Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Where'd You Go to High School?"

I will never be considered a native St. Louisan, though I've lived here for 14 years, long enough that I have become more like a local than an interloper.

When I was 18, I moved here to go to Washington University and then stuck around afterward. When I graduated from college, my boyfriend was still an undergrad so I looked for a job here. When he graduated, I already had a job so he looked for a job here. Then after we were married (here) we both had jobs here so this is where we bought a house. Now we have children who will indeed be native St. Louisans.

During college, our friends were from all over, and our first exposure to large groups of St. Louis natives came after graduation, with our first jobs. "Where'd you go to school?" was the first question we noticed people asking each other at parties, rather than the more commonly heard elsewhere "What do you do," and "How do you know the bride and groom?" Or, in my family, "Who'd you vote for in the last election?" and "What's your favorite NPR program?"

I didn't use to understand the high school question, but now I do. St. Louis is, more than many other cities, truly a city of neighborhoods, and residents are categorized by which part of the metro area they're from. I could try to explain that, but this does a better job than I ever could. Suffice it to say that if you move here, expect to be confused for about 5 years. Also, pick someone you really like and live near her family, because your neighborhood will become your identity pretty quickly.

St. Louis is also a Catholic city. I understand this much less, not being Catholic myself. Basically, whether or not you went to Catholic school says a lot about you, and there is a hierarchy within the parochial schools, which helps place you as well.

Some people from out of town try to answer accurately when asked where they went to high school. I always say that I'm from away, which stops the line of questioning immediately. No one cares what state I'm from; there's no important frame of reference outside the St. Louis metro area.

Given the importance neighborhood plays in St. Louis living, school district was definitely a part of the consideration when we were house shopping. We're still a little flummoxed. We don't want our children to grow up to be Hoosiers (it's hard for me to accept that this is a pejorative term here, raised by a proud Indiana native as I was). We don't want our children to go to unaccredited schools. We believe in the importance of art and music in the curriculum. But we don't want our kids to grow up surrounded by over-privileged kids, either. There's only so much that occasional community volunteering and church work camps can do to counter-balance a life of being surrounded daily by kids who have so much.

We're still figuring it all out. But at least we have a few years until the kids are in high school.

[This blog post is part of the first St. Louis Blog Carnival, topic: High School.]

Monday, July 30, 2007


I like nice things. And I like to spend money, especially on food, travel, and gifts. I'm also cheap, especially with clothes, accessories, and cosmetics.


When I got engaged, my mom took me to the little wedding dress shop in the town where my folks live, where I graduated from high school. This was a practice shopping trip, before we headed into Chicago to look for my dress. We never made it to Chicago. For form's sake, I did try a couple more shops, but I got my dress at Sisters Bridal. Although I had ideas about current fashions, one of the sisters who owns the shop took one look at me and brought me a dress.

"This is your dress, honey," she said. It was nothing like what I'd planned to wear, but it was absolutely perfect on me.

"You look exactly like a woman is supposed to look," one of my parents' friends told me during my wedding reception. And she was right that the dress was very very flattering. And comfortable. And inexpensive. It was on sale. And I got a discount for ordering my bridesmaids' dresses through the shop. And for something or other else too. In the end, I don't think my wedding dress even cost $200.

I did, however, have an expensive engagement ring that I loved, by a name-brand designer. I didn't think this was quite fair, so I wanted to buy something comparable for Paul. I nixed his suggestion for a laptop: um, no, something that will a) be outdated in a year, and b) distract you from the glory of my company? I think not.

We went to Neiman Marcus and I bought him a nice Hugo Boss tuxedo that he still squeezes into for special events. (Unless I become terribly ill, I will never successfully squeeze into my wedding dress again, lovely though it is.)

When he went in for his first fitting, he needed shoes to go with the tuxedo. The salesman brought him some, he tried them on, then agreed to buy them on the spot, too embarrassed to ask the price.

Paul is the proud owner of a pair of Ferragamo tuxedo shoes that cost more than twice as much as my wedding dress. Fortunately, his feet haven't changed size. Unfortunately, he doesn't find very many opportunities to wear tuxedo shoes.

Cut to 2007.

I needed new glasses, so I went to Lens Crafters. I carefully avoided the lovely frames in the section that was padlocked, and carefully deliberated about exactly what quality my lenses needed to be. I spent about $250 on new glasses, after insurance.

A couple of months later, Paul went in to get himself a new pair of glasses. In his defense, he has bad eyes and has to pay more for some sort of unusually thin lens (not just the usual Featherweights). Also, he decided that he absolutely must have sunglasses as well.

A short month after our big BudgetFest, wherein we decided that we were never ever going to go into credit card debt again (so far, so good, somehow) Paul spent $750 on new glasses.

And, yes, the frames are Ferragamo.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

2 Days

I'm hoping it's just two days.

Yesterday morning, my visiting in-laws offered to watch both girls so that I could grocery shop on my own. But . . . well, neither of my girls is much of a sit-on-your-lap-and-relaxer. Sometimes they require a more . . . creative and energetic parenting approach. It's hard to go from zero to full-on parenting two kids, so, I ended up taking the baby with me to the grocery.

The shopping went fine, as long as I carried Ada in the sling the whole time. But it's hard to unload groceries that way, so I propped the cart against the back of the van and slipped around the side to strap her into her carseat. I reassured her that we'd be home soon, short drive, etc., then looked up for my cart. Gone. I walked around the back of the car, looked up and down the parking lot - nothing! Nowhere!

Eventually, a woman about halfway down the aisle (I was in the first spot nearest the building) said, "Ma'am, your cart rolled past me down the hill here."

I looked further down and indeed, saw that a grocery cart had rolled all the way down the Schnuck's lot, jumped the cement barrier, and smashed over on its side in the Walgreens pharmacy drive-thru.

I didn't ask her why she - or one of her middle-school-aged children - didn't try to stop my cart, alert me, or help me pick things up. I just fumed and worried (she offered to stand near my car and "watch the baby" for me, which actually made me more anxious).

My new purse was on the bottom of the mess, which included an exploded case of caffeine-free Diet Dr. Pepper, a smashed gallon of orange juice, and a dozen shattered eggs.

Later that afternoon, I was moving Ellie away from the entertainment center for the 49th time ("No movies until Friday night, Ellie") and grabbed her hand to keep it from getting smashed in the closing glass door.

She started crying and favoring the arm: nursemaid's elbow, caused gradually by her father and I swinging her between us (we foolishly through it was safe to start this super-fun game at age 3-1/2) and popped by my relatively gentle tug on her hand.

This has happened to Ellie a few times before, when she was a younger toddler, and it's always the same. She cries, favors the arm, falls asleep, and wakes up a couple of hours later feeling just fine. It's typical for the condition to fix itself, so the doctor doesn't want to reduce it unless it's been about 24 hours. This time, Ellie was up, crying intermittently, until about 4:30 am.

Paul and I were, of course, miserable, guilty, and exhausted.

This morning, Ellie really wanted to go swimming, so Grandpa and I (mostly Grandpa) set up the kids' new pool and let her splash around in a swim diaper.

She had a blow-out poopy diaper that I didn't recognize until we were back inside and she was running all over the house, sitting and dripping on the floor.

Bath. Ellie picked up the hair-rinse cup and started pouring water on the floor while my back was turned briefly. Darling daughter, please go outside to swing with Grandpa until I'm feeling a bit saner. Daddy, please come home at lunch and bring a carpet steamer with you.

Tonight. The girl who's been pleading to go to swimming lessons all day refuses to stop crying and hanging onto me like I'm a tree trunk and she's a baby monkey while we're at the pool. We give up after 10 minutes and go out for enchiladas.

The rest of the time has been great, but I've had some bad moments over the last 2 days. I really, really hope this streak has ended.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Christmas in July 2007

This past weekend, Paul's sister, her husband, and their newborn baby flew out to St. Louis. We all piled into the "cool car" and drove north to Iowa for the annual Paul's-Mom's-Family reunion.

My mother-in-law's older sister and her husband own a home on a fair piece of land in a lovely rural area. Their three daughters and 4 grandchildren live nearby, so we head up to visit them each summer. Christmas time got too chaotic as the families grew and spread, so we started celebrating in the summertime when weather is better.

Ellie loves these visits, where we sleep in a camper in the driveway.
Here she is enjoying a drive around the backyard with her 3-year-old boy cousin. Since she's the passenger, she's free to chat on the phone.

Here she is napping with her same-age girl cousin.

And even though this year's visit included a memorial service, it was a lovely weekend indeed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Paul says I'm lying through my teeth, but my mom is here to back me up.

"Well, it did sound a lot like that," she said.

Paul and I went out to dinner tonight, taking advantage of my mom being in town to watch the girls. Both girls lit up when they saw me walk into Ellie's room, where they were cuddled up with my mom, reading stories.

When she saw me, Ada broke into a huge grin, reached out both arms to me, and said, well, you know. Something that sounded a lot like "Mamamama!" Precocious 5-month-old!

Both girls are doing amazing things lately.

Ada: As soon as we got back from Scotland, in late June, Ada promptly cut her first two teeth, one a week before the other. Of course, she enjoyed spending much of this time chomping on my nipples.

She's also learned to flip over from her front to her back, though she's far less accomplished at the reverse maneuver. This resulted in a sleepless night or two while she compulsively flipped over and then cried for me to come right her so that she could repeat the process.

Sitting is still an emerging skill. It goes well until the inevitable slow topple. She loves shaking a rattle at her interactive Eeyore doll, making him sing and flap his ears at her.

Ellie and Ada share the same favorite toy, a very odd-looking and skinny stuffed chicken with lots of textures, crinkles, etc. It's a baby toy, and when I pulled it out of a little used toy box to give to Ada, Ellie said, "I love dis chicken!" and promptly took it off to her room. Now, Ada whines for it in turn, and they share it - if somewhat grudgingly.

Ellie is doing amazing things too. For one thing, she can run now! Faster than I can walk! She's also talking up a storm, carrying on conversations, lying, bossing, all that good three-year-old stuff. Some of her favorites (and mine):
What dat sound?
No tankyou.
I Eleanor.
I sweepy too.
I ant some too."
Ahm OK (even when she's still crying)
She used to say, "OK" for "yes," then "oh," for one odd day, and now, "Oh, sure"
Oh, hi!
"muzzz" has become "shoe-kick" (music, as in "diffnt shoe-kick!" or, "I like dis song" - she's currently into Sugar Ray)
"Elmo" for "Nemo," her favorite movie.
Unfavorites: Wookame (look at me, usually a whine) and "Mamahelpme"/Dadahelpme/Grammahelpme (always a whine!)

Edited to add a couple more.
While Ellie can say "yes," she prefers synonyms of her own devising, the latest of which is, "Of course!" With a grin.
And just today (Thursday) I deciphered another Ellie-ism. "Wishawishawishawee" is actually, "open this, please." Very useful! Her oldest words are often the hardest to understand, as she has gotten used to saying them in her own special (adorable) ways.

She's taking swimming lessons - still parent child, I'm afraid - and really enjoying the water this summer. Up next: the back float!

Monday, July 16, 2007

What's Real

I'd had some relaxing massages. (I had one on Saturday, in fact, to help recuperate from the vacation.) I've had some great sex. I've had some exhilarating athletic experiences.

But nothing feels better than the touch of a small child. An infant, stroking my arm as she nurses. A preschooler, idly playing with my fingers as she sits on my lap listening to me read her a story. Nothing feels better than this.

If only a kiss or a touch from Mommy could fix any problem, always and forever.

I am encouraged by where my marriage is right now. There are still big problems, huge hurdles, no assurance of success. But, finally, there's progress. Finally, I'm beginning to understand what happened, what went wrong. I am someone who needs to understand, who needs to know. So this is important progress for me.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Scotland 11

Friday, 22nd June

It's pretty dark out; we're pretty far south here. I'm tired. It's nearly 12:30 am (4 hours until the alarm) but this was a nice day to let settle for a while before recording.

Ada did not sleep well last night, and Ellie got up at 5:30 this morning, then was a little fussy for the next several hours. Not today, but a few times this trip she's asked to go home or, failing that, to Vivi's house (a 3-year-old friend). Vacation's almost over.

Paul was irritable this morning, so I, in turn, became irritable. And it's hard to manage two very young children while getting ready and packing and loading luggage into the vans.

At one point, the girls were on the bed and Ada's voice became a little more muffled. I looked over to see Ellie sitting on her little sister! When I pulled Ellie over to her own bed and explained that we don't do that, then asked her if she understood me, she gave me "Down's face." Lots of people will let her get away with that in her life, perhaps even me sometimes. Sleepwalking, -talking, -crying, or just ignoring me?

Anyway, the trip from Stirling to Edinburgh was terribly long in stop-and-go traffic. Ewan is a ridiculously jerky driver. Eventually, concerned about time and hungry Ada, I said that I wanted to scrap Rosslyn Chapel in favor of more time on the Royal Mile. Mass chaos ensued.

To stay all together or split up? Where to meet up and when? What to do first? Where the heck are we and how do we get to where we're going from here? (In the cold rain, as I'm nursing Ada while walking.)

Eventually we found the Royal Mile and things started to look up. First off, we saw a Starbucks and got mugs for Elizabeth and Scott (good friends, Starbucks lovers, and he's currently in Iraq). I enjoyed a delicious cup of hot chocolate as we walked up.

St. Giles Cathedral. I was initially uninterested (like Paul and Ellie) but once I went inside I enjoyed it very much. At least as much, I enjoyed how much my father was enjoying himself. By the time we left, I was relaxed and happy.

Steep hike up to Edinburgh Castle, where we had lunch and the weather began to clear. We followed a tour group but didn't hear much, for chasing after Ellie. The 1:00 gun was neat (loud!) and I got to see the flash. Big. Old. Neat joining of rock and castle stone. Paul was impressed by the good traction design of the stone roads.

Back down the Royal Mile, a tiny spot of shopping, pictures in front of the Cathedral, moving on, long walk, crushing weight of backpack, trade Ellie to Paul for Ada - finally at Holyrood!

Neat audiotour of the Palace. I really enjoyed seeing a real royal residence, as it's still used today. And we saw Princess Anne leaving in a car!

I also really enjoyed seeing the actual suites of rooms that belonged to Henry, Lord Darnley, and Mary, Queen of Scots. The real places where the famous events happened! Such history.

Then another long, fast, hike, better for me now that Paul has Ellie and the diaper bag. She's up from her nap and squirmy. Ada has been fantastic all day in the Snuggli or nursing as we walk around.

We tried to find the appointed meeting place, but it's ridiculously unclear (sarcastic: Thanks, Ewan) and more mass confusion ensues. Eventually we were all found and could head for the hotel, which is on the opposite side of the city from the airport and turns out to be . . .

A Best Western, and pretty typical of its genre. On the plus side, it's clean and has the most comfortable (newest) mattress of the trip.

Off to sleep now. G'night.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Scotland 10

Thursday, 21 June

Alas! It's almost over. So bittersweet. And this is our last night in the hotel that approaches perfection asymptotically.

This morning, after breakfast (porridge and egg on toast, with a few more tastes of porridge for Ada) we loaded up the vans and went into Stirling to shop. No suit for my dad (apparently, he's a hard size to fit) so we piled back into the vans.

Nearby was Bannockburn, monument and visitor center dedicated to Robert the Bruce, in suburban Stirling. That's just about all I know about it, because Ada was pretty much inconsolable. Poor dear seems to be cutting a tooth. I changed her, dosed her with Tylenol, and nursed her to sleep, then we set off in the vans for Callendar.

We saw the visitor center commemorating Rob Roy MacGregor (note: first movie lame!) and grabbed quick lunch for the road. Paul stayed in the vans with the girls this trip so that they could both nap.

A few miles up the road we stopped at a wool mill to meet Hamish the Highland cow, whom Paul fed and Ellie enjoyed looking at from a slight distance. Then on to Balquidder and Rob Roy's grave. This was in a neat Kirkyard and I was bummed that we missed church here last Sunday. Really cool baptismal font, great little kirk, and neat to see the ancestral stomping grounds.

Next we headed back east of Stirling to Falkirk to see the Falkirk Wheel, a unique lock system for raising/lowering boats from one canal to another. The lock was cool, but might it have been cheaper to dig a canal at a gentle angle?

When we disembarked, Ellie said, "Park!" and she was right; there was a large playground past the lock. She walked all the way over there and was disheartened to see that there were no swings. She was willing to accept being pushed while lying on a small rubber hammock in the teen section of the playground, however. She had a great time swinging, climbing steps, crawling through a metal tunnel and backsliding down a slide, and repeating all of it. Then we found a feather on the grass (here's hoping no bird flu!) and she walked all the way back to the vans.

Fun, warm, sun, and a nice treat just for sweet Ellie, who has been amazing this trip. Back to the hotel by 6:00, leftover mac & cheese for Ellie (from lunch) then to bed with her by 6:45. Not quite so for poor, cranky Ada, who preferred everyone to me today and even fussed adorably at me while nursing -

- speaking of which, look who's up -

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Scotland 9

Wednesday, 20th June

They have a 24 hour day here, and I don't just mean the sunlight. The hotel room clocks don't have am/pm; right now it's 21:58. As for daylight, we're further south now, at Stirling, and by 12:30 it was as dark as St. Louis in the late evening, which is to say that it was deep blue way up in the sky, as though a city nearby was causing a slight glow. Further north, I never noticed it getting even this dark, here in the week of the summer solstice.

We woke to cold rain this morning, after yet another night of Ada in bed with me, nursing. (Look at her sleep: almost unbearably precious!) We had a hot breakfast in the sunroom while the rain pounded down all around us, then loaded into the vans. No Stirling Castle this morning; we headed east instead.

The babies slept all the way to Falkland Palace, then I nursed Ada for a hour and a half as we explored the place. Much of the palace is in ruins. Some of the "newer" (16th Century) building has been restored and decorated with original furnishings. The keeper still lives there (in converted stables) and the tennis courts are still used, as is the Catholic chapel. Note: the Queen is the head of the Anglican Church, but she owns a Catholic church! The docents here were so interesting, informative, and helpful!

Did you know that it's rumored that if Charles becomes King, he might call himself George VII to avoid the controversy over his Christian name: to count Bonnie Prince Charlie or not?

Falkland Palace was yet another place we didn't expect to see and ended up loving.

On this vacation we will hopefully see castles in every state: the ruins of Armadale, open rooms full of lichen and ferns; partially ruined and partially habitable Falkland; intact and partially restored Stirling; and, hopefully, the fully habitable - and current royal - Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

The weather cleared up. We got to Stirling Castle and had lunch before our guided tour - very interesting and informative that was - and then we had a little time to walk around before meeting back at the vans.

Paul had Ellie in the backpack at Falkland, sling at Stirling, and his back is really bothering him. (I had Ada in the sling at Falkland, Snuggli the rest of the day.) I'm stiff too.

The four of us explored the Palace, then walked the north ramparts. Amazing views.

After a stop in the gift shop, we drove over to the monument to William Wallace (Braveheart). 246 stairs to the top, after the bus ride up to the base. Paul had Ellie in the backpack (thank you, Phil and Amanda!) I had Ada in the Snuggli, and we climbed them all! Then walked back out rather than taking the bus back down to the car park.

Next, we headed back to the awesome hotel and plopped the girls into the big bathtub together. Both loved the experience. We ordered "room service" pizza for Ellie and put them both down by ten after 7, only slightly late for drinks with my family in the bar.

Less time in the car today!

Tonight, I ordered the Guinness pie and creme broulee. Paul had the fried Camembert, beef stroganoff, and banoffee. It's easy to see why our pants are tight despite much walking with heavy children all day! That's without even acknowledging the shortbread in the car.

Note that the awesome hotel has a baby monitor, which makes our dinners 100 times more fun! Here's hoping that Ada is willing to sleep in her own bed some tonight (she's not, right now). Tomorrow: tweed suit shopping for my dad, Callandar House, Balquidder and Rob Roy.

Now back to my Scottish mystery novel. 22:23.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Scotland 8

Tuesday, 19 June

After showers - an event Ellie vastly prefers in theory rather than in practice - and a last full Scottish breakfast (toast, porridge, and sauteed mushrooms for me) we checked out of the budget hotel and piled into the vans by 9:00.

We headed south and east, a route we've taken before, at first. As always, there was lovely scenery, and at one point we stopped for a photo op. We stopped very briefly at Spaenbridge again (tammies for all the babies) and then headed to Pitlochry for lunch. Pitlochry is a picturesque little shopping community. We had a lovely lunch at a nice cafe, and Paul and I finally tried haggis!

After lunch, we did a little souvenir shopping. Ellie and Ada were tired (backpack on Paul, frontpack on me) and we quickly learned that items marked "Sale!" were not made in Scotland. Still, we did get a few nice things.

A mile or two from Pitlochry was Edradour, the smallest, most exclusive distillery in Scotland. They produce only 15 casks of Scotch each week, all by hand. We bought a little but missed the tour (no little ones allowed).

After the distillery, we headed for Stirling. I was trying not to get my hopes up for the new hotel. Wow, oh wow! My first thought (and my second, and my third) was that I wanted to live here. It's a brick-and-frame Tudor about 10 minutes from the city, in a park-like setting.

There's a private bar where we gather for drinks before dinner, walking out to explore the gardens as we may. The food is plentiful, varied, and delicious. Can you believe orange juice as a starter at that other place? (Which has thus far remained nameless; it billed itself as a much nicer place than it was.) Tonight, I had fried Camembert followed by a vegetable risotto and some sort of banana/cream/shortbread/caramel dessert. Paul had prawns rose marie with melon followed by Guinness beef pie and a butter toffee cake dessert. Ellie (perhaps sensing the atmosphere) was fantastic throughout dinner, as was Ada, although we were locked out of our room - jammed antique lock - until well after 9:00. It took a little while to get the girls to sleep tonight.

Tomorrow, Stirling Castle!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Scotland 7

Monday, 18 June

Another full Scottish breakfast this morning, and I decided against the turtleneck that clings to my belly. Love that shortbread.

We packed into the vans at 9:00 and headed east to Inverness. Along the way, we peeked at the ruins of a castle that didn't make much of an impression on me, though the view over Loch Ness was lovely. (Paul loved this castle, because there was a GMC Jimmy parked next to where we stopped. He has an odd attachment to Jimmies, considering that he totaled the last two he owned.)

And then two fighter jets flew overhead! Back again! Pretty cool. RAF and Loch Ness.

As we drove further east, the Highlands became tamer. Everything was green and softer. (Have I mentioned that there are lots of ferns as ground cover? I'm told that this is where the midges live.) The hills are more rounded, the lochs further apart, and there's more flat space.

Sheep and cattle grazed in fenced pastures rather than mingling on the roads and beyond. Some fields even showed evidence of modern agricultural operations.

And Inverness was surprisingly large, not all right on the water, and sprawling.

Culloden battlefield was an interesting stop for me, though everyone else was very disappointed by the construction (to return it to its original state, including a less-obtrusive visitor center, though heavy machinery did disturb the mood.) Gabaldon did such a good job making the history come alive: Frasiers, MacKenzies, Camerons. Again, the punishment the British meted out after the battle was beyond cruel, easily approaching genocide.

After Culloden, we went over to Clava Cairns. Everyone enjoyed this. It was peaceful and quiet; we had the place to ourselves. Moss, ferns, evergreens, grass, stones, history, time to bask in the dappled sunlight, all was lovely.

Eventually, we headed back to Inverness for shopping, but I wasn't clear about what I wanted to shop for, apparently, because we ended up at a mall! We quickly left (though I half-jokingly suggested that we stop at Starbucks first) and found local shops nearby, including a Victorian Market. It was nice to get a flavor of the local city life, though tourism here - as elsewhere - seems to be the main industry.

A long drive back to the hotel (2 hours) and we decided to put the girls straight to bed, which has worked pretty well so far (11:30 pm) each up once and now sleeping again. I really enjoyed dinner with the other adults, though Paul and I did have to take shifts staying in the room with the girls.

Ada is kicking, time to sign off.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Scotland 6

Sunday, 17 June

Our bathroom reeks of cigarette smoke.

After a full Scottish breakfast, we headed out in the vans for a full tour of the Isle of Skye. This was a day of lots of driving and erratic stops: when not expected, not when expected, and sometimes we'd wake the kids to find out that it was a 5 minute stop. Alas. All very hard on the girls. All three little girls are doing amazingly well, although the two babies scream in the late afternoon everyday and both of my girls are done by the time we get back to the hotel, making dinner a challenge. (Tonight I had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and Paul had haddock. Ellie had more pasta and bread. Amazing that she's not suffering from digestive problems.)

The Isle of Skye: How can this be an island? Amazing scenery - desolate and wild and and beautiful and sophisticated all in turns. Such high mountains, such amazing views, huge lochs, waterfalls, cliffs. Our driver, Ewan, who's never been to most of the places we're visiting, mentioned repeatedly how odd he found it, barren with nothing growing by grass and heather. It all seemed pretty green to me, though certainly less so, with fewer trees, than the mainland. Och, how I love the accents. Ewan is no longer quite as incomprehensible to me.

Everyone really enjoyed the scenery all day. Except the girls. Ewan suggests t-shirts for the babies that say, "I went to Scotland and all I saw was the back of a seat." Hah! So true.

An especial favorite of everyone's today was the ruins of Armadale Castle, home of Clan Donald. We learned such a tragic story about the MacDonalds of Gencoe yesterday; this was a welcome antidote. The grounds were amazing, and it was quite lovely to wander around, reading signs and displays, taking pictures, venturing up nature walks, coming back together, separating again, meeting up with Jessica, nursing the babies in the van, etc.

Also here: midges! Night and day, apparently. I guess you get used to them. They liked Ada's head. Often, I have Ada and Paul has Ellie. They're a lot of work . . . but they're worth it!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Scotland 5

Saturday, 16 June

We had a bit of a later start today; we were all packed up and downstairs for breakfast by 8:00 (that's 2:00 am for those playing along at home). This was a full, hot Scottish breakfast: much fun. Once I explained it, Paul was a little alarmed by his black pudding, but I enjoyed my porridge with cream and sugar.

Since the Oban hotel George usually uses was booked and we spend a second night in Dunoon, we started the day with a lengthy - yet still beautiful - retracing of yesterday morning's drive. The scenery here is exactly what I expected, and yet indescribable. That's not entirely true; I didn't imagine that the lowlands and the Trossachs to be so big, hilly, beautiful, sparsely settled, nor did I imagine the large evergreen forests.

Did I mention that it was a little warm and sunny on Iona? Just as it should be. The rest of the time, it's been cloudy, cool, windy, and even a little rainy, especially up in the highlands.

As we drove north, the "hills" got even higher, and the stunning landscape even wilder, with less sign of civilization and perhaps fewer lochs. The past seems close enough to touch, here, the English easy to hate, and the bones of the earth quite close to the surface.

The schedule is a really challenge for the little girls, who continue to do amazingly well.

We stopped at Glencoe, which was amazingly beautiful. Really stunning, and horribly tragic setting - on orders from an English commander, the Campbells slaughtered their hosts, the MacDonalds. Vile treachery here.

I wasn't interested in stopping at Glen Coe, but ended up loving it. I find myself wishing for a slower pace, less time speeding through the countryside, but I can't imagine what I'd want to give up from our itinerary.

We drove through Fort William at the base of Ben Nevis (the highest peak in Great Britain) before stopping for a quick lunch and heading inland to Fort Augustus, on the western end of Loch Ness. So cold! I stayed in the car with the girls; only LilSis and Paul put their feet in.

We drove back west to the accompaniment of Ada's screams (her nap having been interrupted at Loch Ness) until we got to Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed castle in the world. It had closed early for a special event, but the current structure turns out to date from 1930. New!

We then headed a few miles over to Kyle of Lochalsh and our second hotel - this one for 3 nights. Apparently, the hotel on the Isle of Skye that George Wallace usually uses was booked, and this one, well, The Enmore had our expectations pretty high.

Our room is tiny: a narrow aisle for walking with our double bed, Ellie's cot, and Ada's portacrib all in a row. This would not pass fire codes in the States!

All three girls were a little tired and fussy at dinner, poor dears, and we had an unusual menu (distinct from the other diners in the hotel restaurant). Orange juice as a starter? Ellie and I had mac & cheese, a couple of people had chicken, and everyone else had seafood chowder.

Afterward, we all went for a walk along the water. All the signs are in Gaelic first, here in the Highlands, and English second. But there are very few kilts. I do want time to do some shopping.

Also, one small whine, if I may - let me say this about our new, low-to-the-ground-floor hotel: cheap toilet paper. But the toilet flushes and the bathroom's clean.

All the bathrooms are impressively clean here, many with gravity tanks.

Anyway, following my dad, we got stuck on a rocky promontory. Much hilarity ensued, and MiddleBIL videotaped it all. We walked through some midges, then back to the hotel for bed. 11:30, early for me tonight!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Scotland 4

Friday, 15 June

It is so lovely to be here with everyone. Ellie keeps rediscovering them (Unca Ben! Unca Ivan! Geese!) and enjoying their presence (Gah-ma! Guh-pa!). She loves her cousin, Arria (Why crying, cuzzin Reera?) and it is adorable to see the two babies together.

For the most part, we're all getting along very well, though my mother consistently and unintentionally sows chaos, as usual, and I find myself generally irritable and unpleasant. Paul too is exhausted and frequently seems to be moving in slow motion. Both girls continue to be amazing, though in need of some attention when tired.

The day started early, with en-suite cold breakfast at 6:30 and departure at 7:15 am. We didn't get to tour Inverary Castle, unfortunately, nor walk among the standing stones of Kilmartin.

We drove nearly 2 hours north and west to Oban, colloquially the capital of the western highlands and now my fantasy future home. Amazing scenery, water and mountains, islands and castles, ancient towers, a quaint little European city with broadband cafes, shopping, pubs.

In Oban we boarded a ferry - amazing scenery and fresh wind blowing on our faces - for a 40 minute journey to the Isle of Mull, where we climbed aboard a tour bus for the long drive across (half of) the island.

Way in the back of the bus, we couldn't hear a lot of the tour, but I enjoyed the bits I did hear. We saw a bronze age crannog in the middle of a small loch, which was Paul's favorite part of the day (I loved the ferry ride and Ellie loved the family proximity. Ada loved the extended nursing sessions on the bus and ferries).

Ferry-bus-ferry, and we were on Iona, the cradle of Scottish Christianity. (St. Columba came over from Ireland and founded a monastery on Iona, from which monks went forth to spread The Word throughout Caledonia.) This was the most important part of the trip for my dad.

We had lunch and attended a short worship service for peace and justice at the Abbey. (A service for peace and justice is pretty tough for someone with a lisp, my brother-in-law remarked. And, indeed, the officiate did have an impressive lisp.)

One of the highlights of my day was when we were waiting for a ferry back to Oban. Baby Arria was crying, and I had my niece in the sling while my sister held Ada, who was being sweetly quiet.

"What's wrong with your baby?" my sister asked me, loudly, in the middle of a large crowd of people.

"I don't know," I replied, patting the screaming baby strapped to me. "I'm just a terrible mother."


Ferry-bus-ferry, and we were back in Oban to load up in the vans and drive back down to Dunoon for another terrific supper at the hotel. I had the "feathered fowlie" and Paul had the salmon; Ellie had pasta.

Have I described the hotel? The Enmore Hotel in Dunoon, overlooking the Clyde, is lovely. It's small and has a familial dining room, almost like a B&B. It's quite old, with creaky, uneven floors and threadbare carpets, but it's posh. The dining, especially, is first rate. Thanks to tips from my parents, I finally learned how to flush our toilet.

Also, both girls are doing great with the time change. And I complain about springing forward one measly hour at home . . .