Thursday 02 June 2011
D-Day + 3

At Duncanby Head Light House

We slept well past dawn, which meant a reasonably early start. Mom popped over to Thurso to pick up a few things, mostly breakfast and coffee supplies. Some instant coffee had been supplied but we’re coffee snobs so Mom bought a press pot, ground coffee, and some cream. Oh, and some milk for the kids. The coffee turned out quite well and the cream (a “single cream”) was hefty. I can’t imagine what the “double cream” is like.

Sharon’s husband Morris showed up around 9AM while we were still trying to get ready for the day. We had talked about calling Sharon around that time and apparently that got mistranslated. Anyway we let Morris have coffee with more cream than usual and finally managed to get everyone ready to head out.

We all piled in Morris’ car and went off to the ruins of Sinclair Castle which is getting less ruined as restoration work proceeds. The kids actually had fun there, as they could walk through the ruins and climb on them a bit. Mom and I appreciated the grand views. One thing Alice and Charles found fascinating were the privies, which were just small rooms that hung out over the cliffs with a window and a hole in the bottom. They thought it was very interesting and funny.

My big mistake was pointing out the wool stuck on the nearby fences. It was roughly shearing time and the sheep were starting to shed, leaving clumps of wool all over their fields. The fierce winds then blow it around where it frequently gets caught on a fence, which rapidly accumulate more wool. I took a hunk off to show the kids so they could see raw wool. They were a bit too fascinated and started gathering all the wool they could find on the fences. Mom and I wouldn’t let them go running out in to the fields to gather from there. They stripped all the wool from the fences between the castle and the parking lot, then started up the road out. I went along to try to prevent them from being run over. While we were out the Earl of Caithness1 dropped by and talked with the rest of the family.

After reuiniting the family we drove over to Wick and had lunch. We had intended to meet Sharon there but we were so far behind schedule we missed her (and she’d left us her cell phone so we could call in the morning, which hadn’t worked out well).

To finish our outing we headed up to Duncanby’s Head which is the far north western tip of Scotland. We saw a light house there and walked around near sheep. Mom and I admired the views while the kids admired the sheep, collected wool, and rested. It was again a beautiful crisp day. I could have laid down in the heather and just basked for hours, but sadly I felt compelled to keep an eye on the children as they wandered near 100 foot cliff over bone chilling water.

The kids noticed that many of the sheep had big blotches of color on them. Morris told us2 that this was because the shepherd would put a vest with a marker on the ram for the flock and the ewes would be marked when he visited them. They’d change the marker color every few weeks and then use the colors as guides for when to expect lambs. Presumably it’s something easy to wash off the wool after shearing.

We visited Sharon’s house for some Loch trout caught just the day before by a friend of Morris. The kids did not, as far as I know, permanently damage the house or anything in it. Alice and Charles were impressed with Sharon’s raw wool bag which had a mound of wool larger than Charles in it.

In the evening we walked around the quarry a bit, enjoying the last of the day and staying up too late because it was still light.

P.S. Mom is starting to get withdrawal symptoms from being offline. We thought we’d find WiFi hotspots here, in restaurants or coffee shops, but so far no connectivity since we left Ireland.

1 He’s apparently well known and friendly. I mentioned that we’d missed meeting the Earl to a couple of other locals and they’d inevitably reply “Oh, Malcom”.

2 Laurie later confirmed this story as well, so it’s quite probably true.

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Wednesday 01 June 2011
D-Day + 2

Today we traveled. We woke up at 4AM local time to get to the Dublin airport for a flight to Edinburgh. Once there we picked up our rental car and headed out north, to the wilds of Scotland, chanting “on the left, on the left” as we went. Except for the roundabouts it was a mostly uneventful drive up to Inverness, although Mom had a strong tendency to be a bit too far to the left.

Our first real stop was at Daviot Wood where we used the toilets and got some tourist information. It had some very nice looking hiking trails but we were pressing to get up to our destination so we passed them by. I bought a detail map of the roads at our destination but promptly forgot about it and didn’t remember it until we were almost ready to leave. Yay.

When we reached Inverness it was around lunch time. We were just a few miles from Loch Ness and the staffer at Daviot Wood had recommended the Dores Inn on the south (less touristy because of a smaller road) side of the Loch which we decided to give a try. It was a nice drive and a very nice lunch (the maccaroni and cheese was superb). Highly recommended if you happen to be driving around near the north end of Loch Ness.

We played on the shore for a bit but the water was far too cold and choppy to go in. The kids found a playground there and had some fun. The wind was very fierce.

Corwin contemplates Loch Ness

Next was a long drive on the A9 which passes for a major road in north Scotland. It’s a narrow two lane road with traffic both ways. As we found out later it’s one of the most dangerous roads per passenger mile in the UK. We were actually stopped for an hour or so around Golspie due to an accident, which, based on the car wreckage, was very likely fatal. It didn’t really affect Mom’s driving much, as she was already about as wound up as she could get. The kids, of course, had utter faith in Mom’s driving capabilities.

After a subsequently uneventful, if long with great scenery, drive we arrived at our lodgings, a small cottage which was all ready for us. We met the owner and our friend Sharon there, both of whom had stocked the refrigerator with some essentials (e.g., coffee and milk). The cottage is just in front of an abandoned quarry which we explored a little bit. The view out the front is in to another working quarry but the views out the back are spectacular, just like a fairy tale landscape. The quarry was used to get flagstone (for which the local area was famous) and you can see examples of it in the back yard fence of the cottage.

For dinner Sharon took us to a local restaurant in Castletown where everybody knew her name for a nice dinner. Afterwards we walked down the harbor and climbed out on to a quay. We explained lichen to Alice, which comes in a variety of decorator colors up here.

Then it was off to bed for us, even though it was still light. Corwin got a room on the first floor to himself while Alice and Charles shared a larger bed up in the loft (a converted attic that was rather cramped for adults but fine for our wee ones).

Vista from the cottage

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Tuesday 31 May 2011
D-Day + 1

We had a bit of a slow morning, trying to recover from jet lag despite our lengthy constitutionals of the previous day. Charles and Alice were difficult to put down for the night and since we are all sharing one room this made things a bit difficult for everyone.

But it was now Tuesday and the museums were open. First, though, we had a large breakfast at the lodgings as it was included in the price. Mom and I thought it quite a nice repast but the kids were not quite so enthused, Alice in particular complained that things didn’t taste right (by which she meant “different”). Still we managed to get them to eat some food and thus fortified we ventured forth in to Dublin.

Along one of the streets as we walked was a large ditch or a small canal. We only saw one rowboat along the shore, but it did have locks. It wasn’t clear to me if they still worked. They would require at least three people, two to work the lock and one to move the boat.

It’s physically a rather small city, at least the center, so we were able to walk from our lodgings instead of using public transport (as our day passes had expired). We visited the National Museum of Ireland, Archeology Section. It was interesting. Mom particularly liked the bog people — the museum had several actual bodies on display (e.g. Gallagh Man). The kids seemed to enjoy some of the visit, although stopping in the museum cafe for a snack was probably their favorite thing.

Next was Dublin Castle which was nice. We stopped at the Dublin Garden (which was originally a tidal basin leading to the founding of the castle but now is a green space) for snack / lunch. A group or two of the local middle school had the same idea so there was a bunch of running and yelling kids to make ours not so obvious.

Of course, we had to do the Viking thing, which is a big deal in the British Isles. We went to Dublinia which the kids did like. They tried on some early medieval armor but it was too dark (and the kids too quick, even with armor) to get a picture. We climbed the tower for the view and because it was there. We didn’t take one of the “amphibious Viking tour vehicles”:[splash] due to time constraints.

I had hoped to get over to Phoenix Park and see the Wellington Monument but it was late and the kids were tired so we finished up with a walk through the town and along the river and then collapsed in to bed. I did notice that Dublin seemed a place where old American acts when to enjoy their golden years. We saw the Millenium Spire and boat anchors along the walkway for mooring. We also saw these small lights on the walk way which had small plastic sea creature toys embedded in them. Alice insisted I take a picture of them. We all liked the “fish head bridge”:[fishbridge] which is newest bridge in Dublin over the main river. I don’t know what it is supposed to be but it looks like an open mouth of a fish to me.

What Charles likes about visiting a museum

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Monday 30 May 2011

On the steps of our lodging in Dublin

We arrived in Dublin and got a quick start on trashing Ireland. Corwin managed to lose his water bottle during the flight. We had stories from the stewardess of it rolling back and forth under the seats in the middle of the plane (an Airbus 330-300) while Alice managed to vomit in the terminal just after we left (I missed that as I was waiting on the plane to check on the water bottle).

It took a long time to unload everyone from the plane and then customs was slow because they went from nobody in line to 300 people showing up at the same time.

Local time was early morning. After making it through customs we took various forms of transport to find our lodgings. We took a bus to a train station where we caught a local train to a stop near our lodgings. It took us a while to figure out how to get out of the station because we needed to use our tickets in turnstiles to exit — we had presumed that the turnstiles indicated an entrance. But in the end, carrying our masses of luggage, we walked a few blocks to Ariel House and they let us stay despite our disheveled state. We had to just leave our luggage there because it was only about 10:30 AM local time and we couldn’t check in until 2 PM. Mom decided the proper tonic for jetlag was a brisk walk around Dublin. We tried a museum first but it was closed on Mondays. So we went to a park and took a Trinity College tour. We saw the Book of Kells on that tour, along with a really large library, The kids found a play ground at the park which Alice and Charles greatly enjoyed. Corwin was too old.

We discovered that our debit cards let us get local currency from the ATMs. This let us have a late lunch even where they didn’t take credit cards. We dropped by a cheesemonger’s shop but the normal cheese selection in the food stores is as adventurous as we needed — the cheesemonger was much more exotic. Late afternoon we took the train back (because we had all day passes) and checked in. Then we rested and took some naps. For dinner we just got some bread and cheese, no one was very hungry. Mom and I went out for some more walking in the evening because you just can’t get enough of that.

Alice is going to be a challenge as we can’t convince her that traffic is dangerous. She is prone to becoming exuberant and dancing in to the street, or just crossing without regard to lights or cars. Even just walking can be a problem as one time she walked right in to a light post and bounced off toward the street until I grabbed her and pulled her back.

We also saw these painted outlines on almost all of the utility covers along the sidewalk and roads. Mom thinks they were for alignment but why use a tool, and why care about alignment? Maybe it’s an indicator of what tool to use. I think a team of archeologists and anthropologists, top men in the field, need to be assembled to investigate this!

Charles transport scoring — automobile, plane, double decker bus (first!), train.

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Sunday 29 May 2011
Achieving escape velocity

I spent all day yesterday preparing for our trip to the United Kingdom. Mom split her time between visiting with her old high school friend Sarah (who came in to town suddenly).

Mom has put her work in over the last couple months getting all of our travel and housing arrangements in place. The kids have mainly ignored the whole process — even today I had to press on them to get things together for the trip “we’re leaving tomorrow!” just didn’t seem to make these urgent for them.

What probably took the most time for me was just backing up all of my computers so I could leave the backups elsewhere.

Otherwise I think we’re in reasonable shape for a departure later this morning. We’ll be leaving her around noon and arriving in Dublin around 8AM local time, so we’ll just have sleep on the plane to get ready for a full day on arrival.

Update — We had an uneventful drive up to O’Hare where we arrived (as per recommendation) about 3½ hours before our flight left, giving us the opportunity to enjoy that unparalleled airport ambience. Corwin was very eager to go through security to the other side for no apparent reason — it’s not like it was any nicer there than in the main lobby.

The plane to Dublin took off and everyone evenntually passed out. I brought my laptop and the plane had eletrical outlets so Charles was able to play Minecraft for several hours before he got too tired and slept.

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Saturday 28 May 2011
Cuddle Buddies

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Friday 27 May 2011
Not for military school yet

Corwin graduated from 8th grade. There was a “promotion” ceremony at the middle school. This apparently is some legal trick because you can’t keep kids out of a graduation ceremony but a promotion ceremony is apparently completely different. Mom forced Corwin to wear his orchestra concert outfit (white dress shirt and black pants) rather than scruffy shorts and stained shirt (they’re not stained when he puts them on in the morning, but it doesn’t take long…). However, Corwin walked out with his shirt untucked so he wasn’t forced to be embarrassed by looking nice. As soon as it was over Corwin wanted to go home, so we left rather than make him endure talking to his friends.

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Thursday 26 May 2011
Hair styling

Mom: Alice how do you want your hair today?

Alice: I want a part of a pony tail so people can see my curly hair1.

Dad: I think you should make a front ponytail, right here (closes hand in front of Alice’s face).

Mom: Then everyone would see her hair.

Dad: What do you think, Alice? Great idea?

Alice: Bad idea. [consolingly] It’s not the worst idea you ever had.


1 From wearing braids yesterday and over night.

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Wednesday 25 May 2011
Fruits of the garden

The strawberries are coming in strongly. Alice has been enjoying them quite a lot. Now and then she shares part of the bounty.

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Charles and I were playing some Minecraft and discussing using certain quirks to achieve results. I was reluctant (because they were going to get fixed at some point) and Charles says “Use the bugs, Dad, use the bugs!”.

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We have the rule for historical reasons that I have to mess with Alice if she comes in my office. But I’ve been very busy lately so Alice let me deem her as having been messed with without the actual effort of doing so. A great time saver.

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Tuesday 24 May 2011
Pod boy

Corwin’s second biggest gift (the biggest being the paintball outing) was a new model iPod. Mom has been pressuring him to get a smart phone so we can keep in in constant contact and foist a calendar on him to keep him on schedule. Corwin resisted and successfully held out for an iPod which does not have constant connectivity (only WiFi while at home or a hotspot).

For the first day we thought he had wanted it only so he could play Angry Birds but he’s actually started using it for email and Facebook. He’s loaded a few other games on it. I set him up with an iTunes account1. Of course, he immediately bought some Weird Al music I have on CDs. Ah well.

1 You don’t have to provide a credit card, you can use a iTunes gift certificate. Oddly, it doesn’t get used when you create the account (even though you have to validate it). I had to enter it again to put the money in Corwin’s account. So it looks like you could buy one gift and create any number of accounts using it.

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Monday 23 May 2011

I walked over from the car to pick up Charles from soccer practice so he wouldn’t feel abandonded again. As I retrieve him, he said “hello”. One of the other kids heard this and looked up, a stunned look on his face. “Charles spoke!” he exclaimed. He told a couple of other nearby kids this exciting news and he and one of them spent the walk back saying “hi” and “hello” and “say something!” to Charles, but not another word would Charles provide.

The next time I dropped Charles off at practice, one of the kids announced to the entire group “Charles spoke at previous practice!”. The rumours continued to swirl for the next week or so, but I don’t think Charles actually spoke again in their presence.

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Sunday 22 May 2011
Birthday Paintball

For Corwin’s birthday Mom and I arranged for a paintball outing with his friends, neighbors, and their parents. We had 25 people show up which made for a fun outing. The teams were split between the 14 year olds and everyone else (the oldsters and the youngersters). The youngest person in the outing was Charles, who is now old enough to go out. We also had Ema’s younger brother, along with Jake and Levi’s younger brother.

I provided markers for Corwin, Charles, and myself but everyone else used field equipment because I would never ever have had time to prepare for that many people.

I think most people had a good time. We played limited paint, one hopper filled every two games. Most of the games were attack / defend, with a couple of elimination rounds. Corwin’s team did not do very well, with a severe lack of coordination, cooperation, and risk taking. They tended to just hunker down and try to survive, which in the bigger picture is not successful at that or winning. I was transferred over to help out, and then another father, but it wasn’t until the last game that the 14s held out for any reasonable length of time. I was taken out once hiding behind a barrier by someone who swung wide and came in behind me and I couldn’t get anyone on Corwin’s team to counter-flank The nest of them back there was eventually rooted out and exterminated but I guess they thought that was the fun part. Ah well, each his own. I should have rebalanced more vigorously.

We had a few problems with overshooting by the younger kids but tolerable. I took one nasty hit in the neck after declaring myself out. Still, not real injuries so it seems like a success. Corwin admitted it was better than having a clown and cake party.

Corwin in a bunker with two friends. Picture by Pez.

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Saturday 21 May 2011
Corwin Soccer

Corwin had his last game today. It was the second game with the opponents, this time on Corwin’s home field. The previous game had been a great game but this one wasn’t. The other team collapsed and Corwin’s team totally dominated. I thought it was going to be a tough game when very early on the opponents mounted a very strong attack just barely missing a score. But that seemed to exhaust them and it was downhill from there.

Corwin had to leave at half time for a violin recital and it was 5-1 by then. Corwin had some good defense. For some reason Corwin’s team was for once doing a generallly good job with long kicks, Corwin especially with some very nice boots dropping right in front of a teammate.

The opposing keeper had a hard job but at least once he just zoned out and let a score in. I could see he was very upset with himself afterwards. He did have quite a number of good stops but was just overwhelmed by a large number of shots on goal, including one which hit the cross post and then rolled in. I hadn’t seen anything like that since the days of games with herds of kicking players.

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Friday 20 May 2011
Live on stage

Thursday and Friday were Alice’s big nights on stage. She was in two acts, once for beginning ballet and another for acrobatics. They were relatively close together which was good for us because it meant she qualified for “quick change” and was handled by someone else instead of us to change costumes.

I went with Alice for the first night, Thursday, because that was Mom’s “volunteer” night. After watching Alice’s acts, I went to collect her but she wanted to stay in the balcony with the other kids and watch, rather than hang with Dad, so I was dismissed. Friday night Alice went with Grandma and Mom for the full performance again.

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Thursday 19 May 2011
Flowing without moving

We have been having some interesting weather this last month or so. We have had several tornado warnings, severe thunderstorm warnings, flash flood warnings, and high wind warning. The other day coming how I saw a failed funnel cloud - I could see the twisted funnel but it hadn’t fully formed and had lost contact with the ground, lying almost horizontal and dissipating. We watched the clouds for a bit and I noticed that although they seemed to be flying overhead, the storm line didn’t seem to move. I took a little video where you can see the clouds moving rapidly but new cloud forming almost as fast, yielding an almost stead state.

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Wednesday 18 May 2011
I took the fun from them

I have figured out how to get the kids to stop playing so much Minecraft — I give them chores. I have been forcing Charles to build various things for me on my Minecraft house. It took just a few days of that before I got a “that’s too much work!” out of him when I asked him to play some Minecraft. Hahahaha! Age and treacher, my boy, age and treachery.

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Tuesday 17 May 2011
Dance Dance Dance

This week is Alice’s Big Week of Dance. She’s had a couple of rehearsals which Mom covered mostly because Mom gets to a door guard. I had to pick her up one day and was sent up to the balcony to find her, which took a while because it was dark. I had to wait until a number with better stage lighting was sent out. Alice was actually watching avidly. I think it’s interesting that she’s becoming interested in dance as dance, and not just something she does herself.

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Earlier all the time

Corwin has gotten his first college recruiting letter.

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Monday 16 May 2011
Charles Soccer

Charles’ coach arranged for an extra game for Charles agains the one team they hadn’t played (who also have practice on Monday and Wednesday). It was a loss of 1-2 but it wasn’t a very good game. Charles’ team was just off and frankly should have been crushed by a much larger score. How the other team didn’t run it up to 4 or 5 goals I don’t know — Charles’ team was saved only by massive luck.

The other team was winning the vast majority of the one on ones and there was no hustle. Almost any time the ball was kicked out of the scrum the other team would get control. On the first opposing score the attacker came in solo and still managed to take three shots at the goal to score. The 4 or 5 defenders were simply unable to stop him or even just clear the ball. The girl who’s usually the best attacker kept tripping over herself. Charles was OK but more sluggish as well with a couple of big wiffs trying to kick.

The kids didn’t seem too bothered by it, especially after an end of game and season cake. Ah, the days when a good snack made everything better.

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