Friday, December 20, 2013

Hashtag Dublin

We have made it to Dublin! It is really amazing to have a girls weekend in a European city! I can't believe that I am on my final leg of the journey, but Megan and I are making every moment count.  We spent last night in Glasgow with some friends and caught an early flight this morning.  

Before I continue describing what an amazing time we are having, I must brag just a little bit.  When I packed my suitcase on Wednesday, I had to have another bag.  I was just trying to get everything to Glasgow.  While travelling on the train to Glasgow last night, I did some thinking about how I could fit everything into one bag.  When we got to Grace and Graham's last night, I rearranged a bit, AND I GOT IT ALL INTO ONE BAG. The attendant for Aer Lingus weighed it this morning, and I'm only 3 kilos over. I also didn't get charged for overage.  I was chuffed to say the least.

Anyways, after we deplaned and went through customs (again, didn't make me cry) we walked outside to get a taxi.  We had a hilarious driver named Noel.  We joked about how this must be his busiest time of year (because it's Christmas. Get it? No? Okay.) and had a jolly 'ole time on the way to our destination.  His biggest thing that he told us was not to buy a pint at Temple Bar.  Apparently, they cost €7, and that is a total rip-off.  We had a bit of confusion checking into our hotel because the reservation was under Nancy. I have no idea how Melanie got turned into Nancy, but it happened.  

Megan and I shower, got dressed, put on some lipstick and hit the streets.  We didn't have any plans for the day except to get our bearings and eat. Feeling on top of the world, the two of us walked down the cobblestone streets of Dublin.  Our hotel is actually in a pretty nice part of town.  The first stop we made was a large department store called Clerys of Dublin.  We tried on clothes of all sorts, including dresses and jeans that we couldn't afford.  When in Dublin, right?  I did actually wind up buying a black lace dress.  I feel like a million when I wear it, and a woman can't ever have too many black dresses, right? 

After our shopping experience, we set out to find someplace to eat.  In typical girl fashion, there was a lot of "oh I don't care" and "it really doesn't matter; you pick" when it came to actually choosing. Finally, we wound up at a place called Gallaher & Co Bistro.  I thought it was wonderful. Before we even left, Megan and I agreed that we wanted to eat like the grownups that we are.  We won't be eating at Subway or McDonalds or anything like that.  Built in 1891, the outside of the building was architecturally ornate, but the inside was modern with clean lines and exposed brick.  I ordered the mozzarella, pesto, and tomato wrap with a carrot, chili, ginger soup and a plate of olives for my lunch.  It was wonderful.  I had a nice balance of creamy cheese from the wrap, punchy spices from the soup, and the almost sinful brine of the olives.  Megan had an open-faced steak sandwich with caramelised onions, arugula, and fries. Megan said that the steak was a little bit too fatty for her liking, and they never asked her exactly how she wanted it cooked.  It wasn't a bad meal for her, but if those two things have been changed, then it would have been much better. I didn't have a bite of her sandwich, but if I could rate the meal on the fries, it would get two thumbs up. They were fantastic.  

After lunch, we set out again back in the direction of our hotel.  We walked up and down the streets and just found things as they came.  We happened upon The Garden of Remembrance. Megan and I actually had no idea what it really was while we were there.  It had some amazing architecture and colors.  There was a turquoise mosaic cross-shaped reflecting pool in the center, and it was stunning.  The garden is for remembering those who gave their lives in the fight for Irish independence.  
This was a big moment for Megan. She was able to cross "drink a pint of Guinness in Dublin" off her bucket list!

After walking the chilly streets for an hour or so, we decided that it was high time to pop into a warm pub and have our pints of Guinness.  Megan and I both love it, so we didn't need any convincing.  After ducking our heads into a couple of dodgy places, we found the perfect one for us.  In typical pub fashion, Madigan's was dark and warm inside.  The wood-paneled walls were decorated in Guinness paraphernalia, chalkboards displaying specials, and (wait for it) CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS.  Nothing was tacky.  Just some boughs of evergreen and fairy lights hung from the doorways and walls.  Also, they were playing Michael Buble's Christmas album when we walked in. They get major points for that.  On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, they have live traditional Irish music.  Oh and did I mention that the Guinness was amazing? It was the perfect temperature, and the thick, creamy head was to die for.  We  might count that as dinner ;)

Monday, December 16, 2013


This morning's walk.

Selfies always will wind up on the internet, Ian.

Hot chocolate in Memphis mugs while watching Made in Chelsea.

I went to a panto for the first time ever last week.  The story was loosely based on Sleeping Beauty.  Don't ask me to describe it because you won't get it.  I didn't get it when Megan was explaining it to me, but I thought it was just brilliant. 

Fog rolling up High Street in Inverness.

My favourite view in the whole world is in the back garden of a house in Balloch.

Coffee and a Dream Ring. BOOM.

Another choir concert in Dingwall! 

Good on ya, Inverness.

This morning, I went down by the sea.  I needed time to process all that has happened these past couple of days.  It was so refreshing to take a long walk all by myself.  Red nosed from the cold, I set out for the beach.

Can you remember a time where you have been very aware that all of your senses are being stimulated? 

There wasn't a could in the sky when I set out, so the air was almost icy from the cold. The tide was in, so I had to walk up on the pavement. I watched the waves slowly lap and then fiercely crash onto the rocks and sand.  I was in awe of the many textures that were in front of me.  The sea was choppy and rough while the sand was smooth and placid. Slick kelp washed up onto the shore. Snow covered the hills of the black isle. 

I could smell the briny scent of the sea as a frigid wind nearly knocked me off my feet. 

I felt bits of green grass popping out of the cracked black sidewalk through the soles of my wellies. I didn't dare stick my feet into the North Sea. The cold wind made my eyes water.  It almost felt like it was cleansing my soul as I walked along.  Things became clear in my head.  

I could hear the gentle slarsh of the tide coming in.  The seagulls chastened everyone who passed by.  I heard the busy sounds of a sleepy town coming to life in the morning.

I could almost taste the salt in the air and the abundant wildlife that the water provides.  

My heart ached because I've already started to say goodbye to people here.  Didn't I just say hello last week? Walking along the beach today awakened every part of me.  I took the time to feel and to ponder every encounter since I've been here.  

I've really had an incredible time.  Friendly, familiar faces greet me around every corner.  I'm used to Southern hospitality, but Scottish hospitality is something different. It's being greeted by an old gentleman dressed in green tweed who comments on how wonderful the weather is today.  It's being invited in for tea, sherry, or out for a coffee. It's eating homemade scones that feed both my stomach and my soul.  It's the trusting expression on someone's face that makes you believe that your secrets will be kept and not shared. 

I've been busy--almost as busy as I would be in Memphis.  I've spent a lot of time at the church and with the MacLeod's playing game after game of Skip Bo.

Listen to this song.

Life is good. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

As of Late

Sorry for being absent these past three days; I've been busy!

Let's start with Sunday:

I went to church Sunday morning at Smithton Church.  My church in Memphis and theirs have had a connection for over a decade now.  We always have people from Memphis heading to Scotland and vice-versa.  Separated by thousands of miles, our churches have a continuous bond that can't be beat. Walking into the building brought so many memories flooding in.  The smell reminded me of a time two years ago when things were completely different. I remember the people and the good times that we created.  I remember being completely in a state of emotional bliss the last time I came.  I remember the activities that we prepared and shared. The relationship that I have with Scotland is completely different from any other that I have. It's remembering how I felt at that time and storing away those feelings to open up on a rainy day when nothing goes right.  I am transported to a place where all my memories are happy.  None of them make me sad.  I relish the freedom that I felt the first summer running with my friends on the castle grounds until it was dark outside . I think of the love that I have for these people as I curl up by the fire and we discuss our days. And it all started with two pastors from two continents meeting each other.  For that, I am extremely grateful.

On that note, I spent Sunday afternoon with some of my all-time favourite people--The MacLeods.  Meet Sammy and Mairi and their son, Ian.  Where do I fall into that relationship? I am their "adopted" American daughter, and I like it that way.   When they came to Memphis three years ago (uh, where has the time gone?), they stayed with us, and I really knew that they would be keepers.  Ian is almost a year older than Willis, and they are just alike.  Not only are they mischievous, but they have now grown to be taller than me. ;) We have a tradition of playing Skip-Bo and eating Tunnock's teacakes that started while our families were vacationing together. I went back to their house and took in the view from their back garden.  Overlooking the city of Inverness, the A96, and the sea, it is my favourite view in the whole world.  We FaceTimed with my American family after our lunch and had a wonderful afternoon.  One other thing: the best hug I've ever received came from Sammy. So see? They're pretty amazing people.

I spent Monday around town with Ian (Bryce, Megan's dad) and Maisie, Megan's niece. She is three years old and absolutely wonderful.  I immediately went into nanny mode when I first met her.  All day long, we held hands, looked at dinosaur and polar bear animated yard decorations, and had lunch in the garden center.  I really really enjoyed spending the day with her and Ian.

Yesterday, I went in with Megan to work and did a little bit of Christmas shopping in Inverness.  I popped into M&S for another coronation chicken sandwich for lunch.  All I could think about while I was in there is this advert narrated by Matthew MacFadyen. It is my (and Kathleen's) dream to go shopping, point out food labels and have him read them off.  Seriously, he could make laundry detergent sound appetizing. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can watch all the adverts on YouTube.  I went back to Smithton for an afternoon at the church.  Again, it was wonderful to see faces that I hadn't seen on Sunday, and I really felt like I was getting back into the groove of what I normally do when I'm here.

That brings us up to today. I've had the morning in the house and around Nairn.  After everyone left for work, I had my breakfast then took the dogs out for a walk on the beach.  I hadn't been out on the beach yet.  It was just me, the dogs, and the sea. I love being someplace where I feel that I am alone.  I was able to reflect upon my time that I've had here while the dogs barked, the waves crashed, and the gulls chattered.  I felt the cold, salty air on my face, and I walked back home feeling refreshed.

So that's that.  The pictures are from what I took on the beach this morning.

I am happy.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Nairn Beach

Before you get really concerned about my mental health, know that I am fine! I don't get homesick a whole lot when I travel.  I'm always on the go, and enjoy experiencing new things in new places.  I know that I'll be home at some point, and that is enough for me.

Two things happened today that made me miss Memphis: I spoke on the phone with my mom, and I went to a choir concert tonight. Don't get me wrong, I am having the time of my life, but travelling abroad makes you miss the things that you usually take for granted.

My mom and I are really close. Homeschooled for most of my childhood, I spent so much time with her. We would do everything together because we were together all day every day. Honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.  After I graduated, she got a job, and suddenly, we see each other a fraction of the time that we used to.  Usually, we would spend the Christmas season decorating the house, making and acquiring food for the goodies table, Christmas shopping, crafting, and watching cheesy Lifetime Christmas films. Now that we are separated for thousands of miles for the Christmas season, I'm missing her so much.  I chatted on the phone with her for almost an hour today, and it really made me realize how much I take her presence for granted. I love you, Mom.

Secondly, we went to Ian's choir concert tonight.  For those of you who don't know, I am in an a phenomenal church choir program. I've been under the direction of James Brown and his amazing music team for almost thirteen years.  Every Christmas, we put on a performance called Lessons and Carols.  It is  night filled with sacred Christmas music and accompanying Scripture verses.  Members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra plays along with our adult choir as we sing the songs of Jesus' birth.  We have been rehearsing the music for the 25th anniversary since August.  When I realized that my plane left six days before the performance, I couldn't believe it.  The concert tonight consisted of both sacred and secular Christmas selections.  They sang songs that I am used to--like Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and Once in Royal David's City.  Others were new to me, but I felt so much better hearing their music.  The clear voices rang throughout the tall white walls of the United Reformed Church in Nairn.  By the end of Once in Royal David's City, my eyes were filled with tears as I thought of the performance back in Memphis tomorrow. As they sang, I got an ache in my heart. I felt happy that I was there, but something was off. When Kathleen sent a video of Masters in This Hall, I felt like I was there. 

There are some things that I miss, but I am having an excellent time here. 

If you live in or around Memphis, you can find information about the Lessons and Carols performance here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

At Home Again

Nairn sunrise


I'm really starting to settle in here. Any traces of jet lag are gone, and I am beginning to feel like I'm at home again.

Yesterday evening was spent sitting by the crackling fire, listening to the fierce wind blow, and sipping wine. I wrote in my journal, Anne prepared her lesson for the next day, and Ian played Words With Friends (quite ferociously, I might add). It was bliss.

I found out that there was something going on at the church this week, so I went out there this morning. I can't say too much about it, but it really made me feel like I was back into the normal routine.  Breakfast, out by 9, church fun, lunch, more church fun, and then free time in the afternoon. Ah, those are the days in Scotland that I am familiar with and love.

In between church sessions, we went out for lunch. It was so wonderful to see all my friends. We had such an amazing lunch together, catching up and reminiscing about old times. I also made some new friends which is equally as fantastic.

All day, I've been acquainting myself with some of my favourite foods that I eat when I'm here. I had a sizzling bacon and egg roll for lunch. If you aren't familiar with British bacon, then let me fill you in. The American bacon that we eat is known as streaky bacon here. British bacon is more like thick cut ham, and it is four times as delicious as streaky bacon. It had a fried egg on top.  Butter and brown sauce were dripping down the sides.  It was phenomenal.

I went into a newsagent after lunch to purchase a Lucozade. It is kind of an orange Fanta on steroids.  I can't really explain why it's better (maybe its less sugary and more fizzy), but when your guilty pleasure/weakness is orange Fanta, it's the best thing ever.

Megan bought a jam donut for me from the Harry Gow. The Harry Gow is a bakery here in Scotland. Their specialty is called a Dream Ring. It's the most delicious donut that has been cut in half and filled with billows of whipped cream deliciousness.

So there you go--an annoying girl post where I tell you everything that I ate today. I'm watching Doctor Who at the moment with Megan. We are going to pop out for dinner tonight.

I'm not sure what the whole story is, but stay safe in the ice, Memphis!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Insert Siobhan Sharpe Quote Here

Megs and I Skyped with Kathleen last night and had chocolate. Three of my favourite things/people.


Tea- the elixir of life.

If you watched Twenty Twelve on the television, then you'll know what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about what she always says when something catastrophic or surprising happens on the Olympic Deliverance Commission. If you've never seen it, then you're really missing out. 

That said, I am talking about the weather. Aw, Melanie, why are you talking about the weather? That's boring. Not in Scotland. Let me tell you what's happened today. I woke up a few times last night because I heard thunder and wind and saw a flash of lightning or two. Just a storm, I thought. Well I woke up at 7 so I could go to work with Megan in Inverness.  When we left at 8:20, it was still dark outside, there were 40mph winds, it was 40 degrees out, and it was raining. So a journey that should have taken us 40 minutes tops, took us an hour and a half. Why? you ask? There were fallen trees, chimneys, road signs, billboards, you name it. All right, just a wind storm.  What's the big deal? After tea at Megan's work and meeting all her co-workers, I headed out to do some shopping in Inverness. By that time, it was sunny. Pop in and out of the Eastgate Shopping Center, and it's raining. Pop in and out of Primark, and it's snowing and dark outside. I decide to take the train back to Nairn so that I can get someplace warm and blog. I buy my ticket and notice the sign that says "All trains from Inverness to Perth are canceled." Cool beans. I'm heading in the opposite direction of Perth, so I should be good. Well, turns out ALL trains are canceled, so my one-day train ticket to Nairn can't be used. Blurgh. Finally, I go and get a bus ticket to Nairn, miss the bus by 2 minutes and sit in the cold and snow for 30 more minutes until the next one arrives. I get to Nairn and it's sunny again, but the wind is back. My Tunnock's teacakes were almost frozen when I got to the house. It's 32 out now with 25 mph winds. So long story short, it's really cold, and everyone here is talking about the weather. 

Other than that, I've a great day. I did a little shopping (it is so hard to not spend £100 in Primark), told 500 people where I was from, ate an AMAZING coronation chicken sandwich from M&S, and had a great time meeting everyone at Megan's workplace. 

I haven't taken a ton of pictures for one reason: my fingers are cold and I can't use my iPhone camera with my gloves on.  That's really sad, I know. I'll try and do a better job with that in the coming days. 

It's 3pm now, and the sun is starting to set. Tonight, I 'll be going with Ian, Megan's dad, to choir practice. You got that right, Mr. Brown, I'm going to choir in Scotland. I'll be thinking of all my friends who prepare for Lessons and Carols this week. 

Last thing. The painters who are working on the house just came in. Here's how our conversation went:

"Heya, how do you like this weather?"

"Oh, it's pretty cold." said I.

"Bet you're not used to this!"

"Eh, no. Not at all."

"Neither are we."

Straight from the mouths of Scots, people. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nairn is Best

I've made it! I am in my favorite place in the whole world--Nairn, Scotland. I got in very late last night on a bus from Glasgow. I got off the plane in Glasgow last night and headed straight for the bus station.  My taxi driver was hilarious and quite nice. He and I talked the whole way to the station about travels around the world and in the US. 
One of my best friends in the world, Megan, picked me up from the bus station last night in Inverness. We drove the short way to Nairn. As we were riding around, everything seemed so familiar.  Maybe it was the jet lag I was feeling, but I almost felt weightless speeding through the darkness. I didn't have a care in the world. I knew exactly where I was even in the pitch-darkness. The sky was clear, and the stars were shining. When I hopped out of the car, I was met with the cold, clean, wet air of Scotland that I have missed so much. In Nairn, there is a certain saltiness everywhere you go.
Behind the Nairn museum looking onto the sea
I slept in for a long while this morning.  I relished the horizontal surface since I had been sitting up for 32 hours. After a shower, I went down stairs for a cuppa and was greeted by Mary Ann and her family. We shared some tea and toast.  

Let's talk toast. I have discovered that maybe my stomach isn't sensitive to the actual gluten in products, but all the preservatives and processing our wheat goods go through before they make it to our supermarkets. Many preservatives we eat in the states are illegal in the UK. That said, I've had 4 pieces of bread and I'm not sick. I just might cry from happiness.

I'm not sure why the Nairn Museum looks so spooky. It's really quite a beautiful building!
I went for a long walk through the town after "breakfast." I felt so at home meandering in and out of the charity shops and through the cobblestone streets. The sun was shining and the wind was blowing. I did end up purchasing a button down from Gap that had teacups all over it and a short, khaki water-resistant jacket from Zara for a grand total of--get ready--£9.50. Charity shop for the win! 

I walked back to the house with my cheeks flushed from the cold. A warm cuppa met me at the door, and I took it with gratitude. 

That catches you up until now! I'm sitting here in my favorite kitchen in the world. I'm so happy to be here. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Top 'O the Morning to Yeh!

I really couldn't resist a cheesy title like that. I mean, really. I could keep going. My inner clock is all messed up, so I still feel like it's 8 in the morning. Usually, when I get jet-lag, I crash at noon and literally can't keep my eyes open. Thankfully, that's not the case today.

My flight to Dublin was rather uneventful.  I ate my dinner, took my melatonin, and didn't wake up until we were an hour away.  I had a window seat, so I got to take some pictures from the plane.

Hello, Ireland! 

This is just outside of Dublin. 
When I landed, the first thing that I noticed was the green.  The tourism industry has really taken the "green Ireland" thing and run with it. Consisting of the huge AerLingus planes, grass in between the runways, high-visibility vests, and tinted glass of the airport, the green theme is really well done.  

And let me say, the Dublin airport is fantastic. It is clean and modern. It's also the cheapest airport in Europe to fly in and out of! There are plenty of shops to pass the time in, and the food choices vary. You didn't think that I would write a blog post without talking about the food, did you?
First things first. Believing it was still 7am, I instantly wanted coffee. So I got an excellent cappuccino in a real mug (!) and a gluten-free blueberry muffin (!!). If I had three thumbs, I would use them all to give this a three thumbs up. 

And lunch. I told myself that the first thing I would eat when I got to Ireland was a Guinness and corned beef and cabbage. Second meal in country isn't too bad. But what an amazing meal. I wound up getting bangers n mash instead, but it was amazing. The sausages were crispy and the mash was creamy. Guinness is a wheat free beer, so it's basically gluten-free. It is made with barley, but people with gluten sensitivities are usually able to tolerate the barley in beer better than wheat. Anyways, this was delicious and totally hit the spot. 

I also got my makeup done here (because what else do I need to do for 5 hours?) and wound up purchasing one of the products they used on my face. 

I am going to sit here in front of the glass wall overlooking the shamrock-stamped planes and misty mountains of Dublin until my next flight in an hour and a half.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Some Ramblings and an Update

So I totally didn't plan on a blogging hiatus. However, an upper respiratory infection, stomach bug, and Thanksgiving had other plans.
I'm sitting here at the airport in DC waiting on my next flight.  I'm going to Scotland, but you already knew that. Here's what's been happening:

-Three weeks ago, I contracted an upper respiratory infection. That took me out for a couple of days. Exactly a week later, I got the stomach bug. Man, that one hit me like a dump truck.  No bueno. I'm not going to talk about that any more. I listened to an episode of This American Life a couple of days ago. A lady said that one thing that bores her to death is when people talk about their health.

-I am in Washington-Dulles right now. Getting here was a little bit of a harrowing experience. I left Memphis this morning knowing that I only had a 38-minute connection time in Houston. (Why United flew me to Houston and then DC, I'll never know. I'm not complaining, because I get the frequent-flyer miles). My plane from Memphis left about 10 minutes late.  When we landed, our gate still had another plane in our place. So that's another 10 minutes. Finally, I realized that we were de-planing in terminal B, and my next flight was in terminal C. I checked the screen to make sure that my gate hadn't changed, and for some reason, my flight wasn't on it. Holy cow, they've left without me. It actually wouldn't have been that bad because there was another flight leaving two hours later. BUT, I am NEVER late, so missing a flight would have stressed me out a little bit. Long story short (oh wait, this is turning into a long story), I run to the terminal train, impatiently ride it to terminal C, run to the gate, run on the plane and make it in the nick of time. SCOREEE!

-We went to the farm for Thanksgiving. I took a couple of pictures, but since I've already blogged about it, I figured you didn't need or want to see a bajillion pictures of the creek. You're welcome. Our food was less than traditional (or even perfect).  We ate at 7:30pm due to a faulty turkey fryer. I did have a good time. Next time I travel internationally, I'm going to the farm the week before. I wasn't stressed about my trip at all. I was able to forget about it for a while, and that was awesome. If you get stressed before a trip, try going to the farm. You can borrow it, if you want.

-I kind of wish that I had missed my flight in Houston. I know that airport and their food choices. Dulles is pretty small and lacking in the food department. I am thankful though that I am able to eat, because I was starving.

Here are some pictures of what's been happening:

This was at William's daycare. When you need extra encouragement, think of this. Kids are hilarious.

Speaking of kids, I saw William for the last time last night. I am going to miss that precious boy like nothing else. 
Camel selfie. 

Oh yeah, that's my cousin and I playing with baby lions. My Thanksgiving was actually pretty awesome. 
I'm also listening to Lessons and Carols 2004 in the airport. I'm in my happy place.
Oh and an airport with free wifi is basically the best thing ever. Maybe you aren't so bad, Dulles.
Next time I post something, I'll be in bonnie Scotland!