Friday, December 31, 2010


"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” (Bill Vaughn)

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” (Seneca)

2010 has been the most interesting year of my life. The first six months were spent chomping at the bit to get the hell out of Dodge and start my new life in Scotland. Then came visa woes, then a last minute arrival in Aberdeen, followed by culture shock, studying hard and learning plenty. In November I met someone special. For those of you who haven’t already heard me gush, his name is Paul and he’s lovely. (He also reads this blog so I can’t gossip too much!) I end the year surrounded by family and friends and with time for a bit of serious reflection. It’s time for that annual deep question: What am I resolved to accomplish in the new year?

My New Year’s Resolution is this: Be present. The Buddhists I know will recognize the difficulty in this. The rest of you are probably asking “how could you be anywhere else?” I say to you that we Americans excel at just that - constantly being somewhere else. If we’re in a meeting, we’re really making a grocery or to-do list. If we’re driving the car, we’re at home in our minds preparing dinner. If we’re at dinner with family or friends, even then we’re often thinking of everything undone that we still need to accomplish. So my goal is to be exactly where I am at least once a day. Right now I am sipping ice water and writing a blog. Later I’ll be drinking champagne and toasting 2011. I’m going to try to actually be there drinking the champagne and toasting 2011 instead of stressing out about my unfinished literature review due in 2 weeks. See the challenge?

Another resolution, one I share with Paul, is to see more of Scotland! “Finally!” you say, “I was wondering when she was going to post some pictures of Scotland in this blog about Scotland!” I hope to see a bit more of the countryside, castles, coastline and maybe a whiskey distillery. This is a resolution worth keeping!

What are your goals for 2011? I think the top of your list should be “visit Kimberly in Scotland!” I’d love to welcome any of you. Come on over any time!

The song of the day is “The old yeare now away is fled” a 16th century English tune, performed here by the Texas Early Music Project, a fantastic choir in Austin which performs old European music. I just picked up their holiday cd and I’m addicted.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Dear Family and Friends:

In the hurry to finish essays for school and fly to Texas I did not get a chance to send paper holiday cards this year. I ask your forgiveness and offer this holiday blog greeting instead!

Winter hit Aberdeen hard at the end of November and I have never in my life seen so much snow! Of course, considering it’s only snowed a handful of times during my life in Texas, that’s not saying much. Airports have been shut down and motorways are crawling. The first snowstorm saw roads full of abandoned cars and lorries (trucks), effectively crippling transportation in Scotland for a week. I’m blessed to say that I escaped before the second storm hit and I am now safely in Texas and enjoying the 70 degree sunshine.

School has been exciting but also more challenging than ever before. I’ve always managed good grades in the past with minimal effort but I’m actually having to work this time! I’m definitely learning more than ever. My term doesn’t end until January 17th so I am working on a major paper over the holiday break. It’s strange being back in Texas. I’m driving for the first time in 3 months and while the freedom of the open road has its allure, I’m finding the distances feel longer and the time spent driving tires me more than it did before. Now that I live a city-center walking lifestyle, all of this car travel seems exhausting. I’m also noticing how much space we have in the US. Roads have several lanes. Two people in a restaurant will be seated in a giant booth that would seat six in the UK. Elevators are extremely roomy. I suppose everything really is bigger in Texas.

I’m taking some time to reflect on the changes happening in my life and trying to enjoy every moment. This has been a year of tremendous ups and downs and at the end of it I feel exhausted, exhilarated, and grateful for all the love you’ve shared with me this year. I hope the New Year brings you blessings sought and a few good surprises. May you rise to any challenge and find joy in the small things.

All my love,


Photo: University of Aberdeen sports field in the snow

Song of the Day: Gabriel’s Message by Sting – a hauntingly beautiful tune I’ve just discovered on his holiday album

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Highs, Lows, Castles and Whiskey

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”

Kahlil Gibran

The last couple of weeks have brought highs and lows. Caitlin and I had a wonderful time exploring Aberdeen. She got to know some of my university friends and gave me her official consent to go on living here. The day after she arrived, we went to my classmate Jan’s house for an English Sunday lunch. Jan, her husband Pete and daughter Jennie (who is my age and my fabulous new friend) fed us a huge lunch of roast pork and stuffing and more wine than I’ve ever consumed in one sitting.

My friend Laurie took us to a concert where her boyfriend was playing last Saturday night and we topped off the evening with a 2am trip to the famous pie shop. If you live in Aberdeen and you’ve had a “night out,” your presence is required at Thain’s pie shop in George Street, where they sell savory pies full of things like macaroni, lasagna, or pork. I had been a little skeptical about the notion of encasing pasta inside a pastry, but the lasagna pie did not disappoint. Perhaps it was the time of night or maybe I’m a real Aberdonian now!

We also visited Dunottar Castle in Stonehaven, a few miles south of Aberdeen. The castle is perhaps the most picturesque in Scotland, situated on a rocky cliff and complete with a soundscape of crashing waves and keening seagulls. Intermittent rain showers created dozens of rainbows and we could only stare in wonder as pictures do no justice to the scene. (Caitlin did take several photos and I’ve included them here.) After spending some cold, rainy hours on the cliff we came to understand why the people of Scotland refer to whiskey as “the water of life.” I’d never liked it until that day. When you are cold and wet and shivering, it warms you up better than an electric blanket. My parents used to say I would learn to like beer after spending several hours doing manual labor in 100 degree heat. The opposite is true for whiskey. Experience a winter here and you’ll be buying stock in Glenfiddich.

Caitlin left Monday and I immediately came down with the flu. This could be related to our hour-long trek through ankle-deep snow to get home on Saturday, or just because everyone here seems to be sick at the moment. This afternoon I dragged myself out of bed to go to the doctor and fainted 3 times while waiting for the bus. I kept finding myself on the ground in the snow without knowing how I got there. This was definitely my lowest point since moving here. I actually sat down and cried, not knowing what to do and feeling utterly miserable. I called Jan and she sent Pete to pick me up and get me some flu medicine. She has also offered to bring me to their house and look after me until I feel better. I opted for my own bed since it’s closer and there’s no one in my flat for me to infect with my germs. Asking for help has never been easy for me, and being sick and alone is no fun either. However, if I hadn’t had that low point today I wouldn’t have had the chance to lean on someone. Jan and Pete and Jennie have taken me into their family in such a short time. Laurie and some of my other classmates have been checking on me all week. It is abundantly clear in my present state of drugged-up stupor that I am not alone here. And that is the best feeling I’ve had since arriving. So the worst and best moments happened in the same day. On that note, I’m going back to bed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Walk on the Beach

"Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate And though I oft have passed them by A day will come at last when I Shall take the hidden paths that run West of the Moon, East of the Sun."
-J.R.R. Tolkein

Friday was Guy Fawkes Day, also known as Bonfire Night. It commemorates the failed "Gunpowder Plot" in 1605, which was an attempt to assassinate the British Royal Family. I've never heard of a holiday celebrating a failed assassination, but there you have it. Aberdeen put on a good fireworks show and all the locals turned out.

Yesterday I went for a walk along Aberdeen Beach to the old fishing town of Footdee. There are rows of tiny 19th century stone cottages and narrow lanes full of flower boxes. Those lanes always tempt me to investigate. In Scotland people are allowed to walk anywhere they like as long as no property is harmed. Perhaps I'll start doing just that (though the Texan in me will be watching for the farmer with the shotgun). The beach is a popular destination for humans and dogs alike. Every time I'm there I miss Champ, our yellow Labrador. I've never seen dogs so happy as those running through the surf here in Aberdeen.

Here are some of the photos from my walk. It's getting cold here and the Christmas trappings are already being sold in the stores. Since there's no Thanksgiving in the UK, I suppose it's Christmas season already.

Caitlin is coming to visit on Friday and staying for 2 weeks. Hopefully we'll have some great photos to share from all our explorations.

Song of the Day: Braw Sailin' by Aberdeen natives the Old Blind Dogs (I'm trying a new format: just click the play button to listen. If it doesn't work you can click the title to listen in youtube.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cross-Cultural Eavesdropping

“America is more than just a country. It’s an idea – an idea that’s supposed to be contagious.” (Bono, lead singer of Irish rock band U2)

One of my favourite parts of travelling abroad is listening to people talk about the USA when they don’t know there’s an American in the room. This afternoon, while studying in the Aberdeen Art Gallery’s café, I overheard an English woman and a Scottish man discussing the upcoming mid-term elections. They seem to think that the Tea Party is bad publicity for the Republicans and were debating whether the Democrats would lose their congressional majority. They also talked at length about the excitement they felt as they followed our 2008 presidential election. It is rather humbling to hear outsiders discuss US politics with a grasp of current events and policy that eludes many Americans. This inspires me to learn more about the politics of the country in which I reside.

Last week I attended a Sociology department seminar where two staff members from my University complained at length about the failure of American sociologists to account for cultures outside their own. I quite enjoyed listening to this little rant but my classmates seemed to think it harsh. They whispered, “are you going to say anything?” but I explained that I hoped to hear more before my cover was blown.

In my conversations with Scottish people I often find them to be very fond of the US. They are not fans of Bush-era foreign policy, but so many tell me “America is a great country.” Even though some of them, while vacationing in the Sates, have encountered ridiculous people asking questions like “Is life in Scotland still like in the movie Braveheart?” they still quite like American culture. In fact, I have to work rather hard to find local culture in this city where the two most popular entertainment districts are full of American restaurants like TGI Fridays. I think Bono was right – American culture is contagious.

Song of the Day: "To America We Go" by Ashley MacIsaac and Scots-Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond

PS - I apologize for the Queen's English spelling when I'm writing to an American audience. My mac knows where I am and spell-corrects accordingly. Handy for school essays, but makes me look snooty on this blog :)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fit like? I'm studying Reiki.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

(Joseph Campbell)

I spent an exhausting, enlightening and exhilarating weekend at a reiki workshop in Aberdeen. Reiki is a Japanese healing technique often practiced by massage therapists. It’s something I’ve been wanting to learn for years. For the first time since arriving, I was in a room with only Scottish people. I got to hear local phrases like “fit like?” thrown around and the good people in the class frequently had to ask me to repeat myself. (In case you’re wondering, “fit like?” means “how are you?” Makes total sense, I know). As is usually the case, the knowledge I gleaned was not what I was expecting. Here is a brief list of those lessons.

Risk ain’t just a board game. Taking risks is the only way we can ever grow. Nelson Mandela said “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the decision that something else is more important.” Growth and healing is more important to me than the familiar trappings of old, comfortable fears. Come the flood! I am ready to embrace risk and change into a more authentic and courageous version of myself.

Be very quiet. Can you hear that? It’s your inner voice going hoarse trying to get your attention. Listen to that still small voice - to every shout and every whisper. That is the most perfect form of wisdom you will ever receive. Earth-shattering events and sky messages carried by planes may be more glamorous, but attending to that little voice you like to ignore often takes tremendous courage and brings far greater reward.

Gratitude is the key to abundance. This sounds like a Hallmark card, but it’s a bit of ancient, worn, slightly unattractive truth that is shared by the faiths of the world. This does not mean “smile when you really need to cry” but rather to be grateful for the tears and the release. Be grateful for the pain, for the joy, and for everything in between. This is an enlightened way of being that I will be working on for the rest of my life. It is possibly the most difficult but also the most freeing.

As if this post weren’t hippie enough, I’m making “Oh Very Young” by Cat Stevens the song of the day. (Hey, he’s from the UK. This is a blog about living in the UK. It fits, right?) I’ll try to bring the sarcasm back next time. :)

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time? There’ll never be a better chance to change your mind. And if you want this world to see a better day, will you carry the words of love with you?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Discovering Aberdeen: Beaches, Bookies and Bands

In Scotland, there is no such thing as bad weather - only the wrong clothes.

-Billy Connolly

This week I dedicated to getting to know my new city. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city with a population of over 200,000. And in case I haven’t clarified this point - it’s freakin’ cold! Young women run around town in short skirts when it’s colder than an ice cream truck. Speaking of ice cream, it's very popular to stroll along eating it in this weather. If I tell a local I’m cold, he or she will respond “Nah, it’s a bonny day!” Bonny days are those in which there is no rain, thus enabling one to wear shorts and slurp ice cream while everyone’s breath turns to fog.

The oil industry has made the city rich and everyone seems to be obsessed with shopping. And I do mean everyone. Even men – straight ones – will tell you their favorite places to shop and how much they enjoy it. I suppose that when a population has money to burn and is in need of indoor entertainment, shopping is the thing. There are many shopping centers, the newest of which is Union Square. It encompasses the train and bus stations as well as a Jurys Inn, movie theatre, 15+ restaurants and a mall. I tried to spend the evening there tonight as it’s the thing to do, but found it a bit overwhelming and vacated to a quiet pub. On the way home I discovered a bookie joint operating on the high street. Appeartantly, betting is legal here and young lads spend their Friday evenings at Ladbrokes making bets and going broke (hence the name).

Tuesday night I went to hear the Scottish folk band “The Shee” play in concert just 5 minutes from my flat. Six kick-ass women cranking out the folk tunes were just what I needed to feel like I’m really in Scotland, although the pint of cider helped as well! I have also visited Aberdeen beach twice. Apart from a lovely view and nice place to stroll, the beach is home to an indoor amusement complex (again with the indoor fun), which houses a bowling alley, mini golf, movie theater, restaurants and bars. If you’re brave enough to venture to the permanent outdoor fair, you can ride the ferris wheel enclosed in a glass case to keep you out of the wind.

My favorite attraction so far is the Provost Skene house museum in the city center. The medieval manor house is one of the only surviving buildings from that era and houses a collection of Edwardian clothing and furniture as well as renaissance murals. I love buildings like this one with their heavy oak doors, thick walls, treacherous stairs, and plenty of Jacobite legends. (The Jacobite rebellion occurred in the 17th century when catholic Scots attempted to return exiled Prince Charles Stewart to the throne. The English wiped them out and began a genocidal campaign of forced emigration, which is how so many of us with Scottish ancestry came to be born in the USA).

Today I enjoyed some local haddock at the opera house’s restaurant. Set inside a landmark of modern architecture, the restaurant boasts excellent views of the city. I enjoyed the opportunity to people-watch whenever I looked up from my reading of sociological theory. I’d work to get my head around quotes like “Truth, in reality, is a fiction” and then gaze out onto a statue of Prince Albert and several 400 year-old churches. It was certainly better viewing than the wall of my flat. Even though shopping isn’t my favorite pastime, Aberdeen is an exciting city with plenty to offer. I look forward to living here as a semi-tourist. For now, it’s back to the books.

Song of the Day: “Tom Paine’s Bones” by The Shee

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Housewarming and Church . . . Yes, Church!

“If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting and set out on a truth-seeking journey, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself….then truth will not be withheld from you.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat, Pray, Love"

In the last week I have found myself flying high and falling low. This is perhaps the nature of courageous novelty in life. Strip away all the comforts of home, physical proximity of loved ones and a community where one knows one's place and step into another world - this causes simultaneous fear and enlightenment. This week I have gotten lost several times, struggled with my schoolwork and had two disappointing dates. Just as I start sinking into "what the hell am I doing here?" mode, a bright spot appears to raise me up. Over the last 2 weeks I have received your generous housewarming gifts and felt your love across the Atlantic. I've included a photo of the abundant gifts bestowed upon me and thank you with my whole heart for making me feel that I'm not forgotten, though I am far off.

Today I got myself up and went to church. Church, you ask? Yes, church. It's been over 5 years since I've even visited a church apart from concerts, etc. Those of you who have met me during that time know that I'm anything but churchy. Those of you who knew me when I was younger knew a very churchy Kimberly. I have struggled for years over how to manifest my spirituality in an incarnation neither as frightening as my fundamentalist upbringing nor bleak as it could be if I chose bitterness over the acceptance of uncertainty. So today, in desperate need of socialization, I visited the local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

The congregation is made of up of about 20-30 regulars plus visiting clergy. My status as a newcomer could not be hidden as I was the youngest person present by at least 20 years, unknown to all and in possession of a foreign accent. I was instantly welcomed by several cute grandpas, one of whom sat down beside me and announced that he is not religious whatsoever. That's when I knew I'd come to the right place. Unitarianism provides a venue for the churched and unchurched alike to come together for spiritual support, inspiration, and tea with biscuits without holding to any absolutes. They made an announcement welcoming me, introduced themselves and talked my ears off. It was just what a lonely foreigner needed this morning. One of the inspirational readings was about respecting each person one meets along the way, whether you have a relationship or just meet once, as another being worthy of peace and compassion. We took a moment to send those people love and reflect on how we could each show greater compassion in all things. And those dates became two people whom I wish peace and joy, two teachers encountered on my path to bring me wisdom rather than pain.

I was given a ride home by a gentleman who works for the university and gave me his contact information in case I should need anything. He has no idea how much I appreciate the offer. So today I thank each teacher I have met since my arrival in Aberdeen. I seek to interact with people out of a place of joy rather than a place of sadness. And now I can finish my homework in peace.

Blessings to you in all you do. I send you my love from across the water.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Learning to Fly

"When you come to the edge of the light you have known and take the first step into the darkness of uncertainty, you have to believe that one of two things will happen. You will find something solid there to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly." (Paul Overton)

It’s Saturday morning and the sun is shining through my balcony door. Yesterday’s rain still drips down the ivy-covered wall and the city is quiet. I have now been living in Scotland for a little over one week. It feels like a day and it feels like a month. I have experienced excitement, fear, confidence, loneliness and profound happiness in this short space of time. No wonder I am so exhausted.

This morning I read the quote above and those words spoke to my spirit. I believe I will find both a rock on which to stand and the new wings to soar over my own doubts. Right now those muscles are still new and sore but the desire to fly has been born, and I cannot go back to the person I was before I heard the call of the wind.

Song of the day: Learning to Fly by Tom Petty

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Homework, Socialized Medicine, and Baptists

Yesterday I attended my first class – Social Theory. It is held inside the old King's College building, consecrated in 1509. The surrounding buildings make up “Old Aberdeen,” the medieval town that grew up around the college. Think cobblestone streets, narrow alleys with secret doors and garden gates. It’s absolutely charming (until you trip over the cobblestones, which I do frequently).

I have come to the conclusion that I will be “fass’in meself” (fussing) this year over all the work that is involved in my degree. It seems that the good folks at UNT never realized that I got by 2 degrees without much effort. In fact, if it weren’t for the one difficult political science class I had my last semester, I would not have been prepared for the kind of reading I must do now. Each page of theory takes about 15 minutes to process, notate, and reflect upon. Then, according to my professor, I’m supposed to read it a second time. She put the fear of god in us about the depths to which we are supposed to go with our homework. I should be reading right now, but instead I am blogging about how I feel about the reading. Does that count?

A lovely English woman named Jan sits next to me in class. After raising a family, she decided to go to university. After completing a Bachelor’s degree, she decided to pursue a Masters . . . just for fun. She is doing this for free, courtesy of the generous financial aid available to UK citizens, particularly senior citizens. She gave me a tour of the Social Science building and helped me find my next class. We agreed to trade notes and meet early before class each week to discuss our reading. Joining us will be an extremely handsome Italian who also sits beside me. I think that’s worth going in early!

I have also registered with a medical office. Socialized medicine, here I come! The National Health Service had me fill out 2 double-sided forms, which is about 4 less than every doctor’s office I have ever visited where I was commanded to list every insurance plan I’d ever had in triplicate. One of the questions asked me to tick the box next to the number of units of alcohol I drink each week. The choices were 0, 7, 14, 21, 28 or more. Clearly, these people enjoy their “water of life,” as they call whiskey. I haven’t had a single dram since I got here. It’s about time!

Just as I finished writing this, the general fire alarm went off in the entire building. I went down to the car park to stand with other bewildered students where a nice local bloke struck up a conversation with me. I thought he was just being friendly but then I found myself being proselytized upon. I only escaped the Bible-belt 5 days ago and the Baptists have already found me. Now I’m really fass’d!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Home in Scotland

Have you ever crammed a bath mat, pasta spoon, tea cups, safety pins and a jar of honey into your purse or backpack? Well, I have. My new life requires all shopping to be gotten home on foot and I only have so many hands. The art of squeezing household items into my purse like a kleptomaniac is only one of many lessons I have learned since arriving in Aberdeen 3 days ago. I have learned that granola is called “oat crunchy,” laundry soap is labeled “bio” or “non-bio,” and cute little old men dress up in suits to do their grocery shopping 1st thing Saturday morning. One dapper gentleman made sure to speak to every employee in the store and he seemed very popular. I wanted to ask him to be my Scottish grandpa. Maybe I’ll see him next week.

My walk to ASDA (Wal Mart) took me across the hill where Aberdeen Castle stood prior to its destruction in 1308. Now it’s a public square that features the Scottish version of a gazebo and lots of little shops. My trips to Wal Mart were never so attractive. I also got a look at the harbor with its many oil ships and fishing boats. The oil industry is king here, which explains why the locals took bets on who shot J.R. on “Dallas” in 1980. The best salmon in the world comes from the waters off the northeast coast of Scotland and I plan to eat my share.

My flat is more spacious than I had imagined. I have a double bed, loveseat, desk, fully equipped kitchen complete with electric teakettle, bathroom and two large closets. My window is a door that opens on to a faux balcony covered in ivy and overlooking a courtyard. There isroom to do yoga in here without hitting any furniture, which is more than I can say for my room at my family’s house. The only down sides are an electric blue accent wall and a mattress as firm as Aberdeen granite. Oh well. I’ll just have to “tak the bree wi the barm” (take the rough with the smooth) as they say in Scotland. Tomorrow I begin classes. Today I'm off to visit a thousand year old ruined castle built by my ancestors. More to come!

Here are photos of the castle quare, my new flat and the shopping that I managed to fit into my purse and 2 bags.

Song of the Day: Hey Hey Hey by Michael Franti. This has nothing to do with Scotland, but it was playing on KUT when I left for the Austin airport. It makes me happy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caledonia, You're Calling Me

"Now I'm steady thinking. My way is clear and I know what I will do tomorrow when hands have shaken and kisses flown, then I will disappear . . . Caledonia you're calling me. Now I'm going home." (Dougie McLean)

After 13 months of planning, weeks of panic-ridden waiting and yards of red tape, I am actually leaving for Aberdeen tomorrow! Class starts Monday morning so I'm going to hit the ground running. At this point, I'm just grateful to be going when it looked so many times like I might not make it. I am thrilled with excitement, nervous about a building a new social network and succeeding in a rigorous academic program, and generally cognizant of the fact that my life is about to change dramatically.

Thank you for the prayers, good karma, rain-dances and other supplications to various deities and or hostile thoughts about the UK border agency on my behalf. These last 2 weeks of waiting have been the most difficult of all and it helped to know you were pulling for me. Lots of love to you! Next time I'll be writing from Scotland.


Song of the Day: Caledonia by Dougie McLean. This is a photo slideshow I made with pictures of Scotland from my 2007 trip.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


"We are all one breath away from being fully awake." (Pema Chodron)

In addition to being emotionally present, I have begun to work on being physically present as well. This is much harder for me. Yesterday I read a very challenging book called “Waking” by Matthew Sanford. He lost half his family in a car accident, which left him a paraplegic at age 13. The trauma of the accident and ensuing painful treatments led him to completely check out of his own body. He said the following in a 2006 interview:

“When trauma is not transformed over time, you become less present. You end of being kind of a shell of yourself. You don’t take in the world with pleasure, you don’t let it flow through you and you don’t let it out. When you lose that presence, you lose connection to the world. That’s when trauma turns into depression, and the more you become separated form the world, the deader you become.”

Since surviving leukemia at age 5, I can count on my fingers the number of times I have actually felt physically present in this world. They are all times of joy: jet skiing on the South China Sea, para-sailing in Mexico, dance rehearsals in graduate school. So seldom do I notice the hard wooden chair on which I sit, the cool water I’m drinking or the faces of the people around me. One of the reasons I love Scotland so much is that the landscape demands notice. The ocean cliffs make me stop and take a long look. The cold wind and rain remind me where I am and the people insist on speaking with strangers.

I often check out of physical pain, even fainting at times. When I was a child, I felt every needle prick and every cough, soon learning that the best place to be at such times was far far away. Now I often pass out when having blood drawn, like the reminder of that early trauma is too much to process.

My goal now is to take notice of the physical world. I’ll notice the mosquito bites, the clouds, and the coffee. Maybe I’ll still faint during blood tests, but at least I’ll take notice of the band aid.

Song of the Day: Wild Child by Enya

Friday, September 3, 2010

Messicostals at Elevation

Caitlin and I visited Manitou Springs, Colorado and went up Pikes Peak yesterday. We had chai and maté at a cute teashop in Manitou and picnicked by Fountain Creek. We began to notice a large number of conservative Pentecostals in town. The women are easily spotted by their long hair, frumpy floor-length skirts and lack of makeup. Their presence in this town was surprising given its reputation as a pagan hippie paradise. They seemed to be in charge of the teashop. Then we noticed that they were closed Saturdays and had religious tracts referring to Jesus by the Hebrew name Yashua. “A hah! They’re Messianic!” I categorized with some relief and placing these folks in their proper place. (I’m a former theology major. Classifying Christians is an academic hobby I can’t turn off). I was a member of the Messianic faith for about 3 years in college. These are Christians who believe in Jesus but follow Judaism because they believe that living like their Jewish messiah brings them closer to the truth. I have always liked old things and I was drawn to the beauty and rhythm of the Jewish traditions, with their candlelit Shabbat dinners and a religious excuse not to work on Saturdays. What got me out of the Messianic movement (aside from a general departure from religion) is its increasing focus on the end times and its belief that Islam is Satan’s religion. I would guess that 20% of the followers of Messianic Judaism come from a conservative Pentecostal background. They bring their long skirts, anti birth-control agenda and fascination with Armageddon along into their new Messianic Jewish faith. Thus, I have dubbed them “Messicostals.”

We read one of the tracts and discovered that there is an entire Messicostal commune in Manitou Springs. They are members of the Twelve Tribes movement and believe that mankind is divided into the holy, righteous, unjust and the filthy. They are, of course, the “holy”. The “righteous” are all the good people out there who haven’t heard of Jesus. The “unjust” are the lawyers and journalists who spread lies for their own benefit. The filthy are the gays and the other sexual deviants. I was sorely tempted to pull out my transgendered Wiccan prostitute routine but I withheld. Instead, we walked the streets attempting our own classifications. We decided that the “filthy” should definitely include the unwashed potheads that haunt the town. I guess you learn something crazy every day.

After lunch, we took the train up Pikes Peak. The day was crystal clear with a blue sky and a wind-chill of “only” 30. I was having trouble staying in the moment because I had just received a threatening email from the UK visa office stating that they would deny my visa unless I sent them my original UNT diploma within 3 days. The package had been sent but I was in that stressed-out state that has set in frequently over the last few months when I felt my dream threatened.

Caitlin, who has been listening to my “be here now” speeches, tactfully reminded me that there was nothing I could do (and no phone signal on the mountain) and that I better enjoy the view. Wonderful pictures naturally came about. I thought about how clear everything seems at those times when we can rise above the chaos, take a deep breath, and appreciate the view. At the same time, my racing heart reminded me that while we all need mountaintop moments in life, trying to remain at 14,000 feet forever would be detrimental to the body. I have gratitude for the crystal clarity and also for having my feet on the low ground again. Sometimes you feel like a mountaintop revelation. Sometimes you feel like a beer. And since there’s nothing I can do about the visa, I’m going to listen to some U2.

Song of the Day: Elevation by U2

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Good Traveler

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” (Lao Tzu)

The Scottish vacation planned by Caitlin and myself is officially off. Since my visa still hasn’t arrived, we had to cancel our trip. We were both, naturally, very disappointed. She had to let go of her imminent vacation plans and I had to let go of my best friend’s hand as I begin a new life. I will now be moving to Aberdeen alone, nesting in my new home alone and meeting people alone. My security blanket (in the form of the most outgoing person in my life) will not be there to help me. And I won’t be there in person to help her with some of the major changes going on in her life.

Not surprisingly, we both knew that we need to embark on our paths alone. We have adopted the following radical notion: “Where I am right now is exactly the place to be.” We practiced being in the moment by eating fine chocolate, breathing deeply, and letting go of control of that which we cannot influence: The British Government. Of course, the blessings have poured in.

We called American Airlines and learned that she can change her ticket to Thanksgiving without spending a dime. In fact, AA will actually pay her the difference for the cheaper fare. I was nervous about spending Thanksgiving away from family and friends so this idea is very comforting. We are currently planning a trip to Colorado next week. Everything is falling into place to visit friends and family who are happy to see us on short notice. Going to Aberdeen later in September will actually save me money and I’ll start the school year in better shape, without having to eat ramen for a month waiting for my October financial aid check.

I’m starting to see August 2010 as my personal month of Zen. It began in Wales with beautiful scenery and lovely people. Then entered chaos, followed by acceptance. It continued with three weeks of bonus time with my family and friends in the Austin area. Then disappointment, then more acceptance. It ends with bonus time in Colorado and a huge dose of gratitude. I have learned perhaps the most important lesson of my life this month. Many things will happen that are out of my control. Rather than torture myself about it, I will drink a cup of chai about it. I will breathe deeply about it. I will pet the cat about it. And I will let go and live in the moment. What a relief!

Song of the Day: Thank You by Alanis Morisette

“The moment I let go of it was the moment I got more than I could handle. The moment I jumped off of it was the moment I touched down . . . Thank you terror. Thank you providence. Thank you disillusionment. Thank you nothingness. Thank you, clarity. Thank you, thank you silence.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Letter from Rilke

I stayed up late reading Rilke last night, and discovered to my surprise that he sat down at a desk in Sweden in 1904 and wrote a letter to me. At least that’s how it felt. Letter VIII in “Letters to a Young Poet” contains a famous quote about the future entering into us in order to transform us long before it happens. What I never knew was that the entire piece is about sorrow. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect since the summer depression has rolled in again like a Texas thunderstorm. Rilke wrote that each sorrow is a tool to transform us into our future, better selves. To hide from sorrow is to fail to grow into that stronger person.

“The more patient, quiet and open we are in our sorrowing, the more deeply and the more unhesitatingly will the new thing enter us, the better shall we deserve it, the more it will be our own destiny, and when one day later it ‘happens’ we shall feel in our inmost selves that we are akin and close to it.”

I think it is our human nature to try and escape our pain. We seek distractions through work, love, hobbies or addictions. But what would happen if went all biblical and took the time to sit in the sackcloth and ashes when we are sad? Why are we so afraid of our pain that we do everything but face it? Rilke advised his young friend to embrace his sorrow.

“You must not be frightened when a sorrow rises up before you, greater than you have ever seen before; when a restlessness like light and cloud and shadows passes over your hands and over all your doing. You must think that something is happening upon you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to exclude any disturbance, any pain, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what these conditions are working upon you?”

I do not know what this insomnia or seasonal sadness is making of me, but I know I am growing along the way. So I’m going to sit in the dark, play some quiet tunes, and allow myself to feel.

Song of the Day: All Along the Way by Drever, McCusker and Woomble. This one is actually Scottish, since this is supposed to be a Scottish blog after all :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Letting Go

The blessings keep rolling in. Friends have taken me to lunch, hired me to do odd jobs, and even taken me shopping. Today Caitlin bought my car. And I let it go in gratitude and peace. This decision was months in the making. I knew it was silly to keep it registered and insured when I didn't need it. Because it was a gift from my parents, I was afraid that selling it would upset them. When I got to Texas to weeks ago, broke and needing to finance my return to Scotland, I sought wisdom on how to find some money under a rock. I could hear my own voice say, "Sell the car. I told you that months ago." It just so happened that Caitlin's car died while I was in Paris and she needed another one. She specifically wanted the kind of car I had. And it all fell into place. She gets a car for less than she had planned to spend and I get money to go back to Scotland. It couldn't be more perfect. And so I let go of the last tangible piece of my life in Texas with joy for our shared financial blessing.

This summer has been all about letting go of the physical things that bound me here. My next challenge will be to let go of old pain, an absolute requirement for my own health and well-being as I build a new life. I read Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love" on my recent trip and had personal revelations all over the Atlantic ocean, France, England and Wales. Though my life story differs from hers, the wisdom she channels though this book is striking. Today I'm pondering the following:

"Clearing out all of your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people."

Recently I was struck by the realization that my own unprocessed fear and grief has the potential to harm not only myself but others around me. I don't want to be an obstacle. I want to be a source of compassion for myself and those I love. So I strike out in a new direction, sort of an emotional detox. I'm not sure what the next step is, but it will present itself before long.

Here's to letting go!

Song of the Day: Let Go by Frou Frou

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


"Happiness hit her like a train on a track." (Florence & the Machine)

I took my own advice and started celebrating my lack of control. I put my control along with my passport into an envelope and shipped it to the British Consulate in Los Angeles. And I physically felt the stress leave my body. Happiness beyond any I've known (and without any precipitant event) really did hit me like a train. So did the blessings. Suddenly, I'm practically drowning in an abundance of love and support. The numerous, daily miracles are pouring in. I landed in Texas without any luggage and quite literally just the clothes on my back. I was, therefore, thrilled to discover one pair of clean underwear somehow overlooked at my parents' house, along with deodorant, facial soap and makeup. My bed is here and the sheets are clean. There were a few pieces of clothing in my closet that I didn't remember leaving here. My friends from my old job threw me a party last night. I feel an outpouring of gratitude for the opportunity to come visit my hometown and see my family and friends at a time unexpected. Since I'm not working, I have the time to spend with them that I didn't have before I left. I have time to pet the cat, take a nap, and eat tomatoes from the garden. I have found a way to finance my return to Scotland. A nice man gave me free juice. The list goes on and on . . .

I believe that my sense of control was clouding my vision from all the blessings around me. This experience has become profoundly beneficial for my well being rather than meaningless chaos. So to the American government, for stalling my financial aid process, and to the British government for necessitating a trip across the pond: Thank you! Most importantly, thank you to all my loved ones for the emotional support. You raise me up.

Song of the Day: The Dog Days are Over by Florence & The Machine

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Rolling Stone

“But a Stranger in a strange land, he is no one. Men know him not, and to know not is to care for.” (Bram Stoker, Dracula)

With apologies to Mr. Stoker, I have to disagree. I have been a stranger in a strange land all week, all alone, and multiple people have taken the time to talk or joke with me. Even in the bustle of London, there are friendly folks happy to get to know you. Last night I chatted with an Italian waiter who confessed to me that he has never like gnocchi. “I feel like I’m supposed to like it, but I just don’t” he explained. I told him that I am from Texas and am in danger of having my state citizenship revoked over my hatred for guacamole. “Oh,” he said, “isn’t guacamole supposed to be very nice?” “Yes,” I agreed, “and I wish I liked it, but I hate avocados.” He said I don’t sound like I’m from Texas. I busted out my West Texas accent, learned in my youth during summers in Lubbock, and he was satisfied. Then I told him the accents get thicker the further you go from the populated Dallas-San Antonio-Austin triangle. I didn’t know what to tell him about the cowboy and immigrant multi-cultural sauna that is Houston.

Our conversation drifted to the inevitable “How long will you be in Britain?” I told him of my visa woes and he expressed faith that it would all work out fine. My Welsh innkeeper held the same opinion. Is lack of faith in government, in systems, in life – is that an American thing? Surely, somewhere, there are other cultures who go through life with the fatalistic belief that if a government (any government) is involved, things will not go according to plan. Why do people here seem to sure? Is it because the trains run on time and trash gets picked up and they get their medicine for 6 pounds? Is it a belief shared across the European continent full of countries who feel that as long as we’re not at war, we’re doing pretty well? I must learn this Euro-zen method. Where can I buy it?

I’ll be in Texas in 24 hours with very mixed feelings. Tonight while watching Mastermind on BBC (the best quiz show ever if you’re a bookish nerd) I learned that the word “nostalgia” is derived of two Greek words meaning “homecoming” and “pain” respectively. That just about sums it up. A chance to see family and friends? Wonderful homecoming. Leaving my dreams up in the air? Pain. I think it’s time for a little Bob Dylan.

Song of the Day: Like a Rolling Stone

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Traveling Against My Will

"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough." (Mario Andretti)

I have been taking my time in Britain for granted and now I have to leave. New UK visa laws (and I mean 4 days ago new) say that I cannot change my immigration status form tourist to student from inside the country. Nor can I change my status in Ireland, France, or anywhere else other than the USA. I did all the research and planning months ago so this has come as quite a shock. I’m flying to Texas day after tomorrow to have a face to face meeting at the UK consulate (probably in Houston) and god only knows if this will all get processed in time for my August trip with Caitlin or my September 22nd term start date. Because the US Government changed all the financial aid laws last month, there are literally thousands of American students rushing to get visas. I feel my dream slipping away . . . again.

Not being in control of what’s happening to me and not knowing where I’ll be next month is very disconcerting. I feel homeless, directionless and frightened. The Buddhists I know would challenge me to celebrate not being in control. (In fact, I said something like that to Caitlin just the other day . . . damn it.) So here I sit in a café in Wales, not knowing what the hell is happening or having any control over much, not even the flavour of scone I just ordered. Curent . . . hmmm.

I’ve been so stressed that I haven’t taken the time to enjoy the Welsh coast very much. Llandudno is a cute Victorian town full of English “pensioners” (senior citizens) on holiday in the cheapest (and one of the prettiest) parts of the UK. The English tourists like to ask me for directions and seem surprised by my accent. There aren’t many Americans here. In fact I haven’t heard any American spoken since the day I left London. I hadn't even realized that until this moment. Somehow I feel like I belong in this country even though I'm an outsider. Sigh . . .

Llandudno is surrounded by wild, windy mountains and crashing surf. The air is teaming with seagulls the size of roosters whose favourite thing to do is argue at 3:00am. I could swear last night I heard two distinct cries of "No! No no no no noooo!" That, of course, made me lie awake for at least 20 minutes thinking about the seagulls in "Finding Nemo" that fly around screeching "Mine! Mine!" I don't think these speak the same language here. I haven't seem them fight over fish or scraps like they do in Galveston. They mostly gripe and gossip like their crusty human counterparts that hang out in the pubs. Maybe the gulls don't like the new Prime Minister either.

I’ve included a couple of photos of Llandudno as well as a couple from Stratford Upon Avon and Warwick Castle (which is like a permanent Renaissance Festival for small children). Levi and I went to see Shakespeare’s birthplace as well as a Royal Shakespeare Company performance of “Julius Caesar.” Brutus was played very well by Sam Troughton. That’s for you BBC Robin Hood fans. The rest of you are like “who the hell is that?” The RSC does some of the best Shakespeare around. Levi and I couldn’t decide whether the productions at the RSC or the Globe were better done. I vote for a tie. If you’ve never been to the Globe, I highly recommend it. There’s something to be said for seeing Shakespeare done in a more original setting. If you book a seat, make sure you rent a cushion. Serious bum-numbing occurs on those benches.

Friday I bid farewell to my beloved Britain. I hope to return soon. In the mean time, this is me celebrating not being in control. Woohoo. Who wants to buy the first drink?