Tag Archives: Scotland

A Bit about Coffee. Finally! A Plan We Can Live With.

After God blessed us with three babies at once, our household’s caffeine requirements shot up like a ’90’s dot com IPO.

From the first trip to the grocery store in Bavaria all the way to Scotland, we suffered through varying qualities of coffee. Unfortunately, we like our coffee with half and half. Oh! If only we liked our coffee black or none at all, our life would be simpler, albeit much poorer.


[a German half and half.  We were a bit surprised at the baby bear on it and thought we might have grabbed baby formula?]

You heard about our search for half and half and how it was in the dry goods aisle. What you may not know is that a similar scenario has been replayed in country after country. A little google search unveiled that American half and half is milk with 12 percent fat. Whipping cream is 20 to 50 percent fat according to the information I found. So, for a while, I would search the ingredient proportions and discover the milk with the closest milk/fat ratio to half and half. (attempting to read in a different language, of course)

The type of coffee making capability our rented apartments will furnish is also a mystery until we arrive. Sometimes, it’s a French press, sometimes (rarely) drip coffee, sometimes a Moka espresso pot,


sometimes they expect instant coffee with us using an electric tea kettle. In Scotland, we had our first full up espresso machine.

I know, it’s complicated.

IF you buy your coffee at a cafe, IF you know what to order, the resulting brew will probably be famously yummy. Didn’t these drinks originate in Europe, after all? Usually a cappuccino is a safe bet. Those are fairly standardized, it seems, so you get what you expect to get. In Germany, the “American” version of unsweetened latte is a macchiato for some reason. But, who has the time or money to go to a cafe for all their coffee? In the US, I would order black coffee and add half and half to keep the expense lower. Here, without half and half, that’s not a doable plan.

We find an instant love for the countries with the cheaper cappuccinos.  Paris and London were the most expensive, often about $4 or so.  In England, Grigg’s (fast food type place) was often a go-to p;ace across the city. 


[grabbing a Starbucks outside of St Paul’s cathedral in London]


[the all-important coffee break while getting our learning on at the British Museum]

In Budapest, the coffee shops are a bit more rare and maybe that’s why even the neighborhood bakery had a coffee vending machine.  Part of the reason is that the Communist government closed them down decades ago to prevent revolution fomenting among the back booths.  I read that in a guidebook somewhere, so it must be true.  The cafes are definitely making a comeback there. 


We found great, cheap coffee out of those automatic machines in Budapest.  All across Europe, McDonald’s have a McCafe inside with lots of coffee options and pastries. 


Poland held its own in the affordable cappuccino category.  In Italy, you pay more to sit down at a table.  So, everyone stands up at the counter in the morning, drinks their coffee and eats their little pastry.  In Salzburg and Vienna, coffee is a kind of artistry and they take their cafes very seriously.




[a Vienna mobile espresso cart to get your caffeine fix while on the go]

Coffee even comes with a sidecar of water here and in Bratislava too. 


In Ireland, your kids grab the green food coloring and make you a leprechaun coffee when you’re not looking. 



Coffee machines are often an option. These machines are something that we would steer widely clear of in the USA. Here, they are more prolific and occasionally to be enjoyed. The coffee they produce is more likely to be sweetened and may have more local names. That means we will not understand what we are ordering.  It’s a little coffee roulette.

Once we arrived in the UK, our hopes for half and half further deteriorated.  Here, evidently their cream needs vary dramatically from the continent or the US.  My first attempt at half and half resulted in a solid product when I opened it at home.  Yuck.  For a while we used a rich, rich milk that seemed to turn sour rather quickly.  I think it was pasteurized.  That worked in London, sort of.  By the time we got to Scotland, that rich milk wasn’t an option (I didn’t see any equivalent in the stores).  Even though we speak the same language, we struggled.  They have a single cream and a double cream.  These have a relatively high fat content.  One cup is good, two cups make you never want cream again (but not quite want black coffee).  Finally, a new friend from church in Scotland, an American transplant, confirmed that half and half just isn’t a product they use here.

How then shall we live?

Inspired by coffee at our friends’ the Wingfields and the Bulises, we realized that frothed whole milk  (or even other fat percentages), produced a satisfying cup of morning joe.  Of course we can’t travel with a huge frother. 


But, this little piece of kitchen equipment is small and portable and gets the job done.  Yes, yes, Grandma Shirley bought us one of these years ago.  And, yes, yes, packing it from New Jersey did not even cross my mind.  How was I to know?

We could give up coffee all together.  But I don’t think we need to take that drastic of a measure yet.  One added benefit of the frother is that the kids LOVE it! They compete to make our coffee. Inadvertently, we created four little coffee slaves who never tire of frothing our milk for us (or themselves). They even froth their own milk, for kicks.  We still enjoy waking up to the smell of coffee and now I think we have a coffee way forward, at last.

Breathe easy, friends.


Dobby is a free elf!

Yes indeed, Dobby is a free elf.


If Star Wars captured a generation’s imagination in the ’70s and ’80s, then Harry Potter must be the banner for this one.  Or it could be a shared love of Minecraft or Clash of Clans but I suppose we can leave that great debate to the pop culture talk shows of the future.  Our small people have embraced each of those three and they’re not afraid to send their wands through the x-ray detectors of international airport security.  Fortunately, no unforgivable spells have gone off at the wrong time. 

I might have said earlier that we weren’t in Europe just to track down Harry Potter sights.  And that’s mainly true…  But you’ve just gotta check out this other place we went.  Well, before we go there for all you Harry Potter fans, I’ll likely need to drag you through a dry, history lesson involving ancient peoples that no one’s heard of. 

OK, not really, welcome to the gorgeous grey stone of Edinbugh.  We love hearing of people’s different experiences and thoughts on the places we’re going.  I already knew Tina was cool but I don’t remember ever hearing that she was an exchange student to Edinburgh.  That must have been one incredible exchange!

The rain was falling, it wasn’t very warm and you can tell from Camille’s face here that she was really looking forward to getting into that castle…


I love the Edinbugh castle and its imposing statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.  The Latin phrase “Nemo me impune lacessit” over the gate translates to something along the lines of, “No one attacks me with impunity.” 



On this rainy day, we keep the show moving as I visited the castle years ago and the kids are definitely hoping for inside activities. 

Part of our trip—we’ve realized lately—is a kind of literary tourism because we’re book nerds at heart.   We are missing our books!  We are burning up our Amazon accounts and I’ve even learned how to borrow books from the lending library via the Kindle unlimited feature.  

So, when we spotted a Writer’s Museum just off the Royal Mile we had to duck in.  Scotland’s favorite literary sons are honored here—Sir Walter Scott,

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. 




The stately Lady Stairs House, built in 1622, is a narrow building with a curling, stone staircase that grabs at your jacket as you climb. 



We linger over Burns’ writing desk, Scott’s chessboard, rocking horse, dining table, and the printing press on which his Waverley novels were produced.  No pictures allowed inside so I grabbed a few from the internet.  


Robert Burns claims the title of Scotland’s national poet and as such, his birthday is nearly a second national holiday.  At the annual Burns suppers, Scots gather to cut the haggis and enjoy Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne.” 


Burns wrote in the 1700s and in the Scots language and some say gave the words to Scottish pride. 

“My love is like a red, red rose 

That’s newly sprung in June:

My love is like the melody

That’s sweetly played in tune.

How fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in love am I;

And I will love thee still, my dear,

Till all the seas gang dry.

Till all the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt with the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

While the sands of life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love.

And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my love,

Though it were ten thousand mile.”

― Robert Burns

The Museum displays Stevenson’s riding boots and the ring given to him by a Samoan chief, engraved with the name ‘Tusitala’, meaning ‘teller of tales’.

I even jotted this one down in my notes…

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints”.   -Robert Louis Stevenson “Travels with a Donkey”


Check out these wonderful shots of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile’s Georgian architecture.  I don’t really know what that means without phoning a friend at Wikipedia but I love it anyway.   The new town is over 250 years old and has earned UNSECO heritage status for historical and architectural reasons. 






The innumerable alleys of the Royal Mile lead off to darker courtyards and streets between the tall stone blocks of homes.  Frequent English attacks led people to build near the castle, and each other for protection.  The “wynds” are narrow thoroughfares just about wide emugh for a horse and carriage.  A “close” is a pinched walkway that can be closed off with a door making it a private thoroughfare.  When you tie in this strange design with the seedy past of Edinburgh’s grave robbers you feel the “greyness” of this stone in the rain. 

A bit down the road and we chance upon Greyfriars Bobby.  This monument to the little dog has been loved on over the years and the tourists line up to snap a picture. 




They made a book and a Disney movie about the little terrier that kept a 14-year graveside vigil nearby over his lost master.  Scholars recently have found evidence that this was a hoax perpetrated by businessmen to keep the interest and money flowing.  They would feed the dog in the cemetery to keep them there for passersby to gawk at.  I think we all prefer the story of the loyal, affectionate friend. 

Within yards, the National Museum of Scotland offers a roof and an incredible, neck-aching display of animals and skeletons. 







We found more Lewis Chessmen here, adding to our enjoyment of them at the British Museum.  There are 11 here and 82 at the British museum.  The chessmen are considered Icelandic in origin and were discovered on the Outer Hebrides Islands.  So why so many at the British museum and so few in Scotland?

I don’t know the answer but we’re reminded of the words of our Highlands tour driver.  He told us how when tennis star Andy Murray loses a big match he’s Scottish but when he wins he’s British.  I would never have known that “British” author J.K. Rowling imagined and wrote all her books while living in Edinburgh.  She was one of the famous Scots who offered a visible voice to  one of the sides in the independence vote (she was for staying in the Union).  

Ah, that brings us to another great place to duck in for some warmth and a quick break—the Elephant House Cafe.  This is the place where Rowling would sit and write the Harry Potter novels.  Elephant posters and knickknacks abound and you have to wait for a table.  We get seated next to a lady writing determinedly at a choice table in the corner.  Another lady a few tables over is also concentrating on getting her thoughts down on paper.  Are they channeling Rowling or is this just a writers’ place?  The wooden floors creak pleasantly and the views of the backside of the Royal Mile buildings and the flag flying proudly over the castle are soothing, and beautiful. 



Rowling news clippings and her involvement with the Elephant House cafe are displayed on the wall but you have to look a bit to find them.  Then both girls return from the bathroom with huge eyes, “There’s Harry Potter writing all over the bathroom walls!” 




And they were not kidding—the mens’ walls were the same.  Fans’ pilgrimages here have burst out in love scrawled layer upon layer around the bathroom mirror, on the walls, and the ceiling.  “Weasley is our King”, “RIP” is written out to the lost characters, Deathly Hallows symbols all over the walls, and –more moving–are the poignant,  cathartic messages of people sharing what those books meant to them.  You feel like a voyeur into someone else’s life reading their innermost thoughts on the bathroom wall as you wash your hands at the sink.  You’re torn between reading more and fearing someone will walk in and find you studying the graffitied walls, in the men’s room—you weirdo. 

The trip planning rages on and we are tremendously blessed to have a roof over our heads, a pillow under them, and food in our bellies every day.  We have so much to be grateful for and know that God will never leave us or forsake us.  Going to Israel is on our trip planning radar now.   Anyone been to Israel and have any recommendations on taking in that amazing place as a family? 

The Law and the golf

Ah dear reader, some kind of flu had me by the tail for a while but you just have to get back on that horse and keep on telling the stories that make up your life, don’t you?

A surprising mountain overlooks this postcard of a town named North Berwick.  Road signs direct us to “North Berwick Law”, which I initially take to be some kind of law school in town.  But no, there’s a reason why those signs point to the high points of town.  The Law is the 613 foot tall hill—or maybe it’s a mountain—that you can see from town.  A pair of enormous, curved white pieces of wood grace the summit. 


The boys and I tackle this imposing volcanic plug of hard rock as dusk sets in.

IMG_8617  We nearly run up to the base of the Law from the Seabird Centre on the beach to begin the climb.  The trail meanders across the face of the backside and we follow whichever forks seem to be headed higher rather than across. 



[yes, that is a wooden axe that Will is holding.  You just never know…]


We gain the summit after only about thirty minutes and the views are extraordinary.  Yes, that’s a horse up there next to the ruins of an old house. 


Wikipedia says there’s an Iron Age hill fort up here and the remains of lookouts from the Napoleonic Wars and WWII. The offshore monolith rocks dot the coast



[Bass Rock above and below, Fidra]

…and the lit clock tower of the church in town are all clearly visible.  Those curved white pieces of wood are actually fiberglass, put there to replace the whale jawbones that marked the Law since 1709.   






The three of us linger a bit, taking in the view, as the dusk gives way to an evening sky.  We practically run down the Law as the temperature begins to sag.

Back in town, Luke and Will snap up the hot cocoa to warm up and I’m thrilled to see the smiles on their faces. 



Meanwhile back at the ranch, the tiny ladies have finagled their way into a Scottish ballet class up the hill.  The local girls are really sweet and Lisa was surprised to see the girls getting dressed right in the foyer area.  Camille and Ana are made to feel welcome and love the class.  It’s a wonderful opportunity for us as we are missing having kids in different practices.  (And it’s also part of what we are happy to trade for increased family time for a time).  We’ll frequently find the girls busting out into ballet moves around our place. 

We meet Mary at church as her husband Alistair is out on business.  Even though he’d just returned from a trip, they are so kind to have us over for dinner.  He is Australian, she Irish and their three beautiful daughters were born in China.  They even give us hand-me-down sweatshirts which the girls take to like ducks to water!  We always find it a joy to break bread with new friends on this travel.  


We’d met Torquil a few days past as he is managing our apartment. He is a man of many talents as we learn he is training to become a certified children’s golf instructor.  This accreditation is carefully managed in Scotland.  He invites us out and is incredibly generous and patient in teaching our kids. 



The West Links course has a children’s course where you can just walk out there and play on the five mini-holes or so.  After his lesson, we enjoy more time golfing as a family.  And I mean just a little more time because soon the golf clubs have become guns and the boys are taking shelter in the brush to defend themselves from the Star Wars separatists who are suddenly attacking.  

He even invites me out—a true duffer—and offers his son’s clubs and shoes.  Amazing. He picks me up and we have a blast of a day out golfing.  The morning weather looks dicey so our fourth decides not to make the drive over from Edinburgh.  This leaves me golfing with Torquil and his friend Neil who are both training in the same golf course.  It takes months to complete and several tests must be passed to achieve the certification.  I will get to golf as their guest for about 8 dollars at this third-oldest golf course in the world!  Torquil runs into several people he knows as we prepare to go out for our round.  A few of them are the parents of kids he grew up with in town.  On the course, Neil tells me about the Horrible Histories.  These books are history written for kids with all the gory parts left in.  They’ve published books for many of the historical events of our world. 



[this course really needs better security…look who got out there.  That’s Fidra, the Treasure Island island in the background.]

They are both very patient with my golfing and the course is unlike any I’d played.  There are many ‘hollows’ and places where you get down into the ‘course’ and lose sight of the flag completely.  On the way out along the shore, and back, you have to hit the ball over a low, stone wall. 


Torquil and Neil tell me how a man in town lost the sight in one eye when a ricocheting golf shot struck his eye.  Coming back to the clubhouse


[clubhouse on the right…]

on the last few holes, you golf back along the “strip” of North Berwick


[coming back along the water…]

West Links 1st Green & Nth Berwick Town

[the first green, on a sunnier day…]

and approach the building.  People pause at the sidewalk that crosses the fairway and watch the golfers tee off before crossing the danger zone.  I am thrilled that I don’t hit anyone nor break any of the windows of the cars parked along the side of this last hole. 

At the club house, members can clean up in the renovated locker room.  You climb the stairs past faded photos of the club members and past champions’ plaques into the bar.  My phone dies before I can get a good photo of our leather seats and the window that overlooks the 18th green. 

I order a Guinness and one of the two ladies behind the small bar brings out a can.  She pours the can into a pint glass, places it on a small ‘disk’ and pushes a button.  The Guinness ‘Surge’ shakes the can, the sheeting begins and a head forms on the beer.  This might be old news to the rest of you, but it hit the spot after being out golfing. 

Later, we find a Horrible Histories on the line of Stuart’s (The Slimy Stuarts) in a used bookstore and the kids devour it in turn!

Got a picture back of Florida Blue (the retired greyhound racer) on the sand in Scotland from his owner Gordon


Whiskey, the massacre and Nessie

Youch , it was an early wakeup for the small people.  Even my attempted Scottish accent was going to be feeling it.  It is a hike from North Berwick to the Highlands.

We ran around trying to get the family up and dressed and pointed toward the door.  Lisa had bought sausage rolls from Gregg’s (it’s their grab and go McDonald’s of snackeries) the day before for our breakfast on the fly.  But we hightailed it down High Street to jump on the 6:07 AM train out of our hamlet of North Berwick.

We arrived into Edinburgh Waverly train station on time where we got to see the bleary early morning people from their rocking night before.  One guy was sprawled out on a bench still wearing skeleton makeup.  We had our own tired crew but the peeps were rallying. 

To me as a tourist, Edinburgh is the Castle, Princes Street and the Royal Mile.  We got to see parts of them as we dashed about for last minute coffees and water.  We found our tour bus rendezvous point of Deacon Brodie’s Tavern and our fellow tour takers standing around outside glued to their coffees.  A sign on the wall informed us that Robert Louis Stevenson had used this Deacon Brodie as the inspiration for Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.  Deacon Brodie was an 18th century Edinburgh city councilor by day and a burglar by night.  This was a few years before Edinburgh body snatchers made good money by providing specimens for anatomy study to the medical schools.  The school did not ask enough questions and soon the snatchers went for greater efficiency and began to bring in freshly dead folks that had never seen a burial. 

The tour bus swung by to pick us up and we were northbound for our tour of the Highlands, a Whiskey distillery and Loch Ness.  I know what you’re thinking and I agree, whiskey distilleries are perfect for children.

Actually, it was going to be a Trip Advisor highly-rated, inexpensive tour of the Highlands.  We’d booked with a company called The Hairy Coo, because well, why wouldn’t you? 

Hairy Coos are highland cattle.  Our guide points out the field along the road where Hamish, the Brad Pitt of Hairy Coos, draws in the tourists.


Duone castle.  From Monty Pythons’ Holy Grail.  This is where John Cleese taunted the French soldiers from the highest parapet.  “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”




Plenty of Braveheart movie discussions.  You’ve gotta talk William Wallace and Mel Gibson when you’re in Scotland.  Several times people brought up this movie, and in England too. 


Hollywood took some real artistic license with that movie.  The Picts originally wore the “wode”—blue paint—when fighting the Romans.  So when Mel is shown fighting with it, the producers are about 1000 years off.  His love interest—the French princess—was actually about four years old at the time, so not so much on the romance in real life.  The real battle was for Stirling Bridge which was the key to controlling Scotland at the time.  But there’s no bridge in the movie.  I could go on and on.

Our guide also noticed Lisa knitting the scarf and told us, at a break, how his mom had knitted him the very sweater he was wearing.  And a cable-knit beauty it was too. 

Next, the tour included a visit to the Deanston whiskey distillery.  They held our family late, intending us for a second tour group but after a miscommunication ended up giving us a short, private tour. The distillery was featured in a movie “The Angel’s Share” and used to be a cotton mill. 



[they age the whiskey in barrels from other distilleries, many of them, like this one, are from Jim Beam in the USA]

Kids started school in the mill school at age 5 and were working in the cotton mill by age 9.  The child labor laws were that a child could work no more than 8 hours a day and that studies should make up at least 3 of those.  Women and children were especially valued cotton mill workers for their small, dextrous hands.  The cask room used to be where 500 people sat and weaved the cotton.  The workers’ body heat was good for the cotton.  Today, the cavernous room has strange things happen and our guide tells us they have ghosts in that room.  Scotland feels like the kind of place where there is room for the mythical and the legendary. 


The colors on the ceiling are called the “angels share” as it’s the spirits that have evaporated out of the barrels and gathered on the ceiling.  The distillery “gives” them to the angels. 

The tour got even better for our family when they refunded us the tour cost because we were so rushed.  And Lisa and I still got to try a “wee dram” of tasty whiskey.

Of course, you know your kids have been to Scotland when they start building a whiskey distillery in Minecraft.  Early submission for worst dad of the year award…?

Glencoe, oh Glencoe.  Our guide says it with a tone of awe and dread and you can almost see his skin crawling. 


The Jacobites had fought for the return of the Stuart line to the throne but their forces were soundly defeated at the 1690 Battle of Boyne in Ireland.  Once this Jacobite uprising was put down, the Highlanders suffered at the hands of the English for being on the losing side.  Late to make his newly required oath of fealty, the king made an example of the MacDonald patriarch.  The clan was likely chosen because they did not have a fortress, their clan was divided between three towns and the king could leverage the ongoing feud between the Campbells and the MacDonalds. Approximately 120 redcoats were sent and shown hospitality by the MacDonald clan as Highland culture demanded.  Even a few of their sworn enemies—the Campbells—were dressed as redcoats.  The MacDonalds—across their three villages— put up all of these people for two weeks.  Drinking, partying, playing cards and just plain hospitality were the order of the day.  The redcoats were partly there to collect a tax on behalf of the king.


Then another captain from the king’s regiment brought the king’s orders from a Maj Duncanson. Copy of order to Capt. Campbell by Maj. Duncanson:

“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebells, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. you are to have a speciall care that the old Fox and his sones doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape.  men finally read the orders sent form the king which told them to put men, women and children to the sword…”


Thus, in the brutal cold of a February 1692 evening the soldiers attacked and killed about 38 men, women and children in their homes or as they fled.  They set fire to their homes and another forty men, women and children fled into the inhospitable Highland mountains and died overnight from exposure.  A few Campbells and lieutenants warned their MacDonald hosts or broke their own swords rather than have to execute such a heinous act.  Every year they still lay memorial wreaths and hold a ceremony to mark the treacherous Massacre at Glencoe. 

A local hotel will still not allow anyone named Campbell to stay there.  The story goes that a few years back an American country singer, Glen Campbell, of “Rhinestone Cowboy” fame was trying to stay there. The hotel owner had to come out to speak to him about the situation and the result even for that night—no Campbells allowed! 



We were on the same Skyfall road that 007 drove.  The tour bus was not quite as agile as his Aston Martin.  But my Lisa puts all those Bond girls to shame!

Scotland and their recent vote against independence was on the drivers’ mind.  Everyone had an opinion about how the older folks did not want to endanger their pensions and how certain political parties had worked to lower the voting age knowing that younger, more idealistic voters would vote for independence.  It’s worth putting it up here…Bx33YWyIQAEI3EG

Scotland had cut down most of their native trees from the first World War.  Their native trees take 200 years to fully develop into ‘master’ forests.  A committee was formed in 1919 to begin work on this problem.  They selected trees like the Norwegian Spruce and a Japanese tree since they mature about 50 years quicker.  Now they are going back and cutting down the non-native trees. 

Of course, on those windy roads beside those gorgeous rivers, lochs and mountains you just hope that little tummies can hang in there.  Sure enough, one person loses his cookies but is such a pro by now that no one knows.  “Hey kids, how about some Dramamine!?”

We even dropped in to visit the impressive memorial to UK special forces troops.  They train up here in the Highlands.  The remembrance garden held notes and monuments to 90 year olds and even 23 year olds who had recently given the last full measure of devotion in Afghanistan.


There are over 31,000 lochs in Scotland and about four lakes.  A loch is a Scottish or Irish Gaelic word for a lake.  Loch Ness has, by far, the highest volume of any loch in Scotland.  Loch Ness holds more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.  It is shaped like a gigantic bathtub, with steep sides and even a flat bottom that slopes down one end (to a depth of 754 feet) as if towards a drain.   


[A lock on the loch…]

We come to the spooky Loch Ness boat tour.  We debated getting on the boat as it was cold and the rain was starting.  The girls went to check on a petting zoo (that ended up being closed) and the boys and I joined the boat tour. 


There is an abbey on the loch that used to be a fortress built to put down the Jacobites.  The Jacobites attacked and had a lucky break when the first cannonball hit a powder magazine exploding part of the defenses of the castle.  


The boat pulls out onto the dark water and everyone is snapping pictures and smiling. 

After a while a crewman points out the monitors and people start to listen close.  Quite a few there believe in Nessie.  One monitor shows the sonar display from the boat’s signal


while the other displays the boat’s position over a GPS model of the bottom of the loch. 


The sonar return on the screen is the temperature and current contrast where a river flows into the enormous loch but, aye, it looks like the terrible monster.  The water is dark like oil from the peat that is suspended in the loch.  It is said that light does not penetrate far into the murky waters. 

Therefore, the water beneath the ‘thermocline’ does not warm much.  Even a warm summer can only heat the upper ten meters up to a maximum about 59 degrees.  It is said that people have discovered empty rowboats and their occupants never seen again.  He explained how a friend sometimes scuba dives and will descend in Loch Ness by running his fingers down the side of the steep rock walls.  If he lets go, he can’t see a thing.  Makes you want to give it a try….






We kept our eyes peeled for Nessie the whole time, except for when we were staring at the snacks they were selling onboard.  And when we were watching all the cool colors on the monitors or that one time when we were wrestling.  But beside that, we were on the case.  We don’t think we saw her, but when I checked my camera later, look what turned up. 


Lisa, what’s that number for the National Enquirer again?   Can I use your phone?  They’ve still got my cell number blocked since last time…


North Berwick and Florida Blue

In a comment, Becky asked a great question about how did we find North Berwick.  Apparently, the townspeople should have installed better tourist deterrents. 


[quick shot of Lisa grabbing a run in North Berwick]

For this one, we wanted to stay in arm’s reach of Edinburgh but we find the kids, and the parents, prefer the slower pace and more open spaces of the smaller towns.  We get on the apartment websites such as HomeAway, FlipKey, AirBnB, Wimdu, etc and put in our criteria.  Price matters more than a little, and we are also looking for wifi, a washer (a dryer is usually too much to hope for and most of the Europeans seem to dry their clothes on a stand to avoid the high electricity fees) and a table that holds six Mesquits.  Time at the table matters for us.



Oh yeah, six beds helps too.  Usually, it’s a two-bedroom place with a sofa bed in the living room.  We like decent access to public transit and a grocery store since we mainly cook ourselves (well, that’s the royal “we”).  Thank you, Lisa!  So we apply all this criteria, see what comes up and email the owners of our top three or four.  In this case, we ended up loving North Berwick so much that we didn’t go into Edinburgh nearly as much as we thought we would.


Check out this amazing spot to blog.  A coffee place right across the street from the ruins of a church and its graveyard.



Paul and Stacy even invite us out with their friends to a bonfire on the beach for Guy Fawkes night fireworks.  If you recall, this is the night where the Brits gather to send up fireworks and celebrate the breakup of the gunpowder assassination plot of the king at Parliament by Guy Fawkes and others in 1605. 


A friend of Paul and Stacy’s is sharing his flask full of warming whiskey.  Another friend is opening up one of the first frisbee golf courses in Scotland and we talk about that for a while.  He is overcoming a lot of golf ‘gravity’ here to get people to try an upstart sport. 


Paul and Stacy make us feel at home here even though all we could find to bring from the Guy-Fawkes-night-picked-over grocery store are a bunch of Oreos to share. 




The s’mores-fueled kids gulp down the Oreos too and dash back across the sand slashing swaths of day into the beach night with their sparklers.

With the sometimes drizzle and overcast skies this time of year, North Berwick is the place to start knitting with your mom. 


Lisa has been working on knitting a scarf for one of the boys and Ana joins in on the fun. 

It is also the place to throw in some soap making from the arts and crafts place downstairs.



[sometimes you need basil in your soap]

Lisa and the girls use the local bus on an expedition to reach a better grocery store and find themselves among the school class in their uniforms. 


Across the street from our place, sits a great clothing store—Great Escape Surf, Skate and Snowboard.  Wandering in, we meet Gordon, a tallish, lean surfer with the speech mannerisms and easy smile to match.  His smile and gift of gab draw you in and he is genuinely friendly.  He shows us a picture of his young son in the surf.  I thought I was back on the West Coast.  After a while a tallish, lean greyhound wanders out from the back to examine the American shoppers.  The dog’s name is Florida Blue, a known baguette thief, and Gordon tells us ‘Blue’ will scoot down the street and snack at the pet store down the street till the owner calls Gordon and tells him how much he already owes him for the doggie buffet!


[The Great Escape store]

Blue is a retired racing greyhound and Gordon got him as a rescue dog.  The race dog owners of these dogs shock them to train them to leap out of the starting shack for races and mistreat them in other ways.  When the dogs age out of their prime they are unceremoniously killed.  Shelters rescue these dogs and get them out to families.  Blue is lazy as all get out and doesn’t want much in the way of walks.  When Gordon got him, Blue only knew how to run fast and turn left.  One day, Gordon watched him chasing another dog on the beach as the ex-racer struggled to figure out a right turn.

Gordon describes that the guy he adopted Blue from as the “classic Scottish geezer” and threw in a stronger Scottish accent to make the point.  Wonderful to hear a Scotsman preforming the Scottish accent of the Highlanders.  Here in North Berwick, they don’t generally roll their rrrrrr’s nearly as much as we’d expected, but it’s all goodness.  They use the word “wee” quite liberally and we love it.  He also demo’d an Irish accent in the course of the conversation. 

Now, this classic Scottish geezer required a check to be written to cover the overhead and medical costs when people picked up a dog.  The shelter owner asked for a number with a couple zeroes behind it to be on the check and proof that the dog would have a decent backyard to frolic in.  Then the shelter owner told him how another greyhound had been adopted by a lady who’d come in to his place.  He’d asked her for the same things and she’d provided a picture of a backyard complete with a high security fence and what looked like a security guard.  The shelter owner told her, the high wall seemed like a bit much.  Then, she produced a check with a few more zeroes than he’d been anticipating.  When he started at the sight, she asked if it wasn’t enough!  Really, he’d just been shocked.  Then, he began to realize she was that “lady who writes those Harry Potter books”.  So, somewhere out there J.K. Rowling must also have a beautiful greyhound. 

Gordon had a couple of men come in the store a year ago and they recognized the ex-racer.  They were racetrack bettors and had won thousands on Blue in his prime.  They told Gordon how much a champion Blue had been and Gordon was even able to find a few YouTube videos of him.  I went back to get a shot of them but missed them.  We could look in the store from our place and see if his Apple laptop was there or not so we could jump over and say hello. 

Gordon needs to be named one of the Ambassadors for North Berwick.  Welcoming and willing to chat with the travelers, we were so glad to be across the street from him.  And, of course, a bag from his store found its way into our traveling circus. 

Another day, we are out on the beach and Christine comes running out to say hello.  She’s the wife of Stewart from the ceilidh and had been so kind to us that night.  She had seen us out the cafe window while having tea with a friend and ran out to say hello. 


Such a wonderful, gracious lady. 

We start to read Kidnapped each night by Robert Louis Stevenson.  We finished up Mr Pipes and loved to see Europe through the eyes of the characters.  The Scottish colloquialisms are starting to make more sense. 


[The boys and I run to a bluff overlooking the beach and the town one evening.  Go Raider Nation–just win one!]

I am consistently amazed when I look back in our calendar and emails to see the faithfulness and grace of God.  We’ve been through a cancer diagnosis and the subsequent four chemo rounds, two stem cell transplants and a clinical trial achieving a complete remission.  Then a medical board for the Air Force that recommended a temporary retirement.  And what on earth truly is a temporary retirement? 

We prayed about what we should fight for with that strange decision.  Then we received a permanent retirement after asking for it.  Next, after waiting for months for both I received on the same day notification of my promotion to the next rank and my retirement approval.

We’ve been blessed by ‘angels’ of friends with loaning us a car for 90 days, and free lodging for our clan for about six weeks via great friends and new friends that we housesat for.  The kids are seeing so much and learning—we are all learning so much.  God is so good.  When I look back at that calendar and see some of the decisions we were making in a short time—military retirement or not, moving or put everything into storage, travel or not, saying goodbye to friends, looking for a new career right now or focusing on this trip—I am astounded at how we’ve been carried through it all.  And when I look at the words we’ve written, especially when I was still in the hospital, I am touched and inspired.  It is strange the power of the written word.  I hope I can live my life with the boldness and hope and in an awareness of the limits of time that I feel now and was immersed in then.

“North Bear-rick” warmth

We kept running into people who ask us, “how did you discover this place?”  It seems as if we hit the jackpot in this little Scottish town.  I choose to take this as an expression of surprise that we non-locals are in such a cool place and not that they’re horrified that we tourists stumbled upon such goodness and how can they get us to leave sooner.  I’m sure that’s how they mean it…  We did hear the same thing in that small town in Bavaria. 

Exploring the side streets, we stumble across a series of murals in a pedestrian cut-through of Robert Louis Stevenson and his grandfather, Robert Stevenson.  What?  The elder Stevenson gained fame and respect through the many lighthouses he constructed along the Scottish coast.  His grandson did so through his excellent, enduring novels.  But what is the connection to North Berwick?  As we stood there considering the mural and wondering aloud if he was from here, a man walking by overheard us, “Yes, he spent summers here and the island over there was the inspiration for Treasure Island.  Google it.”  The helpful local managed all this without even slowing his gait.  We played the part of the slack-jawed, amazed tourists. 


This is gold to us because in our frequent nightly readings to the small people, Treasure Island has been a memorable favorite. 

Sure enough, Google reveals Stevenson spent family holidays here.  He later traumatized his father by choosing writing over the family business of lighthouse design.  His father asked him to study law as a backup plan.  He would write that seeing the lighthouses along the coast made him think of his family and the work his grandfather and father had done.   Stevenson had a strong connection to the town and was inspired by it to write Kidnapped and Catriona.  He climbed the prominent hill—the Law—with his cousins and played smugglers and pirates in a small cave at a point near the sea.  Years later he described the town as, “A fishing village with drying nets, scolding wives, the smell of fish and seaweed and the blowing sands.”


[please look past the funny-looking guy in the foreground to the beautiful Law in the background]

The train scrolls through delightful town names on the way to North Berwick from Edinburgh; Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry, Drem, North Berwick.  Music to my ears and almost makes you long for a wee dram and a mighty“Scotland the Brave” on the pipes. 

Can you tell one of my favorite comedies is “So I Married An Axe Murderer”?

It’s hard to forget, “We have a piper down” and “Charlie tells me you’re a bewcha…Do you link your own sausage?” 

Our flat above the store works well for school, and as Will’s platform for launching paratroopers (and unlucky Star Wars figures) onto the street. 


[look closely for Will holding the parachute out the window.  I hope this is not covered in the apartment’s covenant’s and restrictions.]


[Looks like a tiny hostage crisis]


[parachute down and Will is running down the stairs to get his parachute before someone steals that valuable toy.  He was very concerned.]







The kids’ recesses consist of runs on the nearby beach and scrambling onto rocks at low tide to watch the water swirl up to their feet. 





[Bass Rock in the distance]

North Berwick is positioned on a point of the Firth with beaches stretching both directions from “downtown.”  The award-winning Scottish Seabird Centre holds the point and provides remote camera views of the sea lions and marine life lolling about on the rock islands off the coast.   The Centre was opened by the English royal family with many plaques to prove it.  


[the girls using the remote camera to watch the baby sea lion]

This Celtic cross shares the point with the Seabird Centre.  The Centre is off to the right.  The cross’ inscription reads, “Erected by public subscription in memory of Catherine Watson of Glasgow aged 19 who was drowned in the east bay 27th July 1889 while rescuing a drowning boy.  The child was saved, the brave girl was taken.”



Fidra, on the town’s west, is said to be the inspiration for Treasure Island.  Bass Rock stands boxy and tall on the near horizon.  Between the two are Craigleith and The Lamb. The islands are home to sea lions, rabbits, or seabirds such as puffins.  A thin cloud of seabirds wheels permanently above Bass Rock. 


[Craigleith seemingly close enough to swim out to]

Finding a church can often be a real challenge, especially an English-speaking one.  No problem here, and it’s across the street. 



St Andrew Blackadder Parish Church of Scotland not only has a great name but is chock full of friendly people welcoming us to God’s house.  We are so blessed to meet welcoming people there, such as Paul & Stacy who are an American and British family.  After spending time in Connecticut, they’ve found a house in North Berwick and invite us over for lunch before “Messy church”.  Kids get a Bible lesson, crafts, exercises, and it all ends with a snack, of course. 


[Lisa getting it done after Messy Church]


[here’s the church and it’s also the tower in Will’s parachute picture above]

Amongst many topics, Paul and I chat at lunch of American sports, his growing up in British boarding schools, US gun control and of the inspiring ministry of the Scot Alistair Begg in America.  Paul has a brand new Weber grill and we joke that he needed a Yank family to come over and help him properly christen it.  When we tell them how we hope to get the kids to golf a bit while here, they offer to let us borrow their children’s clubs.  Paul and Stacy make us want to settle down in North Berwick. 

We are simply brought close here by the people of North Berwick.  It is amazing to behold.  God blessed us here through these wonderful people. 

This is obviously a town, and a country, known for the obscure game of golf.  I know that no one has heard of it around the world… I am not much of a golfer but appreciate the beauty of the game and aspire to be a wee notch above pathetic on the course someday.  The North Berwick West Links golf course claims to be the third oldest in the world and the thirteenth oldest golf club.  It’s website states, “Golf has been played over the historic West Links course since the 17th century with the Club being formed in 1832. We continue to play over the same piece of land as they did back then.  With breathtaking views of the Firth of Forth and islands of Bass Rock, Craigleith, Lamb and Fidra, as well as the town of North Berwick itself, there are few places better in the world to play golf!  A true championship links course, having hosted Final Qualifying for The Open Championship and both Gentlemen and Ladies Amateur Championships.  An excellent test of golf awaits you.”

The West Links course is frequently listed within the top 100 golf courses in the world. 

We stroll through town and note blue plaques on many of the houses in town.  A closer inspection reveals that each one describes this golf course instructor to a famous club in Edinburgh or this man who designed a golf course in Detroit.  This is a town that loves its golf. 

The kids and I even come across this statue of Ben Sayers down by the West Links course. 



So, my rolling duffel does not contain my sweet golf clubs from the 1980s but perhaps they’d take pity on a traveller.  I sheepishly visit the pro shop with the pro’s name emblazoned over the doorway.  They send me to the starter’s “shack” to ask about how and when to get a tee time.  I inquire of the man behind the “shack” desk, (it’s actually a nice building about 20 yards away from the shop) and he tells me that I can sign up for a tee time and that mornings are usually easier.  A round of golf is not too cheap but reasonable for such an acclaimed course.  When I tell him I don’t have any golf shoes and ask if I can somehow rent a pair he pulls out a pair from a cabinet and tells me I can wear them if I’d like.  He makes it all so easy and there’s none of the rarefied stuffiness you might expect at a top-notch course.  I get ready to leave and wish him a great day.  And in a line that I share with the family later and we still use on one another, he responds with a smile and a hearty Scottish brogue, “Oh, I always have a guh-RRATE deh!”

I can’t help but leave with a smile for the friendliness shown an unknown tourist. 



[couldn’t resist a few more gratuitous cake stand shots]

Welcome to Scotland–now dance!

We’re not going to make it. we’re not going to make it, we’re not going to make that train…

The train from London to Edinburgh was supposed to leave us a 19 minute chance at Edinburgh to catch our North Berwick-bound train.  Instead, the trail pulled in 11 minutes late leaving us only eight minutes to transfer.  We jumped off the train and hustled past many coaches to collect our checked bags from the front of the loooong train.  Platform 4 was just across the way and we raced as fast as we could with six rolling duffels, six backpacks, a bag full of snacks and a camera bag towards the awaiting train.   We crossed the station’s street running towards the train and as we gathered everyone just outside the train door—it closed before us.  There was a kind of collective gasp.  Then we noticed the “door open” button and pushed it to see if we still had a chance.  Amazingly, the doors flew open, and we threw ourselves and our bags onto the train.  The doors closed behind us and the train left shortly thereafter—we’d made it by about 90 seconds. 

Arriving into North Berwick 30 miles from Edinburgh, we walked down the platform towards town.  The cry of seagulls greeted us and the fresh air of the sea filled our lungs.  We expected to get the keys from a couple who lived in the apartments near the station.  I could see a lady watching the  spectacle of us leaving the platform.  She came out of the apartment office door and caught us in the parking lot, “You look like who I’m expecting.”  She smiled.  Our name was on the envelope but she didn’t ask for our name or ID.  In this town, you just know.  North Berwick is about 6,000 people strong. 

We drag the bags down the sidewalk of North Berwick’s High Street.  It is nearly dinnertime and we are on the lookout for food. We don’t pass any grocery stores but do see a kebab shop.  The wheels of our duffels announce, “We’re here!” 

Our flat is in the heart of this small beach town above an art supplies shop called the Rock & Bird.  We look right down High Street and its dozens of shops and cafes. 


Our door is about 100 yards from the beach of the Firth of Forth, also known as the large bay of the North Sea that Edinburgh is nestled alongside further west. 



We drag the bags up the exterior stairs and fly around the place exploring our home for the next two weeks. 



There is, incredibly, an espresso maker and several kids’ movies.  Everyone has a bed and we’ll be sharing a bathroom.  The shower is the afterthought kind added above a bathtub with the glass half door that lets you shower the bathroom floor a bit as you shower yourself.  But it is all good, everything is warm, bright and as advertised.   Even, “Dad, there’s a Wii!” 

It had been an interesting travel day, earlier in the day we’d had a 45 minute tube ride from Wimbledon Station to Kings Cross station to meet our train to Edinburgh.  We transferred fine and wrestled our bags around Londoners.  All of us grateful it was not rush hour.  But two stops away from Kings Cross the train was stopped due to a signal failure at Kings Cross.  With all of our bags, we decided to give it a few minutes to see if they’d get it working again rather than take two extra tube transfers in London’s Underground with our party of fun.  But a few announcements later, the tube driver “strongly encouraged” passengers to try another line and we were outta there like a trick or treater after grabbing his candy. 

We made the two tube transfers amongst more crowded trains and arrived into Kings Cross station.  Kings Cross is one of the older stations and a massive thoroughfare and as the name implies, a public transit intersection for underground, trains, buses, overground trams, elephants, who knows what goes on at this monstrosity. 

The place was packed.  Then it struck us that this was the first day of “half-term.”  The Brits do six weeks of school, a week off, then six more to complete the term.  Three of these make up their school year.  They stick to this schedule from age 5 to when they graduate their high school years.  The week in-between is the “half-term.”  Advertisements everywhere remind  parents to escape with their families to Mallorca or fill-in-the-blank sunny destination.  Huge lines at the ticket counters flowed over into the self-service machines.  We had our train tickets in hand but I’d need to brave one of these lines to get our pounds back from our Oyster card (the ‘pay as you go’ travel pass). 

We stood and craned our necks to see when our train platform would be assigned.  The family was situated watching the screens—kids lounging amongst the nest of bags—and I ran back downstairs to get in the long line to get our deposit back from the transport cards.  The line was not any shorter but it appeared to be moving.  The wait paid off and I ran back to the family.  The boys and I shouldered our way to the bathrooms and past the queue waiting to snap their photo with the Harry Potter luggage cart at platform 9 3/4.  Platform finally assigned and we dashed through the waiting crowd of people for our train. Incidentally, it sadly flashes through your mind on a busy half-term travel day that you’d rather not spend a lot of time here when terrorists have already struck the London and Madrid transit systems not too long ago.

But, whew, we’d made that train at Kings Cross and are thrilled to now be dropping off the bags at our flat in North Berwick, Scotland.  We’ve learned that when you’re traveling light, better get into town early enough to catch a grocery store open so you’re not picking through granola bar crumbs and bruised apples for dinner and breakfast.  So down to the street we go, in search of a grocery store of some kind.  The waves on the shore are loud enough to be heard on the street.  The grocery store down the block is pretty small and we duck out to check other options. 

On a board, above the sidewalk we spot a paper sign—“CÈILIDH”.  Across the bottom is written, “music, light supper and BYOB—fun for the whole family”.  It will raise money for the local cancer hospital and is being held at the local Scouts Hall tonight from 6 to 9.  Must be a scouts event too.  The price is only about 16 pounds for the clan.  Food & music?  Sounds pretty great right about now.  I don’t know what a cèilidh is but I seem to remember an old 1980s Black 47 song about a “Funky Cèili” or something like that.  It must have to do with a Gaelic music performance or something.  Lisa is up for it and the kids look dubious. 

We ask a couple walking by where the Scout Hall is and they tell us “it is not close.  And quite a walk.”  When we ask for more detail, they tell us it up the hill, and past the graveyard.  Once we clarify, they tell us it is about a 5 minute walk.  We walk off, cracking up that in this town that 5 minutes constitutes “not close”. 

We find the Scout Hall by the anemic, colored balloons tied up through the door into a building of no more than 25 feet across and 40 feet deep.  A man in his 80s, is seated at a table just in front of us with a cash box and raffle tickets.  In the back of the warm room, there are about five large tables with chairs, paper tablecloths and about five couples who look to be in their late 70s or 80s.  The kids nearly cling to our legs and seem perched for us to lead the way right on out of here.  Another man is fiddling with a stereo system in the corner. 

We pay our entrance fee and find a table.  There are a few vegetables out on a side table along with pitchers of water and a stack of cheeses donated by a local cheese shop.  We notice two younger women bustling about preparing the food and drinks.  We idle over to an open table and throw our coats across the backs of the chairs feeling silly since it doesn’t seem like it’ll be much of a challenge to find a seat. 

As we are picking out a few carrots and celery to munch on, a man walks by in red, plaid pants.       An older man in a sweater walks over and introduces himself.  He says he is Stewart, with that great but gentle Scottish accent.  He is in his late 70s or so.  He is curious if we live in North Berwick.  Surprised we are not, he asks how we found out about the cèilidh (“Kay-lee”).  He is also curious where we are from in the States and if we know how to Scottish dance.      

Uh, what? 

“Oh, we’ll all be Scottish dancing,” he confides with a slight smile.

I hesitate to ask, “Will everyone here know how to Scottish dance?” 

“Oh yes, of course they will.”

I pause, “How do people here learn how to do the Scottish dances?”

“We learn it in school,” he smiles, gently.  “They always start with ‘a gay gerdens’ then it gets harder from there.”

A bunch of assumptions suddenly start flying apart in my mind. 

So this is why there are only a few tables and a wide open floor.   And I thought it was for the funky Scottish band that was about to show up. 

Now, Lisa knows that though she loves to dance, I try to love it along with her.  She is laughing at me already.   The kids don’t hear everything but hear enough to be looking a cross between perplexed and a little horrified.  I have flashbacks to fun but awkward sessions in Texas two-steppin’ places. 

But this is travel time, our Grand Adventure—time to buck up!

We are going to get our Scottish dance shoes on and rock this place. I guess. Right now, they look like Asics running shoes straight from the train station, but whatever. 

The place begins to fill up as the young families start to show up.  Kids are all over the place now.  The older folks are safely ensconced in the back of the room.  Families and older folks alike have their bottles of wine and boxes of Tennent’s Special Ale or John Smith’s Ale. 

A balding, paunchy man sidles out from the stereo system corner with a microphone.  You can hear some of it above the din and he welcomes everyone to the dance floor.  Stewart kindly urges us out with his wife.  The kids watch us from the safety of the table’s folding chairs.  The man with the microphone, the caller, is apparently speaking English but it’s hard to tell.  There are about six couples out there and a whole lot more watching.  The caller—among a lot of Scottish words?—says something about ‘spinning here’ then ‘walk this way’ and then something about ‘if you know how to do the polka-barrel polka you just do that’ as he’s demonstrating with his wife.  He makes a lot of eye contact with us though, as if he knows something.  And we’re off!  We all dance in a circle and I remember spinning Lisa around to walk her backwards. 

Then Stewart and everyone else changes directions and I nearly take him and his wife out like a linebacker. 

Whew!  Narrowly avoided a massive collision and I start wondering how spry Stewart would fare in a full-on crash onto the dance floor.  I try to keep a little distance between us but then the next couple is right on my 6 o’clock.  Then, it’s over and we escape back to the table. 

Ana said, “Good job Mom and Dad!”  Luke said, “Wow, you really didn’t know how to do that dance!” 

But before you can say, ‘where’s the nearest beer shop?’, the caller is doing what he does and demonstrating another dance with his wife. I tell the kids “Shhh” as I lean around the guys drinking beer to see what the caller is trying to say.  I tell Lisa I’ll give her $5 if she asks if the caller’s instruction comes with subtitles. 

Then we’re back out there, hardly any of the couples our age join us, we do another dance that involves spinning your partner and then you turn and face each other, clap you and your partner’s right hands together three times, then your left hands, then both, then onto your own thighs then spin her around again.  And now we’re into going onto the next partner.  Sweet. 

It’s over again and we escape back to the table.  The kids are watching us carefully from their perches at the table.  Lisa has a great idea, “For every dance you do, we’ll give you a pound.” 

Now they’re motivated—God bless capitalism, and parental desperation.  We get the kids out there and I dance with Ana next.  Will and Camille are paired up and I hope this all works out. 


[getting set up for another dance…if you look closely, you can see a guy in a kilt holding a beer by the food table]

Everyone is all smiles.  And we’re off into another new dance.  And no one ends up crashing onto the floor! 

The next dance involves grabbing the ladies’ right arm and going past her to meet the next lady and so on till you meet the eighty-year-old lady.  Then you spin your partner and do some kind of walking around the circle before sending her back in to the middle with the rest of the ladies to clap then return to the circle.  Then the guys walk in, and clap, then back out to the circle.  Sometimes I dance with Lisa or Ana or Camille and sometimes not.  One time I end up spinning a 6-year-old boy.  Everyone is laughing.  I never hear the names of any of the dances we are doing.


We get back to the table and grab a drink of water and the kids’ eyes are wide and smiling.  They all want to talk at once.  Then he calls out just the kids to the dance floor.  Our peeps nearly have to be pried off the table but they get back in there, aided by the cash incentive.  There are about 25 kids out there.  And the caller directs them into the chicken dance!  No problem with that one.  After this, the dance floor devolves into a melee of children playing and wrestling.  This gives us time to notice that two guys and a boy are wearing kilts.  Lisa asks me what the ‘purse’ thing is in front of their kilt and I tell her to keep her eyes off other men’s purses…     The girls each walk up to us and say, “The men really do wear skirts here!” 


A little boy has snuck a balloon into the men’s restroom and is trying to return to the dance floor after filing it with water.  His sharp-eyed momma quickly breaks up the little revolutionary plot.


The ladies have the food table ready and it’s a choice between mac and cheese or “stokies”.  I am sure none of these names are correct, it is loud in here.  We hear the “stokies” are mashed potatoes, meat and fat.  It’s delicious. 

And now it’s raffle time.  The caller yells out the numbers and they’re really high as we’d purchased them early in the evening.  The raffle prize pile grows smaller as people keep picking the wine, chocolate and beers we were eying.  Near the end of the remaining prizes, he calls one of our numbers and I go up, suddenly realizing I’m accompanied by all four kids.  I don’t think they wanted to miss a thing.  They’re down to a few items left and a lady hands me just what everyone needs when trying to pack light for a trip around the world—a floral cake stand! 

I guess everyone else picking their prizes must not have seen this beauty—suckers!


Then back onto the dance floor, as Lisa wants to do another one before we leave.  This time, they ask you to come out with two partners.  Turns out, six is a great family size for Scottish dancing.  We are divisible by two or three!  In this dance, a group of six hold hands and dance in a circle, then back the other direction.  Then they break up into two groups of three. The person in the middle is supposed to dance with their two and suddenly I’m lost.  Stewart is trying to tell me how to do it and then our girls are also telling me (I suppose since they are little ballerinas).   We get me all taught up and we are off to the races.  Each group of six breaks up into groups of three then you hold hands in a line across, stamp towards the other three and duck under their upraised hands to join the next group of three into a new circle of six. 


[fish sticks taste better when elevated a few inches above the table]

We finally leave the dance floor.  There are lots of smiles and no broken limbs.  A few dads, are chasing a few boys back into the Scout Hall. 


Yeah, welcome to Scotland. We are going to get all the use we can out of this cake plate then sell it for big bucks and help finance our trip!