native Americans...the whole shebang! I just submitted my first paper for this class. It was about Jamestown and Plymouth! Even though this is a subject that I studied all through school growing up, for just about everyone else in the class this is all new information. They certainly didn't study this in school. Why would they? I believe we are moving on to West Africa next week but we'll be coming back to North America next month...more about the early settlers, the Atlantic slave trade and rum running.

My third class this semester is Scottish History 1066-1603. We started in the 11th century with the impact of the Normans on Scotland and have worked our way up through the wars of independence involving William Wallace and Robert the Bruce (not quite as flashy but a wee bit more in depth than Braveheart!). I was a little nervous about this class. I thought I would be at a real disadvantage here. I assumed that my classmates, all being Scottish, would know this subject from school the way I know American history from school. Not so! As Americans we get fed our national history from the very beginning of our academic sojourn. Everyone remember that play about the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving in first grade? So I assumed it was the same way in the Scottish educational system. It's not. Scottish history simply isn't taught to Scottish children. That's not to say that my classmates are totally ignorant of the history of their country. But what they know they didn't learn in school. So I'm not really at a disadvantage here. Some know more than I do and some know less. But, given that we are all first year students in the Scottish History program, it's a safe bet to say that we all want to know more!

My fourth class is called Identity and Environment. It is specifically about cultural identity within the Highlands and Islands of Scotland....very different historically from lowland Scotland. When I decided to move to Scotland I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to live in the Highlands. I have studied enough Scottish history on my own to know that this part of Scotland is special. I have to admit that I was drawn by the stories of wild highlanders, clan life, tartan, the pipes, the Jacobite rebellions and all the other things that have been so romanticized about the Highlands. But I also knew that these things were only part of a much larger and much more complex story. My motive for moving to the Highlands specifically was to learn the whole story of this incredible region, both past and present. If Scottish History 1066-1603 is the entree in my academic smorgasbord then Identity and Environment is the dessert (hmm.....does that make Atlantic World and Material Culture bread and salad or side dishes?).

Speaking of the present...I am pleasantly surprised at how content I am in my current home life. Before I got here I was pretty set on having my own apt. I took this place initially because it was a whole lot cheaper than the bed and breakfast and, as Kenny said, it would at least give me some breathing room while I looked for what I wanted. But after 2 months here I can't imagine living anywhere else.

Kenny is a wonderful landlord besides being a good friend and my 3 housemates and I get along really well. Iain (no I haven't misspelled his name) has been an unexpected treasure. He and I hit it off immediately and we become better and better friends with each passing day. He took a couple of weeks off work not long after I moved in and we hung out together every day. People saw us grocery shopping together, running around town during the daytime together and in the pubs together at night so much that we had to laugh knowing that everyone was just sure that there was something going on between us. All of his friends and mine, and especially our mutual friends, have by now figured it out that we are just really good mates (to use the Scottish term for friends). I adore Iain and count myself very lucky to have drawn him in the housemate lottery. He is a few years younger than me, ex RAF, divorced, father of 3, half Scottish-half English, speaks with an English accent, his father was also in the RAF so they lived all over but Iain was born in Scotland. He is one of the kindest people I know, very unpretentious and very funny. One day Tobi and Chris had just come back from running and they casually invited Iain to go with them the next time. Iain responded with, "I don't panics the troops." I cracked up!

Tobi and Chris are only here until December. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that they are German students studying forestry and are here on a one semester exchange program. I introduced them to the mini series Roots a few nights ago. We've been watching it one installment at a time and we just finished watching the last episode tonight. They really enjoyed it. We are an odd little family and Iain and I will miss the boys when they leave. Haha! That does sound like a family unit thing to say!
Considering our mix of nationalities we have dubbed our house NATO Central. We have the British, the Germans and the Americans!

I opened a bank account a few weeks ago. When my checks came in the mail I was quite puzzled. They didn't look like the checks I'm used to. You know, two lines. First one for the person's name, second one for the amount. Then the signature line below and to the right. These checks had three lines. The sig line was obvious, but three lines? And none of them marked as to what they were for. I was stumped. So the other day I put one in my pocket and when I saw Laura and Sandra I pulled it out and laughingly admitted that I needed someone to show me how to fill it out! The random things that a new culture throws at you!

I'm also getting used to some language differences....

I have to try to remember to say trousers, not pants. Pants are what you wear under your trousers!

Another word that could be quite embarrassing is fanny. To us, a harmless little word that means your butt. Right? Wrong! Same general area of the body but around the front side....of the female body. So no talk of fanny packs, or of patting someone on the fanny. Can't you just picture talking about when my kids were little and when they would misbehave I would pop them on the fanny. "You what?!!" hahaha!

Half past the hour is expressed as half 8 or half 10. This was a bit confusing at first because in German half 8 means 7:30. Here it means 8:30.

The opposite of inside is outside, right? So is the opposite of within without? Of course not, that means something completely different so we say outside. Not here. The opposite of within is outwith.
Are/Is....I would say Schiehallion is playing at The Gellions tonight. Schiehallion is the name of "a" band as in one singular unit. Wrong again! Schiehallion is made of more than one person, therefore, "Schiehallion ARE playing at The Gellions tonight." Just as in "The family are coming for dinner." or "Manchester United are winning 2-1."

The Gellions, a local favorite pub, is pronounced The Gilluns (with a hard g) and the Moray Firth is pronounced the Murry Firth (a firth is a bay along the coast).

"That's me/That's us" is often used in place of "I'm/We're". "That's me ready for bed." or "That's us leaving just now."

I vacuum the carpet. Iain hoovers the carpet.

I have a cell phone, Tobi and Chris each have a handy and everyone else carries a mobile. The stress is still on the first syllable but the second syllable is pronounced with the long 'i' sound.

"Cheers"... As speakers of American English we think of this word as simply a way to make a toast. Silly Americans! It also means "Thanks". Someone holds the door for you, you respond with "Cheers" or "Cheers, mate". When I get off the bus I say "Thank you." to the bus driver on my way past. Everyone else says "Cheers" on their way out.

"Pissed"... "He was really pissed when I saw him the other night" It means he was drunk not mad. He could very well have been in a great mood and still have been pissed!

And, last but certainly not least, is my favorite word of all.......wee. Kenny says it a lot. "Here's a wee song about..." "Here's a wee song written by...." When I picked up my new glasses the man fitting them said "I'll just give them a wee clean." Everything is a wee this or a wee that. And, of course, they really do call it a "wee dram". That's a shot of whisky. My spell check is trying to tell me to put an 'e' between the 'k' and the 'y' but that's not correct. If it is made in Scotland then the word is spelled whisky. Anything made elsewhere, as in the States or Canada, is spelled with an 'ey'.

Oh, that reminds me of one more! Those of you who have traveled outside of the U.S., think about what it is you say when someone asks you where you're from. Chances are you say "The States". That's what we seem to call our country when we are outwith its borders. We might also refer to it as "The U.S" but it is never MY first reaction to call it "America" when I talk about home. If I'm trying to explain something that is different where I come from I would probably say something like, "In the States we would use a blah blah blah..." but not, "In America we would use a blah blah blah..." I would say "I'm going home to the States for Christmas." not "I'm going home to America for Christmas." It's taking some getting used to to say "I'm from America." When I say "I'm from the States" people say, with a puzzled look, "Where?" They hear my accent and expect me to say one of two things, either "Canada" or "America", but not "The States". When they talk about it they always call it America. Never anything else so it kind of trips them up when I call it something else. I try to call it America but it just feels really weird.

So, the long and short of my little language recital is that even though we are all speaking English we are sometimes speaking VERY different English. There are a lot more examples that I can think of but you get my drift. Nothing is right or wrong and I'm sure, in time, I'll pick up some of the words that are not currently in my vocabulary. But, for now, not only am I the one with the accent but, given the fact that I'm the foreigner, I'm the one who talks funny!

I do take a bit of ribbing for being an American (from some more than others!) but it's all done very teasingly. I have made so many friends in the short time that I've been here! I can honestly say that, even though I miss my kids especially, I have not felt a moment of loneliness since I arrived. I am amazed at how I've just been gathered in and made to feel a part of this community.

Thanksgiving is coming up next month and those of you who know me know I've always had a houseful of people for Thanksgiving dinner. Well, this year will be no different. I've invited about a dozen friends. They all accepted my invitation with enthusiasm and are looking forward to experiencing a real American Thanksgiving dinner. The pumpkin pie has aroused the most curiosity. A couple of people have asked if they can bring anything. I said no there really isn't anything anyone can bring except maybe the booze. Hazel wanted to know if she could at least bring a pudding. I'm not exactly sure what "a pudding" is but I AM sure that they are not traditionally part of the Thanksgiving meal! Maybe someone could bring a veggie tray. I slipped and said something about chips and dip. That got a funny look and I had to correct myself. Chips are crisps here and fries are chips. Hahaha! Could you just see us all sitting around dipping french fries before dinner? Maybe we could start a new tradition and dip fries into a pudding!

OK, it's getting late and now I'm just getting slap happy. I think it's time for bed. I'll try not to let so much time pass before my next blog entry. Just because the name of my blog is Journey To The Highlands doesn't mean that it should end just because I got here!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Drive-By Greeting

I haven't forgotten about you, little blog. I've just been really, really busy. Suffice, for the moment, to say that everything is still fabulous in my world and I promise to sit down and chat soon!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Housemates and Other Stuff

When I moved into the house Ian was the only other permanent occupant. The other two bedrooms kind of have revolving doors. We had Kenny's Uncle Chris, from Dumbarton, in one for about a week. Kevin has stayed a night or two on a couple of occasions when he's up from Glasgow to play the pubs in Inverness. And Craig, a North Sea fisherman, stayed one night. These guys are all our friends and Ian and I are happy to see them come. We have laughed about not wanting Kenny to fill the other two rooms on a permanent basis. We like it the way it is. We live here and our friends come to visit. Ian and I get along great and we hang out together a lot. But yesterday the Germans arrived! LOL! Toby and Chris are a couple of forestry students who are here for a one semester exchange program. We all had coffee together in the kitchen this morning and they seem very nice. So we have a full house for a couple of months now. All I can say is everybody better pull their own weight in the housekeeping department. I'm NOT cleaning up after 3 guys! Ian is really good about it and one of the new guys did the dishes before they left this morning so I think we'll be OK.

I broke my glasses on Thursday! I took them to 4 different optical shops and everybody said the same thing. They can't be fixed. So I had to have an eye exam (since I don't have my prescription with me) and order new glasses. The bad news is that it's going to take a week to get them so I'm back into my stupid little readers til then. The good news is that I got 2 pair for about half the cost of my last pair.

I think I want to eventually buy a little car but not until I get used to the traffic. When I ride in a car with someone it is very strange to sit in the left front seat without a steering wheel in front of me and it's still a little weird to travel down the left side of the road but what really freaks me out are right turns! I have that immediate feeling that we are cutting someone off in the right lane to make a right turn from the left lane! And then we don't turn into the right lane of the cross street. We go over the left side of the street! Again my instincts try to tell me that we are heading into oncoming traffic! This happens to me time and time again and it's really disorienting for just those few seconds. So until I get used to the wrong, uh I mean the left, side of the road, I think it's better if I just ride with friends or take the bus! Another very strange thing is that it's OK to park on the side of the street against the flow of traffic. Imagine crossing over the oncoming lane to pull up to the curb and park. Another reason for me NOT to get behind the wheel yet!

I had a two day orientation at the college this past week. There are about 15 of us in the History Program at the Inverness campus and I was pleased to see that we are a mixture of men and women, some just kids and others "mature" adults. Those of us who are first year students will have another orientation next week at the North Highlands campus in Dornoch (about an hour and a half north of Inverness). We'll meet the history instructors and all the other first year history students from the other UHI campuses from around the Highlands and Islands as well as get a more intensive introduction to the UHI history dept. which is based at the North Highlands campus. UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands) is putting us up at the Dornoch Hotel for 3 days. I had planned to take the bus to Dornoch but one of the other students, a woman just a bit younger than me, offered to give me a ride up and back. We'll leave Inverness on Monday morning and return on Wednesday afternoon. And then classes will finally begin the following Monday. I have my first class on that Tuesday! At last!!!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My First Birthday In The Highlands

I had a fabulous birthday yesterday! Ian, my new housemate, took me for a cruise on Loch Ness in the afternoon. The loch is so beautiful and Ian has quickly become a very good friend. Then it was off to the Gellions to celebrate with more friends and bathe in the sounds of Schiehallion! Sandra, Laura and Hazel surprised me with flowers and a card and then Cath and Gringo arrived bearing another birthday card, a lovely bottle of Australian wine and a can of Guinness (which made me laugh). The evening flowed with Happy Birthday wishes from everyone and I did my best to keep up with all the birthday drinks that came my way! At the height of the evening's celebrations Kenny led the crowded pub in a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" after which he sang "Summer Walkers" for me. I love all the music that the band does but this song is very special to me. I've not heard Kenny sing it live since I got here and had asked him about a week and a half ago if he would sing it for my birthday. I wasn't sure if he would remember so I sent him a text yesterday afternoon to remind him and got one back saying he was just then rehearsing it for me. It was amazing! For almost 5 minutes the rest of the world just kind of disappeared as I stood about six feet away, in the middle of the dance floor, and lost myself in the haunting lyrics of the song and the sheer power and grace of Kenny's voice. When he finished I stepped up, put my hand on one of his cheeks, kissed the other one and whispered thank you. Then it was back to the rowdy celebrations!

My girls had been concerned about me spending my birthday alone in a new town. But that was before I arrived here and met all these wonderful people. I am amazed at how quickly I found my niche in this little corner of heaven. I feel so at home here and can't imagine ever living anywhere else. I went walking last Sunday with Sandra and Marie down the Caledonia Canal, which runs parallel to the River Ness. I was visually drinking in the scenery and felt my soul coming alive again after being dormant for what has seemed like a very long time. To the people who have grown up here The Highlands are just "home" but as a new immigrant I see things through a different lens. I look forward to the time when my life in Inverness becomes routine but I don't think I'll ever lose the feeling of wonder that, through all my travels, The Fates have led me to this beautiful place. I am come home.....

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Man In The Moon

One of my favorites...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Scottish Tourism, Language, and Sport

Kenny just showed me this video and I laughed till I cried....

And here's another one. The beginning is so funny to me because it sounds just like Kenny. I had to smack him and say "See, it's not just me!" He keeps telling me I have to learn to speak Scottish. Hell, I have to learn to understand it first!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'm Here...At Last!

I made it! That wild scheme I came up with two years ago is finally a reality. Nikki and I landed at Edinburgh Airport last Friday. From the airport we had to take a bus to the the train station to catch our train to Inverness. And to my surprise, who should be waiting at the Edinburgh train station for us? SHAUNA! She had flown in from India the night before to surprise me. Nikki was in on it so she knew to look for her sister when we got to the station. They had been planning this for a couple of weeks. Nik had even been in touch with the B&B in Inverness to let them know that there would be three of us but that it was a surprise to me.

I was a very happy mom as we all boarded the train for Inverness. I think my face was glued to the window for the entire three and a half hour ride. We checked into our B&B and then went in search of dinner. We found a really good restaurant in the town center called The Mustardseed. After dinner we went for a nice long walk along the River Ness and across to the little island in the middle of the river.

On Saturday we went out the the Culloden Battlefield. The National Trust for Scotland built a new Visitor's Center last year and the new exhibition on the events leading up to the battle, the battle itself, and the aftermath of the battle is much improved over the old one. We spent several hours there which concluded with a walk around the battlefield itself. Then it was back into town to head over to the pub to see Schiehallion play. Fabuluous! They played from 5pm-8pm at The Gellions and then from 9:30pm-12:30am at Hotanannys. We had a great time. I've played Schiehallion's CD so much since it came out and devoured all the YouTube videos but there is nothing like hearing the music live. Kenny has such an amazing voice and the kind of music he sings just feeds my soul. We met all the "regulars" and they welcomed me to Inverness with such genuine enthusiasm. Kenny offered to show me around after the girls left. On Sunday the girls and I took a historical tour of Inverness before landing at Finlay's (another pub!) to catch the band again. Knowing that Nikki and Shauna were leaving the next morning, Laura (one of the "regulars"), told the girls not to worry about their mom, that they would take good care of me!

The next morning Kenny picked me up and we went out to the Black Isle to watch the dolphins. They come in each day about noon to feed on the salmon. The dolphins must take Mondays off 'cause they didn't show that day but we had a lovely time anyway, sitting by the water, talking and watching the seals. After a few hours we drove back into town to look at one of Kenny's houses that he rents out on a shared basis. The house has 4 bedrooms but only one was occupied. I had been set on getting a single apartment but I figured it wouldn't hurt to look at what Kenny had to rent. The house is in a nice neighborhood called Hilton and there is a bustop just right around the corner. I decided to take it and Kenny came by the B&B for me and my suitcases yesterday, which we dropped off at the house before going out to lunch. My housemate is a really nice guy named Ian. We've had a few friendly conversations and he seems very laid back so I think it's going to work out fine. Kenny's uncle is up from Dumbarton for a week or so so there are actually 3 of us in the house at the moment.

I love Inverness. It's small enough that you really can't get too lost but it's a very lively town with a population of about 72,000 (minus all the tourists!). There is plenty of shopping and the pubs are always in full swing. Not to mention that it is in the heart of The Highlands. So much to see and do!

For someone who just landed I sure don't feel like a lone stranger in town. Between spending time with Kenny on Monday and Tuesday, having Ian and Chris at the house, and getting to know the regular Schiehallion crowd at the pubs I certainly haven't been lonely! It's off to the Gellions again tonight!

I have died and gone to heaven in the Scottish Highlands!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Full Circle In Germany

When I arrived in Germany 10 months ago I stayed with Nikki and Bert for a couple of months until I moved into my apartment. Now, at the end of my stay, I'm back. The shipping company picked up all my boxes in Mannheim last Thursday. I closed the door to my cute little "hobbitty" apt one last time and came back to Ludwigshafen. When I got here I looked at Nikki, sighed, and said, "Well, I'm homeless again." We both laughed because all that means is that the dream is finally at hand.

Bert had to go to Munich for work on Thursday and won't be home until tomorrow morning and Nikki doesn't work on Fridays so we have had a very nice long mother-daughter weekend, just the two of us hanging out. We ran some weekend errands on Friday and on Saturday we went to the farmers market, did some cleaning and then went for a long walk in Luisenpark. Yesterday we both slept late and then I went to the park to get in a few miles while Nikki did some lesson planning in advance of being gone next weekend. When I came home we had a lovely dinner on the balcony and then watched movies.

I have so enjoyed this last year in Germany. The experience has been very different from the first time I lived here. Not better or worse, just different. The best part, though, has been being so close to Nikki. That also means that the worst part about leaving will be leaving Nikki. I'm so excited about finally moving to Scotland and she shares that excitement with me but we are both so aware that it means another good-bye. I'm glad she's going with me for a few days when I leave. We're just going to play when we get to Inverness next weekend. We'll go to the pub a couple of times to see Scheihallion play, take a trip out to Culloden, walk along the river Ness and just do some poking around town. Then she'll fly back to Germany on Monday.

I will miss my little Pickle.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

German-American Freundschaft

This is my last night in my little "hobbitty" apartment in Mannheim. I was so lucky to find this cubby when I came to Germany. Not just because it is such a cute little apartment...perfect size, fully furnished, nice neighborhood...but because of the people who own the house and live in the apartment just below me.

Peter and Barbara have been absolutely wonderful to me in the time that I have been renting from them. They have done so many little things for me that go beyond just being good landlords. Peter helped Bert and me schlep my boxes up to the third floor when I moved in and tonight he has parked his car on the street so we could put all my boxes in their garage in preparation for the movers tomorrow. When I left to go to Berlin four days after moving in here they heard me bumping my suitcases down the stairs and insisted that Peter should help me get the bags to the tram stop. When Barbara realized that, because of my Berlin trip, I would only spend a total of 18 days in the apt. during Jan and Feb she insisted that I not pay rent for the month of Feb! She had no idea how short of money I was at that point and what a gift her gesture was.

My rent includes utilities and wireless internet. I've tried to be conscientious about energy comsumption (turning off lights and, in winter, putting on a sweater instead of cranking up the radiators), but when we had a bit of a cold spell this last spring Barbara made a point of telling me to turn the radiators back on if I needed them. She wanted to be sure that I stayed warm! And when I lost my internet connection in March Peter went out of his way to get me back online as soon as possible. His connection was fine but he replaced his modem to reestablish mine.

Barbara's daughter Miriam lives here in Mannheim and often spends Sunday afternoons with her mother and Peter. Barbara always cooks a big lunch when Miriam comes over and since I moved in they have invited me to join them on a regular basis. Barbara is a fabulous cook and I have enjoyed our long Sunday lunches tremendously. The conversation is always fun and interesting and I have especially enjoyed getting to know Miriam. She is delightful but I must say I've never seen such a tiny girl who could pack away so much food at one sitting! LOL! It has kind of become a running joke at amazement at Miriam's capacity.

I've spent several very enjoyable Saturday afternoons hiking with Barbara and Peter and the evening that they invited me to go to the ballet with them was great fun.
One of the sweetest things, though, has been something very simple. Barbara reads the paper on a daily basis and whenever she reads something that she thinks would be of interest to me, whether it's news of a change in the tram schedule or a community event or a sale on "American" items at the grocery store, she cuts out the article or notice or whatever it is and leaves it on the stairs for me. Just a little thing but so thoughtful.

What I have been most grateful for, though, was how understanding they were about Lucy. They didn't even ask for a "pet deposit" when I moved in. I knew that Lucy didn't always get her butt all the way in the litter box when she had to pee so, from the beginning, I laid heavy plastic under the "pee" pads in front of her box to make sure that the wood floor was extra protected.
Letting your renter have an indoor cat is one thing (most cats are very fastidious about using the litter box) but it wouldn't have been unreasonable in this situation for Peter or Barbara to voice concern. After all it was my cat and their floor! But they never did. When they asked about Lucy it was only to inquire about how she was getting along. They were both very sweet to her and Barbara was here to say goodbye on that last day.

Last Sunday, they had a going away BBQ for me. Miriam and Daniel (Barbara's son) both came and the next door neighbors were invited, as well as Nikki and Bert. As a going away gift they gave me a book about humor that I am looking forward to reading. It was a lovely afternoon and very much appreciated.

It has been such a pleasure to get to know Peter and Barbara. They have been much more than just my landlords. They are friends who I will miss. I know they like to travel and I'm hoping they will come to visit me in Scotland sometime so I can, in some small way, return their hospitality.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Step By Step

I feel like I'm so close I can taste the haggis! 10 days away from the big move. Everything is packed and the movers come on Thursday to take away my meager belongings. I'll do a bit of cleaning and then move with my suitcases over to Nikki and Bert's for the last week.

Today I'm going to Luisenpark. I haven't been in about a week and a half. What with losing Lucy, then going out of town for that weekend and then packing I just haven't had the time for my daily walking. But I looked around this morning and realized that everything is done so off to the park I go! Just me, my tennis shoes and my iPod.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Looking To The Future

I can't believe I'm finally counting days (15!) instead of weeks or months until my move to Scotland. I started packing today. The shipping company doesn't come until Thursday next week so there is no real rush about it. It's not like I have a lot to pack, anyway. Everything I own these days would fit into the back of a pickup truck! But it's still a pain in the ass to have to pack....again!

I decided to wait til I get to Inverness to start looking for an apt. So I'm booked into a Bed and Breakfast for the first 2 weeks (the moving company will hold my stuff until I find a place). Nikki is flying with me to Inverness. We seem to have a pattern going. She and I took Shauna to Seattle for grad school. Shauna accompanied Nikki on her move to Germany and now Nikki is going with me to Scotland. We'll play for 3 days and then she'll fly back to Germany and I'll begin a serious search for a place to live. I thought about looking into a roommate situation. There are lots advertised online, but I've realized that I like living alone. I've gotten really used to the privacy and freedom of living by myself and unless it's for a tall good looking bug killing bed warming Scotsman, I don't think I want to give those things up.

Sara (from Nikki and Shauna's high school and college days) just moved to Germany with her Army husband Jared and their two little boys. They are stationed in Hohenfels which is down south from here in Bayern (Bavaria). Nikki and I were planning on going to see them just before I leave but I just couldn't spend those first couple of days at home after losing Lucy so we decided to go this last weekend instead. It was wonderful to see Sara again and meet Jared and the boys. And it was the perfect diversion to keep my mind occupied....most of the time. We spent Saturday and Sunday exploring the town of Regensburg, which sits along the Danube. Sara has the cutest kids! The funniest part of the visit was when 3 yr. old Julius looked up at the massive cathedral in Regensburg and said, "Oh my god! Who lives there?" I'm still laughing at that one.

The last several days at home have been very strange without Lucy. I keep expecting her to meet me at the door when I come home. The apt feels very empty without her but I'm trying to keep myself busy by packing and getting ready for the move.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Heart Is Breaking

Almost 19 years....that's how long Lucy has been with me. Through all the changes in my life over the last two decades this furry little creature has been my constant companion. She has lived in 9 different homes with me and has traveled across the ocean from Germany to Arizona, across the U.S. from Arizona to Pennsylvania, and back across the ocean to within a couple of hours of where she was born. In preparation for our Journey to the Highlands Lucy has been vaccinated, microchipped and blood tested for entry to the UK. My motto has always been "Where I go, so goes the bitty."

But the time has come to say good-bye. Lucy is mostly deaf these days and her sight is also failing. She weighs next to nothing. It's hard to find a place to pet that isn't just skin and bones. She has lost a great deal of strength in her limbs and she hasn't been able to jump up on the couch for several months now. Often she'll be standing in one place and one, sometimes two, of her legs will just start sliding away from her. She has also stopped any kind of feline grooming. I have to wash her face for her after she eats. It's like she doesn't even realize that her nose, chin and whiskers are all covered with kitty food.
I've had to put puppy pee pads in front of her litter box for a long time now. She uses the box just fine when she has to poop but she can't seem to get her butt all the way in when she only needs to pee. So I change pee pads several times a day. Over the last week or so she doesn't even try to get in the box to pee. She just squats in the general vicinity. The area of pee pads has become about 3 feet by 3 feet with heavy plastic underneath. I could go on describing all the other signs of deterioration but you get the picture. I just don't think she has the strength or stamina for what is to come over the next couple of months and I don't think it would be fair to expect her to endure it all just because I can't bring myself to let go.

When Lucy was diagnosed with diabetes in 2000 I was sure that the diabetes would take her from me before she reached old age. I gave her her first insulin injection on my 43rd birthday (and her 10th birthday). My birthday wish that year and every year since then has been for her good health. Notwithstanding a few bumps along the way she has done very well. So her diabetes, in the end, is not the culprit. It is simply old age.

I have spent 19 years giving her the best care that I possibly can and she has given me that same number of years of unconditional love in return. A lot of people say that cats aren't as affectionate as dogs. Those of you who have known Lucy know that she somehow didn't get that memo. Her sole objective in life has always been, not just to be held, but to be snuggled. It has long been a family joke that " the bitty", as we call her, is downright demented when it comes to needing affection. Most cats don't like to be held tightly or feel like they are being restrained. Then there is Lucy! This is a kitty who was never happy to just sit on my lap. She wanted to be cuddled and would actually put her little 'arms' on either side of my neck and press her face to mine in an effort to get closer. She would let me kiss her eyes and her nose and her cheeks without pulling away. She even rubbed noses with me. I would touch my nose to hers and rub a little bit. Then she would start rubbing back and forth and up and down until I was giggling too much for her to continue. She spent her days in a constant effort to get me to pick her up. I've often joked that Lucy would be happiest if I just put her in a snuggly and carried her around all day.

I use the past tense to describe Lucy's personality because she doesn't do these things anymore. Now when I sit on the couch and hold her on my chest I have to help her position her legs. It's difficult for her to get comfortable. She doesn't tuck her face into mine anymore and she seems to have some tender spots when I stroke her. She hasn't even slept in the bed with me in about 6 months. We used to go to sleep together, with her under the covers and cuddled in my arms. Now she sleeps on the floor.

As is always the case with old age, all of this has crept up on us a little at a time, but the cumulative effect of all of these changes is that my sweet girl has gotten very old and is now just existing from day to day. So I have come, with great difficulty and much sadness, to the decision that it is time to let her go. I called her vet this morning and made an appointment for Friday afternoon. Nikki and Bert are going with us for morale support but in the end it will be just Lucy and me. I'll hold her and stay with her til the end.

I just can't imagine what next week and next month and next year will be like without the bitty. My heart is breaking..........

Friday, July 10, 2009

28 Days!

We bought plane tickets today! Nikki and I will fly to Edinburgh on the 7th of August....exactly 4 weeks from today.

Quit job....check
Sell everything....check
Apply to UHI....check
Leave Tucson....check
Sell house....check
Sell Dad's house....check
Settle the estate....check
Get British visa....check
Buy one way ticket to Scotland....CHECK!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ms. Shauna Goes To India

Shauna had barely landed back in Seattle after her visit with us in Germany when she had to begin making plans to go to India. The "powers that be" at Google decided that she was needed at the office in Bangalore for a couple of months. She left Seattle last Friday and managed a weekend layover here before finishing her flight to the other side of the planet. We had an absolutely lovely weekend.

Nikki and I picked her up at the airport in Frankfurt and brought her back to my place in Mannheim so she could drop her stuff and take a shower. We then hopped the Strassenbahn for downtown to do some serious "appropriate Indiawear" shopping. It was a very successful excursion. She found just what she needed, light and airy but covering shoulders and upper arms. Around 8:30pm we decided to end our day with some Irish Stew at Murphy's Law Irish Pub. It was a beautiful evening so we were able to sit outside and enjoy the weather while we ate.

The next day we packed up the food that Nikki and I had prepared, collected Peter and Barbara from downstairs and headed to Luisenpark for our "5th" of July picnic. I was so glad that P&B were able to join us. I really wanted Shauna to meet them. They have been so wonderful to me while I've been here renting their little upstairs apartment.

We found our little patch of green and spread our blankets. We had chicken, potato salad, grapes, apple slices, carrots, little sausages, pepper slices, 2 kinds of cheese, 3 kinds of crackers, wine and a delicious sort of cherry bread pudding that Barbara had made. The five of us spent a lovely couple of hours, sitting in the shade nibbling our goodies. Barbara and Peter left us just before 4pm and the girls and I lounged around on the blankets for another couple of hours. It was just what we needed...time to just talk and laugh and enjoy one another's company with no distractions. The park is open until 9pm and it was another pretty evening so around 6:30pm we decided to just walk...and talk...and talk some more.

The next morning Nik and I took our little traveler back to the airport where we had to say goodbye to her for the second time in as many weeks. It's never easy to say goodbye. At the same time, though, we were very excited for her. She's wanted to see India for a very long time.
She has arrived safe and sound in Bangalore and has started a new blog to chronicle her India adventures (I've also added a link on the sidebar). I'm so glad because I want to know every little happening of her experience and hear her thoughts and impressions of it all.

The British Government Said YES!

My British visa arrived this morning!

It has been such a long process trying to get to this point that I can hardly believe it's actually finally happening. I feel as if I've been trying to run a marathon through a very large vat of molasses.
The last step in making this crazy dream of mine a reality was to get a visa for the UK. I was really nervous about being denied for some reason or another. There really was no good reason for the British gov't to deny me a visa but ALL my plans hinged on them approving my application so I have been really nervous about it.

The last three weeks have been excruciating! I have felt like I was going to explode from the tension of waiting. It's been difficult to concentrate on anything and occasionally I would panic and think, "OMG, what if they deny my application! What the hell will I do then?" Then I would have to calm myself and reassure me that I have everything they require of me and there is no reason to be denied. But this is still governmental bureaucracy we're talking about here. Anything could happen. So around and around I would go in my mind.

But my visa arrived this morning. They said YES! The last piece has finally fallen into place. So all systems are finally GO. I can pack my stuff, arrange for a temporary place to stay in Inverness - until I find an apt. - and buy a one-way plane ticket. Look out Scotland, here I come!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: Legend or Scumbag?

I am amazed at the level of grief being exhibited over the death of Michael Jackson. The man was undeniably talented. But he was also a pedophile! Ah, I can hear some of you now..."But that was never proven". Yeah, well, when you have the money to buy off your victim's families....

OJ Simpson got off too. Anyone really believe he was innocent? I see Michael Jackson in the same light. A man who got away with a terrible crime. The difference is that OJ Simpson didn't have as many fans as Michael Jackson. Fans who choose to ignore the horrible things he did in light of his talent as an artist.

Hitler was a talented artist, too. But you won't see any of his paintings on my wall! What's that you say? "Hitler was responsible for the death of 12 million people. How can you compare MJ to Adolf Hitler?" I can because they were both dishonorable human beings with no compassion for their victims.

If Jackson were the middle aged balding untalented pedophile who lived down the street we would all being saying, "Good riddance to bad rubbish". Well, I still say, "Good riddance to bad rubbish"! How can anyone who has children defend the reputation of this man? How can anyone who even knows a child? Children are to be protected and nurtured. Michael Jackson used his celebrity to abuse the most innocent of our society and the public let him get away with it because they liked his music! Evidently OJ Simpson wasn't as good a football player as Jackson was a singer and dancer. Poor Adolf also failed in the popularity contest.

I'm not saying that we cannot overlook the chinks in the armor of our "heros". There are many celebs whose behavior I disapprove of but I can still admire their work. Their job is to entertain me. What they do with the rest of their lives is not my concern. I grew up with Michael Jackson's music. I loved the Jackson 5 when I was a teenager. And I liked a lot of his later music, too. Jackson got increasingly weird as he got older. No crime there. No reason to stone the man for being eccentric. If that had been all there was to it I would have no problem with the outpouring of grief over his death. But that is not all there is to it! I cannot ignore the fact that he molested young boys. In light of that, all else pales.

Scumbag trumps legend.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Family Time Part I

The past couple of weeks have been busy, busy, busy! Michael was here from the 4th to the 13th . Shauna arrived two days after Michael got here and Steve flew in from Africa on the 10th (He just spent two months working on a linguistics project in Mali!).

Nikki put a lot of time and effort into creating and coordinating our group itinerary for the duration of Michael's visit (It was his first trip back to Germany since we left in '93). We took him to Neustadt the day he arrived. It's such a pretty little town and it made for an enjoyable but relaxing afternoon. It was really fun to watch Michael's excitement at being here and taking pictures of him with all the unique Neustadt-y stuff. We met Nik's friends, Linda and Clemens, for dinner that evening (Schnitzel und Pommes, naturlich!). We decided it was time to go home when poor Michael threatened to fall asleep in his beer. The next day the three of us made what we have affectionately dubbed 'the pilgrimage'. It's the trip back to Ramstein-Miesenbach and Kaiserslautern that we have each made as part of our first trip back to Germany. The twins did it when Nikki first moved back here in Sept. of '06 and I did it when I visited Nik in the summer of '07. So this time it was Michael's turn. It really is strange, the first time going back there, really like bringing a memory back to life. Some things have changed but some things are exactly the same as they were when we first moved to Miesenbach over 20 years ago.We even ran into Karin Nasshan while we were visiting Waldstrasse 3b and 3c! Her parents owned 3b when we lived there. Dave and Nena lived below us and Karin lived above us. She owns the house now and lives there with her husband and daughter.

Shauna arrived on Saturday and that evening the four of us had dinner at my apt. I had asked her to bring me a bottle of good tequila when she came (the tequila here is just crap) never dreaming that she would bring Herradura! But she did! If you're a tequila lover (as I am) and have never had Herradura then you are missing out on something wonderful. After dinner we met up with Linda and Clemens again; this time at Murphy's Law, an Irish pub here in Mannheim. They both know Nikki as 'just Nikki' and I know they were looking forward to meeting her identical twin, whom they had heard so much about. It's always a fun time at Murphy's but after a few beers it was time to bring Michael and Shauna home and put their poor little jet lagged selves to bed. I slept well that night with all three of my kids here. The girls in the extra bedroom and Michael on the couch in the living room. The next morning we had a big breakfast, yak, yak, yakked, played on the computer, listened to music and just generally bumped around in our jammies until mid afternoon when we all migrated over to Nikki's place.
That evening found the four of us sitting at Hemmingway's, a bar in Ludwigshafen, engrossed in conversation about Watergate and American presidential politics.

On Monday we employed trains, busses and our own 8 feet to get us to the very impressive Burg Berwartstein where we toured the castle, ate at the cafe, and picked up a few postcards before deciding to go to France for dinner....since we were so close. Shauna, still being so jet lagged, was lulled into peaceful slumber for most of the bus ride and missed the beautiful scenery along the way. After about an hour we arrived in Wissembourg. We poked around for a while and then settled ourselves at an outdoor cafe that one of Nikki's students happened to have previously recommended to her. Michael took the opportunity to venture into the rubbery world of escargo while the girls and I opted for wine, Irish coffee and cake. After that it was a lovely walk back through the town to the train station where we boarded our train for home.

Tuesday morning found us back on the Deutsche Bahn. This time headed north. First stop...Koeln (Cologne) to show Michael the Koelner Dom, one of the most impressive cathedrals in Germany. I used to take tour groups there on a fairly regular basis back in my USO days so I was excited to go back, this time with my kids. We took the guided tour in English and I tried not to roll my eyes when the guide began telling us about the magnificently adorned chest at the high alter which contained the bones of the Three Wise Men.....yes, THOSE three wise men! It seems like every important cathedral in Europe somehow manages to have some biblical relic or another. The cathedral in Trier claims to have the Holy Robe of Christ (the garment worn during the crucifixtion).

All of that aside, though, visiting the beautiful churches of Europe is one of my favorite things to do. I stand in awe of the vision of those long ago architects, stonemasons, and carpenters who gave decades and sometimes their entire lives to the building of these churches. The evidence of their dedication is in the beauty and grandeur of their craftsmanship. To wander through these magnificent structures that have endured through centuries of time is like reaching back and touching history, touching the lives of those ordinary people who knowingly or unknowingly gave us gifts beyond measure. To me the treasure is not in what these churches purportedly hold within their walls. The treasure is in the stories and the history of the people who built them.

From Koeln we headed to Bonn and the birthplace of Beethoven. I'm not really a fan of any kind of classical music but the kids were all exposed to Beethoven at a very young age and the love of his music is a gift from their father. The house where Ludwig was born is now a museum and holds an extensive and impressive array of Beethoven memorabilia and historical documents. I found it all very interesting but no more so than any other 'birth-house turned museum'. It wasn't the emotional experience for me that it was for the kids. I wish I could have exchanged myself for Wade for those few hours. It really should have been him going from room to room and display case to display case with them, listening to bits of music, seeing the pianos, reading the letters. I've enjoyed lots of wonderful travel experiences with my kids but this one rightfully belonged to their father. It would have made it so much more special to share it with Dad.

One of the things that we wanted to do while Michael was here was to take an afternoon cruise up the Rhine River but we just couldn't fit it in. So we were pleasantly surprised when the train ride home from Bonn followed right along the river for a good bit of time which included the route we would have taken had we been on a boat. So Michael still got to see the Lorelei Rock, the vineyards and all the cool castles along the river, albeit in a rather sped up fashion. And, as expected, he let out a loud guffaw as we passed the river town of Assmanshausen.

We got home pretty late that night and I was happy to kiss my kids goodnight as I got off the train in Mannheim and they continued on across the river to Ludwigshafen. We were all looking forward to Steve's arrival the next day coupled with the fact that Bert was going to be able to take a few days off from work as well. We had lots more fun stuff planned. To be continued......

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bonk! Bonk! Bonk!

OK, I know I've gone a bit video crazy lately, but this one is just too cute not to post!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Ballet...or...Dancing With The Stars

When Barbara and Peter invited me to go to the ballet I assumed it would be a classical performance. Having never been to a ballet before, I enthusiastically accepted their invitation. But as it turned out tonight's performance was not classical at all. It was a performance by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago a modern dance troupe from, well....Chicago. Afterward, Barbara explained to me that there really isn't a distinction made between the different types of dance that one might see when attending the Mannheim Ballet. So tonight was not what I had expected at all. No ballet slippers, no tutus, no swans. But, rather, a high energy show by a group of amazing young dancers accompanied by really good music. I was not in the least disappointed. I love modern dance. I am always amazed at the beauty that can be created by the movement of the human body. The first part of the performance had a very classical feel to it, though. Very smooth and romantic dances but definitely with a modern flair. The curtain came down for the first intermission and I was pleased with the show so far and looking forward to the the next two segments.

After about a 20 minute intermission we settled back down into our seats for the second part of the performance. It was at this point that the dancers really ratcheted up the energy level. The next 15 or 16 minutes was a chaotic visual feast. All 12-14 dancers were on stage at the same time. Sometimes they were all moving; sometimes only 1 or 2...or 4 or 5. They were all wearing jeans or dark khakis or some other nondescript type of pants. What really caught my eye, though, were their shirts. Nothing special, just what you might see anyone wearing walking down the street. But each one was a different solid color. This use of color combined with the energetic dance movements of so many people at once looked to me like a rainbow of popping corn. It was fabulous!

After the second intermission about 9 of the dancers came out wearing oversized dark men's suits and hats. Their dancing was less frenetic than before but no less athletic or amazing. Then they all suddenly walked down the steps and off the stage. They positioned themselves at various points in the audience with one young man standing right next to me. Hmmm....thinks me. I wonder what they're doing? Next thing I know this young man held out his hand to me and beckoned me to come with him! As did the other dancers, each to a different audience member. As I put my hand in his and left my seat I heard myself thinking, Oh this might not be such a good idea. But he put his other arm around me and, oh so gracefully, escorted me up on the stage. I had no idea what to expect but it was certainly too late at this point to chicken out so I just decided to have fun with it....whatever it was! It was great! We were like interactive props. They danced around us, with us, and at us. All to the music of the Bossanova. All I could think of at that moment was the movie Born Romantic and wished I had, at some point in my life, taken Latin dance lessons. They had us up there for probably ten minutes, most of which are truthfully kind of blur to me, but I'm pretty sure I had fun. One by one, they released us to go back to our seats where we all watched the rest of the show wondering, What the hell just happened to me?

As we were leaving the theater, afterward, Barbara, Peter and I were laughing about the whole thing and Peter showed me the picture he had taken with his phone of me on stage. I asked him to email it to me. I'll add it to this post when I get it but for now suffice to say that it was a wonderful dance performance (theirs, not mine!) and my unexpected little excursion into the spotlight definitely made it an evening to remember!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Amazing Voice

So you all know that I love everything Scottish. Why else would I have quit my job, sold my house and dismantled my life in Arizona to chase my dream of living in The Scottish Highlands and studying the history of this amazing country?

When I think of spending my days in an academic environment with other people who are just as daft about the history of Scotland as I am I feel like a little kid waiting for the first day of school. Wait....I am. Well, not a little kid, certainly, but waiting for the first day of school, definitely (Sept 7th)! I have learned so much of Scotland's history on my own but I can't wait to get into the classroom where there are teachers who know a hell of a lot more than I do and who are there to share their knowledge!

But there is much more to Scotland than just her political and social history. Like music! When the twins and I were in Inverness in July of '07 we saw a traditional folk band called Shiehallion. They blew my socks off. Just three on the pipes, one on the accordion and the front man, Kenny Jamieson. Kenny plays the acoustic guitar and the bodhran and is the sole singer in the group. He has a powerful voice that, in my opinion, is so perfectly suited for the music he sings. Songs about Scottish battles and patriots, songs about home and identity and cultural pride. I bought a compilation CD that night of a variety of traditional artists who have played at that venue and I really enjoy the entire CD but my favorite song has always been the song that Kenny sings, called Hush, Hush, about the Highland Clearances. Shiehallion recently released their own CD and Nikki surprised me with a copy of it last month. I have to admit that it's a good thing it's not on vinyl. It would be worn out by now. I listen to it all the time.

Ok, here's where I have to make a confession. Kenny has such a strong and wonderful Scottish accent that my American ears have difficulty understanding what he's singing. Not to be deterred, I have seached out the song lyrics, some from Shiehallion's website, others from different Internet sites. It's funny how, once I know the words, the songs sound so clear to me. I can't imagine how I couldn't have gotten the lyrics just by listening!

The website administrator has put a bunch of live performance videos on YouTube and there is a link to them from the website. Shiehallion does some great rousing songs, too, but the ballads are my favorites.

Here are a couple of samples.

I can't wait to get to Inverness and be able to listen live whenever I want. Student by day, Barfly by night!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Law and Order BFD

I can't believe I found this before Michael did!

Law And Order: BFD from This American Life on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!......

How many talk show hosts would hang their dignity out to dry like this?

...and one more

I crack up every time I watch those.

Friday, May 1, 2009

BA (Hons) Scottish History at UHI

I was just surfing the college's website and drooling over the classes for the Scottish History program. I'm sooo excited! Take a peek if you want to see what I'm going to be studying over the next 4 years.

Beltane and Robin Gibb

They really have nothing to do with one another except that today is May 1st - Beltane and I saw Robin Gibb (a real live Bee Gee!) at Luisenpark this afternoon.

I have a real love-hate relationship with my memory of the Bee Gees. I love their early stuff..."Massachusetts", "I've Gotta Get a Message To You", "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?" and, of course, "Words". But they are also the poster children for that ugliest of times in American music history...the Disco era. When people think of the music of the '70s they think of Disco. Truth be told, there was great music in the '70s but in 1977 a little movie called Saturday Night Fever and it's soundtrack (sung by the Bee Gees) gave new life to what had been, up to that point, a sidestream of American music - and a dying sidestream at that - Disco. The Disco era took off and the Bee Gees led the charge. Gag me with platform shoes and polyester! Good music was drowned out in the presence of the dance beat. Like I said, I have a real love-hate relationship with my memory of the Bee Gees. So when I saw Robin Gibb at the park today (he's playing a concert here in Mannheim on Sunday night) I didn't know whether to stalk him and ask for an autograph or cuss him out for his part in running good music off the radio when I was 20 years old. In the end I just left him and his companoin to their park exploration and continued on with my own.

Luisenpark was alive with people today. May 1st is a public holiday. I'm not sure what the German name for today is but in the States we just call it May Day, a day to recognize the changing of the seasons. Many cultures have some sort of deeply rooted historical celebration of Spring and the coming year. For the ancient Celts it was Beltane, a time when they celebrated the fertility of the coming year and believed that the "door" between the earthly world and the spirit world opened.

In Irish mythology, the beginning of the summer season for the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians started at Bealtaine. Great bonfires would mark a time of purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year, and were accompanied with ritual acts to protect the people from any harm by Otherworldly spirits, such as the Aos Sí. Like the festival of Samhain, opposite Beltane on October 31 Beltane was also a time when the Otherworld was seen as particularly close at hand.

Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the druids of the community would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and drive the village's cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck (Eadar dà theine Bhealltainn in Scottish Gaelic, 'Between two fires of Beltane'). This term is also found in Irish and is used as a turn of phrase to describe a situation which is difficult to escape from. In Scotland, boughs of juniper were sometimes thrown on the fires to add an additional element of purification and blessing to the smoke. People would also pass between the two fires to purify themselves. This was echoed throughout history after Christianization, with lay people instead of Druid priests creating the need-fire. The festival persisted widely up until the 1950s, and in some places the celebration of Beltane continues today.

The largest Beltane celebration takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland. One more thing to add to my calender next year!

I Am Grateful For This Past Year

A year ago today, I was uncertain about what the future held for me. The only thing I was sure about was that I was having surgery that morning to remove a grapefruit sized tumor from my right ovary. Was it benign or was it ovarian cancer? Would I be able to carry on with my Journey to the Highlands or would I first have to journey through that horrible world of radiation and chemotherapy. And if the second was my destiny, would I come out the other side victorious and healed or would I not make it to the other side at all? I was scared yet somehow still unbelieving. It just didn't seem possible that this could be happening to me...but it was. The surgeon was a gynecological oncologist and that was my name on his schedule that morning.

I thought about my children. They are the light of my life and there was so much life for us still to share. I thought about my dream of moving to Scotland. So close but suddenly so tenuous. I had shed tears of fear, let my mind wander to the scariest places and played the what if game.

I had given the tumor a title to make it a little less scary. I called it my little invader. Chief Engineer Scott to Captain James T. Kirk: "Captain, we have an invader!" Then you would see several nameless crew members running through the corridors of the Enterprise to confront and capture the invader. I was the mother ship and I had my own invader. The doctor and his surgical team were about to storm my corridors to confront and capture the enemy (stupid, I know, but it helped). As I sat there on the bed, in my hospital gown, waiting to be wheeled away, I wasn't dreading the surgery. I wanted to get it over with and get on to the next step...whatever that next step turned out to be.

The next three days in the hospital weren't a lot of fun. This was the 5th time in my life I had had some kind of abdominal surgery. You don't realize how much you use those muscles until after you've been cut open. Those core stomach muscles are an integral part of every movement your body makes. Add to that one of my infamous migraine headaches and the whole experience was pretty ugly. Nikki was my angel. She had flown in from Germany and stayed 10 days with me. She helped me in and out of bed and to the bathroom; she cagoled me into eating and even kept up my blog.

As crappy as it was, though, it wasn't as crappy as it could have been. The pathology tests came back... and the tumor was benign. All I had to do was recuperate from the surgery. My future would not include chemotherapy, radiation, hair loss and cancer doctors....

As I look back on last summer, I think about how different it could have been. As it was, though, it was a wonderful summer. I traveled to Seattle, to Colorado, to Germany and to the Caribbean. I spent several weekends throughout the summer with Paul in Virginia and I moved back to Germany in October.

Living in Germany again has been an unexpected gift. So different from the last time. Not better or worse, just a different kind of experience. I spent a month in Berlin learning to be an English language teacher and made some wonderful friends there. I love my little apt here in Mannheim. I rent from Barbara and Peter who live downstairs and who have become friends. They invite me for Sunday lunch on a regular basis and we've spent several lovely afternoons hiking through the local forests together. I teach on Tues, Wed and Thurs. What a great job! It certainly doesn't feel like work. My students are great and are all very motivated. And I've become a regular visitor to Luisenpark. It's just beautiful in the Spring and is the perfect place for my walks.

The best part of living here, though, is being able to spend time with Nikki. She called the other day and said, "Hey Mom, I need to return those shoes this afternoon. Wanna meet me at Paradeplatz?" So we met up downtown and returned her shoes. We also went to the post office and the bank. Then we went to a cafe that we had discovered a few weeks ago where they have these wonderful salads. After that she went to her French class and I went to the grocery store. It's just being able to do the little things together that we are both enjoying so much.

Bert was gone last weekend so Nikki and I went to check out McClaren's Irish Pub on Thursday night. She slept at my place that night and the next morning we decided, on the spur of the moment, to go to Strasbourgh for the day. It's only about an hour and a half away by train and I hadn't been there since the last time I lived here. Nikki had never been but had really been wanting to check it out. So off we went! The weather was gorgeous and we had such a good time. We had breakfast on the train and played tourist once we arrived. We did the self guided tour around the Altstadt that the Tourist Information lady recommended, we climbed the cathedral, shopped and had dinner at an outdoor cafe. While we were eating, a summer shower popped up and caught all the shoppers by surprise. We watched them all scramble for cover as we sat there under the awning dry and comfy. On the train on the way home Nikki and I were sharing the earbuds to my iPod to listen to Shiehallion, a traditional Scottish band from Inverness. I started laughing. "Nik, do realize that we are two Americans, on a train in Germany, listening to Scottish music?" "On our way back from France!" she added. The smiles were pretty big. Travel will never get old to either one of us.

As I said, I am so grateful for this past year. And now I'm planning my long awaited move to Scotland......