Friday, May 30, 2008

The New Buggy

Lately I've been thinking about getting a new buggy. We were given our current tandem double buggy last year by some friends who were leaving to go back to the US. They had purchased it for a nominal fee earlier that same year from yet another American family who was leaving. It had obviously been well-loved (euphemism for oft-used) and was just what we needed after the massive side-by-side pram/pushchair that I had gotten off Freecycle proved too bulky and unwieldy for the bus. Sadly, however, on our flight back at Christmas the chair was seriously damaged by baggage handlers (I use that term lightly because really they are baggage destroyers). Addison is not quite at the point of being able to walk the long distances necessitated by a lifestyle with out a personal vehicle, and so a single buggy is really still out of the question.

I had begun investigating sit and stand buggies, the latest innovation in double strollers when I heard of a friend who had a double umbrella stroller she was eager to get rid of. That seemed like a perfect interim solution for the summer. With two trips planned, a lightweight, compact vessel seemed the wisest option. It would at least buy me some time as I continued to investigate a more long-term solution. My friend informed me that one of the front wheels on the double umbrella stroller would come off due to a missing bolt. I was still willing to go with it. and just find a similar replacement piece at B&Q (our Home Depot). However, shortly thereafter my friend contacted me to tell me that her neighbor was also eager to get rid of her umbrella stroller, a brand new Century double pushchair with bins below the seat and a rain cover (an absolute necessity here) all in striking and stylish red. Monday she gave me the stroller and what a gift it is! So much more maneuverable than the heavy tandem we've been lugging around Aberdeen. Today it's raining so I'll probably take it for a bus test drive as we have Babies and Toddlers Group this morning at church.

I continue to be completely blown away by the goodness of God. I never even thought to pray about the stroller situation. I just set off to find a solution on my own, and He was pleased to provide once again in unexpected and abundant ways. When will I learn to set my sights high and look upward instead of inward?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Regalee Voice

Whining is the near universal phenomenon of childhood. Even as the words proceed out of my own mouth, I have vivid memories of my own mother saying, "Stop whining!" As one friend pointed out to me, however, the definition of whining for a toddler can be amorphous. She used to say to her mother, "I'm not whining. I'm crying." Ah, the fine distinction between whining and crying. To make it clear to Addison I usually say, "Stop whining. I can't understand you. Speak in a regular voice," which led to the following scene the other day.

Trey had gotten up in the morning and was being silly with Addison using a whiny, high pitched tone. Addison was having none of it. "Daddy!" he commanded with all the authority he could muster, "Speak in a regalee voice!"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Council Crisis

Photo courtesy of David Blades at flickr.

I have alluded in past posts to the financial crisis facing the city of Aberdeen. Let me fill you in a little on the details. Earlier this year, it was discovered in an audit that the Council was £50 million over budget ($100 million) for the years 2002-2007. Audit Scotland, an independent body which monitors the spending of public funds by public organizations, specifically looked into 6 suspicious real estate transactions in which property was sold by the city for significantly less than what it was worth. The dire financial situation has necessitated serious cutbacks to the tune of £27 million. Sadly, the areas most significantly affected by these cutbacks have been education, charities, and outreach programs. Schools are being closed. "Extras" like art and music are being eliminated. Facilities that cater to the homeless, developmentally disabled, and elderly have had to reduce staff size. There has been much public outrage and finger pointing. Most recently the Council's chief executive Douglas Paterson resigned his post by taking early retirement having served in that capacity for 12 years.

I have read a good deal in the local papers about the financial nightmare facing the city, but I fail to fully understand how the situation got this bad without anyone noticing. Aberdeen reminds me a bit of New York City (on a much smaller scale of course). Walking through Manhattan you will see women draped in Dior, strutting in $600 Manolo Blahniks, and dripping with Tiffany diamonds while people sleep in cardboard boxes next to steam grates. The gap between the haves and the have nots could not be more stark. And so it is here. There are areas of Aberdeen that are staggeringly posh, a Porsche and a Land Rover keeping each other company in the same driveway, while others are depressing and dodgy. As one analyst put it in a helpful article in the Scotsman entitled "What went wrong in Granite City", "It is quite a curious mixture, Aberdeen. It's within an area of high prosperity but in Aberdeen itself there are pockets of considerable deprivation and social distress every bit as bad as anything in another big city." The article goes on to point out that Aberdeen's unemployment rate at 1.5% is less than half the national average in Scotland, and the Council Tax rate is one of the highest in the nation. So how then does this mess happen? Mismanagement? Short-sightedness? Embezzlement? All of the above? Right now we are left to shake our heads in bewilderment although I have little doubt time will ultimately tell the truth. And in the meantime the sad reality is that those, such as the people in these photos from recent protests, who can least afford to bear the burden, will probably carry the lion share of it.

Photo courtesy of John Killie at flickr.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Photo courtesy of Martin Bedrock at flickr.


See to the North, where lofty hills surround,
A sister goddess hold her stately seat;
King Phoebus moderates the air around,
Nor piercing cold prevails, nor scorching heat.
Old ocean hither rolls her fruitful tide,
With fishy rivers and the pearly stone,
While frankness, mirth, and plenty here preside,
And grateful guests behavior decent own.
Ancient nobility, whose best support
Is ancient wealth, and inbred valour here
Prevail: here Justice holds her righteous court,
Honour and arts in rivalry appear.
All to this city yield, no art can paint
Her honours due; invention's stroke is faint.

John Johston's tribute to his native city.

Trey shared this wonderful poem with me this morning found in William Keith Lesk's compilation Musa Latina Aberdonensis. The editor adds his own wry comment, "The praise of the climate has not been endorsed by strangers generally."

Photo courtesy of George Bewsher on flickr.

Kirkin of the Council

One Sunday morning last May on our way into church we stumbled upon a seemingly inexplicable parade of dignified individuals robed in red with fur collars proceeding up Union Street led by a piping band. Was this for the University? What was the occasion? We asked a police officer, and he informed us that it was the City Council, which once a year processes from the Town House up to St. Nicholas Kirk for a worship service. I'm a huge fan of local events, and a few weeks ago while investigating things to do while my sister Sarah is here in June discovered that the Kirkin of the Council and Dedication to the Common Weal (translation "Blessing of the Council and Dedication to the Common Good") would be held this Sunday. We made sure this time to bring our camera. Here is the footage.


The American in me wondered if there might not be protesters along the parade route in light of the recent financial nightmare the Council has found itself in necessitating massive cutbacks and job losses. Thankfully, bypassers barely took notice, let alone objected to anything. The few cars that had made it through the parade route at the last minute and were detained for the procession to pass seemed vaguely amused at the minor delay. Most of all, though, I was struck by the collision of two apparently unlinked eras, Old Scotland meets New Aberdeen. As the parade participants passed in their traditional coverings and kilts, the event was captured for all time on countless mobile phones and digital cameras.

The Buzz

Despite their differences, some things haven't changed from older brother to younger. For example, the vacuum cleaner. Just as Addison seems to have outgrown that irrationality, Davis has come into it. The same with haircuts. It's the buzzer really. Turn it on and Davis pays it only the most cursory notice. Bring it near his head and all hell breaks loose. The tremblings and the flutterings* and the hysterics, worthy of the best Mrs. Bennett performance. A squirming little boy doesn't make for a very even haircut, so we've opted to minimize the trauma by just buzzing all the hair off in a matter of minutes...LONG minutes I might add because I get the lovely task of wrangling his flailing hands and bobbing head. In the end, however, it's nothing that a biscuit and a green spoon can't put to right.

* Ignore my obscure Pride and Prejudice reference. I quote it like some people quote The Godfather.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Monday there was a huge fire at one of the high rise flat buildings just up the road on King Street across from Seaton Park. I heard the sirens, but, not owning a TV, I was in the dark about their destination until today when I stumbled upon some photos that Trey's advisor Nick Thompson, an amateur photographer and avid flickrer (is that a word?), had taken. He lives even closer to the flats than we do and you can read his description here. The apparent cause of the blaze was electrical in nature although the Seaton area surrounding those flats is notorious for drugs, unemployment, and crime, which makes you wonder what really started the fire. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Photos courtesy of Nick in exsilio at flickr.

The Spoilers

Last night was a big night in Aberdeen. The Dons, Aberdeen's football club, were playing the Rangers in the final game of the season, and although they had no chance at the Scottish Premier League title, they were positioned to potentially spoil the chances for one of the contenders, the Rangers. Glasgow is home to the top two football clubs in Scotland, Celtic and Rangers, fierce rivals who are always wrangling for the top slot. Celtic had won the title for the past two years, and last night Aberdeen made it three in a row for them by knocking off the Rangers 2-0. The roar of the crowd, the singing, the energy in the air was unbelievable and could be heard all the way over at our house almost half a mile away. How could they get so excited over an essentially meaningless game? Ah, it meant that in their own way Aberdeen held the fate of the winner in their hands. As one police offer said to Trey when he inquired after the Dons' chances at winning, "Aberdeen can be very stingy." Who couldn't get excited about that? Trey went down to Pittodrie Stadium last night to catch a bit of the fever. Here are the compiled clips. And if I were to hazard a guess, I suspect it wasn't just athletic enthusiasm that fueled the volume level, but also a couple of pints of Tennents. Not to worry though. The police presence was unmistakable complete with cars of dogs "for crowd control" as one officer told Trey.


I wish I could share with you what the sound was like when Aberdeen scored its first goal. I was sitting at the kitchen table working, and when I heard the deafening roar I knew immediately what had happened.

The saltire of Scotland, St. Andrew's cross, dyed red, the color of the city of Aberdeen.

Pittodrie Stadium.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My OCD Confession

There is a job I hate more than any other. Changing poopy diapers? Wiping runny noses? Cleaning up barf? No, because intervening in all of those situations seems like a mercy.

What I struggle with on a daily basis, perhaps because the task is repeated at least 4 times a day, is wiping grubby hands and faces after a meal. Somehow I've decided that that mess is intentionally inflicted upon me. I thought Addison was a messy eater. Well, you ain't seen nothin' 'til you've seen Davis eat lasagna or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This week alone, I've had to toss him into the tub twice after the evening meal. It's in his hair, ears, under his neck, on his toes. Why???

And once he is sorted, then the real fun begins. Cleaning the high chair. I am so thankful that we opted to buy an all wooden chair with no fabric or padding, which makes the cleaning process much easier, but do you have any ideas how many hiding places there are on a high chair's surface for little bits of jam and sauce and tiny raisins? And you have to clean right away because dare you leave it for even an hour the stuff hardens like cement. Forget about using mortar to point a house. Just try some dried up peanut butter and jelly. It's practically the same thing.

The upside of no longer having to feed Davis is this huge mess with every meal, and for a neat nick like me, it is definitely my current cross to bear. I am convinced that God gave me boys for the very reason that I seem the least likely person in the world to have boys. I don't like loud noises. I have no interest in machines. I want things neat and tidy and in their place. My boys shatter that paradigm and somehow I think this is my breaking in process.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This morning while I was getting dressed Addison discovered the joys of spinning around and making himself dizzy. Every time he'd stop he would get this goofy, disoriented grin on his face and say, "Momma, my house is falling over."

What a refreshing, uncluttered perspective for that is indeed what it looks like.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Look, Kids, It's Big Ben!

London, here we come! In the spirit of making the most of our time here in Europe, we have decided to go to London for a 3 day family holiday in July. Before we ever came here, we had talked about traveling throughout the UK and the continent, but it is always easier with small children to stay home. It is expensive and tiring, and although we are closer now than we were back home, it still takes a lot of effort to travel. The thought of navigating large cities and public transportation with an infant and a very young toddler seemed dizzying. However, here we are with a 3 year old and 1 year old. No one is breastfeeding. Only one is in diapers. It seems much more manageable. And so in an effort to take full advantage of this adventure, we have booked another trip. We fly down to London Luton on July 21st, and we will be staying 3 nights in a youth hostel across the street from St. Paul's Cathedral! My mother had mentioned that many youth hostels offer private family rooms, and this one did for a fraction of what you would normally pay at the height of summer tourist season in the middle of London. I have never been to that great city. Scratch that. I have been to London via her airports, and it would be a tragedy to allow my only interaction with the capital city to be Heathrow and Gatwick, as lovely as those facilities are (do I sound sarcastic?). Besides our airport stays, Trey has been to London once, more than 15 years ago. It seems high time to return. Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, the number of sights to see is a bit overwhelming, the good kind.

This time we really outdid ourselves. If Geneva falls 7th on the list of world's most expensive cities, London is 2nd, behind only Moscow. I've always said Trey has a rich man's taste on a poor man's budget.

Oblate Mary and Father Maurus

Oblate Mary looked like any other elderly Scottish woman, puffy white hair, tweed skirt with thick tan stockings and comfortable black Naturalizers, but upon further acquaintance she proved to be anything but ordinary. She was full of stories about the area, her childhood, Scotland. Behind the traditional costume was a lay woman who had dedicated her life to God, taking an oath to follow in the rules of St. Benedict, prayer, study, and work. Oblates live in close community with the Abbey, and Mary informed me that each year she receives the privilege of staying on two separate occasions at St. Scholastica's. I'm not sure why it is limited to only two, but so you have it. You could see the sheer delight on her face as she spoke about Pluscarden and the place it plays in her life. She had been a school teacher many years ago in a small Highland community, the name of which now escapes me. All of her family has passed on except her sister who lives down in England and whom she sees but once a year. She doesn't bother with air travel anymore since 9/11 with the long security queues and other headaches. Instead she'll take buses and trains. We asked her how far the walk from Pluscarden into Elgin was and she informed us that once a few years ago she had found herself without a lift from the Abbey back to town and decided since it was such a lovely day to make the walk herself, a woman in her 80s. Mary said the weather in these parts used to be quite different, much more extreme, a fact substantiated by other older Scots I've spoken with. She said that as a little girl she can remember opening the door and the snow being piled up on either side 5 feet high. She grew up in Edinburgh, a city which she says has changed dramatically from the time she was there. I tried to find out what she meant but best I can tell it has become too touristy for her. It's hard to know if these are the hazy, golden memories of age or reality. Nevertheless, the stories were captivating.

One of the most interesting stories Mary shared with us regarded an elderly monk, Father Maurus, one of the original re-founders of the monastery in 1948. I had read a little about him before coming to Pluscarden as I had investigated the Abbey further. Three years ago on May 12th the aged man had gone on his regular daily walk. His mental clarity had dimmed with the years and his hearing and most of his eyesight were quite poor, but he'd always returned from his beloved walks before. This time, however, he didn't. Hours passed and the monks became worried. The authorities were called in and the area was searched by sniffer dogs, helicopters, people on foot. Mary said they covered a radius of 12 miles without finding so much as a trace of him. It is hard to imagine a man in his 90s traveling more than 12 miles by himself in just a few short hours. How then did he manage to disappear so completely? Mary had formulated her own opinion on the matter. She seemed fairly certain that he had been hit by a motorist who had then put him in the car boot and driven off. To me it sounded a bit like Enoch, "Enoch walked with God, and he was not for God took him." (Genesis 5.24) Who's to say such things still can't happen?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Davis at Play

For the longest time I labored under the false impression that my boys would be cookie cutters of one another. The reality couldn't prove more different. In almost every way from appearance to personality Davis and Addison are unique individuals. It has been both a challenge and a pleasure to wrap my head around this fact, something I am still very much learning to do.

One of Davis's sweetest traits is his incredible ability to play by himself in a fairly advanced way for his age. He figures toys out quickly and uses them in the proper way. He makes car and train noises, flattening his body on the ground to get an eye-level view of his playing surface. He flies planes in the air complete with sound effects. The other day I caught him "reading", literally flipping through a book page-by-page (he never rips the pages, unlike someone else I know) and babbling in his own mysterious language. Never mind he held the book a mere inch from his nose.

Here are a couple of examples so you can see exactly what I mean.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Bug's Life...and Death

Do you see that dot? No? Let me zoom in a little closer.

Now do you see it? Yes, that's a tiny little spider, which inspired such terror in Addison that his cruel parents had to tape the saga and post it on the internet. Actually, it was the second time today that he lost the plot over an itty-bitty bug. Not much has changed since the fly days, and we still find it every bit amusing. We're so mean.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Peace of Pluscarden

Visiting Pluscarden Abbey was a little like stepping into an alternate universe, one which co-exists with our hectic, modern world but in no way resembles it. From the serene silence of the ivory clad monks to the reverberating echoes of the Cathedral, there was a stillness and peace evoked by more than just the word pax on the front gates. The surrounding countryside was in full bloom, the color of its green fields just beginning to deepen as wild flowers poked their little heads out into the dazzling, unpolluted sunshine of northeast Scotland.

We arrived at the Abbey just as Vespers had started, and so we slipped into the Public Chapel entrance to watch the service. The whole Cathedral was perfumed with the heavy odor of incense. The mournful chanting of the monks filled the high spaces of the Cathedral with a sound so beautifully simple it completely captivated our attention even if the Latin escaped us. The following day we sat in on Sext (the service conducted at the sixth hour, noon), and I secretly videoed part of the singing and the bell ringing. The video portion is difficult to see, so instead, I extracted the audio and selected my favorite photos to accompany it.


After Vespers we found our chaperon for the weekend, Oblate Mary. She took us to our boarding house, Saint Scholastica's, where we received our room assignment.

Mine was St. Clare.


Once we were situated in our rooms, we set about preparing dinner. The highlight of the meal, for me, was singing the Doxology before we ate, so many women with different backgrounds and accents united in praise of our God. The rest of the weekend was spent talking, drinking coffee, knitting, walking, praying, and meditating on God's Word.

There is far more to tell than can be relayed in a methodical blow-by-blow account of the passing time. Some of it is quite colorful, Brother Matthew, our tour guide, and Oblate Mary, who was never in short supply of stories, including the tale of the strange disappearance of Father Maurus three years ago this past Monday. They merit their own entry. Here are a few photos that make me smile, not for their artistic beauty, but for what they represent, that other world which we became a part of if only for a day.

The room assignment board, each room named for the following Saints: Mildred, Teresa, Monica, Catherine, Fortunata, Hildegarde, Clare, Francesca, Hilda, Gabriella, Gertrude, and Margaret.

The closest photo I was able to capture of one of the many male pheasants roaming free in the fields.

If you have spent any amount of time in the UK, you get why this sign is funny. Only here...

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Latin for sale at the Abbey Shop.

Our lovely band of women. The rest of the photos are in the Pluscarden Abbey album.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Mommastary

I got back from Pluscarden Abbey Saturday evening around 6pm. On my way home I called to see how everyone was doing, and Trey told me that Addison kept saying I was away at the mommastary. I laughed very heartily at that. Here is a slideshow of the pictures I took at the Abbey. I promise a full account of the retreat as well as some video I managed to surreptitiously record of one of the services, but in the meantime I have to catch up on things around here. However, I will fill you in on all the glorious details in the next few days. Suffice it to say that the weather was picture perfect and was the warmest I have experienced since moving to the UK. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Where Are the Clouds?

Yesterday morning Addison and I were admiring the clear view out our bay window when he asked me, "Mama, where are the clouds?" Each day for the past week straight has been more beautiful than the one before, and for two whole days now we have had not one single cloud flutter by. People hardly know what to do with this kind of weather. Trey overheard students up at campus talking about how hot it was (we're topping out in the low 60s), which just makes me giggle. Everyone is in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. Folks are sprawled out on the sand at the beach or on blankets in the parks sunbathing (and burning their pasty-white Scottish skin I might add). Me? I'm off this afternoon to Pluscarden Abbey with the book group. We couldn't have asked for more exquisite weather. I've cleared the camera of all pictures and videos and hope to take a boat load while I'm gone.

The Promenade along the North Sea.

The King's Links Golf Course.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Glory Concealed

Although "medically" necessary, it's been hard these past few months to have our lovely view taken away. The Crown Tower is now completely enshrouded in scaffolding, and I thought a pictorial update was in order. This is what the view from our front garden looks like right now.

A closer view.

The scaffolding from the inside of the King's quad.

Some pictures they have posted of the restoration work.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Magic of May

When air warms, it smells different. Every puff of breeze carries the sweet scent of mown grass or the salty tang of the sea. I had forgotten this because we so rarely get temperatures that even reach 60. For the past week we've had day after day of sunny, mild weather. Trey just finished another chapter, so between that exhaustion and a cold that he can't seem to shake, he was in desperate need of some lovely outdoor time off. We all headed up to the Don River, the northern perimeter of the city, and then traced our way along the River to its marriage point with the North Sea. Rarely will such an open place be still and calm, but Monday it was. Hardly any trace of wind. Here are some pictures and video so you too can taste the magic of May.

Daffodils next to the King's Links Golf Course.

Sea grass by the River Don.

Mama, Addison, and D in the buggy.

The North Sea.

The Bridge of Don in the distance.

Daddy with the boys in front of the North Sea.


Monday, May 5, 2008


The trip is booked and we can hardly wait. August 18th we are traveling as a family to Geneva, Switzerland for 5 nights thanks to the US economic stimulus package, which we are using to stimulate the Genevan economy! We found an adorable and unbelievably reasonable hotel run as part of the Salvation Army right in the very heart of the city just blocks from Cath├ędrale de St-Pierre, Jet d'eau (water fountain pictured above), and the Wall of Reformation (a Presbyterian's Mount Rushmore, if you will, seen below). The boys are getting to an age where it's a little easier to travel with them, and we have often said that it would be such a shame to come all this way and never make it to the continent. After much discussion over where we should go we decided upon Geneva. How could we not? Trey is a Reformation scholar, a tradition we both hold very dear. It is the city of Calvin, and Andrew Melville, the man Trey is doing his dissertation on, spent five years there as well. Not to mention neither of us has been to Switzerland, and it is supposed to be an amazingly beautiful place.

As I started to research the trip, I gasped. Hotel prices were unbelievable. Well, no wonder. Geneva is the 7th costliest city in the world ahead of New York, Singapore, and Paris. Average hotel rooms were running $500 a night. Thankfully, we found this little gem of a place to stay with very good reviews even if it isn't the most luxurious accommodations in town. However, it comes with breakfast and the location is incredible. We're hoping to hire a car for one of the days and either drive into France or go explore the Alps. Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Donald Comes to Scotia

Menie Dunes, Balmedie

Donald Trump was born of Scottish blood (his mother is from the Isle of Lewis), and wouldn't you know it, he has purchased a swath of beachfront property a few miles north of Aberdeen, the Menie Dunes of Balmedie, intending to erect a golf resort which will hopefully tap into that booming industry of which 65% is generated by American tourists. Every fiber in my body revolts even though I know this will bring economic boom and prosperity to the region. I think it's caused by vivid memories of the garish Atlantic City lights in my native Jersey. In all fairness, I know that Trump International Golf Links Scotland will be done more tastefully, but still. His brashness, arrogance, and that hair!

Not surprisingly, Trump's proposed golf course has come with its own fair share of controversy. You can read all about it in this Vanity Fair article from their May issue, which delineates the obstacles from first acquiring to then developing the site. A single holdout, Michael Forbes, has staged a David and Goliath standoff flatly refusing to sell his bit of land and asking the Trump people and curious media just to leave him alone. Even working around Forbes's property, Trump still faces an uphill battle as the site is classified SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), a UK designation for an ecologically protected area. The environmental agency, Scottish Wildlife Trust, has opposed Trump's plans at every turn citing the irreparable impact development will have on the broader eco system. Trump has overwhelming local support, however, and so the inquiry to be conducted by the cash-strapped Aberdeen City Council (more on that in a future blog) scheduled for June 10th seems merely a formality. In all likelihood, Trump will get to build his resort with some concessions to the SWT. Surely for the £1 billion proposed, they can figure something out. The latest buzz, just out today, is that Trump himself is required to appear and give evidence before the Council. What's next? "The Apprentice: Aberdeen Edition"?

In the meantime, I just chuckle to myself at the thought of the haar rolling in during the middle of summer at the height of tourist season, confused golfers searching in vain for their balls and tees, Trump learning the hard way that some things aren't controlled by money, like Scottish weather.