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Sunday, July 30, 2023

Reach the Beach

“Don’t waste the time. Time is the final currency, man. Not money, not power - it’s time.”
- David Crosby

I say, with no disrespect to the memory of the late David Crosby, that the whole money/power thing is an interesting sentiment when you have had money and power to begin with.  This noted, he was right, and  the older I get, the more I understand the point.  This is a good way to being today's travel post.

So it's thinking about time that I'm here outside of Ocean City, NJ for an extended weekend mini-vacation.  We spent yesterday on the Ocean City boardwalk in the morning, and then later in the day at Longport and Margate City for the late afternoon/evening.  About 12,500 steps into the day, and it seems like it was a long day.  But yet, in the true spirit of David Crosby, it also seemed to pass by quickly.  And I have been thinking a lot about time lately.  

One of the traits that Ms. Rivers and I share is a tendency towards being planful.  We try to think things through and do what's right for the longer term, the bigger picture if you will.  I think that a point of commonality between our very different upbringings is the fact that neither of us grew up in households where there was a lot of money, which probably play a role in the whole security/planful thing.  Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to retirement planning.  

As I've likely (I am not 100% sure, and I'm too lazy to check...) said before, this is the part of our life when we can see retirement on the horizon.  Not imminent, but not far away either.  The good news is that the whole planful stuff means that we will be financially ready.  So says our financial advisor.  For most folks that would be a relief...and for me it mostly is.  However...and you knew a "however" was coming...I often wonder if I'm ready in other ways.

I will note that physically, I am something of a wreck.  A "hot mess" and the younger folks would say.  While I have a good job that makes use of my skills, it's pretty demanding on my time, and while in years past I could make time for exercise, that hasn't been happening for years now.  Between the extra weight and a very actively lived 58 years behind me, the parts are starting to show some wear.  The point of discernment for me is trying to understand just how much of this just comes with the territory (i.e., something like my arthritic right big toe), and how much of it is actually self-inflicted.  The former I can't do all that much about, but the latter?  I'm feeling some guilt about that part.  The trick, if you want to call it that, is turning a fairly useless feeling like guilt into some concrete actions.  So far, I'm not doing so well.  But I have time...or do I?

One of the reasons why I enjoy the beach, in addition to the childhood memories associate with Atlantic City vacations, is the fact that the ocean is this hunkering big-a$$ed reminder of how large the world truly is, and how small the machinations in my head probably are.  Someone with the gift of brevity would says that it provides perspective.  I personally think it's actually more than that, although I can't come with reasons to exactly say why.  The saltwater smell hitting my nostrils is a kind of gentle reminder to me of a world that surpasses my dismay at physically aging and fears of forgetting, at some point, how to tie my shoes.  

I try to think about things like this from a 95/5 perspective.  This means that if I can take away some deeper sense from this (or other) experiences, even if it's just a small thing, then it's a good thing.  On the other side of the coin, as a wise person I know would say "why can't you just have a good time Steve?".  Maybe that's the 5% this time around.  Suffice to say, the jury is still out in the enlightenment department.

As for Ocean City NJ, well I was here once a long time ago.  In addition to being a typical Jersey beach town, it's simply and impeccably clean.  I also appreciate the whole "no smoking anything" policy that keeps the boardwalk not smelling like much of Atlantic City these days (see THIS posting) i.e., what I image to be the odor of Snoop Dog's limo. 

Today brings a trek to the beach in Brigantine, a spot we enjoyed when we were last in Atlantic City.  There's also this hotdog/ice cream joint we found that calls our names.  Loudly, and robustly, I will add.  I'm hoping to also finish one of the books I brought with me.  Yes, this is what passes for fun.  And this is okay, by the way.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Wet Your Fanny (in the Susquehanny)

Each summer, Ms. Rivers and I do some kind of water trip, either a canoe or kayak(s) down the Susquehanna River.  I readily confess that this is something Ms. Rivers really enjoys, as it evokes memories of prior times.  Me?  I like being on the river and seeing the beauty that it offers.  I don't like getting into or out of a canoe or kayak.  That latter part is mainly due to two factors:

  1. I am admittedly uncoordinated.
  2. Canoes and kayaks are, by design, tippy.  And I am not talking gratuities here.
The above noted, I glad to go, and each year of going presents its own version of an adventure.

(note the ankles)

This year we were on a group trip from Mehoopany to Tunkhannock (PA), which is about an 11 mile water trek.  Our vehicle of choice was a double kayak, with me in the back and Ms. Rivers, as usual, in the front.  This, by the way, seems to be the logical arrangement of these sorts of things.

Before I go any further, a big shout out to Susquehanna Kayak and Canoe Rentals, who we have used for our paddle trips for several years.  They are wonderful folks and highly recommended.

Normally we just take a solo paddle on the river, but this time around we opted for a group trip, where "group" was something like 50-ish people.  What was wonderful about the trip was the age range of participants:  Some were older than us (a nice thought...), some were our age, some were younger.  There was even a very young man (more to come on that...).  We did chat with some of the other participants, and everyone seemed to have a good time.  

This is the inevitable part of the posting where I add some weird element to the trip. To that point, we had three special paddle participants.

First, there was "Old Man Playing Loud Music".  One of the attractive parts of paddling in the Susquehanna are the sounds.  These include paddles in the water.  Birds overhead.  The sound of the water flowing.  The wind through the trees.  Things like that, all of which have a certain calming charm about them.  This year?  We had an old dude playing loud, crappy music from a speaker bungie cord tied to his kayak.  Yes, you got that right.  So we are paddling down the river and see four bald eagles flying over head.  It was a spectacular vison.  What did we hear?  That would be "Old Man Playing Loud Music" insisting that the entire group listen to Foghat (instead of the eagles overhead).  Other notable artists included Charlie Daniels, Journey, Boston and a few others I have tried to blot out of my head.  Had he been a bit younger, I'm sure there would have been some Nickelback thrown into the mix.  We did our best to paddle ahead of "Old Man Playing Loud Music", but every once in a while he would catch up and we would be forced to confront, for example, Separate Ways by Journey.

Second, we had "Standing Man".  This was the guy who had his own special kind of kayak that he could stand in every once in a while.  It was actually kind of interesting watching him.  Think a cross between an older Tom Sawyer and a skinny biker dude.  I want to state for the record that there is no version of Steve Albert in any version of any multi-verse that could ever muster the coordination to do such a thing.  While "Old Man Playing Loud Music" was annoying, "Standing Man" was weirdly kind of inspiring. 

Third we had "Little Man", who apparently was the son of "Standing Man".  "Little Man" was probably 8 or 9 years old and even had his own little version of his father's specialty kayak.  I didn't see "Little Man" actually do the standing thing though.  What did see was "Little Man" getting towed by his father towards the end of the trip, which was cool.  "Little Man" very much reminded me of my late brother Chris when he was that age...both in how he looked and his seemingly boundless energy.  This was nice.

Other than the characters on the river (see above), the two other notable parts of the trip involved how wet we got, courtesy of one too many speeding-boats-n-resulting-wakes and the fact that I badly burned by ankles.  Yes, to that latter point, I took reasonable precautions to prevent sunburn.  Except for my ankles.  One lives and one learns.

There may yet be another paddle this year.  We shall see.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The S Word

This is not the word you may be thinking of when you read the title.  Instead, today's word is "sobriety".  

Here's a useful definition:
Sobriety refers to the physiological and psychological state of being unaffected by the presence of an intoxicant. For people who are in recovery from substance or alcohol use, the definition of sobriety is similar to the definition of abstinence. It means living a life free of drug or alcohol use.

As a practical matter, I have practiced sobriety since about 1999 or so, with the exception of the rare glass of champagne (such as at a wedding) or a sip of wine.  Even prior to that I was not a substantial drinker.  Since 1999, I have gone literally years at a time without drinking any alcohol.  When you consider the social and cultural aspects of alcohol consumption in this country, I'm definitely the odd person out.

I don't, by the way, advertise this fact (well, this posting is an exception), as I am definitely not the person who wants to draw attention to himself...unless I am getting paid to do it.  The drinking thing mostly comes up during family, work, or social gatherings.  The reactions I get range from...


(an astonished) "What? How is that even possible?"

"What kind of freak are you?  Come on, have a beer!"

"Oh, you poor soul, you must be a recovering alcoholic."

I've definitely felt the second and third comments a few times in social and family gatherings, and I will be honest, it has made me uncomfortable.  Mind you, am not always comfortable to begin with in these situations, so the sobriety thing just compounds the matter.  The final comment seems to more occur when I am dealing with co-workers; in fact, I am reasonably sure that I have not been invited to certain functions mostly because I don't drink (the perception likely being that I am "Mr. Buzz Killington").

So then, why is this important?  Why don't I just go with the flow and have a beer or three?

Since we are dealing with me here, the answers will of course not be all that simple.  But I will try.

First, I genuinely don't like the taste of alcohol.  And yes, alcohol has a taste.  Outside of maybe some red wine, I've never felt that drinks with alcohol actually tasted all that good.  I have a theory:  I don't think most people like the taste of alcoholic beverages, but instead, they learn to like it because they actually like how it makes them feel.

Second, I don't like how alcohol makes me feel.  Now more than one person reading this is going to be thinking to themselves something like "But I like how it makes ME feel" or "It doesn't affect me much at all".  Alcohol definitely impacts humans in both physiological and psychological ways.  One of the more interesting concepts out there is that of alcohol tolerance (read more from the NIH HERE), which I summarize as simply this:  Over time, the more you drink the more you have to drink in order to get the same buzz.  The practice apparently makes the perfect.  Anyway, none of the feelings I've gotten from drinking over my lifetime have been positive.  In excess?  Well, let's just say that I see nothing all that great about vomiting booze into a toilet (or gutter, or hotel wastebasket...I've done all of those, and more).  

Related to the above, I discovered that I would drink at (work-related) events because it was so hard for me to engage in all the related social stuff after hours.  It wasn't long before I realized, in addition to how drinking in excess made me physically feel like warmed-over dog crap, that I was using alcohol as a kind of crutch.  Looking over my lifetime prior to 1999, this has been a repeating pattern.  In the end, let's just say that this is a big enough red flag to cover my Silverado, with room to spare.

Third, alcoholism runs in my family.  I'm not smart enough to know truly whether this kind of thing is inherited (my sense is that the answer is complicated, but you can read for yourself HERE).  For example, one of the few memories I have of being with my father was when I was very young and sitting in a bar on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  Just typing this brings back the smell of cigarettes, beer, and pee.  It's pretty sad that for some reason I've held onto this memory.  I will also note that my brother Chris had significant issues dealing with alcohol, and towards the end the front-row seat I had only reinforced my feelings about consumption.

All told, there's no real compelling reason for me to drink, and I am perfectly fine being in that place.  As alluded to above, the more interesting (and sometimes very frustrating part) is how this plays out with others.  In some respects, I think there are folks who genuinely don't know how to react to someone who does not drink.  Given the value society places on this particular practice, I kind of understand that point.  

Speaking of "points", now is when I'll break down my reactions to what's noted above:
  1. The [Nothing] reaction, "How is that even possible" & those that assume I am in recovery camp.
  2. The "What kind of freak are you" and "Come on, have a beer" crowd.
I am good with #1, even if the sentiment is somewhat misplaced.

#2?  One of the few things that can make me angry (and I am not an angry guy) is when someone who knows that I don't drink insists on my trying an alcoholic beverage.  As if I am this little kid who can be goaded into doing something I don't want to do.  More than once I've had a kind of Walter Mitty movie play in my head where someone insists that I have a can of beer, so I take the can, dump it out in front of them and then crush the can against their forehead.  NOTE THAT I WOULD NEVER ACTUALLY DO THIS...but I will admit that, at times, the thought of it has been a bit satisfying.      

Well now, this post has gotten a bit exciting, which means that I should probably finish things and call it a night.  To end on a positive note, I'll state for the record that I am glad some people find pleasure in drinking alcohol.  I really and truly am.  If it makes someone happy and it isn't an addiction, then it truly is a good thing.  My hope though is that maybe some of these same folks will afford the same positive affirmation to those who do not drink, regardless of the reason(s).

A Final Word
In case it isn't really clear from what I wrote, above, I have absolutely no problem with the consumption of alcohol by others.  It's just not for me.  If you ("you" being anyone reading this) enjoy a beer, wine, or a mixed drink, then I am glad that is a positive thing in your life.  As it stands, life really is kind of short, so it's important to have things to enjoy.  It's equally important though to realize there is a line between "positive thing" and "harmful thing".  With that noted...

(SAMSHA - Confidential free help, from public health agencies, to find substance use treatment and information.)

The Really, Truly, Honest-to-Goodness Final Word
Writer Anne Lamott is, to me, an inspiration for many reasons.  I've read several of her books, and I actually have another one on the way.  Every year she posts about her sobriety anniversary.  The posting below (from her public Facebook Account) is worth taking the time to read, and it is as good an ending to this posting as I think is possible.


Saturday, June 17, 2023

Council Skies

The title comes from a song by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, which I really enjoy.  Have a listen...

I don't normally listen to much newly released music, but I gave this one a try and am glad for the decision.

I found the song after reading about the Gallagher brothers from the (former) group Oasis, namely Noel, and Liam.  For those that may be unfamiliar with the Gallagher brothers, they are mostly famous for:

  1. The above-referenced English & defunct band Oasis, and...
  2. Hating each other's guts.
While in Scotland I was talking to one of my stepsons and asked him if he was familiar with Oasis and the Gallagher brothers; his response was something along the lines of "Yeah, they hate each other, one of them writes songs and plays the guitar (Noel), and the other is bat$hit crazy (Liam)".  That answer had the benefit of being both eloquent and pretty much factually correct as far as I can tell.

A few articles and an hour or three's worth of video interviews and I now know far more about the Gallagher brothers than what is actually required for any practical reason.  There is, of course, a bigger thought and story here, over and above Noel and Liam:  Namely family dynamics between siblings.

Thinking back over my life, I realize that I have been pretty lucky in the sibling relations department.  Perfect?  Hell no.  It feels as if I haven't vested nearly enough time in keeping in touch with my sisters, which I own, and I need to do better.  As I approach the end of my primary working years, it's pretty clear that other parts of my life up to this point have been pretty much all-consuming, at least as far as my physical, mental, and emotional energy has been concerned.  Some of this is unadulterated ambition:  I desperately wanted to have a better life than I had growing up.  I think that, when it comes to that last point, I've been more or less successful.

When it comes to maintaining relationships with my brothers, I think that I've tried...probably more so since my brother Chris' passing in 2017.  As for Chris, I wish I would have spent more time with him.  Like me though, he also had a kind of inherent ambition, which made connecting doubly more challenging.  Then there were a few squabbles, of which 99.87% always had to do with politics.  I still, for example, recall the seeming mix of hurt and disgust in his voice after I repeatedly referred to Rush Limbaugh as "Pumpkin Head".  This was because Chris adored Limbaugh and he (Limbaugh) truly had an enormous head.  I think though that, for the most part, we both knew that the political arguments were more of a sport of sorts, and neither one of us liked to lose. 

I'll also note that, in retrospect, it's clear that my brother Chris was a deeply conflicted man who was fighting an ongoing (and losing) battle against self-medication.  I wish I could have helped more, but I also know that I did what I could at the time, including listening.  Among the many things I am grateful for is the fact that we were in regular contact before he passed.

Getting back to the Gallagher brothers, it's painful to think that two siblings are so disconnected.  I don't pretend to understand all the dynamics between them, but I know that our siblings understand our story better than others do.  That's true for the children of my parents as well as rock musicians from Manchester.  Denying the benefit of that connection...not having that person in your life who has some sense of your story and tragic.

My ongoing hope is to not make that mistake.  

Monday, June 12, 2023

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

I wanted to come up with an interesting and engaging title for this posting, but I more or less failed.  The result is noted above.  If you don't get the reference, well then that's okay.  It probably means you have something of a life (reference HERE).  On to the real business of this posting stuff.

We've now been back from Scotland for going on three weeks, so I'm thinking an update is due.

The traveling back was hell.

Yes, thanks to something of a British Airways meltdown (HERE), our initial flight from Edinburgh to London was canceled.  Luckily, we got a very competent agent, who was able to book us on a later flight.  That's the good news.  The bad news?  We had to spend 8 hours at Edinburgh airport.  Many of the gate seating areas at the Edinburg airport look like this...

The benches scream, in a loud Scottish accent, "Laddy, don't even try to get comfortable".  I suspect that Edward Longshanks probably used something like these benches to torture William Wallace.

The really bad news?  The new flight was leaving at 3pm local time, meaning that we would not get back to the U.S. until 10-10:30pm.  Note there is a 6-hour time difference to figure into all of this.  True to form, that happened, and the net result was Ms. Rivers and I took turns with the drive from Newark back home.  Honestly, we are lucky that there wasn't a lot of traffic.  Put another way, had we still been in the U.K., we would have been up for something like 20+ hours by the time we got home.  

Oh, and British Airways lost one of our bags, which we got back...a week and a half later.  Given the reach of British Airways, there's no way of knowing what happened to our bag during that time. I told my younger stepson to smell the suitcase to see if it had an odor of "curry and despair".

All well and good, and certainly first-world problems, for sure.

It took me days to fall back into a regular sleeping schedule.  And I was absolutely buried with stuff at work.  Ms. Rivers and I both agree that there won't be any Atlantic crossings for a few years to come.  Come to think of it, I'm pretty good not flying for a while, truth be told.

It's important, or at least it seems like it should be important, to separate the travel from the destination.  In that case, the destination is wonderful.  British Airways is not.  Enough said.

So here I am back to more life as usual.  A bit wiser and more worldly for the wear.  Now I feel somewhat compelled to pay more attention to my flowers, especially my burgeoning honeysuckle forest.  Pictures to come at some point.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Scotland - Day 8: Mar sin leat

The above is my feeble attempt at saying goodbye in Scottish Gaelic.  Given that my language skills are somewhat lacking, even in English, the title is about as correct as Google can make it.  Anyway, today is our last day in Scotland, and tomorrow, bright and early, we return home.  

As for today's activities, well, things were intentionally kept on the light side.  The first stop this morning was to the Edinburgh farmer's market, where a few things were purchased.  From there, it was off to the National Museum of Scotland, which we barely made a dent in before deciding to call it a day.  Our plan from there was to head off to Arthur's Seat and do some hiking, but two things got in the way:  1) It was a bit chillier than expected and 2) We were just tired.  To that second point, I'm glad we stayed here as long as we did, but by now, the hiking miles upon miles a day is wearing a bit thin for all of us (myself especially included).  If there is ever a return trip, Arthur's Seat (and one or two other places) will be first on the list.

Back to the National Museum of Scotland...this is a must-see.  The fact that it's completely free only adds to the coolness of the place.  The museum itself has a bit of everything, from fossils to religious artifacts to weapons of a thousand years ago.  

The interior of the museum.

A copy of Mary, Queen of Scots's casket.

A precursor to the French guillotine.

Ms. Rivers and I also had a final stroll in the city before things get too dark, and we get too tired.  Of course, this somehow ended up involving a cemetery.

Here's to Catherine, being remembered again.  May she be resting in peace.

View of St. Cuthbert's cemetery and steeple.

On that note, that brings "the big Scotland vacation" to an end.  I suspect that we will be back, at some unknown point in the future.  As for me, I confess that it will be nice to sleep in my own bed, not walk up quite so many hills, and having the time to plant flowers on Monday.  There is a certain serenity in routine, but yet in leaving, I'm hoping that some of those routines are forever changed.  We shall see.

I'll end this with my favorite song about Scotland.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Scotland - Days 6 & 7: Winding Down

We're on the back end of our Scotland vacation, so I'm going to combine activities from Thursday (May 25th) and Friday (May 26th).  This is mostly because, at least for me, things are dialing down a bit.  No big tours, and no tight schedules.  I am good with this, by the way.  While I have thoroughly enjoyed what we've done so far, I'm starting to feel as if my vacation insights cup is almost full.  This is less of a writing thing and more of a mental/physically tired kind of thing.  

Homesick?  Not really.  It's probably more of a function of my incredibly short attention span.  I've seen wonderful things here, and I've learned a thing or two.  And not just about Scotland.  Big things like this...and traveling to a different country is a big thing...create a tremendous opportunity for growth, I think if we're open to it.  As I'm looking at one full day left, I'm still trying to sort out some of what I've learned.  This is a wonderful thing by the way, namely, the fact that, at age 59, I readily confess to learning new things about myself and the world.

Something I will note is that the night before we flew out here, I had something of an incredibly troubling dream.  I wouldn't use the word nightmare, but one of those sleeping cerebral movies that just sticks in your head like old gum on the bottom of a movie theater seat.  The kind of thing where the emotion of it all makes you think there must be some deeper meaning to it all, even though there probably isn't.  Flying out here that quickly evaporated.  Indeed, there was no deeper meaning.  It was just a dream.  This is, however, one of the examples of how travel can impact us:  It takes us outside of our own heads for a period of time.  The sheer difference of it all reminds us that there is much more to the world than what we think (or dream) or see in front of us every "normal" day.  

In the end, seeing the "bigness" of the world is both humbling and incredibly insightful.

I wish there was some way to expose younger folks of all economic conditions to overseas travel.  I think the world would be a far, far better place.  As it stands, this kind of travel is an example of a kind of privilege in action, which, growing on the lower socio-economic side of status, I fully appreciate as an adult.  I also appreciate the fact that Ms. Rivers is far more keen to undertake these kinds of things than I naturally am.  Granted that I do enjoy this kind of travel, but left to my own druthers, I'm not sure I would do it.

As for the last two days' worth of travels, well, as I noted above, it was a bit less scheduled.  On Thursday, we did an hour-long tour of some of the vaults that are found under the King's Mile (in Edinburgh).  It was interesting, and the guide did a good job of conjuring up some spooky mojo with her stories, in addition to talking about the real hardship of living at a time when 1) There wasn't enough housing for everyone, and 2) Actually being homeless was a criminal offense.  

The vaults we visited were off of Cow Gate, which just so happens to have the backside of a cow displayed in one of the nearby buildings.

One of the vaults was used by a local religious group for many, many years.  After their leader passed away, the group broke up, up but allowed the owner of the vault they used to be maintained, provided that no one could enter.  By the way, the vaults in this area are owned by different folks and are used for everything from nothing to storage to a bar.  

You can read more about the Edinburgh vaults HERE.

After the vaults, we had a rather uneventful dinner at what we think was a chain restaurant of sorts.  Ms. Rivers tried the beet sauce.  I didn't.  

Today (Friday) we did some more walking (surprising!) and found the beginning of a canal, complete with canal boats.

We also found a very neglected cemetery in of all places, Coffin Lane.  We would have gone down the explore, but the encampment of folks who looked like they may be been using some illegal substances was there already.  Discretion was the better part of valor.

Ms. Rivers and I went for a walk further down King's Mile later in the day.  A few things caught my eye:

Note for those with agoraphobia:  Edinburgh is a very crowded place.

Yes, I could not help myself:  Another picture of the turd building.

I'm not sure about the significance behind the locks, other than I am sure there is some significance.  

At this point, I am pretty damn tired.  Tomorrow we will be seeing a few more things that we don't want to miss before flying out bright and early on Sunday morning.

I'm thinking I have one more post in me. 

More to come.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Scotland - Day 5: There's Something In The Air

I mentioned fairly early on that there is a certain smell to this place.  Since that initial olfactory observation, I've been able to fine-tune things a bit.  Specifically:
  • There is a distinct Edinburgh smell.
  • I also got a whiff of it in a smaller town we visited (see below).
  • It reminds me of when I used to live in York, PA, and was downwind of a paper plant.
  • Said smell goes away when you leave the city; in fact, the countryside here smells wonderful.
I'm reasonably sure I'm smelling some Scottish version of sewer gases.  Now that this mystery is solved, it's time to move on to bigger and better things.

How about a few random facts?

Sheep outnumber humans in Scotland by over a million.  Reference HERE.  That's easy to see, literally.  Some of today's sheep...

(Those white things towards the left horizon?  Sheep.)

There's a lot of smoking here.  Interestingly enough though, according to Scottish government statistics, it's the tourists, not the locals.  In fact, the smoking rate in Scotland as a whole is 11% as of 2021.  Reference HERE.  In Pennsylvania, the most current rate I could find was 17.9% (reference HERE).  Why bring this up?  Well, today's trip was the Hadrian's Wall, which I'll get into in a moment.  The tie to smoking is that Ms. Rivers and I sat at the back of our tour bus today, behind a group of folks speaking Italian (Ms. Rivers seems to think they said they were from Switzerland, but I'm not so sure...).  These folks were lighting up constantly every time they left the bus, leaving us to deal with the smell when they returned.  I know, first-world problems, for sure, but it does remind me of how much things have changed for the better in this area since I was a kid.  For the record, if you smoke, please try to's simply a horrible thing to do to your body, and you deserve better.

What we haven't smelled much of is marijuana.  That could be because it's illegal in Scotland (reference HERE).  I'm not complaining.

On to the business end of today.  As noted above, we visited Hadrian's Wall*, and it was wonderful.  Well worth a day in Scotland.  Prior to arriving at the wall, we stopped at a town named Jedburgh, where there can be found the ruins of a large abbey.  It was actually really interesting.  

This is also a place where Mary, Queen of Scotts stayed at one point.  From here, we visited 4 different sites related to Hadrian's Wall.  Here are some of the better pictures:

None of this, by the way, does the wall...and its related ruins...justice.  This is just something you need to experience.  It felt kind of unique to sit on a section of the wall, knowing that over 1900 years ago soldiers from the Roman Empire were doing the exact same thing.  It's also rather marvelous to experience something so old yet created by humans, particularly in an age where it seems like everything is disposable.

I'll post more pictures on the Facebooks.

Finally, I saw this stone at the border between Scotland and England (Hadrian's Wall is in England).  It tells its own story.

I (obviously) have skin in the Scottish Independence game, but it seems to me that this is a culturally distinct place.  

(*) You can learn more about Hadrian's Wall by linking to:

More to come.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Scotland - Day 4: King For A Day

Maybe, quite possibly, I might have gotten enough sleep last night.  Granted that sleep is sometimes more of a concept for me than an actuality.  That's a fancy way of saying sleep and I don't always get along.  Anyway, I actually got something along the lines of 8 hours of sleep.  That's a good start to the day.  This was needed as today we spent a few hours at Edinburgh Castle.  

As we were waiting outside St. Giles Cathedral, we heard an actual Scottish street preacher doing this thing catercorner to the church.  

I almost feel guilty burning up a posting photo on the guy (due to posting size limits, I can typically fit about 5-6 high resolutions per posting), but it's worth it.  There's something unqualifying interesting about a man yelling the name of "Jesus Christ!" in a thick Scottish accent at one of the busiest corners of Edinburgh.  He was literally fighting a losing battle against traffic.  Some nice soul in a passing taxi was even kind enough to take of one his pamphlets.  All in a day's work I suppose.

On to Edinburgh Castle, which is many things, including amazing.  A few points of interest.

St. Margaret's Chapel is one of the oldest buildings in the U.K. dating back to around the year 1130.  It's also the oldest surviving building at the castle, here basically because King Robert the Bruce was afraid of creating bad mojo with the Pope.

You can get married in the chapel, which is why I couldn't take any interior photos, as that was actually happening during our visit.  Congratulations to the groom and bride, whomever they are.

I didn't go into many of the castle buildings, mostly because it was nice outside and many of them don't allow interior photography.  I did, however, get to see the changing of the guard.  Fun fact:  Edinburgh Castle is a real U.K. military base, with a garrison of troops stationed there at all times.  One of the places they guard, in addition to the actual castle entrance, is a building dedicated to those from the U.K. military who lost their lives during their service.

The above was right before the changing of the guard.  A side note:  One of the other tour groups had a guide that was speaking loudly as the ceremony began. Very, very disrespectful.  Thankfully, I think she got the hint and stopped.

I have about a dozen castle exterior shots that I'll post on the Facebooks, but here's one of the nicer ones.

The view from the castle can best be described as jaw-dropping.  Here's a sample:

If you look carefully at the photo, towards the top right, you'll see a rather new-ish building that is actually shaped like a turd.  I am not kidding.  Said building is not on the graphic at this location of the castle that points out city landmarks.  This could be for two reasons:
  1. The building came after the graphic was installed.
  2. No one wanted to actually include in the graphic the description of the "Turd Building".
Either explanation seems plausible to me. I'll post a larger picture of the Turd Building on the Facebooks.

Our day of exploration ended with a second trip through the cemetery where Greyfriar's Bobby is buried.  And yes, I get that it seems like we're spending a lot of time in cemeteries during this trip.  Actually, I'm not quite sure what to make of that myself, come to think about it.  In any event, here's one more cemetery picture.

Finally, when I was thinking about castles and kings, the Thompson Twins song "King for a Day" came to mind.  That's a fine way to end things...

More to come.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Scotland - Day 3: Authenticity

I don't try to explain, after the fact, what these bordering-on-ridiculous blog postings mean.  There are a couple reasons for that, none of which are entertaining enough (for me...) to write about.  This noted, what I do find fascinating is how easy it is to read intent into written words.  That's both a curse and a blessing for folks that write things, even hacks such as myself.  Anyway, I'm going to make an exception to the blog posting interpretation rule.

For example, in my Day 1 posting, I compared how Edinburgh is, well, gritty, dirty, and kind of smells like the Scranton I knew as a kid.  I get that this certainly sounds bad...unless you are me, and you grew up in Scranton in the '70s.  Granted that other folks, outside of fans of the U.S. version of The Office, probably have a negative impression of Scranton, but I don't.  In fact, that gritty/dirty/smells description is, in a word, authentic.  While there are tons of tourists here in Edinburgh, as I noted in the Day 2 posting, this is a lived-in kind of place.  The tourists just seem to be here for the ride.  

Another way to think about this is to consider Edinburgh as a kind of anti-Disney.  This isn't a magic kingdom; this is a place where people work, sieges have been had, and more than a few people hung and/or otherwise dispatched.  In the words of our tour guide on Sunday, Edinburgh had for the longest time a reputation for being one of the most disgusting cities in Europe.  The magic in this kingdom is that people have called this home and fought for it over centuries.  

The above noted, my quota for actually explaining blog postings has been met.  Since this is about the first time since 2008 that I've done this sort of thing (explaining...), if I do the math then I won't have to do it again until sometime in 2038.

On to the day's festivities.


Today we did the quasi-common bus tour of the countryside thing.  It was fun, based partially on the fact that my knees appreciated that they weren't responsible for all of the day's locomotion.  To be a bit more specific, the big stops today were Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle.  See the links for more (likely & possibly) factual information.  

As we were headed to Loch Lomond, we stopped to see an attraction known as the Kelpies.  For purposes of picture set-up, know that this is a very large metal sculpture. 

As I alluded to in the first paragraph or so of this posting, Scotland pretty much does what Scotland wants.  Giant horse heads?  Sure, why not.  There actually is some mythology about the Kelpies, which you can get from the horse's mouth HERE.  

From the Kelpies we headed to the Loch, for an all too brief visit.  Photographs don't do it justice, but here's one anyway.

This is an old place, well-used, yet still incredibly beautiful.  Something else to mention?  It smelled wonderful.  Actually, the Kelpies smelled wonderful too.  Just the right combination of flowers were in bloom I suppose, creating a scent that would rival a stand of honeysuckle.  

By the way, I am reasonably sure that there are more sheep in Scotland than there are people.  Without any exaggeration whatsoever.  The sheep we saw driving around the countryside were legion, for they were many.

Granted, I don't want to think too hard about Scotland's sheep, as that results in thoughts about what becomes of the cute little guys (re:  Haggis).

After the Loch and countless sheep-spotting opportunities, we stopped for lunch.  That was something of an adventure (for mundane reasons I will not get into), but what was really cool was the fact that we stopped at a town that was literally at the border between the Scottish lowlands and highlands.  

Foreground = Lowlands.  Background = Highlands.

Our final stop was Castle Stirling, complete with a larger-than-life statue of Robert the Bruce.  Yes, that was a character in the movie Braveheart, and yes, the locals are keenly aware of how inaccurate Mel Gibson's movie really was.  Regardless, it's an impressive statue.

I didn't do the castle tour (Ms. Rivers did), but instead went wandering around the castle grounds, which were beautiful.  The history of this place literally permeates the air.

Finally, I can't let the opportunity pass to take a few critter shots, and today was no exception.  

With apologies for the off-center shot, but in all fairness, 1) He was moving a lot and 2) I was using a cellphone camera.

All of the above noted, it was a long but interesting day.  Now to get some rest.  I think I slept for something like four hours last night, due to a variety of reasons.  I need to do better,.  Tomorrow will be more castle touring and maybe a ghost* bus tour.

More to come.

(*) Ghosts don't exist, but for the purposes of this vacation, I'll play along.


Sunday, May 21, 2023

Scotland - Day 2: It's Pronounced "Edin-Brah"

A minor mystery has been solved.  What mystery, you may ask?  Well, is this town named...



...wrong on both counts.  According to our tour guide this morning, the very talented Ms. Roisin, it's actually pronounced something like "Edin-brah", where the "brah" part sounds like what a 20-something-year-old dude who vapes a lot calls everyone he knows.  See below.

On a more serious note, I highly recommend anyone who happens to be in Edin-brah (sorry, that's the last time I'll use that gag, promise) to check out Little Fish Tours.  Our guide, the above-referenced Ms. Roisin, was excellent.  In fact, we decided to take another one of their tours later in the week.  I'm not always a big fan of guided tours, but they do work best when you get to know the stories of the place...not just names and dates and assorted facts...but the very human stories of people who lived in a particular place.  That's what we got today.

Today's event was the walking tour noted above, combined with some additional wandering about (sometimes in circles) in and around the castle area of Edinburgh.  One of the things I find most fascinating about places, particularly older places, are the roof lines of buildings. Modern architecture, in my extremely amateurish opinion, lacks a certain kind of distinctiveness when the building hits the sky.  Instead of a kind of crown, many newer buildings just look as if someone arbitrarily just cut them off at some point.  That's certainly not the case here.

New vs. old building rooflines.  See the difference?

One quasi-funny story:  We were near the Scottish equivalent of the Supreme Court.  As our guide was speaking, we were told to move back, and low and behold, the justices of the court walked by us (within about 10 feet), complete with powdered wigs and robes befitting the best of a 17th-century jurist.  It was almost kind of odd in a way; as I mentioned to my stepson Alex if this were the U.S. we never would have gotten that close to the justices of the Supreme would have been one warning then 20 seconds later a taser shot to the abdomen.

Much of today's walking was centered around High Street/the Royal Mile.  Some of the buildings were spectacular.   

Unfortunately, there is a limit to how many photos I can share in a blog posting, but I'll be adding more to Facebook over the next few hours.

While the buildings seen today are beautiful, what I noted yesterday, which is a certain grittiness, complete with an odd assortment of sights and smells, was sort of familiar.  This is not a clean place.  In fact, you can tell this is a very much lived-in, working, functional kind of location.  The tourists are just here for the ride.

More to come.

Scotland - Day 1: Far But Familiar

Fun fact:  The mountains in Northeastern Pennsylvania belong to the same range that, in Earth's past, also include the Scottish Highlands.  You can learn more about the subject HERE.  Here's a graphic, just to punctuate the point...

This isn't the first time I've heard about the Central Pangean Mountains; that would be something Ms. Rivers' brother, a geologist, mentioned when we were visiting Scandinavia in 2018.  

Based on the title of this posting, and the reference above, it's fair to say that I am visiting Scotland this week.  By way of background, this trip is notable for a few reasons, including the fact that it's likely to be one of the last vacations we take with Ms. Rivers' sons (my stepsons).  This is because they are getting older, we are getting older, and well, everything seems to getting older.  Speaking of getting older, another reason behind the trip is the fact, as we approach an eventual, collective retirement age, it seems prudent for us to take advantage of the fact that we've been prudent with our finances.  Put another way, was can afford to travel, so why not?  In some respects, this is the first trip of what will probably be a few in the years to come.  The downside?  More tedious blog postings from me, but so I digress.

So, why Scotland?  

Well to the best of my knowledge, I have zero point zero connection to Scotland.  This is the honest-to-goodness truth, unlike what I've said about Ireland for decades.  Ms. Rivers?  Well, she does.  The genesis of the trip came after hearing about a similar trip that Ms. Rivers' sisters took years ago.  The thought was that we would travel with them, but that part didn't end up working out.  What did was our end of it, so here we are, about a year after starting to plan this vacation.  

Butterfly knees.

There is a special 1,000-year place in purgatory for people who design modern airplane seating arrangements.  Now if you are of average height, these sorts of things work out okay for you.  Me?  Not so much, so my knees end up being bent at unnatural angles for hours on end, broken up by the occasional trip to the bathroom (which is mostly just an excuse to unfurl my a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis...every now and then).  With 8 hours of travel yesterday, well, my knees were sore by the time I got off the second leg of our flights, here in Edinburgh.  Making matters worse was the fact that we then had about 3+ hours (and associated walking) before we could check in at our rented apartment in Edinburgh's old city.  By the time I was able to lay down (I had gotten about an hour of sleep the night before) my knees felt like they were got to explode and projectile my patellas across the room.  Fortunately, this did not happen. 

So here I am now, writing this on a dreary but more or less wonderful morning in the old city of Edinburgh.  My knees are about 90% recovered, and I think that today's guided walking tour will actually help things.  Or so we shall see.

One observation about Scotland so far:  It sort of reminds me of growing up in Scranton.  Connection via ancient mount range aside for a moment, this place is gritty, has lots of smells (diesel, food, stuff that was once food but now is rotting...), and is generally not well kept.  In other words, Scranton in the 1970's, but sans the three strip clubs that adorn a corner not so far from us.  Multiples seem to be a thing here, as in addition to the three strip clubs nearby, there are at least four barbers within a stone's throw from the kitchen window I am sitting next to at this very moment.  Scottsmen love well-trimmed hair I guess.

Lastly, I did not bring my usual camera gear on this trip.  This is mostly because I didn't want to have to bring another bag with me, and my Google Pixel takes great pictures anyway.  In service of my comment about Edinburgh's gritty-ness, I offer the following...

More to come.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Wind Up (or is that wind down)?

I'm not sure what was going on with me from about early February through mid-late April, other than, in some respects, it wasn't good.  Part of this was definitely physical...I struggle with some digestive issues, no doubt made worse by the "6-year-old eating mentality but with adult money" diet.  However, I know, at least for me, that parts of my physical health are strongly tied to my mental health at any given point.  This kind of makes how I am physically feeling something like a "Canary in a mine" for what's pinging around in my head.

I do have at least one theory.

That period is probably the worst of the year for me.  One of the few things in life I can say that I enjoy, without any qualification, is working outside.  Yet during that period, there is just so little I can actually do.  This is mostly because it's just too damn chilly/cold outside.  And in the spirit of my ability to dramatically over-think everything, I would never want to live anywhere that is warm all year.  I enjoy the seasons...even the advent of winter...but I just wish it would end.  This year's relatively warm late winter was similar to hanging a cupcake just out of reach of a starving person.  

There is a larger issue at play here, namely that I am borderline (seemingly) genetically pre-disposed and always on the lookout for threats, be they big or small, real or imaginary.  The appropriate mental health term is "hypervigilance", and in addition to being tiring, it takes up a heck of a lot of personal bandwidth.  The ironic part is that when viewed objectively, I have a pretty good life.  I suspect though that's all part of the larger set of complexities that reside inside my head.  I am okay, and I wouldn't be me without this stuff, but yet there are times when I would just like less of certain stuff.

I have no grand plan on dealing with the kinds of things that late winter/very early spring brought this year.  Maybe this kind of introspection* is the plan.  Who knows.  What I do know is that I spent a few hours in the yard this weekend, and it felt right.  In the third paragraph of this posting, I noted that I enjoy working outside; maybe an even better term for me is that it just feels "right".

I need to be focusing more on what feels enjoyable and good and right, which is a far harder task than it seems.  But it needs to be done.  There is a kind of hidden guilt inside of me that wants to immediately engage in castigation at the mere thought of not being on the edge, scanning for threats.  It all ties together, and I have some work to do.

Here's to basking in the warmth of the sun, the smell of flowers, and feeling growth all around us.  

(*) Introspection:  Something that requires no real effort from me, but I just wish there were more practical outcomes resulting from it.