Monday, June 30, 2008

An Edinburgh interlude

The next morning dawned warm and sunny and after a lovely breakfast delivered to our room on delicate blue and white china plates, we headed north again to Edinburgh. Luckily our favorite B&B had a room for us and we spent the next few days shopping and sight seeing. We bought a book of Robbie Burns songs and ballads, old volumes of poetry by Scott, a book on birds of Britain, water colors for me, music books, and typing paper for Jack.

We visited the National Gallery to see an exhibit of prints by Daumier, and spent time listening to some buskers in the park. It was great people watching. A little old lady danced by in her purple hat, a fastidious gentleman took out his handkerchief and smoothed it daintily on the step before sitting down to listen, people fed birds or just stood around enjoying the beautiful day and the music.

After saying good-bye to our hosts, who had by this time become friends, we packed up and took the final road to the north and home.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where we go to D'isney land

Leaving London - strung out, jet lagged, hungry - heading north and trying to stay awake. We had a hard time finding a hotel we liked and by the time we got to Lincoln, Jack was a basket case. We decided to take the next hotel or B&B we passed no matter what - and landed in the D'Isney Place. It was a charmer and when we got to our room there was tea and a basket of fruit, scented oils for the bath and warm, fluffy terrycloth robes for after. It was heaven.

After a short nap we walked around the town. The hotel is only a block from the minster and the cathedral is lovely, as is the rest of the town. We walked through ancient streets - steep, winding ways - each turning a delight to the eye. We liked it there better than York - quieter and much less commercial. We had supper in a little pub - then back for a last cup of tea and to bed. Ahhh....

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Will they let us in?

So there we were in Gatwick Airport at 7:00 a.m. asking for 12 month visas. We had been assured by the consulate in Chicago that we could just get them at the airport no problem. Seems that there was nobody for the passport people to ask about what obviously wasn't a common request, until the customs staff came in at 9:00. So they locked us up in a room with a whole lot of West Africans, none of whom spoke English.

Sometime after 9:00 we were released into the custody of an immigration officer who obviously was trying to prove we should be sent back to the States - a very rude and officious woman. Luckily we could prove that we had the funds to keep us for at least a year without having to take jobs from deserving Brits. She finally, after about an hour's hassle, gave us our visas and sent us on our way stressed out and exhausted. Later we found that we would have to register with the local police and fill out a form every year in order to renew the visa. As it turned out, once we were in, they just renewed it every year with no hassle at all.

Finally we got ourselves and all our luggage stuffed into a Ford Escort and started off to drive through the middle of London on what seemed to us the wrong side of the road. We had planned to stop in the city to visit an old friend but stressed, tired and hungry as we were by that time, survival seemed a bigger priority and we were glad enough to actually get through the city without having an accident or getting too lost. We were happy to find that magical highway sign that says "To The North" and really be on the road home.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Up, up and away

Back from Colorado and now the countdown to departure began in earnest. We decided not to ship anything ahead. If we couldn't take it on the plane we wouldn't take it. I wanted to take my guitar - I figured I'd have long evenings by the fireside to practice. I had a set of stainless mixing bowls and measuring spoons that I couldn't live without, and several pots that filled a gap in the furnished kitchen equipment list. Clothes of course and medicines, cosmetics etc. that I figured I may not be able to find there. And Jack's folding fly rod that he'd gotten as a going away gift. And that's about it.

We had a wooden crate in which I packed my guitar, and arranged the kitchen stuff around it. I filled in the spaces and cushioned everything with wash cloths, towels and dishtowels and may even have gotten some clothes and shoes in there. We had 8 pieces of luggage in all - 2 duffle bags, 2 suitcases, a backpack, a suitbag, Jack's typewriter and the crate.

We managed to sell the car two days before we left - cut that too close for comfort.

It was hardest to say good-bye to the girls and my parents. My father all of a sudden had come up with some health problems and I knew we wouldn't be together again for a long time. We had a friend drive us to the airport and just leave us at the door - no long farewells. A very nice porter took our stuff and we were only charged for one extra piece of luggage - no weight overage charges. He got a good tip. And then we were on the plane and headed off - next stop Gatwick Airport and London.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Countdown to departure - phase II

A trip to Tut's Tomb provided the gear we needed to go off to Colorado camping for the next month or so. Jack took his fly fishing equipment just in case he should want to tempt a wily trout. We started out and in South Dakota ran into what I'm convinced was a tornado. Luckily we were able to shelter under a concrete overpass - but even then the wind, coming from all directions in turn, threatened to capsize us.

It had come out of nowhere and was over in minutes leaving a bright blue sky. We emerged from our shelter and saw cars and trucks that had been tossed about and overturned. The scariest was a camper that had passed us shortly before with a little girl in the back who had waved at us as they passed. The camper was lying on its side and burning - I was shaking and horrified. We stopped for the night in a motel because both of us were too shaken to continue. We talked about fate - how one can get up in the morning, looking forward to the day, and suddenly be picked up and smashed by forces completely beyond one's control. It made us even more convinced that a person should do what he can in life while health and opportunity still exist.

The rest of the trip went beautifully - we drove through the high mountains, camped in meadows, ate trout for breakfast, walked through aspen woods, visited with friends and family, heard elk trumpeting in the high valleys, and best of all, spent four days in Mesa Verde. We had only expected to spend a day or so - but the mysticism of the place captured us completely and we clambered around through the cliff villages and gazed off accross the Mesa to the Four Corners and Ship Rock.

It was a lovely way to spend the time of waiting before returning to our friend's hospitality and the final preparation for departure to Scotland.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Countdown to departure - phase I

We arrived hot and sweaty at our friends home, carrying what we figured we'd need for the next few weeks. They gave us a lovely welcome and a delicious dinner and let us settle into their basement apartment. We discovered that it was a walk-out and right outside the door was a patio and pool. Not too shabby!

We spent the next few weeks finishing up some work - and having friends over for pool picnics and impromptu musical interludes. In the evenings we'd have dinner with friends - spending as much time as possible with them before we left. After a few weeks recovering from our move, and visiting with my parents at their lake home for a while, we packed up and moved our stuff over to another friend's place to prepare for the next phase.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Good-bye to our house

This was our house when we decided to move. Now the flowers and birds (including a pair of mallards) were gracing the yard and it was hard to think of leaving it all.

We packed like crazy for a month & moved most of the stuff we wanted to save to our storage room (now affectionately known as Tut's Tomb). Then we ran a 3 day garage sale. We'd been pretty ruthless in choosing what to sell. It was especially nice to see so many books go to new owners - fun to see people get really excited to have found what was to them a prize. What stuff we didn't sell we gave or threw away.

Then there were the cats. It was hard to say good-bye to them. We did shed some tears - but I knew they were going to a good home.

Finally we had the house closing and got the place clean and ready for the new owners. On a stormy, rainy, hot day we closed the door for the last time and drove away.

It seemed strange. I had expected to feel emotional about leaving a house where we had been happy and raised our kids. We'd even done the remodeling in the last year that had made the house just exactly the way I wanted it. But somehow I never looked back. My bags were packed and I was ready to go. It was exciting - a whole new chapter was there to be written - and I was anxious to see what would happen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The last hurrah

A whirlwind series of farewell parties, dinners and visits ensued. We decided we needed to throw a good-bye bash so we found a couple pipers and sent out invites.

Our backyard had been the site of many a viciously contested croquet game. Oft times we had played a game on into the night with headlamps - once we played right through a tornado warning only stopping when the ground became too wet to play. And we wanted to end the tradition with a bang.

The reason for the killer course was the hill that you see here in the middle of the yard. One of the goal posts was on the lower level, the other was at the top of the hill. There were two wickets in the middle of the hill - you had to go through one going up, the other coming down.

Our last game was hard-fought - people burying opponents balls so they'd dissappeared completely, balls being sent through the fence and out down the driveway to be lost in traffic, players standing through the whole game in the same spot because they couldn't get their ball through the up-hill wicket.

Meanwhile we ate and drank and Ann Marie danced the highland fling over crossed croquet mallets. A friend going back for his third piece of cake said "This is such a great gathering aren't you going to miss this?"


Saturday, June 21, 2008

The future will have to wait

About a month before we left we got a call from a cemetery lot salesman. We figured we maybe should start thinking about that being that we were in our 40's. We were curious so we told him to come along and give us his information - which he did. He showed up wearing a dark suit and white plastic belt and shoes. Hmm. He spoke in very lugubrious tones, telling us all about the beautiful plots we could get, the great monuments we could erect - and on and on. We finally said we'd think about it.

After that he kept calling and finally we said he could come and give us a final pitch. I must say he tried hard - but it was hard to keep from laughing. In the end we said thanks but no thanks and sent him on his way. By that time he was very morose and grumpy - and his final shot as he went out the door was "and I don't like your cat either!"

Friday, June 20, 2008

Anyone want a cat? Take two!

The next trick was to find a home for our 2 cats.

They would have to go together - they were too bonded to separate now, both of them being 6 or 7 years old. Unfortunately one was a very eccentric siamese who was a wonderful, loving family pet - but her way of winning friends and influencing people was definitely not appreciated by - well - anyone actually. She was a beautiful, sleek animal with big innocent blue eyes that could look into your soul. Her favorite trick was coming up to new people (before we could warn or intervene) and, getting up in their laps, gazing lovingly into their eyes, and as soon as they would raise a hand to pet her, she would hiss menacingly in their faces. This was not endearing. Several friends offered to get rid of her for us but I don't think their motives were innocent. Finally one of our dear (and as it turned out - long suffering) friends offered to take them - bless him forever. As it happened both cats lived into their 20's and were very happy and much loved.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Practicalities & possibilities

So now to find a place to store the "stuff" we were keeping. Happily we found a large warehouse where we could rent a secure, dry 6x10 room for an indefinite period at very reasonable cost. We let our kids choose whatever they wanted to keep. We would hold a garage sale a week before we moved and whatever didn't sell would go to the Goodwill.

At that time we had considered the possibility of leaving Minnesota and starting again in a new place when we returned from whatever the future would bring. We both loved the sea and the Northwest Coast so that was a tempting prospect. Our plans were fluid and depending on our experiences in Scotland we would stay there for a year or two or, if we didn't like it as much as we expected to, we could live somewhere else in Europe for a while. The future was rife with possibilities. All of a sudden the world was open to us - all we needed was money. Ha!

Meanwhile we would have to sell our car - but we didn't want to sell it until just before we left since we wanted to travel a bit and needed it until then. We kept a bank account in Minneapolis for whatever income and expenses we'd have while we were gone. I had talked to the bank in Ullapool and there was no problem with opening an account there and we could deposit US dollars there with no problem. We could have a checking account and credit card from the Royal Bank so we were set there.

We found that we wouldn't need health insurance while in the UK because health care there is free even for non-citizens. We did keep a small catestrophic policy in force for US purposes. We were making progress!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The "stuff" must go

Back home again to start another round of planning for our departure. It was the end of May and we'd sold our house! Jack still had script work to finish and at the gallery we had just mounted our second show of museum grade New Guinea art. I was doing research and writing the information sheets we always provided at our gallery at each showing. (This was a drawing I'd done in my journal of a mask in the exhibit). We couldn't leave the States until September and the people who bought our house needed to move in on July 1st. What to do in the two months we'd be homeless?

The two real estate agents came up with a brilliant solution that would allow us to hold a mortgage on the house - giving us income while we were gone and a balloon payment in 3 years. Our agent and friend offered to let us stay in the mother-in-law apartment he had in his house for the month of July. We thought we could get away and go camping for some weeks in August -then stay with friends or family until we had to leave.

Meanwhile we had a month to pack up or sell 20 years of accumulated"stuff".

The law of the "conservation of stuff" says that at some point we all must get rid of "stuff", which then is purchased by others who then must get rid of some of their "stuff", ensuring that when we returned there would still be plenty of "stuff" that we could start accumulating all over again. But meanwhile, whatever "stuff" we wanted to keep would have to go into storage for a few years so space was limited. Since we would have to pay for everything we stored, we got pretty ruthless about what we would get rid of. I started making lists - what we would keep (those things that were particularly precious and hard to replace) - what we would take with us (very little) - and what we would get rid of in one way or another (most of what now filled our house). Hard decisions - but liberating in a way!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Leaving London

Back in London we got tickets to the play "Overheard" by Peter Ustinov, starring Ian Carmichael and Deborah Kerr. It was a delightful bit of fluff, and we enjoyed the theater itself almost as much. It was at the Royal Theater in Haymarket, built in 1821 - steep and elegant - full of mirrors, chandeliers, carved wood, brocade and gilt royal boxes - as a London theater ought to be.

The next day we went to Windsor Castle and caught Princess Margaret and her son and Princess Di coming out of St. George Chapel. After touring the castle apartments we stopped for a Devon tea - then back to London where we celebrated our last evening at a wonderful Hungarian resturant - complete with fantastic Gypsy violinists. The place was full of Hungarians singing along with the music. There was an older woman at the next table singing - a bit tearful and showing pictures of her old life in Hungary. The waiters were darling & we stayed until midnight. A suitable end to a delightful and successful trip.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

We pause in York

On the train from Edinburgh to York I sat with an 85 yr. old charmer named Mrs. Bishop from Berwick on Tweed. She was the epitome of the gentlewoman of spirit - full of stories of gardens and travels and eccentricities of the gentry and how she started doing watercolors at the age of 75. I'd love to have spent much more time with her.

In York we stayed at the Priory Hotel (1870), from which we could walk up the River Ouse to the castle and its wonderful museums. We explored the Shambles and crawled all over the York Minster - Roman ruins in the crypt were particularly interesting. We had tea in the courtyard of 15th century St. Williams College, then on again to London.

On the train we were regaled by the head of the British Engineering Dept. who owns an estate with one of England's finest trout streams running through his back garden. He tried hard to impress us wih his travels, high ranking job etc - we found it quite amusing.

Our London Hotel seemed very drab after the lovely places we'd been.

Where we pose as bell-ringers!

Wilf and Wendy went all out to show us a good time. We took the Wee Mad Road up to Lochinver (if you go to our website and wait for the video to load, you can drive it too!). We went down the coast to Inverewe Gardens, one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK. It was built by Osgood Mackensie in the 1800's and contains trees, plants and flowers from all over the world.

Again, I hated to leave, but it was good to know I'd be back to stay for a long while. Nancy and I then took the train to Edinburgh and stayed at the Halcyon Hotel at the foot of Observatory Hill. During our 3 days there we toured the castle, ate lunch at the Deacon Brodie Tavern, went through Lady Stair's house, had tea at Clarinda's, went down the Royal Mile to Holyrood, toured the Georgian House on Charlotte Square and walked to Leith Water (charming and picturesque neat old house by the bridge). Every night we ate at the Doric Tavern which had great food for very reasonable prices.

We had tea in the formal rooms at the Roxburgh Hotel, visited Greyfriars Bobby, wandered around St. Mary's Cathedral and shopped in old book stores. While walking down Princes' Street to the gardens, we heard bells ringing changes, and since we had both just read "The Twelve Tailors" we decided to investigate. We found St. Cuthberts Church and noticed a button on the bell tower wall with a notice that said "If you are interested in ringing, press button". So we did. A window opened in the tower above us and someone leaned out and threw us a key. Interesting. We found that the key opened the door to the bell chamber so we climbed up into the tower where a group of ringers were practising changes for the Sunday service. We realized after we got up there that the sign was for trained ringers - which we were definitely not. But the people were lovely and let us sit and watch while they finished their practise and we had a wonderful time. The moral is - grab the chance when you can - it may never come again!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I find our new home

The day after we arrived in Polbain, Wilf and Wendy took us to see the four houses that were possible rentals for us. Three of them didn't feel like home - but the last one we went to welcomed me like it was fated to be mine. Castlehill was an old crofting cottage - white, slate-roofed with a red gate framed by rowan trees (rumored to ward off witches). It took its name from the round hill rising right behind it. W&W's sheep were grazing in the yard - mowing the lawn.

The house was full of comfy furniture (except for the beds which were much shorter than Jack) and had a fully furnished kitchen. The only heat was from the fireplaces (coal or peat) so we'd have to get a calor gas heater for the kitchen. There was a small stove and two tiny refrigerators - no freezer space - so I knew that would be a problem. I made a list of favorite kitchen gadgets that I used all the time at home but were missing here. I would be sure to bring those with me.

The house belonged to Murdo and Joan - an older (70's) brother and sister, both unmarried who now shared a cottage down the road a piece. I loved them both the first time I met them and the price they wanted to rent Castlehill was well within our budget. I agreed to the terms without hesitation. I had found our home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Coming to my Beloved Country

The train trip from London to Inverness was comfortable but we got little sleep. It was a milk-train that stopped at every station along the way, waking us up at every stop. (Yawn). Our friends Wilf and Wendy picked us up at the Inverness station and drove us across the rather desolate Dirrie Mor and down through the lovely glen leading to Ullapool. You come down through trees and masses of blooming rhododendrons to the sea, where the white houses and shops of the town line the quey and trawlers ride at anchor along the shore. It is a beautiful sight.

Then over the mountains on a one-lane winding road to Coigach and the tiny village of Polbain (about 30 full-time residents). We stayed with Wilf and Wendy in their sea-side Seaview Cottage. Here we were introduced to their 6 pet sheep, and fed over the course of our stay on lamb, haggis, fish, and home-made wine.

Polbain's white-washed houses are strung out mostly along the upper (northern) side of a single-track road that circles the Coigach peninsula, on the far northwest coast of Scotland. The country is wild and open - mostly heather and gorse with very few trees except around the houses and gardens. On the south side of the road croft fields sweep down to the sea where the Summer Isles lie just off shore. Across the sea loch are the snow-capped Dundonnel mountains, and to the west across the sea you can make out the blue outline of the outer Hebrides.
The mountains behind the village are like the mountains of the moon - each standing seperately with it's own particular shape and personality. Stac Polly crouches like a lion, its top a spiky, rocky mane. Suillven is a sugar loaf. The Coigach mountains offer some of the best hill walking in Britain. This is not the soft green beauty of the Borders country or the pastural beauty of the Black Isle on the east coast of Scotland. It is wild, Heathcliff-on-the- moor-type beauty that fills my heart with joy.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

On the road again

So - Nancy and I flew to London and spent 2 days kicking around looking at the usual sights. There are some special things I've discovered over the years - one is evensong at St. Paul's every day at sunset. The boy's choir is wonderful - and if you sit in the front row in front of the altar, just before the service the deacon will come down and ask if you'd like to sit up in the choir stalls. It's a delightful experience.

One can take a boat from Westminster pier to the Tower of London or to Grenich and it's much more fun than the bus or underground. It was fun to come into the Tower by the water-gate - shades of QE1.

We went to Selfridges and they happened to have a large number of the life-size terra-cotta Chinese army tomb figures - both mounted and foot soldiers. They were amazing. After spending time in the British Museum we took an over-night sleeper to Inverness.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Another diversion

"Diversion" is what they use in the UK instead of "detour". When driving in Scotland, we often sat in our car waiting in a line for a flagman to signal us through, wondering what the diversion would be - dancing girls would be nice.

Anyway. When we were younger Jack and I did a lot of backpacking and wilderness canoeing - loving the wild places, campfires and solitude. As we got older it got too hard to sleep on the ground and deal with wet gear etc. so we were sadly watching our camping days recede into the past. Then we found the egg. A little fiberglass camper made by U-Haul in the 1980's and only 13 feet long including hitch. We could tow it behind our van - didn't need a SUV or truck. And it has everything but a bathroom - heater, stove, closet, storage, dining table and a wonderfully cozy, comfy bed. It's airy - but eliminates wet gear and is always ready to go. We can park it in tent sites (it has a solar panel so we always have electricity).

That's what we take to the Black Hills.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Again I digress - we've spent the last week camping in the Black Hills at our favorite US Forest campground at Bismark Lake. We visited all our favorite sites - but our favorite thing is to drive the Wildlife Loop in the late evening. This year was the very best for meeting the natives!

Spring must be the time for turkeys - it's the only time we've met them in the Black Hills. They were all over the place. Love in mind I think!

Mother love was also in evidence - hundreds of buffalo dotted the hills as they must have done in the distant past. The new calves romped and fed (at one point in the middle of the road stopping traffic for quite a while).

Antelope - very at home on the range - played everywhere. But this one just wanted to eat the pretty blue flowers. We saw a road sign once that said "Caution - antelope entering roadway at 55 mph." And they sure can move when they want to!

"Danger! Stranger!"
Sentinals raised the alarm while the babies rolled and wrestled and generally had a great time.

"I've always wanted a screened-in porch!"


"Got Lunch?"

Ex-natives - mammoths, camels, lions & bears, Oh my!

"It gets mighty dry out here on the prairie!"