Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Twas the first day of the new year and what should I see...but a blog post uploaded by procrastinating me!

For the first time in many years, I have set out goals for this new year.  I have spent part of the day working on them, too.  From an email inbox of more than 8,000 items (yes, you read that right), I have honed it down to about 10% of that.  Yes, there are more to go, but now it feels more manageable.  Probably because it is...  I will soon be turning my attention to the desk and attempting to whip it into shape.  

Last night was my third Hogmanay.  I decided that there did not need to be 75,001 on Princes Street in Edinburgh, so stayed home where it was warm and quiet.  I missed my cousins Jerry and Mary Hilton, who had been with me last year.  Instead, it was calm with Asher (now 14 years old -- my little old man), Anna (three years with me now), Timothy, and Coco, who experienced her first new year in the house.

So what is on the list of goals for the year?  The usual -- exercise.  Following FLYLady.  Being more organised.  

Then the less usual -- my third MoonWalk in June.  Scheduling holidays (I haven't been very good about that).  Perhaps most significant, writing at least 15 minutes a day.  What I hope will happen with the last one is twofold -- more frequent blog posts and the recording of some  of the stories that many of you have encouraged me to write down.  While I am not yet convinced I have interesting things to say, I am game if you are.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It Comes in Threes

They -- whoever "they" are -- say that all things come in threes.  "They" don't specify which of the "all things" they mean.  Still, three is appropriate for this month when it comes to the Odyssey.

Three years ago today, I boarded a plane for Edinburgh.  Armed with my passport, copies of what I had submitted to the Church of Scotland Ministries Council, and a large cup of coffee, I was headed to my interview with the Church Assessors.  These fearsome people would decide whether or not I would go any further in pursuing the dream I had.

I was to meet with three people.  Two were to be the actual Assessors. One would be the Psychologist, who (presumably) would assure the others that I was not an axe murderer in a clergy collar, something I was not accustomed to wearing, in any case.  Turns out they weren't nearly as fearsome as I had feared.  I was thankful at least three times over.

Well, (rather obviously) they said yes to my request.  I have lived in three accommodations now -- two flats and one manse.  My three pets agree that the manse is best because it has a huge yard (garden, for my UK friends) to roam in.  I have planted three blackberry bushes (brambles, again for my UK friends) which will bear fruit sometime in 2013.  

I have been through three (okay, 2.5, since this one isn't quite over yet -- but who's counting) winters.  Two of them were nasty.  This one hasn't been so bad.

And since you are probably now tired of my milking the number 3 for this post, I will simply add a picture of a double rainbow, taken last summer on Schiehallion and let it rest.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Few Things About 2011 -- Part 2

So, there was a whole other half of 2011 that I suppose I should share with you.  There were a lot of funerals, of course.  That goes without saying -- but if I don't mention it and chuckle about it, I will never survive it all.

On top of Schiehallion 
The first shot in Durness (recreated for posterity)
In the second half of the year, I:
  • Bagged my first munro -- Schiehallion.  Now, for those of you uninitiated in these things, a munro is any Scottish peak over an elevation of 3,000 feet.  My friend Muriel and I had tried it earlier in the year, but were deterred by snow about half-way up.  The second attempt was successful, however, and we viewed an awesome vista from the top.
  • Went to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  What a sight!  It is an incredible show celebrating the Armed Forces of Great Britain around the world and their history.  Pageantry, music (you haven't heard anything until you have heard bagpipes with a Brazilian flavor to them), sentiment, fireworks -- if ever you have the opportunity, this alone is worth a trip to Scotland.  Unless you also want to taste a deep-fried Mars Bar...
  • Began learning the game of golf.  Yes, I who am generally not an athlete am learning how to hit a tiny ball with a metal stick with the hope of making it go the way I want it to go.  If you don't mind the somewhat blue language, take a look at Robin Williams' description of the origins of golf -- too accurate for words.
  • Went with a group of new friends to Durness, which is way up in the northwest of the country.  I actually hit my first golf ball on a course (as opposed to a driving range) and got some pictures of a barren, beautiful area of the land.  I had not thought before coming to this place that any landscape without trees could be considered beautiful, but there is a hauntingly lovely quality here that rather defies description.
  • Did more funerals.
  • Visited the Isle of Arran on an absolutely perfect, sunny day -- which is unusual in Scotland.
  • Walked on the "sacred ground" of St. Andrews Old Course.  Who knew that you could do that on a Sunday afternoon?  Because it is a publicly owned course, they close it for golf on Sundays and anyone who wants to have a picnic or a walk there can do it.  
  • Baptized babies!
  • Saw Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham in concert -- more than worth the price of admission.  They were celebrating their 25th anniversary of making music together, which means that they know each other well enough to know all the good stuff.
  • Welcomed my cousins Jerry and Mary Hilton for a visit just after Christmas.  We couldn't remember how long it had been since we had seen each other, so had a wonderful week of getting reacquainted.  
  • Decided it is time to sell my house in Georgia.  I hope this is more successful than it has been in the past.  Even if the day comes when I move back to America, I want to live in a ranch-style house so that my short-legged dogs don't have to worry about steps.  Yes, I will buy a house based on my dogs....
And that brings us to the new year of 2012.  Now you know.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Few Things About 2011 -- Part 1

It seems a good time to say a few things more about 2011.  It was a fairly eventful year.

A few of those things.....

  • The enormous snow finally melted.  I don't remember when it did, because it took a while.  While it tried to go away, I went to Georgia and Missouri and brought back the warm clothes I had left behind, which was good, because it snowed while I was there.  They make me happy....
  • And on the way to the airport home, I fell and hurt my ankle, damaging a tendon that is in -between my foot and ankle bones.  It isn't an easy place to injure, but I did it.
  • I turned 50.  Still trying to figure out how I am supposed to act and look at this prestigious age.
  • I passed my UK driving test and am now a fully licensed driver.  They do not make it easy, by the way.
  • The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in May and I was a commissioner.  Some difficult decisions were made.  I was glad I could be part of it.
  • My cousin Jo Hilton and her husband Scott came to visit!!
  • In June, I participated in the Edinburgh Moonwalk, a 26.2 mile overnight walk to benefit breast cancer research.  I made it!!!  The picture at the top of the blog was taken while I was out on a training walk.  And....I raised just over £1,000 ($1,500) for the night. The picture you see is on the night of the Moonwalk.  We all wore our bras.
  • I visited Dumfries and Galloway for a break, taking Asher and Anna along, going to Whithorn (the home of St. Ninian) and Wigtown (Scotland's Book Town).
That gets us through June.  It was a busy first half of the year.  I will check my calendar now and see what I can tell you about in the second half!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back Again

Yes, yes, yes.  I know.  I know.  I have been reminded several times of late that I have not posted for a while.  Well, okay -- it has been a year and two days.  That is a bit long between posts, so one of my resolutions for this year is to post at least once a month.  How does that sound?

This year has started off in a rather lovely manner.  My cousins Jerry and Mary Hilton are spending a few days with me (Jerry's dad and mine were first cousins).  They are experiencing a Scottish winter so that when they go home to Wimberley, Texas, they will appreciate the heat there even more.  After worship yesterday, we took a driving tour of the Winchburgh, Kingscavil and Abercorn areas of West Lothian before winding our way down to the Corstorphine area of Edinburgh.  Those of you who have read my previous posts will know that these are the places I served during my year of familiarization.

Today we ventured in a northerly direction, to Stirling.  The castle awaited our presence in the wind and rain (and nearly snow).    It was my first chance to see the refurbished palace area and wow!  It is marvelous -- a definite must-see if you want to get a sense of royal living in the 17th Century.

2011 ended with a quiet night for us all.  We had thought about going into Edinburgh for the Hogmanay festivities, but decided that we were old enough to know better than to stand out in cold rain.  Yeah -- that's what we will call it -- old enough to know better.

So what is it like in Armadale now?  We have managed to avoid the depth of snow that we had at the end of 2010.  A couple of flurries have come in, but they have disappeared.  I had ten baptisms, three weddings, and more than 50 funerals (I think it was 56, but I haven't done the final count).  The balance is still a bit off there, but it is life in Armadale Parish.  The most difficult funeral I have had was a 21 year old woman who had a six-week-old baby.  There are no answers to the painful questions that arise from this kind of situation, no words to say that can adequately plumb or assuage the depths of the pain.  One can only walk alongside and offer a hand or a shoulder.  

What does this year bring?  Who knows?  Whatever it is, the adventure will continue.  My brother and sister-in-law will visit in the summertime and I am already excited about that.  In between now and then, I am sure that I will continue to "match'em, hatch'em, and dispatch'em," as I have heard it said through many years.  We will hope for a heavier concentration of the first two.....

Friday, December 31, 2010

Let's Go Out....with a Blaze of Glory

December 31.  How in the world did we get to the end of 2010 already?  I don't know about that, but I do know this -- I am ending this year with three funerals and one wedding.  Not quite a movie, but close enough, I suppose.  

This has been an eventful year.  I have served three different parishes in the space of 2010.  Just a year ago, I was nearing the end of my familiarization time with St. Anne's Parish Church in Edinburgh.  In February, I began the next bit of that work with the Abercorn Parish Church linked with the Pardovan, Kingscavil, and Winchburgh Parish.  THEN, on August 1, I preached for and received a call from the Armadale Parish  Church, where I began my ministry on September 1 (after moving into the manse on August 12).  Since then, I have celebrated one baptism, solemnized one marriage, and officiated at 21 funerals.  Hmmm -- no wonder I feel a wee bit weary!

The role of parish minister is different from any I have had before.  Because I am responsible for a geographical area, anyone living within that area can call on me for pastoral services, usually weddings and funerals.  I have also been part of the school life here in the two Primary Schools and the Secondary School.  If the parish minister role was something new, then the opportunity to talk about faith with students IN THE SCHOOL is even more out of my realm of experience.  When I mention to teachers that this is something I would never have the opportunity to do in America, I get blank yet astonished looks in return.  It is such an integrated part of their way of thinking -- that children should be taught about faith (not just Christianity) so that later in life they know what they are choosing -- that they cannot imagine not having it in the schools.

I will say that my first winter here has been made more notable because of all the snow we have had.  I think we had 28 inches on the ground at one time.  Asher and Anna are a mere 8.5 inches high at the shoulders.  They were not amused.  I shoveled a path for them, then Asher figured out that he could stay right by the side of the house and get a good way around it.  He doesn't much care for taking walks in the cold -- but at the age of 12, I suppose he has good reason.  Anna would run anywhere.  Timothy prefers being by the fire.  Then again, he is a cat.  They say that this has been the worst winter since 1962 or so.  And they had to save it until I got here....

As I end this year here, I can't help but think about some of the things I have learned....

  • Soup is good, and even better when it is homemade and someone brings it to you.
  • Sweeties (candies and cookies -- aka biscuits) are ever-present and home-bakes are the best.
  • You must always prepare for the worst weather, even if the day looks sunny when you leave the house.
  • Warm snow boots are essential.
  • An umbrella is even more essential.
  • Sunglasses and umbrellas go together.
  • In theory, Americans and Scots speak the same language.  In reality, not so much.
  • There are a lot of different Scottish accents, but even here they can't understand people from Aberdeen.
  • Gas fires are incredible on long, cold winter nights. You turn them on, then turn them off.
  • Short-legged, long-haired dogs are seriously not feasible for muddy terrain -- unless you like bathing them a lot.
  • Hat hair is inevitable in the winter.  Soggy hair is generally inevitable in the summer.
  • Kilts on men are....well, what can I say?
  • It is possible to go a lot of places on foot or by public transport here.  It isn't always convenient, but it can be done.
  • The English are still suspect.
  • Riding in a hearse is really quite comfortable -- as long as you are in the front seat.

I am preparing for my first trip back to the USA next week.  It is the first such sojourn since I arrived here on July 24, 2009.  I can't help but wonder how I have changed and how it will be evident when I get there.  What I know is this -- the odyssey that began in my heart in 2003 and became a reality in 2009 is continuing.  People here ask why I came to Armadale, a very unlikely destination for an American immigrant.  All I can say is that I am home.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Yankee Doodle Came to Town

Each weekday afternoon at 5:00 p.m., I hear the tinny yet cheery strains of "Yankee Doodle" coming down Mount Pleasant.  That is the signal for the children to come out because THAT is the tune attached to the ice cream truck.  Oh, and it comes at 6:00 on the weekends.

The first time I heard the truck coming, it rather took me aback.  It seems so odd to hear that tune  floating up a small street in Scotland -- perhaps because I am (to many Brits) a Yank, which is a more generic term for Americans here than it is in Georgia, where I was decidedly not a Yank.

Still, there is some truth in the song title, because I have come to town.  While I don't wear a feather in my hat -- I don't much care for hats, except in bitter cold weather --  I do have good lips and know how to wear my lipstick.  This has not escaped the notice of the ladies and girls of Armadale.  

We celebrated Communion yesterday, formally at the morning service and less formally at the monthly evening service.  While I followed the general form for the Lord's Supper in the Church of Scotland, I also used bits that I brought with me from the States.  In the Presbyterian Church USA, as in many other denominations, this was observed as World Communion Sunday, the Sunday in which we note that churches around the world all observe communion at the same time.  

Odd thing -- that concept had not been heard of in Armadale.  Nor was it anywhere mentioned in any of the Church of Scotland information I viewed during the week.  It would seem that World Communion Sunday may not be as "world" as I had always thought.  Still, we shared in the Supper yesterday and because Yankee Doodle had come to Armadale, the good folks of this town are now part of the tradition.  We sang "I Come with Joy," a more recent hymn that truly rejoices in the family meal.  This was, from many reports, the first time that this church had experienced a celebratory Communion as opposed to a funerary one.  

It was just after the evening service, as I was greeting participants at the door, that one lady went out saying, "Well, that was different."  I had to laugh, because when I say that, I know that I have not yet made up my mind whether or not I liked something.  I have a strong suspicion that it probably meant all of that and perhaps more.  Still, it was a good evening, a good day.  And around the world, the faithful are celebrating communion with one another this Monday, whether we are around a table or not.