October: The missing month

I’ve thought long and hard about how to handle the month of October for my blog. You know, since I only posted twice before the site went down for essential maintenance.

I thought about writing posts off-line, then adding them to the site when it was back up. But that would mean loads of back-reading for my (small) readership.

I thought about forgetting the month all-together. But that would mean not talking about a few things that happened that I want to include in my digital diary.

I even thought about writing one really, really long post that gave all the details of everything. But that would mean one really, really long post that no one would want to read.

So, instead, you get a bulleted list of some of the highlights from my October:

  • My Mum spent most of the month here on holiday. We toured all over the UK (with her having a week without me in England with my in-laws) and really did have an amazing time.
  • I ran the Beat Beethoven 5.5K race in Stirling with my friend, Joanne. We both beat the maestro, which was awesome, and it means that I got my October race out of the way for my 2012 Race a Month Challenge.
  • I received notification that I not only passed my dissertation with a distinction, but that I passed my entire master’s course with distinction—a rare honour and one that I will blog about separately very soon.
  • I managed to secure a two-month extension on my Tier 4 student visa, giving me a bit of breathing room whilst I sort out my Tier 2 work visa. (There is still stress around that topic.)
  • I made two major decisions about my future in Scotland: 1) I really do want to research PhD opportunities and 2) I really do want to get a car.

Lots more stuff happened throughout the month, but those are the ones that jump out at me. If I’m completely honest, most of the month was spent in tears though. It was a very stressful month that saw me fearing for my future because of visa issues and concern over how I did on my dissertation. I’m sure that the visa stresses will return with vigour, but at least I’ve learned that I’m a smart cookie.

But for now, here’s October in a nut shell. And as I’m nearly half-way through November, I’ll just concentrate on keeping up with that!

Dusty books

A couple of years ago, a friend took me to Glasgow for a surprise that would really excite my ‘geeky side’. As we made our way to this secret place, I wondered what it could be. My friend knew of my love of books and printing and typography history, so I thought we might be going somewhere to see an old printing press or a collection of ancient manuscripts.

Wrong. He was taking me to a Doctor Who exhibit. Which I must say, was really awesome and cool and it did appeal to my geeky side. But it wasn’t a pile of dusty old books.

However, I travelled to Manchester for a wedding yesterday and this morning was whisked away by a couple of friends to show me The John Rylands University Library. And do you know what they have there? Well, they have old printing presses and a massive collection of ancient manuscripts and books.

It seems that when they’d visited the library previously, they instantly knew it was a place I’d love. And they were oh-so right!

I don’t know what to tell you about the place. It was all just so perfect. The original building opened to the public on 1 January 1900 and has since undergone refurbishments—including the addition of a modern section that houses a visitors’ information centre. The two sections have been paired so wonderfully, and the old and new work so well together. I couldn’t help but look at the fine details of the original building as I wandered down the halls.

There were a couple of old printing presses on display in the massive hallways, too. They were beautifully presented and I was easily able to sneak around the back of one to get a good look at the entire piece. (I don’t know if you’re meant to do that, but there wasn’t a sign saying I couldn’t so…)

Oh! And there was a great display with some fragments from ancient copies of the Old and New Testaments. Wow. Talk about impressive. There were several other bibles and science texts open behind cases to view, too.

But once I got into the reading room I was truly in awe. Down the centre corridor there were displays of ancient (and not-so-ancient but still old) books showing different binding styles. I was so excited to see the quality of goatskin-bound books with finely tooled lettering. Equally impressive were some of the vellum-, silk-, and wood-bound books. I mean—Wow!—what beautiful pieces of art.

In the rest of the reading room were standard glass-fronted display shelves filled with books from the library’s various collections. I honestly don’t know how I can give the collection the praise it deserves. It was amazing. The only thing I didn’t like was that I couldn’t touch or smell the books. That would have been heaven for sure!

Yes, another trip is needed. Only next time, I’m going to go with a letter of reference so that I can attempt to get my hands on some of the books. Maybe a Gutenberg Bible. The library has one of only 21 surviving complete copies. Oh yes, that would be amazing.

 

Catching up

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a week since I last blogged. I’m not exactly off to the best start this year, am I? So, this post will serve as a quick catch up for everyone—including me!

As I mentioned in my last post, I made a trip down to England to visit my in-laws last week; though I actually made the trip a day later than planned because of heavy winds that closed the road. But I made it, and enjoyed two nights at my sister-in-law, Ann’s, house in Wakefield. In fact, my brother-in-law, John, made the trip up from Telford for the second night, which was a nice added bonus to family time!

On Friday, I made my way to Billingham to spend the weekend with my sister-in-law, Liz. That night I participated in her girls’ night out group (I’ve joined them before—what a great group of women!) then the following morning we went to Starbucks where I got to meet my newest great nephew, Salem. Oh—and later that day we made a trip to Seaton Carew for fish and chips. (I know, that’s not surprising.)

Sunday was ‘going home’ day, but not before a nice long lunch with another sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and her daughter, Jack. All the visiting made for a busy week, so by the time they took me to the train station I was ready to go home. But it also made me happy to know that I’m only ever a couple hours away from a wonderful family. (And there are already plans to see everyone in February for a reunion.)

Anyhow, Rebecca proved once again that she’s a fantastically amazing friend by picking me up at the train station and giving me a lift home that night. It was nice to sit and relax with a cup of tea and a chat before unpacking. (Which I did before I went to bed because I don’t like to leave it until the next day.)

So, yesterday I finally dragged myself out for a run. It was my first run of the year—and my first run in more than two months! But I feel good for having done it. Well, except for the slightly sore leg muscles today!

And that’s my week in review. I have to admit that it’s been a hard week. In fact, it’s been a hard start to the year. I’ve been feeling a bit blah and unmotivated and can’t seem to shake it. To be completely honest, I sometimes wonder if it’s some sort of mild depression, but I don’t feel hopeless or helpless—I just feel blah and unmotivated. And sometimes sad and lonely. However, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s because I’m bored and inactive. I’m on break from school and I don’t have a job which means I don’t have a schedule to keep me busy. I’ve also been sitting in the flat instead of going out running. In part because of the weather, but in part because of the lack of motivation that comes from no schedule.

But, as I like to end on a positive note, I am trying to get re-motivated. The weather is nice (or at least dry) which means I will be able to get a few training runs in this month and I’ve already committed to running a 10K in a week and a half. I also have a couple of small projects to work on for Boxed Cat Media and am already thinking excitedly about school starting back in February. And I’m doing more of my swirl drawings, too. So it’s not all doom and gloom. I will shift this sulky mood soon. I promise!

(Do you like how I snuck the sad bits in at the end, hoping that most people never read that far? But honestly, I am OK. Just a little crazy. But that’s normal for me.)

Feeling fishy

Today I had a fish pedicure with my sister-in-law, Liz. I had heard about them but was never of the mindset to get one; however from the day I arrived more than two weeks ago, Liz was pretty sure I needed one. And as I’m a pretty curious person, I decided to give it a try—but I made her get one, too!

[See video below!]

According to the informational handout at the spa (Bam-Bou Fish Pedicure Spa):

‘…the fish suck and nibble the dry skin from your feet leaving you with healthy, rejuvenated skin. … These clever little fish can also stimulate acupuncture points, helping to regulate the nervous system, relax the body and release fatigue!

[It is a] totally natural and safe procedure whereby the Garra Rufa fish produce a specific enzyme whilst they suck and nibble away your dead and dry skin which then promotes the regrowth of the fresh, new skin below.’

You need only Google ‘fish pedicure’ to see that it’s a procedure banned in several US states and Canadian provinces, and that it’s a questionable practice in the UK at the moment. But at the same time, I did enough research to learn that it isn’t outright dangerous or unsanitary.

Anyhow, it was £10 for 15 minutes and we basically sat there and let these little fishies converge on our feet. It was very weird and I felt a bit squeamish at first, but once I got used to it I didn’t mind the tingly sensation. But, I don’t think it’s an experience I’ll repeat—I would much rather have a proper pedicure where the girl paints my toenails bright red at the end.

Do I recommend it? No, not really. But I wouldn’t try to dissuade you if you were curious. My only advice would be to make sure you find a place that takes hygiene seriously and that you take a friend so that you have someone to giggle with!

Bit of a wander

Yesterday was a completely new experience for me: Walking through the English countryside. The walk was suggested by Paul’s cousin, Olwen, and I happily accepted the offer. Though if I’m honest, I didn’t really know what to expect for it! And I wasn’t really prepared for a walk either, having only brought a pair of running shoes and casual clothes with me for my trip to England. Always the trooper, I was going to make do with the clothing I’d brought, but as luck would have it, Olwen had an old pair of boots that fit me as well as a spare rucksack.

Olwen is a regular walker and got in touch with her friends, Ernie and Dennis, to join us for the day. They picked a route that they’ve all done in the past, and we headed out in the car from Billingham through Whitby and into Robin Hood’s Bay where the walk began. It was then a nine-mile walk on a disused rail bed that took us up to Ravenscar then back down the way to Robin Hood’s Bay again. It’s meant to go along the beach, but a high tide meant that we walked along the tops of the cliffs instead. It was a very train-oriented journey (despite the fact that we were on foot) which made me happy because it meant loads of great photos for Mom!

After the walk, we drove into Whitby for some fish and chips. I’d only been there once before—on the last English holiday Paul and I took a few weeks before he died—so it was a bit of a happy-sad part to the day, but I’m glad we went. A bonus to the trip was seeing a steam train!

Now, I wanted to keep this post fairly short, but I have to talk about the steam train so that’s not going to happen! You see, when we pulled into Whitby everyone decided to take a detour to the old train viaduct, because of my excitement over the old rail line. As we walked out on the viaduct, Ernie thought he saw what looked like steam from an old train so we waited and waited to see it come by, only we decided it must be smoke from a bonfire.

Then we noticed smoke on the other side, right near Whitby, and thought maybe that was a train. And we waited and waited but no train came. But still I smiled because it reminded me of a friend’s trip to Wales where she sat and watched the dolphins play, only to later realise they were just waves. Of course, she’d already had the thrill of enjoying the dolphins, so decided not to let the reality get her down. And that’s what today’s non-trains were to me—a bit of a letdown because there wasn’t a train, but a lot of smiles whilst I waited for the trains that never showed.

Then we started to walk back to the car and I stopped and insisted that I heard a train. Really, I did! So we waited a bit longer and sure enough, an old steam train came chugging around the corner and under the viaduct! Yay!!

But I’ve gone on and on, so I’ll stop now. But because I know that Mom would have loved to see the old trails, I took a great amount of photos on the route. And now she (and you!) can see what the day was like for me. I know it’s not quite the same as being there, but it’ll have to do!

Oh, one last thing: I promised my former foster daughter occasional YouTube videos, so here’s a quick one of the sea coming in at Robin Hood’s Bay at the end of our walk.

Wakey culture

I made my way down to Wakefield, England, yesterday to visit with my sister-in-law, Ann, for a few days. I’ve made several trips here over the past eight+ years and have always enjoyed it. But today was a different sort of day out in Wakefield because I went to my first art museum here—the newly opened Hepworth Wakefield.

I generally love museums and such, but I think that I was more impressed with the architecture of this one than the stuff they had inside. As we approached the grey mass of concrete (the largest purpose built exhibition space in the UK outside of London) I was struck by the building’s stark and utilitarian design. The angled, multi-layered roof line seemed so oddly placed in juxtaposition to the Chantry Chapel across the way—the brutal architecture seemed more fitting in a dock yard than in the heart of a medieval town. But I think that David Chipperfield’s vision works. (I especially loved the look of it against the blue sky!)

Inside of the museum I enjoyed the variety of paintings and sculptures, but I don’t think I was in the right mindset for a museum trip because none of the works really called to me today. I did, however, find it fascinating to see some of the displays explaining the process behind making some of the massive outdoor public sculptures that I see all over the place.

Of course, after seeing the arty cultural stuff, it was time to spend some cash. So Ann took me to a couple of shops where I found myself a new dress and a pair of ballet slipper kind of shoes after we popped into the Wakefield Cathedral’s gift shop and a Costa Coffee.

Tomorrow will be a bit of a lazy day (after, that is, I get a quick training run in for that bloody marathon!) then we’re heading back to Billingham on Friday. I realised the other day that I’ve been living out of a suitcase for nearly two months now, and I have to admit that I am ready to get settled in up in Scotland! (Though I also don’t quite know where I’ll be staying long-term there, so it will be a while before I’m truly settled, so stay tuned!)

By the sea

Today has been a seaside day. But not just one seaside—three of them! Or, really, I suppose it was all the same sea, but just three different seaside towns.

It started with a trip to Saltburn with one of my sister-in-law’s and her daughter where we took in the fresh sea air, walked along the pier, and enjoyed (of course) fish and chips. Our conversations there revealed that I’d never been to any of the other local-to-Billingham seaside towns (other than Seaton, obviously) and that my niece wanted blue ice cream—a treat we were unable to source at Saltburn.

And so, after departing Saltburn we headed up the road to Redcar (in a silver car) in search of blue ice cream (which we didn’t find) and later in search of the car (which we lost after forgetting where we parked it). Of course, being as we had time to spare, we decided to head up the road again to Seaton Carew where we hoped that we’d find that blue ice cream. Sadly, we didn’t, but they did have other flavours (and colours) of ice cream and a blue cone, which seemed to suffice.

The day wasn’t meant to be a tour of the regional seaside, but it was and I enjoyed it very much. Better still, I enjoyed the company! Better even still is that I know that I will get to enjoy their company more often now that I’m so near. (The bitter-sweet side to that, of course, is that whilst I’m happy to be enjoying the company of my in-laws and Scottish friends, it comes at the price of missing my own family and American friends.)

Oh, and to fill you in since I’ve been a bit MIA these last few days:
Yesterday was spent meeting with several of my in-laws for coffee at Starbucks before heading off gadget phone shopping with one of my nephews—a shopping trip that was hugely successful and saw me purchasing my first-ever Android based phone. And I love it! (I’m sure I’ll be posting updates from it soon enough!)

Tomorrow I’m off running so that I can prepare for my marathon, then the following day I’m heading down to Wakefield to see another sister-in-law. And sometime next week, I’ll spend some time sorting the long to-do list I have that seems to be getting longer rather than shorter!

Right! That’s most everything caught up so I’m off to play with that new gadget a bit more.

Home away from home away from home

Today I left my new home in Stirling to take a train journey to Billingham, England—Paul’s hometown and home to some of my in-laws. My sister-in-law, Liz, and niece, Rachel, met me at the train station to bring me to my English ‘weekend’ home.

When I got to the house, I was escorted to my room, which has been all done up for my arrival. But not only that, the night stand drawer has been filled with goodies for me—including my very own coffee mug for keeping in the kitchen downstairs, which means I no longer have to use a guest mug. (Yay!) And then, of course, we loaded back into the car with the dogs to head to Seaton Carew so that I could have fish-n-chips for dinner. Because no trip to Billingham is complete without a stop off at The Almighty Cod!

After enjoying our fish on the bench, we wandered down to the beach where the dogs chased balls into the sea whilst I collected shells to write a message in the sand. The sun was shining and the light breeze was just as you’d expect it. Later, walking back up the beach to the car park, I found sea glass for the first time ever—lots and lots of it! (I think a return visit for the sole purpose of finding more glass is in order!)

And now I’m back at the house, all cosy in my very own room, and feeling very much like this is my home away from the home that I live in now that I’m no longer home. (Did you follow that?*)

I’m down here in England for the next two+ weeks, with plans to return to Scotland the first weekend of September. I hope to be able to visit with all (or at least most) of the in-laws as well as train for my marathon and relax.

* My first home [hometown] is Cle Elum, Washington; my current home [or home away from home, and where my heart sings the loudest] is Scotland [Stirling, to be exact]; my home away from home when I’m already home away from home is Billingham, Paul’s hometown. Is that clearer?

The feathers

A couple of nights before we had services for Paul in England*, a woman I know told me a story about feathers. She said when angels pass by sometimes their feathers fall to the ground. And that our loved ones become our own angels when they die.**

Anyhow, when we arrived at the cemetery after the Mass, there was a feather teetering on the edge of grave. When I noticed it, I think my heart skipped a beat from the surprise of it. It made me smile inside—even though I was sobbing outside—because I knew that Paul was with me that day. His eldest sister noticed it, too, and bent to pick it up then handed it to me. She was just as pleased to see it there as I was, as she’d been there when the story was told. After the services, I placed the feather in my journal.

When I returned to my hometown, I stopped off at the cemetery there. And inside of the little flower box my Dad had made as a temporary grave marker, there was another feather. Again, it made me smile because I knew Paul was there with me. That feather found its way to my journal, too.

Over the past two years, I’ve been very aware of feathers. When I’ve had a hard day and notice a feather in an unlikely place, it brings me a bit of joy because it’s another reminder that Paul is here with me—in my heart and soul and in my memories. Sometimes, I find myself talking to Paul and asking him if I’m doing the right thing or to show me the way, and then I’ll see another feather.

Now, I know that Paul isn’t speaking to me through feathers (nor do I save them all!), but I also know that seeing them reminds me that Paul wants me to be happy and if the choices I’m making in my life will help toward that, then he thinks it’s the right thing (even if it’s not what he would do). And because the last year has been especially busy with big decisions (applying to school, quitting my job, leaving our home, and moving to Scotland) I’ve been asking for Paul’s guidance and approval more than ever.

When I found myself at the SeaTac airport, past security and on my way to Terminal S, I was surprised and very pleased to find a feather laying there at the landing between escalators. It brought such joy to my heart because it reminded me that I was making the right decisions and that Paul would want this for me. So I picked up the feather and continued through the airport; knowing that Paul was there with me.

I’m still trying to find my bearings and I know that it’s still early days, but I know that this is going to be a good move for me. I need to re-learn much about living in Scotland, but I already feel a bit more at ease with my world.

(And I really do promise that I won’t become that mad woman with a collection of hundreds and hundreds of feathers. That would be just silly! But I’m sure I’ll end up with a small handful by the time my journey is done.)

* I chose to have Paul’s cremated remains buried in both my hometown, next to my grandparents, and in his hometown in with his parents. I realise it seems strange, but knowing that I can visit him no matter which country I chose to live has given me a great sense of peace. (Also, the Catholic Church does allow this practice, so long as all remains are buried in consecrated grounds. If you wondered; as some have.)

** I actually don’t believe that our souls become angels, but I do believe that Paul is up there somewhere and that he is watching over me.

God save the Queen

If you know me, you probably know that I am very sickened by all of this “Royal Wedding” mania. And I bet that you’ve maybe even come to the conclusion that I am an anti-monarchist. But I’m not. I am actually a bit of a royalist.*

I love the idea of a royal family. I love the fairytaleness of it all. I love the tradition of it all.

And, if you believe some people, there is a great [?] economic boon to the state because of 1) tourist pounds (that’s like dollars, only more expensive, to my American readers) and 2) the great trade/arms deals that are said to follow on the heels of a royal visit.

But do I think that the entire royal family should be supported by the state? No. Do I think that minor royals need body guards and state-paid accommodation? No.

Actually, I don’t really have a formal opinion on which royals should get what state-paid services, so I’ll just stop there.

So then, if I’m all “Yay for the Queen!” what’s my problem?

Well, my problem is that it seems that 1) in a time of economic upheaval around the globe, way too much money is being thrown at the wedding and 2) the media and society are going crazy over this non-event.

Two people met and fell in love and are now getting hitched. That is certainly something to celebrate—for the families of those involved. I just don’t understand why I need to have it forced down my throat! (And, yes, if you post every detail of your wedding plans on Facebook, I’m probably going to need a sick bag, too!)

So, yay for Prince William and his bride. It’s a wonderful thing when people dedicate their lives to each other through marriage. I wish you both a future of joy and happiness. And may your first child be a masculine child. (Sorry, can’t resist a good Godfather quote when talking about weddings!)

But for the media and the people who are going insane over a wedding that they’re not even invited to: Please, let’s enjoy some real news.

You know, important stuff like:

* This is being said by a woman who doesn’t fully understand the issues surrounding the constitutional monarchy.

Twee tweety tenement

I was give a little bird house the other day by my foster daughter. She came home and rather unceremoniously handed it to me on her way to her room, whilst I was in the middle of a conversation with the woman who’d driven her home. So I set it down on a side table, finished my conversation, then went to check on the kid who was getting ready for bed.

Two days later, I notice the birdhouse sitting there. I picked it up and asked the kid to tell me what the deal was with the birdhouse.

She told me that she painted it special for me so that I can take it to Scotland with me next time and hang it in a tree. Then, I need to take photos of all the birds that come to visit it to send to her because she wants to know what Scottish birds look like.

So this is the way we do things I guess. When I leave the country, I am bound by duty to send photos of something to her. On my trip to England in September she wanted airplane photos and on my up-coming trip to Canada she wants pictures of my friends. And as I like to travel and take pictures, I’m totally OK with these requests!

But don’t be fooled. She always wants real presents—and real candy—from my travels. But she’s a sweetie, so I’m happy to oblige!

That’s me home [?]

Well, that’s me home again to the great US of A. But you know what? I don’t feel that I’ve come home. I feel like I’ve come back to where I live; to where I’m from.

My trip to the UK was a sad occasion. My brother-in-law, Michael, passed away so I booked a flight as soon as I could. But despite the sadness of my trip, I felt so good to be back there—back home. I really can’t explain why I feel at home here but I do. I am really looking forward to the day when I’m back living in Scotland and I can just pop down to visit my family in England at the weekend.

I’m always so torn on where my home really is. My heart is really truly in Edinburgh (Scotland) and I feel so at peace there; so at home there. It’s a feeling that I don’t know I’ve ever really felt in my home town—the place I was raised; the place my family lives. I feel as if I’m supposed to love my home town and that I’m supposed to dream of it with rose tinted glasses, but I don’t. Life was certainly good enough for me growing up there, but I never really fit in; never really belonged. (I don’t know that many people would argue with that comment.)

I know that if I return to the UK I will miss so much about America, including my family. But I also know that I didn’t miss America as much when I lived in Scotland as I miss Scotland now that I’m living back in the states. When Paul was alive, I missed Scotland but because we were missing it together—and planning to return together—it made it more bearable. Now I’m not only missing the culture and lifestyle that I so loved in Edinburgh, but I’m missing the dream of returning there with my husband.

If I were able to just pick up and move, I would. But I don’t qualify for settlement in the UK as a widow of a British citizen, which means I can’t go where I most want to go. It’s so very difficult to realize you can’t have what you want. And with an ego the size of mine, not getting what I want is even more difficult.

Anyhow, I’m still working on my applications for graduate school and hoping that I’ll get accepted and be able to afford to study in the UK. I hope that being back there long-term will help me to feel at peace with the world again—with myself again—as I did when living in Edinburgh. I hope that I will feel like I belong somewhere again because I really hate feeling like an outsider; feeling like I don’t belong.

Blah, blah, blah. Guess I’m just feeling a bit sad and missing my adopted home today. I promise to cheer up in time for my next post. Even if I have to fake it!

Hello from Seaton

I’m in England at the moment and that means a trip to Seaton Carew. Actually, it means as many trips there as possible. My lovely sister-in-law is seeing to it that I get my fill of fish-n-chips (and British bacon) before I have to return to the states.

I’ve not been posting much the last week, but don’t worry, Just Frances will be back in America soon. In the mean time, here’s another silly video for you to enjoy!

Leavin’ on a jet plane

I’m on my way to England and had to leave my lovely foster daughter behind for the week. We discussed my trip ahead of time and she had a million questions – mostly about what it would be like to travel on a plane.

She asked that I post pictures from the plane, so this photo-heavy post is for her.

And, thanks to GoGo In-Flight Internet, I’m posting these photos from an altitude of 10,000+. Yay!

View from the window before take-off

View from the window somewhere between Spokane and Phoenix

View from inside the first plane (Spokane to Phoenix)

View from inside the second plane (Phoenix to Philadelphia)

I had hoped to take a photo of my airplane meal, but they didn’t have any low-sodium options left by the time they got to me at the back of the plane. Which means Just Frances is Just Starving. (Yeah, this is what happens when you wake up at 3:00 a.m. I MUST find food in Philly. Cheese steak, maybe?)

OK, that’s me off to play on the Internet ON THE PLANE some more. Ain’t technology grand?

Just a quick trip

So there I was in line at the British Airways counter at SeaTac. With me were three of my five sisters and their kids and a wanna-be sister (that’s you, J.D.) and her kids. (For those counting, that’s 13 people.) I was the only one of the group with experience traveling overseas, so I was the spokeswoman for us. Or maybe that was because I’m bossy and controlling. Either way, I was the leader.

I start handing passports over to the nice woman behind the counter and all of the sudden I realize that mine is dog-eared. Now, this panicked me. I was very upset about having a not-pretty passport so asked her to begin processing the information for the other 12 people in my travel party whilst I popped over to the instant passport printing machine. I took all of three minutes to get my new passport and it was fab! I even managed to include my signature green on the information page. It was an extra $10 for the customized look, but well worth it!

Once back at the counter, we finished the check-in process and made our way through the security lines. In front of us was David Tennant. We struck up a conversation and he was pleased to learn that he was speaking to Just Frances of Internet fame. So pleased, in fact, that he asked for some pens. Left-handed ones to boot!

Before I knew it we were on a plane bound for Heathrow. It must have been the shortest flight in the world because within moments we’d landed and were heading through immigration before heading to the train station. I’d really wanted to fly up north, but the romantic notion of train travel carried by my travel companions meant that I was out-voted. So instead, we took a long and boring train journey to Scotland; my companions pointing out every old building and spray-paint-dotted sheep along the route. (I think I was smiling secretly as I recalled my first train journey in the UK.)

Finally, we arrived at Waverly Station in Edinburgh and made our way to my friend’s amazing country house – which was only about a two-minute walk from the station.

As the rest of the group got settled into their rooms for the night, I sat there visiting with my friend who was preparing to make me a cuppa tea. We were having a great little chat when all of the sudden the kettle started whistling.

At the same time, my alarm clock started to go off. Yep, it was time to re-enter reality and go to work. Oh well. Maybe I can return to my lovely conversation tonight. After all, it’s not fair that everyone else’s holiday was cut short when I awoke from my dream.

Very fishy

I started this post thinking it would be about my love of (obsession for?) fish-n-chips but couldn’t stop myself from going on these little tangents about other fish-related thoughts and memories. So instead, I’m just going to share some random fishy tidbits with you.

  • I love fish-n-chips. I always liked it as a kid, but after moving to Scotland and having a ‘proper’ fish supper, I grew to love the stuff. (In Edinburgh, you get your chips with salt-n-sauce – yum!) It’s become somewhat of a joke with my in-laws and UK friends. And if you wondered, the best fish-n-chips in England come from Seaton Carew; in Scotland they come from this little chippy near Haymarket in Edinburgh.
  • During Lent, my mantra is “Fish on a Friday” because during Lent Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. I think it used to be every Friday of the year, but it’s been changed in accordance with Canon Law 1253 or Vatican II or something. [Note to self: Research this issue a bit more so that you know what the heck you’re talking about.]
  • When I was a kid, grandpa would point out colorful fish to us – just as he did with my mom and her siblings. “Look! Over there! A purple one is over there on that rock smoking a pipe!” Or some other such silly thing. And I’d look. And I’d be frustrated that I couldn’t see the fish. But every once in a while, I’d say I could see it, too. Grandpa was a funny, funny man. I like to think I got some of his sense of humor. After all, my jokes are just as “baaadddd daaadddd….” (Yeah, it’s a real knee slapper if you knew Grandpa!)
  • Quite often when I think about fish, I find myself saying “Fishy, fishy, fishy…” in a funny voice. I blame the Python Boys and their Find the Fish sketch.
  • “Back in the day” I used to go fishin’ at Hanson Ponds. I remember grabbing my pole and tackle then walking up to Victory Sports for some bait before heading over to the ponds. I don’t remember catching many fish, but I still remember it being fun. I don’t think that I’ve gone fishing since I was in my late-teens or early-20s. I wonder if I would still enjoy it…
  • And, finally, I’m a fish! Well, I’m a Pisces anyhow. I don’t really pay attention to all that hooey, but I guess some people really do believe in it.

Yes, I am well-aware that this is an extremely pointless post. But it’s my blog and I rule the roost on my blog. Yay me!

Home, sweet Scotland

We arrived in Scotland yesterday afternoon to bright sunny skies. Our plan had been to spend the day winding up the English coast and stay somewhere on the England/Scotland border so that we could arrive in Scotland first thing this morning, but Scotland must have been calling me home because one England-based plan after another fell through so we just headed toward the border.

We crossed into Scotland around 4:00 p.m. and stopped to take in the fresh air. I know it’s the same as what they get in England, but for some reason, my heart just cheers up the moment I know I’m in my lovely Scotland. I’m funny that way. (And many other ways, too.) After taking in the air, we got back in the car and headed toward Jedburgh where we found a nice little hotel for the evening.

At dinner, Mom was thrilled to enjoy her first ‘proper’ haggis and a 1/2 pint of McEwan’s 70/. (Two full pints of the stuff for me, but I’m normally an 80/ girl.) Because Mom was a good girl, I let her try some of my sticky toffee pudding, too.

In the morning, Mom enjoyed her first ‘full-Scottish’ breakfast before we went to tour the Jedburgh Abbey. After that, it was off to Edinburgh for us – my favourite city in the whole wide world. I just feel that I belong there!!

After a bit of a car tour of Edinburgh, it was off to my good friend, Lindsay’s, in Bo’Ness. This is where we’ll make our base for the rest of our trip.

So far, Mom seems to be enjoying herself. She is looking forward to heading to Stirling tomorrow then down to Roslin on Friday. We’ll eventually make our way back to Edinburgh to see the castle and other touristy stuff… The only part of the journey I’m dreading is the part where we go back to the airport and I have to leave my beloved Scotland behind once again.

The North

After a lovely couple of days in Yorkshire, we made the trip to Teesside on Sunday by way of a few small, back-country roads where we were able to see a couple of twee villages and lovely little farm houses as well as the ruins of a fantastic abbey. It took us nearly four hours to make the trip to Billingham, one that would normally be about an hour’s drive. Our local guide, Paul’s cousin Olwyn, made the trip even more enjoyable. The SatNav on loan from my nephew, Stephen, means we didn’t get lost!

Once we finally arrived at my brother- and sister-in-law’s house, we were off again for Seaton Carew. A perfect start to any visit!

We’ve spent the day touring around Billingham and supporting the local economy at the shops. I found some lovely new wool so that I can start on another baby afghan for the flight home, and even found a bit of new clothes! Mom found some tea and a new mug – and a canvas bag to carry them in. Soon, it will be time to head out to the carvery for dinner.

We’ll load the car again in the morning to begin our drive further north toward Scotland. We have plans to stop along Hadrian’s Wall and Holy Island. We don’t know if we’ll hit the border tomorrow or the next day, but we’ll get there eventually!

Yorkshire

I’m well into my second full day in the UK now and while I know I’m just on holiday, I feel as if I’ve come home. I really like how at ease and at peace I feel when I’m here. It’s a feeling I first had a few weeks after moving to Edinburgh and it’s never gone away. I guess it’s true what they say: “Home is where the heart is” and my heart has been here for nearly 10 years now.

It’s been fun seeing it all through Mom’s eyes. She seems to be enjoying herself and is enjoying the company, too. She’s still a bit jetlagged, but she’ll soon get used to the new time zone. After all, a proper cuppa will fix whatever’s ailing you, right?

We spent yesterday playing around Wakefield before heading over to York where Mom got to enjoy her first pub lunch. And her first pub dinner. This morning, we woke up and enjoyed a proper English breakfast – complete with heavenly British bacon. (If you’ve not tried bacon on both sides of the pond, you may not know what I mean. If you have, you understand the love affair I have with the UK stuff!)

After breakfast we went into town to see the York Minster, enjoyed a nice tea at Betty’s (where else?), then toured around the medieval city center with a stop at St. Margaret Clitherow’s Chapel on The Shambles. Mom’s now resting while I play geeky-gadget girl (and check up on work emails) before we head out for the family dinner later this evening.

I’m enjoying showing Mom around my lovely British Isles, and I think she’s enjoying being a tourist – but with the added bonus of traveling with someone who has the inside knowledge!

Now, back to my lovely cup of tea…

Go!

And we’re off! Actually, we’ve been on the go for about 10+ hours now and are now waiting in Amsterdam for our connecting flight into Manchester.

My journey so far: I’ve shuffled the iPod through my jazz, bluegrass, and folk collections; my crochet project is at a stand-still as I’ve run out of yarn; and I’ve watched a couple of crummy movies.

Mom’s journey so far: Sleeping, reading, needle-work, rolling her eyes as I sing along to the music on my iPod.

Mom’s mood pulse: Beat tired and ready to just get there already! (She is now also wishing for that teleportation device!)

Won’t be long now until we arrive “home” in the UK. I just hope that I’m awake enough for the drive to Wakefield, and that the Google Maps are accurate enough to get us there!

Get set…

We’re at SeaTac now. We’ve checked in. We’ve gone through security. We’ve checked our gate number. We’re all ready to go… and are just waiting to be told we can.

I’m taking advantage of the free SeaTac WiFi while Mom uses the free time to catch up on the latest-and-greatest news in the Yakima Herald.

Mom’s mood pulse: Calm, cool, and collected. So she says…

Oh, look… Duty Free. Must go shopping now!

On your mark…

Remember when you were a kid and on Christmas Eve you were so very excited for Santa to arrive that you couldn’t sleep? You’d wish and hope and pray all through Midnight Mass that he’ll have come while you were away. When you finally got to bed you’d toss and turn, certain that every sound you heard was the sound of Santa’s reindeer on the roof. Those excited and anxious jitters were so great!

Remember when you were a bit older and you had those darn SATs that meant the difference between getting into the four-year college of your choice or attending community college? For days and weeks on end you dreamt of showing up at the exam half naked, or that your pencils kept breaking every time you filled in one of those blasted bubbles. Those nerve-wracking and anxious jitters were awful!

I think that Mom is half way in between those two feelings right now as she prepares for her first-ever trip off of the North American continent! Me? I’ve done this journey often enough that it doesn’t have the same effect. This isn’t to say I’m not excited, but I don’t have the jitters.

But we are packed and ready to go. Daddy will drive us to SeaTac bright-and-early tomorrow morning for our flight to the UK (via Amsterdam). Mom is certainly excited to see the family in England again, and equally excited to meet some of my friends in Scotland for the first time.

As a seasoned traveler, I’m almost bored of this journey and wish I could gain access to a teleportation device (or the TARDIS) and just GET THERE, but I imagine that this might be an enjoyable flight for me as I witness the innocent wonderment of a first-time international traveler. I’ve brought several tour guide books for some of the places we’ll visit which will keep us entertained, and I’m even going to ::gasp:: use Gogo In-flight Internet with my gadget phone to blog and Facebook about our exciting adventure! (I bet you thought you’d get a bit of a break whilst I was traveling! No such luck with today’s technology advancements!)

The problem with Seattle*

It’s Monday night and I’m busy getting ready for my holidays: Doing laundry; packing; cooking up ‘leftover stew’ with the contents of the fridge to put in the freezer (can’t have spoiled food when I return!); and reassuring Schrodie that I really do love her, despite the fact that I’m abandoning her yet again…

The frustrating thing is that I don’t actually leave until Wednesday, but because I’m flying out of the Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) I have to leave a full day before. It’s a nearly six-hour drive to the airport from my house – IF there’s no traffic and IF the mountain pass is clear (February? That’s a very iffy if!). And so, I’m getting ready tonight so that I can drive to my folks’ house tomorrow (that’s about four hours away) then on Wednesday morning, Daddy will drive me and Mom to SeaTac.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like the idea of flying out of SeaTac. As the largest airport in the state, it offers non-stop flights into Europe, where leaving from Spokane (which is only an hour away) would mean a stop somewhere in the states – and an added 5+ hours to the journey – for international flights. You could argue that I’ve already used up that time by driving clear across the state just to get to the airport, and you’d be correct! But, since I’m taking this journey with Mom, a long drive one way or another just had to happen.

But here’s the problem as I really see it: I like to have every bit of clothing cleaned, and freshly-made beds before I leave. In a world where I left my house straight for the airport, I would do laundry before bed so that the only dirty clothes being left behind were my jammies and unmentionables (::blush::) from the night before. However, in this scenario, I will be leaving a complete outfit as well as my jammies and unmentionables behind. OK, this really just means an extra pair of trousers, an extra top, and a pair of socks, and that there won’t be time to make up the bed with fresh sheets AND wash the old ones before I leave, but it’s just enough to cause my obsessive-compulsive issues (did I mention I have those?) into overdrive.

(A saving grace: The housekeeper will be in a couple of days before my return, so I can have her take care of the bed for me. But there won’t be enough dirty clothes to warrant her doing the washing.)

(A second saving grace: Thanks to the inspiration of a friend in Scotland, I am enjoying a Hefeweizen (or two) whilst packing. Yes, on a school night!)

Oh, and a random memory of Paul as I look at the photo with this story: Last February as I packed for a trip to the UK with Paul, he noticed for the first time that I actually have a well-organized packing list which I use for travel – tick-boxes and all! He laughed and laughed and laughed. But when we got  to England, I had everything I needed. Lucky for him, I did his packing, too. (I know, I truly am OCD!)

*OK, the title isn’t fair. It leads one to believe that there is just one problem with Seattle (or the greater Puget Sound area, really) and folks from “The 509” know that there are certainly many more problems than that! I’m quite certain that if you stick around, there will be more complaints offered about the Wet/West Side of the state!

Still stitching

I started crocheting this baby blanket last February. I’m still a beginner(ish) hooker and wanted something simple and small to work on while Paul and I traveled to England for a Ryan family reunion. A couple of days after we got home we adopted Schrodie so the project was put on hold because young cats and yarn aren’t the best mix. It was only a couple of months ago that I decided to pick up my hooks again, but have been working on a larger blanket, saving this one for my next flight.

Mom and I will be traveling to the UK in a few days for the Ryan family reunion and I’m planning to take this project with me to keep me occupied on the long flight. My excited hope is that I can finish it on the way there and start a new one on the return journey because it seems several people I know are due to have babies this spring and summer. Keeping that optimistic hope, I will pack a couple of extra skeins of yarn. However, I am a realist and think that I will be lucky to finish this a year after starting it!