Treadmill Musings

I have begun regular treks on a treadmill in preparation for future travels, especially doing one of the Great Walks in New Zealand again, this time with my Granddaughter, Chloe.  The treadmill treks (five to six times a week) are usually 50 minutes in length, including the last few minutes with a 15% incline and a 4.0 walking speed pushing my heart rate from resting (48-49) to about 130-140.  I think I am becoming addicted to the endorphin rush.  While those numbers are hardly impressive, for this soon to be 74 year old (in a couple of weeks), they are acceptable.

I usually listen to a podcast to take advantage of the time on the treadmill and the alertness that is a side effect of the physical activity.  I am currently listening to the audio version of a book by Krista Tippett who produces the OnBeing weekly podcasts on NPR.  The book includes parts of a number of interviews she has had with people who are thoughtful and deep and reflective in a way that resonates with my spirit at this point in my journey.

Today’s listening took my thoughts to some discoveries in the last years of Mary Ann’s and my life together.  Themes of a couple of recent OnBeing podcasts and this morning’s thread wove into the tapestry of our last years together.  The people Krista chooses to interview all seem to have emerged from the complexities of life with the ability to put them together in a way that transcends the complexity and discovers Elegance.  Those Interviewees do not sugarcoat the painful realities nor do they let those painful realities slip away without first giving the gifts buried within them.  Those words come easily to me, since they flow from my experience.   For all of them, Krista and those she interviews, the pain and joy are not opposites but part of the same tapestry.

Today what I heard took my thoughts to the physicality of Mary Ann’s and my relationship. There was reflection on the role of our bodies in what we often relegate to the mind exclusively.  Krista made quick reference to a favorite Hebrew word (nephesh) for a living being, a sentient being, one that includes body, breath, thought, feeling, a whole being.  She referred to a paraplegic who survived a tragic injury and had to reconstruct his life while enduring severe physical and mental battles.  That paraplegic realized that even the PTSD was deeply entrenched in his body.  Through a version of Yoga, he reclaimed his body and his sense of wholeness both physically and mentally. Another Interviewee suggested that many have lost the connection with their bodies, the connection that comes naturally in the first years of life.

My thoughts went to those last years of Mary Ann’s and my life together, when our relationship was a tactile one.  Her needs were basic physical ones.  I had an intimate involvement in all her bodily functions.  I remember feeling as if I was her body, a body that could still do the things that the Parkinson’s had taken from her.  I remain in awe of the depth of our bond, a bond that physical contact strengthened.

There is one other thought that came from an offhand comment by Krista or one of the Interviewees.  I don’t remember the specific words spoken, but those words suggested that simply our physical presence has value by itself and in relationships with others.  Mary Ann’s and my relationship was not sweet and pretty as in the story books.  It was real.  There was a strength to it that endured for the 48 years from our first meeting to her death.  I wasn’t always wonderful and neither was she.  The words that I heard today helped me as I remembered the times I was far from wonderful.   I think that through it all, each of us, Mary and and I, both were better people and have had better lives on account being so fully present with each other.   I find comfort in that.

 

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Alone

Alone?“You are never alone,” a friend from Australia (Queensland, half way between Brisbane and Cairns) said to me in a comment on a recent Facebook post. I had planned a quiet New Year’s Eve carefully, visiting Trader Joe’s in Kansas City for some really great Creamy Danish Blue Cheese, some Trader Joe’s aged Gouda, marinated Greek olives, a jar of olives stuffed with Blue Cheese, a tin of smoked Herring and a nice Beaujolais. I lit a couple of candles, put on some Renaissance music and settled in for an evening celebrating the coming New Year by myself.

Then my phone pinged. I was excited to see that Tanja, one of my Camino Kids, sent via WhatsApp a silly Happy New Year Cartoon, followed by a selfie of her toasting the New Year with a glass of Prosecco and a “Happy New Year” wish. I sent her a “Happy New Year” reply and attached two pictures. One was a selfie of me toasting with a my glass of Beaujolais and a picture of the opossum that had been eating the birds sunflower seeds on my deck. I was not alone. Two joined me in my celebration, one very lovely and the other not so much (verifying evidence on my Facebook page).   

I have found contemplation, mindfulness, to be a helpful tool in dealing with a life that is sometimes out of control. (Is it actually ever in control? I think not.) One of the Monklings in Galway, Ireland, with whom I spent a week last September has recently asked for thoughts about doing contemplation in community and alone. That issue touches a nerve for me since I have spent many years constantly immersed in the lives of others longing for the rare times of solitude and now spend almost all of my time alone.   

As a child, I played alone most of the time. My four siblings are all much older than I. I had an affinity for nature, worms and caterpillars, moths and butterflies, tadpoles and water bugs, weeds and wildflowers, puffy cumulus and wispy cirrus clouds, sun and rain and blue sky and wind. At the same time, while during my young years my parents did not socialize with the neighbors on the block, I was not shy about going down the street, getting acquainted, even if it meant knocking on the door and introducing myself. Before Dad broke down and got a television (not until I was eleven), I spent time watching television at a house down the block with an older couple who had a dog with a missing eye (result of chasing cars). 

The need for solitude and community seem to be securely bound together in my DNA. That is hardly unusual. While some feel more at home with one or the other, it appears that the human species is wired for both. That is how we have survived and populated the planet.   

We were sitting on an outcropping of rocks at about 9000 feet in a remote spot in the Rockies accessed by gravel and dirt roads outside of Woodland Park, Colorado. It was very late on a clear night. The stars were bright. A ribbon of stars clustered together to form the Milky Way. Occasionally, one of the stars, manmade, moved steadily, without wavering, from one horizon to the other. We were mesmerized by the stars. We had spent the day with full responsibility for the activities of about sixty high school age people, seeking to engage them in nurturing activities, deal with the intensity that comes with adolescence, the energy, the quick minds, the silliness, the relationships building and breaking and building again.   

We talked quietly for a while, in the dark, hoping to hear no young voices of cabin escapees armed with flashlights coming up the steep hill to break the quiet and steal the darkness from us. Soon we settled into complete silence. It was dark and silent and serene. Each of us, separate from the other, sat in utter solitude, alone. We were alone together. I will never forget that moment, that place. The people sitting near me were college age then. They are now in their fifties. I still feel a bond with them even though the time between face to face encounters can sometimes be measured in years.

My wife Mary Ann was in a terminal battle with Parkinson’s Disease, a battle that lasted almost 24 years. Parkinson’s is not a terminal disease, but a disease that once it comes, stays to the end. My job as the Pastor of a congregation had no boundaries other than ones I set. I remember often taking comfort in the fact that there were only 24 hours in each day, providing one clearly identifiable boundary, firmly fixed. I was technically on call all of those 24 hours in my work, although it was not often that I was called out during the night. In a strange way Mary Ann’s clearly defined needs provided some freedom from the constant work responsibilities. People understood and very many came to our rescue and volunteered hours each week to be a present friend to her while I was working. There were times that I was able to be gone for two nights by myself.   

St. Francis of the Woods is out in the country in North Central Oklahoma, on a 500 acre working farm, a place set aside for those seeking solitude and silence and Spiritual renewal. I drove through the expansive prairie in Kansas called the Flint Hills and after five hours of music, shedding all the clutter that had gathered in my mind, I arrived at the cabin. There are many acres of woods with a pathway through some areas, an occasional bench for reflection and reading. I was the only person there other than the Director and a few of those who worked the farm. I saw no other human until the third day. There were birds and deer, an Armadillo so busy nosing around for grubs that he was oblivious to my presence.   

I found my way to a small field that was completely surrounded by forest. It was my favorite spot. I set up my three-legged camping stool and sat in silence in a corner of the field, ten or fifteen feet into the forest. Some turkeys wandered by about 50 feet farther into the forest. A Pileated Woodpecker landed on a nearby tree. That species is about 17” tall and looks like a feathered Pterodactyl. I read, I thought, I felt fully present with everything around me, just part of the landscape.   

I decided to move out into the open in the center, the highest point of that five or ten acre field. A Turkey Vulture soared from over the woods, so low over my head that I could hear the swishing of its wings. Three of them circled over the field for a few moments before gliding away to find prey that was not so large and mobile as I. I sat on the stool, ate a granola bar and an apple, and poured a bit of coffee into the cap of the thermos. Then I settled again, this time in the sun, to think and meditate and read and become fully present with that place.   

I began to think about Mary Ann. Contemplative mode seeks to calm the raging river of thoughts and words that just refuses to stop flowing. The goal is to move deeply into what is most basic to one’s existence, fully human, no frills, nothing to prove or accomplish to have value. At its best, it does not separate and isolate. It is an inward journey and an outward journey at the very same time, allowing the someone who lives under all the layers of busyness to feel secure enough to open him/herself to others. As I sat there, I realized that Mary Ann might wonder why I wanted to go off by myself, away from her. I had never done it before. Turning off the cell phone had been an important part letting go of the busyness. I called her from that hill. We just talked for a bit. Mary Ann hated talking on the phone. She never had been very verbal and the Parkinson’s had made her even less so. I wanted her to know that my need for solitude did not signal a need to be away from her. On the contrary, it drew me closer to her.   

Last September, when the fifteen of us rode out to ancient thin places in Ireland, where people for thousands of years had come seeking to engage mystery, to experience Spiritual renewal, we grew into a community. We spent times in silence, sometimes in close proximity to one another, sometimes distant, even out of sight of one another. At times we were alone together. At times we talked and laughed and sang and even danced (sort of) together.   

When Tanja messaged me on New Year’s Eve, the bond that had come from walking the Camino together was palpable. We were together (including the opossum). When I spent the time as a child in nature, I was connected to what lay around me there. When on that outcropping that night in Colorado, looking at the stars, we truly were alone together, bound to one another by the darkness and the silence. When I was sitting on that hill in Oklahoma in utter solitude, Mary Ann was as close to me as she would have been were my arms wrapped around her transferring her from sitting on the side of the bed to her wheelchair. Yes, even when people to whom I feel connected respond to a Facebook post, it is an expression of community.   

I am wired for solitude and community. I think we all are. Solitude and community are not mutually exclusive but they are woven into the fabric of life. Some of both are necessary to make the fabric strong and beautiful.   

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Swirling Thoughts and Feelings

Head Swirling!

[Written late last Tuesday evening.]  There are so many thoughts and feelings that have stirred during a journey I took this evening.  The guide on the journey was Charles Bruffy, who conducted a performance of the Brahms Requiem.  Layers of memories and future intentions have mingled with the present, leaving my head and wherever feelings live swirling around far beyond the scope of the music itself.

For me past and future adventures, people, experiences, joy and grief all jumbled together, taking center stage at will, one after the other, back to the one and on to the other again.

It did start with the music. Before the first chords of the piano accompaniment sounded, Charles brought us into a quiet space, preparing us to for the journey on which the Brahms Requiem would take us.  A requiem is a worship service done at a Roman Catholic funeral.  The music and words are intended to help those grieving come to terms with the death of a Loved One and turn towards the new life that will emerge from the grief.  Charles asked us to remember someone close to us who has died and allow the Requiem about to be sung to be sung for that person.

I remembered.  It has been a few months plus six years since Mary Ann died.  I feel good and whole and able to live with joy and still able to be present with the grief.  Charles talked about the serendipitous performance of the Requiem at the time in the church year called All Saints, a time that includes the ancient Day of the Dead.  The tradition is to remember in a ritualized way those close to us who have died.  What I remembered was a day almost exactly three years ago, just after I had returned from walking the 500 miles of the Camino across northern Spain, carrying a backpack.  It was the All Saints’ Day service at church.  The names of those who had died that year were read, followed by a bell sounding after each name.  I knew so many of those people whose names were read.  Some had come to be friends, people about whom I cared very much.

What happened next on that morning in church caught me by surprise.  I was walking up the aisle to receive the bread and wine of communion, and as I neared the front, the video screen on which were scrolling pictures of those who had died in past years showed Mary Ann holding Granddaughter Chloe on her lap.  (It was shown at her funeral three years earlier.)  They were both laughing happily.  I knew instantly that I was in trouble.  The beautiful relationships built on the Camino had just ended.  I had returned to an empty house, feeling utterly alone, like a stranger in my own home town.  By the time I returned to my pew.  I had lost control of my feelings. I was quietly sobbing, unable to keep my shoulder movements from revealing what was happening to those sitting near and behind me.  That is what I remembered tonight.

Tonight at the concert the feelings did not return with that sort of intensity.  I just remembered. It was a good remembering.  Three years ago, at that moment, I needed to cry.  Tonight, I needed to remember, to feel the memory for a time.

I began thinking about people I have met in the last five years of traveling.  There are so many with whom a bond of some sort developed.  Sometimes the interaction was just one conversation, sometimes days and weeks of conversations.  Those connections mean something to me.  I make no demands on those with whom I feel connected.  I recognize that in most cases I feel far more of a bond than they do.  It is just the way I am wired.  It is okay.  There are some with whom the friendship has blossomed into a deep and lasting one.

Then thoughts about the future swirled in and out of view.  There is a jumble of them.  I just found out about another 1000 voice Singalong, this time in Riga, Latvia this coming July.  I have been pursuing the option of studying German for a semester next fall at a University in Klagenfurt, Austria.  I have thought about returning instead to Vienna to the same language school for a month, maybe getting to see my friends from the last class a time or two while I am there.  I most certainly need to visit my German Camino Kids (and Laida in Spain some time).  I have limited resources that need to be used wisely, so choices have to be made.  I would prefer not running out of resources before I run out of life.  I am very grateful for bunks and shared baths in cheap hostels and lots of (sometimes free) muesli, allowing the travel to happen.

[It is Saturday evening as I now as I prepare to publish this post.  Last evening I went to another concert and was again overwhelmed by the beauty of a piece by Brahms, this time written for a small group of six stringed instruments.  I am feeling a bit pensive as I wonder where life will take me next.   Tomorrow is the All Saints’ Day remembrance of who are now gone. It is also a good time to love all the more those who are still here.]

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And Babies Make Four!

And Babies Make Four!

There are two people I am very happy to be able to call Nephew and Niece, who are on the way to experiencing the most exciting imaginable event in February.  After much hope for good results, not one but two little ones, have begun to grow in a wonderful and also very excited surrogate, Jill.

Tim and Shandra found each other, love grew, they married and have been a joy to watch as they have shared a life of work and travel, each talented and creative and remarkable in his/her own way.  They have lived life to the full.  Now comes the best of all for them.  I have no doubt that they have heard endlessly how much their lives will change when those two little people make four where there had been just two.  Some have probably told them that this sort of one plus one adds up to way more than two.  They cannot know, nor do they need to know just how dramatic the change will be.  They will experience it.  Then they will know.

The most important result of this change in their lives is that they are about to learn more about love than they ever could have imagined.  They love each other.  Shandra has taught children.  They know how to love.  Those two little ones will teach them about love at a level that is impossible to describe until a person has experienced it.  I am excited for them.

I remember discovering a kind of love about which I had no clue when Lisa was born.  Then I remember wondering when Mary Ann was pregnant with Micah how it would be possible to have enough love left to give second child.  Then a miracle happened. The love increased immediately, the moment he arrived. There was more love.  Apparently, love actually does have no limits.  There is not only a certain amount that must be divided into smaller pieces when there are more people to love.  Who knew???

I remember a particular night at about 3am when I discovered something I had not until then realized, at least consciously. Most of what we call love is actually all about our needs.  That love is the wonderful feeling another person triggers in us.  Love is usually more about us than about the person we claim to love.  The other person fills our need or desire in some way.  That night, Micah had an ear ache.  Nothing we did or gave him salved the pain enough to allow him to sleep.  I went in for my own benefit to try to do something that would calm him and allow his Mom and me to get some sleep.  He was probably between one and two years old at the time.  I picked him up out of bed and tried to rock him and swing from side to side to elicit a return to sleep.  It was working, but I knew that once I put him into the bed, it would all start again.  There was a rocking chair in his room.  I gently settled into the chair so as not to wake him and started rocking.  The ear that was aching rested on my chest.  I am guessing that the warmth of my body helped keep the ear canal open.  As I rocked him in that chair at 3am, it washed over me that what had begun from my selfish need for rest had turned into love that was purely given for the sake of someone else. I discovered love, love at a level I had never understood before.

Tim and Shandra, that is the love those two little ones will teach you.

Real love, that kind of love is not always sweet and precious filling Mom and Dad with constant joy and pleasure. (That just sounded silly as I was writing it.)  A baby’s main job is to eat, poop and pee (in their case, times two).  (I forgot to mention the spitting up.) After that, the prime directive is to get the big people in the house to feed them and clean up their wet and/or poopy bottoms. They will become very skilled at manipulating those big people.  After it is no longer gas producing the cute smiles, those smiles will become tools in their arsenal.  The carrot and stick of smiling and screaming will train those big people to respond appropriately to their every need.  Even if Mom and Dad catch on and resist the manipulation, Aunt Linda, Uncles Tony, Jeremy, and Gary, and Grandmas and Grandpas will be easy marks. (Rosemary, their cat, may not be so easily manipulated.)

Now for a more reflective observation about parents need to manage the input and output of their very young children.  As a boy who was raised in the 1940’s and 50’s, I did not take on the role of the primary caregiver although I did have a share in those responsibilities, and I was the one on call to clean up after any expulsion of stomach contents (the spaghetti was the worst).  I did not have the full understanding of what it meant to be the prime caregiver twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  That did happen for about a week once when the Kids were early elementary school in age.  That was an eye-opener even though they were older and with fewer needs.

When Mary Ann was in the last stages of Parkinson’s disease, especially the last two years of her life, I discovered what it meant to have responsibility for someone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  I had become the one who managed what went in and what came out of the person I loved.  I made a discovery.  To be able to care for her at the level of her most basic needs was the most important thing I had ever done in my life.  By then, she was not very verbal.  As with a little one, I needed to pay close attention to identify the specific need at any given moment.   She taught me even more about love.

Shandra and Tim, taking care of those basic needs will be as important as anything you will ever do.  You will see what love looks and smells like!  Cherish it.  Those smiles will turn into hugs and they will become genuine expressions of love returned to you.  There was a moment in my time with Mary Ann, a moment I will never forget, when during the last years, when she could still stand and still walk a short distances, that she came up to me as I was standing in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator.  I turned and she gave me some gentle kisses on the lips, something that had not happened in a very long time.  There is no prize, no honor, no amount of recognition, nothing I can imagine that could measure up to the gift she gave me in that moment.

Tim and Shandra, life will change for you more than you can ever imagine when those little people come to live with you.  Don’t worry, you will survive!  The gifts they have to give you will be beyond measure!

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Aisha’s Challenge!

Aisha’s Challenge

It is called Arthur’s Seat. It lies just outside the city center on the edge of Edinburgh. It is a little less than 1000 feet tall, but the way I went was the steeper of the options. There were stone steps for most of the steepest part. The wind was very strong even by Kansas standards. As we crossed paths on his way down and my way up, a young man warned me to take off my glasses (which I did). The wind had blown his glasses off and he was not able to retrieve them.

When she noticed that I was in Edinburgh, adventurous Aisha (Belfast and the trip to Giants Causeway) messaged me that I needed to climb Arthur’s Seat. When I was on the side of that hill and the wind was trying to make a sail of my windbreaker I had second, third and fourth thoughts about continuing. At one point when I was walking with a young fellow from Ohio, I decided to head back down and he also decided not to tackle the climb due to the wind and threatening weather. I was moving toward a gentler way down since there had been a little rock climbing on the a path we both had taken to get to that point. I looked again at the steep climb and decided to just do a little more of it. I kept doing a little more, stopping often when the wind was throwing me off balance. After a while, I just stopped thinking about it and kept going. I will admit I was very apprehensive about the climb down since past experience has revealed going down to be the more difficult task on any climb. The rain seemed to veer in away from the climb, but the wind never relented. The last hundred or so feet of the climb was a rocky promontory on which sat the stone chair. There were others there on the chair, but I did take pictures to document my accomplishment.

I did not spend time there in contemplative mode since the wind was so strong and I was concerned about negotiating the descent. On the way down, I noticed a fellow with a Chicago Bears shirt who was on the way up. We spent a few minutes making the Chicago/Northern Illinois connection. They are also flying back tomorrow, so we are going see if we can find one another.

The above was written in the hostel in Edinburgh (a very good one). At this point a conversation began with Elmar from Austria and soon included Ilora from Australia. The conversation probably lasted a couple of hours, maybe more (I lost track of time). The subjects we covered were legion, among them hostels, travel, the challenges in the world, electronics, social issues, eating habits, and however more it takes to constitute a legion. They gave me permission to use their first names (we are now Facebook friends). Elmar was in robotics, but chose something that more reflects his passion, three dimensional animation. Ilora was working for an insurance company and then came upon a small family run producer of healthful pet food, especially dogs. She agreed that being loved by dogs when they come in provides a much better quality of life than sitting at a computer all day long every day. She plans ultimately to join the Police Force. By the time our conversation was winding down, it was too late to resume writing a post. I was pretty tired after my strenuous climb in the wind earlier. I think we were all reluctant to end the conversation. That couple of hours is an example of what draws me to travel and stay in hostels.

One treat has been meeting Vincenzo who was staying in the room for six in which I slept at the hostel. He reminded me of Claudia, also from Italy, who was in the month long German class in Vienna last May. I experienced a connection with Claudia when she shared that Science is her area of study and she has a philosophical bent also. The same is so for Vincenzo. They both seem to have such a deep understanding of life in spite of the fact that they are so young. (Claudia, you are still my favorite!)

After returning from the climb earlier I went out to find the National Museum, filled with original works of art from the about the 13th century on. As has happened before, I appreciated the marvel of standing in front of paintings done by the Great Masters. The National Museum carried through to the Impressionists, but then just across from it is a the Scottish National Gallery that was exhibiting the work of three Impressionist painters. The painters were Daubigny, Monet and Van Gogh. It is a bit overwhelming to walk through rooms of original paintings by these people. Daubigny is new to me (illustrating how little I know of art history). He painted rural scenes that stirred my love for the rustic and pastoral. Apparently, he set the stage for the impressionists who would follow. The peaceful and gentle loveliness of the Monets moved me back toward contemplative mode. The passion expressed in wild strokes of Van Gogh especially in the last works before he took his own life led me to find a thin place even in a public space later when I was sitting in a beautiful park nearby.

Again, the weather was chilly outside, so I pulled out the fleece jacket and Harris tweed gloves for some Contemplative Koselig in a setting filled with sounds. Instead of judging the sounds, I just welcomed them. Noisy trains went by just barely in view down at a lower level across the park in front of me behind some trees and shrubbery. Street noises, busses and cars traveled on a street up a couple of levels and behind me. There were Buskers doing Scottish music up to the right in the open area between the museums, not quite a block away and a level above. The music, clapping of the crowd and voices of the Buskers provided a layer of sound. A group of squawking Gulls visited for a short time. Sirens sometimes intruded, but I chose to welcome them, too. Occasionally, people would walk by on the wide path in front of the benches. Their conversations were muted, but part of what was turning into a fertile medium for nourishing thoughts about my imminent return to life back home.

So, what now? Will any of what I have experienced remain, or will it drift into the deep recesses of this aging brain to return only rarely? If what has happened in the past happens after this trip, I will annoy people by talking way too much about the trip and repeating endlessly a few of the stories that stick out in my memory. I will continue doing that until I have run out of people who haven’t yet heard the stories.

Coincidentally, a couple of emails from people in the Spiritual Formation group of which I have been a part for a dozen years indicated that they had been talking about how to pause and keep the benefits of a contemplative and thoughtful way of life present in the flow of daily activity. In addition, Natalie from the group of Monklings who gathered for a week in Galway (we all loved listening to her properly English way of speaking), emailed some pages from a book called Art of Pilgrimage relating to the matter of recalling pilgrim experiences and hopes for incorporating them into life after the pilgrimage has ended. .

Lately I have been making videos of about 30 seconds to a minute or so with only ambient sounds, no spoken words. My intention is to use them as mini-retreats and incorporate them into my days. When I get home I plan to experiment with that practice. The pages that Natalie posted suggest spending time soon after returning with the memories, identifying the changes that have been triggered by the trip.

Most of the above was written on the plane back to the USA.  The couple from Chicago and I did find each other and wait together for the flight.  As I finish his post, it is a little more than 24 hours from the time of my arrival back home. I have had a good night’s sleep, and I am hoping to avoid as much jet-lag as possible. I have unpacked the backpack and put things away, the wash is done, and I have been to the grocery. I am a little surprised at the moments of self-discovery and the number of clues that hint at future possibilities that occurred on this trip. No big decisions were made concerning the future directions, but the options seem to have become a little clearer.

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Unexpected Bonus

Unexpected Bonus this Morning

I checked out early and went to the bus stop to wait for the bus to the ferry. I took some final pictures of Tobermory with the caption: I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE. Another fellow came up to wait. His name is Ian, a resident of Tobermory not much younger than I. Later he revealed that he was a tour guide and docent at the Mull Museum, full of detailed information about the area.

When the bus driver arrived and started the bus, another fellow came up and loaded some things in the luggage compartment. I recognized him as the fellow with the microscope at the computer screen when I visited the Mull Aquarium. It was not until this morning that I learned his name, Andy Tait, who on a Facebook page goes by Proffessor (Intentionally misspelled) Plankton.

Surprisingly, they had not yet met. I introduced them. That seemed odd to me since Andy was there seven months out of the year, Ian was a permanent resident, and I am just the visiting tourist. What followed was an hour long bus trip filled with information about the area, the ocean life, the birds and much more. When we arrived at the dock to take the ferry, Andy decided to treat us to a cup of coffee on the ferry. As we were boarding, Elly came running over to give Andy a big hug. She is a Ph.D. Student who did some months of fieldwork on a boat with Andy.

We formed a sort of study group as Andy and Ian just talked. Elly added to the conversation and I mostly listened and asked a few questions. I had an occasional story to add (Surprise!). One thing that became obvious quickly is that the world in which island people live is all about boats of all sorts. They knew by name all the ferries that had carried people in the last few decades, their colors and condition. Later, when we walked along the wharf in Oban, they described the purpose of each of the dozen or so boats we went by. They talked about what the equipment on those boats was used for and which of those things was harmful to the life in the ocean.

Andy appears to me to be the perfect fellow for a television series helping adults and children learn about ocean life and how to care for it. (He does not have such a series.). He has a winning smile, loves what he does, loves to kid around and has just enough of a weathered look from all that time out on the ocean to fit the part perfectly. He takes videos of whales and whatever else he sees. Many of those videos have been used by people making films and documentaries. I felt so privileged to have a couple of hours enjoying these people this morning, helping to ease my transition from Tobermory to busy Edinburgh. Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I was hungry enough to have another plate of fresh scallops from that same dockside outdoor restaurant before getting on the noon train to Edinburgh.

During the first leg of the train ride I was quiet, not trying to initiate a conversation with the woman who sat next to me. She seemed subdued, but on occasion talked with a friend of hers who was sitting in the row in front and across the aisle. After an hour or so, I finally spoke up and found out that she was from England. She and some friends had just spent time on Iona, on a retreat created by the small group. She had done on Iona what our group in Galway was there to do. The next hour was full of conversation about contemplative spirituality. She was somewhat reluctantly trying to transition from the deep internal work of the retreat to the structure and business of life back home, even though her work was enabling others in their Spiritual Formation. Our conversation served to help me during my transitional time from the peaceful and contemplative character of Tobermory to Edinburgh, from which I will fly back to the USA. As I was leaving the train car, her friend got my attention since she heard that I had done the Camino. Her brother had done it and been changed by it.

I was pleased at how smoothly the travel went from bus to ferry to the first leg of the train ride, then switching to another train in Glasgow. So far the hostel in Edinburgh seems to be a good one. It is in the City Center just a half block from the Royal Mile with many of the main attractions. The common area seems reasonably welcoming. I have had a bit of fun connecting with a group of eight or so people from Spain, helping them with a group picture. They currently live in Stuttgart since there are no jobs in Spain. Again, the Camino offered material for conversation. They are just here for a weekend visit to Edinburgh. There was another group from the Netherlands who walked through singing, offering a chance to kid with them. Those small moments of connection help me feel more comfortable in a new place.

A couple of Kids from Minnesota just registered. I heard their American English, so could easily begin a conversation. They are studying in Segovia, Spain for a semester and just on a quick break to visit Edinburgh. Jean-eve from France sat down at the table while charging a phone and we had a long conversation. He is here working on learning English, which he already speaks quite well. He had some helpful ideas for me about learning to speak German. Stacy from Japan sat down to work at the table. Jean-eve addressed her as if he had spoken to her before. After he left she shared that she is studying contemporary art mostly for pleasure rather than training for a career. It was hard for us to understand one another, but we managed to have a very interesting conversation about the role of art and its value in adding quality to life. I showed her some Rothko paintings and she showed me some installation art that was quite meaningful to her.

This evening has been another of those times when I feel a little embarrassed that others are expected to speak English along with their native language and maybe one or two other languages, when those of us from the USA is whose native language is English often only speak English. At the same time I am grateful to benefit from the common use of English.

There seem to be more middle-aged adults at this hostel than in the others at which I have stayed so far. The pattern that has emerged on this trip is staying a couple of nights in hostel alternating with a couple of nights in a hotel. That satisfies my need for community and allows recuperative solitude providing a nice balance.

I was able to obtain a bottom bunk here, so I think I will now try to get some recuperative sleep. It has been a long day.

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Beauty Bath Today

Beauty Bath, soaked in it!

At the moment I am sitting on a bench high above the hotel in a secluded spot with a stone wall behind me, surrounded by trees. The wind is blowing with gusts strong enough to produce the music of quaking leaves providing a background of sound sometimes interrupted by the squawking of gulls. I am sheltered from the wind by those same singing trees. The best part is that right in front of me just feet away is an almost perfectly shaped window. A robin just landed on the post right below that window. The window is formed by the leaves of trees on either side and the bottom. That window opens to a channel in the sea that is framed by tree covered hills in the distance. The channel goes between them for what appears to be miles winding between hills layered farther and farther into the distance defined by the moisture in the air until the mist almost filters them out of view. I have been sitting here for about forty-five minutes, unable to disengage and walk back down the hill. This is where I want to be. It is not even 5:30pm. I can stay until the need for food or the darkness bid me to leave.

I have come to trust Lawrie’s suggestions. He messaged be a couple of times today. The last one said remember to go out the door of the hotel, turn left and keep walking. That is how I found my way to this spot.

After another half hour or so, it was neither hunger nor darkness but sprinkles of rain that bid me go back to the hotel. I am now sitting in the window seat in my warm and cozy room looking out into the harbor with just a few drops of rain landing on the window.

Before leaving that mesmerizing window of tree branches, I started thinking about how much joy I was feeling. A wave of feeling undeserving of being in such a place, bathed in such beauty, came over me. Then I remembered a time over six years ago, just days after Mary Ann died. The Kids had gone home and I needed to be alone so that I could express my feelings freely. What finally broke through the shock that insulates a person from such a reality at first was seeing the spot where she sat so much of the time in the last years. The image of her, sitting slumped over in that chair horrified me. What she had suffered hit me full on. All I remember is saying over and over again through the tears, “She didn’t deserve this.” She did absolutely nothing to deserve twenty-three years of battling Parkinson’s. She didn’t deserve the indignity of losing the ability to take care of her personal needs, the ability to feed herself, the joy of cooking and quilting and all the other things that we take for granted. The truth is, she didn’t deserve it. It just happened. She dealt with it with strength and courage. She did what she could do. There was no time to waste buried in bitterness and anger, trying to find someone or something to blame.

She did not deserve what she experienced, I did not deserve the joy that came in that secluded spot moments ago. There is no need to determine credit or blame. She and I simply lived life as it came, as fully as possible. Life comes as it will. We learned to squeeze as much life as we could from whatever came. After she died, the grief was almost more than I could bear. When I started traveling soon after, I did not run away from the grief. I took it with me. I squeezed it until it gave up gifts that have helped me become more alive than ever before. Had I not moved into the grief, felt it in my gut as long as it took to move through it, I suspect I would not have found such a capacity for joy.

The whole day today has provided joy. The sun was warm and wonderful. Earlier this morning I sat out on a bench at the harbor for about a half hour in contemplative mode. Then two other fellows and I toured the Tobermory malt whiskey distillery. The Guide led us through the process in this relatively small distillery showing us each step in the process. By the time we got to the tasting it was just minutes into the afternoon. It was a little early in the day, but my full English style breakfast prepared my stomach for such an assault.

First thing this morning I checked with a small tourist office about the possibility of taking some boat tours. I really was not in the mood to go out on a long sight-seeing trip, so I felt relieved when I learned that all the boat tours were cancelled due to expected wind issues on the water. Earlier today, friend Lawrie had also reminded me about the Mull Museum. There was a wealth of information there. Robert Louis Stephenson came from here.

Then I had a very enlightening and enjoyable time meeting and talking with Kerry at the Mull Aquarium. Her face is a bright window into her passion for life and for the life that lives in the sea and all life on the planet. First of all, this is not an ordinary aquarium. It is a place where the sea life only visits for a short time and is returned home to the sea from where it came. The information is written in markers on some of the displays, since they are not permanent. As I was walking around the relatively small area of displays, I heard someone talking to a couple nearby as he sat by a computer screen. When I moved over to see what was going on, I saw that he was showing on the screen the life in a small dish beneath a microscope.  His name is Andy, sometimes called Proffessor Plankton (intentional extra f in Proffessor).  The screen revealed that the water in the dish was teeming with life. He had dipped the water out of the harbor that morning. There were little beasts that would be quite frightening if they were not so small. Some looked like monsters moving across the screen. Some had delicate fans rapidly spinning for propulsion or for moving food to mouths impossible to see even with the magnification. The fragility of that sea life that is the bottom of the food chain supplying nourishment up through the rest of the food chain was apparent on that screen. There were some tiny round particles bringing devastation to that world. They are dots of plastic. Kerry said that one single plastic soft drink bottle is made of enough of those particles to infiltrate every ocean in the world. Kerry talked about the difficulty of deciding what to do about the giant islands of trash since those islands are now used as shelter for some of the teeming life in the seas. It became apparent that great wisdom is needed to try to save the oceans.

The rest of our conversation revealed how deep is her love for Mull Island and the quality of life there. Her passion for life became apparent as she talked about the marvelous interconnection of the community and environment. Absolutely as much as possible is produced locally. The closeness of the the community allows people to connect when going elsewhere on the island, riding with one another. The bakery is right there. The meat and vegetables come to the store from elsewhere on the island. One lament was that sometimes vegetables need to be protected with the very plastic that is so devastating to the environment.

Kerry displayed an attitude toward life that I find profoundly healthy. I drew that from the way she described how she deals with the cold and rainy times when the season is over and the winter comes. Today was warm and sunny. The weekend is expected to be cool and rainy. After a moment of reflection she said that actually she would enjoy the quiet break and the excuse to do household activities. Then she started listing the things she would be doing during the winter, things she was very much looking forward to. The list was long including an Italian language study and others things that I don’t remember (they came very quickly). One about which she was very excited was working on a Pantomime. It is a stylized performance following a British tradition with certain slapstick comic elements almost always included. I mentioned the study I had read on Northern Norwegian’s ability not just to endure the dark days of winter but to enjoy them. They look forward to them. They long for winter to come. A word they use to describe the comfort of the dark winter is koselig, sometimes translated, cozy, although it is much more than that. Kerry immediately thought of a Danish word that is similar, hyggeligt.

Kerry’s approach to life is to adapt to what comes and not just to make the best of it but to celebrate it, to find and enjoy the gifts hidden in whatever it is. I realized that what she described is the way Mary Ann and I dealt with our circumstances, the way I have chosen to live the life that has been thrust upon me.

After I left the Aquarium and the stimulating conversation with Kerry, I went to the bench at which I had sat earlier in the day, put on my fleece liner and jacket, pulled out my new Harris Tweed gloves and spent an hour or so enjoying some koselig.

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Made it to Tobermory!

Made it to Tobermory

The last two days have been filled with more people to meet and beauty beyond description at every turn. Take that literally. The roads were winding and every time we came out of a curve another spectacular vista appeared. The scenes in the highlands are filled with very large lochs (lakes) miles in length and mountains on one side or the other or both, some as high as 4500 feet. When there weren’t lochs there were glens (valleys) miles long nestled between the mountains. When standing with a particularly impressive scene in front of us, shades of light and dark making good pictures impossible to take, mist defining layers of mountains into the distance, a still lake beneath, comfortable weather, expressive clouds not satisfied to be a nondescript backdrop, professional photographer, Dave and I agreed that there is no way to capture the subtleties or put them into words. Sometimes there were stately ruins declaring themselves to have had a past life, still whispering stories worthy of being told.

Yesterday, I was relegated to serve as the co-pilot to the driver/guide when he saw that I was traveling alone. I got to ride in the fold down seat in the doorway right across from Grant. I was not longing for that task. The day before I avoided that role, since it demanded counting people as they returned from each activity. I wanted no responsibility. Gratefully, yesterday there was only one seat empty, so all I had to do was count to one! There were fifteen of us. It is also a good spot to be since the view is unobstructed by the heads of other people or the backs of seats. I did however need to really pay attention. Grant sort of addressed me as a representative of the group. He enjoyed engaging us by asking us to guess what might be so about a point of history or something in the landscape. At this time in life, I often take momentary vacations from paying attention to what is going on, as well as being tired from three days in a row of getting up early for the trips. I could not tune out for a moment.

The banter was challenging but fun. He had spent six months in New Zealand when he was just out of high school (he has two children, one in high school and one in college now). When having coffee together at one point we talked about our experiences there. Of course there was the fun of getting to know some others in the group a bit. I talked with a Dad and his 10th Grade Son from Melbourne, Australia for a while. When we were walking through the ruins of a castle. I ended up talking with his son, asking about his thoughts for the future. Later his Dad joked that he would also like to know what his son’s plans are if I should find that out.

When I returned to the hostel after a small meal at a very traditional pub that Grant had recommended (pictures posted on Facebook), there were some new fellows in the room for eight. One was from Germany, one from Austria, one from South Africa, another from Lithuania and then the fellow from Portugal who had been there the night before. (The one from France and the one from Spain had checked out.) The fellow from South Africa was just out of high school and had been traveling for three months. At one point he asked if it was a problem for me staying at hostels since I am old. He tried to soften that, but it didn’t work. We had a conversation that seemed to go well as we talked about his difficulty in deciding what to do. Ginty from Lithuania is a chef (an extremely tall chef), honing his skills in preparation for going back. My time in Talinn, Estonia was helpful in making the connection with him.

This morning I left early for the train station to begin the day of train, ferry and bus riding to get to Tobermory. I did book the train last evening, but I just hoped for the best with the ferry and the bus. Other than a little confusion at the train station, all of it was easy to do and went well. I always have a bit of a sense of victory when I fight off my OCD needs for planning and preparation and manage to get where I need to go without fearing something won’t work as hoped. I am actually beginning to be relaxed about things since I have so far survived the missteps and surprises and confusion. In fact when I was walking from the end of the tour two days ago transitioning from the hotel I had checked out of that morning before the tour to the hostel, backpack on my back, I had a twinge of exhilaration, feeling utterly free and independent, no guarantees about what was coming next.

While I was waiting for the ferry in Oban, I had time to return to the dockside seafood place that has no seating other than some big wooden benches outside the counter where the food is served. It appears that the time from sea to plate is minimal. Since yesterday’s tour had included a stop in Oban, from where the ferry leaves, I had the second lunch in a row of large, absolutely fresh scallops cooked in butter and garlic. There was a sweet spicy sauce in which to dip them, a little garnish, four half-slices of bread to soak up the butter and garlic so nothing was lost, and that is all. I realized as I was walking around after I finished that I had forgotten to take a picture. Then I saw a young couple just starting their plates of scallops. Yes, I did it!! I went over and said that I realized it was crazy of me to ask, but could I take a picture of one of their plates of scallops. I explained that I had had them but forgotten to take a picture so that I could post it on Facebook for the people back home. Not only did they say yes, but she suggested that I pretend to be eating her plate of scallops so that she could take a picture of me doing so. That was way better than just posting a picture of my own plate in the first place.

Now I have made it to the place in Scotland I have most been looking forward to, the Tobermory Room in the Mishnish Hotel in Tobermory, Scotland. I have been anticipating this ever since my friend Lawrie from Canberra, Australia recommended it. He facetimed me from the room a few weeks ago when he and Heather were staying here. Heather is from Scotland. He attached pictures of the view to a message. I am now looking at that view as I write this post. This is a quaint little place with a nice restaurant below and a pub as well. I am not sure what is happening this evening, but I read that they have live music in the pub on occasion. I will take a picture of the front of the Mishnish tomorrow in hopes that the weather will be clearer. It is in a row of buildings that are painted very bright colors.

I just made a hot cup of coffee and I am now sitting in a window seat with my down filled fleece liner keeping me warm. I have not turned on the heater in the room because the chill in the room and the chilly rain outside make even a cup of instant Nescafé taste good. I am looking out at a picturesque harbor with boats moored a distance from each other, many of them sailboats.

In a little while I will go down to the pub to check it out and have something to eat. Since I had such an elegant meal at noon, albeit on a paper plate eaten with a plastic fork, I will probably make it simple. I saw on the bar menu the option of a half order of fish and chips. That and a beer would be hard to beat! It is all about the food!

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Heard my Name

Standing at Hostel Desk – Someone calls my name!

The elegant hotel in Glasgow was very nice, but I have switched to a downtown hostel. This place is about 20% of the cost of the hotel. It is huge, 9 floors. There is not the same sort of community as I found at that wonderful place in Belfast, but there are other people in my room. Antoine lives in France near St. John Pied de Port where I started the Camino. There other fellow in my room whom I have met lives in Pamplona, Spain, one of the cities along the Camino. I introduced them to one another, and they discovered that they live close to one another even though one is in France and the other Spain.

Yesterday, I had a mini-bus tour of Glasgow. Guide and Driver Tony knew so much detail about the history of Glasgow and Scotland that it was like having a field trip in a history class. There were only three of us on the tour, so he shaped the tour to our interests. Eddie and Ellen were my fellow tourists. He is an Emergency room surgeon and she has roots in Scotland. While they are now from Boston, they lived most of their lives in Louisville, KY, where Daughter Lisa, Denis and the Girls live.

At Glasgow University we visited the museum where the Salvador Dali’s original painting, Christ of St. John of the Cross. I have seen pictures and postcards showing it, but seeing the original, hearing a detailed analysis of subtleties changed the picture from two dimensions to multidimensional, from and observation to an experience. The organ there looked impressive so I returned via taxi after the tour was completed to hear the daily recital.

Today was an unusually bright and sunny day here in Scotland. I spent the day on the road with a day long mini-bus tour of the countryside including, Stirling Castle, the castle where the history that inspired the Brave Heart movie actually occurred. The history of Scotland seemed to revolve around that Castle. The scenery was so very serene and lovely. Our Driver/Guide Lauren was bright and full of life. Her love of the area (she grew up here) radiated as she provided a wealth of information about the events and history in a way that made it live for is. She had such a winning personality that it brought out the thirteen of us with her. Brian, Sami and I sort of hung together. Brian is from New York City and Sami is from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Sami is doing the sort of traveling I do. He will be spending a total of two and a half months traveling. The thought of living somewhere else in the world is not out of the question for him. He also is not really tied anywhere and is free to go wherever. Conversation with him has stirred in me the idea of spending more time in other places on the planet. It’s just a thought. I certainly would love to come back to Scotland to see more of it.

Brian and Sami and I walked around part of the shore of Loch Lomond. Brian has three children in the high school/college time in life. He is also on his own. We had lunch together and Sami and I had some Haggis. I have had it before, and liked it. This Haggis was not very appetizing. The vegetable/lamb soup and bread were great. Our group toured the Glengoyne Scotch Whiskey distillery. It included a taste of the 12 year and 18 year whiskeys.

After the tour I walked (with my big backpack) to the Eurohostel that was within fairly easy walking distance. After settling in, I went down to the desk to check on printing out a booking for me. As I was standing at the counter, I heard a voice behind me say, “Peter!” It was Opera Singer/Busker Ryan from last week at the Vagabonds Hostel in Belfast. A couple of gigs were cancelled, so he got a few days off. He decided to do some busking here in Glasgow tomorrow. I will be gone on another tour, so I won’t hear him. He listed some of the pieces he sings from opera and musical theater. Some of the most beautiful and moving pieces of music are on the list.

We spent a while talking. He had run into one of the other people who had been at the hostel and they ended up going on a couple of day tour of Skye Island. And so it goes!

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Couldn’t leave Belfast!

Busker and Opera Singer

I became so enthralled with the community at the Vagabonds Hostel, that I booked another night! I even had to change rooms they were so full. People kept coming in filling the spots of those left.

I must be one of the last people on the planet to learn that street performers are called Buskers. I learned that in Galway. New friend, Ryan, sings opera. His agent works out the arrangements and when a role comes up, he is off to do his opera thing. He also is busking here a couple of hours a day here in Belfast. He said he makes much more busking than he makes performing in the operas. I heard him for just a minute or two a couple of days ago when Kristen (who ate an onion) pulled it up while she was serving at the desk. He is very good.

Then there is Mollie, a shining light on the leading edge of creative art in the world of custom jewelry in Milwaukee. She is only 23!! She owns a business where 50 jewelers show their creations. She has been recognized through receiving many awards. I know that only because I wanted to thank her for her graciousness during the time we spent talking two days ago and I had no contact information. I googled Mollie, jewelry and Milwaukee. Among what came up about her were a couple of articles describing her history and her success. There was not a hint of self-promotion or arrogance discernible when we talked. I asked about what she did and it only came out as I kept asking more after each response. As I have mentioned so many times before, it catches me off guard when someone young is willing to engage in an open conversation with an older adult, actually listening as well as speaking.

Then there is Peter. I mentioned him earlier as the first person I met when I entered the room of twelve. We have grown to be friends. For whatever reason, in all the quick interactions what he did as a profession had not sunk in. He was there getting to get something done that is easier to do in Dublin than in Galway. He lives just outside of Galway. He is a Pharmacist. He actually spent a day working in Dublin while there to accomplish his task. We had great fun kidding with one another. There was also an Emergency Room nurse from Australia who is vivacious and energetic, totally committed to that helping profession. We talked about the challenges that come with a job that demands genuinely caring about others without taking on their problems and being disabled by them. She celebrated here birthday while there.

Aisha, opera singer/Busker Ryan and I spent the good part of a day together as he showed us the heart of the center city where his spot for busking is located. Aisha is from London and works for the government making sure that the subsidized housing is cared for properly. She is shorter than I, but a force to be reckoned with. She loved to talk about politics (UK/Ireland), social issues and cultural struggles, and she would happily take on anyone even when the subjects were prickly ones. She had booked a long tour for yesterday and wondered if I would be interested also. We spent the day from 9:30am to a little after 5pm seeing some pretty spectacular scenery at the Giants Causeway and the Rope Bridge. These places were at the ocean providing about an hour of walking up and down paths. Aisha has that same penchant for diverting from the main path whenever possible. We found a small path that broke off of the main one and led us down to the rocks at the edge of the ocean. We walked far out over large boulders until we were right at the edge of the ocean. It was a calm and peaceful place. I was very grateful to be mobile enough to indulge our wandering spirit with a relative amount of ease. I realized I need to get back at working on the balance that tends to give us trouble as we age.

A couple of guys came in from California and one of them has acted in some television shows and done voiceovers for video games. I sat next to a person from Italy whose Mother was there with her. Her Mother spoke no English, but she spoke enough for us to discover than her Mom had walked the entire Camino, just as I had. We had that conversation at the supper table. I am not sure exactly what his connection is with the hostel, but a fellow came in and cooked, Baked chicken, new potatoes, a huge pan of baked broccoli and cauliflower plus a bowl of very tasty salad, all for five quid. There were 18 or 20 of us around that table and before we began, one of the staff got us to hold hands and share a single work of their choosing, silly or serious. You can understand why I was reluctant to leave the people there, even though they were streaming through rapidly, often there for only one night.

A couple of the side effects of being in a setting filled with so many people so interesting and engaging is that I had no time to write posts and I stayed up very late talking getting to know people. I knew it made no sense to stop talking with people and sit at my Blue Tooth keyboard writing about what was going on. The other is that there are late nights with too much going on to miss by going to bed early.

Yesterday was spent getting the ticket, taking the ferry to Scotland, a bus from the ferry to the train and the train to Glasgow. The trip totaled a little over six hours. The ferry was much like the cruise ships I have been on, offering food and entertainment of all sorts. I spent much of the time standing on the deck just soaking in the setting and the experience. I enjoyed the time on the bus and train, seeing landscape. The paddocks seemed larger than in Ireland and lacked the dry stone walls. There were long rows of buildings, maybe four stories tall filled with flats (apartments). There seemed to be fewer single family homes than I remember seeing in Ireland.

I am now at an elegant hotel in Glasgow. What a change! Cloth napkins and white table cloths in the restaurant, old people everywhere, and just me, in a room with one bed! The night before there were 14 beds. I took advantage of this setting and did not stay up quite so late and I slept late. We are talking very late, about noon. I used to do that on Saturdays when going to college, and more recently when on the periodic retreats by myself to the Center in Oklahoma during the time I was working and helping Mary Ann during the nights.

I am not sure exactly how the next few days will go. This afternoon will be spent trying to work out the rest of the time in Scotland other than the last four days which are already booked. I also will try to post some pictures. As soon as I post this, I am off to get some food.

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