The Book It’s Meant to Be – Thoughts on my First Draft

I have, after almost a year of writing, finished the first draft of my first fiction novel.

Time to pop the champagne and have a celebratory dinner out.

But I’m not as thrilled as you would think.

Sure, I am happy. And I’m proud of myself. This took a lot of my time and effort and enormous amounts of understanding from my family. And I have a pile of pages in front of me, freshly printed out from Kinkos and trapped in a binder.

But…..

I know there is a ton of work ahead of me. Rough drafts are called rough for a reason. This book is so rough it could scrape the barnacles off a boat. While I’m trying to be happy and feel a sense of relief about finishing this book, I know that there are scenes in there that need to be immediately banished and burned. Those thoughts, lurking around my brain and making my chest tight, are driving me forward. I see the work ahead and it is massive.

And I can’t wait to get to it!!

I am excited to edit. I can’t wait to get in there and start making it the book it is meant to be.

I hope I can do my characters and ideas enough justice that one day you can read this story. But I am also okay with it being a practice book. Every author has one or two or three of those lurking in a drawer somewhere. And they should. (I certainly do.) Just because you read books doesn’t mean that you know how to write books.

But still I hope that one day you will read this book I am working on.

Or you can read the next one. 😉

4 Life Skills That Will Teach Kids How to Shoulder Responsibility

I have a new article up at AFineParent.com. This one is all about how raising your kids to be competent adults by giving them responsibility now. Not only is this article full of great research, but it give you a little view into my family life.

 

Here I am. Folding laundry. The ball and chain of chores.

I thought it was bad when they were babies and they had multiple outfit changes. I buoyed my spirits by telling myself that when they were older and didn’t spit up so much and were neater eaters things would be better.

Well, let me tell you, people. It’s not better.

They are 12 and 9 now and it still never ends. I do some laundry and then there is always more that appears! Some random white t-shirt when I’d just done all the whites shows up in the basket, mocking me.

And most of it is theirs! Their pants! Their shirts! Their socks and underwear! Without me they’d never leave the house in clean clothes.

OMG. Without me they’d never leave the house in clean clothes!!

What about when they go to college? Who’s going to do their laundry?

What about when they get married? Am I setting some poor person up for a lifetime of no help with laundry duty?

Holy cow, I am!

I had to wonder what other responsibilities I hadn’t taught them about yet, either because they were “too young” or because it was faster to do it myself.

Then I wondered when I was actually going to find the time to teach them things like laundry, cooking, and washing the dishes. And what about bigger responsibilities like managing money? When was I going to get around to that?

This little epiphany hit me in the middle of folding towels. I looked down at them and realized I needed to start immediately. And I could start with towels.

That was my first step on the path to really, thoughtfully teaching my kids the life skills that lead to learning responsibility. The next step was to decide what to teach them next.

To read more click here—–>

Resolutions for 2018

I have about a hundred resolutions for the New Year zinging about my brain right now. Some are true, life-changing, capital-r, Resolutions and some are more in the realm of Goals for the Year. To me it’s all the same.

Plus this is a list of stuff literally pinging around in my head. A list of possibilities and options.

1. Watch my diet

Isn’t this the first on everyone’s list? In the same category is “lose 10 pounds” and “become healthier.” A noble goal, which is why it #1 on everyone’s list. And hard to do, which is why it’s the first one off everyone’s list. But I kind of need to actually do this one. My cholesterol is just slightly high and it is dawning on me that I might need to figure out how to lower it. My husband is going to help me with this one. He bought broccoli sprouts and tomatoes at the store today. He did not buy cheese.

2. Write 500 words a day.

This one I might actually just try to stick with. I have several books burgeoning inside me and fighting their way out. If I do actually focus on this one I just might get one of them finished this year. Please note: I am not having “finish my book” be a goal because that is a sure-fired way to get me to self-destruct. Then I’m heaped in guilt that I didn’t get it done. Again.

3. Be a better housekeeper

Ha!Ha!Ha! No.

4. Finish a book quilt for E and H.

One thing I have always loved is one of those quilts that look like a bookcase full of books. I want to make one for each of them with the names of their favorite books embroidered on the spine and special objects appliqued on the shelves, too. This will probably take me all year. It also means I need to get my sewing machine cleaned and serviced. It is dirty and probably needs to be oiled so it doesn’t turn into a $1000 lump of seized metal. Which means 5 should be…

5. Get sewing machine cleaned and serviced.

See above. Okay, this is more like a “To-Do” than a “Resolution,” but I will feel like a Big Damn Hero when I get it done so here it is.

6. Get a berry garden put in the backyard.

This is a smaller goal that is one step to the larger goal of “get yard in shape.” The previous owners didn’t do so bad, but unfortunately for Mark I have Visions of Grandeur regarding the garden and yard. This includes an enclosed garden bed with strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. This is actually more Mark’s Vision of Grandeur than mine, but it does fit in nicely with my larger scheme of a larger kitchen garden (which will need deer and rabbit protection) and more of an English cottage garden in the front. I have Burpees.com bookmarked.

7. Travel

A broad topic because I have a long list of places I want to see and people I want to visit. At the top of my mind is Basel, San Francisco, and Denver. And given that I’ve just come from -17F Minnesota and back to +20F Washington, DC I’m also thinking that somewhere tropical would be good. And soon.

8. Get more massages

I had one for the first time in 3 years before I left for the holiday break. It was marvelous. I need to do this more often. For body maintenance and my health. I’m getting old. I need help keeping the muscles from seizing up. This I can also probably do as I have another regular gig I’ve just signed a contract for that will pay me enough to make this actually financially doable. And I’m sure this will help with my high cholesterol, too.

9. Bake more

I do bake a lot. And I LOVE it. I might try to figure out how to really frost a cake. Or maybe how to make some of the more complicated stuff they feature on the Great British Bake Off. Like an Entremet cake or a Charlotte Royale. I hope my co-workers don’t have Lose 10 Pounds on their resolution lists.

10. Take advantage of the gifts around me

I live in Washington, DC. There are a million things to do around here. Museums, concerts, theater, opera, ballet, hiking. I need to do more of those things. By myself. Not as a curator for my children all the time, but as a student immersing myself into an experience. I need to give myself time to breathe and remember what it is like to just be me.

So that’s 10 resolutions. (Or 9 resolutions and 1 big To-Do.) But that seems like enough to think about for now.

 

And so it Begins….

It’s a new era here in the US of A. We have a new president. One like we’ve never had before. One who comes from immense privilege and who reached the White House by speaking to people’s deepest fears and their most gruesome pain and promising to make it better by making others suffer instead.

I sit here, still stunned to hear the words “I, Donald J. Trump, …”.

I also sit here hopeful and clinging to my optimism that things will be okay.

Maybe it will all work out.

Maybe this will be the catalyst that heals old wounds and unifies us as one nation, indivisible.

Maybe we will start to listen to each other – to understand each other. To finally listen to the hopes and fears and needs and wants of ALL Americans. To hear and understand that even though we lead different lives and have different needs – we who live in cities and small towns and on farms – we are all Americans.

Maybe we will see that looking different and believing different ideologies doesn’t threaten the ideologies held so deeply and fervently by others. That our happiness and sense of self-worth doesn’t have to come at the expense of someone else’s. That our happiness can actually be increased by working to increase the happiness of others.

Maybe we will find out that our differences make us great. That our diversity makes us competitive. That because we embrace the glory that is our uniqueness we are powerful.

Maybe tomorrow will be better than today.

Maybe we can do better.

Maybe we will do better.

Because maybe we have to.

Kick Ass Woman Award – Re-Vote Please

So remember the Kick-Ass Woman Award that I am nominated for? Well, the poll software messed up and the votes didn’t get tallied correctly. Please go and vote again!

Click on this link! Scroll to the bottom and you can see a new poll there. Please vote! I would love to actually win! 🙂

kawaKick-Ass Women Award!

And you should really check out my competition if you haven’t yet. They are fantastic bloggers and deserve a look.

Kick Ass Women Award

Guys! I’ve been nominated for a Kick Ass Women Award by SynDolly.  The award serves to acknowledge the work of small-time, non-professional women bloggers like myself.

“It’s about supporting women who make us smile, laugh, cry, think, feel.”

I am incredibly flattered and I find myself in good company. My 4 co-finalists are:

Becoming She

Charli Mills

Drifting Through

Rachel Hanson

The voting ends on December 28th and we will find out the results on December 31st.

I hope you go and check them out, too. I have flipped through their pages and they are incredibly talented authors in their own right.

Save the Ta-Tas!

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but taking care of your health should just happen in October.  According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation there will be 246,660 new cases of breast cancer this year and 45,540 deaths due to breast cancer. The earlier you can catch breast cancer the easier it is to cure and the higher the survival rate.

In September I had a routine visit with my Gyn and he suggested that now that I am a “woman of a certain age” I consider having a mammogram. Sure! I said. I like to be pro-active about my health … especially when I’m fairly sure the test will be a breeze and everything will come back with glowing approval.  So, sign me up to squish my boobs, Doc.

He got me a referral to the Shady Grove Adventist Breast Center. They have a whole center just for ta-ta health.  The outside of the office looks like a fairly non-descript cement and glass medical office building rising up out of an asphalt parking lot.

The inside of the Breast Center, however, puts some spas I’ve been in to shame.  Calming colors, tinkling music, and serene, nature-inspired art greet you along with the cheerful and friendly staff. I was directed to the Keurig coffee maker for coffee or tea, or I could grab a bottle of water from the cooler underneath the coffee counter. Even the chairs and couches were of a spa waiting room quality. Certainly not the plastic kind found in most doctors’ offices.

Once I got called back into the changing room and actual medical area it seemed more doctor-like, but still very calming. And yet another Keurig and water bottle cooler.

img_0447
img_0446The mammogram technician showed me to a changing room and gave me a not-at-all glamorous or spa-like paper gown the same shade of pastel pink as a Necco Wafer candy.  She had me remove my shirt and put on the Necco Wafer top and then wait for her in the room above.

I had pretty much just stepped my right foot into the waiting area and my technician popped around the corner to escort me to The Room.

The Room with The Machine.

The Boob-Squishing Machine.

It’s weird, but I feel like I have been taught to fear the mammogram machine. I’ve been told it will hurt. A lot. That it defies ta-ta physics by flattening the girls out when nature says they are supposed to be round. Or at least oval.

Is it the imminent, forth-coming pain? Or is it the potential results?  Almost like Eve’s apple of knowledge.

Ignorance is bliss, people.

But first let me tell you that it is not that painful.

There is a little bit of pinching, but stubbing your toe against a rock is much more painful than getting a mammogram.

Frankly, the worst part was not being able to wear deodorant to the appointment. I get that nervous sweat whenever I go to a doctor’s appointment and I rely on some Secret to help hide my fear. But in this case you can’t wear it. There are some additives and metals some products that mess up the test. Best to be stinky than to have to come back.

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The technician helped to position my girls into the machine. She took 4 images, 2 on each side. The first pushed my breasts into a horizontal line that they should have been capable of. The second forced them into a 45 degree angle line that made me feel like they were be pushed up against a mountain.

The machine started to whir. The pinching started and then she says, “Don’t Breathe.”

No problem. I was already sucking in my breath to keep from a repeated litany of “owieowieowieowie” while the machine clamped down.

But it was over in 5 seconds.

I was literally back there for 5 minutes. From top off to top back on.

And they do give you a little warning or caveat about your results. If this is your first mammogram you might be asked to come back for more images. They want to create a baseline view so they can compare your future mammograms to this first one.

“Cool,” I said, not believing for a minute that I would have to come back.

And then I got an email an hour later.

“Please call us, immediately.”

Well, shit.

If I thought I had nervous sweat before that was nothing compared to panic sweat that I broke out into.

It turns out that I had an “asymmetrical glandular abnormality” and needed to come back in for more images and an ultrasound.

What the fuck is an “asymmetrical glandular abnormality??” I asked.  It seems the image of my left breast was slightly different than my right.  “Okay. So you’re not actually going to tell me what this means.” Fine. I made my appointment for 6 days later.

In those 6 days I Googled “asymmetrical breasts” and “glandular abnormality in breast” and – my fingers really hesitated over the keys before typing this – “breast cancer.”  I probably searched them about 4 times a day. And then I tried to very casually and with an extremely light tone that fooled no one ask all my doctor friends about “glandular abnormalities.”

“Those could totally be from my fibroid cysts I found in my breasts when I was 19, right? RIGHT??”

My husband and my friends did their best to calm me down.

I also made various promises to myself and the universe. Over those 6 days I swore that if these tests came back okay I would:

  • only drink 2 cups of coffee per day (Yeah, right.)
  • do more yoga (Doing it.)
  • walk and hike more (I walk the kids to and from school. That should do it, right?)
  • swear off sugar (That lasted until October 31st.)
  • spend more time with my kids (Again, I walk them to and from school…)
  • cut back on my alcohol consumption (That one dropped off right around November 8th)
  • shut off my phone for 2 hours each day (Ha!)
  • finish my book (Working on it.)

Finally, the 6 days were up and I was back at Shady Grove Adventist having my girls squished in The Machine again. My technician was so nice. She said we’d read these images first and then, if it was needed, I would go and have an ultrasound. A mammogram is just a 2-D picture image, while an ultrasound can give you a 3-D image. It can help determine if this dark spot is a solid thing or if it is actually hollow or layers or tissue.

So we got started. And this time I got *3* images taken of my left breast! In many different shapes and positions! Wooo!

And then, because I am extra special, I got to advance to the ultrasound round!

There was nothing spa-like about the ultrasound room. It was all business in there. They propped me sideways on some bolsters and pillows, squirted warm lube on my ta-ta and then used a roller wand to start looking at what was going on in there.  It was just like when I got ultrasounds when I was pregnant. I was fascinated then and I was desperately curious now.

She was making some polite chit-chat to start with. The kind that is supposed to calm you down, but prevents you from making any kind of real connection.  After awhile she saw me peeking at the screen and said, “Do you want to look?”

And that’s when I knew it would be okay.

They never let you look at the screen if it’s not going to be okay.

We had the best conversation about sound wave physics and how the waves are absorbed by dense objects and make them turn white and pass through less dense objects making them look black. Connective tissue is dense and fat is not. She showed me how I have layers of dense connective tissue stacked in between layers of fat. I will never look at lasagna the same way again.

The head radiologist came in and took a look and everything was just fine. I could go home.  I was done.

So go. Go and get your mammogram. Even if you are only 40 or 41 or 42. If you catch it early breast cancer can be beat. If you have fibroid cysts like me you can have a much better baseline and a much, much better chance of catching any changes that might occur.

Just Do It.

Moving is Complicated

It’s been 5 weeks since we left Switzerland for America. First we went to Minnesota for a blissful time with Mark’s parents before Mark had to go back to the reality of DC and work and I drove down to Iowa with the kids to visit my parents and wait for our stuff to arrive from Basel.

I am still visiting.

And poor Mark, meanwhile, is on week 5 of eating off of plastic plates, drinking coffee out of a beer pint glass, having only a wok to cook with, and cutting up his cheese, meat, and veggies with a Swiss army knife.

He at least has a table to put his food on. Thank goodness we didn’t get rid of that glass-top table that I was hellbent on selling before we moved. It goes really well in the kitchen with the canvas picnic chairs we left behind in the storage unit.

Sigh.

On June 22nd our stuff went into this giant metal orange box and was whisked away, leaving nothing behind but tread marks in the freshly pour asphalt. It was loaded on a barge going up the Rhein River to Antwerp.

It made it to Antwerp without a problem, but “due to congestion on the docks” it did not make it onto the big huge boat going to Baltimore on July 9th. The next boat to Baltimore would be departing the next week, July 16th. Hopefully it would make it on that boat.

So, that’s another week I would be in Iowa.

We got confirmation from our moving person that our orange crate made it onto the boat as planned on the 16th. Yay! It was now moving across the Atlantic! We can start making plans for me to drive back with the kids!

Mom offered to drive back with me since Mark couldn’t fly out and make the 2-day drive back. We’ve done this before and it’s worked out great for her to accompany me and then take a one-way flight back. Now that we knew when our stuff would be in Baltimore we figured it was time we went online and bought her return ticket. August 8th is far enough out. Right?

Then we thought to inquire about this whole customs process we’d heard absolutely nothing about.

It turns out that, yes, all our stuff loaded into that big metal orange crate would have to go through customs. All of it. A whole household of stuff would have to be checked and stamped through. It would take 5 to 7 business days to go through customs. And that’s if they decide not to x-ray anything.

Aaaaand tack on another week the kids and I are in Iowa.

The kittens are softening the blow of missing Daddy.

And then, we still need to schedule delivery with the moving company. That could take around 4 days to get it loaded into their truck and scheduled for delivery. Then they need to deliver it.

So that’s a few more days hanging out with the ‘rents in Iowa.

Now we have to call Delta and get Mom’s ticket rescheduled because we aren’t planning on leaving Iowa until August 14th. Maybe.

Supposedly, our stuff is reaching Baltimore today or tomorrow. I wonder if they’ll tell us.

We are currently taking bets on when the kids and I get back to DC. Will it be: August 15th? August 18?  Never?  We have this house rented and I’m thinking that by the time I get there I will only have to live there for 9 months.

In the meantime, we are selling our old house in Silver Spring and I am spending my time yet again house hunting remotely and driving Mark crazy with listings to look at.  Yay!

Prince is Dead. Long live Prince.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
  To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after-world

A world of never ending happiness
  You can always see the sun, day or night

Prince is dead, my friends.

Tragically, inexplicably, unfairly, cruelly dead.

He was only 57.

I had to tell my children who Prince was, exactly. They’d heard his music, but I hadn’t really talked to them about who the artist was. So this is what I came up with:

If you took James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Robert Johnson, George Clinton, and Liberace together you’ve have something close to Prince.

Prince always appeared at significant moments of my life. I first saw him on American Bandstand on a Saturday morning.  When I saw him perform I thought “That guy is going to be huge.” I was 6 at the time, I think.

Raspberry Beret hit when I was tween. It was played on every radio station and at every school dance. I sang it on a continual loop. I remember being absolutely delighted when I found a real and actual raspberry colored beret. I wore it for months.

And if you saw Tim Burton’s Batman you also got to hear a lot of Prince. He did the entire soundtrack and provided a strong musical esthetic that just made the entire film.

Do I even have to mention (Party like it’s) 1999? I think that song was on continuous loop on New Year’s Eve that year.

He was also a man of few words. Have you ever watched a Prince interview from the 1980s? He was monosyllabic. He makes a monk under a vow of silence look like a chatterbox.

Dick Clark says of his Bandstand interview with Prince, “Probably the single most difficult interview I ever did in my life.”  He answered in single words and hand gestures.

His acceptance speech when he won the American Music Award for Favorite Black Single is legendary. As his name is read off Prince gracefully sails up on stage wearing a purple sparkly coat with the high Austenian collar, a side cape of purple ermine tails, a ruffled white shirt, and a sparkly lace bandana made into a make-shift eye patch. He is followed by a Nordic giant of a bodyguard. He hands his award over to the giant, says, “Thank you very much,” and leaves the stage to go back to his seat. Keep watching. No one knows what to do. Lionel Richie who is hosting cannot believe it. There is a bead of sweat that start to bubble up on his left temple and it takes him a second to process and carry on with a wonderful exclamation of “Outrageous!”  It’s here at the 1:51 mark. 

I loved it.

He was doing everything that I, as a surly teenager, wanted to do. Monosyllabic. Check. Insanely talented. Check. Independently wealthy. Check. Amazing fashion sense. Check. Badass. Check and double check.

He was pushing social boundaries as well as musical boundaries. He was singing about stuff that I was thinking and feeling. People loved him for it and because I was thinking and feeling the same things I didn’t feel so odd or alone.

Plus he came out of Minnesota! I mean Minnesota of all places. Nothing great ever comes of Minnesota or Iowa except for I-35 going south. To have a rock star of this magnitude rise up out of where I came from and then decide to make it his home forever is unheard of. That right there earned him a million devoted fans.

I got to see him perform for the first time when I was in college. I was selling pizzas for Domino’s at the concert in Ames and got to stand at the door to watch when the stand was slow.  I almost got fired right there for getting so into the concert I was late getting a pizza pickup.

But my stand also happened to be right next to the doors down to the underbelly of the stadium where Prince’s staff was hanging out. So where do you think they were all coming for pizza?

That’s right. To me.

So I got to meet all of them. They were some of the coolest, chillest people ever. They never expected anything for free and did actually pay for pizza.  And at the end of the night they invited me and a co-worker down stairs to drop off the fresh pizzas they had ordered from us.

We sat around the table and hung out while they – about 10 of them – casually ate pizza and drank sodas and talked with us like we were human beings and weren’t wearing the tackiest uniforms in the history of fast food. This is what happens when you are raised in Minnesota. You end up being a decent person even if you are in the music industry.

Or maybe just being part of Prince’s crowd kept you grounded. Like all extremely creative people, he could be very “out there” and I think maybe the staff were the counterweight. But, really, watch some of his interviews. He has very little patience for ass-kissing crap, sub-par music, or getting personal at all. He wants to talk about his music and what it takes to make great music.  He doesn’t want to talk about how he’s a sex symbol or popular or an icon. He did an interview on The View and when Sherri Shepard said she’d wanted to have sex with him since forever he dropped his mic and waved them a goodbye as he left.

Some of the rumors about the extent of his eccentricities were true.  His staff confirmed (this was in mid-1990s when he was fighting Warner Bros and became TAFKAP) that when you walked down the halls of Paisley Park and he was coming down the hall sometimes, if he made a signal or wore something I can’t remember what, you had to stop and look at the wall until he passed. That sounds crazy and dictatorial, but he just wanted privacy and not to be stared at every second of every day.

And by the way, did I want a job?

His head of staff was serious. Did I want a job? With Prince. At Paisley Park. We had been talking for about an hour and I have evidently impressed him as being sharp and friendly. Apparently those were the two most important qualifications to be a runner or junior junior assistant. And I was from Iowa and if you couldn’t trust an Iowan who could you trust?

That moment between his question and my answer is frozen in my brain. What if I had said yes? What if I hadn’t insisted that I had to finish college? Where would I be? What would I be doing?

But I decided I had to finish college and so here we are.

I’m sorry if you never went to a Prince concert. I saw him in Washington, DC one day after having surgery. I basically told my doctor to stitch me up good because I was going to a Prince concert.  I danced so much I had to call my friend Sabrina, who is a doctor and Prince fanatic, for medical advice from the bathroom half-way through the concert. (It was all fine.)

He was electric on stage. Electric. I’ve never seen a performer like him. He was playing in-the-round and was all over that stage. Nobody had his back for more than 2 minutes. He was everywhere all at once. His fingers and feet never stopped moving. It was clear that music was his everything. He lived to play that guitar and sing. It was almost like he didn’t need the audience. We were a bonus to him. He just needed to play.

This little piece from the NFL talking about Prince’s halftime show (called by some as the best halftime show in the history of the Superbowl and possibly his best performance ever) will give you an idea of what performing meant to him.  It was raining at that Superbowl. The organizers called Prince to make sure he was okay with the rain and he asked, “Can you make it rain harder?” And he just made the weather his. He owned that rain.

We have lost something, people.  Some of us know what it is. Others don’t quite understand yet. But it will become apparent in the years ahead that a certain something is missing.

I will close with one of my favorite songs that he wrote. He barely performed it and so it’s hard to find a good version so I have opted to post Chris Cornell’s cover of Nothing Compares 2 U.  Yes, Prince wrote this. Enjoy it.

 

 

The Swiss Family Carlson Searches for the Loch Ness Monster

This is Part 4 in our visit to Scotland.  Over here you can find our visits to Part 1: Edinburgh Castle, Part 2: JK Rowling’s Scotland, and Part 3: Hadrian’s Wall.

It’s almost a Scooby Doo title, isn’t it? But for us there was no mystery to solve and no Great Dane with the munchies, but there was perhaps a monster to find.

Loch Ness is waaaay up north by Inverness.  This would mean several hours in a van and with a tour group. The boys were game for it. They brought books and coloring pages so they were good. I brought my camera and my excitement at going to a place I’d first heard about reading National Geographic.

Loch Ness is the largest lake by volume of water because it is so very deep.  It’s deepest point is 755ft. It goes from Inverness in the north until Fort William, a town just by Glen Coe, in the south.

Scotland_relief_location_mapAs you can see on the map, it looks like all the Lochs form a diagonal line across the country. That is the Great Glen Fault, a fault line between two tectonic plates. Yes, they have routine small earthquakes there. No, we didn’t feel any while we were there.

We took a boat tour out onto the Loch.  They played a recording giving facts about the Loch, including what fish are found there. It turns out there are eels in the lake, at which point E turns to me and asks, “Are they the Shrieking Eels from the Princess Bride?”  (The drama-geek in me has never been so proud.)

These are totally my children.
These are totally my children.

They also talked about The Loch Ness Monster.  They had great stories about of the sightings, the hoaxes, and the searches.  It ended with cold hard science saying there probably wasn’t enough food in the loch to support such a creature, but WHO KNOWS FOR SURE.  (Always keep your options open, right?)

One of the first things you notice about the water is that it’s black.  Black like tar. When it foams up you can see dark brown undertones to the water.  It is not a water that invites you to swim in it, although some people do.

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Loch Ness is absolutely beautiful. It’s quiet and lonely even with all the tourists around.

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The boat trip took an hour and we went to Urquhart Castle on the south end of the loch.  Urquhart Castle is a fascinating ruin.  After James II was deposed in 1688, the Jacobites used Urquhart Castle as a base for a rebellion. The English, of course, attempted to capture him and the Jacobites.  Seeing that they were going to be the losers, the Jacobites blew it to pieces in 1692 to prevent the English from taking it and using it themselves.

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The Scottish flag still flies over the castle ruins. Take that, English!
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I believe their slogan was “Never give up! Never surrender!” but I might have gotten that from a movie.

We didn’t find Nessie on the boat, but we did see what I’m sure is a totally 100% accurate representation of what she looks like.

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We trundled back onto the bus and went off to our next stop in the Scottish Highlands: Glen Coe.  Glen Coe is famous because of its beauty and because of a horrible massacre that took place in 1692.

What happened was this. The Campbell clan was working for the king who sent them to the village of Glencoe to kill the people working with the Jacobite rebellion. They took hospitality for the night with a family, then word got why the Campbells were really in town (not really just passing through) so everyone who could leave the village got the heck out, but the family with whom the Campbells were staying with had to stay or the jig was up. In the morning the Campbells killed everyone who was left behind in the village, starting with the people who gave them a meal and a bed.

The people of the Highlands were outraged.  To kill the people who had offered you hospitality was the worst crime anyone could think of and to this day the village of Glencoe will not allow a Campbell to stay the night there.  Even the country music singer Glen Campbell was kicked out of town when he visited.

If you haven’t heard of Glen Coe you might be surprised to know that you definitely seen it.  It is a very popular filming location.  The Pass of Glen Coe was used as the Bridge of Death and The Gorge of Eternal Peril in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Buachaille Etive Mòr was the backdrop for the James Bond’s childhood home in Skyfall. (Sorry to disappoint, but there is no manor house there. It was all CGI.) The area of Clachaig Gully was used for parts of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and there is a clearing near the village of Glencoe where Hagrid’s hut was.

One of the more popular sights are the mountains of The Three Sisters: Bidean nam Bian, Aonach, and Eagach. We stopped there for a brief moment and I have to agree. They are beautiful.

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Another feature of the Glen Coe area is Ben Nevis by Fort William. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in all of Britain and is 1344 meters tall.  It is now owned by the John Muir Conservation Trust and is climbed by thousands of people every year.  We got to see it at the sight of the Commando Memorial, dedicated to the men who fought during WWII.

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You don’t really get to see Ben Nevis, but I was assured that it’s out there.

We drove through a lot of really beautiful country.  Some people don’t like to spend so much time in a van, but for me just being taken through the countryside was a lovely part of the experience.

IMG_1974H got a little sleepy, however.

IMG_1975As we were hurled along winding roads through some light rain and mist, our driver promised us that we would meet one of his girlfriends at the next stop.  And here she is.

She’s a big fan of carrots.

He also took us past the castle Monty Python used for the scene where the French taunted King Arthur and told him “your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!” before throwing cows at him.

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Sorry it’s blurry. We were going over some bumps.

It’s real name is Doune Castle. It’s quite close to Stirling Castle. It looks rough from here, but our guide assures us that it is quite sturdy and you could probably move right in.

At this point in the day we had been on the road for about 10 hours. We were all exhausted and ready to get back to Edinburgh. But after dropping us off  and before we headed back to Basel we visited what our guide called The Gothic Rocket.  Better known as the Sir Walter Scott Memorial.

IMG_1750I also got to meet two of the cutest King’s guards ever at the National Museum of Scotland!

We ran into a Stormtrooper.

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Found where all the witches hang out.IMG_1763
Enjoyed a festival.IMG_1752Met the Duke of Wellington. (He’s quite friendly.)

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And said Goodbye to Edinburgh Castle.
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I hope you have enjoyed our trip to Scotland! We certainly did.  We came home with things that are plaid, Harry Potter’s wand, Scottish shortbread, whiskey for Mark, and a desire to go back and do it all again!

Next time we explore some of the Italian parts of Switzerland!