Archive for the ‘ About the Book ’ Category

A Walk in the Woods: Lost in Scotland

It was my third day in Pitlochry, Scotland for the Clan Donnachaidh 2017 Gathering. Having already survived the journey to Pitlochry from Texas, been on two sightseeing tours, met the Clan Chief, Struan, and other clansfolk at the opening reception, and listened to a talk on the Kilmaveonaig Church all within the first two and a half days, I had an afternoon free. I was open to doing something entirely different.

At my hotel, The Acarsaid, I’d picked up the August 2017 issue of a tourist guide, Pitlochry Life. In it were the directions for a hike, which started not far from the hotel. The hike was described as “an easy woodland walk, on good paths and minor roads.” It was 3.25 miles long and was supposed to take one-and-a-half to two hours. It sounded perfect. I set out with the guide booklet in hand and my camera around my neck.hike cropped

The hike started off going southeast on Atholl Road. Shortly, I took the underpass on the right-hand side to cross under the rail line. Crossing back to the left side of the road, Blair Atholl Distillery, one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, soon came into view. This was the first of two distilleries on this tour, but having visited Glengoyne Distillery on my first trip to Scotland in 1988, I figured, “If you’ve seen one distillery…” Other than the lengthy history of it, there was no real attraction for me to see inside; obviously, I’m not a whiskey drinker. So I took a couple of “shots” on the outside and kept on walking.

The instructions said to keep heading south until you see a sign for Black Spout Car Park. Upon reaching the car park, I followed “the clearly marked route along a dirt track…which takes you to a path through oak woods.” We have plenty of oak trees in Texas, but I never thought of Scotland as having oaks. I never thought of Scotland as having woods!

OK, so some of our ancestors spent a fair amount of time hiding in the woods. What was I thinking? In previous stays in Scotland, I had experienced the cities, the countryside, the mountains, and the lochs, but not the Scottish forest. Here I was—not all that far from the busy center of Pitlochry—but I was “lost” in a completely different world, one I hadn’t experienced before. What a good decision I made to go on this hike!

Coming into a clearing, the path wended the edge of a golf course that’s part of the Atholl Palace Hotel grounds. Sure, many golf courses are carved out of rolling forested hills, but being surprised by a fairway surrounded by lush woods just added to the enjoyment of my adventure. As I continued on, I came to what I’d been told would be the highlight of the hike, the Black Spout Waterfall and gorge.

I waited for my turn on the jutted viewing platform while a German family took pictures of themselves with the falls in the background. As they passed me, they said, “Hello”, and went back to speaking German. All along the way, I’d come upon people speaking various languages, but if they spoke to me, they all said, “Hello.” I guess it’s an internationally understood greeting. I need to get out more! Or perhaps they all assumed I was Scottish. I like that explanation better.

I took a couple of pics of the falls and savored my time on the platform surrounded by nature there. As the path continued, I walked beside farm fields with a view of Ben Vrackie in the background. I’m not sure whether I captured the mountain in my photos—I was more interested in the tall purple spurts of color I’d seen growing rampantly since my Glasgow train first set off for Pitlochry. These bold disruptions among the greens, blues, and golds of the countryside were intriguing. Their recurrent greeting made me happy to be in Scotland, wherever, in fact, I was at the moment.

0009_7APurpleSpurtsThe next stop on the walk was another distillery, Edradour. This one is “world renowned as the smallest traditional distillery in Scotland.” It was tempting to go inside this time, because this hike was taking longer than I expected, and I was in need of the loo. But I would’ve had to pay to be escorted inside to where the facilities were, and that just seemed wrong to the frugal Scot in me. So again, I took a few obligatory photos of the exterior—to prove I made it to the farthest site of interest in the walk.

At this point, I could have gone back to town the way I came, but I wanted to complete the walk according to the map in the guide, which took a different route. It shouldn’t take that long—the same amount of time it took me to get here, right? From the distillery, the instructions said, “Now turn left and follow the road for a short distance until you reach a farm gate on your left just before a set of ornamental stone gate posts.” Because I was standing at a sort of crossroads, my first problem was, which left do I take? “Left” was not specific enough given the surroundings, and there was no one to ask. So I tried one direction but realized after a bit, that it couldn’t be the right “left”. After going “a short distance”, no “ornamental stone gate posts” were to be found.

I trudged back to try another path; this time I walked for quite a while before allowing a sinking feeling to set in. Surely I’ve gone “a short distance” already and should have come across the “farm gate on [the] left” by now. The problem was that I’d passed more than one “farm gate” but none followed by “ornamental stone gate posts”. I also wasn’t sure what ornamental stone gate posts would look like. I turned around and headed back to Edradour again. There was only one definition of “left” left to try, and so I set off once more.

As I mentioned, a number of people had passed me earlier on this walk, some strolling, some running, others with their dogs, but now I saw no one. Not even the purple flowers marked my path. This was not a good sign. Had I managed to get lost in the woods of Scotland?

But finally, there they were—the stone gate posts! I turned off the road to start down the path that the very posts themselves beckoned me to take. But I was walking toward someone’s house. I was walking on someone’s property. (The thought occurred to me that I might as well admit defeat—just go to the door and ask the homeowner, first, if I could use their loo, and second, to call me a taxi to get back to town.) Buggar! I still hadn’t found the right path. I was lost in the woods!

Backtracking again, as I turned right, out of the stone gate posts, I spotted it! The farm gate posts were just next to and before the stone gate posts, but easy to miss for someone who had been happy just to recognize the “ornamental” ones. The guide had warned that the “enclosed path (can get overgrown in summer) as it skirts the edge of a field…” Well, I’d been skirting the edge of fields for a good part of this journey, but now I’d been tricked by the parenthetical overgrowth!

Finally back on track, I could soon see Pitlochry below me. But there was quite a ways to go yet. The path led back into Black Spout Wood. Although there were wayfinding signs along the trails in the woods, they were subject to interpretation as well. I still felt like I was lost. But what a wonderful place to be lost in! At times I was surrounded by ferns as tall as me. I had been so intent on making the right choices, following the right path, and continuing to make progress, stopping only to take photos. Then the impulse came to me to just stop.

0019_17ABlackWoodFernsTallAsMe

I stood still in the woods and listened. I could hear birds and what I imagined to be all manner of small animals and insects in the rustle around me. I felt that many eyes had also stopped to watch me. This was a Scotland I’d never known before. And yet the familiar feeling of having come home welled up in me.

The end of my path took me through the gardens of the Atholl Palace Hotel. I’m quite sure I wasn’t on the intended path anymore. The 1.5 to 2-hour trek had taken me more like four hours! For a 3.25-mile trail, I’d managed to log at least five miles, and the Health app in my phone thought I’d climbed 15 flights of stairs. But perhaps getting lost in the woods isn’t a bad thing. What better place to get lost than in the woods of Scotland? In fact, I highly recommend it.

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Hello, Friends and Lovers!

Just thought I’d check in with a status report regarding last year’s birthday pronouncement that “today” would no longer be about me… In essence, it would be about you

and you, and you…

I pledged to spread love on the day I happened to be born—the day of love. So now I’m right back here to tell you, “I love you guys!”

But I also promised to adopt the whole notion as a new way of living, a new way of being me. Quite a tall order. Good thing I didn’t give myself a deadline for this project.

Because I can’t say that I stuck to my new-found calling all of the past 365 days… I can’t even say that I thought about it for half of them. But I can say that the whole premise is becoming more comfortable, making more sense to me now on more days than not. It’s a conviction I’ll continue to live into.

But I can report that for today, what little I did was for other people. Except for that 90-minute, full-body massage. After all, I still love me, too.

OMG

Give me an O! Give me an M! Give me a G!

What have you got?

An Overwhelming realization. A big fat “OK!” even.

That it’s not Me!

And finally, I Get it!

About this time last year, I started on a journey of self discovery to try to figure out what the heck is my purpose on this earth?! What is my unique purpose? After this many years of existence, you’d think I would have a solid grasp on my own reason for being.

Because if not, it’s sort of embarrassing, isn’t it? Not to mention that God’s patience with me may be wearing thin… Indeed, what the heck have I been doing all this time?

On this Valentine’s Birthday (what I’ve always considered to be MY day), despite the fact that popular culture designates it a day for all lovers or conversely, “Singles Awareness Day”, the truly personal, most unique meaning of this, MY day has finally dawned on me.

Just because I don’t have the kind of love I think I want, the close presence and romance of a best friendship, it doesn’t mean I can’t give love.

What the hell have I been thinking?!

Could I have been any more dense all these years? I was given the gift of life on the day of love! Why has it taken a lifetime to realize that my natural-born purpose is to give, spread, share, be love?

Though it may be a “high (difficult) calling” for me, henceforth, I vow not to expect, require, hope that you will remember my birthday or that Valentine’s day is actually MY day. Because it’s not anymore.

Today, I start off toward next Valentine’s Day, planning, practicing, and exhibiting the many manifestations of love that it is my unique Purpose to give.

So look out, people. My purpose is also wrapped in creativity. That part, I got a long time ago. 😉

 

Eat It with a Spoon!

A while back, I had occasion to notice a couple of people as they ate their salads at lunch. Because they were father and son, I noted (or feministically assumed) that their common method must have been influenced (or imposed?) by the common female in their lives. Regardless, in that family, they attempt to eat lettuce and the other possible uncooperative vegetative components of a salad by scooping and balancing them onto a fork before the fork meets its oral target with whatever is left on the fork. At that rate, just how long do you think it takes them to eat a salad? Perhaps it depends on the salad?

I didn’t have time to find out! But it caused me to examine my own familial tradition of stabbing salad components with a fork to bring them collectively to one’s mouth. I must say that after a long history of personal salad satisfaction, I find little fault with this inherited practice that sometimes does require chasing the tiniest, last vegebits around the bowl or plate to spear them.

Oh, alright, I admit that in the final-stage attempt to appease the ingrained mantra to “clean my plate” (or is it my learned desire to glean everything I’ve paid for?), I have been known to use the surreptitious nudge of a finger to coax those last bits onto the fork.

I suppose that means I’ve adopted a hybrid approach for the efficient dispatch of a salad.

In Copenhagen quite some years ago, I was game to try whatever the locals ate. And so I discovered the fast-food offering of a potato salad, or rather a salad potato. The picture showed a baked potato with toppings that seemed to sprout out of it. Damn, but there was lettuce on that potato!? Not to be confused with potato salad as we know it nor potato on/in a salad…

With my fork, I explored that novel concept reservedly, not knowing how it might influence my culinary practice all these years later.

These days I confess that I eat a lot of “prepared” foods as dinner entrées, but I also make a huge green salad with a variety of vegetative enhancements to accompany the entrée. I continue to use the preferred method to stab at both the entrée and the salad in turn, which yields immediate gratification. But when I get down to the last bits of both—or maybe even before then—I give up on the stabbing method … I find that I have taken to combining the entrée (“potato”) with the salad. Because at this point, even the fork-scooping method is futile.

Yes, I have embraced a new methodology: Eat It with a Spoon!

Mix it up, eat it up, eat it all up with a spoon.

Dig, dip into it all with a vessel that though it has measure, is prone to overflow.

Is it a potato or a salad? A salad or an entree? Who the heck cares?! Eat it all, eat it up with a spoon…

I just set my alarm clock for the last time…

I mean I’ve set it to my new workday wakeup time of 6:30 a.m. instead of the 5:30 intrusion that has alarmed me for most of the past two years.

Gone are the days of being startled awake at such a ridiculous hour. Because tomorrow I start my next career adventure…

After a really difficult decision that forced me to choose between two very different job offers, I chose the path most people would not. Are you surprised?

Mind you, the first step in the process of choosing either one was to decide whether I could leave full-time contracting for the first time in nine years. After being my own boss (more or less) under my dba, FineLines, for as long as any single full-time job I’ve ever had, it’s huge to think of giving up that independence.
It’s also “great” to ponder giving up paying for my own health insurance…

It’s hard to think about not having those breaks of time off between contracts.
It’s equally difficult to imagine actually being paid when you take time off…

Given that my 90-year-old mother will be moving to live near me soon, it would be nice, I reasoned, to have a constant job schedule for a change, so my care giving also can be predictable. Having a steady income in the countdown years to Social Security benefits is another point in favor of going full-time, right?

One significant drawback of taking a full-time job is that it would make it kinda difficult (but not impossible) to cling to my unemployment shtick/persona. This blog would never have been started without the recurring theme of joblessness throughout my career. I have so much material yet to blog about!

But with all this and other factors, I have almost convinced myself that becoming a captive again is the best choice right now. Actually, I was hoping to make this my last job choice ever before retirement (which is still not going to be in this decade), but I’m not quite ready to say there might not be other possibilities to consider at some point.

Good then. My brain is tricked into thinking that this decision doesn’t have to be forever. Ah, that feels a little less scary.

Now to consider which opportunity to embrace, which path to take? The two could not be more different.

There’s the corporate job with big industry, the type of job that years ago, I would have expected and wanted to end up in. I’ve been contracting for this company the better part of two years, and so it would almost be like just a continuation of what I’m used to… such as getting up at 5:30 in the morning? Ooh, no, thanks.

But it’s actually a pretty exciting program to work on, one that has international significance and requires a SECRET security clearance. OMG! How cool would that be?

The other opportunity is with a non-profit. Right away you know that spells less money, right? Yep, it’s true. But I have an established work relationship with this organization, too. I’ve been doing work for them on a freelance basis for more than a year. And doggonit, but I enjoy the type of work I’ve been doing. I love the work they do, which is equally engaging if not yet international in impact. And I’d be working from home. Throw the annoying alarm clock out the window!

Still, I owed it to myself to consider all aspects–or as many as I could think of–of both, pros and cons, tradeoffs and negotiations, which I mulled over and fretted over, lost sleep over. But the more I compared them, the less different they seemed. On the subject of employee benefits, I was surprised to discover that they seemed to be on a par. When time ran out, I had to just make a decision. Turn one down; accept the other.

Here’s the serendipitous if not ironic part: the big industry enterprise is a corporate sponsor of the little non-profit.

When I walked out of the office of big industry on Thursday, I still didn’t know if I’d made the right choice. Who in their right mind turns them down? Why, me of course.

So tomorrow I start my latest career adventure working right here in my home office. You see, this way, my brain will be tricked into thinking that I’m still an independent. We can ease into the realization of this full-time employee thing later. Much later than 5:30 a.m.  …

Nuts!

Conscientious consumer that I am, after having a surprisingly uncharacteristic experience with a particular product recently, I felt compelled to bring it to the attention of the company. I wrote the following letter in hopes that they would tell me I really wasn’t nuts.

Dear Nut People:

I write to you regarding a recent purchase of your Emerald Sweet & Salty Mixed Nuts (9 oz).

I am sorry to say that I was disappointed in the product, which was not up to your usual standards. Although I really like the taste of um, the product purported to be within the plastic container (aka your nuts), I am not overly fond of the taste nor texture of the plastic container itself.

Enclosed please find the product label as proof of purchase, along with the unexpected sample of the plastic container material, which I am no doubt fortunate to have not ingested! Indeed my delicate palate recognized it immediately as a manufacturing process faux pas. It was totally lacking in flavor and its texture resembled nothing nut-like at all!

Please forgive me if I have gone nuts over this, but I’m thinking the traumatic surprise I endured entitles me at the least to a lifetime supply of Emerald nuts! Despite the trauma and mental anguish this has caused me, I am nonetheless capable of being completely reasonable so as to allow you to determine the type(s) of nuts and the frequency/quantity in which I find myself nuts.

As stated, I included the product label and the actual offending bit of green plastic (same as the container material) as enclosures. Visual and tactile aids never go out of style.

My goal of course was to score some free nuts! and to have some fun in the process.

My efforts were rewarded promptly, if not in the same spirit of fun. Within two person-weeks or something like less than 10 business days, I received the following response by mail:

Thank you for your recent letter concerning Emerald Sweet and Salty Original Blend.

Diamond Foods is proud of its reputation for high-quality food products. Our strict quality-control standards, special processing equipment and continual quality checks help to ensure a product that is free from any undesirable material. Therefore, we are at a loss to explain the foreign matter you found. We have notified both our Quality Control and Production Departments of your experience.

We apologize for the quality problem you encountered and any inconvenience you experienced. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention. Enclosed is a refund. We hope you will replace your product and continue to enjoy our Diamond Foods products.

Encl. Emerald Snack Product Coupon 2

Score! The “Emerald Snack Product Coupon 2” enclosure was actually three coupons – two for free products and a third for $1.00 off.

Sigh… These nut people chose to acknowledge my complaint but not my creativity. I suppose you could say, what do you expect from a company of nuts?

On the other hand, I suspect that they privately enjoyed what they politically correctly ignored. And so my work here is done.

 

 

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